Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tết Trung Thu

Viet: Tết Trung Thu
English: Mid-Autumn Festival. Trung Thu mean "Middle of Autumn." I thought I was clever knowing Trung means "egg," but apparently that is "trứng." Tết usually refers to the Lunar New Year in the spring, so I assume it translates to "New Year."
Pronunciation: Thet (sharp rising) Chung (g is very soft, back of throat) Too

I first heard of Tết Trung Thu when Anh of A Food Lover's Journey posted a recipe for mooncakes.  I celebrate tết with Thai's family every spring (he calls it, "Asian Christmas"), so I wondered how I'd missed this other seemingly well-known holiday.  Wikipedia expanded my knowledge, but I knew who I really wanted to ask.  So I e-mailed Thai's mom to see what she remembers of this holiday.

Her response was short and sweet. A holiday for the kids. Under the moon.  Eating mooncakes. Very fun.  Flashes from her childhood in Vietnam.  I picture her as a tiny girl, holding a pinwheel lantern and parading the streets of her shore-side town.  Just Google "tet trung thu" images, and you'll see pages and pages of orange dragons, red stars, and pink and yellow lanterns in little kids grasps.  I feel nostalgic for a childhood experience I never had.  Perhaps it hints at Halloween trick-or-treating or the unity of a family dinner at Thanksgiving.  I remember digging for Starbursts in a pumpkin-shaped bucket; she tasted Mung Bean in a printed pastry.

She came to visit us this weekend, bringing with her a sliced moon cake.  My tongue dissected this new flavor as she repeated her memories to me.  My niece, just one and a half, scampered up to me to see what I was munching.  I broke her off a crumbling piece to hold in her tiny hand.  It seemed fitting to have a little girl toddling around the kitchen as her grandmother described the Vietnamese holiday for children.  The holiday developed as a way for rural parents to spend time with their children after the busy harvest season finally ended.  Even though the festival isn't officially until September 22, I guess spending time with my niece was my version of Tết Trung Thu this year.

We bought more moon cakes at the Asian supermarket.  As Thai and I passed one back and forth in the car, I declared, "I like moon cakes."
Thai responded, "Me too.  And Moon Pies." 
The epitome of Asian-American.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tre Em Viet Nam

In February 2010, I ran my first marathon and raised over $2600 for ASHA. Many of my friends and family helped me raise this money for educational programs in India, encouraging me from my training to crossing the finish line.

I am now training for TWO MARATHONS. In December, I will run the Dallas White Rock Marathon. In February, I will run the Austin Marathon for the 2nd time.

Training for a marathon is VERY hard. It's a day-to-day struggle that entends for months on end. And it is nothing compared to actually running the race. When I crossed the finish line in February, I broke down in tears because I was so happy the hardest thing I had ever done was over. Now I've got TWO more difficult times on my horizon, and I can think of no better way to honor these times than raising money to help the Children of Vietnam. And this is why:

My fiance's mom escaped from Vietnam after the war. Her 8 year journey found her in prison several times, in a refugee camp in Thailand, and finally in a scary new home called America where few spoke Vietnamese. My 26.2 mile struggles are nothing compared to her life. And Vietnam, her beautiful homeland, still has its own struggles. 29% of the Vietnamese population lives below the internaitonal poverty line (compare this to less than 2% in the US). For every 100,000 people, there are only 53 physicians. And there is a 40% school dropout rate for children ages 12-20 who come from poor families.

I can never truly understand the Viet struggle, but I can help change the Viet future for the children that still live there. And so can you! Click here to donate:

My goal is to raise $5000 for Children of Vietnam by February 20th, 2011, when I run the Austin Marathon. Please donate any amount you can -- I'll be watching the total rise as I train! It is so encouraging!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cháo gà

Viet: Cháo gà
English: Rice soup with chicken
Pronunciation: Jow (Jelly minus elly plus pow minus p.), rising tone. Yapple minus pple, falling tone. Jow Ya.

My poor little Asian got sick.  (Can I call a 6'2" man little?) 
Headache, vomiting, fatigue, the usual works that keep you out of work for two days.  I went home early to morph into Nurse Sarah.  I made him comfortable in bed, got him a glass of water, and then asked what I could make him to eat.  Any suggestion of food made him cringe.  But there was one culinary risk he was willing to take.  Whenever he was sick as a child, his mom would always make him cháo.  And since sickness makes one revert to a childlike state, he now requested that I make him the same dish.

Facts known: 
Called "Jow."
Made in rice maker but with more water. 

A wonderful invention called the "internet" enabled me to expand on these facts.  What Thai calls "Cháo" is called "congee" in many Asian countries, and every Asian country has their own variation.   The Vietnamese version is often made with chicken, or "gà" as I should say.  The big debate is how much water to put into the rice cooker.  Once I decided upon 5 cups, though, I still wasn't satisfied.  
Rice and water and chicken? I decided to "Viet it up" a bit.  Toss in some fresh green onions, sprinkle in some ground ginger, mix in a little soy sauce.  Just because he's sick doesn't mean I halt my obsessive desire to appeal to the Viet child inside him!

And let me tell what that little Viet child said, peeking out through big brown eyes.  He slurped and Mmmm'd and devoured.  And somewhere in the middle of that, he said, and I quote, "It's better than what I had as a kid!"

My response was of course a victory dance.
Make way for the Vietnamese chef, world.

Cháo gà, made for sick Thai

1 cup of rice
5 cups of water
4 green onion stalks
Fully cooked chicken breast fajitas
ground ginger
soy sauce
black pepper

1. Put rice and water in rice cooker.  Turn to Cook.  Monitor while cooking to make sure doesn't overflow.  If that happens, lift the lid and let the dragon calm down.
2. Heat up desired amount of chicken breasts in microwave according to directions (or this is the point where you could be more legit and cook up fresh chicken breasts.  I'm vegetarian, so I'm not very passionate about the meat.)
3. Chop green onion stalks (not the bulb part) so there about 1/4 thick.
4. Cut warmed (Warning! Could be very hot!) chicken into little squares, about 1/2 inch thick.
5. When the rice is done, mix in the green onions.  
6. Add ginger, pepper, and soy sauce to taste.  Ginger can be very powerful so be careful with that one!
7. Put chicken want in 1 serving in bowl.  Scoop cháo into bowl.  Make sure you get a good amount of water too, not just the rice.  

Future servings, I had to add in more water and heat it up in the microwave, especially as I neared the bottom of the cooker.  I put the chicken in the serving bowl here because I'm vegetarian-- I wanted some cháo too!  But you can of course mix it into the main pot.

Good news: Thai is now all better.  Coincidence?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Texan Sriracha

In my fiance's world of Viet cuisine there are 3 necessities: rice, soy sauce, and Sriracha.

Sriracha is actually a Thai sauce, named after the seaside village of Si Racha in Thailand.  It's main ingredient is Thai chilli peppers.  But the Sriracha sauce that you'd find on the shelves at Hong Kong Supermarket in the US, the Sriracha my fiance grew up loving, is a little different.  It was developed by a Chinese-Vietnamese farmer who fled after the war on a boat in the late 1970s (sound familiar?) and established Huy Fong Foods in California.  The sauce is made from fresh red jalapeño peppers. 1 2

My first exposure to Sriracha was seeing my fiance Thai squeeze a liberal amount into his phở bò.  After a few times witnessing this, I decided that I would try this "Sweet Rah-cha" sauce.  I squeezed a drop on my finger to test out the taste.  As it touched my tongue and began to burn, I wondered at the misleading name - There's nothing "sweet" about this!!

This summer, I discovered a recipe on Viet World Kitchen for Homemade Fermented Sriracha Sauce.  I wrote down the list of suggested peppers and went to see what I could find at the Farmer's Market.  This being Texas, I of course found a plethora of jalapeños.  Later, I tossed them into a blender with the other required ingredients, thinking only of how impressed Thai would be with my Sriracha-making skills.   It wasn't until my mixture reached "a texture like that of wet oatmeal," that I realized something was wrong.

It was GREEN.

Yes, green peppers create green sauce.  Surprise!  Toss in some brown sugar instead of Thai palm sugar, and you've got some Texas-ified Sriracha.  But Thai is Texan-Vietnamese, so I suppose it suits him!  The resulting sauce was even HOTTER than Huy Fong Sriracha.  And he absolutely loves it!  He said that he actually likes it better than the Viet red sauce!  

My green Sriracha in a Tostitos salsa jar.

Texan Sriracha (adapted from Homemade Fermented Sriracha Sauce)

¾ pounds green Jalapenos, snipped, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
Water, as needed

1. Combine jalapeños, garlic, salt, and sugar in blender and chop finely to a texture like that of wet oatmeal.
2. Transfer the mixture to a glass bowl or jar and cover with plastic wrap. 
3. Set aside at room temperature for 4 days, until small bubbles have formed under the surface of the mixture (I didn't see bubbles?). If a little fuzzy mold forms, lift it off with a fork and discard (and don't tell anyone!). 
4. After 4 days, put the fermented mixture and vinegar into small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a blender and puree for 3 minutes, until a smooth mixture forms. Add the water to facilitate the pureeing, if needed.

6. Let the flavor develop and bloom for a few hours before using.
7. Grab your Asian and let the judgement begin!

--- This post is my contribution to Delicious Vietnam #4, a monthly blogging event celebrating Vietnamese cuisine created by A Food Lovers Journey and Ravenous Couple! This month's host is Bonni_bella of Chrysanthemum. ---

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prop 8

Vietnamese: tình yêu
English: Love

Today Proposition 8 was declared unconstitutional in California Courts.

Being in an inter-racial relationship makes me feel very connected to the struggles in the LGBT community for the freedom to marry.  Marriage between people of different races used to be considered horrific, just as marriage between people of the same sex is considered now.  If society told me I couldn't be with my fiancé only because I'm white and he's Vietnamese... my heart hurts just thinking about it.

My thoughts are with the gay community in America.  Let's take this to the Supreme Court!