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Growing up, my dad did quite a bit of work travel so my mom, sister and I ate out frequently. Nothing fancy, Taco Bell was a regular stop but Chinese, good ‘ol American Cantonese Chinese food, was a particular favorite. You know the place … Chinese calendar placemats, plastic chopsticks and a menu filled with dishes like chop suey, sweet and sour pork and egg rolls. Our particular favorite in our little corner of Phoenix was Ho-Wah, a small family restaurant across the street from my future high school where the owners would warmly greet us and knew our order by heart. We probably went once a week and I loved it. Though sadly long gone, it is the standard against which I still judge all Chinese food.

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I have a soft spot in my heart for old school American Chinese restaurants. They are the food of my childhood, serving up comforting favorites like crispy egg rolls, chop suey and day-glo orange sweet and sour pork. Theses restaurants may not have been authentically Chinese but they served up some delicious food and the Ho-Wah in Phoenix Arizona was no exception. It is long gone but is, to this day, the standard by which I judge all American Cantonese restaurants. A storefront with an old neon sign and a very particular typeface will stop me in my tracks every time. The food may be hit or miss but when I’m lucky enough to find a good one, it brings me right back to those childhood meals at Ho-Wah and I’m happy.

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I’m drowning in dates right now and not the good kind of dates a girl would like to be drowning in. Actual dates. Dried fruits. With pits. To start, there was nearly a pound sitting on my kitchen table, leftover from a project I finished just before the holidays. Before I’d even had a chance to register their presence, I got the email from my friend Michele that appears in my inbox every January. “Hi. Got the dates. Want them?” You see, every year her financial advisor sends her, and her mother, a tin of dates from California as a holiday present. She does not know why dates. Neither she, nor her mother, like dates. However she, and her mother, do not want to hurt the guy’s feelings so they don’t tell him and every year, the dates arrive. And I get an email and a subsequent delivery of said dates. Two two-pound tins. Every year. It’s a lot of dates.

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Freezing rain always makes me want soup. Hot, hearty, comforting bowls of soup that warm from the inside out are just the thing for these times. I live in a very old apartment with unpredictable radiator heat. Over the winter my apartment is either blazing hot or a bit chilly and I monitor the temperature through a series of simple steps honed over years of experience – open the window a smidge, close the window, put on socks, take off a sweatshirt, hide under a blanket. It’s a little involved but I’ve figured out how to make it work. In these instances, soup works very well too. As does a good supply of comfy loungewear and thick socks.

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I made cheese boereg over the weekend, delightful phyllo pastries filled with a mix of delicious, slightly salty cheeses. They were wonderful, perfect in this cold weather, but to make them a meal I needed something else. I’ve been trying to stick to a healthy eating regimen to start the new year and though these little pastries didn’t necessarily fit that bill, if I made a salad I could scoot it into that category with a little creative rationalization. So I made a good, chunky greek-type salad to go along with those little golden triangles. The salad, filled with fresh summery vegetables, may not the best choice for this time of year – it’s definitely more of a warmer season type dish – but I needed a little crunch, a little brightness in my gloomy day.

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I picked up this recipe from Chef Carrie Nahabedian, from a class I took years ago. I was attempting to “organize” my office recently to no avail and came across a thick stack of papers, recipes from classes I’d taken pre-culinary school. Most held little interest now but this one stuck out … as I recall, they were quite good. Crispy thin layers of phyllo filled with creamy, slightly salty cheese. No spinach, no vegetables just that gorgeously salty cheese with a little parsley for a bit of color. She called them Phyllo Cheese Triangles but being of Armenian descent, I suspect she calls them boeregs at home. Many Mediterranean cultures have something similar; the Greeks call them tiropitakia. Salty cheese wrapped in layers of crispy pastry have universal appeal.

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I am an unabashed condiment queen. It used to be that the extent of most of America’s condiment repertoire was the trinity of ketchup-mustard-relish with maybe mayonnaise and horseradish thrown in for good measure. But go take a look at the inside of your refrigerator door right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. I bet you have a much wider variety than that. My refrigerator door is so packed with jars and bottles it actually groans in protest every time I open it. Sure, I have the basics but also: ginger paste, oyster sauce, two kinds of thai curry pastes, a few kinds of nut butters, fish sauce, kimchi, teriyaki, hoisin, sriracha, sambal, tubes of tomato and anchovy pastes, chutneys, key lime juice and various hot sauces. It’s a very Asian influenced assortment and reflects my eating/cooking style rather accurately. This doesn’t even take into consideration the large tub full of jars of pickles, jams and even more chutneys that lives on one of the shelves. And let’s not discuss the tower of miso containers residing in one corner. I have a lot of condiment type things. An ungodly amount.

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