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SUSAN FUJINAGA alias Mrs Susie BIOGRAPHY

This is a very short biography and if you want more information you can visit the contributor's website where you will usually find contact details. If you wish us to pass a message on email us.

I asked Mrs Susie to tell us in her own words a little about herself and her love of food. This is what she has written:

Hello, my name is Susan Fujinaga and I live in Chicago, Illinois, USA. I am fifty years old and have lived in the Midwest Region of America for most of my life. I started cooking when I was ten years old.

My first project was an apple pie, still one of my favourite desserts. I messed around with cooking for the next two years, mostly making desserts from boxes for my family. My first dinner was for my Girl Scout badge in cooking - French fries and fish sticks. While I was talking to my Mom they burned in the oven. My mom made us eat it anyway, so that I could get my badge and, boy, did my brothers complain.

I remember one day wanting to make a chocolate cake and went to my Dad asking for help. He looked at me and said, “Do you know how to make it?” and I replied, “Yes, I know how to make it. I just need a little help reading the directions.” I was not afraid of cooking. Oh, mistakes were made often but I just went ahead anyway.

One time, when making gingerbread, the oven was full, so I just put them in the other little door of the stove that was not being used. When they came out burned on the top from the flame of the broiler we just cut the burned part out and ate what was good. Food didn't go to waste in our house. Once when making brownies from scratch I forgot to put in the eggs and we had to literally pound them with a hammer to get them out of the pan. We ate them anyway. Maybe, that's why my flops never bothered me, because we always ate everything anyway. That's just how it was in my house.

At age of twelve I started cooking five nights a week, so I could get out of doing dishes for the week. With seven people in the family there were always quite a few dishes to be done. Mostly I made simple dinners guided by my mother or father.

My parents decided to take us to a Chinese restaurant for the first time when I was eight years old. We had no experience of eating anything but home cooking and, to my knowledge, had never eaten Chinese food before. We hated it. We ate the wonton soup and the cookies. My parents had ordered enough for seven good eaters and I remember going home with huge bags of leftovers. Needless to say my parents were pretty mad. No more Chinese food for us.

I grew up reading. I hit the books hard in third grade. I read everything I could get my hands on. Mostly I loved adventure stories of pioneers or Indians, Clara Barton or about other nurses or any kind of biography. I loved the stories that told about other kinds of people and their ways of life, including how to make things and cooking. Because of this, I have always been an adventurer. New places to go - OK, when do we leave! New experiences to try - OK, how can I help? This is how I grew up.

We camped from the time I was six, not being able to afford any other kind of vacation. With my Dad working for the Boy Scouts of America, we always had a campfire for the whole camp and we each had little skits my dad taught us to put on to keep everyone that came entertained. When that was done, we would sing the songs that we had grown up with. These were great times for a little kid to enjoy. From our camping days, I learned about the peace and tranquility that can be found in nature. I also learned to become a natural gatherer of food. If we picked berries, we got to buy real milk, instead of powdered milk. You can bet I picked those berries.

From the time I was six I knew I was going to be a nurse. I never thought cooking would become as important in my life as it did. I did choose nursing as my profession and I am a natural healer. I worked as a nurse in hospitals for twenty-one years until, due to major foot surgery complications, I had to stop.

I met my soon to be husband in nursing school. He was born in Hawaii, to a Japanese family. The first time he took me to meet his friends, was to a potluck at his Dojo (his judo club). I knew what to bring to potlucks, so I made a chocolate cream pie and a banana cream pie. When I entered the line for the food, there was every kind of American food and also many, many Japanese dishes. Now we had talked about what the food was going to be like, before we went. So I knew all this different food was going to be there. Food I had never even seen, much less tried. I just got what looked good and sampled many kinds of the new food. Most of it was wonderful. I also took some jello cubes, because I loved jello. When I got to the end of the line, I was horrified. NO FORKS. Just sticks. I grabbed these too and while it took me a long time to eat most of it, I did OK. But I had this jello left on my plate. Growing up in a “clean your plate” family, I knew I had to eat it. (I have since changed this behaviour.) So I ended up stabbing the jello with one of the chopsticks and popped it into my mouth, pretending I had picked it up with my chopsticks. Of course, when the desserts came out, so did the forks!

Mrs Susie and daughter WendyI have three grown children, ages twenty-eight, twenty-seven and twenty-two. My house was the place the kids ended up at and there was always room for one more at the table. I learned how to find one more dish to stretch the food to include the newcomer, a vegetable or fruit I had canned. My son's friends used to call me Betty Crocker. When the children were small I started working with some friends at their Chinese restaurant. I was a waitress there. I worked there for two years and didn't realise the foundation for Oriental cooking was being laid without my even knowing it.

Today I enjoy camping, gardening, growing flowers and vegetables, peaches, cherries and berries. I also enjoy canoeing, flying kites, white water rafting, ravelling, writing, the Internet, meeting new people, cooking, canning and making our own maple syrup.

I have cooking genes in my blood and there are now three generations of chefs in our family. My youngest daughter is now a maki chef and my son was cooking in a cigar bar for one and a half years.

This is how I started cooking oriental food . . .

I come from a restaurant family. My grandparents had a very successful restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and my uncle was the chef at The Abbey in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and at the Highland Park country club for twenty-five years. One day my aunt came to me and said, "Susan, lets make a Chinese dinner for Granny's 70 birthday". I know I looked at her strangely and said, "I don't know anything about Chinese cooking" and she said to me, "Well you can read a recipe, can't you?” That was the beginning.

We made a Chinese dinner with fourteen courses served. The twenty-eight of us who attended ate for six hours. It was a great party. That was twenty years ago. I have since used this skill to be a chef for hire and have gone into people's homes and recreated the event and other menus and enjoyed myself no end. I am including a link for those of you who do not have a Chinese store handy.

Enjoy!
Mrs Susie

Introduction to Oriental Cooking

I have already shared with you how I got started cooking oriental food. I want to say at the start of this, loving to eat oriental food and cooking it were concepts that were worlds apart for me. Growing up in the 50's and 60's in the Midwest region of America did not prepare me for this kind of cooking. The food I grew up with was hearty and relatively plain. Marrying my Japanese husband and working for 2 years in an oriental restaurant as a waitress were the foundations I had to begin this adventurous style of cooking.

As I began studying oriental cooking, instead of being complex and mysterious, I found oriental cooking has a beautiful simplicity and logic to it. Once you grasp this, and a few fundamental techniques, a beginner can produce authentic oriental dishes without difficulty. Oriental food is easy to make in your own kitchen with regular utensils and while exotic ingredients are fun to use, you will find they are not really necessary.

I will be teaching you the skill of oriental cooking with the premise that you the reader, (like myself when I started) know little or nothing about oriental cooking. As you begin to follow my recipes and tips, you will see that this type of cooking takes no more time than regular cooking. As you begin using these recipes, you will see it is more a matter of method than anything else. Once you master the fundamental techniques, you will be able to prepare delicious meals with the ingredients you find in any store.

Oriental cooking is a live and adventurous art, a combination of aesthetics, nutrition, surprise, mystery and delight. It doesn't matter if you like to dine simply or to entertain with a grand manner, on what ever level you approach it, oriental cooking will bring you new pleasure and enjoyment. It can also add a wonderful sense of harmony to your life.

The Chinese have many sayings about good cooking and eating, one is appropriate here. It simply states those who live near water come to know the nature of fishes as those who live near the mountains come to know the melody of birds, so those who remain close to the kitchen acquire the knowledge of good food.

Enjoy!
Mrs Susie