Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Valley of Memories

I know it's been half a year since my last my post, so let me update you on what happened.

I fnished my semester of teaching. It was fun, challenging, and exhausting. I also had to leave my apartment for a month and a half because of a bedbug situation. Amidst all the chaos, I managed to take the GRE and applied to 5 Ph.D programs. Don't ask me how I did it, I'm just happy that it was all over.

So to relax from all that craziness, I had an incredibly relaxing winter break where I practically did no work. I did, however, finish Amy Tan's new book, the only book I vowed to buy this year before I'm moving out of state in May.

The Valley of Amazement, another heart-wrenching story of mother and daughter, in a different setting this time from her previous mother-daughter stories. This time, the mother was American, not Chinese. Nonetheless, the novel focuses still on the complex relationships that sometimes seemed to be marred only by miscommunication but in actuality something bigger. For the name of love, they suffered and rejoiced and searched. In that enternal search for love, Violet, both as a daughter and as a mother, also struggled with her identity as a "bastard" child, a mixed race, a Chinese, or an American. Her mother, Lulu, on the other hand, was wounded by love and grew to be inable to express her true feelings to her daughter while leading a life she was forced into. But a central theme was survival. Regardless of the lives they had, they survived and carried on and were granted the happy ending, if not so bittersweet.

It wasn't Tan's best work, but it was a true Tan's story. While I found the first few pages hard to get into, the story gradually picked up speed and took me to an interwined world of love and pain of people who would try to survive only to be haunted by the past. But there was humor, and moments of endearment, fonding memories.

I think the cruel thing about memories is that they may over time charr the painful past even more as we choose to remember only the pain. Yet we also get to glorify memories if we choose to remember the beautiful. Because sometimes we have no real proof of the past, we choose to remember the beautiful memories as something more beautiful. Thus was the case with the fruit tart and my American mom and me.

When I came to the States in high school, mom and I shopped at a grocery store called Super Fresh. We were so familiar with the store we knew where everything went and how the aisles were organized. Since then, my American parents had moved from that area and Super Fresh was closed. But one thing about that store always stood out in our memory, especially for my mom and me. It was the fruit tart they sold.

I can't remember the first time we had it, but I remember she bought one to celebrate my high school graduation from Towson. It was so delicious that I often thought I could take a spoon and eat a whole one by myself.

Years have gone, and I have forgotten the exact taste of the tart. I had it at a time when I wasn't very atuned to cooking and baking, and I didn't have it often enough to have real tangible memory of the flavor after so many years. I just know it was divine.

Mom said she remembered the filling was made of cream cheese, so I went online and found a recipe, which, accordingly, is not the classic fruit tart recipe. But it used cream cheese. So we decided to stick to this choice. And I knew I finally recreated the divine taste when my mom said it tasted just like Super Fresh's.

Thank you so much, Joy of Cooking!

Note: we didn't have heavy cream, and I decided to do what I always like to do, use what I have to make the best of it. So I used a whole package of cream cheese instead of two and added vanila soy milk to unthicken the filling. It worked out great.