6. Main ingredients

Stir fry egg with garlic chive

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Egg and garlic chive is a common home-cooked meal in Southern China. It is quick and easy to cook, nutritious, and comforting.

Egg and garlic chive

The easy 10-minute cooking involves:

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Bonito fish with chili bean paste and white wine

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I picked up some fresh Australian Bonito fish today. Cooking such a firm, meaty and bland fish can be challenging, as it can be easily over-cooked.

Bonito with chili bean sauce and white wine.

So I pan fried it as cutlets with chili bean sauce. Here are the steps:

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Meals for homeless – saute mushroom with bacon, onion, capsicum and green shallot

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I used rescued vegetables to cook for our homeless friends last week. There were some lovely button mushrooms, which I made a simple dish with bacon, capsicum, carrot, onion. They devoured it.

Meals for homeless - saute mushroom with onion, capsicum and bacon

Here are the easy cooking steps:

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Meals for homeless – poached chicken with oyster sauce (FODMAP friendly)

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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.

Meal for homeless - slow poached chicken with oyster sauce and green shallot (FODMAP friendly)

Here are the easy steps:

Bacon and cucumber stir fry (gluten free, FODMAP friendly)

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I made a quick meal of cucumbers and bacon in 15 minutes.

I sliced the cucumbers and bacon. In a frying pan I drizzled a little oil and added the bacon pieces. I pan fried the bacon until nearly crispy, then added the cucumbers. A few stirs, added a little sugar and white pepper. And we have a big bowl of tasty veggie and yummy bacon for dinner.

Chicken feet and corporate greed

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Chicken feet and corporate greed

“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.

They share their goals and visions loud and proud – the best interest of shareholders.  They sack as many workers as possible, and take the fat and bones out of the operation until it is on the verge of collapse.  This enables them to harvest bonus, and enjoy big fat golden handshakes when the real situation unfolds.

Does it have to be like that?  Why can’t corporations work for the best interest of all stakeholders including their customers and employees?

Corporate greed reminds me of chicken feet – skin and bone, tasty, yet unfulfilling as a meal. If a worker is struggling to feed his family and put a roof over their heads  – is this meal a blessing or misery?

Collaboration with Woofy Comics
Collaboration with my son @ Woofy Comics

Cooking method is as follows:

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Meals for homeless: turmeric eggs with chili tomato salsa

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This is a simple ‘please-all’ egg recipe with a tangy chili and tomato salsa.  It is often the first dish to be emptied at the street buffet for our homies.

Turmeric eggs with chili tomato salsa

Turmeric eggs with chili tomato salsa
Eggs pan fried with turmeric

Tangy capsicum, onion, tomato and chili salsa
Tangy capsicum, onion, tomato and chili salsa

Easy method is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Autumn sword flower soup 霸王花汤

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Cantonese loves soups.  There are soups for spring, summer, autumn and winter.

For autumn, one of my favorite therapeutic soups is the sword flower soup.  I cook it as a light bone broth with chicken bones, dried sword flowers,  carrots, almonds,  Chinese dates and Chinese mushrooms.  Just put all the ingredients in a pressure cooker, and it is done in 60 minutes.

Autumn sword flower soup 霸王花汤

Autumn sword flower soup 霸王花汤

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Chili, ginger and garlic prawns (gluten free)

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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.

Chili, ginger and garlic prawns

Method is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »

Bitter melon with beef and fermented black bean, and the story of the ‘left-behind’ children

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Bitter melon 苦瓜 with fermented black bean 豆豉 and beef

When I chatted with my friends over lunch today, I told them about the documentary about the left-behind children in Southern China.

These children lived in small and remote communities deep in the beautiful mountains in the GuangXi province, bordering Vietnam.  With limited land for farming, their parents left home to work in factories in the coastal cities.  Some children lived with their elderly grandparents. Some children, as young as 12 years old, looked after themselves and their younger siblings.

Living in leaky shacks, these children faced daily challenges with the lack of food, water, firewood, money for school, and loving care by parents.  Yet, the children were full of hope and spirit. Their daily chores, besides going to school, were fetching water, growing a few corns, collecting wild vegetables and cooking meals. The children looked forward to seeing their parents once a year during the Luna holiday, when the massive migration of workers returned home to their families.

Amazing resilience, their unique stories filled with sadness and joy.

“I was a left-behind child too, together with my younger brother and sister,’ say my friend Loyd, who came from Malaysia.  “I  was cared by my grandparents until I was 9 years old. My parents worked at a logging site in the forest.  My dad leased out equipment to the workers, while my mum worked as an administration clerk for the big logging company.”

” How do you feel about it, growing up without parents?” I was curious.

“This was the life we were given. We appreciated what we had.” Loyd said.

I always look up to this man, kind, respectful and calm.  Life is good for him and his family.

I cooked a bitter melon dish tonight.  Bitter melon is an unusual vegetable with bumpy husk and a peculiar peppery taste.  Some people hate its bitterness, yet many more appreciate the humble and unique deliciousness it offers.

Life is good when you appreciate it.

Easy stir fry method is as follows:

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Meals for the homeless – Indian spiced chicken

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This week, I made some Indian spiced chicken drumstick fillets for our homeless friends.

I marinated the chicken thigh fillets with garlic and ginger paste, yogurt, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala, mustard oil, sesame oil, salt and black pepper. Then I grilled the chicken pieces until they are cooked.

Pan fried spiced chicken fillets

Chicken giblet with cucumber (sustainable living #3)

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Chicken giblets need to be cook quickly to avoid over cooking. So I blanch the giblets in hot water quickly before slicing and pan frying.  Once blanched, I cook the giblets the same way as the chicken liver.

Here are the easy steps:

  • Blanch the giblets quickly in hot water; transfer to a plate to cool
  • Thinly slice the giblets
  • In a frying pan, add some cooking oil, bring it to very hot temperature; add sliced ginger, minced garlic, and sliced chili;  add sliced giblets, a little sugar, toss; splash a little dark soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, toss; remove from heat
  • Add some sliced shallot / scallion, toss
  • Add some sliced cucumber, toss
  • Garnish with chopped coriander

The giblets taste better the next day, served chilled as a salad (‘liang-ban’).

Chicken giblet with cucumber

Chicken liver with oyster sauce (sustainable living #2)

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My favorite chicken liver recipe calls for a quick stir fry in a very hot wok.

It is super simple:

  • In a frying pan, add some cooking oil, bring it to very hot temperature
  • Add sliced ginger, minced garlic,  sliced chili, and sliced shallot / scallion (white part only),  toss lightly
  • Add chicken liver pieces (cleaned and trimmed in advance);  splash in a little sugar and toss (for aroma), splash in some dark soy sauce (for color), oyster sauce, white pepper, stir fry till cooked
  • Add some sliced shallot/scallion (green part), toss
  • Garnish with chopped coriander and toasted sesame seeds

Chicken liver with chili, garlic and ginger

 

Stir fry Pig tongue with leek (sustainable living #1)

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Our family talked about sustainable living from time to time.  We achieved very little – the house is unsuitable for solar panels, and we are too busy to run a productive veggie patch or to keep a coup of chickens.

One thing we do well as a half-Asian family, is to use “fifth quarter” cuts such as offal.

Here is a stir fry pig tongue dish this week:

Stir fry pig tongue with soy and chili sauce

 

Stir fry pig tongue with soy and chili sauce

Simple cooking steps are as follows:

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Wonton ‘salad’ with XO Sauce

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Some beautiful people at my husband’s work organised a picnic lunch last weekend.  It was a diverse mix of people – Australians, Germans, Chinese and a few Indian families. A father brought his son and some yummy curry cooked by his wife’s friend.

“Why your wife’s friend cooked for us, a bunch of strangers?” we asked.

“Our Indians always help each other out in the community”, he smiled, ‘my son, for example, lived with his aunt for a few years; and our neighbor had picked him up from school for many years, unpaid of course”.

That sounds lovely, and a dream for many of us.

I live in a suburb in Sydney.  I like the area because it has lots of big trees and the community was warm and welcoming.  Things changed over the past few years with skyrocket housing prices. Moms are now working more hours and the stress spreading in the air.

How I wish we could have a closely knit community who can help each other, or simply having the time to ask each other, “are you ok?”

Wonton salad with XO Sauce

Here is a large wonton ‘salad’ I prepared for the picnic, a dish perfect for sharing.

The dish is somehow Cantonese, spiced with a Hong Kong style XO sauce made with scallop, fish, garlic and chili; yet it is not quite Cantonese as it was served lightly chilled, a cooking style used frequently by Northern China called the ‘liang ban’ (cool-mix).

A video on how to wrap wontons is also attached below.

Recipe is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »

Fried rice with Asian spices, and memories of Auntie Wong (gluten free option)

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Fried rice with Asian spices

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. 

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Snow fungus (雪耳), goji berries (枸杞) and chicken soup

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Snow fungus, goji berry and chicken soup

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:

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Meals for the homeless – chicken siumai dumplings

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Winter is here, and it rained most days last week. It was very uncomfortable for our rough sleepers. So I made an extra effort to make them some chicken siumai dumplings.

Although time-consuming, chicken siumai dumplings are very easy to make. My simplest version has only a few key ingredients – wonton wrappers, chicken mince, chicken bouillon powder, salt and white pepper, and cooking oil for pan-frying.

Meals for the homeless - chicken siumai dumplings

I first made the meat paste, then wrapped the dumplings. I steamed the dumplings, following by pan-frying the dumplings slightly, so they won’t stick during transit to the homeless feed.

The easy method is illustrated as follows:

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Shandong shredded chicken, memory of a cranky Mr. Chen (FODMAP friendly option)

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Shandong Shredded Chicken

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:

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Meals for the homeless: stir fry pork with soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce, port wine, turmeric and cumin

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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.

Stir fry pork with soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce, port wine, turmeric and cumin (gluten free option)

Beef flank stew (牛腩) with Asian spices and soy sauce, my memory of the hawker stall on the ‘Poetry Book Road’ ( FODMAP friendly)

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Beef flank stew
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.

DSC01174
Translation of the road sign:  Poetry Book Road; to the north, ‘Paper Factory Road’; to the south, ‘Heavenly Successful Road’.  September 2017, GuangZhou, China

DSC01091#1
A street vendor selling beef flank stew and pig intestines near Poetry Street, September 2017, GuangZhou, China

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 »

Chilled pork hocks with soy sauce and Asian spices (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

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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.

Chilled pork hocks with soy and Asian spices (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

Recipe is as follows:

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Meals for the homeless – simple stir fry noodles with bacon, leek and carrot

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Fried noodles is one of those ‘as you please’ dishes and you can add whatever ingredients you like.  For the weekly homeless feed, I like to compliment main dishes with a simple noodle dish.  Every week I change the ingredients to please our friends’ taste buds.

This week I made a noodle stir fry with bacon, leek and carrot.

Simple fried noodles with bacon, leek and carrot

Method is as follows:

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Pan fried tofu with soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option, vegan)

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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.

Pan fried tofu with soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option, vegan)

 

It was so easy to make:   Read the rest of this entry »

Fried duck eggs, with green shallot and dark soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

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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.

 

Fried duck eggs, with green shallot and dark soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

 

Fried duck eggs, with green shallot and dark soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)
Fresh duck eggs

Meals for the homeless – chicken and apricot terrine, with ham fat, raisin, strawberry jam, thyme and bay leaf

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Last Saturday my 10 year old boy bought a ham for the homeless feed out of his own pocket money. He and his dad sliced up the ham and left a pile of ham fat behind.

This Saturday was the Christmas dinner for our homeless friends.  So I made this colorful chicken terrine with left over ham fat. I also added apricot, raisin, saute onion, corn kennel, cumin powder, cinnamon powder, thyme, bay leaf, strawberry jam, salt and black pepper.

Looks and tasted great, and so easy and cheap to make.

