Coconut Panna Cotta with Fresh Mango

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My homesickness becomes worse over the weekends.  I was talking to one of the young actors yesterday about the caravan life we lead and how I’m not exactly cut out for it, even though I have been doing this since age 14.  She said that this life is like a long summer camp.  I suppose it used to feel like that for me, too — this charming and much prolonged adolescence.  That was before the children were born.

As I’m typing, Audrey is about to leave the house for her karate tournament — one of the activities that she is passionate about. The girls are extremely busy at this stage in their lives.  Angela is applying to college and Audrey is applying to high school.  Grades must be impeccable, essays knockouts, standardized tests 99 percentile, extracurricular activities packed full.  The kids must show such achievements as applicants that they would hardly need any more schooling.

Earlier today, a friend emailed me an article from The Economist about the state of college admission for Asian Americans.  It opens with: “MICHAEL WANG, a young Californian, came second in his class of 1,002 students; his ACT score was 36, the maximum possible; he sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration; he got third place in a national piano contest; he was in the top 150 of a national maths competition; he was in several national debating-competition finals. But when it came to his university application he faced a serious disappointment for the first time in his glittering career. He was rejected by six of the seven Ivy League colleges to which he applied.”

This is anxiety inducing information. Just because Angela is a Chinese American, she will need to have 140 SAT points out of 1,600 more than whites to get a place at an Ivy League university in the US.  We have taught them that you could achieve anything with hard work.  We lied.  In the end, race is one of the major factors in determining whether she will be admitted to her dream school.

There is not much I could do about their race or many other aspects of their lives even if I were home, but I could cook healthy, delicious, brain stimulating food for them, I could drive them around for activities or I could just sit there and wait for them to summon me and do whatever they need me to do.

When I started writing tonight, I was going to talk about how I took solace in the slow and methodical preparation of food, how it is a form of meditation — one of the most intensely enjoyable alone time for me.  I got side tracked by the concern over my children’s future.  Now that I got the anxiety off my chest, I will return to the theme of food. 


The yearning for my children awakens in me a maternal urge — a boundless desire to give or simply to feed someone.  I remember flying to LA for a meeting after giving birth to Angela.  I stopped by at my friend Janet Yang’s home and she was not in.  Like me, she had also just given birth to her son.  When I heard him crying, breast milk oozed out of my bosom.  I took him in my arms and fed him to soothe not only him but myself.

I’m glad I have found some takers for my food.  Their appreciation is very gratifying for me.  Now I just need to find some take-out boxes.  Empress To Go!


The fact that I don’t have an oven in the kitchen presents an interesting challenge and opportunity.  I am learning to make no-bake desserts that are healthy and tasty.  Today’s coconut panna cotta with diced fresh mango is made with very simple ingredients — the golden combination of coconut and mango, and it turned out to be very delicious.  I invited two very discerning dessert lovers over to try it, and they inhaled it.  Truth be told, I actually got lucky with the panna cotta because I didn’t use very strict measurement, which is usually crucial for the perfect creamy texture.


Fresh coconut and agar agar

Coconut Panna Cotta


1 young coconut, juice and meat blended to a smoothie

1/2 cup milk

(Or you can use a can of coconut milk + 1 cup milk of choice)

45 g sugar (I used 15 packs of sugar from my tea tray. I would use xylitol if I had it.)

1 tsp vanilla paste, or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 to 1 1/2 tbsp agar agar (I used the a pair of scissors to cut the long strands into short strips.)

Fresh mango



Cook the all the ingredients in low heat until the agar agar is melted.  Pour the mixture into desired container and let cool.  Refrigerate for an hour before serving with diced mango.



Noodle Salad with Roast Chicken & Chili-Scallion Oil


Peter and I were in the car heading out for a lunch date when Angela called. “Can we go to the Farmers Market?” She asked in a sleepy voice.  Peter began to tell her that we were on our way to lunch when I interrupted him, “Sure, Angela, we are coming back right now. Let’s go to the farmers market.”

I almost felt flattered that Angela wanted to spend time with us.  She is usually too preoccupied with her friends, school work or daydreaming to spend much time with us.  We turned the car around and dropped whatever lunch plans we had to answer her last minute invitation.

We are at this stage of parenthood.

For dinner, I reached back to my Sichuan roots and made this flavorful spicy chicken noodle salad. For the vegetarians in the house, I used baked tofu instead of roast chicken.  If you like spicy food, you must give this a try.  It is simple and delicious.

When I was setting the table, the girls were giggling and running back and forth between their rooms and the dining room.  When they finally settled down to eat, they were both wearing big sweaters, sitting hunchbacked and covering their chests with their hair. They couldn’t stop giggling.  Then I saw that they were both wearing earbuds, covered by their long hair.  It turned out that they were trying to circumvent the rule of no TV and no cell phone at the dinner table.  Are we really so tedious to talk to?


The vegetables in the salad were from the farmers market. After reading “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I am more keen on eating locally grown organic food. The industrial food chain, though unavoidable at times, is simply unsustainable.

Soba Noodle Salad With Roast Chicken
And Chile-Scallion Oil

Ingredients for Chile-Scallion Oil:

3 scallions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 to 2 star anise pods (optional)

3 dried red chili peppers, crushed into flakes (you can adjust the amount of peppers according to how spicy you want the dish to be. Mine is relatively mild because Peter doesn’t like it too hot.)

1 tablespoon graded fresh ginger

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (optional, but really add a distinct Sichuan flavor to the dish if you can find them.)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

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Noodles And Assembly:

6 oz. Japanese soba noodles or ramen, or udon (I used soba with buckwheat and yam)

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 cups shredded roast chicken breast (I used Costco roast chicken)

2 scallions, thinly sliced

2/3 large English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced

4 – 5 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced

1 cup or more cilantro leaves or any sprout



Chile-Scallion Oil

Cook all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally, until scallions and garlic are just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Let cool; transfer oil to a jar.

Noodles And Assembly

Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions; drain. Rinse noodles under cold water, then shake off as much water as possible.

Whisk soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and oil in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Add noodles, chicken, and scallions; toss to coat.

Toss with cucumber, radishes, and cilantro and drizzle with chile oil just before serving.

For a non-spicy vegetarian noodle salad with scallion oil, try my Shanghainese version.


Adapted from bon appetit.

Massaged Raw Kale Salad 2.0


Angela asked me to make her my massaged kale salad today and that made me happy.  She has wanted very little of me — my time, my company, my thoughts or my wisdom, especially my wisdom. Whatever I try to say to her is met with the retort “old man yells at cloud,” which is supposedly a Simpsons reference. “Millennials are so lazy! Go start a war or ruin the economy or something! Wait… how do you send an email?” In my defense, I know how to send an email.

I wait patiently because I know that she is at an age when she needs to explore and evolve into her own identity apart from her parents. But sometimes I can’t help feeling a little sad about the loss of the intimate oneness we used to have.

When I was away, she had been eating out a lot with her friends or ordering take-out from the nearby restaurants.  For quite a few days after I came home, Angela continued to order her meals.  The one thing that I used to be really good at — feeding her nutritious and delicious food — Angela no longer seemed to need from me. 

When she came to me carrying a bunch of kale and said, “Mommy, can you make me your massaged kale salad for lunch?” I leapt into action.  As I washed, cut out the stems, dried and massage the kale, Angela stood there and talked to me and laughed with me like she did when she was little. 

Angela took a photo of the salad as she was eating it and texted it to her friends.  “They all said that it looked so delicious,” she said, “Can you make it again for me to bring to school tomorrow?”  Wow ! it was as if she was still my little girl.

I usually make this salad with feta cheese, but I was out of it today.  I found that Parmesan is also delicious with this salad.  The sweet grapes are a perfect balance to the tinge of bitterness in the kale. 


Massaged Raw Kale Salad


2 bunches lacinato kale, ribs removed and discarded (12 oz total without ribs)

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)

Shaved Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup red seedless grapes

1/2 cup green seedless grapes

1/4 cup chopped dry roasted almonds



Slice the kale into 1/4-inch thin ribbons. In a large bowl combine the kale with oil and salt. Using your hands, massage the kale for 3 minutes until the kale softens.

Toss kale with the lemon juice, then add grapes.  Sprinkle shaved parmesan cheese and chopped almonds before serving.  The recipe makes 4 meal size servings.

Kale is such a hearty vegetable that the salad doesn’t get soggy if you let it sit in the fridge over night.  I have always liked kale, but eating it raw like this is a great variation in preparing this super food.


I used the lemons from my dwarf lemon tree. I’ve been feeding my unwanted boiled egg yolks to the soil and the little tree is bearing so many lemons.

“My Cool, Grey City of Love”

I had a break in the shooting schedule and decided to come home for a visit.  I talked to Peter everyday when I was away, but Angela was not one to reveal much over the phone.  I needed to come home.  Angela doesn’t believe in vacations.  She would only travel for a “serious purpose” as she puts it — meeting a mentor in New York, going to school in Andover, taking summer courses at Brown, or attending a cousin’s wedding in Los Angeles.  Since she doesn’t have a serious purpose in Budapest, she will not travel there. 

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With Angela in Pompeii when she was nine

I used to lug Angela around the world with me when she was younger, but slowly she stopped wanting to go anywhere.  I found out that the external and physical world has never held as much power for her as the inner and intangible world that exists only in her head.  The vast, fertile and zigzagging interior terrain is where she prefers to explore.

China, Venice, Vancouver, Hawaii, NY, Capri, Rome 409


In an effort to gain insight into her mind and to stay connected when I am not with her, I resort to reading the books that she has read, and carefully considering all the notes scribbled by her on the pages.  Angela often sells the books back to Green Apple Books, a local bookstore, after she’s finished reading them, but the store doesn’t accept the ones with too much doodling.  Those are the ones I inherit my conduit to her world.  I have also begun to follow Angela on Spotify and listen to the songs on her playlists.  In Budapest, I was reading The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz and listening to Troubled Mind by Marina and the Diamonds, imagining what Angela felt about certain metaphors or symbolism.  The longer I didn’t see Angela, the more consumed I became by the incessant wondering about what’s on her mind.  Only coming home and seeing her could relieve me. Nothing is more reassuring than hugging the healthy body of one’s own child.


