Monday, March 23, 2009

Chinese Steamed Fish Recipe

Bethann Buddenbaum is a freelance consultant who moved back to her home state in the Midwest after living in Los Angeles for over 20 years. She is the mother of two daughters who were adopted from the Zhuzhou Social Welfare Institute in Hunan, China.

One of the hobbies that our family enjoys is cooking. It's a good way to work on math concepts, spend quality time together, and enjoy the fruits of our labor. The girls love to try new Chinese recipes, so every few weeks, we pull out one of our Chinese cookbooks and explore.

Whole steamed fish is one of our favorite recipes. It's easy and tasty, and we know it so well that we don't require a cookbook anymore. Whole steamed fish is most often associated with Chinese New Year as the Chinese word for fish (Yu-鱼) sounds like the Chinese word meaning abundance. Thus, serving whole steamed fish symbolizes wishes for abundance in the new year.

Sourcing Fish:

Although access to the local Chinatown is typically limited to major metropolitan cities, there are many cities that now have Asian markets where you can find live fish. It is best to use the freshest fish possible. However, if live fish is either not available or personally palatable, you can use fish from the fish market or grocer's fish section. Again, the preference is for whole fish over fillets and fresh versus frozen. The Chinese typically serve steamed fish whole, which means face and all. Some people (including my father) find "food with a face" unappealing. If you're one of these people, you can cut off the head during preparation or ask your butcher to do it for you at the store.

Most often, when we ordered whole steamed fish in Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles, we were served rock cod or bass. We prefer to avoid Atlantic cod and Chilean sea bass for environmental reasons, and in cooking this meal for ourselves, we have enjoyed other fish including tilapia, Pacific halibut, farmed striped bass, and yellowtail snapper.


  1. Cutting board
  2. Knife
  3. Fish steamer; or
  4. Alternatively if you do not have a fish steamer, you can use a large wok or deep pan and set an inverted baking dish or heat proof plate inside (see photo for example). If your whole fish will not fit inside, you can cut the fish in half.
  5. Small saucepan


  • 1 whole fish (1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pounds cleaned and dried thoroughly with head left on)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 scallions (white bottoms chopped and green tops cut into 2" sections and then silken threads)
  • 1" fresh ginger root (peeled and cut into silken threads)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass (cut into silken threads)
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 5 tablespoons peanut or corn oil

  1. Cut up the scallions, ginger root, and lemongrass.

  2. Slice open the fish at the belly (if purchased live and butcher did not do this).
  3. Clean and dry the fish.

  4. Make 3 diagonal slashes on both sides of the fish.
  5. Mix together 1 teaspoon sea salt with all of the white cut scallions, half of the ginger root and lemongrass, and 2 tablespoons of the peanut or corn oil.
  6. Stuff the cavity of the fish with half of the seasoning mixture, and place the seasoned fish in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes.
  7. Place the other half of the seasoning mixture on the steamer tray or heatproof dish.

  8. Place fish into the steamer on the bed of the seasoning mixture.

  1. Steam over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the fish is thoroughly cooked and flakes easily with a fork.
  2. Remove the fish from the steamer.
  3. Discard the cooked seasonings and move fish to serving plate.
  4. Warm soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a saucepan and pour over fish.
  5. Heat 3 tablespoons of peanut or corn oil in a saucepan over high heat until smoke rises. Add the remaining ginger, a portion of the green scallion and lemongrass (keeping some back for garnish) and heat for 10 to 15 seconds. Pour this hot oil and seasoning mixture over the fish.
  6. Place remaining scallion and lemongrass threads on fish for garnish and serve immediately.

  • Do not boil on high heat as this can cause tearing of the fish flesh. Cook fish at a slow, medium boil.
  • You can create a nice garnish with the scallion greens by placing them in a bowl of ice water until the threads curl.
  • Use soy sauce to taste. We actually prefer more soy sauce on our fish, and also like to add Shaoxing wine to our soy sauce mixture.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Ugly Vegetables Turns 10!

Bethann Buddenbaum is a freelance consultant who moved back to her home state in the Midwest after living in Los Angeles for over 20 years. She is the mother of two daughters who were adopted from the Zhuzhou Social Welfare Institute in Hunan, China.

Grace Lin is one of our family's favorite authors. We started out with Round is a Mooncake, graduated to The Seven Chinese Sisters, and for the past year, WeiWei has picked up and re-read The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat more times than I can remember. I finally signed WeiWei up for Grace's monthly email newsletter so that she would stop asking ME when Grace was going to release a follow up to her favorite books (like I know).

While reading Grace's March newsletter, I discovered that The Ugly Vegetables turns 10 today. I know that there are many families who have enjoyed this award-winning book together over the past decade. If your copy is as worn as ours, you'll be glad to know that the publisher is releasing a special anniversary edition that includes a new cover design and an updated pinyin glossary to make pronouncing the book's vegetables much easier.

Even better, Grace has created Ugly Vegetable activities that include a coloring page, a scripted play by FCC-Portland Maine, audio pronunciations of the vegetables, and a lesson plan and recipe for Ugly Vegetable soup.

Our Girl Scout troop, which is made up primarily of girls adopted from China, is planning to use Grace's lesson plan as an activity next month. I look forward to sharing how the girls react to bringing this book to life. In the meantime, be sure to check out Grace's website where you can find out more about her first book The Ugly Vegetables, as well as many others that will undoubtedly be enjoyed for generations to come.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Miley Cyrus - Playground Role Model?

Bethann Buddenbaum is a freelance consultant who moved back to her home state in the Midwest after living in Los Angeles for over 20 years. She is the mother of two daughters who were adopted from the Zhuzhou Social Welfare Institute in Hunan, China.

A number of years ago, when my eldest daughter was in kindergarten, she sat in the backseat of the car while I drove her home from school. In the midst of our chatter about her day, she blurted out "Look Mom, I'm Chinese." I glanced in the rearview mirror to see my Asian daughter grinning like a Cheshire cat while holding her tiny little index fingers against each eye and tugging them upward into an awkward squint. I had to compose myself while responding, "Yes, WeiWei, you ARE Chinese."

This was certainly not the first time I had seen this gesture. In fact, it would be fair to say that the first time I saw "Slant Eyes" was when I was in kindergarten. Isn't that when most of us stood around on the playground manipulating our eyes into little slanty squints and chanting "Me Chinese, Me play trick..." At the time, I remember it seeming both hysterically funny and somewhat forbidden. At that young age, you have just begun to realize that there are differences among your peers and you have also come into a treasure trove of hand-me-down "funnies" that span generations ahead of you.

I did explain to WeiWei that the slant eyes gesture was in poor taste and she confidently relayed this to the friends who taught her this fun, new trick. And, that was that. Five year olds were educated in the nuances of cultural diversity and they forgot all about their game. I expect this sort of behavior out of five year olds. They have only just begun to explore the world around them and to their credit, when provided the opportunity, quite often they learn, and they gain a sense of compassion.

After recently counseling a friend last month that she should let a third grade slant eyes incident go, I found myself confronted with the now infamous Miley Cyrus and friends slant eye photo. Cyrus' most recent faux pas has left me wondering if I had not been taking this issue seriously enough. I have always viewed the problem as one of a lack of cultural awareness that could be overcome with some basic education. It is painfully obvious that at the advanced age of 16, someone had missed having this conversation with Cyrus.

What really caused me to catch my breath, however, was the web poll put out by Disney and Cyrus. They actually felt compelled to create a poll to justify her actions. Not surprisingly, a majority of the little girls who visit her website thought that Cyrus was "just having fun and being goofy." These are the same little girls who are making Chinese eyes at my children on the playground -- of course THEY think it's just hilarious. What this says to me is that Miley Cyrus is now plotting her moral compass based upon the accepted behaviors of nine year olds.

When I asked WeiWei, who is now 10, if the Cyrus photo bothered her, she said "No, I'm used to it." We have worked hard to make sure that our girls are strong and able to handle themselves in moments of cultural insensitivity. And, I have personally seen them do very well in these awkward situations. As a parent who wants nothing more than to protect her children from hurtful remarks, this resilience doesn't make WeiWei's response any easier to take. From responses that I have read, it would seem that I am being overly sensitive to the matter. However, there are a lot of parents who agree that Cyrus' behavior merits both concern and action, including Deborah Levine, a Board member from New York's Families With Children from China.

