Sadly not my photo!
As you read this I’ve landed in Hong Kong and am at my grandmother’s place to begin my adventure. In the meantime, as promised, here is a brand new feature for I Am A Feeder: Momma Lee’s Naughty Corner! Yep, I love her, you love her, and Momma Lee will be sharing anecdotes, recipes and answering your questions periodically. I just hope she doesn’t say anything too embarrassing… if you have a question you’d like Momma Lee to answer, please send me an email with Momma Lee’s Naughty Corner in the subject field – foodie related or life related – she’ll answer them all! Hope you enjoy and update you on my Odyssey soon!
Momma Lee’s Naughty Corner
….too old for ecstasy, too young for lawn bowls*……
(*esoteric and quintessentially British Empire type game of rolling balls over immaculate lawns whilst others take afternoon tea and look on: like curling, without the ice and the mops.)
Well hello my dahlings! I am Momma Lee. Goodness gracious me, not entirely sure how I got here; but I suppose it’s through Baby Lee’s occasional references to my hyuk-hyukking in the corner as she typed her little socks off about her sundry exploits in the kitchen. That has somehow sparked a curiosity amongst some of her readership as to the identity of this invisible guffawer. This then, is my come-uppance: instead of writing 200 lines of “I will not laugh in the kitchen”, I am to sit in my Naughty Corner and become, literally, a Yummy Mummy – and talk to you once in a while about food and cookery. It is after all, my passion as much as it is my daughter’s: she inherited it from me and from ancestors who all loved food, and had food stories to tell. I will share some of those stories and family recipes with you each time I appear in my corner.
Baby Lee may have mentioned the origins of her own food geekiness: that she was weaned off mommy milk straight onto chicken, dried octopus and paw paw soup. My chicken, dried octopus and paw paw soup. The brew was faithfully made everyday for me by our then live-in nanny whom Grandmother Lee had brought to help with the newly arrived enfant terrible. The concoction was meant to prolong my status as Mildred the mummy milk cow, so I could satisfy the daily culinary requirements of my baby daughter. But eight and a half months post partum, when I looked more like a paw paw tree than I resembled Mildred the cow, I was quite happy to finally relinquish my soup to this baby, who had refused formula milk and who would only sip from a Chinese porcelain spoon, not suckle from a rubber teat. At the first gulp of soup her eyes widened, she smacked her tiny gums, burbled “Num Num!” and the rest is history. As this child grew she ate everything weird and wonderful from eyeball to eyeball (out of seabass steamed with spring onions, ginger and light soy sauce); cheek (both fish cheeks and braised pigs’ cheeks) to jowl (stewed fish lips); insides (tripe, chicken gizzards, foie gras, sweetbreads) and out (she was partial to chicken oysters, not a rare breed of bivalves but literally, the chicken armpits); head (tete de veau, and drunken pigeon’s brains) to tail (Thai red curried oxtail); and everything in between any given beastie (especially osso bucco – her all time favourite). Baby and Momma Lee are the two members of the family who could be guaranteed to strip a drumstick completely of its succulent flesh, including (if not especially) the cartilagey bits; but Baby Lee’s chicken bones are whiter and cleaner than everyone else’s because even the thin membrane on the bone is devoured. This I consider one of my minor triumphs in parenting; a typical Momma Lee-ism is this: “eat up children; waste not want not; there are children starving in Africa.” Baby Lee took that remark seriously. (Jackie’s Note: this may also be due to the fact that when I was a young ‘un Momma Lee told me that when I died all the leftovers on my plate – and leftover sips of milk in my glass – would be put in a bucket and held at the Pearly Gates by St Peter, who would force me to eat everything in the bucket… and by then it would be all mouldy and disgusting! Momma Lee insists that she doesn’t remember this, but I do. I remember it all…)
My own odyssey with food was similarly precocious; my Chinese nanny told me that because I had a tiny pearl of flesh on my top lip it meant I would be a connoisseur of tasty morsels. And indeed, when all other babies dutifully swallowed the Heinz Baby Apple Sauce shovelled down their gobs, my mother said that I would shudder dramatically with each mouthful, so much so they had to resort to scraping from a fresh apple with a spoon, and feed me that instead.
The infamous Grandma Ma’s cookbook.
I learnt my first cookery from my own mother, who did not really cook till she retired from her office job, but she always baked a bit. I especially remembered her cookie days. They inevitably followed Easter, when gifts of huge chocolate bunnies would have arrived and sit for days on top of our Frigidaire refrigerator that lived in the hall. I would crane my neck and gaze at them for hours on end, knowing there were tiny Easter eggs wrapped in gold foil paper sitting inside the tummy of the big bunny. One afternoon, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, I walked through the front door after school, and the smell of chocolate assailed my nostrils. Instinctively I looked up to the top of the Frigidaire, and the bunny had gone! I was heartbroken to learn that my Mommy had melted it down, and used the chocolate to bake animal cookies with. This is how easily parents fall off their pedestals, big time! I have a strong recollection that one of the cookie shapes was a kangaroo, and although I would later relish biting off first the tail, then the feet, then the head at tea time – I merely half enjoyed it because I WANTED THE BUNNY! It was only when I found the tiny golden chocolate eggs inside the fridge that I was slightly appeased, though I never dared touch them. Sweets were only given as reward for especially good behaviour, and I was probably so naughty that those eggs had to be thrown out before I merited having one as a reward. It’s no wonder that I don’t like chocolate. Baby Lee seems to have inherited even that from me.
Jackie’s Note: I used to spend hours trying to copy the drawings on the back of Grandma Ma’s cookbook – she was clearly an artist as well as a baker!
Yet somehow something in me continued to want to bake. I remember deciding on the spur of a moment one Valentine’s Day, that I would bake my parents a heart shaped meringue. And so I did – with no idea how to, no Google search engine to ask of. I whipped up some egg whites by hand with a ton of sugar, drew a wobbly heart shape in pencil on a piece of tracing paper, piled the egg mix onto the outline and shoved it into the oven. The result drew a smile from my mother’s lips, and my heart sang. Mother continued to bake some Saturdays when she didn’t have to go to work, and when she felt in need of divertissement. I recall her struggle with a simple butter pound cake – how it would never rise in the middle. We made block after block, for weeks and weeks – and still no joy. If any of you dahling children have a foolproof recipe for a good butter pound cake, send it along my way as it’s still a matter of unrequited love. But to compensate for the massive failure of a blonde cake, my mother made the most unctuously divine Midnight Cake – a chocolate/mocca creation so dark and moist it was nearly black. It was by far her greatest baking success, and you could tell from that page in her handwritten recipe book, because it was smeared with cocoa powder and coffee stains, obvious signs of wear and tear from constant use. My youngest brother Bo, another foodie and avid cook in the family, was incensed when I inherited Mommy’s recipe book after she died. And the one recipe he asked for was this Midnight Cake.
As I write this blog, Baby Lee is readying herself for her own big food adventure. I say readying, as opposed to packing – which is yet to happen, and she leaves in less than 20 hours! It will be interesting for me to see what she makes of her connections with family, friends and fellow food bloggers as she visits them, and the food discoveries she makes as a result of her journeying. I look forward also to meeting some of you online as we look at life through food, or look at food through life!
Tiddly-poohs dahlings – mwah!
Chicken, Dried Octopus & Paw Paw Soup
One chicken, parboiled, skinned
Two or three pieces ginger, slightly bashed
One large green paw paw (or green papaya) – peeled, deseeded and cut into large chunks
Optional: dried cuttlefish or octopus – soaked for some hours, then parboiled
Salt to taste
1. Clean and parboil the chicken, remove skin and put into large stock pot.
2. Add all other ingredients, top with water and bring to boil.
3. Simmer for some hours, season to taste with salt.
This is a great soup to help nursing mothers produce more milk. But if you were a daddy you could also drink this and enjoy it as a chicken soup. Promise you will not lactate.
(Momma Lee’s momma’s recipe)
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Blend in gradually with beaten eggs.
2. Slowly add hot water to cocoa and mix well till smooth.
3. Sift flour, salt, baking soda and bicarbonate of soda together.
4. Alternately add dry ingredients and the cocoa mix to the creamed mixture.
5. Blend in the vanilla.
6. Pour mixture into a greased 8 inch square pan (2 1/2 inches deep) and bake for 50-55 minutes in a moderate oven (350 degrees F or 175 degrees C).