Category Archives: First Act

Back to Buttermilk Country Bread!

January 26, 2006



The back door swings open and Mr. R. stumbles through dragging enough luggage for an entire family. Hank follows with an equal count of bags. They deposit their loads just inside the door and stretch their aching arms.

MR. R.

I just couldn’t take another day in St. Barth’s. I’m exhausted.


I’m starving.

Flora enters from the dining room, rubbing her eyes awake.


You made it home safe. I wait for you.


Where’s Caryn?


She left. It’s very late.

Flora straps a couple bags over her shoulder.

MR. R.

(inhaling deeply)

Is that bread I smell?


Yes, tomorrow’s breakfast.

She drags a bag behind her out the door into the house. Hank and Mr. R. spot the warm loaf cooling on the stove at the same time.


Is it tomorrow yet?


The kitchen glows blue with the early morning light. Caryn comes in, wet hair pinned into a bun at her neck. She drops the newspaper on the counter next to a wooden cutting board scattered with crumbs. Her eyes narrow on the knife perched next to the tray of butter also speckled with crumbs.


Welcome home, sir.

She tosses the cutting board and knife into the sink and opens the fridge with a knowing smirk. Hidden in the back is a loaf pan filled with soft white dough just barely rising in anticipation of an early breakfast. She spins the oven dial to 350.

Buttermilk Country Bread

The honey in this bread makes it surprisingly reminiscent of a wheat bread. Although I almost always bake the loaf in the oven, I confess that I prefer to make the dough in my bread machine, where I can just throw in all the ingredients and hit a button. The instructions below are for those who don’t have a bread machine. Put the shaped loaf in the fridge overnight and finish the rising in the morning while the oven heats. Nothing like fresh bread for breakfast!

2-1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

2 TB. butter, softened

2 TB. honey

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 c. buttermilk, warm

1 TB. melted butter

1. In heavy-duty mixer, combine flour, yeast, butter, honey, salt and baking soda until mixed. With mixer running, pour in warm buttermilk. When dough begins to pull away from the sides, switch to dough hook. Knead on low speak until smooth, about 5 minutes. Let dough rest for 10 minutes and then knead for 1 minute longer.

2. Transfer the dough to a well-oiled bowl and turn once to coat. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

3. Lightly grease 8.5-by-4.5 loaf pan. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Roll or pat into a rectangle about 1/2 inch in thickness. Beginning at narrow end, roll up the rectangle to form a loaf. Place the loaf, seam side down in the prepared pan. Cover and let rise until near top of pan, about 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush top of loaf with melted butter. Bake until golden brown or the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 minutes.

5. Turn loaf onto rack and let cool completely before slicing.

Yield: 1 loaf

Goodness Gracious: Gyoza!

September 30, 2005



Caryn and Winnie sit on pillows on the floor around the coffee table. Armed with a fancy set of chopsticks, each girl is devouring her own plate of tender dumplings stuffed as full as they can get.


I never understand why people take the time to make perfect pleats on these things. Who looks at the pleats?


No time to examine them on the way to my mouth.

Caryn dips the last dumpling in the dark sauce and finishes it off. Winnie sets down her chopsticks.


Still no sign of him?


No. I’m getting bored. Maybe it’s time to look for another job.

Winnie laughs.


There’s no pleasing you, is there? Either you’re overworked and wanting to quit, or you’re bored…and wanting to quit. I can’t keep up.

Caryn starts to clear the table.


All I know is that celebrities are weird. Who can keep up with them?

She plops her hands on her hips.


Maybe I’ll go to law school and become a lawyer like you. That seems interesting.

Winnie snickers at the thought.


Enough shop talk.

She gets up and follows Caryn into the kitchen.


Got any mochi?

Gyoza (Pot Stickers)

This is a fairly traditional recipe for gyoza. You can substitute half the pork with an equal amount of minced, raw shrimp. Or chicken. Or use all vegetables. The mix is easy. The folding and pleating is the labor-intensive part.

