June 2008


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And we’re off. Finally, danbing and warm doujiang for breakfast again tomorrow morning. I can almost taste it.

Till then, zai-jian.

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I think I’m fortunate to be able to call 4 places home so far in my life. Three of them becoming home in the last 9 years. So whenever I say, “I am going home” I have to kind of wonder about how ‘home’ is this ‘home’ I am returning too.

There is my ancestral home, South Africa, where I was born and spent pretty much the first 23 years of my life. It’s a country that will always be close to my heart and I love the fact that I can call it home. Despite a lot of past and present negativity that a lot of people associate with the country (South Africans and non-South Africans) I believe that it can and hopefully will all be resolved in time and we (Alexander and I) hope to return there in the future. But since my high school days I knew that I was going to be out of the country for long periods of time and that it would not be my only home.

When the chance came for me to go and work in Taiwan in 1999 I did not hesitate about taking it for a second. This was just for the summer, but I returned early in 2000 and stayed until the end of 2005. Taiwan became my home for the largest part of my adult life.

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I returned to South Africa in 2006, only to leave it again at the beginning of last year. First to return to Taiwan for a 6 week visit after which I joined Alexander in LA for a couple of months. My time in LA was fantastic. I did not know what to expect and most people painted a rather unpleasant picture. But from the moment I stepped out of the airport I was in love with the place and if there is any way for me to make a decent living there I will head back there tomorrow (any suggestions?).

And then came Bangkok. Home since August last year and in all likelihood home for a while to come still. I adore this city that so many people dislike for being to overcrowded and too hot. Besides the smog I certainly cannot complain.

Now I was getting somewhere with all of this and that is that we are going to Taiwan this summer. I am returning home. It will be Alexander’s first time and I am looking forward to the experience of showing him my ‘second home’, meeting some old friends and trying out authentic Chinese food again.

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Taiwan is the country where I went from reckless adolescent to a more mature person who kind-of knew what he wanted out of life (still working on that one). I went through phases of totally despising it, to feeling nothing, to being completely crazy about it. Through all of this I also think I kind of got to take it for granted.

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When I went back last year I appreciated it much more, on an internal level. Mostly because I spent a large amount of time alone during the town where I lived, Hsinchu’s, bleak winter.

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This time I am returning with a fellow explorer and anticipating growing much fonder of the country during our time.

So there you have it. The next big move. I’ll try to capture some images and moments and have them here on a regular basis and maybe even trying some new recipes while there. I cannot wait.

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When Alexander first arrived in Bangkok, just over a year ago now, I took him for lunch at Rakk on Pha Arthit. On the previously unused stairs going to the upper level was a big bag filled in which we could just make out the small stuffed toys that it contained. We were curious to know about the contents, but thought it polite not to enquire.

Some days later, while walking down the street, our questions were answered when we saw an old lady sitting at a sidewalk table, the contents of the bag now neatly displayed. She had a collection of small mammals, all handmade from rejected pieces of old cloth. I fell in love with them and since we’ve made a point of always stopping by whenever we’re in the neighborhood and she’s out. Whenever she is not there I feel deeply disappointed and and when she is I have to pick something up.

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In this way we have collected a giraffe and frog, squirrel and kangaroo (a gift from my friend Nicole), a snake and a cute monkey, one of her first bigger designs, that Alexander bought for me. My friend Nicole also bought me a rhino, but the poor thing has decided to slip into my sister’s luggage and move to Pretoria.

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She always has something new, lately she’s been working on a lot of larger toys including a kangaroo with joey in the pouch. Although I really like them too I think the small ones are more appealing, and considering that we are building a collection of these soft toys more manageable in our small apartment.

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The one stuffed toy we did not buy from her is this monkey I picked up in Hanoi. He’s made from cut-off Hmong fabric and with his nose missing was just calling out to me to be taken to Bangkok. I think him and the other monkey get along very well.

This one is easy.

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When we moved to Bangkok last August after months of traveling, our closet was depressingly barren and we most certainly did not have anything to wear to work. I’ve never worked anywhere that required me to wear dress pants or ties, the last time I wore anything like that was at church in high school.

Fortunately Bangkok is a haven for all kinds of consumerists and I quickly managed to build up a collection of ties, shirts and pants. When we decided to quit school I was wondering what to do with all those work clothes now hanging in my closet and the answer was simple, re-appropriate them, of course!

This was my first project. I shortened a pair of work pants into knee-length shorts with a broad hem. I was going to use some of the cut-off fabric to insert a decorative pocket, but it did not look right, so instead I just created a fold in the side seams just below the pockets to give them some shape.

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After the summer/winter/ monsoon (pick you season) I’ll work on some other projects, but right now I am preparing for the next big move. More about that to follow soon.

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On Phra Arthit in Banglamphu there is a really cute store selling some fun handmade ladies clothing and accessories, postcards and this, a fridge magnet paper doll. The first time I saw her I knew I had to have her. She brought back memories of childhood holidays on my grandparents’ farm, where my mother grew up.

Why memories of the farm? Because aside from it being a great time to play hide-and-seek in massive mango trees, swimming in rivers and chasing giant bugs it was also a time when we went through all my mom’s old toys. There was a kitchen set complete with tiny oven, her porcelain dolls and, my favorite, paper dolls with lots of outfits to mix and match. I would spend hours and hours playing playing stylist with them.

I’ve been back to the store many times since that first time and finally decided to buy her on our last visit to the area. She came in her own little bag, complete with outfits and accessories.

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Now she has a new home on our fridge and I get to play dress-up again. With my fridge magnet paper doll.

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Before my sister’s last birthday (early December) I promised her a bag made by me. I questioned her on what she was looking for in a bag, made some notes, bought fabric, and started working on some sketches.

And then a lot of bags for other people happened and we were away a lot and the sewing machine ended up gathering a lot of dust and what did not happen was a bag for my sister. When she came visiting us in late April she inquired about the promised bag and I had to sheepishly admit that I still did not make it. Luckily I bought her a shoulder bag from a Red Dzau lady in Sapa, so there was something for her. But she was clearly not impressed by my slowness.

Not long after she left I sat down and cut out all the pieces for her bag, the same design as this one. I was interrupted again for a couple of days in late May and was beginning to wonder if I’d ever finish her bag. But last week, the day before we left for Ko Samet, I sat down in front of my sewing machine and finished the bag in one go. Ready to take with to the island for some pictures

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The bag has a side pocket on the outside, a bigger one inside, shoulder straps, and a reinforced base, just as she requested.

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Now it remains to be seen if I’ll ever get to mailing it. When it comes to my recored with sending anything other than email, she may be lucky to receive it just in time for her next birthday.

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It’s almost HHDD deadline time again, all things choux this time, and for a moment there I thought I was not going to make it. But here I am, right on the cut-off date again, with my entry.

As with the clafoutis this was a new challenge for me and one I really wanted to try. Every time I ever bit into an eclaire or profiterole I thought to myself that it must be a really tricky process to create something so decadent and rich, yet light and airy.

But Suzanne, decided to prove me wrong. Making the choux dough necessary for these kinds of pastries takes a little time, but the ingredients are really simple and easy to work with. I was pleasantly surprised to see the first batch taking shape in the oven and retaining their puff after I removed them. Well most of them, I became a bit to excited after a while and disregarded Suzanne’s suggestion to leave it in a little longer, ensuring they do not slowly deflate after being removed. Yes, lessons are being learned.

I decided to stick to the original Donna Hay recipe, as slightly amended by our host (adding about 3 additional tablespoons of flour) and create profiteroles. For the filling I took inspiration from some local ingredients and sweets.

Kaffir lime is a flavoring used in numerous Thai dishes. The leaves are used to flavor soups and salads, while the fruit’s rind gets used in the making of numerous curry pastes. The fruit yields no juice, oddly enough, so only the rind and leaves are used. Thai iced tea can be found at any coffee and tea stand on the streets of Bangkok and is a refreshing rich and sweet drink, creamsicle orange in color. Pandanus is a kind of palm leaf that is used a s flavoring in lots of Thai sweets and desserts. Some call it an Asian vanilla. A simple but fairly representative collection of regional favorites.

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To make the choux for the profiteroles you need only 4 ingredients:

1cup water

100g unsalted butter

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour, sifted

5 eggs

For the filling you will need:

2 cups pouring cream, whipped

1/3 cup icing sugar

1/4 teaspoon pandanus essence

1/2 teaspoon grated kaffir lime rind

1/2 teaspoon instant Thai tea powder

The process:

Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring the water and butter to a boil over high heat in a saucepan. Slowly add the flour, making sure clumps do not form. Continue stirring over low heat until the dough leaves the sides of the pan. Pour this into a mixer or mixing bowl and mix with an electric mixer on high, adding the eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is completely mixed in before adding the next. Keep on mixing until the dough resembles very thick mayonnaise.

Spoon the dough into a piping bag with a 12mm plain nozzle (if you do not have one, a Ziploc bag with a hole cut to size in one of the corners works just as well) and pipe about 2cm rounds onto your prepared baking sheets. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and puffy. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

While the baking is taking place, add the icing sugar to the cream and mix it through. Divide this into thirds and add a flavoring to each. When the pastry has cooled, cut open and spoon generous helpings of the flavored cream into them. Not all into one of course, that may be a bit too weird.

I added some simple icing as topping to the tea and kaffir lime ones. I mixed a bit of icing sugar and milk together, divided it and add some powdered tea to one half. Mainly for some color on top of the profiteroles. The rest I kept plain and brushed it over the tops of the lime roles with thinly sliced slivers of kaffir lime leaves on top. The pandanus ones I bound with thin strips of fresh pandanus leaf.

They tasted great. So said my only loyal taster (not that he has much choice). The puffs were firm, yet airy, and the creamy fillings subtly flavored in a few of the tastes of my current home.

Phew, in goes my entry for this edition- Choux!

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Note- Thank you again to Alexander for the great pictures of my baking.

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