Surprise! I Went to China for a Week!

I just did the most spontaneous thing of my whole life- I went to China for a week. 

If you had told me this time last month that I’d go to China in a few short weeks, I would have laughed at you. After all, I have school! I have classes and exams! Traveling is expensive!

Now why in the world would I be so spontaneous, especially since spontaneity is not really a trait I possess? How and why did I go to China?fullsizeoutput_654Well, my boyfriend (news, I know!) decided to study abroad in Shanghai. Not too long ago he asked if I wanted to come visit him at the beginning of October because he had a week off school due to a national Chinese holiday. It sounded like an incredible experience. However, I thought, “No way!” at first for the reasons listed above (cost and school). Then I told my mom that I was invited to visit China and she said that I HAD to go if my professors were cool with it… because going to China is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I talked to my professors and, believe it or not, they said I should go to China! I’d be missing an exam in one class… the professor just said I could make it up when I got back and asked if I would see the Great Wall!

The next hurdle was cost, and it turns out tickets to Shanghai in October are relatively cheap ($650 round trip!!). I weighed my options of going versus not going, my overpowering thought being, “When else am I ever going to go to China if I don’t go now!?”

With that in mind, I decided to go for it. I booked my ticket, got my (expedited) Visa, and got ready to TRAVEL TO CHINA.fullsizeoutput_62d

Day 1-ish: Friday/ Saturday/ Sunday

My family drove to Chicago Friday evening, we spent the night, and then they dropped me off at the airport for my 13.5 hour journey while they had a day of fun at the Field Museum. Half a book, a nap, and three movies later I arrived on the other side of the world. It was late afternoon Sunday in the giant city of Shanghai, even though I left the USA early Saturday morning. My boyfriend, Elliott, was waiting at the airport for me and it was lovely to see him. We stayed in the heart of Shanghai, at a hotel in the World Financial Center, for the first two nights (above: the view from the room). We had an early night the first night- we just dined at the hotel restaurant overlooking the city lights.

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Day 2: Monday

We woke up around 9 and took the subway (just like NYC!) to the Jing’an Buddhist Temple, stopping for breakfast on the way. The menu was in Chinese but had pictures, so we basically just pointed at what looked good and hoped we got something we liked. I got veggie dumplings… which came with caviar on top (that I picked off). They were not my favorite, but I’m all about trying the local cuisine.fullsizeoutput_623fullsizeoutput_62a

The temple was so ornate. We explored the many prayer rooms and fountains. Afterwards we subwayed to the “fake” market underneath the Museum of Science and Industry where we “haggled” for goods. We tired ourselves out with some walking, then went back to the hotel for a nap. We had an early dinner at a restaurant called The Blue Frog inside the Financial Center (“The Applebees of China,” according to a review). I had the veggie platter obviously. Then we wandered around and saw the Oriental Pearl Tower, a crazy-looking radio tower built by a Chinese architect. I was amazed at the amount of greenery throughout the city: there are planters and trees everywhere!

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Day 3: Tuesday

We woke up and taxied to the train station for an 11 am train to Beijing for a 2.5 day adventure there. I tried my first “hot Asian bun” in the station, a savory vegetable mixture inside a more-bready-than-I-thought bun. It was so much better than I thought it would be… like it was amazing. We finally arrived in Beijing after a 5 hour ride. It was colder there (55 degrees F) but the sky was blue and sunny. We taxied to our fancy hotel, the Rosewood, unpacked, and checked out the Sanlitun district for shopping and dinner.

We snagged some authentic Vietnamese cold noodles at Saigon Mama then stopped at a rooftop bar called Cantina Agave. I highly recommend checking Sanlitun out if you go to Beijing. You don’t really have to worry about food/ drink safety here as the area is geared toward Westerners. Plus great food and dope buildings.fullsizeoutput_607fullsizeoutput_61e

Day 3: Wednesday

fullsizeoutput_61fWe woke up at 7 and gorged ourselves on the hotel breakfast bar. I tried all the fruit, watermelon juice, a walnut bun, fried potatoes, roasted tomatoes, and sautéed rosemary mushrooms. Elliott got Asian buns, eggs Benedict, pastries, and more. Then we met a guide at 8 and took a car to the GREAT WALL OF CHINA (the Mutianyu section). It was a 2 hour ride and the wall itself was quite crowded because of Golden Week (which celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China) this week so everyone was on vacation. We walked some steep steps up to the “walking part” of the Wall. The view was incredible, of both the Wall and the surrounding mountains. I can’t believe how long the wall is too- around 13,170 miles total!

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We took a cable car down the mountainside, then the car back to Beijing. We spent Wednesday evening wandering around the streets of the Dongcheng(?) district, a maze of shops and eateries. We got dinner at a questionably sanitary spot, and I ate some icky (what I thought were noodles but turned out to be) mushrooms. Definitely the grossest food I ate on the trip. Afterwards we went back to the Sanlitun district for dessert because we liked it so much.

Day 4: Thursday

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We woke up around 9 and went to the convenient hotel breakfast. The buffet was a little different today: they had rosemary roasted potatoes and mushrooms, a tomato chickpea stew, fruit, and more. From there we traversed to the Temple of Heaven and walked around there for a few hours before heading to the Hongqiao Pearl Market to haggle for souvenirs.

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The exploring continued after with a trip to Tian’anmen Square. We walked around the Square to Quianman Street, where we stumbled upon an ENTIRELY VEGAN restaurant! I had no idea before walking in that this would be my favorite food spot on the whole trip. We split the most incredible dumplings (green ones filled with some sort of coleslaw thing and white ones filled with veggies), a noodle stir fry (bottom left picture), a veggie eggplant curry, and “spare ribs” (veggie “meat” with peppers and sauce smothering FRENCH FRIES, bottom right picture). It was FANTASTIC.

We burned some of the calories we consumed by walking to and around the Wangfujing shopping district, which seems similar to the Times Square area of New York City with its bright lights and swarms of people. We went back to the hotel around 8:30 and I did homework (since I’m ditching class) before going to bed early.

Day 5: Friday

We had to wake up at 5:30 am for our 8 am train ride back to Shanghai. I tried some wasabi crunchy pea things while Elliott had some questionable ramen noodles in the train station. After the long ride, we checked into our new hotel then wandered around the “French Concession” area next door.fullsizeoutput_6dc

We stopped for lunch at Element Fresh, a chain of fresh food restaurants started by an American guy in China. I got a vegetarian Pad Thai which ended up coming with rice and a delightfully warming pumpkin soup. This was probably my second favorite meal of the trip behind the vegan place. We walked around some more then stopped for dinner at The Refinery, also in the French quarter. It was an enjoyable last night together.IMG_1808

Day 6: Saturday

fullsizeoutput_668My last day in China… SAD! We woke up and went to the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Then we subwayed to the Yuyuan Gardens, where we squeezed through the crowd to buy souvenirs. After bumping into too many people, we went back to the hotel and literally just sat around until I had to leave for my afternoon flight. I was sad to leave but happy to have been blessed with such a fun experience! I arrived home to my family around 10 pm Saturday night after a LONG day of traveling (12.5 hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago, 4 hour layover in Chicago, 1 hour flight home). What a week. Now it’s back to reality… and organic chemistry!

xx Ellie

Question: Have you ever missed school or work to travel? Where did you go?

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Deceptively Decadent Brownies

Decadent healthy brownies. Which word does not belong? The answer is that they all belong, because there really is such thing as a decadent yet healthy brownie! Don’t believe me? Well, the proof is in the pudding… I mean batter.IMG_3508

It took many tries, but I finally perfected a recipe for the perfect brownies. I sacrificed myself as a brownie taste tester, and had to eat upwards of six different brownies and batters- what a rough life! It ended in triumph though, as this recipe was crowned the winner of the best brownie… possibly ever.IMG_3506

The best part about these brownies? They’re also secretly healthy, or at least healthier than most other brownie recipes floating around the inter web. How? Well first of all, they’re vegan so they’re not chock-full of artery-clogging, high calorie butter. Second of all, they have a healthy secret ingredient in them. Hint: it’s a ~trendy~ leafy green. If you guessed kale, you win a virtual brownie!IMG_3503

Yes, kale brownies. Am I crazy for creating these? Only slightly. I promise they don’t taste like kale though. Seriously. They just taste like gooey, cakey, chocolatey goodness. I got the idea of sticking veggies into dessert from the cookbook Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. The whole point of the cookbook is to encourage parents to sneak veggies into their kids’ diets, and you already know I love it. Anyone who likes desert but is trying to be a little healthier, or wants an excuse to eat more brownies, will love this recipe. They’re “healthy,” so you can eat more of them- right?!DSC_0010DSC_0046IMG_3505

FYI, these brownies are definitely more cakey than crunchy or chewy- they’re pretty tall and thick. That just means there’s more to love! But if you’re a fan of a very crunchy, chewy, crackly-topped brownie than these might not be for you. I encourage everyone to give them a try though, because why not be a little insane and sneak some vegetables into brownies?IMG_3504

Deceptively Decadent Brownies

Makes 16 brownies

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup oil (canola or vegetable)
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • 1 cup KALE WATER*
  • ½ cup chocolate chips, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. First make the kale water* by combining ½ cup water and 1 cup raw kale in a blender and blending on high for a minute, or until the kale is completely blended.

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3. Mix together the dry ingredients, from flour to baking powder.

4. Add in the wet ingredients, aka the rest of the ingredients including the kale water. Mix until just combined and add in a ½ cup of chocolate chips.

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5. Pour into an 9″ X 9″ oiled brownie pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the brownies. Let cool for like 15 minutes, then cut and enjoy!

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Give these a try and let me know how you like them! Take a picture and tag me @peanutbutterandle on Instagram or email it to me at peanutbutterandle@gmail.com.

And lastly, how do you feel about sneaking vegetables into desserts? Do you like it, or are you offended at even the idea of it?

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Six-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

Fact: Americans eat an average of six pounds of peanut butter per person per year with children being the largest consumers.

Fact: Peanut butter is tasty, heart-healthy, and protein-packed.

Fact: Peanut butter is one of the greatest food inventions of all time.

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Peanut butter covers all the food craving groups: salty, fatty, and sweet. It can be used for sweet or savory purposes in baked goods, in frostings, in stir-frys, spread on toast or fruit, or in a classic peanut butter & jelly sandwichMy favorite way to eat peanut butter, besides by the spoonful? In these cookies.

I love these cookies because they are super simple to make, and you probably have all the ingredients on hand. I made them with ingredients I already had in my dorm room.

dsc_0046dsc_0055You really have no reason not to make them, because even if you don’t have an oven, you can at least make the dough and eat it all (since it’s vegan so no fear of salmonella!). Or better yet, you can try to make them in the microwave by microwaving balls of dough for a minute. They won’t taste as good as the oven version though. The microwave can’t give you those crispy edges like the oven can.

Give these cookies a try! Peanut butter lovers will rejoice at this sweet, delectable, and soft yet crispy cookie (p.s.- my article first appeared on Spoon University).

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Simple Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes around 20 cookies

  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup water

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix together the peanut butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until creamy. This will take around a minute of quick mixing.
  3. Add in the flour a 1/3 of a cup at a time. Mix the batter after each 1/3 cup is added.
  4. Mix in the baking soda.
  5. Mix in the water. If batter seems extremely thick, add in a Tbsp more of water.
  6. Roll the cookie dough into 1 inch balls and place them on a cookie sheet.
  7. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until golden-brown and firm.
  8. Once cookies are out of the oven, flatten them with a fork in 2 different directions to give the classic criss-cross pattern.
  9. Let the cookies cool for at least 5 minutes before taking them off the pan and enjoying them.

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Maple Glazed Pecans

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Have you ever heard the soundtrack for “Hamilton: an American Musical?”

I finally started listening to it this past week (better late than never) and I. CAN’T. STOP.

It is so dang good. The tunes are catchy, the writing is phenomenal, and the singers are so talented as they rap AND sing. I used to not like rap very much, but after this listening experience I like it a lot. I maybe don’t like trap rap… but I’m in love with the “Hamilton” rap. If you haven’t listened to Hamilton, this is your friendly suggestion to listen to it as it will improve your life.

The “Hamilton” music is getting me through my final exams, which are this week and next. Any time I don’t think I can make it through exams, I listen to Hamilton and think about how I’m going to study hard so I’m not not “Helpless” and that “I’m not throwing away my shot.” I think that I’ll “Stay Alive” through exams if I study “Non-Stop” but also “Take A Break” or two. I’ll be “Satisfied” if I get good grades. Ok I’ll stop with the Hamilton references now.

dsc_0018You know what’s also keeping me sane through the midst of final exams? DEEZ NUTS (sorry, I had to).

These nuts, though. They’re sweet and salty and utterly delicious. What’s not to love about pecans glazed with maple syrup and roasted in the oven until they’re caramelized? Pecans are full of protein and magnesium, which reduces blood pressure. It’s good to reduce blood pressure now as it will probably spike during exams due to stress.

