One Last Time…

I’ve once again filled up all the space in this blog. I have, however, learnt to make my photo files smaller and so expect this to be the last switch. If you’re willing to bear with me for one last move, read on here.



Ubud, Part One (and Getting There)

I’ve been intending to make this quick post to announce that we arrived safely and to give a quick sneak-peak into Bali life for about three days now, but bad computer and Internet conditions have made it a bit difficult. Now, three days into the trip and several hundred pictures later I’m a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of Bali blogging in general, but I thought I’d go through with Post One as planned.

The trip got off to an interesting start from the very beginning, on a moderately comfortable bus from Thung Song to Phuket. Despite the plush(-ish) reclining chairs, sleep was reluctant to come on account of the traditional Thai shadow-puppet show they were playing for the entire 5 hours of the trip, with all its high pitched instrumental interludes and occasional squawking of the characters. I suppose I understand wanting to offer a bit of entertainment on public transport, but why it must come at such volume I may never know.

Our moods didn’t improve much upon arrival, as everyone seemed to be asking 600 Baht for the 30 km taxi ride to the airport (where we were intending to stay/sleep until our 7 am flight, despite it only being around 10 when we arrived). We found this excessive and so saw fit to wander the streets, away from the bus station where I imagine all farang are supposed to be suckers, in hopes of coming across a better rate. We were successful, but it all happened in a very unlikely way—we stopped at a shop for water, and Wayne seized the opportunity to practice a bit of Thai. He started chatting with the shop owner, asking if we really were being overcharged for the journey.

Before she was able to speak two words a shirtless man appeared from the back room going off about how Phuket was very expensive, and farangs especially were targeted, but we were teachers (he must have been listening in from the wings) and surely we should get an exemption to this preposterous overcharging. Or,at least that’s what I imagined the ramblings to sum up to. It then became clear (more or less) that he was arranging for someone to drive us for our desired rate of 400 Baht—I suspected a friend or a son. But next thing we knew he was throwing on a shirt and pulling his car out from the side-street. The shop owner’s husband himself would be our chauffer! And once again I broke the traditional “Don’t get into cars with strangers” advice given to all young children, and had few to no qualms about doing so.

About ten minutes into the trip we pulled over and two girls hopped in the car. The first beamed at me and said, “My name is!” I waited for her to complete the thought, only to realize she was asking me for my name. I told her and I learned that they were Oil and Ohn, the man’s 19-year-old twin daughters, who were delighted to be embarking on the journey to the airport with the strange travelers.  At some point the father must have come into the knowledge of how long we had until our flight departed and decided there was time enough for a nighttime tour of Phuket. I think we must have driven the near circumference of the island (okay, exaggerating here) and we saw some of the major beaches, one of which we stopped at for some photos. It was around midnight by the time we made it to the airport, and though a bit exhausted we were happy for the man’s kindness, his daughters’ company, and of course, the 200 Baht saved.

wayne and our impromptu and delightful chauffer, just past patong beach.

with ohn and oil

Then it was another relatively sleepless 5-hour stretch in the airport, on account of the freezing conditions and noisy floor-waxers. But eventually we were on the plane and Bali bound!

shots from airplane windows are generally terrible, but i always risk it. i guess i just love me some clouds.

finally getting some sleep! (more than i could say. hellooooo crossword book)

the island we’d like to one day own.

how’d those icebergs get there?!

first glimpses of bali. don’t think we’ll make it to those cliffs, but they look awesome.

We became that much more grateful for the 200 Baht saved by forgoing a traditional taxi on the way to the Phuket airport because when we arrived at the Denpasar (Bali) airport we found they were giving a terrible exchange rate for Thai Baht. We’d read that it should be around 300 Indonesian Rupiah to the Baht, and the airport currency exchangers were offering all of 200! The taxi to Ubud was also more expensive than we were hoping (though, don’t let hawkers fool you. The listend 195,000R price is for the entire taxi and should be split amongst all the passengers. We didn’t go that route but in retrospect we probably should have), so our stomachs started dropping, thinking maybe the money we’d set aside for the trip wasn’t going to go as far as we’d initially thought. We eventually succeeded in finding a place that gave us a rate of 285 Rupiah/Baht, but maybe a note to future Thailand-to-Indonesia travelers: convert your Baht to dollars (or… anything else, really) before crossing the border!

there are lots of gargantuan statues adorning the roadsides and traffic circles around here.

