Steamed pork with soy sauce, memories of my aunt ‘Yi-ma’, 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 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.

Home style steamed pork (low FODMAP)

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.

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

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.

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

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:

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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 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.

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 lotus pond
A lotus pond

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

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

Recipe is as follows:

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

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

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

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

Recipe is as follows:

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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 with rice, tomato and olive

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.

A wonderful traditional ‘liang ban’ (cold mix) salad.

Seaweed salad with pickled carrot and mung bean vermicelli

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Cantonese sweet tea buns and my friend OuYang

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I made some tea buns today.  When I was a little kid these buns were sold in little shops on nearly every street in GuangZhou. We had them mostly for breakfast. The bread was also great for a picnic lunch during school excursions.

Cantonese sweet milk bread / tea buns

Growing up, I didn’t have many close friends in the neighborhood, until I met OuYang in year 3 of primary school.

I grew up in a terrace house on a small lane way. There were always other kids around. During my early childhood years, I often wandered around and watched other kids played. I rarely joined in as most kids were older than me. At pre-school I didn’t quite connect with other kids. I was the odd one who always cried at the front door when my nails were examined for cleanness; the one who went for the old books rather than new toys; and the one that was the fastest on tricycle but never won any competitions.

In primary school, I was one of top students academically. I was ‘appointed’ as the literacy subject ‘leader’ for the class that year. The role of a ‘leader’ was to collect homework, and led the morning reading sessions at the front of the classroom, a proud job for a young girl.

One day, the teacher pulled me aside. She reassigned my literacy ‘leader’ responsibility to a new kid transferred from another school. The teacher said she was excellent in literacy, won awards for her essays, hence deserved to be the literacy ‘leader’. I was told to take on the role for English instead. I didn’t mind, I was good at both subjects. I was looking forward to meet this new kid.

Then I met OuYang, a bright girl with pony tails like ox horns (common those days). We got on straight away and we became best friends. OuYang was open, warm and highly competitive. Our next 3 years were amazing as we shared our love for literacy and appreciation for nature. At break time between classes, we leaned on the railing of the long balcony, chatted about anything and everything. When I spent time at her house, her mum was kind and gentle. It was the first time that I realized that mothers had different parenting style.

For a school excursion we went to the tallest mountains in the city, called the ‘Baiyun Mountain’  (白雲山) or the ‘White Cloud Mountain’. We found some common wild flowers with yellow blossoms. We sat down on the green grass and had our picnic lunch next to the flowers. We named the flowers ‘yellow sun’ and wrote a poem about it.  I still remember my lunch that day were 2 tea buns which I bought from the little convenience store near my house.

At white cloud mountain
A trip to the white cloud mountain, GuangZhou, in late 1970s

As I enjoyed the warm and delicious tea buns I made today, I wished I could reconnect with my long lost friend OuYang again.

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