I found this glass paperweight, with its two little goldfish, at an estate sale.  I’ve never understood paperweights or the purpose they’re supposed to serve.  It’s not like anyone has to worry about hurricane-force winds blowing through their office, whipping their important papers into a tornado-like frenzy.


Hurry, hurry — get out the paperweights!

Paperweights are pretty much just desk bling.  I can certainly understand how two glass goldfish suspended in a glass bubble for eternity would be preferable to real goldfish in a glass fishbowl, for desk bling and pretty much all other purposes.  If you have kids, you have no doubt come home from a carnival at some point with a goldfish in a baggie:

87708168[1]Who the heck came up with the idea of a goldfish as a carnival prize?  What on earth were they thinking?   If you want to give something living as a prize, wouldn’t a plant be better?   The instant the carnie guy hands a kid a bagged up goldfish, the kid bonds with it, like he gave birth to it.  Within minutes, the fish has a name, and the fantasy of a fun-filled life with fishie begins.  So you go straight from the carnival to the pet store to buy a bowl, and gravel, and a fake plant, and a plastic treasure chest, and fish food, because if you’re like most folks, you don’t have a koi pond waiting to receive your fishie.  But it’s a waste of money, because chances are the fishie will not be looking too good by the time you get it home, and it’s just a matter of time before you are holding toiletside services while flushing Nemo.  In fact, every carnival goldfish should come with a commodeside prayer book and a Baskin-Robbins coupon (where you will likely wind up trying to comfort your grieving kid).  I have one question — WHERE IS PETA?  Why aren’t they protesting at carnivals across the nation to try to put an end to this fishie abuse?

The bulging eyeballs on the goldfish in the paperweight remind me of something my Dad once said.  I used to love tapioca as a kid, until the day my Dad told me that when he was little he used to call it “fish eyeballs.”  That was it for me — I didn’t eat tapioca for decades after that.

Tapioca is a starch that comes from the cassava plant.  It’s used as a thickener, and is considered to be gluten-free.  It’s processed into a variety of forms, including the “pearls” used to make tapioca pudding (large tapioca pearls are the “bubbles” in bubble tea).  The pearls are opaque when dry, but become translucent when cooked in liquid.

Inspired by the little fishies in the glass paperweight, and memories of my Dad’s warped humor, I made good old-fashioned tapioca pudding, using the recipe on the package.  I had only ever made the instant kind, and it was definitely a LOT more work (2 days in the making) to make it from non-instant tapioca, but it was worth it — it is creamier and smoother than the instant variety.  You begin by soaking the tapioca in water overnight (or a week or so–no one’s counting).  Once I realized that I didn’t have to stand over the double boiler for an hour because it cooks at such a low temperature that it isn’t going to burn, the process became quite a bit easier.  Although I had always been served tapioca pudding chilled, the package says that it “is divinely soothing when served warm and delightfully refreshing when chilled.”  Having tried it both ways now, I’d have to agree.


 To make old-fashioned tapioca pudding, use this kind.


 Not this.

Recipe type: Dessert
  • ½ cup small pearl tapioca
  • 2-1/2 cups milk (I used whole milk)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. In a bowl, soak tapioca in 2 cups of water overnight. Drain water using a wire strainer.
  2. Place approximately 2 inches of water in the bottom of a double boiler (or saucepan, if you do not have a double boiler). Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add milk to top part of double boiler (or a metal bowl, if you do not have double boiler), and set over pan of boiling water. Heat the milk briefly, just until no longer cold. Add salt and tapioca, and continue hearing until small bubbles appear at sides of pan. Cover, reduce heat to very low, and cook for 1 hour, making sure that milk mixture does not simmer or boil.
  3. Separate eggs, placing yolks in a medium bowl, and setting the whites aside. Add sugar to yolks, and using an electric beater, beat until light yellow in color. Add about ¼ cup of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks and blend thoroughly. Add the egg yolk mixture to the hot tapioca mixture, stirring constantly. Place the double boiler over medium heat and cook until tapioca is very thick, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes.
  4. Place the egg whites in a medium bowl, and using an electric beater, beat until stiff. Slowly fold the egg whites into the hot tapioca, until thoroughly combined. Stir in vanilla.
  5. Serve warm or chilled. Garnish with fruit or whipped topping, if desired.


 Tapioca pearls after soaking overnight (or for a week or so)


 Milk and tapioca cooking in double boiler over very low heat


 Garnished with whipped topping and berries, it’s “delightfully refreshing”


 Fishie eyeballs, indeed!


  1. Quote from the Corning Museum of Glass, “Paperweights were viewed as luxury items that satisfied the 19th-century taste for ornamentation, but were inexpensive to make. Letter writing was a popular activity at the time, and paperweights became a fashionable and economical way to decorate a home while keeping papers organized in drafty rooms.”

    Late to the party, as usual. 🙂

    • Thanks Aaron. If I’m not mistaken, you recently attended a fishie funeral, didn’t you?

  2. Oh my gosh, I LOVE tapioca! Always have, always will. By the way, Random.org chose you as my winner of The New Jewish Table Cookbook. Please contact me with your e-mail address and I’ll send it to my contact. I hope you like this book as much as I. It really is great. klwharris@comcast.net

  3. After reading the questions posed on your Facebook page I figured you would somehow tie tapioca and goldfish together. Hmmmm…. Didn’t see that coming. Keeping the recipe for tapioca despite your dad!

    • It probably seems like a stretch sometimes to tie an estate sale find to a recipe, but it is weird how things trigger memories that you had completely forgotten about.

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