Ni Hao from Beijing

To say that the last week has  been a whirlwind is an understatement. It’s hard to believe we have already been in this magical ,fast paced city for that long. To make this post flow more easily ,I have divided it into a day-to-day review. I’ve only written about the first three days thus far because there is just so much to absorb. I know it’s long, so bare with me.

Day 1: After a very long flight we arrived to Beijing on August 27th in the evening. Billy and I anxiously waited in the baggage claim for our luggage and  were told by our company that a man named “Mr.Li” would be taking us to a hotel for the evening. We had no idea what Mr.Li looked like and were just praying that he would be holding up an obnoxious sign bearing one of our names. Well, he was holding up a tiny sign with the words EF on  but it did the trick. Mr. Li did not speak a word of English but man was he happy. As we drove along the highway I felt like a little kid looking out the window. My face was pressed up against the glass and my mouth was hanging open.

We checked into our hotel really late and the restaurant wasn’t open but our stomachs were rumbling so we wandered across the street to a 24 hour noodle house.   I have to say that my first meal in China was spectacular and it only costs me three dollars.  More on food later.

 

Day 2:The next morning Billy and I checked out and wandered to breakfast in the lobby. We were hoping to meet all the other teachers in our specific program in Beijing. Let me tell you, in a small hotel in Beijing it was very easy to spot out all the teachers. We all introduced ourselves and grabbed a table. There are a total of fifteen teachers, seven adult teachers and  eight children’s teachers. Within ten minutes we were all cracking jokes and sharing our travel experiences. It was a very heart warming feeling.

After breakfast two employees from our company, EF,  took all the teachers on a walking tour of Beijing. It was very brief but we just went to a few different districts around the city to orient ourselves a little bit better. We were given a subway map and told to figure out where we were going and how we were going to get there. I really liked this challenge because it immediately made everyone learn their bearings in this crazy large city.  Now when you travel in a pack with sixteen western people, you will get stares. Everywhere we went, Chinese men and women were staring at us. But, don’t be confused, staring is not considered rude in Chinese culture, it just happens.

Tian’an’men square was one of our first stops. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s the biggest public square in the world and its a place where you can find hundreds of people passing through. It almost seems like people are on a pilgrimage somewhere.Walking through the square, is when I really started to feel like we were living in a foreign place. Everyone around me looked like they had a destination and I was just orienting myself with the surroundings.

We were taken to a local restaurant for lunch and we feasted on bao’zi(dumplings), mapo tofu, leeks, cashew chicken, hot tea and much more. It was a delicious introduction into the unbelievably awesome cuisine in China. The rapport between all the teachers seemed to flow so well, but maybe that was because we were all delirious from jet lag.

Now, the most exciting part of the day was about to happen moving into our apartments. Packing suitcases for people who plan to live in a city for a whole year into a car, is a difficult challenge. Once again, Mr. Li came into the equation and helped us heave all of our bags into the car. Assisted by an agent from EF, we were taken to our apartment on the 19th floor of a 35 story building. Strange looks were given to us as we heaved an armada of bags into a tiny elevator on the first floor. Something I quickly realized after being in the country, is just how careful the Chinese are on their electricity usage. We had to stomp and clap our hands for any light to turn on in our apartment hallway. Hey, more power to them.Electricity jokes.

Our apartment has two bedrooms, one small kitchen and a living room. It is the perfect amount of space for two people. The apartment came somewhat furnished which with basic apartment necessities. We were told that our internet would be set up in a week or so, hence the delay on this post. To give you a better idea of the apartment, I have provided pictures below, but we were pleasantly surprised by the set up. A few hours later, jet lag caught up to us and we hit the hay.

 

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                Our kitchen!

Day 3:Today was a logistical day for all the new teachers in EF. Every foreign working person is required to get a medical check. Now, this medical check was nothing like the American standard of a medical check. All of the teachers arrive in this clinic and we all registered with our passports . We  were then  asked to take a piece of paper and visit all these separate rooms with different numbers on them. At every station, a doctor was supposed to check off the exam we had just received.  It was quite comical because it seemed like we were being taken through an assembly line. We were prodded with a needle to take our blood and before we could say thank you we were taken to the next room where we were given a chest x-ray. All of the Chinese doctors and nurses seemed to wave their hands around and do their little medical dance and then we were sent on our way. All of the teachers were in stitches laughing after it was over because we felt like cows being herded around.

We also registered at a local bank and received our local debit cards. I would elaborate on this section but there was really nothing too exciting about this process. We got shiny new plastic cards. However, afterwards we walked across the street to EF’s headquarters which was pretty darn exciting. I don’t really know what my expectations were for the headquarters, but I was completely blown away by the professionalism of the office. We walked into a very large building, one which you could pick out from any building on Wall Street. There was a large Starbucks on the first floor and the ceilings were covered in beautiful marble. We headed up to the sixth floor where  EF’s headquarters are. The whole floor is taken up by the company and there is a brightly lit front desk displaying all the countries where EF has headquarters, some of which include Stockholm, London and Beijing. The whole layout of the office looks like something a designer for Apple would create. There were lots of sleek meeting rooms with white chairs with a dash of color. There are no cubicles, just open spaces with long rows of desk. Each corporate employee is given a brightly covered tool box to store all their belongings. It was pretty neat.

Niamh( pronounced Neve) is a very bubbly Irish woman who has been spearheading all the new teachers orientation over the last week. Niamh gave us a basic orientation into EF and the company culture. We then were broken up into our groups and sent to our respective learning centers. Billy’s center is only four floors down in the same building as the headquarters. His commute is also a twenty-minute walk from our apartment. My center is a few subway stops away from our apartment. A very tall Chinese man( right? yes, he was tall), picked me up in his car and took me to our center, but first we had to stop at Starbucks so he could get a mocha cappuccino. Starbucks rules all. His English was perfect and we chatted about life. His father was in the oil business and he lived in Tulsa, OK for all of his highschool career. Small world.

 

 

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EF headquarters!

My center is located in another large building, one similar to our headquarters, but my center is not nearly as big. There are a total of ten teachers and all of them are from the U.K., South Africa and Sweden. I am the only American at this center. Reppin. They were all very friendly and seemed very excited for a new teacher to be coming to the center.

By far the most exciting experience of my time in Beijing thus far was meeting all the students at the center. I will be teaching adult men and women, most of whom are in the corporate working world.  All of the Chinese students were so eager and enthusiastic about meeting me. They smiled and everyone looked at me happily as I walked through.  They shook my hand and asked me what my name was, where I was from, etc. And I thought southern hospitality was the best. I felt like a celebrity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As mentioned before, my center is much smaller but it still carries the same atmosphere as the headquarters and other schools. There are open glass classrooms and brightly colored walls. I also found out that all the teachers at every center have a their picture featured at the front of the office. So, each time I walk into my center I will be greeting a huge black and white picture of my face. Oh, the joy. By the time all my introductions were made, it was getting late and my stomach was rumbling. I called Billy to see if he was done at his center but his boss had invited him out to drink Tsing Tao( Chinese beer) with some of his co-workers.  My friend Sedona and I headed to a Korean BBQ place near our apartments and feasted on some vegetables and meat. Once again, exhaustion set in and I hit the hay.

I know this was a lot of information and i promise my posts will be more concise and well written later.  I just had to get all my thoughts out about our first few days here! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! Missing everyone so very much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My recipe for bison chili

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Who doesn’t love a hearty bowl of Chili?

I know I do.

My family loves to cook Chili with Bison meat instead of traditional beef. Meat from Bison is a great alternative to domestic livestock because you get more protein and  nutrients and less fat. It tastes just as good, if not better, than beef! Chili is also a wonderful dish you can make large amounts of and freeze to eat later. Below are the ingredients and recipe for healthy but hearty Chili!

Serves 2 with room for leftovers

Ingredients:

coconut oil ( or olive oil)

1/2 large onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 pound of ground bison meat

1 jar of salsa

1 can of diced tomatoes

2 tsp of sea salt

1 tsp of Thyme

1 tsp of chili powder

Preparation:

Heat a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat.

When the pan is hot, add coconut oil ,add onions  and garlic and sauté until onions are translucent, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Next, add ground bison, cumin, Thyme , and chili powder.

Stir while this cooks, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Pour in salsa, tomatoes and salt

Simmer for at least 1 hour.

And Enjoy!

Taming the Closet

A woman’s closet is probably the most daunting area in the house. I often find myself spending hours  each week organizing the items in my closet and it makes me angry.  I began to realize that the problem wasn’t that I was organizing incorrectly, it was the AMOUNT of things in my closet. I needed to purge. The arrival of spring is the perfect time to jump start a deep cleanse.

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Lovely “before” picture of my closet

( See that red machine looking thing? That’s an ab rocket. Do I use it? No.)

Naturally, bloggers like reading other blogs. I turned to the blog i heart organizing  to be more efficient in the process.  Anyone who enjoys the organizing process should check it out. Here are some of the best tips I picked up from the blog:

1. The item should fit you well and compliment your style. So, if something is too big or small, why keep it? Focus on the clothes that make you look awesome.

2. Don’t keep items that aren’t in good condition. Many times it can be more expensive to repair items than going out and purchasing a new one.

3. Purge what you don’t need.  Frequency of use can be used as a benchmark when you’re deciding what you’ll keep. Some things may only be worn once in a while (e.g. for special events) while others are not worn because you no longer like them or because you haven’t seen them. If the latter statement refers to you, give them until the end of this season to see if you reach for them.

