2. Speical diets
This is a simple and delicious meal with whole chicken(s) and a few other ingredients – oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger, shallot and corn flour. For a FODMAP friendly recipe, use only green part of the shallot.
Here are the easy steps:
Crunchy cucumber and crispy bacon – an easy meal in 15 minutes.
- Slice the cucumber and bacon
- In a frying pan, drizzle a little oil and added the bacon pieces; pan fried the bacon until nearly crispy
- Add the cucumber, a little sugar and white pepper, toss for 30 seconds or until the cucumber is hot
And there – a big bowl of tasty veggie and yummy bacon for dinner.
I grilled some Angus rump steak and served it with an Asian dipping sauce. A lovely meal to share with friends.
Here are the easy steps:Read the rest of this entry »
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries”. Winston Churchill.
I thought of corporate greed . . . those executives who share their visions loud and proud, and take the bones out of the companies until it is on the verge of collapse. They then harvest bonus when time is good, and enjoy golden handshakes when the reality unfolds.
Corporate greed reminds me of chicken feet – skin and bone, tasty, yet unfulfilling as a meal. If a full-time worker struggles to feed his family and put a roof over their heads – is this meal a blessing or misery?
Cooking method is as follows:Read the rest of this entry »
Some summer Friday afternoons following the school pick ups, my school-mum friends may drop by for a few glasses of bubbles and the kids have a swim in the pool.
I always keep some easy-to-cook ingredients in my freezer for such occasions – homemade curry puffs, spring rolls, and of course, wild caught Australian prawns. The prawns are delicious, already peeled, easy to defrost, and quick to cook.
Method is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »
I first learned how to use Asian spices from my best friend’s late mother whom I dearly called Auntie Wong.
Growing up in Malaysia, Auntie Wong was an acrobat in a circus, and later became a self-trained dentist. ‘How do you install a denture for an old lady without a single tooth,’ she laughed,’ luckily I was young and good looking then, I asked male dentists for helps and was never refused’.
Auntie Wong migrated to Australia in early 1980s with her three daughters. She ran a small take away shop in Glebe, an inner Sydney suburb, selling Malaysian fast food. To supplement the limited income from the shop, in the evenings she made spring rolls for catering companies. My friend Mei, the youngest daughter, helped with the spring rolls while she was still in primary school.
Some years later, Auntie Wong saved up enough money and bought a studio apartment. Auntie and Mei lived there for many years, sharing a bed. In their tiny but always welcoming home, Auntie Wong cooked me many heart-warming meals. The smell of delicious food filled the small space, and what a wonderful place it was. My favorite dishes were the Singapore meat and bone soup, noodles with salmon XO sauce, and fried rice with Indian spices.
While enjoying meals, auntie told me many of her life stories. I was always inspired by her amazing abilities to adopt to changes, and her keen spirit for new adventures.
Here is my version of a spiced fried rice – simple, aromatic and satisfying, with fond memory of Auntie Wong’s kindness and love.Read the rest of this entry »
Cantonese love soups.
There are soups for every weather condition, every season and very occasion. There are soups to warm your body, or to cool your temper. The key to a good soup is to balance all the ingredients for maximum nurturing effect. Snow fungus with goji and chicken is one of these well-balanced soups that can rejuvenate your mind and soul.
Snow fungus, also known as the silver fungus, is sometimes recognized as the champion of all fungus. Historically it was used by the royals and rich families as a remedy to boost their health, with supposedly nurturing effects for internal organs, skin and brain, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects.
Goji berries as a herbal remedy, was documented in various ancient Chinese medicine compendiums dated as early as the 1500’s. Today, it is a common Chinese ingredient with supposedly positive effects on liver, kidney, sore back, joints, tiredness and poor eye sight. Families use it frequently in soups and teas.
Sounds like a magic, doesn’t it. The soup is warm, gentle and comforting. Hope you will like it.
Easy method is as follows:
As the years went by, I found myself complaining more – the traffic, the bad drivers, so many conflicts around the world. Why can’t everyone just do the right thing, and the world could be a better place?
Some days, I thought I might have turned into a cranky person, like Mr. Chen.
Mr. Chen was a university friend to my father. During the culture revolution, his family was labeled as the enemy of the state. His house was searched, and wealth stripped; his father was prosecuted and thrown into jail; and Mr. Chen himself without a job or means to support himself. Like many others ahead of him, he took the dangerous journey to the Pearl River Delta, jumped into the river, and swam across the sea to seek freedom. He was shot at by the soldiers, but fortunately landed safely in Hong Kong. Worked as an engineer, he married a lady 10 years younger. He was very fond of Mrs. Chen and constantly praised her achievements, such as being able to speak fluent English, and had worked as an executive assistant to a hotel general manager.
The Chens migrated to Australia in early 1980s. With their savings, they bought a small grocery store at Rose Bay and an apartment at Point Piper, both are rich suburbs of Sydney. Their apartment, although had wonderful views of the Sydney harbor, was dark, miserable, and quite a mess.
When I arrived in Australia in late 1987, my father asked the Chens to provide me with guidance and helps. Whenever Mr. Chen had the opportunity, he would talk about Chinese politic. He spoke with the deepest anger and hatred, teeth crunching and fist waving. He yelled at me from time to time, for my lack of interest of his topics, and I did not keep my mouth firmly shut.
Within a few months, I found a job at a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant specialized in mid-north cuisine, such as Peking ducks and spicy Sichuan dishes. The Chens had dinner in the restaurant one night, and particularly liked the Shandong shredded chicken. They asked me to get the recipe, which was refused by the chef. The Chens did not speak to me ever since.
I found out many years later, that Mr. Chen told my parents, who were afar, that I was very naughty – I enjoyed working as a waitress; and I went out for suppers with with co-workers after work.
The last time I heard of the Chens, they were running a small restaurant in a suburban office park. Every morning at 3am, Mr. Chen, then 78 of age, got out of bed to collect supplies; then he joined his wife at the restaurant to work.
I can’t say that I appreciated my experience with Mr. Chen. But I sincerely hope they are enjoying their life, and are happy.
And here is my version of a Shandong chicken, recalling the ingredients and method I learnt from the restaurant. I first placed the chicken in brine overnight, then shallow-fried the chicken with soy sauce, steamed the chicken, shredded the chicken, and served the chicken with a tangy and spicy sauce.
The most important element of this dish is the sauce. It is sweet, sour, salty and spicy – just like life, never boring.
Recipe and easy steps are as follows:
Meals for the homeless: stir fry pork with soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce, port wine, turmeric and cumin
I bought two pork shoulders, which gave me about 3kg of good quality meat after I trimmed off the fat and skin. I marinated the pork slices with dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce, brown sugar, port wine, turmeric, cumin and white pepper. I also added a few table spoons of corn flour. I then left the pork in the fridge overnight, covered.
The next day I pan fried the pork in small batches, using a generous amount of cooking oil. I used the highest temperature possible, so I could achieve an intense ‘dry fry’ texture and taste. After I finished cooking the pork, I added some saute capsicum slices and saute green shallot (scallion) for colors.
It tasted delicious.
Beef flank stew (牛腩) with Asian spices and soy sauce, my memory of the hawker stall on the ‘Poetry Book Road’ ( FODMAP friendly)
When I was a little girl, I walked to the primary school each day. I ate breakfast along the way. I had a ten cents allowance for two plain steamed buns each morning.
I walked down a street commonly known as the ‘Poetry Book Road’. For many years, the street was renamed as the ‘Red Book Road’ in honor of Chairman Mao’s red book of quotations.
At the end of the street, there was a tiny hawker stall selling beef flank and pig intestines. In winters, the hot steam rose from her big pots. The aroma of soy, star anise and clove lingered in the air, mouth-watering and irresistible. The stall operator was a middle age woman, short, chubby and never smiled. She had a pair of gigantic scissors that made loud ‘chop chop chop’ sound. When she received an order, she cut some small pieces off a larger piece, skillfully threading them to a bamboo stick without touching them with her hands. A stick with 3 pieces of juicy, fatty and heart-warming meat cost 10 cents. It was a difficult decision for a little girl – spending the 10 cents on a meat stick and be hungry for the rest of the morning, or two plain buns. I took some deep breaths (the aroma was so good) and nibbled on the tasteless buns.
Now I remembered, the two buns never filled me up anyway. At school I sat next to a boy whose name was ‘Bin’. We enjoyed a few laughs as our stomachs rumbled at the exact same moment.
