Carrot Lemongrass Soup and Watercress Salad with Sesame-Garlic Dressing

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A few days ago, I received a box of Smart Soup. There were five different flavors and today I tried the Vietnamese Carrot Lemongrass Soup.  It’s remarkable that this low-sodium, vegan frozen soup could be this flavorful and satisfying.  I enjoyed it even more than the Santa Fe Corn Chowder from the other day, which was also quite delicious.  I’m definitely going to stock more Smart Soup in my freezer.

This soup can go well with many of my Asian recipes, such as Asian peanut noodle with chicken, healthy pineapple fried rice, Thai lemongrass chicken or vegetarian aloha spring rolls

The soup complemented perfectly the salad that I made today.  Soup and salad made a perfect meal for a warm day like today.

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Watercress Salad with Sesame-Garlic Dressing

Ingredients for Dressing:

Juice from 1 large lime

1 tablespoon fish sauce (if you don’t have fish sauce you can use soy sauce)

1 tablespoon brown sugar or xylitol

2 teaspoon 100% pure sesame oil

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

1 minced jalapeno pepper

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Ingredients for Salad:

1 1/2 cup trimmed watercress or arugula

1 1/2 cup torn butter lettuce

3 to 4 radishes, thinly sliced

1 avocado, sliced

4 boiled eggs

1/4 cup finely chopped green onion

1/4 cup cilantro

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

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Preparation:

To make hard-boiled eggs, place in a small saucepan and cover with enough water to submerge the eggs.  Bring to boil and turn off the stove and let sit on the stove for 10 minutes before rinsing in cold water.  Cut into quarters.

To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

To make the salad, mix the lettuce, watercress, radishes, green onion and cilantro in a salad bowl.  Separate equally into 4 dishes.  Top each place with 1 egg, 1/4 avocado.  Pour the dressing over the salad and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Scones & Chili

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Breakfast Scones

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Turkey Chili

There is a good reason why Peter usually does the dishes.  I just cut my finger quite badly washing the knife given to me by renowned chef and cookbook author Martin Yan.  And I’m typing in pain.  With my finger wrapped in bandages, I can now truly attest to the sharpness of his knife.

What I made today were variations of the recipes that I had posted on the blog before.

For breakfast, I made the gluten-free, dairy-free scones from my earlier recipe.  I switched the dried fruit and the nuts.  You can make endless variations on the combination of dried fruits and nuts with this scone recipe.

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For dinner, I cooked turkey Chili.  I used a can of organic diced tomato instead of fresh tomatoes and the marinara sauce and I used the whole can of kidney beans instead of 1/2 can.  I also added 1/2 a red bell pepper.  It was as delicious as I remembered it to be.

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Delicious 10-minute Chicken Salad with Meyer Lemon Honey Mustard Dressing

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When Peter saw me typing up the title for the blog, he interjected, “Not just ‘delicious,’ it’s fantastic.  Why did I bother driving to Yountville when I can have this right at home?”  That’s nice.  He is certainly an appreciative customer, and of course, biased.  But this simple and scrumptious dish is one of my own favorites from the many recipes I have posted.  

I am finally going to start exercise more conscientiously now.  I only have 5 to 6 weeks to get back in shape, not only for the second season of Marco Polo which will start shooting in June, but also for the pretty summer dresses that no longer fit me.  I have to face the reality that my decades long, often intense relationship with nuts and cheeses has become unhealthy and is no longer good for me.  It will have to stop, especially those midnight rendezvous which I always regret in the morning — I don’t mean to stop seeing each other entirely, that would be too unbearable — but we will just be friends, for now at least.  When I turn 80, if I’m lucky to get there, I will rekindle my old flame like there is no tomorrow.

For now, I must try to develop a love for baby carrots — a rebound fling.

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10-minute Chicken Salad with Meyer Lemon Honey Mustard Dressing

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

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

Ingredients for the Salad:

2 to 2.5 oz Organic Herb Salad Mix

1 roasted chicken breast (I used Costco roast chicken)

1 avocado, diced

1/3 long English cucumber, thinly sliced

3/4 to 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

Fresh corn kernels from 2 corns, cooked or roasted

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Preparation:

Mix all ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.

Grill, roast or cook the corn and shave the kernels off with a serrated knife.  The quickest way is to cook it in boiling water on high for 2 to 3 minutes.  I wok charred 1/4 of the kernels on high heat for a minute or so.  

Lay a bed of herb salad mix in the salad bowl.  Top with slice the chicken breast cucumber, tomatoes avocado and the corn.  Pour in the dressing and give it a light toss. 

The recipe makes two large main course servings.

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If you like this one, be sure to try the Chinese chicken salad!

Naked Salmon Burger with Sriracha Mayo + Perfect As U Are

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Peter has been a fish lover for as long I have known him.  A few years ago, he had to stop eating fish for a while because his blood mercury level was too high from eating too much sushi at office lunches.  It goes to show that moderation is the key to good health.  Nowadays, we cook fish a few times a month and it always makes him very happy. 

Naked Salmon Burger with Sriracha Mayo

Ingredients:

For the Spicy Sriracha Mayo:

3 tbsp light mayonnaise (I used non-fat Fage)

1 tbsp sriracha

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For the salmon patties:

1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, diced

6 tbsp panko

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pound wild salmon fillet (mine weighed 1.1 pound)

1 large egg

1tbsp minced red onion

2 tbsp minced scallion

1/2 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

cooking spray

4 cups baby arugula

4 oz avocado, sliced

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Preparation:

Combine mayonnaise and sriracha, set aside.

Remove the skin from the salmon, and cut about a 4 oz piece off. Place in a food processor or chopper to finely chop. This will help hold the burgers together.  With a knife finely chop the remaining salmon.

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients for salmon patties and mix together. Form mixture into 4 to 5 patties and refrigerate at least one hour, this will help the burgers become firm and hold together during cooking.

Lightly coat a pan or skillet with cooking spray. Place over medium-high heat until hot. Cook the patties 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until cooked through.

Place arugula on each plate, top each with salmon burger, 1 tbsp of mayo and avocado slices – enjoy!

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Recipe inspired by skinnytaste.com

Angela has asked me to post the following photos of Audrey in an outfit from Perfect As U Are, a philanthropic clothing company that Angela likes and supports.

Perfect As U Are is dedicated to promoting positive self-image. For each product purchased, one dollar is donated to eating disorder awareness charities such as NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association.
Not only do these clothes support a good cause, but they are also very nice looking and carry optimistic messages.
Thank you Perfect As U Are for sending us these products! #SockItToED? Yes please.

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Quinoa Chickpea and Avocado Salad

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The weather has been so warm and sunny here in San Francisco lately that I could completely pretend it is summer.  So I decided to make this cheery, summery, delicious dish.  Try this salad!  It will transport you to June for a day.  

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Quinoa Chickpea and Avocado Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup quartered grape tomatoes

15 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup cooked quinoa (You can cook it with chicken broth or vegetable broth to give it more flavor.)

2 tbsp red onion, minced

1 tbsp green onion, minced

1 1/2 limes, juice of

kosher salt and fresh pepper, to taste

1 cup diced cucumber

4 oz diced avocado (1 medium hass)

Preparation:

Combine all the ingredients except for avocado and cucumber, season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Just before serving, add cucumber and avocado.

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Recipe adapted from skinnytaste.com

Lobsters and Love Junkee

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Costco is one my favorite stores in the world.  It has everything.  A friend once said to me, “If Costco doesn’t carry it, we don’t need it.”  I probably wouldn’t go so far, but I could certainly live quite happily with what Costco offers.  Not only I buy daily staples like milk, eggs and bread, I also buy my fancy food items there.  Today, I bought 6 huge fresh lobster tails for about 40 dollars.  They are so fresh and sweet that they could be enjoyed plain.  I think I have managed to find the perfect foil to the perfect food through this salad.

Citrus Lobster Salad with Avocado and Arugula

Ingredients:

4 fresh lobster tails

4 teaspoons finely chopped shallot

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon table salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 mandarin oranges (or other citrusy fruits such as orange and pink grapefruit) 

1 1/2 firm-ripe California avocado

2 oz baby arugula

Coarse sea salt to taste (optional)

Preparation:

Boil water in a large steamer.  When the water is boiling, put in the lobster tails.  Steam for 10 minutes.

When lobster is cool enough to handle, peel the shells and remove the veins on the back of the lobster.  Cut the meat into 1/2-inch-thick slices and chill lobster in covered container. 

While lobster chills, stir together shallot, lemon juice, and table salt in a small bowl and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Add oil in a stream, whisking.

Peel mandarin oranges. Halve avocado lengthwise, discarding pit and peel.  (Save 1 half, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for another use.)

Divide avocado and all of lobster meat between 4 salad plates and arrange mandarin orange slices around them. Top with arugula and drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt (if using) and serve immediately.

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After taking the pictures of my lobster salad, I turned my camera toward Audrey, who was staring at the computer screen in her newly acquired torn jeans and statement tees.  I was surprised by how mature she grew over night, on the cusp of adolescence.  We are lucky we live in the digital era when we can easily preserve in frames the fleeting moments of our children’s lives.

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Audrey’s new clothes were generously provided by Love Junkee, which was described by Angela’s friends as being “like Brandy Melville, but cooler and not overpriced.”

Recipe inspired by Epicurious

Spicy Turkey Sausage Chili with Avocado

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Cleaning out the closet today, I debated the fate of an old sweater from the 1993 Telluride Film Festival.  I have pulled it out from the donation pile many times through out the years.  It’s more than 20 years old and quite tattered, but I just can’t part with it because there is quote on the sweater that I found beautiful.  It says, “Through out her youth, she was often disconcerted to discover her most secret, most formless sentiments and desires, given their own robust life every Saturday afternoon, at the picture show.”  This evocative image of an ordinary woman transfixed and transported in the cinema, is extraordinary to me.  I want to make films for her.

Some possessions I seem to discard without batting an eye lash, such as my old iPhones, but some others have a mysterious hold on me, such as this dear old sweater.  It goes without saying that it’s going back into the closet drawer.

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Spicy Turkey Sausage Chili with Avocado

Ingredients:

3 links lean turkey sausage, casings removed

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tomatoes, diced

2 tablespoon marinara sauce, or 1 tablespoon tomato sauce

3/4 chicken broth

1/2 tsp cumin, or to taste

1/2 can kidney bean, rinsed and drained

1/4 tsp paprika

1 bay leaf

fresh cilantro, for garnish

1 teaspoon lime juice for coating the avocado after it is cubed

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Preparation:

In a large skillet, brown turkey over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks into smaller pieces.

When meat is browned, add wine, onion and garlic; cook 4 minutes over medium heat. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, cumin, chili, paprika, and bay leaf, stir for about 2 minutes.

Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf, add avocado (coated with 1 teaspoon lime juice) and cilantro.  Serve immediately.

This recipe makes 4 servings, but Peter and I each had two large bowls of it.  I had to refrain from licking the bowl.  Yes, it’s that good!

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Black Bean Salad with Corn Avocado Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

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A friend is visiting me from Los Angeles.  It’s her birthday, and we decided to celebrate by taking the cruise to Alcatraz Island.  I tend to take this amazing city for granted until a friend or relative shows up and I take them sightseeing.

It was a glorious day.  The sun was shining, and the flowers were blooming, and there was a provocative art installation in some of the old prison buildings.  I found that these dilapidated buildings with broken windows and peeling paint were perfect settings for an art exhibition. 

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The last time I went to Alcatraz there was a bad storm.  We couldn’t have picked a worse day.  My parents came to visit us from Shanghai, and it was their last day in San Francisco.  Against Peter’s advice, I took them and the girls to Alcatraz.  Everyone got dreadfully wet and cold, and we shivered all the way home after only staying on the island for one hour. It was quite miserable. That was almost ten years ago.  When I visited my parents in Shanghai last month, they talked to me so fondly of the time they spent visiting us.  Even the Alcatraz trip became a wonderful adventure. 

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“Blossom”

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Looking at the eroded buildings around me today, I thought of my parents, my children; I thought of time — its relentless and indifferent march.  And yet in my subjective world, once seized, time is also malleable.  It becomes our memory and stretches to fill our imagination.

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Black Bean Salad with Corn Avocado Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup frozen corn kernels, cooked

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons minced red onion

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Colavita

1 teaspoon lime zest (be sure to zest limes before juicing them)

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

2 Hass avocados, chopped

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Instructions:

Combine all ingredients except for avocados in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and chill for a few hours or overnight. Right before serving, add avocados and mix gently, being careful not to mash avocados. Garnish with a more chopped cilantro if desired. Serve at room temperature.

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 Recipe adapted from : http://www.onceuponachef.com

My first kiss went a little like this…

Chase painting Joan

Chase painting me when I was 19 before I came to the US

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Vanity Fair Magazine write-up on the book Chase and I made

Dusting the living room coffee table this morning, I saw the book my brother Chase and I made when we were starving artists in Los Angeles.  We reminisced about our childhood in China, which was still a strong influence in Chase’s art work after he came to the US.  Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa wrote in his Letters to a Young Novelist: “The novelist doesn’t choose his themes; he is chosen by them.  He writes on certain subjects because certain things have happened to him.”  This is also true with artists or filmmakers. 

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Chase and I being the Marx brothers for Halloween

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Chase’s self portrait from that era

I am sharing parts of the book here in this blog:

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When we were children, we spent most of our time leaning on the window, looking out and day dreaming. 

My brother taught me how to really see the things that we looked at, how there were shapes in what appeared to be one shape, and colors in what I thought to be one color.  How did he know all this?  I didn’t know.  He was older than me.  Older brothers knew these things.

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We stared at the black roof tiles, grey buildings, brown dirt and green tree tops for hours on end.  The geometry of the shadow changed as the day went on.  The clouds were never the same from minute to minute.  Nature went out of its way to please us — kids with no toys.

One morning, just before dawn, I woke up to see my brother propped up on his elbows by the window sill.  He had the abstract expression of someone in a trance.  Curious, I joined him and looked out.  Everything slumbered still in primeval blue, blurred and dewy.  The world was absolutely calm and still, I could hear my own heart beating.  It was as though the first time in my life I became aware of the creature that was myself.  And I was living the morning’s first stirring breath of air, the first bird taking wing and the sun winking above the horizon.

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Why is it that some moments stay with us, moments that didn’t seem significant?  I close my eyes and I can see the blue mist of that morning, and feel the moist air in my nostrils.

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My mother saw us looking at the sky and bought us a picture book called Forecast the Weather by Observing the Sky.  She hoped that our staring at the sky would somehow turn into an educational experience.  “The red sky forecast a high wind and storm tomorrow,” I’d account at the end of the day.  Or, “the fish-scaled clouds suggest a light drizzle.” I finally had something important to say.

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My mother with my brother Chase in front of our house

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Even in the coldest of winter, we sat by the window and stared.  Our feet rested upon a round box made of wrought iron, filled with poplar wood cinder, covered with fine ashes.  The box was called a foot-warmer.

Before Lunar New Year, after my mother did the rationed special purchase for the festivity, our room would be filled with the warm odor of chestnuts, sweet yams, or dates being cooked in the foot-warmer.  I would feel happy and drowsy from the sweet aroma and carbon monoxide that the brazier emanated.

We looked into other people’s windows too.  Some of the windows looked like mirrors of our own.  The same little faces staring back, lost in their imaginations or boredom.  In the window across from ours lived an older girl with very long black hair.  Every time she lifted her arm to tie her pony tail, I wished I was her.  My mother caught me watching and said, “A big waste of soap to wash all that hair.”  Soap was scarce.  Throughout my childhood, the length of my hair stayed firmly at my earlobe.

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One window always had its curtain drawn.  I heard the other children say that there was a ghost living in that house.  She only came out at night to steal little children.

The curtain was made of a pale blue cotton, dotted with tiny yellow flowers.  Where the flowers had been, there were little holes.  The yellow dye at the time was somehow very erosive and tended to eat through the fabric.

One night my brother and I decided to climb up to that window.  We peeked throughout the yellow flowers.  A ghost! I gasped and nearly fell.  She was an old woman with a very white face, ghastly blue eyes, and a long nose.  We later learned that she was a foreigner, an American.  She had married a handsome Chinese doctor a long, long time ago.

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The day came when I was no longer content with seeking hidden colors in the grey wall.  I had noticed a neighborhood boy and waited for him to pass by every day.  The billowing of the beige curtain in the breeze felt like a caress on my face.  One afternoon, he looked up and saw me.  Did he hear the clamor that my senses made?  I felt like spilling out the window.

This was the time when students were being sent down to work on the farms.  The night before he left, he put his mouth against mine and moved his lips in a funny way.  I didn’t know that was called a kiss.  Nobody told me.  All I knew was I wanted the return of those lips.  That night was the first sleepless night of my life.

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My second sleepless night was during a moist and hot summer.  The girl with long hair was not at her window.  In her place was her grandmother.  Grandmothers didn’t stare out the windows.  They were always cleaning rooms and cooking in the kitchen.  But this one stared.  At nothing.  She seemed to be waiting for something, but I didn’t know what.  Nobody ever came.  She was just in her window, staring, cut off from the world.  It was not the kind of expression that I was used to see in windows.

Then she climbed up and sat on the sill, new black shoes on her bound feet.  My heart missed a beat when I saw her jump out.  Later, I heard that she had wanted to die, but the building was not high enough.  She broke her legs and many ribs.  She had been rich.  Her late husband had owned factories and land.  She was the enemy of the proletariate.  I swore by that window that I’d never be rich.

My family, too, was once well-to-do.  My grandparents owned much land, and had an American education.  They adopted a “better attitude” toward the revolution and gave away most of our eight room house to families that had no house of their own. My brother and I didn’t mind that much about the crowded chaos, but we missed our back room windows.

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My grandparents with their children. My father is the handsome dude in the back

Soon, we made friends with the people who had invaded our house.  The back rooms that they occupied had a view of the long, narrow garden that grew in what had a dried up river bed.  In the spring, the air was perfumed by blooming flowers and fresh cow droppings.  I would stand by the window, breathe in with all the force that my lungs could muster, and sneeze the most satisfying and intoxicating sneeze.

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Beyond the long and narrow garden was a pasture.  My brother would be cow-watching as I sneezed.  For him, their melancholy slow pace radiated resignation and dignity — nowhere worth hurrying to, nothing worth fretting about.  Their black and white hides reflected the blue of the sky, the brown of the earth, the green of the grass.  As for me, I saw only their pink nipples and longed for ice cream.

Ice bream was a rarity in China when we were growing up.  I heard from other girls that you would be rewarded with a bowl of ice cream if you were lucky enough to have your tonsils taken out.  It was minor surgery, but performed without anesthesia.  I convinced my mother, and we went for the operation.  And they did give me a bowl of ice cream to sooth my throat.  But swallowing hurt so terribly that I gave my reward to my brother.

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So many years have passed.  We’ve left behind our childhood.  The windows are on the other side of the earth now.  My brother is still fascinated by the cows and pastures.  Me? I’m still fascinated by the pink nipples and vanilla ice cream.

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The first time I saw an avocado grove and tasted an avocado was when I visited Ojai with Chase, where he painted some of his paintings at the time.  The creamy buttery texture, the floral earthy smell and the complex taste made an indelible impression.  Now that my children are both vegetarians, I use avocados in our meals very often.  They are nutritious and very satiating.

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I used a simple recipe from allrecipe.com with minor changes:

4 large tomatoes, chopped (I used grape tomatoes)

4 avocados – peeled, pitted and diced

1 red onion, thinly sliced (I used red shallots) 

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste

1 (8 ounce) bottle balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing (I used Balsamic glaze and fresh lemon)

I also added a few kernels of fresh sweet corn that is not in the original recipe

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