Aloha my friends,
A more personal post coming up. Feel free to skip this one if you subscribe to Talking Story for the management and leadership topics I normally write about. This will speak of values though; for it’s about the tradition of ‘Ohana (family), triggered by fresh experiences during the New Year’s Day holiday.

I cannot help but think about our January learning theme on Joyful Jubilant Learning as well: “Learning Healthy Living” has so much to do with the good-feelings and  emotional health we gain from family traditions which have made us so much of who we are.

New Year’s Eve

Pelmeni: Garlic and diced onion Pelmeni: Adding the hamburger

Pelmeni: Cutting dumpling circles Pelmeni: Spoonful of burger

Pelmeni: Forking the dumplings closed Pelmeni: Creativity trumps consistency

New Year’s Day

As we awake on this first day of the New Year, there is a great big pot in the refrigerator waiting to be transferred back to the stove. For your ‘ōpÅ« (stomach) it promises simple hamburger dumplings in a hamhock broth. For your heart it holds tradition, memory, family, heritage, and love.

After years of remembering and missing it with each New Year’s Day, I finally made my own first pot of Grandma Protacio’s pelemeni in 2007, thanks to nagging my mom about finding the recipe. My sister had done an internet search and found a recipe for me a couple of years ago (and we learned we had never spelled it right), but I’d never made it then: It looked and sounded way too different (ours was always eaten as a soup). Plus I knew mom had the “real deal” stored away somewhere, and I chose instead to trust in the day she’d surely find it.

Pelmeni: “pelemeni” to us expats, far from the family tree Pelmeni: Sprouting Garlic

Sprouting garlic is probably getting too old to most cooks,
but for pelemeni it is part of the story”
new life for the New Year.

My memory was always of having pelmeni on New Year’s Day, but on mom’s recipe card the date is 12/24/75; apparently Grandma chose Christmas that year instead. I was a junior in college; the rest of the family were still in the Philippines then, so perhaps only home for Christmas? Knowing that the recipe only existed in Grandma’s head, mom and I had made it with her that year, mom writing down the ingredients as Grandma made it. Horrible as my memory is with certain things I have to admit that I don’t remember that at all, and just believe mom when she says I was there too.

Truth is, I can’t remember Grandma in the kitchen actually making it at all. I just remember eating it. It was magically ready each New Year’s Day, like it was supposed to be in any year starting off the right way.

This year Zach was home to help me (his hands are in these photos) and entertain me… it became an all of New Year’s Eve production, with flour everywhere when we were done with the dumpling making.  We even made some wannabe ramen with the soup stock and macaroni, cooked mid-pelmeni production as our lunchtime intermission. Impressive!

Pelmeni: Cooling the dumpling mixture Pelmeni: Mid-day Eve Meal

This is where the Chinese quick-cook (Ker) meets my Russian tradition.
We’ve already been boiling hamhocks with garlic, sage and chicken broth most of the morning to make the dumpling soup stock. So while the hamburger cooled we used the broth for a quick macaroni (wannabe ramen) soup with green onion and cilantro.

From my journal; January 1, 2007:

Reading the recipe card this morning I can see what mistakes I made with my first try. Great cook that mom is, she hadn’t written down what she probably thinks is “the obvious,” and occasional-to-never cook that I am, there is very little obvious to me! My first mistake was that I cooked it too long, and in the reheating today I am quite sure it will turn to mush with the dumplings disintegrating completely. I should have removed the hamhock bones first too, for they’ve done their share of dumpling-shredding with each stirring.

Still, in our first eating last night at about 10:30pm (I made it after Ker had barbecued our “real” dinner … ) it was exactly like I remembered Grandma’s to be — imperfect, doughy and far removed from any gourmet possibilities, but absolutely divine when eaten by the heart’s memory.

My best compliment? Zach had seconds, after bugging me all afternoon as I cooked the hamhocks that “this soup doesn’t have any flavor.”

January 2, 2009

He was right. It still doesn’t have enough flavor. Didn’t in 2007, or in 2008. This year I got a bit closer, dumping in a can of chicken broth to help it along, and pulling some herbs from my garden to throw in the soup pot. Remembered about the hamhock bones, and on Day 3 there’s still no mush!

Pelmeni: Ready to eat

Not going to tell you it’s absolutely delicious, for truthfully it needs a lot of shoyu as you see in this last photo (that part, adding the shoyu, is definitely not Russian… we fall pretty far from that branch of the family tree).

But taste is not the point. It’s tradition, and the only one I remember as the quarter-blooded Russian I am.

I say that tradition trumps taste. At least until I get it right

This year’s achievement was that there was no stress and worry in making it: We just let it be an event and our tradition instead of a delicious food. Nourishment (and healthy living) can come from very imperfect sources. The intention of preserving your heritage — or your strange memories of it — counts for a lot.

What family traditions did you revisit as 2010 started for you?


  1. says

    What a heart warming post! We love traditions around our house as well. Although they are simple, they are memory makers.

    I find that I treasure this time of year. It is almost as if someone has pushed the “pause” button, allowing us to focus on each other, remember the past, and get excited planning the future.

    I’m really looking forward to following your blog this year. Best of luck to you for a wonderful 2010!
    .-= ´s last blog ..The Leadership Genius of Harry Truman, Part III =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Very true Kerry, it does feel like we’re trapped within that pause button! Very contentedly so :) I am grateful our pause gave us this time to connect with each other, for I look forward to your visits too. Hau ‘oli Makahiki Hou.