Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From tom kaa gai to a cookie Coolatta

Pounding curry paste. I think my arms might be a little "stronger."
Final chapter of trip report:

In Chiang Mai, Isabel and I took a daylong class at the Thai Farm Cooking School, which is located on a working organic farm where mangos are wrapped in paper to prevent birds from eating them before they fully ripen.
It seems like a lot of work, wrapping up every single mango.
The class was fascinating and I discovered just how efficient and simple everyday Thai cooking is. The same small handful of high-impact ingredients come together in slightly different combinations to create very different dishes. For instance: coconut milk + yellow curry paste + fish sauce + chicken = yellow curry. Coconut milk + lemongrass + fish sauce + chicken = tom kaa gai. Coconut milk +  sugar + bananas = dessert. Coconut milk + sugar + mango + sticky rice = another dessert.

Everything is cooked super quickly, too. A few minutes on the stove, nothing more. We each got to make our own soup, curry, stir fry, pad thai (or spring rolls), and dessert from scratch and we did all this in a few hours and ate all this in that same few hours and since everything contained coconut milk, we got very, very full.
Recipe for delicious banana dessert: in a small pot heat 1/2 cup thick coconut milk, 1/2 cup water, a chopped pandan leaf (optional), 1 tablespoon palm (or brown) sugar, a big pinch salt, and two small, thickly sliced, peeled bananas. Cook until bananas are soft. Serve warm. Serves one.
Our teacher, Benny, had an insinuating, sing-song voice and would swivel her hips when she added extra chili to a curry, smile this wicked smile, look around the room and say, “More spicy more sexeeeeee.”  
frying spring rolls
She had a lot of little sayings she'd deliver in that same voice with her saucy smile. I won't lie, Benny was a trip. I don't think anyone in the class knew quite what to make of her at first because you don't meet people like her in the West, ever. Her act just isn't part of our cultural repertoire.

But by the end of the class, I liked her immensely. Underneath all the mugging and bawdy joking, she was an excellent, serious teacher and we learned to make dishes I plan to replicate now that I am finally, as of yesterday, home for good.
Isabel made sticky rice with mango. The blue comes courtesy of a butterfly pea.
Our other Chiang Mai adventure: a day at an elephant rehab center where we watched, bathed, fed, patted, and respected the elephants.

Elephants are awe-inspiring animals and a bit scary. They are not Babar.

We spent our last three days on a beach on an island where we splashed around in the warm water, ate, read, and otherwise did nothing. Really and truly nothing.
What were we supposed to do?
Start to finish, it was one of the best vacations I've ever taken. Isabel and I are solid. I didn't know it when we left, but I know it now, and it means the world to me.

We got home to California and almost immediately left for New England to hang with Mark's family on the shore of another ocean where, again, we did almost nothing.  What is it about the beach that makes people want to do nothing? Even in winter, you go to the beach to do nothing.

I didn't do absolutely nothing at the beach in Massachusetts. I did cook one night for a small crowd, but it wasn't the kind of cooking you write long blog posts about.
Simple, quick, and satisfying is sometimes the right call, but one I've been loath to make in the past.  For dessert: Rice Krispie treats. This meal plan freed up many hours for doing nothing.
On my last day in New England, after a week of sitting in a Dunkin' Donuts for an hour or so every morning, the marketing finally got to me and I caved and bought a Chips Ahoy Coolatta. It was like a chocolate chip cookie slushie and little granules of chocolate chip came up through the straw. Weird, but I liked it. I wanted to stop drinking for health and calorie reasons, but found it hard to stop.
Here's to Northern California.
It's been a great summer. Now I'm home for good and very happy.


  1. It touched my heart to read about you and Isabel. Memories of this trip will stay with you forever.

  2. Reading about this trip has been absolutely marvelous. It would also suit me to finish up my travels with several days of relaxing on the beach. (I grew up in the midwest and all our family vacations were to the seaside or to a cottage on a lake. I agree: there is something about being on a beach that inspires one to do nothing but BE. Fantastic!) I'm thrilled that you and Isabel had such fun together, just the two of you. Thanks for sharing it all with us.

    1. p.s. -- after cooking Mexican food using my own seasonings, some clients of mine -- for whom I'd been cooking at least three years at that point ---asked if I would use the McCormick Taco Seasoning instead. I grew up on that so I got where they were coming from and made the switch! And now and then I'll make tacos at home using a package of it, for old times' sake.

    2. I once went to a beach on Lake Michigan and it was gorgeous. It felt like a sea beach. As to the taco seasoning, it was surprisingly good. I did add onions and some chili powder, but it pretty much stood on its own. Another reason not to go to town with cooking in a beach house is that there are never the pans, knives, basic spices you need, not to mention things like spice grinders.

  3. Sweet Jennifer,

    What a lovely trip and amazing experience to share with Isabel. You set such a wonderful example of how to experience the world for both your children, and I really admire that.

    Also, as a person with "strong" arms, I felt what you did with your picture caption, and I offer you this: you look radiant, unselfconscious, and tremendously happy and industrious in that photograph. You do not look like a person who has or cares about having fat arms. I hope that you will stop undercutting yourself with each photograph that you post here. You are good enough :).

    Also, I do the spicy sexy dance sometimes too. It makes me feel excited that I'm making something inedibly hot :).


    1. My arms ARE stronger than hers! Also, stronger than her brother's. It's all CrossFit, with a little help from genes.

  4. as a long time el paso seasoning guy (all the way back to college 45 years ago), i recently experienced a revelation: Trader Joe's mix. same guilty pleasure. MUCH better tacos. almost makes the turkey indistinguishable from more appealing, greasier meats.

    1. TJ's, eh? Thanks! That's a great tip. I will give you a tip: TJ's blister peanuts. I buy a few bags every time I go.

  5. Benny's smile looks absolutely infectious. So do yours and Isabel's!