Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Daughters of Cambodia

All pictures via Daughters of Cambodia

And just like that, November is gone.

Thanksgiving Thursday flew by without turkeys or cranberry sauce.  Although Ethan and I went out to dinner that evening, the day just felt off.  Unlike the Christmas holiday, which I never miss, I haven't spent most Thanksgivings in California with my family.  There were several years in Portland, when, due to law school, extreme cram sessions and small bank accounts, I could not make it home.  Last year, I spent the holiday in Poipet, the lovely Cambodian slum known for drug trafficking, neon-signed casinos lighting up the night sky, and really weird abandoned amusement parks.  

Despite the absence of many adult Thanksgivings at home, I missed my family so much this year, and I thought I would give anything to be able to watch ridiculous Law & Order SVU (I am lame) marathons, as my grandma Elipidia cooked.

Such is life abroad, I suppose.

Life these days feels similar to those cram sessions I did in law school and at the firm.  One good thing about my recent holing-up is that I've discovered a little gem of a cafe in Phnom Penh, Sugar 'n Spice (run by Daughters of Cambodia), where proceeds go to supporting victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia.  The food is delicious and the comfy seats enable me to plop down and write for long stretches. I figured I was spending in the upwards of $15 a day in other Phnom Penh coffee shops.  My money can go to a better cause.

Daughters also has a small craft shop and nail salon onsite.

Monday, November 21, 2011

slowing down.

Tuesday morning.  The week is already starting to improve: cooking, wine-drinking, no crazy, push-push-push deadlines looming in the next few days.  I made this  galette two nights ago, sans a food processor and in my mini electric oven.  Yum. Plums aren't easy to come by in Cambodia, and they also aren't cheap. Well worth it, I say.  I adapted the recipe, using Cambodian palm sugar (kind of like brown sugar) and limes, from my lime tree, rather than lemon.  I prefer a little more substance to my crusts, so I may play around next time with different flours.

Recipe for the crust here.  Plum galette recipe here.


via Ermie

How wonderful is Ermie's new collection? I am very tempted by the silk tee in the Talitha print.  Jennifer has been just lovely, answering my questions about caring for the silk Ermie pieces - in Cambodia, I do not do dry-cleaning.  I've lost many a silk blouse here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday errands.

When, as last week, the pace of work is nuts, everything runs off-kilter for me. I don't have time to cook or bake. I don't have time to run my errands.  Sleep is irregular.  There's no space for myself.

The upcoming week may be a repeat, but I spent the Sunday baking granola, laughing with Ethan, and slowly putting small things in order. Some thoughts today:
1. I am loving this SFS Circle Top, which shipped from Gravel & Gold in San Francisco.
2. I picked up my new glasses.  Long overdue.  There's this "secret eyeglass shop," as some locals refer to it, near Central Market, where you can pick up old refurbished vintage frames and prescription lenses for $30-$40.  The inner Gladys in me is happy.
3. I'm digging the selection of French toiletries at the Thai Huot grocery store.  This line of body washes and simple soaps gets me every time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

365 days, weeks #44-46.

How is it mid-November?  Someone please tell me.  For the past 3 weeks, the pace of life has been go,go, go. I'm almost at a loss for words, but in my attempt to document, here are a few thoughts today, disjointed just like the images above:

1. It's the early morning of day 3 of a crazy week, filled with: me kicking unethical journalists out of meetings, who I then chided for endangering already threatened community members; me and others just completely frustrated by the lack of progress by key stakeholders, by an apparent absence of due diligence (wish I could say more here, but I cannot); me writing frantically, harkening back to the late nights I often pulled working as a lawyer at a firm, except this time the subject matter is so emotionally taxing, the mechanisms unpredictable, inaccessible.

2. Last week, craving urban space, Ethan and I took a circuitous route through Koh Kong, Cambodia, with its verdant mountains, crossed the border into Thailand, and headed into Bangkok.  Again!  It was like many of our journeys: one of movement.  I've been fortunate to travel as much as I have this year, while working as much as I have - this would not have been possible except for the crazy Cambo holidays that riddle certain parts of the calendar.  In Bangkok this time, we observed the flooding preparations (sandbags, new concrete mini-walls in front of shops), and I probably had the best bowl of ramen since my last trip to Japan two years ago. I also scored a pair of yellow Worishofer-esque clog/sandals.

3. I started taking cyclos around the city, when I can find them.  They are much slower on movement, but I don't know how these men, usually much older, compete with the ubiquitous motor bike operators. I associate cyclos with Yangon, Burma.  One memory I have is of riding around one in the city after sunset, pitch black because of the common black-outs, the high-pitched cyclo bell ringing, cutting through the dark.

4. I really hate farewell parties.  

5.  I picked up my SFS Circle Top at the post office. It arrived in Cambodia from San Francisco in less than 1 week, although it took the Cambo post system some time to inform me.  Score 1 for the US Post.  The top is airy, the print is lovely.  

6. In one month, I travel home.  Wow.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cambodian Weddings and Granola Making

It's Sunday morning.  Last night, it rained like mad, toppling the small plants on the terrace, including the chili plant that seems to be dying, despite my attempts to water and sun it.

At 6:00a.m. this morning, the sound of music, drums, cymbals even, and amplified talking poured through the windows of my home: a Cambodian wedding.  I was just writing to my good friend, Anu, about the phenomenon of Cambodian weddings, which appear to pop up more and more in the days approaching  Water Festival, another Cambodian holiday. (Yes, the upcoming week is a short work week.)  Is this an auspicious time?  It must be because up and down my street, and on the street behind and in front of my home, tents have been erected, and they are filled with people eating and dancing from the wee morning hours until more modest evening hours.  These weddings last 3 days.

Am I a horrible person to admit these loud festivities in the early morning hours annoy me?  Prevent me from sleeping past 6:30a.m. on what should be lazy weekends?  There are no zoning laws in Cambodia, or if there are, they are not enforced, so another result of these pop-up weddings is bottlenecks and bad traffic.

In any case, since I could not sleep, I woke up and made granola.  I scored a small electric oven from Dom, my friend who just moved back to Australia, and I've made a batch of very simple granola before.  I adapted the following recipe from Lauren Soloff,* of the Granola Project, using local ingredients, like Mondulikiri honey and palm sugar.

The mixture is currently baking in my oven and the house smells like cinnamon.

[Photos and recipe via Chef Speak]

Coconut Sesame Date Granola
Yields approximately 8 cups

6 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
2 cups sliced or slivered almonds (raw and unsalted)
1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup roasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
Generous dash of sea salt
1/2 to 1 cup agave or maple syrup** 
3/4 cup olive oil (or olive oil and canola oil blend)
1 cup deglet dates, pitted and chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine oats, nuts and seeds, coconut, cinnamon, and salt.
On the stove in a small pot combine the sweetener and oil and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and add to the oat mixture.
Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and put in oven. Bake for 30 minutes or a little longer, stirring frequently. Be careful the edges do not burn.
Remove pan from oven and add the dates. Cool on a rack. Transfer to a sealed glass container.

*  I am green with envy for that heart-shaped Le Creuset.
**  I used a mixture of palm sugar and local honey instead.  Real, quality maple syrup is hard to find here and expensive.

[Post-edit: In my electric oven at least, it is easier to burn the edges, so I'll turn down the baking temperature next time.]
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