the Vernon Journal

Serving the Kingdom in Southeast Asia

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A Different Kind of Milestone: Noodles and Chopsticks

Every once in a while, I encounter a surreal moment where I think to myself, "Wow, my life is really weird!" Today was one of those moments. I had prepared a lunch of spicy fried noodles with egg and peanuts for Abi's lunch. (As I write, I'm realizing that this lunch, in itself, would probably be classified by most of  our readers as unusual, especially for a 3 year old, but this is normal for us.) Anyone who knows anything about Asian food, knows that noodles simply must be eaten with chopsticks. Of course, the Akha use chopsticks for every meal, but even the Thais, who use forks and spoons most of the time (bet you didn't know this!), ALWAYS use chopsticks when eating noodles. It's just the way it should be! Well, to get back to the story, Abi has been showing a lot of interest in chopsticks lately. At mealtime she always steals one of our chopsticks to play with and ends up trying, unsuccessfully, to stab at her food. So today, as I served up her noodles, I remembered a blog post I read recently about children's chopsticks. So, I threw together a pair of "training chopsticks" and she went to town. I swear she ate more at that meal than she has EVER eaten (at least when feeding herself!)

As I was sitting there watching her eat with as much parental pride as is legally allowed, I realized that the heightened degree of sentimentality with which I was viewing this milestone was not really normal (at least not for the majority of Americans). Most of our American friends will not have pictures of their children using chopsticks for the first time at the age of three. Nor will they forever cherish the first set of "baby-chopsticks" given to their children by their Akha Grandpa.

So, I guess I just thought I'd share one of the little differences about raising a child overseas. What are the milestones and memories that you have cherished from your child's life?

Abi concentrating hard to master the chopsticksSipping the super spicy tom yom goong brothThe obligitory drink of water after a really spicy biteOn her way to chopstick mastery- shoveling noodles asian styleJust bein' cute

Akha Food Overview and a Recipe (Reblog)

reposted from a guest blogging article written at Food Friday: Eat like an Ahka


Posted on 29. Jan, 2010 by April

As we’ve mentioned more than once, last month we went up to an Akha village for a few days to experience their culture.  Part of that was, of course, their food.  My favorite part was using chopsticks to eat it all. :) Since we only ate Akha food a few times, we decided to bring in an expert to tell you all about it. Lori Vernon graciously agreed to be our guest blogger today to teach us about Akha food and even share a recipe!

Guest Blogger: Lori Vernon

Guest Blogger: Lori Vernon

Akha food is fairly simple compared to Thai fare. Most Thai dishes seek to find the perfect balance between many different flavors (sweet, sour, spicy, salty, etc) using a multitude of ingredients like coconut milk, curry paste, lemon grass, chili peppers, fish sauce, sugar and lime to name a few. Most Akha dishes, on the other hand, are savory and have very few ingredients. Akha dishes rarely use more than salt, garlic, chili pepper to flavor the main ingredient. However, this doesn’t mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that Akha food could be considered bland. Quite the opposite, Akha food is very flavorful and spicy!

Of course, rice is the main staple for the Akha people. At a meal, each person has their own bowl of rice, and the accompanying dishes are served family style. There are 5 categories of Akha food; a traditional meal would include at least one dish from each category.


This category can vary greatly. Any combination of vegetables, eggs, meat or beans can be stir fried for an Akha meal. An Akha favorite is a spicy stir fried minced pork dish called sa byeh which is the exception to the “simple-ingredients-list rule” and has many herbs including a special type of tree bark. It is almost always eaten for special occasions like weddings, funerals and festivals.


Greens can be pickled when the crops are in abundance and preserved for use at a later time. Often pickled greens are also dried and reconstituted when ready to eat, increasing their shelf life even further.


Greens, squash or potatoes are boiled with pork and bones to create a savory broth soup. The Akha also make a thick rice porridge soup with chicken that is eaten to celebrate the birth of a child or to feed to an invalid unable to eat rice.

4. DIP:

The Akha use a mortar and pestle to create very spicy dips to be eaten with fresh vegetables, or spooned directly onto the rice. The most simple version would contain tomato, salt, chili peppers, green onions & cilantro. However, we have tasted many variations of this dish including ones that contained crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, fish, dried beef, and bamboo worms. This is a dish that is different at every house, because each family has their own secret recipe.

