A Healthy Picnic Lunch

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DC and I went to check out St John’s Island over the weekend. We hopped over from Marina South Pier by ferry. The 45 minutes ferry ride was comfortable and painless compared to the earlier hassle of finding parking at the ferry terminal. It was one of those incredibly hot yet lovely days and it showed off the island beautifully.

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The sky was blue, the clouds fluffy white and the thick growth of trees a deep lively green.

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There wasn’t a great deal to the island, only a research centre for marine studies and a holiday camp. The rest of the island that was accessible to visitors was pretty much a little park, probably equivalent to a zone or two of East Coast beach.

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Still, it was a lovely walk and surprisingly not quite as hot as we expected as most of the way was pretty shady especially a bit further from the beach. It was a lovely little bit of Singapore that was a nicely contradictory combination of well-kept park and forgotten bucolism.

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There were some mangroves along the coast standing upright in the water that was so clean it was almost clear. Only the sand clouded it up slightly.

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We spent a while peering at the little fish darting amongst the stilt roots of the mangroves.

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While there obviously weren’t any roses here, coming here was a good opportunity to stop and smell and observe. And of course test out the macro feature of my new camera!

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There were also cats on the island. Here’s a pretty one watching out warily both for us…

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… and the spooky black cat with scary eyes.

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Then we adjourned to a shady park bench for a very refreshing Thai-inspired salad redolent of mint and lemongrass. The ever-enterprising DC whipped out cold drinks from a little styrofoam box and it completed our meal very nicely. All we needed to do next was head back to the ferry and home, wash up and have an afternoon nap. Bliss.

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Thai-inspired chicken pasta salad

Ingredients:
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp palm sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive or peanut oil (optional)
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup pasta, cooked
2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped (optional)
2 large handfuls mint leaves
2 heads baby butterhead lettuce
10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Method:

  1. Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and palm sugar, stirring to dissolve. I use pellets of palm sugar bought from Myanmar and leave it overnight in the fridge to give the sugar time to dissolve. Taste if you dare at this point to test for balance. It should be incredibly salty, fishy and sour all at the same time. Add more sugar to temper the sourness slightly and more fish sauce or soy sauce if it’s not fishy-salty enough. Don’t worry too much at this stage, you can tweak later too.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oil, shredded chicken and pasta, then stir in a few spoonfuls of the dressing. Now toss in the lemongrass, chilli and shallot and keep stirring till well combined.
  3. Tear the mint and lettuce leaves into the salad and keep tossing. Taste and add more dressing if necessary. Spoon into a plastic box for storage and keep as cool as possible for your picnic.

Serves 2.

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June in Thailand: Doing Good the Muddy Way

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My computer is finally fixed and I bring you yet another instalment of my Southeast Asian jaunt, now a good two years ago. This time, I spent a month in Thailand doing only land activities. I started in Bangkok and bunked in with Dee. The weekend I arrived, she had a company charity activity to which she very kindly invited me. It was a trip to the swampy river delta south of Bangkok to replant mangroves.

It started off with a briefing that went right over my head since it was in Thai, but there was a sign in English that basically said don’t stand up in the longtail boat or you’ll fall over.

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We headed down the very muddy distributory of the Chao Phraya with the offboard motor chugging away.

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Soon we pulled out of the hamlet of shacks lining the muddy stream and ended up in the mangrove area. The prop roots stuck out from the mud, forming a rather odd sort of undergrowth.

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We soon spied the monkeys emerging from the mangrove trees.

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They were all rather bedraggled from the mud and were lured out by the combs of bananas brought by the boatman. Odd, because I thought we were there to regrow the mangroves, not feed the monkeys living in them!

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The monkeys were quite aggressive, baring their teeth and fighting each other for the fruit. I was quite glad that we kept our distance. Sometimes the bananas fell into the edge of the stream, but this hardly deterred the monkeys at all. One of them simply washed off the excess mud and then gobbled up the delicacy.

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Soon we ran out of bananas and headed out into the delta proper. Here, the stream disappeared. It merged into the mud and we were doing nothing but float over it.

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It wasn’t until we saw the other boat in the distance that we realised exactly how much mud we were into. The propeller spattered mud high in the air as it travelled across the area.

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It wasn’t quite your usual seaside scenery, but was nonetheless rather impressive.

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The beautiful clouds and vast expanse of mud-sea was surprisingly lovely.

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We passed by some mussel farms. Now I know why bad mussels are full of muddy grit.

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There were also oyster farms, which I’m glad to report supplied mainly to oyster sauce factories and weren’t meant for direct consumption.

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Before long, we stopped at an attap house and retired there from the heat of the day.

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We hadn’t done any work yet but were treated to a very sumptuous local meal, featuring plenty of fish and yes, mussels. The food was as amazing as expected…

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… and we soon fell asleep in anticipation of our hard labour ahead.

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After the siesta, it was time to get muddy.

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Don’t ask me why everyone else got right into the mud and started flinging the stuff everywhere. It wasn’t that we really were required to get into the mud. What we did was to get shuttled out to the nursery of mangrove saplings out here and tie each sapling to a little bamboo support. Each person got about 20 bits of string and was shuttled out by one of the locals on a little wooden board.

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It was quite amusing that we came this far just to tie a few pieces of string round some saplings, but I guess we brought some money to the local economy and encouraged them to conserve their mangroves. The subsequent mudskiing (it’s exactly what it sounds like) was a lot more fun. Too bad that for obvious reasons I have no pictures to show for it.

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It was a lovely day out just hanging with Dee and her colleagues. While not a particular authentic experience, it was nice to see what Bangkokites got up to when they wanted to make a little difference to their part of the world.

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