Life's vagaries explained through football, food, travel and canines.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tell Your Mommy You Want Umami

Where have I been lately? Well, in a nutshell: the US and Vietnam were two recent stops for me, but I think my paucity of posts can be attributed to much of my time being spent reading every scrap of reporting on the Democratic primary race. That meant a lot of Internet and a lot of TV.

But back to more important things than politics. While in NYC, I did some last minute shopping at Gourmet Garage. It was, you know, an hour before I was leaving for the airport. Eminent departure + Family = Beyotchy Churlishness--well we all know there a few things that stop that: 1) food shopping, 2) food making and 3) food consuming.

I picked up a few prime purchases at GG among them Maldon sea salt (truly magnificent, not even snooty fleur de sel--you can see why they taxed salt back in the day), olive oil from Provence with herbes de provence in it (even putting it over Kraft Mac and Cheese transports you to some ethereal planet of bliss) and truffle oil.

Now, recently there was an NYT article about how truffle oil is not the strained liquid from marinading the fungus, but actually a chemical concoction made to smell and taste like the genuine article. Apparently they have isolated the truffle compound down to a molecular and replicable level. But does that mean it's not good?

Nope, because truffle oil over ANYTHING I am convinced will make you drool for it. I seem to have stumbled on some crazy umami or fifth taste switch that I can't now stop. Take truffle fries for instance--I actually contemplated aloud to N the other day a possible purchase of McD french fries just to shake them up with a tablespoon of the stuff. Or cold pizza---two dots on a slice of cold pizza. Enough to make me lose my mind.

Umami is actually the chemical compound glutamate naturally present in a variety of foods--real parmigiano reggiano, fish sauce, ketchup, soy and a lot of Japanese foods like kombu, bonito, and oh so meatily delicious mushrooms hence our usage of the Japanese word for it. Kind of like tsunami :-(.

Anyway! Umami ingredients are like insurance policies, super subs, not generally the flashy striker but indispensible on the bench. Sure it would be nice to have say, Cristiano Ronaldo all the damn time, but in a pinch Ole Gunnar Skolskaer really makes a difference. Thus with umami. Put a parmesan rind or maybe some fish sauce in your next pot of homemade stock and get back to me.

Also the map is courtesy of the UMAMI Information Center. I live in the world's umami epicenter, non?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Railei: Four Times in Four Years

Railei kind of makes you feel like you have been holding your breath your whole life and only now do you think to exhale.

I don't think I will ever get used to seeing the bay cradled by towering karsts at each end, especially at night, when there is something truly magical about those dark columns. I'm certainly not the only one who feels this way, but there is something about the place that encourages a sense of intimacy.

I had first been there in 2004 after the J and S wedding and was shocked and stunned by the beauty. All the New Yorkers were--call it Thai sensory overload. We just sat on the porch at Baan Deborah with mouths open. I dropped my city girl thing (a jacket at least at all times!) and even boarded a plane all gritty with sand and a bikini underneath my clothes. The Jedi mind trick was complete. I was moving to Thailand.

Next time around, S, the rock-climbing rocket scientist and I had the best time I have ever had, with anyone, anyplace, anyhow. This time we perched at Baan Wolfgang and made friends and influenced people. She came off the plane in the middle of the night from India and I apologized for making her get right back on a plane, but promised that I was taking her to the best place in the world. We saw some debris left at that time--mostly broken pieces of longtail boat from the tsunami the year before. Thanks to B and C who sent us off from Bangkok with necessary provisions.

Rainy season, 2006, N and I go there and arrive at night--the longtail slips silently into the Andaman and no boatman in sight. We are confident that we could drive a boat if we had to when he swings aboard. So frightening and romantic in equal measure! Shack up in Baan Solly and read and listen to music and swim in fits of spontaneous happiness. Wake up in the middle of the night to watch Italy win the World Cup. A brilliant trip.

2007--a bleak year with no Railei.

2008--Our travel group needed to have one last trip before dear friends moved from Bangkok, but thankfully only to Singapore. Railei Beach Club was a no brainer. This trip included a solo swim for me where small schools of golden minnows arched out of the water in the trail of a receding wave washing me with a spontaneous wave of joy. Not something I experience every day, but commonplace in Railei.