d o c t o r a n d m a m a

Linda Shiue

Linda Shiue
San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA
December 31
I am a physician and spend my free time with my husband and kids, reading everything in sight, eating, traveling, and cooking meals inspired by my travels. These days I'm spending more time at my food blog, spiceboxtravels.com. Please visit me there and follow me on Twitter @spiceboxtravels. Disclaimer: Health information presented here is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. © 2010-12 Linda Shiue. All Rights Reserved.

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MARCH 20, 2011 10:15AM

Mother-in-Law Knows Best

Rate: 19 Flag

by Linda Shiue 
My mother-in-law wanted a grandchild so badly, she went to melodramatic lengths to convince me of the urgency to reproduce immediately.  She talked to me about it daily, giving various reasons for why sooner was better, many of which were reasonable.  But one day, she made a ridiculous statement.
"I can help you now," she said, "But if you wait too long, I might go blind."
"Why would you go blind?" I asked, really irritated by this ongoing barrage, which had started literally the day after our wedding. "Anything could happen to anyone, but what makes you think that you will go blind?"
"It could happen," she retreated (temporarily), "And if it does, I won't be able to help you take care of my grandchild."
A few years later, I gave birth/gave her what she wanted, and she couldn't wait to help.  It was a crash course in Traditional Chinese Medicine beliefs around childbirth, and again we butted heads.  This immediate postpartum period is known as "confinement," and I did not want to be confined.   My mother-in-law was shocked that I was so ignorant of the beliefs that had been passed down through generations of mothers in her family.
"You're not going to take a shower or wash your hair for a month, right?"
I felt dirty and exhausted, and there was nothing more I craved than a hot shower and unmatted hair.  "What do you mean?"
"If you take a shower, you will lose all of your heat, and you will be sick.  And then you won't be able to take care of my grandchild."
Sometimes, it's better to do than to say.  Despite our little tiffs, I was appreciative of the meals she cooked for me.  She made Chinese soups and stews, all of which were convenient for me to eat whenever I got the chance in between feedings and diaper changes.
She expressed her love through pig feet, of all things.  Trotters.  She was wise to cut them up small enough that I thought it was a more palatable part of hog, perhaps shoulder.  Stewed in a salty-sweet braise of soy sauce, sugar, and Chinese black vinegar, these pig parts were paired with the flavor and texture contrasts of papaya and boiled peanuts.  I loved the velvety texture of the pork fat and the silky braise spooned over steamed rice.  Only years later did I come across in some reading that the combination of trotters and peanuts is a traditional Chinese recipe to promote breastmilk supply.  My mother-in-law fooled me for my own good, and of course for the benefit of her grandchild.
The papaya is an interesting non-traditional addition to this stew.  I think it came from the circuitous route of my mother-in-law's life from her early years in China and Hong Kong to her married life in Trinidad, where she raised her children with a backyard filled with trees bearing papayas, mangoes, bananas and starfruit.    
This is the best kind of family recipe-- one that carries on cultural and family traditions, but also the individual stamp of each successive generation.  In my version of this traditional Chinese stew, I am keeping in my mother-in-law's papaya for taste and family history.  For my own contribution, I am substituting more familiar pork shoulder for the trotters.  But if you have a need to boost breast milk production, don't argue with my mother-in-law or thousands of years of traditional Chinese medical knowledge-- go with the trotters.
*     *     *
Chinese Braised Pork with Peanuts and Papaya
Chinese braised pork stew with peanuts and papaya by Linda Shiue
2 lbs pork shoulder, skin on, cut into 3/4" cubes
12 oz raw shelled peanuts
2 Tbsp oil for frying 
3 inches of unpeeled fresh ginger, cut into three pieces 
6 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup Chinese rock sugar (may substitute regular sugar)
1 cup Chinese black vinegar
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine)
8 cups water, plus more to boil peanuts 
papaya, cut into 3/4" cubes
Accompaniment: steamed white rice 
1.  Pour peanuts into a heavy stock pot and add enough water to cover by a few inches.  Cover and boil for 30 minutes, until slightly soft.  Drain, rinse, and set aside.
2.   Pour a few tablespoons of oil into the pot, and fry ginger and garlic until aromatic.  
3.  Add pork to the pot, and fry for a few minutes until the meat changes color.
4.  Add peanuts and stir and fry for another minute.
5.  Add all remaining ingredients except papaya and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
6.  After one hour, add papaya and simmer again for at least another hour, ideally two, until pork and peanuts are very tender.
7.  Serve over steamed rice.
© 2011 Linda Shiue 

