color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

Tasty Tuesday – Sesame Balls

With the Chinese New Year celebrations on this side of the globe drawing to a close, this means one of my favorite treats will soon disappear – a small fritter-like snack with loads of sesame seeds on the outside and a sweet bean paste on the inside.  What’s not to love?

My relationship with these tasty little nuggets began at a Chinese buffet way back in junior high, somewhere in Illinois.  I had no clue what they were, why they were only available for certain parts of the year, and couldn’t figure out what this goop was inside that I liked so much.  I now know the secret answers to these questions, and I’d love to reveal them to you…

These are sesame balls (similar also to the popular Japanese treat Mochi).

Click for a basic recipe.

Click for a basic recipe.

Sesame balls are really only served during holidays, namely the Chinese New Year.  Since the New Year was celebrated on Feb 14th of this year, I have been lucky enough to find them for the whole last week here in Singapore.  This makes for a very happy me, of course.  As with many items served during the New Year celebration season, these little dumplings have a meaning behind them.  Not only are sweets meant to wish good fortune for the upcoming year, but their golden color and round shape are thought to be lucky.  Another interesting fact is that the balls of dough tend to puff up dramatically as they fry, so they also indicate a growing possibility or opportunity in the coming future, something that will start out small and become large enough to turn a profit.

Sesame balls also range in size from slightly smaller than your average doughnut hole to about the size of your fist.  No matter how big they are, it’s quite difficult to eat only one!  The outside of a sesame ball consists of a stretchy dough made from glutinous rice flour, then moistened and rolled completely in sesame seeds.  When formed and fried, the dough generally puffs up to several times its original size, remaining soft and chewy on the inside.  Depending on the method and length of time frying, sesame balls can either have a nice snap to their outer shell or be soft like a dumpling.  (It also depends on how long they’ve been sitting out on your buffet line!)

sesame-ball

As you can see from the picture above, there’s another surprise lurking within these little fried balls of dough, and, no, it’s not jelly or Bavarian cream.  The most common filling (and the one you are likely to see on your local Chinese buffet) is red bean paste.  Wait, beans?  Yes, beans.  They are actually rather sweet, and when mashed into a paste, quite enjoyable!  These are my personal favorite.  You can also find some that are solid, without filling (where’s the fun in that?), as well as others filled with a mixture of crushed peanuts and dark sugar syrup (had one of those 2 nights ago, the size of my fist).

If you couldn’t tell already, I absolutely love this snack, and I want all of you to share in the same joy I have each time I bite into one of these little things.  Next time you’re at a Chinese restaurant or local buffet, give sesame balls a whirl.

Advertisements

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | , | 2 Comments

First Newsletter of 2010!

Goodness has it been busy around here!  Here’s our latest newsletter, sent out at the end of January.  If you would like to receive your own copy via e-mail or snail mail, feel free to sign up here.   If you have signed up previously, but are yet to receive any communication, go ahead and fill it out again, but make note of it in the comments section, as we are still working through all of the hiccups in our mailing system.  Thanks!

Click image above to download newsletter.

Click image above to download newsletter.

February 21, 2010 Posted by | Newsletters, Thailand | | Leave a comment

Tardy Tasty Tuesday

I had such great things planned for this week’s edition of Tasty Tuesday, but alas it now must wait.  I fully intended on giving you a step-by-step photo tutorial on how to make healthy homemade flour tortillas.  In fact, tonight, I taught the ladies at my school how to make these tortillas and restaurant-style salsa.  It was a ton of fun… so much fun that I forgot to quit chattering and cooking long enough to actually take the photos.  Whoops!  Another time, I suppose.

So, instead, this week we’ll talk about the Superbowl.  Now, to be completely honest, I could care less about the actual game itself.  I learned a long time ago from my mom that the food, fun, family and friends that happen to all come together on game day are way better.  But, this year, we weren’t around to take part in any of the festivities.  In fact, while the rest of you were chowing down on evening grub while watching the game, we were already beginning the next day on our side of the globe.  Instead of watching the kickoff at 6:25pm on Sunday, Brook got up early to watch it at 6:25am Monday (while I stayed happily perched on my pillow) on a live stream online.  Weird, huh?  Once I actually realized it was Superbowl time (the lack of distinct seasons kind of messes with my sense of time over here), all I could think about was all the food I would be making if we were back in the States.  All the menus, the dips, the people we would invite into our home to eat and yell at the television together…

But, we weren’t there, and there was no way I would be able to do all that cooking over here as a consolation – too expensive, wouldn’t be able to find half of what I’d need, and it would be way too much for the two of us to eat so early in the morning.  I decided instead to choose one thing that I would be able to find every ingredient for and wouldn’t break our food budget.  After all, we had to make it feel like home somehow, right?  The pea salad I made one day out of desperation (meaning only a few things in my kitchen to work with) in college won the battle.  And no, we didn’t eat it for breakfast.  We saved it for supper.

pea salad

Here it is.  Simple, cold, yummy.  Inspired by the flavors I love so much in a classic 7 Layer Salad.  I think that’s what I really wanted the first time I made this, but what ended up going into the bowl was all I had on hand in the apartment.  Doesn’t matter, I still like it!  So what’s in it?  Well, I don’t have any exact measurements (because I rarely actually measure things), but I can give you a general idea of what to throw in, and you can adjust it according to your own tastes, ok?

  • One bag of frozen peas, fully thawed (You may give them a brief hot water bath, if you like, to speed up the process, but don’t actually cook them, or they’ll get mushy.  They need to be crisp!)
  • 5 or 6 slices of bacon, cooked, drained & crumbled (I like to dice it before cooking – easier, nicer-looking, and no crumbs)
  • 2 or 3 eggs, hard-cooked & diced
  • A bit of onion, whatever variety you like, diced in small pieces (not minced, not big chunks)
  • Some cheese, also diced – I prefer a medium cheddar or colby
  • Enough Miracle Whip to make it creamy, but not overwhelm the rest of the ingredients
  • A splash of lemon juice
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Like I said before, I don’t really have any exact amounts on anything other than using an entire bag of peas.  Everything else is up for interpretation, up to your own tastes.  Fun or intimidating?  I know, I know, I really ought to start writing things down when I’m cooking… it’s getting a bit difficult to replicate meals in my mind when people ask for recipes.  I promise I’ll work on this.

Now that you know what we ate to battle our homesickness during the Superbowl, it’s your turn to tell me what it was that you enjoyed back there in the States.  Did you go to a party, did you stay at home, did you even acknowledge the day or just go about your daily business?  If you hosted or attended a gathering, what did you bring?  I’m curious to know!

February 10, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | , , , , | 2 Comments

Cookie Therapy

As opposed to what you may already be thinking, no, I do not turn to eating cookies as means of soothing myself and my woes.  Rather, I make them.  Cooking, baking, creating anything in the kitchen – the more details and frilly I get to be with it, the better – is my way of releasing stress and turning it into creative energy.  I love it.  I absolutely love it.

A few days ago, I was taking my usual look at foodgawker.com, a site that seems to collect a photo thumbnail for daily posts on a very wide range of food blogs.  It’s fun to check in each day and see what people are writing about.  This is another form of “therapy” for me, seeing as I do not have a proper kitchen of my own to work in anymore.  I seem to live vicariously through the joys of others as they seek to create quality recipes and share them with the rest of the world.  I really have learned a lot about different cooking techniques and ingredient combinations through it all as well.  This is good.

Anyways, there just so happened to be a photo of these incredibly fun looking pinwheel-type cookies and a link to a site called SprinkleBakes where I could find out the story behind them.  Naturally, I clicked and read away.  Soon after reading through the ingredients required to make such cookies, I decided I needed to bake them for myself.  I could actually find everything I needed here right in my part of town, the recipe required a bit of skill and concentration in order to properly execute the spiral design, and well, they just looked cool.  Since our weekly fellowship group was cancelled due to most of the group travelling, I had extra time and the project was slated for this evening.

This is what I made.

cookies 1

It’s a buttery, shortbread-like cookie with a strawberry swirl (the pink part).  Aren’t they just lovely?  This is why I had to make them.  If only you could have seen how antsy I was to get them out of the oven and cooled so I could take these photos. Something about a fun pink spiral encrusted in multi-colored sprinkles just screams “share me!”  And that is precisely what I am going to do with them.  Share.  Strangely enough, I don’t enjoy eating sweets as much I enjoy preparing them and giving them away.  I guess that’s good for the ol’ waistline, huh?

Another wonderful thing about this particular recipe is that you can pretty much use whatever colors and flavors you want!  Chocolate swirl + crushed Oreo edges, orange swirl + crushed candies, green swirl + pistachios… Hey, Colts fans, you could even make them with a blue swirl and roll the outside in blue & white sugars!  How’s that for customization.

Just look at these little beauties.

cookies 3

I think it would be hard to be in a bad mood with these things staring you down.

February 3, 2010 Posted by | Food, Just for Fun | , | 2 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – Dragonfruit

Mmmmm…. dragon fruit.  Perhaps one of my favorites of all tropical fruits, dragon fruit not only tastes great but it sure looks good, too.  Check it out.

dragon-fruit-3

Although it’s bright magenta skin with green pointy scales may look frightening, the inside of this particular fruit is rather friendly.  There are 2 different types of pink dragon fruit – one with a white interior (the most common), and the other with a shade of pinkish red matching the outside.  The one with a darker interior is what you are probably more accustomed to seeing in the States, but in juice form.  I’ve heard that there is another variety featuring yellow flesh both inside and out, but I’ve never actually seen it for myself.  Who knows.

dragon-fruit-01

Another interesting bit about this fruit is how it grows.  The dragonfruit is actually the product of a certain type of cactus.  It is a long, windy variety of cactus that tends to grow upward (climbing something else, such as another tree or sturdy plant, or a pole in farming situations), then droop down much like a Weeping Willow Tree.  The fruits start out as a beautiful, large, white flower at the ends of each spine before evolving into the brightly colored orbs we can later eat.

