Thursday, July 3, 2014

Maple donuts

When I was pregnant with Sal, my husband and I would go on after dinner donut runs (usually Thursday nights before Jersey Shore came on) to the local donut shop. We'd order a buttermilk bar for NZ, a maple bar for me, and one random donut to share, plus a few freebie donut holes from the shop owner thrown in, and by the time we got home, we would be staring down at six donuts for two people.

Too many, right?

But somehow, gluttony won over reason and we would devour them all in one sitting.

I'd vow to never eat a donut again by the time we were done, but then the very next week, we would do it all again. 

With Carla, we didn't have access to donuts 24/7, so I'm pretty sure my post partum body is thankful to have a few lbs less to shed this time around. Don't get me wrong, if they WERE available, I would have scarfed down a dozen or two. The few times we have found them here, they haven't been worth finishing.

I decided to try my hand at donut making this week for our Friday night dessert. I don't own a donut pan, and I'm scared of frying things with kids in the house--so this recipe for baked donuts from   DJ's favorite recipes   was right up my alley.

I followed her recipe with a few adjustments. I halved the recipe and subbed a few ingredients to utilize what I had on hand.



Here's how I made my half batch: 

MAPLE BARS
3/4 c nonfat milk
1/6 c coconut oil (original recipe calls for butter flavor Crisco)
2 T granulated sugar
1 t salt
2 T lukewarm water
1/4 ounce (7 grams) yeast (usually 1 envelope= 1/4 ounce)
2 egg whites (original recipe calls for 1 whole egg)
2 1/2-3 c flour
1 t cinnamon

ICING
1/6 c butter
1/2 c brown sugar
2 T nonfat milk
3/4 c powdered sugar
1 T maple syrup 
Dash of salt

To make the dough:
In small saucepan, Scald milk. Add coconut oil and 1 T granulated sugar and salt. Simmer for 2-3 minutes and remove from heat.

In large mixing bowl, add lukewarm water and yeast. Add 1 T sugar to the yeast and let sit until foamy. Once foamy, mix in egg whites.

Once scalded milk and sugar mixture has cooled to lukewarm, pour into yeast and egg white mixture. Add flour and cinnamon. If you have a kitchen aid stand mixer I highly recommend using it. Mix on medium speed for five minutes. I, on the other hand, tried to use my hanky hand mixer and had dough crawling up the beater blades from the get go, so I finished it off by hand by kneading for another 8 minutes. The dough will be sticky but not wet. If it still seems wet, add a Tablespoon more flour.

Once kneaded, oil a mixing bowl and place dough inside and cover with Saran Wrap. Let rise for one hour in a draft free place. 

After one hour, press dough into a rectangular 1" thick slab. Cut down the center and cut each strip into a 2.5-3" square. This recipe should make 8 donuts. 

Place donuts on a greased cookie sheet and let rise an additional 30 minutes. 

Bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes until tops start to turn golden brown. Watch closely!


To make glaze:
In small saucepan, melt butter, brown sugar, milk and salt. Bring to a low boil and then turn down heat to simmer and thicken for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add to powdered sugar and maple syrup. I used my hand mixer on high to get rid of lumps but this could be done by hand as well.

Glaze donuts while warm. I turned each bar upside down while warm and dunked them. 

Place on wire cooling rack to cool.


Happy Friday & Happy Birthday, 'Merica! We are thankful for our home country and can't wait to get back to the land of the free and home of the brave....and donuts, of course!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Our "European" adventure

We took a drive out to a park my husband's assistant calls "European Park", which appears to be a section of Lihu park here in Wuxi. 


Getting out of the crowded downtown area is always a welcome change. 


The park is very, and I mean veeeery run down and neglected. 

None of the fountains were operational, the potted plants had seen better days, and the seven dwarf bridge was missing sleepy. 

Also, does Disney know about this?

There's got to be some sort of trademark against a non affiliated park using Disney characters, right?


Anyways, we enjoyed the walk around the ghost town of a park for exactly that reason...it was a ghost town. 


With very few people out and about, we were able to carry a full conversation without being interrupted by the paparazzi or a nainai wanting to know if both kids were mine. I talk about the picture taking here, a lot. That's because it is THAT bad. 

Sal had a chance to ride/carry his scooter while we took turns passing Carla back and forth. 



All in all it was a good morning out. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

{crayon} meltdown

It's been a rainy Wednesday morning on our side of the world. Sal and I did some coloring (he's down to color for about two minutes) and I noticed his crayons have all been peeled and broken into tiny pieces "to fit in da dump chuck". 

One of my childhood memories with my mom was remelting used crayons in muffin tins and making new multicolored crayons from the old. I asked Sal if he'd like to do an experiment with his old crayons and he said yes with so much enthusiasm--though he has never heard the word experiment before. 

I love his gusto. 

