23 December 2009

Christmas Decor in Bangkok, part 2

A couple days back I gave you a glimpse of Bangkok's grandly scaled holiday decor and hinted at a second post featuring the wackier side of holiday decorations widely populating Bangkok during this time of year. Plastic tinsel and wacky metal creations float grace the air conditioned halls of Bangkok's Mega shopping centers, along with a helping of classic trees and graceful reindeer. But, at Siam Paragon this year, the creative team decided to feature two dimensional (kind of creepy) cut out paper dolls alongside ukelele playing trees wearing sombreros(!).

But, perhaps my favorite wacky holiday moment in Bangkok this year came at the discovery of the "Happy Walk Sky Walk". Located between the Chidlom and Siam skytrain stations, the happy sky walk is a crazy funny interpretation of the holidays. Take a walk in the mild, but still hot, temperatures of Bangkok's December as the traffic races underfoot, snowflakes and paper ornaments sway overhead and ear piercing volumes of Winter Wonderland and Frosty the Snowman scream overhead in the Happy Walk Sky Walk!

























Happy Holidays (more recipes coming in the New Year... the kitchen is churning out Christmas cookies now!).

09 December 2009

Christmas Decor in Bangkok, part 1

With the holidays in full swing, I thought I'd take a couple posts to share Bangkok's Christmas decor. Like everything here, presentation is key. The scale is massive, the glitter and sparkles are abundant and, in some cases, the tackiness over the top. The following images are all from within one of Bangkok's "lifestyle" shopping centers. The tree towers over four stories tall and the toy soldier sits next to it towering three stories tall. The bells swing festively overhead as classic carols trumpet over the sound system.








































And, another glimpse at Bangkok's Christmas decor coming up in a couple of days. Get ready for the wackier side of holiday life in the Big Mango.

Happy Holidays (more recipes coming in the New Year... the kitchen is churning out Christmas cookies now!).

What I love about Bangkok right now

Every once in awhile, it's good to take a look around and give thanks for a few of the things that get you really jazzed to be living where you are at that moment. And, what better time to reflect on things that make you happy than during the holiday? Here are a few of the things and places I love in Bangkok right now:

The Bangkok Zoo:
Maybe not the most impressive zoo on the planet, but when you're living in Bangkok and want an escape from the urban jungle this park-like setting fits the bill. Ordinarily, I'm not all that interested in the bird exhibits at zoos, but The Bangkok Zoo's bird island shouldn't be missed. In a land of tropical bird songs that play around the clock, the exhibit is an amazing look at the many feathered instruments. Peacocks roam freely, cockatoos fly overhead and hundreds of other birds that I don't know the names of flutter round.

Or Tor Kor Market:
Located at exit number three off of the Kamphaeng Phet MRT station, Or Tor Kor Market is one of the city's cleanest open air markets. Most items here are registered as organic and the brightly-lit, well organized haven for fresh food products is a relaxing place to visit. Farmer's from all over Thailand bring their goods for sale here, allowing you to taste fresh from the farm exotic fruits, vegetables, meats and prepared treats. Great for a visit while shopping at Chatuchak weekend market (right across the street) or for locals, like me, who enjoy doing their weekly shopping there!

Cool Air:
Believe it or not, Bangkok's cool season actually arrived with some low humidity this year. The temperatures are pleasant. As a testament to how refreshing this cool air can be to an expat, let me recount a recent, hour long conversation I had with three of my friends: "Can you believe this weather?! I'm able to add jeans and lightweight scarves to my wardrobe! I haven't broken a sweat in three days! I can take my kids to the park and they have energy to run around for longer than 10 minutes!"... and on and on and on for well over an hour. The cool air is MAJOR news when you're used to sweating your way through your day.

Ruen Mallika:
I loved my recent birthday dinner that my husband and I enjoyed at this quaint Thai restaurant situated far back on the soi. Housed in a historic 19th century teak building, the restaurant serves delicious royal Thai cuisine. Go, sit in the garden, flip through the massive picture book menu they present you with and order the edible flower platter! (located at 189 Sukhumvit, Soi 22, Road Khlong Tuei)

The smell of charcoal in the morning:
The fires begin in the early morning and simmer throughout the entire day. Everything from satay to curry to spicy meats grill atop the coals. But, when you are walking to your morning coffee and smell the charcoal fires burning, you just know you are in Thailand.

R.S.T. Natural Herbs and Spices:
A permanent vendor stall at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, this herb and spice store stock everything from Lemongrass tea to curry paste to garam marsala. I've only recently discovered this little gem of a shop and look forward to filling many bags full of their spices. An excellent stop for anyone looking for a taste of Thailand in their home pantry. (Located in the 25th section, soi 4 of Bangkok's Chatuchak Market.)

For a few of my favorite things from months past, click here and here.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 72:
Cashew Mix
This is one of the dishes served at my favorite neighborhood restaurants. You sit outside on the big porch, order a tall Beer Sing and start the evening with an appetizer of this dish. Here's my version of the Thai nut dish.

Ingredients:
1 cup of whole cashews
1 teaspoon of red chili peppers, sliced thinly into tiny rounds
1 scallion, green part only, sliced thinly into tiny rounds
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Method:
In a hot dry skillet, toast the cashews. Keep them moving around the pan continuously and toast just until crunchy and golden. In a mixing bowl, add the other ingredients. Add the toasted cashews to the bowl and stir well. Pour onto a small serving plate and enjoy alongside a cold beer (preferably while sitting on a porch!).

23 November 2009

New Moon in Bangkok

A few months back, I picked up a little movie at a local market. Now, I'm used to walking by one of the local DVD stands and picking up a movie. But, on this particular day, I saw a movie called Twilight and thought, "oh, that sounds interesting." Little did I know that the movie was based on a hugely popular book series or that the movie had been a huge hit in the States. Later that week, I watched, then went wild trying to find copies of each of the books here in Bangkok. Everywhere I went, they were either only in Thai or sold out. I finally got them, read them and marked the date on my calendar for the second movie in the series to hit theatres.

Which brings me to Saturday, November 21 when I experienced a hysterical pop culture moment, Thai style. I love the theatres here and have written about them before (plush, leather recliners with pillow and blankets and valet popcorn and cocktails... what's not to like?!). On this particular Saturday, I entered the huge lobby with soaring ceilings and was shocked to see it filled wall to wall with people. Lines snaked in various directions and people of all ages waited, laughing and chatting and dressed in costumes. There were vampires, there were wolves, there were moody looking girls in long black wigs. Signs with "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob" were being handed out randomly and two Thai Edward and Jacob impersonators greeted the waiting crowds. Pictures were snapped, videos were being shot and the movie's soundtrack pulsed through the air.

People were prepared to wait for hours for a ticket. This was the first Saturday that the movie was playing and three days into the movie's run. No advance tickets were sold, but the film was playing on seven screens. I stood for about five minutes at the end of one of the snaking lines until I realized that I was planning to see the film in one of the Ultra Screen Theatres which have a special VIP box office. (The Ultra Screens, also called First Class in some theatres, are the more expensive, but "totally worth the ticket price" experience.) Spying the special box office and reacting with mild shock when I realized that there were only three people waiting, I quickly moved that direction. Ten minutes later, popcorn in hand, I kicked my shoes off (as is the custom), settled into my posh leather recliner and laughed at the craziness still underway in the theatre's lobby.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 71:
Rustic Corn Pizza
I had to create a recipe using corn because the vegetable is added to the oddest of things here in Thailand. I laugh every time I discover a 'new' dish where it is present! Corn seems to be a match for anything and everything here: on pizza, as an ice cream topping, on a burger, along with maybe a more traditional use of corn in soups and stir-fried veggie dishes. This cornbread-like crust is scattered with little pops of sweet corn... a really nice and surprising addition to a rustic dish perfect for a kick-back Friday movie night.

