Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Baking Heals

We are doing a ghostwriting project for the freelance class, it just dawned on me a second ago: if I could have someone ghostwrite a book for me, it could be called Baking Heals. Because it does, not just the mind, but the body too.
So before I could adjust myself back to school again after spring break, my body decided to boycott school with a nasty cold and sore throat. As I finally survived Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday came with a coughing debut. I got up and got dressed but was not ready for a day of work and an evening class. Instead I canceled everything and stayed in bed all day. By the time I got from post WWII to Cultural Revolution in China in The Chinese in America book, I was feeling much better. So I went out to get groceries for tomorrow's birthday potluck. Yes, happy birthday to me! I am officially 26 years old now as we speak.
Finally, after 26 years, I got to make my own birthday cake. Even though my nose was still running and I was coughing sporadically, I managed to pull the frosting off. It is, are you ready, a double-layered buttermilk chocolate cake with chocolate vanilla cream cheese frosting. I'll post more pictures when I finish decorating it tomorrow and when I cut it at the birthday potluck dinner.

I used the recipe from Good Housekeeping, and for once, I did not change anything, except I added cocoa powder to the frosting, because one can never have too much chocolate!
So the cake batter looked like this on the left; that is, before I dumped it in the pans and before my roommate Emily and I licked the remaining batter.This, is what it looked like after I dumped the batter in the pans and after Emily and I licked the whole thing.
In China we rarely bake cakes. The cakes we buy at bakeries always have this fully frosting that's not as sweet as the American icing. I remember when I was at Towson High in 2003 in my nutrition class the teacher made icing once. She used a whole package of sugar in it, I could still taste the sugar crystals in the icing while I ate the cake. It's waaaay toooo sweet. So, now that I'm making my own cream cheese frosting, I have decided that I would preserve the creamy taste more, just like what I did with the frosting for the green velvet cupcakes.

I've also learned the importance of parchment paper the hard way as I gently detached my cake from the pan. Oops! Well, I hope my dear guests tomorrow won't notice the occasional missing chunks of the cake. I mean, you really can't tell after I fixed it with the frosting. 
I was also trying to think of an easier way to put those almond slices on the side without putting them on one by one using my hands: it's a very delicate and hard task. The fact that I don't have a cake stand just didn't help either.

Are you wondering why I used a spring formed cake pan and a regular cake pan? It just happens to be what I have. Actually, the spring formed pan is from Chris: he didn't even know what it was until I found it in his kitchen! Oh the man needs some serious education!

As I said, baking heals. I wasn't feeling sick at all as I made the cake and I was certainly cruising the grocery store early on. Really, food is such a comfort that I can just dance in the food store. But now that I turned off the kitchen light my head is heavy as lead again, so I must send myself to bed.

Good night, my readers, if you do exist.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Greatest Show

I have finally started reading this book that I won at the first Towson reading series two weeks ago. A collection of linked stories evolved around the big circus fire in Hartford Connecticut around 70 years ago. The author, a distinguished writer with a shrewd journalist background, Michael Downs, is also a fantastic professor at Towson University. I am taking his freelance writing class this semester and am thoroughly enjoying the class every week.
The stories begin with the one about a mother and her child going to the circus when the fire happened. The tickets were stolen from her employer: she had wanted her child to see something beyond his imagination so badly that she took the tickets as she was cleaning the house. Ania, a Polish immigrant, worked hard to make ends meet while her husband was away in Europe fighting the war. Then the fire took place. And it would go on changing their lives, and the lives of many other people in Hartford, forever.
I ponder at the title of the book, finding fun, irony, and sorrow. The greatest show isn't always the greatest, is it?
To learn more about this touching book and its author, you need not go far: The Greatest Show.

I put on a show yesterday myself. Chris took me to play tennis, the single sport that I was willingly to learn at one point and took a class for two semesters in college but still ended up barely passing it. Did I tell you how bad I am at all sports? I don't like sports: I can watch some sports, but most likely playing is out of the question. So I told him I'd try to learn to play tennis again. And I did better than I thought: I mean, at least I managed to hit the ball over the net for several times. But I was never in a total sporting mood, or as Chris said, there was some laziness in me. There would always be some laziness in me, because deep inside I still reject the idea of me playing sports. So when he asked me to run a little for him I refused. Running is, if you didn't know already, my biggest enemy. All throughout middle school and high school in China, I had to pass running tests and I passed only a handful. I hated it. Once I was done with running tests, I vowed that I would never run again under anyone's command. No one, No one, can ask me to run if I don't want to. So you can imagine our tennis play didn't end quite well. It caused me two glasses of wine and a 1400-word story in the middle of the night and a comfort movie to finally manage to sleep at 3 o'clock in the morning.
I'm stubborn and my self-consciousness is high. There are things I hate to do and if I truly don't want to do it it would cause me physical pain if someone keeps asking me to do it or if I do actually do it. It reminds me of my early childhood when I didn't like taking baths and my mom would nag me all over the apartment for a bath. I would lock myself up in the bathroom, so angry, crying, screaming she was not my real mother. So, I was a stubborn child; I'm a stubborn person. I'm sorry. If you want to try breaking that down, you can try, but I can't guarantee success.

So I made the pineapple fried rice that I always wanted to make for the first time in bitterness and half silence; it turned out a little blend. I also added too much water to the broccoli, potato hash so it was too watery.
It wasn't the greatest show non whatsoever. But my beloved ate it all; he makes me so happy that I want to cry.

Pineapple fried rice
Three cups of cooked white rice
One pineapple
One piece of boneless and skinless chicken breast
One small can of peas
One red bell pepper, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
Vegetable oil

Cut the pineapple in half, use one half, save the other for other purposes. Cut out the flesh and chop into small cubes, leaving the hollow half pineapple the shape of a rectangular bowl. Cut the chicken breast into bite size pieces. 
Set a wok over medium heat; pour in about 3 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Cook the chicken until it turns white; then set aside in a bowl. 
Add one more tablespoon oil and stir-fry the vegetables. Add the rice and pineapple; keep stir-frying till the rice is broken apart. Add chicken, keep stir-frying until well mixed. Season with salt and pepper. 
Cook for two more minutes, and then serve in the pineapple bowl.

The hard part of the recipe was to scoop out the pineapple flesh. The fried rice can be made into any flavor, just make the fried rice you normally like and add pineapple to it. I probably could have added soy sauce, but as I said, I wasn't exactly in a good mood.

Broccoli Potato and bacon hash (adapted from Steamy Kitchen)
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 onion, diced
2 potatoes, cut into 1/2" dice
1 head of broccoli, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice (about 1 cup)
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, finely minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
dried basil

1. In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon pieces until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove and reserve the bacon, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan.
2. Add the potatoes to the pan and brown the potatoes on each side, about 6-8 minutes.
3. Stir in the onions, cook for 2 minutes, then add in the broccoli and the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. Add in 1 tablespoon of water and cover. Let cook for 3 minutes. Check to make sure that the potato is cooked through.
4. Add the cooked bacon pieces back into the pan and season with salt, pepper and basil.

So instead of 1 tbsp of water I added probably 5, and the result being my hash more like boiled vegetables. Once again, do not cook new recipes when you are not in a good mood.
Needless to say, I woke up with a raging headache and lingering nightmares about playing tennis. And, a still bloated stomach. We finally did it: we ate tooooo muuuuuch.
I ate my ritual dessert breakfast and went out speed walking. After the sweat and some reading, I now feel so much better. I also have to tell you how much I appreciate having such a wonderfully considerate and understanding boyfriend.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Eat Laugh Love

One of my favorite bestsellers is Eat Pray Love. It's not a classic, and perhaps will never be, but it speaks to the heart of women, and it simply lightens up your mind. I read the book two years ago, and I can still remember the humorous language and the delightful tales along her way of self-searching across the globe. It may seem a little too unrealistic for some people's taste, especially the part where she finds her love in Bali. No one wants to believe in fairytales anymore, come on. But dreams do come true, and you should never stop believing in them and in yourself. And when you find yourself lost in faith, go find it; it's never far away.

I don't pray, I laugh: that's how I keep my faith. I believe in food and love.

Just as sweet as the freh strawberries and pears.

Yes, I have been making desserts these days. One should never stop baking!

With the new iron skillet I bought myself, I decided to finally venture on the Tarte Tatin: a French pie that was originally made with apples, but I replaced them with pears. The pears are cooked in melted butter and caramelized sugar in the skillet till the juice is thick and you cover the pie crust on top then bake it till the crust is golden brown. Once out of the oven, you simply turn it upside down. Everything about Tarte Tatin is delicate and complicated, so needless to say I didn't totally succeed. But it did turn out okay flavor wise; I mean, after all, Chris did manage to eat two slices before our steak dinner with his mother. God only knows why I wanted to stress myself out even more by making such a difficult dessert before meeting my boyfriend's mother for the first time!
Oh La Tarte Tatin! There's still so much to learn in the pastry making and caramelizing process.

I will not be providing the recipes until I feel confident I can make this right.
Baking is science; it really is.
The strawberry shortcake I made two days ago, on the other hand, is not too hard, although to make it perfect, espcially to cut the cake in half evenly, is still out of my league at this point.
If you go to the source of this recipe, If You Give a Girl a Cookie, you will see how different my cake looks from hers. Sometimes it's all about presentation when you can't taste it, isn't it? Although I'm pretty sure her cake would taste better than mine too: I just tend to make my frosting less sweet what can I say.

I burned the iron skillet, my cake layers fell apart when I ate it with a fork, but I've been eating them for breakfast everyday and I laugh at myself and I found love in Chris's non-stop fork movement. And that, is all that matters.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Là Française

In case you didn't know, I consider myself one third Chinese, one third American, and one third French. This is not only because I speak the three languages fluently, but also that I enjoy the food from the three countries as well. After all, this blog was first called "Cooking with Julia Child in Chen's Kitchen." It all started with my first encounter with Julia Child: in the movie Julie & Julia. To imitate Julie Powell, I began my own cooking blog cooking through Julia Child's cookbook, except I'm using the much simpler version The Way to Cook. Now that my cooking endeavor has taken a new direction, steering away from the full concentration on Julia Child, I've also not forgotten about my love for that movie and Child's life in France. But before I step into the dangerous realm of motion picture where I can't keep my mouth shut, let's stay focused on her book. I read this book a year ago. Although I can't really say it's a great book, it's certainly a fun read; it would make you laugh and dream about the legendary French cuisine. You can almost smell the fish in the market and touch the greasy duck. You wonder how a gigantic American woman who could barely chop onions would have developed such passion for French cooking and the French people. Don't get me wrong; the French people are not all that difficult to be around, although you do have to give the stereotypes some credit. I spent my junior year in college in Lyon, France and met some wonderful French people, but the general impression of the country is still not all that amazing as one may think. Not everywhere is Paris, and not everywhere in Paris is Champs-Elysées. But the food, the pastry, and the wine, oh my God, is nothing if not divine.

Therefore, I took a second shot on the famous Beouf Bourguignon, a phrase every time I say would cause a disgraceful imitation on Chris's part that I shall not mention here. Please don't butcher the French language; I mean, is it really too much to ask?

Beouf Bourguignon (adapted from Julia Child's The Way to Cook)

Tender beef chunks for stew
3 carrots, chopped
1 big onion, chopped
1 package of mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
beef stock
1 bottle of red cooking wine
corn starch

Use paper towel to dry the beef( if not dried they may not brown properly). Brown the beef in vegetable oil (again, I understand Julia's love for butter, but we are trying to be healthy here). Remove the beef from the pan and drain some of the fat. Put the beef in a pot and begin to stew in beef stock. Brown the onions and mushrooms separately in the pan. Try not to crowd the mushrooms (but of course I always crowd the mushrooms even though I keep telling myself not to, I still do. What can you do; they still get brown though.) Put the mushrooms and onions in a plate. Clean the fat from the pan and cook the carrots, garlic and tomatoes in canola oil until the tomatoes become soft and juicy. Pour everything from the pan into the pot, mix with the beef and add red cooking wine. Keep stewing for about another 40 minutes. As the beef gets tender and the juice begins to decrease, fold in the mushrooms and onions. Keep stewing till there's almost no juice in the pot. Add some corn starch to absorb the last bit of juice. Serve with baguette or rice. (You know what I served with of course, RICE!!!)

You can also bake the stew in the oven for about 2 hours, but if you don't have that much time but concerned about the tenderness of the beef, I suggest you add a pinch of lemon or lime juice: the acid helps to tenderize the beef. At home, my Dad sometimes puts in a little sugared fruit in beef stew or even beer. You can't taste it, but it makes the beef get tender faster.

I don't know if you still remember this wonderful delight in the movie, but this is called Bruschetta, or, as Brittany would say, "fried bread with heirloom tomato salad."

Bruschetta (adapted from If You Give a Girl a Cookie)

slices of crusty bread (I used this marble rye bread that Chris has in the fridge)
fresh basil (I used basil seasoning, it worked out fine too)
cherry tomatoes
olive oil

Chop up the tomatoes, keep all the seeds and juice. Add basil and a swirl of olive oil just enough to coat the tomatoes. Fried the bread in olive oil until crispy on both sides. Rub the garlic on one side of the bread while still hot. Spread the tomato salad on top and enjoy! (Be careful while eating as the tomatoes do tend to fall off the bread if you don't know how to keep you bread balanced: Chris dropped half of the salad on the plate after the first bite!)