4. You should have an occasion to wear it. So that juicy pant suit you have from high school should probably go. No but really, I found a pink juicy pant suit in my closet.

5. Put everything on hangers. This one I can’t stress enough. Hanging absolutely everything, even t-shirts, saved me so much space.

Based on the tips from above, my closet turned into this:
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After

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My shoes used to wind up cluttered in the basket by my door, but now I have enough room to cleanly line them up in my closet!

I also created two bags with labels “sell” and “donate”. For those of you  in the Burlington area, a brand new Good Will just opened up on North Church St. It’s just a two minute drive from Elon. In total, I cleared my closet of 40 Items! Ah! And I feel so   fresh, relaxed and ready for Spring!

My Week of Veganism

People often  confuse veganism and vegetarianism.  A vegan is one who abstains from the use of animal products and they  do not consume dairy, poultry, fish or meat. So why did I decide to go vegan?  I recently watched  a documentary titled “Vegucated” which chronicles three New Yorkers adopting a completely vegan diet for six weeks. The three New Yorkers are taken on an educational ride to learn about the realities of animal agriculture in the United States and how veganism can improve their health. They discover drastic changes in they way they feel and look in the short six weeks and realize how much can be gained from adopting a vegan lifestyle. Even if being vegan is of no interest to you at all, it’s still a pretty fascinating film. If you want more information about what it means to be vegan, check out this link.

Could I be completely vegan for one week? Would I last? How would I get enough protein? Would I be hungry? My brother was a vegan for the first half of a life and now he stands  6’3. I, however, the Texas -raised, meat -loving woman, am a whole foot shorter. Somehow not eating chicken, meat, fish or dairy  worked for him.

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See, there I am thumbs up for meat. Aaannnd my brother can’t stand to touch it.

I started this adventure by doing some research and made sure  there would be enough nutrients in my new diet. I  started by looking up vegan foods with protein. Some of these foods include, spinach,lentils,black beans, tofu, quinoa, almonds, soy milk, and brown rice. Here is a link for more vegan foods with protein.

Vegan Protein Options

I then wanted to see if their were any cheese alternatives for Vegans. Who doesn’t love cheese? So it was important for me to find some substitute for my vice. I could not believe how many alternative cheese options I found at my local grocery store! And they taste great! Here is a link of a list of different cheese options . I then made sure that my shopping cart was filled with plenty of fruits, vegetables and various whole grains. Below is a pyramid which shows a lot of the foods I filled in my basket.

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So, its been one whole week since I started this experiment and I feel fabulous! Overall, I feel less bloated and surprisingly more full and energized.  All of those whole grains and vegetables really kept me full. I loved using the different cheeses in so much of my cooking experimentation. There are many websites devoted to delicious recipes. Having various spices such as red pepper flakes, garlic, rosemary, cumin and Chili powder provided a lot of variety in my cooking.

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I honestly didn’t think it would be this easy to be completely vegan for a week. I thought I would miss my grilled chicken and mozzarella too much. My goal is to continue to educate myself on vegan recipes and the benefits of being vegan. If you want to see some of the recipes I’ve been cooking, check out some of my other posts. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment!

Vegetable and Tofu Stir Fry

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Ingredients:
2 servings
  • 4 ounces udon or whole-wheat noodles
  • 1 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 ounces flavored baked tofu, (see Tip), cut into matchsticks
  • 1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Directions:

1.Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook noodles

2. Heat another pan and add garlic and oil for 30 seconds

3.Add the tofu and cook for two minutes ( it’s always fun to experiment with tofu, try baking it for awhile as well!)

4.Add peppers and cook for two minutes

5.Stir in soy sauce and vinegar

6.Stir in pepper

note: add any extra spices you may want! Sometimes I like to add some red pepper flakes.

Lemon Jalapeno Asparagus Mixture

This recipe is wonderful for anyone who loves a good egg salad. The texture of the asparagus and cashew mixed together is very similar to the egg salad. I love adding the jalapeno for extra spice.

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Lemon Jalapeño Asparagus Cashew Mixture
makes 2 cups – about 4 servings

Ingredients:

1/2 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup water (+ more if needed)
1  extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried jalapeño (fresh will work too)
10 spears asparagus (remove woody stubs of stem)
*about 4 cups chopped raw asparagus
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
a few dashes garlic powder
4 Tbsp lemon juice

Directions:

1. Soak 1 cups of raw cashews in 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt.  Allow to soak for at least four hours. Overnight is best since the cashews will get nice and soft.