Aaand… when I began putting this post together, now four days ago, it was partially just to gush about how much I was in love with our accommodation. We were somehow under the erroneous impression that Bali was a small island when we began researching our travels. When we discovered that this wasn’t the case– we’d have to pick a few key spots and run with them, or at least use them as homebase, we were a bit overwhelmed. When a friend didn’t hesitate a moment before asserting that we must stay in Ubud, the “cultural heart” of Bali, we were happy to have the decision made for us. We proceeded to scour Lonely Planet and Travelfish and were able to find a good number of places for around 150,000 Rupiah (+/-500 Baht; $18)/night, which was right around our budget. Before even making it to the first place on the list we were expertly swept into Sagitarius Inn by one Eddie. As one of the linked-to reviews indicates, the room we were shown (presumably the cheapest one, though it ended up ringing in at all of 200,000 Rupiah/night) was “miles” from the main road (read: maybe a 2 minute walk), the scenery along those miles was more than enough to convince us to stay. And with its location in the heart of the central Monkey Forest Road, it’s really met all our needs. The staff here are wonderful, and as with most places around here, a lovely breakfast has been included each morning. There’s (usually) hot water. What more could we ask for?

sneak peak at the sacred monkey forest as we went to find a money changer willing to rip us off just slightly less than the rest

our room. spacious enough with carved teak furniture, vaulted ceilings, and an en suite bathroom with hot water.

did i mention the nice terrace where complimentary balinese coffee appears magically each afternoon?

why so glum little statue?! you’re in bali!

reminiscent of this shot taken exactly a year previous in bangkok

the crown jewel of any outdoor pool: the lactating fountain statue.

Though a bit knackered, after getting settled we decided to briefly explore our area and get a quick bite to eat at a restaurant with some sort of view. We decided being nestled right in a rice terrace would do.

monkey forest road appears to be a bustling little road teeming with cute shops and restaurants…

but it also happens to be nestled among the most charming little rice paddies.

first taste of balinese coffee (though certainly not the last!)

our afternoon snack: raw veg lumpiah with cashew nut dressing. exquisite!

me and my million rupiah. don’t spend it all in one place now… (though at just over $100, you easily could).

After our snack we had what certainly qualifies as one of the top 10 naps in my lifetime after a very hectic 24 hours. Woke up just in time for some last-minute shopping for Wayne’s birthday, which was the next day, followed by our traditional pizza-as-a-first-dinner-in-a-new-town. As well as a very welcome and delicious couple of Indonesian microbrew wheat beers at Bali Pesto, just down the street. We rounded out the evening by tracking down the acoustic music that had been spilling into our dining locale of choice from the nearby Art Café, and what seems to be the standard Balinese Bintang beer. An excellent first day in Bali, with only more good times to follow.

perusing one of the many local art shops in search of a gift.

fiendish-looking monkey statue outside of the sacred monkey forest, which we passed again on our evening jaunt taken to get a feel for our surroundings before dinner.

bintang and peanuts consumed whilst singing along to ‘wish you were here’ at art café after dinner. not pictured: mediterranean pesto pizza and bruschetta at bali pesto for dinner. we’ve been trying to document most of our meals but have faltered a time or two.

Goin’ to Indonesia With an Achin’… in my Heaaaart

No, there’s no ache in the heart. Just tons of excitement. I guess I’m just channeling a bit of Zep after last night’s karaoke party. I just kind of wanted to give an announcement of our departure and kill time on our last day of “teaching”, but I guess I can also work in the fact that we had a little birthday party for Wayne last night at the nearby “Green Restaurant”. Or… “Pink Restaurant” as some people call it. Or… “Gan-Eng” or “Kan-Yeng” as it’s actually called. We’ve become friendly with the darling (and excellent English-speaking) owner, Villapa, and we’ve recently become aware that the upstairs room can be booked for karaoke sessions, so we did. Things got silly. This happened:

an intentional, emotional collapse whilst singing "zombie" with grace... similar to a dean-calonder-lip-syncing-andrea-bocelli's-"caruso"-circa-1997.

So did this:

at the command, "point to your name and look happy!" i'll include that no alcoholic beverages had been consumed before this photo. i realize it may sound like i'm being facetious, but i'm not.

the always-lovely villapa, eugene, grace, venice

i decided i needed a change and, inspired by pictures from 2008, decided to chop off my bangs (er, "fringe") about 2 hours before the party.

We also took Ollie to Nakhon Si Thammarat yesterday to an animal hospital that’s taken him for all of 1500 baht for 19 days! (That’s $50. I don’t know how I’ll ever live in a first world country again.) They seemed really nice and caring, but it was hard to say goodbye to the little guy! I hope he still loves us when we come back. Also there’s this amazing billboard I’ve admired every time I’ve gone to Nakhon, and since we were on the motorbike yesterday I was able to take pictures of it.

i think i want to paint a picture of it.

