Category Archives: Vegetarian

Turns out I find surly Frenchmen endearing.

I’m a little bit bitter about this post.  I worked up a draft the other night and saved it in WordPress but it has somehow managed to disappear completely.  Grrrr.  And of course I didn’t think to save a version in Word, so I’m starting from scratch.  Maybe it will be better the second time around.  One can hope….


We left Frankfurt on Sunday morning and drove down to Strasbourg, France.  Pops speaks fairly fluent and quite flawless French so its always entertaining when I try to say a French word and he invariably corrects me (usually with a sigh of disbelief that my 3 1/2 years of high school French have served me so poorly).  On the drive down I was quite entertained by the many times he had to correct my butchered pronunciations of French car companies.

View 2

When we arrived in Strasbourg I was somewhat surprised to learn that Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament.  Mostly I was surprised because with all the Economist reading I’ve done over the last 6 years this is a piece of information I feel I should have already acquired.  Regardless, I immediately fell in love with the town and began plotting an eventual career transition that will allow me to work for some member of the European Parliament.  I think the key element of this plan will be obtaining British citizenship (which actually, due to my ancestry, I think I’m entitled to).

Upon arriving in town we checked into our hotel and immediately set out for the center of town.  We were waylaid on our way there by my inability to ever feel satiated on this trip (i.e. I needed lunch).  We found a little kebab place that looked good and decided to give it a try.  I thought I’d win over the guy at the counter if I attempted to order my meal in French.  Ha!  He was not impressed and I think it is safe to say that he did not like me at all.  Unsurprisingly, I ordered wrong and was confused/disappointed when I ended up with only a sandwich and no fries.  Thankfully Pops smoothed things over and seemed to make some sort of peace with Mr. Surly.  I never did get an order of fries, but Hill and Pops were gracious enough to share (Hill, quite wisely, let Pops do the ordering for her).  Regardless, the sandwich was delicious and I’ll admit that I’m pretty easily appeased when you put some tasty food in front of me.


To make our initial introduction to Strasbourg even better we then found a patisserie nearby.  Hillary and I stuck with the tried and true – an eclair for me and a cream puff for her.  Pops, who (again) speaks the language, ordered something that looked good without asking the sales lady what it was and was subsequently disappointed. (In case you haven’t yet come to this realization it seems only fair to note that today’s post is overly focused on the food we ate in Strasbourg, as for me, that was the highlight of our time there.)


We did eventually make our way to the Cathedral which was a truly beautiful and impressive site.

Cathedral Facade

Cathedral Facade 2



American Soldiers

We decided to take a river cruise following our visit to the cathedral as we figured it would be a nice way to experience the town.  Walking along the river before the cruise Pops, in the interest of making sure I was fully informed, asked, “Schpan, do you know this is a river?”  Uh, yeah, thanks Pops.  In his defense (and I promised to include the following explanation if I mentioned this on the blog), he initially thought it was a canal that the French had built to connect the center of town to the Rhine, but in fact is a river all its own.  The river cruise was delightful, especially the nice 30 minute nap I took towards the end.  Have I mentioned that Pops and I occasionally (read: always) fall asleep at inopportune moments?  Yeah, this was another one of those.  I’m chalking it up to jet lag.  I think that’s fair when you’ve traveled between 4 time zones in just over a week.  Unsurprisingly Pops also fell asleep on the cruise which had Hill rolling her eyes at both of us.  However, we both managed to stay awake long enough to experience the boat’s trip through the locks, which I think might just be the highlight of Pops’ entire vacation.

Pops by river

Buildings on River

For dinner we found a little restaurant not far from the center of town that was truly fantastic.  Highlights of the meal included Hill’s first bowl of French Onion Soup (I also ordered a bowl) and a super thin crust pizza we all shared that I’ve been calling a Flaming Tart because that is what the French looks like to me (Tarte Flammbe).  Hill’s entree was one of the more entertaining aspects of the meal.  Basically she ended up with a big bowl of sour cream (actually quark cheese) and pan-fried potatoes.  Its apparently a regional specialty, and she loved it, but it wasn’t quite what any of us were expecting.  As for me, I was overwhelmingly happy with my big bowl of mussels in a spicy tomato broth.  Delightful.  The other highly entertaining aspect of our meal was the woman who sat across from us and had a reserved table for herself and her dog.  But you know, it just wouldn’t feel like we had visited France if we didn’t have at least one experience involving a French person’s devotion to their dog.  And really, I can’t mock because if I realize my current career ambition to secure eventual employment at the European Parliament that might one day be me.


