everlasting zucchini carbonara

Zucchini carbonara

22 August 2015

I’m back – whoa. I don’t think I’ve taken a month off from here in five years, and I didn’t intend to now. I don’t ever feel the need to escape from here – this is my escape – but we took the kids to Europe for the first time that they’ll remember, and I turned off everything else so I could focus on seeing two weeks through their wide eyes.

I brought back a holiday souvenir for you guys: a recipe for those of you overrun by late summer’s giant zucchini plants, like my friend Jojo outside Munich. We cooked zucchini for days, but this veggie-enriched pasta carbonara, enjoyed by zucchini-weary adults and kids both, was the ultimate effort that most successfully cleared out Jojo’s neverending stockpile.

A delicious week in Paris was just a prelude to our main event: six days in Bavaria with the greatest of friends. My husband and I did the same trip – Paris, followed by Munich – once before in 1999 for the wedding of this couple, close friends from New York City. And now there are 12 of us instead of 4, our kids matching theirs in tidy pairs: teen boys, preteen girls, young boys and younger girls.

I wondered if things would be different this time. In the two years since we last gathered, our eldest have morphed from big kids to full-blown teens who shave, use hair products and sleep through breakfast.

The kids don’t communicate in between our rare visits – the 9-hour time difference on top of too many schedules – but when we get together we squeeze all the time lost into a few days of intensive togetherness. And that, it turns out, is enough. All eight connected easily with the comfort of cousins. read on…

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I’m celebrating today – five years here at chinese grandma. 5! A full handful of years.

We’ve had good eats together, made discoveries, wondered and laughed. I’ve had exiting moments in this blogging adventure – the Kitchn!, Saveur! – and it’s been a joy share with you here and have you share back with me.

But in this half-decade, life also got real. You guys were with me when I turned 40; when I lost my dad and my dad-in-law; when I had a shoot-me-now health year with raging eczema followed by shingles; when I’ve had pangs of midlife angst.

Your quiet listening has helped me through. I started this blog as a restless at-home mom of four, desperate to construct a virtual room of my own. Staking out this space to create, to think and to learn has given me calm. Writing here is like a meditation – an opportunity for me to step back, analyze, digest and breathe.

I had four little people when this all started – aged 1 to 8 – and now they are 6 to 13, half-grown to grinning down at me. I no longer fantasize about my phantom life, my independent pre-parenthood existence. Instead I am incredulous that I am on the flip side, nearing again a house without the boisterous activity of kids.

I wish I could say five years of blogging has made me a smooth pro, but I can’t. Sometimes I’m bursting to share something fresh and cool with you. More often I go through a comical cycle of despair, rejected attempts and insecurity until I slowly, finally get to something I think might be worth reading.

Some posts connect with you more than others, and I can never predict which – I just launch my little word vessels, built to the best of my ability, and enjoy the brief satisfaction of completion before getting to work on the next.

Five years here and 43 years of living have taught me one thing for certain about this earthly life: it’s about getting up, trying our best, learning with honesty and humility, and getting up again. This is how the game is played. If we don’t make the effort, we atrophy. If we ignore lessons, we get stuck on repeat.

So I keep at it, for better and worse, and I love it. When something connects with you, or when you love a recipe I’ve shared, I am grateful to my toes.

I am thrilled to celebrate five years at chinese grandma with you all, and I am sending you squeezy hugs and high fives and fist bumps.

Oh, and cake! Buttery, blueberry-y blogiversary cake. read on…


I’m not an overachiever in the kitchen at any time of year, but in the summer when appetite is down and laziness up, I just want to assemble a good meal rather than cook it. The season’s fresh produce makes it easy to have a picnic at home – great cheese, juicy ripe fruit, well-dressed greens, and a lush, creamy greek yogurt spread, scooped up with fresh-cut vegetables or salty chips.

I wouldn’t recommend most dips as a basis for a meal, but this isn’t your regular tub of fat. It’s simply a flavored greek yogurt, just dolled up savory instead of sweet. Thick like tzatziki but mellow enough to eat in big dollops, if you use a quality greek yogurt (or make your own), it’ll give you a probiotic boost to boot.

The last couple of summers we’ve lived on this dip from Costco, and we’ve wailed in withdrawal when it has disappeared sporadically from the store’s shelves. Apparently the Canadian manufacturer, Skotidakis, distributes the dip only through Costco in the U.S., so when Costco doesn’t carry it, there’s no other source to be found.

It’s comforting for addicts like me to have a homemade version as backup plan. And it seems only fair to make this creamy goodness available to those outside Costco’s reach. read on…


hula pie

Hula pie

1 July 2015

I don’t know if its the 19 straight days of rain we’ve had since we arrived in Ohio, or the fact that an unusual number of midwest friends have gone to the islands this June, but I have sunny Hawaii on the brain. Last weekend Cynthia married her Hawaiian sweetheart on the beach, and in the spirit of aloha I made hula pie.

Hula pie is the famous dessert from Duke’s Waikiki, a rare hangout that draws tourists and locals both. In a prime spot on Waikiki beach, Duke’s proudly honors local son Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic swimmer and surf champion, and offers down-to-earth Hawaiian hospitality amid the Waikiki circus.

A mammoth slice of hula pie is not just one dessert on the menu, it’s the only dessert on the menu. I guess no one at Duke’s dines alone – and any solo diner with hula pie is sure to find himself with instant friends. I watched a video to find out how they make it so dang big.

They take a regular pie tin, press down buttered chocolate cookie crumbs for crust, shovel in a FULL GALLON of macadamia nut ice cream, and cover the frozen mountain with a lava-thick blanket of hot fudge. A single slice of Duke’s hula pie has over a pint of ice cream. One pint. One tall Hawaiian slice. read on…


sweet vinegar slaw

Sweet vinegar slaw

17 June 2015

Mealtimes with my gregarious Ohio family are much more about socializing than cooking. Impromptu family gatherings call for pizza – round pies cut in snacky squares, as is the norm here – but planned family events, like all four of my kids’ baptisms, are accompanied by takeout from our favorite local barbecue joint.

The smoked beef brisket and pulled pork from City Barbeque are deeply flavorful and tender, but I have a thing for sides: saucy beans with bits of brisket, sweet tea and vinegary cole slaw. City BBQ has mayonnaise-based slaw too, but ever since they started offering the vinegar option, we’ve never gone back. It has a light, fresh crunch, and its sweet-tart taste is a piquant contrast to smoky meat.

It’s such a simple salad – shredded cabbage with a touch of onion, bell pepper and grated carrot, with an irresistible balance of sweet and sour – that I’ve been meaning crack the code on a recipe for ages. But I’m always so busy eating it that I forget to set some aside for recipe development. This week, we had a City BBQ night for Sunday’s Warriors-Cavaliers playoff game, and I finally remembered. So here’s my take, in time for July 4th and the rest of grilling season.

The balance here is all about vinegar and sugar. It seems like a lot of sugar, but think of the mixture as more brine than salad dressing – the vegetables will soak in flavor, and you’ll see that a good deal of the liquid gets thrown out when the salad is all eaten. Many recipes call for equal amounts of vinegar and sugar, but I think 25% less sugar than vinegar is just right. read on…


My mom always drew the raves for her barbecue chicken – tangy and sweet, salty and sticky, equal parts American and Asian – and indeed she spent years gradually perfecting the recipe. But it was my dad who worked the old brick fire pit in our backyard, tending to the coals like incubating eggs, now and then cranking the heavy iron cooking grate up for less heat or down for more.

Before he died, though he was weak and ill with cancer, my dad closed up the fire pit. He knew no one else would have the patience to work the ancient contraption as he had for decades, using his engineer’s ingenuity to keep it operational.

Over the years my brothers and I had offered to buy him a newer device, but he scoffed at kettle grills, propane, and anything new. Faded dusty pink and gray, the square fire pit was original to the house, long before my parents’ tenure, and my dad took pride and pleasure in keeping the old girl going.

Cooking Chinese food is hot kitchen work, and because my mom appreciated the break from the stovetop, my dad grilled regularly year round. Only when it rained was he thwarted, as water poured into the large square smoke hole in the ivy-covered canopy above the fire pit.

My dad never took any credit for his grilling skills, directing all praise to my mom. But after he was gone we didn’t make barbecue chicken for three years. It wasn’t the same without the fire pit, or my dad’s quietly perfected grilling technique. read on…


Labneh party spread

20 May 2015 Food
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Maybe it’s the Chinese in me, but family-style food is my jam. I’ll gladly eat artful, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, or individually plated works of gastronomic fancy. But as a cook, I just want to set out giant bowls of food and let people gather round, curating their own meals as they please. It’s more sociable, […]

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Kitchen hack: Cleaning the kettle

13 May 2015 Discoveries
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Hard water is not so much a people issue (studies indicate that high mineral levels are more likely a health benefit than hazard), it’s just a plumbing nuisance. Cold water isn’t a problem, but when water gets heated, carbon dioxide in the water evaporates and calcium carbonate salt deposits get left behind. So it’s the […]

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Soy sauce poached fish

1 May 2015 Asian
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It always seems intimidating to go out and buy fish, but a year or so ago I signed up for a local CSS (community supported seafood) program that brings the fish to me. It’s like a CSA (community supported agriculture) but instead of seasonal produce from local farmers, I get the catch of the week […]

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Magic mushrooms

24 April 2015 Food
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Ripe fruit can be perfect in its naked glory, but vegetables like a bit of dress up. A juicy tomato wants great olive oil, a fluffy baked potato begs for melting butter. And this mushroom saute, with minimal enhancement, simply showcases the earthy richness, meaty texture and indefinable umami that are the essence of mushroom […]

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