Homemade Ricotta and Pesto Penne (with Homegrown Basil and Tomatoes)

“Two posts in two days!” I know you’re undoubtedly musing to yourself. It’s just that I actually have so many posts-in-the-making on the table right now, and quite a bit of time on my hands. It’s taken a bit of blood, sweat, and tears, but we’ve finally arrived at our final week of teaching (as far as we know… We’re trying to be mindful of the possibility that, come next week, they look at us in utter shock when we say we’re not prepared to teach because we were told the students would be writing their final tests), and I’ve gone the easy (read: “easy”) route of having my students do another poetry project, which requires very little resource preparing and planning on my part at this point (in a perfect world my students would be able to identify that as [unintended] alliteration, but I suppose we’re all well aware of our world’s various imperfections).

As I said, last weekend was meant to be devoted to my dog, Arrested Development, and culinary exploration. Though I chose to go gallivanting instead, the desire to do some new cooking stayed strong in me. Friday morning before leaving I followed through with my plans to try out Heidi-from-101cookbooks.com’s Cottage Pancakes recipe, which I found well lekker (lolzlolzlolz, been around Eugene too long; also [unlike “lolzlolzlolz”] “lekker”‘s not getting picked up by my spell check? Just another reason to let it stand…) and I think will be sharing in a full-fledged entry shortly.

But, with two-and-a-half-hours on the back of a bike on the return journey, I also started throwing together ideas for a dinner dish in my head. My mom had been so kind as to include pine nuts in her last package upon request, as I’ve been dying to attempt a homemade pesto with the hordes of basil overtaking our front garden patch. Also, though the Cottage Pancakes had been good two mornings previous, they hadn’t gone quite according to plan. I’d planned on substituting cottage cheese with my homemade ricotta, which I’ve made so many times by now I had haughtily gone so far as to think I’d damn near perfected it. Well my hubris was promptly put in check, as the batch I attempted for the pancakes went decidedly pear-shaped. The curds and whey didn’t separate properly and I was left with something that was closer to sour cream than cheese. I had every intention of attempting the effort again, so decided I might as well make a big ol’ batch of ricotta as well.

Pesto? Ricotta? Penne? It sounded like a winning combination (though I was really toying with the notion of attempting to make my own ravioli, but I thought that sounded a bit over-ambitious for the moment). We stopped by Tesco as we made our way back into town, and it was time to get down to business.

The first thing you might notice is the pesto recipe calls for two whole cups of fresh basil. And you might be wondering just where one could be expected to come up with two cups of basil at a moment’s notice. As I suggested before, let me direct you to my front yard. Our garden experience has been one of trial and error; of things that seemed to have so much potential only to be sabotaged by the weather, the pets, or entirely mysterious circumstances; of seeds that wouldn’t sprout and sprouts that wouldn’t grow… But also a handful of really, really satisfying successes. And the biggest success story of all is our basil. It’s become a grove–nay– a forest! Two cups? Pish posh. We’ve got about two hundred.

Another success, very slowly but surely, has been the tomatoes. Thanks to a lot of care and attention on Wayne‘s part, the plants are finally starting to bear (I’d say) around 15 tomatoes, which is super exciting. Alas, they all seem to be ripening in succession (as opposed to simultaneously) so I can only claim one tomato of the three in the recipe as our own but it’s a claim I’m still proud to make.


(working on another time lapse video… here’s a sneak peak)

Alright so I think that’s about it for the intro. Onto the recipe!

Homemade Ricotta and Pesto Penne
1/2 cup ricotta (recipe here)
3/4 cup pesto (recipe below)
1/2 package of penne (ahhh, I’m trying to be better with my measurements but I’m showing my… amateur status by not even knowing how much pasta’s in a package haha)
3 tomatoes (or however many you want. We happened to have three.)
Parmesan and shredded mozzarella for topping

Pesto ingredients: (adapted from Gavan Murphy‘s recipe that used to be found here but for some reason it’s telling me that link’s dead…)
1 1/2 cups olive oil
2 cups fresh basil
2 tbsp pine nuts
A few squirts of lemon juice (his recipe calls for the zest of one lemon, which I’d love to try, but didn’t have a lemon to zest)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp grated parmesan (his recipe is vegan and so doesn’t include the parm)

1. Preheat oven to 200˚C (392˚F). Prepare the ricotta ahead of time, giving it time to drain for around an hour before adding it into the recipe.

