Live Hairy Crabs from Shanghai

P1080902

P1080905

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.

P1080900

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.

P1080901

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.

P1080907

P1080908

P1080914

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.

P1080892

P1080894

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

P1080896

Indonesian tempeh salad with sweet spicy peanut sauce

P1080897

The Royal Lunch Break

P1080791

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

_H0A0008_web

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.

P1080796

_H0A0018_web

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.

off duty royals

The off duty royals riding a buggy to lunch

P1080800

Today’s pan-Asian flavored lunch

P1080807

Northern Indian Chicken kema

P1080806

Pomelo pomegranate salad with Vietnamese dressing

P1080803

Prawns with salted duck egg yolk

P1080802

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. 

Lei Cha

_H0A0027_web (1)

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

P1080520

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.

P1080522

P1080528

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

P1080530

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

P1080521

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.

P1080525

My Amazing Work Lunch

P1080470

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. 

SCAN0093

from Marco Polo season 1

SCAN0091

SCAN0092

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.

P1080472   P1080475

P1080482   P1080477

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. 

P1080479

Fringe Benefits

IMG_1624
Song

Playing Madame Sun Yat-sen

Song

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.
P1110338

St. Joseph Cathedral Church

P1110297
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.
P1110367

View from my hotel

P1110294

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.
P1110329   P1110327
P1110331  P1110334
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!
Crepe

Snacking on Mung Bean crepe

P1110330

Sin City Day 8 – The Petit Lady Next Door

P1110063

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.

P1110061

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.

argentine-tango

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.

P1110060  P1110057

Aromatic Beef Curry

P1060336

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.

mystere5  Mystere_Planche_Matt Beard

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.

P1060339

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

P1060337

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.

Moroccan Chickpea & Turkey Stew

P1060477

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.

P1060470   P1060471

P1060473   P1060491

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

P1060475

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.

P1060483   P1060493

Adapted from: skinnytaste.com

Let’s Get Freekeh!

P1060387

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. 

P1060375  P1060385

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

P1060381   P1060383

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!

P1060382

02-Freekeh

Adapted from:

skinnytaste.com

Mango Coconut Chia Pudding

P1060351

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.

P1060360   P1060362

P1060363   P1060365

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.

P1060366   P1060356

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

P1060349  P1060352

Check out our other coconut recipes: