6. Main ingredients
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 »
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.
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’, 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 glass of wine while the rice cooker is hard at work.
So I cooked some steamed pork tonight. The dish reminded me my aunt ‘Yi-ma’ who cooked an excellent steamed pork dish. My mother met my father during a match making meeting between Yi-ma and my father. Yi-ma (姨妈) means an aunt from the mother side.
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 and worked on a rubber farm. It was very common those days along the southern coast of China. When he returned to China, he bought some farm land and two houses. He then took a concubine – his first wife only gave him a daughter but not a son. Later the daughter migrated to America with her husband. Before he had his own son, my grandfather also adopted a relative’s child whose name was Han. During the Sino Japanese war the family ran out of money and grandfather and his wives died under some circumstance – how it happened was never mentioned by my mother. Some relatives said it was from 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 a soldier in the National army. Upon his returning home, he took all the cash sent from America and rents from the land and houses. He left the two young orphans with little food and resources. Every day the siblings walked down to the Han’s house to collect some rice. They cooked congee for meals and 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.
In mid-1950, my mother was about 12 years old. Yi-ma’s family needed domestic helps and took my mother into their house. They are 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 congee for breakfast. A few years later, she was accepted by a selective high school and could not come up with the few dollars required. Mother was devastated when the family told her that they didn’t have the resources to support her education. Yi-ma was fortunate, she went all the way to university and became a doctor.
In late 1950s, my mother joined the work force. With her good look, she dreamed to become an actress. However, she was rejected due to her lack of height. She enjoyed a role as a childcare workers but she was shortly made redundant. Her job was given to a relative of an official. She finally found a job at a wireless factory where she worked as a factory hand. She had lots of friends there and many admirers. For the first time in her life, she was receiving attention and care she was crying out for. She was determined not to have a relationship, so she could go to America and joined her sister. Unfortunately, her sister passed away and her dream to America was shuttered.
In the late 1960s, a young and bright engineer and his family were living two blocks away from Yi-ma’s apartment. The young man’s mother, my grandmother, was trying to find a wife for her son. Grandmother and Yi-ma’s mother knew each other. They decided to match Yi-ma with the young engineer. The introduction did not go well – the young man stepped inside the apartment, and decided he wanted the other good looking maiden instead. My mother was visiting Yi-ma that day.
That’s how my mother met my father.
Yi-ma later married a nice man who was a senior official in the foreign trade inspection office. We called him ‘Yi-zhang’ 姨丈, meaning an uncle from the mother side. They were very 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. In his official position, Yi-zhang received gifts all the time, from fruits, cookies to expensive Chinese liquor in fancy bottles. Yi-zhang rarely drank. It didn’t bother him that some liquor was rotten in the bottle a few years later, as they were fake and made with tea. Their only daughter, Pan, was similar age to myself. We became good friends.
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 father never went to their house except a visit during each Chinese New Year.
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 over many years, saying that she would have to provide red envelopes to other children so she must recycle the cash.
I cooked some steamed pork tonight. For some explainable reasons, I remembered my aunt Yi-ma and how my mother met my father.
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 away from the cats, looking like treasury. 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: