It turns out that Lulu Wang’s real life grandmother—the one portrayed in the movie “The Farewell”—learned about her “terminal” cancer diagnosis from reviews of the film.
Interviewer: And she still doesn’t know?
Lulu Wang: Oh, gosh. This is a complicated question. She actually just found out. And it’s very traumatic that it’s coming out in China. And the title of the movie is Don’t Tell Her in Chinese. And her friend saw a review of it and was so proud of her, one of her longest friends, and sent it to her. And the review said, “The film is based on Lulu Wong’s real life. Her grandmother was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in 2013. Her family threw a fake wedding for her cousin from Japan and her grandmother didn’t know. Then she made a movie about it…” so it went through the entire history of our family, and my grandma read it. And so she said to little Nai Nai, her sister, who plays herself in the movie, she said, “I just thought that you were really daft, because you went and shot a movie, you went to the premiere in New York, and you come back and you can’t tell me anything about it. You can’t tell me what it’s about. You can’t tell me the title. But look, it says in the newspaper it’s called Don’t Tell Her, and that’s why you didn’t tell me, because I am the “her” of the “don’t tell her.”
But we haven’t talked about it, so I’ll see what happens when I see her.
It is a gorgeous movie, written and directed by Lulu Wang and features Awkafina in a dramatic starring role as “Billi”, the granddaughter who comes home to Changchun to see her Nai Nai (Grandmother) for the last time.
The lie is the tent pole for the film because Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but the family has decided not to tell her. Instead, a rushed wedding is arranged as the pretext for everyone to gather and pay respects to Nai Nai.
The film’s emotional resonance lies in the truth and the feelings that aren’t being verbalized. The characters often say one thing with their words and another with their eyes or faces. Wang uses directness and indirectness as a literal metaphor, often framing shots with characters looking or talking off-screen to another character that is not visible.
An aspect of the film that I identified with was the feeling and experience of traveling back to China from the States. Billi finds her way to her Nai Nai’s apartment in Changchun where all the relatives are gathered. She is heartily greeted by all the family as dinner is being prepared. Similar to me, Billi is not 100 percent fluent in Chinese and there are feelings of awkwardness when she communicates in front of her relatives.
The Farewell revolves around the love between a grandparent and the grandchild that is coming home.
Billi and Nai Nai are more than just “grands” to each other—they are bffs. They talk on the phone every day.
Nai Nai and Billi’s relationship is special and strong.
Not being able to tell her grandmother the truth is the heartbreak. Billi is caught between her desire to tell her Nai Nai the truth, and the rest of the family’s feelings that they are doing the best thing by NOT telling Nai Nai.
The relationship between grandchild and grandparent is the heartstring in tension and constantly tugged here.
Lately, I’ve been practicing three-breath meditation.
It is as simple as it sounds to learn.
Close your eyes.
Take a slow measured breath and fill your lungs.
Actively think about nothing.
Release the air gently through your mouth.
Repeat two more times.
You can do it anywhere as long as you can safely close your eyes for twenty seconds. I’ll do it at stop lights on the commute home. Or at my desk when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
It is as hard as it seems to practice.
Step 4 is the killer.
I’m not a good practitioner of meditation. My brain is like a cluttered basement filled with old and new things in stacks organized by happenstance. My thoughts are a puppy wandering around the basement, easily distracted–even delighted–by every different thing.
Three-breath meditation calms me down, if only for a moment.
Growing up, we never ate spaghetti or Italian food for that matter. It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned about non-red sauce pasta dishes. Linguini with clams is one of my favorite.
This recipe doesn’t require any fresh ingredients except cilantro and garlic. You should always have those around.
I’ve substituted cilantro for the traditional parsley. What Chinese household has parsley around? I say, use what you got. Besides, parsley sucks and cilantro is awesome.
1 package of linguine
2 TB of olive oil
2 cans of chopped clams, juices reserved and set aside
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup of white wine, vermouth or sake
1/2 cup of cilantro finely minced
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes or Japanese shichimi powder
Freshly ground pepper
Heat big pot of water for pasta. Salt liberally. When at heavy boil, add pasta and cook to almost al dente.
Heat olive oil in large sauté pan.
Add garlic, stir until fragrant about 1 minute. Add the wine and reserved clam juice. Heat until boiling and then turn down heat and cook for 5 minutes.
Add cilantro. Taste for saltiness. Add salt, pepper and red pepper to taste.
Reserve ½ cup of pasta water. When pasta is not yet al dente, drain and add to the sauté pan with the sauce. Toss until pasta is coated with the sauce. If it needs more sauce, add the reserved pasta water.
Add in the clams and toss.
Serve on fancy plates. Don’t add parmesan cheese or you will be frowned upon.
Debone the chicken thighs with a sharp knife. Trim extra skin and weird parts of the thigh that stick out. Leave the skin on. Pat dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle with Magic Mushroom powder or salt. This step should be done at least 20 minutes early, but can be done a few hours or a day ahead. This is so the salt can do its dry brine magic.
Wash your hands, heathen.
Heat oil in large frying pan. We use a no nonsense cast iron one. Oil should be almost smoking.
Place thighs skin side down in the oil. The chicken skin will release its own fat during the cooking.
Cook for 5 minutes and then flip for another 2-3 minutes. I usually test with thermometer until the meat near the bone reaches 150℉/65℃.
Serve with rice and vegetable of choice.
