London Bridge Is Falling Down, Falling Down…

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On Waterloo Bridge with Big Ben in the background

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On Waterloo Bridge with London Eye in the background

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London Eye

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The Lion King in Lyceum Theater

The reason that I did not update my blog for a while is because I took Audrey on a whirlwind visit to London.  Our four days there were packed  The Lion King, British Museum, dinner parties, shopping and best of all: time with friends.  We stayed with my friends Hanan and Shamim, who were the warmest of hosts anyone could have. They are both foodies, and like mine, their two large refrigerators are always full.  When it comes to eating, Hanan errs on the side of extravagance.  The day we got there, they had a few friends over for dinner, but they prepared enough food to feed a battalion.  Hanan was the first person to introduce me to Lebanese cuisine when we met 20 years ago.  And how we met was an incredible story that I had shared in one of my earlier blogs.  I was so happy to taste her lemony chicken with hummus, fried garlic and pine nuts again.  And her flat bread sprinkled with ground thyme, sumac powder and sesame seeds was so delicious that I had to ask for the recipe.  I will try to make the bread in the near future and share with you my result.

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When Audrey told some of the crew members from London that she was going to visit their city for the first time, they asked her what she was going to see there.  I was surprised to hear her answer.  Other than London Bridge from the nursery rhyme, the only things she had heard of were London Eye, Top Shop and Primark.  There is a Chinese proverb 读万卷书行万里路. It means traveling 10,000 miles is as good as reading 10,000 books.  Our London trip has been eye opening for Audrey, who now remembers London as a historically rich, culturally vibrant city with some of the world’s best museums, theaters and restaurants.

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British Museum

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Waffle from the waffle truck in front of the British Museum

As Audrey and I walked across Waterloo Bridge, I told Audrey about how the film Waterloo Bridge starring Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh was one of the two Hollywood films that I had seen before I left China in 1981.  In my teen mind, the black and white bridge in the fog was the most romantic place on earth.  In those days, Chinese films were made exclusively as Communist propaganda, but before a film went into production, the director could request to watch “foreign reference films” that were strictly forbidden for the general public.  Those discretionary screenings were the most coveted privileges in the film industry reserved for the few top department heads and lead actors.  The only other Hollywood film that I had seen was Julian from Lilian Hellman’s book Pentimento.  Many of the films I saw since then have faded from my memory — sometimes as soon as I left the theater, but those two films from so long ago have been branded in my mind’s eye.  They had been the oasis of my cultural desert.

waterloo-romance

Annex - Leigh, Vivien (Waterloo Bridge)_NRFPT_01

I caught a cold on the second day there when Audrey and I went on the London Eye.  I have since lost my voice.  I hope that my voice will return by tomorrow when I get to the set.  

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Hanan, Shamim and their two boys with Audrey and me

“Chifa” Beef with Baked French Fries

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I had longed to visit Peru ever since I read Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa.  I became a devoted fan of the author and visited him in London when I was filming Judge Dredd in 1994.  I was trying to adapt Llosa’s humorous and erotic book In Praise of the Stepmother into film and enjoyed many wonderful afternoons chatting with the author in his Knightsbridge apartment. Llosa flew from London to attend the premiere of my directorial debut Xiu Xiu, The Sent-down Girl in Berlin in 1998.

In the spring of 2012, I booked a trip for the family to visit Peru during the girls’ spring break.  I bought non-refundable tickets on LAN Airlines, and pre-paid all the hotel rooms and some dinner packages. This was an unique experience for me as I rarely ever plan trips since they are always arranged for me by the production company or film festivals.

We had never taken LAN before the trip and was happily surprised by what we saw.  There was an old world glamour in the LAN Premium Business cabin, which was better than many United First Class cabins at that time.  The four of us were sitting on the plane waiting for take off when Peter decided to fill out  in advance the arrival cards for Peru.  Suddenly, he discovered that Angela’s passport was missing and presumed lost somewhere between the security check and the plane.  We frantically searched through all the carry-on bags and the overhead bins.  We retraced our steps from the plane to the airline lounge and to the security check point, but no one had seen or turned in her passport.  It simply disappeared and it meant that Angela could not enter Peru. 

Peter decided that he would deplane with Angela, and Audrey and I would go to Peru by ourselves.  A few years ago, I took Angela on a Mommy-Angela trip to Rome and Capri, and Audrey had been wanting to take a Mommy-Audrey trip for quite some time.  Now unwittingly this journey to Peru became her Mommy-Audrey trip. 

When Peter deplaned, he took most of the cash with him and left me with four people’s luggage. We lugged two large suitcases around to four different cities and towns in eight days, and everywhere we went we had either huge hotel suites or two rooms.  In many places we also feasted on food enough for four people.  The hotels felt sorry for us that we couldn’t refund the rooms or the dinners so they offered us lunch boxes and massages.

In Lima, we saw many Chinese restaurants that had the signs that said Chifa; I suppose it came from the sound of “chi fan” which means literally eat rice in Chinese.  Audrey and I tried one and we quite loved the interesting combination of Peruvian and Chinese flavors.

I thought of Peru today because of my failed trip to Boston.  My flight to Boston, which had been canceled yesterday and rebooked for today got canceled again due to the blizzard.  I will now miss my speaking engagement for which I spent a whole week preparing. 

I decided to roll with the punches and make the best of this unexpected free Sunday.  The memory of Peru made me crave for some Chifa food. This Chifa beef dish was so delicious that Audrey decided to have a free Sunday from her vegetarianism. 

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Lomo Saltado (Peruvian Beef Stir Fry)

Ingredients:

For the Baked Fries:

canola cooking spray

1 medium (5.3 oz) potato, russet or yukon gold, washed and dried

1 tsp olive oil

1/4 tsp garlic powder

kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Best-Baked-Seasoned-Fries

For the Beef:

1/2 lb lean sirloin, cut into small, thin strips

kosher salt, to taste

1/4 tsp cumin

black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 medium red onion, sliced into thick strips

2 mini yellow bell peppers or 1 large

1 large jalapeno, ribbed and seeded, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium tomato, sliced into wedges

1 1/2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (use tamari for gluten free)

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

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Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Cut the potato lengthwise into 1/3-inch thick slices; cut each slice into 1/3-inch fries. Place on the baking sheet and toss with oil to evenly coat. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place on a single layer onto the greased baking sheet. Bake uncovered on the lower third of the oven for about 25 minutes or until tender crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, season meat with salt, pepper and cumin.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When hot add the oil and the steak, cook about 2 minutes, until browned on both sides. Add the onions, bell pepper, jalapeno and garlic and cook 2 minutes.

Add the tomato, soy sauce and vinegar and cook 1 more minute. Season with more salt as needed, remove from heat and finish with cilantro. Serve immediately with french fries and divide evenly between 2 plates.

If you double the recipe, you should stir fry it in two separate batches.  The French fries can easily be doubled in the same baking pan.

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Recipe adapted from http://www.skinnytaste.com

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Elixir for the Traveller

There was a pot of hot and flavorful bone soup waiting for me when I arrived in Shanghai last night for work and to see my parents. They sat across from me at the dining table looking very pleased that the elixir had the expected effect on their daughter. It was an instant energy reviver and mood booster.  There is always bone soup waiting for me whenever I visit my parents because they know it’s my favorite and they also know that I don’t cook it at home.  The girls, especially Angela, hate the smell.
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Before I left for Shanghai, I cooked Peter lunch to quell the separation anxiety.  I used the oranges that we picked from my in-laws’ garden to make this Orange Mustard Pork Chop.  I always brine the pork before cooking to ensure that the pork stays juicy.  
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Basic Pork Brine Ingredients:
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 cup water
A dash of pepper, rosemary, thyme and sage.
Brining direction:
Melt the salt and sugar in warm water, add all spices and leave the brine in the fridge until it is completely cold.  Pour the brine in a large ziplock bag and add the pork chops in.  Seal the bag and leave in the fridge for 4 to 8 hours.  
If you decide to leave the pork in the brine overnight, be sure to soak it in fresh water for about 30 minutes before using.  If you cook the brined pork on the same day, just rinse the pork and pat dry before cooking.
Orange Mustard Pork Chop Ingredients:
1/4 cup fresh orange juice 
1 tablespoons orange marmalade
1/2 tablespoon whole-grain mustard 
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 pork loin chops (1 inch thick) 
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 rosemary sprigs
1/2 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 tablespoons fresh lime juice 
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Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Combine juice, marmalade, and mustard in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until syrupy.
3. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add pork to pan; cook 5 minutes or until browned. Turn pork; add rosemary and onion to pan. Pour juice mixture over pork; bake at 425° for 10 minutes or until a thermometer registers 150°. Place onion and rosemary on a platter. Return pan to medium-high heat; add lime juice. Cook 4 minutes or until liquid is syrupy. Add pork to platter; drizzle with sauce.
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Speaking of oranges, I remembered an image that Angela forwarded to me the other day — how an orange cemented the love of this young couple. I suppose that one of the troubles with a life of abundance is that beautiful things are available without much effort and so the things don’t seem to have the same value.  Nothing in the world was ever so precious as that one orange for this couple in Jerusalem.
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Kitchen Therapy

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I flew to LA today, but before I left I made breakfast for my family.  For someone who has to fly so often I am actually very afraid of plane rides, and I am always sleepless the night before departure.  It’s amazing how the act of cooking restored in me a sense of well being after an insomniac night.  I had made gluten free muffins before, and sometimes as a comfort to myself, but today was the first time I was able to make the almond flour pineapple muffins without referring to any recipes.  I just went with whatever I felt like and they turned out quite delicious.  For my two growing vegetarian daughters, these muffins pack a lot of protein.

While that muffins were baking, I read the Wall Street Journal and there was an article called Kitchen Therapy: Cooking Classes Help Mentally Ill Teens.  It began with “Many cooks know what a sanctuary the kitchen can be.”  My feelings exactly.  Cooking must do something to to change your hormones like hugging and kissing do.  Well, it does mine, I think.  I can see Angela cringe right now. (Ewww, can you not? – AH)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup almond flour

3/4 cup oat bran

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 heaping cup ripe juicy pineapple (diced)

1 large banana

Preheat oven at 350F

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick no longer sticks.

