Sautéed Kale with Whole Wheat Penne + Pastel Mint Boutique Review!

P1030033

You’ve already rolled your eyes as I waxed poetic about the beauty and grace incarnate that is pasta. Pasta is love, pasta is life, and I hope to one day marry pasta in a small courthouse ceremony with a ring of rigatoni around my finger. Disclaimer: this post was written while coming off a pasta high, in case you couldn’t notice. Forgive my incoherency.

Today we made some 100% whole wheat penne with kale. My mother called it a little naughty and a little nice. She was wrong. Pasta is nice too. A little pasta never hurt nobody. No food in itself can cause diabetes or obesity. But if you’re a little carbophobic you can alter the ratio of pasta to kale or substitute some or all of the pasta with spiralized vegetables, spaghetti squash or shirataki. Personally I find the latter absolutely disgusting and reminiscent of vulcanized worms. Shirataki is made out of an indigestible Japanese root called konjac, so it has zero grams of net carbohydrates and is essentially non-nutritive, although it is a relatively good source of fiber. Do what you want to do. Eat your rubber noodles and be sad.

P1030032

Or join the Cult of Carbs and live your life in joy. Your call.

Anyway, this recipe is vegetarian and full of delicious veggies so it’s perfect for Meatless Mondays. It can also be gluten free if you use the subs listed above or use gluten free pasta.

Ingredients:

2 bunches lacinato kale, stemmed
4 oz. (about 1 cup) uncooked 100% whole wheat penne
1/4 cup red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 of a 15 oz. can of white beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon shaved parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pesto sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice from 1/2 large lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

P1030031

 

Preparation:

Cook the pasta according to package instructions and set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan or wok on medium high. Add the garlic and stir until aromatic. Add the kale and bell pepper and sauté until soft, adding a little water or broth if necessary. Add the beans and give it a few good stir until heated through.

Turn off the stove and add 1/4 cup parmesan, 2 tablespoons pesto sauce, the juice from half a lemon, salt and pepper to taste, mix well.

Dish out and sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon parmesan. Serve immediately.

P1030035

I hope you enjoy this recipe! Don’t pigeonhole it into the internet’s list of nasty kale recipes. Honestly I think a lot of people hate kale but pretend to like it since it’s so trendy and has a superfood rep (although the CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease journal rated vegetables by nutrient density and kale was only #15, probably because it’s more than twice as energy-dense as spinach by mass). A lot of the kale available at supermarkets is really tough and disgusting and inedible especially if you try to make your own raw kale salad. We chose to use kale for this recipe since kale doesn’t cook down as much as spinach so it’s a better foil to the penne. If you hate kale then you can sub some other vegetable, perhaps collard greens, but we recommend trying fresh kale to see how you like it. Some farmers market kale is god-awful but if it’s really fresh then it’s 10/10.

It was shaped like a barn but it was actually quite nice inside.

It was shaped like a barn but it was actually quite nice inside.

Since returning to San Francisco from New England I’ve gotten to appreciate the city more. The autumn isn’t as pleasantly pilgrim-y and I no longer live in a quaint little cottage but at least it isn’t freezing or overrun by squirrels. Also, it’s very hipsterish which a lot of people hate but now I don’t have to turn to Netflix to watch Portlandia. A large hipster population makes for bigger and better artisanal-feeling grocery stores that are even more hardcore than Whole Foods. I’m talking Rainbow Grocery level hipster. For me, there’s nothing more fun than wandering the aisles of a grocery store, even if I don’t end up buying anything. In the dead of winter I used to trek three miles through the ice and snow to ogle at everything in Whole Foods and Stop and Shop, often returning to my dorm empty-handed. I’m starting to realize that that’s kind of weird, but whatever.

I really like cauliflower, ok?

Totally content with my weirdness. I really like cauliflower, ok?

I once dedicated an hour of my life to choosing the best aubergines from the grocery store. Yes, aubergines.

I once dedicated an hour of my life to choosing the best aubergines from the grocery store. Yes, aubergines.

In addition to the cool grocery stores, there are a lot of hipster boutiques and it’s 100% socially acceptable to dress like a hipster in any situation. I don’t really dress like a hipster when I’m not trick-or-treating but many of my friends and family members do pull off the Harry Potter glasses and flannel shirts quite well. It’s great that they have so many options when it comes to buying nice clothes. Pastel Mint Boutique, an online clothing store based in San Francisco, recently sent us a few items to try out and they were great! We received a utility jacket, an infinity scarf, a sundress, and a beanie. My sister and my schoolmates very much enjoyed trying these clothes on. We highly recommend this boutique! If anyone asks, we heard of ‘em first.

P1020988

Pastel Mint utility jacket and dress

IMG_6402.JPG

GLee rocking the infinity scarf, beanie, and utility jacket

P1020979

P1020987

IMG_6426.JPG

Glower sold separately

Glower sold separately

Lemon Dill Baked Cod

P1020659

It’s approaching midnight and I’m still trying to finish reading the scripts that I received from China.  The film market is booming in China and there are many opportunities for me to direct my next film, but I’m yet to find a story that’s exciting to me as well as suitable to the censorship standard.  I will keep looking.  And in the meantime, I will cook.

Who am I?  If we are what we do everyday, which I think is the closest answer to this impossible question, then I am a cook.  At least for now.  As I busied myself in the kitchen with my pink batik apron, I actually thought, “I should buy myself a pretty apron.”  I used to think about buying sexy and glamorous dresses.  The ever evolving I.

Dill & Lemon Baked Rock Cod

Ingredients:

3  large cod fillets

1 lemon

1/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon dill

1/2 sleeve of Ritz Cracker, crushed

3 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation:

Marinate the cod in the white wine in a large ziplock bag or a plate for 30 minutes.  Pat dry.

Coat the fish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 of the dill.

Crush the crackers and mix in the 2 tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining dill with fingers.

Preheat oven at 400F.

Bake the fish in a baking dish for 8 minutes and take the dish out of the oven, but leave the oven on.  Carefully discard the juice from the fish.  Squeeze half of the lemon juice on the fish and sprinkle the cracker mixture on top.

Return to oven and back for another 12 minutes.

P1020656

Spiralized Butternut Squash Pasta with Garlicky Kale & White Beans

P1020713

Pasta is good, pasta is great. Pasta is the friend who will always be there for me. Pasta, o beauteous pasta, you make any dish complete. You complete me. Non lasciarmi, mio amato (grazie, Google Translate).

I never want to spend a day without pasta, not even if I’ve already eaten my weight in starch and definitely do not need to further raise my blood sugar. This is when my beloved vegetable spiralizer comes in handy. It can turn just about any vegetable, from zucchini to broccoli stalks, into pasta. That’s right, all the deliciousness of al dente pasta and all the holiness of veggies. Now that’s what I call good wholesome fun.

Big smile at Ristorante La Fattoria in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Italy. There was probably some pasta involved.

Big smile at Ristorante La Fattoria in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Italy. Pasta!

The first time I heard of spiralizing vegetables was when I was reading about zoodles on SkinnyTaste.com. I then coveted a spiralizer for about a year before Audrey bought me one from Williams Sonoma as a gift using her own money. How sweet!  I have since made my own zoodles on several occasions. They are delicious!

P1020705

P1020710

Spiralizers are very versatile. A vegetable doesn’t need to be vaguely phallic in order to be turned into pasta. Today we had a grand old time spiralizing butternut squash!

Note: if you don’t have a spiralizer, then a mandoline or even a vegetable peeler should work.

P1020722

Butternut Squash Pasta with Garlicky Kale & White Beans

Ingredients:

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and spiralized, noodles trimmed

olive oil cooking spray

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, minced

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it really spicy)

1 bunch Lacinato kale, stems removed

salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth, if vegetarian)

1 can white beans (cannellini, Great Northern), drained, rinsed, patted dry

1 teaspoon oregano flakes

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional if vegan)

P1020716

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the butternut squash noodles on a baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 10-12 minutes or until al dente. When done, divide noodles into bowls and set aside.

While the butternut squash is cooking, place a large skillet over medium heat and add in the olive oil. Once oil heats, add in the garlic, red pepper flakes and kale. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes, tossing occasionally, or until kale is wilted. You can do this in batches.

Once the kale is cooked, pour the chicken broth into the skillet and add the beans and oregano. Let cook for 5-10 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.

Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the parmesan cheese and toss to combine. Divide the kale mixture equally over the bowls of butternut squash noodles. Serve immediately.

P1020717

Recipe modified from Inspiralized

Guest Post: Healthy Raw Raspberry Cheesecake!

IMG_1777
Hi! I’m Kim, a 23-year-old Biochemist from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for food, fitness, health, and overall happiness. When I am not working, working out, or spending time with friends & family, I spend time sharing my love of healthy food with others! I grew up overweight and ashamed of it. As a young teenager, I began to secretly starve myself in attempts to lose weight. This turned into a very unhealthy relationship with food that lasted over 7 years. At the age of 20, though, something “clicked” and I realized the importance of working out and HEALTHY eating. I finally succeeded in healthy weight loss by throwing myself into the kitchen (& gym!) to learn what truly healthy food is made of; I grew to really enjoy cooking & baking. Every recipe I create is sugar free, nutritious, and fit for a healthy lifestyle. I also have two recipe ebooks available that I have written, full of recipes I personally create and enjoy.
A lot of my recipes are protein-packed desserts, so this recipe is unique in the sense that it does not require protein powder, flour, or a baking step. It is a raw vegan raspberry cheesecake, made with everyday ingredients that are suitable for almost any diet preference one may have. It is comprised of a crust, a raspberry layer, a cheesecake layer, and what I call a “pink” layer; I topped the dish with a cocoa sauce and fresh raspberries. It is absolutely refreshing, while also satisfying to the sweet tooth; it can please anyone. I hope you enjoy!
Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset
Raw Raspberry Cheesecake
 
Serves: 8
 
Crust
1/2 cup pitted dates (80 g)
3/4 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup coconut butter
Raspberry Layer
1 cup frozen raspberries
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
Cheesecake Layer
2 cups raw cashews (soaked in water)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup maple syrup (or sugar free syrup as I use, or agave, or honey)
juice from 1/2 lemon (2 TBSP)
2 TBSP coconut butter
1 TBSP vanilla extract
You will need a food processor to make this. First, add the dates and almonds in the processor to make the crust. Process it down until it becomes fine grits, then add the coconut butter. Continue to blend it until it is malleable and thick.
Now, you have two options. You can make 3 mini 4″ cheesecakes or 1 full size cheesecake. I made mini cheesecakes with 4″ springform pans, but this is also a recipe fitting for 1 full-sized springform pan. Spread your crust on the base of the springform, pressing down firmly with the backside of a spoon or knife.
Next, make your raspberry layer by blending frozen raspberries and water. It will be thick like a sorbet. Spread this evenly on top of your crust, (saving approx 1/4 of it for later)! Place the 1/2 cup fresh raspberries on this layer as well.
Next, make the cheesecake layer. You want to strain your soaked cashews first. Then add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and blend it all. I often stop the processor to scrape down the edges, and blend more. Pour this layer on top of your raspberry layer (saving approx 1/4 of it for later)!
Now, place your cheesecake in the freezer! While that’s freezing, combine the remaining 1/4 of both the raspberry and cheesecake layers that you saved earlier. After the cheesecake has frozen for 45-60 minutes, pour the “pink” layer on top! Freeze again for at least 2-3 hours. It is best if you go ahead and let it freeze overnight. Once ready, slice into 8 servings and let it thaw approximately 10 minutes before serving. I also added a cocoa layer on top right before serving, made from unsweetened cocoa powder, water, and stevia. Enjoy!
Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

Nutritional Information for 1 slice: 357 calories; 27 g fat, 27 g carbs (6 g fiber), and 8 g protein

Looking for more?

Guest Post: Lynn Chen

What an honor to be guest posting for Joan!  I’ve often said that Joan’s performance in “The Last Emperor” was my inspiration for becoming a film actor; I’d like to think that my sites “The Actor’s Diet” and “Thick Dumpling Skin” influenced her starting Hungry Empress…

unnamed

…it’s been almost a decade since Joan and I worked together on Saving Face.  Even though we only had a few scenes together, we became a family on set – and that often meant sneaking away to the crafts services table together.  Weight gain was inevitable; our director Alice has joked that she had the snacks moved further and further away from set so her cast wouldn’t mindlessly munch between takes and cause costume issues.

These days it’s important to me to be very conscious of the power food has over my mind, and my body.  In the last 10 years, I’ve overcome eating disorder struggles, and make a daily effort to be kind when I talk about not only about how I look, but how others do, as well.  It can be a challenge to acknowledge that what we eat can change how we feel – mentally and physically – but also learn how to enjoy/celebrate without indulging in guilt/obsessive control.  To learn not to equate fat = bad, skinny = good.  Health is a lot more than a number on a scale (which, by the way, I’ve thrown out since 2006).  The most important thing I’ve learned – after 5 years straight of writing about food daily – is that nobody has it all figured out.  Not chefs, not nutritionists, not food scientists, not even doctors.  So the best diet for you, is literally trusting your own gut.

Lynn Chen
lynnchen.com

Twitter  |  Facebook | Instagram

Guest Post: Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies!

Today our mom flew off to Taiwan, so for dinner I’m having steamed cauliflower, brown rice, and a healthy protein “milkshake.” Not exactly what you’d call gourmet. So instead of boring you with all the stuff I’ve been putting together in the microwave, I’d like to introduce you to today’s guest blogger, Kim Hoeltje:

BtuxcYaCcAASx2V

I am 29 years young and live in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania with my husband, two kittens, and one snuggly Puggle.
I love baking. My parents own a cookie bakery so I learned how mix, scoop, and taste test at an early age. I like to experiment with different recipes, make changes, add different ingredients, and just have fun with it. I love using protein powder in place of flour and sugar.
My protein-packed dessert recipes come from my love of sweet treats, healthy alternatives, and kid-friendly taste buds. I am a full-time nanny, fitness enthusiast, and recent lover of food blogging. My focus is creating good for you foods that make you feel good too!
One of my all time favorite recipes is my Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies!
These may look like they are packed full of sugar, flour, and butter, but they actually contain none of those ingredients!! They are low fat, low carb, and packed full of protein!
IMG_7355
Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies
  • 1 scoop Chocolate Protein Powder (30g)
  • 2 T PB2 or other powdered peanut butter (14g) (can sub any nut butter)
  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin (60g)
  • 1/2 cup canned chickpeas or any white bean (130g)
  • 3 T egg substitute (46g)
  • 3 T unsweetened almond milk (46ml)
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • sweetener to taste (4 packets)
  1. Drain and rinse beans
  2. Puree beans, pumpkin, egg, milk, and vanilla
  3. Stir in everything else except the peanut butter
  4. If using PB2, add water til you get a peanut butter consistency
  5. Coat 5×7 baking dish with nonstick spray
  6. Pour brownie batter in dish
  7. Swirl peanut butter on top
  8. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes

IMG_7345

You could just eat one or two brownies, but why stop there?! You can have all six for only 315 calories!! Only 5 grams of fat and 34 grams of carbs. They make a great breakfast because they are packed with 37 grams of protein!
 IMG_7357
Brownies for breakfast!? Yes please!
Original recipe link –
Follow me on all your favorite social media sites!

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

Our mother needed a break today, as all mothers occasionally do. Audrey is cooking dinner, which terrifies me, and I am writing today’s blog post.

P1040845

Tonight’s dinner is vegetarian spaghetti squash lasagna. This healthy lasagna is low-carb, reduced-calorie, paleo (depending on what marinara sauce and cheeses you use), “clean” (depending on your very subjective definition of “clean”), high-protein and veggie-packed! Hey, I think I hit all the buzzwords! Seriously, though, this lasagna is delicious but far far better for you than your usual starch- and fat-laden junk from Olive Garden or whatever.

P1040857

The idea of spaghetti squash lasagna is not a new one, but given our great love for all things spaghetti squash and all things lasagna, we thought it would be appropriate to make our own recipe and share it with everyone.

P1040874

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

Serves 3-4 hungry people

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 cups cooked spaghetti squash (we microwaved the halved squash for about 8 minutes)
  • 1 cup marinara sauce (we used Francesco Rinaldi no-salt-added tomato sauce)
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese (we used Trader Joe’s Fat-Free Ricotta)
  • 1 oz or 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, shredded
  • 6 oz or 1.5 cups mozzarella shreds (we used Lucerne Fat-Free Mozzarella, which has 9 grams of protein per ounce, about 50% more than regular mozzarella!)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Layer the spaghetti squash, marinara sauce, ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella in an oven-safe casserole dish, making sure that the topmost layer is a cheesy layer!
  3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the foil and broil until the cheese bubbles.
  5. Eat!

P1040873

make salad with the leftovers!

make salad with the leftovers!

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna, 中文 Translation

今天我们的妈妈很累,所以妹妹做了晚饭,我得写今天的博客。对不起,我的中文不好。

我们今天的晚餐是健康的烤宽面条,其实一点面也没有。最近美国人不喜欢吃面粉,因为他们都觉得麸质是有毒的。当然麸质没有什么不好的,我常常吃面筋,可是面粉其实没有什么营养,而且吃面粉会让你的血糖提高,所以吃这种没有太多碳水化合物的食品会让你健康,对你的小蛮腰好。

我不知道你懂不懂我的中文。我的父母不知道我的中文这么差,因为我考AP中文考了一个五(最高分)。其实,谁都考了一个五,化学考试也是的。请别告诉他们,我中文是很马虎的。哈哈哈,我是老虎,妹妹是马,我们最的事当然都是很马马虎虎的。

成分:

  • 差不多710 mL意大利面条壁球 (谢谢,Google 翻译)
  • 237mL 防切将
  • 425 g 乳清干酪 (谢谢,Google 翻译)
  • 28 g 干酪 (谢谢,Google 翻译。不知道你对不对。)
  • 170 g 无肥马苏里拉奶酪

用这些成分做lasagna,有没有那么难!快吃!很好很强大!

我们在养这个草泥马,真可爱!

Top Four On-the-Go Workouts… Even for the Exercise-Averse!

Note: If you want to see photos of my mother ballroom dancing then keep reading!

When I first went to school away from home, I became completely sedentary. I’ve never been good at most team sports, there was no karate studio nearby, and the gym was full of scary upperclassmen (or so it seemed when I was a freshman). In an attempt to get some exercise, I Googled “prison workouts” to see what I could do inside my closet-sized dorm room but none of them seemed very appealing to me.

too hardcore

too hardcore

A different type of prison workout - from Pinterest

A different type of prison workout – from Pinterest

By spring term I had worked up the guts to go to the school gym, but before that I relied solely on these four workouts!

endorphin rush! ignore the jaundice

endorphin rush! ignore the jaundice and gigantic face

The best part is that they’re not just for the dorm; anyone who’s stuck in a hotel room, apartment, or other small space (prison?) can do ’em – my mom often does these when she’s on location and doesn’t have access to/can’t be bothered to go to the gym!
1. Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred

30-day-shred

Good workout, but no, 99.99999% of people are NOT going to lose 20 lb. in 30 days just doing this video workout. Just sayin’

Are you ready to get shredded????? Well personally I just wanted to stop being a sedentary lump but my mother did indeed use this in another one of her attempts to get ripped. (I’d like to take this opportunity to note that no matter how much exercise you do, you ain’t gonna get lean and mean unless you have an energy deficit. So cut down on the peanuts, Mommy!)

This 20 min workout is not going to make you expend as much energy (i.e., be as good a cardio sesh) as, say, running, swimming, or using a cardio machine at the gym, but it sure does make you feel like you worked hard!

All you need is a pair of dumbbells, however heavy you want, and either a yoga mat or a carpet/rug. For most exercises there’s a hard version and an easy version so no matter what level of fitness you are at, it won’t be too hard or too easy.

2. Jillian Michael’s Six Week Six Pack

51If4d8GEZL._SY300_

Okay, before I talk about this video and the rest of the workouts I’d like to take a moment to be really preachy and annoying. Bear with me or skip the next paragraph.

You can’t spot reduce. You can’t spot reduce. You can build muscle in a particular part of your body by doing strength training that focuses on that area, but DOING CRUNCHES IS NOT GOING TO GET RID OF YOUR MUFFIN TOP. There, I said it. So even though I love these workouts, I’m really nitpicky about these things and I can’t stand it when they claim that exercising a certain part of your body will make you lose fat in that area. You lose fat throughout your body by maintaing an energy deficit. Okay, end of tirade against spot reduction myth.

Back to the video. This is another workout video from Jillian Michaels with a focus on abs. There’s special ab workouts as well as some cardio. You can find level one for free here.

3. ¡Zumba!

Zumba-Fitness-Exhilarate-Th

My mother is really into dancing.

China's version of "Dancing with the Stars"

China’s version of “Dancing with the Stars”

She also hates every single other form of exercise. Hates ’em all with a burning passion, I tell you. One day I decided to introduce her to zumba – it’s dancing but with extra cardio! She fell in love right away and now zumba is her go-to workout. She takes zumba classes at the local Y but when she’s shooting she uses the zumba videos that she bought from Amazon.

look at dem quads

look at dem quads and glutes

If you normally dislike exercise then you might like zumba! Honestly, who doesn’t like shaking it?

u=371790359,2171771862&fm=11&gp=0

fun fact: she weighs more than he does. shhh!

http://tv.sohu.com/20130512/n375628080.shtml

http://tv.sohu.com/20130609/n378536480.shtml

Above is the link to her dances.

ok this isn't zumba but i just find this really funny so i'm gonna post it anyway

ok this isn’t zumba but i just find this really funny so i’m gonna post it anyway

4. Blogilates!

Fun workouts! But NO this will not slim your arms because spot reduction is a myth. Sorry not sorry

Fun workouts! But NO this will not slim your arms because spot reduction is a myth. Sorry not sorry

Cassey Ho is kind of like Jillian Michaels, except peppier and nicer and Asian-er. There are tons and tons of free videos on Blogilates.com, and they’re all really fun! My personal favorites are the song challenges because they’re all pretty short (just the length of a pop song) so you can pick and choose which ones you want to do for your (strength training) workout.

There are soooo many different exercise videos on Blogilates so there’s lots of variety! My favorites include:

  1. What Makes You Booty-ful – oh God, the pain… hard to sit through a math exam after this.
  2. “Work Work” Ab Challenge – dear college admission officers, please note that I said “work work” and not “Work _____.”
  3. Gangnam Style Call Me Maybe Squat Mashup – really fun, not too hard, good for da glutes
  4. Victoria’s Secret Bombshell Butt – disclaimer: didn’t get a bombshell butt. Really fun though!

In addition to workout vids Blogilates also has lots of fun recipes and blog posts! I love the “Cheap Clean Eats” series, especially the banana egg pancakes – I usually do a variation with egg whites and half a scoop of Cellucor whey. I also love Aubernutter mug pancakes which are kinda sorta based on the banana egg recipe!

Happy werkin’!!

My first kiss went a little like this…

Chase painting Joan

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

SCAN0011

SCAN0024

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

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

SCAN0130 2

Chase and I being the Marx brothers for Halloween

SCAN0015

Chase’s self portrait from that era

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

SCAN0018

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

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

SCAN0008

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

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

SCAN0009 2

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

P1040485

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

SCAN0017 (1)

My mother with my brother Chase in front of our house

SCAN0017

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

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

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

Age12_bro_dad

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

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

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

SCAN0006

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

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

SCAN0020

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

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

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

SCAN0105

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

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

Cow Painting

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

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

SCAN0014

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

SCAN0013

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

P1040438

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

4 large tomatoes, chopped (I used grape tomatoes)

4 avocados – peeled, pitted and diced

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

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste

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

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

P1040498 P1040489

Top Four Fast, Delicious (and Surprisingly Healthy!) Lunch Choices

1. Sandwiches and Wraps

According to some very reputable source on the internet, sandwiches are the top source of calories in the Standard American Diet. If you’re at all surprised, remember that Big Macs and Fatburgers fall under the sandwich category.

Don’t worry, though, because sandwiches can be healthy! Not just healthy but also yummy as a cheeseburger and healthy as a… I don’t know, a collard green? Whatever, just really healthy! And even if you’re on Atkins/Paleo/raw vegan/tapeworm diet (just kidding!) you can always use lettuce or coconut wraps to make a burrito/roll type thing that fits your needs.

sandwich

This is love.

For lunch today I had the best motherlovin’ sandwich ever. It was made with 45-calorie 100% whole wheat bread toasted with Jarlsberg Lite with some dijon mustard, roasted bell peppers, tomato, lettuce, and 1/4 of an avocado. Yum! These are just the things I had on hand, too, so it was super convenient to make.

Oh yeah, and you know what I had on the side of my sandwich? That’s right…

2. Salad!

I know, I know, salad gets a horrible rap from everyone. Salad. It’s like longhand for “sad.” Fitness websites are always whining about how restaurant salads are so deceptive and they are full of mayonnaise and bacon and fried chips and blah blah blah! Everyone hates subsisting on pathetic little leaves of lettuce all in the name of health. And worse yet are those stupid bloggers (oopsies) who go on and on and on about how much they love salads! Who can stand them?

But you know what? Salads can be healthy and yummy, and not just by Slim-Fast standards. A good salad can just be a bunch of (preferably healthy) leftovers with veggies and stuff. It can be whatever you want it to be.

IMG_5476

Summer salad – romaine, watermelon, and baked tofu

So spiralize those cucumbers! Sprinkle on the hulled barley and walnuts. And if you want, spray some olive oil or add a bit of non-diabetes-causing dressing.

3. Soup

There’s nothing better than a nice warm soup on a chilly day. Or a nice chilled soup on a hot day. Or a hearty room temperature soup after a long day. You get the idea.

The best part is that you can freeze and reheat most soups so you can make a huge batch and eat it for months if you’re into the whole meal-prepping thing. You can use practically any ingredients you have to make a great soup. I personally love my soymilk machine (yes, soymilk machine) for making soup – it purees and cooks all the ingredients so I get wonderfully creamy-tasting soups, minus the cream.

soup

Pumpkin soup topped with plain nonfat Greek yogurt, basil, and pepitas.

4. Leftover Mashup

Okay, I realize that pretty much everything here could be a leftover mashup, but sometimes you just want to combine leftovers without even calling it a soup, salad, or sandwich, ya feel?

Sometimes you just want to get food out of the fridge and scarf it down. I definitely feel that a lot.

Well, how can you make this random mashup of leftovers healthy? Easy! You’ve just got to make sure you get three important components: veggies (duh), protein, and (unless you’re on Atkins of whatever, then you can sub cauli rice or spiralized noodles or whatever) starch.

Kitchen

I just want to eat it all right now.

So no matter how busy you are, no excuses! Eat something healthy, yummy, and easy to make. Now that’s a triumvirate of dieting success.

I'm happy because I'm no longer hungry.

I’m happy because I’m no longer hungry.