for /fôr/, prep.

For many, the holiday season calls for the return of traditions or the forming of new ones, oftentimes structured around food and meals to be shared with loved ones. I have been fortunate enough to celebrate each of my holidays in this way with my family.

When I got older, and the holidays became the limited time when I would actually be home, my mom began to share with me stories of her first holidays in the States when she was in her 20s. Her family was all back in Taiwan, but she still got into the spirit of things, writing cards and baking several types of cookies to share with friends and coworkers.

For me, after I discovered my passion for baking, I decided that I would follow in my mom’s footsteps, writing cards and baking treats. This year, I finally made it happen.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

It first began with my mom’s birthday in early December, when I decided to get ambitious and make some Asian fusion scones with homemade black sesame paste. This process would have been less nerve-wracking if I actually had a scale to measure out my ingredients, but alas. There I stood in my kitchen with the occasional black sesame leaping off my frying pan and getting my blender 120% stuck, all while wondering if I had the right proportions of honey and sesame.

The whole process ended up being very worthwhile though—my parents loved both the scones, and the extra sesame paste I ended up bringing home. To them, it felt very authentic and reminded them of the black sesame candy and paste they used to have back in Taiwan. They’ve also since been comparing my black sesame paste with that found in 85°C’s new Walnut Sesame Bread or in tāng yuán (湯圓), so no pressure or anything.

My only critique of the scone recipe is that the black sesame taste was actually quite light. I added an extra tablespoon of paste than what the recipe originally called for (four, rather than just three), but to little success. Alas, noted for future bakes (potentially this week, as my brother has also requested for me to bake these for him).

Photo by Courtney Cheng

Just a couple days later, I baked little rolls of brown sugar challah with pomegranate glaze for my office coworkers. This, I expected to be less of a challenge since I had already made scallion pancake challah in the past—but I did not factor in my whole wheat flour, nor the facts that I was combining two different challah recipes and I am not Molly Yeh. (sad face)

My unassuming self didn’t realize until after I’d begun mixing all the flour together that whole wheat flour requires more water to fully hydrate as it’s being set to rise. (I used whole wheat flour because it was the only flour I could find at the time whose only ingredient was “flour” and not a bunch of extra chemicals to which one of my coworkers is allergic.) The bread was probably a tad bit too dry because of this once it was all baked and finished, but at least I was able to salvage the dough by adding another half cup of water and a splash more of vegetable oil. Lesson learned.

Also, don’t make challah the day before. It’s best fresh and ought to just be enjoyed that way. I also did not have a fantastic time microwaving all those tiny rolls the next day in the early morning before I was going to bring them into the office.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

My season of baking in my apartment got cut short when I realized no supermarket in my vicinity sells canned pumpkin past the autumn season. But perhaps that was also for the best, because what felt like just a cold that day has now morphed into this monster of an illness that’s prompting me to write about food when I’m sick, not at all in the mood for food, and feel half nonsensical from a sinus headache.

And so life goes I suppose. -insert upside down smiling emoji face-

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate the holiday, and a very warm season’s greetings to everyone else! May all your winter festivities be filled with warm food and good health.

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