Month: May 2017

Sweet and sour pickled white radish 甜酸萝卜, and wish all children in the world are loved

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I went to an industry lunch a few weeks ago. A speech was given by a high-up official who spoke about many things, including the children out of home care. The person said, after the government outsourcing the administration services, the children return-to-home rate had increased from 27% to 60%. And they believed the best place for the children was with their parents.

On hearing that, I felt unsettled.

I do volunteer work regularly for a charity in an inner-city suburb. That’s where I met Molly (not her real name). Molly might be in her 40s or 50s. Her face was somehow deformed, and she had no teeth. When she appeared at the charity late in the morning, she talked very loudly as if she was yelling. Her speech was not recognizable. The staff at the charity made her drinks. They told me it was prescribed protein drinks. Molly sat by a table for hours on her own, taking to everyone and no one.

“She was a beautiful little girl, beautiful!” one of the local ladies told us one day. “She was beaten by her father, ended up in the hospital with brain damage.”

I, myself, was a physically abused child when I was growing up. Those days, physically abusing children was perfectly acceptable in China. When I was beaten up, no one came to my rescue, not even my grandmother.

I was lucky. I grew up to be a strong and independent individual. Molly didn’t have that chance.

So I made my favorite childhood snack – sweet and sour pickled white radish. I used to buy them from the street vendors, 10 cents for 3 pieces, a special treat when my friends visited on very rare occasions.

Sweet and sour!

And I wish all children in the world are special to someone, and loved by someone.

Sweet and sour pickled white radish 甜酸萝卜
Sweet and sour pickled white radish 甜酸萝卜

Recipe is as follows:

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Simple bean sprout salad with soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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Bean sprout salad with soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds, low FODMAP, gluten free option, vegan

I am hooked on charity shops. I love the unique pieces that I can’t buy from the department stores and homeware chain stores. There is a charity shop in the next suburb and I visit it every week, rain or shine. Last week I found this big brown urn. It was just like the one my grandmother used to grow bean sprout – layers of beans between cloth pieces; some water; and a towel covering the top of the urn; and magically we had bean sprouts for dinners.

Brown urn for growing bean sprouts
Brown urn for growing bean sprouts

Although growing bean sprouts may take a bit of time and effort. Cooking bean sprouts can be effortless. For a simple salad, I first blanch the bean sprouts lightly, add a dash of sesame oil, some sliced green shallot, then a dash of soy sauce. Garnish with a little toasted sesame seeds, it is ready to serve.

Bean sprout contains only trace amounts of FODMAPs and can be consumed freely by FODMAPers.

Recipe is as follows:

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Simple Chinese mushrooms and cloud ear fungus, memories of Chinese New Year (vegan)

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Simple Chinese mushrooms and cloud ear fungus

Nearly 30 years had passed since I left China, but I still remember vividly the wonderful days around the Chinese New Years. Extended families gathered at the large dinner tables, briefly forgot about their quarrels throughout  the year. The wok chinked with an aroma of delicacies that we couldn’t afford as daily meals. The rolling pins were out for the wickedly delicious sweet peanut pastry.

The flower festival (‘huaJie’, 花街) was held about a week before the Chinese New Year. Families went to the street market packed of flower vendors to select their festival decorations. Kumquat 金橘 was an essential – ‘kum’ means gold and  ‘quat’ has a similar pronunciation as fortune. It is a plant that will bring good prosperity in the new year. A small blossoming  peach shrub was also an essential, s symbol of strength and vitality, with beautiful flowers emerged from the harshness of the winter. Also common were the chrysanthemum 菊花 and peony 牡丹, large and colorful, symbols of riches and honor.

Flower street
Memories of a street pack with people, flowers and green plants

When I was a little girl, my father worked in another city. So my second uncle took me to the flower festival each year. Our most memorable trips were the ones on the New Years Eves. We had loads of fun browsing the market and pushed through the crowd. There were so many people at the market, my uncle had to put me on his shoulders to be safe. When it was close to the midnight, we rushed home to light our fire crackers. There was one time that we were late and ran into the fire cracker storms at mid-night. The crackers and the odd firework were loud and smoky, with laughter of the children, so much joy and happiness.

Fire work
Memories of kids lighting fire crackers on the street

The next morning the streets were quiet with a red carpet of paper left behind by the fire crackers. Kids got up early to collect the odd fire crackers that did not go off the previous night, then ran around greeting their relatives ‘goon he fa choi’ 恭喜發財, in exchange for red envelopes with a little money, which they would use to buy lollies for months to come.

After the big feast on the New Year’s Eve, vegetarian meals were common on the first day of the new year.  My favorite dish was the stew Chinese mushrooms, a delicacy rarely consumed during the year. The mushrooms were cooked with different types of dry or fresh vegetables – lily buds, fungus, dry tofu sticks, hair vegetable 髮菜 and bamboo shoots. The aroma of the dish is still lingering in my mind.

