Sunday Brunch

Earlier in this week I was in touch with Doug and we agreed that we should get together as it has been months since we last hung out.  So I invited him over for brunch and extended the invitation to Ken and Roka, as this is the usual guest list for brunches with Doug.

Prep work began Saturday afternoon.  There was a lot of prep work and one gets hungry, so I made an asparagus, bell pepper and onion quiche for Saturday dinner.  Thanks to Brent for the idea of making the quiche in a springform pan.  What a good idea and nice presentation!

Begin by blind baking the crust for about ten minutes.  Then pull out the peas, bake for another 2-3 minutes to dry the interior a little bit, then add the filling and return to the oven.  The finished product was beautiful and tasty.

P1090674 P1090675
P1090684

Below, me in the kitchen.  Nice view.

P1090696

Straying from the more traditional brunch menus, I looked to the Mediterranean for inspiration.  Our menu:

  • Toasted pita bread with garam masala hummus and roasted eggplant and red pepper dip
  • Roasted wild mushroom soup thickened with buttermilk
  • Mediterranean lentil salad served over a bed of red oak leaf lettuce
  • Sliced chicken breast poached in white wine and shallots, served with a fresh tarragon-dijon mustard sauce
  • Quinoa salad with ginger-lime vinaigrette
  • Banana bread with lemon honey whipped cream cheese

For the eggplant and red pepper dip I started by roasting eggplant until soft.  I cut off the skins and cubed the meat, combining with onions, shallots and bell peppers.  Some balsamic vinegar added a rich sweetness and a jammy texture and I finished with parsley and toasted pine nuts.

P1090668 P1090671
P1090711

Starting with a variety of local mushrooms (which, ironically, are less expensive than the standard white button mushrooms), I roasted them in olive oil and garlic then blended them with chicken stock.  In a second pot I sauteed aromatics (shallots, onion, celery and carrot) with fresh thyme and marsala wine, then blended with chicken stock, straining out the solids.  Finally, I combined the two pots, reducing the liquid by about 25% before finishing with a little buttermilk for a rich tanginess.

For effect and convenience, I served the soup in cappuccino cups so they could be sipped by our guests.  If I had a soda bottle, I would have tried something like a white truffle foam to top the soup.

P1090666 P1090673  
P1090720

Quinoa, a grain indigenous to South America, is a tasty way to get a complete non-meat protein into your diet.  Cooked similarly to cous cous, I combined it with chopped yellow bell peppers and green onion, then dressed it with a vinaigrette made with lime juice, olive oil, and freshly grated ginger.  It made a nice accompaniment to the chicken breasts.

P1090692
P1090715

The chicken breasts were marinated and then poached in a combination of white wine, olive oil and lots of shallots.  After poaching they were allowed to cool for a half hour in the poaching liquid, which encourages more moisture to be retained in the meat.  The chicken was sliced on the bias and then served with an easy sauce made from lots of fresh tarragon and parsley blended with dijon mustard and mayonnaise.

P1090699
P1090717

The salad, which could have stood on its own without the greens (although it was perfectly nice with them), was made of lentils combined with small-dice carrots, celery and fennel, along with black olives and cherry tomatoes, seasoned with a lemon vinaigrette and then sprinkled with cheese.  Normally, feta would be used but in this case the local ricotta has a feta-like texture.

P1090713

For dessert I made oatmeal banana bread.  I also made small loaves for each guest to take home.  When I went to the local street market to buy the bananas with Tawn, the vendor laughed when I said I wanted the most overripe bananas in order to make a cake.  “Oh!” she said to Tawn, “Are you going to bake it?”

“No,” Tawn replied, “he bakes it himself.”

“How did he learn that?  He must have a Thai wife,” replied the vendor.

The secret to this bread is that is has oatmeal in it along with plenty of freshly-chopped walnuts.  It is very tasty and went well with the whipped cream cheese, to which I added fresh lemon zest and Chiang Mai sunflower honey.

