Fffswtthiine phfluuh

Oh, sorry, you couldn't hear that from behind my mask? Just a quick note to say hello from the land of the super-prepared. I know that people and governments all over the world are making plans and trying to get on top of this swine flu situation, but we are realizing how deep and strong SARS is in the cultural memory here. We've seen the legacy of SARS ever since we moved to Hong Kong--hourly disinfecting of lift buttons and escalator handrails (and signs posted telling you this!), the disapproval we get when we let Finn put toys or even (gasp!) his fingers in his mouth. And we've heard stories about what an awful time it was--everyone wearing masks, eerily vacant malls and restaurants, weddings and other events postponed.

But we still have been a bit taken aback at the level of concern this threat is generating: notices going out from our apartment building, both assuring us of the staff's increased vigilance and reminding us to keep things hygenic. The playrooms Finn and I frequent have certainly been quieter this week. We've noticed a slight increase in the number of people wearing masks around town (though Hong Kongers do this all year round, even when they just have a cold--another SARS legacy) but we mainly have seen the queues at the pharmacies for masks, antiseptic gel and flu medicines. People are stocking up, and pharmacies are running low. We were also surprised at the announcement today that if even one case of swine flu is confirmed anywhere in HK, all schools will be shut down. 

Last fall we heard about a case of bubonic plague in Burma, and I remember telling my parents that the instant there were any cases of the plague found in HK, Finn and I were coming home. Now it's hard to know where would be the safer place--Kansas had confirmed cases last week, after all. But though Hong Kong certainly has the systems set up to handle this, it's also virtually impossible to avoid contact with others, as densely populated as this city is. Virtually impossible, and entirely unpleasant--I can't imagine how we would keep Finn entertained if we couldn't go to the playrooms and  playgrounds that give him space to move, explore and play. This flat would start to feel awfully small if we couldn't get out .... I'm praying it doesn't come to that, and if it does, well, I guess you'll find us at the beach!                    

ps--of interest to some of you: we posted new pictures from Matt's Spring Break over on flickr. Lunch on a beach, the Big Buddha, gymboree ... good times. 


She's so fine.

She's pretty and hip, too. And did I mention a little sassy? A fabulous dining companion, if I do say so myself.  

Allow me to introduce this newcomer to our kitchen--she's so ... shiso. (You didn't think I was talking about myself, now did you?) Shiso--a saw-toothed, heart-shaped herb--is getting terrific press in our place. Seems like everyday I try her out in some new dish and everyone raves (and by everyone I mean Matt and I. Finn is more into flinging food than raving about it these days ...)  

We first encoutered shiso in Vietnam last Christmas, as part of the HUGE bag of greens that accompanied our Vietnamese omelet. Those Vietnamese love their greens, I tell you--there were entire branches of basil and mint, and I'm pretty sure a whole head of lettuce was thrown in as well. But after we first bit into a shiso leaf, we spent the rest of the evening picking meticulously though the bag, finding every one we could. Mind you, we didn't have a name at that point. It was more like the search for "the best green leaf I've ever put in my mouth."


Shiso is full-bodied, almost meaty; pungent in a rocket-mustardy way, astringent like mint and basil, a little citrusy, a little woodsy, maybe even a little musty. If you eat a lot of Japanese food you've probably had shiso, tucked under some tuna in what looked like a garnish, or sprinkled over sashimi. 

We use shiso in several ways so far. As whole leaves, we add it to the green arsenal for summer rolls (along with basil, mint, cilantro and spinach), fry it in tempura, or tuck it into salad greens. Rolled up and slivered--(do you know this trick, good for basil or mint or any other leaf you want thinly sliced? Take a stack of leaves, roll up tightly, then slice as thin as you can. Voila--herb confetti.) So, as herb confetti, shiso is lovely on:

  • sliced tomatoes, as a change from the ubiquitous basil, 

  • sliced cucumbes, dressed lightly with rice vinegar, sesame oil and sesame seeds, 

  • salmon-potato salad, with a creamy wasabi-lime dressing, or 

  • tuna nicoise, with lots of capers and olives.   

Clearly my bias is to pair shiso with light, fresh, flavors, or to help balance out the richness of seafood. I imagine it would be lovely with citrus (perhaps on a grapefruit-shrimp salad?) or come fall, with a heavier mushroom dish.  

