Thursday, February 5, 2009

How Do I Cook with a Doughnut in my Hand?

Day two, Tuesday, was another amazing morning at the market and afternoon cooking at Jeff and Naomi’s. I hustled into Jeff’s group to shop-rumor had it they’d found doughnuts the day before I didn’t want to miss that. We shopped for our ingredients and made our way to the stand. Made to order Thai style doughnuts were different and really tasty. The dough is made without sugar (but there is a bowl on the table if you want it). The best part was the doughnut master who could form the dough into an elephant, dinosaur, or dragon. An artist, for sure. We brought back a bag to share and the motto of the day was 'how do I cook with a doughnut in my hands?"

We cooked an amazing chicken soup with roasted green chiles, steamed chicken and cellophane noodles wrapped in banana leaves, and a spicy pork ‘sauce’ that was out of this world. Oh yes, we also made a mixed vegetable soup with frog. I don’t mind frog. It honestly does taste like chicken so this one didn’t scare me. That is until we couldn’t find the ‘prepared’ frogs at the market and had to buy the fresh (a.k.a live) ones. It was quite a site seeing one of them jump from it’s bag onto our table of ingredients, only to meet its demise with a swift whack over the head. So glad that wasn’t my job.

After lunch we piled into two vans and drove three hours north to Thaton, just three miles from the Thailand/Burma border. On our way to cook at Fern’s family farm for two days, the drive was stunning. We even passed a group of elephants doing work, or maybe just chilling out, off the side of the road. We stayed overnight at a hotel by the river and woke up early to head to a market in Fang. This area of Thailand is full of amazing and beautiful tribal people, many of them refugees from Burma. We shopped where they shop so we could go back to the farm and cook what they cook. The food is heartier with less of the Thai ingredients we tend to think of. There is no fish sauce, little lemongrass, and a lot less of the flavor pastes we were using as bases in the food earlier this week.

We cooked for two days at the farm, enjoying amazing lunches outside (like the spread above). My favorite dishes were a chicken and potato stew, fish stew with tomatoes, meatballs with chiles, turmeric, and lemongrass (the only time we used it), and a banana flower salad. The best part was cooking with Jam, Ying, Fern, and Fern’s mother. Fern was the only one who spoke English but, again, the warm smiles and helpful natures of the other women made it a joy to cook with them. Some of them had never spent any time with ‘foreigners’ and when we left they were overwhelmed with emotions, as were many of us.

We headed back to Chiang Mai tonight and are resting up for tomorrow after a couple of magical days. This is beautiful country with beautiful people.

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