Moroccan Chickpea & Turkey Stew

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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.

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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

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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.

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Adapted from: skinnytaste.com

Chinese Shredded Pork + Homemade Graham Crackers

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Parenting drama erupted between Peter and Audrey.  Having been woken up multiple times two nights in a row and working without a weekend brought Peter pretty much to the brink of his  breaking point.  Audrey’s insolent attitude was all it took for him to fly into a rage.  I will not give you the blow by blow, but let’s just say it was pretty bad.  All of us were exhausted by the emotional strain.  Everyone felt hurt, victimized and guilty.

I escaped to the kitchen.  As I stepped away and began methodically cleaning up the kitchen, I felt a calm fell on me like a fuzzy blanket.  I remembered an old Chinese proverb 退一步海阔天空, which means “Retreat one step, the sea is wide, the sky limitless.”  The proverb is actually from a couplet that starts with 忍一时风平浪静, meaning “Tolerate one moment, the wind turns calm, the waves peaceful.”  I’m afraid I may have lost the beauty in the original words that carry such a visual sense of the sudden broadening of the horizon in front of you when you shift your perspective by taking one little step back. Of course we couldn’t all live in such a philosophical and detached manner as in Chinese proverbs.  We never feel we are good enough as parents simply because we love our children too much to feel anything is good enough.

There is a Shanghainese term for children 讨债鬼 — debt collecting ghosts — meaning whatever you do, you owe them.  When I was growing up I heard this phrase yelled out by neighbors and friends’ parents all the time, but I never thought much about it.  For some reason, my parents never called my brother and I 讨债鬼. They were too cultured for it, I suppose.  Certainly we gave them just as much grief. 

Audrey had a complete recovery from her hysteria in the afternoon when a friend came to visit and they ate ice cream sandwiches together.  Audrey was chatting and laughing like nothing had ever happened.  Her friend said that she didn’t have eaten and began eating the leftover shredded pork that I made for lunch.  She loved it, “This chicken is really good,” she kept saying.  And I wasn’t sure if I should tell her that this was not chicken.  I was afraid she might be grossed out.  I have learned that in America, not everyone likes pork as I do.  Instead of explaining the dish, I casually asked her if she ever fought with her father.  She nonchalantly said yes, about once a week.  I asked what about and she said usually over small things.  I felt somewhat relieved that what happened this weekend was not unique to our household.

The two girls went shopping at Target, each bought a bag of “things.”  Audrey bought a pair of bunny ears for Easter, lolly pop, Febreeze and a pink rabbit mold, all for 11 dollars.  The shopping spree gave her the leisurely pleasure she wanted today, but I’m sure these things will be forgotten and get piled up somewhere at a corner in a couple of weeks. Once again sabotaging my efforts at “discarding what no longer spark joy” as per Marie Kondo.

When Peter came back from work at 8 pm, Audrey went to him and said, “I’m sorry I gave you the attitude.”  Peter’s exhausted face lit up as he gave her a big bear hug.  I am proud that Audrey instinctively understood to “retreat one step.”

I thought of a passage from Housekeeping, one of my favorite books by one of my favorite writers Marilynne Robinson: “At a certain level housekeeping is a regime of small kindnesses, which, taken together, make the the world salubrious, savory, and warm.  I think of the acts of comfort offered and received within a household as precisely sacramental.”

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Shredded Pork Tenderloin with Peppers

Ingredients for the Marinade:

2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp minced ginger

Ingredients for the Dish:

8 oz. pork tenderloin

1 tsp corn starch

1 tsp pure sesame oil

1 large jalapeño pepper, sliced lengthwise

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

3 tbsp scallion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp ginger, minced (1/2 for the marinade and 1/2 for cooking)

1 1/2 tbsp canola oil

Ingredients for the sauce:

2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp rice vinegar

2 tsp xylitol or brown sugar

1/4 tsp corn starch

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Preparation:

Wash the pork and slice the pork into 1/4 inch by 2 inch strips.  Rinse the pork until all the pink in the water is clear, drain.  Marinate pork in wine and soy sauce for 30 minutes to 2 hours in the fridge.

In the meantime, slice the peppers, set aside.  Mince the garlic, ginger, scallion.  Add 1/2 tsp minced ginger in the marinade and mix the rest with minced garlic and minced scallion in a small bowl. 

Drain the marinade from the pork and add 1 tsp corn starch, 1 tsp sesame oil and mix well with your hand or a spoon.

Heat the oil on high heat in a wok, sprinkle some minced garlic, ginger, scallion and let it sizzle for a while.  Add the shredded pork and stir for one minute.  Add all the garlic, ginger, scallion and stir for one more minute.  Add the peppers and continue to stir for another 2 minutes.  Pour in the sauce and give it a few good stir before turning of the stove. 

Homemade Graham Cracker

Ingredients:

1 cup plus 2 tbsp whole-wheat flour (or white, or arrowhead mills gf will work, too)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp salt

3 tbsp xylitol

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tbsp blackstrap molasses(or maple syrup)

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 tbsp water or milk of choice

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Preparation:

Combine dry ingredients. Combine wet in a separate bowl, then mix together. Form a ball with your hands (or, if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, put the mixture in a plastic bag and squish into a ball). Place the ball on a piece of wax paper, then place another sheet on top and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into very thin (graham-cracker) width. Cut into squares or cookie-cuttered shapes, and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, depending on whether you like your graham crackers super-soft or crispy.

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Adapted from: chocolatecoveredkatie

Chinese New Year Potstickers

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When I was growing up in Shanghai, winter break from school usually began a week or so before Lunar New Year.  My mother would take me and my brother to the fabric store, and then to the tailor’s to have new clothes made.  For many years during our childhood, this would be the only time when new clothes were made — one set for cold weather and one set for warm weather.  Though I loved to have new clothes, the more exciting part about winter break was the food preparation for the New Year.  My brother and I would get up very early in the mornings leading up to the New Year’s Eve to stand in line to buy eggs, pork or rice cakes.  Meat or poultry or belt fish would be hung on the clothesline on the balcony, which was like a natural fridge, to get “wind dried.”  Once a year before the Lunar New Year, each family could also purchase the rationed luxury food of half a kilo of red dates, half a kilo of smoked black dates and half a kilo of peanuts.  A man who traveled with a coal stove and a fire blackened popping contraption would arrive around this time to pop corn, rice or dried rice cake slices for the children in the neighborhood.  The contraption would make a loud explosive sound when it was ready to pour out the popped grains, and the waiting crowd would cheer wildly.  During those years of scarcity, the anticipatory thrill of the New Year feast was almost too much for me to bear. 

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There would always be cousins from out of town coming back to see their grandparents during this time.  Their parents — my parents’ siblings — had been assigned jobs in remote regions where life was much harder than ours in Shanghai.  I envied them for having the opportunity to ride in trains.  Little did I know how hard the train trips were during Lunar New Year when some of my cousins had to sit or sometimes stand in packed trains for two days to get to Shanghai. 

My mother called me from Shanghai to tell me that she and my father are meeting with their siblings in Shanghai for lunch today.  Like me, most of their children now live in America.  And our children have no idea what New Year feast used to mean to us. 

Today, I taught Audrey how to make dumplings — a Lunar New Year must-eat food.  It’s supposed to bring prosperity to the family for the shape of the dumpling resembles Yuan Bao — the ancient gold bullion.  

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Ingredients:

2 pack store-bought dumpling wrappers

Water, for wrapping

Filling for Pork Shrimp Cabbage Dumplings:

8 oz ground pork

4 oz shelled and deveined shrimp, cut into small pieces

1/2 heaping cup thinly sliced Napa cabbage 1 stalk scallion, cut into small rounds

1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese Shaoxing wine or rice wine

3 dashes white pepper powder

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

A good pinch of salt

Filling for Spinach Braised Tofu Dumplings:

10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, drained and squeezed dry

6 oz. braised tofu, or Five Spice Tofu or Wildwood Savory tofu

5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and squeezed dry, chopped

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

A good pinch of salt

A dash of white pepper powder

1 egg white

1 teaspoon corn starch

Dipping Sauce:

Chinese black vinegar

Soy sauce

Chopped scallion

Pepper flakes

Sesame oil

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Preparation:

Mix all the ingredients of the Filling in a bowl, stir and mix to combine well. Set aside. To make the Dipping Sauce, combine some 1 portion of black vinegar, 1 portion of soy sauce, 1/2 portion sesame oil, scallion and pepper flakes in a small sauce dish.

To assemble the dumplings, take a piece of the dumpling wrapper and add about 1 heaping teaspoon of the Filling in the middle of the wrapper. Dip your index finger into a small bowl of water and circle around the outer edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the dumpling over to form a half-moon shape. Finish by pressing the edges with your thumb and index finger to make sure that the dumpling is sealed tight.

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If you want to the dumplings to sit up, you fold the wrap one said flat and the opposite side bunched.  Place the dumplings on a flat and floured surface to avoid them from sticking to the surface. Repeat the same to use up all the filling.  The dumplings taste the best when eaten freshly wrapped, but you can also freeze the dumplings for future enjoyment.

Heat up a pot of water until it boils. Drop the dumplings into the boiling water and cover the pot. As soon as the dumplings start to float (meaning they are cooked), remove them using a slotted spoon, draining the excess water and serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

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Or you can make potstickers by heating up 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick pan, making sure the the entire bottom of the pan is coated with oil. Line the dumplings in the pan.  Let the dumplings sit and sizzle for half a minute and pour 2/3 cup of water with 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar into the pan and cover the lid.  When the water is dry, the potstickers are ready.

Recipe adapted from: http://rasamalaysia.com

Creamy Potato Leek Soup – Healthified!

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Angela and Audrey attended preschool at The Playgroup in Ann and Gordon Getty’s house.  It was the best start in life anyone could ask for.  There were almost as many teachers as there were children.  And every child was embraced for who he or she was.  We couldn’t have been luckier to be given such a generous gift from Ann.

Tonight, Peter and I went back to the Getty home to attend a fundraising party for The Playgroup prior to its move to the Presidio.  It was quite wonderful and nostalgic to see the teachers who helped shape the girls’ character and were a part of their childhood memories.  It was especially nice to hear anecdotes about the girls that we didn’t know about or have forgotten.  We met the parents of Lonna Corder, the amazing principal of the school at tonight’s event.  Lonna’s mother told me that when she met the 3-year-old Angela at The Playgroup, Angela said to her, “Hi, if you think I speak Chinese, I don’t.” without anyone asking her.  Interesting psychology.  She was fluent in Chinese.  As a matter of fact, Chinese was her first language.  Did she project what she imagined others saw in her?  Did she not want to be different from others?  Was she laboring through the intricate process of finding her identity and her place in the world? 

I will not know the answers to these questions, but I have an inkling that that was the first step of a journey — a lifelong journey to continuously evolve and form new identities.

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Lonna made this shadow box for every graduating student.

Speaking of The Playgroup, the school had a gourmet chef who would cook up fancy lunches for the teachers, the children and the visiting parents, but my children turned their noses up at caviar blinis and whined for macaroni and cheese, which they also had – baked and topped with seasoned bread crumbs, of course; none of that easy mac business.

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Creamy Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic (sliced)

3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), slice into medallions

2 large russet potatoes (about 18 ounces total), peeled, diced

3 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 can fat free Evaporated Milk

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon parsley

A few dashes of Ground Cumin, Cayenne Pepper and Coriander (optional)

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400; coat 10 to 12 medallions of leeks and 1/4 of the cubed potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a roasting pan.  Roast for 12 to 15 minutes or until tender.

Heat 2 tablespoon oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and the remaining leeks; stir until aromatic. Cover saucepan; cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes. Cover and cook until potatoes begin to soften but do not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add broth and evaporated milk. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in processor until smooth. Add roasted potatoes and leek medallions. Return to saucepan. Season with salt, pepper and spices.  Bring to boil.  Ladle into 4 bowls with 2 medallions of roasted leeks and roasted potatoes in each bowl. Garnish with chives and parsley and serve.

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Recipe inspired by: http://www.epicurious.com

Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

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 I got a call today from a friend whom I haven’t heard from in a long time.  She is very much into astrology, and some years ago she had my astrological chart read by some very renowned astrologist in Shanghai unbeknownst to me.  She shared the findings with me afterwards and I remember one of the things was that I should never wear the color brown.  She meant well, but I told her I didn’t believe in astrology.  Through out the years though, what she said would pop up in my mind whenever I shopped for clothes.  And subconsciously I avoided buying anything that was brown.

Today’s call was about some dissonance between my astrological sign in the Year of Ram.  My friend had my sign read again and was calling to warn me to be extra careful.  Now what do you do with a call like this? 

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Well, the Chinese remedy everything by eating the right kind of food.  One of the lucky foods that we eat during Luna New Year is Kumquat.  As a matter of fact, any citrus fruit is considered lucky because the word “citrus” sounds like the word “auspicious.” Kumquat is the most auspicious because it sounds like “golden auspicious.”  

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Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cup 100% whole wheat flour

1/4 cup canola oil

1 cup Kumquat jam (see note)

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup pecan nuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup nonfat lemon Greek yogurt

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

The recipe makes about 16 – 18 muffins.

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Preparation:

Mix all dry ingredients together.  Add all wet ingredients in the mixed dry ingredients.  Mix well, but don’t over mix.  Leave a little lumpiness in.

Preheat oven at 375, line or grease muffin pan.  Add muffin mix to the cups and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. 

Serve with Greek yogurt and kumquat jam.

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Note:

I made the kumquat jam the day before with about 1 pound kumquats, 1 cup xylitol (or sugar), 1 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract.  Cut and seed the kumquats and cook with all ingredients for 30 to 40 minutes. 

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

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I caught Audrey listening to Taylor Swift while practicing piano a couple of times.  I also caught her practicing with one hand while snacking with the other a couple of times.  Finally I decided that her playing piano was a futile effort for everyone involved.  Peter and I sat her down a couple of weeks ago and told her that we were letting her off the hook, that it was okay with us if she didn’t play the piano any more.  Unexpectedly, she said she didn’t want to stop.  She insisted on continuing to take lessons.  We told her that it would be her choice to either practice much more conscientiously or to stop entirely.  We told her to think it overnight and let us know her decision the next day.  The next day Audrey solemnly declared that she would practice everyday and with focus, that she wanted to continue piano. 

It’s been about two weeks since her own decision to continue playing the piano and I am hearing a marked improvement in her playing.  Life is full of surprises.

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

Ingredients:

1 yam (spiralized or sliced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil (melted)

1/4 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

1/2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Coat the spiralized or sliced yam with coconut oil and shaved coconut in a baking pan.  Spread a thin layer of yam in the baking dish. You may need two baking pans for this.  The fries will not be crispy if the layer is too thick.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes and then flip over. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until browned. 

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Roast Brussels Sprouts and Apple Salad

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A friend came over for lunch today and we commiserated with each other on motherhood.  She has just gone through the grueling college application process with her twin boys and I’m about to take Angela on a college tour next month. I don’t know when it all began, but it seems that the college admissions process has turned into a war that requires endless amounts of strategy. 

I was told that in some cultures in the ancient times, children would be chased out of the house into the wilderness at a certain age, and they were not supposed to come home again until after they’d hunted a tiger.  The rite of passage for today’s kids is not any less difficult, except the “tigers” they are sent out to hunt are those ever elusive brand-name colleges.

Much like the ancient times, there is not much mothers can do to help their children hunt the “tigers.”  All we can do is love them.  As we ate this delicious salad, our conversation quickly turned from the stress of college application to the joy of food  — the balm that cures almost anything.

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Roast Brussels Sprouts and Apple Salad

Ingredients for the sweet hot mustard:

1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. coarse ground Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar or honey

1/4 tsp. Sriracha sauce

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Ingredients for the salad:

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 lb. (500 g) brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered

1 cup (125 g) black walnuts, toasted

1 1/2 red apples, such as Fuji or Gala, cored and thinly sliced

1 Tbs. honey lemon peel (optional & see note)

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Preparation for the Sweet Mustard:

In a bowl, whisk both mustards, vinegar, brown sugar and Sriracha sauce. Reserve 3 Tbs. mustard for the salad; refrigerate the rest for up to 4 weeks.

Preparation for the Salad:

Preheat oven to 450F.  Wash, trim and cut the brussels sprouts.  Coat sprouts with 2 Tbs. olive oil in a roasting pan.  Roast for 15 to 17 minutes or until tender.  Take out and set aside.

In a large nonstick fry pan, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high. Sauté the shallots until slightly browned. 

Toss together brussels sprouts, sliced apples, walnuts, shallots with 3 Tbs. sweet mustard.  Season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter and serve.

I squeezed some fresh lemon juice on the sliced apples to prevent them from turning yellow.

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Note:

Sometime ago, Audrey made lemonade with about 10 lemons.  The lemon peels looked so fresh and smelled so fragrant that I saved them.  I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and let marinate in the fridge over night.  The next day I boiled about 4 cups of water.  When the water was boiling, I squeezed dry the peels, discard the pulp still left in them, cut them into slices and then added the peels to the pot and brought it to boil again.  Then I drained the peels and transfer them into a glass jar, soaked in honey.  They turned out delicious.

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Recipe inspired by:

Williams-Sonoma

Vegan Blueberry Muffin Bread

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One simply feels blessed coming back from anywhere to California in wintertime.

I have been traveling between China and the US many times a year for more then 30 years and I still suffer from jet lag.  Before the children were born, I would get up in the middle of the night and begin moving heavy furniture around the house.  I would put towels under the legs of the furniture and move almost anything by myself.  When Peter woke up in the morning, he’d be surprised to see how the rooms had changed.

Nowadays, when I’m jet lagged I just get up and cook.  Peter got called to the hospital at around 3 AM this morning and when he walked downstairs to the kitchen, I already finished baking the vegan blueberry bread.  The warm toasty aroma brought a smile to his tired face. 

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As I sit here in the afternoon sun writing the blog, I hear peals of laughter from Angela who is reading George Saunders’ story “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.”  I make a mental note to read the story and see if it will appear to be funny to me as well.  I usually don’t understand the newspaper comics that the girls love.  And they don’t think I have any sense of humor.  They also get exasperated when I laugh at inappropriate times when others don’t see anything funny.  I suppose humor is the hardest thing to translate.  The girls, though, believe simply that my brain doesn’t function so well anymore.

I sometime wonder if they will ever understand the cultural gulf that I have managed to cross to be who I am.

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Vegan Blueberry Bread Ingredients:

2 cups 100% whole wheat flour (250g)

1/2 tsp plus 1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon, optional

1/2 cup xylitol or sugar of choice (100g)

1 cup almond milk or milk of choice (240g)

1 tbsp white or apple cider vinegar (15g)

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil (30g)

1 1/2 cups blueberries (200g)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and grease a 9×5 loaf pan. In a large measuring bowl, stir together the first 5 ingredients. In a separate measuring bowl, whisk together all liquid ingredients except the blueberries.

Pour wet into dry, stir until just evenly combined, then add the blueberries and VERY gently stir them in only until evenly mixed. Do not over-stir, as this would break the blueberries and you’d end up with purple bread.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake 45 minutes on the middle rack. Do not open the door, but turn off the oven and let the bread sit inside the oven for another 30 minutes. Makes 10 big, fat slices.

This recipe has been adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie.

Pickled Green Turnip, A Taste From My Childhood

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Shanghai has changed so much in the recent years that most of the places from my childhood memory no longer exist, but the familiar foods are still everywhere from my parents’ house to street vendors.  And they fill me with nostalgia.
Yesterday I made a jar of pickled green turnip and it’s ready to eat today! They make the crunchiest and most refreshing appetizer or a side dish or a savory snack. I used to have pickled or dried turnip with porridge at breakfast every morning. I never thought they were particularly delicious in anyway.  They were just a part of a very meager diet.  Back then, no one had refrigerators and we often pickled or dried our food to preserve them.  But this once mundane everyday staple became completely new and special after decades of living in America.
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Basic Pickled Turnip Ingredients:
2 turnips
30 to 40 grams salt or to taste
4 to 6 chili peppers
1/4 teaspoon peppercorn or Chinese 花椒
1 pack Equal or other sweetener that is not sticky
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Preparation:
Wash and scrub and peel the turnips.  Slice them into two inch long wedges.  Mix all the ingredients in a mixing bowl or any large container before transferring them to a jar.  Let it stay for at least an hour and up to two days, either in the fridge or in room temperature.  Pour out all the juice that came out of the turnip.  Press a serving spoon on the turnip and squeeze out as much water as you can.
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Marco Pol(l)o

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Marco Polo just got renewed for a 2nd season!  Yay!  Reunion with my Mongolian Beef and hordes of international eye candy.  And of course playing the wonderful Empress Chabi. This is exciting news for everyone involved, myself included.

But what about my family?  Though my girls act as if I annoy them all the time, they are at an age when they most need a mother’s guidance and influence.  In my younger days, I used to love this caravan life of a circus person — traveling the world while doing something I loved to do.  Having children has changed everything. While I believe many can do my job as an actress or filmmaker, only I can be the mother for my children.  There are times I become paralyzed by the prospect of a great opportunity, knowing fulfilling my desire and realizing my dreams professionally also mean abandoning the people I love.   P1020077

Work is a double edged sward for me.  Perhaps it is so with most working mothers.  I realize that I am lucky to be in this dilemma.  Many people don’t have the choices that I’m facing.  The ingredients of fulfillment is difficult to balance, but I have a secret ingredient in life — my husband Peter, the best husband and father anyone could ask for.  He is my lobster.  He is my salt.

And he does dishes.

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To celebrate Marco Polo’s 2nd season, I made a delicious Chinese dish called Three-Cup Chicken (三杯鸡).   Historically, it was made of 1 chicken with 1 cup each of soy sauce, cooking wine and sugar.  The dish has evolved through time to its contemporary version.  Mine was adapted from the recipe from rasamalaysia.com.

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Ingredients:

1 lb. chicken drumsticks (I used 1 lb. of skinless thighs)

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil or toasted sesame oil

2-inch piece old ginger, peeled and cut into thin pieces

2 to 3 dried red chili pepper, without the seeds (optional)

7 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 shallot, sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine + 2 tablespoon to marinate the chicken

A big bunch Thai basil leaves

(I added 2 small boiled red skin potatoes, halved and peeled.  This dish ordinarily does not use potatoes, but I improvised this time because I had two boiled potatoes lying around. I added the boiled potato after I poured in the sauce and before I cover the lid.  They tasted yummy with the chicken.)

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Preparation:

Cut the chicken into pieces and marinate in 2 tablespoon of cooking wine for 10 to 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry.  Add 1 tablespoon of corn starch to the chicken and mix well.

Heat up a wok or clay pot on high heat and add the dark sesame oil. Add the ginger, garlic, shallot, chili pepper and stir-fry until aromatic.

Add in the chicken and do a few quick stirs. Add the soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, xylitol or sugar and continue to stir-fry the chicken. Cover the chicken and lower the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the basil leaves and stir well with the chicken, dish out and serve immediately with steamed rice.

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