Love in the new year, and learning to make Vietnamese spring rolls(Read article summary)
Making Vietnamese spring rolls at home is easier than you might think. With a little practice rice paper, shrimp, pork shoulder, and veggies roll right up and become a delicious snack or side.
The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook
These two simple words have been on my mind since they popped out at me from a friendâs Facebook post a few weeks ago. She was recapping her past year and she ended her reflection with âWhen in doubt, choose love.âÂ These words could mean many things to many people, and Iâve been thinking about what it means for me to âchoose love.â
2012 was a challenging year personally and love was often in short supply. Not thatÂ IÂ wasnât loved, but rather that I wasnât a very loving person. I felt so drained I had no love to give.Â I had to get used to the fact that my husband was 6,720 miles away and 12 and-a-half hours ahead for an entire 12 months. And I worried (and still do) about his safety, every single day. Plus, I had to adjust to solo-parenting a toddler.
After a three-year hiatus, I worked very hard to develop a book proposal (one that I thought was very sellable and timely) that was quickly shot down. I have yet worked up the nerve to submit it elsewhere.Â And Iâm sure anyone who lives close to their parents can relate to the stress of having them live a stoneâs throw away.
Did I mention Iâm solo-parenting a toddler? I definitely have a newfound awe and admiration for single parents everywhere!Â While I admit 2012 wasnât all that bad â there was a trip to Vietnam to meet my husband, a paperback book launch â it was filled with plenty of angst and stress.Â I realize now that many of these events and circumstances were beyond my control. Yet I was riddled withÂ unnecessaryÂ anxiety and/or reacted negatively to them.
In hindsight, I can come up with any number of, âWhat if?â scenarios.
What if I kept calm and didnât raise my voice at Isaac when he wasnât behaving the way I wanted him to? Then maybe I wouldnât be wracked with guilt in the thereafter believing I was traumatizing my son and ruining him for life.
What if I listened patiently every time my dad complained about a new ache or pain, or expressed concern that his memory wasnât as sharp as it used to be (aging has nothing to do with it, of course!). Instead, these could have been happy dad-and-daughter moments spent over a cup of coffee, especially if the topic at hand could be diverted.
If I had chosen love in these circumstances, perhaps I wouldnât have expended superfluous time and energy getting worked up, upset, frustrated, etc., etc., you know what I mean. Thankfully, itâs never too late.Â We are just a few steps in the new year but Iâve already savored the power of choosing love.
The other day, the cashier at Target had a face so sullen it rivaled Posh Spiceâs â aka Victoria Beckhamâs â perpetual pout (am I dating myself with this analogy?). Instead of condemning her off-putting attitude silently in my mind, I complimented her on her gorgeous red top out loud. That coaxed a smile out of both her and me.
When my toddler asks for one more book, yet another sip of water, anything he can think of, to put off going to bed, I take a deep breath, tuck his blanket under his chin and hold him till he falls fast asleep. This phase wonât last forever (I hope, gulp âŠ).Â Iâm off to a good start, donât you think?
Starting with this new year 2013, whatever the season, whatever the mood,Â alwaysÂ choose love.
Vietnamese fresh spring rolls (Gá»i Cuá»n)
Time: 45 minutes prep
Makes: 4 servingsÂ
Iâm going to start a new column about trying dishes I didnât think I could or would make at home. Iâve been told many times how easy it is to make these fresh rolls but Iâve always been intimidated by theÂ rice paperÂ wrappers. Most sources say to dip the dry rice paper rounds in water until soft but it seems impossible to get just right.
While traveling in Vietnam, I learned two other methods of softening the rice paper: one is to wipe it with a wet, non-terry towel until pliable, and the second, use a spray bottle. The rest is easy. Well, the rolling does takes some practice but youâll eventually get the hang of it. The following recipe/how-to is based on what I learned at a cooking class I took at theÂ Morning Glory Cooking SchoolÂ in the beautiful town ofÂ Hoi AnÂ in central Vietnam.
8 sheets rice paper wrappers, plus more in case some break (8 to10 inches across is best)
Red leaf, romaine, or butter lettuce
8 ounces small round rice noodles, cooked according to package directions (look for noodles labeled âbun,â not the super thin vermicelli orÂ bean threadÂ noodles. If you have myÂ cookbook, they are pictured as #1 on pg. 15)
8 small slices pork shoulder, cooked as desired (I like to useÂ char siu, store-bought or home made)
12 large cooked shrimp, peeled and halved
12 (3-inch-length) pieces garlic chives
Dipping sauceÂ (recipe below)*
Lay all the ingredients out on the table and let everyone make their own rolls.
Soften the rice paper using your method of choice:
1. Dip in a bowl of warm water for about 3-5 seconds (depending on its thickness).
2. Lay on a flat surface and wipe with a wet non-terry towel several times until pliable.
3. Fill a spray bottle with water and spray until pliable.
You want the rice paper to be just soft enough that you can fold it. You will lessen the risk of over-soaking your rice paper wrapper if you use the latter two methods but it is up to you.
Place the wrapper on a work service (a flat plate works fine) and lay a piece of lettuce on the edge closest to you. Grab a handful of herbs and place them on top of the lettuce. Place a handful of noodles on top of the greens. Add some pickles. Arrange two slices of pork above the noodles, followed by 3 slices of shrimp, pink-side down.
Fold the edge closest to you over the ingredients and start rolling, ensuring the roll is snug as you go. When you are about half-way, fold both sides in and arrange three pieces of garlic chives on the right so that they jut out like palm leaves swaying in the wind. Continue rolling until you have a nice tight roll.
If you tear the rice paper, donât fret, just start over again. And even if your roll isnât perfect, so what, itâll still taste good!
Serve with dipping sauce.
*Dipping sauce (NÆ°á»c máșŻm cháș„m)
Makes: 4 servings
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 Thai red chilies, or to taste, sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1 large lime)
2 tablespoons warm water
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.