2. Drain your cashews and add them to a high speed blender ( you can also use almonds)

3. Add in the water, oil, asparagus, spices and lemon. Blend on low to get started and then move to a high speed. Use your plunger or scrape the sides with a spoon to blend. If your mixture is too thick and not blending through, add in a few more splashes of water.
4. Once your mixture is noce and creamy. add more salt and seasonings if desired. You can even add in more asparagus if you’d like.
5. Transfer to serving dish for dip or slather on bread for sandwiches. You can serve right away or chill the mixture in the fridge. If you want to serve your dip right away but want it to be chilled – chill your water and cashews before blending.

Curried Lentils and Sweet Potatoes

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For those that know me, I love Indian spices. Curry is a great way to really enhance any dish that you may be cooking, especially when cooking with any kind of whole grain. The sweet potatoes in this recipe provide a sweet contrast to the spiciness of the curry.

Servings: 2

Ingredients:

1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1  teaspoons curry powder
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded if desired, then minced

1 cup of dried lentils

Directions:

1. In a  large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add garlic, ginger, , curry powder and jalapeno. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

2. Stir in 2 cups broth, sweet potatoes, lentils . Increase heat to high and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. (If lentils seem dry, add up to 1 cup stock, as needed.) Stir in chard and salt and pepper, and continue cooking until lentils are tender and chard is cooked, about 30 to 45 minutes total.

Crispy Tofu Triangles

These are simply delicious and so easy to make! Anyone who is vegetarian or vegan knows that tofu is essential staple to ones diet. I love this recipes because it can be great for a hearty but healthy appetizer. I have provided a recipe below but have fun and experiment with different spices laying around the house!

vegan, 10-14 triangles depending on size

Ingredients:

14 ounces firm tofu, sliced into thick triangles as shown
safflower oil to saute (you could also bake these bites!*)
fine black pepper to taste (enough to coat both sides)
1-3 tsp agave or maple syrup

Directions:

* Bake them. If you’d prefer to bake these bites, toss the damp tofu in the salt and pepper + a drizzle of sweetener and bake at 350 degrees until the edges beging to brown. Usually 20 minutes does it. (Add a splash of oil to get slightly crispy edges even from baking them.)

Vegan Burrito

This is one of my favorites! I cooked this for two of my friends and they couldn’t believe it was Vegan. Just make sure that if you cook with dried beans that you follow accordingly. Dried beans can be tricky sometimes if you don’t follow the right directions. The great thing about this dish is you can make a lot of beans and store them for lunch or dinner the next day or two.
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  • 2 cups leftover pre-cooked rice
  • juice from 2 limes
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15 ounce can black beans( any beans you prefer will do)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp hot sauce, or to taste
  • 4-6 flour tortillas
  • some kind of alternative cheese

If you are using dried beans, make sure to boil the beans and then let them simmer on a low heat for 2-3 hours.

1. In a large bowl mix the rice, cilantro and lime juice and then set to the side

2. Sautee onion and garlic in separate skillet

3.If the beans are intended for a Mexican-style dish, I’ll add a bundle of well-washed cilantro stems, tied with kitchen twine. It looks like a horrid drowned rat by the end of the cooking time, but the mild flavor it brings is unsurpassed.

4. A pinch or two of fresh ground cumin is especially good with black beans; bay leaf, rosemary or thyme can all go in too.

5. Wrap in tortilla

Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers

This recipe is one that takes a little over an hour to make so I made this on a sunday evening when I had some free time! I usually don’t crave burgers that often but for some reason I was craving a nice juicy burger. Well what does one do on a vegan regimen? Use sweet potatoes! Yes, sweet potatoes can make a fabulous patty for those two buns. Here is a fun recipe for those sweet potato and burger lovers!

sweet potato veggie

makes 7-8 large patties

Ingredients:

2 cans cannellini white beans, drained
1 large sweet potato, baked/peeled/mashed (about 2 cups)
2 tsp maple or agave syrup
1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning OR Cajun seasoning (or another fave spice!)
1/4 cup wheat flour
optional: additional seasoning (whatever you have on hand – I used a few dashes cayenne, black pepper and a scoop of nutritional yeast)
salt to taste if needed

plentiful bread crumbs
safflower oil for pan

burgers: avocado, Dijon mustard, grain buns, romaine, onion, olive oil, pepper

Directions:

1. Bake sweet potato at 375 for about an hour. Peel, place in large mixing bowl.
2. Add drained beans to mixing bowl. Mash beans and potato together.
3. Mash in seasoning, flour and any additional seasoning. Your mixture will be quite soft and moist. But you should be able to form a patty. Add more flour or a scoop of breadcrumbs – or dry rice to thicken the mixture if needed.
5. Form a patty from mixture and coat in any kind of bread crumb. Thick coating. Then drop the patty in the pan. Repeat until the pan is filled. Cook until browned on both sides. You could also bake. If baking, use less Panko.
6. Transfer cooked patties to paper towel. Cool for a few minutes.
7. Serve on toasted bun with lotsa toppings.