While I still believe that this is ultimately an issue of education, I will be less inclined to brush it off so readily in the future. It is never acceptable to be "goofy" at the expense of others, no matter what a bunch of nine years olds tell you is OK.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Bone Marrow Registry Important for Asian Community

Lydia Miyashita captivated the Chinese adoptive community for the past six months. Tragically, the five year old from Ohio lost her battle with a rare form of leukemia last Tuesday. Her mother, Monica chronicled the family’s hope and the heartbreak in their Caring Bridge blog, which has been followed religiously by tens of thousands of adoptive families. Lydia's transplant doctor, Dr. Xiaxin Lin played an incredible matchmaker in her story by helping to locate her biological birth family, which included a 16-year old sister, who was a bone marrow match.

Unfortunately, Lydia was never able to stabilize so that she could be brought into remission for a bone marrow transplant. She died in the arms of a family who loved her deeply, and will remain in the hearts of many who never personally knew her but held her close in their hearts, nonetheless.

Lydia's arrival in the news around November 2008 reminded many of us of another similar pursuit that began in 2002. Kailee Wells was also five years old when she was stricken with Severe Aplastic Anemia. Her parents began a worldwide search for a bone marrow match and were fortunate enough to find one in a Chinese citizen by the name of Wang Lin. Wang stepped forward after being inspired by Linda and Owen Wells' tireless efforts to not only find a bone marrow match for Kailee, but to increase the number of Asians who are listed in the bone marrow registry. While Kailee still struggles with her illness, Wang's selfless give has given her a new lease on life.

Every day, there are more than 6,000 people searching the National Marrow Donor Registry looking for a matching marrow donor. Leukemia, lymphoma and many other life-threatening diseases can be treated by a bone marrow or cord blood transplant. As seen in the stories of Lydia and Kailee, race and ethnicity play a major roll in the matching of both marrow and tissue. While family members most often are the closest match, there remains the possibility of finding a match outside of the biological hemisphere. The number of Asians in the bone marrow registry is still very low.

Increasing the number of registered bone marrow and cord blood donors, can save lives. Visit the National Marrow Donor Program site to register as a donor or visit the Asian American Donor program to learn more about the specific need for Asian donors. There is nothing that can be done to ease the Miyashita's loss, but we can help prevent this tragedy for another family.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Raising Chinese Children

Bethann Buddenbaum is a freelance consultant who moved back to her home state in the Midwest after living in Los Angeles for over 20 years. She is the mother of two daughters who were adopted from the Zhuzhou Social Welfare Institute in Hunan, China.

Like many of ChinaSprout's customers, I have children adopted from China. My daughters are both from the Zhuzhou Social Welfare Institute in the Hunan province. Just over a year ago, our family moved from Los Angeles to the Midwest. It wasn't until we moved that I realized how easy we had it in Los Angeles when it came to teaching the girls about their cultural heritage. We had many Chinese friends; there was a large and accessible Chinese community; we regularly took the train to Chinatown for dim sum; we attended the Chinese New Year parade every year; and the girls had a group of friends who enjoyed sharing their own cultures, so they gained a respect for cultural diversity and pride in their own heritage.

We are blessed with an active and dedicated Families with Children From China (FCC) group in our new home state. There is also a notable and growing Chinese community, which has made great strides at creating wonderful cultural opportunities. However, it is still a much greater challenge to expose the girls to the Chinese culture in the Midwest. Many Chinese adoptive families and FCC organizations are struggling with the same question -- how do we keep our children's interest in their Chinese heritage alive, particularly as they mature?

There seemed no better place than ChinaSprout to pose these tough questions, discuss issues of importance, and share fun activities that we undertake in an effort to engage our children in learning about their cultural heritage. These topics are in no way limited to adoptive families, as I expect that the issues that we face will speak to any family of Chinese decent. I hope that you will join in the dialogue and share your experiences so that we can learn from each other.