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.

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Below, me in the kitchen.  Nice view.


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.

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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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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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. 


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


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.

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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.

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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?



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.



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?


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


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.


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

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:


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:


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.”


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:


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:


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.


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.


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


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:


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:


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:



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:


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.


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.



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.



“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.


Artificially Induced Jet Lag

P1090529 If you had asked me on Wednesday or Thursday, I would have told you that I was finally over my jet lag.  My sleeping hours were back to normal, I didn’t need an unusually long afternoon siesta, and my appetite had returned. 

But then somewhere in the past thirty-six hours or so, I’ve managed to re-introduce jet lag into my life.

It started Friday night, when I had hour-long conference calls with the United States scheduled for 10:00 pm, 1:00 am and 3:00 am.  I should say, I had the calls scheduled for me, as I wouldn’t have voluntarily scheduled such late calls on a Friday night.

The first one I stayed up for, trying to spend a low-key hour or two before the call so I was still alert.  Then I went to sleep at 11:00 for about ninety minutes, waking up in time for the 1:00 call.  Second call went well but by this point I was dragging.  Finally, about 2:20 I chatted with my manager on MSN messenger and, upon hearing that I was planning on staying up for another call, insisted that it would be recorded and I could review it later.

So I finally went to sleep at about 2:40 Saturday morning.

Of course, I woke up by 8:00 because I’m just not made for sleeping in.  Something about the muted glow of sunlight from the curtains just turns on my internal clock.  Saturday was chock full of errands including a trip to the stone store to buy new marble tiles for the bathroom shower, which has to be redone.  (More on that in the future.)

The jet lag would have worked itself out had it been a single night, but Tehlin – a university classmate – her husband Chris and their two children were scheduled to arrive from Hong Kong at midnight Saturday.  Of course I wanted to be there to pick them up.  Arriving in a strange city late at night is tough, especially when you have two young children with you.

Because of the category nine typhoon in Hong Kong, their flight was delayed.  The first delay was to a 2:00 am arrival and the second was to 4:00.  Tehlin messaged me each time to keep me informed.  Between the messages, I slept in fits and spurts from 11:00 until 3:00.

Tawn was a good sport and accompanied me to the airport.  The good news about 4:00 am arrivals is that there isn’t any line at immigration!  Tehlin and Chris were out very shortly after landing, their two very sleepy children in tow.  By the time we arrived at their hotel along the river, it was 5:00.


Since we were up and since we were in the heart of the old city, Tawn suggested we go to the flower market.  This is the wholesale district for flowers, which are abundant and relatively inexpensive.  The market stretches for about five blocks, trickles off down side streets and is interspersed with some fresh vegetable markets.  (Never sure where they put the edible blossoms: flower market or vegetable market.)

We browsed several blocks before finding three large bunches of flowers including some orchids, some carnations, and something I’ve never seen before.  Tawn doesn’t even know their name in Thai.  We just call them “pretty”.  The total cost was less than US$15 for all the flowers. 

Some pictures.  Below, Tawn waits for his first bunch of flowers to be wrapped.  This is in the section of the market with stores that sell arrangements to hotels, embassies and the like.


Below, an elderly lady makes garlands, used at temples and spirit houses throughout the city to pay respects to whichever local deity, teacher, or other respected figure you choose to honor.  One whole section of the market has stall after stall of these yellow flowers, which I think are marigolds.  (Maybe?  Tawn says they are an Indian flower but doesn’t know their English name.  Dok dao duang in Thai, literally “shining star”.)


One of the ladies selling orchids just piles her flowers on tables, halfway burying a telephone line junction box.  If your phone doesn’t work in this district, it may be due to moisture from the flowers.  Bunches of these purple orchids are about US$1 each.


It was getting close to six and we decided to get something in our stomachs before returning home.  You’d be amazed the number of small restaurants and street vendors who are selling food at this hour, but when you look at the number of people who work throughout the night here in the City of Angels, maybe you wouldn’t be so surprised after all.

P1090534 Adjacent to Sam Yan Market, near Chulalongkorn University on Phayathai Road just around the corner from Rama IV Road, is a forty year-old institution that serves just one thing: jok

Also known as congeejok (pronounced “joke”) is rice that is boiled in stock until it is thick and creamy.  Some farang compare it distastefully with oatmeal, but I like oatmeal so it is no surprise that I find jok to be something of a comfort food.

Jok Sam Yan, as the restaurant is known, is popular with taxi drivers, university students, police officers, and all the other types who keep odd hours. 

The open air restaurant was full and we ordered two bowls of jok muu sai kaijok with pork and egg.  The secret to their jok is the pork, which is marinated in sweet soy sauce and mixed with ground toasted rice.  It is so good that you can buy it in bulk by the kilogram to take home and use in your own soups, stir fries, and dishes of spaghetti and meatballs.


Garnished with some fresh spring onion, shreds of ginger and – if you want – fried Chinese croutons, the jok is filling, warm, soothing and very tasty.  A great way to end the night or start the morning, depending on how you are living your life.

