Jade’s Thai Kitchen in Chiang Mai
Jade and Toby’s kitchen in Thailand feels familiar and inviting at first glance, but if you look closely you’ll notice several elements you don’t often see in American kitchens: a shelving rack for helmets for the couple’s scooter transportation, a (tiny) portable oven instead of a large range for baking, a power converter to operate all the coffee-making equipment.
Those are just some of the ways Jade’s cooking life has changed since she and her husband moved to Thailand four years ago, but you know what? They love it.
Since making a permanent move to Thailand over four years ago, Jade and Toby have learned the language, adopted many of the traditions and cultural practices, and developed a keen palate for great Northern Thai food. Since their son’s arrival — Cy is two — they’ve streamlined their cooking to include both great prepared and take-out food as well as fresh produce they pick up at one of several amazing open-air markets in their adopted city of Chiang Mai.
Jade is an avid baker; however, most Thailand kitchens are not equipped with ovens. This home was no exception, so the couple splurged on a small oven (only slightly larger than a toaster) so Jade’s baking passion continues. She makes cakes, cookies, cranberry scones, vegetable tarts, and even lamb chops in this thing! Cooking, and particularly baking, helps ground Jade and gives her great happiness.
7 Questions for Jade (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
I tend to follow my whims. I’ll get a hankering for something random, and I just have to have that taste, so I’ll go shopping specifically for that dish and make it as soon as I can. Often, it’ll be a complement to what we’ve been eating recently. For example, if we’ve been eating a lot of heavy and rich meaty dishes lately, I’ll want to cleanse the palate with a citrusy kale salad. Or I’ll come across an intriguing recipe or an interesting flavor combination — like ginger and pecan — and get an idea to do my own spin on it. I’ll just really want to try that ginger and pecan with a hint of cardamom in some cinnamon rolls, and off I go!
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
I have to say I’m addicted to our Aeropress for making coffee. It’s so easy and light, but it really brings out the flavor of the beans without the bitterness. And best of all, it’s so easy to travel with. We travel a lot, and there isn’t always good coffee where we go, so we’ll just grab our Aeropress and toss it in our suitcase too.
3. The biggest challenge in your kitchen?
I’m tempted to complain about our tiny fridge, but that’s more of an annoyance. I’d say the biggest challenge is actually mold. Because Thailand is so humid and hot and our kitchen doesn’t get a ton of direct light, mold can grow super quickly here. In the U.S. I could leave dry baked goods out for ages, but here I have to constantly keep a close watch on anything we don’t want to refrigerate — including my baking equipment! I don’t know what the little mold beasties find to eat, but they will creep along the edges of my cake tins and frying pans. If we go out of town for a week during rainy season and no one is home to open the windows and doors to let in air, we’ll come back to mold on our dining room table, on the underside of tablecloths, all over our shoes, and even in our camera lenses! It’s such a pain to clean, too.
4. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
If I could change just one thing in this kitchen, it would be the fridge. I dream of one day having a fridge with a separate door to the freezer so that my veggies wouldn’t freeze while my ice cream melts, and we wouldn’t have to take a machete and hack periodically at the ice that crusts over and prevents the door from shutting.
5. How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking style is experimental, loose, and instinctual. Even when I’m following recipes, I tend to take license with the instructions and adjust to our preferences. I learned this from my mom, who was trained by the royal chef who trained the chefs for the king of Thailand. I grew up helping her in the kitchen and she never went by measuring cups and spoons. She went by color and scents. I remember calling her when I was in college and asking her for recipes, and she’d list ingredients. I’d ask, “Okay, but how much fish sauce and lime juice?” and she’d say, “I don’t know — just put it until it tastes right.” I’ve been doing that ever since.
6. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
I once came across a tip to cut butter into flour, like you would for scones or pie crusts, by grating it in cold with a cheese grater. Changed my life.
7. What are you cooking this week?
My friend just sent me a care package with all things pumpkin spice. So I’m making a pumpkin pie!
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