I spent a lot of my mid- to late childhood looking for opportunities to absorb information and develop new and unusual skills. For attention-seeking purposes, mostly. (I was a classic case of only child interrupted by the birth of younger siblings–who I adore, for the record.)
There was the keyboarding phase in third grade, where I prided myself on reaching the end of our keyboarding book, thus becoming the second most-talented musician in the class. The first was a girl who’d been taking piano lessons for years. I comforted myself with the thought that she’d actually had to practice outside of school.
There was the Titanic phase, where I memorized startling statistics about the lifeboat-to-passenger ratio, the speed with which the boat sank, and the number of chances that the boat manufacturer, captain and crew had to rectify the situation before it was too late. I imagine I was quite a hoot at parties.
There was the petitioning phase, where I envisioned myself as a sort of vanguard for elementary school girls’ rights. My friend and I crafted a particularly angry letter regarding our disgust at being forced to watch Aladdin on a field trip bus. The movie, we felt, was sexist.
Then, there was the chopstick phase. My parents bought me one of those American Girl books that allegedly taught useful skills, like blowing double bubbles and chopstick maneuvering. But, oh, did I think that learning to properly handle chopsticks was an admirable skill.
Every time we went to any Asian restaurant, I’d formally request the grown-up chopsticks and sit there eating in silent pride, just waiting for someone to comment on my cultured demeanor. I’d look eagerly to the door every few minutes, hoping a local television reporter would just happen upon this charming little scene, a young white girl using chopsticks:
Reporter: What…? Is that a young white girl using chopsticks? Why, she can’t be more than eight! She must be some kind of prodigy!
Cameraman: I’ve never seen anything like this. We’d better get this kid in front of a camera stat!
It never happened. If it had, you probably would’ve seen my face on cereal boxes throughout the late 90s. I was ambitious.
Still, when I eat at any restaurant that requires the use of chopsticks, I find myself wondering if that reporter will ever come striding in…
Fortunately, unless you’re feeling like I was circa 1998, this recipe does not require chopsticks. I first made Vietnamese spring rolls in my food studies course last year, although I’ve been enjoying them at restaurants for years. They’re simple, fresh, and light, which means you can definitely have dessert. They also remind me of spring. (It’s made an early appearance in NC this year!)
The rice wrappers, vermicelli and basil can be found at any Asian market. These can also be filled with pork, or remove the shrimp and make them vegetarian/vegan-friendly. I like them with peanut sauce, but you can also serve them with fish sauce, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Oh, and I always mix up the leftovers with additional vermicelli to make a cold noodle salad. You could just skip to that step.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Shrimp:
8 round rice wrappers
2 cups vermicelli (rice noodles), cooked
16 shrimp, tails removed and cut lengthwise
a few leaves/sprigs of Thai basil, mint and cilantro
1 carrot, sliced into thin strips
1 cucumber, sliced into thin strips
1) Take a baking sheet with a lip and fill it with 1/4 inch of water, then heat on low heat over the stovetop. (Really low heat! Your fingers are going to touch this water.) Take a rice wrapper and feel for the rough side. Place the wrapper rough-side-up in the water and left soften for about 10 seconds. Remove to a plate.
2) Arrange four slices of shrimp lengthwise along the center of the wrapper. Top with a few pieces of basil, mint and cilantro, followed by strips of carrot and cucumber.
3) Grab a small fistful of vermicelli and place over the carrot and cucumber. Carefully wrap the rice wrapper by folding the top and bottom of the wrapper over the layers of shrimp, veggies and vermicelli. Then roll the wrapper upburrito-style.
4) Repeat the process for the remaining spring rolls.
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon peanut butter
1) Stir to combine.
What weird/funny skills did you have as a child?