Adventure Tasks: Peking Gourmet Inn

Before I get started on this amazing place called Dar, I want to revisit a few favorite places from back home – whatever that word means these days. As an aspiring writer, as a versed traveller, and I suppose inherently as an American, I often find the US all too familiar and all too bland in its everyday, and consequently will fall off the blogging wagon – or get on, whatever the one that’s not a good thing. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – there are just as many thrills and just as much to explore during our everyday lives in the US as there are living in an exotic place. Apparently, it takes being away to realize this, because I sure as hell wasn’t this inspired four months ago. Alas…grass….greener….you know.

peking gourmet-teacup

Looking back, I smile when I think about the places I was able to visit and the new friends I acquired, and as a whole about the entire newness that was living in DC for eight months, all of which, in between these amazing new experiences I’m having, I do find a little bit of time to miss.

I’ve been wanting to write about them for some time, so I suppose now – when I have 20G of internet connection slowly ticking down (will explain that reasoning later), a houseful of ugly furniture and even uglier tile (whyyyyyy kitchen tile, whyyyyyy), and a high sun that shines on me like hell hath fury on my straight black hairs and cluster of Asian freckles, I supposed now is as good a time as any to stay inside under my ceiling fan and A/C and write.

In the nine months of living back in the states, excluding a week here and there when I was home visiting my parents, I could count the number of times I ate Chinese Food. That number was two. A pretty lousy, pretty lonely, pretty sad number of a number, no? I suppose after two years of living in China, all the Diploman and I wanted to do was alternate between tacos al pastor and trips to Sweetgreen….sort of joking, but it did happen more than once where we would have lunch at Sweetgreen and dinner at El Chucho, and the next day have lunch at Sweetgreen and then dinner at El Centro, and the day after that, lunch at Chipotle and then dinner at Sweetgreen.

peking gourmet-menu

When I wasn’t eating gourmet salads and slow roasted marinated pork, I tried to venture out of my bubble. Peking Gourmet Inn was one of these adventures.

Adventure Task Number One: Leave DC, via the freeway, which –holy cow I live in a bubble– is definitely a new adventure in itself. And then you take one of the exits, which spits out into stripmallville, which is precisely Adventure Task Number Two: Balk in Awe at Stripmalls. In case you’re wondering, these stripmalls look the same as they do in Southern California as they did in the nether-wheres of Virginia and/or Maryland (because to me, the two are still somewhat a blob). Predictably, stores like Vitamin Shoppe (with an “e” thank you very much) and Best Buy and Target and video-rental-stores-slash-adult-video-stores all laid out in perfect little plots.

Finally, after passing about five strip malls that weren’t the one, we found the one strip mall that was the one! Adventure Task Number Three: Arrive at Peking Gourmet Inn.

Walking into the restaurant recalled a mish-mash of every other Chinese restaurant I had ever been to, whether at home in the States or during my two years in China. Middle-aged waiters dressed like penguins, stern-faced and very quick with movements. Knick Knacks of gold and red adorning the walls. Walls covered with framed photographs, of people who were presumeably owners or investors or perhaps just waitstaff, shaking hands and getting chummy with politicians and movie stars – definitely more the former than the latter, we are in DC after all. A matronly hostess, acknowledging our presence but somehow managing to make us feel ignored, belittled, and having to pay her respect just to get a table, even though we did have reservations. Adventure Task Number Four: Get the hostess’ attention!

Because we have a 6pm reservation, we’re one of the first ones to arrive. We are shown our seats through the maze of a restaurant (though all walls of the maze are filled with decor and picture frames) and then given menus the size of the Declaration of Independence. Adventure Task Number Five: Ordering Food from a Giant Menu. Flipping through, I come to a happy realization that I am now in the Virginia suburbs, which might as well have been a mini China in-itself, and can finally feast on great Chinese Food again. Because Chinese Food has a bad rap, it has many many bad imitations, and good Chinese Food is truly something angels could possibly sing about.

peking gourmet-duck

I happily chirp in with my suggestions (Family Style Tofu!! Sauteed Garlic Sprouts!!!) and we agree on a handful of dishes as well as two orders of Peking Duck for the five of us. That’s almost one duck between me and my friend, but who’s counting? After all, at a place like Peking Duck Gourment Inn, you cannot miss the duck, and ordering one just seemed silly.

The duck was brought out and carved tableside, breasts gleaming and oozing with oil each time the expertly-wielded machete made its way into the meat. Skin and Meat were grouped alongside each other on a porcelain dish, with the fat scraped and patted down between carving.

Each dish that came to our table was served to us in a manner as if we were either children incapable of serving ourselves, or else we were high kings in an ancient court. Either way, we were just shy of being spoonfed our first bites. Waiter rolled our first peking duck pancakes for us. They spooned our veggies onto our plates. They poured our tea. Our head waiter would come up to us in between bites, leaning in very closely to ask, “It’s good, yes?”

We would reply, “Mmmmm, yes!”

And he would say, feigning a very convincing surprised, “Thank you!”

This went on throughout the entire dinner, after every dish was brought out. Adventure Task Number Six: Stuff yourself silly.

peking gourmet-meal


Turkey Meatballs, prompted by my better half.

fennel seeds

The other day, after dinner, my ‘better half’ mentioned that he was “kinda over salads, I think”. This being said after a dinner of, you guessed it: salad. Now, you may (but probably don’t) remember that all we craved in China were salads. So after that quip, there was clearly a ‘lesser’ half at the dinner table.

As much as I forcefully will things to happen – say, for instance, eating salads every night for dinner – minds change, people change, ideas change, and circumstances change. Pretty soon I’ll be hearing crazy talk like, “let’s have Chinese food for dinner” (which happened this weekend, so crazy!). I hate being thrown curveballs.

I like things to be consistent. I like to establish solid routines, and I hate getting told things are probably better otherwise. This is why I prefer to keep the friends that I already have over making new ones- no offense. I don’t care how nice our neighbors are, they’re not my friends (yet). I’d prefer to settle in a nice apartment for several years if I can and really making it my own, rather than picking up and moving every two years into places with ugly walls and even uglier furniture I don’t care if we can buy slipcovers. Actually, I care, because slipcovers are ugly too.

dry meatball mixture

I get nervous when I am unfamiliar with a neighborhood, or a person, or say, when I’m riding a bike at a comfortable speed and my husband tells me to go faster. I can’t! Not outside my comfort zone! And don’t tell me I can, that just pisses me off. I’ll do it at my own pace. My pace includes a good, solid routine wherever I am. Trust me, I’d get lost in a whirlwind of to-do lists and Facebook searches without a good routine.

Do you hear how ridiculous all of this makes me sound?


I try (pretend) to be the ‘go-with-the-flow, throw-me-a-curveball’ sort of girl. And for many of you, I’ve got your fooled! Suckers! Because I can actually play this part really well, and by now I’ve had a good ten-year run at practice. But at the heart of it, I’m always thinking, always planning, always comparing one situation or person or instance to the next. Chances are, I’m always more anxious than you think.

And no, I’m not on any meds. Yet.

At the end of my yoga class yesterday, the instructor reminded us to be mindful and take inspiration in the every day. Maybe I was hypnotized by yogic bliss, but it her simple reminder stuck with me in a more profound way. Because, being a someone’s ‘other half’ doesn’t fare well with this ‘no-change’ policy. Neither does having to move around every two years for said ‘other half’s’ job.

meatballs in the pan

So I’ve got a new mantra, which is to embrace the recent changes in my life without too many of my pre-supposed standards : marriage, moving back to DC, establishing a career from home. If I’m going to be a ‘writer’, well, I’d better go ahead and start writing. If I’m going to go to yoga every day, I guess I’d better put on my leggings as soon as I wake up in the morning. And finally, if my husband says he doesn’t like salads anymore, then for effing sakes, I’ll make a huge batch of meatballs instead. It’s the little things first, people.

This blog has recently been a lot of showing off pictures and bragging about where I’ve been. A lot of mundane activity, in other words. These are slightly deeper thoughts, and more importantly, help to get me back to what I’ve always loved to do, which is write, and also make and share some food. So here, here’s a recipe for some turkey meatballs. At least here, when my dining companion suggests for a change, I can make it happen, now. As far as this writing thing goes, well, we’ll see.

