Monday, April 30, 2012

Mandarin Mondays: 市场 (Street Market)

In honor of International Labor Day (wǔ yī láodòng jié, 五一劳动节) messing up everyone's normal weekend plans again, I didn't have to tutor on Sunday afternoon. So we went to a nearby street market (shì chǎng, 市场) that is huge, but only there on Sundays. We got some things for our new apartment that are like early birthday presents for me.

You never know quite what you are going to find at these markets. In the past, we've seen cow's heads but passed on purchasing any. You can also find all kind of health cures there, and maybe even get your teeth fixed? Uh, we passed on that too.

Anyway, what we love about this market are the handcrafted items, that are much higher quality than stuff at our Walmart and are difficult to find anywhere else. This time, we got some more blue pots and bamboo baskets. We're using them to hold our fruits and veggies, kitchen towels, and some school and art supplies for the boys. Our dining room looks a lot more organized and happier now.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Family Fridays: Potty Training Week 2

Certainly potty training can be an exhausting at times for moms and dads, but apparently Andrew is feeling a bit of fatigue due to the process as well. Yes, he did fall asleep on the potty. No, I didn't know that was possible for a two-year-old to do that either. Yes, Nate just had to get a picture to show me before he took him off and put him to bed. And no, he actually wasn't on the potty very long at all this time either.

Andrew is continuing to prove that no two children are alike in this area. He has been dry every night and almost every nap since we have started this process. He has had far fewer accidents and tells us that he wants to go to the potty much more often than his older brother did. But he still doesn't really completely understand what is going on and it will still take a long time for him to go on the potty sometimes. Although it has been an hour or less this past week so that is progress.

Andrew has also managed to pee on me once so far. He brother did this a few times during potty training too. However, the difference between these two in this instance is Aaron was sitting on my lap, and Andrew was sitting on the potty. Not completely sure what happened with that one either, but all of a sudden my back was wet while I was trying to put a video on for him. At least he was really fast that time.

He is definitely making progress though, and he no longer even likes to go in his diapers, even if we put one on him to go out, so I think we're going to be continuing our adventure. At least we'll have some good laughs later, and anyone else reading this might have a few now.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

DIY T-Shirt Blanket or Quilt

I re-purposed a bunch T-shirts into a large blanket for Aaron's birthday and a small blanket for Andrew's half birthday, both coming up in June.

I simply cut out large squares, all the same size, from the front and back of all of the T-shirts and sewed them together quilt block style. I really like how bright and cheerful Aaron's color-block blanket turned out. This is a great project to turn unneeded items into something really useful.

For these blankets, I made both the front and back T-shirt blocks. But when I was in college I recycled the high school T-shirts that I no longer wanted to wear but didn't want to completely get rid of into a quilt that had the T-shirts with designs on the front, quilt batting in the middle, and strips of old blue jeans for the back. This quilt was warmer and sturdier of course. This was also a good way to actually use some sentimental T-shirts a little longer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mandarin Mondays: 包饺子 (Make Dumplings)

A little while ago, a friend of mine taught me how to make (or "pack") Chinese dumplings (bāo jiǎo zi, 包饺子). I've mentioned before that  jiǎo zi are one of our favorite Chinese foods, so it was neat to learn how to make them.

We bought the wrappers from the market, which was really inexpensive here. I am told the process for making the dough goes something like this: take flour, add water and mix until it feels right, roll it out really thin, and cut into circles. Someday maybe I'll learn more about making the dough but for now here is the recipe for filling and boiling jiǎo zi.

Homemade Jiǎo Zi Recipe

  • Jiǎo zi wrappers
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • several cups chopped green onions
  • several chopped cloves of garlic
  • salt
  1. Mix pork, onions, garlic, and a liberal amount of salt together well in a mixing bowl.
  2. Place a small amount of filling in a wrapper. Wet the edge of the wrapper with a small amount of water. Pinch the edges closed. Technically the jiǎo zi are supposed to have the back side be able to lay flat, the front side pleated, and be able to stand up on their own. However, I couldn't quite get the hang of folding the edges just so, and my less beautiful jiǎo zi still tasted just as good.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, place jiǎo zi in boiling water, and return to a boil. Then you add one bowl of cold water to the pot, and return to a boil again. Repeat adding a bowl of water two more times (for a total of three times), and the jiǎo zi are supposed to be done to perfection. 
  4. Remove, and serve immediately with soy sauce, brown vinegar, and/or hot pepper sauce for dipping.

