Monthly Archives: March 2015

Easy Granola Bars


Here’s a versatile recipe for some granola bars that are easy to make and don’t require baking (just a little toasting of ingredients beforehand). Just mix, press, and cut!



4 1/2 cups total of oats, chopped nuts, sunflower seeds, or other grain flakes*

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

2 Tablespoons oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2- 1 cup dried fruit (optional but recommended)

Directions and Notes:

1. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.

2. Toast the 4 1/2 cups of oats, nuts, etc. on a baking sheet for 10-15 minutes until toasted.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey, oil, vanilla, and salt. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly, then reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes.

4. When the oat mixture is toasted, stir together the oat mixture, the honey mixture, and the dried fruit. Make sure to mix it well since the honey mixture is the glue that will hold it all together.

5. Pour the mixture into the 9 x 13 pan and place another piece of parchment paper on top. Press, press, press until you can press no more. I usually lay a piece of parchment paper on top and then place another 9 x 13-ish pan down on top, then put it on the floor and stand on the whole thing for a few minutes while I do some more kitchen work.

6. Wait 2-3 hours or overnight before slicing. When you slice, just press down with the knife– don’t saw or they’ll fall apart. Wrap individually if desired and store in an airtight container.

*Note: I usually use mostly old-fashioned oats from the “scoopable” section of the open market with some chopped almonds, etc. I’ve also made this just using 4 1/2 cups of fruit and nut Muesli that we decided we’d rather eat as granola bars than Muesli. Different varieties of chopped nuts, seeds, or grain flakes from the market work as well.

Another note: If you live in a really humid area and are making these during wet season, be extra sure to keep them in an airtight container. If they do get ruined by humidity, however (not that I know from experience or anything…), you can throw what remains into the oven and bake it at a low temperature for 35-45 minutes to dry it out (lay a piece of foil over top to prevent burning). Then you can break the hardened product into granola once it cools.


Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night


We love pizza. And movies. A few weeks ago, we invited some students over for a pizza and movie night. It was a bit of a slow process, feeding 15 people pizza out of our glorified toaster oven, but we just took it slow and got to eat for the entire duration of the movie. Our friends were so excited to try real pizza.


I prepared a big batch of pizza dough in advance. It was really good pizza dough. You can check that recipe out in the previous post. I rolled the dough out into roughly 12-inch crusts, each on a sheet of baking paper for easy transferring. The girls worked in groups of twos to top their pizzas.


Here are some topping ideas:

  • Green peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Pepperonis (if available)
  • Sausage
  • Chashao pork
  • Spinach

I made a sign with English and Chinese instructions as well as some labels to help identify the ingredients. Here’s a preview of the sign:


To download that sign, click here: Pizza Night

And here’s a preview of some of the labels:



To download the labels, click here: Pizza Labels

Pizza Crust


I have tried a ton of pizza dough recipes in search for one that could be made without butter, which isn’t readily accessible in my little city. This recipe met that requirement, and in addition, it doesn’t require kneading. As if that weren’t good enough, it tastes absolutely amazing and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week! The search has ended– this recipe is a keeper! It even puffs and bubbles in the oven! (I so wish I had a picture to add here, but it was all eaten up immediately!)

Ingredients (for 4 ten-inch pizzas):

2 3/4 cups lukewarm water

1 1/2 Tablespoons yeast

1 1/2 Tablespoons salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or other oil)

6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions and Notes:

1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for the flour and mix.

2. Using a spoon and/or your hands, mix in the flour. You’ll likely need to use your hands to mix in the last bit of flour because the dough will be really thick. There is no need to knead.

3. Loosely cover the bowl with a towel and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for about 2 hours or until the dough rises and collapses or flattens on top. This may take longer in colder winter temperatures.

4. Use the dough immediately after the rise or store for up to one week in the refrigerator. The dough is easier to handle when cold.

When you are ready to use the dough:

5. Heat a pizza stone in your oven for 30 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Tear off a quarter of the total dough and, handling it as little as possible using floured hands, turn it into a ball, stretching the top surface around to the under part of the ball.

7. Place on a lightly floured surface and roll out to make a 10-12″ crust.

8. Top as desired. Bake for approximately 12 minutes at 500 degrees.

Austin’s endorsement: “This is the best homemade pizza crust I’ve ever had.”

Recipe from:

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins


We really like muffins. Our perfect night in probably includes wearing sweatpants, laughing really hard at something funny on TV, and eating muffins. I made these blueberry muffins last week and we loved them. They managed to be both whole wheat and fluffy, which are two things that don’t always come together. These would be great with chocolate chips or other mix-ins as well.

