Beyond Meat: The Beyond Burger

Introducing: a brand new series, called Too Good to be Vegan!

A lot of omnivores automatically assume vegan friendly foods means bland, sub par dishes that consist mostly of salads and tofu. This is absolutely not true. Not to mention, salads and tofu can be very tasty when prepared well!

In this series, I will be telling you about delicious vegan food that even non-vegans would be happy to eat. The foods featured will include both restaurant entrees and meals prepared at home, snacks, desserts, and anything else that is 100% vegan and delicious!

My husband and I recently found out about The Beyond Burger, made by the brand Beyond Meat. This burger is made out of 100% plant protein (pea protein for their “beef” burgers) but mimics the texture and taste of meat and even “bleeds” like a real burger.

I’ve had my fair share of veggie burgers, and though some of them are indeed tasty and well seasoned, none of them have really resembled the texture or taste of meat. I definitely had my doubts about how close this purely vegan burger could come to the “real thing.”

The burger looks so convincing, it’s even found in the meat section of some grocery stores

I was surprised at how much the burger looked like meat, even when raw. It had the same coloration and texture, although it was slightly softer. Nevertheless, it held up nicely on the grill.

I was extremely impressed with the taste and texture of The Beyond Burger. It wasn’t starchy or crumbly, like veggie burgers I’ve tasted in the past. It also had a hint of smokiness that pushed the meatiness factor even further.

Although a vegan diet should consist mostly of whole fruits and vegetables, a good processed substitute can be a fun treat. In terms of nutrition, this burger is similar to an actual beef burger, with 22 grams of fat and 5 grams of saturated fat. No wonder it tastes so good! However, the main difference is that these burgers have 100% less beef.

 

Ingredients: pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, water, yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavors, gum arabic, sunflower oil, salt, succinic acid, acetic acid, non-GMO modified food starch, cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, beet juice extract (for color), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), annatto extract (for color), citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality), vegetable glycerin.

Where Can I Buy It?

Whole Foods, Wegmans, Kroger, Ralphs, QFC, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Dillons, Safeway, Albertsons, and more!

 

This burger definitely hits the spot when you’re craving the good ol’ American classic. It’s almost too good to be vegan!

 

✿ Katie ✿

7 Recipes for a Vegan Holiday Feast

Originally published on Thirty on Tap

Being a vegan can be hard, especially when living in a small town in the South. Lack of convenience is one of the biggest drawbacks. I can’t just go to a drive-thru and grab a vegan-friendly (albeit unhealthy) lunch and the selection of vegan/vegetarian foods at our local grocery stores is downright laughable.

The holidays are another time when being a vegan is challenging. Family members are confused about why you won’t eat these delicious mashed potatoes they spent so long making, drowning in butter and cheese. “You can eat this. It doesn’t have any meat.”

Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about spending time with family and eating, and when you can’t eat much of anything at dinner, family time becomes even harder to handle.

Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice great tasting (and filling) food. Chances are, your meat-eating family members won’t even have a clue that these dishes are vegan. Try out these holiday recipes and you won’t be missing out on any holiday favorites!

MAIN ENTRÉE

Vegan Italian Meatloaf via Pasta-based

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SIDES

Vegan Stuffing via Serious Eats

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Vegan Mashed Potatoes via My California Roots

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Vegan Gravy via Brand New Vegan

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Green Bean Casserole via Minimalist Baker

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Mac & Cheese via Vegan Yumminess

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DESSERT

Vegan Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie via Minimalist Baker

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✿ Katie ✿

Kombucha for Beginners

Have you heard about this new health drink that’s invading grocery store shelves and even has its own section at Whole Foods? The drink first became popular in this country in the early 1990s, fueled by the AIDS epidemic and the many perceived health benefits of kombucha. In recent years, its resurgence in the market is due, in large part, to the founder of the company GT’s Kombucha, G.T. Dave. He claims that drinking kombucha and being vegetarian contributed to his mother’s aggressive breast cancer diagnosis becoming dormant. When Whole Foods began to stock GT’s on their shelves, the kombucha craze exploded (pun intended).

So, what is kombucha?

Origin

The actual origins of kombucha are not known, but there are a few theories about where it may have originated. One of the stories is that it came about during the Qin Dynasty (220 BC) for China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi. The Chinese are notorious for their relentless quest for longevity elixirs and frequently look to nature for cures of all types of ailments. “Cha” 茶 from kombuCHA means tea in Chinese.

Homemade kombucha was very popular in China during the Cultural Revolution. My parents told me that it was very common  when they were younger, and everyone made their own at home. According to my dad, the drink disappeared after a rumor spread that it was bad for your health.

From Asia, kombucha traveled along the Silk Road to Russia and then the rest of Europe. The first verified documentation of kombucha was in Ukraine and Russia in the late 1800s.

Simple Kombucha Recipe

Second Fermentation

Second fermentation is when you can add unique flavors to your kombucha, as well as increase the carbonation level. You can experiment with different combinations to find the one you like best.

Ingredients to try:

  • Fruit (fresh, juice, dried, or frozen) – berries, apples, oranges, pomegranates, peaches, grapes, mango, pineapple, dates, figs
  • Herbs & Spices – ginger, mint, basil, lavender, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg
Second fermentation in action – orange juice and apple flavored

Tips & Tricks

If you are thinking about brewing your own kombucha, here are some tips for beginners:

  • If you want to start brewing, you do not have to buy a scoby (although they are fairly inexpensive). Follow the directions above with store bought unflavored kombucha as the starter fluid and no scoby. A scoby should form after 2-4 weeks.
  • When handling the scoby, always use clean hands and containers. DO NOT use antibacterial soap.
  • If you suspect mold growth (fuzzy, discolored, dry), throw away the scoby and start over.
  • To prevent the kombucha from exploding and breaking glass, burp it once a day once 2nd fermentation begins.
  • When opening the swing top bottles, hold the top down firmly when opening the latch. Release the pressure from the top very slowly and watch the carbonation level. If the carbonation is too strong, the top may blow off and you will lose half your liquid in your kitchen or on the ceiling.
  • If the bubbles don’t subside and you aren’t able to open the bottle without it spilling over, close the bottle and put it in the fridge. It will be safe to open after a few hours.
My husband enjoying our home-brewed kombucha

 

Have I convinced you to brew your own kombucha yet?

 

✿ Katie ✿

Baby Registry – What Do I REALLY Need?

Who knew bringing home a tiny human required so much STUFF? In the nine months I had leading up to arrival of my son, Elijah, I mostly spent time researching what I did and did not need, to make our lives a little bit easier. With the things I decided that we did need, I tried to find the most cost-effective way to obtain them.

Obviously, babies will have different preferences for what they like, but oftentimes, we don’t know these preferences until weeks after they have arrived. These are the items that were must-haves for me and little Eli, and this list can be a guide and starting point for soon-to-be mothers who are a little overwhelmed by it all.

Where to Register

It seems like every single store that sells baby items wants you to create a baby registry with them. Here are the ones that I found to be the most useful and have the most perks.

  • Amazon – After creating a registry at Amazon, add something on the list that you were going to buy anyway that is at least $10. Purchase the item and check off the rest of the boxes on the Amazon baby checklist, and you will be eligible to receive a free Baby Registry Welcome Box, worth $35. Although boxes will vary, I received: helicopter toy, hedgehog swaddle blanket, Avent bottle, full size baby wipes, Pampers diaper clutch & 2 newborn diapers, and samples for nursing pads, Aquaphor, diaper cream, and baby shampoo.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 10% off (15% for Prime members)!
  • Target – After creating a baby registry with Target, you can pick up a free welcome bag at any Target stores, if they have them in stock. I received: MAM bottle, Nuk pacifier, Pampers diaper clutch & 2 newborn diapers, and samples for nipple cream and Dapple dish soap.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 15% off!
  • Babylist – I ended up creating and sharing my registry at Babylist with friends and family because I can easily add items from wherever I want. I really like the layout and design, and the customer service is easy to work with.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 10% off!

