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mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

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.

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

Tasty Tuesdays – Hot Sandwich Braid

Raise your hand if you like sandwiches.  *Me!*  Now, keep them up if you like, hot, melty, delicious sandwiches from the oven.  *Oooooh, pick me!*

Sandwiches are often a quick, convenient, and familiar (which, when living overseas, is comforting) food.  They can be cold, pressed, grilled, open-faced, stacked, baked, stuffed… the possibilities are endless.  They come in all different forms, with all different breads and fillings, but the basic elements are always the same – bread on the outside, delicious other stuff on the inside.

I first made this recipe a while ago, not long after getting married and starting my first full-time job at an elementary school in Indiana.  It was time for my first work carry-in (or potluck), and I wanted to bring something everyone would like, wasn’t too hard to do, and didn’t cost a lot to make.  I wanted whatever it was to be homemade and delicious – after all, I was trying to make a good first impression!

Mmmmm... Fresh out of the oven goodness.

Well, after bringing this in, I got requests to make it again for most events after that for 3 years (and, if you know the staff I was a part of, then you already know how much everybody loves an excuse to have them during the year!).  It’s simple, delicious, versatile, takes just over an hour from start to your plate, and looks beautifully impressive (though, my pictures today aren’t so lovely, as I ran out of daylight and had to rely solely on our fluorescent ceiling lamps – blargh).  The dough is super easy to work with as well.  That makes this a definite winner in my book!

This recipe comes straight from a Taste of Home leaflet I got inside another magazine almost 5 years ago.  I’ve added a few notes in blue, as well as a few other tips at the end.  Try it out, and enjoy!

Ham & Swiss Braid
Makes one large loaf, about the length of a cookie sheet.

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each) quick-rise yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard (I like to use French’s spicy brown)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound thinly sliced deli ham (smoked, honey, & pepper all work great!)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped dill pickles (totally optional – I’ve never used them, as not everybody likes hot pickles)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions:

  • In a bowl, combine 3 cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt.  In a small saucepan, heat water, mustard and butter to 120°-130°.  Add to flour mixture.  Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be slightly stiff).  Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.
  • Roll dough into a 14″ x 12″ rectangle on a greased baking sheet.  (I just line my sheet with parchment paper and don’t bother with the greasing.  Easy cleanup!) Arrange half of the ham over dough. Top with cheese, pickles and remaining ham.

I ran out of ham - so, I did not put another layer on top of the cheese this time.

  • On each long side, cut 3/4″ wide strips about 2-1/2″ into center.  Starting at one end, fold alternating strips at an angle across filling.  Pinch ends to seal.  Cover and let rise for 15 minutes.
  • Brush with egg.  (Add toppings – see notes below.) Bake at 375° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve warm.

It starts out like this ^, and ends up like this! ^

Other notes and tips –

  • You can also use many other filling combinations for this braid – just be sure that whatever you choose fill it with, will go with the slight mustard flavor of the dough.  Previous braids that I have made have included: ham & swiss; ham & cheddar; roast beef & cheddar; roast beef & provolone; turkey & swiss; turkey & cheddar; turkey, honey ham, & smoked provolone.  I also think pastrami would be amazing, though I have yet to try that one out – can’t find it over here!
  • If you make one large loaf, as the recipe specifies, the bread will be a nice fluffy, thick texture.  However, I have made this recipe before, dividing the batch of dough in half, and rolling it to almost the same size, though thinner.  That way, I could get 2 braids, with separate fillings, out of one batch – and, it wouldn’t be as bready.  It’s good both ways, just depends on how much bread you enjoy!  Just try it out each way, and see which one YOU like best.
  • By adding other toppings, such as parsley, other dried herbs, sesame or poppy seeds, shredded Asiago or Parmesan to the top of your braid (after brushing with egg), you can add a little extra flair, as well as help others distinguish which braids are filled with what.  For example, top the roast beef braid with sesame seeds, the ham braid with parsley, and tell your guests so they can tell at a glance which one they want to dig into.
  • Also worthy of note – if you happen to be one who enjoys stromboli, this is similar, but has key differences to be aware of, so you are not surprised or disappointed if you are expecting them to be the same.  This braid is made with a thicker, fluffier bread dough that will rise as it bakes and give more to bite into, as opposed to the thinner pizza dough that stromboli is usually made with.  Also, this dough is made with mustard, so the dough will have a slightly more tangy flavor, as opposed to a pizza dough serving as a blank canvas for the fillings.

March 22, 2011 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | 3 Comments

Newsletter Time!

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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…

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

Tasty Tuesday – Tortillas

I usually don’t like having two Tasty Tuesdays in a row, without another post in between, but it’s been busy, busy around here, so I’ll just have to deal with it, I suppose.  Eh, who really cares anyways – it’s food.  I like food.

This week’s Tasty Tuesday is another thing I have really come to love making here in Thailand, that I never did before moving out of the States – flour tortillas.  Well over a year ago, I posted about making tacos for supper one night in Lopburi, but I was still too new at the tortilla-making game that I didn’t want to to post any sort of recipe until I was sure I had found one that was wonderful.  Well, enough time has now passed, enough recipes have been tried, and plenty enough rounds of tortillas have been made to declare that I now have my favorite recipe that I will use always and forever, amen.

Seeing as most recipes use some sort of lard, shortening, or heavy fat substance, I originally wanted to find a recipe that was a bit lighter.  Not to mention the fact that shortening and lard aren’t something I can easily come by over here anyhow.  So, after testing out 5 or 6 recipes (2 of them using shortening, just because I wanted to see the difference), I just kept going back to the very first one I ever used.  It was the most consistent, best tasting, and least complicated – so, why not?

The recipe originally comes from Eating Well magazine’s website, with a couple of minor changes from me.  One was that their idea is to freeze a small portion of flour with your choice of vegetable oil, so it acts like shortening when blending together with your flour (similar to when making a pie crust).  I, however, didn’t like having to wait another 30 minutes for that to happen, so after doing that the first couple of times, I just decided to use the oil straight out of the bottle – and, it works just fine!  That’s exactly how I’ve been doing it ever since, and it turns out perfect every time.  The other change I made is the number of tortillas I can make out of the recipe.  I tend to like bigger tortillas (halfway between what packages usually label to be “taco” sized and “burrito” sized), so I can tuck the ends in before picking up my tacos.  After all, who likes their filling to fall out when they’re trying to eat?  Not me.

So, here you go.  The recipe, and a few tips on how to make them.

Hand-Rolled Flour Tortillas

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling out the tortillas
  • 3 tablespoons oil (canola, soy, veg blend – anything light – I use rice bran)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water

1.  Add both flour and salt to a large mixing bowl and give them a good stir.

2.  Measure out your water and add oil to water.  Give them a stir, too.

3.  Add your wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until they come together.  (Keep in mind that the dough will be in large clumps rather than a nice smooth ball.  If all of the dry ingredients haven’t been dampened, add just a little more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it all comes together.)  Scoop the dough out of the bowl and knead for a few minutes until smooth. It should be a medium-stiff consistency; definitely not firm, but not quite as soft as most bread dough.

4.  Divide the dough into small balls, according to how many you would like to make – 12 for smaller, 10 for medium, 8 for large enough to make good-sized burritos.  Making the balls as smooth as possible is key in helping you roll out nice circles later on, so check out this tutorial on YouTube to see how to do that well (I didn’t like her recipe, but I used her method for making smooth balls which starts at 1:15).  Let the balls rest on a plate, covered, for at least 30 minutes to make the dough easier to roll out later.

5.  Lightly flour your work surface (counter top, marble slab, smooth glass cutting board, or my personal favorite – a cloth pastry frame), and flatten one ball with the palm of your hand.  Lightly roll a few times with a rolling pin, then rotate the dough a quarter turn.  Roll a few times again, then rotate a quarter turn.  Repeat the process until your tortilla is as thin as you can go, without being see-through.  It’ll take a little practice, but once you’ve got it, you will no longer have to worry about amoeba shaped tortillas and all will be right in the world.

6.  Place tortilla carefully (not letting it fold or wrinkle up) onto a hot griddle and watch for bubbles to form.  After about 20 seconds, flip the tortilla over and cook for another 20 seconds or so.  You want the tortilla to be white and cooked through, and some little brown spots on the bubbles are just fine.  Be careful not to let them get too brown though, as the tortillas will get stiff pretty quick.

7.  Keep finished tortillas wrapped in a towel to keep them warm and flexible as you work on the rest.

Ta-da! Lovely, delicious tortillas.

