Thursday, July 24, 2014

Evaporated milk ice cream


A few weeks back, I made coconut milk ice cream for our Friday night dessert. I don't have an ice cream machine, and it was labor intensive. Lots of timers being set, scraping sides and re chilling until set. And well....it was really icy and more of a sorbet texture than ice cream. Plus, I could still taste the coconut, and I am NOT a coconut fan.

Meh.

My friend Barb also has a recipe for non-icecream machine ice cream, but she was out of town and I didn't want to hassle her for her recipe but I knew it required whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk. I pulled up pinterest and searched for SCM ice cream and found this recipe at Cookies & Cups. I checked my pantry and had both ingredients. Heavy whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk. 

Or so I thought.

I whipped my cream in the chilled bowl and opened the can of sweetened condensed milk. Something didn't look right. It must be old. I checked the expiry date. 7/2015. Still good. Hmmm. It's runnier than I remember SCM being. 

And then I re-read my label. 

Fuuuuuuuuhhhhhhh-k.

Evaporated Milk.

Boo! 

I'm not exactly a good recipe follower anyways. I usually try shortcuts and substitutes that fail more times than not, so today was no different. 

I scrambled and searched google for the difference between evaporated and sweetened condensed. Both are made by heating milk until liquid evaporates, however, SCM has sugar added during the process. One CAN make their own SCM if they so desire by heating the evaporated milk and adding 3/4c sugar to every 5oz of evaporated milk. Once dissolved, turn off heat and let cool. Voila! SCM. 

But, Ehhh- that's too much work. 

I dumped the evaporated milk into my stiff peaked whipping cream, tossed in 1/4c sugar and crossed my fingers that it would still work. Once mixed, I divided into 1/2 cup portions using baby food containers and Popsicle moulds. NZ requested berry icecream, so I puréed blueberries and threw in some whole berries as well. Other flavors made: peanut butter hot chocolate & vanilla with sprinkles. I just added the mixings and stirred them into the individual cups. 


I put the Popsicles and cups in the freezer for an hour and a half until lunchtime. After lunch (and the kids were in bed), I treated myself to the vanilla sprinkles cup....

Guess what?

It totally worked.


 I'm actually glad I didn't have SCM on hand, because this one is the perfect marriage of "not too sweet" and creamy. 

Here's the recipe:



Evaporated Milk Ice Cream
Makes 6 1/2cup servings
1 cup heavy whipping cream (very cold-I store mine at the rear of my refrigerator, top shelf)
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Mixings

Medium size stainless bowl
Handheld or stand mixer
Spatula

1. Chill stainless bowl for 30-45 minutes in freezer
2. Pour 1c whipping cream in chilled bowl. Beat on high with mixer until peaks form. Approx 5 min.
3. Add 1/2c evaporated milk & fold in 1/4c sugar with spatula. 
It will look very liquidy. Don't fret.
4. Divide into small single serve containers. 
5. Mix in your mixings (alternatively, you could mix them in with step 3 if making all the same flavor).
6. Freeze for 1 hour minimum. 
7. Serve and enjoy!





Lost wallets and peeing in pools

I woke up to one of the clearest days I have seen in a while. The air seemed cooler and there was a nice breeze flowing. 


At 5:30 a.m.

The rest of the day was much like the last week has been. Too hot to do much of anything. The kids and I tried to walk a half mile to B&Q to buy superglue, but we only made it as far as the convenience store at the entrance to our compound. Sal was insistent that "the wady have my [his] wallet" at the convenience store. He left his wallet and money on the dashboard of the store's train ride on Tuesday and it was gone within minutes of us remembering and going back for it. 

He went in and asked the clerk "you have my wallet?" today and she had no idea what he was saying so she just told him how cute he was in mandarin. 

From there, we tried to spend a few minutes in the shaded sandbox playing, but sand and sweat don't mix--nor does a hot baby stuck in the stroller while her brother plays. 

