When Thuy and Thanh show up at 3:00 with a portable gas burner, I know that Bach is right: we are making hot pot for dinner.
We felt like the luckiest castle in the world when we had just one cook; think how we feel now. They work so fast, though, that my head is constantly swivelling back and forth to catch everything.
Thanh takes over at the sink with her assistant, Katherine. They remove the spongy part of the Water Mimosa and take the leaves off of the morning glory...snap snap snap. And while I rip the heads off of the shrimp, Thuy de-inks and scores the squid (so it will curl up) and cuts up the white fish.
Then she begins the soup: she heats about four cups of water and squeezes the packages of Tom Yum Paste into it. On the other burner, she heats some cooking oil and sautes freshly ground hot red pepper. She bruises some stalks of lemongrass, cuts it up and throws it in the pot. In goes Agi Ngon (is that MSG? I am still unclear) and sugar. She tastes, I taste, she adds more sugar and the red pepper.
She pours some hot water over the tamarind seeds and stirs them around to release the fruit and flavor into the water and pours the juice into the pot.
Then she throws the oyster mushrooms in, followed by half of the squid and the fish. She inserts the gas into the burner on the table, moves the pot of soup from the stove and sets all of the full platters around it: the rest of the fish, the clams, the greens and the rice noodles. We grab Tarn from upstairs; he often chooses not to be involved in the cooking, but he is an extremely grateful
The feasts keep getting better and better; I keep saying it, I know. But just look at this soup - made from ingredients collected from within five blocks of our home.
We eat and eat and eat. The squid is so tender; fresh squid is my new food love. And morning glory is just that much better than spinach - I love it. The soup simmers on the burner and we keep adding the goodies when they get low in the pot. We eat what is in our soup bowls, then start over by adding more noodles to the bottom and pouring the boiling broth over them.
T and T are no longer shy about really eating with us, either. They eat as long as we do.
And another thing they are no longer shy about is asking me if it's time for "Your mother's tea" when they come over. I had my parents send me my favorite "Choice" licorice peppermint tea, and both of them love it. After dinner we take the tea and a bowl of fruit to the roof; there is a slight breeze and the sky is lit with that magic cloudy/sunny evening mix. After a while, both K and T have to go, but T, T and I stay on the roof for quite a while and engage in "girl talk." I learn some very interesting things on the roof tonight, but you know what, what was said on the roof must stay on the roof. I'm sure you understand.
Here's one thing I can share...they make this very clear: At any given time - for the rest of our lives - we can come to this little neighborhood in District One and find our sisters at their fabric stand, and we will be accepted as family.
We are most definitely the luckiest castle in the world.