color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

Duuuuuh

Sometimes I seriously wonder what the people of Thailand think of us in terms of our intelligence and language ability.  Those two things really do go hand in hand here, at least as far as first impressions go.

I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, the idea that in order to assimilate well into your new host culture, you must first go back to being like a baby.  You’re in new surroundings, don’t know your way around, often have no clue at all what you are eating (and whether or not you should be ingesting it at all in the first place), and can’t understand a flippin thing going on around you.  What language are they speaking?!  Oh, that’s right, it’s Thai.  I speak English.  They’re not the same.

As romantic and whimsical as the idea of going back to being a child seems, I can tell you that the wonder wears off after a while and all you’re stuck with is inabilities, dependence on those who are able, and a feeling of uselessness.  I don’t mean to be a killjoy, a downer, complainer, or whatever else though – it’s these feelings that will [hopefully] help spur you on then to learn about the community, figure out how to live, and strive to speak the language of the locals.  The whole hopelessness thing is a great motivator, and thankfully, Brook and I have been able to use these feelings to our advantage.

However…

No matter how hard we try sometimes, we still fail.  Sometimes miserably, sometimes embarrassingly… and sometimes hilariously!  I really do wonder what the Thai people we (and other foreigners who attempt to speak this confusing tonal language) speak to think of us when we make such silly mistakes and say things that make absolutely no sense at all.

There are times that I know I sound like a complete and utter idiot.

I find that amusing.

There was that one time I was telling the story of Jesus healing a blind man.  Jesus called the man closer to him in order to – as I should have said – touch his eyes.  I told my friend that Jesus wanted to kick the man in the eye.

There was that one morning Brook and I were sitting in a small clinic at 7:00, making small-talk with the doctor while waiting for the blood-drawing station to open.  When asked if I spoke I Thai (as Brook had been doing the chatting up until that point), I politely told the kind doctor that I was, in fact, a chair and that’s why I didn’t speak up.  It took me two minutes to figure out that I needed to go back and tell him that I was actually shy, not an inanimate object that can’t speak.  He was relieved, I’m sure.

Definitely can’t forget that one time I was trying to tell a little girl at our English club that I thought she looked very pretty that day.  I actually told her she was very unlucky – which in a wildly superstitious culture is a BIG no-no.

Oh, and today, at the end of my lessons, I told my tutor that I was going to visit the “dog rain” this afternoon.  Brook, when trying to tell a friend and neighbor about the same plans, said that today he would be taking me to the “sky doctor.”  In reality, I went to the dentist.

Go ahead, laugh!  I am.  It’s a good thing God gave me a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at myself (and Brook), or else I’m not sure what I’d do.  I like to think of myself as an intelligent person – I always did well in school, have a college degree, have won many awards based on academics, and blahblahblah.  The thing is, nobody here knows any of that.  Neither do they know how well I can speak and convey my thoughts in my own native tongue, because they don’t understand it.  Rather, I speak Thai in simple sentences, using a limited (and often incorrect) vocabulary.  I speak and need to be spoken to in a slower rate than others my own age.

And, as far as they know, I just might believe that I really am going to see the sky doctor.  🙂

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September 29, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Personal, Thailand | 2 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – Meatloaf!

When it comes to meatloaf, the majority of the world’s population tends to fall into one of two camps – really like it or hate it. I don’t seem to meet very many “eh, it’s alright” kind of people, though I do know they exist… myself being one of them. So, which person are you?

Brook has been bugging me lately to make a meatloaf ever since I introduced the idea of “meatless Mondays” to him… to which he annoyingly cleverly exclaimed “Meatloaf Mondays?!  What a fantastic idea!  I will LOVE meatloaf Mondays!”  (He knew exactly what I said, knew that what he said was precisely the opposite, and so carried on.  Hmph!)

So, on Wednesday of last week (no, I will NOT compromise the new idea of meatLESS Monday night supper *fist shaking in the air triumphantly*), I made a meatloaf.  Sneaky, sneaky though, I had to be.  How in the world could I work some vegetables into this seemingly heavy meal, in turn making it not only lighter, but healthier and even more delicious?  To the internet I went – foodgawker.com to be exact – in search of some recipes.

