The Woks of Life HQ has moved! Last year, in our busiest months of editing, cooking for, and photographing the cookbook, we had to pause. Not for a break (though that would’ve been nice), but to pack up everything from our family home and move somewhere new.
(And then…unpack all the things over the next two months).
We’d been looking at houses for a while (we’re talkin’ years), and with such an insane market, any house had to be pretty special for us to consider packing up unreasonable amounts of dishware and blogging props—not to mention the furniture—to settle in a new home.
Well, we think it’s safe to say that this new place is pretty special and holds very exciting new possibilities for the blog. Let us introduce it to you!
Same Blog, Different Background
Some of you may have noticed from social media posts that our environs in recent months have changed.
(In fact, our friend and fellow blogger Nami of Just One Cookbook almost immediately spotted the different light in our new “blogging window” when a photo of some aromatics turned up on Instagram. She described it as a “happy light,” which we’d say is a pretty accurate description!)
Well, if you’ve been suspecting that something has changed, you were right. Barely a week after completing our photo shoots for the cookbook (back in mid-September 2021—mark your calendars for the book’s release on November 1 of this year!), we stopped all production, packed up our house with 18 years of our lives stuffed inside it, and moved to a new house. One that comes with a slew of new adventures, learnings, and a TON of chores. More on that later.
We’re still in New Jersey, not far from our old house, but the surroundings are pretty different! The Woks of Life HQ is now an old farmhouse that was built in the 1700s, with an addition done about 20 years ago by previous owners.
There’s a barn, which is currently a garage with a big empty space above it, which will hopefully serve as our blogging studio/office.
And there’s a cottage, which isn’t just the perfect space for guests, it has already served as a great base for collaborators who have come to the house to work with us on some exciting projects.
There are also fruit trees, a pond (filled with an indeterminate number of largemouth bass which Bill started gleefully catching as soon as the papers were signed), a stream, a vacant (until recently) chicken coop, a big veg garden on a hill (which you got a sneak peek of in our recent introduction to our How to Grow Chinese Vegetables series), a small kitchen garden next to the barn, and a herd of existing residents—a llama named Trooper, Bonnie and Bessie the alpacas, and two pygora goats that we named Danny and DeVito (anyone seen Hercules?).
If you follow us on Instagram, you know we’ve since added even more tenants—chickens and ducks, who we’ll introduce in more detail in future posts.
CHICK UPDATES & DUCK DEETS!
If you missed these on Instagram, you can still check them out in our Chick Updates and Duck Deets highlights. Watch our chicks and ducklings grow from feathery fluff to awkward teenagers, and follow us @thewoksoflife for future updates!
We’re glad to report that all 9 chickens and 6 ducks are on their way to being fully grown. Now, we just have to protect them from this latest outbreak of bird flu and our neighborhood fox and raccoon population.
At the end of the day, the move to this new place wasn’t just a decision for our family, it was a decision we made for the blog.
We hope that this HQ/home not only allows us to create a dedicated space for the blog (after blogging out of our apartment/home kitchens for 9 years, a separation of work and home spaces is much needed), but also learnings on new topics that we can share with all of you, like growing Chinese vegetables, updates on the animals, and more fun stuff.
A House for the Generations
While we loved our previous home—we spent almost 20 years and the better part of Sarah and Kaitlin’s childhood and adolescence there—we (and Judy in particular) couldn’t help but always be on the lookout for our (let’s be real, *her*) dream home.
While our old house had the perfect kitchen window for photography, the kitchen itself wasn’t ideal for video and photography. Sarah and Justin’s apartment kitchen became our de facto “studio” kitchen, and it’s where we filmed things like our episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Family Dinner and the photos you see on our About page.
A few things were high on our wishlist when looking for a new space: an outbuilding that could be used as a cooking/blogging studio, some open land for a sizable vegetable garden, and a farmhouse that didn’t have super low ceilings but could still feel warm and cozy.
We’ve always envied YouTubers like Li Ziqi and Dianxi Xiaoge, who pluck all manner of vegetables, fruits, and aromatics from the ground in their rural homes in Sichuan and Yunnan, China. While we’re very far from the mountains of Yunnan, we did stumble upon a place in the valleys of good ol’ New Jersey.
When we saw this house back in February 2021, it was instantly recognized for its potential as a place where old and new generations could come together and have a good time—a future site of family holidays, dinners, and celebrations big and small. We also recognized its potential for the next phase of The Woks of Life.
While the sprawling overgrown lawns and animal paddock definitely needed some work, we put an offer on it, and crossed our fingers…
But there were an extraordinary number of offers on it…and we didn’t get it. There was some MAJOR disappointment. For a long time after, every house we saw was compared to this house—the one that got away.
Until we got a crazy call last summer that the previous buyer had fallen through, and it was ours if we wanted it! We jumped at the chance.
There’s a reason why everyone hates moving. It’s a real pain! Here’s how ours went.
Some insight into our priorities: before we did anything, we moved our beloved wok range from our old house to the new. It was made by Viking in the early 2000s, but has since been discontinued. We had to bring it with us.
By some lucky twist of fate, the stoves in both houses were exactly the same size and brand, just a slightly different model. Ours has a large wok burner in the middle, and the other one had a griddle/grill combo in the center. We basically switched the two before moving, and the new owners of our old house appreciated having a more conventional stove. We all agreed after moving that the presence of our trusty stove made the place immediately feel like home.
When the dust had settled after a 2-day move, there was a 9-foot deep wall of boxes that reached the ceiling in the kitchen—filled entirely with pots, pans, dishes, tea cups, chopsticks, silverware, Chinese soup spoons, cutting boards, cooking utensils, trays, napkins and tablecloths, and so much more kitchen stuff than you could possibly imagine.
IF YOU’RE WONDERING…
…How painful it is to unpack and organize the equivalent of about 3 kitchens worth of dinnerware, crockery, cooking gadgets, cutting boards of all sizes, and other oddball staging props, we can confirm: it is VERY tedious!
We spent the fall getting to know the new house—where the floorboards creaked in certain rooms, and the fact that you can hear someone in the basement clear as day from the formal living room that we’ve now dubbed “the Library.” (It’s in the original 18th century part of the house, and there are gaps in the floor).
We slowly but systematically unpacked every single box (our goal was to have the house settled before Thanksgiving, which we hosted last year), finding places for every object, pile of clothes, and piece of furniture, and donating the rest.
Broken down boxes and rolls of packing paper piled up on the front porch, where we had people from the surrounding area coming to pick them up for free to reuse for their own moves. This cycle of unpacking boxes—and having folks come and pick them up—kept at it for about a month.
We’re happy to say that by Thanksgiving, the house was pretty much settled. The property was really beautiful in the fall.
And at our first Thanksgiving, we saw how fun it was to have the house filled with family and friends.
Throughout the holiday season, the house really came alive and began to feel like ours.
But throughout fall and early winter, there was even more to do outside! The previous owners had moved to their new house three months before we moved in. This meant that through the entire summer, the animal pasture, garden, and pond areas were left to grow wild.
We did a ton of work clearing brush, cleaning up leaves, fixing fences, and removing downed trees. We called in for help where we could, and did a lot of it ourselves. In late fall and winter, we planted spring bulbs, pruned the fruit trees, and continued cleaning up the property.
Now that it’s spring, we’ve been kicking it into high gear and are outside working most days.
A Lifestyle? Or Perhaps a Farm.
When we first invited close family and friends over, there were lots of comments that we had landed ourselves a “lifestyle house.” We chafed at the label—we’re people who live in normal, unexamined clutter, wake up with bedhead, and often eat subpar leftovers for lunch, despite our food blogging ways.
Had decades of hard work and elbow grease culminated in something as frivolous-sounding as a “lifestyle house?” Well, the longer we’ve settled into our new “farm” life, the more we realize that it is indeed a lifestyle. That is, if you call constantly working a lifestyle!
With 20 animals, 5 humans, and 1 dog, we think we might be living on a farm? While there are no plowed fields, we’re already producing firewood, apples, pears, peaches, paw paws (we’d never even heard of this fruit until we moved here), and persimmons (yes, there’s a persimmon tree!), alpaca fiber, and LOTS of manure. We hope to add vegetables, berries, fresh eggs, and compost to that.
If all that sounds a bit overwhelming to you—it’s a bit overwhelming for us too! This new place is a vortex of work.
Weekends and many weekdays are spent gardening. And we don’t mean the genteel kind where you put a few flowers from Home Depot into some window boxes. (Though we have been meaning to do that.)
There’s tree trimming, tree cutting, pond cleaning, chicken and duck maintenance, alpaca shots to protect against parasites (after a few lessons from our vet, Sarah is now doing this), poo shoveling, hay mucking, mulch hauling, compost turning, reading about making alpaca poop “tea” for the garden, planning out our vegetable patches (16 big beds give or take), and weeding. An endless amount of weeding.
We’ve waged war with a variety of tall prickly bushes, dandelions, and mugwort, which can cover the ground like a green carpet in spring, thanks to a truly astonishing labyrinth of far-reaching, thick twine-like roots. Even we can’t eat that much mugwort mochi/qing tuan.
Add to that rebuilding damaged rock walls, fences, and other chores too numerous to mention.
In the evenings, we leave our muddy boots at the door, pick at our callouses, collapse in front of the TV, and watch the latest episode of BBC’s Gardeners World so we can stock up on knowledge for the next round of gardening.
Even Barley is more tired since moving here! She spends her days very annoyingly guarding the fence against anything and anyone that passes. She’s even gotten the hang of herding the animals back into their pens. (Rather, she runs at them and they sprint to safety).
We also seem to be much closer to nature (Read: snakes. Snakes everywhere!), despite only being less than 20 minutes away from our old house.
We’ve seen a raccoon climbing up an old dead tree (we assume he lives there), multiple foxes, a couple great blue herons, tadpoles, nesting birds, a black bear(!) and two Canada geese who’ve made our backyard their summer home. (They lost their nest of 5 eggs to a fox earlier in spring. Nature can be so unkind!)
So at the end of the day, this all seems to be less about lifestyle, and more like a huge learning experience. One that will carry us through the next phase of our blog. Because through it all, we’ll keep developing recipes, photographing them, and sharing them with you here—hopefully for years to come!
We’ve been making progress towards our goals of growing our own stash of vegetables and herbs, harvesting eggs daily, and perhaps a few minutes of relaxation a day while sipping our coffee and watching our resident herd wander by or the birds in our bird houses.
We’re also hard at work designing the new blog studio, and planning new recipes. Through it all, we’ll share more along our journey with updates here on the blog and on social media!
Pick Your Top 3!
So, after all that, we want to hear from you! What kind of updates are you most interested in seeing from our new homestead?
Take the 1-question survey at the link below to tell us your top 3 options, or tell us what you think the comments!
As always, thank you so much for reading and following along with our family. Now, excuse us while we do some more weeding!