Monthly Archives: April 2014

Cherry Coke (Zero) Jello

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When the 500 grams of gelatin I ordered online turned into 1500 grams on arrival, I decided it was time to get going in my jello-making ventures. Cherry coke jello, a perfect afternoon caffeine boost to pick us up before class & evening activities.

Ingredients:

4 cups Coke Zero

2 Tablespoons gelatin

2 ½ Tablespoons grenadine

Directions and Notes:

1. In a small saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups of the Coke Zero and the gelatin. Heat the mixture slowly and stir for 2-3 minutes until the gelatin is very thoroughly dissolved.

2. Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and add the remaining 2 ½ cups of coke and the grenadine. Stir to combine.

3. Refrigerate until it sets.

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Frozen Bananas

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Maybe frozen bananas are “a thing”… I don’t know, but I somehow didn’t find out about them until Austin & I moved to China and he suggested them as a fun snack idea. His family sometimes ate them as a snack/ dessert growing up, and I’m so thankful he introduced me!

Ingredients:

bananas

peanut butter

chocolate, melted

candy

chopped nuts

shredded coconut

Directions and Notes:

Peel the bananas and arrange them on a dish. Top with any desired toppings (plenty of peanut butter and chocolate are a must!) and place in the freezer for at least 1 ½ hours, preferably 2-3 hours until frozen but not completely rock solid.

Remove from freezer and eat immediately.

These are a great snack for us and a really good party food. Our students love the “frozen banana buffet,” putting all kinds of stuff on top and then enjoying their own creations.

Ideas for Local {Small-Town China} Dates

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Living in small-town China, it can sometimes be hard to find things to do for dates… we’ve had to get a little creative, and many of our dates end up taking place inside the house mostly for privacy but also because it’s hard to find activities to do outside that are actually enjoyable.

But for days when we just want to be out and about, doing something fun in the culture, I made this list of some activities that should be available to do locally (in local small-town China, that is…) Some of these may require just a little research and asking around beforehand to find out where to go. You’ll have to decide which ones are actually fun for you:

  • Go for a walk together… explore local countryside roads or walk to a new village.
  • Good chocolate can be hard to find… Go chocolate hunting together. Buy a bunch of different kinds and have a chocolate tasting.
  • Go shopping together to put together a care package for a friend or family member. Write fun notes for them & make taking it to the post office or hand-delivering it (for nearby friends) part of the date so you’re not creating more work for yourself to do afterwards.
  • Go get foot or whole-body massages from a local shop. These are usually just 5-10 USD/ person.
  • Shop for some meat and veggies and cook dinner together outside on one of those small barbecue grills. We can buy them for just 13RMB in our town. Cook outside in a park, or on the roof of your building.
  • Make a fun, random list of things that you know you can find, but may take some looking to spot in your town (Christmas trees still set up in April, a family of 5 on a scooter, a man with a beard, etc.) and go on a photo scavenger hunt together or separately as a competition.
  • Go to a local store that sells some really interesting clothes– these shouldn’t be hard to find. Act like a serious customer and take several items into the fitting room, then have a fashion show for each other.
  • Each person gets 30-50RMB (whatever’s a reasonable amount for your town and fits your budget) and 45 minutes to go buy a ridiculous piece of clothing/ earrings/ etc. for the other one. Wear them out to dinner together.
  • Hop on some bikes and go adventure biking– explore a new place. Pack a picnic lunch/ dinner or bring some money to eat at some middle-of-nowhere restaurant you run across.
  • Climb a local mountain.
  • Go paddle-boating if you live near a river (or rent a bamboo raft, ride on a river boat, whatever is available…).
  • Find a local photo booth (sometimes attached to a photo shop, sometimes randomly situated in the back of a purse shop, etc.). Take fun pictures together… it should cost just 5-10 RMB to get a whole sheet printed.

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  • Some towns have local DIY shops for sushi-making, cake-decorating, etc. Ask around.
  • Have a street food dinner… Go browsing. Choose some things you’ve rarely or never tried. Take your finds to the roof of your building if you have access and eat dinner as the sun sets.
  • Got a handle on a few Chinese characters? Go to a local book store and try reading some local children’s books to each other. (Sometimes they have pinyin, too!)
  • Celebrate Christmas in July. Each person gets 10 yuan and a red sock. Visit a  two yuan store together and shop for each other.
  • Walk around a local market or visit some small shops (not during peak time). Ask a vendor if he or she is willing to teach you how to make what they make, or at least to let you watch. Many of them will be happy to teach you how to make zongzi, dumplings, etc. Even if you’ve made them before, you can brush up on your technique and build a relationship.
  • Choose three local ingredients that you’ve rarely or never cooked with before. Similar to the cooking show Chopped, each of you must create a dish that includes these ingredients. (It can include any other ingredients as well.)
  • Choose a few local fruits that you rarely or never buy. Blend them into a smoothie.
  • Go shopping for fresh local honey. Some vendors may let you taste some samples, or you can just buy some and bring it home to try.
  • Visit a local fruit farm and pick fruit.
  • Participate in a local dance or yoga class… this will take a little confidence on the man’s part since he’ll probably be the only guy there!
  • Take your laptop and a blanket outside and watch a movie in a local park.
  • Join evening dance activities at a park or morning Taichi if you’re into morning dates.
  • Visit the local town square for dancing, games, crafts, or having your picture taken wearing minority clothing.
  • Go to an arcade. Play.
  • Visit a tea shop. Ask the owner questions about tea and see how much you can learn.
  • Go out for local barbecue late at night– Share a barbecue fish, some meat and veggies on sticks, etc. There’s some fun local night culture to be experienced.
  • Go to a local buffet or sushi bar if there is one. Enjoy a nice-ish meal out.
  • Visit an outdoor supply store. Buy something and immediately go use it on a date (something for cooking outdoors, something to use while biking, etc.)
  • Go out for a progressive dinner. Order small amounts of food at several different restaurants. Try some dishes you’ve never tried before.
  • Order drinks (for each other) that you don’t usually order at a local tea/ drink shop.

These are just some ideas to get you started. More to come…

Brazil-Themed Date

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In March we continued our Travel-Around-The-World {From Your Very Own Living Room} Dating Series, and we visited Brazil. Once your traveling partner has his/ her passport and plane ticket, you’re ready to take off!

I used this fake airplane ticket generator website to generate all the tickets for this year’s dates.

Ideas:

  • Use a Carnival theme. Carnival took place in March this year, so March was the month we chose to visit Brazil.
  • Decorate with Brazilian flags, gold (candy) coins, Carnival/ Mardi Gras beads.

  • Wear masks and whatever you imagine is good clothing for Carnival, or dress in Brazil soccer uniforms or Brazil national colors.

  • Enjoy a Brazilian dish. We made a VERY heavily adapted version of Brazilian Feijodora, which was delicious—you can check out our own China-friendly version of that recipe here.

  • Dance the Samba or another fun dance. We can’t dance, but we’ll watch Dance Central or Just Dance videos from YouTube and follow along.
  • If you’re interested (like I was since my husband is a local soccer star :)), learn the rules of soccer so you can be a more informed spectator. (And yes– we had a mid-date outfit change so we could wear Brazilian soccer team uniforms for the soccer portion of the date.

  • Watch a Brazil-themed movie like Rio.

Switzerland-Themed Date

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In February this year we went to Switzerland, once again traveling across the world in our very own living room. The Switzerland date was more or less a combination of last year’s Spa Date and the Fondue Date.

Ideas:

  • Make cheese, broth, and chocolate fondues to make up dinner and dessert. These were simple to put together. {See fondue recipes below.}
    • Chocolate Fondue: Dipping foods: mangoes, pears, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, apples, angel food cake, pound cake, sweet crackers, marshmallows. For the chocolate fondue, I just melted some dark chocolate with 1-2 Tablespoons of oil until the chocolate reached a consistency I liked.
    • Broth Fondue: Dipping foods: meatballs, pre-cooked bite-sized meats, shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, vegetables, potato pieces, sauces for dipping. The recipe I used is below.
    • Cheese Fondue: Dipping foods: cubed french/Italian bread, homemade croutons, veggie pieces, mushrooms. florets of broccoli and cauliflower, bite-sized cooked chicken or mini chicken legs, beef & pork slices (pre-cooked), roasted potatoes. The recipe I used is below.
  • If your date to Switzerland is an overnight affair, serve Muesli in the morning for breakfast.
  • Watch a Switzerland-themed movie or a movie made in Switzerland.
  • To decorate, print Swiss maps to use as place mats at dinner, and use a red tablecloth or scarf with white printer paper to make a Swiss flag.
  • During dinner, watch a short documentary on Swiss food or a short video about Swiss cheesemaking.
  • Stream or download some Swiss music to play during dinner or dessert.
  • After dinner, visit a Swiss spa. Soak your feet, give each other massages… anything relaxing for the two of you.
  • Oh, and as usual when we travel around the world from our living room, there was a dress code! In his invitation, Austin was told to use what was already in his closet (or mine) to dress as a Swiss cheese maker. He got an “A” for creativity, enthusiasm, and holding nothing back!

Fondue Recipes:

Cheese Fondue Recipe

Ingredients: 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1 cup cheddar cheese, 2 teaspoons flour, up to 1 cup liquid of choice such as milk, cream, or chicken or vegetable broth (play with these or combinations of these according to your desired taste), 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Mix the flour and cheeses in a medium bowl and set aside. Heat 3/4 cups of the liquid and garlic powder over low heat. Stir in the cheese a little at a time. Continue adding cheese until the desired consistency is reached. Add more liquid if it becomes too thick. I like to use my rice cooker set on “warm” to serve this because it keeps it soft and dip-able.

Oil/ Broth Fondue

Ingredients: 2 bay leaves, 4-5 garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons dried parsley or Italian seasoning, 2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper, 3 cups water, about 3 cups of beef broth, 1 package French onion soup mix, salt, pepper, other seasonings to taste

Directions: Mix all of these ingredients together in a fondue pan or electric pan & allow to simmer together for about an hour. This recipe is really flexible… I start here and then play with it until it tastes just the way I like.

Wasabi Dip

Mix about 1/4 teaspoon wasabi with about 3 Tablespoons soy sauce in a small dish. Add more wasabi if desired.

Garlic Chili Dip

In a small dish, mix 3 Tablespoons soy sauce and 1 Tablespoon garlic/ chili sauce. Add more garlic/ chili sauce to taste.

Cocktail Sauce

In a small bowl, combine 3/4 cup ketchup, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon horseradish, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.

Honey Mustard Dip

In a small dish, combine 1/4 cup honey, 2 Tablespoons of dijon mustard (or regular mustard), and salt and pepper to taste.

Sweet and Sour Dip

In a small dish, combine 2 Tablespoons of white vinegar, 2 Tablespoons of ketchup, and 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

 

 

Awesome Lettuce Wraps

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Ingredients:

1 pound ground chicken, beef, or pork

1 small onion, minced

A dash of salt and pepper

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 inch nob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

1 ½ Tablespoons soy sauce

½ Tablespoon water

1 Tablespoon (natural) peanut butter

½ Tablespoon honey

1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon rice vinegar

2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce (add more for extra heat)

3 bunches green onions, chopped

1 medium lotus root, chopped into very small pieces (or use water chestnuts)

¼ cup peanuts, chopped

10-12 cabbage or lettuce leaves for wrapping

Directions and Notes:

1. Chop the onion and set aside.

2. Mince the garlic and ginger and put in a separate small bowl.

3. Mix the sesame oil, soy sauce, water, peanut butter, honey, rice vinegar, and chili garlic sauce in a small bowl.

4. Chop the green onions and lotus root and place in a medium bowl.

5. Brown the meat and onion in a medium frying pan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

6. When the meat is nearly cooked, add the minced garlic and ginger. Continue cooking until the meat is totally cooked.

7. Heat the bowl of liquid ingredients in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Stir until smooth and pour over the meat mixture. Stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and allow the meat mixture to simmer in this liquid for 2-3 minutes to absorb the flavors.

8. Stir in the green onion and lotus root and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes until the green onions are soft and the lotus root is heated through.

9. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and serve with cold lettuce leaves.

Our local friends have loved these; they go over well and stretch further when we put out a bowl of rice to add to the wraps too. We love them, too—they’re so fast and easy!

Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats.

Natural Peanut Butter {From Raw Peanuts}

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Ingredients:

2 cups raw peanuts (without hard outer shells)

1 teaspoon oil

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Directions and Notes:

1. Spread the peanuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees, giving the baking sheet a little shake half way through the cook time. Be careful not to let them burn.

2. Allow the peanuts to cool, then transfer them to a food processor. It is not necessary to remove the paper-like red shells around the individual nuts. These won’t have any negative effect; they’ll just add a little color to the peanut butter.

3. Add the oil and salt and process 5-10 minutes until the oils of the peanuts have come out and the mixture is creamy. This takes a little time; at first it will just be crumbly and it may seem like it’s not going to work… just keep processing. Add more oil if greater creaminess is desired. Salt to taste.