Thursday, January 31, 2013

Culinary Chronicles - Asian Cuisine #1: Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Chicken

One of the things I like best is experimenting with different cuisines. This month I've been learning Asian, or more specifically, Korean cooking. Its all thanks to Chloe Lim, the Korean Food Addict (at kfoodaddict.com) who has posted many wonderful Korean dishes. I recommend you visit her site and learn some things. Its great!

The first time I looked through her site I was like, "Wow! That looks so delicious but I don't have some of those ingredients." So I made a list of all the dishes I wanted to try and took note of the things I needed. Some things that I have found to be very common in any Asian cooking are Soy sauce (which I knew already), sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Once I had my list ready it was time for the International Farmer's Market. I can't tell you how inspiring that place has been for us since it arrived last year. We've found so many new and foreign things, produce mostly, and it has definitely brought out the creativity in our cooking. There's nothing like walking out of the store with a buggy full of fresh produce. The feeling is one of satisfaction.

Since we started shopping there one of the items continually on our list is Bok Choy. I had never had it previously but I found a recipe/video on YouTube that I liked and wanted to try. So far I've tried Baby Bok Choy, Shanghai Bok Choy, and Lon Bok Choy. The first two are mini versions of the last, meaning Baby and Shanghai are small heads while the Lon are long, tall heads. I really can't say which I like the best without comparing their taste at the same time, but the Shanghai is usually the cheapest.

Technically, Bok Choy is Chinese, being a species of Chinese cabbage, even though another species, Napa, is used in the common Korean staple Kimchi, which I have not tried just yet but want to. The experiments I have been doing with Bok Choy I have not gotten from Chloe, the Korean Food Addict, but some of the other ingredients and techniques are.

At first, inspired by some of her meat dishes, I cut the chicken in bite-sized pieces and cooked them in a skillet with coconut oil (our favorite oil). But without good knives for cutting meat, this can be difficult. So this time I baked the chicken like we usually do and continued like usual; with a few changes of course. I always like trying something different. Here's my recipe:

Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Chicken



Ingredients

Serves 8
  • Chicken Thighs, skinless and boneless (Our favorite is Coleman's Organic from Cosco)
  • Ultra-refined, expeller pressed Coconut oil (there isn't a flavor to this kind, even though we buy the flavored kind as well)
  • Bok Choy (I used two bags of Shanghai Bok Choy)
  • Green Onions
  • Chive Flowers (pictured on the cutting board below)
  • fresh garlic cloves
  • fresh ginger
  • salt and pepper (we like to use unground Celtic Sea Salt)
  • sesame seeds
  • Bragg's Liquid Aminos (a Natural Soy Sauce alternative)
  • sesame oil
Directions:


Melt coconut oil in baking pans. Place chicken in pans and season with salt and pepper. Bake chicken in the oven at 350 degrees till done. 

Shanghai Bok Choy and Green Onions



Prepare Bok Choy by chopping the base off. Wash thoroughly. We like to use GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) in water.


Meanwhile, chop the chive flowers into a desired size. The first time I left them in longer lengths, which is visually appealing, and only put them in after everything was cooked, but I wasn't as fond of it that way.


Chop the garlic as well. My family likes larger chunks of garlic, and since garlic has so many health benefits, I added a lot. So far it looks like Korean's like lots of garlic in their cooking and that makes us happy.


Chop green onions and Bok Choy. I learned to cut Bok Choy first down its length to halve it and then chopped in chunks down the width. I prefer to leave them in larger bits than smaller to equal the size of the chicken.

Slice fresh ginger in thin coins. You'll notice in the next picture some of the coins of ginger are thick; it's more beneficial to slice them thin.


In a large skillet (or even a wok if you prefer), add enough coconut oil to cover the bottom. Once oil is hot, add ginger coins and cook until the juice of the ginger is adequately infused into the oil.

You might notice I like ginger. I adore cold ginger tea with lemon (a recipe I will endeavor to post). Ginger is a recent ingredient we've come to love. At first I wanted it just to make tea so I learned more about it: how to take care of it and prepare it. Its a wonderful ingredient deserving a post all its own.


Remove ginger coins and add green onions, chives, and garlic. Cook till lightly browned.