P1090686 P1090690
P1090725

Tawn handled the table setting, for once not getting too worked up over how the entire house looks.  It looked fine and everyone was comfortable.  Making their debut were the little placecard holders Tawn picked up in Paris: tiny chairs. 

P1090707

A quick picture before eating.  From left to right: me, Roka, Doug, Ken and Tawn.

P1090724

Another Sunday at Chris and Tawn’s… 

More of the Same, Two Ways

The media offers us just a narrow perspective on particular stories based on the particular angles from which those stories are reported.  This is compounded when the media covers a story far away in a another country, a country with a political system different from your own.  As a comparison, look at the room you are sitting in through a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels and you’ll get an idea of how little you are seeing and how little that narrow view helps you understand what is going on.

2008 Protests 1

These truths are always useful to keep in mind, but especially for those of you overseas, sitting there wondering what in the world is going on in Thailand right now.

2008 Protests 4 Let’s be clear: there are clashes between protesters, groups of who number in the low thousands, and the police.  These clashes have increased in intensity and there has been some violence, although the police and the Prime Minister have been remarkably restrained.  Likewise, the army has declined to get directly involved.

Additionally, three airports in the country were shut down by protesters (Krabi, Phuket and Hat Yai), the trains have shut down because of strikes and unions at THAI Airways are being encouraged by the protesters to stage work stoppages in support of them.

Many sources, included some contacts we have who were “in the know” about the last coup, have warned us that things will come to a head this weekend.  Either the Prime Minister will resign and dissolve parliament, leading to new elections, or he will take action to end the protests with force.  It will probably get worse before it gets better.

2008 Protests 2

That being said, the areas where these protests are happening are pretty limited.  In Khrungthep (Bangkok) they are mostly at key locations in the old city, Ratanokosin Island.  If you walk just a few blocks north from the Grand Palace and then make a right on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, you would run into police barricades and a few blocks later, the protesters.

2008 Protests 3

For the rest of us, those of us living anywhere else, life continues as normal.  For now.  (Side note for those of you who are interested: The Nation newspaper has a very good brief history of modern Thai politics.  It will give you a good rundown and help put this event in some context.)

Since life is continuing as normal, let me share some of it with you.  You’ll find it quite mundane.

During dinner with Steve on Wednesday at Thon Krueng restaurant, I noticed that the pieces of carrot in the vegetable stir-fry looked like they had been intentionally carved to resemble animals.  The one on the top looks (to me) like the profile of a cow’s head, looking to the right.  Or maybe a moose?  Those could be antlers.  The lighter core of the carrot is right about where the eye would be.  The bottom carrot looks like a crab.

What do you think?

P1090637

 

Stopping by Paragon to meet Chris and Tehlin earlier in the week, I parked at the Siam Centre car park and then walked across the plaza between the two malls.  The plaza was being set up for another event, this one for Levi’s 501 jeans.  I took this shot from the backstage area.  You can see the Siam BTS Skytrain station in the background.  Their sound check was very loud.  Everything here is, so I guess the sound was at the correct volume.

P1090629

 

Plenty This week, I tried a new sourdough whole wheat bread recipe from the book I recently finished: Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and One Raucous Year of Eating Locally.  The recipe I’ve used previously is too wet.  I know that it is better for bread dough to be a little wet rather than too dry, but it is impossible to handle.  It sticks to my hands and everything else, no matter how much flour is added.

This new recipe turned out a loaf that was just about perfect.  The right size, the right shape, the right texture and – best of all – only a little sticky.

Don’t I look just like a proud father?

P1090648

Here’s a look inside.  Note the texture – it’s just about perfect for a general purpose slice-and-eat sandwich bread.

P1090663

Finally, Friday night Stuart and I met  at Roadhouse Barbecue on the corner of Surawongse and Rama IV for a Democrats Abroad Thailand event: watching (a tape delayed version of) Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.  There were at least 150 people there and the owner let us have the run of the second floor.

