I recently came to realize that I form a lot of food association--of food and people anyway. Whenever I think of my maternal grandma, I think of kumquats and how lovely the scent of kumquat oil saturated her kitchen when she made kumquat preserve every Tet. Or my paternal grandma and her love of chicken and cellophane noodle soup. She loved it so much that it was served at every family gathering and Vietnamese celebration, much to my disgust that I have boycotted this dish for years. Or my mom and her sponge cake obsession. I can’t remember a morning when she would have her cafe sua da without a piece of sponge cake. Even before she finishes a loaf, she’s already whisking up another one. And then, there’s my dad, who I would never in a million years form a food association between him and coconut macaroons.
My dad is probably the easiest eater you’ll ever meet. Having been a prisoner of war and living in a concentration camp for a number of years, he learned to eat almost anything and wouldn’t complain about it either. He survived eating bugs, plants, and what not! Some of his food stories in the concentration camp are quite spectacular and somewhat crazy. Growing up, I noticed that he didn’t have any affinity for sweet so imagine my surprise when he brought home the saddest looking macaroons from a Vietnamese supermarket. Not exactly the best place to buy pastry by the way! Vietnamese supermarkets are notorious for selling old pastries and desserts that probably sat there for goodness knows how many days.
Unbeknownst to me, his Achilles’ heel is coconut macaroon. I was curious and decided to give them a try. They were dry and a bit salty. My dad definitely deserves more than those awful tasting macaroons so I threw together some egg whites, sugar, almond flour, and coconut flakes to make a fresh batch for him. They turned out better than I expected, crunchy on the outside, chewy in the center with a hint of sweetness! I couldn’t be happier when my dad gave me his nod of approval! He now has a large Weck jar of endless macaroons on our kitchen counter. These macaroons are my way of thanking him for everything that he does. Deeply etched in my memory, my dad and macaroons are now linked forever.
Coconut macaroons (makes about 18 small macaroons)
2 egg whites
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoon of superfine sugar
¼ cup of almond flour
3 cups of unsweetened, shredded coconut
1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Then add the cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks start to form (it should resemble shaving cream).
3. Slowly add the sugar and continue whisking until the peaks hold their shape and the whites are shiny.
4. Remove the mixing bowl, use a spatula and fold in the almond flour and coconut. Stir until the coconut is evenly moistened.
5. Use your hands and shape the coconut mixture into small lumps, about one inch in diameter. Space them about an inch apart.
6. Bake the macaroons for about 12-15 minutes or until they start to turn golden.
7. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.
I meant to comment on this when you first posted but am only getting to it now! The details about your family and memories of food at the top of the post are wonderful. I know it's very personal, but what you share about your father's experiences, your relationship to him and his to food, is all fascinating. I wish there was more here about it! Thanks for a lovely post.
hi Dorcas. My dad often talked about never having enough food, always hungry, and being subjected to extreme manual labor. He and his friends had to resort to eating plants and bugs to survived. The only time they would get good food is after a visit from family. Sometimes, as a sport, he and his friends would have eating contest. His stories really gave me an appreciation for what we have now. His concentration camp stories are definitely more sad than the food of his childhood so I tend to focus on the northern Vietnamese food that he grew up with and happier memories related to those foods. I bet your family has very interesting food stories of their own!