Let’s Have a Little Chat

I’ve had some extra time lately and decided to play around with drawing instead of cooking. What do you think of my attempt to create a humorous rendition of our fat cat, Choco, and Wynn, our funny little Cardigan Corgi, hanging out together…in the style of Rodrigue’s Blue Dog? Art has never been my forte but it’s fun trying.

Obviously, I have a long way to go until I get as advanced as this amateur artist, Jason Allen, who won a 1st place prize for art at the Colorado State Fair last year.

As you can guess, our blog takes a lot of time, so I’m enjoying this little break. Which reminds me…some friends of friends asked us recently whether it makes any sense to start a blog – especially when you’re well into your 70’s (or, in Andy’s case, almost 80!). Here’s an excerpt from our response:

Many popular food blogs are connected to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Food bloggers are generally young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 years old. Preventing food poisoning is a primary concern for most food blogs. Additionally, many food blogs become more informative and educational as the author ages.

Not many bloggers are over 79 years old. The oldest known food blogger is 98-year-old Lella Aksutow from Kazakhstan. She started her blog at the age of 77 and now has over 1,000 subscribers on her channel. Food blogging can be a good hobby for people in their 80s and 90s. People in this age group tend to lose interest in things quickly, which makes food blogs a good way to stay active. Food blogs provide a good way for older people to stay active and find interest in new things without losing interest in them quickly. Additionally, food blogs can provide an avenue for older people to market themselves and launch new careers.

You’re onto me, aren’t you?! Everything above in bold and italics was generated by Smodin AI, which is similar to the more sophisticated ChatGPT, and which allows computers to respond to ordinary language. My lord it’s scary. FYI: ChatGPT’s parent company, OpenAI, is headed by Sam Altman, a 37-year-old Stanford grad.

Andy and I are both old (right!) teachers and can’t even fathom how the world of education will deal with all of this. Or the world of food. Or the world of art (see DALL-E 2, which I used for my “art,” or Midjourney, which Allen used for his Colorado State Fair entry and which Sondra Bernstein, owner of the popular Sonoma restaurant girl & the fig, uses. Her work is on display now at the restaurant).

Meanwhile, Andy in today’s Andy’s Corner throws down the gauntlet to AI over a breakfast burrito. It’s a battle you’ll not want to miss.

DALL-E 2 generated photo I asked for. See my next sentence 🙂

But let’s make hay while the sun shines. I’m still enjoying my free time, so I’ll just have ChatGPT tell you some ways you can be more efficient as far as cooking and meals – and manage to get some of that precious free time. I actually think the suggestions are helpful ones. Good goin’, AI!

And, really, why should I take the time to search for and experiment with recipes when ChatGPT can do it for me? You may remember from a much earlier blog that I’ve been on the look-out for years for the perfect Dan Dan Noodle recipe after enjoying them at Cafe China in NYC. I’ve probably made about 10 renditions – and none has been perfect.

First I asked ChatGPT for the recipe from the Cafe China and got this response: I’m sorry, but as a language model, I do not have access to specific recipes from specific restaurants. However, you can find many recipes for dan dan noodles online or in cookbooks.

So I followed up with “Can you give me a good recipe for Dan Dan noodles?”

In about 2 seconds I got this recipe back. Will it be more perfect than any I have worked so hard at finding? I’ll give you my thoughts at the conclusion of today’s blog.

Note: This is the first of 3 different recipes for Dan Dan Noodles that resulted by asking exactly the same question of ChatGPT…which has interesting implications for trying to determine if something is AI generated. So glad I’m not still teaching!
ChatGPT’s recipe for Dan Dan Noodles 😦

I wasn’t sure whether it was my expectations or the ChatGPT recipe that was at fault for my being very disappointed with the meal. So I consulted with Grace Young, better known as The StirFryGuru. We’ve known Grace since our daughter Sara and she became friends years ago. Grace has written 3 excellent cookbooks on Chinese cooking and is now all over the news (like here and here) for her work toward helping the Chinatowns of our country survive, for her James Beard Foundation’s 2022 Humanitarian of the Year award and the 2022 Julia Child Award for her dedication to preserving and sharing Chinese culinary traditions. Are you impressed? I surely am.

With Grace’s help – and by using up my free time searching for recipes – I tried yet again to make the perfect version of Dan Dan Noodles. You’ll find the result below.

When you, too, have a free moment, we think you should all try ChatGPT or one of its competitors. It’ll give you lots to think about. And maybe worry about. Or maybe even be excited about. And it’s a fun way to waste a little time. And then try making our Dan Dan Noodles!

A Beginner’s Dan Dan Noodles
a DALLE-E 2 rendition of Dan Dan Noodles

A Beginner's Guide to Dan Dan Noodles

Borrowing ideas from Grace Young (aka TheStirFryGuru), Fuchsia Dunlop, author of Sichuan Cookery, and from ChatGPT, I have come up with the following as a beginning point for perfecting a Dan Dan Noodle recipe. Do as Grace does and make it to taste; no rigid recipe required! And be aware that Dan Dan Noodles are described as having “a hot and numbing taste.”

The pork topping:

  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 8 – 12 oz ground pork
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1-2 tsp minced ginger (optional)
  • about 1/3 c zha cai (aka suimiyacai or za choi – pickled mustard stems), rinsed – or Tianjin preserved vegetables (optional – but not really, if you want authentic)
  • Diamond kosher salt to taste

The sauce:

  • 2-4 T Chinese sesame paste – or tahini (Grace recommends The Mala Market Sesame Paste)
  • 2 T soy sauce (Grace recommends 1 T regular and 1 T dark soy sauce)
  • 1-3 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 – 2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, crushed – definitely NOT optional (Grace, with her Cantonese pallet, prefers just 1 tsp)
  • 1 T – 4 T Chinese chili oil -start with 1 T – or even less – and add, cautiously, to taste (Grace recommends Blank Slate Sichuan Chili Oil – also sold at Mala Market or here)
  • 1 T black (Chinkiang) vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar (optional)
  • Diamond kosher salt to taste

The noodles:

  • 1 lb wheat noodles (fresh and thin-ish are preferred but not required; if using dry noodles, I’d suggest about 3/4 of a pound.)
  • several big handfuls of spinach

To serve:

Crushed unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts and thinly-sliced scallions (optional)


In a wok or large frying pan over medium high heat, add the oil, heat it, then add the ground pork. Stir-fry until browned and almost cooked, then add the ginger and soy sauce and stir-fry until the pork is fully cooked. Add the zha cai and stir-fry just long enough to heat. Add salt to taste (be aware: the zha cai is salty).

Combine the sesame paste, soy sauce, garlic and sugar (which are optional), Sichuan pepper, chili oil, and vinegar. Add a little hot water if you need to make the paste runnier. Taste and add a little salt, if needed.

Cook the noodles according to the package directions, stirring in the spinach the last minute or so, then drain.

Divide the sauce evenly between 4 individual bowls (or according to each diner’s love of spice, going more sparingly for those less spice-adventurous); top with noodles and then with the pork mixture. Sprinkle peanuts and scallions on each bowl, and serve, allowing each diner to mix up the ingredients in their own bowl, the Sichuan way.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.


  1. Sara says:

    Grace is the best! We became friends when I reviewed her first book for San Francisco magazine. And to see her have a second breath in her career—and do so much good work for the Chinese community — is amazing. I feel famous by association! 🙂


    • Grace Young says:

      Sara, Very flattered by your generous praise and that your mom consulted me for this post! Can’t believe it’s been over 20 years since you reviewed Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen! So lucky we met because of that review!


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