Chinese New Year: A lesson on how to eat a year’s worth of luck

Chinese New Year falls on Sunday, February 10 this year, when we kick off the year of the snake. Snake personalities are known to be acute, cunning, aware, proud, vain, and vicious at times. My mother was a snake, so besides the fact that my teenage years represented an era of nonstop nuclear warfare in our house, I appreciate this cycle of the Chinese Zodiac much more than most.

I’m ready to kick off this lunar year in DC right, then. There are certain foods one must eat during Chinese New Year to bring in luck for the home and the family, and to be frank, for oneself. And though the New Year is a one-day holiday, celebrations often extend for a week before and after – which means a lot of eating potential. While it seems like every single foodstuff has a corresponding symbolic meaning in the Chinese culture , I’ve selected a list of 8 the most symbolic foods to eat over the holiday, where to find some of their best iterations throughout the city, plus why exactly you’ll be eating them in the first place.

eel noodles


We here in DC look to cities like LA and NY with ramen envy. So instead of that brothy, porky, noodly combo, let’s stretch our imaginations and parla Italiano for a second. Legend has it that Marco Polo brought the concept of spaghetti to Italy via China, so we’ll play that card here. DC has no shortage of Italian gems, but this year’s standout has got to be Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola.  If you haven’t heard of Fiola yet this year, you’ve got to be living in China or something.

Noodles are a symbol of longevity. The longer, the better. So order up some spaghetti, bucatini, or fettucine on Fiola’s menu, and leave that short stubby orecchiete stuff for another day.

market fish

Whole Fish

Thank you Chesapeake Bay, for your abundance of seafood. Thank you for your oysters,  your crabs, your whiting and your hake. Thank you for providing the folks here in DC with an orchestra of tasty delights from your waters. Finally, thank you, Farmers Fishers Bakers, for opening this past year and bringing us the most sustainable of your daily catch.

In Chinese, the word for fish is a homanym for abundance, and symbolizes just that.  Traditionally fish is served steamed, always whole – representing prosperity for the whole year, from head to tail. 



It’s winter. Where do you think you’re getting fresh peaches around here? Now’s the time to look for the little sugary fruits baked into pies! Dangerous Pies DC, with it’s rock star mentality and hand made pies, is serving up both sweet and savory desserts as a part of H Street’s growing food scene. If you can’t get out to H Street, don’t fret. – Dangerous Pies is now going mobile, bringing a bit more abundance of goodness to my stomach, and unfortunately, my thighs too.

Peaches are often brought as housewarming gifts, as ancestral offerings, or displayed in the home, symbolic of youth and eternal longevity. China is the number one producer of peaches in the world. 



Mmmmm… little packets of meats and veggies wrapped in a thick fluffy dough. Hey now, we may be stretching our imaginations for a bit, but isn’t the empanada, like, the dumpling of South America? Check out DC empanada’s new outpost at Union Market, with a rotating menu ready to please all senses. Favorites include the WMD- Weapon of Mass Deliciousness (Chili and cheese), the The Badass (Buffalo chicken and blue cheese), and the Tio Shawn (black beans, rice, cheese, chipotle). Yes, that last one’s vegetarian, but yes, it’s tasty and a personal favorite.

Traditional dumplings resemble the ancient golden nuggets used as currency in medieval China, and are symbolic for wealth and prosperity. Mo’ dumplings mo’ money (I think this expression just might catch on).

chinese candies


That Georgetown Cupcake line don’t lie, we Washingtonians need our sugar fix. Rather that a cupcake though, I’d rather indulge in the cupcake’s daintier little sister, the macaron. This French staple has officially arrived thanks to DC Patisserie. Indulgent enough to pass for a special-holiday treat, plus small enough to pop a few at a time, the macaron is the perfect sweet treat.

Sweet desserts for a sweet year. Though the Chinese don’t often have an abundance of sweets and desserts in their cuisine, the New Year is a time when they roll up their sleeves and pull a few tricks out from their sleeves. Tiny red-wrapper candies are passed out to kids, and cakes and tarts are baked for dinners and parties.