I cooked beef flank many times over the past many years. It always brought back memories of the hawker stall on the Poetry Book Road.
Recipe is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »
A common style of Chinese cooking is called ‘liangban’ or ‘liangchai’, which means a salad-like chilled dish. The ingredients for these dishes can be very diverse, from vegetables to different kinds of meat including offal. My husband’s favorite liangchai is Sichuan style liver and tongue. My favorite liangchai is pork hocks.
This week I made a liangchai with pig hocks. It took 2 days, but the process was very simple and easy.
Recipe is as follows:
When I was growing up in China, tofu was the cheapest protein and it was always plentiful. At the fresh food market they sold tofu on a large timber slab, carefully cutting out the required portion for each customer – 10 cents, 20 cents…
My grandmother loved pan frying tofu with load of cooking oil. She cut the tofu into little triangles then fried them until golden brown. She then finished cooking with a splash of soy sauce. What a mouth watering aroma!
Tonight I pan fried some tofu with soy sauce for dinner – the tofu was soft and heart warming.
* Use plain tofu for a FODMAP friendly recipe; use gluten free soy sauce for a gluten free option.
It was so easy to make: Read the rest of this entry »
An Italian man at my husband’s work keeps a few ducks in his back yard. He gave us some fresh eggs last week. The eggs reminded me a $20 fried egg dish I had at a posh Asian restaurant, garnished with plenty of green shallot and dark soy sauce.
‘I can cook that’, I said to myself. It was easy, I cracked an egg, shallow fried it in hot oil with some green shallot (scallion); then transferred the egg to a plate, splashed a little dark soy sauce on top. It looked colorful and delicious.
* Use the green part of the scallion for a FODMAP friendly version; use a gluten free soy sauce for a gluten free option.
Meals for the homeless – sweet Potato Noodles with Chinese mushroom and vegetables (gluten free option, vegan)
I first enjoyed potato noodles in 1990s. I was puzzled by its rich flavors and unusual texture – soft, firm and bouncy. Not until many years later I realized these wonderful noodles were actually made of sweet potato starch, not potato.
I love these noodles – easy and cheap to make, yet so versatile you can add anything to it and the noodles will soak up all the beautiful flavors.
Last Saturday I made a huge batch of noodles. We served it slightly chilled as part of a street banquet.
Recipe is as follow:Read the rest of this entry »
The cactus flowered again this year, yielding 2 single strikingly beautiful flowers, with pink and pearl like colors.
Last harvest I made a soup with the flowers. This year I fried them with some egg and corn flour, flavored with Chinese five-spice and green shallot.
Method is as follows:
Monash University updates their FODMAP diet app from time to time. I recently noticed that oyster mushroom has been added to the ‘green’ traffic light list at 86g per serve. Bok Choy is now restricted to 85g per serve due to moderate amount of polyolsorbitol.
So here is a simple oyster mushroom dish for our friends on low FODMAP diet.
Method is as follows:
Tradition Chinese herbal tea with ‘dang gui’ 當歸, goji berries 枸杞 and red dates 红枣 – a quick pick-me-up (vegan)
There are so many different types of Chinese herbs, some of them are gender specific. ‘Dang gui’ 當歸 is a traditional ‘female ginseng’ for boosting health and wellness. It was said to increase blood supply and improve circulation, reduce menstrual pain, assist with hydration and anti-aging. My mother used to make me a remedy with ‘dang gui’, goji berries and Chinese red dates. It worked like a magic as a quick pick-me-up.
Overworked and tired, I made myself some ‘dang gui’ tea today.
Here the simple instruction on how to make the herbal tea. Dan gui, goji berries and red dates are available from most Chinese grocery stores in Australia.
Please consume in moderation.
My favorite Northern Chinese restaurant makes this lovely tofu skin dish, with Sichuan pepper infused oil and loads of garlic. I tried to replicate it a few times but without success.
So here is my own version. It is actually tastier than the one in the restaurant (grins) !
Recipe is as follows:
My little boy asked me last night: ” what was the kindest thing your mommy did to you?” Somehow, I have been asking myself the same question since my mother passed away a few years ago.
“One time, she let me put my cold feet between her legs to warm up.” I said.
“That wasn’t much at all,” said the little boy. He expected every mother to be kind, loving, caring and demonstrates extraordinary devotion to their children.
“One time, I fell down the stairs, and she cooked me a soup with field mice. The soup was said to have calming effect on children after experiencing trauma. There was a wandering vendor balancing a few long bamboo sticks on his shoulder. He put a cotton bag at one end of a stick, opened the lid, and shook out two field mice. He then smashed the bag on the pebbly ground. I was force fed the soup that afternoon.”
“Oh’, said the little boy. “That doesn’t count.”
“Another time, I was very sick, and I couldn’t eat any normal food. My mum cooked me fish and lettuce congee.” I said.
“What happened to you?” The little boy asked.
“I was eight, second grade in a local primary school. After a basketball game, we ran back to the classroom. A boy fell over me, and we fell on a concrete step. My lips were split, and some of my front teeth collapsed. The school principal took me to the hospital at the back of his push bike. I had an operation and could not eat solid food for days.”
I continued, “my mother tried to claim $10 for medical expenses from that boy’s family. But then she found out the boy’s parents were divorced, and the boy lived with his grandmother. They had no income and could barely come up with a few dollars. My mother told them not to worry about the money after that.”
“That was kind,” my little boy was finally satisfied. “What was the boy’s name?”
“Li Hai 李海, means ocean”. I answered. “He had very bright eyes.”
This afternoon, I cooked coogee for lunch. Rather than breaking up the fish and cooking it in the congee like a stew, I pan fried a few small pieces of barramundi and served them on top of the congee – tasted lovely.
Recipe is as follows. A FODMAPs check list is also attached. Read the rest of this entry »
Asian spiced ratatouille with potato, eggplant, capsicum, zucchini and coriander (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)
At work, we share a floor with a team of accounting staff. Among them is Garnesh, a vegetarian with an Indian background. Every time I saw him having lunch at the kitchen, I quizzed him about his lovely meals. Today I tried out one of his recipes. To avoid the vegetables being too mushy, I baked the vegetables in the oven like a ratatouille, rather than using a cook top. It was delicious.
Recipe is as follows. A FODMAPs check list is attached.
I have been volunteering at a food program for low-income earners. Most of the program’s fruits and vegetables are donated and sold for a fraction of the ‘normal’ prices. It gives me great joys to fill up their trolleys with milk, bread, fruits, vegetables and a small selection of daily essentials for as little as $10.
The program reminded to respect food – not to be wasteful and appreciate what we have. More recently, I have been buying the ‘odd bunches’ fruits and vegetables from the supermarket. Today, I picked up a bunch of capsicums with odd colors – a bit of green and a bit of orange. I made a stir fry with some free-range eggs to go with my leftover curry from last night.
It looked pretty good, and tasted delicious.
Recipe is as follows. A FODMAPs check list is also attached.
Saute potato, carrot and fennel, with coriander, turmeric, sesame oil and sesame seeds (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)
A few years ago, I received a free pack of gardening fennel seeds with a random purchase. This year I finally got around to spray the seeds onto the veggie patch. To my surprise, they were seeding. Inspired, I went down to the supermarket and bought a fennel bulb to cook a meal.
It was a simple meal – I diced some potato, carrot and fennel, then saute the vegetables with a little turmeric and sesame oil. I added some fresh coriander and sesame seeds at the end. Quite satisfying as a mid-winter meal.
Pork spare ribs are inexpensive in Sydney, a fraction of the cost of pork ribs. It is one of the most popular cuts of pork for Asian food, lovely when slow cooked in a rich salty, sweet and sour sauce.
Here is our dinner tonight – pork spare ribs braised in a soy sauce, red wine,sesame oil and vinegar, with a hint of ginger and cumin.
Recipe is as follows:
When I attended university in the late 80s, I had the good fortune of studying alongside with a diverse group of Asian kids, many became my friends for life. They exposed me to a large range of comfort food from all over Asian, such as Malaysian hawker dishes and Indonesian desserts.
One of my favorite dishes I learned from my friends was the aromatic Indonesian ox tail soup – a scrumptious bone broth with vegetables, spiced with cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Its flavors were enhanced by fried shallots and fresh herbs. I often crave for it on rainy days. Unfortunately, we don’t have an Indonesian restaurant nearby. So I have to cook my own.
We can use a pressure cooker for this soup (40 minutes) or a stock pot (slow cook for 5 hours). I like using the stock pot as I can make a huge pot to enjoy over a few days.
I love having this hot soup with some warm rice – really satisfying.
Recipe is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago, my neighbor’s girl dropped by in the late afternoon. We made some simple noodles together. Her mum had been unwell for a few weeks. So it was nice for the keen 11 year old to learn to cook a meal for the family.
When she popped over again today, she brought me a few lemons from their trees. So I made this simple, gentle and aromatic tea with the lemons – perfect to enjoy on a rainy autumn afternoon.
Method is as follows:
Sweet and sour pickled white radish 甜酸萝卜, and wish all children in the world are loved (FODMAP friendly, Vegan)
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 said 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, talking 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.
In the evening, 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.
Recipe is as follows:
Simple bean sprout salad with soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds (low FODMAP, gluten free, 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Steamed pork with soy sauce, memories of my aunt Yi-ma(姨妈), and how my mother met my father (low FODMAP, gluten free)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
I cooked some cracklings tonight, the way my grandmother cooked them a long long time ago.
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.
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:
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!
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:
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.
Recipe is as follows:Read the rest of this entry »
Every year I made this seaweed salad at the school fete, and every year it was a sold out. It is a wonderful traditional ‘liang ban’ (cold mix) salad – soft, crunchy, salty, sweat and sour. It is aromatic, flavored with dark soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, white pepper, shallot (scallion) and coriander.
Recipe is as follow:Read the rest of this entry »
On the weekend a few friends dropped by for lunch. I cooked a simple roast cattleman’s beef using the blasting method.
I learnt the blasting method by accident. A few years ago I picked up a round beef roast from the supermarket. I then realized that the meat was so lean, it was one of the most difficult roast to cook. Reportedly the only way to cook it was to blast it in a at 240°C/ 460°F in an oven, then turned off the heat and cooked it with the remaining heat for a few hours. I fell in love with the blasting – the smoke, the aroma and the juicy and tender meat we enjoyed.
For lunch I bought a 2kg cattleman’s cut from our local butcher. I rubbed the meat with oil, salt, 2 tsp of cumin and 2 tsp of turmeric. I then laid the meat on a rack over a drip tray. I preheated the oven for 30 minutes at 240°C/ 460°F, then cooked the meat for 15 minutes before turning off the oven. The roast was cooked for further 2 hours with the remaining heat. The smell was unbelievable and it made me so hungry!
I served the beef with some roast vegetables which I first cooked in microwave to 90%, then finished cooking under a grill with some oil, salt and rosemary. For FODMAPers, carrots, Japanese pumpkins and potatoes are good options for roasting as it contains no FODMAP.
We don’t eat much tomatoes in our house, my little boy is a picky eater and my husband utterly dislikes tomatoes. From time to time, I picked up some gorgeous tomatoes and made a dish, ate it all by myself with great contentment.
Today I roasted a batch of tomatoes and red capsicums. I roasted the vegetables and separated them into two batches. With the first batch, I made a spicy soup with coconut milk; with the second batch, I made another spicy soup with ginger, chili and tea (recipe to follow).
According to Monash University, common tomatoes do not contain FODMAPs, perfect for a hearty FODMAP dish – eat freely and according to appetite.
Recipe is as follows : Read the rest of this entry »
I recently purchased a Tiger thermal magic cooker from Singapore. It is really a magical piece of equipment – perfect for slow cooking with limited use of the stove top. I made some pulled pork for dinner last night – it was slow cooked over 24 hour, juicy and yummy.
The thermal cooker consists of 2 layers – an inner pot and an insulated outer pot. I first placed the pork shoulder in the stainless steel inner pot; I topped it with some pineapple pieces with all the juices^, 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of soy sauce*, 1/4 cup of dark soy sauce*, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of wine, 6 cardamon pods (slightly crashed), 6 star anise, 1 tsp cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, a piece of ginger (approx 15g) and 1 tsp pepper corn (slightly crashed). I then added some water to fully cover the meat, brought it to boil. Once boiling, I placed the pot into the insulated outer pot for 8 hours.
After 8 hours, I brought the inner stainless pot to boil again on the cook top – it took about 5 minutes as the pot was still hot from being inside the thermal pot. Then I placed it inside the insulated outer pot again for another 8 hours. I repeated this one more time. And it was ready to enjoy.
To serve, I hand pulled the pork to strips. I made a sauce with some marinate, added some maple syrup and some corn flour mixture (corn flour mixed with a little water). I brought the sauce to boil and it was ready.
If you don’t have a thermal cooker, you can slow cook the pork in a heavy pot, or slow cook in an oven with an oven bag – juicy and yummy.
^use fresh pineapple for a FODMAP diet (as it is tested by Monash University) *use a gluten free soy sauce for a gluten free option.
On WeChat my ex high school mates were chatting about not having time to cook dinners. Really? I thought, surely a few equipment could help.
In addition to a standard kitchen, I have a double garage filled with cooking equipment – a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a waffle maker, a table top multi-use grill, a mixer, a blender, a Tiger magic thermal pot, a 16 liter thermal pot, a five deck steamer pot, a 3-deck electric mini steamer, 3 electric frying pans, a portable induction cook top, 2 electric bain-maries and countless pots, cake tins and serving plates. Cooking a quick dinner is a breeze.
Before I continue on, I’d like to declare that I am not a hoarder. I run the Asian food stall each year for the school fete and I always contribute a bundle towards special event bakes. Hence I have accumulated so much useful equipment over the years.
Tonight I cooked a quick dinner with my pressure cooker. In the morning, I put some rice in the rice cooker and switch on the timer. I then spent 10 minutes browning the pork spare rib pieces, added carrot, potato chili, ginger and white wine. I turned the pressure cooker on high pressure 30 minutes. When I got home, dinner was ready and warm.
Recipe is as follow:
I washed my child’s little blanket today. He has this blanket since he was a baby. There are holes in the blanket and the corners are totally worn. From time to time, I patched up the holes and sewed up the corners with bits from some old towels. I bought him a new one, exactly the same. But I was not allowed to throw the old one away. “So much remember-y”, he said. “Don’t bring it when we travel then,” I said, ‘I would be embarrassed’. We traveled with it everywhere we went – Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji and Hawaii. I love watching him sleep, wrapping himself comfortably in the blanket, with his cute button nose and long black eye lashes.
Ah, simple things in life are the best. And for dinner, I shall cook one single simple dish.
And what is more simple than a ‘lao mian’ 撈麵 – noodles simply mixed with soy and sesame oil. And if you desire, you can add whatever on top. ‘Lao’means mix, ‘mian’ means noodles.
Tonight, I used soba noddles. Soba noodles with wheat has been tested by Monash University recently. The low FODMAP portion is 1/3 cup noodles, or 90g. Unfortunately Monash didn’t identify if the 90g is dry weight or cooked weight. So I assumed the 90g as cooked weight, just to be on the safe side.
Recipe is as follows:
On the weekend we had a lovely lunch on Fort Denison, a small island in Sydney Harbor. It was for Nadine’s 40s birthday. Nadine was originally from Melbourne. She fell in love with Bill, a Sydneysider. She moved to Sydney and settled in his small waterfront cottage by the river. There they are raising 2 gorgeous kids.
Bill has IBS – but not just the ordinary IBS. He is sensitive to most ‘common’ food including coconut milk, soy sauce and packaged meat from the supermarkets. Cooking for Bill is not just a challenge, it is a war against the modern world that many of us accustom to.
Every time I create a FODMAP dish, I think of Bill’s challenges. What are we really feeding ourselves nowadays and what consequence would follow?
Shop bought meat balls is one those food that you rarely know what you get. In this recipe, I used basic ingredients and work on blending the ingredients to achieve the flavors. Hope you will enjoy it.
Recipe is as follows:
Recently, I reconnected with my high school mates on WeChat via a group chat. The high school, named the GuangDong Guangya Middle School, was one of the most prestige selective schools in the GuangZhou city. We all grew up to be proud and competitive individuals. Then we went on our separate paths to distinctively different lives. I selected a simple but busy life in Sydney – a job in the finance industry, a small family, a house with picket fences, a lovely garden, and a double garage full of beautiful crockery and cooking equipment – I love my cooking.
