Monday, July 22, 2013

Thousand-Year-Old Eggs

My husband is Chinese, born and raised in China. So you can imagine he has very different tastes than I do. Actually he is very open to trying new things and got used to American style food quite quickly. He also really enjoys foods from other countries; he eats Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, and Thai food regularly. And I try to be open minded as well; I love the interesting and delicious Chinese meals he and my in-laws make, which are nothing like what you would find in a Chinese restaurant. But some of the things they eat are a bit too different for me. One example of this cultural divide between us is preserved duck eggs, also known as thousand-year-old eggs.

This is what they look like in the Asian market

They look very strange. They frankly look rotten. But my husband and my in-laws eat them with gusto, and even my very American children will have a bite or two now and then. I have never tried them myself, partly because I am not a fan of eggs anyway, but also I just can't seem to wrap my brain around how they look.

They are grey with black spots, and individually wrapped.

They are produced by taking fresh duck eggs and coating each one in a mixture of tea, ashes, lime, and salt. They are rolled in rice husks and then (traditionally, I don't know how they do it now) they kept them in a jar in a cool dark spot or buried them in the ground for 100 days (no, not actually 1,000 years). When they are ready, the coating is washed off, they are peeled and sliced, and they look like this:

The egg white has turned to an amber-colored gelatin, and the yolk is a grey color. They are served as sort of a side dish or condiment with other food. Often they are dressed in dark Chinese vinegar with a few drops of sesame oil.

My husband enjoying one with his chicken enchiladas!

Maybe I'll work up the nerve to try them someday. My husband keeps trying to get me to. I'll wait until I'm not pregnant though, because everything tastes gross to me right now. So have you tried 1,000 year old eggs? Has anybody who hasn't grown up with them tried them?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Making Chinese Peanuts

This is one of my favorite recipes that my Chinese in-laws make. It's a great snack and they are so fun to eat with chopsticks. They are salty, flavorful and crunchy, but not in the way that we're used to in America, where we eat our peanuts dry-roasted. They are moist, and perhaps more like a vegetable than a nut. Think edamame (soybeans), if you've ever had those. To get the ingredients you will need to go to an Asian supermarket. You can find the peanuts there; they are shelled and raw (not roasted or salted). These are 12 oz bags and I used one for this recipe.

You'll need a 12 oz package of raw shelled peanuts.

Then you'll need some wonderful exotic spices. 

Talk about fragrant! Red peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, and star anise.

The star anise is so pretty; it looks like stars. 

Star anise.

Then there's  fresh ginger. You only need a tiny bit of ginger, so buy a small knob of it, and maybe have another recipe ready to use it in so it isn't wasted.

Fresh ginger.

Put the peanuts in a saucepan and add enough water to cover them. Then add two slices of ginger and 2 anise stars. For the red peppercorns, I use a half-teaspoon size measuring spoon as a scooper and scoop out a rounded spoonful of peppercorns and throw them in the pot. Then you'll need a tiny piece of cinnamon bark. These are the size pieces I'm talking about:

Tiny bits of cinnamon bark.

One or two of these is enough. A little goes a long way. Now everything's in the pot. Bring it to a boil. I put the lid on but leave a gap to let steam out, and cook it for 20 minutes on medium-high.

After 20 minutes, turn off the stove and add a tablespoon of salt (or more or less, depending how salty you like things) and let the peanuts soak for at least a half-hour. When they are done soaking, we eat them warm immediately, and the leftover peanuts we eat cold from the fridge. Scoop them out of their broth and into a bowl, and be careful not to eat the anise, peppercorn, ginger, or cinnamon bits (warn the kids). These peanuts are best eaten with chopsticks, which just makes it more fun! Yummy!

Get the most out of the public library

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I really make good use of the library as a resource for our homeschool. I looooooooooove the library! We get so much out of this resource for our homeschool and it saves us lots of money. However, I had to come up with something of a system to use it effectively and not get fines! I thought I'd share the ways I get the most out of our public libraries:

Avoiding fines
I figured out pretty quick that in order for my library use to help my budget instead of hurting it, I was going to have to get really organized about returning things on time. Plus my husband was getting really mad at me about all the fines. Ooops! Sorry, Babe.

First of all I started going to the library on the same day every week. I put in the homeschool schedule. Wednesday is library day. Sometimes we skip a week or go to a different city's library, but we always go on Wednesday. So the books are always due on a Wednesday! That really helps with my constant absent-mindedness. And if I need to renew books, I always do that on Wednesday, too. So this helps me remember to address my library business on that day every week.

The other thing I started doing was posting our library due dates in a conspicuous place in the homeschool area. I just write it on a little note-paper and clip it to a pushpin on the wall. It's right next to our calendar, which we do daily, so I see it every day, and I can check at a glance when things are due. This has helped me so much and I always get the books renewed and returned on time now.

Since I often have books from different library systems I put the city name on there. I am hoping you don't notice that July 26th is a Friday. I forgot to get a book I needed for homeschool so I stopped by and got it on a Friday. But normally the due dates are always Wednesday. Do you like my dry-erase accessories holder? I made it out of laminated paper with a cute sticker on it! I'm so proud.

Not losing library books
Our library books used to be all over the house, and we kept losing them under the couch or under the bed, or they'd be in the playroom being used to build things. I kept having to renew them instead of returning them because I couldn't find them! So I got this cute basket and placed it in the homeschool area. Our library books now have a home. The kids can flip through them easily and I can watch over them better. I still have to remind the kids to put them back, but we're working on it. We haven't lost a single book since using the basket.

Knowing my library policies
Another thing I did was go to my library's website and research the rules and policies. I made sure I knew how long different library items, such as books, DVDs, and CDs can be checked out for. I honestly had no clue before. I found out how many times I can renew items (6! That's a lot!). Also I found out that I can join any city library system in my county for free! I am now a member of 3 different library systems; in addition to my city's library, I got cards for two adjoining cities. This allows me a better opportunity to find the books I need. Be sure to check out the library regulations in your area, and see if there's a similar arrangement! It's really helpful to have so much selection. Sometimes you are allowed to join another library for a fee. If it's not too much, consider doing it if the library has a nice variety of books.

Got the books we need for our curriculum
The curriculum I use for literature and history is Build Your Library. It's appropriately named, since it's literature-based and requires a lot of books. Most people who use these kind of curricula, I think, just buy all the required books to save time and bother. But since our homeschool is budget-impaired I can't afford to buy all the books required. :( Occasionally I'll come across the relevant books at the thrift store (for $.40 or $.50) or at the Scholastic warehouse sales (for $1.50) and I'll grab them (score!) but I can't count on it. However, since I am now very organized about these things (not that I am organized about anything else) I get nearly all the books from the library and save the money for other things.

This is how I do it. When I got the new curriculum for this year, I looked up each book we would need, and searched for it in my city's online library catalog. If it wasn't there, I searched the other two library systems. I marked down which libraries had each book. Any books I couldn't find, I went ahead and bought on Amazon. This year I bought the two spines that I would need for the entire year, and I ended up having to buy only two other books that weren't at the libraries. This saved me about $240! Well worth the extra work.

I usually make up my homeschool lesson plans about a month ahead, so when I do that I just write down each book on the week we'll need it. Each Friday I do a little check of what's coming up in the homeschool, so at that time I go online and place holds on the books I need for the upcoming week or two. By Wednesday, there they are, set aside and waiting for me at the closest library branch. It's all quite easy and convenient, since I planned ahead. And it's great that I can renew, search, and place holds all online.

As another option for the books I can't get at my local libraries, I could use Interlibrary Loan (ILL) to get them through a distant library. You can get books sent from any library anywhere (it's amazing). However, at my library it takes 7-8 weeks or more to get the book, renewals are iffy, and it's just hard to plan that far ahead, so I haven't resorted to it so far. But now I know I have the option.

Summer Reading Program
The library has other features we make use of. One is the summer reading program. Most libraries have them. My kid really enjoys getting the prizes. Honestly we read every single day anyway so it's not much of an incentive for him, but it makes going to the library fun when he gets a prize. This year I was really stoked because the prize for finishing the summer reading was a free book of our choice! I love getting free books for the kids since I don't get to blow all my money at Barnes and Noble like I want to. This is the book we got: 

Cute and very educational. I love the Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science series.

Other fun stuff at our library
Most libraries offer classes, programs, and fun activities. A couple of the ones we make use of at our library is the LEGO club and the Culture Pass. The LEGO club is once a month. The kiddos love going to that. They just have tables with big piles of LEGOs and they get to build stuff. Then their creations are displayed in a glass case in the library until the next month. It's fun. I want my kiddos to love the library like I did when I was young, so anything that makes it an attractive place to go is a winner with me. The Culture Pass is something we use all the time for homeschool field trips. It's an awesome program for getting free admission to select local museums, the botanical garden, and the zoo. Yeah, sometimes you have to fight to get the coolest ones, but it's so, well, free!

So be sure to get the most out of your library for your homeschool! What do you use the library for?