Nowadays I cook Chinese mushrooms quite often – nearly everybody in our family and extended families love it.  In Sydney the Chinese mushrooms are inexpensive, a 250g bag of good quality mushrooms cost around $12. It makes a huge dish for 8-10 people to share. We are thankful for what we are able to enjoy today.

Here is a simple mushroom dish I’d like to share with you.

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Steamed pork with soy sauce, memories of my aunt Yi-ma(姨妈), and how my mother met my father (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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During the week, we try to make simple meals.  A meal cooked over rice in a rice cooker is ideal for a late autumn evening – warm, comforting and super easy. We enjoy a few glasses of wine while the rice cooker is hard at work.

I cooked some steamed pork in the rice cooker tonight. The dish reminded me my aunt Yi-ma (姨妈)  who cooked an excellent steamed pork dish. My mother met my father during a match making visit between for Yi-ma and my father.   Yi-ma means an aunt from the mother side.

Home style steamed pork (low FODMAP)

 

My mother’s childhood

My mother was an orphan. Her mother was a maid who married her aged master.

In early 1900s, my grandfather was a laborer who went to Malaysia to work on a rubber farm. It was very common those days along the south coast of China. When he returned to China, he bought some farm land and a few houses. He then took a concubine, the maid. His first wife gave him only a daughter and no sons.

The first wife’s daughter migrated to America with her husband. Before my grandfather had his own son, he adopted a relative’s child whose name was Han.

During the Sino-Japanese war the family ran out of money. Grandfather and his wives died under some unspoken circumstance. My mother refused to talk about it. Some relatives said they suffered a great deal of financial hardship as they were not able to collect rents from the land and houses during this period.

During the 1940s, my mother grew up with his brother, living on some cash sent home by the sister in America. The two young children cooked for themselves and cared for each other.

The adopted son, Han, was 20 years older than the children. During the war he was a soldier in the National army. When he returned from the war, he took over all the cash sent from America and rents. The two young orphans was left with no food or resources.  Every day the siblings walked down to the Han’s house to collect some rice and whatever he would give them. Their regular meal was a thin rice porridge (congee). They were always hungry. As a grown up, my mother refused to talk about this man. Every time his name was mentioned, mother was anxious, sad and angry.

Moving to the city

In mid-1950, my mother was about 12 years old. My aunt Yi-ma’s family needed domestic helps and took my mother into their home. They were remote relatives from my mother’s side. Mother was grateful to them despite that she didn’t enjoy the chores, like getting up 5am in the morning to cook breakfast.

A few years later, she was accepted by a selective high school and could not come up with the few dollars for school fee each year. Mother was devastated when the family told her that they didn’t have the resources to support her education.

My mother (left) and Yi-ma (aunt) at the roof top terrace of yi-ma's apartment
My mother (left) and Yi-ma (aunt) at the roof top terrace of yi-ma’s apartment

A young and beautiful maiden full of dreams

Young and attractive looking, my mother applied for an actress position which she was rejected because she was not sufficiently tall. Utterly disappointing, she found a job as a childcare worker which she thoroughly enjoyed. Her role was shortly made redundant and the position was offered to a relative of an official.

Mother became a factory hand in a wireless factory.  She made many new friends. In later years, I observed her interaction with her friends, I could not help wondering if some of her male friends were once her admirers.

With the ambition to migrate to the U.S. to join her elder sister, my mother refused to have a relationship. When she was 28 years old, her sister passed away.  Mother’s dream was shuttered again.

How my mother met my father

In the late 1960s, a young and bright engineer and his family were living two blocks away from Yi-ma’s apartment.

My grandmother was a friend of Yi-mas mother. They organised a match making 相亲 to introduce my aunt to my father. The introduction (相亲) did not go well – the young man stepped inside the apartment, and decided he wanted the other good looking maiden instead. Mother was visiting Yi-ma that day.

That’s how my mother met my father.

Married life

The young couple dated briefly, and happily married. They had many photos of happy times, sitting in the park with sweet smiles, and holding each others’ arms.

The happy time ended when I was born. My father was sent away to the countryside to work for another factory.  He visited us for 10 days each year at Chinese new year, and occasionally dropped in for a few days while he passed through for work.  My mother’s dream of marrying an educated man and living a comfortable life was shuttered. My father was not entitled to any accommodation in the city. We all cramped into a terrace house with my grandparents, uncles and aunt and their families.

When my father returned to the city, it was 13 years later.

My mother and father
My mother and father in late 1960s

 

Aunt Yi-ma

Yi-ma married a nice man with a gentle soul. He was a senior official in the foreign trade inspection office. We called him ‘Yi-zhang’ (姨丈), meaning an uncle from the mother side.  In his official position, Yi-zhang received gifts all the time – fruits, cookies to expensive Chinese liquor in fancy bottles. Yi-zhang didn’t drink. So it didn’t bother him that some liquor turned moldy in unopened bottles – they were fake and most likely filled with tea.

