(Thanks for all of your kind, supportive comments on my last post. I took a deep breath when I hit "publish," and worried that I'd lose all of my followers ... I'm glad that didn't happen! And now for something completely different ...)
Of all of the things that have taken a back seat in my life these past few years, I miss traveling the most. As summer approaches, I start to dream about places I'd like to go, perhaps because that was when my family traveled when I was growing up. I love experiencing new cultures that make me think differently about my own: I've been to South Africa on a study tour of post-apartheid education; I've gone to Brazil with students presenting their undergraduate research at five campuses of the University of Sao Paolo, I have family I've visited in Spain and Puerto Rico, I've biked through Umbria in Italy. And in all of these places, I've eaten well, mostly because I make an effort to stay with (or at least talk to) locals.
The year after we were married, my husband and I decided to travel to Thailand. I'd never been to Asia, and I wanted to go before we started trying to have a family, and S. agreed. We settled on a two week block in July, and started making plans.
The trip was amazing; it was the first time I'd experienced being illiterate, being unable to speak or read anything, even street signs. It gave me a perspective I'd never had before, and made me completely dependent upon other people. But in case you've never been to Thailand in July, there's something important you need to know: it's wet. Monsoons? Are no joke, my friend. We're talking wall of water, advancing across the landscape, drenching everything in its path. You might as well go scuba diving, without the mask. Being silly Americans, we didn't think this would really be a big deal, until we arrived, and found ourselves wringing our clothes out to dry on an hourly basis. You haven't lived until you've ridden on top of an elephant in a basket of sloshing water, as it crosses a raging river in the pouring rain.
One of my most vivid memories from that damp week was a cooking class we took with a woman named Apple, who runs Apple's Guest House. We'd spent the morning at the market, learning about and purchasing ingredients, and were going to spend the afternoon cooking. I remember Apple as sort of a mix between someone's wide-grinned grandmother and a drill sergeant, barking orders at us as the flames leapt under our woks. Like every other day, it rained that afternoon, and her instructional kitchen wasn't yet finished ... it was missing a wall. Important detail when you're dealing with monsoons, na? The rain pounded on the corrugated metal roof, making a deafening sound as we tried to scribble down and follow Apple's directions. It ran down on the slant, creating a waterfall that ended in a growing puddle in the kitchen. Soon we were cooking in ankle-deep water.
We made Pad Thai, Green Curry, Chicken with Cashews, and Tom Kha Gai that day, and I still have the recipes I scribbled down, though I've altered them a bit to reflect availability of ingredients here and our own taste preferences. I pull them out every once in a while on rainy spring and summer days, thinking fondly of the adventure, and hoping that some day I will travel again, with my children, testing their assumptions and mine, and eating well. For now, reading blogs will do.
1 stalk lemongrass, diagonal cut 1 1/2"
4 slices galanga (or ginger)
4 keffir lime leaves (or grated zest of 1/2 lime)
2-3 mushrooms, quartered
1/2 c. water (or 1/4 c. lime juice and 1/4 c. water)
14 oz. can coconut milk
1/2 lb. chicken or extra firm tofu
1 T. fish sauce
1/2 t. sugar
2 c. water
Boil 1/2 c. water (or water and lime juice) in a wok with lemongrass, galanga/ginger, lime leaves (or zest), stirring constantly.
When boiling well, add 1/2 can of coconut milk, mushrooms, and salt, and continue to stir. Bring to a boil.
Add the second half of the coconut milk and boil for 2-3 minutes without stirring. When boiling well, add the chicken/tofu and cook the chicken thoroughly.
Add fish sauce and sugar and boil for 2-3 more minutes. Add the extra water to make it your preferred consistency for soup (it should not be too thick). Remove from heat and let sit 2 minutes.
Add to your taste: a splash of lemon juice, 2 small ground chiles, fish sauce, more sugar, etc.