China – 10 Cities in 19 Days: Shanghai

So here’s the part of the trip that things started to get crazy. It’s from Shanghai that we joined an 8 day tour that had us visiting a new city/town almost everyday. We finally saw signs of  blue sky and clean air! My search for throat drops ended here.
Third stop: Shanghai (Sept. 25-26)
By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was close to dinner (we were delayed an hour leaving Xi’an). We had a lot of food we wanted to try, with limited stomach space we had to choose carefully. It happened to be the season for the Mitten Crab (大闸蟹) so we each had one that night. They weren’t very big and it was actually quite a bit of work to eat it….it got a bit messy…. but paired with the vinegar, it was worth the work. Then of course we had to have the Shanghai Steamed Dumplings (小笼包)!
After dinner we walked a couple of the streets around the hotel, there were a lot of outdoor “restaurants” with dishes and dishes of amazing looking seafood. You just choose what you want and they make it for you on the spot. It started to rain really hard suddenly so we ran back to the hotel and called it a night.

The next morning, we went to a section of The Bund. It was too bad we were short on time here, I would’ve like to see the older section of The Bund and the Oriental Pearl Tower up close.

New Heaven & Earth District
These cafes, shops and restaurants were originally traditional shikumen (“stone door”) houses. Now it’s a pedestrian only shopping/entertainment district.

Old Town God’s Temple Street

There were so many places to buy food here, I couldn’t help myself and had to try one of these dumpling/bun things with a straw. Turns out the straw was useless – not sure why they even have them there, but the overall bun was not bad.
Yes – that’s a Starbucks…they weren’t hard to find in China.

That’s it, our stop in Shanghai was very short but we did consider not stopping here in the beginning but I’m glad we had the chance to see it and of course…..enjoy the food 🙂

China – 10 Cities in 19 Days: Xi’an

The 2nd stop in our trip was Xi’an where the main purpose was to see the Terracotta Warriors, something I had wanted to see for some time now. We were tight on time and had arranged a private guide to show us around here. Allen picked us up from the airport, we checked into the hotel and after a short break we were back out at it again. Unfortunately, the air was worse here and I felt thirsty all the time.

There were still signs of the anti-Japanese riots around the streets. Owners of Japanese cars covered up the logos, banners hung up and fencing on the sides of the streets. Stores selling Japanese goods were closed and there were stories of crowds trying to break into hotels with Japanese tourists. I’m glad we didn’t get caught in any of that.

As one of China’s ancient capitals there’s a lot history here. The emperors of many dynasties chose Xi’an as their capitals due to its good feng shui. Unfortunately I got a bit confused after a while…..keeping track of historical dates and names is not my specialty.

Second stop: Xi’an (Sept. 23-25)

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The Pagoda was built in 652 AD with only 5 levels at the time, then in 704 AD another 2 levels were added. It was then that the 7 level level pagodas became standard. Due to an earthquake in the 1500’s the pagoda is slightly tilted. Rose and I paid the extra fee to climb all 7 levels of the Pagoda, from the windows you can look out at the city and see the mix of old and new. Here’s the view from the top:

Tang Dynasty Show & Dumpling Banquet

Anyone that knows me will know I love dumplings and vinegar but I was once again a bit disappointed with the food. I have to say some of the dumplings were made into fancy shapes and had special fillings, nice to look at but I wasn’t all that impressed. It turned out the favorite among the 3 of us was the “home-style dumpling” – on the top right.

The show was entertaining, there was singing and dancing, the costumes were beautiful.

City Wall

Xi’an’s city wall is one of the oldest and best preserved in China. Along the Wall there were buildings that were partially demolished in preparation for something new to be built. There are some reluctant to move from their homes and continue to live there even when parts of it is already torn down. A city where old and new are trying to co-exist.

New buildings inside the City Wall aren’t allowed to be too high and must be built with a traditional style roof, while those outside don’t have to.

