Drinking civet coffee

A little over a year ago, I stumbled across this article from the New York Times and forwarded it to a couple people (check it out to see the picture of the coffee-packed civet dung…awesome).  A little email chain ensued, where one person wrote “Gross! Poop coffee!” and another wanted to give it a try.  I was interested, but I wasn’t going to order any.  It sells from $100-500/lb.

Then we found ourselves in Chiang Rai, in a coffee shop called Doi Chaang @ Art.  As I mentioned, several of the hill tribes in northern Thailand grow coffee, including the Akha farmers living in Doi Chaang village.  They have a partnership with a company called Doi Chaang Coffee, which distributes their coffee globally and runs a couple really nice shops.  While Alex lounged in a big arm chair, geeking out on his iPad and charting our scooter route for the day, I poked around the coffee beans in a display case.  I was looking through the different blends when I spied some bags of Wild Civet Coffee.  Whaat??!

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Scooters and agriculture in northern Thailand

This is a post that comes a bit more from the PhD side of me than the cook. I’m excited to write about the food and drink we encountered during the last leg of our trip, but first I thought it was best to bring up a couple of the issues surrounding agriculture in northern Thailand. Before we get going, here’s some shots of our really cool Thai motorcycle helmets.

After I last wrote, Alex and I rented a couple scooters and headed out from Chiang Mai, the biggest city in northern Thailand, up to a smaller town called Chiang Dao.

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Thai green curry

While I was in the middle of writing about the best vegetarian green curry of all time, Alex and I boarded a plane and then a ferry, trading Bangkok for Koh Phi Phi.

In Koh Phi Phi, my blog plans were thwarted.  Our hotel didn’t really have internet.  So, we focused on SCUBA diving, hiking  and a bit of lounging on the beach…

One of the fun things about going to the beach in Thailand is that the beach-side restaurants sell Thai food (shocker!).  After a snorkel, we’d crawl out of the water, land on some chairs in the sand, and order up soups and curries. Continue reading

Thai spring roll wrappers

Back at home, Alex and I go out for Thai food pretty regularly. We don’t order spring rolls as often, but when we do, they’ve always come in a thin, transparent rice wrapper. Yesterday I learned that the rice wrapper is a Vietnamese-style spring roll and Thais traditionally use a wheat-based wrapper. Who knew?

Our first order of business in cooking school was to stop by the local store that makes spring roll wrappers for all the neighboring restaurants. Actually, “store” is a bit of an overstatement. It’s a one-woman show that includes a big vat of a flour-water-salt dough mixture and a heavy cast-iron griddle over propane. She steadily cranks out spring roll wrappers from sun up until sun down to meet the local demand. I really like this short video Alex took of the action (I couldn’t sit in that position all day…and I would definitely burn myself!):

Our incredible instructor, May, wrapped spun sugar in the still-warm , crepe-like wrappers and passed them around for us to munch on.

Alex and I debated whether or not the wheat ones are better than the rice wrappers. He prefers them. I like them better for sweet dishes (like, with bananas), but I think I prefer the rice wrappers for spring rolls. One thing that’s nice about the wheat wrappers, though, is that when they’re fresh they’re very easy to work with.

Regardless, it was fun to learn about a new type of spring roll and see them being made! The outside of the shop is so understated that I would have never wandered in on my own. It was fantastic that May brought us by. Loved cooking school so much — more tomorrow!

Tropical fruit

During the day, it’s about 90 degrees and 90% humidity in Bangkok. While loads of Thai people seem comfortable lounging around in jeans (I’ve even seen a few sweatshirts), Alex and I are wilting. I think it’s going to be a little while longer until we get used to the steam room-esque conditions.

In the mean time, as we wander the streets we’ve been stopping by fruit vendors and juice shops to keep us going. The array of fruit is amazing! There are plenty of fruits that we’re accustomed to seeing (mango, pineapple and carrots) and some that I’ve seen a few times before (dragonfruit, mangosteen and rambutan — Trader Joe’s carried those last two dried). But, there are some that are new to me, like the green one below.

The guy selling the green fruit told me it’s called something like wu wu. We haven’t tried it yet, but it looks like we’re going to have to pick up a bunch of these different fruits and cut into them before the trip is over. I’m so intrigued!

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A weekend at Blackberry Farm

Last weekend, two close friends got married in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  The wedding was gorgeous, but we were also so, so lucky to have a chance to spend the weekend relaxing and eating at their wedding venue, Blackberry Farm.

Blackberry Farm is an exquisitely run Relais & Chateau hotel known for their food.  They have a strong farm-to-table ethic and  grow a good amount of their produce on site.  They also have chickens and a dairy.  Most everything served was in season and, if not from the farm, locally sourced.  The nicest thing, though, was that Blackberry Farm never hit us over the head with their approach.  On the menus I never read any words like house-made or foraged.  Instead everything was just fresh and brilliant tasting.

So, we ate.  We ate and ate and ate – formal dinners and casual BBQ lunches.  And we loved every minute of it.

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Food and Fleury in Napa

After our recent trip to Tres Sabores and Buehler, we couldn’t wait to follow it up with another trip to Napa. Alex happened to be working in the area (and staying in a nearby hotel), so it was almost by accident that we ended up spending a full day in Napa. Unlike other weekends in wine country, we had no plans, didn’t really feel like drinking much wine and felt great about taking it easy.

We woke up and rolled into town to grab coffee and cupcakes breakfast at Oxbow Public Market. Ritual Coffee Roasters has a storefront there (the same Ritual Coffee that I tried out in the Mission) and Alex wanted to give their coffee a go. He ordered a pour over coffee, begrudgingly paid ~$4, but loved the coffee. I focused my efforts on a latte and a carrot cake cupcake from Kara’s.

After Ritual, we got sidetracked by Whole Spice. I’m pretty sure they aren’t affiliated with Whole Foods, but I think that is the association they might be going for.

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A springtime day trip to Napa: Tres Sabores and Buehler

Now that I’m in the final throes of the semester, it seems difficult to believe that just a few weekends ago we were running around carefree in Napa.  But, we were!  As I was suffering through a round of papers today, I thought I’d look back over pictures from two recent Napa trips and pretend that we were still out in the sunshine among the budding vines with glasses of wine in hand (nevermind my advisor peering over at me from his office).  Here’s some pictures from our first trip.  I’ll have a post from our second trip later this week.

Our springtime adventures in Napa started on a chilly and beautiful day a couple months back when my friend, Christina, was visiting.  Alex, Christina and I drove up to check out a few vineyards recommended by our friend Phoebe (I was so happy to have recommendations — I always feel a little lost in Napa).  Based on Phoebe’s tips, we ended up scheduling tours at Tres Sabores and Buehler.  She knew we love having a good tasting experience (read about our wine preferences here) and she assured us both would be loads of fun.  She was right!

Tres Sabores

Tres Sabores is an organic vineyard that uses sheep to mow the weeds between the vines and guinea hens to eat the pests from both the ground and the sheep.  Sheep = extremely cute.  Especially when they nuzzle together.

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Pizza class at King Arthur (+ how to measure flour)

Finally returned home today after a couple weeks of traveling:  Oakland –> Aspen, CO (Spring Break!) –> Hanover, NH (great aunt turns 90!) –> San Francisco (wine tasting) –> Los Angeles (conference for school) –> Napa (friends) –> Oakland.  We had fantastic food everywhere along the way, but for now let’s skip over the Aspen leg and keep going with King Arthur.

I suppose I should start this post out by telling you that Alex and I are obsessed with pizza.  Obsessed.  We were making it so much for a while that I thought I was going to need to up my pants size.  Now we’re trying to become a little more normal with our pizza consumption.  But, in the process of making pie after pie we’ve been slowly working out our perfect pizza.  We’re not quite there yet, but we’re close.

So, when my mom told us that the whole family was going to the pizza making class at King Arthur as part of a celebration of my great aunt’s 90th birthday, we were so excited!  About 20 of us headed over to the Norwich, Vermont King Arthur store and donned aprons.

Here’s Alex contemplating the benefits and drawbacks of aprons:

Even though we make pizza all the time, we learned a lot in our class.  One simple but new thing was how to measure flour.  Usually I just scoop it out of the bag, level it and move on.  Apparently, in lieu of a scale, the proper way to fill a cup with flour is to shake the flour into the cup while keeping the cup still.  Our instructor, Susan, told us to try to get as much air in with the flour as possible and to never ever tamp down the cup.

She also said that if we use this technique, we should never need to sift!  Great, because I never sifted anyways.

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Shopping at King Arthur Flour

Hi!  Alex and I have been running around and away from our computers most of the week.  We have a couple posts coming for you soon, but in the meantime here’s a quickie.

Today we visited King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont.  Their on-site store had more baking products than I knew existed.  Not surprisingly, they have a lot of flours.  I mean a lot.  King Arthur has been milling flours since 1790, making it the oldest company in the US that’s still creating the original product it started off with.  I was excited about their high-gluten flour (good for bagels, I think) and their pumpernickel flour.  I was amazed by their European-style, French-style and Irish-style flours (wow…they’re all different?).

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