Shanghai: Garden and Food Safety

Wednesday is my day to share pictures of Shanghai, and, if I'm lucky, a fun little slice-of-life. I like to think of them as digital post-cards that tell you a little bit about what it's like to live in China.

Today's postcard is a peek at the darker side of living abroad. I hope to have something peppier to share next week, but in the interim, here is the saga of last night's dinner.

I bought a pack of chicken drumsticks ostensibly from a well-known American brand at a well-regarded grocery chain that caters to ex-pats. Meat scandals are a frequent occurrence over here. I'm not much of a meat-eater to begin with, but Mark likes some animal protein in his diet, so meat appears on our table once or twice every two weeks, and I'm careful about what I buy and from whom.

Nothing seemed off, so I cooked the chicken. Mark and I ate it, and before we even got up to do dished, we both felt the tell-tale signs of MSG overdose - the I-can't-feel-my-face-anymore, awful too-much-cheap-dim-sum feeling.

Other than the chicken, everything else in the recipe was either fresh (onions, fennel, tomatoes, celery, etc) or stuff from our pantry we've used before (polenta, butter, milk).

So it's got to be the chicken, right? The chicken was intended to be sold frozen, and it was thawed when I bought it. Also, there was a weird second packaging layer over the plastic tray on the back. The front plastic was still sealed, though, so I don't feel like I missed any major signs of tampering. Weird.

Before this, we've had a pretty good run. The last time we had this sort of  problem was when I accidentally bought a bottle of fake amaretto (yeah, I drink girly drinks sometimes) and it turned out to be mostly wood alcohol. 

I'm still feeling a bit unwell, so we're back on a vegetarian diet for the moment. Luckily, I'm getting a lot of lovely greens out of the garden, so we've got some fresh produce that's a known quantity. I have a feeling there's a lot of quiche in our future.



We Three Things

chutney Last week was a 2.5 out of 3 week.

1/3: The mango chutney making finally happened, and the results are really yummy. I've got four half-pints, which should get me through the rest of the year.

yellow quilt

2/3: I also hung my Mom's yellow quilt in the sewing area. It's made with a bunch of textured fabrics, seersucker, and textured madras. I love that you can identify what some of the flowers are (iris, tulips, lilies), and some are delightfully abstract.

2.5/3: The polka dot fabric. Rather than making the skirt myself, I dropped it off at the fabric market to be sewn.

This week, my three things are:

1. Make knitting plan and pack projects for vacation. 2. Sort, organize, and moth-proof Fall/Winter clothing. 3. Make three squares for vintage textile quilt.

I'll share photos next Monday.

What are your three things this week?

Monday Three Things

fruitcake 1 My score for last week's W3T is 2/3. I did make fruitcake and arrange my vacation, but mango chutney did not happen.

Instead, due to various scheduling nonsense, I did a photo shoot on Sunday for my fall line, which I'm calling a win.

photoshootIt as well above 100 degrees, so we scrubbed the plan for a lovely atmospheric outdoor shoot and shot everything inside. Models passing out from heatstroke is not anybody's idea of a fun time.

Vesper was very helpful with the photo shoot. Even with so many people to manage, and so many hand-knits to sit on, she managed to keep it together.

fruitcake 2

But on to the really important stuff - the fruitcake! I'm shamelessly proud of my fruitcake. The secret is soaking the dried fruit in bourbon for 48 hours before baking, and using lots of candied citrus. I like to use dried figs, cherries, apricots, and prunes - so it's like healthy and stuff. Ahem.

This time, I used sliced almonds instead of whole ones, and the result was really nice - more of a marzipan cake texture, and better crumb structure.

In case you're looking to put on five pounds, I'm happy to recommend slathering cream cheese on a slice of warm fruitcake for breakfast. Oh yeah.

This week's list includes: 1. Get that pesky chutney made! 2. Make a skirt or dress or something from Indian polka dot cotton (souvenir from Delhi trip). 3. Hang yellow quilt in my sewing space.

What's on your list this week?

January Things

cherries Chinese New Year is almost here! As red is the most auspicious of colors, and as you are what you eat during the festival, red fruit is in high demand. Thus, it is time for bourbon cocktail cherries!

While utterly contrary to nature and the seasons in the Northern hemisphere, this is randomly the best time of year to buy cherries and strawberries in China. I used the same recipe as last year, although this time I added a vanilla bean, and used bourbon instead of brandy. I'm looking forward to enjoying these in Old Fashioneds, Aviations, Waldorfs, and more.