After ten minutes of being sand magnets, we returned to our apartment, cranked the a/c and filled the pool on the patio. 


Carla took her first dip in it today and christened it with pee within her first two minutes. 

Summertime is in full effect. 

And that folks, was our day.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

#firstworldproblems

As of late, about 90% of conversations in our house begin with, "when we go home..." followed by "I want to/I'm going to/ let's...." fill in the blank.

Here's what we are looking forward to:

1. Dishwasher. 
Why? For the sole sake of washing and sanitizing nasty sippy cups. I've scoured and scrubbed with soap for two years, only to have to throw out half of our cups from residue I just can't clean out. The microwave sterilizing bags help, but they are no substitute for the sanitary cycle on a dishwasher. 

2. A four or five burner stovetop. 
Why? We've been surviving on two gas burners that are tough to balance pots on. We often have to cook in sections, or precook a portion of a meal before hand to free up a burner. 

3. New vehicles. His & Hers. 
Why? Do I really need to explain? We're full blooded Californians, we drive everywhere. We've both spent a good number of hours perusing craigslist and carmax to peek inside cars we have interest in. But oh em gee, are cars ever expensive? I don't think you can get anything decent for under $35k now. We are in for a shock, I'm sure.

4. Separate washer and dryer.
Why? Right now, it takes a full day between an hour washing, a three hour drying cycle and then hang drying moist "dry" clothes in 100% humidity. Things just don't dry here during the summer. Nick and Sal are having to put up with crunchy t shirts and skivvies since our dryer doesn't seem to get the job done. I look forward to washing and drying in less than two hours, as well as being able to wash a load while the previous one is drying.

 

5. Family time.
Why? We miss our families (and friends). We look forward to the retirement of (grand)parents and spending time with them, showing our kids what life with freedom is really like. Running through backyards, watching the boats come in, eating sandy PB&J sandwiches, etc. we don't have anything here that we really look forward to, other than eating. Which leads me to my next can't-wait-for....

6. Our treadmill.
Why? The weather in Wuxi is either too hot, too cold or too unsafe to exercise in. We've got friends who brave it out, but they aren't thin skinned Californians like us. We'll both log some miles on it each day--NZ before work, and me during nap times. I miss exercising regularly. 


7. Reading labels on food.
Why? It's going to be nice to know what we are feeding ourselves and our kids. The imported jars/packages we buy here have a super adhesive sticker ALWAYS covering the nutritional facts of packages that we would otherwise be able to read. 

8. Buying quality clothing, toys and appliances.
Why? I told NZ that I feel like we have been shopping at the dollar store for the last two years. Nothing lasts, everything breaks, and although cheap--nothing is good quality. I'd like a toaster that doesn't burn toast, a Teflon pan that doesn't lose its coating with the first batch of eggs we cook and a freaking cement mixer truck that won't lose its cab every time my son picks it up. 

9. Internet freedom and a DVR.
Why? We pay for the fastest speed internet available in China, yet we have never had more than 80% efficiency from it, despite switching wireless routers and having a tech guy out twice. NZ rarely gets through a Netflix show without losing connection midway, not to reconnect until the following night. It can take a couple of days to watch a show. DVR's don't exist here unless you fashion your own. I'm going to love having full access to blogger, facebook, youtube and gmail. 

That being said, these deserve the hashtag #firstworldproblems. 

We have most definitely formed a new and deeper appreciation for everything we have access to in the states. We have adapted to our minimal lifestyle here, and it has put into perspective what we really loved about the states. 

It's not the name brands, or what's popular...it's the simple things that made day to day life easier for us. We both miss being able to wake up and hop on the treadmill while watching DVR'd shows, then showering in water that smells clean, followed by perfectly toasted toast and driving to work in our own cars. Although life was technically more complicated when we lived in the USA, so many of those things also provided freedom in a way we never knew we would miss it. 

Perhaps in a year from now, when we are back and settled, I'll feel differently and reminisce about how we lived on so little while overseas. 

The grass is always greener, right?

Time will only tell.

Friday, July 18, 2014

We've got mail!

My sister spoils us. 

This months care package included a whole lot of stoke. 


Sal made out like a bandit with a Tonka set and police badge from uncle Juls, and custom excavator cookies from aunt Stephanie. 


I came in second with all of this elastic for headbands. I've got enough to make a few sizes and will probably make some gifts for friends. 


Carla got some leggings and she and Nick both got some reading material. A few books for her, and a Surfer magazine for him. You know--just to make him miss the ocean more, lol. 

But really, we've loved and appreciated all of the care packages we've been sent over the last few years. It's not cheap, and it's not easy to ship to China. So, the fact that people have gone out of their way to send a slice of home has made us feel remembered while we are away. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Turns out, I can yell

For the second time in a year span, I've had my heart come up my throat to the point that if I weren't gasping for air to let out a primal yell, it may have actually come out my mouth. But instead, I spew swear words like vomit all over strangers who have grabbed my child and pulled him towards them as if they were going to take him. 


Last year, while waiting in the Shanghai train station, NZ went to fetch us some water. Sal and I were sitting in a row of seats, with many open around us. I turned to the seat next to me to get into my purse and when I turned back around, there was a creepy Chinese guy sitting right next to us, leaning into Sal. My intuition told me something wasn't right, so I placed my hand on Sal's little leg (I didn't want to alarm Sal even though what I really wanted to do was tell the guy to f^ck off.) Just as my hand touched Sal's leg, the man grabbed Sal's arm and yanked it towards him like he was going to grab him and run. I still don't know exactly what happened there. I thank my lucky stars that NZ was on his way back with our waters and the man must have seen that he was no match for my "I can kick your ass" sized husband. The man retreated and I recanted our experience to NZ, all the while wondering what would have happened had NZ not been on his way back. At twenty something weeks pregnant and in Flipflops..I would've been no match for a quick handed Chinese man. We looked for the man afterwards, but he had disappeared. 

              
                                [sitting at the train station, waitin on our train ]
      
We've taken the train many times since, and never had another experience like that. I've not really feared my safety all that much. We expat wives tend to do things as pairs, although I do enjoy taking walks with my kids every so often for a sense of independence. In a time when I depend on others for so much--sometimes I just need to know I can do things without help. I've felt like I have enough vocabulary to answer the standard Chinese grandma questions if I'm out on my own doing errands and such.

Didi Huo meimei? (Girl or boy?)
nianling? (How old?)
Lian ge? ( two children? )
Pifu bai. Meiguo rén ? (Their skin is so white. American?)

Even if they aren't asking those questions, those are the answers they get. I always know when they've asked something else because they say, "weiguo rén  ting bo dong" (foreigner doesn't understand) to which I reply, "de" (correct) and they say ah,ah,ah, like they get it or something. 

Lately though, with two kids now both riding in stroller seats (I used to have Carla in her infant seat and covered-she was inconspicuous that way since many Chinese have never seen a baby car seat), we call a lot more attention to ourselves. I still take the kids to the dry cleaners and Korean market myself, but I've stopped going grocery shopping during the week and doing other errands which would require me to take my hands/eyes off our stroller unless someone else is with me. It's unnerving to have strangers stand around gawking at my kids as I try to decide on what size diapers to buy. Even more unnerving to reach for the package of diapers and turn around to a Chinese grandma with her hand on my daughter's face, or trying to feed my son from his sippy cup. 

He's capable of drinking on his own, thanks. 

I'm super thankful to have good friends here. Some with kids, others without. I'm thankful that they understand my frustrations with the culture, even if it doesn't bother them as much as it bothers me. I'm thankful for shared bus rides, extra sets of hands & eyes, and their ability to speak a crapload more mandarin than I do. 

