Friday, September 26, 2008

The Pasta Sauce Quest and School Twilight Zone

Today at two o'clock I send an email out to Tarn and Katherine inviting them to a castle spaghetti dinner tonight. I'm cooking, and dinner will be at 7. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?

Well, not quite. Last week I buy Roma tomatoes, Thai basil and garlic at our Sunday market. I boil everything down with the intention of making pasta sauce, but at the time I have no idea that it will take a village and many miles to acquire the rest of the ingredients to make what you are viewing in the photo.

I look at two stores for tomato paste, nothing. I mention this to Steve (of the former dreadlocks) and he mentions to me that he can't find any basil but that "his" store sells tomato paste. The next morning I bring him a basil from the morning market and he has two cans of tomato paste for me.

Sugar is hard to come by, too, and I like to put just a little brown sugar in my sauce. I find white sugar (it's in the "foreign" section, along with peanut butter, jam and white bread). I mention this to Tarn, and he goes on a quest for brown sugar and comes back with it on Wednesday night. I know a store that sells wine--it's a few miles away. I make the walk on Thursday night. So Thursday night I cook the tomatoes, garlic and basil with some wine and tomato paste and a little bit of sugar. I need a little bit of salt. Haven't seen it anywhere.

Katherine knows a store that sells pasta, and it's right near the place in the Backpacker's District that sells french bread. After school today I have to commit; they are counting on a spaghetti dinner even though I can barely think about crossing five streets to get the pasta and bread. We are all eager to be cooking in the castle. I go and I find the noodles and bread and fresh lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Can't find the salt. "Do you speak English?" I ask about five store clerks. Nothing but blank stares. Finally, I say forget the salt, but I try once more at the check out stand. She has me write it down and I see her ask five people. Finally she returns with a salt and pepper mix. I'll take it.

So, for dinner, we have a fresh green salad with homemade balsamic olive oil dressing (those we found at a foreign store also by the BD), linguine and fresh Roma sauce, parmesan cheese and toasted French bread with carmelized onions and purple grapes (couldn't find the goat cheese). After more than a month, I finally cook something properly. It tastes great, but more importantly, it feels great.

School just has me shaking my head most a good way. The jackhammer guy has completed his job, the elevator is fixed (one day I had the jh on one side and a drill on the other), so it's relatively quiet now (the motorbikes are white noise). This week in English we are reading stories and poems that use hyperbole. I find a bunch of Shel Silverstein poems (I like your guy, too, Amy) and a story from Bill Cosby's "Childhood." At the last minute, I think of You Tubing Bill Cosby and I find his routine about going to the dentist, so I show it to introduce the story. The kids laugh so hard that two of them fall out of their chairs. When I say we are going to read the story, they cheer. Great! We get to read a story! Yay! Who wants to play Bill, and who wants to play his brother Russell? "Pick me! Pick me!"

Last week I showed the Twilight Zone...doesn't it sound like I am in one now? These kids are just too cute and eager to learn. They are so passionate. They are supposed to write paragraphs using hyperbole (my dog/friend/mom/dad is the coolest in the world) and all of them want to read theirs to the class. One kid named Sam, from China, stands and says "Mine is a poem, is that OK?" And he reads the most beautiful description of his friend. The whole class erupts into spontaneous applause; it's that good, and everyone recognizes it. In Ancient History, I make all the kids nametags according to which god/goddess they are and they must come to the front, spin three times, I hit them on the head three times with a fork, then they become the god. They love it. We are also reading Gilgamesh. I am learning so much about ancient history, for the first time. I certainly never studied it in school...or if I did I was unaware that I was studying it.

Some of the school system things have been changed, which is great. Things aren't totally smooth by any means, but now Nam picks me up at five every night, regardless (tonight I don't have to do any meeting or greeting with his family, thank goodness). This is still later than I would like, but it's getting better all the time.

All week I have been planning to get out of town this weekend. But maybe it won't happen until next weekend. I may just take a day to do party planning, no school just sounds so dreamy.

Oh, and something funny: Yesterday, K runs into our real estate agent, Linh, at the Baguette place on the corner (not my lady...she's only there in the mornings. There's also a commercial Baguette King on the corner, at twice the price and not near as good). Linh says to her "I hear you had a party last Saturday." K asks her how she heard about it. "The police told me." She tells K that she told the police that we are foreigners, we don't know better than to have loud parties at night. We are living in a city of 9 million people, and we feel like we are living in a large extended family. I bet all of the HCMC network knows about our party. Maybe next time we should just invite them all.

Good night from Saigon!


Brian Bowker said...

Wow - you went through a lot of work to put spaghetti and meatballs on the table! It' strange to me that you had trouble finding salt. I thought that was kind of a universal ingredient. I bet it was really satisfying once you got it all done!

Are you going to have someone teach you how to make tumeric rice cakes and custard/jello stuff?

amyt said...

No salt? No salt? No salt?

A unique packaging? Block? Tube? Bulk? There has got to be salt.

Can you see my wrinkled brow at the thought of no salt.

Bravo on the pasta meal; nothing warms the American heart like Italian food...

Oh, Columbus Day is coming up. How will you approach that?