The sweetness in these nuts makes them addictive. They taste like fall. They make a great snack by the handful, and they are wonderful added to salads.

My call to action for you today is to 1) listen to the Hamilton soundtrack, and 2) make these maple-roasted nuts. Both are addictive and will change your life for the better. img_6212

Maple Glazed Pecans

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup
  • ½ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then spread out the pecans on it.
  3. Drizzle all the maple syrup over the pecans, making sure to really coat each pecan.
  4. Sprinkle salt over the pecans.
  5. Bake the pecans for 35 minutes, taking out every 10 minutes to stir, until maple syrup hardens.
  6. Let cool, then enjoy! These keep for a few weeks when stored in an airtight container.

Happy Wednesday!

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Wow it’s been a hot second since I’ve blogged. It’s good to be back though!

In the time that I haven’t blogged, I’ve…

  • been running avidly! I am a member of the running club at my college, so I’ve gotten really into running this fall. Last weekend, our team drove 9 hours to Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA for collegiate running club nationals. I ran the most challenging 6K ever- hill after hill after hill, but I PRed (got a personal record) which was exciting. That weekend we also explored downtown Harrisburg (the capitol of PA), toured the Hershey candy world factory, and saw a political protest. It was quite the weekend.
  • went to multiple Big Ten college football games.
  • did a corn maze with my family when I went home for the weekend.
  • went on my first Uber ride.
  • met multiple other vegans, either in class or in the community kitchen near my dorm.
  • baked multiple times in the community kitchen.
  • and last and probably the most noteworthy, I got hit by a flying table.

Wait what?!

Okay so here’s the backstory. On Halloween weekend, I went to a fraternity party because why not try new things in college. I was standing with a crowd of people on the lawn outside the frat, facing away from the house, when ALL OF A SUDDEN someone threw a WOODEN COFFEE table out a second story window. When it fell, it hit the entire back of my legs and ankles with significant force. Needless to say, I fell down, cried, and went inside and yelled at a bunch of people in the frat because one of their members THREW A TABLE OUT A WINDOW AND INTO A CROWD OF PEOPLE AND IT HIT ME (and really only me). The table scraped up my legs, my calves and ankles swelled up to double their size, and my legs became badly bruised. It was hard to walk for the first week after it happened and I wasn’t able to work out, BUT I got super lucky because the table didn’t break any of my bones. I had to get an X-ray to check.

Even though getting a table thrown at me is bad luck, there is a silver lining to the story. I got lucky with the fact that the table only hit my legs. If I had been standing a foot closer to the house, it could have hit me in the head. That would have been bad, to say the very least. As in, I could have died (not to be dramatic or anything).

I’d say I’ve had a very interesting month or so since we’ve last talked. It’s been a good month though. Especially because I made these cookies.

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These cookies are a fall twist on the classic chocolate chip cookie. They’re adapted from my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, the chocolate chip cookies in Chloe’s Vegan Desserts. I replaced half of the butter in the original recipe for pumpkin and added in a bunch of quintessential fall spices. It makes the cookies a smidge healthier and adds some flair to them.

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The whole recipe came about this past week when a few of my friends and I decided to bake together in the community kitchen. We made these pumpkin muffins (in cake form because we couldn’t find a muffin pan) and had leftover pumpkin so we decided to add it in to the cookies we’d planned on making. It turned out really well!

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Fun fact, we had to open the canned pumpkin with scissors and a knife because we couldn’t find a can opener, and we had to mix the cookie batter in a saucepan because we couldn’t find a mixing bowl. The cookies still turned out though.

I hope you like these cookies as much as we did, and I hope you can mix them in a regular bowl! Let me know if you make them, and let me know what you’ve been up to in the last little bit!

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Chloe Coscarelli’s regular chocolate chip cookies in Chloe’s Vegan Desserts

Makes 40 cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch OR 2 Tbsp more flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • ½ cup vegan butter, softened (I use Earth Balance)
  • ½ cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s semisweet )

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Cream together the butter, pumpkin, and sugars.
  3. Add in the water and vanilla. Beat the mixture, in a stand mixer or by mixing rapidly by hand, until it is light and fluffy (for around 2 minutes).
  4. Mix in the flour one cup at a time.
  5. Mix in the baking soda, salt, and spices. Mix until batter is just combined.
  6. Add in the chocolate chips. More is better!
  7. Roll the cookies into inch balls on a cookie sheet and bake for 9-10 minutes.
  8. Flatten the cookies when they come out of the oven by slamming the pan hard down onto the counter once or twice.
  9. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes, then enjoy!

