Betty Crocker, I Am Not

With the jetlag behind us and Thad already entrenched in his new job, I thought it was time to help make our new apartment a little more like home. Right now, it is a lovely conglomerate of every shade of beige imaginable. I could make a beige-only color wheel out of this place, from the dark camel colored couches (for which I’ve been searching the internet for slipcovers), to the light tan area rug to the orange-ish-brown lamps that look like pineapples, to the dark hardwood furniture, we definitely have “earth-tones” taken care of. The problem is, I am far from an earth-tones type of girl. I’d prefer something more in the jewel-tone range, with rich purples and pinks and greens and blues. All of that, though, is in our UAB/HHE shipments, which may or may not be on their way. (May not being the more likely option this early in the game.)

So, while I await color, I thought I could at least add a bit of American feel to the house and what better way to do that than with a chocolate cake. (I found a cake mix for less than a dollar at a local store, but the frosting was six dollars, so it will be icing-less cake, which is what Thad prefers anyway.) Cake baking, from a box of course, is pretty straight-forward. That is, until you move to China!

I had my not-quite-expired cake (which explains the five kaui price tag), and was ready to bake. The first thing I did was turn on the oven to pre-heat it, but I quickly ran in to a couple of problems. To begin with, the oven doesn’t have words or characters on it, just lots of little pictures, mostly squares with varying squiggly lines coming off each one. I just need my oven to bake, but after digging out the manual, I discovered that certain squiggly lines mean “bake” while a different configuration means “broil” and a third pattern means “grill.” With six such combinations to choose from, I eventually had read through a good deal of the  manual so I would choose the correct box/line combination. With that selected, I moved on to the next knob- temperature. The only problem there was  the oven is European, which means the heat is measured in Celsius, a measurement for which I have absolutely no sense. Thank goodness we have an internet connection in the apartment to help me convert Celsius to Fahrenheit in just a matter of seconds.

With my oven preheating at 178 degrees, it was time to mix the cake. The first step in making a cake in China is to wash the poop off of the eggs. (Well, even before that, at the egg stall, make sure you buy chicken eggs, as there are a variety of goose and quail and other fowl eggs to be had.) Once my eggs were poo-free, they went in to the bowl, along with the oil and mix. While it would be baked and probably turn out fine, rather than take the risk of tap water, I used water from our distiller, which is a giant metal contraption that sits on the counter in the kitchen. It heats and cleans water so we always have a ready supply.

At this point, I thought I was doing fabulously. I had my cake mixed and poured in the pan. (No beater licking here though…in America, I always disregarded the warnings about cookie dough and cake batter, but here I feel like they might carry a bit more weight!) Without thinking much more about it, I popped the pan in the oven, set the timer and headed off to the living room to enjoy some Netflix while I waited for the smell of baking chocolate cake to begin to permeate the house.

After nearly an entire episode of Brothers and Sisters I realized that no such smell was wafting through my apartment. I scurried in to the kitchen, opened to oven door only to discover that there was no heat coming from the oven. The oven light didn’t come on. The cake was still liquid batter.  Ack!

I fiddled with every knob, pushing them, pulling them, jiggling them and wiggling to no avail. With those options expended, I moved on to shaking the oven, slamming the door a couple of times, and cranking up the temperature. Again, no luck.  When Thad got home from work, I was sitting on the kitchen floor, surrounded by the manual and all of the household information given to us by the Consulate, trying to figure out how to make my oven go.

At that point, he reached in to the fridge to get a Pepsi and I instantly noticed the refrigerator light was off. I checked the microwave, which also wasn’t working. A fuse! I must have blown a fuse! (It turns out I cannot dry laundry in the clothes dryer and bake a cake in the oven at the same time. Good to know!)  After showing Thad a closet he didn’t know existed in our house, the one that contains the fuse box, he found the goofy one and got my oven back on track.

The cake went back in for round two of baking, after sure enough, after about half an hour, that chocolate cake smell I was aiming for began to drift through the house. While it wasn’t the surprise of coming home to that scent that I had hoped Thad would have after a long day at the Consulate, after a few missteps and a much too long of baking process, we had cake for dessert last night. It was well-worth the minor bedlam to get there!

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“C” is for Cookie, That’s Good Enough for Me

Now what starts with the letter “C”?
“Cookie” starts with “C”!
Let’s think of other things that starts with “C”!
Uh. . .Uh. . . Who cares about da other things?!

-Cookie Monster

If Cookie Monster just added “Christmas” to his list of “C” words, that would be good enough for me.  I figured there was no better way to celebrate the holiday season that to marry these two fabulous “C” words and get my bake on!

The idea of a mass-baking day came to me a few weeks ago in the midst of Chinese class.  There was a point in class when one classmate was really struggling with a grammar point, so while he and the teacher went through a series of sentences using said point, I wisely used that time to make a list in the back of my notebook of soon-to-be cookie recipients.  It didn’t take long for the list to grow from a handful of people to the point where hundreds of cookies would be needed, but that just added to the fun of what I shall dub “Koo-Koo for Cookies Day!”

With a few other moments of not following along with the ever-growing vocabulary list, I had not only a receiver list, but an equally long list of goodies to be created.  Scheming complete, it was time to put the plan into action.

On Saturday morning, while it was a brisk thirty degrees outside, I bundled up and headed to the closest grocery store.  This journey requires me to cut through a shopping center, a mall and a parking garage. Bundled in my winter finery, the outside portions of the trip where quite comfortable, but that comfort in the elements translated directly to near heat stroke inside the buildings. Between puffy coat, scarf and hat, my grocery cart was more outerwear than it was food items.

The first annual (annual implies there will be future occasions…we’ll optimistically assume such an event will again take place, but next time in Chengdu) Koo-Koo for Cookies baking list included holiday classics such as gingerbread cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies and holiday sprinkle doused sugar cookies.  To round out this diabetic induction, I also got the fixings to make chocolate pecan treats.  Shoving aside my unwieldy pile of Arctic-ready clothing also stacked in the cart, I made my way to the checkout stand where I quickly calculated that spending an extra $1.99 to purchase what is possibly the world’s largest canvas bag was a much better deal than losing all circulation to my extremities, which is surely what would have happened had I looped numerous plastic bags over each arm to schlep home.

Gigantic reusable grocery store tote slung over my shoulder mirroring Mr. Claus’ upcoming ventures, I made my way back through the parking garage, the mall and the nearby shopping center, feeling the wrath of the overheated buildings.

With dawn breaking on Sunday morning, I excitedly got up to begin the cookie construction process.  Dough was prepared. Cookies were created. Some were rolled in sprinkles of various holiday motifs (red and green for the Christmas revelers, blue for those lighting menorahs this time of year). Cookies were baked. Cookies were cooled. Cookies were stacked high on plates dotting what little counter space is available in ye ol’ mo-partment.

Six hours later, I successfully pulled the last of the sweet goodies from the oven. The results included two hundred cookies plus one hundred chocolate pecan treats, minus the various items that Thad occasionally wandered through to “taste-test.”  While it may be a horrible flashback to middle school math problems, the sum of the day is easy to calculate- deliciousness!

Once the delightful goodies were complete, the lack of counter space again reared its ugly head.  Without our dear floppy-eared Basset hound Mabel to make her move, it was easy enough to expand into the entryway, where snowman-esque winter plastics plates (the not –so-distant relative of that lovely summer plastic ware peddled by Target when the warm weather arrives) were strewn across the floor and piled high with scrumptiousness and covered over in holiday-themed Saran Wrap. Shiny bows topped off each platter, making the final product not only tasty, but festive as well.

Christmas came early at FSI this week!  There is no better way to greet a Monday than to pass out fifteen plates of holiday cookies. I had to laugh, when I wandered out of class during the afternoon break, I saw my cookies in the hands of nearly every person I passed in the hallway. Everywhere there were  cookies in hands and smiles on faces. It seems Koo-Koo for Cookies day was a success!

(This little boy is Julian, the son of one of my Chinese classmates. Cute kid and a cookie is the holidays at their finest.)

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