Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Yummy Chinese Beef Noodle Soup

Yummy - yes! Now that the weather is finally turning slightly cooler here in South Texas, it's time to break out the simple soup recipes that warm our bellies so.  And with Melissa finally home from China, she's been hungry for the foods she found comfort in while working there.  Stella LOVES this soup and I've finally gotten the seasoning just right to make it feel like Chinese comfort food.  We had a version of this soup in Guangzhou while adopting Stella Claire, and it really is just so, so good. You've got to try it, especially if you have China babies at home! We have tried to incorporate more traditional foods into our meals as they really do bring our little girl comfort.

This feeds our family of 9, so adjust accordingly for your family size - or freeze extra! This is a two part recipe and part one needs to be done at least one day ahead (putting this in here for planning purposes!). 

Ingredients for Chinese Beef Noodle Soup: 
4 beef shanks with bone, 1/2 cup soy sauce (or liquid aminos - my preference), 1/2 cup rice wine, 2 cups water, four whole green onions (ends removed), 4 slices fresh ginger (about 1/2 inch each piece), 2 Tablespoons chinese szechuan pepper seasoning (I found mine at Whole Foods - but you could use 8-10 whole sichuan peppercorns too -  I just can't find those in my area).

Part 1 - Braise the beef shank.  Place beef shanks in a large pot with remaining ingredients listed above. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, turn heat to low and simmer for approx. 2 hours.  
Remove beef from broth to a plate and let cool.  Reserve broth/sauce and beef in the refrigerator for noodle soup. Refrigerating the beef overnight will make it easier for cutting later.

Part 2:  Noodle soup ingredients: 

Chinese noodles (do not use egg noodles, specifically look for traditional wheat noodles), chicken broth (about 8 oz for every two servings, in which I use 1 box), 6 cups water, salt and pepper, soy sauce, reserved beef and broth (which should look like a gelatin - just remove the bones, onions and ginger pieces), two bunches of greens (we like baby bok choy, but spinach and napa cabbage work too), and slivered scallions for garnishing. 

In a large pot, combine the chicken broth, water, and all the reserved broth/sauce from cooking the beef shank. Bring to a boil and add in your greens to blanch them. Adjust seasoning if needed (add salt, pepper, or a touch of soy sauce).  Set aside once your broth is steaming hot and greens are wilted.

At the same time, bring a separate pot of water to boil to cook your noodles.  Cook noodles according to the package directions.  Be careful not to overcook. Drain noodles.

Thinly slice the reserved beef shank meat.

Now it's finally time to assemble the soup! Place noodles into large soup bowls (the Chinese like generous portions!).  Add some beef slices, some greens, and ladle in hot soup broth.  Garnish with slivered green onions and serve steaming hot!

My sweet husband makes these yummy chinese crackers to go with our soup sometimes.
They are so, so good!  Tastes just like the pita bread we had in Guangzhou.

 Yep - you can tip your bowl and drink the soup broth little Stella! 

More please?!  Of course! She can eat 4 bowls of this! :-)

Enjoy y'all!


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The morning light

Today is Orphan Sunday, a day that some churches across the nation will use to bring awareness to foster care and adoption.  Our local church will probably not be doing anything special, that I know of, and I'm kind of not okay with that.  But it is what it is right now and I'll keep praying for our church.  And if they do something - I'll be praising for that!

So today, I bring you my little blog post as a reminder that today in churches all around the nation, there are families hearing about other families involved in adoption and foster care, the orphan crisis around the world and children who need families.  As I sit here writing, I'm watching God's glorious sunrise and it seems so very fitting.  You see, God is the only one who can awaken our hearts just like the sun brings light to overcome the darkness of the night.  First, there's just a little glow and the darkness turns from pitch black to gray.  Are you listening? Could God be talking to you right now?

Our answer is usually something like this...."Oh God, I'm happy to help others, but caring for orphans is just not for me.  I do not have the gifts or talents for this.  I'll let someone else do that work".

Then the darkness gives way to more light as God calls even more to the heart.  There's a red sky of love beaming up over the horizon and it's a holy beauty that draws us speechless.  God says "yes, you my child".  "You were put here to care for the least of these.  You." Us. What if He is calling to you right now? Will you say "Yes"?

