Thai Cuisine

Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not been colonized by Europeans. Thus, its cuisine is authentic and has only been slightly influenced by bordering countries or traders.

Thai cuisine is very spicy and focuses on dishes which are well balanced in four areas – sweet (usually palm sugar or coconut milk), salty (fish sauce and salt), sour (lime in several forms and tamarind) and spicy (chilies). Meals served in restaurants are accompanied by a quartet of sauces brought to the table – fish sauce, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, dried chili flakes, and palm sugar. Rice is served at most meals, (usually jasmine rice, but also sticky or glutinous rice) and sometimes noodles. Cucumbers are often served to cool the palate. I was told recently that additional ways to counter the spiciness is to add more rice, add sugar, or drink more beer!

Thai food was traditionally eaten by the right hand while seated on cushions on the floor, but today most Thais eat with a fork and large spoon. The fork is held in the left hand and is used to scoop or push into the spoon which is held in the right hand. Chopsticks are reserved only for noodle dishes.

The Thai pantry can be stocked from items available in the international aisle at a grocery store or a local Asian market. Lo’s Seafood in Portsmouth, NH carries Thai canned goods (coconut milk, fish sauce, tamarind paste), kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, fresh chilies (bird’s eye chilies or very tiny chilies are hotter than larger chilies), Thai basil and cilantro. Green, yellow and red curry pastes (hottest to mildest, respectively) can be made from scratch or purchased already prepared.

The following recipe for Chicken Coconut Milk Soup is one which we prepared at the Thai Farm Cooking School while I was in Thailand recently.

Tom Kaa Gai (Chicken Coconut Milk Soup)

Ingredients:

½ c. water

¼ cup of peeled, thinly sliced galangal or ginger

1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced into one-inch pieces

½ cup halved grape tomatoes

½ cup sliced mushrooms

1-5 bird eye’s chili peppers

1 chicken breast, sliced thinly and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 can coconut milk

2-3 kaffir lime leaves

1 stem of cilantro, finely diced

3 sliced scallions

1 T. fish sauce or soy sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of lime juice

Directions:

Combine water, galangal, lemongrass, tomatoes and mushrooms in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to boil. Remove stems from chili peppers and crush open by banging down with your palm on the flat side of a heavy knife. Add chili peppers, coconut milk and chicken pieces to broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until chicken is milky white all the way through. Fold kaffir lime leaves in half along spine and remove spine of each leaf to release flavor. Add to soup with cilantro, scallions, fish sauce, sugar and salt to taste. Continue to cook over medium heat for 5 more minutes to intensify flavor. Finally add lime juice (soup will be too bitter if lime juice is added too early.) Lemongrass pieces, kaffir lime leaves, chilies and  galangal or ginger root should be removed prior to serving as they are all too tough to chew. Serves 2.

 

 

 

 

 

Travel: Thailand

I recently returned from a trip to Thailand, the “Land of Smiles,” with a friend, Joyce Tucker. We spent five nights in Bangkok, a week in Chiang Mai in the mountains north of Thailand, and three days on the beach at Pattaya. It was very hot and humid this time of year, but it cooled off in the evenings and all of our hotels had swimming pools, which was nice. We had a great trip, as we each like to explore the back alleys, eat street food and browse through the local markets.

Bangkok

Bangkok is a very busy city with congested traffic – lots of motorcycles and “tuk-tuks” or three wheeled vehicles that you can hail for short trips. There are shrines everywhere to the recently deceased king who was very progressive and well loved. The temples are beautiful with intricate tiled roofs, gilded ornamentation and marble plazas.

And there are numerous street vendors – some preparing grilled meats and fish on sticks (about 30 cents each), others serving fresh mango, tiny bananas, and pineapple pieces in plastic bags, stir frying rice or offering a myriad of noodle soups. We each passed up the huge pile of wiggling bugs (bamboo worms) a vendor was getting ready to fry in a wok though.

Thailand is also famed for its massages. For the full body massages, you are completely clothed and your body is bent in numerous unusual poses and your back and legs are stepped on, but the foot massages, which usually last one hour and cost less than $5, were heavenly.