2. Toast the pine nuts over medium heat for 1-2 minutes in a dry pan.

3. Place basil, pine nuts, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and parmesan in a food processor (or, in my case, your wannabe food processor blender attachment) with about a tablespoon or two of the olive oil. Give it a good spin for thirty seconds or so, add the rest of the olive oil, and let it go until it reaches your desired consistency. I didn’t mind having a few bigger chunks of basil in mine.

finished product. that easy!

4. Cook the penne noodles according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Chop up three tomatoes into bite sized pieces. Combine them with 1/2 cup of ricotta and 3/4 cup pesto.

6. Drain the noodles, toss with tomato/ricotta/pesto mixture, and place in a suitable baking pan. Cover with as much parmesan and shredded mozzarella (okay, confession, we used cheddar because it’s all we had) as suits your taste.

7. Toss in the oven for 5-10 minutes, til the cheese gets niiiiice and melty and the tomatoes get that amazing taste and texture that roast tomatoes seem to have.

Serves enough for two people to serve themselves half the pan between them, intending to save the rest for lunch, and then end up eating the whole thing because it’s that good. Bon apetite!

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Weekend in Tonsai

When I think about it, I can’t even pinpoint when Wayne and I first developed an interest in rock climbing. It was a long time ago. My memory’s taking me back to boulder-strewn Hampi, which we understood to be a bit of a climber’s haven; to Max’s amazing home-bouldering video (seriously, do yourself a favor and click that link); to some outdoorsy, adventurous documentaries I seem to remember getting our hands on in China. Let’s just say it’s been on the brain, on and off, for a few years now.

I returned from Bangkok last week to hear Wayne had spoken to one of our friends here in Thung Song who jets off to a little place called Tonsai fairly frequently. Tonsai’s located in Krabi province– famous for its limestone cliffs and the awesome climbing potential they provide. Not only had Christina, our friend, done a bit of climbing there herself, she knew some of the instructors and climbing regulars and said she’d be happy to introduce us and, no pun intended (okay, pun kind of intended), show us the ropes a little. It was tempting.

Especially when Eugene got worked into the plans and it was to become a bike adventure. And when tents worked themselves into the plans and it was to become a camping adventure. A climbing, biking, camping adventure! But… I’d just gone away the previous weekend. And… there was a going away party in Thung Song I wanted to attend. I said I was going to gracefully bow out. I made plans of my own consisting solely of cuddling the pup, trying out new recipes, and watching Arrested Development reruns. I was actually pretty excited for it.

But temptation became too great when it became more than a boys-hit-the-road-and-meet-Christina affair. Her roommate, Collette, and Collette’s friend from the States would be in attendance, and they were forming a bona fide farang bike convoy. And it was Collette’s birthday on Sunday. And I’d see all the people from the going away party again. And some numbers were getting tossed around and it didn’t seem like it was going to be too pricey. And there was room for just one more on the back of Wayne’s bike. Sorry Ollie… we’ll get our cuddle weekend someday.

this is the face of a puppy scorned...

convoy, ready to depart! (christine, eugene, wayne, myself, riley, and collette)

what's that face all about?!

The drive was 2.5 hours of blue-skied smooth sailing. I tried to capture the moments along the way but only a handful of shots turned out how I’d wanted. And of course, being Thailand, we were always in for a few surprises along the way.

someone walking their cow. standard.

chickens crossing the road.

passing a rubber grove.

haha... wayne was generally leading the way (because he'd looked up the route), but on the uphills we lost some ground.

a coconut monkey! (they climb the trees to harvest the coconuts).

mountains rising... we must be getting closer.

i've become infatuated with the cult of the king in thailand.

not sure what this sign's all about...

i think maybe the best thing we saw on the ride... (yes, those are people sitting inside it).

still smiling, though we'd just added about 20 minutes onto our journey by missing a turn.

The driving portion of the trip brought us to Ao Nang, one of the more common tourist spots in Krabi (where we stayed last April), and where we met Glen for lunch. Satisfied with our yellow curries, pad thais, and som tams, it was time to take the 100 baht/person, 5-minute boat ride to Tonsai. That’s all it took!

orchid-envy at the restaurant.

