Wednesday, 4 December 2013

big hearts for the Philippines

In November 2013, the Philippines were hit by an incredible typhoon.  It took so many lives and razed towns and villages to the ground.  The images we saw on television, didn't fail to upset and left a lot of us with a great desire to help.

I took the opportunity to make use of my loyal diners, whose big hearts have already made a difference for my causes in Vietnam, and auction off one of my charity dinners for four people to hopefully raise enough to make a meaningful contribution to somebody in the Philippines.  

So with a little bit nervousness I posted on my supper club Facebook page the offer.  I felt nervous as I felt sure my post would just hang embarrassingly in the cyber void.  Wondering if anyone would want to be cooked for by me.  But to my absolute joy and excitement the bids came in thick and fast, and I managed to auction off the dinner for £150.  Then even greater excitement it turns out the diner who won, decided to match the final amount - so we raised £300.

It was so touching to know that my little supper club could make a little difference - amongst those who are the bigger heroes.

I hope the Philippines are soon back on their feet.

From the Facebook page:
Papaya Verte would love to try and contribute something to the Philippines, and I know you would too.
So, if you haven't already contributed to the various charities for the Philippines - which I know many of you have. How about this; I would like to AUCTION off a Papaya Verte special meal for two diners (may be *4 diners). I will cook a four course meal in your home (however, if you do not live in Norwich we may have to negotiate and perhaps find you a romantic spot up here).
The Auction starts today, with the amount starting at £30. and will finish at midnight this Friday 15th of November, 2013. I only ask that when you make a bid, to keep the amounts sensible i.e., no less than £5. increments.
Let the fun begin and pass the word on!
Jaki x
(fingers crossed!)
*4 diners: perhaps bid for a meal with some friends

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Endings and Beginnings

It seems extraordinary to start writing again,  a little over one year later from when I started the charity suppers, almost like a flash forward in to the future.

Since the first supper I have successfully held four more charity suppers.  With each supper I have gained a little more confidence with my cooking.  I can make a dish without too much panic and am happy in the knowledge that I have encompassed the flavours of Vietnam, the best I can.  I have even managed to be more organised with the budget and quantities.  For someone who failed Mathematics so spectacularly, at school, this is quite an achievement.  However, make no mistake I am not an expert or a 'foodie' even, as is the current popular term.  I had strived to make some kind of connection with who I might have been culturally.  The ability to cook some Vietnamese dishes has not made me feel anymore Vietnamese.  I am still standing in the shade there and must accept that.

I always say my last supper club was my favourite.  They are favourites for all sorts of reasons, the dishes went out on time and plates return empty, the wonderful comradery in the kitchen with friends who volunteer their time for me and most especially our diners.  Who by the by the simple act of attending the suppers touches me.  However, my favourite supper to date, really was the one we held in last September.

The fifth supper club was dedicated to a particularly special cause, I feel.  We committed ourselves to raising funds for Operation Reunite.  An organisation which has been set up by a fellow adoptee and ..'is the vision to reconnecting mothers, adoptees and possibly birth fathers with the past by using a DNA database' .   The DNA test kits are expensive, even by western standards, so the money we raised was donated to the birth parents and families, to enable them to have a chance to be on this important register.  It was incredibly heartwarming to have raised enough money to buy 6 test kits.

There will be no more supper clubs this year and only one more to be held for entire project.  I feel a little sad about that, as I miss the build up to the event.   I will also bizarrely miss the feeling of fear I experience, just as I hear the diners arriving.  I have discovered I do love cooking Vietnamese food.  I love it, but still can't shake the feeling it isn't authentic.  May be that feeling will never truly leave me.  We are all saddled with some insecurity or a feeling that we have lost out on something,  but as difficult as it may seem you can only look forward to the future.   With that in mind I have started to teach my daughter how to cook.  My daughter has a natural gift for cooking and despite my tendency to be impatient with my children, there is a sweet joy in our time together in the kitchen touched with the irony that she is incredibly fussy and will not try the food she has made.

So, I plan to finish up the charity suppers with a bang and what could be more perfect timing than to finish in the month of TET 2014.  Vietnamese New Year.

Thank you friends old and new

Beautiful little menus and place cards by Lucy Loveheart

Chilli & Lime garnish and dipping sauces

Pho Bo/Beef Noodle soup

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Inspirations and achievements

Since I first thought about cooking for charity or at least running a supper club, as it is more commonly known.  I looked to a couple of sources for inspiration.  The first inspiration was from a well established *supper club, run here in Norfolk, by a fantastically creative friend, Clarissa and her husband.  I have eaten at a few of their supper club nights and what struck me was her unwavering ability to produce delicious food, stay calm and present her dishes beautifully on dainty vintage china to 30 diners.   I knew to a certain degree, I couldn't ever replicate all this, but it did help me formulate the idea in to making it work in a fund raising capacity.

