Sunday, September 2, 2012

Vegan Pizza & Bread at Dailycious Cafe

Really?  Vegan pizza?
Yes, really! I've ordered vegan pizza two times now at this cafe called Dailycious. The first time was a bit of an experiment, since "Vegan Pizza" is not actually on their menu. I asked if they could make the "Vegetable Pizza" without the cheese, and they said sure. I've been ordering pizza like this for a number of years now, in various cities and countries. Sometimes my request for "no cheese" gets interpreted as "vegetable pizza with cheese." Or sometimes the cheese is successfully left out, but then there's nothing added to replace it. This often yields a pizza that is either dry, lacking in flavor, or both. Fortunately, I was able to communicate clearly with the waitress here at Dailycious. And not only were they willing to venture off their menu to make a vegan pizza, but they were even kind enough to do half the pizza vegan, and half to my omnivore friend's request for cheese and other toppings.

So did Dailycious live up to its name? Yes it did. My half of the pie was topped with plenty of veggies, a sufficient amount of juicy tomato sauce, and some nice herbs and spices. But what stuck out the most, was the dough. It was fantastic.

So fantastic that I thought it might be flavored with parmesan or some kind of cheese. I actually didn't want to ask and find out, lest it ruin my pizza experience! But when I went to pay the bill, I chatted with the friendly owner a bit, complimented him on how delicious the pizza was, and then just asked. And what did he say the dough is made with? Just four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt.  Azzahhh!  Just exactly how I make bread!  And then he told me the reason his dough tastes so great, something he does that other pizzerias in Chiang Mai do not: the dough is made onsite fresh daily, but before being baked, it's kept in the fridge for 24 hours.  This allows the yeast to go to work, some fermentation to happen, and a rich and hearty flavor to develop.  Simple. But brilliant. And not only is their pizza dough made in this fashion, but all their baked goods.
Once the owner told me about that, I decided to buy a loaf of bread (60 baht for vegan whole wheat bread!), and after I left the store, he ran after me to give me free bagels (contain honey)! Man, he knows how to create return customers!
Dailycious truly is a nice cafe. Good food and good ambiance. There's indoor and outdoor seating, very friendly waitstaff, and a whole menu of other food and drink options (including some vegan options, like hummus and pita, which tasted great as well).

Once I got home, I tried out the Dailycious bread, and it tasted as great as the pizza dough. I enjoyed it over the next few days in various ways, such as toasted and topped with these fine ingredients I got at an Organic Market (that I'll talk about in my next post!).
Avocado, cabbage, basil and parsley.
I made two open-face sandwiches with these ingredients.
Crispy toast, crisp cabbage, tender avocado, blasts of herbs, and some nutty ground flax seeds sprinkled on top. Looooved this open-face sandwich.
The next day I toned it down a bit, and just toasted the bread to have on the side of a suki-style veggie soup I made.
Warm soup, warm bread, and a cool fruit. Temperature cool yes, but cool-looking too! Yes, that's right. That scarlet-colored fruit you see in the background is indeed dragon fruit.
Mmmm, yes, one of Thailand's great tropical fruits. Beautiful and delicious. Which is to be expected here! But what you may not expect to find so easily in this country is great-tasting vegan pizza. But if you're craving it, here's how to find it:

Driving south from the southwest corner of the old city towards Central Airport Plaza Mall (Robinson), along Hang Dong Road, you'll see a sign for "NIM City Daily Plaza" on your left just before you get to the mall intersection. Go into this shopping plaza, and Dailycious will be the first shop on the right. There are some other restaurants and shops in this plaza, as well as Rinping Supermarket.

Dailycious Cafe
197 Nim City Daily Project, Mahidol Road
Tambon Hai-Ya
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50100

