The Art of Escapism and a long faux sour dough process

I have been slacking a bit with my enthusiasm for blogging   There’s no real reason for my feelings.  (Believe me when I say I have tried to pinpoint some sort of personal issue that marks my funk.)   When the opportunity to review The Art of Escapism Cooking by Mandy Lee arose, I could not respond fast enough.   Maybe reading another blogger’s journey would help jump start my interest and renew me. 
TLC Book Tours are promotional tools for authors to connect with readers via blogs and Instagram.    I have been honored to read a number of great books through TLC and have discovered a few new favorite authors (like Beth Castrodale).    Please note that I did receive a free copy of the book for an unbiased review.  All opinions, comments and rants are my own.

About the book:

In this inventive and intensely personal cookbook, the blogger behind the award-winning reveals how she cooked her way out of an untenable living situation, with more than eighty delicious Asian-inspired dishes with influences from around the world.

For Mandy Lee, moving from New York to Beijing for her husband’s work wasn’t an exotic adventure—it was an ordeal. Growing increasingly exasperated with China’s stifling political climate, its infuriating bureaucracy, and its choking pollution, she began “an unapologetically angry food blog,”, to keep herself from going mad.

Mandy cooked because it channeled her focus, helping her cope with the difficult circumstances of her new life. She filled her kitchen with warming spices and sticky sauces while she shared recipes and observations about life, food, and cooking in her blog posts. Born in Taiwan and raised in Vancouver, she came of age food-wise in New York City and now lives in Hong Kong; her food reflects the many places she’s lived. This entertaining and unusual cookbook is the story of how “escapism cooking”—using the kitchen as a refuge and ultimately creating delicious and satisfying meals—helped her crawl out of her expat limbo.

Illustrated with her own gorgeous photography, The Art of Escapism Cooking provides that comforting feeling a good meal provides. Here are dozens of innovative and often Asian-influenced recipes, divided into categories by mood and occasion, such as:

For Getting Out of Bed
Poached Eggs with Miso-Browned Butter Hollandaise
Crackling Pancake with Caramel-Clustered Blueberries and Balsamic Honey

For Slurping
Buffalo Fried Chicken Ramen
Crab Bisque Tsukemen

For a Crowd
Cumin Lamb Rib Burger
Italian Meatballs in Taiwanese Rouzao Sauce

For Snacking
Wontons with Shrimp and Chili Coconut Oil and Herbed Yogurt
Spicy Chickpea Poppers

For Sweets
Mochi with Peanut Brown Sugar and Ice Cream
Recycled Nuts and Caramel Apple Cake

Every dish is sublimely delicious and worth the time and attention required. Mandy also demystifies unfamiliar ingredients and where to find them, shares her favorite tools, and provides instructions for essential condiments for the pantry and fridge, such as Ramen Seasoning, Fried Chili Verde Sauce, Caramelized Onion Powder Paste, and her Ultimate Sichuan Chile Oil.

About the author:

Mandy lee founded her award-winning “angry food blog,” Lady and Pups, in 2012 out of sheer frustration after moving from New York City to Beijing.

She and her blog have been featured in numerous publications and sites, including Saveur,,, Yahoo, Food52, and

She currently lives in Hong Kong with her husband and pups.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Author Links: Lady and PupsInstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest

The food…

Where to begin.  The list of food in the above blurb is a great start but there’s much, much more!  “The Pantry” section was one of my favorites.   Lee outlines everything you need to cook from her book.   There’s ingredients included that are not in a normal pantry (or at least not in mine).   I appreciated the descriptions and instructions on where to purchase.   I also adored her condiment section.  (Someone in the family is getting a bottle of her “Orange Chile Sambal”  for Christmas this year.)

One of the first recipes that intrigued me was the “All-Purpose Mother Dough.”   Lee describe this dough (which can be used for bread, pitas and pizza) as a faux sour dough.  Shut up!  I have been experimenting and trying to get the taste and texture of a traditional sour dough for years.  I’ve added balsamic.  I’ve grown my own sour dough (and killed it).   I’ve been close a couple of times but no bonanza success.

I had to try this.   I was reading this book around 2:30 AM and I ordered roasted barley tea immediately on Amazon and had it the next day for baking!

Roasted barley is either a stand-alone or an added ingredient in tea beverages in Japan and Korea.  It has a dark, almost coffee-like aroma.  I like to grind it and add it to bread doughs to give them a boost of subtle malty and wheaty flavor.   (“First, Pantry” p 9)

For the faux tanginess of sourdough, Lee adds yogurt.  Here’s an initial version of her bread recipe from her blog called Cheater’s Easy Sourdough.    She’s finessed it some for the cookbook.  Please make sure that when you start the bread process you allow for AMPLE time.  In fact, I would start out determining when  you want to serve your bread and calculating time backwards.  Here’s the process:

  • 10 hours to let the yogurt, water, barley powder and flour become friends
  • 30 minutes to introduce the new friend, yeast
  • 10 minutes to knead (with a dough hook and stand mixer)
  • 15 minutes to decide which route you’re taking.  Bread?  Pitas?  Pizza?  (I chose bread.)
  • 6 hours to rise at room temperature
  • 10 hours to rise in refrigerator
  • 45 minutes to preheat a Dutch oven (lidded)
  • 20-25 minutes to bake with lid
  • 12-15 minutes to bake without lid
  • 30 minutes to cool

That’s about 29 hours, give or take.

