I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad these days. Not just because Father’s Day is coming up. “Bo Gia” (Old Daddy in Vietnamese) taught me to drink at too young of an age, a relative said, warning my parents that at 8 years old, I was on the path to becoming an alcoholic. (Ha! Dad watered down most stuff he handed to me.) He let me pal around with him when I was a kid, and together we explored Southern California in our blue Mercury Comet, which he purchased soon after our family arrived in America in 1975. It was used and cost around $350.
Bo Gia got me thinking big time about baguettes in around the early 80s when we came across a Vietnamese-owned bakery in El Toro, California. It was in a shopping center next to National Lumber, a home building supplies store that we frequented. Passing by the bakery, we smelled the bread and felt compelled to inquire within. Soon enough, Bo Gia was purchasing bread and croissants and befriending the Vietnamese owners who turned out to be recent immigrants from New Caledonia (a French territory off the coast of Australia).
The baguettes resembled well-tanned muscular biceps. Each one offered a crisp crust that crackled and a crumb with chewy character. It was bread that instantly took me back to Saigon. Those were the days before super lightweight baguettes became popular in Viet communities. When I was working on the bread recipe for the banh mi book, I kept going back to those particular baguettes, trying to figure out how to come close to what the New Caledonians crafted. When I finally got what I wanted and the recipe testers had worked through the recipe, I baked some for my parents. As the rolls baked, my dad said, “It smells like the bread in Saigon.” He said the same when he tasted it. Call it fatherly pride but had it not been for cruising around with him when I was young, I wouldn’t have gotten the Viet bread bug.
We shared other crazy food experiences, like buying canned pate from the Akron (a precursor to Cost Plus), croissants, eclairs, and Napoleons and trying them in the car. If we deemed them good, we’d go back inside to buy some for the rest of the family. Bo Gia used to keep a wine opener in the car for a similar purpose.
In the early 1990s, my dad had a heart attack and since then, he’s been on a strict regimen. (As a young man, he was decorated lieutenant colonel and provincial governor so military terms stay with him.) Doctors pegged that he’d have another within 10 year but he proved them wrong. Bo Gia turns 84 in December and aging just sucks. He doesn’t quite put it that way but frequently tells my husband and me about the frustrations and challenges of having a body that’s winding down. Right now, Bo Gia is mulling over bypass surgery.
Whatever he decides, my mom, siblings and I are 100 percent behind him. My friend Dr. Mike Ly reminded me the other day that the fortunate thing for us living in America is that we have options and excellent health care. These are luxuries.
Whenever Bo Gia thinks of something interesting for VWK, he shoots me an email. His tea recipe came a while back and like a squirrel, I saved it until now, when my homegrown lemongrass is looking lush. Yesterday, I followed his recipe to make a cup for a late-night sip. It’s refreshing and produced from the sharp, aromatic blades that are often discarded from the firm stalk.
If you’re buying lemongrass stalks from the market, use them instead, smacking the short sections with a meat tenderizer or something else equally heavy. Sweeten it with your favorite sweetener – sugar, honey, simple syrup. I used palm sugar syrup from Andy Ricker’s pantry recipe in Pok Pok.
Here’s Bo Gia’s recipe for lemongrass tea. You could call it a tisane to fancy it up but to him, it's a tea. In Vietnamese, we often refer to ourselves as a pronoun or proper noun.
During the 1950's while I was at the Dalat military academy, we Vietnamese officers had evening dinners with the French officers at their mess hall. After dinner we always had a glass of lemon grass tea with a little sugar in it. Was it for digestion or for diuretic purposes? Who knows for sure. But during hot days in Southern California, lemon grass tea really helps Bo lower my internal heat. Bo feel that the tea cleans up the kidney with its diuretic functions and Bo have found out a simplest way to make it.
Cut the fresh leaves from the garden (as much you care to), wash them up, cut them into small pieces about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long and keep in the refrigerator in a plastic container.
Whenever you like to make a tea, just take about 25 to 30 pieces, put in a traveler’s mug or a tea pot, pour in boil water and steep for 15 minutes. You’ll have a very green lemon grass tea. Bo use the traveler mug as it keeps the tea warm pretty long and that's for one person.
Take it any time or after dinner with a little sugar if you like. It's very helpful for health.
That is Bo Gia's gift to you and me. A reverse Father's Day gift.
Fathers and father figures seed ideas in us early on and they never know what those seeds will produce.
Related post: My Dad's Advice on Pairing Vietnamese Food with Beer