Massaged Raw Kale Salad with Apple, Avocado & Feta

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This morning, I went on one of my favorite hiking trails — Land’s End — with two old friends.  No matter how many times I walk there, I’m blown away every time by its amazingly rugged beauty.  The three of us — all mothers who have families to cook for —  talked about food while we walked, which is much healthier than the other way around — talking about walking while pigging out.  My friend Jane told me about a kale salad that she loves.  It sounded so easy and delicious that I decided to give it a try as soon as I got home. 

Jane uses feta cheese, dried cranberries and honey roasted almond slivers.  I changed the recipe using what I have in the fridge and the pantry: avocado, apple and chopped almonds.  It turned out to be very delicious.  The sweet Fuji apple complemented the hint of bitterness in raw kale beautifully.  Avocado gave it creaminess while chopped almonds gave it crunchiness.  And I found the combination of lemon and feta so simple and special that it is magical.

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Massaged Raw Kale Salad

Ingredients:

2 bunches lacinato kale, ribs removed and discarded (12 oz total without ribs)

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste

2 tbsp freshly squeeze lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)

1/2 cup reduced fat feta cheese (crumbled)

1 medium Fuji apple (cored and diced)

1 avocado (diced)

1/4 cup chopped dry roasted almonds

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Preparation:

Slice the kale into 1/4-inch thin ribbons. In a large bowl combine the kale with oil and salt. Using your hands, massage the kale for 3 minutes until the kale softens.

Coat diced apple and avocado with lemon juice to prevent yellowing.

Toss kale with the lemon juice, then add apple, avocado and feta cheese.  Sprinkle chopped almonds before serving.  The recipe makes 4 meal size servings.

I made the salad minus the chopped almonds in the afternoon and let it sit in the fridge cover for a two hours. By dinner time, it actually tasted better.  Kale is such a hearty vegetable that the salad doesn’t get soggy.  I have always liked kale, but today was the first time I tried it raw.  It was a great variation in preparing this super food.

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When the children were little, they were fascinated by the stories of the ship wrecks that happened in the treacherous waters between Land’s End and the Marin Headlands.  As they looked into the depth of the water they conjured up images of underwater treasures along with skeletons. Many of our walks together was ship wreck themed.  One of the ships that sank was called SS City of Rio de Janeiro that had sailed from Hong Kong to San Francisco. The story was that launching of the lifeboats was difficult because the officers were English speaking Americans, while the seamen were non-English-speaking Chinese. Most of the people on the ship perished.

“They died because they were not bilingual,” I told the girls, trying to stress the importance for them to learn Chinese.  But it didn’t work.  With their brows raised, the girls asked, “So — not being bilingual equals death in a ship wreck — is that what you are trying to say?  Do you even hear how ridiculous you sound?”  I was a typical Chinese mother trying to teach her American children.

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Quinoa Chickpea and Avocado Salad

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The weather has been so warm and sunny here in San Francisco lately that I could completely pretend it is summer.  So I decided to make this cheery, summery, delicious dish.  Try this salad!  It will transport you to June for a day.  

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Quinoa Chickpea and Avocado Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup quartered grape tomatoes

15 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup cooked quinoa (You can cook it with chicken broth or vegetable broth to give it more flavor.)

2 tbsp red onion, minced

1 tbsp green onion, minced

1 1/2 limes, juice of

kosher salt and fresh pepper, to taste

1 cup diced cucumber

4 oz diced avocado (1 medium hass)

Preparation:

Combine all the ingredients except for avocado and cucumber, season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Just before serving, add cucumber and avocado.

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Recipe adapted from skinnytaste.com

Chinese Fajitas & A Tale of Intrigue

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One great thing about living in California, especially in San Francisco, is that we have a wide variety of cuisine choices.  From Afghan to Zambian, you name it.  There are also many different cross cultural influences that define brand new taste. Who doesn’t love a little Asian fusion? Today, I decided to give my good old Chinese stir fry a little Mexican twist.

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Speaking of Chinese Mexican cultural mash, I remembered an anecdote from a few years ago.  I was filming a fancy dinner scene in Beijing and there was a group of expat extras at the table.  I got to talk to the young man sitting next to me and found out that he was from Mexico.  I met quite a lot of expats in Beijing and Shanghai, but that was a first time I encountered a Mexican national.  I asked if he was a student, he said no.  Businessman?  No.  Diplomat?  No.  I became curious, but he seemed reluctant to tell me what he did. 

Finally, after sitting next to me for hours, doing take after take, angle and angle of the same scene, he began to volunteer his story, probably out of boredom.

He said he was kind of hiding out in China.  “Who are you hiding from?” I asked.  “The cartel,” he said.  “My father worked for the government and he was kidnapped once before.  We paid three hundred thousand dollars to get him back.”

I thought his father was some government official who had cracked down on the cartel, and now the cartel was after him.  But he said no.  His father was a lawyer who sometimes worked for the cartel.  I said, “but you just told me that he worked for the government.”  He said that sometimes it was the same thing.  It turned out that his father negotiated payoffs between the corrupt officials and the cartel.  Something must have gone wrong and now his son was in hiding in Beijing. 

As the day went on, he told me that all the male children of the family were all in hiding in different countries.  I thought it interesting that the female children didn’t matter as much.  For someone who was in hiding, he seemed completely carefree.

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This was the scene outside of the dining room.

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With my co-stars Yao Chen and Lou Ye, and the director Alexi Tan

As I ate my Chinese fajitas, I told Peter the story and wondered if my Mexican “dining partner” was still alive.  He might never have imagined that I would remember him over dinner in San Francisco.

Chinese Stir Fry Beef Fajitas

Ingredients for the Marinade:

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

1 tbsp corn starch

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

Other Main Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz beef top sirloin, sliced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

1/3 onion, sliced

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

2 tbsp canola oil or peanut oil

A dash of Mexican chili powder

Salt and white pepper powder to taste

4 wholewheat tortillas

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Preparation:

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.  Add beef to the marinade and mix well with tongs.  Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat a wok on high until hot.  Add 1 tbsp of oil and swirl to coat the sides.  Add minced ginger and garlic and stir for about 20 to 30 seconds.  Add beef and save the excessive marinade for later.  Stir the beef for about 2 minutes.  Remove beef from the wok.

Add the remaining 1 tbsp oil and sauté the onion and pepper with a dash of Mexican chili powder for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the beef back in.  Add the remaining beef marinade if there is any.  Stir for another 1/2 minutes.

Separate into 4 servings on 4 tortillas.

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Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion

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People do many different things to support a cause, some run marathons, I eat.  At various charity events, I have auctioned myself out to have lunches and dinners with generous donors who support those causes that I advocate.  I really enjoy meeting the interesting people from all walks of life over a delicious meal at a beautiful restaurant.  Is there a better excuse to pig out — for a cause that you believe in?  Today, our donors Charles and Lilian Huang contributed over $ 10,000 for a 1990 Institute project called Youth Voice on China Video Contest, in which students from US middle schools, high schools and colleges made short films expressing their views and feelings about China.  It is my hope that this project will help promote understanding and friendship between the peoples of America and China.

The lunch was very enjoyable — sumptuous food, beautiful ambiance and lively conversation — all for a worthy cause.

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I prepared a simple vegetarian meal today, and we ate it while watching the Oscars.

Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion

Ingredients for Roast Butternut Squash:

1 butternut squash – peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

A few generous dashes of paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Roast Onion:

1 red onion, chopped

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Other ingredients:

8 oz. uncooked 100 wholewheat penne pasta

2 tbsp or more shaved parmesan cheese

Chopped basil and sliced green onion for garnish (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven at 400F.  Spray a baking pan with olive oil.  Coat butternut squash with oil and spread it evenly in the baking pan.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and spices.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Spray a separate baking pan with oil.  Coat the chopped onion with lemon juice.  sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 25 minutes or until soft.

When the butternut squash and onion are baking, cook the pasta according to package direction until al dente. 

Drain and mix the pasta with the roast butternut squash and onion.  Separate pasta into four plates and top with parmesan and sprinkle with basil and green onion.  Salt and pepper or a dash of cayenne to taste.

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Chinese Turkey Meatballs

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Lion’s head — large braised meatballs made of pork —  is a famous Shanghainese dish.  When I was a child, meat was scarce and lion’s head meatballs were only made for special occasions.  Sometimes, we craved for lion’s head meatballs, but only had enough meat to make one for the entire family.  We would cut the lion’s head into four pieces when we ate it, as the size of the lion’s head itself could not be compromised no matter what.  

Today, I made lion’s head meatballs with 99% fat free ground turkey meat, and steamed them.  Peter and I ate them in chicken broth with rice noodles.  Peter the cardiologist couldn’t praise it enough. He said that this is one meat dish he could encourage his patients to eat.  You can also try the lean turkey meat in a lettuce cup.

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Chinese Turkey Meatballs

Ingredients:

1-1/4 lbs 99% lean ground turkey

1 large egg

1 tbsp ginger, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 scallions, chopped

1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp Shao Xing Cooking wine, or other Asian cooking wine

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup chopped water chestnut, fresh or canned

Preparation:

In a large bowl combine the corn starch, ground turkey, water chestnut, egg, salt, scallions, ginger, cilantro, 1 tbsp of the soy sauce and 1 tbsp sesame oil. Gently mix with your hands until combined well. Shape meatballs 1/4 cup in size and transfer to a steamer. 

Boil water.  When the water is boiling, put in the steamer with the meatballs.  Steam on high for 10 to 12 minutes.

I also pan fried some smaller meatballs as finger food.  Audrey, the weekend meat eater, loved them.  I think they can make a perfect appetizer for the Oscar night.

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Recipe inspired by skinnytaste

Chinese New Year Potstickers

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When I was growing up in Shanghai, winter break from school usually began a week or so before Lunar New Year.  My mother would take me and my brother to the fabric store, and then to the tailor’s to have new clothes made.  For many years during our childhood, this would be the only time when new clothes were made — one set for cold weather and one set for warm weather.  Though I loved to have new clothes, the more exciting part about winter break was the food preparation for the New Year.  My brother and I would get up very early in the mornings leading up to the New Year’s Eve to stand in line to buy eggs, pork or rice cakes.  Meat or poultry or belt fish would be hung on the clothesline on the balcony, which was like a natural fridge, to get “wind dried.”  Once a year before the Lunar New Year, each family could also purchase the rationed luxury food of half a kilo of red dates, half a kilo of smoked black dates and half a kilo of peanuts.  A man who traveled with a coal stove and a fire blackened popping contraption would arrive around this time to pop corn, rice or dried rice cake slices for the children in the neighborhood.  The contraption would make a loud explosive sound when it was ready to pour out the popped grains, and the waiting crowd would cheer wildly.  During those years of scarcity, the anticipatory thrill of the New Year feast was almost too much for me to bear. 

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There would always be cousins from out of town coming back to see their grandparents during this time.  Their parents — my parents’ siblings — had been assigned jobs in remote regions where life was much harder than ours in Shanghai.  I envied them for having the opportunity to ride in trains.  Little did I know how hard the train trips were during Lunar New Year when some of my cousins had to sit or sometimes stand in packed trains for two days to get to Shanghai. 

My mother called me from Shanghai to tell me that she and my father are meeting with their siblings in Shanghai for lunch today.  Like me, most of their children now live in America.  And our children have no idea what New Year feast used to mean to us. 

Today, I taught Audrey how to make dumplings — a Lunar New Year must-eat food.  It’s supposed to bring prosperity to the family for the shape of the dumpling resembles Yuan Bao — the ancient gold bullion.  

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Ingredients:

2 pack store-bought dumpling wrappers

Water, for wrapping

Filling for Pork Shrimp Cabbage Dumplings:

8 oz ground pork

4 oz shelled and deveined shrimp, cut into small pieces

1/2 heaping cup thinly sliced Napa cabbage 1 stalk scallion, cut into small rounds

1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese Shaoxing wine or rice wine

3 dashes white pepper powder

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

A good pinch of salt

Filling for Spinach Braised Tofu Dumplings:

10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, drained and squeezed dry

6 oz. braised tofu, or Five Spice Tofu or Wildwood Savory tofu

5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and squeezed dry, chopped

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

A good pinch of salt

A dash of white pepper powder

1 egg white

1 teaspoon corn starch

Dipping Sauce:

Chinese black vinegar

Soy sauce

Chopped scallion

Pepper flakes

Sesame oil

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Preparation:

Mix all the ingredients of the Filling in a bowl, stir and mix to combine well. Set aside. To make the Dipping Sauce, combine some 1 portion of black vinegar, 1 portion of soy sauce, 1/2 portion sesame oil, scallion and pepper flakes in a small sauce dish.

To assemble the dumplings, take a piece of the dumpling wrapper and add about 1 heaping teaspoon of the Filling in the middle of the wrapper. Dip your index finger into a small bowl of water and circle around the outer edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the dumpling over to form a half-moon shape. Finish by pressing the edges with your thumb and index finger to make sure that the dumpling is sealed tight.

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If you want to the dumplings to sit up, you fold the wrap one said flat and the opposite side bunched.  Place the dumplings on a flat and floured surface to avoid them from sticking to the surface. Repeat the same to use up all the filling.  The dumplings taste the best when eaten freshly wrapped, but you can also freeze the dumplings for future enjoyment.

Heat up a pot of water until it boils. Drop the dumplings into the boiling water and cover the pot. As soon as the dumplings start to float (meaning they are cooked), remove them using a slotted spoon, draining the excess water and serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

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Or you can make potstickers by heating up 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick pan, making sure the the entire bottom of the pan is coated with oil. Line the dumplings in the pan.  Let the dumplings sit and sizzle for half a minute and pour 2/3 cup of water with 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar into the pan and cover the lid.  When the water is dry, the potstickers are ready.

Recipe adapted from: http://rasamalaysia.com

Spicy Turkey Sausage Chili with Avocado

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Cleaning out the closet today, I debated the fate of an old sweater from the 1993 Telluride Film Festival.  I have pulled it out from the donation pile many times through out the years.  It’s more than 20 years old and quite tattered, but I just can’t part with it because there is quote on the sweater that I found beautiful.  It says, “Through out her youth, she was often disconcerted to discover her most secret, most formless sentiments and desires, given their own robust life every Saturday afternoon, at the picture show.”  This evocative image of an ordinary woman transfixed and transported in the cinema, is extraordinary to me.  I want to make films for her.

Some possessions I seem to discard without batting an eye lash, such as my old iPhones, but some others have a mysterious hold on me, such as this dear old sweater.  It goes without saying that it’s going back into the closet drawer.

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Spicy Turkey Sausage Chili with Avocado

Ingredients:

3 links lean turkey sausage, casings removed

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tomatoes, diced

2 tablespoon marinara sauce, or 1 tablespoon tomato sauce

3/4 chicken broth

1/2 tsp cumin, or to taste

1/2 can kidney bean, rinsed and drained

1/4 tsp paprika

1 bay leaf

fresh cilantro, for garnish

1 teaspoon lime juice for coating the avocado after it is cubed

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Preparation:

In a large skillet, brown turkey over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks into smaller pieces.

When meat is browned, add wine, onion and garlic; cook 4 minutes over medium heat. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, cumin, chili, paprika, and bay leaf, stir for about 2 minutes.

Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf, add avocado (coated with 1 teaspoon lime juice) and cilantro.  Serve immediately.

This recipe makes 4 servings, but Peter and I each had two large bowls of it.  I had to refrain from licking the bowl.  Yes, it’s that good!

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Black Bean Salad with Corn Avocado Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

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A friend is visiting me from Los Angeles.  It’s her birthday, and we decided to celebrate by taking the cruise to Alcatraz Island.  I tend to take this amazing city for granted until a friend or relative shows up and I take them sightseeing.

It was a glorious day.  The sun was shining, and the flowers were blooming, and there was a provocative art installation in some of the old prison buildings.  I found that these dilapidated buildings with broken windows and peeling paint were perfect settings for an art exhibition. 

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The last time I went to Alcatraz there was a bad storm.  We couldn’t have picked a worse day.  My parents came to visit us from Shanghai, and it was their last day in San Francisco.  Against Peter’s advice, I took them and the girls to Alcatraz.  Everyone got dreadfully wet and cold, and we shivered all the way home after only staying on the island for one hour. It was quite miserable. That was almost ten years ago.  When I visited my parents in Shanghai last month, they talked to me so fondly of the time they spent visiting us.  Even the Alcatraz trip became a wonderful adventure. 

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“Blossom”

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Looking at the eroded buildings around me today, I thought of my parents, my children; I thought of time — its relentless and indifferent march.  And yet in my subjective world, once seized, time is also malleable.  It becomes our memory and stretches to fill our imagination.

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Black Bean Salad with Corn Avocado Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup frozen corn kernels, cooked

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons minced red onion

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Colavita

1 teaspoon lime zest (be sure to zest limes before juicing them)

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

2 Hass avocados, chopped

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Instructions:

Combine all ingredients except for avocados in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and chill for a few hours or overnight. Right before serving, add avocados and mix gently, being careful not to mash avocados. Garnish with a more chopped cilantro if desired. Serve at room temperature.

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 Recipe adapted from : http://www.onceuponachef.com

Creamy Conchiglie Pasta – Healthified!

I think we’ve established that pasta is boss. So it’s no surprise that today we made even more pasta.

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Every time we go grocery shopping, we always pass the pasta aisle and Audrey begs for the big pasta shells that are on display. They do look very enticing.  We never end up getting them because they’re made out of white flour and Audrey gets more than her fair share of refined carbs from all the candy she eats. Today we decided to buy some whole wheat conchiglie to satisfy her craving.

It was pretty hard to find conchiglie that’s whole wheat; we had to search through some pretty hippie-ish Gen Y grocery stores, which thankfully are abundant in San Francisco. If you don’t have one of those stores near you, you can substitute with another type of 100% whole wheat pasta or just use regular conchiglie. Anything in moderation, right?

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Ingredients

1 pound conchiglie or other pasta, preferably 100% whole wheat*
1 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (14-16 oz.) bag frozen green peas, thawed
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 teaspoon pepper flakes
1 pinch smoked paprika
2 cups basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
8 ounces feta cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

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Preparation

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the garlic and 1 tablespoon of basil until aromatic, add 2/3 cup of peas and give it a few stirs. Pour the cooked peas and the yogurt in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium heat in a small skillet and fry the pepper flakes, paprika and pine nuts until aromatic or the nuts slightly brown. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to direction on package. As soon as the pasta is al dente, add the remaining peas to the same pot, then immediately transfer peas and pasta to colander. Drain and shake the colander to release excess water.

Mix pasta, peas and the yogurt-pea sauce. Sprinkle with pine nuts, basil leaves and feta cheese. Serve warm.

The recipe makes six servings.

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Adapted from “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi
The Wall Street Journal Saturday/Sunday Eating and Drinking

*Pedantic foodie rant: A lot of the pasta at grocery stores that calls itself “whole wheat” is actually made with 51% whole wheat flour and 49% refined flour (cough cough Barilla cough), if that. Food packaging is, as the kids say, hella deceptive. Take Cheerios, for example. The packaging says “Made with 100% whole grain oats,” which is true. However, Cheerios themselves aren’t technically 100% whole grain because they contain small amounts of corn starch and wheat starch.

So if you’re trying to cut refined carbs out of your diet, make sure not to be fooled by deceptive packaging! My mother always buys “made with whole grain” products that are mostly just white flour. Yes, unbleached enriched flour is regular refined white flour. Moral of the story: if you’re trying to improve your diet, check the ingredient list before you buy anything! Sure, a little white flour here and there won’t kill you, but consuming unhealthy food should be a conscious decision. Unwholesome ingredients shouldn’t be snuck into your stomach by food labels that are obviously intended to fool you. Just my two cents.

Meaty Monday: Rosemany Pork Chops with King Oyster Mushrooms

This little piggy went to market… and never came back, because it was eaten. Oink oink no more.

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C’est la vie.

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I’m not good at the whole “c’est la vie” thing. I can’t just  ¯\_()_/¯ and move on. Some of my friends can stay upset about something for about two seconds and then forget about it, but I am still haunted by that awful essay I wrote in fourth grade.

I do enjoy using the  ¯\_()_/¯ emoticon though. It allows me to exude an aura of nonchalance when in reality I am ranting and raving and collapsing in a pool of lactic acid and cortisol.

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Anyway… pork.  Mother is busy preparing for a speech she will deliver at Harvard next week, and she’s asked me to write the post for today’s dish.  What can I tell you about these pork chops? Father loved them.  I didn’t eat any because I’m a vegetarian.  I would have eaten the mushrooms if only they didn’t touch the pork. Oyster mushrooms are pretty darn good for you though.

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As you can see, they are not very energy dense, which is good in an increasingly obese world. They also have a good amount of potassium, fiber, and iron. Okay.

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Ingredients for Basic Pork Brine:
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 cup water
A few dashes of pepper, rosemary, thyme and sage.
You can half or double the brine based on the number of chops you cook.
Brining Preparation:
Melt the salt and sugar in warm water, add all spices and leave the brine in the fridge until it is completely cold.  Pour the brine in a large ziplock bag and add the pork chops in.  Seal the bag and leave in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours.
If you decide to leave the pork in the brine overnight, be sure to soak it in fresh water for at least 30 minutes before using.  If you cook the brined pork on the same day, just rinse the pork well and pat dry before cooking.
Ingredients for Rosemary Pork Chop with King Oyster Mushrooms:
2 boneless pork chops
8 king oyster mushrooms, sliced lengthwise
2 shallots, sliced
2 stocks rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Preparation:
Heat oil in a large skillet pan on high, add the chops in the center and spread the rosemary stocks, mushrooms and shallots around them.  Close the lid and cook each side of the pork for about 4 minutes.  Open the lid now and then to stir the mushroom and shallots so they don’t get burned.  The chops will be cooked in the natural moisture of the mushroom and shallots.