I'm taking the seed packet instructions at their word when they say "as soon as soil can be worked." I planted lettuce and mild mustard greens this week, along with some beets and additional kale seedings.

first leaves

My little apple tree seems to have survived its first winter, and put out three sets of these cheery little leaves. Here's hoping for an early spring!

The bitter(s) and the sweet

bitters In this chilly winter season, I've been making bitters with infusions of herbs and other flavor agents.

Shown here are homemade vanilla and mugwort, plus old favorites Angostura and Peychaud's in soda water for a tasting flight.

My current favorite are vanilla bitters, which are really lovely in a mug of warm milk before bed.

Vanilla Bitters

In a mason jar or other 500 ml bottle, combine: 2 vanilla beans 1 whole nutmeg 1 black cardamom (green cardamom works too, but use a small one - black are smokier and milder) 3 black peppercorns 500 mls vodka (I use Stoli)

Infuse for 30 days, shaking every day or two. Store in a dark place while infusing. If your vanilla beans are especially awesome, you may find a layer or brown oil floating in your bottle. This is a good thing - just be sure to shake it like a Polaroid picture before every use.

Vanilla Bitters Nightcap

Combine: 1 T of bitters 8 oz warm milk 1 T of honey ...and drift off to sweet dreams.

On Failure

cookie dough failIn the last couple of days, I've been thinking a lot about failure. Much of what I post here are projects that went well, or at least well enough to share. Today, some musings on the parts that go really poorly. So, failure... Please consider Exhibit A, shown above, the cream wafers. Cream wafers are a Christmas recipe my mom used to make. I loved them when I was little - I loved them like I loved ponies and mermaids and stickers and things that were pink and purple. I was determined to make these cookies for the holidays, and I failed.

I made the cookie dough, popped in into the frige to chill like the recipe said, and then realized I didn't have a rolling pin. Then some time went by, and it was still in the fridge. There it sat, a sad, incomplete, doughy reminder of great plans unrealized.

Then, dear reader, I accepted my failure and threw it away.

My failure was complete, I no longer felt bad about it, and there was the epiphany - completed failure means 1. acceptance and 2. purging the evidence.

Being surrounded by daily reminders of failure is awful. Completing the failure, purging, and moving on feels awesome. Here's to failing, better.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett

Finnish coffee bread brining kimchi

Redeeming Fruitcake

FruitcakeFruitcake is my favorite Christmas food.. Maligned, slandered, synonymous with a punch line - yep, that fruitcake. When it's done right, fruitcake is amazing. By done right, I mean adhering to the following fruitcake rules:

1. None of that weird preserved green stuff. The mysterious green stuff is supposed to resemble candied angelica root, a common fruitcake ingredient of yesteryear.

2. Fruitcake should contain real fruit. I use figs, prunes, dates, dried apricots, dried cranberries, and dried cherries if I can find them

3.Fruitcake should be boozy. I soak my dried fruit in brandy or bourbon for 24 - 26 hours. It adds flavor, richness, and moisture.

citronsThis year, I wanted to get all authentic. Ye old family fruitcake recipe (i.e. my mom's) calls for 4 oz candied orange peel, 4 oz candied lemon peel, and 4 oz of preserved citron.

I make candied orange peel a couple of times each year, but never tried to make candied citron.

I've been lucky enough to see lots of citron in Asia, but almost never in Shanghai. I asked around at several fruit places, but nobody stocked it - it seems to be more of a Southern thing.

Conveniently enough, the plant market had several smallish ornamental trees with three or four citrons on each. I bought one and got it home to discover the citrons didn't actually grow on the tree - they had been cut off another (probably much larger) tree, and grafted on to keep them fresh and make a pretty display. So weird.

I scrubbed them with fruit wash, and followed the same recipe I use to make candied orange peel. They have a candied citronslight bitterness and more of a green flavor than the orange peel, and were really fun to work with.

fruits and peelsThe final pile of brandy-soaked fruit, blanched almonds, and the various peels smelled amazing, and I just love how the fruitcake itself turned out.

It's gotten me thinking about what other recipes need a bit of love to bring them back to their former glory.

Tuna casserole is next on my list.




The Dark Side is Delicious

"You've officially gone over to the Dark Side."

My beloved delivers this quote as I'm in the kitchen preparing the ingredients for a big jar of kimchi.

"We have more varieties of chiles and chile powders in this house than any professional kitchen I've ever worked in."

He has a point. When we met 4+ years ago, I was extremely spice-averse. Now, our spice rack is stocked with Arbol, Hatch, Santa Cruz, Guajillo, Chipotle, and Negra Pasilla chile powder, plus a range of dried whole peppers. I survived and enjoyed very spicy food in India. I have come to tolerate, and even love the favors and heat.