Just so you know, apparently I didn't just go French last night: I went entirely European, with this wonderful Italian pear salad with walnuts and feta!
Pear Salad with Walnuts and Feta (adapted from the Family Kitchen)

1 bag spring mix salad
2 pears, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup roasted walnuts
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
freshly cracked pepper

Roast walnuts either in the oven or in a small sauce pan over medium heat until just aromatic. Be careful not to burn them. 
Add spring mix to a large bowl. Top with thinly sliced pears, feta cheese and walnuts. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Toss salad to incorporate all ingredients.

Another Dinner for Two

The Spanish Sangria is the final touch of the European endeavor, and, oh please ignore the picture on the fridge: two of Chris's endearing friends.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Asian Infusion

Several weeks ago, I read this book, The Red Thread by Ann Hood, a story about American couples adopting Chinese babies. I picked it up out of curiosity in the library and almost returned it without reading it because I had too many books and too little time, surprise, surprise. But the day before the due-to-return date, I flipped through the pages and saw the name "Chen Chen", exactly the same as my Chinese name; needless to say, my curiosity grew wild again. So I did my fastest reading: I finished the 300-page book in six hours. I ended up crying a river in the library. 

In Chinese we have a saying: every family its own problems. We go through pain and loss, and we find love and comfort again. In the book, the American mothers struggle with their marriages and their desire to become a mother, and the Chinese mothers send their baby girls away in tears. In the end, each girl is matched with a family in the land of freedom and happiness.

I have some American friends who adopted a Chinese girl, and now she's about to go to college. I often think about how her life would have turned out if she had stayed in that orphanage in rural China. I feel the pain the Chinese mother must have suffered from abandoning her daughter, and I also feel the joy the American families feel when their adopted girl grows into a fine young woman.

If you think of it, the number of Asian-American families is ever increasing nowadays; not only the families with adopted Asian children, but also the ones with interracial marriages. An article on Yahoo couple weeks ago said that 1 in 7 American marriages is an interracial marriage. The world has become a village, and nowhere is that concept better illustrated than in America. I myself is a living example of being in an interracial relationship: I was born and raised in China, and my boyfriend is one-hundred percent blue-eyed American, with half German half Irish background. We sometimes wonder what our children's eye color would be. He then wonders how I would look if I dyed my hair blond and my eyes blue. Well, I guess the only way to find that out is to use Photoshop.

So in honor of our mixed relationship, I made an Asian-American mixed meal last night.
Pineapple Curry Chicken with Rosanne Cash's Potato Salad
As I always say, Chris is such a picky eater, but of course his explanation is that he has a fragile palate; I'm not even sure "fragile" is the right word. So when he was tasting the pineapple chunks in the curry chicken he squinted his eyes and pursed his lips. I shook my head and kept on eating. I mean, when you make something for the one you love, shouldn't his reaction be "Oh my god honey this is sooooo good!" Instead he gave me this doubtful look and a repetition of "interesting, hmm, interesting, pineapple, hmm, interesting." Fortunately, it grew on him once he added rice on his plate. Bless his heart, the man is an all-time rice lover: he loves rice more than any Chinese person I know. Anyway, the curry chicken was delicious, even though I pretty much changed the entire original recipe.

Pineapple Curry Chicken (adapted from Taste of Home)

half of a fresh pineapple, chopped to chunks
3 pieces of skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium-sized carrots, minced
1 medium-sized onion or half of a big one, minced
half of a red bell pepper, minced
half a clove of garlic, minced
curry powder

Cook the chicken breat in canola oil (I know butter is better, but we are trying to be healthier here.) Add onions, red bell pepper, carrots and garlic. When chicken is 80% cooked, put everything in a medium-sized pot and add pineapple. Add water till it barely covers the food and as much curry powder as you like (it really depends on how much you are into curry, then again, I don't like to measure, go with your heart!) Season with basil, chili powder, salt and pepper. Cook over low-medium heat for 10 minutes, add 2 tbsps of milk and keep cooking over low heat until the liquid is almost gone, then add 1 tbsp of corn starch to absorb the rest of the liquid.

