Start 2018 with Buckwheat Black Sesame Dan Dan Noodles (Recipe)

That rainy Tuesday afternoon in Newark, I knew.

The outside world, cold and bleak, seemed like paradise. It seemed I was held hostage inside the hip headquarters of every millenial’s dream company, pumping out ad campaigns. Just three desks and a glass window away was a grayer place. But out there––there were no walls. No HR paperwork or stray pen caps. No computer that I’d have to hunch over every day, plugging in words that were supposed to be meaningful. My life on the other hand, felt meaningless.

But I should have been more grateful, right?

Looking back, those office walls shielded me from what was to come. The grass is always greener or in this case, consistent paychecks, subsidized healthcare and paid vacations smell sweeter when I’m scrambling for rent. Or dreaming of the next vacation I can’t afford. And it’s especially depressing when I aimlessly scroll through my inbox for catering opportunities. Clicking on “Subject line: January 2018 Seasonal Hours” led me only to a reminder that I needed to unsubscribe from junk mail. No new work; not yet at least.

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Spring Kale Salad with Beet Tahini Dressing, in spite of everything (RECIPE)

My friend Alice is currently giving her apartment a makeover. In introducing new life forms into the space, she’s been mulling over buying a very nice white rug that while beautiful, is prone to spots and stains. It’s going in the living room, where people convene with their red-hued adult beverages that spill when too much of these beverages have been consumed.

“I need to just eat on my dining table,” she said, determined to work around the rug of her dreams. “Yup. But if you like eating on it, you have to get another rug,” I reminded her.

Alice’s rug dilemma is symbolic. We’ve all faced similar decisions. Not necessarily related to interior decorating. But we’ve had to choose between the safe option and our heart’s desire, which always seems to be the riskier option. And no matter how prepared we feel to take that risk, we know there will be unavoidable pitfalls along the way. But also, we come closer to achieving great happiness in doing what we want and having the life (or rug) we want.

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Coast through life with this Hibiscus Apple and Cabbage Salad with Fish Sauce Dressing (Recipe)

Some people are masters of change. I’m not. Despite appearances, like my tendency to switch jobs and cycle through boyfriends as quickly as I update my coiffe, I’m actually freaked out by the things I can’t control. Instead of resignation, I resist. Instead of acceptance, I deny. There’s a reason why I’m so fanatically addicted to daily horoscopes, WebMD, and self-help books. And those warning labels on cigarette packs. The British ones are the best, by the way, with those photos of ashy, rotting lungs. The more brutal the prognosis, the better prepared I am.

Six years ago I was fired from a job. My boss and I really didn’t get along, and on top of that, I was grossly overpaid. Instead of letting the horror movie play out, I concluded way early on that she’d eventually let me go. For months thereafter, I’d show up at work with my shoulders slumped, rocking a perma-frown. It was the world’s longest professional breakup. And of course, she did gave me the boot. Looking back, could I have been less miserable every day leading up to the inevitable? Probably. Did anticipating the inevitable soften the blow? Nope.

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It's not that complicated: Black Sesame Blood Orange Tart with a Raw Pistachio Date Crust (recipe)

It’s morning. You are here. We are together in my bed. The light touches your feet which are way outstretched beyond my bed. You’ve been blessed with tall genes, but robbed of what we short people get to experience: the cocoon-like warmth of being burrito-smothered in blankets. Feeling generous, I kick the blanket over your exposed feet. You snort and kick the blanket away. I’m trying not to draw parallels here, but a few weeks ago I said the L word–you know, “I L-word You”)–which was followed by your meditative yet deafening silence, then followed by a generous “thank you.” You hugged me as a consolation. I hug you now.

It’s morning. I am examining my face in the bathroom mirror while you fix us espressos. I can hear you busying away, docile when you’re in the kitchen, care-giving and nurturing in ways I have longed for my entire life. I am distracted by lines I never noticed before. How did they get here, on my face? There’s a frown line that resides between my eyebrows, evidence of being disappointed by unreliable past lovers. From scrunching my face anxiously, angrily, melancholically. Frustrated with myself, mostly, which is why it's on my face. Right now you are giving me everything I want (including a much-needed espresso), yet this line is still visible. I smile. But it’s still there.

I'm learning that love's not that complicated. But yet. 

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Gluten-free Blueberry "smoothie" pancakes & a story

A year ago, I decided to start a small business. Since then, it’s gone from microscopic to small, despite what people seem to gather on social media. “It looks like business is BOOMING,” remarked a friend recently. “Booming” isn’t exactly the right word. It’s more of a geriatric jog. Fine, crawl.

Why such a slow incline?

It’s complicated. Owning your own business and then scaling it so that you can generate a livable wage, hire employees, meet demands, purchase all the necessary licenses (trust me, there are tons) and insurance policies (oops), invest in heavy-duty equipment to improve efficiency, etc.–it’s not just complicated, it’s F-ING difficult. Sometimes I don’t even want to get out of bed. And then when I linger in my safety net of pillows and a down comforter, I come up with even crazier ideas, like starting a catering and personal cheffing business in addition to the bread business. It’s like deciding you want two more kids when you can barely afford to keep one alive.

Or maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. Because the truth is, I haven’t really fully invested myself into the biz, despite what my bank account might reflect. Savings today, gone tomorrow. Lesson learned.

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Color Me Good

We're halfway through summer and the farmer's markets are flush with vibrant fruits and veggies. Sometimes, it's even hard for me peruse the stalls without my sunglasses on, blinded by the dizzying bright colors of beets, amaranth, peaches, strawberries, squash, and more. I’m the jerk with the obnoxiously large tote bag, sunnies snug on my face, music blasting through my headphones as I get handsy with the peppers. Completely unaware of other humans. In my zone, channeling the vibe of every Chinese grandmother who has “tapped” her way to the perfect watermelon. Except I’m fondling the peppers. Yes, I’m that jerk. 

Summer’s market-fresh produce reminds me of the colorful bounty Po-Po’s garden would yield, which included sought-after Asian greens I can only pronounce in Mandarin to seasonal basics like cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplant. I loved seeing the ripe vegetables picked and pulled, with leaves still attached and soil bits speckled about. Colors and scents would fill up her kitchen. There would be stems in her hair and dirt under her nails. These were effortless moments that today, would require a a food stylist and Instagram filter to recreate. Po-Po’s gardening was #nofilter necessary. 

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Po-Po's Breads

I took a month off. Not so much to refocus or even relax. I took a time off to binge on life. After all, I'm blessed with so much in my life: a beautiful family, invaluable friendships, episodic love affairs (I appreciate even the bad ones), trials that morph into important lessons, and of course, delicious food wherever I turn. So I binged. I bulldozed, Hoovered, engulfed anything and everything that would enrich my life. And here I am now, forever changed, in love with life, and somehow with my own gluten-free/dairy-free bread business? You're probably like "WTF?" because I am kind of like "WTF?" too. But mostly I'm the wide-grin-happy-face emoji. 

I'll explain myself in more detail later. But for now, check out my Instagram for the eye candy. Or if you'd like to special order my breads, please fill out the form here. And stay tuned as I start the inevitable unveiling of what's been born from this month of life-binging. 

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A Single Serving of Soy Milk (RECIPE)

Last week, my relationship ended. The dissolution had been months in the making. We were desperate miners trying to pass off pyrite as gold. For a while we believed we could. But in the end we couldn’t. 

Last week was also when New York City was ravaged by below-freezing temperatures. Being indoors felt sad, so I filled my schedule with outdoor activity in hopes of sparing no time for nostalgia. Yet the cold city thrived with warm memories. Mine. His. There was his old apartment in the East Village where he lived after college. His favorite pizza joint. The cafe in Clinton Hill where he’d begrudgingly get his egg sandwiches. “Horrible service. But convenient,” he’d always say. My tear ducts throbbed whenever I’d see a couple canoodling in public. He and I were such unapologetic offenders of public canoodling. 

Shopping at Whole Foods was the worst. The aisles were stocked with stories. 

Daikon: The first time I cooked dinner for him. 
Ribeye: The first time he cooked for me. 
Kale: Every single time we ate dinner with his kids. God, I miss his kids.
Nuts: We had only been dating for a few weeks when he left for a month-long photo shoot in Texas. I woke up in his bed the day he left, hung-over and hungry. I stumbled into his kitchen in search of provisions and found an empty bowl and a jar of nuts on the counter. Next to the still life display was a Post-it note that read, “And the yogurt in the frig for breakfast. XX”  He had written “frig” but I didn’t care that the “d” and “e” were missing or that he was missing, because everything in my life had fallen into place at that moment. And at that moment, I was at his place, blissfully eating his yogurt. 

 

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Practice makes perfect red bean baos (Recipe)

A good cook can as easily make a crummy cake as a good lover can screw up a relationship. Cooking skills don't necessarily carry over into the realm of baking.  And sometimes a sexy cuddle should stay exactly that, no strings attached.

In cooking, there’s more room for error. Anyone with enough enthusiasm, a decent palate, maybe a glass of wine or a shot of mezcal, can dive into cooking with wild abandon and end up with something delicious. An olive oil-finish, some squirts of lemon, a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt can go a long way to save a dish. 

