Christmas thoughts, after Christmas!

It’s been a little quiet around this blog lately. I’ve been wanting to write lots of updates about new finds around town and places I’ve visited and novel things I’ve done…But somehow these ideas for blog posts always seem to come up in the shower, or in the car, or other places where it’s not terribly convenient to start writing. And like everyone else, the usual end-of-year scurry to finish whatever work is left to finish, is combined with end-of-year holiday procrastination. Because I won’t lie, I’ve been occupying myself with things like cookie decorating parties, tree decorating parties, liver decorating parties…leaving myself no option but to say, I promise that next year will start off with a bang!

In the meantime, back here, my blog posts that I have written as of late have hinted at how it just doesn’t feel like Christmas around here. But then, all of a sudden, during these last few days in Dar I’ve felt a frenzy of Christmas spirit. And yesterday, Christmas Day, the roads near my house were quiet and sleepy, parking lots typically jam-packed were lonely and deserted, reminding me very much of Christmas back home.

Christmas in Nashville, 2012

Christmas in Nashville, 2012


As for our little family of two, the Diploman and I, rather than exchange gifts (we rarely do), we gifted ourselves the luxury of sleeping in. We went over to a friends’ and had a low-key but spot-on Christmas Day supper, starting at 2pm, complete with ham that was hand-carried from the States and where the DiploMan was called a “spot-on fellow” by one 70-some old woman. Leaving me very envious of old-timey speak.

Christmas in Guangzhou, 2010

Christmas in Guangzhou, 2010

We went out on a long long walk in the afternoon, since we’re dog sitting for two families, and Merry Christmas greetings were exchanged with each person we passed– no matter foreign or local. In the evening we skype’d our families–or whatever families were available, and then we gave ourselves our second Christmas gift of the day and ordered pizza. We’re very easy around here, as you can see. And after our pizza dinner, we cozied up in our living room for a Breaking Bad marathon, and in between episodes (when I wasn’t saying WHAT or OH MY GOD or THAT’s CUH-RASZZY!!) I spent some time reflecting on the day and thinking about how lovely and perfect and Christmas-y it all was, despite the lack of immediate family, despite the non-existant snow or cold, and despite the absence of any wrapping paper or visits from Santa. And then I thought, waitaminute, maybe I was the one not really feeling in Christmas spirits lately, because Christmas was definitely around yesterday.

Christmas in Tahoe, 2009

Christmas in Tahoe, 2009

When we have kids, we’ll most certainly do up the whole Christmas thing. We’ll figure out a Christmas tree situation, we’ll actually plan ahead to get gifts for one another, we’ll send out Christmas cards, and we’ll maybe organize some sort of Christmas party…maybe. But for this year, it’s been quite a pleasantly nice Christmas. Hope you had a good one too, wherever you are!

Chinese New Year: A lesson on how to eat a year’s worth of luck

Chinese New Year falls on Sunday, February 10 this year, when we kick off the year of the snake. Snake personalities are known to be acute, cunning, aware, proud, vain, and vicious at times. My mother was a snake, so besides the fact that my teenage years represented an era of nonstop nuclear warfare in our house, I appreciate this cycle of the Chinese Zodiac much more than most.

I’m ready to kick off this lunar year in DC right, then. There are certain foods one must eat during Chinese New Year to bring in luck for the home and the family, and to be frank, for oneself. And though the New Year is a one-day holiday, celebrations often extend for a week before and after – which means a lot of eating potential. While it seems like every single foodstuff has a corresponding symbolic meaning in the Chinese culture , I’ve selected a list of 8 the most symbolic foods to eat over the holiday, where to find some of their best iterations throughout the city, plus why exactly you’ll be eating them in the first place.

eel noodles


We here in DC look to cities like LA and NY with ramen envy. So instead of that brothy, porky, noodly combo, let’s stretch our imaginations and parla Italiano for a second. Legend has it that Marco Polo brought the concept of spaghetti to Italy via China, so we’ll play that card here. DC has no shortage of Italian gems, but this year’s standout has got to be Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola.  If you haven’t heard of Fiola yet this year, you’ve got to be living in China or something.

