Routines and Changes: A Recipe for Hearty Tomato Sauce

I used to think I was spontaneous. I also used to think I was an extrovert. Well, according to the Myers Briggs test I am not the latter, and after living with a super spontaneous partner-in-crime/roommate/boyfriend who is totally averse to routine, I’m decidedly not the former.

Of course, I’m not a freak robot, and I like doing fun, random things. But in my daily course of life, I’m into a bit of order. I like routine. In fact, I depend on routine- my routines- to navigate through my days. From the way I get out of bed, to the steps I take to lather and rinse and condition my hair in the shower, to the list of websites I check when I first log onto my computer. I’m telling you, there are steps for everything. Doing things out of order stresses me out a bit…are there any other Type A’s out there with me on this?

So what happens when suddenly you don’t have the energy to do things in order? What happens when some days you stay in bed until 10am, decide to skip the part in the shower where you wash your face, and leave Google Reader blogs unchecked for a few days? What happens when parts of your routine are left unattended and ignored?  What I’m asking is, when exactly do I have to pull out a brown paper lunch bag and start breathing into it?

Luckily the paper bags are still safely stored under the sink without any need for them. That’s not to say I haven’t had any minor stress attacks, but I’ve been able to deal with an adjustment of my routines with a bit of re-evaluation and a great deal of acceptance. In the almost-29 years of life, who’s to say that a little change of routine isn’t for the better? There must be some quote somewhere about change, and making one stronger, right? About routine only being for the dead? Something like that…?

That’s why the kitchen is my safe place. In the kitchen, I’ve never sacrificed the traditional or the routine, nor would I ever want to. Now that I’ve found myself back in the kitchen, in a changed way of living where I am constantly establishing new routines, I find solace in the regular chopping of vegetables for a salad or the dicing of carrots for a mirepoix. Yeah, I’m one of those crazy people who can find Zen while making 1/8 inch cubes out of vegetables.

This recipe for tomato sauce exemplifies routine. It’s my go-to sauce, for spaghetti paired with meatballs, for a rich and hearty vegetable lasagna, a base for homemade pizzas, and in general one I keep in the freezer for a quick and easy dinner. It’s rich and tangy and filling and is easy to prep. It’s now a no-brainer recipe for me, where I can go on auto-pilot to make the sauce. I even mull over the same set of optional ingredients that I must contemplate whether to throw in (mushrooms, yes or no? Garlic scapes, yay or nay?). Where I am now trying to adjust all my routines outside of the kitchen, it’s nice to know there are some basics that I can always go back that make me feel normal and grounded. I hope you can somehow make it part of your routine, too.

Hearty Tomato Sauce


  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 leek- whites and greens, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, finely finely diced into cubes
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • optional: 4-5 cremini mushrooms, 2 garlic scapes, tomatoes that have been sitting on the counter for too long….
  • 1 14 oz. can peeled whole tomatoes
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp. sage
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  1. In a nonstick or cast iron 5-qt. pot, sautee the onions and leeks for 4 minutes on med-high heat until soft. Add carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook for 5-7 more minutes, stirring constantly. If using other vegetables, add them into the pot at this time and cook for a few more minutes.
  2. Add canned whole tomatoes and tomato paste into pot, bringing down heat to medium. When the tomato sauce begins to simmer, add brown sugar, butter, spices, and a teaspoon or two of salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to a simmer and cover. Turn down heat to low and allow to cook for 30-45 minutes.
  4. Take the sauce off the burner and let cool for 5-10 minutes. In a blender or using an immersion blender, puree sauce until smooth.
  5. Use as you like.

Yield: 6-8 servings, enough for 2 lasagnas, or a few pizzas.

Yakushi Pearl Factory

On the Eastern edge of Guangzhou lies Yakushi Pearl Factory, a first-generation owned corporation from Japan. I took a group trip one Saturday, to see how fresh water pearls are harvested, shaped, sorted, and strung.

The Yakushi factory sources its pearls from oyster farms throughout the Yangtze River Valley. For our tour group purposes, we got to witness a few opened in the small pond in front of the factory building.

Did you know fresh water oysters grow upwards of 20 pearls per oyster? This one, pictured above, has grown five years to produce pearls of this size.

The Yakushi factory supplies pearls to big brands such as Tiffany and Cartier (now you know why I woke up on Saturday morning to go to a pearl factory). Only a few pearls from each oyster pass through Yakushi’s strict standards.

The pearls at this factory don’t go through any dye or coloration processes, only the occasional minimal, and standard, bleaching for white pearls. No one knows the exact reason for the natural color of pearls from each oyster, but it is most likely a combination of water pH, temperature, age, and other natural factors.

Look at all the pretty colors!!

The inside of the factory is as cold as the temperature outside. Workers wear slippers inside, so we too take off our shoes and change into factory-supplied slippers. Haute Japanese!

Workers are split into different rooms. In one room they are sorting pearls, in another they are drilling small holes, and in yet another the pearls are individually strung by hand. The factory is remarkably silent, as each worker whittles away at their jobs in absolute peace. It was remarkable seeing so many pearls in one place, and the workers patiently stringing each strand by hand.