Don’t get me wrong, I rather enjoy a good meatloaf on a cool Fall evening with some creamy mashed potatoes and a side of steamed broccoli… but, I live in the tropics.  Heavy food and a hot climate don’t always (read: hardly ever) mix well.  Recipe after recipe just seemed like a minor variation on your regular, run of the mill American meatloaf… until I found it.  A recipe that incorporated a TON of veggies, yet still maintains enough meat and loaf-factor to be considered a true meatloaf.  A recipe that used things I already happened to have in the house, and was flexible enough to allow for creativity.  The decision was made, and I moved forward.  And, boy am I glad I did – I believe I’ve met my new favorite recipe (for meatloaf anyways).

I truly think this is the kind of meatloaf (isn’t loaf such a scary word?  I feel like that part of the name alone lends itself to frightening people away…) that could possibly turn haters into at least kinda-likers.  It’s tender, moist, flavorful, and even good cold on a bun the next day (or at midnight when you can’t get to sleep).  It’s slightly crumbly, not thick and imposing like the meatloaf so many of you are afraid of.  And, remember?  There’s lots of veggies in it, though they are chopped up so small and cooked down enough that they’re hardly noticeable!  Perfect for picky eaters, huh.

You wanna know how to make it now, don’t you?  Okay, I’ll tell you.  I basically looked at 3 different recipes, took what I liked from 2 and applied it to the main one (which, as the blogger who wrote about it stated herself, was her modified version of her mother-in-law’s take on a recipe from Bobby Flay).  So, who knows whose it really is.  It just keeps right on morphing, and you will probably help it continue along that path.  Now, ready, set, go!

1. To a large sauce pan add the following and saute until tender (4-5 min):

  • 1 pat of butter or 1 glug of olive oil (if not using non-stick, you may want to add a little bit more to prevent scorching)
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • about 1/2 medium white or yellow onion
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 2 stalks celery, very finely chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • a dash or two of ground thyme
  • salt & pepper to taste

Just look at all that color!  Mmmm… veggies.

2. Remove vegetables from heat and set aside to cool.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together:

  • 2 eggs
  • about 1/2 – 2/3 C fresh parsley, finely chopped

4. Add the following to egg mixture, and mix until combined (be careful not to overwork the mixture – that’s what makes meatloaf tough!):

  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef **
  • about 1 C panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 C ketchup
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp hot sauce (I used garlic Tabasco)
  • 2 T your favorite BBQ sauce (I used B-Dubs Honey BBQ!)
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • cooled veggie mixture

5. Once combined, form meat mixture into a loaf on a baking sheet, then whisk together the following ingredients to spread over top and sides forming a glaze:

  • 1/2 C ketchup
  • 2-3 T balsamic vinegar
  • a couple dashes of Worcestershire
  • about 2 tsp. honey (I forgot to measure, but I think that’s about right!)
  • a few dashes of hot sauce
  • a few cranks of cracked black pepper

6. Go ahead and place in a 400 F oven for about an hour or so, until done.  Once cooked through, allow it to rest for 10 minutes or so, otherwise it will fall apart when you try to lift slices.  I’m telling you, this is one moist (but NOT soggy, don’t worry!) meatloaf!  I like to carefully cut my meatloaf in half (as you see below), right away, and give it some space to cool a bit quicker.

Mmmmmmm.

** The main recipe I started from called for 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb hot Jimmy Dean sausage, but I didn’t have any sausage, and only had just over a pound of beef in our freezer.  To compensate for the loss of flavor, I ended up adding a pinch or two of dried chili flakes and some crushed fennel seeds to give it some punch.  I loved it!  But, if those aren’t your thing, then you don’t have to add them.  I also think a bit of Parmesan added to the meat could be good, but I didn’t have any of that either… so, if you try it out, let me know how that goes!

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | 3 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – More Noodles!

Having quite recently professed my preference of rice to noodles, is it hypocritical that I’ve had two posts in a row now that sing the praises of Thai noodle dishes? Nah, if you consider how many 100’s of other noodles there are out there in the Thai food world, me liking just two is no big deal. At least, that’s what I think.

Today’s tasty Thai dish is called Phat See Ew.  Now, with a name like that, I can already see and hear a bunch of you Americans cringing – “if the name says eeew in it, then why in the world would I want to eat it?!” Contrary to what its title may imply, this is actually quite popular lunch fare here in Thailand, and for good reason. Not too fancy, totally customizable* as far as heat and overall flavor go, and cheap to buy on the street. It’s just plain good.

Seriously, how can you see that and not start drooling??

Now, I know you are probably curious about the name Phat See Ew, and how it could ever mean anything delicious, so let me explain.  Phat means to stir-fry, and see-ew is a Southern Chinese word for soy sauce.  Little did I know before relocating to Asia, and studying a module on Thai cooking as well, there are actually several different kinds of soy sauce!  In Thai cooking, however, there are two basics: light or thin soy sauce (think the hourglass shaped bottle of Kikkoman on the table at your local Chinese buffet), and dark or thick soy sauce.  This particular meal, when made traditionally, uses the latter.

Phat See Ew’s distinct flavor comes mostly from the dark soy that is used in making its sauce.  Differing not only in thickness and color, dark soy sauce is also more pungent than light soy sauce.  Dark or black soy has a more molasses-like flavor and moves just about as slow.  As usual, there are some who will change it up to their liking by using light soy – as its flavor is a bit less imposing – but, I seem to think it’s best made the traditional way.

When you think of Phat See Ew, imagine tender wide noodles, perfectly wilted, yet slightly crunchy broccoli and stems, thin slices of pork (or, my favorite, tofu!) all tossed together in a bit of slightly sweet and salty sauce.  Mmmmm.

Just look at this.

Instead of trying to post the recipe here, I’ve spent a bit of time online looking around for the best (and most authentic, not Americanized) version to share with you.  I’ve found two that I believe are acceptable, just like what I would get at the noodle shop down the road.  They are both quite similar, though one chooses to marinate the meat beforehand (not necessary, but delightful just the same).

  • The first, click here, features beautiful step-by-step photos to help you along in the process of making this meal for yourself.
  • The second, click me!, is a bit simpler and offers some suggestions on acceptable noodle & vegetable substitutions in the event that you don’t have something on the ingredient list.

The beauty of this particular Thai meal is that it doesn’t require much in the way of exotic Asian ingredients – you should be able to find everything you need in the Asian aisle of your local grocery store (yes, Kroger and WalMart should have it all!).

Now, go forth and make yourself a big bowl of Phat See Ew!

* As in most Thai restaurants and food stalls, there are a variety of seasonings provided at each table for use in adjusting the flavor of your meal.  There are 4 basic flavors associated with Thai food, and a balance is sought between all 4 in much of Thai cuisine – hot: dried/ground chili flakes, sweet: sugar, salty: fish sauce, and sour: vinegar (sometimes w/sliced peppers).  I usually add a slight sprinkle of sugar, chili, and a pickled pepper or two to my plate, but it’s all up to you!

September 21, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 4 Comments

Buddhism in Thailand

When Brook and I were still in school at Huntington University, we spent a good bit of time researching and learning about the world’s many differing religions.  We made it a point to study about Buddhism in particular, as we knew we would be spending most of our Senior year living abroad and working here in Thailand.  By no means would I ever claim to be an expert on the subject – I still have plenty of questions myself that I must ask and try to find answers for every day! – but I have a feeling we may know a good bit more about Buddhism than a lot of people back in the Midwestern States, where we come from.

The thing is, here in Thailand Buddhism is almost nothing like what we read about.  It looks, feels, sounds, and is practiced in a way that seems to make it unlike all of the things we studied in school.  Why?  Because Buddhism in Thailand has, through the years, taken on a life and an identity completely its own.  An identity that has been created by a fusion of Buddhist teachings, Hindu beliefs, and various folk-religious practices (animism, spirit worship, etc.)  The wild thing about Thai Buddhism is that the original teachings of the Buddha don’t actually relate to the spiritual realm, yet Thai Buddhist worship is wrapped up in fear of the spirits which surround us and the appeasing of said spirits has become priority.

