We just got back from visiting Robert’s family in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As usual, we had a great time. We visited the Folk Art Museum, which, in addition to their permanent collection of artifacts, was showing a special textiles and fiber arts exhibit called “Needles and Pins.” Perfect for me! We also went to El Santuario de Chimayó, a famous Catholic pilgrimage site north of Santa Fe, and Las Golondrinas, a living history museum. Las Golondrinas has many beautiful Spanish colonial buildings on site and also hosts special events on the weekends including music festivals and lessons on how to make adobe. This was fun, but what I was really looking forward to doing during the trip was eating as much spicy New Mexican food as I possibly could.

Lucky for me, several of our tourist activities happened to involved food. For example, we stopped by Las Golondrinas during the middle of a bean tasting. That’s right, a bean tasting! Who knew beans had such a wide variety of flavors? When you taste them side by side, you can really tell the difference: some are mild and soft whereas others are meaty and full of texture. We also got to sample homemade panocha, a pudding made from brown sugar and sprouted wheat that is traditionally eaten during Lent. My favorite bite at Las Golondrinas, however, was the fresh bread straight from the horno. An horno is a dome-shaped adobe oven, and it produces incredible, super-crusty bread. We tried samples of whole wheat and a slightly sweet bread flavored with anise seed and orange zest.

In Chimayó, just north of Santa Fe, we happened upon a man selling various kinds of red chili powder. He led us through a tasting and, once again, I was surprised at the differences between the types. I was also quite amused at his very specific instructions during the tasting: sometimes we were given a pistachio nut to eat with the chili powder, other times we were told to chew the powder with the right molar (I think I might have accidentally used a bicuspid, but it still tasted good to me!) We bought a couple of small bags from him, although not nearly enough to get us through the winter. Thankfully, Henry, a friend of the family, was kind enough to offer up a huge part of his red chili stash. Thanks Henry!

We had our red chili, but we still needed green and lots of it. Fortunately, we were in Santa Fe for the start of the green chili harvest season. This time of year, chili roasters begin popping up around town. Grocery stores, strip malls, banks; every business with an outdoor parking lot seems to have its own chili roaster. You buy a bag of fresh chilies and then take it out to that store’s parking lot to get the chilies roasted. We stopped by Lowe’s grocery and, for just $19.95, I picked up a giant sack of chilies (bigger than me, even.) Then waited as our chilies were roasted. Watching your chilies roast is half the fun. Five minutes later, we were on our way home with big bag full of hot, charred chili peppers! We took the chilies back to Robert’s mom’s house and had a chili peeling session out on the porch. It is a messy process—best taken care of outside, with a cold beer handy. After we were done, Robert’s mom filled some corn tortillas with the green chilies for us to eat. You can’t get much fresher than that!

Overall, we didn’t dine out too often during the trip (but, when we did, I made sure to stuff myself completely full.) I had an excellent stuffed sopaipilla with red chili at El Paragua in Española. We also ate at El Parasol, one of El Paragua’s fast food restaurants. I had heard great things about their veggie tacos. Having just had a giant breakfast of Tecolote’s atole-piñon pancakes, I really wasn’t all that hungry. But, when Robert’s mom stopped off to pick up some ice cream and we just happened to be parked right next to El Parasol, I had to go in and order a couple of tacos. They were greasy and delicious! Robert picked up some pork tamales which he went crazy for. By chance, he ended up with one made with green chili and one made with red chili (in Santa Fe, they call this Christmas style!)

Number one on my list of things to do in Santa Fe was a visit to the farmer’s market (shocking, I know.) Much of the produce was the same as what we have here in Seattle, but I saw plenty of things for sale that you can’t get here. For example, you can’t order a zucchini and corn tamale for breakfast at my farmer’s market. Another major difference, of course, is the sheer number of chilies for sale at the Santa Fe market. One popular chili pepper at the market this year was the shisito pepper, a Japanese variety that is light green in color and medium in size. It is very mild and, because it has a thin skin, is great for frying. The nice folks from Romero Farms were frying up samples at the market. I couldn’t help myself; I bought some to bring home along with my other green chilies, and I also picked up two more packets of red chili powder. Lest you think we are only gluttons for chilies, we also came home with dried posole, atole, red chili-raspberry jam, salsa, green chili-peanut brittle, and two flavors of carne seca!

