Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze



There was a skinny fig tree in front of my childhood home — the original home, the only one that appears in my dreams, that I have hopelessly yearned for since the day I left for America.

Throughout my childhood, I remember tasting a sweet ripe fig only once. I grew up in the years of extreme food scarcity and no child could wait until the figs were ripe to harvest them. My brother and I began picking them earlier each year because we wanted to get them before the other children in the neighborhood could steal them. We tried to leave the raw figs in the rice sack or in the sun for them to ripen, but the figs stayed hard no matter how long we waited. 

One day, I was idling by the 2nd floor window daydreaming, which was something children often did in that era. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves of the fig tree and a pinkish purplish bulb caught my eye. A ripe fig! I had never before seen a fig like this, rufescent and drooped from the slightly wilted stem. I nearly killed myself trying to pluck it with the help of a clothe hanger. I quickly stuffed it in my mouth before anyone could see me. There are no words that can describe the intense and shocking burst of pleasure as my teeth sunk into the flesh of that fig.

As I prepared these roasted figs today, I felt a nostalgic tug in my heart — a nameless longing. Was I twelve or thirteen? What was I daydreaming about? The neighbor boy with a “bad reputation” to play badminton with? The faraway lands I secretly read about in forbidden hand copied books? Or was it food? I was always a little hungry in those days and food was never far from my thoughts.

Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined roasting dozens of ripe figs in an oven — a wonderful contraption I didn’t know existed until I came to the US.

As I used to daydream by the window, I now do by the oven. These roasted figs are sumptuous. They are great as appetizer, dessert or a snack. I used Buche de Chevre which was absolutely exquisite, but goat cheese will also taste great with it. The balsamic glaze is an important ingredient that is not optional in my mind. It is a perfect finishing touch to complete the dish.


Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze


Brown sugar

Buche de Chevre

Balsamic Glaze

Pinch of salt

Pine nuts

Mint leaves

Olive oil spray


Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Rinse the figs and pat them dry, then cut off the stems and, without cutting through the base, halve them from top to bottom.

Spray a baking pan with good olive oil. Dip the cut side of the fig in a dish of brown sugar. Line the figs cut side up in the baking pan.

Bake until the sugar is bubbling and the figs is heated through, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle broken cheese on top. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Top with pine nuts and mint leaves. Serve warm.


Peach Matcha Panna Cotta


This peach matcha panna cotta is not only yummy, it is light, healthy and good for you. Matcha is a super food that boasts a long list of health benefits that range from memory boost to body detoxification. I bought my matcha from Davids Tea. It is infused with peach flavor and slightly sweetened — perfect for making dessert.

The ingredients of this panna cotta is deceptively simple — milk, Greek yogurt, peach matcha powder, xylitol and gelatin. I made the dessert the night before and served it with sliced ripe nectarine as breakfast for Peter. A great way to begin the weekend!


Peach Matcha Panna Cotta


2 cups of milk (4%)

1 cup full fat Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons peach matcha powder (I used 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon, but if you like the matcha flavor more intense add another teaspoon or two.)

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

1 pack unflavored gelatin (1 1/4 ounce packet)



Pour 1 cut of milk into a sauce pan or small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin powder evenly on top of the milk and let stand for a few minutes. Turn stove on to low and heat the milk with gelatin as you slowly stir until the gelatin is melted. Don’t let milk boil.

Blend 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, 1/4 cup xylitol and peach matcha in a food processor until smooth. Add the melted gelatin to the processor and blend until well mixed.

Oil the container before you pour the mixture if you will invert the panna cotta onto a plate to serve. You can also pour the mixture into the bowls or cups and serve directly from them.

Leave in the fridge for 2 hours or longer.


Rhubarb & Strawberries with Healthy Vanilla Ice Cream


Rhubarb is in season — plump, crimson and shiny like jewels. I bought two pounds of these ruby stocks today and decided to try them in two different flavors. One with grapefruit juice, which turned out to be best chilled, and other other with a bit cinnamon and brandy that is better served warm. They are both quite delicious by themselves, but absolutely divine with my home made healthy vanilla ice cream.

Most people might associate Rhubarb with British desserts, but the Chinese have actually used the rhubarb roots as medicine for over two thousand years. Rhubarb traveled along the Silk Road to Europe in the 1400s, and then from England to America with the early settlers.

