Eating Family

What to eat when you’re sick

My lofty 2021 goal of posting here everyday died after just eleven days into the new year, when I was hit hard by a stomach virus on Sunday. I’m recovering now, but the experience got me thinking about all the advice about eating one gets from friends, family, and professionals when they hear you’re sick.

There’s many, many non-medical schools of thought on what you should eat when you’re sick. But even doctors don’t always agree, even when the illness has been narrowed down to a few likely culprits. This week, a gastroenterologist suggested eating BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Apples, Tea) for my condition. But my longtime primary care physician said the priority was re-hydrating, recommending lots of apple juice and Gatorade but not so much raw apples (roughage) and tea (diuretic). I’m mostly following the latter advice, with rice and ramen-based dishes when I have the appetite.

“Don’t eat ethnic food when you’re sick”

My favorite non-professional advice on this subject was given to me by a well-meaning co-worker many years ago when I was fighting a bad cold: don’t eat ethnic food when you’re sick.

Now, you and I know what she probably meant (don’t eat spicy food) but taken literally what she advised was bland American food is the key to recovery. Which of course leads to endless questions: is that how sick people in other countries recover also? Does the attentive mom in Mumbai serve up some mac-and-cheese instead of vindaloo for her sickly six-year-old? Is there a hospital in Turkey feeding hot dogs to patients?

My co-worker was a very sweet middle-aged woman, a single mom working hard at a midtown office to keep her household afloat. So all I could do was smile and thank her for the advice. For years, it was a funny story I’d tell to others; not to mock this woman but to illustrate the amusing choice of words.

I haven’t seen this woman in nearly three decades and only this week when thinking about her advice did I remember some other details: she was Italian-American and had an adopted young Korean daughter. She loved Italian food (WHO DOESN’T) but at the tine I knew her I don’t believe she’d been exposed to the equally amazing Korean cuisine, often spicy but always delicious.

The best food to eat when you’re sick is made by someone who loves you.

I like to imagine that her advice on this subject changed over the years as they grew together and both of their worlds expanded. She was undoubtedly too loving a mom (and too passionate about good food) to deny her daughter — and herself — the delicious and comforting dishes of their homelands. I like to imagine the bowls of pasta e fagioli and sundubu jjigage they’ve made for each other over the years. I like to imagine there’s some incredible Italian-Korean hybrid dishes that are being kept between them as family secrets. I like to imagine that she’s retired now and her daughter is now the one fixing up comfort meals every now and then.

Whenever my wife is sick and needs comfort food, I make a big pot of chicken soup that we both eat for days. Even though I don’t eat meat anymore, I’ll head out to the market and buy some high-quality drumsticks and throw them into the Instant Pot with onions, garlic, salt, dried Chinese mushrooms (if I can find them) and root veggies like carrots or potatoes. And, not least, ginseng root or ginseng powder.

Thirty minutes later the house smells like chicken soup and we’re devouring a very fatty and very delicious home-style meal. And as my wife is eating it I tell her for the umpteenth time how my grandmother used to make a soup like this when I was a kid.


The Case for Working with Your Hands

In 2009, Matthew B. Crawford released his book Shop Class as Soul Craft. Twelve years later, I still haven’t read the book, but have returned to this adapted essay many times and have recommended it to several friends and colleagues. There’s so much wisdom and interesting ideas and the writing is beautiful.

High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses.

When we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. We idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice for others their work may entail. Such sacrifice does indeed occur — the hazards faced by a lineman restoring power during a storm come to mind. But what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it?

As the son of working class immigrants (Mom was a waitress; Stepdad a cook in the same restaurant), I grew up surrounded by family who worked with their hands, usually in food service but also in manufacturing and automotive repair.

None of them spoke English and they didn’t have education beyond high school, so the job opportunities were very limited. My Mom and her siblings led very hard lives, both in Taiwan and when they emigrated to the USA. Everyone lived paycheck-to-paycheck and everyone had lots of debt. Only one aunt, the one who retired from the Post Office, ever had a pension or even a 401(k).

Their kids, however, did much better — all went to university and sometimes grad or law school. It was an unspoken rule that we should not pursue our parent’s path because their sacrifices were made so that we could have more choices in life. The “better choices” were inevitably white-collar office jobs.

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.

When it came time for college, I chose to major in politics and economics as a sort-of “pre-law” student, with a side interest in journalism. This appeared at the time to be a natural, logical step for someone of my interests and abilities.

(Years later, a lawyer who was quitting his job to pursue a Ph.D in history gave me some of the best insight about lawyering ever: people are attracted to the law because it seems respectable and well-paying and safe. But the majority are doing it because they are too scared to pursue what they really want to do. So one pursues entertainment law rather than pursuing acting and another goes into sports law because they’re too chicken to be a full-time athlete.)

In retrospect, what seemed logical at the time looks more like a failure of imagination — and courage — a few decades later. What felt like a deeply considered choice to attend university was really just mindlessly marching down the path of what I thought someone like me should be doing Not surprisingly, after I got into a prestigious university (just barely), my grades tanked. My heart was never truly in it.

I really should have taken a gap year traveling or worked for a few years as a cop or a train operator or a plumber. But the idea of a gap year was entirely foreign to anyone in my family or any of my friends. After you finished high school, you either went to college or you went to work. And work was definitely the lesser of the choices.

We just didn’t know other options existed.

Family Uncategorized


Shiro’s hero shot, to be henceforth known as a ShiroShot.

(Flushing Meadows – Corona Park, Queens)

Family Instagram

My Sis and Her Cape

In honor of her visit to NYC this week, a #tbt for my sister Demi. Before she grew up to become a beautiful woman with an MBA, she was an adorable girl who wore capes.

Family Instagram

Chan Siblings: NJ Style

The Chan siblings assemble in the Garden State. It makes me so happy to see these faces together.

(China Gourmet, West Orange, NJ)

Family Instagram

The Caleb and Sydney Supremacy

Happy birthday to my youngest sibling Caleb. We celebrated his tenth by recreating some BOURNE scenes with sister Sydney.

(Pumphouse Park, Battery Park City, Manhattan)

Family Instagram

Shiro at the Office

My stepdad at his office! His presence in my young life meant I was never far from a strong work ethic and excellent home cooking. Thank you, Shiro.

(ISE Resturant, Manhattan)


My Badass Brother

I spent the afternoon watching the vaguely Muay Thai-related Only God Forgives. My brother Jack spent it prepping for his first-ever Muay Thai fight.

A little after 9:30pm, Jack won his match amid a cheering crowd at a sweaty boxing gym in The Bronx. I’m so proud of him.

Eating Family

Crawfish Night

I’ve eaten crawfish only a handful of times in my life, usually as an ingredient in a dish like gumbo, never by itself. I’ve always enjoyed it, but in NYC you have to go out of your way to find crawfish. As a result, I don’t eat it much.

So you can imagine my delight when my sister told me that my family here in Houston have been cooking up large batches of it every Friday this crawfish season.

It helps that the price of live crawfish has been as low as $.99 per pound at H.E.B. , because last night they bought thirty-nine pounds of it.

That’s my uncle skillfully cooking the crawfish. The meal was accompanied by equally yummy garlic corn-on-the-cob and Seafood Alfredo. He says he learned how to make all of this from watching Top Chef.

The best part about eating food that requires disassembly is that it forces you to eat slow and chillax with your dining partners. Here, my sister and stepmom fill me on family gossip news since my last visit to Houston.

Here’s what the pile looked like after we finished. I stayed at the table to continue shelling the crawfish, which my uncle will cook into other dishes like Crawfish Fried Rice.

My uncle ate last after cooking the entire batch of crawfish. Dessert was Häagen-Daz ice cream bars.

Needless to say, this was my favorite meal of the trip so far.


Happy Mother’s Day

This was my Mom on her wedding day in 1968. Twenty-one years old.

Thank you Mom — and all the Moms in the world — for all that you do.



Ailurophilia Family Marla Monday is Cat Week

Monday Is Cat Week: Mac, Cat, Jack

(Bklyn Blggng HQ)

Chinatown Eating Family

At The Counter

We wait for the same roast pork buns my Mom used to love, in a place that hasn’t changed since she first entered thirty years ago.

(Mei Lai Wah, Bayard St, Manhattan)


To Remember You

To remember you on the day you left us, I went to the place where you worked for a dozen years, six nights a week (sometimes seven), for eight to ten hours a day. You would come home reeking of food, oil, smoke. You did this because you had two kids to feed, a mom working in a Chinatown sweatshop, two mortgages left behind by your ex-husband.

It’s a tacky place now and probably was then, too. But when I was twelve, I thought it was cool that you worked there. The food tasted good and my friends were impressed that you waited tables at an exotic, expensive restaurant. Their parents worked at boring office jobs or stayed at home taking care of them. Your co-workers would tell me how hard you worked and how lucky I was to have you. The praise made me proud, but the impact of those words wouldn’t hit me until many years later.

Partly, it was your fault: you never let on how hard the job was, or how precarious our situation in life. Whenever we asked for money, you just gave it to us. You never told us that it meant doing an extra shift or losing your only day off. You never stopped working, even when things got better. You met a new husband, you sent two kids to expensive university, you found another home. You waited tables at other restaurants until, finally, you got to open a few of your own. Then you worked even harder.

Even at the end, you kept working, fighting even when it would have been easier to let go. It surprised everyone – except us. We knew you would never stop.

Thank you, Mom.蔡美麗 1947-2006

(Mt Fuji Steak House, West Orange, NJ)