30-minute Meals

There was a lot of errands to run — bank, post office, grocery store — before I have to leave home again on Sunday.  There was also the unpacking and repacking to do.  I wanted to make lunch and dinner instead of going out, but I had very little time.


Lunch was udon noodle in hot broth, Audrey’s favorite.  She loses all her manners and eats a ton whenever she sees udon or ramen in hot broth.

Audrey eating

Audrey eating 6

I bought the noodle and fishcakes in a Chinese market called Sunset Super on Clement St.  The soup can be chicken broth, soy based broth, miso based broth or anything you feel like at the moment.  The whole meal took less than 30 minutes to make.  I made everyone slurp their noodles like peasants just to please me, the Hungry Empress.




Dinner was roast chicken from Costco, and a jicama salad.  I based my salad recipe on foodandwine.com’s Avocado, Orange and Jicama Salad.  It was so refreshing — crunchy and creamy all at once.


3 navel oranges (I used 5 mandarins)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used 1 tablespoon)

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small jicama (1 pound)—peeled, quartered and thinly sliced

2 Hass avocados, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup chopped cilantro (I omitted it because Angela doesn’t like cilantro)

Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Working over a small bowl, cut in between the membranes to release the sections.

Squeeze the membranes over a bowl to extract the juice. Whisk in the lime juice, vinegar, oil and cayenne; season with salt and pepper. Add the jicama and let stand for 15 minutes. Fold in the orange sections, avocado, feta and cilantro; serve.


Happy to be Jet Lagged


I woke up at the crack of dawn because of jet lag, while everyone else in the family slumbered on.  Quietly and methodically, I cleaned up.  Mindless physical labor was a good therapy after two weeks of intensive movie watching and movie debating. 

The Golden Horse Award, for which I served as the jury president, stirred up all sorts of scandal and controversy because a well loved film star from China did not win the Best Actress award.  I was involved in this imbroglio because the media insinuated that I sabotaged her because of professional jealousy. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gong-li-cries-foul-judging-752683 I usually don’t respond to the media but the backlash went viral and I had to make a statement on Weibo that I actually voted for her and the deliberation and voting process was fair and transparent.  I am so glad the whole thing is now over and I’m home scrubbing the kitchen sink and toilet bowls. I’m not being sarcastic.  Making things clean can be a cathartic exercise.


I cooked a simple Asian flavored pasta for lunch before heading out to buy outfits for the press junket and the premiere of Marco Polo in New York.  Audrey insisted on going with me to make sure I didn’t buy anything that was “either too young or too revealing” as I always tended to do when I needed to be in front of the camera.  As I picked out clothes to try, Audrey would say I disapprove or I approve or strongly approve.  Audrey has good taste and I followed her directive with conviction.  She was a good little helper zipping and unzipping me as I went through dozens of dresses.  You will probably see some of them next week when I appear in front of the press.


Before I left for Taiwan, I planted some scallion ends in a flower pot and today I was finally able to use some in the pasta.



2 cups Whole grain Kamut Spirals (or any other pasta of your choice)

1/2 onion 

2/3 yellow bell pepper

4 cloves garlic (minced)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoon Ponzu sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon chopped scallion

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste

Cook the pasta according to instruction and drain. Sauté minced garlic, onion, bell pepper on high until slightly caramelized.  Turn the fire to low and pour in Ponzu, soy sauce and sugar.  Give it a few good stir and mix in the pasta.  Sprinkle scallion and red pepper flakes before serving.

Home Sweet Home


I got home this morning, just in time for Thanksgiving.  There was unopened mail piled up on the dining table, dishes piled up in the sink.  There was hair all over the bathroom floor.  And the piano was dusty…  But the girls and Peter were all happy and healthy.  That was all it mattered.  I can’t believe I actually was able to cook today.  What a joy!  It was a simple dish, but it’s Angela’s favorite: ratatouille.  


Always Mommy’s little helper


2 large eggplants (cubed)

2 large tomatoes (diced)

2 medium onions (chopped)

1 red sweet pepper (diced)

1 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt (optional)

1 teaspoon sugar

4 cloves garlic (minced)

1/3 cup Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

a dash of each ground cumin, paprika, coriander, oregano


Put the cubed eggplant in a microwave-safe container and cover with a lid.  Microwave it for 12 minutes or until soft throughout.

Sauté onion and garlic on high with half of the olive oil for about 6 minutes, add sweet pepper and tomato and stir for another 6 minutes.  (I used a wok for this.) Set aside.

Use the other half of the oil and sauté the eggplant on medium for 4 to 5 minutes before mixing in the onion, pepper and tomato.  Pour in the Marinara sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices, and cook at low for 20 minutes.


As we have been doing for the past fifteen years, we went to David People’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.  The five cakes and pies were made of full fat cream, real sugar and butter and white flour.  Happy holidays, right?

Winter is coming. Stock up now!

Winter is coming

Winter is coming. Brace yourself for stressful last-minute hosting, loud drunk family friends, bone-chilling weather, seasonal affective disorder, and deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy exacerbated by the excessive commercialization of the holidays happy wintertime cheer!

Thanks Debbie Downer

No one likes Debbie Downer

Since it’s that time of the year again, I thought I’d make a list of some great gifts to give to your favorite people. Don’t get stuck in line with everyone else who waited until the last minute to buy presents! If department stores start putting up Christmas decorations in October, then who says the week before Thanksgiving isn’t too soon to start planning for the New Year?

Christmas came early for us this week when we received a wonderfully thoughtful care package from Words to Sweat By, a cute online boutique that makes adorable fitness apparel and accessories. Audrey, Angela, and I each got beautiful personalized charm bracelets, and each of us received personalized products, including motivational bracelets and a gorgeous infinity scarf. Honestly, these are the best gifts ever because a lot of them are individually handmade (the bracelets were hand-stamped! check etsy! so vintage! so chic!) and what better way to get through the cold winter days than to up those endorphin levels?

1413868808_just_breathe_allinone_fitnessjewelry 1406149313_June_12_2014_021

Words to Sweat By makes great bracelets with personalized messages. You can write your own message or choose from many, including “I ❤ XC,” “Just Keep Going,” and “Lift Others Up.” They even come with multifunctional bands that you can wear to help keep your bracelet in place.

In addition to those wonderful bracelets we also received some clothing:


1379967804_INS_Running_wordstosweatby_web_double_openweb Photo03_zoom

How lovely! The scarf is made of 100% organic cotton so it’s 100% itch-free and cozy. Now these are some products that are so warm and wholesome that even I, a cynical Grinchypants, would want to buy for my friends and family.

Angela showed her new clothes and accessories to her fellow schoolchildren and their faces just lit up! These clothes bring out the happy, innocent youths in us all.




photographed by MT


glowering with elation


she almost cried when Angela took the bracelet back


fashion and function all in one!!


The wrap can be used to entertain children when necessary…


so many uses!


“I’m weeping with joy on the inside.”

Guest Post: Healthy Raw Raspberry Cheesecake!

Hi! I’m Kim, a 23-year-old Biochemist from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for food, fitness, health, and overall happiness. When I am not working, working out, or spending time with friends & family, I spend time sharing my love of healthy food with others! I grew up overweight and ashamed of it. As a young teenager, I began to secretly starve myself in attempts to lose weight. This turned into a very unhealthy relationship with food that lasted over 7 years. At the age of 20, though, something “clicked” and I realized the importance of working out and HEALTHY eating. I finally succeeded in healthy weight loss by throwing myself into the kitchen (& gym!) to learn what truly healthy food is made of; I grew to really enjoy cooking & baking. Every recipe I create is sugar free, nutritious, and fit for a healthy lifestyle. I also have two recipe ebooks available that I have written, full of recipes I personally create and enjoy.
A lot of my recipes are protein-packed desserts, so this recipe is unique in the sense that it does not require protein powder, flour, or a baking step. It is a raw vegan raspberry cheesecake, made with everyday ingredients that are suitable for almost any diet preference one may have. It is comprised of a crust, a raspberry layer, a cheesecake layer, and what I call a “pink” layer; I topped the dish with a cocoa sauce and fresh raspberries. It is absolutely refreshing, while also satisfying to the sweet tooth; it can please anyone. I hope you enjoy!
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Raw Raspberry Cheesecake
Serves: 8
1/2 cup pitted dates (80 g)
3/4 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup coconut butter
Raspberry Layer
1 cup frozen raspberries
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
Cheesecake Layer
2 cups raw cashews (soaked in water)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup maple syrup (or sugar free syrup as I use, or agave, or honey)
juice from 1/2 lemon (2 TBSP)
2 TBSP coconut butter
1 TBSP vanilla extract
You will need a food processor to make this. First, add the dates and almonds in the processor to make the crust. Process it down until it becomes fine grits, then add the coconut butter. Continue to blend it until it is malleable and thick.
Now, you have two options. You can make 3 mini 4″ cheesecakes or 1 full size cheesecake. I made mini cheesecakes with 4″ springform pans, but this is also a recipe fitting for 1 full-sized springform pan. Spread your crust on the base of the springform, pressing down firmly with the backside of a spoon or knife.
Next, make your raspberry layer by blending frozen raspberries and water. It will be thick like a sorbet. Spread this evenly on top of your crust, (saving approx 1/4 of it for later)! Place the 1/2 cup fresh raspberries on this layer as well.
Next, make the cheesecake layer. You want to strain your soaked cashews first. Then add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and blend it all. I often stop the processor to scrape down the edges, and blend more. Pour this layer on top of your raspberry layer (saving approx 1/4 of it for later)!
Now, place your cheesecake in the freezer! While that’s freezing, combine the remaining 1/4 of both the raspberry and cheesecake layers that you saved earlier. After the cheesecake has frozen for 45-60 minutes, pour the “pink” layer on top! Freeze again for at least 2-3 hours. It is best if you go ahead and let it freeze overnight. Once ready, slice into 8 servings and let it thaw approximately 10 minutes before serving. I also added a cocoa layer on top right before serving, made from unsweetened cocoa powder, water, and stevia. Enjoy!
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Nutritional Information for 1 slice: 357 calories; 27 g fat, 27 g carbs (6 g fiber), and 8 g protein

Looking for more?

My Kitchen, My Castle

Sitting in a dark room — living in my head and completely detached from my body — for 10 hours a day is not a good way to get over jet lag.  I have netted about 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night for the past three nights. Preoccupied with the lives of all sorts of strangers on the big screen, my present reality seems nonexistent.  When I walk out of the screening room each night, I forget for a second which city I am in.  I have been through more poignant or absurd or dreadful situations in the past three days than I could ever directly witness in a life time.  Such is the bliss and sometimes the dreariness of movie binge watching.

I came back to my hotel room after seeing four films last night and had a good cry in the shower because I had been feeling too much and doing too little.  I missed my family terribly and I longed for my kitchen. 


My POV as I quickly walked by the dessert display…

One good thing about jet lag from the US to Asia is that I could get to the gym at 6 in the morning, which I did today.  I worked out on the elliptical machine for 45 minutes and burned almost 600 calories!  The gym equipment factories must make different machines for 5-star hotels, or the hotel repairman must have fixed the machines.  I guess the hospitality business is all about making the guests feel so good that they come back, and they eat more Tiramisu and Panna Cotta in the hotel restaurant, which I also did after the cry in the shower and after I found out that Serangoon Road was nominated for Best Drama Series for Asian Television Awards and I was nominated for Best Actress for the show.  All I needed was a little excuse to pig out and I certainly had one.

照片 2

On the set of Serangoon Road in Batam, Indonesia.

Crab lunch

Pigging out with the cast and crew on Sunday


With co-star Don Hany from Australia

As I write this blog, I find myself fantasizing about cooking and thinking up recipes in my head like Angela used to do in Andover.  I re-read this email from her from April this year – subject line: I want to talk about cooking with my mommy.


What I need to be doing

“…oh and by the way i invented my own zucchini pancake recipe that i can’t wait to try:

Zucchini Pancake Ingredients:

4 cups sliced raw zucchini, 454 g = 73

1/2 cup chopped onion, 80 g = 34

1/3 cup oat bran, 40 g = 150

4 large egg whites, 132 g = 68

1 tsp olive oil, 4 g = 40

1 tbsp garlic powder, 9 g = 28

1/4 cup pecorino romano, 28 g = 110

Zucchini Pancake Total Recipe Nutrition Information:

503 kilocalories

44:29:27 carbs:protein:fat

fat: 16 g, 6 g saturated, 1 g polyunsaturated, 3 g monounsaturated

cholesterol: 25 mg

sodium: 719 mg

potassium: 1838 mg

carbs: 57 g, 14 g fiber, 14 g sugar

protein: 37 g

vitamin a: 24%

vitamin c: 142%

calcium: 37%

iron: 22%

Makes four servings of 126 calories each. Carb side for lunch/dinner.

i don’t know if you could tell but i really really like umami flavors. that’s why i included a full tbsp of garlic powder and an ounce of pecorino also. i think even authentic pecorino is cheaper than high-quality real parmigiano-reggiano (the real deal from parma that has a seal and everything) so that’s good. it’s tastes the same to me since i am hardly a cheese connoisseur.”

I don’t know about 1 tbsp of garlic powder.  Sounds way too much, but I will try her invention with her when I get home and report the result on our blog.  Can’t wait!


With fellow past winners of Golden Horse Best Director Award

Guest Post: Lynn Chen

What an honor to be guest posting for Joan!  I’ve often said that Joan’s performance in “The Last Emperor” was my inspiration for becoming a film actor; I’d like to think that my sites “The Actor’s Diet” and “Thick Dumpling Skin” influenced her starting Hungry Empress…


…it’s been almost a decade since Joan and I worked together on Saving Face.  Even though we only had a few scenes together, we became a family on set – and that often meant sneaking away to the crafts services table together.  Weight gain was inevitable; our director Alice has joked that she had the snacks moved further and further away from set so her cast wouldn’t mindlessly munch between takes and cause costume issues.

These days it’s important to me to be very conscious of the power food has over my mind, and my body.  In the last 10 years, I’ve overcome eating disorder struggles, and make a daily effort to be kind when I talk about not only about how I look, but how others do, as well.  It can be a challenge to acknowledge that what we eat can change how we feel – mentally and physically – but also learn how to enjoy/celebrate without indulging in guilt/obsessive control.  To learn not to equate fat = bad, skinny = good.  Health is a lot more than a number on a scale (which, by the way, I’ve thrown out since 2006).  The most important thing I’ve learned – after 5 years straight of writing about food daily – is that nobody has it all figured out.  Not chefs, not nutritionists, not food scientists, not even doctors.  So the best diet for you, is literally trusting your own gut.

Lynn Chen

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Guest Post: Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies!

Today our mom flew off to Taiwan, so for dinner I’m having steamed cauliflower, brown rice, and a healthy protein “milkshake.” Not exactly what you’d call gourmet. So instead of boring you with all the stuff I’ve been putting together in the microwave, I’d like to introduce you to today’s guest blogger, Kim Hoeltje:


I am 29 years young and live in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania with my husband, two kittens, and one snuggly Puggle.
I love baking. My parents own a cookie bakery so I learned how mix, scoop, and taste test at an early age. I like to experiment with different recipes, make changes, add different ingredients, and just have fun with it. I love using protein powder in place of flour and sugar.
My protein-packed dessert recipes come from my love of sweet treats, healthy alternatives, and kid-friendly taste buds. I am a full-time nanny, fitness enthusiast, and recent lover of food blogging. My focus is creating good for you foods that make you feel good too!
One of my all time favorite recipes is my Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies!
These may look like they are packed full of sugar, flour, and butter, but they actually contain none of those ingredients!! They are low fat, low carb, and packed full of protein!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies
  • 1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder (30g)
  • 2 T PB2 or other powdered peanut butter (14g) (can sub any nut butter)
  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin (60g)
  • 1/2 cup canned chickpeas or any white bean (130g)
  • 3 T egg substitute (46g)
  • 3 T unsweetened almond milk (46ml)
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • sweetener to taste (4 packets)
  1. Drain and rinse beans
  2. Puree beans, pumpkin, egg, milk, and vanilla
  3. Stir in everything else except the peanut butter
  4. If using PB2, add water til you get a peanut butter consistency
  5. Coat 5×7 baking dish with nonstick spray
  6. Pour brownie batter in dish
  7. Swirl peanut butter on top
  8. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes


You could just eat one or two brownies, but why stop there?! You can have all six for only 315 calories!! Only 5 grams of fat and 34 grams of carbs. They make a great breakfast because they are packed with 37 grams of protein!
Brownies for breakfast!? Yes please!
Original recipe link –
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3 Easy Ways to Stay Hydrated


Did you know that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated? That’s right, you are probably dehydrated right now as you read this. Chronic dehydration can negatively impact your electrolyte balance and cognitive performance, and it can also contribute to acid reflux, digestive disorders, and other unpleasant conditions. Drink up, everyone! Here are three easy ways to stay hydrated.

1. Set a Goal

How much water should you be drinking? Well, it really depends on the water content of your food and tons of other factors. Even though we don’t all need eight glasses of water per day, I aim for that amount just in case. Besides, staying hydrated actually prevents your body from holding onto water weight and looking bloated, so drinking water has lots of benefits.

I just make a conscious effort every day to get my water in. If you’re into newfangled technology, there are lots of smartphone apps to help you drink more water, like WaterLogged and iDrated.

2. Get a Pretty Water Vessel


I used to carry around an old metal water bottle, but I realized I wasn’t drinking much water because it made everything taste metallic and smelled reminiscent of tetanus. Also, an opaque water bottle makes it harder for you to keep track of how much you’re drinking.

This is why I really love my EcoJarz! We recently received a few EcoJarz lids and straws in the mail and couldn’t wait to test ’em out! Basically, EcoJarz lets you turn your Mason jars into really cute reusable water bottles. As you could probably guess from the name, EcoJarz are eco friendly, but the main reason why I love them is because I can keep track of how much water I’m drinking and I can sip everything through a cute reusable straw. I love straws. They’re just fun. And whenever I have lip balm or lipstick on, I love how I don’t end up getting it all over the place when I use straws. I’m rambling. But that’s how much I love EcoJarz.

3. Flavorful Infusions

In a last-ditch attempt to get Audrey to drink more water (she’d been averaging about three cups of fluid per day… yikes!) I started buying super-sweet water flavoring like Dasani Drops and Mio. Even though they helped her stay hydrated, I couldn’t help but wonder about the effect of the iffy ingredients in water flavoring. After all, we all heard about that recent study linking aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose (Equal, Sweet N Low, and Splenda, respectively) to diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders. Apparently these sweeteners might negatively affect our intestinal microbiota, the enigmatic little bacterial critters living in our guts, thus contributing to various diseases. Of course, this doesn’t mean definitively that a little Diet Coke will automatically make you diabetic, but I still don’t like the idea of exposing my children to too much of this stuff.


I’ve replaced Audrey’s very berry Crystal Light with real berries and slices of lemon. Sure, it’s not as sickly sweet as the stuff that used to go in her water, but that’s a good thing. It keeps her taste buds from getting too used to ultra-sweet stuff while providing just enough flavor to keep her interested. The best of both worlds.

Perfect Lunch with a Friend



A friend of mine visited me today from the East Bay.  He is an artist and he also loves to cook.  We talked about how we both needed to make things with our hands or we’d go crazy.  When I feel antsy I reupholster my chairs. Or I cook.  When I was living in LA, my brother and I made most of our own furniture — dining table, bar stools, beds… That was how antsy we were.  Or perhaps that was how inspired and creative we felt.  I suppose sometimes feeling antsy is the precursor of creativity.  I remember being happy when we were making the furniture.  We were creating something while learning how to do it.  There was no deadline and no one judging us.  Even mistakes that we made became part of the beauty of our work.  I would get up in the morning with my eyes barely open and stumble to the table or the stool that we were making and begin hand sanding the wood before I was fully awake.  When my arms became tired, I would make my morning tea.  Not at all a bad way to start the day.  It’s a luxury and a therapy to invest wholeheartedly in building something one doesn’t need to sell.


Chase and I designed and made this dining table together.


My friend and I chatted as we prepared a very simple but absolutely delicious lunch together. 

Basil Minced Turkey in Lettuce Cup & in Rice Paper



2 tablespoons oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 green onion

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1 tablespoon cooking wine

1 tablespoon corn starch

10 oz lean ground turkey (you can also use minced chicken breast)

1 red chili pepper, seeded and minced (adjust according to how spicy you want the dish to be)

1/4 red sweet pepper chopped

1 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

1 big bunch Thai basil leaves, lower stems removed

2 – 4 lettuce cups

2 – 4 Vietnamese spring rolls skin (rice paper)




Mix ground turkey with wine, soy sauce and corn starch. Let it marinade for 10 minutes.

Add the oil into a heated wok, follow by the chopped garlic and green onion. Sauté the garlic and green onion until aromatic, then add the ground turkey into the wok.

When the meat turns opaque, add the chili pepper, sweet pepper, hoisin sauce, vinegar and sugar. Stir to combine well. Toss in the basil leaves and do a few quick stirs until the basil leaves wilted and you smell the exotic fragrance of the basil leaves.  Mix in pine nuts before serving in lettuce cups or wrap in the rice paper.

Put a piece of dry rice paper or spring roll skin on a dinner plate or other clean flat surface, pour a small amount of boiling water over it to soften it before wrapping.