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looks yummy, I wish my boyos would eat it.
Funny, now we nursing moms are BANNED from peanuts. Are we even allowed to have them in the house? I'm not sure; maybe they're the new evil eye. I wonder how we'll shock our kids when they become parents... I am always so enchanted by your recipes-with-stories.
Hi Linda. I guess using trotters make it "low on the hog," doesn't it? Does eating peanuts while nursing increase risk of the baby's developing an allergy? The papaya in your recipe is well cooked and looks delicious. I have heard that raw papaya is beneficial to lactation. But, along with raw pineapple, that it is not recommended during pregnancy. Not sure if that's fact or wives' tale, though.
Thanks for the cross-cultural humor, Linda. Inevitable. And it's always possible our overseas-raised parents are right.
Not too far from the Pinto Beans and ham hocks brought over by my own MIL during my three "confinements." Geography is no barrier to Motherly Wisdom, no matter how far-fetched the "facts."
papaya and peanuts would be good with anything, i bet. i will try them with pork real soon, thanks for the recipe!
This looks so good and I have peanuts in the shell waiting to be used for something. Well I guess this is it.
Thanks for reading, everyone!
@loveinmexico and Theresa, the avoiding peanuts recommendation was made by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2000 but actually retracted by them in 2008 due to a lack of evidence, unless kids are thought to be high risk (i.e. from families with a history of asthma, allergies, or eczema). But as with everything else, you should go with the advice of your pediatrician.
@Theresa, I think there may often be truth in "old wives' tales"-- my MIL is a firm believer anyway!
This is all too familiar to me, Linda! My mother is a big believer in Chinese medicine. She didn't make this soup after the birth of my first child, and I had lots of problems nursing. The second time around, she made sure to bring this over. Plenty of milk. Just sayin'!

The addition of papaya is interesting, and I'm sure, makes it more palateable ;)
Visiting my son and daughter-in-law, new parents as of last Tuesday, we had fun with this post. What an interesting recipe,wrapping generations and food together,in the most elemental way. Nicely done.
delightful, as always.
I have to eat this for dinner tonight. Seriously! Great post, Linda.
Linda, great story! Last year, when my baby sister (like you, a physician) had her first child, my parents rushed out to a Chinese restaurant near the hospital where she delivered and bought an order of pigs' feet to bring back to her. (I don't know how much of them she actually ate.) I've never seen them with peanuts or papaya thought -- sounds intriguing!
Very interesting recipe and amusing (typical?) mother-in-law story, Linda.
Oh boy - I think I'll wait until I a) travel to China and get this on the street (num num) or b) get myself a Chinese in law who cooks trotters and p-nuts.

What a rich heritage, and one i know nothing about when it comes to cooking in this arena, thanks for the story Linda!
Thought sure she was going to say "Then I'll never be able to see my grandchild!" Sneaky old girl, with the trotters. I like the way you layer the recipe with family history. Nice.
Linda, this is so interesting! My MIL filled my freezer with about a dozen casseroles, all wonderful and greatly appreciated. That food-tastes-so-good-while-pregnant stuff stayed with me while I nursed my babies. Bonne chance!
Love through pig's feet. How can you top that? I keep thinking you're going to have to do something drastic in the coming years so that your children and their spouses will have something to write about.
It is strange how cultures overlap. My African grandmother liked pig feet, and also held the view that it was unsafe for new mothers to shower for at least nine days. go figure.
Yum!! I will try this...
good fun, your post, and very interesting.