Category Archives: food

Paris: eating, sleeping, and reading

Paris, France.  Photo by Evan Schneider.Paris, France. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Perhaps because it’s a particularly gloomy morning here in Princeton in the dead of winter, or perhaps because the NYT’s thrilling 52 Places to Go in 2014 just came out this week, I’m finally wanting to return to those Paris files that never made the blog, and some of the best eating, sleeping, and reading that we did on site.

I mentioned in another post that just after touching down in the city of light my husband caught a nasty cold, and so we decided to forgo our travel plans to the countryside and spend the full two weeks in Paris.

The River Seine at night.  Photo by Schneider.
The River Seine at night. Photo by Schneider.

And we never felt like we were missing out.

The welcoming lobby at Hotel Sainte Beuve.

When we had to scramble to find another hotel for the time we’d planned to be outside the city, we stumbled upon this gem, the Hotel Sainte Beuve, nestled right off the Luxembourg gardens in the 6th arrondissement.  Walking off the chilled streets into the warm living room with its burgundy and pink color scheme and crackling fire place afforded all the warmth of a cozy cottage, and the rooms were a soft mix of comfort and sophistication, much bigger than the closets you get in many areas of the city, featuring floor to ceiling windows, airy balconies, and spacious bathrooms with eclectic black and white tile.  The staff spoke a myriad of languages, booked us at many of the local eateries, and the hotel even had its own fragrance, that we bought and often spray around our bedroom to recall our memorable time there.

Of course this experience totally converted us into Paris snobs, who were quite unwilling to venture too far outside the city center, much less stay on the outskirts.  Why would we, when some of our best meals consisted of picnics cobbled together from local cheese, cured meat, and wine vendors, and then enjoyed on the lawn of the nearby Luxembourg?

Picnicking on the lawn of the Luxembourg.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Picnicking on the lawn of the Luxembourg Gardens. Photo by Evan Schneider.

The neighborhood had plenty other charming spots, including Cafe Vavin, where we’d enjoy heaping plates of charcuterie, foie gras, cheese, and wine around 5 or 6 pm before we’d enjoy a late dinner at the teeny, white-tabled clothed Le Timbre, or the bustling Julien Pattiserie around the corner where we’d grab an exquisite espresso and croissant before heading out to the day.

Appetizers!
Appetizers!  Photo by Schneider.

These were some of the cheap thrills of discovering the neighborhood around the hotel, but for some other memorable meals, I scoured the Paris By Mouth blog, which helpfully lists restaurants by arrondissement, and provides detailed, accurate reviews.  This is where we discovered the delightful Semilla, in the much-adored Saint Germain de Pres neighborhood.  The menu changes daily so each experience was different, but the food was rich, delicate, and refined.

Another great meal, or should I say the best buttery, melt-in-your-mouth plate of scallops I ever had, took place on a friend’s recommendation at Pramil, the tiny, yet cozy wood-beamed restaurant off the quiet rue Vertbois in the third arrondissement.  If you go, be sure to make a reservation (we didn’t, and we almost missed out as it quickly filled up!).

A bustling intersection in Sainte German de Pres.  Photo by Schneider.
A bustling intersection in Saint Germain de Pres. Photo by Schneider.

Besides the food there were two books I enjoyed reading that were set in Paris and provided a virtual and ethereal tour as I read along.  One was the frivolous Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl, the other Kati Marton’s sophisticated and bittersweet Paris: A Love Story.  I’d recommend both for your touring pleasure.

Photo by Schneider.
Photo by Schneider.

Of course, the sights and sounds of the city nearly rivaled the food and the flavors–that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower coming up from the subway that I didn’t expect to care anything for, the quaint courtyard and the sounds of the organ in Saint Suplice, the eerie beauty of the cemetery at Montmarte, dotted with the tombs of artists and saints, or even Monet’s sprawling gardens, packed with tourists, were as beautiful as everyone says they are.  We can’t wait to go back and lap up escargot and enjoy wine by the carafe, but for the moment, especially on a day like today, Paris remains but a wonderful, distant warm memory in the dead of winter.

