Toum is a Lebanese garlic sauce and it’s one of our favorites. It’s garlicky with a lovely and surprisingly light texture, and goes great with everything. Several weeks before we left California,a young woman selling toum based on her family recipe showed up at our local farmers market. I’d never even heard of this sauce, and with COVID restrictions, she couldn’t offer samples. But I bought a jar to support her, a first-time female food entrepreneur.** Our first jar lasted about 2 days, since James and Corbin started putting it on everything – meat, pasta, veggies. From then on, we stocked up every Saturday. Then, at one of our first meals in Lebanon, at a table laden with different delicious mezze, I dipped a pita into some white stuff and – bam! – the memory of tasting toum for the first time came back. Needless to say, we ordered more for the table. Our gracious, welcoming and enthusiastic Airbnb hosts in Zahle, Georgie and Carolina, shared their recipe and toum-making tricks with us. I’ll still stock up every Saturday at the Anne’s Toum cart at the Grand Lake Farmers Market, but it’s nice to know that I can make a batch on my own if I run out!
1 cup very fresh garlic cloves, peeled (from 3-4 heads of garlic)
Put all ingredients, as well as the food processor bowl and blades, in the refrigerator until cold
In the food processor, blend the garlic cloves and salt, scraping down the sides regularly, until it’s a smooth paste. If you need to add a bit of liquid to make it paste-like, add a tablespoon of the lemon juice.
With the processor running, drizzle in oil in a very very thin stream, very very slowly*. After the first ½ cup of oil, add a tablespoon of the lemon juice. Continue to alternate ½ cup oil and tablespoon of lemon juice, and when you’re out of lemon juice, start alternating the oil with a bit of the crushed ice a little at a time until everything is incorporated.
Serve alongside grilled meat or veggies (or anything!)
*You are making an emulsion which requires drizzling the oil in super-slowly – don’t let any pools of oil form! This is what makes the texture light and fluffy, not goopy with separated oil.
**Anne’s Toum is doing pretty well now – I just looked up her website and was excited to see that her product is now sold through Williams-Sonoma!
The thing I think I miss the most is my own room because while traveling my family shares a room and to be honest there’s very little time to be alone. Yes, I can tell them I’m taking alone time. However, they have to plan and a lot of other things that require disturbing my peace. Personally I think that the essence of alone time is to have some space between you and humanity, and you can’t have that when your family is blabbing about trip planning.
The thing I miss the second most is definitely good wifi because while we are traveling we stay in a various combination between airbnbs and hotels. Though most of those have decent wifi there’s never any guarantee and even like the Doubletree by Hilton or aloft by Hilton don’t have great wifi because they have to make sure it reaches every room and floor so you may be in a room farther away from the wifi router therefore reducing its speed. There’s also the factor that more often than not the quality of the wifi is connected to the city or even the country, and not just the building where it has better or worse wifi/internet access.
The thing I miss the third most is having a lot of space and while this is connected to alone time, I also think it deserves its own explanation. So here’s why I think I miss having a lot of space. I like having a lot of space because I like having a sense of freedom and being stuffed in a small apartment or hotel room next to your family where you can hear basically every word they’re saying is rather unpleasant, and that’s only putting it lightly.
Number 4 on the list is Costco because of its ridiculously large selection of ingredients, furniture, and a variety of other items. Its sheer size of the building, quality, and quantity of the merchandise is at the very least astounding. I love Costco for all of it’s little features and aspects, from the free taste tests of products to it’s cheap high quality goods. We have not found any store as impressive as Costco in other countries.
The 5th thing I miss most is mom’s cooking because I don’t have to leave my house to eat it and also because it’s delicious.
The thing I probably miss the 6th most is Amazon Alexa because it is really convenient to be able to ask anything at any time without needing to look at a device. In addition to that I can hide in my room and play music with good sound quality and I can play basically any song.
The thing that I miss the seventh most is my computer because it has the games I want to play on it and it was the only device I could use to do any online stuff like playing video games, watching videos and streams, and more broad searches. I’m also very grateful that I had this since I didn’t have a phone at the time.
The 8th thing I miss most is the Cheesesteak Shop. To be honest there’s not very much about this place, but I like the food 🙂
The second to last thing I miss most is the perfect weather where we live in Oakland. The reason this is the last is because weather is easily adaptable to. However, I really like perfect weather and so I miss it.
The last thing I miss most is very very surprisingly vegetables because the vegetables on this trip have so far been pretty bad. This is due to the fact that basically every country serves a lot of the same vegetables: tomatoes, onions, potatoes, lettuce. It gets really really boring having those 4 vegetables for almost the entirety of the last like 3-5 months. (I honestly have no idea how long it’s been.
This spinach-cheese dish has always been one of my favorites in the pantheon of North Indian cuisine, and although I’ve tried to make it at home from various recipes found online from my favorite sources, it never looked or tasted quite right. Rajni, my Indian auntie / Indian cooking god mother, said that it’s because many recipes include tomatoes or tomato paste, which changes the flavor. Tomatoes also turn the dish a muddy swamp green. Rajni’s version tasted and looked perfect to me!
1 small bunch fresh spinach, washed thoroughly (about 250 grams)
1 – 1 1/2 cups paneer cubes (about 100 grams)*
1 tbsp heavy cream*
2 medium onions, 1 diced into ½ inch cubes and 1 pureed
1/2” knob of fresh ginger, grated**
2 cloves garlic, minced**
1 tsp green chili, minced**
2 tbsp ghee or oil, divided
1 tsp garam masala, divided
½ tsp curry powder
¼ tsp cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
Salt to taste
Blanch spinach; blend into a puree
Toss paneer cubes with ½ tsp garam masala. Shallow fry in 1 tbsp ghee, turning cubes so they are light brown on multiple sides. Remove paneer from pan.
Add remaining 1 tbsp ghee to pan; add cumin, bay leaves and cinnamon; let crackle for 30 seconds
Add chopped unions; cook for 1-2 minutes. Add onion puree. Cook until golden brown.
Add garlic, ginger, chili. Cook for 1 minute
Add ground spices and salt along with 1 tbsp water. Cook, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes.
Add spinach puree and cooking for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add paneer cubes. Lower heat and cook for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat. Stir in cream. Garnish with grated paneer and a pinch of garam masala. Serve hot.
* to make it vegan, substitute tofu cubes for the paneer, and cashew cream for the heavy cream. For the tofu cubes: soak 1” thick slabs of tofu in hot salt water for 20 minutes. Remove from water, wrap in clean kitchen towels, and place on a flat surface under a cutting board with a heavy pot on top. Press for 20 minutes, then unwrap and cut into cubes. For the cashew cream, soak ¼ cup chopped raw cashews in hot water for an hour, drain, and blend with ¼ cup water until smooth and creamy.
** Rajni suggested that if you’re making several Indian dishes – all of which tend to include ginger, garlic and green chiles, it is easier to make a big batch of ginger/garlic/chile paste using about equal parts of all three ingredients. In that case, use 3 tsp of this paste.
Indian cuisine has so many different types of bread! During our 3 weeks in India, Asher (our family carbotarian) was thrilled to try every variety, but his all-time favorite was the Kerala Paratha that we had in the southern part of India. In fact, our entire family agreed it was the best. It is an unleavened flatbread that is crispy on the edges, chewy in the middle, with delicious layers to peel apart. It reminds me a lot of Taiwanese scallion pancakes, just without the scallions. The dough is the same as regular parathas; the difference is in the special construction technique.
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
½ cup water
4 tsp ghee
1. Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Add ½ tsp of ghee and rub it through the flour until no lumps remain.
2. Add water about 2 tbsp at a time, and mix with your hands. Knead the dough* for 2 minutes.
3. Cover the dough and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes (An hour is even better; the time gives the dough time to fully hydrate and become easier to work with.)
4. Shape the parathas: Break off a golf-ball sized piece of dough**, roll it in flour and make a small ball. On a surface dusted with flour, press the ball into a disc with your fingers, then roll it out with a rolling pin into a thin circle (the thinner the better, with more layers in the final product). Pour a few drops of ghee on top and spread it across the surface. Lightly dust with a bit of flour, and spread the flour across the surface too. Starting at one edge of the circle, roll up the pancake into a cylinder, then wrap the cylinder into a snail-shell-like spiral, tucking the end underneath. Flatten the spiral with your fingers and roll the spiral into a thin flat circle, about 0.5 cm thick.
5. Cook the paratha in a medium-hot, unoiled cast iron skillet or frying pan, flipping over once it starts to change color, in as short as 10 seconds. Sprinkle with 1 tsp of ghee and flip it over. Cook until light brown in spots. Sprinkle the other side with ghee and flip it over, again cooking until light brown in spots. Serve right away, while still hot.
*Experienced home cooks in many cultures seem to have developed an instinct for making dough of the perfect consistency without measuring any ingredients. The ratio of flour to water does depend a bit on the flour and ambient humidity, so you might need to add a bit more flour or water to get to the right texture. This dough shouldn’t be too sticky, and once rested and ready to roll out, the dough should be soft and smooth.
** Keep the rest of the dough covered while you work with each piece.
Corbin and I took a cooking class in the beautiful city of Udaipur. It was really more of an inspiring cooking show, as Rajni, a self-taught home cook, produced delicious masterpieces one after the other in her very compact home kitchen, with minimal assistance from either of us! I especially loved the little tips and tricks that Rajni shared with us, and started thinking of her as an Indian Auntie / Godmother of Indian Cooking. I was delighted when Rajni showed me how to make a proper lassi! I’d previously thought of the lassi as kind of a smoothie, but frozen mango chunks blended with yogurt, mango juice and ice (my previous shortcut version) isn’t quite the same. Rajni’s authentic version has a lovely subtle and sophisticated flavor thanks to the saffron and cardamom.
1 ½ cups plain fresh yogurt
1 cup water
½ cup milk
2 tsp sugar or to taste
¼ tsp ground cardamom
1 pinch saffron
2 tsp finely chopped pistachios or cashews (optional)
A few raisins or other small pieces of dried fruit (optional)
Mix yogurt with water. Pour into a muslin or cheesecloth bag (or cheesecloth-lined colander) and leave to drain for 30 minutes*
Grind saffron with a teaspoon of warm milk in a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon in a bowl.
Add sugar, milk, cardamom powder and saffron mixture to yogurt; mix well.
Pour into glasses and chill. Sprinkle with nuts and raisins to garnish, if desired.
*You might be tempted to skip this step, but don’t! It’s important to remove the sour taste. Save the whey for another use; I use it instead of water as a base for vegan soups.
Corbin and I went to an amazing cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The set-up was terrific; each student had individual, fully-equipped stations for both prepping ingredients and cooking. We made multiple courses, and each student had a choice of what to cook from several options. Our teacher somehow managed to teach 4 different dishes simultaneously to 7 different students of different cooking skills, providing tips, adding an extra dash of this or that, and/or adjusting the burner slightly to make sure everything turned out perfectly. I can’t even carry a conversation about the weather and cook at the same time! Anyway, everything that we made turned out delicious. But before we even started cooking, they served us a welcome snack that is a Thai tradition. It was actually quite simple, and I was honestly pretty skeptical at first but then was absolutely delighted at the explosion of flavors that I ended up eating all the extras. It reminded me of my favorite scene from the movie Ratatouille, when Remy (the rat-chef), describing his love for food to his gluttonous but undiscerning cousin, closes his eyes and sees fireworks when combining ingredients: “Pow pow pow!”
Ingredients for shallot-ginger syrup:
½ cup palm sugar, chopped*
1 shallot, minced
2 cm piece ginger, grated
1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup water
16 betel leaves*
½ cup shallots, diced to 0.5 cm
½ cup ginger, diced to 0.5 cm
½ cup lime pieces, diced to 0.5 cm**
8 small Thai chilis, left whole if very small or thinly sliced including the seeds if larger
½ cup unsalted peanuts
½ cup coconut flakes
In a dry wok over medium-low heat, toast the peanuts until light brown and remove to cool and wipe out wok.
In the same wok, toast the coconut until light brown and remove to cool and wipe out wok.
Make the syrup: simmer palm sugar, minced shallot, grated ginger, fish sauce and water over medium-high heat until shallots are soft and the syrup is thick. Let cool.
Pour the syrup in a bowl and place all the other ingredients in piles on one big platter, or create individual plates with a bit of each ingredient.
Instruct diners to assemble their own snack by placing a little bit of every ingredient in the middle of a leaf, pouring a bit of the syrup on top, folding the leaf into a little bundle, and popping the whole thing in their mouths. Enjoy!
· Palm sugar: this is a common form of sugar in Thailand, and is made from the juice of palm fruit, and cooked down to form a syrup, paste or cake. Light brown sugar would be a good substitute.
· Betel leaves: Called bai chaplu in Thai, these glossy dark green leaves (the size of your palm) don’t have a very strong flavor so they really just serve as the edible packaging. If you can’t find these, you could substitute another palm-sized edible green leaf, but I would stick to something like red leaf lettuce, and avoid anything with a strong flavor (e.g. no kale). (Not to be confused with betel nut, which many people in Asian chew, like chewing tobacco, for its stimulant effects.)
· Lime: The Thai limes used in this recipe have very thin skin and are the size of a walnut. If you are using the variety of limes widely available in the U.S., which have a thicker skin, then zest the lime, peel it, cut the flesh into small bits and toss with the lime zest to get a similar flavor without the bitterness of the thicker white pith.
I was asked to do ANOTHER blog post so I decided I would do one about why I shouldn’t have to write more blog posts. And yes, who would’ve thought I didn’t like doing blog bosts.
Reason 1. When we first had a family meeting about doing a blog I very strongly vetoed the idea.
Reason 2. I am currently doing the most if not the second most blog posts, dad has done like 1 and Corbin has done I don’t know how many but he didn’t write all of the ones he posted, Mom has done like 6-10 and I’ve done 8(including this one). So I feel like until at least dad has done 5 posts then I shouldn’t have to do any more.
After Angkor Wat on the first day, we stopped and had a nice lunch before continuing on the small circuit of the Angkor Wat Complex. Seeing the less well-known temples was just as amazing since all the temples are unique in their own ways.
The first post-lunch spot was the Tree Temple (Ta Prohm). Known for the unrestored nature of the temple, with trees and vines growing throughout the temple, parts of it were being restored.
A crane and numerous workers were fixing, chiseling, and restoring the tree temple (sponsored by the Indian government).
Ta Prohm is also known as the filming location for scenes in the Tomb Raider (2001), starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.
Next, we visited the Victory gate (eastern entrance of the Angkor Thom area). I posed with the buddha face on the side.
We saw the elephant terrace with carved elephants along the walls and the old royal palace.
Next was Baphuon, a massive pyramid temple with steep stairs and cool doorways at the top.
It was surrounded by at least 7 weddings (at just the one temple).
The final temple of the day was Bayon Temple, known for the hundreds of carved buddha faces on each tower and spire. Despite being one of the most well-known temples in the Angkor Wat Complex, there were maybe 5 other people in the whole temple.
Finally, we climbed up a hill to see the sunset. Unfortunately, it wasn’t sunset over a temple, but it was still gorgeous.
The next day, after a gorgeous sunrise over Angkor Wat, we tuk-tuked to Pre Rup temple, a tall red pyramid temple that was also being restored. It looked similar to Angkor Wat, as it had the 5 towers on the top.
Then we drove an hour to Banteay Srei, a red sand temple with extremely intricate carvings and drawings. It had lots of towers, statues, walls, and of course, carvings.
We drove back to the big circuit of the Angkor Wat complex and visited Neak Pean. A water temple with four elemental ponds surrounding a large central pool with a temple in the center.
We had to walk on a makeshift bridge across the lagoon to get to the temple, as they were in the process of rebuilding the normal bridge.
The final temple of our time in Siem Reap was Preah Khan. Dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s father, Preah Khan was surrounded by a wall decorated with tall carved Garuda.
The temple itself was comprised of doors. Just doors. Every room had 4 doors, one in each cardinal direction. Each door led to another room with the same doors. Over and over and over. Doors, doors, doors.
The temples were amazing, but I think we are all very templed-out for now. Unfortunately for us, Thailand is also known for its temples…
When visiting Cambodia, one location is on everybody’s list: Angkor Wat. If you are in Cambodia, you must visit Angkor Wat. Often, people catch a quick flight to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, even if they are just in other parts of South-East Asia. So, given that we were visiting Cambodia, Angkor Wat was on the top of our list.
After visiting other less well-known parts of Cambodia like Phnom Penh, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, and Kratie, we took a ~6 hour bus from Kratie to Siem Reap. We were the only tourists on the bus/van, and it quickly filled up with locals (and chickens).
Arriving in Siem Reap, we took a day to relax in our lovely Airbnb with a fancy shower and air conditioning (luxuries we have come to cherish greatly)! The husband of our Airbnb host was a tuk-tuk driver, so we arranged with him to get us a guide and drive us around the Angkor Wat complex.
After a good night’s rest without the worry of mosquitos and malaria, we walked 5 minutes to a delicious breakfast restaurant. We had a filling breakfast and met our Angkor Wat guide, Sok. We tuk-tuked to the Angkor Wat ticket office. 42 fancy ticket booths, only 2 were open.
We got our pictures taken, paid our fees, and tuk-tuked to the entrance of the main Angkor Wat temple. We sat and got a little history lesson, and crossed the massive moat on a Canadian-sponsored temporary bridge (the main stone bridge was being restored by a Japanese construction company).
Walking up, we were in front of the western gate, which itself was quite impressive. There was a tall wall with 5 entrances, 2 on the ends for goods and common people, 2 closer to the middle for noble families, and 1 in the center for the king. Even though it was just a wall, it was covered in intricate carvings and had stone-carved nagas guarding each entrance.
Passing through the central entrance (like the kings and queen we are), we were greeted with the postcard view of Angkor Wat. 1 large central tower surrounded by 4 slightly smaller but still giant towers, with a long walkway in the front.
We stopped briefly at one of the ancient libraries to take some pictures.
