Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I Live in Thailand

Mini Apartments, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Every so often I’ll have these moments, “I live in Bangkok?!” or “I live in Thailand!!” It’s not the obvious things that will cause me think this, like the ever-present pictures of the HM the King or the fact that I can’t read 90% of the signs. It’s the smallest things that seem to trigger the thought; it will happen when I’m riding on Skytrain and looking out the window at the skyline whizzing by. Today I had one of those moments. I was behind a mom and daughter (who was probably 7 or 8, I’m guessing) going through the turnstile at the Skytrain station. I watched the little girl help this teenage/early 20-something woman put her ticket in the turnstile properly in order to keep the line moving. I decided to stop and get one of my favorite snacks, a waffle, at the little stand at the top of the stairs. (These things are so good, not like regular waffles, slightly yeasty with a little sprinkle of sugar. Yum!) As I was walking down the street back home, munching on my waffle, I caught up with the mom and daughter. They were walking at a pretty good pace and the sidewalk is not easy to pass people on, so I decided to walk behind them. The daughter was dressed in her school uniform and (I’m guessing here) talking about what happened at school that day. Every once and while, she would reach out and touch her mom’s arm. Her mom seemed to be listening, but mainly just kept walking carrying both her own bag and her daughter’s book bag. They stopped at the little storefront café that I pass by on the way to the station. As I passed them, it hit me. I live in Thailand.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Menu Planning

In my new life of “freelancer and housewife,” I am attempting to get myself on some sort of schedule in order to balance time on the computer with the cooking, cleaning and errands. The cleaning schedule is a little rockier and I’m still getting into the swing of that (no, we don’t have a maid despite my best attempts to get the dogs to hold a broom and dustpan), but I am getting back to planning our menu. To quote my brother (my housewife role model) “plan your menu, so you know exactly what you need to buy and when. Instead of doing the wander-around-Whole-Foods-blowing-$200, you’ll be in and out like a SEAL Team strike." I also find it makes daily cooking a whole lot more enjoyable, since I can spend time perusing recipes and knowing when dinner time roles around that I’ve got everything I need instead of scrounging around the fridge at 5:30 going “what the heck am I going to make?”

Alas, I choose the week D is headed out of town for business to start back up again…Anyway, here’s what I planned:

Mom’s Black Pepper Chicken (this is not my mom’s recipe, but a friend’s mom’s recipe. Thanks FZQ!)
Crepes & Co. Summer Salad (my version of a salad we had at a restaurant here)

Stir-fried Beef with Chinese Celery

Phat Kraphrao

Chicken Drumettes with Spicy Hoisin-Garlic Sauce
Mixed Salad

Not sure just yet, probably some leftovers or pizza (thanks mom!)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Little Help

D and I ran errands mainly this weekend at a few of the local malls. We hit a few bookstores in our wanderings and D got me a new cookbook to help with my Vietnamese food obsession, called "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen." So far, things look delicious and the book reads easily. The author has some great stories and information on the ingredients. I'll post things up as I make them!

For momma and B, the book is at Amazon here: Into the Vietnamese Kitchen

My New Obsession

the bun, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

My return to cooking has been admittedly a bit slow. The incredible stress of moving to Thailand and a month (or so) in hotels did not do much to inspire me in the kitchen. I’ve eaten a lot of delicious food since arriving, which has helped. Now that we’ve settled in to our new home and gotten the bare essentials for the kitchen, it’s time to cook.

Not surprisingly I’ve become enamored with Southeast Asian cuisine. The smells, the flavors, the spice, and the fact that food is everywhere in Bangkok has drawn me in. The odd thing is I’ve become fascinated, not by Thai food, but by Vietnamese (no disrespect to the amazing Thai food, which I’m sure I will be fiendishly cooking after my mom’s visit. Cooking classes here we come!). Specifically, the Vietnamese noodle dishes called Bun thit nuong. D and I have had them frequently at our trips to Food Loft, so I decided that it was time to make it at home. This way I could experiment with different toppings and meat, outside of the pork spring roll and pork ball of Food Loft. I hunted around on the Internet and found a recipe that matched what I’d had at Food Loft.

Master Recipe for Noodle Salads (by Mai Pham, Fine Cooking) Makes 4 servings

For the greens:
2 cups washed and shredded romaine, red, or green leaf lettuce
2 cups fresh, crisp bean sprouts
1-1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and julienne cucumber
1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small whole mint leaves
1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small basil or Thai basil leaves

For the garnishes:
2 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts
12 sprigs fresh cilantro
Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)

For the noodles:
8 oz. dried rice vermicelli

For the Topping:
Anything goes here. Beef is an extremely popular choice. She suggests Warm Lemon Grass Shrimp, Vietnamese Grilled Pork, or Stir-Fried Vegetables.

Mix up the Nuoc Cham, and let sit for at least 15 minutes (This can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for up to a month)

Once you’ve washed and dried all the greens, its time to start stacking. First the bean sprouts go into the bottom of the bowl.
bean sprouts
Then the lettuce, followed by the Thai basil, mint and cucumbers. This can all be assembled in advance and kept in the fridge with a damp paper towel to keep cool.

Bring a medium pot full of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice vermicelli and, stirring often, cook them until the strands are soft and white, but still resilient, 3 to 5 minutes. Don't be tempted to undercook them, as they must be fully cooked to absorb the flavors of the dish. Rinse them in a colander under cold water just until they're cool and the water runs clear. Let the noodles drain in the colander for 30 minutes, and then set them aside for up to 2 hours, unrefrigerated.

Prepare the topping. I veered from the recipe the first time and made Vietnamese Garlic Beef instead. This time I had D grab some chicken satay from a vendor on her way home.

Final assembly. Place the rice noodles atop the greens, then the topping. Garnish with the chopped peanuts and cilantro leaves. Drizzle on the Nuoc Cham. She suggests letting each person put as much or as little as they want to adjust to personal tastes. Toss everything together and dig in!

(Find more pictures of the process in my Flickr stream here:

Friday, February 2, 2007

Groundhog Day

Ekamai, originally uploaded by Dianthus.

Today D had surprised me by taking the day off (and making up for a lost holiday day), and we decided to explore one of the neighboring streets in our new neighborhood. We’d been hearing a lot about cool shops along the street and decided it was worth a look.

First we headed off to Playground! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name) to look for fun items for the house. D had also mentioned that there was a KuppA there as well. KuppA (a coffeehouse/café), had intrigued us after reading about it in our various guidebooks, so we decided to check it out and perhaps have lunch there. Playground! is a pretty neat store, sort of a cross between Urban Outfitters and Ikea. We picked up some little condiment jars and an oil bottle from one of my favorites, Eva Solo. KuppA turned out to be a nice, chill place and we ended up having lunch. D ordered a chicken sandwich with this delicious coffee drink and I had a panang pot pie with a refreshing lychee and mint icy/shake. The food was decent and the atmosphere was one where you could easily kick back and sip on coffee and read. Very nice.

We continued walking with our next destination of H1, a modern mini-mall designed by Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag. I had been curious to see it after reading about it in our Wallpaper* City Guide. I have to say I was under whelmed. The buildings were ok, nothing too crazy, but I guess different for Thailand. The outdoor spaces were small and did pull you away from the hustle and bustle of the street, but it was empty and there were no obvious places to sit and enjoy the place. We spent a little time at the art & design bookstore there and then headed back down the other side of the street in search of cake!

For being in a country that seems to enjoy its sweet treats, we discovered a serious lack of cake options. At that point, I had gotten lemon meringue pie in my head and the only piece we had managed to find was completely unappetizing. We decided to head back to the house and order from the wonderful Food By Phone. I would have my lemon meringue!