Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Same, Same, but Different

"Same, same?" William, my older son, asks me as he attempts to put on his shoes. He lines up the inner curve of his foot with the arch of the shoe, sole to sole. His eyebrows furrow. Something has gone drastically wrong. They lined up perfectly but now they don't fit. He repeats the process with his left foot. That same little crinkle appears between his eyebrows. He looks just like my Grandpa Kirby when he does this.

Wonderment with a little gastro-intestinal discomfort mixed in.

His concern is mounting, he's starting to growl under his breath a little bit, and then he figures it out. He matches his left foot to the left shoe, slips on both of his orange 'hand me down' Crocs, and jumps landing onto his feet more than shoulder width apart. He's got that grin on his face, his arms spread wide, and his fingers shooting straight out of his forward facing palms, "SAME, SAME, DADDY! SAME, SAME!!!"

This phrase followed my wife and I home from our first trip to Thailand. Some people collect postcards, we collect local catch phrases. Our best friends use their own version of "L337 sp34k" for travel. It's a mixture of acronyms, dance terminology, and local phrases that we have acquired on more than a few international trips. For instance, if a hotel isn't up to our standards (it's too much) Karen might pipe in, "KBC?" JD looks at us and confirms, "KBC." Sara and I play 'BC' and say, "We don't want to say here guys." They say, "Thanks anyways," and we Kick Ball Change to the next hotel on a dog eared page in our ratty travel guide. It's a great system, but I hated being the Bad Cop.

Southeast Asia has provided us with some of our best travel speak. The only phrase that we use (I used it this very morning, in fact) more than "Same, same, but different," came to us during our second trip to SE Asia via our Lonely Planet Book Vietnam, on page 592: phong tam. I'm pretty sure it was JD who noticed that phong tam, bathroom in Vietnamese, phonetically was pretty effin' close to "phone Tom."

Euphemisms ensued.

Nay, they flourished: I need to phone Tom. Was there a phone booth nearby? Did it have the white pages or would I need to bring my own phonebook? Tom is paging me. Tom is paging me on vibrate.

Tom is paging me 911...

Okay, I'm back.

This new addition to our travel lexicon was a boon of unrivaled proportion. It allowed us to talk freely about what all travellers talk about on a daily basis: bowel movements. "Phone Tom" meant BM talk was no longer relegated to busy shopping districts, or the back of a tuk-tuk, location was now a non-factor. We could have dinner in a restaurant with other English-speaking travellers even and talk all we wanted about who had gone to the bathroom. Or not at all, "Tom paged me right when my breakfast arrived, but when I finally found a phone booth and called him back, the line was busy."

"No answer?"

"Not even an answering machine."

"Huh, I phoned him this morning and he wouldn't shut up."

Tom is an incredibly important person to get a hold of. Especially when you haven't spoken to him for a while.

"I'm on the phone!" is often shouted across our home.

Another phrase that we still throw around especially on days like today when it's 100 plus in Burbank, CA, came from my oldest friend, Houston. One lovely 115 degree summer day in Tucson, AZ, he proclaimed on our way home from school that he had Swamp Ass. It wasn't until some 12 years later in SE Asia that it hit me. "I got Swamp Ass people," came flying out of mouth and suddenly it became clear to everyone else, that yes, indeed, they had Swamp Ass too.

Sweaty, no good trying to dry up with your boxer briefs, S-W-A-M-P ASS.

There's no getting around it. You probably had Swamp Ass today if you live in SoCal. Okay, so maybe you didn't write a Swamp Ass Haiku about it, but it was definitely there. I always crave hot and spicy food when the weather gets this friggin' hot. I guess this could be taken the "Blanche DuBois" way, but I assure you I'm not punishing myself.

Now you might be if you make this 'Same, Same, but Different' Noodle Salad using all of the Thai chili peppers.

1/4 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
4 Thai bird chili peppers
1 tbsp Nam Pla (fish Sauce)
Kecap Manis - Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce (or sub low sodium soy sauce plus 1.5 cups brown sugar.)
8 Kaffir Lime Leaves crushed (sub zest of 2 limes)
Canola Oil
1 tsp Black Peppercorns plus some freshly cracked
2 cloves of sliced Garlic
A very lean 1lb cut of beef, like Sirloin. Filet tails would work here as well.
1/2 lb rice noodles (I prefer the Pad Thai size, not the Vermicelli size. If you wand to do this with more noodle than steak, cook up more noodles.)
About a Tbsp of Sesame Oil
Fresh Cilantro
4 Sliced Scallions
1 Sliced Red Bell Pepper
Basil (Thai if you can get it)
Sliced Hot House Cucumber
Wedges of Lime

Alright already, listen up -- if you don't want to buy that many ingredients and make a crazy yummy salad, then just pull out anything that's too crazy. Fry up some thinly sliced beef in garlic, oil, add some basil and black pepper, put it on top of noodles, say, "Same, Same, but Different!" and dig in.

Don't you even think about using Steak-Umms.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Read: Corporate Sponsorship of this blog is still available.

For those of you who are more adventurous, this loosely adapted recipe for the beef* is meant to provide a framework for you to add and subtract ingredients as you see fit. Just read the rest would ya and then decide which way to go.

Thinly slice your Thai peppers, add them to 1/4 cup of Rice Wine Vinegar and a Tbsp of Nam Pla and tightly cover them and refrigerate. Don't use your Gladware, use a glass or Stainless Steel Bowl.

