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

A Simple and Yummy Spring Stir Fry

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Whenever I am pressed for time, I turn to stir fry.  Not only is it something that I have been doing since childhood and therefore second nature, but also it is a way of cooking that is, in my opinion, good for almost any food.  A quick stir fry enhances the flavor without compromising the nutritional value of the vegetables, and it never over cooks the meats.

A friend who seldom cooks texted me today to let me know that she was making the Chinese shredded pork that I posted yesterday.  It brought a smile to my face to know that the blog inspired a friend to try cooking. All the fancy culinary performance shows can sometimes be intimidating and  make cooking a spectators’ game. In reality it is just an activity that human kind has been doing since the use of controlled fire over a million years ago.  You don’t need to be a professional to cook.

So, let’s cook!

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Spring Stir Fry with Sugar Snap Peas and Chicken

Ingredients:

For the Marinade:

2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

A pinch of salt

2 slices of ginger

For the sauce:

1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp xylitol or brown sugar

1/2 tsp pure sesame oil (optional)

1 tsp cornstarch

For the Stir Fry:

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced

1/2 tsp corn starch

1 tbsp or more canola oil

2 tsp fresh garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 heaping cup sugar snap peas

1/2 red or orange bell pepper, sliced

scallions for garnish

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Preparation:

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

Marinate the chicken for 30 minutes to an hour.  Drain the chicken and discard the marinade. Add 1/2 tsp corn starch and mix.

Marinating meat in wine enhances the flavor, if you don’t have the time, you can skip the step.  Just salt the chicken and add 1/2 teaspoon corn starch.

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 cooked through and browned, about 3 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 bell pepper, stirring over medium high heat until tender crisp, about 3 minutes.

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

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Recipe adapted from: skinnytaste.com

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

Chinese Fajitas & A Tale of Intrigue

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One great thing about living in California, especially in San Francisco, is that we have a wide variety of cuisine choices.  From Afghan to Zambian, you name it.  There are also many different cross cultural influences that define brand new taste. Who doesn’t love a little Asian fusion? Today, I decided to give my good old Chinese stir fry a little Mexican twist.

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Speaking of Chinese Mexican cultural mash, I remembered an anecdote from a few years ago.  I was filming a fancy dinner scene in Beijing and there was a group of expat extras at the table.  I got to talk to the young man sitting next to me and found out that he was from Mexico.  I met quite a lot of expats in Beijing and Shanghai, but that was a first time I encountered a Mexican national.  I asked if he was a student, he said no.  Businessman?  No.  Diplomat?  No.  I became curious, but he seemed reluctant to tell me what he did. 

Finally, after sitting next to me for hours, doing take after take, angle and angle of the same scene, he began to volunteer his story, probably out of boredom.

He said he was kind of hiding out in China.  “Who are you hiding from?” I asked.  “The cartel,” he said.  “My father worked for the government and he was kidnapped once before.  We paid three hundred thousand dollars to get him back.”

I thought his father was some government official who had cracked down on the cartel, and now the cartel was after him.  But he said no.  His father was a lawyer who sometimes worked for the cartel.  I said, “but you just told me that he worked for the government.”  He said that sometimes it was the same thing.  It turned out that his father negotiated payoffs between the corrupt officials and the cartel.  Something must have gone wrong and now his son was in hiding in Beijing. 

As the day went on, he told me that all the male children of the family were all in hiding in different countries.  I thought it interesting that the female children didn’t matter as much.  For someone who was in hiding, he seemed completely carefree.

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This was the scene outside of the dining room.

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With my co-stars Yao Chen and Lou Ye, and the director Alexi Tan

As I ate my Chinese fajitas, I told Peter the story and wondered if my Mexican “dining partner” was still alive.  He might never have imagined that I would remember him over dinner in San Francisco.

Chinese Stir Fry Beef Fajitas

Ingredients for the Marinade:

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

1 tbsp corn starch

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

Other Main Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz beef top sirloin, sliced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

1/3 onion, sliced

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

2 tbsp canola oil or peanut oil

A dash of Mexican chili powder

Salt and white pepper powder to taste

4 wholewheat tortillas

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Preparation:

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.  Add beef to the marinade and mix well with tongs.  Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat a wok on high until hot.  Add 1 tbsp of oil and swirl to coat the sides.  Add minced ginger and garlic and stir for about 20 to 30 seconds.  Add beef and save the excessive marinade for later.  Stir the beef for about 2 minutes.  Remove beef from the wok.

Add the remaining 1 tbsp oil and sauté the onion and pepper with a dash of Mexican chili powder for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the beef back in.  Add the remaining beef marinade if there is any.  Stir for another 1/2 minutes.

Separate into 4 servings on 4 tortillas.

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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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Spicy Chicken with Cashew Nuts

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I have had the good fortune of tasting the most amazing food while traveling for work in countries like Turkey, Spain, Italy, Malaysia, United Emirates and Morocco.  But inevitably by the 2nd week, I’d be missing Chinese food.  I remember frantically looking for a pack of instant noodles on the streets of St. Petersburg.  When the craving hits, it feels as if it were life and death.  Aiya, you can’t take the China out of the girl la. 

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In St. Petersburg

I was about to eat leftovers for lunch today when I suddenly craved for Chinese food.  To satisfy the urge, I made a quick stir-fry.  It was a simple dish, but very delicious.  It really hit the spot for me.

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Everyone should own a wok and try stir-fry.  It’s one of the fastest and simplest ways to prepare any food.

Spicy Chicken with Cashew Nuts

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 small onion, cut into halves

6 finger-length dried red chilies, seeded

1/2 cup roasted cashew nuts, rinsed and drained

15 oz skinless chicken thigh or breast, cut into bite size

3 scallion, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-in lengths

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Sauce:

3 tablespoon soy sauce (or Maggi seasoning sauce / Golden Mountain sauce)

2 tablespoon Chinese Cooking Wine +  1 tablespoon for marinating

1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

2 teaspoon xylitol or sugar, or to taste

Preparation:

Marinate the chicken pieces with 1 tablespoon of wine for 10 to 20 minutes.  Drain and pat dry with paper towel.  Mix the cornstarch into the meat.  (You can omit this step if you want to save time, but it does make the chicken taste better.)

Heat up a wok and add the oil. When the oil is heated, add the garlic, onion, dried red chilies and stir-fry until fragrant or when you smell the spicy aroma of the chilies. Add the cashew nuts and follow with the chicken. Stir-fry the chicken until the surface turns opaque. Add all the ingredients for the Sauce into the wok and continue to stir-fry until the chicken is cooked. Stir-in the scallion, dish out and serve immediately with steamed rice.

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Recipe inspired by rasamalaysia

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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Three 10-minute Dishes!

The teaser for Marco Polo came out on YouTube today!  This was the first time that I saw many of the footages from the show.  I worked on the series for many months in Pinewood Studio Malaysia this year.  And I can’t wait to see the finished product in Dec. 

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I play Empress Chabi in the show

Johor, where the studio is, doesn’t really have much historical or cultural points of interest, but I discovered so many wonderful eateries when I was there.  During the months of filming, I found the best Malaysian Chinese food I’ve ever had, always redolent of intricate and complex spices or sauces.  I was dreadfully homesick when I was there, but now I often miss the pungent, fragrant and flavorful tropical dishes of Malaysia.

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I wish I had time to cook something Southeastern Asian today to celebrate the exciting looking teaser of Marco Polo, but alas, I had to whip the dinner out in half an hour.

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Tofu Skin with Shirataki

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Grilled Tofu with Greens

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So here are three dishes that take 10 minutes or less each to make!

Tofu Shirataki noodles with Hodo tofu skin:

1 pouch of spicy Hodo Yuba Tofu Skin (Costco)

2 pouches Tofu Shiratki noodle (Safeway)

1/2 organic red pepper (or any other crispy veggie you have in the fridge)

1 stock green onion (or celery)

1 tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. fish sauce (or rice vinegar if you desire a more acidic flavor)

Wash Shirataki well, put aside.  break up tofu skin, mix in with Shirataki.  Add veggies and sauces.  Viola!

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Heirloom tomato salad:

Wash and slice and add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Viola!

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Grilled tofu with greens:

1 box firm tofu

some greens either raw or cooked

1 tbsp. oyster sauce

1 tsp. sesame oil

2 tsp. toasted sesame (optional)

chopped green onion for garnish (optional)

Cooking spray

Slice tofu into desired shape. Spray hot grill with cooking spray, grill each side for 4 minutes on high.  Prepare the greens when the tofu is grilling.  Put grilled tofu in container and add oyster sauce.  Serve with the greens.  Viola!

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Hungry Empress on the Big Screen

When I picked Audrey up from school today, she looked sad and tired.  What a horrible day, she said.  I asked her what happened and she told me that they had a really difficult math test. Half the class didn’t finish and many of them cried during and after the test.  I asked if she cried too and she said that she did only because her friends cried.

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So, it was time to churn some ice cream.  Audrey has a sweet tooth. And the ice cream (and perhaps Mommy’s hugs, too) brightened her right away.  With our healthy ice cream recipes, we can eat it everyday and not worry about weight gain or tooth decay.  As a matter of fact, xylitol is even good for your teeth. 

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We had Chinese food for dinner.  I only have enough daylight to take the pictures of one of our dishes.

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Chinese Mountain Yam with Sliced Chicken Breast and Celery:

1/2  6 inch long Chinese Mountain Yam (Chinese supermarkets)

1 celery heart

1/2 carrot

1 chicken breast

8 ounces cashew nuts or macadamia nuts

4 slices of peeled ginger

2 tablespoon cooking wine

1 teaspoon of corn starch

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon Sha Cha Jiang or Sha Cha Paste (Chinese supermarkets carry it)

1/2 teaspoon or less of salt

1 to 2 tablespoon canola oil depending on how healthy you want to be

Instruction:

Slice all vegetables into desired similar sized pieces. 

Mix chicken meat, corn starch, wine, oyster sauce and Sha Cha in a small bowl. Marinate for 1 hour.

Heat the wok on high heat, drop in the ginger, when ginger is dry pour in the oil. 

When the ginger is sizzling in the oil, put in the vegetables and stir for about 3 minutes or to desired tenderness. Set aside.

Repeat the same process to stir fry the chicken, but save the marinate.  Set aside.  Cook the marinate until it thickens.  Mix in everything. Mix in the nuts.

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Dessert is all American apple crisp, but a much healthier one than the traditional recipe.  The girls were excited about going to see The Last Emperor tomorrow and asked me how I got to play the part of the empress.  And I told them well, that’s a long story.

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Baked Apple Crisp (Dairy-Free, Grain-Free, egg free)

Filling

7 apples, peeled, cored, sliced into thin pieces

1/2 cup frozen cranberries

1/4 cup coconut water

3 tbs. xylitol

1 tbs. pure maple syrup

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

In a large bowl, mix together apples, coconut water, 1 tbs. xylitol, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour into a pie dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven to sprinkle crumble on top.

Crumble Topping

1 cup almond flour/meal

4 tbs. chopped walnuts

1/3 cup shredded coconut

2 tbs. xylitol

1 tbs. maple syrup

2 tbs. coconut oil

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Mix together almond flour, pecans, honey and coconut oil in a small bowl until well combined. Take small portions of it into your hands and sprinkle chunks of it onto the apples. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

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I have never been good at auditions.  When I was growing up, modesty and humility were the two qualities that were hammered into me ever since I could remember.  And expressing personal desires was frowned up.  Basically the only thing we were encouraged to express was our desire to serve the people and to devote our lives to the realization of Communism. This kind of mentality was so ingrained in me that it was difficult for me to “sell” myself at auditions.  Growing up I was supposed to negate every compliment or praise given to me.  If someone said that I was pretty, I would immediately say no, no, I am ugly; if someone said that I was smart, I would say no, no, that’s not true.

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It took me at least one year to get used to saying thank you after people complimented me, and another year to honestly express my feelings and desires.  The first time I truly fought for what I wanted was when I auditioned for Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon. It was a lengthy process which lasted several months and involved dozens of call backs and a final screen test with Mickey Rourke.  The part was a sophisticated TV newscaster and I still looked and talked like a FOB from China.  In retrospect, I could see that I was completely wrong for the part but at the time I gave it everything to get the part.  I hired the the most expensive dialogue coach in Hollywood to teach me speak newscaster English.  Every session was $200 for 2 hours while I was working as a receptionist in a Chinese restaurant earning about $5 an hour.  I went for broke but I did not get the part.  Both the director and the casting director were very impressed by my progress not only in my dialogue but also in my acting ability, but in the end I was wrong for the part.  This was the only time that I ever received a huge bouquet of flowers from any director who rejected me.  I felt very dejected, believing all my effort had been a complete waste and hard work meant nothing in this business. 

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Ariane Koizumi is the actress who won the part in Year of the Dragon

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Fresh off the boat Joan

Then about a year later, I got a call from Joanna Merlin, the casting director who worked on the Year of the Dragon, and she said, Joan, there is a part that is perfect for you and I want you to meet with the director who is in LA for only a short time.  Can you come?  I said yes, anytime, I will be there.  Joanna said it is still preliminary.  We haven’t started casting, but I have told the director to look no further because I have exactly the person he’s looking for.  That’s how I met Bernardo for the first time, with the highest recommendation from a very reputable casting director who just a year before had combed through all the Asian actresses around the world. The months of work I thought was wasted paid off in a much grander film.  It would take the producer Jeremy Thomas another year to complete the financing , and they did go around the world to cast the film, but Bernardo would always call me whenever he came to LA and we would meet for coffee and chat.  The role was mine the first time Joanna brought me to meet Bernardo.

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With Bernardo in Jack Nicholson’s house. Jack told me that speaking perfect English has nothing to do with my acting career. I didn’t quite understand what he meant at the time, but I think I do now. Imitating an American accent, however perfect, is not going to change the life experience that makes me who I am; and that entire being is my asset in acting as well as in life.

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So I told my girls that hard work always pays off.  And that’s when they told me I was boring and left the table.