The view from Sacre Coeur.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The view from Sacre Coeur. Photo by Evan Schneider.
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Why I don’t regret the regrets

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” ― poem by Mary Jean Irion*

When I hear people proclaim the motto “no regrets,” I can’t help thinking that it’s a little prideful, short-sighted, and disingenuous.

I’m not advocating for living life on the bench, or engaging in some sort of flagellation that leaves not only the body, but the soul with real wounds.  And I appreciate the zealousness of trying to live life with vigor and intent.

But I think a healthy dose of introspection, when it comes to our mistakes, can also be enlightening.

With a foster family in Hubei.
With a foster family in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.

Last night, as I realized that it’s been almost a year since we left our life in China, all I could think is if I had it to do over again, I would have spent more time at the feet of the foster mothers, hearing the trials of their lives during the Cultural Revolution, the story of each baby they’d raised, and their fears about the future.

I wish I’d looked out the window more often at those soaring karst peaks and endless fields of green rice paddies, because who knows when I’ll see them again?

Guangxi1

I wish I’d accepted every invitation to a bowl of rice noodles, a strange feast of chicken feet, or a home out in the countryside without running water or electricity.  It was in these places that I saw life lived with an irrepressible human spirit…and ate some of the best dumplings of my life.

With a dear friend.
With a dear friend.

I wish I’d told my friends all my fears and hopes and dreams, because I treasure the secrets they shared with me.  I recall them and revisit them like precious gems when I miss their friendship and their confidence.

I wish I’d made far more trips to the market, taken many more jogs around South Lake, and sat many more hours peering into the square from our balcony, and all despite the sticky heat.

Beside South Lake Park in Nanning, China.
Beside South Lake Park in Nanning, China.**

In short, I wish I’d slowed down to only love the people in front of me and nothing more.  I wish I’d treasured the normal days, for one knows not how many there will be.  I wish I’d known how extraordinary China and its people were before I left it.

One might call them regrets.

But I’m also left with gratitude for the simple joys God afforded me while I was there and some wisdom for living this life tomorrow.

*Special thanks to my friend, Kate, for posting this poem the other day.
**Bottom three photos by Evan Schneider.**

C’est la vie.

“Paris is… the best city to wander around alone because it’s so beautiful you feel like it’s hugging you.”   —Lessons in French, by Hillary Reyl

This is just a quick update to say that the blog’s been ho-hum as of late because we’re in Paris on a fifth year anniversary/conference/stuff your face food tour, and while we’ve been seeing lots of lovely things like cathedrals and art and cobbled streets, the photos are firmly in the digital camera (and subject to my husband’s critical editing eye) until we return, and I’ve been doing that thing lately where you soak it all in before you muse onto the page.

Still, just a few updates: we’re spending the full two weeks in Paris, because Evan caught a nasty cold on the plane, so we’ll save the trip to Burgundy, the Loire, and Normandy for another time!  That means we’ve been scrambling to book hotels last minute, but that we’ve also experienced the personalities of several different arrondissements intimately.  And I finally get the flaneur thing: it is so wildly freeing and delicious to just stroll about leisurely in this beautiful city, though it has also been predictably disorienting not to be able to speak the language, my heart still leaps a bit every time I hear Chinese, and Paris feels so decisively more foreign to me than Asia!

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Fuzzy photo (courtesy of a friend’s iphone) of some strolling down those magical streets.

I’m convinced that I’m not sophisticated enough for all this, and yet I’ll–we’ll–continue to fake it, muddling through in our best attempts at French and French accents, which has gotten us some memorable and satisfying coffee, food, and views.  And faking it isn’t so bad really– I’ll take satisfaction over sophistication pretty much any day.

In praise of the weekend

It was an invigorating, pedal-to-the-metal kind of a week, full of early mornings, course planning, expectations, connections, and preparations.  

The weather finally turned cold over here in NJ: I took a run in the freezing temperatures on Friday morning feeling quite at home, and yet I’ve also relished the opportunity to rest inside while the wind swirls outside this weekend.

This weather calls for stew, about which my husband, thankfully, knows plenty!
This weather calls for stew, about which my husband, thankfully, knows plenty!

What have you been up to?