Before we left, we were able to visit the showroom, where the factory had on display some beautiful strands of pearls. Let’s just say, the trip was well worth the visit for many in the group!

Red Remedies

After the first couple of visits to the doctor, “rest” was all that was prescribed. Much to my drug-desperate pleas, I took her advice with serious action, not venturing out of the house for more than one hour at a time. When I finally felt well enough to move about the house, I took my mother’s prescription for some kitchen remedies, and made myself one large pot of Chicken soup and one pot of red bean soup.

Unlike the dried legumes of the Western World, Red Beans (红豆 or, adzuki beans in Japanese) are more commonly found in desserts than in any savory form. Boiled down and cooked with sugar, red bean is traditionally found in paste-form, stuffed into fluffy white pastry doughs in China or chewy unctuous mochis in Japan. In Taiwan, red beans are often cooked down in soups for an equally homeopathetic and sweet delight.

According to Dr. Mom, red foods such as red beans and dried chinese dates should be eaten to boost a person’s blood. Blood supply? Blood levels? Blood cell count? Who knows, the Chinese just say blood. So when she heard that my white blood cell count came back surprisingly low in my initial blood tests, her first reaction was to order me to make myself a pot of red bean soup. So much for sticking around the house and getting some rest, huh?

This soup might not be for everyone. If you’re like a lot of people I know, the thought of sweet beans might make you gag. Personally though, to me this soup is comforting and appealing. It can be enjoyed hot or cold, depending on the weather outside or your mood, as a snack or a dessert. It’s extremely simply, and can be plain (like the recipe I provided) or spiced up with additional ingredients, like the red chinese dates that I added, too. And according to Mom, it can cure ailments.

Chinese Red Bean Soup


  • 1 cup dried red beans
  • 1 medium piece of rock sugar (or, 1/4 cup brown sugar)
  • water, for soaking and boiling


  1. Soak red beans in water overnight, or for a minimum of 4 hours.
  2. Add red beans, sugar, and about 4 cups water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat to low, stir a few times, and cover, letting the soup simmer for 1-2 hours. Add water for a soupier soup, or let it simmer down for less. Taste for sweetness, adding sugar to suit your tastes.
  3. Enjoy hot, or allow to cool and refrigerate for a cold snack.


Rest and Recovery

The DiploMan and I were walking through a new part of town on a Friday evening two months ago, exploring and catching up on our respective busy weeks. I was finally getting to a point of living in China where I was feeling useful, busy, productive, and getting my sh*t taken care of. I had been out of the house all day and hadn’t eaten much, and by 6pm my stomach was begging to be filled. I felt like I was coming down with something anyway, and knew that not being fed was not going to make me very pleasant company to be around. I picked a random noodle restaurant, and wolfed down a satisfying bowl of pork noodles while B listened to a podcast.

I finished reading The Good Earth the other day, a story about success and failure and success, among other things. The lead character Wang Lung often finds himself with good fortune, then promptly berates himself for being satisfied with it. It’s a common Chinese characteristic- downplaying happiness and luck- but it’s one that might not be such as bad idea.

My personal satisfaction that evening followed by a weekend of intense stomach cramps which then followed by weeks of mysterious flu-like symptoms, with back aches and fatigue so severe that I could barely get out of bed. Now two months, a handful of visits to the doctor, multiple blood tests, one urine sample (no baby in my belly, thank goodness), $400 in non-insurance covered bills, an estimated 50 baths, and 20 pounds later, I’m finally back to feeling somewhat like a normal human being (albeit, a weak one). I’m also finally back to working, blogging, and finally, eating.

Because for the last two months, I’ve been turned off of food.

Did you just gasp? It’s okay, I’m still in disbelief, even though it happened before my very eyes, and my very stomach. At first it was the fatigue that kept me out of the kitchen and away from meals, then it was the loss of appetite, then simply the lack of strength to even visit the market. I watched as friends got together and laughed and toasted over huge meals and full beers. I laughed outside, but was so sad inside. I watched as B gained the weight that I lost (kidding, sort of). I watched as our fridge stayed empty and my bowls frustratingly full. I finally fulfilled my curiosity of what it would be like to be someone who has no interest in food, someone who could contentedly each plain tuna sandwiches (on white) every day for dinner. Let me tell you, it’s what I thought- absolutely no fun at all.

What I have/had is still a mystery, although most signs point to some debilitating ulcer. Thinking that ulcers only happened to 50-year old white men (and my friend Tony), I looked it up on Wikipedia. Whereas ulcers were previously diagnosed as a symptom of stress, it turns out it can also be strictly bacteria-related. Meaning, although the doctor has never diagnosed it, I’m thinking that streetside bowl of noodles did much more than satiate my ravenous hunger that evening. I guess a year of living in China and bragging about my stomach made of steel finally caught up to me.

There is a photo of an ulcer on the Wikipedia page, and it looks like an alien life form. Gross.