Wednesday, May 7, 2014

真的吗:Natural Flu alternatives

Chongqing weather is like a woman in a Victoria Secret outlet or any store for that matter. Confused and undecided. A sunny morning followed by a stormy afternoon is no longer a strange phenomenon to me. So, instead of focusing my energy on appropriate clothing, especially since I get it wrong most of the time, I focus on treating the flu that would eventually come my way. And here lies the problem. I don't like medicine. I avoid it at all costs. So I had to find some effective and natural remedies for my special situation. Here goes....

1. Ginger
A concentrated ginger tea, the kind that burns, sweetened with brown sugar soothes my throat and clears up most of the mucus blocking my channels. I boil about 500 g peeled and grated ginger for 20 minutes or until it comes to a rolling boil, then I sweeten and drink hot. Every night and morning until I feel better which is usually in about 3 days.

2. Pineapple
 As I mentioned  in a previous article, pineapple is really good for the flu because the bromelain reduces pain, swelling and mucus build up. It can be eaten fresh or baked and is effective in relieving symptoms as quickly as overnight.

3. Zhengqiheji 正气合剂
This can be directly translated as 'positive gas comprehensive agent'. How can I clarify this chinglish? In traditional chinese medicine, 'positive gas' is seen as a sign of health, like good circulation.This is artful blend of herbal extracts is used by the locals when something isn't feeling right. Like you know, when you wake up 'on the wrong side of the bed', or  you're a bit queasy after lunch. When the flu hits me by surprise, a couple shots of this gets me up and running in about 2 days. Main ingredients are dried rhizoma atractylodes, dried aged tangerine peel, magnolia bark (ginger base), angelica root, poria fungus, arecae pericarpium, raw pinellia root, licorice root extract, patchouli oil and basil oil.'s good for you.

4. Lemon
Correct me if I'm wrong, but there is a lemon flu action combination in every arsenal of the globe. I grew up on fresh lemon juice, honey and salt. Others drink dried lemon peel or citrus leaf tea. Whatever you choose, if lemon is it in, your flu symptoms will die a beautiful death.

5. Tumeric
The prescription is simple: a spoon of tumeric in a cup of warm milk. Unfortunately tumeric is a bit difficult to locate in China but if you have it in your area, don't hesistate to try it. My Indian friends swear by this and the antiviral properties of this spice shouts try me.

6. Sweating
As a kid, my parents would trap I mean wrap me in blankets and leave me to perspire profusely. I would wake up the following morning with my channels clear and my body feeling much more energized. Whenever I am down with the flu, I always stay active, hit the gym for some cardio or jog on the track, anything to get moving. I don't have scientific evidence as to why this works for me. I do know I feel physically and mentally better. I guess that's why they say, you are only as sick as you feel.

If you are a fan of remedies, I hope these suggestions helped you in some way. Are there variations of these or any new ideas that help you during flu season?  Share them below!! I'll love to hear what everyone else is using.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Easter taught me: Baking up a storm

An authentic Caribbean Easter is not about bunnies and eggs. After attending church in the fanciest of Easter hats, children and adults go their separate ways. Children search for the clearest field to fly their kites and adults get suited up for the kitchen.

The kid in me seriously wanted to go kite flying but the winds weren't up to it. Plus I love being in the kitchen. Actually that's where I spent most of the day. I had a new oven to bless and things looked up from there.

Beer and Cheese Bread

This is a super easy bread to prepare. No kneading required. The bitterness of beer complements the cheese and seasoning so well and it's extremely soft. Find the recipe here.

Hot Cross Buns

This is more of a Good Friday favourite. A really basic bun that's not too sweet. Again, extremely easy to prepare and with a baking time of 15 minutes, you have no excuse not to try this now. Find the recipe here.

Chocolate Cake

 It's moist, rich and has the perfect amount of sweetness. The best chocolate cake I have ever made and tasted and it's all thanks to the recipe. Unfortunately, there is no picture. In my excitement, I may have rushed the cake out of the tin, leaving almost half in there :(. Learn from my mistakes. Find the recipe here .

Banana bread

Usually when I make banana bread, I'm left unsatisfied due to the final gray color and that straight up mushy banana taste. I know I crushed the banana but it shouldn't remind me of baby food. On top of all this, most recipes usually call for oil which makes me hyper aware of the greasiness throughout the bread. Thankfully, this new recipe is a real keeper. It originates in St. Lucia, which was my first hint. The bread is moist and the rum smooths out the banana taste and cooks it to perfect flavour and texture.  Find the recipe here.

