A Spoonful of Time

A Novel

Author Flora Ahn
Look inside
“Full of twists, this middle grade story is a heartwarming mix of food and family.”—Kirkus Reviews

When You Reach Me meets Love Sugar Magic in this unforgettable middle grade novel where time travel, family recipes, and family secrets collide.


Maya’s grandmother, Halmunee, may be losing her memory, but she hasn’t lost her magic touch in the kitchen.  Whether she serves salty miyeok-guk or sweet songpyeon, her stories about Korea come to life for Maya.

Then one day, something extraordinary happens: one delicious bite transports Maya and Halmunee into one of Halmunee’s memories. Suddenly they’re in Seoul, and Halmunee is young.

This is just the first of many secrets Maya will uncover: that she and her grandmother can travel through time. As Maya eats her way through the past, her questions multiply—until a shocking discovery transforms everything she thought she knew about family, friendship, loss, and time itself.

Brimming with heart and interspersed with seven family recipes that readers can make themselves, this is a story to savor by rising Korean American author Flora Ahn.
Flora Ahn is an attorney by day and an author and illustrator by night. Her work includes a children's chapter book series, Pug Pals (Scholastic) and an Audible Original, The Golden Orchard. Raised in California by her Korean immigrant parents, Ahn lives in Virginia with her two pugs and practices law in DC.
Chapter 1: PATBINGSU WEATHER