Bo, a school mate from Singapore had been posting his dinners every night in the group chat. He often has 5 dishes for his family of 4. The dishes are home style, plain and simple. A typical meal consists of a gorgeous seafood dish, an overcooked meat dish and 3 seasonal vegetable dishes bursting with freshness. Sometimes we could tell how many were dining at home by counting the jumbo prawns. I was puzzled by Bo’s persistence and efforts posting his 6 meals a week, and occasionally meals from the restaurants when they ate out on Sundays. And a few days ago, he posted this story…
‘I live a simple and unexciting life, often with repetitive routines. There were seldom any exceptional events. However, the memory of this single incident at GuangYa Middle School I will always treasure.
It was a very hot afternoon. We were attending a physical exercise class in front of the physic building. That day we had a basketball game. I was pushed over by a big fellow student. I fell and my left hand landed on the ground first. I could see my wrist was twisted, followed by sharp pains. I realized I had broken my wrist.
I was surrounded by teachers and students. The PE teacher asked who would accompany me to the local hospital which was within walking distance from the school. Hong pushed through the crowd and took my arm. Hong was a quiet student, often with a few words and rarely smiled. I hardly spoke with him in the past. I was pleasantly surprised by him volunteering to help.
One thing was overlooked by the PE teacher – he didn’t ask if we had any money for the hospital. Those days most families were not well off and kids didn’t get much pocket money. I didn’t have any money on me that day. Luckily Hung had some money and he managed to pay for the treatment. There was no x-ray machine at the local hospital. The wrist was bandaged and that was that.
The next day after the math class, our math teacher, Feng, came over to my desk with a bowl of soup and a gentle smile . Feng was one of the strictest teachers and rarely showed her emotions. ‘This is a seaweed and egg soup’, she said, ‘you have it now while it is warm. It helps with your calcium intake and good for your bones.’
I was speechless. Even my mum never cooked me a soup before (she didn’t really learn how to cook until she was retired). I looked at Feng, who had returned to the teacher’s podium, I felt warmth all over.
Despite her tough appearance, teacher Feng had a kind and caring heart. Many years later I connected with her via a video chat. She asked why I was still so skinny and said I should look after myself better.
Next time I am in GuangZhou, I will visit Teacher Feng and cook her a big bowl of hot seaweed and egg soup.’
Ah, I can understand why Bo has been posting his dinners each night. Somehow he found deep connection with his food.
The traditional egg soups are often made of ‘egg flowers’, means scrambling the eggs in hot water. I found scrambling eggs with seaweed was too messy.
So here is my version of a ‘neat’ seaweed and egg soup.
Our friends had a 20 year anniversary getaway at South Australia for a few days. We looked after their child and dog while they were away. It was easy as their beautiful son is our little boy’s best friend. Their gorgeous cavalier is the best friend of our cavoodle.
When they were back they brought us a nice bottle of white balsamic vinegar they picked up from a market at the Barossa Valley. So I made a fusion potato salad with it.
This salad used blanched potato flavored with turmeric, coriander seeds and cardamon, a mild Sichuan style pepper-chili-garlic infused oil, sesame oil, white balsamic, pickled carrot, sliced wood ear fungus, sliced capsicum, sesame, shallot and coriander.
Recipe is as follows:
Friends who live in an inner west suburb of Sydney have a few mango trees. Every year I admired their trees and promised to make them some green mango salad. But I was never there when the mangoes were green.
This year they brought over 2 green mangoes to our house. Reportedly the husband was injured trying to catch the second mango – the mango fell off the tree, bounced off his hands and hit him in the “privates”.
I had to make a mango salad as compensation.
The dish is very simple, mango, carrot and prawns pickled in a fish sauce, apple cider vinegar and sugar, mixed with coriander, green shallot and sesame oil and sesame seeds.
Recipe is as follows:
As mentioned, yesterday was the 15th day of Luna New Year, known as the lantern festival (元宵). TangYuan (汤圆), or the glutinous rice balls, is one of the most traditional food for the festival. Yuan (圆) means round, full filling, a symbol for family reunion. TangYuan often has a sweet filling and served in a syrup. Some years ago, my sister made a savory TangYuan soup that was really tasty. I had a go this year.
I first made the chicken stock white cook style. This means slow cook a whole chicken in water to get delicious chicken meat and a mild broth. Ginger and green shallot were added to enhance the flavor. Chinese mushrooms, dried shrimps were added later to the broth, together with garlic chive, enoki mushrooms, bok choy and white cooked chicken meat.
The TangYuan was made with glutinous rice flour and hot water, mix and roll, pretty simple.
