Live Hairy Crabs from Shanghai

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It is curious how the Singaporean customs would confiscate packs of chewing gum at the border, but live hairy crabs enter the country with impunity. Chef Duyen flew back from Shanghai with live hairy crabs on Sunday.  I missed the crab feast with our chefs last night, but she saved me three.  I steamed two for myself, and kept one for Zhu Zhu, a fellow Marco Polo actress who is also a hairy crab fanatic.  The golden roe of the female crabs and the gelatinous soft roe from the male ones are what make these crabs completely irresistible and addictive.  They burst with such a rich taste that anything you eat afterwards will appear to be flavorless.  There is absolutely nothing I could compare it to.  Perhaps imagine your favorite French cheese, except it’s not that at all.  If you eat a hairy crab for the first time, it will be an entirely new taste to you.

They are easy to prepare.  Simply put them in the steamer when the water is boiling and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes.  That’s it.

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The two key ingredients is the dark rice vinegar and the minced ginger.  No one eats hairy crabs without them — not only because they complement the taste perfectly, but also because according to Chinese tradition, the warming effect of ginger and sweet dark vinegar balances the cooling effect of hairy crabs.  You eat each bite of the crab with a generous amount of the vinegar mixture.

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I would usually tear away the legs and the claws, and go directly for the roe, sometimes saving the legs for the next day, but most times giving them to my mother, who claims that she hates the taste of the roe.  I’ve always secretly believed that she just wants to save the roe for me.  I missed her very much today as I put away the leftover legs and claws in the fridge.

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The hairy mittens on the claws are what give them their name

Below are some pictures of my lunch from our kitchen today.  The lily flower in the tray made me feel extra pampered.  At home, I am usually the caretaker — pampering everyone around me. I would get special attention from the kids and the hubby on my birthdays or Mother’s Days. I have to admit that I’m really liking this treatment I’m getting from our kitchen.

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Mung bean noodle in bone broth with vegetables, tofu and chicken

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Indonesian tempeh salad with sweet spicy peanut sauce

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The Royal Lunch Break

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Monday lunch with Laksa, Japanese tofu, Thai lemongrass chicken, broccoli and rice

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Why am I so compelled to take photos of my food? I don’t know. It is like the prelude to eating — an appetizer to all my meals.

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Laksa

I love my work as an actor on Marco Polo, especially when I am doing a scene that I can sink my teeth into or when the lighting is particularly flattering to my face.  But truth be told, the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most since my arrival on location in Malaysia is lunch break.  What could be better than getting out of the muggy heat, stepping into the cool dressing room to see a tray of delicious food waiting for me on my table?  I would fling off layers of costume in a matter of seconds and run to the food with my camera.  I would pretend that I am having room service in my bathrobe in a five-star hotel.  During the short respite from that organized chaos called a movie set, I feel relaxed and peaceful.

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The off duty royals riding a buggy to lunch

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Today’s pan-Asian flavored lunch

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Northern Indian Chicken kema

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Pomelo pomegranate salad with Vietnamese dressing

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Prawns with salted duck egg yolk

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Tofu with gingko nuts and shiitake mushrooms

With more than 700 people working on the show, the set is a crowded place and for me, lunch hour is a perfect time to have solitude.  Sometimes, I read a little.  Sometimes, I just stare out the window.  Other times, I FaceTime my family in California while I eat. 

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Of course I don’t get the “royal treatment” all the time, but even a sandwich on a park bench can turn into a beautiful and meaningful moment in life if we decide to make it so.  I remind myself that life is short and we live only once.  Enjoy your lunch breaks wherever you are!

