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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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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Royal Seafood: A Singaporean Chinese New Year Feast

It’s difficult being far from home at the holidays — which is what makes February a trying time most years.

Living in New York, far from the Chinese new year feasts and festivities of Singapore, I always feel like I’m missing out. Thankfully, though, there was a special dinner this year — on the seventh day of the lunar new year no less. Now, the seventh day is the day that Chinese celebrate as “Ren Ri,” the day that humans were created. (According to Chinese mythology, the first life-form the goddess Nu Wa created on the first day of the year was the chicken — go figure.) And since it’s the birthday of humans, the Chinese celebrate it as everybody’s birthday.

So it seemed fitting to be heading out to a Chinese new year celebration at Royal Seafood in New York on a day that we could toast everybody’s birthday …

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River South (Hoe Nam) Prawn Noodles: Rainy Day Fukienese

Snow, biting winds, ice chips pelting my windows — last weekend’s storm in New York City has had me wondering why I don’t just throw in the towel each winter and decamp to tropical Singapore.

What has gotten me through these past few freezing, sloshy days however, is my intense memory of and cravings for Singapore noodle soups.

These are harder to find in cosmopolitan New York than you’d think. Sure, Cantonese wonton soups and Vietnamese phos are everywhere. But beefy Teochew broths spiked with star anise or rich Hainanese curried noodle soups? I actually have never seen those on menus around here.

So when the weather starts turning in New York, the cravings begin. Which is how I haven’t been able to get Hoe Nam prawn noodles out of my head …

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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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Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee: Singapore’s Best

For years, I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that the absolute best char kway teow in Singapore is over at Hill Street Fried Kway Teow

It appears, however, that I have been speaking out of turn. On a recent trip to Singapore, chef Willin Low (of the always impressive Wild Rocket restaurant) decided to correct me, putting me in his car and taking me to Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, a busy hawker center near the heart of Chinatown. Once there, we wended our way among the little stalls until we found one that had a line with more than a dozen people in it.

“Quick,” he said, shooing me to hurry over to Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee. “Get in line!”

This, apparently, was the best char kway teow in Singapore.

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Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice: Revisiting a Legend (Or Something Like It)

Few things provoke more heated and lengthy conversations in Singapore than where to find the best chicken rice in the country.

Whenever the topic of where to eat one of the city-state’s national dishes comes up, everyone has a favorite. (Mine, for the record, remains a tiny stall hidden away on the fifth floor of downtown Far East Plaza — in the 20 years that I’ve been going there, it’s never failed me.)

Among the names that pop up, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is always up there. This stall, which has been operating for years in the popular Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, is terrific, to be sure. The chicken is juicy and tender, the rice is sufficiently oily and packed with pandan, chicken fat and other flavors, and the chili sauce, zingy and divine.

Even so, it had been many years since I’d had any Tian Tian because the lines for the stall’s rice are often simply too long. So when I found out that the stall opened an outlet near my home on Singapore’s East Coast, I had to check it out …

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Gambling Rice: A Grandmother’s Tale

The food of my Singaporean grandmothers has always inspired great yearning in me.

As you’ve probably heard, this yearning was so intense that a few years ago it inspired a journey to rediscover the dishes of my girlhood in Asia, a tale that ended up forming “A Tiger in the Kitchen.”

Of all the dishes that I learned to make in my one year of cooking in Singapore, one stands out: Gambling rice. It’s a simple dish of rice cooked with Chinese mushrooms, pork belly, shallots, cabbage and more — one that my late grandmother used to whip together in her kitchen out of sheer necessity.

At a time when my family was mired in poverty, she turned her living room into an illegal gambling den. In order to keep her gamblers at the table, she started cooking for them when they got hungry — and what she made was a convenient one-bowl dish that they could easily eat as they continued to play cards.

I love the story of this dish because it says so much about my grandmother and the smarts, creativity — and business acumen — of this lady. So much that I’ve shared it with just about everyone I’ve talked to about “A Tiger in the Kitchen.”

I’d never talked about this recipe on my own blog, however. So when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on sharing a grandmother’s dish this month to fete the paperback publication of our own Patricia’s “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” — congrats, Pat! — I knew the time had come …

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Pork Giniling: A Home-Spun Fix

One thing invariably happens when I find myself wading through illness — yes, it’s a cliche, but visions of the home cooking of my girlhood start invading my few conscious thoughts.

My mother’s watercress soup, the fish congees she would set out for breakfast, even her turmeric fried chicken wings, inappropriate as they are for the bedridden — these all start to haunt me.

So when I found myself mired in a rather sad state recently, it was no surprise that all I suddenly could think about was a dish of pork slices and potatoes — sometimes with peas tossed in — swimming in a sweet and tangy tomato gravy.

Like many of the dishes I grew up with, I had taken this one for granted and never observed its execution. How it had come to be or what it was called, I had never known — it simply appeared about once a week, part of the regular rotation at Chateau Tan.

In my dismal state, I latched onto this dish as something I simply had to have. I believed it would cure me. And after some browsing, I finally learned its name — a Filipino staple called pork giniling …

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Chicken Cutlets Meunière: A Book Club Find

A lovely thing about writing a book about food: People want to feed you.

There were gifts of chocolate in both Paris and San Francisco. In Chicago, a reader showed up at my Women & Children First book signing with a box of home-made beef rendang (Indonesian-style beef curry) so tender and so delicious that I still think about it with great longing. And in Singapore, a very sweet cookbook author came to my Books Kinokuniya reading bearing a packet of fried carrot cake — so freshly cooked it was still hot! — from a hawker stall so popular you generally have to line up for half an hour just to snag a plate.

Just as thoughtful as the food offerings have been the recipes readers have shared. Some have been in their families for generations; others are more avant garde.

And among them all is a recipe so simple (and terrific) that it’s now part of my regular rotation: Chicken cutlets Meunière, gleaned from a charming little book club in New York City

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