Monthly Archives: March 2006

Happiness is a Piece of Cheese

Tonight David sat down when he got home from work, carried a big hunk of mozarella cheese to the sofa, and started eating slivers of cheese.  I suggested he wait until supper to eat.  He replied, "It just tastes so good!"  I totally understood his point.  Cheese is not an everyday or even every week occurrence in our house.  I have to go to the foreign grocery across town to get cheese, and it’s also very expensive, probably triple the price of the U.S., so I only go about once per month to get it.  We ran out of cheese sometime early last week, and I just got some new cheese today.  Maybe it’s not painful to live without cheese each day.  We might not miss it even if we go a week without any in the house.  But when we do have it, we surely do appreciate it!  There are certain flavors that, when you taste them, just taste like home.   Other flavors are, well, better than home. We can get Australian and French cheeses here.  My favorite cheese ever, so far, is an Australian sheep cheese.  It’s hard and salty and habit forming in small slivers.  C’s favorite is the French camembert.  Before S was vegan, she preferred the Goat Feta we can get here.  I think D’s favorite is still the smoked cheddar.  J ?  Well, J likes any kind.  We all like it with fruit for dessert, or shredded on top of our pasta sauces.  The mozarella D was munching on?  It’s targeted for a home made pizza sometime in the near future. 
 
Here’s the recipe I pull out of my brain when I make pizza.  It comes from a mixture of places, including a now-defunct pizza restaurant in Columbia and the Reading Rainbow TV show (featuring a book about pizza).  Even a legal case in which I learned about how pizzas are made in restaurants!  And of course my own experimentation.  The reason the measurements are approximate is because it may change each time! 
 
Start with the dough.  Mix 1 cup pleasantly warm water (120 deg f) with 1 Tablespoon dry yeast and about a teaspoon of sugar (yeast think it’s yummy), whisk vigorously.  Mix 2 cups flour with a touch of salt in a large mixing bowl, then add liquid.  May add some whole wheat to the flour mixture if you like.  (In my opinion 1/4 whole wheat will not really affect flavor or workability of dough too much.)  Stir and then knead.  Pour a small portion of olive oil into a bowl which you can use for dipping your hands int.  As you knead the dough, dip your hands into the olive oil if the dough sticks to them.  Rub the oil from your hands on the outside of the dough to make it less sticky.  But don’t use so much oil that the dough gets soft!  If dough does get too soft or sticky, add a bit of flour to counterbalance. 
 
Shape dough into a very round ball and then mash so it is a little bit flat.  Set aside in a warm place to rise while you make the toppings and sauce. 
 
Next, chop up whatever veggies you want to use as pizza toppings and prepare meat ingredients.  For sauce, in a small bowl mix together the following:  one clove crushed garlic, 1 small can of tomato paste, about 1/2 tsp oregano, about 1/8 tsp anise powder, and a touch of sugar.  After the sauce is made, take a pizza pan or a cookie sheet and lightly oil with flavorful olive oil.  Powder this with corn meal (sugar free corn meal, not Jiffy Mix!), and then sprinkle with a bit of salt for flavor.  This will make a really wonderful bottom on your pizza crust.   Grate up your cheese, some combination that is heavy on mozarella and whatever other flavors of cheese you like, or you can use a bag of prefab grated pizza cheese. 
 
Next, shape the dough into the pizza pan.  I use a combination of patting and rolling (and marking with a B?).  I have no idea how to twirl a pizza dough.  Mine is too soft anyway, and it tears and gets holes in it when I try to do it.  So I just shape it out and mash it, and get it to fit into the pan.  If it tears, I patch it but I err on the side of making a rather thick pizza crust so that there aren’t tears.  Now let it rise for quite a while, like maybe an hour. 
 
The final step is to preheat the oven to as hot as it will go.  (Real pizza ovens are made to specially hot specs, much hotter than an ordinary household oven.  The best we can do is not really quite good enough!)  While the oven preheats, smear a thin layer of the red tomato sauce over the bread dough, sprinkle on oregano, basil, and a bit of powdered anise seed, then add the toppings and cheese.  (If this is for a sleepover party, each child can decorate her own portion of the pizza with the toppings of her choice.)  When the oven is really hot and the toppings are added, put the pizza in and watch it closely.  It will cook in about ten minutes, depending on the temperature of your oven.  If your oven doesn’t have good heat circulation, some places may be hotter than others and you may need to rotate the pizza during cooking.   Keep a close eye on it, even though it feels like a watched pot never boils! 
 
When the crust is brown and the veggies in the middle appear done, take it out.  Sprinkle the finished product with parmesan cheese to taste, preferably freshly grated!  Cheese, cheese, cheese!  This recipe will produce a soft pizza that you eat with a knife and fork.  If you want it a bit harder, cook the dough a bit before adding the toppings.  Also, a word of caution.  The toppings can look really yummy and maybe you want them all . . . But don’t put so many toppings that the weight of them weighs down the dough, keeps it from cooking, and makes it soggy!   Moderation! 
 
Okay, now here’s a P.S. to the story.  I did make a pizza.  Two pizzas in fact in the same night.  Each girl decorated her own as she wished it.  In the picture shown, the 1/3 with just olives and cheese is J’s, the non-dairy with mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and peppers is S’s, and the one with everything on it except black olives and mushrooms is C’s!  My yeast must be old, because the dough didn’t rise very much at all.  However, it does remind me to tell you, don’t squish the dough!  Work it as gently as possible if you want it to rise!  The other thing was, the oven seemed too hot and the dough didn’t cook so well.  Perhaps because it didn’t rise well in the first place.  We ended up cooking the pizza for about 20 minutes, but it never got crusty.  At that heat and for that length of time, the cheese got a bit too brown on top.  But that could also be due to the effect of having a large pan in a convection microwave.  It’s not quite a "real" oven.  So, more experimentation is in order! 
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Lost another tooth

J  lost her second baby tooth last night, in her sleep!  Fortunately, she found it this morning.  Although, I’m not sure where it is now.  I hope she can find it when she gets home from school, so she’ll have something to leave out for the tooth fairy.  Last time, the tooth fairy left her 20 RMB.  That’s enough money for about 6 bottles of pop, which J  loves to purchase from our clubhouse.  Of course, that was for a first tooth and the same day her nose got busted.  I wonder if the tooth fairy will leave the same amount this time or not?  (Update:  J knew EXACTLY where that tooth was, and went to bed right on time.  The tooth fairy has been here and  left 10 silver RMB coins!) 

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Diversity

Sorry no pictures, just an update.  Friday:  Mandatory visa trip to Hong Kong.  We turn in our passports by 8 AM to a visa agency and get them back at the end of the day with new visas in them.  Very stressful to be required for girls to miss a day of school.  Fortunately, S felt pretty well and therefore was in good humor.  She was exhausted and slept almost right up until our hotel checkout time, while C did homework the entire time.  Then we went to a grocery store and a bookstore.  We have actually found a grocery in HK that not only sells the fake vegan meats and rice cheese that S likes but also pecans, barbeque sauce, and lots of other goodies we can’t get in GZ.  This time we purchased only the most important stuff and spent only a bit over $100 US.  Just two fiction books at the bookstore plus a small book called "Markets of Guangzhou."  Then caught the last train home and arrived at about 10 PM. 
 
Saturday night:  Lazy day then dinner with some friends.  How this came about was that I told one of my girl friends about our New Year’s experience at the seafood restaurant.  She thought it was hilarious.  Turns out, she and her husband work in the food distribution business.  And they both speak Cantonese.  They offered to take us next time they went, which was Saturday night.  She arranged for four couples to meet at 7 PM for supper.  My friend called ahead and ordered the menu and a private room.  Sweet and sour fish, scallops in garlic, lobster in cheese sauce, crab in curry sauce, prawns in oriental sauce, and two vegetables.  It was great and the company was great, too.  In the USA when we talk "diversity," it seems that it’s really nothing but a buzz word for racial awareness and perhaps even stereotyping.   At dinner, we had real diversity.  The nationalities represented by the 8 spouses were:  Trinidad, Hong Kong, Australia, China, Malaysia, Iran, and USA.  And everyone got along great. 
 
At present, D is on a business trip to Shanghai, and I’m holding down the fort on the home front.  Both teens are leaving Thursday on school trips.  S is planning to go to Beijing for Model United Nations; C is planning to go to a remote village in Guangxi Province to work on a house for Habitat for Humanity.  I probably will fly up to Shanghai on Tues and meet up with D there and then go to Hangzhou.  He has meetings on Sun, Mon, and Tues, and then another meeting in Ningbo on Friday and a trade show on Saturday.  He’s trying to line up more meetings to fill in the time on Wed and Thurs, but if he is unsuccessful there will be opportunity for a short triip to Hangzhou with a vist it its famous "West Lake".  You can use google earth (  http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html ) to locate these places on the map, if you like. 

