Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The Original Nanjing Normals

 As we all get more entrenched into our own lives with increased socialbility, the weekends are less likely to include every FORD co-worker who hit the Good Earth of mainland Nanjing, China in March, April or May 2011.  Afterall, it's been over 6 months, we're settling in and moving forward.  Everyone has taken more than a trip or two without each other.  No need to hang on to a well-placed knot on the same rope as we toddle forward through town. We're "SO BIG" now.

I'm referring to the original "Normals" - the 8 of us who are "Embracing the New Normal in Nanjing."  A healthy, natural progression is for us to move ahead. Everyone's friend and acquaintance circle has enlarged.  Everyone's Southeast Asia travel has increased and overnight guests from the USA have been welcomed.  So the weekends are BUSY.
With that said, I schemed that having folks over for a mid-week meal would allow everyone to stay connected and not encompass a busy weekend night. The plan was set, "Tuesday, 6:00 pm, on the way home from work, stop over to unwind with a beer or glass of wine and enjoy a home-cooked supper."  This would enable those in attendance to decompress before heading home for the common occurence and inevitability of a conference call or two with the other side of the world. (We are now 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.)

The invite floated through cyber-space and nine folks replied with "In!"   Sadly, not  everyone was in town or available, but nine was a great number around our November table.

I planned a homey-menu, made a shopping list and set out on Tuesday morning for the freshest food selection. Super markets seem much less daunting these days and I had a cart-pusher helpmate in Brad who was visiting from Detroit and was going to spend the day with me.  The produce and meat bins are always remarkably eye-catching to newbies and take some getting used to.  There are stacks of raw this and that piled atop ice chips and  some questionable metal tongs to grab your selection. 
I use the hand in a plastic bag method, to select the chicken breasts I want.  This puzzles the spectators  and helpful meat department employees who insist on showing me 'how to do this correctly with the tongs." And yes, I have pushed one away when she tried to force the tongs into my hands as I went about the less bacteria laden method I was attempting. ( See the "SO BIG" quote above.) 

With clanking wine bottles and our catch of the day, Brad and I went home where I scrubbed the ba-jeezus out of the chicken breasts and vegetables.  Kim arrived to meet Brad and visit. The plan was to prep and chop and then head downtown for lunch.  I plopped the chicken in Angie's borrowed crockpot , added the ingredients for *Cranberry Chicken*, plugged the 110 volt crockpot into the 220 volt transformer and flicked the switch to LOW. 

"Six hours on low...good to go," I chanted. And off we went to lunch.

"It should smell really good when we walk back in here this afternoon," said Kim.

"Gosh, I hope so," I replied, wondering how I would 'punt' if it wasn't so.

After lunch at Pho Saigon, a Vietnamese Restaurant, and a shopping excursion we returned to our place to a saucy fragrant smell. *Cranberry Chicken!*  From the audible gurgling sauce there was NO doubt that the chicken was well-cooked and it was only 4:00 pm. 

"I'd say, let's turn it down, but it's already on Low...hmmmmmmmm, I said."

And then Kim made a discovery:

The cord coming out of the crockpot had MELTED directly to the wasn't going to budge and we were NOT going to try. It looked dangerous!  In addition the two side handles had melted and slid down into blobs like Dumbo's ears.  I quickly flipped the switch to OFF and watched the needle on the transformer dive left indicating it was done "transforming." 

The next conversations are kind of a blur and I can't tell you which one of the three of us said the following but this is what the fly on the wall heard:

"Gee, you are so fortunate that the entire Villa didn't go up in smoke!"

"Wow, I bet it was cooked within an HOUR!"

"Do you have renter's insurance on this place?"

"How are we going to keep this on LOW for the next 2.5 hours before everyone arrives?"

"Holy Cranberries, Batman!"

"I thought you made this in the crock-pot before?"

"The Big Guy is gonna flip, he is not a crock-pot fan for this very reason."

"Oh my G*d, I wanna die."     (can you pick out my voice among these quotes?)

Then Kim made another discovery:

"Oh Look! You plugged the 110 volt cord into the transformer where it said 220 volts!"

Puzzled by her discovery I replied,"Yes, because I wanted the 110 volt to become 220 volts, didn't I?"

Okay, so there was laughter and embarassment and a whole lot of chiding and blonde jokes that ensued over the next few hours (and days.) Kim and Brad convinced me NOT to get rid of the evidence but to leave it as a fun topic of conversation for mealtime. Naturally, they were the first to show it to everyone who arrived...kinda like the sibling who can't wait to tattle on what Little Miss Perfect did today....

The chicken was still tasty although it was WAY more DONE then it should have been.The hungries who arrived ate every morsel.  There were dishes piled high in my little kitchen by 8:30 pm.  I was happy, my guests were happy, albeit the crock-pot was 'toast' and will be picked up curbside by someone as scrap metal, but let's remember that I didn't burn down the entire villa and I learned something about transforming 110 voltage to 220 voltage - all positives!

My mission was accomplished in spite of a powerful mis-hap. We  provided food, fellowship and laughter to those who joined us for Tuesday's meal.

And just like any meal for a crowd it was over way too fast. 

But I smiled within and without as friends toddled out the door and out into a November Nanjing evening. 

It seemed that each guest left full and happy to have spent more time together

in this place,

on this continent,

in our home away from home.