Turkey Meatballs

inspired by a recipe from the blog Arugula Files, here

  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 medium white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium cubanelle pepper (or poblano pepper)
  • 6 cremini mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesano reggiano
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 lbs. ground turkey thigh
  • 2 eggs
  1. In a small skillet, toast fennel seeds for 2-3 minutes over med-high heat, shaking pan often to prevent burning. When seeds are browned, transfer to a spice mill or grinder. Grind to a fine powder.
  2. Place white onion, garlic, peppers, and mushrooms into a food processor, and pulse until chopped very finely. Alternatively, if you do not have a food processer (as I don’t), chop each ingredient very very finely the old fashioned way – with a good chef’s knife and a big cutting board – and transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Add ground fennel seeds as well. Add 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese and 3/4 cup breadcrumbs. Stir and mix very well, until all ingredients are incorporated. Add a few good pinches of salt, and freshly ground pepper. The brilliant thing about this method of mixing all the ‘dry’ ingredients together is that you can still taste and adjust for seasoning before you add your meat.
  3. Place your turkey meat in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Beat eggs, and add them to the bowl. Using one hand, fold turkey once or twice to slightly mix in eggs, being careful not to squish the meat between your fingers. Add about 1/3 of the dry onion/breadcrumb mixture to the meat, and fold several more times again. Repeat two more times, adding 1/3 of the mixture and incorporating it into the meat until well-mixed. Stirring and mixing too vigorously and too much will cause a firmer, harder, and thus drier meatball, so make sure you are conscious to use your hands lightly.
  4. Using a spoon, scoop 1-oz. sized meatballs, gently forming or rolling with your hands. Again, don’t play with the meatballs too much or pack them too tightly. Weighing each meatball is encouraged, although feel free to eyeball your amounts if you’re short on time. I like my meatballs on the smaller side of things. Feel free to double the weight and make ’em bigger if you like! Place the balls on a nonstick surface, such as a baking sheet lined with silpat or foil.
  5. Once all the meat is formed into balls, wash your hands thoroughly. Heat about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat, or enough oil to thickly coat the bottom of the pan. Place as many meatballs as can comfortably fit onto the skillet, and turn heat down slightly to med or med-high. Using a spatula, roll meatballs every 20-30 seconds to ensure an even, brown fry. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the outsides are completely browned. Transfer to a rack to cool. Add more meatballs into the skillet, and repeat. Continue until all the meatballs are cooked, wiping pan and adding more oil only if necessary.
  6. To finish meatballs, place a desired amount of sauce (preferably homemade) into a large pot. Place cooled meatballs into the sauce, mix a few times to ensure all meatballs are evenly coated, and turn heat down to med-low. Cover and simmer for 40-45 minutes. Serve hot, over noodles. Or, in a baguette with some provolone for a delicious sandwich!
**Freezing Option: Once your meatballs are completely cooled after step #5, transfer to sealable freezer bags or containers. To cook, place meatballs and sauce and cook according to directions in step #6.

Yield: 4 dozen meatballs, enough for 8-10 servings with pasta and sauce.


Finally, no offense, but what’s with food in the shape of balls? Cake balls? Fish balls? No good. The only food that is acceptable in the form of balls, on my dinner table, is the rustic, authentic, meatball. I can only accept so much change, people.

Perfect pizza dough

For some people, a simple dinner means boiling a pot of water and pouring it over Cup-O-Noodles.  Voila!, dinner in five minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against that. In fact, I remember the occasional busy Sunday afternoon growing up, we’d do the same thing. Right before or after basketball practice/girl scouts meetings/Costco trips/piano recitals, my parents, rushing from one child’s needs to the next, would “make lunch” by pouring boiling water out of an old tea kettle into four Cups-O-Noodles, setting the chopsticks over the rim of the styrofoam to keep the lid closed. After five minutes worth of cleaning up, cleaning off, and cleaning out the car, lunch wasn’t something on the to-do list anymore.

But a “simple” dinner to me doesn’t mean something I can heat up in five minutes (although, that would be nice, and in case you didn’t know already I obviously don’t have kids yet). A simple dinner is something that I can prepare with minimal attention, I get with easy prep work, and can use up whatever I have lying in the fridge. Oh, it also helps if it pairs well with the last bottle of Shiraz in the cabinet.

Homemade pizza is on the top of this simple dinner list. To be more specific, this homemade pizza is on the top of my simple dinner list, because it really is so. easy. to. prepare…especially when I have leftover tomato sauce in my fridge from the night before. I first read about it on The Wednesday Chef blog earlier this year, and couldn’t believe when all I had to do was let a basic, lightly kneaded dough sit for about an hour, flatten it out, top it, and bake it for 10 minutes. Sometimes, I use the hour the dough needs to sit to paint my toenails or write a blog post. Other times, I use this hour to clean up around the house. The other day, I used this hour (plus some) to go play a round of badminton with B and then shower up.

What’s better, since we both love thin crust, the quantity of dough the recipe makes is best split into two, and the other half saved in the fridge to be rolled out for a second night’s dinner. So, this is a recipe where I don’t have to go to the store for any ingredients, I get to play in the kitchen, yank and knead and punch dough around like it’s play-dough, then play a round of badminton, “cook” dinner, and also have some left for another night’s dinner, all in one easy recipe? You can see why it’s one of my favorite ‘simple’ meals.