“It’s patbingsu weather.”
     Maya almost didn’t hear her grandmother over the whir of the fan and the rumbling snores of Gizmo, the old, lazy pug dog squished by her side. Dropping her journal, she rolled over and slowly pulled the backs of her arms and legs off the thin bamboo sticks of the mat beneath her. Her grandmother shuffled past her into the kitchen, a dusty box in her arms.
     “Did you ask me something, Halmunee?” Maya asked, hoping the answer was no. It was too hot to even think about moving. After three long days of blazing August heat and no AC, Maya had finally dragged the bamboo mat out of the garage and into the living room. The mat was supposed to keep a person cool, but it could only do so much. It didn’t help that no matter where she lay, Gizmo scooted up as close to her as possible, his warm fur pressed against her like a hot-water bottle.
     With a soft grunt, Halmunee heaved the box onto the counter, then turned to shout back at Maya. “I said, it’s patbingsu weather.”
     Relieved that Halmunee didn’t seem to need her help, Maya flopped back onto the mat and picked up her journal.
     Growing up in the cracks of her mother’s busy work schedule meant Maya was accustomed to entertaining herself and living in a quiet world. The thoughts and unanswered questions that often raced through her mind found their home in the form of scribbles and drawings in a small journal she usually carried with her. Maya constantly felt the urge to draw. She didn’t know where it came from since neither Mom nor Halmunee was capable of drawing even a straight line. She often wondered if she got her love of drawing from her father.
     As soon as she filled up all the pages in a journal, she placed it in her bookshelf in a row hidden behind her ordinary books. She had started doing this two years ago on her eleventh birthday, when Mom had given her a blue journal with Maya’s name etched in silver at the bottom corner.
     Her mom was often tired and distracted in the evenings and on weekends, and some days she could go for several hours without uttering a single word. For as long as Maya could remember, it had been just her and her mom in their still and silent house.
     But then Halmunee arrived. And Halmunee didn’t live by the same rules.
     When Maya craved attention or someone to talk to, she loved having Halmunee there, someone who always wanted to know how her day went and what she had drawn in her journal recently. But during moments like this, when Maya wanted to move and talk as little as possible, a tiny part of her wished for the times before Halmunee came to live with them—for those uneventful days of quiet and calm.
     Pat! Bing! Su!
     She smiled to herself. Maya could picture those staccato syllables exploding from balloons, or maybe spilling out of a popcorn maker. Drawing her questions was often more fun than learning the actual answers.
     Maya returned to her journal, lost in another world as she flipped to a new page to draw the word patbingsu.
     “It really is the perfect weather for patbingsu,” said Halmunee, now standing directly behind Maya. “I think this would be a good time for me to show you something new.”
     Halmunee had tried a few times before to tempt Maya to cook Korean food with her. Each time, Halmunee got more stubbornly insistent. But Maya didn’t have much experience in the kitchen and it seemed like a lot of work, cooking everything from scratch.
     When it was clear that Maya wasn’t going to volunteer any further interest, Halmunee nudged her and continued. “You’ll like it. Come into the kitchen and help me with this.”
     Maya groaned. The kitchen was the hottest spot in their house!
     Halmunee ignored Maya’s protest and shuffled back into the kitchen. “Here. Help me lift this out.”
     Maya got up and readjusted the clothes that had bunched up on her sweaty skin. Small beads of sweat sprouted on her forehead as she entered the kitchen and trudged over to where Halmunee stood.
     At her movement, Gizmo quirked his head to the side and wiggled himself up to follow after her. He was the laziest dog in the world and could spend hours sleeping in one spot, but he never missed a potential opportunity for food.
     As instructed, Maya held onto the box while Halmunee pulled out a small, white appliance with a wide base and a bulky top.
     “I’ve never seen a patbingsu before,” Maya said, using a finger to trace the faded dancing penguins that decorated the appliance. She wasn’t impressed. This was definitely not more interesting than her journal drawing.
     Halmunee laughed. “No, this isn’t patbingsu, silly. This is what we use to make patbingsu. You haven’t seen this again yet?”
     Maya shook her head.
     “This is an ice-making machine.” Halmunee frowned. “No, that’s not right. It doesn’t make ice. It makes the snow.”
     “The snow,” Maya echoed. Her gaze darted nervously across Halmunee’s face, looking for any sign of the frustration or anxiety that sometimes overwhelmed her grandmother as she searched for words, phrases, or names that she once knew. When Halmunee had first arrived to live with them several months ago, Mom had briefly told Maya about dementia and how it made a person forgetful. Without any further explanation, Mom had sighed and gone off to bed, leaving Maya confused. It wasn’t until the next day that Maya realized Mom had been talking about Halmunee.
     Since that day, Maya hadn’t had a chance to discuss it further with Mom. Over the past few months, Mom seemed to always be in a bad mood or suffering from a migraine. She was easily irritated, especially if Maya tried bringing up anything related to Halmunee.
     “The snow,” said Halmunee. “You know. The snow you eat?”
     Relief shot through Maya’s body as she realized what Halmunee meant. “Oh, you mean like snow cones! Yeah, I’ve had those before. But not at home.”
     As Maya squinted at the ice machine, the cartoonish penguins seemed a little more familiar, but she couldn’t be certain if that was based on a real memory or wishful thinking.
     Had Mom made this same dish for her when she was little? Or maybe this machine belonged to Dad? Was it a memento of his that was too painful for Mom to look at? Maybe that was why she had boxed it up and put it in the garage to be forgotten.
     Halmunee wiped the ice machine with a damp towel. “Every summer in Korea we love eating patbingsu. When I was young, and before we had refrigerators and freezers in every house, I would go to my local bakery to get patbingsu. Snow cones are all syrup and sugar. I know what they are. They're just like the too-sweet treats that street vendors would sell from melting blocks of ice they carried in carts. Patbingsu is better. It has red beans and fruit.”
     Maya made a face. “Beans?”
     “Trust me,” said Halmunee. “You’ll like what I’m going to show you.”
     Maya bit back any further protest. An icy treat right now would help cool things down. Plus, Mom barely made anything anymore. The most she did these days was make a quick pasta using whatever sauce in a jar had been on sale that week and whatever vegetables Maya could find in the refrigerator. So as much as the thought of beans and ice together repulsed Maya, she was a little curious. Halmunee had finally worn her down, and Maya settled into the position of an assistant with Halmunee as the head chef.
     “What can I do?” she asked.
     Halmunee smiled at her. “I already have the red beans and rice cakes. So, all we have to do now is cut the fruit and make the snow.”
     Halmunee put two small bowls in the freezer to chill while they cut a banana, a peeled kiwi, and a few strawberries into bite-sized pieces. Occasionally, Halmunee would bump Maya’s hip to get her attention, just like Mom often did.
     Maya dropped ice cubes into the top of the machine and Halmunee pressed down to crush the ice. The machine was so loud it drowned out all other sounds and made Gizmo scurry away to lurk just behind the kitchen doorframe.
     Then Maya collected the bowls from the freezer. She cradled the icy-cold surface against her warm skin, instantly cooling herself down and sending a shiver down her spine. Halmunee filled the bowls with the homemade snow and spooned in a cold mixture of sweetened red beans. Maya helped to arrange the fruit and rice cakes around the mounds of ice and beans as Halmunee drizzled some condensed milk over them.
     “Now comes the best part of cooking,” said Halmunee with a grin. “Eating!”
     Maya grinned back and dug into the patbingsu, careful to get a bit of each ingredient into her first bite. A shock of cold pinged from her teeth through her core and down to her toes. She let the ice melt down her throat, savoring everything, from the taste of the sweet beans and fruit to the chewy texture of the tiny cube of rice cake. Maya dug her spoon back into the patbingsu for a second, bigger bite. She looked up to see Halmunee watching her eat.
     “See?” said Halmunee. “I told you you’d like it. You’ll like this part, too.”
     Before Maya could wonder what she meant, Halmunee reached over and squeezed Maya’s hand. The chill of Halmunee’s frozen fingers made Maya shiver again. And then, the world ripped away in a blur.
A 2024 CBC Children’s Favorites Winner, Sixth to Eighth Grade
A 2024 CBC Teacher Favorites Winner, Sixth to Eighth Grade
One of School Library Journal’s Best Middle Grade Books of 2023
2024–25 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award Nominee

