Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Living with the Dean

After graduating from Kentucky College of Business, I went to Berea College. If you drive south from Lexington through the rolling hills and pastureland of Kentucky, you will come to Berea, a small town that is home to Berea College which was voted the #1 college in America by Newsweek magazine in the late '80s. Wikipedia has more to say about Berea College:

Berea College is distinctive among post-secondary institutions for providing low-cost education to students from low-income families and for having been the first college in the Southern United States to be coeducational and racially integrated. Berea College charges no tuition; every admitted student is provided the equivalent of a four-year, full-tuition scholarship. Berea offers undergraduate academic programs in 28 different fields. Berea College has a full-participation work-study program where students are required to work at least 10 hours per week in campus and service jobs in over 130 departments. Berea's primary service region is Southern Appalachia, but students come from all states in the United States and more than 60 other countries. Approximately one in three students represents an ethnic minority.

Now that I am older I better appreciate what a unique and wonderful place Berea was. It was founded by an abolitionist in 1855 and was "notorious" for admitting black and female students even before the Civil War. This proud tradition was interrupted by Jim Crow laws, but the college established the Lincoln Institute to educate black students when in 1904 the state denied them permission to educate black and white students in the same classrooms. Black students were not allowed to attend Berea College again until the laws were changed in 1950.

My work-study "assignment" was to serve as a financial records clerk for the college. During the school year I lived in an all-girl dormitory. My roommate was named Tutu. You may have heard of her father, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. I got to meet him once when he visited our campus and it was one of the greatest honors of my life.

In the summers when the other students went home and the dorms were closed I lived in the home of the Dean of Labor and Student Life. While this was not all that long ago, as recently as the '80s many Americans knew little about foreign food other than "French" fries, pizza and bratwurst. I introduced the Dean's family to fried rice. They introduced me to grits, telling me that Jimmy Carter ate them every day and so should I. They never got me to love grits but despite this we got along well. Because I lived with the Dean I got to visit the College President's home often and he too became a fan of my fried rice.

I graduated from Berea with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree. In a later post I will tell you more about what I did with my BSBA.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Aunt Lam's sweet sticky rice, my Mom's mangoes

Supreme Sweet Sticky Rice with Mangoes

Great-great-grandmother Mai was not the only one of my relatives to be famous in the Chanthaburi region for her food. Aunt Lam's sweet sticky rice was also legendary.

My mother's family were Suktukwans. In Thai, Suktukwan means "happiness every day" and the family name was a blessing bestowed upon an ancestor for his years of service as a confidant to Rama V, known to the Thai as พระปิยมหาราช, The Great Beloved King. You may know Rama V better as Prince Chulalongkorn, the oldest of King Mongkut's children to be tutored by Anna Leonowens for whom I am named.

But I am trying to tell you about my mom and her best friend, Aunt Lam. My mom's name was Yiem and she and Lam were famous even before they became great cooks because they were the first two women to ever get their hair permed in Chanthaburi.

Chanthaburi is a peaceful province located far from the warlike Burmese near Thailand's border with our sister nation, Cambodia. Aunt Lam was known throughout our region for her desserts. Everyone came to Chanthaburi to shop, party, relax and to eat well, and a visit to Aunt Lam's dessert shop was part of the experience.

All day while I was in school Aunt Lam would make desserts. Then at 5 p.m. she would open the doors to her shop and by 8 p.m. all her desserts would be sold. When Little Anna was asked to help at the shop she would have to work her way through the crowds to get in to help her Aunt Lam.

Of all of Aunt Lam's desserts the most popular was her famous sticky rice served with my mom's mangoes. People sometimes think I am joking but when my mom would drive up with her mangoes just before the shop opened the waiting customers would cheer because that meant there would be sticky rice with mangoes.

Although my mother has passed away Aunt Lam is still alive. She's almost 90 and in great health. But she did not forget her niece Anna. I had begged her for her sticky rice recipe ever since I was a little girl, but Aunt Lam always said no, this recipe is for my daughters. But time passed and Aunt Lam had to close her shop because all six of her daughters went to college and became bankers and government officials. So in 2002, just before we opened True Thai Restaurant, Aunt Lam gave me her sticky rice recipe to go with my mom's recipe for mangoes and now they are back together again here in Minneapolis.

Sunday, June 14, 2009