Coconut Panna Cotta with Fresh Mango

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My homesickness becomes worse over the weekends.  I was talking to one of the young actors yesterday about the caravan life we lead and how I’m not exactly cut out for it, even though I have been doing this since age 14.  She said that this life is like a long summer camp.  I suppose it used to feel like that for me, too — this charming and much prolonged adolescence.  That was before the children were born.

As I’m typing, Audrey is about to leave the house for her karate tournament — one of the activities that she is passionate about. The girls are extremely busy at this stage in their lives.  Angela is applying to college and Audrey is applying to high school.  Grades must be impeccable, essays knockouts, standardized tests 99 percentile, extracurricular activities packed full.  The kids must show such achievements as applicants that they would hardly need any more schooling.

Earlier today, a friend emailed me an article from The Economist about the state of college admission for Asian Americans.  It opens with: “MICHAEL WANG, a young Californian, came second in his class of 1,002 students; his ACT score was 36, the maximum possible; he sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration; he got third place in a national piano contest; he was in the top 150 of a national maths competition; he was in several national debating-competition finals. But when it came to his university application he faced a serious disappointment for the first time in his glittering career. He was rejected by six of the seven Ivy League colleges to which he applied.”

This is anxiety inducing information. Just because Angela is a Chinese American, she will need to have 140 SAT points out of 1,600 more than whites to get a place at an Ivy League university in the US.  We have taught them that you could achieve anything with hard work.  We lied.  In the end, race is one of the major factors in determining whether she will be admitted to her dream school.

There is not much I could do about their race or many other aspects of their lives even if I were home, but I could cook healthy, delicious, brain stimulating food for them, I could drive them around for activities or I could just sit there and wait for them to summon me and do whatever they need me to do.

When I started writing tonight, I was going to talk about how I took solace in the slow and methodical preparation of food, how it is a form of meditation — one of the most intensely enjoyable alone time for me.  I got side tracked by the concern over my children’s future.  Now that I got the anxiety off my chest, I will return to the theme of food. 


The yearning for my children awakens in me a maternal urge — a boundless desire to give or simply to feed someone.  I remember flying to LA for a meeting after giving birth to Angela.  I stopped by at my friend Janet Yang’s home and she was not in.  Like me, she had also just given birth to her son.  When I heard him crying, breast milk oozed out of my bosom.  I took him in my arms and fed him to soothe not only him but myself.

I’m glad I have found some takers for my food.  Their appreciation is very gratifying for me.  Now I just need to find some take-out boxes.  Empress To Go!


The fact that I don’t have an oven in the kitchen presents an interesting challenge and opportunity.  I am learning to make no-bake desserts that are healthy and tasty.  Today’s coconut panna cotta with diced fresh mango is made with very simple ingredients — the golden combination of coconut and mango, and it turned out to be very delicious.  I invited two very discerning dessert lovers over to try it, and they inhaled it.  Truth be told, I actually got lucky with the panna cotta because I didn’t use very strict measurement, which is usually crucial for the perfect creamy texture.


Fresh coconut and agar agar

Coconut Panna Cotta


1 young coconut, juice and meat blended to a smoothie

1/2 cup milk

(Or you can use a can of coconut milk + 1 cup milk of choice)

45 g sugar (I used 15 packs of sugar from my tea tray. I would use xylitol if I had it.)

1 tsp vanilla paste, or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 to 1 1/2 tbsp agar agar (I used the a pair of scissors to cut the long strands into short strips.)

Fresh mango



Cook the all the ingredients in low heat until the agar agar is melted.  Pour the mixture into desired container and let cool.  Refrigerate for an hour before serving with diced mango.



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