I know it's scary.  I know there is fear.  When we first thought God was asking us to do more and to adopt, we thought it was crazy! We already had been given six children biologically to care for and raise.  But we gave it to God.  Give it all to God and He will see this through! It's as simple as that! And there will be beauty and joy like the sunrise peeking over the horizon.  His promises renewing each and every morning.

We said yes - and here she is today home seven months! She is no longer a child without a family - an orphan.  But a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter and friend.  Her reality and beginning could have been lost to statistics if God hadn't called to our hearts, changed us, and made her ours.  She was always His, but now she can flourish and thrive with a family by her side.

 The very first picture we saw of Stella Claire when she arrived at New Day.

Home 7 months - she's so loved.  

Please don't wait.  Don't wait for "the time to be right". There are so many children waiting.  They need you.  Now.

So today, on Orphan Sunday, while it may be all around you or it may not be mentioned at all, take a moment to ask God what he wants from you.  Does he want you to support a family in the adoption process, take a meal to the ones who just became first time foster parents, pray for those children who are waiting, or adopt one into your family? It's not something that most people think about on a daily basis, so that's why there is today.  My prayer today is that God will ask "why aren't you doing something?". Let's all answer Him with a "Yes!". And - then GO do it!

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1:5

Go be the light.  Bring the light to those who are waiting for it.  And - experience the LOVE and JOY that is waiting for you!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

First haircut

Stella's hair had grown so much since she came home (almost 6 months now!) so we visited the salon for a trim. She's been great with dentists, doctors, etc so I knew she would do great with her first at home haircut. I know she's had her haircut before when she lived at New Day but this was so special for us! I missed so many of her firsts... celebrating and making memories of her "at home" firsts means so much. 

I'll let the pictures do the talking here:

Enough pictures Mom! She keeps us in stitches our little funny girl. 

Big Sis "Jie Jie" made it to China safely and loves the work she's doing there. We miss her but found a glimpse of her on the New Day blog here:

It's a special time for her! 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Four months

It's been four months since we welcomed Stella into our family officially, four very busy months. The first month was spent half in China, half at home in the US, and was a whirlwind of emotions (for both her and us). It came with grief and loss once again, and also a new beginning full of hope and joy. She had her own language, didn't understand what was happening, and couldn't fully express herself because of that language barrier. The second month was spent hunkered down, cocooning at home, limiting contact with others and just spending time as a family getting to know each other. She learned many English words quickly (she's a smart one for sure) and could better express herself as that language grew more. We learned more how she likes things and just how she is as a little person. She has quite the personality! Sometimes completely and utterly sweet, the other times sassy and strong willed. She's completely and utterly two years old! The third month together was spent exploring more and learning how her world now works. She learned to love to sit and read books, although she still doesn't like to watch tv (which is completely fine!) - she prefers to be doing something with her hands and gets bored easily. She loves the pool!  Hello Kitty is a favorite character as are real life kitties! She can talk up a storm, using more and more words, and doesn't get frustrated with that very much. It's amazing how little minds work and how they can soak up a new language so quickly! 

Four months home looks so different than that first month. We've all become more comfortable with each other (yes, moms and dads adjust too!), and while we've always loved Stella, that love has become more real and has changed as we have gotten to know her. The struggles before are becoming less and less now and our hearts are filled with joy over the obstacles overcome. She will cuddle now and climb up into our laps by her own accord, is easily comforted and accepting of loving gestures. The push and pull from before is more a give and take now. Grafting of a child into a family takes time, love, lots of patience, and more prayer than I can say in words. But it's coming beautifully, and for that we are very thankful. 

This past month our family had some time to travel to Austin and San Antonio. Stella got her first Texas history lesson at the Alamo...mostly she and I got very sweaty walking around the city! 

Daddy/Baba is teaching her to say "Come and get it Y'all"! ;)

She got her first real taste of Texas barbecue too at the famous Salt Lick near Austin. She didn't quite know what to do with all that meat! But she enjoyed the ribs the most. 

Some days it feels like she's been with us forever - other days we still see the work ahead of us - but all days we treasure having her home with us.  Happy 4 months sweet girl! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Taking love to China

Back to China! China became a special place when we went to bring home Stella and because she is a part of our family now, it will always hold a special place with us.  The stories and moments we experience there are still told - even the crazy times! Now someone is going back! Melissa, my oldest daughter, China travel companion and now a high school graduate, wants to head back to China to work with special needs orphans.  Her plans should take her back this Fall for a few months.

