How Not to Make Thai Curry and Other Life Lessons

Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Heaping Brown Pile of Thanksgiving Deliciousness

A recent event forced me to take that first dreaded trip to the grocery store in 4 months: Thanksgiving. An American bassoonist who also volunteers with the Shanghai City Symphony Orchestra, Tamara, invited me to a Turkey Day potluck with her, her husband, and some of their (also married) friends. After a couple frustrated hours at a five-story Carrefour Supermarket, I pushed a cart full of chocolate muffin fixings out of the automatic doors. 
 
Two things went wrong: first, I didn't find a muffin pan and second, I forgot to grease the pie pan I decided to use to make one enormous muffin. The result, of course, was a heaping brown pile of slightly burnt chocolate...something. Upon arriving at the Thanksgiving potluck, for which Tamara had miraculously cooked homemade pies and stuffing using only a tiny toaster oven, I was immediately awarded the Bachelorette Prize for my statement: "Uh, I brought a pile of...chocolate...something. It's kind of burnt. But don't worry! I have frosting!"
 
Yiwan: Practically a Chinese Housewife

Feeling inspired by this culinary victory, I knew it was finally time to make good use of the red curry paste I bought in Thailand. I suppose I should explain how I came to buy such an unconventional souvenir in the first place.
 
Though I was quite clear on how much I loathe shopping from the beginning of the trip, I was dragged to a shopping area of Phuket Town for a few hours on our last day in Thailand. Yukino, the head of our strategy team, came along as well. She was a chef for 11 years in Europe and is highly trained in French cooking. Since she brought a decadent strawberry-chocolate birthday cake to the office in early November, all cooking inquiries have gone to her. 

That's why, when she started to buy Thai cooking ingredients, the five of us on this shopping excursion followed in buying exactly what Yukino chose. I ended up with red curry paste, coconut milk, and a few pounds of dried fruit (which I also took to Tamara's Thanksgiving potluck, much to their amusement).
 
I was in a domestic mood after the potluck. Not only did I finally make Thai curry, I also did laundry (though it was raining, so I ended up hanging everything in front of the heater) and finished building my new piano keyboard that arrived in fifty pieces. If I knew what "darning socks" meant, I'd probably have done that, too.

The internet was slow, so instead of finding a recipe, I elected to go with the "just cross your fingers and throw everything in" method. The resulting goop had been bubbling along beautifully for awhile so I cut open a piece of chicken and some veggies and they looked well-done. Victoriously, I popped a forkful of chicken and tomatoes into my mouth. My face turned bright red and I started to sweat as I hesitantly chewed the spiciest food I've ever eaten.

I snacked on life-saving Digestive cookies for the rest of the night while giggling at my epic failure.

A Hazy Shade of Weekend
 
In the mood for some lamb, or anything not cooked by Yiwan, Huang Qian, Stella, and I went to Shiraz, an Iranian Restaurant, for dinner on Friday night. When Huang Qian, an avid smoker, asked me "What's hookah?", my immediate reaction was "Waiter!"

We ordered a family dinner which consisted of bread and hummus, soup, and an enormous pile of meat. The boisterous older man who owns the restaurant kept coming over and dumping larger heaps of food onto our plates, saying "Eat! Eat!" He told Huang Qian that lamb would make her eyes larger and informed (a smiling and nodding, but not understanding his English) Stella that hummus would make her hair grow.
 
As we got up to leave, feeling stuffed and extremely mellow, he insisted on taking a picture kissing each of us on the cheek. Poor Stella was first, and was unprepared.

The next morning, I woke up with a slightly sore throat and a room that smelled like apple tobacco, two of the unsurprising risks of spending hours smoking hookah. The last thing I wanted to think about was smoking. 

Eager to stop thinking about it, I lugged my viola out to the suburb where we were having a Shanghai City Symphony Orchestra concert. The orchestra emails are in Chinese so I only pay attention to the important things: where and when I should show up. Saturday's concert was for the workers of a large company that sponsors the orchestra: China Tobacco.
 
We played Haydn's Surprise Symphony, but I think I had the biggest shock of the day.
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