Posts Tagged ‘food’

Old habits die…easy? (Grocery shopping, eating, cooking)

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: , , , ,

I’m beginning to take for granted all the little changes we’ve made since coming here.  If I stop and think about it, it’s quite startling to think about how drastically we changed 12+ years of shopping/eating/cooking habits after moving here.

First there’s grocery shopping.  An ordinary shopping trip is not the ordinary shopping trip you imagine in the U.S.  Actually, I’m sure there are people here who do the normal American-style shopping, but they probably have more money than we do. :)

At home I would have planned the week’s meals, made the 2-page shopping list, driven to the store, and filled up my minivan with $100+ worth of food.

In China, there are 2 stores we frequent: a little store/market next to our house that sells fresh produce, and a bigger Wal-Mart type of supermarket a few blocks away that sells everything.  (The actual term used on their sign is “hypermarket” which I guess is even MORE crazy than a supermarket?) So here is our grocery shopping experience during a typical week.

The little store.  I don’t plan the meals (thanks to our ayi) and make no list.  I walk to the store (3 minutes away) 2-3 times a week, and carry home 2-3 days worth of fresh produce for 20-30RMB (about $3-5).  Have I mentioned how much I enjoy that walk to the store?  It’s very pleasant. :)

The big store.  Once a week we make a 5-10 item list, walk to the bus stop, take the 10-minute bus ride to the big store, buy a week’s worth of meat, grains, snacks, dairy and other miscellaneous items (spices, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.) for about 250-350RMB ($38-$54).  Have I mentioned how much I dislike waiting for the bus to go to the big store?  The bus itself isn’t bad, but sometimes the wait almost as long as it would take us to walk there.  Oh!  And we have to be careful not to buy more than we can carry home!

Chicken, beef, pork, shrimp--meat for a week or so.

Yogurt is much more popular than milk, hence the small milk carton and 2 large yogurt cartons. (This half-gallon carton is the largest size milk I can find.)

Next, diet.  Our eating habits have changed quite a bit.  You can buy western food here, but it’s harder to find, so much more expensive, and so much harder to prepare.  (See tiny oven picture below.)  It’s okay to eat it occasionally, but would be unrealistic for us to do on a daily basis with a large family.  I was thinking about it today and I don’t think I’ve bought a single can of food since we’ve been here.  For me, that’s weird!  We buy meat and veggies and our ayi slices and dices and turns them into something delicious.  I also haven’t bought a single box of cereal.  It’s outrageously expensive for a teeny tiny box.  (We were the biggest cereal eaters ever!) Now we have oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, eggs, or fried rice for breakfast, and occasionally pancakes or waffles.  Lunch and dinner are whatever Chinese food our ayi makes–usually veggies stir-fried with a little meat or tofu served over rice.  She also makes baozi (buns), jiaozi (dumplings), xi’er bing (never seen this anywhere else so I don’t know what it would be in English), and fried rice.  Snacks are fresh fruit, dried fruit, freshly boiled peanuts, edamame, and occasionally crackers of some sort.

Apples, grapes, and boiled peanuts. Typical snacks.

A bit about our kitchen.  The things that get used most often are the rice cooker and the tiny two-burner range.  Notice the counter height in the picture??  (Makes me look like a giant.)  It’s a bit low for us, but perfect for our ayi. :)

And the tiny oven.  9×9 is the maximum size I can fit in it!  But that means I can at least make cookies and (little) cakes.  I can also fit two loaf pans.  I’ve even made some little pizzas!

Teeny tiny oven (that Kaylee Ann is laying her head on), and our water dispenser–a necessity since we don’t drink the tap water.
Teeny tiny fridge. (Freezer is on the bottom.)  This is AFTER going shopping. :) We hardly keep a week’s worth of food in the fridge anymore.

So, there you have it.  Our new normal here in China.  Coming as soon as I can collect a few–photos of meals, courtesy of our ayi.

- Jill

Holy Guacamole!

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: ,

Two Fridays ago Todd and I were out on our weekly date, wandering through Wudaokou.  (Wudaokou is the neighborhood where Google is located here–a hip and happenin’ area near the universities that caters a bit to foreigners.)  Todd met me at the subway station and we started walking.   At about the same moment that he asked where I wanted to eat, I glanced to my right and saw a glorious, shiny new sign.  (I probably noticed it only because I could actually read it; it was in English.)

