Recipe: Meat Buns (Baozi)

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What meat buns should look like. Taken from here

I say it straight: It makes no sense to make steamed meat buns (or 包子baozi in Chinese) while living in a famous night market in Taiwan. A big variety of flavours and kinds is available easily, and it is probably even cheaper to buy them from vendors than to buy all ingredients. So, why spend time and effort making ugly, crooked, amateurish versions of them? Well, I could say that there is the advantage of giving them exactly that special flavour that you like that no vendor can produce. Maybe it is also because I simply don’t trust the cleanness and healthiness of the night market food. But after all, I guess it is because of that DIY challenge that underlies all cooking and baking projects…

Ingredients:

  • Filling:
    • Leak
    • Leak onions
    • Celery
    • Mushroom
    • Carrot
    • Garlic
    • Ginger
    • Minced meat
    • Eggs
    • Spices and sauces as you like (I used: Salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, mustard, oyster mushroom soy sauce, black vinegar (“Worcestershire sauce”), thyme, rosemary)
  • Dough:
    • 1kg Flour (I used 250g whole grain flour, 750g white wheat flour)
    • 30g sugar
    • 15g salt
    • 50g butter
    • 600ml warm water (or 100ml milk + 500ml water)
    • yeast (I use instant dry yeast)

Procedure:

Chop the vegetables into small pieces. Really small! The smaller the better!

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In order to unfold the aroma of the spices like garlic, leak onion and ginger, pan-fry the chopped vegetables shortly (also because otherwise the carrot and leak would still feel too raw after steaming the bun). Meanwhile, mix the minced meat with eggs (just as a rough orientation: I used ~800g minced meat and two eggs), a big spoon of mustard (French Dijon mustard! NEVER use that American crap they call mustard!), soy sauce, and the other spices of your choice. When the vegetables are done pan-frying, mix them well with the raw meat mixture.

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Make a standard yeast dough. Using 1kg of flour, in my case, was enough for 24 meat buns. Add sugar, salt, butter (alternative: olive oil) and instant yeast, then pour 600ml of liquid (water, or milk with water) into the bowl. Knead for 10 minutes to get a homogenous dough. Let it stand for 30 minutes in a warm environment. It will usually grow to 2 or 3 times its original size. Knead it again thoroughly and let it stand for another 30 minutes. Then, the dough is ready for further processing.

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Now comes the tricky part that needs experience and training. A skilled cook can do the whole thing in his or her hand, but it also works on a board or bench. Take a bit of dough (roughly: a ball of 4 cm diameter) and make it flat (by hand or with a stick). Then, form a meat ball with a spoon and place it in the middle of the flat dough piece. Now, try to form a completely closed pocket. If you are not sure how to manage that, I am sure you can easily find a youtube video in your preferred language. The easiest is to take opposite ends of the dough, squeeze them together, add other ends until you hold eight sides between two fingers, then twist the bundle until all sides are securely connected.

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As you can see from the photo, my skill is not very advanced. My meat buns are ugly and amateurish. Yet, the real success rate is revealed in the last step: Steam the buns in a steamer or in steaming plates (with holes in the bottom) above boiling water for approx. 30 minutes. The yeast dough will grow again, which you should consider when placing the raw buns on the plate, and the meat should be completely done by then. Your folding technique is “successful” when the buns don’t open during the steaming process. In my case, 3 out of 24 buns opened. The rest looks OK, I believe (even though it is very sure that I won’t win any prize for these!)…

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The buns can be kept in a freezer for some time. Whenever you want to eat one, just steam it for another 15 minutes and it is ready. I have just prepared my breakfast for the next three weeks!

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Not a Babysitter!

I met our neighbour, an old Taiwanese guy, in the afternoon.

He: “Hello! Aren’t you going to work?

Me: “No, these days I am not working. I am taking care of my daughters!

He: “Ah! Babysitter!

Me: “No! I am their father!

He: “Yes! Babysitter!

At that moment I felt slightly upset without clearly knowing why. Yet, it was easy for me to forgive him right away, because he is an old Taiwanese guy who doesn’t know it better. Most men, here, are not involved in raising little children, it is completely on the Moms, often with the help of the Mom’s mother or mother-in-law. When fathers or grandfathers are contributing anything, it is mostly really just some supervision, playing, or taking the kid to the playground (babysitter job, indeed). Bathing babies, preparing food, changing diapers, putting them to bed – no way!

When Tsolmo was born, my wife stayed at her parents’ place for the first 40 days. Her Mom made food (special regenerative maternity meals) and bathed Tsolmo. This time, with Ana, my wife stays at our home and I do everything (plus entertaining and containing Tsolmo). When my mother-in-law heard that, she didn’t agree to it. She gave us money for hiring a household helper. Fortunately, I could convince my wife that we don’t need that! This really would have made me upset! I am not such a fool that we need a stranger to take care of MY daughters, do our laundry and keep the house clean! As a compromise, we ordered maternity food from a delivery service, because I am not very familiar with what kind of dishes a Mom needs after giving birth.

So far, 18 days after Ana’s birth, I still enjoy my role as father of two. My wife regenerates very quickly, has good mood and a reasonable mind. Ana is mostly sleeping and eating (breast-fed), doesn’t cry much, and obviously doesn’t have any trouble with anything. It is my job to give her a daily bath, which we both enjoy! Tsolmo needs most attention. She welcomed the new family member quite well and treats her with care and respect. Yet, I sensed a sign of jealousy recently: She wants to be carried much more than before June 12th, both at home and on the street or in the park. She didn’t realise her new role as the older sister, yet, but still wants to be the little one that is taken care of. But all in all, she is still an angel that is very easy to take care of!

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In this regard, I am happy we did not ask a household helper to come to our home! We don’t need help! The luxury that I, the father and husband, can be home and do everything has many advantages:

  • My wife feels comfortable and relaxed, because at home and with family (and nobody else) around, the environment to recover is the best!
  • Tsolmo grows up in a critical phase (the “terrible two” year) with her father around, being familiarised with the man of the house involved in housework and daily routines, therefore not developing a gender bias.
  • Tsolmo and Ana hear not only Mom’s Chinese, but also Daddy’s German! Tsolmo’s German was lagging behind the development of her Chinese, but recently it caught up rapidly!
  • I am very happy that I can bring in myself usefully, reduce the burden of my wife, feel like a real father, and spend quality time with my daughters! Yes, also bathing and changing diapers is quality time, because it is the best chance to form strong bonds with my kids!
  • We as a family create home, which is a constant process of momentary construction of atmosphere. If I was at work and instead an uninvolved household helper in our apartment, it would just not be the same!

I am not a babysitter! I am a father! One fourth of this family, with an important position to occupy and a role to play! For no money in the world would I want to miss this opportunity! I don’t say that from a selfish and egoistic perspective, but with the firm conviction that daughters want and need time with their father, and that wives are helped the most when their husbands are around as active and engaged parts of a family.

Let’s Grow Brain!

Dear Anasuya,

Here is another hint that your father is quite nerdy:

Today, we could finally take you home from the hospital after a phototherapy treatment of your Icterus Neonatorum (neonatal jaundice). That means, it was the first time that I could really hold you for long time, watch you, talk to you, feel you. In contrast to your sister at that age (one week), you often open your eyes and seem to look around, and you pay a lot of attention to noises, obviously. Immediately, the image of the rapidly growing and developing neuronal network in your brain appeared in my imagination. Every sensual impression will form a few new connections that manifest your experience in the form of cognitive capability.

brain

In the late afternoon, Tsolmo watched the Miyazaki animation My Neighbour Totoro. In this movie – very typical for Miyazaki’s illustration of his environmentalism – is a scene of a quickly growing tree from a few seeds into a giant majestic plant. I could not help but feeling strong sympathy for this symbol of the natural evolving force.

giphy

You are alive! Everything in you strives for growth, strength, improvement, becoming. Cells multiply, bones harden, fluids flow, but nowhere is this image of emergence as powerful as in your brain! Using it appropriately makes it more potent. We will try to expose you to views, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings that are as pleasant as possible so that you build trust in your environment and learn to like and love it. This will be the most efficient brain enhancer that is available!

Family complete!

What’s that? The name of the blog changed? Tsolmo and Ana? Who is Ana??

Surprise! Tsolmo got a baby sister! On June 12th at 9:35AM (Taiwanese time), Anasuya was born! A healthy girl, very tiny, but with greatness ahead! With her arrival, our family is complete!

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More about Ana will follow soon. Currently, we are still in the hospital, my wife recovering from the C-section, Ana recovering from the shock of being ripped out of her comfort zone, Tsolmo trying to entertain herself and the entire hospital floor, and me trying to keep everything together.

Of course, everything I wrote so far as “letters to Tsolmo” may also be understood as messages to Ana! From now on, I use this platform to address both of them, unless I explicitly state it at the beginning of a post. For all other readers: I hope you will still find this blog or some of its posts entertaining and/or inspiring!

Die beste Mama!

[today in German, sorry!]

Liebe Tsolmo,

heute feiert Deine Oma ihren 70. Geburtstag. Leider konntest Du sie bisher noch nicht oft treffen (immerhin zweimal für jeweils einige Wochen), da wir in verschiedenen Ländern wohnen. Lass mich Dir aus diesem Anlass mehr über sie erzählen.

TsolmoOma

Deine Oma ist meine Mama. So wie Du Deine Mama lieb hast, habe ich auch meine Mama lieb. So wie Deine Mama natürlich die Beste ist, ist meine Mama für mich auch die Beste. Obwohl das natürlich kein Wettbewerb ist, habe ich dennoch sehr gute Argumente auf meiner Seite, wie ich finde:

  • Meine Mama macht die beste Erdbeermarmelade und überhaupt das leckerste Essen. Vor allem aus all den Früchten und Gemüsen, die wir im Garten hatten! Das führt direkt zum nächsten Punkt:
  • Meine Mama ist die fleißigste Mama von allen, und zeigt dabei enormes Durchhaltevermögen und auch Opferbereitschaft. Das Leben auf dem westfälischen Land war sicher nicht immer einfach, und auch nicht unbedingt ihre eigene Entscheidung, aber sie hat zum Wohle ihrer Kinder niemals aufgegeben, uns diese Kindheit zu ermöglichen! Dafür verdient sie ewige Dankbarkeit!
  • Meine Mama sieht auch mit 70 noch nicht wie eine “Oma” aus! Kerngesund, topfit, junggeblieben und kräftig. Vor zwei Jahren noch im Taiwanischen Gebirge gekraxelt, im Moment Vollzeitpflege Deiner Urgroßeltern – das zeugt von beeindruckender Agilität und Lebensenergie (körperlich UND geistig)!
  • Meine Mama zeigt ein hohes Maß an emotionaler Kompetenz. Natürlich werden Mamas manchmal sauer, so auch meine. Einmal, nachdem ich meine kleine Schwester (Deine Tante Julia) im Badezimmer angewiesen hatte, die gesamte Klopapierrolle abzurollen (weil das lustig war), hat sie mir eine Ohrfeige verpasst. Dabei ist ein bereits lockerer Milchzahn ganz abgefallen. Das war ein Schock für meine Mama, die sogar deswegen geweint hat (ob ihrer affektiven Gewalttat gegen ihren Sohn). Dies ist noch heute ein Thema bei Familientreffen, zeigt wie sehr sie dieses Ereignis bewegt hat, aber auch, dass meine Mama stets fürsorglich, liebend und emphatisch war und ist. Das habe ich als Kind natürlich gemerkt und hatte nie Zweifel daran, von ihr geliebt zu werden.
  • Meine Mama hat eine der wichtigsten Charaktereigenschaften, die ein Mensch für ein glückliches Leben braucht, in besonders ausgeprägter Form: Geduld. Ob bei Hand- und Hausarbeiten (beim Nähen, Stricken, Bügeln, Gemüseschneiden), bei Hobbies (Kaligraphie, Kartenspielen), in der Kindererziehung (wir brauchten ja auch manchmal etwas länger…), im Auto auf der Autobahn oder im Münsteraner Stadtverkehr, bei der Arbeit am Postschalter – meine Mama hat einen ausgezeichneten Umgang mit der Zeit, nimmt und lässt sich Zeit, gibt anderen Zeit, und hat “warten” niemals wie etwas Unangenehmes aussehen lassen. Besonders das Letztere hebe ich hervor, weil das für meine Entwicklung womöglich von entscheidender Bedeutung ist: Von ihr habe ich dieses “nicht-warten”, das “Sein-im-Hier-und-Jetzt” und dessen Vorzüge gelernt, was sicher auch dazu beigetragen hat, dass ich buddhistische Praxis und Lebenseinstellung attraktiv finde.
  • Meine Mama ist klug! Vernünftig, rational, pragmatisch, weitsichtig, und auch praktisch geschickt und versiert in allen Lebenslagen. Das mag sie von ihrem Vater (Deinem Uropa) gelernt haben, einem Inbegriff der deutschen Kantischen Verkopftheit. Während es Dein Uropa jedoch bisweilen arg übertrieben hat mit dem Ernst und der Erwartung an die Mitmenschen, doch bitteschön das Gehirn zu benutzen, hat meine Mama sich selbst und auch andere niemals so unter Druck gesetzt, sondern bei allem Geist auch den Spaß am Leben, den Sinn für die einfachen Alltagsfreuden (Kniffeln beim Nachmittagskaffee), die Wichtigkeit von Freundlichkeit, und den unbeschwerten Klönschnack mit Nachbarn und Freunden nicht vergessen.