In Bangkok we toured Jim Thompson’s house to the east of the old city. Apparently he used to work for OSS (precursor to the CIA) back in the 50’s and 60’s. He planted mulberry trees, cultivated silk worms and started using Muslim workers to hand weave silk. The fine weave & gorgeous colors caught the attention of Hollywood and were used in the movie “The King and I.” After that, orders started coming in and business was a success. The six houses he disassembled and relocated to Bangkok were combined to make a memorable home and his early antiques were fascinating.

We spent one day wandering through Chatuchak Market north of the city, but saw only a tenth of the 8,000 stalls on 35 acres. What we did see included live plants (beautiful orchids), garden equipment & ceramic pots, pets (koi, dogs, cats & tropical birds like parrots), aquarium & pet supplies, clothing, fine jewelry, cosmetics, herbal medicines, furniture, beautiful leather goods, linens, china and ceramics, art work, sculpture, silk, wooden plates, trays, salad bowls, places to eat and, of course, massage parlors.

We weren’t too far from the Chao Phraya River and had wanted to take a boat ride so we managed to avoid the “private river tours” for 1,600 Baht and opted instead for the local ferry at 30 Baht (less than $1) for a great one hour trip. We saw a lot of strange fish around the piers that people were feeding and later learned that you can buy fish and snails at the market that you throw into the river as a symbolic gesture to rid your life of bad luck. These fish are not caught by anyone because no one else wants the bad luck!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is framed by mountains and, although it is a city per se, it lacks the tall skyscrapers and congested traffic of Bangkok. There are remnants of a beautiful brick wall that appears to have ringed the old part of the city at one time and temples of a slightly different style. We stayed an historic Thai house in a walled compound with luscious gardens and a pool. The main house is shuttered to keep it cool. The original owner was a teak trader and the house has spectacular carved woodwork and smooth teak floors inside.

We had arrived in time for the Sunday night market, where merchandise for sale was different than in Bangkok (lots of leather goods and silver jewelry, soft Thai cotton clothing and a lot of teak carvings as well.) Did you know that Teak forests are under government supervision as they are endangered, and most teak today comes from Burma (Myanmar)? There are teak trees growing randomly throughout Chiang Mai. They have yellowish bark, large light green leaves and bunches of white flowers with a lacy appearance. Enjoyed people watching, musicians and getting in our walk in although it was in the crowded market stall-lined street instead of the countryside. We managed to get a foot massage too as there were places at the market set up to make people’s feet happy.

The next day, we hired a driver and went out into the country to the hot springs past rice paddies and open fields dotted with shacks reminiscent of the Philippines. We visited numerous silversmiths (the silver comes from Burma – often from melted down coins) and silk weavers, where we watched them spin thread from cocoons and then weave very fine cloth. We spent about an hour soaking in the hot mineral baths before returning to Chiang Mai.

While in Chiang Mai, we also took a Thai cooking class from Thai Farm Cooking School. We were picked up at our hotel in the morning and went to a large covered food market where our instructor took us around and showed us the difference between types of rice and identified various ingredients we would be cooking with (galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, hot basil, turmeric root and Thai ginseng or finger root).  Then we travelled north of Chiang Mai to an organic farm and spent the day preparing five classic Thai dishes under an open-air pavilion.

When we went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to play with the rescued elephants, we traveled in an open pickup truck with bench seats on both sides of the truck bed. We drove up to about 4,000 feet on a series of tight hairpin turns through small hill tribe villages (where fuel, should you need it, is dispensed from metal drums and charcoal was being made in brick beehive ovens) and then turned down a deeply rutted dirt road to the camp. This was not a modern, commercialized operation. It was a truly authentic experience. The elephant jungle sanctuary rescues elephants from logging (where the ones we played with had been used), circuses, riding and performing. Here they had 32 elephants who live in groups in the jungle and who are cared for by mamuts (handlers) from local villages. They can only safely maintain control of about 7-8 at a time with lots of tourists around, and we had seven and 35 people from various countries to play with the elephants for a day (French, Brazilians, Filipinos, Brits, and an assortment of Americans). After we arrived at the end of the road, we were all handed big bunches of bananas (just cut from the trees) and had to carry them down a dirt trail to the camp over bridges made from bamboo lashed together with twine!

First we met the elephants and fed them bananas and sugar cane. (Elephants eat 300 kilos a day) You have to yell “Bon Bon!” to get the elephants to open their mouths, although most of them wanted to take the food from us with their trunks! One of our elephants was pregnant (they have a gestation period of 18-24 months), one was a male (4-years old) named Peter who was especially playful. His mom, grandmother (she was 35 and had polka dotted ears), and his aunt were all in the group.

We got to pet them too. They have wrinkled, leathery skin with coarse bristles of hair on it. Their tongues are pink, their eyes are brown and they have the longest eyelashes! After feeding them and following them through the jungle while they snacked on bamboo, we all walked down to the river so they could get some water. The mamuts gave a command & they took up water in their trunks and sprayed us all! It was very hot outside & felt really good. Then we had lunch – stir fried rice with chicken, sautéed vegetables, fried chicken wings, and wedges of watermelon. Bottles of water were available throughout the day. A short rest on the woven grass mats under the corrugated tin awning and it was time to make “medicine” balls for the elephants. They were comprised of bananas, herbs, bark from a special tree, and rice – all pounded by us with mortar and pestle and then shaped into tennis ball sized “meatballs” which we had to feed to them. and rub mud on them. We ended up wet and muddy as well, but it was a small price to pay for such a great experience.

Pattaya Beach

Pattaya Beach, about 2 hours by bus south of Bangkok, reminded me of Manila more than any other place we’ve seen in Thailand – the absence of wats (temples), Buddhist monks and photos or shrines of the recently deceased president was striking.

We spent our time at the beach where a wide, brick paved walkway bordered the beach and the sand is blanketed with beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. Power boats and jet skis whizzed around and there were platforms in the water like little aircraft carriers where people who were parasailing took off and landed. There were dozens of them in the sky.

People watching was lots of fun as the town was packed with tourists from so many countries. We enjoyed the vendors who came by carrying and selling: slices of pineapple, hot ears of corn or huge prawns steaming over charcoal braziers, fried soft shelled crabs, carved wooden elephants, steamed whole fish, Selfie sticks for mobile phones, cotton print dresses, imitation crocodile handbags, cotton candy, sunglasses, foot massages, ice cream bars, temporary tattoos, mangoes, parakeets in cages (?), Rolex watches, plastic blow up beach toys, lottery tickets, potato chips with flavored like wasabi and hot Thai basil, black velvet paintings of tigers, strawberries, durian (phew!), jewelry, and hair braiding in addition to toilet paper (The majority of Thai toilets were Western-style, but did not have toilet paper.)

We had an amazing trip – food was so good, lodging and transportation inexpensive and the people were very gracious.  If you go, best time to travel is before the rainy season which starts around June.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Soups: Lobster Stew

 

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Here in New England the landscape is dusted with snow and it’s a perfect time to warm up with  a pot of lobster stew. So, add a log to the fireplace, pour a glass of wine and tie on your apron!

Lobster Stew

Ingredients:

1 quart of seafood stock

2 T. tomato paste

2 c. heavy cream

2 T. butter

2 c. lobster meat, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 c. red potatoes, diced

1 c. frozen corn

½ c. celery, diced

1 t. parsley

¼ t. cayenne

½ c. cooking sherry

3 T. cornstarch mixed with cold water

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Boil diced red potatoes until they can just be pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and drain. In a Dutch oven or stock pot, combine all ingredients, including cooked potatoes, and bring to boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cornstarch mixture and stir until stew is desired thickness. Serves 4.

K’UL Chocolate

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I recently had the opportunity to taste some fabulous artisan chocolate crafted by the K’UL Company of Minneapolis. (Wish you were here to assist!)

The name K’UL (pronounced cool) comes from the Mayan word for energy. The chocolate bars are promoted as a superfood providing the energy to do more and to do it better. The K’UL chocolate makers directly import their cacao beans from farms in Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru eliminating the middle man. The farms are chosen not only because they have great tasting cacao beans, but also because they are professionally managed, have well-paid labor, and practice sustainable, environmental-conscious organic farming. All K’UL bars are 70% cacao, vegan, gluten free, soy free and dairy free.

Chocolate tasting is an art in itself, involving all five senses. First, use your nose and start by smelling the chocolate. Taste is 75% aroma and these chocolate bars were rich with the fragrance of cocoa. Next, use your eyes as you need to evaluate the appearance of the chocolate. All of the K’UL bars were deep brown in color with a polished sheen. Let’s use our sense of touch. These bars were smooth in texture except where extra ingredients were added for more complexity. What does a good chocolate bar sound like?  When you bite into one or break off a piece, you should hear a distinct “snap,” indicating that they have been properly tempered. (Tempering prevents the dull grayish color and waxy texture that happens when the cocoa fat separates out.) And last, but most important, is the way the chocolate tastes. Did you know that chocolate has 400 flavor profiles? That’s more than a fine wine! Let is slowly melt in your mouth. Using your tongue, move the chocolate to the roof of your mouth. Move your tongue back and forth to warm the chocolate for full appreciation. Mmm! The K’UL bars had no bitter after taste, either.  I must admit they were the finest I’ve ever tasted!

Peru

Made from the world’s rarest cacao white bean, this single origin chocolate bar has a distinct orange accent, with a slight butterscotch flavor and floral notes. I compared this bar to a Lindt Intense Orange dark chocolate bar which I had on hand, and the Lindt chocolate  tasted like vegetable shortening by comparison.

Brazil

This single origin bar was one of my favorites (but then, they all were.) Deep, dark and rich, it felt like velvet on my tongue. I detected malt, fruit, brown sugar and maybe a hint of coffee.

Electrobar

This chocolate bar was chewy and tangy with a slightly crumbly texture. The added bananas and coconut make this one truly healthy and delicious. What a great way to enjoy chocolate for breakfast!

Power

Perfect to tuck in your gym bag, this superfood bar is packed with protein from peanuts and currants!

Endurance

The Endurance bar combines premium dark chocolate with cranberries, guarana and pumpkin seeds, which add a nice toasted nut flavor.

Stamina

The stamina bar was also one of my favorites. It was a luscious dark chocolate enhanced with maca root, cranberries, cherries, pomegranate and raspberries. I wonder if this could count in my diet as a serving of fruit?

Saltsation

The rich chocolate flavor of the Saltsation bar is enhanced with the addition of sea salt.

Marcona Almonds

Hand roasted almonds added a crunchy, crispy texture to this velvety chocolate.

Vanilla

The blend of dark chocolate with pure vanilla added even greater depth to the deep cocoa flavor.

Haiti

Rich and silky smooth, this single origin bar has the flavor of fruit, floral notes like jasmine and a hint of licorice.

Ecuador

The single origin bar from Ecuador has a buttery flavor that made me think of brown sugar and butterscotch.

For more information and ordering these and other K’UL chocolate bars, visit www.kul-chocolate.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel: The Grand Canyon

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I have just returned from a week at the Grand Canyon, where our oldest son, Brian, is working as a Law Enforcement Officer for the National Park Service. The vistas were spectacular – pastels of pink, sage green and purple with an occasional California condor gliding overhead. We hiked, biked and explored the South Rim. Unfortunately the mule ride to the base of the canyon and the river rafting trips down the Colorado River are booked months in advance, so they will each have to wait for a future visit.

IMG_3881

The Grand Canyon encompasses 2,000 square miles and is over a mile deep with the Colorado River running through it. It is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. The ecology of the canyon changes from north rim to south rim. From tall pines to desert cactuses, the canyon offers plants from 5 of the 7 vegetation zones in the U.S. The weather also varies greatly from the rim, where it is moderate and breezy to the base where it is much hotter (temperatures of 107oF expected today!)

Desert View Watch Tower

Desert View Watch Tower

I especially enjoyed learning about the history of the canyon and admired the architecture designed by Mary Colter to capture the essence of the southwest – a stone watchtower with the interior adorned with Native American mural and the Hopi House with its handmade Native American treasures – beautiful woven rugs of bold earth tones, turquoise and silver jewelry and splendid pottery.

Navaho Medicine Bowl

Navaho Medicine Bowl

This is a medicine bowl used for ceremonial purposes and is etched with drawings of a Yei or Navajo deity, similar to the Hope Kachinas. Navajo pottery is formed using rolled coils of clay which are then hand burnished and fired in a pit using wood and dung. The “fire clouds” or black markings that appear on the clay result from the hot coals directly touching the pots during the hand-firing process. Most pottery vessels were used in cooking. If it was used for water storage, it was covered in pine pitch to make it waterproof.

The Tusayan Museum in the park includes an 800-year old ruin of a U-shaped pueblo that contains living areas, storage spaces and a kiva, or ceremonial circle. Tree ring studies indicate that the site was occupied for about twenty years, beginning around 1185. I especially enjoyed the exhibits of Native American artifacts found in the park and the side trail which identified how the early inhabitants used the vegetation. The pinon pines, for instance, were used for firewood, their pitch was used to waterproof baskets and the pine nuts were harvested for food.

It was a great trip!

 

 

Summer Cold Remedy Tea

Turmeric tea

Now that you know about all the health benefits of turmeric, prepare this citrus ginger turmeric mixture to have on hand the next time to feel a cold coming on. The lemon decreases the strength of the cold virus, the ginger soothes your throat after coughing, and the honey contains tryptophan which will help you sleep at night.

Ingredients:

2 lemons, thinly sliced with seeds removed

1 orange thinly sliced

2 inches of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

1 T. of ground turmeric

1 c. honey

Directions:

Mash the ginger root with a mortar and pestle to make a paste. Combine all ingredients in a jar and store in refrigerator for up to one month. To make a cup of tea, simply put a heaping tablespoon of the mixture into a tall mug and fill with boiling water.

Week 52: Turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is an orange-colored spice native to India and Indonesia, revered for its culinary and therapeutic benefits. Turmeric gives the curry its bright yellow or orange color and contributes to its peppery, warm, and mildly bitter taste. It also provides a tangy and ginger-like fragrance.

Turmeric is a root crop known for its tough brown skin and bright orange flesh. For more than 5,000 years, this root crop has been cultivated in the tropical regions of Asia. During the 13th century, turmeric was introduced to western countries by Arab traders. Its popularity has slowly spread across the globe. Today, the leading producers of this aromatic spice are India, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Haiti, and Jamaica.

First used as a textile dye, turmeric has been used for its medicinal properties in China and India for thousands of years. Turmeric is also used as a food additive to create a rich, yellow color in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, cereals, sauces, and gelatins.

Health Benefits

Turmeric is arguably the most powerful herb on the planet at fighting and potentially reversing disease. It has so many healing properties that currently there have been 6,235 peer-reviewed articles published proving the benefits of turmeric.

Turmeric’s active ingredient is an extracted compound called curcumin. Among the health benefits of curcumin is reducing inflammation of the joints characteristic of arthritis. Other studies suggest that this powerful spice may also help protect us against breast, lung, stomach, liver, and colon cancer, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease by reducing some levels of beta amyloid plaque in the brain, a compound associated with cognitive decline.

Turmeric has the ability to improve the effects of diabetic medications and help in controlling the disease. It reduces the risks of developing insulin resistance, a physiological condition in which the cells fail to respond to the normal actions of the insulin hormone.

Research also suggests that turmeric can help reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides in overweight people with high cholesterol. Turmeric may also relax blood vessels and minimize heart damage after suffering a heart attack.

So for inflammation and more, it appears that turmeric could be the supplement you’ve been searching for. When searching for a turmeric supplement, however, be sure to choose one that includes the black pepper extract piperine. Without it, the curcumin that is ingested gets metabolized before it’s absorbed.

Preparation

Our local Asian market in Portsmouth, NH sells turmeric rhizomes. You can make your own fresh turmeric powder by boiling, drying and then grinding the roots into a fine powder.

However, its deep color can easily stain, so quickly wash any area with which the turmeric has come into contact with soap and water. To prevent staining your hands, you might consider wearing kitchen gloves while handling turmeric.

Side Effects

Some people have reported allergic reactions to turmeric, especially after skin exposure. Typically this is experienced as a mild, itchy rash. People taking certain medications should also be careful when using turmeric in their food or supplementing with it. Turmeric may interfere with anti-coagulants like aspirin, and warfarin. It also can affect medications such as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. As with any herb or supplement, use as directed.

So why wouldn’t you try this natural ingredient for better health? It could just be the “spice of life.”

Resources

www.draxe.com

www.tophealthsource.com

www.thetruthaboutcancer.com

www.webmd.com

www.whfoods.com