Thirsty Thursdays & Hungry Hearts: A Mystery Covered in Minced Golden Ginger


I have just finished cooking lunch: braised pork, potatoes and brown tofu; French beans stir fried with dried prawn sambal; both dishes served with steamed rice.

Home-cooked Chinese food is my favourite kind of food. I try to reproduce the dishes my mother used to cook for us, but my efforts pale in comparison.

Here is a short paragraph from Shanghai Redemption, one of Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen mysteries. The books are full of descriptions of the  the Inspector’s meals. He is a foodie and enjoys gourmet cuisine as well as simple hawker fare. The following excerpts describe a meal prepared by Peiqin, the wife of his partner Detective Yu:

Pouring a small cup of sesame oil into the wok, she started on the three-cup chicken by frying the chopped chicken. As it fried, she set up a cup of yellow rice wine, a cup of soy sauce, and a pinch of fresh basil on the kitchen counter.

‘A penny for your thoughts,’ Peiqin said, slicing the thousand-year egg with a thread for a cold dish. Another cold dish – tofu mixed with sesame oil and green onion – would be prepared once the guest arrived.

When Old Hunter finally appeared, the table was set with dainty cold dishes and tiny porcelain cups. Yu poured a cup of tea for him. Peiqin hurried to the stove, lifting the wok lid, adding a handful of chopped green onion and then drops of sesame oil to the slightly browned chicken.

‘The three-cup chicken smells irresistible,’ Old Hunter said as Peiqin opened a bottle of yellow rice wine.

‘But he knows that Yu is a friend of Chen?’ Peiqin cut in, pouring more wine for Old Hunter.

There was no answer to that. Old Hunter stared at a slice of the thousand-year egg, which was shining darkly, like a mystery covered in minced golden ginger.

I don’t eat preserved egg, but the descriptions above make it sound delicious, just as Elizabeth David’s descriptions of mayonnaise make me salivate although I dislike the taste of that dressing.

I have made my own version of three-cup chicken, inspired by the descriptions in Qiu’s novel, but I don’t know if my dish tastes as it should. Then again I think every family’s recipe is slightly different.

This link is to one of the many recipes you can find online. Like most recipes, you should try it out and then tweak it to suit your tastes. I like more ginger and rice wine in my three-cup chicken than the amounts listed in most of the online recipes. Still, I love my mother’s three-cup chicken best.





Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books Most Recently Uploaded To My Kindle

It’s a freebie for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’m listing the ten books most recently uploaded to my Kindle. I have read The Exorcist and I was sent Not So Stories for review. As for the rest, just like paper-and-ink books, Kindle editions are acquired simply because you need to have these books (now!), never mind when you’re actually going to read them.

Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Counternarratives by John Keene

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks

Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm

An English Murder by Cyril Hare

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty




Books from My Shelves: Two books by Elizabeth Bowen

Bowen books

It was 1987 or ’88, before the days of cable TV. The local TV stations seemed to be totally random in its choice of films to screen and there were lots of duds, but the occasional jewel.  One night, on RTM 2, there was Granada TV’s 1986 dramatisation of The Death of the Heart, based on the novel by Elizabeth Bowen. I had never heard of Bowen and I could not find her books in the bookstores in Singapore (there were no bookstores to speak of in my Malaysian hometown). However, National Junior College library had a copy of The Little Girls, and I managed to find a couple of volumes of short stories from the National University of Singapore library.


It wasn’t til 1989, while I was in England for an interview at the nursing college I’d applied to, that I finally found a copy of The Death of the Heart, in a secondhand bookshop in Hampstead. It was a 1949 hardback edition by Jonathan Cape for which I paid a pound.

The day before I’d found Bowen’s collected short stories (Penguin, 1983, £7.99, with illustrations by Joan Hassall) at Foyle’s (in London), where they shelf books according to publisher. I must have asked for her because I would not have known where to look. One didn’t know anything back in the days before the Internet and Google. (Arguably, one still doesn’t know a thing now.)





