Author Archives: Frida

The Origin of Chinese New Year

The Year of the Goat began on February 19.  During Chinese New Year, you’ve probably heard the pop of firecrackers and seen red scrolls and lanterns decorating Chinatowns across the country and Chinese people’s homes.  Maybe you’ve observed Chinese people handing out red envelopes with money inside to kids for good luck.  And if you’re lucky, you’ve been invited to celebrate Chinese New Year’s Eve with a feast, the dinner table filled with special dishes for this special occasion.  But do you know the origin of these customs?

According to legend, there was a mythical monster named “Nien” (which also means “year” in Chinese).  This monster was capable of destroying villages, killing people and eating livestock.  The villagers believed Nien was afraid of two things: the color red and loud noises.  So on the eve before Nien arrived, people posted red scrolls on every door, and fired firecrackers and pounded drums to ward off the monster.  Just in case they didn’t survive Nien’s attacks, they ate all their livestock before Nien arrived and gave their money to their kids in a red pocket.  The legend ends happily: the mythical monster was successfully conquered by all these tactics, and the next day the villagers congratulated each other for staying alive.  Even today, the Chinese greet each other with “Congratulations” instead of “Happy New Year” during Chinese New Year.  Directly translated from Chinese, Chinese New Year actually means Passing of the Nien.

Great gift ideas for Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese, Taiwanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Singaporeans around the world, lasts for 15 days.  If you’re meeting your Asian friends during this month, greeting them with a red gift will bring them good luck.  Here are two gift ideas in red that will bring your family, friends and co-workers joy and good fortune.  These gifts are not only good for Chinese New Year but all celebrations, such as weddings, births, moving into new homes, birthdays, store openings, and holidays.

Double Happiness Trivet and Coasters                       

trivet and coasters

 Satin Brocade Wine Bottle Covers 

Wine_Bottle_Cover

 

Buy Double Happiness Coasters

Buy Satin Brocade Wine Bottle Covers

 

How to Prevent Dry Skin When Flying

We can no longer bring bottled water to the airport, and carry-on liquids are limited to 3.4 oz.  While these rules may be safe for air travel, they’re deadly for our skin.  We know this scenario all too well: we board a flight with skin as smooth as a fresh plum, but when we land, our skin is cracked and peeling, more like a wrinkled prune.  This uncomfortable condition can last for days if we don’t moisturize our skin right away.  What’s the best solution to prevent dry skin when flying?  Wear a facial mask!

Facial Masks – The Best Solution for Dry Skin When Flying 

GOKUJYUN FACIAL MASKS

Most moisturizers or toners come in bottles larger than 3.4 oz.  When you can’t bring your moisturizer on an airplane, consider carrying on an even better product: Gokujyun Facial Mask. Facial masks are usually individually packed, and they’re not officially considered liquids even though they contain all the liquids your skin desperately needs.  Applying a facial mask during your flight can’t be any simpler: clean your face, then place a mask on your face for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, remove the mask, pad your face dry with your fingers, and voila!  You’re done.  For maximum usage, you can even use the still-moist mask on your neck and hands before tossing it away.  During those 15 minutes, you can read, watch a movie, or take a nap.

The Phantom Flyer

Let’s face it, a facial mask can look scary to people who don’t know they exist.  Passengers with facial masks are more terrifying than the Phantom of the Opera.  To prevent havoc on the plane, I usually wait until the whole flight is dark and everybody is sound asleep before applying my facial mask.  On one trip, the passenger sitting next to me stayed awake the whole flight, so I warned her about the sight she was about to behold before I put on my mask.  To my surprise, she was more interested in the benefits of facial masks than the “scary” effect I’d worried about.  In fact, she asked me if I had an extra one so she could try one on for size.   So there we were: two grown women sitting in the dark with our facial masks on, looking at each other and giggling like school girls.  Before the flight was over, the woman had written down the name of my facial masks, Gokujyun, so she could purchase them online.

 Prevention and Treatment for Airplane Skin

Gokujyun_facial_mask_If you’re not brave enough to apply a facial mask while flying, or if your flight is too short to use one, I suggest you use a Gokujyun Facial Mask before and after your flight.  Gokujyun Facial Masks: the best prevention and treatment for dry airplane skin.

To Learn more about this mask, please read my previous post: Why Asian Women Look So Young.

