Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers

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An old friend of mine has been visiting from Hong Kong, and I have been eating out with her a great deal in the past few days. Today, we both had a craving for some simple home cooked Chinese food.

As we prepared the chicken stir fry and the poached Chinese greens for lunch, we talked about our kids. Angela was three when she was one of the flower girls at my friend’s wedding. We blinked and now Angela is going to college. When I was young, I used to chronicle time by the films I made.  After I had the girls, time has been measured by their milestones or the particular challenges they faced at a certain stage of their lives. With old friends, we mark time by the memorable gatherings throughout the years — and often times they are about the special food we have shared. “Remember that amazing handmade soba noodle in Niseko?”  It seemed like only yesterday, but it was six years ago that my friend and I brought our families together on a trip to Niseko. We hold on to the memories as time slips through our fingers like sand. I miss the family trips we used to make.  Nowadays, the girls are no longer interested in traveling with their parents. They are forming intense and meaningful friendships that will hopefully accompany them for the rest of their lives, same as the ones I share with my old friends from my youth. Even though my friend lives on the other side of the ocean, the time and distance that separate us seem to disappear as soon as we manage to get together.

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Our Hokkaido trip 6 years ago

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I have not been able to catch a smile like this for a long time now. It’s reserved for her friends only.

I don’t know if today’s simple lunch will be one that we remember years from now, but it was comfort food that we both missed. I make stir fried chicken variations a couple of times a month because it’s simple and versatile.  You can almost add any vegetables to the dish and make it a meal. We made ours with a mix of jalapeño and sweet pepper because we both like spicy food. I also added a little celery for a little crunch.

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Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Celery:

Ingredients for the sauce:

1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 tsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp sugar

Ingredients for the marinade:

1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

Thinly sliced ginger

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch or tapioca starch

Ingredients for the Stir Fry:

1 chicken breast, cut into bite size

2 stocks celery, sliced to match the size of the chicken pieces

1 red jalapeno, sliced

1 green jalapeño, sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

3 tablespoon cooking oil, separated

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

Preparation:

Marinate the chicken breast pieces in wine, ginger and cornstarch for 30 minutes.

Combine all ingredients for the sauce and set aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When the wok is very hot, add half of the oil, then add the chicken without the marinade. Stir fry, stirring until the chicken turns opaque. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.

Add the remaining oil to the wok; add the garlic and ginger, stir for 20 seconds. Add all three kinds of peppers and the celery, stirring over medium high heat until tender crisp, about 3 minutes.

Return the chicken to the wok, add the sauce, mix well and cook another 30 seconds to one minute. Serve immediately with rice.

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Asian Flavored Pork Chops with Sautéd Vegetables

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Lately, I have been trying to feed Peter less meat. I either use small portions of sliced meat in vegetable stir-fries to enhance the flavor or I serve him the same vegetarian meals the girls have. I know he misses meat when he tells me to relax and not worry about cooking dinner. “I’ll order from Green Island tonight,” he’d say. Green Island is his favorite take-out place, where you can get three dishes of tasty Chinese food for $27. Peter usually orders the stir fried beef with vegetables, curry beef brisket and rock cod in garlic black bean sauce.  That’s how he gets his weekly fix of greasy, salty Cantonese provision. When I got a midday call from Peter asking if there would be meat for dinner tonight. I knew that it was time for me to cook a serious meat dish.

I had opened a bottle of good brandy some time ago to make desserts and there was still 1/3 of a bottle left.  I decided to use it in the marinade, but if you don’t have brandy handy, Shao Xing cooking wine will probably work fine, too.  The key is to marinate the meat for at least two hours, ideally 4 to 8 hours. The pork chops that I bought today were about 1/2 to 2/3 inch thick. If your chops are 1 inch thick, you will need to use 1 1/2 portion of the marinade. The pork chops will absorb and lock in every last drop of the marinade and turn out tender, juicy and absolutely delicious.

