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Back in February, I received a message from a blog reader Audrey who just wanted to say hello and express her appreciation. After a few lines back and forth between us, she mentioned that she’s from Massachusetts and was currently on vacation in Buôn Mê Thuột, Việt Nam. Our charity connection started from here when I asked her if she has come across any villages in dire humanitarian crisis. Coincidentally, her mother-in-law who lives in Việt Nam often do charity work for the poor, especially the minority groups. And in fact, she and her mother-in- law just visited a minority group in a remote village in Buôn Mê Thuột a couple days ago. They gave away sweet treats and used clothes to the children. As you can see in the pictures, the children appear hungry, barefoot, wrapped in soiled clothing.

Buôn Mê Thuột is the capital city of Dak Lak Province, in the Central Highlands of Việt Nam. The city is the largest in Central Highlands region of Việt Nam, and is famous as the regional "capital of coffee". It was originally settled by the Ê Đê ethnic group (Ê Đê translates to ‘Thuột’s father’s village’) but due to the incoming Vietnamese settlement after the Việt Nam War, and the active acculturation policy, less than 15% are still Montagnards. Native ethnic groups with poor education are often treated unfairly and forced to sell their farmlands for dirt cheap. And some are kicked out of their villages to more remote places. Consequently, many no longer have land to cultivate. They have to work for the farmers a couple of months a year during the harvest season and the rest of the year they are unable to find jobs to put food on the table. Forests, which are the means of their existence, have disappeared as the trend of deforestation and more industrial farming takes over. In one of the pictures, you will see they live among the coffee and black pepper land but by no means this is their property. Those farmlands belong to the farmers.

The saddest part is the native ethnic groups are losing their cultural heritages due to poverty, economic and social changes. They have sold their traditional wood houses, musical instruments and other cultural artifacts for a living, while the ethnic youth are not able to afford to make traditional items as their ancestors did. It’s been many years since the Vietnamese government exert strict controls over the province, yet these ethic groups still lag behind in living standards.

This is where they cook, eat, sleep, hang out etc..

After a few months working with Sister Anna Hồ Thị Thu Sương who has dedicated her life to working closely with the numerous ethnic groups here in Buôn Mê Thuột. We learnt that these poor people come to Sister Anna for everything. She said many times they came to her at midnight to ask for ointment because their family members have stomachaches. When someone is dying, or about to give birth, she would come to them, comfort them and stay up all night with them. Her work does not stop here. She also provides education for children from these poor families, especially ethnic minority groups, by going to their homes to teach the children for free. Perhaps there are no words that can fully describe the sacrifice of a selfless nun who come to these remote villages on a regular basis.

After seeing the life of these poor people through video clips, and photos from Audrey, and through the voice of Sister Anna, The Spices Of Life is eager to reach out to help improve the well-being of these poor families with three projects:

1. Provide fertilizers to help them grow coffee and black peppers. We will use the method “buy now pay later”. They will pay us back the money after the harvest season. We then use this money to buy more fertilizers for them.

2. Provide water wells so they can have water to drink, clean and farm.

3. Build classrooms for the children so they will have an opportunity to learn and hopefully change their lives.

This piece of land is where we are planning to build the classrooms for the children

This little house is where the poor come to pray. It’s also a place where the nuns teach the children. Only a few children come here since this place is too far for other children to walk here.

While we are looking into these projects, for now, we would like to provide some basic assistance to keep their hearts warm and hopes alive. There are almost 200 families in three remote villages in Buôn Mê Thuột that are in dire need for food, and water. We asked sister Anna to visit each household so we know the situation of each family. In one of the pictures, sister Anna is standing next to the family who is pounding the cassava leaves into a paste so they can eat. They are so poor that they just eat whatever they can find around them. Good nutrition during the early years are vital to the development of these children. Yet hunger and malnutrition continue to kill millions of children each year. We can temporary change the course of this affliction until they can make a living on their own.

The boy is pounding the cassava leaves into a paste so they can eat.

Below is a list of food items The Spices Of Life is planning to provide for nearly 200 families including the 3 ethic groups Ê Đê, Ba Na, and Xê Đăng.

The cost of the food for each family is $12 x 200 families = $2400. Each family will receive:

10 kilograms of rice
1 kilogram of sugar
1 bottle of soy sauce
1 bottle of fish sauce
1 kilogram of salt
1/2 kilogram of MSG
1 litter cooking oil
1 kilogram dried fish
2 bottle ointment

Let me leave you with this thought from one of our greatest thinkers of all time: The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those look on and do nothing. ~Albert Einstein

The beauty is that we can do something about it and we are.

Thank you for looking beyond yourself, beyond your comfort zone to a remote village across the Pacific over 8500 miles away.

She makes my heart smile.

Below is our goal and our current funding:

Our GOAL: $2400

The Spices Of Life: $500
Bác Mười (Sacramento, Ca) $20
Cô Tám (Westminster, Ca) $20
c Trâm (Boston, Ma) $200
c Vân (Elk Grove, Ca) $500
Ngân (Elk Grove, Ca) $200
Lisa P $50
c Mai N $200
MỹTiên N $50
Hiếu N $20
Phương N $50
Thanh Deekrich $40
Krysty Emery $20
Kaitlin N $100
Lien Van $100
Oanh C $20
Karen T $50
Bích & Linh (Australia) $100
David P $50
Tina C $12
Vu Dung $50
Hue Ly $30
Nhu L (San Jose, Ca) $100
Thao La $50
Kim D (San Francisco, Ca) $25
Mary Vo $100
Viet Le $100
Cynthia C (Tampa, FL) $100
Xinhnhi $50
Uyên Le $200
HongYen P $300
Du Doan $100
Joanne Y $20
Ida L $100
Serena Tantivitoon $60
Niki D $50
Teresa Ha $120
Xuan-Hoa $120
Ha T $20
KhanhLinh T $100
Ashley&Minh $100
Alex C $40
Jenny A $50
Thuyet D $100
Stacie F $100
Teresa M $12.71
NguyetAnh V $100
Hannie $50
James Wu $100
My Tran $100
Kristine Van $300
Nathalie N $50
Minh Thu $200
Ana T $50
Jane Cady $100
Awesome OC Moms $200
Linh Wheeler $120
Nghia Thach $50
Thuy N $25
Bao Quyen $25
Tuyet/Mai N $250
Leslie T $30
Pamela Menapace $100
Thuy & Tue $50
AnhThu D $20
Bianca Loana $50
Tonhi $150
Janet Yang $100
Ariel $100
Thu N $50
Kevin&Tina $100
Amy Ly $15
Ronnie Fong $25
Terry Lock $50
Anh Rohrbach $100
Margie Tran $100
Linda Tran $100
Anh-Dao $50
Linda Le $500
My Thai $200
Lauren N $50

TOTAL Current Funding: $8259.71/$2400

Your contributions can be sent via
PayPal to: thespicesoflife@yahoo.com
Venmo to: VietSpices
Zelle to: : Thespicesoflife@yahoo.com

If you'd rather send it by check, please let me know. Thank you!
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It's the Super Bowl. Are you excited about the ads, the game or half-time?
I'm sure my husband can't wait to hog the TV all day.

On Friday morning, my plan was heading out to run some errands and do one small thing a day that makes me happy - that happened to be buying myself some plants and flowers. I had finally stow away my winter decorations and wanted to usher in the blossoms and bloom in anticipation of spring.

Two days prior, I wanted to serve dried chicken noodle - phở gà khô (click here for the recipe) to my family but as I was browsing through a local market, I found myself stopping at the fish section. Right away I remembered hearing my husband complaining we haven't had enough veggies lately. I knew I needed to prepare a meal that would give us a chance to catch up on veggies and what can be better than fish rolls - baked fish with abundant of fresh vegetables wrapped in rice paper. Roll it up with strings of noodle if you want some carbs in your diet. You can buy dried noodle from the store or make it from scratch. It's so much easier to make noodle using a Philips pasta machine but if you don't have one, a potato ricer would work. 

The baked fish looks beautiful once it's out of the oven.  It inviting and totally irresistible when topped with scallion oil, crispy fried onion, and fresh roasted peanuts.  I just realize what really made me happy today is accomplishing this recipe to share with you.  
RECIPE: Baked Catfish
1 catfish, ask the store to clean and butterfly or split the fish
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
for honey mixure
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
for toppings
green onion, minced
crispy fried shallot or fried onion
roasted peanuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F
Preparing Honey Mixture

Add honey and lemon juice in a small bowl, mixing to combine.  Set aside.
Marinating the Fish

Pound garlic with a mortar and pestle into a paste. Add salt, sugar, five spice powder, black pepper, and olive oil, mixing to combine.

Using your fingers to rub the spices in and distribute evenly all over the fish. Line onion slices on the baking tray.  Place fish on top of the onion, skin-side up.  Tuck the onion in so the fish covers the onion. 
Baking the Fish

Put the fish tray in the middle rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the fish and baste the fish skin wit honey mixture. 

Place it back into the oven and increase the oven temperature to max (mine is 550 degrees F) until skin is crispy golden brown.
Preparing Toppings

Scallion Oil - while the fish is being baked, in a sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of oil and a clove of smashed garlic over medium heat. The purpose of using the garlic in oil is to impart the garlic flavor in oil.  You can skip garlic if preferred.  I am a fan of garlic.  When the garlic starts to turn brown, remove oil from heat.  Let it cool down for a minute then add the green onion and mix well.  Discard the garlic.  Set aside. 

Fried onion or fried shallots - I used the premade fried onions. From scratch, slice shallots thinly then fry in oil until crispy.

Roasted Peanuts - I sometime use Planters dry roasted peanuts.  You can roast raw peanuts in the pan over medium low heat until golden.

Use two spatulas to transfer fish and onion onto a serving plate. Spoon scallion oil over the top of the fish. Top with crispy fried shallots or fried onion, and roasted peanuts. Serve with rice papers as spring rolls or lettuce wraps with noodles along with herbs, lettuces, cucumbers, granny smith apple or green mango, and pickled daikon and carrots if preferred. Dip rolls in fermented shrimp pineapple sauce, fish sauce, or tamarind fish sauce.
Here's to your Superbowl celebration with this grand delight.
Eat well.  Stay healthy. 
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