Buy Gokujyun Facial Mask

Top 5 Travel Accessories You Need

Travel and Indoor Slippers

Wear them in airplanes, in cars, at hotels, or in the comfort of your home.  Lightweight and flexible, these slippers don’t take up much space.  Made of mesh material, they’re breathable, machine-washable, durable, non-slippery, and extremely comfortable.  By far the best slippers on the market today, they’re perfect for homebodies and road warriors alike.  Available in 4 different colors and sizes.

                     

 

Toothbrush Holder

                          

Thanks to these fantastic holders, you can now place your toothbrush wherever you like. No more “laying around” or worrying about hotel germs.  These holders fit toothbrushes of every shape and size.  Available in red, yellow and blue for easy identification of different toothbrushes.

Travel Organizer Bag

                             

With its compact design and huge holding capacity, this bag is a must for every traveler.  Stretchable, lightweight and machine-washable, they’re perfect for packing socks and underwear, and equally perfect for holding laundry.  We recommend you carry 2 bags for the road: one for clean clothes and the other for dirty clothes. What we love about this Japanese-designed bag is that it’s Velcro-free and can be stretched to any shape.  It lays flat and folds away easily so it doesn’t take up space in your suitcase.

Eco Shopping Bags

We love these bags because of their artistic designs.   They’re the most beautiful re-usable bags you can find.  With 3 different patterns designed by Japanese artists, you can choose one that fits your style and outfit. These bags are extremely durable and can carry up to 50 pounds.  They’re also machine-washable. Use them for travel or everyday shopping.

Gokujyun Facial Masks                      

                     

Gokujyun Facial Masks prevent dry skin when you’re flying.  Use them during your flight, or before and after your trip to ensure your skin stays moisturized.  This is the best kept Asian beauty secret.  Asian women wear these facial masks when we travel.  (And when we’re not on the road, we use them at least once a week at home.)

 

Cherry Blossoms

The Beauty of Cherry Blossoms

 

Nothing depicts the extreme beauty of spring like the cherry blossom.  Whenever winter starts getting me down, I think about walking through the cherry-tree path at Brooklyn Botanic Garden during Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival). The cherry petals fall like a tropical shower: impatient, rigorous and intense.  It’s amazing how hard and constant these petals fall, but even when the entire path is covered by layers of cherry blossoms, the cherry trees remain full of flowers and life.  With petals in my hair, on my face, between my fingers, I am literally immersed in the height of spring, surrounded by color and beauty, smiling without realizing it, living for the very moment.  That’s how the arrival of spring screams: loud yet soft, colorful yet peaceful, forceful yet gentle.  It’s the quietest shout.

The Symbolism of Cherry Blossoms

SONY DSCCherry blossoms evoke our deep-seated emotions.  To Buddhists, the blossoms represent the transit of life.  For the Sumarai Warrior, they symbolize the samurai’s blood drops and his ability to face death without fear.  The geishas saw their short-lived beauty and youth in the cherry blossom.  To the powerful, the quick fall of flowers represents how fleeting power actually is.  To the young, the flowers represent birth and youth.  Cherry blossoms highlight the cycle of life and reflect where you are in your journey.

The Cherry Blossom Festival at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

 

We can ponder, question and become touched, sometimes sadly, by the inevitable falling flowers.  But we can also marvel, savor, relish and immerse ourselves in the cherry trees’ full bloom.  This is why viewing the cherry blossoms has become a tradition for Japanese—families and friends gather under the cherry trees, take a walk, have a picnic and drink sake.   If you live in New York City, go to the Sakura Matsuri on April 27 or 28.   Experience the full bloom of cherry trees and the beauty of Japanese art and culture.

Soba Noodle Stir-Fry With Beef and Shiitake Mushroom Recipe

I love home-made stir fry because I can add any vegetable or meat I want and make a delicious dish without the extra grease usually found in restaurant stir-frys.  If you add soba noodles, you can turn a simple dish into a complete meal.  Here’s a recipe for spicy Soba Noodle Stir-Fry with Beef and Shiitake Mushrooms.  You can of course substitute beef with any kind of meat you like, or turn it into a vegetarian dish with any vegetables you have in the refrigerator.

