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Monday, January 25, 2016

Snow

As we read and listened to warnings of snow storm Jonas hitting the East coast of America, we had a bit of excitement of our own.  Snow in Taiwan.  It's been cold here and I feel like I've been whining and complaining as if I had never experienced cold or snow before.  I'm from Michigan and lived in Russia, for goodness sake!  I can take a bit of cold.  But it's been a different because I'm not dressed appropriately.  My Moscow clothes are all packed away in sealed bags, under boxes of other unused items, in the storage room in the apartment building's garage.  It's too much of a hassle when temperatures are supposed to be back in the low 70's by the end of the week.  Proper clothing is really what's important if one wants to enjoy being outside in the cold.  
But despite a lack of proper attire, floods of people headed up the mountain to experience snow in the Taipei area.  7.5" were reported near the airport.  Temperatures here in Taipei dropped to 4C, the lowest they've been in 44 years, and the second lowest ever.  Snow was seen falling here in Taipei, the first time in 80 years.  Over 52 people have died, mainly from hypothermia.  It's a country that just is not prepared for this type of weather.
Photos of little snowmen appeared on facebook and I was pleasantly surprised by this little snowman just outside my apartment this morning.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Lunch


Forty years ago, a woman moved to Taipei from somewhere along the boarder between China and Vietnam.  To support herself, she began selling traditional Vietnamese and Cantonese food.  Today, her niece works many hours alongside her preparing the meat rolls without a pause.  

There are no large signs announcing this simple, out of the way shop, yet word seemed to have gotten around as there was a steady flow of customers at 10:30 in the morning.  There are a few tables, a counter to pay, a refrigerator with chilled items and this simple table where she sits and prepares the meat rolls.  

Steadily she works through the process, over and over.  A ladle of rice milk.  The recipe for the watery rice substance is an important family secret.  The consistency must be exact or the gelatinous rice won't stick together or be the correct thickness to wrap into a roll.  She pours the white liquid onto a drum that looks like it is strung with a dense fabric.  Steam rises from within the drum, through the fabric to cook the mixture.  She swirls the liquid with the bottom of the ladle a few times and covers it with a lid before turning her attention to the aluminum tray in front of her.  After stroking some oil onto her work surface, she removes the lid where the steam has been magically solidifying the rice into a sticky, clear sheet.  With a wooden spatula she cuts the rice sheet into two and puts half in front of her.  She spoons about a tablespoon of meat onto the rice, then tucks in the ends and rolls the sheet of rice up into a spring roll type package.  Quickly the other half is made into a roll and she begins the process again.  Within five minutes, she has a box of 10 meat rolls ready to go.  People wander in and out ordering several boxes at a time.  
My friend went to the refrigerator and grabbed the last two paper cups of coconut soup.  Dessert they declared!    Several more people filed in, their mopeds waiting outside.  Several of them turned away in disappointment when they discovered that we had taken the last of the soup.  Obviously, this was going to be a treat.
A pile of wrapped banana leaves caught my attention.  About the size of my fist, the tightly wrapped packages were tied with string.  The fresh scent of fresh cut greenness caught my attention.  The simpleness of it all was startlingly refreshing.  Banana leaves are used all over the world to cook, transport and store food in.
I carried my treasures in a little pastel, striped plastic bag back to the car.  I was excited about sharing this culinary adventure with Chad.
We sat at the desk in his office and unpacked the food.  Interesting is the best way to describe everything.  Not a single thing was like anything I am used to.  The steamed rice meat rolls were gelatinous with little flavor.  We dipped them in a fresh broth they had sent in a little plastic bag, neatly knotted to prevent spillage.  My favorite was the sticky rice inside the banana leaves.  Inside the rice was crushed peanuts and chicken.  Peanuts are a favorite flavor here in Taiwan.  You can buy peanuts by the bag along the road, or peanut butter in your pizza crust from Dominos.  Dessert was basically a chilled, thick, coconut, tapioca soup.  The slight sweetness was a nice way to finish off this adventure of a meal.



Monday, January 4, 2016

Thailand: Elephants



Seeing and playing with elephants had been at the top of my  travel to-do list ever since my Mom and Dad told me about it from their first trip to Thailand. That was 3.5 years ago. But I can say that it was most definitely worth the wait, and lived up to every one of my expectations.

The elephants were a part of a day long outing that we made while in Bangkok. We had a guide and a driver to take us to a floating flower market, the tiger temple (also one of my favorites!) and finally the elephants. The first thing we did was feed one of the elephants. I was a little bit intimidated at first by their gargantuan size, but I also knew that they were suppose to be incredibly gentle creatures, and they were. 

We were given three elephants to play with. Damon and I took the one that was said to be a little bit crazier; Maddie and Mom were put on a smaller, calmer one who had the habit of, nearly without stop, swaying its head back and forth. Must’ve had a song stuck in its head. Dad was left to an enormous elephant. I would describe all of the elephants as enormous, but Dad’s took this to a new level.

We rode all of our elephants down a path to the riverside. With every one of their massive steps, we swayed back and forth. After wading into the water, they immediately set to spraying us
with their trunks. Their games were hilarious! The next, which Mom and Dad had warned us of, was to hold on as long as you could, while the elephant shook its head  back and forth. It may have only looked like the elephant was twitching, but it honestly felt like a rollercoaster. I think the longest anyone was able to stay on was three shakes.

Playing with elephants in a river was a unique experience, and one of my favorite from our travels so far. If you ever make it to Thailand, I highly recommend it!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pai Cookery Class, Thailand

*This is a blog post from my food blog, The Girl with the Spatula. Hop on over for recipes!*

For Christmas break this year, my family visited Thailand. It sounds far away, but when you're already in Taiwan (where my parents and younger sister are currently living), it's actually only a few hours by plane. We split our time between Bangkok (the capitol city), and Koh Samui (an island).

By sampling different foods as we strolled the streets, we discovered that there is a fair amount of Thai food that we like. Since we have also learned that cooking classes and food tours are a lot of fun and a good way to experience a culture (note our Rome food tour and Chicago cooking classes), we decided to do a cooking class here.
We settled on a cooking class taught by a Thai lady, Pai, in Koh Samui. In typical Faber fashion, we embraced the local culture and rode three mopeds to the class.


As we approached, Pai waved at us, the only white people in sight. After cooling down in her dining room, we started cooking. There was a long table with little stations for each of us; we all had our own cutting board, mortar and pestle, and trays of ingredients for the three recipes. We were making stir fried vegetables, pad Thai, and either green or red curry.



First we prepped all of the ingredients. She explained what each one was and how to cut it. There were some interesting ones, like tamarind, tofu, and fish sauce. We cut the carrots into little flowers, unzipped the snow peas (I failed miserably on at least five snow peas before I understood what she meant), and ground a bunch of spices together with a mortar and pestle to make the curry sauce. Pai explained to us the difference between red, green and yellow curry: red curry (the least spicy) uses a large dried red pepper, green uses small fresh red and green peppers, and yellow curry uses  a small dried red pepper as well as some curry powder. I chose red curry and I removed all of the seeds from my chili—my curry was NOT going to burn my tongue off! My red curry turned out to be the least spicy of all of ours, which I was quite content with. Dad chose to make green chili, and it was way too spicy for me!



After prepping, we went out to the porch where there was a little stove and table for each of us. We used woks, sometimes cooking one half of a recipe then shoving that part up onto the side of the wok and cooking the rest of the recipe in the bottom of the wok before mixing it all together. It was certainly efficient! One thing that surprised me about this part was that we added sugar to all of the recipes. It makes the dishes have a sweeter flavor than I am used to in cooking. I really liked this part of the Thai food!




At the end, we sat down with our meal and ate up. I liked everything, but I think my favorite was the stir fried vegetables—the sauce was so good! Everyone had a different favorite, though. Although I wanted to, there was no way I could finish all of my food (except the vegetables, obi).


As we left Pai gave us each a recipe book, and despite some of the strange ingredients, hopefully I will be able to recreate these dishes at home sometime! But probably not all at once, because the whole class took about two hours...and we didn't even do the preparations ourselves for some of the food, like the chicken. My whole family enjoyed this class, and when I recreate the dishes sometime, I will post the recipes here!

Here is the link to Pai's website: http://paicookerysamui.com