Sally in the Zen

Confessions of a Befuddled Zen Buddhist

Visiting Family

While I was out and about in New Jersey, in the evening, I went visiting family.

This is my brother, David and his wife, Evelyn. 

Since I dropped by out of the blue, I caught David in the middle of cooking dinner.  And it was rather exciting to see him in action because I can’t remember the last time when that happened.

And then I remember that he’s always been the cooker, me the taster.  He would be able to remember the ingredients that Zen Mum would put into her meals, while I couldn’t retain a thing.

In our younger years, he would be in the kitchen while I was seated at the table, drooling and anxious to get eating.

I watched him make Lobster Bisque, which was quite tasty.

 Steamed fish (I forgot to ask what kind) with ginger and soy sauce.

Really tasty baked chicken, which he brined for eight hours.  I recall the ingredients being salt, sugar, water, herbs and other spices.  The brine made the chicken quite moist and flavorful.  Two thumbs up!

Roasted red potatoes, seasoned with olive oil, salt and other herbs. 

Steak, medium rare, and green bean casserole.  The recipe for the steak was inspired by a trip to Ruth Chris.  David made his own recipe and he said that it was pretty darn close.

If I were a beef-eater, I would have sampled because those were bold words.

 But what captivated me for most of the evening was this cake. 

Evelyn had baked what looked like vanilla cake with confetti sprinkles.  I sat next to it while I watched David cook dinner and the cake kept calling me.

Cake:  Sally…eat me…I am tasty…you know I am…

Me:  Damn you, Cake!  Stop looking at me!  Stop talking to me!  I have will-power.  I am a strong woman.

Cake:  You will be mine before this evening!

And who won?

Sally-in-the-Zen, of course!  (by the skin of my teeth).

But I have to confess, after the really tasty dinner, I had to book out promptly and I forgot to take a bite out of that thing.

David and Evelyn are cool, and they have a nifty side business going. 

And it involves CAKES.

To be continued.

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New and Untried

Going to new places and trying new things, especially food, is always a plus in my book.  I’m not above chain restaurants, most especially when I’ve never tasted their fares.

Try most things once, I always say.

So, continuing on my exciting adventure into the new and untried, while at Weehawken, NJ, I dined out with a couple of companions at Houlihan’s

I’ve had stuffed mushrooms and I’ve had stuffed mushrooms, but the ‘Shrooms


Description from their menu:  

Jumbo mushroom caps stuffed with herb and garlic cream cheese, coated in distinctly crunch panko bread crumbs and crisp-fried.  Served with creamy horseradish sauce.

My verdict:  O.  M.  G.

Seconds and thirds and fourths, please!

And the Fried Calamari?

CRUNCHY and quite tasty!

 My companions ordered tasty looking meals.  Like Scallops and Risotto.

Steak and Shrimp with Fries.

And for myself, the Grilled Rosemary Chicken.  Quite tasty!

The overall dining experience was really enjoyable.  Although the weather outside was freezing, inside the restaurant I was warm, munching good food and laughing with new companions.

What a lovely night.

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Out to Lunch

This is Sally in the Zen. 

Using the mighty words of Arnold in the Terminator…

…I’ll be back.

I’m on the road this week.

I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. 


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Kodak Moments

I woke up at first light this morning and basked in the silence of my home.  Waking up on my own and not by an alarm is like the best feeling.

I shuffled into the kitchen and fixed myself a bracing cup of Starbucks coffee.  And then I went out into the patio and basked in the silence of nature.  Sunlight beaming over the trees, the cool, cool morning air was refreshingly brisk and crisp.  Red, gold and brown leaves still hung in the trees, some littering the ground. 

Times like these are like Kodak moments to me.

That moment ended when I saw my breath in the air.  And when I began to shiver from the cold.

And when I ran back inside.

I was suddenly wishing fervently for hot sun and beach-like weather. 

And I was then remembering about our trip to the East Caribbean, and wishing that I was there right now.


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Homecoming – Conclusion

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Truth be told, during the entire trip in China, I listened with only one ear to all the history that our tour guides recited.  Admittedly, if I didn’t think to write it down in my journal that I kept, I wouldn’t have remembered what had been said and done. 

Instead, because I’ve always been a visual person, I basked in the entire experience of being where I was, being in the moments.

Like when we were visiting Guilin.  We sat for a spell in a teashop, sipping yummy lavender tea.

Like being with Zen Mum and Zen Master at the Temple of Heaven and Earth.  We were told that standing at that particular level was essentially being between Heaven and Earth.  And I remember I had thought, COOL!

Kevin, our Beijing tour guide, took this photo for us.


Or when we went to see Chinese Opera.  Zen Master sat enthralled throughout the entire show while Zen Mum and I passed out.  In all fairness, Chinese Opera is an acquired taste.

Or the goosebumps that I felt as I took this photo from within the tour bus as we approached the Great Wall for the first time in my life.

Or when we were at a famous restaurant that was renowned for its Peking Duck dinners.  It took 40 minutes to cook these birds and once they arrived at our tables, it was quite a show.


And definitely during dinner meals throughout the trip, which consisted of 80% vegetables and 20% meat.  It seemed that most of the vegetable dishes centered around celery, celery and what did you say? celery.  After the second or third dinner meal into the vacation, I realized that I was quite a carnivore because I craved chicken and pork sooo much, and I really missed my meats. 

It took some getting used to, eating mostly vegetables — celery — but the cool thing was that we didn’t gain one pound throughout the trip!

Or when we took the bullet train from Shanghai to Suzhou, only to discover when we reached Suzhou, that we had been on the maiden voyage of that particular train.

Or discovering when we got on the train that it was unlike the Amtrak Acela Express, where there were no walking between the cars because there were no interior doors that allowed passengers to move around.

Or when I burst into tears when we were at the Red Theatre in Beijing, watching Chun Yi – The Legend of Kung Fu.  That was my “Amy Tan” moment of the trip.

Or experiencing the biggest culture shock of all:  squat toilets.  I didn’t take a picture of this unforgettable sight, but suffice it to say, if you can just imagine a toilet built right into the floor and all one has to do is squat, you pretty much got the picture.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Now that was a hard thing to get used to.

Thankfully it wasn’t a concern in the hotels. 

Although our trip happened in 2007, I can still vividly remember it as if it was yesterday.  The sights, the smells, the flavor of life there.  I had naively thought that it was probably going to be like an extended visit to Chinatown, like that in NYC. 

Boy, was I an idiot.

Zen Master, Zen Mum and I had agreed beforehand to not speak a lick of English while we were there.  We wanted to blend in and see where that took us.  From sight to sight, city to city, when we engaged with the folks there, we came away with one common observation that just tickled us when people spoke with us.

Everyone thought we were from Hong Kong.

All in all, China is simply awe-inspiring.  There really isn’t any other way to say it.

Would I go back for another visit?

In a heartbeat.

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Homecoming – Hangzhou – Part 8

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This time our bullet train ride was from Shanghai to Hangzhou.  It was longer than our first time when we went to Suzhou, this time around being 1-1/2 hour one way. 

The weather was rainy and dreary all day.  Who could’ve known that it would become one of our nicest days in China?

We were met at the Hangzhou train station by our tour guide, Pudding.  Yes, that really was her name.  I checked twice, including the spelling.  She said that when it was time to choose an english name, she chose Pudding because it sounded nice.

Pudding was quite memorable, if not just for her name alone.

We went to the tea villages that Hangzhou was renowned for.  And it just wouldn’t be me, if I actually remembered the name of the tea village.  No, that would be too easy!

Then it started raining again.  The tea village and fields were owned by a famous person whose name I didn’t write down in my journal; thus, I have absolutely no recollection.  I just know he was the top tea farmer whose tea was highly prized.

Now how often do you see something like this?  Mine’s on back order as we speak.  Just so you know.

May I live here?

All the green tea you can possibly drink.

What are they looking at, you ask?  Glad you did.

Why, tea roasting, of course!  Isn’t it obvious?

Pudding said that hand-roasting the tender, fragile green tea leaves was a delicate process that took all day.  To show our fondest appreciation for all that hard work, we took home cartons of these lovelies.  The green tea is in the round canister while the chrysanthemum tea is housed in the square package.  (Don’t mind my rice cooker and coffee maker in the background.)

Remember when in Xi’an, Zen Mum and I developed a cough towards the end of our stay there?  Well, at this point it was body-wracking and becoming quite painful.  Zen Master, out of the three of us, was the only one unaffected, and he asked Pudding if there was a drug store we could go to to get medicine. 

And God bless her, she took us to a wonderful pharmacy that sold us wonderful drugs.

After lunch, we went to the West Lake to putter around it in the drizzling rain.  This riverboat was similar to the one we rode.

 We had a blast!

We arrived back into Shanghai at 6:00 PM that night.  I don’t know what it was about Hangzhou that made it so great.  Maybe it was Pudding and her eagerness about her city.  Maybe the smell of freshness in the lingering rain.  Or maybe it was the non-rush of pace in this city that made it memorable. 

It was a lovely city.

And it was a lovely way to end our vacation in China, because we were due to leave the country the next day.

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Homecoming – Suzhou – Part 7

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At 7:15 AM the next morning, Zen Master, Zen Mum and I were in the lobby of the hotel where we met Ms. Lee, our driver and Jacky Chang, our escort to the train station.

HA!  We met Jacky Chang!  Get it?  Jacky Chang?  Jackie Chan?  Jacky Chang?

Okay, so you had to be there.  But he was a cutie!

Ms. Lee took us to the Shanghai Rail Station, while Jacky was there to escort us straight onto the train platform.  I thought it was kind of strange, because why would we need help getting to a train?


Think sardines in a can.  That’s exactly what it was at the train station.  O.M.G.

With my one hand on Jacky, we formed a human chain, where I held on to Jacky, Zen Mum held on to me, and she held on to Zen Master.  He told us to hold on tight and not let go because as we slowly made our way through the mass of bodies, we would have been utterly lost in that unyielding crowd if we became disconnected.  Jacky will forever be my hero.

The train ride was only 1/2 hour and it was our first time on a bullet train.  I don’t know if they called it a bullet train because of its shape, which was sleek and thin, or for its speed. 

But trust me when I say that “bullet train” is an apt description for the speed part because it flew across the landscape.

John, our tour guide, met us at the station and we went to see some of the highlights in the city of Suzhou.

We saw the Pan Gate.  According to Wikipedia, this structure is 2,500 years old. 

This was the view opposite the Gate.

It was a magnificent structure.

John took this picture for us.

Then we went to see this pagoda.  Unfortunately I didn’t write down its name.


Nor did I listen to John when he was telling us its history.  I just remember thinking Oh My.

But the real highlight was the Silk Museum. 

These are the cocoons and the silk threads that are produced from them.

The worms munching on mulberry leaves.  I don’t remember if these were real worms or not, but it was a convincing display.

And here is where they start pupating.   

And then they’re cooked!

At this point, we enter the “kitchen”.

Here is where the cocoons are cooked, cooled and threaded into the rig.  The process is kind of like threading a sewing machine.

Multiple cocoons are threaded and eventually unwound into the spools on top of the machine.

And then the silk threads are further combined through this machine.   In what way, I don’t remember.

In the very very end, what is the result?  Handsome hand-crafted silk clothing.  Fascinating.

I apologize for my lack of recall of critical details, but I was in the Oh My mind fog throughout most of that day.  That’s why I don’t remember if I took this picture at Suzhou or at a museum that we had visited earlier in either Xi’an or Beijing.

I vaguely remember that it was a museum that displayed authentic historical imperial clothing, but I just can’t remember what city it was in.

But I promise that the next time I get a chance to visit such fascinating sights again, I will keep more thorough notes and pictures!

Final stop:  HANGZHOU

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Homecoming – Shanghai – Part 6

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On Sunday, April 15th, 2007, we arrived for the first time ever into Shanghai, home of Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets.


Oohh, pretty!

It kinda felt like Chinatown in Manhattan, New York City.

And for a moment I really felt like we were in New York City.

We had arrived in the early afternoon and it was a free day for us to wander on our own.  We had split from the rest of the tour group by arriving into Shanghai a day or so earlier than the rest, while they deviated to a different tour path that led them to a different city. 

Wandering through Shanghai was like wandering through any metropolitan.  It was modern day living versus the previous cities we visited.  In hindsight, I wished we had the mind to hook up a tour through our hotel to tour Shanghai, most especially the Bund.

Oh well.

Our tour package had Shanghai as a pit-stop for visiting both Hangzhou and Suzhou.  These two cities are within traveling distance from Shanghai via train.  But that didn’t happen until the next day.

So Zen Master, Zen Mum and I wandered around the area near our hotel.  The highlight of the day for us was dinner. 

We ran into a couple from our original tour group and they had invited us to join them for dinner with a native Shanghai friend of theirs.  This was an unexpected surprise, so out of the blue that I left my camera in the hotel when we went out to dinner.

Yes, I know, I was really on top of my game.

We ended up at a restaurant that had a gaggle of ladies, giggling and extremely bubbly, usher us in from the outside.  And going along with my forgetting-to-bring-my-camera thoughtfulness, I forgot to write down what we ate and enjoyed that night.

Because it was absolutely one of the most delicious meals that we’ve had on this vacation thusfar.

And it wasn’t even anything fancy.  I remember I had a bowl of noodle soup with pork dumplings.  And among the many dishes shared at our table, the one I well recall was fried pigeon.  Zen Master and our tour companion devoured it like nobody’s business.  I had a piece of leg given to me and it tasted like chicken. 

And it was quite tasty.


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