It was here that I learned about the Pi Xiu. I know there are a lot of Chinese mythical and auspicious creatures but this one was new to me. Pi Xiu is the 9th offspring of the dragon, that eats everything but nothing comes out. There’s also a proper way to touch or pet it…it was interesting….

Terracotta Warriors

This was another trip highlight. China’s first emperor had this army built to protect him in the afterlife, complete with soldiers, horses and chariots. The attention to detail is incredible, they’re life-sized, varying in height, rank, weapons and facial expressions. The soldiers’ heads, arms, legs and bodies were created separately and later assembled together.

Originally they were all painted but fade or peel quickly after being exposed to air, they’re still trying to find a way to preserve the colours.

Muslim Quarter

We went for dinner at a restaurant in the Muslim Quarter, it was fun walking along the street looking at the tables of knick-knacks, shops, food carts and restaurants. We ate at a restaurant called Jia San Soup Pau Restaurant, it’s supposed to be famous. My mom ordered the specialty dish, Mutton & Pita, looks kind of like bread soaked in broth (bottom left).

The soup dumplings were quite good, though they look very deflated here.

Food Cart
My mom braved a busy food cart one morning and tried one of these pita/wrap/bun things so after seeing that my mom’s tummy was “ok” after (thanks for being the guinea pig mom) the next morning Rose and I got one too. It’s pretty much a piece of steamed dough wrapping cabbage, bean sprouts and whatever else you wanted. It was very flavourful and at 3 RMB (under 50 cents CND), it was a descent breakfast. But food cart in a foreign country, definitely not for everyone….

China – 10 Cities in 19 Days: Beijing

I recently returned from a trip to China with my mom and best friend (also called Rose if you didn’t know already). We planned this whirlwind trip so we could see as many sites as possible to maximize our vacation time. It was tiring towards the end but we hit all the major sites we were aiming to see, met some nice people and shopped like there was no tomorrow when we got the chance.

Unfortunately, I wound up with a sore throat for the first couple of days – we definitely take clean air for granted over here. The pollution was obvious upon leaving the airport. Buildings the next block over were barely visible on some days. Evidence that “Made in China” comes with a price.

On the plus side, through our entire trip, everyone thought Rose and I were in our early 20’s and just out of school. So we tried to work that to our advantage when being sold things.

Anyways, on to the sites:

First stop: Beijing (Sept. 19-23)

The night we arrived, we went out to try Peking Duck, so we went to the famous Quanjudu Roast Duck Restaurant. Our hotel was in the Wangfujing area so we walked over to that location (apparently there are several). It was a dish I was looking forward to trying but was slightly disappointed by the flavour (or lack there of).

Great Wall of China

This was one of the highlights of the trip and was everything I thought it would be, if not more. The view was amazing and the Wall just went on and on and on. We went to the Mutianyu section where you take a cable car on to the Wall to begin your trek. This section is supposed to have less crowds and tour groups than the Badaling section as it’s further from Beijing city centre.

Another time I wish my legs were longer….some of the steps went up to my knees! Walking down wasn’t the problem – it was climbing back up, but of course we made it!!

Summer Palace

We sure walked our legs off here, by the end of the day, we thought “if this was the emperor’s summer home, how big is the ‘regular’ home going to be?!”.

It’s incredible that these halls, gardens, etc. were built such a long time ago. There was so much to look at. Jade carvings, jewels, paintings, it was a bit overwhelming at times. It’s hard to believe this was all done by hand.

There was so much to see, we didn’t even get through all the sections before we had to go, it’s definitely a place you can spend all day.

Wear comfortable shoes!

Forbidden City (Palace Museum)

Entering the Forbidden City was like walking into the set of an ancient Chinese movie (except there for the crowds of tourists everywhere). There were people everywhere!!! Because of that, it was a bit difficult to get through and see what was in every hall.

We went into the Clock & Watch Museum section where they had clocks that were given to the emperor as gifts. Apparently they were things for amusement/entertainment back in the day….hmmm….can you imagine staring at a clock (even this giant fancy “water clock”) for fun???

