Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Years Eve Fireworks

Close FireworksWhat a great time.

Villla FireworksFrom our apartment, I could see no less than a dozen separate fireworks displays. The longest lasted more than 15 minutes and the closest was right outside our North balconies. I mean RIGHT OUTSIDE.

Long FireworksThese pics are not great because I was running back and forth from our North balconies to our South depending on what I heard going on. I took the pics I could, but I didn't stop to adjust exposure times or f stops. Still I think they give you an idea of what it looked like here at midnight.

Happy New Year - 2007/2050


New Years Eve Bombings in Bangkok

CNN is reporting that bombs have exploded in Bangkok this evening at about 7-8PM our time. They say that 4 explosions have occured and 12 people were injured. Brenda and I were not near the bomb sites nor do we expect to be.

We have cancelled our New Years Eve plans and are now safely ensconced in our apartment well away from any revelry.

With only 2 hours to go before New Years, the terrorists would love to claim credit for our current predicament, cooped up as we are in our home, but the truth is that we have ushered in every year since we have known each other in this exact same fashion. HA!

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fish Sauce

HOTFinally a discussion on this BLOG that might be useful to someone who reads it. I am primarily thinking of my dad who is an adventurous eater and who pretty much wants to visit us in Thailand for the food. I imagine his greeting at the airport going something like this “Hi son, where’s Brenda?” followed quickly by “What are we having for dinner tonight?” But some of the others of you might also be able to use this entry to spice up your next Thai or Chinese dish, or maybe even a taco or burger. Use it instead of salt and apply it after all cooking is done for best affect.

There is another blog that discusses the making of fish sauce in detail. That is, they discuss making the sauce in the bottle that you buy at the store. But I suggest that you refrain from reading it if you are the suggestible type, or if something someone says has the ability to put you off your appetite. The sauce is good, but the process of making it from raw materials may be a bit much if you think milk comes from bottles or that chickens don’t have feathers. Never-the-less, here it is if you are up for it.

Golden BoyTra ChangBut the trick for making good fish sauce is in what you do to it after it comes out of the bottle, so I asked Suporn (our maid/cook) to take me through her modifications. Turns out they are so simple that I can’t believe she actually showed me rather than laughing out loud while informing me that she simply can't work for anyone as stupid as me any longer.

Pour about a quarter cup or so of good quality fish sauce into a bowl. Good quality sauce should be reddish/brown and clear, not cloudy. I'm told that good brands in the US are Tra Chang and Golden Boy. Cut up two or three of those tiny, 1 – 1 ½ inch chili peppers into tinier slices and add them to the sauce. Use both green and red peppers so your sauce will be pretty as well as tasty. Mash up a toe of garlic and add that too. Drop in about ¼ tsp of sugar and squeeze a quarter or half lemon or lime (to taste) into the mix. Then stir it all up for 30 seconds or so. Take a taste and you will find that you have made a salty and peppery-hot condiment that tastes great on just about everything.

Fried RiceDon’t use a lot on your food especially at first because depending on the peppers you use it can be HOT. I put less than a half tsp on an entire dish of fried rice. Brenda uses about a tsp. but she likes things saltier than I do. The sauce is high in sodium and is the primary salt substitute in Thailand so don’t mess around if you have high blood pressure or anything else that makes salt a no-no. But it is very high in protein and wonderfully healthy otherwise.

Use this recipe as a starting point and play around adding some this or some that to get your blend exactly like you like it and keep some in the fridge. Suporn says it’ll keep a week without refrigeration and I expect that is a very conservative estimate. Most Thai houses don’t have refrigerators so the sauce is kept on the shelf in 90+ degree heat most of the time. But make small quantities often so you can experiment. It doesn’t take long and even if you aren’t an adventurous eater you will enjoy the flavor it adds to your favorite dishes.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Spring Roll II

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHere is the pic of the "un-cooked" version of the spring rolls. It turns out that some of the ingredients are cooked, but the final assembly is simply rolled into the wrapper and is ready to eat. Compared to the fried version, the wrapper is different, the ingredients are different and the sauce is different. Other than that, it's all pretty much the same.

Suporn promises to make me a chocolate pie tomorrow. Yumm


Monday, December 25, 2006

Sa-ping Roll cooking lesson

RecipeUnlike most of Thailand, Brenda had today (12/25/2006) off for Christmas. So it was an unsual day when both Brenda and our Maid/cook, Suporn were here at the apartment. To take advantage of this unusual alignment of the stars, Brenda decided to ask Suporn for a Thai Cooking lesson. She wanted to learn how to make Spring Rolls (Suporn pronounces it Sa-ping Roll.) I have no idea what went on in the kitchen, but there was giggling and laughing along with note taking and even some actual cooking.
Do it like this

I tried to get Brenda to give me her notes so I could share the recipe with you, but it is now a closely guarded secret.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

These rolls really are good. You can tell from these pics that these are the fried version which we generally think of as Egg Rolls, but tomorrow they are making the version that doesn't get fried and has only vegatables in it. The food continues to be pretty good around here. No Christmas turkey or ham, no sweet potato casserole, but somehow I didn't miss it much.
Don't forget that you can click your mouse on these pics to get a larger version or you can go to the Food section of my photo album.

Merry Christmas to everyone!


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chiang Mai

MapChiang Mai is about 400 miles North/Northwest of Bangkok. Wednesday morning we hopped on a Thai Air flight and voila, an hour and about $200 later we hopped off at Chiang Mai International Airport. A few Baht after that, we closed the door on our cab at the River Ping Palace, a genuine antique (about 150 years old) Teak House situated on the banks of the River Ping, just south of the city.

The Palace - Notice the tarp on the roofIf you have ever stayed in a bed and breakfast type lodge, you know that they are unpredictable in their “atmosphere.” The Palace is no different. Being an old teak house built in a country without meaningful building codes, we were not surprised, but we were concerned when climbed the slightly off-kilter stairs and entered our darkened room at about 2:00 PM. Was that sunlight streaking in from the many (many, many) cracks, gaps and outright holes in the walls and ceiling? Did I say ceiling? I’m sorry, there was no ceiling, just a roof, a teak roof that glowed in spots as the wood had merely deteriorated in some spots allowing a sort of back-light affect. We were thankful as we realized that we had arrived during the dry season, but our imaginations wandered to the monsoon season each time we caught a new glimpse of our perforated shelter.

Our adventure continued to mature as we listened to the conversation in the next room as if we were looking the speakers in the face. That acoustical magic played out over and over as guests arose in the morning or settled in for the night and continually as the traffic roared by on the main road just outside the Palace’s property lines. From the sound in our room it seemed that the traffic was routed just past the foot of our bed. Honestly it seemed less like the other guests and trucks were audible in our room, and more like there was an amplifier piping the sound in at higher than realistic decibel levels.

But since lodging in this B&B is apparently intended to stimulate all the senses, it was necessary that something be done for the tactile sense. What could be better than floor joist framing intervals that allowed each step made most anywherer on our floor to be transmitted directly to our bed frame resulting in a step wise undulation whenever any guest moved about their room. Not just when Brenda and I moved around, but when ANY guest moved around ANY room. Ahhhhh, what a relaxing time we had. On the morning after our arrival I joked with Brenda and some fellow guests that “it takes all night to get a two hour nap here.”

taxiBut these accommodations, lacking in fit and finish as they obviously were, almost faded into insignificance in the face of the service and other features of the Palace. The food was more than excellent. It was superb. And it was prepared and served with the utmost care by the proprietor and staff who paid close attention to our preferences. The first question that our host asked when she met us was “Is there anything you don’t eat?” I responded with my now trusted “Faces and Feet” disclaimer while Brenda mentioned curry. As a result I can report that none of our dishes featured faces, feet or curry. Quite an accomplishment in this part of the world.

The written menu was complete with offerings of fish, fowl, pork and beef, but the best choice was usually something not on the menu that happened to suit the taste of the owner and chef. “Whatever is good and fresh” seemed to be the driving force behind the culinary decisions at the Palace and none of us were disappointed with the meals and snacks that seemed to appear organicly rather than as a result of a request. And as noisy as the rooms were, the outdoor dining area was surprisingly quiet and peaceful, and a fine place to dine, relax and chat with fellow guests. Well, enough of the Palace, on to the trip.

SquirtgunOn our first full day we headed up country to the Maesa Elephant Camp where more than a dozen elephants ranging in age up to about 36 years old live and work with their full time mahouts (trainers/caretakers.) Brenda and I are a little leery of these animal shows since they can easily succumb to poor conditions and suffering animals, but Maesa has proven itself over years. Each elephant has its own individual mahout who is completely responsible for the animal's well being. The elephants seemed happy and as if they enjoyed their “work” entertaining tourists in three shows daily. Each show is preceded by “bath time” which was clearly “play time” in the river that flowed along the property edge. After the bath, the behemoths did tricks, played soccer and harmonicas (not at the same time) and painted original works of “art.” These guys and girls are pretty serious about their art. Maesa holds the Guinness book of Records title for the largest elephant painting in the world. Each show ends with a crew of four Goliaths stacking a wall of 20 meter long half meter diameter logs by working together as a team. Impressive. Take a look at for more about this special place.

OrchidWe also took in the Royal Flora Show, which covers over 5 acres south of the city with floral displays from 30 nations on five continents and contains more than 2.5 million plants. You will see from my pics that my favorite area was the orchid pavilion. Spend some time looking at these flowers. They are amazing.

Each town in Thailand has a night market and we visited the Chiang Mai market on our first night (why not, we couldn’t sleep.) It seems like they have pretty much the same stuff at all these markets, but they are fun and provide endless people watching opportunities. I get to practice my limited Thai language skills and sometimes we find a bargain or an unusual item. Take a look at Brenda’s “antique tea pots.”Tea Pots

We also took a night cruise on the River Ping which included dinner aboard a teak long-boat and we were particularly pleased to be able to enjoy that trip with two of our friends from Bangkok who were also in town (but not with us) and two new friends that are here on a “no reservations” vacation from Canada.

You think you are adventurous? HA! Our new friends, Mike and Stacy got on an airplane headed toward Bangkok from Edmonton, Alberta with NO RESERVATIONS for hotels anywhere in Asia and they did it in the PEAK TRAVEL SEASON. I’d call ‘em crazy except that they were having such a good time bouncing from one hotel to the next as rooms became unavailable here and available there, that it seemed like a completely reasonable thing to do. And as we got to know them we soon realized that this type of trip isn’t even all that adventurous from their perspective. Mike has over 2400 skydiving jumps and he and Stacy used to own and operate a skydiving and bungee jumping operation in Canada. Now That’s Crazy!!! Just kidding Mike and Stacy (but not really.) We are looking forward to Mike an Stacy stopping by to spend a night or two with us when their adventure nears its end around January 5 as they mosey through BKK headed back to the frozen North. When we left them today, they were searching the internet for a place to go next. Wonder where it will be?????

So what’s our take on Chiang Mai and our “Christmas Trip?” In spite of getting almost no sleep (did I mention that each of the bed springs in our mattress left a separate and semi-permanent indention in our backs?) we had a really great time. Some of the credit belongs to the hospitality at the Palace, some to the exotic locale and a heaping helping belongs to the friends that we met and made on this “Interesting” mid-week break.

Fire BalloonThis last pic is me and Brenda setting our fire balloon free. It's supposed to make wishes come true and such, but for me it was just cool. There is a sort of half toilet paper looking roll that we set on fire and the hot air propels it up pretty high. There are a couple of pics of it leaving in my photo album so check it out.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Suam-Lum Night Bazaar

Suam-Lum Night BazaarWe took in the night bazaar this evening. There are several, but the big one is adjacent to Lumpini Park and it's called Suam-Lum. Pretty nice. You recall that we have also been to Chatuchak weekend market, the world's largest open air market. Well Suam-lum is cooler (because it is at night) less crowded, and has better quality stuff. It has no plants or flowers, and no live animals (pets) but if you want Thai silk, clothes, a fake Rolex or fake Gucci purse this it your best bet. Seriously, if you are a family member and you get a Rolex from us for Christmas, it is real. I swear, it is real.

We had fun walking around for about three hours and in that time we felt that we saw most of the market. In any case the offerings are not as diverse as Chatuchak so even if we missed something we probably saw someting else almost like it. And once you get bored with the merchandise, the people watching is still a lot of fun. There were lots of Farang in various stages of aculturization. Most were answering the polite Thai merchant's greetings with "HOW MUCH IS THIS?" in a voice clearly too loud for the situation. It is obviously a well known fact that if you are talking to someone that does not speak your language, it helps to speak you own language LOUDER!

We did well on the few items we purchased tonight. I am getting better at recognizing and using numbers in Thai and I have found a few phrases that reveal my vast knowledge of the Thai language. Of course I am kidding about that last part, but I did do well with the numbers and when I reacted to a high price with "paeng maak" (very expensive) the combination of my flawless Thai and the pained look on my face invarably resulted in a lower price..... and a giggle from the Thai.

I hope you are all enjoying your Christmas shopping as much as we enjoyed the market tonight. It is still 90+ degrees here every day so I think our hopes for a white Christmas may be dashed. Never-the-less we are thankful that this time of year is set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus who loved us before we knew Him and came to die that we could live.

sup pen ak pieBefore I go I wanted to let you see the "sup pen ak pie" that our maid cooked this week. Some of you may recognize it as quiche, but our maid insisted that it was "sup pen ak" pie. After three or four tries to get me to understand, she stormed over to the counter in a huff and grabbed a handful of fresh spinach (sup pen ak) and waved it at me like a green fist. Communication remains a daily challenge here, but the pie is always good.