My mom invented Chinese fast food long before Panda Express ever came along. She told friends, “I worked full-time as a school teacher, had three kids, and they didn’t sell tofu or soy sauce at the local Winn-Dixie grocery store back then. Who had time to make dumplings for dinner?”
Margaret was way ahead of the popular cooking class trend. She taught the area’s first Chinese cooking class when “wonton soup was considered exotic.” Interestingly, she had more male students in the first class 1980’s, in stark contrast classrooms full of female students now. I was her young assistant!
The hardest part was course preparation and creating recipes when there were none. I remember sitting perched on a stool beside the stove with a blazing cast-iron skillet, ingredients flying and trying to scribble Chenglish instructions on an index card while my mom created her magic. To me, it was more like Confu-sion!
My favorite dishes included: “Ginger Beef with Rice-a-Roni,” “Five-Spice Rutabaga and Home Fries,” and “Hot Hunan Catfish.” Mom was and still is an avid “catch and eat” fisherman and has been found fishing off her porch in heels, pearls and business suit. “I’m hungry and too lazy to change,” exclaims Margaret. But don’t ask her to bake. “I use my oven for storage.” Friends all know to bring dessert to mom’s dinner parties!
5-Spice Mashed Rutabaga
Inspired by “Country Asian” dishes I ate as a child growing up in Smyrna, Georgia, this was a seasonal comfort food made in the rice steamer or crock pot. I started making the mashed version after a farm share pick up that more turnips and rutabagas than I knew what to do with. The natural sweetness comes from the steamed rutabaga.
1 sm-med head rutabaga
1/2 cup water
1 tbs soy sauce
1/2 tsp 5-spice powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
(Optional: 1 sliced carrot or parsnip)
Cut rutabaga into 1 inch cubes. Heat soy sauce and water until bubbly and braise rutabaga until coated. Mix in 5-spice and black pepper. Cover and cook until tender. (Add more water if needed) Serve hot as is or mashed, as delicious side dish.