October 2009 Archives

Cooking Thai Food at Home

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Amanda gets down on the kitchen floor with the curry paste tonight.

During our Chiang Mai vacation, we indulged in a lot of Thai food and took several cooking classes. The first class was a day at the Thai Farm Cooking School where we visited a farmers' market, toured the school's organic farm, ground curry paste by hand and made more food than we could eat, including curry with our fresh paste and a dessert of mango with sticky rice. A few days later, the cook at Maesa Elephant Camp led us through some simple recipes at dinnertime. Back in Chiang Mai we did an evening course at Baan Thai and made fish cakes, soup, more curry paste and the local noodle dish, khao soi.

I was sort of surprised at how none of the cooking methods were exotic - mainly stirfry and simmering.
Curry is basically fried vegetables simmered in coconut milk. There's no major mystery to making tom yam soup; it's just a lightly boiled soup. Steaming rice is a bit different than boiling it, but even that is just steaming.

It was the ingredients that made all the difference. So many good smells in Thai food, as Tod says. We worked with kaffir lime leaf, fresh lemon grass, members of the ginger family and oh, those tiny bitter eggplants! We despaired of ever recreating these dishes in Tokyo, despite our instructors' enthusiastic entreaties to "Please cook Thai at home!" But today, Tod discovered a Asia Superstore, a Thai grocery in Okubo near Higashi-Shinjuku station. He biked over and came back with a mortar and pestle and everything else needed to make curry paste. They even had the eggplants.

20 Years Together

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We eloped 20 years ago today. Tod & I called in sick to work and visited the court just 2 weeks before our planned wedding day. Our impulse left us without witnesses or friends present, so there are no photos of us together from that day. Didn't matter, we took snaps of each other:

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Tod enjoying married life.

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Freshly minted Mrs. McQuillin.

Since our reception party was already planned, we held it on schedule. There were lots of photos taken on November 5th. Most of them show Tod looking uncomfortable and impatient to get the photography over with while I encouraged him to stand still and smile. He still dislikes photo sessions, though he's learned not to make faces and I've learned not to nag.

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Fortunately, the rest of the day was easier.

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Tod didn't mind posing for this photo.

I'd like to reflect on our two decades together but what can I possibly say? If you are married, you know the ups and downs of a relationship. If you are not, you have to find out for yourself. And none of what has come before really matters. We are happy now and that is what counts.

My Tattoo Story

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My tattoo, 16 years old, and its inspiration

When I was in my teens and becoming aware of the world, tattoos were beautiful and scary as the only tattooed people I knew were bikers. But I loved the idea of color and design on skin and I secretly wanted one. However, a tattoo was not something my parents were likely to let me do, so I waited.

Several years after marrying, as my life was simultaneously settling and transitioning, I found the tattoo design I wanted in a Dover clip art book - Celtic Stencil Designs. It had beautiful negative space, curves, triskeles, a sort of yin/yang shape and I knew I could live with it. I checked out Mom, to see where I would probably sag and wrinkle as I aged and decided the wrist would be totally safe (not that Mom was old or saggy, but we do have a similar body shape, so it seemed wise to have a peek).

When the 1993 Meeting of the Marked convened at a hotel in Pittsburgh, I went into the convention just to look. This was my first time seeing the process and artists and I was excited. There were tables ringing in a hotel ballroom and every table had a flash book, photos of the artist's work and a very busy artist adding ink to a happy customer. Most of the attendees were dressed to show their skin. It was a heady experience to walk around and take it all in.

Then I found my artist, Chris Henry, by flipping through his sample book. He was a former university engineering student a couple of years younger than me who dropped out to follow his passion as a tattoo artist. He did a lot of blackwork then and it was good. I showed him my design and he agreed to do it. "Come back in an hour," he said.

So I did. I called Tod first to make sure he was OK with it (He wasn't thrilled, but didn't stop me) and used an ATM to get my several hundred dollar payment. Then back into the fray to be tattooed. Wow!

It took about two hours. First Chris made a mimeograph - the purple kind that smells so good - from my design. Then using deodorant as a medium, he transferred the pattern to my wrist a couple of times until he got it lined up the way he wanted it. He outlined the design with a single needle, then filled it in with a three needle gun. The whole while we chatted, and passersby engaged me with encouragement and their own tattoo stories. It was a great experience.

It was painful, yes. But the pain wasn't unbearable. It was strange and a little sad to see features of my skin disappear; bye-bye freckles! And it bled a pattern into the bandage which I thought was nifty but disturbed friends.

I am very glad to have a tattoo. Its design doesn't have meaning for me, but the experience does and its existence has shaped me, especially in Japan where tattoos are for criminals. I am beautiful and scary.

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