Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Biang Biang Noodles from Xi'An Famous Foods! #noodsathome

Some years ago, our son Matt and his wife Weina took us to Flushing, New York and introduced us to Shaanxi Chinese cuisine by leading us to a noodle shop, Xi'An Famous Foods -- 

We ordered these scrumptious, fat, spicy noodle dishes for lunch.  Being new to the use of chopsticks, we had some trouble managing the slippery noodles, and our poor lips, tongues, mouths and throats stung from the hot, peppery spices.  But we never forgot the amazing taste experience.

Just this last Sunday, we were reminded of the experience when CBS Sunday Morning featured Xi'an Famous Foods and its CEO, Jason Wang, who explained the cuisine and introduced the audience to the pulling of the unique Shaanxi noodles -- Biang Biang noodles, or:

As it happens, the character, "biang" --

-- is, on the one hand, one of the most complicated characters in traditional Chinese, but also is not recorded in official Chinese dictionaries.  Modern, simplified Chinese does not have this character, and simpler characters are often substituted.

Biรกng contains within it the characters for speak, horse, grow, moon, heart, knife, eight, roof, and walk, plus a few extra strokes.  It is written with more than 50 strokes.  Some have said that it has been used as a weapon to deter tardiness at a college in Chengdu, the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province.  According to a local newspaper, students who were late for classes would have to write the character 1,000 times as punishment. Wang Sijun, the instructor who is said to have developed the punishment during a visit to Shaanxi, is reported to believe that it is also a way to promote Chinese culture among students.

Some say it's a mimetic word, echoing the sound noodles make when slapped on a chopping board, or the sound when a person slurps noodles. Other scholars think the sound of biang originates from the sound of a wooden stick beating clothes.  Despite having no definitive origin, this character is still widely used throughout China on restaurant signs, menus, and as a game to challenge Chinese people's writing ability. The closest thing to compare it to might be the made-up supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the movie "Mary Poppins." Both have an unknown origin, their own Wikipedia page, and follow the rules of their respective languages; and although both have a distinct definition, are often used in a joking way.  Some say that it expresses the idea of someone falling down and feeling surprised, just like the first time Homer Simpson bumped his head and exclaimed, “Doh!” 

According to this website China Simplified, there was once a young Chinese student wandering past a Shaanxi noodle shop around lunchtime. He heard people inside saying “biang! biang!” and feeling hungry entered to see for himself.  ​The student watched the cook pull long strings of noodles and serve fresh bowls to satisfied customers. Excited, he asked for one. After scarfing down the bowl, he realized he had no money to pay the bill. Sensing trouble with the cook, the student thought fast.

​“What do you call your noodles?” asked the student. ​
​“Biang biang mian,” replied the cook.
​​“Do you know how to write the character biang?”
The cook scratched his head, having never thought about it. ​
​“Then I’ll teach you how and my noodles are free!” ​

Before the cook could protest, the student grabbed some paper and wrote a character so complicated that everyone in the restaurant burst into applause. Grinning at being taken so wittily, the cook tore up the student’s bill.

But we digress.

The important thing is that we could order meal kits from Xi'An Famous Foods and prepare our own Shaanxi noodle dishes!  Only three days after we ordered a kit, it showed up on our front porch, and we set out, with some trepidation, to prepare the dish.  Here, Kathy shows the ingredients, along with an excellent cookbook that is also published by Xi'An Famous Foods:

This kit was for a spicy beef noodle dish, so Kathy set about boiling water to cook the noodles (in the big pot at the front in the photo below) and heating the spicy beef and sauce in the pan in the rear:

All the accoutrements were ready, and it was time for us to pull and slap the noodles.  There is no way to explain the process, other than to show you.  So here is a video of Kathy looking quite expert in pulling and slapping the biang biang mian.  An even more entertaining video is this one from Rachel Ray's cooking show!

With the noodles slapped, pulled and split, we threw them into the pot of boiling water and kept them moving so that they wouldn't stick to the pot:

While the noodles were cooking -- only a few minutes -- we set up our bowls to receive the noodles, the spices and the garnishes:

The noodles are they come!

They settled into the bowl and took the garnishes --

-- and the sauces, and now they are ready to slurp!

We're not saying they are unspicy...

...but, Boy! Do they taste rich and zesty and just as we remembered from our visit to the noodle shop with Weina and Matt!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Snow Hike at Brady's Lake

Wow, it's been over two weeks since we last posted a blog entry!  A lot has happened since then:  New Year's; Covid-19 getting worse; news of vaccine; skiing; an insurrection; pending impeachment.  We're breathless and exhausted.

Still, we need some exercise, and today we looked for a different hike nearby.  As it happens, Brady's Lake beckoned to us from the nearby State Game Lands:

We walked over and took our usual selfie at a relatively unremarkable trailhead.  Behind us, the trail (really a forest road) stretched north along the shore of Brady's Lake:

It has been cold long enough here in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains, that many lakes are frozen solid.  The ice fishermen are out in droves on the weekends, and, even today, a weekday, we saw a few hardy souls out on the ice, enduring the cold and wind for a nibble or two:

Along our trail, we noticed that some trees had unexplained markings of blue or red paint.  These trees had so much paint that they could have been their own piece of artwork:

Parts of our trail had 2-3 inches of snow, but some areas were nearly bare, exposing what, this summer, had been tall grass:

To our right, uphill from the lake, we saw large swatches of land where most of the trees had fallen.  While we assumed it was due to logging, too many fallen trees had been left on the ground, and we wondered if this area had been the victim of a tornado or other heavy winds.  In any event, the scene was stark and invited a study in black-and-white:

After about 1.5 miles, we came to a road or path leading left toward the lake.  From her GPS, Kathy deduced that the path would take us to the lake shore, and we decided to make that our destination.  About a quarter mile along our hike to the lake, we encountered a shallow stream and had to hop across it.  The stream was so shallow that parts of it had iced over -- but in swirled patterns reflecting the currents of the little stream:

After admiring the frozen art in the stream, we picked our way across --

-- and reached the shore of Brady's Lake, where David posed on a rocky promontory:

We drank some hot tea, relaxed a bit, enjoying the winter view, and then returned the way we had come.