But the thing this delightful man makes with the kimchi that takes my new-found love of spice to a whole new level is a Korean-fusion breakfast burrito. He scrambles with eggs, adds the kimchi right before they set, melts sharp white cheddar over the top, and wraps the whole delicious mess up in a tortilla. Goes great with a cup of hot, milky coffee.

In three days, the kimchi will be ready to eat. If I play my cards right, I think there is yummy breakfast in my future.

It's been a productive morning on all fronts. I harvested my mugwort to make herbal bitters, and brought in the last of the basil and lemon balm. I'm drying some of it, and doing a round of herb-infused vinegar.

Rufus even helped me out with skeining some silk.

The kimchi is made from David Lebovitz's recipe here.

Wishing you a productive Sunday of your own!

Happy Belly in Delhi

This is my last day in Delhi, and I have yet to eat anything that was not amazing. Today I'm sharing culinary highlights, and a few recommendations.

The first place I went was Delhi Haat. They have more than 15 food stalls, each representing cuisine from India's various states. I had papadums and parathas stuffed with paneer (cheese), plus raita and various sauces. Amazing!

Delhi Haat apparently gets really crowded on the weekends, but was nearly empty when I went mid-day on a Wednesday.

The most unexpected thing I ate was spicy tapioca. There was a lot of lime-leaf involved, so this had a great citrusy flavor.

I also indulged my love of street food at Central Market in Lajpat Nagar. Lentil fritters with grated radish and a green herb I couldn't identify, and chole (spicy chickpeas) and fry bread.

The best and least photogenic meal (sorry, no picture) was at Karim's. They have a number of locations, but the one near Chandni Chowk had great atmosphere. The butter chicken was heavenly, and the biryani was spectacular. If you're in Delhi, Karim's is not to be missed.

I visited the spice market in Chandni Chowk and got up close and personal with with elements behind the amazing flavors in Indian cuisine, including nutmeg flowers, which I'd never seen before.

I'm bringing a number of different spices home, and hoping to recreate some of these meals.

I'll let you know how it goes!

Homemade Kimchi!

Today I tried something new. I'm delving into the wonderful (and new to me) world of fermented spicy things. This is my first jar of kimchi, and I'm really excited about it.

I used this recipe from David Lebovitz. I substituted Guarillo and Hatch chili powders for the Korean chili powder used in the recipe (couldn't find it), and slightly reduced the amount of fish sauce.

If you're wondering how a family of two will use up a jar of kimchi this size in two weeks, I have three words for you: Mark's Kimchi Eggs. It's the breakfast of champions. It's basically scrambled eggs with kimchi and sometimes a fresh tomato mixed in, and it's a wonderful start to the day.

It will be a minor miracle if we have any kimchi left after two weeks.

Chai Concentrate

It's been a long, cold, rainy spring in China - the perfect weather for hot milk tea and for chai. I love chai, but I hate paying for it, and I'm just way too lazy to make it in small quantities. My problem was solved by the wonderful concept of making a single, massive batch of chai concentrate.


This project makes the entire house smell amazing, and it's really easy.

You boil up dry spices (cinnamon, star anise, cloves, cardamom, black pepper), separately boil up a bunch of sliced ginger, add black tea, and steep briefly. Add some sugar, and that's it.

My batch yielded five bottles. The concentrate will last for at least a few weeks in the fridge (assuming you don't drink it all before then!).


Mango Chutney

I made mango chutney this weekend. It was the second time I have made chutney, and it was transcendant again. Two jars have already been consumed as a topping for crackers and bread.

My current favorite combo is Wasa rye crisp crackers with cream cheese and a big spoonful of chutney.

Recipe here from craftzine. I recommend using chipotle chili powder for a smokey, sweet spiciness.

Guest Post: Hannah's Preserved Lemons

Hi folks, Hannah here. On a recent visit stateside, Iris and I did some crafty scheming and she persuaded me to try my hand at some blogging. I'm addicted to food preservation and I hope my humble contributions live up to all her amazing and lovely creations. So, I live in California and there's tons of citrus in what passes for winter here. I got some Meyer lemons in our CSA  the other day and wanted to preserve them in the Moroccan style. There's lots of recipes out there and I particularly like this one, but since I wanted to use them in a tagine for dinner, I opted for a more expedited recipe.

I sliced the lemons into eighths and boiled them in about one part water to two parts vinegar. I also added juice from one lemon, some bay leaf, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves.