Jiǎo zi can also be frozen uncooked in a single layer on a cookie sheet and then transferred to a plastic bag for longer storage. They can then be boiled at a later date using the same method above; it just takes a few minutes longer to come to a boil the first time.

    Friday, April 20, 2012

    Family Fridays; Potty Training Adventures

    Watching videos on his throne
    Since I've been feeling a bit better lately, and we really would like to have Andrew potty trained by the time the new baby arrives in the Fall, we decided it was time to start that process again. So Andrew has been spending lots of time on the potty this week.

    It did take a while for Aaron to get the hang of this process too, so I am prepared for this to take a little bit. However, Andrew has definitely surprised me with what part of this process is most challenging in training him. Has anyone else ever heard of a two-year-old sitting on a potty for more than 7 hours before going potty? Or after 12+ hours of staying dry at night still sitting on the potty for more than an hour and a half before going? That is more than 13½ hours total of not going to the bathroom!

    I had no idea it was possible for a little one to hold it so long, especially since we've been giving him extra water, juice, and lemonade to encourage him to go more often. Instead he is determined stubborn enough to hold it much longer than usual. He has been dry all night, every night since we started this process, and we have had to take him off of the potty quite a few times so the rest of us can use the potty. This of course then sometimes results in accidents once he is off and playing.

    With it taking him so long to go, we've been letting him watch videos on the potty to keep him entertained long enough to actually catch him going. But this can still be a challenge, if you can't spend say 7 hours or more straight in the bathroom.

    I'm hoping this great bladder control is actually going turn into an asset once he figures out what he is supposed to be doing. The last couple of days he has actually been asking for diaper changes before he wets his undies, so this is definite progress, but then it still takes him a long time to go on the potty. We'll see if he keeps making progress over the next couple of weeks, or if we need to wait a little bit with the potty training.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

    DIY Stuffed French Toast

    I made this for our family brunch a couple of Sundays ago, but it would be great anytime. You can even prepare it the night ahead, cover, and store in the fridge, and then just bake the next day. I used homemade strawberry jam and homemade yogurt cream cheese, but you could use any kind you like to vary the flavors.

    Homemade Stuffed French Toast Recipe
    • Bread to cover 9x13 pan in two layers
    • 8 eggs beaten
    • ¼ cup milk
    • Jam
    • Cream cheese or yogurt cheese
    1. Grease a 9x13 pan and preheat 350F.
    2. Layer bread to cover the bottom of the pan.
    3. Spread strawberry jam and then cream cheese over bread.
    4. Cover with another layer of bread.
    5. Beat eggs and milk until well combined and then slowly pour over bread to saturate.
    6. Bake at 350F until the top is golden brown, about 35–45 minutes. Remove from oven, and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Mandarin Mondays: 面条 (Noodles)

    A Chinese friend of mine came over last week and showed me how to make some Hainan (Hǎinán, 海南) style noodles (miàn tiáo, 面条). I'll share the basic recipe and method with you, but all amounts are very approximate.

    Hainan style food uses a lot of garlic and green onion, but not a lot of other seasoning or sauces. Traditionally they cook with lard to bring in more meat flavor, without having to use a lot of expensive meat. However, most people now use oil. This dish would traditionally be eaten for breakfast (or maybe lunch). But we like it for dinner as well.

    This dish is very simply, and we liked it a lot. The boys especially ate huge helpings and were thrilled that there were leftovers for the next meal.

    Hainan Style Noodle Soup

    • ¼ cup or more oil or lard
    • 3 cloves garlic chopped
    • 1 cup green onion chopped
    • ½ pound lean pork chopped
    • 1 pound fresh or dried wide rice noodles
    • salt to taste (lots if your trying to get authentic flavor)
    • water
    1. In a large pot (guō, 锅) heat 1–2 quarts of water. Cook noodles if dried or simply wash the noodles if you bought them fresh from the market.
    2. Meanwhile in a wok, known as a "fry pot" (chǎo guō, 炒锅), heat oil or lard. Add garlic, onion, and pork, and fry until brown.
    3. Add noodles and a good amount of water to the wok. Bring to a boil.
    4. Salt to taste, and serve.

    Friday, April 13, 2012

    Family Fridays: Rejoicing

    April 8, 2012

    I hope that everyone had a great holiday over the weekend. We certainly did, even though we had to catch up with family and friends over Skype. We certainly have a lot to rejoice over and celebrate since the tomb is empty.

    We are also rejoicing in things settling down a little after moving and this past week I have been feeling much better. I am hoping that most of the nausea is past for this pregnancy now that I am 15 weeks along.

    Sunday, April 8, 2012

    DIY Scottish Shortbread

    My husband loves shortbread. I used to think it was a rather boring cookie, but now he has me convinced how wonderful they are. The difference is baking them with 100% real butter. With just three ingredients these are really simple cookies, but you can totally taste the difference if you make them with anything besides all butter. Personally, I think it is a waste of time now to even attempt shortbread with margarine, somethings you can't taste the difference, but this isn't only of those recipes. I think these make great food gifts as well because not everyone makes them, and they don't have any nuts or chocolate in them if someone has allergies.

    Homemade Scottish Shortbread Recipe

    • 1½ cups flour
    • ¾ cup butter
    • ⅓ cup sugar
    1. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and cut in butter with a pastry cutter. Mixture will be very crumbly and resemble pie crust crumbs.
    2. Press into an ungreased 9x9 (for thick shortbread) or 9x13 (for thin shortbread) pan. Recipe can easily be doubled to fill a jelly roll pan nicely.
    3. Bake at 350F until edges just begin to brown. Time varies widely on baking these by oven and thickness of the cookies from 5–15 minutes, so you really just have to watch them carefully.
    4. Allow to cool before cutting so they are not too crumbly. We also love melted chocolate drizzled on top after they have cooled.

      Friday, April 6, 2012

      DIY Chocolate Covered Cherries

      I had some leftover melted chocolate from making chocolate covered peanut butter eggs and decided to cover some maraschino cherries with it. Simply melt the chocolate, I suggest using a double boiler, and then dip the cherries in. Draining the cherries in a colander or on paper towels will make them easier to cover with chocolate. After dipping in chocolate, place on wax paper, aluminum foil, or a silicone pan, and place in the refrigerator to harden.

      Family Fridays: If You Give a Boy a Chocolate Covered Spatula...

      ...he will become chocolate covered too.

      DIY Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Eggs

      This is a really simple recipe for a great homemade treat for Easter/Resurrection Sunday. I do like the symbolism of eggs, something that looks dead, like a tiny tomb, but from which new life can spring forth. I made similar candies at Christmas time and never got around to posting them, but I made trees and squares then. You can of course make these whatever shape you wish for any occasion you wish, and everyone will be delighted.

      Homemade Chocolate Peanut Butter Candy Recipe

      • 1 cup peanut butter
      • 2 cups powdered sugar (I used homemade this time. You can also substitute powdered milk for up to ⅓ of the sugar. I did this at Christmas time, grinding the powdered milk up finer in the blender, and it worked well also.)
      • 1 bag chocolate chips for melting and dipping
      1. Combine peanut butter and powdered sugar (and powdered milk if desired) in a bowl. Knead together until it is well combined and becomes the consistency of play dough. If you feel like it is too crumbly add more peanut butter, if too sticky, add more powdered sugar.
      2. Form desired shapes, and place in refrigerator or freezer to chill while you melt the chocolate.
      3. Melt chocolate chips. I suggest melting them in a double boiler as it is the only way that I have tried that I have never ruined a batch. You can microwave them too, but I've had them burn occasionally. And this time I was in a hurry at first and thought I'd just melt them in a pot over really low heat, and they first bag of chocolate chips got all weird and crumbly and wouldn't melt. So melt chocolate chips completely with your desired method, but I think I'll be sticking to the double boiler.
      4. Dip peanut butter shapes in chocolate mixture, coat thoroughly, pull them out with a fork and tap on the side of the pan to dip off excess chocolate, and place on aluminum foil or waxed paper to cool. Repeat until all of the shapes are covered. Refrigerate to set up the chocolate, and then store in an airtight container in a cool place or the refrigerator.
      I made just over 30 small eggs, and I actually had a little melted chocolate left over this time, so I made chocolate covered cherries too. 

