Gluten-free, Grain-free Coconut Chocolate Bars

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Angela told me today that she ordered an ancestry DNA test kit.  I asked her what made her do that, and she told me that she spoke to Nai Nai and Ye Ye (Peter’s parents) and for some reason or another, Nai Nai told her that her maternal grandfather was probably a white man, or half white.  As if this was not enough, Peter’s father chimed in as well, “My mother was not really a Han Chinese.  Her last name indicated that she was possibly a descendant of an Arab.”  Angela was speechless on the phone while they kept going on with the mysterious familial ancestry.  When Angela asked for more details, they couldn’t offer anything more concrete. 

This was the first time I heard about this.  Even Peter didn’t know.  We sat around the dinner table, closely scrutinizing photos of Peter’s grandmother to see if there is any Caucasian features in her face, and we couldn’t really tell.  She seemed to have prominent brow bridge and deeply set eyes. 

What happened?  How did it happen?  We really won’t know the truth until we get our results in a few weeks. We are very curious to find out more about the kids’ ancestry! I remember that someone at a dinner party mentioned getting his DNA tested and finding out that he was approximately 3% Neanderthal – who knows, maybe there’s another reason for my brute strength and forgetfulness!  Maybe I should have myself tested as well.

Neanderthal or not, everyone loves coconut flour chocolate chunk bars!

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These fluffy, moist bars with layers of dark chocolate and shredded coconut taste amazing. Coconut flour is also relatively lower in carbs, higher in fiber and full of healthy fats.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup melted coconut oil

1/3 cup honey, agave nectar or maple syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs, slightly beaten

¼ cup unsweetened almond milk

1/2 cup coconut flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

3 oz your favorite dairy free dark chocolate bar, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup coconut flakes, optional

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PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 8×8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together coconut oil, honey, vanilla, eggs, and almond milk. In a separate medium bowl whisk together coconut flour, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just combined and batter is smooth. Fold in chopped chocolate, reserved a few tablespoons for sprinkling on top if desired.

Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown and knife comes out with a few crumbs attached. The batter may look like it’s not all the way cooked but it will be. DO NOT OVERBAKE or it will result in dried out bars and no one likes that! I always bake mine for 20 minutes and don’t have any problems. Cool bars on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes so that they settle a bit, then cut into 16 squares. Enjoy!

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Adapted from:ambitiouskitchen.com

Baked Coconut Yam Fries

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

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

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

Ingredients:

1 yam (spiralized or sliced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil (melted)

1/4 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

1/2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar (optional)

Preparation:

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

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

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Nutty Fruity Scones

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Angela’s Post:

As I write this, my dad is squinting at his laptop and muttering obscenities under his breath. Apparently a certain fellow responsible for typing up medical reports is not only incapable of using proper English grammar but also gets basic facts like dates and years wrong. My father, a very busy interventional cardiologist has become a copy editor. I fear for the future of medicine. I don’t want to let some schmuck who doesn’t know the difference between January and February handle my arteries. I guess that’s another reason to eat well and stay healthy.

Today we made deliciously crumbly reduced-sin scones. There’s no butter or refined flour in them, and they’re dairy-free, paleo, and “clean” (I think? Unsure of standards regarding the sanitation of one’s diet) so make them and gobble them up right now! Feed your wife! Feed your husband! Feed your children because they’re darn good and won’t make your blood glucose levels spike uncontrollably!

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Nutty Fruity Scones

Ingredients:

2 cups almond flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup walnuts

¼ cup pecan

1 large egg

2 tablespoons honey

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Preparation:

In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt and soda.

Stir in dried fruit and nuts.

In a small bowl, combine egg and honey.

Stir wet ingredients into dry.

Use your hands to form dough.

Shape into desired shape.

(I used a little coconut flour to prevent sticking when I handled the dough.)

Bake at 350° on a parchment paper lined baking sheet for 10-12 minutes

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…And a Happy New Year!

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In the beginning of 2014, which feels like just moments ago, it never occurred to me that I would be cooking and blogging about my experience in the kitchen.  This seemingly whimsical idea has unexpectedly taken root in me somehow. I’m not sure what exactly is driving me to do this. Angela and I started this experiment in an attempt to make our family eat more mindfully.  But what sustains me in the daily practice is perhaps my impulse to make things, and my desire to learn things.  I have learned and am still learning how to prepare more healthful and more delicious food.  In the process I have also discovered a deep pleasure in cooking, and in looking at all the familiar edible things with the newness of a baby.

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I have always loved food, but the past two months have taught me to eat more deliberately, and to taste the flavors instead of simply pigging out.  The past two months are also wonderful because the kitchen has become not only a sanctuary for me, but also a warm place where we find joy as a family.  The children are now more involved in cooking their own food — Audrey has turned out to be quite talented in everything breakfast — smoothies, French toast and pancakes, you name it.  As a matter of fact, she is making healthy-fied blueberry pancakes for dinner as I’m writing.  And writing.  I have also been learning to better express myself in the language of my adopted country.  Words and sentences come too slowly and are never adequate enough to capture the grinding of my brain, but the practice does calm and focus my mind.

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Today I want to share with you twelve of our family’s favorite recipes from the blog.  Most of the dishes I have cooked are relatively simple and quick to make — something accomplishable on a daily basis.  I have completely done away with butter, and in most cases with simple carbohydrates.  Almost all of the breads, muffins and cookies were made of almond flour or coconut flour or both — something I hadn’t known one could do before this blog.   

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Lemon and Olive Oil Marinated Fennel Salad with Burrata and Mint

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Sugar-free Grain-free Chocolate Cookies

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Roast Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary, Thyme, Sage & Garlic

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Healthy, Quick and Easy Mushroom Risotto

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Mongolian Beef

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Healthy Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

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Minced Turkey with Basil Lettuce Cup

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Kung Pao Chicken

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Ginger Scallion Sriracha Glazed Salmon

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Yam Casserole with Crispy Top

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Almond Flour Coconut Chocolate Cookies

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Pear Lemon Zest Burrata Crostini

Thank you for reading. Have a happy 2015!

Sugar-Free, Grain-Free Chocolate Almond Cookies!

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School was out and it was pouring outside.  What would be a better time than this to bake cookies?  Angela and I decided to adapt our recipe from skinnytaste’s  Easy 5-Ingredient Nutella Almond Butter Cookies. 

We took the liberty of making ours a little healthier than the original.  And they were quite delicious, especially when they were still a little warm and soft. Since they were grain free, sugar free cookies, we packed a few to send to Peter’s mother, who is diabetic.  

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As the girls and I relaxed by the fireplace eating our warm cookies with milk, I thought to myself if this isn’t nice, what is? 

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There is a book called If This Isn’t Nice, What is, which collected nine graduation speeches that Kurt Vonnegut delivered in nine different colleges between 1978 and 2004.  One paragraph from which the book borrowed its title reads like this, “One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’  So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’”

Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Cookies Ingredients:

1 cup organic crunchy almond butter

1/2 cup xylitol (see note below)

1/4 cup 100% unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup almond flour

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pre heat oven at 350F and bake the cookes for 8-10 minutes on a baking dish lined with parchment paper.  This recipe makes 16 to 18 cookies.

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In case you’re wondering, xylitol is a sweetener that is naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t raise blood sugar since it’s a sugar alcohol. Also, it’s good for your teeth and recommended by many dentists! Unlike aspartame, saccharine, or sucralose, xylitol has not been shown to increase risk for obesity, diabetes, or other metabolic disorders. We usually use Xyla brand xylitol since it’s made from hardwood instead of GMO corn. If you don’t have xylitol or don’t want to use it, you can use an equivalent amount of some other sweetener. We definitely recommend xylitol, though, since it tastes and feels just like sugar but is not unhealthy.

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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.

Gluten-Free Potato Bread + Some Improv

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Remember that gluten-free paleo zucchini bread recipe we made a few weeks ago? Well today we made a delicious variation based on which ingredients we had on hand. Instead of using zucchini, we used potato. The recipe is still gluten free, although according to most sources it isn’t paleo because of the white potato (which I’ve never understood – sweet potatoes aren’t actually better than white potatoes, guys!) but if that’s a problem for you then you can always substitute some other tuber that “Dr.” Mercola gives the stamp of approval (check Wikipedia guys!).

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See? Prevention magazine approves… not the best source of information out there, but I just want to justify my potato obsession

Alright, getting to the point – here is our potato bread recipe! 10/10 would eat again.

Potato Bread

1 medium-sized potato

1/2 teaspoon salt

1+1/2 cups almond flour

1+1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon guar gum

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons milk of choice

1 purple shallot

1 sprig rosemary

2 sprigs thyme – fresh stems removed and leaves minced

sun-dried tomatoes to taste, I used 1/4 cup

Pre-heat oven at 350

Saute sliced shallot, chopped rosemary and thyme with potato (shredded or spiralized and drained)

Mix all ingredients and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes.

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unffff

And now for the improv.

It’s so hard to write recipes for Chinese food because Chinese people don’t use recipes. It’s all by feel… a cup of oil here, a handful of monosodium glutamate there, whatever tastes good goes. The same principle of creativity that can make Chinese food heart attack fodder also allows you to make it delicious and healthy.

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This here is some kind of Chinese gourd. It’s easy to make stir fry healthier just by omitting the cornstarch and using small amounts of oil (two to three teaspoons, which is quite small relative to most stir fry). You can also use cooking spray if you want – just remember that it isn’t really “zero” calories so it’s not a good idea to use the whole bottle in one go!

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beautiful bok choi

The good thing about Chinese food is that there’s a big emphasis on veggies, which are obviously healthy when they aren’t drenched in grease.

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Yeah that’s it. I just had some extra photos so I tacked them onto the potato bread post. I took the PSAT today so I’m tired, ok?