Why China isn’t going to take over the world.

Now and again I send cash back home. I have to set aside a big chunk of my day to do this. Yesterday, I arrived at the bank and there wasn’t a soul there, except for me. It still took 50 minutes. What the?!?!?!?

I decided to entertain myself by counting the steps involved in a simple international bank transfer. Which, if I was in Australia, I could do entirely online. Or, at the bank with possibly no paperwork? I’m not sure. Maybe one form?

So, today’s transaction included:

  • punching my password into the machine three times
  • signing my name eight times
  • photocopying four tax documents and ‘proof of employment’
  • photocopying my passport, visa, worker’s permit
  • and, processing five forms, which (with the carbon copies) were actually nine pages

Full on, huh? Just imagine the filing cabinets they must have.

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Baby Led Weaning Journey – 6ish to 9ish months

I was introduced to the concept of ‘Baby Led Weaning’ by a friend here in Beijing whilst I was pregnant. She recommended that I read: Baby-Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett

As I read the book, the concept started to make more and more sense. In my mind, I could see how this process could lead to more independent, less fussy eaters in the long run. A parents dream, right? Also, I can all-too-easily remember how picky my younger sister was, and I’m pretty damn sure I was an annoying, very simple, plain eater as well. I was immediately attracted to how this method requires less food preparation. The basic idea is that your baby ends up eating what you eat. This means no prep of mushy foods.

So, at six months we gave it a try. We sat Adella down in her bumbo chair with some sticks of steamed vegies. Watching her slowly bring the snacks to her mouth and realising that they weren’t just an inanimate object for chewing on, and were instead to be swallowed, was fascinating. We put a wide range of foods in front of her and let her pick and choose and munch as she likes.

These are the foods that she has tried so far:

  • 1st month: steamed carrot and broccoli, bananas, apple, bread, hummous, crackers
  • 2nd month: pikelets (made with banana instead of sugar), strawberries, mandarin, salmon, breadsticks
  • 3rd month: pumpkin, yoghurt, mango, pineapple, lasagne, pasta, lentil cakes, chicken

My favourite has been strawberries. From the first one, she just loved the sweetness. And within about a week, she had totally worked out how many bites she had to take out of one before she could safely put the rest of it in her mouth.

It seems like a lot of people get scared because of choking hazards, but instinct always seems to kick in. Her gag reflex brings anything too big back to the front of her mouth. In almost three months, I think I’ve only pulled two things out of her mouth. Even so, it took a little while for me to totally relax, but I made sure I never panicked. I feel that our emotions affect our children so easily.

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It’s not all perfect of course, there are some challenges. One of the main ideas is that you encourage your children to sit down and eat with you, so that you are eating as a family. On our current schedule, this is kind of tricky. We do our best to sit down with her though, and at least have a snack. We also don’t have a table to eat around. This is making us sound like quite a dodgy family, but we always eat around the coffee table. We used to have a dining room table, but since Adella arrived, we had to reshuffle our furniture and the dining table got dismantled. However, our plan is to have one again when we move soon. Ah, apartment living. So, for now, the Bumbo chair has been doing a great job, but the little one’s thighs are getting a little podgy and it’s getting harder to get her out of it! We have ordered a high chair, and it’s on its way. It’s also a challenge to find crackers and things that have no nasty ingredients in them. I have become very aware of ingredient lists on packages now.

And, eating out in China can be quite funny. In general, people are quite fascinated by the process. Sometimes they panic, thinking that the crazy foreigners don’t know how to feed their baby. Also, there’s a definite lack of high chairs in local restaurants. We have a portable one, but it can only cope with tables of a certain depth, and for some reason, tables here always seem to be really deep. Often the hygiene standards of tabletops can also be a worry. Using plates or bowls is no good, as eventually it will go flying. I made some cute eating mats out of oilcloth which we try to use, but stopping them from getting pulled or thrown is the challenge. I’m on the lookout for the appropriate size peg to attach them onto tables with.

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My pikelet recipe:

  • 1 cup flour (I usually do half/half with white and wholewheat)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (because I don’t have SR flour)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 mashed banana (to replace 1 tbsp sugar)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • unsalted butter for frying

Also, here is a great Lentil cakes recipe. I made mine with dill and parsley.

I also have some references on my pinterest board.

I have some great videos of her eating too. I haven’t worked out how I want to share these yet, but I will link it here when I do.

Things I love about having a baby in China

I go back to work tomorrow with a feeling of dread. I mean, I’ve always had that annoyed feeling at the fact the holidays are over and that I need to be responsible and earn a living again, but this time it’s different. I’ve just spent a full month with my baby. A bit of travelling, but mostly just time in and around home. And it’s been…. divine. I feel so priviledge to have had this time. And it’s made me want to be a stay-at-home Mum, which is something that I never thought would happen. 

As a follow up to Things I love about being pregnant in China, I feel inspired to write the ‘having a baby’** list.

{**How annoying is English? ‘Having a baby’ here just doesn’t sound right, but I wanted it to line up with the title of my original piece. Owning a baby? Possessing a baby? Sheesh.}

1. Walking. I do so much more walking now. And it’s great! There are so many little details of the city that you see on foot, that whiz by when you taxi or ride.

2. Making people smile. Adella is a cheeky little baby and will smile at anything. Which also means at everyone who looks her way. She’s particularly good at this on public transportation and in supermarkets.

3. Making people run. We’ve made people run, just to come and see the “Yang Wawa” (little western doll).

4. Conversation starters. I feel like I have so many more random conversations about babies. This is so good for my language skills, which I’m really trying to improve on at the moment.

5. Random advice. Ok, so the random advice can often be annoying, but sometimes it is just hilarious. For example, “I think she’s not wearing enough”, to “I think she’s too hot”. From the same person within 10 minutes.

6. Astonishing Chinese women. Our crazy western standards when it comes to raising babies. No milk powder? No disposable nappies? Not wearing 20 layers of clothing? Their shocked faces are absolute gold.

7. Eating good food. In a country of food scandals and dodgy food processing methods, it has been nice to take the time to find out more about what Beijing has to offer in terms of organic foods. And I’m sure there are many more options out there that I’m yet to find.

8. Friendship. We have already quickly become part of a playgroup with Mums and Bubbas, all around the same age as Adella. It’s wonderful to have such a great support network.

9. Coming home after work. I love coming home to her. She’s such a joy.

10. Family time. Our weekends are so special now.

IMG_2501aHere she is playing peek-a-boo on the train.

So here’s to hoping that as I step into the classroom tomorrow, my gorgeous students will remind me why I love my job and rekindle my enthusiasm. I hope.

Red Bar Cooking Classes

As I’ve prattled on about before, it’s great to live in such a varied expat community, where I get to learn about all sorts of delicious foreign food. But occasionally…. I get to return the favour!

At school, we often get given food-related gifts. This is a bit of a Chinese thing. Since teachers in the public system are on quite a low salary, they get “bonuses” in the way of household goods. I’ve received crates of oranges, apples, cow’s milk, almond milk, a yoghurt maker and even a big pack of toilet paper (which was probably the most practical since the school toilets don’t have any! Maybe they’ll give me soap one day…).

Really, I shouldn’t be receiving these, but my wonderful, kind principal doesn’t like me being left out. So, I try to give back with the gifts by baking something with them (and no, you are not about to see a toilet paper cake). Because of this, I’ve earnt a bit of a reputation at school for cakes and often get a request for a lesson.

On a number of occasions, I’ve had a crowd of teachers piled into my tiny kitchen, marvelling at my oven (not a standard kitchen appliance over here). It’s lots of fun, and great for my language skills. The kids even turned up for the last one!

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Mixing the mixture…
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and doing the icing.

These ones are from my last school. I often intrigued the teachers with my leftover-dinner lunches.

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This was a curry class.DSC_0803

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And lasagne!

For anyone who would like to do a similar thing, I’ve translated a basic cake and muffin recipe. I’ve only done the ingredients because I visually teach them the method. I’d like to reference the recipes, but I’ve been using them for so long, I can’t remember where they came from. If anyone knows, please let me know.

