the upcycling cycle

I love social media, to be specific Facebook.  I quite like twitter and Whatsapp is great for group conversations but if I want to waste an hour without noticing then Facebook is the place for me.  I follow news outlets, political parties, craft groups and an upcycling group.

Upcycling- the new shopping.  Don’t buy something new, don’t throw away something old, upcycle it into something totally different.  It  ticks all the boxes for the eco-friendly.  You can create new, useful and beautiful objects from stuff that would otherwise go in o landfill, and at the same time you are not buying new and unnecessary stuff that will probably end up in landfill in a few years time anyway.  Perfect.

Or is it?  There are two types of upcycling projects.  The one where you find something lurking around the house and instead of chucking it out a light bulb goes off in your head and you say “wow this cracked decanter that hasn’t seen a bottle of wine in decades would make a perfect lampstand”.  Using my highly accurate survey methods (i.e. asking around, looking on social media and following a huge range of upcycling blogs etc) about 80% of potential crystal lampshades will remain as cracked decanters; 10% will get part way there and will metamorphose into decanterlamps that are missing vital parts and will never make the full transformation; 5% will be transformed but never switched on and will remain in the workroom/shed and a lucky 5% will shine bright on the table shaming every failed upcycler who comes into the room.

The second type of project is that created by the pro-active seeker upcycler.  This character scours markets, auction houses, freegle, swap and sale groups and second-hand  and charity shops actively looking for potential projects.  No three-legged chair is without potential and nirvana is a pile of pristine, unwanted pallets.  It is also not unheard of to purchase new (“what?!”) items purely in order to turn them into something else.  I will confess to  having fallen into that category.  Why buy something already made, when I can buy the constituent parts and make it myself.  We are not talking saving hundreds or even tens of pounds.  I suspect my rather lovely cake tin stand would have cost as much to purchase ready made as it did for me to make it (but it wouldn’t have wobbled quite as nicely as mine does).

tin-tidy

Returning to my highly tuned research methods I had assumed that these projects would have a higher success rate.  The people who take the the time to seek out the unpolished gem and part with hard earned cash for it are surely not going to let it languish unloved in a shed?  These are people who frequently sell their completed upcycles.  They have a vested financial interest in getting the job done.

Ladies and gentleman, we are all the same.  Whilst there are of course exceptions to every rule (and the standard deviation for my statistics here is probably in the region of +/- 2,500 or thereabouts!) the proactively sought and paid for projects stand just as much chance of making it to that final 5% as granny’s whisky decanter did.

As the build on the Barn and Gin Gan comes nearer to completion we have to move even more stuff out and rehouse it in our now smaller home.   The picture frame that I was going to turn into a gilt mirror, the china kept for mosaic work.  How long have I had them?  Have they magically transformed themselves in my absence?  Reader, they have gone.  Perhaps somebody else would like to house them in the vain hope that they might one day make a mosaic effect mirror?

mango mango mango

P1020606

There is nothing like a mango, nothing that I can know.  With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II.  One of the many, many bonuses of being in SE Asia is the proliferance of mangoes.  Back home we usually only have two choices of mango (Kent and Keitt) both of which are relatively bland compared to the huge choice available across Asia.  Mango is sold on almost every street corner in Thailand, chopped up in little bags with convenient little wooded sticks to avoid getting your fingers sticky.  As the girls will confirm, any attempt to prevent my fingers getting sticky and dribbling food down my front is bound to fail.  I am the messiest eater I know.  As a result when travelling and needing a snack to keep me going I avoided the fresh variety and instead stocked up on dried mango.  The only problem was that I could eat an entire family sized bag in one sitting, and frequently did!

The good news is that it is now possible to get other varieties of Mango in the UK.  One option is to seek out your local specialist Indian supermarket or if you live in Durham the wonderful Robinsons Greengrocers on North Road, but if you are in a specialist shop desert you can find some delicious Pakistani and Indian mangoes in some of the larger supermarkets and I am reliably informed that Thai mangoes will be available this year too.  Get hunting mango lovers.