Ingredients for Soba Noodle & Beef Stir Fry

Soba_Noodle_Beef_Stir_Fry

Servings: 3 -4

  • 1 pack Habubaku Organic Soba Noodles  (9.5 oz)
  • 1 pound flank steak or skirt steak (cut against grain to bite size)
  • 1/2 tsp La Gan Ma Chili Crisp Sauce
  • ½ pound shiitake mushrooms (stalks removed and thinly sliced)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 tsp corn starch (or baking soda)
  • 5 cloves garlic (sliced)
  • 4 to 5 scallions,  (cut into 2” pieces)
  • 5 tsp of canola oil
  • 1/4 cup bok choy (or any green vegetable you like)

Cooking Directions

  1. Marinate beef in egg white, 1 tsp soy sauce, corn starch for 30 min.
  2. Cook soba noodles in boiling, lightly salted water for 2 min.
  3. Heat up 3 tsp oil in wok (or skillet), cook garlic & scallions for 1 min, add mushrooms & cook for 2 min with salt, add beef and stir for 2 min.
  4. Add drained noodles and vegetable to wok, then stir fry everything with the rest of the sauce (2 tsp oil, 1 tsp soy sauce, ½ tsp La Gan Ma Chili) for 2 min.

Please give this recipe a try and let me know how you like it.  Or you can share your own soba noodle recipe with us and I’ll post it on my blog.  Bon appetit, or as they say in Chinese, 請慢用 (Please eat slowly).

Buy Hakubaku Soba Noodles  soba-noodle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soba Noodles – A Healthy Alternative to Pasta

Health Benefits of Soba Noodles  soba-noodle

I first heard about the health benefits of soba noodles from a friend who has pre-diabetes.  I searched online and sure enough there were numerous sources citing how soba reduces the risk of diabetes.  In fact, soba doesn’t just control blood sugar; soba can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce weight and prevent gallstones.  Soba noodles are a healthy alternative to pasta.

What are Soba Noodles?

Soba are Japanese noodles made of buckwheat flour.  Buckwheat, unlike wheat, is a fruit seed, not a grain, so it’s gluten free. These fruit seeds are packed with proteins, vitamins, minerals and are extremely high in fiber.

Why Are Soba Noodles So Healthy?

Buckwheat is great for the heart because it contains rutin.  Rutin is a powerful antioxidant that prevents stroke, fights against cancers, lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and promotes HDL (good cholesterol).

Soba noodles are good for blood pressure and diabetes because they are rich in magnesium.   Magnesium helps blood flow, regulates blood sugar, keeps bones strong and improves the immune system.

Buckwheat can also prevent gallstones because it’s high in insoluble fiber.  Insoluble fiber is a dietary fiber that helps move food more quickly during digestion.  It promotes bowel movements.

Soba Noodles Recipe

You can eat soba noodles chilled or hot.  I actually use soba noodles to replace all my pasta dishes—while most pasta contains empty carbohydrates, soba noodles are packed with nutrition.  Soba noodles are also delicious as the foundation for a healthy salad.  Here’s a soba salad recipe provided by Habakaku which I’m sure you’ll love.

Salmon, Cucumber & Soba Noodle Salad Recipe

Servings: 3

Ingredients:

  • One pack of Habakaku Organic Soba Noodles  (9.5 oz)
  • 1 Lebanese (or Kirby) Cucumber –  cut into cubes
  • 8 oz sliced smoked salmon – julienned
  • 2 scallions – finely chopped
  • 1 cup of cilantro leaves – chopped
  • 1 lime – cut to wedges

Dressing

  • 4 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger – finely grated
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1.5 tbsp soy sauce

Cooking Directions

  1. Cook soba noodles in boiling water for 4 minutes
  2. Toss noodles with dressing and combine cucumber, smoked salmon, scallion and cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

Buy Hakubaku Soba Noodles

 

Walking Down Memory Lane with a Canvas School Bag

My high school years in Taiwan were the most trying years of my life.  Like most students in East Asia, my whole existence had one purpose and one purpose only – to get the best grades so I could go to a good college.  My fellow students and I didn’t have to do any housework or take any art classes.  We studied during gym class instead of playing sports.  Our only extracurricular activity was more school.  When I was a kid, a typical high school day in Taiwan started at 7:30 and ended at 5:30.  After regular school, prep school began.  Prep school was basically night school taught by our high school’s star teachers.  When I finally got home at 9:30, I ate a quick snack and did homework until midnight.

What made these years so tough wasn’t just the strenuous school work; I was a teenager, in that awkward place between being a girl and a woman, a kid and an adult.  Back then, the sky was gray even when it was sunny out.  The colors and joys of the world had nothing to do with me, because our text books and papers were printed only in black and white.  Still, it was during these trying, formative years when I made the best friends of my life, friends like Jessie and Mao Mao, who went through the same struggles I did.

                                   

High-school students in Taiwan were required to have a uniform look in addition to wearing uniforms.  Female students had to wear their hair shorter than their earlobes. Skirts had to be at least three centimeters over our knees.  All hairpins had to be black so they didn’t stand out. And we had all had to carry the same high school bag: our school’s bag was blue and the name of our school, Ming Sheng High, was emblazoned on the outer flap.  All this uniformity saved us time from worrying about our appearance so we could focus on homework.  My friends and I were typical rebellious teenagers, so we tried to find creative ways to look different.  For instance, as soon as we walked out of the school gate, we rolled up our skirts at the waist and covered the roll with our school belts.  We removed our black hairpins and let our hair down.  We even knew how to break the rules with our hair.  By getting the right haircut, our hair was actually longer than our earlobes, but brushed and pinned the right way, we appeared officially coiffed for school.  And instead of wearing our book bags like messenger bags as the school required, we shortened the straps and carried them like hobo bags.  Mao Mao and I washed our bags numerous times to try to create a stonewashed look; amazingly, the color of our book bags never faded.  We even tried to fray the edges of the front flap so it would appear worn.  Little did we know these bags were triple-stitched—we broke our little pocket knife before the canvas was torn.

If my high school career was a cloud, my friends were my silver lining.

Besides their friendship, the only thing I could count on, the only thing that accompanied me every day throughout my entire high school career, was my canvas book bag.  This handmade bag helped me carry at least ten pounds of text books to and from school every day.   It never broke even when I felt broken.

                                  

So you can imagine that when I was touring around Taiwan last year, a critical item on my itinerary was to purchase an original high school book bag.  I dragged three friends with me to Kaohsiung City, an industrial city in the southern part of Taiwan, which houses the king supplier of Taiwan’s best high school bags–King of Kaohsiung School Bags.  In their factory store, I saw bags from many high schools across Taiwan—each school with its distinct color and logo emblazoned on the front flap.  Seeing these bags was like walking down memory lane, and these memories were bittersweet.  I could still feel the weight of my school bag digging into my shoulder, reminding me of all the homework I had to do.  But I also recalled my good friendships and our foolish attempts at rebellion.  My American friends had no memories attached to these bags, but that didn’t stop them from picking up some school bags as souvenirs.  Their joy was contagious.

Today, if you ask me which bag I cherish most, it’s my canvas school bag.  In fact, even if I owned a Louis Vuitton or Prada, I’d still favor my King of Kaohsiung.  Inside its many pockets are the memories of my high school years.

Buy Asian School Book Bag

 

Why Asian Women Look So Young? Asian Beauty Secret: Facial Masks

Perhaps you’ve noticed that Asian women age slowly and that our skin doesn’t wrinkle so much.   I recently saw a cartoon titled “The Average Asian Aging Process,” which exaggerates this notion.  The cartoon pokes fun at the idea that Asian women stay young-looking between the ages of 18 and 50, then age drastically when reaching menopause.  Let’s put aside the cartoon’s depiction that Asian women look like middle-aged gangsters after menopause.   Many Asian women really do retain their youthful looks.   So what’s the beauty secret that keeps Asian women so young?  What is the one thing that Asians do religiously that others don’t?  We wear facial masks!

 What Is a Facial Mask?

facial_maskIf you’ve never seen anyone wearing a facial mask in real life or on an Asian soap opera, just imagine Phantom of the Opera.  The Phantom wears a half-white mask that scares everyone in the theater.  A beauty facial mask looks just like the Phantom’s except it’s a full mask—so you can scare twice as many people.  Honestly, I never found the Phantom scary, perhaps because I’m used to seeing and wearing facial masks.  But if you’re not used to them, warn your friends and relatives before you wear one.  I once put on a mask after taking a bath.  As soon as I walked out from the bathroom, my friend started playing the soundtrack from Phantom of the Opera.  I laughed so hard I couldn’t keep my mask on.

A beauty facial mask is made of a thin cotton sheet, cut to the shape of a face, then soaked in different skin nutrients and ingredients, depending on the specific mask’s function.  This is how you use it: after facial cleaning, you apply the mask to your face for a brief 10 to 15 minutes until the nutrients are absorbed.  Then you peel the mask off and pad your skin dry.

