Sichuan Orange Beef

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Many of my friends and relatives enjoyed reading about my grandmother.  So I am going to share another story about her today.  In a society that valued collectivism, my grandmother was quite an unique individual.  She could get away with it because she often laugh at herself.  Having lived through so much trial and tribulation, she took herself lightly, but she never went with the crowd.

During the mid to late 80s in China, when people had relatives from America, it was customary to bring television sets, refrigerators or other electrical appliances when they visit.  These American brand appliances were important status symbol to any person or family.  After I began acting in films and television, I had enough money to bring her the TV set or the refrigerator, but she didn’t want them.  She said there was not much on TV that she cared to watch.  And she already had a small Chinese made refrigerator.  “I am making money now,” I said. “I must bring you something.”  “Bring me some cheese then,” she brightened, “I haven’t had cheese for so long.  Blue cheese, the stronger the flavor the better.  And I heard that they made bras that fasten in the front.  It would be nice to have some bras that fasten in the front.”  I told her that I would get these, but I insisted that these were not enough.  “If you insist,” she added a little sheepishly, “bring me a black wig, with a little wave in it.  I’m getting too grey and too bald.”

Grandmother

Grandmother before the wig

She was almost 80 years old at the time.  Most women her age during that era in China didn’t pay much attention to their appearance.  I was quite surprised by her vanity.

It was priceless to see my grandmother wearing a wavy black wig while savoring the most pungent blue cheese. 

For many years, she would wear her present and wait for me by the window whenever I visited her in Shanghai.

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Grandmother with the wig on, sitting between my father and me.

Sichuan Orange Beef

Ingredients:

8 oz. beef sirloin, cut into thin strips

2 tbsp peanut oil

1 tbsp Season with Spice’s Sichuan Peppercorns, crushed

1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (optional)

1 small red bell pepper, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced

2-3 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

For the marinade:

Juice from one orange (about 1/3 cup*)

Zest from one orange (about 1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp fresh ginger – minced

2 teaspoons cornstarch

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Preparation:

In a bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Add in the beef and coat well. Leave to marinate for 15 to 30 minutes in the fridge.

Heat a wok on high fire. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil, and swirl to coat. Toss in the crushed Sichuan peppercorns and do a few quick stirs until fragrant. Add in the beef, but keep the leftover marinade to the side. Pour in Shaoxing wine if using. Let sear for 1-2 minutes until slightly charred, then do a few quick stirs.  Set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the wok, add in bell pepper, jalapeno and the white parts of the scallions, stir until tender.

Add the beef back in the wok.

Keep the heat on high, add in the leftover marinade, and toss to coat all the ingredients. When the sauce starts to simmer, stir in the scallion greens and toasted sesame oil. Dish out and serve immediately with rice.

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Adapted from Rasamalaysia

Raspberry Vanilla Coffee Cake

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My mother’s memory is getting a little foggy.  The doctor prescribed playing piano, socializing, reading and writing a memoir as her treatment.  I encouraged her to write and told her that I would love to read what her life was like before I knew her. 

Today, she emailed me the story of how she and her mother traveled from Shanghai to Chong Qing to reunite with her father in 1942, in the midst of the Japanese invasion.  What is today a two and half hour flight took them more than a month of walking on dirt roads and riding on ox-powered carts.  They zigzagged away from the major routes to avoid the Japanese occupied areas.  Sometimes, her mother would carry her for hours on her back when she was too exhausted to walk. 

It was an arduous and dangerous journey, but my mother was too young to fully realize the risk involved.  She was happy to be with her mother, who had spent 5 years in England and America with her husband, leaving my mother and my aunt to the care of the relatives in Shanghai.

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My mother and her younger sister, a year or so before their parents left them in 1937.

My mother’s mother — my grandmother — was not what one would consider a good traditional Chinese woman, who would have stayed behind to take care of the old and the young while her husband went abroad.  Then again, most traditional Chinese women back then had arranged marriages.  They did not necessarily love their husbands.  From what I found out, my grandmother loved my grandfather.  A couple of years ago, I found a poem dedicated to my grandmother by a renowned poet of that era by the name of Liu Ya-zi in one of his poem collections.  It described my grandmother being in love with my grandfather. (See Note.)