Coconut Buns

This is first thing I ever baked in Food and Nutrition secondary school class. The recipe was provided by Ms. Wegman and was my go to for impressing the parents and visiting relations. They would be like 'Child, you made that bun like my granny!'. Well, that's the power of a good recipe. I had to alter some ingredients, as usual, but it still remains the best homemade bun you'll ever make.

2 cups flour
½ cup margarine
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg (do I ever bake with these two? Nah.)
1 egg
¼ cup milk
1/8 cup water
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼ cup dried fruit like raisins or cherries (I only had goji berries)
1 cup grated or dessicated coconut

1. Preheat oven to 200 C.
2. In a large-sized bowl, sift flour and add sugar, baking powder, salt, spices, dried fruit and coconut.
3. Add softened (but not melted) margarine and use fingers to 'rub' into the dry ingredients until evenly distributed. Mixture should look like crumbs.  Make a well in the center.

4. In a medium sized bowl, mix egg, essence, milk and water together. Pour this mixture into the well and using a spoon. fold ingredients together. Don't over-mix.
5.Your batter should be sticky and a bit thick. Place in a prepared loaf tin and bake for 45 mins at 175 C or until the inserted toothpick comes out clean and the top is golden brown. As you can see mine has that extra tan. 

The good thing about spending the day in the kitchen is the reward of smiling faces on aching tummies with happy spirits. Not the same high as flying a kite but sure comes close enough.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tea Cup: 珍珠奶茶 Bubble Milk Tea

Tea, as most of you know is a staple in Asian culture and milk tea even more so. Forget coke and fanta. Grab me a bottle of tea!

Part 1 of local supermarket shelf

Part 2 of local supermarket shelf...the same shelf

Matter of fact, juice bars are making mad profits from this culture wave. My block has at least 10 juice bars, with the only competition being the 9 hair salons in between.

And the main item for sale is Milk Tea. It's black tea, the Lipton looking one, (they call it red tea 红茶 though) mixed with milk and sweetener, be it honey or sugar. To keep it interesting, floaters such as pudding, red beans, cake, oreos and whipping cream and ice cream are available, but it's the sinkers that I love. Behind door number one, black pearls or bubbles or boba.

They are made of tapioca (yay cassava!) and sometimes a little red bean paste. They're chewy, googy and a balance to the sweet, creamy tea. At first, I thought it was inedible and just for decoration but then they wouldn't stop climbing that fat straw the guy gave me. Hot or cold they are available all year round which is where it beats soda. Because unless you're sick, you're not drinking a hot coke.

Although it started in Taiwan, I read it's a craze all over the world. Wonder when it will hit the Caribbean?! Definitely looking forward to that day!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cooking @ Dawn: Vietnamese Shrimp Chips

So I scamper to the kitchen to make some Ice Cream Popcorn (popcorn layered in whipped vanilla cake frosting) when I bump into my Vietnamese friend. She also couldn't sleep and decided to cook at dawn.

In her arsenal were these instachips. They were already sliced and flavoured. Just fry in oil and poof! Large, puff, crunchy chips. And shrimp none the less. Say it with me: YUM!!

Of course, I couldn't find them in China. Such a bubble burster! But I did order some so expect an update soon!

For the popcorn, simply cook 2 parts popcorn to 1 part oil on medium heat. While hot, add frosting to taste. 1-2 parts should do it. A tip of salt to enhance the flavor. You're welcome!! 0(-_-)0

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bite me: 生煎包 Fried Steamed Buns

Finding cuisine of other cities in our university town is very essential to curing home sickness. For instance, only 40% of my classmates are Chongqing natives, which leaves many hungry tummies wanting. The fact that the Northerners eat little pepper makes it even more crucial to find their own feeding holes. I've introduced you to the Shandong wrap and XinJiang Chicken plate; now let's head to Shanghai.

Chinese breakfast generally invests in a meat-filled steamed bun called Bāozi 包子 or as I like to call it 'All in One'. This has been remixed by frying either the raw or steamed bun using just enough oil to cover the bottom. They are covered and fried in a shallow pan for a couple minutes, sprinkled with black sesame seeds, covered, sprinkled with fresh chive, covered, then uncovered and leaned to one side until all the liquid is dried out. Olympic gymnastic style precision.

