Downhome Dough

I've always been a fan of fusion cuisine. When I was a little kid, I dreamed of opening up a Mexican-Chinese restaurant that would serve refried bean egg rolls and fried rice-stuffed burritos. That dream is long dead, but I'm still experimenting with mixing the cuisines of various cultures. Take for example, tonight's Veggie Lovers Cornbread Pizza:

This is another recipe for my cookbook. I actually developed it in August of last year. Here's the original post. But the measurements needed testing, and it tastes so good ... so it was high time to make it again.

The crust is made using my own recipe for cornbread, but it's halved to allow room for the toppins'. Of course, I baked it in my trusty cast iron pan. But it didn't finish cooking until well after dark, so excuse the bad flash shot:

Atop the crust is a homemade pizza sauce, some "beefy" flavored TVP crumbles, sauteed kale, squash, red pepper, and onion. The traditional sauce gives this recipe an Italian pizza-y taste, but the cornbread certainly makes it Southern tried and true.

Fried Tofu Pockets of Goodness

I *heart* inari! Give me a buffet filled with sushi options, and I'll load my plate with far more inari than anything else. It's simply fried tofu skin stuffed with sushi rice, but it's so darn good topped with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. I found some frozen inari wrappers at an Asian market in Memphis recently, and last night they made the base of these yummy Inari:

I used brown rice instead of white sushi rice, and I seasoned it with a little rice vinegar, salt, and turbinado. The frozen inari skins came with a cute little packet of black sesame seeds and dried veggies for topping.

On the side, I whipped up a quick Sesame Green Bean Stir-fry:

I sauteed local green beans, a red bell pepper, and some thinly sliced carrot with a little sesame oil and soy sauce. Then I topped the saute with sesame seeds and a dash of sriracha. Quick and delicious.

Chocolate Pecan Madness!

Though most of the sections of my cookbook are pretty well fleshed out now, I'm still lacking in the dessert department. My awesome Granny has been hard at work veganizing her classic desserts for me, but I've been slacking in the sweets. For example, I realized last week that I didn't have any cookie recipes yet. Enter these Choco-Chocolate Chip Praline Cookies:

These are chocolate cookies flecked with chocolate chips and candied pecans. I developed a test batch last week and brought them to work. My co-workers devoured all 25 cookies in less than an hour, and based on their feedback, this recipe was a real winner.

My only complaint — I left the pecans whole, but next time I'll chop them instead. A few of the cookies didn't get any pecans in them, and I felt bad for the folks who missed out. The salty-sweet candied pecans were the best part of the cookie. Just look at that little pecan peekin' out:

Note to the testers: Speaking of cookbook recipes, I've posted a new tester recipe on the Cookin' Crunk tester blog.

The Phuket Jet Ski Debate

I keep updating top of the page with new stories - the "debate" never seems to end. What do you think of Jet Skis in Phuket? The bad news about scams and rip offs and aggressive behavior keeps coming, thanks to the local news sites, especially Phuket Wan for keeping people informed.

NEW report from July 22nd 2011 - sounds like the Jet Ski Thugs are getting aggressive.

Report on Phuket Wan : Our Phuket Jet-Ski Scam Nightmare

UPDATE 2014, Despite a Russian crashing and killing himself and continued reports of aggressive jet ski operators ripping people off for pre-existing damage, somehow they are still allowed. Simple advice for you...


March 2011 :

WINAI 'JJ' Naiman led a gang of jet-ski operators who intimidated three young Australian backpackers on Patong beach and demanded almost 100,000 baht for damage to two jet-skis, an American police volunteer said today. The backpackers - two young women and their male companion - were terrified by the experience yesterday and will never again return to Thailand.

(From Phuket Wan)

February 2011:

TOURISTS were scammed of 150,000 baht in a jet-ski extortion last week - latest in a long line of rip-offs on Phuket that extended back 10 years, a meeting between honorary consuls and Phuket's Governor heard yesterday.

'Please, please tell us. Can you stop this problem or not?' Australia's honorary consul, Larry Cunningham asked Governor Tri Augkaradacha.

