Trick or Treat!

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Audrey carved the Pumpkin Man and I used his huge eyes, tiny nose and smily mouth to make a pumpkin soup.  I also cleaned the seeds, boiled them with a couple of star anises, salt and Chinese Five Spice powder, and then baked them at 250 F for two hours. 

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As I drank the soup and cracked the seeds, I looked up at the Pumpkin Man in between bites, and for a second I seemed to feel him watching me eating him, and I feared that I might be traumatizing him.  And he would come after me when the lights went out…  If I don’t have a new post tomorrow, you will know that the Pumpkin Man has had his revenge.

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The girls went out with their friends.  Peter and I had a movie date after dinner and we saw CitizenFour, a provocative documentary about Edward Snowden and global surveillance of all electronic communications by the NSA. The film portrayed another kind of spooky man, who lurks behind everyone’s cell phone and computer, and I suppose it was ironically fitting for a Halloween night.

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Pumpkin soup:

2 cup raw cubed pumpkin

1/2 onion, chopped

2 clove garlic, crushed

2 carrots, chopped

4 slices peeled ginger

a dash of each ground cumin, paprika, turmeric and coriander

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 cups chicken broth (or water if vegetarian)

Sauté onion, garlic, ginger and carrots until soft and slightly caramelized, and move them into the soy milk machine.

Add in pumpkin and chicken broth and turn the machine to DRIED BEAN.

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Audrey with Mr. Yo, her math teacher

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Kung Pao Kinship

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We had Kung Pao chicken for dinner tonight.  As I was preparing the dish, my thoughts naturally turned to my Ye Ye — paternal Grandpa.

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Ye Ye with little Joan

My first memory of Kung Pao Chicken was at a lunch in my Ye Ye’ house, which was three bus stops away from my maternal grandparents house, where I lived.  My paternal grandparents were from Sichuan and Kung Pao Chicken is a Sichuan classic. 

My Ye Ye was a famous surgeon in his time, though food is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of him.  Food was scarce when I was growing up but my Ye Ye always had the most abundant lunch waiting for us every Sunday.  He converted one of the bathrooms into a smoke house to smoke meat and poultry.  I did’t know how he was able to come up with the feast while everyone else’s food was rationed. I still don’t know.  Perhaps he saved all his ration for the weekly banquet with us.  Or perhaps he had patients in high places.

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Ye Ye in the middle and Joan far left

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My ancestral hometown – an ancient town by the Yangtze that prospered in Ming Dynasty but declined after the railway replaced the river transportation. Part of our old house is now a museum.

Last year, China Central Television did a Chinese version of Who Do You Think You Are with me. The journey brought me back to my ancestral hometown in Sichuan, where I discovered much about my Ye Ye’s life before he became my Ye Ye.  The gentle old man I called Ye Ye fought in three wars and some of the bloodiest battles.  No wonder he seemed unperturbed by anything.  And he lived his life to the fullest.

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Grandparents with their three children during Japanese invasion of China. Ye Ye was the head of a war torn hospital in Chung Qing. My father was the boy with the bow tie.

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In Korea fighting the American Imperialists

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Ye Ye had a hero’s welcome after the war in Korea. He is in the front center, and my grandma is the third on the left in second row.  My 3 aunts are on the right of my grandma behind Ye Ye.

Here is a toast to my Ye Ye, who is probably eating Kung Pao Chicken right now in Heaven.

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I have cooked this dish dozens of times by feel.  The following recipe is adapted by me from a Kung Pao Chicken recipe by rasamalaysia.com.  And the dish turned out amazing.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons oil

4 slices peeled fresh ginger

2 clove garlic

1/2 small red bell peppers (seeded and diced)

3 dried red chilies

2 stalk scallion

1 jalapeño (seeded and diced)

1/2 cup peanuts or cashew nuts)

Marinade:

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon cooking wine

Sauce:

1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

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Method:

Marinate the chicken for 20 minutes.

Mix all the Sauce ingredients in a small bowl, stir to combine well. Set aside.

Heat up a wok or skillet with the oil, stir fry the ginger until aromatic. Add the red bell peppers, jalapeño and dried red chilies, stir fry until you smell the spicy aroma from the dried chilies. Add the chicken (save the marinade to use with the sauce) and stir fry continuously until the chicken turn opaque. Add the roasted peanuts, and stir in the Sauce+the saved marinade. When the sauce thickens and the chicken is completely cooked, add the scallions before transferring the Kung Pao Chicken out on a serving platter.

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Stir fried mustard green with garlic.

He Is My Lobster

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My father-in-law has been hospitalized for a week.  My mother-in-law stays in the hospital with him day and night, even though she is an insomniac and can’t sleep at all in the hospital.  Peter is worried that this will drag her health down.  I ask myself, what would I do if I were her?  I think I would stay in the ward with my husband as well. 

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She has been with him since she was 19 years old.  As she said to me herself that they are a pair of chopsticks, pretty useless without the other. I don’t know if Peter and I are chopsticks, but he’s definitely my lobster, less than three.

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I appreciate very much Maira Kalman’s meditation on life in her book And the Pursuit of Happiness: “The question that we ask ourselves is, what protects you? What protects you in this world from sadness and from the loss of an ability to do something? For me, what protects me … is work and love. And I think that those two things cover pretty much every single thing. Because what you do, who you love, what you love, and what you do with your time is really the only question that you have to answer.”

My mother-in-law is answering this question by staying at the bedside of her husband of 62 years.

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My thoughts went to Peter when I pondered my parents-in-law’s situation.  I called him to ask if he could spare half an hour for lunch today.  It so happened that he could.  I quickly made a couple of veggie dogs and walked up the hill to meet him in the little park near the hospital. It was the best thing we did for each other in a long while.  The sky was blue.  The sun was balmy.  We sat on the bench and watched moms pushing strollers and nannies playing with toddlers as we munched on our veggie dogs. 

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Peter having his lunch in the sun

Author Annie Dillard wrote in her meditation on presence over productivity: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  We often fail at the art of presence and rush through our lives being constantly “productive.”

Thirty minutes in the sun.  That was all Peter and I needed to feel rejuvenated, serene and happy.  Why didn’t we do this more often?  He is usually too busy.  But one must make time for important things such as this.

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Peter has a dinner meeting tonight, and the girls and I will eat a simple meatless meal with lots of vegetables, black bean pasta and baked yam.

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Three 10-minute Dishes!

The teaser for Marco Polo came out on YouTube today!  This was the first time that I saw many of the footages from the show.  I worked on the series for many months in Pinewood Studio Malaysia this year.  And I can’t wait to see the finished product in Dec. 

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I play Empress Chabi in the show

Johor, where the studio is, doesn’t really have much historical or cultural points of interest, but I discovered so many wonderful eateries when I was there.  During the months of filming, I found the best Malaysian Chinese food I’ve ever had, always redolent of intricate and complex spices or sauces.  I was dreadfully homesick when I was there, but now I often miss the pungent, fragrant and flavorful tropical dishes of Malaysia.

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I wish I had time to cook something Southeastern Asian today to celebrate the exciting looking teaser of Marco Polo, but alas, I had to whip the dinner out in half an hour.

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Tofu Skin with Shirataki

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Grilled Tofu with Greens

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So here are three dishes that take 10 minutes or less each to make!

Tofu Shirataki noodles with Hodo tofu skin:

1 pouch of spicy Hodo Yuba Tofu Skin (Costco)

2 pouches Tofu Shiratki noodle (Safeway)

1/2 organic red pepper (or any other crispy veggie you have in the fridge)

1 stock green onion (or celery)

1 tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. fish sauce (or rice vinegar if you desire a more acidic flavor)

Wash Shirataki well, put aside.  break up tofu skin, mix in with Shirataki.  Add veggies and sauces.  Viola!

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Heirloom tomato salad:

Wash and slice and add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Viola!

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Grilled tofu with greens:

1 box firm tofu

some greens either raw or cooked

1 tbsp. oyster sauce

1 tsp. sesame oil

2 tsp. toasted sesame (optional)

chopped green onion for garnish (optional)

Cooking spray

Slice tofu into desired shape. Spray hot grill with cooking spray, grill each side for 4 minutes on high.  Prepare the greens when the tofu is grilling.  Put grilled tofu in container and add oyster sauce.  Serve with the greens.  Viola!

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Tending the Inner Pig

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In my younger days in LA, my brother and I ate a lot of pork, at least three to four times a week, making up for lost time for when we were children.  Now I cook pork only once or twice a month at the most.  There is a traditional Shanghainese dish called Hong Shao Rou — Red Braised Pork.  It reminds me of happiness and contentment as I knew it as a child.  It reminds me of Chinese New Year when we would always cook this braised pork in a large clay pot.  You can take the girl out of Shanghai, but not Shanghai out of the girl.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup cooking wine

1/4 cup light soy sauce 

1/4 dark soy sauce (or you can use all light soy sauce)

3/4 – 1 cup water (you may not use all of it)

2 to 1 1/2 pounds pork shank

4 boiled eggs (optional)

1/4 cherry tomato (optional)

1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

8 cloves garlic, bashed

2 inch cube peeled ginger, bashed

2 star anise

1 tbsp. brown sugar or molasses

1 tbsp. canola oil

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Heat the oil in a wok on high.

Put in peppercorns, garlic, ginger, star anise, sauté for a minute. 

Add cut pork shank to be seared at all sides. 

Add soy sauce, wine, water and sugar and turn the fire to low.

Cover and stew for 2 hours.  Adjust taste by adding a little more water or soy sauce.

Eat it with brown rice.

Happy Sunday!

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Maira Kalman’s painting of a pair of American slippers from the 1830s is a love letter to walking, something Kalman sees as an existential activity and a creative device.

The first thing that I do every Sunday morning when I open my eyes is to find the weekly email from brainpickings.org, which is one of my favorite literary sites.  It is the brain child of Maria Popova, with whom I share the love for letters, diaries and  Illustrated books.  It was from her website that I discovered works by Maira Kalman who wrote about the power of walking as a generative force of intellect, awareness, and creativity: “Walking is the antidote to a lot of misery and boredom. Whatever you do, you should always try to walk somewhere before you do it.”

So, after I read the brainpickings posting, I left the house for a walk before I did anything else.  I walked around Crissy Field before ending up at Safeway, where I bought some grocery for today.

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When I first came to the US and learned in my history class the Declaration of Independence, I was surprised, perplexed and impressed that the pursuit of happiness is emphasized as one of the unalienable rights.  When and where I grew up, happiness was not mentioned much at all.  The only thing that we openly pursued was the realization of Communism.  Privately, we pursued food — exchanging cloth coupons for meat coupons, or bartering things from the house for eggs with the farmers who occasionally appeared in our neighborhood.  One good thing that came out of my upbringing is that I don’t feel so alarmed or ashamed when I’m not happy. 

What is happiness?  How exactly do we pursue it?  These are hard questions I don’t have the answers to, but when I was walking along the bay and when I came home with the grocery and began making breakfast, I felt happy. 

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Roast Kabocha squash pancakes:

1 cup of roast kabocha

1/2 oat bran

1/2 almond flour

3/4 cup milk

1/4 guar gum

1/4 salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 egg

1 egg white

I never made a Kabocha pancake before, but I needed to use up the last cup of the roast Kabocha squash in the refrigerator.  If I make it again I will not use almond flour.  I will use half oat bran and half oat flour or whole wheat flour.  But we enjoyed them as they were.

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I decided to make some caramelized onion and bell pepper to go with everything on today’s menu. With the caramelized onion and pepper I made our lunch and dinner in a matter of minutes, and they were delicious.

Caramelized onion and pepper:

1 1/2 onion

1 1/2 red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic

1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. Balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. sugar

Sauté for 10 to 15 minutes before putting in the salt, vinegar and sugar.

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I used Sabra Mediterranean Eggplant in the hot dogs.

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The vegetarian dogs were perfect for lunch. And we had whole grain pasta and the steamed broccolini for dinner.  Peter protested because there was no meat and we ordered a take-out beef with tomato from Green Island for him.

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Leftovers Made Whole

Oh, food. You are the tomatoes to my lettuce, the peanut butter to my jelly, the cinnamon to my oatmeal. What would life be without you? Oh, food, you truly complete me.

We have always shared a special bond.

We have always shared a special bond.

But what about when food becomes incomplete? When it is half eaten and needs to be revived, to live another life with a whole new personality? I have attempted to do so countless times… (turkey everything after Thanksgiving, anyone?) Today is one of those days.  And here, proudly, is how I made yesterday’s leftover whole again.

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  1. Spaghetti Squash

One of the best and worst parts of eating spaghetti squash is that one big squash yields days and days of leftovers. Angela wanted some spaghetti squash to make into a healthy lasagna and we were left with piles of squash in the fridge.

I made some of it into a salad yesterday along with the leftover quinoa we had .

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Today I made the final batch of the squash into a salad with Asian dressing:

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1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup sesame oil

1/4 cup xylitol or other sugar equivalent

1/4 cup Japanese fish stock or chicken broth

Hot chile oil or Sriracha sauce to taste

If you desire some acidity to the flavor, add 1/4 cup rice vinegar instead of the fish stock.  I only used less half the dressing and will have some leftover for tomorrow.

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  1. Sandwiches and Wraps

Anything edible can go into a sandwich or wrap. I have yet to find a single counterexample.

I made a wonderful healthy version of tuna salad yesterday and it was amazing. Today I ate it in a grilled sandwich and it was great!

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Got milk?

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Grill marks are good for the soul.

  1. Soup

I love my soymilk machine for making creamy soups. I put just about anything in there and it becomes delicious soup.

A few days back I made this roasted kabocha squash dish…

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…and I made the leftovers into some heavenly soup!

1 cup kabocha squash

2 carrots

1/2 onion

4 slices peeled ginger

2 cloves garlic

a dash of each: cumin, turmeric, paprika, coriander

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté all the ingredients other than the squash until soft and put everything in the soymilk machine and press PASTE.

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Two Salads Everyone Must Make To Be Complete

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Both Peter and Audrey have social engagements this weekend.  Angela and I are having a quiet Friday evening by ourselves.  I miss Peter and Audrey.  It’s strange how when they were home we would often be doing our own things and not really talking to each other all that much, but I have been thinking of them nonstop now that they are not home.  I suppose that’s just the way things are with people you love – absence always looms larger than presence. 

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Audrey and her friend Erika at the Palace of Fine Arts

I looked at what Audrey posted on her snapchat – happily laughing with her friend and munching on “real food.”  No nagging from Mommy.  No healthy alternative for snacks. A couple of days ago, when Angela and I were tinkering with a recipe in an effort to make it healthier, Audrey exclaimed with vehement disgust that she would not eat this healthy food anymore.  She was sick and tired of the 100% whole grain, sugar free and low fat alternatives.  She wanted real food.  Audrey was right.  What’s wrong with white rice or white bread now and then?  What’s wrong with a  piece of crumbly, buttery cookie or a cream filled cupcake once in a while?  Nothing, really.  Everything in moderation.

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For dinner tonight, I made two easy dinner salads that were perfect for the warm autumn day.

The curried Tuna Salad recipe is from a book called James McMair’s Salads, that was a wedding gift from 22 years ago.  I was new in the city and wasn’t working.  I cooked and I waited for Peter to come home. That was all I did everyday besides walking or reading.  I made all the salads in the book a number of times through out the early years of our marriage, but I’ve long forgotten about it. It caught my eye today when I was cleaning out the shelf and it brought back a lot of memories.  Those were the days I used real butter and real Mayonnaise, and Peter often sneaked back for lunch and more.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used plain nonfat Greek yogurt)

1/2 cup Mayonnaise (I used more plain nonfat Greek yogurt)

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tbsp high-quality hot or mild curry powder

1/4 cup cashews or macadamia nuts

1 lb. fresh tuna fillets, grilled or poached, cooled, and flaked, or 2 cans (7 oz each) tuna packed in water, drained and flaked

1 cup finely chopped unpeeled apple

1/4 cup finely chopped sweet pickle or pickle relish

1/2 cup raisins or dried currants, plumped in hot water for 15 minutes and drained

2 tbsp minced green onion, including some green tops

Minced fresh parsley, or preferably flat-leaf type, for garnish

I halved the recipe today.

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I made the spaghetti squash salad with leftover squash and quinoa from the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups of cooked spaghetti squash

1/2 large English cucumber

1 tomato, large

3/4 cup cooked quinoa

1/4 cup parsley

1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp olive oil

1/3 cup macadamia nuts

salt and pepper to taste

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Busy Bee Housewifery

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My nanny has really become quite a “farmer” lately and often brings me produce from her yard.  This morning she brought me a couple of vine ripe heirloom tomatoes.  They looked so enticing that I wanted to bite into them and eat them right away.  But my better sense prevailed and I decided to make a salad for the family to share.  I can’t think of a better gift than home grown vine ripe produce.

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2 tomatoes

1/2 English cucumber

2 avocados

1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar glaze (I think Lemon juice would have been fresher tasting but I was out of lemon)

1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

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When the produce is this fresh, simplicity is the best way to go.  You can taste the food’s original flavor.

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Because I am between projects, Peter and the girls just think that I have all the time in the world to run all their errands for them.  This is the problem with freelancing.  People think you have more time than they do.  Just as I sat down with a book, Peter called me to go buy a broom for him.  What for? I asked.  For my golf travel bag.  Please make sure that the stick is longer than my longest golf club so it will absorb the impact and protect the clubs if the bag is thrown down by the handlers.

I have been asked by a Chinese film company to adapt an internet novel into a screenplay.  I thought that writing would be a perfect job because I wouldn’t have to leave home. But at home I’m never alone enough to write even when I’m alone.

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He didn’t ask me to run any errands for him then.

Audrey came home from school very anxious about the League of Creative Minds debate that she will attend at Stanford University this Saturday.  The topic is the coalition against ISIS, and she will represent Iran’s position.  She needed my help but I was equally ignorant on the issues.  Thank goodness for Google.  We could easily access all the information at our fingertips.  However, she still had many unanswered questions when she was reading the online material about the ISIS crises.  Angela decided that it was time for her to give both Audrey and me a basic history class on the Abrahamic religions, starting from the birth of Ishmael.  Audrey got more and more confused and asked more and more questions. She did learn a word that was repeatedly used in all the articles on ISIS: quagmire.  As you can see, I had a lot on my plate before I got to cooking dinner.  I am glad I chose a very easy and quick recipe from rasamalaysia.com.

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1 1/2 lbs chicken drumsticks (I used thighs and I halved the recipe for only two people)

One 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped

5 garlic, peeled and chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 heavy dashes white pepper

Pinch of Chinese five-spice powder, optional

Pinch of salt

Method:

Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Add the ginger and garlic to the chicken and gently rub them on the chicken. Add the rest of the ingredients to the chicken, stir to mix well so the chicken drumsticks are nicely coated with all the ingredients.

Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes. ( I marinated for 60 minutes)

Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Line the chicken on a tray lined with baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the surface turn golden brown and charred. (I used the toaster oven at 375F for 17 minutes and broiled the chicken for about 3 minutes in the end.)P1050004

A Little Party Never Hurt Nobody!

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Audrey is wearing her favorite Sweatybands, they really don’t slip!

Our blog is one month old today (and perfectly enough, it’s also National Nut Day! Seriously, look it up).  Angela opened the blog to help me eat more mindfully.  What started out as short blogs of our daily meals became longer and longer, and turned into a form of self expression that I look forward to writing everyday. 

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Essayist Rebecca Solnit wrote in her book The Faraway and Nearby, “Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone… Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest.”

Though writing in English is a painstakingly slow process for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed this month’s foray into blogging. Despite what Angela calls the mawkish old-lady-ness in my writing, we have had over 80,000 views in our first month. A story is a heart that only beats in the chests of the listeners. Without the listeners, my telling stories would only be muttering to myself, which of course is sometimes also necessary. I am grateful for Angela and sometimes Peter for correcting my English.  As I am writing, I could hear Angela’s exasperated voice, “Oh mommy, how can you spell raisin wrong?”  That was actually a typo.  I do know how to spell raisin, but I often use the wrong articles and sometimes I’m not sure whether to use in or at or on…  However, I have hope.  Practice makes perfect, as I have always been telling the girls.

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In the Chinese tradition, when a baby is one month old, the family will have a red egg party.  In the olden times, infant mortality was high and the family wouldn’t consider the baby a real member of the family until he has survived the first month.  Well we didn’t want to get attached to this blog since we might give up on it any time but after a month we’ve decided to make it our baby.

To celebrate the first month anniversary of the blog, I made tea eggs instead of red eggs simply because they are much tastier.  Tea eggs are a nostalgic dish from Shanghai and I have made them dozens of times, usually by feel.  Today I tried a recipe from one of my favorite Asian recipe website, rasamalaysia.com, and the result was delicious, at least for Peter and me.  Angela said that she was shocked at my choice of Chinese recipes for the blog.  Who is going to cook Chinese mountain yam or tea eggs?  Perhaps she is right, but tonight I will indulge in nostalgia.

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I have a friend who is in the Pu-er tea business and she gave me some tea preserved in orange peels. The tea has a hint of the orange, which is quite aromatic.

Ingredients:

12 eggs

4 cups water

6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons Chinese pu-erh tea leaf

1 cinnamon stick

2 star anise

3 cloves

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1 teaspoon sugar

12 鸡蛋

946 mL 水

89 mL 鲜酱油

44 mL 普洱茶或任何红茶

1 根 桂皮

3 八角

3 丁香 (可以省略或用花椒)

2.5 mL 五香粉

4 g 糖

Method:

Add 4 cups of water to a medium pot and gently drop in the eggs. Make sure the water covers the eggs. Bring the water to boil on high heat. Boil for about 10 minutes or so to make sure the eggs are cooked.

Transfer the hard-boiled eggs out of the hot boiling water and rinse them with cold water. Using the back of a teaspoon, gently tap the eggshell to crack the shell. Return the eggs to the water and add in the remaining ingredients. Bring the tea mixture to a boil and immediately turn the heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours (the longer the simmering, the better the taste). Add more water if needed. Serve immediately or leave the tea eggs in the mixture overnight to further develop the color and flavor.

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And what is celebration without a cake? I decided to bake a gluten free pineapple upside down cake and it turned out quite well. The entire house smelled like a ripe tropical fruit.  Angela, however, was disgusted by the Maraschino cherries that I used to decorate the pineapple.  She said the whole purpose of the blog was to help us eat healthy and I sacrificed what was important for triviality.  I guess we will not eat those cherries.  She IS the food Nazi.

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MOIST ALMOND COCONUT PINEAPPLE CAKE

1-1/2 cups Almond Flour

1/2 cup Organic Coconut Flour

1/2 cup Xylitol

2 tsp Baking Powder

1/4 tsp Sea Salt

4 Eggs

1/2 cup Milk

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 tsb. Molasses

1 can Pineapple slices

1/2 cup shredded coconut

8 Maraschino cherries

Pre heat the oven at 350°F, grease the 9X13inch baking pan, spread Molasses at the bottom of the pan, line pineapple slices before pour in the cake mix.  Almond flour and coconut do not absorb as much liquid as regular flour.  I could probably have made a better cake by cutting the milk to 1/4 cup.

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