01 July 2011

Goodbye Bangkok

Bangkok has been a remarkable home. I will miss it deeply. But, it's now time for our family to move on, create a new home and add new memories as we fall in love with another city. I'd love for you to join us on the next chapter of our journey. Travel on over to a new bohemia...

13 June 2011

Wonderful oddness

While living in (or visiting) a foreign country, I am charmed by the everyday differences from my home country. Differences are what make things, places and people interesting. They make me wonder, smile and etch themselves in my brain as a moment of discovery. Below, some of the latest 'differences' discovered...

My husband had a horribly unfortunate short return home between recent business trips. I offered to make the unpack and quickly repack a bit easier and picked up a few things on his needed toiletry list. Looking for a tiny, airline friendly tube of toothpaste, I grabbed a familiar brand. Once home, the fact that I bought Salt(!!!!!) flavored toothpaste sunk in.

Wiring. In the States, the entire perimeter of this intersection would be roped off for fear of electrical  damage to anyone passing by. In Bangkok, every single sidewalk seems to be covered with poles dangling in intricate webs of electrical wire and hanging individual pieces trailing from the poles to the sidewalks. Crowds walk by and slowly move around all obstacles. I somehow can't seem to miss the swinging strays and they hit me in the windshield weekly while driving some of the side streets.

I have no idea what the Thai says, but found this adorable collection of children's school rulers while shopping an outdoor market. After a bit of use, I looked down and wondered why the entrance to the park (on the bottom green ruler) says "Fighting"?!

All over Thailand, English is used in the shopping and tourist areas. Writing of English seems to be approached similarly to a foreigner wishing to  write a Thai word... sound out the words and give it your best shot. Other examples recently spotted on professionally printed signs: 'We toil your suit' (We tailor your suit!) and 'Come eet hair' (Come eat here!).
Deep fried jackfruit! Who would have thought to fry it (not me!)?! Found on a very local restaurant's menu, it was delicious. Kind of like a plantain, but not. Kind of like a fritter, but not. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Slightly sweet, but savory. I'm pretty certain I'll never have anything like it again. But, if presented with the opportunity, I'm soooo there.

06 June 2011

Hua Hin

While living in Bangkok, we've been fortunate to visit several of Thailand's amazing beaches. I've loved them all and have a collection of seashells and memories to prove it. If you're in Bangkok and need a quick getaway, head to the summer spot of the Royal Family-- Hua Hin. A few faves from our visits there:*

DO!
Go to Hua Hin to relax, escape the air and noise pollution of Bangkok and enjoy waves on your toes without having to hop on a plane or sit in a car for a full day's drive. But, if you must 'do' something while in Hua Hin, here are a few highlights.

1. The night market. I've never met a Thai market that I didn't like. This one is a manageable size, strung with overhead fairy lights, filled with vendors serving satay from their grills, beer towers flow and you can purchase anything from pirated DVDs to original paintings to rice paper lamps to handcrafted jewelry and everything in between.

2. Walk the beaches. Gorgeous white sandy beaches of Thailand. Go early before the day's humidity drives you into the shade.

3. Thai cooking classes. I immensely enjoyed my time spent in this cooking course while on my first holiday in Hua Hin. Completely relaxed, you start the day in a very small group trip to a local market to buy ingredients and then spend the rest of the day in a family home cooking. Everything is hands-on and there is no way you'll be leaving without knowing how to make curry paste from scratch, exchanging travel stories with the other participants and enjoying more food than you should have eaten in a given day!

EAT!
1. Monsoon (Narasdamri Road). Your opportunity to eat in a Thai teak house. Climb the traditional narrow stairs (and beware if your feet are larger than an average Thai size!) and enjoy evening breezes while colorful lanterns sway on the balcony. Traditional Thai dishes that our whole family enjoyed.

2. Brasserie De Paris (3 Naredamri Road). THE fantastic restaurant for a night spent staring out at the water. Foie gras, giant Thai prawns, generous crispy salads, pomme frites-- all delicious in a setting that makes you feel like you're on a private yacht sailing through exotic lands.

3. Rua Rimtarn Restaurant (12/203 Khao Takiab Beach). Located down a long dirt road, this restaurant is housed in a big land locked boat, with an active view of an inlet populated by colorful fishing vessels. The traditional southern Thai dishes are yum. And, it's a perfect family-oriented place. Our kids loved the playground/park located next to the restaurant and we loved that they could run back and forth from the toys to the dinner table as we dined on the generous deck.

STAY!
1. The Dusit Thani Hua Hin. For a true luxury experience, this place was great. Our kids loved the chocolate fountain at the breakfast buffet and the HUGE kid's pool with the island fitted with fountains and planted with palm trees. I loved the pool side drinks served in hollowed out dragon fruit. Plus, I had the divine ability to lay in a lounge under an umbrella and watch my kids splash about without worry that the water was too deep, the edges were too sharp or that they were disturbing other guests with their swimming fun. A perfect all-inclusive resort experience (and they provide a regular shuttle into town when you grow weary of the all-inclusive resort experience!).

2. Anatasila Villas. Located on the south side of Hua Hin, this resort is located down a dusty dirt road and difficult to find. Go here if you want a more remote experience, but still with wonderful touches of Thai hospitality. I loved the instant access to a seashell laden beach, sitting in fabulous teak gliding rocking chairs and staring out at the surrounding palm trees, and watching my son "rescue sea life" by throwing stranded beach crabs into the gently crashing waves.

*By the way, like everything else on this blog, these are a few of my personal favorite things (in other words, I haven't accepted any form of payment or any requests for advertising!). We've had several great trips to Hua Hin and I've left a huge handful of experiences off of this list. Consider it a short version of my faves that I'd easily recommend to anyone who asked what I enjoyed while in Hua Hin.

01 June 2011

Noise

Bangkok is LOUD. Outside, it's black exhaust billowing buses, millions of zipping full throttle motorbikes, cars dodging the two aforementioned vehicles, skytrains whizzing overhead, promotional materials blasting full volume over microphones, bossa nova music cranked up while the shop or home next door blares their techno beat... all combined with the other typical noises of the city. Inside, there is a mix of three types of competing music, video screens playing anime and commercials, promotions blaring on the loudspeaker while a live 'model' announces another promotion via a microphone.

Take a look and a listen to the noise of an indoor children's play area.*


video

* I've written about the play areas before. They are located all over the city and provide a park alternative for children living in Bangkok. In this climate, unfortunately outdoor park play expires fairly early in the day as the sun scorches the plastic and metal play areas and buckets of sweat pour from an active kid in a matter of minutes. We enjoy the outdoor parks, of which there are many gorgeous ones, as often as possible in the early morning hours.

27 May 2011

Lovely moments

A random collection of a few lovely moments within the last couple of weeks in Bangkok:

A big steaming bowl of tempura ramen from the local Japanese restaurant, spiked with still crunchy morning glory and a beautiful neon pink, round fish cake (you'll have to trust me on the fish cake part since that was eaten before I thought to take this picture!).

Before coming to Thailand, I had never even heard the word Tuk Tuk. Now, they are a regular form of transportation. So much so that during the discussion of how to get my daughter to and from school, I joked to my husband that I'd like to drive a tuk tuk. "Wouldn't that be great?!" I laughed. And, then I spent the next three days contemplating how to make that a reality. But, I couldn't figure out how to keep my kids in the back safe enough for our daily drives so that shut down the deal. (However, I know where you can buy one, have it boxed up and shipped anywhere in the world-- just in case you should ever need a tuk tuk of your own!)

A som tom vendor in Bangkok-- one delicious vendor cart of many. In fact, I dare you to find a block in this city without at least one vendor cart perched on it (more realistic is that you'll find multiple carts per block in this city!).

On a recent road trip, I snapped this picture of Thailand's salt flats. The pools create some great salt that is farmed. And, on this particular day, the clouds looked almost like they were dropped into the sky via some digital movie creation. As I sat in the back of a bumpy van with my newborn, I stared out at the clouds and thought, "Those must be fake clouds!"

On an early morning walk on a recent holiday to Hua Hin, I snapped this picture. My four year old insisted it was a pirate ship and we should keep a watch out for Captain Hook. He ultimately decided it would be far too hot for Captain Hook to be in full pirate costume on Hua Hin's beaches and spent the rest of the walk thinking every man he passed was 'perhaps, perhaps, perhaps Captain Hook in his beach clothing.'

The Immigration Building. Critical to any expat living in Bangkok. For those who know me well, you've heard me complain about taking the family to immigration. But, for all of my complaining, the architecture of this newly opened immigration building is pretty impressive.

A perfect May afternoon.

My kids absolute favorite new addition to the Chatuchak Market. Just outside of section 23, Barney Ice Bar Bangkok is awesome. My kids press their faces up against the glass and contemplate for what seems like hours what ice cream to get. Then, they both order a vanilla cone.

Another stall at Chatuchak taken on a recent steamy afternoon. Notice the songkran shirts at the left of the picture? Those were half price (down from 100 baht) given that Songkran was over a month ago!
A vendor ready for a busy lunch hour with three tanks of propane going at once.

The absolute best invention ever for a city as humid as Bangkok. Overhead fans installed with misting devices. They rotate and spit cool mist in every direction. Wonderful. Brilliant. Sanity saving.

03 April 2011

What I love in Bangkok right now

A few of my 'of the moment' favorite things to experience in Bangkok right now...


Vientiane Kitchen, 8 Sukhumvit Soi 36 (BTS: Thong Lo, exit 2): I've been fortunate enough to eat here a couple of times now and I absolutely love it. The building is quite magical in that you wander down a nondescript Bangkok Soi and stumble upon a small opening in a large warehouse like building. Upon entering, you are immediately transported to an open air Laotian restaurant, calm and serene. The huge space features a stage where live music featuring flutes and drums is played nightly. Giant teak tables fill the space-- which is really great when you inevitably order too much food from the fantastic menu. My husband is partial to the fried catfish. I've loved the soups served in clay pots and full of prawns and lemongrass.

Weather: WEIRD lately. It's now April and we should be in the full swing of Thai summer with heat, humidity, and more heat. Instead in the last two weeks, we've been bundling up with 70 degrees Fahrenheit weather outside.
Flooded streets, March 2011
Before you think I'm crazy for being chilled at 70 degrees, remember that Bangkok is often listed as one of the hottest capital cities and even my blood seems to now be running at a more tropical heat. Trust me, I've enjoyed the cold snap, but do find it a bit disconcerting to be chilly in the middle of the hottest season. Air conditioning has been turned off for days, hot drinks have replaced iced confections at the local coffee shop and the fashions have adapted with people scouring their closet for a few warm pieces. I usually don a sun dress and sandals to pick my daughter up from school.Last week, I actually wore long pants, long sleeves and a lightweight polar fleece jacket that was luckily tucked away in my closet. AND, my metallic painted toenails were tucked away inside socks and REAL shoes (*gasp*)!
Rainstorm, March 2011
In the middle of all this, we've had lightening and thunder and huge downpours of rain as well. Streets have flooded and I've found myself wading and 'rowing' our car on occasions usually reserved for Bangkok's monsoon season. As I write this, temperatures are now climbing again and it appears that we'll be back to normal temperatures for next week's Songkran activities.


Gorgeous Jack Fruit
Jack Fruit: I'm not a fan of the flavor/texture combo (kind of a weird fermented banana flavor in a stringy texture). But, I absolutely love seeing this spiky, green-toned fruit growing. A few years back, it would be completely normal to see an apple growing on a tree. Now, it is commonplace to see jack fruit, bananas and mango within the neighborhood.

Thai-glish: I have become fluent. I absolutely love the Thai language-- the inflection, the way one word can mean several different things depending on the tone used, the warmness that is injected with the ever present smiles. However, I can't stand how difficult it is to learn! Luckily, English is spoken in bursts throughout the city. The only trick to remember is to use English with a Thai accent-- take the inflection up at the end of most words and you'll be more easily understood than with your usual accent of using a flat tone. Want a mineral water while dining at a restaurant? They are called a 'soda' here. But don't order a flat so-da (you'll get a quizzical look). Instead, order a so-daaaahhhh (elongating the last syllable and taking it up in tone). Nice job-- bright bubbly mineral water to be served in an instant! In all seriousness though, I love how welcoming the culture is to non-native speakers. I've found patience and help when I test out a word here or there.

After You: Found at a couple places throughout the city, I'm partial to the restaurant on Phaholyothin's Villa Market complex, located across from Soi Ari and next to Phaholyothin Soi 6. Known as a dessert shop, the lines are out the door and the wait can be hours. A little known secret, though, is that you can enjoy a completely indulgent breakfast starting at 10 a.m. Get there on time though, otherwise tables will fill in the first hour fairly quickly. And, when I say 'breakfast' I say that slightly tongue in cheek as you will be served a similar menu to what they serve for dessert.
Strawberry Pancakes with ice cream!
Once in awhile though, it's a fabulously fun spot for anyone to enjoy. Watch your kids eyes grow into giant saucers or treat a guest and watch their jaw hit the floor when their 'breakfast' is served. My kids like the strawberry pancakes (served with a giant swirl of whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and freshly pureed strawberry syrup).
Shibuya Honey Toast
I'm partial to a doppio espresso and the Shibuya Honey Toast (a giant thick slice of toast, topped with butter and a bit of honey that soaks through the whole thing and served with scoops-- yes, plural--- of vanilla ice cream... oh and a nice hearty dollop of whipped cream topped with almonds as well!).

22 March 2011

Over medicating

Our family was struck down by common illnesses that seemed to drag on for the better parts of January and February. The four year old would catch a cold, pass it to his big sister, then the baby would begin to sniffle a bit and my husband would return home from a business trip with some exotic stomach bug. After weeks of fighting off a virus, I too was taken down. Then, the whole cycle would repeat, repeat, repeat. We ran through our fair share of cough drops and tissues. The thermometer and hot water bottle never made it back into their storage places. Special 'sick day' toys were on heavy rotation. And, our weekly budget took a hit as the kid's movie DVD buying increased.

My son had the worst of all the illnesses, repeatedly getting slammed with fevers and flu and coughs and colds. So, inevitably we trudged our way through the heat in cabs and skytrains and traffic and went to the hospital.* Each time, laughing a bit upon exiting as I carried a small brown bag, that looked more like a gift bag, filled with various syrups and elixirs and pills. And, of course a big stack of dosing cups and syringes, thrown in like party favors. A swingy little bag of meds has always accompanied us, upon exit, no matter what we went in for in the first place. I smile each time, knowing that I just paid for a bag of stuff that I won't use. But somehow I feel okay about it since I didn't quite understand it was being prescribed in the first place.

Our appointments go a bit something like this:
Walk into the doctor's office (cleverly disguised as a cute little kid-friendly house), sit nervous patient in a swivel chair, tell doctor symptoms, doctor takes a quick look and describes the patient's problem, thank yous in Thai and English, exit house (aka doctor's office) and sit on a park bench in the faux indoor courtyard created outside of the faux house, a few minutes pass, paperwork is brought by a nurse, more thank yous in Thai and English, kids (aka patients) begin to relax and run to the massively overstimulating play area featuring slides, coloring stations, video games, television shows and other people's sick kids, proceed to the cashier, hand over some Thai baht, proceed to the pharmacy (because you always proceed to the pharmacy), receive a bag of meds that you apparently just paid for, find your kids in the huge play structure, squirt some hand sanitizer on everyone, be thankful that your kids put up with the doctor and go out to lunch to celebrate (aka pump yourself full of coffee at the Starbucks downstairs), hop a cab, arrive home, sort through meds, stack new dosing cups neatly in already established skyscraper rivaling pile in cupboard.

In any event, a trip to the hospital results in me continuing my Starbucks addiction and a huge stack of dosing cups that need to be tamed. This weekend I took advantage of that stack and used them to entertain my six and four year olds. Look closely! Those little 'smoothies' that the kids' stuffed animals and alien invaders are sipping on? Med dosing cups filled with a pom pom to create the 'flavor' and topped with seed bead 'sprinkles.' We rolled up a straw, made a personal label and these guys are now living the high life sipping on their custom ordered smoothies. (And, the kids actually got some use out of the dosing cups and had a pretty fantastic time doing it. A bit of creative play makes for some good medicine if you ask me.)


*Three years ago, while living in the States, I'd say we were going to the doctor. Now, it's become common form to say "I'm off to the hospital." (Fear not, though, I still maintain my American speech patterns of inserting a 'the' prior to the word hospital. Most other expats I know have adapted the international verbiage of "I'm off to hospital!")

22 February 2011

Why? Because. There I said it.

My six-year-old daughter has taken to asking 'Why?' in response to everything I ask of her. I happily suffered through the why stage with her a couple of years back when the question was posed to learn more about her world. Now, however, I am certain the reflex-forced 'Why?' punctuates her sentences purely as a means to annoy me. Okay, I'm not certain about that, but...

When that 'why' flies out of her mouth all I really want to say is "BECAUSE!" but that's just too cliche and I can't bring myself to settle for that answer (although, it is intriguing). So, after mentally whittling my list of possible comebacks, I have come up with two viable options. A) I can either get crabby and annoyed and then spend the rest of my day miserable. Or, B) I can come up with the most absurd comeback possible, force a laugh out of her and possibly lure a smile out of myself in the process.

I'm happy to report that option B has been tried and tested. Preparing for an outing, I asked her to fill up her water bottle. The inevitable, fast as bullets "Why?" shot out of her mouth and assaulted my ears. I took a breath and responded "Because if you don't, you will get thirsty on our outing, your mouth will feel like cotton balls and you may think we are in the dessert. And, the problem with the dessert is that there is very little water to go around. So, then we'd need to find a camel to carry us across the sands and hopefully somewhere during that ride we would find some water. I really think it would be easier to just fill the bottle now and we can be on our way." Problem solved.

So, Loving Rice readers, when you hear that I've been testing horrific chip flavors, please don't ask 'why'. Instead, together, let's embrace the absurdity that is a blueberry and hazelnut flavored potato chip.

A few posts back, I mentioned that a potato chip company has been stocking Bangkok grocers shelves with some odd flavors. And, in a comment I said I couldn't bring myself to give them a try. A reader threw down a challenge via email and the next day I was out buying four tins of oddly flavored potato chips in order to provide the following information. (Information that will prove insanely helpful if you are ever struck with an urge to come to Bangkok and grab a tin of chips. Otherwise, consider it a virtual romp for your taste buds and thank your lucky stars you never applied one of these little cardboard textured, horridly flavored wonders to your palette.)

My general advice after tasting Bangkok Grilled Chicken Wing, Soft-shell Crab, Lemon & Sesame and Blueberry & Hazelnut? Skip them all. Bangkok Grilled Chicken Wing was the only one that I could actually eat more than one of. It tasted like a potato chip covered in the ramen noodle seasoning packets. Not tasty, but choke down able. The Blueberry & Hazelnut was by far the oddest of sensations. I can't compare it to any actual food item I've ever tasted before. All I could think about was the scent of one of my childhood toys-- the blueberry scented character from my strawberry shortcake doll collection. I felt like I was eating that scent. Lemon Sesame was another odd sensation, hitting my tongue with a blast of fake lemon flavor that was followed with the typical potato flavor. And, finally, Soft-shell Crab. This one blew me away. The odor coming out of that can was unbelievable and the taste had me running for glass after glass of water. The single bite I managed to taste conjured up images of putting a long dead and rotting fish in my mouth and squishing it around for a bit. Horrid.

And, what about my 'why' asking six year old? She tasted alongside me and absolutely devoured the tin of Soft-shell Crab. And, not once, ever pausing to ask why such a flavor was even created in the first place.


*By the way, this is an ad-free blog and this post, like all of my other posts, is not affiliated with any endorsement or paid review. I'm purely having fun investigating all that Bangkok's grocery shelves have to offer. The opinions expressed are entirely my own and I encourage you to do a taste test as well!

11 February 2011

Wrapped in a mama hug

I really want to just throw my hands up to the sky and scream in frustration. I've been away from this blog and missing in action as I've been dealing with a household of illnesses. Ever since moving to Bangkok, it seems that our family gets one big nasty bout of some weird illness each year. Two years ago, it was mercury poisoning. Last year, it was the H1N1 flu. And, this year we have been coping with a triple threat. A back-to-back-to-back virus starting as intense non-stop coughing, followed rapidly by a fairly ordinary head cold and then a not-so-swift kick of a flu.

My four-year-old is still suffering through the final phase of the flu and my newborn seems to be catching his first cold, but the rest of us seem to be well on the path to recovery. At one point, while drinking tea, downing vitamin C tablets and moaning out loud, I really wondered if we'd ever be healthy again. I know, dramatic. But when you feel as crummy as we have, for as long as we have, you start to lose touch with your normally undramatic self.

But, this year, one thing was different. For when the illness struck our house, my kids were armed with their new 'curl up in when you're sick and maybe feel a bit better' mama hug quilts.

For some time, a pile of too small, but much adored clothes had been stacking up in my kid's closets. They were the special items they didn't want to part with. "But, mama, this is what I wore when I had ice cream for the first time in Bangkok!" or "But, mama, this is what I was wearing when I did apple bobbing outside on the patio in that hot sun on Halloween that year!" The protests continued, the clothing stayed neatly stacked and I devised a plan.

Working late at night, all of the clothes got cut, stitched and sewn into two quilts. My sewing machine is still in deep storage in the States, so I've spent late nights on and off for the last year hand stitching one seam at a time. And, I finished them up in time to wrap them up as Christmas presents this recent holiday season. My kids oohed and ahhed and dubbed them the Mama Hug Quilts.

The quilts are far from perfect as I am a project sewer. You know the type-- someone who randomly says, "I bet I could make that!" and finds the fabric and jumps in without a pattern to create something somewhat like what they started out to create... strong emphasis on the somewhat. Their mama hug quilts sport uneven stitches, puckering here and there, wonky and oddly sized crazy squares, and no quilting in between the layers!* But, what they do sport are several years of memories for my two oldest children.

So, when the illness hit our house and my son looked at me with those miserably dark, puffy sick eyes and said, "I need to curl up in my Mama Hug Quilt," all of my many late nights spent getting frustrated with my lack of perfect stitches were instantly worth it.


*The only thing that really dampened my creative spirits on this project was my lack of ability in finding quilt batting. I searched high and low throughout Bangkok for the stuff. And, just as I was about to give up, sometime around last April, a friend called while shopping at CentralWorld and said she found a store that sells it (everyone knew I was looking for quilt batting!). I told myself that I'd go buy enough for both quilts as soon as the protests that were underway in the city calmed down a bit. If you're a reader of this blog, you know that things didn't calm down and CentralWorld (and my quilt batting source!) were set aflame. So, I gathered up my almost completed quilts and thought... so they become blankets instead.... and there ends the tragic story of my unquilted 'quilts'.

15 January 2011

Sweet

While walking through the neighborhood this morning, I picked up two bags of cotton candy for 20 baht each and threw them into my Whole Foods sack. Sweet irony.

And, while we're on the subject of cotton candy... One thing I love about interacting with the expat population occurs in the moments that require a pause in conversation. The moments, that although a friend and I are both speaking English, we don't understand what the other is saying. Such moments have occurred regularly over the communication of 'cotton candy'. Apparently, the sweet (fave of mine!) confection goes by the terms 'fairy floss' and 'candy floss' as well! Who knew?!

After throwing the fairy floss (forget cotton candy... I'm loving the new term!) in my bag, he and I continued on to discover a few treasures and partake in the atmosphere of the giant outdoor extravaganza. My seven-week-old enjoyed his third trip to Chatuchak's Weekend Market this morning. I carry him everywhere in a baby sling and his usual habit is to nestle in and fall deep asleep. So, per usual, he slept for the entire (short) commute on the skytrain. As we zipped into our destination's station, he woke. Honestly, my first thought was not and excited 'He can enjoy the market with me now!' Instead, I thought 'Bummer-- this is not going to be easy! He's going to want to do the things newborns like to do when they are not sleeping... eat, diaper change, eat, diaper change, and repeat, repeat, repeat.' But, he popped those little eyes wide open, grabbed hold of the sling material and wrapped it a bit tighter around his face. Then, proceeded to enjoy the sights and sounds of Chatuchak with me. In fact, he politely peered from the folds of material at every person who acknowledged him and even carried on in a few newborn squawks as he watched a vendor string twinkle lights in front of his face. I smiled, wandered the market and chatted with my slinged companion for the duration of the trip. Sweet moments.

After Chatuchak, it was lunch time and I was anxious to get home to spend the afternoon with my other kids. So, I stopped by a Pad Thai stand on a street near our home. I had never taken the time to stop at this particular stand before. It's usually packed around the lunch hour and I got lucky with a very short line. The vendor was so enthusiastic that there was a baby to stare at. She made the noodles to order and was happy to allow me to watch closely. In contrast to the other versions of Pad Thai I've eaten before, this one prominently featured caramelized onions, creating a very unique taste. Sweet mouthful.



Cooking in Thailand, entry no.
Sweet Street Pad Thai
The trick, as I learned from my mini street side cooking lesson today, to this version of Pad Thai is to slice everything to mimic the shape of the noodles. This version has a very unique sweet flavor-- thanks in large part to the generous amount of caramelized onions, the addition of toasted coconut and a sprinkling of brown sugar. 

Ingredients:
Rice noodles, about 8 ounces
1 tablespoon veggie oil
2 onions
A pitcher of water
1/2 of a carrot, cut into match sticks
1/2 block of firm tofu, cut into match sticks
1/4 cup lightly toasted coconut
1 hand full of cilantro
4 green onions
1 cup of bean sprouts
5 tablespoons ketchup
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons brown sugar
crushed red chili pepper, as desired

Method:
In a large mixing bowl, submerge the noodles in warm water. Set aside.

Peel the onions. Cut them in half and then chop finely into strips. In a wok, heat the veggie oil and add the onions. Keep the pitcher of water nearby. As the onions cook, add a bit of water and allow to evaporate. Continue this way and cook the onions until they are a dark rich caramel color. Add approximately 1/2 cup of water and add the tofu, ketchup, soy sauce, black pepper and a bit of chili pepper if desired. Toss the tofu and cook for approximately 2 minutes. Add the carrots. Drain the noodles, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the noodles to the wok. Toss to coat and add a cup of cooking liquid at a time. Allow the liquid to coat the noodles and evaporate before adding more. The noodles should be al dente. When the noodles are the desired texture, add the sugar, bean sprouts, green onions, cilantro and coconut. Toss to coat. Add more red chili peppers as desired.

11 January 2011

Traumatic confessions

I am finally going to confess. It has been two and a half years since 'the incident.' I thought I had buried the memory deep in my subconscious until a traumatic moment of three days ago sent it soaring back to the forefront of my brain.

Let's go back to July of 2008. We had been in Bangkok for just a couple of days, suffering through the worst jet lag of my life. We were in our new, unfamiliar home that felt cavernous and echo-ey. All of our possessions were on a boat somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. We had two kids (2 and 4 at the time) waking at odd hours of the night, falling asleep at inconvenient times (Ever tried carrying a child on your back while navigating Bangkok's skytrain for the first time? I don't advise it.). I was overwhelmed with the heat and really wishing we had crammed more toys in our few suitcases. And, my eyes were blazing with the wonderful sights, sounds and scents that we spent our early days seeing, hearing and smelling. I was simultaneously exhausted and falling in love with our new home. So, just remember all of that when I finally bring myself to confess. (Yes, these are excuses and I am attempting to sway your understanding when I reveal my confession).

Here goes. Confession.

9 o'clock at night. I walked into our kitchen. A small gecko (even small in size by gecko standards) ran across the kitchen floor. I started hyperventilating. I shook. And, then, I cried. (And, while I'm embarrassing myself, let us go a true step further. I cried those ugly sobbing 'what-have-I-gotten-myself-into' tears.) Oh, the relief of finally putting it in writing. Confession over.

Fast forward to three days ago. 9 o'clock at night. Needing some clean diapers for our 6-week-old son, I walked out to our back balcony to check on the laundry. Three steps outside and I felt a sharp, clinging sensation on my bare forearm. A large gecko (large by gecko standards) fell from the ceiling onto my arm. All in one move, I looked, inhaled sharply and brushed the creature rapidly off my arm. I picked up the freshly laundered diapers and smiled (side note: Let's be brutally honest. It wasn't a content, 'wow-look-how-well-I-handled-that' smile. It was more a demented 'oh-I-just-survived-a-nightmare' smile.) No hyperventilating. No tears.

Look how far I've come.

07 January 2011

In the land of smiles

Little moments in life this week that made me smile...

1: Krispy Kreme opened their first Thailand-based store in September. It's now January and Krispy Kreme fanaticism is going strong. Located at Siam Paragon, the luxury shopping complex in the center of the city, the lines still wind and snake in a maze of people before extending outside. I sat at a nearby Starbucks recently and watched as people gratefully 'made it' to the portion of the line where they could enter the air conditioning. Once at the counter, several dozen donuts were purchased by each person. My husband recently saw the 'Krispy Kreme' stand across the street from Siam Paragon-- an enterprising Thai vendor reselling donuts he had previously stood in line for. Watching the length of the lines at Siam Paragon, I'm sure his venture is a money maker!

2: I took my newborn in for his 6 week check-up (the first official appointment since we left the hospital after his birth). He's doing really well, with the exception that he has the same severe dry, chapped, irritated skin that his older brother and sister had as newborns. So, when the doctor offered a solution to the problem,  I was more than happy to listen. She began by saying, "I prefer a very natural approach." My eyes lit up and I thought, "Hooray! Someone on the same wave length as me. Natural. YES!!!!" and did a quick little mental dance for joy over the fact that in prescription-drug-crazed-Bangkok, a doctor might actually support my natural method desires. She then proceeded to lay a thick layer of petroleum jelly over his face(!).

3: New Year's is a BIG deal in Bangkok, with neighbors, friends, familiar faces wishing each other a Happy New Year (or 'Sawadee Pi Mai') upon seeing each other for the first several times after the New Year begins. And, part of the tradition is to purchase and give out New Year's baskets for those in your life. I recently walked into a doctor's appointment to see my doctor's office filled with baskets (and by filled, I mean, stacked one on top of another, covering the floor space-- I had to walk around baskets in order to sit at her desk!). Patients came in to interrupt doctors between their appointments to drop off baskets filled fruit, jams, coffees and candies. DANG! I should have thought to bring a basket!

4: So, in line with observation number three... perhaps the funnier thing is what is contained in the baskets. Sure, there are fruit baskets, but the majority sold at the grocery stores are filled with random, disconnected imported items. How 'bout a basket brimming with instant coffee, laundry detergent, Pringles and panko bread crumbs? Oh, and did I mention, said baskets are ridiculously expensive!

5: Pringles. This country seems to be in love with them lately. And, Pringles has responded with a trillion (okay, I'm exaggerating...) new flavor choices. Crispy shrimp anyone? Hazelnut and blueberry sound like a yummy chip combination? Nori seaweed float your boat? Just a few of the many offerings available on your nearest Bangkok grocer's shelves.