Tangerines and Oranges

To balance out your new diet of empanadas, pies, and macarons, maybe a little something fresh would be appropriate. Thankfully little clementines are the winter darling of the produce world. I’m always searching to get my hands on a little extra Vitamin C in the wintertime, and popping a few of these for an afternoon snack do just the trick. Korean grocer giant H-Mart carries these by the carton, and for cheap. That’s some good fortune for both you and your wallet.

In Chinese, the word tangerine sounds a lot like the word ‘luck’. Additionally, oranges represent abundance. So pairing a bowl of oranges along with tangerines, means you’ll have abundant luck. Even better, the more leaves that are on the tangerines the better – those symbolize life and longevity! You know, in case eating those noodles didn’t do the trick.

red beans and dates

Nien Gao

A dessert with dates and beans? Hey, I warned you earlier, the Chinese don’t really do sweets and desserts. But actually the floating red dates and sweet red beans suspended in glutinous rice flour is actually…well, quite good. You know who does glutinous rice and sweet red bean paste better than the Chinese, though? The Japanese, and their mochi (though, I might be starting WWIII with this statement). Tiny little Hana Market, tucked on a corner of U street adjacent to a fire station, is one of the only authentic Asian markets in the district, and a good one at that. Stocked from floor to ceiling with hundreds of varieties of Japanese goods, you can find mochi in their refrigerated cases.

Nien Gao is another homonym for good luck – actually meaning “sticky cake”, it can also mean ‘high year’. All over china and beyond, Chinese eat this dessert for the new year to bring a tall order of good fortune in the new year. I personally eat it with high hopes that in the future, I won’t find the Chinese language so damn confusing.

stir fry at home

Stir Fry with 10 Vegetables

Both my parents reminisce of their childhood New Year dinners, when there was always a big plate of 10-vegetable stir fry on the table. Every Year. My mom fondly recalls her father meticulously chopping vegetables the whole day into paper-thin slices, specifically for this dish. Traditionally made with ingredients such as pickled mustard greens, lotus root, fresh bamboo, bean sprouts, and shiitake mushrooms, it’s a light respite that is welcome during feasts of rich seafood and meat. For this one, I say visit a local DC farmers market to pick out the 10 best ingredients, and make your own seasonal, lucky stir fry. Onions, cabbage, parsnips, celery, tofu, bean sprouts, parsley, leeks, mushrooms, and carrots sounds like a great wintery combo to me. To the farmers market I go!

The number 10 represents completeness, and having 10 vegetables serves a purpose of being fulfilled in family and life. Plus this one hits close to home, which is good a reason as any to eat a dish.


So there you have it: Eight foods you should be eating these next few weeks, and where you’ll find their best versions in DC. And oh yeah, eight is very lucky in the Chinese culture, because it sounds like the Chinese word for “prosperity” or “wealth”. So yeah, it’s confirmed that we Chinese are pretty superstitious mofo’s looking for luck everywhere we can.

Girl Meets Food…meets me

Hey guys, this weekend is looking bright and sunny in DC. The Niners are making a run for the Superbowl this Sunday, it’s a Holiday on Monday, PLUS the Inauguration is filling the town with all sorts of events and fun stuff for visitors and locals alike. Go! Get out! Have some fun this weekend!

GMF logo

Or if you decide to hole up, then take a click on over to check out Girl Meets Food, an irreverent and witty guide to DC’s dining and lifestyle scene. I’ll be contributing to their already rockstar roster of writers starting….well, starting soon! I’m on it, I promise!!

Happy Weekending!

Pen Pals

There’s something I just signed myself up for…

letters from China

I know that rarely is there something good to end this sentence. Maybe you’re a scientologist because once upon a time, you signed up for free pencils on campus as an undergrad. Or maybe, you’re on a lifelong mailing list for shake weight promotions because you signed up for a gym membership. Or maybe you’ve accidentally endorsed North Korea because you thought you signed up for the mailing list for a hot new restaurant in Amsterdam. But I swear, this time I really think I’ve stumbled across something fun.

Because, what’s more fun than giving, and better yet – receiving!?

I’ve had a few pen pals in my lifetime. Correspondance was so sweet but every so fleeting, arranged only by the teachers I had in my elementary school. Frankly, looking back, I wasn’t a great pen pal…all I talked about were my cats and playing soccer. Way to reel in your audience, Jessie. Sheesh.

China mall

remembering back to a time when going to a mall meant facing behemoths such as this.


So this time, I’m looking forward to making a new, real connection with someone. And receiving a little international present in the mail.  Now off to brainstorm what I’ll be sending off from the states. I do know that Trader Joe’s chocolate chips are worth their weight in gold overseas…

If you or your spouse is in the FS, you should definitely click on over and add yourself to the roster!


Asparagus Soup

Asparagus tips

What do you do when life hands you three bunches of slightly wilting, less-than-super-fresh asparagus?

Asparagus Soup

You make asparagus soup, of course.

It’s also helpful that you use your new blender, that it’s cold and dreary outside, and you have a friend that you can gift a quart to.

Asparagus Soup

  • 3 bunches asparagus, trimmed (roughly 1.5 lbs.)
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1/2 leek
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 3 oz. salt pork/cured ham/Virginia ham
  • 4 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
  • 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper

Trim asparagus and cut into 2-inch pieces. Set aside.

Dice onion, leeks (white and green parts), and celery. In a medium pot, heat olive oil on high. Sautee onions for approx. 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add leeks and celery. Mince garlic clove and dice ham into small cubes and add to pot as well. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occassionally.

Add asparagus into the pot, and cook for 5-6 more minutes. Turn off heat and remove pot from the stove. Very carefully, scoop asparagus into a blender and add 2 cups of vegetable stock. Blend on high for about a minute.

Transfer soup to a clean pot. Add two more cups of stock and heavy cream. Stir well. Add lemon, then salt and pepper to taste. Bring soup to a simmer on low, and let cook slowly for 10 minutes.

Serve hot (amazing with fresh croutons and creme fraiche). Or allow to cool slightly, then store in airtight containers.

yield: 3 quarts, or 6-8 servings


Kale salad: Eating well and cooking well

Last night I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which chronicles master sushi chef Jiro Ono and his tiny 10-seat sushi only restaurant located in the basement level of a Tokyo highrise in the bustling Ginza business district. Have you seen it? You should.

Also of note, I watched via Amazon Prime, for which after living in China I will forever be grateful for fast internet speeds.

Jiro Ono

The movie is, to put it rather simply, a spotlight on one aging man’s lifelong quest for gastronomic perfection. Jiro’s 85-year-old, tortoise-like face exudes wisdom in every expression, even the nods that he gives. There’s much praise for his 3-star Michelin rated restaurant, given throughout the movie, but there’s also some fairly sad bits to the story as well. Like when he talks about how he wasn’t really around much for either of his two sons’ childhoods, or when the movie takes a turn and is suddenly more about how his elder son, working by his father’s side for the last 30 or so years, will seemingly never receive the praise that he deserves.


But through it all the main message of the movie is clear: the quest for perfection in food and art is a lifelong pursuit. It requires work and lots of passion. It perfectly exemplifies a lot of traditional Japanese culture: a dedication towards art and appearance, the mastery of organization and cleanliness, a lifelong pursuit of perfection, as well as sacrifice…all in the name of work.

Food films always hit a sweet spot in me, and one line particularly stood out. About twenty minutes into the short 80 minute film, Jiro says

“In order to make exceptional food, you must eat exceptional food”

Gahhhh! So simple, but such a bold statement. Jiro goes on to explain that one must hone ones sense of taste in order to know what good food is. He continues, saying that if your taste is subpar, how will you be able to impress your customer?

kale salad

I really love this idea, that you can only learn by doing.

