Homemade Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt


Angela is a junior in high school, which means that she will be applying to college this fall.  According to all the parents that I know who have gone through the college application process, it promises to be one of the most harrowing times in their lives. It seems that being a great student and a great child is simply not enough.  Apparently, the children nowadays need bios that include so many accomplishments that a college education would seem completely redundant.

While browsing the bookstore for a book about college application, I came upon a letter from a 21-year-old Andy Warhol answering Harper’s editor Russell Lynes’s request for biographical information:

Hello mr. lynes

thank you very much

biographical information

my life couldn’t fill a penny post card i was born in pittsburgh in 1928 (like everybody else – in a steel mill)

i graduated from carnegie tech now i’m in NY city moving from one roach infested apartment to another.

Andy Warhol.

The letter made me smile.  He didn’t bother to use punctuation or capitalization, except when it comes to his own name, but later that year Lynes gave Warhol one of his first jobs — to illustrate a John Cheever short story for Harper’s.  He would go on to establish himself as the pop icon of 20th century.

Warhol wouldn’t get into any college with that bio if he lived today.  Or maybe he would.  I’m sure the fatigued essay reader at Harvard or Princeton would appreciate very much the brevity of his essay.

It was fortunate that Andy Warhol’s mother didn’t read the letter before it was sent out.  Things might turn out differently, i.e. not as favorably, if she had decided to improve his biographical information.

So all I can do to help Angela is to make the best after school snacks.  I am confident that the healthy and delicious snacks I make will mean something in the process.

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Homemade Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt


1 1/2 cups fat free plain Fage or yogurt of choice

A pinch of salt

4 packs Stevia

2 tbsp milk of choice

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp instant coffee

1/4 packed cup dried cherries, soaked and chopped or 3/4 fresh or frozen pitted cherries

4 tbsp shaved 86% dark chocolate bar



Soak the dried cherries in about 1/4 cup warm water for about 30 minutes.  Chop the cherries and keep the water.

Chop or shave the chocolate.

Blend everything except chocolate and cherries in a blender.

In either an ice cream machine or a large airtight container, combine the first 5 ingredients. (For optimal creaminess and best texture, use the ice cream machine. However, it does work—and still tastes delicious—if you don’t have a machine.)

As the machine churns, add the shaved chocolate and chopped cherries.  Let churn until the ice cream is desired consistency.

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Adapted from:  chocolatecoveredkatie.com

“What About Something Sweet? Baked Goods!”


These delicious cookies are deceptively healthy. They are gluten free, dairy free and packed with nuts.


Andrew Ly asked me via Facebook “What about something sweet? Baked goods!”  So, Andrew, here they are.  I feel like I am showing da Vinci how to paint a picture since Andrew Ly and his brother founded the Bay Area baking phenomenon Sugar Bowl Bakery.

Andrew and his family, along with another 140 refugees, braved pirates and sharks on a ride in a rickety hand-built boat from Vietnam to Malaysia with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  They were in a refugee camp in Malaysia for a year before coming to America.  They started a family bakery which grew into a 60 million dollar enterprise.  Their rags to riches story was singled out by President Obama when he came to San Francisco to give a speech about immigration a few years ago.

I understand the struggles of being uprooted and coming to a strange land.  I also understand the great opportunities that this land offers to all who are willing to work hard. 

I was not a boat person and I arrived US on a plane, but I also came to America with only the clothes on my back in 1981.  Though I was a movie star in China, I had no money.  I babysat, cleaned houses, and worked in restaurants to support myself through college. I, too, have come a long way.

Now, what about something sweet?  Baked goods!

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Walnut & Date Almond Meal Cookies


1 1/4 heaping cup almond flour

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 heaping cup chopped dried dates (I used very plump and gooey ones)

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg

3 tablespoons melted coconut oil (or almond oil)

1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 tsp Xanthan gum (optional)



Combine almond meal, walnuts, dates, shredded coconut, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum in a large bowl.

In a small bowl whisk the egg until it is uniform in color doubles in volume. Whisk in the coconut oil, honey and vanilla.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until combined

Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or overnight

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and using your hands roll the chilled dough into two bite sized cookies and lightly press on the tops to flatten.

Bake on a parchment paper lined baking sheet until the edges begin to brown – about 12 minutes.

Yields about 12 cookies

Adapted from: Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook


These nutrition packed cookies and ice cream are perfect for after school snack.

Slow-churned Raspberry Ice Cream


1 cup 2% milk fat evaporated milk (or any milk)

1 cup fat-free Fage (or other Greek yogurt)

1 1/2 heaping cup fresh raspberries

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp salt

5 tbsp xylitol

1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional)


Blend all ingredients except for raspberries in a large blender until smoothly mixed.  Add raspberries and pulse for a second.

Pour mixture into the ice cream machine and let it churn for 30 minutes or until the desired hardness.  

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I know it must feel odd and inappropriate to show my socks with my yummy cookies, but I promised yesterday that I would demonstrate what the Kondo way of folding socks is like.  It took me less than 15 minutes to un-ball the socks that looked like potatoes in my drawer, and to fold them in a way that they can relax and I can see each and everyone of them at one glance. I actually committed a Kondo sin by beginning to organize my socks before discarding of the clothes category is 100% completed, but rules are made to be broken.


Three recipes for healthy homemade ice cream!

I remember acquiring a Krups ice cream maker about fifteen years ago. I made one batch of mango sorbet and then the machine laid forgotten in my pantry until recently. My daughter Angela was ecstatic as she had hoped for an ice cream machine for months and it turned out that we had one at home this entire time. Lately we’ve been using the ice cream machine a lot and we love it; unlike a lot of machines, you don’t need any ice or rock salt!


Angela used to make her own ice cream the slow way. She would combine 8 oz of plain nonfat Fage with a scoop of Cellucor whey and a few grams of stevia/erythritol blend, freeze it for 90 min, mix, and then freeze for another 90 min. That’s right, three hours for a bowl of hard, lumpy ice cream. Audrey tried freezing for about five hours and mixing every half hour, resulting in creamier ice cream, but it was even more time consuming this way. But now? Hallelujah, we can go from zero to ice cream in twenty minutes flat. Here are our favorite recipes!


Vanilla ice cream topped with 100% dark chocolate bits, toasted walnuts and raspberries

1. Vanilla, of course


  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (or milk of choice)
  • 16 oz. (454 g) plain nonfat Greek yogurt, I used Fage brand
  • vanilla extract to taste, I used about 1 tsp
  • 7 tbsp xylitol, more or less to taste
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp guar gum (optional)
  • 1/4 cup sugar-free maple-esque syrup for topping, I used Joseph’s brand made with maltitol (optional)

You can easily halve this recipe if needed. If you want, you can add a scoop or two of protein powder, but since this is made out of Greek yogurt there’s already a lot of protein. Xanthan and guar gum aren’t the most common ingredients, but they are easily available on Amazon and they make the ice cream a lot smoother and creamier. It might seem expensive at first but you never really use more than 1 tsp at a time so it’s definitely worth it! Also, you can use guar gum and/or xanthan gum to make almond flour or coconut flour breads and cookies stick together better, so there’s another benefit.

Audrey eats ice cream with a smile

2. Chocolate Chocolate Chips


  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (or milk of choice)
  • 2 cups plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon 100% dark chocolate bits (unsweetened)
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably “natural” as opposed to Dutch-processed – more antioxidants retained this way)
  • 7 tbsp xylitol (or 11 packets stevia), more or less to taste
  • 2 tbsp PB2 powder (optional, for chocolate-peanut butter twist)
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp guar gum (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum (optional)

3. Coconut Mango


  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (or milk of choice)
  • 1 cups plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mango
  • coconut extract to taste
  • 7 tbsp xylitol (or 11 packets stevia), more or less to taste
  • 1/4 tsp guar gum (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum (optional)
  • unsweetened coconut shreds for topping, to taste

The delicious and healthy ice cream from these recipes don’t stay in Freezer well.  Don’t let it stay in the freezer for longer than an hour.  It’s most delicious right after it’s made.

PS: The ice cream stays in the freezer better when I change the healthy almond milk to 2% evaporated milk, but of course it is less healthy.

My first kiss went a little like this…

Chase painting Joan

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



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. 

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Chase and I being the Marx brothers for Halloween


Chase’s self portrait from that era

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


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.


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.

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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.


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.

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My mother with my brother Chase in front of our house


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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Origin of My Love for Ice Cream + Halo Top Review

Maquelonne Toussaint-Samat asserts in her History of Food that “the Chinese may be credited with inventing a device to make sorbets and ice cream.” Some distorted accounts claim that in the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan enjoyed ice cream and kept it a royal secret until Marco Polo visited China and took the technique of making ice cream to Italy. We should have covered this in one of the episodes of Marco Polo!

Ice cream 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 removed. It was a minor surgical procedure performed without anesthesia. I convinced my mother to let me have the operation, but when I was given a bowl of ice cream to soothe my throat, swallowing hurt so badly that I gave my reward to my brother.

Nowadays ice cream is everywhere, and I have had decades to recover from my tonsillectomy so ice cream is once again a great love of mine. However, we all know how overindulgence in ice cream isn’t exactly healthy…

Product Review!

Ice Cream

Clockwise from upper left: lemon cake, vanilla bean, strawberry, chocolate.

This weekend, Halo Top Creamery (IG: @halotopcreamery) was generous enough to send us coupons for four pints of their delicious light ice cream! Unlike other ice creams, Halo Top is actually healthy, and you can eat the whole pint without wanting to go to sleep with a gigantic food baby. Here’s our review!


This is good. It’s what you’d expect from strawberry ice cream. It tastes like strawberries and it’s rich and creamy.


With a rich deep chocolatey taste, this one is reminiscent of what you’d get at Ghirardelli Square, minus the blood sugar spike and subsequent regret.

Vanilla Bean

This is great. It’s got pretty little dots of vanilla, barely visible, but it gives the ice cream this cute artisanal look. This is my older daughter Angela’s favorite.

Lemon Cake

Audrey says: “Tell them this one’s your favorite!” I’ve never had a lemon cake ice cream flavor before, but I’m telling you it’s wonderful. It kind of has a very mild hint of egg yolk taste, so if you don’t like egg yolk then you probably won’t like this flavor as much, but I personally loved it.


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from the Halo Top website

I usually hate talking about calories; they’re just units of energy, after all, and everyone acts like they’re evil. But in this case I think I have to bring it up because it’s honestly part of what makes this ice cream one of my favorites. Halo Top Creamery ice cream is under 300 kcal per PINT, and if you’re anything like me you will always eat the whole pint. Not only will you be able to enjoy ice cream without bursting at the seams, you’ll also get 28 g protein per pint! I think you get the idea. I may be gluttonous, but I do have some standards. I will definitely look forward to having this again in the future.

Disclaimer: Yes, Halo Top did give us coupons for their ice cream, but don’t worry, no company will ever be able to buy our opinions! We really do love this ice cream.

In which I scream for ice cream





I almost didn’t go to the gym today.  Angela and I were going to go together after she came back from school, but she decided to work out in the school gym instead.  Ordinarily that would be excuse enough for me to skip the gym.  But today the good Joan laughed at the lazy Joan and dragged her to the gym.

And of course, the best part of the day is yet to come:  the reward. 

ice cream

I made banana ice cream with my Vitamix.  The recipe was from SkinnyTaste, although I’m not sure what the original source is.  Just frozen ripe bananas and a few drops of vanilla extract.  When it was almost smooth, I put in a handful of toasted walnuts.  Then I sprinkled a couple of walnuts on top with a slice of wipe nectarine.  Divine. It tasted exactly like real ice cream, and I mean it. It was smooth and creamy and sweet but there was no added sugar or cream! This recipe is a definite keeper.

Because I was listening to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 today on the elliptical, I was going to write a long mawkish post about listening to forbidden European classical music during my childhood, but my daughter told me that was weird. But I think I’ll still get into the mushy sentimental story sometime when she’s not looking.