We used a silicone baby food tray that we no longer use for baby food. Sal and I dropped a few crayon pieces into each well. I tried to keep my colors in the same family, but Sal mixed his with reckless abandon for some pretty cool combinations. 


We stuck them in our oven on super low heat (80 c) for twenty minutes. Half way through they looked like this.

Once they were all melted, I put them out of Sal's reach and let them cool for an hour before popping them out of the mould. 


And here we are testing them out. They worked!


I'm ready for him to break the rest of his crayons so we can make more. Clearly, I've been inside way too many days in a row. 

Rain rain go away,
My kids and I want to play!



Friday, June 20, 2014

Kitchen tour

I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on my last post "To Market We Go", so I will make an effort to share a bit more of our day to day with you all. So much of what surprised/shocked/scared us at first is so normal now that we forget just how different life here is from America. 

Today I'm going to knock your socks off with a tour of our kitchen. What once seemed like it better suited an RV, now seems spacious. I think NZ is conspiring against me with this small kitchen business. Now when we move home to our house, my previous plans for kitchen expansion seem silly. I can totally work with what we have there..all it needs is a facelift. Saving my husband money. 

You're  welcome, honey.

Here's our kitchen in all its glory.


All 200x240cm of it. 

Here's my view while washing  and drying dishes. 


No dishwasher here. I AM the dishwasher. We've got a small dish rack on one side of our sink, that is currently drying Carla's chew toys. I sanitize them in a vinegar and water solution. Speaking of sanitizing, I also use that concoction for cleaning our floors, fruit and veggies etc. 

Vinegar is my BFF.

The soap dispenser was awesome while it worked, but it was made in China. Need I say more? It's been replaced with a jug of soap that now lives on the sill next to our three knives (paring, bread and an all purpose one) so that little hands can't reach them.

Jealous yet?

Here's our microwave and cutting board storage. Up above is our Tupperware and stainless bowl set. We have six glass storage containers to our name. The benefit? I don't lose many lids.


Down below I've got my appliances. All made in China, and definitely up for grabs before we leave here. China has different voltage than the USA so we've bought cheap appliances that get the job done, but they are definitely not Cuisinart quality.


What've I got in there? I see you peeking.

A two slice toaster, a blender, a hand mixer, a juicer and a crock pot. The crock pot and juicer are my favorites. The toaster is temperamental and the blender makes me want to fork out money for a vitamix  when we get home. I'm so over shoving utensils inside to keep it blending.

The next cabinet houses our pot and pans. A singular pot. Primarily for pasta cooking and soup making. I've got a small saucepan for rewarming things and also three fry pans. One needs to be thrown out, because it suuuuucks, but the other two larger ones are great for our needs. The apartment came outfitted with a rice cooker. Sal has used it as a piggy bank, and now many coins live in the bottom of it, never to be returned.

Above the pot and pans, I've got two gas burners. They have three settings. High, higher and scorching. Want to simmer something? Good luck.

Next to our pot and pans cabinet live our spices. Some purchased here and some smuggled from home. We love garlic salt. How can you not bring a costco size shaker back? 


The most popular cabinet in my kitchen has to be the kid's cabinet. Sal opens it a dozen times a day to empty it and find juice cups. 


And yeah, I totally cleaned that up before taking this picture to share with you. It still looks messy. 

Life with kids, yo.



Last but not least, (don't laugh), our oven. 

Yes. It's a toaster oven

It cooks at whatever temp it wants to, and sometimes the timer works, and sometimes it doesn't. It turns every meal that succeeds into a miracle. I've mastered cakes for the most part, and NZ finishes off a mean filet mignon (after pan frying the outside) in this little oven. 

Above the oven you can see that we aren't really set up for entertaining. 4-6 of each setting. These dishes break so easily that we've had a few losses over the last year and a half. Want coffee? I'll  have to wash the cup when I'm done so you can use it. We can't both drink at the same time, cause uhm....we only have one coffee cup. (In all honesty, neither of us drink hot tea or coffee at home). 

On the opposite side of my cabinets, is a sliding door to our pantry room. Our refrigerator and NZ's surfboards live there along with our food.


So, there you have it. 

Our Chinese kitchen.







Oh yeah.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

To market we go...

The kids and I spend most of our mornings walking the same route to do our errands. It's a mundane task, but I also know that when we move home, I will miss parts of my life here. One of the changes that I've had to make, that is for the better, is to find ways to meet our needs without the use of a car (although we have access to one now--bonus:no more car seat installation). For the past two years my primary mode of transportation has been my own two feet.

In the states, our house is within half a mile of stores, yet I always drove wherever I needed to go. Never did it dawn on me that maybe I should walk to pick up my husband's dry cleaning or buy groceries. I could've, but I didn't. 

My kids are young. Too young to remember life here. Sal may remember some parts of living in China, but my guess is that he will forget most if not all of his experience here once we hit US soil. My goal for our last year here is to take pictures of the day to day stuff that wowed us when we arrived, but is now so "normal". I'd like to make a yearbook of sorts so that our family can look back and be like, "yeah, we did that". 

