When Josh and I were driving from Georgia to Wisconsin, we made a strange caravan. I led in Josh’s old Toyota Echo, our chinchilla Jimmy Stewart in a cage on the passenger seat next to me. Josh followed behind in a 16-foot moving truck. I was responsible for navigation and ensuring that I didn’t drive too fast for the moving truck’s capacity, although when we were going through the mountains in Tennessee the truck was able to move much more quickly than the Echo. Throughout the two-day winter drive, in which we traveled identical but solo routes, we did share one thing: listening to non-stop NPR. This included (my mom will be happy to hear) two repeated hours of Garrison Keillor, the first when we were still in Eastern time, and the second identical hour once we had passed into Central time.

We also both listened to an interview with the authors of The Cultural Revolution Cookbook. Maybe it was the increasingly cold air swirling at our ankles or the bird-like hooting of the chinchilla, or the shaking of the moving truck in the winds of Southern Illinois, but we both latched onto the descriptions of slowly braised pork and simple recipes with basic ingredients made flavorful and wholesome. As we hunched over sandwiches at a Subway attached to a gas station, we sipped caffeinated beverages and said, “Yeah, that book sounds good,” and “Yeah, pork.”

We were tired. And the chinchilla was waiting.

The cookbook has yielded some delicious wok-based dinners that we’ve greatly enjoyed, but until tonight, we hadn’t attempted any desserts. I like the desserts I’ve had in Chinese restaurants (red bean paste, I’m looking at you) and I was intrigued by the recipe for Yellow Split Pea Cake at the back of the book. With only four ingredients (peas, sugar, water, and gelatin) it seemed easy enough to make.

Not how most of my cakes begin.

Not how most of my cakes begin.

First, I cooked the peas in sugared water, then dissolved the gelatin and mixed it in. Simple as that. A quick puree in the food processor, and the “cake” (really more of a gelatin or paste) was ready to firm up in the fridge. After a dinner of braised beef in soy sauce (from the same cookbook), the cake was ready to slice.

Just like a lemon meringue pie.

Just like a lemon meringue pie.

The cake was delicious. The texture is exactly like the filling of a red bean bun in a dim sum restaurant. The flavor is sweet, but not too sweet, and sumptuous with the peas adding a depth and a heartiness that usually I don’t associated with desserts. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that there’s a layer of not very chopped up peas at the bottom of the cake. I should have processed the mixture in the food processor longer (or tried a blender, maybe, or some other way of puree-ing the whole deal until it was silky smooth). This is the only hiccup in the cake, as chewing through peas at the bottom of a cake is, shall we say, not so appetizing.

I would definitely make this again, though, and I’d recommend The Cultural Revolution Cookbook to anyone with a wok and some curiosity about traditional Chinese food.


So, I’ve always wanted to recommend things to people. Thus, each Thursday, I’ll have a recommendation that might have something to do with food, drink, or cats, or might be completely unrelated. This week is the latter.

I have a hard time falling asleep. I always have. Part of it might be the extremely vivid dreams. Like, the other night I dreamt I was washing my hands in a sink (with running water!) in Honduras, and I noticed a collection of small red spiders in the drain.

Spiders, not sliders.

I turned on the water to try to wash the spiders down the drain, but it turns out they loved water and that’s what was attracting them. They climbed up the running water and swelled into these:

Without the human fist.

That’s when I knew they were crones*. Dream logic and all. The whole sink was full of them, so I chose the best strategy for dealing with most problems, which was to back out of the room, turn out the light, and close the door behind me.

*Yeah, I don’t know.

The whole point of this is not that I recommend having weird spider dreams, but that I often listen to podcast on my iPod machine to help me fall asleep. One of my favorite podcasts that I’ve recently discovered is also one I can’t listen to while dozing off because it’s just too gosh darned entertaining.

Humor, class, and a yellow circle’s thumbs up.

I’m referring, of course, 250 words into this post, to the thing I want to recommend to you: The Judge John Hodgman Podcast. You probably remember John Hodgman as the PC in the Mac vs. PC commercials, and also as a frequent contributor to The Daily Show. In this podcast, friends, neighbors, and family members can bring cases against each other. They argue their cases in front of the judge, and he listens, asks questions, and eventually makes a ruling. Some of the best cases are about the nerdiest things. For example, a recent episode focused on a bet two friends had made, betting that one friend couldn’t trick the other into saying his name backwards. He managed to get him to say his middle name backwards, and Judge John Hodgman had to make a ruling about whether or not that fulfilled the terms of the bet.

Other cases have involved proper canning technique (with guest judge Alton Brown, no less), how many people are infected with “garbage hands” when emptying the trash, how often you really have to give your little brother a ride to school, and whether a missed call on a cell phone’s call log is equivalent to leaving a voicemail. Judge John Hodgman has judged cases from the United States, Canada, and Portland, Oregon (which he cites as its own country unto itself). Funny, clever, and educational, it’s a podcast you just can’t fall asleep to.

This week’s recommendation: The Judge John Hodgman Podcast. Check it out.