Okay, I think that’s the last of the updates! Not sure I’ll be posting from Indo but expect some excellent stories upon my return in 2 weeks. Stoked!

Updates from Good Ol’ Thung Song

With all the weekend getaways I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve provided any insight into the goings-on around our humble little town. Here’s what’s been keeping us busy in these parts:

1. colorful chickies.

this didn't actually keep us busy for more than the minute it took to fawn over them and the 10 seconds it took to snap a few shots, but what a hilarious (though, i fear, ethically questionable) item to come across in the market. there were also normal-colored ones and little ducklings up for grabs as well.

2. comically branded instant drink powder. (also has not kept us very busy.)

3. “The Big Noodle Pot,” or the annual Kanom Jin festival.  I wrote recently about the adult English classes we’ve been giving for the past 2 months. Very frequently we’re forced out of our normal room, or our numbers are particularly low, on account of “meetings” that are going on. At one point I mused to Wayne, “Exactly what do you think all these meetings are about?” That very day we were given an answer– many of our students wouldn’t be attending class the following Tuesday in order to attend a meeting about “the Big Noodle Pot” the following day. It was a very enlightening moment, to learn that these big important meetings are, at times, focused on noodles.

Anyway, “Kanom Jin” is a bit of a misnomer, on all accounts. Kanom is the name Thais give to any number of little… snack-like things (one friend commented that if it contains flour it can be called “Kanom,” but even that’s not exactly an accurate definition either). They’re often sweet, but not always. Morning goodies made of sticky rice and coconut, wrapped in banana leaves are a type of kanom. Bread is kanom pangKanom Jin is literally “Chinese Kanom,” but they’re thin, flimsy rice vermicelli noodles. Not sweet. Not made of [wheat] flour. And we don’t remember seeing anything like them in China, ever. (Though French Toast isn’t exactly French, or Toast, now that I think about it, so maybe that’s an English equivalent). The noodles are topped with a variety of colorful, flavorful (sometimes quite spicy!) sauces. It’s very popular fare in these parts, often, strangely (to us Westerners), as a breakfast food. Though not huge fans of the dish, we thought it was our responsibility as Thung Song citizens to at least steal a glimpse of the Big Noodle Pot, and support our new friends and students.

a big pot indeed! 3,384 kilos of sauce.

notice the fellow farang. we don't know him, but we saw a few that came out of the woodwork for the festival.

look who it is! (two of our students, mod and chanida.)

kanom jin, in all its glory. the greenish sauce is the most common but they were afraid it would be too spicy for us (warranted concern) so they insisted we try the sweeter red sauce as well.

thailand in a nutshell: gorgeous sunset, larger-than-life portrait of the king and queen, and a kanom jin eating contest.

because, really, what's a food festival without a bit of grotesque consumption? (note the guy bottom left.)

overwhelmed at all the kanom jin.

4. New work permits! Back in June I gave notice that after a month-and-a-half of employment at Satree Thung Song I’d finally been awarded a Work Permit. And then in November I mentioned that in the process of our “Big Transition,” we had to turn those Work Permits in to be canceled, since our former agent would have continued being taxed on them for as long as they were valid. Or something. This did raise questions as to the status of the legality of our presence in Thailand, since our visas were technically contingent on the possession of Work Permits, but those were decided to be insignificant details and we were successful in not getting deported before getting a new visa in Penang. Whew. *Wipes brow.*

And now, just four months after gaining employment at our current school, we’ve succeeded in attaining our new Work Permits (and complimentary 1-year visas)! It only took wasting a bit of money on photos of sizes we didn’t need, scrambling for the correct documents, ditching 2 days of school, and scrounging up the $200 (unfortunate, so close to our big trip and all, but unavoidable I suppose) for the fees. But hey, at least now we can get into National Parks at a reduced rate.

i guess correct spellings of middle and last names are also insignificant 'details'.

trimming photos to the necessary 2" after spending the big bucks on 3" photos (on the instructions of our contact in the municipality.)

voila! they've gone with a new format and everything. my favorite part, if you can see it, is the 'no. of an alien' tag above the picture.

And that’s really it. Oh yeah, we got Ollie fixed on Friday in hopes of making him less aggressive and maybe a little more docile in general but after about a day of letting the anesthetic wear off he’s back to his old barking, hyperactive self. Oh well… I suppose he’s still young. Leave TS for Phuket Thursday night; Phuket for Bali on Friday morning! Coconut wait:).

