this little piggy

After successfully buying a chicken and cooking it, I thought I’d try another meat – pork.  Although the meat section has some red flags in the sanitation and health department, I figured, everyone else eats this just fine, so I might as well try it.  Ignoring the flies and lack of refrigeration, I headed towards the meat section.

2014-01-24-IMG_4278 2014-01-24-DSC_4528I passed the smiling pig face…2014-01-24-DSC_4532the skinless pig head…2014-01-24-DSC_4530and the little bags of blood.

2014-01-24-DSC_4534I had seen a big basin full of ground pork a few days earlier, which seemed like a relatively nonthreatening meat to start with.  I planned on buying a half kilogram, but changed my mind when I saw the amount and price, and instead decided to go ahead and buy the full kilo which was only $3.  The lady weighed out my meat, and handed me the bag by plopping it down on the counter into other porky juices.  I smiled, said thank you, then kindly asked for a second bag to put the first bag in.  We finished the rest of our shopping and headed home.

2014-01-24-DSC_4091Later, I began dinner prep, which was just going to be a simple stir fry.  After chopping the veggies, I took the bag of ground pork out of the fridge.  In only a couple of hours, it had turned into a big solid mass as the fat had cooled and hardened.  I sprinkled some salt and pepper on it and crushed a few garlic cloves.2014-01-24-DSC_4089Ryan thought making meatballs with it would be a good idea to make it more appetizing in a stir fry, so I attempted to give that a go.  I dug into the mass of meat with just one hand as I thought I should try to keep one hand clean.  Remember, the sink is outside in another building.  The kids were playing outside and I thought I should reserve a clean hand in case they needed me.  Anyway, I plopped some rough looking meatballs into the skillet. Once the skillet was full I decided to go ahead and made the rest of the meat into meatballs to freeze and have for another meal.

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At this point, I gave up on my one-handed approach and dug both hands in to form the rest of the balls.  I was quickly surprised, when I started finding little hard bits, white bits, bloody jelly bits and more.  There was SO much of it.  I started to feel a little bit nauseous.  The amount of rind, cartilage, skin and stringy fat was almost equal to the amount of meat!  Had they run the entire pig through the grinder?!  I briefly considered abandoning the bowl of pork, but there was no one around to save me.  Ryan was gone to work.

I pep talked my way through it.  I mean, c’mon, I’ve eaten out many times and had ground pork in lots of delicious dishes here.  This has to be where they all buy it, right?  Maybe once it’s cooked, the hard bits will melt way.  I braved my way through it and threw out the “non meat” bits that were left.

Then I cooked it up and tried to push aside the “non meat” bits that had made it into the skillet earlier, before I had realized what I was dealing with.  Any notion of meatballs quickly faded away as the fat melted and my formed balls all turned into a greasy pile of mush. I’m not at all afraid of fat, but all the unknown bits were a little much to handle.

2014-01-24-DSC_4105Once the veggies were cooked, I stirred in spoonfuls of the meat careful to avoid as many unidentifiable parts as best as I could.

2014-01-24-DSC_4108I decided to take the girls out on a walk to get myself some fresh air and work up some courage to eat dinner when we got back.  We were able to check out the brand new Chinese supermarket – first ever supermarket in town. 2014-01-24-DSC_4112When we got home, I sprinkled some fresh cilantro on top of our meal and served it up.  The girls thought it was great.  Elise had 4 helpings and Talia said “yuuuuumy!” when I asked her how she liked it.  I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so eager, but did manage to eat a serving while discreetly setting aside or spitting out pieces of rind, cartilage and other strange bits in the meat.  Let’s just say it may be awhile before I work up the courage to buy ground pork again.  Note to self: ask a local friend about the ground pork situation.

Like I said, it’s not the fat the bothers me.  In fact, did you know that your body needs saturated fat to function?  It’s a myth that saturated fat makes you fat and causes heart disease.  It’s the factory fats (margarine, vegetable oils, transfats) and sugar laden processed foods that will cause problems, NOT whole, natural fats. I really just have a hard time with those other bits.

What’s the craziest part of an animal you’ve ever eaten?  Do you have any good ground pork recipes for me to try next time?

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outfitting our place

When we moved here, the only furniture we brought was Elise’s crib and at the last second we decided to bring our kitchen table and chairs.  They’re from IKEA, so pack up nice and small.  When we arrived, the house was outfitted with a king sized mattress, a beat up couch, a wicker coffee table and a few wicker stools.  We had a lot that we needed, and limited resources.  With limited resources, we had to be resourceful.

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We found that the basket shop sold a couple of things we could use, including this bamboo corner shelf for food (arrangement by Talia)…

2014-01-22-DSC_3817and a small shelf we could use for shoes.2014-01-22-DSC_4376With the small wood shelf, and a couple of coat racks from the Chinese market, we set up our little entryway.  2014-01-22-DSC_3825The basket shop seemed like the only place to get anything that looked appealing (basically anything that wasn’t plastic), so we tried to make the most of it.2014-01-22-DSC_3821 2014-01-22-DSC_4050Ryan used some scraps of wood he found lying around the house to make a little booster chair for Talia.2014-01-22-DSC_5492He also added a built in footrest by screwing in a piece of wood across the front of the chair.2014-01-22-DSC_4841We found a short wooden folding table at the Chinese market to become the girls’ coloring station.

2014-01-22-DSC_4377These trunks have become furniture for us many times.  This time, it might be more permanent.

2014-01-22-DSC_4371The pillows that we brought with us didn’t quite match the duct tape that we used to patch up the house, but the hole was so big, we thought we might lose one of the kids in it.2014-01-22-DSC_4900I forgot to mention we also lucked out with this monstrous “entertainment center” in the bedroom.  It was really the only place to put anything, so as you can see, that’s where we decided to put everything!2014-01-22-DSC_5487We eventually were able to get it more organized with the help of some plastic baskets (you can probably guess where I got them).  We had brought a couple of curtains with us, so I hemmed them and we hung them up with nails and fishing line, a trick I learned when I was a kid.

These are just a few of the easy out-fittings we did.  We also have a few larger projects that I’ll tell you about later.

What are some creative ways you have furnished your house?

chicken soup for the heartless soul

live chickens at market Northern Laos

Now that we had somewhere to do some cooking, we ventured out to the poultry section at the market.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

These aren’t frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  These are live free range organic (as far as I know) chickens, roosters, and ducks brought daily to the market to await their fate.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

If you know what you’re doing, you can pick out your own chicken, feel it, pinch it, and make sure it’s healthy and the exact size you want.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

If you don’t know what you’re doing, like us, you can just let the nice vendor lady select your bird for you.

live chickens at market Northern LaosAfter she made the choice for me, she took my chicken, hung it from a plastic string and waited until it stopped flapping wildly around.  I’m not even a huge “animal lover,” but at this point, I felt a little bad for the poor chicken.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

She stoked her fire until the water was boiling, and plunged my now dead chicken into the water to loosen up its feathers.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

Then, she expertly finished plucking it with one hand, while taking a call with the other.

live chickens at market Northern LaosAfter she hung up, she dug out the entrails.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

It is default that the customer takes the entrails home with them.  But, I declined the “best parts,” and my gutless little chicken got plopped into a plastic bag for me to take home.

chicken stock

I bought this chicken with the purpose of making chicken stock.  We’ve been making chicken stock for a while now but we’re having to relearn the part of acquiring the chicken.