Do invite shiso over to your house to play; don't be shy, she's friendly too.


Computer time and contest.

First, the contest. It's not mine, it's over at Tollipop, who draws the sweetest little girls.  Her prints are my new favorite baby gift, and she's having a fun giveaway to celebrate her one blog's one year anniversary.  Check it out, but quickly--the deadline is Friday night.  

And now, I finally figured out the source of my unease with all the time I spend on the computer, particularly during the day. Let me say upfront that in retrospect this is completely obvious, but I guess I'm a little slow. 

I initially thought the issue was about how much attention I'm supposed to give Finn during the day--figuring out how to spend the time we have together isn't as straightforward as I expected. Oh sure, there are days when it literally fills every minute just to help him get to sleep, feed him, and change him, and if we get to stop in at the store to pick up something for dinner, we're lucky. But most days, his routine flows along rather well and we have time to fill, which is when we do things like go to the park, go to playrooms, go to Kindermusik or Gymboree. And sometimes, we're just at home, and he's playing while I'm on the computer: checking email, uploading photos, scanning the headlines, reading my favorite blogs, looking up a recipe for dinner, etc. I try to keep interacting during this time, talking about what I'm reading or stopping to play with the ball or to take whatever he's holding out for me, and he's always been a pretty independent little guy, happy to play by himself for fairly long stretches. So even though I thought this might be the issue with computer time, that it's taking away too much of my attention, I don't think it is.

  My discomfort, I realized, isn't about how much of the day he has (or doesn't have) my undivided attention, it's about what I'm doing during the time that he doesn't have my undivided attention. It is only more clear to me every day how much he learns from watching and imitating us, and I don't want him to mainly see us spending time on the computer. As wonderful a resource as the internet and computers in general are, I want his life to be full and rich, and for computers to be a great way to do the things he loves--read, write, look at photos, etc.--not to *be* the initial love. Does that make sense? 

I want him to love cooking and washing dishes (yes! bring on the dish-washing baby!) and watering plants and reading books and writing on paper and knitting and drawing and strumming and singing, and I want him to see these things as the stuff of our daily lives, not as special activites or projects we pull out for holidays. And so I have to make sure that that is, indeed, what our lives are made of. I'm not talking about reinventing myself, or doing things that I wouldn't normally do. I'm just saying that I want to be more intentional in the hours he's awake and watching, so he sees me doing the things I really want him to do.

Sounds so simple. Why did it take so long to formulate that thought? 


Happy Easter!

Lots of new things today, this day of Resurrection: new clothes, new friends over for lunch, new episode of The Wire.

Deviled eggs.




Hope your Easter was as blessed as ours. 


looking more ...


more pictures at our flickr site.


I am in love.

I am in love. Given some recent posts, you might think that I was talking about my son, or possibly my husband. But actually, it's Sichuan food. Specifically, it's dan dan noodles and ma pa tofu, and even more specifically, it's the versions of these items served at a tiny place called Gather Kitchen just off the Jordon exit of the MTR. 

Known for being fiery hot, (in fact you can often recognize Sichuan restaurants by the string of chili peppers hanging outside the door), Sichuan food has a depth of flavor and earthiness not always present in other regional Chinese cuisines, along with the all-important and totally unique Sichuan peppercorn.  The Sichuan peppercorn imparts a sensation technically known as mala, but described by my husband as "a really good tasting 9-volt battery." It's tingly, sizzling, slightly numbing, vaguely citrusy and totally addictive. 

Gather Kitchen rendered our meal with plenty of heat (though I suspect they toned it down for us) but they (thankfully) did not skimp on the mala. And we (again, thankfully) had ordered cucumber salad and a large bottle of San Miguel to help tame that delicious fire. 

My new favorite Chinese food blog, Appetite for China (I love the tagline: 1.3 billion people must be eating something right), has recipes for both the dan dan mian (noodles in a peanuty broth with a minced pork topping, garnished with cilantro) and the mapo tofu (squares of silky tofu in a minced pork-chili-garlic-ginger sauce--tastes like, in Matt's words, "the soul of food"). Enjoy! 

dan dan mian

dan dan and cucumber salad

mapo tofu


Grocery shopping, part two

Something happens every Saturday morning here that reminds me I am not of this place, as if the whole language thing wasn't enough. While Matt plays with Finn, or takes him for a walk, I do the weekly grocery shopping. Which is, in and of itself, a radical thing here--most people shop much more frequently, even daily. And actually, most people don't shop for themselves at all--their helpers do it. Seriously, walking through the store sort of feels like when I go to the park with Finn--it's me and a bunch of Filipinas. 

I've written about grocery shopping before, here, but, big shocker, I have more to say on the subject. It's the fact that I still do this on a weekly basis while everyone else does it on a daily basis that permeates the shopping experience through and through, for both good (a little) and ill (mostly).  

For starters, there's the basket. I pick up one of the hand-held baskets to put my food in as I shop (thanks to an American optimism that this time I'll actually have a shorter list? or an American practicality that the store is just not designed for carts?) and yet it inevitably gets filled to the top and overflowing (thanks to an American desire to have what I need before I run out.) Everyone else grabs a shopping cart, despite the fact that they put only one or two things in it, and despite the fact that the aisles and especially the check-out lanes are not even close to shopping-cart friendly--which means there are huge shopping-cart traffic jams all over the store, and then an abandoned-shopping-cart junkyard at the checkout lane, nigh impossible as it is to get them through the checkout lane in the first place.    

Ok, so if problem #1 is the basket, then problem #2 is how full it gets (better known as that American inability to turn down a good deal.) See, I have intentions of shopping more frequently and buying less each time, given that I walk several blocks to the store and all. But here's what gets in the way--Hong Kong people love their fresh food. This is, in large part, why they shop so frequently, and primarily at the markets. They love it so much that grocery stores start to mark down prices on items long before the "sell by" date. Really mark it down--sometimes by 50% or more. And I, for the record, have no problem with food that's getting close to the sell by date. 

Yogurt and cheese? Just fine. Frozen New Zealand lamb chops go straight into the freezer at home, so no worries there, as do mangoes--and what's not to love about a supply of fresh mango in the freezer? (Especially given than this is probably the only time in our lives that we could remotely consider mango a local food.) The sell-by date of fancy European chocolate bars has never troubled me before. And fruit--fruit gets marked down as soon as there is a bruise or a brown spot, but since it's going to become apple sauce or pear sauce or (our new favorite) guava sauce, who cares? I kid you not, I buy most of our food depending on what's "reduced but still fresh!", and it's how we're able to afford a mostly organic diet. But it also means that in spite of the best of intentions, my basket gets full when pineapples, say, are marked down to only $4HK (about $.50 US!).       

Ok, so you have a basket that is very full of fragrant and delicious pineapples and chocolate bars (it's a tough life, I know ....) and then you get to the checkout lane and what do you do with the basket? Well, nothing. Because there is no room to put anything down until it is actually my turn to pay, and even then, I can only unload a few items at a time. Along with the backlog at this end of things, (did I mention there's no conveyer belt?) there's also a backlog developing at the other end. Because after items are scanned, there's really only room for one bag (my trusty LL Bean tote!) and that bag gets filled quickly. So in between unloading items from the basket at one end, I'm shuffling bags at the other end, rearranging the food items to try to distribute weight equally--the clerks clearly are inexperienced in bag-loading, which is reasonable given that no one else buys as much as I do. All of this happens while a line of people with shopping carts and only two food items to purchase grows and grows, winding its way down the aisle, murmuring in wonderment and probably annoyance at this crazy lady who buys too much food.  

And now, imagining that basket and bag dance in the check out lane with a baby along, I realize precisely why I don't go shopping more frequently. Because even if I only needed eggs and bananas, the basket would get filled with reduced-price organic soy milk, reduced-price Japanese beer and always, always, reduced-price chocolate bars.

Around the world in 80 clicks ...

I love this idea of getting mothers around the world to write the top 5 things we love about motherhood. And I love it that Her Bad Mother started this, because she's one of those bloggers not afraid to talk about the underbelly of parenting, the hilarious and too-often-private parts of our lives ... So here I am, sending out some love from Hong Kong, though I see I'm not the first from here. Thanks to Marcy at Life is Good for spreading the good word.   

The Top 5 Things I Love About Motherhood:

1. I love the encounters with complete strangers. Maybe it's just because my son is so darn adorable and engaging, or maybe it's because Hong Kongers love babies so much (oh but surely it's all about my son, right?), but whatever--he's always making friends, wherever we go, and consequently, I make friends. Or at least, I smile, and they smile back, and that feels good.  To a new mom in a new city these smiles were a lifeline.  

2. Ok, so maybe this is technically more about parenthood than motherhood, but I love hearing my husband soothe our son in the night. He uses a tone of voice and a manner that I've never heard out of him before, and it melts me.  I also love turning over to go back to sleep.  

3. I love it that I can walk down the street and sing if I feel like singing and people just assume I'm singing to the baby, even if it's Willie Nelson's "Gotta get Drunk" or Johnny Cash or ... (ok, just looked through my itunes and I can't find anything more scandalous than that. what does that mean?)

4. I love holding him when he comes out of the tub and he smells so sweet and he's wearing his blue and orange stripe pajamas.  

5. I love being loved.


Finn update

Finn has taken giant strides in both mobility and communication in the past two weeks.  He's now offically "cruising"--holding on to furniture and his crib and walking. I read to him before naps, while he's in his crib (it's honestly the only time he'll stay still through an entire story) and he used to just sit or stand and listen, watching the pictures. But the past few days he has been literally doing laps around the crib, looking intently when he passes by but otherwise concentrating on walking! crib cruising

Pointing at everything he sees is a new delight, and he seems to understand the idea that he can signify something beyond himself (the beginning of abstract thought?). He also is constantly pointing at something or someone and then at himself, and we think he is exploring the distinction between self and other. Along the same lines, he loves the game of give and take, and is delighted when he holds something out and we take it, and then give it back. These beginnings of social interaction are obviously so satisfying to him, and thus are really fun to watch. He is signing more and more the few words he knows (more, water) and in fact sometimes it's like the sign vesion of babbling--I'll catch him doing the "more" sign over and over, while falling asleep, or looking out the window.  give-and-take

Last night, during our nightly struggle of teethbrushing, Finn grabbed the toothbrush out of our hands and started doing it himself. He was so proud and happy, even without our positive feedback, and he actually did a much better job than we ever expected. I guess Montessorians wouldn't be surprised by this, and I am becoming more and more intrigued by the Montessori method of helping and allowing children to become independent. Inspired by the little bit of reading I have done, we did sort out Finn's relatively modest toy collection, dividing it into 3 sets and then rotating weekly what is available to him. It is so far accomplishing several good things--it's much easier to keep his toys and books neat and organized, and he is showing some interest in helping us put the toys in their spots.  He's also playing with some previously buried toys again, and in new ways.    

Whenever I feel worried that I'm not doing enough to help or teach Finn or pressure that I'm not sending him to school yet (seriously! they start preschool at 12 and 18 months here! I'm always asked by other mums what school Finn is going to, and what kindergarten he has a reserved spot in!) I remember this thought from You are Your Child's First Teacher, by Rahima Baldwin Darcy: "Rudolf Steiner had tremendous confidence in the natural processes of development and reminded us that 'That which is asleep will awaken.' ... There is a task for us--to guard, to protect, to understand, to share and to enjoy with the child the unfolding of his or her abilities."    

little man

and then I look at this face, and I'm not worried anymore.


Feeling grateful for ...

**friends who take us to the hottest dining spots in town Indian food in Chungking Mansions

**ferry rides to outlying islands

**walks scented with jasmine, accompanied by the sound of waves

Cheung Chau coast

**spiral cut potato chips on a sticktake that, MN state fair!

**Finn's attraction to strangers and his willingingness to interact with them frozen fruit on a stick

*gossipy, busy-body women who run teahouses and serve awesome sushi and red bean cakes (and have bizarre posters and sayings on their menus!) hometown teahouse

nothing more to say

check out those handrolls!

**a husband who takes beautiful pictures of our son. thoughtful



ps-I've uploaded an insane number of insanely beautiful portraits of Mr. Finn, all taken April 5, to our flickr site. I'm also working on uploading pictures from the past few months. I realize I've been rather neglectful--not posting nearly as many great pictures as we have. So grandparents, eat your hearts out.


I was trying to buy, and they were just giving it away ...