Then we headed up the stairs to visit the inside of Angkor Wat.
Taking plenty of pictures along the way, we stopped in what was thought to be the center of the universe and took more pictures.
We climbed some steps to get to the second innermost courtyard where there was lots of restoration and construction going on, sponsored by various countries.
We climbed the last bunch of steps to the top courtyard with the big central tower and big towers on the corners.
Signs said capacity of 100, we saw maybe 10 total people in the 30 minutes we spent exploring the highest courtyard.
Given that there were virtually no people, we were able to pose and take countless pictures without random people ruining the picture.
We climbed down the stairs from the top courtyard, and down another set to get to the third-highest courtyard which was a wide grassy field wrapping around the center of Angkor Wat.
We headed to a corner to take even more pictures, all with absolutely no one anywhere in sight.
We left the grassy courtyard to get to the eastern entrance. Still no one. Our guide said that before Covid, the walkway between Angkor Wat and the east entrance was jam-packed. Post-covid, it was silent and empty.
After Angkor Wat, we saw more temples in the Angkor archaeological area.
The next morning we woke up at 5am and hopped back in the tuk-tuk to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. We walked over to the sunrise viewpoint which had the most people we had seen so far, 50. Pre-covid pictures show thousands of people, tens of layers deep, all trying to get pictures of the sunrise. We had 50. Everyone was able to be in the front row, set up their cameras for timelapse, or just sit and enjoy the sunrise.
The sunrise was gorgeous and we took plenty of pictures.
We were certainly grateful to have Angkor Wat almost all to ourselves, and although the emptiness of all these amazing tourist sites is a blessing to us, it greatly hurts the locals who depend on tourism for a living.
Wow, my blogging is inconsistent. We are halfway through our gap year and I’m on my second blog. I just want to take a moment to note one of my favorite small memories from each country.
We Spent four months in Costa Rica and there were so many awesome moments. One day we were at the beach in Playa Samara and a huge flock of birds were diving into the ocean over and over again. Gloria and I waded out into the dive area and there were thousands of anchovies pinging out of the water. One flew into Glo’s rashguard and got stuck in her sleeve – safe from tuna and birds – until she tossed it back into the circle of life.
We jumped to Panama after our first 3 months in Costa Rica. The canal and our overnight stay with the Emberá were great but when our guide took us to get lunch we saw a Dairy Queen. We tried to get DQ in honor of my mother but it wasn’t open yet so we just took a selfie to send to her.
In Ecuador, they have giant swing sets on the edge of a cliff so you swing out over the abyss. Some of them were great. The original End of the World swing is outside Banos. The swing was great, but even more fun was watching the kids try to outdo each other on the parallel zip lines – racing, crazy poses, etc.
In Columbia, we took the funicular to the top of Monserrate overlooking Bogota. I wasn’t expecting much. The view was nice but then the sun turned rose red and the view became sublime. After being mesmerized by the sunset, we noticed they had turned on the Christmas lights and there were light arches, angels, Koi, etc. As we came down the funicular, we went through a tunnel of Christmas lights with the night sky of Bogota in the background.
In Peru, we stopped to get some empanadas for breakfast. Within seconds of exiting the restaurant an enterprising gaggle of girls had heaved baby alpacas into Corbin’s and Gloria’s arms and posed around them for pictures. The picture was cute but the speed and efficiency of their ambush was most impressive.
We arrived in Ciudad Del Este, Paraguay on Sunday, December 26th. We checked into our $15 room and went to find lunch. We walked and walked in the 95 degree heat, but everything in town was closed – no corner stores, restaurants, grocery stores. The city is known for giant malls which Brazilians and Argentinians cross the border to shop in. However, only one mall was open: Shopping Paris. Four story mega mall with a mediocre food court. We stocked up.
We spared a whole 6 hours to explore Brazil which is roughly the size of the contiguous US. Crossed over the border from Paraguay to see Iguazu Falls. The Brazilian side of Iguazu was great, at first mildly impressive, but crescendoing with every new viewpoint in our 2 kilometer hike.
Near Chalten, Argentina in Patagonia we hiked to the Laguna De Los Tres at the base of Fitz Roy. About 8 miles in and up a set of steep hills we ended at a gorgeous glacier lake and an amazing view. We ate the yummy food Glo had packed for us and watched as a red fox wandered up and eyed us.
We’ve had an amazing first six months with an incredible list of greatest hits. We wont forget Machu Picchu or the Galapagos. But I do worry that, without attention, all those little moments will fade – moments we shared which lightened our souls, expanded our hearts, opened our minds, or bound our family together. I know that even as we forget the specifics, we are still changed individually and as a family.