Noodles are a symbol of longevity. The longer, the better. So order up some spaghetti, bucatini, or fettucine on Fiola’s menu, and leave that short stubby orecchiete stuff for another day.

market fish

Whole Fish

Thank you Chesapeake Bay, for your abundance of seafood. Thank you for your oysters,  your crabs, your whiting and your hake. Thank you for providing the folks here in DC with an orchestra of tasty delights from your waters. Finally, thank you, Farmers Fishers Bakers, for opening this past year and bringing us the most sustainable of your daily catch.

In Chinese, the word for fish is a homanym for abundance, and symbolizes just that.  Traditionally fish is served steamed, always whole – representing prosperity for the whole year, from head to tail. 



It’s winter. Where do you think you’re getting fresh peaches around here? Now’s the time to look for the little sugary fruits baked into pies! Dangerous Pies DC, with it’s rock star mentality and hand made pies, is serving up both sweet and savory desserts as a part of H Street’s growing food scene. If you can’t get out to H Street, don’t fret. – Dangerous Pies is now going mobile, bringing a bit more abundance of goodness to my stomach, and unfortunately, my thighs too.

Peaches are often brought as housewarming gifts, as ancestral offerings, or displayed in the home, symbolic of youth and eternal longevity. China is the number one producer of peaches in the world. 



Mmmmm… little packets of meats and veggies wrapped in a thick fluffy dough. Hey now, we may be stretching our imaginations for a bit, but isn’t the empanada, like, the dumpling of South America? Check out DC empanada’s new outpost at Union Market, with a rotating menu ready to please all senses. Favorites include the WMD- Weapon of Mass Deliciousness (Chili and cheese), the The Badass (Buffalo chicken and blue cheese), and the Tio Shawn (black beans, rice, cheese, chipotle). Yes, that last one’s vegetarian, but yes, it’s tasty and a personal favorite.

Traditional dumplings resemble the ancient golden nuggets used as currency in medieval China, and are symbolic for wealth and prosperity. Mo’ dumplings mo’ money (I think this expression just might catch on).

chinese candies


That Georgetown Cupcake line don’t lie, we Washingtonians need our sugar fix. Rather that a cupcake though, I’d rather indulge in the cupcake’s daintier little sister, the macaron. This French staple has officially arrived thanks to DC Patisserie. Indulgent enough to pass for a special-holiday treat, plus small enough to pop a few at a time, the macaron is the perfect sweet treat.

Sweet desserts for a sweet year. Though the Chinese don’t often have an abundance of sweets and desserts in their cuisine, the New Year is a time when they roll up their sleeves and pull a few tricks out from their sleeves. Tiny red-wrapper candies are passed out to kids, and cakes and tarts are baked for dinners and parties.


Tangerines and Oranges

To balance out your new diet of empanadas, pies, and macarons, maybe a little something fresh would be appropriate. Thankfully little clementines are the winter darling of the produce world. I’m always searching to get my hands on a little extra Vitamin C in the wintertime, and popping a few of these for an afternoon snack do just the trick. Korean grocer giant H-Mart carries these by the carton, and for cheap. That’s some good fortune for both you and your wallet.

In Chinese, the word tangerine sounds a lot like the word ‘luck’. Additionally, oranges represent abundance. So pairing a bowl of oranges along with tangerines, means you’ll have abundant luck. Even better, the more leaves that are on the tangerines the better – those symbolize life and longevity! You know, in case eating those noodles didn’t do the trick.

red beans and dates

Nien Gao

A dessert with dates and beans? Hey, I warned you earlier, the Chinese don’t really do sweets and desserts. But actually the floating red dates and sweet red beans suspended in glutinous rice flour is actually…well, quite good. You know who does glutinous rice and sweet red bean paste better than the Chinese, though? The Japanese, and their mochi (though, I might be starting WWIII with this statement). Tiny little Hana Market, tucked on a corner of U street adjacent to a fire station, is one of the only authentic Asian markets in the district, and a good one at that. Stocked from floor to ceiling with hundreds of varieties of Japanese goods, you can find mochi in their refrigerated cases.

Nien Gao is another homonym for good luck – actually meaning “sticky cake”, it can also mean ‘high year’. All over china and beyond, Chinese eat this dessert for the new year to bring a tall order of good fortune in the new year. I personally eat it with high hopes that in the future, I won’t find the Chinese language so damn confusing.

stir fry at home

Stir Fry with 10 Vegetables

Both my parents reminisce of their childhood New Year dinners, when there was always a big plate of 10-vegetable stir fry on the table. Every Year. My mom fondly recalls her father meticulously chopping vegetables the whole day into paper-thin slices, specifically for this dish. Traditionally made with ingredients such as pickled mustard greens, lotus root, fresh bamboo, bean sprouts, and shiitake mushrooms, it’s a light respite that is welcome during feasts of rich seafood and meat. For this one, I say visit a local DC farmers market to pick out the 10 best ingredients, and make your own seasonal, lucky stir fry. Onions, cabbage, parsnips, celery, tofu, bean sprouts, parsley, leeks, mushrooms, and carrots sounds like a great wintery combo to me. To the farmers market I go!

The number 10 represents completeness, and having 10 vegetables serves a purpose of being fulfilled in family and life. Plus this one hits close to home, which is good a reason as any to eat a dish.


So there you have it: Eight foods you should be eating these next few weeks, and where you’ll find their best versions in DC. And oh yeah, eight is very lucky in the Chinese culture, because it sounds like the Chinese word for “prosperity” or “wealth”. So yeah, it’s confirmed that we Chinese are pretty superstitious mofo’s looking for luck everywhere we can.

Chiles en Nogada

After Cholula, we found ourselves in Puebla- in a quaint city that reminded me of a much sunnier version of the compact, colorblock town of Reykjavik. Home to many handmade ceramics, local candies, and ornate churches, it also laid claim to fame for being the “birthplace” of Chiles en Nogada.

Named after its two main ingredients: The poblano chile and walnuts (nogal is Spanish for walnut tree), it is a dish that has been recreated year after year since its invention by Pueblan nuns in the early 19th century (the same nuns that invented mole? Almost too good to be true). A large roasted chile is stuffed with shredded pork and a combinations of aromatics and various in-season as well as dried fruits, topped with a creamy walnut sauce and garnished with pomegranates and parsley. This over-the-top, seemingly incongruous dish was originally conceived to celebrate a visit by the General Augustín de Iturbide who had helped Mexico secure its independence the aptly named, Mexican War of Independence. Iturbide has also been attributed as the original designer of the Mexican Flag. Thus, the colors of the dish are a non-accidental patriotic reference to the colors of the flag. In Mexico, church and state seemed to be inseparable in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Chicken covered in mole sauce, also famously created by Pueblan nuns

The dish is also, uniquely, as seasonal as pumpkin pie. Traditionally offered in the months of August and September leading up to Mexican Independence day (Sept 16- NOT May 5), I can only wonder if this is this is the sole result of culinary history or if it is also the result of the actual seasonal availability of ingredients.  I’ve read some blogs that say pomegranates and walnuts aren’t available any other time of year, but that leaves me skeptical. Left to my own deductions, I am led to a cause and effect situation here, for Chiles en Nogada are also not consumed at any other time of year. Hmm.

The combination of sweet and nutty flavors set me quite aback at first bite. But after slowly digesting (both mentally and physiologically), I realized that it was more complicated and quite tastier than my initial reaction. It reminded me of fall flavors with the apple, pear, and raisin type stuffing. It very surprisingly took me back to a Passover dinner we celebrated last year and the Charoset that I tasted for the first time. Referencing the two dishes and their respective ingredients side by side, it was obvious how my memory responded; nutty and fruity, the ingredients stood in solidarity with each other.

Everything about this dish- it’s patriotism to its country, its loyalty to history, its resemblance to other seasonal and religious meals, made it extra special to consume.

For a a great introduction on Chiles en Nogada and its preparation, visit this blog.

More street snacks in Yangshuo: The zongzi (粽子)

Not being from one region in particular, (a rarity in such a cuisine-specific country) the Zongzi is a tamale-like concoction that every Chinese person has eaten in his/her life.  As much as turkey is a part of Thanksgiving in the states, Zongzi are a huge part of the Chinese holiday Dragon Boat Festival, in early June.  Common lore tells varied stories, all involving a famous poet drowning himself (some stories are for love, some for political sacrifice), and the village people throwing packets of rice into the river to keep the fish from eating his body.  To celebrate the holiday, wrapping and eating these Zongzi’s are common tradition, and glutinous rice is stuffed into hearty bamboo leaves, and filled with either savory or sweet goods.  Nowadays Zongzi can be found at all times of year, everywhere from the streets, to supermarket freezers, to dim sum restaurants.

In Yangshuo we came across an elderly woman rolling a cart of Zongzi down the street.  I’ve had plenty of Zongzi of the homemade and supermarket and dimsum variety, but have yet to taste the smaller, always-steaming street variety. Mild in all senses- texture, flavor, temperature- it turned out to be a very satisfying midday snack.  I bet if I were hungry I’d surely wolf a few of these down.

Superbowl Monday

Superbowl Tradition in the U.S. is pretty simple.  From my experiences celebrating on both coasts, the day comes down to a few things, food (chips, salsa, chicken wings, 7 layer dip), and alcohol being the most important.  I know plenty of non-sports fans that love Superbowl Sunday, simply as it provides a reason to take part in a gluttonous showdown once a year.

I’m both football fan as well as greedy pig.  So in an effort to watch the game as it played live, we had our good friends over for a 7:30am kickoff.  Yes, 7:30am Monday morning.  And keeping with tradition, we had plenty of food and booze available.  I’ve never had Bloody Marys and Irish Coffees during a football game, but I’ve got to say, it’s not bad at all.

Thanks to Taco Night less than a week ago, we had plenty of fixins left in our fridge, which gave me the idea for breakfast tacos.  I nixed the effort to make chicken wings, which seemed wholly inappropriate for 7am on a Monday morning anyways.  I scrambled up some eggs, bacon, and these breakfast potatoes below, and voila!  The perfect pairing for an Irish coffee and football game.

I’m liking these new traditions.

Breakfast Potatoes


  • 5 or 6 medium-sized potatoes, I used Russet but red potatoes are fine too.
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste


  1. In a large pot bring water to a boil.  Place the whole potatoes into the water and cook on Medium for approx. 30 minutes, or until fork tender.  Remove potatoes from water, and set aside to cool for 30 minutes.
  2. With the skin still on, dice potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes, running the knife under cool water between slices to prevent sticking. In a large pan or dish season potatoes with oregano, cumin, dill and chili powder.
  3. In a large saute pan that you’ve just used to fry bacon or sausages (because you’ll obviously serve one if not both when you serve breakfast potatoes) toss in the onions and saute on med-high.  The onions should brown fairly quickly.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes.
  4. In several batches, spoon the potatoes into the pan, seasoning liberally after each addition.  After the last of the potatoes are added, stir a few more times so the potatoes are evenly seasoned.  If you like your potatoes with a little more char and crisp, leave them in the pan for longer and flip every few minutes.

Yield: 6 servings, but everyone likes potatoes so maybe less!

Taco Party

Though I rant and rave about New York eats, I am a Californian tried and true.  Which means until adulthood,  I had no idea the rest of the world did not have avocado trees growing in their neighbors’ backyards, and that in many cities Tacos were a mystical part of food lore.  Coming to China I knew I would crave many a “Western” food, and craving Mexican food has not fallen short of that expectation.

Before the Chinese New Year holiday, we had a bunch of friends from the DiploMan’s work over for a celebration of sorts, for which he boasted I would make tacos.  Yes, tacos, on the eve of Chinese New Year.  We’re not exactly the most culturally appropriate of people on this one, I suppose… In any case, the day before I scoured the city for ingredients, and did the best I could to come up with everything except for tomatillos and jalapenos.  And, until next time, packaged tortillas would have to do.  How much do you expect a girl to do in the kitchen at once!!?

Thanks to a good friend, I was already provided with a great roasted pork butt recipe, perfect for taco-filling.  Not being a fan of the ground beef taco thing (plus it’s hard to find good ground beef here in China), I opted for a shredded chicken recipe as well.  Referencing one of my favorite websites to dig up the perfect recipe, even without all of the exact ingredients I’d say the party was a success!  And now, without further ado, are the two recipes I used:

Pulled Pork, left, and Shredded Chipotle Chicken, right

Daelyn’s Pork Butt Recipe


  • 1 3-5 lb. bone-in, skin-on pork butt (shoulder).  — Ask your butcher for this one.  Sometimes they won’t have bone in, which in a pinch, boneless will do.  Go as big as you’d like, the marinade works for all sizes and you can never have too much pulled pork!
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp hot sauce, of any kind


  1. Partially separate the skin and fat from the meat using either your hands or a knife, creating a pocket.  If using a knife, gently pull the skin away from the meat and lightly run the blade where the fat meets the meat.  This should slice the fat (and skin) away cleanly. Do not remove entirely- you should be creating a hood or flap.
  2. Mix the juices of the orange and lime, orange zest, the garlic and hot sauce in a oven-safe pan.  Season pork butt generously with salt and pepper.  Place the pork butt, skin side up, in marinade.  Bathe the meat in the marinade, making sure to get in under the skin.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  3. The next day, preheat oven to 300F.  Flip the pork over itself a few times so it gets a nice juicy coating of the marinade.
  4. Keeping the skin side up, Cover with foil, bake in the oven without disturbing for three hours.
  5. After three hours remove foil, and bake uncovered for another three hours basting with a large spoon every hour (or, if you are like me, every 45 minutes).
  6. If the skin does not crisp up to your liking, in the last half hour add a generous bit of salt onto the skin and turn up the heat to 375F.
  7. Remove from oven, let meat sit for 30 minutes.  Remove the crispy skin, set aside.  Scrape off the layer of fat with a knife or fork.  Using two forks (or your hands, if you have no heat sensitivity left on your fingers) shred the pork off the bone into another bowl.  Add some of the drippings/fat at the end to moisten and flavor the meat.
  8. Slice up the skin and serve atop meat, or on the side.


Shredded Chipotle Chicken:

**adapted from Homesick Texan


For the chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into parts
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into pieces
  • 1 carrot, cut into pieces
  • 3 stems cilantro
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon salt

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons chipotle powder
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, stemmed and packed
  • juice of one lime
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place the chicken in a large pot along with garlic, onion, celery, carrot, cilantro, bay leaf, pepper and salt.  Cover with water (about 5 cups), bring the pot to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for about an hour and a half.
  2. Remove the chicken from the pot with a pair of tongs, and let it rest about 30 minutes to cool.  When cool enough to handle, remove all the meat from the bones under running water so to wash away the excess fat.  Discard skin as well.  With the collected meat, pull apart even more with your hands so the chicken is shredded finely.
  3. To make the chipotle sauce: Spoon out 1/2 cup of the chicken broth into a blender, reserving the rest for a multitude of other uses.  Add in the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, chipotle powder, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and spices.  Blend until smooth.  Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender- my favorite kitchen gadget.
  4. In a saucepan, on Medium heat, warm just enough canola oil to coat the bottom of the pot.  Pour in the tomato chipotle mixture and cook, occasionally stirring, for about 20 minutes.  The sauce should become thicker and darker.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. In another pot set on Medium low, add the shredded chicken and in spoonfuls, the hot tomato sauce.  Stir until the chicken is coated to your liking and has been re-heated, about 10-15 minutes.  Taste to adjust seasoning.

Yield: 1 large bowl of shredded chicken; 6-8 servings to fill tacos