Flash in the Pan 

Hot Mamas and wet noodles

The new moon followed the sun into the sea, leaving white sand glowing in starlight, water lapping quietly on the sand. Everyone was asleep, not hearing the sound of the ocean lapping louder until it flooded our camp, forcing a midnight relocation.

The tide was extra-high that night because the sun was aligned with the moon, both bodies pulling the ocean in the same direction. The wind blew hard as well, conspiring with the high tide to wrench free one of our boat’s anchors. When morning broke, the boat had spun around its other mooring and beached on a spit of sand.

We hoped the next high tide would be enough to float our boat. But that was hours away, so I grabbed my knife and ventured into the rocks of low tide, choosing my steps carefully to avoid the razor-sharp oyster shells.

I found a rock that looked like a hammer, washed it in a tide pool, and whacked it against a live oyster stuck to a boulder, nailing the hapless bivalve right where its two shells come together. A burst of water escaped and I slid my knife between the shells and twisted, prying open the shell and exposing the oyster flesh, which I immediately gobbled.

After about 14 repetitions of this procedure, I called it breakfast.

Oysters are one of many species of edible shellfish to be found in those tidal areas. While I was oystering, Rung’s dad was out beachcombing, returning with awesome shells and strange edible creatures that he’d pried from the rocks and dug from the sand.

At meal times, after the crew had served us, they would stay up in the cooking area and munch on these shellfish and other obscure Thai delicacies. I would join these sessions, peeling off shells and armored platelets, chewing slowly.

Once, while the gringos feasted on shrimp curry and a stir-fry made with baby corn that wasn’t from a can, I visited the cooking area and saw a case of Ramen-style noodles. They were “Mama” brand—Thailand’s most popular—and seafood flavored. The crew squatted around the case of seafood Mama, opening 10 packages and dumping them five at a time into a wok with just a little boiling water. The noodles quickly softened and were stirred around for a minute, and then removed. Oil and garlic were added to the wok, and when it started to smell irresistible, various proteins were added—chicken, tofu, and congealed pig blood the consistency of cheesecake—along with 10 Mamas’ worth of seasoning packets.

When these items were cooked, chopped vegetables were added (in this case, cabbage and onion), followed by fish sauce, as is required in Thailand. Finally the softened Mama noodles were added.

They called this creation Pad Mama, a combination of Pad Thai and Mama ramen. We wolfed it down.

Finally the tide came in and we got the boat free and sailed to Koh Chang, where I took another boat to the mainland. I arrived in Ranong with 60 baht (almost $2) in my pocket, which had to last me until I found an ATM, which please, please, please would work.

A few steps from the dock, I bought a fried shrimp ball for 5 baht—a good choice. A few minutes later I spent 5 baht on what I thought was barbecued squid but was really barbecued fish guts—a bad choice which I quickly passed on to a dog.

The market, I learned, was far away, so I dropped 30 baht on a motorcycle taxi ride and arrived semi-instantly and woozy.

There was a lot of congealed pig blood for sale at the market, as well as dried fish, little Buddhas, amazing flowers and horseshoe crabs grilled whole. Regarded as one of the most ancient creatures on earth, horseshoe crabs look the part, and after the fish guts and the motorcycle ride, they weren’t contenders for my final 20 baht.

Elsewhere, a Chinese lady tried to sell me fried chicken. I gave the universal sign for “I’m thirsty,” pretending to lift a glass to my lips, and she brought me a sweet, creamy, orange Thai iced tea for 10 baht. Its cool, sweet flavor, which comes in part from ground tamarind seed, hit the spot. With my final 10 baht, I bought another.

Six hours before my bus to Bangkok, I found a working ATM, right next door to a massage place, where I was greeted by a woman with a face that looked 30 years old and a body that looked 16. She peered into my eyes searching for darkness.

Her husky voice said, “Hot oil with full treatment, Thai massage or foot massage?”

Backing away, I blurted “f-f-f-foot massage.”

It felt more like a shoe-shine than a massage, but it could have been so much more.

With five hours to wait for my bus, I went back to the market for more iced tea.

Ask Chef Boy Ari: Get this garden started right

Q: Dear Chef Boy Ari,

I’ve been reading your gardening advice for years. Although you make it sound like so much fun, I’m rather intimidated by the prospect. But this year I want to start, with just a few crops: shallots, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. Do you have any advice for the first-time grower of these things?
—Garden Curious

A: Dear Curious,

Solstice is long gone and the days are starting to get noticeably longer. Spring must be coming, so it’s time to order seeds!

Shallots, in order to grow into the honkers you want, should be started indoors in flats in February. It’s already February, which isn’t exactly the world’s longest month, which means you and I both need to order seeds ASAP if we want to get them started right.

Though my favorite seed catalog is Fedco, Johnny’s (www.johnnyseeds.com) is a great option for speedy delivery, and has a great online catalog. Peppers and tomatoes can be started indoors in March, and your lettuce can be seeded directly into the ground in May. Most common garden plants can be purchased, already started, at the farmers’ market, which would help take the pressure off a first-timer like yourself. But if you want shallots, you’ll probably have to start those yourself.

When you get your seeds, fill a planting tray with potting soil. Water it, and then sprinkle the seeds evenly, about one small packet (100-200 seeds) per tray. Then sprinkle a dusting of potting soil on top, water again, and keep warm and wet, with good light. When they get about 5 inches tall, cut back the whole tray with scissors to about 3 inches. Put them in the ground in May or June.

Send your food and garden queried to flash@flashinthepan.net.

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