My aunt is a hoot. She is my mother’s eldest sister, and in our Chinese dialect, we call her “Dai Yee”, which translates to “Big Aunt”. That, however, is incredibly ironic because she is the smallest person in our family. Definitely south of 5 feet. But don’t be fooled by her tiny stature, as she is one of the strongest, most brilliant, and funniest members in our family.
Last month, my beloved grandfather passed away at the age of 100. His passing was hard, but we all took comfort in the fact that he lived such a wonderful, happy, and long life. The day after I arrived in California for his funeral, I walked up the long flight of stairs to my grandfather’s old San Francisco home to pay my respects and light some incenses. Big Aunt opened the door, and she greeted me with a big smile and a little pat on the tush. The place was still and quiet, like the morning after a big snow storm. It was late afternoon, and no one else was there. Being just one of her many nieces, rarely do I find myself alone with her. She was preparing a dinner for our entire family and a few out-of-town guests. I decided to stay and help.
Big Aunt spent most of her life in Vietnam and China, so her English is…well she doesn’t really speak the language. I unfortunately have the hardest time speaking Cantonese, but I can understand it quite well (weird how our brains can do that). As a kid, I had little interest in talking to my aunts and uncles. Now all I want to do is get to know them better, and ask them questions like: What was it like growing up in Vietnam, then moving to China during the war? Were a gung (grandpa) and a poh (grandma) strict parents? Did my mom have boyfriends in high school?
I managed to put together strings of words that barely qualified as complete sentences, and miraculously, she understood what I was saying (most of the time).
While I was helping her mince garlic, she asked me what I was doing in Washington DC. I didn’t know how to answer that question because 1) I live in Boston and 2) I didn’t know how to say or even describe “research in Cognitive Neuroscience” in Cantonese.
Like any loving Chinese aunt, she then started to mildly interrogate me about my plans for marriage and kids. After many failed attempts to change the subject, I gave in. Our conversation proceeded like this:
Big Aunt: You know I was only slightly older than you when I had my first child!
Me: But Dai Yee, times are different now, and I am still focusing on my career…
Big Aunt: I was busy working too!
Me: I don’t really have time now. I work a lot, and I am going back to school soon.
Big Aunt: That’s no excuse. I just strapped your cousin to my back and brought him to work with me every day [in China].
Careful not to slight her with my response, I responded, “Umm, Dai Yee, I am not so sure my boss would like it if I brought a baby to work every day.”
She shrugged and continued to fry up some fresh ginger in her large wok.
I turned the tables around and started asking the questions. I got her to tell me a story about a time when she and her siblings (my well-behaved mom included) snuck out of the house, while my grandparents were asleep, to watch a movie at their local theater. It is easy to forget that they were once teenagers too.
Big Aunt is an amazing cook. She has enough mouth-watering recipes in her repertoire to write a book. She can whip up a delicious meal with only a few ingredients and bring life back to old leftovers. She knows her ingredients inside and out, and with such knowledge, she can create new dishes on a whim and without a recipe. Her ability to quickly decide what will taste good together and what will not is truly remarkable.
Because she grew up without the internet and without an abundance of cookbooks, she learned how to cook by experimenting, like getting pushed into a swimming pool before you learn how to swim. Except no one ever pushed her. She cannonballed right in.
The moral of her story is don’t be afraid to try and fail because after many trials, you will get better. I have to actively remind myself of that when I work on a new, daunting project. These scones for example were something I had been wanting to try for a long time. I kept pushing it back because I was a bit intimidated. I had already failed once before. With Big Aunt in mind, I grew less fearful and became more comfortable with failing again.
After many tweaks to the recipe, I made the most delicious maple oat nut scones. We (Karl especially) could not stop eating them. And now I am so excited to share the recipe with you all!
- 3½ cups (437.5 grams) all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (70 grams) quick-cooking oats
- ½ cup (55 grams) walnuts, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, diced into cubes
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 4 cups (400 grams) powdered sugar
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, oats, walnuts, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is the size of peas.
- In a small mixing bowl or large liquid measuring cup, mix together the buttermilk, maple syrup, and egg until smooth. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and slowly mix the ingredients together until just incorporated - do not overmix. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, but no more than ½ cup.
- Pat or roll out the dough on a floured surface to form a disc about 1 inch thick. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, then chill the dough in the freezer for 20 minutes or until firm.
- Evenly slice the dough into 8 wedges. Transfer the scones to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until they're cooked through. Cool on a wired rack for at least 20 minutes before glazing.
- With an electric mixer, mix together all the ingredients until smooth on medium speed, about 5 minutes. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pipe or spoon over warm scones.