30 December 2010

You'll never look at a straw the same way again.

Happy New Year!!! In my two previous posts, you've seen a few of Bangkok's crazy and beautiful Christmas decorations. Below are a few that bridge the Christmas season and the New Year's festivities. One of my favorite artistic endeavors of all time was discovered in one of the Siam shopping centers-- Siam Discovery. Each piece of seasonal artwork throughout the building is made out of multi-colored drinking straws. From life-size Christmas trees and holiday garlands, decorated in twinkling lights, to a suspended graphic treatment of sculptural stars and a giant exclamation of the word YEAH!, the work is absolutely stunning up close. The grandest in scale is featured in the center's entry hall, which consists of an entire wall covered in drinking straws spelling out a welcome greeting. Take a look and then go get yourself a straw, pop it in a cool drink and contemplate how long the artists must have spent creating the displays featured below. Again Happy New Year!

 Entrance to Siam Discovery. The entire wall is covered in drinking straws!

A close-up of the above wall.

More drinking straw art. Suspended from the ceiling, three floors up.

24 December 2010

A golden shoe and a few pretzels too...

Merry Christmas! From the tallest Christmas tree in southeast Asia to a tree made out of golden high-heeled shoes to a tree decorated with pretzels to a giant snow globe that you can step inside of, Bangkok has once again outdone itself with crazy Christmas decor. Here are a few pictures of what the city looks like now....

The largest Christmas tree in southeast Asia, at Bangkok's CentralWorld.
The tree stands an impressive five floors tall.

Everyone needs a tree decorated with pretzels, right?!

Yes, they really are pretzels!

A tree of golden shoes!

A giant snow globe. See the bench? You can step inside and become part of the decor.

The "Happy Skywalk"-- located outside of CentralWorld on the skytrain's elevated walkway. Christmas music blares annually and paper decor flutters overhead. This year, construction from the Zen Department Store (being rebuilt after last Spring's protest fires) competed with the music.

20 December 2010

Through the rabbit hole...

Last year, Bangkok's premier luxury shopping center, Siam Paragon, had some of the oddest Christmas decorations I've ever seen (A cardboard Christmas tree, wearing a sombrero and strumming a ukulele was one of the features). So, I relished the opportunity to go check out what they came up with for the 2010 holiday season. The theme this year has something to do with giant rabbits and while I don't necessarily get the Christmas connection, I think they are pretty cute! Oh, and there's a few flying reindeer thrown in for good measure and a crystal Christmas tree. Take a look...







12 December 2010

Having a baby in Thailand (or, "It's 1 a.m. Where the hell are you taking my baby?!")

Upon moving overseas, I quickly learned rule number one of being a successful expat: NEVER assume anything will be as you expect. Then, I learned rule number two (specifically for Thailand): NOTHING will be the same as it is in your home country no matter how often you hear someone tell you it's the "Same, Same" (a favorite English phrase of locals that foreigners have appropriately tacked on "But Different"). So, it was my own grand mistake upon entering the hospital for the birth of my third child that I a) assumed I knew what to expect and b) that the experience would be similar to the birth of my other two children.

Several readers have inquired what it was like to give birth in Thailand. Let's start by saying that it was a unique experience best summed up by 'Same, same, but different.' I'm relieved to be home with my newborn and starting out his life in Thailand. I love Bangkok and still am amazed that I was able to survive the pregnancy in the tropical heat with the distinct scents of the city. It was a life adventure I'm glad to have had. And, for those interested in a few further details related to our hospital experience (perhaps humorous in retrospect, horrific while happening) read on...

After realizing that I was mere minutes away from the baby's arrival and witnessing a room that was not prepared for this moment with panicked nurses yelling to each other in Thai*, I simultaneously realized there was no doctor 'on call.' The only doctor who was going to birth this child was my own, pre-assigned doctor and no one else would be available to help should she not get there. My doctor was called and I consciously screamed persistently and as loud as I could (so that no one would doubt my need for the doctor to arrive). She came flying in, baby came flying out and I breathed a sigh of relief. Later I learned that she was in her office, a floor below, and left a whirlwind of paper and pens scattered about as she raced to make it to the labour room.

The after care was where the bigger shock came into play. Thailand is a nursery society. Meaning, babies are routinely kept in the hospital's nursery rather than in the room with their parents. All medical evaluation is done in the nursery and parents are generally not encouraged to participate. My husband had the tricky task of navigating the indirect nature of communication in Thailand while insisting that our child not be taken away from us. He went running after the baby each time our son was wheeled to the nursery for "observation"-- which turned out to mean, put the baby in the wheely bassinet and let him sit in the nursery without looking at him. A completely foreign experience for us whose first two newborn children had hospital issued security tags that would set off alarms if taken out of a specific small ward of the hospital! So, you can imagine my horror when I walked out of the bathroom in my private room at 1 a.m. in the morning to see my sleeping child being wheeled out the door by a nurse attempting to take him to the nursery for "observation." (In case you're wondering, I strongly communicated 'no observation'.) In the end, we were fortunate to be able to keep our son with us, even though our wishes were continually challenged. Our son spent mere minutes out of our sight while we were at the hospital. (Tip: if a nurse says she'll bring your child back, she will not and a parent should go racing along side the wheeley bassinet being pushed to the nursery).

And, then there were the moments that I had to roll my eyes and think "only in Thailand." Such as the moment of seeing my child's feet painted with liquid gold. A small container of beautiful gilded artist's paint was applied with a fan shaped paint brush. A lovely process of collecting his foot print until my curious eyes settled on the paint jar's label-- "Not to be used by children. Toxic." (join me in an eye roll if you wish)

Then, there was the moment when my son was in the nursery for a routine medical procedure. We were told he could come right back to the room when finished. The story changed when my husband was observing the procedure and we were told it was the nursery policy to keep him for 'observation'. My husband came to get me so that I could go feed our son and stay with him. When I returned to the nursery, just minutes later, three nurses were clustered around our one-day-old, with mobile phones outstretched, snapping pictures. (another eye roll please)

And, then there was the moment when I was instructed on how to 'bathe' our child. A new parent is not allowed to be discharged until they are taught how to bathe their child. I had to laugh with the instructing nurse (luckily she found the humor in instructing me!) as she showed me the steps to washing our (third!) child. Put a bit of water on with a sponge ("WATCH OUT for the feet! Keep them dry!" the nurse scolded. I have no idea why, but I wanted to be discharged so his feet stayed dry.),  a little soap in his fuzzy (almost non-existent) hair, wipe off with water, dry, dab eyes with dry cotton ball to dry completely, diaper, dress, comb (previously mentioned almost non-existent) hair to create a part(!).

And, there was the moment when we were finally being discharged from the hospital and informed that a nursery staff member, per their policy, would escort us to our waiting car. After a few seconds of awkwardness, I soon realized it was the staff member's job to carry my baby for me. I reached out, gently took my child and left her carrying the massive amount of goody bags the hospital sends you home with. I'm pretty certain I broke their policy.

Perhaps, you'll understand when I say that a true sense of relief washed over me as we finally left the hospital and returned home to begin life as a new family of five.


*Thai that I, most likely incorrectly translated, to be 'Get the $##$@#@% doctor in here NOW! We're $#%#%# freaking out!'

06 December 2010

A four week round up

In the last month, our lives have changed again as we (finally, after 42 weeks of pregnancy!) welcomed our third child to the world. As I write this, I'm surrounded by a hazy bubble of baby goodness. My husband is taking extraordinary care of me-- preparing gourmet meals around the clock and picking up where I left off with shuttling our daughter to and from school, taking our four-year-old out on the town for endless adventure, giving me lots of room to rest and time to bond with our newest darling. A few thoughts on having a baby in Thailand will be included in an upcoming post, but for now I thought a quick round-up of the last four weeks would be worthy of a post. So much celebrating has ensued, it seems appropriate to share a bit of the fun that has been happening at our home in Thailand.

My husband took his final long business trip before starting paternity leave. During this time, I had the kids crafting themselves into a project stupor. Weekend days and after school evenings were spent with glue, scissors, bits and baubles creating ornaments for each of the celebrations mentioned below. Laughter rang loud as they created crazy renditions of the project at hand.

Halloween involved a four-year-old werewolf screaming through the house (who morphed into a spiderman and then a batman before the night was complete) and a fluttery six-year-old butterfly swirling right behind him. In the week leading up to the holiday, a massive squash search occurred. Local markets were stopped at and street vendors pestered. The kids and I lit up each time we placed a new one in our growing collection. Paper mache pumpkins, made with a big mess, sat next to our market finds.

My husband and I have both celebrated our birthdays with nights out in the city, celebrating one another while feasting on Vietnamese food one night and Thai food another.

We enjoyed a long visit from my parents as they made their way to Thailand to welcome their third grandchild, stocked with bags and bags of wonderful goodies 'from home' for us. (I now have a healthy supply of my favorite pastel coated licorice candies. The top shelves of my walk-in closet are towering with with wrapped and ready to go Christmas presents. Our favorite coffee is restocked... and, as I write this, almost again depleted! And, the depleted felt supply in our house has been rejuvenated.) But, most importantly, we are fortunate to have spent the time with my family as we approach a very different holiday season (the first Christmas season to be spent in Bangkok, rather than in the Pacific Northwestern States chilly air with family and friends).

We listened repeatedly to the Loy Krathong song over and over again as we prepared our flower bedecked floats and then pushed them out onto our swimming pool after dark in celebration of one of the biggest and most serene holidays in Thailand. My parents, still visiting, joined in the celebration this year. We spent the morning of Loy Krathong browsing Chatuchak and then hopping over to Or Tor Kor (the Green Market, located next to Chatuchak) to buy our krathong making supplies-- rounds from the banana tree's trunk, banana leaves, orchids, chrysanthemums, joss sticks and candles.

We shared a relaxed Thanksgiving meal complete with what has become my favorite cranberry sauce (see below). This year marked one of my favorite Thanksgiving celebrations to date. We had our four day old newborn in the house, dished up (fantastically delicious food!) buffet style and then lounged around our family room enjoying one another as we dined. My two older kids loved the familiar flavors of the holidays and enjoyed plate after plate.

Somewhere in there, my husband managed to treat my dad to an overnight adventure in Kanchanaburi where they slept in a stilted village over the river, crossed the River Kwai, dined on Thai food in the warm November heat and swam in a waterfall.

And, I enjoyed the final weeks of my pregnancy with my mom by my side getting unlimited manicures and pedicures, going to the theatre, hitting Chatuchak's weekend market a few times and sipping far too many of Starbucks' seasonal red cup drinks (note to self: lay off the peppermint mochas now that you're no longer pregnant).

Then, on one miraculous day, we managed to get to the hospital, survived labour and welcomed our third child into this marvelous world.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 92:
Stewed Cranberries
We eat local and fresh ingredients mostly, but on certain days of the year we make an exception. Thanksgiving is one of them. Sure, we opt for the locally raised chicken instead of that frozen rock of a butterball flown in from the States and priced outrageously. But, I just can not fathom celebrating Thanksgiving without cranberries. And, after three Thanksgiving celebrations in Bangkok, I have yet to find any fresh ones. So, our first year here (desperate for a cranberry sauce) I created the following recipe. While I'm sure fresh berries will remain a favorite, I strongly suspect that I'll continue to make this version in tandem. The flavors are intense and now a personal favorite for the holidays.


Ingredients:
4 cups of dried cranberries
1 cup of orange juice, freshly squeezed
zest of one orange
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup of water

Method:
Place the cranberries into a large bowl, cover with water and wrap tightly with plastic wrap or parchment. Refrigerate overnight (up to three nights). When ready to cook, drain the cranberries from the liquid (reserving the liquid for later use). Place in a heavy bottom saucepan with the remaining ingredients. Over low heat, simmer, for approximately 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and watch closely so that the sauce doesn't scald. Add portions of the reserved liquid, as necessary, to make into your desired consistency.* Serve warm or cold. Place over meats or eat as a side dish.

*I prefer for the sauce to have a bit more liquid so that it takes on a thick gravy-like consistency.

07 November 2010

Paint a grenade?

Sunday morning. Two active, interested in exploring the city kids. My husband was out of town on business, I had family scheduled to arrive three days later and I was 38 weeks pregnant. I needed a quick, EASY outing where my six and four-year-olds could create their own adventure (and I could sit and watch, while drinking a massive mug of mocha!).

So, off to the skytrain we went and landed at Siam Paragon. We made our way to the flagship store's play area, which can only be described accurately as crack for kids. In other words, massive stimulation all at a kid level. The kids had a fantastic time while playing in the winding maze of slides and swings and balls and tunnels. They climbed to great heights inside the netted environment. They (perhaps not so happily) dodged the area's attendants' attempts to startle them from jumping out from behind giant clown punching bags. All the while, three different kids' songs set to techno beats are blasting over the loudspeakers simultaneously, lights and bells are flashing from the surrounding arcade games and the store is making announcements for special promotions being offered in their other departments. Perhaps even more startling than the environment itself is that I still remember arriving in Bangkok and thinking how oddly overstimulating it all was. Today, I still find it overstimulating, but it is now a completely normal part of Bangkok's landscape.

While drinking my coffee as the kids played, I took the opportunity to observe the entire play area which consists of the enclosed aforementioned slide/ball/maze zone, a concession area, an arts and crafts area and then a game arcade and ride on carnival toys (all sized for the under 8 crowd, but enjoyed by kids of all ages). And, even though we've visited this particular play zone many times during our stay in Bangkok, I ended up laughing as I noticed things I never had before.

How about the 'rules' of the play area? The sign says "1. During Mondays-Fridays the entrance is 50 baht for 30 minutes per child. 2. During Saturdays and Public Holidays the entrance is 50 baht for 30 minutes per child." (In case you're wondering, I paid 50 baht for 30 minutes per child on a Sunday.)

Right next to the 'active' play area, there is an arts arena. Little tables, full of paints and art supplies that allow you to work on a number of unfinished projects. For example, you purchase a stained glass piece and then finish it with the paints provided there. Or, you purchase a piece of bisque sculpture and paint it. I almost spit my coffee out when I looked over the bisque items available for painting and my eyes landed on an actual-sized grenade!

And, the Thai love affair with corn continues. I've written about how corn is placed in and on every food item imaginable here-- ice cream with corn, pizza topped with corn, etc. If your little one gets hungry during their play time, saunter on over to the concession stand and enjoy some caramel corn, regular popcorn or maybe just some steamed corn kernels!

But, really, what child could resist a kid-sized air hockey table? Not mine. They squeal with glee as they shoot the puck across the table and are oblivious to everyone's stares as they scream, "WOOOOOO HOOOO! I got you!" as they score against one another. My daughter (the older of the two) smiles as her little brother pushes the puck into her scoring slot. He enjoys making a point regardless of what team he's playing for!


Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 91:
Gooey Corn
I've mentioned the Thai love affair with corn. Here's a sticky sweet fun option. Great to make with kids (or for a late night fast sweet snack!).

Ingredients:
1/2 cup unpopped popcorn
6 Tablespoons butter
5 cups of marshmallows
Seeds scraped from two vanilla beans
Food coloring (2 drops), optional
Optional: Toasted nuts, small candies (red hots, m&ms or sprinkles all work well)

Method:
Pop the popcorn, remove unpopped kernals and set aside. On top of the stove, place butter in a heavy bottom pot and melt. Add marshmallows and stir until melted. Add vanilla. Remove from heat. Add food coloring as desired. Pour over the popcorn. Add nuts or candies as desired. Mix well until covered and spread onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Allow to cool for 30 minutes and break apart into smaller pieces. Place into an airtight container or sealable bags for up to 30 days.

17 October 2010

Today

At this time of year, the weather typically cools just a bit in Bangkok. Those native to the area feel the 'chill' in the air. The rest of us breath a sigh of relief as the humid steam lessens a bit.

As I write this a super typhoon is approaching the Philippines and all of southeast Asia is having some unusual weather. Paired with the natural seasonal cooling, we are experiencing our third day of near constant drizzling rain. Usually, at this time of year, it will rain (hard and heavy) for about an hour in the afternoon or for several hours overnight. But, it is strange here to experience a day where you find yourself under constantly misty skies.

My youngest has little to no recollection that this was the normal weather pattern for much of the year when we lived in Seattle. Having moved to Thailand when he was two years old, he doesn't remember days spent in the drizzle. He looks out of his Bangkok bedroom window and says, "Let's just wait it out mama. No sense in getting wet." While my daughter, being slightly older when we moved, has strong (and fond) memories of the rain and is approaching Bangkok's unusual rainfall with typical Seattle-ite gusto declaring it a perfect 'color at the coffee shop sort of day'.

With a firm grip on his spiderman umbrella, my son agreed to the coffee shop outing as long as his favorite matchbox car could come too. A big stack of coloring books and the diminutive car journeyed with us. We sat at the window and sipped hot cocoa as the rain continued to drizzle down. My daughter constructed roadways with crayon borders for her brother's car while he intently instructed that he needed a stronger curve or a longer path to race on.

We eventually returned home for a day of play, crafting and ongoing big batch cooking projects. By dinner time, the freezer held twenty new glass containers of fresh tomato sauce ready to be dispatched for pizzas, pastas and consumed as is for tomato soups in our near future. And, by bedtime, everyone in the house was still smiling and happily exhausted from a fun day. While I tucked my son into bed he looked at me and said, "Let's hope it rains again tomorrow."

Cooking in Thailand, entry no 90:
Tomato Sauce
There are hundreds of variations on this recipe available. But, especially since moving overseas and not enjoying the tomato sauce brands available to us, this recipe has become a staple to keep on hand in our freezer. We use it on our homemade pizzas, on top of pasta dishes and paired with grilled cheese sandwiches as a garden fresh tomato soup.

Ingredients:
12 large yellow onions
8 heads of garlic
3 cups of water
1/2 cup of olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
2 kilos of tomatoes
3 large bunches of fresh basil, leaves removed from stems
salt
1 generous pinch of red pepper flakes

Method:
Off of each head of garlic, slice the upper 1/4 off and discard, creating a flat top. Place all heads of garlic into a double layer of aluminum foil, lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Wrap tightly and place into a 200 degree F oven for one hour. Remove and allow to cool. Once cool, remove the cloves from the garlic skins.

In a very large stock pot, add the garlic and all of the onions, roughly chopped. Add a bit of olive oil and cook until very light golden in color. Add tomatoes, remaining water, remaining olive oil, the red pepper flakes and several generous pinches of salt. Cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally for one hour. Allow to cool.

Working in batches, place the sauce into a blender and process until smooth. Transfer to another large pot and continue until all of the sauce has been blended. Finely chop the basil leaves and add to the blended sauce. Taste and add salt as needed. Pour into glass jars (leaving a bit of room), top and place into the freezer for later enjoyment!



30 September 2010

Happy Hot Season

I haven't been on holiday quite as long as my blog has. But, from my observation, blogs have a funny way of extending their holidays.

My family enjoyed a busy summer and has been back in Bangkok for the last month. Upon return, we survived a (brutal) two weeks of jet lag. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about being in your last trimester of pregnancy and traveling with two young children wears one out. My daughter returned for her second year of school, at our fabulous little gem of an international school. The rainy season turned into monsoon season and with it came a sweeping couple weeks of illnesses that kept all of the neighborhood kids away from one another (and the parents rolling their eyes and begging for a good night's sleep). We're currently in the last week, hopefully, of a nasty cough and cold that the locals blame on the 'season change' and a 'chilly drop in temperature.' (As transplants from the Western United States a couple degrees, still with high humidity, doesn't seem that drastic, nor does it quite seem appropriate to get excited about as a 'season change'. But, then again, I guess that is all about your perspective.)

We're entering a fun time in Thailand right now. Honestly, this is the season I love most every single year, regardless of where I am at in the world. But, walking through my Bangkok neighborhood, I can't help but enjoy the 'change of season' (see note in previous paragraph for perspective though) and the new fruits coming into season. Currently, the giant golden pink pomegranates are an obsession and the teeny tiny tangelos are just a few weeks away.

The new moon celebrations are embraced widely in Bangkok and moon cakes can be found in every grocery and outdoor market. Our neighbor brought us our annual tin and although they taste a bit like a really dry fruitcake with an egg baked into the middle, the intricate stampings on their dough always make the kids and I ooh and ahhh.

Another item adding to the festive mood of this season is one of Thailand's largest and most joyful celebrations which will be underway in about seven weeks (give or take a few days!). It seems that houses are already tidying up and lights are preparing to be strung throughout the city for Loy Krathong-- a celebration of light that allows people to push away their misgivings of the last year and start fresh for the new year ahead.

And, as long as you're happy nestling into the extreme air conditioning (I pack a lightweight scarf or sweater everywhere with me during this season-- not for the outdoors, but for layering on the minute I step into any shop or coffeehouse!), the monsoon storms never seem to grow old. This is our third monsoon season and, still, the pounding rain and regular night time cracking thunder is utterly unbelievable.

Happy hot season (that's out of the Thai-described seasons of hot, hotter and hottest!).

03 August 2010

Taking a holiday...

As I write this, I'm packing for a much needed holiday abroad. I have each of the kids' favorite stuffed animals thrown into the suitcase and have a mental list of airplane essentials. After the months of living with political turmoil, getting my daughter happily to the end of her first school year in Thailand and experiencing the joys of the first half of my third pregnancy, I am more than ready for a break from daily life. We'll be visiting family, kicking back and enjoying each and every moment. We'll most likely return to Bangkok with far too much luggage, jet lagged beyond belief, and a few pounds heavier from holiday (over)eating. But, above all, I hope we return to Bangkok refueled from a wonderful summer spent enjoying family and time kicking our feet up. So, until our return (when I am certain you will hear much about the perils of Bangkok's monsoon season!) I will be most likely taking a bit of a computer holiday as well. See you soon.....

26 July 2010

What I love in BKK right now

As I write this, I'm eating a bowl of homemade 'fast food' dessert-- freshly sliced mangoes over hot rice and covered with coconut cream and a sprinkle of sugar on top. Several years ago, I never would have made this dish for a late night snack and I'm so thankful to have found this wonderful explosion of flavor combination. Here's a few other things I've discovered, and LOVE, in Bangkok:

A wonderful woman who sells pure essential oils at Chatuchak Weekend Market. Go visit Wassana's selection of oils, starting around 120 baht per bottle. Oils are sold throughout Chatuchak, but many are watered down or not pure. Frankincense, Patchouli Orange, Lemon Lavender, Bergamot, Neroli... all favorites of mine and all sold in the wonderful peace that exists within Section 26, Stall number 208, Soi 1/9 of Chatuchak Market. (Oh, and great all natural fiber bags and yoga mats and other goodies are sold in this stall too!).

Crepes and Company's Moroccan Mint Tea. A well known restaurant in Bangkok, Crepes and Co. isn't off the beaten path. But, a late night visit recently yielded an amazing pot of authentic Moroccan mint tea. Lift the lid on the golden tea pot you are served and you'll see muddled mint leaves, floating pine nuts and sweetly swirled honey. Enjoy a pot in the restaurant's beautiful garden with tropical foliage surrounding and fairy lights floating overhead. 18/1 Sukhumvit Soi 12.

Cicada. If you've never seen the insect up close and personal, consider yourself very lucky. One of the ugliest creatures I've ever run across, the cicada looks like an overgrown fly. However, I find it's excessively loud hum a comforting sound here in the tropics. Throughout the year, the sky grows dark and the cicada begin their electric sounding hum that resonates throughout the cities sois.

Bangkok's Street Side Sewing Men and Women. Turn a Bangkok corner and it's not unusual to find a man or woman sitting behind a huge and heavy sewing table right in the middle of the sidewalk. They are usually busy at work, mending, making products as requested by their customers and not noticing the blazing sun overhead. Come September, I look forward to working with our neighborhood sewing vendor and having several sets of napkins made to order for our dinner table.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 89:
Fast food mangoes over rice
When you want to enjoy the flavors of Thailand and only want to spend a few moments preparing a late night snack, reach for some coconut milk, a mango and some hot rice.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup of coconut milk
1 tablespoon of sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup of cooked white rice
1 mango, cut into bite-sized pieces

Method:
In a small saucepan (or microwave safe bowl), heat the coconut milk, sugar and salt. Stir. Add the rice to a serving bowl, Place the mango on top and cover with the heated coconut milk mixture.

19 July 2010

Sweetness

It's been a busy time in our home. My husband has been traveling in the region for business, my daughter has been finishing up the school year and I'm five and a half months pregnant. My son turned four last month and during the 'growing up' his heart melting adorableness has stayed in tact. Funny how that happens.

Last night I tucked him in and after our nightly bedtime songs, he wrapped his arms around my neck for a hug and a kiss. He didn't let go. "Mama, I need to tell you something. I want all of my family together always. I don't want to be in the bed alone (said with very sleepy eyes) and I want papa to come home and I want the baby to come out and say hi to me and I want my sister to come read to me and I want mama to wrap us all up and keep us together forever."

And, with that, I melted.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 87
Citrus cookies
These look like an exotic slice of citrus fruit and have a wonderfully crisp, thin texture. A wonderfully-- just perfectly--- sweet treat.

Ingredients:
1 cup of unsalted butter
6 ounces of cream cheese
1 cup of sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
the zest of two limes
the zest of one lemon
green food coloring
yellow food coloring

Method:
Cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar together until light in color and well mixed. Add the egg, vanilla, baking powder, soda and salt. Mix well. Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time and mixing just until the flour is combined into the dough. Divide the dough in half and place in separate bowls. In one, add the lime zest and a few drops of green food coloring. Mix to achieve a bright green color (add more coloring until desired color is reached). Repeat with the other bowl of dough, adding the lemon zest and the yellow food coloring. Spread a long sheet of parchment or plastic wrap onto a clean counter. Place half of the green dough onto the parchment, spread to create a narrow, long rectangle of even thickness. Place all of the yellow dough on top of the spread, keeping to the middle (so that you still have an edge of green visible). Finally, place the remaining green dough over the yellow and use clean hands to encase the yellow 'center' completely. Roll the parchment around the dough, encasing it completely into a tube. Place overnight in refrigerator. The next day, remove and slice into very thin rounds (revealing a lemon center surrounded by lime). Place onto a silicon lined (or greased) baking sheet. Bake at 350 for approximately 5 minutes (allow cookies to brown just very slightly at the edges and remove quickly-- they will look cake-like in consistency). Cool on baking sheet and allow cookies to harden, loosing their cake-like consistency and turning firm. Store uneaten cookies in an airtight container.

13 July 2010

Certainty

I love the absolute certainty with which my daughter leads her life. I will miss these days should that certainty diminish. She's full of energy, enthusiasm for learning and humor. And, she is always right. Anyone else have a six year old and relate?

Today, she said, "Mom, I have a reading book ready for us and I read the 'bloob' and it sounds pretty good." After quiet pondering, reading the book with her and more pondering, I realized that she meant to say 'blurb'. Of course, there was no way I was going to convince her of that. So, for now, if your interested in finding out what a book may be about prior to reading it... consult the 'bloob' on the back cover. That's what we'll be doing in our home.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no 88:
Kid's Fave: Pink Pasta Salad
My daughter LOVES this dish. During the school year, I pack it in her lunch box and it's one of the few pieces of her lunch that returns home with a completely empty container!

Ingredients:
1/2 cucumber, peeled and cubed into bite-sized pieces
1/2 carrot, peeled and cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 green onion, diced
2 cups of uncooked pasta (choose a fun shape)
1 fresh beet, cut into four pieces (wash, but do not peel)
white vinegar, 1/8 cup
olive oil, 1/8 cup
salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Fill a large pot full of water, a pinch of salt and the beet. Bring to a full rolling boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, add the vinegar and olive oil to a mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, carrot and green onion and toss to coat. When the pasta is cooked, drain, remove beet pieces and immediately add the pasta to the vegetable mix. Stir well and season with salt and pepper as desired. Cool, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

11 July 2010

Dinner Party: Savory Corn Pudding

We love having friends over, enjoying drinks and dinner, as the kids dash in and out of the evening-- often in some sort of outrageous costume. No matter the size of the party, large or small, the days leading up to a dinner party are always enjoyable with menu planning, cooking and everyone in the house getting into the festive spirit. Last weekend we enjoyed having a great kick back opportunity to chat with both new and old friends during a dinner gathering at our home.

One of the dishes I created for the party was a savory corn pudding. The dish takes full advantage of our local markets' ready supply of year-round fresh corn and also caters to the season currently underway in many other parts of the world. So, for our wonderful dinner guests who enjoyed the corn pudding and requested the recipe-- this entry is for you!

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 86
Savory Corn Pudding

Ingredients:
6 ears of fresh corn
1 cup of whole milk or cream
6 eggs, separated
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup of your favorite cheese
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into fine strips
1/4 cup of sugar (optional)
1 finely diced chili

Method:
Clean the corn and remove the husks and silks. Place into a large pot of boiling water and cook until done (approximately 10 minutes). Remove, cool and cut the corn off of the cob. Place into a blender or food processor* with the milk and puree until smooth. Add the egg yolks, butter, flour, salt and baking powder. Place mixture in a large bowl and stir in the cheese. I prefer not to use any sugar, but if the corn isn't very sweet you can add the sugar at this point. And, if using the chili peppers, add them at this time as well. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold into the corn mixture taking care not to deflate the whites too much. Lightly grease a souffle dish or other deep baking dish with a bit of veggie oil or butter. Add the mixture to the dish and gently arrange the sliced red pepper on top. Place into an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook until lightly golden on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. The cooking time will vary based on the depth of the dish used. But, plan for approximately 45 minutes. This dish can be made several hours in advance and reheated just before serving, if desired.

*If you don't have these appliances, you can proceed with this recipe by finely chopping the corn and placing it into a large bowl with the remaining ingredients as outlined in the recipe above. The texture will be different, but the flavor will be the same.

30 June 2010

Today's triumphs...

Three expat life triumphs happened today...

Expat triumph number one: Overcoming the language barrier.
I went to visit my non English speaking stylist at our neighborhood hair salon. It's now been two years and I have only had three visits where I have walked out with the 'artistic vision' for my hair that I went in with. (On visit number one, I received a very chic bob with three very un-chic tails that hung about three inches longer than the rest of my hair.) So, after the regular head bowing welcome, our usual pantomime of my desired style and an odd Thai/English description on my part, I left the salon today smiling and quite pleased with the tiny dusting of a trim he gave me. Triumph.

Expat triumph number two: Developing ultimate resourcefulness.
My six-year-old daughter has been enjoying working on hand stitching projects. Every couple of days, she picks up her project, sews a bit and then puts it back down for a few days. The outcome is a 'thing' of course (a handkerchief with her artwork on it, a small felted rabbit, a tiny fairy doll...). And, the 'thing' appeals to my four-year-old son. So, he's now taken to an ongoing stitching project as well. We drop my daughter off at school, then hit the local coffee shop for a cup of coffee/cocoa and sit and stitch for a bit (interspersed with some iPodding--he's a wanna-be rock star!). So, he's working on a 4-inch-tall pirate doll and it's turning out adorably... big four-year-old boy stitches and all! Which brings me to my triumph today. The pirate is currently bald and that's not working for a blond four-year-old with a stitching vision. So, as soon as the kids fell asleep tonight, I snuck into my daughter's room and plucked a few blond yarn hairs out of one of her dolls. Tomorrow the pirate will have a full head of hair. Triumph.

Expat triumph number 3: Live local. Eat local.
I had 10 minutes to make lunch before a kid-related melt down was sure to occur (or I was going to pass out from not eating breakfast and running around all morning). Without even thinking I grabbed some coconut milk, lemon grass, shredded ginger, mushrooms, shallots, lime juice and salt. I threw them in a pot and brought them to a bubble. Meanwhile, I took the bamboo rice paddle, popped open the rice cooker (which conveniently always holds a fresh batch of rice), scooped a paddle full into each of three bowls and topped with soup. My daughter added her standard additional large amount of lime juice. I added a generous scoop of pepper flakes from a local market vendor. My son complained that he had too much lemon grass but fished his way to the rice. A couple of years back I never would have guessed that Coconut Lime Soup would be my go-to fast food meal. Triumph.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 85:
Lime-a-colada
This is like a lime flavored sweet-tart candy in a glass. My kids love the no alcohol added version.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup coconut cream (or coconut milk)
2 tablespoons of sugar
Juice of 6 limes
Zest of 1 lime
Lime slices for garnish
several ice cubes
Splash of dark rum (optional)

Method:
Add the coconut cream, sugar, lime juice and lime zest to a blender. Mix well. Add the ice cubes one at a time until the drink is chilled and slightly slushy. Pour into decorative glasses, add a float of rum (if desired) and a slice of lime.

08 June 2010

I missed Siam

During the months of being confined to our neighborhood due to political unrest manifesting in city-wide political protests, I continued to enjoy what our corner of Bangkok had to offer. Our family dug deep into our time together and continued with a fairly normal existence of creating new flavors in the kitchen and new art for our little home gallery. We went to local pool parties hosted by great friends and sipped coffee at our local coffee house.

But, behind the semblance of normalcy lurked a deep pit in my stomach. First, there was the dark feeling created by living with my mobile phone glued to the palm of my hand in anticipation of a call that came occasionally to pick my daughter up early from school. Protest gatherings and marches were regularly planned for Bangkok's city streets, causing schools to release students early in hopes that they wouldn't get caught in the inevitable traffic jams. Second, there was the gut instinct that the regular security checks on main streets, involving mirrors placed under our car, were a sign of things to come. And, finally, there was the sadness that settled into a lump in my throat when my three year old ducked deep into his car seat as we passed groups of soldiers regularly assembled in public places. I asked him what in particular bothered him and he responded, "I don't want their big guns to hurt us."

As the world now knows, the protests ended with stories of violence told about the 'final fight' of May 19 and pictures published accompanying headlines screaming out 'Bangkok Burning.'***

My heart sank at the first sign of smoke viewed from our home's balcony windows. The air was thick with the smell of tires burning and plumes of black smoke continued through the nights, alerting us each day that dawn did not 'bring a new day' after all. In the early morning prior to the 'final fight', we were eventually relocated by my husband's employer to a different area of the city. Our immediate neighborhood wasn't in danger, but my husband was returning from an out of the country business trip and fears that he wouldn't be able to reach us should we become trapped with a perimeter of conflict around us started to seem like a possibility. From our new 'home', we witnessed the city's destruction-- billows of smoke, excessive out of control fires, crowds running away in fear.

I, like many of Bangkok's residents, have lived with mixed emotions these last few weeks. Over recent discussions with friends, we all acknowledge that the unrest isn't gone, just merely on hold. We're all trying to enjoy the calmness that seems to have returned to the city... for now. We all have expressed deep sadness for the loss of favorite places burned in the turmoil. And, we've all expressed disbelief as to how this could have happened to a city we've grown to love.

This weekend, we stepped out into the heart of the city, for the first time as a family since the protests began on March 14. Hoards of shoppers had returned to the city center as well, ushering back in the opening of favorite shops, restaurants, entertainment and public gathering places. My kids were overjoyed to embrace a favorite toy store, a favorite indoor play area and a favorite restaurant--- all of which had been closed since late March.

"I'm happy Siam is back. I missed it," my three year old said at the end of our family outing, just moments before collapsing into a happy deep sleep in our candy-colored taxi.

*** An excellent recap of the March-May 2010 protests, including a timeline, can be found here.

20 May 2010

Bangkok Chaos

I prepared a much longer post, but our electricity keeps jumping in and out of service. So, for now, I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for all of the personal email messages I've received from the readers of this blog. In the days to come, I will attempt to address your questions either via a personal message or via a post on this blog.

For now, I am beyond horrified at what is happening in a city I have very much come to love. My full energy is going into keeping my family safe and out of harm's way. We've been temporarily relocated to a different part of the city and hope that the current chaos is all over soon so that we can return home and go back to enjoying what was a beautiful and peaceful city.

More recipes and adventures to come in happier days ahead....

05 May 2010

Expat parenting

My 3-year-old: What do monks do?
Me: They care for people.
My 3-year-old: Mama! You're the best monk EVER.

Yesterday, after the monk conversation, the desire to kick back at the local coffee house and have a lazy start to the day overtook me. So, with my husband out of town for business, the kids and I headed to our favorite coffee house to meet a few friends. My bag was full of all the typical mama stuff-- puzzles, coloring sheets, snacks. The sky was overcast and the air was humid.

We arrived at our favorite coffee house, met up with friends, ordered drinks, played, chatted, sipped. And, then... the torrential rains started.

We eventually reached departure time, but the rains were still coming down and we were umbrella-less. With their kids melting down, my friends eyed the humid rain and chose to make a very wet dash for home. No amount of convincing was going to make my kids budge. Rather than fight it, we retreated back for a cup of hot chocolate, froze in the now cranked up air conditioning and waited out the storm. The storm turned to a heavy drizzle and, well past the point where we MUST leave the coffeehouse, I convinced the kids that it 'wouldn't be too bad'. This was our window of escape.

The drizzle continued and on our walk home, my daughter asked to stop at a street vendor's covered stand of little trinkets. She proceeded to negotiate in elementary Thai and her efforts were rewarded with a sparkly new key chain, paid for in baht from her coin purse. We continued our walk home, past the many spirit houses that dot our Bangkok neighborhood. The kids waved and wai-ed (bowed, Thai-style, with palms of their hands pressed together). A hilarious discussion of how tiny the spirits must be to live in such tiny houses made the walk go quicker than usual. Three-fourths of the way home, the skies opened and poured once again. My heart clenched as I anticipated two already wet kiddos complaining. But, instead, they frowned and then started laughing. The remainder of our walk took twice as long as it should have due to the splashing through the giant puddles that had already accumulated.

We returned home to meet a neighbor who looked at us curiously and then proceeded to greet us in Thai. Not missing a beat, and hyper from the morning's wacky twists, the kids answered back with big goofy smiles: Sawadee-kah/kab! They continued to weave the Thai words they knew together in order to impress our neighbor.

In this moment, soaking wet and happy, I realized that my children are having a completely different childhood than I ever imagined for them. Sure, I thought we'd get caught in rainstorms and splash our way home. And, yes, I thought we'd meet up with friends for coffee and I'd pack my bag full of 'kid-stuff'. But, I never expected to stroll with my three and six-year-old past spirit houses, have conversations about monks, watch them interact in a foreign language and negotiate for toys in a foreign currency--- AND, have it seem completely normal to them. There are times that are trying and there are stories to tell that point to the negative of parenting overseas. But, in this moment, I recognized that we have created a rich, vibrant, happy childhood full of adventures and love. After all, isn't that what every parent, regardless of where they live, dreams of for their little ones?

Cooking in Thailand, entry no 84:
Rainbow cookies
Named by my daughter ("they look like they got stuck in a rainbow"), these cookies are a fun recipe to cook with the kids. Make the batter and roll the cookies, in advance, then let the kids in your life help with the sprinkle application. Perfect for a rainy afternoon.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup of butter
1 cup of sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
approximately 1 cup of tiny multicolored round sprinkles

Method:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Then, proceed by adding the rest of the ingredients one at a time, stirring well in between. Form the dough into small balls, about half the size of a golf ball. Roll in the sprinkles to cover entirely and place on a silicone lined baking sheet. Press gently with a fork, once. Bake 8-10 minutes until flattened. Watch closely as the cookies should not brown at all-- do not overcook! Remove from oven, allow to rest on the cooking tray for five minutes and transfer to a cooling rack.

17 April 2010

Protests

Where to even begin? The last month has been a cacophony of events.

My daughter turned six and much celebrating ensued. We had a huge variety of school events-- costumes to create for international day, Songkran splash celebrations to partake in and, of course, birthday cupcakes to make and deliver. And, our family took an amazing beach holiday to Hua Hin, full of relaxation and intense sunshine.

But, while all of these glorious events were taking place, the UDD (also known as the Red Shirts) protests started on March 14 and have continued on, placing Bangkok in a State of Emergency. In addition to regularly marching throughout the city (peacefully and happily, appearing in a parade-like atmosphere with lots of smiling, waving and honking), the Red Shirts have occupied several protest sites at locations throughout the city. For the last week and a half, the protesters have intensified their efforts to dissolve the current government by fully occupying Ratchaprasong Avenue, at CentralWorld. This move successfully brought Bangkok's city center and main shopping district to a screeching halt.

Prior to occupying the city center, there was the much publicized blood draw and blood spilling on key sites throughout the city. Protesters drew small portions of their own blood, mixed it together and took the large containers to dump at the the gates of Government House, the Prime Minister's home and the Democrat Party headquarters. Extra blood was then used to paint large artworks depicting the struggle of Thailand's lower economic classes. In an unfortunate evening on April 10, the government attempted to clear the protesters with use of force-- resulting in much finger pointing, opposing stories of what happened during the confrontation and, sadly, 20 people dead and over 850 injured.

Which brings me to today. It's Saturday morning in Thailand. Our family of four awoke at 5:15 by one of the first big thunder storms of the season and we've enjoyed a relaxing start to our weekend. As the days go on and the protests continue, our normal life is a bit less than normal. With the exception of my husband's daily commute to his office, our family is primarily confined to our immediate neighborhood. Usual travel routes to my daughter's school are closed and I'm joining the hundreds of others trying to navigate Bangkok's main arteries that are annoyingly jam-packed and dotted with soldiers.

So, as the days go on, we will continue to stay out of harm's way. And, we will continue to celebrate the amazing aspects of life that having two young children and living in a foreign country provide. The cacophony of events continues...

Cooking in a Thailand: entry no. 83:
Quick Thai Pickles
If you're not feeling in a pickle from political distress in your city, you'll still enjoy a twist on traditional Thai pickled vegetables. Street vendors apply quick pickling techniques to a variety of vegetables and serve them alongside many different dishes. Use the recipe below and replace the cucumbers with anything from sliced cabbage to matchstick-cut carrots or cauliflower florets.

Ingredients:
approximately 10 peppercorns
1 large shallot, finely diced
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon dried ginger
white vinegar (amount will depend on container)
small crisp cucumbers, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds

Method:
Boil a large pot of water. Turn off the heat. Add a clean glass jar and lid, that you will use for your pickle container, to the hot water and allow to sit for 3 minutes. Remove jar with tongs, emptied of water, and place onto a towel lined counter top. Allow jar to cool until just warm, then add the shallot, pepper flakes, and ginger. Then, pack the cucumber slices into the jar tightly. Pour vinegar over the top until the jar is full. Refrigerate for a minimum of overnight. Will keep in fridge for one month.

17 March 2010

The wrath of the leprechauns

Our life in the city has been abnormal these last six days as Thailand's Red Shirt protesters have blocked traffic, thrown blood and paraded through the city streets chanting and waving banners. And, as I write this, the protest continues, continuing to grind traffic to a standstill. Perhaps, I'll have more to say in the upcoming days about this mess, but for now... I declare a break from Red Shirt discussions. Today a far more important event, at least in our home, took place. The leprechauns struck their annual magic.

When we woke, our clothing was plastered with shamrock stickers. During breakfast, soda water magically turned sparkling emerald. At mid-morning, a trip to our art studio revealed that the usual crazy rainbow cacophony of crayon colors was replaced with an array of green. And, dinner was a fiasco... with a table full of lime-tinted croque monsieur sandwiches, stalks of asparagus, green gelatin sea horses and mango "shamrock" smoothies.

I raise a glass of green Beer Sing in honor of those pesky St. Patrick's Day mischief makers and wish you the luck o' the Irish. Here's hoping your house fares better when the leprechauns strike....

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 82:
Mango Shamrock Smoothies
Delightful on March 17 or any day after. If you don't have fresh mangoes readily available, substitute a freshly sliced orange.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup of whole milk
1 tablespoon honey
1 whole mango, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup of ice
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 drop of green food coloring

Method:
Add all ingredients into a blender, and swirl until smooth. Pour into tall glasses and serve.

07 March 2010

What I love about Bangkok right now

In Bangkok, right now, this is what I LOVE:

1... the bathroom signs at Siam Center. Adorable.

2... that even though there's political turmoil brewing, the satay is still grilling. The main topic of conversation seems to be related to when the red shirts will begin their promised protests. However, the streets are currently peaceful and full of the usual vendors. The street economy is booming in every way: MBK is still packed with bootlegged movie buyers and the fried dough vendor had a line of 18 patiently waiting customers this morning. (Yes, my son yelled "Alloy Mak Mak" as we attempted to walk past our beloved fried dough. Knowing it was a losing battle, I took my place and waited for our turn... which is exactly how I know that there were 18 people ahead of us since my three year old did a bang up job of counting them all out.)

3... Loft at Siam Discovery. Where else can you be greeted by an 8 foot tall yellow gorilla batting at hanging bananas overhead? And, if that isn't good enough, they put an 8 foot tall waving good luck cat nearby. Once you make it past the entrance of this eclectic store, you are in a two story wonderland of hip, crazy Thai goods that fit into the gift, stationary, home decor and accessory categories. This is where you should come if you're looking for a mini godzilla that screams 'I love Pad Thai!'

4... the MAMA aisle at Tokyu Department Store. (Yes, there is an entire aisle dedicated to the popular brand of noodles. But, I'm taking it as a personal compliment that they decided to name a grocery aisle after me.)

5... Somtum restaurant. If you're lucky, you have one too. You know, that little neighborhood joint that you happily go to over and over again. Somtum is a fabulous little hole in the wall of a place in the Ari neighborhood of Bangkok. You wander up to the front porch and mosey on over to a table where they immediately saddle you up with your Beer Sing. Serving simple, fresh Isaan cooking, my husband and I love to kick back on their porch (with strategically aimed electric fans so that we survive our meal in Bangkok's humidity). You're welcomed in, served an amazing meal and left to chat the night away over endlessly flowing drinks. I have never left with anything less than a big goofy grin on my face. Located at Ari Soi 3.

6... Somtum's bamboo salad. I'm going out on a limb here and naming this dish my absolute favorite Thai food dish ever. I would order this fabulously earthy, warm, bamboo concoction again and again and again... breakfast, lunch and dinner.

7... that it's not "summer" quite yet here. Just at the cusp of the hottest season of the year, I'm already planning to go into hibernation in front of my air conditioners (or, spend endless hours eating ice cream in CentralWorld's deep freeze air conditioning system!).

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 81:
Bamboo Salad
It would be far too embarrassing to visit Somtum for every meal-- heaven knows my husband and I are there frequently enough for them to wonder if we ever cook for ourselves anymore! So, an attempt to replicate their amazing bamboo salad at home began. I've gotten pretty close with this tribute.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup white rice
2 packed cups of sliced bamboo*
1/8 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1 packed cup of fresh mint leaves
3 dried red peppers, whole
7 shallots, sliced in fourths
Dried red chili pepper flakes, to taste

Method:
Place the white rice in a saute pan and cook, stirring constantly, over low heat. Cook just until the rice becomes fragrant and lightly golden. Be careful-- the rice will burn quickly. This should take just a couple of minutes. Allow to cool and then place in a spice grinder. Grind until the rice turns into a coarse powder. In a large saute pan, add the fish sauce, oil and lime juice. Mix well and heat until bubbling around edges. Add bamboo, shallots, dried red peppers and cook until bamboo turns tender. Approximately five minutes. Remove from heat and add mint, peppers and dried chili pepper flakes to desired spiciness. Add toasted rice powder and stir quickly. Transfer to serving plate. Enjoy with jasmine rice and fresh fruit.

*Buy fresh bamboo if possible. If you must use canned, then rinse it very well in cold water, drain and set aside.

01 March 2010

I ate a NON organic strawberry and survived

Almost two years without strawberries is purgatory.* Especially when I walk by fruit vendor after fruit vendor after fruit vendor selling in-season, local strawberries by the bag full. The little red wonders have been quietly whispering my name each time I pass by.

Last week, I splurged on a box of organic strawberries flown in from California-- selling for $18 US and slightly shriveled. Tears filled my eyes and the next strawberry vendor got my money,** regardless of the fact that strawberries appear on the USDA's dirty dozen-- products you should only consume if they are organic. I'm fairly certain my street vendor's strawberries are not organic and completely confident that Bangkok's traffic whizzing by within inches of the berry bags polluted them either further. But, man oh man, did they taste good to a tongue craving juicy in-season fresh berries.

*Okay, I'm being a tad bit dramatic. I've had several gorgeous berries on a summer trip to the States last year.

**WARNING: Do not try this at home unless you are desperate for strawberries.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 80
Lime Strawberry Shortcake
This recipe includes two things that I ADORE: freshly made lime curd and beautiful strawberries. I always feel like I'm tasting a bite of sunshine when I make this!

Ingredients:
Lime Curd:
1 cup sugar
the zest of 3 limes
1 cup fresh lime juice
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup butter
2 cup of fresh strawberries, sliced

Shortcake Biscuits:
2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg
3/4 cup milk

1 cup of freshly whipped cream

Method:
In a saucepan, combine sugar, 3/4 of the lime zest and lime juice. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and slowly add a few tablespoons to the yolks. Stir well and add the egg yolk mixture to the larger pot of boiled sugar, zest and lime juice. Whisk well and return to heat. Over low heat whisk until mixture thickens, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter. Stir until melted and well combined. Transfer to a bowl, place a piece of parchment paper on the surface of the mixture and place into fridge.

Next, make the shortcake biscuits. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Add the butter and mix until it resembles sand. Add the egg and milk. Mix just until combined. Grease muffin tins and fill half full. Place into hot oven and cook for 25 minutes or until lightly golden.

Add the remaining lime zest to the freshly whipped cream and begin to assemble the shortcakes. Slice the biscuits in half. Place one half on a plate. Add a generous dollop of lime curd, cover with berries and add the other half of the biscuit. Top with freshly whipped cream.

12 February 2010

Homesick for Chinese Food

With the actual date occurring this weekend, we celebrated Chinese New Year about two weeks ago and were a tad bit early. My daughter's art class was making elaborate dragons in honor of the holiday, while decorations covered every major shopping destination in the city. And, maybe more importantly, my kid's were homesick for "Chinese food delivery like we used to get when we lived in Seattle" and my husband was out of town on a business trip. I desperately wanted to curb the homesickness and needed a long activity to fill the evening.

I suggested a Chinese New Year celebration dinner, complete with costumes, decorations, music and Chinese food. Excitement filled our house and I took a deep breath knowing that if I pulled this off, I'd have two happy kids and I'd be completely exhausted by the end of the evening. So, I pulled out a stack of red construction paper, gold glitter pens, scissors and random animal stickers (I figured that we didn't have to just celebrate the year of the tiger!). The kids whipped up some decor, while I browsed iTunes for something appropriate and prepped up some veggies and egg rolls. We set the table with chopsticks and a tiny little tea set.

Then, I sent the kids to change into costumes from their extensive costume closet. Thrilled, they took a solid 20 minutes quietly sorting through options regularly yelling, "don't peek mama!" The electric thrill of two happy kids and a fun evening ran down my spine. I poured tea and my kids walked into the room, holding hands, with little smirks of pride playing at their lips. Decked out in layers of colorful Mardi Gras-esque beaded necklaces, my son was shirtless wearing a pair of traditional Thai pants. My daughter wore her treasured Loy Krathong outfit consisting of a pale turquoise silky shirt and matching ornate baggy Thai pants. They posed for pictures and grinned from ear to ear as they, in celebration of the Chinese New Year, ate Chinese take out "just like they used to get in Seattle."

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 79:
Egg Rolls
Unfortunately, these really do need to be fried heavily to taste magnificent. Use enough oil to cover half the roll at a time. Cook them until they are a deep golden to develop a strong crunch. Serve with some sweet and sour sauce and enjoy hot!

Ingredients:
1 package of large egg roll wrappers*
thin rice noodles (vermicelli noodles), 1/4 package
1 carrot, cut into matchstick size pieces
1 green onion, sliced into thin rounds
1 cup of bean sprouts
1 cup of packed spinach
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
soy sauce, about 1 tablespoon
cornstarch, for dusting work surface
Veggie oil, for frying

Method:
Cook the rice noodles in boiling water, following package instructions. Do not overcook. Rinse in cold water and place into a bowl. Add the ginger, red pepper flakes and a few shakes of soy sauce. Toss to coat, drain off any extra liquid, if necessary, and set aside. Working with one egg roll wrapper at a time, lay the wrapper on a surface lightly dusted with cornstarch. Place a small amount of noodles, lay several leaves of spinach, a few carrots and a few sprouts. Wrap by folding up the two ends, then roll, using a slightly dampened finger to adhere final seam. Repeat with each wrapper and set on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Heat the oil in a deep, heavy bottom pan and add completed rolls, working in batches. cook until golden brown on one side, flip once and cook other side to match. Remove from oil, place on parchment lined cookie sheet and repeat until all the rolls are cooked. Serve hot (can be reheated in the oven once), with sweet and sour sauce.