It was a glorious day in San Francisco, sunny, warm and with a pleasant sea breeze, not at all our typical foggy cold summer day.  Peter took off from work to spend time with me.  We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for lunch.  Poggio Trattoria was recommended to us by one of Peter’s patients, who lives in Sausalito.  Everything on the menu looked enticing to me.  Peter ordered grilled octopus for appetizer and seafood fregula pasta as main course.  I ordered burrata to start and grilled salmon with fresh summer corn for the main course. We loved all the dishes.  After a month of rich Hungarian food, the lighter Californian-Italian cooking was a much desired change for me.  A perfect and long overdue date with the man of my life.



Octopus is one of Peter’s very favorite food



Burrata is one of my very favorite cheeses


If you ever visit Sausalito, Poggio is definitely worth your while to dine in.

Slow Lazy Saturday Again


Saturday morning.  Peter went to play golf.  He often plays 9 holes on Saturday mornings before the girls wake up.  That is if he is not on call.  I cooked oatmeal while reading whatever was around.  Since Audrey became a vegetarian, I have been racking my brains to get enough protein in her.  She doesn’t like eggs or cheese, so oatmeal cooked in milk with rice protein or whey protein powder has been an important meal for her.


As I stirred the oatmeal, I read this week’s Time Magazine cover story The Truth About Home Cooking.  How fitting!  The best selling food writer Mark Bittman shared his views, experiences and statistics on cooking. 

Nowadays, the internet is clogged with food porn. More and more people say they are concerned about their health and the well-being of the planet, but fewer and fewer people are actually cooking dinners at home.

Bittman wrote: “There’s something peculiar about the our obsession with the business of cuisine.  There are 24/7 TV shows on Food, countless food magazines and more Instagram accounts of impossibly beautiful and exotic dishes than one could count or, frankly, stomach… Making food a performance, as entertaining as that can be from our seats in the grandstand, has had a damaging effect on our relationship to cooking.  In a land of million-dollar kitchens, Himalayan pink salt, dragon fruit, truffle butter and Wagyu skirt steak, most of us feel like outsiders — and as result, we cook less than we ever have.”  He encourages us to take charge of our food and gives us suggestions on how to start cooking again.  “Dinner can be simple: a soup, even one based on frozen vegetables; a piece of meat and a loaf of hearty bread; a chicken that roasts while you make a salad; pasta with vegetables…”



So, in the spirit of easy and basic home cooking, I made crock pot honey teriyaki chicken based on the recipe from Rasa Malaysia.  The crock pot comes handy when you need to go in and out of the house running errands while the food is cooking.  And today was one of those days for me.


2 boneless chicken breasts (I will try thigh next time. Dark meat should work better for this)鸡肉

1/8 cup dry sake 日本清酒

1/8 cup mirin 料酒

1/4 cup soy sauce 酱油

3 tablespoons honey 蜂蜜

2 cloves garlic, minced大蒜

2 tablespoons ginger, minced姜

freshly ground black pepper胡椒

1/8 cup water水

1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch (I omitted)淀粉

2 stalks green onions, chopped葱

toasted sesame seeds (I omitted this)芝麻

I added some vegetables in the pot.

Put all the ingredients other than the green onion and sesame seeds in the pot and turn it on high.  Go do whatever you want to do and come back in 4 1/2 hours.  Viola! You have your meal!  Simple and delicious.



For the two vegetarians in the house, I made a crispy miso tofu on a bed of spinach and a hearty vegetable lentil soup.

I always buy washed organic baby spinach from Costco.  It is the easiest thing to use in any menu.  I use it for my sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and sauté it for a side dish for many main courses.

I use a teaspoon olive oil, a couple of crushed garlic and a little salt.  You only need to cook the spinach for about 45 seconds.

I use Hodo Soy’s organic firm tofu from Costco.  Spread a thin layer of miso paste on the sliced tofu and sear it dry with a little cooking spray.



The key to cooking the vegetable soup is to sauté the onion, tomato and carrots with olive oil until they caramelize. Then add vegetable stock, or chicken stock or water.  I usually add whatever vegetable I have at hand. Or soak some beans.  Or, like today, I used lentil.  The soup was perfect for the cool grey autumn day.




In Mark Bittman’s article there is a simple desert recipe for Skillet Pear Crisp.  It was a something Audrey could easily make and her desert was a smashing success. She even made it healthier by omitting the butter and sugar and using coconut oil and xylitol. By involving the children we instill in them the love and habit of cooking from a young age.  While Angela is the nerd, who studies the details of nutritional value of everything, Audrey enjoys being a hands on cook.