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A Kid in a Candy Store

You’d think I had been out of the country for 20 years with the amount of salivating that occurred at the grocery store yesterday.  It wasn’t just any grocery store though; it was an amazing little coop in my hometown that has expanded into a beautiful butterfly of a store.  And so, I walked through it, drooling all over myself and throwing FAR too many things into my shopping cart.  Because organic kale.  And cashew cheese.  And teff torillas.  And personal care products that don’t contain a myriad of endocrine disrupting chemicals.  ENDOCRINE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS [sighs and then rolls eyes at self].

And then I looked around me and at my reaction to such things and went WOAH.  The store was full of super hip hippies (if I had a better word for it, I’d use it, but I don’t, so I will).  And I was in heaven.  I was like a damn kid in a candy store.  Were these my peoplePart of the confusion was a result of my hometown all of a sudden feeling like Portland or Fairfax, CA (strangely, two of my most favorite places)… all hip and shit.  Hip people who grow their own veggies.  Hip people who consume hemp and chia seeds rather than resource consuming meat.  Hip people who only buy locally and make their houses out of straw bale.  Hip people who care about the planet they live on and the impact their choices make. 

You see, where I’ve been for the past few months (Shenzhen, China) is most definitely NOT full of super hip hippies.  Or anything that resembles a hippie for that matter (though, you do occasionally see a dreaded, shoeless, napping on the ground Chinese guy around – and they all look eerily similar and oh so out of place – we still haven’t figured out the mystery – YOU don’t happen to know, do you?).  I often feel like I’m [one of the] only one[s] barking about the atrocious air/water quality and lack of clean/ORGANIC produce (though, I should mention, China has a more restrictive policy on GMO’s than many western countries).  In those short months, I think I forgot that I’m not in fact [one of the] only one[s] who thinks about these things.  Had I forgotten what my people looked like?  I looked down at what I was wearing.  No super hip hip bag.  No super hip rustic cowgirl hat.  No dreads.  An arm full of bracelets, yes.  No super hip locally made skirt.  No handmade leather sandals.  Fresh out of river bun, yes.  No basket for my produce.  No bag AT ALL, disposable paper bag used.

Here’s my deal.  I care A LOT about all of these things, but I still kind of want to barf on myself when I reflect on my deep entrenchment in these very much elitist problems (i.e. those who have enough to worry about the details).  I start to think of all of the suffering and malnourishment and turmoil occurring across the globe AND THEN, in the next thought, I think about how totally TERRIBLE it is that I can’t find raw honey and organic produce in China and I’m like… “come on hunny, stop your bitching.  Relax.  Your kids aren’t going to die if you put white sugar in the quinoa, rice flour scones this one time”.  But then in the same reflection, I see the connection between feeding ourselves in a sustainable [healthier] manner and our planet, as a whole, becoming healthier [sustainable].  LOUD and CLEAR.

SO, when I look in a mirror at myself, I get a little confused.  Am I a super hip hippie?  Were those my people?  I tend to live in shades of grey, so I think that the answer is yes!, depending on which day you’re asking.  Most days I can find the resolve to live out my convictions (you can read about them, as well as our carnivorous children, here), but dammit, some days I just want a brownie or worse yet, barbequed honey pork.  It’s true.  Sometimes, I eat pork.  Have you ever been to China?  Let’s just say they’re pretty into pigs over there (I wrote a bit about it, in a post that kinda makes me feel like a broken record, quite a while ago, here).  Point is, it takes A LOT of self discipline to live out ones strictest values ALL of the time, and well, I have two young kids, so sometimes, breaking down is merely a matter of survival (if you actually read the last linked post, now you understand the broken record bit).

What I DO know is that I very much took for granted living in the land of plenty (i.e. California), where you can find fresh, seasonal produce 12 months a year at a farmer’s market.  Where you could taste test a different store bought nut milk every day for a month.  Where there are more natural personal care product companies than cigarette brands.  Where micro brews on tap and organic, fair trade coffee beans are the norm.  [Where the water fountains flow with coconut water and the streets are paved with vegan chocolate chips.]

