Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion

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People do many different things to support a cause, some run marathons, I eat.  At various charity events, I have auctioned myself out to have lunches and dinners with generous donors who support those causes that I advocate.  I really enjoy meeting the interesting people from all walks of life over a delicious meal at a beautiful restaurant.  Is there a better excuse to pig out — for a cause that you believe in?  Today, our donors Charles and Lilian Huang contributed over $ 10,000 for a 1990 Institute project called Youth Voice on China Video Contest, in which students from US middle schools, high schools and colleges made short films expressing their views and feelings about China.  It is my hope that this project will help promote understanding and friendship between the peoples of America and China.

The lunch was very enjoyable — sumptuous food, beautiful ambiance and lively conversation — all for a worthy cause.

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I prepared a simple vegetarian meal today, and we ate it while watching the Oscars.

Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion

Ingredients for Roast Butternut Squash:

1 butternut squash – peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

A few generous dashes of paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Roast Onion:

1 red onion, chopped

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Other ingredients:

8 oz. uncooked 100 wholewheat penne pasta

2 tbsp or more shaved parmesan cheese

Chopped basil and sliced green onion for garnish (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven at 400F.  Spray a baking pan with olive oil.  Coat butternut squash with oil and spread it evenly in the baking pan.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and spices.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Spray a separate baking pan with oil.  Coat the chopped onion with lemon juice.  sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 25 minutes or until soft.

When the butternut squash and onion are baking, cook the pasta according to package direction until al dente. 

Drain and mix the pasta with the roast butternut squash and onion.  Separate pasta into four plates and top with parmesan and sprinkle with basil and green onion.  Salt and pepper or a dash of cayenne to taste.

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Smoked Salmon Pasta with Garlic Crisps

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Between errands today, I managed to make myself a simple but satisfying lunch.  I whipped up the meal with whatever I had in the fridge.  But isn’t that how most people eat?  I did a little surfing and answered my emails as I ate my lunch.  Nowadays, we never truly eat alone anymore.  We are always connected.  Is this good or bad?  

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Garlic Oil Pasta with Smoked Salmon Ingredients:

4 oz. whole wheat Spaghetti

2 tablespoon olive oil

4 cloves garlic, sliced

2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 oz. honey smoked salmon

1 bell pepper, thinly sliced

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

Juice from 1/2 lemon

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Cook spaghetti according to package instruction.  Set aside.

In a frying pan, heat olive oil and fry the garlic to crispy.  Scoop out the garlic and add oregano and sage, stir until aromatic.  Add onion and bell pepper and stir until soft.  Pour cooked spaghetti into the pan and stir for 1 minute.  Add Worcestershire sauce and stir for another minute.  Turn off fire and mix in smoked salmon, lemon juice and garlic crisps.

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Guiltless Caesar Salad Ingredients:

1/3 cup low-fat or nonfat Greek-style yogurt

1 garlic clove, minced

2 anchovies (omitted because I don’t like anchovy)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

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Happy to be Jet Lagged

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I woke up at the crack of dawn because of jet lag, while everyone else in the family slumbered on.  Quietly and methodically, I cleaned up.  Mindless physical labor was a good therapy after two weeks of intensive movie watching and movie debating. 

The Golden Horse Award, for which I served as the jury president, stirred up all sorts of scandal and controversy because a well loved film star from China did not win the Best Actress award.  I was involved in this imbroglio because the media insinuated that I sabotaged her because of professional jealousy. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gong-li-cries-foul-judging-752683 I usually don’t respond to the media but the backlash went viral and I had to make a statement on Weibo that I actually voted for her and the deliberation and voting process was fair and transparent.  I am so glad the whole thing is now over and I’m home scrubbing the kitchen sink and toilet bowls. I’m not being sarcastic.  Making things clean can be a cathartic exercise.

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I cooked a simple Asian flavored pasta for lunch before heading out to buy outfits for the press junket and the premiere of Marco Polo in New York.  Audrey insisted on going with me to make sure I didn’t buy anything that was “either too young or too revealing” as I always tended to do when I needed to be in front of the camera.  As I picked out clothes to try, Audrey would say I disapprove or I approve or strongly approve.  Audrey has good taste and I followed her directive with conviction.  She was a good little helper zipping and unzipping me as I went through dozens of dresses.  You will probably see some of them next week when I appear in front of the press.

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Before I left for Taiwan, I planted some scallion ends in a flower pot and today I was finally able to use some in the pasta.

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Ingredients:

2 cups Whole grain Kamut Spirals (or any other pasta of your choice)

1/2 onion 

2/3 yellow bell pepper

4 cloves garlic (minced)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoon Ponzu sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon chopped scallion

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste

Cook the pasta according to instruction and drain. Sauté minced garlic, onion, bell pepper on high until slightly caramelized.  Turn the fire to low and pour in Ponzu, soy sauce and sugar.  Give it a few good stir and mix in the pasta.  Sprinkle scallion and red pepper flakes before serving.

Happy Sunday!

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Maira Kalman’s painting of a pair of American slippers from the 1830s is a love letter to walking, something Kalman sees as an existential activity and a creative device.

The first thing that I do every Sunday morning when I open my eyes is to find the weekly email from brainpickings.org, which is one of my favorite literary sites.  It is the brain child of Maria Popova, with whom I share the love for letters, diaries and  Illustrated books.  It was from her website that I discovered works by Maira Kalman who wrote about the power of walking as a generative force of intellect, awareness, and creativity: “Walking is the antidote to a lot of misery and boredom. Whatever you do, you should always try to walk somewhere before you do it.”

So, after I read the brainpickings posting, I left the house for a walk before I did anything else.  I walked around Crissy Field before ending up at Safeway, where I bought some grocery for today.

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When I first came to the US and learned in my history class the Declaration of Independence, I was surprised, perplexed and impressed that the pursuit of happiness is emphasized as one of the unalienable rights.  When and where I grew up, happiness was not mentioned much at all.  The only thing that we openly pursued was the realization of Communism.  Privately, we pursued food — exchanging cloth coupons for meat coupons, or bartering things from the house for eggs with the farmers who occasionally appeared in our neighborhood.  One good thing that came out of my upbringing is that I don’t feel so alarmed or ashamed when I’m not happy. 

What is happiness?  How exactly do we pursue it?  These are hard questions I don’t have the answers to, but when I was walking along the bay and when I came home with the grocery and began making breakfast, I felt happy. 

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Roast Kabocha squash pancakes:

1 cup of roast kabocha

1/2 oat bran

1/2 almond flour

3/4 cup milk

1/4 guar gum

1/4 salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 egg

1 egg white

I never made a Kabocha pancake before, but I needed to use up the last cup of the roast Kabocha squash in the refrigerator.  If I make it again I will not use almond flour.  I will use half oat bran and half oat flour or whole wheat flour.  But we enjoyed them as they were.

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I decided to make some caramelized onion and bell pepper to go with everything on today’s menu. With the caramelized onion and pepper I made our lunch and dinner in a matter of minutes, and they were delicious.

Caramelized onion and pepper:

1 1/2 onion

1 1/2 red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic

1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. Balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. sugar

Sauté for 10 to 15 minutes before putting in the salt, vinegar and sugar.

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I used Sabra Mediterranean Eggplant in the hot dogs.

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The vegetarian dogs were perfect for lunch. And we had whole grain pasta and the steamed broccolini for dinner.  Peter protested because there was no meat and we ordered a take-out beef with tomato from Green Island for him.

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