Chicken Back and Celery Rice

With the recent 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, I’ve been thinking a lot about immigration: the stories of how people get around. How we face moving as a choice or as a last resort and how communities can or cannot embrace newcomers.

I was a very young child when Saigon fell to north Vietnamese forces on April 30, 1975. I finally became more aware of Vietnamese refugee movement later in my childhood. At the time, my family belonged to the congregation of a Chinese Catholic church. The church, like many others of the time, began to sponsor Vietnamese families fleeing from Vietnam. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I can only recall two things that made any impact on my life: new choir members and crunchy, piping hot Vietnamese spring rolls sold at the annual church bazaar. If this was what welcoming newcomers was about, I was all for it!

I’ve been reading posts by Andrea Nguyen over at Viet World Kitchen and her family’s experiences as refugees from Vietnam early in the fall of Saigon. I was moved by her and many others’ families’ courage to leave everything behind and start anew without knowing what to expect. And I was also moved by the people who received them with open arms.

Although the experiences were daunting and emotional beyond what I could ever imagine, Andrea writes from a place of gratitude and “looking back to move forward.” She marvels at how she and many with similar experiences have made it in the world. And she’s grateful. I’m grateful she and so many others of Vietnamese heritage were given the opportunity to make a new life and share their talents with the rest of us.

Now I reflect on our current tight world immigration policies and wonder what kinds of talented people and their stories we’re shutting out.17386634181_fa694b9c6f_z

Here is Andrea’s recipe for chicken back and celery rice. Something about this recipe really struck a chord with me. Not only did it sound absolutely delicious, it reminded me of my Grandma who also lived through a lot of uncertainty raising two kids as a young widow.

Soup Makes Friends

“Ginger tea makes friends.” ~James Barber

James Barber, the Urban Peasant, got it right. Sharing a hot pot of ginger tea draws people in and opens conversations. A lovely way to make new acquaintances.

For me it was soup.

Last year our son’s elementary school was soliciting silent auction items for a fundraiser. When schools are on the crackdown for cash, they’re pretty happy about any kind of donation: food, gift certificates for stores, services, restaurants. I don’t like canvassing for donations so I couldn’t see myself doing that. I had squeezed out a few knitted items to donate. I desperately wanted to donate something unique, creative and meaningful. Then I came up with an idea for a personal service: The Soup of the Month Club.

For one year, I would deliver soup once a month to the Soup of the Month Club household. It would be made entirely from scratch and catered to the food preferences of the recipients using seasonal, local ingredients whenever possible. In our fast-paced, busy lives, it’s hard to find time to slow down, cook and share a meal. I wanted to create a time, even though it would be only once a month, where parents wouldn’t have to worry about what to make for dinner and the family could sit down, share a nourishing meal and build community around the table.

So I submitted my auction item, not knowing if anyone would be interested since it’s not the run-of-the-mill donation. I was pleased that there were bidders! The winning bid was made by a family of four who lives just a few blocks away.

I was ecstatic that I was able to help the school raise some funds and that I could provide a family in our own neighbourhood with a nutritious meal once a month. Little did I know that our family would be forging a strong relationship with this family.

Over the year we’ve come to know and love the family I supplied soup to. I’ve discovered that we’re on the same wavelength about a lot of parenting, community and food issues. At the kitchen table, we’ve shared many a deep conversation about community building, politics and of course, food. And we’ve shared many, many laughs.

Amazing what kinds of friends you can make with a few pots of soup.

(The weather this June, as well as last June, has been dismal. One shouldn’t be making wintery soup at this time of year. But you just can’t help it.)

June Soup of the Month: Lentil Soup
2 tsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium potatoes, diced
4 medium carrots, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
1 1/2 cups mixed lentils, rinsed
6 cups broth
2 cups water
2/3 cup puréed tomato
6 stems thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt, pepper
A handful of parsley, chopped

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat, add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant.
Add potatoes, carrots and celery and sauté for a few minutes.
Add lentils, broth, water, tomato purée, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until lentils are soft and veggies are tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. Add a bit of water or broth if the soup thickens too much.
Fish out the thyme and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with a good sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Makes about 8 servings