Solyanka: Russian Beef Soup for the Olympic Soul

Tropical girl that I am, the Winter Olympics have never held much fascination for me.

Yes, there’s figure skating — which I adore — but the rest of it usually goes by in a bewildering blur for me once the games start. (Of course, all of this could change should I ever decide to get off my tush and actually go skiing for the first time.)

Olympics-inspired food, however — now that fascinated me. So when our Let’s Lunch crew decided on an Olympic spirit-themed lunch to toast the opening of the Sochi games, I was in.

What to make? A certain Russian sweet and sour beef soup seemed just the thing for snowy conditions …

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German Pancakes: Comforting Kummerspeck, or “Grief Bacon”

A few months ago, I came across a term that intrigued me: Kummerspeck.

The German word means “grief bacon” (and we all know how much I love bacon). Despite its bacon reference though, the word has a rather negative connotation — it refers to weight put on due to emotional overeating.

Nonetheless, the word fascinated me — and the Let’s Lunch crew, as it turned out. So off we went, dreaming up ideas for the perfect kummerspeck …

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Japanese Crisp Choco Bites: Guilty Pleasure Morsels

My mother discouraged snacking when I was a child. (A policy I’m hugely thankful for now that I know just how little willpower I have.)

However, among the few tidbits allowed during my Singaporean girlhood — as just an occasional treat — were Japanese cookies and chocolate snacks.

These bite-sized morsels were adorable — panda-shaped cookies filled with oozy strawberry filling, thimble-sized chocolate “hamburgers,” tasty biscuit sticks I’d pretend were cigarettes as I held them between two fingers, slowly nibbling them down to nubs. But my favorite was something very basic: Crisp Choco, a milk-chocolate pizza-like pie made with compacted chocolate cornflakes.

In the grand scheme of things, this snack doesn’t seem terribly sinful — it’s not a rich molten chocolate cake or mound of bacon, after all. But it was a treat that we looked forward to — one I count as a guilty pleasure I now allow myself just a few times a year.

So when my Let’s Lunch bunch decided on sharing a guilty pleasure for our virtual lunch date this month, Crisp Choco it was …

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Mexican Cottage Pie: A British Standard, Spiced Up

I have been in love with pie for as long as I can remember — crisp crust, hot filling … what’s not to adore?

My love extends far beyond traditional American apple and pumpkin pies, however — spicy (or sweet) empanadas, pot pies, shepherd’s pies, British pork pies, Singaporean fried curry puffs (which are, essentially, hand-pies) … you name it, I’ll worship it.

So I was thrilled when Lucy over at A Cook and Her Books suggested pie for this month’s theme for our Let’s Lunch virtual lunch date, which is a special one as we have a bunch of fabulous new bloggers joining our little group this month: Betty Ann at Asian in America, Margaret at Tea and Scones, Too, Naomi at The Gastro Gnome, Sara at Three Clever Sisters and Tammi at Insatiable Munchies.

What to make for this month’s lunch? I decided it had to be something pretty special to toast our new Lunchers …

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Egg-Drop Broccoli in Ginger-Miso Gravy: A Giant’s Feast

Anyone who has eaten with me understands that I generally view vegetables the same way one would dentist appointments or exercise — they’re a necessary evil.

This has long held true, and is something that has exasperated my mother since I was a child. Back then, once it was clear that threats and bribery had absolutely no power in persuading me to eat any greens, my mother wisely appealed to a different side of me: The one that (perhaps not so) secretly enjoys the idea of a good conquest.

Think of broccoli as a little tree, she said.

And so, at the dinner table, I began to imagine myself as a giant, ripping out whole trees from the ground and snarfing down clumps of leaves, then branches, before finally devouring their trunks. Destruction, obliteration — all adrenaline-pumping stuff that finally got me to clean those plates of greens.

Perhaps this could have been seen as an early sign that I might grow up to be a serial killer but, no matter. I was eating vegetables. And that was good.

I was thinking of this story when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on doing “a dish that made me eat vegetables” for this month’s virtual lunch date toasting Joe Yonan’s new cookbook “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook,” which hit bookstores this week. Congrats, Joe!

