Not so Cool Cucumbers

Every time I wander through the vegetable garden, cucumbers virtually trip me up. They are self-sown, growing wild between other more ordered plantings, scrambling over paths and up reo metal structures. Not having the heart to pull them all out when they were petite little specimens with delicate yellow flowers, I am now paying for that weakness. These cucumbers make the zucchini look polite. On average, I pick 10 a day and although I try to nab them while they are dainty and seedless, many reach adulthood. At the beginning of summer, when they’re cool and welcome, I grate them into garlicky tzaziki or serve them in various brines and vinegars, just like my grandmother Maggie used to do. I’ve also pickled a few jars with dill and am now wondering what comes next. Last night the cucs got the hot Sichuan treatment with this spicy dish by Fuchsia Dunlop. The best part of this dish is smacking the cucumber with a rolling pin- very therapeutic. It’s a wonderful side dish served alongside other dishes as part of a Chinese banquet. I attempted to eat this dish on its own as a little Chinese entrée, chopsticks in one hand, chilled rosé in the other. The dish needs friends, both culinary and human.

Smacked cucumber in garlicky sauce (Su an ni pai huang gua)

  • 1-2 cucumbers ( 300 gr )
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar ( black vinegar- no substitutes)
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp chilli oil – optional
  • A pinch or two of ground, roasted Sichuan pepper

Put the cucumber on a chopping board and smack it a few times with a rolling pin or the flat side of a cleaver, until some cracks appear on the surface. Then, holding your knife at an angle to the chopping board, slice the cucumber on the diagonal into small chunks.

In a bowl, mix the cucumber with the salt and leave to sit for 10 minutes to draw some of the water out of the cucumber. Stir together all the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Drain the cucumber, then pour over the sauce and serve right away while still crunchy.

Do you have any memorable and unusual cucumber recipes? Leave a cucumber recipe comment below. Francesca xx

Dinnertime in Langzhong

We were travelling by car around Sichuan province with some friends from Chengdu, China.  Shú song (树松), a dedicated foodie, and Tia, her anglicised name, found the best places to eat at dinnertime.

Ma Po Tofu, Cabbage and chilli, White lotus and Black fungas.
Ma Po Tofu, cabbage and chilli, white lotus and black fungus.

They both took a week off work to accompany us on the road trip of a lifetime, visiting the more remote regions of Sichuan, and travelling through wild and overgrown passes in Éméi shān (Mt Emei ). Towards the end of the journey we stayed in the ancient city of Langzhong, where we shared the most remarkable meals.

River fish hotpot, Sichian style
River fish hot-pot, Sichuan style ( hot)

Shú song would have private chats with the chef at our Tang Dynasty Hotel, or go hunting around the town in search of good river fish, and bring them back to the chef to cook.

More fish in Langzhuong
More fish in Langzhong

Dinner time was always a special occasion in Sichuan with these two friends. It was a little more difficult sourcing a wine to go with the meal. Beer and spirits are readily available throughout China. But things are slowly changing as the Chinese become more interested in wine production.

A quick lie down after dinner
A quick lie down after dinner

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/dinnertime/

Circles Of Sichuan

door circle-001Imagine the circular table at a Chinese banquet, with its central Lazy Susan slowly revolving your way, a huge steel wok, alive with the breath of fire, circular bamboo steaming baskets piled high, shielding delicate morsels from heat and the lusting eye, stone mortars, perfectly rounded through time, gaudy enamel ware prepping plates and deep blue porcelain bowls filled with pickled or salted delicacies, round fire pits and circular baskets of peaches, Tang dynasty wooden carvings and yin yang signs, brass metal plaques on doors and circular discs of tea. It is hard to think of Sichuan and Yunnan Province in China without thinking in circles and wishing to return.

 

 

 

 

Peaceful Trios

Things seem to naturally group themselves into trios in China. These peaceful images were taken at Mt Emei Shan, Sichuan Province, China. Chinese Buddhists make pilgrimages to the temple on the mountain, which is traditionally regarded as a place of enlightenment.

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A trio of candles for peace

 

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A trio of pure lotus leaves emerging from the murky water.

 

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A trio of jugs symbolising domestic harmony

 

The Dead Poets of Chengdu: Family Letters are Worth Ten Thousand Pieces

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Imagine three large museum halls set in a 24 acre manicured park dedicated to a poet from more than 1200 years ago. The Chinese love their Tang Dynasty poets, especially Du Fu. Du Fu’s thatched cottage, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, is located in the Du Fu Cao Tang Park along with other museum halls displaying panels of his most famous poems, exhibitions of ancient stylised calligraphy, and a sculpture hall for the other major poets of that era.1-dufDu Fu enthusiasts from around the world come to pay their respects, the locals to enjoy reading the famous poems they learnt as youngsters at school, or to appreciate and try to translate these ancient stylised characters and letters. A visit, including the magnificent gardens and lake, takes at least half a day.

Panels of Poems, Du Gong Bu memorial Hall, Chengdu.
Panels of Poems, Du Gong Bu memorial Hall, Chengdu.