Chicken and apricot terrine, with ham fat, raisin, strawberry jam, thyme and bay leaf

 

Chicken and apricot terrine, with ham fat, raisin, strawberry jam, thyme and bay leaf

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Saute oyster mushrooms with bok choy (low FODMAP, Vegan)

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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.

 

Saute oyster mushrooms with bok choy (low FODMAP, Vegan)

Method is as follows:

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Meals for the homeless – pulled pork with plum sauce, Char Siu sauce, dark soy sauce and cumin

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I have been cooking for the homeless feed on some Saturdays.  Trying to cope with work and the endless chores around the house, I was only able to cook simple meals for our homeless friends.

This week I made a simple Asian flavored pulled pork with plum sauce and Char Siu sauce.  I used 5kg of pork shoulder. I first removed the skin and most of the fat under the skin; then I rub the meat with a jar of plum sauce, 1/2 jar of Char Siu sauce,  2 teaspoon of cumin powder and a few generous dashes of dark soy sauce; I marinated the meat in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, I placed pork in a pre-heated 180c (360f) oven for 30 minutes, tightly covered with foil;  after 30 minutes, I reduced the temperature to 160c (320f), cooked the meat for further 30 minutes; then I turned the heat to 140c (280f) for further 2 hours. After that I left the meat in the oven for another 1 hour to settle, before I pulled the meat with 2 forks.

For the sauce, I  mixed some corn flour with water; transferred half of the meat juice to a sauce pan, added the corn flour mixture, brought to a slow boil and stirred briefly as the sauce thicken. I poured the sauce on top of the meat.

We had some for dinner too, with boiled rice – tasted great.

pulled pork with plum sauce, Char Siu sauce, dark soy sauce and cumin

Method is as follows:

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Dumpling party for the school fete – what’s your favorite dumpling folding style?

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I run an Asian food stall at the school fete each year to raise money for the school.  It was load of work  – a whole month of preparation rolling thousands of dumplings; the 2-hour sleep the night before the fete; and the stress about food quality and logistics.

But I loved it. I loved the families who helped to cook and served. I loved the families who enjoyed our food and left great comments on the social media.  It is somehow all worthwhile.

Here is a quick video clip to share – families gathered at our house to wrap 1,000 dumplings a week before the fete.  We then freeze the dumplings, boiled and then pan fried them on site at the school fete.

Tomato and egg soup, with Chinese mushroom and miso, memories of friends from the GuangYa Middle School (廣東廣雅中學)

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In the 1980s, I attended a local selective school called “GuangYa” in Southern China. It was one of the few schools with boarding facilities. During high school years, boarding was compulsory so the school could control the kids academic progress with minimum disruption. We worked really hard and rarely did anything remotely exciting. On the weekends, other kids were eager to return home to their families. I liked to stay in the school over the weekends to avoid home, a place lack of warmth.

There were a few other kids staying behind too, mostly boys. It was scary to stay in the empty dormitory on my own. It was a huge room lined with over 20 bunk beds, dimly lighted with a few bare bulbs, and filled with dark shadows. There were no cleaners, the kids took turns to sweep the floor. So the room was full of spider webs and dust.

I tried to persuade some other girls to stay behind too. Two of my good friends, Yi and Qin, stayed with me sometimes. We studied the whole weekend at our own pace without bells and patrolling teachers – it was rather peaceful. The school canteen was closed and we were to manage our own meals.

At the back of the school, there was a busy bus terminal, a noodle shop and a few small grocery shops. A strip of the street was occupied by a few vendors that sold fruits, vegetables and some other basic essentials. We often ate noodles for dinner, and brought back a few eggs and vegetables to make soup for supper – we were peckish after our evening study sessions. With no cooking equipment available, we used a small electric kettle.

One of our favorite soups was the tomato and egg soup. It was the simplest soup you could imagine – drop some diced tomato and an egg in the boiling water, a quick stir, salt to taste (or a little soy sauce), and some chopped coriander. The soup is done in 2 minutes, light and delicious.

Ah, good old days – hardship and friendships.