(from Phuket Wan)

More scams... January 2011: Australian Family Ripped Off by Jet Skis

And this has now made the mainstream news in Australia to - see here.

Update October 2010.. I update this page now and then if I see a story. I don't know how many scams go unreported. Rent a jet ski at your own risk.

The scams continue, have a look at this story and this story, both from October 2010 and this story from November 2010. Make your own mind up.


April 2010 - more bad Jet Ski news - a Singaporean visitor had a nasty accident and died 11 days later - full story at Phuket Wan.

Seriously, avoid jet skis. Just avoid them.

Ah, no... far too optimistic of me.. Update February 2010...

Phuket jet Skis Still Uninsured - story in Phuket Gazette

"A number of jet-skis continue to operate in Phuket uninsured, despite a scheme launched last year aimed at having every jet-ski in Phuket covered by accident insurance. Of the island’s 219 registered jet-skis, 43 still have not joined the scheme."

Ok, Governator - your personal promise was given. Sort it out!


Update November 27th 2009 ...

Phuket Jet Skis now Insured - story on Phuket Gazette.

"Gov Wichai gave his personal promise that problems with the jet-ski rental industry are now a thing of the past, thanks to the insurance plan."

Let's indeed hope that's the end of the scams, the start of something new. Right, now, next on the list... bus service between the beaches??


Updated on November 20th 2009... (Good News, I'd say!)

A jet ski operator was arrested at Patong today and his vehicle was impounded and taken to Kathu police station. The operator was accused of hiring out his vehicle without registration or insurance.

His arrest and the confiscation of the jet-ski was the clearest indication so far that the bad old days of scamming by jet-ski operators may finally be over.

Full Story at Phuket Wan


Final Update?... October 13th 2009:

It's official. Following a deal signed at Phuket Provincial Hall today, Phuket jet-ski operators will now be required to get mandatory insurance for their machines.

Phuket Jet-ski Association President Anusorn Sahreh signed the deal with Saiwalee Sakornjit of Ayudhya Insurance Public Company Limited just before noon.

The event was witnessed by around 15 jet-ski operators.

Phuket Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop was also present at the signing.

The deal will be a relief to Gov Wichai, who has been told by the Deputy Prime Minister to end the island’s infamous jet-ski scam, in which tourists who rent out jet-skis are forced to pay out large amounts of cash in compensation for alleged damages to the machines.

The island’s 219 legally registered jet-skis now have until November 15 to sign up to one of two insurance schemes....

Full Story - Phuket Gazette:

Phuket Jet Ski Operators Agree to Insurance Plan

(comment added: as you can see from the more recent updates, the insurance scheme was a load of cr*p, the scams continue. DON'T RENT JET SKIS)

Original article :

I feel something should be written here about this weeks big story in Phuket. Jet Skis. Actually, it's an ongoing saga, but this week has seen some very interesting developments. The "Jet Ski" scam is well known, yet people get caught all the time. Not just in Phuket, I have heard the same from Ko Pha Ngan, and read about similar operations in other countries. You rent a jet ski for a bit of adrenaline on the water, bring back the machine after an hour of fun, and lo! The guy who rented it to you finds some damage. I think you know the rest of the story.

Now, I have no problem with jet skis if they are properly operated, insured, maintained and kept outside of safe swimming areas. I am not a "jet ski hater". A lot of tourists expect this kind of watersports activity to be available at a major beach resort like Patong Beach. BUT, caveat emptor. Most jet skis have no insurance, and you can normally see this in big letters on the machine "NO INSURANCE". Not put off by this? PT Barnum would have loved you.

Are jet skis unsafe? Well, no less safe than a motorbike IF you are riding carefully. Accidents do happen. Trouble is, ANYONE can rent a jet ski. No experience needed. And that is something I don't like. Back in 2003 there were at least a couple of deaths, one of them a 13 year old whose dad had rented the jet ski for him. That's a sad story.

13 year old dies in jet ski crash (October 25th 2003)
19 year old dies in jet ski crash (November 26th 2003)

Back in 2003, there was a bit of a debate and the (then) governor of Phuket Udomsak Usawarangkura vowed that laws covering jet-skis would be strictly enforced from then on – and that jet-skis would vanish from Phuket beaches within seven years.

