Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

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There are no “foodies” in Italy–there’s simply food. As I quickly learned during my week-long stay in Putignano, food is a way of life, not simply a packaged bar of high fructose corn syrup that you snatch while dashing out the door for work. While food has always been a central part of my Chinese family and culture–think lazy Susan’s groaning under the weight of 15 or 20 dishes, chopstick wars over the last piece of fried tofu, literal battles between relatives over who is going to pay the bill–being in Italy felt like landing on an entirely different food planet altogether: one made of family friends, 10 o’clock dinners, and lots–I mean LOTS–of cheese.

Aside from enjoying homemade meals with Alessio’s family, I was invited to taste (quite literally) a whole sampling platter of Italian dining experiences throughout the week. One of my favorite meals happened on my second night in Putignano, when we drove over to the countryside home of one of their family friends for a pizza party. No, not a pizza party of 90’s Chuck E. Cheese glory–we’re talking 2 kilos of homemade pizza dough, dozens of fresh meats and vegetables, authentic brick oven right on the patio, the whole shebang. Better yet, we went through something like six courses (a crust “test run,” individual pizzas, dessert pizza with Nutella, gelato, fruit, and cake), so that by the end of the night I thought my stomach was going to burst straight through the too-snug button on my jeans. Seated along a long table that seated all 15 or 16 of us, everyone seemed content to sit and eat and chat as the early evening faded into evening proper, then late night. The pace of Italian life during the summer offers an incredible contrast to the hustle & bustle of American day-to-day, and as someone who spends half of her solo meals typing away at the computer, it was amazing to be granted this glimpse into a truly mindful culture of eating.… Read more


Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Cookies, Muffins

Watercress Pesto Pasta

 Europe trip recap! If you haven’t caught up on my three-week sojourn in the other hemisphere, so far I’ve talked about British bakeries, spending my birthday abroad, real-life Harry Potter encounters, some personal details from my trip in the UK, the beautiful city of Edinburgh, and lots of food (and Guinness!) in Ireland. And of course, the adventures continue below!

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Italy was a world in and of itself. I had visited Rome and Venice once in seventh grade, but this trip–taken nearly 14 years later–was something special. After a one-day layover from Ireland to England, I hopped on a plane that would take me to the final part of my Europe trip in the south of Italy. Bari, where the airport is located, is about an hour north of Putignano, a quiet town with a population of about 28,000 and home to Italy’s oldest annual Carnival. My friend Alessio picked me up from the airport and we took a tour of Bari (complete, of course, with my first taste of authentic Italian gelato) before heading south to the large countryside home where we would be staying for the week.

As a girl who can barely afford 500 square feet of living space in cramped Los Angeles, the idea of living in a second home in the country three months out of the year was completely unfathomable to me. When we rumbled up the narrow dirt lane that led to Alessio’s house that evening and his family came out onto the beautiful stone-laid patio to greet us, however, I could feel blissful imagination meld into a reality more romantic than anything that I could have dreamed up on my own. The country home was a converted ranch with a rustic outdoor seating area, several well-tended gardens bordering the patio, and rolling fields of grass that stretched to the outer edges of the property. … Read more


Filed under Lunch & Dinner

One-Pot Chocolate Guinness Cake with Chocolate & Cream Cheese Frosting

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I can’t talk about my time in Ireland without talking about Guinness. I might as well have eaten at a Michelin-star seafood restaurant and told you all about the bread basket.

According to the friend I was visiting in Cork, there are two things you cannot visit Ireland without trying: the chocolate, and the stout. Now, I was all for the chocolate (obviously), but Guinness? Beer? Stout? Hops? Imperial pints in the UK/Ireland are huge and I had never drunk so much as a can of beer before visiting Europe (the taste of beer reminds me of that nasty Chinese herbal medicine we used to drink as kids), so I felt a bit nervous about what I’d do when faced with a whole glass of that dark, intimidating liquid. All the same, I certainly hadn’t come halfway across the world to sip on sparkling water–so when Alex proposed that we go out for a couple of rounds at the local pubs, I was ready to give Guinness my best shot.

Verdict: Turns out, I am actually a fan of the well-poured Guinness! Alex explained the process to me while we waited for our bartender to finish pouring,* then we found seats outside and enjoyed the live music wafting through the town streets while we sipped on glasses that were nearly overflowing with creamy white head. We later met up with a group of his school and university friends, who were probably the friendliest folks in the northern hemisphere and made me feel absolutely welcome. Of course, the second pint of Guinness probably helped! Best of all, Alex and I got home the first night at 1 AM, poured ourselves some cereal with milk, and watched Louis Theroux documentaries into the wee hours of the morning before we were too tired to stay up any longer.… Read more


Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Brownies & Chocolates, Cakes & Cupcakes

Game Day Recipes: Easy Picante Cream Cheese Dip + Rollups

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MakeGameTimeSaucy #CollectiveBias

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Ha–I did it! After five years of avoiding the Rose Bowl like the plague, I finally hitched up my shorts two weeks ago and attended my first-ever grad school football game. Since our team was playing my alma mater’s rival, I was doubly invested and ready to shout as loudly as I could about “taking off that red shirt,” if ya know what I mean. Plus who doesn’t love a socially acceptable excuse to be obnoxious and rambunctious and generally just a tad madwomanish?

As it turns out, the weather on game day was insanely sweltering and, as our seats in the student section were full-blast under the sun, a few of us ended up spending the entire first quarter wandering around outside and looking for food instead of actually watching the game. This meant that we missed the only touchdown of the entire game, scored by yours truly–er, well, until the other team scored not one, but TWO touchdowns in the final 2 minutes of the game. Derp. My friend was majorly upset (it was her first-ever football game), and my dad texted me right after the game because he simply could not stop cracking up at our misery. “Heart broken loss,” his message read. Annnnd to me this is why food > football forever, hands down.

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Picante Cream Cheese Dip gif

Speaking of food and football games, though, there is one reason why I still love the sport even though my team is a heartbreaking hot mess on the field this season sometimes disappoints me. In my book, you can never go wrong on any occasion where all sorrows can be drowned in food, food, food. To celebrate the start of a new season, I popped down to Walmart the following weekend for a few game day edibles and ended up snagging a bag of chips, some corn tortillas, a few blocks of cream cheese, and a bottle of mild Pace® Picante for that extra flavor kick.… Read more


Filed under Appetizers, Dips/Spreads, Lunch & Dinner

Irish Soda Bread

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Visiting Cork, Ireland was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me when it did. When I boarded my flight after 10 days in the UK, I was tired, emotionally drained, and frankly, a bit of a mess. Alex (the friend I would be visiting) and I used to swim together back when he was in the States, but that had been over a year ago and part of me was a bit nervous that I’d receive the same welcome that I had earlier in the trip.

Mistake #1: Never underestimate the incredible good-will of a proven, amazing friend.

Mistake #2: Never underestimate the incredible good-will of the Irish, period.

The atmosphere of my arrival could not have been more different. The moment I stepped out of my gate at ORK, I was engulfed in a gigantic bear hug (at 6’3″, Alex just towers over me), my luggage was swiped genially from my hands, and I was introduced to my friend’s beaming mom–who also pulled me into a grand towering hug–faster than I could say “luck of the Irish.” 30 minutes later, we were speeding through the small, quaint downtown of Cork and happily en route to Blarney Castle, legendary home of the Blarney stone that (apparently) grants you the “gift of gab” if you kiss it.

Turns out that the rumored gab-gifting wasn’t in particularly high supply–I certainly didn’t feel very eloquent afterward!–but we did buy ice cream cones afterward to make up for it (and maybe to cleanse our mouths after kissing the wet, suspiciously dark patch of rock). The ice cream, which was my first official taste of Ireland, surprised me with its freshness and flavor: I had heard about the beer, but to be completely honest, I hadn’t had high hopes for the food…

Mistake #3: Never underestimate the universality of good food options if you know where to look for it (or know someone who knows where to look for it).… Read more


Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bread

Scottish Shortbread

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Scotland: land of the kilts, castles, and sweet mother of Mewtwo best shortbread ever!!!

My first blissful taste of Scottish shortbread happened in a cozy two-apartment AirBnb nestled just outside Edinburgh city center. Our hosts, Alicia and Mauricio, were a lovely couple from Venezuala with an adorable beagle and the best advice on what free shows to see during our four days at the Fringe festival. In true host fashion, they had also stocked our room with a variety of local munchies, ranging from biscuits and candies to–of course–the famous Walkers Scottish shortbread. I ate most of the bag a few for breakfast, along with some cheese rolls that Alicia had shared with me the night before while we were chatting in the living room about old Tom Hanks films. I melted from the moment that I popped that cookie in my mouth–the buttery, crumbly shortbread melted too–and from there it was love forged on the Highlands for me.

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But quick important sidenote! That totally cute teal notebook featured in these photos? It was gifted by my amazing friend Moupi, who messaged me on the day before my trip and (since she knew I wouldn’t have my laptop with me) gave it to me as a way to commemorate my travels! I ended up only using it occasionally on the trip to jot down some of the thoughts I shared in my last post and hastily scribble in my highlights for each day–BUT when I got back, I found that my bag was drowning in a silly pile of ticket stubs, fliers, and pell-mell paper memorabilia from my three-week travels. Cue brilliant idea to organize everything in this notebook: so now I have an entire little journal devoted to my Europe trip! It’s kind of neat to see one of the best experiences of my life neatly encapsulated in scrapbook form so that I can revisit it anytime I want now :) The tickets pictured here are from all of the plays and performances that we saw while we were in Edinburgh.… Read more


Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Cookies

Miniature Whipping Cream Pound Cakes

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Of all the places I visited in Europe, my favorite place by far was Edinburgh, Scotland. A buzz of excitement radiated through the city, palpable from the moment our 2-hour train from York pulled into the old station. We had timed our visit to coincide with The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest art festival where thousands of artists converge every year to perform, sing, dance, make you laugh, make you cry. During our five days in the city, my sides split with laughing at the sketch troupe Daphne’s Second Show, a Cambridge trio that wove together hard-hitting humor with physical comedy, seamlessly transitioned sketches, and surprisingly impressive three-part harmonies. My heartstrings wavered and melted at I Love You Because, a loosely Pride-and-Prejudice-based modern musical about two couples who learn to love another not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. On our last night there, my heart both broke and mended at Liam Williams’ Travesty, a stunningly executed, intimate play about two people who learn to navigate the murky path through love, relationships, expectations, and commitment.

Art, like food, has always resonated with me differently at different times in my life. While I’ve shared some of the best moments from my vacation in the UK so far, not all of the trip went smoothly. I arrived in England to a welcoming household, and a partner who felt strangely distant; as the days went on, the sense of disconnect and aloofness only intensified, especially when I saw how warm and animated he could be with his family and friends from school. By the time we reached Cambridge on our fifth night together, I was crying on the bench outside a banquet afterparty while trying to book a last-minute room at the London Travelodge (we didn’t have anywhere convenient to stay the next night) and wondering what on Earth I was doing in England at all.… Read more


Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Cakes & Cupcakes

Knickerbocker Glory

Harry had the best morning he’d had in a long time. He was careful to walk a little way apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were starting to get bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn’t fall back on their favorite hobby of hitting him. They ate in the zoo restaurant, and when Dudley had a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory didn’t have enough ice cream on top, Uncle Vernon bought him another one and Harry was allowed to finish the first. 

Harry felt, afterward, that he should have known it was all too good to last.

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You didn’t think I was going to talk all about my time England and NOT blabber on about Harry Potter, did you? Naive Muggle fools! Muahahaha.

Traveling through the UK was like walking through the pages of all of my favorite children’s books. I got to visit castles that looked just like Hogwarts, Kensington Gardens (the birthplace of Peter Pan), and even King’s Cross (including the real Platform 9 3/4!). Now that I’m back, I cannot wait to pay these favorite books another visit while imagining them taking place at the very spots where I stood!

