Small, squishy, white balls. 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 they were 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 make 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 out of the dough. 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 would float to the surface when they were done. I let her strain some of them out 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 and I told her I would teach her how to make them. 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. Maybe the chewy 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, and we rarely spoke except when there was something to yell about. 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. I hated the way my parents would say that we’re not American and I would try harder to be.
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 her. I wish we could have made them together one last time.