P1090659

Thailand for Obama 2 This is about 1/3 of the total floor space and there was another TV to the far right of the room.  In the middle area we had t-shirt sales featuring the new “Thailand for Obama” logo, left, and voter registration.  That will be one of my areas of volunteer focus the next month: getting people registered. 

Too many US citizens living or traveling abroad don’t know that they have the right to vote. 

If you or someone you know would like more information – especially if you know any Americans who will be abroad during the November 4th election – please visit www.votefromabroad.org.

Here is a brief video just to give you a little feel of the event:

Not much, but you get the idea.

Lots of cooking today (Saturday) as I get ready for some brunch guests tomorrow.  I’ll share more of those pictures later.

 

Congratulations to Pune and Detlev

In February, we traveled up to Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand to attend the Thai wedding ceremony for Pune and her groom, Detlev.  Entry about that here.

Pune has since moved to Germany with Detlev and today, Saturday the 30th of August, they are having their German wedding ceremony.  Tawn and I were originally going to attend, but the Italy travel plans by Tawn’s parents threw our plans for a trip to Germany into disarray.

Nonetheless our thoughts are with Pune and Detlev on their special day and we send them them the following wishes:

Congratulations!

Del Martin – Honoring the Life of an Amazing Pioneer

There are people in this world whose work and life have positively affected our own, often in ways we may not realize, about whom we may not know.  On Wednesday, we lost an amazing person, Del Martin, at age 87.

Del Martin Described as a “pioneering lesbian rights activist”, Martin married 83-year old Phyllis Lyon, her partner of fifty-five years, in a ceremony at San Francisco City Hall on June 16, 2008 – the the first day on which same-sex marriage was legal in the state of California.

Right: Del Martin (in purple) and Phyllis Lyon are married on June 16.  Photo “courtesy” AP.

The label, though, could cause many of us who are not lesbians to mistakenly think her pioneering work did not affect our lives.  Rest assured, though, her tireless work resulted in greater freedoms, protections, and equality for all citizens of the United States.

The California Supreme Court decision in May of this year, striking down a law that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by Martin and Lyon and two dozen other couples.  Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said, “We would not have marriage equality in California if it weren’t for Del and Phyllis.  They fought and triumphed in many battles.”

Martin and Lyon were involved in founding a San Francisco social group for lesbians in 1955 called the Daughters of Bilitis.  It became the nation’s first lesbian advocacy organization and one of the earliest groups to address the rights of queer people.

In the 1970s, Martin became the first out lesbian to serve on the National Organization of Women’s board of directors, a move that was highly controversial as NOW was concerned that her presence would be seen as too radical at a time when homosexuality was still seen by many as a deviant practice.

In just a few short months, the rights and equality Del Martin worked so hard for, will one again be challenged as California voters face a yes or no decision on proposition eight: “Change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.” 

As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who officiated at Martin and Lyon’s wedding, said, “The greatest way we can honor the life work of Del Martin, is to continue to fight and never give up, until we have achieved equality for all.”

Thank you to Del Martin for a lifetime of service to humanity, and the deepest condolences to her partner of so many years, Phyllis Lyon.

 

A Whole Family of Visitors

Earlier in the week, we had the pleasure of entertaining a family of four from Hong Kong including two- and four-year old children.  There is nothing to make you look at your city through a different set of eyes than to see it with someone of an entirely different age.

But first, catching up on other news:

Kenny was curious what the flowers that Tawn buys and arranges look like.  I’ll try to include more of them over time, but here is the $2 bunch of orchids:

P1090538

Also, from one of the English-language papers in town comes this advertisement about various elective medical procedures you can have done by the Pratunam Polyclinic, the same one that did work on Miss Tiffany Universe 2007.   Please note that the orchiectomy is no longer available.  Instead of just revising the advertisement they simply crossed it out.  “Nope, we sold ’em all out for today.”