I’ve been contemplating these words about doing less, these from the always wise and timely Anne Lamott, and wondering how I can make a visit to this amazing sounding coffee shop sometime in my future?

On Saturday morning I grabbed coffee with a seminary alumnus friend for some good, hearty conversation about academia, life, and faith.  Yesterday afternoon I combed the UPenn Anthropology museum with some friends and then went to a lovely cocktail party to celebrate another friend’s birthday down in Philly.

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Finally, this morning, Evan and I attended church and got to listen to reflections on faith and history.  The pastor read from Dr. King’s “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech which he gave the day before he died.  You can listen to it here.  His words are on my heart and my mind as we honor his memory and his dreams tomorrow.

I’ve been praying for wisdom as I begin to teach, for China, and for grace.  I keep hearing from other wise voices and God’s that I need to continue to let go and live into the harmony of the present, embracing and remaining open to what can and will be.

I’ve been missing walks in the village, the families I grew close to, even the misty sweltering Southwest China weather as of late!  But I am comforted when I see God’s hand in leading me back to this concept of harmony, so woven throughout the fabric of Chinese life and morality.

Guangxi foster family friends.
Guangxi foster family friends.

Could it be that God weaves a harmony in our lives that we are created to crave but in our sinfulness also so easily dismiss?  And could it be that fulfillment and life-giving transformation often involve minute acts of yielding to God’s harmonic rhythm rather than moving boulders, mountains, or dreams with our own two hands?

I hope your Sabbath has been restful…may you yield to God’s perfect harmony this week and give God praise for mountaintops, dreams, and the present. 

Comfort foods

Well, I’ve been stricken with the sniffles here in NJ.

I’m pretty certain it’s just allergies, but those of you who have allergies know that there’s no such thing as just allergies.  I keep wondering where this special kind of torture came from (ragweed? pollen?) and thinking rather indignantly, China never did this to me!

The special kind of gorgeous on the D&R Canal, Princeton, NJ that may just be responsible for these allergies. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Of course, it’s funny the ways in which China has rubbed off on me.  For instance, I’m fairly convinced these sniffles are caused by the weather, and a dramatic change in pressure, and I stood around for at least a half an hour last night in order to avoid going out in the rain, in which I was convinced I’d catch a cold!

Yes, China has either made me into your grandmother, your mother, or…Chinese!

But as I dragged by tired self home last night (in a cab with a new Chinese friend I’d met on the side of the road, no less!), and I thought of what to cook up that would make right these snuffles and sniffles, I realized that my comfort foods are still decidedly American.

Last night I sauteed up some onions, garlic, spinach, mushrooms, and zucchini with olive oil and soy sauce, which I added to a steaming bowl of chicken ramen soup.  I also like the accoutrement with a bowl of rice, but last night I needed the chicken soup!

Vegetables and rice.

And if you read this blog with any regularity, you won’t be surprised that I made peanut butter and banana oatmeal for breakfast this morning.  We’ve been trying almond milk in our coffee, so I boiled the oatmeal with the almond milk this time and it worked nicely.

My love affair with peanut butter and banana oatmeal that began in China…

That’s something China doesn’t have–almond milk…or allergies.

What are your favorite comfort foods?

Cooking cultures

Many anthropologists are writing about the culture of feeding, defining kin and households based on who eats where and who feeds whom, and arguing that sitting down at table is a sacred practice that connotes far more than just physiological processes (see Janet Carsten and Mary Weismantel).

A meal in the mountains of Yunnan province. Photo by Evan Schneider.
My husband, hard at work, in the kitchen.

And last night as my husband whipped up some tomato sauce from a bushel of farm fresh tomatoes down the road, we began talking with a friend of ours about what we ate growing up and noting that it mostly came from cans, freezers, and boxes.  It was not only a function of the type of leisurely evenings and worryfree youth that we (in many thanks to our parents) are enjoying (and that our parents lacked), but also a culture of poverty that struck America among our depression-era grandparents and extended into the cooking habits of their baby boomer grandchildren.