Phone: 083-321-3621

Sunday, August 5, 2012

King's Royal Project: Organic Market

Lately I've been thinking about the concept of organic food.  "Organic" is a word that's thrown around quite a bit.  And honestly, since being back in Thailand, I haven't paid much attention to it.  I don't really run across an abundance of organic markets, restaurants, or even grocery story items in my every day life.  So even though I had been buying mostly organic food the last time I was in the US, it has basically drifted off my radar these last 7 months or so.  Until recently...
A friend who's lived in Chiang Mai for awhile gave me a little talk about the essential difference between organic and non-organic produce: chemicals.  Most likely, unless you're growing your own fruits and vegetables here in Chiang Mai, the produce you'll find at markets and grocery stores has been sprayed with toxic chemicals, to kill the bugs and weeds.  Maybe we don't normally call pesticides and herbicides "toxic."  But then again, if they didn't have the ability to kill bugs and weeds, how could they be anything except toxic?  The immediate effects of these chemicals on the human body are probably minimal, but over time, they accumulate, causing sickness and disease.  I can't do a whole lot to control my environment; the pollution in the air is not going away any time soon.  But I can make an effort to control what I put in my body.  But how?  Well, this blog post about organic and non-organic food by my friend Lee gave me some great information, and some good encouragement, too.

I also got some practical advice from two professors at the college where I teach, who led me to this ORGANIC market right in Chiang Mai:
It's located just to the east of Chiang Mai University.  From what I understand, this bi-weekly market is a part of CMU's department of agriculture, as well as being under the patronage of the King's Royal Project.  Some of the produce comes from crops on CMU's campus (see the first two pics in this post), and other is brought by farmers in the surrounding area.  All farmers' fields are checked on regularly to ensure that chemical herbicides and pesticides are not being used.
There are probably about a dozen or more different vendors, selling all sorts of vegetables, herbs, fruits, and even rice.  The market is open twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 5am until about 2pm.  It's best to get there early, but honestly, I haven't ever gotten there before 10:30 am, and there's usually still a fair amount of veggies left to choose from.
When you see carrots shaped like this, you've gotta know they're organic!  A little bumpy, but comforting.  When I cook up and eat these funny-looking roots, I know that I'm getting all their vitamins and nutrients, sans toxic elements.  So I purchased some of these carrots, along with a bunch of other good stuff!
Multi-colored (multi-grain) rice, cauliflower, mustard greens, carrots, bamboo shoots, limes, cucumbers, limes, mushrooms, pumpkin, kale, and rolls of dried mango. I dished out about 200 Baht for all this, and felt like that was a lot to spend on groceries.  But once I laid it all out on my table and remembered that 200 Baht is only $7, I felt pretty rich!  Eating organic in Chiang Mai doesn't have to be expensive - yay!  Honestly, I think if any of these items were more expensive that what I'd pay at a regular non-organic market, it was by pennies if anything.

I had a great time cooking a few different dinners with this purchase.  Unfortunately, by camera's SD card died from a virus and I lost the pictures.  (Quite the bummer, and which is partly why I haven't posted in this blog for awhile!)  But here's a picture of a meal I cooked with produce from my second Saturday shopping spree at the same CMU-King's Royal Project Organic Market: Stir-fried Eggplant-Mustard Greens-Mushroom over rice.

I used onion, garlic and chilis for some spice and zest; plus the three flavors of salty (soy sauce), sour (tamarind paste) and sweet (raw sugar). First, I sauteed the onion, garlic and chili for a minute.  Then I removed them fromt eh pan to start cooking the mustard green stems.  I don't know if people generally eat the stems or not.  But it seemed like a lot to cut off and throw away, so I wanted to give it a try.  I kind of steamed/-stir-fried them for a few minutes (oil in the pan, add some water so it boils and steams) until they started getting soft. Then I added the mushrooms, then the mustard green leaves, along with the soy sauce, tamarind paste and sugar.  It just took a few minutes to cook.  Placed atop some rice, and voila, done!
I love the chewiness of the mustard greens, which is different from the mushrooms' chewiness, and then the more crisp and solid eggplant.  And I'm pretty happy with the way my "four-flavor sauces" are turning out lately.  It definitely feels like a good balanced meal, especially when I have some nice tropical fruit for dessert: lychees!
So, I'm super happy to have found this organic market.  I'm planning to check out some organic markets in the next few weeks that I've found out about.  And I'm going to make an effort to eat at some organic restaurants too - which should be fun to blog about!  So I'll keep you posted!  For those of you who are in Chiang Mai, I hope the info is helpful; and those of you who aren't here, I hope you can soak up a little of the joy I've found by knowing that it's not so hard (or too expensive) to find good organic food here, and probably almost anywhere in the world you may be!
Here's the sign in front of the market, whose literal translation brings some new light to what "organic" means: 
Poison-Free Agriculture Market
Danger-Free Food
Every Wednesday and Saturday
6am - 2pm
Location: Agricultural Research Zone

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Brunch to Remember (Mom)

Last Saturday was June 23rd, which would have been my mother's 61st birthday.  I remember when she turned 40.  And I remember the following year when my dad turned 40.  I remember those as moments that they shared with each other, but that they also shared with us kids.  They taught us how to be happy for someone other than ourselves - to celebrate another's birthday by making them feel loved.  They helped us think of gifts to buy them so that we could experience the joy of giving.  And of course, my parents were great gift-receivers.  I remember my mom expressing so much happiness when she opened my present of 3 blue pens.  They were her favorite kind after all, but I only knew that because my dad helped me to see it!

It's been 13 years since my mom died.  Each year when Jun 23rd rolls around it feels a little different.  This year, I felt that cooking myself a very Abigail-style brunch would a good way to pay tribute to the memories I have of my mom.  Cooking is something I really enjoy doing.  Being here in this apartment for just over a month, cooking is still a bit of an experimental process.  I cook a lot of things Thai style: stir-fries over rice.  Sounds so simple, and perhaps it is.  But with the huge variety of vegetables (some which I've only eaten a few times, let alone ever actually cooked myself) and various kinds of cooking sauces, each meal I've cooked here has been pretty unique.  They each usually end up being a bit of a process, with some turning out really well and some turning out, well, just all right!  So when this meal turned out so tasty and balanced, it made me really happy!  I think my mother would be happy to see me being so happy.
Actually, my mother would possibly be rolling with laughter to see me eat something like this: ผัดผักบุ้ง (pad phak boong = stir fried morning glory).  Vegetables, especially the green ones, were pretty much the bane of my existence when I was growing up.  My mom tried sooo hard to get me to eat peas, beans, spinach, and other stuff that fell in my "gross" category.  But I do also remember picking peas from the backyard garden with my mom, then sitting on the back porch together to "pod" them. Plunk plunk plunk! - Raw round bouncy peas dropping into a metal pot.  Even though I had vowed to never eat peas, after planting the wrinkly dried seeds into the ground, watering the garden with a hose, seeing the plants sprout up, waiting for the pods to grow big and plump, picking them, then learning how to squeeze open the pods.... that day I was willing to open my mind just a liiiiitle bit and try them again.  Raw that is.  I ate them right out of the pod, and you know what?  I actually liked them!  Amazing how a real food-growing experience trumps eating peas from a metal can.
I also liked raw mushrooms as a kid. Fungus has only grown on me (not literally) since then, and it's been fun to try different kinds of mushrooms here.  This one I sliced up and stir fried with some mushroom soy sauce:
It's kind of like soy sauce, but it's made with only 40% soy beans. 27% is mushroom, and then it also has sugar, wheat flour and salt water. You can use it for stir frying other vegetables, too, not just mushrooms.  With this dish, I also added a little of this tangy-sour-slightly sweet sauce made from tamarinds:
Most traditional Thai dishes combine the elements of sweet, spicy, sour and salty.  So I use that idea a lot when I cook, to bring multiple elements of flavor to each dish.  The mushroom sauce brought the salty and the tamarind brought the sour and a little bit of sweetness.  It all balanced together nicely, and the dish turned out quite tasty!
I also had some tofu to go along with the mushrooms and morning glory.  First I made a dipping sauce, composed of soy sauce, sesame oil, diced garlic, sliced Thai chili peppers, and green onions.  Then I sliced up the tofu and deep fried it in oil until the pieces were light brown.
I've never really deep fried anything before, but I wanted to try it.
I just turned the tofu chunks around in the hot oil for a few minutes.  Actually, they tasted just ok; not as tasty as I've had it in restaurants around Thailand.  Mine were kinda crunchy and hard.  I was going for light and crispy.  Hopefully I just cooked them for too long and can do better next time.  Either way, tofu is really just the excuse to eat the dipping sauce - I love these kinds of sauces!

I actually had a lot of flavors swirling around on my plate.  The brown jasmine rice brought them all together nicely. And of course, having some fresh fruit for dessert didn't hurt (banana and papaya)!
I have many great memories of my mom.  I can't create new ones with her.  But I can create new ones in her honor.  And that's a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.