Governer vows to rid Phuket of Jet Skis

Of course it never happened. In fact there were even more jet skis registered, despite the governor saying "All jet-ski licenses will expire within seven years and we won’t issue any new ones". Now, any death is a bad thing, but every year there are quite a number of deaths by drowning at the beaches in Phuket, and you can't ban swimming. Drunken tourists crash motorbikes and die, a plane crashed in 2007. You can't ban mopeds or flights. It's a sad world sometimes. I have not read of any jet ski deaths in Phuket since 2003, please correct me if you know of any.

Actually, the jet ski had a bit of a revival after the tsunami. There was even a round of the Asian jet ski championship at Patong in 2006, see video below:

In 2007, the new governor backed down from the total removal of jet skis and allowed owners of registered jet-skis to replace old or inoperable vessels with new ones, but still there was mention of a total ban by 2011:

Governor relaxes jet ski ban (February 2007)

But the scams continued, or maybe got worse, or maybe just got reported more. If you are a reader of travel forums, you will probably have read warnings. But nothing has ever been done. Here's another video, from 2008:

Suddenly, in the last week or so, jet skis have been big news again. It started on September 1st. There was a story in the Phuket Wan website about a Chinese tourist who, when confronted with jet ski operators demanding 50,000 Baht for "damage". She called the Chinese honorary consul who called the Phuket governor. The word had reached the ears of the right person:

Chinese tourist refuses to pay jet ski demands

It seems word then spread to other influential figures such as the deputy prime minister of Thailand and the Phuket provincial police commander. The story below is from 4th September.

Top Cop orders end to jet ski scams

At the same time, the Phuket Gazette ran a readers poll. What should be done with jet skis? Ban them, was the majority answer, though quite a few people would be happy with strict enforcement of the regulations. I personally believe, that if jet skis are properly run, are insured, kept to certain areas and there are no rip offs, then we can all live happily.

Phuket Gazette readers favor total ban on jet-skis

Oh dear, then this happens. Now the sh*t has hit the fan, no hiding any more. It's on TV. Lots of people will see it, bad for Thailand's image, so suddenly it's a big deal again. There was this story on 7th September:

British TV shows gun in jet ski scam standoff

A TV show on the "Bravo" channel in the UK called "Trouble in Tourist Thailand" aired last week. Part of the program shows the jet ski operators confronting some British navy boys on shore leave. Things get heated, they call in an MP Sergeant who accuses the jet ski boys of being crooks. One of them has a gun. And of course, the whole show was on Youtube a day later. I have not watched the whole thing yet. (Update 2010 - can't find these on Youtube now - anyone know where I can find them?)

On the 10th, the guy called "JJ" who was brandishing the gun was arrested, though has now been released on bail. We will see where this leads. Will he be a scapegoat? Will anything actually be done to regulate the jet ski industry? The report in Phuket Wan below says that Phuket's Governor, Wichai Praisa-nob, has been urged by the Deputy Prime Minister and senior diplomats from Australia and Britain to crack down on the scams. Oh, and then there's the Chinese too...

JJ (jet ski operator) arrested in Phuket

On the 11th, there was a "crisis meeting" in Patong with jet ski operators, the governor of Phuket, local municipality leaders, members of the navy and police... now, Thailand is well known for face saving measures, and the outcome of the meeting seems (for now) to be that jet skis MUST have insurance for damage. With insurance, there would be no scams. The story is not over yet... some of the operators said their businesses would not be economic if they had to get insurance. So.. hey, charge a bit more for rental, then! There is said to be another meeting due on the 18th to work out details for an insurance scheme.

Phuket jet ski operators must get insurance

Meanwhile, with some people saying the TV show was a set-up, the Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand, the producer of the show tells his side of the story:

Inside the jet ski scandal

The story will go on, a compromise will be reached, but it does seem that the current governor of Phuket, Wichai Praisa-nob, seems determined to clean up the island in more ways than one. We don't need rip offs, we don't need bad press. Unfortunately it's the bad press that people here tend to worry about more. I would hope that everyone can get their heads together and work something out. I will add more links to news stories here as they come.