When I make my stock, I fill the stock pot, and soak the bird with a little vinegar for about an hour.  Then, I bring it to a boil and skim the scum off the top.  After the scum is skimmed, I then add some vegetables and herbs and allow it all to simmer for several hours.  When it’s done I strain it and let the broth cool.  You can click here for more details and a video instructional on how to make stock.

chicken stock

It’s a little disturbing that the chicken opens its mouth and sticks its tongue out while it simmers away.

chicken stock

I reserved a pot full of broth and the meat (which only ended up being about a cup’s worth) to make a big batch of chicken and vegetable soup.  The rest I poured into containers and froze it so that we can have a cup of broth with our lunches for it’s warming and immune boosting properties during the cold winter.

superfod chicken broth

As it turns out, grandmas weren’t wrong about the benefits of chicken soup.  Broth made from scratch using bones of good quality animals has huge health benefits.  Broth is easy for our bodies to digest and delivers a ton of minerals in a form that is really easy for our bodies to absorb.  It actually even helps strengthen the digestive and immune systems and will help in recovering from most any illness. (source)

What is your favorite kind of soup?  Have you ever picked out a live animal for your dinner?

let's go shopping!

I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve lived that I could tell you all about all the places we shop in one single blog post.  Welcome to Northern Laos!  So, let’s go shopping!

Basically, the market is the town’s one stop shopping center.  Aside from the market, there are a couple appliance stores, hardware stores, and the assorted corner stores, but if you can’t find it at the market you probably can’t find it in this town or within 5 hours of it. market Northern LaosFirst, there is the colorful outdoor produce section of the market that is bustling both in the morning and evening, though there are always a few vendors hanging out there throughout the day.

market Northern LaosMost of the produce is harvested locally or foraged from the jungle and is fresh and delicious.  I would guess that a lot of it is organic, too.

market Northern LaosLook at those beautiful greens!

2014-01-15-DSC_4793Along one side of the market, are stalls selling toiletries, cooking oil, instant noodles, MSG and all the other local necessities.

baskets Northern LaosAlong the opposite side, are a couple stalls selling baskets, small furniture and the supplies needed for cooking and serving sticky rice.  Down from the basket shops is the meat section, but that’s deserves its own post.

market Northern LaosUnder the large covered area where you can buy the pre-made lunch food, you can also find dry goods like beans, noodles, condiments and eggs along with more produce that is often imported from China or Thailand.shoe repairIn the far back, you can get your shoes fixed…zippersor some clothes made.

Chinese market Northern LaosThen, there is the large Chinese section of the market where you can buy everything from electronics and housewares to clothing and toys. It is all imported and sold by the local Chinese community.  It can be a bit of a challenge finding things as well as communicating with the vendors.2014-01-15-DSC_5403We dug through these carefully organized rows to find our new dishes.

2014-01-15-DSC_3820But, our efforts were rewarded.

2014-01-15-DSC_4875We also scored these stylish, one-size-only sweat suits to keep the girls warm at night.

2014-01-15-DSC_5478You can find some pretty sweet, top quality items if you search hard enough.
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2014-01-15-DSC_4896So, that about wraps up our shopping tour.  Aside from the market and a couple corner stores, the only other place we shop is at the Vietnamese plastics shops near our house.

shopping Northern LaosThere aren’t a lot of shopping choices and no typical grocery stores. I guess that’s part of the beauty of this simple town.  It leaves more time for sitting around the campfire with your neighbors or taking a scenic bike ride.  I won’t lie, though, setting up a house with limited supplies has required some real resourcefulness. And, if Target came to town, I’d be out of my mind ecstatic!  (Hey Target, could you send me a gift card for the shout out?)

What’s shopping like in your town?  Wait, maybe I don’t want to know!

rustic beauty

2014-01-13-DSC_4063Our kitchen has expanded!wood counter

We had a counter made, and while it didn’t turn out quite like we had ordered, I love it!  It means I can actually do some cooking inside the house.  This is one solid piece of wood.  It took four men to carry it in off the truck.  Ryan fits on the second shelf completely stretched out.  I wish I had taken a picture of that.2014-01-13-DSC_4070Here are some closeups of the handiwork.  The counter is made from a solid “red wood” and the shelf, which was supposed to be plywood, is made of teak!  2014-01-13-DSC_4071The builder used some interesting methods to put it together.  I honestly don’t care what it looks like.  It’s all about functionality these days.2014-01-13-DSC_4074Check out that smooth, even surface.  Ha!2014-01-13-DSC_4076

The cracks between the boards do present a slight problem in that food falls down between and lands on the dishes below.  But, not a major issue for me.

