Sichuan Must Be Chinese for ‘Burn a Hole in Your Belly’

My travel-buddy-for-life XFE and I often discuss where we might want to go for our next Really Big Trip. You know, the ones that require using lots and lots of miles, and all of your 25 vacation days and crossing many, many time zones.

The last Really Big Trip was three weeks in Australia for my 40th birthday last year where I hung out with pop stars, watched kangaroos sun themselves right off my porch, ate some of those poor kangaroos (ok, not the ones I saw, but some other ones, probably related), avoided sharks (mostly), and hugged koalas.

Koala and Poe

There have, of course, been trips since then (including an apparently undocumented short jaunt to Austin for New Years – bad travel blogger here), but none of these trips have been quite on the scale of the Australian one.

One of the many, many places that XFE keeps mentioning is China. We’re usually pretty simpatico on potential destinations but I am not really feeling the whole China thing.

Actually, come to think of it, despite our lovebird status, we are NOT always simpatico on travel destinations. He always wants to go to dangerous places where we might be killed or taken political prisoner while I want to go to nice, climate-controlled museums located near shopping.

We are, however, fairly good at blending the two travel styles. I look forward to finally visiting a climate-controlled museum where you can purchase weapons used by political prisoners.

I have a few reasons why I think China might not be my cup of oolang. For one thing, I have very vivid memories of the toilet situations in Hong Kong (ie: hole in the floor), and I fear that those would be considered spa-like by Chinese standards.

Chinese bathroom
Exceptionally unpleasant in the winter when you’re wearing pants, a coat, sweaters….

And there’s that whole Chinese sense of humor business – somehow I feel like I would smart mouth the wrong government bureaucrat and find my butt in a nice prison complete with “special suicide watch cells with walls made of rubber so prisoners could not commit suicide by running into the walls.”

And that’s just no fun.

chinese prisoner
I totally agree with this woman, whatever she’s saying.

But one of the main reasons we probably won’t be going to China anytime soon has to do with the food. And that’s our own damn fault.

We thought we’d get all “The Bitten Word” on things this past weekend (wonderful blog, go check it out. But then come back.) and actually make something from one of the many cooking magazines we receive each month.

XFE actually does adapt a very few recipes from our magazines once in a while, but we’d never attempted anything as ambitious as this.

Chinese cooking at home
Page 70, if you feel inclined.

We made Sichuan pork dumplings and stir-fried pork belly with Chinese chives from the current issue of Saveur (the one with the donuts on the cover).

We have an entire kitchen cabinet with Asian oils, spices, vinegars, pastes and other potions, but we use them so infrequently that we decided to go to our nearest Asian market and procure new ones. This turned into an hour-long confusion-fest as we tried to find three different bean pastes, none of which appeared to be on the shelves we were looking at.

Here’s a snippet of the typical muttering to be heard in that aisle on that day:

“It says we need sweat fermented broad red bean chile paste. I see sweet bean paste. I see fermented bean paste, and I see dried fermented black beans, but not in paste form. I also see fermented bean curd paste, and sweet tofu chile paste. Do you think any of these would work whatsoever?”

Chinese cooking at home
Some–or all of these –might be part of the recipe.

Also: no sherry. All other kinds of wine/vinegar permutations, but no dry sherry.

After best guessing it, we went home and XFE started cooking, including grinding his own pork for the wonton filling. The recipe for the wontons made like, 2 dozen, so we cut that in half. We did not, however, remember to cut the ingredient list for the sauce we tossed them in by half.

Chinese cooking at home
Ladies, here’s a gift tip: men love a meat grinder.

XFE also pulled out our old electric wok, which was purchased for $3 at a garage sale about 6 years ago and has been used a grand total of once. That was for a bacon tempura recipe that stunk up our whole apartment so bad I screamed bloody murder every time XFE even mentioned using it again.

(FYI, our apartment reeked of dirty grease for a week. It was winter and we could not even open a window to air things out. No fancy candle could cut through that smell.)

The wok has sat unused and unloved taking up valuable cabinet space every since. It almost met its long overdue demise during our last two moves, but somehow, has been spared each time.

Finally, that wok was going to earn its keep.

Chinese cooking at home
Old Red, the unloved wok sizzling away in the background.

The wontons came off the stove first and got a good dousing in the sauce. The first one was delightful. Very good. But as I reached for a second one, my mouth began to burn. I quickly pushed it aside and popped another drenched wonton into my gullet. Yep, definitely tongue tingling.