The Exorcist: The Film, the Book, the TV Series

The-Exorcist-Horror-SeriesI can’t even remember how I found out, but there is a TV series inspired by William Peter Blatty’s novel, The Exorcist. The first season aired in 2016. (There is nothing spooky about me not knowing how I know this, just more evidence that my memory sucks big, hairy balls.)

When I was a practising Roman Catholic, the evil portrayed in Blatty’s work coincided with what I had been taught to believe. The 1973 film (starring Linda Blair as the possessed child, Regan) disturbed me for the same reason, but also, I feel, largely due to the cinematography, the way the set is lit, the soundtrack.

exorcistcoverWhen I was in my early teens, I tried reading the novel and was so spooked that I threw it in the trash. I used to say that I thought the book was ‘watching’ me. I projected my own beliefs onto this block of paper and ink, giving it a power it didn’t have.

In Christian culture, Demons are malevolent spirits. Christians also conveniently and arrogantly view the gods of other (non-Abrahamic) religions as demons. The Christian god is the default supreme being in The Exorcist and many Western-based narratives that portray evil spirits being weakened by the sign of the cross and the contact of holy water. There is no room for anything that suggests that there isn’t just one ‘true’ god. Every other being is a servant of this god, and any that question the might and right of this god is automatically relegated to the ranks of the unholy; the vile; the evil.

Hindu and Daoist demons can have good or bad intentions and natures. In Daoist exorcism, the spirit is questioned in an effort to understand its motives. This is because possessions or hauntings may be caused by human transgressions and the spirits/demons simply responding as they see fit. An amicable solution is always preferred.

Demons, as portrayed in Christian stories, are not reasonable. They only seek to destroy and harm their hosts; they often attack without being provoked; and there is no negotiating a peaceful departure. At very least, they are driven into swine that run into water and drown. Reading about that event in the gospels I used to wonder what happened to the demons after the two thousand poor pigs died. Did they go off in search of new ‘homes’?

There are spoilers below this line so stop reading if you want to avoid them.Read More »

Thirsty Thursdays & Hungry Hearts: The Papery Taste of Despair


(It’s probably not the done thing to feature a scene describing the consecration of the communion Host in a meme about food and drink.)

As a young Roman Catholic, I struggled to accept transubstantiation. I didn’t think it was disgusting (as some do — my sister, who attends a Brethren church, says RCs are cannibals O_o), just unlikely. I accepted what I was told though and didn’t think much about what it meant. These days, I view that aspect of Roman Catholic doctrine with fascination. I am not required to believe, as I am an atheist, but I do think its a mysterious, awful (in the old sense of the word) and beautiful idea.

(We used to sneak unconsecrated communion wafers out of the tin, but they are not satisfying as snacks,being too thin and disintegrating almost immediately once inside the mouth.)

I wasn’t impressed by the priest played by Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds, but I still have a hopeless (and wholly chaste) crush on Damien Karras (the younger of the two Jesuits in The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty) who is the one saying Mass in the following scene from The Exorcist. I believe its his crisis of faith and the intense sadness that enveloped the character. I am currently creeping through the book , and so far (the possession has not begun), the writing is mostly schlocky and stilted, but I like this bit, especially ‘pain in a black valise’.

‘Et clamor meus ad te veniat,’ he prayed with murmured anguish. ‘Let my cry come unto Thee …’

He lifted the Host in consecration with an aching remembrance of the joy it once gave him; felt once again, as he did each morning, the pang of an unexpected glimpse from afar and unnoticed of a longlost love.

‘He broke the Host above the chalice.

‘Peace I leave you. My peace I give you …!

He tucked the Host inside his mouth and swallowed the papery taste of despair.

When Mass was over, he polished the chalice and carefully placed it in his bag. He rushed for the seven-ten train back to Washington, carrying pain in a black valise.