Unexpected Wrench in the Tday Plans

Two years ago Tawn and I hosted a lavish Thanksgiving dinner for 14 guests.  I cooked the whole menu (except the bird, which I had done at the market and delivered) and we sat at a neatly decorated table on the patio next to the pool.  It was quite impressive, if I do say so myself.  It was also overwhelming so last year Thanksgiving was hosted at someone else’s house.  This year we are doing it again… although a wrench was just thrown into our plans.

To save some myself some of the hassle, this year we billed it as a Thanksgiving Poolside Potluck Picnic.  Instead of cooking everything, I’ll just do the bird, stuffing, and gravy and let others fuss over the side dishes and desserts.  We’re also dispensing with the fussily decorated table and are instead just using the tables and chairs already available on the pool deck. 

Well, that is what we were going to do.  Until Tuesday, when the condo management posted a notice in the elevators announcing that a two-month rehabilitation of the swimming pool would commence the next morning.

Now, the rehabilitation is much needed.  There are many broken tiles (I cut my foot badly a few weeks ago and considered posting the pictures but they are just too bloody) and this work should have been done a few years ago.  But must it begin this week?  And with only one day notice?

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So the question was, how would this affect Thanksgiving?  We’re expecting about two dozen guests and there is no way I can put them in the house and serve food.  Poolside is out, of course.  Thankfully, three weeks ago a small cafe with outdoor and indoor seating opened on the ground floor of our condo.  It is a pretty space and hasn’t started to get a lot of traffic yet.  Tawn and I went to talk with the owner yesterday and she agreed to rent it to us for the afternoon (we’re holding the dinner on Saturday since everyone is working here on Thursday).

We’ll see how this new space works but I’m glad we didn’t have to cancel.  The cafe has an oven and refrigerator, so we’ll actually have better facilities at hand than if we were by the pool and had to keep running up two stories to the condo.  Whew – Thanksgiving is saved!

 

Tawn’s 35th Birthday

This weekend, Tawn turned 35 years old.  Hard to believe that this is the eleventh of his birthdays I’ve celebrated.  Because it fell on Friday, we had a couple of days to celebrate this (what he considered to be a milestone) event.

Tawn and I first met in January 2000 while I was en route to Thailand on holiday.  We stayed in touch over that year, with him visiting me in San Francisco several times.  In September 2000, I returned for another visit, to help him celebrate the quarter-century mark in his life.  The evening of his birthday, we gathered with his friends in a riverside restaurant somewhere on the outskirts of the city.


A shot from Tawn’s 25th birthday.

At the time, I remember it being a loud, difficult to follow gathering as his friends were gossiping in Thai and having a good time.  While most of them had studied overseas and all of them spoke English, I was for the most part on my own.  Having just met most of his friends, I was struggling to keep up with who was who, what they did, where they knew Tawn from, etc.

Now, a decade later, most of these same people are still in Tawn’s life and most of them were able to come over Thursday night for dinner.


Four of the people from the previous shot are in this picture.  Can you tell which ones?

The friends and their husbands and children filled the house with laughter and energy.  The two children (we were missing two who stayed home), ages 2 1/2 and 3, were exploring a house that is largely “do not touch!” and there are two more children who will be born before year’s end.  Nowadays, I know who everyone is, what they do, and how they know Tawn.  It is still hard to follow the conversations, though, since the gossip is filled with inside stories, slang, and multiple layers of simultaneous conversation.

When it came time to blow out the candles, Uncle Tawn was helped by two of our friends’ children, 3-year old Nam Ing and 2-1/2 year old JJ.  Nam Ing is the spitting image of her mother, who is standing in the group shot above.  JJ is tremendously shy, although he goes to an international preschool and has a surprisingly extensive English vocabulary when he works up the nerve to use it. 

After the party, Tawn described how much he enjoys having these friends together as they are like family to him.  I keep hoping we’ll see more of them and their children, having these images of weekly get-togethers where the children learn English from their Uncle Chris as we play games and draw and learn “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and other songs.  We’ll see how that develops in the years to come.

Funny video above of Nam Ing and JJ “helping” blowing out Uncle Tawn’s birthday cake candles.

Friday evening we went with another group of friends to Soul Food Mahanakorn, a new restaurant that opened in our neighborhood just over a week ago.  I’m very excited to write about this restaurant but need to go back on an occasion when I can really focus on photographing the food.  Another of Tawn’s friends stopped by during the day with some homemade baked goods, including these peppermint frosted cupcakes that spelled out “Happy Birthday Tawn”.  The restaurant staff arranged them on some serving boards for us.

Saturday morning we received a call from my parents, who wished Tawn and happy birthday and chatted with him for twenty minutes or so.  I think Tawn, who enjoys the attention of others, felt a little overwhelmed about all the attention he received this weekend.  Of  course, next year should really be the year to celebrate as according to the Chinese culture (Tawn’s father’s side of the family is of Chinese heritage), birthdays that mark the completion of the 12-year zodiac cycles are the real milestones.  I guess there’s a few months left to plan that.

The Reception

IMG_0254 Friday evening after returning to Kansas City, Tawn and I met my cousins (one local and two visiting) as well as a few KC-based friends at Cafe Trio.  Trio is a nice restaurant/bar right on the Country Club Plaza shopping center with a nice deck that overlooks JC Nichols Memorial Fountain.  Of course, they couldn’t handle seating for a dozen so we just occupied the bar area, slowly expanding as adjacent drinkers left.

Eventually, one of the owners came over to see if we were planning on eating dinner.  I explained that we wanted a table but the maitre d’ had said they couldn’t accommodate us.  Telling him that it was our wedding night (my gaydar went off when speaking with him, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to mention it) and we wanted a table, he was accommodating and a few minutes later we were sitting at a group of tables on the deck.  Sitting on it was a complimentary bottle of champagne.  Nothing like pulling family strings, huh?

Saturday was the big reception.  We opted for an afternoon reception since our guests included several young children and some older adults for whom a late night event might be tiring.  The site was Lidia’s Kansas City, the first restaurant in Lidia Bastianich’s small chain.  You may know Lidia from her Public Television cooking shows.  The restaurant location is a former freight building across the tracks from Union Station.  It is beautifully designed and their upstairs reception area has lots of light.  We enjoyed great service from our two servers, who really went out of their way to make it a special event.

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Above, Albert makes a very nice toast to our health and happiness. 

It was a lovely reception with lots of family members, family friends and a few close friends who came in for the event.  These included three high school friends who have been close to my family over the decades.

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The meal was a three course menu with a choice of entrees: either a lovely lemon chicken or a trio of homemade pasta with included a wild mushroom ravioli, seafood fettucini and a rigatoni with Italian sausage and broccoli rabe.  Dessert was a lemon olive oil cake with basil sauce.  It was really nice.  All their pasta is freshly made on site, which makes all the difference in the taste and texture.

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In addition to a very thoughtful toast by Albert, a long-time family friend, my mother made a beautiful speech:

Chris and Tawn:

We never thought we would be able to celebrate this occasion of your wedding.  How much joy we feel that it is a reality for the two of you and for our family.

One of the realities of being parents of a gay or lesbian child is that the child is not the only one who much “come out of the closet”.  To continue with our relationship as your parents, we had to come out as well.  We had to grow into the understanding that this is who you are and that it is necessary for us to continue loving you and supporting you in your life because you are our child and everything else is secondary to that fact.  For us, that means sharing your activities with extended family members and friends with the same openness that we share Jennifer and Kevin’s activities.

A similar growth has occurred for your sister, her husband, and more recently their daughters.  Likewise, your grandparents have grown in their understanding of this aspect of who you are.  Aunts, uncles and cousins, to widen the circle, have also experienced a growth of understanding.

This understanding is: You are of us and we are of you and that will never change.

Today the family has gathered around you, both physically and in spirit, to celebrate this road of your life’s journey.  We welcomed Tawn with open arms nine years ago, loving him as your choice of a life partner.   Now, Tawn, we welcome you as Chris’ husband and Chris as your husband.  We love you both with all our hearts and pray that your life together will be strong.

How lucky am I to have such supportive parents and such a supportive family? 

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Knowing that we were heading to New York City next, most of our guests had chipped in to make our visit there very memorable.  The gift bag, which we are opening below, contained a one night’s stay at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square, two tickets to see the Tony Award-winning show Billy Elliot, and reservations at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin, which Restaurant magazine rated the 15th best restaurant in the world this year. 

Such a thoughtful gift!  Something we will really enjoy and, an added benefit, it certainly packs easily!

Saturday evening my sister and brother-in-law hosted an open house, with pretty much all the same guests gathering for further visiting and home-smoked barbecue.  It was nice to have several more hours to visit with everyone, especially since several people flew or drove a long way to visit.

Yes, it was small and not nearly as fancy as many weddings and receptions I’ve been to, but I think it was very nicely suited to who we are and what we value as a couple.

 

Saturday Game Night Explodes

Matt and Si invited us over to their place for game night on Saturday, but I asked if we could instead have it at our place instead and invite a few more people.  Since Tawn and I are heading out for the US soon (me for 26 days, him for 16) we wanted a chance to see several of our friends before we left.  So it came to be that we had our largest party yet.

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A tale of two Chais.  Chai is a popular Thai nickname, so here we have Suchai and Chairat, commiserating about their respective boyfriends over a glass of something strong.

While it turned out very well and there was plenty to eat and drink and everyone had a good time, it was probably a good lesson for me and Tawn.  Sixteen guests is a bit overwhelming in our small house.  Quick, break down the wall between units so we can spread our the party!

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Brian, Ben, Geng, Matt, Kobfa, Bastian and Benji stake out the kitchen.

It was a fun time, though.  I ordered pizzas and made a huge green salad.  All the guests brought additional food to eat, so we had a tremendous amount of food left over.  Thankfully, people helped us by bringing food home, otherwise we would never have been able to eat it all before leaving the country.  As it is, I’ll be eating salad three times a day until Wednesday!

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Francois, Ken and Russ wait for the games to begin.

The bar was open and thanks to our guests we had just about every type of drink you could want.  Ken mixed something for us that was very nice.  I don’t recall the name but it is one part of rum, one part of midori, one part of coconut milk and four parts of pineapple juice.  Sweet and vagely Thai, it was a little too easy to drink, if you know what I mean.

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Tawn, Geng, Brian, Si and Matt get down to some serious Aggravation.

After the eating, we got down to the game playing.  The dining room had Monopoly (Did you know the new version of the game no longer has cash?  Each player now has a debit card!), the living room had Uno and Pit, and we set up a game of Aggravation in the bedroom.  Tawn was a bit concerned as Thais will generally not hang out in someone’s bedroom, let alone sit on their bed.  Not polite.  But in this case, our guests, perhaps lulled into relaxation by Ken’s bartending, plopped down for a few games.

Things wrapped up a bit late – the last guests left about 1:30! – and poor Tawn was quite tired, sleeping in the next morning.  But it was a fun way to celebrate before our departure, see everyone, and introduce some groups of friends who had not previously met.

Party Like It’s 1977

P1070595 This was meant to be my last entry before leaving for the US, but then I had difficulties uploading the movie to YouTube. 

Strangely, I’ve been directly loading Adobe Flash files from Premiere Elements to YouTube – a built-in feature – and up until last week it worked fine. 

Suddenly, YouTube no longer is able to process the files.  So I’m using a Windows Media File format.  Strange, eh?

