Category Archives: crockpot baking

Odds and Ends

This weekend was a lesson in contrasts: on Saturday morning I visited a very naughty, angry little girl in foster care, but on Sunday afternoon I sat with another foster girl and her older sister, completely content to practice their English with me and on their very best behavior for their foreign aunty.  While I was rushing around Nanning, the poor husband was stricken in bed with a pounding headache (we still haven’t determined the cause), and so I took to caring for him in the only way I knew how: feeding…hehe.

Photo from

We found mascarpone cheese at the Western store, so I plopped the other half of lemon yogurt cake batter I’d frozen from the last one into the crockpot, and whipped up a lemon mascarpone frosting to go with it.  The frosting is light and fluffy and tangy, subtle and sophisticated, yum.

Last night I stopped by the hand-torn chicken stand that’s been gracing the alleyway down from us and watched as they literally tore the chicken, chopped up the bones, and mixed the whole lot with spicy oil, peanuts, chives, and sesame seeds.  Then I headed home, and impressed myself by turning out some simple greens and stir-fried eggplant with rice to go along with our Chinese chicken dinner.

I know I’ve complained about certain stinky smells in China before, but this morning I kept getting whiffs of magnolia and jasmine on my morning run.  Lately I’ve been lusting these sweet smelling house plants, along with these mosquito-repelling ones!

In my recipes I’d like to try when I get back to China folder are these chocolate-apricot nut bars and this smoked sardine brandade, both from my latest imported issue of Whole Living.  I just love their natural, tasty recipes, and thanks to China, I’ve developed a taste for sardines!

I’m feeling pretty cheery this Monday–apparently there’s nothing like a brisk run and a productive morning to start the week out right.  

How was your weekend?  Happy Monday!

Happy Weekending.

It’s the weekend, baby!  What are you up to?

My husband and I hosted a dinner party for two other Western couples last night, and I think it reminded us both how much cooking and hosting brings us joy.  We grilled chicken legs and Korean ribs, and feasted on potato and cucumber salad, brownies, and my dark chocolate cake.  We talked about culture, siblings, and played the award-winning game, Dixit.

Children playing by a recently adorned grave around Qingming jie. Photo from TIC blog.

I got home late Thursday night from a quick trip to the countryside to visit foster families.  This coming week is Qingming jie or the tomb-sweeping festival in China when people all over the country will return home to honor the dead.  However, the Zhuang people often do tomb-sweeping a bit earlier, so it was interesting to drive through Guangxi and see the graves adorned with mounds of perfectly formed dirt and white cloths waving in the wind.

My friend and I talked in the car about the various customs and traditions we have when someone dies.  When we entered the little village where families are fostering, a person had passed away and everyone was sitting out and eating in the streets, and as we walked by they slaughtered ducks and laid them out to bleed so everyone could take one home.

Banana trees in Yunnan. Photo by Evan Schneider.

This weekend my husband has make-up class because of days off for the festival next week, and with all my foster kids in school, I’m left with a lovely Saturday morning to myself.  I picked up a bushel of bananas by the side of the road on the way back from the countryside on Thursday, so I may make banana bread in the crockpot today.

Right now I’m enjoying the NYTimes online, the lovely weather out on the balcony, and the prospect of skying with some friends around lunchtime.  My husband and I are still trying to decide whether we want to take a little getaway next week during the holiday to Hainan, to the beach, or somewhere else?  Any China folks got any two-four day get-out-of-town suggestions?  Or maybe we’ll just enjoy the scenery here in Nanning and the lovely weather that’s finally rolled in.

House boats along the Yong River, Nanning. Photo by Evan Schneider.

What are you up to this weekend?




Happy Weekending.

For the first time in a long time our cupboards are chocked full and bursting with items we imported ourselves from our recent trips to Egypt, Abu Dhabi, and Hong Kong.  We’ve got basmati rice, risotto, and bags of good coffee–all hard to come by on the mainland.  It’s opens a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to (comfort) cuisine!

Making risotto.

My husband has been whipping up homemade pizza sauce and calzones and fabulous thyme chicken and risotto.  This week has also been relatively light on the research front, so I’ve been exploring new language-learning strategies, getting out and running despite the dreary weather, and exploring new banana bread recipes (of the crockpot persuasion of course!).

It’s funny because I always used to chide people who drink decaf coffee that it’s not the real stuff, but lately my favorite activity involves a cup of Starbucks Decaf Komodo Dragon Blend and reading David Brooks’ The Social Animal.

One of my favorite breakfasts in Egypt.

The book is thrilling and fascinating, with so many intriguing overlaps and insights into my research, too.  Reading the Happiness Blog recently, I also got interested in this book on willpowerlately the brain is totally fascinating me, perhaps I was a psychologist or a neuroscientist in another life!

Since this weekend will be a working one, I’m enjoying some blogs, coffee, and blueberry pancakes this Saturday morning.  I only just noticed it’s Saint Patrick’s Day (not too popular in China!).

What are your plans?

I would make these lime bars if I had an oven…you can let me know how they turn out.  Despite the weather here, I’m inspired by Jen and her friends’ health challenge, thinking of asking some of my friends abroad to join in on one with me.  We had delicious Korean barbecue last night; if you’ve never been, I totally recommend it!

Hope your weekend’s a great one,



Perfect Valentine’s Day Menu

1.  Sleep Way in…perhaps due to your jet lag, or just plain indulgence.

2.  Whisper “Happy Valentine’s Day: to your favorite someone in the early afternoon, get up, enjoy several cups of coffee, a little transcribing of fieldnotes on your own, and when he wakes up…

3.  Beg him to make the perfect mid-afternoon lunch: bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches, of course!

4.  Craft Valentine’s Day dinner menu together snuggled on the couch.

5.  Go your separate ways, me to the grocery store for none other than bars of dark chocolate, butter, sugar, and wine (really, is there any better shopping list ever penned?!), and he to the market for chicken, lemons, peas, mushrooms, and bok choy.

6.  Turn on some music and whip up your favorite dark chocolate cake.

7.  Be surprised by roses in the living room when he arrives a bit later!

8.  Sneak in some more work, while he sets the homemade mushroom-leek broth on the stove to stew and marinates the chicken.

9.  Open the bottle of wine, throw on the risotto, stir frequently, and wait.

10.  Savor lemon-herbed chicken, mushroom-pea-parmesan risotto, and bok choy, with white wine for dinner.

11.  And dark chocolate cake with vanilla bean buttercream icing for dessert.

12.  Valentine’s Day never looked better!

The Last Saturday of 2011

…how will you spend it?

...and how do I love Saturdays?  Oh, let me count the ways!

One.  Sleeping in!  Or as they say in Chinese, 睡懒觉 (that second character literally means lazy, how’s that for ya?).  Even though we just had Christmas, in China things never really skipped a beat, so in my Christmas hangover, I’ve been daydreaming all week about sleeping in.  Let’s hope I don’t get woken up to the usual sounds of construction and throat-clearing down the hall…

Two.  Pajamas and slippers.  Thanks to recent Christmas presents from my sister and my husband, I have a comfy new pair of pajama pants and slippers, and I’ll put them to good use on this final 2011 Saturday.

Three.  Four.  Five.  Coffee, reading the news, blogs.  There’s nothing like staying in your pajamas and slippers as long as possible, brewing that cup of coffee, reading The New York Times (here are some of the more interesting articles I’ve bee reading- one about autistic young people navigating love; another about women heading back to school; and another about Mao, China, and the future), surfing blogs and pinterest, and waiting until you get the urge to…

Six.  Make pancakes!  Or eggs.  Or bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches!  Actually this Saturday we put our Christmas leftovers to use (leftover summer sausage from my mother-in-law, cheese, crackers, olives hanging around in the fridge, and salad from another meal) and grazed on a pu pu platter (Did you know that the term pu pu is Hawaiian and the dish refers to an American Chinese sampler platter?  Oh, the things you learn writing these posts!) as my husband took in the OU bowl game in his appropriate ensemble.