I mentioned that I don’t have to go to the store for this recipe. On a hot, tiring day, this is the best news ever. We’ve gotten into the habit of having mozzarella in the fridge, because we can get a good deal on decent mozzarella near our house (a huge block, imported, far from the real good stuff and anything local, but it’s cheese!). And on top of that, whatever I have around in the kitchen then gets scattered over the top. Often times it’ll be anchovies from the pantry or roasted garlic, and if there’s no tomato sauce leftover in the freezer then simply canned whole tomatoes (like Luisa does in her original adaptation of the recipe). I’ve added spring onions, mushrooms, caramelized onions- all leftover groceries that haven’t been used up in other dishes, all from the wet market. For my most recent pizza, I splurged on imported pepperoni at the store, and I happily doused the pizza with a layer of the meat, thinly sliced green onions, sliced shallots, and minced hot chinese red peppers.

I’ve gotta warn you- if you try the recipe, even if you take it word for word, you probably won’t get it quite right the first time. Nor even the second. Every time it will taste really really good, but it won’t be near perfect until your fourth or fifth time around, because the dough takes some getting used to working with. The thickness is hard to gauge until you’ve baked it, and there’s absolutely no way of knowing how each oven cooks the dough. I, personally, am happy to say I’m near perfect in the making of this pizza…which I guess tells you how many times I’ve made this since I saw the recipe in February, right?

the Perfect Pizza Dough

adapted from The Wednesday Chef and Jamie Oliver


  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 packet (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast (like Fleischman’s)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. good olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups spring water


  1. Pour flour and salt into a large bowl. In a measuring cup, heat the water for about 20-30 seconds. Mix the yeast, sugar, and olive oil with the warm water, stirring until yeast and sugar is dissolved and let this sit for a few minutes. Create a well in the bowl of flour and slowly pour in the liquid, using a fork to stir the flour in. Keep pouring/stirring until everything is incorporated. At this point, the dough will be loose and shaggy. There will be a little excess flour at the bottom of the bowl, but that’s fine.
  2. Dump the mixture onto a clean surface and start to knead, drawing in the loose flour. Knead for a few minutes, or until fully incorporated and dough is smooth and springy.
  3. Lightly coat a clean, dry bowl (I just wash and dry the original flour bowl) with olive oil, and place the ball of dough into the bowl, turning over once or twice to coat with olive oil. Cover this with a damp tea towel and set aside. Now, you can grate your cheese and prepare whatever other toppings you plan to top the pizza with, or go check your Facebook for a bit.
  4. After one hour, the dough should be roughly doubled in size, and lightly dotted with bubbles. Turn the dough over on a lightly-floured surface (there will be enough oil to keep in from really sticking), and punch the dough down- literally, give in a few good whacks with your fist. Split into two even parts, wrap one with saran wrap and store in the fridge or freezer for another use. Or prepare to make two pizzas.
  5. At this point, preheat the oven to the highest temperature- my oven goes to 550F.
  6. Knead the dough in front of you once or twice over itself, and roll into a ball. Start to flatten out the dough- I like to use my fingertips first and then use a roller to get it nice and thin, but even pulling and pinching can do the trick if you like a thicker crust. I try to get the dough as thin as possible without tearing, because both B and I like a thin crust.
  7. Spread a generous bit of olive oil onto a large baking sheet, and transfer the rolled-out pizza dough on the sheet. Now you’re ready to assemble the pizza, using whatever combinations of tomatoes/cheese/miscellaneous toppings you desire.
  8. Place the pan on the top rack of the oven- I’ve found that this will prevent the bottom from burning too quickly in my regular baking pan (if you have a pizza stone, you’re awesome and don’t have to heed this cooking advice). After about 15-20 minutes, turn the oven to broil, and let the toppings sizzle, watching carefully. Take the pizza out of the oven after another minute or two, and let it rest for five minutes for the flavors and cheese to set.
  9. ENJOY it with a good glass of wine or beer.

Hot Pot

The Chinese version of fondue, or shabu shabu, hot pot is all the rage here in Guangzhou.  In an effort to eat as much hot pot as we can before it warms up here (B checked our 10-day forecast and weather up to the 70’s is expected within the next two weeks!!) we joined a few other folks last night for yet another hot pot dinner.  Here’s the spread we were faced with: