Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ginger Snaps

I’m not going to turn this into a food blog, but I’m pretty impressed with these ginger snaps that I just made. Anyone can make ginger snaps – that’s not the impressive part – but can you cook crispy on the outside, soft on the inside ginger snaps in the toaster oven? It’s not easy, believe me.

Usually with any cookies you should take them out of the oven just before they’re done. That way they’ll stay soft. With a toaster oven, if you take them out before they’re done, they’ll be too soft on the inside. You have to practically burn the outside just to get the inside close to cooked. Just like with a regular oven, if you overcook them, they’ll be rock hard. In a toaster oven, it’s all a balancing act.

The recipe is pretty simple.

1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
pinch of salt

some white sugar for decoration

Mix the brown sugar, vegetable oil, molasses and egg until it’s a soft, gooey mess.

Mix the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a different bowl. You can sift it or stir it or whatever gets it all mixed together.

Stir the dry ingredients in with the wet ingredients. Mix it all up until it’s dry enough to handle.

Roll small bits of dough into balls and flatten slightly. They’ll keep pretty much whatever shape you put them in unless you substitute butter for the vegetable oil. Then they’ll spread out. You can make them into gingerbread men, but nothing that big will cook evenly in a toaster oven.

Put some white sugar on top and cook just until they start to burn on the outside. I put more white sugar on top right after they come out of the oven. The sugar melts a little and it looks better.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Winter Wonderland

People in Hong Kong have been complaining about the cold all winter. That makes sense since it’s usually hot & humid in Hong Kong. This winter seemed colder than the last, but it still stayed around 15 Celsius. That’s pretty cold for Hong Kong – where it’s around 32 most of the year – but nothing compared to winters back home.

Minneapolis is usually below freezing from November to March. December to February regularly dip below 10F. That’s -12C. It never gets anywhere close to that in Hong Kong. In fact, the lowest I’ve ever seen it in Hong Kong is a typical October back home – around 45F/7C.

This year has been special for the United States. It’s been a colder than average winter, but what everyone’s talking about is the wind chill. A lot of arctic air has been coming down and freezing people’s butts off. I think it’s funny because we get that every year in Minnesota. Cold air from the arctic hits Alberta and cuts through Minnesota before it warms up and makes its way across the eastern United States. Only this year it’s hitting most of the Midwest and East coast.

When it’s 0F, Alberta clippers knock it down to -15F. That’s very cold for places like New York, but typical winter in Minnesota. People see that it’s -45F in Minnesota with the wind chill and get alarmed, but we’re used to it. It doesn’t stay that cold all winter. That’s only for a few days. We also build our houses for the cold and have plenty of warm clothes. Cold is only cold when you’re not prepared for it.

If it ever got to -45F in Hong Kong, there would be a state of emergency. A lot of people would die because no one here is prepared for that kind of cold. Hong Kong houses are built for the heat. Winter clothes here are mostly pretty weak – and the boots are a joke. I’ve never seen a true parka here. People buy big coats that they think look warm but wouldn’t help you at all in a blizzard. It doesn’t matter because it never gets that cold in Hong Kong.

People in Hong Kong always ask me how I can go outside in winter without a coat. It’s because I don’t think it’s very cold. That doesn’t make me stronger than they are. I’m simply used to much colder weather. I’m still getting used to Hong Kong summers. While everyone else is wearing sweaters at night, I’m boiling in a t-shirt & shorts. It’s not even the heat, really. It’s the humidity. I’ve been here 3 years and I’m still adjusting to the humidity.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chinese Valentine’s Day

I went to see Ryan for Valentine’s Day. I went to China last month, so technically it was his turn to come to me, but we gave up taking turns a long time ago. Now we just go wherever makes the most sense at the time.

Chinese Valentine’s Day is actually in August. It’s called Qixi and 7/7 because it’s on the 7th day of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar. There’s also White Day in March, but I don’t think that one is as popular in China.

Our Valentine’s Day isn’t really a big deal in China, but all the hotels were still booked. I assumed it would be easy to get a hotel at the last minute in Fuzhou because it always is. Since the Chinese New Year is over, I thought everyone would go back to their usual routines. I don’t know if the hotels were full because of Valentine’s Day or for some other reason, but I had to stay at Ryan’s house. That’s never the ideal situation. He lives with too many guys and all of their Chinese girlfriends were there for Valentine’s Day. It’s a big enough house for 5 people, but when you add all the girlfriends, it gets a little crowded.

It was still a good trip. By staying at Ryan’s house, I saved some money. Fuzhou hotels aren’t that expensive, but free is still less than cheap. It’s colder in Fuzhou than Hong Kong, but it never got below zero. 10-15 is very cold to the locals, but we’re from Minnesota, so it was pretty mild to us. It rained a little on Saturday, but it was nothing serious. The weather overall was decent.

The main thing is that we got to spend time together. For Valentine’s Day that’s all that really matters.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Unbelievabow, as the Chinese say.

This was the most surprising celebrity death in a long time. Nelson Mandela was almost 100 years old and spent a year in the hospital. No one was surprised when he died. People were mostly relieved. Peter O’Toole was 81 and looked like he was dying for years. James Gandolfini was way too young, but he was also a heavy smoker and obviously didn’t take care of himself.

I didn’t even know Hoffman was a drug addict. I mostly don’t pay attention to their personal lives – especially the better actors. I don’t want to hear about what they do off the clock. I just want to see them perform. I first noticed Hoffman in his work with Paul Thomas Anderson.

I still can’t believe he’s gone. I can’t believe he was only 46 years old. He always seemed much older.