Tag Archives: Vietnam

Thank a Teacher!

From Albania to Vietnam, most countries set aside a special day to thank teachers for all they do. Today, May 4th, is National Teacher Day in the United States.

As a student, I had so many wonderful teachers, from kindergarten through high school. They gave me everything I needed to go to college, study abroad, and even teach for a few years in Burkina Faso.

But now – as a parent – I’m enjoying getting to know my son’s teachers and seeing a side of the profession that I could not see when I was sitting in a little desk about 30 years ago.

In pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade, my son has had very different teachers with incredibly different approaches to education. Each has been a wonderful partner for me in making the most of my son’s education. From each, I have gotten the encouragement, advice, and support I’ve needed to keep my son on a solid path to learning at home while his teachers pursue it at school.

Some of his teachers have been educators longer than I’ve been alive. Some are only in their second or third year. But each of them has been unfailingly committed to helping me and my son.

And for that, I have no words other than THANK YOU!

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Asian Cooking Class: Eating While Educating

Sometimes you have to eat your way out of your comfort zone.

Tonight I did just that by taking a cooking class on Asian cuisine all by myself. That’s right – no wingman or wing-woman for me!

It was a double dare because I was venturing out of my routine by taking the class in the first place.

Mercifully, the class was a nice blend of veterans and newbies but once Chef started explaining, cutting, mixing, blending, and stirring, all shyness fell away from us.

First up: Spring Rolls (Vietnam/Thailand)

This dish was cool because I got to see the right way to prepare and fill spring roll wrappers. The first time I used one of these I didn’t soak it in water and it splintered in my hands!

I learned the optimum amount of soaking time is 20 seconds, sparing so much time, effort, aggravation, and failure.

Next: Lettuce Wraps (Northeast Thailand/Central Laos)

Chef had spread out a whole station of good things to fill the lettuce wraps with so I tried dried shrimp, galangal (it looks like ginger but it has a lemony flavor), and mung bean sprouts.  There’s a picture of the galangal in the gallery below.

A Digression on Fish Sauce – A few weeks ago, I went to the nearby Asian supermarket and bought a bottle of what I call “Smiling Baby Fish Sauce”.

According to Chef, fish sauce is the juice of rotted fish that has been left out in the sun for the purpose of reaping said juices.

Although I strongly believe fish sauce is a critical element in Asian cuisine, it does make me reconsider the “Smiling Baby” brand of fish sauce. There’s something unsavory about that.

Favorite Dish: Spicy Lemongrass Soup (Vietnam/Thailand)

This soup was phenomenal and made in under 10 minutes!

It was a brutal competition to win my favorite dish of the evening but the lemongrass soup squeaked out a victory because of its delicious blend of shrimp, lemongrass, and chilies. It was probably a touch too spicy, but that just made me love it more!

Lemongrass Beef and Herb Salad (Vietnam)

This salad and beef combo had many elements that appealed to me: tender lettuce greens and cabbages, cilantro, mint (REAL mint, Chef assured us), chiles, sesame seeds, lemongrass (my new best friend), and an incredible peanut sauce that incorporated ground pork, peanuts, and fermented soybean paste. Sounds like a winner, right?

After this the class really started to pick up speed and Chef began multi-tasking while a bevy of sous-chefs ran around the kitchen.

Nearing the End: Noodles, Greens, and Gravy (Thailand)

Chef had started this dish by soaking, not boiling the rice noodles (which were very thick) in water to soften them.  Late in the preparation, he added them with what looked like baby bok choy but was really something called Shanghai cabbage.

Once again, fermented soybean paste and fish sauce made their appearances but by then we were blase about them both.

The final dish: Yellow Rice and Duck (Central Laos)

I was anticipating the duck from the moment Chef mentioned it because, although I’ve had it before, it has made such rare appearances on my plate that we are virtual strangers.

However, much as I anticipated the duck, the rice blew it out of the water (with my apologies to ducks).

Chef blended garlic, black peppercorns, kosher salt, madras curry powder (there’s a shot of the madras curry powder below), tumeric, and fish sauce.

When he combined this with the duck in a hot, oil-coated pan, the aroma was amazing!

This rice very nearly toppled the Lemongrass Soup as my favorite dish of the night. It made me crave a cooking class just on curries!

Overall, there was such a friendly atmosphere in the class that I would definitely take another one.

Will my son sample any of the recipes I learned to make tonight? Good question; all I can say is that I am working on him.

Here are the delicious photos I took at class tonight (to my classmates’ amusement):

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Thanksgiving Around the World


Photo UC Davis Health System

Few holidays have more of a food-focus than Thanksgiving.  

Ask any child what the most remarkable thing about Thanksgiving is and they’ll tell you it’s the quantity of food that is consumed around the dining room table, from the massive turkey to the creamy pumpkin pies.  

But it is important to remember that the real message of Thanksgiving – for harried parents and hungry kids – is gratitude, and gratitude is a common sentiment across cultures.  

While there may not be Pilgrims or cranberries fresh from a can, many nations have some sort of “thanksgiving” celebration in which they show their gratitude for a successful harvest. 

Pongal is a harvest festival in South India that celebrates the contributions of people, the sun, the rain, and even the cattle in providing a successful harvest.  

The Pongal Festival lasts for four days in mid-January.  On the first day, old clothes are thrown away or burned to indicate that a new life has begun.  

On the second day, rice or milk is boiled in new pots until it boils over.  This signifies the hope that the new harvest will produce plenty of food for everyone.  

On the third day, families wash and adorn their cows and buffalo to show their appreciation for the animals’ labor in producing a good harvest. 

Finally, on the fourth day families celebrate with a picnic.

In China and Vietnam, families celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, in September with a feast.  

The highlights of the meal are mooncakes, spongy cakes made from bean paste or lotus and imprinted with designs.  

The holiday is also marked by carrying lanterns and revering the moon.

Many people in Africa celebrate in late August when the first crop of the season, the yam, is harvested.  

People wear masks, often made from grass and leaves, listen to music, and dance.  

In Ghana, the celebration is called the Homowo Festival and it literally means “hooting at hunger.”

However and whenever you celebrate, it’s always worthwhile to give thanks and share with others. 

Moon Festival

IndoChina Oddyssey Tours

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