Update 14th September - there are plenty more videos appearing on Youtube with uncut footage from the TV series "Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand" inluding a full interview with "JJ" and raw footage of the confrontation with British marines on shore leave. The Phuket Gazette reports that is now a new vid showing US marines also being fleeced.

A few links... (open YouTube in new window).. there are al kinds of uncut bits of video on Youtube now posted by the producer of the TV program.

"JJ vs. Marines Uncut part 1"
"JJ vs. Marines Uncut part 2"
"JJ vs. Marines Uncut part 3"
"JJ Interview Part 1 (uncut)"

Update 2: 14th September. I don't believe what I am reading here. Hide the truth? Phuket Wan reports the following:

The second episode in the controversial 'Big Trouble' television series is set to screen in Britain on Monday night - but Thai authorities are now preventing the eight-part series from being completed.

Producer-director Gavin Hill says the Thailand Film Office has sent a letter asking the British production company, Bravo, not to screen any more episodes.

My jaw dropped at that one. I'm sorry, did you want the TV to only show smiling faces, leelawadee blossoms and sparkling blue seas?

Phuket Wan writes "The Thailand Film Office has pulled all the releases and permissions that are required to complete the series.

So, when you signed all the releases, the name of the program "Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand" was not a hint as to it's content?

Let's just sweep it under the carpet. Let's make JJ Mayor of Patong, eh! Guess it will all be on YouTube anyway... How can the Thailand Film Office have any say over what is on TV in the UK? Ok, let's see how this develops...

Update 15th September:

Phuket Wan reports "The governor of Phuket, Wichai Praisa-nob, wants the Department of Special Investigations to probe major corruption on the holiday island.

He has also asked the Foreign Ministry and the Tourism Authority of Thailand to investigate widespread crimes and rip-offs.

Phuket Scams: Governor Calls for Corruption Probe

Update 16th September

Phuket Wan reports:

"TALKS are underway among Phuket jet-ski operators to change their methods and eliminate scams from their businesses.

Insurance is not possible because under Thai law, the jet-skis are for sport only and cannot be rented to others, the president of the Bang Tao Jet-Ski Association, Anusorn Sale, told Phuketwan today.

The operators were given a week by the Governor, Wichai Praisa-nob, to reach their own agreement on how to operate legitimately and to put suggestions to him.

I have highlighted that section - Under Thai law jet skis cannot be rented to others. Let's repeat that.. Under Thai law jet skis cannot be rented to others. I am now shaking my head and wondering what is going on here. The LAW says that you can't rent a jet ski? So surely, surely they should not be at the beaches at all... or am I missing something?

Jet-Ski Scams: Fresh Round of Talks on Friday

Update 18th September. And this is a good one! I mean how DARE the TV show footage that might show Thailand in a bad light? It must be all made up, right?

Phuket Gazette Reports:

"The Thai television company responsible for producing the Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand series, which featured footage of an alleged jet-ski scam on Phuket, is to be prosecuted... Director-general of the Office of Tourism Development, Seksan Nakawong, reportedly said the film-makers had violated Article 23 of the same law for making a film damaging to Thailand’s reputation"

I am gobsmacked.

TV Production company to be prosecuted

Further update 18th September..

Good news. Good news. IF it happens...

Phuket jet-skis: agreement reached on insurance scheme

The Phuket Gazette reports "Phuket jet-ski operators will have to get accident insurance for their vehicles or cease doing business on Phuket's beaches, it was agreed at the key ‘jet-ski summit’ in Patong today.

Inside the packed meeting hall at Patong Municipality today were Vice Governor Smith Palawatvichai, Phuket Provincial Police Commander Pekad Tantipong, Kathu Police Superintendent Grissak Songmoonnark, Deputy Mayor of Patong Chairat Sukhabaan, Director of Phuket Provincial Insurance Office Suwimon Saelim, and around 50 jet-ski operators – including the island’s now infamous Winai ‘JJ’ Naiman.

To be continued I am sure!

... Updated on 23rd September:

Phuket Wan reports "Patong Jet-Ski operator Winai 'JJ' Naiman went to court in Phuket City today and found his case has been rescheduled for October 5.