** A few things I’ve found to be very important in making great tortillas are – not letting the dough get too wet, being sure to allow the dough to rest for 30-40 minutes (or else it’ll be like trying to roll spring-loaded silly putty), rolling them out as thin as I can to keep them flexible, and flipping them quickly so they don’t get tough.

Now, if you’ve not made homemade flour tortillas before, it’ll probably take a couple of rounds to get the hang of it.  But, once you’ve got it, it is SO worth it.  Packaged ones just seem so dry and bland to me now.  Homemade ones don’t tear when you stuff them with juicy meat, tomatoes, melty cheese, and salsa.  And, seriously, if you like making quesadillas, homemade tortillas will give you that wonderful crisp outside, chewy inside goodness that you can only seem to find at Mexican restaurants.   Mmmmmm…. I’m so glad I made a double batch this week!

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesday – Broccoli Salad

If you’re from the States, and you’ve ever been to any sort of potluck meal (church picnic, work carry-in, neighborhood barbecue, etc.), chances are you’ve had broccoli salad.  I’m going to also assume the kind you’ve had is the most common type (in the Midwest, anyways) – broccoli, raisins, lots of bacon, onion, and a dressing made of straight mayo, apple cider vinegar, and lots of sugar.  Sound familiar?  Probably.  Taste good?  Definitely.

But, I still like it better my way.  🙂

I’m a big fan of taking things I know, then not only changing them to my tastes, but also making them healthier and fresher, too.  That’s how my version of broccoli salad came about.  Every time I’ve made or brought it somewhere, it has been met with good reviews and well, it’s perhaps my favorite thing to eat at a barbecue (or for dinner even in the middle of winter).

Wanna make it?  I’ll tell you now, since this is another Sara-style recipe, I’m basically just going to give you a guideline for what goes in it without precise amounts.  I always just eyeball it and it works every time.  But, don’t let that put you off.  Try it.  Play with it.  Make it, then put it in the fridge for an hour, taste, and adjust from there.  Really, it’s not that scary.  Just do it.

So, what’s in it…

  • To make a regular-sized mixing bowl full – what I usually do for a picnic – I start with 2 heads of broccoli about the size of my fist (because that’s what I can get here), and a softball-sized head of cauliflower.  Wash and chop them both up into small, bite-sized chunks.  You can even chop up some of the stems, too, if you want to add more crunchy pieces.
  • Next, a couple handfuls of RED grapes, halved or quartered, whichever way you like better and depending on how big they are to start.  It’s important to use red grapes, NOT green, as the sweetness of the red ones is what helps eliminate the need for adding any sugar to the salad as you continue.
  • Finely dice up about half of a red onion (little purple shallots will do just fine in a pinch, if that’s what you’ve got on hand).  Also, cook and crumble/chop up, pat dry, and cool about 3 or 4 slices of bacon (that is more than enough, believe me – depending on the size and flavor intensity of the bacon, I sometimes even use just 2), and throw all of that into the bowl with the grapes and veggies.
  • Get some plain, sliced, unsalted, roasted almonds, and toss in a handful of those.  If you don’t have them, you can use sunflower seeds just as well – but, I think the almonds are better.  🙂
  • If you’ve got some shredded sharp cheddar on hand, put a pretty light handful – meaning not very much, just enough to add a pop of color and a little salty bite – of that in, too.  (Sorry, you’ll notice none in my photos today, because cheese is harder to come by here.)
  • Grab a handful of dried cranberries, and add those to the bowl.  You can also use raisins, if you like.  You can even use both, which I often do.  I really like the sweet-tart bite of the cranberries best, though.
  • Now, toss it all together so it’s nice and pretty, and get ready to put on the dressing.  It really is quite simple.  Add just a couple of spoonfuls of Miracle Whip to the top of the bowl (the tangy-ness of Miracle Whip is key in balancing the sweet and salty between the other ingredients, without having to add any sugar to your salad – however, if you really don’t have any, you can use regular mayo… but, it won’t be the same 🙂 .  Squeeze on a bit of lemon juice.  Add a few cranks of fresh cracked black pepper.  Then, stir away!

You can add more of the dressing and juice as needed, but be careful not to make it very thick.  Actually, leave it a little bit drier than you think you should.  Why?  Because after stirring it around, you need to let it chill for about an hour.  During that hour, the juices from your red grapes will seep out into the dressing, and the vegetables will soften, making the salad become a bit creamier on its own.  The flavor of the bacon, though there’s not much in it, will also incorporate itself into the dressing (which is why you don’t need to add a lot in the first place) as it sits.  If, after an hour, you think it’s still too dry, then add another spoonful and another squirt of juice until it’s to your liking.  Really, if you like it, then it’s already a success!

Just look at all those little bits of yumminess...

So, now do you see why I like my style even better than the other also yummy, yet more common, version that’s out there?  You don’t need to add any sugar, as your sweetness comes from things already in the salad.  There’s much more variety, and good things, adding more vitamins, good-for-you-stuff, and more flavor.  And, heck, it’s got a lot more color!

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | 1 Comment

Happy things!

Yesterday (Thursday) was just an all-around wonderful day here in my little part of Thailand.  So many good and happy things happened that I went to bed still smiling about it all.

First, we went to our second visit to the hospital where we will be having our baby come August, Samitivej Srinakarin.  It was your usual second appointment – the doctor asked a bunch of questions, took my weight and blood pressure, and then pulled out a Doppler to check the baby’s heartbeat.  Little guy/girl was already being a bit persnickety though, and testing mommy’s patience (and ability to hold off freaking out) by hiding for a couple of minutes (literally, Brook timed it) before letting us hear that beautiful little flub-a-dub-dub.  But, once we did, it was incredible.  Baby Sarver’s heart is strong, is progressing along just fine, and I’m doing well.  So, there’s happy thing #1.

Happy thing #2 happened right after our trip to the hospital.  Some friends of ours live over in that area and told us about a mall just down the road, so we decided to head there and check out what there was for lunch.  Upon calling them up to verify which direction we needed to go, they decided to come on over and eat with us since they had some time free.  Fun, right?

Happy thing #3 was Brook spotting a small shop in the basement of said mall, crammed with a strange collection of random USA export clothing at super cheap prices – American Eagle, Mossimo, Old Navy, and here’s the clincher… Motherhood Maternity!!!  They had a small selection of legit maternity shirts, in my size, that I actually liked for only a few bucks a piece!  Brook picked out a few for me to try on, I loved them, and I bought them.  Score!

Happy thing #4 also came about while at the mall.  It turns out that they have a Villa Market in the basement – a grocery store with a few branches around Bangkok that carries a good variety of both American and other international products.  Villa is where I finally found molasses for my gingersnaps this past Christmas, Cool Whip for Brook’s birthday cake last October, and frozen brussels sprouts when that’s all I wanted to eat a few months ago.  But, yesterday, I found something that has only been seen by my eyes in Thailand once before… something that made me so happy, I had to take a picture.

Marshmallows!!!!!  As with the majority of American products in the store, their price was a bit high, considering all of the shipping and import tax costs involved in getting those things on the shelf, so I did not buy them.  But, now that I know they are there, I feel a pan of Rice Krispies (which I also found!) treats just may be appearing sometime in the near future.  Mmmmmm.

The final, and definitely most happy thing, though, didn’t happen until 8:20pm.  Happy thing #5 was being able to witness the birth of my newest nephew, my brother’s 3rd child, Logan Cooper Santefort.  Here he is just moments after coming into the world…..

My sister-in-law went into surgery (for a scheduled Cesarean) about 7:00am Illinois time, 8:00pm Bangkok time.  Thanks to my brother’s brand new iPhone 4 (literally just got it a few days ago!), free hospital WiFi, kind doctors & nurses, and the wonder of Skype + iPhone’s FaceTime, about 8:20 my big brother rang up my computer and gave me the best gift ever… watching, with him in the OR, as they carried his new son over to be cleaned up, swaddled, then handed to his mommy & daddy for the very first time.  Seriously, it was perhaps 30 seconds after they pulled him out, and I was there.

I simply could not believe it.  I think I was in shock.  I just started to cry as Brook and I sat there watching for just a few minutes before it was time for my brother to put down the phone, pick up his son for the first time, and take him over to his wife.  Less than 10 minutes later, he called me back again to watch as they weighed, measured, and foot printed my new nephew in the nursery.

Incredible.  That’s all I can say.  Somehow, through the wonder of technology and the things available to us today, I was present in the delivery room, right there with my brother, for the birth of his son… from the complete opposite side of the globe.  He was in Illinois.  I was in Thailand.  And, it worked.  Heck, I’m crying again even now just thinking back on it!

Big brother Carson, 7 years old, holding his new baby brother.

Big sister Madelynn, almost 4 years old, holding baby Logan.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Personal | 4 Comments

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

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