Serve for 2 over rice (according to Chris), with potato salad (according to me)

Despite his initial reaction to the pineapple, Chris commented that he felt he was in an Indian restaurant and just ordered this dish. Now that, brought a grin to my face.

Okay I have an interesting insight on potato salad. In China, I always thought potato salad was imported and it's made with mashed potatoes: something I thought was common in western dishes until my American boyfriend said it's totally weird. So, this time I made a potato salad the American style.

Rosanne Cash's Potato Salad (adapted from If You Give a Girl a Cookie)
5 or 6 small red-skinned potatoes, boiled whole and cut in half or quaters
2 eggs, hard boiled, peeld and chopped
4 or 5 stalks of celery, chopped
1 half of red onion (Brittany omitted this part, I didn't but feel like I should have, the onion is a little strong, but if you like strong-taste onion, then go ahead use it!)
3 scoops of mayonnaise
2 tbsps of yellow mustard (The original recipe asks for Dijon mustard, sadly I didn't have any in the house, I think yellow worked out just fine if you don't want to buy something that you'll probably only use for one dish at one time.)
Mix everything together and you have a salad! 

The eggs are not mixed in the picture because I had a special request from my dear love who doesn't like egg white and prefers to be able to pick it out. Of course, once he saw the salad, he said with a potato salad I could have mixed it in he wouldn't have noticed. Oh well, it is what it is now. . . picky, picky, picky.

Sorry this seems to go on forever, I'm still farely new at blogging: I have to learn to keep my posts relatively short.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Cabbage

So last night was the first night of my spring break cooking extravaganza at the Harter's House. It felt nice to cook for the one you love, I have to admit, especially when he says "Honey I'm home!" while sniffing toward the aromatic kitchen. And just to be safe, I began the week with a dish I had made before: cabbage rolls from Julia Child's cookbook, The Way to Cook. Last time I made it for a dinner party and I followed everything from the recipe, but this time I was more comfortable and splurged a little myself. 
I actually never really liked cabbage, because my mom used to make it all the time at home, and she didn't really flavor it much because she liked its natural taste and she said it's good for you that way. I love her dearly, but let's face it, she's not the best cook in the family. My family prides on our male cooks: a situation that I'm attempting to change right now!
However, I do have to point out that Chinese cabbages are not the same as American cabbages. Chinese cabbage is usually much tenderer, with a consistency in between the American cabbage and iceberg lettuce. That's why when making these cabbage rolls, I had to boil the leaves first to soften them. If I were using Chinese cabbages, I wouldn't have needed to do that. 
For the record, I did eat one leaf out of the boiling water, plain, with no seasoning whatsoever; it tasted fresh like nature; I loved it!

Aren't they beautiful? This is one of the reasons I love the cabbage rolls so much: they are so pretty, and they just scream out spring!

Braised Cabbage rolls with Ham and Bread Crumb stuffing (adapted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child)
The blanched leaves from an 8-inch head of cabbage
About 3 sups of stuffing
Canola oil
One medium onion, sliced
Two cans of diced tomatoes
Italian seasoning

Boil the cabbage leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes till the leaves are softer but can still hold their shapes. Spread 1 leaf cupped side up on you work surface. Spread a cylinder of filling onto each leaf and roll up into a sausage shape, enclosing the filling completely.

Set the iron skillet over moderate hear, with the canola oil, add the onions, and sauté for 5 minutes until limp and translucent. Arrange the cabbage rolls best side up in a single layer over the onions. Season lightly with salt and pepper and Italian seasoning, pour the tomatoes over them. Bring to a simmer for about 30 minutes.

Ham and Bread Crumb Stuffing
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
A 1 1/2-inch cube of Swiss or Cheddar cheese, roughly diced (I used cheddar)
2 cups or so scraps or pieces of ham, trimmed of fat
2 eggs
1 large clove of garlic, puréed
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
Seasoning: salt, freshly ground pepper, and thyme or sage

Cook the onion in canola oil till limp and translucent. Add the cheese and ham to the onion. Add the eggs and garlic, then the crmbs. Season nicely to taste.

Still considering cabbage slightly a Chinese vegetable, I completed the meal with a plate full of rice muffins, a recipe I found in a cookbook I just received not long ago from my American Dad. The book belonged to his mother, who passed away several years ago at the age of 104. The books is 70 years old; my hands tremble when I flip through the yellowed pages.

