Small, squishy, white balls. I think about her tiny fingers molding dough into little white balls next to me as we sat on the floor, the sun coming through the very small window. My eyes weren’t very good and the dark wood cabinets ate up much of the light, but the dough was easy to see because it was white.
To make the dough, I mixed rice flour with water and a little of salt, adding water and flour until it felt right. Not too sticky, soft, malleable. I showed her how to pinch off bits of the dough and roll them gently between her palms to form them into balls. The first few she made were a bit misshapen, but it didn’t matter. They were good enough. Her face showed immense concentration as she kept trying to make perfect spheres. She set them on the plate beside the old aluminum bowl the mass of dough sat in. The number of balls grew as the dough shrank. We worked at making those little balls until the dough was gone. They weren’t all the same size; she liked to experiment with making bigger and smaller spheres.
I boiled a pot of water and she sat on the counter watching me cook the little balls. I showed her how they floated to the surface when they were done. I let her strain some of them out of the water and into another bowl. Once all of them were cooked, I got a small saucepan and melted palm sugar and water together until they became a thin, brown syrup. I dropped a slice of ginger in to flavor it and then spooned the liquid over the little balls.
The first time we ate them together she said that it was her favorite dessert. She had so much fun making it when she. As she got older, we didn’t make it as often; she stopped asking. I noticed that she started eating more chocolate and candy as she got older. I guess those little white balls stopped being her favorite.
I kept meaning to ask her to make that dessert together again. I got older and became one of those petulant, insolent teens. I rarely spoke to her. We had yelling matches, not conversations. I was so caught up in my friends, trying to fit in, all that bullshit that I thought American teenagers were supposed to think about because I saw it on television. When my parents proclaimed that we were not American, I tried harder to embody all of the stereotypes I saw.
Last year I bought a bag of glutinous rice flour from the Vietnamese market. It is still sitting in the pantry. I want to make those small, white balls in that sweet, slightly gingery syrup, but I don’t know whether I will be able to make them properly without my grandmother. I wish we could have made them together one last time.