Yours Truly,
Angela Maria Colender (I suppose it was far too much to ask that anyone in Thailand get that last name right, considering how infrequently it happens in my home country.)

Mattayom 3 Graduation [Now With More Pictures]

This post doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but there are two points I should make. The first is that in most schools Mattayom 3 students (call them… 9th graders) don’t graduate– they would simply move up to Mattayom 4 in their same school and be forced to wait three more long years until they complete Mattayom 6 to be rewarded with a graduation ceremony. But our school only goes up to Mattayom 3, meaning all those wide-eyed, eager 14-year-olds are about to take that next big step forward– to a new high school! I too changed high schools as a 14-year-old, and it wasn’t the easiest experience of my life, but these guys will be moving ahead with a bunch of their friends so I wish them all the best.

The second point is that, despite all my well-wishing and the fact that I was given the honor of tying white bands around the wrists of a few students (the ‘ceremony’ pretty much consisted only of teachers tying bands on the wrists of students), I don’t teach Mattayom 3 and don’t know any of these students, so it wasn’t a particularly emotional time for me. But there were pictures and it was a special day, all things considered, so I must postpone the Pak Meng post and keep you waiting for all those darling pictures of Ollie playing the river rat just a bit longer.

i'd left my bike at the school the night before because it was raining so hard. when we arrived the next morning it wasn't where i left it and i started to worry. then i saw it in this display and was happy to have found it but a bit worried someone thought it was a prize donation...

but it was just for fun, i guess. then p'dum had me pose with it haha. (recognize the dress, andrea?! i love it!)

this one's for you, jess.

for those who didn’t catch the reference.

leave him alone for 5 minutes and he's already running off with two thai ladies...

observing from above.

making conversation with the students i got to 'bless'. (also how stoked does the guy next to me look? that's pretty much his permanent expression, even when he seems to actually be happy.)

grace giving her blessing.

our director, chok dee (whose name means 'good luck' or 'lucky') participating.

shirt-signing party

with some of my m2s. still got another term with these ones!

And there you have it. We’ve just finished our first week of the “Summer School”-esque tomfoolery we’ve been roped into and I guess it wasn’t too bad. Can definitely handle two more weeks before shoving out to Bali. Started researching accommodation yesterday and it’s got me quite excited! Two more weeks… two more weeks…

Socializing with the Students

As January came to a close (I know this sounds like the beginnings of a very overdue update, but bear with me) Wayne and I were presented with some gear-grinding information. The information came via a Facebook chat conversation with P’Sila, the lady at the Municipality office in charge of handling our administrative affairs (I assure you, after what I’ve learned about nearly every Thai system, particularly those regarding foreigners, this is not an enviable position). She’s nice as can be, but her English is weak so her Facebook chats are always a bit obviously driven with the assistance of an Internet translator.

For this reason I hoped that something was lost in translation when she presented what I interpreted as an announcement that starting the following week Wayne and I were to teach 1.5-hour adult classes in the evening, Monday-Friday, February-September. For no additional pay. When we were hired talk had gone down about us exchanging English lessons for Thai lessons with our fellow teachers, but this topic hadn’t been touched for months. And (I keep saying this… maybe I should just know better by now?) surely, surely we could have been given notice further in advance. Or even been involved in the planning process!

The feathers were indeed ruffled, but some easy negotiations got us down to only two nights per week, with the entire month of April free. The initial, overwhelming projection of 60 students was never hit and classes have generally been a much more manageable 20-or-less. Though neither of us had ever taught adults before and were a bit intimidated by the prospect, I’ve actually quite enjoyed the experience thus far. As it turns out, there are almost no behavioral issues in adult classes, and they actually appreciate the work you put into the time you spend together! (*Shakes fist at thankless children.*) It helps that many of our students are teachers for the municipality, just like us. Before starting I’d also made the hopeful prediction that the classes could be a good way for us to meet some more locals and build our Thai network a bit. This also proved true.

When class finished last Tuesday, some of our students asked if we’d like to join them for roti (paper-thin pancakes filled with egg, banana, or coconut and slathered in condensed milk whipped up by lovely ladies in headdresses at Muslim food stalls) and coffee. We were happy to comply (it should be noted that all of our students are women and most of them are in their 40s-50s, making Wayne the obvious odd man out [no pun intended], with me having only slightly more in common), and throughout the course of the evening snacktime it was decided we should also spend the following day together at the waterfall near P’Sila’s house (there happened to be a Buddhist holiday and we were delighted to have a Wednesday off). Not that we had any clue where P’Sila lived, of course, but that was a problem easily solved by a Municipality meet-up and carpool.

