Tag Archives: Chinese

I can type, I have Mother to be thankful for…

It was late summer of 1985. We just moved from Flushing, NY to Harrington Park, NJ. First time alone, without my cousins and Chinese-speaking friends around, in a completely homogeneously white neighborhood… I turned on the TV, tried to make sense of American television, but it was hard. I went back to my room, turned on the radio, and started to setup for a drawing…

Mother came in and gave me a large book. I cannot recall whether it was in English or Chinese, but it was certainly a book on learning to use a standard typewriter. She said, “When you go to school, you are going to need to know how to type. So here’s a book for you to learn from.” The next day, Mother bought me a typewriter, and immediately I began to play with the keys.

I started learning by memorizing each alphabet’s location. My exercise was to type all 26 alphabets in its order in as little as a few seconds. By doing so, each alphabet’s location is permanently engrained in my brain, and set the foundation for my capability to type-write words and sentences without looking at the keyboard. Often I practiced with the radio on Power 95. The songs on the radio piqued my interest to know what they mean. Then I would somehow find lyrics of songs I like, and practiced typing out the lyrics. There were Duran Duran, Hearts, Joan Jets, and Tears for Fears among them.

Through the learning process, my little hand had a hard time reaching for the numbers on the top row. So I always “cheated” with typing numbers by using extended keyboard… Later I got good with extended numeral keyboard by doing a few part-time jobs as a cashier.

Today I can type, even better than my co-workers. 🙂 Thanks mom!

New Year with Sticky Rice Cake (年糕) and Fish

A colleague asked me yesterday what would be served as traditional dish during Chinese New Year. Right away I thought there would be many different celebratory dish, but what stood out were sticky rice cake and fish…

The New Years marks a time of changing cycle, changing shifts, where beginning meets the end, and where chaos would happen. So all traditions and rituals for New Years have long been established for good omen and well wishing. Sticky rice cake and fish are a good example of this tradition. It is not required to combine the two items in one dish, but both are required to be served…

Why? Because the Chinese word for “sticky,” or “粘” (nian,) has the same pronunciation as the word for “year”, or “年” (nian.) Whereas the word “fish”, or “魚” (Yu,) shares the same pronunciation with the word “surplus”, or “餘” (Yu.) Therefore, having sticky rice cake and fish on the New Years table is a good omen for the upcoming year, echoing the lucky phrase “年年有餘” (nian-nian-yo-yu), meaning “having surplus year after year.”

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Crispy Sticky Rice Cake

Sticky rice cake comes in different kinds and flavors. I am introducing today the sweet sticky rice cake made with red beans, wrapped in spring roll wrapper. This recipe was a spontaneous creation at a hot pot party years ago.

Ingredient list:

  • Store-bought or home-made red bean rice cake, 6 to 8- inch diameter
  •  Store-bought or home-made spring roll wrapper, around 6″ squares.
  •  Deep fryer
  •  Deep frying oil, a gallon, or the amount enough for your deep fryer.
  •  1/4 cup cooked white rice to be used as edible glue
  •  1 cup Water
  1. To make edible glue, in a sauce pan, mix cooked white rice with 1 cup water, stir, mash, and use high heat to bring it to boil. Reduce heat, continue stirring and mashing, until the rice-water mix is reduced to thick congee texture. Remove from heat. Then set aside to cool.
  2. Remove packaging of the sticky rice cake, if bought from store.
  3. Cut the rice cake disc into bite sized chips.
  4. Wrap each individual rice cake chips with a single sheet of spring roll wrapper. Use the edible glue to secure the end of the wrapper. Without securing, they may unravel in the deep frying process.
  5. Setup and heat deep fryer to 350 degrees
  6. Deep fry the wrapped rice cake in batches until golden brown. Drain oil and set aside to cool before serving.
red bean sticky rice cake
This is a photo of a red bean sticky rice cake, similar to a store-bought version with the packaging removed.
My version of sticky rice cake
Here’s my fried sticky rice cake being cooled right before serving. It was crispy on the outside, warm and sweet on the inside. (Yum!)

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Sautéed Tilapia for Eight

During Chinese New Year, a plate of fish is often required on the table, for the symbolism explained earlier. It doesn’t matter which kind of fish. The Asian culture cook and serve food in its entirety for wholesomeness. We cook and use all parts of animal and fish for sustainability–not to create animal waste of God’s gift. But for my western readers, I hereby publish the recipe of my famous tilapia fillet, which I cook for my in-laws every Christmas Eve.