Flamin Tart

Hills Onion Soup

Sour Cream and Potatoes


Monday morning we woke up early (at least for us, which really, isn’t very early at all) and did a little more exploring.  Hillary was determined to find a Christmas store we saw advertised during the boat ride and I was hoping to locate a little gingerbread store recommended in our tour book (gingerbread being another regional specialty).  Success was ours as we found both shops in addition to a sable (French butter cookie) shop and a bakery where I was able to buy a pain au chocolat for breakfast and a baguette for the road.  The baguette incited a somewhat heated argument between Pops and I over whether to buy salted (him) or unsalted (me) butter to go with the bread.  My position was that in France, you should always buy unsalted butter for your baguette.  Really, he has more experience in this realm than I do, but as I was the one with the Euros, I bought the unsalted variety and was very, very happy with my choice.  After breakfast Hillary and I burned a few calories climbing to the top of the Cathedral to admire the view, and we then hit the road for Munich.

Pops and Schpan 2



Surprisingly, I do actually have a recipe for you today.  Its even somewhat French.  Amazing, I know.  This has been one of my favorite recipes for about a year and a half now and has been making a regular appearance on my family’s table at holiday meals.  Its incredibly easy and super delicious.  It comes from my favorite food blogger, Molly, over at Orangette.  If you try this recipe I think you’ll see why I love her blog.  Her recipes generally focus on simple, fresh ingredients with incredible results.

Broiled Asparagus with Vinaigrette

1 bunch of asparagus


2 T. fresh lemon juice

1 T. white wine or champagne vinegar

1 T. Dijon mustard

½ t. fine sea salt

5 T. extra-virgin olive oil

scant 1/8 t. pressed garlic (I like using a garlic-flavored olive oil instead of fresh garlic in this recipe)

1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped

Zest of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.  Spread asparagus out on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil (again, I like the garlic-flavored oil here), and toss to coat.  Roast for 10-12 minutes and then transfer asparagus to a serving platter.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and salt.  Add the oil, and whisk well to emulsify.  Taste, and if necessary add a bit more oil.  Add the garlic and whisk to combine.

To serve, drizzle the vinaigrette over the asparagus and top with the hard-boiled egg and lemon zest.


The Weekend: Richmond, VA and the Baltimore Orioles

Its been a busy weekend here in Virginia.  Although I haven’t yet been to Ted’s Montana Grill, which I had originally planned to make my first order of business upon arriving here on Friday, I have been able to enjoy some of my favorite things about the DC area during the past 3 days… and have been traveling all over in order to so.
On Saturday we decided to drive down to Richmond so Pops could go to the White House and Museum of the Confederacy.  Hillary and I have both been before, but were happy to go again.  Due to traffic on I-95 we didn’t get there until 2:00 pm, which meant we didn’t have time to go to any of the other major museums/sites in Richmond before they closed at 5:00.  Instead, we went to a brewpub in Shockoe Slip for dinner and then wandered down to a bookstore and a home store I discovered when I was in Richmond last year.
I really do love Richmond, and highly recommend it as a great city to visit if you have the opportunity.  It has fantastic architecture, history, shopping, culture, and dining.  I personally love learning about the Civil War and Richmond is one of the best places I’ve found for increasing one’s understanding of the war and the people who played important roles in it.  Not only is the White House of the Confederacy (and its museum) a very worthwhile place to visit, the old Tredegar Iron Works site along the banks of the James River is home to the National Park Service’s Richmond Battlefield Visitors’ Center as well as the American Civil War Center, both of which provide visitors with great insight into the Civil War.
After wandering around Shockoe Slip we drove up to the Virginia State House and then over to Monument Avenue to see the statues of Southern Civil War heroes that have a permanent residence on the street.  I was delighted to discover that a number of houses on Monument Ave. were decorated for Easter.  Apparently Richmond has a big Easter parade that goes down Monument Ave. and some of the homeowners really get into the spirit of the event.
Hillary at the White House of the Confederacy.

Hillary at the White House of the Confederacy.

The Virginia State House
The Virginia State House
Richmond's old city hall.
Richmond’s old city hall.
Another home decorated for the Easter Parade.
Another home decorated for the Easter Parade.
On Sunday we started out the day by attending worship services at an LDS congregation in McLean, VA.  Usually I like my Easter Sundays to be very mellow because I really do like to ponder and reflect upon the sacrifice the Savior made for mankind, and what that means to me individually.  However, because of the mix-up with our tickets to the Orioles game, I knew this Easter Sunday was not going to allow very much time for quiet reflection.  For that reason, the hour I was able to spend at church was particularly meaningful to me.
One of the speakers shared a story about a young soldier, Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis, who was killed in Iraq in December 2006.  The speaker was at the ceremony at the Pentagon when the soldier posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor.  At the ceremony, Pfc. McGinnis’ father was allowed an opportunity to share some thoughts and one of the things he said really struck a nerve with the gentlemen who spoke at church on Sunday and he shared it with the congregation.  The father, Tom McGinnis, was trying to explain to Ross’ comrades, who Ross had saved by sacrificing his life, that they shouldn’t feel like they owed Ross anything because of that gift.  He said their lives “were a gift, something to be enjoyed.  Not a debt, something to be repaid.”  It was a very fitting thought on Easter Sunday, and I hope that the way I live my life demonstrates that I appreciate the supreme gift that the Savior has given me, and I hope also that I can take advantage of all opportunities and blessings that come my way to enrich our world and, I hope, make my small corner of it a better place.
After church we drove to Baltimore for the Orioles-Rays game.  We bought our tickets on, my favorite place to go for tickets to sporting events.  We weren’t really sure how good our seats would be, so were delighted to find that we were only 5 rows back from the field.  It was awesome.  Admittedly, we were back along the right field line, but I’ve never been that close to the grass and the players, and I loved it!  The game was a lot of fun, even if the Rays did walk all over the Orioles.  The best part might just have been the Coke I was finally able to enjoy as Lent had officially ended (I gave up caffeinated beverages for Lent… and am considering giving them up for good because it was such a good experience).
Camden Yards - A great ballpark.

Camden Yards - A great ballpark.

Pops and Hillary outside Camden Yards.

Pops and Hillary outside Camden Yards.

The view from our seats at the Orioles game.

The view from our seats at the Orioles game.

Pops eating ice cream at the game... it was freezing!

Pops eating ice cream at the game... it was freezing!

My first Coke in 46 days!

My first Coke in 46 days!

Lots of empty seats... one of the reasons Red Sox fans love Camden Yards.

Lots of empty seats... one of the reasons Red Sox fans love Camden Yards.

Today was Pops last day in town so we drove out to Harpers Ferry, WV.  I’ve been there once before but didn’t really take time to experience all that it has to offer.  Even today, we didn’t see or do everything I would have liked because there is so much to see and do.  Next time, I would love to hike up above the Potomac so that I’m looking down on Harpers Ferry.  Still, we were there for a couple of hours and I had a chance to walk over to Virginius Island for the first time.  Hillary and I also hiked up to the church and the cemetery in the upper town, both of which were really interesting, and the view alone from the top of the hill made the hike worthwhile.  On our way back to Arlington at the end of the day, we stopped at two of my favorite food-related places: Blue Ridge Grill for dinner, and Wegmans for dessert.  The perfect ending to a very good day.
Dad and Hillary in Harpers Ferry.
Dad and Hillary in Harpers Ferry.

Proclamation regarding John Brown's hanging.
Proclamation regarding John Brown’s hanging.
View of Shenandoah River from Virginius Island at Harpers Ferry.
View of Shenandoah River from Virginius Island at Harpers Ferry.

Hillary and I in Harpers Ferry.
Hillary and I in Harpers Ferry.
My favorite grocery store… ever!

Beijing 2008

I made it back from China about two weeks ago, and then spent most of that first week recovering from jet lag, a nasty cold, and the shock of returning to my 9-5 job after two weeks away. It was, by far, my worst case of jet lag to date and I’m not sure what the reason for that might be. Could be age (sadly, I am getting older). Could be the fact that the cold had me worn down. Regardless, I didn’t sleep a night through until I’d been home for almost a week. For all those reasons (and maybe more), getting a post up on my blog fell way to the bottom of my list of priorities.

