Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our holiday adventure certainly lived up to its name! Do you recall how my last post ended aboard flight number two? Well the third flight had a little unexpected twist. We arrived in Bangkok at 7:40pm and our flight to Chiang Mai was scheduled for 9:40pm. I had researched through Google flights and found not only an amazing price on the Seychelles-Bangkok flights but also found if I booked the Bangkok-Chiang Mai flight separately I could save us over $500. I had verified the flight time as being the exact time it would have left Bangkok had I booked it all together to ensure sufficient layover time and gave myself a little pat on the back for taking the time to find the best value. Yay me!

Bangkok is a massive airport. I was instantly impressed with how efficient it was which ironically turned out to be our saving grace. That and the people. I cannot begin to describe how the people we interacted with in the first fifteen minutes changed our entire experience. We stopped at the information desk and I asked if she could direct us to the domestic terminal. She looked at the booking I handed her and calmly replied This flight is out of a different airport. There are buses that can take you there but given the time I would recommend a taxi. Insert little twist. Okay. That was something I had not apparently verified. Given her demeanor I was not concerned as we proceeded to immigration (no line) and I converted US dollars to baht (also no line). We headed towards baggage and followed the signs down to the taxi queue. The line there was extremely long so I showed the attendant our itinerary and she said Come with me. We followed her to the front of the line where she printed a tag and directed us to our waiting spot. We were in the vehicle within minutes. Our driver did not speak English so I showed him the itinerary and pointed to the departure time. We had no idea at that point how far away the other airport was however I was envisioning a ten minute commute as would be the case in my home state of Minnesota. You are not in Minnesota any more girlfriend! At one point MC calmly asked what time the following flight departed. I replied an hour later with a vague recollection that there was indeed a later flight but I was not necessarily that confident. After a stunning impromptu tour of Bangkok at night we arrived thirty-five minutes prior to departure. The woman at the check in desk smiled patiently while printing our boarding passes and said You may need to run as it is the furthest gate. All I could do was nod and chuckle at this point because the only thought that came to mind was the famous line from Dumb and Dumber. So you’re saying there’s a chance? We hightailed it through security (once again no line!) and off we went to the end of the airport, arriving winded to be greeted once again by smiling attendants. Board, door shut, take off. It felt like it happened within two minutes. Our very own Christmas miracle! I would be seriously remissed if I did not honestly admit that this is the way I would always love to travel. I get bored to death waiting in airports. On the flipside, however, my better half has had some horrific travel experiences within the African continent and is exactly the opposite. He wants to be at the gate physically immediately upon arrival with plenty of time to spare. I understand completely. I certainly have my own idiosyncrasies. I thanked him profusely for his patience and then teased him that as promised he will never have a dull moment with me as his wife. As MC napped on the short hour flight I reminisced about the amazing impact the first Thai people had had on me. Everyone we had encountered was kind, friendly and most importantly had a positive mindset. It was incredibly inspiring. I had known that this trip was going to be extra special and it certainly was off to the right start!

We arrived at our Airbnb in the Su Thep neighborhood of Chiang Mai close to 11pm local time after departing Seychelles at five that morning. Check in involved grabbing the key from a mailbox and up we went to our quiet modern studio condo. While I freshened up MC scouted a bar for a cold beer and a street food vendor still open for business both within a stones throw. This spicy pork noodle bowl of love was well worth fifteen hours of travel. We immediately decided we could live here happily ever after. Two bowls cost us the equivalent of $2.50.

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The next morning we were up bright and early for our Thai cooking class. It began at the local farmers market where the instructor explained some of the key ingredients in Thai cooking. Kefir lime, lemongrass, lime leaves, Thai ginger and basil, garlic, green papaya and multiple types of chili. From there we were transported to a beautiful property outside of town with a large organic garden and three outdoor kitchens. We chose which dishes we each wanted to prepare and she skillfully walked us through the prep of all of the ingredients.

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I especially loved that they handled the range of experience amongst us expertly and that we had a great group of young cooks with us who were just as excited to learn as they were to eat. Our first courses included Tom Yum and Tom Som soups as well as cashew chicken and hot basil chicken which is locally known as pad ka pow. We sat down to enjoy our creations and were quite impressed with ourselves! Next up was learning to prepare the chili pastes. MC made panang while my group chose green curry. Both were intense workouts with the mortar and pestle but the smell was well worth the labor. We moved to the gas burners and got down to business. When the dishes were prepared we went back to the kitchen to mix a traditional Thai tea to accompany it. After enjoying the main course the rest of the group was done for the day while we were sent to break before the second half of our lesson. MC was in a full on food coma mode and took the opportunity to nap in the garden.

Next we learned spring rolls, green papaya salad and larb gai which is a spicy minced chicken salad. At this point, we needed to surrender to take away containers as we had no room left. Or so we thought!


Our final lesson was mango sticky rice and fried bananas. Okay, we will make room! We gobbled it all up and headed back filled with culinary inspiration. How could it possibly get any better than this? We figured out quickly that if we said that every day we were consistently proven that indeed, it absolutely could. Can you believe we still made room that evening for our pork noodles? It seemed like the right thing to do to support the young husband and wife team!

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The next morning we decided we needed to take a long walk to work up an appetite. Our primary intention had been to dive deep into the street food of Thailand and yet as I researched there were reviews for a place I felt we just had to try. The name of the place is Tikky Café and one look at the kitchen will tell you that it is something special. Nestled in a tiny garden area of a small side street just inside the old city we were treated to a culinary experience I will never forget. During our short wait we met a Canadian who lives in Chiang Mai for several months of the year. He said he eats there at least twice a week and always has difficulty choosing because it is all to die for. I love it when my instinct is spot on! I began with a mango passion fruit smoothie that was heavenly and MC had an iced mocha that was, to put it mildly, potent. It was exactly the pampering he deserved after a day of having to work for his food. He enjoyed reading the Lonely Planet Chiang Mai guide book as I admired the beautiful garden and dishes passing by. Our selections, upon arrival, did not disappoint!

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MC chose the seafood Tom Yum and ordered it Thai spicy. I am certain this bowl cures any major disease that ails you. We just kept thinking it could not possibly be this good. The tangy lime and creamy coconut milk flavors still came through the power packed heat of the chilis. It was the best soup either of us have ever eaten. This is an extremely bold statement for a man who was scarred for life with an over abundance of soup in his childhood and thus does not care for liquid in a bowl of any variety. It also surpassed a soup I swore would never be beat from a now burned-down Minneapolis icon called Heidi’s that prepared a pork and prawn soup that I can still taste nearly twenty years later. We both sat in a slight daze of awe and wonderment. We were living the foodie dream both simultaneously thinking This is the best thing that I have ever eaten in my life!

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Next came the perfect way to balance the heat. Cashew pineapple seafood rice. Once again, my mind was blown. By rice you ask? All I can say is fly there and eat it if you want to challenge my taste buds. It made me feel as though I had not truly tasted food until this moment. It was a whole new level of achievement in my culinary world. It is probably the quietest my husband has ever witnessed me as each time I tried to open my mouth I was either at a loss for words or taking another bite. With an additional red curry pork dish and a fruit plate that was more reminiscent of an orchard on a plate that were both equally fresh and delicious our tab came to less than 500baht. That, my friends, is less than fifteen US dollars. Ponder that, let it sink in, and then research flights. It was undoubtedly one of the top five meals of my life.

We wandered aimlessly for a while in our bliss and ended up at an outdoor veranda offering foot massage. We spent the next half hour laughing our heads off like naughty children in church. Massage in Thailand is something I believe one has to experience at least once in their lifetime. They look like sweet innocent ladies and yet their hands somehow have the strength of Hercules. It is a mild form of torture that forces your body to succumb to its natural state of health whether you go willingly or not. I believe I shed a tear or two despite my attempts to laugh through the pain but once I stood up I felt six inches taller and like a million bucks. I do not believe you will find a massage cheaper anywhere in the world so it is sort of a crime to not participate.

From there we began meandering through the old city in search of a gate known in English as the White Elephant. It is one of many in this city that dates back to 1296. The adventure in Chiang Mai will be continued as there was just too much fun, food and photos to include in only one post. Stay tuned!

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Tis The Season

I have confessions to make. The first is that I have sorely missed our weekend swims. This photo was taken in late November before the rains hit. It is only weeks ago yet it seems much longer. Yes, I am well aware that there is no sympathy for me as I have family and friends weathering the cold and snow for months on end. My only point is no matter how much you appreciate what you have you truly do not recognize its magnitude until it’s gone.

In rolled the clouds via stunning watercolor one innocent afternoon and it has been raining ever since it seems. I have missed my morning sunrise and spent countless hours squeegee-ing the water off the upper and lower verandas. It certainly beats shoveling snow however!

The trade off is one stunning rainbow after another. Many wishes have been made for abundance in the new year. Love, travel, peace, health and happiness. Bring it on 2019! Oh, and plenty of sunshine too please!

Speaking of health, the rains brought on flu season here and I was not spared. A week and a half away from our travel plans I was hit with the sniffles, cough, muscle aches and fever. I was determined to get healthy quickly so in addition to lots of rest, fluids and hot salt baths I picked up a remedy at the local shop last Friday night. Here comes my second confession. I would not normally share this but when I told my friend back home she said wine came out her nose so I figured with the holidays everyone could use a good laugh. Consider it an early Christmas present at my expense.

Here in Seychelles they only sell medications of any kind, including over the counter, at small pharmacies. This should have been my first clue that what I spotted on a regular store shelf was not in fact the Nyquil capsules that it appeared to be. Also odd was that it was sold out of the box as a pack of ten. I have absolutely no defense for what happened next. In hindsight I will not be surprised if MC requests an affidavit to relinquish any liability for my well being. Clearly it is miraculous that I have lasted this long. I went home and popped a capsule without even looking at the back of the package.

An hour later I was chuckling to myself about the neon green capsules and decided to take a photo to send to my friend. May I claim delirium at this point? I turned over the package and in the dim light I read NOT TO BE INGESTED. I actually started giggling thinking it was funny. How else would I take them? Then it slowly set in… Hmmmm? I wonder what these are? As a turned on my phone flashlight to read the small fine print I thought perhaps I should panic but decided I was not going to take that route until I had the facts. Reading further I discovered that they were meant to be boiled and that you were supposed to inhale the steam to make you feel better. Oh, okay. Well, clearly I do not follow directions well when I do not read them. Plan B. Google accidental ingestion of concoction similar to Vick’s vapor rub. Just the thought was making me nauseous. You know how it burns your nostrils? I could only imagine that going on in my internal organs. Remedy suggested by unknown and thus probably unaccredited physician was to consume lots of water to offset the intake. I was on my fourth glass when MC walked in and I had to own up to my mistake. Ummm…honey? You might want to keep a close eye on me for the next hour or so… Thank goodness he is the most patient man on earth with a sense of humor and he seemingly knows what he got himself into when he said I do. I continued with an additional four glasses of water. God bless him for checking on me in the bath tub later. Other than my fever breaking and having to get up three times during the night to go to the bathroom all seemed well. I cannot imagine why he was not interested in any remedies I had to offer him a few days later when he was coughing? Alas, I am extra grateful for my health!

I have spent a few recent days volunteering at the animal shelter. Despite needing homes of their own these creatures are some of the kindest and most appreciative animals I have ever met. After tending to all the dogs in outside kennels I found this little sweetheart was watching me the whole time patiently awaiting her turn for love and attention. I am always amazed at how much more I gain when I give my time to a great cause.

This holiday season is proving to be my favorite thus far. We hung multi colored flashing lights on the veranda and we relax out there each night enjoying old traditional Christmas songs from Jim Reeves. It is so peaceful and the perfect way to end each day in gratitude for all that we have been blessed with this year. My most recent gift has been the local newspaper featuring my Creole food photos and recipe for holiday cooking. It was a wonderful tribute to a newbie mastering the Seychelles cuisine.

In case you need a little nostalgia in your life here is the musical link…
https://youtu.be/19gdSmrMNCU

We are off on our next adventure! I will catch up after the new year with plenty of culinary tales to share. I wish for all of you a beautiful relaxing holiday filled with joy! Merry Christmas!

PS I forgot to proofread and post this yesterday in my rush to get moving thus I can give you a quick update en route. The second of three flights to our destination has proved my theory of the best Christmas holiday ever to be coming true. Christopher Robin playing inflight on a brand new screen accompanied by a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a handsome hubby snoozing next to me are making for the beginning of a perfect trip. A final lesson this holiday season from Pooh…

What day is it Christopher Robin?

It is Today Pooh.

Awwww…that is my favorite day!

Remember to live in the present and enjoy every moment!

Island Thanksgiving

What are you most thankful for sweetheart? I asked MC in the midst of our meal. Chicken he replied confidently without hesitation. When I burst into a giggle fit he added And your laughter!. Living in the moment of gratitude is so important. We need to appreciate the little things that turn out to be what life is truly all about. MC has decided that Thanksgiving is now his favorite holiday. I could not agree more as it has always been mine as well.

Our first course was my favorite apple soup. If you have read my prior year’s posts you know it is the only real staple on my Thanksgiving menu. It is a savory combination of tart and sweet apples sauteed with onions and herbs and pureed once it is all softened in stock. This year I thought of my dad as I was peeling the apples. This humble witty man used to joke that his only recipe was how to boil water. As a child however I recall thinking that his ability to remove an entire apple peel with a small paring knife that left one beautiful coil was a small miracle. I am quite certain I ate far more apples than most little girls just so I could watch him. I love that I can now recall this foodie memory as I was preparing our meal.

Last year I concocted a compound butter made to mimic the flavor of stuffing. This year I decided to add all those flavors to a homemade focaccia. The dough was super easy to make. After shaping it and poking holes I added thyme, rosemary, onion and garlic on top and then drizzled it liberally with olive oil that I had infused with chicken bouillon. It was so incredibly delicious and paired perfectly with the soup topped with brie and pomegranate seeds. I seriously nailed this course and could eat this every single day without tiring of it. Apples not being local however it is reserved as a special treat for this holiday.

Ironically I look at our main course plate and think What took me twelve hours in the kitchen for dinner for two? First of all, I enjoyed every minute so most of that time was purely cherishing each task. These dishes all came together so quickly that it seemed effortless really. The local chicken spatchcocked with butter and herbs took under an hour. I began with the breadfruit gratin which I knew would hold well, followed with the roasted carrots that reminded me of my mom and finished with the chicken. Here is the beauty of tropical cooking. No one really wants to eat a piping hot meal and everything holds its heat well so the timing was a breeze. The haricot vert almondine took five minutes in the wok on the stovetop. With fresh local beans it would have been a shame to do anything more to them. The gratin was where I hid all MC’s chilis for the meal as I now know no matter what he says he misses chili if it is not prominent in every meal. Not only am I now agreeing with him but the addition to this breadfruit, bechamel, cheddar and tomato dish made it reminiscent of a jalapeno popper casserole and it completely stole the show. A true winner that beats mashed potatoes and gravy hands down. The leftovers were enjoyed for breakfast for three days reheated and topped with an over easy egg and Creole sauce.

The challenges with holiday menus on the island are the heat and the availability. Wednesday morning was spent at the market, meeting a local farmers wife for herbs and beans and then hitting up three other shops to try to complete the meal. I got home in time to get the cake in the oven and start the soursop mousse before picking up MC from work. Things did not go as planned to say the least. I got the amazing recipe for the mousse from a chef friend in San Diego. I recall reading the the colder the ingredients the quicker it will come together directions and chuckling to myself. Having made buttermilk biscuits last year I know all too well that cold does not happen here. I froze the bowl, placed it on top of a freezer pad and used all cooled ingredients. That lasted two minutes! Chill, blend, chill, blend, chill, blend, flop. All I could do was laugh. I decided to put it all back in the freezer and pray for it. Next up was the cream cheese frosting for the carrot cake. Same issues. Frost, freeze, repeat multiple times for what seemed like a hundred repetitions. The funny thing is MC and I are not really dessert people and yet I wanted to highlight the local pineapple and coconut in both dishes. The latter I hand grated and toasted myself. Let me just tell you that the smell in my kitchen at that point will go down in my food memory archives all time top five. I knew that this was going to be special and it exceeded all my wildest dreams. The natural coconut cream was super thick and rich. The mascarpone cheese available here resembles more of a whipped butter but subtly balanced the cream cheese. I used only enough icing sugar to get them to come together with a dash of local vanilla. The mousse got a garnish of pineapple and local dark rum flambe. These two creations were incredibly fun challenges for me. MC later declared his additional gratitude for carrot cake. It paired flawlessly with our freshly ground Kenyan coffee and a half shot of dark rum. Pure tropical heaven!

It was the perfect relaxing first holiday meal in our new home. Everything about the evening was magical including the late night viewing of Ratatouille. The movie quote sums up my culinary adventures…

Anyone can cook but only the fearless can be great! – Gusteau