Friday, December 30, 2011

Mango with Sticky Rice

Kao Nio Ma Muang

Mango with Sticky Rice
1 cup of steamed sticky rice
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 ripe mango (peel, remove the seed and slice into pieces)
1-2 tbsp. of sugar (or wet palm sugar, available at specialty stores like Rainbow Grocery)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 vanilla bean (or padang* leaf, if you can get it)

Place coconut milk, vanilla bean, sugar and salt in a pot. Heat until boiling. Turn the heat off. Add steamed sticky rice. Mix together well. Let it cool. Serve with sliced mango.

*Padang is a dark green sturdy leaf that imparts the coconut with a distinct flavor that is similar to vanilla. I don't have a source for it in the U.S., but would be happy to find it someday.

recipe courtesy of The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School

Do you know how coconut milk is made? pressing coconut shavings!
Making coconut milk from shavings at the market

We spent a delicious day at The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School (, visiting a market in the countryside before touring the school's farm of fresh-as-can-be ingredients, including bananas, mangoes, galangal, ginger, kaffir limes, lemongrass, and more. We cooked a feast with ingredients from the farm, including red curry chicken (kaeng phed gai), basil chicken (phad kaprao gai), pad thai, and chicken coconut soup (tom kaa gai). Are you noticing a pattern? Gai means chicken! We made our curry paste from scratch, but you can see in the photo below that Thai cooks can purchase fresh curry paste in red, yellow, or green from the market in bulk.

Green curry paste for purchase at the market (thai cooks' secret)

Chili sauces and oil at the market

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 20 baht (70 cent) bag of FRESH green peppercorns.
That's galangal directly behind the peppercorns.

Sarah and I had these little balls of delight in a very thin sauce with red peppers and lots of broth on our first night in Thailand at a street market stall, served on a skewer of chicken, pineapple, tomato, and onion. Oh how I would love to have access to fresh green peppercorns in California.

In case you're wondering how to make sticky rice...

First, you must purchase sticky rice grains. You can't make sticky rice by using regular rice grains. Next, soak the sticky rice in water overnight. Finally, steam the rice in a bamboo steamer until it is soft. Voila!

We learned a very important lesson at cooking school.
How to eat sticky rice...
1. Grab a ball of the rice with your fingers (half the size of a ping pong ball)
2. Roll the ball in the palm of your hands.
3. Flatten the ball into the shape of a blood cell.
4. Use your patty to scoop up bites of yummy Thai food.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Magic Gardens

Chedis (also called stupas in other countries) can be found in all Thai temples and are a solid structure, meaning you cannot enter it, as it's more of a monument. They are built to hold relics and other treasures. Thais kneel before them to pray and give offerings of incense, flowers and candles.

The chedi at Wat Lok Molee is practically in ruins. Bare brick is all that remains. It is massive and golden Buddhas sit on various levels. The base of the chedi is the height of a 2 story building and is covered in green plants growing. Three monks in saffron robes sat smoking behind it. The top of the base was wrapped in what I call "monk orange" fabric.

The main temple was made of very dark wood. In front of the temple stood a tree of gold and a tree of silver with 2 white elephants with red and yellow details. It truly was a magic garden.

The very shiny Chedi Luang was in a temple complex where, on Sunday evenings, food vendors set up stalls selling ice cream, sushi, noodles, thai tea (sold out of lemonade machines that keep it moving constantly), skewers of meat and fish balls, and rice dishes.

This reclining Buddha at Wat Phra Singh is experiencing Nirvana even though they've built a tiny little house for him, which seems too small. He could never stand up in this structure! Notice Sarah standing at his feet to truly understand how gigantic he is.

This peaceful Buddha looks out over the moat surrounding the Old City of Chiang Mai. Ruins of the old wall on the inside of the moat still stand. Thais use the ancient gates in the walls (used to enter the Old City) as landmarks and meeting places. We stayed inside the Old City.
Here I am standing at one of the gates in the wall surrounding the Old City. The pink lanterns were part of the Loy Krathong lantern festival.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chiang Mai Temples

Arriving in Chiang Mai after 18 years away I didn't know what to expect. I was absolutely delighted to discover the city still holds a spell over me. The rhythm of the city is quite different than any other place I've been. On the one hand, traffic is intense and chaotic and sidewalks are ripped up with gaping holes in them. On the other, you happen upon ancient buddhist temples, oases in the middle of the city that act as public parks and places of worship.

