Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Mushroom and Potato Gratin

This is a killer Williams-Sonoma recipe that I altered for Christmas dinner. The flavors meld as it sits in the refrigerator, making for wonderful leftovers. We fought over every last bite. Please excuse the green dish...It was holiday ware!

1 Tbs. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 fresh thyme sprigs, plus 1 1/2 tsp. minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 lb. Gold potatoes
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms, woody stems removed, caps thinly sliced
12 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.
2. In a saucepan, combine the cream, garlic, thyme sprigs, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. 3. Bring to a low boil over medium heat, then remove from the heat and set aside.
4. Peel the potatoes and, using the slicer attachment of a Kitchen Aid (or a very sharp knife), cut them into slices about 1/8 inch thick.
5. In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and melt the 1 Tbs. butter.
6. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt, and sauté until all of the liquid released by the mushrooms has evaporated, 7 to 9 minutes.
7. Add the minced thyme with a pinch of pepper and cook for 1 minute.
8. Arrange one-third of the potato slices, slightly overlapping, on the bottom of the prepared dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and 1 Tbs. of the cheese. Spread half of the mushrooms over the potatoes and sprinkle with 1 Tbs. of the cheese.
9. Repeat these layers, using half of the remaining potatoes and all of the remaining mushrooms, and sprinkling with salt, pepper and 1 Tbs. cheese between the layers of vegetables.
10. Top with the remaining potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
11. Using a large, flat spatula, gently press on the vegetables to compact them.
12. Pour the cream mixture through a strainer into the dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
13. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 45 minutes.
14. Remove the foil and bake until the mixture is golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes more. Let the gratin rest for about 10 minutes and serve immediately.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Jambalaya

We made jambalaya last Sunday and ended up eating it three nights in a row. The flavors just got better and better as the days went by. The first night, this dish was good. The second night, this dish was incredible. By the third night, the flavor was mind-blowing and it made us want to cry into our bowls when we ate the last bite.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces andouille sausage or kielbasa, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 1/4 cups jasmine rice (9 ounces)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 thyme sprig
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound lump crabmeat
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 scallions, finely chopped

1. In a medium, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil.
2. Add the andouille and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the casserole. Cover and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the Old Bay, rice and andouille and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is opaque, about 2 minutes.
5. Add the stock, water and thyme, season lightly with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
6. Cover and cook over very low heat until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
7. Fluff with a fork and stir in the crab, shrimp and scallions.
8. Cover and let stand for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the crab is hot and the shrimp are opaque; discard the thyme sprig. Serve in bowls doused with plenty of Tabasco.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Making Christmas, Making Christmas

For presents this year we decided to make a fancy variety of nuts, like those you find at Western Nut Company. We went down to Sunflower Markets to pick up some raw, unsalted whole nuts and set forth turning them into presents.

First, we soaked a gazillion pounds of almonds in a mixture of kosher salt and water. Ten hours later, we removed the almonds from the water and laid them out to dry.
While they were drying, we worked on other varieties.

Curried cashews.

Chipotle-Spiced Pecans.

A day after we dried the almonds, we loaded our smoker full of hickory wood and set forth slow smoking the almonds. For five hours they smoked. Every fifteen minutes that passed would require one of us to go outside and stir the nuts. After the five hours were up, we personally inspected each and every nut, weeding out any that had been too close to the flame. This step made me realize that there are actually people in the world that do this sort of thing as a job. It was back-breaking, mind-numbing work. Hats off to them as I could never be a professional nut sorter.

Once done, we packed the nuts into assorted sizes of takeout containers, labeled them, and smacked a holiday sticker on the top.

All done.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Art of Eating

As I travel the world and eat meals in the homes of locals, I notice the stark contrast between the ritual of eating in the United States versus everywhere else.

In New Zealand, it is a focus on fresh and local cuisine served simply usually using ingredients from right outside.

In Thailand, it is a focus on family and community. In the cities, everyone ventures to vendors to share meals family style. In homes, food is the same way. Piles of it shared for long periods of time between multiple family members.

All countries seem to use a combination of those two. Remote islands, Latin American countries...except for the United States.

If I was to host my Guatemalan friends in my home, how could I show them my country through its food? We're so much of a melting pot...are there any central traditions? Members of our society don't usually buy food street side, it takes thousands of miles to reach us, is usually prepared by someone else and eaten standing up, driving, etc.

Being a cook, it drives me crazy that I can't define my culture outside of fast food. The passing of a recent holiday answered my question. I would make a full Thanksgiving meal for visiting foreign friends. I can't think of anything else that our country, as a whole, sit down to regularly.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Season of Thanks

With the turn of a calendar page, an end is near. Three hundred and sixty five has been reduced to 31, leaving me to marvel at how quickly the year has gone by. It seems only days ago that I was starting the November countdown yet November has come and gone, gracing us with friends and family as it passed.

This Thanksgiving marked a first...two families under one roof. David's mom (Lucille) and one sister (Nyron) made their first trip up for the holidays to join the two of us and my parents. For several days, we gathered around the kitchen table sharing old memories and making new ones. There was none of that tension so common around the holiday table but there was plenty of laughter and love. It was a table of excess: bacon-wrapped dates, goat cheese stuffed dates, filled philo, wrapped olives, tapenade, mashed potatoes, 24 pounds of turkey, fresh cranberry sauce, canned cranberry sauce, spiced yams, brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts, stuffing, green beans, rolls, pumpkin pie, chocolate pecan torte, and plenty of wine.

While we dined like kings, we took delight in life's greatest pleasure...a home filled with good food and loving family.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Panko Trout with Rainbow Chard

While the photo isn't very attractive, the food itself was fantastic. My father, the wandering fly fisherman, brought back a brown trout that would have made salmon cry. It was very long, very large, and very pink inside. The fillet in the photo is just one half of one side! Both of us agreed that it put most wild salmon to shame.
While I could have just cooked it up in a pan with a little bit of lemon, I was dying to use panko breadcrumbs on it. David's declared rainbow chard to be his new favorite vegetable...I'm pretty sure that he just likes it for the colors. Anyway, be prepared for more dishes that include rainbow chard.

Panko Crusted Trout

trout fillets - as much as two people can eat
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary, ground
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 grated parmesan
1 tbs butter, melted
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a small bowl, combine the panko crumbs, oregano, rosemary, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.
3. Place fish in a baking pan and top with crumb mixture.
4. Sprinkle butter and lemon juice over the top.
5. Bake for 15 minutes or until flaky.