2014-01-13-DSC_4063It’s starting to look like a real kitchen in here.  All we need is a sink.  One can dream, right?

Have you had any furniture made?  How did it turn out?

local eats: market lunch

Since we haven’t done a lot of cooking in our first few days (or weeks) here, we’ve set out exploring to see what local eats we could find.northern laos morning market

It didn’t take long to discover this long aisle in the large covered building at the market full of wonderful pre-made lunch dishes.

northern lao market foodIf you’re there at the right time, both sides of the aisle are lined with little plates topped with a jeow ແຈ່ວ, a dish to be eaten with sticky rice.  The choices seem endless.  There are meats, greens, mushrooms, snails, innards, and many jeow that we have yet to identify.  The vendors are even happy to let you sample a dish before purchasing.2014-01-10-DSC_4548The girls are often recipients of free samples, like from the lady snipping her freshly made rice noodles.

2014-01-10-DSC_5448Each plateful costs only 5,000 kip (around $0.60).  Some of our favorites so far are the bamboo shoots (left) and greens.

2014-01-10-DSC_5440As well as the rattan shoots (yes, the same wood used to make furniture!) and mushrooms.

2014-01-10-DSC_5456So far, we’ve shied away from the intestines and other less-identifiable items.

2014-01-10-DSC_5459These smoked pork sticks are incredibly delicious and a great protein addition to the lunch purchase.2014-01-10-DSC_5464There are also these homemade sausages.  Each vendor has their own recipe.  We’re still working out which is our favorite.

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Finally, there are the thermoses full of steaming hot sticky rice sold by the 100 grams.  2014-01-10-DSC_4804The morning market provides a delicious, inexpensive lunch for people with all diet preferences.  From vegetarian to paleo and everything in between.  Over the past two years, I’ve drastically improved my health through dietary changes alone.  Now, we eat a modified paleo diet…. no grains (except some rice), only natural sweeteners (like honey), and lots of veggies, good meats and fats.  More on that another time.

What’s your go to lunch if you don’t make it yourself? 

where's the kitchen?

2014-01-07-IMG_4264-EditRemember that the kitchen was outside in another building?  Well, with a huge, mostly empty room inside the house, we thought we could bring part of the kitchen inside.

2014-01-07-4P1340833-LargeSo, we looked at what we had to work with.  We grabbed the old paint-speckled desk from the outside kitchen and brought it inside.

2014-01-07-IMG_4246As with everything else, it needed a good cleaning.  There was some large bug that kept sticking its antennae out of a hole, but running back inside before I could knock him out.  He gave me the creeps, but with not much furniture to choose from, this desk was my only hope for having a piece of the kitchen inside.

2014-01-07-IMG_42382014-01-07-IMG_4252After the good cleaning, Ryan got to work fixing the broken drawers of the desk, to make them usable for silverware and other utensils.2014-01-07-DSC_3774Then, Ryan went and bought six tiles from our local hardware shop to protect the top of the desk/counter from the heat of the stove.  Now we have somewhere to cook our eggs inside in the morning without having to unlock the door, put shoes on and head out to the other kitchen!  Our new little counter almost looks pretty in this picture.

2014-01-07-DSC_3814For now, our moving trunks still serve as cupboards.

2014-01-07-DSC_3890And we have to haul dirty dishes to the kitchen out back to wash them.

2014-01-07-DSC_4135But, it’s a big step up.  Next, we’re planning to have a counter made for more workspace and storage inside.

What are your kitchen must haves?  Have you ever had an Asian style outside kitchen?