I baked these for Austin and a friend who’s been staying over. About 20 minutes after serving them, there was a long silence from the room where they were sitting. A few seconds later, our friend came into my bedroom, where I was sitting, and said, “Thanks for the muffins. They were sweet, but not as sweet as you.” Oh, funny, awkward moments… embrace them.



2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

2/3 cups brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup blueberries (or other mix-ins)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup oil

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Directions and Notes:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare 12 muffin cups.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the vanilla, oil, and buttermilk.

3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir to combine. (As usual, since our brown sugar clumps so easily when it meets moisture, I mix it in with the dry ingredients first for a more even distribution.)

4. Pour the wet ingredient mixture into the flour mixture. Stir to combine.

6. Fold in the blueberries.

5. Fill muffin cups to almost full. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top and bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.

6. Cool 5 minutes then remove from muffin tins. Serve warm.

Note: I didn’t have fresh blueberries (and maybe I never will  over here), so I used some blueberry-flavored Craisins in place of fresh blueberries. I’ve baked them directly into things before, and they’ve been okay, but this time I decided to rehydrate them. To make the one cup called for by the recipe, I measured 2/3- 3/4 cup of Craisins and put them into a bowl with enough clean water to almost cover them. Then I microwaved the bowl for 2-3 minutes until the Craisins were somewhat rehydrated. I used a strainer to strain off the blueberry-flavored water (which was delicious!) and added the Craisins to the recipe in place of real blueberries. It worked great!

Recipe adapted from: King Arthur Flour

Studying Chinese Mini-Posters: Command Words & Some Common Chinese Verbs


This is the final post in a series of five posts providing some printable mini-posters useful for Mandarin study.

The first chart in today’s post contains fourteen very basic verbs as well as their Chinese translations and the corresponding pinyin. (The last one, “to play basketball,” feels a little random after the rest of the list, but I wanted to provide some structure for talking about playing sports using “打,” and basketball seems to be among the most popular sports I hear friends in China love.)

Here’s a preview of the mini poster:


To download this printable as a PDF, click here: Common Chinese Verbs

The second chart in today’s post is a very elementary poster displaying a few basic commands. It’s a useful visual aid to have in a language learning area for early Chinese language learners. The tutor can point to it and the student can reference it as the tutor gives basic instructions. The chart contains six basic commands:

  • Sit down.
  • Stand up.
  • Write it down.
  • Read it with me.
  • Turn to page xxx.
  • Read it once./ Read it twice.

Here’s a preview of the mini poster:


To download this printable as a PDF, click here: Commands

Studying Chinese Mini-Poster: Changing Tones


This is the fourth post in a series of five posts on some mini-posters for learning Mandarin. These mini-posters are all available and to download and print.

Mandarin tones. There are several to keep straight. And then they start changing. Here’s a single page cheat-sheet with three important tone-change rules. This is a good reference to print out and keep nearby when studying Chinese.

Here’s a preview of the mini poster:


To download this printable as a PDF, click here: Rules for Changing Tones

Studying Chinese Mini-Posters: Asking for Clarification & “How Do You Feel Today?”


This post continues a series of posts featuring some mini-posters I put together for learning Mandarin. These are free & printable (made for A4 paper). They’re a good resource for early stages of Mandarin study and can be used to brighten up a language study area.

Today’s first mini-poster is about asking for clarification when having a Chinese conversation. A great skill for a language learner to possess is the ability to seek clarification while continuing to use the target language. To be able to ask a tutor or local how to express a particular idea in their language– using their language to ask the question–  can really increase the length of time and the depth of the conversation at hand. This mini poster includes questions and expressions such as:

  • How do I say xxx using Chinese?
  • I don’t understand.
  • Can you repeat that?
  • I didn’t hear that very clearly.
  • Can you please speak more slowly?
  • What does xxx mean?
  • How do you express xxx using English?

Here’s a preview of the mini poster:


To download this printable as a PDF, click here: Clarification in Chinese

Today’s second mini-poster is a half-sheet”How Do You Feel Today?” chart. This chart is a reference to help the student broaden his answer to the question “How do you feel today?” beyond “好” or ” 不好.” The chart contains nine different, common states or emotions that a student may be feeling on a given day including happy, sad, angry, hungry, and tired.

Here’s a preview of the half-sheet mini poster:


To download this printable as a PDF, click here: How Do You Feel Today

For a much, much more comprehensive array of emotions translated into Chinese, see Carl Gene’s “222 English Emotions Translated into Chinese.”