Sauteed Rainbow Chard

1 bunch rainbow chard
5 heads garlic, thinly sliced
shaved rind of 1/2 a lemon
1 tbs olive oil

1. In a large pan, heat olive oil over a medium flame.
2. Remove thick bottoms from chard. Cut leaves and remaining ribs into 2 inch pieces.
3. Saute garlic for one minute.
4. Add chard to pan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Top with lemon rind and serve.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Circus Animals Found Dead

This is so sad:
There are only two cookies that I really, really love from the junk food store: Mother's Circus Animals and Mother's oatmeal cookies sans frosting. Boo on rising butter costs. Boo on using food for fuel instead of feed!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Baking Snapshot - Bread Plait

I came about this recipe by wanting hot bread. I pulled out a cookbook, looked at the basic ingredients to bread and then decided to wing it. I made two batches. While one was baking, I dropped the finished one off at my parent's house. These are so good, I've decided to make several to serve at Thanksgiving.
I use my Cuisinart food processor to make dough. If you do not have something similar, be sure to check out the alternative "by hand" directions underneath the main recipe.
Bread Plait
4 tbs butter, melted
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 tbs honey
1 cup milk
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg yolk
1 tbs milk
1 tsp honey
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Melt butter at a low heat so that it doesn't get too hot.
3. Pour butter in small bowl. Add milk, 1/2 tsp honey, and yeast packet. Whisk briefly.
3. Let yeast mixture stand 15 minutes.
4. Combine flour and salt in bowl of food processor.
5. With machine running, add yeast mixture through feed tube. Only pour as quickly as the machine can incorporate the liquid into the flour.
6. Process until a ball of dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
7. Process an additional 60 seconds to knead the dough.
8. Form dough into a ball and set aside to rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.
9. On a greased baking sheet, punch down dough.
10. Divide the dough into three equal parts.
11. Form long ropes with each dough part. Push the tops together and secure by sticking to the underside of the cookie sheet.
12. Braid the bread ropes.
13. Press the ends together gently and tuck each end under the loaf.
14. Cover loaf lightly with plastic wrap and let rise for another 30 minutes.
15. Whisk glaze ingredients together. Brush glaze over dough.
16. Bake 30-40 minutes or until deep golden brown.
By Hand:
1. Prepare dough as directed through steps 4 but put flour/salt into a bowl instead.
2. Form a well in the center of the flour.
3. Pour yeast mixture into flour well.
4. With a wooden spoon, stir from the inside out, gently incorporating more flour into the yeast mixture until all flour is mixed in.
5. Turn bread out onto floured surface and knead for 2 minutes or until smooth.
6. Place dough aside to rise and complete bread as directed in steps 8-16.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Brussel Sprouts - From Beginning to End

A season of attending to several brussel sprout plants came to a conclusion when the last snow hit. Six plants had become one, most fell prey to raccoons. We were left with a giant stalk, toppling over from the weight of its sprouts. David had to use a saw to cut the stalk, measuring three inches in diameter. We had 1.9 pounds of sprouts total; the plant's largest sprout weighed in at over one ounce while the smallest could barely be registered by the palm of your hand.
David compared their taste to that of homegrown tomatoes...a tenderness and sweetness that you just can't get from grocery store equivalents.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
1-2 lbs brussel sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
2 tbs olive oil
6 ounces bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch thick pieces
2 tbs thyme, fresh or dried
1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon. Cook four minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Add brussel sprouts and thyme. Stir well to coat sprouts.
4. Cook six to eight minutes.
5. Transfer sprouts to warmed casserole dish. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Serve.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lunch Snapshot - Miso Soup with Shrimp

This meal came from standing in front of the cupboards one day, trying to create lunch out of cupboards that weren't cooperating. I saw some wilted spinach, instant miso, and a pack of soba noodles. 15 minutes later, I had lunch.

Miso Soup with Shrimp

9 peeled shrimp, defrosted (can be done quickly by running under cold water)
1 handful spinach
1 tbs soy sauce
2 cups water
handful of soba or udon noddles
pinch of grated ginger (it's always good to have grated ginger on hand)
pinch of sugar
package of instant miso (I use the kind that has the actual miso paste packet)

1. Boil noodles as directed.
2. While noodles are boiling, put spinach in soup bowl. Set aside.
3. In a saucepan combine water, soy sauce, sugar, and ginger. Bring to a gentle boil.
4. Stir in the miso paste.
5. Add the shrimp to the miso mixture. Boil until cooked, about 2 minutes.
6. Toss in miso dry seasoning packet (to avoid the sodium, toss in some crumbled up dry seaweed and some green onion slices instead) and cook 1 additional minute.
7. Pour soup over spinach and serve.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Green Lipped Mussel Pasta

This recipe is for two and takes about 20 minutes with prep time included.

Green-Lipped Mussel Pasta

Handful of whole wheat spaghetti

16 green-lipped mussels, scrubbed

small yellow onion, diced

five cloves garlic, diced

4 tbs unsalted butter

3/4 cup white wine

Fresh or dried Thai basil (regular basil will work just fine...we just prefer the freshness of Thai)

1. Bring water to a boil and drop pasta in. Cook until done.

2. While pasta is cooking, bring a large skillet to medium high heat. Add the butter and melt.

3. Add the onions and garlic to the butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent.

4. Add the wine to the onion mixture. Bring to a soft boil.

5. Add the mussels to the onion mixture. Cover. Cook five minutes or until done.

6. Drain pasta and place on plates.

7. Stir basil into the mussels. Spoon mussels and sauce over pasta and serve.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Clams with Bacon and Parsnips

This is my favorite Food and Wine recipe. For those of you who have never eaten a parsnip and are daunted by this vegetable, don't worry! It's a tuber and tastes like a cross between a carrot and a potato. You like carrots and potatoes, right?

Viognier-Steamed Clams with Bacon and Parsnips

1 lb parsnips, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
Salt and fresh ground pepper
4 slices thick bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch strips
1 1/2 cups Viognier (any sweet white wine will do)2 tbs unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
4 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed and rinsed
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbs snipped chives

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Place the parsnips on a baking sheet. Brush all sides with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Roast the parsnips, turning once or twice, until tender, 40-60 minutes. Remove and let cool.
4. Cook the bacon in a large, deep skillet, over a medium high flame until crisp. Drain the bacon
n paper towels and wipe out the skillet.
5. Slice the cooled parsnips 1/4 inch thick.
6. Pour the wine into the skillet. Add the butter and shallot. Bring to a boil.
7. Add the clams, cover, and cook over high until they open, about 8 minutes.
8. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the clams to a large bowl.
9. Pour the clam broth into a glass measuring cup. Rinse out the skillet. Slowly pour the clam
broth back into the skillet, stopping before you reach the grit at the bottom.
10. Add the cream and boil until the liquid has reduced by half, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the cream from separating.
11. Add the parsnips, bacon, chives, and clams (still in their shells) to the skillet. Season generously with pepper and bring to a boil.
12. Spoon into shallow bowl and serve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Lentils and Couscous

This is our cat, Tommy. He is obviously not lentils and couscous. If he was to resemble any meal, it would at least be "tom yum"[1].

Lentils with couscous turned out to be a highly unattractive dish to photograph, much like Pam Anderson after Tommy Lee. The first time around.

Anyway, on with the recipe which came about from me staring into the refrigerator and asking myself, “What’s for dinner?” Some leftover bacon, an ever present onion and garlic, and one sad looking carrot later, we had an answer.

Lentils with Couscous

1 bag lentils, washed and picked through for foreign objects
6 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
1 very large yellow onion, diced
7 large cloves of garlic, sliced
1 sad carrot[2], finely diced
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbs curry powder
1 tsp cumin
Cracked pepper, to taste

Set a crock-pot to high.
In a large skillet over a medium-high flame, cook bacon until starting to go opaque.
Add onion to skillet and sauté until slightly translucent.
Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about one minute.
Dump bacon mixture into the crock-pot and add the carrot, salt, curry powder, cumin, and cracked pepper.
Stir in 3 cups of water.
Set over high for two hours or low for six, adding more water as needed.

Serve over whole wheat couscous.

[1] You see, Tommy is Siamese. As in, from Siam. Tom Yum is a famous Thai dish. Explaining is tiring.
[2] I’m sure a happy carrot would work just as well.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Seasoned halibut with seasonal vegetables

For the fish:
Halibut (I use about five ounces a person, but we're light eaters)
Potlatch seasoning
Olive Oil

Rub halibut with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Rub potlatch seasoning into both sides. Cook via preferred method (in the winter, I like to just cook it stove top...heat a skilled over a medium-high flame and cook for about ten minutes, flipping once). To serve, slice half an avocado, fan out on a plate, and place fish on top.

For the Vegetables:
Large patty pan squash, chopped and seeds scooped
Corn, removed from cob
Ancho pepper, minced
Jalapeno pepper, minced
Large shallot, minced
Five cloves garlic, minced
Olive Oil
Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 F. In a large bowl, combine all vegetables. Pour a little olive oil over them and stir until well-coated. Season with black pepper and stir again. Cook for 25 minutes or until squash is tender.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Squashing Summer

We weren't quite prepared for the snow to fall so early on Saturday. We weren't very far into our first cup of coffee or GMA when fat white flakes started falling from the sky. This sent us scrambling for the garden to save whatever produce we could.

Tomatoes, green and red alike, were plucked from their vines. Lemongrass was ripped out by the roots. Assorted hot peppers were snipped. All remaining cucumbers, yellow squash, and patty pans were rushed indoors.

While I prepped our bountiful harvest, David worked on saving those plants that weren't quite ready or benefit from the cooler weather. He blanketed the onions and leeks, covered the less hearty herbs in plastic and left the brussel spouts alone to use this cold snap as time develop big heads.

The fall harvest is always met with a sad contentment. Gone are the days of vine-ripe tomatoes and fresh chimichurri sauces. We clean, sort, process and store the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor, savoring one last taste of sweet young onions speckled with dirt, and begin to dream about what we will plant next year.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Austrian Singing Goat

The rare singing goat of Austria, found near Schladming, but now in captivity.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Highbrow Manwich

This was a dinner that started with smoking chicken breasts in our Bradley smoker. David used pecan wood for 2.5 hours. We froze the whole breasts and just pull out however many we need for dinner.
After defrosting, David put the breasts over a low heat on the grill, misted them frequently with water, and let the breasts warm up. When warm, he shredded the breasts and placed them in a pot with a spicy barbecue sauce.

Half an onion, one red bell pepper and one orange bell pepper were thickly sliced, tossed with some olive oil and brown rice vinegar and then tossed into a grill wok until soft.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fantasy Island to Personal Paradise - The Long Road Home

From the time we stepped off the boat, it was a blur of activity. We made our Phuket flight on time but didn’t get to spend a few hours street eating in Bangkok as we had planned to do during our layover[1]. The length of our layover in Bangkok consisted of a tasty soba bowl and the best dark chocolate gelato of my life. As most people in BKK are just passing through, there is a lot of diversity. The airport is a stopover for many flights that continue on to India or the Middle East. As such, the people watching was very interesting. The parade of saris was a tribute to jewel tones while the U.S. citizens could be identified by their sensible shoes. The stressed out look on backpacker’s faces made us thankful of our ability to travel the way we do.

A movie was being shot at the airport while we were there. Although it was interesting, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the 30 or so Saudi Arabian men, women, and children that were getting on the escalators in front of us. The men split up into a pack of two, with one pack going down the escalator first. When they got to the bottom, they formed a circle around exit of the escalator. The men at the top then ushered all the burka-clad women down, their eyes briefly catching mine through the small slit of their burkas. After the women went down, the rest of the men followed. When all the women were herded at the bottom, the group left. Unfortunately, they left their seven children at the top of the escalator, still awaiting instruction from their fathers.

We stood there looking at the children, they stood there not saying a word but looking frightened. I had no idea what to do…Should I stay with the children while David tracked down the group? We opted for a second option…stay at the top of the escalator with the children until someone came back for them.

About five minutes later, a few men came back, clucking away at the kids. I wonder if they recognized that the same people that had stopped to let their group pass them on the escalator was the same couple that was keeping watch over their children when they finally realized they had forgotten them. Did it make no difference? Could they see past my exposed hair and skin?

With hours still remaining until our departure, we found an available bench. Actually, we found three. It seemed that no one wanted to sit near the elderly woman. With missing teeth, shoes with the soles barely hanging on, holes in her socks visible where her shoes had worn through, and all of her life possessions on her back, she stared at the passing world while they ignored her. For hours, not a single person would look at her although everyone seemed to look at us. When it came time to catch our flight, I pulled out a wad of baht. Walking over to the homeless woman, I greeted her in my limited Thai, respected her as an elder, and then handed her 5000 baht, about $150 US dollars. Her eyes welled up with tears. Reaching out, she grasped my hands between hers and spoke to me in a language that I couldn’t understand but with more gratitude than I have ever heard. I just wanted her to know that someone took the time to actually see her.