The island's jet-ski operators and local authorities are to meet on Wednesday afternoon to try to find a solution that will restore Phuket's reputation as a hospitable tourist haven.

Jet-Ski JJ Case Delayed as Scam Plot Thickens

More recent updates - top of the page, most recent updates are right at the top.


Sweet Tater Bread Sneak Peek

Several months ago, my awesome crunk cookbook testers tried out my recipe for Sweet Tater Bread. I jotted down their feedback, made some improvements, and finally got around to baking another loaf for breakfast this week. Look at the sexy pecans in that slice!

It was so tasty that I decided I really needed to share this recipe. Even though I don't divulge most of my cookbook recipes, I like to put a few out there as a sort of sneak peek. Not to brag, but this bread is really tasty. I'm proud of it, and I want to share. So I'm giving out the recipe at the end of this post. Here's a whole loaf shot:

Each morning, I've been eating a slice or two schmeared with the Rich Tofu Cream Cheeze from The Uncheese Cookbook:

Although Joanne Stepaniak's tofu cream cheese recipe is no Tofutti, it's a heck of a lot cheaper. The bread doesn't really need any extra spreads, but I always schmear some kind of vegan cream cheeze or jam on my sweet breads.

As promised, here's the recipe .....

Sweet Potato Bread

2 medium sweet potatoes (to make 1 1/2 cups mashed, cooked sweet potato)

1 cup pecans, broken into small pieces

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

3/4 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp sea salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1 very ripe banana

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil

1/4 cup soymilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel and cube sweet potatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add potatoes. Cook about 20 minutes or until very soft. Drain water and mash with a fork or potato masher. Measure out 1 1/2 cups and discard any leftovers (or save for use in another dish). Set aside.

While potatoes are boiling, toast pecans in a dry pan in the oven for eight minutes. Set aside.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mash banana and sweet potatoes together. Add oil and soymilk to potato mixture and combine.

Add potato mixture to dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Fold in pecans. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

I Love You, Vegan Yum Yum!

I assume most vegan foodies have "to-make wish lists" a mile long. To give you an idea of how ridiculously back-logged I am, I just now made Vegan Yum Yum's Tomato Basil Cream Pasta ... though Lauren posted it in August of 2008!

I'm insane for waiting so long. This dish came together in less than 20 minutes and it's crazy, crazy good. The best part? The recipe is conveniently available on Vegan Yum Yum's FREE iPhone app! But if you don't have an iPhone, the whole thing (with gorgeous step-by-step pictures) is on Vegan Yum Yum's blog.

The sauce gets its creaminess from blended raw cashews (no soymilk!) and a large, fresh ripe summer tomato. If you haven't tried this yet, make it while the tomatoes are still tasty! There are only a few weeks of tomato time left in the South and I'd imagine it's the same in other areas as well. Ah, how I'll miss juicy summer tomatoes...

Labor Day Eats

I'm not really sure why Americans celebrate Labor Day, but I'm glad we do. It means I get a day off work, and that means more time for playing with food. I spent Labor Day in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my hometown located about an hour from Memphis.

My mom made the most delicious calzones for dinner! Here's my Vegan Chicken and Ham Calzone:

Mama used meat in she and my dad's calzones, but mine contained Morningstar Farms Chicken Strips, Lightlife "ham" slices, Follow Your Heart Mozzarella, and a little pizza sauce. So, so good!

On the side, she made green bean bundles wrapped in bacon. But for mine, we left the bacon off and sprinkled them with bacon bits:

And we had some tasty Greek Salad with local tomatoes and a homemade vinaigrette:

After dinner, I drove over to my grandparents' house so Granny could teach me how to can green beans. I'd been wanting to learn for awhile. Here she is prepping the beans for canning:

After boiling for a few minutes, Granny ladled the beans into Mason jars:

Then we sealed the jars and placed them in a pressure cooker for about 20 minutes. Here's the lovely result:

Now I'll have plenty of beans to get me through the winter!

Hiking to the roof of Phuket!

Hiking is not a popular activity in Phuket. Yes, you have places where people go to exercise such as Suan Luang Park or Bang Wad Reservoir, but in general Phuket is not a hikers paradise. There are few footpaths, too much land is privately owned and .. it's really really hot most of the time!

I had never given much thought to hiking up the hills in Phuket. Most of the big hills are accesible by road anyway (Buddha Mountain and Radar Hill for example), although I have been thinking of a hike up Buddha mountain for a while since a friend told me you can hike it from Karon Beach. I got more interested when I read a blog by an American expat who lives in Phuket. Glenn used to do lots of long distance hikes, and has been exploring the trails in the hills in Phuket. There are in fact more than I realised, many used by rubber plantation workers. Rubber is still big business here, most of the bigger hills are covered in rubber trees. Glenn has been working on a "High Trail" through Phuket, connecting all the hilltops. He writes about this on his blog "Fiddlehead in Phuket".

Now, like most people I always assumed that Radar Hill (Khao Mai Tao Sip Song), the hill with the radar dome on top, was the highest point in Phuket, but no! In fact, a hill behind Kathu Waterfall is higher, quite a bit higher actually. Glenn found this out a few months ago and wrote about the hike on his blog : Highest Point in Phuket. Now that rather caught my interest, I contacted Glenn about doing a hike with him (an easy one preferably!)...

Last Wednesday, I had a contact on Facebook - would I like to do a hike up to the high point on Friday? You bet! I arranged for a half day off work, prayed for no rain and met Glenn near Kathu Waterfall at 8:30am on Friday... Now, Glenn is nearly 20 years older than me, but he's a very fit guy, while over the last few years I have started to look like the Kung Fu Panda, only without the Kung Fu. Years ago I was a runner, cyclist, did lots of exercise, lots of traveling and could have handled a little hike easily. Glenn assured me it was not a really tough hike, but if you ever considered a hike like this, you better be in good shape. I made it, but it was not easy...

Near the start of the hike Glenn at the start of the hike

The start point, up a side road just before the waterfall, was just over 100m above sea level, meaning we had over 400m to climb vertically. Weather was good, rain had held off, but a bit more cloud cover would have been nice. The opening section of the trail was easy to follow and not too hard, but we then reached some very very steep sections, some was surfaced with concrete, some was dirt and rocks, some had water running down it. My legs did not like that steep section! I was soon drenched in sweat and had to take several little rest stops. Glenn would read off the altitude as we got higher. I think the opening half hour we climbed about 180m, and that was the hardest. I did think about abandoning, but the trail then got a little easier and my (ahem) "ex-athlete's" body maybe got used to the idea of hard exercise!

A couple of views near the bottom of the trail, looking back into Kathu...

Path and view on the way up

View looking back towards the bottom

Once the path flattened a little, I decided the top was a reachable target. Things became more enjoyable. The peace and quiet up in the hills is fantastic. We did pass a couple of rubber plantation workers huts and saw a couple of workers, but otherwise, the mountain was ours. Not many places in Phuket where you can be quite so peaceful, and yet where we started the hike is only 4km as the crow flies from Patong Beach! We had a 10 minute rest at a cabin where Glenn had stopped before. The owner was not around, though. He has great views from his cabin over the east of Phuket. The photo below looks NE, you can see the Naka islands and Koh Yao Yai in the distance. Would be about 20km in a straight line to the islands.

View looking NE

The path after the cabin was not so steep, but more overgrown. Not that far from the top, at around 470m altitude I think.. we lost the trail. Although Glenn had been up a couple of times, it was before low season, and the jungle can grow quickly! We were close to giving it up, when Glenn had a "hey! how come I didn't see that before" moment and the path was found. I mean, it's not obvious, not a well trodden hikers path at all, just used by rubber workers. We passed lots of rubber trees which grow in among the jungly trees. It's green and wild up here. The rubber trees here are not in neat rows like in the plantations in parts of Phuket, must be hard work collecting rubber up in these hills.

Path? What path? Near the top...

Rubber tapping in the hills

The last 40m of ascent were on a more open piece of land and we were surprised to find 2 guys working there, one of whom said he was the land owner and seemed to think we might want to buy the land. Well, views or no views, building regulations don't allow you to build a house at 400m above sea level! There is supposed to be a law in Phuket to prohibit building abover 80m, but ... No, unless you are a hermit, the roof of Phuket would not be an ideal spot to live. The views from the open land were great. Hard to get the feeling in a photo. Lots of trees around, so you don't have unobscured views, but hey, this is 500m above sea level!

View looking SW, you can just see the end of Patong Bay / Paradise Beach

View looking west to the hill between Patong and Kamala

The 2 guys had come up from Kalim beach (just north of Patong), by motorbike most of the way, they said. You can see a track on Google Earth leading to a point not too far from their land. Maybe try it that way next time! Now, Google Earth is a great tool, it even has an altitude reading, although it's not quite accurate. We topped out at 542 meters above sea level, though last time Glenn had recorded 545 meters.

542 meters above sea level in Phuket

That's me, near the top of Phuket

And so, photos taken for the record books, we headed downhill again. Going down is hard on my poor knees. I used a big stick of wood for some support, and headed down at my own pace. Looked like rain might come, dark clouds were around. Rain would have made some of the path dangerous and slippery. Luckily, no rain came. I got very thirsty towards the bottom, and hungry, it had been a very hard morning. The steep sections were just as hard going down as going up! If I try this again, will carry more water, and some energy bars too. By the time we reached the road again, I was gagging for a Gatorade! The total hike had been about 6km (3km each way), with a total ascent of 440m (1,440 feet). Ouch! Fat Panda found that hard, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? I hope to do some more hikes in the future. I think the next will be up to the Big Buddha from Karon, an easier one I think.. after all, the top of that hill is only 400m above sea level. For now, I think next blog page should involve a beach and a cold beer :)

Updated Feb 2010 - check out the Hike Up to the Big Buddha!

Homemade Steam Buns!

About a month ago, I stumbled onto an old copy of Sunset Vegetarian Cooking, a thin paperback volume of retro-ish meat-free recipes. It's from 1981, and the photos have that awesome reddish-yellow old-school tint. Though it's not all vegan, most of the lacto-ovo recipes are veganizable. And it was only $1 at the Goodwill!

When I was in the thrift store, flipping through the pages, a mouth-watering photo of some Cashew-Mushroom Steam Buns caught my eye. I always buy the frozen cabbage, mushroom, or red bean-stuffed buns at the Asian market. But they're made with nasty white flour. This recipe called for whole wheat (I would have subbed it anyway!).

Though it took FOREVER to make these last night, I wound up with 12 cute little steamed buns:

Steaming gives the dough a light, airiness that really melts in your mouth. And the filling is better than any I've had in a storebought bun. It's made from raw cashews, mushrooms, ginger, bamboo shoots, soy sauce, onion, and white wine. Here's an inside shot, though I swear it tastes better than it looks:

I wanted to give out the recipe since it's such an old cookbook, but I did a quick search and found that Sunset Vegetarian Cooking is still available on Amazon. Basically though, you make a yeasted dough and let it rise for an hour. Then you divide it into 12 balls. Roll those balls into small rounds and stuff with cashew-mushroom filling. Fold up the sides, twist the tops, and let rise another 30 minutes. Then you just steam them in a steamer basket for 15 minutes. They re-steam from the fridge or freeze wonderfully!

On the side, I made the Savory Greens Stir-fry from the Whole Foods iPhone app:

I'm always looking for new ways to cook kale, and this didn't disappoint with water chesnuts, shitake mushrooms, onion, garlic, diced tomatoes, and splashes of shoyu and mirin.

This was my first time cooking a recipe from an iPhone app, and it was very convenient. The ingredients were easy to pull up while grocery shopping, and I was able to read through the recipe at the gym, so I knew what to do as soon as I got home to work on dinner.

Bake It Again

It seems like over a year ago that I first developed the Twice Baked Tater recipe for my cookbook. But for some reason, I'm just now getting around to testing it for the second time.

After trying the taters again on Monday, I'm not sure why I waited so long. This one's a real winner. I'm proud of it. Last time, I topped the taters with vegan cheeze, but I opted to try these guys without it this time since faux cheeze is always an optional ingredient in my recipes. Some folks just don't like it, and others can't afford it or don't have access. These twice-baked potatoes were just fine without the cheeze, though it does look pretty when it gets all melty on top.