The organization that we are serving in Thailand through, OMF, has recently put out a short video which talks about the nature of “Folk Buddhism” in Thailand and the effect that it has had on generations of Thai Buddhists.   I am going to post this video below, though I will warn you that it does contain some pretty intense scenes regarding ritual practices and spirit-possession.  So, be sure to watch this without your young children around, and be prepared.

When the video is finished, if you feel so led, please do pray for the people of Thailand.  There is much darkness surrounding us every day, and though we may not see it face to face all the time, the undercurrent of spiritual warfare is alive and thriving.

The People’s Buddhism from OMF Media on Vimeo.

September 19, 2010 Posted by | Thailand | Leave a comment

Driving in Thailand

How did you feel the first time you ever started up the engine of a car by yourself?  Was is thrilling?  Exciting?  Were you nervous?  Ready?  Or just plain terrified?

When it came time for me to learn how to drive (back in the States), I was excited and ready.  I had a good deal of respect for the road, the machine I was in control of, and the others on the road with me – I was prepared to be a good, responsible driver… and I always have been.  Sure, I’ve made goofs every now and then like missing a stop sign on a back country road, going through an occasional yellow light and barely making it across before it turns red, driving a consistent 5 mph over on the highway.  But, I’ve (thank God) never been in an accident, nor had a ticket or traffic violation.  I enjoy driving, and I do so responsibly.

But…

It’s now been more than a year since I’ve driven a motorized vehicle on a road of any sort (other than my own foot-powered bicycle).  At first, I was completely and utterly frustrated by my new found lack of independence – as Brook and I each had our own vehicles back in the States – but, I eventually grew accustomed to it, and came to enjoy the fact that I couldn’t go grocery shopping alone anymore.  Rather, Brook had to drive me and come along for the trip.

A couple of months into our time here in Thailand, we were given a small motorbike (on loan) to use for trips around Lopburi – you know, the kind that are just out of comfortable reach for a bicycle or walking trip.  When we had to give it back this past March, we then went on to buy our own.  Nothing big and fancy, but something suitable for our location and similar to everybody else on the road.

We have Songkran to thank for the dirt all over the bike!

(Click photo to view it larger)

Driving in Thailand isn’t only different because of our change in vehicle, but it is also a drastic change from the laws and regulations that are heavily enforced back home (and in the majority of Western societies).  Traffic law, lines painted on the road, stop signs, one way signs, stop lights… they are all mere suggestions here in Thailand.  Is the 6 lane superhighway just too inconvenient for you?  Go ahead and turn that slim shoulder into lane #7 – no penalty allowed!  Have you come upon a one-way street and going the extra 25 feet down to the next street just too much of a hassle for you?  Go ahead and drive down it anyway (motorcycles, SUV’s, cars, and trucks alike!), just be sure to flip on your hazard lights as you go.

Oh my.

Oh, and not to mention that the correct side of the road to drive on is opposite of home – we go on the left – and the fact that everything is measured in kilometers instead of miles.  Just a little more confusion sprinkled in there for kicks.

Brook is a good driver.  Brook is a confident driver.  Brook knows how to drive both a motorcycle and a car (both stick and automatic).  This means Brook has always been the one to take us places… until now.

Today, I drove in Thailand for the very first time.  I also drove a motorbike for the very first time as well… and I was completely terrified.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the feel of the wind in my hair, blowing across my face, experiencing the wide open world on a motorcycle – but, I’d rather be the one riding on the back.  NOT the one in charge of the machine.  No.  Nope.  Absolutely not.  Brook, however, decided that it’s about time I learn… so, I finally did (after him trying to force me into it since we moved to our new house 2 months ago) today.

