You Don’t Like Uncle Chris?

Generally, I get along well with children and animals. Something about my disposition, personality, or perhaps my general vibe, helps us “click.” This was not the case, though, when I recently met the three-month old daughter of friends here in Bangkok.


This little pumpkin was fussy from the get-go, giving me only a few tear-free minutes. I tried rocking, standing, sitting, cooing, singing… anything to soothe her. Eventually, giving her back to mom was the answer.


Floating Bicycle Infrastructure

The extent to which a population cycles depends on what infrastructure is available to them. Striped bike lanes? That will encourage some people to venture out on bicycles. Dedicated lanes that are physically separate from traffic? That move makes bicycling even more appealing, especially to new cyclists. The Netherlands takes the proverbial cake for bicycle friendly infrastructure, though, especially with the recent opening of a dedicated bicycle roundabout that “floats” above a busy vehicular intersection.


The roundabout is located in Eindhoven, a suburban setting that would look familiar in many parts of the United States. Large streets carrying lots of fast moving vehicles meet at a traffic circle (okay, not so typical in the US!), something that could be tricky for cyclists to safely navigate.


The original design of the roundabout already had bicycle paths that were physically separate from the road, although cyclists still had to cross the roads at traffic signals. This design vastly improves on standard practice in most countries, but for the Dutch, it was not safe enough.


The new bicycle and pedestrian roundabout is suspended from cables as it floats above the motorized vehicles below. It creates a safe path as well as an aesthetically pleasing gateway announcing your entry into the community. Interestingly, you’ll notice that the roundabout for the motorized vehicles has been removed in favor of a typical right-angle intersection.

It seems to me that these type of infrastructure investments are very beneficial to society. They encourage more people to travel under their own power and increase transportation safety at the same time. This reduces traffic congestion and energy consumption, both worthy results. Plus, the roundabout’s design is elegant.


Breakfast or Dessert?

Recently had brunch at Gastro 1/6, a small cafe at the RMA Institute deep in Sukhumvit Soi 22. When I ordered the following, they asked if I wanted a scoop of ice cream with it.


I guess I thought of French toast with fresh fruit as more of a breakfast dish than a dessert, but when the fruit is this sweet and it is drizzled with maple syrup, I guess it isn’t that far from a dessert, is it?


A Pair of Bridges at Night

Thought I would conclude the week with a pair of beautiful nighttime shots showing two different bridges here in Bangkok.


This is the pedestrian bridge at the intersection of Narathiwat and Sathorn roads. The tall building is the Sathorn Square Office Tower, which opened just recently. The shorter building on the left is the soon-to-open W Hotel Bangkok.


This is the Rama VIII Bridge across the Chao Phraya River. This single pylon, cable-stayed bridge is two and a half kilometers long and will be celebrating its tenth anniversary next month. It is a beautiful bridge.


Do you know what this is?

It was at a pretty nice riverside seafood restaurant here in Bangkok that I saw the following. It wasn’t until I read the sign that I knew what it was. What do you think it is for?


That’s right, it is a special sink/toilet just for throwing up. Why they would need this at a nice restaurant is completely beyond me. Maybe at a bar it would make sense, but here?

In case you are curious, it is in the same area as the urinals – not partitioned off like the regular toilets.


Saturday Dinner Party

This past Saturday, Tawn and I had two couples over for dinner. All four of them are foodies, so I made a special effort to cook an elegant meal but something that wouldn’t require a great deal of last-minute attention. There are few things worse for a dinner party than having to be in the kitchen while your guests are sitting at the table.


Amuse-bouche: To wake up the taste buds, I served a tomato water gelée topped with a tomato coulis. The tomato water, which is a bit cloudy because I rushed it along rather than waiting the twelve hours called for in the recipe, is made by blending fresh tomatoes and then straining them through cheesecloth. What happens is that the water in the tomato slowly drips out, full of tomato flavor but without any color. Of course, by squeezing the cheesecloth, I extracted a bit of the red coloring, clouding the water.

I added some gelatin to the tomato water and let it set in colorful shot glasses. I passed the remaining tomato pulp through a sieve to make coulis, flavoring it with some salt, sugar, and a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Not sure if it was the most exciting amuse-bouche ever, but I was pleased with it.


I made two salads, both of which were based on dishes I had at Orris, a Los Angeles small plates restaurant that I’ve been to a few times. The first dish was thinly sliced roast beets topped with cheese and dressed with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and dill. The original version of the dish is supposed to have manchego or another similar Spanish cheese. I ran out of time while shopping and had to settle for edam, which wasn’t nearly as good.