Nice kicks chef!
The result is a crispy bottom, soft bread top and a juicy inside. For storage, it is placed crispy side up under a heated lamp, because cold and soggy is not optional. This particular outlet uses water to fry because it removes heat from the body as opposed to the original oil method which heats the body up. Nobody living in 40 degrees Celcius Chongqing wants that.

Fresh and ready to eat
I eat about seven in one setting but only because the four pack deal is such a tease. This is a breakfast food but since this outlet is open up to 10 pm ... *wink wink*. Don't play. I see you eating pancakes at midnight.

Can't wait to see what city I find next! ... stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bite me: 马蹄 Chinese Water Chestnuts

Peeled Chestnuts
What lives under ground, looks like a nut, tastes like a pear-potato mash up and is really good for you? Ding ding ding......Chinese Water Chestnut or Horse's hoof or which ever of the 100 local names you guessed. Nut is just a moniker. It's really a tiny corm that is grown in those muddy patches you get your boots stuck in. Once you dig them out, cut off the shoots, wash in cold running water to get all the mud out, peel and remove the crown, it's ready to eat.

When choosing the perfect chestnut, the skin should be red-brown. The best tasting ones are available between the Winter Solstice and it's peak period. Basically, the time when I'm busy hibernating. Spring chestnuts contain more water (not as sweet) and are identified by their dark-brown skin but no need to worry; they're 还可以 (ok).

For the most part it's eaten raw, however, it can be stir-fried with veggies or boiled but the latter isn't as tasty. Personally, I prefer them raw to obtain all the nutrients possible. We're talking Carotene, Vitamin A, B, C and E, Iron, Copper, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Selenium, Manganese. In addition, there's 0.2g fat and 1.2g protein per 100g. It is kind of heavy on the starch and fiber side being a corm all, so this is more of a daytime snack.

In Chinese medicine, it aids digestion (fiber), quenches thirst (water), increases metabolism (Phosphorus) and detoxifies (bucket load of macro and micro minerals) . It is a cooling food which means it's used to cure heat related diseases such as fever, jaundice, and inflammation. Recent research has revealed that it contains anti-bacterial properties which inhibit the effect of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

This super-food is still available so grab a few and incorporate it into your diet in between meals. For safety reasons, purchase from trusted vendors or supermarkets. Since chestnuts are cultivated in swampy areas, the risk of chemical and other toxic contamination increase.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bite me: 椰子角 Coconut Horns

Hai Nan Island 海南 is on every foreigner's and local's list of dream vacations. Located in the South China Sea, it's sunny all year round with beaches that would be a sight for these sore eyes. While I wait on that dream to materialize, I'm munching on this coconut snack. How proactive of me.

This 椰子角 roughly translated as Coconut Horns. The coconut flesh is cut into angular pieces and dried half way for thickness and juiciness. Then it's covered in powdered sugar. Oh la la...

When I can't go outside, pick me a dry coconut and nibble on the fresh pieces, which is all the time, at least I have this. If you don't know a Hai Nan native or have no plans to visit, the online Taobao store has tons of these. In the meantime, I'm trying to locate the packaging manager:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bite me: April Fools Chinese Food Gags

Forget the real sponge cake or rubber hot dogs. If you live in China, the best April Fools food gags are all around you. Let's get right to it!

English name: Chongqing Strange Tasting Balls
Chinese name: 重庆怪味胡豆
Main location: Chongqing
Description: The name is a big giveaway but some how no one reads the label until AFTER they eat it. With ingredients such as prickly ash pepper, chilli pepper, MSG, salt and sugar expect their face to contort to the recognition of every flavor. I even know locals who have spit this out.

English name: Red bean 
Chinese name: 红豆
Main location:  All over China
Description: This bean is popular in every part of Chinese cuisine. If you see it in a pastry or cake, you can easily mistaken for chocolate. Nothing is more disappointing than finding out you are not eating gooey chocolate  but a rather bland, fibrous bean. As a paste filling, it is even more disturbing.

English name: Stinky Tofu
Chinese name: 臭豆腐
Main location: South East and West China e.g. Changsha
Description: If you get someone to eat this unsuspectingly, kudos to you. White or black soya beans are used to make tofu which is further fermented for extra pungent flavour. It is then fried and served with parsley, scallions and pepper sauce. The smell, however, is a dead give away. You can smell yourself to a vendor's stall. So try serving this as far away from where you purchased it.