Types of Facial Masks

There are hundreds of different types of facial masks in Asia: for whitening, for moisturizing dry skin, to prevent aging, and to prevent dark eye circles. I must have tried 50 different brands over the past decade. Before writing this post, I read dozens of product reviews from Asia and narrowed the field down to 8 of the most popular facial masks.  A team of three women (my devoted and patient friends) with different skin types tried these different masks for two months.  We tested our skin reaction to the masks, judging them on how fast the skin nutrients were absorbed and how long our skin stayed moisturized after use.  We also compared the size of these masks, the thinness of the sheets, and the amount of ingredients each mask contained.  Our test results confirmed what all the reviews suggested—the champion masks are Gokujyun Facial Masks.

 The Best Asian Beauty Secret: Gokujyun Facial Masks

Gokujyun_facial_mask_The Gokujyun Facial Mask is a deep moisturizer.  It supplies our skin with the ample water it needs.  Have you noticed that sometimes our skin is very dry no matter how much facial cream we apply?  This is because our skin needs water, not oil.  Gokujyun’s masks solve this problem.  Its main ingredient is Hyaluronic Acid (HA). HA is naturally produced in our body and can be found in our cells, but it’s mostly in our skin tissue.  When our body doesn’t produce enough HA, our skin looks dull and wrinkled, and loses its elasticity.  The chemical HA is used in skincare when our body doesn’t produce enough of the chemical on its own.  Hyaluronic Acid softens skin, enhances its water-binding ability and leaves skin moisturized and radiant.

We loved Gokujyun masks the best because they achieved all of the above; they kept our skin moist, radiant and smooth longer than other facial masks.  While some masks work only for a single day, Gokujyun masks last three days longer.  The size of the mask fits comfortably on your face, the sheet is thin yet not so thin that it tears apart, and the sheet is wet enough to last 20 minutes without dripping.  After 15 minutes of applying this mask, we noticed an immediate glow to our skin. It’s the most efficient, effective and non-surgical skincare product on the market.

Gokujyn Hyaluronic Acid Lotion – For Everyday Use

Gokujyn_Hyaluronic_Acid_lotionIn Asia, Gokujyn Hyaluronic Acid Lotion is actually more well-known than its masks.  It’s made by Japan’s number one brand: Rohto Hadalabo.  The brand is so popular that one bottle of lotion is sold every 6 seconds in Asia.  Asian women and men use facial masks 1-2 times a week.  On the days you don’t apply a facial mask, I recommend Gokujyn Hyaluronic Acid Lotion twice daily.  If you want to retain your youthful looks, definitely give these products a try.

 
 
 
 

Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing – Best Salad Dressing in a Bottle

 So Good That You’d Want To Drink It from a Shot Glass


I know that when I suggest salad dressing in a bottle, many foodies will roll their eyes.  But before you turn your back on me, you need to know that Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing is something special.  Like many of you, I make my salad dressing with fresh, good-quality ingredients.  I go to olive oil and vinegar tastings every year before selecting a region or brand that I’ll use on my salads.

The first time I tried Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing was at Emmy and Ben’s dinner party in Taipei.  It took one bite of salad for me to notice the dressing’s rich sesame flavor, a savory burst with a hint of natural sweetness, all incredibly light.  I asked Emmy how she made her dressing and expected to hear a long list of ingredients and some advanced culinary techniques (which my friend certainly possesses).   To my surprise, Emmy went into her kitchen and returned with a ready-made bottle.  I tasted the salad dressing by itself and it was unique and delicious.

One Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing, Multiple Uses

 

This dressing’s flavorful sesame taste reminds me of the sesame noodles and dumplings I often eat at Chinese restaurants.  So I decided to experiment with Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing by adding it to different foods: noodles, dumplings, tofu and coleslaws.  I used it as a sauce for noodles (pasta), a dipping sauce for pan-fried tofu, mushrooms, fish and meat, and I marinated coleslaw and cold tofu with it.  Everything turned out delicious—this is a truly versatile dressing.

Here’s one simple yet tasty recipe that takes only 3 minutes to prepare.

 

Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing with Noodles Recipe

 

Ingredients for 1 Serving:

  1. 2 teaspoons of Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing
  2. 1 pack of GreeNoodle Plain (or noodles/ pasta of your choice)
  3. ¼ teaspoon of Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp (omit this if you don’t like spicy food)

Instructions: (Total Cooking Time: 3 minutes)

  1. Put GreeNoodles Plain in boiling water for 3 minutes
  2. Remove noodles and add two teaspoons of dressing and ¼ teaspoon of Chili Crisp (adjust quantity according to taste)
  3. Stir well and enjoy

You can eat these noodles hot, at room temperature or cold.  It’s perfect for parties and picnics because you can make the dish in advance and leave it in the refrigerator.