At beach volleyball

I’m sufficiently recovered now to cease slacking off and get back into the blog. I had to spend a bit of time trying to decide how best to approach blogging about the trip, and in the end, decided to do three separate posts, each one devoted to one of the cities we visited. Today I’m focusing on Beijing.

I visited Beijing twice back in 2001 when I was living in Shanghai and although I enjoyed it, I never really loved the city. This time around however, I became a huge fan. During this trip at least, its fair to say that I even liked it more than Shanghai… words that feel almost blasphemous coming from my fingertips.

The city was beautiful. It felt so modern and new. It was clean. The streets were devoid of traffic jams thanks to Beijing’s authorities limiting the number of cars on the road. The venues for the Olympic events were amazing. And of course, there was a fantastic feeling in the air because the Olympics had come to town.

Downtown Beijing

While we were in Beijing I woke up early every morning and went for a walk around our neighborhood. Mostly this meant that eventually I stumbled upon a park of some kind and then spent an hour or so wandering amongst the groups of people practicing tai chi, ballroom dancing, hacky sack, or some other physical activity like thigh slapping. I loved being out and about at a time of day when the chances of running into other foreigners were relatively limited and I could kind of quietly enjoy being immersed in Chinese culture again.

During our week in Beijing we visited the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, took a tour of the Hutongs (old Beijing neighborhoods), and even caught a Beijing Opera performance (actually more like an introduction to Beijing Opera for foreigners, but still). On Wednesday afternoon, while Carri and Christy were at whitewater kayaking, Pippa and I rented a couple of bikes and rode around the city. That afternoon is one of my favorite memories from the trip. Initially I was terrified by the idea of attempting to ride a bike amongst the cars and scooters and motorcycles and other cyclists. But in actuality, it was one of the easiest, safest cities I have ever ridden in. Add that to the wonder of riding through old Beijing neighborhoods one moment only to find oneself cycling past Tiananmen Square the next, and it was a truly delightful afternoon (thanks Pippa!).

With our French friends on the Great Wall.

As far as the Olympics go, I was able to see three events. The process of obtaining Olympic tickets was somewhat convoluted because China retained 75% of all seats for Chinese nationals. That didn’t leave very many seats for the rest of the world. The US hired a private company to distribute their share of the tickets which meant the tickets were distributed via lottery. Once in Beijing it was quite the bummer to learn that apparently every American, Carri and I excepted, made out like bandits in the lottery, while we each got just 2 or 3 of the events we requested. Regardless, I felt lucky to even be able to attend three events. I ended up seeing Whitewater Kayaking, women’s Beach Volleyball, and Track and Field. I had a blast at every event.  I wore my Red Sox hat a couple of times and thereby managed to meet a few more members of Red Sox nation.  Honestly, it acted like a beacon calling Red Sox fans to my side. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky with my 99 Carl Edwards NASCAR hat.  

My favorite Olympic event was probably the beach volleyball (although I could have done without the lame scantily-clad cheerleaders). The most exciting match of the day was between Greece and Australia and it was the only match-up that actually went to three sets. Thanks to all the crazy Aussies in the stands it was far more entertaining than the earlier matches. However, being able to see track and field in the Bird’s Nest was also a great experience. I am in love with that stadium. It was so fun to get inside and marvel at the crazy, but cool architecture.

Chinese fan at Badminton.

After talking to an American family at one of the events I now have a new life goal. I want to attend every Olympics. Possibly a tad “pie in the sky”, but considering how much I love the Olympic games, it seems like a genius method for planning my future international travel. Vancouver 2010 anyone? My sisters are already on board and I’m pretty sure Carri is committed….


Before I sign off for the day however, I do have a few sour notes I feel compelled to mention. By the end of our week in Beijing I was very ready to leave. Sadly, the reason for my impatience to be gone was the way I felt China, and by extension its citizens, approached and handled the games themselves.

My favorite thing about the Olympics is being able to watch the entire world come together, to see/experience sporting triumphs by athletes from all over the world. It’s never been about the United States for me. I love my country and its exciting to see our athletes do well, but I’m just as thrilled to see a Jamaican athlete kick our trash in track and field or India win its first ever individual gold medal. I knew China wanted these Olympic games to be a sort of “coming out” party for the nation as a whole, to be a way of announcing to the international community that China is a big kid now and ready to play ball. However, I didn’t really envision how that would impact the games themselves.

