METERMy daughter was six months old when I started having problems with my left breast. It felt like there was a small chunk of gravel there, which soon became the whole chest feeling rock hard. One day I was extracting my hand and there was a small drop of blood in my milk. I texted my mom’s group and one of them said, “Katrina, honey, you have to check.”
It was 2016. I was 34, young, fit and healthy. I was a Paris-trained pastry chef who had worked with Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi at their NOPI restaurant in Soho. Back home in Sydney, I was the mother of a three-year-eight-month-old, as well as being a freelance food photographer and recipe developer.
I went to see the breast specialist who took three biopsies. She told me, “We can wait for the results, but I’ve seen enough to tell you that you have breast cancer.” He had no family history of it. I was stunned.
I had aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy, a double mastectomy, and axillary dissection (lymph node removal), but despite this, the cancer returned. It had spread to the tissues of the sternum, liver, kidneys, and other lymph nodes.
Now I have metastatic cancer (also called stage four or advanced). I may not look sick, but I fight treatment, medication, and side effects every day. No one knows for sure, but I may only have a few Christmases left with my family.
After my initial diagnosis, wrote a picture book to help explain cancer to young children. Then the metastatic diagnosis gave me the kick in the butt to get the book out into the world.
After finishing the children’s book, I decided that I needed to let my creativity express itself again. That’s when the idea for the cookbook with my mother came up.
My mother turns 70 this month. She is an excellent home cook and her cuisine is famous among our family and friends. I decided that I wanted to photograph her best recipes and create a cookbook with her.
Every Wednesday for five months I went to his house after dropping off my children at kindergarten and school. Mom cooked the dishes, she always did several things at the same time and never did one thing at a time, then she prepared the dishes, while I arranged and photographed them. It turns out that we work very well together. We captured more than 70 photos and magic recipes.
Each week was an opportunity to share and connect with my mother. After filming, we would have a late lunch with Dad of all the food Mom had just cooked, and I was able to spend solid, quality time with them.
My mother is Chinese, but she was born and lived in Malaysia until she emigrated to Australia when she was 19 years old. The recipes in the book are mostly Chinese and Malay home cooking. It is a generous, humble, nutritious, welcoming and comforting meal.
Some of my favorite dishes in the book are Malaysian chicken satay, steamed tofu with shrimp paste, and assam laksa. Mum is also a fabulous baker and we’ve captured lesser-known Asian desserts and dessert soups such as the nine-layer kuih cake and bubur cha cha.
Working together on this book has, for the first time, celebrated my mother’s food. He has validated his deeply developed culinary instincts and shown him how amazing his talent is. As we filmed, she said, “I never thought my food could look so good!” And I said, “It’s always tasted so good; now he’s making it look as good as it tastes. “
After finishing the photo sessions, I developed shortness of breath in addition to a burning pain in my left scapula. This has led to my current situation: the cancer has progressed further into my lungs, brain, and spine. Now I am taking a new third generation chemotherapy drug and in the middle of more radiation therapy.
I recently had surgery to drain the fluid around my heart. The urgent hospital admissions for my heart and my shortness of breath made me question my survival. It immediately made me think of my children who I will leave behind and who I will not be able to see grow up; to guide, nurture and support.
I hope this cookbook I made with my mother is something that will last, that my children can read and maybe even cook. A family keepsake to pass on old favorite recipes, to be remembered, even after having moved on to the next place.
For more information on the Katrina Cookbook, visit makanatmums.com
Steamed tofu with shrimp paste
Make 12 pieces
6 squares of tofu or common tofu (for example, Evergreen brand regular firm tofu)
120g fresh shrimp meat, drained and dried
Pinch of salt
Sprinkle with white pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon egg white, lightly beaten with a fork
I am willow
Chopped shallots or chives
Crush the prawn meat with a mortar, then place in a bowl and season with salt, pepper, sugar and egg white. Mix the prawns well and season, stirring in one direction until the mixture is sticky. Reserve or place in the refrigerator.
Cut the tofu (white tofu) squares into halves. Carefully remove some tofu from one side to make a 0.5cm deep indentation (about 1 teaspoon in size), then scoop some shrimp paste into the indentation of the tofu.
Place the filled tofu pieces on a heat-resistant plate, leaving space between each.
Steam the tofu on a wire rack in a wok over simmering water for six minutes, or until the shrimp is opaque. Keep away from heat.
Pour the soy sauce and sesame oil on top. Garnish with chopped shallots or chives.
Malay satay chicken
Make 12-15 skewers
Note: start the recipe the night before.
500g chicken thigh fillets
1 stalk of lemongrass, only white part
1 garlic clove, peeled
¼ red onion, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
1½ tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 spoon of sugar
½ red onion, cut into small pieces
1 cucumber, cut into small pieces
Cut the chicken into 2.5 cm x 4 cm pieces and reserve. Hit or mix in the lemongrass, garlic, and onion, then add the turmeric, coriander, and chili powder, oil, salt, and sugar.
Combine the chicken and spice mixture. Mix well and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, soak the bamboo skewers in water and then thread three to four pieces of chicken onto one end of the skewers.
Grill the chicken for two to three minutes on each side, basting it with a little oil as it cooks.
Serve the satay hot with sliced red onion and cucumber on the side.
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