It’s no happenstance that people will indulge their senses for things they are passionate about. Those who are in the fittest of shape exercise daily. The greatest artists are the ones who attend every art opening. Those who are scientific geniuses (like my Dad) study up on the most up-to-date sciences, and are constantly reading and learning (my Dad took a Molecular Biology class through a local Extension when I was taking Biology in High School, simply because my curriculum made him miss it. I got a C in the class, and I’m sure he aced his). Those who are great cooks love good food and restaurants.

close-up kale salad

With regard to eating, in our American culture, we are taught restraint at the dinner table. As a mass, we tend towards gluten allergies, peanut allergies, fruit allergies, and dairy allergies. We moderate our habits and try not to look like a pig at dinner parties. We gladly eat the meatiest parts of animals but often discard the fat, bones, and gelatinous particulars. And gosh, I’m certainly guilty: I cleansed over Christmas!

I’ve never met a chef or cook who didn’t like to eat, or who practiced self-restraint at any meal. Frankly, a lof of cooks don’t practice restraint in many things, which is one reason I like them. Others I meet who are deeply involved and committed in the food industry and to food service are the same way – give them a tasting menu and they’re happy, tell them to eat anything and they’ll do it (or, at least consider it).

I’m a good cook, sure, but there’s always room to improve. I’m always looking to make new recipes and better the ones in my stable. Taking Jiro’s advice, I guess I’d better keep eating well. That’s certainly some advice I don’t mind following.

(movie images c/o NY Times and

side view kale salad

Kale Salad

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 lemon
  • 1-2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 apple – gala or fuji work best, but any kind is ok.
  • 1 bulb fennel
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper
  1. Rinse kale thoroughly and remove the tough stems and ribs. Cut kale leaves into thin, 1/8-inch ribbons. Thinly slice red onion (preferably using a mandoline). Toss with kale in a large bowl, and squeeze the juice of an entire lemon. Add a liberal dose of salt. Cover bowl, and set in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours (or more, even leaving it overnight will be fine).
  2. Take the kale out of the fridge and toss with your hands. Squeeze excess liquid from kale and transfer to another bowl. Slice apples and fennel into thin matchsticks (again, using a mandoline works best). Dress salad with extra-virgin olive oil, and some fresh pepper. Taste, and salt again if necessary. Add almonds and toss.
  3. Serve immediately, or cover and chill in fridge until ready to serve.

yield: 3-4 servings

Big News

Hi everyone, I’m so so so excited this morning to share with you a bit of news that’s been in the works for awhile (no, I’m not pregnant, mom).

It’s the Honest Cooking tablet magazine!!

honest cooking cover

A little more than a year ago I started contributing to the Honest Cooking website, a forum for food writers and bloggers from around the world to share fun recipes and interesting food stories. Last summer, it was announced that Honest Cooking would be releasing a food magazine – and all contributing writers were welcome to submit. Up until that point, I had been working on writing pieces for relatively unknown expat magazines and tiny blogs. Somehow I had to get serious about turning writing into a career, and here was the perfect opportunity.

I pitched two pieces, one of which got picked up. Truth be told, I think I was on the B-team, as the email received told me that someone else had backed out and I was chosen to fill in last minute. The email asked if I could do it.

cosentino article feature

Umm, let’s see. Fly back to California last minute for four days, spending half of what I would make for the article, to make a deadline that was due within a week? YES, PLEASE!

Half a year later, I’m so excited to report that my work is in print – er, on the screen. The tablet magazine was released today, and it’s 100 pages of glorious food stories – about rogue artisans, local craftsmen, international cuisines, and nitty gritty profiles, all testaments to why food and dining rock.

Download the tablet magazine, FOR FREE, in the Apple iTunes store today!

Also click here to check out all the images from my trip to the orchard!