However, dried mango is readily available and to maintain my mango fix without dribbling down my front I made these yummy mango balls from Madeleine Shaw’s Ready Steady Glow

  • 200g dried mango
  • grated zest of one lime
  • 180g desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • sesame seeds for rolling

IMG_3952

Soak the mango in water for half an hour or so and drain.  I kept the water and put it in my water bottle for the next day.

Add the mango to the rest of the ingredients and blitz in a food processor.

IMG_3955

Mould into bite-size balls and roll in the sesame seeds.  Keep in the fridge for as long as you can!

Next time I may pass on the sesame seeds or perhaps toast them first as I didn’t think they added all that much and they kept sticking between my teeth.  But the wonderful thing about this kind of recipe is the total adaptability.  Swap mango for dried apricots, swap coconut for chopped nuts (I’ve tried apricot and pistachio – you can see the little green squares on the left of the top photo – they were delicious and as you can see there are only a few left!)

Enjoy.

Love Gillie x

the kimchi kick

There is nothing like the kick that you get from a good mouthful of kimchi first thing in the morning.  It is the mother of all wake up calls.  But unless you happen to  have a Korean chef living in the kitchen, or live above a Korean restaurant you are going to have to make it yourself.

I have had several goes at  making kimchi with varying success.  I trawled the internet for recipes but I struggled to get the balance right.  Some were too spicy, some not spicey enough.  Some seemed like a vegetable explosion with a shopping list as long as my arm.  Some looked rather sparse.

Then I went on a little cookery books shopping spree and one of my purchases was this

P1020591

And there on page 98 was Kimchi nirvana.  Just the right mix of vegetables and just the right balance of spice.

Here it is, with thanks to Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo Classic Cabbage Kimchi (baechu kimchi)

  • 1 large airtight sterilised jar with lid

vegetables

  • I large Chinese cabbage (about 1kg)
  • 50g table salt
  • 70g sea salt
  • 450g daikon radish cut into fine julienne strips
  • 30g chives cut into 4cm lengths
  • 4 spring onions halved lengthways and cut into 4cm lengths

paste

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rice flour
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 20g grated ginger
  • 100g finely chopped onion
  • 1tbsp salted shrimp paste
  • 70g gochugaru red pepper powder (I substituted medium strength smoked paprika)
  • 100ml nam pla
  • 2tbsp soy sauce
  • 1tbsp coconut sugar (you can use unrefined sugar if you can’t get coconut sugar)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

First prepare the cabbage.  I misread the instructions and separated the leaves, this recipe actually asks you to cut the base off the cabbage and separate the leaves whilst keeping the cabbage intact.  Rinse well and sprinkle the sea salt on each leaf, focussing on the thick base and working up to the thinner peak then place in a bowl of saline made with 1 litre of water and the table salt.  Leave for four hours until the leaves are soft and limp.

Meanwhile make the paste.  This was new to me, I had never used rice flour before and this was a much thicker paste than I had made before.  Mix the flour with 2 tbsp of water with a fork until there are  no lumps and add a further 230ml of water and place in a pan.  Heat to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes stirring all the time until the paste is thick and glutenous.

IMG_3946

Remove from the heat and leave to cool, the paste will become thicker still as it does

IMG_3948

Combine all the rest of the paste ingredients in a food processor with the cooled paste.

IMG_3951

Transfer to a large bowl with the daikon, spring onions, and chives.  Mix well ensuring that all the vegetables are well combined with the paste.

IMG_3957

Now this is where I had to divert from the original instructions as I had separated my cabbage leaves.  I covered each leaf with the mixture and rolled it up.  If you have followed the instructions properly you spoon the mixture onto each cabbage half making sure to cover every leaf with the mixture and wrapping the outer leaf of each half around the cabbage to keep the mixture in.

Place in the jar leaving 3cm between the cabbage and the lid.  Seal tightly and keep at room temperature for two days.  By then it will have started to ferment and will smell a little sour and there will be plenty of juice.  Press the cabbage down into the juice, reseal and place in the fridge.  Start to taste it after a couple of weeks.  The longer you leave it the more sour it will become.  It should keep for about five to six months in an air tight container in the fridge.

IMG_3958

Enjoy

Love Gillie x

 

 

triangles, opium and rubies

I am leaping ahead a little, but as it’s my blog I make the rules.  Fast forward from Ko Samui to a couple of hours north of Chiang Rai.  We are staying in a community owned lodge called Lanjia.  It is well off the beaten track, and utterly beautiful.  There are four bamboo lodges each with two double beds.

These are no ordinary double beds.  For those of you who have read Heidi, cast your mind back to the moment when Heidi’s grandfather makes up her bed for the first time.  For the rest of you, imagine a down mattress, a light down duvet and down pillows. Sorry geese, but your feather sacrifice was worth it I promise you.

We are about an hour from the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Burma meet, and where opium grows like nobody knows …

We have a car.  We always hire a car when we travel, it’s the only way to get around and see what you want to see when you want to.  You can hire a guide but we have found that with good books, good internet research and a map (or good old google maps – see my earlier post!)  you can find pretty much anything you want (well apart from the Mae Chan Winery – but that is a whole other story).

P1020447

The Golden Triangle is a tourist centre, but beguiling nonetheless.  I can only assume that until Laos became communist free and Burma became more democratic it must have been a no go area.  It would be easy even for me to swim across the borders.

Thailand on the left,  Burma the spit in the middle, Laos on the left.

Even young novice monks go on tourist trips, these three must have been about 13 years old at most.

There were Buddhas

And Hindu Gods

We left the Golden Triangle and went to visit the Opium Hall.  Not what you are thinking, it is the most amazing museum set up by the Princess Mother to educate people about the perils of Opium.  It is a striking building and excellent museum, with interactive displays, videos and well produced information and videos.  It begins with the history of opium, the development of the East India Company and the opium trade cycles the opium wars that resulted the free use of opium and cocaine during the nineteenth century (where do you think Coca Cola gets its name?)  and concludes with the herion trade and problems of addiction today.  It is one of the best museums I have ever been too and if you make it up here you must visit it.  There are no pictures because none are allowed, but here is a link to the tripadvisor page  for more information.

We finally headed up to the Burma border at Mae Sai.

IMG_3734

We didn’t cross over as the Volunteer has only a single exit visa and is off to Cambodia and Vietnam after we leave, but we went for a fascinating walk through the huge market that lines the street towards the border.

P1020456

Fish

 

P1020455Grapes the size of plums.

P1020457

Squid kebabs.  And gemstones, lots and lots of gemstones, particularly rubies, pearls, silver, gold you name it you could buy it.  Not sure of the provenance mind you!  Meanwhile the main road was packed with cars, songtaks and scooters heading across the border in both directions.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

food glorious food

Family Smellie is very keen on its food and Thailand has not let us down once.  So we thought it was time that we did a little hands on cooking.   Rather than just stuffing our faces with the delicious food cooked by others, we would do some of the preliminary work ourselves.

Enter Toi, chef extraordinaire at Sea Dance.  She was chosen to bravely steer Family Smellie through the cooking process.  This is what awaited us when we arrived for our lesson.

 

Even if we didn’t cook it but just feasted with our eyes and noses that would have been a sensual journey in itself.  But Family Smellie needed to fill its bellies so onwards and upwards.

First up, as in any good project of any kind, is the preparation.  I was put on chopping duty and managed to impress Toi not only with my knowledge of nam pla but also my prowess with a mini machete!

IMG_7982

We began with seafood salad and followed with chicken green curry and chicken and ginger stir fry.  The Travellerwas not impressed by having to skin and scour the squid, but she did an excellent job.

IMG_0070

The seafood was left to marinade in soy sauce, nampla, chopped chilli, chopped garlic and palm sugar.  The Boss was in charge of chicken prep.

IMG_0074

First up was the green curry.  The curry paste was added to hot oil and the coconut cream added spoon by spoon.  I am used to chucking the tin in all at once, but this way the sauce remained thick and cooked more slowly, it was thinned with water or chicken stock later.

IMG_0083

Chicken first and finally vegetables.