Monks walk the streets of the city in the early morning carrying an alms bowl to collect food and other offerings for themselves and the temple. This photo was taken as the monks returned to Wat Phra Singh (wat means temple in Thai), just after sunrise, carrying their alms bowls.

Thai culture, including religion and their script, is influenced by India. You can really see this in this shrine on a temple compound in Chiang Mai's old city.

I made a donation in exchange for a Loy Krathong with my family names on it. I also cut a piece of fingernail and a piece of hair using the scissors and clippers provided by the temple to add to the little banana leaf boat. The boat was added to a larger boat that they floated on the river during the festival.

Culture Shock

As a freshman in high school I decided I wanted to study abroad. I really didn't care where, I just wanted to leave the country. I was 14 so my mom helped me do research on possible programs. She found the Global Youth Academy on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, a traveling school that toured the world during the school year and took shorter journeys during the summer. It was 1993 and they were going to Thailand and Indonesia that summer. I don't know if I had ever heard of Thailand before. I looked at a map of South America expecting to find it next to Brazil.

I fundraised money and joined the trip of 7 students and one teacher. When I stepped off the airplane in Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, my host family met me and drove me directly to their home. The next day they brought me to the uniform shop to get me outfitted for school and soon I was the tallest palest student at Wattanothaipayap school. I experienced major culture shock and home sickness. It was serious. I hadn't expected when I signed up that Thailand would be like Mexico (my only foreign point of reference at that time for places with spotty trash service and no hot water)! I hadn't realized many things, like there would be shanty towns built at the end of roads in my neighborhood, and we would eat fried chicken for breakfast with something I'd never heard of called sticky rice, or that each of us 7 students would be attending different schools across the city, so there would be absolutely no buffer between me and the Thai culture and students. Oh, and I hadn't realized that, at the age of 15, I would be a head taller than most of the teachers in my school and that it was disrespectful to have your head higher than a teacher, so I would bow down to avoid towering over them each time we passed in the hallway or a classroom.

I had an epiphany a few days into my stay. I sat down to lunch in the canteen at school and was introduced to a Thai girl who had lived in Los Angeles until she started high school. She complained bitterly about Thailand and lamented how much she missed California. She was unhappy. Our conversation cured my home sickness. Her attitude was so drastically different from everyone else I had met in Thailand. She was negative. She reminded me of my classmates in Santa Cruz, who had "everything" compared to Thais, but did not appreciate any of it and chose to focus on the negative in their lives. This had been me one week before when I left California. I decided right then and there at the lunch table that I would savor every minute of my time in Thailand because it was absolutely refreshing to be surrounded by people that smiled a lot, did not complain, and focused on the positive. Plus I was amazed by the orange robed monks wandering the streets, the incredibly ornate temples, and the armies of scooters in the streets. Thai pop was pretty awesome too.

Fast forward to 2011, my best friend Sarah and I took a trip to Chiang Mai and I met a bunch of students who weren't even born when I attended the school, but they look just like I remember them!

In my journal from high school I wrote that I had been worried that there would be no ice cream in Thailand. I was delighted when I found that they offered freshly scooped ice cream at my school. On my recent trip I was happy to see that the canteen still offers many ice cream options!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Historical Beer

Sacks of Pale Ale Malt

Founder and sole employee Adam Lamoreaux explaining the beer.

Dimpled beer kettle

Linden Street Brewery, founded in 2009, is located in an 1890 warehouse in Port of Oakland. Founder Adam Lamoreaux makes beer inside in the 1890 style! He wanted to make the type of beer that Jack London would have been drinking at Heinhold's Last Chance so he researched and learned that Oakland beer in 1890 would have been steam beer, which, he explained, "is a lager made like an ale." Adam makes two varieties of beer, Burning Oak Black Lager and Urban People's Common Lager. He's working on a new beer, Town Lager, that will be zero emissions, meaning it will only be available in places Adam can ride his bike to deliver it, mostly Jack London Square and Old Oakland. He has a custom 2 keg delivery bike he already uses to deliver to his neighbor clients. I am happy to report that Linden Street Brewery will open a tasting room soon. Right now, the only way to taste their beer is at a restaurant or bar that serves it. I sampled both varieties at the brewery and they were both excellent!

Cold Storage

Dreisbach is my neighbor. When I moved in, my landlord told me that they provided cold storage and that, even on the hottest of days, we would see men coming out of the factory in huge coats. What I notice a lot more than the men in the big coats is the mack trucks that idle in front of my house around the clock, while using my short street to turn around and back up to the warehouse. On moving day, my moving truck wasn't able to get to my house because 2 trucks were blocking the street. I asked my neighbor if this was normal and he smiled and said, "Oh yeah! You'll hear trucks right here at 3 in the morning! All the time!" I was scared, very scared.

As it turns out, Dreisbach hasn't been such a bad neighbor. The trucks come at 4am, they idle, they block my driveway in the morning when I'm trying to leave for work. But, all in all, the drivers are courteous when I need to leave, and its kind of exciting having this kind of industry going on right here. The steel manufacturer directly across the street from my house is a story for another day...

I learned from the tour of Dreisbach that they are a 3rd generation family business established right here in 1900, and that they have locations in Pajaro and Watsonville, near where I grew up, where they freeze fruits and vegetable straight from the farm for packaging. They also use the train tracks and rail spur directly behind their factory to load and unload merchandise. They store foods on their way to Asia (eg. "Chicken Paws" [feet!] heading for China pictured above) and foods just arrived from all over the world, on their way to the American market.

Nuts for nuts

Artisana Premier Organics in East Oakland makes nut butters out of mostly raw nuts. They make macadamia, cashew, raw cacao, almond, and coconut butters. They provided tons of samples to taste and then to take home. I must say that I am converted. The nut butters I've been putting on my toast are superb. Its great to know that these healthy exotic products are made right here in Oakland. The nuts come from across the globe to be ground in this factory.

Artisana Premier Organics Sampling Table

Artisana started in the old Sunshine Biscuits factory, but have moved across the street.

Changing Perceptons

"Most of us spend our lives viewing our environment through a haze, but if we work hard enough, the haze lifts and the view becomes limitless." -- Ishmael Reed in Blues City: A Walk in Oakland

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Veronica Foods

Cubes of Vinegar

Veronica Foods, near the waterfront of Jingletown, Oakland, receives train cars full of olive oil and vinegar on their own set of train tracks located right outside the back door of their factory. In a year, they import over a million gallons of olive oil from all over the world. Veronica and Michael Bradley run the business. Veronica is the granddaughter of the founder of the company. Their daughter makes countless varieties of flavored vinegars, including violet and espresso flavors.

Olive Oil vat

Veronica and Michael taught us how to taste olive oil from a cup. Step 1. Slurp, Step 2. coat your tongue, Step 3. Feel the burn on the back of your throat. They also taught us that the number one criteria for good olive oil is freshness. All olive oil should be eaten within one year of production.

Stacks of Olive Oil

Veronica Foods

6,000 pound olive oil sack

They took a hint from the wine industry on how to ship their oil. These 6,000 lb. vacuum sealed sacks never allow air to touch the oil. They travel the world forming relationships with their farmers. They also established a mill in Tunisia to produce their own oils.

Exotic Teas of Oakland

Numi Tea is located in part of the historic California Cotton Mills in Oakland. The tea that started it all for the brother and sister that run the company is a dry desert lime tea that their mother served them as children. They couldn't find the tea as adults and decided to solve that problem. They've since expanded to many exotic teas from all over the world. Numi Tea is organic and they form relationships with their tea farmers in order to ensure the highest quality.

Scenic Historic Cotton Mills Warehouse

Bulk Teas in the "tea garden"

Visitors to the tea garden can sample Numi Teas and nibble on snacks, such as cookies flavored with Numi Tea.

Blue Bottle Coffee (aka torture stop)

The third stop on Oakland's Food Industry Tour was at Blue Bottle Coffee in Jack London Square. To be fair, the owner, James Freeman, said he doesn't like that name and calls it the produce district. The rest of the world still calls the area Jack London. In fact, Blue Bottle's factory was a long-time produce warehouse and quite a few produce wholesalers continue to do business in the area. Why did I title this the 'torture stop'? Because we didn't have time to drink coffee! The smells were intoxicating in themselves. I learned that all their coffee is organic and that they cook their delightful pastries on sight. Mr. Freeman is married to the pastry chef. He showed us raw coffee beans, that kind of look like kids teeth after they fall out.