Ingredient list:

  • 4 large fillets. 2 servings per fillet.
  • 2-inch section of Ginger root of 1″ diameter.
  • 6 stalks of scallions
  • 1 TBSP Sautéing oil
  • Salt

Preparation:

  • Sprinkle one pinch of salt on each side of fillet.
  • Cut all ginger root into thin slices. Julienne about half of the slices to be used for topping.
  • Julienne all scallions
  • Setup a frying pan with a cover

Cooking:

  1. Grease the pan with sautéing oil. Use medium high heat. Spread in the sliced ginger in the bottom of pan. Once the ginger pieces starts to bubble, lay down tilapia on top of ginger slices. Spread the julienned ginger and scallion over the fillets. Reduce to medium heat and cover.
  2. When the fish turns completely white, remove from heat and serve. If a firmer texture is desired, it may be cooked longer with cover, for about 3 to 5 more minutes.
IMG_2094
In this photo, the plate on the left had chili powder added to the plate, for those who like a kick in their tilapia. Also there are cilantro to top it off as added garnish.

I hope you enjoy these recipes…
新年快樂,恭喜發財!
(Xin-nian-kuai-le, gung-xi-fa-cai!)
Happy Chinese New Year, Congratulations for your new wealth!

A Story of a Jade Bangle

Every piece of jade is unique. The Chinese believe that jade have their own spiritual callings. With an artisan’s crafty hands, the beauty and characteristics of a piece of authentic jade can be revealed. A piece of jade jewelry, made especially to be worn by humans, are not to be pursued. Due to its own spiritual calling, it would make its way to its destined owner.

Mother acquired the jade many years prior to moving to California in the spring of 2005. Before she moved, I went to her house often, helping her pack the house and accept whatever she didn’t want to move with her.

During one of those days, with her house full of cardboard boxes everywhere, she came to me and said, “This, I bought for you…” as she held up in front of me a bright red satin silk pouch. She unbuckled the brass snap button of the red pouch, adorned with golden threaded embroidery… A circular ring of pale green slid out and emerged in front of my eyes…

I recognized it’s a jade. It looked commonplace under the light. I appreciated her gesture, and knowing I wouldn’t see her often soon, I wanted to put it on right there and then. The unforgiving stone didn’t budge my big stiff hand… It was painful!

Mother saw the struggle, smiled and said, “It’s not time yet… Just keep it.” She put the bangle back into the pouch and handed it to me.

Years gone by. I started a creative and design business. Recession came. Time was tough and life was hard. Constently tried to reinvent and get by… I thought of Mother often–Her ways, her cooking, her words of wisdom…

One day I went through my drawers and rediscovered the red satin silk pouch. I couldn’t remember what it was until I felt the 2.5″ ring it contained. I opened the pouch and recalled the moment when Mother presented this. I held the bangle against the light and discovered the never before seen complexity within this simple ring of pale green, composed of smoky beige clouds and little dark green clusters of veins scattered throughout inside this perfectly round, crafted and polished wrist bangle.

I felt comfortable with it. It’s not stunning, not impressive. It didn’t look expensive. But it has its subtle and natural beauty that is honestly what it is… It made me feel close to home… Close to Mother…

Holding it with my right hand, without much thought, I gathered my left hand fingertips and put it through the bangle. I naturally slid it toward the wrist, slowly… Then, without really knowing what I was doing, the jade made it past my knuckles and landed on my wrist in no time… Without any pain.

Suddenly I realized that I was wearing it. “Oh no, can I take it of?” I thought, and tried to pull it out. But it was stuck! I was experiencing the same pain and struggle I felt when I tried to put it on the first time… Now it’s not letting me taking it off!

I’ve been living with the jade bangle ever since. In the beginning, it took me some time to adjust to the clunky noise it would make, every time I rest my left hand on a hard surface. But, as I hear the subtle banging noise, it’d always remind me of Mother, as if she was here with me — Because she wears a jade bangle too, and it’s the same noise she would make.

Day after day, the warm thought of Mother helped me I grow very comfortable with the jade. The noise has become a part of my life. The jade itself has become a part of me, my being, and an inspiration of Mother’s wisdom.