When we departed for Taiwan, we flew Hello Kitty Airlines (actually, it was Eva Airlines, the official airline of Hello Kitty. I’m not joking). In flight, we bought wonderful Eva Air Hello Kitty figurines from our stewardesses decked out in Hello Kitty aprons. All this while flying in a plane that was painted with Hello Kitty characters. I don’t think that I could provide you any better example of Asia.

I had been feeling better and better as I got further and further from my tropical illness. Both of us were worried about how good I really felt, though, when we departed the airplane in Taiwan. We were almost immediately greeted by government health officials decked out in masks and gloves. Due to Avian Bird Flu concerns, every passenger went through an infrared sensor. If you had a temperature above a certain point, the sensor would identify you and your next stop would be the quarantine office. David took one look at the officials and told me to hold all sneezes and coughs until we passed through the infrared. We were pretty certain my temperature was closer to the normal range now but didn’t want to draw any attention to ourselves otherwise. It was with great relief that we got through the health check without a second glance.

Free to explore the vast Taiwan airport, we immediately headed to the food shops. The food area was interesting…It was like all the street vendors came from outside, set up a big corral of skillets and left one person to man them all. When we came over, we were ushered to the only open cart. As we ordered things from the menu, we kept being told that they didn’t have it. She finally gave us two choices of what they did have, I picked one and David picked the other. Then she shouted to some woman who appeared from nowhere, looked back at us and said, “Only pork soup!”

Starving, we took two bowls of the only obtainable food, pork and bitter fuzzy melon soup. I don’t think that pork was actually in it, just bones that you could suck marrow from. My reflections of that meal are not fond…David tells me that I can’t judge a country by its airport food[2].

By this time, we had been traveling for over 13 hours. Desperate for any food during our long layover that didn’t involve questionable ingredients, we headed to duty free. Our eyes being much greedier than our stomachs, we ended up with $72 of chocolate. In our defense, David notes that it was at least British chocolate.

Cracked out on candy, we walked it off in an airport filled with government propaganda. Books are on display about how mighty Taiwan, Republic of China, is. Posters declare the superiority of Taiwan’s people, culture, food, and innovations. It was an odd airport all around, complete with reading glasses to borrow in case you didn’t have your pair handy.

By the time we got back to Los Angeles, we still had another 15 hours to go until we got home. With no flight until the next morning, we didn’t want to sleep in LAX like we had to when coming back from Guatemala. We picked up our luggage and caught the Hilton shuttle.

After checking into our room, we found that it was too late to grab a bite to eat in any of their restaurants. Instead, we ordered room service. The last thing we had eaten was candy 15 hours prior. Ordering nachos, two sandwiches, French onion soup, and two liters of Perrier, we were like two prisoners who had just gotten out of jail minus the cigarettes and cheap hookers.

We managed a measly four hours of sleep, managing to sleep less than seven hours over a 49 hour period. We staggered back into our home to find it looking like the day after our pre-wedding shindig. All the barbeque supplies were in the fridge and freezer, beer brimmed top to bottom from several shelves, and the leftover sides and salads had unfortunately broken away, formed their own unions, and declared voting rights. Sixteen fabulous days were over. It was time to get back to the real world and it started with cleaning the fridge.

[1] We actually got laughed at when we asked the airline reps if we could make it 20 miles in six hours in a cab.
[2] Really? Because those oysters we had at Sea-Tac were to die for. I’d fly there just to eat oysters.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Creamy Broccoli Soup

Instead of using actual cream, I created the creaminess by blending the soup and adding a cheese that has a high melting point, like Parmesan.

Natalie's Broccoli Soup

3 tbs butter

1 onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 lbs broccoli, stems peeled and chopped, florets set aside

1 head cauliflower, chopped

5 russet or golden potatoes, cut into medium chunks

6 cups vegetable broth

4 cups water

2 tsp salt

2 tsp cracked pepper

1 cup hard cheese, grated (Asiago, Parmesan, Romano, etc)

1. In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter.

2. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes.

3. Add the broccoli stems, potatoes, garlic, broth, water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes.

4. Add broccoli florets and cauliflower. Cook until all vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes more.

5. Working in cooled batches, blend the soup in a blender until smooth. Transfer blended portion to a large pot for reheating.

6. Heat soup back up over medium-low heat. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese until stringy. Top with remaining cheese and serve.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Koh Yao Island - Day Nine - Not Goodbye, Just See You Later

Five a.m. didn’t come as fast as I thought it would. We slept pretty soundly and both woke up exactly at five. At five fifteen, our wakeup call came in.

“Hello?” I said.
“Mr. David, your wakeup call is now. Wake up.”
“Thank you.” I said, used to them calling me Mr. David when they meant Mrs. David.

Five minutes later, the phone rings.

“Hello?” I said.
“You’re awake. Just checking.”
“Yes, we’re awake. Thank you.” I said.

Knowing that I had to start my day with a one hour long tail boat ride back to Phuket, I immediately filled myself with Dramamine and Imodium. I was taking no chances in my recovery from the Thai Virus Incident of ‘08[1].

With the clock down to two hours prior to departure, we did what any sensible couple would do…goof around on the beach and take a final swim.

We hopped in the shower together only to find out that there was no hot water. Or, pretty much, any water for that matter. Naked and shivering in the early morning air, we watched as the water trickled out of the shower head. Oh well, we were on an island. Who doesn’t have water issues on an island?[2] Conveniently, there was a large barrel of water right next to the shower head. It contained a coconut shell water scoop for rinsing your body. While cold, it got us cleaned up for our return trip to the States.

As we were finishing up the last of our packing, a knock came at the door.

“Yes?” I asked?
“Wake up call.”

At this point we giggled at their thoroughness. If we missed our flight, it sure wouldn’t be because they let us oversleep.

As we headed down to reception to pay the bill, I was filled with optimism. We met the finance manager who assured us that the previous night’s experience wouldn’t be a problem and that Visa Thailand would authorize the transaction if he called them directly. He called them, ran it through a few times, and was told that they couldn’t authorize it. Before I could have a meltdown knowing that all the money and more sat in our account to cover our invoice, the finance manager gave us a simple solution…Have our bank wire the funds when we got home on Tuesday. It was a very special arrangement, they said, due to us being return guests. It left us very grateful for the relationship that we have formed with the Paradise over the years. Their trust in us on this matter, allowing us to leave their resort and the country with a very large unpaid invoice, definitely ensured that we will continue to return to the Paradise.