We wanted to get a really early start on our hike last Sunday so Robert and I decided to spend Saturday night in Leavenworth. Leavenworth is located on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, about 100 miles east of Seattle. It also happens to be situated 11 short miles away from the trailhead to Lake Caroline making it an ideal stopover location. For those of you that don’t already know, Leavenworth is not your average town. It is a full-fledged Bavarian village! Every single building in Leavenworth is outfitted with Bavarian touches, even the gas stations and the supermarkets. Some people might call it a cheesy tourist trap, but I like it. My grandparents lived there for many years so we used to visit all the time. I had lots of fun in Leavenworth as a kid. Bavarian-styled buildings and kitschy toy and gift shops – what child wouldn’t love it? It was like our little Disneyland (minus the rides.) Although it is much bigger now, and many of the kitschy shops have been replaced with upscale wine tasting rooms, Leavenworth is pretty much exactly as I remember it.

After an amazingly traffic-free drive down Highway 2 on Saturday afternoon, we arrived in Leavenworth famished! We immediately headed down to München Haus, a classic Leavenworth eatery where I knew I could get my hands on the one thing that I was craving: sauerkraut. Hey, this is a Bavarian village after all! München Haus is located right in the heart of downtown Leavenworth. It is less of a restaurant, and more of a glorified beer garden (or is that biergarten?) Communal picnic tables are arranged around a small courtyard where bands sometimes play. The restaurant is primarily outdoors, although most of the seating is covered by roofing or large umbrellas which provide much needed relief from the hot sun (or snow, depending on the season; in the winter there is also a big open fireplace in the courtyard to keep everybody warm – sounds cozy!)

München Haus specializes in one thing: bratwurst! They have a wide variety of brats to choose from including standards such as kielbasa and knackwurst, as well as more unusual fare like curry wurst and vegetarian wurst. You order and pay for your brat at a window and then grab a seat in the seating area and wait for your order to come up. Beer and wine is sold at another counter and, since this is Washington State, they feature plenty of local brews and wines in addition to the expected German imports. All brats are cooked to order on an open grill. München Haus is a very busy place, and I’m fairly certain that this has something to do with the aroma coming off that grill. It is pretty hard to resist. It may also be because München Haus’ food is relatively cheap. Our two brats came to $11.

Robert had the München Haus Beer Brat, an all-pork bratwurst boiled in beer. I ordered the vegetarian wurst. I really didn’t expect much from my wurst but, since I was in it mainly for the sauerkraut anyway, I wasn’t too concerned. Boy was I surprised! München Haus’ vegetarian wurst was amazing. It was spicy and flavorful, with plenty of delicious caraway seeds sprinkled throughout the “meat.” But, best of all, it was somehow actually juicy. Vegetarian meat substitutes have gotten better over time, but the one thing they are never able to imitate is the juiciness you get with a piece of meat. Not so here. I don’t know if München Haus just slathers it with grease before grilling or what, but it was great. I think Robert was even a little jealous. Topped with a smoky porter mustard (one of about 30 different mustard offerings,) horseradish, chopped onion and München Haus’ famous apple cider sauerkraut, this vegetarian wurst made me one happy camper (for that night at least – the next night, of course, I was fated to become one truly unhappy camper!) We washed our brats down with München Haus’ house brew: Alpine Brewing Company’s Marzen Amber. After dinner, we did a little shopping, cooled off with some huckleberry ice cream in a waffle cone, watched Bavarian music in the park and grabbed an Icicle Ale at Gustav’s before heading back to our hotel.

Robert and I just got back from our first backpacking trip of the season. We headed up to Lake Caroline in the Wenatchee National Forest. I wish I could say we had a great time, but, unfortunately, the mosquitoes had made it their goal to cause us misery. I have never seen such ruthless bugs! They were so bad at Lake Caroline that we decided to climb higher and higher into the mountains, hoping to find a windier, bug-free spot. No luck. We found wind and colder temperatures, but just as many mosquitoes. Even our 100% DEET wasn’t enough to keep them at bay. We ended up packing our things early the next morning and heading home, a day earlier than expected. Oh well, things can’t always be perfect. That’s the risk you take when you go into the backcountry. Robert and I have really good luck with backpacking up until now so we were probably due for a less than ideal trip.

At least, this trip afforded me the opportunity to try out a new backpacking recipe. This time I made “Alpine Peanut Noodles.” This recipes features angel hair pasta and my signature dehydrated broccoli in a spicy Asian peanut sauce. Black sesame seeds add an exotic touch – a little bit of gourmet while you’re out in the mountains! Weighing in at 12 ounces, this meal is bit heavier than I prefer for backpacking. After the exhaustive climb we did on Sunday, I am more motivated than ever to make my meals as lightweight as possible (without having to resort to commercial, freeze-dried camping dinners – blech!) That said, my Alpine Peanut Noodles were worth the extra weight. They were spicy and filling, just what you need after a long, hard day of hiking. It’s just too bad we couldn’t enjoy the meal thanks to the swarms of mosquitoes making a meal out of us!

Click here for my Alpine Peanut Noodles recipe >>

Before heading south to Koh Jum and Koh Lanta, Robert and I spent a few days in Bangkok. To describe Bangkok as a bustling city would be a gross understatement. Bangkok is…insane! Every square inch of space is filled with something: people, stray animals, food vendors, tuk tuks, you name it. And it is all moving around you at an intensely frenetic pace. I was a little bit freaked out at first, but now I kind of miss it. Seattle seems so still and desolate by comparison (that said, I was relieved to have my personal space back.) Our first night in Bangkok was a bit rough. After a full day of flying, then being thrown immediately into the heat and madness of the city, we come to find out that there is no alcohol being served anywhere due to it being an election day. No beer! We stayed at a small hotel on Rambuttri Street which is a pretty touristy area but not nearly as touristy as nearby Khao San Road. I don’t even know how to describe Khao San Road other than “total sensory overload.” This short street is chock-full of cheap backpacker hostels, food vendors, bars, souvenir shops and tourists from all over the world. Although I loved the islands, I wish we could have spent a bit more time in Bangkok. I could have easily spent another week eating my way through the city. Fortunately, although our time in Bangkok was brief, we did manage to eat some very memorable meals. Here are the highlights.

Siam Paragon Mall – Visiting a shopping mall while on vacation may seem like a waste of precious tourism time, but we decided to make a stop at Bangkok’s Siam Paragon Mall anyway since it was right by one of the major skytrain hubs. Plus, sometimes it’s more fun to get outside of the tourist bubble and do the things that the locals do. You get to view a slice of regular life that way (not that malls necessarily represent real life, but you get the point.) Believe it or not, Bangkok’s shopping malls are also good places for tourists to go to try lots of different Thai dishes. The malls have big food courts, and all of the dishes are very clearly labeled making it easier for people who don’t speak the language. We sampled a fatty and spicy glass noodle sausage, and we also tried some sort of Japanese snack which consisted of fried balls of flavored batter topped with mayonnaise and a thick barbecue sauce and served in a little carton. They are made in a specialized cast iron griddle that helps mold them into their round shape. The four available flavors – prawn, octopus, vegetable, and ham and cheese – all pretty much tasted the same. They were gooey and yummy, although the sauce was a bit overpowering. If these were served at Safeco Field, I’m sure they would be a huge hit. We also ordered a couple of cookies that looked like little crepes with various fillings. The cookie part was similar in taste and texture to a fortune cookie. We had one topped with something called “golden threads,” which was very sweet, and another topped with a mixture of sweetened carrot, cilantro and salt. I liked the carrot one best because it was salty/sweet, one of my favorite flavor combinations. We also, gratefully, found a place in the mall to order our first beers of the trip!

Aw Taw Kaw Market – Aw Taw Kaw Market was my favorite place that we visited in Bangkok! It is a giant food market located across the street from Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak Weekend Market. Although it is located so close to a major tourist attraction, few tourists visit the Aw Taw Kaw Market. But, as a foodie, I knew I had to check it out. We spent a good amount of time just wandering around and gawking at the giant piles of unidentifiable dried goods, exotic fruits and vegetables and even more exotic (sometimes downright creepy) fish and meats available. This is a great place to go for lunch because a large portion of the market is set aside food vendors. Some sell only the one dish that they cook best and some offer more of a full lunch; you get a plate of rice and a choice of one or several items from a vast array of premade dishes. I ordered a clam dish (pictured) that was sweet and spicy and a mind-blowingly spicy fish cake and eggplant dish. Since the food was all premade, they weren’t able to tone it down for my supposedly delicate Western palate like some places do. This was perfectly fine by me. I was sweating a bit, but it was delicious! Robert had a green bean and pork dish and a crispy fish dish. We also split a plate of fresh-off-the-grill chicken skewers with peanut sauce. For dessert, we had fried bananas and these little coconut custards called khanom krok. The bananas were quite firm, more like a plantain. They were good, but the coconut custards were the highlight for me. Crispy on one side and soft on the other, they were like little disks of pure, silky coconut goodness. Some were topped with scallions and some were plain. I could have easily eaten about twelve of these!

Chote Chitr – Chote Chitr is a pretty popular restaurant with foodies visiting Thailand (NPR and The New York Times have both done stories about it so its popularity is no surprise – while we were there, people were even getting their photo taken with the lady who runs the place.) Chote Chitr is located just off Tanao Road in the heart of Bangkok. Despite its new-found fame, it still only has four or five tables and looks like a hole in the wall. The owner is a pretty funny lady. She’s got a couple of dogs that run around wreaking havoc in the restaurant, and she often greets her guests while wearing safety goggles (this may seem strange but, after pounding a batch of green curry paste in my new mortar this weekend, I think I might have discovered why she wears them – I came dangerously close to splattering chili oil into my eyes.) We ordered a couple of Chote Chitr’s more famous dishes: Mee Krob and Banana Flower Salad. We were also persuaded to try the nightly fish special, a whole fried fish in a sweet and sour Thai sauce. Mee Krob consists of a little basket of crispy fried rice noodles topped with a tart-sweet citrus sauce. It was a little sweet for my tastes. I’m sure that Chote Chitr’s version is very good, but I prefer more savory dishes. The Banana Flower Salad, on the other hand, was amazing! I couldn’t get enough of it. The sauce, an unassuming brown color, tasted of fried shallots and coconut and citrus and a million other flavors all in perfect balance. I know I won’t be able to get banana flowers here, but I may try to make this salad using something else. That sauce would be good on anything. The fish was great as well. It was crispy on the outside and perfectly moist and tender on the inside. Robert proclaimed the fish best in show, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that banana flower salad.

Hemlock – Hemlock was recommended to us by several people, and it certainly didn’t disappoint! Although it looks like an upscale restaurant, with a tastefully decorated dining area and plenty of art up on the walls, the prices were still very low (four dishes, rice, and two large beers came to only $18 US including tip.) Hemlock’s menu is huge and features many ancient Thai dishes, the kind that you just don’t see in Thai restaurants in America. We started with one of my favorites, Miang Kam. This appetizer consists of toasted coconut, dried shrimps, sliced chilies, peanuts, lime, ginger, and shallots which you wrap up in a betel leaf and top with a sweet chutney-like sauce. You pop the whole thing in your mouth, and it’s like a little explosion of flavor. I use spinach leaves when I make this at home so it was nice to finally try it with the betel leaves. Miang Kam is perfect beer food! I was very excited about our next dish, Nam Prik Pla Too. Nam Prik refers to a Thai condiment or paste that is served with a very specific set of accompaniments. Usually, this is an array of raw vegetables but, depending on the type of Nam Prik, it may also be served with fish, omelets, or deep-fried vegetables. Ours came with fried “pla too” (mackerel), a piece of omelet, deep-fried eggplant and an assortment of interesting raw vegetables. This Nam Prik is made from fermented shrimp paste so it has a very pungent (but appetizing) flavor. It is said to be a favorite among Thais. Now, it is a favorite with me too! Next up was Pad Ci Ew. This is Robert’s favorite Thai dish of all time, and we hadn’t seen it on any menu yet so we had to try it. Not surprisingly, the Pad Ci Ew at Hemlock was much more subtle in flavor than what you get here in Seattle. The rice noodles were soft and not too greasy. We ended the meal with Tavoy Salad, an ancient recipe consisting of an exotic assortment of vegetables – eggplant, morning glory, banana flower, beans sprouts, bamboo shoots, and wing beans – topped with chicken and served in a spicy, sour dressing. It was refreshing and delicious. We ate at Hemlock on our last evening in Thailand, and we couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the trip!

Koh Lanta is a popular island located on the Andaman Sea between Krabi and Phi Phi Island. It was the second island we visited in Thailand. After the peace and quiet we experienced on Koh Jum, we found Lanta to be a bit too touristy at first. But, as we settled in, we came to realize that Lanta has it charms as well. We ended up staying on Khlong Kong Beach our first night which we weren’t too crazy about because it was very touristy and the beach wasn’t particularly nice. The next day, we rented a scooter and headed further south where the beaches are less developed. We found a bungalow at Lanta Marine Park View Resort on Kantiang Bay Beach. The bungalow itself was just okay, but the view of Kantiang Bay from our porch was unbeatable. And, once again, our bungalow was located at the top of a big hill in prime monkey territory. Kantiang Bay Beach is exactly what you think of when you picture a Thai island: beautiful white sand and crystal clear, turquoise water. Although there was a small handful of resorts nearby, the beach was never crowded. We spent most of our time zoning out on the porch, but we also enjoyed a scenic scooter trip around the east side of the island and a fun 4-islands boat trip which included a stop at the awesome hidden beach on Koh Muk (the only way to reach the beach is by swimming through a long, dark cave!) We ate at a lot of places on Lanta, but here are the highlights.

Blue Marlin Resort – We stayed at Blue Marlin Resort on our one and only night at Khlong Kong Beach. The bungalow we rented was kind of shabby, but it was cheap and run by a friendly family. Although we weren’t thrilled with Khlong Kong Beach, we did get pretty excited when we saw all the resorts setting up for their nightly seafood barbecues. The moment the grills were fired up and the giant platters of fresh seafood were brought out, my mouth started to water! We decided to eat at our own resort, Blue Marlin, mostly because it had the best music on the beach (I’ll take Amy Winehouse over Pink Floyd or techno any day.) We picked out a nice piece of barracuda and two giant prawns from the seafood display and then ordered potatoes and veggies to go with it. It was all very good, but here’s the weird thing: our seafood never made it onto the grill. And neither did anybody else’s. As soon as anyone ordered a piece of fish, it was whisked away and cooked in the kitchen. The only thing that we saw on the grill all night was the potatoes. What is up with that? Why put out a platter of seafood right next to a big grill if you are not going to put said seafood on said grill? I wanted to see some char marks on my fish! Oh well, it was still very fresh and delicious. Plus, you really can’t complain too much when you are eating barefoot in the sand!

Drunken Sailors – Drunken Sailors is a really cute café located in the tiny village at Kantiang Bay. It is situated in a very distinctive octagonal blue building consisting of two stories: the bottom floor is the café and the top floor is the home of the young Thai woman who owns the cafe. It is a tiny, brightly lit space with only a few tables. Regardless of its small size, however, it is one of the hotspots in town. Each night, they show a different movie on the television; movies run the gamut from recent Oscar winners to unknown (to me) foreign flicks. We went there for breakfast and enjoyed it quite a bit. Everyone in the place is really friendly, and it’s a fun spot to just sit and watch village life during the early morning hours. Plus, they serve good, strong coffee and some of the lightest, crispiest pancakes I’ve ever had.

Lanta Thai Cookery School – I knew that I wanted to take a cooking class sometime during my stay in Thailand. Originally I was going to sign up with Time for Lime, but they were a little too peppy and overly branded for my tastes. Lanta Thai Cookery School, on the other hand, was very laid-back (and cheaper too!) I can’t really say that I learned too much as I’ve cooked a fair amount of Thai food in my day, but it was fun and I met a nice woman from Sweden (we were the only two people in the class that morning.) We made Tom Yum, Pad Thai (of course), Chicken with Cashew Nuts, and Green Curry with Seafood. We were also shown how to make green curry paste from scratch but, unfortunately, we didn’t get to use our homemade paste in the green curry dish because it takes too long to pound it properly (our teacher said it takes 1 hour for Thais but 2 hours for foreigners – ha!) Everything that we made turned out really good. My favorite dish was the Tom Yum because I had never made it before and was amazed at how such a simple set of ingredients could be so complex in flavor.

7-11 – Yes, I really am including 7-11 in with my Lanta food notes. Since we had a fridge in our bungalow, we were constantly going to the 7-11 in town to stock up on beer, iced coffee and whatever crazy Thai snacks sounded good that day. The 7-11 at Kantiang Bay was frantic every time we were there. There were usually about 10 or more people working in the tiny store at any given time, and they were all obsessed with mopping the floor. Seriously, the mopping was nonstop (interestingly, the 7-11 is also the only place that we came across where people didn’t remove their shoes before entering – I think there may be a connection there.) I spent a lot of time perusing the available snacks at 7-11. I tried several kinds of potato chips including Hot Chili Squid, Seafood and Mayonnaise and Pla Sam Rod flavor, whatever that is. I also bought a very unusual salted jujube snack which was kind of good and kind of gross all at the same time. But, my favorite snack from the 7-11 was Miang Kam candy. This delicious candy contains all of the ingredients in Miang Kam: coconut, lime, peanut, chili, dried shrimp, etc. I bought all of the bags on the shelf to bring home as souvenirs, but it wasn’t enough. This stuff is like Thai crack, and I’m an addict! I couldn’t find any at Uwajimaya, but I’ll be sure to scour the entire International District until I get some (or else I think I might freak out a little…)

“The Road” – In the middle of the town at Kantiang Bay, right by the side of the road, there exists a tiny shack run by a couple of Muslim ladies. This place has the best food we found on Lanta. Since we didn’t know the name of it, or maybe it doesn’t even have a name, we started referring to it as “the road.” We ate there four times during our trip (coincidentally, we met another American couple who had eaten there four times as well.) People who eat at the expensive beach resorts are really missing out (although, if you’re uncomfortable with the thought of roosters and stray cats running around at your feet during lunch, then “the road” might not be the right place for you.) My favorite dish was the red curry vegetables. Unlike sweeter versions made with coconut milk, this red curry was all about the spicy! Robert loved the fried noodle dish: wide rice noodles sautéed with vegetables and prawns. We also enjoyed their pad thai, a vegetable dish with fresh basil and some delicious Thai iced coffee. Each dish costs 60 to 70 Baht (under $2.) We saw lots of locals eating there which is always a good sign. There is nothing at all fancy about the food at “the road.” It is just simple, honest, homemade, delicious (and spicy!) food, and I miss it terribly.

Of the three major locations we visited in Thailand, Koh Jum was our favorite. We loved it so much, in fact, that we ended up visiting twice: once at the beginning of the trip and then again at the tail end of the trip. Koh Jum is located on the Andaman Sea between Krabi and Koh Lanta. The southern end of Jum is relatively flat with palm trees and sandy beaches and heavier tourism (although, this is certainly a relative term; the tourism on Jum is nothing compared to places like Phuket or even Koh Lanta.) In contrast, the northern coast, where we stayed, is remote and wild. You get a definite castaway feeling when you stay there (we totally felt like characters in Lost!) It is rocky and mountainous with heavy jungle cover, which, in part, helps to keep the crowds away. Personally, I love that rugged, rocky beach look (it reminded me a lot of the Washington Coast, although with much, much hotter weather.) Plus, heavier jungle means more monkeys for me to spy on! We rented a scooter one day so we could see the rest of the island, but mostly we just stayed close to our beach and swam and read our books or hung out at the bar. I had been forewarned that food on the islands was pretty bad in comparison to what you get in Bangkok. That, combined with the fact that we were pretty much limited to eating at the three resorts on our beach, meant my hopes for eating well were pretty low. In the end, however, we managed to find some pretty good, though not necessarily traditional Thai, food on Koh Jum. Here are some notes:

Ting Rai Bay – On our first visit to Koh Jum, we stayed at Ting Rai Bay Resort. As with all of the bungalows on Jum, to call it a resort is a bit misleading. Patch of land with a grouping of bungalows is probably more appropriate. Everyone we met at Ting Rai Bay, staff and guests alike, was very friendly and super mellow. It was unbelievably easy to get a room there; we simply hopped off the ferry onto Ting Rai Bay’s longtail boat and, 10 minutes later, we were sitting in the restaurant enjoying a complimentary drink and being shown the available bungalows. We got a lovely bungalow for 500 Baht (about $18USD.) Ours was at the very top of a long set of steps which meant that we had a wonderful view of the sea (but also meant getting a real workout every time you needed to go back to the room.) Everything about our stay at Ting Rai Bay was great…except for the food. I had a pretty horrific green papaya salad my first day there. They somewhat redeemed themselves with a decent green curry later that night but, really, it’s pretty tough to make a bad curry. We quickly learned to eat elsewhere.

Old Lamp – Old Lamp is the next resort down from Ting Rai Bay. The owner, who is the sweetest man, took extra care to avoid disturbing the native vegetation when building his resort. As a result, you can barely see the bungalows from the beach. It is very private. The restaurant at Old Lamp is built right down on the beach. With its heavy use of driftwood and shells for décor, it blends very naturally into the surroundings. This became our regular breakfast spot, not only because they give you huge mugs full of piping hot, super-strong coffee (just like home) but also because Old Lamp has the only bread oven on Koh Jum. And, that means delicious, homemade toast! My standard breakfast consisted of two thick slices of wheat toast (which had little black sesame seeds interspersed throughout,) homemade peanut butter, and a mixed fruit lassi. Robert’s favorite item was the Big Breakfast Sandwich which was wheat toast topped with scrambled eggs, bacon and tomato with a side of fruit. Freshly baked bread and dark coffee on a beautiful morning by the sea – how can you beat that? Each morning, over breakfast, we would watch all the longtail boats from the various resorts go out to meet the morning ferry (which we came to refer to as rush hour Koh Jum-style.) Then, we would linger with our books over coffee. Mornings at Old Lamp are mellow and perfect!

Oonlee – Ah, Oonlee Bungalows. Lovely, lovely Oonlee Bungalows. We stayed here on our return trip to Koh Jum; in fact, Oonlee was part of the reason we decided to come back. It is such a wonderful place. The owners, Valerie, from France, and Oon, a local Thai, are the sweetest people in the world. Oon will try to get you to go out with him on one of his almost-daily fishing trips (and, if you don’t go, he’ll make sure to stop by your bungalow upon his return to proudly show off his catch.) And Valerie goes out of her way to make you feel right at home. Oonlee’s bungalows are slightly more modern than the other bungalows on the beach, but they are so beautifully crafted. They overlook pretty gardens and have lots of windows to let in light. Even the bathrooms are cute. Oonlee’s bar quickly became Robert’s favorite place on the island. Like Old Lamp’s restaurant, it is built on the rocks right down over the water. It is basically just a big wooden floor with a couple of low tables and a bunch of floor pillows scattered about. We enjoyed numerous Singhas (as well as a few delicious fresh coconut shakes) while sitting at the bar listening to Oon’s crazy fishing tales.

Oonlee Bungalows also has the best food on Ting Rai Bay Beach (if not the whole island.) The restaurant, which is way up at the top of the hill overlooking the gardens and the sea, offers a variety of Thai and European dishes. We sampled fewer of the traditional Thai dishes and tended more toward the nightly fish specials. On our first night, we had a fresh barracuda carpaccio with lemon and black pepper that was exquisite. Another interesting special was yellow tuna steamed with herbs, ginger, and Chinese apricots. The tuna was a bit dry, but the combination of flavors was very unusual. Other highlights included a tasty seafood glass noodle salad and a delicious yellow curry dish. For breakfast, I enjoyed the Khao Tom (pictured), a traditional Thai rice soup with prawns, vegetables and herbs topped with an egg. The extra touches, such as cloth napkins and yummy fried shallot garnishes on the steamed rice, put the food at Oonlee a step above that of the rest of the island (it is also a bit higher in price but well worth it in my opinion.) They are also very forthcoming with the complimentary snacks. Each night, at the bar, we were offered either freshly roasted nuts or homemade sesame chips. On our last day, as we were sipping coffee and waiting for the ferry to take us away, Valerie gave us little banana leaf packets filled with black sticky rice and coconut as a thank you. Paradise!

Robert and I recently returned from a 2-week vacation to Thailand! I had been wanting to go to Thailand for years, mostly because of the food. This year, we finally just decided to go for it. We had a really wonderful time. We spent a few days in Bangkok, and then headed south to Koh Jum and Koh Lanta, two islands in the Andaman Sea near Krabi. Bangkok was crazy and chaotic with people, animals, taxis, motorbikes and tuks tuks speeding by all around you in every direction. It was really fun and exciting but also a bit frightening for two people coming from a city where pedestrians and drivers compete to see who can be more polite. By contrast, life on the islands was peaceful and relaxing. We loved Koh Jum the most; everyone there was so friendly, and the beach where we stayed was really undeveloped and wild (although, electricity and a 7-11 are reportedly coming to the island next year so things may not stay so serene for long.)

My two favorites things about this trip were the monkeys and, no surprises here, the food. We saw monkeys nearly every day. One day, they even came up onto our porch to say hi (okay, really they came looking for a handout and, when that didn’t pan out, decided to try and steal my backpack and my book instead.) With only a few exceptions, the food we ate in Thailand was all really good. We had a couple of exceptional meals in Bangkok. But, even the food that would probably be considered average by Thai standards was much better than what you get in most Thai restaurants in America. I’ll be writing up food notes from the places we visited over the next couple of weeks so stay tuned.

Lastly, I would like to thank Cee, of the fantastic website, Real Thai Recipes, for helping me plan my trip. Without her sound advice, I’m sure we would have found ourselves spending way too much on cab rides and eating our fair share of bland tourist pad thai. If you are interested in learning to cook Thai food, be sure to check out Cee’s website. Her food photos are amazing, and the recipes are authentic yet very accessible.

Click here to see photos from our trip >>

Robert and I just returned from a wonderful backpacking trip to Sprite Lake via Paddy Go Easy Pass. It was a pretty steep climb, but the beautiful scenery, complete solitude and (mostly) nice weather was the perfect reward. We spent most of the trip reading our books, watching the playful chipmunks and listening to the pikas make their strange beeping sounds. Foodwise, I was pretty lazy and packed a couple of quick, no-brainer meals. Although it wasn’t gourmet, we still managed to eat pretty well during the trip. We had frito pie one night (of course) and Mary Jane Farm Organic Couscous & Lentil Curry the next which, as far as packaged food goes, is actually really good. Since it is always nice to have something fresh with your jerky and dried fruit and crackers, I packed a couple of CSA nectarines which held up surprisingly well. I also found these beautiful huckleberries growing near the lake which we ate as a morning snack with coffee and homemade zucchini bread. I can think of few things that are better than waking up in the mountains to the sunrise and a handful of freshly-picked wild huckleberries!

Robert and I hiked up Iron Peak this weekend, and I brought along a couple of Pain Bagnats for our lunch. Pain Bagnat (also commonly spelled Pan Bagnat) is a sandwich from the Provence region of France. It is basically Salade Nicoise on a crusty bun. The most traditional fillings are tuna or anchovies, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, cucumber or bell pepper, olives and some sort of vinaigrette. Optional ingredients include sliced cheeses or meats, lettuce or other greens, pesto, capers, roasted bell peppers, sliced onion, or even marinated chickpeas. A nice crusty bun or loaf, such as a baguette, is essential to making a good Pain Bagnat.

Pain Bagnat is a perfect sandwich to take hiking because it doesn’t contain any highly perishable ingredients. Also, it is a very sturdy sandwich; once assembled, it is actually meant to sit for a while to allow all of the ingredients to marinate together and soak into the bread (Pain Bagnat actually translates to “bathed” or “wet” bread.) Pain Bagnats are usually pressed down using weights for anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight to assist with the marination process. I figured that wedging the sandwiches into a tightly packed daypack would have a similar effect. We ate our delicious Pain Bagnats with fresh grapes while enjoying the stunning 360-degree view from the top of Iron Peak.

Robert and I just returned from a fantastic backpacking trip to Toleak Point, located on Washington’s beautiful Olympic Coast. My family used to backpack at Toleak Point every year when I was little, and it was always my favorite place to go. Unlike most modern coastal areas, which are typically lined with hotels and tourist traps, the Olympic Coast is made up of natural, protected wilderness. Rocky headlands, dense forest, rugged beaches, tidepools and creepy off shore sea stacks are the name of the game here. Hiking on the Olympic Coast usually means scrambling up steep, unstable cliffs and over giant, slippery rocks in order to get where you are going. A tide chart is a necessity in order to avoid getting trapped between impassable headlands. But, once you arrive at your destination, you are rewarded with some of the most beautiful, pristine wilderness in the United States.

Although the coastline is always changing, everything at Toleak Point was basically the same as I remembered. In a way, I felt like I had been there just yesterday (20 years can really fly by!) We saw plenty of wildlife including seals, bunnies, starfish, sea anemones, blue herons, bald eagles and a family of river otters who would come out to play in the ocean twice a day (the river otters were there when I was a kid too, so I was glad to see that they were still around.) The weather was very kind to us – no rain! A huge heatwave hit Washington State during our trip so, even though it was pretty sweltering out at the coast, it was still a much better place to be than in the city. We were lucky to have a giant ocean to cool off in. Mostly, we spent our time sitting in the sand reading our books or staring out at the water. I may love my computer and TV, but you really can’t beat the Pacific Ocean for entertainment. Robert’s well-crafted campfires provided lots of entertainment as well.

As for the food? Well, my kitchen experiments last month really paid off because our dinners were all excellent! Of course, food always tastes so much better when your have dirt on your face and sand between your toes. Breakfasts and lunches were pretty standard fare: logan bread and oatmeal for breakfast and peanut butter, crackers, dried fruit and snacks for lunch. The dinners were the real highlight. The first night, I made frito pie, Robert’s favorite. It was just as good as it was during our last backpacking trip, if not better. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll be able to go on a backpacking trip without bringing along frito pie fixings. It is perfect camping food – spicy, filling and lightweight! My tuna & broccoli pasta was good, although, out of fear of starvation, I added more pasta than my own recipe called for, and we had a really hard time finishing it. I suppose being too full is better than going hungry, however. My final dinner was the result of another kitchen experiment: Vegetable Jambalaya. This dish was just OK when I tested it at home, but I doctored the recipe a bit and it ended up being completely delicious out at the beach. I combined instant rice with corn, okra, green beans and red bell pepper (that I dehydrated at home in my oven.) Green chilies, sun-dried tomatoes and spices add flavor.

Click here to see photos from the trip >>

Click here for my Vegetable Jambalaya Recipe >>

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