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Avian Influenza – some thoughts

"Avian influenza refers to a large group of different influenza viruses that primarily affect birds. On rare occasions, these bird viruses can infect other species, including pigs and humans. The vast majority of avian influenza viruses do not infect humans. An influenza pandemic happens when a new subtype emerges that has not previously circulated in humans. . . . For this reason, avian H5N1 is a strain with pandemic potential, since it might ultimately adapt into a strain that is contagious among humans. Once this adaptation occurs, it will no longer be a bird virus–it will be a human influenza virus. Influenza pandemics are caused by new influenza viruses that have adapted to humans."  WHO statement at  http://www.who.int/csr/disease/influenza/pandemic10things/en/index.html  (14 October 2005)
 
"Human infections remain a rare event. The virus does not spread easily from birds to humans or readily from person to person."  WHO statement at http://www.who.int/csr/2006_02_20/en/index.html (20 Feb 2006)
 
"Although the virus is known to have infected 173 people, not one of these cases has been linked to the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products."  WHO statement at http://www.who.int/en/ (27 Feb 2006)
 
"The public health threat of novel influenza subtypes such as influenza A (H5N1) will be greatly increased if the virus gains the ability for sustained spread from one human to another. Such transmission has not yet been observed. However, a few cases of probable person-to-person spread of H5N1 viruses have been reported, with no instances of transmission continuing beyond one person. For example, one case of probable person-to-person transmission associated with close contact between an ill child and her mother is thought to have occurred in Thailand in September 2004."  American CDC  statement at  http://www.cdc.gov/travel/other/avian_flu_ig_americans_abroad_032405.htm   (current as of 5 March 2006)
 

"Right now, there are 105,000 ventilators, and even during a regular flu season, about 100,000 are in use. In a worst-case human pandemic, according to the national preparedness plan issued by President Bush in November, the country would need as many as 742,500. To some experts, the ventilator shortage is the most glaring example of the country’s lack of readiness for a pandemic. "This is a life-or-death issue, and it reflects everything else that’s wrong about our pandemic planning," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. ‘The government puts out a 400-page plan, but we don’t have any ventilators and there isn’t much chance we’re going to get them.’"  

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/12/national/12vent.html?pagewanted=2&th&emc=th (NY Times 12 March 2006)

__________________
 
Okay, it may have happened.  About a month ago, a sick bird fell from the sky in Hong Kong.  Then another, and another.  They tested postive for avian influenza.  I’ve been trying to educate my housekeeper on how to keep meat and poultry products separate from vegetables and fruit.  This issue of keeping meat separate from raw vegetables doesn’t seem to matter much to Guangzhou people.  Perhaps it’s due to lack of education, or perhaps it’s because they cook everything anyway, so it doesn’t matter if the vegetables are exposed to salmonella or whatever.  But since I like raw vegetables, it matters to me.  In response to my instruction, my housekeeper assured me, "there’s no bird flu HERE."  Well, the news reported last night that one person in Guangzhou became ill with a serious flu that appears to be bird flu, with test results pending. 
 
At my local market, the chickens look wonderfully healthy and clean.  They are kept in cages and slaughtered on the spot when someone purchases one.  In my previous BLOG entry of market pictures, I showed a picture of the fresh meat market where I buy not only meat but also produce, tofu, nuts, and cooking oil.  If you look closely, one of the photos shows someone’s takeout lunch in a styrofoam container, sitting in the middle of the poultry plucking / cleaning area. 
 
Avian flu is highly contagious among birds.  They have no resistance.  To date, almost every single case of avian flu in a human has resulted from close human contact with extremely sick birds, without any kind of sanitary precautions whatsoever.  Poultry workers in Viet Nam culling thousands of sick birds with no sanitary  precautions, a child in Thailand who found stacked carcases of culled birds and thought she was doing her mother a favor by plucking them, children in Turkey playing with heads of slaughtered chickens.  The virus is spread by any secretion from a sick bird:  saliva, blood, excrement, egg yolk or white.  Safe handling includes cooking all poultry products well done (including egg yolk), washing of eggs prior to handling, washing of hands, and not handling poultry when one has any cuts. 
 
I heard on the TV news that avian flu can decimate a domestic poultry flock in two hours.  While this sounds implausible, I’ve read that wild birds have developed some resistance but that domestic birds have none so the virus decimates the flock very quickly.  Wildlife biologists lament that wild birds have it just as bad, they just don’t have the same economic value to us to merit our counting them so closely. 
 