Peking Duck

I can’t deny that it’s an amazing sporting feat for China to have won the haul of gold medals it did. Being in Beijing during the Olympics however, drove home the fact, again and again, that for China (and its people) these games were not about the world, or even about sport. They were about China. The rampant nationalism the games unleashed in Beijing had me feeling sick by the end of the week. If it had been accompanied by a respect for other nations or their athletes, it might not have bothered me so much. Unfortunately, seeing firsthand how the host nation only cared about cheering for its own athletes and teams drove me a bit mad.

Silk worms ready to BBQ

As an example, at beach volleyball as soon as the Chinese team finished their match, the Chinese spectators left the event. No joke. We found ourselves sitting in a stadium maybe a quarter full. The Chinese spectators didn’t care to cheer on the other countries that had yet to play.

In our experience, and in talking to other foreigners at the games, it seemed like most events were like that. For one, most of the Chinese ticket holders didn’t even go to the games, so every event had oodles of empty seats. Then the people who did go only cheered on Chinese athletes or teams. The television coverage also only focused on China. OK, I know NBC mostly focuses on US athletes, but at least they show everyone that has won a medal at the medal ceremonies. In China the camera would zoom in on whichever Chinese athlete had won gold, and they wouldn’t even show the silver and bronze medalists, even if they happened to be Chinese. The television coverage also never showed a Chinese athlete losing or making a mistake. Instead the networks would re-air, again and again, the same clips of a select few Chinese athletes winning their events and accepting their medals.  

Hot Pot

Add all that to the fact that the Beijing Organizing Committee desperately needed to hire a few international consultants on the food front and that is was almost impossible to buy flags or t-shirts for any country other than China (Chinese entrepreneurs, where art thou?) and I found myself very ready to be gone by the time Saturday rolled around.

I did eventually find a savvy entrepreneur outside the beach volleyball venue and was therefore able to buy an American flag for my last day of events. It was definitely a “hallelujah” moment, even if my American flag cost twice as much as the Chinese flags that were also on sale. I bought the flag anyway and waved it proudly at the two events I attended that day. Honestly, I was hoping that a combination of the flag, my USA t-shirt, and the American flag painted on Carri’s cheek might enable us to make it onto the NBC broadcast. Sadly, those efforts seem to have been unsuccessful. 

Hollow-heart vegetable at Bellagio, the Taiwanese restaurant

On the food front, Olympic Park at least had two McDonalds locations, so you weren’t completely limited to the otherwise awful food offerings available everywhere else (never thought I’d find myself feeling grateful for McDonalds). There were, oh, about 7 food options and they were the same no matter where you went (unless they had run out of something, because you know, heaven-forbid we try to plan for those kinds of developments). The food options were: Oreo cookies, Snickers bars, breadsticks, a cold hot dog baked in a sweet bun and smeared with ketchup, saltine crackers, peach yogurt, and chocolate/marshmallow cookies. Drinks were cheap, but again, limited. For the most part the food was so lacklustre that it mostly inspired the foreigners to stay away from the refreshment stands and instead eat either before or after events.

Taiwanese shaved ice at Bellagio

On that note, it wouldn’t be fair to go without mentioning that outside of the venues food in Beijing rocked. So tasty and so cheap.  My favorite kind. The night Carri and I arrived I took her to a little place across the street from our hotel for a quick bite to eat. We ordered just two things: 空新菜 (hollow-heart vegetable) and 番茄炒蛋 (stir-fried tomatoes with eggs), but they were both delicious and deeply satisfying after spending so many hours on a plane. Over the course of the week we followed that meal up with dumplings and noodles and Beijing roast duck and Taiwanese food, and oh so much more. A repeated theme however, that entire week, was the tomato and egg combination that Chinese people love. As mentioned, we had the stir-fried version, but we also had a dumpling version and a noodle version, all of which were delightful. Stir-fried tomatoes and eggs has been one of my favorite Chinese dishes since I lived in Taiwan, so in honor of both Taiwan and China, I’m leaving you with a recipe for that today.

番茄炒蛋 (Stir-Fried Tomatoes with Eggs)

4 eggs
1/2 medium-size yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 lg. tomatoes
1 1/2 T. vegetable oil, divided
3/4 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
Pepper – to taste

Cut the tomatoes into 1″ chunks and set them in a colander to drain.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl.

Heat 1 T. oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Shake the colander with the tomatoes a few times to get rid of any excess liquid. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and stir-fry until slightly soft, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir-fry briefly, about 1 minute. You want the tomatoes to retain their shape so you don’t want to cook them for very long. Transfer the tomatoes/onions to a bowl and set aside.

Return the now empty pan to the heat and add the remaining 1/2 T. oil. Once the oil is hot add the beaten eggs. Quickly, but gently, scramble the eggs until they have just barely set. You want big soft clouds of egg. Add the tomatoes and onions back to the pan, sprinkle with sugar, salt, and pepper and then stir-fry briefly just to get everything mixed together.  Serve with rice.


Its been almost 7 years since I left China in December of 2001. I never dreamed it would take me this long to make my way back again, and yet, life has a way of taking us down unexpected paths. While we go about living our day to day lives, doing what needs to be done, years pass and some of our dreams and aspirations are sacrificed as the vision we have of life changes.

For a long time I assumed that I would live most of my life in Asia. I thought that after I graduated from college I would return to either China or Taiwan and spend, basically, the rest of my life there. But when I finally graduated I decided to move back to Boston instead, and from there life, as it is wont to do, took me down another path.

My trip to China next month has been many years in the making, but now that it is almost upon me, I can’t help but feel fully the truth of the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

I decided to go to Beijing for the Olympics in the summer of 2001. I can pinpoint the exact moment in fact. It was a Friday night in Shanghai and I had just enjoyed dinner at Pizza Hut with a couple of friends. After dinner we walked down to Nanjing Rd.(南京 路)to watch and wait with a gathered crowd as the International Olympic Committee announced which city would host the 2008 Olympic Games. As Beijing was announced the crowd went wild and I vowed that I would make it to those games.

This week, as I held my Olympic tickets in my hand, my trip next month suddenly felt real for the first time.

Many things had to align to make this trip happen and yet somehow, they all have. I have tickets to 7 Olympic events, a plane ticket that, miraculously, did not completely break the bank, hotel reservations in the 3 cities we’ll be visiting, and best of all, 3 fantastic friends to travel with. Now that the trip actually feels real (and I’ve confirmed that Air China has given me back my seat on the plane) I can hardly wait to go. I’m giddy with excitement and thrilled to have an opportunity to share a place I love so much with a few of my closest friends.

Before leaving you today, I wanted to share a dish I first tried in Shanghai. This dish is actually pretty common in American Chinese restaurants so there is a good chance many of you have tried it before. Making it at home was a bit of a revelation for me. Its so easy, but honestly, so tasty. When I made it for the first time I decided on the spot that this would be my new go-to recipe when I want to impress people with my Chinese cooking skills. If you give it a try, let me know what you think.

Spicy Green Beans with Hoisin Sauce and Garlic
Adapted from Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking

Note on peppers: You can use any pepper in this recipe, but I call for red ones below because they look pretty. Pick a pepper that complements your desired spiciness, and remember that you can remove the seeds if you want to lessen the heat. If you pick a spicy pepper be sure to wear gloves when cutting/working with the pepper.

2 lbs. green beans, stem ends trimmed
4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t. salt
Freshly ground black pepper

2 red chilies, sliced into thin rings
3 T. hoisin sauce
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. vegetable oil
Optional (but highly recommended): Maldon Sea Salt, flakes

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 475 degrees. Line 2 heavy-duty rimmed backing sheets with aluminum foil. In a medium bowl toss the green beans with olive oil, salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Spread the green beans out on your baking sheets and roast until tender, slightly shriveled, and slightly browned, approximately 15 minutes.

While the beans are cooking, combine the chilies, hoisin sauce, garlic, salt, and vegetable oil in a large saute pan. Cook sauce briefly over medium-high heat, approximately 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Once beans have finished roasting add the beans to the sauce and cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes until the beans are thoroughly coated and the sauce feels a bit sticky. Serve immediately.

If you have Maldon sea salt, sprinkle the salt over the beans after you’ve put the beans on a serving platter. I can’t tell you how much I love the taste of the salt with these beans. The salt melts just a bit and provides a wonderful flavor. To be honest, Maldon sea salt is good on everything. I love it. If you haven’t tried it before I recommend picking some up. Or just come over to my place one night and try some of mine.