Yesterday, the kids and I met up with one of my best friends and her son for our afternoon walk/playground time. We walked for a while and then let the boys out to run around the playground in her compound. It was late afternoon-a very popular time at the playground. There are always a lot of kids running amok while their caregivers supervise (often times these are grandpas wearing pajamas and smoking cigarettes on the bench). Yesterday was just like any other day on the playground...except for one Nǎinai. She was having a grand ol time on the pendulum swings. We both chuckled at the sight of this older lady swinging away on the children's playground. As soon as she saw Sal and my friend's son, she jumped off the swing and B-lined right towards them. In the meantime, I'm trying to untangle my sweaty hot mess of a daughter from her stroller seat harness and keep an eye on Sal while this woman bounds towards him. Right as I freed Carla from her straps, I see the lady grab Sal's upper arm and start pulling him onto the playground. Poor boy wasn't sure what was going on as he tried to pull his arm back in indicating that NO I DO NOT WANT TO GO WITH YOU CRAZY BI^CH (okay, maybe not that last part..). From the depths of my being, I let out the most primal NOOOOOOOOO, BUYAO! (okay, is effing BI^CH appropriate here? Oh no, it's not? I think it is.) as I lunged towards her and grabbed Sal's other arm. In retrospect, I feel aweful about how I handled that situation because I don't want to scare my kids or instill fear of strangers in them. 

But DO NOT GRAB MY CHILDREN. EVER. 

She backed away for a second and then started talking to me in Mandarin as her eyes caught interest in on my littlest child.

 "uhhhhhhhh? Lionga? "

Yes. I have two children. Now back off. 

Thankfully my friend speaks enough mandarin to tell her to leave us alone. 

But she didn't.

So, I apologized to Sal as I hustled him back to our stroller and didn't even bother putting Carla back in until we got out of dodge. I apologized to my friend for her having to witness my primal rage. 

That lady though.... She was too much for me yesterday. 

China: 1, Brie: 0

Playgrounds should be safe places for kids to play without being accosted. I understand we look different. I'm okay with that. I don't mind them talking about us, or being shocked that I have two children. 

But, please, oh please...stop following us around and grabbing my kids like they're animals at a petting zoo.




Monday, July 14, 2014

2.5 years of Sal


At two and a half, Sal is full steam ahead. I often describe him as full throttle. The kid operates in 5th gear 24/7. He has more energy in his little toe than I have in my entire body. That being said, I'm endlessly pinning activities and games and projects on pinterest in hopes of keeping him challenged. 

He's taken a recent liking to puzzles, both on my iPad (try the tozzle app) and for real. His favorite is a Melissa & Doug fishing puzzle that has a magnetic fishing pole to place the pieces in their respective spaces. He still isn't the artsy type, but he did make his dad two pictures using bingo blotters (we use a brand of blotters called dot a dot) and narrated the entire picture for me to write captions to the different parts. I was quite impressed as this was the first time I can recall the coloring being his idea.

                   
                        [ buying skittles without help from mama with his potty money]

Two and a half kind of crept up on us. In the last few months, he has really gone from a toddler to a little boy reaching milestones like transitioning into a big kid bed, potty training ( He only wears diapers to sleep and if we are going out for more than an hour) and giving up his bedtime milk ( save me the "you know milk will rot his teeth, right?" Yes. I'm aware.) It turns out that the whole milk routine meant more to me than to him. I worked it up in my mind that he would go to bed screaming if we didn't sit on the sofa after bath (and brushing teeth) and have his sippy of milk. Little did I know that the night we told him we were going to read a story instead of having milk would be met with a "sure, guys!" attitude. 

Giving up milk? Not a big deal. 

Phew!

