Dinner After Fourteen Years

Out of the blue I received an email on Monday from a friend whom I have not seen in fourteen years.  We’ve traded very occasional emails, decreasing in volume to about once a year as of late.  The friend was in town on business and suggested we meet for dinner so last night we did.

When we last saw each other fourteen years ago, it was on my first trip out of the US, visiting him in Singapore.  He had just returned from almost ten years living and studying in the states and he was doing his compulsory military service.  Already, though, he was laying the groundwork to achieve great things, becoming one of the first people to identify themselves publicly as gay or lesbian in Singapore.  In the years since, he has become very involved in pushing for more rights for GLBT people across Asia.

Back when we first met while still in school, I could already tell that he was going to accomplish a lot in his life.  My pride in knowing him has not diminished even as our communication has grown less frequent.

The opportunity to meet again and to introduce him to Tawn was a nice one.  There was a little awkwardness (I felt, at least) because it has been easier for me to keep up with his activities due to his visibility, than for him to keep up with mine.  Such is the life when you are friends with a public figure, I suppose.

I hope we’ll stay in touch in the coming years.  He remains a passionate person who is committed to important social causes.  I enjoy seeing his success.  I also hope that we’ll be able to connect again on the level that led to our friendship in the first place, a level beyond the banalities of “What have you been up to?” and “So who are you seeing now?”  That takes time to reestablish, perhaps.

The September Issue

Fashion.  There is sort of this caricature of me that I’m not the fashionable person but that Tawn is.  Of course, Tawn’s taste is impeccable and his interest in fashion is very high.  (See his blog, Bino on Fashion)  But that doesn’t mean I’m disinterested in fashion or don’t appreciate it.  I just rarely put too much thought into matters of fashion.

September Issue 2.jpg Last week we saw The September Issue, the new documentary by R.J. Cutler that is essentially the story of the person who inspired The Devil Wears Prada.  Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, is the high priestess of fashion, nearly singlehandedly starting trends and choosing what is in and what is out. 

The real star of the film, though, is Grace Coddington, a former model who is the creative director at Vogue.  Somewhat of a yin to Wintour’s yang, Coddington fights to include things she thinks are beautiful and deserving, even going behind Wintour’s back in one sequence to order undone some airbrushing she thinks is unnecessary.  Coddington and Wintour both started at Vogue the same day twenty years ago and have this interesting relationship that is both collaborative and antagonistic.

Watching this film provided an interesting insight into the world of fashion.  It also helped me coalesces some of my feelings about fashion.

20s Shoot.jpg Left, one of the photos from the September 2007 edition of Vogue as part of a shoot that Coddington designed.

If I’ve earned a reputation as a fashion phoebe, it is because (aside from my general lack of style in dressing myself) I don’t see a need to know which designer is whom, what the latest style is, and what color will be in next autumn. 

Who is the designer at the house of Dior?  I don’t know.  What is the significance of the Channel Chanel 2.55 bag?  Couldn’t tell you, although Tawn has tried to educate me in these matters many, many times.

But when I watched the film, I enjoyed seeing the display of moving art worn gracefully by the deadly serious (and deadly skinny) young ladies strutting the catwalk.  Whatever happened to smiling models?  Wouldn’t people prefer to buy fashions that appear on friendly looking ladies? 

I enjoyed seeing the passion and joy of some of the people involved in the business, especially the care Coddington gives to designing each photo shoot and the passion that young designer Thakoon Panichgul, a Thai-American whom Vogue selected for a young designer award and who is featured in the movie, puts into designing a modern take on the white t-shirt.  These people love what they do and are very gifted artists.

No, the thing that disinterests me about fashion is best exemplified by one of the various subeditors or whatnot who in the movie is caught on film constantly saying a different thing to each person, complimenting the ideas of whoever is talking and then back-stabbing them when they are out of the room.  That reminds me so much of what I found in the movie industry when I lived in LA.  Petty, petty, petty rivalries, hangers-on, and people whose interest was not about the art but about their inflated sense of self-importance.

There’s a lot of that in many fields, I’m sure.  But I think fashion has to take the proverbial cake in terms of people who try and use fashion and style as a way to validate themselves and to elevate themselves over others rather than as a way to truly express themselves as individuals.



Scan1.JPG After about a week and a half of kind of drifting away from Xanga a bit, I decided this morning that I need to get back to it.  I enjoy the relationships I’ve developed through Xanga and it is a very effective way to keep friends and family up to date with what’s going on in my life.  That said, I’d just like to say, “I’m back.”

Villa Market is a local chain of western-style grocery stores, the first such chain in Krungthep.  They produce a monthly magazine for customers which this month featured the incongruous headline “Thank God for Chicken!  Celebrate with turkey”, leading to much head-scratching on my part.

Yesterday was my thirty-ninth birthday.  An Australian friend, Jason, shares my birthday (although nine years younger) so he and his partner along with our mutual friends came over for dinner.  I’ll have those pictures for you in a few days. 

A lot of people get worked up about birthdays.  For some reason, I don’t.  I enjoy getting older and think life continues to get more interesting as each year goes by.  Perhaps more pragmatically, I don’t see the point in fretting over something that is inevitable.  That would be like ruing the tides.

I’ve also been away from Thai lessons for two weeks because the World Film Festival of Bangkok has occupied some of my free time.  Which means I’ve been missing my latte art!

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Left: the original pig latte that I received.  Right: the same latte with some embellishments by me.


Bitter Brown cafe also does cocoa art.  Here is a bear.  A mouse?  A rat?  I’m not sure what it is meant to be, actually.


Singapore Border Run

It is easy to get caught up in everything else that is going on in life and to start spending less time at the computer.  However, I’ve pulled myself back and have something to share with you.  Last Friday I had to do a border run, fulfilling a requirement of Thai visas that I exit the country every ninety days.  Normally, my travel schedule is such that I don’t have to leave the country just for the purpose of leaving the country.

Deciding to have some fun with it, I made it my project to tell the story of my trip through a short video.  This forced me to pay attention to everything I was doing and think about how to most effectively convey the experience.  After editing and viewing it, I must say that I’m pretty proud of it.  My best video to date!  I hope you enjoy it.


Don’t Waste Time With Anger

In the past two weeks, I received news about deaths from two different friends in the Bay Area.  The first was about our friend Eric’s mother.  The second was a high school classmate and former coworker, Lisa.  Both lost their lives to cancer, pancreatic and ovarian, respectively.

In a world in which hundreds and thousands of deaths occur each day and in which each news cycle contains gruesome stories of murder, war, starvation and and natural disaster, I paused to reflect on the lives of these two women.  As some of you know, I write letters to my nieces, now ages three and six, which are sealed and kept in a box for them to open when they turn eighteen.  I’d like to share with you an excerpt of what I wrote to my younger niece, Ava:

Dear Ava,

I received news of the loss of two people, one the mother of a friend and the other a former classmate and coworker.  Both died younger than they should have, which is sometimes the way of the world.  Both of them left behind many people who cared for them and cared about them deeply.  And their loss reminds me of an important lesson, one I hope you’ll learn at the earliest possible age.

Life is precious and short and all too often we lose those we love unexpectedly and earlier than we want to.  And even when our loved ones do live a long and full life, we are still destined to lose them.  Because of that, each moment we have them in our lives is a valuable one, much too valuable to spend with a heart filled with anger or hatred or scorn.  Instead, fill those moments with love and kindness and forgiveness, because one day we will no longer have the opportunity to tell the people we love, “I’m sorry; I love you.”


I hope both Mrs. K’s family and Lisa’s family are comforted by the memories they have of these special ladies and that their tears of sorrow are interspersed with laughter as they think of the good times they enjoyed. 

I hope that each of us can learn and relearn the lesson brought by their family’s loss because it is a loss all of us have, or will, experience.  Don’t waste time with anger; fill each moment with love.


Could Credit Card Squeeze Help Consumers?

Wilkenson.jpg News reports of tough times in the financial industry tell of credit card customers getting the squeeze in advance of the start next February of the new credit card protection act,  Whether through higher interest rates, lowered credit limits or increased fees, credit card companies seem determined to do their damnedest to bleed consumers dry before some restrictions are placed on them.

I wonder, though, if this might be a good thing?  Several people I’ve spoken to muse that they hope the recession that we’re now mucking through will be enough to change people’s high-spending ways and consumerist habits.  I’ve been skeptical that the lessons will be learned or, at the very least, will last very long once the economy begins to rebound.

However, if credit cards companies keep tightening the screws, it might become so unpleasant and so painful to pay by credit card that many consumers may once again learn the habit of paying cash and only buying what they have the money to pay for.  It seems to me that that, more than anything, would help us turn the corner on our instant gratification, buy-cheap-crap-now-so-we-can-throw-it-away-later, IKEA/Wal-Mart mentality towards life.



Finally Success with Buttermilk Parmesan Biscuits

After a few attempts at making Buttermilk Parmesan Biscuits to serve as little brunch sandwiches, I finally arrived at a recipe I like.  May I share it with you?  The original attempts, based on a recipe shared with me by W, resulted in very soft, somewhat oily spoon-drop biscuits, shown below.


For subsequent attempts, I reverted to using my favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe as a starting point, based on a recipe my mother gave to me.  Finally, I got the recipe to a point I’m happy with for a brunch this past weekend.  I made little round scrambled eggs with some fried pancetta on top, added some spinach leaves and made a biscuit sandwich out of them.


I bought a pair of non-stick steel rings to form the eggs.  A few chopped green onions and some cream cheese mixed in with the eggs make them nice and tasty.  The pancetta was from the market, sliced thin to order and then fried for just a few minutes to crisp it up.


The end result were these lovely, flaky sandwiches.  The only thing I forgot was to add some chopped green onions to the biscuits themselves.  Here is the recipe for the biscuits.  I’ll let you figure out the sandwich part on your own.  You can also use smoked salmon as a filling instead of pancetta.


Buttermilk Parmesan Biscuits
Makes 10 biscuits (more or less, depending on cutter size)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
2 Tbsp butter, chilled
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp minced green onions (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and thoroughly mix.  Cut the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients, forming pea-size crumbs.

Combine the shredded Parmesan cheese into the mixture, ensure that it is evenly distributed.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk.  Mix with a fork until combined.  Be careful not to over-mix; the goal is to make sure the ingredients are just combined.  If desired, mix in the minced green onions.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and fold the dough over on itself five or six times, forming layers.  Pat the dough to an even thickness of about 3/4 inch (you can make it thinner or thicker depending on how thick you want your biscuits to be) and use a biscuit cutter to cut the biscuits.  When you cut the biscuits, don’t twist the cutter.  This seals the edges of the biscuits and retards their rise in the oven.  Better to just cut by pressing straight down.

Place biscuits on a baking sheet (no need to oil it although you can use parchment paper if you like) and bake immediately in a 425 F over for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from oven and serve while still hot.


You can substitute 1/2 cup of the unbleached flour with whole wheat flour for a healthier, whole grain biscuit.  They won’t puff up quite as much so row them a little thicker than you otherwise would. 

If you don’t have buttermilk available, you can substitute regular milk.  Before you make the biscuits, take 3/4 c of milk less one tablespoon, and mix in one tablespoon of white vinegar.  Let sit for ten minutes and then stir.  The milk will have thickened a bit, producing a similar texture and taste to buttermilk.

Enjoy!  Feedback always welcome.


Italian Almond Cake

After a few attempts at baking macarons, my refrigerator still holds a good supply of almond flour.  How to use it?  How about some Italian almond cake?  This rich, dense cake uses ground almonds instead of flour, making it gluten-free.  The seven eggs make it even richer.

Unfortunately, the recipe calls for a 9-10 inch springform pan.  I didn’t realize that my springform pan is only 8 inches.  This caused an unanticipated problem.  The cake was supposed to finish baking in about 30-40 minutes.  After 50 minutes, a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake was still coming out with uncooked dough attached.

The cake was so deep that it wasn’t cooking through!


I finally gave up and pulled the cake out of the oven at an hour and ten minutes.  After letting it cool, I sliced it open and, sure enough, the center was still very dense and not entirely cooked.  The outside edge was a bit overdone.


Serving it up with some fresh mango, the cake was still tasty, but I had to eat around the undercooked part.  I’ll have to try an alternate recipe, maybe one that makes use of a little flour.  I’ll also have to either not fill the pan so high or will need to buy a larger springform pan.


Terminal 21 – Under Construction

Walking back to the Skytrain station with my Thai tutor Thursday afternoon, I was commenting (in Thai, of course) about how much the area around the intersection of Sukhumvit Road and Soi 21 has changed in the four years since I moved here.  There are a few new buildings and another large development called Terminal 21 is now rising next to the Asoke Skytrain station.


The site as it currently appears, looking to the northeast from the east-bound Skytrain platform.

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Artist’s interpretation of Terminal 21’s design.  This is looking roughly west.  The above picture of the construction site would have been taken from the end of the Skytrain platform, which appears to the left of the face billboard in this representation of the building.

