color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

New Beginnings!

This morning, we got up early, got our supplies around, hopped in the car, and headed a few kilometers down to the road to this place.

A few weeks ago, a family in our church asked us and another Thai friend to help them start up an English club for kids in their community.  It’s been a dream of theirs for a couple of years, but up until now they just didn’t have the means or there were always roadblocks in their way.  Recently, they were given permission to use this building – which just so happens to be right next to their home – for the club… for FREE! The man that owns it allows people to open it up for things that will benefit the community – such as the ever popular Thai aerobics that happens almost everywhere in the country around 5:00pm every day – so, we were most welcome to use it to teach the neighborhood kids.  Great, huh?

So, the club will now meet every other Saturday for the next school term, from 10:00 – 11:00am, and will focus on basic English skills and conversation.  However, as with nearly anything in Thailand, things don’t ever begin on time or turn out the way you plan.  After an initial survey of the community, we expected about 7-8 elementary aged kids to show up at 10:00… and they came, at 10:30, of course.

So, we began at 10:30.  But, then, as we taught… more and more kids just started filtering in.  By 11:00, this is what it looked like in there!

We ended up with 23 kids, plus a couple of really little ones and a few moms in the back.  What?!  They all seem to be between the 3rd and 6th grade, with 19 of them being able to at least write in English.  (Whether they understand the words or not, they’ve at least mastered English script – this is a big plus!)

After the club finished around 11:30, a couple of the moms and another young lady from the community approached us about perhaps teaching them some English, too!  When we lived in Thailand the first time (back in 2005), that was actually what we did more of – teaching conversational English and providing a place for language practice for college students, young adults, and other professionals – so, it’s definitely something we could do.  However, with the baby coming really soon, and just getting our foot into this neighborhood, I think we’ll just stick with teaching the kids for a few months and allow the adults to sit in.  After we can spend a little more time getting to know people, become familiar with their needs, and get through this giant personal transition coming up in our own lives, we’ll see how we can work in another class for the older people.

We’re pretty excited about the possibilities and opportunities that are opening up (so quickly!) as a result of about 2 hours spent in their community!

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Thailand | 2 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – ไข่ยัดไส้

I.
Love.
This.
Food.

One of the first meals I ever had in Thailand way back in 2005 was ไข่ยัดไส้ (say it like: khai yat sai).  Simple, delicious food that is made quickly and eaten probably just as fast.  It’s just that good.

So, what is it?  It’s basically a paper-thin egg omelette (reminiscent of crepes) stuffed with minced meat, chopped veggies, and a sweet-savory-slightly spicy sauce.  Put it on top of a mound of rice, add a sprinkle of fresh cilantro (coriander), and drizzle it with a bit of Sri Racha (the legit stuff, not the insanely hot imposter Huy Fong Rooster Sauce that most Americans think of), and it becomes a fabulous meal.  Mmmmmmmm.

Click here for a great tutorial, including both a recipe and how-to photos, if you’d like to make one for yourself.  The only notes I would make regarding this recipe – if you want to eat it the way we do here – are as follows…

  • Bacon, although included in this recipe, is not used in the omelettes here.
  • You can use whatever minced meat you have on hand (chicken, turkey, pork, beef), but my favorite is pork.
  • Usually, street vendors use thin sliced baby corn instead of kernels, and chopped raw green beans instead of snow peas – though a frozen veggie blend as stated in this recipe will work just fine.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t have any fish sauce or oyster sauce.  They are wonderful and do add beautiful depth of flavor, but if you are making this for yourself at home and only have soy sauce, just use that and go for it anyways!
  • If you like a little kick (like me!), feel free to toss in some chopped chilies or jalapenos and some garlic.

Now, go make this and enjoy!!!

May 24, 2011 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | Leave a comment

The Process of การเลือกชื่อ

One thing every new parent faces, regardless of where they live, how much money they have, what kind of baby will be born… is figuring out what to call their child once it arrives.

The process of การเลือกชื่อ, choosing a name, varies in difficulty from person to person. Some have had a name picked out for years before even becoming pregnant. Others like to decide in the moments after birth, once the face of their new little baby has been seen. Some couples agree right away, and others go through a timely process of writing down possible names and making lists for each other to go through for the purpose of either approving or vetoing certain selections.

Our little poser.

I’ve been making baby name lists, altering them every now and then, for a few years now. Brook, on the other hand, has not.  In fact, he told me early on in this pregnancy that he didn’t want to officially start thinking of names until we found out the gender of our soon-to-be little human.  Now that we have finally found out what little Sarver is going to be, the process has begun!

But still, it’s not as simple as that.