Scientists have been preparing for the next flu pandemic ever since they figured out that pandemics are a regular occurrence in human history.  Like category 5 Hurricanes, volcanoes, and earthquakes.  They may not have occurred recently enough to be in anyone’s immediate memory, but they happen.  A January 2005 Scientific American article examined the question, why was the 1918 flu epidemic so deadly?  (It was estimated to have killed 40 million people.)  After examining the forensic evidence, the researchers came to the conclusion that the body’s immune response to such an unfamiliar virus is too powerful.  In response to a newly mutated virus, the immune system goes into a haywire overdrive  — most of the patients actually died from pneumonia caused by their own bodies creating such a powerful immune response that their lungs filled with fluid which drowned them.  The people most likely to have such a strong immune response were those who generally had the strongest immune systems — the young and the healthy.  ( http://www.sciamdigital.com/index.cfm?fa=Products.ViewIssuePreview&ARTICLEID_CHAR=B5053C29-2B35-221B-65836DF15F29E88F )
 
Last spring, my doctor advised me to ponder in advance what course of action to take in the event of a pandemic causing mutation.  She said the question is not whether to evacuate from China, but when to evacuate.  Would I evacuate when there was a case of human to human transmission in Shanghai?  Hong Kong?  Viet Nam?  Because if I wait until it’s here, the city would be closed off and evacuation would be impossible.  Not only that, any potential means of transportation would already be flush to capacity.  If 20% of the population were to become ill, and another 20% staying home to take care of the ill ones, and another percentage of people staying home because they were afraid of infection, there will realistically be a breakdown in basic infrastructure.  Planners realistically envision a situation similar to what occurred in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. 
 
The other thing is, you can run but you can’t hide.  The pandemic (if or when it happens) is expected to move across the world like a wave.  Or, more realistically, in a group of small waves as travelers carry it with them, just as SARS leapt to Atlanta and Toronto.  Epidemiologists have assumed that the next flu would originate in South China.  That’s because traditionally, animals harboring animal viruses (pigs, ducks) have been kept in close proximity to humans.  This close contact between animal and human genes enables animal viruses to recombine with human virus to create new strains, which humans then have no immunity to.  Our denial mechanism wants to tell us that the risk comes from some jungle in Thailand where they engage in cock fighting.  However, H5N1 is being spread by migratory birds.  The spread of H5N1 into Europe (e.g. currently infecting birds and some cats in France,  and some human cases in Turkey) illustrates the fallacy of that assumption.  The threat may end up coming, figuratively speaking, in anyone’s back yard.  There have been reports of H5N1 in Canadian migratory birds.  It’s just a matter of anticipating when that one mutation will occur which makes the virus able to infect humans readily.  While that hasn’t happened yet, Americans need to be thinking the same thoughts and taking the same precautions as everyone else.  I don’t feel that my location in Guangzhou places me at any particularly greater risk, in terms of the big picture.  Except that here the numbers are bigger, so the public health challenges are bigger, say 100 million people sick at one time.  There are about as many cell phones in China as there are people in the USA! 
 
Hospital beds in the USA are already filled to 95% capacity, a very large percentage of respirators (required for life sustaining patient support) are already in use.  Even the USA does not have reserve medical capacity to manage the large numbers of people expected to become ill in a pandemic.  Power plants will be understaffed and there may be power failures, police will have high rates of absenteeism, indeed so will every industry and service.  Medical staff will be particularly hard hit because of their increased exposure.  There are debates among medical professionals about what exactly is their ethical obligation when it comes to willingness to work in such a high risk environment. 
 
But if you follow this to its logical conclusion, evacuation won’t really be an option.  By the time we learn of it, it will be too late.  Not only will airports and railways will be closed, but borders will be closed.  What country wants evacuees who may be carrying a deadly virus?  Further, resort to public transportation will increase risk of exposure, as would also the possibility of being quarantined by the receiving country along with people who do have the illness. 
 
So the current advice has changed.  We have been advised to stockpile six weeks worth of canned food and bottled water, sanitary and medical supplies, and plenty of DVD’s.  It is anticipated that the pandemic will flow across the world in waves.  The first wave of illness will last about six weeks in each place.  Over time, for some reason, the experts think the virus that remains will become less deadly.  So, we have a stockpile of six weeks worth of water, and about two weeks worth of food.  In the meantime, it seems as relevant to worry too much about it as to worry about whether the next airplane will crash.  One person may have been exposed to avian flu in this city.  There are 12 million people here.  So, my risk is one in 12 million right now?  Okay, I admit, I handled my chicken today very carefully.  But still, I see no cause for panic.  Another way of looking at is this:  if you’re gonna go, you’re gonna go.  If you have faith, I mean real faith, even that’s not such a horrible thing. 
 
So, keep advised, assess your risk, be prudent, and don’t panic! 

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