So, today, I documented our errands. The sights we saw, the transactions made...all things we see every day but may not remember years from now.

It's been raining this week, but we were still able to roll through the mud well enough to sneak through our "secret" exit that is accessed through the green belt below our home.


We started our walk over the tiled bridge that gives us a view of the canal that runs behind our compound. It smells during summer.


On the other side of the bridge there is a strip mall below Vanke apartment complex. Our drycleaner & favorite Korean market are located here.


Right now, there is a mangy kitty (hello fleas!) outside our dry cleaners. He's cute but in terrible shape.


Here's our dry cleaner. I'm exchanging four dirty shirts for two clean today. 


Our stroller doesn't fit inside so the kids wait outside while I prop the door open with my foot. One foot in the store, one hand on my stroller. 


After our stop at the cleaners, we continue on across the intersection towards the market. We often pass other children riding on their Nǎinai's e-bike. This Nǎinai and her kids are riding three deep. That's a kid on the back covered in a "bike seat". 

I don't judge, we do it to. 

With helmets, of course.


Today there is a fire burning in the rubble of the recently demolished apartments and vegetable market.


 The government has come in and torn down our produce market. The big dogs have  plans for the land. Selling produce is not one of them. For now, the vendors have moved to the driveway that used to lead to their building. They set up shop under umbrellas. I'm talking everyone. Veggies, fruits, fish, pork, spices....they're all outside now. My heart hurts for them.


We buy our fruit and veggies from the same family every time. Their son speaks English, and the husband knows "banana" and "cherry". I know how to say apple, mango and watermelon in mandarin. We laugh at each other's use of the words. With admiration for trying, of course.


He always gives Sal free fruit. Today Sal got two bananas, a melon slice and a lingonberry. 


Sal declined the bananas so Carla tried one. She was quite peeved with me when the banana was gone. Girlfriend can eat!


We left the market and found ourself in a traffic jam. Busses, e-bikes, pedestrians, cars, bikes and tuktuk trucks.. It's quite common for women to ride their e-bikes in mini skirts and pantyhose. Flashing is a sport here.


We made our way through, and passed our favorite roadside watermelon vendor with his new tuktuk on our way home.


We crossed the intersection towards home but had to watch for e-bikes and turning cars, as always. Crossing a street here is like playing frogger. There's the water delivery man below. $1.20 per jug, deliverd to your door. 


As we approached the bridge below our compound, we passed what Sal and I call the "pee pee water" spot, in which we often see taxi drivers pull over to relieve themselves. It's just a bunch of bushes right before the  bridge begins. Today we passed a taxi driver relieving himself. Naturally, I let him photobomb my selfie (then conveniently cropped myself out) to share with you all--cause I'm sneaky like that. See him next to the tree? Yeah...he's doing what you think he is.


We cross the bridge and see our block. Almost home. During winter and rain, the tiles on the bridge get slick, and I'm happy to have my stroller to help keep me from falling and busting my tailbone. I think we've all pulled a groin or two on these tiles.


We cross paths with the lady that I've told Sal is our recycling lady. She digs through the trash cans in our compound looking for recyclables. Now that my ayi is no longer, I try to put our recyclables to the side for this lady. I know she will dig anyways, but at least she won't have to dig for ours. 


Through the gates...Sal will tell you not to touch the wires above, because "they will hurchew" (hurt you). Electric fences keep the bad seeds out, or so we hope. 


And up the elevator...at two and almost a half, Sal can almost reach the up button. Today I gave him a boost, but I speculate that by the time we move home, he will be tall enough to reach the button himself. He loves to be my doorman.


And finally, we have arrived  home...time to unpack the car, I mean...stroller.


You just walked a mile (literally) in our shoes. Thanks for joining us on our errands today.

Love, Brie & co.















Friday, June 13, 2014

Carla is 5 months old


This month's photo was more of a challenge than the previous months have been because this lil bit is scoot'n now!


I put her down for a second and next thing I know she's six feet from where I laid her. She's taken a liking to her brother's dump truck and duplos as of late. They must be tasty. 


Speaking of sucking on things, I think she's working on her first tooth. Her mouth has turned into a faucet. Three outfit changes today--all because of drool soaked onesies. One of her new favorite items is her raspberry pacifier that our friend Mimi gave us. 


Carla had her first real food on the eve of her 5th month. Her first food was zucchini and although she liked her toes, she also loved the zucchini once she figured out what to do with it. 


She adores her brother and is so patient with his rambunctious ways. She just smiles away as he jumps over her and "helps" her roll over onto our hardwood floors. This week she even let him decorate her with stickers. 


She loves jumping in her new jumparoo, too!

Happy five months Carla Denise! We love you sweet girl!