The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: From Farm to Table Page 2 of 3

Eat clean. Eat simple. Eat local. Vegetable gardening | Food production

Agrilicious

After moving to US from China, what I miss the most is the Chinese fresh markets. They look like Farmer’s Markets here in US, but imagine that having it everyday in both early morning and late afternoon, always in walking distance, with breakfast carts, and offering every fresh produce that you would need to cook an authentic meal.

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Chinese are used to getting fresh ingredients daily. When I was a child, my parents would stop at the fresh market on their way home, pick up a couple different kind of veggies and a strip of meat, and cook all into a dinner. They would also pick up a handful of eggs and a couple bags of milk for breakfast next morning. Because things are cooked and eaten the same day, many Chinese family have only a small fridge under the kitchen counter – there is neither fresh produce nor much leftovers to store. This practice does not only guarantee the freshness of the food, but also encourage the exercise of portion control and eliminate food waste.

Vegetables at Beijing fresh markets

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Meat and eggs

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Fish and seafood product

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One thing the fresh markets in China differs from American farmer’s markets, is that the produce sold in Chinese fresh market are mostly productions from industry-scale farms and factories. It is not guaranteed organic.

I do not think anything organic can grow to this size…

Size matters

The sellers at the booth are also not farmers, but distributors. Farmers near Beijing sell their produce to government-owned distribution centers outside of the city. At the distribution centers, goods are inspected, cleaned, processed if necessary, then picked up by fresh market sellers in bulk before dawn. The goods are then transported inside Beijing to all the fresh markets and sold in retail value. The price and the quality of the goods are controlled by the government, as part of the “Vegetable Basket Project”, which ensure low price for general public.

Fresh fruit at Beijing fresh markets

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Chinese fresh market offers not only meat, fish and fresh produce like vegetable and eggs, but also tofu, dry spices, ready-to-cook noodles, and Chinese versions of bread (ManTou, DaBing, and HuaJuan). So they are really the one-stop shop for all the food you need for a dinner. There are also many of them in Beijing – almost one in every a few city blocks. They are conveniently located near major traffic stops, such as subway stations, light rail stations, or outside of big apartment complexes. So people can easily pick up their food on the way home without making detours or driving.

Tofu stand – how many different kind of tofu do you eat?

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More tofu

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Cooking wine

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Spice – ginger, garlic, and onions and leek

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Dy spice heaven

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If you do not feel like cooking, fresh markets also offer ready-to-eat or ready-to-boil items. Cold cuts and smoked meat, hand-made noodles, frozen dumplings, steamed buns, and endless snacks.

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Pickles

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Hand-made noodles

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Dry goods, nuts

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Sunflower seeds in every flavor

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Mornings are the most popular time for Beijing fresh markets. Not only elderly and retirees choose to stop by to get food for the day, people who work 9-5 also stop by for a quick breakfast. Fresh market offers breakfast food carts, basically eliminated the needs for cooking breakfast at home if you have a commute. However, most of the people who have the leisure to slowly browse the markets, are still elder people. Walking to the market, having a sit-down breakfast, taking time to decide what to eat that day, poking fruits and veggies to make sure they are juicy to the liking, filling their small shopping carts, and walking slowly back to their apartments with the price, are the first exercise during the day.

Small shopping carts are necessity

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I miss the fresh markets dearly when I live in US. I miss the one-stop-for-all convenience, I miss the hot tofu soup and buns for breakfast, and I miss the people, the bargaining, and the noise. For the most, I miss the luxury of getting fresh produce everyday, which seems too time-consuming in my adopted culture. I wish that there were a small market I could walk to everyday, instead of driving 15 minutes one way. I wish that I do not have to do meal planning and end up eating half-rotten spinach for the second part of the week…Well, a girl can dream.

How often do you do grocery shopping? Do you eat fresh veggie everyday? Do you use meal-plan? Or you are lucky to live across the street to a supermarket where you shop a little bit everyday?

Saturday is for pies!

We have been having “Saturday Pie Day” for a while. Most of the Saturdays we do not work, so I have a pretty relaxing Saturday routine, including yoga in the morning, hearty brunch, long afternoon nap, and bake a pie in the evening.