“What a fascinating generational study,” I mused, perking up, ever the anthropologist, and my mind racing about the lively interviews to be conducted among grandparents, parents, and children in kitchens all over America.  I began to expound that my friends who have definitive cooking backgrounds mostly took these from their immigrant grandparents, while their baby boomer parents were too worried these ethnic roots would hold them back and didn’t pass on language, culinary expertise, or other cultural artifacts to their children.

The rolling hills of Yunnan province and mostly subsistence farms. Photo by Evan Schneider.
Traditional Chinese stoves in the countryside.
Another look inside a Chinese kitchen.

These are sweeping generalizations, of course, but immigrants cook less out of boxes and are often much closer to where their food comes from: I remember the Hmong families my mother tutored in inner city Milwaukee that kept pigs and chickens (and likely butchered them in the backyard), and fresh off the plane from China, my husband recently lamented that he may not be able to find anywhere in America to buy pork fat to render his own lard for making tortillas.

A mound of bok choy, our favorite Chinese vegetable.
My husband and a foreign friend haggling over a piece of pork along the road just outside of Beijing.

I’m not arguing for a hierarchy here when it comes to health, knowledge, or even taste (God knows lard, while it tastes great, has expanded many an American waistline), nor am I wanting to romanticize poverty.  Rather I’m going for something like substance, connection, depth.

As I thought more about these cultures of feeding or lack thereof (and enter here the catalyst for the slow food movement), I began to acknowledge the reason my heart leapt yesterday morning when my professor suggested my husband cook some Chinese food for us this evening, or why my husband and I felt oddly satisfied by the Chinese meal we had in Oklahoma in ways we didn’t by American cuisine.

It’s not just my body, but my heart that craves these foods lately, the feeling of being satisfied part and parcel of a struggle to adopt and adapt a whole nother world.  And that is often now followed by a profound emptiness, or hunger, that creeps up from the depths, hardly recognizable until it finds what it craves.  My heart, my mind, my soul found themselves profoundly satisfied by China’s odd cuisine, and I’m left wondering how long it will be before America can do the same.

**On a related note, I just stumbled upon this TIME photo essay on how families around the world eat.  Fascinating!**

Two years in China

Nanning at twilight!
Another image of city life in China.

It’s been two years of life for my husband and I here in China.  We’ve traveled to the mountains of Yunnan to visit minority churches, explored the ultra modern city of Hong Kong, explored, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Egypt, and the UAE and hosted our families and friends. He’s completed two years of teaching college-level English and I’ve finished two years of fieldwork with foster families.

On Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
In Tahrir Square, Cairo, on the one-year anniversary of their revolution with our friends Ben and Emily.
With a foster baby in Guangxi. Photos by Evan Schneider.

More than anything, as I look back through the past years, I’m astounded not only by the breadth of these experiences that I will carry with me, but also God’s provision and faithfulness.  

If you have time I invite you to check out the following posts which weave their way, highlighting some snapshots of our two years here, describing some of the highs and lows of research, faith, cross-cultural immersion, and our life.

From 2010

August 2010: Abide in me…  {thoughts on silent prayer in a city of 7 million, spiritual growth, and freeing oneself from distractions}

September 2010: Journeywoman  {on security, brokenness, and culture}

December 2010: Equipped by the Spirit (Yunnan Reflection #2)  {reflections on my first trip to Yunnan, and the tension between the need for theological training and the equipping work of the Holy Spirit in the Yunnan countryside}

From 2011

May 2011: Hunan Headlines: A Mix of Sorrow and Hope  {personal and professional reflections on the baby-selling scandal in a county in Hunan, which made international news}

July 2011: Church Renewal from Below  {thoughts on Richard Rohr, cross-cultural exchange, and Chinese solutions to Chinese problems}

August 2011: A Taste of Vietnam {evangelizing for one of my favorites, Vietnamese coffee!}

October 2011: Come on ride the train {snippets from a typical road trip to Guilin}

November 2011: Like a child  {reflections on fieldwork with children, disability, and faith}

December 2011: The Best Things about Winter in China {bundled up babies, chestnuts roasting, and hot pot, of course!}

From 2012

January 2012: Cairo notes: from the rooftops {a reflection on our first few days in another land}

February 2012: Thanking God for the woes  {on the beattitudes, justice, and God’s call}

March 2012: 72 Hours in Hong Kong {highlights from a weekend trip}

April 2012: Some Easter Thoughts from China {on Christianity, tomb sweeping, and culture}

May 2012: Consider the ravens, consider the blessings {on understanding, cross-cultural relationships, worries, and of course, blessings}

July 2012: Pinching myself {reflections on leaving China and savoring the little things}

 

 

 

 

 

Guilin fare: camellia oil tea and potato noodles

A view from Diecai peak in Guangxi, Guilin. Photo by Evan Schneider.