The Saturday mid-day grazing spread...
...and said husband in OU gear watching the game!

Seven.  Or bake a [dark chocolate] cake.  I threw a friend’s Christmas present of dark chocolate in with just five other ingredients into the crockpot, and plan to use the leftover peppermint icing from cookie decorating in the fridge to decorate this New Year’s Cake.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

It doesn't look like much yet...

Eight. Nine, Ten.  Three movies for late afternoon lounging.  Try Our Idiot Brother, a heartwarming comedy starring Paul Rudd as a simple-minded brother whose honest charm brings clarity to each of his sisters’ lives in one way or another.  Or, Friends with Benefits, with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.  Now, I saw this one on the same international flight where I thought the wine was excellent, so it may have been my general loopiness, but I enjoyed the banter and the New York scenery in this one.  Or, have you seen Crazy, Stupid, Love?  Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Julianne Moore, it’s strange little comedy about intertwining love stories that have something for everyone.

Eleven.  Get dressed up and go grab a nice dinner to ring in the New Year.  We’ll be getting together with some new friends at the Western restaurant, and perhaps having some friends back to our place to snack on said chocolate cake and…

Twelve.  Just like that, it’s midnight, the last Saturday of the year is over, and time in ring in 2012!   Of course, the U.S. (EST) is thirteen hours behind China, so if you haven’t figured out what to do with your Saturday or your New Year’s yet, you may want to ask that special someone.  Check out this cute video from Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and let me know, What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

A glass of champagne to ring in 2012.

The Great Indoors

It finally got cold in Southwest China this week.

And I hear it’s about to warm up after this weekend.

Darn.  I’m a true Wisconsinite at heart I guess, given that one of my disappointments regarding my trip back to the states this past November was that it was a balmy sixty degrees in Plymouth many of the days I was there.  I was a little miffed, but thankful that I’d least I’d made it to Canada and the north country where it was predictably and actually cold!

So instead of complaining, I’m trying to both enjoy the suitable running weather, and the whole hunkering down indoors when it’s chilly outside feeling while it lasts.

Here are a few of my indoor aspirations for the fleeting chilly weekend.  How will you spend yours?

There will be coffee.  And thanks to good ‘ol U.S. of A., it will be the good stuff:

And since strawberries are a winter fruit and are extra sweet here in China (don’t ask me why or how, they just are!), I’ll be enjoying these simple pleasures.

And if you’ll permit me to talk oatmeal once again, I insist that another gal’s oatmeal obsession is behind mine this time.  Jen has been blogging a month of oatmeals, and her honey-banana-walnut one got me thinking, why have I never thought of peanut butter and honey oatmeal before?  I’ll be trying that one this weekend!

I’ll be doing my Christmas shopping online, which may not be the most festive, but definitely the most efficient.  Jo has some great ideas for all those wonderful people in your life, although as a true Wisconsinite, these little numbers just have to be my favorite for somebody’s buns this season…

Winter days and the holidays can make even the most undomestic feel like baking, which means I’ll be looking for something to put in my crockpot. This cake sounds good, or maybe this one (we found blueberries yesterday). I can’t decide. But this cream sounds miraculous, and a promising Chinese solution to the no whipped cream thing.

I’ve been enjoying this pumpkin spice candle I brought back, as well as some Ghiradelli peppermint bark.

Chances are I’ll be spending a lot of time with this guy, too.

Now, don’t you feel me. Winter days are the new rainy days. How will you spend ’em?

Have a good weekend.

Spanish cuisine: tortilla de patatas

First, a disclaimer:  I have my wonderful husband’s culinary innovations to thank for the opportunity to eat anything besides Chinese food in China!

