Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

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There was a skinny fig tree in front of my childhood home — the original home, the only one that appears in my dreams, that I have hopelessly yearned for since the day I left for America.

Throughout my childhood, I remember tasting a sweet ripe fig only once. I grew up in the years of extreme food scarcity and no child could wait until the figs were ripe to harvest them. My brother and I began picking them earlier each year because we wanted to get them before the other children in the neighborhood could steal them. We tried to leave the raw figs in the rice sack or in the sun for them to ripen, but the figs stayed hard no matter how long we waited. 

One day, I was idling by the 2nd floor window daydreaming, which was something children often did in that era. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves of the fig tree and a pinkish purplish bulb caught my eye. A ripe fig! I had never before seen a fig like this, rufescent and drooped from the slightly wilted stem. I nearly killed myself trying to pluck it with the help of a clothe hanger. I quickly stuffed it in my mouth before anyone could see me. There are no words that can describe the intense and shocking burst of pleasure as my teeth sunk into the flesh of that fig.

As I prepared these roasted figs today, I felt a nostalgic tug in my heart — a nameless longing. Was I twelve or thirteen? What was I daydreaming about? The neighbor boy with a “bad reputation” to play badminton with? The faraway lands I secretly read about in forbidden hand copied books? Or was it food? I was always a little hungry in those days and food was never far from my thoughts.

Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined roasting dozens of ripe figs in an oven — a wonderful contraption I didn’t know existed until I came to the US.

As I used to daydream by the window, I now do by the oven. These roasted figs are sumptuous. They are great as appetizer, dessert or a snack. I used Buche de Chevre which was absolutely exquisite, but goat cheese will also taste great with it. The balsamic glaze is an important ingredient that is not optional in my mind. It is a perfect finishing touch to complete the dish.

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Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

Figs

Brown sugar

Buche de Chevre

Balsamic Glaze

Pinch of salt

Pine nuts

Mint leaves

Olive oil spray

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Rinse the figs and pat them dry, then cut off the stems and, without cutting through the base, halve them from top to bottom.

Spray a baking pan with good olive oil. Dip the cut side of the fig in a dish of brown sugar. Line the figs cut side up in the baking pan.

Bake until the sugar is bubbling and the figs is heated through, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle broken cheese on top. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Top with pine nuts and mint leaves. Serve warm.

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Peach Matcha Panna Cotta

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This peach matcha panna cotta is not only yummy, it is light, healthy and good for you. Matcha is a super food that boasts a long list of health benefits that range from memory boost to body detoxification. I bought my matcha from Davids Tea. It is infused with peach flavor and slightly sweetened — perfect for making dessert.

The ingredients of this panna cotta is deceptively simple — milk, Greek yogurt, peach matcha powder, xylitol and gelatin. I made the dessert the night before and served it with sliced ripe nectarine as breakfast for Peter. A great way to begin the weekend!

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Peach Matcha Panna Cotta

Ingredients:

2 cups of milk (4%)

1 cup full fat Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons peach matcha powder (I used 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon, but if you like the matcha flavor more intense add another teaspoon or two.)

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

1 pack unflavored gelatin (1 1/4 ounce packet)

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Preparation:

Pour 1 cut of milk into a sauce pan or small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin powder evenly on top of the milk and let stand for a few minutes. Turn stove on to low and heat the milk with gelatin as you slowly stir until the gelatin is melted. Don’t let milk boil.

Blend 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, 1/4 cup xylitol and peach matcha in a food processor until smooth. Add the melted gelatin to the processor and blend until well mixed.

Oil the container before you pour the mixture if you will invert the panna cotta onto a plate to serve. You can also pour the mixture into the bowls or cups and serve directly from them.

Leave in the fridge for 2 hours or longer.

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Fresh Berries

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The last week of May in San Francisco is absolutely my favorite time of the year. Today is a warm and sunny day that signals the coming of summer. Audrey and I will be going back to China to visit my parents when school breaks.  She will also be playing my character on screen in the flashback scenes.  We went shopping for summer clothes for our upcoming trip.  In a little boutique on Union Street, I saw the prettiest skirt in the whole wide world but they didn’t have my size. “I’m so fat,” I lamented. Audrey stopped me right there and said, “Don’t ever say things like that about yourself.  You are beautiful.” Did I sense some sort of a role reversal? She totally sounded like the mother between us when she said that.

After we were done with shopping, we came home and made these simple and delicious tarts with patriotic colors to celebrate Memorial Day.  They are healthy and quite guiltless to enjoy. For those of you who are allergic to gluten, They are also gluten free!

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Crispy Almond Flour Crust & Fresh Berries

Ingredients for the Shells:

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1 1/2 tablespoon honey or molasses

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

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Ingredients for the Creamy Filling:

1/2 cup nonfat Fage or other Greek yogurt

1/2 cup 1/3 less fat cream cheese

3 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Fresh berries to top it off

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 325.

Grease muffin pan well with coconut oil (grease only 8 cups and not all 12 cups)

Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Fold wet into dry and knead until well mixed.

Separate the dough into 6 to 8 equal balls. Press into 8 muffin cups to create the shape of the tart shells. If you make 8 mini tarts, the shells will be thinner and shallower. If you make 6, the shells will be thicker and deeper.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Cover the muffin pan with a cutting board and flip them over. Pat the back of the muffin pan with your hands to loosen baked shells from the pan.

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Coconut black Rice Pudding with Fresh Mangos

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I went to a Vietnamese Chinese market yesterday and bought some beautiful and delicious tropical fruits.  The mangos reminded me of the ones that I used to buy in Malaysia when I was filming Marco Polo.  This morning, I made a coconut black rice pudding with fresh mangos for breakfast. Rice with crushed peanuts is a usual staple for breakfast in Southeast Asia. It is as ordinary as oatmeal in the West.  Of course you can also serve this rice pudding as a dessert.  For me, coconut and mango is a perfect combination, like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and chocolate.

I made my rice in the automatic rice cooker as I sliced the fruits. It’s simple and easy. I used the coconut milk beverage from the carton to cook the rice. And I drizzled about 2 to 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk from the can on top of the pudding before serving. 

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Coconut Black Rice Pudding with Fresh Mangos

Ingredients:

1 cup of Thai black sweet rice or Forbidden Rice

2 cups coconut milk, beverage from the carton

1/4 cup or more xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 to 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk, can

2 tablespoon crushed peanuts, optional

2 ripe yellow mangos, peeled, pitted and sliced (small, flattened oval shape mangos)

Preparation:

Pour the rice, coconut milk beverage, xylitol or sugar, vanilla in the rice cooker and let soak for 30 minutes before pushing the on button.

When the rice cooker turns to warm, let rice sit for 5 minutes. Scoop rice into serving bowls and top with fresh mango slices, coconut milk from the can and crushed peanuts if using.

If you like your pudding wetter and creamier, you can also pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut milk from the can into the rice cooker after rice has been cooked. Mix with a non-scratch spatula before scooping into serving bowls.  If you use forbidden rice instead of sticky rice, it tastes better in the creamier version.

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I used the left-over coconut milk from the can and the mango to make coconut mango panna cotta. I will share the recipe another time. 

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Osso Buco Style Ling Cod with Gremolata

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This morning, Peter and I wanted to take a walk but it was drizzling.  So we instead took a walk in the isles of Costco and came home with loads of food. For lunch, I made this hearty, soothing and yummy dish that was perfect for a rainy spring day. Peter and I loved it, and ended up having it for both lunch and dinner without even changing the plates or the utensils. Lazy Sunday indeed.

You can enjoy the fish “osso buco” over polenta or creamed potato, but I simply added the potatoes into the dish and made it a one pot meal. Very satisfying.

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Osso Buco Style Ling Cod with Gremolata

Ingredients:

2 6 oz ling cod fillets or other white fish fillets

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped carrots

1 1/2 cup halved or quartered red skin potatoes

1/4 cup marinara sauce

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

1 1/2 tablespoon tapioca flour or corn starch, I used tapioca flour

1 1/2 tablespoon corn flour or wheat flour, I used corn flour

A few dashes of cayenne, smoked paprika, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and basil

Salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

In a large bowl, mix the tapioca flour, corn flour, the dried spices and a generous pinch of salt.