Add Bok Choy and stir till all the Bok Choy is well covered in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes, then add some liquid aminos, (or Bragg's, as we call it) and cook till done, which is where the harder chunks of Bok Choy are starting to get translucent. I have at times covered it with a lid and let it steam for a while but it tends to cook down a little too much so I left it off.


Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the Bok Choy. Add a couple of teaspoons of sesame seeds and cook a little longer to blend the flavors. Then drizzle a desired amount of sesame oil over it. We use Spectrum's brand of Toasted Sesame oil.


Serve over brown rice or Annie Chun's Brown Rice Maifun Noodles. And enjoy!

Variations

Our favorite version is the one I described above, but I have also made a version with cubed ground beef. We keep our ground beef in the freezer until we need it and get it out a few hours before cooking time to thaw slightly. If cubing it, only get it out a couple of hours before or you won't have cubes but bits.

With Cubed Ground Beef

Another way I like to prepare it as a side dish without meat. I fix it as before but at the point where I've added the Bragg's I add a couple of cups of chicken broth too. Then I put a lid over it and let it steam till done.You could use vegetable broth in place of the chicken, or even beef. Be creative! And never be afraid to experiment.

Let me know if you tried my recipe, and tell me how it goes. I'd love to hear from you.

On my list for future creations:
Plus I want to make my own rice cakes so I can try some of Chloe's other recipes. So excited!


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Crochet Pattern (Part One): Floppy Hat

(Updated pattern coming soon!)


Hats fascinate me. I always wanted hats when I was younger but we were never hat people, and I couldn't afford them myself. So when I learned to crochet I found some hat patterns and have been experimenting ever since. My favorite to wear are beret's and similar looking hats. I don't do baseball caps, beanies (usually), or pretty much anything with a bill. I have to admit, the hippy/slouchy hats are very attractive. I actually have been on the lookout for a good slouchy hat pattern.

I received some Homespun Apple Green and Golden, two colors I have never used but have wanted to, and I wasn't sure what to make with them. Well, out of all the scarves I have made, only one was for me and that was YEARS ago. So I thought I'd use one for a scarf and the other I decided to make into a hat, a slouchy hat. I didn't take the time to find a satisfactory slouchy hat pattern, and thought even if I did I didn't want to use Homespun for it, so I went at it freestyle.

Rummaging through my old Ziploc baggy full of folded crochet patterns, I pulled out my favorite go-to for your average beret. Then I grabbed the largest crochet hook I could find and started going. I wanted it to be open stitched and sort of baggy so I chose the V-stitch.

I added a few extra rows here and since the hook was larger than the pattern recommended I cut some out here and there. Really, I just followed what I knew: crochet flat and round till you reach a desired diameter; then work even (with no increases) for a little while, how long depending upon the type of hat you are making; and decrease by skipping every tenth stitch. In decreasing, you could sc2tog (single crochet two stitches together) and/or dc2tog (double crochet two stitches together) instead of skipping, but I felt, in light of the hole-y look the hat had, skipping a stitch would be less noticeable.

For the brim, I wanted the hat to be able to come down over my ears. Keeping in mind that the yarn will stretch a little, I found the suitable diameter for my head and then added two extra single crocheted rows. The result? A satisfied me.

Here's the pattern. I haven't tested it so tell me if I've left something out. Like I said, I free-handed it; I'm sure there are ways it could be improved. I'd love to know if you've figured them out.


Floppy Hat Crochet Pattern

Fits comfortably on head circumference of 21½ inches, stretches for slightly larger.
Laid flat measures 11 inches in diameter.

Materials:
-Homespun yarns: 1 ball Apple Green, 1 ball Golden
-Hook size 9.00mm (M13)
-Tapestry needle
-Scissors

Notes: Hat is worked in rounds; do not turn.

Extra Stitches
V-Stitch: (Dbc, ch 1, dbc) in same st.