Relieved knowing that we would make it home, we headed to the veranda to wait for our boat to leave. It was 6:30 and our boat was to depart at seven. Come seven, we are told that we are waiting on others. Come 7:15, Brethney and Keith arrive. They are handed their breakfast boxes and are told to join us as we are still waiting on one more couple. Although I enjoyed our last chance to chat with our Irish friends, I kept checking my watch. We had an hour ride back to Phuket plus a ½ hour ride from the dock to the airport. Then we needed to get checked in to begin the first leg of an international flight that departed at 10 a.m. I was feeling a bit cramped on time.

At 7:45, we were approached by an employee wanting to know if we could leave later as the missing couple was having troubles. I told him that it would be impossible to leave any later as we would miss our 10:00 flight. The only other flight was at 4:00 p.m. and our flight left from Bangkok at that time. It would cause us to miss all flights.

He hurriedly walked away. At 8:15, a breathless German couple arrives. No apologies for being over an hour late and putting our flight at risk. She just looked at us and said, “We had no hot water! We couldn’t get dressed!”

Really? You put my trip home in jeopardy because you had no hot water? Guess what, we had no water whatsoever and we still showed up on time!

We rushed to the dock. Instead of loading us into the long tail, they loaded us into the speed boat. I settled in to take one last look at my version of paradise.

[1] According to Monkipedia, the Thai Virus Incident of ’08 was a 24-hour period where Natalie, honeymooning on a remote Thai island, contracted a terrible tropical illness that left her begging for death while hallucinating in bed, hugging the toilet, and watching an extraordinary amount of BBC. Her husband, David, narrowly escaped the same fate.
[2] I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in the Virgin Islands. You could only shower for five minutes because of a lack of water. It taught me early on that fresh water is a precious commodity, especially when you are surrounded by the sea.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Koh Yao Island - Day Eight - The End of Lazy Days

After spending the previous day in tropical illness misery, I wasn’t sure if our final day would be spent curled up in the fetal position. I opened up one eyelid, assessed the results, opened the other, assessed those results, stretched my legs around and deemed that I was well enough to get out of bed. With it being the last day of our honeymoon, I was anxious not to miss another minute of it. While I did miss out on an awesome opportunity the previous day, I’d choose being sick on a beautiful island over being sick at home any day[1].

As I was still recovering, I wasn’t up for our usual morning of swimming before breakfast. A gentle walk on the beach sounded just my speed. Oceanside, blue crowned hanging parrots called to each other from the tops of flowering gardenia trees. Juvenile great hornbills hopped from branch to branch, getting up the nerve every now and then to flap their wings in an attempt at flight while the adults pulled giant jungle snails from their shells. The best lazy mornings have you up with the birds and only the birds.

We didn’t stray far from our villa, taking it easy to increase the chances that I would travel well the following day. I said my goodbyes to the island by playing in its tide pools, swimming in the jade green water, and sleeping on its sandy shores.

I motivated us to pack prior to dinner, not wanting to come back to chores after an enjoyable evening. By the time the sky was dark, I was ready for some socialization. We headed down to the beach bar and found ourselves alone save the manager and two staff members. The other guests were already at dinner. We pulled up chairs seaside and sat side by side, my head resting on David’s shoulder. As the waves crashed we stored each one into memory…A crashing wave for every moment of enjoyment we shared during our first two weeks of married life.

As we got up to head for dinner, I noticed a bat hanging from the roof above an outdoor table. Being a bat lover, I got out the camera and started snapping away. It was as fascinated by me as I was of it, following me with its eyes. With a great photo of the bat on the screen, I headed over to show the staff. One man visibly recoiled, so very frightened of the thing. Minutes later, when I headed back over and tapped him on the shoulder, he actually screamed and jumped in the air certain that the bat was attacking him. The manager and I doubled over in laughter. I wonder what the local legends are to make a man so afraid of a harmless bug harvester.

After a light dinner, we pulled out the video camera for our walk back to the villa. The frogs were incredible, croaking at different octaves in various harmonies, probably fifteen in all. We wanted to remember the sound forever.

It was a wonderfully relaxing end to our trip but the journey home would start promptly at 7 a.m. the following day. As such, we headed to reception to pay our bill.

And so our nightmare began.

Reception presented us with the invoice. We went over it, assuring that all the laundry and mini-bar charges were correct. The meals and drinks seemed about in the range that we expected and so we handed over our debit card to settle the bill.

Swipe. Rejected. Swipe. Rejected. Swipe. Rejected.

“Do you have another card?”

“No, our debit card is all we use.”

Swipe. Rejected. Swipe. Rejected. Swipe. Rejected. At this point, I went to log onto the internet to check our checking and savings account balances and confirmed that we had six times the needed amount there. I reviewed the email from the bank confirming that my card is not blocked for use internationally (also confirmed by the many transactions we had already made on the trip).

Furious, I went to our room to call the bank. Of course, it was early in the morning in Utah and the bank was closed. Remembering that I had brought one credit card for emergencies, I headed back to the computers to check out the card’s limit. Natalie’s travel tip #1: when bringing an emergency credit card, make sure that the credit card can cover the highest expense that you pan on having. I furiously counted our remaining cash and traveler’s checks. Only $900. Between the cash and the credit card, we still didn’t have enough to cover the bill.

I had begun a full-fledged meltdown. While I sat silently crying at the computers, an Australian couple took pity on me and came up with every number possible for Visa or the bank that they could. Stack of numbers in hand, I headed back to the villa to make more phone calls.

Closed. Closed. Closed again. Yup, this one’s closed too. By this time, enough hours had passed that it was now nine a.m. back home. With a sinking feeling, I realized that my July 5th was July 4th in the States, a national holiday. No institution would be answering my calls.

With no way to pay, I had visions of us missing our flights and having to pay a gazillion more dollars for extra days and nights in Thailand and new airfare home[2]. Crying, I picked up the phone and called my mom and dad. I left a message full of sobs to the effect of, “Mom, dad, are you there? Please pick up the phone. We need help. We’re stuck in Thailand. Don’t worry, we’re not in trouble, we’re just stuck. We’re at the Paradise Koh Yao. I’ll call back.”

I headed back to the reception pavilion and found David awaiting the manager who had been roused out of bed to deal with this issue. By this time, we were old friends with Michael, having had many memorable conversations with him during our stay. I logged into our bank account and showed him the available funds in our two cash accounts. He noted to his staff that we were well above the means of paying our invoice and immediately put me at ease stating that it was no big deal; communications on the island were shoddy[3] and they would resolve the situation in the morning by having the finance manager call Visa Thailand. We were greatful that a path to resolution was in sight.

With a sigh of relief, we headed back to our villa to sleep. First, though, a call to my parents. My father answered the phone immediately, panicked. He had been on the phone calling the State Department, Homeland Security, and every other government agency he could think of. Low and behold, they were all closed for the holiday as well (to my relief). I asked him why he was doing that as my message said that we weren’t in trouble. “No it didn’t!” he said. “Yes it did!” I retorted, assured that I had made sure to clearly get that point across in the message so he wouldn’t do exactly what he did anyway. I guess that it is a rule of being a parent…panic now, listen later.

We were able to carry on some good catch-up conversation, excited at the opportunity to share some tales earlier than expected. I had been able to send out three emails, one of which had stated that I had fallen ill. I was able to report that I was feeling much better when, right at the end of our conversation, my stomach decided otherwise. A few hours of sleep were all I could ask for. The marathon home would begin at five a.m.

[1] I always say that I’d rather be sick on an island but what about when the day comes that I am so sick on an island that I need medical assistance? My old boss would assure you that this day will come. When it does, you find me wrapped around the toilet cursing whatever third-world country I am in at the time.
[2] Natalie’s Travel Tip #2: When purchasing airfare to and from halfway around the world, make sure that it is refundable or that it at least will let you change the date of your flight.
[3] It is a remote Thai island, after all.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Koh Yao Island - Day Seven – Village Lunch Venture Sans Natalie

As Natalie posted previously, we had a horrible evening filled with chills and sweats. In the middle of the night I was saddened at the thought of missing our big opportunity to eat lunch at Man’s home. We were VERY honored to receive the invitation. I forced myself back to sleep each time my body awoke in hopes that I would feel better in the morning. Luckily for me, it worked. However, poor Natalie was forced to accept missing “Rex Manning Day” because she was too ill to travel to the other side of the island, much less eat.

I was instructed to be at the pier at 10:30 a.m. to catch the employee shuttle to western-extending Tha Khao Pier.
Man met me at the scuba diving hut and we boarded the longtail boat for the 30 minute voyage. Upon arrival at Ban Tha Khao I had some time to visit the local hut-stores that carry everything from hanging blowfish lamps (think Chinese paper lantern…then replace paper with petrified blowfish corpse) to virtually every item that can be carved from coconut. Our island friends handsome Gokce and beautiful Gokce had visited this village the day before and purchased a coconut carving of a Mangosteen, which is only Natalie and my favorite fruit in the whole world. Our jaws dropped when we saw their carving and we were sad we missed that shop during our sunset trip to the village a couple of days earlier. With a heavy heart, knowing my wife was violently ill on the island, I sought-out the Mangosteen artist and purchased the most detailed one as a surprise.

While I shopped, Man procured a rental car for the 30 minute drive from the pier to his family’s rice and fish farm. We hopped into the Suzuki Samurai, rolled down the windows and navigated the coastline to the southern tip of Koh Yao. After passing rubber plantations, another pier, and a scooter dealership we arrived at his family home. I was told that in Thai culture the groom moves to the bride’s family compound (Man showed me his old village and his boyhood home on the way back to the Paradise that evening). Each village is broken into family areas where cousins, mothers, nieces and nephews all build homes close to one another. Man’s area of the village consisted of five or six homes that ringed a large rice field less than 20 meters from the waters of the Andaman Sea.

When we arrived at the compound I was immediately excited as this was a REAL experience – not a paid tourist day trip. I had been invited as a friend to a Muslim home to enjoy seafood prepared by the “best cook on the Island.” I was conscientious to honor my hosts and express my gratitude while avoiding social gaffes.

I stepped out of the Suzuki and immediately sprang toward two trained monkeys that were on the property. They were coconut harvesters that can clear a tree much faster than any human.[1] Man drew my attention to the rice field that he works twice a year. Once to plant…then watch for months…then again to harvest. The rice is sold by the family at the local pier so they can purchase other goods.

At this point I noticed that the members of his family were coming out of their homes to catch a glimpse of the American. I felt like Gilbert Grape’s mother when she goes into town to bail Leo out of jail for climbing the water tower – all eyes were on me. My eyes were wide open to absorb my surroundings.

Moving closer to the water we passed an area where the daily fish catch is prepared for meals and market. There were two cats snacking on a fish head treat. Cats can be spotted throughout southern Thailand where upwards of 95% of the population is Muslim. You will probably not, however, see a dog in southern Thailand as I learned that Muslims consider dogs to be dirty and therefore cannot be touched or fed.

Man’s family, as he told me, is very fortunate.
They have the land to grow rice and they also purchased a fish farm. The farm is an investment that should return profits in a few years. For now, much of the money they get from selling their fish goes to the farm cost. We boarded another longtail boat in order to get out to the fish farm in an island-protected cove that was filled with 20 or 30 other floating fish farms. Man said that longtail was “authentic” because it smelled like fish with gills peppering the seats and a wet net in the center. He snapped a picture of me and his brother-in-law just before the water seeped into my pants.

The fish farm is a family affair and requires a lot of work.
[3] They purchase 10-12 different types of small, live fish, prawns and rainbow lobster at the pier and place them in separate holding areas in the fish farm grid. Each grid square has a cloth cover and a net on the bottom to stop the critters from escaping into the open water of the sea. After many months of daily feedings the fish are huge and ready to sell for a healthy profit. I learned that one of the reason rainbow lobsters are so expensive is that they will not eat fish, dead or alive.[4] The farm owner must gather muscles and clams from the sea floor and feed them live to the lobster. The other animals in the farm are fed small fish that are caught daily or purchased from the market. The two coolest things in the farm were fish that were nearly two feet long that look like small sharks (down to the appendage that resembled a dorsal fin) and the white snapper that grow to nearly 5 pounds.[5]

Lunch was served in an absolutely beautiful home built on pillars over the sea with a welcoming front patio area filled with potted plants and benches. It was long and narrow with wooden floors through which you can see the water below. There was one bedroom, a long hallway with a refrigerator and storage areas, kitchen with a small stove and rice cooker, bathroom, and back patio. Immediately after removing my shoes and crossing the threshold Man stopped me to share his excitement over a plaque awarded to his brother in law for being a champion Muay Thai fighter. I took a picture, which made Man very happy. I learned that all Thai boys must learn Muay Thai to defend themselves and their families - take that NRA!