Since we live in Thailand, and the language of the people, of course, is Thai – a highly tonal, very much pronunciation-sensitive language – we need to take that into account when choosing what to call our new addition.  Every name we consider goes through the usual “Do we like it? Can we say it a million times and not get tired of it?  Does it flow well with our last name?” tests… but, it must also be run through an extra filter, if you will:

  • Does it sound the same as any Thai vocabulary, and if so, does it have a meaning?  Is the meaning acceptable or will we be inadvertently cursing every time we call our kids in for supper?
  • How will it sound when a native Thai speaker pronounces it?  If they say it differently, does it sound like any other Thai words which could also be wildly inappropriate not only for naming a person, but also for everyday speech?
  • How will it be spelled in Thai, so others will know how to say it?

There have actually been a few names already taken off of the docket, as all we can do is laugh when we ask some our Thai friends to say them.  They come out completely different – either because it is too difficult to say, or their pronunciation changes the name’s implied gender drastically.  It’s quite humorous, actually, to hear some of the things that come out of names we’ve chosen.  (And yes, I know there are more than plenty enough Thai names that I butcher mercilessly when attempting to say them as well.)

All that said, we have not officially chosen a name for our baby yet, but there is one that we are currently testing out seriously for the next couple of weeks.  Am I going to tell you what it is?  Nope.  Not until a final decision has been made, and a middle name assigned… and that probably won’t be for at least another month or so.  🙂  We’ve still got somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 weeks left, as far as we know, and we intend on using that time fully!

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Personal, Thailand | 1 Comment

My ชุดคลุมท้อง, or lack thereof.

Being pregnant in Thailand has been interesting, that’s for sure.  I mean, it’s already a completely new experience for me, as this is our first child… but, think of all the new things you (or someone you know) went through with your first, then place that learning curve in the middle of a completely different culture and a perpetually height-of-summer climate.  Now, you have me!

I’ve grown up hearing stories, watching tv shows & movies, witnessing family members and friends go through the growing, birthing, and raising process of children, picking up bits & pieces here and there to store for my own experience someday.  So, I thought I had something of an idea (as much as one really can without actually experiencing it for themselves) of what to expect.  For the most part, this has held true, and all of these tidbits of information have been quite helpful.  However, it’s all had to be twisted around just a little bit to fit where I am now – in Thailand… tropical Southeast Asia… the complete other side of the world.

I suppose this is one of those times that I’m glad I’m beginning this whole parenthood journey here, so I have nothing to compare it to, or feel like I’m really missing out on from an experience I’d already had back in the States, ya know?  Though, it is a bit strange (and a little bit funny) to me to think that someday in the future, if/when we move back to the States, I will be comparing things to how I started out here in Thailand, instead of the other way around.

Anyhow, aside from the fact that there are a lot more things over here that gross me out (when they didn’t seem as bad before) – meat laying out in the open air at markets and grocery stores, trash fermenting on the side of the road, all of the stray dogs that use the sidewalk at one side of our house as their toilet, the fact that the sun bakes every foul smell into the surrounding atmosphere at an intensity unequaled by anything I’ve ever encountered – and a myriad of other topics I’ll cover in the coming weeks….. there is one particular manner of life here in Thailand that I knew existed, but never really stopped to think about that much –

How do pregnant Thai women dress?

That’s where my ชุดคลุมท้อง (say it like: “choot khloom tong”), or lack thereof, comes into play.  Some of you may have heard me talk before about how there’s really not a market for maternity clothing over here.  Because of this, I picked up just a few basic pieces at a maternity store while in the States at Christmas (and had a lot of fun strapping on the fake bellies in an attempt to predict my future sizes!).  I also, thankfully, have a couple of friends here on the field who have graciously given me a few things to borrow (brought over from their own respective countries) for the next several months as I continue to grow, then attempt to shrink back to my normal size again.  But, the thing is, the clothes that I have still look pretty normal.  After all, that’s what we Western women like – looking as normal as possible, perhaps even stylish, while trying to embrace our ever increasing size.  I know I am definitely one who has taken to a more fitted style, as I feel it makes my baby bump more obvious – in turn, hopefully letting Thai friends and random onlookers know that I’m not just a “fat foreigner.”

Well, turns out I was wrong. I knew already what any Thai woman I’ve ever seen wears when she is pregnant – muu-muus, tent style dresses with large pleats and big buttons / bows on them, 90’s style jumpers plastered with cutesy embroidered cartoon characters, and the occasional big, baggy shirt with a pair of leggings.  Every factory and service-oriented job with a uniform (even 7-Eleven!) also has their own specific line of tent dresses for their employees to wear.  I think I’ve only ever seen one woman wearing some tailored knee-length shorts, and she was a Thai friend, married to a Westerner, who has spent considerable time living outside Thailand herself.  So, I’m not counting her.  🙂  The previously mentioned large-wear attire is really the only thing available, outside of a handful of super-expensive, high-society stores in downtown Bangkok – that are there mostly for the foreigners, I assume.

