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Moonlight Bites



I’m a baker now (manifesting)!


I was going to post the recipe by itself, but I wanted to share the why as well. Since the why is a lot of words I considered including the recipe somewhere in the beginning or maybe inserting some sort of hyperlink jump to the bottom, but I decided against it for two reasons:


  1. I don’t know how to do all that lol (and while I could Google it - see reason 2)

  2. It's an internet recipe rite of passage to have to get through an entire essay before getting what you came for


Thus, in the spirit of this time honored tradition, either scroll to the bottom or start from the top to follow me down memory lane and through the theory of this experiment.


Apparently, our brains are associative by nature. I find this to be an accurate statement because I've been playing association games since I was little. At one point, it was deciding what my team for Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi (1 - 3) would be based on either their color palettes or whether or not the characters were a good visual contrast to those on my brother's team. When I got my iPod Touch, the associations became photo albums of various characters, global foods, clothes, buildings, and even customs I associated with each other. This experiment is really just a continuation of all that. Honestly, almost everything I do is a continuation of something I enjoyed doing as a child, and understanding that is a big comfort to me whenever I feel like I'm not “where I'm supposed to be" in life at the moment. Whatever it is I believe my life is supposed to look like at this point in time, I'm just glad that I'm able to bring my child self along with me no matter where I find myself.


My first conscious memory occurred in the kitchen. I must admit, the internet got me real early; gamified proto-social media, AMVs, and fanfiction snuck in and took hold at age eight or nine, and with each year I grew more and more dependent on the digital for stimulation. So, it feels right to start (re)Cognition Summer back in the kitchen, doing something both tactical and associative.


The working name for this series has been Moonlight Bites, named after Egwu Ọnwa (“Moonlight Play”), an Igbo tradition of sharing songs, dances, games, and stories under the light of the moon. It’s an accompaniment to my similarly titled folktale series and each recipe pairs with a folktale I’ve written that draws inspiration from cultural and mystical concepts that I’ve learnt from those around me. Some, like this one, are also connected to concepts outside of Igbo culture due to the universality of a lot of things, so I try to use the recipes to shed light on those ties.


The folktale this recipe accompanies is one about how the markings on the near side of the moon came to be. One full moon a few years ago, my dad and I were sitting out back and he was reminded of a story from his youth. He grew up in a very religious Christian community, and his elders told him and his peers that the shape on the moon was a man chopping wood. The man had been banished there for daring to work on Sunday. I know the story was a recent introduction and not a longstanding - or even widespread - tale in Igboland as Sunday isn't even a thing on the Igbo calendar. I did enjoy it, however, both because it was dad lore and because it reminded me of the moon rabbit myths of some East Asian, Southeast Asian, and Indigenous American cultures. It was a fun reminder of how all cultures are connected even when the similarities are presented differently. So, I used that tale and made a new one telling of the importance of rest, patience, and care for those weaker than you.


The associations that connect the recipe to the folktale are as follows: sharing, the moon, childhood, cracks, and roundness. 


To start, we share stories, recipes, cookies, okpa. Okpa is a savory steamed dish made with okpa “bambara nut” flour, palm oil, and seasoning. Something about it is vaguely floral if I can call it that. Okpa seeds are a legume, but the cooked dish doesn't really have that taste associated with either nuts or beans. In fact, I find okpa to have a very subtle sweet taste often highlighted by the pepper and utazi. I think that’s why it goes so well with akamu. For the okpa element in the cookies, I added half a cup of okpa flour to the gluten free flour mix, and mixed about a tablespoon of palm oil in the butter.


You can - and people often do -  eat a ball of okpa (multiple even) on your own, but it's more fun to cut it up and share it with those around you, not to mention okpa isn't a dish you cook one serving of, it's a bulk recipe. I’m sure you could make one serving -  you can make one serving of almost anything - but why would you?



Secondly, why cookies instead of cake or cupcakes? All three are rounded, but cookies are more reminiscent of childhood and stories; i.e. a warm glass of milk with cookies before a bedtime story. Okpa also reminds me of my childhood. It was a special occasion dish and it was even better when it was paired with akamu. When I moved to Enugu for highschool, even though okpa became a more regular indulgence as it was easier to get, it still brought the same feelings. 


I decided on a crème brûlée cookie after I saw a video by The Little Blog of Vegan on TikTok. The way she cracked into it looked and sounded amazing and the pastry cream appeared so soft underneath the burnt caramel exterior. It also reminded me of the surface of the moon with its dark craters and cracks. Originally, the recipe was going to be a mooncake, and I just laugh thinking about how ambitious of me that was. In my defense it was just after the Mid-Autumn Festival and I had had my first (several) mooncakes ever. I dreamt of the taste for a week after. None of the flavors I got were a custard, but the creaminess of the salted egg yolk paired with the smooth and sweet pastes reminded me of egg custard tarts, my favorite dim sum dessert, and so my mind led me to custard, something I already associate with akamu. 




Akamu is a fermented corn custard-type dish, usually eaten with milk and sugar. To make akamu, you soak corn in water for at least a day - changing the water at least once. Once it's soft it is ground and the water squeezed out with a cheesecloth. After that you can freeze it or immediately add hot water to it to thicken it, after which you add milk and sugar to taste. It is often used interchangeably with custard, or at least it is in Enugu (or even just my extended family since I can’t speak for anyone else). Because of this, incorporating a few dollops of akamu into the pastry cream felt natural. Even the pastry cream has slight moon associations. In Vedic astrology, the moon is associated with milk in that they both relate to nourishment. It's said that people with weak moon placements can benefit from drinking milk. Additional moon associations relevant to this folktale are Mondays and rest.


It seems I only had the heart to make y’all sit through ⅔ of an essay instead of the entire thing before the recipe (but also it sort of fits in naturally here). This is just a slightly adjusted version of The Little Blog of Vegan’s recipe. I followed the steps almost to a tee, so either watch the video or follow the link to the original for the step-by-step <3


Ingredients:


cookies

6 tablespoons of butter

1 tablespoon red palm oil

1 cup of sugar

2 tablespoons of dairy-free milk

1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract

1 cup of gluten-free flour

¾ cup of okpa flour

¾ teaspoon of baking powder

¼ teaspoon of baking soda


pastry cream

⅓ cup of sugar

2 tablespoons of cornstarch

1 cup of dairy-free milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

¼ cup of butter

2 spoons of akamu


caramel layer

1 cup of sugar

kitchen torch


So far, I have attempted this recipe two-ish times. The first time was the most difficult because it was my first time filming myself for something like this. The idea of having my words and image out there and being unable to control how they would be received has kept me away from fully participating in social media for most of my life. Blogging consistently has helped chip away at that fear, but the idea of a full video was almost debilitating. I got so anxious it took me weeks to start, and I only ended up doing it because one of my best friends kept me company and encouraged me over Skype (we stan parallel play).


After that it was a lot easier. I wonder if my nerves are what caused me to ignore the obvious red flags? The original recipe is in metric units, but has the option to convert it to US customary units. There appears to be a glitch in the algorithm because 210 grams was converted to ¾ cup instead of 1 ¾ cup.


I looked at the recipe and thought, is this right?


I poured it out anyway.


I looked at the sugar and flour - near equal amounts in their little measuring bowls - and asked myself again.


I proceeded to mix and bake them anyway.


Very unserious of me, but we all have our days. They ended up being disgustingly sweet and crispy.


The real issue came with my impatience in the second batch of my second attempt. It's funny because it parallels the lesson in my folktale a little bit. In between batches I had to run errands, so I put the dough in the fridge. Instead of waiting for the dough to cool down after I retrieved it I attempted to soften it with warm milk. My justification was that I needed to add liquid to it and remix anyways since I over mixed it the first time, and I read that that’s a way to fix overmixed dough. I used too much milk which meant I had to add more flour, but by then I had just completely lost the ratio and it resulted in something more like a mini biscuit.


I wasn’t too mad and they still tasted alright. I ended up eating them with a bowl of the pastry cream mixed with warmed oat milk. It gave the oat milk a richer texture and was overall pretty enjoyable. The art of the pivot is important. Had I not been so flustered I would have thought to save the results of attempt one and turned them into a cute little crumble on top of the ones I didn’t brûlée. That’s something to keep in mind for my third attempt. 


This experience has been nice, it’s teaching me to view multiple attempts as a process of love instead of as a series of failures. I’m excited to attempt more rounds of these and also more of my folktale recipes and fusions. I have a note on my phone with over fifty ideas. For my next attempt, I want to aim for a softer cookie. I know avoiding overmixing is the main solution, but if anyone has any tips for softer and rounder cookies please let me know!




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