His mother-in-law and wife were working furiously in the kitchen as they had been all morning. They caught the white snapper, grouper, prawns, clams, oysters, and blue crabs that morning and had been preparing for my arrival. All of the seafood was from the family farm – one that I could have hit from the table by tossing my plate Frisbee-style with the right tail wind. I was told that the family always eats on the floor of the home but that they found a table, chairs and colorful tablecloth for my visit. I was looking forward to a traditional meal but I was honored by their special efforts.

As we spoke on the patio I learned that Man’s wife was due to give birth to their first child the next morning. They were going to travel by boat to the Krabi hospital to be induced but for now she was busy keeping the family fed – what a trooper! We also discussed the land and home prices on the island. While all ocean-front property was sold, there were other beautiful places for “you and Natalie to raise your family” as Man put it. He must really like us to show me all of the available real estate nearby. The hill behind his home looks south over the Andaman Sea towards Indonesia “is only $150,000 and you can build a beautiful home for $80,000.” Don’t tempt me – if non-Thai’s could own land I may do it. As a bonus, the owner of the hill will receive numerous poisonous jungle cobras - free!

Meanwhile, the table was loaded with plate after plate of colorful dishes with delectable smells, hot chili dipping sauce, rice, and water. There was enough food for six with just two hungry men ready to eat. We did our best to consume as much as possible. I had an especially hard time because the illness the night before, boat ride and fish farm excursion made my stomach a bit touch-and-go. I did not want to insult Man or his family by eating too little or so much that I was ill. Needless to say we had a ton of leftovers that were all bagged-up for Natalie to enjoy if she felt better. THE FOOD WAS FANTASTIC!

Spicy Grouper Curry.
Wood BBQ White Snapper.
Spicy Seafood Salad.

After lunch, and before our miniature banana desert, Man and I called Natalie in our cabana. She sounded miserable – later she would tell me that my call came-in during one of the worst parts of her day in terms of illness. Based on her tone we decided to hurry and catch the next boat home after stopping at the pharmacy.

Thai’s love their king! The King provides cheap healthcare[6] and free education for his people. While some hospitals and doctors are better than others (i.e. the hospital on Koh Yao itself is regarded as a bit sketchy by the locals) the overall healthcare system is very accessible. The pharmacists of Thailand assist in minimizing the cost by filling a vital role in healthcare services by diagnosing minor issues and providing prescription medication. Man and I were able to describe Natalie’s illness and for less than $1 I was able to get Natalie three days worth of two medications, one for upset stomach (take before eating) and the other for nausea (take after eating). In the states the only non-prescription options available for her ailment would be Pepto-Bismol and Tylenol – a nausea prescription would require a primary care physician visit, $20-$30 co-pay, waiting days or weeks for the appointment, plus the prescription cost. You have to love capitalism’s grip on the US healthcare system.

With medication in hand we waited at the pier for our shuttle back to the Paradise. The sky was turning grey and a few rain drops hit my skin. Regardless, four of us rode on top of the boat roof to feel the wind in our hair and to enjoy the beautiful island and bay views.

When we reached our resort Man and I quickly walked to our cabana to visit Natalie. He waited outside while I went in to raise the dead. After a few minutes Natalie scraped herself out of bed to say hello and thank Man for his caring friendship, translation services at the pharmacy, and wonderful seafood leftovers. We were both relieved to see her up and moving around as we had been very worried about her all day. Remember, his wife is going to have a baby the next morning and he was at our cabana helping to care for Natalie – what a great friend!

Later that evening I went to the restaurant to get Natalie some bread and me some rice. She was so ill that I had to take the hot rice and cold lunch leftovers outside on the beach to enjoy (poor me!) in order to keep her nausea at bay. Poor Natalie was struggling to keep her bread down so she took an “after” nausea pill and zonked-out after we discussed my adventure and I shared photos.

I spent the remainder of the evening watching BBC and reading.

This was such a great day I wish that Natalie could have joined me. I love traveling for the adventure, food and people – not landmarks and pampering. This day was genuine and rewarding.

Special Note: One of the photos above of Man and his wife was from that day (see Natalie's leftovers on the bench). I have been e-mail pals with him since our departure. She gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy on July 6th.

[1] We learned all about Coconut Monkeys during our first trip to Thailand when we visited “Monkey School.” It was a frightening experience because the adorable monkeys have three inch teeth and are incredibly strong. I had a monkey climb my body like a tree while my hands were bound together.
[2] The opposite is true in Bangkok where Thai’s are predominantly Buddhist. You will see packs of roaming street dogs everywhere in the city – often in heartbreaking situations.
[3] It could be said that “It takes an entire family compound to raise a lobster.”
[4] This is a fact I could not support with a Google search result but I trust the fish farmer over Wikipedia and the LobsterFacts blog.
[5] Wasabi and chopsticks anyone?
[6] I was told that regardless of the ailment, it costs Thai’s less than $2 to see a doctor and get all the required care.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Braised Halibut and Couscous

The way to my heart is definitely through fish. My father is currently on a fishing expedition in Alaska, fighting the bears for his share of the catch. His mad angler skills landed us 18 lbs of halibut filets flash frozen and delivered to our doorstep a full week before dad even gets back. We invited my mom over for dinner last night. I prepared a Mediterranian-style meal that took 15 minutes of prep and 10 minutes of actual cooking time before landing on our plates. David took a moment before our meal to give thanks to my father for sending us such a great catch.

Braised Fish with Artichoke Hearts and Red Peppers

1lb halibut or other firm fish
1 cup onions, thinly sliced
3 tbs olive oil
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
5 artichoke hearts, quartered
1 tsp paprika
1 tbs dill, chopped
2 tbs parsley, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
1 tbs flour

1. Rinse fish, season with salt and pepper, set aside
2. In a large skillet over a medium flame, heat the olive oil and saute the onions for 3 minutes.
3. Add red peppers and saute for 3 more minutes.
4. Add artichoke hearts, paprika, dill, and parsley to skillet. Stir well and cook for 1 minute.
5. Add the wine and 1/2 cup of the artichoke brine (water will do as well).
6. Place the fish in the skillet, skin side down.
7. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the fish is flaky.
8. With a slotted spoon, remove the fish and vegetables and put on a warmed plate.
9. Turn up the heat to medium-high and whisk the flour into the remaining pan juices until thick.
10. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve.

Couscous with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tbs olive oil
8 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup whole wheat couscous

1. In a medium saucepan over a medium flame, saute the onions in the olive oil.
2. When the onions are getting soft, add the tomatoes and thyme. Saute for 5 mintues more.
3. When onions are translucent, add the boiling water and salt.
4. Bring mixture to a boil.
5. Stir in the couscous and simmer over a low flame for 5 minutes.
6. Stir with a fork to fluff and serve.

Dessert Snapshot - Peach Pie

It's peach season here in Utah and the local peaches are plump, juicy, and sweet. David's been begging me to make peach anything, preferably cobbler. However, I'm a pie crust master. If I am going to make anything, I'm going to make sure that it includes my crust. David ended up lucking out, though. You see, the neighborhood bishop lives behind us and his wife adores me. She talks to me over the fence for hours about gardening and about our common garden enemy, the raccoon. This translates into delicious baked goods. Not only did she give us a whole loaf of fresh baked whole wheat bread, she also gave David a big scoop of her peach cobbler right when it came out of the oven. Needless to say, David spent yesterday in dessert heaven. It was well deserved payment for all the hard work he put into prepping the yard for winter.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Koh Yao Island - Day Seven - Natalie Says "Kill Me Now"

The morning had come and our exciting lunch at Man’s was fast approaching. Only it was one thirty in the morning and the lunch was approaching just a little too fast. I laid there contemplating just exactly what was happening to me right at that moment. Did those Malibu pineapples pack more of a punch than I thought? My seventh sense (the husband sense) went off and I knew that David was awake as well even though neither of us had moved or made a noise. “I don’t feel good,” I said. “Me neither,” he replied. We both fell back asleep.

At five thirty, I woke up to a spinning room and considerable sweating. My seventh sense went off again and I knew that David was going through the same thing right next to me. (Graphic details ahead) “I don’t feel good!” he shouted while bolting to the bathroom. I laid there feeling the worst I ever felt and then the vomiting began. David didn’t get the vomiting but I was lucky enough to get both going on within five minutes of each other, twice an hour for two hours. We both headed back for some more sleep.

Waking up at nine, I felt terrible but wasn’t feeling as terrible as I expected to be. We had missed our breakfast with the Gokce’s and worried that we had missed our last chance to see them. I talked David into making an effort to see how we felt. I figured we were on the verge of an international incident if we didn’t go to Man’s for lunch. His family had put so much effort into having these foreigners come, something that they’ve never done before, and we fell ill the previous night. It would be an insult not to go. We pulled ourselves out of bed, got cleaned up, and headed down to the breakfast villa for some dry toast.

Right when we rounded the corner, we literally ran into Man. “David Copperfield!” Man yelled, using his favorite name for David. He then proceeded to tell us how they had gotten up very early to get all of the fish and that his mother-in-law had been cooking for hours. We gave each other looks that totally portrayed the necessity in our going. Then, the island started to spin. Oh, wait, that wasn’t the island…that was me right before I shouted, “I need to sit down” before bolting to the nearby restroom to begin another vomiting bout.

David managed to get me back to the room at which point I collapsed onto the lounger in misery. “You have to go,” I said. “You feel much better than I do. I can’t go anywhere.” Still sick himself, David agreed. It involved a 30 minute boat ride and a 30 minute jeep ride on winding, bumpy roads. Popping every single bit of Dramamine and Imodium in sight, David prepared like a trooper.

Meanwhile, I deteriorated quickly. The rotation of sickness that had begun at 5:30 had reared its ugly head once again, this time with frightening regularity. At some point, David left to go to lunch. I spent the next six hours between the bed, the bathroom, and the lounger. Unable to sleep from sickness, I watched BBC News all day and caught up on the rest of the world’s politics.

For three hours of those six, I was the most miserable I have ever been. My mind flashed back to a National Geographic special we had watched about a woman who was traveling alone on a Thai island, caught Dengue Fever, and spent the next two weeks with the world spinning and going through much of what I was going through right then. The story ended up with some man convincing her to smuggle heroin back to Britain and her being sent to Thai prison for the rest of her life.

As I laid there with the worst fever of my life, I realized that I was actually moaning in pain and misery. At one point, it didn’t make sense to leave the bathroom anymore and I spent a good portion of time just lying on the cold tile floor. The room gecko found himself trapped in there with me and entertained me while he tried to figure a way out of the room while avoiding me in every possible way. Maybe it was a hallucination.

Never in my life had I been so grateful to be alone when sick. David would have felt terrible, as he does when there is nothing he can do to make me feel better. I was so embarrassingly sick that I was thrilled he didn’t have to endure it with me. By one p.m., I had crawled back into bed and began to worry that maybe I did have Dengue Fever. I was in the right area and had been bitten by plenty of large jungle mosquitoes…mosquitoes so tough that bug spray just made you spicy. Was I going to be able to catch my flight Saturday morning? At this point, there was no way I could spend an hour on a boat to even get to the airport? Would I be stuck here, lose my job, and possibly end up being victimized by some random person using me as a drug mule? The hallucinations were getting out of control, the cold shower to make the fever go down didn’t work, but eventually I was able to fall asleep while wishing that this bug would just kill me already.

At two thirty, Man called. Everyone in the family was terribly worried about me and he wanted to see how I was doing. He put David on the phone. It was nice to hear from him. I barely remember our conversation and was asleep again before I knew it.

At four, David was gently shaking me awake. He had returned with a giant bag of food that Man’s family had packed up for me (enough to feed ten!) as well as two prescriptions for the fever and the nausea. Man took him to a local pharmacist and translated what was wrong with me. It was as simple as that and David scored what became my miracle pills for less than a dollar. He had also come with Man himself, who was waiting outside to see me. I couldn’t imagine myself getting out of bed but managed to do so before he left. He was so worried about me yet his wife was giving birth the following day!

Back inside, David fed me some orange powder in water that was supposed to help my stomach. He then gave me a pill that I was to take prior to eating. I couldn’t even contemplate eating what he was sent home with (blue crabs, squid, lobster, and all the other tasty stuff that I would normally fight to the last bite over). David headed off to the restaurant to procure bread for me. The Paradise makes about six different kinds of bread every day. When he told them that I was sick and needed bread, they asked him what kind of sickness I had and then brought out two appropriate bread types.

I managed to get through two pieces of bread. David had tried to eat the leftovers from lunch inside but I had to ask him to take it outside. The smell made my stomach do flips. Unable to keep the remaining leftovers inside as the smell from the fridge would kill me; he had to resort to the garbage on the beach. So sad that I couldn’t even try a bite.

After I was done eating, he fed me the “after” pill which helped me fall asleep. We did manage to discuss his day before I fell asleep, but that is an adventure for him to blog about.