Here’s an example of what I see on my fellow mommies every day –

You see, wearing giant clothing with no shape has no appeal to me.  Neither does wearing cartoon embroidery.  In the 90’s perhaps, but not now.  As mentioned before, I like the more fitted look, as I feel it not only showcases the wonderful miracle going on in my life right now, but also keeps me from looking like a blimp in a land where I am already a head taller than everyone else (and much larger all around) – and, as many of you know, boosting the self-esteem right now helps a lot with the process!  But, apparently, that’s not how the people I am surrounded by see it.

This is what I wore for church yesterday, at 22+ weeks.

According to my friends, and several people at church, the ชุดคลุมท้อง (or “maternity uniform”) is key in distinguishing those who are soon-to-be mothers from those who simply don’t control their eating habits.  The fact that I have been wearing cleverly designed fitted capris, shorts and long pants (yay for stretchy panels!), along with tailored skirts and regular looking tops has been telling people the exact opposite of what I wanted.  My normal-ness says that I’m not pregnant – rather, I’m simply an already large foreigner who has decided to take a break on maintaining my health.  This very fact led to a few interesting conversations at church yesterday, and several people being completely surprised to find out that I’m actually growing a baby in there.  Apparently, word had not yet made its way through the whole congregation, and people thought I was just getting lazy.  Thankfully, I am secure enough to find that humorous, not offensive.  🙂

I know in another month or so, my belly will get to the point that it is more obvious and rounded.  I know that right now, depending on what I wear, the time of day, and how the baby is laying all affect whether or not I just appear a bit pudgy.  And I’m okay with that.  I also know that, despite this new knowledge, this is one cultural thing I will probably not be conforming to any time in the near future – though, I think it may be funny to go out and buy a Winnie the Pooh emblazoned jumper and wear it to church next week just to give my friends a laugh…

So many things I learn every day.  So many things I never would have thought about before.  And, thank God I have friends over here who can fill me in when I am so utterly clueless about what’s actually going on around me!

April 11, 2011 Posted by | Personal, Thailand | 2 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – ปลาเผา

After featuring Western food for the last few weeks, I figured it high time we get back to some Thai food.  Agreed?

This week, I want to introduce you to something I probably never would have ordered on my own here in Thailand (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter).  You see, coming from Midwest America, I wasn’t exposed to very much seafood growing up.  Sure, I knew what shrimp were, and I can remember one time my mom even made mustard-crusted halibut and seared scallops as a special treat.  Outside of that, canned tuna, and perhaps 3 lifetime total trips to Red Lobster, though, we just didn’t have it around.

So, what was it like, then, coming to a nation where seafood seems to be a staple in everyday cuisine?  Interesting. But, seeing as I am not one to turn down something that my host has offered, I will always try (just about) everything at least once.  And, this particular meal is one thing I am glad I tried!

Plaa Phao, or ปลาเผา, is about as simple as you can get for Thai food.  Aside from plain steamed rice, of course.  All you need is a large, flat fish (tilapia or Thai sea bass are the favorite choice around here), lemongrass, lime leaves, and coarse salt – lots and lots of coarse salt.

Check it out –

The photo above comes from a birthday dinner we attended at a neighbor’s house last week.  They are actually the ones who first introduced me to this delicious form of food.  It seems to be a favorite in their family, so every time we’ve gotten together for a barbecue, I get excited knowing that we’ll probably be eating this along with whatever else they decide to make.

So, what is it?

As I mentioned above, the fish of choice is tilapia or sea bass, but you can also find snakehead fish prepared in this same way out in street markets.  All you need to do is gut the fish, then stuff it with several stalks of lemongrass and a handful of lime leaves.  Seal the fish back up, roll it in a generous amount of coarse salt, give it a few slashes of the knife, and roast it over some charcoal.

Now, I can already hear some of you questioning the saltiness of this dish, considering the amount of white you see being charred in the photo above.  However, it really doesn’t affect the flavor of the fish at all.  The thick salty crust actually serves a different purpose – as it is used only on the outside of the fish’s skin, it actually works to seal in moisture, keeping the flesh inside tender and flaky (seriously, you don’t really even need to chew it, it’s that tender), and it makes the skin peel off effortlessly when it comes time to eat.

