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chapter 3: family (lots of pics)

Recipe: wonton soup

My trip to San Francisco was originally intended just for BlogHer Food 2010. When I checked my calendar to book my flight, I realized the following week was my dad’s birthday and my grandma’s birthday. I drummed my fingers on my desk – could I afford the time to hang out for ten days or should I fly back home and then back to the bay area? The wheels began to turn and I quickly formulated a plan checking with my parents, my aunt, my grandma, and Jeremy. For my father’s 70th birthday, I’d take him on a tour of wine country as his designated driver. Dad likes it when I make all of the plans and arrangements, and that’s exactly what I did. Mom isn’t a big drinker, so Jeremy joined us to taste wines with my dad. My parents love Jeremy. He is the perfect Chinese son-in-law, except for the fact that he isn’t Chinese.


wine tasting

one of several vineyards we visited

jeremy checks out the room’s balcony at the hotel healdsburg



Our first stop was Jordan Winery just outside of Healdsburg in Sonoma Valley. I’ll talk more about Jordan in a later post, but it was a gorgeous introduction to Sonoma’s wine country. It was also blazing guns hot – in the 90s! If ever my dad doubted my love, enduring this heat should be proof enough :) After visiting a few other wineries, we drove into town. I adore Healdsburg. I had such a lovely time last year that I wanted to share it with my parents and Jeremy on this special occasion. We stayed at the luxurious Hotel Healdsburg for the night where they leave you a bottle of local wine (and in this case, local is freaking awesome) in the afternoon, the staff come in and turn down your bed and leave freshly baked cookies… and the wifi is not only FREE, but it WORKS. That evening, we had dinner at Dry Creek Kitchen to celebrate dad’s birthday week.

patio dining at dry creek kitchen

chef’s tasting menu

toasting dad’s 70th



We had the chef’s six course tasting menu and for the most part, it was exceptionally executed. The only real disappointment was the final main course – the American Kobe beef. A good deal of my cut was gristly and rather unpleasant, which is a shame. Having had Kobe beef on several occasions at The Flagstaff House, I came to appreciate just how awesome Boulder’s own restaurants are. My dad commented as much too. I think my parents are sold on Boulder (full double rainbow all the way). Dry Creek Kitchen’s service was impeccable and overall I think everyone had a truly delightful time.

seared hawaiian ahi tataki

roasted sugar pie pumpkin soup

butternut squash ravioli

lemon-marinated petrale sole

american kobe flat iron

spice cake

warm valrhona chocolate cake



After a good night’s sleep (those beds are like clouds) we took a stroll around town before setting off toward Napa Valley. Jeremy and I mapped out the vineyards to visit based on our route, some of my dad’s preferences, and the encyclopedic recommendations that Lisa emailed me a few months ago. The pleasant drive along California highway 128 from Healdsburg to Calistoga rolls through picturesque hills of wine country. My dad’s favorite aspect of wine tasting is… the wine. My favorite part of the wine tasting is walking around the grounds of the nicer vineyards (some are better than others, to be sure). I let Dad decide if he wanted to sit down to lunch or pick up some goodies from Dean and Deluca in St. Helena. He opted for a baguette, pâté, and cheese from Dean and Deluca and we circled back to Beringer Vineyards to get a nice bottle of wine.

i had to take them by seghesio family vineyards before leaving healdsburg

driving from sonoma valley to napa valley

so neat to visit wine country during the crush

wow, that is huge

chateau montelena winery

at beringer vineyards



Dad was happy. Very happy. He fell asleep in the car as we drove south. I thought about all the years that I fretted over what to get my dad for his birthday. It’s like that with my parents – I can’t buy them things because they either get what they need or don’t want more stuff. So to plan for and take him on a trip into wine country was something I could finally do for my dad that I think he really enjoyed. In fact, I know he enjoyed it because he mentioned something about how he liked having me drive him around and that we should do more trips like this in the future. Okay, well… good thing he doesn’t turn 70 every day ;)

We returned to San Jose just in time to meet up with Grandma and two of my aunts for dinner. Jeremy had to fly home for the day job while everyone else was starting to arrive for the two birthday banquets – my dad’s and my grandma’s. When my family gets together, we eat… and eat… and eat. It’s suuuuuch a Chinese thing. The first thing we did after I picked my parents up from the airport in San Francisco was head to a Sichuan restaurant for lunch. We bond over food.


a big spicy sichuan lunch

cantonese dinner

beef noodle soup, congee, shredded pressed soybean curd sheets, and other goodies (lunch)

everyone grabs a slice of hot scallion pancake (another lunch)



It’s a little surreal hanging out with my family. We’re always celebrating someone’s birthday. Dad turned 70 and Grandma turned 89. Those are big numbers. But when you look at them, look at my family, they all seem remarkably young for their ages. Good genes, I’m telling you. I remember what they were like when I was a little kid and to be honest, they haven’t changed all that much. But time moves in one direction and as I grow older, I know they won’t be there forever and so I cherish these moments. Grandma said next year is going to be extra special, because my cousin turns 20, my other cousin turns 30, I turn 40, my uncle turns 60, my mom turns 70 and Grandma will be 90. Grandma told me the Chinese like those round numbers. I told her I like her.

On Dad’s actual birthday, we had a 10-course banquet at Dynasty Seafood Restaurant in Cupertino (thanks again to Lisa for her outstanding recommendations). The dishes were: Chinese cold appetizers, shark fin soup (hey, I did not pick the menu), crab balls, stir-fried scallops, Peking duck, abalone, lobster, smoked sea bass, special noodles, and peach buns. They weren’t real peach buns, they were steamed sweet buns with lotus seed paste shaped like peaches – shou tao or longevity buns. The food was terrific. My favorites were the duck (I always love duck) and the sea bass.


four beautiful women: my mom and my three aunts

stir-fried scallops

peking duck

happy 70th birthday, daddy!



The next day was Grandma’s birthday, so we had yet another banquet that evening at Chef Chu in Palo Alto. I know you’re wondering how it is that we can all keep eating like this. The only explanation I can come up with is that we expend a lot of energy shouting Chinese at one another. It’s exhausting! Grandma’s banquet menu included: an incredible plate of Chinese appetizers, lobster special noodles, Hunan tofu, mustard green hearts, some kind of beef (seriously, I lost track), miso sea bass, and tapioca taro root soup for dessert (in addition to a mango-raspberry mousse cake). The best part of the evening was seeing my mom and my grandma smiling so much.

delectable plate of chinese appetizers (the pickled cukes were the best!)

you’d never guess my grandma turned 89

lobster noodles

a chinese birthday isn’t complete without a *crazy* birthday candle



The following morning, most of us shipped off to our various corners of the country and I felt that pang in my heart whenever I leave my parents or my grandma. I think it comes from those feelings of being a kid when these adults were around to care for you and make everything right. I’m an adult now and I still get those warm fuzzies remembering how I used to go for afternoon walks with Grandma or when Mom would hold me in her arms when I was sick until I fell asleep. But when I come home to Jeremy, his gentle embrace has a similar effect on me. And when I open the front door and Kaweah bounds around me, sniffing and licking my pants (I know, she’s an odd dog) because she’s so excited to see me – I see it is the progression of family and I’m grateful for that. Also… I noticed that the heat wave in California broke the day I left. Thanks a lot.

my aunt, grandma, and mom



Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I’m always busiest right before a trip. That’s because I plan ahead for Future Me. I clean the house, and prepare for the day I return from my trip. I always think to myself that if I were to die on my trip, that would totally be wasted effort. But I still do it. I can’t help it. So before my trip to California, I was busy making wontons. Not for Jeremy to eat while I was away (I made plenty of food for him), but for when I came back so I wouldn’t have to cook because I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to dine out. What I realized was that I hadn’t blogged soup wontons before – I had only fried them.

wonton wrappers, pork filling, and little dippy bowl of water at the ready!

chopsticks are far easier than a spoon for filling the wonton skin



Unlike the fried wontons which had a shrimp filling, these are pork wontons. The reason I like wontons is because I find it mentally acceptable to purchase wonton wrappers and so it is super easy to make heaps of them. Dumplings are another matter. I cannot buy dumpling wrappers. Physically impossible for me. I have to make them from scratch and that is a bit of a commitment.

moisten the edges

pinch the top together



These wontons pretty much assemble like the fried wontons. Choose your filling as you like, just don’t overstuff the wontons because they will break apart when you cook them. I find a heaping teaspoon of filling works for the standard wonton wrapper. Seal them well by pinching the edges together all along the sides. Then fold the little arms over and pinch that together too.

seal the edges

give the wonton a little attitude, yo!



Soup wontons are a lot less messy than fried wontons because you boil them in liquid. I usually boil some chicken broth and then plop the wontons into the boiling liquid. I used to think when they floated they were done cooking, but if you have air pockets in your wontons, they can float before the filling is cooked through. Give it a few minutes and cut one open to be sure (especially if you made pork or chicken wontons). If you don’t like how cloudy your broth gets when you boil your wontons, you could boil the wontons separately in a pot of water then drain them and add them to hot broth. I don’t bother with that extra step.

it’s like they’re judging me

woohoo – hot tubbin’!



Present Day Me was really thankful that Past Me thought of making wontons ahead of time. I froze them on a baking sheet until they were no longer sticky and placed them in a ziploc bag in the freezer. They took longer to cook through (I gave them a good 10 minutes) because they were frozen, but the wonton soup really hit the spot as our evening temperatures dip closer to freezing. And any time I eat dumplings or wontons, it reminds me of my family.

tender and delicate wontons



Wonton Soup
[print recipe]

1 pkg wonton skins (I like Denver Tofu brand wonton skins – about 45)
1 lb. of dumpling filling (pork filling, shrimp filling, or shrimp chive filling – whatever you like!)
little bowl of water
4 quarts chicken broth
scallions, sliced thin (for garnish)

Plop a teaspoon of filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper. Using your finger, wet the edges of half of the wonton skin. Fold the wrapper in half on the diagonal and press the edges together. Push any air pockets out when you seal it. Wet one of the bottom corners and fold the wings in front of the wonton so that they cross at the corners. Press the corners together. Heat 2 or 4 quarts of the chicken broth in a pot until boiling (depending on the size of your pot). Add the wontons to the broth and let it return to a boil. Make sure not to crowd the wontons. If it’s a medium saucepan, then cook a dozen or so at a time. If it’s a large pot, cook 2 dozen or more. When the wontons float to the top, they are done. Sprinkle scallions in each bowl and ladle soup and wontons over the scallions. Serve immediately. Makes ~ 40 wontons. To freeze: place wontons on a baking sheet (make sure they aren’t touching) and set in freezer for 20 minutes or until the wonton wrappers are no longer soft. Put the wontons in a ziploc bag and freeze for up to a month. To cook, place frozen wontons in boiling broth (or water) and cook until the filling is done – should take several minutes longer than when you boil fresh wontons.

44 nibbles at “chapter 3: family (lots of pics)”

  1. Esther says:

    That is hilarious, I never realized they were giving me the attitude but now that you’ve pointed it out, it’s so obvious, haha!

  2. Wei-Wei says:

    Hahaha I was about to say the same thing as Esther! Times with family is always so fun, no? I love the Chinese-ness of it all. So lovely :)

  3. LimeCake says:

    i love how wonton soup is so homey and comforting. just add some egg noodles and the stars align!

  4. Gali says:

    Your family does look young! It’s rather amazing.

    It’s kind of funny that your description of family get togethers and birthdays could be transposed to Ukrainian families. Alas I live too far away from pretty much everyone in the family to see them often but when we do get together it’s bonding time over food.

  5. julie ferrell says:

    Jen, your parents haven’t changed a bit – and no gray hair on your dad! Happy birthday to him. Lovely photos as always. xo

  6. Kristin says:

    Lovely post in so many ways. Haven’t been to Sonoma because we’re really not into wine, but may have to go for the scenery & food.

  7. The Little Teochew says:

    The wontons – beautiful! Your GRANDMA – STUNNING!!

  8. Trish says:

    How absolutely lovely. I really envy you that your family is so young, at least compared to mine. I am 45, and my mom just turned 88 (I’m the youngest of a large family). I think grandparents are just about the best thing in life, wish that mine had been younger so I could have enjoyed them for longer.

  9. chinese grandma says:

    your post made me homesick for the bay area and my family. when we go out with my parents, it’s almost always dynasty (occasionally we go crazy and have korean food). next time try the dim sum; it’s outstanding. gorgeous photos and family – thanks for sharing.

  10. schlachtplatte says:

    If it didn’t already exist, the word “lady” would have to be invented for your grandma!
    I spend a wonderful vacation in California this summer and I can’t wait to go there again!

  11. Kathy says:

    Your Grandma, Father, Mother and Aunts all look wonderfully vibrant. I am glad you were all able to spend this special time with them.

  12. tami says:

    what a wonderful post, jen! so glad you got to have that trip and that experience with your family :) as for the soup…you KNOW how I feel about soup…and making my own wontons seems totally possible. i’ll be making this for myself :) xoxo

  13. Bridget says:

    Yeah, Future Me is really demanding of me, too. Future Me insists that the dishwasher be emptied before work, and that the kitchen be scrubbed before bed, and that the house be cleaned before vacation, etc. I think both Present and Future Me will be demanding some wonton soup though.

    Seventy! I can’t believe your parents are seventy (or almost there, in your mom’s case). They look twenty years younger than that.

  14. Kristina W says:

    I have the same trouble with gifts for my father, and a wine tasting would be a splendid way we could both spend time doing something we love together. Your family looks wonderful (and so young-looking…89? Really?) Thanks for the recipe; I cannot wait to try it.

  15. Jean says:

    My goodness your pictures are beautiful. This post made me kinda weepy too. Much continued health and happiness to your wonderful family, old and new.

  16. Ashley says:

    Your family is so beautiful! Thanks for sharing all those gorgeous photos. I always over-think my presents to my parents also. You have inspired me to give them an experience. And what a glorious experience you created for your dad!

  17. Jamie in Vegas says:

    Another home-run-of-a-post, Jen. Wow.

  18. Allison says:

    That heatwave after BlogHer Food was ridiculous! But now that it’s cold and rainy in both Northern and Southern California… this looks SO perfect. I think I may have to make this in the next few days… and I should make another batch of your dumplings again soon too. :)

  19. ladygeiger says:

    Amazing! I thought I was the only person who wrapped my wonton that way! Beats the ‘scrumple it up into a ball’ method anyday! They look delicious! xxx

  20. Ali says:

    omg, Jen. So much beautiful Chinese food! I have to go to San Fran.

  21. Kat says:

    This is a great post, loved reading it! All the food… ohh. I need to make that wonton soup! :)

  22. Debbie Cunningham says:

    I have to say that this has been my favorite entry that I’ve read so far (granted I haven’t been reading very long). I so totally enjoyed reading about your trip and your family and, of course, the food. Pics, as usual, were awesome. :) I’m recovering from surgery so I can’t sit at the computer for too long. I would come in and read in dribs and drabs throughout the day and it really made me smile. And you’re right. Your family is aging EXCEPTIONALLY well!!

    My favorite line: “My parents love Jeremy. He is the perfect Chinese son-in-law, except for the fact that he isn’t Chinese.” LOL!! But what is it that makes the perfect Chinese son-in-law? Inquiring minds want to know…

  23. Cookie says:

    My mom always makes a huge batch of wontons and freeze them for a quick meal. She uses a mixture of ground pork and shrimp and just a simple seasoning of soy sauce.

  24. Debbie says:

    What wonderful pictures! I always enjoy the pictures of your grandma. She seems like such a gentle soul. She and your dad both look sooooo much younger than their age! Lucky you – you have great genes! So nice that you all had such a great time!

  25. Jane L says:

    Reading this just warmed my heart thinking about our family meetings with food. Thanks for such nice sharing, and great pictures of food. Sounds so familiar the coziness that these meals make you feel.

  26. Ruth Ann says:

    I really loved this post and enjoyed sharing your food tour of Northern California with your family.
    Your grandma is precious. She seems so happy to be surrounded by her family. In some of the pictures your grandmother looks like she has a fun little secret that she is saving up to surprise someone with.
    Thanks for sharing.

  27. Anita says:

    Lovely. You’re so lucky to have such a great family and such a bond with them – you all looked like you had a great time! Thanks for sharing! P.S. I sometimes feel like my parents think the same about Mike – he’s a great son-in-law, his only flaw is he isn’t Chinese:) XO

  28. Nicola says:

    You need to come down here for your Dad’s 75th birthday – do the South Australian wine country. I’m sure a whole lot of my friends and I would be happy to be tour guides for you! Check it out: http://www.southaustralia.com/AdelaideWineAndFood.aspx

    Your blog, as always, one of the highlights of my day.

  29. Pauline says:

    Yummmm…I love wontons…thanks for showing me how its done.

  30. Sally - My Custard Pie says:

    How lovely – the picture of all the beautiful ladies. I enjoyed the stunning vineyard views as well. I was writing some copy about the Sonoma Valley today (what a coincidence) so it was great to get your perspective.

  31. Lucie says:

    Beautiful pictures! You’ve really captured how great family meals are. And I’ve gotta say you’re really lucky–everyone in your family looks a lot younger than they are, you know what awaits!

  32. marlene says:

    Happy Birthday to your dad………he looks great and so happy. I love reading about your adventures and I have been to the wine country many times. I live in Los Gatos, Ca and I would have loved to meet you. Maybe on your next visit????? You are blessed to have such a beautiful extended family.
    Cheers!!!!!!!!

  33. Diana says:

    Happy Birthday to your Dad & Grandma! Love the “toasting dad’s 70th” pic. Your family looks very young and beautiful. I can see happiness & peace in their eyes. Touchwood :)

  34. Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer says:

    I can’t imagine anything with Kobe beef in it not being good. I have never had a bad experience with kobe beef. It could be that I just enjoy any kind of meat product but I have always loved how juicy that meat is. I have only had it in burger form before but I’m sure it would be delicious mixed in with other ingredients…I’m very shocked that your kobe portion of your meal was less than satisfactory.

  35. diane says:

    The stir fried scallops looked amazing! I could almost smell them.

  36. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand says:

    Somewhere, in somebody’s attic, there’s a portrait of a bunch of really old-looking Chinese people. That’s the only possible way to explain how damn young all your relatives look. You must feel pretty smug, knowing how well you’re going to age.

  37. YDavis says:

    Looks at all that food!!! Happy Birthday to your dad and your grandma by the way.
    I love a good wonton soup with wonton noodles but I haven’t been able to find wonton noodles around.
    Sharkfin soup, I used to love it but after watching a documentary about how the fins were aquired, I have decided not to eat it anymore.

  38. Nancy says:

    All your family looks so much younger than their actual age!! Your dad and mom are so young looking, but your Grandma takes the cake! Never would have guessed her for 89!! Happy Birthday to them both!

  39. Pei Lin says:

    You are very right! Good genes run in your family!! Amazing how good everyone looks at their age. My mum was telling me that the Chinese don’t mention the 9 if they are 39, 49, 59 etc… Because the 9 is a symbol of a tough point in one’s life. So, if one is 49, they will skip that and say he or she is 50 :)

    I’m getting hungry from all that food photo Jen! My family bonds over food too. Just 2 Saturdays ago, my aunties and I gathered for me to learn the secret family recipes. Only me cuz there didn’t seem to be anyone else from my generation who likes to cook and bake as much. Nonetheless, we had a ball! And I’m accompanying my mum to a concert (her idol since her young days!)! can’t wait1

  40. Paula says:

    It must be a great time! and everything looks so delicious!

  41. Vanille says:

    I really like wonton soup. My favourite. I have a lot of childhood memories associated with.
    Your post really inspires me to give it a go.

  42. Susan says:

    I absolutely love this post, Jen.
    It is filled with the warmth of your family, food, and gorgeous photography.
    Your grandmother, father, and entire family look great!
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Susan
    @jeanne_samary

  43. Susan says:

    I’m headed to Healdsburg in less than a week, primarily to run a half-marathon through wine country but also to eat, drink, and be merry. Haven’t been there before, and I’m extra excited after seeing all of the pictures. Thanks for the post!

  44. jenyu says:

    Thank you, everyone for your very kind wishes to my grandma and father. You are all so sweet! xoxo

    Julie – thanks, hon :) xo

    Bridget – yeah, my whole family is like that. Crazy, right?

    Debbie C – the PhD, professionally successful, intelligent, respectful, kind, etc. He’s got it all!

    Debbie – thank you, my grandma is soooo sweet and gentle. She’s really wonderful :) I always thought that it was just my bias, but it’s nice to know that others get that impression!

    Ruth Ann – she does, doesn’t she? I love that about her :)

    Anita – ha ha ha!!! Mike is awesome!

    Nicola – there is no doubt in my mind that a wine tour of Australia would be a highlight of anyone’s life!!

    Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer – as was I.

    Tamar – ;) It was never a big concern of mine. I think I’m the black sheep in the family (total bum – everyone else looks so great!) xo

    Pei Lin – thanks for the lesson on the “9″ – I didn’t know.

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