color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

กตัญญุตา – Thankfulness

It’s Thanksgiving Day back in the States today… people are hustling and bustling about making pies, getting the turkey in the oven, letting rolls rise on the counter, setting tables, making place cards, cleaning their houses top to bottom, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, laughing with friends, enjoying time with family, and just soaking in a bit more of the Autumn air.

Here in Thailand, it’s a day just like any other.  In fact, I went to the dentist today.  My seventh and final visit in the drama that was my abscess tooth, root canal, crowning, and another filling.  Thankfully, it is now complete and I am once again able eat on both sides of my mouth!  (A luxury I’ve not had for more than a year.)

Last year, while living in Lopburi, we attended a small gathering of Americans in a nearby city on Thanksgiving.  There were maybe 10 of us in all, if I remember correctly.  We all worked hard to recreate something from home as best we could, using what was available to us.  It was great.  This year, however, we are the lone Americans – the nearest still being quite a drive away from us.  We had toyed with the idea of inviting people (other nationalities included, as all of our friends from language school days are from different countries!) over to our home for a big meal, but the timing just didn’t seem to work out for us this year.  Between field meetings, language study, church meetings, dentist appointments, and more, it would have been a bit too much for me right now.  It was a little disappointing, of course, but bearable as the lack of holiday vibe around here makes it easier to just live it like any other day.  That being said, I did end up using some rosemary and garlic on a bit of chicken for our supper tonight – I had to get a little bit of those flavors in at least!  Oh, and tomorrow I’ll be making some pumpkin bread.  Mmmmm…. pumpkin.

Despite our lack of Turkey Day feasting, or ability to be with family and friends today, I do know that I have a LOT to be thankful for.  I see these things and appreciate many of them even more after all of the troubles, hardships, and illnesses of our first year in Lopburi.  I am blessed.  In the good times, I am blessed.  In the bad times, I am still blessed.  As cheesy as it sounds, there’s really no other, better, way to put it.  On that note, I’m just going to start writing what it is that I am thankful for today, and every day that I am given to live.  May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving of your own today, enjoy your time reflecting on the good in your life, and soak in as much as possible as you celebrate with those that you love…

  • My Creator – without whom I would be nothing…
  • My family – a mother who raised me to see the world through compassionate eyes, a big brother who loves me no matter where I am in the world or how long it is between times we get to see each other, a sister-in-law who has become a great friend to me, a niece & nephew who are incredible and growing so fast, grandparents who have stood beside me, loved me, and prayed for me no matter where I go, an aunt & uncle who have always been there for me, and cousins who I love deeply…
  • My husband – who somehow thought it would be a good idea to move to the other side of the world with me, and who takes me at both my best & my worst…
  • 2 of the best families I could have ever married into, and the fact that they’ve loved me as one of their own…
  • Friends and supporters who not only encourage and love us, but give sacrificially so we are able to live this crazy life overseas…
  • Thai friends who help us every time we screw up our language or manners, love us just the same, and work alongside us anyway…
  • The home that we now have, the neighborhood it is in, and how comfortable and ‘at home’ we feel in it…
  • Enough food on our table every single day…
  • A body that, even when I may dislike or criticize it, is able to walk, function, and carry me through what I need to do every single day…
  • And the little things like…

… the masses of birds in our trees that sing all day long, kids that play on our corner in the afternoon, my gardens, a bathtub, my stove/oven, a washing machine, flushing toilets, my dentist, our language helpers, our church, our car, our computers & internet access, discovering new kinds of bugs and lizards in this environment, the fact that we actually do live on the other side of the world and how incredible that is when I really stop and think about it, Toffee at the mission home and Doxy at Shiloh (who are the only dogs I can talk to and pet without getting bit, since the rest are all strays!), Skype, a real mattress…

And so much more.

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November 25, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Personal | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesday – เมี่ยงคำ

Today’s tasty treat is something called เมี่ยงคำ or Miang Kham.

Click to visit the photographer's blog.

The name of this particular snack suits it quite well as the word miang (เมี่ยง), means “food wrapped in leaves”, and kham (คำ) translates to “a bite”.  And, that’s exactly what this is!  A bite of a whole bunch of different things, all wrapped up in a lovely little edible leaf pouch.

I going to tell you right from the beginning that this is not one of my favorite snacks.  It’s not my least favorite either.  I just simply can’t get it nearby, nor do I want to go out and buy each of the ingredients separately and on my own.  It’s also a pretty good chew when eating one of these tasty little parcels, so your jaw has to be up to the challenge as well.  All that said, if you can find it, if your mouth is up for a little workout (really only the first 20 seconds or so), and if you’ve got a bit of patience to spare, the burst of flavors you’ll experience is quite unlike anything I bet you’ve ever tasted.  That’s the part that’s worth it.

First, you begin with a leaf.  The typical leaf used in this snack comes from a plant in the pepper family called cha plu – ช้าพลู. The leaves are slightly bitter and have a bit of a peppery taste as well.  If cha-plu isn’t available, these can be successfully made with fresh spinach leaves, which are also easier to chew.  In some regions, the Betel leaf is also used.

While holding the leaf flat in your palm, one or two small bits of each of the remaining ingredients is placed in the center – toasted coconut, finely diced red onion, lime (with the peel!), and ginger, as well as dry-roasted peanuts, and tiny dried shrimps.  Some people also like to add thin slices of chili or garlic for some kick, but that’s up to the individual.  Atop this little pile of goodies, you then drizzle a small amount of a sweet-salty sauce made from palm sugar syrup and fish sauce.  Once everything is there, it’s time to either roll it up and tuck in the ends like a burrito, or do it Thai style and make pyramid shaped pouches like these –

When it’s time to eat, simply pull one off the stick, pop it in your mouth, and get right to work.  As I said before, it takes probably a good 15-20 seconds of chewing to get through the leaf and start mixing the flavors contained within it, but it’s well worth the effort.  Once the leaf begins to break, each flavor seems to emerge one at a time for you to experience before all blending together into one cohesive mix.  I once heard somebody describe Miang Kham as “fireworks” in their mouth as a result of this.

Thai food never ceases to amaze me.  If it amazes you too, and you’d like to try one of these snacks, just hop on a plane, come on over, and I’ll take you out.  🙂  For real.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 3 Comments

Camp!

A few weeks ago, Brook and I went to camp.  Camp?  Yes, camp.  For a whole weekend.  With 50 other Thai friends from our church.  And, I’ll bet you a whole bag of Tostitos Hint of Lime (those are like gold over here!) that our camp looked nothing like the camps that you’ve ever been to.  Why?  Because ours was set in the middle of this.

The camp we stayed at was along a small river set far back in an old, no longer harvested, coconut grove about an hour out from Bangkok.  It was beautiful.  There really is nothing like waking up to this sort of view every morning, listening to the animals and birds chattering away through the treetops.  Every time I went for a walk from our cabin to the meeting area, or when we drove our car through the slender, winding paths to get back to the campsite, I marveled at the fact that I was actually in a small jungle, in a tropical and very foreign country, and that it was totally normal… or at least the normal that I’ve come to know over the last year and a half.  But, that’s a post for another day.

Anyways, the church we attend takes a weekend every year to get away with members and friends of the church to recharge, evaluate, get their vision on track, and just have some fun with each other.  After everyone arrived at the campsite (most people carpooled in vans from the church in the city), we headed out for a little “thiaw” – a fun outing – to some local floating markets, where a couple friends of ours took it upon themselves to introduce us to any and every type of snack and treat we had yet to try in Thailand.  (I wrote about this one a couple of weeks go on Tasty Tuesday.)  That night, and the following day, was filled with great times of worship, prayer, teaching, and workshops on refining their vision for outreach and the church’s future.  There also was a barbecue.  (Yes, Thai people love barbecues, too!)  There was lots of talking, lots of playing, and even a group picture… after all, it was camp.