Wash and dry the fish. Rub with a little olive oil. Dredge the fish pieces one by one in the flour mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and a large skillet or a pan on high and brown the fish on all sides. Set aside.

On medium high, heat the rest of the oil in a wok, sauté the garlic and onion until aromatic. Add the tomato, celery, carrots and potatoes and stir for about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the marinara sauce and stir for another minute or two.  Pour the chicken broth into the wok and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Salt to taste.

Pour the cooked vegetables and all the juice into the skillet with the browned fish and return to stove on medium high. Pour in 1 cup of white wine.  Cook until fish is done, about 10 minutes.  (My fish is thick. If your fish is smaller, cook for less time.) 

Mix a little water into the bowl with the left-over flour mixture for dredging, and use it to thicken the broth if desired. The spices in the flour mixture also add extra flavor to the dish.

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Ingredients for Gremolata:

1/3 cup minced parsley

1 loosely packed teaspoon minced lemon zest

1 loosely packed teaspoon minced orange zest

2 clove garlic, minced

Preparation:

Use a grater or a vegetable peeling to get the outer most layer of the lemon and orange skin.  Mince the zest with a knife.

Mix the zest with chopped parsley and minced garlic. You can make gremolata up to 6 hours ahead and leave in the fridge in a sealed container.

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Garlicky Parmesan Baked Baby Bella

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I am usually left out of the Super Bowl festivities simply because I don’t understand football. It has seemed an un-crossable cultural barrier for me as a Chinese woman.  While Peter cheers and curses, I’m either reading or taking a walk on the beautiful and deserted trails. I, along with the rest of the world will never understand the extent of the American Super Bowl mania.  Everyone is having a party today. I made the mistake by going grocery shopping after lunch and the lines for the cashiers were so long that I left without my grocery. On my way home, I saw the Buffalo chicken wing place on Lombard, which is usually quite empty, had long lines of people ordering boxes of wings to take home.

There was a box of baby bella in the fridge and I decided to celebrate the excitement of the day by making a Super Bowl finger food with the mushrooms.

At the suggestion of a friend, I watched the beginning of the show and was very moved by Lady Gaga’s National Anthem.  I am an American after all.

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Garlicky Parmesan Baked Mushrooms

Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz baby bella

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup shredded parmesan

1/2 garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

2 eggs, beaten

Honey Mustard Yogurt Dip

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or coarsely ground mustard

1 1/2 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoon Fage Total or other Greek yogurt

Preparation:

Make the dip and set aside.

Heat the over to 410F

Wipe the mushroom with paper tower, cut off the end of the stems.

Dip the mushrooms one by one into the egg and then coat with panko bread crumbs. If there is not enough bread crumbs on the mushroom, repeat the egg and panko dipping one more time.

Lay the breaded mushrooms on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes based on the size of the mushroom.  Over cooking will result in sogginess.

Serve warm with the dip or with ketchup.

Happy Super Bowl Day!

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Lemony Khorasan Wheat Salad

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I went to Amy Tan’s house for an Asian Pacific Fund charity dinner, which was meticulously prepared by an amazing amateur team led by Lance Lew, whose day job is director and producer of Asian Pacific America’s weekly show on NBC Bay Area.  The four-course dinner was a perfect melding of East and West flavors such as dried salted plum powder with pan seared scallops, pappardelle in black bean garlic Alfredo.  Innovative yet not fussy, it was one of the most delicious meals that I have had for a long time.  More power to passionate amateur chefs!  Cooking is an integral and enjoyable part of life, not a show or a competition requiring hard-to-pronounce ingredients or a showbiz personality. 

At the end of the dinner, Amy asked us to take some Meyer lemons from her abundant harvest.  Those are some of the most fragrant and juicy lemons that I have ever tasted and I decided to put it to good use right away in this Oriental Wheat Salad.  Oriental wheat is an ancient grain also called Khorasan wheat or kamut, and it contains more proteins, lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals than modern wheat.  It is also nutty and chewy and twice the size of other kinds of wheat.