In my case, I was a bit unsure which I was doing.


In other news…

So I managed to get an entry featured on Xanga’s front page.  After watching Kari, Zakiah, Steve and Sandelion’s front page fame, I was enjoying life in obscurity.  It is really weird to be receiving “friend” requests from totally unknown people.  I’ll visit their sites first just to see what they write about and a bit about who they are.

It is also funny because I notice that of the several thousand people who have read that one entry, very few took the time to look at any of the adjacent entries.  When you read a featured entry, do you ever ready anything else the author writes?  Maybe I’m just strange that way, but if the entry is any good at all, I read other entries on the author’s blog because I’m curious if that entry is representative of the type of things he or she normally writes.

Anyhow, welcome to those of you who are new readers and thanks to the longer term readers for recommending the entry in the first place.


There is a Chiang Mai based coffee chain called Wawee Coffee.  It is a small chain, locally owned and it serves really tasty coffee, much better and a bit more reasonably priced than the big green mermaid.  Their shops are also really beautiful.

They just opened their first Khrungthep branch near the Ari BTS station, literally a sixty-second walk from the station exit, in a beautifully restored 1950s-era house.


This is going to be my new place to bring my laptop and work.  Isn’t it cute?


Progress was made on using up the rest of the chicken stock.  With two extra zucchini hanging around from the risotto, I decided to make zucchini and potato soup for lunch. 


First I cooked the sliced zucchini in a pan with onions, shallots and garlic.  Spices included tumeric, curry powder, cardamom and cumin, lending a bit of an Indian flavor.


Then I boiled the diced potatoes in the chicken stock until tender.  I added the zucchini and heated them through, then brought out the Kitchen Aid immersion blender and made quick work of the soup.  Two minutes later, I had a smooth soup.  I added about a half-cup of buttermilk to give it a tangy edge and a little bit of creamy richness and then corrected for the flavor.


Let me just tell you, I love my immersion blender.  What a quick and easy way to make a healthful meal.


Okay, just received the word from Tehlin that they are up.  It is about 11:30 am Sunday morning, so they were able to get five hours or so of sleep.  I’ll go get them in a bit and we’ll see some palaces and temples.


Something Healthy to Eat

Since returning from our respective trips abroad, Tawn and I have been taking a lot of our meals at home, making them ourselves.  I’m not sure if this is just in response to being away for so long, or whether it is in response to a pair of books I’ve recently finished reading: Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon.

In Defense of Food Plenty

Both of these books talk about our relationship with food and both discuss the virtues of eating whole foods that are produced locally and in sustainable ways.  Interestingly, neither book is preachy.  Rather, they simply explore the issues and let readers draw their own conclusions.

This is something I’ll probably write more about in the future as it is something I’ve thought a lot about and continue to think a lot about, especially here in Thailand where concepts such as “organic”, “local” and “sustainable” are very different and often less well-developed.  Also, the novelty of processed foods is high as this is a newer phenomenon in Thailand than in, say, the United States or Canada.  That’s why I’m seeing more and more young Thais – secondary school students, for example – who are big, really big.

Anyhow, I’m not going to get into that now.  Let me instead share with you the dinner we made Wednesday night.  Hot on the heels of his two weeks in Italy, Tawn has been craving Italian food.  (This seems to be the case with his parents, too.  Speaking with Khun Nui – Tawn’s mother – last night, she told me that Khun Sudha has been preparing spaghetti nearly every night since they returned!)

To address this craving, I cracked open the risotto cookbook to see what sounded appetising.  The zucchini and ricotta risotto sounded lovely, fresh and seasonal with hints of mint to brighten the dish.


The recipe is actually quite easy.  You dice and fry zucchini in the skillet then set it aside with some mint and parsley to cool.  Wanting to add a bit of meat to the dinner, I also marinated and pan-friend some chicken breasts.


Then you cook the risotto, a process that consumes a bit of time (30 minutes) and all of your attention (you have to keep stirring, stirring, stirring) but is not complicated:

Sweat some onions, garlic and shallots in olive oil and butter over medium heat until translucent.  Add the risotto rice and stir for a few minutes until very lightly toasted and glistening with the oil.

Add a bit of dry white wine and stir until the liquid evaporates.  Then start adding hot stock (I used homemade chicken stock, but vegetable stock works, too) one ladleful at a time, stirring continuously until the liquid is evaporated. 

Once the liquid is evaporated, add another ladleful of stock and continue the process for the next twenty minutes or so, until the mixture is thick, creamy, and the rice is done al dente

At that point you add the ricotta cheese, the zucchini mixture, and shave in some Parmesan.  Stir for a few minutes until the cheese melts and, if necessary, add a little more stock to fix the texture.  Season to taste then serve.


Sadly, the brand of ricotta at our local market is one I don’t like.  The texture is too dry, like feta, and it never really melts.  Instead, it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces.  As such, the risotto didn’t have as much creamy cheesiness as I was looking for.