And, here’s what he made this week:

Yes, that’s right.  Tortilla de patatas–Spanish food–in our very own kitchen here in China.  And it was glorious.

Evan’s been raving about everything he cooks off this website, but I like to think I had something to do with the brilliance of this simple meal.  After all, I’m the one who suggested we make our own bacon bits to top the fresh salad, the homemade dressing, and the savory tortilla.  What’s even better, it made for three separate meals!

But from the rest of the photos, you can see who really did all the work…

Ta-da!  Perfection.

And later that evening I followed Clara’s recipe over at Channeling Contessa for a simple weeknight apple crisp, except I threw all the contents in the crockpot, because Evan and I had to head over to judge the second evening of the English Speech Competition at his school.  We were even able to snag something like vanilla ice cream on our way back, so three hours later, we were able to preview some of the flavors of Thanksgiving in our living room!

A pretty successful week of cookery, if I do say so myself.  And oh yeah, thanks to Evan!

On my mind, in my heart…

This week has been full of so many ups and downs, that I just don’t have it in me to write a really neat, cohesive blog post.  Instead, you get messy, all-over-the-place, real me (I hope, dear readers, you’ll still come back!).

But, the great thing is that today the sun is shining, children and grandparents are out in our courtyard giggling and playing with balloons, trailing them to and fro, clean laundry is on the line, we’re set to receive visitors next week, and a heap of hopeful thoughts and dreams are on my mind.  So here are those good things, all mixed up for your weekend perusal, and I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves!

  • This week was Chinese National Day, and thus my husband and I had a whole week off, which I was lamenting that we kind of lost to the typhoon-like weather, and being sick.  But I did treat myself to a foot massage, and we enjoyed getting lost in our habitat here earlier in the week and yesterday when the rain finally cleared.  See photos from his new camera below!
The sweet girl who gave my feet a little TLC.
The People’s Park on a holiday.
The modern side of Nanning as seen from South Lake park.
And the more traditional-looking footbridge.
I love how the people look so happy in this photo.
  • Comfort food has been a big part of this week, what with all the baking and pumpkin oatmeal (which seriously fills me up like no else for the whole morning!).  Yesterday’s comforting lunch, though, was a big bowl of cold peanut noodles (the photo below does not do them justice).  I’ve been making this adaptation from a whole living recipe for years (no longer online), but they’re really simple and tasty!
Cold peanut noodle lunch.


No more than 1/4 cup of peanut butter (I prefer about 2 tbsp.)
2 tsp. of soy sauce
1 tsp. of sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp. of chili garlic paste (this gives you the tang, because the peppers are both sour and spicy)
1 1/2 tsp. of fresh ginger
1 tsp. of fresh garlic
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/4 cup of water
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar (optional)
1/2 lime juiced (optional)
lots of cilantro to garnish
grated carrots and cucumber

I just use regular spaghetti noodles, either leftovers or fresh, but be sure to cool them down with some cold water. Whisk the first ten ingredients together in a small bowl, and then toss with the carrots, cucumber, and cilantro. Quick and easy, and you can adjust the sauce to taste.

  • I may have mentioned that I’ve been reading through the book of Matthew, and I’m getting to the final few chapters.  I was recently reading chapters 18 & 19 and was really moved by the wisdom and balance of Jesus’ words regarding the parable of the lost sheep, reproving another who sins, and the measure of forgiveness we’re called to provide others (“not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” –Matt. 18:22).  The message of approaching a brother or sister in private first regarding a conflict, and also sandwiched in between the clear message of doing all we can do to search for one another and forgive one another, was so powerful.  We as the church so often do selective reading of these passages, but I’m at once so convicted and challenged (again) by the tall call to live like Jesus.
  • I really enjoyed this article, “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” from the always profound Mark Bittman, that I read this morning in the Times.  As a former Bread for the World employee, I’m always interested in understanding how we can help those who lack the resources meet their nutritional needs.  Although I think the article’s excellent, the anthropologist in me can’t help but wish he’d spent more time talking to poorer people about why they make the choices they make, and observing them, rather than quoting survey data and stats.
  • I also was really moved by this article, “Presbyterian Church to Ordain First Openly Gay Minister” in the LA Times.  Whatever your views are on this ordination and the recent steps of the Pres. Church in reforming ordination standards, what moved me most was the open conversation and fellowship that the article described between two pastors, Christians, and human beings, through which they were both changed.  I also appreciated Achtemeier’s final words,

  ‘It has happened through the history of the church that committed Christians go to their Bible and come back hearing different things from it,’ he said.  ‘My hope is that the faith we all share in Christ is strong enough to hold us together as we debate with one another and wait til God sorts out these disagreements.’

These words are very much my prayer for the Presbyterian Church, especially the younger generation of clergy, that as we go forward, that despite our differences in interpretation we can continue together to strive to know Christ better and serve him.

  • Yesterday when I returned home from some research-related work, I found these beautiful flowers on my desk, the site of so much angst for me this week.  I’ve left them there so I can enjoy them while I’m working.  There was also a sweet encouraging note from my wonderful husband (yes, I’m bragging again); thank God for his understanding and thoughtfulness!
Lovely flowers on my desk.

It’s still raining & I’m still baking (in a crockpot, that is)

…although now I’m really almost out of baking powder!

Mid-mix, that's the vanilla on the left, also exhausted by this recent bake-a-thon.

The rain really got me down yesterday, but the day before, I just had to be productive (in the kitchen, that is), and I culled together the leftover zucchini and carrots to make my third crockpot creation: carrot zucchini bread.

All this recipe required was a half cup each of grated carrots and zucchini, so it works well with leftover veggies.
Ever wonder what a crockpot cake looks like when it goes in...
...and when it comes out? (I use baking paper, which generally keeps the crockpot nice and clean, and it's easy to just lift the cake out when it's done.)

…although it came out a cross between a cake and a bread.  And as my husband and I ate it, we kept wondering whether it should’ve been frosted (cream cheese, oh I wish I could find you in China!).

Strangely, it also came out with an apple-y flavor, a bit unlike any zucchini or carrot cake I’ve ever had for that matter, but then again, it was both!  The interesting taste might have also come from the lime zest I substituted for orange zest, and I didn’t include the raisins (even though I had two kinds of those in my pantry), because they just weren’t calling to me.

What’s your favorite combined cake recipe, and is it really the best of both worlds?

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice!

I may have mentioned at some point that although it’s clear the seasons are changing in China (slightly cooler temperatures, breezes, and recently, typhoon-like weather, amounting to pouring rain during in which they still shot off fireworks for the National Day celebration marking the beginning of October!), it’s also the time of year that makes me nostalgic for gorgeous leaves falling from the tree, and flavors like pumpkin spice- nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, all spice.  

Stovetop Espresso: Americanos

So, yesterday in a kitchen frenzy, I scurried to make my own pumpkin-inspired delights.  First, thing’s first though- a proper Saturday morning here at the Schnaff household starts with coffee, and because the Yunnan coffee I brought back from my recent trip was less-than-inspiring, I’ve been brewing it with the stovetop espresso maker to get the most out of the beans.

The little stovetop espresso we snagged at the Nanjing Ikea earlier this summer.

Stovetop espresso makers are not readily available in China, and the imports at local stores run you $100 US!  So, when you live in China, you dream, and scheme, and plot these types of acquisitions, and when in the big city this summer, aka Nanjing, my husband and I picked up this one-cup sized wonder at Ikea (we have a much superior Bialetti back home in storage in New Jersey, and featured in this lovely post at daily nibbles).  This one barely fits on our over-sized double burner range, but it does, and so, my morning in China this Saturday started with nothing other than a Caffee Americano!

Precariously perched.
A little hot water, milk, and sugar, and there you have it, a perky start to any morning.