 

The volunteer took notes.

IMG_0081

 

Stir fry was down to the Traveller and she was not convinced she could do the flip so expertly demonstrated by Toi, convinced that instead she would cover the Boss with a selection of chicken and vegetables.

IMG_0082

But she got the wrist action and managed a perfect stir fry flip with no stray veg at all.

 

And the finished products.

IMG_0092

And time to eat.

 

IMG_0093

A few days later I bumped into Toi in the gardens and she showed me around her kitchen garden.  Many of the vegetables used in the kitchen are grown on site and Toi is an excellent gardener as well as chef.  I also managed to impress her again with my knowledge of Holy Basil, there are hidden depths to me yet!  She not only grows a huge range of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs for the kitchen but also a comprehensive range of herbs for the spa as well.  And I can testify that the spa is as good as the kitchen!

Love Gillie x

 

 

the big buddha and the mummified monk

IMG_7928

Thank God for Google maps.  Usually we are good to go with a proper map before we even leave the UK but for some reason we completely forgot to order a Ko Samui or Chiang Rai/Mai map before we left so on arrival at Sea Dance we picked up a map in reception.   A pirate map….. to be fair it did show the major sights one might want to see, but the routes to reach them were overlaid with “oo ah me hearties” lots of treasure chests and a goodly amount of parrots and one legged men.  No I have no idea either, but either way it was up there with the chocolate fireguard.

Naively I let the Boss drive off without checking where he was heading.  He has many talents and gifts, a sense of direction is not one of them.  Seriously, how many people have to ask their wife where the kids’ school is?  So as we approached Chaeweng I knew we were in trouble, we wanted to go north, Chaeweng was south.  Also the main drag in Chaeweng is one way so when the Boss tried to turn around…. well you get the picture.  At this point it was also clear that any comment about in which direction we should be heading and how to get there may have led to an expensive and messy divorce case.

So back to Google Maps.  It may not be appropriate for the wife to correct the husband, but Google Maps is allowed to.  As a result we did make it to the Big Buddha still married.

The Big Buddha is big.  Very big and quite impressive.  Although in the  mid morning heat, walking up the steps to get up close and personal to the Big Buddha is also quite impressive.  Not least because I had forgotten my scarf and was wearing a strappy dress so had to cover my shoulder with a thick woollen number borrowed from the temple.  I was very hot and bothered.  Note to self.  Leave scarf in car at all times.

I was surprised how many people went into the temple in short shorts.  It’s not hard to borrow a gown, they had plenty to borrow for free (in Bangkok you had to hire them).  It’s common courtesy and it’s not as if there were not plenty of signs asking people not to enter inappropriately dressed.

Once you have visited the temple there is little else to detain you.  There are plenty of little shops selling clothes, ice-cream and knick-knacks, not over-priced but nothing you couldn’t buy anywhere else if the desire for a tie die dress overwhelms you.

So we headed on to Wat Khunarum.   This temple is particularly famous for its mummified monk.  Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to take a photograph of him so if you would like to see him, have a look and read his story here.  If you are interested in the possibilities of deep meditation, particularly the concept of meditation at death and beyond then google “tukdam” .

Before you leave go to the gong to the left of the monk.  If you can make it sing it is supposed to bring you good luck.  It is a little like making a singing bowl sing, it is all in the angle and the pressure. There is a bucket of water.  I found a wet hand and a little earth on your palm hit the spot.

Should you wish, there is, as in almost all temples, a monk who will bless you.  It is a rather lovely and peaceful place.  Not a lot to see, but a lot to feel.

Love Gillie

a train, a parade and a ferry

From markets to sleeper trains.  On the Sunday evening we headed back to Hualumphong to wait for our sleeper.  Despite all the street food we had eaten at JJ we were all still ravenous so we took it in turns to look for a bite to eat that looked a little more appetising than that on offer at the station food court.

The Boss and I found a lovely street cafe, a few chairs and a small stall.  A selection of pork, rice, half a hard-boiled egg and endless iced tea.  The girls went in the other direction and found an apparently excellent noodle bar.  All in all the food choices around the market are not great.  There are several stalls selling fruit bags, banana rice and waffles and we later found a small noodle bar by the station itself but that was about it.  To be fair it was a Sunday and we were in the middle of the business district and there did seem to be more on offer when we were there on Thursday but if you have time to kill and an appetite, eat before you arrive.

On the subject of food.  We were in first class, which costs only a little more than second but sells out very fast.  Tickets go on sale 3 months before departure so if you know your itinerary, book asap.  In first they offer you food.  Don’t bother.  We got caught out by a steward offering us glasses of orange juice before we departed.  How lovely we thought – how pricey we thought when we were offered the bill.  We made the mistake of ordering breakfast and went for the sandwiches.  The Thais like sugar.  I have never tasted sweet mayonnaise before.  Suffice to say one mouthful was enough.  Apparently the fruit juice that came with it was even sweeter.

Fortunately we had stocked up beforehand with fruit bags, banana rice, seaweed (me only!) cremos (the girls – exactly like oreos but half the price), dried fruit and nuts. I suggest you do the same.  There is a small store in the station and two 7/11 stores about 5 minutes walk away via the metro subway.

We had a connecting cabin with the girls – who insisted it was kept closed!  The steward came to make up the beds around 8.30.  They were excellent, larger and more comfortable than the Highland sleeper and the top bunk has a barrier put up so no falling off in the night.

A word about the air con.  It is wonderful – but VERY powerful (apparently the top bunk is warmer – I’m having that one next time). We never found the controls so I had rather an icy night, however the girls worked out they were controlled manually on each air vent.  Failing that bag the top bunk and let the cold air sink to the person in the bunk below!

We were woken with the aforementioned breakfast and a welcome cup of tea at 6am and pulled into Surat Thani at about 7am.  Pretty much on time.

IMG_3599

All very efficient, our ferry vouchers were exchanged for tickets.  The Boss and the chap in charge of the buses to the ferry waxed lyrical over Phuket and Ko Samui 30 years ago and I went to investigate the parade.

This was one of the smartest parades I had seen for a long time, albeit with a rather incongruous bride like young woman at the front.  Apparently it was National Health Day and health workers across Thailand were parading and being appreciated.  Perhaps something the NHS should think about, it needs some love.

The bus ride from Surat Thani to the ferry is a lot longer than any of us expected – at least an hour, an hour and 15 minutes.  But the bus is air conditioned – even if some of the signs are redundant.  There are no seat belts!

 

We took the catamaran to Ko Samui, which is a lot faster than the regular ferry.  If you manage to blag a seat on the top deck (where the views are amazing) do take lots of sun cream in your hand luggage, all cases (though not back packs) are put in the hold.  Failing that there is a very pleasant air-conditioned room downstairs.

IMG_7891

On arrival it is mayhem.  We had a hire car ordered so it was a bit easier for us.  There are hotel pick ups, taxi touts, everyone!

On the car hire front we were recommended to take photographs of all the scratches and dents on the car even if they had been written down.  Just in case!

Then off to Sea Dance.

The roads are good until you turn off the main drag.  Turnings can be very small and what you think is a dirt track may well be your road so keep your eyes open.

The oasis that awaited was stunning.  We had a two roomed hut with private pool.

The main pool was pretty stunning too.

The food outstanding (more about our cookery lesson later).  We were hungry.  Margarita and lunch.

 

This is breakfast.  I usually start with yoghurt and fruit salad.

IMG_3680

The Boss prefers honey on his.  My favourite juices are watermelon or carrot but there are all the usual suspects.  I usually follow with dim sum and banana pancakes, I know, but it’s my breakfast and I like it.  However if you feel the urge, there is pad Thai, Tom Gha, bacon, sausages, eggs cooked to order…

And endless pastries, croissants, toast and home-made preserves all in an airy dining room with a stunning view.

 

But most important the staff, they are out of this world, nothing is too much and they are friendly and helpful and just gorgeous.  Faith is a star and can organise anything, I am sure she could arrange for Pink Floyd to play at dinner if we asked nicely enough!

Love Gillie