Pattern
Row 1: With Green, 6 sc in magic ring, sl st in first sc.
Row 2: Ch 4, (stands for first dbc here and throughout) ch 1, dbc in same st. Work v-st in next st. and in each st around. Drop Green (but do not fasten off) and join Golden with sl st in beginning ch.
Row 3: Ch 1, sc in st around, sl st in ch 1.
Row 4: Ch 4, dbc in same st. * Work v-st in next st, dbc in next st *, repeat from * to * to end of row, pick up Green and sl st in 3rd ch of first dbc (the ch 4 at the beginning of row).
Row 5: Ch 1, sc in each st around. Sl st to ch 1.
Row 6: Ch 4, dbc in same st. * Skip st, work v-st in next st *, repeat to end, pick up Golden and sl st to 3rd ch of ch 4.
Row 7: Ch 1, sc around, skipping every ch 1.
Row 8: Ch 4, dbc in same st. * Skip st, work v-st *, work dbc in last st. Picking up Green, sl st in 3rd ch of ch 4.
Row 9: (Working even, no increases) Ch 1, sc in each st around. Sl st in ch 1.
Row 10: Ch 4, dbc in same st. Skip two sts, * work v-st, skip next two sts *, dbc in last st. Pick up Golden, sl st in 3rd ch of ch 4.
Row 11: (Decreasing) Ch 1, sc around, skipping every tenth st.
Row 12: Ch 4, dbc in same st. * (Skip two sts, work v-st) three times (you should have three v-sts), skip 3 sts and work v-st. * to end. Pick up Green, sl st in 3rd ch of ch 4. (You are working nine sts, and skipping the tenth).
Row 13-19: (Work the remainder of the hat in Green) Repeat rows 11-12, ending with Row 11.
Row 20: Ch 3, dbc around, skipping every tenth st. Sl st in top of ch 3.
Row 21-22: Ch 1, sc in each st around. At the end of Row 22, fasten off both balls of yarn and weave in ends.

Pattern Copyrighted by Amy Lynn Yarbrough, 2013

Try it out and let me know what you think!

Coming soon: matching scarf!


Friday, January 25, 2013

In My Backyard - Issue #7 - Rabbit

 

More Than Just a Rabbit


When you look up at the moon, what do you see? The man in the moon? A rabbit making mochi? --What?! A rabbit? Making mochi?

Never have I looked up at the moon and seen a rabbit; making a mashed rice dish, no less. But in Japan, it is said that Rabbits live on the moon where they pound glutinous rice in an usu, or what we would call a mortar and pestle. So much for the man in the moon. Then again, maybe now the man in the moon isn't lonely. (I hope he doesn't like rabbit meat). Similarly, in Korea rabbits live on the moon making rice cakes, which are pretty much the same thing as mochi. As for rabbits in Africa, Kalulu is a tricky character, cunning and mischievous. A friend of Loki, no doubt. It's interesting to see all the ways these little animals have influenced the cultures of the world. They are known to be symbols of youthfulness and innocence, rebirth, fertility, cleverness and foolishness, cowardice and bravery. And further, in Dorset, UK, the rabbit was considered so unlucky that people would refer to them as "long ears" or "underground mutton" just so they wouldn't have to say the word. Fortunately, this has become more of a past superstition than a modern one.

Rabbit on the Moon

The Rabbit


The rabbit was first considered a member of the order Rodentia due to its many similarities, but Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, put them in the order Lagomorpha for a few reasons. One, even though their teeth continue to grow throughout their whole lifetime, Lagomorphs have four incisor teeth as opposed to the rodents two. Second, they are herbivores and not omnivores, eating grasses and leafy weeds.

A small mammal, the rabbit breeding period ranges from February to October (9 months) and during that time a female can have from 4 to 12 babies, resulting in around 800 new additions per season. Obviously, given the right conditions, which are not in the least narrow, the rabbit can easily, and quickly, overpopulate and become a nuisance.

Overpopulating rabbits on a university campus.

And speaking of nuisance, have you ever heard of Br'er Rabbit? Yes, that lovable little trickster who bests his enemies with wit instead of muscle. Sound familiar? Remember Kalulu? Br'er Rabbit has origins in African and North American cultures. He was immortalized orally for years until Joel Chandler Harris put the stories on paper under the familiar 'Uncle Remus' tales. In 1946, Disney put out the Song of the South which is a live-action/animated musical film telling the story of Uncle Remus.