Carrot Cake Pancakes

Coffee out of the way, it was onto pancakes, and specifically of the carrot cake variety, which I was inspired to make from a Chocolate-covered Katie post, but ultimately pulled together with help from this recipe.  I had to make a couple adjustments (substitute whole milk for buttermilk, and omit the ground ginger, because I didn’t have it), but the most labor-intensive part was toasting and grinding my own spices, including cloves and cinnamon, because I could only find them whole at the market in China.  The cinnamon-grinding kind of tore up my hands, because I didn’t have any suitable equipment for the task, either, but it all paid off in the end.

The slow work of cinnamon-grinding.
We do it old school at my house, spice-grinding that is, with mortar and pestle.

We ate the pancakes with butter and maple syrup, and the spices were bold and homey.  Even though I didn’t grind the carrots as finely as I should have, the pancakes held together, and really their only flaw was not being very fluffy (which I blame on inferior Chinese flour, not on the chef, of course!).  It was like eating lovely carrot cake muffins, and not too sweet, either, in pancake form.

Carrot cake pancake batter.
In the pan, majorly misshapen, but thankfully that didn’t effect the taste!
Consuming my creation.
Some misshapen, lovely leftovers.

Crockpot Pumpkin Spice Cake

I’d been a doing a little research, and not only is it possible to use a Japanese Pumpkin to make pumpkin pie filling, but it’s possible, and apparently preferable to make your own pumpkin spice (a combination of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, all spice, and cinnamon, give or take a few).  So after completing the carrot pancakes, I set aside the leftover ground spices (cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg), chopped up my Japanese pumpkin (a slightly smaller version of the one’s were used to, which I unfortunately forgot to take a photo of), and got it on the stove to start steaming.

Japanese pumpkin chopped.
You’re supposed to set aside the seeds, dry, and roast them. One of the many times I wish I had an oven!
Some steamed pumpkin coming right up!

I followed this recipe for how to steam and break down the pumpkin and doctor it to become pumpkin pie filling.  The only tips I would add is that you should really try to chop the pumpkin into even slices for even steaming (duh).  I was in a hurry, and only steamed 20-30 minutes, so some parts were more done than others.  It seems steaming it longer also saves you time and energy, because you don’t have to blend or mash as much.  I also added a little less evaporated milk to the mix, because it’s scarce in Chinaland.

Finally, I followed Jane at Eye It.Try It.’s recipe for her vegan gingerbread pumpkin bread to make the batter, which I then placed in the crockpot for four to five and a half hours on high, lining the crockpot again with baking paper.  I did not do the vegan recipe, instead adding an egg, and because I didn’t have baking soda, I tripled the baking powder, so I ended up doing about 4 tsp of the stuff, practically wiping out my supply (hopefully someone is sending me some for my birthday).  I also substituted canola oil, regular flour, and skipped the ground ginger (again all due to Chinese limitations).

When I poured the mix into the crockpot, I ended up scooping about two cups off the top, because I was afraid it wouldn’t cook through, given what a large amount the batter and pumpkin filling made together.  In the end, though, it did get done, and I also made the buttercream frosting to go on top.  Although true to other crockpot cakes, it was a bit more dense (and the cake sunk a bit as we let it stand!), the consistency reminded my husband and our Western houseguests of pumpkin pie, which was a nice comfort here in China.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Spice Cake w/ Buttercream, the crockpot version!

Yesterday was a whirlwind of pumpkin spice baking for me; meanwhile my husband was tackling his own culinary projects (homemade hummus w/ homemade tahini, and making his own grilled peppers, chicken, and adobo sauce for today’s chicken salad lunch and an upcoming challenge- mole sauce!  Really too bad he’s discontinued his own food blog, right?), and we were literally bumping into one another and vying for space in our tiny kitchen.

Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to some less labor intensive meals over the next few days, including putting that salvaged pumpkin batter to use in some pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin oatmeal.  Although, I may also sneak a piece of that pumpkin cake for breakfast...shhh, don’t tell!