Since the church is completely Thai led, of course everything was in Thai.  And, guess how may people at the camp spoke English.  Two.  Betcha can’t guess who they were, eh?  It sure was a stretching 3 days for us, but, it was sooo worth it.  We had the chance to finally see a lot of people outside the church setting, talk with them for more than 5 minutes over lunch (pretty much all Thai churches have lunch together every single week – nice, huh?), and actually get to know people a bit better.  Granted, we didn’t always understand what people were saying, nor did we always have to words to communicate what we wanted to say… but, the fact that we were there and trying spoke volumes to them, and that has been evident the past couple of Sundays since.

I have a small bunch of pictures located on Facebook, so if you’d like to see a little bit more of the camp, the church members, and so on, just click right here.  It’s a public link, so you don’t need to be a Facebook member to view it.  Just click and enjoy!

November 19, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand | Leave a comment

Tasty Tuesday – ผัดไทย

I couldn’t believe it, when going through my collection of Tasty Tuesdays thus far, that I have yet to do one on perhaps Thailand’s most well-known dish across the globe.  How could I have missed it?  After all, I probably eat it once a week.  I see it everywhere I go.  And, as I said before, it is probably the one Thai meal you are familiar with, even if you have never had Thai food.

Pad Thai.  ผัดไทย.  Mmmmmmm.  This is a plate from the shop just down the street from our house.  This lady makes a little bit of everything, and she’s pretty good.

How does that look to you?  Have you had Pad Thai before in the States?  I bet it didn’t look the same, did it.  As with a lot of Thai food, it’s different here in Thailand.  (Granted, if you live on the West Coast where there is a large Thai population, yours is more likely to be like it is here… but, I figure most of you reading are from the Midwest, right?)

Before Brook and I came to Thailand for the first time, back in 2005, we tried to experience as much Thai food as we could via a small restaurant in Fort Wayne, IN and packaged Asian cuisine from the grocery store.  The Pad Thai we always had was thick, reddish-brown in color, and had a sweet-tangy flavor to it.  It was really good… but, little did we know, that wasn’t really true Pad Thai.  Rather it was a more Westernized version, based off of one particular (not very wide-spread) variation on the meal found here in Thailand.  Hmmmm.

True, traditional, original, basic, unadulterated Pad Thai is actually rather light and fresh.  No sticky sauces, no thick tomato-y base.  Just clean, distinct flavors and lots of fresh ingredients.  It’s sooooo good.  So, what’s in it then?

  • flat rice noodles (medium width most common, but small are fine, too)
  • shrimp or chicken
  • eggs
  • bean sprouts
  • roasted, ground peanuts
  • green onion
  • fresh cilantro/coriander
  • peanut, coconut, or other vegetable oil for frying
  • tofu
  • garlic

And for the sauce?

  • fish sauce (you can substitute soy if you need to, but the flavor will be heavier)
  • little squeeze of lime juice
  • palm or brown sugar
  • tamarind paste
  • dash of vinegar

The method of cooking for Pad Thai is pretty much the same as every other stir-fried dish.  Start by frying the tofu for a minute or two, then remove it from pan.  Next, toss in your garlic & onions for a minute before adding the egg.  Scramble the egg a bit and push to the side of the pan.  Next come the noodles (already half-cooked)!  Toss them around a little bit to get them cooking, then add everything else to the pan and toss until all is cooked through.  Serve a mound of your noodle mixture on a plate with a sprinkling of peanuts, cilantro leaves, a wedge of lime, and….. ta-da!  You have Pad Thai.  Easy, right?

From there, most restaurants and shops will supply you with ingredients at your table with which you can customize your meal.  Want more heat?  Add some dried chili flakes.  Want more tang?  Add a dash of chili vinegar.  Want more sweet?  Add a bit of sugar.  And, if it’s just not salty enough for you, they always have plenty of fish sauce on hand for you to use.

If you’d like a clear recipe with ingredient amounts and step-by-step directions (so YOU can try it at home!), check out Alton Brown’s recipe by clicking here.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 4 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – โรตีสายไหม

This week’s tasty Thai treat is something called โรตีสายไหม – Roti Sai Mai – also lovingly known as a “cotton candy burrito” among English speakers.

If you remember from the last Tasty Tuesday, a roti is basically any kind of flat pancake / bread / tortilla / crepe type food that can be wrapped around a filling.  Though each type of roti may be similar in use and general appearance, each one has its own specific recipe (some using plain flour, others using coconut, rice or glutinous rice flour) and technique for making them.  This is particular one has a very sticky, clumpy dough that requires its maker to practice working with it for quite a while before getting the hang of it.

As you can see, the woman holds a tool for lifting the crepe (which, honestly looks like a 50 cent paint scraper from a hardware store) in one hand, while the other hand is actually dipped into the roti mix.  It really is quite fascinating to watch the whole process (one of these days, I’ll get you a video!).  The roti maker simply dunks one hand into a bucket of super sticky, stringy batter and brings out a handful of goop.  Next, the person simply puts their half closed palm down onto the skillet and smears a thin circle of batter onto a hot metal plate before pulling their hand away.  About 5 seconds later, the roti is lifted from the pan and stacked with the rest.  There is no need for flipping as they cook, and because such a small amount is used for each crepe, one dip goes a long way.

Once you have your super thin crepes ready, it’s time to add the filling – super fine sugar silk or candy floss.  This floss is quite sweet and is similar to cotton candy in the way it seems to melt in your mouth as you eat it.  The difference, however, is that the strands are a bit thicker, slightly clumped together, and stretched into long threads or ropes instead of being spun into a puffy cloud like you may be used to in the States.  Here’s a shot up close –

The floss comes in a wide range of colors from green to pink, pure white to golden brown, neon yellow to purple and orange… you name it, you can probably find it.  If you would like to see how this sugar silk is made, click here or here and check out the photo strip demonstrations.

It isn’t common to find these “burritos” already made, so if you want one, you’ll have to go buy your own stack of fresh roti from the market, along with a bit of floss from a big, inflated bag like this –

The thing is, depending on where you are in Thailand, it may actually be difficult to find a vendor.  If you live in the next province over from us, Ayutthaya (where this treat apparently originated long, long ago) though, it’s no problem at all.  In fact, you’ll see a seemingly infinite number of stands all along the highway just like this –

Okay, so you have your crepes, you have your floss… now just roll them together and take a big bite! If you aren’t a big fan of sweets, this is definitely not the treat for you.  Seriously, it’s sugary enough to make your teeth tingle.

** Unfortunately, my first experience with this treat was so quick I didn’t get the chance to snap any photos… so, I’ve borrowed what you see from others on the internet.  Every picture is linked to where it came from, so if you want to see more, click away! **

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 2 Comments

Say What?!

The blogging has been lacking around here the past few weeks, I know.  It has been rather exciting here in real life though!  My goal is to write about it in the next week or so, as it should slow down for a few days.  We’ve had visitors, then camp, then studies, gardening, meeting more and new neighbors, another round of houseguests…. and now a few days to get back to normal before it all goes haywire again.  Ahhhh, I really do love life and all that comes along with it.

Today, just for fun, I figured I’d post a couple examples of the “English” we deal with on an every day basis here.  You’ll understand why I put the name of our heart language in quotation marks when you look at the following photos.  I honestly don’t know how this stuff makes it through production and onto the shelves – in mass quantities at that.  Huh.

Check out the features on this childrens’ remote control helicopter box –
At least, despite the atrocious spelling, you can still understand what they are trying to advertise, right?  How about trying this next one on for size…

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November 8, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand | Leave a comment