Nonetheless, it was a tasty risotto.

I also had the time to pull together a bottomless apple pie, although I cheated and used prepared pastry dough.  In a hot kitchen in a hot country, making pie dough from scratch is quite difficult.  It simply gets too warm.  Maybe if I get a marble pastry board that fits in the refrigerator I will have more luck.


Nonetheless, a pretty decent Wednesday night meal.


On other notes, thanks to all of you who commented on and recommended the previous post about lessons I wish I had known when I started working.  Somehow the word got out and the blog received a spike in traffic.  Lots of new people walking through this corner of the internet.  Welcome to all of you!


Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Working

j0426646 A few weeks ago, Kari wrote a very thoughtful entry titled “Things I Wish I Had Known in My 20s“, which I linked to from this blog.  Kenny left a comment on my blog that, as someone in his early twenties just entering the workforce, he had hoped there would be some career advice.

I’ve spent the past few weeks mulling over the lessons I’ve learned in twenty years of working and would like to share these things I wish I had known when I started working.  Of course, I don’t claim that it is comprehensive.  What things do you wish you had known when you started working?


Lessons About Myself

I am responsible for my own growth and development.  My manager, the training organization and HR are all resources to help me, but ultimately I am the responsible party.

As such, I should always be learning.  Learn from each situation: ask what went well and what could be done better next time and then apply the lessons. 

Step up and volunteer for things.  Timid and shy people who are afraid of new assignments and more work, are the ones who miss out on the opportunities.

Manage expectations.  “Under-promise and over-deliver”, as they say.  By setting realistic expectations with others, I avoid some of the the stress of trying to meet unrealistic deadlines.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t have tough deadlines to meet, but at least they won’t be tough deadlines of my own making.


Lessons About Companies

Yes, it is my job and yes, I am paid to do that.  My job is to help the company succeed and as long as I am not breaking any laws or violating company policies, then I’ll enjoy greater success by doing it, even if the task is outside my normal job description.

“Up” isn’t the only way to get ahead.  Lateral moves and moves into other parts of the organization can sometimes be better for my long-term prospects than standard promotions.  Consider alternate routes to get where I want.

Sometimes it is better to have to wait for a promotion.  Each time I didn’t get a promotion, I took the opportunity to be much better prepared for it when it I did finally get it.  As a result, I always performed very well in my new role.  Had I been promoted before I was really ready, I would have struggled and possibly failed. 


Lessons About Customers

Treat customers the way I want to be treated as a customer.  I had a manager who was an expert at empathizing with customers.  No matter how angry the customer, she won them over and made them feel that she was on their side.  She did the by treating them with respect and caring and by truly listening to them.

Related to that, I wish I had known that I can’t “win” an argument with a customer.  While there may be customers I choose not to do business with, feeling any sense of satisfaction after trouncing a customer in an argument is pointless.  What have I won?  I have lost their business and have sullied my company’s reputation.


Lessons About Managers

Offer solutions, not problems.  If I notice a problem or opportunity, think of at least one possible solution before approaching my manager.  That way, I am welcomed as someone who brings solutions rather than being someone my manager regrets seeing at her door.

Managing and doing aren’t the same thing.  I was a great widget maker but when I became the manager of the widget makers, I discovered that it required a new set of skills.  Remember this when criticizing a manager or “the big wigs in HQ”.  Remember this also before gunning for a promotion to a management or supervisory position.

Make my manager look good.  Even if my manager isn’t perfect or has major flaws, trying to make him look bad will only reflect poorly on me and my entire team.  My first manager was a tremendous a**hole and I almost quit because of him.  But I decided I wouldn’t leave on his account.  Sure enough, a few months later he had been fired and I went on to enjoy a very good 15 years with the company.


Lessons About Coworkers and Vendors

Treat everyone as a customer.  When I respond to people with a “How can I help you?” attitude, I don’t necessarily get any additional work, but I do get the appreciation of coworkers and vendors who feel like I am a nice person and someone who helps them rather than hinders them. 

Related to that, success in business (and maybe life as a whole) is based on good relationships and strong networks.  Treating people well – not bullying, intimidating, yelling, name-calling or back-stabbing them – paves the road to success.  Because, sure enough, at some point in the future that “little person” I treated well will hold the key to a door through which I want to enter.


Lessons About Retirement

Start investing in my 401(k) or other retirement savings from day one.  Even if I can only afford to invest a small amount – even $20 a month – it is better to get into the habit from the very beginning.  The benefits of compound interest and time (forty or more years until retirement) can only accrue if I start saving.  I’ve done well with this, but wish I had started much earlier.


Reviewing these, I feel like there are plenty more things I could share, but these are the most critical ones that, had I known them on March 17, 1987 when I entered the workforce, life would have been a whole lot easier and working a whole lot more enjoyable.

What additional advice would you give Kenny?