color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

I learned something new!

What is that something new, you ask?  I learned how to evaluate, choose, remove from the tree, open, de-seed, and prepare a new fruit for eating – Jackfruit!  Do you remember this post way back at the end of June talking about Jackfruit?  Well, the tree I told you about is finally bearing its GIANT fruit, and had one ready to pick today.

Our friend and neighbor, Phii Mee, looked after my flowers and garden while we were away in the States for a month, and she enjoyed a few of the fruits that had ripened in the meantime.  Upon going to visit her this morning, she said she thought there should be another ready today, and offered to come by this afternoon to check on it – if it was ready, then she would also stay and teach me how to open it.

Wait a second, I need to be taught how to open a piece of fruit?  Yes.  Absolutely yes.  This is no ordinary piece of fruit.  Nothing like an apple, a banana, a pear, or a peach.  It’s a completely and entirely different animal.  A scary and defiant animal, if you don’t know what you’re doing.  Why?  Here’s a reminder of what they look like from the outside.

Yep, that's our tree!

As mentioned in my previous jackfruit post, these are one of (if not THE) largest tree-borne fruits in the world.  The one we opened today was about the size of one and a half basketballs – it was just a little guy, though there’s one much larger way up high in our tree right now that needs a couple more weeks to ripen.

Aside from their massive size, another thing that makes these suckers so difficult to open is their sap.  Once removed from their stem, they begin to ooze a thick, white, latex-like substance (think of that fabric & craft glue in the USA, that comes in the gold squeezy bottle – Aleene’s, I think?) from every place imaginable… from the place where the stem came off, from any nicks in its flesh, and from many of the points on the jackfruit skin’s many little bumps.  It is stiiiiiiicky!  Thankfully, my friend told me to slather my knife, my machete, and my hands in vegetable oil before getting to work – that kept everything from getting destroyed and covered with jackfruit glue.

So, how exactly do you open it?  And why on earth would it take two people a full hour to get all of the fruit out?  Take a look at step one of the process.

Use your machete to hack it into quarters lengthwise.

Step two –

Cut out as much of the core as possible, similar to preparing a pineapple.

Step three –

Pull out zillions of little pods, peel off the sticky, spaghetti-like strands covering their flesh, and pop out the marble-sized seed in every single kernel.

Step four –

Put them all in a bowl, and give up counting after 75 or so.

Now, jackfruit is an interesting fruit when it comes to both aroma and flavor.  People usually either like it or they don’t.  I’m one of the strange ones that has conditions that must be met in order for me to down a whole bowl of it – it has to be really, really cold, or served as part of this dessert (which will be featured soon in Tasty Tuesdays, as it is one of my favorite desserts in all of the world, literally!).  Now, when I wrote about it before, I wasn’t quite sure how to explain the jackfruit’s characteristics, as I’d never actually participated in the picking and opening of the fresh fruit before – I’d only ever bought small containers of it already prepared in the market.  Now I can tell you.

One of the biggest giveaways as to knowing when the fruit is ready to be picked is that it gives off a smell when you put your nose right up to it.  And, what is it that I smelled?  Amoxicillin.  Yes, the pink, liquid form of the medicine that I had (and loved the flavor of) as a kid.  I’m sure most of you know exactly what I’m talking about, right?  It had sort of a fruity, bubblegum sort of scent.  Now, based on its smell, would you care to guess then what the fruit actually tasted like?  Right again – amoxicillin!  It’s got that same fruity, bubblegum, not quite ripe banana flavor (which I am told gets sweeter a few days after picking)… and I like it.  Brook doesn’t, though, so I guess that means more for me, eh?

January 26, 2011 Posted by | Food, Just for Fun, Thailand | 4 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – Bagels

We’ve been back to our home in Thailand for almost 2 weeks now, and you bet I’m right back at it in my little kitchen again!  After a month back home (USA) eating all kinds of wonderful things, though not really preparing much of it myself, I was ready to be back in control.  Don’t get me wrong, it was fabulous not having to sweat over my stove, run outside every time I needed to check the oven, or have to wash umpteen dishes in a teeny tiny sink… but, most of the time, I was at the mercy of whomever was providing the meal.  If you’re like me, or if you’ve ever done any sort of extensive travelling, then you understand what I mean.

Strange as it may seem, I also noticed a difference in the way I felt while back in the States, from what I believe to be a difference in the amount of packaged, processed, and commercially prepared foods that I consumed – bagels, breads, jarred tomato sauce, instant meal helpers, packaged dips, crackers, chips, apple sauce, canned goods, etc.  Even some of the fresh produce just tasted different.  Now, not that there’s anything wrong with any of these things, or that they don’t taste good – but, after living in Thailand for a year and a half, where I’ve had to make most everything fresh and from scratch, my body just wasn’t used to all of the preservatives and excessive amounts of sodium Americans are accustomed to eating.  I never really thought of that before, until I actually experienced it for myself.  Sure, convenience is great, but now that I’ve got the hang of how to do so much on my own, I don’t know that I’ll ever go back (aside from a major time-crunch, of course) if / when we ever leave Thailand.  In a way, that makes me really happy.

One thing I was really looking forward to consuming mass quantities of while in the USA was bagels.  Lots and lots of bagels.  (Also on the list were cottage cheese, mushrooms, zucchini, good crackers, all kinds of cheese, and spinach, of course!)  Bagels are hard to find here – unless you’re in a big city and can find a place that has them, can work them into your budget (a little expensive on a basic Thai scheme), and even then, they’re not always the best.  I’ve been wanting to try my hand at bagels for quite some time, though I didn’t have the proper motivation until now – I still had the taste of bagels fresh in my mind from home, and it’s been driving me nuts not having them.  So, today, I did it.  I made bagels.  Luscious, light, fresh, crusty on the outside, delightfully chewy on the inside bagels.

To me, there’s two kinds of bagels – the kind that are hollow sounding, have a thin crusty exterior, and are chewy on the inside (think Lender’s bagels).  The other are the kind you may find at a small bakery shop or Meijer – thicker, heavier, and when toasted they get really crusty and kind of chunky like regular toast.  I prefer the first kind – chewy – and that’s exactly what these are!  So, if you’d like to make them for yourself, check out the recipe and photos below.  They’re not difficult at all.  They just take a bit of time, like any other good homemade yeast bread.  Enjoy!

Basic Bagels
From Ultimate Bread
Makes 8 bagels (regular sized like Lender’s, NOT the giant bakery kind – or a dozen or so mini-bagels… the ones pictured here are regular)

2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) warm water
3 1/2 cups (500 g) unbleached flour, plus extra for kneading
1 1/2 tsp salt

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar into 1/2 cup of the water in a small bowl. Leave for 5 minutes and then stir to dissolve. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt together. Form a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast.

Pour half of the remaining water into the well. Mix in the flour and stir in the reserved water as needed, forming a firm and moist dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Gradually work in as much additional flour as possible while comfortably kneading to form a stiff and firm dough.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat it. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Punch down and let the dough rest 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball – cup between your hands and press the bottoms together between your palms. Press down to get rid of air bubbles and roll the dough between your palm and the work surface to form a smooth ball. Coat a finger in flour and press it through each ball to form a ring.

After poking my finger through the dough ball, I found it easier to spin it around my finger a few times - like a tiny hula hoop! - to stretch out the hole before working it further.

Work the rest of your fingers into the hole, stretching the ring and widening the hole to about 1/3 of the bagel’s diameter. Place the bagels on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover with a damp towel. Let rest for 10 minutes and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Bring a large pan of water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Use a perforated skimmer to lower the bagels into the water in batches of 2-3. Boil, uncovered, until they rise to the surface, about 1 minute. Turn them over once midway.

Then remove from the pan, letting the water drain, and transfer to a lightly oiled baking sheet.

Bake 20 minutes, until golden, and cool on a wire rack.  (I turned my pan around halfway through to ensure even coloring.)

This lil beauty right here is what caused me to burn my fingers trying to slice it open about 30 seconds after I removed it from the pan.  I sliced it, popped it in the toaster, slathered it with a bit of butter….. then lost half of it to Brook.  He said he’d only take one bite, but before I knew it, the whole thing was gone!  Guess that means he liked it, huh – so, I’ll definitely be making these again… soon!

January 25, 2011 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | 2 Comments

Where in the world have we been?!

The United States of America.

I’m not kidding.  We went home.  For realsies.

We knew about it, you didn’t… because we wanted it to be a surprise!  I know there were many of you we didn’t get the chance to see, but for those that we did, we are ever so grateful.  Mere weeks before we left Thailand on December 12th, we had gotten news that my grandfather, my Papa (who was one of the main men in my life when my father became ill, then later passed almost 11 years ago), was not doing very well.  I mean, he is 96 years old, has had quite the full and beautiful life, and has just now begun slowing down in the last year… but, I still wasn’t ready to let him go yet without getting one more chance to spend time together.  Not to mention the fact that after a year and a half away, our families were really wanting to see us as well.

So, thanks to the generosity of family, we flew home.  For a whole, entire, glorious, wonderful, chilly, Christmasy, snow-filled month.

Oh, and while we were there, internet was not so much available for blogging – that’s why my grand plans for a holiday baking series didn’t quite pan out (and I know the 3 1/2 of you that were eagerly awaiting it are so disappointed ;).  Never fear, here’s a shot of the baking and candy-making that I got to spend an entire day doing with the marvelous woman next to me, my Momma.

There’s dark chocolate-mint truffles, dark chocolate-raspberry truffles, and lemon ones, too.  Raspberry tea cookies, mini apricot-walnut tarts, peppermint bark, chewy chocolate pixies, and Dutch almond Banket.  Mmmmmmmmmm.  Not pictured are the Swedish breads we always make for our Christmas Eve smorgasbord (yes, my family is Swedish and carries on traditions like nobody else!).  It’s amazing I didn’t gain 30 pounds while we were home, ya know?!

The feeling of cold wind in my face was shocking, but nice.  Seeing, touching, and even throwing snow made me excited like a little hyperactive kid.  Eating as much cheese and good bread as humanly possible was gut wrenching, but totally worth it.

But the best part?

The best thing was being with family.  Waking up in the morning (from being snuggled under lots of warm blankets in a nice chilly room), and being able to walk out of our bedroom to see the people we love every single day was more incredible than I could ever describe to you.  Being able to physically hug my own mother and brother… playing dominoes at the kitchen table with the family at Brook’s mom’s house… watching movies together at Brook’s dad’s… enjoying Christmas Eve with my Papa and the rest of the family… meeting our niece that was born a year ago after we had already left… all of those things were such an incredible blessing to us.  A blessing that, when we left a year and a half ago, we didn’t expect to have for a full 4 year term.  What a surprise it was to be able to go home so much sooner!!!

Really, I could go on and on and on about it, but no words that I could write or say could really ever convey the true joy it was to visit our home again.  And even though it was really tough to say goodbye once again, it wasn’t quite so bad this time around.  Why?  Because it didn’t seem as final as the last time.  This trip showed us that it is, in fact, possible to go home, that it is still a real place that we can reach, and that leaving home for Thailand isn’t actually the end.

So there, the mystery has been solved.  And now we’re back.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | Just for Fun, Personal | 3 Comments