Yes, our Normal has significantly changed over the past several months

 but we're still in this together...
And for that I am very grateful... 

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Thanks for reading,


*Cranberry Chicken*

  •  6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
           Half package of (1 ounce) packages dry onion soup mix
           1 (16 ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
           1 cup Catalina/Russian dressing 
            OR if you live in China -  1 cup Catsup with 2 t. worcestershire sauce


  1. Place the chicken breasts in a glass or stoneware baking dish.
  2. Stir the onion soup mix, cranberry sauce, and Catalina dressing together in a bowl until well blended. Pour over the chicken breasts. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 8 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  4. Remove plastic wrap from the baking dish, and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
  5. Bake chicken in preheated oven until top is bubbly and slightly browned, about 1 hour and 15 minutes or longer if you like a thicker sauce.   
  6. Try it in a Crock-pot for 5-6 hours if you DARE!  :0*         

Suggestions:  Serve with Mashed Potatoes or Rice or Stove-Top Stuffing

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cornish Carnivore-ish

A popular pastime and topic of our ex-pat adventures here in China is the food.  We are often asked how we like it and what we are finding savory and interesting.

Upon arriving, the Big Guy's Chinese co-workers were very curious to know just how adventurous he was going to go with the taste-testing of their local cuisine.  
  • Would he eat the cafeteria's FREE lunch? 
  • Would he try the 'mystery meat' platter at a team dinner function? 
  • Could he stomach this or that without grimacing or hiding a textured piece of something in his paper napkin? 
  • Should we 'freak-out' this meguo ren (American) & watch him squirm or turn green?

Proudly, he can say he has passed many a test of the above but he has also learned that to fit in you don't REALLY have to say YES to everything that is set before you.  Thank-you, adult sensibility!

Here is a list of what we have tried or been offered while in China.
Sparing you our choices, just ask yourself if you would
taste, chew AND swallow the following:

camel meat
10-day old fertilized eggs (yep...had a chick embryo within)
blood soup
tofu in more varieties than you can imagine 
donkey meat
squid paste
lamb entrails
fish head soup
dragon fruit
coconut juice
guava juice
drinks with gelatin cubes or bubbles that sneak up your straw & slip down your throat.

Among the things we miss about home is the variety and high quality meat readily available.  Fresh ground beef has evaded us and because I married an English man who is quite meat-protein driven, that has been a challenge. The Big Guy KNOWS his meat.    With co-worker Julia's help he purchased a meat grinder to fill the gap. This also counts as a project, which the Big Guy has been lacking since we arrived. 
Here's proof of my favorite carnivore's utter happiness with his new machine:


Now that we've cracked into November and the ever so slightest breath of Autumn has whispered in my ear I've begun the turkey search in Nanjing.  Angie reports that years ago a cousin brought one in a cooler on the 14-hour flight from the USA with great success.  But that was before airport security was on 'lock-down' for such carry-on baggage, we think.  

With my wheels swiftly turning, maybe, just maybe, Thanksgiving 2011 could sport a duck instead of a turkey. That sounded both reasonable and doable at the same time.  The city of Nanjing is well-known for it's duck.

Then the thought of a long table of guests, pumpkin soup, mashed potatoes,stuffing and a petite Cornish hen on EVERYONE's plate drifted into my mind and olifactory memory senses.  That could be the answer, I thought to myself. 

Gee whiz, Martha Stewart herself would gobble up that idea!

During our last trip to the market I plowed through the frozen bin to take a prospective peek at the Cornish hens.  With a "Heck, why not try it out first," from the Big Guy, I plunked two of them in the shopping cart and rolled on.

Still wrapped they safely thawed in a bowl of water for Tuesday's supper. My friend and neighbor Kim sat at the counter while I prepped the two birds.  Both were thawed and ready to be rinsed, patted dry and seasoned to await my baby table-top oven.  Real ovens are few and far between in China and these gals may fit side by side in my Pampered Chef round baker, I thought.  

I unpeeled the plastic. Digging my two fingers into the front and back cavity I came across an unwelcome surprise. "Look at this!" I exclaimed to wide-eyed Kim. Out popped an attached hen's head and from the other end, two complete feet!  Yep, nothing goes to waste in China and I had the entire hen looking at me...kinda, sorta.  

I put on my brave face, grabbed the kitchen shears and with three deep and really hard snips did what I'm told my grandmother did. Game Over. And then I did it again on number two.. 
I know you wanna see, right?

The roasting went well and the taste-testing was worth the trauma - well, MY trauma that is. 
And the villa smelled as if it were November in Michigan which was one of my ulterior goals. This Cornish hen feast has potential.

Speaking with my friend, Franziska, she reports that across town there is a market to pre-order a turkey.  Yet another opportunity for feasting.

Cooking requires math skills.  So I put mine to work on the following equations:

Number of Guests - 13 approximately

13 Cornish Hens = 13 Hen Heads + 26 Hen Feet  = 39 WHACKS

 (this time with a cleaver, I've decided.)


1 large Turkey = 1 Turkey Head + 2 Turkey Feet  =  3 WHACKS

If I went with the Cornish Hens, I bet I could send home the 26 Hen Feet with my Ayi who would speed off on her scooter thinking she just scored BIG TIME from the wasteful American.  (That Cricket, always thinking of others...especially in November.)

Thanks for Reading,