21 August 2009


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.

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

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.

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

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.