When my sister was little, probably in the six to ten year range, she would play the piano. She would sit down, scootched out on the piano bench so her feet touched the floor, and play completely random keys with one of the pedals pressed so the notes sounded echo-y and mysterious. Then she’d let up on the pedal and keep playing. Then back to the pedal. Another press of the pedal, more keys. One final high note and…The end! “Bravo!!” we’d say. Ellie would smile and inform us that she’d just played an original “Imperial Mix-Up.”
I hadn’t thought about Ellie’s Imperial Mix-Ups for years. Then, after making fresh summer rolls with my roommates, neatly packed little collisions of tastes and flavors, I recalled the name. They were, without a doubt, the edible version of Ellie’s Imperial Mix-Up. Also, since I arrived in Oakland almost one month ago, I’ve had four jobs. Four! So, my life at this very moment seems to be one big Imperial Mix-Up. Let me explain.
My first week in Oakland, I volunteered at the elementary school garden program in the Hayward Unified School District. Then I went back again the next week. My time spent helping out was nothing short of inspiring. The moms, almost every one of them from Latin America, learned about compost and prepared a healthy, fresh lunch with the guidance of an instructor. Their kids, sometimes up to five from one family, constructed spaceships out of paper plates and glitter glue and watered the garden with tiny watering cans. Come lunchtime, we all gathered together and ate – handmade corn tortillas, tomatillo soup and sautéed peppers.
My friend Whitney works in residential real estate. She knows that I’ll take almost any job that pays me something. So a couple of weeks ago I spent a few hours posing as a “yoga model” for a new condominium complex in Potrero Hill. The idea behind the photo shoot is to show potential buyers the perks of the neighborhood. Richard, the photographer, shot me and my friend Freddy at a cute cafe down the street from the condos. Then he took about a million photos of me in my “yoga gear” walking down the street, yoga mat under my arm and spring in my step. Actually, more like leap in my step. Richard insisted that I skip down the block, beaming, looking happy happy happy! It was my very first (and most likely last) modeling experience. It left me feeling flattered that anyone thought I remotely resembled a “yoga model.” And so fortunate that the actual yoga studio where Richard wanted to shoot was closed for the afternoon. I can barely touch my toes, let alone do a proper Warrior pose.
Last weekend I worked for Whit’s company again. This time I was in Walnut Creek giving home tours to prospective buyers and manning the information booth at the “Dog Days” event in the courtyard. It was a mixed crowd – potential condo buyers on one end with lots of specific questions, and dog owners with their dogs on another, swinging by to pick up doggie snacks and refreshments. It’s safe to say that it was an utterly random weekend, and another first and last to add to my resume. Or not.
The good news is, job number four is legitimate. At least, I’m excited about it. It pulls from my experience in PR and marketing and it’s only part-time, so I’ll still have time to network and look for a full-time job that fits the bill. I’m consulting for Aliph, the maker of the Jawbone Bluetooth headset, pitching their new EARCANDY line to various publications for their holiday gift guides. When I went to the Aliph office to meet with my new boss, she promptly handed me a brand new Jawbone in Blah Blah Black to try for myself. I took it home, charged it up, and talked on the phone for a good while, relishing in the hands-freeness of it all – chopping veggies, flipping through a magazine and making my bed all while deep in conversation.
And so, enough about my Imperially Mixed-Up life. The summer rolls that my roommates and I made when we cooked our Thai feast are worthy of the title too. They were freshness wrapped in a rice paper roll, dipped in sauce, and bursting with crispmintycoolbrightness.
I love summer rolls. I order them, almost without fail, whenever they’re on the menu, but I’d never made them before. Yes, it takes a little time to slice all the veggies, but once that’s done, these rolls are a snap. And they’re completely customizable. We made ours entirely of vegetables and fresh herbs, no meat or tofu or rice vermicelli. They were wonderful. I wouldn’t change a thing. But you can, of course. After all, no two Imperial Mix-Ups are exactly the same…
Imperial Mix-Up Summer Rolls
Serves 4 as an appetizer
1 cup bean sprouts
About 10 lettuce leaves
1 cup carrots, finely shredded
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced and cut into strips
1⁄2 cup mint leaves, rolled and sliced into strips
1⁄2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup basil leaves, rolled and sliced into strips
Rice paper wrappers (about 8” across)
- Lay out vegetables in an assembly line.
- Heat a pan of water until it’s almost too hot to handle. Soak one rice paper wrapper in the hot water for 15-20 seconds then take it out and lay it flat.
- Flatten out one lettuce leaf on top (this helps prevent other fillings from poking through the wrapper). Next, place a big pinch of each veggie and fresh herb in a mound closer to one side of the rice paper.
- Fold the ends of the wrapper in, then roll the remaining paper over to secure the goodness.
- Set roll on a platter, seam side down. Keep rolls moist until served, and separated so they don’t stick together (the wrappers will rip).
- Serve whole or cut in half, with your choice of dipping sauce.
James made a perfect peanut ginger sauce for our rolls. He mixed a bit of peanut butter, soy sauce, fresh minced ginger, minced garlic, sesame oil, and hot pepper flakes to taste. If you do the same, you’ll have yourself a deluxe dipping sauce that won’t disappoint. Or, for something lighter, try a few tablespoons of rice vinegar and sesame oil to a half cup of soy sauce. And with whatever dip you desire, don’t forget the Sriracha.