Memories and flavours of home

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Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.

February is a big month for us. There’s Family Day (February 12) which is a public holiday so that families can spend time together, Valentine’s Day after that (February 14), followed rapidly by Chinese New Year, and then our little ray of sunshine’s birthday near the end of the month.

It’s also pretty packed workwise – I’m juggling my deadlines and my partner T is juggling both a full slate of tutoring clients and putting in his teaching shifts up on the ski hill. All in all, it’s a pretty normal peak winter month for us. Kind of like the opposite of the proverbial ant; we work hard all winter so we can play hard in the long, hot days of summer.

Despite the chaos, I’m trying to carve out time for the things that are important to us. One of my resolutions for 2018 was to try to integrate a bit of Singapore culture into the rhythms of our life, and I planned on doing that by cooking one Singaporean dish each month, and sharing a little of the stories and traditions of each dish with A.

Last month, we wrapped bak zhang together. We savoured the smell of the bamboo leaves as they soaked, we chopped a pile of garlic together, and we tried – clumsily – to wrap the dumplings. A gamely pitched in and then wandered off when she discovered that dumpling wrapping required a level of dexterity far beyond her. It was an effort way beyond my abilities as well – our dumplings were misshapen, prone to leaking and nowhere as big and well-stuffed as my grandma’s – but they were tasty little reminders of home.

This month, we are making pineapple tarts because it’s Chinese New Year. As I type this, I can smell the fragrant aroma of spiced pineapple waft through the house as the jam bubbles on the stove. It makes me feel as if there’s a little corner of Canada that’s a tiny bit more Singaporean now.

There’s something about pineapple tarts that reminds me of my grandma. She would make tins and tins of tarts for Chinese New Year, every year without fail. Her tarts were buttery little marvels, shaped like pineapples, and extremely popular.

One year, she taught my sister and I how to make them. Together, we stirred the jam, made the dough, formed tiny little tarts and shaped delicate little spikes into them – and voila, pineapple-shaped pineapple tarts. It felt like we were making magic.

Baking pineapple tarts with grandma soon became an annual ritual. I remember her patience as we messed up her kitchen, her small, tough hands shaping the pastry, her amusement as we burned our tongues eating them fresh out of the oven. It is one of the happiest memories of my childhood.

Now, I want to pass this annual ritual down to A. Tomorrow, we’re going to make pineapple tarts using grandma’s recipe, exactly the way she showed me how. Even if the tarts don’t taste the same, and even if I can’t replicate that pretty pineapple shape, I hope A grows up with the same memories of a warm kitchen, full of laughter and kindness, a place where she’ll always feel at home.

 

Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at bethgoeswriting.com.

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