Another Orris-inspired dish was an asparagus salad with a tarragon dressing, tomatoes, and pecans. I assembled it a bit differently than the original dish, but it came out very nicely. Visually, it is very appealing, and the taste was nice, too.


To accompany the meal, I prepared a loaf of rosemary and black olive bread. This is one of my favorites and always turns out well.

The pasta course (which I didn’t get a picture of!) was a roasted vegetable lasagna with homemade pesto sauce. If I had had my way, I would have made individual servings of this. In the interest of minimizing time spent in the kitchen, I made a single batch and just served it at the table, family style. This dish was so tasty – the roasted veggies had lots of flavor – and I think I will make it my new standard lasagna recipe.


For the main course, I prepared basil marinated snow fish en papillote. Steaming the fish and vegetables in their own individual parchment paper packets is easy, convenient, fancy, and produces excellent results. In this case, I marinated the snow fish in an olive oil, white wine vinegar, and basil mixture for 30 minutes, then steamed the fish with carrots, turnips, zucchini, and bell peppers. The fish was seasoned with a small bit of butter, a strip of lemon peel, and a kaffir lime leaf.


I was able to cook the packets while we were eating the lasagna, so the fish was hot out of the oven when served. The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it turned out very nicely. Snow fish has a high oil content, so it stays moist. Next time, I think I would cut the turnips a bit thicker and instead of including zucchini and peppers in the packet, I would serve them on the side.


To celebrate the end of summer, I prepared a duo of cherry desserts. In the larger ramekin is a cherry clafoutis, which is a pancake like batter baked with a dish of fresh cherries. The smaller ramekin has cherries covered with a chilled sabayon, a frothy mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and amaretto liqueur. The sabayon is heated in a bowl placed over a steaming pot of water. It is whipped continuously, cooking the eggs and incorporating air. Once the mixture has cooled, I folded in some whipped cream. Finally, before serving the dessert I used a butane torch to brûlée the top. On the side is some more whipped cream and a cherry reduction sauce.

What I liked about these desserts is that I did not make them too sweet. Instead, they were satisfying without being sickeningly sweet. All in all, a meal well done.


While cleaning the dishes afterwards, I was struck by the pattern the beets had left on the serving plate, so had to take a picture.


Back to the Future of Phones

Sometimes the universe throws things your way that can be attributed only to remarkable serendipity. As I had just exchanged of comments with another Xangan about how technology has rapidly changed in the past few decades (in this case, in the context of how to meet people – you remember when people placed personal ads in a newspaper and would receive responses to their post office box?), I came across this funny smartphone accessory:

Broconi Retro iPhone Handset

The Broconi Retro iPhone Handset. Using a form that will be familiar to anyone over the age of about 30 (or who has watched Mad Men), the handset plugs into the audio jack or 30-pin connector on your smart phone. Sure, it is wildly impractical, but with all the concern over smart phone radiation frying your brain each time you make a call, maybe it’s a forward-thinking idea to keep your phone away from your ear. I can’t think of a more stylish way to accomplish that.


Making S’Mores from Scratch

My big project the past few weeks has been trying to make s’mores from scratch. S’mores, an American campfire classic, is a sandwich of graham crackers filled with a square of chocolate and a fire-roasted marshmallow. My goal was to understand the mechanics of each of the components, to make each from scratch. All three parts have been added.

Click here to go to Part 2.

Click here to go to Part 3.


Part 1: Making the Marshmallows

The first question I had to answer is, What is a marshmallow? It is one of those questions that I had never considered. Turns out, marshmallows are a whipped mixture of gelatine and sugar syrup.


I started by hydrating powdered gelatine in a mixture of water and coconut cream. A previous attempt used passion fruit juice, although the flavor became a bit sour as it cooked. In the future, I would add the juice near the end of the process. This time, I decided to try some coconut cream to see how it impacts the flavor. In the end, I couldn’t really detect the coconut flavor. Will have to play more with flavors in the future.


On the stove, I boiled a mixture of water, granulated sugar, and corn syrup. Once it boils, you keep heating it until it reaches the “soft ball” stage – 240 F / 115 C. You have to be super careful as sugar syrup can burn you something fierce.


As soon as the syrup hits the target temperature, you drizzle it into the hydrated gelatine as the mixer stirs at slow speed. As soon as the syrup is incorporated, you increase the mixer’s speed to full and whip, whip, whip for about ten minutes. As you whip, the sugar mixture cools and, with the gelatine, starts to stiffen, trapping the air in millions of small bubbles. The more and the faster you whip, the lighter the marshmallow should be. The end result was like a jar of marshmallow creme.


Most recipes call for spreading the marshmallow onto a baking sheet prepared with butter and a powdered sugar / corn starch mixture. I tried that the first time and you wind up with rectangular marshmallows. For this attempt, I used metal rings (also prepared with butter and the powdered sugar / corn starch) and used a pastry bag to pipe the marshmallow creme into the rings. Three words: big sticky mess.

I tried to pipe some of the marshmallow into what I hoped with be small “puffs” but the mixture was too loose and spread into puddles. Lessons learned…

Afterwards, I dusted the tops with more of the powdered sugar / corn starch mixture so the marshmallows’ surface wouldn’t dry. Then I set the marshmallows aside to firm up at room temperature. It can take between six and twelve hours for the marshmallows to finish setting.


Part Two: Making the Graham Crackers

To serve a roasted marshmallow without making a total mess, you need something to hold it. The perfect tool: a pair of graham crackers. Graham flour is a course whole wheat flour and graham crackers were originally created as a health product, which they are to some extent – if you ignore the butter and sugar!


The results of an initial test batch of graham crackers, cut into a traditional square shape. I used molasses as the sweetener, which resulted in a darker dough. The second batch was made with honey, giving them a lighter color. Flavor is really good, especially since I put a good bit of cardamom in.

Here’s the video… hope you enjoy!


Part 3: Putting it All Together

The following morning, it was time to remove the marshmallows from their rings, let them dry a bit more, and then take them to my friend Chow’s house where they would be dessert.


The process of cutting them out of the rings was easier than I anticipated. A sharp knife, cleaned after each marshmallow, freed them from their metal cages. I dusted the freshly-exposed edges in the powdered sugar and corn starch mixture, to prevent them from drying out.


The finished marshmallows, just a little ragged around the edges, and the round graham crackers in the background. They had a really pleasing, spongy texture. Just wanted to keep squeezing them!

That evening at Chow’s, the dishes were cleared, the graham crackers were put in an oven for a few minutes to warm them, and the chocolate ganache was put into a piping bag. Then the assembly process began! Since we had no campfire, I used a small butane torch to roast the marshmallows. The very high heat makes quick work of it, with the exteriors bubbling and caramelized long before the centers.


The end result was every bit as sweet and messy to eat as you might imagine. But for folks who grew up eating s’mores after a grilled dinner or while camping, they brought back memories. I’d classify this experiment as a success. I’ll definitely make marshmallows again – probably with my nieces – and homemade graham crackers are super easy to make, especially when you don’t cut them into circles.

Thanks for your patience watching this series and for your feedback and comments.


Lessons Learned from Resumes

No doubt, there are many lessons that can be learned by perusing dozens of resumes. Most of those lessons are of the “don’t do that” sort, although there are a few tips and tricks worth adopting. The most significant of the “don’t do that” lessons:

When you send your resume to someone as a file attachment, the file name should be your name, not something generic like “Resume” or the name of the company to which you are applying.

Seriously, how is your resume going to stand out when I save it to a folder that contains a dozen other files with the same generic name?

The good news is, Tawn and I performed second interviews on the four finalists for the Operations Assistant / Personal Assistant position at Tawn’s company. Of the four, one person stood out as being particularly well-qualified, having room to grow with the position, and having passion for the industry. He starts works Tuesday.


View from Centara Grand Hotel

While my sister and brother-in-law were in town, we had sunset drinks at Red Sky, the rooftop bar and restaurant at Centara Grand hotel at CentralWorld. In the past few years, the number of rooftop dining and drinking facilities has exploded from just a pair – the Banyan Tree hotel and Scirocco – to dozens.

What I particularly like about Red Sky is that it is located amidst many tall buildings. Unlike several of the more popular rooftop locations where you feel set apart from the skyline, at Red Sky you are right in the midst of it. Here are some photos:


Looking north, you see the Baiyoke 2 tower, the tallest building between Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur; the Amari Watergate hotel, the new Novotel Bangkok Platinum hotel, and the golden domes at Platinum Shopping Center, all of which are located in the Pratunam (“water gate”) district.


Looking southwest, you can see the Siam Paragon shopping center in the lower right, Siam Square in the center, and the Silom/Sathorn busines district in the distance. The golden chedi of Wat Saket (“Golden Mount”) is on the far right side of the horizon.


Looking southeast, you see the rest of CentralWorld, the Ratchaprasong intersection (the one closed for 40 days by red shirt protesters two years ago), the Intercontinental and Hyatt Erawan hotels, the Gaysorn shopping center, and, in the distance, the high-rise districts of Ratchadamri in the center and Witthayu (Wireless) Road to the left.