Closer to Home


In the winter months, experiencing wildlife is more or less rare. Most commonly seen during these lean times are the deer and a variety of birds. This months subject of "Rabbits" may appear to be scraping the bottom of the barrel but it is no less a good subject, all the same. In fact, though common, the Bunny is the epitome of cute, with its fluffy body and long ears. It wiggles its little nose to test the air and hops with an unexpected strength.

Cottontail Rabbit

It was just the other day, we were walking our dogs in the field behind our house like we often do, and we had decided to move on to the next field where its more wild and secluded. Mother had just mentioned possibly seeing more wildlife, and I was thinking how good it would be for me and this months In My Backyard post, when Hop! Hop! Hop! a rabbit took off for the trees. The dogs spotted it before we did and almost took our arms off. There are many times they take off after a smell and we go flying with them. Just to clarify, we have a Chocolate Lab, a Lab/Pit Bull mix, and a Husky mix, who all pull twice as hard as you might expect. I can't explain it any better than that. You really have to have a good stand when they catch a whiff of something attractive. And its not that they aren't trained to obey, even though there are times when they could be a little more obedient. They are definitely high energy animals. But I digress from my original subject.


All that I really saw of the bunny as it fled was a splotch of brown and a fluffy white tail. The dogs made sure we didn't see it anymore that night. But the next night my brothers said they think they spotted it again. I just so happens we also saw three deer, two does and a buck, who also quickly left at our arrival.

The wonderful things you can see if you leave your noisy neighborhood and explore nature. You really never know what you'll see next. And I love it!

European Rabbit

Rabbit Trivia


Before I end this months post, let me give you a little trivia. Did you know that a male rabbit is called a buck as well? The females are called does, and the young are kittens or kits.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed a little insight on a common creature. Leave a comment and tell me what you think!

Kit in Nest

Monday, January 14, 2013

Resolution or Plain Resolve


In my last post called Getting it Straight -- Maybe I talked about finally coming to terms with what I wanted, building my own business or writing. I realized that I could not devote the proper amount of time necessary to each of the projects I had and that I must downsize. Well, I am finally at peace with leaving my business behind (for now) and heading full force into writing, since it is the love of my life. This brings me to my post for today.

The new year is here and many people are struggling to keep up with their New Year's resolutions. I have a theory for that. It is: if its not something you are successful at accomplishing during the rest of the year then don't think you can accomplish it at the start of a new one. So I don't make resolutions. But I do have hopes. And plans. Tentative plans.

Since the direction in my life is a little more focused, and clear, I have been able to lay some of the other things in my life aside. And I can't say how good it feels to have a clear goal to shoot for.

So, with renewed resolve, I started this month with set, and yet simple, plans. I didn't start the first week of the month, though. Since my mom and sister were still recovering from Bronchitis we took advantage of it to continue our holiday vacation. Then last week arrived. I caught up on my emails, cleared away all that had piled up over the holidays and prepared to plunge full force into my writing. As happens so often with the best of intentions, I didn't really get started on that "plunge" until Thursday. But I am pleased to say that in the days I have been able to write I have really moved along. I am learning to ignore those voices in my head that tell me this and that and frustrate my writing, and am beginning to learn to let myself enjoy it. I must admit, I've never understood those people that can just write a story beginning to end without any changes or reconfiguring. I reconfigure a little too much, but never reconfiguring on your first draft? Unbelievable. Then again maybe I am missing something. Yet they say write the way you feel comfortable and don't worry about the rules. So if that is true, I well on my way.

Anyhow, I have new resolve and a goal to shoot for. If its God's will like I think it is, then I should be able to stick to this new schedule I have made for myself. Time will tell.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Getting it Straight -- Maybe

Its taken me years to come to the point where I can say I know what I want. I'm not sure its exactly slow-learning or preoccupied. I've said before how I've always wanted to do everything from crafting and writing, to medicine and history, and even astronomy. I have vast interests, yes, which have created a problem for me when it comes to settling down to working on one, or two. As I have grown, naturally my desires and interests have grown with me, but unfortunately I still have that intangible desire to do (almost) everything.

When I graduated I thought: "Great! Now I can spend all my free time writing. I'll just get a business going (selling my products) on the side and I'm "home free"." Right. I have the insane problem of wanting to do everthing right the first time, so when i don't, I pull my hair out. Yes, you guessed it, I'm bald.

