Friday Five

Five Things I Didn’t Realize Would Be So Awesome About America

Clever Wordplay
Puns. Wit. Sarcasm. Emphasis. Double entendres. Adjectives. Where have you been for the last two years? It took a few weeks for me to get all of these as the flew past my ESL teacher senses, but now that I have I find myself giggling at random moments about things I heard that are tickling my brain. Or thinking of new ones on my run. Because that’s not creepy to see someone running on the road chuckling to themselves.

Calling People Out
Especially while utilizing said clever wordplay. And realizing that not only are my verbal capabilities coming back, but they’re able to correct another person’s. Unless I totally misread the situation and end up falling on my face, ‘breaking’ my own in an attempt to do so with someone else’s. Awkward.

Getting the Whole Picture
And being able to ask questions if maybe I don’t totally have it the first go around. I eventually stopped asking many questions in Thailand because I either wouldn’t get an actual answer or there would be a lot more to the situation than what I was being told. With a little thing called ‘being surrounded by native English speakers,’ I’m almost overwhelmed by the amount of information I get on a daily basis without putting in nearly the same amount of effort as with Thai. Half-awesome, half-TMI.

Nearby Friends
To visit most of my friends in Thailand, it required the scary task of walking out the front door, getting a ride 30 km away to the nearest town, and then however many more buses and hours of Thailand required before even seeing the face of that glorious one you spent all this time to get to… and all you wanted to do was lay down afterwards. Outside of my best friend living states away, it continually amazes me to throw spur of the moment plans together with new work friends and having a crazy thing called, a social life. Sometimes, I even go out after dark.

Going Out to Eat
I guess I sort of knew this was going to be amazing, but maybe not the depth of how spectacular it is to glance, go back over, read more in-depth the pages and pages of menu options waiting to be devoured. Seriously, everything I eat bursts onto my tongue with flavors I long missed in Thailand. Especially fruit and veggies with seasoning. Granny Smith apples and strawberries never have tasted so good.

Friday Five

Resolved: These are my resolutions. Deal with it. I read or heard that something to the effect of only eight percent of Americans actually keep their New Year’s Resolutions, especially when they are fitness or health related. Oops. To combat this staggering possibility of failure, the writers at your local online self-help websites suggest to make yourself publicly accountable. So this is me. Doing that.

Couch to how many k?
I wrote about the starting of the C25K program a few months ago, right before I started traveling. I was really nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it. And I killed it. The day I got back from traveling, I downloaded a new set of podcasts, the bridge to 10k. My goal is to run a 10K race, with my sights set on a possible half-marathon. I realize it’s normal to train for a marathon in this amount of time, but goals are meant to be attainable. Until you set the next crazy one.

Improve My Posture
I’m over six feet tall. I’ve been over six feet tall since I was twelve years old. I’ve been stooping over people for more of my life than I haven’t. And now I really want that to change. I need to build up core and back muscles and be generally uncomfortable for a long time. One exercise suggested envisioning squeezing an orange between your shoulder blades and ‘make some orange juice’ has become my new mantra. The days of the ‘shrimp walk’ are over.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Before I came to Thailand, I was an April-October runner. Then I wasn’t a runner or an anythinger because of a multitude of factors with life in Thailand. Now some of those are working in my favor as the cold weather isn’t stopping me from keeping up with a running schedule. In 2013, I would like to maintain a year-long program of exercise.

Can’t Take the Heat then Deal with it and Learn to Cook
I’m not a foodie that enjoys cooking, watching other people cook, or waiting for food. I don’t have a large appetite either. These factors generally conclude that I eat whatever is tasty and quick, which usually means pretty shitty health wise. To nourish my body properly for exercise (and, life), I need to learn how to cook. Nothing elaborate, rather a development of taste and how to prepare food to satisfy my tongue and the needs of my body.

Communication Nation
I’m not very good at making new friends or meeting new people. I’m one of those terribly shy people who suck immensely at small talk, especially in large groups. And then when the one poor soul that initiates a chat, I get awkward. Even if I do manage to gimp along, hide my racing heat beat, and survive until the natural end of a conversation, my follow through is weak. What do you say to those people you just met? Clearly Thailand hasn’t really helped in this department as it is totally normal to discuss bowel movements, what I ate for breakfast, and the current weight of your conversation partner within minutes of meeting. Mostly, I think I need to practice, practice, and practice some more. Force myself to be uncomfortable to cast my net and hope for a good catch of a friend or colleague. In 2013, it is my resolution to be better at talking to people I don’t know yet and develop more meaningful relationships afterwards.

My Thai Kitchen: Grilled Cheese

A simple American classic that I didn’t realize I could easily recreate in Thailand with a little forethought when in the bigger towns surrounding my little one.

Butter and bread I can get in my favorite little snack shop owned by another teacher from my school, both cost about a dollar. At site there isn’t much variety except for plain white bread from a brand called Farmhouse, but I’ll take what I can get. Cheese is obviously difficult to find at site, but luckily the two towns closest to me have slices of processed, shitty American cheese, but again, I’ve stopped being picky in Thailand. I try to buy a package or two every time we go into either of these towns so I have some backup and don’t feel bad about putting two slices in each sandwich.

Something note about the butter in Thailand (or at least the affordable for PCVs kind) is that it tastes a little, bizarre. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is edible. It just changes the taste a bit, so there is an adjustment there when making something like grilled cheese when the butter is a big component. Another funny thing about Thai butter is there is a kind with sugar in it! And I don’t mean lightly dashed throughout, but large sugar granules and it has very different in taste to it, compared to the plain kind as well.