    *See the items that I mention below on my Pinterest board*

What to Buy Secondhand

There are a few options for where to look for secondhand baby items. I mostly used Facebook Marketplace to find items that were being sold locally. I also occasionally used Craigslist, although the response time was usually a lot slower. Thrift stores, Goodwill, and baby consignment shops are also great places to look for gently used items.

  • Diaper pail – Some people claim that a diaper pail is a waste of money because the smells of poop cannot be contained. Elijah hasn’t really explored the world of solids yet, but so far, his formula and breastmilk diapers have been contained fairly well in our Diaper Champ (except when we are changing it out, but that is to be expected). The other plus is that we can use regular trash bags, which is a huge money saver. Other popular diaper pail brands include Diaper Genie, Munchkin, Dekor, and Ubbi. Ubbi is another one that doesn’t require special refill bags.
  • Swing – For a fussy, colicky baby, a swing is a lifesaver. Our swing put our baby to sleep when nothing else would work. We bought a discontinued Graco model secondhand, and it has definitely served its purpose well. I would recommend getting one that will plug into the wall if you don’t anticipate moving it around often.
  • Bouncer – These are very easy to find used. There are lots of different brands to choose from, and you shouldn’t have to pay more than $10 for one. There are also swing/bouncer combinations as a space-saving option.
  • High chair – Once your little one is able to try some solids (4-6 months), a high chair is a very handy to have. If your family frequently eats in the dining room, a booster seat style high chair would work well; it’s also more portable. I found a Graco Duodiner high chair in great condition for $10, and it has been the perfect place for Elijah to try out solids.
  • Changing table – Although some people end up changing their babies on beds or couches, I always liked using the changing table because all of the materials I needed were within reach and easy to access.
  • Swaddles – I loved using the Swaddleme pods and velcro swaddles for the first three months. They keep the baby’s arms contained so the startle reflex doesn’t wake them up multiple times a night.
  • Pack n Play – Although Eli didn’t spend a lot of time in his Pack n Play, it served as a baby station for the downstairs. It was a place to set him down when I needed my hands, and the changing station for the downstairs was a lifesaver.
  • Exersaucer – This won’t come in handy until your baby gains complete head control (~4 months), but it can entertain your baby for quite awhile. They are pretty expensive when purchased brand new but can be found secondhand fairly easily. Because they tend to take up a lot of space, try to find one that can be collapsed and/or converted when they get older, like the Evenflo Exersaucer Triple Fun.
  • Rock n Play – Moms swear by the rock n play when newborns have a hard time going to sleep. Although it is not technically sleep safe, the inclined hammock-like sleep surface is liked by a lot of babies and can be a lifesaver for extreme cases of reflux. Paying a little more for the auto-rock option is worth the money, in my opinion.
  • Fisher Price Sit Me Up chair – Eli started favoring sleeping on one side from the first day we brought him home. This resulted in a flat spot on one side of his head. At such a young age, it’s difficult to keep the babies off their heads all the time, since tummy time can be so tiring and uncomfortable. This chair keeps the baby upright in a natural position, without the need for complete head control. Having this seat was crucial in helping his head grow back into a nice round shape.
  • Nursing pillow – I have the Leachco Cuddle-U pillow, and it created a soft surface for me to rest my arms and the baby, when I held him for a nap or when feeding him. It’s also a great baby lounger and works as a prop up pillow for tummy time!

    Big Ticket Items

    These are the items that I knew I wanted but were priced on the higher end. When close family and friends ask what they should get you or if you need ideas for Christmas/birthday gifts, choose from this list.