P1090541

Like me, you might wonder what an orchiectomy is.  A quick Google search removed the mystery: the procedure is more commonly known as castration.

Which explains why it is no longer available.  See this entry from April about the debate over teenage castration by young men who think they may end up being women.  (Interesting side note: when I browse through my blog’s footprints, at least a few times a week I find people who linked to my blog by performing a search similar to “teenage+castration” or “teenage+transsexual”.  That’s food for thought, isn’t it?)

Back to my guests.  Tehlin and I went to school together in California, studying the same major, and have stayed in touch throughout the years.  Tawn and I attended her wedding to Chris (same name, different bloke) in Manila in January 2002, where I actually did one of the readings.

After picking them up at 4:00 am thanks to a typhoon-delayed flight, I was back late that morning to meet them in their hotel lobby so we could set out for a little sight seeing.  They stayed at the Peninsula, a hotel so nice I felt guilty waiting for them in the lobby lounge.  Not so guilty as to forego an order of tea, served in this beautiful silver tea set:

P1090543

The Peninsula is on the west bank of the Chao Praya River, opposite the core part of the city.  The hotel is designed so all the rooms have a river view, below:

P1090613

We took the public river taxi to the Grand Palace and discovered that a nearly five-year old really isn’t interested in glittering spires and jade Buddhas.  Especially on a hot day.  Here are some shots from along the way.

Below, at the Oriental Hotel pier, directly across from the Peninsula, I saw what I thought was an interesting picture: a cross-river ferry completely surrounded by the water hyacinth that chokes many of the waterways in Thailand.

P1090545

I’ve been to the Grand Palace at least twenty times but I try to find one new angle from which to view it each time I visit.  Here, a kinaree – a half-human half-bird creature, stands in front of four Khmer-style chedis.

P1090554

Despite all the interesting things to see, Sam was most interested in the minnows hiding under the water lily pads.

P1090565

By the time we finished with the Grand Palace, there wasn’t much energy left to see anything else.  We returned to the hotel for a rest and then went out to dinner at a riverside restaurant with a great view.

Not wanting to wait for the public taxi and hoping to add some excitement to Sam’s life, I hired a long-tail speedboat, below:

P1090582

If you have enough people, it is actually a pretty affordable way to catch a breeze and zip around.  Sam was alternately thrilled, terrified, and tired.  Here’s a brief video:

P1090592

While Chris and Sam went swimming at the hotel’s beautiful pool, Tehlin and I caught up and had afternoon lattes.  Forgetting my senses for a moment, I ordered an apple tart to go with the latte:

P1090618

 

The next day we did some shopping as Chris and Tehlin were looking for home furnishings.  Having just spent a lot of time going through our own remodel, we had some ideas about where to take them.  Several hours later, passing through Central World Plaza, I decided to stop for one big bite of sushi:

P1090620

Sam and Chris returned to the hotel after Sam took a rather nasty header running directly into a bench at the Paragon mall.  Don’t know why he didn’t see it, but he side-swiped it and did a forward flip, landing squarely on his back.  Chris and Tehlin decided it didn’t require a trip to the emergency room, though Sam did look sore the next day.  Hopefully he is back up to speed soon.

Meanwhile, Tehlin and I kept shopping and then stopped in the afternoon so she could see our house firsthand.  Isabel loved walking on the jute rug, after first being a bit cautious about its texture.

P1090623

After an hourlong foot massage during which three staff members handled Isabel and kept her from injuring herself as she jumped from massage chair to massage chair, we headed out and regroups with Chris and Sam and Tawn for dinner.

P1090628

 

So nice to have visitors in town.  In fact, the day after Chris and Tehlin headed back to Hong Kong, we were able to have dinner with Steve, who was in town from Los Angeles for business.  You can check his blog to see if he gives a fuller account of the pleasant evening.

