Many years ago, when I moved to Berkeley for graduate school, I chose to live in a community environment. There were 11 of us living in that community with ages ranging from 21 to 70. We had men and women, gay and straight, religious and non-religious, both domestic and international. I learned a lot that year living with that group of people, but it was the person with whom I had the least in common who taught me the most.
Sister Kim Chi grew up in Vietnam and entered a convent as a pre-teen during the height of the Vietnam War. I grew up in America, a pop culture junkie and proud child of the 80’s. I didn’t spend a lot of time with Sister Kim Chi outside of our group activities, but she is one of the few people in that community that left a lasting impression on me – and it’s all because of food.
One of the requirements of living in that community group was that we shared meals 5 nights a week and we rotated cooking duties. Sister Kim Chi showed me how to make tofu soup, how to keep rice fluffy and moist without being sticky and because of her, I discovered that I actually love sweet potatoes. Growing up in the Midwest I had only ever had canned yams and I abhorred them. One day, when it was Sister Kim Chi’s turn to cook, she came out with freshly fried potato chips and sweet potato chips. It was the first time in my life I was able to taste the sweet potato by itself, without any additional sugar or marshmallows. Those chips were incredible and eye-opening.
The first time I got sick while living in the community, Sister Kim Chi brought me some of her ginger tea and within minutes, my throat felt better, my cough lessened, and I was breathing better. It was a miracle drink and I was hooked. The spiciness of the ginger, the tartness of the lemon and the soothing sweetness of the honey work in this wonderful harmony to provide pain relief and comfort. She brought me several cups of tea that night and when I woke up the next morning, my sore throat was gone and my cough non-existent. Now, whenever I’m feeling ill, the first thing I do is make ginger tea. It doesn’t always work as miraculously as that first time, but it always makes me feel better.
I haven’t seen Sister Kim Chi in over a decade, but often she is with me in my kitchen, as I make her ginger tea, or slice up a sweet potato, or make some of her “every day” tofu soup. Our life experiences and political and religious beliefs were practically on the opposite sides of the spectrum, but we found common ground through food and hers has been the most lasting impression from that year of my life.
2-inch knob of fresh ginger root
2 cups water
Honey to taste
Peel ginger and slice into several pieces. Put ginger and water in a non-reactive pan and place on high heat. I prefer to use glass Pyrex pan when making teas. Put lid on and bring water to boil. Boil for a minute or two and turn off heat. Allow ginger to steep in the water for 10-15 minutes.
Squeeze in juice from half a lemon and return to low heat. Stir in honey to taste – I use a tablespoon for 2 cups.
Strain into a cup that has been heated with hot water. Retire to your sofa or bed and drink in the healing essence.