Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

IMG_7304

IMG_7277

Ho Chi Minh City is now one of my favourite cities, so I’m going to dive into specifics much more than I would normally. Buckle in.

IMG_7333

IMG_7328

(Don’t worry, I’ll get to the food bit soon.)

IMG_7385

IMG_7301

These guys wanted Cayla and I to eat chicken with them. We politely declined.

First things first: food. (Patience was never my virtue.)

IMG_7331

Pho is an obvious go-to, and Bun Cha is a must-try. It’s like pho minus the soup, plus some crispy bits of who-knows-what and peanuts. The Bun Cha at Quan An Ngon was amazing, although we did see a rat or two in the open-air restaurant. (Those of you who have been to Asia will know to take that in stride. We ordered another round of 75-cent beers and tried not to think too much about it.)

IMG_7294

IMG_7256

If you make it to HCMC, it would be a crime to miss out on Cuc Gach Quan. By that point in our trip I was pretty sick of overcooked bok choy and carrots, so the 35 different vegetable options were a welcome relief. Many of them didn’t have English names, however, so we mostly went with our waiter’s recommendations. The spring rolls, soft shell crab, pumpkin flower, and fresh juices were indescribably amazing.

IMG_7320

IMG_7318

IMG_7321

The bread in HCMC wasn’t as good as in Hanoi and we didn’t come across any egg coffee, but you win some, you lose some.

IMG_7326

In other news:

The manfriend’s brother wanted to do some learning, so we toured the War Remnants Museum, the Reunification Palace, and a very hard-to-find Pagoda. The War Museum was interesting and heartbreaking and definitely worth a few hours, but the other two I could have skipped. We didn’t make it to the Cu Chi tunnels, but I heard from other tourists that it was the highlight of Vietnam, so they’re first on my list if (when) I make it back.

Since we didn’t have time to visit Hoi An, I went to a tailor in HCMC: Tricia & Verona. They were recommended by the New York Times as a good Western-style option, and they didn’t disappoint. I would highly recommend them, but know that they will call you back for fittings and for pickup multiple times and each time you arrive nothing will be ready. They’ll probably send you away for another two hours, and then when you come back you’ll sit there for another hour before they have a half-basted dress lining for you to try (I figure the second time you arrive in one evening is when they actually start to work on your items). At the end of the day, though, they delivered all of my items to my hotel before I had to leave for the airport (full disclosure: I told them I had to leave 4 hours before I actually did and was out when the clothes were delivered, so I can’t say for sure that they were on time, but I suggest using the same strategy), and I’m incredibly happy with how they turned out. It’s slightly more expensive than other Vietnamese tailors, but way cheaper than having something made at home (I paid $60 per dress, though cost will depend on the style and material).

IMG_7365

IMG_7298

I should also mention for anyone considering going (and also for my Dad’s sake) that Vietnam as a whole felt really safe – at least in terms of pick pocketing or mugging and kidnapping and the like (but don’t use that as an excuse to be careless – who thought putting your iPhone on a selfie stick and holding it out 5 feet away from your body was a good idea?). I did mildly fear for my life around most cars and all buses, but we made it without being squashed (even if I was so hopeless in a river of slow-moving tire-to-tire motos during a New Year’s Day event that a super pregnant lady grabbed my arm and herded me across the street while her husband tried to hide that he was laughing at me).

IMG_7382

IMG_7371

Look closely – there are 5 people on this moto.

Anyway- I had an amazing time in HCMC and highly, highly recommend it.

IMG_7252

Additional recommendations:

Beautiful Saigon Hotel – reasonably cheap (without being a $3/night hostel, because I’m a little bit of a princess), but in a great location.

L’Usine – for a more-expensive-than-America shop with a cafe upstairs. Very hipster. I spent a few hours on New Years Day blowing the budget to eat and sit on the balcony for a couple hours to watch traffic and write postcards while the rest of our crew recovered from their hangovers. It was definitely the best roast beef sandwich of my life, though.

Gingko and Duy Tan. For awesome postcards, and better souvenirs/gifts than the crap they sell at the tourist market.

Final note: More food!
Gingko and L’Usine both also sell Marou chocolate, which is a local Vietnamese single-origin fair-trade* brand with gorgeous packaging. Check them out.
*Not certified. See their website.

IMG_7283

getting it together

IMG_7432

Things are devolving around here.

IMG_7422

The manfriend is still out of town, I got a cold that resulted in a flu that took me out for a week, and my New Year’s resolution is to track my spending and, after a few months of baseline data, create a monthly budget.

IMG_7426

That last one sounds like it should be a good thing, because I’m 25 and basically an adult. Until you realize that I’m a slightly OCD and super competitive adult, so it pretty much became a challenge to see how long I could go without spending anything. After about three days, I ran out of fresh groceries. Luckily, the pantry was stocked, so I was able to make cookies without leaving the house.

I ate a plate of them for dinner.

IMG_7425

Some adult I am.

IMG_7434

Toffee Raisin Anzac Cookies

Ingredients

three quarters cup shredded unsweetened coconut
one cup rolled oats
one cup all-purpose flour
one cup coconut sugar
half cup butter
two tablespoons cold water
two tablespoons honey
one teaspoon baking soda
three quarters cup raisins
half cup toffee chips (I used Hershey’s Skor bits)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together coconut, oats, flour, sugar, raisins, and toffee. Set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, water, and honey. When it’s starting to bubble, remove from heat and stir in baking soda.
Immediately pour butter mixture over bowl of dry ingredients and stir until everything is combined.
Clump spoonfuls of dough together (I had to get my hands in there to make sure things stuck together) and place on the baking sheets about an inch apart (they’ll spread). I got about 30 cookies.
Bake for 10-12 minutes.

IMG_7431

enough is enough

In this day and age of Facebook and Twitter and Kim Kardashian’s bum, where do you draw the line on what is too much to post on the internet?

My line is drawn way before my bum.

IMG_7002

But in the spirit of not-quite-full disclosure (and a kind of funny story), I recently purchased an epilator. For those of you who aren’t familiar, an epilator is basically a giant monster electric tweezer. Actually, it’s like 40 tweezers. I was hoping it would be more convenient than waxing my legs (and longer-lasting than shaving).

IMG_6980

So anyway, I went and bought the epilator with a friend who also uses one, and then I got home and wasn’t really sure what to do with it. Instructions on these sorts of things are terrible; all it told me was not to use it under running water because it’s an electrical appliance, and not to let small children play with it.

I can do that. What I can’t do is identify what I need out of the bag of ten plastic adaptors.

But I turned it on anyway, and it vibrated and made a lot of noise and generally looked terrifying. Because I wasn’t entirely confident I was using it correctly, I decided to test it before I used it. On the back of my forearm.

IMG_6982

I think the logic behind this was that if it hurt or started stabbing me with the 40 tweezers it wouldn’t hurt quite as much on my forearm compared to my leg. What I didn’t take into proper consideration was that this is a hair removal device.

I now have a small bald patch on my right forearm.

To be fair, I’m Asian and not particularly hairy and it’s not like anyone who isn’t me is going to notice and point at it and shriek. But it was very stressful for my OCD, and I had to make blueberry cake to make up for it.

IMG_6997

Blueberry Cake (vegan)

Ingredients

two cups all purpose flour
half cup almond meal (or almond flour; same thing)
one cup sugar
four teaspoons baking powder
one teaspoon salt
two thirds cup coconut yogurt
two thirds cup coconut milk
two thirds cup canola oil
one tablespoon vanilla
zest of one lemon
two cups frozen blueberries

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line and grease a round cake pan (mine was 8″, and I had some extra batter for muffins).
Mix together all the wet ingredients in a large bowl (yogurt through vanilla). Sift in all the dry ingredients (flour through salt) and stir until just barely mixed. Fold in zest and blueberries.
Spoon into prepared cake pan (or muffin pan). Bake until an inserted toothpick comes out dry.
I topped mine with a bit of icing – just play with mixing icing sugar and almond milk until you get the right consistency.

IMG_7000

Hanoi, Vietnam

IMG_7234

Hanoi is a city constantly on the move.

IMG_7185

photo 4

The streets, built for bicycles, are overrun by hundreds of scooters and the occasional car. Traffic is very democratic: there is strength in numbers. Unless cops are standing at the corner, red lights are optional and whoever has the largest group has the right of way, resulting in a seemingly impossible gridlock that somehow keeps flowing to the tune of incessant honking. As a pedestrian, the only way to get anywhere is to calmly walk wherever you want to go without stopping; the motorcycles part around you and continue on their way. The motion of the city is supported by the buzz of the sweet, strong Vietnamese coffee available at every second storefront.

IMG_7206

IMG_7203

IMG_7216

The manfriend and I made the mistake of pausing on a street corner to find our bearings and take some photos. Within minutes, a street peddler had D’s shoe off to “fix” the sole while a fruit lady had put her baskets over my shoulder and her hat on my head for a photo op. We escaped 10 minutes later having overpaid for two glued and stitched up shoes and a bag full of pineapple we never wanted in the first place.

IMG_7178

IMG_7199

Hanoi in the early morning is my favourite. The honking never stops altogether but at sunrise it does seem slightly quieter; the doughnut peddlers at every corner are eating their own breakfasts and aren’t yet as pushy as they will become in a few hours. Around Ho Hoan Kiem Lake, senior citizens gather for tai chi, salsa dancing, meditation, karaoke, and shoulder massages.

photo 3 (1)

Most of our time in Hanoi was spent wandering aimlessly and stopping for coffee after coffee to people-watch. Our hotspots:

La Beaute de Hanoi Hotel, where we stayed in the Old Quarter
Friz Coffee, for Vietnamese egg coffee (espresso topped with raw meringue. Way better than it sounds)
Bottoms Up Bar, for evening traffic watching from the roof
Bun Bo Nam Bo, where they only serve one dish: a Vietnamese version of pad thai

photo 2 (1)

IMG_7230

with glowing hearts

I’m back in Canada! And, therefore, back in the kitchen.

IMG_6895

As a Canadian, I spend a lot of time apologizing.

A few months ago, I was standing in the hallway outside my office saying goodbye to a co-worker. As he turned around to leave, he walked straight into someone else. From where I was standing – about a metre away and completely uninvolved – I apologized.

A few years ago, in a bar, I came down the stairs and walked straight into a mirror. And apologized to my reflection.

Almost a year ago, the best part of waiting in the airport from my flight home from Sydney was being around all the other Canadians, apologizing to each other as we passed by with room to spare. If I bump into something, I’ll often apologize to an inanimate object. Kiefer Sutherland does it too. (True story. I think it was a parking meter. No comment on whether or not he head-butted it.)

IMG_6897

The only thing I won’t apologize for, as a Canadian? Molten chocolate lava cakes. No one should have to apologize for molten chocolate lava cakes.

(I do apologize for not taking a photo of the molten-ness of them, but mine were slightly over done – I was too busy yelling at the TV during the hockey game – and then I was too busy eating. And one last huge apology – some of you may have seen this post already. I wanted to have a post scheduled for when I got home so I didn’t need to scramble to get something together, but I accidentally hit publish in January 2014 instead of 2015 so it was sent out immediately. I’m a mess. Please forgive me.)

IMG_6892

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes (gluten-free)

Ingredients

six tablespoons butter
eight ounces (225g) chocolate, chopped (I used a mix of milk and semi-sweet)
pinch of salt
half cup sugar
quarter cup brown sugar
two large eggs
one teaspoon vanilla
one tablespoon cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
three tablespoons cornstarch
flaked sea salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 6 ramekins (you can also use silicon muffin cups or mini paper panettone molds – I don’t suggest using a muffin pan as they will be very difficult to get out) and lightly dust with cocoa powder. Place these on top of a baking sheet so it’s easy to get them in and out of the oven.
Melt butter and chocolate over low heat, being careful not to burn the chocolate. Once melted, scrape it into the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add salt and sugars, and start to mix on medium speed. Add the vanilla and the eggs one at a time and keep beating.
Sift in the cocoa powder and cornstarch, and beat for at least a minute – you want it really well-mixed. There’s no gluten, so it’s better here to over-mix than under-mix.
Divide the batter evenly between the ramekins, and top with a sprinkle of flaked sea salt. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the top is just starting to set but still looks slightly wet in the very centre (I’d check them at 12 minutes just to be safe). You want the middle of the cake to still be uncooked. If you used ramekins or silicon muffin cups, turn them upside down on a plate to serve; if you used paper molds, place them on a plate as is. Serve immediately, preferably with vanilla ice cream.

Note: If you’re making these for a dinner party, make them ahead and throw the filled ramekins in the fridge, and don’t put them in the oven until just before you’re ready to serve.

Note #2: If you don’t want all 6 lava cakes, rather than cutting the recipe in half, I would suggest taking out the ones you want to eat as lava cakes immediately, and letting the others bake an extra 5-10 minutes (until the top has just set and it doesn’t look wet anymore) and eat them over the next few days (or hours) as brownies.

merry christmas darlings

IMG_7033

I could swear that about ten years ago the holiday fireplace channel on TV was much better than it is today.

As far as I can remember, it wasn’t on a loop. Or at least it was a really long one. I have memories of drinking rum and eggnogs at my ex-boyfriend’s house and watching it for hours, trying to spot the seam where the loop happened. We also tried to closely watch the arm stoking the fire to see if the arm made exactly the same movements twice.

That was a bit difficult after all the rum.

IMG_7031

Side note: who watches hours on end of the holiday fireplace? It’s no surprise we’re not together anymore.

IMG_7028

But last week I had friends over for Christmas dinner and we put the holiday fireplace on, and every hour, exactly on the hour, it would go black and silent for about 5 seconds and restart, to the point where we would stop our conversations to wait for it to get going again.

Budget cuts, maybe? I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed.

IMG_7025

Other people probably have much more interesting fond “remember when” memories than I do.

Still, I made up for my disappointment with Christmas cookies. Lots and lots of Christmas cookies.

IMG_7029

May your Christmas be as cookie- and friend-filled and less holiday-fireplace-filled than mine.

IMG_7027

Speculaas

I’m sorry, I know most North Americans don’t like scales at the best of times, and these are finicky. My scale decided after the cinnamon that it no longer wanted to measure anything, so I just tried to eyeball relative amounts. This is fun, not science.

(Okay, that was sortof a lie. Science is super fun.)

Ingredients – Spice Mix

4 grams cinnamon
1 gram ground cloves
1.5 grams nutmeg
0.5 gram white pepper
0.5 gram aniseed
1.5 grams ginger
0.5 gram cardamom

Ingredients – Cookies

half cup butter, room temperature
two thirds cup brown sugar
two tablespoons milk
two teaspoons baking powder
half teaspoon baking soda
one cup all purpose flour
spices (above)
half teaspoon salt

Directions

In the bowl of a standmixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the milk and beat until combined.
Sift in all remaining ingredients and stir until just mixed. Throw it in the fridge for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two or so baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Roll out the cookie dough to about a quarter of an inch thick, and cut out shapes using your favourite cookie cutters.
Bake until the centre of the cookie looks dry (time will depend on the size of your cookie cutters; mine took about 16 minutes).

IMG_7026

Other pictured recipes:

Chocolate chip meringues (I omitted the walnuts. I also highly recommend using mint chocolate chips if your grocery store isn’t sold out of them like mine was.)
Marshmallow, pretzel, and candycane fudge
Soft ginger cookies (I rolled mine in coconut sugar)

Footnotes:

I’m off to Vietnam for the next few weeks (I’m long overdue for an on the road, wouldn’t you say?) and I won’t be posting until I’m back. Wishing all of you a most cuddly Christmas (or other December festivity) and a very sparkly New Year!

left neglected

IMG_6428

My stubbornness tends to arise most at 2am when I know I should be sleeping, but I just don’t want to put my book down.

IMG_6395

IMG_6398

Since the manfriend is on a world tour (5 continents in a two-month period… whattheheckI’msojealous), I was expecting it to be lonely when I got home around 10.30 last night from circus. I was not expecting the entire apartment building to be black. I’ve never seen it that dark in the 5-and-a-half-plus years I’ve been with the manfriend, so it freaked me out a little. I turned to another guy arriving home at the same time as me and asked what happened and if our key fobs would work, and he was all like no, power outage, duh.

Right.

IMG_6403

So I climbed up 16 floors worth of stairs in heels (for the second time in 4 days; thanks elevators) and managed to find and light 5 candles and settled in with a pieced together non-oven-or-microwave-requiring dinner and Left Neglected by Lisa Genova.

IMG_6408

Have you read this book? I just finished Love Anthony and enjoyed it so I thought I would read another of her books, and oh my gosh, I could not put it down.

IMG_6417

It’s beautiful and unfathomable and heartbreaking. It makes me wonder if that’s what stroke patients go through. It makes me want to call my mom at 2am on a Wednesday when I’m reading by candlelight in a power outage and ask if she’s read it and if that’s what she went through. It makes me want to never get in my car again unless my cell phone is safely locked away in the trunk. It makes me want to cry.

IMG_6420

Anyway, I highly, highly recommend it, even though I’m not quite finished. I also recommend having homemade ice cream on hand at all times, because you never know when the power will go out and you’ll need it for dinner.

True story.

IMG_6427

Turkish Ice Cream (vegan)

Adapted from the ever-brilliant Joy the Baker

Ingredients

3 cups full fat coconut milk
half cup sugar
two teaspoons vanilla
two teaspoons rosewater (I bought mine in Turkey, but it should be available in specialty food stores. If you can’t find any or don’t want to buy a whole bottle – although how else are you going to make Turkish delight? – I would sub a hard alcohol like whiskey, or leave it out entirely)
one cup unsweetened shredded coconut
half cup salted pistachios, shelled (did I need to say that?) and coarsely chopped

Directions

The day before you want to make the ice cream:
You’ll need to clean out the ice cream maker bowl and put it in the freezer. I always forget this step and end up depressed that I can’t make ice cream immediately.
When you’re actually ready to make ice cream:
Combine one and a half cups of coconut milk with the sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, and remove from heat. Add remaining coconut milk, vanilla and rosewater. Throw it in the fridge until it’s completely cold – at least a few hours.
Throw it all in an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Writing this step into my recipes always feels like such a cop out; I’m sorry.
Ten minutes before the ice cream maker manufacturer thinks it should be done, add in the shredded coconut and pistachios. You can reserve some for topping the ice cream if you’d like.
Store in the freezer in an air-tight container.

IMG_6423