Ingredients:
Dough-
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1 teaspoon salt

Sauce-
5 large ripe tomatoes, halved
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, skin removed
1 giant hand full of basil leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 chili pepper, split and seeded
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup of water

Toppings-
1 ear fresh corn, cooked and cut off the cob
8 cherry tomatoes, split in half
1/2 onion, diced finely
4 slices of ham, sliced into thin strips
1/2 cup of diced fresh pineapple
1 hand full of basil leaves
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
dried red chili flakes, optional

*you'll need a bit of veggie oil on hand to prepare the pan and the crust during assembly

Method:
Make the dough. Combine the water, honey and yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes. Then, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Turn onto a floured board and knead until the dough forms an elastic, smooth ball. Place in a well oiled bowl and cover. Allow to sit for at least one hour.

Make the sauce. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cover. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove lid and allow to cool. Place into a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a cookie sheet by spreading a piece of cooking parchment across it and rub generously with veggie oil. Roll out the dough to fit the size of your pan. Place the dough on the parchment and rub the dough with a generous amount of veggie oil, concentrating on the edges. Prick the dough several times with a fork and place into the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the pan and quickly cover with just enough sauce to create a thin layer (you will have extra, use as a dipping sauce or for a future pizza). Place all of the toppings sprinkled across the top of the sauce, finishing with the cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes (or until the cheese is bubbly and edges are brown). Cool for five minutes and slice into generous pieces.

11 November 2009

Calm and well being

The week before my birthday coincided with one of the largest Loy Krathong festivals in the city of Bangkok. At The Golden Mount, locals celebrate Loy Krathong by climbing from the temple complex to the mount, while reflecting on the past year. They write their names atop the mount, wrapped specially in red silk for the holiday, and send their hopes for a peaceful new year to the winds that whip the spire. Then, they enjoy the raucous street festival's activities at the bottom of the mount after their reflective climb. The whole activity sounded like a perfect celebration to ring in my birthday-- a bit of old Bangkok's serene and reflective personality combined with a healthy dose of fun and festivity that is ever present in modern day Bangkok. So, hopping a cab with my "always up for an adventure" three year old in tow, I set out to experience The Golden Mount for the first time.

After a surprisingly mellow, traffic-free taxi ride, we arrived at the temple grounds where the annual Loy Krathong festival was just setting up for the day's business. Vendors were unmasking their stalls for the final day of the nine day festival by removing tarping that had been wrapped around their goods for the night. Large feather dusters were being flicked across the merchandise and charcoal barbecues were being lit. Hoping my son was game for a bit of a climb, I hopped out of the cab and whispered a little prayer that I wouldn't be carrying a three year old up the stairs that rose steeply in front of us. Grabbing his hand we began our ascent of the 318 steps ahead.

And, what amazing fun the climb turned out to be. Man made waterfalls gurgled along the path and multi-color candles rested on concrete steps spilling their warm wax on top of the day's previous meltings. As we passed a tea house, my son vowing aloud to stop on our descent for a refreshment of what would be teeny watermelon slices, made out of shortbread cookies, and steamed milk delivered in a silver edged porcelain tea cup. On our climb a bit further up, and ever closer to the mount, we came across a large flat outdoor foyer lined with giant antique prayer bells. Following the few other individuals also on their climb, we picked up the available mallets and smacked the bells one by one to create a deliciously rich symphony over the rooftops of Bangkok. My son's smile spread deeply as he whacked each one with renewed gusto.

Perhaps the transformation I felt occurred because of his joy in the bells or perhaps it was due to the climb. But, either way, each smack of the bells took me deeper physically into a sense of calm and well being. I admired the temple's statues and looked out over Bangkok's tiled rooftops as my jangly earrings rang in the breeze. I smiled as my son giggled at the monk who lifted him to ring another bell. And, in those moments, even before reaching the site that tourists climb to see, I realized that this was a feeling I wished I could bottle up and keep forever. The combination of the activities already described, the low chanting of the monk's surrounding the base of the temple and the gentle breeze whipping warmly around us, provided an ancient serenity.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 70:
Golden Tofu (and sweet and sour dipping sauce)
When you are craving something deep-fried, but want to ease your conscious with something that is usually healthy, give this recipe a try. Completely delicious and satisfies the need for a crunchy fry. And, even if you think you don't like tofu, give this a try... you might be surprised!

Ingredients, for tofu:
1 pack of tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup of flour
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon pepper
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 finely chopped chives
Veggie Oil

Ingredients, for dipping sauce:
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of ketchup
pinch of salt
1/4 cup water, room temperature
1 tablespoon of cornstarch

Method, for tofu:
Combine the flour, cayenne, pepper, salt, sugar and chives in a shallow dish. Add the tofu and roll to coat. Remove from flour, gently dusting off extra, and set in a single layer on a tray. Using a large saute pan, add just enough veggie oil to lightly coat the bottom. Heat the oil over medium heat and add the coated tofu, working in batches if necessary for the size of your pan. Cook each of the four sides until they reach a deep golden color (I find flipping them with a pair of long chopsticks works very well). Remove from oil and place onto a towel lined plate. Serve immediately with following dipping sauce or transfer to a cookie sheet and reheat in the oven until warm (about 10 minutes at 350 degrees F).

Method, for dipping sauce:
In a saucepan, add vinegar, sugar, ketchup and salt. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, mix water and cornstarch until smooth and no lumps remain. Using a wire whisk, stir the cornstarch into the vinegar mixture, until smooth. Turn on the heat and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer to a serving bowl.

Yield: appetizer for four (unless there are kids around and then you should make extra... they gobble these up at an insane rate!)

01 November 2009

Sugar Rush

I hopped my three year old up on sugary ice lollies at Chatuchak Market before wandering to the serene, nearby produce market. Maybe not such a good idea, but I was in search of krathong making supplies and since my son was not such a willing participant, I needed a bribe.

Tomorrow is Loy Krathong and, coming right off of the Halloween festivities, I'm in full swing party prep! Spring rolls are prepped and awaiting their hot oil bath, the curry paste is pounded and the mangoes are awaiting disposition to their sticky rice. Celebrated annually on the day of the Full Moon in the Twelfth Lunar Month, Loy Krathong is one of Thailand's biggest celebrations (and will forever be one of my favorite holidays). After enjoying a Thai meal, families and friends make floats out of banana tree trunks, banana leaves and assorted flowers. They spike the floats (or krathongs) with a candle and three incense sticks, and make a wish upon lighting them. Then, friends and family walk to a nearby waterway and gently sail their floats. The floats are believed to carry away the person's sins and sufferings in order to make room for the wishes made for the upcoming new year.

After wandering through the produce market and purchasing a bag of fresh passion fruit, some candied sesame cashews and an assortment of veggies, my son and I found a woman sitting on the sidewalk with various sizes of sliced banana tree trunks in front of her. "Krathong?" I asked, as my son took up his ever present spider man web slinging stance and unleashed an imaginary web in her face. "Chi!" she answered enthusiastically. Excellent.

As she assembled four bags of krathong making supplies, my usually stranger-shy son launched into a chorus of I'm a little teapot. Truly thrilled that we, the foreigners, were buying krathongs and intrigued that I had a singing and dancing child, a small crowd gathered around us. My son finished his song, bowed and said, "thank you, thank you" before launching into an attempt at the Thai Loy Krathong song. He knows three words (Loy, Loy Krathong) and sings it to a different tune each time he attempts to perform it. After a generous round of applause and gathering up our bags of supplies, I hailed a taxi all the while hoping that the sugar crash would set in soon.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no 69:
Sweet Sticky Rice Parcels
Widely available at the markets throughout Bangkok, these little packets of sweetness are so much fun to present to guests. Easily made at home, they make a fun addition to the dessert tray. If you have difficulty in finding the pandan leaves, you can roll the sticky rice into shape and present on a beautiful spoon. I've done this for several parties and the presentation was playful and well received. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups of coconut milk
3/4 cup of glutenous rice flour*
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup of sugar
Food coloring, any color
Cashews or peanuts, crushed
Shredded coconut
Pandan Leaves (or substitute Banana Leaves)*

Method:
In a heavy bottom sauce pan heat, heat 1 cup of coconut milk. Slowly add the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the sugar. Continue to add the remaining coconut milk slowly, stirring constantly over low heat. Cook until thick, about five minutes. Add the scraped vanilla beans, discard pod. A couple drops of food coloring and the crushed nuts. Stir well and turn into a well greased deep dish. Sprinkle the coconut over the top and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour. Using a small spoon, remove about 1 inch pieces and gently form an oval shape. Place onto a pandan leaf. Gather the leaf around the sticky rice and secure with a toothpick. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*These ingredients can be found at most Asian grocery stores.

29 October 2009

A late night chocolateria

Tonight was a long glorious night. A string of magical moments that had me singing along to my iPod, smiling, dancing and seeming to float just above the ground. With a sprinkle of mother's love, my kids drifted off to dreamland immediately tonight. I crept to the other side of the house, pulled out my supplies, cranked up the music and transformed the kitchen into a full scale chocolateria.

Moments ago, I was up to my elbows in chocolate ganache. I've taken a momentary break to visit my laptop, but will soon be returning to the magic that is roasted cardamom pods, split vanilla beans, toasted chili peppers and cream spiked with bittersweet chocolate. It's just after midnight and a fine veil of bittersweet cocoa powder covers everything within my fluorescent lit kitchen.

With Halloween just a couple of days away and a party on Thursday, my desire to create a spectacular has been stirred. Not that I've been alone in my ventures! My five year old has awaken her inner mischief-maker and has busily been creating orange and black construction paper chains that now line our entryway. My three year old has helped out with the painting of dead plants black and stringing them with cobwebs. And, in a combined effort two home made paper mache pumpkin heads sit atop newspaper stuffed clothing creating welcoming giant pumpkin people. Paper mache ghosts float along the ceiling, orange and black balloons loom over a candy covered haunted gingerbread shack and a pumpkin patch was collaged against our dining room wall. And, at least once a day for the last two weeks, a woodland fairy and a spiderman have donned their attire and practiced their magic spells and web slinging in preparation for October 31.

Now, you might remember from my post of last year that Halloween is not celebrated in Thailand. Prior to our move overseas, I really wasn't overly "into" Halloween. Frankly, it's always kind of seemed like a holiday to get through on the way to my favorite holiday of the year. But, a move overseas seemed to stir some odd desire in me to create a magical dream-like Halloween for my kids. And, so, for our second Halloween in Thailand, I have given into my children's need to fill the house with Halloween schlock and my desire to whip them into a Halloween frenzy.

Okay, back to my truffles. Time to continue dancing to the Monster Mash and whip up another couple dozen pieces of dark chocolate before my little ones awake from dream land. And, when they finally rise, they'll catch the drifting scent of dark chocolate, catch the sparkle of the newly strung fairy lights and the flame of the tiny pumpkin candles as the gauzy ghosts float overhead. Happy Halloween!

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 68:
Ginger Infused Truffles
Dark bittersweet truffles spiked with just a hint of ginger are one of my favorite types of truffles. In addition to buying the highest quality chocolate you can find, look for the very best heavy cream as well... both ingredients make a huge difference in the final product. A delicious grown-up treat that a whole family of goblins will adore.

Ingredients:
1 cup of heavy cream
2 cups of bittersweet chocolate
1/8 teaspoon dried ginger
2 cardamom seeds
a pinch of chili powder
a pinch of salt
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Method:
In a heavy bottom saucepan, heat the cream to lukewarm. Add the cardamom seeds, vanilla beans and pods. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove the cardamom seeds, vanilla pods and reheat the cream to lukewarm. Add the ginger, chili powder and salt. In a mixing bowl, add the chocolate and pour the heated cream mixture over it. Stir gently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is well combined and glossy. Pour into a shallow-sided baking pan and allow to cool at room temperature for one hour. Cover with plastic wrap or parchment paper and place the newly made ganache in the refrigerator for a minimum of three hours. (The ganache will keep for one week if well covered and refrigerated). When you are ready to create the truffles, place the unsweetened cocoa powder on a large plate. Using a melon baller, scoop the chocolate ganache into balls. Roll in your hands to create a rounder shape and immediately place into the cocoa powder. Roll gently to cover and transfer to a parchment lined baking pan. Once all of the truffles have been created. Place them in the refrigerator until ready to serve. (Or, transfer to the freezer, freeze solid and then transfer to an air tight container. The truffles will stay in the freezer for three months. Defrost before serving.)

Makes approximately 30 truffles, depending on size.

26 October 2009

Expat mingling

Getting to explore a new land. Spending time immersed in a local culture. Learning more about yourself-- what you love, what you can endure, what pushes you too far. These are all of the elements of a life lived abroad. But, far too often, one of the keys to a robust life lived overseas is neglected to be mentioned-- the other expats.

For the first three months of life in Thailand, I only had a few connections that I had either made during Internet research prepping to live abroad or by a matter of circumstances. In an effort to set up "home" and find some friends for myself and my kids, I had a few bumps along the way... a morning playgroup that turned into a cocktail mixer, the well meaning neighbors, the kid-centered play areas that felt more like a disco. But, as time went on, I slowly began to meet some wonderful people who were also on their expat journey.

A few months back, about ten of us sat around a dinner table. I found myself at a quiet moment and looked around at the faces of those seated at the table. On this particular evening, we were all moms enjoying an evening out sans children. And, as wine was poured and the meal was served, I realized what an amazing experience I was a part of when I took note that my dining companions hailed from the Netherlands, France, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, England, America, Canada and Thailand. The opportunity to talk with women who are all at a similar point in raising their families overseas is one that I get to repeat often as an expat. And, during this quiet moment at the dinner party, I realized again how incredibly fortunate I am to be having this experience.

I have valued these friendships through weekly playgroups, explorations through local markets, mornings at coffee shops, limoncello shots (sans kids) and, yes, even visits back to those nasty Bangkok play areas that still feel like baby discos to me. And, along the way, I have collected wonderful stories from their home countries and generous conversations about their overseas experiences. One can not meet so many amazing people from around the globe and not be changed by the experience. For the positive affect my other expat friends have had on my life, I am profoundly thankful.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 67:
Yeast Dumplings (Kynute knedliky s ovocem)
A wonderful friend from the Czech Republic, and fellow expat living in Bangkok, gave me a gift of a Czech cookbook. Having never cooked Czech food before, I excitedly embraced the opportunity to test my culinary skills out on her gift. After several "test" batches (and a couple of pounds gained!), I fell in love with these amazing little fruit dumplings. I altered this recipe from the one found in "Traditional Czech Cuisine" from the Czech Chefs Association.

Ingredients:
for dumpling dough:
2 teaspoons of yeast
1 cup of whole milk
1 Tablespoon of sugar
2 cups of flour
1 egg
pinch of salt

for filling:
1 cup of chopped fruit (apples, plums, peaches, apricots, cherries, blueberries, gooseberries)
1/4 cup of apple juice
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
sugar, if needed to sweeten the fruit

for topping:
your choice of melted butter, confectioner's sugar, cinnamon, yogurt or extra fruit

Method:
To make the dumpling dough, heat the milk to lukewarm. Remove from heat and add sugar and yeast. Set aside. In a mixing bowl combine remaining ingredients, then add the milk mixture. Stir until combined and turn onto a well floured surface. Knead and add more flour to create an elastic dough. Return to a bowl, cover and allow to rest for an hour. When you return to the dough, separate it into golf ball sized pieces and set about two inches apart on a cookie sheet.

Begin to make the fruit mixture. Place fruit and juice into a small saucepan and bring to a bubble. Remove a bit of the liquid, place into a small bowl and add the cornstarch. Combine well and return to the fruit simmer. Add sugar if the fruit doesn't meet your sweetness requirements and bubble until thick. Remove from heat and cool.

To assemble and cook the dumplings: Again, working on a well floured surface, flatten each ball and gently roll until the dough is about 3 inches in diameter. Place about a 1/2 teaspoon of fruit filling in the center, pinch the dough closed and form back into a ball. Make sure the seams are well sealed and set the balls seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with all of the dough. Cover and leave to rest for half hour. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the dumplings (working in batches) into the boiling water. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, remove from water and place in a serving bowl. Top with desired topping and enjoy hot!

(Note: you can freeze the filled dumplings prior to boiling. Place cookie sheet containing unboiled dumplings into freezer, remove and individually wrap later. Place into boiling water to cook, when desired, directly from the freezer and double the cooking time.)

16 October 2009

The Pineapple Market

My brain is forever programmed to hear the words Bobae Market and to think of pineapple. It's a Pavlovian response. Would you like to explore the famous Bobae Market, the epicenter of wholesale clothing trade in southeast Asia? Ding. Pineapple. Shall we spend a few hours wandering the steamy outdoor alleyways or the seven floor tower at Bobae Market? Ding. Pineapple. Perhaps we could go pick up some really inexpensive brand name outfits for the kids this weekend at Bobae Market? Ding. Pineapple.

Comprised of an extensive labyrinth of open air alleys and two seven story air conditioned towers, rows and rows of discount clothing fill the stalls at Bobae. (Ding!) I experienced my first trip to the market a few weeks back and while I picked up a few items, it didn't exactly live up to my expectations for clothing. Now, don't get me wrong. The place is filled with clothing and has a strong sampling of what you'll find at other markets in Bangkok. There's a fantastic costume store where you can buy everything from feather plumes to rhinestone studded shoes to crowns and elaborate dresses in every size imaginable. The towers also house multiple stores for children's dress wear that is absolutely gorgeous-- taffeta spun with chiffon overlay and three piece suits starting for your 3 month old and heading up in size. You'll see every T-shirt imaginable, along with biker jackets, men's sized high heel shoes, beauty supplies and name brand children's clothing (manufactured in Thailand and exported). But, for every day wear, it was just kind of... inexpensive in every way. The quality of the every day clothing was flimsy and the location isn't exactly convenient to drop into. However, if you're looking for a unique specialty costume item or want to have a thousand polo shirts custom made-- you'll find it at Bobae.

But, enough about the clothes and the main reason that every other human being visits Bobae Market. I was smitten with the pineapples.

On my early morning drive into the heart of the market, I noticed massive amounts of huge empty baskets being loaded onto trucks. Once I arrived at the perimeter of the market, it seemed that there were baskets everywhere and as I grew closer and closer to the towers, more and more baskets materialized. At the time, I thought it was an unusual sight but wrote it off as something that must be unique to the clothing trade. I shopped for a few hours, wandering and discovering. When it was time to go, I climbed back into the car and, warm from the humidity, cracked open a bottle of water. One gulp into the cool liquid and my eyes bugged out of my head. The sight outside my window was unreal. The baskets were back and full (I mean heaping, over flowing full) of pineapples. With each street and each turn, the baskets were stacked higher and higher on the sidewalk edges and people were resting on their haunches with huge knives, carving the skins off of the fruit. At times, I could only see the tops of fellow shoppers heads because their bodies were hidden from the highly stacked baskets. I flipped open my camera and rolled down the window. The scent of intensely sweet pineapple warming in the sun smacked me in the nostrils.

Upon arriving home, I regretted not stopping somewhere in order to really photograph the scene. A blurry basket was all that I got after snapping in succession as we careened through the winding market streets. But, the memory of that day has forever united the words Bobae Market and pineapple in my brain. Ding.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 66:
Pineapple Satay
Thinly sliced pineapple is made even more delicious when grilled. Add a few pieces to your bbq when making this dish, serve with a side of rice and you'll have a completely delicious meal.

Ingredients:
2 lbs of meat (chicken, pork or beef), sliced into one-inch strips
2 cups of pineapple juice
1 hand full of fresh basil, finely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
bamboo skewers

Method:
Place a piece of saran wrap on a cutting board. Place one strip of your chosen meat on top of it and cover with another piece of saran wrap. Using a meat pounder, gently pound the strip until thin taking care not to tear the meat. Repeat with all slices.

In a shallow dish, combine the pineapple juice, basil, green onion, coconut milk and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add the meat. Cover and refridgerate for a minimum of two hours. Remove the meat from the marinade, skewer each with a piece of bamboo taking care to run the stick through the meat several times. Place on a charcoal bbq and cook until done. The cooking time will depend on what meat you select, but should be no longer than a few minutes on each side. Take care not to overcook.

30 September 2009

A little huge appreciation

My father is an educator. I have childhood memories of helping to decorate his classrooms, and later, as he moved from a teacher to a principal, hanging out in the copy room and helping to staple endless packets of paper together. Today, he is a superintendent and, when I have to opportunity to visit, I still enjoy a trip to his colorful office full of reminders of my childhood.

From the years of watching my father work endless hours to foster a love of learning in children, I know the around the clock commitment that goes into such a job. The staff at my daughter's school is no exception. So, as my daughter completes her first month of school in Thailand, it seems only natural to take a moment and recognize those who have made her transition into formal education a successful one. So, a few days back, I concocted a plan to bring some treats into the teacher's lounge accompanied by a few written words expressing my thanks. Sounded simple enough at the time, but, like most things in life, the path to my gift of appreciation's creation took a few unexpected twists and turns.

While we have a well stocked market in our Bangkok neighborhood, it requires a bit of an outing to get to. We try to do our shopping, for our family of four, once per week so we can qualify for the home delivery option available. Wonderfully convenient... unless you forget just a few heavy items and find yourself lugging them home through the heat and humidity (with a child begging to be carried and wanting to stop for sticky rice from the neighborhood street vendor).

So, planning ahead, I added my necessary ingredients to our weekly list for the HUGE candy cookies I planned to make (show stoppers always and a little play on words... "HUGE cookies for HUGE appreciation"... I know, corny, but, trust me... completely effective). The groceries arrived a couple of days ago and I got started baking this morning. I hadn't counted on two elements that became a part of my morning-- the first: my newly created recipe yielded a very small amount of cookies and the second: the sneaky ability of my son to consume massive quantities of candy when my back is turned. My recipe made a whopping four cookies (I needed about 50 to complete my project) and my son found the giant bowl of M&M's I placed on the apparently now accessible to him counter. I saw him licking the bowl clean before he turned into a whirling blur of sugar energy bouncing off the walls of our dining room.

Two additional trips to the store were taken today, with me lugging pounds of butter, sacks of flour, bags of sugar, and endless tiny bags of M&M candies (since the store's larger bag supply was already purchased a couple of days earlier during our weekly grocery shopping!).

The huge cookies fit three at a time in my Bangkok-sized oven. This post has been written eight minutes at a time as I place a new batch of cookies into the oven and wait for them to turn from pasty white to a beautiful golden brown. I've personally consumed several cookies worth of dough and have broken out in a sweat at the thought that I might have to make another run to the store for yet another sack of M&Ms.

It's now two o'clock in the morning on the day of my planned delivery to the staff lounge. The kids have long been asleep and I'm clicking the dials off on the oven. I just finished individually wrapping the final batch of cookies and have packed them into their basket along with my note of appreciation. Now, perhaps I should wander to the bedroom and set an alarm clock before getting a few hours of sleep.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 65:
HUGE Candy Popping Cookies
This is one of my favorite cookies to buy in a bakery, but now that I've created this recipe I may never need to buy another. The size of them makes them seem extra special when you're giving them as a gift. I've tried to make other large sized cookies only to be disappointed by them crumbly apart after they had cooled. Finally, I have a recipe that yields delicious, gift worthy cookies that won't immediately crumble to pieces! Make them as large as you like and remove them from the pan with care. They'll firm up nicely on a wire rack without risk of crumbly apart later.

Ingredients:
1 cup of unsalted butter
2 cups of granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups of all-purpose flour
2 cups of M&M candies, frozen

Method:
In a large bowl, whip the butter with the sugar until the mixture is a light lemon color. Add the eggs. Mix to combine. Then, add the baking soda, vanilla and flour. Mix into a dough. Form into balls slightly larger than a golf ball in size and place onto a silicone mat lined baking sheet, three cookies per sheet. Flatten the balls and press a generous amount of M&Ms onto each cookie. Bake at 375 degrees for eight minutes until lightly golden on the edges of the cookies. Remove from oven and allow to cool for three minutes on the pan. Using a large spatula, remove carefully to a wire rack. Allow to harden and wrap individually in saran wrap to preserve the texture.

Yield: 8 huge cookies

21 September 2009

Ginormous Art: Here today, gone tomorrow

If I was ever in a situation where a producer screamed at me, "Hire an art director today!" I would immediately fly to Bangkok, walk into any of the city's shopping centers and demand to know who was in charge of art installations. Now, that scenario will never happen because a) I'm not a famous director (or for that matter, not even a part of the film industry at all) and b) because I am certain that the shopping centers in question would be foolish to let their art teams get away.

The thought that must go into the exhibits featured in Bangkok's shopping centers must be tremendous. For starters, the scale is huge-- at times seven floors in height and courtyards larger than several football fields. Additionally, the amount of time the exhibits are available for viewing enjoyment is absolutely mind boggling-- sometimes as short as a week before one massive exhibit is swapped for another that is equally stunning (and massive).

I was walking through Bangkok's CentralWorld one week and the entire seven story atrium was covered in humongous decorative lanterns. Meanwhile, outside the giant (several football fields long) courtyard was covered in twinkly lights and bamboo poles with smaller versions of the lanterns suspended overhead.

The very next week, the same atrium featured a chandelier of fresh orchids and jasmine strung in combination with dazzling pink twinkly lights. The overwhelmingly sweet scent wafted through the stores. And, simultaneously, just down the hallway, a series of "tunnels" created out of more exotic fresh flowers, including thousands of fresh roses in varying shades of pink, stood awaiting shoppers to stroll through the indoor garden they created. A mossy floor was laid and spritzed with water by the attending cleaning crew. A small box with a sign saying "please remove shoes" in both English and Thai was placed at the edge of the display.

Yet again, two weeks later, the same shopping center featured a tribute to local artists and the traditional Thai fan. Artists were commissioned to imprint their work onto fans which were then strung the series of seven floors to create a massive installation that swayed with the breeze of the indoor air conditioning. Giant pieces of bamboo were woven together to form 12 foot tall spheres that paid tribute to the region's basket making artisans. Baskets were piled together to form functional furniture as a part of the display and invited shoppers to sit and relax on surprisingly comfortable "furniture." I went back to snap a few more pictures two weeks later and, of course, the entire display was gone.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 64:
Red or Green Curry Paste
An art form in its own right, the pounding of your own curry paste is a richly rewarding process. Unless you live in southeast Asia where you can walk to any outdoor market and buy some fresh paste, you're probably stuck with one brand of generic red curry or green curry. Walk away from the jar and head to the produce section of your grocery. But, warning: once you've tasted the difference a fresh curry paste can make, and experienced how joyfully rhythmic the process of pounding your own is, you'll never go back to the preservative laden jar on your grocer's shelf.

Ingredients:*
For red and green curry paste base:
6 shallots, skins removed and diced finely
3 garlic cloves, skins removed and diced finely
a one inch piece of galangal, finely diced
1 stalk of lemon grass
zest of one lime (kaffir lime is preferable)
2 tablespoons of small dried shrimp
salt, to taste, approximately 1 teaspoon

For red curry paste, all of the above, plus:
Two dried red chilies
Paprika, a couple pinches
dried red pepper flakes, optional, to alter heat

For green curry paste, all of the above (not the red curry ingredients), plus:
3 stalks of cilantro, finely diced
turmeric, 1/8 teaspoon
two fresh green chilies, finely diced
dried red pepper flakes, optional, to alter heat

Method:**
Begin by making the curry paste base: Cut the stalk of lemon grass in half, discard top "leafier" side and finely dice the remaining piece. Set aside. Place the shallots and garlic into the base of a mortar and begin pounding until mashed and combined. Continue adding ingredients in the order stated above, working until each ingredient is well combined. The texture of a good curry paste will be chunky, not completely smooth. You should be able to recognize filaments of the galangal and lemon grass and small flecks of the other ingredients within the combination.

To make red curry paste: Soak the dried chilies in a small amount of water for approximately 30 minutes. Remove chilies and dice finely, discard water. Add the chilies to the curry paste base already created and pound to incorporate. Add paprika to further color the base and add desired amount of red chili flakes (working with a few at a time and increasing amount as necessary). Place finished paste in an air tight container and refrigerate for up to one month.

To make green curry paste: Add all listed ingredients to the already created curry paste and pound to incorporate. Remember to add desired amount of red chili flakes to increase the heat (working with a few at a time and increasing amount as necessary). Place finished paste in an air tight container and refrigerate for up to one month.

Yield: The amount of curry paste you will use will vary with the recipe (and level of spice you prefer). As a general guideline, the above ingredients will produce two meals of red chicken curry, serving four people per meal.

*Note that the following substitutions will alter the traditional flavor of the curry paste, but if you can't easily find the first ingredient, substitute as necessary and you'll still have a magnificent, fresh version:
Galangal: substitute fresh ginger
Dried shrimp: substitute shrimp paste, found in your grocer's Asian foods aisle

**I enjoy pounding my curry paste by hand and the results are a beautifully textured paste. However, if pressed for time, a food processor is a great alternative to a mortar and pestle. The end product will be a bit watery in texture and will not keep as long in the fridge without a definite texture change so the machine produced product is best used immediately.

07 September 2009

School days

I'm attempting for the third time to rip the suction that has been created between my eyeball and my contact lens. Somehow, a week of tears, stress and anxiety have taken their toll on my contacts as well as my emotional state. My oldest child, now five, started school five days ago and the ride leading up to the first day was a quiet, relaxed one spent mostly at home enjoying each other. But, as perhaps any parent who has been through it before will agree, the first day of school is nothing short of traumatic.

My daughter is attending a beautiful school with a garden setting and beautiful Thai woodwork surrounding the buildings. The teachers are caring and the campus is close to our home. Yet, that first day, I saw the effects living overseas has on a child, which are both positive and negative. We've always been a very close-knit family, but the last year of tuk tuk riding, market going and curry pounding together has created an even stronger dependence on one another. And, while playgrounds and the promise of new friends are always welcomed, the idea of being apart from each other from 8:30 to 3:30 was a new concept for both my daughter and me.

Days of my daughter pleading not to take her back to school, tears of dread over what the next day may bring, and the worry of missing her mama while sitting in the cafeteria filled her waking moments. So, after agreeing that it was a hard week, I set out to make Friday evening extra special. A celebration, if you will, of my daughter's bravery, my husband's undying support and my ability to see through swollen eyes.

After dropping off my daughter at school on Friday, my son and I returned home to put the plan into action. Stringing up a sunset sky of blue and red streamers, laced with silvery star garland, our setting was taking form. We spread out a bunch of pillows and covered them with a dirt colored quilt. A giant metal tray filled with wadded up black construction paper rocks and some well crafted paper logs and a few red tissue flames completed our faux fireplace that would later serve as a home to indoor s'mores. While my son set up a few wild (stuffed) animals within our camp site, I prepped a picnic dinner full of my family's favorites.

Probably needless to say, the smile that spread across my daughter's face upon returning home and discovering our week's end celebration was a moment I will hold in my heart and never forget. As for the health of my swollen eyes and suction cupped contact lenses, I will rise again on Monday morning and see what the second week of school holds in store for us. (And, there's always more ingredients in the pantry should another round of s'mores be necessary!).


Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 63:
Teddy Bear S'Mores
A perfect little bite of dessert for the kids, but one with flavors that adults love too. If serving for adults, just alter the shape of the cracker as desired. Serve warm for a wonderful gooey finish to a meal.

Ingredients:
For the crackers:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
7 tablespoons butter, very cold
1/3 cup honey or agave syrup
5 tablespoons milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup chocolate chips (measure first, then finely chop)
small teddy bear cookie cutter

For the filling:
1/2 cup, approximately, mini marshmallows (I use the colored ones for the kids)
1/4 cup, approximately, chocolate chips

Method:
For the crackers, mix the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter and cut into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse sand. Add the honey/agave, the milk, the contents of the vanilla bean and the chocolate chips. Stir until well combined. Form into a ball, press flat and wrap in parchment or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour or up to three days.

Remove from refrigeration and roll out on a well floured surface. Roll as thin as possible (the dough will puff a bit in the oven) without tearing and cut your desired shapes. Place on a silicone lined(or well greased) cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes until golden and firm. The baking time will vary depending on what size cutter you select to use.

To build the s'more, just before serving, place a cracker on a cookie sheet. Top with two mini marshmallows and place under the broiler. When the marshmallows puff, remove from oven, insert chocolate chips into the marshmallows (very carefully... they are really, really hot!) and top with another cracker. Serve and enjoy!

21 August 2009

Remembering

A little over one year ago, I began writing about our family's adventure in Thailand and we've now reached a point in our journey where history, to some extent, begins to repeat itself. While Bangkok has felt like home for quite some time now, it's just this last month that we can look forward to experiencing Thai culture for a second time around. We're living through rainy season (again), we're approaching monsoon season (again), the moon festival is right around the corner, followed by Loy Kratong and soon the neighborhood coconut ice cream street vendors will pack away their carts until the warmer weather returns.

It only seems appropriate that when July flipped on the calendar, my mind would naturally begin a progression backwards to the memories our family has built in Bangkok. I remember arriving fresh off the plane, greeting our new home and being swept away by a wave of humidity and a cloud of jet lag. I remember endless weeks trying to entertain two toddlers while waiting for our shipment, holding all of our household and personal possessions, to arrive from the States. And, I remember the welcoming smiles and warmth towards our children expressed by new neighbors and local merchants. I remember my first smell of the ever present charcoal barbecues being lit in the early morning, mingling with the scents of bubbling curries and spicy breath catching fire sauces starting in street side woks. And, I remember the true joy I felt in successfully finding and purchasing our first cooking pot in Thailand.
Little did I know that the warm neighborhood welcome would make Bangkok feel like home much faster than I ever dreamed possible. Nor, did I know that I would learn the art of making an authentic Thai curry from a wonderful, generous woman in Hua Hin, providing me with the ability to replicate the streets simmering curry on our own home's stove top. And, while my husband and I were planning this grand adventure of raising a family overseas, I never realized that the purchase of one simple pot would lead to Loving Rice.
And yet, here I am sitting on a rattan woven chair full of cushions covered in scarves purchased at a local open air market. Here I am, looking out over our home's balcony filled with orchids and cloaked in steamy humid skies. Here I am, sharing a mutual adoration of the local chicken vendor's signature spicy sauce (and spending endless amounts of time in conversation trying to figure out her secret ingredient!) with my husband. Here I am, enjoying being a parent overseas and looking forward to taking my daughter to her first school day in Thailand (and then picking her up as I dodge monsoon raindrops!).
Here's to an amazing experience and to the adventures that the future holds. Happy Birthday Loving Rice!

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 62
Coconut Cake
Here's one of my favorite recipes for those times when you need a dessert that satisfies, but you don't feel like spending much time in the kitchen. The result is dense and decadent, without being overly sweet. Without a need for icing, this can whipped up in a short time, baked and then left to cool until serving. Serve solo or with a dollop of cream to dress it up further.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup of butter (plus a bit extra for greasing the cake pan)
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of powdered sugar (plus a bit extra for garnish)
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split
1 1/4 cups coconut milk

Method:
Place the coconut milk in a saucepan. Scrape the interior out of the vanilla bean and add to the coconut milk (also add the exterior halves). Bring to a simmer and remove from heat. Allow to cool. Remove vanilla bean halves once the mixture cools and discard. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add both sugars and beat until well combined and light in color. Add the eggs and mix until combined. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and coconut milk. Stir, with a whisk, until there are no lumps. Pour into a well greased cake pan and bake at 375 degrees F for approximately 35 minutes (times will vary depending on size of pan used). The top will be a dark golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

10 August 2009

Ode to Chinatown

Chinatown has always held a special place in my heart. I have memories of early childhood, gathered around a big lacquered table at a particular restaurant in Seattle's Chinatown. My grandfather would usually be the reason for gathering us there-- in celebration of either his or my mom's birthday. He'd order steaming bowls of won ton soup, piles of sesame noodles, fried baby octopus, and almond gravy coated chicken. And, we'd sit and talk and eat and eat and eat.

