Ancient Truck

When I travel around Bangkok, I almost always have my camera out and ready because it seems inevitable that something interesting will cross my path. The other day it was this ancient pickup truck, parts of which looked like they were held together with bubble gum and baling twine.


Perhaps the driver was checking out that Toyota next to him? And check out the texture on that front fender – how many times has that been tapped back into shape with a hammer?


Thinglish: Please Abstain Us

Living in Thailand, where English is taught in the schools but not very well, one encounters all sorts of examples of Thai English that provoke confusion, bewilderment, and hilarity. (Of course, being perfectly fair, my creative uses of the Thai language send normally polite and reserved locals into paroxysms of laughter.) The other day at a local mall, I stopped to admire the works of young artists who had created entries for an exhibit themed around environmental awareness.


A painter offers this moose imploring viewers to “please abstain us”. The idea, according to the plaque on the base, was to not eat endangered species of animals. A thoughtful idea and a graphically arresting one, even if a bit off in its use of English. 


Italian Sunday Gravy

Not the first time I’ve written about Italian Sunday Gravy, the seminal slow-cooked tomato sauce filled with various cuts of meat. Shortly before leaving for the US, we visited a Swedish-Thai couple we know and prepared Italian Sunday Gravy for them and several other friends.


A plate full of meats – sausages, ribs, and loin – are seared to get some color into the pot. Then onions are sauteed, tomato sauce is caramelized, canned tomatoes are added, and then the meat is placed back in the sauce and the whole thing bakes in the oven for three hours.


Meanwhile, I made some homemade pasta using Thomas Keller’s French Laundry pasta dough recipe. Since we were at friends’ house and I didn’t want to carry my KitchenAid mixer (which has a pasta rolling attachment) I just used a cutting board and rolling pin. A little more rustic, but it still turned out okay.


Letting the sheets of pasta dry for a few minutes before cutting them. This way, the individual pieces of pasta cut more easily.


The hand-cut pasta – I didn’t have a ruler or straight edge handy so these are cut with all sorts of varying width. Very rustic, indeed! My technique (or lack thereof) would shame Italian grandmothers.


Cook the pasta in salted boiling water just as the sauce is finished. Fresh pasta cooks much more quickly than dried pasta so one needs to pay close attention.


Once the meat is tender, you pull it out of the sauce and serve it on a platter.


The remaining sauce is served directly from the pan and spooned over your pasta. Lots and lots of flavor in there!


A side dish of cabbage, fennel and radish cole slaw with a sesame dressing. Makes a nice accompaniment to the heavy Sunday gravy.


For dessert, one of our hosts cooked raspberry almond bars. These were fantastic. All in all, not only did we have a very fun time visiting with our friends, but the cooking was fun, too.


Jenn and Kevin Visit Bangkok


When Tawn and I flew back from the United States to Bangkok in June, my sister Jenn and brother-in-law Kevin made the trip with us. It was an adventure as they have traveled very little outside the United States and never before to Asia. Thankfully, I was able to book seats on our same outbound flight and even arranged for seat assignments across the aisle from us. 


Jenn and Kevin were an adventurous pair, willingly trying new foods and having new experiences. Here, we venture out for a typical Thai breakfast of curries and stir-fries served with rice. 


We spent one morning seeing another side of Bangkok, going to Hualamphong railway station and boarding the intercity train for a trip to the suburbs.


Train cars in Thailand are antiques – most at least three decades old – and the third-class cars have no air conditioning. Definitely a different experience for visitors from the American midwest!


One morning, they took the Skytrain to Lumphini Park, the closest thing Bangkok has to a central park. I met them there in the late morning and then we walked to a nearby Isaan style restaurant famous for its fried chicken. In the above picture, the Dusit Thani hotel is the one on the left with the spire. It was the first high-rise building in Bangkok.

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Another morning, we visited Wat Saket, also known as the Golden Mount. A steep, artificial hill and the highest terrain in the city, Golden Mount offers a nice view and also a nice breeze – much appreciated on a hot Bangkok day!


View from the top of Golden Mount, looking southwest. In the distance you can see the roofs of the Grand Palace.


Across the canal from Wat Saket is Wat Ratchanaddaram. The most famous building on the temple grounds is Loha Prasat, commonly referred to as the Metal Palace. This is a unique building, built in a pyramid shape with 37 spires (signifying the 37 virtues towards enlightenment) and modeled on two other similar buildings, one in India and another in Sri Lanka. Loha Prasat is the last of the three in existence and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.


The structure has recently undergone a full renovation and informative displays fill the hallways.


The symmetrical layout allows for refreshing cross-ventilation and also a sense of surprise as you turn corners and see the architectural features of the structure framed in interesting ways.


Loha Prasat has made its way onto my “must see in Bangkok” list, a list which I really need to update as I’m frequently asked for it.  


We made our requisite trip to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, where Jenn and Kevin hunted for gifts for friends and family members with Tawn’s assistance.  


We also visited one of Bangkok’s newest attractions, a nighttime market on the banks of the Chao Phraya River called Asiatique. Essentially a replacement for the now-closed Lumphini Night Bazaar, Asiatique is reached by free shuttle boats and has a range of restaurants and shopping. The space, a series of converted warehouses, is fun to visit although I was not particularly impressed by the goods for sale. That said, I’m not a shopper so my view may be biased.


Near the end of the trip, we went for drinks around sunset at the top of the Centara Grand Hotel at Central World. Bangkok has no shortage of rooftop restaurants and bars (a large increase from the two or three that existed when I moved here) and the Centara offers one of the best views, being centrally located. This also makes it onto my “must see” list.


We made a side trip to Chachoengsao Province to visit Wat Sothonwararamworaviharn, also known as Wat Hong. This beautiful temple is located on the banks of the Bang Pakong River and is the oldest temple in the province.  


Tawn, who was born in the year of the rabbit, poses with an appropriate statue at the temple. 


After two weeks, I think Jenn and Kevin were ready to head back to Kansas City. Hopefully, they will return next year with their two daughters and my parents in tow!


Chow at Chow San Francisco

The afternoon that we departed San Francisco, our cousins from Salt Lake City flew in to see us. We had time for lunch at Chow restaurant on Church Street, right around the corner from where we were staying and where we used to live. Still one of our favorite restaurants. I didn’t take pictures of everything, but there are a few shots that turned out nicely and are worth sharing.

Chow has been around since 1997 and its premise is simple: high-quality, healthy, affordable comfort food. Its menu reflects the Italian and Asian immigrant heritage of San Francisco. 


Hangar steak, grilled to a perfect rare and sliced thin. Served with mashed potatoes and a cherry tomato confit.


Rigatoni of spring lamb sugo. Simple, hearty, perfect for lunch before a long plane ride.


Home made peach pie with vanilla ice cream. Summer in a slice.


Classic menu item: ginger cake with pumpkin ice cream. Yum!


My cousin Alex with her son Tommy. Tommy looks mighty happy about his suacerful of ice cream!


Romantic Dinner at Cafe Jacqueline

For our final dinner in San Francisco, Tawn and I returned to Cafe Jacqueline, a charming restaurant in North Beach that specializes in soufflés, both savory and sweet. We first went here a dozen years ago and the place remains as charming as ever.


The restaurant is not very large – a dozen tables, perhaps – and reservations are strongly encouraged. Reviews on and other sites sometimes complain that the staff is rude to walk-in customers, but I think that perception is understandable when you consider that their style of restaurant is very different from the average well-reviewed restaurant. They serve only one thing (soufflés) made by one person (Jacqueline) and so the pace of service is very leisurely. People – especially foreign tourists toting their guide books – arrive without reservations and confrontations ensue when their expectations differ from reality. Because of this, the wait staff interrogate walk-in customers in a brusque manner: “Do you know what kind of restaurant this is?”

If you have reservations – or if you are a walk-in and pass the interrogation – you are treated with old world courtesy by friendly, professional waiters who have worked at the cafe for years. It is an old-fashioned kind of place, in the best meaning of that term.


This is a restaurant made for romance. Next to several tables are small plaques commemorating special occasions that happened there. Our table had two such plaques: “George & Laura Vidalia – First Date… Married…” and the more interesting “Dav and Kate – Handshake of Monogamy, MLK Day 1997 – Proposal, MLK Day 2001”.


There is a small selection of soups, salads, and appetizers, all of which are very French. Escargots, onion soup, caviar, and our choice: a spinach and bacon salad.


It took some forty minutes for our savory soufflé to arrive, but this was totally expected and we kept ourselves occupied with an amazing bottle of old vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California. We had the prosciutto and cheese soufflé, which was a thing of beauty.

So that you don’t muss it up, the waiter serves the first portion for you.

Truly, the soufflé is a dish whose tremendous beauty is dashed just as soon as you cut into it. But despite its deflated appearance, the taste is tremendous and the textural contrasts energizing: rich and light, salty and eggy, crispy and smooth – all at the same time.


For dessert, we took advantage of the season and enjoyed a fresh strawberry soufflé. This, of course, was another forty minute wait or so, but that meant that by the time it arrived, we actually had some room in our bellies to enjoy it. I’d say that this soufflé was ever so slightly undercooked, but to such a minor degree that it remained very enjoyable.

Cafe Jacqueline is one of those restaurants that is a must-visit and very appropriate for a special occasion. I hope we’ll make a return visit sooner than another dozen years from now, for I fear that once Mme Jacqueline reaches a certain age, she will decide to retire. As the cafe is a one-woman show, her retirement would likely mean the end of an era, and that would be a truly sad thing.


Random Photos

Along the way, I take photos that I find interesting, but which do not fit into the theme of other entries. Still, I thought they were worth sharing with you.


Graffiti in San Francisco, painted on a wall across the street from the United States Mint.



Japanese maple in the sunshine in Sacramento, California.



A rose in full bloom in the California State Capitol Building gardens.



The rusted roof of a van in a condo parking lot in Kihei, Maui, Hawai’i.



Rusted chain in the tidepools along downtown Lahaina, Maui, Hawai’i.



An elephant doll dressed as Santa Claus floats in the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok.



A three-month old beagle plays with a seed pod at the Ma Du Zi Hotel in Bangkok.


Splicing Genes into Your Apple

NY Times Apple A New York Times article on Thursday shared news about a small company that is trying to introduce a genetically modified apple that does not turn brown when cut or bruised. This is causing consternation with many in the apple growers’ industry because they are concerned that it will tarnish the apple’s image as a wholesome, natural fruit. 

Genetic modification is one of those topics I look at with great fascination. The wonders that science can create are truly amazing but at the same time I wonder if some of these advances perhaps go a bit too far. A quote from the article:

A whole apple is “for many people too big a commitment,” [the founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits] said. “If you had a bowl of apples at a meeting, people wouldn’t take an apple out of the bowl. But if you had a plate of apple slices, everyone would take a slice.”

Really? A whole apple is too big a commitment? Most of the apples sold here in Thailand are smaller varieties, not the ones bred to be as large as grapefruit. Maybe the solution is to just grow smaller apples.

What are your thoughts on this?