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archive for May 2013

my mom

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful moms out there! I personally feel that every day should be Mother’s Day, because it is without a doubt, the most difficult job in the world.


thank you to all of the moms



I’ve written on occasion about my dad on the blog, because that’s pretty easy to do. My dad was my pal when I was growing up because he was a big kid at heart – he still is. He’s also quite the character. I am, to be sure, my father’s daughter. Our relationship has been fairly constant throughout my life.

But my relationship with my mom is a different story. It has evolved over the years and we have both grown and changed in that time. It’s complex and I think that happens with mothers and daughters who are close and yet span different cultures, personalities, and ways of thinking.


mom at 18 (as a bride’s maid)

age 22



I love these glamorous photos of our parents from the 50s and 60s. I treasure them. When I was little I used to thumb through this collection of old photographs of my parents and other family members. That was another time, another place… far from me and disconnected from my reality. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized I was so much older than my mother in those photos. And it has always been evident to everyone that my mother is elegant and beautiful and I am a tomboy with no fashion sense.

posing with dad’s big catch (i’m the goofball on the left – my grandmother dressed me)



When I was a little girl, my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world to me. I adored her. When I was sick or scared or sad, she would pick me up and I would lay my head on her shoulder, my arms around her neck. Her arms were the safest place to be. Of course, I was fortunate enough to have two mothers: my mom and my maternal grandmother. The difference was that I could get away with ANYTHING with Grandma, whereas Mom could bring the smackdown at any time. And she did, because I was a very silly little girl. What I would come to understand in my adult years was the gift that my mom and grandmother gave me – the chance to witness such a loving and devoted relationship between a mother and a daughter.

christmas 1986 (mom and grandma)



People talk of teenage years and I remember mine well. These were not my happiest years. I was exerting my independence – I was confident, even cocky. Dad had taught me to move assertively through the world. He was quite western in his thinking for a Chinese immigrant father. Mom was more of the traditional Chinese mother and that is where we butted heads. Often. My 790 math score on the SATs was like a knife in her heart, “WHY? Why can’t you JUST.GET.IT.RIGHT?!” I defiantly played field hockey despite cries that it would cost me college admissions to ANYWHERE. In our day-to-day exchanges, I intentionally challenged my mom just to be confrontational. It was clear that we were very different personalities and I didn’t always think her way was the right way. She would get angry with me and I would get angry with her. I was a pain in the ass. And despite all of my belligerence, there were moments when she would be proud of me or happy with me and say, “JenJen, you will always be my baby.”

mom and dad going to a cocktail party in 1989 (my senior year in high school)

dancing over the holidays when i was home from school



Leaving for college across the country was a good thing. There were more struggles between my desire for independence and Mom’s desire to tell me what to do with my life – very much a cultural tug-of-war. I could not see it then, but now I know that my mom has only ever wanted what she thought was best for me. Whether or not it was the best for me is not the point. After my sister died, after I could see through the fog of my own grief, I watched my mom walk through life with a broken heart for several years. I do not have nor do I want children, but I can’t imagine something more devastating for a mother than to lose her child. We are a close family and Kris was an integral part of the jokes, the tears, the yelling, the laughter, the joy. That was when I began to understand my mom for the woman she is rather than the mother she had been to me all my life – two very different roles.

mom and dad in 2005

in rocky mountain national park

getting gelato in whistler



My cancer diagnosis came as a shock to me, but once I gathered my wits I said to Jeremy, “How am I going to tell my mom?” I did not want to do this to her, not after the grief she was still enduring over Kris. I wanted to protect my mom, but I needed to prepare her just in case. So when I told her over the phone that my results were positive for breast cancer, all I could hear was the quiet sound of Mom taking in a breath. Then came the questions and it was obvious that she was trying desperately to understand and cope. That phone call feels like it took place ages ago.

It is my hope that I have learned to be a better daughter over the years and not just because that is what I am supposed to do, but because I really love my mom. I started out very attached to my mother, as I think most children do. During my adolescence there was a clash of personalities and I was resistant to the traditional Chinese ways of doing things which probably hurt my mom’s feelings. It was my independence against her desire to have a say in my life. Adulthood is good for us on many levels, not least of which is to appreciate your parents as individuals and not as parents per se. There (hopefully) comes a point in your life when you finally see your mother for all of her flaws and weaknesses, strengths and vulnerabilities, struggles and triumphs, that make her more human and more precious than ever. And there is nothing like the squeeze of my mom’s arms around my waist when she tells me I will always be her baby.


happy mother’s day, mom. i love you. -jenjen


mother knows best

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Recipe: pistachio almond cake

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday. Don’t freak out or anything. I’m telling this to you now so you can get your act together with a couple of days to spare. My mom called Monday and sternly warned that under no uncertain terms, she would be very very upset with me if I sent her anything for Mother’s Day. She couldn’t see my furrowed brow and sideways scrunched mouth as I looked at the shipping receipt on my desk. Both she and my MIL are getting some amazing Helliemae’s caramels (jasmine and classic salt, if you must know). Hey, at least I listened to her sage advice on retirement accounts when I was 21.


flowers for all of the moms out there, because they make the world a better place



Last month, Courtney posted a photo on Facebook of a slice of cake she had gotten at a bakery. It was an almond pistachio cake with whipped cream and it looked incredibly good. I said as much and she confirmed my suspicions. I have a slight love affair/obsession with pistachios because they have such a beautiful flavor and they are green, which is the best color ever. So of course, I went looking about the interwebs for a good pistachio cake recipe. I died a little bit with every recipe that called for instant pistachio-flavored pudding mix, but eventually I did find one that appealed to me and I thought it fitting to post a cake before Mother’s Day in case you wanted to bake something special for Mom.

kaweah kept creeping around during the shoot



Ultimately, I converged on the idea of two layers of pistachio cake and one layer of almond cake, all frosted with whipped cream. You are welcome to add jam layers, chocolate ganache, soaking syrups (mmm, amaretto soaking syrup!), swap the whipped cream frosting out for buttercream frosting. The point is – make a cake that you (or Mom) will love. The first step for me was to make pistachio paste because I can’t source it easily and I was delighted to find a recipe for it on Ellie’s blog. If you can purchase Love’n Bake’s pistachio paste, that will save you quite a handsome chunk of time.

pistachios, corn syrup, sugar, water

blanch the pistachios and remove the skins (time-consuming task)

blender it all up (actually, I recommend a food processor over a blender)

a beautiful green paste



**Jump for more butter**

the need to decompress

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Recipe: teriyaki salmon collar (or fillet)

In my undergraduate years at Caltech, there was a weekend between the end of classes and the start of finals each quarter. It was officially referred to as Decompression – a time when the student association would host a free barbecue and entertainment (the improv groups were my favorites) on Friday and Saturday nights for the entire campus. I volunteered at the grill many many times, serving burgers and hot dogs to my fellow students and earning a free Decompression t-shirt with a different design each quarter.

Even though I haven’t been in school for eons, I still look to that weekend wedged between classes and finals as “decompression” because Jeremy’s schedule is tied to the academic calendar. This past weekend was THAT weekend. It also marked the end of a pretty stress-filled April with all manner of work deadlines, travel, business matters, and headaches courtesy of people who can’t seem to do their jobs (airlines come to mind). So this weekend was one in which we could take a breather, focus on things that needed attention, and be thankful for a quiet couple of days in which we regrouped and made plans for the next few months.


it also meant spending time with this little girl



Despite the frenetic pace of the past several weeks, we have noticed that Kaweah seems to walk further and stronger in the mornings than she does in the afternoons or evenings. We’ve only started her on morning walks since the weather has warmed a few weeks ago, but this change has been a nice improvement in her overall mobility and general well-being. And when she wants to dawdle and sniff every last mother-loving blade of grass, I let her. She is definitely growing more deaf and sleeping more, but she remains our sweet, dumb, cuddly pup. We’ve also noticed that she no longer stands at the baby gate with her head cocked to the side when we head out the door with our packs and gear. She just lies down on her bagel bed and takes a nap.

there’s still good snow in the high country

climbing up

skiing out



Jeremy and I went to check out the snow coverage in the high country on Sunday. It was partly cloudy with stormy clouds swirling over the high peaks. We were snowed on (yay!) and it was surprisingly quiet for a weekend. Fresh air and exercise was just the right medicine. When we got home, I made chile-lime-beer beef enchiladas. But I had to fight the urge to head to Boulder for sushi. We always crave sushi after skiing. It’s not sushi per se, but goodies from the kitchen like tempura or miso soup or one of my favorites: salmon collar (sake kama). I always get mine teriyaki-style. Making it at home has been one of those things nagging at me for years. Last week, I asked at the Whole Foods seafood counter if they had salmon collar. And they did!

four collars

i also picked up some nice sockeye salmon fillet to teriyaki

to make teriyaki: mirin, sake, soy sauce, sugar



Whenever I’ve had salmon collar in Japanese restaurants, it’s pretty small and makes for a nice appetizer. The young man helping me at the seafood counter gave me incredibly generous portions. In fact, I think he included as much as a decent-sized steak with each collar and charged me the ridiculously reduced rate for “fish bones”. I know some of you are thinking that the collar is the part you throw out – but it’s not! It’s the fatty, flavorful, tender, amazingly delicate part of the fish. Unfortunately, they only had collars from arctic farm-raised salmon because that’s all they had whole. As a rule, I purchase wild-caught, but I made an exception this once. I’m sure the wild caught salmon will start coming in whole as soon as the season ramps up. If you can’t deal with or can’t acquire salmon collar, you can easily do this recipe with salmon fillets or steaks instead.

mixing the teriyaki marinade

place the collars in a ziploc bag

if you are doing fillets, place the slices in a ziploc bag



**Jump for more butter**