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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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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Fringe Benefits

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Playing Madame Sun Yat-sen

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I am filming in Tian Jin, a city that is about two hours drive from Beiing.  It was heavily colonized in the 1800s by different European countries and retained much of its colonial architectural characteristics.  Some of the government protected colonial relics have been used as sets in TV series and films and we filmed in one of such buildings today.
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St. Joseph Cathedral Church

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The first time I was in Tian Jin was when I was 19.  I came on the backseat of a motorcycle with a group of friends from Beijing.  The only thing I could remember of the trip was the yummy breakfast and snack foods that I ate.
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View from my hotel

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Breakfast on set with the director

The producer heard that I loved the local breakfast and had three plastic bags full of the special potstickers delivered to the set before I stepped into my costume.  After I finished my breakfast, I could hardly get into my qi pao.
This is one of the most European looking cities in China, but the cuisine here is thoroughly local, and delicious beyond words.
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The mung bean crepe — Jian Bing Guo Zi (煎饼果子)— is one of the most well known local snack food that can also be breakfast, lunch or dinner.  It is made of freshly ground mung bean flour, eggs, cilantro, chili and onion.  You can also add a thin sheet of crispy fried dough for a more complex texture.
Delicious fringe benefit for location work!
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Snacking on Mung Bean crepe

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Leaving Las Vegas

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She wanted to take a picture of everything because she said she didn’t want to forget anything.

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When we wrapped late last night, Audrey took a very long time saying good-bye to people.  She hugged everyone multiple times and snapped as many selfies as she could with many of them.  How different she is from me, who always quietly sneaks away at the end of every shoot.  As soon as we got back to the hotel, she said to me, “I’m sad.  I will probably never see them again…  I wish it would never end, but I’m also happy that it’s finished…”  Then she added, “I miss Tiffanie.  I miss Ross.  I miss JQ.  I miss Houston.  I miss Pin.  I miss Kyle.  I miss Julian…” She named everyone that had had any contact with her during the filming.  Her melancholy reminded me of my younger days when I, too, felt forlorn the night after a film was completed, as I knew I would probably never again see many of the people with whom I had grown close to during the intense filming.  

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Yesterday, we filmed in Inspire Theater, the loveliest little place in the entire Las Vegas. It is a specialty theater with a cafe and a bar and lounges. Audrey was having lunch and doing SAT words on the balcony.

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Just across the street from the loveliest place in Las Vegas is this restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill, where people over 350 pounds eat free meals in a hospital gown on stage. I had to take a picture for my cardiologist husband Peter.

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Audrey’s character Adeline volunteers to be “disappeared” by the magician on the stage of Inspire Theater.

Audrey has grown by leaps and bounds in this whirlwind of a spring break. She was kept on her toes and learning something new every moment.  Before this film, she hadn’t even expressed any desire to act, but by the end of the shoot, she was practically a pro.  Her ease in front of the camera surprised me.  Her innocent instinct to trust the things and people around her was a quality that I wish I had more of.  I have no idea if Audrey will be an actor in the future, but playing mother and daughter in this little project was the most wonderful adventure that the two of us shared, better than any vacation anywhere in the world. 

Who would have guessed that Las Vegas, of all places, would become so special for us?

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Using her per diem to buy gifts for daddy and Angela in the airport

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No more looking out the car window on the way from SFO to home. During the filming, she hardly ever looked at her phone.

The first thing I did after I got home was, of course, to cook dinner.  Peter had suggested for us to go out, but Audrey and I missed simple, healthy, home cooked Chinese food.  These are dishes that I have made hundreds of times in my life.  They make me feel that I’m home.

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Quick braised tofu with vegetables in Ponzu sauce

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Bok Choi shiitake stir fry with oyster sauce

I will try to remember what I used in these stir fries and share the recipes in the next couple of days.  So happy to be home!

Sin City Day 8 – The Petit Lady Next Door

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Audrey in the monitor – in the scene, Adeline has been left alone in the hotel room by her mother, who is gambling into the wee hours.

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Audrey wanted her hair down, but the director want her hair braided to make her look younger.

