Winter Self-Care: Warm Drinks for the Body and Soul

Winter Self-Care: Warm Drinks for the Body and Soul

Instead of resolutions, I'm setting an intention this year, and that is to prioritize self-care. New Year resolutions have never really appealed to me because I believe that you can make resolutions anytime of the year. And isn't it a wonderful thing to know that we don't have to wait for that one day in the year to start taking charge of our lives? We can start right now, this very second, wherever we are!

In the past couple months or so, since returning from a five-week trip to Europe, I took a break from work (and blogging) to take care of myself. I joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and made the effort to do yoga every day and meditate. After several tumultuous years in which I moved from Malaysia to the United States and started a new life far away from home and my family and friends, I decided to take a breath. A deep breath. 

I ended the year by putting myself on the path of healing and started the new year with the mantra that I am strong. I resolve to take actionable yet manageable steps to take care of myself and choose to be kind to my body and honor my health. Quite simply, that translates to eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising. When it's cold, I make a warm drink using ingredients that support my health.

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Rice and Mung Bean Porridge with Vegetables (Kitchari)

Rice and Mung Bean Porridge with Vegetables (Kitchari)

I make porridge a lot. When I feel under the weather and need something light on the stomach, I make a simple rice porridge. When I do not have the time to cook, I make a big pot of rice porridge and have it over the week with various toppings: dried fruits, nuts, and seeds for breakfast or ginger, scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ground white pepper for dinner. In fact, I've written about the various styles of Chinese porridge here and shared a recipe on the Protest Fuel zine (which you can order here). 

Porridge is good for anytime of the day, especially in the colder seasons when a warm bowl of food can bring so much comfort. This winter, I've been making an Indian-style rice and mung bean porridge known as kitchari that I learned about from Ayurveda cookbooks

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Monk Fruit Tea + Asian Food Trends at the Winter Fancy Food Show

Monk Fruit Tea + Asian Food Trends at the Winter Fancy Food Show

I'd like to talk about an ingredient I always pick up when we go to Chinatown: monk fruit. Hard, dry, and rather featureless on the outside, it is understandably a mysterious fruit even though it is a common ingredient in Chinese herbal medicine. I grew up having it as a tong sui (sweet soup) or tea to help suppress coughs and cool down on a hot day. 

Like goji berry, another age-old ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, monk fruit has entered the Western market in the form of monk fruit sweeteners. Though seeing it on the alternative sugar section of my local grocery stores piqued my curiosity, I didn't get a chance to try it until I attended the recent Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. 

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Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi

Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi

Peanuts for a long life, sticky rice for togetherness, red beans for love, oranges for good fortune... And all that sweetness for a sweet life in the new year!

Make no mistake, Chinese New Year is about food: the preparation, cooking, and eating are all a part of the ceremonious celebration that lasts about two weeks. It is when we eat special foods that carry symbolic significance for a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year. It is also when food is in abundance and generously shared to bring forth a full and contented spirit to start the year with. At this time of the year, more is always better and sharing truly is caring!

Today, in celebration of the lunar new year, I have two sweet recipes for you: Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi that are especially delicious enjoyed together. The recipes are adapted from the impressive China: The Cookbook, my friendly cooking companion this festive season. And it could be yours too as I'm giving away a copy! (Scroll down for details on how to win.)  

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Chinatown + Snow Fungus Soup for a Sweet Lunar New Year

Chinatown + Snow Fungus Soup for a Sweet Lunar New Year

There's a joke among Malaysians that we'll travel far and wide for food, and that includes speed driving across town for that special plate of char kway teow during our workday lunch break or making a road trip out of an intense desire for laksa on the island of Penang. That habit is a persistent one and even after relocating to the US, my husband and I often find ourselves making the hour-long drive to Oakland for our favorite Malaysian restaurant in the SF Bay Area. And because the restaurant is located in Chinatown, we get to kill two birds with one stone: eating and shopping!

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Malaysian Laksa with Pumpkin (Spicy Noodle Soup)

Malaysian Laksa with Pumpkin (Spicy Noodle Soup)

"There is so much comfort in familiar tastes," writes Nigel Slater in The Kitchen Diaries. Laksa, a spice-strong noodle soup considered by some to be the unofficial national dish of Malaysia, is one of those dishes that serves up both comfort and surprise for me. There are countless variations and almost every state in Malaysia has its own version of the recipe. Depending on where I'm having it, the familiar dish can sometimes be a completely new discovery for my palate. 

