Family Traditions

If I think about it hard enough, there are actually very few traditional recipes that my family holds dear that Mom will make without fail, depending on what time of year it is.

I remember a whole bunch of wonderful things that Gramma used to make when I was really little — har gow, cheung fun, these funky steamed white jello cups (sometimes with red egg, sometimes not).

Unfortunately Mommy makes very few of those items because they are incredibly time consuming to make, especially by yourself with no one else to help you with the long hours of hard labour. She still makes a few things that I absolutely love:
* those funny steamed swans made of rice flour
* “crunchies” with pork & shrimp filling that are enclosed by the sweet dough and is deep fried until they puff up like a balloon & get crunchy (hence the name)
* my favourite soup with pork, chinese cabbage, daikon radish and dried shrimp, and with the chewy & sticky rice dumplings
* steamed radish cake with pork, chinese sausage, dried shrimp & a bit of turnip on top

But the big important tradition that I am so incredibly thankful for that Mom still makes takes a week of preparation and a whole day to make, the absolute king of all family recipes: Doeng, also known as sticky rice. I have so many wonderful memories of Gramma that are associated with making & eating doeng. When we would go to Montreal to visit for a month during the summer, there was always a full kitchen counter of doeng already made & ready for us to eat. It was always, and still is, one of my favourite meals to be eaten out of hand. Incredibly portable, insanely filling and just so much wonderful stuff packed into a deceivingly small bamboo leaf-wrapped package.

Homemade doeng

Even when I was growing up, there were very few people that still made doeng at home, it’s such an incredibly labour intensive undertaking and it requires mad skillz to get the sticky rice packets to look as cute as they do — it used to be that when Gramma decided to make doeng, my Auntie and her daughters would always be ready to get together to help for the whole day it took to make them.

The preparations required before you can even begin contemplating assembly is long. When everything’s at the ready, assembling the doeng itself is an incredibly beautiful choreographed hand-dance to watch. Only when you’ve made a bajillion of them, you realize that your work still isn’t quite complete because it takes three ridiculously long hours just to cook the first batch. (You really do have to take advantage of the many helping hands available to you and you have no choice but to make as many as humanly possible in one day.)  But once those three hours are up: you finally get to enjoy one of the best comfort foods in the world… though I must admit, I actually prefer to eat them when they’re room temperature-cold.

The fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar is when you have to have all your doeng already made to be eaten. That date happened to be this past Saturday, and this year Mom made it twice — once on Father’s day for our family, and then once again this past Friday to teach Miss R so that Lil’E=MC^2 would grow up with the tradition. It was a lot of work, but the nice thing was that Baby Bro & his girlfriend helped out with the 10lb bag of rice for Round 1 this year and then Round 2 was at Miss R‘s house where we made a smaller 5lb batch.

Out of all this doeng-making, I was tasked with finally putting together the incredibly detailed instruction manual. Dad & I have been talking about doing this for a few years now, but it’s never really been feasible because it requires a lot of sideline work while people are actually doing the assembly.

He’s been wanting me to do this for quite some time because it is very much a tradition that, in our family, is passed down from generation to generation by way of grandmothers, mothers & daughters and it really ought to be recorded for posterity, in detail, for future generations to look upon. To be honest, among our family’s circle of friends & acquaintances, I think Mom is the only person that still makes doeng. Sadly, because I have so many difficulties with SALLY, the likelihood of this tradition being passed down through our family is very slim and it’s probably going to end with me, unless Baby Bro’s future wife & family make a concerted effort to keep the tradition alive.

In the past, even though we wanted to make the manual, the logistics of have me interrupting Mom at every step of the process would have made it so that she would never get anything made! Dad’s been helping out the last couple of years, so he knows how labour-intensive the work is, so he wasn’t exactly able to do any brainstorming work on the instruction manual either with his hands being tied up with doeng-making.

This year, with the two doeng-making sessions, it made things so much easier. With Baby Bro shooting multiple videos of Mom assembling the doeng during the first session, that meant I had the opportunity to photograph everything, step-by-agonizing-step, with Miss R as my hand model without slowing the process down too badly during the second one. That and making only five pounds of rice goes way faster than making ten, even with me stopping the whole production every time someone did something that required me to shoot a photo.

But having said all that, it does lighten my heart, knowing that Miss R would also like to keep this tradition alive for Lil’E=MC^2. Being able to have an actual instruction manual also gives me the opportunity to share the knowledge with friends who may not have the Chinese tradition to follow, but still have a keen interest in learning how to make them, so all may not yet be lost.

So how does everything look? Well, the instructions are finished and written in agonizingly minute detail, but the photos still need to be resized and then put into the right spot in the manual. To be honest, I’ve been faffing about and procrastinating with the photos because I just don’t want to have to figure out the best placement of everything without making the whole manual ridiculously choppy to read.

Once I’ve finally taken the plunge to complete it, I kind of want everything to be properly (professionally?) printed off & bound, then add a digital copy in .pdf form on a CD with the accompanying videos so you have a nice & neat package.

At least that’s the plan…

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