      You can also put these candies on sticks to make a candy pop. I insert a small stick or straw into the candy after the chocolate has hardened and then individually wrap these for small gifts for my kids. Great for Easter baskets, Valentine's day treats, or stocking stuffers.

      How not to melt chocolate

      Thursday, April 5, 2012

      DIY Unleavened Bread

      I thought about trying to make lamb this week, but it was really expensive...and really gross looking at the store. So I decided that I was just going to be glad that I don't have to kill a lamb anymore, or even just skin part of an already killed one, and not attempt something that was going to make me feel ill right now.

      So I just made stew with ground beef, but also made this unleavened bread to go with it. We read and talked briefly with our boys about the passover and last supper. They are still very young of course and can't understand everything, but it was one more way we are just trying to be always teaching them.

      This bread turned out quite tasty and would be a good accompaniment to soups, stews, or pasta, anytime of the year. It was delicious both plain and with butter for dinner.

      Homemade Unleavened Bread Recipe
      • 3 cups flour (I used 1½ cups whole wheat and 1½ cups white flour)
      • 1 cup or more of water
      • 1 Tbsp oil
      • 1½ tsp salt
      1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, kneading dough until well combined and smooth. Add more water as needed, but dough should remain slightly dry.
      2. Divide in 8–10 pieces, and roll into 5 inch flat circles about ½ inch thick.
      3. Place on cookie sheets, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for 12–20 minutes.

      Easter/Resurrection Preschool Activity: Window Coloring

      It's been a little while since we've bought out the window crayons and markers around here, and when I unpacked them in our new house, the boys we're begging to use them. So I thought it would be a good way to do a simple Easter or Resurrection activity with the boys. I simply drew three crosses and an empty tomb and then let them color them and the rest of the window while we talked about the story together. The window crayons and big drawings made this activity special, but it was a really simple and low-key way to talk about the story with my 3½-year-old and 2-year-old.

      Tuesday, April 3, 2012

      Mandarin Mondays: 清明节 (Tomb Sweeping Day)

      I'm a little late posting a Mandarin Mondays post again, but this week all days are a little off here. And this time it is not just due to our latest blessing, but everyone's schedule in this city is changed. This is because this week is Clear Bright Festival or more commonly known as Tomb Sweeping Day (Qīngmíng Jié, 清明节). In the city, they are only officially supposed to get one day off, but many people work through the previous weekend so they have three "days off" for the holiday this week. This does make sense for those who feel the need to travel a long way for this holiday but can disrupt a lot of schedules too.

      For this traditional festival Chinese, people travel (sometimes a long distance) to return to visit their ancestors' tombs. When they are there, they quickly "sweep" or clear away leaves and overgrowth off of their relatives graves. Then they may offer food and burn "pop-up" houses or other objects to their relatives to sustain them in the next life. This is done by decorating their grave with these items. They may then say a prayer to their ancestors before lighting off fireworks (which they don't clean up) and leaving to repeat the process at their next relative's tomb. How much of these practices is done varies widely by the individual, usually related to their closeness to their ancestors and their ancestors' level of affluence. The more respected and affluent a person, the more ornate their tomb, and generally the more ornately decorated each year as well.

      I must admit that this is one holiday I am quite grateful I don't have to participate in, because my Greatest Ancestor's Tomb is empty.


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