Curried Barley Salad & Walking

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It was beautiful and balmy here in San Francisco today.  I took a long morning walk in the sun with no destination in mind — just walked about and looked at everything around me.  Both my parents have developed joint problems and could only walk about 4 blocks before they have to stop and sit down for a while to rest the joints.  I’d better enjoy my long walks when I can.

Walking takes us to places, of course, but more importantly for me is the fringe benefit of the motion — walking to get some fresh air, to let off steam, to clear my mind, to think or to stop thinking, to listen to a piece of new music that I’ve found…

In my teen years in Shanghai, dating was called 荡马路“strolling the street or floating on the street.”  In Beijing, they called it 压马路 “To flatten the street or crush the street” — the Northerners were always a little rougher around the edges. In those days, living spaces were crowded and there were no other places such as coffee shops for people to meet and talk.  Walking around the blocks in the evening, preferably not in one’s own neighborhood, was one of the two options people had when dating. The other one was to meet in a cinema, followed by a stroll.  For that generation, every marriage began on one of those walks.

When I was filming Xiu Xiu the Sent-down Girl in the Tibetan region many years ago,  I saw pilgrims walking on the highway, prostrating themselves every step of the way.  Our cast and crew usually traveled in our own rented buses between locations and the hostel where we stayed.  One evening as it was getting dark, I saw a very old woman and a girl about 12 walking and prostrating on the highway. I naively asked our bus driver to stop and to offer them a ride.  But of course they said no.  Our local guide explained to me that they would pitch tent when it’s dark and continue the next day.  They would go on for months or years until they reached Lhasa.  Walking for them was a form of fervent praying.



In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit writes, “walking is, in some sense, about how we invest universal acts with particular meanings. Like eating or breathing, it can be invested with wildly different cultural meanings, from the erotic to the spiritual, from the revolutionary to the artistic. Here this history begins to become part of the history of the imagination and the culture, of what kind of pleasure, freedom, and meaning are pursued at different times by different kinds of walks and walkers.”

In the same book, Solnit also compares walking to a form of thinking, “Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking. Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is a bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals.”

Alas, her book was written before the age of non-stop connectivity, which threatens to make walking “busy.”  I have often seen people walking on the streets talking to themselves as if they were schizophrenic and listening to voices in their heads.  Of course they were just talking on their cell with earbuds in.  Occasionally, I do it too.  But not today.  I had a perfect walk today where “the mind, the body and the world are aligned,” to quote Solnit again.


The salad is also perfectly delicious without the roast chicken. The girls loved the vegetarian version.

Curried Barley Salad


1 cups hull-less barley, or whole wheat berries, rinsed

3 cups chicken broth (replace with water and a pinch of salt for vegetarian)

3/4 cup water

2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (such as Madras)

2 teaspoons dry yellow mustard

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cumin

4 small carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4″ dice

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup thinly sliced red onion (about 1/2 large onion)

3 to 4 slices lemon cut lengthwise, ends removed, finely chopped with peel

1 roasted chicken breast, I used Costco roast chicken (omit for vegetarian)

1 cup wild arugula

1 cup (packed) cilantro sprigs with tender stems plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

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Cook the hull-less barley in a rice cooker with 3 cups of chicken broth and 3/4 cup water.  Hull-less barley is a very firm whole grain and takes about an hour to cook.  You can add more water if you want your barley softer.  If you use pearled barley instead of hull-less barley, it will only take about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add curry, mustard, cardamom, cumin and coriander; cook, stirring often, until spices are fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Stir in carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until carrots are crisp-tender, 5-6 minutes.

Add vinegar and stir until evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in onion and lemon. Remove pan from heat and stir until onion is wilted, 1-2 minutes. Add vegetable mixture to bowl with spelt. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Add chicken (if using), arugula, cilantro to barley mixture; toss to combine. Transfer salad to a large platter. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.

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Adapted from : Epicious

Happy Sunday!


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, 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.


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. 



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.


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.


I used Sabra Mediterranean Eggplant in the hot dogs.



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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