Breakfast Time in Zhangjiajie

On our way to an early morning hike in Zhangjiajie National Park, we passed by a string of local restaurants, open to their clientele for a hearty breakfast.

The local breakfast seemed to be based around noodles, boiled fresh to order and paired with your selection from a variety of spicy broths. Other options included steamed dumplings (饺子;jiaozi) or simple rice porridge with toppings such as salted peanuts, marinated cucumbers, and preserved vegetables.

Not a bad way to start the day, if you ask me. (Although, those spicy broths could be potentially dangerous)

Supermarket shock. English Muffins with Poached Egg and Chorizo.

You know you’ve been in China for too long when….

Living in China comes with its share of stories, jokes, and life lessons. Along with liberally spitting out the acronym TI(This Is China!), always said in part jest and part exasperation, the laowai (directly translated: Old Outsider. Basically, Chinese slang for any expat/foreigner) are always making comments about life in China. I mean, you know you’ve been in China for too long when….

How would one go about finishing this sentence? Well, for example, when…

…the sound of subway doors sliding open elicits a natural response to stick out your elbows.

…Tiger Beer no longer gives you nasty hangovers

…grunting is language. “mmn” becomes synonymous with “yes” and “unhh” synonymous with “sure“.

…every other sentence out of your mouth starts with the clause, bu hao yi si, 不好意思. Part “oh sorry!” and part “oops”, here in China it is used without any thought, and precedes just about any comment- a suggestion, a question, a snarky remark, and an insult. It works. bu hao yi si, can I interrupt? bu hao yi si, but I have to step on all ten of your toes to get bybu hao yi si, but your baby is uglybu hao yi si, can I borrow three hundred bucks? It’s basically the email smiley face emoticon of China.

…Privacy? What’s that?

…on a trip home to America, you notice people are staring at you inside of a Macy’s because you are yelling into your cell phone. No problem honey, I’ll pick up your diarrhea medicine on the way to dinner. What?!

…you drink hot water out of a tall glass as if it were lemonade.

…frozen burritos in the aisle of the supermarket causes heart palpitations from sheer excitement.

I could go on, but I think you get it.

That last one, the one with the burrito, actually happened the other day. The DiploMan and I were marveling at the wonders of a Western supermarket that had been open for awhile, but that we had only recently gotten across town to visit. ‘Western’ supermarket, as in, stocked predominantly with imported goods- Duncan Hines cake mix, a real deli counter with cold cuts and cheeses, dishwashing liquid, tampons, etc. I believe Barrett’s first words were in the canned food aisle,

“uuuhmagawd, they have different kinds of olives

I’m actually still not sure if this quote came as a question or an exclamation.

And later, when the Amy’s burritos appeared in misty cases of the freezer aisle, it sent shockwaves down our spines. I almost dropped the bag of King Arthur’s Flour in my hands.

Needless to say, we easily spent the 1000RMB necessary to obtain a frequent buyer card. After a long cab ride home spent chatting about Kettle Chips and Greek Yogurt, we got home and emptied our groceries onto the kitchen counter. In truth, our 1000RMB didn’t get us very far, especially in comparison to the measly 30RMB I spent at the wet market earlier in the week. So we’re combining some local goods- eggs, spinach, cilantro, onions, etc., and rationing our treasured goodies, devouring breakfasts such as the one below with poached egg, Thomas’ English Muffins, chorizo and greek yogurt.

We might just die when we see Whole Foods again.

Poached Eggs and Chorizo on English Muffins


  • 2/3 cup chorizo, diced into small cubes
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • a few sprigs of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
  • English Muffins
  • 2-4 eggs (depending on how hungry you are, or how many people you have)
  • 1 Tbsp. white distilled vinegar (for poaching eggs)
  • Greek Yogurt


  1. Saute onions on high for 3 minutes, add chorizo and saute for another two minutes. Add the remainder of the ingredients and turn down heat. Saute on med for another 5-7 minutes or until onions are thoroughly browned and chorizo is charred and crisp. Take off the burner and set aside.
  2. Toast English Muffins. Optional: Drizzle with olive oil or spread with butter.
  3. Poach Egg (see instructions below). Set the poached egg on top of one half of the English Muffin, and add a generous few spoonfuls of the chorizo-onion-tomato mixture over it and on the second half of the English Muffin. Top off with dollops of full-fat Greek yogurt.

yield: 2-3 servings

How to Poach An Egg:

  1. Crack each egg into one small prep bowl, one egg per bowl. In a small or medium saucepan, heat water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of white vinegar, and turn down heat to Medium.
  2. Lightly swirl the water with a fork, and drop one egg into the pan. Don’t touch it. After a minute, use a spatula or slotted spoon and make sure it hasn’t stuck to the bottom of the pan. Drop in a second egg at this time, if you dare.
  3. Let each egg cook for approx. 4 minutes. Or more, if you want the yolk to be slightly firmer.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, carefully fish the egg out of the water and set on a plate lined with paper towels. Carefully flip over to pat egg dry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Carefully transfer to a plate. 
  5. Did I mention, to do all this carefully?


I thought I knew Mexican food.

But I clearly have a lot to learn. Mexican cuisine has so much more than the my Tex-Mex, Baja California style burritos and enchiladas that I’m used to. This even goes beyond tacos al pastor, my friends.

Take molletes, for example.