You would think, food being critical for our life's pleasure (not to mention survival) that figuring out how to shop for food in Hong Kong would be the first thing I would have mastered, right up there with electricity and where to buy chocolate. We have never gone hungry, certainly, and with modern supermarkets and 7-11s on every corner there might not even seem to be anything to master. Oh, but there is, friends, there is. And I am still mastering, still working on not being annoyed by my American expectations, still discovering wonderful quirks.   

For instance--green onions and cilantro. It literally took me months to figure out where I could buy these simple, commonly used items. Used in almost every Asian cuisine, I might add--so you wouldn't think it would be so hard to find them. I searched every grocery store in our neighborhood and beyond, I went to wet markets, I even resorted to looking online, all to no avail. I was tormented everytime we ate out, eating scallion pancakes, getting cilantro with my pho--being served a dish that was garnished with scallions felt like an affront. 

Finally one day, buying some bok choi (no problem finding this anywhere you look) at the wet market just across the street instead of the grocery store I usually frequent, the saleswoman stuck some green onions in the bag with the greens. Excuse me? All this time I've been searching, willing to pay any price, and here they are, for free? I tried to ask if I could buy more, but she just looked really puzzled and then stuck another bunch in my bag. 

I experienced the same thing with cilantro at a different market, except this time, she made me pay for the extra I pantomined wanting. And then finally I discovered that yet another market, only a few blocks away, has several Thai-run stalls that sell the cilantro and green onions in bunches, like I'm used to buying (except they only cost about .20!) (This market, by the way, is my new favorite. They separate the food onto different floors, with the meat, seafood and poultry on the ground floor and the fresh produce above, which pleases the chef in me. At most other places they butcher the pig--the whole pig, snout to tail-- and kill the fish right next to the lettuce and apples, and I know how that juice can fly. Besides, this market also has an indoor air conditioned playroom, and if that won't make a cranky baby and mama happy, I don't know what will.)Marble Street Market

As happy as I was to have my own source of scallions and cilantro, it still puzzled me that I couldn't buy these items in the grocery stores. Until, one day, I could. Last week, I bought some fish at our neighborhood Park-n-Shop (grocery store names are the same, everywhere you go.) Fish is something I actually feel OK about buying in the wet markets, though I steer clear of both poultry and pork. (There are just still too many incidents of Avian Flu and contaminated pork for me to feel comfortable buying those products without a label. I do realize that every time I set foot in a local restaurant or eat my beloved pork dumplings, that's exactly the meat I'm getting. But we all play games with ourselves sometimes, right?) Anyway, I don't usually buy my fish in the grocery store, since I can get it so fresh at the market:

[caption id="attachment_375" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="nice cigarette, huh? "]nice cigarette, huh? [/caption]

All of which is to explain why I hadn't yet learned that the grocery store gives you scallions with your fish. Wow. Once again, I was trying to buy them, and they were just giving them away. I haven't yet tried to go to the seafood counter and just ask for the onions without the fish, but I'll keep you posted.   

And what, you might ask, do I do with these lovely herbs now that I've found them?  Well, for starters, scallion pancakes. Matt and I have been known to finish off a whole batch of them for dinner, standing right in the kitchen, not even making it to the table. Here is my former colleague's method--she doesn't give ingredient amounts for the dough, but I think I use 2 cups of flour to 3/4 cup water, and often we double it. Oh, and I put chopped cilantro in with the scallion/salt mixture. Once it's a bit warmer in your neck of the woods I'll tell you about our favorite new Vietnamese salad--we ate it at least twice a week our first few months here, when it was so hot the thought of turning on the stove wasn't even a thought. It uses both the scallions and cilantro to great, cooling effect, along with fresh mint and basil (for which I did not have to search since it's growing on my balcony! Hooray for fresh green things you can grow in a pot!) But for now, do try the scallion pancakes.  It looks a bit labor intensive, but it's really not bad.  Make the dough, let it rest for 15 minutes while you chop the scallions, then fill your pancakes and pop them in the fridge until you're ready to cook them--they can sit there the whole day if you like.  And then, after a long day of meetings and emails and wordy blog posts like this, you can satisfy those salty, greasy cravings with something you made yourself, which makes it all about a billion times more satisfying.


ps--those lovely photos are both chip pics.  Be glad I spared you the pictures of the butcher stalls.  Though fun to look at for those of us who are into that sort of thing, they are a bit raw and intense if you are just sitting down with a morning cup of coffee ...