My grandmother was a proud, difficult woman, heavy handed in tone and words ... but it was these moments when she showed her tenderness by passing on this most basic and important lesson to her granddaughter. To this day, I still wash rice the same way.
I also remember the time she brought home a live squawking chicken from Chinatown and the next day, locked it in the kitchen with her. I don't recall much during that episode as I think the thought of her slaughtering the chicken was too much for me, so I probably locked myself in my bedroom not wanting to know (hear) anything. When the door opened and I finally peeked in - there was my grandmother plucking feathers from the chicken carcass. Oddly enough, I know we ate the chicken that evening ... but I don't recall the taste of it.
There was a lot of cooking that went on in our household. We were a home of four different generations of Asian women: great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and my older sister and I. Typically my grandmother and mother did the cooking. Although they came from different villages, they both cooked Cantonese dishes. These type of dishes are typically steamed or stir-fried and very fresh. In fact, my mother made it a point to run to the Asian markets in Chinatown every day after work and purchase fresh greens and meats or seafood. I think this is why the food I remember eating growing up at home was so delicious and seasonal - the products were purchased daily and as fresh as possible. This made a difference.
I've often read about good cooks who gained an interest in cooking early on under their parents and/or elder family members tutelage. My story doesn't hail this way. I never learned to cook from my mother or grandmother. My grandmother passed away when I was still too young to be able to hold a cleaver correctly or was taught how to determine the freshness of a fish by the clarity of its eyes. As for my mother, she was/is a woman not known for her patience. The times that I did enter the kitchen to watch her, she shoo-ed me out informing me I was getting in her way.
I finally learned how to cook by necessity in my mid-20's and after marriage ... it was either cook at home or starve. (We also did go out to eat but this got too expensive) As I worked a full-time job, I typically didn't have a lot of time or energy to cook full-on meals for my husband (now ex) and I. So cooking was a rocky start for me and I didn't appreciate and/or enjoy the early times I did cook. I do recall I did a lot of stir frying, spaghetti, pastas, meatloaf - dishes that were simple and quick to cook.
I think it wasn't until after my divorce (in my early 30's) that I really started to enjoy cooking. Being a single mother, I didn't have much money and so learned to run to the Asian markets and purchase inexpensive meats/seafood and fresh produce and cook for my son and I. I cooked oxtail stew, steamed black bean garlic pork ribs, Chinese chicken soup, pork fried rice, steamed pork and duck egg omelets, etc. These were the dishes I remembered growing up and experimented with cooking my memories of them until I got them right.
Here is my recipe for Shrimp in Lobster Sauce. It is absolutely delicious and would compare (and in my opinion, surpass as it's home made) to any Chinese restaurant's version. Simple, tasty, quick, and elegant in flavor.
Shrimp in Lobster Sauce
1 lb shrimp
1 T minced garlic
1/2 - 1 lb ground pork
Dash of rice wine (about 1 T)
1 1/2 T - garlic and black bean sauce (I like Lee Kum Kee brand)
1/2 T sugar approx. (or add + or - to taste)
1/2 - 3/4
corn starch mixture (1 T to 1 2 T water)
2 eggs - cracked and stirred in a bowl
chopped green onions
Stir fry the garlic in hot oil. Add the shrimp and rice wine. Cook until just done and put in separate container.
With the same hot pan, add oil and stir fry the ground pork.
When cooked, add the black bean sauce and sugar. When combined, add the chicken broth and corn starch mixture. Simmer until combined and sauce has thickened. Add back the shrimp. Take the pan off the hot element and stir in the eggs and green onions.