I saw molletes on every menu in Mexico, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Finally the DiploMan entertained us and ordered a plate one morning, and much to our delight, something that resembled cheesy bread came out to the table accompanied with a side of salsa. But- what doesn’t come accompanied with salsas in Mexico? Just one more reason to love the country.

Molletes are probably just as much a cultural mash-up as nachos are, a European Spanish and Indigenous Local mash-up. The garlic bread of the South, if I dare to name it as such. On top of toasted baguette, is slathered a layer of black beans, cheese, and meat or vegetables of your choosing (through throughout the several plates of molletes we ended up ordering by the end of our vacation, chorizo seemed to rule supreme). And it tastes just as good as you would imagine bread and meat and cheese to taste. Why isn’t this stuff on the menus at home?!

**And just while we’re on the subject of ordering good food for breakfast, here’s a quick snapshot of huevos rancheros. Not made in what we typically see in cast iron skillets, but rather two simple fried runny eggs slathered with a tomatoe salsa and with a side of beans. Easy, classic, so good.

Cinnamon Rolls, and how not to make 3 dozen.

Nowadays breakfast is sometimes a slice of toast, yogurt with granola, or oatmeal, and more often than not just a cup of strong coffee. Growing up my family didn’t have very many elaborate breakfasts, and although we were required to have dinner together every night, breakfast was a come-as-you-awaken sort of deal. When I go home to visit my folks these days, it’s still the same deal. Living on my own, it’s the same deal.

Unlike many families my dad was the one in charge of breakfast in our household, also assuming the roles of lunch packer, sandwich maker, waker-upper, and school chauffeur when we were growing up. He was the only one in our house that was able to get out of bed at 6am each morning every day of the week. On the weekends when there was no school and no early morning piano lessons, if we were out of bagels or croissants he would flip open the Joy of Cooking and make a batch of pancakes, which is to this day one of my favorite olfactory memories growing up.

This weekend, I thought of my dad and his pancakes as I looked up a recipe for cinnamon buns. I was inspired…what was I inspired by? I think I saw something online about cinnamon rolls, and knew I had all the ingredients in the pantry [flour (check), sugar (check), yeast (check), cinnamon (check) Yes!] So I felt inspired (which in cooking terms, also means I had a craving…), but I didn’t have much after that. We never had these growing up- my dad never made them, we never asked for them. Not as if something this sweet and buttery would have made it to our kitchen table, anyway. As I was scouring the internet for the perfect recipe for cinnamon rolls, I desperately wished that I had a frame of reference- a smell, a secret ingredient, a method of preparation- to refer to, as I would with a recipe for pancakes. But I didn’t, and relying on my own kitchen gumption, I decided to mash-up two different recipes, roll up my sleeves, and see if I could make these cinnamon rolls work. Intending to make a mere dozen, I ended up producing a whopping three dozen cinnamon rolls. But don’t worry, two dozen were gone by Saturday evening thanks to sweet-loving friends (sweet, loving friends?).

So, here’s my take on cinnamon rolls. It’s the first time in awhile that I wasn’t completely sure I was going to have success with a recipe. Thankfully, it wasn’t the first time that I didn’t have success with a recipe.

In an effort to keep all my lovely readers and friends thin, here is my adapted recipe, halved, and adapted a little more.

Cinnamon Rolls

adapted from the Smitten Kitchen and Homesick Texan recipes


For the dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast


  • 3/4 cup packed golden brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature


  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp. Bailey’s liqeur
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh brewed coffee
  • 1/8 tsp. salt


  1. Mix the milk, butter and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter and sugar melt. Turn off the range and allow the mixture to cool slightly, about 30 minutes.
  2. When the mixture is warm (you can stick your finger in to test it out), stir in the yeast. Let this sit for a minute.
  3. Add 4 cups of flour incrementally, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go along to make sure the liquid is incorporated nicely. Mix in one egg. Cover with a lid, and let this sit for 1 hour.
  4. After an hour, mix the remaining 1/2 flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Incorporate into the batter, turn onto a floured surface and knead a few times until dough is smooth but still slightly sticky. Cover with a tea towel and let this rest for another 20 minutes.
  5. While the dough sits, mix filling, incorporating the brown sugar and cinamon.
  6. Making sure the surface is still adaquately floured, roll out dough to about 11×16 inches, the dough should be at least 1/4-1/2 in thick. Spread the room temperature butter on the rectangular piece of dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border on the three sides closest to you. Pour the cinnamon sugar mixture over the butter, creating a thin, even layer, if necessary spreading with your hands.
  7. Starting at the longer edge furthest from you, roll the dough inwards, towards your body, pressing and tucking with a bit of pressure to make sure the roll sticks to itself.With the seam side down, cut the rolled log into ~3/4 inch slices.
  8. Brush two baking dishes with butter, and arrange the rolls about 1 inch apart on the dishes. Let rolls rise for another 30 minutes (a lot of rising, I know!). Preheat oven to 375degrees
  9. Bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes, or until tops are golden. It’s best to bake these on the top rack, so the bottoms don’t get too browned and crisp.
  10. Remove from oven, and invert onto a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Once relatively cool to handle, flip rolls up and glaze. (To make glaze: combine all ingredients, stir until smooth)

yield: between 12-16 cinnamon rolls

Yes, these looked as good as they tasted. They should have, with the amounts of butter and sugar. Like the pancakes my dad made, I hope one day I’ll perfect this recipe so my kids will have something to talk about.