  • Crib – Babies get transitioned to their rooms and their cribs at different ages. I wasn’t sure when I would be willing to graduate Eli to his own room, but I ended up doing it sooner than anticipated (4 months). This has done wonders for my sleep at night, and Eli has been sleeping in his crib very well. If you don’t have a nursery or have limited space, a mini-crib may be more a more suitable purchase.
  • Baby monitor – This is must-have if you have a fairly large house or if you plan on sleep training. We have the Summer Infant Dual View baby monitor, and it has been working well so far.
  • Glider – A glider is not a must-have and may not be feasible, depending on the size of the nursery, but I really enjoy using it for nighttime feedings and story time.
  • Travel system (with extra base) – It’s a good idea to invest in a quality travel system because it will cause a lot of headache if you don’t like the one you have. I opted for a budget-friendly one by BabyTrend, but if I could go back, I most likely would pay more for Chicco or Britax. The three-wheeled jogger-style stroller are much easier to maneuver than the four-wheeled style. Make sure to add an extra base to the registry if you anticipate multiple people or cars driving the little one around.
  • Convertible car seat – This is the car seat that will grow with your baby. These typically have a weight range of 5-40 lbs and can be used rear or front facing. The only downside is that it is not portable and must stay in the car, so it’s not as convenient for infants.
  • Dockatot – I debated for a long time before finally pulling the trigger on this expensive baby bed. Some people claim that it is a miracle product and will get your baby to sleep through the night. I can guarantee that does not happen with all babies (it didn’t with mine). But this is a great flat sleeping surface for babies that don’t like sleeping in a bassinet or crib. It’s also extremely lightweight and portable for sleepovers at Grandma’s. The deluxe size claims to fit babies 0-9 months, so you will get a lot of use out of it.

    Basic Necessities

  • Diapers/Wipes – Have at least one pack of newborn diapers on hand, and you can never have too many wipes. We have had great success with Pampers and haven’t really tried other brands. I also prefer the sensitive/fragrance-free wipes to minimize irritation.
  • Burp cloths – Babies spit up a lot. Or they drool. Or they leak milk when eating. I didn’t like using blankets as burp cloths because I felt like I had to wash them after doing that. I always have to have designated burp cloths within reach. My favorites are Carter’s terry cloth burp cloths. They are extremely soft and absorbent and in a very handy shape. I also purchased Gerber’s prefold gauze diapers, which work great as well.
  • Blankets – Blankets can be used to keep the baby warm, as a swaddle, as a burp cloth, or as a changing surface. They typically come in flannel or muslin varieties. I like using the muslin blankets more because they are lightweight, breathable, and more stretchy.
  • Bottles – Bottle preference is very specific to the baby. We tried Dr. Brown’s Wide, MAM, and Avent. My favorite to use are the MAM bottles. The nipple is slightly flattened to fit into the baby’s mouth to form a tight latch with minimal leakage. The holes on the bottom of the bottle allow the bottle to vent perfectly, with no nipple collapse. The nipple was constantly collapsing with Avent bottles. The smaller size bottles hold 2 ounces more than most other small sized bottles. And the gradual angle of the shape of the bottle allows all of the milk to travel to the nipple easily. I didn’t like how the milk would get trapped in the Avent bottles. Other popular brands that we didn’t try include Comotomo, Tommee Tippee, Playtex, and Lansinoh.
  • Pacifier – There are a lot of differing opinions about the use of pacifiers, but studies have shown that using one at night can reduce the risk of SIDS up to 6 months. We tried the Wubbanub pacifiers, but Eli was not a big fan of the flat soother style nipple. He really enjoyed using the MAM brand pacifiers, and the glow in the dark ones are extremely helpful when searching for a pacifier at night.
  • Nose cleaner – Baby nose holes are teeny tiny, and the bulb syringe is not very effective at removing snot. The Nosefrida looks and sounds scary, like the baby’s brains are getting sucked out, but it works well. The oogiebear ear & nose cleaner is the perfect tool for cleaning out external ear wax and dried boogers from little noses. The product also claims, “Friendly bear design won’t scare baby.”
  • Diaper cream – All babies will need diaper cream to protect their bottoms. I like to slather it on before bedtime as a preventative measure, in case he poops at night. I like Bordeaux’s Butt Paste brand, and I’ve also heard great things about Desitin.
  • Babybum brush – Diaper cream is very waterproof and will adhere to your hands. It can also be hard to apply far enough between the cheeks to where irritation is present. This brush is very helpful in keeping my hands clean and reaching easily between the butt cheeks. The cream comes off the brush easily with a wipe.
  • Formula pitcher – If you plan on exclusively formula feeding or supplementing with formula, the Dr. Brown’s formula pitcher is a must-have. Instead of preparing bottle after bottle throughout the day, up to 40 oz of formula can be prepared at once and stored in the fridge. The mixer in the pitcher prevents clumps and makes formula preparation a breeze. I also use warm water for formula preparation, which completely eliminates clumps every time.
  • Mini fridge – We have a two story house, and we spend the majority of the time on the second floor. The mini fridge was the perfect place to store my pump parts (between washes), expressed breast milk, and prepared formula. It saved me so much time and energy that I did not have.
  • Baby bathtub – The bathtub we use is the Skip Hop MOBY Bathtub with Sling. It’s easy to fill and clean and supports the baby’s neck and body very well during baths. It’s also shaped like a cute whale.
  • Drying rack – If you use bottles, you will want to have a dedicated bottle drying area. Different bottles brands and sizes will fit better on different types of racks. I like the Boon grass because all bottles and parts will be able to fit. I also have the Munchkin drying rack, which is great for nipples and tall bottles.
Photo of my chunky dude dozing in his Dockatot

✿ Katie ✿

Vegan Weight Loss Journey

My husband, Kyle, was overweight for most of his childhood. He comes from a divorced household, and he frequently sought comfort and stability in food. Growing up, he often dealt with teasing from other kids, and even family members, contributing to his low self esteem and self-image issues.

Kyle with his mom at his college graduation, 1 year before we met (May 2013)

In December of 2013, he decided to seriously start trying to lose weight through eating fewer calories and exercising more. He ran regularly, attended martial arts classes, and stayed active at his job as a Health and P.E. teacher. He lost over 50 lbs, and when I met him for the first time, I had no idea that he had been heavier for most of his life.

Kyle and me at the beach, 1 month after we met (June 2014)

We got married in December of 2014. With the combination of married life, less free time to exercise, as well as switching to a sedentary office job, Kyle went back to old habits and gained back more than 70 lbs.

Kyle holding our newborn son (June 2017)

When our son, Elijah, was born, he was at one of the heaviest weights he had ever been. He knew it was time for a change but didn’t have enough motivation to stick with a plan for more than a few weeks.

Kyle’s family had recently watched a movie on Netflix, “What the Health,” which talks at length about how diet (specifically animal products) affects chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The movie also emphasizes the inhumane treatment of animals bred and slaughtered for human consumption. Although some of the claims that the movie makes are based on weak evidence, it is undeniable that a plant-based diet is better for overall health and for a sustainable world. After watching this documentary, Kyle felt very inspired to change his own food choices. The next day, he became a full-fledged vegan and hasn’t looked back since.

In the beginning, when trying to lose weight quickly, Kyle ate a diet consisting of mostly fruit and also fasted intermittently. He ate cooked meals a few times a week until he got closer to his target weight. As the weight fell off, he began to feel more agile and able to exercise on a regular basis. His knee and ankle pain improved drastically. He strove to get 10,000 steps per day by taking long walks and staying active. He was able to lose 60 lbs in 3 months.

It took me a little longer to commit to this lifestyle change. Meat, dairy, and eggs have been a vital part of my diet ever since I was young, and I was reluctant to completely eliminate these foods from my life. After a few months of seeing the changes in Kyle and knowing how much he wanted me to join him in this lifestyle change, I hopped on board. I also wanted to lose the rest of my pregnancy weight and knew that this would be a step in the right direction.

We have converted our household to have only vegan food items, with minimal processed foods. We intend on raising our son on a vegan diet, as much as possible, until he is old enough to make his own food choices. I’m still learning the ropes in terms of vegan cooking, but I hope to share some of my favorite vegan recipes with all of you here.

Kyle and Eli (Oct 2017)

Here are some of Kyle’s own thoughts about his experience so far: 

 

What differences did you notice after becoming vegan?

Less inflammation/swelling, my joint pain started to go away. I had more energy overall. I feel like I regained my sense of taste after eating whole plant based foods, when before, it was hard to enjoy certain things (like apples) when I was used to drinking soda and eating Wendy’s.

How has becoming vegan affected your ability to keep the weight off? 

