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Vegan Thai food | visiting a school in Thailand | cooking with kids | dinner and a show

Posted May 07 2013 7:23pm

The weather in Seattle has been uncharacteristically gorgeous the past week — yesterday we had the highest temperature of any city in the U.S. It was 87˚ and sunny with blue skies and a gentle breeze! Today it started out cloudy but is now sunny, and the forecast for the week looks the same — sunny and 70s. Who can sit at a computer and write blog posts under these circumstances? Nope. It's gardening, walking, reading on the porch weather. I'm making an exception today before I go out and plant strawberries because it's been so long since I posted and I want to finish my travelog so I can start posting current doings.

As I was processing the photos for the post, I was reliving some fabulous eating experiences and wishing I could taste some of the foods again, especially the spring rolls you see in the above photo. They were made by the owner and principal of a school we visited, and were the best (best, best, best) spring rolls I've ever tasted. Period.

On our last day in Thailand we were driven to the town of Ban Bueng to visit a school owned and operated by the mother of our host's former and current doctoral students, who also work at the school with their mother. Ban Bueng is near the city of Chonburi, on the Gulf of Thailand about 100 km east of Bangkok. The school's curriculum is based on the King's plan for children's education, which I understand includes an emphasis on life skills and self-sufficiency as well as basic academic subjects.

We observed the children practicing cooking skills. The teachers explained that the children were learning how to use products that were abundant in the area. The knowledge was shared with parents, who could then create more products they could sell. We saw the children making preserved duck eggs which we politely declined to sample, and in the photo above, we saw them learning to make rice paper packets filled with garlic scapes, also known as green garlic. The garlic scapes had been chopped and sautéed with a small amount of oil. A dampened rice paper square (about a 4" square) was placed onto a hand, topped with garlic scapes, and folded into a packet. The packets were then steamed for about five minutes, at which point we got to sample them. Delicious! And easy to recreate at home.

My favorite child-made treat was khanom krok, a delectable coconut and rice flour confection. I've never seen young children allowed to get so close to a super hot surface before, and it sure made me nervous, but they handled it without mishap.

The can held a heat source and the khanom krok pan was sizzling hot. There are two batters that go into the pan — a thick bottom layer and a thin top layer.  When the bottom is crispy and the top set, the cakes are removed and set out to cool a bit before being eaten.

These are so good. One of my sons actually owns the special pan needed to make khanom krok so I may try this. In the meantime, I found two links to recipes if you're curious. (The ones we ate didn't have green onions added.) Link #1.   Link #2.

After watching the kids cook, it was time for our lunch. The omnivores were at one table and the vegans at another! The school owner/principal and one of the staff sat with us veggie types. The school owner made all of our food and it was the very best food of the entire trip. Sensational.

Because there were so many specifically Thai ingredients that I was unfamiliar with, I can't tell you what exactly made each dish special. This one is green beans over noodles ganished with peanuts and ... something.

On the left is a vegetable dish with snow peas, carrots, zucchini and pepper, and on the right? Beats me.

While we were eating I was asked why I was vegan. I don't usually like to discuss veganism over food, but since all the food at our table was plant-based, and I wouldn't really have an opportunity to talk with our lunch mates again, I gave a brief explanation of why I don't eat animals. It was just a basic animal rights, environment, health thing delivered as politely as possible.

My plate.

Here's a closer look at the best spring rolls ever. I couldn't stop eating them even though I was stuffed. I want more. I want more.

If you've been following my blog, you know I've highlighted some very odd desserts. I think there were some at this lunch as well, but there was also sticky rice and khanom krok, and these were desserts I was happy to indulge in, even though I could barely breathe after all I'd already eaten. The rice is greenish because it is flavored with pandan, a sweet plant that plays heavily as a flavoring and sweetening agent in Thai beverages and desserts.

After lunch we observed more of the school activities, including the children learning about gardening.

After watching them work with seedlings, we went out into the garden where the children were harvesting fruits and vegetables with their teachers.

We also observed a lesson in meditation.

This was pretty much how I felt.

There were three dogs living at the school. All had been rescued from the streets outside the school, and nursed back to health. The largest dog was a little skittish around strangers but the two little ones were as thrilled to meet me as I was to meet them.

After our day at the school, we were hustled into a limo and driven some distance to a huge shopping center because our hosts decided we needed a Thai spa experience. I was given a mani-pedi and my husband received a full-body massage. Too bad I didn't take any photos of my newly pedicured and polished feet, since they're all back to normal now. I didn't get polish on my fingernails because I knew it would start chipping too fast and would drive me crazy.

Our drive back to Bangkok at the end of a very long, very hot day, passed by The Ancient City (from my first Thailand post) and we stopped there for dinner and a show.

If you recall, the Ancient City is owned and operated by our host's brother and nephew, and we were scheduled to eat at the hotel and watch a traditional Thai evening outdoor performance. We had been warned to expect lots of mosquitoes but fortunately there was a good breeze and none appeared.

After the performance, members of the audience were invited up to the stage to have their photos taken with the cast. I had my picture taken, too, but every photo of me taken on our trip came out blurred.

My dinner plate. Too tired to shoot the other 97 plates of food.

When we finished taking photos, we walked to the hotel for dinner. I was still full from lunch but what could I do? In Thailand finishing all the food on your plate is rude and a signal to your host that there wasn't enough food provided. I was more worried about eating enough so they would know we liked the dinner. Let me just say that the food was so good that we managed to eat a substantial amount.

As we dined overlooking the canal, the performances continued both on the water and on a stage across the water.

We couldn't understand a word of the performance which was probably just as well in the opinion of our host. She said it was shockingly raunchy and she seemed very surprised.

When the performances ended, vendors in boats  passed by selling various souvenirs, foods and drinks.It was a very unique evening, to say the least.

Just before we headed back to Bangkok I spied a colorful bus in the parking lot; Thailand is a very color-intensive country, and even the buses are likely to be vibrant.

Back at our hotel, we had a few hours to sleep before being picked up at 3:30 a.m. to head to the airport, but before signing off on Thailand, I want to show you one more thing — the bathroom. In Thailand, as in other countries I've visited, the sewage system cannot handle toilet paper. Our hotel and bathroom were very modern, but the sign is clear.

You can see the little can on the bottom right, but the situation is not as grim as it seems, because the bathrooms are equipped with a handy little spray hose next to the toilet which you use before blotting dry with the toilet paper. When I returned home, one of the things I missed was the hose. I know there are bidets, but I really liked the efficiency of the hose. I want one.
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