Though I’ve never been to Railay Beach, a favorite amongst visitors to Thailand, I’m going to make the statement that Tonsai is the cooler, cheaper, more laid back little brother of Railay. They occupy the same accessible only-by-boat bay and I’m sure are comparable in terms of beauty and fun-to-be-had. But I must say that scoping out and taking advantage of lesser-known destinations is one of the benefits of living in a place (as opposed to just visiting) and I have a feeling I’d take the “hippie” vibe of Tonsai over Railay’s (as I understand it) tourist-trap status any day. Of course, one of the draws of lesser-known places are the cheaper prices, and with bungalows at 200 ($6.70) and 300 ($10)  baht/night, Tonsai’s one of the cheapest places I’ve come across. And yes, that does mean we never procured that tent we were hoping for, and the camping portion of the climbing/biking/camping adventure got scrapped.

view from inside the girls' favorite hangout on the beach, chill out bar (complete with 200 baht/night bungalows, though they were full when we arrived, and we settled for viking bungalows, just down the beach, for 300 baht/night).

chill out bar had tables situated in old longtails. how clever!

tides came and went quickly, and when the tide was out we were left with a huge expanse of rocky muck in place of the sea!

found a cuddle buddy after all! (did i mention i'm allergic to cats?)

goodbye friend!

jimmy, one of the chill out employees, playing frisbee. we'd all join, and it would bring us much joy.

jimmy by night.

So by now you’re probably wondering just where the rock climbing comes in. And, well, it doesn’t… Since we knew we’d be a bit exhausted from the bike ride, we decided we’d only go for it on Sunday morning, before leaving. However, we arrived to learn that Christina’s main climbing connection is suffering from a foot injury at the moment (and Christina’s just getting over being sick herself). So we thought maybe it would be better to just scope out the scene and get a feel for Tonsai on this, our first excursion to the location, and do some climbing next time (since it won our hearts so and we feel sure there will be a next time). And thus the money we set aside for climbing went instead to the more standard beach fare of dinner and cocktails (which, incidentally, ended up a bit more expensive than the climbing would have been. Whoops.)

Though short it was an excellent weekend and I’d definitely recommend the spot to anyone to whom the no-frills-just-good-clean-fun lifestyle appeals. That’s definitely what Tonsai is all about!

what the inside of a $10 bungalow looks like. i mean, what more do you need than a mattress and mosquito net?

what the outside of a $10 bungalow looks like.

we did go WATCH some climbers, if that counts...

Instead of climbing, Sunday was dedicated to the more leisurely activities of eating breakfast at Sabai Sabai Café and wandering into the more jungly area of Tonsai. We were surprised to find how far back it went and would be interested in doing more exploring in that direction next time as well. I mean, we ran into people who’d stayed there for weeks and months, so there’s really no shortage of outdoorsy fun to keep one occupied. Around one o’clock we were off to Ao Nang, where we had a delicious Indian lunch for Collette’s birthday, and then it was back home with us.

Aside from all the beautiful and fun things I just shared, I think one of the reasons the weekend has left such a fond impression in my memory is that so many of the people we interacted with were just so genuine, kind, and cool. All the staff at Chill Out Bar were awesome, and the patrons we ended up hanging out with were also very enjoyable. Sunday morning when we were packing Wayne realized one of his shirts was missing (he changed after holding the cat, on account of my allergies). I went back and found not only his shirt, but one of Eugene’s and one of our snorkels. When you’re kind of always on your guard against thieves and other such menaces as a traveler, it’s really nice to go to a place where you can forget a few items in a bar and go back the next day without them being touched.

We had another memorable instance of overt caring and compassion on the part of the Thais on our way back. We were only about 40 kilometers away, eager to finish the trip, when a truck pulled out suddenly, causing Wayne to slam on the breaks, causing Christina to slam on hers just behind us. Alas, the bike locked up and slid, breaking a mirror and leaving Christina with a few scrapes and scratches. Now, I’ve almost never seen a Thai person get right down to business and start making things happen, but this time around it was unbelievable. In a flash, there was a water bottle so she could rinse her wounds, and it took about one minute for a “proper medic” (read: man from down the road carrying a tote bag full of things like iodine) to appear on the scene. They sat her down, doctored the scrapes, and all in all seemed very concerned and desperate to help us in any way we needed. When you’ve lived somewhere like Thailand long enough it can be easy to let the cultural frustrations occupy a greater portion of one’s mind than the positive factors. I know I’m guilty of this as well, but I also know I’ve seen so much kindness and generosity on the part of Thais, and I know that’s the kind of thing that will remain in my mind long after I’m gone.

Bodyslammmm!

For the past few weeks when scooting around town on our motorbike we’ve seen big advertisements around town for a POWER CONCERT sponsored by Thailand’s favorite energy drink, M150 (that’s “Em Roi Hasip”). Though we’re not really familiar with any Thai music (other than the ubiquitous “Too Much, So Much, Very Much” song that every student in any given class is bound to start singing any time any of those phrases come up in a lesson… and, of course, Thailand’s own reggae darlings Job2Do, whom I would actually be very excited to see at some point), and even though the concert was on a Monday evening, we thought we might as well seize this cultural opportunity. Plus it was only 100 baht so, not exactly a bank breaker.

me, wayne, and emma posing with the stars.

alas, we only arrived in time to see bodyslam (but they were the main event, so. i figure we got our 100 baht's worth). and yes, that's 'big ass' on the lineup. a bit awkward for your 12 year old students to keep asking if you saw big ass, but you learn to roll with such things in thailand.

caught one song in the previous act's set, but i'm not sure exactly who she was.

it's like all of thung song turned out for this thing!

as they take the stage.

this kid is getting down!!!!!

hahaha. he seriously held his hands up like that for so long. (i know you're loving this, jess! also, just so you know, i'm checking your blog all the time but my comments never seem to go through. i don't know why.)

rock out!

got tatted on our way out. awwww yeah!

It was actually a pretty short set (I guess that’s what happens when you try to fit five bands in one evening) but just enough to give us a taste of the Thai concert-going experience. Though it was outdoors they didn’t allow smoking or drinking in the venue, and their facilities were a bit lacking. Women (and more modest men, I suppose) had to actually leave the venue and go to the gas station across the street to use the bathroom. Most men were content to find a nice spot along the wall, and throughout the evening you’d see the back barricade dotted with guys relieving themselves. Though it was late there were lots of children present (I definitely earned some ‘cool’ points among my students when I showed off the remnants of my M-150 stamp the next day. Many of them had one as well.) and… oh it was kind of nice because everyone’s equipment was already set up on stage, making set changes nice and short. (Again, a necessity I suppose when trying to do so much in so little time.) As for the music, we all agreed it tended to have a distinct 80s hair-band feel to it. Which isn’t always a bad thing.

All in all it was a fun experience and I’m glad I deviated from my standard 8 pm weekday bedtime to attend (only kind of joking about the bedtime). Here’s a bit of footage I shot, if you’re at all interested in a glimpse into a Thai rock ‘n roll performance:

And here’s a real recording of the song I liked best. Or… that I got to sing along with a bit when our Thai friend who went with us told us they keep saying, “See Chompu!” (or “Pink!”) in the chorus:

Ha, and what luck! By the time the video had uploaded one of my classes had opted to (you know, with a tiny bit of assistance from their devoted teacher) write a poem together about Bodyslam. Here’s what the little guys came up with:

(In case you can’t read it:

Bodyslam can really sing!
They make me very happy.
They are so handsome, I think!
They can sing very loudly.
They can make some people scream.
Yod can really play the drums.
Singing with them is my dream.
I want to see them when they come.)

And because they were part of the set I just took off my camera, some pretty sunrise pictures I got when going to get milk for our muesli this morning:

Graffiti (et al) in Bangkok

So you probably guessed that I went to Bangkok for more important things than to check out its numerous graffiti displays, but the number of pictures I took of graffiti turned out disproportionately high, hence the title and this quick stream:

I don’t know if it’s the reference to the squatters’ 15-cans-of-chemical-swirl-mural of a Mexican girl (standing in the ashes at the end of the Earth, four winds blowin’ through her hair) in that Bright Eyes song I like so much (awesome video, by the way, and only recently did I notice the possible tribute to the Blues Brothers? Speaking of which, when Wayne gets a few whiskies in him he does his own excellent Blues Brothers tribute dance… next time you get him liquored up do yourself a favor and request a performance.), or the fact that I enjoyed Exit Through The Gift Shop so much, but I’ve come to quite enjoy me some good old fashioned street art.