I think I have control over myself more. I’m not perfect but I’m more capable of making more health conscious decisions and not feeling ruled by food. I’ve been able to take control back. Because it limits what I eat, it makes it easier since my selection pool is smaller to choose from.

What made you decide to commit to being vegan?

I like being vegan, not only for health purposes, but also because of the ethics and the world of the future. Fighting for justice and equality for all people, feeding all people, reducing greenhouse gasses. The slaughtering of animals is appalling to watch, and that’s not something I want to support.

What are your favorite vegan foods?

One of my favorites is definitely Mediterranean. I like Chinese-style tofu, rice, and cabbage, which my wife and mother-in-law make often. I also really enjoy Thai, Indian, and sushi.

✿ Katie ✿

 

A Tour of China

Even though I was born in China, I moved to the U.S. at the age of four, and I have no memories of living there as a child. Aside from my parents and my brother, all of our family is still residing in China, so we don’t get to see them very often. I have been back to visit three times. The first two times, I went back with my parents and only visited the two provinces where my maternal (Hebei) and paternal (Hunan) grandparents lived to visit with family. For my most recent visit, I brought my husband back with me, and I had the opportunity to visit many of China’s popular tourist attractions for the first time with him.

We purchased the tour on Groupon, through a company called Affordable Asia. The cost included airfare, 5 star hotel rooms with breakfast, and the major tours in each city (Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai). I also used Ebates and got 6% cash back! Overall, it was a terrific deal, and I would highly recommend it.

BEIJING 

Our first stop was Beijing. On the first day, we visited Qianmen, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.

Qianmen (Front Gate)
Qianmen Archery Tower

Qianmen once guarded the the southern entrance into the Inner City.

Tiananmen Square

This was a very meaningful spot for me. The Tiananmen Square protests (Tiananmen Square Massacre) took place in April-June 1989. I was born only 20 days after the protests ended. My father was was one of the students who were present, and my mom talks about how she was afraid that I would be born fatherless. I hope to interview my dad about this and expand on this story in a future blog post.

Forbidden City

The Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty the to Qing dynasty. It contains 9999 rooms and was forbidden to the common people.

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is composed of lakes, gardens, and palaces, and was the summer retreat for the emperor.

 

The next day, we saw the Great Wall, Ming’s Tombs, and the Olympic Park.

The Great Wall is one of the most well-known landmarks of China. It spans over 5000 miles and is still considered one of the most impressive architectural feats ever constructed.

Great Wall of China

I have never been to the Great Wall before and didn’t know what to expect. The first realization I made about the wall was that it is EXTREMELY STEEP. It was also extremely crowded, as most tourist locations in China are, so it was even more precarious to try to maintain balance while climbing up. For some reason, people liked to stop randomly in the middle of the wall, so that proved to be an additional challenge. Going back down wasn’t easy either. I had to use my knees to keep myself from propelling face first down the wall, and towards the end, my legs felt like jello. However, after seeing so many photos of this impressive structure, actually being at the Great Wall was pretty amazing and surreal.

The next stop was the Ming tombs. There are 13 Ming dynasty emperors buried in this area, a spot specifically chosen according to fengshui  风水 principles, surrounded by both mountains and water.

Dragon-headed Turtle Tablet Pavilion

A 7 kilometer road, known as the Spirit Way, leads into the complex. It is lined with stone animals and officials, which guard the tombs. At one end is the Dragon-headed Turtle Tablet Pavilion.

For our last stop of the day, we went to the Olympic Park, which is where the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest are located. I still am in awe of the opening ceremony that China organized in the Bird’s Nest in 2008. It really was unparalleled.

Hepingmen Restaurant

Our tour guide told us about one of the most famous Beijing roast duck restaurants, HePing Men. A group of us from the tour decided to go there for dinner that night. Everyone relied on me to converse with the waiters, since none of the workers there spoke English. We ended up with way too much food, but the roast duck was superb. We also gave the restaurant a huge headache when we told them that we wanted to split the bill. This is simply not done in China. Somebody always foots the entire bill, and fighting for it (including physical contact) is required in order to save face.

XI’AN

The next city on the itinerary was Xi’an, a city full of historical treasures. It is one of the oldest cities in China and was the former capital. The city marked the starting point of the Silk Road and is home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. We visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Terracotta Army that day.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist pagoda originally built during the Tang dynasty. The pagoda has five stories and leans to the West.

One of the pagoda’s main functions was to hold sutras (scripts) and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by Buddhist monk and scholar, Xuanzang.

Pit One – Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army was constructed for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang and took over 700,000 workers to complete. The site was discovered in 1974, by farmers digging a well in the area. Four pits have currently been excavated, and excavation is still ongoing. Pit one is the largest pit and contains over 6000 figures.

Musicians Playing Traditional Chinese Instruments

That night, we went to go see the Tang Dynasty Show, one of the most popular attractions in Xi’an. The performance started out with musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments while we were served dinner. The two ladies wearing purple and red dresses are playing the erhu 二胡, which is actually the instrument that my mom played and performed in college.

Tang Dynasty Show

The show was primarily comprised of dancing, accompanied by a live orchestra, that told the story of the concubine Wu Zetian, and how she rose to power to become an empress. The combination of the music, dance, and costumes, made for a breathtaking performance. 

SHANGHAI

Shanghai was the last city on our group tour as well as the most populated city in China. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great while we were there, but we were still able to enjoy much of what the city had to offer.

The Bund – Shanghai

The Bund runs along the Huangpu River and from it, you get a glimpse of the impressive modern skyscrapers in the Pudong district. It was formerly part of the Shanghai International Settlement and features 52 buildings of various architectural styles from all over the world.

While in Shanghai, we went shopping during the day, and at night, we went to a few bars as well as karaoke, with our new friends from the tour group. Then, it was time to say goodbye and fly into Changsha, Hunan to see my dad’s family.

HUNAN

We arrived in Changsha and was picked up by my uncle and my cousin-in-law, whom I had never met before. We drove back to my uncle’s condo and unpacked our things. For dinner that night, my aunt, cousin, and her husband took us to a restaurant that served street food local to Changsha. The Hunan province is well-known for its love of spice in its dishes. My husband loves eating spicy things, but my relatives in China were skeptical that an American could handle the Hunan level of spice.

Street Food – Changsha, Hunan

At the restaurant, my husband definitely had to step out of his comfort zone when my cousin ordered chicken feet, snails, and whole turtle, just to name a few, all of which contained lots of spicy peppers. His favorite were the spicy crawfish (called little lobsters in Chinese). My relatives were very impressed with my husband’s ability to handle the spiciness and keep up.

The next day, we drove with my uncle to the town of Zhangjiajie, which was a four hour drive from Changsha. After arriving there, my uncle told me that he was deathly afraid of heights and that my husband and I would be seeing the sights on our own.

Tianmen Mountain

On the day that we arrived, we rode a cable car for 30 minutes to the top of Tianmen Mountain. We climbed to various spots around the mountain and also walked on the glass bottom bridge.

Glass Walkway – Tianmen Mountain

It wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be. It was extremely crowded, though. I’m at least glad this didn’t happen when we were on the bridge.

Tianmen Cave – Tianmen Mountain

To come down the mountain, we rode escalators for what seemed like an eternity. Then, we had to walk down these 999 steps, going through the Tianmen cave, which formed naturally after a cliff collapsed in ancient times. My legs felt like jello again, for the second time this trip.

The next day, we went to Zhangjiajie National Park, the first national park of China, and covering over 50 square miles. What sets Zhangjiajie apart are the pillar-like formations throughout the entire park.

Zhangjiajie National Park

The park contains an abundance of flora and fauna due to its high humidity and subtropical climate. The pillar-like structures were formed by physical erosion due to the vegetation that grows on it and when ice on the peaks expanded during the winter.

Floating Mountains – Zhangjiajie National Park

These peaks were the inspiration to the floating peaks featured in the 2009 movie, Avatar. This particular column shown has been renamed “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” in honor of the movie.

 

Overall, the trip was a magnificent success. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to visit the iconic landmarks of my homeland with my husband, as well as be able to visit with relatives I hadn’t seen in years.

 

✿ Katie ✿