Built on the site of a former Ford and Volvo dealership, this very large property is one of the best-located in the city.  Described on its website as an “airport terminal” design (whatever that means), it will feature a 9-storey mall including an SF Cinema and a supermarket, a 20-storey serviced apartment complex, 145,000 square meters of office space, and 40,000 square meters of retail space.

Each floor of the mall will be themed on a different city or region of the world.  The bottom floor will be the Caribbean and then we will proceed through Rome, Paris, Tokyo, London, Istanbul, San Francisco (which occupies two floors) and Los Angeles. 

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San Francisco floor, left, and Istanbul floor, right.

Each floor will focus on a particular type of shop – fashion brand names on the Paris floor, food and restaurants on the San Francisco floors and the cinema will be on the Los Angeles floor.  Istanbul’s floor will have fashion accessories and leather goods.

Yes, I know what you are thinking.  Do we really need another mall in this city?  The answer is, definitely not.  I think we need more mixed income housing located right next to transit.  But that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the fact that this is a great location – very transit-friendly as it is located at the intersection of the Skytrain and subway lines – and developments adjacent to transit are generally good for the city.  Plus, alternatives to having to go all the way down to Siam Square and Paragon are always welcome.

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As the cranes are being installed, they are right at eye level with the Skytrain station’s platform.  Nice views.


Nighttime shot of the construction taken on Monday, November 2nd.  This is the night of Loi Krathong.  Can you spot the full moon?


Here it is!

Stay tuned for more updates as I follow the construction of Terminal 21.

Pulled Pork Butt

Hankering for some barbecue but lacking the proper facilities, I decided to instead make pulled pork butt.  This painstakingly slow (but, oh, so simple) technique produces wonderfully flavorful and tender meat, perfect for piling on a toasted french baguette and eating as a sandwich.

Original recipes I considered were for mighty large crowds – feeding six or seven was considered a small number!  Thankfully, recipes like this scale up and down pretty well, so I went to the butcher and bought the smallest pork butt I could find. 

Pork Butt.jpg Let’s take a moment to be clear: pork butt is not the same as pork ass.  The butt is actually the upper shoulder from the hog, a wonderfully well-marbled cut that works beautifully for “low and slow” cooking.  That is, cooking at a relatively low heat and a relatively long time.  Think Crock Pot and you’ve got the idea.

Unfortunately, the butcher did not have the bone-in butt, only boneless.  I think cooking the butt with the bone in is nicer.  There is more flavor and the bone serves as a conduit to direct heat into the center of the roast, reducing cooking time.

Pork in Thailand is significantly more flavorful than the bland “other white meat” that American animal factories produce.  Nonetheless, it still benefits from an overnight bath in a brine, a solution of salt, sugar and spices dissolved in water.

The next day I rinsed the pork shoulder and patted it dry, covering it with a spice rub that contained cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and chili powder along with a bit of salt, brown sugar and black pepper.  Searing the butt on all sides in my Dutch oven, I then added some cooking liquid (red wine, beef stock and onions), slapped a cover on it, and put it in my oven at 280 F / 145 C. 

It took about five hours for my relatively small roast to reach an internal temperature of 220 F / 105 C.  “220 degrees!?” you’ll exclaim, “But pork only has to be cooked to 160 and already it risks drying out.”

Roasts, which are filled with fat and connective tissues, will be very tough if you take them out of the oven at 160 F.  However, if you keep on cooking (with liquid – remember we brined the butt overnight and also have some liquid in the pot), as the temperature passes 200 F the connective tissues and fat dissolve.  This makes the meat so tender that it literally falls apart as you handle it.  This also bastes the meat in the fat and juices from the dissolved connective tissues.

Taking the pot out of the oven, I let the butt sit in the covered pot until its internal temperature had reduced to 170 F / 76 C before putting the meat on the cutting board and shredding it with two forks.

As you can see, it pulled apart into very nice little shreds.  This makes the perfect vehicle for various types of dressing.  In the Carolinas, a vinegar-based dressing would be the flavor of choice.  In the midwest and Texas, the dressing will be tomato based and sweeter.  In this case, I used a combination of some of the leftover cooking liquid (the red wine giving it a more acidic note, similar to the vinegar-based dressing) and a little bit of KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce that was sitting in the fridge.


How to serve this pulled pork?  I think it is best as a sandwich.  Split and toast a length of a French roll or baguette, spread with mayonnaise, pile on the pork, add some roasted red peppers (and grilled onions, if you like), garnish with dill pickles, barbecue sauce and, if you like, mozzarella cheese.  Then put the whole thing under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp up nicely.

That’s good eating!