Knickerbocker glory is probably my favorite single food item from the HP series, immortalized in a line about Dudley throwing a tantrum “because his knickerbocker glory didn’t have enough ice cream on top” (anybody who knows me at all also knows that I love quoting that line in everyday conversations about ice cream). Until I traveled to the UK last month, however, I had never tried the famed treat–which, of course, only hardened my resolution that I would do so in the native land that had popularized it. It wasn’t until our last day in England that the coveted opportunity popped up in York, where we were grabbing dinner after the horse races.… Read more


Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Frozen Desserts, Fruit Desserts

Victoria Sponge Cake

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For the first time ever, I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago in a foreign country. I was feeling a bit nervous because I was far away from home, family, and friends–I had arrived in London only two days before, and both days had been packed with touristy (and wonderful!) but tiring activities, including a day-early birthday surprise of 4 o’clock tea-and-champagne time. Thankfully, I had given up any claims to local trip planning already and was more than happy to go along with the plan for the next day, which involved a visit to nearby Leeds Castle in Kent and a very British plan to picnic on the rolling green lawns under the rare English sun. As it turns out, the California sunshine followed me to all but two days (both spent in Edinburgh) of my visit to the UK and Ireland, so I wasn’t complaining!

One of the things I loved most about my visit to Europe is the pace of life there. We spent that entire day in sun-kissed bliss, strolling around the castle and meandering around the rolling green lawns and doing nothing in particular. It was such an unexpected change from the usual hubbub of invitations and surprise parties and planned outings that I couldn’t help but feel glad that I had decided to book an early August flight to the UK, despite all of my earlier reservations about spending my birthday abroad.

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Another lovely surprise that I hadn’t anticipated was the homemade Victoria Sponge Cake that arrived on the patio table after dinner that evening! A candle was already lit on top–I made a wish and blew it out, opened a card, and felt that little wriggle of happiness in my chest that only a really pleasant and unexpected surprise can inspire. By that time, the birthday wishes from back home were also flooding my way through social media and my (thankfully unlimited) international texting, and we spent the rest of the night in the forest-lined backyard, watching shooting stars from the Perseid Meteor Shower light up the starry black night sky.… Read more


Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Cakes & Cupcakes

Millionaire’s Shortbread Bars

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In England, where I started my 3-week Europe trip, I was stunned by the sheer variety of food that I encountered. Okay, so maybe the fish-‘n-chips and beer British stereotype I had always entertained wasn’t exactly a fair one–though they do like their beer–but I wasn’t ready for the amount of GOOD STUFF I inhaled during my 6 days around Kent, London, Oxford, Cambridge, and York. From tea time scones & jam to gratins and savory pies, there simply was no shortage of perfect nibbles to fuel our packed daily schedules.

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By far my favorite eateries to visit were the pastry and bread shops. There’s something infinitely comforting about the smell of freshly baked goods wafting in the air as you peruse shelves with strange, quaintly British names like “Bakewell Tart” and “Eton Mess” scribbled underneath them. Even familiar-looking desserts had unfamiliar names: biscuits for shortbreads, knickerbocker glory for a particular type of ice cream sundae, and puddings for desserts in general.

Though I didn’t encounter this particular dessert in the UK until we arrived in Edinburgh after our England tour, the Millionaire’s Shortbread–or what most online recipes would just call Millionaire Bar–was one of those known-yet-unknown foods that I felt I was meeting for the first time halfway across the world. We were at the Edinburgh Castle whiskey gift shop, where we had just finished sampling two extremely disappointing creme-flavored whiskeys, when I spotted these little gems sitting on a white tray next to the castle-themed hip flasks: just a scant layer of caramel sandwiched between an even scantier layer of chocolate on top and a hefty, THICK slab of shortbread on the bottom. The caramel and chocolate looked thinner than the woefully optimistic sundresses and cardigans that I had brought with me to the freezing, wet city.

The boy (who, by the way, is originally from England) came over and laughed when I expressed my surprise at these Frankensteinian versions.… Read more


Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Bars