Sunday, November 27, 2011

My "Charlie-Brown" Pies

by Ruth
I agreed to make pumpkin pie for our big 'city wide' Thanksgiving meal. It was a last minute decision, so I headed out late last night to buy some pumpkin. Ok, so actually it was only 7pm, but it was already completely dark outside and I am hardly ever out after dark post-baby. Thus as I biked to the nearby vegetable market, dodging the hordes of students heading out for Saturday evening fun, it felt like a late night outing. Half of the large road in front of the vegetable market was transformed into a parking lot – literally. The actual parking areas are far too small, so cars just stopped and parked in the road, along with dozens of taxis waiting for fares. Pedestrians swarmed across the street while bikes and motorbikes swerved through and honking cars inched their way through the road-turned-parking lot.

Street vendors were out in mass, selling all manner of fried foods and unidentifiable objects on sticks. I wasn't even sure if the vegetable sellers were still around at night. Some had covered their vegetables with cloths and headed home, but a number were still open for business. I picked out a couple of small pumkins and headed home (after picking up some tofu-filled egg-burritos and spicy skewered vegetables for our dinner.

I often made pumpkin pie as my Thanksgiving contribution when I was younger, but I had never made it from fresh pumpkin before. I had also never made it in China, which, as you know if cook in China (or other non-western countries), can be a little different experience.

Step one: slice and cook the pumpkin. I didn't really know how long to cook the pumpkin, so I set the oven on some medium temperature and came back every few minutes to stab pieces with a fork. By the end they had taken quite a beating. Some of the pieces were a little green looking, so I wasn't sure how that would work out either. Eventually all the pieces were pretty soft, so Kevin scraped the meat out of the rind while I worked on the pie crust. That was pretty easy except when I was ready to roll it out, I realized my rolling pin was moldy. But I covered it with plastic wrap and used it anyway.

Step two: Mash the pumpkin. After mashing and beating the pumpkin with eggs, we were left with a mixture of pumpkiny liquid and hard pumpkin chunks. Fortunately a little blender action solved the problem of the chunks.

Step three: Mix in other ingredients. I didn't actually have all the ingredients. Evaporated milk can apparently be bought in another part of the city about an hour away, but that wasn't going to happen. Kevin looked for sweetened condensed milk at the supermarket but they stocked only blueberry or strawberry flavor. Not going to work. So I settled for a powdered milk and water substitution my mom found online and added extra spices because it seemed like a good idea.

Step four: Bake the pie. Since I don't have an actual pie pan, I used a round cake pan instead. Our small toaster-oven is pretty nice for China but definitely smaller and more finicky than a real oven. I converted the baking temperature from Fahrenheit into Celsius and then the Celsius into “I wonder what temperature the oven will actually be” degrees. I generally go for about 25*C lower than called for, but it kinda comes down to what kind of mood the oven is in on a given day. The only way to really keep things from burning is to watch them closely, cover with foil, and make the baking time about 10-20% less than the recipe says. Good thing I looked in on the pie because about 5 minutes into cooking I realized the top burner was on instead of the bottom one!

Step 5: Keep baking the pie. I guess I turned the temperature down too low because I kept checking and kept checking and it was still a jiggly mess. After the third knife slice, the clean line had turned into a big gash down the middle of the pie.

Finally the pie was finished, and it actually looked good (other than the big gash). Except it looked awfully small. There were going to be 20 adults and 10 children at our Thanksgiving feast, and this was an 8” pie. I still had just enough shortening left to make another pie crust, so I thought maybe in the morning I would run out and get some more pumpkins or maybe some sweet potatoes and make a sweet potato pie.

Finally I decided I should make a pecan pie! It would be perfect. I didn't have any corn syrup, like most recipes called for, but thanks to “don't want this ingredient” search, I found one using sugar instead. The only other slight problem: I didn't actually have pecans.

I did, however, have some walnuts left over from my amazing sweet potato casserole. Walnuts are definitely no pecans, but they work as a China- substitute. I made up another pie crust and covered my moldy rolling pin once more before throwing it out. There was just enough crust left over to make a few pretty leaves to cover the ugly gash in the pumpkin pie. Success!

I arranged from walnuts prettily on top of the pie, and they immediately sank halfway into pie liquid. Oh well. Into the oven, double checking the correct burner was on this time! I checked the pie about 5-10 minutes into cooking only to find the top was already burning! Seriously? I covered it with foil and kept checking on it. After a while I decided this burnt top was not going to do, so I pulled the partly-cooked pie out of the oven and used a knife to scrape of as much of the burnt as I could. The pretty was all gone, but at least it wouldn't taste burnt (I hoped). Then I put the pie back in to finish cooking, not really sure how that little cooling interlude would effect it.

After the initial burn, I kept checking the pie frequently, but even after exceeding the called-for baking time, the pie was still pure liquid. I tried testing it with a knife and struck a submerged walnut instead, creating a fissure instead of a smooth cut. It was becoming a trend. I poked around at several walnuts, trying to scoot one over the hole. Several knife stabs and 15 or 20 minutes later, the pie was finally “set” enough to take out. The pretty walnut design was completely obliterated, but it didn't really look bad, considering.

This afternoon I took the pies to our celebration and the verdict was... Success! The pumpkin pie tasted just like it should, and we were even able to buy some whipped cream from a local bakery for the top! The non-pecan pie was pretty good too. I mean, a walnut is never going to be a pecan, but otherwise it was good! And it didn't even taste burnt at all. The pumpkin pie was quickly eaten and half the walnut pie was gone (because after all, some people don't know what pecan pie is all about).

Sadly, we didn't get any pictures before they were eaten up! The pumpkin pie ended up looking pretty cute with those little pastry leaves and the walnut pie looked perfectly respectable, but now you'll just have to take my word for it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I've noticed a number of people on Facebook putting up daily statuses about what they are thankful for during the month of November. I haven't done this, but lately I have been thinking of things I'm especially thankful for this year. I usually put a lot more mental energy into complaining than being thankful, even though I have a great life. I don't want to just pull out the thankfulness when Thanksgiving is near, but I love this holiday that is dedicated to being grateful (well, and eating a lot of food). So I have made a list of 24 things (for each day of the month leading up to Thanksgiving) I am thankful for right now. It isn't in any particular order and certainly isn't comprehensive, so if you aren't mentioned, don't get offended.
  1. I'm grateful that our university is willing to provide an extra “mother's class” for the 3 mothers who can't attend the regular department classes. Meeting with a tutor is great, but having a actual teacher and class-time and classmates is so valuable!

  2. I just love my baby! It's ridiculous, but I find myself often feeling jealous of people without children. Being able to go on dates with their husband or not wake up during the night. Or there would be so much more time for studying Chinese. But actually before Juliana was born, I was often jealous of people who did have children. Classic case of 'grass is greener' that ridiculous discontentment. Having a baby (em, toddler) isn't always easy but I am so glad to be a parent.

  3. I'm glad to live in a city where we can get fresh milk (skim and whole) each week, have easy access to cheese, and have a yummy western restaurant (with pizza and milkshakes!).

  4. Speaking of food, I'm really glad to live in a country that has awesome, inexpensive food. It would stink to live somewhere with gross food or someplace with great food you could never afford.

  5. While there is a definite convenience in having a car, I love being able to bike most places. I am also grateful for the abundance of bike repairmen whom you sometimes end up visiting every other week.

  6. I am glad to be surrounded by so many people. That was definitely something I struggled with first coming to China, and I do still love to get out of the city, but lately I have appreciated being in a place where the streets and sidewalks and stores and neighborhoods are chalk full of people moving around and hanging out outside, even in winter. No isolation here!

  7. I'm grateful for the people in the community I see every day: the teenager who works at the hair-shop at the bottom of the stairwell and runs out to greet Juliana, man who sells local honey outside the gate and always smiles when I bike through, the grannies and mothers and little kids living around us who all know Juliana, the vegetable sellers who give us good prices, the workers in the supermarket who now know Juliana.
  1. Skype! Juliana gets so excited and starts waving as soon as we bring out the computer and microphone. She loves getting to see her grandparents and family, and they love seeing her show off her newest tricks. It's hard being so far away from family, and things like this make it a lot easier!

  2. I am thankful for the Chinese I am learning! There are days I feel like I don't know anything, but I know a LOT more than a few months ago! I can actually carry on conversations with my tutors, and I couldn't read or write anything before. Every bit is so helpful.

  3. I love our A-yi! Maybe not quite as much as Juliana, who still gets so excited whenever she comes, but I do like her a lot. It is really great to have someone I feel comfortable leaving Juliana with.

  4. I am thankful to Kevin for giving Juliana breakfast so I can sleep a little longer when she wakes up ridiculously early, washing the dishes every night, getting down on the floor and playing with Juliana, supporting me in language study, and sharing similar parenting ideas.

  5. I am really enjoying being around other families this year! We can commiserate about how many times we were up last night and how hard it is to find study time and where to buy the cheapest diapers.

  6. Chocolate. You know that had to be on the list.

  7. I love my Kindle! Probably the best purchase (or my parent's best purchase, anyway) in the past few years. I have read a LOT of books on it over the past year and most of them were free! It's pretty much the best thing a book lover living overseas can possess!

  8. Clear skies! I love that we can see the mountains out our window almost every day, and when we walk outside the air doesn't feel unhealthy to breathe.

  9. I am excited that my parents are coming to visit in January!!

  10. I so appreciate sleep. Juliana is still not an amazing sleeper but it has been SO much better than the first year of her life. It is still wonderful to wake up in the night knowing you have slept longer than 2hrs, and even more phenomenal to wake up and realized it's morning!

  11. I am thankfulness for our apartment, which though not as nice as our last one, is a good size for us, is really convenient to classes, and is a great price.

  12. I am glad to live on the sixth floor because we have a good view over the campus, we get lots of light, and we are forced to get exercise every day.

  13. I appreciate how happy Juliana is! She really has a zest for life, and we smile and laugh so much more with her around.

  14. I am grateful for heat, because every winter I remember how cold I was in Yangzhou and know better than to take central heating for granted!

  15. I'm thankful for all the people who encourage and support us being in China (even though they miss us terribly, of course :)

  16. I am happy it's time to start listening to Christmas songs.

  17. I'm thankful for many good Thanksgiving memories... many years of waking up to the smell of turkey and the taste of cinnamon rolls, using the crystal glasses, china, and real silver, and eating tons of amazing a few strange China experiences - crackers on a train with Team YZ, dinner in a revolving restaurant, KFC in lieu of turkey...
    Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I'm still Nursing

Before Juliana was born I thought I would nurse for one year and then be done. I hadn't really thought about it much; that just seemed to be 'what people do.' Since her birth though, I have changed a good number of my previous parenting ideas. 

Right now I am happily nursing a 14 month old with no plans of stopping anytime soon. Even though Juliana has officially become a toddler, I don't see what any magical difference between 11 months and 30 days (nursing a baby) and 12 months 1 day or baby's first steps (Oh my gosh, you're nursing a toddler??!).

There are many reasons to continue nursing a toddler. Extended nursing is still very beneficial. I dislike the term “extended nursing” because it seems like something strange and unusual. While it is currently not the norm in America, I don't think it should be unusual at all. Did you know that the worldwide age for weaning is 4 years old? FOUR! That's quite a bit different from the 6 months – 1 year we consider normal in America.

Why should we change our cultural norms? Well here are a few great reasons:

[Information from See page for more detailed info and references]
  • Breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and disease protection for as long as breastfeeding continues.
    • In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
        29% of energy requirements
        43% of protein requirements
        36% of calcium requirements
        75% of vitamin A requirements
        76% of folate requirements
        94% of vitamin B12 requirements
        60% of vitamin C requirements
  • Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers
  • Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.
  • Helps foster attachment and security which later leads to independence. "Meeting a child's dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable." [Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq. in "Extended Breastfeeding and the Law"] Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely.
  • The World Health Organization recommends nursing for at least 2 years.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child... Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother... There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005)
  • For the mother, extended breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancers and rheumatoid arthritis.

These are all phenomenal reasons, but I also have some of my own reasons for why I like nursing a toddler as well.

*Juliana loves it! She will nurse for a minute or two and then look up with a big grin. It's easy to see it means far more than just nutrition for her.

*I enjoy the feeling of closeness. She has already grown up so much and I know time will continue to go quickly. I appreciate these moments of holding her close.

*Sometimes it helps Juliana to fall asleep. The sleep-inducing factor seems to have mostly worn off months and months ago, but if she is really tired and wired, sometimes it will cause her fall asleep. And I still love nursing a baby (eh, toddler) to sleep.

*She only nurses for about 5 minutes each time, so it's not at all like the 8 hours a day you spend nursing a newborn.

*In the morning, I bring Juliana into bed to for a leisurely, sleepy nurse. This is the one time she'll nurse for a while, which means I get to stay in bed longer! Sometimes she even falls back asleep for a bit.

*I don't have to stress about getting her to drink enough cows milk. She is gradually getting to like it more.

*I feel reassured that if she is sick, she will still be able to get the hydration and nutrients she needs. Fortunately, she hasn't hardly ever been sick!

*Whenever she or I do decide to wean, I hope the process will be much more natural and easy since there is no deadline. I don't know how long I will continue to nurse Juliana, we'll just see. :)

I know that not everyone (or even, most people in America) are interested in extended breastfeeding, and it's certainly not something to force yourself into unwillingly. My hope, though, is that it will become much more normal in our culture. That mothers will consider nursing beyond a year, and that family, friends, and nosy strangers will support her decision!