color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

Tasty Tuesday – Salapao

Perhaps my favorite snack ever, in Thailand at least (though it would rival my top picks in the States as well), is a little thing called Salapao. Just hearing the name of it makes me happy.

Salapao are a sort of Chinese dumpling that is quite popular in Thailand. You can’t walk into a 7-Eleven, Tesco Express, or other convenience type store without seeing a hot case filled with them at the checkout counter. They’re everywhere! Even better, you can eat them for any meal, any time of day.

Salapao is essentially a ball of dough wrapped around some sort of filling, then either steamed or fried. Steamed is by far the most common, and in my opinion, the only way to eat them.  They can come in all shapes, sizes, and colors as well, depending on current holidays or store promotions. I saw little pink ones with faces that looked like pigs around New Year’s, and yellow rabbits just last week.  Fillings for the buns can be either savory or sweet (I tend to lean toward the savory).  A few examples would be: shredded meats (chicken, pork, beef, or tuna) – both seasoned and plain, red bean paste, green bean paste, hard-cooked egg, taro cream, custard, and others I have yet to try. Sometimes you can even find just a plain ball of dough with nothing inside, but where’s the fun in that? Each type of Pao also has a colored dot (or two) at its peak, to indicate what lurks within.

pao 2My bun today has two orange dots on top, and is about the size of a regular hamburger bun. According to the chart at 7-Eleven, this means my bun has bits of gingered pork, and an egg yolk in the middle. Yum!  It tasted great, was nice and fresh, and only cost me 15 Baht – almost 46 cents for you in the States. Now, while this one was good, my all-time favorite Salapao are only the size of a quarter, filled with shredded dry red pork, and go along with a little dish of spicy Sri Racha chili sauce. I used to be able to buy 10 for only 12 Baht in the market, but the vendor is no longer there.

If you would like to try some Salapao for yourself, check out the dim sum section at your local Chinese buffet. This would be the area where other dumplings, like potstickers, can be found. Sometimes, they even put them near the Sushi. Just look for soft little buns that look like marshmallows.

Imagine the softest white bread you’ve ever had, then pretend it’s super dense and chewy, with a lovely filling inside.  That’s Salapao.

March 30, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms.  We all have them.  We all do them.  And, most of the time, they make us feel better, right?  Kind of.  Changingminds.org has this to say:

“We are complex animals living complex lives in which we are not always able to cope with the difficulties that we face. As a result, we are subject to feelings of tension and stress, for example the cognitive dissonance and potential shame of doing something outside our values. To handle this discomfort we use various coping methods.”

Some ways of dealing with stress are better than others, of course.  Some can be downright destructive.  But others, they can be so good.  How is it that you deal with new situations, things you think you can’t handle, days that just seem to be no good?  I know what I like to do – cook.  I like to do pretty much anything with my hands, really.  Painting, crafting, drawing, coloring (yes, in coloring books.  Go ahead and laugh if you must.), decorating, gardening… but, oh how I love to cook.  And yes, I count baked goods right along in there when I use the word “cook.”

There’s just something about being able to create something new, beautiful (hopefully!), and delicious out of a bunch of other stuff that may not always be together.  Then, being able to supply someone else with a treat that will help nourish their body, fill them up, and perhaps give them a bit of joy as well – what could be better?

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I finally got to see Julie & Julia one afternoon this week when all I felt like doing was laying in the dark – I had a headache and had finished my classes for the day already, so why not.  Several of my friends have said that mere minutes into this film, they all thought of me.  I thought that was sweet and wonderful, and now that I’ve seen it myself, I know this movie most certainly had to have been made for me.  Nearly everything that either the characters of Julie or Julia said resounded with me in such a way that I actually spent a good deal of the movie teary-eyed.

Very much like the situation I currently find myself in, both women were moved around and transplanted from what they knew, often had a terrible kitchen and no space to work with, dealt with feelings of insufficiency, felt the desire to do something more with their lives outside of the 9 to 5 day, wanted to somehow enrich the lives of others, and they both had husbands who loved to eat.  They both took comfort in knowing that when they were in the kitchen, they had to power to create something good, something useful, maybe even something great.