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Happy early Thanksgiving! What are you making for Thanksgiving dessert?

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Chocolate Candy Halloween Bark

Halloween-themed candy bark that takes five minutes to prepare and tastes sinfully delicious? Yes PLEASE.

All you have to do is melt some chocolate, add your favorite candy into it, and refrigerate it for about an hour to make a simple, sugar-filled bark. It’s a fun and different way to eat Halloween candy.

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The nice thing about this bark is that you can tailor it to your dietary restrictions. Make it gluten-free by using certified gluten-free chocolate and candy (so leave out the Oreos and swap the pretzel M&M’s for crushed gluten-free pretzels). Make it vegan by using vegan chocolate chipsnon-dairy milk, and your favorite vegan halloween candies. No Whey Chocolate makes vegan versions of pretzel M&M’s and Reese’s piecescalled NoNo’s that you can order online and use instead of the originals.

I made this candy bark in my dorm room microwave but couldn’t find vegan chocolate candy on my college campus. Thus, the chocolate was vegan but the candy was not so I just gave it to some friends.

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There’s no reason not to make this chocolatey treat. It’s so simple that even the laziest college student can make it. As I said, I made it in my dorm room microwave! Plus, you can snack on the chocolate as you make it.

Gift everyone you know, from your friends to your arch-enemy, this treat (instead of a trick)!

Chocolate Candy Halloween Bark

makes 8 servings

this recipe was first published in my second Spoon University article!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 package pretzel M&M’s/ NoNo’s
  • 1 package peanut M&M’s/ 1/4 cup peanuts
  • 1 package Reese’s pieces/ Pea”not” butter NoNo’s
  • 8 crushed Oreos

Instructions

Gather your ingredients.

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Measure out chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet) and milk (I used soy) into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir the mixture to smoothen it out. Add in more milk as needed.

Add the candy to the chocolate and mix everything together.

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Line a cutting board, piece of cardboard, or cardstock with plastic wrap. Pour the bark mixture onto the plastic wrap and smooth it out so it’s about a ½ inch thick.

Happy Halloween! Eat all the candy you want today and have fun seeing all the trick-or-treaters! Let me know the coolest costume you saw.

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Fall Travel Essentials

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The temperature is decreasing in fall, and with these colder winds comes an itch to leave, to fly away somewhere warmer and summery. At least that’s how the birds and I both feel. As much as I like this crisp season full of everything pumpkin and falling leaves, I miss summer and crave warmth like you wouldn’t believe.

I don’t have any plans to travel THIS fall except to go to my real home for Thanksgiving break, but that’s only an hour away. However, I made a list of my fall travel essentials for those of you ready to jet off to somewhere exciting. Check out my travel advice and carry-on essentials, and let me know where you’re off to on your next adventure!

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Travel Advice:

  • Wear comfy clothing that you can sleep and relax in. My favorite travel clothes are leggings, a graphic t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. The pants from Betabrand are also great to travel in, and they have options from cute travel jeans to yoga pants.
    • Remember to keep in mind the temperature of the place you’re traveling to so you’ll be prepared clothing-wise when you land.
  • Wear layers. The temperature in an airport can be hotter than the sun or colder than Antartica within the same hour . Wearing layers allows you to be comfortable at any temperature by either taking clothes off or putting them on.
  • Bring a carry-on neck pillow so you can sleep more comfortably in the airport or on the plane.
  • Bring a carry-on backpack full of travel essentials.
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Some travel essentials: a comfy sweatshirt, granola bars, a journal and writing utensils, a water bottle, hand sanitizer, and comfy tennis shoes.

Here’s what’s in my carry-on backpack:

  • an extra pair of clothing just in case my suitcase gets lost: a pair of pants, a t-shirt, and undergarments.
  • activities for the plane
    • paperback books
    • my phone and headphones
    • journal and pens to write all about my travel experiences so I can share them on the blog! Check out my travel log on my trip to Guatemala here and my Asia trip log here.
  • snacks
    • granola/ granola bars
    • nuts
    • dried fruit
  • mini hand sanitizer
  • lip balm and lotion because planes are SO DRY
  • a water bottle
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Can you tell I like LÄRABARS?

Want ideas of what to pack in your suitcase? Look here! Want more travel advice, especially about traveling on a special diet (like veganism)? Look here!

Good luck with your fall travel! Where are you going, or where would you like to go this fall?

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