From The Beginning

The village where I grew up in Northern Thailand has become so westernized and changed so dramatically that few people could recall how it was 60 years ago.   At first I wanted to write for my children and grandchildren to tell them what my world was like long ago.   But friends have urged me to write for a wider audience convincing me that my journey through the years around food, around the continents and around life is worth sharing.

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I invite you to join me as I navigate memories from my early years to the present. In doing so it feels like the Buddhist practice of circumambulation, a meditative clockwise walk around an object or a place of worship. In this case I shall circulate around a topic of food; growing, preserving, cooking and sharing of food.

I am the youngest daughter of a Chinese Thai family. When I was growing up, I had 8 siblings. Two died before I was born. My parents were self-made people and made their livelihood through entrepreneurship. They sold everything and anything to meet customers’ demand. My siblings and I were their apprentices and staff. I learned many useful lifelong skills. At the age of six while attending kindergarten, my responsibility was to grow vegetables and sell them at the market every morning before going to school. The garden was 3 kilometres (almost 2 miles) from home. The garden beds were 30 metres long and there were 10 all together. My mother cooked all our meals and I loved helping her in the kitchen. My parents were illiterate so all the lessons were verbal and hands-on…the very best kind.

Sixty years later, I am now living on a beautiful bush block 35 km northeast of Melbourne in Australia. I am once again growing vegetables, seedlings and cooking but in a very different environment. Walking 30 steps from my kitchen, I am on a tennis court where I grow vegetables in apple crates, each a cubic metre in size and there are 40 apple crates in total. My mother would be proud of me as I am still selling vegetables and cooking to meet the demand.

This is why I feel the process has been a “circumambulation”. My life has come full circle. As I reflect on my stories about the food I have gathered on my journey, my hope is to share the process, the knowledge, the fun, the successes and failures. I will share recipes, “how-to” and how NOT to. As you travel with me along Real Food Trails, I would be thrilled to hear your thoughts and walk your trails. Together we will learn and grow, ponder and reflect.

Let it be a meaningful trail.

Red Fried Rice

Red Fried Rice

During lunch break at my primary school, an old lady sat under a tamarind tree selling fried rice. She scooped it up with a ladle made from coconut shell, placed it on a piece of bright green banana leaf, folded it swiftly but beautifully and handed to whoever paid 1 baht (~3cents). There was always a crowd of children around her chirping their orders and handing over their coins. By the end of that hour her pot of rice would be scraped empty and she packed up her wares with a broad toothless smile and walked away.

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Growing With My Garden, Part I

Growing With My Garden, Part I

For me, this year is different. Jill showed me the discipline of growing vegetable seedlings on a commercial scale. Rob created a plant nursery; a hot house for sowed seeds, a hardening area covered in shade cloth and protected under bird netting. Part way through our setting up a local farmer asked me to grow seedlings of capsicums, eggplants and three types of tomatoes. The order was for 500 seedlings of each. What good fortune I have.

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Growing With My Garden, Part II

Growing With My Garden, Part II

Over Christmas I went away for three days. When I came back I couldn’t see three of my capsicum plants. They were flourishing when I left and I wondered what happened to them. They were in their crate next to a crate of heirloom cherry tomatoes called “yellow pear”. When I looked closer the capsicums were still there but hidden underneath the rambling branches of the yellow pear.

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Growing With My Garden, Part III

Growing With My Garden, Part III

 I learned to love eggplants as a child growing up in Thailand. My mother made delicious dishes using eggplants. In Thailand eggplants vary a lot in size. The tiniest one is similar in size and colour to a single little green pea and is used mainly in curries. Then there are small round ones similar in size to ping pong balls. Bigger ones are teardrop shaped or long and narrow. Eggplants can be white, striped, orange, green or purple.

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Growing With My Garden, Part IV

Growing With My Garden, Part IV

I would be content to be a full time gardener in my waning years. But, other responsibilities beckon my time. My morning starts with a cup of tea in one hand and a hose in the other. The joy of greeting rows of apple crates full of beautiful and productive plants delights and energizes me throughout the day. I check on them each evening giving more water if the temperature is above 30C (~85F). This ritual gives me peace and tranquility for the evening and allows me to rest well through the night.

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