Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Thai cooking class

Another of the many advantages to living at Pun Pun is that our neighbors -- Krit and Yao -- run a Thai cooking school.

Pi Krit and Pi Yao

Every week a new group of friends -- mostly farang (foreigners) joins our community for three full days and nights of cooking up delicious Thai dishes. We at Pun Pun get the spillover benefit of the surplus of good food that they create.

The Pun Pun interns had a chance to spend a day with head chef Pi Yao to learn some authentic Thai techniques for pleasing the palette. Here are some of the goodies we cooked up...

(Hadar is a fantastic food photographer -- thanks to her for all these photos!)

The cooking class students get a market tour in Chiang Mai prior to coming out to Krit and Yao's place (You Sabai) for the class.

Pi Yao gets all the ingredients laid out.

Key ingredients: fresh anise, coriander, cumin, cardamom.

Here are garlic, lemongrass, turmeric root and Thai chilis ready to be ground with a mortar and pestle into fresh curry paste.

Pi Yao tells us the story that a Thai man, walking by a house where a woman is cooking, will listen for the sound produced by the mortar and pestle. He can tell by the sound if the woman is doing a good job making the curry paste. So the women are concerned to get the quality of the grinding just right, in order to attract a good husband.

With her sweet spice-grinding technique, Julia is sure to get a good husband...

A Thai classic, pad thai

My favorite food: sam tum. This is green papaya salad made with garlic, chilies, tamarind juice, soy sauce, lime and salt, green beans, tomatoes and eggplant. It's so spicy, and so good on a hot day...

Spring rolls

My other favorite food, Massaman (Muslim) curry. This is a specialty from the south of Thailand, where most of the Muslim population lives. This one has potatoes, mushrooms and tofu, but they are often made with meat as well.

Enjoying the sunset from You Sabai as we prepare the dinner...

Capping the day off with a candlelit feast...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


We learned last week, first hand as it were, about an annual tradition that goes on over just about all of Southeast Asia: burning the forests.

Villagers everywhere for the past several weeks have been setting fires to sections of forest all over northern Thailand. Consequently the air quality has suffered on most days and our distant mountain vistas have retreated into the haze. Makes for spectacular sunsets, though...

In this traditional practice, the forests are not completely burned down, at least not intentionally. They burn the understory, which, if left to it's own devices, would in a short time make passage through the forest impossible. This allows the villagers to take advantage of the diverse forest economy, as it provides fuelwood, building materials, food such as game, root vegetables and mushrooms, as well as medicinal herbs, barks and roots.

Until last week we just marveled a bit at the tongues of flame ringing distant mountain tops in the countryside around Pun Pun, visible late into the night. But on one sunny afternoon, just as I had finished my lunch and was enjoying a cup of tea, the call came from Baan Thai: "Help us stop a fire!"

So we all jumped up, grabbed hoes and shovels, and ran across the hill and down the dirt path than connects the two communities. Some villagers had gotten a bit overzealous in their forest clearing tradition and the blaze was quickly converging on Baan Thai's mango orchard.

Being a community of mostly do-nothing hippies, Baan Thai had let the grasses in their orchard grow dangerously high. If the flames spread too far from the adjoining forest and caught the grass, Christian's house -- a beautiful adobe and thatch domicile -- would surely be consumed.

Here are some photos I managed to take of our efforts to quell the blaze. I was doing about equal parts photo-taking and hoeing under potential forest-fire fuel -- ever vigilant to maintain full documentation of events and journalistic integrity for you, dear blog reader...

All hands on deck, frantically hoeing a fire-break...

Nick and Brant get into the thick of it...

The heroic Pi Jeni single-handedly beats out the blaze with a shoot he broke off a banana tree. This man is unstoppable.

Just when I was starting to worry, one of the villagers showed up with a tractor and dug out a big swath of fire break, pronto.

He was wearing this black ski-mask to protect himself from the smoke and looked like some kind of crazed Zapatista as he plowed up and down the hillside.

Here you can see the burned-over area on the right, Baan Thai's mango grove on the left, and the narrow dirt fire break in between that stopped the fire's advance.

Natural paints and flooring

The building is nearing completion as we apply earthen paints and the final coat of flooring.

The great thing about natural paints is that you can find the ingredients right around you. This photo was taken along the road to Chiang Mai, about 8 miles from Pun Pun.

The ingredients of earthen paint:
coloring...pigment, in this case the beautiful yellow earth from the road pictured above,
filler...sand from Pun Pun's driveway,
and glue...binder, in this case a solution of tapioca starch in water.

Pi Ben demonstrates how to mix the flooring compound. The pigment/binder is the clay and sand mix from the dirt of Pun Pun's driveway. Pi Ben is adding a mixture of natural rubber and linseed oil -- this seals the earthen floor and makes it durable. Water is added to the mix to achieve the desired consistency for spreading.

Happy interns and a handsome Pi Ben doing the finish work...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Textures of Pun Pun

In preparation for the final plaster and painting of the yoga/meditation center, we took a tour of the buildings at Pun Pun to look at different colors and textures and to talk about finishing techniques. Here are some shots from around the farm showing previous experiments with earth plasters and paints...

Window of the intern dorm

Some shots of the VIP guesthouse...

A final plaster with a lot of coarsely chopped straw, for texture.

Dtang's room.

Jo and Peggy's house

Another shot of Jo and Peggy's

An experiment with coarse sand in the final plaster: if the sand isn't fine enough then the plaster tends to crack off. Looks cool though...

The bathroom

If you look closely in the next one you'll see a big crack running through the wall. The bathroom walls were an experiment to see if an adobe wall can withstand direct rain. The top of the wall was sealed with a linseed oil - bees wax mixture (see photo just above).

The parts of the wall just exposed to rain have done fine. The crack and subsequent erosion of the wall occurred because of water being channeled by the thatch roof onto a small area.

Shelves in the office

Shelves in the kitchen...

Pun Pun logo on the office

In and around the intern quarters...

A cob bench

Bottle decorations in my room

Leah contemplates the perfect ratio of sand to clay...