Instead of spending mother’s day with my own (Thai) mother, who resides in suburban Chicago, I decided to spend it with the Angel family at their home in the upper Rattlesnake neighborhood in Missoula.
The Angel family consists of Ray the father, Amy the mother, Kelsey the 21 year old daughter known for her candor, Sam the high school senior son (who recently broke the world record for the longest tennis match), and Kengo, their eccentric high school Japanese exchange student of the past school year.
Kelsey, to whom I am very close with, had the idea of making me her mother’s mother’s day present. I was quite flattered. Me? A present? I know I’m fun and all but I didn’t think I could be someone’s present! Like most compliments I took it to heart and let it get to my head.
Which I shouldn’t have, because it wasn’t as though the present was for me to sit by her mother and be cute. No. It was for my cooking! I always find it weird when people thinking cooking is a skill because for me it is just an essential part of living. Like showering. Anyway, Kelsey wanted me to surprise her mother with a home cooked Thai meal. Restaurants were very busy on mother’s day and a more intimate meal at home sounded ideal. She said her father could purchase all of the ingredients if I could do all the cooking.
I adore this family. They all love each other very much and from an outsider’s point of view they seem very close knit. I didn’t have anything else to do on mother’s day so I thought sure, why not. Plus, I love cooking!
Our Sunday began with Ray and Kelsey picking me up from my house and the three of us went grocery shopping at 2 in the afternoon. First we went to the Good Food Store. We picked up two pounds of chicken and a bunch of vegetables and pad thai sauce from their Asian aisle. They were out of limes so we went to the Orange Street Food Farm for limes and I came across frozen Pollock fish fillets, which looked good.
After shopping, we went to the Angel house and no one was home except Sam. Kengo had gone shopping with Amy to distract her so she wouldn’t come home while dinner was being prepared.
Ray asked what I would be making and I had a sketched idea in my head. His request was big portions and enough for leftovers so his wife could take some for lunch this week. I came up with this list:
- Fried pollack fish fillets with lime, cilantro, garlic.
- Vegetable fried rice
- Pad thai with diced baked tofu from the Good Food Store
- Fried tofu
- Peanut sauce to dip the tofu in
- Panang curry with chicken and broccoli
- Tom yum soup
- Plain, white, jasmine rice
Somehow I managed to cook this all in two hours, aiming to be done by 5:30 that evening. Looking back, I realize I was so concentrated and in the work zone, barking orders at Kelsey to chop things and such, that I didn’t even stop to pee.
Amy and Kengo came home from shopping in the midst of Kelsey and I cooking. Amy wasn’t too surprised. Apparently, no one had been surrepititious enough about getting her out of the house. “Wanna go for a walk at two?” “Wanna play tennis at two?” Wanna go shopping at two?” I think the person that broke it for her unintentional was Kengo. Apparently while they were shopping, Amy offered to pick up food for him for dinner, but he insisted that she didn’t. Kengo never turns down food.
Finally, I finished. Kengo hates cilantro. He cried out in pain the Japanese word for cilantro every time I threw it in a dish. Somehow he reminded me of the Dragonball Z dude. Maybe it’s his haircut. Maybe it’s just because he’s Japanese and funny.
We sat around the kitchen table and ate and had a merry time! I felt like I made the Pollack fish a bit too salty and the peanut sauce a bit too spicy, but no one seemed to notice. Or if they did, they were polite about it. Ray claimed it was in his top five favorite meals of all time. Very nice of him.
Okay, so I usually don’t go by recipes and just like to throw things in. This can be disastorous sometimes, but I feel the best way to learn is to be willing to mess up sometimes. I don’t usually like recipes because I hate measuring things and I’d rather just go by what looks right, but this can be particularly frustrating to people that ask me how to make something. “Uhh, just put in some coconut milk, some fish sauce, some curry paste, some vegetables.” But people always wanna know how much? How long? Annoying questions.
This is the best I can come up with for the Pad Thai “recipe” I used when cooking for the Angel family.
- One package of wide rice noodles
- One jar of pad thai sauce, Thai Kitchen brand found in the Asian aisle of the good food store
- Green onions
- Yellow or red onions
- Chopped peanuts
- Baked tofu from the Good Food Store’s deli department
- Vegetable or canola or peanut oil
- Red Bell Pepper
- Bean sprouts
- Fish sauce
- Boil the rice noodles. Drain (using a colinder) when soft. Then pour cold water over the noodle to cool them and to make sure they don’t all stick together.
- While the noodles are boiling, chop all onions, cilantro and bell pepper. Dice the tofu. Crush the peanuts. Mince the garlic. This is all prep work that I made Kelsey do.
- Get a good, big, non-stick skillet or wok on the stove. Keep the heat on high. Drizzle oil in the pan.
- Throw in garlic, onions, bell pepper, and on a corner of the pan cook an egg or two. Drizzle fish sauce over this.
- Once everything looks cooked enough to eat, throw in two handfuls of rice noodles and Pad Thai sauce. Stir. Add bean sprouts. Squeeze limes.
- Serve wiith crushed peanuts and mince baked tofu on top. A side wedge of lime and a garnish of cilanto and you’re set
I repeated this process maybe four times to go through all the rice noodles and have a big serving size plate to serve 6 people plus have left overs.
Thai cuisine has a unique flavor because in a typical dish a combination of salty, sweet, spicy, and sour are usually present. Most likely, for saltiness, soy and/or fish sauce, for sweetness (which is not used as much) a little sugar perhaps, for spiciness obviously some sort of hot peppers (crushed red pepper flakes work), and for sourness usually lime is squeeze over. Once you have a base for it, it’s really not as difficult as it looks to cook Thai food. It’s actually pretty fun once you get the hang of it!