Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gifts That Keep On Giving

I have always had very thin and basically worthless finger nails.  Over the past year advancing age, combined with Raynaud's Syndrome, finally caused my nails to peel and split and even though I kept them trimmed as short as possible, they were cracking back into the nail bed.  It was becoming evident that drastic steps were necessary and I decided to get my first-ever manicure.  I found a small nail salon located near the school where I worked and stopped in to see what they would suggest.  That's when I met Tho and her husband, Le.  They, as are most local nail salon workers, are Vietnamese.  Training as a manicurist is one of the few ways Vietnamese immigrants can make a decent living in this area.  The job doesn't require the ability to read or even speak English with much fluency.  

Tho and Le opened their salon just about a year ago and are working hard (as in 12 hours a day, 7 days a week) to build up a clientele.  Tho and I hit it off immediately and we have formed an unlikely friendship.  I visit her about once a week just to chat and we ended up exchanging Christmas gifts.  I gave them some of my homemade boeterkoek and she gave me a box of these:

Somewhere in our many conversations I had shared that I loved tamarind candy, but that is not what this is!  This is whole tamarind and I hadn't a clue what to do with it.  Thanks to the internet I learned that I could make tamarind paste or chutney by processing the pods.  If you've had pad thai, then you've at least had a taste of tamarind paste as it's one of the ingredients in the sauce.  It's a uniquely sweet/sour combination that I love.  The candy is the seeds which are coated with the "meat" (inside the pods) and then rolled in crystallized sugar, you suck on the seeds until all the meat and sugar melt in your mouth...YUM!  I digress.

So, in order to process these pods I had to crack the hard shells

and then remove the "meat"-covered seeds and the fibers that surrounded them

then I had to soak the pods in water for most of a day to soften the meat so I could separate it from the seeds.  Once I had the meat separated I cooked it with a bit of the water I soaked the seeds in and added some spices and voila, I have tamarind chutney.

I've frozen the chutney into small ice cube sized portions so I can pull it out when I want it.  It's a fabulous combination of flavors.  What a treat to receive such an unusual and practical gift that I never would have bought on my own.  I am continually amazed at the variety of fruits, vegetables and spices that the Lord has given us.  It's a never-ending source of delight for me.  I always wonder about the first person to attempt to use some of these things--who would ever pick these off a tree and imagine that they would end up with this final product?  

I am looking forward to how my friendship with Tho and her family (she has a son who is a sophomore in high school and a daughter who is in 6th grade) will grow in this new year.  For those of us who take our native born freedoms for granted, it is humbling to see how hard people  work to make new lives for themselves.  Tho did not want her daughter to grow up under the oppressive paternalistic and communistic society that her country struggles under. She misses her family so much, but wants a better life for her children....don't we all!