The war had just broken out when my grandmother left with my grandfather to England where he received his doctorate degree in Neuropharmacology.  When they left, my mother was not yet four and her younger sister was only two years old. 

I think in my mother’s eyes, it was during the long and grueling trip from Shanghai to Chong Qing that my grandmother redeemed herself for abandoning her and her sister.  My mother admired my grandmother for her resourcefulness and for her ability to enjoy life. During their difficult journey, my grandmother always had two magical items with her to make life (or boiled vegetable and watery porridge) better, tastier — her bottles of saccharin and MSG.  That I, too, remember.  When she was persecuted for being a foreign spy and sent down to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, she said she would be fine as long as she had her saccharin and her MSG. 

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My grandmother holding me in front of our house

I began to live in my grandmother’s room at age six after my grandfather committed suicide.  Looking back, she was not much older than I am now when she lost her beloved husband.  In the time of great personal tragedy, she taught me by example to always insist on finding pleasure in life no matter how bad things are.  When I first saw the film Mary Poppins and heard the song A Spoonful of Sugar, I immediately thought of my grandmother – the Mary Poppins of my life – making the medicine go down with a pill of saccharin when sugar was an absolute impossibility.

Here is a spoonful of sugar for you, grandma!  (Well, it’s actually xylitol, but it looks and taste exactly like sugar, with only half the calories, not that you ever worried about high calorie intake.)

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Raspberry Vanilla Coffee Cake

Ingredients:

1 cup milk of choice

1/2 cup vanilla-flavored yogurt (I used fat-free Fage)

1 tbsp ground flax or 1 egg white

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 tbsp coconut or veg oil

2 cups wholewheat flour

2/3 cups xylitol or sugar (or sucanat)

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/16 tsp pure stevia, or 2 extra tbsp sugar (or 2 NuNaturals packets)

1 2/3 cups raspberries

1/3 cup more raspberries

optional: chocolate chips

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 F, and grease a 9 1/2-in springform pan. Combine first 5 ingredients (yes, the flax too) and whisk. Set aside. In a separate, large measuring bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except the final 1/3 cup raspberries, and stir well. Pour wet into dry and stir until evenly combined (don’t overmix). Pour into the prepared pan, then sprinkle the remaining berries on top. Bake 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out relatively clean. Cool the healthy raspberry coffee cake in pan on a wire rack, 15 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan.

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Adapted from: chocolatecoveredkatie.com

Note:  For those readers who understand Chinese, here are a few more stories about my grandmother and the original poem by Liu Ya-zi:

思念姥姥

陈冲

杂志社约我写稿,不知哪根筋搭错尽一口答应下来,但是很长时间都不知该写什么。杂志社建议的有关如何以美颜和智慧取得成功的题目,我似乎没有任何实用的忠告可分享。眼看交稿的日子就要到了,夜里在床上发愁,突然就梦见了我已故几十年的姥姥——我的榜样和守护神。

怎样才算一位成功的女性?如果我能问她,姥姥会怎么说?今天衡量成功的标准无非是金钱和权势。如果是女性,她还必须拥有一位同样成功的丈夫。按这个标准,姥姥不是一位成功的女性,多半也从没有过这种成功的企图。但是跨越半个世纪的距离远远望她,我仍然清晰地看到她的富足。姥姥所拥有的是一份高贵——贫困侮辱或悲痛都不能剥夺的精神高贵;一份自由——手铐脚链或压制都无法捆绑的心灵自由。

我从六岁开始跟姥姥同屋,一直都喜欢和羡慕她那股潇洒劲儿和享受生活的能力。我记忆中总是有很多年轻人来找姥姥补习英文、修改文章或者闲聊,有时聊得高兴了她还点上一根烟。姥姥是一个让年轻人喜欢的老人,有许多忘年交。

文革期间姥姥下放到五七干校,虽然生活是贫瘠的,但是她的信上讲的都是她找到了什么上海吃不到的东西,我记得让她特别兴奋的好像是一种叫臭芦梗东西。她在干校跟人说,毛主席是“两论起家”,我是“两精起家”(味精和糖精)。结果让人给抓了小辫子,批斗了一通。姥姥没跟我说她挨斗的事,这是她的个性,说这种倒霉事有什么好玩儿的?挨斗的事是我母亲告诉我的,为了让我懂得“祸从口出”的道理。几十年以后,也是从母亲那儿知道,我的那位热爱生活的姥姥原来在文革初期挨整时曾经自杀过。我至今都无法将那种悲哀和绝望安在我心目中的姥姥身上。