Sal still loves his blue blankie and his stuffed animals; Pluto, Figuero and Mickey. All three nap with him in my bed, and Figuero gets to sleep with him each night, lucky son of a gun. Naptime has been fairly consistent again, with Sal heading to my room around 12:30 and sleeping until 2:30 or 3:00. I don't really notice a behavioral difference on napping days vs non napping days, so it won't be too much of a change when he does give naps up. 

       
          [ favorites: r/c excavator, wallet, credit cards, pj shirt, Roadwork book and blue blankie]

One of the benefits of living in China and being in a high rise is the vantage point of many many construction sites. Sal loves excavators (he calls them escabators), dump trucks and cement mixers. He often perches himself in Carla's window seat and watches them come and go at the apartment complex near us. Sometimes we walk over to see them, but he's usually content watching from our windows. 

                     
                      [ Thank goodness for double window locks. Watching busses go by ]

We love hearing his little chatter, and it's getting clearer every day.  Some of our favorite sayings of the moment are:

"Dats not berry nice" (That's not very nice) I have no idea where he got that one from *wink, wink*.

"I have a idea!"

" Yet's find a suwution" (let's find a solution)

" Yet's go to Elemenfesh and have mac'n tees". Once at Element Fresh, he usually asks NZ , "can I have some your yamb dada? (Lamb)", "can I have you yaffa bed, mama?" (Laffa bread)

                    
                               [ Who put this broccoli in my Mac n cheese ?!]


"See ya guys"

"Have fun. Have fun at work dada" 

"I need a tiss!" (Kiss)

"She need milk" (said whenever Carla is crying)

"It's a emergency!" 

"Jus yike da big boys do it" ( He's discovered that he can stand to pee. Yes, baby. Just like the big boys. Now wipe off the seat for the ladies.)

"Not of you Carya!" 

He's made strides towards caring more for his sister, but he did get a mouthful of her leg and left his mark last month. He's also exhibiting typical two year old defiance and aggressiveness at times. He's usually loving, but we have encountered a few situations as of late in which he pushes, shoves and takes toys from a playmate rather than using his words. I know its normal, but it's really challenging for me as a parent to watch my kid behave in such a way. All I can do is stay consistent with the discipline that NZ and I have chosen to use to deal with the behavior and hope that as his vocabulary and self awareness develops, that the words get used more than the hands to make a point. 

                 
                           [ hangin at the playground in his favorite Mickey shirt]

Two and a half is great-but it's also so very challenging to parent. There's a fine line that I skate between micromanaging  and letting him learn cause and effect on his own. Sure, I don't want him to push his playmate down to take a toy, but at the same time, he needs to learn that the playmate might hit him back, cry because he is sad, or yell at him and tell him to wait his turn. I feel like I always have to be on watch, because I don't want him to become a bully, and I want to be able to model appropriate responses to unfavorable behavior when it happens. But man, oh man, does it ever wear me out some days!

Sal, you're gonna keep your mama on her toes...but I wouldn't have it any other way. Here's to being closer to three years old than to two!



Summer chalkboard

Our mid summer chalk board ala Jason Mraz's song, "I'm Yours" which will forever remind me of driving through Australia with NZ on our first trip down under during the summer of 2008. I just love that line so much and always have. 

It's also so very fitting for our weather lately. 

With the humidity laying the smack down on us this month, pretty much everything feels like it's melting . Our interior walls are concrete so we hang our frames and canvases with 3M hooks. In the next week or so, they'll start peeling off the wall if I have our doors open for long. It's crazy humid. Words can't describe just how it feels. Call me a spoiled Californian, but I'm convinced that humidity is the devil. 

The kids have a blow up pool on the patio which we have filled with water. Sal informed me that the water was too warm the other day. I added a tray of ice cubes to it and he let out a nice, "ahhhhh, dats nice mama". 

Funny kid. 

So, yeah. It's freaking hot and humid. 

But guess what?

This is our last summer here!

Next summer, rest assured, we will be building sandcastle and ingesting our share of saltwater and sand on the beaches of home.