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!