It’s a stereotype — but an accurate one — that Asians express their love through food. Like my parents, I see cooking for someone as an act of love.
Years ago my (Western) ex husband and I were finishing off a home-cooked dinner. There was a little bit of food left on one plate so I pushed the plate towards him and said, “finish it off.”
“Nah, I’m full,’ he replied.
“Just finish it,’ I said.
“No. I’m full,” he said matter-of-factly.
I stared at him, nonplussed. Didn’t he love me anymore? What did him being full have to do with anything?
When I was growing up, we always had to finish the food on our plates and then some, ostensibly because my parents hate wasting food and they don’t like having leftovers. But it was also because my mother equated one’s eating of her food as acceptance of her love and authority: to refuse food was thus a sign of defiance.
So my ex’s calm refusal to keep eating when he full was nothing short of a revolution. I actually had a choice about this? I know this sounds a little nuts but the way we are brought up is our version of normal, isn’t it?
My brother and I were born in Australia, which in stark contrast to traditional Asian culture, emphasises independence and free-will. So now that I’m a parent myself I generally let my own kids (4 and 7 years) eat as much or as little as they want.
I figure that if my kids are hungry, they’ll eat, and if they’re not, they won’t. Yes, it’s annoying when I’ve spent time cooking a nice meal and they turn their noses up at it but they’re kids – most of what they do doesn’t make sense in the adult world. I do always insist that my kids try a new dish, however, and most times they’ll then eat it happily. Sometimes they won’t, though, and that’s OK, too: leftovers in the fridge are like presents left by helpful kitchen elves.
My mother doesn’t agree with this laissez-faire attitude so when we eat at her house she’ll follow my 4YO around with a plate and a fork, feeding him as he plays. I’m not sure this is the right approach but it makes her happy so I’ve learned to just let it go. Besides, there’s something quite touching about her determination to make sure her grandson always leaves her house with a full belly.
However, my son isn’t backwards about demanding food when he’s hungry. I don’t use the word demand lightly: he may be pint-sized but my 4YO son has an extra-large personality.
At some point almost every day he says, “I want a pancake, the one I like, with the chocolate sauce on top.”
“Please,” I remind him.
He rolls his eyes at me. “Please may I have a pancake?” he huffs. I frown at him in mock-anger and he frowns back at me, giggling as I pick him up and demand a hug as payment first.
He wriggles free to fetch the kitchen stool and climbs on top of it, watching intently as I throw an egg, self-raising flour, milk and rice malt syrup into a small bowl.
I give him a fork to stir the mixture, and help him along with some brisk whisking of my own. Then it’s time to heat up a fry pan, add a little unsalted butter and then into the pan the mixture goes. I wait until small air bubbles rise to the surface and pop leaving tiny craters before I flip the pancake over. I wait another minute or two for that side to cook through and then I slide the pancake on a plate, drizzle over some chocolate sauce and roll it up before slicing it neatly into small pinwheels.
“This is the one I like!” my son says happily, before digging in.
Eat the love, little one.
Stacked Pancake Cake with Persimmons and Honey
Last Saturday we had a leisurely breakfast at home before venturing out. Week day mornings are always hectic and rushed in my house so on weekends it’s lovely taking things slower and leaving the house feeling relaxed rather than stressed. For breakfast, my son wanted his usual pancake and my daughter wanted two fresh persimmons, peeled and cut up on a plate. So I obliged and then thought about how good the two things would be together, along with some whipped cream and freshly drizzled honey. So I make this cake yesterday. I hope you like it.
- 2 cups self-raising flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1.5 cups milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean essence
- 90 grams unsalted butter
- 150 mls cream
- 4 tablespoons apricot jam
- 4 tablespoons ginger jam
- 3 ripe persimmons, peeled, stoned (if necessary) and diced
- 60 mls honey
- Sift flour into a large mixing bowl and add sugar. Stir and then create a well in the centre.
- Break in eggs and then add milk and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
- Heat up a small fry pan and then add 20 grams (approx.) butter.
- Pour about 1/2 cup of mixture into the pan and swirl it around so it coats the pan evenly.
- Cook for about 3-4 minutes over a low-medium heat until air bubbles break evenly on the surface. Flip over and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until cooked through.
- Remove to a plate to cool and repeat with the rest of the mixture — adding a little pat of butter each time — until you have 8 pancakes.
- Whip cream until firm.
- To assemble cake, place one pancake on a plate and then spread with apricot jam. Add another pancake on top and then spread with ginger jam. Continue stacking, alternating jams as you go.
- When you get to the top, spread the whipped cream all over the top of the jam layer (an offset spatula is good for this) and then decorate with persimmons, reserving the remainder to serve with individual slices of cake.
- Dribble over the honey so that some runs down the edges and serve.
- If you want cream between each pancake layer as well as on top whip 400 mls cream rather than the 150 mls specified.
- You can of course use only apricot or ginger jam.
- In keeping with the home-style feel of this cake keep the styling really simple. Food writer Carli Ratcliff said recently that my food styling was “warm and accessible.” I can’t think of a nicer compliment. I don’t want to create recipes that people admire but are too intimidated to attempt themselves – I want people to actually cook and eat my food!
More Cake Recipes
- Sponge Cake with Berries and Cherries
- Rosewater, Cardamon and Pistachio Bundt Cake
- Strawberry and Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
- J’s Chocolate Banana Cake (egg and dairy free)
- Upside Down Plum Cake
- Fig, Raspberry and Ginger Ice Cream Cake
- Chocolate Bundt Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce
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