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

On Maine, Mom, and a (Working) Menu for Vacation

In a ten days, my partner in crime and grime, our shiba, and I will be en route to a week-long and breathtaking getaway in Maine. With incredible views of the rolling hills, green trees, and fluffy clouds, we’ll spend our days hiking, swimming, reading, napping, and exploring Belfast. Oh, and we’ll be eating a lot. Like, an insane amount of food. And what, pray tell, will we be eating with incredible gluttony and satisfaction?


Oh. My. God.


But this trip isn’t just about the lobster. I mean, a lot of it is. But Maine holds a very special and overwhelming place in my heart. In my younger days, my family would spend a week or two together in the Pine Tree State. It was the only time I didn’t obsessively focus on practicing an instrument, the only time I didn’t think about school, or my academic deficiencies (fuck you, math and science!). I was granted reprieve from intensive camps (e.g. 6 week sleepaway piano camp, vocal pre-college program).

Instead, I breathed. I shared comfortable and comforting silences with my mother. I hiked with my brother and found myself inspired and moved by his quiet yet powerful leadership. I humored my mom and let her take hundreds of mediocre photos of my mediocre face, but pretended (or allowed myself) to feel beautiful. Though I’m not sure that my mother knew it, I spend a great deal of my time watching her interact with the natural world. She touched remarkably ordinary leaves, sticks, and rocks with an impossible tenderness, warmth, and appreciation. She would pick up some weirdly shaped pebble and exclaimed that she found inspiration for a new pot (she was a potter in the final years of her life).

One of mom's pieces

One of mom’s pieces

I called these

I called these “The Dr. Seuss Series”

At the time, I had high standards for beauty. Things had to be the most unique and aesthetically pleasing in order for my heart to flutter. So, like a typical tween/teenage daughter, I’d roll my eyes (with fondness) at my mother’s ridiculous propensity for finding beauty in random and regular shit.This isn’t to say that Maine is random and regular. It’s stunning. 

And then she died. We never went back, and it’s now been nearly ten years since I last visited. We followed that typical familial trajectory, where my brother and I grew up and we stopped vacationing together as a family. Though I had opportunities to travel to Maine during my college years, and the time that followed, there was something delicately haunting and mystical about the state– a hopeful and subtle promise that my mother would somehow, in some way, be a part of the experience. I hadn’t been ready.

My last trip to Maine

Mom and me, last trip to Maine

But I am, now. I’m filled with a desire to be genuinely compassionate, to myself, to others, to the natural world. And I’m looking forward to assessing those ordinary leaves, sticks, and rocks, to finding pieces of my mother in the earth, the ponds, in my reflection.

And, to bring it back to the main subject at hand, I’m looking forward to lobster. I conflate my (strangely expansive) memories of Maine with those of eating so much damn lobster that we had to be “creative” about what to do with leftovers. Drench it in BBQ sauce. Mix it with rice, vegetables, kimchi, and Kraft American Singles. Eat it for breakfast and for dessert. Put it on a pie. It was fun, but definitely not always delicious.

Now that I’m a grown ass person, I can actually prepare and cook the lobster, myself! How exciting is that?

Though I had promised myself that I wouldn’t make a fully blown for the trip, I just can’t help it. This cabin has a full outdoor kitchen (commercial range, pizza oven, professional grill), so…obviously I need a menu. I don’t think Nico minds my compulsive need to plan our meals, not when it comes to lobster.

Here’s a working list of proposed meals, to soon be assessed and voted on by me and the husband dude. Yea, there’s a voting system. Feel free to pick your favorites in a comment!

Note: I usually create and finalize these menus many months in advance, so this is me being way chiller than ever before. Thank you, therapy!