As it turned out, she has a gorgeous house right above (literally… she’s got quite the steep walk from and to her house each day) the waterfall we’d visited with Jack and Ollie way back when, that we learnt to be called ThaPhae Waterfall. The afternoon involved a plethora of food, the enjoyment of assisting in its preparations, lots of laughs with the ladies, and a quick swim in the waterfall on a hot and beautiful day. Sounds like a perfect afternoon, really.

p'sila and ti preparing mango salad and chili sauce.

me with mod (thai people make all 5'4" of me look gigantic...), showing off the fare for the afternoon in its pre-cooked state. ning being silly on the stairs.

shrimp and squid 'cooking', noi dishing out yam woon sen talay (spicy glass noodle and seafood salad).

yam woon sen talay (spicy glass noodle and seafood salad. one of my favorites!)

haha... our contribution. a seed bread. but everyone preferred to tear at it (rather than slice) and dip into the butter (rather than spread). mai bpen rai!

green and red chili sauces... pet maak!

ju and sila trying to figure out what's wrong with the burner. i thought it was taking awhile for those shrimp to turn pink!

the whole feast... grilled shrimp, squid (complete with gelatinous eggs inside of which i was quite wary but which i found strangely edible), and fish; noodle and mango salads; chinese noodles; bread.

al fresco dish-washing.

sleeping cat and shrine.

with ning and air in front of the welcome sign.

better weather than last time!

natural water slide.

sila cheesin' in the corner.

Since it was a Buddhist holiday and all we had high hopes of making it to a temple in the evening to get an idea of the associated goings-on but we were too beat from our busy day to do so.

This weekend was a blast, Wayne and I went to Pak Meng (where he and Eugene had scoped out the previous weekend)– with the pup! (So that link to the last time we went to this waterfall brought back fond memories of when Ollie was far easier to carry on the motorbike…) I’ll hopefully have the photos up by the end of the week, but since we’re on the topic of unexpected extra work I’ve just completed Day Two of bambambam, three classes in a row every morning even though we (and certainly the poor students) expected to be done teaching/learning by now. All they want to do is play games, they’re unsure if they need to wear their uniforms, and 8 out of 36 students showed up to one class today. Oh Thailand.

Mushroom Burgers

Since setting up my “Recipes” page I’ve hinted at the fact that we make mushroom burgers. The time for the post has finally come, but I think first a few things need to be said for any type of non-meat burger. We’re not trying to… trick anyone here. I’m not going to serve this to you, raising my eyeybrows exaggeratedly and prompting you: “So, uh, whadaya think, huh? Good, huh? Can’t even tell there’s no meat in there, huhhhhh?!” While some store-bought patties do attempt to maybe replicate a meaty texture or put some “char-broiled” lines on there, I can honestly say I’ve never gone into a vegetarian-burger-eating-experience expecting to think I was eating McDonald’s (*shudders*… though I’m man enough to admit that after five-and-a-half years of vege/pescetarianism I still do get the odd Mickey-D’s craving. Just because I like to go on the random anti-fast food diatribe about how there’s nothing real in there doesn’t mean they don’t succeed in making it taste good…).

And on the subject of tricking people, (I can’t help myself) I must here include a short anecdote about when I was home from college once, eating MorningStar Mini Corn Dogs, and my youngest brother entered the room in astonishment. “Are you eating corn dogs?!” And oh, the naivete, I oh-so-easily convinced him that, oddly enough, corn dogs were the one meat item I was absolutely unable to give up, and would he like one? The kid can’t be paid to go near a meatless product normally, but he gobbled the thing right up. Here I probably did raise my eyebrows exaggeratedly, prompting, “So, uh, whadaya think, huh? Good, huh?” To which he responded yes, to which I responded he’d just eating a veggie dog, to which he responded, “Uhhhh. I knew there was a vegetable aftertaste!” (There’s not.) See, told you I’d make it short!