从干校回来后,姥姥还停着职,不能从事她热爱的出版事业。被剥夺了工作权利和政治待遇是一件很糟糕的事,但是姥姥却决定乘没事干带我去旅游。那个年代没有人旅游,只有人出公差。我妈觉得很诧异,我却兴奋得跳起来。当时家里钱很紧,姥姥和妈妈又都不太会过日子,到了发工资前几天,总是缺钱买菜。为了不影响家用,姥姥取出她全部的积蓄,就带我上路了。那时我大概在小学三四年级,姥姥为我请了两周假,用的什么借口我不记得了。我的语文课本里有一篇写南京长江大桥的,姥姥就把大桥作为我们的第一个景点。站在南京长江大桥上我感受到无比的骄傲 ——— 并不是因为建桥的人克服了重重困难完成了这座壮观的大桥,而是因为全班甚至全校只有我一个人亲眼见过它。

1977年我主演了谢晋导演的《青春》,78年又拍了《小花》。在那之后,经常会有一些人上门来要认识我。据姥姥说,他们都是“高干子弟”。不管我当时在家或不在家,姥姥一概不让我出面。我总是拿着一本书待在厨房或待在厕所。姥姥照常倒茶递烟,冬天点上炭炉,夏天递把扇子,天南海北地跟人聊。来的人虽然不能满足初衷,走时也不觉太失望,有个把还回来看过姥姥。

刚开始留学那阵,我隔好久才见能姥姥一回。那个年代,如果从美国回家探亲,总是要带一台电视机什么的,那些所谓的“四大件”。可是姥姥不要大件的,也许是不舍得我花钱,也许是真的对大件不感兴趣。当我坚持要带东西给她时,她让我带一块美国最“臭”的奶酪,姥姥喜欢一切发过酵的“臭”食品:臭芦梗、臭豆腐、臭冬瓜、臭奶酪。还有一回,她问我能不能买个有点儿波浪的假发套。最让我惊讶的是有一次姥姥居然让我为她买一个在前面扣扣的文胸,让我在电话里开怀大笑好一阵。在美国拍戏后,我有了足够的收入频繁地回来看她。每次回家我总能从楼下就看到姥姥已经带着头套趴在钢窗框上等着我。

我在世界各地出外景都会在电话里告诉姥姥我的近况,她总是有问不完的问题。姥姥是一个富有强烈好奇心和探险精神的人,听母亲说抗战时姥姥曾经自愿跟中国远征军到中缅边界当过英文翻译。现在回想她一定很向往能到那些异国外景地去看看。当年护照签证都是非常难拿到的,如果我邀请姥姥,她未必能去成。但是我的遗憾是我没曾邀请她。

1989年我到澳洲拍戏,到了就给姥姥打了个电话。跟以前一样,我们嘻嘻哈哈聊了好一阵。但是我渐渐发觉姥姥的反应有些异常,说再见之前我突然意识到她不知道我是谁。挂了电话我大哭了一场,好几天都缓不过来。两星期后我鼓足勇气再打给她一次,跟她解释我是她的外孙女,是阿中的女儿,是陈冲。她笑着说,我知道阿中的女儿是谁,是电影明星。其实阿中比她女儿漂亮多了,倒是女儿当了电影明星。仍然是那位健谈的姥姥,但是她挣扎在失忆深渊的边缘。

最后一次回家看姥姥时她已经得了胰头癌,我陪她一起到医院。有些检查的过程是痛苦的,而且缺乏尊严,姥姥不想做。她不停地用哀求的眼光看着我,最后跟我说,你让他们停下来。我真想跟医生们说别查了,我们要回去了。但是我没有,我轻轻跟姥姥说很快就会结束的。不幸的是检查结束后医生让姥姥马上住院。带她回家拿生活用具时,她待在房间半天不肯走,说还要再想想有什么东西忘记了。住院当晚姥姥就动员同病房的病人一起逃回家,护士们只能把她的鞋藏起来。