I knew – because I do have eyes – that there was some chili oil in the sauce. But I’m from Texas. And not just Texas, but El Paso. On the border of Mexico. I grew up eating hot stuff.

However, I vastly underestimated my tolerance for chili oil.

Chinese cooking at home

You know how when something’s so hot, you just can’t stop eating it, because to do so would allow air to hit that surface and send the flames higher, therefore, you have to just keep eating? Yeah, that’s what was going on here.

XFE caught on a lot quicker than me and stopped at just a few.

Next came the stir fried pork belly, which also had some chili oil, but we’d learned our lesson and cut the chile oil portion. Plus, the oil from the pork helped cut down the heat a bit. It smelled amazing and looked just like the picture. But it was fried in approximately three cups of vegetable oil and made us both feel kind of greasy and gross.

Chinese cooking at home

So, Chinese cooking was a bust for us. Not sure how we’d fare on visiting the actual country.

Baby, I’m a Firework

Holy hot flashes. This scares me. Because, as my bed-partner-till-spontaneous-combustion-do-us-part XFE will tell you, sleeping next to me is like sleeping with the sun. I’m hot y’all. Really, really hot.

According to the Irish Times:

“A CORONER’S court has heard how a man who died in a fire in his house three days before Christmas had spontaneously combusted.

The case was outlined in Galway yesterday, where an inquest into the death of a pensioner heard how investigators were baffled as to how Michael Faherty had died.

A verdict was returned that the man died of a phenomenon called spontaneous human combustion. (emphasis mine.)

Mr Faherty (76), originally from Connemara, died at his house at Clareview Park, Ballybane, Galway, on December 22nd.

West Galway corner Dr Ciarán McLoughlin said he had never encountered such a case in the 25 years that he had been investigating deaths in the region.

Forensic experts found that a fire in the fireplace of the sittingroom where the badly burnt body was found was not the cause of the blaze that killed Mr Faherty.

The court was told that no trace of an accelerant had been found and there was nothing to suggest foul play…..“This fire was thoroughly investigated and I’m left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation,” he said.”

The coroner said the fire had been confined to the sittingroom and the rest of the house sustained only smoke damage. The only damage was to the body, which was cremated, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath.

That's right: Dude was a human torch.

DANG Y’ALL! Among all the other things I worry about (yeah, I’m looking at you brain-eating amoebas), I’ve always been worried about spontaneous human combustion. And now, here’s confirmation that I should, indeed, be very, very worried.

Despite the fact that I freeze away during the day, I am in fact a very hot sleeper. Like, scorching hot, can’t even touch my skin hot. It’s very odd because like I said, during the day, I’m quite cold. I can’t get warm. But somewhere in the middle of the night, I turn into this lady:

This is a total exact replication of what I look like while sleeping at night. Yep, accurate as hell.

I haven’t always been a hot sleeper, I don’t think. But somewhere over the last 5-6 years, I’ve definitely noticed an uptick in my body temperature when I sleep. XFE shirks from my fiery touch (that sounds way worse than it actually is.) Petunia won’t even sleep with me in the summer, and that cat is up in my business ALL THE TIME.

I don’t blame either of them. I routinely kick of the sheets and flip my pillows over looking for a cool spot. I don’t even want to sleep with myself. But when winter comes around? Both Petunia and XFE use me like the human heater I am.

And yes, I’ve asked my doctor about it (along with a query about my oddly lumpy head. Man, I got issues). She isn’t the most sympathetic practitioner out there. She says I’m fine. I question where she got her medical degree. According to the Internet, I might be dying. Stupid Internet.  

Stuff like this isn’t helping my paranoia: According to this story in the UK Huffington Post:

“Liquefied fat is the reason that the body burns, according to one rather gruesome theory, ‘the wick effect’.

Once ‘the wick’ or clothes have ignited, fat from the burning body seeps out and acts as the fuel source, allowing the victim to burn further. Fat burns at a much higher temperature than other substances, and many of the victims have been overweight. Home Office pathologist Professor Michael Green told the BBC in 2005: ‘The way the body burns – the so-called wick effect – seems to me and to my colleagues to be the most scientifically credible hypothesis.’”

First off: EEEEWWWWW. Secondly, holy human candle! Terrifying. I better go drink some ice water. And lay off the funnel cakes so I don’t add “fuel to the fire” so to speak. Anyone else out there a hot sleeper? We should maybe form a community, hold a telethon or something, to pay for some more research into this dangerous condition.

Spontaneous Human Combustion is no laughing matter.