After long days making foster visits this past week, and tramping all over the city of Guilin, I sat down with my Chinese friends to drink Guilin’s famous camellia oil tea and munch on potato noodles.

Guilin oil camellia tea to the left complete with rice puffs and peanuts, and piping hot plates of potato noodles to the right and the top of the frame.

Funny how I had been to Guilin I think five times over my past two years in China, but I’d never sat down for a bowl of the traditional green and ginger tea, with its crunchy rice puff and peanut accouterment, nor had I sampled the hearty, plump potato noodles.  We mingled with the locals after dark in the roadside stands, stooped on little stools at short tables- Chinese style.

But we made careful not to imbibe too much of the bitter brew…apparently the caffeine can easily keep one up all night!

Chinese ladies perform tai chi by the Li River in Guilin. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Well, that’s a double whammy for the China bucket list (see items 8 and 10).  And an overall 5/10, not too shabby, with a mere week left here in China– I’ll take it.

America the beautiful

I’m realizing that this whole ambivalence that comes with leaving another country that’s been your home for the past two years isn’t necessarily the best fodder for the blogosphere (sorry).

I figured I could take advantage, however, of the mixed feelings, by listening to the leaps my little heart does when I think about some of the more frivolous (and not so) aspects of calling the U.S. of A. home.

So, with no further ado, here are some of the little things I miss and am looking forward to in our reunion with America in just a month:

Idyllic, isn’t it?
  • Grass, and walking in said grass, getting it between my toes and feeling the earth under my feet (cheesy, I know).
  • Pastries: scones, muffins, you name it, and the opportunity for some real baking in a real oven (which I hardly did before we left the country, but now it sounds great!).
How’s that for a chocolate cake?
  • Being in the same time zone as friends and family, i.e. being able to pick up the phone in mid-afternoon and give one of them a call!
  • Libraries full of books and movies in my native language.
  • And along those lines, quiet, solitude, and the great outdoors.
  • Worshiping at a Presbyterian Church.
  • Good draught beer, burgers, sandwiches, grilling out, and other all-American fare.
  • Going to the gym (and knowing it will have air-conditioning and be relatively BO-free!).
  • Gorgeous bathrooms and bathtubs where one can just linger…
  • Good coffee and wine!

What did I miss??

Happy Weekending.

The weekend is here, the adventures are over (photos from our family trip to Guilin and  the rice terraces in Longsheng to come!), and we’re down for the count over here: runny noses, sore throats, and coughs for the husband and I.

Of course, the next adventure– packing up and moving from China– is just around the corner.

But I’m not ready to think about that just yet.  

My latest obsession: yogurt, walnuts, bananas, a drizzle of honey, and a dollup of peanut butter in a bowl.  A dollup of peanut butter just makes everything better, doesn’t it?  

Walnuts suggested, cashews pictured, substitute your nut of choice!

This morning I read these two intense and sobering articles: one about the prevailing problem of migrant deaths in our deserts, and the other about women’s work-life (or lack thereof) balance.  Still reeling from both of those.

But I’m also looking for some light, fun reading, after being disappointed by The Girls from Ames and Confessions of a Counterfeit Farmgirl, and Leaving Church.  I like spiritual, international, and memoir, not necessarily in that order…any summer reading suggestions??

The hubby and I have been blowing through the complete series of Modern Family…gosh, I love that show!

Can’t imagine it will be the most exciting weekend over here being under the weather and all, but I’ll leave you with an image below of the Dragon Boat Festival here in China, and click here for a really neat shot of the Great Wall.

May your weekend be a happy and healthy one!