Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Adventures in Beijing

Beijing, a city of run down back alley streets hidden by towering impersonal buildings. The allure of old China is around but at times hard to see, hidden by all the high-rise banks and apartments.

Staying in the financial district at the Ritz we found ourselves in a very Western setting. A little hand gesturing and phrase simplifying was necessary to communicate with the staff but it was easy to forget we were in fact in Beijing.

Looking out of the window when we awoke on our first morning, the sky was a thick sheet of clouds alluding to a cool marine-layer like temperature. It wasn't until we left the hotel that we realized the lie the sky was telling. It was in the 90's and humid like downtown NYC on the hottest of days. I made my way alone in a cab to the Forbidden City. 19 RMB ($3) later I was dropped off across the street. Kindly the cabbie gave a nod & point in the direction of an under street walk way that I would later find common all around Beijing. I walked through 2 large courtyards before coming to the entrance for the Forbidden City where I decided to take a left and check out the park next to it for 50 cents and save the tour for when Chadd was with me later in the week. It was easy to see that I was among a very small handful of non-asians. It was mostly all local families, enjoying a little sight seeing on their Sunday outing.

Having traveled through Italy and London on my own I was use to being by myself in a foreign place. I always try to integrate with the residents, smile, have quick chats, enjoy what the locals are enjoying and get a real feel for the place but so much of that feeling comes from feeling welcomed and not like you were intruding which is how the lack of smiles back and or returned gesture of kindness was leaving me to feel. Oh well, so I'm not going to be exchanging emails or making new best friends, I could still have my own fun so I popped in my earphones and let Adele keep me company as I wandered the gorgeous park. There were families in boats, picnicking and strolling in the heat which was making the AC back in my room really tempting.

I hopped in a cab and cruised back just in time to meet up with Chadd now back from his quick rehearsal. Shopping to the silk market we go, where there is everything imaginable and all up for negation. The least we could do was help out the local economy and that we did. Shoes, purses, a new suit, sunglasses. We did it up. By the time we finished haggling, weaving our big bags through little aisles and freeing Chadd from all of the grabby & pinchy sales girls at the market we were exhausted.

A few days later, I met up with a friend of a friend in the Houhai. A lake surrounded by shops, restaurants and back alleys leading to what looked to be homes that time had all but forgotten. These alleys and doors were some of my favorite parts on Beijing because what happens beyond them is the true story of Beijing, the one I am not privet too and the one I most want to see.

My new friend and I sat outside next to the water and shared a meal of lotus flower, cucumbers and shrimp while I gently quizzed her about what it is to live there.

98% of people live in furnished apartments: well that explains what's up with all of the big buildings. You call the sky "constipated" because it needs to rain: again, that explains why I have get to catch a glimpse of it and couldn't pick its shade of blue out of a line up.

I kept thinking during our meal, if I hadn't come on this trip what would I be doing right now? Ok, so the obvious answer would be sleeping but beyond that, there is so much else that I wouldn't be experiencing and I felt so thankful that I was in Beijing.

Take a moment to think about all the different experiences people are having all around the world right now. There are so many people taking that vacation that they've been saving up for years to take RIGHT NOW. They are finally seeing the thing they've read & researched about and until now only saw on the internet and in their day dreams like the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno in Florence or the vibrant fish below the ocean. Zip lining through the Costa Rican rain forest or smelling spices in the markets of Morocco or listening to frogs in the Amazon. There are an infinite amount of adventures being had and at that moment by the lake I was singing in that chorus of adventurers and feeling the joy of life being lived.

My next adventure came a few days later when Chadd and I toured the Forbidden City. We hadn't thought about using a guide until we were approached outside of the City and realized that it would be a great way to get the most out of the mere hour and a half we had before Chadd had to be back and for the equivalent of $15 how could we pass it up. If we hadn't we would have never about the people who actually lived within its walls. Over 3,000 young concubines that would spend most of their lives never leaving it. You see, once you came to the Forbidden City, you didn't leave. Imagine the gossip and jealousy that took place there with over THREE THOUSAND WOMEN vying for the same mans affection?! And if you were a man working within its walls, well you were castrated!

When we walked outside its walls we noticed a gorgeous building way up on the hill across the street and hiked up to see it. The view from up there was astonishing and we were able to see the entire Forbidden city from there. It felt magical being in the "clouds" and seeing the 360 degrees surrounding us. It was the Beijing I was hoping to see.

Lama & Confucian temple & the Great Wall to come....

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Making of a manly burger, Umami style

In LA Umami Burger has changed the landscape of the burger with their savory blend of quality meat, gourmet toppings and soft buttery buns. Haute couture of the basic burger, upgraded to satiate the most mature taste buds.

The wiki definition of Umami /uːˈmɑːmi/, popularly referred to as savoriness, is one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Umami is a loanword from the Japanese umami (うま味?) meaning "pleasant savory taste".

So with that in mind we've started a tradition of making our own Umami burgers at home. So far we've delighted in a Hawaiian burger, Truffle burger, California burger and our favorite, the Manly consisting of homemade cheese sauce and crispy panchetta/onion toppings. It is SO good!

Here how to do it:

First I started with meat from Trader Joe's because I like there grass fed blend (fat is 85/15% blend). You can buy them already in patty form. I like to salt & pepper them before throwing on BBQ.

Get a pan heating with olive oil & butter to which you add chopped red onions. The goal is to caramelize them so have the heat on medium and keep them moving around the pan. After about 5 minutes add chopped panchetta.

In a saucepan make a rue (equal amounts of melted butter & flour). Whisk them together until the color deepens to a golden brown making sure that you don't burn it, whisk whisk whisk! Then add to that some 1/2 & 1/2 or milk, about a quarter of a cup at a time while also adding grated cheddar. The cheese we used was a sharp cheddar that I actually didn't like the flavor of on its own but it lended itself amazingly to a cheese sauce. Keep stirring those together till you get your desired amount, adding more of each as you see needed. You'll want a little less than a quarter of a cup for each burger.

When the burgers are almost finished throw your BUTTERED buns on the grill to infuse more of the BBQ flavor into the burger and warm them up.

This burger is so full of flavor that the only thing I added was some wasabi mayo on the bottom bun then put the burger on, then a heaping spoonfull of the now crispy panchetta/onion mixture then top it with the cheese sauce then top bun and you're in business!

Serve with crudite or salad!