When we got back to the trailhead and parking lot, we decided to continue on across the dam that forms the lake.  As we crossed the dam, we got a better view of some of the ice fishing shacks:

Fishermen have crossed the ice to get to their favorite fishing spots, but so have other predators.  This one could have been a large wild cat or very large fox, leaving its single-file tracks in the snow dusting the top of the lake ice:

The Brady's Lake Dam was built in 1915, then rebuilt in 2007.  The new dam structure is impressive in its engineering, and, indeed, seems as much an example of outdoor art as some of the most impressive fountains in New York City:

Continuing across the dam, we encountered a few small islands that probably host duck nests in the Spring, but now are simply splotches of inanimate color on the surface of the lake:

Our hike was only 3.5 miles, and took a couple of hours with photo stops, rests to drink tea, and various pauses to enjoy the scenery.  It wasn't cold or windy enough to make us uncomfortable, and, once we had gotten about a half mile under our boots, we had warmed up enough to enjoy the hike without discomfort.  We drove out the 3.9 mile forest road, through the Game Lands, and another 9 miles back to our Pocono cottage, happy that we're able to hop out to a huge, wild playground whenever we have a chance.  It's very important to take these opportunities for recreations and mindfulness in a time of historic stress and anxiety.

Monday, December 28, 2020

William's First Hike in Paradise Creek Preserve

[Ed.:  This blog entry was authored by William.  All photos selected by William.]

Hi, Blog!  

We were ready to go on a hike when Baxter said that he wanted to go too.  Too bad for Baxter, but he couldn't come, because he's a cat and cats won't walk according to plan.

Here we are at the trailhead.  We decided to go along the short route.

Here is William reading the signature rock.  It says that this piece of land belonged to the Kurmes family.

Here is William chopping up all the ice:

Here is William being fascinated by this small feeding stream:

Here is a sneaky photo taken by David, as William didn't know until we got home:

Here is William showing his discovery of Tank Creek:

This is some very delicate ice crystals that Kathy found:

William shows himself on the tip of a cliff:

Here is William puking into a rusted out metal can:

Here is William standing in the middle of the train tracks.  Don't worry.  No trains were coming.  (Dangerous)  (Ed. note:  It is a rarely used track with long sight lines, as can be seen in the next photo.  The hiking crew acted very prudently and safely in taking this photo.)

Here is NaiNai waving to us from the side of the tracks.  Me and David didn't notice and we crunched through the bushes to get up to the train tracks.

Here is a fun guy that is always needed in blogs:

Here is the nice good-for-ice-skating lake:

Soon we came to the parking lot and headed home.  We found out that William could run faster than 6.2 miles per hour.

We really liked this hike.  And Happy New Year! 


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Snowshoeing Paradise Creek Preserve

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Hi Blog!

It has been four days since our first snowshoe around Tobyhanna Lake. We've spent the time since slowly convincing our muscles that the next time we snowshoe, it won't be so arduous. The muscles agreed we could go out one more time before Christmas as long as it wasn't 5.5 miles. We compromised on a nice two mile trail in the Kurmes Paradise Creek Nature Preserve. We had hiked this trail on November 18th. If you are curious to see what it looks like without all the snow, check out last months blog.

As is our custom, we start every adventure with a trailhead selfie.

Four days has pasted since the epic 15 inch snow fall. From the looks of the trail, at least one cross-country skier came through. There were a number of bare boot prints. We were surprised that we didn't see any other snowshoe prints.

The well marked trail is easy to follow.

Temperatures were above 32 degrees, so the trail was a little slushy. We didn't need as many layers as we did last week.

The trail was awesome
Breathtaking on either side
Snow covered bushes as far as you could see
Glistening sprinkling of fairy dust
A most magical marvelous memory
When all was done and said
Nothing left but light fluffy snowflakes

From Snowshoe Adventure by Anthony Slausen

The trail provided us with at least one challenge.

Finding the boardwalk was easy; trying to cross it in snowshoes was a little more difficult.

Luckily, the trail crew added these large orange markers to show the way.

Tank Creek was resplendent in its ermine coat.

As we traveled next to the creek, it added its boisterous burbles to the quiet winter landscape.

We stopped to watch tiny icicles form as the creek splashed its way downhill.

Just think: this little creek joins Paradise Creek, which flows into the Delaware River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean; you are looking at part of the future Atlantic Ocean.

Here fishy, fishy, fishy....

Winter Streams
Bliss Carman
Now the little rivers go
Muffled safely under snow,
And the winding meadow streams
Murmur in their wintry dreams,
While a tinkling music wells
Faintly from their icy bells,
Telling how their hearts are bold
Though the very sun be cold.
Ah, but wait until the rain
Comes a-sighing once again,
Sweeping softly from the Sound
Over ridge and meadow ground!
Then the little streams will hear
April calling far and near,—
Slip their snowy bands and run
Sparkling in the welcome sun.

There is a little red blazed elbow off the main trail that is fun to explore. The rhododendron try to hide the trail. But with a little perseverance, you can find your way.

As Christmas fast approaches, this may be our last blog for a week or so. We wish all our friends and family a Happy Hanukkah, Festive Festivus, Merry Christmas, Happy Boxing Day and an Amazing Kwanzaa!