….and that was our first stop!

Honey Sesame Vinaigrette

 
Summertime is too hot to turn on the oven to bake (though I’m tempted to bake a few new recipes I’ve been given). So instead, I’ve been experimenting with mixing homemade salad dressings. I decided to try changing one of my favourite marinades into a vinaigrette and am quite happy with the result.

Here are my semi-measured ingredients for 1 small head of romaine’s worth of dressing.

Ingredients
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sesame paste
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl, add in lettuce and any add-ons you like, toss & enjoy. If made ahead of time, the sesame paste and oil will separate and just needs a shake or whisk.


Mine was made with mandarin oranges, dried cranberries and toasted pumpkin seeds. Next time I’m going to try other add-ons like chicken, shrimp, salmon, snap peas, carrots, mushrooms, edamame beans or berries….mmmmm…..

I love vinegar so if you find this too sour or even too sweet, either whisk in a bit of water or go easy on some of the ingredients. Maybe experiment with adding in some ground pepper, chilli flakes, herbs or a splash of sake.

Happy mixing!

Baked Egg Sponge Cake


When I was little, my aunt used to make this sponge cake for parties. It’s light, fluffy and not too sweet, I loved it so much I’d rather have her bake this cake than a store-bought birthday cake. After attempting to make this a couple of times, I realize it’ll take some practice because it doesn’t taste like my aunt’s.  Her’s comes out with a moist top crust where mine is dry and….hmmm looks like I’m gonna need more than a recipe to get this right.

The recipe and directions are straight forward, but I`m sure there`s a trick to the mixing and the baking time.

In case you’d like to give it a whirl, here’s the recipe.

Tools
Large flute/angel food cake pan
Mixer (hand or stand)

Ingredients
1  1/4 cup sifted cake/pastry flour
8 large eggs
1/2 cup of oil
1/2 cup of milk
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of cream of tartar

Directions
1) Sift flour, preheat oven to 375F
2) Separate the eggs into whites and yolks
3) Mix yolks, oil, milk, sugar and vanilla for 20 minutes on high
4) Add flour into the yolk mixture (Step 3) a little at a time to avoid lumps with a wooden spoon, then set aside
5) Beat egg whites with cream of tartar for 5-7 minutes, or until stiff peaks form
6) Gently fold egg whites into flour/yolk mixture (Step 4) while making sure to blend together well with wooden spoon
7) Pour final mixture into flute pan and bake for approx. 45- 60 minutes or when toothpick comes out clean
*Do not place another pan under the flute pan (nothing should spill out) otherwise the bottom won`t bake
8) Cool cake upside-down (if your pan doesn`t have legs, turn the cake upside down and insert the centre of the pan into the neck of an upright bottle)

If Only Shoes Grew on Trees

If only, huh?

The annual Army & Navy shoe sale on Wednesday was the next best thing, VIP access didn’t hurt the process   🙂

This year I bought 4 pairs, less than the 6 from last year but I was really trying to keep myself under control.

There were plenty of name brand shoes such as Steve Madden, Nina, Rocket Dog, Guess even Coach, Ralph Lauren and Cole Haan could be found for those lucky enough to spot them in their size. Average prices were in the $19.99 – $39.99 range, a steal if you find shoes worth 10 times that.

If you ever consider going to the sale, here are some tips:
– grab a basket when you first get in
– wear shoes that easily slip on and off (flip-flops, flats)
– bring as little with you as possible, it gets hot in there
– buy what you love and love what you buy because all sales are final
– if it catches you eye, take it with you, becuase once it’s gone, it’s gone
– keep your basket with you….if you leave it unattended, someone will be eyeing it (yes, it’s that crazy)

The sale is on until May 6, and they usually re-stock throughout the day.
www.armyandnavy.ca

Here are the new additions to my shoe family!
Can you believe I used to hate shoe shopping???

Vancouver Sun Run

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After much anticipation and anxiety, the Sun Run was today. The 10 kilometer run draws thousands of people every year and this was my 2nd time running it.

At 4km I was wishing I’d trained harder but at least I (think) I beat last year’s time. Results will be in tomorrow’s paper!

My legs hardly feel like my own right and I know it’ll be a sore day tomorrow but it the satisfaction of crossing the finish line was worth it.

How those people do marathons or half marathons, I’ll never know (and a wholly moley to you!). I’m crawling to bed while I still can, good night!

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Mixed Rice w/ Veggies (Bibimbap)


Here’s my first try at making bibimbap which literally translates to “mixed vegetables/rice”. Usually when I eat it at Korean restaurants I’ll order the dolsot bibimbap version where everything is served in a super hot stone pot/bowl but this bowl is on the expensive side and I didn’t want to spend the money for something I can’t use often. Everything tastes good served in a regular bowl but I gotta say, there’s nothing like eating out of a sizzling hot bowl.

It’s really easy to make and a good way to load up on veggies. Based on the instructions the cashier at the Korean grocery store gave me, here’s how I threw it all together. There are many variations out there so go ahead and make it your own.

Ingredients
Veggies as desired – I used carrots, spinach, white & shiitake mushrooms and zucchini
Ground beef – can replace with ground turkey,chicken or Yves Ground Round
Soya Sauce
Sesame oil
Garlic powder
Pepper
Salt
Rice
Red pepper paste sauce

Directions
1. Wash, peel, chop/slice/Julienne veggies
2. Cook rice in rice cooker
3. Marinate ground beef with some soya sauce and sesame oil (I didn’t measure, but for 500g of beef I used approx. 2 tablespoons of soya sauce, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil)
4. Saute the beef on a non-stick pan until cooked, breaking pieces up, then set aside
5. Saute each vegetable type separately with a soya sauce or salt to taste, finish with a bit of sesame oil, set each aside separately
5. Put rice, veggies and meat into a bowl
6. Make an egg, sunny side up, and place it in the middle of everything
7. Put red pepper sauce on top, mix it all together and eat

Oasis of the Seas


Coming home after a week on vacation is always hard, even harder when you spent the week being lazy! What a long week of catching up on work and getting back to reality. We spent a week on Royal Caribbean’s massive ship, Oasis of the Seas. With over 6,000 travellers and over 2,000 crew members I was really surprised that it didn’t feel more crowded. In fact most the ship was pretty empty after midnight. They had fantastic shows, lots of activities, delicious food and excellent service.

Now, you might think a cruise is boring….being couped up on a ship in the middle of the ocean….it’s for old people…..it’s all about eating…..etc.etc. I did too until we tried it, I think the key is finding the right ship offering the activities you’re interested in.

Here are a few photos from our trip. We stopped in Labadee, Haiti (the cruise line’s own private “island”), Falmouth, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico. 

We enjoy the Eastern Caribbean itinerary more personally but we really wanted to enjoy all the activities available on the ship. We definitely didn’t get to everything but we did do a lot.

I miss being on vacation, and really REALLY miss the heat & sunshine but it’s nice to be home and sleep in my own bed.
It’s not all about the food, but the food was absolutely delicious.

 

The Flowrider was a lot of fun, boogie boarding on this surf simulator was easier than I thought. I couldn’t believe I managed to get up from my stomach. On the Oasis, there are 2 of these, the 2nd one is for those wanting to try the stand-up surfing. 


 Beach by Montego Bay, Jamaica. We took a taxi from the port at Falmouth….I was a bit iffy about it but my husband wasn’t and asked the driver to take us to other places and he took us to some pretty nice places and right into town where traffic was so insane you can reach out the window and touch the person in the car beside.  

Richmond Hill Inn, with view of Montego Bay, 2nd largest city in Jamaica

In Cozumel, we did “scoot coupe” excursion where you drive 3-wheel carts along the coast of the island, with a group and a guide of course, was fun but a little scary going into regular traffic.

Yes, this ship had its own carousel! And like a big kid, I rode on it 🙂

Who can resist a beautiful sunset?