Coming home from a trip abroad is like slipping into your most comfortable pair of shoes. It feels natural. It feels good.
Today, one day after arriving home from China, jetlag and all, I traveled to see my parents.
Mom seems about the same as when I saw her two weeks ago. She is sweet, sassy, sometimes angry, always confused. I am thrilled that she still knows me ostensibly as her daughter, though she asked several times where the children were, even as I sat next to her on the couch. She especially mentioned my brother Simon, whom she misses, and wondered why he has moved so far away from her.
When we went out for coffee, there were no free tables, so Mom and I shared one with a talkative couple of strangers. To my ears, Mom’s conversation with them sounded halting and disjointed, but they didn’t seem to notice. Mom was entranced by the fellow who told jokes and talked solicitously to her. With the woman, she spoke French and even a bissel Yiddish. They must have made an impression on her because she mentioned them many times during lunch. I realize how important it still is for Mom to socialize.
I described to Mom my trip to China. One of the participants in the AACI China Tour, Frances Israel, actually remembers Mom from Dalston County, a high school in London. She remembers her because Mom was one of a handful of girls who openly identified as Jewish. Sadly, I told Frances that I couldn’t ask Mom about her own memories of high school because they are mostly missing or confused.
Mom was with me in my heart and in my thoughts everywhere I went during my trip. We visited the Shanghai Jewish Refugees museum located in the former Ohel Moshe synagogue. On the wall was a quote by Elie Weisel from a speech before the UN in 2005 on bearing witness 60 years on: “The past is in the present but the future is still in our hands.”
What a curious statement. For the majority, it’s true. Our past is constantly with us in our present. It’s what makes us who we are. And the future, as yet unwritten, can be influenced by our actions.
For Mom, however, there is no past and no future. There is only the present. We must remember her past for her, and we must plan the future without her input. If we plan well, the future can be filled with laughter and light.
On one of our last nights in Beijing, we visited a food market that sold the most unusual items: deep fried tarantulas and scorpions, dog soup, whole frogs, snakes and mice, fried jumbo shrimp, beetles and cats. Not your every day fare. We did manage to eat lotus root, bamboo, flouncy mushrooms, and a few other wonderful vegetable dishes. I admit I can’t quite copy most of the ones we tried, but here’s a healthy spring roll recipe that reminds me of some of the delicacies we ate.
Vegetable Tofu Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce
The trick to this dish is to set up all the ingredients in an easy-to-reach location around the main counter or board where you’ll be wrapping the spring rolls. The rice wraps are funky-looking transparent circular things with a cross-hatch design that soften instantly in warm water and seal well. Thanks to the eponymous Cookie Rosenbaum for sharing this recipe with me.
12 to 14 rice wraps
1 cup warm water
2 cups boiling water
½ cup uncooked rice noodles
½ block tofu cut in thin strips
1 cucumber thinly sliced
1 red pepper thinly sliced
2 medium carrots thinly sliced
1 to 2 spring onions cut in thin strips
6 to 8 small lettuce leaves cut in half
½ cup roasted peanuts chopped
Salt to taste
2 garlic cloves crushed
2 Tbsp sesame oil
¼ cup natural peanut butter (may be chunky)
½ Tbsp ginger
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp date honey
1 to 3 tsp water to thin as needed
Slice the vegetables and tofu into thin strips slightly shorter than the diameter of the rice wraps.
Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
Place uncooked rice noodles in a ceramic or metal bowl, pour boiling water into bowl and cover for 5 minutes or until noodles soften. Drain.
Set roll-making station (a cutting board or plate) in the center of your counter surrounded by the cut veggies, tofu, half the chopped peanuts, noodles and salt, i.e., place everything in easy reach.
Pour water into a small bowl slightly larger than the rice wraps. Dip wraps one at a time into the warm water for 10 seconds until they become flexible. Have a towel handy to drain excess water.
Place the wrap flat on your cutting board.
Place a half lettuce leaf on the wrap. Then add two slices each of the filling ingredients and sprinkle with peanuts and salt.
To roll the wrap, fold the sides inward and roll tightly around the filling. Repeat until all the ingredients and/or wraps are used.
Place rolls on a large plate with a bowl of sauce in the middle. Serve immediately. (These rolls will keep in the fridge overnight covered by a damp towel.)