Try Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing with different dishes.  And please share your recipes with us.  If it’s good, I’d love to post your culinary creation for everybody’s enjoyment.

Buy Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing

 

Goji Berries – Asia’s Top Secret for Staying Young and Healthy

 What Is So Special About Asian Diet?

 My friends often ask me why Asian people look so much younger than our age.  The truth is, Asian or non-Asian, the three keys to staying young and healthy are diet, exercise, and good sleep.  Asians don’t necessarily exercise more or sleep better than other people, but what we eat is often unique.  For many Asians, food is not only a source of nutrition, but the first defense against preventing illness.  When we have a cold or feel chilled, we drink hot ginger water.  We eat watermelon to get rid of canker sores and pimples.  To increase qi (internal energy flow), we eat ginseng.  In fact, we eat different foods during different seasons for the betterment of our health, especially during seasonal changes when our bodies are more prone to illness.  It’s not just good food that equates with good health; we should eat the right food at the right time to maintain a strong, vibrant body.

Goji Berries – The Net Fountain of Youth

Growing up in Asia, I became familiar with a long list of healing foods and supplements: tea, ginseng, reishi, fo-ti, longan, and red yeast rice.  But when I think back to the one healing food that seemed most common, goji berries (also called wolfberries) took the gold.  Here’s my earliest goji berry memory from when I was four years old.  Because my mother was an entrepreneur and running a business, she hired a cook to make sure her kids had food on the table.  Soup was served as one of the five courses every day and during one dinner, I saw many beautiful orange ovals floating on top of the soup.  I asked my mother what they were and she told me, “That’s goji and it’s good for your eyes.”  Up until that point, the only good food I knew was “Popeye’s vegie,” which is what I called spinach in my four-year-old days—I was a big fan of the cartoon and firmly believed spinach would make me grow as strong as the sailor man.  I remember fishing out the goji berries with my spoon so I could taste them on their own.  I quickly fell in love with the taste and texture of this magic food.  Back then, I didn’t know goji berries were the next fountain of youth and that Asians had been eating these berries for generations to look younger and live longer.  What I did know, immediately, was that I liked goji berries so much more than spinach.

What Is A Goji Berry?


The goji berry is a bright red-orange fruit, which originally grew in China.  The fruit belongs to the Nightshade Family, a family of agricultural crops with medicinal value.  The berries are usually dried (think sun-dried tomatoes) and are a little smaller than raisins.

 

The Health Benefits of Goji Berries

 Goji berries are packed with vitamin A, C, B1 and B2, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, and selenium, along with five unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidant properties.  As we know, antioxidants slow the aging process, boost the immune system, and lower cholesterol.  Like most berries, goji berries contain compounds that can prevent cancer and heart disease.  In fact, according to Chinese medicine books, which are thousands of years old (compare that with the FDA, which was founded in 1906!) there are seventeen different health benefits connected to goji berries, not the least of which, as my Mom pointed out, is improved vision.

How To Cook Goji Berries

Goji berries are affordable and versatile.  Ten dollars will get you a half pound of top-grade goji berries, but most recipes call for a few spoonfuls. They are all natural, non-toxic and can be used daily. If you are making goji berries a part of your daily diet, 20 grams a day is the right amount.  When used medicinally, 30 grams is appropriate. Gojis can be added to beverages and soups, to stews and congees, to cereals and oatmeal, and even to cookies cakes and other desserts.  They can be boiled, steamed or stir-friend.  Or simply rinse them and treat them as a condiment to almost any food.  One simple way to cook goji berries is to add one tablespoon of berries to a cup of water and boil.  Fifteen minutes later, the semi-sweet goji berry beverage is done.  Drink it hot or cold and you’ll start feeling young in no time.

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Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Marinated Plums – An Hors d’oeuvre That Tastes Just Like Your First Love

Marinated Plums – Taste Just Like Your First Love 

Cherry tomatoes stuffed with marinated plums, one of the most beloved finger foods in Taiwan, are sold at every night market and outside most movie theaters. Sweet, savory, tart and juicy, this bite-size hors d’oeuvre is packed with flavors waiting to explode in your mouth.  Remember your first love? It was juicy, fresh like the first spring day, incredibly sweet, yet tart (with uncertainty) and salty (like tears).  The combination of cherry tomatoes and marinated plums tastes much like the many layers of a first romance, without the unwanted bitterness, of course.

