Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chinese Whispers

Since my first day at kindergarten in Hong Kong a few decades ago, I had always felt like the fat girl in class when I lived in Asia. No amount of reassurance from anyone saved me from this complex because I am no size 0 Chinese waif and standing at over 5"7, I was considered a giant by the Lillipudians.

With this entrenched mindset, I'd somehow thought I was physically stronger too so I ignored a lot of the old wives' tales regarding health. When my grandmother told me to wear woolly stockings to protect my joints after my miscarriage, I didn't take her too seriously. Guillermo had to chase after me with thick socks.

Chinese believe that birth, "major labour" in our language, and miscarriage "minor labour" are both traumatic to the body and require a full month's confinement (resting at home) and various nourishments (herbal soups in the first phase, followed by eggs, pigs' trotters and whole stems of ginger cooked in sweet vinegar, and lastly, nourishing soups).

They believe this period of rest and nourishment is paramount to warding off signs of aging and other problems in old age. When the younger, western minded generation rebel against this traditional practice, they are reminded by their elders that Asian women age well for this reason. That is extremely effective propaganda at the very least. Anyway, I lose Guillermo right about here whenever I try to explain why my mother is so concerned about "the month after"; he looks confused and walks away.

When I told Diana, my motherly masseuses, over the phone that we didn't have gas she was mighty upset and began worrying about my "after-care". I wouldn't dare telling her I had salad a few times already (Chinese consider raw leaves very damp forming and cooling, not suitable at most times let alone after a miscarriage).

She turned up at our apartment last Friday with some motherwort (益母草) for clearing blood clots and a can of Ensure, a nutritional powder I recall my grandfather had when he could no longer eat. She also ordered (only older Chinese women can carry this off without offending anyone) Guillermo to go and buy a gas stove immediately hence, our acquisition which is really quite useful for cooking pasta.

I am tremendously grateful for Diana's thoughtfulness and generosity. While I was chatting with her, she kept reminding me not to put my elbows on the cool granite worktop in the kitchen. She gave me a stern lecture on how the Asian constitution is more fragile and I'll have to take this month of confinement seriously.

I do have dizzy spells and it gets worse right after I wash my hair so I am sitting up and paying attention to all these rules even if it is not coming across that way.

Ginger features largely because it drives out cold and damp from a traumatised body (beats me how cold and damp got in). Beside eggs, pigs' trotters and ginger cooked in vinegar, I should have eggs, Chinese red dates and red sugar for breakfast few times a week. I'm a bit concerned about my cholesterol level with all these eggs but one thing at a time; I can always bring cholesterol level down later.

Zoe, my friend from Hong Kong, is truly amazing. She actually has a pot of pigs' trotters and ginger in vinegar standing by so she brought over a big Tupperware of the stuff for me just now. She also brought me some nourishing chicken soup for later.

My grandmother and mother can now rest easy knowing I'm being taken care of all according to the same fine old traditions Asian women share.

I adapted this gingersnaps recipe from Chez Panisse by replacing ground ginger and black pepper with grated fresh ginger for its therapeutic properties. Molasses is also good for us as it has retained most of sugar cane's nutritional elements: minerals, iron, magnesium and calcium. If pigs' trotter is not to your taste, have a biscuit.

220g salted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 small eggs
1/3 cup molasses
3 cup plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger

Cream butter until soft. Add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, and beat again. Add molasses and beat until well incorporated.

Sift together the dry ingredients and add into the mixture. Mix until it all just comes together. Line a 9" x 5" (22 x 12 cm) loaf pan with plastic wrap, so that some hangs over the sides. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan, pack it tightly, and try to make the top as level as possible. Cover the dough with the plastic overhangs. Freeze until very firm, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Remove dough from the pan and unwrap from one side. Slice the "brick" into very thin slices, no more than 1/10" (2mm). Place the slices on the cookie sheet (give them a little room, they will expand) and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the edges turn brown to dark brown (depending on how cooked and crispy you like them). Turn out on a rack to cool completely.
Yields about 70 cookies

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