Baking on the other hand is a science. There’s just no rushing through the chemistry and math that transform wet brown batter into an irresistible chocolate soufflé. At restaurants, I’ll often hear friends scoff at their food and say, “I can make this at home! Psssh.” But I’ve never heard anyone tell me that she or he is going to recreate the chocolate babka from Breads Bakery. That’s because baking requires a tremendous amount of studying and practicing. And humility. And an acceptance that the first try if far from being the last. But back to that earlier analogy: Baking, like a relationship, takes work. 

I suck at baking. Once, I attempted to make croissants from scratch. For three days, I’d jump out of bed at 5:30 A.M., salivating as I rolled and folded the laminated dough, dreaming of the warm, buttery crescents. By day four, it was time to bake the croissants. This was my first attempt, but I was already expecting Parisian patisserie-level perfection. But the croissants came out cakey and dense. Zero flakiness. They were good enough to be biscuits but not croissants.  Hadn’t I followed directions? Or measured the flour correctly? Wasn’t I careful with the dough, like a first-time mom is with her newborn? I couldn’t pinpoint the problem, not with only one notch on my belt. Anything could have contributed to my dough’s undoing, like inferior ingredients to the uncalibrated oven to Mercury stuck in retrograde. 

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In Love With Red Bean Paste (Recipe)

Chinese legend has it that there was once a woman who, while mourning her deceased husband, cried tears of blood. Her cattle farmer husband had gone off to fight a war. Every day and night while he was away, the woman waited patiently for him and then took her waiting to a mountain top where she’d stare deep into the horizon for her beloved’s return. But surprise, surprise–he never returned. Her optimism regressed into soul-crushing sadness. And with no Netflix, burritos, or ice cream to ease the heartbreak, she just sat on the mountain and cried. The tears she continued to shed turned into blood and then mysteriously transformed into little tiny red beans, readying the earth with seeds to sprout the first ever red bean tree. 

This myth and iterations of it have come to symbolize a kind of punishing but enduring love and unwavering devotion. Because of this, it’s become customary to eat red bean soup at Chinese weddings, as if auspicious foods could steer someone with a roving eye away from committing adultery. But I love red bean soup, so any excuse to eat it, I’ll take it.

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Voice Lessons

I.
The mourning process never really ends. It just morphs from hyperrealistic to manageable. Grief of the anatomical loss becomes a longing for the sounds, touch, smells and other sensory souvenirs left behind by the deceased. Sad broad strokes of remembering and regretting give way to a desperate need for the details. What did she tell me about her village in China again? What kind of spices did she use for her smoked chicken? How long were our hugs? And her voice. God, I miss Po-Po’s voice the most. Her thick Sichuanese intonation layered with heart-warming butteriness. For me, the eyes were not the windows to her soul–her unique, vibrant, and generous voice was.   

“Grandma called. We’re having dinner on Saturday,” my mom would say a week before one of Po-Po’s dinners. Even towards the end of her life, Po-Po was an organized  Martha Stewarty super-host. By the time she’d call, her menu was meticulously planned. Food would be shopped for 3 days in advance and everything prepped the night before the party. Although I was rarely on the receiving end of her calls, I can imagine exactly what she sounded like. Hurried and excited; as if she couldn’t wait to get off the phone and start chopping. On the day of the party, she’d greet us all with sparse but bright hellos. Dulcet, almost, if not for her volume which was always set on “Loud.” 

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How to eat bitter...melon (Recipe)

When life gives you lemons, eat them–pith, seeds and all. That is the traditional Chinese way. But these days, I much prefer this: when life presents you a bitter melon, make a tasty stir-fry out of it and indulge. 

“Eating bitter” or 吃苦 is a frequently-used Chinese idiom and a widely-accepted Confucian approach to enduring whatever crappy circumstances life hands you. While researching this, I stumbled upon a message board thread on the topic with a commenter’s funny theory: 

“‘People from Sichuan Province are thought to be the ablest to ‘eat bitter.’ Few days ago in a foreign newsletter says that it was the spirit of “eat bitterness” help Sichuan People go through the earthquakes.”

If what the commenter says is true, then given my Sichuanese heritage, I’m genetically predisposed to handle a tremendous amount of suffering. Whoopee.

This might explain the pre-college torment I unhappily weathered. which included SAT class-filled weekends, summers of endless academia, and the occasional community service work for college credit. (Apparently, giving tours of an old train station while listening to the Strokes on my cd player was considered community service.) After all, my parents wanted me to live the American dream. With a 4.0 GPA and a killer SAT score, I'd be financially secure for life. For this, I chose to eat bitter. I knew of no other way.

