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.

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

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

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

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!

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)*

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.