Christmas arrived just a hair early this year. After living for more than a year without an oven, a situation that those of you who know me personally will appreciate to be almost inconcievable, I am once again with oven thanks to a thoughtful Christams and thank-you gift from my parents.
Perhaps they sensed some low-frequency field of energy that emanates from a person who hasn’t had access to an oven in a long time. Someone deprived of freshly-baked pies, cookies, breads, and biscuits. Or maybe they just knew. Parents are like that.
In either case, the holiday card which they left after their visit and had been sitting on the table since then, turned out to contain a thank you note, holiday greetings, and the direction to go out and use the enclosed money to purchase an oven. “Hopefully,” they wrote, “in time for your holiday party.”
Thank goodness we opened the card two days before the party!
Right: Tawn with his new suit from Tony’s Suits – multiple hours of shopping.
Most of Saturday was spent shopping for the oven. We arrived at Central Chidlom bright and early, 9:45, and secured a prime parking space. The challenge here is that different stores carry different brands. So the ovens at Central were different from the ones at Paragon and Emporium (which are different stores owned by the same company). But the selection at Paragon was different than at Emporium. Thankfully we could just leave the car parked at Central and take the BTS Skytrain up and down Sukhumvit Road to comparison shop at four different shopping centers!
Tawn’s mother had the day free since Tawn’s father had a reunion to go to (“An old man’s party” is how Khun Nui described it with a frown) and joined us at Emporium. We also had lunch scheduled with Masakazu, who was in town for just three days after an entire month of flying out of Tokyo Narita for United. We brought Khun Nui to the lunch, which probably was a mess for Masa but he’s much to polite to ever let that show. Fortunately, though, he speaks Thai fairly well so we did okay with a blended Thai-English conversation.
An additional shopping challenge, one that I’ve experienced in the United States as well, is when the salespeople don’t know anything about the products they sell. None of the salespeople had ever baked anything in an oven, so they were able to read the stickers and say with great sincerity that the most expensive models were the best. Finally, the lady who works at the Verasu section of Paragon (Verasu is an independent kitchen retailer who, in addition to their retail store on Wireless Road, sells in both Paragon and Emporium) was able to speak more competently about ovens.
Ironically, or not as the case may be, we ended up buying the very oven (from Severin, a Danish manufacturer) that we had seen several weeks ago when browsing ovens. Not the most expensive model, it was in fact quite modestly priced. It is only a convection oven, not a combination convection / microwave / steamer / toaster that everyone else was pushing. And while the fan is in the side panel, not the rear like a “true” convection oven, it seemed to be the best option. Plus, it has a rotisserie so I can cook large chunks of meat.
The next challenge was where to put it. No room inside the house so we bought some wire shelving from Home Pro and set it up on the balcony. We’ll need to come up with an appropriate cover to keep it out of the weather, but I think it should be fine there.
Notice the electrical conduit on the wall to the left of the rack. No outlet yet; need to have that installed by the handyman. So our first couple of baking experiences included running an extension cord through the sliding patio doors and into the living room. Thankfully the weather is cool.
Buttermilk biscuits seemed a suitable test for the oven and our first batch came out light and flakey, thanks to a downwards adjustment in temperature, unlike the hockey puck versions that I cooked at Tam and Markus’ house. A convection oven takes some getting used to as with the fan it circulates the heat more efficiently than in a conventional oven so cooking times are usually shorter and the temperature has to be lowered about 25-50 F.
For our Christmas Eve party, which had a dozen guests – a few more than originally expected – the oven came into great use for two flourless chocolate cakes. A bit drier than ideal but tasty, although I neglected to purchase any rasperries to make a coulis with.
Let’s talk about that party, shall we? What was originally going to be a smaller gathering of just a few couples continued to grow as more people were invited. Then on Saturday, just as we started our oven shopping, we ran into Suwandi, someone I knew from San Francisco, a full decade ago. So we invited him and Yuen Ping, who was visiting from Singapore. And this invitation eventually included Peter (in from Penang) and his friend Teh, who I had previously invited as I knew they were in town but they had originally declined since they had other dinner plans.