Blue Bottle's Oakland Factory

If you would like to taste the glory that is Blue Bottle Coffee, they host free and open to the public cuppings on Tuesdays and Sundays at 2pm each week.

California Cereal Products

California Cereal Products, West Oakland

You may have seen this building in West Oakland and wondered what it was. I didn't see a sign, and I must say, it looks more than a little scary from the outside. I was granted entry on the Tour of Oakland's Food Industry with the Samuel Knight Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archaeology. We weren't allowed to take photos so I can't share what it looked like inside. The building opened in 1917 as a Shredded Wheat factory. It was sold to the National Biscuit Company (later renamed Nabisco) in 1928. In 1994 California Cereal Products took over the plant. CCP produces organic breakfast cereals and rice flour, much of which is exported to Japan. It smells nice inside, like cooking rice and toasting rice. They have a giant sugar coating machine for the cereal. Walking through the factory in my hair net and earplugs I realized that this was the first working factory I'd been in. The factory has gorgeous huge windows that I'm more used to seeing in converted loft living spaces. It's striking that organic food can be produced in West Oakland in a building nearly a century old surrounded by barbed wire.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hodo Soy Beanery

I joined a tour of Oakland's Food Industry on September 7th hosted by Anthony Meadow, President of the Samuel Knight Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archaeology. We visited 8 Oakland food businesses in one day! The tour was led by Margot Prado, Senior Business Development Specialist for the City of Oakland, and Betty Marvin, of the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey for the City of Oakland.

Our first stop was Hodo Soy Beanery in West Oakland where founder and tofu master, Minh Tsai welcomed us and told us about accompanying his grandpa to the local tofu shack in Vietnam as a child. Minh couldn't find the excellent quality tofu he craved here in the U.S., so he started making it himself. Hodo sold at farmers markets only at first, and now they are expanding to selling in local stores. They are expanding to the southern California and Pacific Northwest markets right now as an experiment. Since tofu doesn't have a long shelf life, Minh doesn't foresee expanding much farther than the West Coast.

Tofu Skin (yuba) forming on soy milk.

Folding the yuba for packaging.

Yuba is so tasty! Minh treated us to samples of many tofu varieties, all of which were delicious!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Oakland Juxtapositions

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in West Oakland is incredible. To reach it, you wind through a neighborhood made of shipping containers stacked 15 high and giant shipping cranes. Upon reaching the park, you are greeted with a huge expanse of manicured green lawn bisected with geometric walking paths. Beyond the expansive lawn, sit bbqs and picnic tables, beyond which lies a beach (!?). From this mini West Oakland beach, complete with sand, kelp, and water (and a heartbreaking amount of litter washed up from the bay) is a view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco across the bay. The Bay Bridge looks and sounds peaceful from this angle.

To either side of the park are active boat shipping yards, with giant cranes and shipping containers. Its a surprisingly quiet place. We saw only a few other groups of people there, mostly families. The park is huge! We walked along the water for so long that my feet were sore by the end of our visit. While walking, be sure to look at where you step, since the massive flock of Canada Geese that thrive there leave droppings every few feet, or more. Along the waterfront paths, habitat has been restored to its long forgotten natural state, with native grasses and other plants. We saw many beautiful and distinctive birds.

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is an oasis in Oakland. It feels a million miles away. The quiet, and the expanse of the park make it peaceful, while the proximity to the shipping yards makes it exciting, as if its a place you're not supposed to be. Yet, clearly, the city of Oakland wants you to be there. There are parking lots, well-maintained paths, bbqs and bathrooms. I highly recommend a visit to this park as a step away from your everyday existence in the bay area. The unique view of the bay bridge and the city make you feel special, while the shipping yards remind you of the economic heft and international importance of the port of Oakland.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

map courtesy of Burrito Justice Blog

I love this map! It puts San Francisco's many districts into cute little boxes. The map also imagines the neighborhoods to be islands with canals running between them. Its true, that SF neighborhoods are so distinctive they can feel like little islands!