First Recovery Day – Cooking Class
March 17, 2018 § Leave a comment
Though I have the bike for the entire week, I can’t ride every day, and with the club ride yesterday, and my fiasco at the massage place (that poor young woman), I needed a day off.
During the research of “What to do in Phuket?” Susan came across a cooking class which she signed us all up for and as it happens that day is today. We had a scheduled pick-up at our hotel at 9:30, so even more reason not to go out on the bike, as anything could happen and I wouldn’t want to miss this class.
Three days in and I am still awake long before the 6am breakfast buffet opens. Susan was starting to adjust better than I, so I grabbed my Kindle and quietly egressed our room for what Hobbits would call “First Breakfast”. I reasoned that I was still a little calorie starved from my last effort on the bike, and so why not two breakfasts. First breakfast was always yogurt with fruit, muesli, and dried raisins. I started to add dried mango to the mix. To that add a couple pieces of buttered brown bread, juice, and a couple of cups of coffee. Being early, I could grab a table up front by one of the ponds and I can watch the light develop as the sun rose. I was well in the first book of Game of Thrones and buried myself into the chapters covering the battle of River Run where Robb outsmarted Jamie Lannister (Kingslayer), thus capturing a valuable prize and lifting the seige on Catelyn’s home. Susan came down as I was finishing the chapter and I guarded her food while she went back for other amenities. She favored the roast potatoes, the fruit, and a soft-boiled egg or two with toast. Throw in a slice or two of bacon, and she would call that “The perfect start to a day”.
Daughter #2 was the next to come down, and with her I went for my “Second Breakfast” of Thai noodles and broth. Very light and delicious. A little more juice and another Latte, and my breakfasts were complete. Daughter #1 eventually graced us with her presence and we all talked about out anticipation of the cooking class to come, eventually retiring back to our rooms for final clothing and grooming preparations. For me that simply meant donning my bathing trunks, a clean Tee, and brushing my teeth. “Ready!”
A taxi-van was there promptly at 9:30, we were the only guests at the hotel signed up, and we piled in and departed. The Phuket Cooking Course (Facebook) was the name and to Kata Beach we went via Patak Road. The class sits in the neighborhood behind The Beach Heights Resort, and is housed in a fairly new combination retail/residential set of buildings. The taxi let us out and waited, our host coming to greet us spoke excellent English. “Sawa Dee Krap” from me, “Sawa Dee Kah” from my wife and girls. As with almost every Thai woman I had met so far, our hostess/chef was very tiny, a pretty round face, and maybe in her mid to early 30’s. Her voice, also similar to much of the local tongues, was a little on the high side.
The first thing we did was pile back into the van for a trip to the Kata Market. My first thoughts were along the lines of “Gee, I sure do hope I don’t have to pick out my ingredients, because I think I would be pretty clueless.”. The trip to market went quick, we could have walked there, and it was really just informational. We walked around to the various stalls examining all the fresh herbs, and vegetables, all the various spice ingredients, both fresh (green pepper corns on twig like the other night’s dinner), and processed. The fish section was fantastic with all the crabs, prawns, whole fish, lobsters all sitting in large baths of ice water. There were even Tiger Prawns. There was also a section where you could get fresh chicken and pork. We wandered around, took it all in, and then clearly we weren’t there to buy anything, so we piled back into the Taxi for the short trip back to the kitchen.
Arriving, we were given aprons to don, and really cool caps for our hair. Sadly they had nothing for my beard, and we gathered at the prep table where our host introduced us to our menu, and all the specific ingredients we would need. On the menu? Tom Yum, Green Chicken Curry, Pad Thai, and finally Mango with Sweet Sticky Rice. Since the curry paste would be needed by all, we prepped those ingredients first, and sent them to the back to be blended together. Next up was the Tom Yum, a soup with a lot of ingredients that impart flavor, but are not meant to be consumed. For example a large chunk of wheat grass is crushed in a mortar, allowing the a lot of flavor to be extracted, but that is never edible. We prepped the other ingredients, and then for some reason, this part of the meal we didn’t actually cook ourselves. I guess since it would be first on the menu, and we still had a lot of prep for the other meals to do, a helper took all our ingredients into the back. Susan and the girls elected for a creamy Tom Yum, whereas I chose the clear, so they had coconut milk and chili in oil as additional ingredients.
Next up was the chicken green curry. With our paste blended, we assembled the rest of the ingredients, each slicing, or dicing, or quartering, depending on what was needed. Thai eggplant? Quartered. Finger Chili? Chopped. Chicken? Sliced. I took 5 large tablespoons of curry paste, and Susan and Alyson each took two. Corinne went with 3, so we had 3 different levels of heat that should make for shareable comparisons when we were finished. This time we all grabbed our ingredients, and walked into the back to handle the cooking. In the back was a large vent hood with 8 cooking stations set beneath it. Each cooking station was a gas burner, and a wok. We started with hot woks, and added the a small amount of coconut milk along with all the curry paste and blended. The aroma hits you pretty fast, and then in goes the chicken to cook through, after which the rest of the ingredients get added and the curry boils for about 5 minutes. when the time is up we added the magic fish sauce, sugar and salt, and removed the product from the heat. Then the finger chilies and the basil leaves, and with already prepared rice, we were ready to eat.
We started with our Tom Yum first. A light start to the meal. Ours had prawns, but it could be other seafood, or chicken, or simply vegetarian. We followed that up with our chicken green curry, and I am not lying when I say the first bite was awesome. All of us attacked our respective dishes with vigor. We did take some time to sample each others to see just how much difference the amount of curry paste really made. Alyson and Corinne both finished theirs, but I had to help Susan finish hers. It was tough, but someone had to step up and do it.
We returned to the food prep table to handle the Pad Thai. We had our choice of chicken, prawn or vegetarian, and then set about slicing, dicing and chopping again. This time we had some firm tofu to cube. For Pad Thai, there are the dry ingredients, and then there is also a sauce ingredient which is made up of brown sugar, tamarind sauce, vinegar, magic fish sauce, and white sugar, all blended together. The key to Pad Thai is that the noodles must be soaked ahead of time, so they have all the moisture they need to cook when you add them to the wok. Another key practice, once added is once mixed in, to push the noodles up the side of the wok out of direct heat, and let the sauce boil down. After 2-3 minutes the noodles are cooked, and everything is mixed together, and then transferred to your serving plate and garnished with bean sprouts, chives and crushed peanuts.
We took our seats at the eating table and again dug voraciously into our creations. I do think the level of voraciousness was slightly diminished among my companions, as by this time we had had a main course and a spicy soup already, and they were getting full. Wanting to reserve room for the mango and stick rice, my companions all elected to box their Pad Thai up for later consumption. Not me. I ate every bite.
Like the noodles in the Pad Thai, the rice in sticky rice first has to soak for about 2 hours prior to usage. I would say this is necessary as part of the steaming process, but if you have a rice cooker, I think most of them have a stick rice setting. We steamed the rice while we returned to the prep table to prep the mango. Take a ripe mango and peel/slice the skin off of one side. Then using a paring knife carefully halve and slice over the pit lengthwise until you have a nice big chunk of ripe mango. Cube this and then slice out the other half without peeling the skin. Then make cuts into the mango flesh to cube it and then invert the peel so that you have each mango piece projecting as a solid rectangle attached to the skin.
When the rice was finished steaming, we emptied that into a bowl, and then added hot coconut milk that had been boiling with fresh Pandan Leaf tied up in it. Reserve some of the coconut milk for serving. It takes about another 10 minutes for the rice to soak up the coconut milk and then it is time to serve. Use a cup or 3/4 cup measuring cup and mound some sticky rice on your plate, and then pour some of the remaining coconut milk over, and sprinkle some sesame seeds and add your mango. Eat. I am proud to say that no one left any mango, or sticky rice uneaten.
We finished up, grabbed a few more pictures, and then said our thank yous and we bid our teacher farewell and piled back into the taxi. Before leaving the area Susan noticed a particular scooter place right there where she wanted to rent scooters the next day. We noted our location, and paid attention to how the taxi took us home. We had only been in the area a couple of days, and didn’t have a good feel yet of our surroundings. We were back at the resort in less than 5 minutes, and we all staggered back to our rooms to assemble all that we would need to be beached whales that had just fed, by the side of one of the pools. We were full, and didn’t at this point feel like we were going to wander far from the hotel. We found some spots at the pool with the swim up bar, but again, being full, we lounged, and took some dips when we got too hot. It wasn’t long before someone suggested we go to the massage place in town and get taken care of. I had been considering getting something done with my feet. I had a lot of dry skin and callouses that I wanted to get rid of, and I had heard about fish tanks where the fish eat your skin, but after we got to the massage place, those fine ladies talked me into a foot scrub.
Remember the story from yesterday, and the poor woman who got me after a nearly 5 hour bike ride in the Thai heat, and all those cramps? Well another nice woman was given me as a client, and she had her hands full with my feet. She was very thorough, and put a lot of effort in, but even though I was face down on a mat, I could tell she was calling others over to consult. I don’t speak Thai, but if it was me perhaps it would have gone something like this “Hey Mary! Come take a look at these feet. You ever seen anything like this? It’s like his feet have turned to old shoe leather? I scrub and grind, and scrape, and there is always more? How long should I do this?” to which her companion probably smiled, and said politely, “You drew the short straw!”. Susan and the girls all finished their hour massages, and I was still on my stomach having my feet worked over, and further consultations. At some point, I think she declared victory, and I moved out to the parlor for some tea, when the owner lady came by to consult. She grabbed my left foot, rubbed around my toes, and then asked me sit in another chair, and then she spent another 30 minutes fine tuning. I could tell she wasn’t completely happy with the end result, but by this point I was feeling like maybe what my feet needed now, was a chance to recover from this session, and then when I get back to the states, I would make an additional appointment and get them done again. We agreed this was a good plan, and I paid my $10 for this tremendous effort to give me my feet back. I tipped heavily on this occasion.
I was all by myself now, because Susan and the girls were ready to utilize the swim up bar, and that is where I found them. The opportunity to sit in the pool for an hour would be good for my feet I reasoned. Walking over in my sandals, my feet felt in a way, like I don’t recall them feeling in a long time. I could feel them. It wasn’t just the pressure points I could feel but my entire foot was sending sensory feedback to my brain.
I found the family at the bar where I expected them, and I dropped off my stuff, removed sandals, and slid into the water and up to the bar where it was “Happy Hour – But Two Get One Free” and ordered two Mojitos. Our barmaid this time was Peach, a lovely Thai woman in her late 20’s maybe 30 who was one of the bar managers. She spoke with a rougher voice than I was used to from most Thais, and she always had a pretty smile. We sat at her bar for a couple of hours, sliding back into the pool every now and then to refresh. We were all in agreement that we did not need dinner this evening, but it would be nice to have a snack or two. As it so happened there was a Satay BBQ setup poolside, and we could order directly from the bar. We ordered up a chicken and beef to start with, to test the product shall we say. When it arrived, we dug in and found it to be quite acceptable, and ordered some more.
From the bar, looking West, it was pretty clear that tonight’s sunset would be spectacular. We decided that we would all go out to the beach to watch it this evening. As I think is usual for a seaside community, when the sun begins the final stages of setting, everyone stops what they are doing and stares. People are drawn in from the sidewalk for a better view, the same plants get water a little long as those tending them stare ahead. On the beach, for some reason, people move closer to the water, and in some cases step right in front of you. We found a place in the sand with a clear view some 20-30 feet back of the water line and set ourselves down. The para-sailors were taking clients up off the beach, to complete a wide circuit, out and away from the beach about 1/4 kilometer, a right turn North for 1/2 a kilometer, another right and back towards the beach, making the final right dragging the para-sailor over the beach where without the pull they descend back to the near point where they started. Ten minutes maybe? Some landings were perfect, some, not so perfect. The para-sailor was harnessed in, however I couldn’t see anything that the assistant was wearing. The assistant helped get the customer airborne, and then leaped up into the rigging above the client. I think he would pull on various ropes to exert certain controls over the parachute. These were your standard parachutes, and not the wing styles.
I noticed that they would cross our sunset path, and I didn’t see anyone else on the beach snapping pictures when they dragged across our field of view. Their loss, because that really enhanced my pictures. I managed a few silhouette photos as well and count the photo experience a positive check mark for the day. Afterwards, we retired to our rooms, and consumed some complementary wine that we both had received, and then it was time to consider the plans for the next day. For me, it would start with another bike ride, and I had reached out to Mark, and found that if I could make the bike shop by 6, then I would have some companions. Seemed like a goal to achieve. More on that in the next post.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and it is Friday, and we hosted our first Thai-Themed dinner night where we served up the Tom Yum, the Pad Thai, and the Mango Sticky rice. While it was NOT as easy as in class, we did quite a spectacular job of putting the whole thing together for 8 people. All was quite tasty. We will have to repeat this excursion…