Avocado Tree

Mexican Food Restaurant 

“Todd!  What’s that?!”  asking the obvious.  “A Mexican food restaurant here in Wudaokou?!”  ( There is Peter’s Tex-Mex here in town, but it’s an hour and 15 minutes from our house–2 subways lines and a taxi ride away.  Not convenient.)  He said he had noticed their grand opening a few weeks before. Then the same thought crossed both our minds.  If it’s called “Avocado Tree” did we dare hope they might have guacamole???

I should explain a little about our love of guacamole here.  We specifically discussed guacamole before moving to China.  And I decided that if we couldn’t find guacamole this wouldn’t be a problem because I know how to make it!  Just give me some avocados and I can whip it up.  What have we discovered since moving here?  No one in China knows what an avocado is, so there is no store we’ve found that sells them.  Ahhh!  So when Todd goes back to the States he eats guacamole for both of us.  And when we traveled home as a family this summer, we ate guacamole to make up for lost time.  Anyway, back to the Avocado Tree…

We decided to give it a shot.  After walking through the small, nondescript entrance we were surprised to find a rather large, exceptionally clean restaurant.  (This is a treat here in China. :) ) After the cleanliness, the second thing I noticed was a big picture of guacamole on the menu!  JACKPOT!  We were almost giddy with excitement.  I say almost because sometimes food here looks American but tastes Chinese.  So, there was no way to be sure if this was Chinese food in a good disguise until we tasted it.  The menu wasn’t huge, but WHO CARES!  It has GUACAMOLE!  We each ordered a burrito with a side of chips, salsa (more like pico de gallo) and GUACAMOLE.  (Sorry, have to keep shouting GUACAMOLE because yes, it IS that exciting!)  We took our first couple bites, and then we really were giddy.  It was not Chinese Mexican food!  (That sounds weird.)

We were so excited about our little discovery that we brought our new friends, the Carters, to try it out the very next night.  (You can read their perspective on dinner here.)  Well, I am really craving guacamole after writing this post, so I think I’m going to end here and stop teasing my stomach. :)  Viva el guacamole!


- Jill

Yummy 煎饼 (Jianbing)

Todd Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: ,

We love eating all variety of tasty treats and snacks from the street vendors in Beijing – but one in particular has become our family favorite – 煎饼 (Jianbing). All the kids love it, as do Jill and I. I’m pretty sure we are not alone – in fact friends of ours we met here in Beijing have also blogged about this great street food.  We decided to get one for everyone and bring them home for part of dinner tonight.  I figured what better way to explain what a Jianbing is then to show you how they are made, right?  Well – here you go, the making of a Jianbing along with some photos of what happens after they are made:

- Todd

Exploring our neighborhood.

Todd Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: ,

Glad to be home!

I recently returned back from being on business in the U.S. – was gone for too long (nearly a month) – but VERY glad to be back.  On my first full day back (Saturday April 16th) we decided to go exploring near our neighborhood.  There is a park just north of us that Jill and I have seen on the google maps satellite imagery that looks like it would be worth exploring, so we started our day there.  The park is named 回龙园 (Huilong park).  They actually charged admission to the park itself – at 1 yuan per person (~ 15 cents per person), and then within the park itself there were several different places that had things to do that we had to pay for as well – but they all were well worth it, and we all enjoyed them very much.

Waiting for the bus right outside our neighborhood. In the end it was taking too long to come, so we ended up walking the two or three blocks to the park ;)

Enjoying the bumper boats!

The first activity at the park we decided to do was the bumper boats.  The cost was 30 yuan per boat for a 15 minutes of fun in the water (~ $4.50 per ride, a bit steep I thought, but fun none-the-less).  Two of us were able to ride in each boat, the driver on the left, and the gunner on the right.  The guns were laser guns – where you could shoot these targets in the water and when you hit them they would start squirting water straight into the air, loads of fun ;)  I was paired with Trevin, Michael with Spencer, and the gals Kaylee Ann and Jasmine had the last boat.  Jill opted to stay safe and took some great photos and video clips.

It was lunch time after we had finished with the bumper boats, so we went in for lunch at a restaurant located just north of the park.  The menu was full of sooo many choices, which seems typical from my experiences here so far, fortunately they had lots of photos – as I’m still very uneducated when it comes to all of the names of the various food choices in Chinese (I need to work on that).  We opted for some dumplings, a corn dish, an excellent duck soup , and some sweet potato fries ;)  The “fries” weren’t called such on the menu, but that’s basically what they were, although the breading on the outside was sweet, while I was expecting salty… unfortunately that turned me off on the fries.  The kids loved them though and devoured them down  almost instantly!

We got two plates of the dumplings, a great variety of flavor and color!


Man was this soup good! Would definitely recommend it.

