Local women gather for a day of neighborly Asian food instruction

Marlys Barker, Nevada Journal Editor
Chanthavivorn Thiphasouk, right, whose friends call her “Vawn,” explains how to set up wonton wrappers for crab rangoon. Listening in is her friend, Meg Grout

In the end, “I hope you all had fun and learned something,” Chanthavivorn Thiphasouk, better known as “Vawn,” posted on her “closed group” Facebook page, “How to make Vawn’s egg rolls.”

This past Saturday, Vawn and her husband, Lee, both of Laotian and Thai heritage, turned their Nevada home into an assembly-line production facility for egg rolls, crab rangoon and pho, a type of Vietnamese soup. Though she’s not Vietnamese, Vawn said her family often enjoys the soup, which she was making, in addition to all the other things going on, in a huge pot on her stove, complete with rice noodles, shrimp, beef, vegetables and fresh seasonings.

Saturday morning was a time for Vawn to teach the 10-plus women who ventured into her kitchen, all with assigned ingredients in hand, how to make the egg rolls and crab rangoon that she so often gives away to friends and neighbors, like Kathy Hedrick. “When they make egg rolls and show up at my door with a plateful, I’m always like, thank you, thank you,” she said.

No one left Vawn’s house empty handed Saturday afternoon. The women — Naomi Backous; Jan Lundgren and her daughter, Katie Baker; Christine Clark; Meg Grout, Kim Stephens, Steph Spence, Eileen Miller; Cathy Vincent and Hedrick — all left with items to eat and/or freeze for later. There likely would have been even more women, if the Iowa State game hadn’t been going on.

“I sure had fun,” Vawn said. “Watching humans work and feeding people makes my heart sing.” Vawn joked several times during the morning that it was fun for her to watch the others working to make things, as so often she doesn’t have that kind of help when she and her husband set out to make huge amounts of egg rolls that they can freeze and/or give away to others.

Making crab rangoon was the first lesson of the day. In a good-sized bowl, Vawn threw in lots of cream cheese and a bunch of imitation crab meat that she had chopped up into tiny pieces the night before. She likes using the imitation crab, she said, because real crab, for her, gets “too fishy” tasting. With no spoons used in the mixing of these things, Katie started to “massage” the ingredients while wearing throw-away kitchen gloves, as Vawn continued to add in white pepper, chopped green onion and sugar.

After giving a lesson on how to line up the wonton wrappers for the crab rangoon, brush the egg on and seal them properly, Vawn left one group of ladies to do that, while she got another couple women started on making the filling for egg rolls.

A blue “tub,” big enough that you really can’t call it a bowl, was placed on the floor and to it, ingredients were added. It started with bags full of chopped green cabbage, then bags of red cabbage. Those were followed by pound after pound of uncooked pork sausage. As two women were “massaging” those items together, Vawn added green onion, rice noodles and eggs. As the eggs were added, Vawn got her hands into the mixture to see how the moisture of it all felt.

When it comes to making all of these things, Vawn admits, she never measures anything. “I don’t even know what a teaspoon is. I just watched my mom growing up, and that’s how she did things (throwing in what she thought it needed).”

To complete the egg roll mixture, minced garlic, black pepper, dried mushrooms that had been soaked and mushroom seasoning were all added.

A number of the day’s ingredients were purchased at regular grocery stores, especially by the women who attended. But Vawn admitted that she enjoys shopping at the Asian stores for many of her ingredients.

While the women mixed, massaged, wrapped, sealed and visited about everything from PTA to soccer, Lee was outside on the back patio, with another husband who had come over, taking charge of the fryers. He said they almost always do the deep frying outside to keep the smell of oil out of the house.

Tray by tray, finished crab rangoon and egg rolls were carried out to him for cooking. And still, many more items were bagged and left unfried for freezing.

Once in awhile there were questions, like when Meg asked, “How hot does the oil have to be?” Vawn answered, “Just stick your finger in there, and if it hurts, it’s probably hot enough.” It was just one of several things that made people laugh as they enjoyed her unique and humorous instruction style.

It was a day for food, fun and friendship, and for learning something that the women who attended can now utilize in their own kitchens. Eileen felt that she had acquired useful information. “I feel good, because I have a little more idea now of how many quantities of each thing to put in,” she said.

When asked if she felt more confident about making crab rangoon and egg rolls, Steph answered honestly. “I feel confident because I can always call Vawn!”