Today, we shot in the hotel where Audrey and I are staying.  The production rented three rooms near each other — one for filming, one for craft service and holding and one for equipment and prop storage.  The crew went in and out of the three rooms, carrying heavy equipments and talking to each other.  A petit young blond lady came out of the room next to craft service and asked if we could be quieter.  The producer apologized to her and promised to be more considerate. 

My scene was finished by 5pm and I waited in the craft service room in case Audrey needed me for anything.  That was when I first heard the eruption of the fight — extremely vicious, machine gun style shouting from the petit lady next door.  Her passionate high voice went on with so much intensity and velocity that it sounded like a wonderfully delivered stage monologue. Once in a while, I heard a low male voice protesting or placating, but he was inevitably drowned out by her shouting.  A few of the crew and I began to wonder what they were fighting about.  The fact that it was in a foreign language only intensified our curiosity.  We couldn’t believe that such a voice could have come from that petit woman (by now we no longer referred to her as a “lady.”)

Our DP Julian, who is from Peru, came in to get water and said, “Oh, they are from Argentina.”  Then our make-up artist JQ, who is Mexican, began to translate what she could understand for us.  It sounded like that the man lost a lot of money — thousands and thousands of dollars.  By now there was the sound of body shoveling and falling mixed in with the shouting.  We were all holding our breath for the gun shot sound that might come next.

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Then, as suddenly as it began, the fight stopped.  I wondered if one of them was dead.  After an interval of about 30 minutes, I heard the man and the woman talking again and felt somehow relieved that they were alive.  The talking quickly escalated into a second round of ferocious yelling from the petit woman.  Long paragraphs, long sentences.  How did she find so many words when she was this mad? 

After two intervals and three rounds of screaming, there came noises of struggle.  Just when I was imagining slow strangulation, someone from the crew came into the craft service room and whispered in excitement, “He is outside!”  A few of us went out to the corridor pretending to go to the set and saw a docile man in a dress shirt and vest trying to pry the door open while the petit woman gave the door one last shove.  And he was locked out.  The man waited there for about half a minute with all of us feigning nonchalance around him.  Then he gave up and walked away.

I am guilty of being heartless, but that was our Friday evening entertainment in the craft service room.  As the song goes – that’s what you get for waking up in Vegas.

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Sin City Day 6 & Quinoa Beet Pilaf

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Audrey and I have been working very long hours in the past couple of days and I did not have time to post until now.  She has been so exhausted and stressed that she went back to eating meat, with a vengeance – barbecued spareribs, roast beef, you name it, siting, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  It seems that everyone has come here for some sort of transgression. 

The film crew is certainly not the exception to the rule here.  We shot Adeline (Audrey) inside the casino looking for her wayward mother (me) when we’d been told that children were not allowed in there.  One great thing about shooting digital instead of film is that we could shoot in almost any existing light.  That makes the filming less obtrusive.  We managed to finish shooting the scene without being thrown out.  Getting the shot was of course important for the film, but it was the transgression that was the most thrilling for everyone. 

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Audrey, who is usually private, discreet and self conscious, is learning to express emotions in public as a character.  There have been times that she has to do a take 10, 15 times, but she seems to be undaunted.  From what I can tell, she actually enjoys the caravan life style of the film crew. 

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With her set teacher during a break

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Listening to the director during hair and make-up

We are both missing home cooked the food.  Here is another dish that I made before I left as care package for Angela and Peter.

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Quinoa and Beet Pilaf

Ingredients:

1 bunch of beets 3 large, 4 medium or 5 small, roasted

¾ to 1 pound beet greens (or chards)

Salt to taste

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

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons caraway seeds, lightly crushed

3 cups cooked regular quinoa

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

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Preparation:

Scrub and roast the beets. Once they are cooled, remove the skins and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Set aside.  Or you can use already cooked beets for convenience.

Blanch the greens in a large pot of generously salted water or steam them above an inch of boiling water until wilted, one to two minutes. Refresh with cold water, squeeze dry and chop.

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, beet greens or chards, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir over medium heat for 30 seconds to a minute until the greens are nicely infused with the garlic and oil. Add the beets and quinoa. Toss together until the ingredients are well combined and the quinoa 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.

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Adapted from: cooking.nytimes.com

Superfood Triple Berry Chia Pudding

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Today Angela made Skinnytaste’s Superfood Triple Berry Chia Pudding for Peter and herself.  We have made this often in different versions before…real easy, real delicious, and super healthy to boot! What’s not to like?  This reminds me that I could actually make chia pudding in the hotel room for breakfast or a refreshing after work snack. All I need is a bottle.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk of choice (She used unsweetened cashew milk)
  • 3/4 cup fresh berries (blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries work well)
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • sweetener to taste (She used three packs of Safeway stevia which is just erythritol and rebiana, but I’m sure xylitol would work too)

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Preparation:

Mix it all up in a jar. Cover and shake vigorously, chill for 15 minutes, shake again and refrigerate overnight.

This makes a great breakfast, snack, or dessert! It’s beautifully minimalist, just like this post (I’m in Vegas shooting a short with Audrey but longer posts will be coming soon!)

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Adapted from:

skinnytaste.com

Aromatic Beef Curry

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When I knocked on Audrey’s door this morning, I heard a strangely low and gravelly voice, “Who is it?” “It’s mommy,” I was taken aback for a moment, thinking I lost her to the evil spirit of the hellish hotel.  She opened the door and whispered, “I had to do this.  Last night two different drunken guys knocked on my door.  Or maybe it was the same drunken guy who came twice.  I couldn’t sleep after that.”

So, we both needed some caffeine before the rehearsal.  I tried to order an Uber to go to Starbucks, but was surprised to find out that there was no Uber service in Las Vegas.  After our morning coffee, Audrey and I rehearsed one of the most important scenes in the film, where Adeline finds out that her father is leaving her and her mother. In the script, Adeline goes through a wide range of emotions in the scene— from desperation to anger to sadness to hopelessness.  Audrey did a really good job, especially considering how inexperienced she is at acting.  We both felt more confident about doing this job together after the rehearsal.

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The highlight of the day was when Audrey got her per diem and treated us to cirque du soleil’s Mystére in Treasure Island. The buoyant energy of the show was exactly what we needed after a restless night in that dreadful place.  I enjoyed the occasional gasps let out by Audrey almost as much as I did the incredible feats executed by the performers, who often seemed to defy gravity.

As promised yesterday, here is the recipe for the beef curry.  This is part of the care package for Peter when I’m here.

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Aromatic Beef Curry

Ingredients:

1 pound beef shank, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 pound beef tendon, cut into 1 inch sections (You can use all beef shank if tendon is not your thing.)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon yellow curry paste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 green bell pepper, cut into 1 inch squares

4 carrots, cut into 1 inch sections

3 stocks lemongrass, tender middle part only, sliced diagonally

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon minced ginger

4 slices of peeled ginger

1 large potato, cubed

1 onion, chopped

1/2 can coconut milk (or the whole can if you don’t worry about the fat content in the coconut milk)

1/4 cup cooking wine

4 boiled eggs, peeled (optional)

Salt to taste

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Preparation:

Wash and cut meat and tendon.  Boil a large pot of water and poach the beef and tendon for about 3 to 4 minutes.  Pour out and water and rinse the beef and the tendon.

Using the same pot, boil the beef and tendon with the 4 slices of ginger, the 1/4 cooking wine and enough water to submerge the meet for 2 hours. 

Heat up a wok with 2 tablespoons coconut oil. Sauté onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and 1 tablespoon curry paste until aromatic. Add carrots, potato, coconut milk and broth.  Cook for 3 minutes.

Pour the content from wok to the pot of beef and tendon.  Add the boiled eggs.  Cover the lid and cook for another hour.  Add green bell pepper and cook for 5 minutes.  Serve with rice.