It’s early, just as the sun begins to creep across the neighbor’s field and in through our bedroom window. We get the call. It’s time.
At least we think it’s time.
We thought it was time last night, when we drove north then east to care for a 3-year-old niece while her Mommy and Daddy spent the night in the hospital. We heated up bowls of Korean take-out, then settled on the couch to watch cartoons. That was OK.
She cried when it was time to wash her face and brush her teeth. She cried when it was time to find the right nightie. “I want Mommy,” she said through big, watery tears. But then she flashed me a little smile and asked for a story. She didn’t want Gramps, she didn’t want Uncle Jerry. She wanted the only other girl in the house. “I want you,” she yelled, as she grabbed my hand and we trotted off to her bedroom.
I didn’t read much; instead, she told me stories about the spectacular power of volcanoes. She told me how hot they are, and that she would never jump inside of one because she might get burned. Once, she said, a volcano went into a barn and scared all the chickens. It tried to burn the horses, too. And then the volcano turned into a cow!
We said good night, and she quickly drifted into sleep.
Then Mommy and Daddy came home—no baby. Not yet.
But things started to move again this morning, and this time, it might be for real.
For reasons unknown, the other morning I wanted tapioca. I hadn’t made it in a long time. And now it suddenly seems appropriate for the times. It’s sweet, calm comfort food in the truest sense of the phrase. This is a Southeast Asian version I’m talking about, no eggs but creamy coconut and a topping of toasted sesame, mint and fruit. I like it best with mango, but strawberries do just as well. We had a package in the freezer, and we had fresh mint leaves poking through the garden soil.
Years ago I taught Southeast Asian cooking at an Oregon community college, and a version of this was included in the recipe packet. It’s such an easy dish, suitable for breakfast or dessert. It’s mild on the stomach, good for new moms and moms-to-be (as well as new big sisters). And the soft tapioca pearls are easy to swallow, appropriate for palates young and old.
1/2 cup tapioca pearls
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup palm or white sugar (more if you want a sweeter dish)
pinch of salt
1 cup chopped fruit
handful of chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
Rinse the tapioca pearls under cold water and drain well. Pour into a saucepan with water, sugar and salt, and bring to a boil. Stir constantly (the tapioca burns easily on the bottom of the pan) and cook until tapioca pearls turn translucent. I have found the cooking time varies dramatically depending on the type and size of tapioca as well as altitude. You’ll know it’s done when the liquid is absorbed and the tapioca has become gelatinous while still maintaining some of the pearls’ shape. Taste, remove from heat and stir in coconut milk. Let cool until the mixture is firm. Top with fruit, mint and sesame seeds. Serve chilled or at room temperature.