Robo Ricecookers

Cooking Rice in Style

I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but today I finally bought a rice cooker! Maybe because I’ve been a bread person my whole life I never thought buying a machine specifically for cooking rice was important. But since I’ve been in Asia I have eaten rice just about everyday and loved it. After years of fluffy white rice at restaurants and friend’s houses, I’ve developed a taste for this healthy staple. But when it was time to start looking for one at the supermarket, what I wasn’t prepared for the endless choices in front of me.

There are TONS of rice cooker options on the shelves in Chinese supermarkets, but most of them look pretty ugly. And since I’m not a “heavy” rice eater, I figured the huge 5-6 liter mutha rice cookers wouldn’t be my thing. So, I set out to find a small one that would be an interesting addition to our kitchen here. That’s when I met “Robo”. Continue reading Robo Ricecookers

Acupuncture Locations in America

Find an Acupuncturist!

Acupuncture is surprisingly everywhere in the US. You’ll find as many clinics offering acupuncture as you’ll find Asian food markets! But with that comes the difficulty of finding the right service provider. So, take down a few addresses and phone numbers. Contact them and enquire about pricing.

Remember to go into this with an open mind. Before the feeling that this is “too expensive for me” creeps in, just allow yourself to start having the conversation with an acupuncturist. You will probably learn something new today!

The map to the right will help you find your closest Acupuncturist. Just keep clicking in the area of your city or town to eventually find it! If you are good with Google, you could substitute “usa” with “[your town]” to search faster.

Good luck!

New Threat! Water Armies All Across China

The Water Army is Coming!

Although they  sound like a new villain from a Hollywood movie, they are less scary in person. They are soldiers of propaganda, using whatever free-speech tools they can muster to win the hearts and minds of a voting public. But this is not a political tale, rather, it is a commercial one; and the votes are cast with Ren Min Bi (Chinese Yuan).

So, where does this “Water Army” come from? In fact, it is a Chinese term which has been causing difficulties for consumer protection around the Chinese Internet.  Imagine you go to a forum online and look for information about insurance, a new car, or even a toaster. Hundreds or thousands of these soldiers are hired for cheap, usually ¥0.7 RMB ($.01) per post, and begin a campaign to sway public opinion toward or against various products. In a country where the average worker makes 20-25RMB ($3) per hour, it is economically feasible for Water Armies to exist. Continue reading New Threat! Water Armies All Across China

Fire Cupping and Back Scraping Could Save Your Life!

Fire Cupping (bá guàn)

Back in 2005 I thought I was going to die… literally, it was the worst Flu I had ever experienced. Maybe it was from the new environment in China, or perhaps it was a random winter bug! No matter where it came from, it kept me in bed very achy muscles. I couldn’t get out of bed to visit the bathroom- it was that bad. I quickly decided that I would need help or else I’d be a goner. At the time I was dating a Vietnamese girl who was studying at the Southern Yangzte University of Wuxi, which is what I called home for the first month I was in China. After a distress call she immediately came to my apartment, flipped me face down, and started scraping my back with a washed coin. She poured White Flower Oil (白花油) all over my back during this process. It sucked. It burned. And I could be forgiven for thinking that she was helping the flu kill me even faster! Continue reading Fire Cupping and Back Scraping Could Save Your Life!

It Takes Two to Tuangou

Well, honestly speaking, it takes at least a few more than that to really Tuangou! Tuangou (团购) sites have been around for several years now, stemming from chaotic “mob shopping” and then civilizing into “group buying.” The phenomenon has taken off around the world, with thousands of sites opening in China alone in 2010.

Any time I want to go see a movie for $4 or get a hot pot for $10 or get a massage for $8, I can always trust one of the many tuangou sites online to have a bargain waiting for me. My girlfriend is all about these sites now and we usually check Meituan or Lashou before making any plans.

Here is a monster list of sites based in the US, with increasing sites located in other countries. Following this list is a recent listing (June 2011)of current Chinese tuangou sites.

And here are loads more that exist in China… most have closed by now I’m sure…

Compost Pile = Healthy Eating

Compost Bowl

Do you have a compost pile? If you aren’t sure what this is, don’t worry; I’m willing to bet that most people don’t have one.

Eating properly will yield dead leaves, peelings, and leftover stalks. You can also include coffee grinds and tea leaves. (See right pic from Sustainable Suburban Gardening) Anything that comes from nature and is not used should go into your compost pile. If you don’t have a compost pile then you most likely eat most vegetables and meats from a can or other packaging. Frozen foods create paper and plastic waste, rather than natural waste.