Carry Me Back to Old Virginny

At the beginning of May, my sister and I traveled back to Virginia for the Richmond NASCAR race. It was a great weekend, because although I lived in Virginia for over 2 years, I never spent any time in Richmond.

As we learned over the weekend, Richmond is a great city to explore. It has a rich history, vibrant cultural life, wonderful restaurants and beautiful old neighborhoods. For many years now, as various members of my family have lived or traveled on the East Coast, we have loved exploring Civil War battlefields and sites. Richmond, of course, played an integral role in the South throughout the Civil War, so it was very interesting to visit Civil War sites within the city. I finally visited the White House of the Confederacy, where a quite burly man decked out in General Stonewall Jackson gear intimidated me just a little. We drove Monument Avenue, where I snapped the below pic of the statue commemorating the great Confederate Calvary general JEB Stuart. We visited the brand new Civil War museum, built at the Tredegar Iron Works on the banks of the James River (I highly recommend the museum if you ever find yourself in Richmond).

However, the one element that made the weekend particularly entertaining, considering our reason for being in Richmond, was meeting other NASCAR fans and crews as we wandered the city. At the Civil War Museum we even met a couple of pit crew guys for the 83 Red Bull Toyota. To my everlasting regret, I did not get a picture with them. Maybe next time. That lesson has definitely been learned.

And of course, we went racing. The crowd in Virginia was decidedly different from the crowd we encountered in California when we went to the race in Fontana last fall. There were more than a few moments when we kind of caught ourselves asking how we ended up at a NASCAR race in the heart of tobacco country surrounded by, hmmm, not-so-gentlemanly types wearing, I’ll be honest, offensive t-shirts. Thank goodness that was just Friday night. Saturday we had a blast. Everyone around us was great, with the exception of the man behind me who, oh so kindly, offered me a pinch of his snuff. If I didn’t believe wholeheartedly that he was mocking me (I don’t know, maybe my Trader Joes Oriental Rice Cracker mix and bottled water gave me away as an a-typical NASCAR fan) I might have warmer feelings for even him.

Anyway, what does all this have to do with today’s recipe? Well, today’s dish is something I have craved since I moved to Utah last year. When I was living in Virginia someone, I don’t remember who, introduced me to Endo Sushi, a little Sushi place in McLean. I loved that place. I’ll admit that I’m really not much of a sushi connoisseur. I like it, but I’m not super-educated or super-adventurous when it comes to sushi. I love going for sushi with people who really know sushi. I can have them order, and I always love what I get. But when I go alone I tend to stick to the few things I feel really comfortable with.

I loved Endo not for their sushi, which I do like, but instead because they served a cold tofu salad with lunch. It had a wonderfully tangy dressing and I loved it. I’ve actually thought about it a lot since I left Virginia but really had no clue how to go about trying to recreate it. Then, right before I left for Virginia I made a recipe one night for my brother and sister-in-law that sounded like it might fit the bill. Although it was good, it really didn’t come close to imitating the salad I remembered. I thought about Endo, and this salad in particular, the whole weekend I was in Virginia, but unfortunately never had a chance to make it there for lunch. When I got home I decided to give the salad another go, and was finally able to work out a version that comes pretty darn close to the salad I remember. I’d gladly serve this salad to anyone. I actually did serve it to my parents, who thought it far too spicy, and yet I still caught my Dad going for seconds. I think its a great way to introduce tofu to the uninitiated so give it a try and let me know what you think.

Chilled Tofu Salad with Spicy Dressing

1 package Silken tofu, chilled – I like the kind you find in the refrigerated section, packed in water

3 T. light soy sauce
2 T. finely chopped cilantro stems – If you can find cilantro with the roots still on, chop those too
1 1/2 T. grated/minced ginger – I use my Microplane for grating ginger (see above photo). This is quite possibly my favorite kitchen tool.
4 green onions, finely chopped – use white/light green section only
2 T. Kecap Manis – This is a sweetened soy sauce you can find in Asian grocers
1 1/2 T. rice vinegar
1/2 t. chili oil
1/2 t. sesame oil
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 T. sugar
1/8 t. salt

Combine all dressing ingredients and whisk until well blended. Drain the tofu, and cut into slices. Carefully invert tofu into serving bowl. Silken tofu breaks up really easily so you want to be as gentle as possible with it. Pour dressing over tofu. Serve.