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.



Garden Report

garden 1 I love my garden. I could give you a whole slew of reasons why it's not bigger, better, further along - we moved, late start, rainy spring, blah, blah, blah - but I love my garden, right where it is right now, bugs and all.

Things that did well this year: 1. beets. 2. basil. 3. lemon balm and mint (surprise!)

Things that died: 1. bachelor's buttons. 2. sweet peas. 3. most of the squashes (due to some weird disease).

garden 2

I'm loving the Roma tomato plants, and kinda underwhelmed by the rainbow chard. I have a bazillion basil seedlings, and no idea where to put them. Too much basil is a problem I'm happy to have.

The kale seedlings are hanging in there, despite constant threat of destruction by caterpillars. Sweet Neighbor's birds have been helpfully dispatching the little green monsters right and left.

Today's dirty job was turning the compost pile at the Skyfarm. It's used by everybody at the garden, but it doesn't get much love. It was a gooey anaerobic mess back in May, but has responded really well to being re-layered.

Speaking of gooey anaerobic messes, my home compost is... well.. a work in progress. I'm hoping to convert it into a worm bin in the next few weeks.

Does anybody out there have experience composting with worms?

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!

Wine Box Garden

Here's a quick and easy project idea for anybody with a small amount of deck or balcony garden space who's interested in container gardening - grow herbs and other plants in wine boxes!

The main challenge I find with container gardening is water management. Small containers dry out quickly, and stressed plants provide a delicious snack for all sorts of destructive bugs and diseases. Large containers are great, but difficult to move, and most them are round - making difficult to group together in a way that maximizes space. Wine boxes are a great solution because they are easy to move, modular, and rectangular.

For this project, I bought a bunch of 12-bottle size wooden wine boxes from a local wine distributor. I simply drilled drainage holes in the bottom of each box, added potting soil, and put in my plants.

I've started seedling of beets, lacinato kale, salad greens, basil, zucchini, and marigolds in additional boxes. I can't wait to see what comes up!

Do you have any container gardening tips?

Postcard from the weekend

I feel a little guilty - I still owe you a post about the process of making a wristlet purse, but it's going to have to wait a few more days. I had planned to do it this weekend, but then there was this amazing wedding happening, and that definitely took top priority. My friend Rebecca got married in a pretty little park in Shanghai. I had volunteered to go to the flower market to help with the selection of flowers, and ended up getting to make her bridal bouquet. She picked out some bold, fun sunflowers and two other flowers I don't know the name of. I especially love the little yellow ball-shaped ones. I added in something that looks a lot like Queen Anne's lace, but isn't - no idea what it is. I did a simple arrangement and wrapped the base with bias-cut strips of light blue dupioni silk.

I made this little blue wristlet to go with the belt and the wrap on the bouquet and the rest of the accessories.

The wedding itself was super fun and casual. It was held at a park behind Yuyintang, catered by the fabulous Amelia, and the wedding party arrived on bikes.The weather couldn't have been more cooperative.

Other than that, I spent most of the weekend weaving and playing with plants.

We're moving in a few weeks, and I have to get my current project (all 13 yards of it) off the loom before I can break the loom down for moving. It's going to be a push.

The little gourd sprouts from the seeds I bought in Yunnan last fall are growing fast. They're about 14" tall right now, and I transplanted 2/3 of them into a huge pot. I'm looking forward to getting them on the patio of our new place where they'll get all the sun they want.

What were you up to this weekend?

Visit to Portland

I had the opportunity to visit Portland, Oregon last week. It couldn't have been more lovely. We walked around all over the city, ate a lot of great food, and drank a significant amount of amazing local beer. The culinary highlight (alas, no photo) was a plate of venison osso bucco served with nettles and spaetzle - this is definitely a foodie's paradise. To my great surprise, Spring had already arrived. I was prepared for grey and rainy, but there were daffodils and tulips coming up everywhere, and cherry and plum trees in full bloom. We even got one warm, sunny, perfect blue-sky day with no rain. Shocking!

Some of the spring flowers were almost on their way out already. This rhodedendron was just starting to look past its prime, but still lovely.

Portlandia jokes aside, I can clearly see why this city has attracted so much attention in the past few years: great bookstores, lots of green space, amazing food and beverage, and lots of yarn and craft shops.

Speaking of shopping, I was a mere 1.5 pounds under my 100 pound luggage limit on my flight down to the Bay Area - Quite the close call.

Our host and hostess are avid gardeners, and every windowsill is their home was covered by vegetable starts in tiny pots.

It was pure delight to see so many green, growing things when Spring hasn't quite made it to my part of the world yet. I'm feeling inspired to make some changes to my gardening routine and see if I can bring a bit of Portland's garden scene home.

Bringing the yarn and fabric scene home is already taken care of. ;)

Everything's coming up gourd sprouts!

These tender green shoots are making me deeply happy. I bought several packs of gourd seeds on last October's trip to Yunnan province. By "pack," I mean several unmarked plastic bags. There was a very nice lady selling gourds and melons and plants, and she had a basket full of seeds and I figured what the heck - it was worth a try.

The seeds lived in the refrigerator all winter and I planted them about two weeks ago. So far, the germination rate looks to be low - I planted about 25 seeds, and five sprouts have come up. We'll see how this all shakes out. Anway, I'm very grateful for the five little shoots I have.

Happy Spring!