And speaking of Bangkok, and of Bright Eyes I suppose here’s as good a place as any to share the trivia with those yet unaware that Thais don’t call Bangkok, well, “Bangkok.” They call it Krung Thep, which means “City of Angels” and is a short version of the longest place name in the world (check your Guinness Book of World Records! Or… don’t. I just did, and while Bangkok apparently has a lot of records– including some pretty stereotypical ones like, “Longest Line of Bowl Noodles” and “Longest Massage Chain”– I don’t actually see anything about its name there. But here’s some further info if you’d like.). And in that Bright Eyes song I’m sure you’re all familiar with, “Cleanse Song,” he talks about waking up purged as a wailing infant– in Krung Thep, Thailand! How clever, how knowledgable, how worldly of our dear Conor, right? Right?!

Except… he mispronounces it! The “TH” in “Thep”, just like that in “Thailand” is pronounced only as an English “T” (more or less). As any English teacher vainly trying to correct her Thai students’ pronunciation will tell you, Thai doesn’t use either of our “Th” sounds. Or V. Or Z. Or S (at the end of words). *Palm to forehead*

But enough about Bright Eyes (story of my life) and trivia you’re sure to never use (also) and graffiti. This is why I’ll never be Freshly Pressed (*envious sniffle*).

Plans for my trip to Krung Thep/Bangkok originated out of necessity to add pages to my nearly-full passport before hopping over to Indonesia in April. When I found out my good friends and former fellow Thung Song locals Jack and Grace were going to be passing through on their way to Myanmar/Burma this past weekend, it made my scheduling of the trip real easy. Though most people I know tend to take the sleeper train such long distances, I’ve been stuck taking the bus every time. And by “stuck” I mean that I totally chose to take it the first two times because it’s cheaper and I was on a time crunch and trains are notoriously unreliable. But of course all it takes is a few conversations about how reliable buses are to ensure that your 10 hour journey beginning at 7:30 pm becomes an 11 hour one that begins at 8:15.

Nevertheless, I made it to Bangkok with time to spare before my 9:15am appointment at the American embassy. Time to find and take the SkyTrain, time to “find” the “American embassy” before grabbing a Burger King breakfast in a swanky tower, time to take pictures of all the cheese in the Tops in said tower as I shopped for all the toiletries I forgot in order to make myself presentable in the bathroom of said tower, time to attempt to force my way through the gate of the “American embassy” only to be informed by a clearly amused security guard that it was the residence of the ambassador (I told him I had an appointment! lolzlolzlolzlolz. I suppose here it’s worth mentioning that as I child I assumed teachers lived in schools so. Old habits die hard I  guess.).

And most importantly, time to go to the real embassy an hour early, get my ish taken care of with no hitches (and with the added perk of watching the Bulls/Celtics game on AFN! Daaaa Bulls!).

leaving the skytrain at peung chit.

and we were impressed with eight whole stories in penang!
so much cheese… and caviar? i really did not belong in this swanky tower in clothes i’d been wearing for 14 hours.
had to pass the dutch embassy. somehow this makes way too much sense to me. painted cows wandering all willy nilly? the dutch must be responsible.

I was finished with my business by late morning only to find out Jack and Grace would only finish theirs around 4 pm. So what did I have on my hands? More time! Time to go back to the interesting-sounding SkyTrain stop, Victory Monument; time to take pictures of the monument; time to shop at some stalls around the monument; time to work a taxi-less route back to the Khao San Road area; to grab lunch at the awesome vegetarian restaurant Wayne and I discovered last Spring; to find the guesthouse/do more shopping/get a massage. I stayed busy.

heading to victory monument

in pursuit of a bus to khao san road.

paparazzo shot from the bus.
nothing like 10 baht fresh coco water on a hot day!

bangkok in all it’s clean-aired glory.

courtyard of the guesthouse.

The guesthouse Jack and Grace had recommended was about a 5-10 minute walk off Khao San Road at the Villa Guest House, 230 Thanon Samsen 1. A bit dark, lots of mosquitoes in the courtyard, and (as Grace forewarned) the beds are a bit hard, but it was very charming with an equally charming proprietor. Singles for 300 baht/night, doubles for 400-600.

By the afternoon it was finally time for the happy reunion with my long-lost friends. We chatted for a bit amongst the mosquitoes in the courtyard, got some Indian for dinner, had a few drinks in the Rambuttri area, met up with another friend of theirs, and called it an early night. Jet/bus lag (just coined the term) don’t make for crazy partiers!

The next morning it was back to Ethos for some insaaaaane vegan pancakes. But no Coke or Sprite:

upshot from the courtyard.
crocodile in the canal (or so i like to think).

 

big jack and tiny cat.

 

momma and sissy lookin on.

 

haha, commence my new favorite series of photos. jack wonders just WHAT to do with that moustache-shaped falafel.
use it as a moustache!

 

or how bout this way?

awkward candid.

i just missed a performing arts festival! but we got to watch rehearsal.

whatever you do, do NOT smoke alcohol in bangkok.
haha! funny top-of-palm-nut-eatin’ squirrel. (video to come, hopefully?)

On Saturday we just killed time shopping and eating (see above pictures of falafel moustaches) around Khao San. I’d wanted to take a train back but they were full so it was another lengthy bus journey for me and a 6 am wakeup call Sunday morning for Wayne to come pick me up off the side of the road where I was dropped. A quick but successful and enjoyable weekend in Bangkok! And best of luck to Jack and Grace as they take their journey to Burma.

Friends in Town, Cashing in another Decade, and a Most Unconventional Taxi Ride

Since running into them/having a fun beach jam session in December on Koh Mook, we’ve been trying to arrange a weekend to have our friends Rich and Debbie come pay us a visit in dear old Thung Song. And since our mutual friend (through whom we met, actually) Emma was bidding farewell to her twenties this past weekend with a big bash, we decided the time had come. I’m pretty sure part of this mission was to have another guitar fest, albeit without beachy surroundings, and unfortunately that didn’t happen. Still, the weekend was a success on many other levels.

the lot of us at leela wadee, the restaurant where the night commenced. birthday girl's the blonde at center, i'm the androgynous head pulling a kissy face at the back.

emma takes the stage to assist montrey with 'hotel california'. (and vanilo does interpretive dance on the sideline.)

The thing is Wayne and I live a decent distance out of town. And not only is it impractical-bordering-on-impossible to put four people on one bike, we also knew that given the nature of the birthday bash there would probably be alcohol intake making it a bit irresponsible for any of us to attempt getting back home by bike. So we made the executive decision to leave the bike home, catch rides with others to the club, and secure motorbike taxis home.

convoy of farang on the way to the club!

Alas, when 2 am rolled around and we’d had all the movin’ and groovin’ we could handle, there was nary a motorbike taxi to be found! We walked to a main street, waited and looked around, and still the streets were deserted.

Deserted, that is, with the exception of a pickup truck doing what seemed to be a routine (though strangely houred) delivery. I got it in my head that this was our ticket home and so marched over to have a word with the driver (in what I’m sure was impeccable Thai). The driver himself didn’t actually seem too keen, but his friends and associates on the other end of the delivery seemed perfectly tickled at the idea of helping out some poor stranded farang. One lady even gave me a coconut– for free– when I expressed interest. (Though we still haven’t been able to open it…)

The one contingency seemed to be that the entire cache of vegetables needed to be unloaded. Rich gallantly stepped right in to assist on that front, and before we knew it there was an empty (albeit filthy) pickup bed ready and waiting for us. And before you go and get it in your head that I’ve made it a common practice to hop into any vehicle whose driver honks and whistles and am on a direct course towards having my organs harvested, I’ll have you know that first, Thung Song is a safe, small-town kind of place (aside from those alleged mafia men our former agent said would probably go after Wayne if we proceeded with our plans to leave the agency? Still no word from them yet; I’ll keep you updated); second, this is far from a common practice (though Wayne did give a monk a ride on the bike once); and third, I’ll admit it, if free coconuts are involved I’m most likely going to be down.

rich helping to unload.

almost finished.

staying classy.

protecting us, i guess. (and that's not rain... it's flecks of dirt. everywhere.)

rockstars.

full moon.

Anyway, the ol’ veg truck got us home just fine and though he didn’t request any money Debbie insisted on giving him 200 baht ($6.70) for his troubles.

The next day we’d hoped to go to a waterfall but again transportation proved problematic. We settled instead for the pool by our old place.

wayne chose to stay home but instructed us to take photos of how much fun we had, so. this is us having fun. in very stylish swimcaps.

And, as you might have guessed, Mister Ollie got tons of attention (even though his “demon claw,” as we’ve termed it, left Rich with a proper gash down his leg…).

dog on a chair.

heyyyy buddy!

he looks like a saint in a renaissance painting here, gazing towards the light.

Anyway, it was a very fun and eventful weekend.

This weekend (this evening, as it were) I’ll be heading to Bangkok to finally get those pages in my passport, and as a bonus I get to spend a few days with our long-lost friends Jack and Grace as they make their way to a new teaching assignment in Burma. More stories on the way, I’m sure!

Valentine’s Cookies

I tutor two Thai sisters “every” Sunday (that I’m not traveling or they’re not taking one of their endless streams of tests to ensure they make it into the best schools like the rest of their family). I try to incorporate fun things like movies and baking into our lessons, because it tends to be a bit easier for me (from a planning perspective) and more enjoyable for them. I’d made promises of Christmas cookies at, well, Christmas time but our erratic schedules made it so that we went about six weeks in the December-January time with no class and thus Christmas cookie plans fell to the wayside.

Then Valentine’s Day started creeping up and I decided ol’ Pim and JupJeep might get their sugar fix after all. The problem was that the cookies I had made for Christmas weren’t… great. But this wasn’t actually too much of a problem at all because when in doubt there’s always Martha. For these simple sugar cookies I followed this Martha Stewart recipe pretty much exactly (less the newfangled “electric mixer” and “paddle attachment” tomfoolery, as reflected in my dumbed-down-for-non-native-English-speaker instructions)– who could turn down a recipe with “Ideal” right there in the title?!– but I did use the icing recipe that went on the Christmas cookies. For some reason it seemed to work better in my first attempt than this one… perhaps I let my butter soften a little too much, but it was very runny and quite messy with an eleven and an eight-year-old doing the application. But they tasted nice (as my lucky students will tell you… cookies are a good instrument with which to teach polite requests!).

intently studying the recipe.

scooping flour... notice pim is doing everything left-handed... she'd slammed her right thumb in the car door right before coming over. poor beeb!

mixing the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla.

'it's really a dough!' jupjeep exclaimed with delight.

2 discs, ready to pop in the fridge.

your humble narrator makes a guest appearance for wine-bottle rolling duties.

if you're wondering where i found a heart-shaped cookie cutter in thailand the answer is that i didn't... it's a mold for frying cute eggs?

waiting to go in the oven.

i realized i wasn't going to actually have enough for my students so i had to go the emo route and make broken hearts. the fact that bright eyes was playing at the time might have had something to do with this as well.

pim showing off her handiwork.

and jupjeep hers.

Alright since I know you’re dying for the recipe here goes:

Cookie ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter [I’m actually pretty sure I used salted butter.]
1 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting ingredients: (This makes so much frosting… it was plenty for two batches of cookies.)
2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk (start with two, add more if frosting becomes too thick)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Food coloring

Directions: (Again, as intended for Thai children to read.)
1. Mix flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. In another bowl mix butter and sugar; stir until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; mix until well combined. Add flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

2. Place dough on a table. Shape into 2 discs and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius (345 degrees Fahrenheit). Grease baking sheets; set aside.

4. On a lightly floured table, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into hearts, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

5. Combine ingredients for frosting until smooth. If too thick, add more milk. Cover cooled cookies with frosting.

Hope you like ’em! Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Recipes” Update

Just a quick note that I’ve updated my “Recipes” page to include Wayne’s Seed Bread (as found on his blog). Since he’s really the master in the baking department (link overkill?) I felt I had no right to claim the loaf as my own but since he’s gone and put it out there I have no qualms about sharing since this easy-to-make and greatly satisfying creation has a place in every kitchen.

And just speaking of awesome things Wayne’s whipped up lately, please please please do yourselves a favor and give this Sesame Yogurt Pasta Salad recipe a shot. Don’t be overwhelmed by the ingredient list, even if you don’t have a number of the items. I promise you won’t be disappointed in finding uses for coriander, turmeric, or tahini! This was honestly one of the best lunches I’ve had in awhile. I’ll note that we didn’t use ravioli, as suggested in the recipe, but rather Thai rice vermicelli, and they were perfect. Do itttttt.

photo courtesy of 101cookbooks.com

And, for good measure, a photo of a cucumber fail:

silly cucumber tried to sneak through the cage... now who's laughing?

Miscellaneous Photos

Well, as no “blog-worthy” events have happened in the past few weeks I guess I might as well seize this opportunity to share some of the odd photos I’ve collected lately that haven’t quite fit in any of the other posts.

at the park with our exceptionally long-tongued dog. there was supposed to be video to accompany this but youtube hates me right now.

workers building a tower.

students soaking up some sun with dark clouds on the horizon.

sleepy pup.

at a dinner at a coworker's house with a few students. my synopsis of the photo: "EVERYONE looks weird in this picture." true, no?

sunset.

and how's this for exciting? a gorgeous, ripe tomato. our first! with more on the way. can't wait to devour it.

And, let’s see… in Life News we start Thai lessons tomorrow, we’ll start teaching adult classes for some of the Municipality employees next week (this was a bit of a dramatic happening at first but I think it’ll be okay in the end), I bucked up and attended my first yoga class in ages yesterday (though with the Thai and adult classes I’ll only be able to make it on Fridays… oh well), and we’re trying to teach Ollie to swim (so far this has involved pushing him into a pond and throwing him into a pond). So. Staying busy.

The Story of a Passport

I hesitated to actually go through with this entry at the risk of seeming pretentious or boastful. But then I decided that as long as I’m dedicating myself to a travel-centered blog, it’s really only appropriate that I share this strange happening said travels (with a little help from page-hogging visas and complicated entry processes requiring more than one of them) have contributed to: the filling of my passport (less one itty bitty square). In six years, no less! Besides, I think there’s a kind of art and intrigue to the stamps and visas themselves. Roll tape.

(Oh, and I did walk myself through the thought process where I wondered if it was a good idea to post pictures of my passport on the internet, but at this point there are so many copies of this thing floating around Asia I figure that anything questionable that could happen would [and, in fact, may] have happened by now and it’s a risk I’m willing to take.)

ah, the title page in all my 18-year-old glory. where did those square earrings and that ac*lightning bolt*dc shirt go? the world may never know.

washington, dc: march 10, 2006; july 15, 2007; march 9, 2007; december 3, 2010; december 21, 2007. managua, nicaragua: march 3, 2006; march 2, 2007. madrid, spain: july 1, 2007.

first experience with a full-page visa (or 'visto,' as they apparently say over in italia). fall 2007.

seoul, korea: september 29, 2009 (entry); october 4, 2009 (departure). rome, italy: december 21, 2007. washington, dc: june 23, 2008.

off to china! as it does on the globe itself, china took up a lot of space in my passport.

shanghai, china: august 31, 2009 (entry); september 27, 2009 (departure); september 21, 2010 (departure). hong kong: september 27, 2009 (entry); september 29, 2009 (departure). and the last bit of empty space!

another big fat chinese visa (my work visa). shanghai, china: october 4, 2009. sadao, thailand: april 19, 2011; october 4, 2010. bangkok, thailand: september 21, 2010; march 30, 2011.

changloon, malaysia: april 19, 2011 (entry); april 21, 2011 (departure). washington, dc: may 31, 2011. madrid, spain: july 15, 2007. kathmandu, nepal: october 4, 2010 (entry); october 26, 2010 (departure).

chinese residence permit.

first thai non-b visa.

sadao, thailand: april 21, 2011 (entry); bangkok, thailand: may 30, 2011. thai re-entry permit (to allow me to leave and return without canceling my existing visa/work permit): may 30-june 8, 2011. and my favorite visa, the indian one, partially obscured by a stupid slip.

said slip. after finally securing a year-long visa in this country you're required to update your address and get your sheet stamped and changed every 90 days. if you're late it's meant to be 500 baht/day, but i was 5 days late last time, told the guy i was stupid and misread the slip, and he let it slide! and they say thais are always trying to screw you...

nearing the end... stamp for my one year visa. sadao, thailand: january 17, 2012 (departure); january 20, 2012 (entry). bangkok, thailand: june 8, 2011. weird sticker inserted in my passport last time i entered malaysia. changloon, malaysia: january 17, 2012 (entry); january 20, 2012 (departure).

and, finally, my latest non-b.

Anyway. Guess I won’t be going to Bali with my passport in such a state so it’s off to Bangkok with me next week to get more pages inserted. For the low, low price of $82… Oh well…