15 September 2008

Welcome monsoon season!

I'm struggling to find the words to explain what I'm viewing right now. And, given the situation, that's an odd statement coming from a girl who was raised in the U.S.A.'s Pacific Northwest! 

The entire view is white, with hazy outlines of neighboring houses and tiny little dots of green that are only visible because your mind knows that the color green should exist from this vantage point.

Rain and wind, both unlike any I have seen before, have cast a gauze-like shadow over our Bangkok neighborhood. The drops are plump, continuous water balls being blown in every which direction. The noise is thunderous (and at this point the sure to follow thunder and lightning extravaganza have yet to begin). 

The storm is pelting our roof, shaking the windows and causing every living thing to scatter for cover. The birds retreated long ago. In fact, over the last month and a half, I have learned that when the ever present bird calls begin to fade, it's time to retreat. A storm is brewing. And, the neighborhood's fruit vendor strolled his umbrella covered trolley through the street on his usual path home. Today, though, he was ushered, a bit early, by dark clouds that literally nipped at his heels.

And, here we are. T is, I presume, under cover at work. Later today some of the major streets near his office will definitely be flooded. F has thrown the screen door open wide, pulled up his child-sized easy chair and flopped down into it for a long leisurely front row view. C and I are standing a few steps back. She has her ears covered, to silence the beautiful, but deafening, noise. And, I, well as you can probably tell from this post, have found my mouth hanging open in awe.

About 10 minutes have now passed and the sub soi leading to our home is completely covered in water. No cars or people are passing.

About 20 minutes have now passed and the thunder and lightening have begun. Intense cracks send the kids racing for my lap (and I'm thinking where am I going to race to!). The lightening flashes look like paparazzi bulbs hitting a major celebrity... intensely bright and long, compared to other storms I've witnessed. 

43 minutes have elapsed since I started this documentation. The rain has cleared, the clouds have rolled back to reveal a bright blue sky. The air is intensely humid with a strong smell of fresh, hot earth lingering. The waters that temporarily covered our sub soi are starting to retreat. Thunder still rumbles, but so far away that it will soon be a distant memory.

According to a conversation I had over the weekend, this is just the beginning of the season. We have arrived at the wettest time of the year in the land of smiles, but if there is more to come of what we just experienced, then I throw my arms open wide, drop my mouth in awe and heartily exclaim "welcome monsoon season!"

Cooking in Thailand: entry no. 11
Green Papaya Salad
This salad is a staple on the Thai menu. It's bright flavors and fresh crunch provide a nice juxtaposition to spicy, creamy curries. And, this particular recipe will forever be special to me because it was inspired by a book featuring Southeast Asian flavors that my friend Valerie gave to me. The following recipe takes everything that is great from the traditional Green Papaya Salad, but I have altered it slightly to better meet the tastes and needs of our family.

2 Cups green papaya, shredded (Should be available in U.S. stores that carry a wide selection of produce. It's completely different from the golden papayas you may be used to eating, so if you can't find it, ask for help.)
1 red bird's eye chili
1 small clove garlic
1/4 cup salted, smoked almonds*
1 tablespoon Thai palm sugar (or use light brown sugar)
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Cilantro, for garnish

Using either a mortar and pestle or a food processor, crush the chili with the garlic and the almonds into a paste. Add the sugar, lime juice and fish sauce. Place papaya in serving bowl and pour dressing over top. Stir until well combined. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least one hour or place overnight in the refrigerator. Serve, garnished with roughly chopped cilantro.

* The traditional recipe calls for peanuts, but due to our daughter's allergy I've substituted smoked almonds. Surprisingly, the almonds provide a nice salty, smoky, nutty flavor. Even the most die-hard Thai food traditionalist among us didn't miss the peanuts! If peanut allergies aren't a problem in your house, just swap the almonds for the same amount of peanuts.

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