There aren’t many things that can scare me to the point of tears, but driving a motorcycle/motorbike/anything 2 wheeled and motor-driven is one of them.  I was on the verge of tears, doing everything I could to keep them in, the entire time.  We started out slow, Brook’s arms around holding onto the bars with me, giving me instructions the whole way.  And, dangit, he was really really nice, too.  (He knows how scared it makes me!)  After about 5 minutes of driving assisted, he backed off and I did it.  I really did it!  I drove maybe another 5 min (seeming like an hour to me) around our neighborhood – which is riddled with super annoying speed bumps every 50 feet – all on my own.

Granted, as soon as I was allowed to turn back onto our own street and go back home (yeah, he kept pushing me to go farther and keep going… apparently I wasn’t too bad at it), I ran inside and bust out in tears.  Supposedly, he’s making me go back out and drive it again in 20 minutes because I have copies to pick up at a shop down the road, but, we’ll see how that goes.

Here’s to a day of firsts!  (And terrified girls crying and shaking so much that their arms, shoulders, legs, and ankles are already sore.)  🙂

*** Several hours later… I ended up making that second trip, and even drove the 2 km to the 7Eleven at the entrance to our community.  And, all without a single tear.  I’m still a bit nervous, but it looks like I may be able to start getting over my fear after all.  Woohoo! ***

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Personal, Thailand | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesday back from a break

Mmmm… noodles. When I am in the mood for noodles (which doesn’t happen very often – I’m more of a rice girl), there are 3 Thai dishes I like to go for: Phat Thai, Kuay Tieaw, and Rad Naa. The last one, Rad Naa, is what I’m going to introduce you to today. Check it out.

Camera on my phone does a pretty nice job, eh?  I forgot to bring my real camera along when we went for lunch.  Whatever took the shot, it still looks good.  Today’s lunch is a Thai-Chinese dish featuring thick white rice noodles, fresh veggies, a bit of minced pork, and some sauce.  Fantastic… this time.

Unfortunately, Rad Naa is one of those Thai dishes that you have to sniff out for quite some time before finding one you enjoy.  Why?  Because quite often the sauce can turn out to be more like eating snot (yes, I said snot, as in what comes out of your nose when you have a cold… sorry!) than a nice light gravy.  It all depends on who is cooking the food, so once you find one that’s good, you must stick with that cook.  Seriously.  I almost didn’t order this at the new little cafe down the road due to prior offensive encounters with the meal in other locations, but I gave it a chance anyway, and was pleasantly surprised.  Yes!

Despite the horrific description I gave above, I must assure you, though, that there are many people who do make Rad Naa well.  And, when they do, it’s such a great meal!  So, what’s in it?

  • The base starts with a bed of thick, white, slightly sticky, rice noodles in your preferred size and shape.  There are fat ones ranging from 1 – 3 inches wide, as well as skinny ones comparable to fettuccine, spaghetti, and vermicelli.  I almost always go for the fat ones, because they’re more like dumplings when they get clumped together.  I like dumplings.
  • Next comes the vegetables – another thing that varies between cooks.  Traditionally, Rad Naa is made with Chinese spinach (both leaf and stem) or young broccoli (leaves included).  However, some cooks add other vegetables (see my plate above) like diced carrot, tomato, and green onion.
  • Then you have your protein – you may choose any meat you like, though thinly sliced chicken or minced pork are the most common.
  • And on top of it all, there is the sauce… the one part that can either make or break the entire thing.  When properly executed, the sauce should be translucent, slightly thick, yet light in flavor.  (Think of a nice light chicken gravy made from pan drippings, with a little bit of cornstarch whisked in to give it some body.)  Its flavors come from a mixture of soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean sauce, garlic, a pinch of sugar, and white pepper powder, with a touch of cornstarch or tapioca flour as a thickening agent.

Mmmmmmmm…….

As I said before, Rad Naa can be scary if you don’t know the cook who is making it… but, when done well, it’s a great meal for a “cool” rainy day (I would almost even call it my kind of Thai comfort food), and totally worth the time spent finding a good noodle shop.

September 14, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 2 Comments