Perhaps my favorite line of the movie occurs only 8 minutes in, when after a rough day at work, Julie sees a chocolate window display on her walk home.  Instantly upon seeing this, she says to herself “mm… chocolate cream pie” and the movie cuts to her preparing such a treat in her tiny apartment kitchen.  In telling her husband about her mess of a day, she says:

“You know what I love about cooking?  I love that after a day when nothing is sure – and when I say nothing, I mean nothing… you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick.  It’s such a comfort.”

Exactly.  When all else goes awry, you know that there is still something you can do, something you can create, that will always turn out the same.  You all know already how much I love the kitchen.  It’s in the blood passed on to me from a long line of women who not only can, but enjoy being able to cook.  (Yep, thanks Mom, Aunt Lori, Nana, Nanny, Gram…)  When moving overseas, I thought that would be the one thing, the one piece of myself, that I would be able to successfully transplant no matter where I would be.  Nothing could change that, right?  Well, kinda.

We’ve been here for 8 months now, and it seems that just now I am getting my groove back.  Back in the States, I could whip up a party menu, prepare it all myself, and serve a group of people with no problem.  It was easy, fun, and ever so enjoyable.  I could buy whatever I needed, my home had a controllable climate and windows to keep out the dust, and I had the space to do the work that I needed to do.  Here in Thailand, I have a tiny space with only an oven and a sink, no control over the heat and humidity in my house, and a market severely lacking in much of the ingredients and utensils that I am used to.  Without knowing how to adapt from the get-go, I felt that I’d really lost a big piece of my identity, a big piece of who I am.  And, that doesn’t feel good when you already know that nothing else is the same either.

Lately, I’ve been getting it back though.  I’ve spent the past several months experimenting and researching recipes (and sometimes, just plain winging it!) for meals that I can adapt to what is available to me here in our small city.  I’ve had to learn how to make recipes that “require” a food processor, mixer, or blender with one bowl, a spatula, and a hand-held pastry blending tool.  It’s almost as though I’ve had to learn how to cook all over again… and, I think I’ve finally got it.  It’s wonderful to feel that I’m getting a little bit of myself back as I continue to learn how to adapt to my surroundings, not only in Thailand of course, but also in the kitchen.  It makes me happy when, after eating, the Mr. says to “put this in the make-again pile.”

All emotions and whatever else aside, I do love the movie Julie & Julia.  Growing up, I often spent my Saturday mornings watching Julia Child, along with Yan Can Cook, Burt Wolf, and the Frugal Gourmet, all on PBS.  No cartoons for me, no, I wanted to learn how to cook.  I was amazed when Julia could make a beautiful cake or sauce, was in complete awe when Martin Yan would throw a dry block of cellophane noodles into a pan and they would puff up instantly, loved travelling with Burt all around the world discovering new cuisines, and learning simple meals from Jeff on FG.  It was really neat to be able to see a little more into the life of one of these chefs, and see just how she came to be known as she is.

Someday, even if I’m 80 years old, I will go to culinary school.  It’s been a dream of mine since I was little.  🙂

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Food, Personal, Thailand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – Pizza!

During our month in Singapore, I declared it necessary that we make a trip to IKEA.  After all, there isn’t one in Thailand (yet… I’ve heard rumors for Bangkok in 2011!!!), their stuff is super cheap, I like pretty much everything they ever stock, and it was my one chance to find kitchen utensils that I can’t easily (or affordably) find in Thailand.  One such item on my list was a pizza cutter.  I found a small one, in my favorite shade of bright green, for just over $1.00 US.  Seriously!

After being back in Lopburi for a week now, I decided it was time to use my new cutter, and thus the inspiration for this week’s Tasty Tuesday was born – Pizza!

full pizza sm

I am a teeny bit ashamed to tell you that lil’ Miss Wannabe-chef over here didn’t really make homemade pizza dough back in the States.  *gasp*  I usually just used frozen bread dough or a Boboli pre-baked crust.  (I love Boboli.)  So, since we’ve been in Thailand, I’ve tried probably 6 or 7 recipes, all to no avail.  Most turned out either super fluffy, or too much like bread.  But tonight, success!  I finally found a good one that tasted like regular pizza.

Exhibit A - boy pizza

Exhibit A - boy pizza

Of course, when making a pizza in this house, there are certain rules one must follow.  No vegetables (except for onion) must be present on the boy half.  Meat, sauce, and cheese are the only toppings allowed.  Tonight, there was the allowable amount of onion, bits of leftover sausage from a supper last week, and a couple handfuls of diced up ham slices.  Boy pizza.

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Exhibit B - girl pizza

Exhibit B - girl pizza

However, on the girl half, I can do whatever I well please.  Little meat, if any, and plenty of veggies.  Tonight, I worked with all I could find at the market – lots of onion, green pepper slices, sliced cherry tomatoes, sauce, cheese, and an extra dash of oregano & parsley.  Yummy girl pizza.

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I am beyond happy that this turned out (partly, as this was planned to be my post for this week), because I finally have a go-to recipe for dough.  Since I don’t have a pizza stone, I did bake the crust halfway in a pan first, before topping it and then sliding it directly onto the oven rack.  I really hoped this would help ensure that the crust would be nice and crisp on the bottom and chewy on the inside – and it worked!  The recipe also made enough dough for 2 pizzas, so I took the other half and fashioned it into breadsticks for Brook, since he basically can’t eat pizza without them.  Perfect.

When what you eat is rice everyday, it’s nice to take a break and make something you know from home every now and then.

served up pizza sm

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | , , , , | 6 Comments

Fun Fact #3 – giant leathery friends

Wow!  It sure has been a while since we’ve seen a new fun fact around here.  If you’d like to to know what fun facts are all about, refer back to my first post here.  You may always click Fun Facts in the category sidebar to your right to find the collection of stories there (although it’s not very big yet… I’m gettin there!)

For today, I would like to introduce you to the biggest, leathery-est, gentlest giant friend I have in the world.  The market elephant.  That phrase alone just makes me grin ear to ear.  I’ll say it again.  Market elephants.  🙂  Here, take a look at one.

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In our city, these guys walk freely down the road, at any given time of the day, usually with one or two caretakers in tow.  There are a few different pachyderms in our community, I believe – two large ones and two baby ones that I’ve seen.  The one in the picture above is the only one I’ve seen a carriage on, though.  Mostly, they just walk about, poking around with their trunks, being curious, and waiting for someone to buy a bag of veggies or fruits to feed them.

Quite often in Thailand, when a person decides that they would like to become a “mahoot,” or an elephant caretaker, it’s a job that they sign onto for life.  Mahoots may then travel around with their giant leathery friend, preparing and selling small bags of fruits or veggies to the people they meet along the road.  These bags of cucumbers, bananas, or sometimes sugar cane can be bought for a low price, then fed to the elephant.  The money made from selling the bags can be used to feed the mahoot, care for himself, and care for the elephant.

Now, what the customer actually gets out of the transaction is viewed in different ways by different people.  Some say that by sacrificing money to buy food for the elephant, as well as the act of actually feeding the creature, one can make merit to pay for past sins in life.  Others simply view it as a fun activity for either their children or  themselves.  I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to feed an elephant?  They’re so cool.  Here, check out a baby elephant at dinner a few weeks ago.

IMG_0182 sm

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of going for supper in the night market (other than being able to eat outside, and get a great meal for super cheap), is waiting for the elephants to come by.  They’re so quiet, so gentle, so intriguing to me.  Their eyes are so big and beautiful.  Their skin is such a strange texture.  They are just incredible creatures.  (And, their magnificence is part of the reason why it really irks me when, sometimes, the mahoot pinches the elephant’s ear in order to make him squeak for attention.)

Every time I see or hear one of these guys coming, I get giddy like a little kid.  Just the other night, we saw a small one staring down a car that had obviously chosen the wrong side of the road.  They stood nose to trunk for about a minute before the elephant decided to go around the vehicle.  The same elephant also wanted to taste my strawberry smoothie.  I, however, did not allow him to do so.  As a result of my moving the drink from his reach, the playful pachyderm proceeded to poke around my stomach and right hand with the tip of his trunk.  How fun!

Elephants don’t roam freely in all places, though they are quite common throughout the country.  So, if you really like elephants, Thailand is the place for you!

March 19, 2010 Posted by | Fun Fact, Thailand | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesday goes Irish!

After a month of living in a YMCA hostel in Singapore, boy was I glad to see my little bitty kitchen again.  Just in time, too.  Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and although I have not a drop of Irish blood in my body, I enjoy taking part in all of the festivities the day has to offer.  One such thing is making treats to share with those who happen to be around me.  This year, it means Shamrock whoopie pies!

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I saw this recipe over on Annie’s Eats, a food blog I frequent, around Valentine’s Day.  Her blog originally showed these as red heart shaped cookie sandwiches, and I thought why not make them green and shaped like a four leaf clover?  So, I went for it and gave them a whirl.

I must say, these lil buggers took me about 4 hours to make (though, I promise if you try them out, it will be much faster for you), and it wasn’t quite as much fun near the end of that time as it was when I started.  Why?  The only supplies I have are a couple of bowls, a spatula, and a plastic zip-top bag.  No mixer.  No food processor.  No gadgets or pastry sleeves for piping the shamrock shapes.  Do you have any idea how long (and how much manpower) it takes to cream butter and brown sugar together without those type of machines?  And how about trying to achieve the fluffy goodness that is either a cream cheese or old-fashioned buttercream frosting… yeah, not so much.  Ha.  But, I did the best I could, and I’m glad I tried.

IMG_0954 smI could go on about all the frustrating things that occurred during the hours it took me to make my shamrock treats (like the oven pilot going out a few times, making temp regulation near impossible; the only icing sugar I could find is more crystal-like and wouldn’t fully incorporate for the filling, etc.), but I won’t, because that would mean my environment wins.  We all know that can’t happen.  After all, I did get some whoopie pies made, and they do look kinda like shamrocks.  My arms may be sore, I may be super tired (the house started out around 100F before I even turned the oven on…), and they may not be quite as good as if I’d made them back in the States, but I still win.  🙂

Welcome, once again, to baking in an old rowhouse in central Thailand.  Oh, and Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

March 16, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | , , , | 2 Comments

Family Time

Skype is a beautiful thing.

Skype2

L to R: Mom, Papa, Tim, Aunt Lori

We’ve been in Singapore for the past month, taking care of business at the international headquarters for our organization (which is why you’ve not been getting posts out of me), and yesterday morning, before heading to the airport for our flight back to Thailand, we had a Skype date to take care of.

Now, this wasn’t just any old Skype call.  No, this was a gathering of my whole family, all in one place, all at one time.  It was time for the annual Spring birthdays party (big brother, Tim-Feb 27; niece, Madelynn-March 1; cousin, Kristen-March 3), and everybody was at my Aunt’s house.  Since she’s the only one out of the bunch with a high-speed connection and the computer capabilities for video chat, it seemed the perfect opportunity to see everybody.  And, boy was it perfect.

A few months ago, you may remember me writing about talking with my Aunt, Uncle, and cousin for the first time online.  It was wonderful.  This time, I got to see not only them, but also my Mom, my brother and his whole family, my grandparents, my other cousin and her husband, all together… for the first time in 7.5 months.  Has it really been that long already?  It sure has.  We talked for just over an hour, sharing about the weather, what time of day it was, what’s been going on in each of our lives… my 6 year old nephew, Carson, played a song for us on the piano, and my 3 year old niece, Madelynn, sang “Pants on the Ground,” then tried to throw some popcorn to us through the laptop screen!

Of course we all got a tiny bit teary when the video screen just popped up – it was just so unbelievable.  I mean really, to be chatting live, face-to-face, from Illinois to Singapore for free is just ridiculous.  It’s like living with the Jetsons!  I know it meant a lot to my mom to be able to actually see us when we talked, different from our regular chats every few weeks on the phone.  Crazy to think when she and my dad were missionaries 30 years ago, it was a huge thing for them to just make a phone call every month or so back to their families.  I wonder if my dad would even believe the technology that’s come around since he’s been gone.  Hmm.

Well, that’s all I wanted to say.  I love my family.  I’m thankful for them.  And, I’m thankful for Skype.  🙂

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , | 1 Comment