Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

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 I got a call today from a friend whom I haven’t heard from in a long time.  She is very much into astrology, and some years ago she had my astrological chart read by some very renowned astrologist in Shanghai unbeknownst to me.  She shared the findings with me afterwards and I remember one of the things was that I should never wear the color brown.  She meant well, but I told her I didn’t believe in astrology.  Through out the years though, what she said would pop up in my mind whenever I shopped for clothes.  And subconsciously I avoided buying anything that was brown.

Today’s call was about some dissonance between my astrological sign in the Year of Ram.  My friend had my sign read again and was calling to warn me to be extra careful.  Now what do you do with a call like this? 

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Well, the Chinese remedy everything by eating the right kind of food.  One of the lucky foods that we eat during Luna New Year is Kumquat.  As a matter of fact, any citrus fruit is considered lucky because the word “citrus” sounds like the word “auspicious.” Kumquat is the most auspicious because it sounds like “golden auspicious.”  

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Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cup 100% whole wheat flour

1/4 cup canola oil

1 cup Kumquat jam (see note)

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup pecan nuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup nonfat lemon Greek yogurt

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

The recipe makes about 16 – 18 muffins.

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Preparation:

Mix all dry ingredients together.  Add all wet ingredients in the mixed dry ingredients.  Mix well, but don’t over mix.  Leave a little lumpiness in.

Preheat oven at 375, line or grease muffin pan.  Add muffin mix to the cups and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. 

Serve with Greek yogurt and kumquat jam.

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Note:

I made the kumquat jam the day before with about 1 pound kumquats, 1 cup xylitol (or sugar), 1 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract.  Cut and seed the kumquats and cook with all ingredients for 30 to 40 minutes. 

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Roast Brussels Sprouts and Apple Salad

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A friend came over for lunch today and we commiserated with each other on motherhood.  She has just gone through the grueling college application process with her twin boys and I’m about to take Angela on a college tour next month. I don’t know when it all began, but it seems that the college admissions process has turned into a war that requires endless amounts of strategy. 

I was told that in some cultures in the ancient times, children would be chased out of the house into the wilderness at a certain age, and they were not supposed to come home again until after they’d hunted a tiger.  The rite of passage for today’s kids is not any less difficult, except the “tigers” they are sent out to hunt are those ever elusive brand-name colleges.

Much like the ancient times, there is not much mothers can do to help their children hunt the “tigers.”  All we can do is love them.  As we ate this delicious salad, our conversation quickly turned from the stress of college application to the joy of food  — the balm that cures almost anything.

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Roast Brussels Sprouts and Apple Salad

Ingredients for the sweet hot mustard:

1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. coarse ground Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar or honey

1/4 tsp. Sriracha sauce

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Ingredients for the salad:

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 lb. (500 g) brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered

1 cup (125 g) black walnuts, toasted

1 1/2 red apples, such as Fuji or Gala, cored and thinly sliced

1 Tbs. honey lemon peel (optional & see note)

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Preparation for the Sweet Mustard:

In a bowl, whisk both mustards, vinegar, brown sugar and Sriracha sauce. Reserve 3 Tbs. mustard for the salad; refrigerate the rest for up to 4 weeks.

Preparation for the Salad:

Preheat oven to 450F.  Wash, trim and cut the brussels sprouts.  Coat sprouts with 2 Tbs. olive oil in a roasting pan.  Roast for 15 to 17 minutes or until tender.  Take out and set aside.

In a large nonstick fry pan, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high. Sauté the shallots until slightly browned. 

Toss together brussels sprouts, sliced apples, walnuts, shallots with 3 Tbs. sweet mustard.  Season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter and serve.

I squeezed some fresh lemon juice on the sliced apples to prevent them from turning yellow.

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Note:

Sometime ago, Audrey made lemonade with about 10 lemons.  The lemon peels looked so fresh and smelled so fragrant that I saved them.  I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and let marinate in the fridge over night.  The next day I boiled about 4 cups of water.  When the water was boiling, I squeezed dry the peels, discard the pulp still left in them, cut them into slices and then added the peels to the pot and brought it to boil again.  Then I drained the peels and transfer them into a glass jar, soaked in honey.  They turned out delicious.

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Recipe inspired by:

Williams-Sonoma

The Best Flour-less Chocolate Brownies!

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Spring cleaning!  After months of procrastination, I finally cleaned out my study.  It was tedious work, but I reveled in the feeling of being neat and organized.  Why didn’t I do this sooner?  I had looked at the mess now and then and thought about cleaning it, but every time  I just closed the door and walked away.  All I could say was that I was not born with the neat gene.  Whenever I visit my parents, I would lose all hope of ever get organized.  My parents’ rooms were always strewn with gift bags, newspapers and other knickknacks.  My mother, whom I most resemble, has a desk with layers of books, newspaper clippings, bottles of pills and what-have-you. 