 How to Prepare Marinated Plum Hors d’Oeuvre

The best thing about preparing cherry tomatoes stuffed with marinated plums is that no cooking is required.  You simply cut the cherry tomato half way to create a pocket, insert a small piece of marinated plum and your job is done.  Since the plum is often as big as the cherry tomato, I usually cut the plum into two or three pieces. (A good-sized marinated plum is big enough for three cherry tomatoes.)  You can eat this snack at room temperature or refrigerate it for a couple of hours (or even overnight) and enjoy it chilled.  Plum-stuffed cherry tomatoes also make a great hors d’oeuvre for parties since you can prepare them in advance, take them from the fridge and serve.  And marinated plums are a great everyday snack, a definite healthy alternative to potato chips or cookies.

The History of Marinated Plums and How They Are Made

The Chinese first discovered marinated plums by accident in the Warring State Period (403 BC – 221 BC).  Legend has it that an imperial maid found a plum, which had fallen from a plum tree into a beehive.  The maid bit into the honey-marinated plum and found it sweet, tart and thirst-quenching.  She then picked more plums and marinated them with honey and salt.  Still, the Chinese didn’t mass produce marinated plums until the Han Dynasty (around the second century BC).   Unlike the ancient production method, today’s plums are marinated with salt, licorice and sugar instead of honey.

 

Wooden Forks and Spoons – No More Metal Taste

Wood vs. Stainless Steel: A Utensil Comparison 

Did you ever notice a metallic taste when eating with a stainless-steel fork or spoon? This metal taste is usually subtle, but it becomes obvious when you eat acidic fruit, salad with lemon dressing, or delicate food.  When I told a group of friends about my finding, many were skeptical.  As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, but since I don’t make pudding, I opted for a tuna avocado salad with lemon dressing.  I prepared the salad, set it down on the table and handed out wooden forks and metal forks.  Sure enough, with a side-by-side comparison, even my most skeptical friends tasted a silent metal favor in the creaminess of the avocado marinated in lemon dressing.  With wooden forks, the salad tasted pure.  Indeed, the metal utensils changed the flavor of an acidic salad.  While we finished lunch, we wondered aloud about how many people actually taste a metal flavor when using stainless-steel utensils.  A quick search online brought us to a Facebook page dedicated to this exact issue: “I hate when my spoon or fork tastes like metal.”

Don’t Kill the Fish Twice With A Metal Fork

I once saw a man eat sashimi with a fork at a Japanese restaurant.  While most people picked up the delicate raw fish with wooden chopsticks, he used metal cutlery.  As he speared the toro, I felt as though the blue fin tuna had been killed twice—first by the fisherman and second by the sharp stainless-steel tines.  He then dipped the toro into soy sauce and wasabi before finally putting it in his mouth.  With the fork stuck through the delicate fish, the taste of the fatty tuna was indelibly altered.  I looked around the restaurant and thought, “In a perfect foodie world, the sushi police would miraculously appear, stop the man from forking his toro and then a kind waitress, standing right behind the man, would offer him  the perfect alternative—a wooden fork.”

Not All Wooden Utensils are Created Equal

Perhaps because many Asians grew up eating with wooden utensils, we are more aware of the metal taste; after all, wooden utensils are a lot more popular in the East than the West.  Every year I go back to Asia, and each time I find more varieties of wooden forks and spoons, crafted in different lengths and shapes and colors.  Finding the perfect wooden spoon or fork is like finding the perfect pair of jeans; it requires time, energy and dedication (but luckily no diet).  Many of the wooden forks I found were too flaky and broke after a few uses.  And many of the wooden spoons were either too shallow to hold much food or too big to eat comfortably.  My favorite wooden spoons and forks measure 7 ¾ inches, just the right length for eating. I especially like the ones with black threads wrapped tightly around the handles; not only are they beautiful, but they also prevent slipping.

Although wooden utensils are generally dishwasher safe, I recommend washing them by hand in order to prolong their lives. Wooden forks and spoons, which guarantee a pure eating experience, belong in everybody’s utensil drawer and make great gifts, even for people who seem to have everything.

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