————————————————————

When searching for the perfect piece to bring home from the market, the process used to choose a dragonfruit is quite similar to choosing a ripe avocado. It must not be too hard, able to be squeezed gently, and have a deep, rich color to it. A lady at a nearby open-air market taught me that the deeper the color of the skin, the sweeter the fruit would be. Lighter skin implies a more tart flavor, and apparently, that’s what some (in my opinion strange) people like.

dragonfruit-014

The easiest way to enjoy a dragonfruit is to simply slice it in half, like the picture above, and scoop out the inside in as near to one piece as you can get.  Then, you may proceed to cut it into cubes or slices for eating.  Even cooler is that you could even re-use the skin as a bowl to serve up the pieces!  The texture of a dragon fruit is similar to that of a kiwi, in that it is scoopable and has many tiny edible seeds within it.  The flavor is quite mild, yet sweet, and tastes best when chilled.  I once heard someone else describe the taste as a cross between a kiwi and cucumber.  Whatever it is, it’s refreshing and I like it.

So, now you know about dragonfruit.  If there ever comes a time that your local supermarket carries this, you no longer have an excuse not to try it.  Go ahead, you just may like it, too!

February 2, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | , , | 1 Comment

Voiceless

We arrived back in Lopburi late this past Wednesday night from almost 2 weeks of travel, beginning with a visa run, and finishing out with a wonderful bit of rest in Southern Thailand.  The next morning, we (grudgingly) woke early to head for school and jump right back into full-on language study.  My throat was a bit raspy and dry, but I didn’t really think much of it.  After all, I’d spent a good portion of the day before sucking in the dry air of airports and flying machines.  Though stressful, our first day back wasn’t too bad.  It was good to see our fellow students and friends again, swapping stories of what all had gone down in the past days.

Friday morning held much of the same, though my voice was a bit squeakier than the day before, rendering itself quite useless by lunchtime.  My lessons therefore consisted mostly of writing, listening to my teacher, and the occasional soft words from myself in an attempt to rest my throat and protect what was left of my voice.  Frustrating, yet still workable.

Saturday.  I woke to find myself completely without the ability to make sound.  Usually people will say “oh, I lost my voice,” yet they are still able to at least softly mutter these words themselves.  But for me?  No.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing at all.

n153800143_30264468_2101

Unnerving.

I have never been to the point where a whisper, sounds only made by breath, are all that will willingly come forth from my mouth.  Needless to say, I had to cancel my lessons for the day, as it is pretty much impossible to have a one-on-one session in conversational Thai when one member of the party is unable to actually converse.  The funny thing was, though, that I still had to go to the school to cancel, because I had no voice to call it in!  Irony in some form, I suppose.

I spent the day mostly in silence, no longer even trying to communicate for fear of damaging what ever was already going on even further.  Fine, whatever, I’ll just stay home and let the Mr. make jokes about not being able to hear me.  No big deal, right?  But wait, I had wanted to go out to visit our neighbor at his fruit stand tonight and find out how he’d been while we were gone…  I’ll just make sure Brook is along so he can do the talking.  Perfect.

So, on our way out for supper Saturday night, we planned to stop by and visit with Thaweep, our older neighbor from across the road.  He was with a customer, so we opted to wait until after supper.  Eat, pay, finish, time to walk back home.  He was free when we passed the second time, and to his delight we stopped to visit with him.  He was all smiles and had questions ready for us about our trips and how everything had gone for us.  Trouble is, when he looked at me for a response, I didn’t quite know what to do.  I tried to use hand motions and mouth the words in Thai to him to explain that I had lost my voice, but it took Brook saying something to confirm the details for him.  He was instantly concerned for me, and began giving me tips (in Thai, of course) on how to soothe and remedy my situation.  He really is a kind man.  A few minutes later, he dismissed us as he deemed I needed to rest, and we said our goodbyes for the night.

There are times when I (ashamedly) will avoid seeing people as a result of my fear and lack of confidence in speaking Thai.  There are times when my anxiety over getting only so far in a conversation before my vocabulary runs out, then ending it an awkward and abrupt manner, keeps me from stepping out when I probably ought to.  Strangely, I thought this sudden illness could be my way out, a way for me to still be interacting with others, yet have an excuse not to say anything to embarrass myself.

But, this is one time where I really wanted to be able to speak.

I had the words.  I had the vocabulary and grammar structures.  I had the sentences and answers all right there running through my mind.  I had a friendly neighbor waiting to hear from me… but, I had no voice.

My ability to make sound is slowly returning this morning, though I still plan on resting my voice until school tomorrow.  I want it to heal properly and smoothly.  But, you better believe I’ll be going to visit our neighbor again to both thank him for his advice on how to get better, as well as to continue building the friendship we’ve started.  I think this was some strange sort of motivation for me to not hide my ability to speak anymore…

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Personal, Thailand | Leave a comment