Thursday, December 2, 2021

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Karen Albright Lin, Author of Mu Shu Mac & Cheese

I’m a Midwest girl who married into an always-hungry Chinese family. As the first Caucasian interloper, there were many adjustments to make. Culinary differences were the most fun. What better way to show off than to cook for the dozen-strong eager eaters. But when I broke the spaghetti noodles so they’d fit in the pot there was a literal gasp. Breaking the long-life noodles was tantamount to wishing early death upon hubby’s parents.  And this was only the beginning of my personal subplot. 

Most of what I write features Chinese culture and food as subplots. My first book, ethnic family saga American Moon: A Chinese Immigrant Story, even includes recipes for the foods eaten by the characters.

Food is love, sharing, East and West coming together. In my second novel, Mu Shu Mac & Cheese, Elaine is not only a culinary instructor. She’s the recipe developer for a Blue Apron-style company and the subject of a reality show filming in her home. Her family is sliced and diced when her mother-in-law arrives for a “lucky 8-day” visit. Ma turns their household topsy-turvy from rearranging furniture to insisting Elaine’s son wear garish Chinese robes to prom.

Day one dinner: Elaine makes Indian lamb curry. As she cuts, the blood oozing from the bone reminds her of the red of Chinese luck, but also the red of stop signs and dangerous tides.   


Ma challenges Elaine with a critique of the kitchen, starting with a “tsk tsk” over the lack of a mirror behind the stove-which doubles your luck apparently. The cleanup sounds less like luck, more like a degreasing nightmare.

Elaine makes complicated pork and sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. A small victory, her steamed zongzi are a hit with Ma.   



Less admired is the next day’s beef stroganoff. Its bland color on the plate inspires a fung-shui lecture. A meal must have many colors, many textures, many tastes and levels of heat. But Elaine creates a happy turn in the conversation when she remembers her wedding reception. She shares with her boys the Midwest relatives’ shock over unknowingly enjoying jellyfish salad and the cost-saving Kmart cake.

The book’s title comes from the surprising joy among them all when her sons create "Mu Shu Mac & Cheese," a starch-heavy melding of East and West cultures.

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Karen!

You can find Karen here:

Sisters of the Quill

Writing From the Peak

Read more about Elaine’s family food-fun trials:

And dip into food-rich American Moon: A Chinese Immigrant Story, "a hard-luck story about a determined family battling poverty, communism, corruption and their own fateful decisions, makes for an emotional and uplifting read." - Publishers Weekly: