A Month of Chinese Food | Too Busy Eating to Take Those Pretty Photos

Chinese Braised Oxtail

At the beginning of this month, I imagined myself visiting countless (actually, okay, I estimated a very countable 4-5 places) Chinese restaurants, slurping down noodles, trying a few dim sum places, and ordering Dan Dan Mian in. This never happened. Not really. Once, I took Jordan to Chinatown’s New Town Bakery, since we needed to go to T&T Supermarket anyway.

I also nearly lost motivation mid-month. I was attacked by the North American palate cravings. All I wanted was a nice broccoli and potato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side. We did break from Chinese food for a night of pesto pasta, but I attribute that to the fact that I found myself swimming in free basil on one occasion. A day later, I found the motivation I needed, thankfully.

kitchen.chineseWhat kept me motivated during this slump? This delightful read by Ann Mah: kitchen chinese. It’s like a food memoir mixed up into a rom com. It was fun to read and taught me a bit about Chinese food and culture.

Blogs, per usual, were another source of inspiration. Those that inspired me to try new recipes when I was feeling lazy and wanted to me reposer sur mes feuilles de lauriers* include Steamy Kitchen and the Woks of Life. Neither steered me wrong. Both provided way more recipes than I needed to fill my month and typically came with enough stories and explanations to make me excited enough to get off the couch, even after work, to cook a nice meal.

I didn’t make my way through all the recipes on my to-cook list, but we did much better on the cooking side of the project as compared to making our way to Chinese restaurants. I still need to make Chinese tea eggs and have some quality sweet and sour ribs. I have no doubt that sometime in my near future, these things will happen.

But I digress. Concentrating on what we didn’t eat is so not the point. Especially when we tried some very fun new things.

The month had some hits. It also had some misses.

I had two favorite nights. Night 1 was when we invited a friend over for supper (yep, I call it supper–that’s what we call it in my neck of the woods, and I simply won’t can’t break the habit). Jordan and I (heavy on the I this go round) had spent a good 2 hours braising our pork belly and prepping the spicy Ma Yi Shang Su, also called Ants Climbing a Tree. When the lovely guest of ours came over, we spent some time together making our dumpling filling and shaping dumplings to go into the bamboo steamer. We ate and sipped a nice Argentine red and ate and chatted and ate. Earlier in the day, Jordan and I had gone to New Town Bakery to stock up on some egg tarts, almond cookies, and sesame balls. I have since decided that if I one day have a child, he or she will be fed Chinese sweets from a young age so that he or she won’t have to learn to appreciate them as an adult. Still, a fun end to the evening, even if the desserts weren’t our taste.

Favorite Night 2 was Peking duck night. I picked my duck up at Jackson’s Poultry (the staff there is always so friendly!), bought a sackful of plums, and stocked up on five spice. For the most part, we followed recipes a la Jamie Oliver for our duck and our plum sauce, then spent some time rendering the fat and saving the legs for confit (the legs had a big less five spice, just for the record), and finally using all those randoms bits for a stock. It was really quite the production, but fun all the same. And technically, since those confit dug legs are still in waiting–and thus, some of the rendered fat as well–we’re still enjoying that duck. The bird that keeps on giving. As for the plum sauce, gruyère and plum sauce grilled cheese wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I was craving grilled cheese, but it’ll definitely do the trick.

Other notable experiences include the hot and sour soup, which I believe may have warded off a cold, braised oxtail, and all Schezuan-influenced dishes. I think we’d add the hot chili oil to anything if we’d only be able to find a way to claim that it was supposed to be a part of the dish. We had Mapo tofu and also a Schezuan fish stew which we definitely enjoyed.

My biggest disappointment of the month? The breakfast congee. I had the best of intentions to dry my own orange peels, never did it, and found myself using other ingredients around the pantry to flavor the rice porridge. It ended up being a far cry from anything traditional, and it certainly wasn’t anything that left the husband eager to eat ride porridge in the mornings. (He might have mixed peanut butter and honey into his). I had envisioned it as a much more comforting breakfasty morning, but it ended up being one of those Cassie-is-trying-something-and-it-is-not-great-but-I-won’t-complain sort of things. But when Thai food rolls around, I’ll give it another go, maybe try savory instead of sweet congee.

