When I first connected with my high school classmate June Verburg on Facebook, I couldn’t believe how good she looked. She must have photoshopped herself, I concluded. So I planned a trip to see her and find out for myself.
Thai food is healthy — and easy to make. Chef June V. Williamson is an authority on Thai food made easy, the title of her book.
June had taught me how to make green papaya salad back in high school. Yet, I never learned another dish until I saw her again, thirty five years later.
On the first evening of my visit, June made green chicken curry with bamboo shoots while we chatted. She had married her sweetheart from college, stayed in Utah, and raised a big family. I was most impressed that she had written and published a book while holding on to her full-time day job! Besides active presence on social media, she regularly appears on television now.
On the second morning, I helped June carry cooking items into the new custom-designed building of Lemon and Sage Artisan Kitchens, a culinary incubator in Springville, Utah.
Make no mistake: I love to eat Thai food. But I had no intention of learning to cook Thai, for I had mentally ostracized that cuisine out of my kitchen after a failed Thai cooking class in Singapore. Someone else can cook Thai for me, I thought. It’s the stuff of restaurants, not home cooking.
During her two-hour class, I hunted for a blender, roasted uncooked grains of white rice in two woks, finely ground the roasted rice, chopped carrots and cucumbers, and eventually made a Thai chicken salad. I helped load the dirty dishes and utensils into two dishwashers.
On Sunday, June showed me how to make Thai beef salad and mango sticky rice dessert. It seemed a lot easier to watch her chop and toss everything than to scroll down the long list of ingredients I’ve seen in Thai cookbooks. At some point, I declared that I would try it at home.
While salivating on the mango rice, I thought of all the juicy mangoes on Maui. Never once had I consumed the slices with sticky rice, warm coconut milk and sugar, and fresh mint. What a combination it was!
June insisted on preparing two curry kits for me to take on the plane. Each plastic container included the right amount of fish sauce, curry paste, sugar, coconut cream, chicken broth, and other ingredients. All I had to do was choose the kind of the meat and vegetables to throw into the pot.
June’s cooking skills are not confined to Thai cuisine. Her peanut butter chocolate chip cookies are to die for. Had I been able to stay longer, she would have taught me how to make other goodies. Nonetheless, she packed her curry, cookies, and peanut sauce for me to carry on the plane.
Sadly, Transport Security Administration (TSA) at Salt Lake City Airport confiscated the big container of green chicken curry and a medium sized container of peanut sauce. “That’s my dinner!” I exclaimed. “You can check them in, repackage them into smaller 3.5 oz containers, or consume them,” the TSA officer explained apologetically. Apparently, anything that spreads or contains liquid is subject to this regulation.
No sooner after landing, I was eager to put the the red and green curry kits to use. As curries get better over time, I’ve learned make a big pot and throw freshly cut vegetables later. I boldly made Laab Gai with chicken thighs instead of breasts. I can’t wait to try other recipes from her book and check out future videos on her website and Facebook Page.