All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012
This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of flying to Orlando & being a guest at a horror convention called Spooky Empire.
Isn’t that a great logo? Anyway – horror conventions are basically a place where fans can meet actors & effects guys etc & get access to vendors that sell collectibles etc all in one place. I set up a table with various 8×10’s of me on it & if someone is a fan – they can pay $20, get a signed picture & a photo with me. OOOH! Exciting! But it can be – for them & for the actors, too, who might be fans of others in the room.
I like to dress like Cher’s laudromat lady from the Sonny & Cher show – just so I can appear more current & youthful. Always trying to keep up with the kids.
Here I am with some cool folks & the delightful Alex Vincent – who played Andy in Child’s Play 1 & 2.
Anyway – it was also fun because my boyfriend Miles was able to join me from Little Rock. He is very good-natured & allowed me to pose him forever as I took various silly shots of him over one lunch – as the art on the wall behind him made him appear to have ridiculous hair. He is such a good sport! I love him.
Here’s the Orlando Hilton:
And here are a few of the best costumes I saw walking around:
I didn’t take the next few shots but I LOVED this little girl in the white dress. She was the cutest little other-worldly vision.
I didn’t even SEE this person but wowza!
I got to be a judge for the costume contest. I was one of four judges. Here I am taking my place at the judges table:
MANY awesome costumes!!!! The winners were:
3rd – an AWESOME Hellboy
2nd – a really cool monster from Dark Crystal – whose name I don’t know. Others called him Wrathe or Raith. It was huge & there was no recognizing it as human when it moved. And
1st – about 12 people all dressed as different Monster High characters.
I really liked a Tippi Hedren outfit which was a vintage skirt suit with black birds stuck all over it. She let out a scream on stage that was hilarious. There were other incredible ones but it was hard to get concensus.
Here they are
And our lead actor – Jason Thompson – won best actor!!!
Anyway – the whole Spooky Empire & Freak Show experiences were awesome. Sid Haig was there (I was on a panel with him in Kentucky. He is a gentleman.) I didn’t take this photo but I love it:
And I got to meet the very cute & sweet Laurence Harvey of Centipede 2 & 3. He even brought me this autographed photo!
These conventions are fantastic.
But now on to the Chinese food. A few weeks ago – Miles sent me this photo of some Little Rock delivered Chinese:
Egg rolls & beef sticks & hot and sour soup & green pepper beef. I almost never eat Chinese as – like Mexican – it is seldom remotely authentic & usually sucks. Why get Chinese when there is a Thai restaurant in between every single other business in Hollywood? A great & cheap Thai place. Or a sushi place. Or a Vietnamese place. But that delivered Chinese got me craving it. So – we had it twice in Orlando. Both times at Ming Court. I begged the concierge for a second choice but they couldn’t offer one. Ming Court has a koi pond out front with a food dispenser. This video HERE is not of the ones at Ming but it gets the craziness of the feeding frenzy across well. It is like a mosh pit of giant gaping, smacking mouths. I spent about $5 in quarters out there feeding them. Despite being unable to keep from throwing kibble into their pool & observe the tail slapping, body surfing, lip smacking chaos – something about their desperation was depressing. I went inside to dine feeling vaguely like I needed to call animal control.
First time there was dinner. I had a spicy calamari dish
Lunch a few days later was a Spicy Scallops dish:
Both were quite good. Miles got green pepper beef both times and both times he ordered hot & sour soup. The soup looked amazing & I feel like I haven’t had it for decades but it had pork in it so I was unable to indulge.
While Miles & I ate lunch at Ming Court – a large white crane landed in the pool area & began walking on top of the hedges there.
Eventually, after much slow & deliberate walking, he poked his head in the hedges & came up gripping a good sized lizard in his beak. He swallowed it whole – alive & kicking. While Miles & I sat there, chopsticks forgotten in hand & mouths gaping open – he did it again. Just fucking fucking swallowed them alive! What was their conversation like when they landed? “Dude! Where are we? Who shut out the lights? Did you see that giant white guy out there?” Did they try to crawl back up the bird’s throat? And what killed them eventually? Stomach acid? Suffocation? It was such a gruesome thing to see happen – over scallops, no less – it really bummed me out. I love scallops – but sometimes the texture or the flavor or something tweaks me. I need an ideal environment to totally enjoy them – and they have to be REALLY fresh. Watching a gekko holocaust is not the ideal situation for scallop consumption & the “murders” left me feeling vaguely ill.
Both my visits to Ming Court left me feeling REALLY bad for one living thing or another (eating being the problem in both scenarios) & neither visit fully satisfied what has developed into a full blown Chinese food obsession.
So – at my first opportunity back home – I decided to make hot & sour soup & some other delicacies.
I made a stop at the Silom Market in Thai town. I must be a cultural dunce because the Silom market seems to me like it should be selling kosher things. I SEE s-i-l-o-m but my brain hears SHALOM!
It’s not a kosher market. Which is a good thing because I wasn’t looking for latkes & matzo balls. It is another kooky Asian market. Which is what I needed. I went there specifically for Szechuan peppercorns. I hunted & hunted & found nothing. I asked a cashier & she said large amount were in aisle 7 and small packets in 4. I looked. Nothing. I asked the other cashier. I was told aisle 8. NOTHING. I went back to second cashier and – exasperated – she led me to an aisle & pointed. “There,” she said and I followed her finger. She was pointing at a large container of anise pepper. Confused, I thanked her & promptly Googled anise pepper. “See Szechuan peppercorns.” Why not just tell me they are called anise pepper here instead of sending me on multiple wild goose chases, cranky Silom Market cashier ladies???? Harumph!
Anyway – satisfied I had found Szechuan peppercorns, I decided to peruse the produce. They had all kinds of crazy mushrooms & the VERY elusive kaffir lime leaves for $1. Having never seen them for sale before – I bought them plus lots of mushrooms. In the cooler section – they had what seemed to be a large selection of locally produced pre-made sauces & curries & pastes….sold in the lidded plastic containers delis use to sell you potato salad. I looked at a bunch of them, mouth watering as i thought of how authentic my dishes would taste if I used these expertly prepared flavorings. I saw one that looked dark & spicy & read the ingredients
Ingredients: Chili, onion, garlic, mangda, sugar, salt, fish, tamarind paste. It was called Nam Prik Mang-da. I love prik pao squid at my beloved Torung & this stuff looked like culinary gold. I didn’t know what mangda was but wrote it off as an obscure name for a common thing – like my recent anise pepper experience. $5. Sold!
Upon closer inspection – I see these curries/pastes are made in-house at Silom!
When I got home – I Googled the name of the chili paste I just bought looking for culinary inspiration. I was ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED when the search engine spat out its results. Here – take a peek and see what MANGDA means – HERE. Don’t look at the horseshoe crabs. In fact – here is a stock photo of your garden variety MANGDA:
Yes, folks. Mangda means giant water bug!!!!!! OMG! I’m gagging just looking at that thing! And I should have known better. This isn’t my first time crossing paths with these fuckers. No! I pointed them out to you guys in my Bangluck Market post. You can buy 4 of these guys whole, in the refrigerated section, for $4.49 – and they have 35 calories in the 4 together – 15 of which come from fat. Yeah – they are nearly 50% fat. Gag. Needless to say – I threw the $5 container in the trash and pronto.
So – I decided to just go ahead & make the damned hot & sour soup. This is an EEEEEASY, one-pot dish. I used the exotic ingredients I found (and could identify) at Silom but you could use canned bamboo shoots, dried (and reconstituted) mushrooms or canned straw mushrooms or fresh mushroom of any variety.
I had dried shiitake around so I made a mushroom stock from these by boiling & soaking them for about 30 minutes but any stock will do – veggie, chicken – even pork or beef. I used tofu in this but I think I would leave it out in future efforts. It has no real taste & adds pretty much all the fat & calories this dish has. Without tofu – this is truly a guiltless pleasure.
I also found & used these kooky looking bamboo shoots but canned will work just great.
Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup
10 cups of (veggie or chicken or meat) stock (I soaked shiitakes for 30 minutes in boiling water & drained them. I kept the mushrooms for later use.)
Bouillon cubes (enough for 4-6 cups of broth) – of whatever flavor you prefer (I used veggie)
Mushrooms – fresh or canned (I used fresh wood ear, enoki & oyster) – sliced thinly
Bamboo shoots – 1 large can – slivered – or several boiled stalks chopped
2 carrots – julienned
2 TBS jarred crushed ginger
1/4 tsp chili oil (more if you like spice)
2 eggs – whisked
1/3 block firm tofu – cubed (optional)
1 tsp oil
4 TBS rice vinegar
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
3 TBS soy sauce
1/2 tsp black bean garlic sauce (or chili bean sauce – instead)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
Salt to taste
Scallions – sliced – for garnish (optional)
fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
sesame oil (a few drops ) as garnish (optional)
MEAT EATERS – thinly sliced cooked chicken and/or pork are options to add to this soup
Once all the produce is very thinly sliced, heat the oil in a soup pan. Toss in mushrooms, bamboo shoots, carrots, tofu (if using) or meat (if using) & ginger. Saute 2 minutes. Add stock and bouillon cubes & bring to a boil. Add vinegar, balsamic, soy sauce, black bean garlic sauce (or chili bean sauce) & white pepper.
Mix 1/4 cup cornstarch with 1/4 cup water & whisk smooth. Add this to your soup in increments to thicken it & give it that glutenous texture it has at restaurants. Make it as thin or thick as you prefer. If the 1/2 cup isn’t enough for you – mix up some more cornstarch & water in equal parts & add it until the soup is at your desired thickness. Add salt to taste.
When you are ready to serve the soup, heat it & then very carefully pour the whisked egg through a slotted spoon & drizzle raw egg over the entire surface of the soup. Once all the egg is in – carefully swirl it to get a feathery effect on the surface. Add 1/2 tsp sesame oil to the pot (if using). Garnish each bowl with fresh cilantro & scallions (if using). Serve!