Wednesday night Tawn’s employer celebrated their 10th Anniversary in Thailand with a gala costume party, the theme of which was “The Oscars”. 

Everyone dressed up, sometimes in a not so “Oscar” theme.  Tawn decided to go with something in a 1970s theme and so borrowed a few outfits from our designer Ble.

Originally, I was going to post these photos as ostensible outfits Tawn was considering for his trip, but didn’t know if someone might take me seriously!

Rest assured, Tawn didn’t wear anything nearly so outrageous.  Below, some of the other outfits:

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And even I was dragged into the action, so to speak:

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Here’s some video:

Hope you enjoyed it!

Cooking for Khun Vic’s Party

Every so often, Khun Vic invites friends over for a get-together at his apartment.  Sometimes it is a poker party, but seeing as how so few of us actually play poker, more often than not it is a simple get-together.  Most people contribute by bringing something snacky or a bottle of something alcoholic.  No surprise, I contribute something cooked.

Last time we attended a party that I didn’t host, there was too much of the salty, snacky, sweet stuff and nothing substantial.  By the end of the evening, Tawn and I were feeling yucky and not because of the drinking.  If you invite people over pretty early in the evening, there should be at least something quasi-substantial (cheese and crackers with fruit, for example) to fill your stomach.

Taking matters in my own hand, I bowled over Vic’s objections (“I didn’t want to have to put out utensils or plates…”) and insisted that I would bring some salads.  I’m kidding, of course, about the “bowling over” thing.  Vic and I talked a couple of times and, ultimately, I wore him down and he agreed that some substantial food would improve his party.

Turning to Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties, I found some perfect recipes.  Ina believes that parties should be as much fun for a host as for the host’s guests, so she emphasizes recipes that are either easy to prepare or that can be prepared in advance.  Since this wasn’t my party and I was a guest, not a host, “prepared in advance” was critical but “easy” wasn’t.

 

Chinese Chicken Salad

Sure, I know it isn’t politically correct because the Chinese just don’t eat chicken salad like this.  But that’s the ubiquitous name of the salad that is dressed with a soy sauce – peanut better – sesame seed oil dressing, which makes it sound more like satay dipping sauce than anything else.

Step 1: Cook the chicken.  Ina suggests thighs, which have more fat and, therefore, more flavor.  She also suggests roasting the thighs in the oven with the skin on.  I like thighs, too, but went with breasts as they were less expensive and I tried poaching just for a change of pace.  Below left.

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Step 2: Prepare the other ingredients.  The body of the salad contains scallions, red bell peppers, and blanched asparagus spears.  I blanched the asparagus in the liquid I had used to poach the chicken breasts.  Water chestnuts would have been a lovely addition, too, but I didn’t have any.  Above right

The sauce was a mixture of the aforementioned soy sauce, peanut butter, and sesame oil, with cider vinegar, honey, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper to taste, and some good-quality vegetable oil to smooth the whole thing out.

Step 3: Combine.  Afterwards, I’d recommending refrigerating for a few hours to let the flavors mix and develop.

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The second dish was Pasta, Pesto and Peas.  For her recipe Ina suggests that you can “cheat” and use store-bought pesto to save time.  But with a large bunch of fresh sweet basil selling for only 7 baht – about $.023 – how can I not make fresh pesto?  Plus a little extra for the freezer!

Step 1: Prepare all the ingredients.  This includes your basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and walnuts, and Parmesan cheese for the pesto.  Wash the basil leaves and remove them from the stems as the stems will add a rather chunky texture to your pesto.

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Step 2: Make the pesto.  This is super-easy.  The hardest part is washing, drying, and removing the basil leaves from the stems.  You start with a small amount of olive oil in the base of the blender and then grind the pine nuts, walnuts and garlic into a paste.  From there you start to add the leaves a small amount at a time, adding a little olive oil as necessary to maintain consistency.  At the end you can season with some lemon juice (to keep the bright green color) and salt and pepper to taste.