The years passed, and yes, I managed to design a site, and have spent a considerable amount of time devoted to writing. But I still can't seem to get it all done. Besides (I'm ashamed to admit) as much writing as I like to do, I haven't published one story, or even finished a single novel. Sigh.

I put a lot of stress on myself by believing the lies the devil sends my way about my worth and ability. Making enough money to pay for myself instead of depending upon my parents is my drive. In a way its pride, for me at least. There's more than merely being self-sufficient here. But I make myself crazy trying to make it all happen.

I've asked God many times to clear up this mess of feelings and desires in me but just like God, it takes time. I have come to realize its a growth thing and not something you can solve immediately.

Well, He did fulfill my request. Gradually I have begun to evaluate just what it is I want to do, and how much time I want to give it. The idea of selling my products isn't quite as appealing as it used to be. Or rather, going into a full blown business. What I desire more than anything is to write. I want to finish my stories, I want to be published, and I want to spend more time getting to feel out who I am in the blogosphere. Randomly, it would be great to one day head up my own magazine. Wow! That's thinking big, of course. But its the direction I finally realize I want to go.

I'm still working on the specifics, but I think my Etsy shop is going to have to be put on hold. My WWII short is calling and I can't put it off any longer.

So yes, I have learned; God has shown me a little more of the direction I should go. Now if only I can refrain from allowing the frustrations to sink in and take me over. Patience... Relax... Go at it in your own time... Tips for the coming year.



Monday, January 7, 2013

Classic Christmas Movie Review #5 - White Chrstmas

(Well I had expected to have these reviews finished before Christmas but unfortunately my schedule didn't permit it. And since I promised to write them I will write them anyway. Ordinarily, I would be angry at myself for missing a deadline, even if it was only one I gave myself. But I am learning through all this how to balance my schedule and just how much I can write within the time frames I give myself. I seem to be a slow learner when it comes to finding my writing groove but one of these days I'll get the hang of it.)


Now for the fifth review. I must admit, this is one of my absolute favorites. I really couldn't wait to do it, and here it is: White Christmas. Put out in 1954, this is a musical with the ever funny and talented Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Also in the movie are Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes. Before I start the movie summary I'd like to add that this movie has an amazing score and wonderfully choreographed dances. We watch it every year and never tire of it. But I won't go into my opinion just yet.


It's World War II and despite the ever present danger, well-known singer Bob Wallace and amateur performer Phil Davis give the boys a special performance to lighten the mood and in honor of General Waverly, soon to be retired. During the celebration, they are attacked by enemy planes sending everyone running for cover. In the melee a wall topples and Phil quickly rescues Bob, injuring himself in the process. The two become friends and Phil convinces Bob the two of them could do great in show business together.


When the war is over, the two performers go into business together. They become famous as a singing team, everywhere from nightclubs to shows, and recording on the side. But for Phil its not enough. Before long, Phil gets them into producing a show called "Playing Around".


When the Christmas season arrives, Phil and Bob close up the production for the holidays. Before going to Radio City in New York for a publicity plug, they stop by a nightclub to see a sister act recommended to them by a former army pal. The sisters are Betty and Judy Haynes, and they immediately catch the eye of the two famous performers. (The number they do in the photo above is the famous "Sisters" duet.)


Phil and Judy leave Bob and Betty at the table to dance and find they like each others company very much. Here they are doing the number "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing". Little do they know, Bob and Betty have gotten off on the wrong foot after Betty admits it was not their brother who had written to Bob and Phil but Judy, asking them to see the act and give them pointers. Bob lightheartedly calls it an angle and Betty takes offense at his implications.


While the evening is still young the girls have to make a mad dash to the train to escape the landlord's accusations. To stall the sheriff and landlord, Bob and Phil pull out the girls' recording of "Sisters" and give the audience an unexpected surprise. (In this number you can see Bing losing his composure as Danny hams it up. Hilarious!)


Bob and Phil finally catch their train to New York which happens to be the same train taking the Haynes' to Vermont. Bob realizes Phil gave their drawing room tickets to the girls and starts to accuse Phil when the girls show up and thank Bob for his thoughtfulness. Instead of losing his temper, Bob invites the girls to have a seat. Here they sing Irving Berlin's "Snow".