For protein, I tried these cute little Satay Chicken-Style Veaty Bites:

They're little meat-like chunks of soy protein on a stick. I found them in the freezer section of the Winchester Farmers Market (a gigantuan Asian/Mexican market in Memphis).

I'd never had Veat before, but these were very tasty. They had just the right amount of chewiness without too much of a meaty mouthfeel (I love that word!). I dipped them in extra vegan satay sauce that I picked at the same market. Quick, delicious, convenient! Since the bites come three to a stick, they'd be perfect for entertaining.

Raw Without Hunger

For the first time ever, I made it through an entire raw day without suffering from crazy hunger every three hours! I began my morning with a simple glass of Beautifying Pumpkin Mylk from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen:

Just pumpkin seeds, vanilla bean, dates, and water! Ani says the mylk is great for your skin since pumpkin seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids. Lately, I've been sticking to simple liquid breakfasts on raw day. And I'm usually starving an hour after I get to work, so I bring plenty of snacks to eat at my desk. However, after drinking the mylk today, I was satisfied until around 11:30 a.m.

I nibbled on these Carrots and Raw Vegan Pesto as a pre-lunch snack, even though I could have made it to lunch without them:

For lunch (around 12:30 p.m.), I ate this gigantic Garden Salad with Raw Ranch and Sesame Sunflower Seed Bread Croutons:

The ranch is Shellyfish's recipe, which you can find here. I've tried several recipes for raw ranch, and I think Shellyfish's is the best so far. Even though I was full about mid-way through the salad, I ate almost every bite because the dressing was that good. The croutons were crumbled from leftover slices of the Sesame Sunflower Bread from Ani's Raw Kitchen that I'd made several months ago. They keep forever in the fridge!

On most raw days, a similarly-sized salad would fill me up for about two hours and then I'd be munching on more veggies, fruits, or a Larabar. But I really didn't get hungry again until after leaving the office. I did, however, make room for a few locally-grown grapes because I brought them to work, and dammit, I was gonna eat them.

Around 6 p.m., I had dinner — Zucchini Fettucine with Guacamole — though I wasn't famished as usual:

I know my guac looks a little funky. I cut out a lot of bad spots and ended up with less avocado than other ingredients, resulting in a more liquid-y guac. It was still very delicious. I got the idea of topping raw noodles with guac from Eat 'n Veg'n.

Of course, I ended my day with a big ole bowl of Raw Banana Soft Serve with Chopped Pecans and a little light reading from Emma Goldman:

In case you don't know the wonders of banana soft serve, hit up Gena's Choosing Raw for details. I'm convinced it's the best thing to happen to raw cuisine ... ever.

Mom Tri's Villa Royale at Kata Noi Beach

Mom Tri's Villa Royale has been mentioned before on the blog, and is often listed in the Top 10 Hotels in Phuket. In fact, checking on the top rated hotels on TripAdvisor, I see that Villa Royale is sitting near the top 10 right now. And why not, indeed! I have not stayed a night there, but have had a sneaky look around when I was taking photos at Kata Noi Beach.

The location of this small luxury resort (only 26 rooms/suites) is nothing short of perfect. Built into the rocks in between Kata and Kata Noi beaches, overlooking Kata Noi, secluded and yet only a few minutes drive from the center of Kata with plenty of dining options in case you get bored with all that fancy food they serve at the hotel... Villa Royale has some of the best restaurants in Phuket too. But please do expect to pay top prices for the experience! I would gladly eat there, but might have to sell something first. Mom Tri, if you read this blog, we'd love an invite :)

Mom Luang Tridhosyuth Devakul aka Mom Tri is a renowned architect and is related to the Thai royal family. His famous Boathouse Hotel opened over 20 years ago and has long been one of the best known, best loved hotels in Phuket. One of these days (I might need to buy some nice clothes first) we'll go for dinner there! The Villa Royale was built on the site of his home in Phuket. His life history is quite interesting. Sure he was from a rich family, but he seems to have been a real pioneer in Phuket tourism.

Mom Tri's Villa Royale - Booking & Reviews

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