Mom, Music, and Memory, plus a Recipe for Hong Kong Style Steamed Cod

As I have mentioned on several occasions, my memory is shit. However, by expanding my understanding of memory beyond mere recounting of facts, I have been able to embrace new forms of remembrance. For example, by making a meal I associate with comfort, I renew (or reinvent) the feeling of mom’s loving embrace. I may not recall particular conversations, but I can acknowledge that my present needs often determine the way I remember the past, making my relationship with my mother always active, real, and fulfilling. Short of believing in an afterlife, this is not bad!

I’ve been inviting sadness in for tea instead of letting it howl outside my door. With the decade anniversary of my mother’s passing coming up in February, I’ve been resisting my tendency to deny the feelings of despair, self-loathing, and loneliness that often come with my experience of sorrow. Because I’m very unseasoned at this (and much more comfortable with more seemingly active feelings, like anger), I’ve decided to engage a couple of strategies to make this process more palpable: (1) With one of the loves of my life, I am re-reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey, my mother’s favorite book and the source of inspiration for her funeral theme (“love is the only survivor); and (2) I’ve been revisiting my relationship with the piano/keyboard.


Perhaps you know this about me: I’ve long conflated enjoyment with mastery, hobby with obsession, skill with worthiness. As a child entered into many a competition (piano, voice, flute, you name it) and as someone who has clearly internalized the idea that my value as a person only comes through increasing proficiency and validation, I’ve had a hard time approaching activities for “fun.” But recently, I’ve been drawn to the keyboard in my husband’s studio. Not because I want to be as good as I once was, or to impress anyone, but because I have some MAJOR feels when I do. Those emotions are both indescribable and unascribable. Though I’ve only been playing for 20 minutes at a time to relearn pieces I already know I love, I am feeling so much more moved and centered than when I used to practice for three-hours at a time in my youth. It’s possible that when I now play, I remember how my mom used to sit in during all of my lessons to take notes, not about technique, but about phrasing and feeling. Maybe I recall the ways in which my mom would help me visualize sections of Chopin nocturnes by color, to help me sort what it is I wanted to express and articulate. Perhaps I consider the ways in which my mother continues to help me figure out what I want to express and articulate. And, maybe it’s none of these things.


All I know is that when muscle memory starts to take over, my eyes close, tears arise, and I feel both closer and further from my mother than I ever have. I remember and don’t remember. I feel sad and grateful, cursed and blessed, lonely and loved, rejected and embraced. It’s weird and it’s great. I used to think sadness was simplistic, that it made me passive/useless. But through my mom, music, and memory, I’m finding that this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever thought. Sadness is both beautiful and complex, and invites an intricate interweaving of active revelations and dormant feelings.

My musician friends and boo may disagree with me here, but I think food and music hold similar possibilities of  emotional, intellectual, and visceral transformation. Nico and I recently watched Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film Youth. It was both fiercely intellectual and emotional, and I felt moved by this particular quote, stated by Michael Caine’s character:

You were right, music is all I understand. Because you don’t need words or experience to understand it. It just is.

I feel this way about food, too. What I sort of love about my new approach to re-membering is that I no longer need to keep it literal. To taste my mom’s tenderness, I don’t need to recreate a dish that she used to make. To remember the way she always supported my expression, I don’t need to play the exact pieces she helped with. Instead, I can open my eyes, ears, mouth, and heart to new things and invite her into new moments, new foods, new music.

For some reason, the meal below (steamed cod with soy/wine sauce + farro) reminds me of my mom’s tough and lecture-y love (“how are you supposed to fight with other people and communities when you can’t even be kind to yourself?”). Sometimes I need that kind of love. Maybe you do, too? 


The look of mama's stern and tender love

The look of mama’s stern and tender love

(For the musical rendition of this feeling, I listen to this:

And now, for the recipe.


Hong Kong Style Steamed Cod w/ Soy/Wine Sauce and Fried Garlic
Recipe taken from Annielicious


  • 1 thick slice of Fresh Cod Fish Steak (About 1 inch thick)
  • 2 slices Ginger
  • a dash of pepper

For the Sauce

  • 1 tbsp Light Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp Rock Sugar (You could use normal sugar if you don’t have rock sugar)
  • 1 tbsp Water
  • 1 tbsp Hsao Xing Wine

For Garnishing

  • 3 bulbs of garlic, finely chopped.
  • 1 tbsp Cooking Oil
  • some spring onions, cut into 1 inch length


  1. Clean fish, pat dry. Place ginger on a steaming dish, place fish on top.
  2. Bring water in the steamer to a boil and steam fish over high heat for 6 minutes.
  3. While the fish is steaming half way, heat sauce ingredient in a pot and bring to a boil.
  4. Remove fish from the steamer, pour away the steaming liquid .
  5. Add a dash of pepper and drizzle sauce over.
  6. Fry chopped garlic with oil in another pan until golden brown. Don’t burnt it.
  7. Pour the hot garlic oil over, garnish with golden brown garlic and spring onions. Serve!

Coming Up…Announcing a 6-week “Diet” for 2016 (that I won’t hate!) and Knowing My Body

Ten Kitchen Tools/Appliances I Can’t Live Without, plus a Poll

Sorry for the month-long hiatus. Life has been busy, and things always get crazier around the holidays!

Anywho, as an obsessive cook, I have a loving relationship with almost everything in my kitchen. Nico and I have been fortunate enough to accumulate and inherit a lot of cookware and tools throughout our college years and from my family. Plus, like a totally square couple, we received additional kitchen goodies when we got hitched. There are a few things I use with great frequency, things I cannot live without. Here’s the list:

Dutch Oven


For whatever reason, my father had two dutch ovens in storage, so he gave one of them to me. Honestly, I’m not sure I would spend a zillion dollars on this particular piece of cookware if we had to buy it ourselves, but I know that I use it at least once a week and would cry if it were taken away from me. As a lover of soups and stews, the dutch oven is an extremely versatile and reliable item in my kitchen. Whether I’m making a meat stew and browning the crap out of some tender beef, chicken, or lamb, or I’m cooking a swiss chard, potato, and chickpea stew, the dutch oven is magic. It’s designed specifically to enhance slow-cooking by heating evenly and locking in moisture for more tender results, and the material can withstand temperatures up to 500°F.

Good Chef’s Knife


Obviously, if you cook a lot, having a quality knife for chopping meats, fish, and vegetables is a real help. This is probably the only expensive (over $50) kitchen tool I’ve ever purchased, and even then, I used a William Sonoma credit card “reward” in order to supplement the purchase. With a Shun classic hollow-ground santoku knife, I’m able to quickly chop, dice, and slice any number of ingredients.

A Good Spatula


I do a lot of pan-frying and baking, and find that a good spatula makes these processes a lot easier and neater. There are specialized spatulas (for fish, for example), but I like using a hearty metal one for everything.


Rice Cooker


I eat a lot of rice, partially because I’m really fond of it, and partially  because it’s so easy to make, especially with a rice cooker. A staple in many Korean households, this appliance makes kitchen life super easy. Just plop in some measured rice and water, click a button, and voila! You have perfectly cooked rice. Rice cookers come in a variety of sizes and levels of sophistication – some are really simple and purely for rice which run around $50, and others utilize this mysterious thing called “fuzzy logic” with multiple cooking settings for rice (white, umami, mixed, sushi, porridge, sweet, brown, GABA brown, rinse free, quick cooking, and slow cooking) that can be $300+. 

Nonstick Baking Trays


I’ve been a pretty bad girl, and haven’t taken good care of my baking trays. But I use them all the time for cookies, roasted vegetables, baked tofu, etc



I use our wok for almost all pasta  and sauteed vegetable dishes. It’s actually probably not the ideal piece of cookware for these (sautee pans with a larger bottom diameter are likely more appropriate).  But I usually cook (and eat) in bulk, and the shape of the wok makes it easier for me to not make a huge mess while stirring/mixing food.

8 quart stock pot


A big pot is a necessary tool in a kitchen. Whether you’re boiling pasta (which should always be cooked in a lot of water – one never wants to stuff pasta and water in a small pot), blanching vegetables, making mashed taters, or simmering stock.

Cast Iron Skillet



Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I love cast iron skillets for so many reasons. First of all, because they’re so thick, heavy, and durable, food tends to cook evenly and beautifully. Secondly, if you want to brown your food for some intensified flavors, cast iron cookware will get you that amazing depth of flavor and color. Also, I really enjoy taking care of it. It requires a little bit of love and intentionality, which somehow makes me care about it even more. They’re also super versatile since they can be put in the oven. One could make eggs & bacon at the same time, bake some corn bread or a frittata, sear/brown a large roast before sticking it in the oven, and much more. And, they’re not very expensive! I think Nico and I bought ours at Target for $25.00, and after a few months of good loving, it was already seasoned beautifully, and it will probably last for decades to come.


Wooden Spoon


Wooden spoons are great for cooking. I don’t like the idea of using plastic on hot foods, so I use wooden products to sautee and mix foods in pots and pans. They’re also good for mixing batters while baking.

…And finally, a poll:

Because I’ve been rather indecisive these past few weeks, I’m going to ask you all to help me decide what entry comes next. Help?