After a month of ginger, soy sauce, black vinegar, cloud ear mushrooms, dumplings, and Schezuan peppercorns, what do we have to show for ourselves? Other than our new bits of food knowledge, only one single photo. We were apparently too busy eating to snap any decent photos of our creations.

The photo of the oxtail above is the only one from the entire month’s worth of home cooking.

chinese new year granville island public market

So instead I’ll leave you (and my future self when I return to this page with a hankering for Chinese food) with a list of the recipes that we tried at home this month.

  • Dan Dan Main (noodles)
  • Ants Climbing a Tree
  • Chinese braised oxtail
  • Shanghai-style Pork Belly
  • Pork potstickers
  • Veggie potstickers
  • Hot and Sour Soup
  • Egg drop soup
  • Vegetable Lo Mein
  • Buddha’s Delight-Round 2
  • Peking Duck
  • Homemade Plum Sauce
  • Shanghai Noodle Bowls
  • Breakfast Congee
  • Egg Foo Yung
  • Kung Pao Veggies (Sweet Potatoes)
  • Vegetable Chow Mein
  • Mapo Tofu
  • Schezuan Fish Stew

The month of April? All about Mexican. We’ve already prepped our habañero hot sauce and revamped some of our favorites. Can’t wait!

Happy cooking and happy eating!

*There is a pun to be had here in English, too, I’m sure, but I just can’t seem to make it work. It works so much better in French since bay leaf is feuille de laurier and to rest on one’s laurels is se reposer sur ses lauriers. Since a bay leaf is often used in a type of cooking I am much more familiar with, using that bay leaf seems like resting on my laurels, not stretching my repertoire, etc. Does it work, does it work?!

 

2 Days of Beachcombing and Eating in Tofino

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, I have a lot of “favorite” places. I can’t help it. Even still, I mean it when I say I’ve got another place to add to my favorites list. (Just for the record, while I am a list-maker and usually have written lists when I say these things, I do not actually have a “favorite places list” anywhere).

Tofino really is that beautiful. It really is that tranquil. And it even a quick two days there did feel restorative.

From Vancouver, we hopped a bus to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, hopped on for a very cushy ferry ride to Nanaimo, and picked up our rental car. Sure, even after this, you’ve got to drive 3.5 hours to reach Tofino. But the drive ain’t too shabby. There are beautiful lakes and old growth forests with big (I mean, really big) trees at which you can stop and marvel (or picnic) if you feel the drive getting to you.

big tree port alberniold growth forest port alberni

And then, all our traveling paid off. I ask you, how could Tofino not be in my list of favorite places? It’s got miles kilometers of beaches, both sandy and rocky, along the coast.

tofino beach

And then on the other side, there are more beautiful views with mountains, complete with snow caps (just not in this photo, ha).

tofino bay

On either side of the road just outside of town, you’ll find yourself in veritable rain forests with easy, well-maintained trails.

tofino hiking boardwalks

Then there’s the town. It’s not a big town, but it has everything your little tourist heart is going to need and much more than you’d expect from an average town of 1,900.

Tofino town

Our recommendations are basically the same favorites as everyone else who goes to Tofino for the weekend. We ate well–very well, frankly. We sampled kelp stout craft beer, filled up on fish tacos, ate amazing seafood chowders, and fought each other for bites of sticky toffee pudding.

All this can be done without worrying about traffic, without long waits, without worrying about having enough time. It’s glorious.

tacofino

tacofinotacofino

When we weren’t eating our sipping, we were walking the beaches.

Many people visit Tofino for the surfing. We opted out. In our minds, we equated surfing with our first (and only) surfing attempt to date. That attempt could generally be classified as a failure. The waves were big, there were rocks and coral all over just, and the paddling was super hard. The mister likes to say that he paddled for about ten minutes only to look back and see that he hadn’t gone anywhere. This, to us, was surfing. Turns out that surfing in Tofino looks much more doable. And now, we kind of regret not trying/planning enough time to try. Ah, well, that’s our reason to return, right?

Still, if you don’t surf, the beaches are delightful. I turned into an easily excitable (think squealing with glee) beachcomber. I love looking for driftwood, spotting interesting shells or anemone, and admiring the sand patterns left behind during low tide.

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach trails

tofino beach

tofino beach hiking

tofino beach

tofino beach

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tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

Until we meet again, Tofino, until we meet again…

*****

Places we loved (everyone loves these places…):

Where we stayed: