Steak & Caramelized Onions with Arugula and Penne + The Secret of Longevity



Angela and I were supposed to be visiting Columbia University today, but we canceled our east coast trip when our Boston leg was canceled by the airlines twice.  We were to pick up my 98-year-old grand auntie, Vivian, from Queens and go with her to Columbia University where she and her late husband David worked for the better part of their lives.  David had taught Economics and Vivian had worked as an accountant.

About 18 years ago, I got a call from Vivian that she was coming to San Francisco and she had something important to talk to me about, in person.  I only met her a few times when I first arrived in New York from China and we didn’t really know each other very well.  I was curious as to what it was that she wanted to talk to me about.  I wondered if she was in need of any help from me.  I asked if she needed to stay with me, but she said she would stay with her godson.

We met in a little coffee shop on Clement St. and ate Chinese pastry with sweet soy milk.  She asked about my married life in San Francisco, and said wistfully, “You will find that your husband is the only person you can really talk to.”  My grand uncle had passed not long before our meeting and she missed him.  We sat quietly for a while.

Then suddenly vivian’s face lit up and she said, “I want to show you something.”  She took out from her purse a photo book and showed me some pictures of stone benches.  As I was wondering what they were, she pointed out that the benches bore the names David Hsiung and Vivian Hsiung.  She said, “I would go and sit on the bench for a while when I miss your grand uncle.”  It turned out that this was the important thing that she came to tell me.  She had donated most of her savings — over a hundred thousand dollars — to Columbia University, an institution that both she and David loved.  Vivian beamed now as she told me that the benches were near where graduation ceremony was held each year.  “I’m such a lucky person,” she concluded.

Today, we had a long talk over the phone.  She told me that her brother was dying and she couldn’t stand seeing him suffer.  She broke down for a minute but quickly plucked up her spirit and said, “The Hsiung family (my paternal grandmother’s family) ancestors sent your voice to me at this difficult time; I’m such a lucky person.”  She told me that her godson is turning 70 next year and is planning to take her on a cruise trip to celebrate together. “I’m such a lucky person,” she repeated.

I’ve always been struck by her sincere sense of gratitude at most things in her life. From what I knew she didn’t have an easy life — uprooted first from a war torn China to Brazil, and then from Brazil to America.  I guess life is as good as you perceive it to be. 

I was supposed to be eating airline food today if the blizzard didn’t disrupt my travel plan, but instead I’m eating this amazing steak at home with my family.  If this isn’t good, what is?

grilled-sirloin   P1030406

Steak & Caramelized Onions with Arugula and Penne


1 lb top sirloin

kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

4 oz penne pasta 

3 oz baby arugula

4 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp golden balsamic

1/2 oz shaved Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

For the Caramelized onions:

1/2 medium red onion

1 large white onion

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp kosher coarse salt

1 tbsp golden balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil



Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Season steak with salt and pepper to taste.

For the caramelized onions: cut onions in half and thinly slice short end.  Add 1 tbsp olive oil to a nonstick skillet and add the onions. Add salt, paprika, and balsamic vinegar and cook on medium-low to low heat until onions are tender, transparent, and slightly brown, about 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside in a large work bowl and let cool.

While the pasta is cooling, heat a grill pan over high heat and spray with cooking spray or preheat the broiler to high. Cook the steaks about 3 to 4 minutes on each side for medium rare, or longer to your desired likeness (until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 145°F for medium rare, 160°F for medium, or 165°F for well done.) Let stand for 10 minutes, then slice into thin strips.

Add the arugula, 4 teaspoons olive oil, 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic, salt and pepper to the bowl with the pasta and toss. Add the caramelized onions, toss well and divide between four plates, about 1 1/2 cups each. Top each with 3 oz steak and shaved Parmesan. Eat right away.


Recipe from:

5 thoughts on “Steak & Caramelized Onions with Arugula and Penne + The Secret of Longevity

  1. I admire your great aunt, Vivian. Wow, living until 98 years old and still has such sense of gratitude for life. Thank you for sharing another source of inspiration.

    Happy Lunar New Year to you and your family. Thank you for sharing so many interesting vignettes about your life with us readers.


  2. All in One (Plate) – that’s the way of everyday cooking. Beautiful story on Vivian, and the reminiscent piece on “popping contraption” got me sentimental. A cooking/recipe blog could make one pause and take the time to reflect on things at philosophical level. Your blog has and will continue to become a sweet companion of mine. Happy Year of Ram!

    Liked by 1 person

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