Breakfast (pick four)

  • Lemon ricotta pancakes
    Breakfast pizza w/ herbs, spinach, and eggs
  • Breakfast quesadillas w/ broccoli, cheddar, and eggs
  • Sour cream coffee cake with orange and chocolate

Lunch (pick four)

  • Tarragon lobster rolls
  • Lobster, kimchi, and egg fried rice
    Lobster corn chowder
  • Lobster grilled cheese sandwich w/ watercress
  • Grilled vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers) on a toasted baguette w/ brie

Dinner (pick six)

  • Pizza (margherita, four cheese, speck + onion)
  • Marinated skirt steak, grilled vegetables, and rice
  • Steamed lobster w/ grilled asparagus and baked stuffed potatoes
  • Lobster and pea risotto, and a salad
  • Grilled lobster w/ garlic/parsley butter, toasted baguette, and browned baby zucchini w/ mint, basil, and pine nuts
  • Grilled lobster with miso butter, jasmine rice, and grilled zucchini
  • Cantonese-style ginger and scallion lobster, jasmine rice, and sautéed bok coy
  • Lobster mac n cheese and salad
  • Lobster, seafood, and pea risotto and a salad
  • Lobster, clam, and kimchi stew, jasmine rice, and garlic sautéed spinach
  • Zuni Café inspired roasted chicken, grilled bread salad, and tomato + cucumber + olive + feta salad
  • Pappardelle w/ roasted cherry tomato cream sauce, and a salad

Dessert (pick 2)

  • Peach and blueberry cake
  • Strawberry mascarpone tart
  • Orange, grapefruit, and green grape compote

On Inherited Memory, and a Recipe for Kimchi Spam Fried Rice

Our tastes are often molded by memory. In particular, we find ourselves fond of foods that make us nostalgic, dishes that take us back to a cherished moment, tastes that reestablish a feeling or experience, and meals that help us to feel like we’ve returned to ourselves and remember who we are. This makes sense to me. More puzzling than the fact that memory can impact our tastes buds in a powerful way is the possibility that these buds can even be affected by memories that are not our own.


Spam. God, what the fuck is spam, and why am I so keen on eating it? I’m fairly certain that if someone introduced Spam to me as an adult, I would snobbishly spit out the salty and gelatinous mess and give that someone a damn dirty stare. But it was introduced to me by my parents as a treat to cherish. For them, Spam signified a moment in Korean history that gave them a deep feeling of ambivalence: the Korean War. The weird canned good was brought over to the peninsula by American soldiers and became a coveted luxury (yes, a luxury) in the dark and desperate years immediately following the war. At a time when meat was difficult to come by, it denoted prosperity and nutrition, luxury and finesse. It became a sign of America, an image of prosperity and processed privilege, an imagining of an unreal future where a canned meat equaled progress. And, of course, symbols of everything America were and continue to be met with deeply uncertain sentiments. America as savior. America as imperialists. America as progress. America as excess. America, the threat to a strong (and masculinist) Korean national identity. Whether or not Spam is delicious is obviously arguable, and also a bit irrelevant, to me. What is inarguable is the fact that Spam holds a lot of power over our memories (and therefore, our taste buds) because of the moment of history it represents. This canned treat is still categorically popular in S. Korea. Here’s an interesting tidbit: S. Korea is the second largest consumer of Spam in the world, eating roughly half as much as the U.S., which has six times as many residents. My people sure love their salty pork products.

Anywho, back to the original point. I was not born in S. Korea, and I don’t have my own memories of the war, or a remembrance of the desperation that marked its aftermath. With every gloopy bite, I don’t close my eyes and quiver with anticipation for feelings and memories to come. I don’t think about American soldiers, progress, safety, poverty, imperialism, or anything beyond “this is really fucking salty.” But I love it, anyway. I blame my grandparents and parents. They grew up with this experience. And though they didn’t say much about Korean history when pan frying this “meat”, I witnessed their strange love for Spam and thought it was  nice. And through either genetics or osmosis, I began to harbor my own strange love for the canned good.

I’m not saying that the only reason Koreans love Spam is because of the history/circumstances surrounding its introduction – I certainly know people who straight up love it. But I think it’s bizarre and lovely that I somehow absorbed my parents’ love and memory of the boxed pork. It’s perhaps a testament to my love for them that I inherited their fondness for a food that I could have hated. So, to all the naysayers who proselytize about Spam being the worst: suck it. I’ll love it for as long as I love my parents and grandparents, and you won’t take that away from me.

And now, the recipe.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 preset

Kimchi Spam Fried Rice
Adapted from Dale Talde’s Recipe (featured on Buzzfeed)
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 45 minutes
6 Servings


2 cups white jasmine rice, cooked
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
3 eggs, beaten in a bowl until yolks and whites are combined
1 12-ounce container Spam, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Kimchi, strained, thinly sliced, liquid reserved
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bunch scallions, sliced in 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoons fish sauce (optional, but you should totally use it)


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat (I used my handy dandy cast iron wok). Add the egg mixture to the hot skillet all at once, turn the heat down to medium, and use a flexible spatula to move the egg around the skillet constantly. Just when the egg is fully cooked (around 45 seconds), put the eggs on a plate and set aside.
  2. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon of canola oil and the cubed spam. Cook the spam, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the onion and stir for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, stirring frequently to make sure that the minced garlic doesn’t burn, about another 2 minutes.
  4. Add butter, and let it melt. Add the sesame oil, chopped kimchi, and hot pepper flakes, and cook for about 2 minutes. Make sure to stir. Add the reserved kimchi liquid (should amount to about half a cup) and stir.
  5. Add your already cooked rice, and stir until all of the rice is fully coated. Add the cooked eggs, sliced scallions, soy sauce, and fish sauce, and continue to stir.
  6. Turn off heat, serve fried rice into bowls.
  7. If you want to add fried eggs, put that shit on top! (the only reason I didn’t add a fried egg atop my kimchi spam fried rice, the other day, is because I had already consumed 3 eggs that day. Whoops.)

Weekly Menu Series: Remembering Halmuni

You might say that your grandmother made/makes the best […], and I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. I’m going open my arms to my competitive streak and say that my halmuni (Korean for ‘paternal grandmother’) was the best cook in the whole fucking world.

Well, maybe that’s not nice. And not true. But I will say that my grandmother’s food was intensely stellar. In it, you could taste her love, energy, subtlety, and flavor, and you could take one bite and clearly infer what kind of woman she was. Of course, I know that taste and smell can catapult us into fond memories, and perhaps our history of mutual love and affection impacted/impacts the way I remember her dishes. Even if my tastebuds are colored by my feelings, I don’t think that makes my love for her food any less real, any less true.

My halmuni passed away, last week. In the past few days, I’ve been wondering why I haven’t been processing this news more proactively. God, Yejin, have a heart! But then I realized something: I’ve been cooking a lot more Korean(ish?) food, as of late, which is pretty unusual for me. Cooking and eating stuff that reminds me of her has, in a small way, helped me to start figuring it out (it = life). So, as someone who loves food and family, I thought I would craft a menu that catapults me into the back of halmuni’s car as she drove me to ballet class. Flavors that remind me that even though I have lost too many people in my relatively young life, I have received and experienced an immense amount of love. Food that help me to remember the ways in which my grandmother was largely responsible for fueling my obsession with eating, guilty of forming my palate.

So, without further ado, here’s next week’s menu:

(I also threw in a couple of pasta dishes, so my husband’s very Italian tastebuds don’t get too homesick)

  • Saeng sun jun (lightly battered and pan fried fish fillets) + jasmine rice + sauteed bok choy in garlic sauce + flash fried shishito peppers with sea salt flakes
  • Homemade fried mandu (with handmade dumpling skins) + jasmine rice + cabbage salad
  • Galbijjim (beef shortrib stew with onions, carrots and radishes) + jasmine rice + hobak jun (fried zucchini)
  • Ginger Chicken Jook/Congee (rice porridge) topped with fried shallots, salted roast peanuts and gai lan + flash fried shishito peppers with sea salt flakes
  • Rice mixed with shredded jangjorim (beef boiled with soy sauce and some aromatics), jangjorim sauce, and sesame oil, topped with a peeled soft boiled egg + sauteed zucchimi
  • Farfalle with hot Italian sauage, broccoli rabe, anchovies, and hot pepper flakes
  • Fusilli with cherry tomato sauce + roasted broccoli rabe

And, here are a couple of photos of my beautiful halmuni:

grandma's family, looking classy and fly as hell

grandma’s family, looking classy and fly as hell

halmuni's beauty is clearly overshadowing my face

halmuni’s beauty is clearly overshadowing my face

Weekly Menu Series: On Cravings

After posting many of my near-neurotic meal schedules on Facebook, I was encouraged by friends and acquaintances to not only share the week’s plans re: food, but also to discuss why and how I come up with such plans. For every other entry, I’ll post my numnum calendar on “Exposed Eats with Yejin” for the week and discuss one of the many elements that determines the direction of my menu.

Note: Eventually, as I become more sophisticated as a blogger (good luck with that, Yejin), I can start incorporating recipes into the menu, and maybe even a list of grocery items for the week. Yes? No? Maybe?

As you know by now, a lot of my behaviors are dictated by anxiety, and my methods of planning, cooking and eating are no exception. I have anxiety around unused produce or meat going bad; anxiety that my husband and I won’t enjoy our meal; anxiety that I don’t know what’s coming next. To some, it may appear that my obsession with creating, organizing and arranging these meals is just a symptom of my mind’s ailments-perhaps that is a little bit true. Or a lot bit true. But I would say that the process that I’ve crafted serves as a weirdly beautiful release for my excess disquietude. And the result is usually pretty tasty!

Other elements that go into this process include:

  • Cravings
  • Budget
  • Weather
  • My mood (yes, like a freak, I can often predict my mood a week in advance)
  • Whether we’re having guests
  • Leftovers
  • My feelings about my body
  • How much cheese I want to consume any given week (this is real)
  • A lot of other stuff
    I don’t want to scare my readers away by listing all the crazy things I consider when developing the week’s menu. Plus, I feel like I should leave a little mystery, no? Look at me, being all coy and restrained.

Today, I want to talk about cravings.

So…I was bulimic in high school.


Sorry, readers – I’m sure you weren’t ready for that, but I swear this is relevant. And since I’ve already bummed you out with my last entry, I promise not to go into that sad little piece of my history, today. We’ll leave it for another time.

Once I told my mother about my bulimia, we cried ugly and wonderful tears together, and then she took me to see a nutritionist. My memory, as you know, is crap. So I don’t remember how frequently I saw this person, and whether I felt much better after my sessions were completed. But I do recall learning (and retaining) a very important lesson about cravings: don’t repress them. Embrace a craving, even if it is fatty or sugary or chocolatey or buttery (ugh, that all sounds so good, no?). Because for me, depriving myself of something I wanted was a form of self-inflicted punishment. Girls who aren’t doing well in math don’t deserve a slice of cake. Girls who aren’t toned, skinny, and blonde/brunette haven’t earned the right to eat all that pork belly. Girls who can’t control the most basic elements of their lives shouldn’t get mac n cheese. By learning to lean into my cravings (and doing so in moderation), I slowly began to disassociate the act of eating (or binging or deprivation) with the act of self-loathing. FREEDOOOOM.

Now, I allow my cravings to gently dictate our weekly menu.

This week, I wanted pork. Pork pork pork. So we purchased bacon, pork chops, and sausages, and I came up with the following schedule:

  • Farfalle all’amatriciana + salad with romaine hearts, endives, radicchio, and sliced apple
  • Sticky honey & soy pork chops + jasmine rice + sauteed bok choy in garlic sauce
  • Fusilli with sweet Italian sausage, broccoli, and hot pepper flakes + salad with romaine hearts, endives, radicchio, and sliced apple
  • Fried tofu with spicy ginger, garlic and scallion sauce + jasmine rice + gai lan with oyster sauce
  • Farfalle alla peperonata + salad with romaine hearts, endives, radicchio, and sliced apple
  • Cabbage, cannellini bean & Italian sausage soup

I find pork to be very comforting, and I often want to consume it with equally comforting sides, like mashed potatoes. But because the meat can be heavy, I tried thinking about ways to make the whole meals a bit lighter so I could eat a lot without feeling gross afterwards. I incorporated the bacon into the Farfalle all’amatriciana, and decided it should go with a light and mildly bitter salad to cut the rich and fatty sauce. For the chops, I chose a vaguely Asian marinade for the pork chops so I could have it with rice, which keeps the meal a bit brighter and lighter.


And I thought it would be nice to split the sausages into one pasta dish and a soup to make sure we aren’t consuming too much meat in one week (too much makes me insanely sleepy and inarticulate). I added a tofu dish for good measure. Because that means that I’m healthy, right? Right?

I don’t think that giving into cravings is inherently unhealthy. In fact, I believe healthiness and happiness are both subjective experiences whose boundaries are constantly changing and moving. One of the ways that I keep up with my changing needs and desires is to sometimes give into stuff that I want. Sadly, you won’t find me exclusively eating pork belly for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while binge-watching House of Cards and The Wire until the day I die, but I will let myself enjoy that extra cookie, extra slices of bacon, and second servings of mac n cheese. And I do that because I deserve to understand and love myself in a way that feels right, and in a way that tastes delicious.

Coming Up: On Identity Politics, Being a Bad Korean, and a Recipe for Ddak Bulgogi (Korean BBQ Chicken)

Mnemonic Meals and Paprika Chicken Stew Recipe

Disclaimer: Possible trigger warning around death of a loved one. This entry is pretty personal, and maybe a wee bit sad. Feel free to run for the hills!

My memory is crap. Occasionally, a close friend will fondly bring up something from the past and sweetly ask, “Do you remember?” I’d try to sound nostalgic/excited whilst exclaiming “I would never forget!” but folks could tell by the vacant or worried look in my eyes that I did not, in fact, recall a damn thing. Someone could fabricate a narrative involving the most absurd characters and elements, insert me into it, and have me believe that the anecdote was truth. Suckaaaa! After an in-depth internal investigation, I’m loathe to announce that there is no substantive or reliable historical archive in this noggin of mine.

Though I can’t recall actual facts or occurrences with any semblance of accuracy, I do remember how I felt about certain people and moments, and I do that with great aptitude (read: I have lots of feelings). And nothing jogs these implicit emotional memories quite like food and their associated smells, which is probably why my adoration for cooking and eating is so severe.

My mother cooked a lot of Korean and non-Korean food when I was growing up. And for some reason, the dish I most associate with her is Paprika Chicken Stew over Jasmine Rice. When I was somewhere between the ages of 11 and 17 (you see how terrible this brain is?), she told me that she needed a great ‘sous-chef’ in order to cook this dish and I volunteered with intense enthusiasm. I had never cooked before, and it sure seemed like it would be fun to touch a dead bird, throw flour around the kitchen, and chop vegetables like a ninja. Mom was always kind and encouraging; she kept calling me the ‘sous-chef’, even though I was chronically using sugar in place of salt. In any case, this has long been my go-to dish when I seek comfort and love in my belly and soul, even though she is no longer here to cook it for me.

mother, holding baby yejin

mother, holding baby yejin

Meet mom. Look at this magnificent human being! She was, for a long time, my everything: my muse; my source of encouragement, self-love and strength; my friend. Nine years ago, she left this world for another, one she suspected was filled with infinite amounts of clay for a happy eternity of pottery-making. She was suddenly gone, and my memory did nothing to keep her close. It didn’t matter how tightly I squeezed my eyes shut – shortly after losing her to breast cancer, I couldn’t hold onto something as tangible as the sound and timbre of her voice. It didn’t matter whether I journaled or shared detailed stories with friends, because my reality had always been (and continues to be) inextricably linked to actively living and growing with something or someone. And without her by my side, my brain can not reconcile the cognitive dissonance associated with remembering someone who no longer exists, someone who is no longer real. Components of memories that are palpable for most people, like images, sounds, words, sequences of events, those were the pieces of her that dissipated, first.

So, I no longer drive myself crazy when I want to feel my mother’s presence. Instead of trying to bully myself into recounting images, sounds, words, and sequences of events, I cook or eat something that smells and tastes like a moment or a feeling. For a happy moment, I make Paprika Chicken. Not because I (probably inaccurately) remember the time she taught me to cook the dish, but because upon taking one bite, I can close my eyes and feel what it was like to be loved by her. The tenderness of the chicken in this recipe, the creaminess of the stew, the way in which the rice soaks up the fatty goodness, the fragrance of sauteed onion, garlic, and hot paprika, all of these elements help me to re-feel and re-experience how much I loved her and how much she loved me.

It’s taken me a few years to embrace my fallible and feelings-based memory, and to accept the fact that I will probably always have a contentious relationship with my brain when it comes to remembering the words, images, and sounds of those who molded my heart and soul. But I have learned to take solace in the mnemonic possibilities of food. For me, smells and tastes can magically conjure feelings of love, righteous indignation, anger, happiness, or camaraderie, and help me to acknowledge important people and moments in my life.

I really love making and eating stews – they are hearty and comforting, like a tight hug from a loving and flannel-clad lumberjack. Though some stews require a good amount of preparation, I find them to be easy to manage since they’re largely cooked in one pot. For obvious reasons, this one is a favorite of mine. Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Paprika Chicken Stew


4-6 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes


Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning chicken
3 to 3 ½ lbs of bone-in chicken drumsticks and thighs
2 medium white onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 green bell peppers, julienned
3 tablespoons of flour, to lightly dust the chicken
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
2 tablespoons of smoked paprika
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups of water (or chicken stock for a heavier stew), plus more if needed
1 can of diced tomatoes, liquid drained
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter

For thickening agent:
3 tablespoons of flour
¼ cup of water
½ cup of sour cream

2 cups of jasmine rice (also delicious served with egg noodles)


  1. Pat chicken dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. This will help to ensure that you brown your chicken with perfection!
  2. Liberally season the chicken with salt and pepper. Once seasoned, toss chicken in a large bowl and toss with three tablespoons of flour. Make sure each part of the drumsticks and thighs are lightly coated.
    Dusting meat with flour before searing/browning is optional, but I use this technique whenever I eventually want a thicker sauce. Here’s a great article from The Reluctant Gourmet called Why Flour Meat Before Browning
  3. In a large dutch oven or a pot with a heavy bottom, heat olive oil on high heat for one minute. Shake off any excess flour, and place pieces of chicken in the pot, skin side down. Do not overcrowd. Leave the chicken for 5 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Flip the meat and cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate, and continue with remaining drumsticks and thighs.
    One thing that I’ve learned is not to tinker too much with the meat while it’s browning. The purpose of browning meat is two-fold: (1) to render excess fat; and (2) to beautifully caramelize the outside of your meat to maximize flavor. If you smell something starting to burn, turn the heat down to medium-high and adjust the piece of meat. Here’s a great article from The Kitchn on How to Sear Meat Properly.
  4. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat rendered from the chicken and reduce heat to medium. Throw in 2 tablespoons of butter, add chopped onions and stir frequently for 2-3 minutes.The moisture from the cooking onions will grab some of those delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Add chopped garlic and cook/stir for another minute.
  6. Add paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, and cook for another minute until the spices are very fragrant. Make sure to stir – burning the spices can lead to a bitter taste.
  7. Add can of diced tomatoes, water and gently stir. Return chicken drumsticks and thighs to pot. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the chicken, add a little more. Once the stew comes to a gentle boil, lower the heat and cover the pot. Let it simmer for 45 minutes.
  8. While the stew is simmering, mix sour cream, flour, and water. Set aside for later use.
  9. Take the lid off the stew and add green bell peppers and the sour cream and flour mixture. Stir the pot. Cover and let it simmer for another 30 minutes. Taste and add salt based on your preferences.
  10. Meanwhile, cook jasmine rice as per package instructions.
  11. Put cooked rice into a bowl, place desired number of chicken pieces on top of rice, and ladle sauce over. Enjoy!