This Oriental Wheat Salad is satisfying as a vegetarian meal in one dish, or it can be enjoyed as a side dish for grilled meats. It is really simple to make and very yummy.

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Lemony Oriental Wheat Salad

Ingredients for Salad:

1 cup uncooked kamut, cooked in 3 cups water, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon olive oil

2 stocks celery, finely diced

1 cup parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots

Pepper to taste

Ingredients for Dressing:

Juicy from 1 large lemon, about 2 1/2 tablespoon

2 tablespoon finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

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Preparation:

Cook the grain in a rice cooker or in a pot with 3 cups of water, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon olive oil.

Mix the ingredients for the dressing and set aside.

When the grain is done, let it cook to room temperature.  Mix with the celery, parsley, walnuts and apricots.

Toss gently with the dressing and let sit for 20 minutes for the dressing to be soaked into the grain.

Note:

If you don’t have kamut, wheat berries or farro will work very well for this recipe too.

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Guests at the charity dinner

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Lance with Emerald Yeh and me

Buttermilk Banana Pancakes

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I hadn’t made pancakes since New Year’s breakfast, and when I saw the very ripe bananas in the fruit basket I decided to cook banana pancakes for breakfast.  What could be better than splurging on a tall stack of pancakes on a Saturday morning?

I added 1/2 cup PB2 powder to the batter for a hint of peanut flavor and for a dose of added protein.  If you are not a peanut lover like me, you can simply use all wholewheat flour and no PB2.  

Those pancakes turned out fluffy and soft in the center and crispy around the edges — absolutely delicious.

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Buttermilk Banana Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup wholewheat flour

1/2 cup PB2 or 1/2 cup more wholewheat flour

1 very ripe banana, meshed

1 large egg

1 1/2 cup buttermilk (You may need to adjust the amount of milk based on how large the banana is.)

2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter, melted (you can also use vegetable oil such as canola oil)

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Sliced banana and toasted walnut for topping

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Preparation:

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Combine all the wet ingredients in a separate mixing bowl, making sure that the melted coconut oil or butter is not hot.

Make a shallow hole in the dry ingredients and slowing pour the wet into the dry as you stir and mix them together.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle over medium heat.  Scoop batter onto the griddle using either 1/4 or 1/3 measuring cup.  When the batter begins to bubble and the the underside is golden, flip it over with a spatular.  Cook another 1 minute or so for the other side to become golden. 

Serve hot topped with sliced banana, toasted walnuts and maple syrup.

2 Great Dishes with Fennel

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We went to a friend’s house for dinner last night.  I was to bring a fennel salad with burrata, yam casserole,  potato avocado salad and a no-bake mango cheesecake.  The ingredients for the dishes were prepared and packed in separate containers.  Then I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, put on makeup, got dressed and changed a few pairs of shoes before settling on a pair of Alexander Wang heels.  That was when I looked at the clock and realized that we were going to be late.  In the rush to leave the house, I left the pickled red onion for the potato salad and the burrata for the fennel salad in the fridge at home.  The mangos that I used to make the mango cheesecake were not as flavorful as the ones from Malaysia where I first made the cake.  I’m afraid that I have kind of ruined the Hungry Empress’s reputation.  

So today I remade the less-than-ideal dishes to redeem myself at least in my own mind.  I wish I could switch the dishes from last night like how people exchange gifts that don’t fit them on Boxing Day.

I received a beautiful two-toned ceramic serving bowl from my friend, whose house we were at last night.  I used it to serve my potato salad with the right ingredients for lunch. So Amy, if you read this, this is what I meant to bring yesterday.

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Potato Salad with Fennel, Avocado and Eggs in Greek Yogurt Dressing

Ingredients for the salad:

10 medium red skin potatoes, boiled and diced with skin on or off

1 tender fennel bulb, rough parts discarded and chopped

3 to 4 avocados, diced

4 to 5 boiled eggs

Pickled red onion from 1/2 red onion

Fresh lemon juice to coat the diced

Ingredients for pickled onion:

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup apple red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Ingredients for the dressing:

1 cup Fage or other Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons pale mustard

2 stocks green onions, minced (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside.