The Tang dynasty  (7th and 8th centuries) is generally regarded as the Golden Age of Chinese Culture, and might be compared to the Renaissance cultural awakening in Europe.

Self Portrait with calligraphy.
Self portrait with calligraphy.

The art of writing characters and letters is given prominence in schools in China, despite the presence of the ubiquitous iPad or tablet. Calligraphy tables are set up with paper, ink and brushes in the hotels in Chengdu, for all to have a go.

Concentrating on Writng letters. A friends child, 6, practices calligraphy.
Concentrating on writing. A friend’s child from Chengdu, 6, practices her calligraphy.
My grandson, at school n China, leaning calligraphy.
My grandson, 11, at school this week in Nanjing China, learning calligraphy.
Spring View
Du Fu 春望
The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.
The beacon fires have joined for three months now,
Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.
I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,
And barely able now to hold a hairpin.

http://www.chinese-poems.com/d15.html

Leshan Giant Buddha, 乐山大佛, Sichuan, China

The Leshan Giant Buddha, a 71-metre tall stone statue, was built during the Tang Dynasty, and was completed in 800 AD. It is carved out of a cliff face that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in Sichuan province, China, near the city of Leshan. It is the largest stone Buddha in the world and it is the tallest pre- modern statue in the world.1-bbbbb A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the Leshan Giant Buddha when it was built. It is still in working order. It includes drainage pipes carved into various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains to reduce weathering.1-bbbbbbb
The Mount Emei Shan Scenic Area, including the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area, was listed as a Unesco Heritage Site in 1996.

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His shoulders are 28 metres wide and his smallest toenail is large enough to easily accommodate a seated person.

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An extraordinary place only accessed by boat from the city of Leshan.

Connected in Chengdu

Steaming baskets, Narrow Lane, Chengdu, China
Bamboo Steamers, Narrow Lane, Chengdu, China

Chengdu, Sichuan Provence, China. Inter- connecting bamboo steaming baskets tempt those wandering by. Narrow and Wide Lanes are two pedestrian only areas in central Chengdu, famous for bars, restaurants and small courtyards.

Steaming baskets, Chengdu, Chna
Steaming baskets, Chengdu, China

 

Mellow Evening in Langzhong.

Card players of Langzhong meet to relax on a hot evening in summer. The mood is mellow and the pace is slow.

Cad players, Lijiang, Sichuan, China
Card players, Langzhong, Sichuan, China. 2014

Langzhong is situated in the North East of Sichuan Province, China. It is one of the best preserved ancient cities in the area, home to many well restored Tang dynasty houses, cobblestoned lanes and temples. The traffic remains outside the city walls, making street life more appealing for all.

A weekend post, responding to a themed challenge from Ailsa in Ireland, allowing me the indulgence of vicarious travel as I search through my digital files.

Sichuan Pepper Berry Oil. 花椒油

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASichuan pepper berry, in its dried form, is well known and is an exotic addition to many a dish from that province of China. Its finely ground powder forms one of the ingredients in five spice powder, along with star anise, cinnamon, fennel and cloves. Less is known about the oil that is extracted from the berry. The pepper berry, although tingling and a little hot, is not related to regular pepper or to chilli.

We came across a factory producing Chinese pepper oil, 花椒油, located in Meishan, quite by chance. We were driving back to Chengdu after one glorious week of visiting ancient historic walled cities, restored Tang Dynasty houses, Buddhist temples, mountain streams dissecting lush green jungles, as well as the ‘Big Buddha’ in Leshan and the temples of Mt Emei, when Tia asked if we would like to visit the factory.

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A big fan of the Sichuan pepper berry, I had to investigate further. This industry has thrived for more than 2000 years. In those days, the berry was harvested and the oil was extracted using these ancient wood and stone mills.

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Today, the oil is extracted in the same way as olive oil and stored in vast stainless steel vats, then bottled and shipped around the world. It is an extensive, modern factory and well worth a visit to see such an unusual industry.

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There is a quaint museum next to the factory with dioramas showing the production of this oil in ancient times, as well as kitchenalia from more recent times, including enamel ware from the Cultural Revolution, along with a restaurant.

The oil, like the berry, produces a tingling, numbing sensation on the tongue and lips: a few drops added to the top of MaPo Dofu or a Vegetable stir fry is sensational, or with noodles, ginger, brown sugar, vinegar and greens.

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I really wanted to buy a small bottle at the Hong Ya County Yaomazi Food Company but the thought of the jar breaking and leaking pepper oil over my luggage was a strong deterrent. It can be purchased in Melbourne in Chinese grocery stores but is hard to recognise. Just ask for Sichuan Pepper oil and someone in the store will find it for you. Like sesame oil, a little goes a long way.

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Converge: Pick Me up for Work.

1-IMG_1007We are standing on the banks of the Yangtze river close to its convergence with the Min River at Yibin, Sichuan Province in China.  A large cargo boat travelling upstream slows down. A ferry waits at the scene. There is a man dressed in white standing on the edge of the ferry. 1-IMG_1008The boats finally converge. The man in white is hauled up and off to work he goes.

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At the Daily Post, you may find other images on convergence.
http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/converge/