Nom Nom Paleo’s recipe calls for eight thighs. Costco sells six chicken thighs to a pack and that’s how we roll.
You can cook this recipe with deboned and deskinned thighs, but I will judge you. In no circumstance are you allowed to make this with chicken breast.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can also make a great brown gravy to accompany the chicken.
1. Pour out excess oil and fat from pan. Heat pan over medium heat.
2. Throw in ¼ cup of chicken broth, white wine, really any kind of liquid.
3. Stir and scrape up the fond that has formed on the skillet.
4. Add a pat of butter.
5. Add any herbs—parsley, cilantro, oregano would be good if you have it. If not, no worries.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe for roasted cauliflower is easy and brings out the best in brassicas.1 The smoked paprika is the secret ingredient that kicks it up to a whole other level. The result is a plate of smoky, salty, tender vegetable bits with crispy edges. It goes great as a side to a meat-based dish or can stand alone as a main attraction. Cauliflower is my go-to vegetable to roast, but you can use any type of hardy produce including broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, fennel root, or carrots. Or make a mix of anything you find interesting in the produce aisle.
15 minutes for prep. 20 minutes for roasting.
4 as a side dish
1 large or 2 small cauliflower, rinsed and cut into thumb-sized florets (See note.) 3 glugs of olive oil 4 cloves of garlic, minced Kosher salt, about a teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper, about ¼ teaspoon Smoked paprika, about 1 teaspoon Lemon (optional) Cilantro, minced (optional)
Heat oven to 425℉/220℃.
Cut your cauliflower into small florets and put in a large bowl. Glug the olive oil evenly over the cauliflower. Mix with spoon so all pieces are lightly coated. Throw in the garlic. Sprinkle in the salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Toss again. Taste a piece to see if it is seasoned correctly.
Spread cauliflower evenly in one layer over a baking pan. Each piece of cauliflower must touch the metal of the pan.
Roast for 20 minutes or until the bottom edges are brown and crispy. You may want to check in on your veggies at the 15 minute mark to see if they are done as you don’t want them to burn.
This is completely optional as it will be delicious once it comes out of the oven, but I’m channeling my inner Samin Nosrat here. When the cauliflower is nice and crispy, plate it and squeeze a lemon to give it a touch of acid and sprinkle with cilantro.
Don’t forget to include the stem too. I usually just slice the stem into disks and mix with the rest. Honestly, think of this recipe as a guide to roasting “Any Kind of” hardy vegetable and not any directive recipe. Mix and match vegetables, seasonings etc. The baking pan is your canvass and you my friend are the painter.
Also known as cruciferous vegetables which always makes me think of a wizarding spell from Harry Potter. ↩
This is an almost no cook dish that just requires you to have one ingredient on hand – silken tofu. The rest of the ingredients are staples in our kitchen. My cousin, Susanne, made this for us when we visited her in Switzerland.
If you have ever had steamed fish in a Chinese restaurant, this is the same flavor profile except that tofu is substituted for the fish. This makes the dish easier, cheaper, quicker to make and, if you love tofu, tastier too!
4 people as part of a larger Chinese style dinner.
1 package of silken tofu (See note.)
2 TB cooking oil
1 TB of soy sauce
1 green onion, sliced thinly
Handful of cilantro, minced
Cut the tofu in half lengthwise and then again into 1/2 inch slices. You should have 10-12 slices total. Fan them out on a plate like fallen dominoes. If the tofu releases a lot of water, gently discard liquid into the sink.
Finely chop the green onion. If you are having guests, do it on the diagonal as it is classier. Mince the cilantro. Sprinkle both on top of the tofu.
Pour the soy sauce evenly over the tofu slices.
In a frying pan, heat the oil until it is smoking. It needs to be hot. Carefully pour the oil over the tofu. It should sizzle and hiss on contact with the herbs and tofu. If it doesn’t, your oil wasn’t hot enough. It’s still tasty.
If you can’t get silken tofu, get the softest variety you can find.
Silken tofu is very delicate so be careful handling it. I usually take it out like I would a cake by using a knife to slide around the edges and putting a plate over it and then flipping the entire thing over. The rest of the dish can be made on that plate so you don’t have to try and transfer it.
This is a delicious one wok dish served over rice. Simple and quick to make with 3 main ingredients. I learned to make this freshman year in college from my roommate. It is now a go to meal.
4 people as meal
2 tsp cooking oil
2 chicken thighs, deboned, minced, marinated (See note.)
1 can of creamed corn (See note.)
1 can of baby corn, drained and each baby corn chopped into halves or thirds
Green onions, chopped
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
Rice for serving
In a wok or skillet, heat oil until smoking. Stir fry minced chicken until bits are lightly browned. Set aside in a dish.
In wok, heat oil until smoking: add ginger, wait, add green onions, wait, add garlic, then add chopped baby corn. Reintroduce the chicken back into wok. Mix it up.
Pour creamed corn into the wok. Cook until the corn is heated through and bubbly.
Serve over rice, preferably white jasmine rice.
Marinate chicken with moderate amounts of salt, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, corn starch, and fresh ground black pepper. This is a guide. Do what you like—salt is the only must ingredient here. If you like spicy, throw in red pepper flakes or Japanese shimchi powder. You can do this ahead of time—either the night before or in the morning so that dinner comes together quickly.
Be sure to buy cans of creamed corn, not whole kernel corn.