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Top Four On-the-Go Workouts… Even for the Exercise-Averse!

Note: If you want to see photos of my mother ballroom dancing then keep reading!

When I first went to school away from home, I became completely sedentary. I’ve never been good at most team sports, there was no karate studio nearby, and the gym was full of scary upperclassmen (or so it seemed when I was a freshman). In an attempt to get some exercise, I Googled “prison workouts” to see what I could do inside my closet-sized dorm room but none of them seemed very appealing to me.

too hardcore

too hardcore

A different type of prison workout - from Pinterest

A different type of prison workout – from Pinterest

By spring term I had worked up the guts to go to the school gym, but before that I relied solely on these four workouts!

endorphin rush! ignore the jaundice

endorphin rush! ignore the jaundice and gigantic face

The best part is that they’re not just for the dorm; anyone who’s stuck in a hotel room, apartment, or other small space (prison?) can do ’em – my mom often does these when she’s on location and doesn’t have access to/can’t be bothered to go to the gym!
1. Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred

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Good workout, but no, 99.99999% of people are NOT going to lose 20 lb. in 30 days just doing this video workout. Just sayin’

Are you ready to get shredded????? Well personally I just wanted to stop being a sedentary lump but my mother did indeed use this in another one of her attempts to get ripped. (I’d like to take this opportunity to note that no matter how much exercise you do, you ain’t gonna get lean and mean unless you have an energy deficit. So cut down on the peanuts, Mommy!)

This 20 min workout is not going to make you expend as much energy (i.e., be as good a cardio sesh) as, say, running, swimming, or using a cardio machine at the gym, but it sure does make you feel like you worked hard!

All you need is a pair of dumbbells, however heavy you want, and either a yoga mat or a carpet/rug. For most exercises there’s a hard version and an easy version so no matter what level of fitness you are at, it won’t be too hard or too easy.

2. Jillian Michael’s Six Week Six Pack

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Okay, before I talk about this video and the rest of the workouts I’d like to take a moment to be really preachy and annoying. Bear with me or skip the next paragraph.

You can’t spot reduce. You can’t spot reduce. You can build muscle in a particular part of your body by doing strength training that focuses on that area, but DOING CRUNCHES IS NOT GOING TO GET RID OF YOUR MUFFIN TOP. There, I said it. So even though I love these workouts, I’m really nitpicky about these things and I can’t stand it when they claim that exercising a certain part of your body will make you lose fat in that area. You lose fat throughout your body by maintaing an energy deficit. Okay, end of tirade against spot reduction myth.

Back to the video. This is another workout video from Jillian Michaels with a focus on abs. There’s special ab workouts as well as some cardio. You can find level one for free here.

3. ¡Zumba!

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My mother is really into dancing.

China's version of "Dancing with the Stars"

China’s version of “Dancing with the Stars”

She also hates every single other form of exercise. Hates ’em all with a burning passion, I tell you. One day I decided to introduce her to zumba – it’s dancing but with extra cardio! She fell in love right away and now zumba is her go-to workout. She takes zumba classes at the local Y but when she’s shooting she uses the zumba videos that she bought from Amazon.

look at dem quads

look at dem quads and glutes

If you normally dislike exercise then you might like zumba! Honestly, who doesn’t like shaking it?

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fun fact: she weighs more than he does. shhh!

http://tv.sohu.com/20130512/n375628080.shtml

http://tv.sohu.com/20130609/n378536480.shtml

Above is the link to her dances.

ok this isn't zumba but i just find this really funny so i'm gonna post it anyway

ok this isn’t zumba but i just find this really funny so i’m gonna post it anyway

4. Blogilates!

Fun workouts! But NO this will not slim your arms because spot reduction is a myth. Sorry not sorry

Fun workouts! But NO this will not slim your arms because spot reduction is a myth. Sorry not sorry

Cassey Ho is kind of like Jillian Michaels, except peppier and nicer and Asian-er. There are tons and tons of free videos on Blogilates.com, and they’re all really fun! My personal favorites are the song challenges because they’re all pretty short (just the length of a pop song) so you can pick and choose which ones you want to do for your (strength training) workout.

There are soooo many different exercise videos on Blogilates so there’s lots of variety! My favorites include:

  1. What Makes You Booty-ful – oh God, the pain… hard to sit through a math exam after this.
  2. “Work Work” Ab Challenge – dear college admission officers, please note that I said “work work” and not “Work _____.”
  3. Gangnam Style Call Me Maybe Squat Mashup – really fun, not too hard, good for da glutes
  4. Victoria’s Secret Bombshell Butt – disclaimer: didn’t get a bombshell butt. Really fun though!

In addition to workout vids Blogilates also has lots of fun recipes and blog posts! I love the “Cheap Clean Eats” series, especially the banana egg pancakes – I usually do a variation with egg whites and half a scoop of Cellucor whey. I also love Aubernutter mug pancakes which are kinda sorta based on the banana egg recipe!

Happy werkin’!!