手术后没两个月姥姥就去世了,她没有能从医院回到她心爱的房间,我也没有在她身边。也许当年真的应该让姥姥留在自己的屋里,也许少活一个月,也许并不,但是那是她想待的地方。很长一段时间我每夜梦见姥姥,有时梦里的姥姥生动鲜活到跟真的一样,我醒来后要好几秒钟才悟到刚才那只是梦。

我每次回上海跟老朋友们聚会都有人会提到姥姥,我出国后朋友们常去陪姥姥聊天,他们每个人都有几段姥姥的故事说来分享。也是在朋友那里我慢慢知道一些她年轻时代的事。小时候姥姥念的是苏州女子师范学校,后来到南京的金陵女子文理学院学教育。现在回想,姥姥带我去南京的时候,我们的确去了金陵女子大学的旧址,也许她不想让她的历史给我带来政治包袱,所以没有提及她的过去。

关于过去,我最感兴趣的是她和公公的关系。少年时代,他们都曾经在苏州就学,青年时代又都在南京上过大学。1932年“12.8”事件爆发后,姥姥加入了上海医学院组织的第四救护队,当时外公也在上海医学院,他们到底是什么时候相识的呢?是不是家庭包办的? 外公出国深造时,姥姥把两个幼小的女儿留在战乱中的国内,跟他去了。如果不是自由恋爱,不是那么喜欢外公,姥姥应该不会这样选择的吧。

前不久我参与拍摄《客从何处来》时,从文献中发现一位当年的著名诗人柳亚子1932年为姥姥填过一首诗, “浪淘沙 文艺茶话会座上赠史伊凡女士:珠玉泻莺喉,钢里含柔,吴娃燕语最风流。一阙新词低唱罢,怎不娇羞。京兆画眉俦,是几生修,天教韵事继红楼。为恐石凉人睡去,芍药轻兜。”在这首词里,诗人还特意注释史女士爱人叫张弓——我外公的别名。这样的“风流”和“娇羞”也许是因为恋情的缘故吧。当年的“爱人”其实是恋人的意思。留学英美回国后姥姥用自己的积蓄和稿费,一个人办起了一家现代医学出版社,外公则利用国外带回的微型胶卷文献资料先后写成了《磺胺类药物》、《青霉素和链霉素》、《现代药理学》等书。这些书填补了国内医学界、尤其是解放区医学方面的空白。姥姥和外公当年从个人到事业全方位的合作给我的感觉是一对相敬相爱的最佳搭档。

1967年,在那个是非颠倒,黑白混淆的岁月,外公选择了清白,毅然与世长辞。那天我从幼儿园回家后,走进姥姥的房间。虽然是大白天,窗帘却紧关着,姥姥一个人坐在她和公公的大床上,我永远都不会忘记昏暗中她那张无泪的脸。不久后我就搬到姥姥房间跟她同住。她的房间很简洁,墙上除了一张外公的黑白相片别的什么都没有。从悲剧中走出来的姥姥仍然爱她的所爱:外公、书本、儿女、儿孙、朋友和臭奶酪。1983年姥姥为《自然杂志》写了一篇关于外公生平的文章,字里行间流露出尊严和敬意,没有半点廉价的煽情。姥姥做了一辈子编辑和出版,深知与人心相比,文字永远苍白。

现在我也年过半百了,跟当年的姥姥差不多岁数。在孤独或困惑的时候,我偶尔幻想我跟她像老朋友那样坐下来喝茶聊天,我的心便渐渐温暖和坚定起来。姥姥的人生观和价值观是我以不变应万变的准则。当我能跟姥姥那样远离庸俗的时候,我对自己是满意的。所谓的成功或者不成功都只是过眼烟云。

Freekeh Pilaf and Coconut Macaroons

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There is a research study done by the scientists at Harvard School of Public Health that shows that people who consumed at least 10.22 grams of cereal fiber had a 19% lower risk of death.  If you can cheat death by eating delicious whole grains, then why not?

I reached for the bag of freekeh in the pantry immediately after I read the article because freekeh contains twice the amount of dietary fiber than comparable grains.  I made it with beets and chards and they turned out to be quite delectable.

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Freekeh and Beet Pilaf

Ingredients:

8.8 oz. (250g) cooked beets (I used 1 bag organic Love Beets)

1 bunch red chard, chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (to taste)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons caraway seeds, lightly crushed

3 cups cooked freekeh

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled or diced 1/2 cup (optional)

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Preparation:

Cook freekeh according to package instruction.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the caraway, chards, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir over medium heat for 2 minutes until the chard are nicely infused with the garlic and oil.

Add the beets and freekeh. Toss together until the ingredients are well combined and the freekeh is heated through and colored with beet juice. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Transfer to a wide serving bowl or platter, and sprinkle the goat cheese over the top. Serve hot.

Freekeh is also great in salads.

Adapted from: nytimes.com

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And for desert I made coconut macaroons.  There is simply no other confections with higher dietary fiber than macaroons.  And you don’t need a pastry course to achieve the sweet toasted crunch and pillowy center.  A 10-year-old can pull it off.  Seriously.  It’s that easy.

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Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients:

3/4 cup (5 large) egg whites

1/4 cup xylitol

pinch of salt

10 oz sweetened coconut flakes (Baker’s)

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

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Preparation:

In a heavy saucepan combine egg whites, sugar, salt and coconut flakes, sliced almonds and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until all the ingredients combine together, about 12 minutes.

The mixture should be sticky and moist, not dry. Remove from heat and stir in the almond and vanilla extracts. Set aside on a dish and let it cool in the refrigerator about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 300°. Using a tablespoon, scoop tightly packed tablespoonfuls onto a baking sheet covered with a silpat or parchment paper.

Bake 30 minutes or until golden.

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Adapted from: skinnytaste

Moroccan Chickpea & Turkey Stew

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Tiffanie Hsu is the writer director for Adeline, a film that Audrey will star in.  Tiffanie is a 27-year-old Harvard graduate.  In my girls’ eyes, the Harvard degree instantly gives her credibility and legitimacy.  Tiffanie came up from LA today to see Audrey and she assigned her to read the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Audrey dutifully purchased it on Amazon and began reading it as soon as Tiffanie left the house.  Perhaps I should ask Tiffanie to tell her to practice piano, or to do dishes. 

To give Audrey a crash course in acting, we watched Natalie Portman’s first film, The Professional.  Portman’s fierce raw talent simply incinerated the screen. Audrey loved the film so much that she wanted to watch it again tomorrow.  She seems to take this spring break acting gig quite seriously.

I wonder what life has in store for Audrey.  What will be her passion?  What will give her meaning, and in turn make her happy? 

Seeing how quickly my children grow up right in front of my eyes brings a twinge in my guts.  It’s frightening how time skates by so fast.  I can easily flash forward and see myself like my own mother waiting thousands of miles away for her wayward children to visit home.   

Audrey told me this morning that she was having a free weekend, meaning that she would allow herself to eat some meat.  I instantly began to cook this Moroccan Chickpea and Turkey Stew.  I found that a pot of stew is perfect for the weekend — you cook it on Saturday and it will last you till Monday.

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Moroccan Chickpea & Turkey Stew

Ingredients:

1.3 lb package 99% lean ground turkey

1/4 cup cooking wine

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, light

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

3 tbsp poblano pepper, chopped

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

2 1/2 ripe tomatoes, diced

2 (15 oz) cans chick peas, drained

2 cups low sodium, 99% fat free chicken broth*

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp coarse salt

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup Bertolli Organic Olive Oil, Basil & Garlic tomato sauce (optional)

2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley or spearmint, chopped

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Preparation:

Mix ground turkey with cooking wine.  Let sit in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes while you chop the vegetables.

Heat a large nonstick skillet with 1 tbsp olive oil and over medium high heat cook ground turkey for 10-12 minutes.  Break up the ground meat and mix so meat cooks evenly; place in a soup pot.

Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet, add onions, tomatoes, pepper, carrots, and celery and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes.

Transfer to the soup pot with chick peas, spices, broth and gently mix well.  Cover and bring to boil, then simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.

Garnish with fresh herbs.

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Adapted from: skinnytaste.com

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

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It’s wonderful that the days are getting longer each day. When Peter came back from work at 7pm, it was still light out. We had these little treats in the backyard like other people having a cocktail before dinner.