My mother continued my love for Chinatown by taking us to the international district's supermarket to search through the tiny aisles and small stairways that led to additional dusty rooms of treasures. My love for chopsticks and tiny rice bowls and exotic candies was fostered in those dusty halls. As a college student, I ventured north of the American border and discovered the Chinatown of Vancouver. Again, over steaming bowls of soup, Chinatown worked its way into my personal history with a particularly eventful birthday lunch as my parents visited and I shared my dislike of early college life.

Then, while living in San Francisco, I journeyed down Grant street more times than I can even count popping in and out of stores with rickety stairwells. Each time, leaving with a new tiny vessel for soy sauce or a set of meditation balls or a set of chopsticks as a memento of my day's adventure. And, even while living in Philadelphia, I sought out the teeny tiny Chinatown in need of a little bit of exotic discovery.

Today, I wander the twisty windy alleyway known as Sampeng Lane, the heart of Bangkok's Chinatown. The long Lane is unlike any other Chinatown I've experienced before. Like other Chinatowns, the streets are alive with endless flows of people bustling from fabric stores to produce stands to trinket stalls. But, here, the main purpose of excursions seems to be to buy in wholesale bulk. Many stores won't sell single items, purely dealing in wholesale lots exclusively.

As you walk the tiny lanes single file with other shoppers, it's difficult to imagine any motorized vehicles fitting through the "roadways." That it, until a motorcycle carrying a towering load of cardboard boxes beeps behind you and flies down the awning covered pavement. Sampeng Lane journeys for blocks and blocks of the city, winding in and out of noodle shops and shoe sellers and repair stands along the way. A full morning only allows one to barely begin to explore Bangkok's Chinatown. But, after a couple of hours in Sampeng Lane, I've easily picked up a new soy sauce dish, a bag of exotic fruit and another day of memories to add to my own personal history with the world's Chinatowns.

Cooking in Thailand: entry no. 61
Peanut Butter and Noodles
This dish is rich and decadent. I recommend you serve it alongside something light and refreshing (like Green Papaya Salad or my version of a classic summer Fruit Salad) and with a glass of beautiful summer wine or an icy pitcher of beer.

Ingredients:
1/2 package whole grain spaghetti noodles (about 6 oz)
1/2 cup peanut butter*
1/4 cup boiling water
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup green onions, roughly chopped

Method:
Cook the noodles in vigorously boiling water until al dente in texture. Meanwhile, combine the peanut butter, boiling water and soy sauce in a skillet and mix until smooth. Add the cream and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer over low heat. Drain the noodles, do not rinse, and transfer to the pan containing the sauce. Toss to coat the noodles and bring to a very hot temperature. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with cilantro and green onions. These are best served steaming hot.

*Since my daughter is allergic to peanuts, I use a home made cashew butter instead of peanut butter and make sure to add a little bit of extra salt to closer replicate the flavors of this recipe. We've tried this with almond butter to a lesser success.

28 July 2009

The glitter of Pratunam

The morning started out gray with a heavy mist of humidity fanning out over the city. But, I was not going to be deterred from an outing to Pratunam Market. For months I've heard of the market dedicated almost exclusively to clothing and beauty products. So, after skytraining my way to central Bangkok and disembarking at Siam station. I proceeded out into the humid air and let my green leather flip flops clap their way down the cement stairs and to street level.

Vendors were out early, already hawking their noodles and adorable miniature pineapples (I ended up going home with six... how can you pass up a miniature pineapple?!). I walked past CentralWorld, the newest of Bangkok's ultra glossy super shopping centers, and found myself waiting to cross a quadruple lane road along with a gaggle of Thai women wearing towering heels and chatting excitedly. I held my breath and followed with the pack as soon as there was a slight clearing of the rushing taxis and tuk tuks. Exhaling with relief, as I have learned is "normal" for me to do upon successfully crossing traffic, I set foot on the opposite side's crumbling sidewalk and surveyed the scene. So this was the edge of the famous Pratunam Market.

Judging from the size of the crowds milling, morning was a popular time to head to Pratunam. People were everywhere. Women in their heels and pencil skirts shaded themselves with parasols, men in short-sleeved polo shirts dabbed at the perspiration already forming on their brows with brightly colored handkerchiefs and market employees dressed in aprons bustled about hauling huge carts of assorted goods.

But, like all good markets in Thailand, the edge is merely the beginning. Like a present being unwrapped, one must step into the covered, dimly lit curving alleyways of a market in order to really discover the prize. Tables heaped with long flowing bunches of glistening black human hair, baskets toppling over with every shade of nail polish imaginable and rows and rows of tiny pencil skirts and matching patent leather heels awaited inside. Throwing myself into one of the markets narrow openings, I turned down the twisty alleys until the crowds thinned a bit and saw the huge Buddha surrounded by tables covered in tiny offering plates. I'd later find out that rather than have vendors set out food offerings by their own stalls, as is common at other markets, Pratunam was built to provide a central offering place that all stall owners could contribute to as desired. The rule was established to cut down on vermin within the market, and for that I was glad. One doesn't desire to reach for a strand of human hair and be surprised by a rat popping out of it.

A tiny little twinkling caught the corner of my eye. One twist and another turn and I was standing at the open mouth of an amazing site, unlike any other treasure I had yet found in Bangkok. Some time ago, this may have been just a quick pass thru to lead a visitor to another bustling area of the market. But, today, the sun streamed in (as this tiny alley wasn't covered like all of the others) and glitter and sequins were scattered over the cement floor and walls. It was if someone skim coated the entire place in concrete and then let the sparkly confetti fly, trapped for eternity! Note to self: absolutely brilliant and to be replicated in a future home sometime, somewhere.

I walked slowly through, taking it all in and cursing the fact that I didn't bring my camera on this outing. At the end of the dazzling alley, the market began again, but this area had a much different tone. Huge feather boas were strung around the necks of male mannequins wearing giant cotton candy wigs and bedazzled evening gowns in neon that trumpeted out into tulip trains. Seamstresses sat at tiny sewing machines behind the mannequins creating even more elaborate gowns at a shocking pace. Yards and yards of tulle and man-sized heels in every shade of an extra glossy rainbow brilliantly lined nearby racks. I laughed out loud, dazzled by the color and the show, half expecting a drag version of a Bollywood movie's dance scene to pop to life in front of me.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 60:
Cool Slaw
After a hot and humid morning exploring the back alleys of a local market, I crave a crunchy fresh dish for lunch and a giant glass of water filled with ice and lime wedges. Here's one of my favorite lunches that also works great as a side to dishes like Pad Thai or Philippine Ribs.

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
pinch of black pepper
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne, vary amount to taste
1/3 head of green cabbage, shredded
1/2 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 green onion, finely diced
1 hand full of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
lemon wedges
4 hard boiled eggs, optional

Method:
In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, oils peppers and salt. Add the cabbage, carrots and onions. Mix well. Refridgerate for at least 20 minutes. Add cilantro just prior to serving and mix well. Serve with a lemon wedge and a sliced hard boiled egg, if desired.

Yield: four lunch size servings

23 July 2009

Jiggle, jiggle

While traveling solo with the kids recently, we stopped in Hong Kong for what was supposed to be a brief layover. In reality, the stop ended up consuming an extra seven hours of our time due to flight delays. Rolling my eyes in exasperation (I mean really, who wants to entertain two of the five and under set at an airport--any takers?), we wandered, hoping to pass the time quickly.