Anyway just a few more disclaimers about these before posting photos and recipes:
1) If nothing else, please please please try the homemade hamburger buns. They’re lovely every time with these burgers. They’re lovely every morning after as vehicles for egg sandwiches. Honestly, I think they’d be grand just on their own with some butter as dinner rolls (and, of course, as buns for normal hamburgers as well). They taste great and, for me anyway, there’s always just the satisfaction of having made something unexpected all by yourself!
2) We forgot to get cheese before this bout of burger-making. They’re nice anyway, but it’s my opinion that everything’s better with melted cheese dripping off of it. I did get excited for a second and announce to Wayne, “Oh well! We’re just doing the vegan version!” But… we always serve them with a tzatziki-style yogurt sauce. And there’s egg in the buns. *Palm to forehead* D’oh!
3) I’ve come to the painful acceptance that the photos of this particular dish don’t really do it justice.  I’m well aware that they just, simply put, don’t really look that appetizing (though, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!). I guess what’s important to remember is that mushrooms are just nature’s sponges (in addition to… actual sponges) and if you’re a fan of balsamic vinegar, that’s the primary ingredient in the marinade and that’s the prominent flavor. Mixed with some onion and garlic, which become sauteed, and then served with the yogurt sauce and home-grown veg (on homemade buns)… I mean, it’s just a real nice combination, y’all. (In my best Paula Deen impression.)

Alright. /disclaimers. Commence recipe.

Balsamic-Marinated Mushroom Burgers with Yogurt Sauce
For the buns (which should be considered ahead of time, since the rest of the dish is real quick and these need extra time on account of the rising):
3/4 cup warm water (her recipe says “hot,” and it took me two attempts killing my yeast before I realized that just… wasn’t the best adjective. When activating yeast, you never want your water to be hotter than is comfortable to the touch.)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3-4 cups of flour

1. Mix water, olive oil, honey, yeast, salt, egg, and about 1.5 cups of flour in a large bowl. Beat until smooth.

egg was the first thing into my bowl since i foolishly thought it would be a good idea to ride my new bicycle (my bicycle! i haven't even told you about my bicycle!) on my egg-fetching mission, and then hang my eggs in their bag from the handlebars. *palm to forehead again* one egg got obliterated and one cracked but only lost the tiniest bit of white so my first objective was to salvage that egg!

2. Add another cup of flour and begin slowly kneading, adding more flour as necessary (usually about another cup-and-a-half). After about 5 minutes the dough should have come together well enough that you can form a solid ball.

3. Let the ball rest for a few minutes, then divide (as evenly as possible) into 8 portions. As you might have guessed, mine always come out a little uneven. Roll these into balls, place along a greased cookie sheet, flatten out a bit, and let “rise until doubled.” Kara suggests half an hour, I let mine go even a little longer and I can’t honestly say they doubled, but they rose enough in the oven to make it work.

4. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) for 15-18 minutes. Try to have this coincide with the burgers finishing because they’re extra nice when fresh!

Also, just to again give credit where it’s due, this is almost the exact recipe from, with the exception that I substituted honey for sugar. And, as I noted in the flatbread for my mini-pizzas, I always require more flour than the recipe states.

For the burgers:
4-8 oyster mushrooms, depending on their size. (In theory you want one to a bun, but you can’t always find them big enough. Also, back home I’d probably be inclined to go with portobello. In Thailand [and China, where we first started making these] those are hard to come by so we go with the largest mushrooms available in the Asian markets.)
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
shredded cilantro and basil, optional

This one’s easy… combine ingredients and let sit as long as your little heart desires. (Remember, mushrooms=sponges, they’ll marinate quickly).

While the ‘shrooms are marinating and the bread is baking, why don’t you go ahead and throw together some nice yogurt sauce?

For the yogurt sauce:
1 container of plain yogurt
the juice of one lemon (in theory… we often find ourselves using lime because it’s more available here)
a handful of chopped cilantro
2 garlic cloves, minced
half of a cucumber, finely sliced/chopped

Again… too easy. Throw in a bowl and stir.

Time to cook. Heat another tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium. Throw in mushrooms (and marinade). Allows to cook until mushrooms have heated all the way through (they can be flipped a time or two), the onion is translucent, and half of the vinegar has evaporated/reduced; about 5 minutes (if you have cheese, throw it on after flipping and with about 2 minutes to spare. Putting a lid over the pan to catch steam can speed the melting process).

oh yeah, haha, i completely forgot! we realized we did, in fact, have some parmesan cheese in the fridge and so decided to throw some on.

Prepare buns and assemble toppings.

suppose the lettuce and basil should be highlighted in this... they're from the garden:).

Assemble les burgers.

Sorry, no cute pictures of Ollie attempting to trade cuteness for a bite. Oh but I do have this picture of my bike, originially owned by Jack, recently purchased off Emma as she set off for Australia last week. You will be missed! (But I’m lovin’ the wheels!)

bird and chimes that were the actual focus of that shot.

saying goodbye to emma at yimyim.