So, it was no small feat that everything was filed into its rightful place.  And the recycling bin was full.  High time to bake some brownies for afternoon tea.  These flour-less brownies are unbelievably moist and delicious without any added fat.  They felt decadent and sinful to eat, but they are actually healthy and nutritious.  In all of my efforts in grain-free baking, this is the best recipe.  A definite keeper!

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This recipe is from Skinnytaste.com.  I added 1/2 cup of walnuts to the original.

PB2 Flourless Chocolate Brownies Ingredients:

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1 cup PB2 (see photo and note)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp water

1/2 cup raw honey

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup semi sweet dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup walnuts

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Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray a nonstick 9 x 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Beat the egg and egg white in a small bowl with a whisk.

In a large bowl combine the PB2, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and mix well with a spatula. Add the egg and egg whites and stir. Add water, honey, vanilla and stir with a spatula until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then cut into 12 bars cutting 3 rows x 4 rows.

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Note on PB2:

PB2 is a reduced fat peanut powder that you can order from Amazon.com.  It is an ideal product to have if you like peanut or peanut butter but don’t want to ingest too much fat.

http://www.amazon.com/Plantation-PB2-Powdered-Peanut-Butter/dp/B00H8YGOMO/ref=sr_1_1?s=grocery&ie=UTF8&qid=1420601470&sr=1-1&keywords=pb2

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Nietzsche and a Vegetable Sauté

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Now that the holiday vacation is over and the house is quiet, I could take time to reflect upon the important events of last year and give thanks to all the good that has come from the bad.  There was a period of time last year when both Peter and I were stressed out and in crisis mode because our children were going through difficulties in their young lives.  We worried about and feared for them. Peter’s hair turned grey seemingly overnight.

I feel fortunate that we have endured and life is thriving again.  I’m sure our children will face many more challenges in life, but I hope having overcome severe obstacles has made them more tenacious. 

When I was going through a very difficult time in my late 20s, a friend gave me Nietzsche’s The Will To Power as a source of strength and comfort.  I took it off the shelf today and opened it to a passage that my friend had underlined and bookmarked for me a long time ago, “To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.”

I’m a mother and I could never wish any suffering upon my children, but I understand the value of all the “bad stuff” that happen to us in life.

I don’t have a New Year resolution, but I do have a New Year Prayer.  I pray for the wellbeing of my loved ones and I pray for courage and strength to endure and triumph in the face of adversity.

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Vegetable Sauté Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz. green bean

1/2 red bell pepper (sliced)

1/2 yellow bell pepper (sliced)

1 pack of Wildwood Savory Tofu (2 pieces)

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 to 2 tablespoon canola oil

4 thin slices of ginger

Preparation:

Poach the green beans in boiling water for about 3 to 4 minutes or until tender but not too soft and discard the boiling water. Rinse cold water over the green beans to stop them cooking.  Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok on high, add the ginger slices and let sizzle.  When the ginger slices are a little browned, add the bell pepper and stir for about 4 minutes.  Add the poached green beans and the tofu and stir for a minute.  Mix in the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar.

Serve immediately with rice.

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As I write, I could almost hear Nietzsche stir in his grave as he is being quoted next to a vegetable stir-fry.  As a matter of fact, the very act of blogging one’s life would be conceived as “the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity.”  But then again, maybe not.  His New Year resolution for 1882 was to be a yea-sayer and a beautifier of life: “For the New Year—I still live, I still think; I must still live, for I must still think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. To-day everyone takes the liberty of expressing his wish and his favorite thought: well, I also mean to tell what I have wished for myself today, and what thought first crossed my mind this year,—a thought which ought to be the basis, the pledge and the sweetening of all my future life! I want more and more to perceive the necessary characters in things as the beautiful:—I shall thus be one of those who beautify things. Amor fati: let that henceforth be my love! I do not want to wage war with the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers.Looking aside, let that be my sole negation! And all in all, to sum up: I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer!”

End of Splurge – Back to Broccoli and Kale

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We have been eating incessantly over the holidays.  There were boxes of Belgium chocolate and Panettone from Peter’s patients.  There were the dinner parties with extended family and friends.  And this morning, Peter’s mother served us leftover chocolate mousse cake for breakfast.  I must say it felt wonderfully decadent with a cup of coffee in the Southern Californian morning sun.  But the splurge ends today.  It must or else.

In Alexander Dumas’ Dictionary Of Cuisine, he named three sorts of appetites:

1. Appetite that comes from hunger. It makes no fuss over the food that satisfies it. If it is great enough, a piece of raw meat will appease it as easily as a roasted pheasant or woodcock.

2. Appetite aroused, hunger or no hunger, by a succulent dish appearing at the right moment, illustrating the proverb that hunger comes with eating.

3. The third type of appetite is that roused at the end of a meal when, after normal hunger has been satisfied by the main courses, and the guest is truly ready to rise without regret, a delicious dish holds him to the table with a final tempting of his sensuality.

The third type was all we indulged in during the past 10 days.  I declared it over by making the Broccoli Kale White Bean Soup for dinner tonight.  Eating the soup felt like a cleansing ritual after the holiday transgression. 

I used the roasted garlic from a few days ago and made some garlic Parmesan toast with Ciabatta bread.  They made a satisfying meal together with the soup.

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Ingredients:

1 large Onion (chopped)

4 cloves garlic (chopped)

4 heads of Broccoli (florets chopped; stems peeled and chopped)

7 cups Vegetable Stock

1 bunch Kale ( stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch ribbons)

2 15 .5-ounce Canneloni Beans (drained and rinsed)

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Preparation:

Place a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then toss in the garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until just translucent. Add the broccoli and again season with salt and pepper.

Pour the vegetable stock over the broccoli and bring up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is fork tender.

Let cool slightly and then transfer, working in batches, to a blender. Cover the blender with a towel to ensure it doesn’t splatter, and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Place another heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the kale. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the beans and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the broccoli soup in kale and stir to combine. Let cook for one to two more minutes to let the flavors meld. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve while hot.

Winter is coming. Stock up now!

Winter is coming

Winter is coming. Brace yourself for stressful last-minute hosting, loud drunk family friends, bone-chilling weather, seasonal affective disorder, and deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy exacerbated by the excessive commercialization of the holidays happy wintertime cheer!

Thanks Debbie Downer

No one likes Debbie Downer

Since it’s that time of the year again, I thought I’d make a list of some great gifts to give to your favorite people. Don’t get stuck in line with everyone else who waited until the last minute to buy presents! If department stores start putting up Christmas decorations in October, then who says the week before Thanksgiving isn’t too soon to start planning for the New Year?

Christmas came early for us this week when we received a wonderfully thoughtful care package from Words to Sweat By, a cute online boutique that makes adorable fitness apparel and accessories. Audrey, Angela, and I each got beautiful personalized charm bracelets, and each of us received personalized products, including motivational bracelets and a gorgeous infinity scarf. Honestly, these are the best gifts ever because a lot of them are individually handmade (the bracelets were hand-stamped! check etsy! so vintage! so chic!) and what better way to get through the cold winter days than to up those endorphin levels?

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Words to Sweat By makes great bracelets with personalized messages. You can write your own message or choose from many, including “I ❤ XC,” “Just Keep Going,” and “Lift Others Up.” They even come with multifunctional bands that you can wear to help keep your bracelet in place.

In addition to those wonderful bracelets we also received some clothing:

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How lovely! The scarf is made of 100% organic cotton so it’s 100% itch-free and cozy. Now these are some products that are so warm and wholesome that even I, a cynical Grinchypants, would want to buy for my friends and family.

Angela showed her new clothes and accessories to her fellow schoolchildren and their faces just lit up! These clothes bring out the happy, innocent youths in us all.

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PATIENCE. TRANSFORM.

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photographed by MT

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glowering with elation

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she almost cried when Angela took the bracelet back

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fashion and function all in one!!

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The wrap can be used to entertain children when necessary…

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so many uses!

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“I’m weeping with joy on the inside.”

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

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I knew that this day would come — it always does — but I’m never prepared for it.  I am almost done with packing but feel as if I’d forgotten to take something very important.  It never gets easier — leaving home.  But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. 

As the jury president of 51st Golden Horse Award in Taipei, I will be seeing four to five films a day in the next two weeks.  This is arguably the most prestigious award for Chinese language films around the world.  And it is a great opportunity for me to see the best Chinese films of the year on the big screen.

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My directorial debut, Xiu Xiu The Sent-down Girl, won 7 Golden Horse Award including Best Picture. Jacky and I were presenting Best Director Award and I ended up giving it to myself.

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With my good friend Yan Geling, winning the Best Adapted Script Award. Angela was just one month old when this happened.

As I spent this glorious Saturday with my family, I already felt nostalgic for the most mundane activities such as breakfast, a walk to Safeway, or walking to dinner on Chestnut Street.  What I can say?  As the song goes, “I left my heart in San Francisco.”

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For those who have been reading my blog, I may not be able to cook and blog for a while, but I hope to update my life, my thoughts, my encounters with people and food from time to time when I’m in Taipei. Angela will also be posting periodically and we will perhaps have some great guest bloggers. Believe me, I can’t wait to get back to my kitchen and to share with you my experiments and occasional triumphs in making healthy and yummy food for my family.

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The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gay
The glory that was Rome is of another day
I’ve been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan
I’m going home to my city by the Bay

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care

My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco
Your golden sun will shine for me

Angela & Audrey 2

A Little Party Never Hurt Nobody!

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Audrey is wearing her favorite Sweatybands, they really don’t slip!

Our blog is one month old today (and perfectly enough, it’s also National Nut Day! Seriously, look it up).  Angela opened the blog to help me eat more mindfully.  What started out as short blogs of our daily meals became longer and longer, and turned into a form of self expression that I look forward to writing everyday. 

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Essayist Rebecca Solnit wrote in her book The Faraway and Nearby, “Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone… Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest.”

Though writing in English is a painstakingly slow process for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed this month’s foray into blogging. Despite what Angela calls the mawkish old-lady-ness in my writing, we have had over 80,000 views in our first month. A story is a heart that only beats in the chests of the listeners. Without the listeners, my telling stories would only be muttering to myself, which of course is sometimes also necessary. I am grateful for Angela and sometimes Peter for correcting my English.  As I am writing, I could hear Angela’s exasperated voice, “Oh mommy, how can you spell raisin wrong?”  That was actually a typo.  I do know how to spell raisin, but I often use the wrong articles and sometimes I’m not sure whether to use in or at or on…  However, I have hope.  Practice makes perfect, as I have always been telling the girls.

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In the Chinese tradition, when a baby is one month old, the family will have a red egg party.  In the olden times, infant mortality was high and the family wouldn’t consider the baby a real member of the family until he has survived the first month.  Well we didn’t want to get attached to this blog since we might give up on it any time but after a month we’ve decided to make it our baby.

To celebrate the first month anniversary of the blog, I made tea eggs instead of red eggs simply because they are much tastier.  Tea eggs are a nostalgic dish from Shanghai and I have made them dozens of times, usually by feel.  Today I tried a recipe from one of my favorite Asian recipe website, rasamalaysia.com, and the result was delicious, at least for Peter and me.  Angela said that she was shocked at my choice of Chinese recipes for the blog.  Who is going to cook Chinese mountain yam or tea eggs?  Perhaps she is right, but tonight I will indulge in nostalgia.

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I have a friend who is in the Pu-er tea business and she gave me some tea preserved in orange peels. The tea has a hint of the orange, which is quite aromatic.

Ingredients:

12 eggs

4 cups water

6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons Chinese pu-erh tea leaf

1 cinnamon stick

2 star anise

3 cloves

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1 teaspoon sugar

12 鸡蛋

946 mL 水

89 mL 鲜酱油

44 mL 普洱茶或任何红茶

1 根 桂皮

3 八角

3 丁香 (可以省略或用花椒)

2.5 mL 五香粉

4 g 糖

Method:

Add 4 cups of water to a medium pot and gently drop in the eggs. Make sure the water covers the eggs. Bring the water to boil on high heat. Boil for about 10 minutes or so to make sure the eggs are cooked.

Transfer the hard-boiled eggs out of the hot boiling water and rinse them with cold water. Using the back of a teaspoon, gently tap the eggshell to crack the shell. Return the eggs to the water and add in the remaining ingredients. Bring the tea mixture to a boil and immediately turn the heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours (the longer the simmering, the better the taste). Add more water if needed. Serve immediately or leave the tea eggs in the mixture overnight to further develop the color and flavor.

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And what is celebration without a cake? I decided to bake a gluten free pineapple upside down cake and it turned out quite well. The entire house smelled like a ripe tropical fruit.  Angela, however, was disgusted by the Maraschino cherries that I used to decorate the pineapple.  She said the whole purpose of the blog was to help us eat healthy and I sacrificed what was important for triviality.  I guess we will not eat those cherries.  She IS the food Nazi.

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MOIST ALMOND COCONUT PINEAPPLE CAKE

1-1/2 cups Almond Flour

1/2 cup Organic Coconut Flour

1/2 cup Xylitol

2 tsp Baking Powder

1/4 tsp Sea Salt

4 Eggs

1/2 cup Milk

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 tsb. Molasses

1 can Pineapple slices

1/2 cup shredded coconut

8 Maraschino cherries

Pre heat the oven at 350°F, grease the 9X13inch baking pan, spread Molasses at the bottom of the pan, line pineapple slices before pour in the cake mix.  Almond flour and coconut do not absorb as much liquid as regular flour.  I could probably have made a better cake by cutting the milk to 1/4 cup.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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.