Hot Hot Hot

One of Lauren’s NGO co-workers has a pet phrase, “hot hot hot” (it’s always three “hot”s). It’s usually said with a smile, and can refer to eating really spicy food, handling hot chapattis (or other hot items), or the weather on extreme days.

While today’s forecast was revised downward from a brutal 46°C to a mere 42°C, I still managed to have a few “hot hot hot” experiences of my own:

  1. The lady at my favorite Thai food stand is getting familiar with my love of spicy food. Today she added spices for my noodles to the wok while she was frying them, rather than giving me the normal Thailand experience of “spice it yourself” noodles. Turns out that two scoops of pounded chilies in your noodles are much spicier when they’re added up-front to the frying pan! They were my first five-star-spice noodles in Thailand and they were delicious (though my tummy is still burning).
  2. This morning I heavily roasted a pound of peanuts, and after lunch I went through my normal peanut butter making process. However, it turns out that roasting peanuts for a half-hour not only makes them delicious, but also makes them harder to grind (they don’t release as much of their natural oils). When I was done, I almost burned my fingers wiping the extra peanut butter off of the grinder blade.

Green mango and homemade peanut butter
The extra-roasted and finely ground peanut butter came out looking like melted chocolate and the roasting gave the taste some distinct coffee overtones

Baked in Thailand

Over the past few weeks we’ve started to build a little community here in our quiet mountain town. In addition to ex-pats, we’ve also befriended Nik, the owner of a local café. Nik makes the only real yogurt (as in, just milk and cultures) in this town, and some tasty soft breads. She invited us to bring ingredients to her kitchen one day, where she taught us some Thai recipes.

To return the favor, Lauren had a brilliant idea. Given that Nik has a blender that she uses for her bakery, she thought that we could teach her how to make peanut butter. She would be able to sell it along with her bread, and I wouldn’t need to spend 30 minutes with a mortar and pestle making barely spreadable peanut butter. This Saturday we stopped by after lunch with a bag of peanuts and gave Nik a demonstration. She loved it! She then mentioned to us how she wanted to be able to make crustier breads. We told her that we’d have to do some research but we’d give it a shot tomorrow.

While we’ve played with various quick-breads and challah, we’ve never tried our hand at rustic, crusty breads. Fortunately, I remembered a book that I discovered just before we left on sabbatical called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It is conveniently available on the Kindle, so in 10 seconds we had our preparatory material in hand.

We spent Sunday morning getting familiar with the highly rated “master bread recipe”, and after lunch it was time to test it out. The recipe involves four ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and salt), minimal active work, a few tricky steps (with pictures that help immensely) and a decent amount of waiting time. About 5 hours after mixing the ingredients we opened the oven and, just like the book had described, the browned crusty loaves crackled on their way out. It was a slightly longer demonstration process than the peanut butter. :)

We went upstairs to join the local yoga class while the loaves cooled. Our baking timing couldn’t have been better. I skipped sivasana to cut up one of the four loaves, and served samples of bread and peanut butter to the exiting yogis. We had rave reviews all around, and the remaining three loaves sold in about 30 seconds flat. Nik also sold a few jars of peanut butter to the yogis.

Over the past few days Nik’s been practicing the bread recipe and I’ve stopped by during my lunch breaks to provide tasting and marketing advice. Today’s batch came out excellent. Capacity building has never been more fun!

Nik and her bread
Nik with fresh bread cooling in a steamer (it’s important to improvise around here)

Bread!
A few different designs fresh out of the oven

Nik showing off her wares
Nik and all of her goodies (peanut butter, cookies, breads, and moon cakes)

Elbow Grease Peanut Butter

When we were in India we made all kinds of things from scratch, including peanut butter in the mixie. But since we didn’t want to fork over 1000 baht for an electric blender that we’d then have to ditch when we leave Thailand, Lauren and I thought we might just have to go without our peanut butter fix for a few months.

The other day I was munching on some roasted peanuts from the local market and noticed a mortar and pestle at work. I wondered whether I could put these two things together. I held back on my experimental urge… until this afternoon.

Prompted by our weekend discovery of a decent locally-baked whole wheat bread, I took the pestle to the mortar and crushed and re-crushed 100g of peanuts. After about 15 minutes of pounding (and some inquisitive looks from my co-workers), I had a mortar full of handmade peanut butter!

Hand grinded peanut butter

As my co-workers all took a sample, I explained to them the English term “peanut butter” and some of its usages as a spread in Western foods. They still thought I was crazy, but they liked the peanut butter and next time I’ll bring in some bread as a prop for a future English lesson. On my first taste I also realized that there had been a little residual crushed chili in the mortar, adding a touch of spiciness. This was accidental, but tasty, and next time I’ll likely add a small dried chili to the mix.

Tonight we bought a loaf of the whole-wheat bread from the night market and celebrated with a post-dinner snack:

Fresh as can be peanut butter snack
Lauren satisfying her peanut butter cravings for the first time in six weeks

Peanut Butter Chappaties

As many people know, Kenny and I eat a lot of peanut butter – it may be our main source of protein. A few friends at work teased me about this, implying that I wouldn’t be able to survive without it in Asia. Well, it turns out I don’t need to! We found a locally-produced peanut butter (without sugar – a very important qualification) at our local FoodWorld in Bangalore last night. There are even some great local recipes on the jar:

IMG_0897 

We had some on toast for breakfast this morning, but will need to pick up some chappaties next time we’re at the store.