See this picture? This is Melissa holding a precious baby girl during our orphanage visit.  I'm pretty sure it's what cemented in her God's calling for her to return.  Before we even left she felt sure that mission work was where she was being led.  Now she's sure.  Volunteering at a special needs foster home and working with orphans - that's where she'll go first.  Working with the least of these.... the fatherless... giving hope.... offering love.... So proud of my daughter for giving a voice to those who can not speak for themselves.

 Melissa worked to help design a special t shirt to help raise funds for her trip (she's also working this Summer and that will go toward her trip too).  I'm sharing it here today because this is such a cool shirt! Raising enough for her plane ticket would be wonderful, but any and all funds raised will go toward her time in China and buying supplies to bring with her to take to the children.

"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders"..... Ya'll.... this speaks to all of us so well! Especially those of us who have adopted a child.  If you feel led to support Melissa, or just want a cool t shirt - click this link (or click on the picture above) and it will take you to the page to order one.  She thanks you, we thank you! Bonfire funds ships the shirts out directly to you about 2 weeks after the fund closes (in just 11 days!) and the shirts are 100% cotton - and super comfy.

And you can say you have a tshirt from Stella! She fully supports her JieJie "Big Sister" - but she's going to miss her so much! Me too...

Graduating Melissa

You know when you have a baby, hold her for the first time, caress her tiny fingers and toes, and wonder what she will become? I remember holding baby Melissa and praying that she would grow up to be His child.  My baby girl graduated this week from High School and I couldn't be more proud of her! She's such a fun, loving, silly, caring, smart person! And most of all she knows she is His child most of all.  I'm so thankful for the time we spent homeschooling her - since she was with me so much she is also a very good friend of mine!

Her little sisters LOVE her!

It's officially, OFFICIAL! She's done!

She didn't want a traditional cake so we made several fruit pies and homemade ice cream! Yum!

We picked this weekend to celebrate (great thing about homeschooling - even the flexibility to graduate when you want) since all the grandparents would be in town. So special to have them here!

She has some wonderful plans coming up and knows she's being called back to China to work with orphans.  I'm going to miss her so much! We are praying for her to life an extraordinary life for Christ and can't wait to see where she will go.

Monday, June 30, 2014

China Last Week - The Bright Lights and Big City of Guangzhou

Becoming a new Mom again, this time to a 2 year old, hasn't left a lot of time for anything but caring for our children and home. We've hunkered down, cut out the excess and focused on the simple things in being a family. There's been adjustments and learning, crying and laughing. Two year olds - easily distracted, little bundles of energy who keep you entertained on one hand and a little crazy on the other. One second they want this but then they really wanted that! But so happy to celebrate today our 3 months gotcha day with our little sweetie! 

It's been interesting lately to look back at our time in China adopting Stella. Seems like such a long time ago yet I often find myself still talking about our time in China. And seeing how far Stella has come since that time just a few months ago. Her language took off at an amazing speed. What a little sponge! She now understands pretty much everything we say to her. Just amazing! I remember those moments in China where I just wished she could understand me. Like the meltdown at the Aeon grocery store late one evening....ahem. Thinking about that makes me take a deep breath! Nothing like being a foreigner with a Chinese toddler screaming on the floor (because I wouldn't let her be in charge and push the cart in the super busy store). Goodness...the looks we got made me want to find that invisible cloak you can put on and disappear! Oh Gaungzhou... Our time there was very memorable.

We arrived in Guangzhou, China for the second week of our adoption trip. This is where all American adoptions are finalized as the US Consulate is located here.  The goal of this part of the trip is to get your child's Visa to enter the US (they become an American Citizen once arriving home in the US).  It's also a place to meet up with everyone else from the US adopting as we all spent a week in many different provinces but all end up here together! Our large travel group was such fun and we are so thankful to have met so many wonderful families.  Guangzhou is huge - big city huge!  14 million people live here huge. Bright lights.  Fancy signs and stores.  International flare. Walking on the street is like walking in New York city (but bigger!) and you encounter nationalities from every nation.  Close by there is Mexican food (Mr. Pancho's & Tekilas - yes, with a "k" Texas folks), Starbucks (thank you very much), McDonald's, Subway, lots of Chinese restaurants (wings, noodles, soups, rice and all the authentic fare), a bakery (Surprise Me with yummy treats), and our favorite was a bit of a walk but the handmade noodle shop should be experienced by everyone.  We were careful not to drink the water or ice and we avoided raw veggies like lettuce - no one got sick! yay! I found lining up food and where to eat challenging at first here, but we found the places we liked, were affordable and frequented them.  MickeyDs ice cream sure was comfort food!

