30 January 2010

Best. Ever. Meatballs.

I've been taking a little bit of a break from meat-eating lately. While it's not my intention to become a vegetarian (yet or maybe ever...), I have been avoiding meat for awhile now. So, when my family raised the question "Can we please have a bit of meat?!" I realized that my cooking had gotten a tad bit extreme for my family's desires. Immediately, I thought... I'm going to make meatballs for dinner. Easy, meat eaters satisfied. So, I grabbed an old recipe and immediately recalled that they had a texture similar to my son's favorite red rubber bouncy ball.

With my husband at work and my daughter at school, my three year old happily donned his chef's toque and climbed atop his kitchen step stool. "Meatballs?! Like in my book Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs?!" Sold. I had a day-long dedicated meatball making helper at my side. I opened the fridge and began pulling out bits and pieces of unusual ingredients thinking of ways to add moisture and sweetness to a really boring, basic recipe.

The result? A fun morning with my son and the best meatballs in the world. Yes, I tasted them. Yes, my son was popping them so fast we had to make a second batch. Yes, I am going to create some sort of prize for myself and claim it. Yes, I will go head to head with anyone who thinks their long lost aunt's meatballs are better than mine.

P.S. Later in the day, I told my husband that if there was one reason to go back to meat it would be this recipe. I look forward to consuming lots of them once my meat eating habit returns.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 76:
Best. Ever. Meatballs.
One of my favorite features of this recipe is the size of the meatballs. Don't make them huge. Instead form them into small rounds about 3/4 the size of a golf ball.

1/2 cup of veggie oil
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 stalk of lemongrass, cut into four pieces and smashed*
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 cup of panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup of milk
1 egg
1/4 cup of raisins, finely chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon of the veggie oil in a large skillet. Add the lemongrass. Add the carrots and cook until very soft, adding a few tablespoons of water as necessary to cook without burning. Add the green onions and cook just until wilted, approximately 2 minutes. Remove from heat and remove the lemongrass pieces. Add the green onions and carrots to a large mixing bowl. Set skillet aside for later use. Add beef, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs, raisins, milk and egg. Mix until well combined. Add additional bread crumbs (up to a 1/2 cup) as needed to allow the mixture to hold a ball shape. Begin forming small balls (about 3/4 the size of a golf ball) and set aside on a cookie sheet. Once all the balls are formed, place into fridge for 30 minutes.

Then, heat remaining veggie oil in skillet, place meatballs into pan (working in batches) and cook until golden, turning frequently. Drain on kitchen towels and transfer to a lightly greased cookie sheet. Place into oven at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes.

*just bash it with a meat pounder or the side of a knife so the fibers smash.

14 January 2010

Kind of like gummy fish

When a local friend presented our family with three bags of dried fish, I wasn't quite sure how we'd eat them all (or even what I'd do with them). I thanked her for the gift and then eyed the little bagged fish suspiciously. Their beady dried eyes stared back, equally as suspicious.

My five year old daughter said, "Ooh those are shiny and pretty." Now, you have to understand that my daughter has always been an adventurous "try-er" of food items. Only cautious to check for peanut products, due to her allergy, otherwise she'll usually give most things a try. So, I wasn't surprised when she showed interest in trying the fish immediately. Reaching her hand in and carefully selecting "the prettiest one", she slowly popped the head of the 1/2 inch creature into her mouth, chewed and walked slowly to the garbage can to spit it out. Making a face and smacking her lips together, she said, "Hmmm. That was actually kind of good. Kind of like a gummy fish, but not really gummy and not really sweet and not really candy." She reached for a second, a third and a fourth. It was during her fifth attempt that she realized she could eat the entire fish (previously she was licking the "meat" off of the little skeleton and depositing those into the garbage bin).

She's continued in her tiny dried fish eating ways for two days straight now, eating them as a supplement to dinners, for after school snacks and trying out a recipe I created for her. Tomorrow, she's requested that a few go in her lunch box. I'm a fan of the little guys for her, but can't quite enjoy the flavor myself yet. And, my three year old, a not so adventurous try-er of foods, has pinched his nose and said "pew" whenever he walks close to the air-tight container holding the fish.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 75:
Spicy sour fish
Here's a recipe, based on a traditional Philippine serving method for dried fish, that I created for my daughter. Make sure you really like the flavor of dried fish before embarking on this journey though.

1/2 cup of small dried fish, unseasoned (sardines, anchovies or other equivalently sized fish)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 pinch red chili flakes
1 shallot, diced finely
1 chive, diced finely

Mix the above ingredients together in a small container, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour. (will keep well for several days, although the fish will lose their shape). Serve desired portion over hot rice as a condiment.

08 January 2010

Jeeeeet Laaaag

The plane’s wheels touched down in Bangkok just before midnight with a wall of humidity, felt even in the air conditioned plane, already smacking me straight in the head. Out of all of the cross Pacific flights I’ve done since our move to southeast Asia, this one is a record breaker. Usually, I can sneak in a block of good sleep-- a feat that shouldn't go unrecognized for someone who travels with young children. Yes, up until my most recent flight, I would have said that I perfected the sleep of a plane-flying mother. Arms outstretched and two boulders, that double as my kids’ heads during waking hours, slam up against my shoulders. My knees jam into the seat in front of me. A musty airline blanket covers us all. I sleep deep and wake up with pools of slobber on my sleeves from the boulder-esque heads of my kids. Believe it or not, that scenario is the usual "bliss" I experience. Unlike my most recent flight where I raked in a record breaking hour or so of time spent asleep. Fellow passengers snored, the smell of hot coffee wafted from the first class cabin, and my eyes stung in horror over the fear that I would doze off as soon as my kids woke up from their slumbers.

As I write this, I’m experiencing epic proportions of jet lag. My husband went to the guest bedroom, since he’s supposed to be at work in a couple of hours after not sleeping on the flight much either. My kids are pinging off the walls as it it’s their normal morning hours. And, I’m half expecting a knock on our door from a neighbor who is sure to be disturbed by our middle of the night jet lagged antics. Right now, I can’t imagine doing anything other than staring at this computer screen and drinking multiple cups of strong coffee stashed away from our holiday to the States in my yet to be unpacked suitcase. But, I hear the kitchen calling and the need to create new dish. My stomach feels sick from the odd hours I’ve been keeping, but my brain says a fried egg over something will cure me. So, off I go.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 74:

Jet lag egg

Created in my Bangkok kitchen at approximately 2:03 a.m. Enjoy and eat at a much more reasonable hour.


2 tablespoons veggie oil

1 egg

black pepper, to taste

1 cup of boiled, drained and rinsed thick egg noodles

1 green onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 hand full of green peas

1 long pour of soy sauce

1 generous squirt of hot sauce

¼ teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon of ketchup


In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of veggie oil and cook the chopped carrots over high heat just until golden brown. Place the egg noodles into the pan, add the peas, onion, soy sauce, hot sauce, ketchup and brown sugar. Stir and heat until steaming hot. Place in a serving bowl. Add another tablespoon of veggie oil, heat and crack the egg into the hot pan. Sprinkle generously with black pepper, flip and cook over easy. Place on top of the noodles and prick the center of the egg so that it oozes over the noodles. Enjoy immediately.

05 January 2010

Ringing in the New Year

A holiday has come and gone. As I write this I’m somewhere in the air between Seattle and Tokyo, with an expected arrival into Bangkok in some horrendously long amount of hours. This flight has become a mental game for me and I attempt to take it in small batches brainwashing myself to forget how awfully long it really is.

My daughter and husband are sitting to my right, working on a sparkly sticker activity book and typing on a laptop, respectively. To my left, my son is mesmerized by a game of fishing. He throws his airline provided movie headset out into the aisle and drags it back whispering “here, fishy, fishy”. He’s found a willing accomplice in a grandfatherly type two rows up who is encouraging good trolling form with the occasional thumbs up sign.

The last three weeks included multiple Christmas celebrations, quiet nights spent by a blazing fire, days catching up with friends over sushi, coffee and other assorted treats, wonderfully quiet moments with family, cupcake outings with my daughter, blissful evenings spent near a blazing fire with my husband and my son’s first major injury (he’s okay after quite a bit of bloodshed when he decided to super hero dive onto his sister and instead landed on the corner of a relative’s coffee table). And, of course, no summary of time spent out of Bangkok is complete unless I mention that not a single drop of sweat was shed during the holiday season. Very un Bangkok-like and an acknowledgment that this holiday provided a much needed respite from the weather of the tropics.

As I sit mid-air and the turbulence shakes the plane, I can’t help but notice that excitement is running through my blood along with the starbucks coffee shots I slurped down before departing Seattle. I am very much looking forward to our return “home” to our life in Bangkok. After every holiday, I have found a silent thrill in the unpacking of the suitcases and putting them waaaay in the back of a dark closet. There’s something therapeutic about knowing you’re not getting back on a plane for a bit. I’m also very much looking forward to a dip in our pool, firing up the industrial strength rice cooker and pounding out a fresh batch of curry tomorrow morning.

But, I’ll also acknowledge that I am already exhausted in just thinking about the jet lag that takes our family weeks to extinguish. I’ll be brewing a batch of strong coffee and padding through the house in my favorite red fuzzy socks around 2 a.m. as the kids settle into a daze in front of their Little People villages or whip up a plastic breakfast in their faux kitchen. And, again, with many hours of travel in front of me, the newly acquired experiences with friends and family lead my tired brain into a bit of sadness at once again being far away from those I love.

My hope for these early weeks of 2010 is that I’m able to hold a piece of the socially energizing days and extend the blissfully slow evenings of our holiday vacation. I plan to send my daughter back to school and welcome her home for evenings spent coloring, playdoughing and breaking in the newly acquired Christmas presents together. I look forward to mornings spent with my son at Bangkok’s open air markets and time lounging in what promises to be much more humid weather than what we left behind in Bangkok three weeks ago. And, even though his business travel schedule will be in full force, I eagerly await each and every moment I will get to spend out and about in Bangkok’s evening air, sipping Beer Sing and chatting the hours away with my husband. Oh, yes… and I’m greatly looking forward to placing my jingly jangly earrings that seem so fitting to my life in Bangkok, back on my ears. They’ll serve as a gentle reminder to savor each moment of this extraordinary life as they swing and ring in the New Year and each of its to-be-created memories.

Happy New Year everyone! And to those family and friends that are far away again, thank you for a wonderful holiday season. You are always near in my heart.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 73:

Plane Gorp

Written with a good dose of humor, here’s my recipe for keeping my kids happy on a long plane flight.


½ cup of favorite cereal that is never purchased at any other time (i.e. something with a cartoon character on the box)

½ cup whole grain (parent-endorsed) cereal

1 small package m&m candies

¼ cup roughly chopped nuts

¼ cup sunflower seeds

2 small boxes of dried cranberries

¼ cup dried fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces

¼ cup chocolate chips

¼ cup banana or apple chips


The night before your scheduled flight, gather your ingredients and your kids to the table. In a large bowl, add your ingredients and have the kids stir vigorously. Drop into portable individual serving bags and add to the kids’ backpacks. (My kids add a bit of “love” to their plane gorp by kissing the bags before loading them in… completely corny, but apparently absolutely essential for their five and three year old psyches.)