 

Let’s Have Another Coup, Shall We?

Let me start by making clear that I love Thailand.  Wonderful country, the nicest people, a warm and caring culture, etc.  But the political back and forth between the two groups who are fighting for control of the country, basically the old money versus the new money, is threatening to make Thailand an irrelevant country in terms of business and foreign investment.

As soon as the current, democratically elected government (the new money) took their seats, the “People’s Alliance for Democracy” (the old money) started protests trying to topple them.  (Don’t let the irony pass you by.)  This is the same PAD that was behind the protests that so threatened the stability of the Kingdom that the armed forces felt compelled to step in and conduct a coup d’etat in September 2006.

30081532-01 This time, the protests have taken another turn for the more serious.  Calling today their “last war”, the PAD’s protestors stormed the government-owned National Broadcast Television station, pictured left. 

They climbed the fences of Government House, the “White House” of Thailand.  They also set out to close down all of the government ministries and take over the airports in Phuket and Hat Yai.  No word yet on their success in those ventures.

Their goal: topple the government of Prime Minister Samak, who many see as the “puppet” of former Prime Minister (and now fugitive) Thaksin Shinawatra, who is in England seeking political asylum.  Even though Thaksin’s wife has already been convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to three years and even though Thaksin is facing more serious charges, the government (the justice department, if I’m not mistaken) gave them permission to leave the country to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

“We’ll be right back.” I’m sure they said.  “We promise.”  Wink, wink.

30081488-01 General Anupong, the Army Commander in Chief, has assured the public that the army will not intervene in this matter.  No coup, he says. 

Perhaps this is a good time to remind everyone that the Army Commander in Chief in mid-2006 gave the same assurances during that wave of PAD protests.

We’ll see what happens.  One again, we have political chaos, further weakening the economy and distracting Thailand’s leaders from their efforts to do anything to help the people of Thailand, to improve education, standards of living, etc.

I’d like to believe in the high-mindedness of the protesters, but I suspect it is more about a juvenile fight over who gets the largest share of the pie.  Instead, they should be focusing on how to make the pie larger so the size of everyone’s slice increases.

 

Fun Way to Learn Science in Singapore

SFAIS_Cover_Front Many of us will agree that maths and sciences are not given proper attention in school.  They are seen as something only for the geeky students.  Certainly, girls do not receive enough encouragement to learn about, and pursue careers in, those fields.

Otto Fong, former science teacher at the Raffles Institute in Singapore, finally left his teaching post last year to follow his dream to be a full time cartoonist. 

His cartooning is firmly rooted in his teaching, though: his first two books, Sir Fong and Sir Fong 2: Fur-O-Cious, are both about his experiences as a teacher and science figures prominently in the humor.

Otto’s latest release is Sir Fong’s Adventures in Science, Book 1.  It marks the first in a series of 100% Singaporean science comic books.  Using humor and an engaging story line to talk about science topics – particularly those covered in the local school curriculum – he encourages students to find the fun side of science.

SFAIS_P040  

SFAIS_P080

“Children love the cute bunny students and parents love the lively science coverage.” Otto explains.

Meet Sir Fong Sir Fong Adventures in Science Book 1 was launched at the Toy & Book Convention in Singapore this June, receiving rave reviews from parents and children alike. 

Currently, the book is just for sale in Singapore although I personally hope that it will find wider distribution.  Anything that will help children enjoy and engage in science is a good thing.

If you have friends or family in Singapore who want a fun way to learn science or are interesting in a great science coming book for their primary or secondary school children, please let them know that there is an event this Saturday, August 30th at the Kinokuniya Main Store at the Crossroads.

From 4:30 to 5:30 pm, Sir Fong’s creator, Otto Fong, will be there signing books, answering questions, and helping people gain a life-long passion for science and learning.

Please pass along the news and, if you are in Singapore this weekend, consider stopping by.