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A Cup of Gratitude (Holy Basil and Rose Tea)

A Cup of Gratitude (Holy Basil and Rose Tea)

On New Year's eve, we stayed in and had sushi with Japanese whisky mixed with coconut water, watched two episodes of Black Mirror over popcorn and ice cream, and fell asleep at 11.30pm. The next day, we woke up without a hangover nor that feeling of regret in the pit of our stomachs. It was the best countdown ever, and the most obvious sign of um, graceful aging. 

Another day, another year. 2017 is here. I slept through its arrival, but I have a whole year to catch up so I'm not going to worry too much about it. Around the same time last year, I was standing on an old wooden ladder to put a fresh coat of paint on our kitchen walls. This year, on the first day of the new year, I was standing in the same kitchen making a cup of Gratitude Tea and counting my blessings.

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Easy as ABC Soup

Easy as ABC Soup

This Summer, I have one simple word for you: EASY. I'm inviting you to join me for a fun and (hopefully) care-free time in the kitchen making easy Asian dishes. What I'll be doing is taking some of my favorite Asian recipes and giving them a new twist by simplifying them.

What that means is I will be replacing some ingredients that are either too difficult to find outside of Asia or too expensive to buy when you do find them. I will introduce one or two basic ingredients that may be new to you. I may even throw in several simple step-by-step videos to show how they are done. How exciting!

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Chinese Egg Flower Soup with Leeks

Chinese Egg Flower Soup with Leeks

For the uninitiated, like myself, they look like super-sized spring onions at first glance. On closer inspection, you'll notice that they are not only bigger but also tougher. I have to admit that I was initially quite intimidated by leeks, and very curious to get to know them better. I was fortunate to have the guidance of Rachel Hanawalt of the blog Simple Seasonal to tackle this completely unfamiliar vegetable in our very first CSA share. So this week on the Spring Discovery series, we are talking about leeks, for me the gentle giants of the allium family. 

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Winter Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Bubur Cha Cha)

Winter Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Bubur Cha Cha)

I come to you today with several discoveries. Firstly: Parsnip! Can you believe I had parsnip for the first time only a few weeks ago? Well, it's actually perfectly believable considering I moved to California less than 1.5 years ago from a tropical country that eats vegetables like kangkung and choy sum. Believable but perhaps not forgivable that I took so long to get to it.

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Brown Rice Porridge with Toppings (Teochew Style)

Brown Rice Porridge with Toppings (Teochew Style)

I started the year balancing on a tall wooden ladder, old but fortunately not rickety, while scraping the walls of our new kitchen to prepare them for a fresh coat of paint. January has been filled with renovation work around the house, and I haven't the time to muse about the new year, which is nice for a change.

If I've learned anything from the Januarys behind me, it's that successful transitions do not necessarily call for a set plan of action but are oftentimes a confident work in progress. I did find the time, however, to make a big pot of rice porridge, which thankfully stretched into several customisable, ready-made meals.

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Spiced Hot Carob Drink + Why I Write about Food

Spiced Hot Carob Drink + Why I Write about Food

The sun is about to set one last time this year. And a new chapter will rise the next day. I find myself, as one naturally does, reflecting thoughtfully about the year that was and thinking intentionally for the year to come. It goes on in the back of my mind like it's a part of my autonomic nervous system, and my internal monologue is pressing me for the answer to one question: Why have I started writing about food? I've had to draw from various posts on this blog in my attempt to answer this question, so this post has also inadvertently turned into a compilation of some of my 2015 favorite moments and recipes. 

I write about food because...

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Quite Simply, Fennel and Pear Soup

Quite Simply, Fennel and Pear Soup

Every recipe tells a story. This recipe tells the story of a girl who ate vegetable soup for dinner every night for a month last winter. She was experimental with her soup blends; no recipes, just one part creativity and a sprinkle of common sense. Cauliflower + sweet potato + ginger to ease the knots in the belly. Carrot + kabocha + turmeric to calm the storm within. Oh, here's some broccoli. Let's throw that in there. You get the idea. 

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