To make pickled onion, bring vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add onion, bring to boil again and then remove from heat, and let sit 4 to 5 minutes; drain. Drain and let pickled onion cool.  Pickled onion should be crispy.  Don’t over cook it or let it stay in the hot brine for too long.

Boil the eggs for 5 minutes (counting from after the water boils) and rinse with cold water.  Do not over boil the egg. The yolks will get flaky if you overcook them.  Peel and cut into quarters.

Cook the potatoes in a pot of water to al dente and cut into bite size.

Cube the avocados and chop the fennel bulb.  To prevent the avocado from browning, coat the cubes with a little fresh lemon juice.

Toss all salad ingredients with the dressing.  Garnish with fennel fronds and serve at room temperature.

The recipe makes 8 to 10 serving.  You can easily half the recipe for fewer people.

I made a similar potato salad with chili peppers in the dressing when I was in Malaysia.  You can check out that recipe by clicking on the link here.

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Fennel Salad with Burrata:

Ingredients:

2 medium heads fennel, cored and very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving

6 strips lemon zest, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon lemon juice

8  to 12 oz burrata

Fennel fronds for garnish

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

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Preparation:

Place fennel, oil, zest and lemon juice in a dish; season with salt and pepper. Let stand 10 to 20 minutes.  Just before serving, arrange fennel salad on a large platter. Cut burrata into halves or quarters and lay on fennel. Drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired.  Garnish with fennel fronds.

The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of mint leaves, but I found the salad delicious without it.

Another Slow Lazy Saturday

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I love the slowness of Saturday mornings, especially when Peter is not on call and the girls are either away or still sleeping.  This morning, I made us Mexican omelette with red jalapeño, cilantro, avocado and Mexican cheese, and Peter made us coffee with condensed milk. 

Many years ago — I think it was in the mid 90s — I read a book called Slowness by Milan Kundera about the sensuality that had been lost with the incredible speed with which everything seemed to be done in contemporary life.  The idea resonated with me then.  How can anything be sensual if we are only concerned with efficiency?  Since the 90s, we have sped up much more with the constant connectivity and the feeling that opportunities might be lost if we don’t check our emails the second it arrives, or keep doing 10 different things all at once.  Everyday, I see people checking their phones at stop signs or red lights.  And sometimes, I do it myself. 

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Today, Peter and I took our time eating, glancing at the headlines of the morning paper, talking about whatever came to mind, or simply enjoying the food in silence.  Food tastes so much better when you eat slowly, savoring every bite.  We talked about Ida, a stunning Polish film that we watched together last night.  Compared to most film and TV shows seen on the screen today,  Ida was striking and indelible in its stillness, simplicity and sparseness of words.  The film looked cold and grey, yet it was boiling with deep emotions.  This film will stay with me for a very long time, while I have forgotten so many seemingly exciting spectacles the minute I finished watching them.  Speed is never good for remembering.  Stillness.  That’s what’s missing in the speed of today’s life.  And silence.

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Still from Ida

Speaking of stillness and silence, I want to share with you a Naruda poem called Keeping Quiet — an ode to stillness in this busy and sped-up life. 

KEEPING QUIET

by Pablo Neruda

*

Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still.

*

For once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language;

let’s stop for one second,

and not move our arms so much.

*

It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.

*

Fisherman in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would look at his hurt hands.

*

Those who prepare green wars,

wars with gas, wars with fire,

victories with no survivors,

would put on clean clothes

and walk about with their brothers

in the shade, doing nothing.

*

What I want should not be confused

with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about;

I want no truck with death.

*

If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.

*

Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo-Neruda

Naruda

Mexican Omelette

Ingredients for each omelette:

2 large eggs + 2 egg whites (beaten with a pinch of salt)

olive oil cooking spray

1/4 cup cilantro, minced

1/4 cup Mexican cheese blend

1/2 red jalapeno, minced

1/4 avocado, diced

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

Spray non-stick pan with oil on medium high heat.  Pour egg mixture into pan and let it cook for 15 to 20 seconds.  Add all the vegetable and cheese on top of the egg and cook for another minute.  Using spatula and fold the omelette into a roll.

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