Monday, August 26, 2013

Beersheba Springs Arts and Craft Festival

We're always looking for new places to explore or hike, so when friends suggested the Beersheba Springs Arts and Craft Festival this Saturday, we were in.

Brochures and pamphlets of Beersheba Springs
Beersheba Spring Hotel, now the United Methodist Assembly
Overlook from the old hotel

About an hour north of the marina in southeast Tennessee, Beersheba Springs was a posh summer resort, complete with a hotel, log cabins and cottages. In the 1850s, well-to-do families from the Chattanooga area made their annual trek here to escape the summer heat. After the Civil War (1861-1865), the number of visitors declined considerably. The Methodist Church acquired the resort in 1940 and used it for retreats and summer camps. The camp is now home to the arts and craft festival. Beersheba Springs saw its population (less than 500) ballooned this weekend, what with over 150 vendors offering a variety of original arts and crafts and home-produced items. 
Dining room, where we had lunch
There were food vendors galore, but we opted to eat at the inn's dining room. You had to purchase the $10 meal ticket in advance. It was family-style (or cafeteria-style) where you're served the main course. Saturday's lunch featured meat or vegetarian lasagna served with a slice of bread.  The sides include a nice salad bar and banana pudding for dessert. For drinks, we had sweet tea and coffee. We enjoyed the simple but delicious fare, in the cool air-conditioned dining room, its walls adorned with nice pictures and historical artifacts.

Carpenter Bee catchers
Fall is around the corner ...

For the artist gardener
Arts anyware!
Bird feeders
rocking chairs outside the dining room
How was your weekend?

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Sichuan Eggplant (鱼香茄子)

Another recipe for Sichuan eggplant? I know, I know, there are already tons of recipes out there. But then, what am I going to do with all the Japanese eggplants from the garden? I could link to a recipe in some other websites, but like they say, every recipe has a story, so here's mine.

As I recall, Szechuan or Sichuan cuisine didn't appear in Chinese restaurants in America until the 80s. Remember the Pu-pu platters (Teriyaki Beef, Chicken Fingers, egg rolls, etc) and drinks called Zombie and Mai Tai? They were popular items on the menu of suburban Polynesian-styled Chinese restaurants, and boy, were they hot in the 80s! Then came Joyce Chen, who single handedly changed the landscape of Chinese cuisine, elevating it to a more gourmet level. 

For those who don't know, Joyce Chen is the Julia Child of Chinese cooking. She owned several Chinese restaurants in Cambridge, taught Chinese cooking, and had a show on PBS. In fact, she shared the same set as Julia Child's The French Chef in the studio of WGBH, Boston's local public TV station. Joyce Chen introduced not only Americans but also Chinese to Northern Chinese (or Mandarin) cuisine. My first experience eating Peking Duck and Moo Shu dishes served with pancakes was at Joyce Chen, a restaurant I also worked as a hostess during my college years. I absolutely love the  dumplings (or Peking ravioli) and the hot and sour soup. Competitors took notice. Soon, other Asian cuisines appeared on the horizon. There were Hunan and Szechuan, followed by Vietnamese, Cambodian, and in the last dozen years Malaysian and now, Korean.

If you've been to a Chinese buffet, chances are you've had Szechuan food. Most dishes are cooked in a brown sauce, packed with spices or hot chili peppers. Kung Pao, General Tso's Chicken and spicy garlic eggplant are some popular Szechuan dishes.

I'm a fan of spicy food, so Szechuan food is right up my alley. I've made Sichuan eggplant (also called Eggplant with Spicy Garlic Sauce) a couple of times this week with the eggplants I picked from the garden. It's pretty simple when you use the ready-made spicy garlic sauce offered by Lee Kum Kee, the iconic Chinese sauce company, which you can find at any Asian grocery stores. Enjoy!
Japanese eggplants

Sichuan Eggplant or Eggplant with Spicy Garlic Sauce (鱼香茄子)
[Print Recipe]
This recipe is at the back of the packet of sauce.
Serves 4

12 oz eggplant, about 2 (cut into strips)
3 oz minced pork
1 pack Lee Kum Kee Sauce for Spicy Garlic Eggplant

1. Deep-fry eggplants in hot oil or cook in boiling water. Drain.
2. Stir-fry minced pork in 1 tbsp oil until done. Add Lee Kum Kee  Sauce for Spicy Garlic Eggplant and eggplant. Stir well until heated through

Cook's Note: I use 3 Japanese eggplants, and I cooked them in boiling water for 5 minutes. I like it a tad spicier, so I added a Thai bird chili pepper.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Preserving summer's harvest, and a recipe

This weekend, we went to the garden to pick some more produce. Most of them - squash,  cucumbers, pole beans and tomatoes - are done for the season. The banana, Cayenne and Thai hot peppers are still flourishing. As are the corn and the Japanese eggplant. We were pleasantly surprised to find not one but two rabbits in the field. One was munching on the leaves of the Cayenne pepper, and were totally oblivious to us bystanders.
Leisurely munching away
Help yourself, dear bunny rabbit

Hot Cayenne pepper
Back at the marina, our buddies got busy canning tomato sauce and salsa, blackberry apples and delicious Georgia peaches. We didn't grow the latter, but they came from a farmstand near Dahlonega, Georgia.

Salsa, tomato sauce, blackberry apples, dried squash
beautiful Georgia peaches
Gorgeous and yummy canned peaches
When we lived in Boston, we used to patronize this Taiwanese restaurant that served the best and the spiciest pork and Poblano pepper dish. I've always wanted to create this dish, and recently found one that is simple to make. In a previous post, I had promised a recipe with Jalapeno peppers. Since we harvested so many Jalapeno and Cayenne peppers, I used them in the recipe instead of Poblano. Don't worry, I've tried the recipe three times, and I deem it to be pretty good.

Ingredients for pork with Jalapeno peppers
Pork with Jalapeno peppers(豬肉片炒辣椒)
Pork with Jalapeno peppers (豬肉片炒辣椒)
[Print recipe]

¾  lb marbled pork, cut into thin slices (I used pork chops)
dash of rice wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 Jalapenos, 4 Cayenne peppers, cut lengthwise, seeds removed.
4 green onions, cut into 2” strips
3 tablespoon Canola oil
4 tsp KimLan soy sauce, 1 tsp Golden Mountain soy sauce
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil

Marinate pork slices with a dash of wine and salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, mix both soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil; set aside.

Heat a large, sturdy frying pan on medium for one minute. Add 2 tablespoon Canola oil. When the oil is hot, about 3 minutes, add the pork slices, and let it sear for a few minutes. Turn them over and cook until they turn golden. Remove pork from pan and set aside.

Wipe pan clean with a paper towel. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Stir in both peppers. After 1 minute, add the green onions. Cook until the pepper and the onions are soft, about 2-3 minutes, then add the pork back into the pan. Add in the seasonings, do a few quick stir and transfer to a serving plate. Delicious with plain white rice.

Cook's Note: To avoid choking and tearing, make sure your windows are open when you are cooking the peppers or cook outside if possible. When cutting and removing the seeds from the pepper, please use gloves. If you like it hot, by all means, leave the seeds in. You can use 1 brand of soy sauce. Just be aware that some are saltier than others. You can get the soy sauces from any Asian grocery stores. 

It wasn't spicy hot, like the previous two times. I may have cooked the peppers a little too long. Care to share your ideas?

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Exploring Vancouver, British Columbia

Our family reunion at Shuswap Lake last July ended on a sweet note, with a cherry picking outing at a u-pick farm in Kelowna. We then split and went our separate ways. I followed a sister and her family to Vancouver while the rest of the family stopped at Banff National Park on their way back to Calgary.

My last visit to Vancouver was thirteen years ago; incidentally, the occasion was also a family get together. I had wonderful memories of  Granville Market and Gastown, so they were the places I hit as soon as I got the chance. As someone who loves a good firework show, I regret missing the Celebration of Light fireworks festival (one of the world's most prestigious fireworks competition and this year's festival ended yesterday), but we were just too tired to brave the crowd at English Bay.
Looking at the Vancouver skyline from Lonsdale Quay
I couldn't resist :-)
Signs at Granville Island

Granville Island, a bustling boating community
Vancouver is the quintessential cosmopolitan city, albeit a little more congested these days, but very pedestrian friendly. Not so friendly with the currency exchange rate. I was taken aback when I  purchased something, and learned that  the U.S. dollar was worth only 90 cents Canadian! (What have you done, Obama?) I was shocked and embarrassed. Today, I'm glad to report that the greenback has returned to a more normal rate; at last check, it's worth $1.04 Canadian.

I'm sure many will agree with me when I say Vancouver offers some of the best Chinese food outside of Hong Kong. From dim sum, seafood, baked goods to all sorts of Chinese delicacies, you can find just about anything here, and they are all superb! On the weekends during the summer months, you can hang out at the Chinatown Night Market, a vibrant outdoor market dotted with food vendors, shops and entertainment, similar to the ones you find in Asia. It's like a farmer's market, only it's at night, and instead of fresh produce, myriad vendors await to serve up some fabulous food. The varieties run the gamut from Malaysian to German. You will definitely enjoy the sights and the food in Vancouver.

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