So, yes, it’s a lot and it might be easier to keep a sour dough starter alive.  (Or not.)  And, it’s not the most beautiful loaf I’ve ever made.  But, it is delicious and I love the texture.

For Lee’s updated and perfected recipe for “All-Purpose Master Dough,” buy the book.  (I feel a bit of loyalty and solidarity with Lee so I won’t publish the recipe here.  Plus, it’s a four page recipe in the book.  I’m too lazy to retype that much.)

Photographed beautifully, this memoir-cookbook is fascinating.  I found Lee’s wry wit and use of the f-word oddly endearing. Her voice is honest and at times pained, but always with that sense of humor.   This book is her journey of “splashing rage with pain-inflicted chile sauces” (3).   I think we can all relate to a time in our lives that we did not feel in control.  I know I can.  The act of cooking helped her through her time in China, a time where “residual resentments from the day before and looming despair about the day ahead” (33) almost debilitated her.

Her food is honest as well.   Her cynical view of people who say they love to cook breakfast made me grin—“their breakfasts taste like denial buttered with overcompensating enthusiasm” (33).   (Why did this quote make me think of a certain Food Network star with the initials PW?)   So, for breakfast Lee provides her readers with the aforementioned bread recipe, Mochi Challah Bread Stuffed with Prosciutto and Dates, Rice Chowder with Sausage Corn Flakes, Scrambled Eggs in Mushroom Cream, and other hearty and creatively flared recipes to start a day.

Her recipes are inventive with an Asian flare, but I wouldn’t dare call it fusion.   Even though Lee maintains anyone can cook her food, I had to pause. I plan on tackling a few dishes, but some are out of my realm of expertise (and honestly would take up too much of my time—like the 29 hour bread recipe).

I loved reading her story (as interludes between recipe sections) and again, I loved her sense of humor. How can you not love a cookbook with a section entitled, “Shit I Eat When I’m By Myself”?


I’m linking up with Novel Food and Foodies Read.
















Please check out the other tour stops:

Tuesday, October 15th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, October 15th: Instagram: @theunreadshelf

Wednesday, October 16th: Unabridged Chick

Thursday, October 17th: Eliot’s Eats

Friday, October 18th: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, October 21st: Bookapotamus

Tuesday, October 22nd: Broken Teepee

Wednesday, October 23rd: Whip & Wander

Thursday, October 24th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Friday, October 25th: The Desert Bibliophile

Monday, October 28th: Literary Quicksand

Wednesday, October 30th: Jathan & Heather

Friday, November 1st: Cooking With Amy

Tuesday, November 5th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

11 comments to The Art of Escapism and a long faux sour dough process

  • Mae

    It’s impressive that you tried & were so successful with this recipe! I think there are a lot of sourdough recipes with a that type of long rise, but it’s great that you found one that works for you. I hope you find your blogging mojo again soon!
    best…mae at

  • I’m very happy that I haven’t managed to kill my sourdough starter yet. It’s been going for quite awhile now, but maybe on my next bake, I’ll try adding some kefir (my sub in for yogurt). The book sounds good, reminds me of Ann Mah’s Cooking Chinese. Also in Beijing, reconnecting with Chinese roots. Hers was much more positive though.

  • I’m so glad this pulled you back into blogging- we’ve missed you! Thank you for being on this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours

  • I am so with you about blogging. I can’t seem to motivate myself lately and feel I don’t have anything to share. But I just backspaced a big mess about that and I’d rather talk about you and this book. And this bread!

    I’m not on the tour but I would be interested to read the other posts upcoming. Never have tried sourdough but it interests me, wow 29 hours!

  • You are right! We had so many of the same feelings about the book and what we liked, but I never would have attempted the bread. I give you mad props! 😉 It does look like an amazing loaf and the texture looks perfect.

  • I am not familiar with Lee’s blog, so I am reading now about her story. I am glad she is no longer in Beijing. Interesting how she used cooking as a way to keep a sense of self. A sense of humor is nice both in life and in a cookbook. Your loaf has a nice color and crumb: glad the result was worth the wait. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food 🙂

  • My sourdough starter didn’t die…it was thrown out by my friend who was caring for my dogs and cleaned out my refrigerator. She didn’t realize what it was LOL. So I made another batch and it is doing fine but if the time comes that it is not, I will try this version. Thanks for sharing.

  • The bread looks wonderful! Although… a.) is sour dough really sour? b.) how is using sourdough starter more difficult or time-consuming than this faux sourdough recipe? and c.) does adding yoghurt to bread dough give it a sour flavour? …I’ve never noticed any sourness in our naan made with yoghurt and yeast OR yoghurt and our sourdough starter. Of course, I could be wrong (I often am) but I always thought the sourness of sourdough came from proofing for a very long time at a cold temperature.

    (I’m Hold No.16 on 2 copies at our library for Lee’s book)

  • That bread looks wonderful! And a terrific review. I’m not familiar with either the cookbook or the blogger, but both sound interesting. Thanks!

  • I’m glad that this book brought you back to blogging. The book sounds like a very interesting read and your bread looks like it was worth the wait.