My Mom was like the Chinese-American June Cleaver.
For those of you too young to remember the 1960’s black-and-white television comedy, “Leave It to Beaver,” actress Barbara Billingsley played Mrs. Cleaver, a devoted wife in suburbia, caring for her hard-working husband, and two sons — the elder, Wally, and the younger, mischievous, Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver.
No matter what scrapes Beaver got into, Mrs. Cleaver never had a hair out of place.
And no matter if she was just vacuuming or tidying up the house, June Cleaver was always decked out immaculately in a fitted shirt, bouffant skirt, heels, and pearls.
My late-Mom may not have gone that far. But she was close.
My cousin Gary jokes that at a family barbecue at his house years ago, where everyone else turned up in T-shirts, jeans, shorts or chinos, there was my Mom — in a smart skirt and blouse ensemble, with a jade bracelet on her wrist.
There were no “Casual Fridays” back when she was working, so this was my Mom’s uniform, so to speak, whether she was at work at her office in San Francisco, or chatting with visiting relatives in her living room at home.
Even when she did housework, my Mom dressed in a simple shift, with buttons down the front or a zipper up the back, which she often had sewed, herself.
The idea of sweats or shorts on the weekends never entered her imagination. I don’t recall her wearing a pair of jeans. Nope, not ever.
In fact, I rarely even saw her in slacks. I think she only owned a pair or two. And they came out of the closet only to be packed in a suitcase when she and my Dad would take a cruise.
I look at old snapshots of her now and that’s the Mom that I see. Graceful, delicate, dainty, and neat as a pin.
Which is why whenever I make her dish of “Prawns with Pork and Black Bean Sauce,” I can’t help but smile, because it’s a bit messy.
Oh, not in the way that eating cracked crab or chicken wings with your fingers is. It’s a fine, eat-with-a-fork dish of juicy prawns sauteed with onions, green bell pepper, garlic, ginger and fermented black beans. But it has irregular chunks of ground, rather than neatly sliced, pork in it. And at the last minute on the stovetop, a beaten egg gets stirred into the whole shebang quickly, so that it coats everything, lending it a velvety body, and a rather sloppy looking consistency.
It’s a non-perfect looking dish from a woman who was almost always well turned out. And that’s what makes me love it so.
Prawns with Pork and Black Bean Sauce
(Serves 4 as part of a family-style dinner)
1 pound medium or jumbo prawns, shelled and deveined
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Peanut or vegetable oil for cooking
1/2 pound lean ground pork
2 tablespoons salted and fermented black beans, rinsed and crushed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger OR 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch dice
1 small onion, cut into 1-inch dice
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons cornstarch, mixed with 3 tablespoons cold water
1 egg, slightly beaten
Mix prawns with 1 tablespoon cornstarch, dark soy sauce and sesame oil. Marinate mixture in the refrigerator for about half an hour.
On medium heat, add a little peanut or vegetable oil to a nonstick skillet or wok. Add shrimp, browning lightly on each side. Once browned, transfer prawns to a plate; set aside.
Heat wok again on medium heat, add ground pork, black beans, minced garlic, ginger, and oyster sauce. Cook mixture until pork is no longer pink, stirring frequently, and adding bell pepper and onion just before pork is done. Next, add prawns, chicken broth and dissolved cornstarch, and stir until mixture thickens. Finally, rapidly stir in beaten egg.
Serve with steamed rice.
From May Jung