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.
Healthy Comfort Food
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.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
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.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)