I was expecting salted "fries" when I ordered these, but they were sweet all around... kids loved them!


Michael realized his bowl of soup had something extra special when he pulled the duck's head out :)


Out on the paddle boats ;)

After lunch, we were ready to see more of what Huilong park had to offer.  There was more than we had time and / or money for – but we decided we had to rent one of the paddle boats to go out on the lake.  I got quite a workout taking us around… it was lot’s of fun though, especially as we would go by other boats and get all the staring eyes wondering what it was they were seeing (i.e. 5 kids and their dad – not a common site here I’m sure).  We even eventually convinced Jill to join us on the boat which was a great relief to my legs.  Michael did a great job, but I’d have to say that he hasn’t surpassed his mom yet in paddle boat abilities :)


Some neat animal figures by the side of lake, as viewed from our boat ;)


A cool clock tower in the park as seen from our boat.

Aren't they cute :)

Jill just loves these trees now that they are all flowering. I must admit I think they are quite attractive myself :)

After we had our fun in the boat, or wait – I think it was actually just before we had our fun in the boats (oops, my post is out of order, you’ll have to forgive me), we enjoyed playing on the exercise type equipment that seems to be everywhere in Beijing… always fun to play on:

There were many other things to do at the park, which is great – as we’ll have many opportunities to return I’m sure.  They had several small kiddie amusement rides there, as well as a really fun looking blow up slide (a huge blow up slide – sorry, didn’t take a photo this time), and even some electric kiddie cars you could rent for the smaller kids.  I’m sure there are other things I’m missing, but all-in-all a fun place to visit.


At the entrance to the exchange market.

Our exploring didn’t stop at the park, we decided to walk another block north of the park to the North Huilongguan Exchange Market  城北回龙观交易市场 (think HUGE flea market).  Many people from work have told me about the market, tell me I can get good deals on lots of commodity items, fruit for example, so I was excited to go check it out.  We didn’t get very far this time though, mainly due to the fact that it really wasn’t a place for the kids – not enough fun things going on I suppose, so we cut out early before seeing too much.  I plan to go back at some point so look for a future post about the market ;)

I feel like I’m beyond getting long-winded… so time to cut this post off.  We did take a bus to get home after our adventures though – tired from all the walking.  Fortunately buses are relatively inexpensive at only 0.4 yuan per trip (or less than 10 cents).  Here is a slideshow of all our photos from the exploration, enjoy:


- Todd


Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags:

Mmm…I love food!  (Did you know that?)  I think food is one of the “biggies” that defines a culture.  (By the way, I am SO glad I love Chinese food!  I would sure be in a heap of trouble if I didn’t.)  Because I am interested in food I like to assume everyone else is.   Here is our food experience so far.


We are fortunate to be in a serviced residence while we wait for our shipment to arrive.  This means we have a

Baozi, sweet ones. The kids LOVE these and eat them as treats several times a week.

cute little kitchen with some basic cookware.  Phew.  I have the privilege (you heard me) to cook at home and help our bottom line, and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt our waistline either. :)  I think eating out every meal would be torture for the super-thrifty-penny-pincher in me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to able to go out occasionally, but it’s something I plan and save for; it’s a treat.

So most days we eat at home, and rarely is it American food.  The ingredients are just harder to come by here (see banana bread post :)), and if you do find them in the international section of the store you can guarantee it will be double the cost of anything local.  So I usually cook up some meat and/or veggies in a skillet (since I don’t have a wok) and serve it with noodles or rice.

Chopping garlic stems for dinner. Super tasty!

You know, it’s surprising how many different meals one can conjure up with the same basic ingredients!  The one repeat we have is one of my all-time favorite foods–fried rice.  I LOVE FRIED RICE.  It’s not just a China thing.  I have loved that stuff for years and years.  I make it at home, order it at Chinese restaurants.  I can (and do) eat buckets of that stuff.


So, what did we eat our first night in Beijing???  McDonald’s!  Ha ha ha.  Ridiculous, but true.  We hadn’t gone to the store yet and didn’t have food.  Anyway, the kids enjoyed the food, and the locals enjoyed our kids enjoying the food.  (Have I mentioned the attention we get taking 5 kids out??)  We also had Pizza Hut (Chinese-style pizza sans sauce) delivered one night.  Here’s something fun that I bet you didn’t know.  Pizza Hut is not the only place that delivers here.  McDonald’s does too.  Kinda fun.  We ordered ice cream last week and had it delivered.

McDonald's ice cream--delivered. Cheers!

