Cooking for Thai’s memorial luncheon was not only an honor, but a trip back in time. This feast of about 60+ close dojo friends, family, students, Sensei, widowed girlfriend Kate and 1 soon to be born baby Kiera of Thai Siam was an amazing gathering of love, respect and memory. It pained me even beyond my silent tears to hear that Kiera will be born without her papa, Thai, a man whose dedication, passion and capacity to love Aikido martial arts would have been transcended by being an equally dedicated, passionate and loving father. As busy as we were preparing the meals for this gathering, the theme of this gathering was always in the air, reminding us that the world is one less of a beautiful soul.
As I gathered the lemongrass to be pounded for the Asian inspired dishes, I often thought if Thai would have liked lemongrass, being that he was of Cantonese descent. But with such an interesting name, Thai Siam, he could have had a colorful collage of ethnicities along his family tree. As I crushed the lemongrass stalks, I got a quick whiff of the soothing scent of citrus/grass and deja vu of my dad in the kitchen with me. I was quickly reminded and brought back to my childhood days when Dad was making his favorite lemongrass beef, and I mean LEMONGRASS all in caps, shouting out loud. As a child, Dad loved his lemongrass to infuse his marinating beef, at my expense. I am his first born child, his underage, free labor kitchen help, and his official “pain in the ass, lemongrass smasher”. Ironically today, my demands and skill of prepping fresh stalks of lemongrass to it’s mashed form in the mortar and pestle is something that I can’t do without. My back was killing me that night so I sat on the floor to pound the lemongrass, just like I did as a kid. I pretended Dad was standing right behind me, like a spice dictator watching and ensuring that his humble servant was pulverizing the shit out of each stalk.
So to please my master, I pounded hard on the stone of the mortar against the stone of the pestle, ensuring that each vertical, grassy strand was releasing it’s precious oils. I always tried my best to please my Dad and knowing how I prepped the lemongrass for Thai’s feast would make Dad proud. As I neared completion, I was thankful that my Dad was insistent back then, or else my dishes would not have the same perfume and flavor of lemongrass. If it wasn’t for his old school ways of mortar and pestle, I probably would have deployed my state of the art Cuisinart food processor or just conceded to frozen, store bought crushed lemongrass. There’s nothing wrong with the either of the two options, but working with mortar and pestle burns more calories and keeps me in touch with how my ancestors used to do it. I wish Dad was there to see what a good…no…great job I had done and I had a kind of childish, silly feeling of pride and accomplishment. I scraped the mortar clean, just like Dad would always request, and gathered up all loose lemongrass bits off the floor, just like Dad had expected. I never expected such a simple task of prepping lemongrass would ever make me think deeply into life, love and particularly my relationship with my Dad. As tough as he was on me growing up, he sheltered me and strengthened me to be the woman I’m hoping to become when I finally “grow up”.
There was so much love at Thai’s luncheon and I am comforted to know that although Kiera might be without her Dad, she’s got plenty of dojo Dad’s to remind her of what a great guy her Dad, Thai, was. She and her mommy, Kate, have so much unconditional support and love from all different directions . I’m sure somewhere in her line of diverse and multi-talented dojo Daddy’s, someone is bound to pass on some lemongrass skills to her.