Once the peels were soft, I removed the pan from the heat and let them cool. All three lemons only made one small jar - but there's quite a lot of flavor packed in there! Various sources indicate they should be good for about six months in the fridge.


To reward myself for all that hard work, I made this tagine with sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, and roasted chickpeas - it was a delicious accompaniment to some roasted lamb with peppers and canned tomatoes! I added some almonds for extra crunch.


Cocktail Cherries - Yes, Please!

On New Year's Eve, I was swapping canning stories with my dear co-conspirator Hannah. She makes the most delicious everything. If we're all really lucky, she may be posting some of her creations here in the near future. She mentioned she's made her own cocktail cherries (like marachino cherries, but all grown up and actually tasty), and passed me the recipe. It's really, really fun to make - the perfect project for a cold Saturday morning when you don't want to go outside.

I should probably explain why there are cherries in China in February. Cherries are considered a "spring" food, and so they're appropriate to eat at Chinese New Year. The ones I got came from Chile, where it's now summer.

I did a variation on this recipe. 2.5 kg of cherries makes three batches if you make cherry juice from some of the fruit, and also each a bunch.

The cherry juice called for in the recipe is a great way to use up cherries that may not be quite so aesthetically pleasing. One note on that process is not to blend the fruit too much or it will take forever to drain.


I'm not a huge fan of brandy, and I plan to use my cherries in manhattans and old fashioneds, so I swapped out the brandy called for in the recipe for bourbon.

I also changed the spice profile a bit. I bought a bunch of whole cardamom and star anise in Vietnam, so added that to the mix.

If the idea of pitting cherries makes you not want to try this, I whole-heartedly recommend this cherry pitter made by the good people at oxo. It was comfortable to use, fast, and didn't make a huge mess.

I decided I wanted to make my cherries shelf-stable. As always, if you're going to do this, you need to sterilize everything carefully and follow all those good food-safety guidelines.

I found a similar recipe for cherries with the same alcohol and sugar ratio, and used their processing guideline - 10 minutes processing in boiling water.

This batch should be ready to taste in another two weeks, and I can't wait.



I trimmed back my lemonbalm plant this weekend, and used a muffin-tin to make giant lemon-balm ice-cubes. You may be wondering why.

Well, fresh lemon balm makes amazing tea. I was introduced to it by my host-mother when I was an exchange student in Scandinavia. It's yummy, and herbalists credit it with lifting winter blues.

The problem is it doesn't grow in the winter - hence the ice cubes.

This technique is also great for preserving things like fresh basil. To keep them green, blanch briefly in hot water (otherwise they turn black in the freezer) chop into small bits, pour water over the top, and freeze. This also works great for basil.

Pop out of the tin, store in a bag, and just add to boiling water when you're ready to brew.

Do you have any tips for preserving your summer bounty?

Simple Pleasures

Sometimes, comfort food is the only thing that does the job. It was a less than stellar day around here yesterday. My sweetheart got stuck in a torrential downpour on the way home from work, possibly lost a suit, tie, and shoes to the  inclement weather. I spent the day fighting some weird turf battles at my job, and then there were strange things in my tea.

I generally count on tea to be the most predictable part of my day. It's green or brown, it smells and tastes nice, I drink a lot of it, and it's always there for me.

A particular favorite of mine is puer tea in all its forms. Puer is semi-fermented, and pressed into big cakes. Sometimes, there are stems or grassy bits stuck inside a cake of puer. Today, there was something a bit more unusual - a fern leaf!

It was time to head home and make something familiar.

I made a big batch of mac and cheese, with a healthy sprinkling of paprika on top. Hot, gooey, and just what we needed.

Take that, semi-crappy day!


Mango Chutney

I made Chutney for the first time ever this weekend and it was good. Really, really good. So good we ate it on slices of bread with sharp cheddar cheese. It was easy! Why did I not know it was so easy?

I followed this recipe from craftzine.

My only tweaks to the recipe was to use chipotle chili powder instead of regular, and to add a couple of dried allspice berries to add some sweetness and smokiness.

You simply must give this a try when mangoes are in season in your area.

Orange you glad I posted these pictures?

Anybody out there remember the knock-knock joke about the bananas and the orange? "Knock, knock!"

"Who's there?"


"Banana who?"

"Knock, knock!"

"Who's there?"


"Banana who?"

"Knock, knock!"

(repeat as much as your five-year-old heart desires, or until the person you're talking to walks away in annoyance)

"Who's there?"


"Orange who?"

"Orange you glad I didn't say banana?"