We’ve heard that many other places deliver here as well, including the local Carrefour (European Wal-Mart-type chain).  I’m seriously tempted to have my groceries delivered from there!  It would sure beat trudging home with heavy bags in that biting Beijing wind.

Last week Joe and Carrie (new friends who live in the same temp housing) treated our family to dinner.  What a nice thing!  I am truly humbled when someone does that because our family is NOT small.  I didn’t realize that was what was happening until we started to order.  Anyway, they took us to a great little dumpling (jiaozi) place just a few subway stops from home.  Besides the yummy food and great company, one of the neat things was getting to watch the dumpling-making process.  At first glance it looks like a team of surgeons–masks and all–performing a delicate operation behind glass. :)

The delicate surgery of...dumpling making.

Fancy dumplings topped with shrimp.

Die hard dumpling fan.

The 2nd weekend we were here Yugeng’s family invited all of us out to dinner.  (Still can’t believe people bring our big ol’ family to dinner!!)  Wow.  A teppanyaki style,  ten course meal.  Ten.  No exaggeration.  One of the nicest things was that we had our own room.  With 5 kids, that is a really great thing. :)  And the dinner–it was delicious, entertaining, beautifully presented, and darn it all I forgot my camera!  The kids are still talking about that meal, more than 2 weeks later.  I guess it left an impression on me as well, since I can still probably list each dish.  Memory test.   Ready, go:

  1. Appetizer of sushi
  2. Green salad with lip-smackingly good strawberry dressing
  3. 2 different soups, but I don’t know what they would have been called
  4. Fish with a potato-soup-type sauce
  5. Custard-like egg dish, cooked and served in egg shells, topped with pork bites and caviar.  (Ok, I have to find a picture of this one, because it looks so unique.)
  6. Shrimp–can’t remember how it was served, but I remember loving it.
  7. Steak, cut into juicy little bites and dipped in a super savory seasoning
  8. Baby somethings (sprouts? mushrooms?) rolled in paper-thin sliced beef (I think?)
  9. Sauteed mixed vegetables–cabbage, summer squashes, onions–I think?
  10. Fried rice
  11. Fresh, sliced and diced melons and fruits (Ok, so there were 11 including the fruit.)

I thought, “Wow, NOW I’m full,” before each of the last 6 courses.  They just kept coming!  Every time our chef started to throw a new dish on the grill the kids’ jaws dropped a little more and their eyes got a bit wider.  It was unbelievable.  I didn’t think we’d need to eat again for a week after we rolled out of there.  I’ve been treated to some really nice dinners, but that one just may take the cake!  Thank you, Sun family!


I think I mentioned our first trip to the store.  We had Michael take the pictures for us.  We thought it might be less conspicuous and strange than having adults do it.  Fine, I admit.  I was too embarrassed. :) Pictures, courtesy of Michael and Kaylee Ann.  (Next time I’ll have them snap a picture of the hanging pigs. :))

"Wheat smell breakfast" Mmm...makes my mouth water.

Fish, photographed by Michael.

Kids and fish.

We’ve done the regular store thing, Carrefour, and we’ve also done the little outdoor stands.  Todd occasionally buys fruits and veggies from a little vendor just around the corner.  His latest purchase was “huo long guo,” literally translated as “fire dragon fruit.”  YUMMY!  This was a huge hit with the family.  That’s all for now folks.  Until next time!

Huo long guo (fire dragon fruit)

- Jill

Week 1 – Food, Fun, Phone, and Freezing Our Fannies Off

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: ,

Exquisite gift from Yugeng's family (our exchange student). Bigger than it looks in this picture. Notice it takes up a third of our dining table?

[Note to reader: my picture gallery is driving me bonkers.  Please ignore the duplicate pictures.  Can't figure out why it won't cooperate. :(]

Hello from Beijing!  We’ve been here 1 week!  Here’s a recap by topic. :)

WEATHER.  I’m excited.  I just checked the weather and tomorrow will be a balmy 36 degrees Fahrenheit!  We’ve been here 1 week today, and this will be the first day with a high above freezing.  Yea!   Highs have been in the twenties–and that’s normal for this time of year.  Eek.

BANANA BREAD(-ISH).  I was feeling a little adventurous in the kitchen today.  My overly ripe bananas had been begging me to do something with them for a couple days.  So, I made Banana Sour Cream bread.  Sort of.  I had to improvise.  I didn’t have a mixing bowl or bakeware of any sort.  (We won’t get our shipment until we’re in our permanent place.)  I had about half of the ingredients, and then made do with 5 substitutions:

  • sour cream: plain Chinese style yogurt
  • white sugar: soft white sugar.  It’s white but has the consistency of brown sugar.  Never seen anything like it until now.
  • baking soda: umm…I couldn’t find a suitable substitute.  Just decided to be okay with “unleavened” bread :)
  • vanilla extract: almond extract.  glad I tucked it in my suitcase full of spices!
  • nuts: didn’t have any, oh well.

