Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 Harbin Ice Festival - Day One - Snow Sculptures.

Apologies for the late post, but things have been pretty crazy in Beijing during Spring Festival / Chinese New Year. You'll probably hear about that by the summer time if my slow-posting trend continues. Either way, as many of you already know, Veronica, our friend Jared and I went up to Harbin (哈尔滨) - China's Ice City.

Apparently there are four massive ice festivals held throughout the world. I haven't been to the ones in Sapporo, Quebec City, or Holmenkollen; but as of three weeks ago, I CAN say I've been to Harbin. And, despite the bitter cold, I'd consider checking the others off that list too. It was astounding. The only thing cooler than seeing the structures I'm about to share with you would be to see them without huge throngs of people crowding all over the place. But private ice villages that may or may not exist are a bit above my pay scale.

After an eight hour train ride and a twelve hour stay at a spa, Jared and I met up with Veronica at our hotel. From the hotel we started our winter wonderland excursion by visiting the snow sculpture display and competition. Simply amazing.

There were two major components of this part of the ice festivities.
Part one could be called "Yay China (Snow Form)" and focused on many things about which China is proud. This section included sculptures of Chinese Olympic athletes, philosophers, traditional architectural styles, calligraphy, leaders and ethnic minority groups.Veronica and Jared made friends with a group of young Chinese children hanging out behind a snow bar by asking for a drink. But in this exclusive snow bar club, patrons were required to provide their own cups before being served imaginary drinks. Luckily Jared had a thermos.The other part of the park was dedicated to an international snow sculpture contest, into which applicants from all over the world submitted entries. Some were pretty impressive, others weren't. I took some pictures of a few of these, but around this time my trusty point and shoot digital camera finally died. Veronica and Jared snapped this novelty entrant commemorating the addictive PopCap game "Plants vs Zombies". Clearly the game is popular throughout the world, but its name kept escaping me until a Chinese guy touring the park with his girlfriend exclaimed "ooohh Pulan wasa Zanbi" (or something like that).I was thoroughly impressed by this park until we went to the Ice Festival that night.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fire Cupping (拔罐 - BaGuan)

I'm still seeing my TCM doctor, though I don't have much to report beyond continued weekly massages and occasionally acupuncture. Every week, when I go in for my appointment, I secretly hope that I get prescribed a fire cupping procedure.

Flashback. Philadelphia, 2000. While visiting The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, I'm struck by an exhibit on out-dated medical procedures. The pictures and tools of archaic techniques to cure the spirits were fascinating - its hard to believe that doctors / barbers used to perform blood-lettings. If you've seen Steve Martin in his classic "Theodoric of York - Medieval Barber", you'll know what I'm talking about.

Another process that caught my eye was fire-cupping: the barbaric practice of using small glass hemispherical cups, small amounts of flammable liquid and fire to create a vacuum used to pull skin and burst capillaries on patients.

After treatments, the ill are left battered and bruised. The colors of the bruises indicate the health of the area and of the patients' spirits. chinese fire cuppingFlashforward. Beijing, 2010. As it turns out, the bruising isn't that bad and the pain is really just constant pressure and heat during the cupping itself.

My doctor still hasn't indicated fire-cupping as an ideal cure for anything that ails me, but that doesn't mean I can't get cupped. Believe it or not, I paid about six bucks for the beating I received and I got it done at a sauna - not at a doctor's office.

It's fairly common for saunas to offer cupping in addition to other spa treatments (ear candling, massages, steams, etc). So, when I visited a sauna in Haerbin, I knew that I had to ask for the works. The technician wasn't really focusing on any particular area and, as a result, my entire back was a mess.

As a relaxing cure - I wouldn't recommend it. If my doctor indicated that a localized treatment would help a particular problem I had, I'd do it again. Looks like fun right?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Beijing Bagel Making

"Operation: Bageltopia"
People say that everything tastes better when you make it yourself. I don't agree. Not EVERYTHING tastes better. Trust me - I've made some god-awful meals, just ask anyone who ate my "Israeli Coffee Chicken". I've also made some pretty amazing meals, so I guess I should say "roughly half of things taste better when you make them yourself".

Enter Bagels. I'm never one to shy away from a cooking challenge, and while it probably isn't fair to call bagels a cooking challenge, I was excited when I got an email from my friend Jared with the subject line "Operation: Bageltopia". Here our adventure begins. Our surprisingly simple and satisfyingly delicious adventure begins.

Excepting garnishes and flavoring, here's what you need:

500 g flour
260 ml tepid water
12 g instant yeast
1 tbsp honey
12 g of salt
20 g soft butter

Caramel Water (for cooking bagels):
300 g sugar
3 L water

I'm not going to get too in depth with the process but here is a quick summary:
Step 1: Mix flour, water, yeast, and honey in a bowl.
Step 2: Knead the dough.
Step 3: Add the butter and the salt and keep kneading until the mixture becomes a smooth, elastic dough.
Step 4: Prove the dough. Cover it and let it rise for 40 minutes at room temperature.
Step 5: Make into bagels. Start with 3 inch diameter balls of dough, pull a hole in the center until the hole is about an inch/inch and a half in diameter.
Step 6: Prove once more for 35 minutes. It must not be allowed to overprove and get too large!
Step 7: Make the caramel water. Place the saucepan onto a medium to high heat. Then add sugar and allow it to melt, add the water, bring to boil.
Step 8: Preheat the oven 200ºC (400ºF).
Step 9: Poach the bagels quickly for 1 minute on each side. Remove and put on baking tray.
Step 10: Season the bagels (poppy, sesame, etc)
Step 11: Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.
Step 12: Serve

There were five of us making the bagels, including a seasoned bagel-making pro (HEY JOEL), so our two batches provided each of us with two bagels, with two left over to tease and tempt everyone else.

The multiple proving periods make the process take a bit of time, but its well worth it. Our oven was a large toaster oven (true ovens are hard to come by in all but the highest end apartment), so we had to bake in shifts - which made the waiting a lot harder.
making bagels in beijingThis weekend we're attempting to make 24 bagels for Chinese New Year (春节 - ChunJie)and will likely enlist multiple toaster ovens to speed the process. I'll fill you in with details and pictures soon.