What would your mother have done is she needed some peace and quiet to finish a project?
I’m still not sure how my mom handled getting her master’s with four kids, but I remember us as being older and more self-sufficient than mine who are all under 8. But I’m sure she found some escape in a library (and now she is a docent in the Denver Public Library, which is a beautiful building, if you should ever visit…she’ll even give you a tour!)
I spent the morning at UNC Wilmington’s Randall Library. When I was a graduate student, it could be a haven. But it often seemed drearily geared towards undergraduates. (Perhaps because they outnumber the graduate students tenfold?)
Today, this mother of three needed a place to find some tranquility—undergraduates or not. While I appreciate the lounge at the Wilmington Athletic Club, I needed something even more isolated. Randall Library gave me an office away from home. I needed a place to call and wait and wait…and then wait and call more developers about a story I’m writing for Greater Wilmington Business Journal. Randall was just the ticket. I hired a babysitter and shot out the door….
I’ve found as the summer winds on and the heat clicks up a few points, that I’ve needed more times like these. The kids are wound up and, unfortunately, it’s winding me up. The peaceful, solitary scenes from a freelance writing life it has not been.
At Randall, there are group rooms—with doors—that were empty and unreserved. I could set up my laptop (pulling it out of my boring old laptop case that is less flash than Christina’s latest find at World Market). I could hook up my phone and earpiece and talk and listen and wait all I wanted. No worries that the kids, sensing I was on a phone, would come running into the room and start interrupting me. It was a treat.
I would have taken a picture, but this week I’ve been really discombobulated and walked out of the house without my purse and camera. But, there is always tomorrow! (Today, I’ll share a photo of Petra and Mac, posing as caterpillars in our hallway.)
My family has started to dread inviting me into the “Where do you want to eat?” discussion. I always want this salad from the Main Street Brewery across from Fresh Market at MayFaire. It’s the Walnut Gorgonzola salad (~$9.95). Candied walnuts, crumbled Gorgonzola, bits of green apple, tomatoes, and a delicious raspberry dressing make for a terrific balance of tart, sweet, and strong. I have added grilled chicken (extra) to make it a filling dinner. This salad haunts me. I’ve eaten it as often as possible since the first time we staggered into the Main Street Brewery with low expectations, weary from shopping. I almost didn’t order it because the apples struck me as strange but I found the rest of the menu difficult so took a chance. And now I’m stuck in a dilemma.
This salad is great but the male members of my family can’t find anything they like on the menu. My daughter and mother love the cheeseburger ($4.99) on the kids menu and are willing to accompany me whenever my craving strikes. But everyone else groans and says, “Not that place again!”
Help me out here. Have you eaten here and found something else to like so I can get the boys to come with? Right now it’s relegated to girls-night-out only, which I suppose is fine, but I could eat this salad a lot more often.
Note: The people who own Main Street also operate the The Bridge Tender and Airlie Seafood Company, and the (original) Front Street Brewery. This salad was not on the menu at Airlie. I haven’t tried the Bridge Tender yet and their online menu fails to open so I don’t know if they have it. This salad is on the menu at The Front Street Brewery but I haven’t ordered that one myself.
Pictured here is the Papaya Salad (~$8) at Big Thai (101 North 4th Street). I love Thai cuisine and have eaten a lot of it in lots of cities. I’ll admit that I’m a bit spoiled for Pacific Rim foods because I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. This salad, in my humble opinion, is perhaps one of the most flavorless, muddy, and misguided of the Papaya salads I’ve eaten over the years. When done right—or even close to right—this salad is an intense combination of flavor and texture and is one of the few Thai dishes that is delicious even if you can’t take the heat. This one is not the salad to measure this incredible dish by. So if you have eaten this, please don’t assume you don’t like Thai Papaya salad. There is absolutely nothing special, interesting, or worth mentioning about this one.
These Spring Rolls (~$6) on the other hand were pretty tasty. I consider a Spring Roll a salad so I’m including them in the Salad Quest. These are not as good as the terrific ones that were served at the now-defunct Vietnamese restaurant that was next the bowling alley and the strip club at the juncture of College and i40 but since I can’t get those anymore, these will do. These are not a Thai cuisine, though. They are a Vietnamese street food. So don’t be fooled by that muddying of cuisines that Big Thai (And Indochine) likes to indulge in. If you compare these to Spring Rolls that are true to Vietnamese cuisine they aren’t similar. But they tasted good. I confess that, though it got great reviews and I long for a good Thai restaurant nearby, I am pretty disappointed by Big Thai. Thai food is a lot better than this.
Thai food is so good that I have made a lengty study of it—everyone who lives in the Bay Area does because the place is just lousy with fabulous, inexpensive Thai restaurants. (And I will share some of my favorites with you when I go on n eating tour there in August.) When I lived there, I took an intense series of classes in cooking Thai food from the wonderful Kasma Loha-Unchit, author of It Rains Fishesand Dancing Shrimp. And, I was surprised to learn that though this food may be very exotic for us Americans, some of it is so easy to make that it isn’t worth leaving the house to enjoy it. The trick is having the right ingredients on hand.
There is a terrific Asian market here in Wilmington (Saigon Market at 4507 Franklin Ave, off Kerr Ave) and I shop there frequently. (If you are interested in some tutorials on how to make great dishes using ingredients purchased there, tell me in the comments.) But I also like to visit ImportFoods. Not only does this terrific online merchant carry everything you will ever need—and a lot of stuff you never knew you needed—but each item has a useful description so you will know how to use it when you get it home.
If you are just learning to cook this delicious, spicy, aromatic cuisine, Importfoods is the best. You can look up the dishes you like, read all about how to make them, and even watch video of experts preparing those dishes. When you are reading a recipe that you think you are ready to tackle at home, just click the handy button at the top of the recipe to put all the necessary ingredients in your shopping cart.
Preparing Thai food sometimes requires some special equipment—a Wok, mortar and pestle, or rice steamer for instance. So be sure and check out the site’s cooking tools and dishes, too.
If you aren’t here in Wilmington and aren’t lucky enough to have an Asian market nearby where you can purchase fresh ingredients like lemongrass, basil, Kaffir lime, and chilies, hit their fresh section. (For those of you who are already expert Thai chefs note that Importfoods carries Betel leaves for Miang Kham, which I’ve never seen anywhere else. You have to order a lot of them but it’s a great way to wow your party guests.) They ship on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday so you’ll have the goods by the weekend and it won’t linger in a post office warehouse getting limp.
Once you get into cooking this stuff, though, you will want to grow your own Kaffir lime because nothing compares to the fresh-picked leaves and it is very simple to grow this dwarf citrus in a pot. (Just bring it inside in winter.) It’s hard to find the plants in local nurseries—no one in Wilmington has them; I looked. So I get mine from Four Winds Growers. This is a terrific West Coast nursery and your healthy little plant arrives carefully packaged and ready to put into dirt. Since Holy Basil (a.k.a. Thai Basil) and those tiny Thai chilies are also super easy to grow here, I always throw some seed in so I have a steady supply.