Why did my ancestors only use the roots for medicine and not the delicious stocks for dessert? As a matter of fact, my contemporaries in China don’t eat rhubarb either.  2700 years after it’s first recorded use as medicine in China, I think it’s high time for rhubarb to travel back to China as a dessert!  I am taking Audrey to see my parents in Shanghai this summer and will bring rhubarb seeds with us.  Apparently the rhubarb roots that are used for medicine in China is of a different variety from the one that we use in America to make desserts.


Rhubarb & Strawberries in Grapefruit Juice


5 cups rhubarb, sliced into 2 to 3 inch long strips

2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved

1 cup or more red ruby grapefruit juice

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

Zest from 1/2 lemon

Mint leaves for garnish


Place rhubarb, juice, xylitol or sugar, 1/2 of the zest in a pot over medium high. Cook until rhubarb is soft, gently stir as it cooks.  It may appear to have not enough liquid in the beginning, but as the rhubarb softens, it should be completely submerged in the liquid.  Add a little more grapefruit juice if there is not enough liquid.

Make sure that you don’t cook the rhubarb for too long or it will become too mushy. 

Turn off the stove and let it cool for a minute before folding in the strawberries. Serve cold or chilled.

Healthy Vanilla Ice Cream


1 1/2 cup fat-free Fage or other Greek Yogurt

1 1/2 cup 2% milk, or milk of choice

4 1/2 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt


Blend all ingredients in a food processor. I used Vitamix. Pour into the ice cream maker and let churn for 25 to 30 minutes.



Rhubarb & Strawberries with Brandy


5 cups rhubarb, cut into desired shape

2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved

1 cup water

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 cup brandy


Place rhubarb, water, xylitol or sugar, vanilla, cinnamon in a pot over medium high. Cook until rhubarb is soft, gently stir as it cooks. Pour the brandy in and stir for 30 seconds.  Turn off stove and add strawberries. Mix and let cool.  Serve warm or cold.

Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta



Dessert before dinner is not a problem in this case.

These are absolutely the most delicious little treats made with the simplest and healthiest of ingredients.  When I was in Shanghai earlier this month, I made them for my parents, and they couldn’t believe that the decadent panna cotta was actually good for them.  Whenever I visit my parents, I pack food in my suitcases —  cheeses, extra virgin olive oil, whole grain cereal, decaf coffee beans… you name it.  My suitcases remind me of the ones hauled by the black market merchants during the era of food rationing in China. This time I brought them a bag of xylitol along with other novelty foods.  My dad has a voracious appetite and he loves sweets, but he needs to watch his blood sugar.  So xylitol was a perfect gift for him, and the panna cotta was a perfect dessert to showcase it. 

Looking at my dad chomping on peanuts in front of the TV, I knew I was doomed. It is amazing how one can inherit a penchant for peanuts from one’s father. There is definitely a peanut loving gene  in my DNA.  My dad is hard of hearing and talking with him is laborious for the both of us; so we shelled peanuts together while watching some Sino-Japanese war series on TV. It seemed that my parents are always watching the same battles being fought every time I visit them.  The Japanese invasion and the Chinese resistance must be one of the few themes that can pass censorship while still showing some scenes of sex and violence. I was able to make them happy simply by sitting with them. Nothing else was required — just my presence. I think only children have this kind of magical power over their parents.

Okay, back to the panna cotta. It is low fat, but feels extremely creamy in your mouth.  I made mine sugar free with xylitol and stevia extract.  Stevia extract is natural and has virtually no calories. I usually add a pack or two with about 1/4 cup of xylitol. If you don’t like xylitol or stevia, you can use 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of sugar depending on how sweet you want your panna cotta.  

Everyone in the family loved the panna cotta not only because it is delectable and healthy, but also because home-made dessert means mommy is back.


I found reusable yogurt bottles with lids to be perfect for the panna cotta. You can easily store them in the fridge for a few days.


Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta

2 1/2 cups Fage Total or other full fat Greek yogurt

1 1/2 cup 2% organic milk or milk of choice or cream (I used 2% organic)

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

1 to 2 packs of organic stevia or 1 to 2 more tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 1/4 ounce packet) unflavored gelatin

Canola or safflower for greasing the containers



Grease the containers (ramekins or teacups or bowls) if you plan to un-mold the panna cotta when serving.  If you plan to serve the panna cotta in the container that you make it with, you can skip the greasing.

Pour 1 cup of milk in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin in the milk, let soak until soft, 5 to 10 minutes.

In a small sauce pan on low heat, stir the xylitol or sugar, milk and gelatin until melt. (Do not boil.) Let cool for 3 to 5 minutes.

In a food processor, mix together milk gelatin mixture, yogurt, lemon juice, vanilla extract, xanthan gum and stevia.

Pour mixture into desired container and refrigerate for 2 to 8 hours depending on the size of the container, about 2 hours for small ramekins or cups and up to 8 hours or overnight for a cake pan.

To take the panna cotta out of the container, dip the bottom of the container in a pan of hot water for 5 seconds, or use a sharp knife to separate along the side of the container. Cover the container with the plate you plan to serve on and turn the whole thing upside down.

Serve with fresh berries and a dollop honey or maple syrup


Top with brandied dried apricots

I made the brandied apricots the same way I made the brandied dried figs and the brandied dried cherry.



Brandied Cherry Garcia Fro-Yo


Last night, Peter and I went to the CPMC 2020 Gala to support the construction of the new hospital. The event was sponsored by Chanel and I think it was as glamorous as any hospital fundraising event could ever get. People couldn’t believe how well their doctors cleaned up.  So many people came to tell me how much they loved Peter. They were his peers, his former students, his patients and his bosses, people I had not met before, but I could see that they were sincere in their feelings. Talking to them about Peter made me happy and proud. It made the evening more meaningful for me.  Peter works harder then anyone I know, and sometimes I complain about his long hours or his sudden departure from a night out with friends because there was a heart attack patient in the ER. All parties are stressful for me, but last night the stress was worth it. It was wonderful for me to know that he is well appreciated by so many.  But I think what truly sustains Peter is not just people’s appreciation.  Medicine is his life’s passion.

Peter has a sweet tooth, but he needs to watch his sugar intake.  I made this very low sugar, low fat, but really yummy treat for him. He had a couple of scoops after dinner and told me that he was feeling the effect of the brandy even though I cooked it. I guess I will not feed this to the girls.

I have made different versions of the healthy cherry Garcia fro-yo before. Today, I made it with brandied cherries to give it a more luxurious and decadent taste.


Homemade Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt


2 cups fat free plain Fage or Greek yogurt of choice

4 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

A pinch of salt

1 packs Stevia

1 cup 2% milk or milk of choice

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup brandied dried cherries

4 to 5 tbsp shaved 86% dark chocolate bar


Soak the dried cherries in about 1/2 cup brandy and 1/4 cup water until rehydrated. Boil on high until the liquid is reduced to syrup. 

Chop or shave the chocolate.

Blend everything except chocolate and cherries in a blender.

Pour the yogurt mixture into the ice cream maker. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, pour the content into a large ziplock bag with the cherries and chocolate.  Lay it flat in the freezer for 20 minutes or until solid but not hard.  Squeeze the bag to mix the fro-yo before serving.

Let the machine churn for about 10 minutes. Slowly add the shaved chocolate and 3/4 brandied cherries as the machine churns.  Save about 1/4 cup of the cherries in brandy syrup to drizzle over the fro-yo when serving. Let churn until the ice cream is desired consistency.


If you like your fro-yo tart, use 2 1/2 cup of Greek Yogurt and 1/2 cup of milk.


Very Healthy, Very Lemony Fro-Yo


It has been as warm as summer here in San Francisco this week.  After school today, Audrey picked some lemons from our tree and asked me to make her a lemon fro-yo.  She would have to write two papers and prepare for a test for tomorrow.  A special treat was definitely called for. 

This fro-yo is incredibly creamy and refreshing. Not only is it guiltless to indulge, it is actually good for you.  For once, you CAN have your cake and eat it too. Audrey and I finished the entire tub. I had to make a second batch so Peter and Angela could also have some after dinner. 


Very Healthy, Very Lemony Fro-Yo


2 cups fat free Fage or other plain Greek yogurt

1 cup 2% milk or milk of choice

5 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

2 packs stevia or more sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon extract

2 tablespoons lemon zest & more for garnish

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice



Mix all ingredients except for lemon zest in a large blender. I used Vitamix.

Pour mixture into the ice cream maker and let churn for 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve with lemon zest and crunch tiny candy hearts.


Cherry Almond Roca Fro-Yo



Every Christmas, Peter would receive from his patients so many boxes of chocolate truffles, butter cookies, dried fruits and nuts, cheeses and sausages that they would last us for nearly the whole year.

As a child in Shanghai, I used to save up my weekly bus fare to buy candies and other treats.  I would walk to the little shop that sold cigarettes and snacks and look into the glass jar for a long time before deciding on which piece to buy.  Candy was a luxury that was often purchased one piece at a time during those years of scarcity.  I saved all the wrappers after I ate the candies and pressed them in my favorite books.  Now and then when there was no pocket money left for candies, I would look at the wrappers and fantasize about the sweetness on my tongue.  I probably would have been willing to sell my soul to the devil for a piece of candy back then.  That was the reason why my mother repeatedly told my brother and me that all strangers who offered children candies were dangerous criminals to be avoided.  Not in my wildest childhood dreams could I ever have imagined to be the owner of so many boxes of candy.  I guess I have come a long way.

In the meantime, I have been trying to find creative ways to enjoy the sweets without being filled with too much guilt afterwards.  Today, I made a low fat, low sugar fro-yo with ALMOND ROCA and dried tart cherries from Peter’s patients.  The texture is creamy with a little crunchy and chewy bits in the midst.  It is so delicious that you won’t believe it is actually good for you.  Since it is low-fat, it is best if you enjoy it fresh out of the tub.  If you decide to leave it in the freezer for future consumption, it will harden and you will need to thaw it for 30 minutes before eating.


Healthy Cherry Roca Fro-Yo


2 cups fat-free Fage

1 cup 2% milk

5 tablespoon xylitol or other sweetener

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

4 pieces ALMOND ROCA, + 1 more to sprinkle if desired, chopped

3/4 cup dried sweetened tart cherries, roughly chopped



Mix all the all the ingredients except for the ALMOND ROCA and cherries in a powerful blender.  Pour into the ice cream machine.  As the machine is churning, add the ALMOND ROCA and the cherries in with a spoon.


Granola Bars & Walnut Coconut Bars


IMG_0626 (1)

School has started again and it’s time to make snacks for the girls to either bring in their backpacks or to enjoy after school.  These delicious granola bars and walnut coconut bars are packed with healthy nutrients and energy.  They are also great for breakfast if you are in a hurry in the morning which is what happens on most days for Angela and Audrey.

I had made the walnut coconut bars with dates before, but I made today’s with prunes, which are lower in sugar and higher in vitamins compared to dates.  You can use other nuts such as macadamia, cashew, almonds or pecan, but personally I think walnuts taste the best in this recipe.  


Granola Bars


2 1/2 cup oatmeal (not quick cook)

1/2 cup sunflower seeds dry roasted no salt  (If you cannot find them you can use raw and toast them with the walnuts)

1 cup pecans or walnuts

1/4 cup brown sugar or xylitol

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup

1/4 cup unsalted butter or coconut oil

2 t. vanilla extract

1/2 t. kosher salt

1/2 cup dried cranberries



Preheat oven to 325F.  Spread oats onto a sheet pan.  Place walnuts on a separate sheet pan.  Toast @325 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Stir oats after 10 minutes.  Take walnuts out after 10 min.

While oats and walnuts are roasting, add sugar, honey, butter, vanilla and salt to a saucepan and cook over medium heat.  Bring mixture to a boil.

Prep a clean sheet pan with parchment paper and non-stick spray

In a large mixing bowl, add dried fruit, the hot oat mixture, walnuts, and sunflower seeds and the hot syrup together.  Mix well.

Place mixture on prepared sheet pan.  Spread evenly.  Place another piece of parchment paper on top and then another sheet pan.  Press firmly.

Cool for at least 1 hour and the refrigerate for another 4 hours or overnight.

Cut into desired size and wrap each in plastic wrap.

The recipe makes approx. 12 bars.   


Walnut Coconut Bars


3/4 cup soft dried prunes, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped

1 heaping cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut + more to sprinkle on


Knead all ingredients together like kneading a piece of dough. 

Sprinkle shredded coconut on a sheet of saran wrap on a cutting board. press and fatten the fruit and nut dough on it.  Cover with another sheet of saran wrap and flatten it further with a roll pin. 

Remove the top saran wrap and cut into desired shape and size.


Coconut Pomegranate Chia Pudding


For a couple of days in the middle of a heat wave in Budapest this year, Audrey played Christmas music in the apartment and wished it was already winter.  “I can’t wait for Christmas,” she cried. “It’s my favorite time of the year!”  Through out the year, the thought of Christmas would come upon her suddenly just like that and she would say, “I wish it was Christmas already.”  And after each Christmas, she would keep the colorful lights in her bedroom until it is time for spring cleaning.



I don’t know another person who is as excited about Christmas as Audrey, certainly no one from our family.  Last ChristmasI wrote about how I was the “Grinch” who stole Angela’s Christmas when she was four years old.  However, I doubt she would have been a Christmas enthusiast for long even if I didn’t ruin it for her on that fateful day.  Angela is fiercely independent and unique in a sense that she doesn’t buy into any preassigned emotional response — the simplistic templates that the society applies to something as complex as life.  She is someone who questions all popular sentiments, and since her early teens she has believed Christmas to be just a commercialized religious holiday.  There are certainly much worthier things to celebrate than that.  But in recent years, she has gone Christmas shopping with her friends and learned to enjoy gift giving.  I suppose that’s the true pleasure of the season — playing Santa Claus.

Having been raised in Communist China, I had never heard of that jolly pot-bellied man in a red suit and white beard until after I was 20 years old. I was alone in New York.  The festivity around me only made me more homesick.  Distant relatives and my parents’ friends took me in.  I remember feeling awkward and ashamed when I receive the gifts from them, but did not have any money to get gifts for them in return.  For a while, Christmas was a lonely and alienating time.  As years passed, I have come to love the Holiday season for the sparkling lights and glittery wrapping paper, for the piney scent of the tree and the toasty aroma of the fireplace burning, for the cozy family time playing banana gram and drinking hot chocolate with peppermint. And most importantly, for Audrey’s happy face when she opens her gift on Christmas morning.


Audrey and I bought our Christmas tree today and she singlehandedly decorated it while the Christmas music played in the house.  I am finally feeling the season’s beckoning.


A simple coconut pomegranate chia pudding seemed a perfect dessert for a day full of errands to run. it is delicious, healthy and it looks so cheerful.


Coconut Pomegranate Chia Pudding


1 1/2 cup coconut milk (not from a can, but the beverage that comes in cartons)

3 tablespoon chia seeds

3 tablespoon shredded coconut

2 tablespoon xylitol or sweetener of choice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Seeds from 1 pomegranate



Put the first 4 ingredients in a mason jar and shake vigorously before storing in the fridge for 8 hours or over night.  Stir in pomegranate seeds before serving.


Coconut Macadamia Blondies At Home


The master shower is broken.  One of the garage doors does not work properly.  The heater needs repair.  It’s almost amusing how the appliances seem to know that the superintendent has been away and they can misbehave.  The kitchen floor is scummy.  The formal (or former) dining table is piled with opened and unopened mails…  None of this matters. I am finally home.  Nothing is better than being home. 

It’s intensely gratifying and almost a bit shocking to be able to touch the warm bodies of my loved ones after seeing them only on my cell screen for the past months.  Audrey, who was an inch shorter than me when I left for Malaysia, shot up and is now taller than me.  I am officially the shortest person in the house.  When I was away, I clung to the comforting memory of my family — the one constant in my life.  But even the most familiar and constant is ever changing.  What I have missed in their lives will remain missing. I think humans possess imagination because we need to conjure up the missing pages in our lives — be it past or future.

Angela was writing her English paper today — a fictional piece based on real history.  Over hot chocolate and blondies, we talked for hours about my upbringing in Shanghai and how the Cultural Revolution impacted my family and my peers.  Her interest in my previous life — one that seems to have little to do with who I am today, but is in fact the most integral part of my character — was moving to me. 


At Grandparents’ house before my parents were sent down

Before returning to San Francisco, I went to Shanghai to visit my parents for a week.  Being a mother myself, I understand much more viscerally how they must have missed my brother and me when they were sent down to the countryside for “re-education” during the Cultural Revolution. How they must have worried sick about our well being. I was 8 and my brother was 10.  We had the use of their salary and decided to subsist mostly on red bean popsicles.  Other than popsicles, we had rice.  There were two pots of scallions on the window sill and we always ate our rice mixed with a little soy sauce, lard and chopped scallion.  Though it was only for a few months that both my parents were away, it felt like forever to me.  I was the happiest little girl when my mother finally came home.  She surprised me with two colorful pullovers with checkered pattern in the front.  A book worm and a pure intellectual all her life, she has been inept in doing anything domestic except for knitting those two beautiful sweaters for me in the dim light of an oil lamp in the re-education camp.

Now, a little about these delicious blondies — they are vegan, gluten free and pretty easy to whip up. High in dietary fiber and low in simple carbs, they are guilt free to indulge.


Healthy Coconut Macadamia Blondies


1 15.5 oz can white beans, washed and drained

1/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup shredded coconut

1/4 cup roasted macadamia nuts

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt



Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Blend all ingredients except for shredded coconut and macadamia nuts in a food processor until smooth.  Mix in shredded coconut by hand.  Pour mixture into a greased 8×8 baking pan.  Add macadamia nuts.  Bake for 30 minutes.  They are a little crumbly, so make sure you let them cool completely before handling.