Memories of GuangDong GuangYa Middle School - Friends
Memories of GuangDong GuangYa Middle School – good friends

I am visiting China in a few weeks, and I will be seeing Yi and Qin. It has been 30 years since we said good-bye to each other. I crossed the oceans and moved so very far away from my friends. Today, Yi is a devoted Buddhist and Qin is an energetic entrepreneur.

Here is my more creative version of an egg and tomato soup, with a Chinese mushroom and miso base. I am looking forward to see Yin, Qin and some of my school friends again in a few weeks.

I didn’t write up the recipe – imagination and creativity work best for this dish.

Tomato and egg soup, with Chinese mushroom and miso

Chinese mushroom, fresh mushroom and capsicum stir fry, with oyster sauce

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This morning, I soaked a few dry Chinese mushrooms in hot water no particular recipes in mind.  Dinner time, I found some fresh mushrooms and a capsicum at the bottom of the fridge, and made this simple stir fry.

Chinese mushroom, fresh mushroom and capsicum stir fry, with oyster sauce

So simple, no recipe required +- slice everything and throw them in a frying pan over high heat;  Add a dash of cooking oil, a little oyster sauce, a little sesame oil and white pepper; toss for a few minutes; and it is done; garnish with sliced shallot (scallion) and sesame seeds.

One pot meal – spiced sausages and rice

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Years ago, my little boy loved a book called “The Tiger Who Came To Tea”.  The story talked about a tiger who visited Sophie’s house and ate all their food. Sophia’s dad took Sophie and her mum out to a cafe, had a lovely supper with sausages, chips and ice cream.

‘How could sausages be lovely?’ my little boy asked.

So here is my version of sausages – a one pot meal with onion and capsicum, spiced with garam masala, turmeric and mustard oil.

SONY DSC

 

Method is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Stir fried tofu skin 腐竹 with Chinese mushroom 香菇 and capsicum (gluten free, vegan)

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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) !

Stir fried tofu skin 腐竹 with Chinese mushroom 香菇 and capsicum (gluten free, vegan)

Recipe is as follows:

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Rice congee with pan fried fish (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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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.”

IMG_5037 #1
Impression of Li Hai and other primary boys

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.

Rice congee with pan fried fish (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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)

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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.

Asian spiced ratatouille with potato, eggplant, capsicum, zucchini and coriander (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

 

Recipe is as follows. A FODMAPs check list is attached.

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Saute capsicum and egg, with oyster sauce and sesame oil (low FODMAP)

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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.

Saute capsicum and egg, with oyster sauce and sesame oil (low FODMAP)

 

Recipe is as follows. A FODMAPs check list is also attached.

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Home style pork spare ribs with soy sauce, wine and vinegar (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

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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.

Home style pork spare ribs with soy sauce, wine and vinegar (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

Recipe is as follows:

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Asian style ox tail Soup with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and pepper (gluten free)

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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.

Asian style ox tail Soup with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and pepper (gluten free)

Recipe is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »

Sweet and sour pickled white radish 甜酸萝卜, and wish all children in the world are loved (FODMAP friendly, Vegan)

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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 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.

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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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.

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.

Steamed pork with soy sauce

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.

SONY DSC

Recipe is as follows:

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One pot meal – lamb shanks and rice, with wine, tomato and olive (FODMAP friendly)

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With weather turning cool, some lamb shanks seemed a good idea for an easy weekend evening meal. Feeling lazy after a day’s painting (my little boy requesting his room to be painted purple and black, from previously blue), I made a simple one pot meal with lamb shanks, rice, white wine, can tomato, olive and a few herbs from the garden.

The rice was soft, juice, and slightly crispy bottom. The shanks were just falling off the bones.  Easy and delicious.

One pot meal - lamb shanks and rice, with wine, tomato and olive (FODMAP friendly)

Recipe is as follows:

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Simple seaweed salad with mung bean vermicelli and pickled carrot (gluten free, vegan)

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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.

Asian seaweed salad

Recipe is as follow:

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Blasting of a cattleman’s roast (FODMAP friendly, gluten free)

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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.

Simple roast cattleman's beef, blasting method (FODMAP friendly, gluten free)