Sunday, November 22, 2009

November Update

Where does the time go?? It seems like it was just New Years Day a few moments ago, and here it is already almost Thanksgiving! Time really does fly. November has pretty much flown right by, possibly helped out by the fact that we spent a week of it in the US, visiting with our families, seeing some friends, and taking care of some errands. I finally got to see my niece's house in Connecticut, which caused an eerie sense of déjà vu, since the floorplan is almost identical to that of our house in Fairfax. Guess that American colonials are like that, though. It's a lovely house, and enormous, and set in among the woods just like our house was. I had forgotten that she has a cat before we got there, and had thus neglected to bring any allergy medication with me, but interestingly enough I did not find that I suffered any reaction. Same happened in DC while we were staying with very close friends in their new house and their two (amazingly beautiful) cats. Maybe I'm over my cat allergy at last.

One of our key errands to do while in the US was to visit our storage unit and sort through it one more time to get rid of anything that we could not bear to part with. I had thought that we had some electrical things in there, but it turns out that those are all gone, other than some of my dad's lamps, which I can always rewire to work in a 220v setting. But I did manage to sort through the 40+ boxes of books in there and reduce their number by 11. Am I really ever going to read the complete works of Mikhail Bulgakov, in Russian, ever again?? I didn't think so, either, so off they went, along with some other books that I did not enjoy in the first place (it was particularly cathartic to chuck out Joseph Camillieri's book on the Chinese Cultural Revolution, since I hated that book when I read it at SAIS--in it he lauds the CultRev as a positive thing) and others that I've had forever, never opened, and figured never will. So now we are in a position to have this storage pod shipped to wherever we decide to ship it to, without worrying that there are things in there that we will not want.

No sooner did we relieve ourselves of some excess belongings, though, than we set out to add more belongings to our stash. Whenever we go to the US (or anywhere outside of China, really) we make frequent visits to bookstores and this trip was no exception. Now that I have a Kindle, however, I don't really buy that many novels or other general-reading books on paper, since there just seems to be no need (I'd make an exception for books that I think have some lasting merit, however, or that will look impressive on my shelf). But cookbooks are not really practical on a Kindle, so I continue to buy those in paper. But the prices at the bookstore are so much higher than they are on Amazon, and it's so easy to have Amazon books shipped to us in China, that we found ourselves choosing the books we wanted at the store, and buying them online on my iPhone before we had even left the shop. Ain't technology something?? Thus I bought several interesting new books: Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc, David Chang's Momofuku, Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible, and Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes (the last two were for J2 who sees himself reviving his baking career if we should ever open a restaurant in South Africa or wherever). One book I decided to buy on the spot, though: Jim Lahey's My Bread, which is an expansion of his no-knead bread-baking recipe that appeared in the NY Times in 2006. I have always bemoaned the absence of good bread in Beijing, and found that his recipe was a very easy way to satisfy my craving for bread with a crisp crust, moist interior, and good taste. No sooner did I got this book home, in fact, than did I start to try out the recipes, whipping out in the past week two loaves of his rye bread, a loaf of carrot bread, and a pizza bianca. The rye loaves were outstanding, really good flavor, great crust, etc, and the carrot bread is very interesting--it's made with carrot juice instead of water, so the bread is a shocking shade of orange, studded with currants and walnuts, with a subtler-than-I-expected carrot flavor. The pizza bianca, which requires the use of a pizza peel and pizza stone, both of which I have but neither of which I have used often up to now, also tastes great, but I think I need more practice with the peel, since the dough really is very moist and I found that it stuck to the peel relentlessly, despite my dusting the peel with a liberal dose of flour. As my friend Cindy would say, I had better keep practicing.

With Thanksgiving just a few days away I have begun preparations for our feast, which we have decided to hold on Saturday instead of Thursday. I bought my turkey at the market yesterday (RMB 250, still a mere fraction of what I paid three years ago at one of the expat shops) but I could not find cranberries anywhere. I imagine that all the cranberry stocks in the city are being madly wrapped up by the Americans, so I will have to go very early one morning to a store before others can get to the meagre supplies. It's amazing to me that the expat shop owners have not figured out that there are some things that they need to buy more of at certain times of the year to meet seasonal demand.

We continue to have unseasonably cold weather here in Beijing--the temperature has barely nosed above the freezing mark--but I am hopeful that this will pass before long and that we'll have a relatively mild winter. We have decided not to host a Christmas party this year, since we are saving money for our farm, which means that, unlike previous Novembers I have not been in a baking frenzy (other than the breads), which I have to say is a welcome respite.

That's all there is to write now; I'm off to my first Pilates class in two months. Wish me luck!