English name: Dried Chinese Date
Chinese name: 干红枣
Main location: All over China
Description: All berries are sweet or maybe there's even a bit of tang. And when dried, they make a super sweet treat. Well if this is your berriology, a dried Chinese date will blow all your faith out of the water. It's got ton of yeasty flavors with shadows, very faint shadows of sweetness. After that experience, I avoid every product in this flavor but I will admit that it makes a tasty and healthy tea when accompanied with Goji berries.

Now have some fun on April Fool's day with these local delicacies. There are really two outcomes here: leaving a temporary bad taste in your friend's mouth or introducing them to future addictions. Let me know if you have tasted any of these before in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Daddy taught me: Spring in a glass

With the abundance of fruit this season, juicing and smoothie making comes naturally and constantly.  Enjoy the beautiful mix of fruit below. The frozen watermelon and banana gives texture and thickness and long an provides a natural sweetness with creamy tones.

Spring in a glass

200 ml milk
11/2 cups plain yoghurt
250 g paw-paw (don't you love that name)
300 g watermelon, frozen
2 large bananas, frozen
1 tbsp brown sugar
8 long an
Juice of one orange
*Dash of Angostura Bitters

1. Cut fruit based on your blender. If you got one of those super bullet thingy, no cutting for you. For an ordinary blender, cube with compassion.

2. First blend frozen and then fresh fruit together. Follow up with liquids and sugar. Lastly but optional, Angostura Bitters.

3. Decorate with edible flowers or sprinkle with bee pollen for the true spirit of Spring.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tea Cup: 王老吉 Wanglaoji

2 layer Hot Pot: Safety inside, fire outside.

In Chongqing, the city of spice and 麻 (numbness), yin and yang come into play and save the day. Eating hot pot is always accompanied with drinks of some kind. Coca Cola, orange juice and bean milk for the kids,  local beer for the after work lime and bai jiu (Chinese white liquor) for those who have mislocated their nerve endings. However for the first timers, not so often-ers and the 'never will get accustom-ers', this particular drink can prevent bruised tongues and bruised egos. Imagine diving into your hot pot, underestimating the waves of pepper before you but despite the danger, you don't want to leave just yet. Wang lao ji is the banana boat that allows you to keep the fun and thrill all at once.
Wang lao ji is a natural plant beverage with the ability to 'remove' heat from the body. All it needs is a super-hero endorsement. The mixture is made up of Mesona chinensis*, common frangipani, Microcos paniculata*, chrysanthemum, honey suckle, Prunella vulgaris*, and licorice root along with water and sugar. The healing properties of these plants include removing heat as mentioned, regulating the liver and kidney, halting dysentery and treating fevers and headaches. They are brewed together in a proportion known only to the makers. The result is a dark, sweet tea with slight velvety and bitter tones. First time drinking it, it awakens the taste buds and you may not like it. Try it a couple months later and you may not even recognize it. My story, at least.

This household drink even has its own name scandal but you'll have to come to Chongqing for me to share it with you. Over a hot pot dinner of course!

*Common name unknown

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bite me:自制香肠 Home-made Chinese Sausage

This week I had the opportunity of eating a Chongqing home-made sausage. You know something is home made when you can identify each ingredient's flavor distinctly. The preparation method is very traditional and usually practiced around Spring Festival when meat is plentiful and the weather is cool enough to prevent spoilage. It is much preferred to store in open air since a freezer tends to alter its flavor and quality. Hence, by the time Chongqing summer of 40 C comes around, most of the sausage will be finished. Basically, small pieces of pork are cured in salt, black pepper, prickly ash pepper (if you live in Southwest China), and Báijiǔ 白酒 (Chinese white spirits). After deep marinating, it is stuffed into sausage skins, tied at equal intervals and then hung throughout the kitchen to dry.  You may want to avoid night visits to the fridge for a while.

Before cooking, the sausage is soaked in warm water (55 C) for about an hour and then rinsed to remove excess salt. Finally it is boiled for 20 minutes and ready to eat. It is mainly served as its own dish. Left overs can be cut into fine pieces and used in fried rice. Flavor is compared among aunties and grannies, along with compliments and next year's requests.

This is nothing like your store-bought sausage because for one, the meat is chopped not ground or minced. You really feel like you are chewing on something. Secondly, you know exactly what you are eating, not isn't questionable body parts or left overs. After avoiding sausages for a long time, this makes me consider eating them again.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bite me: 大盘鸡 Big Plate O' Chicken

This dish makes you re-evaluate the way you think of chicken. From the north-west of China, the people of Xin Jiang 新疆 bring a blend of spices that always hits the spot when I have craving for curry. Truth is, a new craving has developed. Tomato sauce is flavoured with chili peppers, prickly ash peppers, green peppers, white onions, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon and aniseed. Phew...just about every spice in the book. By the time the chicken and potatoes are 'cousumered' in this sauce, the final flavor develops into that familiar home made curry taste. Now you know why we appreciate this so much in Chongqing.