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Purple Sweet Potato Pie (Recipe)

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Except this year, I tagged along with my boyfriend and spent it at an amazing loft in the West Village with a rooftop that surpassed all other New York City rooftops. Standing on that rooftop with an unobstructed view of the Hudson, I could almost stroke the stylistically unimpressive buildings across the water in Jersey. What a rooftop.

When dinner was served, every American holiday stand-by imaginable was served, neatly arranged on ethnic hand-painted ceramic plates. Mac and Cheese, stuffing, and the like softened the crude paint strokes and unevenness of the dishes. Very boho-luxe. Twenty or so plates of food dotted a table long enough to feel medieval. The room-filling laughter and clinking of glasses reminded me of every holiday film I’d ever seen growing up. Festive! American! At the end of dinner, we took turns sharing words of gratitude–a lovely and very new ritual to me. At times I couldn't help but wonder, guiltily, whether it was rude of me to stomp around the antique rug-lined floors with my microbe-laden shoes. It all felt so foreign to me. And the foreignness of it all made me miss my family and our untraditional Thanksgivings. 

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WELCOME TO AGE OF FERMENTED MUSTARD GREENS (Recipe)

There's been a food renaissance in the last decade – a triumphant return to our agrarian, nomadic roots. A rejection of the corporate brainwashing we endured throughout the 80s, sandwiched between two sugary McDonald’s buns, washed down with an extra large soda. I welcome all of it–the discussions, the debates, the questions, the tomes on fermentation, and even the new-age blissed out farm-to-table evangelists. Kefir, hemp milk, rooftop gardens – let’s be friends.

I hate it when curmudgeony haters dismiss this important movement as being a hipster fad. Sure. It can be hard to wade through jars upon jars of lacto-fermented cabbage, homemade hot sauce, and basement-brewed beers, without a little bit of an eye-roll. Or not find the intentional rusticity of some of the packaging design to be overly precious. But if you can get past all of that, you’ll find that the faddishly sustainable approach is good for your health (and soul).

Lucky for me, Po-Po was way always ahead of the game. Back in China, pre-Cultural Revolution, her father owned rice paddies and had a thriving rice wine business. Women were expected to stay at home and pick up useless skills like embroidery. Po-Po followed her grandmother around instead, learning how to ferment and pickle things. Needless to say I never had embroidered anything but I ate a ton of homemade, homegrown fermented and pickled veggies.

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The Share Theory of Scallion Pancakes (Recipe)

Recently I boldly and proudly went where I’d never gone before. I went on a date. By myself. With myself. It was self-imposed solitude, New York-style. A jaunt to my favorite bar, Henry Public, alone. To the bartender, I proudly declared, “just one, please.” I ordered a salad and a glass of the house red, oh, and a bowl of mayo-smothered fries because when I’m by myself, I can do whatever I want. Stuffed, I strolled over to an ice cream parlor where I continued eating for two, as if there were.

Because I’m an only child, I’m an experienced soloist. (I’m also kind of selfish, but we’ll save that for another day.) After dinner, I decided to watch a movie. Just me and ten other couples, in the dimly lit weekday oasis of the Cobble HIll Cinemas, soaking up culture. I took off my shoes immediately, unbuttoned my jeans (damn those mayo fries) and just let it–all of it–hang out. Best date ever. 

Later, when my boyfriend and I spoke on the phone, I felt guilty. Like I was cheating on him. And I was–with myself. 

While my solo date was fun, aloneness is not inherent to Chinese food culture. Think about it: There’s a reason why round dining tables and Lazy Susans are prevalent at Chinese restaurants. It’s because Chinese food is designed to be eaten communally. Even takeout is better shared. With more mouths, you can split the beef and broccoli, the chow mein, and string beans. You’ll still wake up the next day bloated, just less than you would if you’d finished off a plate of kung pao chicken by yourself. Every meal ends up feeling like a banquet. 

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Black Sesame Oatmeal Mornings (Recipe)

First, the cereal. Preferably Rice Krispies. Then a slow, steady stream of milk oppressively submerges all signs of “krackle and pop.” Finally, a dollop of Aunt Jemima’s syrup. Health in a bowl, of course.

This was my go-to breakfast as a kid. I loved cereal. On occasion, my mom would treat me to an egg sandwich – a fried egg and two strips of bacon between crustless Chinese toast. But it always fell short of filling me with the deep satisfaction I got from a bowl of sweet syrupy cereal. God, how did I live past age twelve?  

My nutrition-less breakfasts had the ultimate makeover when Po-Po introduced me to her elixir of youth - black sesame oatmeal - which she’s eaten every day for the last thirty years.  While traditional oatmeal toppings include dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and maple syrup, Po-Po’s version contains egg, ground black sesame, milk, and honey.

 

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