Recipe Day – Spring Rolls by child grower Annita Woz

cael toe up on beach feetThe silence is all around her.  Her children’s voices  are unable to reach all the way home from the school yard. 

The usual chattering of learning,  the incessant interruptions are defined differently from one moment to the next only by a mother’s mood and her patience level.  No small ones tug at her wisdom today.

Whisking away, she can hear the sound of metal on metal as it churns up the orange and lime juice, creating a simple dipping sauce. 

The aromas fill the room where the silence has cleared so much open space.  Fresh mint and cilantro are on the cutting board and the hot water in the tea kettle has errupted its steam to break the stillness of the day.  The shrill whistle is retrieved from the air and shut up tight as it is lifted from the burner. Then, the sound of hot water, spilling and expanding on a cold china plate laps at her ears. 

From the flat round package, the delicate spring roll wraps are carefully removed and submerged and softened in the hot liquid and filled with the fresh and crisp ingredients, the mint and scallion wait until after all the rest,  the silent creation through tender rolling begins.

Pulled back by the smell of the mint gathered directly from the patio container, she is reminiscing as she does each time she makes these.  Back she goes to a cooking class taken with her youngest sister years ago when neither had ever touched fresh mint leaves.

Standing together in a class on Laotian cooking, they are reading the now-common ingredients like cilantro, bean sprouts,  chicken,  rice noodles, shaking their heads.  One imagines biting into chicken covered with toothpaste, the other mint-ice cream on bean sprouts.

Yet that night, cilantro and mint become new favorites for the two sisters. Standing silently, hip to hip, the smiling young women learn to fold and roll and tuck the fresh spring rolls and each marvels at the taste of real mint and peanut sauce and how each bite is exactly the taste of walking barefoot through the dew covered yard of their childhood home.

Years later,  the younger will teach her sister recipes without a class.

With hennaed hands, the sisters will taste  new foods at the wedding where the younger marries a man born in Pakistan and with the marriage  comes  new food,  new music, new flavors rooted in family.   Both dance and play dandia;  sticks and twirling sari’s and bare feet and rich traditions that neither have touched before,  take them both from their quiet families and into the frenzy and laughter of celebration.

From her new mother in law’s meals, the baby sister learns and memorizes and shares with her sister all the warmth of garam masala, the simplicity of naan, the coolness of yogurt sauces and the spicy grilled kabobs of skewered tandoori soaked chicken.

Now, separated by several states, they stand alone in their kitchens, each finding a personal triumph with each successful match of flavor and meal, both concentrating and lost in each new recipe.  The silence is delicious.

Right now, it is nearly the end of Ramadan in the little sister’s kitchen.  Participation in the focus and the cleansing through fasting,  leaves the room bereft of the daily meal preparation and the clanking of metal, the warmth of the stove, the clutter of mind and home. During Ramadan, the little sister finds simplicity soothing, reading more relaxing than the television and the hustle of going out to dinner is replaced with holding hands and going for walks and mindful consumption.  

In the midwest, she sees in her head the older sister, standing barefoot on the tile with her children gone to the start of the school year.  Without interruptions it is the sounds in her own mind that are now blaring and distracting.  The sister holding the handful of fresh picked mint pauses, inhales the green to the point of tasting it by breathing, and across the country she connects the mint memories and the spring rolls cooking class with the sister who hasn’t cooked since before dawn.  She wonders how long the loudness inside her head has been screaming to be heard.

The setting sun brings them both back to the present.  The return of the school children and the return of the family meal and the end of a day’s fast,  brings the inspiration that comes from living, from getting out there, from the teaching and the touching of breaking bread and sharing stories.

Without regret, both give up the silence to accept the lessons.

The quiet inside their heads rarely misses the escape from the meetings, the events, the niceties that are intrusions on their calm interiors, their deliberately erected and protected peaceful walls. 

Yet, at sunset, their hearts love the racket, the cacophony that is the way-finding of their children.

Each day they learn more from their children than they teach.  The tiny experts take and use and enjoy each minute of the day, living in the moment by opposing silence and all its peace, teaching their grown ups the bittersweet gifts of growing and making all the beautiful noise.  

Laotian Spring Rolls

recipe as taught by Kathy Khamphony of Madison who tells us that spring rolls are called neung leab in her native Laos.  They are usually served as soon as assembled.  But can be stored in an airtight container in a refrigerator.

8 -10 Rice Papers (called Spring roll Skins at Millers)

leaf lettuce

bean sprouts

slivered cucumber

cooked rice noodles or vermiccelli

whole cilantro, mint and basil leaves

minced cooked pork, chicken or shrimp or fried egg strips (great way to use leftovers)

Spicy dipping Sauce (or alternate fresh sauce) and ground peanuts.

For each spring roll, dip 1 sheet of rice paper in shallow plate filled with very hot water (perhaps from your tea kettle.)  The “paper” will quickly become pliable.  Remove carefully to keep the edges from sticking together, and place it on another large plate that is slightly wet or directly on your cutting board/counter.  Soak another sheet and overlap in on the first for strength.  Layer 2 four-inch pieces of lettuce, 10 bean sprouts, 10 cucumber slivers, some noodles, 4 leaves of each herb, and 1 tbsp of meat on bottom border. Roll from the bottom edge over filling, fold edges in, and roll up tightly. It takes a little practice but it feels good to have your hands on the food. 


1/2 c sugar

1 tblspoon lime juice

1 tblsepoon bottled fish sauce

1 clove rgarlic, mashed to a paste

2 or mor thai hot peppers if you wish, mashed

Boil sugar with 1 cup of water 2 minutes to make a simple syrup. Cool, stir in remaining ingredients. Makes one cup. Serve with crushed peanuts for dip

Alternate no-cook sauce:

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

4-6 tbsp fresh orange juice

1 tsp honey

1 tsp soy sauce

Whisk together well. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Enjoy- perhaps next time a Pakistani recipe will have to be shared…we’ll see where the silence leads.  

### For ChildGrower blog by A. Woz Sept 11, 2009.

6 Responses

  1. Good writing, good recipe. Thanks for both!

  2. good to hear from you! happy weekend!

  3. Beautiful writing, thankyou! Pam

  4. Pam! Glad you enjoyed the post.
    I know some people in White Bear Lake, what a small world! Your salad dressings look delicious. It is a wonderful to see real ingredients and not all the kooky crazy additives and preservatives and unpronounceables Good luck with the business.

  5. Great and I’m happy to have the recipe.

  6. What a wonderful story.
    I can’t wait to try the spring rolls. Sounds yummy!!

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