In a SS 2 qt Sauce Pan over medium heat, add a tablespoon of Canola Oil, 1 tsp of whole black peppercorns and the slices of Garlic. You're going to stir constantly and cook the garlic until it's lightly colored. At this point add the bruised Kaffir Lime Leaves, 2 cups of Kecap Manis and reduce the heat. Let this simmer for say 20 minutes or so, you just want to infuse the soy sauce and end up with a light maple syrup consistency. You're not looking for a molasses consistency. Remove from heat, and transfer to a heat proof bowl. Divide the syrup into two even parts and add 1/2 cup sake and 1/2 cup Tamari to one part and chill. The other half goes really well on anything from Calamari to Seared Ahi Tuna Steaks.

Man that sounds good.

Pat your beef dry and give it a little cracked pepper. Add enough Canola Oil to coat the bottom a pre-heated skillet and get ready for some smoke and sizzle. Sear your beef on both sides to the level of squeamishness that you can handle. I go rare, you could go raw if you know and trust your butcher. Just don't cook it more than medium-well. Depending on the thickness, 3-5 minutes per side. Transfer back to the paper towel to pat dry and drop it into your chilled marinade. If you're making this a day ahead leave the meat whole. If you're preparing for a meal that's a few hours away, let it rest for 15 minutes, and slice it as thinly as possible before adding it to the marinade.

You could also thinly slice some rib-eye, add some ginger to the marinade and let it sit for 3 hours before you grill it, if the other way is making you squirm.

I'll come back to the beef.

I like to drop the rice noodles in plenty of heavily salted, rapidly boiling water, bring it back up to a boil, and then turn off the flame and let the noodles sit for 10 minutes. Drain the noodles and then rinse with cold water until cool. Add enough Sesame oil to coat them and let them drain in a colander. You could also read the directions on the package, but they won't be nearly as witty.

The hard part is done my friend (see, wit galore!) Yank the beef out, pat it dry, flick off any peppercorns or slices of garlic, and thinly slice it. It's time to plate!

Start with your noodles and add the bell peppers to the top. Place your beef on the salad, top with your scallions and tear a few leaves of basil, cilantro, and mint to boot. Garnish with the sliced cucumber on one side and wedges of lime on the other. There is always the letting your "inner Martha" loose and alternating the lime with every fifth slice of Cuc or so.

Think about it.

Just go grab those pickled chili peppers while you mull it over. These are going to be your dressing for the salad. At most Asian Markets, you can find fried garlic slices, a sprinkling on top of the steak is making my mouth water just thinking about it. Buy some and you'll never eat chicken noodle soup without them ever again. Not even your mother's. (Maybe that's true for you already.) Back to the dressing, you can also add in a little soy sauce to replace the fish sauce, or to add more salt to the salad. You could also make a quick ginger, lime juice and soy sauce dressing if the whole pickled chili pepper thing making you sweat isn't doing it for ya.

Then again, you could just close up this blog and go soak for hours on end in a blistering hot bath.


Same, Same, but Different.

*Recipe for the beef portion is adapted from Simply Ming, and Sushi, taste and technique.


  1. Very funny. I wish Tom would phone me regularly. I wish you would give me a recipe for green curry -- speaking of Thai food -- since the pre-prepared paste is only okay.

  2. Buy some Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base.

    From TJ's:

    1 tbsp Crushed Ginger (Jar)
    2 cans Light Coconut Milk
    2 packages fresh organic Cilantro
    1 Jalapeno (or the Salsa/Guac in a box)
    1 shallot (in Salsa/Guac box)
    1 1/2 cloves of garlic (in Salsa/Guac box)
    1/2 tsp Cumin
    1 tsp Coriander
    2 tsp of Chicken Base
    1/4 tsp Fresh cracked Black Pepper

    Grab a sauce pan and heat the coconut milk over medium heat (Don't bring to a boil)

    Roughly chop all of these ingredients, including the stems of the Cilantro, and Throw them in the bottom of a blender.

    Add about 3/4 of a cup (you might need more) of the warmed Coconut Milk and pulse your blender until you get a fine pesto like consistency. Once you get there, add in the rest of the coconut milk and blend.

    You're welcome Mom.

    (It helps to know that that's what you ate last night--I talked to Kat.)

  3. Okay, proof that my Grandpa lives on via my anxiety.

    Hold the lid of your blender down with a cloth. The warmed coconut milk will increase the air pressure inside your blender causing the lid to pop off, not unlike the old metal Pepsi screwcaps.

    Crisis averted.

    I'm going back to sleep now.

  4. I love you.
    from your anon Mom -- it just looks weird when it says, "Beth Alvarado said. . ."

  5. Michael, are you connected through "Networked Blogs" on Facebook? It makes it really easy for anyone on Facebook (the entire world) to read your blog.

    On a slightly more immediate note, great post.

    --Donna Steiner

  6. Mom,

    Perhaps it's not that "Beth Alvarado said" looks weird, but that the ellipsis gives one the impression that something of great import is about to follow. Quick! Go grab a pencil! Or just highlight and Ctrl-C?


    I'm on Facebook, but not on the networked blogs. Would that open both this and my page to the... Entire World!?! dun Dun DUNNNN. (see what I mean, Mom?) Or could it leave my page private?

    New to this whole thing.

    Thank you for your kind words. I feel so scattered some entries. Trying to fit in some writing between a diaper change and bath time!