*If your store doesn't carry them fresh, check the frozen foods section.

07 February 2010

Discovery: I hate coconut cream pie.

As a kid I would press my nose up against the bakery cases admiring all the cream pies that my mom would never buy. And, as an adult I've continued a fascination with cream pies but have never purchased them. Instead, the idea to make a cream pie at home gets pushed to the back of my brain with certainty that "some day" I'll try one out. Sure, I've had bites and slices here and there at various people's parties... I think. Clearly, none made a strong impression. And, my childhood home wasn't a stranger to pie. As a Washington State native (and with a mom that makes the world's best pie crust... yes, really), hot apple pie was often cooling on the stove top.

Which is why this is such a startling revaltion to me. I actually despise coconut cream pie. How does a lover of all things coconut rectify their disgust for that creamy coconut filling? How does one admire the toasted coconut specked fillings and lofts of cream for years and years... and end up despising such things of beauty?

Three days of baking. Four coconut cream pies later. Tweaking each in an attempt to meet my high expectations of desiring to adore coconut cream pies. I have created what is a fantastic recipe according to my guinea pig friends, family members and neighbors. And, yet, I still despise coconut cream pie. Here's the winning recipe that everyone is raving about. You be the judge and see if you join the leagues of cream pie lovers or join me as an admirer from afar.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 78:
Coconut Cream Pie
After trying four different versions, this is the coconut cream pie that took the cake (so to speak). I found that coconut extract made the pie very fake tasting, even with real extract. And, I found that extra coconut flakes created an overly flecked texture. Using pure 100 percent coconut milk (make sure you don't purchase a kind with oils or preservatives added), was the key.

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can of coconut milk, 14 fl. oz.
1 1/4 cup whole milk
2 vanilla beans
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 cups of cream heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 cooked pie crust

Method:
In a large heavy bottom sauce pan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter (set aside remaining tablespoon). Add flour. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add salt and coconut milk. Over low heat, stir with a whisk until thickened. Remove from heat. Split the vanilla beans, set one half aside for later use. Scrape the inside seeds into the coconut milk mixture and add the exterior beans. Mix and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the coconut into a large non stick skillet. Place over low heat and toast until it becomes fragrant and just barely golden, approximately 1 minute. Stir regularly and watch closely (the coconut will turn from perfectly golden to burnt in seconds). Remove the vanilla pods from the coconut mixture. Stir in 3/4 of the coconut (reserve the rest for topping) and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Place filling into pre-baked pie crust. Chill until cool. Whip the heavy cream until peaks form. Add the sugar and the interior contents of the previously set aside vanilla bean. Beat for an additional minute and top entire pie with cream. Sprinkle with reserved coconut and serve.

03 February 2010

Coffehouse Crawl

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, my blood naturally loves the cool damp air. Seattle was where our holiday festivities took place this year--I layered up and loved the respite from Bangkok’s humidity. The holidays are over and 2010’s newness has started to wear off. This blog post is about four weeks overdue, but the memory of the experience lives on.

On New Year’s Day, while other people snoozed off the champagne from the previous night’s celebrations, a group of us gathered for our second annual coffeehouse crawl. In celebration of my father’s birthday (which lands on January 1), we assemble a list of artisan coffee houses and visit them early in the morning, sipping and slurping shots along our merry way. By the end we’re all buzzing and gather for a lunch made up of a lot of starch to soak up the caffeine. At each coffee house, we order drinks, then huddle around the biggest table the shop owns and test our shots. We then rate, on a scale of one to five, four separate categories—taste, presentation, ambiance, service.

On our last tour, we ranked Seattle-based local roasters--meaning the shop had to roast their own beans. This year, we chose neighborhood cafes—stores that were getting all the buzz as a favorite local hangout serving great, great coffee. So without presenting an exact scoring tally, and keeping any snarky comments written on the scoring cards private, here are four wonderful shops that you might want to visit when in Seattle…

First stop: Fuel Coffee in the Wallingford neighborhood. Only a couple years on the scene, this coffee house managed to capture my heart. You just feel good holding a cup of Fuel coffee. Fuel has created an accessibly artistic space, with a cool retro vibe. You know, the kind of retro where you are not concerned about fleas jumping out of the cushions, but instead where you admire the bold graphic painting on an exposed brick wall and the artfully mismatched furnishings. And, they serve Hi-5 Pies… essentially pocket sized bundles of dough filled with throw back fillings—mac n cheese pie or s’more pie anyone?! Winner: Ambiance

Second stop: Trabant Coffee & Chai in the University District. Okay, I’ll admit it right away… I know this is a coffeehouse crawl, but I had heard so much about their chai that I had to order one. (critics: I tasted the coffee too!!!!) The chai is hands-down the best I have ever had. Order the spicy vegan… warm, frothy heaven in a cup (even if you’re not a vegan). And, the service at Trabant was spectacular. A knowledgeable, friendly, unpretentious barista shared our excitement at the store’s clover machine and served us expertly pulled shots. Winner: Favorite overall stop.

Third stop: Herkimer Coffee on University Avenue. Yes, it's sleek. Yes, it's well designed. But, the service during our visit left a bitter taste in our mouths. After I ordered a single shot of espresso for my father, the barista refused to make it stating that it was a short shot (exactly what I wanted to order!) and made a double shot. Her explanation: He won't even notice. The crummy Herkimer service continued to rain on our New Year's morning as we observed the barista's delicate* handling of the customers following our order. However, on a positive note, the espresso was served with a side of soda water to cleanse the palette and the doppio espresso con panna was everything one should be... hand whipped vanilla bean spiked cream dolloped beautifully atop two shots of inky espresso. Herkimer actually pulled through the lousy service to (barely) win our presentation award. Although, carry you're own soda water and I'm certain you could find a beautiful con panna, extraordinary service and beautiful presentation elsewhere. Winner: Presentation

Fourth stop: Victrola. Not officially included in this year’s coffeehouse crawl, but far to good to be missed by several members of our party. A favorite from our previous year's coffeehouse crawl, Victrola's expert roasting provides a beautiful cuppa. After several bags of beans were purchased and our veins were running at maximum caffeination, we headed home for a home cooked meal and further discussion of the morning's events. Winner: Place we love to return to over and over and over again.

*Oh, how I wish their was a universally recognized "Sarcasm Font".

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 77:
Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies
In case your new year's resolution for healthy eating is still going strong, I've injected these with whole grains, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and the ever healthful dried fruit. (Just omit the butter and sugar from your brain and enjoy!)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (save pod for another recipe)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup raisins
2 large bar of dark chocolate (choose your favorite with 70 percent cacao content), chopped into generously sized pieces

Method:
Cream butter and sugars thoroughly (leave that mixer on for a few extra minutes and let it get extremely creamy!). Add egg and vanilla beans. Mix to incorporate. Add flour, salt and baking soda. Mix just until combined. Working by hand with a wooden spoon, add oats, raisins and chocolate. Form dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place on parchment paper and wrap, securing the ends with twine. Place into freezer for 20 minutes. Remove and slice into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Place rounds on greased, or silicon baking mat lined, cookie sheets. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for approximately 10 minutes or until the cookies are very lightly browned. Remove from oven. Allow to rest for 3 minutes and move to a cooling rack.