Pink means sweetened in this case.

Evidenced by the blackened teeth on many children, Thais love things to be extra sweetened (most people won’t drink unsweetened milk and Thais usually give me a look when I ask for plain) and will put huge, heaping spoonfuls of sugar in nearly everything (I do mean everything, especially those dishes you think are so healthy get maybe three or four scoops of sugar). It’s actually a pretty serious problem as diabetes levels are soaring as diets move more towards sugary snacks and processed food.

But back to grilled cheese goodness. I don’t remember where the inspiration came from, but once I had my wok, I was ready to get grilling. It takes a difficult balance to get a ‘low’ heat setting on my on-off cooking device. And unfortunately, there are quite a few burned sandwiches and fingers. Because of this, the sandwiches don’t get too hard or stiff like Mom always did so perfectly. I’ve also started adding tomatoes occasionally for an added dimension and they can be so easily acquired at my market.

Melty, cheesy goodness is so rare to find in Thailand.

One day I hope to get brave enough to start adding meat to my cooking repertoire (still not brave enough for that) and step up to a croque monsieur instead of grilled cheese. For Thailand though, this is an amazing, doable treat from home.

Friday Five

Five Desserts– When Jeff came to me with the idea for the 10 foods and drinks lists, I couldn’t fit the sinful desserts onto my food list. Enter Friday Five.

Ooey, Gooey Brownies
A favorite Sunday activity in my family is to make a box mix (judge away) of brownies after church for an afternoon treat. Both my Mom and I like a mushy brownie, so they’re always just a little bit undercooked. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and an English movie on a cold Autumn day with the fire going… sounds like paradise after two years in the tropics.

Grammy’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie
I know the exact steps of how she does it, but I swear, there is magic Grandmother dust when she makes this pie because it seems like an out-of-body experience. Over the holidays my family will go to arms via forks who gets the last piece of this mixture of chocolate pudding, gobs of peanut butter, graham crust and a tub of Cool Whip.

Cheesecake
Cheesecake and I only started our relationship the Autumn before I left for Thailand. It was hot and heavy at first, but after two years of deprivation, cheesecake and I are ready to begin again. I can not wait to go to Cheesecake Factory for Saturday brunch to skip the real food and just order three slices of different kinds of dessert.

Family Recipe Sugar Cookies
Thailand doesn’t do cookies very well. My Aunt Renee does. Every year for Thanksgiving in Christmas she would make me my own dozen of inch thick sugar cookies for me to keep all for myself. I hope to spend a week at their house in rural Pennsylvania in the summer following my return to the U.S. and fingers crossed I can get a dose of homemade family deliciousness.

Apple Pie
Oddly enough, my first (adult) slice of this American classic was in Thailand. I was never a fan before, but this taste of home while here really opened my mind to apple pie. I’m looking forward to trying it still warm, homemade, and some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to accompany it.

*If you are ever in Thailand and hankering for a phenomenal dessert fix, the best I’ve come across here is Love at First Bite in Chiang Mai. Volcano Explosion. You’re welcome.

My Thai Kitchen: The Jeff Jackson Special

I’ve mentioned my friend Jeff’s philosophy of women in the kitchen (feet up, with a glass of wine), but since I don’t have him on a daily basis to cater to my every need, I had to imagine rolling up my sleeves to get to work. Because, you know, it’s too hot to actually wear sleeves once you’re at home.

After my second visit to Jeff’s house, I decided to take better charge of my cooking life and this is the main dish that got me there. It’s the most Thailand acceptable dish (everything is bought from my market or local shops) of the MTK series and I still haven’t mastered it quite like Jeff has. The JJ special is vegetable centric meal and has been the spearhead meal to lose that layer of non-intensive exercise fat that has stuck around for the better part of a year.

It is also the only MTK with an actual recipe, provided by the master himself, in case you want to try it out:

  • Start heating your wok with about a tablespoon of oil for about two minutes.
  • Then throw in some garlic (chopped up to your liking) until it browns

I’ve learned negotiating the amounts of these three liquids can completely change the outcome of your meal. 

  • Toss in a few peppers (ha!)(Jeff thinks it’s funny that I still can’t eat moderately spicy food.)
  • Put in your vegetables.  I use eggplant, onions, baby corns … whatever. (I don’t use baby corns, but usually use the same veggies from the omelet MTK, sans cheese obviously).

I was not a big eggplant fan before Thailand. These are the eggplants (not yet cleaned) I pick up in my local market, but I’ve seen them bigger and different colors. It all depends on your region in Thailand and how large the farm is.

  • Move them around so they soak up the oil and then pour some oyster sauce on them.
  • Then pour in about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of hot water.  It makes a fun sound.
  • Add some soy sauce and let it boil and cook.
  • When the water evaporates, add more until you’re satisfied with how well it’s cooked.
  • You can add more hot water right before you’re finished to season your rice or you can serve it more dry. (I don’t have a rice cooker, so I usually just eat the veggies alone. Sometimes I get a little lump of sticky rice from my neighbor, but when I make it, it tastes fine without it.)

Voila! This particular one was a little carrot heavy since I had to finish one off, but it feels so good to be full from a plate of veggies.

Jeff suggests turning on your favorite baseball game and sometimes I watch a queued up movie (I have a strict no working while eating rule), but I’m finding myself going out to my porch more and more to take in the view, thinking about Thailand, Peace Corps, or finishing up a podcast, savoring the food I just made completely by myself.

As much as I hate to admit it, I will miss this view very much.