Friday, January 25, 2013

Electric pan and microwave living

My first 5 1/2 years in Thailand was spent in a studio apartment...one for students in a college area. The room was small but enough for me and Pae and even a rabbit ;) We're talking a 10'x10' room with a bathroom. As with most places around here, apartments, there is no cooking allowed in the rooms. Most people cook here with gas and gas burners, as opposed to stoves, so it's common to see a propane tank outside of most homes. People in apartments are stuck with breaking the rules (I've seen grills on balconies) or eating food cooked in a microwave or a small electric pots. Such has been my experience here in Thailand.

Now, Pae and I rent a house. The house has a kitchen, but not the typical American-style kitchen...our kitchen has cupboards and a sink for washing dishes. The real "kitchen" is outside behind the home or beside the home. It seems that all of the food preparation that involves heating, cooking, burning, etc. happens outside of the house. There is a lot of oil involved in frying stuff and there are so many strong herbal smells and even "spicy air" involved in Thai cooking. The "spicy air" I speak of occurs when a cook is frying Thai chilis before adding the meat or vegetables. A fine mist of SPICY oil blows through the air and restaurant patrons are often left hacking and coughing up lungs. Motorcycle drivers passing by often get a sudden pepper spray shot to the eyeballs (these are the worst!!) It's the closest thing I've felt to the CS gas in the gas chamber in Marine Corps boot camp.

So outside cooking keeps all of those odors, weapons of mass destruction and layers of grease off of the furniture and out of the respiratory system I guess. Ginger, lemongrass, scallions, onions, garlic, chili peppers, coconut milk, eggs, fermented shrimp, fermented fish, squid...you name it, Thai food uses it!! Some of these smells stay with you for days, so it's actually better to do cooking out in the open where the smell and the oil in the air can dissipate quickly and not stick to things.

So, I've been lazy and have not filled the propane tank outside of our house. Not really lazy, because the gas buggy passes our home occasionally, picking up and dropping off gas. I guess its more that I'm not willing to go out and spend $300 on pots, pans, spatulas, cooking spoons, and even a second burner to cook several things simultaneously.

Sooooo, I make due with our microwave and a small electric pot. The microwave is perfect for leftovers and cooking pre-made frozen meals from 7-11. These meals, when Pae is flying, make up roughly 50% of my diet!!!
It's not that I'm hooked or that the meals are scrumpdiliumtious, but they are fast and easy and about one and a half of these frozen meals will sustain me until the next meal. Plus, there is a 7-11 on pretty much every corner here! They just built one between our house and the school...let's just say I'm a regular there! Again, comparing to my time in the military, these are far more than "fast food" but almost like MREs, without the non-refrigerated shelf life ;)

I eat spicy southern Thai pork on rice, microwaveable northern sausages, sour and spicy pork salad from the northeast and generic fried rice, curry, Korean style chicken, etc. There are even dim sum with shrimp, crab, pork and chicken...and soups containing aforementioned wontons and gyoza. 7-11 also sells Manapua or Salapao that are easily steamed or microwaved!

As far as my electric pot cooking goes, I had stuck to what I know for the past 5 or so years. That would be chili, spaghetti, grilled cheese, grilled tuna, kimchi jigae, kimchi fried rice, Korean pork and of course ramen and mac and cheese. Lately I've been trying to cook Thai dishes or fusion dishes. Fusion, to me, has become less of a combination of Asian cuisines and more of a throwing together of whatever is in the refrigerator and whatever spices haven't gotten moist and hardened in the cupboard!! **Several times I've had to grate chunks of my garlic salt that had become hard due to the humidity here...and if you know me, I can't live without my garlic salt and Tabasco!! Believe it or not, I almost attempted some Mapo Tofu last week, but I waited too long and my soft tofu spoiled...the pork is still in the freezer though!

Lately, I have also been experimenting with pastas with white sauce, mainly carbonara. Before you get excited about my culinary skills, I have to share a little secret...jarred pasta sauces!! Hahaha, how much more appropriate for someone living out of a small electric pot than to be able to brown some beef, boil some noodles, toss in some Prego spaghetti sauce, garlic salt and Tabasco and call it "cooking"!! hahaha!!

But hey, it does the job! Another thing that hits the spot and is relatively easy for me is French toast!! The hard part about that is paying the $7 for the syrup. I finally sucked up the cost and bought a nice bottle and have been enjoying French toast with bacon regularly!
Even worse than the cost of maple syrup is the $10 for SPAM, but there are substitutes that work just as well...bacon...and who isn't down for bacon!!! I need to go home and nuke some of my spaghetti with mushrooms that I cooked last night!!
Cooked a whole pot, meaning I'll have spaghetti for the next three meals!! For the weekend? I'm thinking something like tuna and egg sandwiches (grilled) on Saturday after taking the knee out for a test run and then a spicy mushroom omelet on rice for lunch. I may have to splurge for dinner as I need to go across town to register for our next race (Malcolm, Eric and I are running a little 10K that we ran last year since none of us are running The North Face 100), so I'm thinking Big Mac, Large Fries, Coke hahahaha!!!

Mom Cindy sent me her recipes for Chix long rice and teriyaki chix, so those are the next to be attempted. Problem is that my electric frying pan's temperature is very difficult to control...We're on our third or fourth pan so far! At $45 a pop, it's not too bad over the six years I've been here!

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