Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn
There is nothing quite as welcoming as a warm and aromatic kitchen, redolent with sensory memories of childhood favorites, and the promise of a festive meal to come. I can still smell the sweet aroma emanating from my grandma’s kitchen. Her holiday kugel (noodle pudding) came to the table steaming with the rich, sugary scent of cinnamon; the noodles on top, browned and crispy, provided a perfect counterpoint to the soft, creamy interior where treasures of plumped raisins and fragrant almond slivers awaited excavation by small, sticky fingers. Close to sixty years later, the sense of family and well-being those memories bring remains with me.
Chef Tylun Pang, the star of this issue’s “Holiday Test Kitchen,” intimately understands the link between food, family and memories. And he makes short work of showing us what that means in our humble test kitchen, right here in my home. “Food in a Chinese family is very important,” he tells us. “Everyone participates!”
Right. Immediately, Chef is assigning tasks. Mike is chopping herbs while Rita is gingerly (er, reluctantly?) chopping lobster that just five minutes ago was amongst the living. John is assigned cleaning abalone (a job I cringed from—only to be assigned deveining shrimp), while Cathy gets the lucky task of whisking air into sweet sabayon. Becky is a whirl of energy, flitting from one station to another while taking notes for her dining feature. (Find it on page 78). As we work, the kitchen fills with wondrous aromas, laughter and family spirit.
“When I was a child,” Chef Pang tells us, “my uncle owned a food stall in [Honolulu’s] Chinatown, where we shopped almost daily. I remember the pork hanging on hooks, chickens still clucking in the cages.” As he talks story, Chef Pang is mixing the lobster into a sweet and savory filling for today’s dim sum (Chinese pot stickers). He patiently shows Cathy and me how to place dollops of the delicate mixture on small rounds of dough that we then fold over and “pleat” to close. “Dim sum” translates to “touch the heart,” a labor of love that lives up to its name.
Buzzzzzz. I am jolted from the Zen of dim-sum pleating by the demand of a vibrating cell phone. URGENT! the message says. “Can you join us at Chef Bev Gannon’s house for an impromptu BBQ and fundraiser for Hurricane Harvey victims? Bring your checkbook!”
Hurricane Harvey had hit land just days before our test kitchen, wreaking havoc over southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Thousands were homeless, or worse. For days, my husband and I had been glued to the TV, seeing the devastation in real time and hearing stories of hardship and heroism—ordinary people moved to extraordinary measures to care for one another. Color, ethnicity, gender, religion, politics . . . none of it mattered. Saving lives and sharing resources were the only topics of concern. In crisis, it seems, we are at our best. In crisis we become a family.
As I lean down to answer the buzzing phone—“Yes, I’ll be there”—I am struck by the fact that in Hawai‘i, we get it. It doesn’t take a crisis for us to understand that we are in this together. We know our survival depends on trust and acceptance of one another. How lucky are we? At our holiday table, there is no shortage of diversity. We each bring a different culture and perspective, personal memories carefully blended with our new surroundings and our hopes for the future. Dim sum, Christmas pudding or kugel . . . we are all family.
Wishing you a holiday season filled with gratitude and tolerance, fond memories, laughter, and good health. And perhaps a little dim sum (or your grandmother’s favorite dish) to touch the heart. It all translates to love. Happy Holidays!
A hui hou.