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Thai Food that isn’t Pad Thai

My husband and I just returned from a trip to Thailand and Cambodia. In Thailand, we visited Lampang, Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon Mountain in Chom Thong District, and the capital city of Bangkok. We literally booked round-trip tickets within a week of watching the Thailand episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown featuring Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame (even going to his favorite haunts in Chiang Mai). Through tasting preserved fish jerky to morning rice congee to Thai-iced tea to Dtam Som Oo (Thai Pomelo Salad), one constant that is obvious in almost all Thai cuisine are the vibrant colors.

Thailand’s flavor profiles and spices vary greatly in each region: this is due to many factors including palates of its own royal Ayutthaya or Lanna empires to Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Malaysian and Indian influence. Western impact, beginning in 1511 CE with the Portuguese, also brought now common crops like the chili pepper. At Santa Cruz Church on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Thonburri district, Portuguese influence is apparent.  Narrow, winding passageways meander through the Kudeejeen Portuguese Village where a special bakery remains that conjures treats as they were enjoyed centuries ago.

Common flavors in Thai food come from garlic, galangal (Thai form of ginger), coriander, cilantro, lemongrass, shallots, pepper, and kaffir lime leaves. I could not stop consuming Pandanus (also known as Screwpine!) teas made from pandan leaves,  a tropical plant replete with tons of medicinal benefits.

Some of my favorite dishes and street snacks were the savory green papaya and salted crab salad (som tum pu pla raa), “dry” Kuaytiaw Sukhothai noodles, and the sweet Coconut Rice Pudding Cake with Scallion (kanom krok). As they say in Thai:

เสน่ห์ปลายจวักผัวรักจนตาย – “English version: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” (Meaning: When a wife cooks well the husband will love her until the end of life.)

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Lee Price

Lee Price is an American figurative realist painter. Her hyperrealist canvases contain candid, pseudo-photographs concerning the relationship between women and food. Sometimes evoking secret moments of binging, and others featuring lonely moments of tea-sipping in a bathtub, Price captures the quiet war of emotional eating, using herself as the subject.

As a woman, I have been made to feel guilty for eating that extra french fry, for wanting that additional slice of cheese, or for not being petite. Women are constantly ‘food-shamed’ according to antiquated stereotypes of our gender should behave around cuisine. In short: eat little. We are held to impossible etiquette standards, we must be dainty, and yet, we must also be the cooks.

Food, the sustenance of life, and for many a joy of life, is also something which seeks to control us.

I have eaten crab rangoon in a bathtub. I have consumed a bag of Salt and Vinegar potato chips and a box of Oreos silently before a roommate came home. I have sneaked eating Frozen Yogurt on my walk home. I once got into a fight with a best friend over a box of Whole Wheat Strawberry Poptarts. All the aforementioned rest neatly in my annals of food guilt.

Yet, some of my most cherished memories also contain the ignition of my olfactory bulb and gustatory delights: pizza from Jumbo Slice, 2 am chicken tenders from Wingo’s, a Philly cheesesteak, my anniversaries at Dovetail and Colicchio & Sons, a weekend olive oil tasting in Napa Valley, sashimi-delivery-for-two with my boyfriend in the tangled sheets.

It wasn’t until the aughts that a woman finally won Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

I oscillate between a life of gluttony, of flippant uncaring, and of an extreme need to somehow tame my natural urges, and to count a calorie. My friends are all on a perpetual diet. I cannot read a woman-targeted magazine without an article on cholesterol, staying slim, or the right kinds of fats. If left unchecked, I would eat all of the world’s chèvre.

Lee Price, Ice Cream II

But, in truth, I adore food. I adore it at least three times a day. And Price shows this edifying and celebratory (almost orgasmic) side of fare, as well. However, she neglects to include the communal connotations of a shared meal.

Snack_52x40

From her studio in Beacon, NY, Price dreams up canvases “exploring food’s role as liberator, crutch, drug, and nourishment.” In a somewhat mocking turn, the city of Beacon, not far from the Culinary Institute of America, is also in the midst of a food revolution. The industrial town on Metro North has remained its relationship with farms not factories: Tito Santana Taqueria, The Hop Beacon, Homespun Foods, Max’s on Main, The Roundhouse at Beacon Falls, Cafe Amarcord.

Let the food revolution continue.

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Feta, Watermelon and Tomato (End of) Summer Salad

Recipes with watermelon, tomato and feta

The summer I was living in Israel, I ate watermelon sprinkled with tangy, Bulgarian Feta cheese every day. The refreshing summertime combination is a salty, sweet, healthy and re-fueling snack. The dish sometimes gets spiced up with Zaatar, mint, special olive oils, seeds and more. However, the base of feta and watermelon remains the same.

In the USA, particularly in NYC, I find myself a bit more beholden to the whims of a seasonal market. We do not have (fresh) watermelon year round – our peak season is May through September. The savory super-fruit, Pomegranate (which also has roots in the Middle East), tends to have a harvest season that extends from October until December.

Watermelon, Tomato, Pomegranate, Feta Salad

Pining for the warmth of the summer months, and craving a cuisine based in desert terrain, I found myself at a cross-roads between time-of-year and availability of produce. Therefore, I bring you the End of Summer Salad – a mix of middle eastern loves, autumn output, and Mediterranean influences.

Watermelon, Tomato, Pomegranate, Feta Salad

Ingredients: 

  • 1 Large Watermelon
  • 1 Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese – preferable brined
  • 2 Pints grape tomatoes 
  • ¼ Cup Yuzu Citrus Marinade
  • 2 Tablespoons Oil Oil – I used Round Pond, Italian Varietal, which has a very ripe, slightly spicy and green taste
  • Lemon Flake, flavored sea salt from The Meadow
  • Pomegranate Seeds for sprinkling

Watermelon, Tomato, Pomegranate, Feta Salad

 Bon Appétit OR as they say in Israel – (be’te-avon) בתיאבון!