My fingers are fumbling over the keyboard after some golden holiday time off in Aotearoa. I’m sure I hear “Amen” all over the place. We are back! I am, however, happy to push through the fumbles to write to you about a trip late last year that took me back ‘home’ to Northern Thailand. On a personal level – I met my husband there in 2013 so hey, it’s got its sentiments. But I also spent quite some time there before that, working with teenage girls who had been rescued out of the sex slave trade which you can read about here. We went back there to visit some wonderful familiar faces, to stuff our faces (with absolute decorum of course) with the best cuisine in the world + to re-open ours hearts to a world greater than our own. To unpack our every moment there would be too generous of me but the few things I want to touch on are: 1) The Little Farm Thailand, 2) Thai charm that we can learn from and 3) I finally found the ultimate secret ingredient to Thai Cooking and I am stoked about it.
THE LITTLE FARM THAILAND
The Little Farm Thailand, in a nutshell, is all my dreams come true. A small jungle-like farm property owned by my awesome Aussie friend, Heidi, her hilarious Thai husband, John and a little piece of stardust, called Charlotte – their adopted daughter. They are working hard to restore an old farm property from okay-ish to absolutely fantastic. They are aiming for organic status and sustainability over the next few years, they are already educating other local farmers to get on board + to farm in the same organic manner AND on top of that, they house + love upon 6+ Thai teenage boys and girls rescued from sex-trafficking, poverty + abusive backgrounds. Needless to say – unreal people? Heidi is a humble, crazy + confident soul who alongside John has helped in the making of traditional bamboo huts for housing (oh yeah, did I mention there’s no electricity?), making her own woodfire pizza oven, earth huts for visitors + volunteer workers, harvests rice, planted 10,000 pineapple plants (yes, you read that correctly) and created a beautiful + encouraging safe space for her ‘kids’ to work, live and be loved. Whilst Olly and I were there we found the most gorgeous passionfruit vine – the fruits were the size and pinkness of pomegranates with about 1 cup of flesh inside! #notbeingdramatic #tropicaldreams Papaya, herbs, chillis and all of your freshly grown Thai ingredient desires are there. Plus there are goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys + pigs roaming the valley. Did I mention Heidi makes her own Passionfruit kombucha? Sigh. Whilst I make it sound like a magical dream. There’s the reality too – there is minimal money, hundreds of failures + drawbacks, monsoonal rains, down days, spiders (my main concern), long days + issues with teenagers. But my point for sharing about The Little Farm Thailand is this: Heidi and John didn’t start out with all the resources, money and plans mapped out – but they have actively walked forward in what they believe in through the hard bits and just kept going… and they keep going. I have been re-inspired to care beyond my current life/selfish desires + dare to do things that may not be the easiest route. I dare you to as well.
THE THAI NATURE
I’m bringing this to the table because I think it’s worth you reading. I live amongst busy, stressed out, anxious, 5-year planning, angry + depressed humans. And that’s just the nice people. I mean bless us, we all have our bad days. But as a general truth, we in the western world either are this way or know many this way. Yes, we do get things done, we have some good success + achievements to our name; there are many fabulous positives to the way we culturally do life, work + everything in-between.
But what I have noticed about Thais, as a general rule that I consider is they smile and laugh a lot. It’s a great confidence boost as they think I’m hilarious, but beyond that, joy and smiles are lavish. They take the time to have a laugh and to give a big smile to a friend or respectful stranger. Generous hospitality is a common theme in Northern Thailand. It’s reminded me how wonderful it is to be welcomed, to be smiled at and we just don’t need to be so gosh-darn serious and formal all the time!
They live in community. Grandma looks after baby; aunties + uncles are all about. There’s always one hundred children running around giggling and having a blast. Even the titles of respect are played out by young Thais I haven’t seen for 3-4 years: “Pi Bess”. Grandparents don’t live in retirement homes. Eating together is essential and helping with people older and younger than you is a given. We can be very isolated, solo + lack spontaneity. Attributing to our climbing statistics of depression, broken relationships + anxiety perhaps. Life is meant to be done with a community of real, flawed, wonderful humans. Introvert, extrovert, whoever – you need it.
SECRET TO THAI COOKING
It is my great honour to share this with you. Please let me have my highlight moment, even if you know what I am to share. I have made okay + good curries for years. I understand flavours, chilli, hot pans, fresh ingredients and I lived there for 18 months running a café for goodness’ sake – you would think I would have it down… But it was a revelation to taste again and realise my kitchen hadn’t quite got it perfect back here. The three key ingredients and in this order are: Thai Basil, Kaffir Lime + chicken stock powder! There it is. Now let me explain – a curry that literally explodes in your mouth with spectacular wonder has loads of Thai Basil and thinly sliced Kaffir lime leaves. The chicken stock part comes in for most stir fries and quick hot meals. Thai Basil is anise-like – both spicy and sweet compliments the Thai perfect flavours of spicy, sour, sweet, salty. You can buy it here in NZ, in fact, I just planted a few pots that were $3.99 each (cheers Palmers) + it’s growing like wildfire. Overjoyed is how I would describe my heart right now. Kaffir lime leaves are an elegant citrus almost a combo of lime-lemon but the aroma is to die for. If I was a perfumer or wordsmith I would expound superlative words to get your nostrils tingling! Also available here. Chicken stock powder – straight up flavour-flave which may not meet all your organic and preservative free standards, but heaven forbid it tastes good with fried pumpkin, oyster sauce, chilli, garlic + of course Thai Basil. Thank you for hearing me. Thailand had a piece of my heart + I just love sharing it with others. Now either get over there and not just to those top ten beach party spots. Go where Thai people live their lives with colour, smiles, culture + phenomenal food. Or go get Thai basil, Kaffir lime, make a killer Penang curry to share with your neighbours and grandparents, whilst on the computer donating to the Little Farm Thailand. Cheers!