All this is to set the stage for a thoroughly orange post, featuring the start of a new orange warp and a big batch of marmalade from this recipe found on Design*Sponge.

With the grey warp finally off the loom, I can move on to an orange palette and a new twill weave structure - pebble weave.

Here's what the loom looks like with nothing on it. There are few things scarier to me than a naked loom - it's like a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future, but featuring procrastination, stagnation, and guilt in place of a very sad Cratchit family. Warping is not exactly my favorite thing, and I tend to put it off.


In order to get the loom dressed as quickly as possible, I wind spools for my next project before I finish my current project so I'm ready to go. When one warp comes off, the first section of the new warp goes on the very same day. The beam is now all wound on and ready to be threaded.

The other orange thing happening is marmalade. I found sweet kumquats at a local fruit market and bought three pounds. I spent more than three hours yesterday slicing and de-seeding them to make this marmalade. I'm substituting ginger for the vanilla and I'll let you know how that goes. I'm also altering the recipe to use as freezer jam, so I'm playing fast and loose with some of my jars.

A few notes on freezer jam: Since freezer jam lives in your freezer (as the name would imply), it's a great way to re-use commercial jars or other containers you have lying around the house. Sterilize the jars and lids the same way you would for regular canning and follow your recipe's directions for how much headspace to leave when you fill the jars. Put waxed paper over the tops and put on the lid (you don't actually want a seal) and pop 'em in the freezer once they've cooled to room temperature.

Freezer jam is great for gifts. I find my jam jars never come home again, and I'm usually happy to have my stash of recycled jars move on. Plus, your gift recipient is unlikely to put their new jar of jam in their pantry for weeks and weeks - they're going to go home directly, immediately make toast, crack open that jam, and sing your praises. At least that's what they do in *my* reality.

In any case, my morning yogurt just got a lot more interesting.


Postcard from the weekend

It was a busy and wonderful weekend in my world. I worked on a bunch of projects, cleaned the studio, and generally made myself useful.

1. The kombucha has brewed for a week and I couldn't resist giving it a try. It wasn't quite to the effervescent point yet. I'd describe the flavor as off-dry (the kombucha mother hadn't processed all the sugar yet) but it was completely delicious. So delicious that I moved the mother into a larger container so that the next batch will be a bit bigger.

2. I experienced a medium-sized weaving disaster. One (and only one) section of my warp was one yard shorter than all the others. In order to not lose an entire yard of warp, I individually weighted each too-short yarn with a heavy square ring or a fishing weight. The weights made a fantastic tinkling sound with each treadle, and also wanted to twist up into a complex tangled braid about every five minutes. Very vexing. If anybody has a better solution to this problem, I'd love to hear it. I have a bad feeling this may not be the last time I encounter this issue.

3. I finished dyeing the spring yarn palette for Pursuit of Craftiness. I was going to introduce each color individually over six weeks, but I can't help myself - look out for a full introduction of all six colors by Saturday.


4. I made pie cupcakes. They were awesome and super simple. You make enough pie crust for a double crust pie and use a muffin pan instead of a pie pan. I used apples with fresh ginger and spice for my filling.


How did your weekend go? Did you get some needed rest, or focus on productivity?


Infusion & Grey Days

I've hit the two yard mark on my weaving project - 25%! Picking the fleece is a slow slog. The fact that the fleece and January are both grey is not making me love this project either. I will definitely be buying either roving or better fleece from here on out.

On the plus side, there is progress, and I'm looking forward to a long wooly coat for the last cold days of Spring. I've been thinking about lining, and leaning towards a camel-colored silk. There is some warm tan and chocolate brown in the warp, and I think a warm color for the lining will be nice.

I highly recommend using a natural fiber lining if you're making a coat. Natural fiber linings are best because they breathe, and let's just say they keep your coat smelling fresh. They are also less prone to static than polyester.

Silk is my first choice for linings, but rayon works great too. Rayon is technically a semi-natural fiber - it's made from cellulose through a somewhat nasty chemical process - but it does breathe.

Other than the weaving, my other weekend project was a quick bit of infusing. I have a basil plant that bravely survived the fall, but suddenly decided it wants to go to seed right now.

I pinched it back a few times, and it put out a bunch of cute little sprigs before deciding to try to go to seed again.

I cut it back definitely, and used the trimmings to infuse some vodka. There are lots of great infusion directions on the internet, but this set from The Kitchn pretty much sums up my approach - try lots of stuff, taste often, and stop before things get bitter.

I'm looking forward to mixing the basil vodka with lemonade this summer. Foofy drinks with umbrellas and a warm patio sound really nice right about now.