What should I cook up? Why, broccoli, of course …

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Spam Fries with Key Lime Dip: A Perfect Munchies Hit

A little bit of excitement occurred recently — I just had my first piece of fiction published in an anthology!

It’s a short story titled “Ganja Ghosts” — about, well, smoking the you know what in Singapore. And it’s appeared in a lovely book called “The Marijuana Chronicles,” edited by the brilliant artist and bestselling mystery writer Jonathan Santlofer.

In addition to Jonathan, there are stories in there by Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child and more. To say I’ve been thrilled would barely even begin to describe it. And yes, all of you should absolutely run right out now and buy a copy!

So, it seemed like a celebration was in order — and thankfully, my Let’s Lunch mates were on board. For this month’s lunch date, we decided to share our ideas for perfect “munchies” …

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Mango-Key Lime Pie: Tropical Cool

I’ve had mangoes on my mind recently. Living with a fertile mango tree in your backyard for a month in Key West will do that to you.

While I was there recently, mangoes came pelting down so frequently each day that I certainly took them for granted. There are only so many mango slices and salsas one can eat, after all.

Now that I’m back in New York City however, I’m come to rather miss that tree. So when I happened to see a display of beautiful mangoes in Brooklyn shortly after my Let’s Lunch group decided to share a “Too Hot To Cook” dish for our June virtual lunch gathering, I started thinking …

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Spicy Korean Tofu: A Nod to Asia

I haven’t had much time to cook recently, with my book deadline looming.

But one does have to eat. So recently, when I found myself having to take a quick break from writing to prep a dish for a potluck party at The Studios of Key West, I turned to an old reliable: Spicy Korean tofu.

This dish is so easy (and delicious) that I find myself making it sometimes as often as once a week. Each tofu bite is packed with the intense swirl of garlic, chili flakes, nutty sesame oil and more — it’s terrific on its own but even better over hot white rice.

Every time I’ve made it, people ask for the recipe — so when my Let’s Lunch crew decided to make a dish that honors Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month for our May virtual lunch date, I decided it was time to share it …

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Barley Water: Daffodils, Spring & An Ode to Mary

Cancer has been on my mind a fair bit recently — not too many mornings ago, I awoke to the worst news. A dear friend and longtime mentor had passed away. Another victim of breast cancer.

The world knows Mary Corey as many things — the first female editor of the Baltimore Sun, an elegant writer and intrepid reporter who covered breaking national news and fashion’s frothy runway shows with equal aplomb, a graceful leader of a major regional newsroom at a time of great tumult in journalism.

But I simply know Mary as just about the best boss anyone could have asked for — and an intensely big-hearted friend.

Mary was my editor in my years as a young features reporter — she pushed me to think big and nudged the (then) very-reluctant me into covering fashion, sparking a career path that I’m on to this day. It would be an understatement to say that I would not be the writer I am today without Mary.

By all accounts, even as cancer overtook her life, Mary remained as sunny as ever, still thinking of others above herself. That was just the way she was — big sister to everyone, no matter the circumstance.

So when my Let’s Lunch international lunch club — inspired by cancer survivor Karen at GeoFooding — decided to post a dish today inspired by spring, life and daffodils to promote cancer awareness, I jumped right in.

Mary, this one’s for you …

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Mongolian Buuz: A Perfect TV Snack

Eating in front of the telly is something that happens with some regularity in these parts.

When your partner is a super busy television critic, that tends to happen. And I’m certainly not averse to sitting down to lunch, dinner or brunch in front of the box. (A side of Downton Abbey with any meal? No problem at all.)

So when the Let’s Lunch crew decided on sharing perfect snacks for TV watching in our February posts, I knew I had to jump back in the fray.

What do we eat while watching something? Everything, really: Stews, noodles, omelettes, sandwiches. But I’ve learned that the ideal item is something compact — bite-sized and easy to pop in your mouth for a quick chew.

Which is what makes dumplings pretty much the perfect TV food …

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