Monday, May 27, 2013

Mandarin Mondays: Shoplifting is a Crime (The Chinglish FIles)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

DIY Fresh Sugarcane (or Sugar Cane) Syrup

Alright, so here is quite a unique post and recipe (process?) that I am sure is not for everybody or to do everyday, but it was fun to try a couple of times. I also could find hardly any info online on how to make fresh sugar cane syrup with regular kitchen equipment, and while their may be a reason for this, maybe this post will be helpful to someone.

Perhaps the greatest thing about the food here in southern China, is that you can buy fresh items at the market that are practically unheard of in the states. I have seen sugar cane at a few Mexican supermarkets around New Years though, so if you have high quality ethnic markets nearby you may be able to find some sugar cane at certain times of the year. Anyway, sugar cane is very easy to get lots of seasonally in the spring here. Around spring festival time.

Getting unusual ingredients inspires us to try new, and sometimes crazy things. Most people here just chew on the sugar cane to taste the sugar and then spit out the fibrous pulp. We've done that too. But the regular sugar takes longer to dissolve and tastes more manufactured than in the states. So we wanted to see if we could make a simple syrup to sweeten drinks, pour on pancakes, and possibly even bake with.

Thus begins our little culinary adventure......

Homemade Sugar Cane Syrup Recipe (Using only regular kitchen equipment: knives, cutting board, blender, strainer, cheese cloth or tea towel, bowls, spoons, and pots)

  • Fresh Sugar Cane
  • Water

    1. The first step in the process (after finding the sugar cane) is cutting it into short lengths and removing the tough outer layer with a very sharp knife. When you buy it here, you can usually ask to have it removed and the friendly salesman will hack away like crazy with a giant clever and several pounds worth will be cleaned in minutes. This is totally the way to go. We had the outer layer removed from the first batch we bought by a professional, and then later we were actually given some free leftover sugar cane that still needed the outer layer removed. Our knife actually broke while trying to remove the outer layer ourselves, so the free batch might have actually cost us more in the long run. Anyway, long story short, remove the outer layer very carefully with a very sharp and very sturdy knife.

    2. Next cut the sugar cane into little pieces that your blender will be able to handle blending very small. (Side note: my blender isn't very powerful but it didn't have any problems. However, I already mentioned that we broke a kitchen knife the second time we did this, so use caution and good judgment and you may want to even try a small test batch to see if it seems like it is taxing you blender too much).

    3. Pour water to cover the sugar cane pieces in the blender. Put the lid on and pulse to blend into pulp.

    4. Now rig up a straining apparatus. I took a big bowl that a colander could hang down into and rest on, and then I covered the colander with a cheese cloth. You could also use a clean tea towel or other clean cloth. 

    5. Pour the pulp into the colander and let the liquid drain into the bowl. Use a wooden spoon to really push on the pulp and squeeze all the liquid you can out of the pulp.
    6. Repeat the above steps as many times as necessary to process all of the sugar cane you have in batches your blender can handle. This may be the point when we started to question how much this syrup was really worth to us, but we persevered and chopped and blended quite a few batches of sugar cane.
    7. The next step is to put this liquid into a pot and slowly boil it down until you get the consistency you desire. You may have to scrape foam and impurities off from time to time to keep this from boiling over. I boiled ours down to about one third of the original volume and it seemed close to a 1:1 simple syrup (one cup of sugar to one cup of water), the same viscosity or "thickness"  as simple syrup, but not quite as sweet. I didn't want to keep watching the boiling pot at that point so I called it good and we used at that sweetness. You would have to boil it way, way, way down to get actual store bought sugar cane syrup consistency.

    8. After you are done boiling the syrup, you will need to strain the mixture again to remove more impurities. Then you can store the syrup in a bottle or jar in your refrigerator.

    We used this syrup in hot tea and coffee and over pancakes. It did have a bit of a "grassy" taste (imagine that a syrup made from a grass and water tasting grassy), but not bad and it does taste less manufactured to us than our regular white sugar here. The second time we repeated the process (except for breaking the knife), turned out the same and the syrup was equally good. It was quite good as a natural sweetener. Since we didn't get a huge amount of syrup, I didn't try baking with it. I don't know if we will actually try it again with just regular kitchen equipment, but it was a fun adventure slash science experiment.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Alexander at 7 months

He is on the move! Alexander can scoot all over really quickly now. Which of course means now he needs constant supervision and is into everything, but he loves to move and chase his brothers. :)

At 7 months Alexander:

  • Is about 19 pounds and 29.5 inches long
  • Wearing 9-18 month clothes
  • Is getting better at sitting, although he'll still fall over sometimes
  • Has two teeth!
  • Has been trying a little more solid food
  • Loves fruit!
  • Has discovered his tongue and does funny things with it
  • Is super cute! (at least we think so)

He loves grandma!

