Food ~ The Heart of My Family #BeWoW

Ronovan gave us the opportunity to talk about our families by asking, “What is family to you?”

It seems that whenever I sit down to write, I inevitably turn to subjects that have to do with food.  (Maybe I should have created a food blog?)  I realize that I associate family with food, because that is how we showed our children how much we loved them and cared about them.  We always served great meals with large amounts of healthy fare.  Our family was large, although our kids did not have the best of everything material, they ate wonderfully prepared meals.


When my husband and I got married 30 years ago, I brought my two daughters and infant son into our union.  My husband, Ron had sole custody of his two half-Thai daughters, and together we created a family with the five children.  He was in the Air Force and we were stationed in Florida.  I was young, twenty-seven to my husband’s thirty-seven, and that was my saving grace.  I had energy and love to propel me through those first years.


Our Family early 1990’s

My husband’s daughters were older than my children and soon we all bonded.  I honestly do not know that I could have coped all those years without their help in taking care of the younger kids.  Their mother was not in the picture for them much during those years.  She had her own demons to fight.  I was glad that I could be there for them.  It was almost a calling, and my emotions were always raw and deep when I saw how hard it was for them without their mother.

That seemed to be only part of the issue.  The girls looked Asian and felt an undeniable pull towards that part of their heritage.  As their step mother, I knew I had to step in and teach them some of the things that a Thai mother would have taught them.  In Asian families, food is everything.  They share a kinship through the preparation of different dishes that are many times special to their family.  The mother’s hand down these recipes to their daughters.

How was I, a girl from Wisconsin going to teach my Thai daughters how to cook traditional Thai meals?  I had such an overwhelming duty to mother these girls that I decided I would stop at nothing. I was going to figure out how to cook Thai food!

Now, this was before the internet, computers, and cell phones.  I was forced to go to the Base Library and hunt through book, after book, after book for recipes that the girls could remember their mother making them.  I would figure out the ingredients and then I would try to make spring rolls, Penang, and noodles the way they liked them.  My poor family ate some pretty nasty tasting concoctions, and all with minimal complaints too.  That was pure love.

When we moved into a larger house in Base Housing, I finally found some help.  My next door neighbor was a Thai woman!  The kids called her Grandma Pat.  She took pity on me, all the while secretly happy that an American woman would want to learn how to cook Thai food.  I think fondly of the times she would call me on the telephone saying in broken English, “Colleen, I cooking, come now.  We cook!”

Pat was able to teach me the things about cooking Thai food that the cook books could not.  Like how to chop a papaya with a knife, holding it in the palm of your hand, or how to roll spring rolls nice and fat without their contents spilling out into the hot oil while you fried them.  She shared with me how to season my soups and stir fries with just the right amount of fish sauce (Nam Pla) and hot Thai peppers.  She taught me about her life as a girl in Thailand, and she taught me about Buddha.  Pat was mothering me the same way I was mothering my step daughters.

Long ago I lost touch with Pat, which was not unusual for military life back then.  I always felt such gratitude to her for showing me how to relate to my step daughters and my own daughters.  Food is still an immense part of our family, and my grandchildren are proudly carrying on the same traditions.

Cooking in Nana’s Kitchen

Food and family. It does not get any better than this!

Thanks for stopping in to see me. I always enjoy our visits!

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51 thoughts on “Food ~ The Heart of My Family #BeWoW

          1. Yep, if they are not fine with a situation they are in charge of it. It is not easy for the parents… but I guess the only way in order to be in peace with the situation. I will see how it goes with my kids…. still a way to go.

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  1. This is lovely post, Colleen, and it speaks from the heart. It’s wonderful to see and read how you cared so much for your Step-Children and how you went out of your comfort zone to please them and look after them. I can relate to that so much from their side by what my Step-Father did for me.

    You make the perfect mother and wife and should hold your head up high for what you have done. I hope one day I’ll be sat at a table with you and enjoying the wonderful food you have prepared and cooked. However, don’t ask me to cook in return as I’m afraid I’d have to take you out for dinner 🙂

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      1. I’d love to see the photos when you take them Colleen, so I can take a look at what you can buy. I’m sure some of my favourites will be there, but I bet you can’t buy Laver Bread. In fact, Laver Bread is very hard to buy anywhere in the UK apart from in Wales.

        Lemon Meringue Pie is up there on my list, along with Banoffee Pie. Plus we should not forget good old Sherry Trifle.

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      2. Laver Bread is so good for you, Colleen. It contains a lot of iron and is good for the blood and the circulation. The banoffee pie is not so good for you, so we’d need to diet for a week after eating a whole portion.

        We usually eat Laver Bread with beacon and eggs for breakfast. It’s a real treat.

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        1. I looked it up and it sounds really good. I am going to try a new bread called Ezekiel bread: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Ezekiel-Bread-I/. I have been having issues with wheat. I gain weight from it (wheat) and this is a good substitute. I can find it in the stores. I love seaweed in my sushi so that should be extra good in bread. It sounds wonderful to me. I am so glad to see you on the blogs again. You were sorely missed. ❤

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  2. Absolutely beautiful post. I too have an amazing step parent, my father ❤ . The last picture of you with two girls–they must be your daughters all grown up? Goodness they look like you, especially the blonde. I really enjoyed reading this so much, made me smile….and I am crazy for thai food, one of the things I miss most about my move over. Oh what I would give for some rad na right now!

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    1. Thank you so much. Yes that is me with my daughter’s at the bottom. The dark haired one has the 3 grands coloring Easter Eggs. My older step daughter is above with the other two grands. I love Thai food and eat it regularly. Green Thai curry is my favorite with stir fry veggies. Come over and we can cook. 💖

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  3. “that is how we showed our children how much we loved them”. We heard this all the time growing up, so of course, I agree with the family/food connection. On the other hand, my husband’s family were much more openly affectionate, and food was secondary, almost just as sustenance. So very different in our attitudes. All of my siblings turned out to be foodies, I was always surprised that we didn’t take it a bit further to have weight issues…it would be so easy to go there. Lovely post, Colleen. Beautiful family. ☺ Van

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  4. Ah, Colleen, could you come to Kentucky and teach me to make spring rolls? I love them, but the folding is more than I have been able to master yet. If I could travel I would already be on my way down to see you and visit the Swamp Fairies as well, but I can only go as far as the kitchen and the grocery. The Thai food is sooo good, and so good for you. Kudos on teaching the girls to cook, and on learning their traditions as well.

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      1. How I wish. My daughter adopted 3 from Romania, so she learned their customs, and celebrates their holidays as well as American holidays with them. When she finally carried a baby to term she gave him a Romanian middle name so he would fit in with the older kids. They eat Romanian foods, and are proud of their heritage, although grown now. She wants to take them back to visit Romania some day, as well as to re-visit her friends there, and show them how well the kids have grown up. The twins, now 19, have the look of Romani, and are so good looking. The oldest is a sophomore in college, and called “Romania” by his friends most of the time. He loves it.

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  5. Colleen, this is such a beautiful story. How wonderful that your neighbor was Thai, and that she was willing to take you under her wing and teach you how to cook Thai.
    Yes, there are always people in our past that through moving, raising a family, and just day-to-day living, we suddenly realize we’ve lost contact with them. The fond memories remain. I am sure your friend has the same warm feelings toward you and your family.
    Thanks for sharing this.
    Have a fantastic day.

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  6. Beautiful post and lovely memories and connections for the whole family. Pam sounds wonderful, and it’s always great to have these memories of people, even when we’ve lost touch for whatever reason. I think you’ll have your house full of people soon! Maybe you should try a cookery video (I know you like to explore new things). 🙂

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  7. I love this peek into your life in the military and your family life, including how to cook Thai dishes. You are a loving and incredibly determined woman to mother your five children. From the photos it is clear you’ve become a wonderful family. ❤

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    1. Thanks so much Viva. We went through many rough patches with our kids. I have one step-daughter and my son that do not communicate with us. Sad, but true. Even your best laid plans blow up sometimes, no matter what you do. They are both grown adults and we have had to face that hard fact. In the end, we did the best we could with what we had. Our love is always there is they want it. ❤

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  8. Colleen,
    Through reading your blog, I could sense your kind and loving soul — and how much your family means to you. And in reading this post about learning and then teaching your children how to cook Thai food, only solidified what I already knew about you! That you’re such an amazing person who cares so much for those you love!
    As I read, I could almost taste the delicious Thai foods you learned how to cook! What a gift to have met Grandma Pat. Indeed, we learn hands-on much better than from cookbooks.
    Thai food is one of my absolute most favorite cuisines! Maybe I should give it a try!
    Cheers to you and your beautiful family!
    *Lia

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    1. Lia, this has got to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thai food is a lot of work to prepare, but it tastes so good. I eat all kinds of Asian foods. I grew up with all that German/Russian/Prussian food. I like Asian best! Come on over, we will cook! ❤ Namaste!

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      1. This is one of the nicest replies I’ve ever received!
        And oh, thank you for the invitation!
        I’d love to taste your delicious Thai treats!
        Namaste to you as well…Sending you joy together with all the lovely meanings of this special word!

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