When you eat healthy meals, or someone else prepares them for you, a compost pile is bound to appear. Prepare for it by using a large reusable container with a cover. If you come from my hometown, Weare, NH, you’ve probably got a proper place to dispose of your compost once it is created: the forest, a field, or even your own garden. Mixing compost with recyclables is lazy and leads to the overflowing of landfills. Take a minute and consider what is leaving your household on a daily basis. Then, you’ll be one step closer to living a healthier life.

Asian Secret #1: Rice Cooker as Steamer!

Rice Cooker Options

I’m not sure if this is a big secret, per se; you probably use a steamer unit to cook your rice anyway! But, for those of you who don’t have one and are wondering about getting another machine, please don’t waste your hard-earned clams yet! Stick with one machine for now…

A rice cooker is most famous for cooking one thing…. RICE! And it really does a good job, because sticky rice comes out tasting nice and fluffy (moist) if set correctly. But that’s not all it does. In fact, you can do loads of other things with a rice cooker. Here I will show how a basic rice cooker works and how it can be used to steam food as well.

To the left are some standard rice cooker options. I prefer option 2 because my family doesn’t eat large portions of rice and the smaller machine is cheaper. This might also mean that the steaming space will be limited, but it will still work. (Visit this tutorial for more details on how to make rice.)

Steel Steamer Basket

PREPARING: In order to transform a standard rice cooker into a steamer for just about anything, you’ll need to get a steamer basket, which adjusts to the container it is put in. It will sit in the inner pot of the rice cooker. The water level shouldn’t come above the steamer basket. Make sure that you can put the steamer tray (a simple stainless steel plate will be fine) solidly on top of the steamer basket, without it floating around.

Stainless Steel Plate

Take a look at the eggplant I cooked using this method. You’ll notice that the steel plate can continue to be used as a serving dish when you are finished. This plate costs about $.05 here in China, but I’m sure you can get one for $1.50 in any large marketplace in the West. NOTE: If you don’t care about the juices leaving your food, you can leave out the steel plate.

COOKING: When you have placed the steamer basket in shallow water inside the rice cooker, you can then place your plate of food on top to prepare for steaming. When the plate is level, close the top of the rice cooker and start it up! It will cook the same way you cook rice. Check your recipes for length of time required. But if you are like me, you can just guesstimate when its ready!

Asian Food Markets

Click here to find your nearest Asian Market

Most cities with at least 50,000 people in America are bound to have some kind of Asian market. It might be Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, or any other Asian nationality. That shouldn’t be a problem because all Asian food is awesome!

The map to the right will help you find your closest Asian food market. Just keep clicking in the area of your city or town to eventually find it! If you are good with Google, you could substitute “usa” with “[your town]” to search faster. Continue reading Asian Food Markets

Portions and Plate Sizes

portion control
Less is More

I hadn’t realized that my serving sizes were getting smaller until my first return home from China around Christmas of 2005. I remember waking up and going into the kitchen to make some cereal. I pulled the box out and began to let the Honey Bunches of Oats fly! Then, I realized that filling the bowl half way was the same amount that filled my bowls in China. My portions had nearly halved while I was away.

Then, as the day went on, I realized that our plates had dwarfed the food I was putting on them. There was no way to fill the plate completely. At dinner, I watched my family eat and I decided that our servings are really big in America. Restaurants also use huge plates and a dinner at La Carreta (my family’s favorite Mexican place) was so big that I had a full lunch the next day. Two meals for $11 isn’t bad! One meal that is the size of two, unfortunately, is bad… and is the norm.

How did our portions get so big? Perhaps it is a chicken and egg story, but modern commentary agrees that the bigger your container, the more you fill it, and the more you eat.  Take a look at my normal lunch portion which costs $1 at the university canteen. When I move back to the US, someday, I’m definitely going to buy smaller plates and bowls.

Have you noticed this issue in your kitchen cupboards?

Chopsticks or Fork?

chopsticks or a fork
Chopsticks or a Fork or Both!

Ahh, timeless rivals. Which is better? Which one do “civilized” people prefer? Well, its obvious to the common man that the learning curve of a fork is much steeper. It takes two seconds to stab any portion of food with a pronged stick. But, taking 2 sticks and creating a fulcrum with your hand… that is for savages!

Actually, there is a good reason to use chopsticks instead of forks. One reason is that you fill your face more slowly. You will take more bites with chopsticks. What’s the benefit here? You will take more time to let your body react to the amount of food you are eating. If you slop up your food in 5 minutes then you will eat everything that is in front of you. But, if you take 15-20 minutes to eat, your brain will tell you to stop when there is a mountain of food piled in front of you.

In fact, not only should you use chopsticks instead of forks, but you should get smaller plates and bowls too. Again, we tend to fill our bowls and plates (and our stomachs) until the container is full. Learn from this article if you have portion control problems.