Surprisingly, it’s not “fishy” tasting at all.  Just light, flaky, tender, and good.  (And this is coming from someone who, since being pregnant, thinks that the fishy flavor of shrimp of any variety is way too intense and absolutely repulsive – if that helps give you any sort of comparison.)  When served, the fish is usually just placed on a large plate or suitable platter, with the skin on one side peeled or rolled upward from the tail end.  All you need to do is flake off a piece with your fork and go for it.  When one side is cleaned of meat, just grab the tail and lift upward toward the head to remove the spine, and continue eating what lies beneath.

So easy, so simple, and so delicious.  This particular type of fish can be eaten plain, as-is, or with a number of different sauces.  The most interesting, however, is the manner in which our hosts decided to eat it last week.  They seemed to make a sort of wrap out of one ruffled lettuce leaf, a few leaves of fresh Thai basil and cilantro (coriander), a pinch of super-skinny cold rice noodles, a forkful of fish, and one spoon of a sweet-spicy-tangy-citrusy vinegar sauce.  The whole thing then gets wrapped up in a ball and popped right in your mouth!  It’s such a great combination of typical Thai tastes in one neat little package.

So, once again, if any of you ever happen to find yourself on this side of the globe – this is yet another meal I will take you to eat.

March 29, 2011 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 1 Comment

Newsletter Time!

Click the image above to download our latest newsletter.

If you haven’t already, check out our latest newsletter by clicking on the image above.  It’s an update on all that’s been keeping us busy in the past few months…  and even some exciting news on page 2!  Your thoughts and prayers continue to be such an encouragement to us…

If you are not currently receiving our newsletters and would like to get them delivered straight to your email inbox, please fill out the online form here!

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Newsletters, Thailand | Leave a comment

Tasty Tuesday – ทับทิมกรอบ

Another full month of travelling has come and gone, and I’ve been wanting to write about this treat the whole time!  Finally, a chance to bring you all into the world of yet another form of Thai sweetness –  ทับทิมกรอบ (Tub Tim Grob).

I mentioned this particular dessert in my last post about the jackfruit tree in our yard.  This juicy, sweet, creamy, crunchy, smooth dessert could almost be considered a soup – just look at the photo below.

So, what is it?  The little red balls (also known as “rubies” on many menus) are actually bits of water chestnut that have been tossed in red food coloring, coated in tapioca flour, then boiled immediately to create a sort of chewy ball with that distinct juicy chestnut crunch inside.  Check out this recipe here, to see just how this process works.

The chestnuts need not be red every time, though.  I’ve eaten them pink, blue, green, purple, orange, and even yellow!  It can be quite the colorful, fun dish if you want it to be.  Check it out – this one is called “ruam mit,” which means there are a variety of colored chestnuts, as well as some fruit bits mixed in as well.  See the yellow strips?  Those are the jackfruit.

Now, what’s the white milky looking stuff that the fruit and rubies are floating in?  It is usually sweetened coconut milk that has been heated up and added to the cooked chestnuts just before serving.  However, I have also had it served up with sweetened soy milk, and I like it just as much.In this bowl, we have even more – both red and green chestnuts, black jelly cubes, yellow cubes of both mango and jackfruit, and bits of white lychee fruit.  But, what’s that there on the spoon – ice.  Why ice?  When serving fresh ทับทิมกรอบ – Tub Tim Grob, everything is pretty warm, and what fun would it be to eat a hot dessert in hot weather?  Not much fun at all.  So, as means of cooling the mixture down, as well as thinning the milk a bit, shaved ice is always the last thing to be put in your bowl.  Being shaved, it melts down quickly, and prevents having to gnaw on an unpleasant hunk of ice every now and then.

I know, I know… I can see some of you back home shaking your heads at me once again for showing you something that is so completely weird and opposite from what you’re used to in the States, then even go so far as to say I like it.  But, seriously, I do – and so do millions of Thai people.  It’s just another thing to add to the list of goodies you get try to try if any of you ever make it over to our side of the world.  It’s sweet, it’s creamy, and it’s cool – what’s not to like about that in a tropical climate?

February 22, 2011 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 4 Comments

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

Newsletter Time!

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Another few months have come and gone.  And life over here has yet to really slow down, make sense, etc.  We still feel like we are holding on for dear life at times!

But we are doing well.  If you haven’t already, check out our latest newsletter by clicking on the image above.  It’s an exciting update on church camps completely in Thai, language tests, and prayer meetings (again, all in Thai!).  Your thoughts and prayers continue to be such an encouragement to us…

If you are not currently receiving our newsletters and would like to get them delivered straight to your email inbox, please fill out the online form here!

Thanks for your ongoing prayers and support…  Life has been crazy over here and we look forward to sharing more and more about our lives here in Thailand.

December 8, 2010 Posted by | Newsletters, Thailand | Leave a 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