1984-08 - with mother

Ich könnte natürlich noch mehr auflisten, aber ich will Dir ja auch die Freude nicht kaputtmachen, sie selbst bald besser kennenzulernen. Dann nämlich, wenn wir nach Deutschland ziehen und Du sie viel regelmäßiger treffen wirst. Meine Mama ist ein Familienmensch, und es wird ihr daher eine Riesenfreude sein, Dich und Deine Schwester beim Aufwachsen zu begleiten, zu babysitten, zu spielen, und noch mehr. Bis dahin wünschen wir ihr ALLES GUTE ZUM GEBURTSTAG und senden einen Brief voller Liebe und Anerkennung!

DIY: Pimp My Shelf

There is still room for improvement in our apartment. Since before I moved in, there was this living room shelf with two glass door cabinets and space for a TV. Meanwhile, we threw away the TV and I had built a shelf for books and board games within that space. Yet, I wasn’t happy with the optical design of the top part. That beautiful dragon panel looked lost, the middle board always looked messy, and it felt like something is missing (I like shelfs and cabinets that almost reach the ceiling).

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See the background, not just the pretty girl!

Moreover, there are further considerations that play a role for my idea of changing the shelf into something more useful and pretty:

  • Soon, we will be a family of four, and what is now our “study room” will then be the baby room. I need to find another place where I can work (on my computer) while that room is occupied. We need to make use of the little space we have as efficiently as possible!
  • The design should also be interesting, funny and appealing for Kids.
  • You (Tsolmo) like fancy lighting a lot. There should be some lamps somewhere in the shelf.
  • The right cabinet hosts my wife’s Buddhist shrine for her daily chanting and bowing rituals. This won’t be changed.
  • The window of the door in the middle bottom also broke and had to be replaced. Since children like to draw everywhere in the apartment (except on paper while sitting at a table), I decided to turn it into a drawing board.

That last point was the easiest: I cut a thin wood board and attached it in the door frame. Paper sheets (A3 format) can be taped onto it. Your scribbles fill a sheet within a week, then it is replaced by a new blank sheet.

Since the two cabinets look, somehow, like towers, I thought that “roofs” might look good. The left cabinet got a simple gabled roof. For the right one, with the shrine underneath, I imagined a temple-like roof that can display the dragon board. I designed a ridge with two dragon heads and what I thought of as “asian style decoration”. The roof in the typical Asian temple roof shape rests on four wooden corner pillars. The back and one side is covered with red paper. Inside the roof, almost invisible from the outside, is a socket for a light bulb. With a red light bulb, the lighting looks very “temple-ish”, I think.

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The middle part is covered with a flatter but wider gabled roof. This one, too, has a light bulb socket in it. With a yellow light bulb, the decorative items on this shelf board are nicely illuminated. A small compartment on the right side with a door can be used for storing some “ugly” things that I don’t want to “stand around” openly. The coloured LED strip that I attached along the concrete beam behind a shielding board on the ceiling provides additional pretty light effects.

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For the space in the center of the shelf, I had the idea to construct a desk. I modified the earlier version of a book shelf so that I can place a PC screen and a small hifi system in it. At the right height, I attached a table leaf with hinges so that it can be folded upwards. The two legs of the table are also attached with hinges so that they can be folded inwards with the whole table then being completely flat (see the photos if my description is confusing). Now I can set up my laptop (connect to the additional screen, the hifi device and the network router (faster than wifi)) within a minute, and remove it easily whenever the kids need the space for playing. The material for this desk (table leaf, legs) and new parts of the shelf (boards, wood bars) are from a bed that a neighbour wanted to throw away (expenses: 0NT$). The whole thing cost me 400NT$ (~11€) for hinges, screws and paint.

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Happy 2nd Birthday

Dear Tsolmo!

Today is your 2nd birthday! For two years you breathe this planet’s air now, and you never stopped giving us maximum amounts of joy and amazement, triggering our unconditional love and endless happiness! Our angel! We celebrate you every day, but today is an opportunity to share the joy with everyone who wants to join in! Happy birthday, Tsolmo!

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It is also an opportunity to reflect on the past two years. Three things amaze me the most: your eating habits, your sleeping habits, and your health. They are so remarkable because I expected these to be the most difficult aspects of fatherhood, but they go astonishingly well!

I am in charge of your food, at least your regular meals. You eat everything I prepare for you! All the vegetables, fish and seafood, beans and grains, all the spices (Italian herbs, curry), Goji berries, etc. You love to eat fruits (especially bananas, guava, tangerines, apples, papaya, cherries, and even buddha heads!), and often prefer them over cookies or other snacks. We almost never have to throw away half-eaten meals, and you often don’t need any snacks between meals (except fruits). We seldom have “drama” at the dining table, and if so then because you want to play with toys or read books while eating which we sometimes don’t allow (for practical reasons). I am sure you get all the important nutrition in sufficient amounts so that we don’t need to give you any food additives. At the same time, you don’t eat too much fat or carbohydrates (sugar, starch, flour). You are physically very well developed and strong, also very active. Currently, your 92cm height and 13.4kg weight are at the upper range of 2-year-olds worldwide (according to a WHO table).

Besides the unproblematic eating behaviour, you also sleep extraordinarily well! We often put you to bed at 8pm or a bit later. Usually, you sleep latest at 9pm. You seldom wake up during the night. I mean, REALLY SELDOM! I can count the events with two hands, and all those happened during an illness. We can always sleep until 7am, at least, often even longer. Additionally, you have a nap of 90-120 minutes after lunch. I believe, this good sleep has several positive consequences, like a very stable temper, high mobility, activity and energy during the awake time, good attention and curiosity, good mood and playfulness!

Both, eating and sleeping, definitely have a positive impact on the third astonishing fact about your life so far: You have never been really sick. A few (maybe 5?) light illnesses (colds) with elevated temperature (which hardly count as ‘fever’) and runny nose. Teething hasn’t been any problem, you never (NEVER!) had any digestion problem like stomach ache (as far as we can tell) or diarrhea, you never vomited, you didn’t even have rashes on your butt! The worst problem you have to deal with is mosquito bites that we can’t prevent 100%.

Probably, all three aspects are connected and related. Good sleep means good activity. Good activity means good appetite. Good appetite means enough nutrition. Everything together means good health. Good health (physical and mental) means good sleep. And so on. I hope we (your parents) and you in cooperation can keep this cycle running for as long as possible!

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