This isn’t my first travel rodeo, yet this is the first time I’ve been confronted by such a strong yearning for the goods that blossom in the land of plenty.  Perhaps it’s partly because I’m more effected by my environment now that I’m traveling with kids, perhaps partly because it really is difficult to access clean food stuffs in China.  Perhaps it’s just because I’m a hip, hippie.

At any rate, as you see below, we’re smuggling boat loads of plenty back with us, so we should be set for a while few weeks.

What’s For Dinner Tonight, Hunny? Stir Fry?

Stir Fry.  It’s what’s for dinner.  Again.  We’ve been in China for 9.33 weeks (though it feels more like 93.3 weeks) and have eaten a varietal of stir fry, oh, I don’t know, 2 million times.  While acquiring “western” foods is actually quite easily done, they’re the Safeway varietal that come frozen and in cans – i.e. they’re all heavily processed with less than quality ingredients.  The icing on that cake is that they cost 3 to 4 times more than what they would in the US.  As such, I’ve basically decided to shop at local markets and only buy things Made in China (hehe, THAT shouldn’t be real hard, huh?) and consumed by Chinese people.  It’s been a fun introduction to all sorts of greens and veggies I can’t name, beancurd processed  in a multitude of ways, and buying things that I’m only 80% certain I can identify.  My typical shopping trip looks like this:  tofu, greens, eggplant, leeks, bell peppers, carrots, garlic, ginger, apples, bananas, glass noodles, brown rice, yakult (for the groms), bread, coconut milk, and Tsingdao (beer).  Literally.  So it shouldn’t surprise you when I say that dinner seems to always end up a different shade of stir fry.  I’ve honestly and earnestly tried to find different Chinese dish recipes online, but try as I might, it only ends up feeling like a slight variation of… stir fry.

I have, however, started playing with different raw sauces (blended in Vitamix), made from the standard list of ingredients.  Here are a few of my creations:

1) Carrot-Garlic-Ginger Puree, to saute stir fry in, of course.

2) Bell Pepper-Spinach-Garlic Sauce, put over, what’s it called again, oh, right, stir fry.

3) Sweet Potato-Garlic-Carrot Mush over Tofu (with stir fried veggies on the side).

Yup, GARLIC in EVERYTHING.

If you don’t yet own a Vitamix, go now and buy one.  Seriously, it’ll be the best appliance investment you’ll EVER make.  I promise.

Since starting at a Chinese preschool about a month ago, Safari has MIRACULOUSLY become more interested in things that don’t have flour or sugar in them.   Lunch is provided and is always Chinese food, so she’s been forced to try *exotic* things like napa cabbage and carrots… imagine that, CARROTS.  I mention this because she has actually been eating dinner, without us having to play the let’s-pretend-you’re-eating-anything-but-what-you’re-actually-eating game or making her her own special dinner.  In that regard, China has been a positive influence on the little lady.

While pork and chicken can be found on our table when eating out, I choose to cook mostly vegan at home (Safari is a self-proclaimed “Meat Eater”).  If the fish coming out of our backyard bay weren’t suspiciously toxic, we’d be eating mass amounts of locally caught, fresh from the source, seafood as well.  But alas, the Pearl River Delta is one of the most heavily polluted in the world (caused mostly by industrial runoff – heave metals and such) and I’m pretty sure we’re already getting our fair share of toxins through the produce we eat.  This, among many others, is something I just have to accept while we’re living here.  Being exposed to more environmental toxins than usual is something we can’t entirely protect ourselves from.  We can filter our water and the air in our apartment, but we can’t grow our own veggies or purify the air outside.  And I just have to hope that our amazing bodies can react and adapt appropriately.  That and make sure to keep enriching our smoothies with chlorella (helps body dispel heavy metals) and smuggling in clean nuts/seeds/grains (shhhh, don’t tell).

