Choose Love … and a How-To for Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls


Romantic Heart form Love Seeds
Romantic Heart form Love Seeds (Photo credit:

Choose love.

These two simple words have been on my mind since they popped out at me from a friend’s Facebook post a few weeks ago. She was recapping her past year and she ended her reflection with “When in doubt, choose love.”

They could mean many things to many people, and I’ve been thinking about what it means for me to “choose love.”

2012 was a challenging year personally and love was often in short supply. Not that I wasn’t loved, but rather that I wasn’t a very loving person. I felt so drained I had no love to give.

I had to get used to the fact that my husband was 6,720 miles away and 12-1/2 hours ahead for an entire 12 months. And I worried (and still do) about his safety, every single day. Plus, I had to adjust to solo-parenting a toddler.

After a three-year hiatus, I worked very hard to develop a book proposal (one that I thought was very sellable and timely) that was quickly shot down. I have yet worked up the nerve to submit it elsewhere.

And I’m sure anyone who lives close to their parents can relate to the stress of having them live a stone’s throw away.

Did I mention I’m solo-parenting a toddler? I definitely have a newfound awe and admiration for single parents everywhere!

While I admit 2012 wasn’t all that bad—there was a trip to Vietnam to meet my husband, a paperback book launch–it was filled with plenty of angst and stress.

I realize now that many of these events and circumstances were beyond my control. Yet I was riddled with unnecessary anxiety and/or reacted negatively to them.

In hindsight, I can come up with any number of “what if?” scenarios.

What if I kept calm and didn’t raise my voice at Isaac when he wasn’t behaving the way I wanted him to? Then maybe I wouldn’t be wracked with guilt in the thereafter believing I was traumatizing my son and ruining him for life.

What if I listened patiently every time my dad complained about a new ache or pain, or expressed concern that his memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be (aging has nothing to do with it, of course!). Instead, these could have been happy dad-and-daughter moments spent over a cup of coffee, especially if the topic at hand could be diverted.

If I had chosen love in these circumstances, perhaps I wouldn’t have expended superfluous time and energy getting worked up, upset, frustrated, etc., etc., you know what I mean. Thankfully, it’s never too late.

Today is only the 11th day of the new year but I’ve already savored the power of choosing love.

The other day, the cashier at Target had a face so sullen it rivaled Posh Spice’s– a.k.a. Victoria Beckham’s–perpetual pout (am I dating myself with this analogy?). Instead of condemning her off-putting attitude silently in my mind, I complimented her on her gorgeous red top out loud. That coaxed a smile out of both her and me.

When my toddler asks for one more book, yet another sip of water, anything he can think of, to put off going to bed, I take a deep breath, tuck his blanket under his chin and hold him till he falls fast asleep. This phase won’t last forever (I hope, gulp …).

I’m off to a good start, don’t you think?

Starting with this new year 2013, whatever the season, whatever the mood, always choose love.


Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls (Gỏi Cuốn)

all rolled up

In line with our #LetsLunch theme of new beginnings and first times, I’m going to start a new column about trying dishes I didn’t think I could or would make at home. I’ve been told many times how easy it is to make these fresh rolls but I’ve always been intimidated by the rice paper wrappers. Most sources say to dip the dry rice paper rounds in water until soft but it seems impossible to get just right. While traveling in Vietnam, I learned two other methods of softening the rice paper: one is to wipe it with a wet, non-terry towel until pliable, and the second, use a spray bottle. The rest is easy. Well, the rolling does takes some practice but you’ll eventually get the hang of it. The following recipe/how-to is based on what I learned at a cooking class I took at the Morning Glory Cooking School in the beautiful town of Hoi An in central Vietnam.

Time: 45 minutes prep
Makes: 4 servings

8 sheets rice paper wrappers, plus more in case some break (8 to10-inches across is best)
Red leaf, romaine, or butter lettuce
3 cups fresh herbs: mint, cilantro, Thai (or regular) basil, red perilla, Vietnamese mint, rice paddy herb, bean sprouts (any combination of these is fine)
Carrot and daikon pickles
8 ounces small round rice noodles, cooked according to package directions (look for noodles labeled ‘bun,’ not the super thin vermicelli or bean thread noodles. If you have my cookbook, they are pictured as #1 on pg. 15)
8 small slices pork shoulder, cooked as desired (I like to use char siu, store-bought or home made)
12 large cooked shrimp, peeled and halved
12 (3-inch-length) pieces garlic chives
Dipping Sauce (see below)

Lay all the ingredients out on the table and let everyone make their own rolls.

Soften the rice paper using your method of choice:
1. Dip in a bowl of warm water for about 3-5 seconds (depending on its thickness).
2. Lay on a flat surface and wipe with a wet non-terry towel several times until pliable.
3. Fill a spray bottle with water and spray until pliable.
You want the rice paper to be just soft enough that you can fold it. You will lessen the risk of over-soaking your rice paper wrapper if you use the latter two methods but it is up to you.

Place the wrapper on a work service (a flat plate works fine) and lay a piece of lettuce on the edge closest to you. Grab a handful of herbs and place them on top of the lettuce. Place a handful of noodles on top of the greens. Add some pickles. Arrange 2 slices of pork above the noodles, followed by 3 slices of shrimp, pink-side down.

In case you were wondering, the surprise in the middle is a deep-fried rice paper roll (a tip I learned at the Morning Glory Cooking School). Adds a lovely crunch to it!

Fold the edge closest to you over the ingredients and start rolling, ensuring the roll is snug as you go. When you are about half-way, fold both sides in and  arrange three pieces of garlic chives on the right so that they jut out like palm leaves swaying in the wind. Continue rolling until you have a nice tight roll.

If you tear the rice paper, don’t fret, just start over again. And even if your roll isn’t perfect, so what, it’ll still taste good!

Serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce (Nước mắm chấm)

Makes: 4 servings

2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 Thai red chilies, or to taste, sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1 large lime)
2 tablespoons warm water

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.


This post is  part of #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck. This month, it’s new beginnings and first times.

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below (the list will be constantly updated). And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Annabelle’s Brown Butter Creamed Greens at Glass of Fancy

Emma’s Gluten-free Pretzels at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace’s Matcha Green Tea Yogurt at Hapa Mama

Jill’s Heavenly Angel Cake at Eating My Words

Lucy’s Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies at A Cook and Her Books

Lisa’s Da Bombe Alaska at Monday Morning Cooking  Club

Linda‘s Trinidadian Black-eyed Peas  at Spicebox Travels

Nancie’s Vietnamese-style Chicken with Lemongrass at NancieMcDermott

Rashda’s Parathas at Hot Curries and Cold Beer 

Sonja’s Beetroot and Fetta Varenyky at Foodnutzz



19 thoughts on “Choose Love … and a How-To for Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls

  1. I’m more than happy to discover this website. I
    want to to thank you for your time due to this
    wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every part of it and i also have you
    bookmarked to check out new information on your site.

  2. Oh, Pat! What a lovely, honest, inspiring post. Love is a wonderful and attainable goal (but remember to be patient and kind to yourself, too — you’re only human 🙂 As for traumatizing your son… as Nora Ephron said, the successful parent is one whose kids can pay for their own analyses 😉 Hang in there!

    1. Hi Linda, it’s been a challenge but the good news is, my hubby is coming back soon. And yes, the spring rolls are very tasty, regardless how they look!

  3. What a beautiful roll you turned out! I suspect mine would not come out quite as nice looking.

    Choosing love is pretty challenging on a day-to-day basis, but can be so worth it. I hope your efforts in 2013 go well!

  4. Choose love. That is the best recipe I’ve come across in a long time. I’m not the only person, mom or not, who read this and murmured, “yep, that’s me…”. “I know that one…” “been there/done that….” Or just nodded along, a lot. You touched my heart, and inspired me; and I love the info on softening up the rice papers, and right from Vietnam! I am so grateful for your husband’s service, and I think your son is lucky to have such a wonderful amazing excellent mom. Happy New Year, fellow traveller.

  5. Love the title of this post – harder to do than one might think, but so much better and more rewarding. Although it’s been years since I was a young mom, I still remember the struggles of adjusting to a being a new mom with the pressures of work and a young child. But, I know you will overcome and grow from the experience. It is amazing how a few words can cheer up someone else’s day. I started doing something different the last year or so, and that is to be thankful for the many blessings I have each day – it has helped me take the focus off of what isn’t going well (or the way I’d like) and realize how fortunate I really am. Best wishes in the New Year and good luck with your book proposal. I love your Asian Grandmothers Cookbook and am going to look through it for some Lunar New Year recipe ideas!

  6. Lovely post, Pat. Hang in there. I had a period where my husband was away for six months but my daughter was older and it was so much easier than with a toddler. I have made quite a few spring rolls. I love the fresh taste! I think the brand of spring roll wrapper is important. Each seem to react a little different in water. Soaking in warm water usually works for me, just not to long. You have to develop a rhythm of soaking, wrapping, soaking, wrapping.

  7. Pat, what a beautiful start you have made to 2013. I hope we can all be inspired by it…I feel like printing it out and sticking your words to ‘always choose love’ on my fridge! I am a big fan of Vietnamese rolls but do struggle with the soaking part so I do look forward to trying your version. Happy new beginnings!

  8. Hi Pat, I love your tips on alternative methods of moistening rice paper and your precious surprise of a deep fried rice paper center! I will try your recipe soon. Lastly, I hope your 2013 is less challenging than 2012– a love-based outlook will certainly help. Happy New Year!

  9. This is the little nudge that will finally get me to try making these delicious rolls on my own. Btw, judging from how many recipes I want to try in your first book, I hope things work out with your book proposal. Your 2013 is off to a lovely start…. here’s to more lovely moments! 🙂

  10. So pretty! As for choosing love, I think it’s the no regret path. I’ve never regretted that extra hug, the extra cup of coffee, the napping baby in my arms. Here’s to 2013 and a year of love and #LetsLunch (and put some postage on that book proposal – unless you want me to come back with tales of how many rejection letters Famous Author X received.) 🙂

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