“Affectionately wrought....evocative descriptions of food and its link to memory carry this light speculative read, which offers up a sweet intergenerational relationship that connects past and present.”—Publishers Weekly

“Beautifully written...the descriptions of the dishes are salivating enough that readers might appreciate the ability to recreate them at home. A warm and satisfying intergenerational story.”—Booklist

“Full of twists, this middle-grade story is a heartwarming mix of food and family.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A charming story filled with recipes.”—School Library Journal

“Readers will love the Korean culture and food references….This is a great time-travel adventure read.”—Book Riot

“This wonderful book combines food and family into a perfectly seasoned story.”—Lelia Nebeker for Northern Virginia Magazine

“This wonderful book [by an Arlington author!] combines food and family into a perfectly seasoned story.”— Lelia Nebeker for Northern Virginia Magazine

“Seasoned with humor and a rich setting, A Spoonful of Time is an enchanting novel about family secrets, friendships, loss, and food that transports us to the past. Warning: don't read while hungry!”—Lynne Kelly, author of Song For a Whale

“A vividly written tale that is easy to love, Flora Ahn's novel is intricate, enchanting, and absolutely brimming with life. This is a surprising and timeless story, with the perfect mix of sweetness, wonder, and depth.”—Corey Ann Haydu, author of Eventown and One Jar of Magic
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About

“Full of twists, this middle grade story is a heartwarming mix of food and family.”—Kirkus Reviews

When You Reach Me meets Love Sugar Magic in this unforgettable middle grade novel where time travel, family recipes, and family secrets collide.


Maya’s grandmother, Halmunee, may be losing her memory, but she hasn’t lost her magic touch in the kitchen.  Whether she serves salty miyeok-guk or sweet songpyeon, her stories about Korea come to life for Maya.

Then one day, something extraordinary happens: one delicious bite transports Maya and Halmunee into one of Halmunee’s memories. Suddenly they’re in Seoul, and Halmunee is young.

This is just the first of many secrets Maya will uncover: that she and her grandmother can travel through time. As Maya eats her way through the past, her questions multiply—until a shocking discovery transforms everything she thought she knew about family, friendship, loss, and time itself.

Brimming with heart and interspersed with seven family recipes that readers can make themselves, this is a story to savor by rising Korean American author Flora Ahn.

Author

Flora Ahn is an attorney by day and an author and illustrator by night. Her work includes a children's chapter book series, Pug Pals (Scholastic) and an Audible Original, The Golden Orchard. Raised in California by her Korean immigrant parents, Ahn lives in Virginia with her two pugs and practices law in DC.

Excerpt

Chapter 1: PATBINGSU WEATHER


“It’s patbingsu weather.”
     Maya almost didn’t hear her grandmother over the whir of the fan and the rumbling snores of Gizmo, the old, lazy pug dog squished by her side. Dropping her journal, she rolled over and slowly pulled the backs of her arms and legs off the thin bamboo sticks of the mat beneath her. Her grandmother shuffled past her into the kitchen, a dusty box in her arms.
     “Did you ask me something, Halmunee?” Maya asked, hoping the answer was no. It was too hot to even think about moving. After three long days of blazing August heat and no AC, Maya had finally dragged the bamboo mat out of the garage and into the living room. The mat was supposed to keep a person cool, but it could only do so much. It didn’t help that no matter where she lay, Gizmo scooted up as close to her as possible, his warm fur pressed against her like a hot-water bottle.
     With a soft grunt, Halmunee heaved the box onto the counter, then turned to shout back at Maya. “I said, it’s patbingsu weather.”
     Relieved that Halmunee didn’t seem to need her help, Maya flopped back onto the mat and picked up her journal.
     Growing up in the cracks of her mother’s busy work schedule meant Maya was accustomed to entertaining herself and living in a quiet world. The thoughts and unanswered questions that often raced through her mind found their home in the form of scribbles and drawings in a small journal she usually carried with her. Maya constantly felt the urge to draw. She didn’t know where it came from since neither Mom nor Halmunee was capable of drawing even a straight line. She often wondered if she got her love of drawing from her father.
     As soon as she filled up all the pages in a journal, she placed it in her bookshelf in a row hidden behind her ordinary books. She had started doing this two years ago on her eleventh birthday, when Mom had given her a blue journal with Maya’s name etched in silver at the bottom corner.
     Her mom was often tired and distracted in the evenings and on weekends, and some days she could go for several hours without uttering a single word. For as long as Maya could remember, it had been just her and her mom in their still and silent house.
     But then Halmunee arrived. And Halmunee didn’t live by the same rules.
     When Maya craved attention or someone to talk to, she loved having Halmunee there, someone who always wanted to know how her day went and what she had drawn in her journal recently. But during moments like this, when Maya wanted to move and talk as little as possible, a tiny part of her wished for the times before Halmunee came to live with them—for those uneventful days of quiet and calm.
     Pat! Bing! Su!
     She smiled to herself. Maya could picture those staccato syllables exploding from balloons, or maybe spilling out of a popcorn maker. Drawing her questions was often more fun than learning the actual answers.
     Maya returned to her journal, lost in another world as she flipped to a new page to draw the word patbingsu.
     “It really is the perfect weather for patbingsu,” said Halmunee, now standing directly behind Maya. “I think this would be a good time for me to show you something new.”
     Halmunee had tried a few times before to tempt Maya to cook Korean food with her. Each time, Halmunee got more stubbornly insistent. But Maya didn’t have much experience in the kitchen and it seemed like a lot of work, cooking everything from scratch.
     When it was clear that Maya wasn’t going to volunteer any further interest, Halmunee nudged her and continued. “You’ll like it. Come into the kitchen and help me with this.”
     Maya groaned. The kitchen was the hottest spot in their house!
     Halmunee ignored Maya’s protest and shuffled back into the kitchen. “Here. Help me lift this out.”
     Maya got up and readjusted the clothes that had bunched up on her sweaty skin. Small beads of sweat sprouted on her forehead as she entered the kitchen and trudged over to where Halmunee stood.
     At her movement, Gizmo quirked his head to the side and wiggled himself up to follow after her. He was the laziest dog in the world and could spend hours sleeping in one spot, but he never missed a potential opportunity for food.
     As instructed, Maya held onto the box while Halmunee pulled out a small, white appliance with a wide base and a bulky top.
     “I’ve never seen a patbingsu before,” Maya said, using a finger to trace the faded dancing penguins that decorated the appliance. She wasn’t impressed. This was definitely not more interesting than her journal drawing.
     Halmunee laughed. “No, this isn’t patbingsu, silly. This is what we use to make patbingsu. You haven’t seen this again yet?”
     Maya shook her head.
     “This is an ice-making machine.” Halmunee frowned. “No, that’s not right. It doesn’t make ice. It makes the snow.”
     “The snow,” Maya echoed. Her gaze darted nervously across Halmunee’s face, looking for any sign of the frustration or anxiety that sometimes overwhelmed her grandmother as she searched for words, phrases, or names that she once knew. When Halmunee had first arrived to live with them several months ago, Mom had briefly told Maya about dementia and how it made a person forgetful. Without any further explanation, Mom had sighed and gone off to bed, leaving Maya confused. It wasn’t until the next day that Maya realized Mom had been talking about Halmunee.
     Since that day, Maya hadn’t had a chance to discuss it further with Mom. Over the past few months, Mom seemed to always be in a bad mood or suffering from a migraine. She was easily irritated, especially if Maya tried bringing up anything related to Halmunee.
     “The snow,” said Halmunee. “You know. The snow you eat?”
     Relief shot through Maya’s body as she realized what Halmunee meant. “Oh, you mean like snow cones! Yeah, I’ve had those before. But not at home.”
     As Maya squinted at the ice machine, the cartoonish penguins seemed a little more familiar, but she couldn’t be certain if that was based on a real memory or wishful thinking.
     Had Mom made this same dish for her when she was little? Or maybe this machine belonged to Dad? Was it a memento of his that was too painful for Mom to look at? Maybe that was why she had boxed it up and put it in the garage to be forgotten.
     Halmunee wiped the ice machine with a damp towel. “Every summer in Korea we love eating patbingsu. When I was young, and before we had refrigerators and freezers in every house, I would go to my local bakery to get patbingsu. Snow cones are all syrup and sugar. I know what they are. They're just like the too-sweet treats that street vendors would sell from melting blocks of ice they carried in carts. Patbingsu is better. It has red beans and fruit.”
     Maya made a face. “Beans?”
     “Trust me,” said Halmunee. “You’ll like what I’m going to show you.”
     Maya bit back any further protest. An icy treat right now would help cool things down. Plus, Mom barely made anything anymore. The most she did these days was make a quick pasta using whatever sauce in a jar had been on sale that week and whatever vegetables Maya could find in the refrigerator. So as much as the thought of beans and ice together repulsed Maya, she was a little curious. Halmunee had finally worn her down, and Maya settled into the position of an assistant with Halmunee as the head chef.
     “What can I do?” she asked.
     Halmunee smiled at her. “I already have the red beans and rice cakes. So, all we have to do now is cut the fruit and make the snow.”
     Halmunee put two small bowls in the freezer to chill while they cut a banana, a peeled kiwi, and a few strawberries into bite-sized pieces. Occasionally, Halmunee would bump Maya’s hip to get her attention, just like Mom often did.
     Maya dropped ice cubes into the top of the machine and Halmunee pressed down to crush the ice. The machine was so loud it drowned out all other sounds and made Gizmo scurry away to lurk just behind the kitchen doorframe.
     Then Maya collected the bowls from the freezer. She cradled the icy-cold surface against her warm skin, instantly cooling herself down and sending a shiver down her spine. Halmunee filled the bowls with the homemade snow and spooned in a cold mixture of sweetened red beans. Maya helped to arrange the fruit and rice cakes around the mounds of ice and beans as Halmunee drizzled some condensed milk over them.
     “Now comes the best part of cooking,” said Halmunee with a grin. “Eating!”
     Maya grinned back and dug into the patbingsu, careful to get a bit of each ingredient into her first bite. A shock of cold pinged from her teeth through her core and down to her toes. She let the ice melt down her throat, savoring everything, from the taste of the sweet beans and fruit to the chewy texture of the tiny cube of rice cake. Maya dug her spoon back into the patbingsu for a second, bigger bite. She looked up to see Halmunee watching her eat.
     “See?” said Halmunee. “I told you you’d like it. You’ll like this part, too.”
     Before Maya could wonder what she meant, Halmunee reached over and squeezed Maya’s hand. The chill of Halmunee’s frozen fingers made Maya shiver again. And then, the world ripped away in a blur.

Praise

A 2024 CBC Children’s Favorites Winner, Sixth to Eighth Grade
A 2024 CBC Teacher Favorites Winner, Sixth to Eighth Grade
One of School Library Journal’s Best Middle Grade Books of 2023
2024–25 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award Nominee

“Affectionately wrought....evocative descriptions of food and its link to memory carry this light speculative read, which offers up a sweet intergenerational relationship that connects past and present.”—Publishers Weekly

“Beautifully written...the descriptions of the dishes are salivating enough that readers might appreciate the ability to recreate them at home. A warm and satisfying intergenerational story.”—Booklist

“Full of twists, this middle-grade story is a heartwarming mix of food and family.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A charming story filled with recipes.”—School Library Journal

“Readers will love the Korean culture and food references….This is a great time-travel adventure read.”—Book Riot

“This wonderful book combines food and family into a perfectly seasoned story.”—Lelia Nebeker for Northern Virginia Magazine

“This wonderful book [by an Arlington author!] combines food and family into a perfectly seasoned story.”— Lelia Nebeker for Northern Virginia Magazine

“Seasoned with humor and a rich setting, A Spoonful of Time is an enchanting novel about family secrets, friendships, loss, and food that transports us to the past. Warning: don't read while hungry!”—Lynne Kelly, author of Song For a Whale

“A vividly written tale that is easy to love, Flora Ahn's novel is intricate, enchanting, and absolutely brimming with life. This is a surprising and timeless story, with the perfect mix of sweetness, wonder, and depth.”—Corey Ann Haydu, author of Eventown and One Jar of Magic

Photos

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