5. RAW:

The dip mentioned above is generally eaten with a variety of fresh greens and vegetables. Some commonly served items from this category include cabbage, green beans, sweet pea greens, cucumbers, mint, thai eggplant and other herbs. (which I don’t know how to translate into English.)

Eating Akha Style

Eating Akha Style

If you’d like to taste a bit of Akha food, here’s a simple recipe you can try at home:

Spicy Akha Peanut Dip

This is normally made with a mortar and pestle, but since those tools are not commonly available in American kitchens, I’ve included instructions on how to make this using a Cuisinart (a blender may also work.)


  • 1 small clove of garlic (optional, depending on how much garlic breath you’re willing to tolerate)
  • 3 medium plum tomatoes or one large American Tomato
  • ¼ cup of roasted peanuts
  • 1-5 Thai chili peppers to taste
  • ½ tsp of salt (or to taste)
  • green onions, chopped
  • cilantro, chopped


  1. Boil/blanch tomatoes and chili peppers for several minutes… until the tomato skin splits. Remove from water and let cool.
  2. Chop peanuts roughly in a Cuisinart.
  3. Peel skin off of tomatoes & add tomatoes in with the chopped peanuts.
  4. Add blanched chili peppers and garlic clove. Use the pulse setting to chop/mix.
  5. Add salt to taste
  6. Remove from Cuisinart.
  7. Stir in chopped green onions & cilantro to taste, reserving a small amount for garnish on top.
  8. Serve with raw vegetables or over rice.

- Lori Vernon

Abigail - Photo Sets and a Tumblelog

Follow Me on Tumblr!Abi has been sick for a couple of weeks, going from a head cold to severe vomiting to a mild fever. Those of you who follow us on Facebook (see the links on the right of this page) have heard these updates, but I know many of you only follow us on this blog and wanted to fill you in here as well. She's on the mend today and we are planning on going up to the village this afternoon if she's doing well after her nap. The silver lining in the last few weeks has been a really nice time as a family. A two-year old can sometimes be a handful, but it's so fun to watch her personality, vocabulary and comprehension of the world around her as it expands daily.

Abi is very active, but very sweet. Right now, she really loves to be doing whatever her mom is doing. Last night, Abi was beginning to feel better and decided she wanted to help Lori make a dinner - a very American "Breakfast for Dinner" actually.

Here are some images from their time together:

Abi happily cookingMother and Daughter, Side by SideBusy, Busy, Two Year Old!She's so content when she's with her mommyTaking a break from cooking to sample the foodPretty Little Cook

Later that evening (when mom decided she needed the whole kitchen to herself if she was actually going to get dinner made) Abi and I went out to look at the sunset... and to take more pictures of Abi.

Look at the sunset, Daddy!Messy face from cooking, but still pretty enough for a photoshootMaybe my favorite of her recent pictures.You've got a little something on your face.You're so silly, Daddy!Super pretty girl.Monochromatic sunset

Those of you who are looking for even more Abigail than you can find here on the Vernon Journal, take a look at our scrapbook postings of pictures, unedited videos, and other tidbits at Abi's Tumblr: Our Abi Hope. RYZ7Z3B2UT6U

Rice, Bamboo and the Akha

The Akha way of life is centered around rice. It encompasses every aspect of their lives.  Preparing the fields, planting, harvesting.

every meal every day every month every year

It's no wonder that rice is the center of religion, culture and celebration in the Akha world. But, if there is a secondary symbol of importance in the Akha community, it is bamboo.

Bamboo provides tools and toys. Secular and sacred objects.

If rice is the focus of the Akha way of life, bamboo is the function of that life.

In our village the children learn at a very young age how to turn scraps of bamboo into functional creations. Boys of three and four years old create woven masterpieces to complete the homes and tools of their minor kingdoms. Their education in the vegetation and animalia around them is extensive, any Akha child of age can easily forage a meal while walking through the jungle.

This interaction with the world around them builds a community and identity among the Akha people, and will continue to be important to them wherever the evolution of their culture leads in the years to come.

Eggplant Stir-Fry

I just thought I'd give you a “taste” of our life here. Lately, this is one of our family's favorite dishes. And it's one of the rare recipes that can be easily replicated in the United States. So, if your family is ready for something new on the dinner table, you can try it out and think of us! Ingredients: * ½ pound of ground meat (we use pork) * 3 large-ish eggplants * 1 small onion (I used yellow here, but we prefer purple) * 2 Eggs * Green Onion * Cilantro * 3 cloves of garlic * Thai Chili pepper (or similar) * Salt * Oil

Instructions & Notes: 1. This dish is served with rice. So it's best to start your rice first, because it will take 15-20 minutes. (In other words... DO NOT use Minute Rice! Learn how to cook rice here.) 2. Cut the eggplant into large pieces. Boil with the eggs for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally. When finished, drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside. *Note: For some reason we like green eggplant best. Purple seems to be more watery and have less flavor, but I don't even know if green eggplant is available in the U.S. 3. Chop the onion, green onion and cilantro. Set aside. 4. Prepare garlic & chili peppers. We use a mortar and pestle, but a garlic press or any number of kitchen gadgets would work fine, I'm sure! *Note: Add chili peppers to suit your family's taste. We use about 3 to achieve “medium” spicyness... but it's all subjective, so start slow. 5. Get your wok (a.k.a. “pan”) nice and hot. Add oil, garlic, peppers, meat and onion. Stir-fry until meat is browned. 6. Usually, by this time, my boiled eggplant has cooled off enough to handle. So, remove the meat from the heat for a moment and chop the boiled eggplant. 7. Now, add your chopped eggplant to the meat mixture in the wok and stir-fry. It should get a little mushier and a little browner when it's done. Add salt to taste (approximately ½ to 1 teaspoon should be about right.) 8. Reserve a small handful of the chopped green onions & cilantro. Add the rest of the onions & cilantro to the wok and stir-fry for another minute or so. 9.Transfer to your serving plate, and garnish with sliced boiled eggs and remaining green onions and cilantro. Serve with rice.

Green EggplantCut into large piecesBoil with 2 EggsYellow Onion, Cilantro & Green OnionChop onion, cilantro & green onion. Set aside3 cloves of garlic & 3 Thai chillisPrepare garlic & chillisStir-fry meat, garlic, chillis & onion.Chopped eggplant.Finished product!Yum!

Khao Mok Gai

khaomokgaiIt seems to be somewhat of a trend for mommies to post weekly meal plans, recipies and the like on their blogs. And, since my blog has been suffering of late, I thought I'd get on the bandwagon and start posting about some of our favorite meals here in the Vernon household. (Although, honestly, don't expect meal plans... that level of planning is way beyond my wildest dreams at this point!) Since there are so many inexpensive by-the-road style restaurants here in Thailand, we almost always eat lunch out. (Actually, let me clarify, when we're in the city we almost always eat lunch out. However, when we're in the village, we rarely eat out.) Anyway... where was I? Oh yes, inexpensive restaurants! A standard lunch in Thailand will cost you about 25 baht or 70 cents. The lunch pictured here, is actually a bit more expensive and runs 35 baht or 97cents. But it is so delicious that we don't mind "splurging"!

We eat Khao Mok Gai about once a week. It is an halal dish in which the rice and the chicken are all cooked together with many spices like coriander, cinnamon, tumeric and cumin. These spices combined with the fat from the chicken make the rice so rich and tasty. The main dish of rice and chicken is usually accompanied by a cucumber, onion and chili pepper salad with a sweet vinegar sauce. Also, a broth soup is usually included. Mmmmm so good! I'm so lucky to live in Thailand and eat this great food!

Cows and Guava

Abi watching the cows go by

When we are in the city (as opposed to the Akha village) we live in a house in a little Thai neighborhood. The neighborhood has quite a few vacant lots (due to the Market Crash of '97) and so a herd of cows regularly saunters by to munch on the vegetation in the lot across from our house. In America, we just don't get much exposure to farm animals, so it's still a bit odd to see them roaming about.

Pretty guava on our tree

Another fun part about our "city home" are the numerous fruit trees that we have in our yard. (However, I have to confess that we are fairly ignorant about most agricultural matters and it actually took us about two years and several scoldings from our Akha friends to finally become aware of all the fruit bearing trees in our yard!) We have a green mango tree, a guava tree, several tamarind trees and banana trees. Right now is guava season. Abi has learned that yummy fruit comes from that tree and so she reminds us to check for ripe fruit daily by wildly pointing to the tree and saying "mam mam" (which means "food" or "eat")!

Click here to view more photos

Click the icon to the left to see the rest of the photos from the afternoon with the cows and guava.

Pregnancy Cravings

Everyone always wants to know what pregnant women crave. I think this is because it makes for great conversations at parties! Someone says "Listen to this, I once knew a woman who craved jalapenos stuffed into chocolate cake while she was pregnant!" and the crowd responds with exclamations of disgust or amazement! Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) I haven't had many exciting cravings thus far.

Double Cheeseburger

Since my appetite has returned in the second trimester, I've been craving fruit (mostly mangoes and watermelon since they are in season right now), dairy (milk, yogurt and ice cream), smoothies (which are, of course a combination of the fruit and dairy), eggs and cheeseburgers. Luckily, all of these things are pretty readily available here in Thailand. Even the hamburgers are not too hard to find, as there are a couple restaurants here in Chiang Rai that serve a decent burger. However, what really satisfies my burger-craving is a McDonald's Double Cheeseburger... which can be obtained with a mere 3 hour drive to Chiang Mai! We had to go to Chiang Mai a few weeks ago and the Micky-D cheeseburgers almost made me cry, they were so good!

I've always been a "chicken girl". So much so, in fact, that my husband teases me about how every recipe I make calls for boneless-skinless chicken breast! But lately, I've really had an aversion to chicken. While I can eat it, I don't really enjoy it and can't usually finish a full serving. So, my standard lunch meal of Khao Mun Gai has been replaced by the tofu, eggs and bean sprouts of the famous Pad Thai. In the past, Pad Thai was never my really one of my favorites, but today's lunch was the third day in a row where nothing but Pad Thai would do!

All in all, I'm really enjoying food lately (that is, aside from spending last week in the hospital with an over-glorified stomach bug; I was not enjoying food last week!) And Little George seems to enjoy food too! After almost every meal the kicking and punching starts up with vigor. I'm know it really has to do with increased blood sugar levels giving him that extra energy to move about, but it's so much more fun to say things like "Oooh, George must really like mangoes!" Anyway, it seems like there's something about pregnancy that brings a whole new meaning to the word "satisfied"! After some meals, I just sit and bask in the glory of a happy mouth, a full tummy and a kicking baby!

Preparing the Feast

It's the season to celebrate the new rice harvest in Akha villages. It is difficult to describe all the sights and sounds and smells that you experience in the village, but we wanted to show you a small glimpse into the festival at Mae Salong. Here we have some of our neighbors preparing one of the dishes for the festival meal. They do everything in community, and here they are gathered around on a salah chopping up vegetables. Look at that young boy go! He's only about 11 years old, but he knows his way around a knife.


Akha New Rice Festival : video

Breakfast Burritos and Ice Cream

Lori is at a women's retreat in Chiang Mai for the weekend. While I am enjoying this time to myself, my major concern with her absence revolves around food. I've been married six years to a great cook who is much more health conscious than I am. This has resulted in a helpless husband when it comes to feeding myself.

So, what do I do? I begin dreaming of all the food I can't get in Thailand, and stumble across some interesting news...

McDonald's might start offering breakfast all day. Oh... I love the McDonald's breakfast burrito. If they had made this switch when I was living in America I might have skipped my Chipotle burrito every once in a while to replace it with four or five of the tasty little McDonalds burritos. On that note, I also found a recipe for the McDonald's breakfast burrito online, to bad we can't get good tortillas here.

Ben & Jerry's is adding a new ice cream flavor. From Ritz crackers to rum there are five finalists for the Do us a Flavor contest being run by the Ice Cream tycoons. None of the new flavors really appeal to me, but I'm a creature of habit. I would stick with my Ben & Jerry's hippie favorites: Phish Food and Cherry Garcia.

All this talk of food is making me hungry. I'm off to eat some of Lori's famous Texas Rice and Bean Skillet. She was worried about me last night so she cooked it for me to eat this weekend (seriously, is she the greatest wife in the world or what? I don't deserve her).


Fried Rice :: Asia's Leftover Casserole

Bowl of Fried Rice

As a kid I remember eating fried rice from the Chinese restaurant in the food court at the local mall. I loved it, but it always baffled me. How they actually accomplished the "frying" of the rice, I could never figure out. Eventually, I concluded that it must be done in the same way that french fries are fried at McDonald's. But the thing that I never could understand was how they kept the rice in the fry baskets; wouldn't it just fall through the holes?! Even as an adult (having realized that "fried rice" does not actually mean "deep fried rice"), fried rice still held a certain sense of mystery for me. Somehow this simple dish had become an exotic secret of the far east that I would never understand! Let's face it, I'm a product of America and America just doesn't do rice!

Having lived in Asia for over a year, rice is becoming a little less mysterious. A couple weeks ago as I was scraping the cold-leftover-lunch-rice out of the rice cooker so I could make a new batch of rice for dinner, I thought to myself... "What am I going to do with this rice! There's not enough to eat for dinner, but there's too much to just give to the chickens." (Honestly people, I'm not making this up! How weird is my life!?!) Anyway, I had seen street vendors make fried rice before so I thought 'What the heck, it's worth a try!' Well, it was a success and has since become my one of my favorite dishes. The best part is that it's not just good for leftover rice, but leftover anything; I can throw almost anything in and it tastes great! It's one of those meals that works no matter what I happen to have on hand.

So with out further ado... Here's my Super-Easy Recipe for Fried Rice (for those of you out there who still think it's an exotic secret of the far east!)

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • Palm oil
  • 1 egg
  • A little bit of meat, sliced thinly (optional)
  • Salt (Soy Sauce or Fish Sauce also works)
  • 2 tsp. pork or chicken bullion (cubes or powder)
  • 1/2 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • chopped green onion
  • chopped cilantro
  • Lime wedge for garnish
  • about two cups of left over rice


  1. Make sure all your ingredients are out, chopped and ready.& Once you start cooking it goes quick.
  2. Start with about a 1/4 cup of oil in your wok. Turn on your flame, and while you let your wok heat up a little, spoon the oil up the sides of wok.
  3. Throw in your garlic and stir for just about 10-15 seconds
  4. Crack your egg directly into the wok and stir to scramble.
  5. Stir bullion powder into the mixture (and salt if you're using salt)
  6. Throw in meat (if you're using meat), stir until cooked
  7. Stir in the onion and tomato. Don't let them cook too long or they'll get mushy.
  8. Throw in the rice, green onion and cilantro, stir until heated through. If it gets dry and starts sticking to the wok too much, add a little more oil.
  9. Garnish with some leftover cilantro and a lime wedge

So that's how it's done, folks. I know there are a few things I use that aren't commonly found in a standard American kitchen (like wok, palm oil, lime wedges, etc.) so experiment and see what works for you! Enjoy!

Mmmmmmmm... Illiteracy!

Oh, the joys of illiteracy! Take our experiences yesterday. We were looking for breakfast and ended up in a 7-11 (finding this to be the least "risky" of the available options... we're still pretty new at all of this). We settled on two strawberry yogurts and a bag of plain white dinner rolls. But I digress. Back to the joys of illiteracy. What is it like not being able to read anything around us? Sometimes it makes life fun, just guess and hope that what you get looks like the picture.

muffinsOther times it can be rather humbling, like today when we went cell phone shopping. The best and cheapest way to communicate here seems to be with a cell phone, but the cell phone system is totally different than the one we have in the states. We were completely lost and surely would have been ripped off if not for the help of our friend Neng. He taught us everything we needed to know about buying a cell phone... and we taught him a little about the importance of communication in marriage (example: when Lori wants the pretty phone and Paul wants the phone with all the gadgets).

We have met a number of Thai and Farang (the Thai call western foreigners "Farang") friends here at the Good News Study Center in just a few days time. This area is teeming with the young adults that we seem to click with. While we have enjoyed our time in Bangkok (which is a first for us), we look forward to getting out of the city and up to the North. So now, armed with a cell phone that does not work (we have to buy a "little microchip card with a telephone number" when we get to Chiang Rai) and all 300 pounds of our luggage, we're on the move again.

We leave for Chiang Rai this afternoon and hope to settle in a little before guests begin to arrive for graduation on March 12th. Please continue to pray for us - as we know that these first few weeks will be crucial to our adjustment to life here. Pray that we would be especially attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit – especially in what we say. Continue to pray also for our marriage and devotional lives as these next few weeks will be especially busy.

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