We looked at over priced souvenirs. My son kissed a life-sized plastic ramen girl who was promoting steaming soups. We found a little television set with other travel weary families. But, after witnessing two minutes of sword swallowing, blood spurting animation I quickly decided to take the kids for a look at a few more overpriced souvenirs.

And, then, off in the distance, I saw the beckoning green and white lights of my favorite coffee chain. While I enjoy local businesses in almost every scenario, there's one coffee chain that I frequent as if it is a second home no matter where in the world I am. And, this long layover was about to become one fortunate, life changing stop as it will forever be remembered as the day I discovered... coffee jelly.

With my kids already eyeing the nearby playground they had just discovered, I placed an order for a latte with coffee jelly. I've long stared at Thailand's jellied drinks, a bit nervous to try them at the open air markets. On Bangkok's streets, vendors stand in the humid heat stirring giant glass vats of milky liquid with various colors of gelatinous globs floating through.

Upon receiving my drink in Hong Kong, I had doubts. Cubes of darkly tinted gelatin floated through the cold latte like leeches hiding in a muddy river. And, then, with kids happily prancing through the playground, I slurped and fell in love. Milky latte mingled with small droplets of rich, almost bitter, espresso beads.

The subsequent hours in Hong Kong were filled with two more coffee jelly drinks, hours of playground merriment and an extremely caffeinated self boarding a plane (with two sweaty hot, happy children in tow!).

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 59:
Coffee Jelly
After a bit of work in the kitchen, I finally settled on the consistency that matched the jellies I enjoyed during my layover in Hong Kong. The finished product should not be too firm, but rather "scoopable". Add a scoop to your next iced coffee drink, think of a long layover in Hong Kong (and be thankful that you're not at an airport!) and then settle into a lawn chair in the summer sun!

Ingredients:
2 cups of your favorite freshly brewed coffee
1 Tablespoon gelatin
2 Tablespoons sugar

Method:
Combine all ingredients and stir well, until the gelatin and sugar is completely dissolved. Spray a deep bowl with a mist of vegetable spray and pour the gelatin mixture into the bowl. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, make an iced coffee (or a glass of chocolate milk) add a large scoop of coffee jelly, some ice, and a straw.

Will keep for two weeks in an air-proof container, kept under refrigeration.

15 July 2009

Make room for noodles

While my mom was visiting Bangkok recently, we took an afternoon sans kids and did some exploring of the much neglected by tourists neighborhood of Victory Monument. Sure, it's the main intersection of Bangkok (and as a side note, the location of the most recent Red Shirt protest activity that shut the city down for a number of hours). But, a lot of tourists consider Victory Monument a place to pass quickly through en route to another location. Stop for a couple of hours and you'll be richly rewarded with covered market after covered market (after covered market and on and on...).

Used and refurbished shoe sellers stand elbow to elbow with home made noodle vendors and imported clothing stalls selling shirts and dresses for a song. Umbrellas and faux designer watches mingle with MAC cosmetics and Christian Fior (no typo... you read it correctly) handbags.

And, unfortunately, a little cart-like front of a McDonald's is plopped down right in the middle of no less than two dozen vendors selling every type of homemade noodle under the sun. Good grief. In a country that does fast food so well, hand cooked quickly, with natural ingredients and traditional culinary skills, why must the frozen slab of pseudo meat place exist here too? If you find yourself with an hour of two to pass in Bangkok, head to Victory Monument's ring of covered markets, skip the Big Mc Meal and sample a locally made ice cream concoction, a plate of noodles or a mixed Thai soda. Then, take a fist full of coins and score some excellent deals on all sorts of wonderful finds.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 58:
Coconut Curry Egg Noodles
This noodle dish is a wonderfully satisfying meal at the end of a long afternoon of shopping. Slightly creamy, not spicy and full of fresh flavors, it pairs well with a tall iced tea or sparkling water with lime. I enjoy making Char Siew and serving it on top of the noodles, but any protein would sit well with the dish.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound of egg noodles, approximately
1 cup of coconut milk
1 tablespoon of mild red curry paste
2 cups of loosely packed greens (spinach, arugula, celery leaves, finely sliced cabbage all work well)
1 carrot, finely cut into 2 inch matchsticks
1 large hand full of cilantro
1 cup of chopped green onion, about 1/4 inch long
1 lime, cut into wedges
Cooked protein of choice: char siew, steamed sliced chicken, quickly boiled large prawns

Method:
In a large wok, bring the coconut milk and curry paste to a simmer. Add the carrots and greens. Cook until the vegetables are slightly wilted, but still crunchy. In a separate pot, bring a full container of water to a boil and quickly cook the noodles, no more than three minutes. They should be chewy and al dente. Drain, rinse and add to the coconut curry mixture. Toss the noodles to coat and place generous portions into four bowls. Generously top with cilantro and green onions. Serve with one lime wedge and top with protein of choice.

Yield: four generous servings

25 June 2009

Street vendor fruit, photo essay two

Here's the second post in a two part photo essay series! Thailand's fruits are just too wild to let the photo opportunities pass one by.

While I'm not entirely sure of the spelling and can't even quite get a consistent pronunciation of the fruit featured on the right of the platter, consensus seems to lead me to thinking that it is called Mong-Pong. Just peel open the shells similar to a pea pod fresh from the garden and you will find bright white starchy fruit. Neither sweet or sour, this little fruit serves as a great snack. Think of it as the popcorn of the fruit universe! On the left of the platter is one of Southeast Asia's most gorgeous fruits-- Rambutan. Related to the lychee, the rambutan looks similar. The flesh is somewhat translucent once you peel back the exterior soft spiky shell.

In the picture at left, is one of Thailand's Red Lady Papayas. Split in half, the fruit is still heavy and fragrant. One of most intensely flavored papayas I've ever experienced, the Red Lady almost tastes like flowers smell. Floral with pungent green notes, the texture follows with a dense silkiness.


And, one of the cutest and best fruits I've ever had the pleasure of meeting is pictured here---mangosteen. With a thick outer skin, the mangosteen resembles one of Asia's plump little eggplants. But, slice it open and you're treated to opaque white segments of fruit that will blow you away. Strong intense sweet flavor pack into these tiny things... in fact, think about the best mango you've ever eaten, add some sugar to it and multiply by ten. Then you're getting an idea of what the mangosteen does on your tongue.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 57:
Passion fruit Puddings
My absolute favorite food in the world! I can not think of anything else I'd rather eat if presented with the opportunity to consume only one food until eternity. These little puddings are a perfect finish to a spicy Thai meal. If Passion fruit isn't easy to come by in your area of the world, hunt some down (or plan to on your next vacation) and try these adorable little puddings.

Ingredients:
4 Passion fruits
1 cup of heavy cream
1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon of butter

Method:
Cut the tops off of the passion fruits, remove seeds, pulp and juice (do not discard). Rinse and dry the shells of the fruit. Set aside. In a medium saucepan add the cream, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened. Remove from heat and strain the pulp of the previously set aside passion fruit to remove 2 tablespoons of the juice. Add the 2 tablespoons to the pudding mixture along with the vanilla and the butter. Stir well. Allow to cool slightly and spoon into fruit shells. Place into refrigerator and just before serving, spoon a small amount of pulp and seeds onto the top of the puddings. Serve with small spoons and enjoy!