Soy Braised Pork Knuckle

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I went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco the other day to see the Emperors’ Treasures exhibition.  One of the treasures was called “Meat Shaped Stone.” The director of the museum Jay Xu is from Shanghai as I am and we chatted about how growing up we all loved the braised pork belly that looked exactly like the stone on display. I felt inspired to make a Shanghainese braised pork knuckle after I left the museum.

When Angela and I started this blog nearly two years ago, we had set out to make very healthy food with lots of vegetables and very low fat. Angela has been a vegetarian since she was five or six years old and Audrey became a vegetarian after watching the film Food Inc two summers ago.  Angela, the food police of our family, lost interest in our joint venture a few months after we began as she started writing for her own blogs about topics that interested her more. Without Angela’s scrutiny, I slowly began to use more oil when I stir fried, full fat yogurt instead of fat free yogurt in my desserts and real wheat flour instead of almond flour or coconut flour when I baked.

Now that Angela has left for college and Audrey is taking a break from her vegetarianism, we have pork back in our lives again. I used to eat pork knuckle a couple of times a month in my twenties and thirties, but I hardly cooked any pork since Angela became a vegetarian. 

A Beatles Song Norwegian Wood came to my mind as I cooked this pork knuckle. Yes, this bird has flown. Angela is no longer here to say, oh that smell is disgusting mommy.

How I miss her!

Soy Braised Pork Knuckle

Ingredients:

2 cups Shao Xing Wine

4 cups water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon dark sauce

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn

1 clove anise

1 1/2 inch ginger, sliced

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon rock sugar or brown sugar

1 stick cinnamon

3 dried red chili pepper

1 pork knuckle

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Preparation:

Heat the oil in a medium pot on medium high. When the oil is hot, add ginger, garlic, anise, peppercorn, dried chili and cinnamon stick. Stir until aromatic.

Add the pork knuckle and brown it on all sides.

Turn stove to low and add soy sauce. Turn the pork knuckle a few times in the soy sauce mixture.

Add Shao Xing Wine and water. Turn stove to high and bring the pot to boil. Turn the stove to low and let simmer for 2 hours. 

Turn the stove to high and reduce the liquid to half. Serve on a bed of blanched or stir fried vegetables.

Note: The Shao Xing wine that one buys in the US is salty for tariff reasons. If your Shao Xing wine is not salty you can add more soy sauce. 

No-bake Mango Cheesecake & Milk

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My older daughter Angela and I were invited to a tasting party at Namu Gaji organized by the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB), creator of the iconic got milk? campaign. The current theme is Food loves Milk, which promotes the pairing of milk with different kinds of food.  I was instantly interested not only because of the novel and intriguing pairing of Korean fusion food with milk, but also because I have always tried hard, and often times without success, to make my vegetarian daughters drink more milk.  Since I’m filming in Malaysia, Angela went to the event with a friend. 

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Don’t know why she sent me a photo with her face covered and her friend’s face half cut off.

Angela hasn’t been communicating with me much lately.  Sometimes when I FaceTime my husband Peter, she would say hi and bye in passing.  So I was really happy to see more than 20 messages with many pictures from her yesterday about the got milk? dinner that she attended.  Apparently she had enjoyed the experience very much. From the menu and the pictures she sent me, Chef Dennis Lee’s food looked amazing.

“You’d be glad because I drank a lot of milk,” she texted me.  Angela doesn’t like milk.  “The Korean food they served was spicy,” she explained.  I laughed, thinking that it was a successful pairing because it got Angela to drink milk with her meal.

Growing up in Communist China in the late 60s, milk was a luxury food.  Each family in Shanghai was rationed to have one small bottle of milk a day.  And during milk shortages, we would not get any milk for days on end. In those years, the first thing I did after I got up was to run to the door and see if there was a bottle of milk waiting for me. I love milk.  My husband, who was also born in China, drinks a glass of milk with his dinner every evening like a growing teenager.  Neither of us drink wine.  I suppose we have been doing the food milk pairing a long time before this campaign. 

It’s mango season here in Malaysia. I made a No-bake Mango Cheese Cake yesterday and had a slice of leftover with a glass of milk for breakfast today.  Delicious.

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No-bake Mango Cheese Cake with Chocolate Granola Crust

Ingredients or the crust:

3 packs Nature Valley crunchy granola bars (crushed into tiny pieces)

2 tablespoon 100% cocoa power

1 tablespoon Molasses Sugar or brown sugar

3 – 4 tablespoon coconut oil (melted)

You can also make this cake with the raw and grain free crust from my earlier post.

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Ingredients for filling:

1 large ripe mango (about 1 1/2 cup diced)

1 tub 60% less fat Philadelphia cream cheese (250g)

2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

45g sugar

2 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoon coconut oil (melted)

1 teaspoon gelatin

1/4 cup milk of choice for the gelatin (I used 2% milk)

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Preparation:

Mix all ingredients for crust and press into an oiled tart dish.  You can break up the granola bars by hand or in a blender.  I blended half and hand crushed the other half to give a varied texture.  Leave the crust in the freezer as you prepare the filling.

Dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 tablespoon of water in a small bowl for 5 minutes.

Blend all ingredients for filling, except for the 1/4 cup of milk.

Heat the 1/4 cup of milk in the microwave 40 to 45 seconds, and mix in with the gelatin until dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the blender and blend until smooth.

Pour filling mixture into the prepared crust.

Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 40 minutes before serving.

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Missing My Moon Baby

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Tomorrow is Mid Autumn Festival when the moon will be at her brightest for the year.  In China, millions of people travel home from wherever they are to reunite with their families on this day.  The perfect full moon symbolizes the circle of togetherness and harmony.  It is the most auspicious day on the lunar calendar.  And my older daughter Angela was born on Mid Autumn Festival 17 years ago.

Yesterday, Angela had an accident that frightened me.  She bruised, cut and almost blinded her right eye on the freezer door.  As I struggled to concentrate on the scene that I was playing today, my mind wandered thousands of miles away to San Francisco.  I messed up my dialogue for the first few takes, but in the end my homesickness, my longing and regrets guided me toward the underlying emotions for the scene, in which my character’s sons were missing and she was full of regrets.

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When we broke for lunch, I found the most healthy and delicious lunch waiting for me in the dressing room.  This was such a treat after suffering from months of bad catering in Budapest.  I ate as I FaceTimed my family.  My husband, the prawn lover, was envious when he saw my lemongrass grilled prawns.  My favorite was the pomelo salad with sweet spicy Vietnamese dressing and crispy onion.  The fruit is grown locally and it is in season.  I can’t wait to try them in different salads and share them with you!  I will consult our chef and possibly learn a few dishes from her.

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Noodle Salad with Roast Chicken & Chili-Scallion Oil

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Peter and I were in the car heading out for a lunch date when Angela called. “Can we go to the Farmers Market?” She asked in a sleepy voice.  Peter began to tell her that we were on our way to lunch when I interrupted him, “Sure, Angela, we are coming back right now. Let’s go to the farmers market.”

I almost felt flattered that Angela wanted to spend time with us.  She is usually too preoccupied with her friends, school work or daydreaming to spend much time with us.  We turned the car around and dropped whatever lunch plans we had to answer her last minute invitation.

We are at this stage of parenthood.

For dinner, I reached back to my Sichuan roots and made this flavorful spicy chicken noodle salad. For the vegetarians in the house, I used baked tofu instead of roast chicken.  If you like spicy food, you must give this a try.  It is simple and delicious.

When I was setting the table, the girls were giggling and running back and forth between their rooms and the dining room.  When they finally settled down to eat, they were both wearing big sweaters, sitting hunchbacked and covering their chests with their hair. They couldn’t stop giggling.  Then I saw that they were both wearing earbuds, covered by their long hair.  It turned out that they were trying to circumvent the rule of no TV and no cell phone at the dinner table.  Are we really so tedious to talk to?

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The vegetables in the salad were from the farmers market. After reading “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I am more keen on eating locally grown organic food. The industrial food chain, though unavoidable at times, is simply unsustainable.

Soba Noodle Salad With Roast Chicken
And Chile-Scallion Oil

Ingredients for Chile-Scallion Oil:

3 scallions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 to 2 star anise pods (optional)

3 dried red chili peppers, crushed into flakes (you can adjust the amount of peppers according to how spicy you want the dish to be. Mine is relatively mild because Peter doesn’t like it too hot.)

1 tablespoon graded fresh ginger

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (optional, but really add a distinct Sichuan flavor to the dish if you can find them.)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

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Noodles And Assembly:

6 oz. Japanese soba noodles or ramen, or udon (I used soba with buckwheat and yam)

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 cups shredded roast chicken breast (I used Costco roast chicken)

2 scallions, thinly sliced

2/3 large English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced

4 – 5 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced

1 cup or more cilantro leaves or any sprout

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Preparation:

Chile-Scallion Oil

Cook all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally, until scallions and garlic are just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Let cool; transfer oil to a jar.

Noodles And Assembly

Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions; drain. Rinse noodles under cold water, then shake off as much water as possible.

Whisk soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and oil in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Add noodles, chicken, and scallions; toss to coat.

Toss with cucumber, radishes, and cilantro and drizzle with chile oil just before serving.

For a non-spicy vegetarian noodle salad with scallion oil, try my Shanghainese version.

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Adapted from bon appetit.

Massaged Raw Kale Salad 2.0

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Angela asked me to make her my massaged kale salad today and that made me happy.  She has wanted very little of me — my time, my company, my thoughts or my wisdom, especially my wisdom. Whatever I try to say to her is met with the retort “old man yells at cloud,” which is supposedly a Simpsons reference. “Millennials are so lazy! Go start a war or ruin the economy or something! Wait… how do you send an email?” In my defense, I know how to send an email.

I wait patiently because I know that she is at an age when she needs to explore and evolve into her own identity apart from her parents. But sometimes I can’t help feeling a little sad about the loss of the intimate oneness we used to have.

When I was away, she had been eating out a lot with her friends or ordering take-out from the nearby restaurants.  For quite a few days after I came home, Angela continued to order her meals.  The one thing that I used to be really good at — feeding her nutritious and delicious food — Angela no longer seemed to need from me. 

When she came to me carrying a bunch of kale and said, “Mommy, can you make me your massaged kale salad for lunch?” I leapt into action.  As I washed, cut out the stems, dried and massage the kale, Angela stood there and talked to me and laughed with me like she did when she was little. 

Angela took a photo of the salad as she was eating it and texted it to her friends.  “They all said that it looked so delicious,” she said, “Can you make it again for me to bring to school tomorrow?”  Wow ! it was as if she was still my little girl.

I usually make this salad with feta cheese, but I was out of it today.  I found that Parmesan is also delicious with this salad.  The sweet grapes are a perfect balance to the tinge of bitterness in the kale. 

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Massaged Raw Kale Salad

Ingredients:

2 bunches lacinato kale, ribs removed and discarded (12 oz total without ribs)

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)

Shaved Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup red seedless grapes

1/2 cup green seedless grapes

1/4 cup chopped dry roasted almonds

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Preparation:

Slice the kale into 1/4-inch thin ribbons. In a large bowl combine the kale with oil and salt. Using your hands, massage the kale for 3 minutes until the kale softens.

Toss kale with the lemon juice, then add grapes.  Sprinkle shaved parmesan cheese and chopped almonds before serving.  The recipe makes 4 meal size servings.

Kale is such a hearty vegetable that the salad doesn’t get soggy if you let it sit in the fridge over night.  I have always liked kale, but eating it raw like this is a great variation in preparing this super food.

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I used the lemons from my dwarf lemon tree. I’ve been feeding my unwanted boiled egg yolks to the soil and the little tree is bearing so many lemons.

“My Cool, Grey City of Love”

I had a break in the shooting schedule and decided to come home for a visit.  I talked to Peter everyday when I was away, but Angela was not one to reveal much over the phone.  I needed to come home.  Angela doesn’t believe in vacations.  She would only travel for a “serious purpose” as she puts it — meeting a mentor in New York, going to school in Andover, taking summer courses at Brown, or attending a cousin’s wedding in Los Angeles.  Since she doesn’t have a serious purpose in Budapest, she will not travel there. 

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With Angela in Pompeii when she was nine

I used to lug Angela around the world with me when she was younger, but slowly she stopped wanting to go anywhere.  I found out that the external and physical world has never held as much power for her as the inner and intangible world that exists only in her head.  The vast, fertile and zigzagging interior terrain is where she prefers to explore.

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In an effort to gain insight into her mind and to stay connected when I am not with her, I resort to reading the books that she has read, and carefully considering all the notes scribbled by her on the pages.  Angela often sells the books back to Green Apple Books, a local bookstore, after she’s finished reading them, but the store doesn’t accept the ones with too much doodling.  Those are the ones I inherit my conduit to her world.  I have also begun to follow Angela on Spotify and listen to the songs on her playlists.  In Budapest, I was reading The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz and listening to Troubled Mind by Marina and the Diamonds, imagining what Angela felt about certain metaphors or symbolism.  The longer I didn’t see Angela, the more consumed I became by the incessant wondering about what’s on her mind.  Only coming home and seeing her could relieve me. Nothing is more reassuring than hugging the healthy body of one’s own child.

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It was a glorious day in San Francisco, sunny, warm and with a pleasant sea breeze, not at all our typical foggy cold summer day.  Peter took off from work to spend time with me.  We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for lunch.  Poggio Trattoria was recommended to us by one of Peter’s patients, who lives in Sausalito.  Everything on the menu looked enticing to me.  Peter ordered grilled octopus for appetizer and seafood fregula pasta as main course.  I ordered burrata to start and grilled salmon with fresh summer corn for the main course. We loved all the dishes.  After a month of rich Hungarian food, the lighter Californian-Italian cooking was a much desired change for me.  A perfect and long overdue date with the man of my life.

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Octopus is one of Peter’s very favorite food

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Burrata is one of my very favorite cheeses

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If you ever visit Sausalito, Poggio is definitely worth your while to dine in.

Coconut Curry Halibut

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Summer is officially here.  The girls are all done with school!  No more early morning rushing, late night cramming or non-stop stressing about grades.  No more “I’m busy!” when we want to talk to them.  Angela went rock climbing for the whole day yesterday, and walked around the city with friends and tried out restaurants today.  How adult!  She found a job at the local psychic’s office, starting tomorrow.  We used to walk by her offices — yes, two offices on two high rent streets — and we used to joke that the psychic’s offices must be a front for some syndicate.  How else could she afford the rent?  Well, apparently, she is super busy according to Angela, who went with her friends to have their palms read as a prank.  Angela called at 5pm to book a reading, but was told that the psychic was busy until after 7:30.  “How could people be this stupid!” Audrey exclaimed, surprising me.  Audrey is always so innocent and gullible.  Tonight, Audrey and I went to a screening of Me and Earl and the Dying Girls Audrey laughed out loud at some parts of the film and sobbed her eyes out at some other parts.  I love taking her to the movies.  She is the best audience anyone could ask for.

For food, I made coconut curry halibut. Someone once said this about curry: “The tingling of the taste buds, the watering of the eyes – it’s almost like being in love.”  There weren’t watering of the eyes today because I made mine mild.  I remember that early in our marriage I made a Thai Green Curry beef with extra spicy Thai chilis and Peter nearly died.  He didn’t want to disappoint me too much by not eating so he rinsed the beef in water before putting it into his mouth.  Since we only knew each very briefly before we got married, we were still learning about each other in those early years.  From the curry beef, I learned that he did not like too much heat in his food, and he was a sweet man.

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Coconut Curry Halibut

Ingredients for the Fish:

1/2 teaspoon of each ground cumin

Cardamon

Coriander

Turmeric

Mustard

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

4 pieces 5 to 6 oz. halibut

2 teaspoon coconut oil

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Ingredients for the Curry:

1 cup each of diced potato

Carrots

Onion

1/2 red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon or more yellow curry paste (I used Mae Ploy)

1 can light coconut milk

2 tablespoon coconut oil

Chive and Cilantro for garnish

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Preparation:

Marinate the fish in cooking wine for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  Mix the first 6 ingredients in a bowl to make the rub for the fish.  Pat dry fish and spoon the rub onto the fish and use fingers to spread and rub the spices in.  Let stand in the fridge for 30 minutes.  If you are pressed for time, you can skip the marinating, but I always find fish or meat taste better after marinating in wine.

Heat a cast iron pan on high with the coconut oil, pan seared the fish, in 2 batches, for 3 minutes on either side or until opaque and just cooked through.  Set aside.

Heat coconut oil in a frying pan, sauté onion, garlic and curry paste until aromatic, add potato, carrots and coconut milk.  Bring to boil and lower stove to simmer for 2 minutes or until the carrot and potato are tender.  Add bell pepper and cook for another minute.

Place fish in 4 plates, ladle curried vegetables over the fish.  Garnish and serve.

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Kimchi Chicken

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Angela found a summer job writing for a website called OMGhow.com. It’s a website of the young people, for the young people and by the young people – and in Angela’s case very young people.  It took me a couple of days of pressing and cajoling before she revealed the name of the website to me.  She didn’t want Peter and me to read what she had written because according to her “they were horrible.” I checked out the website today after she finally divulged what it was.

There are many well meaning, but often naïve “how to” advice on a wide variety of subjects, from how to style summer hair, how to wear matte lipstick to how to love yourself.  Angela’s “how to” articles, though, are somewhat different: How to find someone’s address through Facebook? Or How to understand your ethical beliefs? The one that cracked me up the most was how to remove waterproof makeup. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the title because Angela has never ever worn any waterproof makeup in her life.  When I clicked on the article, the first thing I saw was some sort of a chemical structure diagram. It turned out to be a mini chemistry lesson.  I imagine someone click on it and go “Huh?” But to give her credit, I can also easily imagine some teenage girl becoming interested in her chemistry class after reading this.  Sometimes peer learning, no matter how childish, can be more effective than parents’ constant nagging.

I remember my parents gave my brother and me a series of books called 100,000 Why when I was growing up in China. They were mostly about science and nature.  In an era of few books, we loved them.  But the knowledge that my friends and I most enthusiastically passed among ourselves were how to sew a piece of elastic band on the waist of an otherwise shapeless jacket, or how to nail a piece of old rubber tire on the heels to give yourself extra height.  My best trick was how to get a discount from the peasant when buying a chicken.  You pretend to check the chicken out and smear tiger balm on its eyes.  The chicken would twitch and behave strangely after that and the farmer would be afraid that it’s sick and would try to sell it to you for a much lower price.

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My mischievous years in pigtails

I can imagine Angela having great fun writing a “how to” article with the chicken trick.  With her wicked imagination, her dark sense of humor and her penchant for the grotesque and the absurd, she would produce a fantastic fate for all involved,  but of course that would probably get her fired from her summer job.

When I was growing up in China, chicken was a luxury food and was reserved for the pregnant, the breastfeeding new mothers or the politically connected.  Nowadays, it is one of the most common and widely eaten food in both the US and in China.  So, it’s time to spice up the boring but versatile everyday staple.  Phew! I was wondering how I was going to get to Kimchi Chicken from where I was earlier.

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Kimchi Chicken Stir-fry

Ingredients:

8 oz. chicken breast, sliced into 1 x 1/4 inch pieces

6 stocks scallion, diagonally sliced

1/2 packed cup kimchi, juice squeezed out

1 tablespoon Asian cooking wine such as mirin

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon Go-Chu-Jang (Korean sweet & spicy sauce)

2 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon or more cooking oil

1/4 of a carrot, sliced diagonally

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Preparation:

Marinate the chicken in cooking wine, soy sauce, Go-Chu-Jang and cornstarch for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan on high heat.  Add the chicken into the wok and reserve the marinade.

Stir fry the chicken for two minutes.  Add carrot and scallion and continue to stir until chicken is opaque and cooked through.  Pour the remaining marinade into the pan and stir until thickened, about 1 minute.  Turn off stove and mix in the Kimchi.

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Poached Halibut in Shiitake Soy Broth

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Angela left on her own for Boston on a 6 AM flight.  I was surprised by her decision to fly back to Andover to visit her friends, many of whom will be graduating next month.  Angela has always hated to travel.  When we took her on a 3 week trip to Europe two years ago, she said we were “force feeding her caviar.”  When I wanted her to join me in Hungary, Malaysia and New Zealand this summer, she said emphatically, “No.  Why would I want to go there?  I hate traveling.  I will only fly when it’s necessary.”  No matter what I said, she could not be persuaded to go to these wonderfully exotic places to visit me.

Going to Andover to see her friends before they leave for college seems to be very important for Angela.  This is a new side of her that I didn’t know before — that she really cherished her ties with friends.  When she was in elementary school and middle school, I tried to organize playdates for her to develop stronger friendships, but she never wanted that.  I was afraid that she might take after me and be awkward and uncomfortable with people all her life.  In this sense I am happy and relieved that she is not like me.

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Angela (in red coat) with her friends in Andover from her first year there

When I asked her what she was going to do tomorrow with her friends, she said she would shadow them at their classes.  Angela is a true nerd who loves the classroom.  This is her way of bonding and spending time with her friends here at UHS, too.  She goes to their classes with them when she has a free period.  What kind of kid would want to go to classes that she didn’t have to go to?  But that is Angela for you. And I miss her terribly.

For dinner, I made this really delicious poached halibut. 

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Poached Halibut in Shiitake Soy Broth

4 6 ounces halibut

6 to 8 large dried shiitake mushrooms, or 12 to 16 fresh ones, sliced

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup Shaoxing cooking wine, or other Asian cooking wine

1 1/2 cup water

2 tablespoon goji berries (optional)

1 tablespoon xylitol or brown sugar

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 stocks green onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon ginger, thinly sliced + 4 thin slices for the broth

1 red jalapeño, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon cooking oil or sesame oil

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Preparation:

If you are planning to use the dried shiitake mushrooms, soak them in warm water for an hour and then wash them.  Save the soaking water, but not the sediments in the bottom.  Boil the shiitake in the soaking water to make them soft before slicing them.  Save the broth. 

If you are using fresh shiitake, wash and slice them and set aside.

In a cooking pan, on medium heat, heat up 1 1/2 cup of shiitake water, the sliced shiitake, the soy sauce, xylitol or sugar, goji berries, 4 slices of ginger and wine.  When the broth begins to boil, add the fish in and close the lid to cook for 6 to 8 minutes until the fish turns opaque.  Do not overcook; the fish meat will break apart and toughen if overcooked.

If there is not enough broth, add a little more water.  If the broth gets too deluded add a little more soy sauce.

When the fish is cooking, set a sauce pan on medium high.  Add 1 tablespoon of oil.  Test it with a slice of green onion or ginger to see if it sizzles.  When it does, add the sliced jalapeño, ginger and scallion in the oil and let it sizzle for about 45 seconds to a minute.

Separate the fish into 4 deep plates with equal amount of broth.  Pour the ginger, scallion jalapeño and the oil equally onto the 4 pieces of fish.  Serve immediately.

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Fresh Sweet Corn Salad & Fresh Sweet Corn Fried Rice

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Angela and I flew back from Los Angeles on the first flight in the morning because she needed to cram for the physics final exam.  Tomorrow will be her last day as a Junior in high school.  She is 16, but already prefers the atmosphere and white noise of an internet cafe to home when she wants to concentrate.  Not just some Starbucks or Peet’s, she’d find some independent coffee house or teahouse to nest for the entire day.  I imagine her, donning a pair of earbuds, nursing a cup of coffee at some quaint little corner table.   

For a while, I was adamantly against the girls’ listening to music while doing homework.  How do  you focus or think properly with this continuous droning on?  How do you not go mad?   I read or  I listen to music, but never simultaneously; for me either of them is quite full and complete on its own.  I suppose the only multitasking I do well is adding snack eating to everything that I do.

Lately I have come to realize that almost everyone in the world can listen to music and focus on his work.  My own inability is somewhat of an anomaly.  Some study even shows that people seem to focus better — stay in a zone as they say — while listening to music.  Both Angela and Audrey listen to music when they do their homework. and apparently they are doing just fine in all their classes  As a matter of fact, Angela produced some of her greatest writing while wearing a pair of earbuds. The question is: If there is music all the time, does it still have the same impact it once did?

I will share with you Angela’s English final project at the end of today’s blog.  When Peter read it, he said, “Huh?”  And Angela smiled, “It is a story about you and me.  Or mommy and me.”  I don’t think many kids can write a story about her and her parents in this way.  Angela said, “You’d kill the blog if you post random stuff like this.”  Well, it’s not random for me.  Forgive me if it wears down your patience.  

Today’s food is all about fresh sweet corn.  They are in season and they are delicious.  We had them for lunch, and then we had them again for dinner.

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Fresh Sweet Corn Salad with Meyer Lemon Honey Mustard Dressing

Ingredients for the Salad:

Kernels from 4 fresh corns

2 tablespoon finely minced red onion

1 avocado, diced

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup cucumber, seeded and diced

1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

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Ingredients for the Dressing:

Juice from 1 large Meyer lemon

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoon coarse ground Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

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Preparation:

Boil a large pot of water.  Put the shucked corn in the water when it reaches boiling temperature.  Boil for 2 minutes and rinse in cold water.  Cut the kernels off the cob.

Mix all ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.  Mix corn kernels with all the tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and cilantro in a salad bowl.  Pour dressing into salad and stir to coat.  Add avocado and gently toss before serving.

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Fresh Sweet Corn Fried Rice with Tofu

Ingredients for the Fried Rice:

Kernel from 2 fresh corns

1 cup chopped baby carrots

1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas

2 eggs + 1/4 cup egg white, beaten

2 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon minced green onion or chive

1 1/2 cup cooked brown rice

2 tablespoon low salt soy sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

1/2 teaspoon xylitol (optional)

A pinch of salt

Wok Spray

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I used canola oil)

Roast sesame seeds for garnishing

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Ingredients for Tofu:

1 box of silken firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch slices

Wok Spray

1 tablespoon of oyster sauce or 2 teaspoons of soy sauce

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Preparation:

Combine egg and egg whites in a small bowl and beat with a fork. Season with a pinch of salt.

Heat a large sauté pan or wok over medium high heat and spray with oil. Add the eggs and cook, turning a few times until set; set aside.

Add the cooking oil and sauté onions, scallion, peas and carrots and cilantro about 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft.

Add cooked brown rice to the pan and stir for about a minute or so.  Add soy sauce, fish sauce and xylitol mixture. Stir and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and toss to mix.  Turn of the stove.

Spray a separate non-stick pan on medium high, brown the sliced tofu on both sides.  Pour oyster sauce in the pan and turn off stove.  Mix to coat.

Separate the fried rice into 4 bowls and top with tofu.  Garnish with green onion and sesame seeds before serving.

Angela Audrey

As promised, here is Angela’s final project. Read at your own risk.

Angela Hui

Experiments in Fiction Period 3, Michael Holt

Due May 19, 2015

Final Project: “Redemption”

Retribution

Yesterday morning I awoke with my hair wet and limp as seaweed, with knots so beastly that I felt my cells screaming in each follicle as I forced my comb through every inch of matted mane. You told me this was punishment for my sins, which were accumulating like plaque in a glutton’s arteries, like vagabonds clogging a subway station. I stared back at you and said nothing, so you held my feather pillow to my face and kept the air out of my lungs until tears were coaxed from my swollen eyes.

When I noted how uncomfortably reassuring it was to feel the tears building up behind my eyelids, you remarked that the coldest days are the ones without snow, when the sky grows empty and our blood stagnates. I explained that the melting of snow is an exothermic reaction, which releases heat into the atmosphere, and I was reunited with my pillow until blackness slunk across my field of vision like a panther stalking its prey, like a conductor gradually silencing an orchestra.

Confession

Before I met you I did not know right from wrong, and like a mosquito buzzing from place to place and feeding on the blood of innocents, I let free my inner filth to pullulate godlessly through the city like a venereal disease through a college campus. I sold breath mints as ecstasy, went to bed with wet hair and later snorted the mold growing inside my pillowcase, drew pentagrams on my palms to keep Lucifer from prophesying my demise. Before you taught me to renounce the devil, he was my closest friend, and in the dark when my pupils dilated, his smoke-blurred silhouette could be seen branded into my retina.

In the nighttime I would gather in a circle with other youths and pass around a large silvery balloon, our conspiratory glances flitting about the room like bruised butterflies as we inhaled deeply from the buoyant phosphorescent orb. Our voices would become as dizzying and tart as hard lemonade bubbling in a demon’s cauldron. I liked to step back and listen to the strange noises my peers produced, but as the night drew on the sounds would always become increasingly jarring, like dissonant chords lunging, anguished and unrestrained, at my eardrums.

Without fail, I would sit silently at the kitchen counter the morning after, sipping canned soup and tea, wondering how much I had dreamt and how much I had forgotten. My roommate would stumble in as well, cheeks swollen, knuckles scraped, smelling of vomit and sadness; I would imagine her fantastic death, something that would provide a fire show to the stimulation-starved villagers, perhaps a kind of sudden incineration due to the sheer volume and flammability of alcohol in her veins. She would always hide the matches and the lighters, as if she knew how badly we all wanted to watch her burn, to admire the bright color of the flames, the air breathing back the energy that was once her soul.

I had come close before to killing her; I had once grabbed her turkey neck, wringing it and watching her eyes bulge and her fat limbs writhe, all because I did not want her to follow me around. Her every footstep was booming, her heels sending cracks straight into the earth’s core, each aftershock grabbing me by the sternum and shaking me savagely. The sky was empty on this day, and it was very cold; my hands would not stay steady and so she eventually escaped from my grip, sputtering obscenities and beating at the air with every breath as if punishing it for ignoring her cries.

The next day we both pretended that no attempt to slay her had been made: her downcast eyes refused to meet my gaze; I imagined the click of a lighter igniting her rippled flesh; I thought of roasting Brussels sprouts over her blazing carcass, selling her melted remains to high-end soap manufacturers, letting her turn to foam and dissolve into sudsy water and drain into oblivion.

Re-Education

After I met you I had to learn the error of my ways. It is impolite to kill, you taught me, and even the snapping of a twig warranted tearful repentance. You showed me the anguish experienced by every life form, even the trees surrounding the town park benches: I noticed the way they sprouted reluctantly, as if to avoid the mutilated corpses of their brethren, which had been stitched together to be exploited by humans and were now relegated to the realm of practicality rather than beauty, truly the most pathetic of Frankenstein’s monsters; I noticed the small patches of green growing rebelliously on the mangled trunks and branches, as though they were shaking their bleeding fists at humanity. Everywhere I went, I began to hear the mournful moans of nature, those astringently trilling tritones, fast quivering in the air that gasped godlessly and always forgot to die.

It is wrong to kill, always wrong to kill, you told me. For each log in the fireplace I began to see severed limbs and fingers trapped in their final contortions of terror, in each bowl of salad the uprooted hairs and fingernails of defenseless creatures, still lifes still life. You broke an old bottle of mine, slashed the jagged pieces across my forearms, reassuring me that the half-evaporated remnants of Belgian ale would prevent infection and facilitate scabbing. As my blood spurted into the soil and seeped into the tangled roots of the nearby mangroves, you explained that killing me twelve times over would not be enough, that I had caused too much suffering to ever achieve true penitence. When my eyes widened in shock, you spotted the image of Lucifer etched behind my irises and you freed them from their sockets, clutching them gently as though they were nacre-encrusted diamonds at long last released from the rusted jaws of dying oysters, and I felt pinkened globules of vitreous trickling slowly down my cheeks.

When my sight grew back, the devil was gone and I wondered whether he had ever existed outside of my vision. I could see again but my friends were missing; the beast had killed them when he dragged them down with him into the unreachable realm of the unreal.

Now you can repent, you said.

Repentance

Today I realized how many years of my life I hoped to undo and when you told me I could not change anything, I caught a spider and snapped off its legs one by one, smiling softly at the sound of each spindly limb popping off cleanly like a stem from a cherry. I heard the spider wailing in pain, its legless torso thrashing electrically before I removed its head and blew it into the sky as though it were a dandelion seed.

I asked you why I should repent if the past is permanent and your eyes faded to a lower harmonic before you admitted that memories could be altered and no one would ever know. But every contact leaves a trace, I protested.

Then you kicked sand over the corpse of the spider and said no, not if you are careful, not if time forgives you.

Angela,

This is great work. Diabolical, to be sure, but also clinically precise, well-organized in distinct chapters, and full of charged, wickedly enticing imagery. Though the voice of Schulz comes through most clearly, you are far along the path to creating a voice of your own. Your penchant for the grotesque has deepened, has entered an advanced, potentially irreversible stage. Things have reached the point where someone has to tell you it is wrong to kill. The “you” in this piece appears as a kind of savior, but a somewhat cruel, ironic one, intent on carving irremovable scars, on the one hand, and covering the past in sand on the other. That contradiction encodes your interlocutor with a gripping sense of mystery. Addressing the story to this person is one of the most inventive parts of your piece. It helps you generate the narrative movement from retribution to redemption. At the sentence level, too, this is consistently inventive work. Your images are terrifying vivid. My only suggestion would be that you pay a little more attention to the rhythm of your sentences. Your clauses are occasionally too long. Not your sentences—I like long sentences—but your clauses. Striving for a little more concision in your images would create even more intensity in your prose. It would deliver the content with greater impact. Try reading your sentences aloud to get a sense of what I mean. This is, however, a very small criticism. It is actually just a suggestion. Overall this is fantastic work that represents a lucid, inspired involvement with the things we’ve read in this class.

Michael       95/100