The other night I made summer rolls for dinner. I don’t go to that much trouble to make them, because they’d take even longer than they already do, and from the minute I cut and squeeze the first lime, as soon as I take the cilantro out of the fridge, I’m impatient to eat them. Maybe that’s the key—I should make the first one, eat it, and then go back to making the rest after I’ve taken the edge off that hunger. Already I’ve stopped julienne-cutting the carrots and gone to shredding them instead. I’m not as painstaking as I used to be. I remember the moment when I changed my tune about the carrots, when I mentally weighed the crunch of matchsticks in the roll versus getting them done ten minutes faster.

It was a hungry day. And I never went back to the julienne.

I know that in the coming months I’ll talk a blue streak about my mother, my grandmother, and myself in the kitchen—what I kept and what I discarded, what I do that they never did. I miss being able to tell my mother what I made for dinner, and I miss hearing her tell me what she’s put on polenta lately, a chunky stew or scrambled eggs with scallions. 

It took a long time to appreciate that they’d learned where to cut corners and where to take pains (cooking onions, on the barest heat, for hours until they practically melted). It took even longer to give myself permission to make those decisions for myself. When the rice paper tears, no matter how careful I’ve been, I fling it into the sink to get it out of my way and start again, breathing deeply near the lime-scented cilantro. I am not the neatest summer roll wrapper in the world, but once you eat them, it doesn’t really matter that it took forty minutes to wrap them all and that the carrots taste sweet but don’t crunch. It doesn’t matter that I had only half the soy sauce I needed and so the cashew dip is missing a little something. It matters that the rolls hold together during the dipping process, and that you moan a little while you’re eating them, and that’s about all.

One last spoken word clip—this one from Chris Tse.




Someday, when I find one of good quality, I’ll post one of the last speaker, who was also amazing.