Monday, October 31, 2011

Rie's African Adventure Part Two: Swaziland

Rie continues her account of her solo travels last summer.
Saying farewell to Namibia, I flew to the Kingdom of Swaziland, a small country (about the size of Connecticut) surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique. The people are friendly and peaceful with no history of racial tensions. It was the perfect place to unwind, do some hiking, and see the countryside. I based myself in the Ezulini Valley, a beautiful, green valley set between Swaziland's two largest cities -- Manzini and Mbabane.

I first visited Mantenga Village, a living museum with traditional beehive huts, dancing and drumming.

I stopped by House on Fire, a wonderful outdoor theater/gallery/restaurant/art space.

I got to see white rhinos at Mkhaya Game Reserve.

I hiked up ancient Sibebe Rock and in the solitude of Malolotja National Preserve.

And, finally, I was fortunate to attend the Umhlanga Reed Dance. Once a year, young maidens from all over the country come to the royal compound to pay homage to the Queen Mother. This year 80,000 made the journey. During the week-long event, they stay in make-shift camps and cut reeds from nearby fields. On the day of the dance, they gather in groups from their villages and form a long, long line. Led by members of the royal family -- easily identified by the red  feathers in their hair -- they make their way, singing and dancing, to Lobamba to present the reeds to the Queen Mother. The girls are traditionally topless, and don't wear much else -- short skirts, colorful sashes and other acoutrements. Despite the cold drizzle, everyone seemed to be having a most wonderful time.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Thai Farm Cooking School

Yesterday we spent the day learning a few simple, fun-to-make Thai dishes. Benni, our instructor at the Thai Farm Cooking School, took us first to the Ruem Chok market in Chiang Mai.


 We picked up a few essential ingredients there, including palm sugar 

and chili paste made with tamarind.

Then off we went to the green countryside and the organic farm where the cooking school is. Benni introduced more ingredients as she showed us around the farm.

kaffir lime leaves
holy basil

galangal, or Siamese ginger

Thai parsley

and spring onions, which for some reason were hilarious.

Then it was mortar and pestle time. Our classmates--from the U.K., the Netherlands and Brazil--were a friendly and enthusiastic group.

 I made green curry paste and Rie made red.

Green curry paste: green chili, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime peel, hot chilis, garlic, shallot, spring onion bulb, Thai ginseng, roasted cumin seeds, roasted coriander seeds.
Red curry paste is just the same, except that it includes dried red chilis instead of green ones.

Then it was into the kitchen and time to make soup, Tom Yam with shrimp for me, vegetarian coconut milk soup for Rie.

Tom yam soup: hot chilies, mushrooms, lemongrass, onion, galangal, tomatoes, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, Thai fish sauce, brown sugar, Thai chilli paste, shrimp, spring onion, coriander, salt, Thai parsley, water.

 Remember those curry pastes we so strenuously pounded? Now it was time to put them to good use and make (naturally) curry. Mine was green curry with chicken.

Green curry with chicken: green curry paste, bitter eggplant, sweet eggplant, onion, chicken, brown sugar, Thai fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil, coconut milk, water.

 And Rie's was red curry with tofu.

Red curry with tofu: red curry paste, sweet eggplant, bitter eggplant, onion, tofu, brown sugar, Thai fish sauce (or veggie alternative), kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil, coconut milk, water.

Next up, chicken with basil for me and some of the others,

Chicken with basil: chicken, soy oil, garlic, long beans, hot chilies, holy basil, Thai fish sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, onions, water.

tofu with cashew nuts for Rie.
Tofu with cashew nuts: tofu, roasted cashew nuts, carrots, onions, roasted and dried chilis, spring onions, mushrooms, soy oil, salt, brown sugar, water, Thai fish sauce and oyster sauce (or veggie alternatives).

Isn't it time for lunch yet?

Mmmm, yes. We were all quite pleased with our creations. We ate and ate and ate and then lolled about for a while gazing at the lotus.

Then it was back into the kitchen for part II--appetizers and desserts! I figured you shouldn't go to Thai cooking school without learning how to make pad Thai.
Pad Thai: rice noodles, mung bean sprouts, tofu, egg, pickled white radish, roasted peanuts, tamarind juice, brown sugar, Thai fish sauce or soy sauce, spring onion, dried shrimp, chili powder, soy oil, salt, garlic.

Rie opted for another Thai standard, spring rolls.

Spring rolls: carrot, cabbage, onion, mung bean sprouts, glass noodles, tofu, salt, pepper, spring roll sheets, soy oil, coriander, brown sugar, soy sauce. Dipping sauce: red chili, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, garlic, flour, water.

And for dessert, we picked two easy but delicious treats--bananas in coconut milk and mango sticky rice.

Bananas in coconut milk: coconut milk, water, palm sugar, bananas, pandanus or vanilla bean.
Mango sticky rice: steamed sticky rice, coconut milk, mango, palm sugar, salt, pandanus or vanilla bean.

When it was time to take the truck back to Chiang Mai, we were all in a well-fed stupor. But we were only too glad to take away some leftovers--and recipe books so we can practice on you all when we get home. (KK)