Recipe is as follows:
This week I gathered a few limes from the garden. I have always struggled with my lime trees – lot of flowers but rarely bear any fruit. So my three little lime fruit this year were rather precious. I made a fruit compote with banana, lime, orange and cardamom.
Delicious for breakfast, served on toast – just not enough of it. Hope my lime trees will be kind to me next year.
Recipe is as follows:
Today I made some rice paper rolls with quinoa, coriander, alfalfa, capsicum and sesame seeds. I had some quinoa mixture left. So I decided to make a second dish. I had some cherry tomatoes in the fridge, perfect for some ‘sandwiches’.
The quinoa mixture was made of cooked quinoa, a little chopped coriander stalk, a little sesame seeds and sesame oil, seasoned with salt and black pepper. I have attached the original recipe here – but you only need 1 tbsp of quinoa mixture to make 1 low FODMAP serve which consists of 4 cheery tomato sandwiches.
To make the ‘sandwiches’, turn a cherry tomato upside down, cut it open in the middle, as deep as you can without cutting through; fill the gap with a small piece of lettuce (I used butter and rocket), alfalfa, red capsicum, carrot and a little quinoa mixture. Top with a little BBQ sauce and a few sesame seeds.
According to the Monash University, a low FODMAP portion is 4 cherry tomatoes – hence 1 low FODMAP serving is 4 ‘sandwiches’. But lettuce (butter and rocket), alfalfa, red capsicum and carrot have limited FODMAPs, so you can pile up as much fillings as you wish.
Use a gluten free BBQ sauce for a gluten free option.
A few days ago I set off to create a few vegan FODMAP dishes with alfalfa. The schedule was ‘interrupted’ by Chinese New Year with wrapping dumplings with extended family, chatting with friends on how to make ‘yee sang’, handing out red envelopes and, work. We don’t get any national holidays for Chinese New Year in Australia.
Here is my alfalfa recipes installment #2 – rice paper rolls of quinoa flavored with sesame oil and coriander, lettuce, carrot, capsicum, alfalfa, sesame seeds, and a small squeeze of BBQ sauce.
Can’t find any rice paper? Don’t worry, the recipe also works as a salad.
Recipe is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »
One of my best friend’s late mother, whom I dearly called Auntie Wong, was an exceptional cook. A Chinese woman migrated from Malaysia, she could make beautiful meat-bone soups, aromatic curries and many different type of chili pastes. During Chinese New Year, she made ‘yee sang’, an elaborate salad with sashimi salmon and a plum sauce. We made wishes as we mixed the salad with our chopsticks, shared a few giggles and enjoyed the delicious feast.
In Chinese, ‘yee’ means fish, a symbol of plenty. ‘Sang’ shares the same pronunciation of 升, means uplifting. With a name like that, no wonder ‘yee sang’ is one of the most popular dish for Chinese New Year around Singapore and Malaysia.
My father and sister were travelling in China and only arrived yesterday, which was the Chinese New Year’s Day. To welcome them home,, I made my own version of ‘yee sang’ with tuna, salmon, fennel, carrot, capsicum, cucumber and a strawberry salad dressing.
I didn’t make any wishes as I mixed the salad – I already have everything I could have wished for. Although life is busy and demanding, I have a lovely family, good friends, a home with a double garage full of cooking equipment. I am happy.
Recipe is as follows:
Easy hand rolls of alfalfa, carrot, capsicum, rocket and sesame seeds (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)
As I mentioned, I recently connected with my high school classmates on WeChat. I pleasantly discovered how diverse my school mates had become. One of the ladies is now a devoted Buddhist. She posted many photos of pagodas, Buddha, and vegetarian food. ‘You like cooking’, she said, ‘do you cook vegan food?’. She recommended sprout alfalfa and sent me a full description of its benefits.
‘Sure, I will made a few dishes tomorrow’.
I loved alfalfa, so dedicate and beautiful to look at. While I attended university in early 90s, alfalfa was in nearly every sandwiches I bought from the canteen. The sandwiches were charged by weight. Alfalfa is so light that I could have a ham and alfalfa sandwich for about $1. Bargain.
Here is my first installment of the alfalfa menu – easy hand rolls of rice, alfalfa, carrot, capsicum, rocket leafs, BBQ sauce and sesame seeds.