Introducing Ellen Zhang
Currently resides: Massachusetts, USA
Ellen Zhang is an Asian-American studying and living Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is incredibly grateful and in awe of her parent’s sacrifices of immigrating to a new country with little in their pockets and big dreams—an experience that has transformed her life unlike any other.
The very dichotomy of being American and Chinese—growing up as an American Born Chinese—has shaped Ellen into the person she is today. The two cultures inevitably melt and blend together to produce something new and exciting. Personally, Ellen has kept her heritage alive through speaking mandarin fluently, volunteering at her local cultural center, visiting relatives in China, and through Chinese cuisine.
Ellen is reminded of her heritage and its importance daily with each mouthful of food she intakes. One sip of warm lamb stew transports her back to Xianjiang, her parents’ homeland. A small morsel of nian gao brings back memories of her grandmother’s hands sticky with rice. In her kitchen, there is a sweet scent of both eastern and western culture.
Outside of the kitchen, Ellen explores her rich cultural heritage through writing; Amy Tan and Margaret Cho are her inspirations for they are able to masterfully intertwine their culture within their works to create something new and exciting. She is also inspired by Detroit’s most recent venture, “Write a House,” which renovates run-down homes with crumbling ceilings and holes in walls, to bring in writers to contribute to the local literary community. The goal of this project is to use creativity to create hope and a bright vision of the future. With her ideas, imagination, experiences, and a pen in her hand, she, too, want to create possibilities.
Ultimately, writing, for Ellen, is a kaleidoscope lens to integrate the shards of her experiences, thoughts, and observations into a beautiful gestalt and she wants to use it as a medium to spread her thoughts, ideas, and unique experiences. Her works center on culture experiences such as the Chinese Lantern Festival, or simple things, like her mother’s appetizing dumplings.
At fifteen, Ellen wanted to give back to her Chinese Culture Center which has not only connected her more to her roots, but has also given her a strong sense of community. After presenting her idea to a committee, Ellen started a Creative Writing class. She sees her younger self, curious and inquisitive, manifested the elementary schoolers as they discovered the power of words. Ultimately, her fascination with her background leads her to investigate Chinese current affairs and works of Asian-American writers such as Laurence Yep and Li-Young Lee. Ellen’s cultural identity is as much as something she was born with, as it is her personal choice.
My nainai, grandmother, kneads dough and
it is difficult to tell where epidermis and
flour separate. She chides me gently while
I help her make Tang Yuan. The white powder as
blinding as her silky hair. Her eyes laugh as she tells me
of the lanterns that will come this Yuan Xiao. Already,
the images of lights, fireworks, and laughter consume me,
we tease each other with smiles. Her calloused hands
gently caressing mine; scooping bean paste into
our balls of hope. “This is how we pray” she whispers.
and I giggle, as if in understanding.
Plop and in drop the sweet balls. Lips watering in
anticipation. Already, I can smell the hot, steamy aroma.
Nainai tells me how Tang Yuan are made
like pearls are formed from a grain of sand with love,
dedication. Plop, plop. Sound echoing, vibrating,
echoing like the rain that washed away every last lantern
and lullabies of mandarin. Thoughts floating like calligraphy
letters, my fingertips hovering and yearning,
but there is nobody, nothing, here.
Hands shaking, making Tang Yuan,
praying for you to get better. But I still do not
understand, your face only a distant echo.
They do not taste as sweet, as vivid
as they used to. The laughter never as
naive. I cannot consume, will not be consumed.
This is the ending, I thought; ebony velvet dress too tight
Your hands folded across your chest; lips forever parted
But where is the epilogue? Where are my
pearls from my grains of despair?
My mother’s hands sweep slices
of chives with the nimble sheen of the blade,
knife cleverly kissing the cutting board.
Slowly, the pungent ginger accent is
replaced with the warm, comforting fragrance
of he zi, shaped like dumplings but
fried and smothered in savory sauce.
The shape, she whispers,
is for good fortune, as her palms
fold and form the dough.
Spoon dipping in and out of the filling
that sags into the shells of the he zi,
Her hands breathe synonym for love.
Fragments of memories are the only remains,
searching for something sentimental,
hoping that something will be enough,
dust settling on my lungs before I gaze
at familiarity in the form of a black composition notebook,
simple decisive characters, shi pu— recipes
I skim it only to start pouring over it,
trying to satisfy the constricting in my chest,
examining like the art of ikebana.
Some entries are copied in meticulous letters,
others cut from magazines and diligently pasted,
pictures matched neatly to each one,
cryptic comments line the margins,
as the fluttering of birds dancing upon telephone wires,
ready to take wind and fly with ease,
My hands trace over the strokes in wonder,
“Liang’s favorite,” “Su’s dinner party”
My lips mutter sentimental, yet
my hands dice and slice vegetables.
Already, I can feel the tinge of sweet sauce on my tongue,
before my hands press and push the dough,
filling it up with good fortunate,
before I whiff the redolence of he zi that take me back to generations past.
Recipe: Four Happiness: Vegetable
1 cup vital wheat gluten
1 tea spoon yeast
1 cup warm water
¼ lb fresh snow pea
Half a head of cauliflower
¼ lb fresh mushroom
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup water
½ cup oil
Step 1: Make the dough: in a bowl, mix together Vital wheat Gluten, yeast, and warm water. When the mixture is at a good consistency, knead the dough with hands until its surface is smooth and elastic.
Step 2: Grease a large bowl with oil and put the dough in the bowl with a clean, damp dish towel over it. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free location — between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal—until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 to and 2 hours.
Step 3: Add water in a wok, and put dough on the steam-plate. Cover wok with lid, and turn the heat on to high. Gently steam the dough over water for 15 minutes.
Step 4: Turn off the heat and wait for 20 minute before removing the lid.
Step 5: While waiting, cut the fresh mushrooms into thin, even slices and cut the cauliflowers into quarters.
Step 6: Take out the dough and cut it to 2×2 inch squares.
Step 7: Heat ½ inch of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the dough for 1 minute on each side or until crisp and golden; then turn the heat onto high before adding fresh snow peas, prepared cauliflower and prepared, fresh mushroom. Mix everything for about 2 minutes.
Step 8: Add soy sauce, salt, and sugar; stir until evenly incorporated.
Step 9: Add ½ cup cold water and turn the heat to medium level, and boil until the water is completely evaporated. Plate, serve, and enjoy!
Shades of the Same Skin is an anthology of culture. The world is in need of a vigorous seasoning and it is why the poets in this book are willing to share their ethnicity. Each one will give some insight into their culture, music, clothing, food, traditions, and even share a few recipes. Some will engage in unique stories and folklore. Others will take us back to their childhood days and compare it to the experience of children today. A few will even welcome us into their homes to share items from their heritage.
This is also a book of unity. Its purpose is to show that without diversity, the world would be a boring place. Each poet in this anthology has a unique style because of where they came from, their experiences, and who they are. Their words are printed on these pages to inspire why we belong. We are all vital ingredients for the recipe to keep the world stirring.
Shades of the Same Skin is Available at the following Retailers:
Create Space: www.createspace.com/6171447
Creative Talents Unleashed: www.ctupublishinggroup.com/anthologies.html
100% of all proceeds from this book are being donated to the “Starving Artist Fund” to assist writers in becoming published authors. Purchasing this book can help a writer become a published author!