Angela had no school today and I expected her to rise sometime in the afternoon, but she surprised me by getting up in mid morning and agreeing to take a walk with me to Safeway.  It was a mild day with the sun peeking out from the clouds.  Most people were at work or in school.  There were some young mothers with babies or toddlers and some old people on the streets.  We were walking at a leisurely pace, commenting on the fashion statement of some passersby or the store window displays.  Nowhere to rush to, not a care in the world.  It was the most casual of moments, but it suddenly seemed to go into slow motion.  I became acutely aware of myself and everything around me.  I turned to look at Angela and she gave me a smile that was especially beautiful and warm. 

Memories of vacations and holidays often run together into a blurry picture, but this impromptu Friday walk will be remembered like an unexpected gift — a little package of happiness at my door step.

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Chocolate and Peanut butter is a pretty magic combo, though second to mother and daughter.

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

Ingredients:

2 tbsp peanut butter

2 tbsp coconut butter or homemade coconut butter

2 tbsp cocoa powder (10g)

1 very ripe large banana

1/16 tsp salt (more if using unsalted pb)

Optional: Feel free to add a little sweetener if your bananas aren’t ripe enough

Top with crunchy peanut butter and strawberries or chocolate chips

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Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Scoop into a container or even a little pie pan, and put in the fridge or freezer so it will firm up. (Alternatively, you can eat it soft, like frosting!)

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Adapted from: chocolatecoveredkatie

Venetian Cauliflower

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In her book , Mary Oliver wrote about the peculiar life force that we call habit, and how it gives shape to our inner lives, “In the shapeliness of a life, habit plays its sovereign role… The hours are appointed and named… Life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers… And if you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.”

Daily cooking has become a habit, a form of self realization, or an addiction.  Even on the days that I don’t have to cook, I will make something — a special after school snack, a healthy dessert or a fruit salad — just to mess around in the kitchen for a while. In the methodical preparation of food, life’s focus is simply on flavors, aromas and colors.  All other concerns fall away and turn into a haze of steams.  As I mix different spices, I conjure up faraway locales and the lives I could have lived in those places — some I have visited, and others I’ve only dreamed about. 

My need for daydreaming and quiet solitude, which used to be fulfilled only by reading, is now satisfied in the kitchen as well.  I can enjoy the pleasure of my alone time while being of service to my family.  I can have my cake and eat it too. 

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Venetian Cauliflower

Ingredients:

1 cauliflower

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 red onion, finely sliced

Pinch of saffron, crumbled

⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

A dash paprika

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

½ teaspoon lemon zest

½ heaping cup raisins

¼ cup almond slices

1/4 cup water or chicken broth

Note from Chef Chen: This may look like a long list of ingredients, but it is actually a very simple dish to make.  I just put a generous amount of my favorite spices together with caramelized onion and raisons to cook the cauliflower.

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Preparation:

Cut cauliflower in half from top to bottom, then remove the core. With a paring knife, cut into very small florets of equal size. Blanch florets in boiling water for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain.

Put olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add saffron, cinnamon, coriander seeds, cumin, turmeric, paprika and red pepper. Season well with salt and pepper.

Add lemon zest, raisins and cauliflower florets. Toss with wooden spoons to distribute. Add water or broth. Cover with a lid and cook for about 5 minutes more, until cauliflower is tender. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with almond slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Adapted from:  cooking.nytimes.com

Let’s Get Freekeh!

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On my Costco trip today, I saw something I hadn’t before — freekeh, which the autocorrect kept insisting is “fresh.”  Since I have two vegetarians at home, I am always looking to try new nuts or grains.  Standing by the grain isle, I instantly googled freekeh.  I learned that it is an ancient grain originated in the Eastern Mediterranean and it has been popular for centuries in the Arabian Peninsula. Technically it’s a type of roasted green wheat and the process of making the product seems quite arduous (but definitely worth it!) It contains very high fiber and protein and it also has a relatively low glycemic index, which means its energy is released slowly through out the day.  It is loaded with more calcium, iron and zinc than comparable grains such as quinoa.  I decided to give this Californian grown exotic grain a try today by putting a twist on Gina Homolka’s Mediterranean Quinoa Salad.