The Unthank Supper Club -

I was curious to know whether there was anyone doing a Vietnamese supper club and this is when I came across Leluu's Supper Club and her blog.

Leluu is based in Hackney, London and from her home she runs a stylish supper club, serving Vietnamese food.  Reading her blog, I viewed photos of her delicious food, tested out a couple of recipes and light heartedly envied her cool London lifestyle.

However, after reading about Leluu the thing that stood out most, apart from her being of Vietnamese descent, was her mention of cooking along side her Mum.  This struck a real chord with me and I wondered how I could meet them.   I wanted to witness this relationship of Vietnamese Mother teaching daughter.  The relationship, I imagine I am missing.  Luckily, I did not have long to wait as Leluu and her mum hold Vietnamese cooking demonstrations.  

I took this chance to go along to one of these demonstrations, with my husband, and saw it as an opportunity to pick up a few cooking tips and stock up from the plentiful Vietnamese supermarkets in Hackney.   A large proportion of the Vietnamese community reside in Hackney, so it has the most fantastic choices of Vietnamese cafes, restaurants and supermarkets.
The cooking demonstration turned out to be just as I had hoped.  Leluu and her mum were warm and welcoming.  Ten of us sat snugly around their breakfast table and rolled cold Summer rolls, watched sauces being thrown together by Leluu's mum, sampled their most delicious stock for Pho Bo (Beef Noodle soup), we had a chat and a smile with Mum over frying Banh Xeo (crispy savoury pancake) and finished up with Banana Fritters made simply with condensed milk and rice flour.

Meeting Leluu and her mother gave me the final incentive to go ahead with my first charity supper, which was set five days after my visit with them.  Up until meeting Leluu, I had self doubts about my ability and authenticity,  without them realising they provided me with that extra bit of strength to 'go for it' and just through their kindness to me they gave me confidence.  

They were an inspiration to me just by allowing me a glimpse in to their very special relationship.

I also want to credit, the Australian chef Luke Nguyen.  When I practised my dishes, before the supper club.  I used to sit in to the night, watching back to back episodes of 'Luke Nguyen in Vietnam', with his books on my lap, 'Songs of Sapa' and 'Red Lantern' making lots of notes.  I felt like he was my mentor.  I loved the serene footage of Vietnam in the background, listening to Luke speaking Vietnamese with the locals and enjoyed the locals telling Luke how to season his Pho.  The Vietnamese all seem to be expert cooks and critics!  Anyway, very recently I made Bun Nem Ran, a dish of noodles and spring rolls, which appeared on Luke's Greater Hanoi episode.  I took a photo of my dish, feeling quite proud of it and sent it off to Luke via Twitter.  Being realistic I never expected a response, as I thought my tweet to have disappeared in to the cyber void, but just before midnight I had a reply!  It was simple, but really made me so happy.  Just imagine having a nod of approval from someone who inspires you and who seems so far out of reach, but really isn't.   It's fair to say I was a little uncool about my reaction to his tweet reply and instantly re-tweeted it to my friends, plus posted it on Facebook, but hey these things happen only once in a life time. 

Just to prove how 'uncool' I am, here is the photo of Luke's tweet to me

Saturday, 8th of September 2012 I held my first charity supper club.  It confusingly has two names The Green Papaya Club and Papaya Verte Club.  I may hold a vote.

Poster by Lucy

Preparation for the supper club was over two days.  I chopped, stirred, poached, rolled and brushed away my darling children (for which I am still suffering guilt).  My husband and his sister were 'employed' as hosts and waitress, to which they took their roles very earnestly.  It should be noted they are both successful in their own right and it was very touching to see them so supportive.   The supper was set for 8pm and I was to feed 10 diners plus one more, a last minute extra.  I fully expected to be full of anxiety, panic and stress.  In fact looking back at it, I did feel a twinge in the heart area, but didn't dwell on it for fear it would notice me noticing it!   But I felt surprisingly calm.  8:15pm all the expectant diners were seated and my show was on.  From that moment I felt like I had thrown myself out of an aeroplane,  I felt like shouting as I was falling '....AND THIS IS A GOOD IDEA BECAUSEEEEEE?!!!'.  Unbelievably, it went like clock work.  The starters went, plates returned empty.  The dipping sauces all looked too pretty in their dishes to be smeared about.  Deep frying 40 Imperial Rolls was frightening, but I was temporarily distracted by the kitchen paper catching on fire. There is something rather fun about shouting 'Fire!' whilst the guests are laughing next door, oblivious. Cooking six rounds of Banh Xeo (the crispy pancake which has to be very quickly and lightly pan fried), was a challenge, but I pulled it off.  Pho Ga (chicken, vermicelli noodles in a clear broth which can take hours to make) was my main dish.  The bowls looked amazing all lined up in a row, full of noodles, fresh herbs and chicken.   Looking at them I suddenly felt proud of myself.  I did this I thought,  I really, really did...and even though my birth Mother is not  here with me today, I knew she was there in spirit.  She must have been otherwise all this could not have happened so well.  I felt her gentle hand guiding and the spirits of my ancestors whispering, possibly the Grandmother tutting 'Not enough fish sauce!', but they were all there in my tiny kitchen.  Finally, in a nod to Leluu and her Mother, I served my guests Banana Fritters.  I sat down to chop the bananas and dip them in the sugary silky condensed milk.  My back had cried 'had enough' and my toes...well they actually hurt, I was fascinated by this, perhaps my imitation Ugg boots let me down.  As I fried the banana fritters, I tuned in to the laughter omitting from the dining room, it made me feel warm.  I loved their happiness, I know they were helped along by their wines, but their bellies were full and we were all feeling just little bit okay about life.

The next day was an unexpectantly warm day and I suspect the last one before the cool Autumn days really kicked in, but it allowed me to sit in the garden, amongst my screaming children and reflect.  I truly enjoyed the supper club experience.  It was a lot of hard work, but I enjoyed the creativity and the challenge.  I missed my children during the whole process and build up to the day, a renewed appreciation of working mothers was felt.  I would love to do another, this time I would really have to work on making a bit more profit for the charity, as it has to be said this first one ran at a loss.  Dragon's Den'_Den_(UK) would have made a meal of me, no pun intended!  So, time to calm down a little, return to attending to my children and dream up the next supper club.  Perhaps a pre Christmas one!

Beautifully laid table, by Lucy

Bowls of Pho Ga, lined up and waiting for the broth

Cook and dipping sauces.  Fresh Summer Rolls in foreground

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Life's little mysteries

As a child, it always rather impressed me that my Mum would disappear in to the kitchen and emerge later, hot and flustered presenting us with a roast chicken/beef/lamb, complete with obligatory roast vegetables.  Since my Mum never invited me in to the kitchen to observe, I was fascinated how this cooking magic ocurred.  I wondered at the complexities of a roast lunch and felt determind that I would learn this magic for myself.  It wasn't until I became a wife and mum that the mysteries of cooking a roast became apparent, and a well practised one.  However, I won't forget drawing from the oven my first roast and letting out a happy sigh, it felt good to have overcome one of life's little mysteries, underwhelming in the eyes of a bystander perhaps, but for me certainly one small step in to the world of cooking.

Here are some of my 'happy sighs'....

Pho Ga/Ha Noi style chicken noodle soup in the making

Ca Phe Kem Flan/Vietnamese intrepretation of Creme Caramel made with condensed milk and a dash of coffee

Bun Nem Ran/Ha Noi Style Spring rolls with vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs

Banh Xeo/Crispy Pancake with prawns, quick fried slices of pork served with basil, coriander and spring onions.  Nouc Cham dipping sauce on the side


Friday, 24 August 2012

Amazing Angels

I am moved by an article, my Mum sent me.  It is an article about the passing of one of the many courageous characters who made Vietnamese adoptees lives possible.

For most adoptees growing up, without their proper identity both cultural and family, have found life to be full of questions.  One of the big questions, is whether or not it was right for us to have been removed from Vietnam.  The answer seems rational enough.  The orphans fate, in the hands of the communists was uncertain and the western world were unprepared to stand by to wait and see.  From an emotional perspective, we miss all that could have been, our families and a cultural identity.  Some adoptees struggle with this question and others are more fatalistic, but whatever degree an adoptee copes, we can recognise that there were some amazing angels who had the strength to fight on our behalf.  My mother included.

Thank you Elain Joyce Moir and thank you Mum

Monday, 13 August 2012

Self Taught

One of the main frustrations, I find as an adoptee, is having to learn about my Vietnamese culture as an outsider. 

Teaching myself to cook Vietnamese food via recipe books without my Vietnamese grandmother scolding me, for under seasoning the Pho,  leaves me with a sense of loss.  I do not normally dwell on irrational romantic imaginings, as it's quite possible my dear Vietnamese grandmother could have been a tyrant!   However, there has been a certain amount of frustration and self doubt about my ability to cook Vietnamese food, and it has crossed my mind that I feel somewhat a 'fake'.  I ask myself, is it really Vietnamese food if these dishes have not been handed down through my ancestors and whispered to me over a clay pot?

So, I can only shake off regret, self doubt and nostalgic daydreams and return to being pragmatic.  I rely on my palate, which I know to be a good one when sampling the delights of Vietnamese food. I therefore come to the practical conclusion that even though my ancestors did not share their secret recipes, they have shared their genes with me, therefore my palate.

Pho Bo - Beef Noodle Soup