Vegetable Curry & Black Rice

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Everything I have made since my arrival in Malaysia has been vegetarian.  I find myself eating less and less meat as I grow older.  My body simply doesn’t need it as much.  One of my favorite things to do over the weekend is to listen to TED talks, and today I listened to a talk given by chef and cookbook author Mark Bittman titled What’s wrong with what we eat. He explains the view that it is better for everyone and the environment if we eat more vegetables and less meat.  It is an approach to food that I share completely.  The same ideas that are in his talk have also been discussed in length in Michael Pollan’s superb book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which all food lovers should read.

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That’s all the ingredients in the curry. You can use your own choice of vegetables such as green beans, potatoes pearl eggplants and so on, I added baked tofu in the dish to give myself a little protein.

I made the vegetable curry the easy way — with a ready made curry paste.  I found curry paste to be one of the most useful things in the kitchen.  It makes cooking easy and fast, and you can cook anything and everything with it.

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Stir fry the garlic, ginger, shallots and chili peppers in coconut oil until aromatic.  Add vegetables and curry paste and stir for a couple more minutes.  Add coconut milk and cover the lid.  Cook until the vegetables are tender.  Serve with rice of choice.  I ate it with Thai black rice.

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Soba Zen & Mango Bliss

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A publisher friend from Singapore came to visit me today and brought me a whole stack of beautifully bound cookbooks.  We sat in Starbucks chatting about our love for food while all of a sudden we noticed a patch of translucent blue in the opaque grey sky — a thread of white cloud laced in it.  This is the first time in weeks since I last saw blue sky.  Our hungry eyes fed on this little piece of heaven as if it was the most delightful thing in the whole wide world.

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I returned to my apartment feeling like celebrating this day with less haze by making something special from my newly acquired cookbooks, but I found that I didn’t have most of the ingredients required in the recipes.  I must go find ingredients this weekend.  After taking stock of what I had on my shelves and in my fridge, I was able to prepare a very Zen like simple meal for lunch.  It was clean, refreshing and delicious.

Inspiration struck when I went out to the balcony and saw that my Ipoh mangos had ripened in the warm weather to perfection.  I would make tropical vegan desserts with fresh mangos and fresh coconuts!  

They turned out magnificently. A couple of friends came over after work and enjoyed the desserts so much that they all had seconds.

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No-bake Coconut Mango Mousse Cake

Ingredients:

2 fresh mangos (save half a mango for topping and decoration)

1 to 1 1/2 young coconut meat (depending on how thick the coconut meat is)

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil

Sugar to taste

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Mint leaves for garnish (and it taste great with the dessert)

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Preparation:

Scoop out the coconut meat from the shell.  Blend with coconut oil and sugar until smooth.  Leave in a flat bottom container rubbed with coconut oil.  (I used a rectangular plastic take-out box.)

Leave the box in the freezer for 30 minutes while slicing the mangos and blending them with coconut oil, cornstarch and sugar.  Add the mango mixture to the same container on top of the congealed coconut mixture.  Put it back to freezer for another 30 to 45 minutes until congealed.  Transfer to the fridge before eating.

The coconut oil will begin to soften at room temperature.  It is important to keep the cake in the fridge.

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Coconut Mango Chia Pudding

You can find mango chia pudding recipe from of previous blog.  The only difference is that I used a whole fresh coconut instead of any milk.  I blended the coconut juice with the meat and use that instead of milk.

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Soba cucumber Salad with Soy Wasabi Dressing

Ingredients:

Soba noodle

Japanese cucumber

Soy sauce

100% pure black sesame oil

Rice Vinegar

Wasabi paste

Fresh lemon juice

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Preparation:

Cook Soba according to package instruction.  Drain and rinse with cold water. Add a little sesame oil to coat.

Please reference my previous blog for the soy wasabi dressing.  The recipe called for mirin, which is a Japanese rice wine, but I didn’t have any today.  I added a dash of lemon juice instead.

It’s maddening how I still haven’t found measuring cups and spoons to give precise amount of ingredients, but it was fun to experiment, tasting and adjusting as I cooked.

Lunch Break for the Hungry Empress

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My friend Russel brought to set my favorite local food — a Hakka dish call Lei Cha, meaning pounded tea.  It is made with chopped baby Bok Choy, green beans, cabbage, tofu and roasted seeds served in a green minty broth with rice or rice noodle.  It is light and healthy, yet very satisfying.  We broke for lunch more than two hours later than scheduled (yet again,) and I was ravenous.  After devouring the Lei Cha in a matter of minutes, I went on to eat the quinoa pumpkin salad with prawns and the flaxseed veggie sandwiches from our Marco Polo kitchen. 

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It was a good thing that I was only off camera after lunch because I couldn’t put my belt back on with all the food that I had consumed.  And I was in such a food coma that I could barely stand up. One consolation is that all the dishes were made with healthy and fresh ingredients.  And I have also foregone snacks on set, because I am boycotting palm oil.  The palm oil industry has been burning thousands of acres of rain forest everyday, dooming this region in a haze, a literal gloom every year during this season. Today, schools here were shut down again because of bad air pollution. 

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The haze today

Healthy Yummy Sunday All-day Meal

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I have been in the film business for most of my life, but I am every bit as unsure of myself, my craft and my relevance as an artist in my age as I was in my youth.  On the set, I always have the urge to ask for another take after the director calls “Cut!”  So seldom is my performance as good as I imagined it could be. That disappointment, that self-doubt used to torture me.  Now that I am older, I don’t take myself as seriously. The anxiety of not fulfilling my potential has subsided, and in it’s place is the resignation that there has probably never been that potential.  Yet there are times I still wake up in the morning feeling overwhelmed by the desire to be better than that disappointing person I was yesterday. 

