Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Taste Of Thailand

Originally uploaded by boondockma

Following a weekend packed full of preparations, yesterday was such a fun day with a very tasty conclusion!

Sunday morning we removed the marinating chicken from the freezer and placed it in the refrigerator so the flavors could continue to get to know each other as it thawed. I then got busy peeling and thinly slicing my fresh ginger root, which I measured and counted as 1 part. I then added 3 parts each of water and sugar, stirred it up good, and brought it to a boil. I let it boil for several minutes, before turning it down and allowing it so simmer for several hours, until it was a consistency that I was happy with. Once it had been rendered down and thickened, I removed the now tender ginger slices and placed tham on parchment paper to begin drying while I allowed the syrup to cool down a bit and transferred it to a container to be kept, tightly covered in the fridge.

Several years ago (probably 14) I worked with a wonderful Laotian Lady who prepared egg rolls and these great sticky rice banana things, wrapped in banana leaves. Every couple of weeks she would take orders and bring these treats in for her coworkers. I was delighted to find a recipe for Khao Tom Madt in my search for a Thai dessert, and the kids and I had a fine time putting it together.

Sunday evening I placed my sticky rice in a bowl and liberally covered it with water, setting it aside to soak overnight. In the morning, I drained the rice, as the kids carefully measured the coconut milk, sugar, and salt into the large skillet. I then added the drained rice, and they took turns cooking and stirring the mixture until the liquid was completely absorbed, and the rice was almost tender. We then let this mixture cool while we cut portions of foil (since banana leaves are something we aren't able to find around here) onto which they spread portion of the rice mixture, topped that with banana halves, then added a bit more rice which they then molded around the bananas before we snugly wrapped them up individually in the foil. These were placed in a makeshift steamer, and set aside until after supper was finished cooking. I was actually rather impressed with how well the kids resisted the temptation to lick the sticky rice from their fingers during this whole process. Of course, once they were finished with all eight portions, they went right to town on that, before washing their hands and proceeding to wrap their little bundles.

Next on the agenda was our edible crafting event, which ended up being quite the challenge, which resulted in some minor frustration but more chuckles, and some pretty cool garnishes for our dinner. I found the instructions for the Radish Butterflies at WikiHow, so if you want to give it a try, do a search there. I would suggest choosing the largest radishes you can find, and go for the center cut. You also might want to grab a few extra radishes, just in case you find yourself needing to do some "do-overs". Of course, since this project involves the use of knives, as well as a lot of concentration, it's probably not something you'd want to try with young children, although they may enjoy watching you give it a try!

Dinner was a delicious combination of "Gai Yang" (barbecued chicken), Oriental Mushrooms (an old favorite dish from my "Betty Crocker" cookbook), and Broccoli. While we happily consumed our meal, oohing and aahing over the wonderful taste variations, our "Khao Tom Madt" steamed on the now available stove top. After steaming for about 45 minutes, we allowed them to cool down a bit before serving with some of the ginger syrup I'd made the day before. We peeled down the top of the foil and dipped them in the syrup, which was a nice, flavorful addition.

Since this dessert is rather filling, we only consumed half the portions. The other 4 are wrapped and ready for steaming this evening, so tonight's dessert is taken care of as well!

Of course we still have plenty of the ingredients we used for this meal, in addition to other ingredients I just couldn't stop myself from grabbing, so we're looking forward to another great Thai adventure in the very near future! For oodles of great Thai recipes, including two of those we prepared the last few days, visit Thai Recipes Kitchen

Thanks to Kimmi's little lecture a while back, I did remember to grab the camera for this meal, as well as some of the preparations. If you want to see more than the one I'm posting here, be sure to stop by my flick'r. Clicking on the "backyard view" photo will take you there!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Culinary Adventure Begins

Yesterday was a busy day at our house. While the kids took advantage of the limited sunshine, I cut chicken breasts into strips and pounded them flat. By the time I was finished with that, the sun was hiding behind clouds, and it was beginning to sprinkle. Perfect timing!

The kids were directed to the sink where they washed their hands, while I quartered a lime, and set it out, along with the chicken strips. My children took their places at the table and began vigorously rubbing the chicken strips with the lime portions, while I proceeded to peel and mince some fresh ginger root.

Once the chicken was all rubbed down, and the ginger was processed, Nathan busied himself peeling garlic, while Lindsay held a zip lock bag open for me to deposit the various marinade ingredients. First, there was the 1/2 cup of Oyster Sauce, followed by 1/2 cup of Teriyaki Sauce (the original recipe called for sweet dark soy sauce, which no one I spoke to had ever heard of so I decided it sounded an awful lot like Teriyaki sauce and went with it). Next, I crushed several cloves of the garlic (about 2 Tbsp. worth) Nathan had peeled for me, and added them to the mix, before adding the ginger (about 2 Tbsp.), about 1 tsp. each of salt and freshly ground pepper,several more whole cloves of garlic, and the prepared chicken strips. The bag was then secured, and the contents mixed up real good, before Pa took it out to the freezer.

Saturday Night At The Movies

After our busy day, we had dinner (Spaghetti), then the kids settled down in front of the TV for their weekly movie event. This week, they chose to watch Dr. Dolittle 3, starring Kyla Pratt and Walker Howard. We all enjoyed this film, although Lindsay and I seemed to get more out of it than Pa and Nathan did. Perhaps that was due to the focus on the daughter and the teen romance element. I have to admit, I did miss Eddy Murphy's presence in this one, but the story line (at least from a female point of view) was fun, and the acting was good. We're giving this one 7 (out of 8) thumbs up, as it was a fine family film, enjoyed by all, and there were plenty of chuckles, as well as some action for the fellows. The only drawback for our family was the romantic element that the "boys", and in particular, our preteen son didn't seem to appreciate so much the girls.

Today, our culinary "homework" continues, in hopes that we'll be able to get everything together in time to prepare our Thai meal tomorrow evening or, if the weather doesn't cooperate, as the main dish will cooked out on the grill, perhaps Tuesday. We're all getting excited about this meal, and I'm looking forward to experimenting more with these ingredients in the near future.

Hope you all are having a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One Man's Garbage...

We were planning to go to town today. I dressed in my "go to town clothes", and the kids had their clothes all picked out for changing into after their time outside. Then Pa got inspired.

He'd been eyeing a leaning tree down the driveway and, perhaps because it wasn't raining today he decided early this afternoon would be a good time to take it down. Of course, once he managed to cut it down, and had it hooked up to the truck, and began dragging it out to a more manageable position, things didn't go quite the way he had planned. It seems once down, the tree grew, and put on a bit of weight, which resulted in the tree dragging the truck rather than the other way around. Naturally, the truck ended up in a ditch, which Pa then had to maneuver back out of the ditch before proceeding with plan B.

Fortunately, plan B worked, but the delay was enough to convince us we'd be better off waiting until tomorrow for our weekly trip to town. The only problem with that was, our dinner plans were based upon our planned shopping trip, so dinner plans now had to be changed. The kids decided they wanted take out, and so Pa loaded them up in the truck and they were off to the little store down the road in search of our version of local take-out. That would be frozen dinners.

When my happy troopers returned home, Pa was carrying the bag with the kids' dinner choices. What confused me was the sight of Nathan hopping out of the truck, reaching into the back of the truck, his face glowing with happiness and pride, holding a large box out at arms length.

Standing in the house viewing this odd display, I was unable to see what was actually in the box. As Nathan turned, still beaming, and quickly headed towards his garden it began to occur to me what the box may have contained. Sure enough, after carefully setting the box down in the garden, he headed towards the house, only to return seconds later carrying his shovel.

The little store down the road sells a small assortment of fresh produce, and it seems that it dawned on my son that perhaps some of these fruits and vegetables might, on occasion begin to go bad before someone purchased them. Therefore, while Pa and Lindsay were busy browsing through the frozen food selection, he walked up to the owner of the store and asked if perhaps she may have some rotten produce laying around, and if so, could he have it for his garden? It just so happened she did have exactly what he was asking for, and he could take all he wanted.

Nathan is now a very happy gardener, preparing his soil for the spring plantings he's been so eagerly anticipating all winter long.

Tomorrow, we go to town!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Best Of Intentions

I had every intention of posting an update on Sunday. Not sure if it was the weather, the past week's activities catching up with me or what, but I just couldn't seem to find the motivation to do much of anything. It was just a lazy Sunday.

By the end of the day I figured what the heck, everyone's too busy to stop and browse blogs on Sunday's anyway, so I'd just wait and post on Monday. For some reason, other than the obligatory school, Monday seemed to be a repeat of Sunday. And so it went.

Somehow, Pa and I have been managing to take turns in the kitchen lately. He fixes dinner one day, I the next. Or, on occasion we may take two day rotations. Either way, we're managing purty durn close to equal time in the kitchen, which is fun, and offers a nice variety as we have similar, yet decidedly different techniques.

Saturday evening Pa cooked up some chicken outside on the grill. Since Nathan prefers his chicken skinless, Pa removed the skin before hand, combined it in a skillet with a slice of bacon and a bit of onion and created a gravy to go with the rice he planned for a side dish. It was a yummy early Sunday meal.

After consuming our dinner we popped in the kids' viewing choice for the evening. Honey, I Blew Up The Kid turned out to be the perfect end of a day for the whole family. Although certainly not a plausible situation, it was good, clean family entertainment and the appearance of Lloyd Bridges was a pleasant surprise for both Pa and me.

Sunday evening, after dining on one of my creations, a basic goulash, employing ground turkey with an eye towards the health of both our bodies and our budget, and 1/2 cup of previously frozen fresh chopped basil left over from an earlier experiment, which imparted an enjoyable taste variation, Pa and I sat down to watch our movie of the week, The Pentagon Wars, starring Kelsey Grammer. Based on a true story of the recent past, which many of us may recognize, skillfully portrayed as a comedy which we found rather fitting, as it is one of those things that you either have to laugh or cry over the whole thing. Considering it is all over and done with now, I suppose we may as well allow ourselves a chuckle, while hoping lessons were learned, and policies changed.

After several days of on again off again sunshine split up by cloudy skies and sprinkles, last night Mother Nature cut loose with oodles of rain. As far as I can tell, it rained all night and is still coming down in buckets. My best guess is, once our school day is over, the kids will either be opting to curl up with a couple good books, or perhaps I'll be hearing that timeless refrain all parents are so very familiar with, "I'm bored! What can I do?" The bigger question might be, shall I come up with a creative fun project for them to wile away the hours? Or, should I give in to temptation and enlist their oh so capable hands and minds in assistance with the reorganization project I've been wanting to get started on? Hmmmm. It's a tough choice. Depending on how quickly we manage to get through our days lessons, maybe we could manage a bit of both...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Our Little Spring Fling

Yesterday, in honor of the first day of Spring, as well as to introduce the young'uns to something very similar to the tastes of Thailand which we are currently studying in homechool, we stopped by a tiny little shop we discovered in our area. Kim's Asian Market is a delightful little place that reminds me a bit of a combination of the street vendors I've read and heard about in Asian countries combined with a sort of Asian convenience store. There are several aisles with a rather sparce collection of asian ingredients, as well as a few gift items and authentic bamboo steamers.

The first thing you see when entering this little market is the the owner behind a counter which has been spread with a colorful array of fresh vegetables which she is busy dipping into as she prepares the selections of culinary delights her customers have ordered "to go". It is fascinating to watch her work while chatting it up with the handful of ladies who hail from various Asian countries.

While we waited for our Spring Rolls, I browsed the aisles for ingredients I knew I couldn't find elsewhere for next weeks Thai meal. My confusion must have been apparent as one of Kim's guests soon joined me, checked my list, asked me questions and guided me to the needed items. This lady, of Chinese descent born in Thailand was a huge help, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her. At her suggestion I ended up adding two more items to my basket. Fortunately, the prices in this little market were amazingly affordable, so Pa's wallet didn't suffer for the additions.

Once our order was complete, I continued to chat with the helpful lady as well as another who was visiting while we checked out. I was thrilled to accept this kind ladies invitation to take her phone number so we could chat at a later date. My only concern is whether I will be able to understand her very thick regional "accent" over the phone. It's different when you are speaking in person and can include facial expressions and body language in the conversation. Somehow, I expect we will manage :)

We then headed out to the truck where the four of us enjoyed the Spring Rolls before heading on to the Grocery Outlet where I was tickled to find large bags of Ginger Root which I needed for two of the dishes, and a sauce I plan on making next week. As we continued wandering through the store we were surprised when we ran into my new friend's husband, who had just arrived to pick her up as we were leaving Kim's Market. He thought it was wonderful that we were planning to include a culinary lesson in our Thai studies, and he and Pa had a fine time discussing regional differences in food in Thailand, etc.

This morning the kids are enjoying their Saturday morning shows. Saturdays are the only day they watch TV so they look forward to it. Last week they missed their Saturday movie night, so they're really looking forward to that this evening as well and, as a bonus, I should be able to include a movie review in my next entry.

Happy first weekend of Spring!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring Is In The Air!

I've always looked forward to winter, with it's promise of quiet, white blankets of snow covering the ground and gracing the evergreens with just the right touch of contrast, shimmering in the sunlight. The sounds of my children's' laughter as they catch the falling flakes in their mouths, toss handfuls of the billowy white at each other, and build snow sculptures together make me smile.