Of course the final choice and proportions of spices vary from restaurant to restaurant so it's up to the chef to do you right. Extra veg like spinach, cabbage or carrots may be added. It is served with a humble home made bread, noodles or rice. As seen by the BIG plate, the more the merrier so don't be stingy with this one.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

真的吗:Home in a Suitcase

I'm not sure if this is just a Caribbean thing, but generally when we prepare to leave home for a long period of time, we are loaded blessed with many gifts and essentials of food and the like. Kind of like young Maroon warriors on their first hunt after passing the Coming of Manhood ceremony. Kind of like maybe we may never see home again. Or just in case we land on a deserted island, we have all that we need. Smoke signal who?

I don't know about you but for the most part I'm grateful. Once I accomplish carrying those heavy logs of suitcases to my abode and receive a restorative Chinese massage, I go straight into promotion mode. Start marketing my goods as organic, untainted and the best tasting in the world. It also brings out the collectivist in me as I ration my treats to last as long as they can. Two minutes on a packet of ginger fudge seems long enough. Okay, I'm just kidding. But it takes muscles of control not to.

This time around my 'Home in a Suitcase' contains...

  • Confectioneries like Coconut Sugar Cake, Fudge, Tamarind balls and Guava Cheese

Cocconut Sugar Cake
Tamarind Balls and Guava Cheese 
Milk Fudge

  • Definitely Cocoa balls for cocoa tea. Also spices and herbs for all my cooking and baking needs like nutmeg, cinnamon, mint, rosemary, curry. Food never taste like home without condiments from home.

  • Angostura Bitters for sure. As a kid, before there was rum and coke, there was bitters and coke for all your diarrhea needs. It took me years to distinguish the taste from the memory and it's maybe the reason why I have never had Coca Cola cravings. However Angostura Bitters has proven to add that kick to any recipe and is quite the kitchen wing man.

  • Without Clarks Court Pure White Rum, my Sorrel Drink is incomplete. And it doesn't hurt to share with friends.

  • Saltfish for a finger-licking saltfish souse. To be welcomed by warm Coconut Bakes or Dumplings.

  • Farine which is a Cassava cereal has a variety of uses. Porridge, dumplings, baking and best of all mixed up some granulated sugar and eaten raw ( I'm an 80s baby). 

  • Snacks play a pivotal role in how long I spend in the books. There has to be some scientific explanation as to why one must snack while studying and why it is so effective. I will get to the bottom of this.

  • Fruit Cake and Bread from the Aunties to make up for missing Christmas.

  • Cheese. Real Cheese. Foreigners who live in China will understand.

  • Jam and jellies from De La Grenade. This brand is synonymous with nutmeg in Grenada for quite some time. Quality product from a quality source.

Nutmeg syrup, Nutmeg Jam, Nutmeg Jelly

Sometimes I worry that 20 years from now, most of these foods won't be available and my tummy will go into withdrawal. If you had a choice, what local food item would you carry into the future?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bite me: 巧克力香草莓 Chocolate Strawberries

Firstly, much thanks to marvelous person who came up with chocolate-covered strawberries. A combination of heart shaped berries and the food of the gods can only be considered eternal bliss. Seems like the Chinese have taken it a notch higher and placed the chocolate flavor in the strawberries.

The vendor claimed that chocolate was used in the growing process to accomplish the flavor fusion. To add to the hype, he offered to sell me milk flavored strawberries while treating me to a mischievous eye twinkle. Felt like Snow White buying that dreadfully beautiful apple. Playing along, I purchased a couple and put my friends to the test.

At first sniff, most persons registered notes of pineapple and of course strawberry but definitely nothing of a chocolate nature. It was much sweeter and less acidic that the most strawberries, especially as the season is coming to an end, so at least the vendor kept his promise that it was more 'deelishush'.

At the end of the day I was going to have my chocolate strawberries so I did what anyone would in my position. I melted 2 squares Belmont Estate Nib-a-licious Dark Chocolate. Double the antioxidants, double the fun...Next time I'm buying cheese flavored watermolon *wink wink*