Prototypes ‘n’ Progeny

Our little shack on the khlong has been filled to the gills this week with two of our favourite family members – Papa Dawg Dave (PDD) and Mama Jan (MJ). These two well-traveled Canucks produced my math-loving better half, and we were stoked for their visit.

 

And the stoked factor doubled when they gave me this little slice of Canadian paradise.

They’ve already spent heaps of time living in SE Asia, and they warned us that they weren’t interested in doing the tourist thing. This was fine with us, particularly when we discovered what they wanted to do instead. Let’s break it down.

Eat:

It has been a wild food fest of pretzels/curry/pizza/local bacteria around here. PDD and MJ had some old favourites from their years in the region, and we had a few “must eats” in mind. The combination of these two lists has meant some dedicated eating for this crew. It is hard work, but we were ready for the challenge.

Chopstick warriors ready for battle

Prepared to do our bit for the good of humanity

Shop:

I really hate it when people buy me Christmas presents, but for my in-laws, I was willing to make a sacrifice. While they admired my amazing hot-plate-stacked-on-a-microwave-stacked-on-a-fridge, they thought our kitchen was a little lacking, and bought me a rice cooker. It even has a setting to cook brown rice. The hippie region of my heart just warmed up by ten degrees. My simultaneously practical but strange husband asked for dirt and a pot. The man is all about back-to-basics. We’ll see what he finds under our non-existent tree.

Dang it, T-bone! Get excited about the hippie cooker!

 

Less practical but more fun than dirt and a pot.

Clean:

Sadly, my kitchen has never been as clean as it was this week. I make it a rule to always put my guests to work as often as possible, and I told PDD that I expected him to sweep our kitchen floors at all times. He took this task seriously, and even threw in some bonus dish-washing to mix it up a little. They are seriously upping the ante for any future visitors.

Get back to work!

 

Observe Excellent Home Maintenance Methods:

PDD and MJ’s favourite part of their visit has been witnessing the joy of our strangely constructed apartment, and the even stranger attempts to repair it. They noticed that the back of the toilet was leaking, and we reported the problem to the downstairs office. The manager sent someone promptly to fix it. When I peeked into the bathroom to check on the progress, though, the maintenance man was applying caulking to my shower. Nothing like a little welcome caulking to get the visit off to a good start.

They call this maintenance?!

 

PDD and MJ leave tomorrow, and we are anticipating a return to a life characterized by fewer calories, more brown rice, a dirty kitchen, and a pile of caulking. Sniff.

Toast!

This post is short and (extremely) sweet. We recently found ourselves swept up in the phenomenon known as Asian toast, and I feel that all of you deserve to witness its magic.

Feast yer eyes.

I don’t know exactly how this delight is made, but I will do my best to describe it. Start off with a large hunk of white bread. It should be the equivalent of 5 or 6 regular slices. Somehow fill its innards with sweetened condensed milk and butter, baste the whole blob with butter, then bake/toast it. When it comes out of the oven, douse it in syrup; add a few scoops of ice cream, a few puffs of whipping cream, and (in this case) a few slices of banana; and top it all off with a little more syrup.

Todd wears his special athletic shirt because his stomach is about to get a Work. Out.

T-bone and I first tasted this phenomenon in a bubble tea shop in Calgary’s Chinatown, and have been craving it ever since. The Calgary version, however, was only 3 or 4 slices tall, and it lacked all the fun dairy accoutrements. Thailand knows how to do it right. Given the popularity of toast, I am amazed that the entire nation isn’t obese.

This plate alone could feed the nation.

Todd’s parents were with us when we ordered this monstrosity, and while I would like to claim that the four of us shared it, in all honesty, Todd and I hoovered that sucker down with very little assistance.

Todd’s prototype, AKA Papa Dawg Dave, is prepared to provide backup if needed.

For any curious Bangkokians, we ordered this particular toast mountain at Cookies Crust at Mega Bangna. It was good, but if you really want the ultimate slab, check out After You Dessert in Thong Lo.

Class is in Session

You guessed it. I am officially a substitute teacher. It happened one hazy, sultry, Bangkokian morning late last week: Kevdeep, CTP Beth, and I were hauled down to the local education bureau and issued work permits. It took less than 30 minutes, and after months of frustration, $$$, lack of communication, and despair, it felt almost anti-climactic. “I’m a substitute teacher,” I muttered to myself, in a daze. When you have to convince yourself that you have actually reached the lofty heights of substitute teacher-dom, you know something’s askew in your career-planning process, but that’s a post for another day. In the meantime, Ms. Ruth is ready to influence young minds.*

“Sawasdee-khaaaaaa. Welcome to class, children.”

I had my first subbing experience on Wednesday when I “taught” a high school science class. After all these months of waiting, I realized that I actually had no clue how to substitute teach, so I went straight to the source: T-bone. This man knows all the tricks, and he helped me out. Our conversation went something like this:

“Gahhh!! Todd!! How do I sub??!”

“Say hi to the students.”

“Then what?!?”

“Take attendance.”

“Then what?!?”

“Give them the test that the teacher left for them.”

“How do I turn on the projector?”

At this point, it was starting to dawn on Todd that his wife lacks even the most basic life skills. He took pity on me, though, and gave me further brilliant tips, such as “write your name on the board.” All his coaching paid off, because the class was a breeze.

“This is my name, children.”

The students asked me numerous difficult questions, such as “can I listen to my iPod while I take notes? Can I use youtube videos instead of my textbook?”, but I sailed through with aplomb using the following tactic: when in doubt about whether certain dubious privileges are allowed in a class, always try to make eye contact with the teacher’s pets in the front row when you ask “does your teacher normally allow that?” Speaking as a reformed teacher’s pet, I know that the overpowering desire for adult approval far outweighs the consequences of sucking up in front of your peers.

“Look at me, adult! I can even read in Thai! Let me show you!”

Lucky for me, my first week of subbing coincided with a school holiday/teacher’s Thanksgiving dinner. As a staff member, I felt that it was my duty to support my American colleagues by eating grotesque quantities of curry-flavoured mashed potatoes.

Lining up at the trough…

Curry/chickpea flavoured mashed potatoes, raspberry jam instead of cranberry sauce, coke, neon-coloured pumpkin pie (I shared that plate with Todd, FYI). It’s the Thai-American way.

T-bone and I sat with our friends from Taiwan and Korea. They had never tasted turkey before, and had lots of questions about Thanksgiving foods, namely “is this food actually the same as what you eat in North America.” It’s a good thing I’m a teacher, because I had to walk the tightrope between tact and fact in explaining that the Thai take on Thanksgiving was…. “same same but different.”

Todd explains to Katherine – “this ain’t the way mamma makes it.”

And there you have it. Enriching young minds and eating free/”unique” foods. My horizons are just opening right up over here. I’m a substitute teacher, y’all.

Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of your class.

*in Thailand, people use Mr. or Ms. plus their first name, not their last name.

Tofu ‘n’ Greens: How to Spice Up that Favourite Estrogen Enhancer

Sometimes, after I’ve had one too many servings of pad thai, my gut starts crying out “tofu and greens! Tofu and greens!” I’m not exactly sure why this is – perhaps it’s a throwback to my high school vegan adventures, or maybe it’s the fact that my mother raised her chilluns on a strict diet of hippy food. Anyway, when the urge hits, I turn to one of my favourite tofu recipes. It’s so simple that it’s almost an exaggeration to call it a recipe. Let’s just say it’s a way to make tofu taste like delicious ambrosia – not estrogen.

Ingredients:

  • Garlic cloves to taste (if you’re like me, 10 should do it. If you’re like T-bone, stick to half a clove)
  • Red Chillies to taste (I like to add 2 small ones to this recipe)
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce or oyster sauce
  • White vinegar
  • Ginger root to taste
  • black pepper
  • extra-firm tofu
  • leafy green vegetables (I used a rapini/broccoli Thai hybrid, but you could use anything from broccoli to bok choy to kale)
  • cooking oil (I used soybean cuz that’s what our convenience store sells)

I deliberately did not give exact quantities for this recipe, because the proportions really depend on the amount of tofu and greens you wish to cook, and your personal spice preferences.

1. Press the tofu

In my efforts to become more fully acquainted with these pasty blocks of jiggling delight, I’ve learned that tofu absorbs marinade more easily if it first has the water squeezed out of it. This is easy to do, but takes some time. Put the tofu on a plate, place another plate on top of the tofu, put weights on top of that plate, and leave it to sit – the longer, the better. I often get impatient, and let it sit for less than an hour, which still tastes fine, but you will get better results if you let it drain for a few hours.

Oops. In spite of my healthy recipe, I still drink coke zero. Hopefully they cancel each other out?

2. While you wait for the tofu to drain, make the marinade.

I like to make this in a tupperware-style container – that way I can shake the mix to make sure that all the pieces are coated. Grate/grind/press/chop the ginger, garlic, pepper, and chillies into the container.

Using my mini grater because my TESCO brand garlic press was a complete bust.*

Add the soy or oyster sauce, sesame oil, and vinegar. Normally, I start with a few sloshes of sesame oil and a few sloshes of soy/oyster sauce, and then add enough vinegar so that the mixture will at least partially cover the tofu. A taste test at this point would not be amiss.

Garlic soup – my dream come true.

3. Dice the tofu

When the tofu has finished draining, discard the juice that it oozed (mmm. how’s that for a descriptor?), and cut the tofu into bite sized pieces.

And a dark shadow passed over the plate…

4. Marinate the tofu

Dump the tofu into the marinade, and give it a good shake to coat all the pieces. The longer you let the tofu marinate, the stronger/better the flavour in the end. An hour would be great. Shake the tofu occasionally to ensure that all the pieces get coated.

5. Get yer greens

While the tofu is marinating, chop your green vegetable.

6. Fry the tofu

Heat a little oil in your frying pan. I would use soybean, canola, or another mild-tasting oil. Don’t use sesame, as it begins to smoke at high heat. Use a slotted spoon or your fingers to take the tofu out of the marinade – don’t discard the marinade! – and dump it into the pan. An important step to ensuring tasty results is to make sure that you brown the tofu on every side (or if you’re impatient, on at least a couple of sides). The goal is the make it crispy.

I’m salivating all over again.

7. Add greens and stir-fry

Once the tofu is adequately crisped, dump the greens on top of the mixture, and give it a good stir. At this point, add the leftover marinade to the mix. Stir-fry until the greens are crisp-tender.

Apologies for Todd’s foot – not the most appetizing sight.

8. Dive in for a hippy fest of estro-enhanced deliciousness.

Becoming more feminine by the bite.

9. Ignore your husband’s complaints that you used too much garlic. There is no such thing.

Happy Eating!

*This is not another estrogen joke.

The Ramayana: (Interspecies) Romance, Revenge, and a REALLY convoluted plot

When our Adorable Thai Teacher (ATT) invited our class to join her for a performance at the Thai Cultural Centre, T-bone and I couldn’t say no. We didn’t know what we were signing ourselves up for, but we are clearly two farangs in need of a little culture. After a long haul across town, our little class of uncultured-ness met our ATT at a metro station. She had a Thai friend accompanying her, which was a good thing, because manhandling 8 large farang bodies into a rush hour metro car takes some serious effort. We arrived at the Thai Cultural Centre relatively unscathed, and immediately bumped into this dude:

Any time you see guys wearing dresses and bangles, you know you’re in for a good time.

This was a promising sign. He didn’t seem overly impressed by the farang trying to take his picture, but I didn’t let that get me down. In fact, I begged him for another one, and he resigned himself to his fate.

We are both so excited for this moment.

We entered the main hall, which was full of people milling about, preparing themselves for a serious serving of culture. I still had no idea what the evening was about, but I figured the dude in the dress had something to do with it.

Rather than programs, the tables in the lobby were selling lotus flowers.

There was also a display in the centre of the lobby – either a rare artefact or a silent auction.

And really, who wouldn’t want to own a golden carriage?

Soon it was time to find our seats. Unfortunately, they were clearly designed with delicate, cultured Thais in mind, not gigantic Westerners, nor the grunting, obese young boys crammed in next to us. I knew we should have shelled out for better tickets.

One of the two orchestras.

The orchestra, comprised of traditional Thai instruments, began to play, and the curtain lifted. A group of dancers, dressed similarly to the dude I posed with, began their slow, hypnotic motions. While this was fascinating at first, after around 5 minutes, I found myself wishing that they’d speed it up, or throw in a few spins or something. “Please tell me that it won’t be like this all night,” I muttered to T-bone. Clearly, I am desperately in need of culture. Someone must have heard my plea, though, because it turns out that the dancers were just an opening act. The real show was about to begin.

The elaborate stage curtain

Turns out, the show was a re-enactment of the Ramayana, the ancient Sanskrit epic. It is incredibly long (7 volumes), and incredibly convoluted. Saturday’s performance detailed only one of the volumes. The show was an appropriately epic combination of fantastic, bizarre, and boring.

Thanks to my excellent camera, it appears that the stage is on fire.

The Fantastic: The costumes and sets were amazing. We weren’t supposed to take photos, but I sneaked a few.* My terrible phone photography doesn’t do it justice, though. The set was incredibly elaborate, as were the special effects. At several points, the actors were suspended from cables during action scenes.

Allow me to interpret this one for you: the two blobs are people.

The Bizarre: Humans and monkeys intermingle freely, and when Hanuman, one of the monkey generals, is searching for his enemy, he dives into the ocean, fights with two fish, and then marries a mermaid. I can’t vouch for this based on personal experience, but the plot seems like a bit of an acid trip.

Masks that are similar to the ones in the play.

The Boring: every scene was extremely long and convoluted. While the basic plot was translated into English on the screens next to the stage, the dialogue and jokes weren’t, so a lot of the meaning was lost on us. Then again, you don’t have to know the language to understand that monkeys and mermaids can love each other.

After a few hours, Todd and I remembered that we had an early morning the next day, and snuck out. We debriefed the epic, bizarre experience over a bowl of noodles with chicken feet.

Because the Ramayana wasn’t weird enough for Todd.

I’m not sure that I feel more cultured after the experience, but I am reminded that Thailand is an extremely strange and wonderful place.

* There was no flash, and besides, I figured that I was creating less disturbance than the grunting piglets children eating popcorn next to me.