There comes a time though, when winters magic begins to wear off. If there is any snow to be had it is brief and, when mixed with the rain that is sure to follow, if not mixed throughout to begin with, results in nothing but a big mess. The gray skies are dreary, and the cold is felt in ones bones. It seems the season will never end!

Last night we saw temperatures dip into the 20s. Winter jammies were donned, all our heavy blankets were piled upon the beds, and we made sure the fire was happy in the woodstove before retiring for the night.

This morning, the fire was stoked right off, and kept glowing brightly until the thermometer finally crept above the 40ยบ mark. At last, the sun emerged and began to warm us. It was still quite cool though, so the kids chose to grab their coats before heading out to enjoy the sunshine. According to the latest forecast, last nights frigid temperatures signalled the end of winter.

Spring is in the air! The promise of new life, bright shoots of green, and in the near future, we can expect to see all the colors of the rainbow being represented everywhere we look outside.

With the new season rapidly approaching, many are eagerly anticipating the gardening season. This is a subject never far from my son's mind. Indeed, he kept his garden going in some degree all winter long. Pa and I were amazed at his accomplishments in this area.

The adults of our family are not quite so talented as our son though. We struggle to grow even the most simple of produce. In seven years time I've only managed one even half way successful zucchini harvest! I keep trying though!

Between my limited success with gardening, and my son's incredibly successful harvests I have learned a few things. Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that gardening is not an exact science. Rather it is an experiment, with the variables changing every year. Indeed, we've found those variables can change every month, or week. Heck, they can change overnight! Each day, week, month and year brings us new challenges, new weather patterns, new diseases, new bugs and other challenges. One just never knows what Mother Nature is going to throw at us next.

As a result of those experiences, those yearly grand experiments, I've come to the conclusion that I should never put all my eggs in one basket. Last year I tried for the third year in a row to grow potatoes. While my latest attempt was the most successful so far, it in no way met, let alone exceeded my expectations. This year, as with most of my hopeful crops, I'm going to try at least two different methods.

As you may recall,the bulk of last years potatoes were planted in large black plastic bags. While I expect there are some areas, or regions where this might work well, in our area, where we rarely see the temperature dip below the freezing mark, and certainly not long enough to freeze out those pesky bugs, the bags seemed to not only attract, but encourage the propagation of those unwanted pests. This year, if we manage to get them in on time, I think I'm going to try planting my potatoes on a bed of straw, layering more straw on top as they grow. I also plan to try them in two different areas, one full sun, the other more shaded. Naturally Nathan will be giving them a shot in his sandy garden as well.

With crops I've had problems with in the past, I plan to try other options, but will attempt to try at least two different methods for each species of produce. Some I may try in various locations, or soil types. Others I may try different soil amendments, and perhaps I'll try different "companions". Either way, no matter what level of success (or not) I have with my gardening experiments this year, I will learn from it, and we'll all enjoy it. Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed my family will be able to enjoy at least a few meals incorporating fresh from the garden goodness this fall.

How will your garden grow this year?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Winter's Last Fling?

Although yesterday's weather caused some excitement, as well as a bit of confusion for us, as well as the cats, this morning was even more surprising.

Pa was the first to wake, which was itself a bit of a surprise. By the time the kids and I joined him I could smell the coffee brewing, and the living room was already beginning to feel warm from the fire he had built in the wood stove. What really got my attention though was the view that greeted me as I glanced out the front window. I merely stood there and pointed. It only took a few seconds for my children to follow my finger and begin jumping up and down. The ground, as well as the bench and the vehicles was covered in a light dusting of white, and the trees, of various shades of green were adorned with pure white lace.

A short while later the snowflakes began to fall once again. They started big, then became smaller, as they grew in quantity. By the time they had once again grown larger, and less frequent the kids were begging me to declare today a snow day.

Although there really wasn't enough snow to stick to the point of such a drastic proclamation, I did understand their excitement, and they had made a lot of progress last week, as well as Monday normally being a light school day to begin the week anyway, so I gave in. They were required to make their weekly Monday journal entries. Everything else will wait a day, and we shouldn't have any trouble catching up by weeks end.

The snow did return a couple more times, then the sun came out. The kids are now outside taking advantage of the cool, but otherwise pleasant weather. The cats are happy to have their humans about to keep them company for the afternoon.

The weather forecasts I've been seeing are promising warmer, spring like days in the near future. Nathan is particularly excited about that prospect and has already planted some seeds in celebration. Pa and I have been amazed to note Nathan has actually managed to keep some vegetables growing throughout the winter. If all goes as he plans, he'll have some spring vegetables growing right alongside his winter bounty soon. With the exception of a few green onions, which survived a winter in spite of my ignorance one year, I've never grown produce year round. Honestly, it just hadn't occurred to me that it may be a possibility. When it comes to gardening I bow to my son, who it seems has taken over as teacher, with Ma as his proud and amazed, yet eager student.

As the young'uns enjoy their unscheduled day off, Pa and I are working at getting a few extra things done around the house. With the sun now gleaming through the windows, it is a much more pleasurable task than it otherwise might be. It's nice thinking that we are getting a jump on spring cleaning.

Tomorrow our regular schedule resumes. After a three day weekend of sorts, I expect that day will be greeted cheerfully. I'm keeping my fingers crossed the sun will join us in our day of cheer.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Spring Break

The last couple of weeks have been rather "blah" weather wise, so I decided we needed something "Springy" to perk up our rapidly dwindling sunny dispositions. We made our usual trip to the Grocery Outlet and picked up oodles of fresh fruit. The kids were happy to help me choose from the wide selection. We grabbed a big bunch of bananas, a box each of peaches and strawberries, several apples and half a dozen kiwis. A couple days later the kids were once again happy to help me process the fruit we had gathered. We sliced several of the bananas into a bowl, peeled and coarsely chopped the peaches, adding them along with the washed and sliced strawberries. Then they eagerly grabbed the long strings of apple peel as it fell from the apple I held above the table so none of the precious treat would inadvertently fall to the floor and be wasted. As my children happily munched, I chopped the apple into the ever growing bowl of fruit before me. The Kiwi was peeled and sliced over the top before I mixed in just enough whipped topping to cover everything with a thin, creamy layer.

For supper that night, Pa fried up some cube steaks, which he'd dredged lightly with seasoned flour, while I cooked up some frozen green beans. Along with the fruit salad it made for a delicious, colorful, pleasing blend of textures, which lent just the right touch of Spring we needed to lift our spirits.

The next evening, I added some colorful mini marshmallows to the fruit salad, along with more whipped topping, which Pa and the kids happily gobbled up for dessert.

Since we changed our Library/shopping schedule a while back, we've all been missing the Librarians we had gotten to know in the years we've been going there, so we decided to change back again. The familiar crew seemed happy to see us again, and this last week really surprised us by presenting each of our children with a book they knew they'd enjoy. They were books that were being phased out of the Library's system, but were still in excellent shape. The kids were just tickled to know they were thought of in that way, and the books are now treasured additions to their home library.

Since I neglected to post last weeks movie review I'll try to make up for it by posting two reviews this week!

Saturday Night At The Movies!

Last week's choice was a surprisingly delightful film, The Game Plan. The kids had seen previews for it, and we were actually rather surprised when they were both excited to see it, as neither of them is really into sports. Pa and I were apprehensive due to what seems to be a trend in "modern" family movies to attempt to entertain the whole family by inserting "adult" themes throughout, which in most cases results in a flop all the way around. The Game Plan was refreshing, in that it actually managed to pull the whole thing off. It was cute, funny, sensitive, and you could tell, even before the end where the cast got together for some antics while the credits ran, that it was as much fun for the actors as it is for the viewers. This movie got 8 thumbs up from us, and the maximum 5 stars allowed at Netflix.

Last night's event was another great film. A Bear Named Winnie is a British film, based on the true story of a soldier and a bear that is at times sad, at times funny, and throughout the film, heartwarming. It also turns out the bear in the story was the inspiration for the much loved classic, Winnie The Pooh, by AA Milne. While I'm not sure the story would hold the attention of the very young, my 10 and 11 year olds loved it, as did Ma and Pa.

Today was an odd weather day at our house. We dubbed it a four season day. Early this morning, as we all drug ourselves out of bed thinking it seemed much earlier than the clock said (thanks to Pa, who remembered to turn the clocks ahead last night), the sky was cloudy. It was cool, but not really cold. A bit later it started raining, which given the cloudy sky and the time of year was not really a big surprise. Then the sun came out! It was beautiful, and provided just enough hope for me to opt for lighter weight garments when I dressed for the day. The kids rushed outside and set about enjoying their sunny Sunday. All of a sudden they came rushing in. They hadn't donned their coats when exiting the house and so weren't prepared for the downpour that came in such an unexpected rush. As they were explaining their predicament, their eyes got big, as they pointed out the window. When I looked out I was amazed to see huge flakes of snow descending from the sky! It snowed for a bit, then the sun came out again, before we were treated to a short bout of hail, more rain, and more snow before the sun returned once again. The only thing we were missing today was the wind. Somehow it wasn't missed ;-)

Hope you all are having a wonderful weekend!