Below, the finished pesto.  Lovely, isn’t it?

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P1060960 Step 3: Gather your remaining ingredients.  You’ll need lemon juice, mayonnaise, frozen peas and spinach, and of course cooked pasta for the rest of the salad.

You take your pesto and put it back into a blender or food processor (if you made it from scratch, no need to have taken it out in the first place) and add the spinach, making sure to squeeze excess water out of the spinach. 

Puree it to blend the spinach into the pesto then add some lemon juice and some mayonnaise.  Blend until mixed.  This is the sauce for your pasta salad.

Step 4: Mix together.  Your pasta is mixed with the pesto-mayonnaise mixture and then add the peas, grated Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.  You can also throw in a few handfuls of toasted pine nuts for garnish and texture.

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P1060966 Those two salads took me about two hours to make, but I wasn’t entirely focused on the cooking and was multi-tasking.  The results were lovely and perfect for any party.

What’s especially good is that the pasta dish is entirely vegan so it is good for any crowd.  And it tastes great, too.  Now, if you wanted to add some grilled chicken to it then you’d really have something going.  But then the vegans would be unhappy.  So would the vegetarians.  And the chicken.

Left, Tawn is ready to go to the party in his “school boy” outfit.

P1060977 We headed out on Saturday evening and arrived just a few minutes late, what we would describe as “fashionable”.  Since Vic lives in the Asoke Place complex where we lived until this past December, the guards still recognized us and gave us a resident parking pass instead of the usual guest parking ticket.  No waiting to have our host come down to get us as the clerk working the front desk wai’d us and buzzed us in. So nice to be known!

Vic is from San Francisco and is a man who defies stereotypes.  There is nothing more demonstrative of this than his big-ass toolbox that he keeps on his balcony, padlocked so his maid won’t steal a monkey wrench.  Would you believe that he had this shipped over from the United States when he moved here?  It must have weighed as much as everything else he shipped, combined.  Next time I need a tool, I know who I’m invited over for lunch.

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Above, the party-goers.  Sadly, we’re lacking in diversity when it comes to gender and sexual orientation.  I’m trying to work on that, but it is a slow process.   Since some of these people may not be familiar to you, I’ll let you know who they are.  Back row, standing from left: Russ, Jay, Markus, Vic, Brian, Piyawat and Stuart.  Middle section, seated from left: Francois, Chairat, Ken and Mark.  Front group from left: Tam, Darrin (visiting from SF), Tawn, Kobfa, and Suchai (standing on right).

 

Come over for breakfast, won’t you?

The second half of our weekend was more relaxing and less do-it-yourself than the first.  We had ten friends over for Sunday breakfast – a real breakfast, starting at 10:00, instead of one of those brunches.  Homemade buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy; oven roasted potatoes and bell peppers; soft scrambled eggs with salsa; and assorted fruits.  Mimosas and fresh-brewed coffee and tea for those who were thirsty.

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What an interesting mix of guests we had.  Brian made it to our house for the first time as he had been out of town on occassions when we had previously invited him.  Stuart and Piyawat were both able to make it as were Ken and Chai.  Of course, no party is a party without Vic there, and Doug brought two guests:  One of them, Gaye, is a native of Istanbul who has been studying massage in Chiang Mai for the past several months before returning home this Wednesday. The other, Orn, works for the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand in membership and outreach.  Needless to say, they both had such interesting stories to share.

Sometimes after we throw parties the question arises, “Was it worth the effort?”  While I did choose to do a little extra cooking Saturday evening to prepare (I rendered the drippings from some fresh pork belly to make my own lard, which is the best fat to use when making roasted breakfast potatoes.  Dinner potatoes with rosemary are better with olive oil, though.), the dishes were all very easy to make, so this time both Tawn and I were relaxed enough to really enjoy the party and the answer to the question is definitely, “Yes!”