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The Blue Notebook

autoportrait by the author

December 29th, 2019

By Tino Zhang


Editor’s Note:



The following text is an excerpt from The Blue Notebook, a notebook documenting the family recipes of Zhang Shuzhen, a retired middle school teacher, and writings of her grandson, Jiang Chen, a research marine-biologist at the University of Qingdao.



Born in 1940, Zhang Shuzhen has spent her entire life in Zhenjiang, a harbor city which lies on the southern bank of Yangtze River. In 1967, during The Cultural Revolution, students at Zhang’s school organized a strike, traveling to Beijing to in support of Chairman Mao’s leadership. As a result, Zhang devoted her free time in homecooking, recording her personal recipes of traditional southern Chinese cuisine on the front pages of the notebook.

Gingko, Snow Peas, Water Chestnuts




1. Find water chestnuts


2. Peel, cut in half


3. Wash snow peas in cold water


4. Boil gingko seeds until they burst


4. Stir-fry peas in hot oil


5. Add water chestnuts, gingko


6. Add salt, sugar, corn starch, chicken stock


7. Reduce

Pickled Vegetables




1. Set sliced carrots, radishes, and cucumbers aside


2. Cover with salt


3. Heat water, sugar, white vinegar into a clear broth


4. Mince ginger, little chilis


5. Add into broth


6. Drain vegetables


7. Mix all ingredients in a clay pot


8. Store in shade

Steamed Ribbonfish




1. Remove gills and innards


2. Still a whole fish


3. Marinade in cooking wine, ginger, leeks


4. Add sesame oil


5. Boil water


6. Steam fish over boiling pot


7. Serve when water is almost gone

Candied Lotus Root




1. Peel lotus root


2. Cut off root of the root


3. Add water, brown sugar, dried goji in a pot


4. It’s a syrup 


5. Cook lotus root in syrup


6. Serve when very soft

In 2008, the notebook was discovered by Zhang’s Grandson, Jiang. While researching on shellfish farms in various locations along the Oriental Coast, he repurposed the notebook as his journal and planner on the back pages of the notebook.



Upon publication, the translator wishes to remain anonymous.

Feb. 8       2008






                        Big boats


                        So the bay was shallow



Should I write a novel?



Noon     Salinity lab test #1


(18 samples)



I like the way she says estuary


I bought her lollipops



3:30     Meet with professor Liu


Show him a random chart

From capsoid to coccoid


I thought those algae only grow in cold water


He said no

Feb. 26       2008




                        Hard substratum beneath the sediment


                        Artificial reefs



10:00     Basketball match


(We lost)




Stay away from the pelicans



4:00     pH test #2


Chlorophyll measured as a variant


Alkaline is blue

Mar. 5       2008






                        Predatory urchins


                        Various mussels washed ashore



11:00     Salinity lab test #6



                        West of water:




                        (Tell the age by how wet they are)



                        Bivalves as ecology’s threshold


I wish I knew 



Idea for a novel:


A farmer, whose left eye was stung by a bee,

lost half of his vision. On a melon field,

all the plowing has gone oblique.



3:00 Fish samples arrive at dock 


                            There must be a peal in one of those oysters

Mar. 29       2008




                        In the intertidal zone


                        Light becomes consumable energy

                        at an instant



I won’t question it



Saw her crossing bridge

with a small cactus



10:00     Anatomy lab #2


Sectioned specimen


A little pressure on the tentacles



5:00     Data filing 



                        There’s an easier way to estimate

                        the amount of oxygen dissolved per                                    cubic meter or to count the bubbles




Idea for a novel:


Mushrooms. (Maybe a chapel)

Cauliflower Stir-fry




1. Take apart the cauliflower


2. Rinse in cold water


3. Mince garlic, ginger


4. Remove seeds from green peppers, cut into chunks


5. Stir-fry cauliflower, peppers in hot oil


6. Add garlic, ginger, water


7. Reduce

April. 8       2008




                        Haliotis rufescens:


                        Orangey sea snail


                        Recurrent on a different coast



Idea for a novel:


Toward the end of his career, there’re still things

the florist has yet to grow. Trumpet blossoms,

for instance. Or the ear-shaped buds

that are merely transplants.




10:30     Pigment analysis


three parts solution


one part dye



                                                She’s already at the sea

Rice, Pumpkin, Dates




1. Soak rice twice in a pot 


2. Discard the water


3. Skin, cut pumpkin into chunks


4. Remove the pits of dates


5. Add pumpkin, dates onto rice


6. Cover with water 


7. Cook as usual

(This page is intentionally left blank)

July. 4       2008




                        Coral assemblage:


                        Transparent lining


                        Some cellular units strained within



9:30    Anatomy lab #5


Discard everything but green




                        Case study:


                        In a landlocked country


                        The presence of these two species


                        doesn’t prove so much



4:00      Grant meeting


Dinner at department





Seven inches isn’t long for a clam


I’ve seen it

July. 19       2008




            Within a reliable kelp forest


            Sufficient labor yields in every temperature



                        9:30    Turbidity lab test #3


                        I could barely care




Idea for a novel:


Porcelains in the dark room.





                        3:00     Field study



            Shuhai: home of the most handsome sturgeon


            Submerged in 1976


            Now there’s only precipice

Chicken & Winter Melon Soup




1. Slice ginger, winter melon


2. Blanch a small hen, side aside


3. Bring water to boil


4. Add chicken, yellow wine


5. Add in ginger, sugar, star anise, dried mushrooms


6. Turn to low heat


7. Add water, salt


8. Repeat


9. Add winter melon


10. Serve tomorrow

July. 24       2008






            Scheduled harvest


            Acres of microfauna on the outskirt



Idea for a novel:


January 1997, Lieutenant Suzuki runs away

from a warm creek. Deer follow him,

blue-collared, south-bound.





            Imaginary gulf for the continent 


            One volcano is enough




                        7:15    Documentary screening


                        Wear a baseball cap




I don’t have a blow drier


She loves me not

bio by the poet:


Tino Zhang is a poet and painter based in Iowa City. He is currently an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. IG: teanaux


bio by the poet’s friend:


Tino often wears a long purple leather jacket, always has poppers and is a gift to iowa city.

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