5 oz. Napa cabbage, finely shredded

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 lb. ground pork

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced

2 green onions, green and white parts, chopped

2 tsp. cornstarch

1 TB. soy sauce

2 tsp. rice wine

1 TB. sesame oil

40 round gyoza skins

4 TB. vegetable oil, divided

1 cup chicken stock, divided

Dipping sauce:

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

splash of sesame oil

1. Salt cabbage in a collander over a large bowl. Toss to combine. Set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Combine pork through sesame oil with hands in a large bowl. Squeeze excess water from cabbage. Add cabbage to pork mixture and stir until well-combined.

3. Place a rounded teaspoon of pork mixture in the center of the gyoza skin. Wet the edges of the skin with water on your fingertip. Fold in half to form a semi-circle. Make pleats along the edges, squeezing tight to seal and tapping the bottom on the work surface to flatten. Set aside and repeat with remaining skins.

4. Heat 1 TB. of oil in wok or large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Place about ten gyozas in wok and pan fry until bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes.

5. Pour 1/4 cup stock into wok and cover with lid to steam gyozas until cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove from wok and set aside.

6. Heat another TB. of oil in wok. Repeat process with another ten dumplings until all are cooked. Serve hot with dipping sauce.

Start the Day Off Right: Blueberry Muffins!

July 25, 2005



Caryn sits on the floor outside the door, talking on her cell phone.


I think we only have a few more days here and then we’re off again.


Matt flips through a car magazine as Punky bathes himself on the couch next to him.


You know, I’ve switched over to reading Chocolate and Zucchini. She updates more often.



Ha, ha. We have a day off today, so I’m working on another entry.

Loud laughs are heard from the door behind her.


I gotta go. I’m sure they’ll be crying for their breakfast any minute now.

She snaps the phone closed and stands up.


Mr. R., Lauren and Miss A. are gathered in the living room of a suite that could pass for a small house. Hard to believe his room and Caryn’s are even in the same hotel.

Caryn enters and heads straight for the kitchen where her streusel-topped blueberry muffins are cooling. She carefully lifts each one out of the pan and lays them in a linen-lined basket.


It’s so nice to have a day off. These six-day weeks are too long.


I’d rather shoot the whole movie straight through and head back to LA as soon as possible.

Caryn places the basket of muffins on the table and pours coffee.

MR. R.

Come on, Lauren. Everyone needs time off. What should we do today?

Miss A. takes a muffin and tears it open. Hot blueberries leave deep blue stains on her fingers.


Maybe Caryn can pack us a lunch and we’ll sight-see.

No one reacts to the suggestion, so she tries again.


Or we could plan a little dinner party here!

Lauren casually looks up at Caryn from her caffeine fix.


We could do that. Some of the people on the movie. Maybe twelve?

Mr. R. opens the paper as he picks streusel off the top of his muffin.

MR. R.

Caryn, you can put that together for this evening, right?


Sure. Whatever you want.

MR. R.

Okay then. We’ll relax around here today and have a few people over tonight for an easy dinner.

Everyone seems content. Mr. R. immerses himself in the morning news, Miss A. takes another muffin and Lauren enjoys her second cup of coffee while she skims some paperwork.

Caryn heads back to the kitchen, muttering under her breath.


Sure. Everyone needs time off…

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

These muffins are incredibly moist and tender. Make sure that the streusel topping is light and crumbly before sprinkling on tops, or it will sink into the batter. When working in a warm kitchen, keep the topping cool by temporarily storing it in the fridge.

2-1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 TB. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

5 TB. butter, melted and cooled

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups blueberries

Streusel Topping:

3 TB. flour

2 TB. brown sugar

1 TB. sugar

2 TB. cold butter, cut into pieces

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease 12 muffin cups.

2. To make streusel: place flour, brown sugar, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a small food processor. Pulse until coarse crumbs. Keep cool until batter is ready.

3. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. Whisk together eggs, butter, vanilla and buttermilk. Add flour mixture to buttermilk mixture, stirring just until moistened. Batter will be lumpy. Gently fold in blueberries.

5. Fill muffin cups with batter until level with edge. Sprinkle streusel topping over batter.

6. Bake until golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Muffins will be very tender when warm. Carefully loosen edges with a spatula when slightly cool. It’s okay to cool muffins in pan until they are stable enough to handle.

Yield: 12 muffins with over-sized tops.

No Time to Cook: Hummus!

July 5, 2005



A truly gorgeous evening in the mountains. Caryn sits on the steps, thumbing through a local paper. Amelia strolls up from a trailer down the row.


I see you made it to Utah.


Why is a Civil War movie shooting here anyway?


They needed to simulate the Smokies. When Hollywood thinks of mountains, they think of Sundance. It’s the closest to nature they get.

Caryn laughs as the door opens and Mr. R. appears with a napkin tucked in his shirt collar.

MR. R.

Are we back from dinner?

Amelia gives him her most flirtatious smile.


Five more minutes.

Mr. R. nods and goes back inside. Amelia immediately returns to her normal professional self.


After we wrap, some of the other assistants are coming to my room to hang out. Can you make it this time?

Caryn inadvertently checks the door behind her before responding.


Um, I guess so. I mean, sure. Can I bring anything?


Maybe just some dip or something.


I make a pretty good hummus.


Oh please, no. Just pick up something at the store. Who has time to cook?

She laughs at the thought and starts down the row again.


See you later then.

Caryn waves goodbye before going in to assess the damage from dinner.


Caryn tiptoes down the hall carrying a large bowl that has been practically licked clean of the hummus that was in it. When she gets to her door, she unsticks a note taped to it.

NOTE: “Looked for you all night. In the future, please let me know if you are going out. –R”

She carefully replaces the note back on the door and slips inside without a sound.


This recipe from my mother makes a delightfully creamy hummus. And it’s so simple…

Mix in Blender:

1 16oz. can chick peas

3-5 garlic cloves

3/4 cup water.

Blend well.


1 cup sesame paste (tahini)

1 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tsp. salt

Blend well and chill.

Spicy Vegetarian Chili!

June 15, 2005



Rain pours down in thick sheets over the expanse of the set now covered in blue tarp. Straggling crew members scramble to get the last pieces of equipment under cover.


Caryn jumps, knocking an empty can to the floor with a loud clang.


Caryn chases the can over to the couch where Mr. R. sits like a sopping wet puppy with a towel draped over his shoulders.

MR. R.

They think they’re going to resume shooting today? Ha!

Caryn tosses the can in the trash. She stirs a spoon through a simmering pot of spicy chili. The multi-colored beans seem to be the only color in the trailer turned monochromatic from the pelting rain.


This is ready. It’ll warm you up.

MR. R.

They should send us home.

Caryn prepares a bowl of chili, complete with a dollop of sour cream and snipped fresh chives. Mr. R. wraps his hands around the warm bowl.

POUNDING THUNDER shakes the trailer. Caryn backs against the wall. Mr. R. seems undisturbed, concentrating on the hot chili.

She quickly regains composure and collects the other cans from the counter. Mr. R. takes a break from his lunch to look out the window.

MR. R.

The storm is just getting started.

He looks over to his chef who is trying to remain cheerful amidst the gloom of the afternoon.


Caryn, you should take the limo back to your room.

She looks up from her work.


That’s very kind, but I’m okay.

He holds her gaze, not accepting her answer.


I have to clean up and–

MR. R.

Leave it! Just go. There’s no reason for both of us to be miserable here.

She pauses to examine her unfinished work. Slowly, she collects her things and heads to the door.


Call me if you need anything?

He nods and returns to his chili. Caryn slips out, leaving her boss to brood alone in the mess she left behind.

Chipotle-Infused Vegetarian Chili

The chipotle peppers lend so much of their flavor to this quick chili, you’ll think it simmered all day long.

1 TB. olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

1 green pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. oregano

2-3 canned chipotle peppers, chopped

2 15-oz. cans black beans, drained

1 15-oz. can kidney beans, drained

1 15-oz. can pinto beans, drained

1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 can tomato paste

3 cans water

1. Heat oil in large, heavy dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and green pepper and saute until transulent and tender.

2. Add garlic and saute for one minute. Add cumin, oregano and chipotle peppers and saute 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.

3. Add beans, tomatoes, paste and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes, or until thickened.

Serves 8.

California’s Finest: Guac!

June 1, 2005



Under one of the large, white tents, enough tables are set up for a few hundred people. CATERERS are busy setting up for lunch.

Caryn wanders around base camp, stretching her legs and looking around. She strolls up to the craft services table to investigate. A smorgasboard of snacks is spread out for all to partake. She grabs a little piece of chocolate.


Are you Mr. R.’s assistant?

Caryn turns around to be greeted by a prim, YOUNG WOMAN with a tight ponytail and stylish glasses.


Um, yeah. I’m Caryn.


I’m Amelia. I’m the director’s assistant.


Oh wow. That sounds like fun.

Amelia picks up a tortilla chip and cracks it into two pieces.


It’s okay. Your job sounds like more fun. How is it to work for him? He seems soooo cool.

Amelia dips the chip particle into a bowl of brownish guacamole and eats it.


Yeah, it’s okay, I guess.


You’re so lucky. He’s even hotter in person than on screen. And he’s so charming.

She stirs the water back into the guacamole and scoops another helping onto the other half of her chip. The CRAFT SERVICES MAN comes up and places another bowl of chips on the table.


How do you like the guacamole? I just made it fresh.

Caryn takes another glance at the gloppy mess.


It’s really good. Thanks.

Amelia’s cell phone starts buzzing away at the clip on her belt.


Oh! I gotta go. Caryn, come over to our trailer later. Some other assistants are gonna watch a movie.

Caryn smiles and nods enthusiastically. Amelia grabs another chip on her way, but Caryn opts for an apple.


A FedEx box with Caryn’s name on it leans against the trailer door. Caryn rips it open to find a box full of fresh California avocados.

She peeks inside the box looking for an explanation and finds a brief note scrawled on paper.

NOTE: “Thought you might miss California by now. Punky is happy but shedding orange fur all over my couch. Call us sometime. –Matt”

She flips over the note to discover a recipe in the same handwriting.

Matt’s Guacamole

in my opinion, the key is absolutely fresh ingredients and nothing

extraneous. the simpler the better. also i personally hate tomatoes in guacamole.

3 medium California Haas avocados

1/2 cup red onion

1 tbsp minced cilantro

1/2 tsp minced garlic

1 tbsp lime juice

1 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste

salt & pepper to taste

1. peel & pit avocados. mash the pulp in a bowl.

2. combine with remaining ingredients and adjust salt, pepper, and

cayenne to taste.

serve immediately with Frito’s(r) brand corn chips or cover & refrigerate.

(mark bittman claims that including the avocado pits in the dip helps prevent the guacamole from turning brown if it is prepared up to 4 hours in advance. i don’t know if this is actually true, but it is definitely true that leaving it out for awhile will allow the guacamole to turn a really disgusting shade).

- M

p.s. just kidding about the fritos.

IMBB #15: Riesling Fruit Salad!

May 22, 2005



Matt is hosting a rousing barbecue of LA’s young and swanky crowd. PARTY GUESTS mingle by the barbecue pit that has been dug in one corner of the yard. Caryn and Winnie hang out near a table of salads, taking in the scene. Given the recent heat wave, they are appropriately dressed in cool linen.

Matt leads a tall, gorgeous BLOND WOMAN over to Caryn and Winnie. Her sparkling blouse and high heels might be better suited for cocktail hour, but she wears it well.


Caryn, Winnie. This is Lisa.

The ladies exchange greetings as Lisa scoots other plates aside to put down her colorful pasta salad.


That looks very tasty, Lisa.


Thanks. I actually can’t eat it, though. I’m a carb-free vegan.

Caryn and Winnie share a look.


Caryn, what did you bring?

She points to her molded fruit salad, where peaches and pears glisten under a pale gold gelatin.


It has a late-harvest riesling in it.


Ohhh, a jello salad. I liked those when I was a kid. How cute.

Caryn’s eyes narrow as she opens her mouth to respond, but Matt jumps in.


You must be thirsty, Lisa. Let’s go get a drink.

Lisa nods and heads towards the beverage table. Matt whispers back toward Caryn and Winnie.


Hot day, huh?

He winks just as he is enveloped in a small crowd.


A carb-free vegan? What the heck does she eat?

Vic sneaks up behind Winnie.


Who are you two critiquing now?

Winnie links her arm into her fiance’s.


Are y’all ready to go? I’m tired already.


Yeah, I have an early flight tomorrow.

Winnie pretends to pout at the thought. By the drinks, Matt leans in to whisper something into Lisa’s ear, causing her to break out in a high-pitched squeal of a laugh.


I don’t think we need to say goodbye. Let’s go.


A stretch limosine idles in the left lane of a jam-packed freeway that simply does not move.


Caryn and Mr. R. sit quietly on opposite ends of the plush car. She hugs her bag to her chest and watches traffic creep by as Mr. R. reads a book. After a moment, he sighs and snaps the book closed to examine the traffic situation.

MR. R.

I won’t miss this.


I think we all need a little break from this city.

The traffic starts to pick up for no apparent reason and in little time they are breezing down the freeway, finally on their way…

This entry was posted as a part of IMBB #15: Has My Blog Jelled?. Check out the many other creative entries!

Riesling Fruit Salad

2 small peaches, peeled and sliced

1 pear, peeled and sliced

2 apricots, sliced

1/2 pint raspberries

1/2 pint blueberries

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin

2 TB. sugar

3 cups white grape juice

2 cups riesling, preferrably late harvest**

1. In small saucepan, sprinkle gealtin over 1 cup grape juice. Let stand 2-3 minutes. Stir in sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often until granules are completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour into a large bowl. Add remaining grape juice and wine.

2. Place bowl over a larger bowl half-filled with ice water. Let stand about 20 minutes or until gelatin starts to thicken, stirring occasionally. Whisk gelatin to form bubbles throughout. Stir in fruit. Remove from ice bath and pour into 8-10 cup mold. Refrigerate at least 8 hours until firm.

3. Place a plate upside down on top of mold. Invert onto plate. If gelatin does not release, dip mold up to rim in warm water for 5 seconds before inverting.

Serves 12.

**Sparkling grape juice can be substituted for a non-alcoholic version.

Bread from the Garden!

May 17, 2005



The sun is just beginning to brighten the morning sky. Green herbs are spilling over the sides of little pots that line the porch. Caryn sits with her coffee and a pair of kitchen shears. She bunches together some oregano sprigs in her hand.


If I don’t clip you now, you’ll take over the porch by the time I get back.

She snips the oregano and drops it in a little paper bag. Punky sits behind the screen door, meowing for his breakfast as Caryn moves on to the rosemary.


The curtains are all pulled tight against each other, keeping out any hint of the sun. The trash can by his bed overflows with tissues and dvd’s are scattered about the floor by the television.

Mr. R. is awake in bed. Caryn enters with a plate of just toasted bread, a butter pad sliding off the crust as it melts. She puts the toast on the nightstand and begins to straighten the room.

MR. R.

I can smell the herbs in it.


That’s a good sign.

Mr. R. pulls apart the toast and eats. Caryn shoves the tissues back in the trash can and picks it up to empty it.

MR. R.

I bet you never thought you’d be playing nursemaid at this job.


No, I guess not. But I’m glad to see you’re feeling better.

She opens the curtains just enough to let some light sneak in.

MR. R.

I am feeling better. In fact, I’ll take more of this bread.


Of course. Lauren will be so thrilled to hear that you’re recovering.

She leaves with the trash can as Mr. R. growls and smushes the pillow up to his face.

Garden Herb Bread

This loaf is slightly dense and thus, holds up nicely to the rosemary. Substitute whatever fresh herbs are available to you. It’s a great bread for sandwiches.

1 cup warm water

1 tsp. sugar

1-1/2 tsp. yeast

3 TB. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

2-3/4 cups bread flour, divided

1 TB. each: fresh oregano, parsley, rosemary (finely chopped)

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Let stand until foamy, five minutes.

2. In heavy-duty, stand mixer, blend olive oil, salt and 1/2 cup of flour until a thick paste forms. Slowly add yeast mixture and 1 cup of flour. Mix until smooth. Add herbs and 1/2 cup of flour. Switch to dough hook and add remaining flour by spoonful until dough pulls away from sides. Knead until elastic, about 8 minutes. Resist the temptation to add more flour. The dough will be very sticky.

3. Scrape dough into a well-oiled bowl with a spatula. Turn to coat. Cover and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

4. Turn dough onto lightly-floured surface. Let rest five minutes. Shape into a loaf and put into a lightly greased 9×5 loaf pan. Cover and let rise until dough nearly reaches top of pan, about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 350. Bake loaf until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 50 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and cool on wire rack.

Yield: 1 loaf.

Remedy: Lemony Chicken Soup!

May 13, 2005



The contents of the kitchen seem to be emptied onto the counters. Caryn is sorting through cookware and utensils, trying to decide what to bring with her on the upcoming trip.

Mr. R. enters, wearing sweats and a t-shirt. His hair is rumpled and there are dark circles under his eyes.


What happened to you?

MR. R.

I don’t feel well. I think I’m getting the flu.


The flu? In May?

MR. R.

My head feels like a balloon filled with cement.

He rubs his eyes with the palms of his hands.


But you’re shooting next week. You can’t be sick!

He stumbles back towards the door.

MR. R.

Yeah, well, I am. Call Lauren and tell her.


Mr. R. is curled up in a ball on his bed, sleeping peacefully. Caryn enters with a tray, steam rising from a bowl in the center. He rolls over at the sound of her.


I made some soup.

MR. R.

(face in pillow)

I’m not hungry.


Yeah, well, eat it anyway.

He groans and sits up. Caryn places the tray on his lap. He picks up the spoon and stirs the rice and tender chicken into the broth. Reluctantly, he takes a sip. The tart lemon cuts through the deadened taste buds. Caryn waits. He takes another sip.

MR. R.

Okay, okay. I’ll eat. Go away now.

She leaves the room, a bit of smugness in her gait.

Lemon Chicken-Rice Soup

The tang of lemon juice adds a new dimension to classic chicken soup. Adjust the amount of juice according to taste. The soup will thicken slightly the next day and the rice will soften, but it still tastes great. Really, I love this soup.

1 onion, whole and peeled

3 celery stalks, whole

3 carrots, sliced

1 3-4 lb. chicken

10-12 cups of water

2 tsp. salt, divided

1 cup rice, raw

1 cup fresh lemon juice

1. Place chicken in large stock pot. Add onion, celery, carrots, water and 1 tsp. of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until chicken falls off bone, 45 minutes to an hour.

2. Remove chicken and cool in a colander. When cool enough to handle, shred meat and set aside. Discard celery and onion. Strain carrots and set aside.

3. To defat broth: pour broth into a large ziploc bag. Hold upright for a couple minutes to let fat rise to the top. Snip off one end of bag and pour broth into a bowl, stopping just before fat level is poured out. Repeat with fresh bag and remaining broth.

4. Return broth to stock pot. Bring to simmer. Add rice and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Return chicken and carrots to pot. Add lemon juice and remaining salt. Simmer for 5 minutes to blend flavors. Garnish with fresh lemon and serve.

Serves: I don’t know…a lot.

Cha Gio: Cha Gio!

May 2, 2005



A much-younger Winnie rushes into the small and colorful restaurant, passing bamboo plants and walls lined with local art. She heads to the back where she deposits her backpack and kisses her petite and kind-faced mother, MRS. LE. Winnie straps on her red apron.

Mrs. Le hands her a plate of golden cha gio and says something in Vietnamese to her daughter. Winnie stacks the plate on her arm with another plate of vegetables and herbs and heads out into the restaurant again.

She sets the plates down on a table where a younger, then-unknown TY PENNINGTON sits alone. He smiles like a gentleman.


Anything else?


Not yet, thanks.

Winnie returns the smile.


Good to see you again.

She heads off into the back of the restaurant to help her mother, leaving Ty alone to enjoy Mrs. Le’s famous cha gio.


Winnie dips rice paper in a bowl of hot water and lays it on a towel. Caryn spoons filling on a sheet and precariously rolls it up. Vic stands over the stove, frying the fresh cha gio.


Do you think if I wrote him a fan letter and mentioned that I can make cha gio, he’d respond?


Isn’t that why I’m teaching you?

Winnie watches Caryn over her shoulder.


Roll them tight.


I am. Can we try one now?

Vic strains the rolls and puts them in a colander lined with paper towels.


Yeah, let’s try em!

Winnie adds some red leaf lettuce to the garnish plate and hands it over to Vic. They each take a hot spring roll and wrap it in the lettuce with some fresh herbs.



She holds the little plate of dipping sauce out. Caryn and Vic dip their rolls in the sauce and devour the cha gio. Vic adds more rolls to the oil and they all reach for another cooked one to eat.


My mom will be so proud of you!

Caryn accepts the praise like a little child. The clock behind Winnie catches her eye.


Oh! It’s eight o’clock! Ty’s on!

Cha Gio Restaurant has recently merged with Wild Curry Thai, but Mrs. Le still cooks the traditional Vietnamese fare that has made the restaurant an Atlanta favorite for nearly thirty years.

Cha Gio Restaurant

132 10th Street

Atlanta, GA 30309

(404) 885-9387 ph.

Mrs. Le’s Cha Gio (Spring Rolls)


1/2 cup finely chopped fresh chicken

1/2 cup rehydrated dried black fungus

1/2 cup cooked bean threads

1/2 cup chopped white onion

1/2 cup fresh crab meat

1/2 cup raw chopped shrimp meat

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1 egg

fish sauce, to taste

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

8 round sheets of rice paper (or more, as needed)

vegetable oil for frying

Fresh vegetable and herb platter to eat with spring rolls (red leaf lettuce, mint, cilantro, basil.)

Nwoc Cham (Dipping Sauce):

1/4 cup shredded carrots

Tuong Ot Toi (crushed red pepper sauce), to taste

1 TB. lemon juice

1 tsp. granulated sugar

1/2 cup boiling water

fish sauce, to taste

For filling: In a bowl, mix together the chicken, black fungus, bean threads, white onion, green onion, crab meat, shrimp, carrots, bean sprouts, egg, fish sauce and white pepper. Set aside.

Dip each sheet of rice paper in warm water and place on a clean towel, just as you are ready to fill and roll. Put sheet on a flat surface. Put about 1/4 cup filling across bottom 1/3 of rice sheet. Fold 1/3 of sheet on left side over mixture and repeat with the right side. Starting at the bottom, carefully roll up as tightly as possible. Place spring rolls on platter.

When all spring rolls are completed, heat 1 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a wok or deep skillet to 350 degrees. Place spring rolls in the hot oil folded side down to keep them from breaking. Cook 2 to 4 minutes per side or until they are a golden brown and ends are brown indicating that the ingredients are done. Drain and serve immediately.

For dipping sauce: Put carrots, crushed red pepper sauce, lemon juice and sugar in a small serving bowl. Pour the boiling water over the ingredients. Add the fish sauce to taste. Stir to mix. Serve.

Makes about 8 spring rolls.