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Asian Flavored Pork Chops with Sautéd Vegetables

Ingredients:

4 pork chops

1 green bell pepper, sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 red jalapeno pepper, seed and sliced

1 small yellow onion, sliced

2 to 3 slices of ginger, thinly slivered

3 tablespoons cooking oil, separated

2 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon dark rice vinegar or rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Marinade:

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon molasses or honey

2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

6 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon tapioca flour, or corn starch

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Preparation:

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Pound the pork chops and poke holes on the meat with ice pick or the tip of the knife. Use your hand to mix the chops with the marinade and transfer to a large ziplock bag. Leave in the fridge for 2 hours to overnight. All the liquid will be absorbed into the chops as they marinate.

Cut a slit on the pork chop at the opposite side of the bone to prevent curling during cooking.

Heat 1/2 of the oil in a large cast iron skillet on medium. Pan fried the pork chops about 4 to 5 minuets on either side or until cooked through. You will need to cook longer with the lid on if your chops are thicker. The chops brown easily because of the sugar in the marinade. Lower the heat a little if necessary.

When the chops are done. Take them out of the skillet and set aside.

Heat the rest of the oil in the same skillet on medium high and sauté the vegetables. Stir for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Give it a few swirls with the spatula and turn off the stove. Cook the vegetables in two batches if your skillet is small.

Separate the sautéd vegetables into four plates and top with the pork chop. 

Or slice the chops before serving with rice and saluted vegetables.

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Easy Cha Siu in a Rice Cooker

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I had never followed any cooking shows before taking on the role of being one of the judges for a cooking related award. The past two weeks, I watched dozens of food documentaries and cooking specials.  I enjoyed all the documentaries.  Whether or not they are well made, they brought me interesting characters and engaging stories. Cooking specials, on the other hand, were often boring or disturbing for me to watch.  I now better understand why they are called food porn. Our hedonistic hunger is supposed to be satisfied by the cooking shows the same way our prurient thirst is quenched by porn films. We get off vicariously by watching dishes being cooked with so much butter, cream, salt and sugar by the most upbeat and cheery people, who exclaim nonstop how delicious everything smelled or tasted.

It seems that our natural relationship with food has somehow been ruined by the diet industry, its nutrition experts with their ever changing theories of what we can or cannot eat. Food has become less about enjoyment and contentment, and more associated with guilt. Hence we have food porn.

Answering the question of what we should eat, Michael Pollan, a renowned food author, said simply, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By food, he meant that something your great-grand mother would recognize as food — a piece of chicken, a bunch of greens, a bowl of oatmeal or a slice of pound cake.  Energy bars with dozens of unpronounceable ingredients or Chicken McNuggets don’t count as food by his standard, I think.

I am not much of a food porn guzzler because I am quite content with what I eat. I don’t have restrictions or prohibitions. I cook what I want to eat. And cooking is a part of the enjoyment; it is the anticipation, the foreplay.

Today, I felt like eating a simple Chinese comfort food: cha siu, a sweet and savory roasted pork, on a bed of brown rice with stir fried bok choy. I discovered a great way to make cha siu — in the rice cooker for 12 minutes. It turned out tender, juicy and slightly charred at the bottom. It was delicious. (Am I not making my own version of food porn here? Am I not a nudist exhibitionist flaunting my food instead of my body?)

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P1050174Ingredients for Cha Siu:

2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into long strips about 2 inches in diameter

Ingredients for the marinade:

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 1/2 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon Lee Kum Kee Cha Siu sauce (Chinese Barbecue Sauce)

5 to 6 slices of ginger

Preparation:

Marinate the meat for 4 to 8 hours. Lay meat in a single layer in the rice cooker  and push“quick rice” button, or for about 12 minutes if you don’t have a “quick rice” button. 

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Audrey and her friends making S’mores by the fire. I have never seen an inkling of guilt in her when it comes to eating. I love watching her enjoy food.

Savory Egg Custard with Ling Cod

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Growing up in Shanghai, I often ate savory egg custard over rice. It was one of the first dishes I learned to make as a child. Eggs were rationed like pork, rice, cooking oil and many other essentials.  One of the reasons people made custard with their precious eggs was that eggs seemed to expand in volume when you steamed them into silken custard. I remember very clearly that if I had one egg, I would use a small rice bowl to steam a custard, and if I had two, I would use a large soup bowl.  No one used measuring utensils in those days; everything was done by feel and by experience.  Most times, we made it simply with minced scallion and a small dollop of lard; sometimes, we would add a little minced pork or thin slivers of ham.  Occasionally we would also steam the custard with clams. Clam custard is one of my favorite dishes to order when I eat at a San Francisco Chinese restaurant called the R&G Lounge.

If you have not ordered it in Chinese restaurants, you probably have had it as a warm appetizer called Chawan Mushi in Japanese restaurants.  It is prepared in individual cups or bowls with prawns and ginkgo nuts instead of fish.

Today, I prepared the savory egg custard with fresh ling cod fish, shiitake, ginger and scallion. Peter devoured it after a long day being on call at the hospital.  He called it delicious and soothing. 

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Savory Egg Custard with Ling Cod

Ingredients:

12 oz. ling cod, cut into bite size

8 dried shiitake mushroom, soaked and rehydrated

4 eggs, beaten

2 1/2 cup chicken broth

2 stocks green onion, chopped

1 teaspoon finely minced ginger

1 teaspoon thinly sliced ginger

1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes

Cilantro for garnish

1 teaspoon light soy sauce (optional)

1 teaspoon pure sesame oil

Ingredients for marinade:

2 teaspoons Shao Xing cooking wine

2 teaspoons soy sauce

Preparation:

Marinate the fish for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Beat the eggs.  Mix chicken broth and minced ginger with the eggs and pour into a large bowl or a corning ware as I did.  Add fish and shiitake into the egg mixture.

Boil water for steaming.  When the water boils, lower the container into the steamer and turn stove to simmer. 

Steam for 10 minutes. Open the lid and sprinkle chopped scallion, sliced ginger and pepper flakes on top.  Steam for another 10 to 12 minutes or until the custard is just set. Do not over steam or the egg and the broth will separate.

Before serving, pour a teaspoon of light soy sauce and a teaspoon of pure sesame oil, and sprinkle cilantro.  If you want to enjoy the custard by itself and not with rice, you can omit the teaspoon of soy sauce.

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Fish Maw Soup for the Octogenarians

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Father helping Mother

I don’t know exactly when and how it started, but my parents and their old medical school classmates have been holding a monthly reunion in Shanghai.  It’s something they all look forward to and talk about for most of the month.  Some of them would come from other cities, or even other countries.  They take turns hosting, and this month was my parents’ turn.

My mother was reluctant to host, fearful that people might notice her dementia more if she was the center of attention.  What if she suddenly forgot someone’s name — someone she had known all her life?  My father pledged his help and reassured her that everything would turn out fine. He wrote each guest’s name on a little sticker and asked my mother to stick them onto the cups they would be using. 

I was thrilled to have a few days off from the Marco Polo production and flew to Shanghai for the party.  My mother was relieved that her movie star daughter would not only take some of the attention away from her but also cook for her guests. The invitation was for 11:30am, but the guests began to trickle in as early as 10:30.  It was a good thing that we began preparing and cooking the night before.

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It touched me to see some of the faces that I used to know from my childhood — now worn but richer and somehow more characteristic of themselves. Perhaps that’s how people age — shedding layers of pretense or shield, becoming closer to their true and naked selves. Most of them had been doctors all their lives.  Physicians in their days received a meager salary from the government just like workers in any other profession in China.  Many of them could not afford taxis and came to the reunion by bus. It took some people more than an hour to reach my parents’ place, but they wouldn’t miss the gathering for anything.

These octogenarians amazed me with their robust appetite and booming voices.  They seemed to burst into peals of laughter with every other sentence.  For a while I was slightly concerned that someone might choke on their food laughing and swallowing all at once.

While they laughed and ate, I snapped pictures of them and burned each one a disc.  They were very pleased that someone documented and captured their happy times together.

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Watching the slide show I made of their boisterous reunion

One of the dishes I made was fish maw in bone and ham broth with the fish maw I brought back from Malaysia.

My father (middle) and my mother with their old friend at the reunion.

My father (middle) and my mother with their old friend, Little Shandong, at the reunion.  Little Shandong is still called Little Shandong at the age of 84.

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Fish Maw Soup

Ingredients for the broth:

2 to 3 kilos of pork leg bones

1 ham bone

8 slices of ginger

1 cup of Shao Xing cooking wine

1 large pot of water.

Ingredients for the soup:

2 cups wood’s ears (soaked and drained)

2 cups fish maw (soaked, washed and wrung dry)

3 long young turnips (don’t buy the ones that are thick, which tend to be hollow)

1/4 kilo baby bok choi hearts

White pepper powder

Ham slices for garnish (optional)

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Preparation:

Wash the bones and boiled a large pot of water with a few slices of ginger in it.  When the water is boiling, add the pork bones to it.  When it boils again, drain the water and rinse the bones one more time. 

Boil the bones and ham bone in a new pot of water with the cooking wine and ginger for 4 hours or longer.  Skim off the top any congealed blood every once in a while if there is any.

When the broth is fragrant, take out the bones and add the rest of the soup ingredients except for the bok choi hearts and let it simmer for another 30 minutes. 

Turn up the stove to high and add bok choi hearts.  Let cook for about 30 seconds and serve the soup hot with a lot of white pepper powder.  

Note:

If you like gnawing on bones, leave some in the soup as I did.  You can also add fish balls to the soup if you like fish balls.

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Cantonese-Style Ginger Scallion Lobster

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In the past couple of months I had enjoyed the best meat dishes of my life — pork neck, beef cheek, pork knuckles, beef neck, goose leg, duck breast — you name it.  Hungarian cuisine is known for its meats.  Like the Chinese, nothing on an animal is ever wasted for an Hungarian butcher; every part is made into food.  While I loved the food in Budapest, I really missed Chinese food and fresh seafood that are always abundant in San Francisco. 

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Now that I am back at home, Chinese food is what I have been eating almost everyday.  During our weekly visit to Costco today, we bought some really fresh lobster tails.  One of Peter’s favorite dishes when we go to a Cantonese restaurant is ginger scallion lobster, which I had never attempted at home.  When Peter asked me to make it, I said I didn’t know how.  Peter looked at me with a big smile and exclaimed, “But you are the Hungry Empress!”  Peter volunteered to clean and cut the lobster tails while I poured over the internet for a Cantonese style ginger scallion lobster recipe that looked good.  I found this delicious recipe on TheWoksOfLife.com. The dish turned out beautifully.

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A surgeon at work

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Did I ever mention in any previous blog that Peter was smuggled out of Canton and into Hong Kong in a secret compartment of a rickety junk at the age of five?  Well, you can get the boy out of Canton, but not the Canton out of the boy. The affinity for Cantonese cuisine never fades with the passage of time.

Cantonese-Style Ginger Scallion Lobster

Ingredients:

3 large lobster tails

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2/3 cups oil for flash frying, plus 2 tablespoons for stir fry

16 thin slices ginger

5 scallions, cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons shaoxing wine

1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

pinch of sugar

fresh ground white pepper

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Preparation:

Wash and cut lobster tails into 1 1/2 inch pieces.

Let all of the lobster pieces drain of excess water after you rinse them and pat dry with a paper towel.

Mix the flour and cornstarch in a shallow bowl, and lightly dredge the lobster pieces. Dredge only the exposed meat to seal in the juices.

At this point, many restaurants deep fry the lobster in a large wok to quickly seal in the juices.  This process only takes 20 seconds or so, but I used on 2/3 cup of oil in a non-stick pan and pan seared the lobster pieces flesh side first.  This flash fry method cooks the lobster about 70% of the way through, enhances the lobster flavor, produces a rich color, and seals in the juices while preventing the tender meat from overcooking.

Heat 2/3 cup of oil in a non-stick pan to about 350 degrees F, and drop the lobster into the pot a few pieces at a time for about 15 seconds on either side. Remove to a sheet pan to drain. The shells should turn bright red almost instantly.

To finish the dish, start with a clean wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the wok, along with the ginger and garlic. Let the ginger fry for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.

Add the white portions of the scallions and the lobster. Stir fry on for 20 seconds, keeping the heat cranked up as high as it’ll go.

Pour the wine around the perimeter of the wok and immediately cover it. Let it cook for about 2 minutes. This step infuses or “bakes” the lobster with the ginger and scallion flavor.

Uncover the wok and add the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, white pepper, and the rest of the scallions. Stir fry for another minute. You can add a couple tablespoons of chicken stock or water if the wok is too dry.

Serve hot!

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Spring Stir Fry with Chicken and Sugar Snap Peas

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I bought a beautiful used book by Life for 3.99 today: The Meaning of Life — Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We are Here. Why are we here?  Life posed the grand question to 300 celebrated authors, artists, scientists and to ordinary barbers, taxi drivers and welfare mothers, and published the answers with a selection of black and white photos from the magazine’s photo archive.

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A couple of days ago, I wrote about how the Costco roast chicken was the best $4.99 anyone could spend.  Today I found the best $3.99 that anyone can spend in this book — a feast to the mind, the heart and the eye.  You can open it at any given page and find something poignant or poetic or funny.

Here is the answer from one of my favorite writers Annie Dillard:

We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. Buckminster Fuller hinted at a reason we are here: By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even. A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish,’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.

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And here is the answer from a butcher by the name of Carmine Pucci:

The meaning of life is listening to Pavarotti, feeling the sun on your face, drinking a bottle of wine, and then another. The meaning of life is having a safe and healthy society, a happy family life, good health, a loving wife, work that you like, smelling the smell of a new car and the ocean air, being able to hit a bull’s eye, coming home with the fish and not another fish story.

I couldn’t agree more.  We are here to bear witness, to create and to feast.

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I made similar stir fries quite often before, usually improvising and by feel, but I like today’s recipe a great deal – flavorful yet light.

Spring Stir Fry with Chicken and Sugar Snap Peas

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp + 1tsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp water

1 tsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp sugar

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For the Stir Fry:

1.2 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced, marinated for 15 to 30 minutes in 1 tbsp of cooking wine, 1/2 tsp cornstarch, a pinch of salt and a few thin slices of ginger

2 tbsp rice bran oil, or canola

2 tsp fresh garlic, minced

2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 cup sugar snap peas

1 cup carrots, sliced diagonally

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Preparation:

Combine soy sauce, lemon juice, fish sauce, sugar, water and cornstarch in a small bowl, mix together and set aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When the wok is very hot, add half of the oil, then add the chicken. Stir fry, stirring occasionally until the chicken is just cooked through and slightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.

Add the remaining oil to the wok; add the garlic and ginger, stir for 20 seconds. Add the sugar snap peas and carrots, stirring over medium high heat until tender crisp, about 3-4 minutes.

Return the chicken to the wok, add the soy sauce-lemon mixture, mix well and cook another 30 seconds to one minute. Serve immediately with rice.

Adapted from: skinnytaste.com

Sichuan Orange Beef

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Many of my friends and relatives enjoyed reading about my grandmother.  So I am going to share another story about her today.  In a society that valued collectivism, my grandmother was quite an unique individual.  She could get away with it because she often laugh at herself.  Having lived through so much trial and tribulation, she took herself lightly, but she never went with the crowd.

During the mid to late 80s in China, when people had relatives from America, it was customary to bring television sets, refrigerators or other electrical appliances when they visit.  These American brand appliances were important status symbol to any person or family.  After I began acting in films and television, I had enough money to bring her the TV set or the refrigerator, but she didn’t want them.  She said there was not much on TV that she cared to watch.  And she already had a small Chinese made refrigerator.  “I am making money now,” I said. “I must bring you something.”  “Bring me some cheese then,” she brightened, “I haven’t had cheese for so long.  Blue cheese, the stronger the flavor the better.  And I heard that they made bras that fasten in the front.  It would be nice to have some bras that fasten in the front.”  I told her that I would get these, but I insisted that these were not enough.  “If you insist,” she added a little sheepishly, “bring me a black wig, with a little wave in it.  I’m getting too grey and too bald.”

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Grandmother before the wig

She was almost 80 years old at the time.  Most women her age during that era in China didn’t pay much attention to their appearance.  I was quite surprised by her vanity.

It was priceless to see my grandmother wearing a wavy black wig while savoring the most pungent blue cheese. 

For many years, she would wear her present and wait for me by the window whenever I visited her in Shanghai.

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Grandmother with the wig on, sitting between my father and me.

Sichuan Orange Beef

Ingredients:

8 oz. beef sirloin, cut into thin strips

2 tbsp peanut oil

1 tbsp Season with Spice’s Sichuan Peppercorns, crushed

1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (optional)

1 small red bell pepper, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced

2-3 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

For the marinade:

Juice from one orange (about 1/3 cup*)

Zest from one orange (about 1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp fresh ginger – minced

2 teaspoons cornstarch

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Preparation:

In a bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Add in the beef and coat well. Leave to marinate for 15 to 30 minutes in the fridge.

Heat a wok on high fire. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil, and swirl to coat. Toss in the crushed Sichuan peppercorns and do a few quick stirs until fragrant. Add in the beef, but keep the leftover marinade to the side. Pour in Shaoxing wine if using. Let sear for 1-2 minutes until slightly charred, then do a few quick stirs.  Set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the wok, add in bell pepper, jalapeno and the white parts of the scallions, stir until tender.

Add the beef back in the wok.

Keep the heat on high, add in the leftover marinade, and toss to coat all the ingredients. When the sauce starts to simmer, stir in the scallion greens and toasted sesame oil. Dish out and serve immediately with rice.

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Adapted from Rasamalaysia

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

Hoisin Orange Pork Chops with Vegetables

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Mondays are usually busy with all kinds of errands, but I managed to read a few more chapters of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up.  I learned today that I’m never supposed to ball up my socks.  It cracked me up when the author asked “This should be a time for them to rest.  Do you really think they can get any rest like that?”  My socks are supposed to be on holiday in my drawer.  Being balled up means that they are in a state of tension.  I wondered where she was gong with this until she showed me how to fold it and store it “the right way.”  It actually made sense.  I can’t wait to un-ball all my socks tomorrow and create a sock resort for them.  I will show you a photo of my relaxed socks if it all goes well.  

I’ve never been good at the lotus position meditation, but I can imagine the methodical smoothing out and folding of the socks to be a meditative process as cooking oftentimes is for me.

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Hoisin Orange Pork Chops with Vegetables

Ingredients:

For the Marinade:

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tbsp Asian cooking wine

Other Ingredients:

2 (6 oz total) 2-inch thick broccoli stems, spiralized

cooking spray

(2) 5 to 6 ounce boneless pork chop, 1” thick

2 cups broccoli florets

1 teaspoon 100% pure sesame oil

1/4 red onion, julienned

1 carrot, spiralized

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

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Preparation:

Combine the hoisin, orange juice soy sauce and wine with a whisk and reserve. Add pork chops to marinade and refrigerate for 2 hours.

While chops are marinating, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the broccoli in a wire basket and cook for about 3 minutes at a slow boil to blanch. Remove from pot and place in ice water to stop the cooking process. Let sit in ice bath for a couple minutes until chilled.

Remove chops from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for about 5 minutes before cooking. Remove from marinade, reserving the marinade for later. 

Heat a medium nonstick sauté pan on high heat, spray with oil when hot then place the steaks and cook 3 minutes on each side. Lower the stove to medium and cook another 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until the thermometer inserted to the center reads 140.  Transfer to a cutting board and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Add the reserved marinade to the skillet, reduce heat to medium-low, bring to a boil and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.

Place the sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet, add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook on high 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broccoli and carrot noodles, season with salt and cook 3 minutes. Add the blanched broccoli and cook until hot.

Divide the vegetables unto 2 separate plates. Place the chops on a cutting board and cut into thin strips. Lay chops on top of the vegetables, top with sauce and serve.

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Recipe adapted from:  skinnytaste.com