Having drinks with Yuen Ping several months ago, he mentioned that Sunwandi came to Khrungthep from time to time. Since I knew this, I wasn’t at all surprised when Tawn and I ran into him. Still, there is the awkwardness of meeting someone whom you haven’t seen in a decade and with whom you’ve had no contact in nearly as long. What do you say to a friend who has evaporated from your life?
Which gets me to thinking, what obligation do people have to stay in touch with each other in order to maintain a friendship?
Certainly, this blog aside, I’ve done a pretty poor job of staying in touch with many friends over the years. At the same time, even though the contact is infrequent, I try to reconnect with friends at least once or twice a year. Postcards and letters are one of the ways I try to stay in touch; Stuart mentioned that this year I was the only person to actually send him an “analog” birthday card.
Where is the point, though, where you decide that someone has not made sufficient effort to stay in touch and you finally erase them from your address book?
This week I’ve been working on a project to update my address book and in the process I’ve realized that I don’t erase people very readily from my address book. There are many people in there with whom I’m been out of touch for years and I’d like to think that if we were to get back in touch that we’d be able to pick up where we left off and resume our friendship. To me, that’s the essence of a friendship: the seed of it can remain fertile, if dormant, until it is once again given the opportunity to blossom.
The party ended up being thirteen people including Tawn and me, which taxed my food-preparation capabilities. Partially because I chose a meal that wasn’t really large group/small kitchen friendly: risotto. The pumpkin risotto sounded like a good idea and it was tasty enough, but keeping it in the oven between preparation and serving resulted in more of a “baked rice” dish than I desired.
Also, owing to a small stock pot, the carrot soup was not as thin as I thought it should be. The flavor was good but the consistency was more like a carrot puree. One of the guests commented that it looked like baby food. While this may be true, I’m not sure Miss Manners would approve of making that sort of comment.
Left: Baby food… err, carrot soup, served in a collection of small cups and garnished with roasted pepper, sour cream, and parsley.
But then, Miss Manners also wouldn’t approve of a guest who comes over and in the midst of dinner conversation is sitting on the host’s computer (work computer, I’ll add) surfing various dating and porn sites and who, when asked to stop, responds with “don’t worry.”
Which brings up another question: Which manners transcend cultures? Surely there are some things that just simply are poor manners regardless of where you are or what culture you’re in.
The greatest benefit of the party was that afterwards, Tawn and I were able to have a really good conversation about what’s important to us, setting aside all of the emotions and tensions that such an event can give rise to. Both of us are perfectionists, although we focus our energies in different areas: Tawn is concerned about the house being spotlessly clean and meticulously arranged, with an eye to presentation (see the picture above!), whereas I’m concerned about the food and beverages being well thought-out, tasty, and attentively prepared. And with ingredients that are unnecessarily expensive, I’ll admit.
I want guests to say, “what incredible food” while Tawn wants guests to say, “what an incredible place setting and centerpiece!” Both are reasonable goals, but they can cause conflict since neither of us fully appreciates why the other puts so much energy in their respective area.
So we had a really good conversation after the meal and now share a better understanding of what we can both do to put less energy into parties and dinners and get more enjoyment out. As you might imagine, it boils down to communication about expectations. That, and both of us ratcheting down our perfectionist streaks and allowing “lower-key” to be okay.
It is now Christmas morning, a normal workday here in Thailand where less than one percent of the population is Christian. I called my family a little while ago at my grandparents’ house only to learn that my grandfather had fallen yesterday on a friend’s basement steps and is in the hospital with a shattered right elbow and a broken hip bone, awaiting surgery on Christmas day to implant a metal brace in the elbow.
Thankfully, no neurological or spinal injury and he reports no significant pain. Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.
Happy holidays to all and wishes of peace and good health for the new year.