How to sum up a week in China? In photos? In strings of words? Maybe both. I started and stopped writing this post on the eleven hour plane ride home about sixteen times. Ultimately I decided to show you some of my favorite photos, give you links to some of my favorite spots, and let you run on over to flickr to check out more of my photos if you’d like. In total, my dad and sisters and I were in Shanghai about four days and Hong Kong for two days. Too short, but we managed to pack it in. So off we go. You ready?
There were oddly-printed tee shirts, jade, rickshaws, fake watches, cameras, and temples:
There was coconut juice, a new obsession for bean paste sweets and local candy:
There were vistas and peaks and skylines (Hong Kong)…
THE WORLD EXPO, SHANGHAI:
We spent the first day at the World Expo in Shanghai. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know much about the World Expo before we departed, but it’s pretty awesome. Essentially, numerous countries come together and, with one theme (this year it was green living), create an exhibit that encapsulates their country’s way of life. My favorite exhibit was the UK (you can see it above in the very center of the photo and read more about it here if you’d like). The centerpiece of their pavilion is the seed cathedral, a six story high cube-like structure made from long slim acrylic rods which draw in daylight in order to illuminate the interior (see bottom right photo). Each of those little rods had a seed at the very end (see bottom right photo)–its the largest collection of wild plant seeds in the world. It’s awe-inspiring, truly. It was worth the sweaty, pushy, cranky wait in line.
In Shanghai, some of my favorite shops were: Spin Ceramics (above) for beautiful modern ceramics designed in Shanghai but created in Jing De Zhen, China’s ceramics capital. They specialize in dinnerware and decorative objects, and most pieces come in a sweet wooden box. Urban Tribe for tastefully-chosen silver jewelry, breezy skirts and tops, black and white photography and a variety of local ceramics and teas. Nest is also great for locally-based brands showcasing eco-designed bags, papers, and housewares. The Lomography Store is very cool for those into hipster, vintage cameras. They stock a wide variety of Holga and Diana cameras. For Chinese tea and candies, the stalls around Yuyuan Gardens are fun albeit touristy and crowded. And I.T. in the Xintiandi quarter is great for interesting, cutting edge fashion.
In Hong Kong, we visited Lane Crawford, the infamous Chinese department store that’s been around since 185o. Today, it’s pretty high end, but it’s a must-see for historic value, if nothing else. We also popped into many of the shops and galleries along Taikang Road (see “Neighborhoods” below), and bought sweet little jade necklaces on “Jade Row,” specifically at Che Fai Jades Company which came recommended to us.
In Shanghai in particular, there are interesting, distinct neighborhoods that you really shouldn’t miss. We meandered around The French Concession with its leafy wide streets, street food, and sweet independent shops. The area itself is spread out, so bring your walking shoes and a bit of patience (or just hail a $2 cab). The Xintiandi area is where you’ll find higher end dining, more mainstream shops, and some chains you’ll recognize. It’s also where you can get an hour massage for $15 at Green Massage (book ahead-it’s busy). Also, check out Taikang Road, what was once considered the artistic underbelly of Shanghai but has now certainly caught on with the tourists. However, the tight winding streets are still charming, the shops are sweet, and there are more cafes and wine bars per square footage than I saw in any one area in China (eat lunch at Kommune. It rocks). Makes for a nice afternoon. In the evening, stroll The Bund. Have a drink at The Glamour Bar inside M on the Bund.
In Hong Kong:
Because we were only in Hong Kong for two days, we packed in the tourist sights much more than we meandered neighborhoods. That being said, we got a feel for the layout of the city and what’s what. A few sights we loved: The Peak is a bit of a drive (about 30 minutes from downtown), but offers stunning, almost panoramic views of the city. I heard it’s incredible at night. We visited the Chi Lin Nunnery and Buddhist Halls and the Lotus Gardens. As it was described to me, this isn’t a tourist attraction (and literally, there was no one there). It was recently designed as a fully functioning prayer hall and garden sanctuary. With gongs going off in the background, quiet shuffles, and cameras prohibited, there was a very special sense of calm here.
I also loved the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, a place where many Chinese and Japanese folks come to worship and pray for a particular wish or blessing. They light incense and place it by the temple as an offering. If their wish comes true, they return to the temple to donate a token of thanks (generally money which keeps the temple running). It’s hazy with incense smoke, it’s colorful and loud and crowded, and filled with a sense of hope and thanks and belief. That was palpable.
Then there was the best massage I’ve ever had at in the basement of the San Diego hotel. It’s serious, traditional, not for the faint of heart Chinese massage. And just for the experience, we checked out the Temple Street night market. I bought a fake Cartier watch that I kind of love and scored some young coconut juice. But those are really the only high points: it’s crowded, dirty, and seedy. But see it anyway.
In Shanghai: Don’t miss M on the Bund for a beautiful glittering patio overlooking the waterfront and Shanghai skyline. A special occasion spot. I fell in love with pavlova here. Kommune for lunch on the best outdoor patio in Shanghai amidst the bustling international Taikang Lu. For dumplings, Din Tai Fung has the best xaio long bao or soup dumplings in town. Ignore the rather sterile shopping mall location and dive right in. For a true taste of the local lunch scene, hit up Wang Jia Sha (805 Nanjing Road)–it’s like a locals food court with dumpling and noodle stalls and stands to take away sweet dumplings and breads.
In Hong Kong: For breakfast, you can’t beat the buffet at The Intercontinental Hotel. This is coming from someone who loathes buffets, but it’s a thing of beauty. Really. Five different kinds of honey, seven kinds of jams, a pastry bar, yogurts from around the world, fresh juices, local exotic fruits, eggs to order along with Chinese and Japanese fare. It was honestly my favorite part of our first day in Hong Kong. For lunch, Heichinrou is a solid bet for dim sum with a huge crowd of locals. Delicious shrimp dumplings, pork fried rice, and beautiful Chinese vegetables. And for my sister’s birthday, we went to Zuma; it’s certainly worthy of such an occasion. They do contemporary, family-style Japanese food and nice strong cocktails. The spicy fried tofu, dragon roll, and banana and green tea cake should not be missed. Neither should the outdoor terrace with fire pit, glowing lights, and views of downtown.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Shanghai and Hong Kong. Both are truly unlike any place I’ve ever been and I’m taking little bits back home with me that will, eventually, turn into softer edged memories . As is the case with most things, I suppose. Thanks so much to those of you who sent in suggestions and recommendations–the spots I didn’t get to are on the list for the next go-around.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.