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 Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
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).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.