Alexander loved the carpet at the hotel and kept petting it. :)

I like sweet potatoes!

I like whipped cream!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

DIY Protein Bars (Peanut Butter Black Bean Brownies)

Ever wish your chocolate fix had a little more staying power as a snack? These homemade protein bars are black bean brownies that are made with lots of eggs and peanut butter to really pack in the protein. You can even add walnuts, almonds, or other nuts to get even more protein into your dessert.

Unlike store-bought protein bars these taste like chocolate, not cardboard and don't have any questionable additives. This can be a completely organic whole food recipe if you choose and is gluten and dairy free.

This recipe tastes really rich and moist, but is actually fairly low in sugar and pretty healthy overall. Makes eating a brownie for a snack (or even breakfast) better for you than many, many store-bought snack and breakfast foods.

Homemade Protein Bars Recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (or one 15oz can drained and rinsed very well)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Optional additions such as such as additional nuts to pack in even more protein
  1. Add all ingredients together in a blender (except for any optional additions) and blend until smooth.
  2. Stir in additions if desired (or you could wait and sprinkle them on top too).
  3. Spread into a greased 8x8 baking pan.
  4. Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

My Favorite Mother's Day Tradition

My favorite thing that we've done every Mother's day since we've had a kid on the outside is to take family pictures and pictures with just me and the boys. I always love how the pictures turn out and seeing what a difference a year makes in our family.

I hope all of you moms out there had a wonderful Mother's day and feel treasured and blessed.

Mandarin Mondays: And Even The Entire World Loves Here (The Chinglish Files)

Friday, May 10, 2013

DIY Mother's Day Picture and Hand Flower Bouquet

Since I live so far from my mom, I don't always get to do a lot for her for Mother's Day, but since she just came and visited we were able to make her a present as a family and give it to her a little early. I think she liked it a lot and the boys liked helping to make it, so I thought I would share in case any one else is still looking for a special mother's day gift to make. This project is pretty simple and would be quite easy for older kids. Little guys need some help and baby wasn't exactly helpful at all, but his tiny hands sure are cute once we actually got one traced. You probably want an adult helper for that job.

You could also do this project for a group of kids at a class and have each one just make a single "blossom" to give their mom using either a photo they brought or a Polaroid.

Homemade Mother's Day Picture and Paper Hand Flower Bouquet

  • Paper (construction paper, scrapbook paper, wrapping paper, etc.)
  • Small photos printed and cut
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick or other adhesive
  • Tape, staples, string, or some other way to attach the flowers to their "stems"
  • Sticks or pipe cleaners
  • Hole punch (optional)
  • Container or vase (optional)
  • Ribbon (optional)
  1. Before you start the assembly process, gather all your supplies. Print off cute photos of you and your mom, you as a kid, your kids, your kids and grandma, you could even use pics of the grand-puppy and have pawprint flowers, etc. and cut to size. Hunt down sticks (honestly probably my boys favorite part of this whole project) or find/buy pipe cleaners.
  2. Trace a family members hand on pretty paper and cut it out.You might want to label at least some of the hands with the name and age of the owner so you can remember whose hands were so small later.
  3. Now you can glue a small picture in the center or if you want you can add a decorative shape out of contrasting paper that will help frame your picture first and then the picture. Repeat until you have all of the flowers you want for a bouquet.
  4. At this point I hole punched each flower to they could be tied together with ribbon later to be saved. This would make a cute little book to give just like this also.
  5. Then you need to attach the hand flower to its "stem." We used tape, but there are lots of other ways that could work equally well.
  6. Now you can either tie the stems together into a bouquet or put them in a container/vase. You could even fill the container with her favorite candy for a more elaborate gift. We had another gift to go along with this one so we didn't do candy this time.
  7. Give to that special mom you want to honor on Mother's Day.

If you let a 4 year old trace and cut entirely by himself
the hand might look this cute.

Bouquet tied together without stems


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