Saturday was our medical appointment day.  The travel clinic is the first step to leaving China.  Stella did really well in the crowded clinic, and was so brave during her blood draw (for children over 2 they test for TB).  Parents are not allowed to go into the room so it's "stand by the door with a lollipop ready for comfort" kind of waiting.

  Bring snacks and prepare to wait! 

 I can't read this infamous blood draw door but found the Christmas decorations (in April) amusing!

First dip in the pool! Chilly! 

Sunday, it was raining and we visited a presidential memorial hall. Very interesting - especially for the history buffs in our group.  We also went to the Pearl and Jade Market. It was amazing! Floors and floors of pearls and jade.  Here you can buy at wholesale prices and often the guides are able to negotiate even lower prices.  I loved watching the young ladies string the pearls  - they work very fast! I ended up with a jade bracelet that will be for Stella one day.  Our guide told us it was traditional for the mother to wear it (on the left wrist since it's closest to the heart) then give it to the daughter when she turned 16.  I also purchased some pearls for wedding gifts and had them strung into bracelets for all my girls and Brett's wife to be one day.

Monday our group went to the Chen Family Academy/Temple which is like a folk art museum. Here you can get ink paintings (the artist uses only his hand and they are beautiful), calligraphy, chops (a stamp with your child's name), and there's a gift shop with little red thread bracelets we thought were adorable (and not very expensive).

 Tuesday we headed to the Guangzhou Zoo and tried to get a glimpse of some China pandas. They were eating and didn't want to come out to play... The red panda was neat to see though! Lots and lots of walking. Stella enjoyed the lions and playing peek a boo ("mer") with us! We ate dinner again at the handmade noodle shop that had quickly become our favorite place to eat.

Beef noodle soup (we could split this and share with Stella), a sandwich and cucumbers.  Yum!

 Laundry  - hotel style.  Fun watching Mama do the laundry in the tub!

The consulate appointment took place our last day, Wednesday. As a wife traveling without her husband, I found this part to just be more paperwork, but also so happy to have it behind us. It was the last step to going home! So many Chinese waited outside of the consulate hoping to get in. It seems really hard to get a visa to come to the US and to see so many (crowds we had to push through) waiting and hoping to get in, just makes you appreciate the freedom we have as US Citizens.

We also visited Shamian Island! Just beautiful. A quiet place to walk and enjoy the scenery away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It reminded me of Savannah, Georgia. We took a cab (just have the concierge help with this and pick up a cab back where they leave you out) here one day and then came back with our group another day. Jenny's Place - a must visit. A Christian woman runs the shop and she is just so sweet. Lots of trinkets and of course the squeaky shoes. We found Stella's cotton traditional dress at the China Doll shop and an inexpensive extra suitcase for all our goodies at Michaels. There's a nice Starbucks on the island and somewhere there is a tea room (which we missed somehow but sounded lovely).

More "Mer" - aka peekaboo!

This night we ventured out on the pearl river cruise. The entertainment was the highlight - just very interesting but held Stella's attention! Picture a Chinese woman juggling knives while Ricky Martin played in the background...Oh yeah...she was fascinated! She enjoyed her first ice cream snack (in the shape of a fish!) on the way back to our hotel that night. 

Thursday, was our last full day in Guangzhou.  A day to take it easy, pack up and gather some of our favorite snacks for the plane ride home.  We had to wait until late afternoon to receive Stella's VISA so this day we just spent blowing bubbles, relaxing in the garden of our hotel.  We walked to the Trustmart (China's version of Walmart), picked up Subway for lunch and walked to the farewell dinner with our group to a traditional Chinese restaurant.  

See her little gray sandals??? They used to be white... ahem.  It's a little dirty in the big city! But she wouldn't let us change her shoes for days and it was huge progress when she finally wanted to try on her new shoes.

Not a very good picture...but it represents something so important (besides the fact we had just landed in the US and were all exhausted!).  Stella became a US citizen when our plane touched ground in Dallas, TX! Welcome to America - welcome HOME sweet girl! The trip is busy, exhausting and full. We enjoyed our time in China, but were SO happy to be home!

Celebrating 3 months with her today!