Beside free gifts, they were quietly well off. Yi-ma’s brother died during the Korean War. All the family assets went to Yi-ma, including a sizable portfolio of real estate and stocks in Hong Kong.

Knowing our limited financial resources, Yi-ma was always generous to us. Every year at the Chinese New Year she always gifted me a handsome amount in a red envelope.  She gave me my first $1 note. In early 1970s, $1 was a fortune to a little girl.  Unlucky for me, my mother confiscated the money, saying that she would have to provide red envelopes to other children so she must recycle the cash.

Yi-ma and Yi-zhang were the first family we knew to own a color TV and a fridge.  They often invited us over for meals, cold jelly, special goodies or simply when they cut open a watermelon.  Their most tasty dish was the steamed pork, cooked in a little metal dish on top of the rice, juicy, sweet, salty and delicious.

My steamed pork

I cooked some steamed pork tonight, just like how Yi-ma used to cook it.

Recipe is as follows:

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Grandmother’s fried pork cracklings, warm rice with pork fat and soy sauce 豬油豉油撈飯 (low FODMAP)

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I cooked some cracklings tonight, the way my grandmother cooked them a long long time ago.

Grandmother's pork crackling, warm rice with pork fat and soy sauce

When I was growing up, pork fat was a rare delicacy. Meat was rationed. It was difficult to imagine that one would waste the precious coupons on pork fat instead of good cut of meat.

My grandmother was an extraordinary woman, always working, never complaint and never indulged herself, except, she loved pork fat. Occasionally she took me to the food market across the street and bought a small slap of pork fat with skin. She cut up the meat, then pan fried the pieces in a wok over the coal stove.

The pan frying turned very quickly to deep frying. She scooped out the oil and stored it in a little black urn. The black urn sat on a rotten timber shelf, up high and away from the cats, looking like a treasure pot.   In the wok, the pork pieces eventually turned into golden delicious cracklings which we shared with the whole extended family of about 10 people.

Over the next few days, grandmother and I enjoyed hot boiled rice with pork fat for lunches, flavored with a dash of soy sauce. My grandmother called it ‘lou fan’ meaning ‘mix the rice’. These were some of the most delicious meals I ever had.

Grandmother's coal stove - grandmother's pork cracklings, pork fat with boiled rice and soy sauce
My grandmother’s coal stove

I still remember our kitchen. The walls were never painted, darken by the smoke from the coal cakes.  The small earthy stove was among piles of coal cakes, which we purchased from a small shop at the end of our lane way.  From very young age, I helped to carry the coal cakes home, a few at a time, on top of a small timber slab.  Our house cats slept on top of the coal cakes during winters for the warmth from the stove, waking up in the morning, looking filthy. The cats were working cats and expected to fetch most of their own food (rats). They ate scraps from the family meals, most of the time it was just some rice, vegetables and sauce. Unloved and hungry, they had anxious looks in the eyes that I could never forget. They had a hard life.

Today, we have shiny appliances in our kitchen and beautiful stone splash back. We have a beautiful dog in our household which we dearly love. He enjoys his home cooked meals with all the goodness.

As I enjoyed the meal, I really appreciate what we have today.

Recipe is as follows:

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Stir fry pickled lotus root (vegan, gluten free)

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Stir fry pickled lotus root with a dash of soy and sesame oil

To me, there is something special about lotus root – earthy skin with mud, crispy flesh, artistic structure. Looking at lotus root, I could see a beautiful pond, colorful lotus flowers, surrounded by peaceful willow trees, their green branches gently brushing in the breeze, like a dream.

And my husband described lotus root as potato with holes in them – silly!

A match box I collected in 1980s with lotus flowers in a pond
A match box I collected in 1980s with lotus flowers in a pond

It is difficult to find fresh lotus root in Sydney. This week I managed to buy some from an Asian store, and I made a stir fry dish with it.

I first sliced the lotus root, then blanched the pieces briefly. I lightly pickled the lotus root pieces and left it in fridge to infuse overnight. The next day, I pan fried the lotus root with some capsicum, green shallot, a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil.   Yummy.

Recipe is as follows:

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One pot meal – spicy lamb shank soup with vegetables and quinoa (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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Winter is (nearly) coming to Sydney and it is getting cold for some Sydneysiders. Don’t laugh – today is 12-16 degree Celsius and many of us were shivering.

So I made a tummy friendly lamb shank soup with potato, carrot and quinoa.  To spice it up a little, I added clove, bay leaves, cumin, paprika, chili flake and black pepper.  I cooked it in a pressure cooker so it was an easy one-pot meal.

One pot meal - spicy lamb shank soup with vegetables and quinoa (low FODMAP, gluten free)

Recipe is as follows:

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