So, besides those ingredients I had everything else!  Ha ha!  It was definitely different, but still yummy enough that the kids and I devoured it at snack time.  Todd’s comment, “Wow.  It’s very….Chinese!”  Thanks! I think?


FOOD.  I am so glad that I like Chinese food!  Actually, I’m glad that most of our family likes Chinese food.  The kids are totally digging the noodles, dumplings, and steamed buns.  We promptly bought a new rice cooker when we arrived.  It has a steamer basket inside so we can cook our frozen dumplings and buns.  Yea!  And if you haven’t heard, your rice cooker can also double as a mixing bowl when you need to make banana bread.  :)

The breakfast menu, in order of frequency eaten: yogurt (drunk through a straw), baozi (steamed stuffed buns), toast, oatmeal, jiaozi (dumplings).  We have 2 tickets for breakfast each morning, and the lucky 2 people who eat at the buffet get to choose from lots of Chinese food with a few western things thrown in for good measure–namely cereal, toast, and bacon.

For lunch it’s noodles, fruit, and an occasional peanut butter sandwich or jiaozi.  Dinner is whatever I can scrounge together from our meager ingredients.  (I forgot how hard it is to start a kitchen from scratch.)  Chao fan (fried rice), jiaozi, baozi, rice, chao mian (fried noodles),  soup, McDonalds.  Yes, we did McDonald’s once right after we got here since we hadn’t been to the store yet.  Which leads me to our outings…

OUTINGS.  Now those are fun!  Ok, and a little scary.  Todd and I have 4 hands between us, and 5 kids.  No way to hang on to all the hands when we’re out and about.  So I find myself constantly counting heads, making sure everyone got on the subway, off the subway, on the escalator, off the escalator, across the street, in the building, on the elevator, off the elevator, out of the way of the crazy taxi drivers.  You get the picture.  And it’s great having a herd of kids with us.  With 2 children, people stare.  Wow!  Two kids!  “Liang ge xiao har!”  (Not sure how to spell “har.”) So we come along with our troop, see people counting, then hear them ask “4 kids!?!”  Then we get to say, “No…five!”  (Somehow they always miss one.)  Ha ha!

Bundled up!

Because it’s the dead of winter we bundle everyone up in 3 or 4 layers, and complete their already-poofy outfits with hats, coats, and mittens.  If the wind is blowing that’s really not fun.  It cuts right through those layers, and I feel like I can hardly smile sometimes because my face is frozen.  (Guess we need to get something to cover our faces?)

On the way to the store.

We walked to McDonald’s last Friday evening, walked to the grocery store on Saturday, and took the subway to church on Sunday.  Taking the subway also requires a little walking, so the girls and I wore pants to church and changed into our dresses in the bathroom after we arrived.  Fun stuff. :)  The trip to church is about 45 minutes on the subway, but we’ll need to leave a bit earlier so we can change clothes and comb out everyone’s hat hair after we arrive.

CELL PHONE.  Ug.  Almost forgot about this experience.  Kind of wish I could.  Todd was so nice.  He went out last Saturday evening and spent hours in the tech district shopping for a cell phone.  Well, he brought home this shiny, red smart phone on Saturday night.  Spent a lot more money on it than I felt we had.  And gave it to me!  Wow!  My cell phone is going to be my lifeline!  It has directions and maps, Chinese dictionaries and translators, people’s phone numbers in case I get lost.  Yeah, can’t live without it.  Needless to say, I felt pretty special.  So special that I left that shiny new phone in the bathroom at the church building the following morning.  (FYI, we attend church in one area of a building that is open to the public and houses other things.)   Well, no big deal.  I realized it while we were on the subway home.  We got home and quickly called back to the church and talked to someone there.  “Yeah, if you leave your cell phone somewhere, you can kiss it goodbye.”  Sure enough, we tried calling it and it had been turned off.  Someone had already pulled the battery.  I owned it for a whole 12 hours. :(  So, I’m still without a cell phone, and haven’t ventured out without Todd because of it.  I can say “oh well” now, but on Sunday I felt totally sick over it and had to cry it out of my system.  At least I have the box to look at…? :)

There’s so much more I should write, but I’ll have to save it for my next post.  Zai jian!

- Jill