Mattayom 2 Menagerie (et al)

I admitted when I first started working here at Thung Song Municipality High School back in November I admitted there was probably going to be “severe middle child syndrome.” I feel that in a way that has proven true… Looking back it seems like my time at Satree received far more blog attention.

But now that we’ve finished our actual teaching portion of the term (commencing what, at this point, looks like a three-week period of sitting around trying to look busy, though I’m sure we’ll be handed a task here and there to help the “looking busy” bit along) I suppose this is the perfect time to, like a proud mother hen, share some of the students’ work.

This is a post I’ve been gradually adding pictures to for awhile, beginning with the students’ animal haikus (hence the title of the post).

If you click the pictures they should enlarge and you might be able to actually read some of them? But just to highlight a few favorites (from three students who usually struggle quite a bit… I was so proud. Proud that they even handed in an assignment for once in their life…)

oh jame... guess you missed the 5/7/5 memo... "fish shing are pretty/i like fish shing because they are beautiful/fish shing can go to swim"

I think the next thing I’d loaded were some Valentine’s Day cards. Since we were doing our poetry unit I thought I’d have them write poems based off this love poem generator‘s offerings, and make cards out of them. Some of the lines were super sappy, and some of the students were really unwilling to write a love poem to someone of the opposite gender (even just hypothetically). In a country where “ladyboys” are an accepted third-gender (and it’s usually easy to see even in elementary school which boys are headed that route) I didn’t really want to be the prude farang teacher preaching a “no homo” agenda, but I also wanted to spare the kids any potential embarrassment. Girls would swear to me the cards were for their friends; one boy wouldn’t back down from the assertion that the card was for his father. I finally had to chalk it up to my failure as a teacher that they didn’t understand the blatant romantic undertones (OVERtones!) of the poem and back down from what was sure to be a losing battle.

ol' jome (not to be confused with the afore-mentioned 'jame,' whose work you'll re-encounter shortly) just wanted to make sure he had all his bases covered and included both a 'boy' and a 'girl' reference. maybe the card was for a ladyboy?

and the inside.

And that’s really all I had at the onset. But then, just in case you were going through poem-withdrawal after I bombarded you with them back in October, I figured I might as well share some of the poems I assigned as a group final project this time around. These kids are 2 years younger than the youngest kids I had doing them at Satree, so though still a bit rough around the edges (even with a bit of assistance from Teacher) I thought they did a pretty good job!

this one gets me so good. these kids had come to me, as i'd encouraged, so many times in the 2 class periods i'd given them to work on the projects, and their rough draft was a cute poem (with a proper rhyme scheme and good grammar) about their school. and then somehow their final project turned into this, with it's little tidbits on how many toilets there are and the naughty habits of their friends. excellent.

And now, even though the term is done and for all we know we’ll have a different office next term, in the 11th hour, thanks to all this gorgeous work from our students, our office had undergone a bit of a beautification process:

Alright… it’s 10:38 on Monday and this blog was the one thing on my agenda and now it’s done. What to do what to do…

Ricotta Pancakes

I mentioned in my last post that I’d attempted Heidi Swanson’s Cottage Pancakes recipe (with a few tweaks of my own) last Friday to great success, even though the ricotta I was using as a cottage cheese substitute didn’t come out quite right. And also that I made a brand new, glorious batch of ricotta with the intention of giving it a second attempt. Well, here’s what went down in that second attempt. (Spoiler alert: There were delicious results.)

I was instantly drawn to the idea of “Cottage Pancakes.” When I first read the title I began wondering, in what I felt was an ignorant way, if that could  possibly really mean there was cottage cheese in the pancakes. Could such a combination exist, or was I a fool for letting my thoughts wander in that direction? It sounded impractically heavenly to me– too good to be true. When I finally made it to the recipe (you think I’m bad for long intros… though I’ll admit mine have yet to include the stunning vintage photos that were the makings of Heidi’s) I found the suspicions I’d tried to suppress were indeed accurate. How luxurious! How decadent! But there, in the comments, were so many compliments issued on the clever way of inserting some extra protein to the dish. Was is possible that this was not only a delicious twist but a healthy one? Since health is the general aim of, that was a claim I was less reluctant to believe, and so dove straight in.

The main difference I noticed using proper ricotta as opposed to the sour cream-like sludge I’d come up with on the first try (I think the bottled lime juice I’d used wasn’t acidic enough for the curds and whey to separate correctly) is that, as you might imagine, the pancakes in the second batch had a bit more structure to them. They stood up a bit taller instead of trying to sprawl to all possible extremities of the pan. This made them noticeably easier to flip, which is a blessing for someone like me, for whom flipping has always been a bit of a bane. I remember even as children, when Mother Dear would allow my brothers and I to assist with the business of making pancakes, Ryan (two years younger than me!) was given the task and corresponding nickname of “The Quicker Flipper!” I don’t remember what my task or nickname was, but I feel confident it had nothing to do with flipping, or quickness.

One more note pertaining to pancakes (and childhood, actually… feeling a bit nostalgic it would seem) before sharing the recipe. Heidi had mentioned both how nicely a dill butter from her cookbook went with these pancakes, but also that they’re a total “blank slate.” Now, I don’t consider myself a “white bread” or “vanilla” person by any means (and in any sense, figurative or literal, of the words), but when it comes to pancakes and waffles I’ve almost always eaten them plain. I don’t mind syrup, or powdered sugar, or whatever else tends to find its way onto the breakfast table, but when I have my druthers they tend to be naked (is what… he said?). Still, dill has become one of my favorite herbs/spices (right up there with turmeric), and we have some growing in a little, oft-forgotten pot on the corner post of our garden wall, so I didn’t want to leave it out. I find that the pancakes soak up the perfect amount of butter during the cooking process and didn’t care to add anymore, dill-laden or otherwise (I suppose that’s the waif in me speaking); but I did sprinkle a bit of chopped dill on two of the pancakes before flipping and found that it did indeed add some nice flavor. If you’re into that kind of thing. Anyway, enough blabbering.

Ricotta Pancakes
The main deviations I’ve taken from Heidi’s recipe are halving it, substituting ricotta for cottage cheese, and leaving out the cauliflower (couldn’t have a pancake dish getting too healthy on me, naw mean? Jokes, I bet these would actually be really nice with half a cup of chopped cauliflower included in the batter, I just didn’t happen to have any on me. Plus on both occasions I stuck to tradition and had these for breakfast, and I was having a hard time wrapping my head around cauliflower for breakfast.)

1/2 cup ricotta
3/8 cup of milk (you end up with odd measurements when you halve a recipe sometimes… Also I realized I didn’t have milk as I went to make this so I ended up watering down some heavy cream? Is this a huge faux pas or acceptable behavior in a pinch?)
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup whole wheat flour (ours is especially… how you say, “wheaty,” and so gives the pancakes a really nice bite and texture.)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
butter for frying
chopped dill (optional)

1. Combine ricotta, milk, and egg yolks until well blended.

2. In theory, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. I like to claim I’m simply lacking the equipment to make this happen (no whisk or beater?) but I have a suspicion I just have yet to hone my skills. And as you can see from the yellow tinge, the same applies to the separation of eggs.

yes... still have yet to master the stiff peaks (is what... she said?)

3. In theory, sift flours, baking powder, and salt and then add to the cheese/milk/yolk mixture. Sifting is another one of those cooking techniques I know makes a difference but I treat trivially. Stir until just incorporated. (My picture suggests a few dry spots are okay… don’t know if that was intentional!)

4. Fold in your stiff peaks of egg whites (imaginary or otherwise) with a spatula or wooden spoon.

5. Melt a bit of butter in a non-stick pan over medium. The trick to determining pan-readiness that I learned from my mom in the days of Ryan-the-Quicker-Flipper is to run your fingers under the tap and flick some water on the pan. If the drops instantly get to dancin’, you’s ready! Pour between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of batter in the pan. If you wanted to add some dill do it now!

6. Because of their height it’s really easy to see when the bottoms of these pancakes start to set. It also means you don’t tend to get the proliferation of bubbles across the top when it’s time to flip like you do in normal pancakes. But like I said, you don’t need them. Wait a few minutes; you’ll see the edges of the bottom start to brown, and if your spatula goes under easily I’d say it’s time.

i swear this is still a vast improvement over my flipping of regular pancakes.

7. In addition to my affinity for plain pancakes, I also like them a bit undercooked (God, I’m weird) and so have no qualms about letting these get just the slightest sear and removing them from the pan. If you’re in the much larger “We-like-our-pancakes-properly-cooked-thank-you” camp, let them go about 2 minutes. You can always gently lift with a spatula to see if the bottom’s browned.


8. Share with your pup if you want. I was too greedy/hungry so instead just teased to get this picture.

shame... and look how good he was being...

Alright well 1219 words, two “that’s what he/she said jokes”, and however many childhood references later I think it’s about time I bid you farewell for this round. Happy pancake making!

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’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!