It turned out delicious — perfect for a warm summery spring day.  There is something magical about the combination of lemon, olive oil and feta.  And the kalamata olives give it a fruity pungent kick. Both girls prefer the nutty, fragrant taste of freekeh to the more earthy quinoa. 

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Mediterranean Freekeh Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked freekeh (you can also use quinoa or couscous)

2 1/4 cups water or broth

1/4 cup red onion, diced

1/2 – 3/4 lemon, squeezed

1/4 cup (about 10) kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cups cucumber, peeled and diced (from 1 English)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered or diced

1/3 cup low-fat crumbled feta

salt and fresh pepper, to taste

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Preparation:

Cook freekeh in a rice cooker with 2 1/4 cup water, or according to package instruction.  Once cooked, fluff the grain and let it cool.

While the freekeh cools, dice all the vegetables. Add the red onion, olives, cucumber, tomatoes to the cooled quinoa, and squeeze 1/2 lemon over it. 

Drizzle the olive oil over the freekeh then add feta, salt and pepper to taste and toss well. Taste for salt and adjust as needed, add more lemon juice if needed.

Eat up!  Get freekeh!

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02-Freekeh

Adapted from:

skinnytaste.com

Mango Coconut Chia Pudding

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Yesterday Audrey heard formally from the director that she got the title part in the film Adeline.  This spring break will be a very special memory for both Audrey and me.  We will be playing mother and daughter in a film together!  Audrey will be playing a girl who tries to take care of her mother’s messy life.  She was so happy about the news that she decided to make a dessert to celebrate, but the dessert needed to stay in the fridge overnight.  So we all had it this morning.  It turned out to be perfect for breakfast — so refreshing, nutritious and delicious.  It reminded me of the tropical tapioca that Audrey and I loved to eat when we were in Malaysia last year while shooting Marco Polo, but this version is much healthier.  This pudding is so easy to make that it is almost magical.  You simply put everything in a mason jar, close the lid and shake.  And tomorrow morning — voila!  You feel pretty witchy eating these fattened up translucent live chia seeds, too.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup full fat coconut milk

1/2 cup almond milk or low fat coconut milk or milk (Audrey used 2% milk)

3/4 cup fresh ripe champagne mango, diced

2 tbsp chia seeds

1 tbsp sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut (Audrey used unsweetened)

2 to 3 stevia packets, or 2 to 3 tbsp sugar/honey/xylitol, or sweeten to taste (Audrey used 1 pack stevia and 1 1/2 tbsp xylitol)

Audrey doubled the recipe and made two jars.

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Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a large container. Mix well and close container. Refrigerate overnight or at least 5-6 hours.

Adapted from: skinnytaste.com

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Check out our other coconut recipes:

Crispy Parmesan Chicken & Homemade Croutons

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I read in News China that internet lovers are now a huge business in China.  People can buy a virtual lover to call, message and engage online.  You can buy a girlfriend or boyfriend on Taobao, an Amazon like website, where you usually buy your discounted shoes or kitchen utensils.  What’s wrong with a real girlfriend or boyfriend?  Should it be that hard to find one in a world of 7 billion people?  I don’t quite understand this, but obviously there is a demand and there is a supply of virtual ones.

In my younger days, I had too many of them, none all that good, and some downright evil, but they were real.  Apparently this is too old fashioned for today. 

Sensing the huge market potential in catering to lonely Chinese people, Microsoft has also launched a virtual lover service in China.  Rather than using real people, Microsoft developed a virtual woman like Scarlett Johanasson’s character in the 2014 Oscar Award-winning film Her, and her name is Xiao Bing 2.0.  She has been downloaded by more than 10 million users and has had more the 600 million conversations since its debut in July 2014.

Iconic artist, designer and co-founder of New York Magazine Milton Glaser did an interview with the The Good Life Project where he commented on how technology is changing us, “Everything changes everything. There are no independent events. … The virtual world has created a very different kind of nervous system for people who spend their lives in that world. And it produces different sets of appropriateness — of time, of morality, of ethics, of behavior. … But we don’t know what this is doing to the human psyche or the human behavior or any of it — we know it’s changing, we know it’ll be a profound change and it won’t be what it was, but we don’t know what the nature of that will finally be. It will probably have some benefits and significant drawbacks, but it is just emerging.  We are creating a new kind of person.”

I think that my daughters are that new kind of persons.  Sometimes I see them as quite alien from me.  They were born and raised in two parallel worlds — the real and the virtual, and both seem to be equal to them.  There are times I think the virtual one holds more power because it’s freer, more stimulating and fun.  Angela texts me all the time, but when I try to knock on her door to answer her texts, she acts all annoyed, as if I am intruding upon her virtual world. I suspect that she sometimes does prefer the virtual mommy to the real one.  At least she didn’t have to pay for this virtual one, who has true devotion for her.

Even Peter and I stare at our screens much more than we look at each other nowadays.  The virtual world is encroaching on us all.  But when I hug and kiss Peter and the girls, I am confident that the real world has a definite hold on us. 

And when I cook them yummy food, the real world is definitely winning.

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Baked Parmesan Chicken Tenders

Ingredients:

1 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil

16 oz skinless boneless chicken breast tenders (8 pieces)

1/2 cup panko

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/2 dried oregano, crushed

A dash smoked paprika, and coriander or Italian spice of your choice

Garnish with fresh oregano

Special equipment: parchment paper

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Preparation:

In a large bowl, marinate chicken tenders in white wine, olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper and Dijon mustard for 30 minutes or longer.

Preheat oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Mix panko, Parmigiano-Reggiano, red pepper flakes, thyme, oregano, paprika and coriander in a large shallow soup plate or pie plate.

Dredge chicken, 1 piece at a time, in crumbs, coating completely and pressing gently to help crumbs adhere, then transfer to baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until golden brown and cooked through, about 15 minutes.

(I have also made them in the toaster oven with half the amount of everything.)

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Homemade Croutons

Ingredients:

A generous dash of garlic powder

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

5 inches stale baguette (cut into 1/2 inch cubes)

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Preparation:

In a saucepan combine and toss all ingredients.  Bake in toaster oven at 350 until golden and crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes.    

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This piece of leftover stale bread certainly got a brand new life as croutons.

Fresh Plum Sorbet with a Hint of Ginger

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I was panting like a dog and my heart and my lungs were about to burst out of my chest.  Although the data on the bike indicated otherwise, I was working REALLY hard.  In this data worshipping world, people often don’t realize that data can never calibrate humans.  Every single one of us is different, and with every passing second we leave behind the person we used to be.  When others in class were spinning at 130 RPM I was only doing 90, but I was working much harder than anyone of those ripped people in class.  I am out of shape and weak, though luckily I don’t look it, according to the friend who dragged me to class today.  The last time I took a spinning class was more than 10 years ago. 

As I struggled to keep up with the class, my quadriceps, calves and gluteal muscles burning, the parts of my body that suffered the most were actually my dear little ear drums.  They are still ringing right now.  The extremely loud and pulsating music meant to pump us up nearly killed me.  I will remember to bring ear plugs next time.  It seems that people nowadays need more and more stimulation from everything and everywhere.  Perhaps I’m just too old, but I have never needed all the exterior stimulation, not even when I was young.  I have always preferred to join the world only now and then.

The first thing I did when I came home was to make this refreshing sorbet.  It was perfect after an hour and half of sweating.

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When we were in Italy two summers ago, we stayed in a beautiful villa in a small town called Tavernelle.  There was a great restaurant near the villa called Fattoria, where they served the best sorbet between courses.  Audrey was always asking for a second one every time we ate there.  She told me today that my sorbet was just like those that she had at Fattoria, if not better.  That was a great compliment for a tired mom with shaking legs.

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Fattoria

La Fattoria

Unpretentious and with the most delicious food, the restaurant is one of our favorites in the world

Peter Cooking

Peter at the grill in Fattoria

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The owner chef of the Fattoria standing at the door to the kitchen

Fresh Plum Sorbet with a Hint of Ginger

Ingredients:

8 red-fleshed plums

1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

1/2 teaspoon ginger or to taste, peeled and chopped 

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 packs Stevia

1/2 cup water

A pinch of kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

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Preparation:

Blend all ingredients in a large food processor or blender.  I blended mine in my Vitamix.  Pour into the ice cream maker.  Let it churn for 20 to 30 minutes or until desired hardness.