It was very comforting and affirming for me to find the following conversation between Agnes de Mille and Martha Graham in Agnes de Mille’s 1991 biography Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham.

Agnes: “When I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

Martha: “No artist is pleased.”

Agnes: “But then there is no satisfaction?”

Martha: “No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Martha Graham put it so eloquently and poignantly what I instinctively sensed: the same perennial doubts that haunt me are exactly what have been driving me.  No wonder I am still here filming Marco Polo.  When I no longer have doubts, when I am satisfied is when I will stop doing it all together.

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Having pigged out for the whole day yesterday, I decided to make myself a healthy vegetarian soba salad.  I apologize for not having precise measurement for my ingredients in the recipe.  I have a limited kitchen in my service apartment, but it was soothing and meditative for me to slowly prepare a meal, taste as I go, focus my complete attention on such simple and pleasurable details as julliening carrots and frying chili peppers.

Ingredients for Noodle:

Soba noodle

2 carrots, jullienned

1/2 cabbage, very thinly sliced

2 eggs, beaten

crushed peanuts and scallion for garnish

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Ingredients for the oil:

4 stocks scallion

2 tablespoon  peeled & minced ginger

2 chili peppers, sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

Chinese peppercorn or Japanese peppercorn

cooking oil

Ingredients for the sauce:

soy sauce

rice vinegar

sugar

fish sauce (optional)

sugar

Lime juice

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Preparation:

Cook noodle according to package direction.

Make the oil by frying the Chinese peppercorn until aromatic and brown. Keep the oil and discard the peppercorn.  Add ginger, scallion, chili pepper, garlic in the oil and fry until slightly browned. Set aside.

Prepare the sauce by mixing the all sauce ingredients.

Prepare cabbage and carrots.

Make a thin, flat omelette in a pan with a little of the ginger scallion oil and slice the egg into thin strips.

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Delicious Indonesian Home Cooking

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My friend Russel and his wife Judy invited me to their house for lunch today.  Their Indonesian housekeeper Yati is a fantastic chef.  I have had the pleasure of sampling her food many times before, but never took any photos because the food smelled and looked so enticing that I was always too eager to begin eating.

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Yati was frying the chicken when I arrived at their house.  The whole kitchen was so aromatic that it put my salivary glands in overdrive.  She explained to me that the chicken had first been marinated and boiled before being fried.  Historically, the Indonesians didn’t keep raw meat because it would spoil quickly in the hot weather.  The meat had to be cooked immediately, then left to be cooled either under a net on the table or in a screened cabinet.  It will later be fried at meal time or whenever one is hungry.  Be it cuisine, architecture or art, it is interesting how the core of any enduring style evolves from function.  We change, we improve, we create new forms and narratives, but we always return to our original reason, our ancient roots for sustenance and inspiration.

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Today’s menu:

Semur Daging Sapi (Tangy Beef Stew)

Ayam Goreng Kuning (Golden Fried Chicken)

Tempeh Goreng (Fried Tempeh in black sweet sauce)

Sambal Goreng (Vegetables in sambal)

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Tempeh glazed in a sweet and spicy sauce

Indonesian cuisine is amongst the most intensely flavorful of all foods. Yati uses a myriad of fresh spices, many of which she grows in the back of the kitchen — turmeric root, galangal root, coriander, candlenuts, lemon basil, chili peppers, shallots, lemon grass…  Her freshly made sambal sauce is especially good.  It could make anything taste delicious.

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After today’s lunch, I could see myself coming back to Russel’s house at mealtime very frequently in the next couple of months. 

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Russel is a very successful and renowned photographer in Singapore. We became friends almost 26 years ago at the inaugural Singapore International Film Festival.  He was the only friend I actually met in a bar.  I don’t drink and almost never go to a bar; I am also extremely shy and never talk to strangers.   For some reason I was at the hotel bar that day and Russel came over to introduce himself.  He just started out his career as a photographer and he was going to have a photo session in LA, where I lived.  It must be his warm, cheerful and straightforward personality that put me at ease with him.  Throughout the years, he has been to many of my film sets and I have seen him warm up many of his subjects and make them feel comfortable to produce his best work.  Since that day, Russel and I have collaborated on many magazine shoots, but more importantly, we have been pigging out together whenever we see each other.

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My first shoot with Russel in LA

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photographed by Russel in Phuket

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In Singapore

My Amazing Work Lunch

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I had a long day at the studio today — starting at 6:40am and getting home at 8pm.  There will be a lot of dialogue to memorize for tomorrow, so I will make this a short post.  I fear wordy scenes and much prefer the way my character was last season — a taciturn presence.  English is not my mother tongue.  Though I’m fluent in it, it is an acquired fluency.  I love acting — and having done it for four decades, it is almost second nature — but now and then I can still be stumped by English dialogue. 

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from Marco Polo season 1

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Since I didn’t have time to cook today, I will share with you my delicious lunch from Marco Polo kitchen.  We broke for lunch a few hours later than scheduled (again), but the food stayed miraculously fresh.  And these dishes could be enjoyed either warm or cold.  Our chef Duyen is beginning to know my taste buds.  And from the growing quantity of the food, she must have also learned of my great appetite.  The soba noodle salad with prawns and tempeh was the kind of healthy lunch I would make for myself and my family at home.  And I will most certainly get the recipes for the raw flax & chia seeds crackers with artichoke dip and sun dried tomato cashew dip.  The semi-sweet no-bake berry-nut mousse cake is also a healthy dessert I will try to make myself.

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There are many more types and choices of foods at the buffet lunch line, but I love to just walk into my dressing room like the hungry wolf, and be surprised and spoiled. 

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