So this is how our Saturday Pie Day works: we have a pie recipe book (more on this later); during the week, hubby picks out a pie he wants from this book, and I bake it on Saturday! This methods sounds a bit childish, but it works really well – for one, we get to try a large varieties of pies. if it was up to me, we would have peach pie every single week. (Fun fact: I have been having the same instant noodle, the exactly same flavor and same brand as lunch every workday for YEARS.) Hubby on the other hand, always picks a pie he had not previously had. He also tends to pick a pie with different texture or made in different crust from the week before. For me, it challenges me to try different techniques and learned a lot more about the traditional ways of pie-making.

Our experience on trying different pies are surprisingly positive. First the recipes in this pie book are pretty solid. Moreover, these recipes are very authentic – these are pies that you only see on the menu of family deli on the Great Plain. Hubby discovered his love for custard pie, and I just adore the process of make them. They are so easy to make (without turning on the oven!) AND they usually require overnight refrigeration, which gives me massive pleasure to watch how hubby waits that night out. 😉

Now back to the book. There are lots pie books out there and everyone of them received mixed reviews. I like the METHOD of having a pie recipe book so we can pick something new, which is not easy to do on the internet because you cannot search what you do not know. But I do not feel very particular about this book vs other recipe books. This one does give 300+ recipes so again it fits our METHOD better. And I have not tried a recipe that is not good. Hubby absolutely loves this book. He keeps it on his desk, probably because it makes him feel important – he is a bit addicted to the power.

This pie book also presents crust recipes that I was not familiar before. And interestingly, when I testes these crust recipes against the ones highly praised on internet, we actually liked the ones from this book better. Before, 99% of time for fruit pies I use double butter crusts, but after trying different pie crusts, I pair berry pie and peach pie with quite a few different crusts now. Some recipes are pretty traditional, which is great conversation piece for parties. I was surprised when older folks were reminded their childhood pie by the pie I baked from this book. So now, whenever I bake for a gathering, I always pick a recipe from this book.

It feels nice to have some regular family activity going on – it makes me feel more grounded and secure. We had a long-standing tradition of outdoor Saturday back to California. It will be interesting to see what strikes us next when we move to our next city.

So, what is your fun family activity?

Garlic rules!

Hey y’all! Today is a happy day. I harvested garlic from my garden and made some pesto with it! I also get to braid my garlic and it made me so proud!

This is my first year with garlic and a last minute decision. I got extra big pots this March after starting the garden, then I saw an old head of garlic in the fridge all shrunk up and it had some sprouting already. So why not. I split the cloves and pushed them root down into the soil and boy they grew! Not only the shoots were sky high but also the white roots completely took up the pots. By June their leaves have fell on the ground so I dug them up. The garlic bulbs were on the small side  – but they smelt sooo good. I could have put them back in the soil and given them a bit more time but I just cannot wait anymore!

I had so much fun watching them grow and just wanted to play with them as long as I can. So I decided to braid them. After cleaning the dirt off and drying them outside for a few days, I followed this awesome video “how to braid garlic” and gave it my best. My garlic were small so the final product did not look as impressive as the one in the video. But it did not stop them to serve as an awesome weapon for Mr. Apron Vampire Hunter. 🙂

I love my garlic braid so much now and just want to look at it forever. When hubby wants to use them I am all like “do not touch my garlic!”, which totally defeat the purpose of growing garlic. They also smell great. Hubby and I both love love love garlic and use lots of them in our dishes. One of my favorite way of eating garlic is to cook them with meat until they are soft and no longer spicy. Like this 40-garlic chicken. But to be honest my harvest is so small I probably cannot even get 40 garlic cloves out of them haha.

I also like picked garlic growing up. They are called “sugar garlic” in Chinese and they are a must-have for hot-pot in North China. And it is incredibly easy to make: fill a mason jar with garlic, dissolve one part of sugar in two parts of white vinegar and pour the mix into the jar until all the garlic submerge. Then close the jar and wait until the garlic is sweet and sour but not spicy anymore. It is salivating and great to eat with meat. My grandparents usually pickle whole garlic this way – he peeled off the hard skin but left a thin layer to hold the cloves together – and it usually takes a couple month before it is ready. I am impatient so I usually pickle cloves and remove almost all the skin, which only takes a couple weeks on the counter and up to a month in the fridge.

I am very curious if my garlic taste as good as they smell. So I agreed to use one head of garlic for pesto since we had another basil harvest today. It was GREAT. We made so much and had to freeze some in an ice tray.

Now I know what I am gonna put in my winter garden – garlic garlic and garlic!

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