Cake:

125g butter 125克 黄油
1/2 cup sugar 1/2 杯 糖
1 teaspoon vanilla essence 1 茶匙 香草精
2 eggs 2个鸡蛋
2 cups S.R. Flour(or 2 cups Plain Flour + 2 teaspoons of baking powder) 2杯 白面(或者2杯白面加2茶匙发粉)
1/2 cup milk 1/2 杯 牛奶

1杯 = 大概250毫升]

Muffins:

2 cups S.R. Flour(or 2 cups Plain Flour + 2 teaspoons of baking powder) 2杯 白面(或者2杯白面加2茶匙发粉)
1/2 cup sugar 2 勺子 白糖
1/2 teaspoon of salt 1/2 茶匙 盐
1 egg 1个鸡蛋
1 cup milk 1 杯 牛奶
1/4 cup oil 1 杯 油
Optional ingredients: 自选配料:
mashed bananas 烂糊的香蕉
dried coconut 干的椰子
orange rind + orange juice 橙子的皮 和 橙子汁
chocolate 巧克力
cooked apple 熟的苹果

Why the “Red Bar” you ask? That’s the name of our apartment, because our living room looks like this:

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Nigella’s Steak and Chips

I’ve recently been watching Nigellissima – Nigella Lawson’s new(ish) Italian cooking show. She’s so sweet to watch, and I love how she always showcases easy, yet delicious, recipes, that I usually have the ingredients for in the pantry.

(Speaking of pantries… how amazing is hers? And she has a freezer drawer in her kitchen island?? Oh, I want her kitchen so much)

Her ‘steak and chips’ really appealed to me straight away. The recipe for her chips are here. You cook the chips in cold oil. Which is interesting, because I learnt from Masterchef that you should start boiling root vegetables in cold water. Connection? I don’t know… any ideas??

In the end, I don’t think my chips were as crispy as hers. I was scared of over-cooking them, so I think they could have had a few more minutes. But, the flavour of chips was amazing – a little soggy, but divine. The garlic and herbs made such a difference.

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So, it’s an exceptionally large amount of oil. I usually shallow fry everything (mainly because I’m kinda scared of boiling oil). But for a special occasion I guess it’s ok. And heaps fewer steps that the usual par-boil and double-fry potato chip method – you just had to watch them. Which also means less dishes.

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The deep-fried oregano and sage are just delicious.

Then, she made a very simple steak. You fry the steak for two minutes on each side, then allow it to rest, again for two minutes on each side. But, when resting it, let it sit in a dressing of olive oil, splash of red wine vinegar, chilli flakes, oregano, and S&P.

Then, remove the steak and let some cherry tomatoes sit in the dressing for a few minutes. Slice up the steak, and plate it all together! Yum!

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How pretty are the lines on my steak?

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So colourful!

I really look forward to trying out more of her recipes. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!

A holiday sandwich like no other

Holiday time is for over-indulgence. And that’s what this sandwich is. It popped up on my my pinterest page and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Until today.

Woah.

Amazing.

I think I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Introducing the Roasted Strawberry, Brie and Chocolate Grilled Cheese Sandwich (by ‘How sweet it is’) – click for the original recipe.

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The only thing to follow this sandwich was a cup of sheng pu’er tea. And a sit-down.

The snake is coming…

There’s a certain feeling that hits Beijing as Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) approaches. The epic city starts to empty, the skies clear as the factories shut down and excited children queue up with their parents for a fireworks stash.

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These generic flags are pulled out for every festival by our building management.

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‘No fireworks’ signs appear outside building sites, embassy zones, schools and the like. Whether or not they’re followed is completely another matter.

IMG_2421The sky is actually blue!! Until the fireworks start… (the population has been asked to exercise restraint over the lighting of fireworks following the most recent pollution problems, but I think that’s unlikely to make much of a difference).

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Shops fly the Chinese flag. All small shops are shut though, as their owners have returned home for the holiday.

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These tents appear all over the city, adorned with ‘no smoking’, ‘no lighting fireworks’ and ‘no re-fueling’ signs.

IMG_2428This building got a lot of red.

It’s only a few hours before the fun/chaos begins. Let’s see how our first fireworks fiasco with a baby is…