Rice Muffins (adapted from The Household Searchlight Recipe Book)
1 cup cold cooked rice
1 cup milk
2 eggs, well beaten
4 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsps baking-powder
2 tbsps sugar
1 1/2 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 430. Sift flour, measure, and sift with baking-powder and salt. Combine rice, milk, eggs, butter, and sugar. Add dry ingredients. Beat only until smooth. Fill well-oiled muffin tins 2/3 full (I used a 12-cupcake pan.) Bake for about 15-20 minutes.

So this is what we talk about when we talk about cabbage. Even if you use cabbage and rice, this whole meal is still entirely western, but I'd like to consider it having a slight touch of Asia. It doesn't always make sense, but I'm the cook! :-)
One of the things that doesn't always make sense is Raymond Carver's stories. They don't always follow the rules we've been learning in the short fiction writing class. But then again, creative writing should not be constrained to any rules; just like recipes don't always have to follow the exact measurements.
Carver's stories are full of pain and loss. Almost all the characters seem to be lost at some moment in their lives. These stories are the best examples for creating conflicts in short stories. 

Now that I think of it, although these stories are not very conventional, they still follow some basic rules in ficiton writing. The dialogues are dynamic and lively, revealing the characters more than plain physical descriptions. Something I'll have to learn.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Green New Start

You know it's a lie when a writer says "I'm writing this just for myself, I don't care if no one reads it." This is what I said when I started this blog. Now I think I just wasn't serious enough a writer, or a blogger. Truth to be known, I really wasn't that serious.

Still wondering how many people out there are actually reading this, I decided to take it more seriously, hoping that people will actually read this.

Therefore, on this gloomy Sunday right after St. Patty's Day, barely out of slumber, still in my boyfriend's X-Large "Made in Ireland" shirt, I begin once again this journey of blogging. While our cat Mushu is finding his own way to dreamland on my lap, I struggle to conceal my excitement of this Green New Start so that I wouldn't stir him up where his playful paws will likely leave trademarks on my bare arms again.

This time I'm coming back with more cooking adventures and PLUS: more reading adventures. Growing up in a family full of food-lovers and great cooks, I have finally found my own stand in a kitchen. Juggling my new passion with my old passions, "reading and writing," I suddeny had an idea that almost seemed too impossible to carry out: writing about reading and cooking. Finally, it was my devoted boyfriend who articulated the idea of blogging about what kind of dishes would go with what books you are reading: something I'm still not so sure that I can manage to make enough sense of for my readers but am more than willing to try.

Just so you know, this is not going to be a straight feast of "one book matching one dish" kinda thing, I will more than likely talk about the books I'm currently reading and the recipes I'm making. Forgive me if sometimes there may not be an apparent connection between the two things; I will definitely try to make some most of the time.

I know you probably can't flip the page while stirring the food, but you can certainly enjoy eating the food while you flip the page. Flavors are words for the tongue; words are flavors for the mind.

I didn't exacatly follow the measurement of the frosting when I made my St. Patty's Day green velvet  cupcakes, but it turned out just fine as it was not too sweet like most frosting but more creamy.

I apparently have to teach Chris how to use my camera so the picture wouldn't be blurry...

Green Velvet Cupcakes (Adapted from "red velvet cupcakes" from

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 (1/2 ounce) bottle McCormick® Red Food Color
1 teaspoons McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract

  • Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1/2 (4 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/8 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoons McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 (8 ounce) box confectioners' sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream, milk, food color and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until just blended. Do not overbeat. Spoon batter into 30 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full.
  3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely. Frost with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting.
  4. Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat cream cheese, softened, butter, sour cream and McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until smooth.

This is half of the original recipe, I made 12 cupcakes.

Ironically, I've been reading Iris Chang's The Chinese in America lately and the early Chinese immigrants seemed to have had some interesting relationships with the Irish immigrants, especially after the construction of the continental railroad when the hardworking Chinamen began to spread from the west to New York City where they won the employers over with their humbleness and low demand of wages while the Irish people, like the rest of the white immigrants, lost their jobs to the Chinamen. However, the Chinese-Irish marriages seemed to work well. "Irish women often migrated alone, without their families, and sometimes outnumbered Irish male arrivals two to one. It was natural, then, for these women to form relationships with those of an immigrant population that suffered a serious shortage of women." And that population was the Chinese vendors. You would think that the interracial marriages would help change the social status of the Chinese, but apparently the discrimination against Chinese immigrants had not yet fully started at that point of the history.

I think I should just feel lucky that I wasn't born in the 1800s where people would have judged my relationship with my half-Irish half-German boyfriend.