One of our staples is almond milk.  We brought loads of almonds with us and have been able to source some decent ones here.  I make a batch every other day and use it as a cow’s milk substitute.  All you need is high powered blender (have I mentioned the word Vitamix?  –  though you can use a regular blender as well) and a nut milk bag to strain the glorious liquid through.  SUPER easy.  Here is a tutorial, from Oh She Glows,  if you’re so inclined (she adds all sorts of yummy stuff – I keep ours simple, just almonds and water).

And lastly, after some inspiration from The Vegan Cowgirl, we’ve been indulging in Banana-Coconut-Cashew Ice Cream, regularly (as in every other night).

* Blend 5 ripe bananas, 1 can of coconut milk, a splash of vanilla extract, and 1 cup of cashews

* Freeze overnight

* Let defrost for 30 minutes, re-blend, and ENJOY!

Nothing like feeding your kids ice-cream and feeling great about it.  And seriously, it’s good.  Like for real good, good.

Oh, and also Coconut-Chia Seed Pudding.

* Mix 1 can of coconut milk with 1/3 cup chia seeds and 1/4 cup of honey, let thicken in fridge overnight and oila!, a delightful, protein infused treat for the kiddos (and yourself).

So yea, stir fry.  I’m going to try to work on my cooking creativity – with my western skill set and limited resources.  Every night is a what-can-I-make-with-what’s-left-in-the-fridge kind of cooking experiment, which I must say, is sort of my favorite way to cook.

What are you cooking for dinner tonight?

 

 

Carnivorous Children and Going Vegan-ISH

Okay, you guys.  We have a slight familial problem.  Despite the fact that both the mister and I eat mostly a plant based diet (but are often times opportunistic eaters when out of the house), our children (mostly the bigger of the two), are CARNIVORES.  Like, for real.  While, yes, it IS true that they only have the choices that we give them in terms of food options, so, in theory, one SHOULD be able to effectively choose for them whether they are to be carnivores or herbivores, I also believe they should be given the option (when given the facts).  The bigger little (4 years) has made the CONSCIOUS decision to eat meat.  She fully  understands (well, as fully as a 4 year old can) what she is eating and despite the fact that she adored her beloved chickens back home, she has no qualms chewing on a chicken foot given gratis at a Chinese restaurant.  Same goes for eating things like shrimp tails (yes, the hard part) and lots and lots of pork (or piggy as she calls it).  I try to be as blunt and informative as possible, in an honest effort to curb her meat consumption.  SHE HAS BEEN GIVEN THE INFORMATION and has made the choice.  What else can I do but be supportive?  There are times, though, I have to be honest, when I’m thankful that at least we can get her to eat some source of protein when on the road and the most nutritious thing she’s eaten all day has been fortified crackers.

Meanwhile, I’m personally taking baby steps back into a fully plant based diet.  It feels right, it’s always felt right.  As life has become stressful and days have been boiled down to survival, my convictions have deteriorated over time.  I feel them building back up, though, and I think surviving the day can now include staying disciplined about what I’m putting into my body.  When I say vegan, it’s not in the strict sense of the word; it’s simply the best way to paint the picture.  It’s more of a whole foods diet, really (minus the animal protein), but I’m not exactly jumping on the Paleo train.  I’ll trade coffee for tea, meat for veggies, and forget about the dairy altogether (which is much easier when you’re in Asia).  I’ll cut down on grains and TRY to eliminate wheat entirely.  Though I don’t think I’m particularly sensitive to wheat, I still feel it working my large intestines – in a not good kind of way; it’s an inflammatory food, as are most animal based products.  I’m debating eggs and won’t go as far as to cut out honey; my reasons for eating this way have more to do with the environment and my body and less about animal rights (which still play a small role).  And one meal of the day will be totally raw, most likely blended up in the Vitamix.  My body is only as healthy as the foods I put into it and the planet is only as healthy as the food we grow on it.

My hope (I say this a lot) is that our influence will eventually rub off on the kids, but for now, I’ll take what I can get and let them eat meat.  Let them eat meat!