Having convinced Bob to change their plans to stay in Vermont with the girls for a while, Phil and the rest are surprised to find Pine Tree Vermont a little warmer and less festive than they expected.


When they reach the inn where the Haynes are booked to perform, they soon find out the inn is owned by their very own General Waverly.


They hear the general is having a hard time keeping the inn going and dream up a plan to save it by transferring their production to the inn. The days leading up to Christmas are full of rehearsals, set designing, costume fittings, and all the work that follows a production.


After coming back from a mail run, Bob gives the general a letter from an army pal. General Waverly admits to him that he has hopes of going back into the army and this is the letter he had been waiting for. Unfortunately, the general is turned down. Seeing how hard it is on him, Bob has another great idea to help the "old man" out.

He phones his friend in the television business telling him he wants to contact all the men under the general's command during the war and invite them all out to Pine Tree Vermont for a special show in honor of the general. 


Emma, the housekeeper, listens in on another line but only hears the man encouraging Bob to televise the whole thing and play off the old man's hard luck. What she doesn't hear is Bob's refusal to do such a thing to the general and she tells Betty what she thought she heard.

From then on Bob and Betty's relationship goes steadily downhill as Betty continually gives him the cold shoulder.


Ever trying to fix things up, Phil and Judy come to the conclusion the two are in love but Betty is unwilling to walk out on Judy and the act. So they agree to a temporary engagement, hoping it will give Betty the freedom she doesn't feel she has.


Betty takes it differently, though she is happy for the two of them. She catches a train for New York where she has taken a job at the Carousel Club. While at the train station to inform them of the heavy crowd they should expect on Christmas Eve, Bob sees Betty and tries to stop her.


Obviously their plan didn't work and Judy is heartbroken. They confess all to Bob who reprimands them on their foolishness. Going to New York as well for the television spot, Bob assures Judy he'll try to bring Betty back.


Oce in New York, Bob tells Betty the truth about Phil and Judy's engagement. But, although cordial, Betty refuses to come back.


In an effort to keep the general away from the television where Bob is giving his invitation to all the boys, Phil claims to have fallen down the stairs and broken his leg.

In New York, Betty hears Bob's speech to the men in the general's division and realizes that she was wrong about him. She jumps on the next train to Vermont and arrives in time for the show to everyone's joy. Its not long before Bob and Betty are back together.


Through a shrewd move on the part of Emma, the general wears his uniform to what he believes to be the opening of the show. To his surprise, the spotlight is on him.


Like the show they did years before, the men sing "The Old Man" number all dressed in uniform. The general, obviously happy to see them all, shakes the men's hands and thanks Bob and Phil.


The show ends with Irving Berlin's hit "White Christmas", revealing a truly white Christmas after all.

My Opinion:

As I said at the beginning, this is one of my all-time favourites. The music is memorable, the dancing is the best, and the plot is totally remarkable. Not forgetting the excellent costume.

Just so you know, my favourite song is the one Rosemary Clooney sings at the Carousel Club called "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me". I like all the music, but this one fits my style of singing, which is more jazz/slow-love-song type.

Trivia:
Interestingly, the part of Phil Davis was written for Fred Astaire as a comeback for the two after doing so well in Holiday Inn together, but by that time Fred had retired. So the part was rewritten for Donald O'Connor. But O'Connor was fighting a bout with pneumonia and pulled out. Danny Kaye was the next and eventual choice.

Anyone who knows anything about old movies should recognize Betty and Judy's brother (merely a picture Judy shows to Bob and Phil) as Alfalfa, Carl Switzer, who also happens to be the jilted lover in It's a Wonderful Life.

Finally, the unscripted laughing of Bing and Danny isn't all the joke. In fact, the whole mock dance by the two men was the result of them clowning around backstage. Evidentally the director thought it good for the plot and decided to write it in. Neither Danny nor Bing could keep a straight face, resulting in many takes. The one in the movie was the best they could do.

For more White Christmas trivia, click here.

And that wraps up this review. Thanks for reading. And since its too late to say Merry Christmas, I'll instead wish you a Happy New Year! My next, and last, Classic Christmas Movie Review will be It's a Wonderful Life.