Long before giving presents and money-filled envelopes became the norm, food had already become a well-established currency of love.
At least in my home in Singapore, that’s how I see my grandparents express their love for us – reunion dinners would often see our family squeezed tightly in our grandma’s small but multi-functional kitchen (it’s barely 5 square-meters large, but there’s a huge round table that can fit up to 8 people, plus a washing machine jammed right next to it).
In this space, where I’ve eaten hundreds of meals growing up – during Chinese New Year, or a random visit to my grandparents’ place – I’ve witnessed my grandparents, especially my grandma, Nai Nai, regale us with bowls of hot, steaming white rice along with plates mounted high with freshly-cooked vegetables, meat and seafood. She’d scoop up ladles of delicious, fragrant soup that had been boiled over low heat for hours, right into our soup bowls and then smile at us as she watched us eat.
When I was much younger, I never quite understood the logic behind Nai Nai’s need to keep stuffing us with more food the moment our bowls were emptied. I remember how she’d reach out with her chopsticks to pick up a plump, succulent prawn and then prop it straight into my bowl, despite my futile attempts to insist that I was already too full to eat another bite.
Yet over the years, I’d see similar scenes unfold countless times in Nai Nai’s kitchen; then later, when I moved to Argentina, I’d see the same thing happen at Juan’s grandmother Trini’s house, where she’d bring us more fries and more meat and more dessert, because that was her way of showing affection. Trini, who was the one who taught me the phrase “la medida de amor es amar sin medida” (translated to mean the measure of love is love without measure), would shower us with her love through meals cooked in her tiny kitchen.
With Juan’s mum, Susana, the same offering of food to loved ones would naturally repeat; and one day, I just realized that it wasn’t only because it was nice to see the food you’d cook be eaten; it was also a long-ingrained custom of demonstrating love – through time and effort spent in cooking food, and then sharing the company of your loved ones as they enjoyed a comforting, home-cooked meal.
Today, two years after I officially picked up cooking and can finally declare that I am no longer afraid of the kitchen (which seemed so awfully intimidating before), I finally understand.
Making homemade food is not just about saving money that would otherwise be spent in restaurants and take-out food, it really means – “I really think you’re worth it so here’s what I’ve spent time and money and effort to prepare for you.”
It was Susana’s birthday this week, and although I don’t write much about her on my blog, I’ll say that Susana is one of those incredible women who give so much of themselves there is always extra love for an extra person at the table. And despite having had to deal with difficult situations, she’s always tried her best to hold her head high, and keep on showing love – especially through time and food.
I wanted to give back some of that love on her birthday, and skipped gym to go home and make this honey peach ricotta tart for her birthday “cake”.
Imagine a gluten-free, grain-free crust made of browned almonds, in which nests creamy ricotta cheese, on top of which lay slices of fresh peaches drizzled in rich, organic honey.
I’d dreamt up of the recipe because I’d been yearning to try making a crust without any wheat flour – especially since I’m trying to stick to my wheat-free lifestyle as much as possible. And you know what, it’s really possible!
I used whole almond nuts, ground into almond meal in the blender, and then mixed it with salt, baking powder, cinnamon, fragrant vanilla extract, olive oil, honey and water. Pressing the mixture with a back of a spoon, I spread it over my baking pan, covering every inch of it, and into the oven it went, until it was a beautiful golden brown.
For those who were skeptical of a grain-free crust – I’ll have to tell you that I was too. But after baking this almond crust, I was pleasantly surprised and liked the fact that it was a sturdy crust that was easy to prepare with the help of a food processor or any blender, and once baked, is easily removed from the mold and stands firm.
Meanwhile, I mixed up the ricotta cheese with sugar, and sliced the peaches nice and thin. The smells of fresh peaches intertwined with the swirling aroma of the almond crust baking in the oven was heavenly, almost too intricate to describe. I felt like I was Alice in Wonderland.
When the crust was fully cooked and cooled, I slathered it generously with ricotta, and then arranged those beautiful peach slices in a circular pattern. Right at the end, just before serving, I dripped honey all over the peaches.
Susana’s reaction when she saw the tart was priceless – it made all the time and effort worth its while.
It’s saying “we love you” and “you’re worth it” and that was all that mattered.
What about you?
What is your way of showing love? Do you also show love through cooking meals for your friends and family?
1) 3 cups almond meal or flour (You can use whole almonds and grind them in the food processor or juicer)
2) 1 pinch of salt
3) 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4) 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5) 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6) 4 tablespoons olive oil
7) 2 tablespoons honey
8) 2 tablespoons of water
For the filling:
9) 500g ricotta cheese
10) 3-4 tablespoons of sugar (depending on how sweet you like the ricotta cheese)
11) 5 small peaches, sliced evenly
12) 2-3 tablespoons of honey, for drizzling over the sliced peaches
1) Preheat the oven to 350’F (180 deg cel). Place a rack in the middle of the oven.
2) In a mixing bowl stir together the almond flour, sea salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Break apart any lumps with your fingertips.
3) In a small bowl, stir together the vanilla, oil, honey and water. Add the oil mix to the flour and stir the dough together until thoroughly combined.
4) Turn the dough onto a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan. Flatten the dough slightly with the back of a spoon and spread it towards the edges of the pan.
5) Using your fingertips, continue pressing the dough, making sure to press it all the way up the sides of the pan. Make sure the dough is pressed evenly and is a uniform thickness across the bottom and edges.
6) Place the tart on a sheet pan and bake it for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is an even golden brown. Take care not to let it get too dark.
7) Remove the tart shell from the oven and let it cool completely to room temperature before filling.
8) While tart shell is cooling, slice peaches
9) Mix ricotta with sugar until well integrated
10) Spread ricotta-sugar mixture over the tart shell. Arrange sliced peaches in circular shape over the dough and drizzle honey over.
11) Chill before serving.
P.S. If you’re wondering why I’m trying to eliminate wheat from my life, I strongly recommend Wheat Belly – a book that will empower you and make you determined to get rid of wheat and it’s terrible health effects!