experiencing authentic vietnamese cuisine

i can’t believe it’s been about a month since i came back from the U.S.! Time does really really fly…

As my now brother-in-law’s, Donny, family is Vietnamese, the trip to Kansas for my sister’s wedding was filled with tons of real authentic Vietnamese food. I knew right from the start that I’ve always been a fan of pho – who can’t resist a hot bowl of beef noodles! Back during college days, pho was pretty much a staple for Jon and I, eating a bowl of pho at least once a week. Yet, the pho standard in Singapore has only just been okay and every time we went back to Seattle, pho is definitely on our to-eat-list. 

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Although I’ve eaten many many bowls of pho in my life thus far, my knowledge of vietnamese cuisine is as good as knowing that in typical pho restaurants, the further you go down the list of pho, the more beef parts you get. Hence, I was extremely excited to go to Kansas, not just to attend my sister’s big day, but also to get a taste of authentic vietnamese food. 

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During the stay in Kansas, we were hosted by one of Donny’s relatives, whom we call Aunt Michelle and Uncle Jimmy. As soon as we got to their house, they had started food preparation, preparing boxes of rice paper sheets so that we could start rolling them for lunch the next day. We set around the kitchen counters as we hand-rolled delicious banh uot with fried onions inside. It resembles chee chong fun we see in typical dim sum restaurants and although I’ve eaten this since young, this is definitely one of the dishes I’ve never dreamed of making just because it looks too delicate and too difficult to make. We made trays and trays of this delicious goodness and it wasn’t till lunch the next day did I see how banh uot all comes together. With bean sprouts, cucumber, spring onions, grilled pork, cha lua, a sauce made using fish sauce and a couple of other ingredients, this dish is like nothing i’ve ever tasted before! It was incredibly fresh tasting and all the different textures really came well together.

IMG_7977On a separate note, during my sister’s Singapore wedding, Donny’s parents came over to Singapore and on one of the nights, they made the rice paper sheets from scratch and recreated the same dish in Singapore. Such a pity that I was at work during the preparation and couldn’t see how it is made.

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On one of the other nights in Kansas, Aunt Michelle and Uncle Jimmy, both excellent cooks, decided to hold a competition. Aunt Michelle cooked bun rieu while Uncle Jimmy cooked pho ga. Aunt Michelle served her bun rieu first and boy was it so good! It is a vegetable broth and tastes much healthier than pho. It tasted so good that we kinda forgot all about having a second dish to try and before we knew it, we were too full to stomach anything else. The bun rieu, like the bunh uot is really light tasting, and after eating quite a bit of vietnamese food, I realised that that is actually what I love most about vietnamese food! It’s super awesome to eat great tasting food, but even more awesome to eat nutritious great tasting food :) 

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We had Uncle Jimmy’s pho for breakfast the next day but…I was too hungry and forgot to take a photo :P For now, drool once more on this other picture I took of Aunt Michelle’s bun rieu :)

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And, with a blink of an eye, we had to say goodbye to Kansas. Till the next time we go to Kansas, I’ll be missing vietnamese food big time :'( (unless i go to vietnam soon, which i’ve been dying to go!) 

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cooking and plating a fine-dining experience

Note: apologies for the poor picture quality. Most photos were taken using the iPhone 5.

Every mothers’ day, we would always surprise my mom with breakfast. The breakfast itself isn’t a surprise since it happens every year but the food that is served that day is definitely top secret. Breakfast is my mom’s favorite meal so despite our multiple suggestions and convincing, and maybe even begging, to do lunch or dinner instead, she would never fail to insist on breakfast. It has been increasingly difficult, in recent years, since we’ve exhausted nearly all types of breakfast – eggs and sausages, pancakes (a few types, mind you), waffles, breakfast tarts, scones, omelettes and even shepherd’s pie.

Nevertheless, this year’s was different.

Jon and I have started attending Marriage Preparation Course, as part of a requirement to get married in church and one of the sessions fell on Sunday morning. The class starts at 8.30am so its no way we could pull off breakfast before that, else we’ll turn up as zombies. I still remember my mom’s reaction when we broke this news to her… “what??? how could they have the class on mothers day???” Anyways, much to our happiness, we then decided to do saturday dinner instead. It wasn’t before long that my mom started to have a tinge of regret… “it’s so sad I have no breakfast!” Not willing to let my dinner slot off, I suggested…how about Jon and I do dinner and my other two sisters do breakfast? And there it was. My mom got 2 meals this year.

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surprise birthday bali trip for my mom!

This year, all the children (including the plus ones) decided that for my mom’s birthday this year, we will take her to bali! This surprise has been a long one coming since we conceptualized the idea more than a year ago. We had wild ideas for this surprise and had planned to secretly pack my mom’s suitcase and drive her straight to the airport. In the end, we decided to tell her during yet another surprise – home-cooked breakfast. We whipped up a complete breakfast with ham and cheese savory crepes and sweet crepes with blackberries, strawberries and banana. Unfortunately, Jon couldn’t take leave and therefore couldn’t join us for breakfast so the night before, he scripted and recorded this ridiculous video of himself and Jane as his “apprentice” to lead my mom to find Joy, where he had wrapped a paper around Joy’s collar with his Happy Birthday message. While there were many pictures taken of the morning, I’ll not be posting any of the pictures because besides the garden and food that looks extremely good, everything else in the photo (i.e. all the people) look terrible with unwashed faces, no makeup and in PJs. Hey, we jumped out of bed very early to make breakfast okay!

The number of lies we told to make this happen were quite amazing. Since it was the weekend before Chinese New Year, we had to try to fend off all plans that my mom were trying to make. We had a whatsapp group among the children where frequent desperate messages like “Mom just told me that she wants to arrange for this pickup during the weekend. how How HOW?” Very often did we have to solve the issues with a multi-prong approach, with me dissuading her in Singapore saying that it is too near Chinese New Year and that we would already have so many things to do, with my brother calling from the US telling her that he has appointments already booked for the weekend. It was quite hilarious since my mom was oblivious to what was happening that weekend and even during the dinner before the weekend, my mom was planning what we would need to accomplish in preparation for Chinese New Year. I must say, it was tough keeping our mouths shut! (Note: photos are taken by my brother, myself and Donny using a combination of my brother’s Canon SLR and the iphone)

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Pierre Herme’s Melody Cake

For birthdays within my family, it is somewhat unspoken that not only am I tasked (as always) to bake a delicious birthday cake, I am also usually expected to bake a cake I’ve never baked before!

As years go by and as the number of someday-I’m-definitely-going-to-bake-this-stunning-cake type of recipes are used up one by one, I found it especially hard to find the perfect cake for my mom’s birthday this year. I thought pretty long and hard, looked on the internet to look for the perfect recipe and when I couldn’t,  I turned to my pile of trusty baking books to gain some inspiration. It was just a couple of days before her birthday did I finally set my mind on which cake I was gonna bake – Pierre Herme’s Melody Cake.

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The recipe for this cake was almost 10 pages long and referenced 3 different parts of the book. It had quite a number of components and while it was quite intimidating, I was so ready for a challenge! This cake turned out to be quite manageable, in hindsight, but I do recall being really nervous and careful as I was making all the different components and it definitely didn’t help that the recipe would say stuff like…”extremely fragile”. The cake consists of 7 layers (starting from the bottom): cinnamon cookie, genoise, twenty-hour apples, bavarian cream, genoise, cinnamon cookie, sliced apples.

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Chinese New Year and pineapple tarts

With Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year almost back to back, the different occassions seemed like it never really ended and started again, rather, it felt as if it went by in one continuous stretch. Yet, the end of the entire holiday season kind of hit me in my face. With reality set in so quickly, I don’t think I’ve quite recovered and gotten enough of Chinese New Year! I still think of coffee lapis cake, dumplings and not to mention, my absolute favorite pineapple tarts.

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To be honest, I don’t think I’ve eaten as many pineapple tarts as I’ve had this Chinese New Year. Somehow, this Chinese New Year rekindled my love and longing for pineapple tarts. Whenever we go house visiting, I would kinda spy around to spot if there’re any pineapple tarts among the stash of Chinese New Year goodies. Trying all the different kinds of pineapple tarts made me realized that my grandmother’s pineapple tarts are indeed the best!

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粿 | Kueh by Lee Xin Li

These illustrations were circulated on the internet quite a while ago. I’m a little late but I do think that these are rather timeless! I had intended to post this on here for a while now – for purely selfish reasons actually. Wanted to find a good medium to store (and remember) these pictures because, it would be such a great picture to hang in my future kitchen! Not sure about you but, I’m constantly thinking of what I’ll hang in my future kitchen…menus? (I’ve kept quite a few personalized ones) cool food-related sayings? (I’ve a sign which says “seven days without chocolate makes one weak :P) or such illustrations?

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These illustrations bring so much fond memories, mostly from my childhood -watching the  you zha kueh store uncle deep fry you zha kueh batter and watch it balloon, fighting for the peanut kueh tutu with my siblings (and not the coconut one), eating kueh lapis layer by layer, eating soon kueh smothered with sweet sauce in a lunchbox in school, convincing the chwee kueh aunty to give you more chye poh, feeling the burst of gula melaka in ondeh ondeh and kueh dadar when you bite into it, eating only the rice part of the kueh salat (i do love my carbs)…

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Fudgey, you will be sorely missed.

Sorry for being away for a long time. With Fudge’s passing, and with him being the heart of this blog, I’ve found it difficult to visit the blog, let alone to write again.

Before everything happened, I have spoken to a number of friends about how it feels like to lose a pet. After all, I’ve lost 2 before – Nikki and Jordan. I used to say…it is not as difficult as it seems. When you see your pet old and suffering, seeing them live by  the day, where some days are better or worse than others, and hearing them sometimes whine because they found it hard to stand or they felt pain, you’ll feel some sort of “relief” or even “happiness” when they go. Of course, we all grief, but, all dogs go to heaven and we know they’ll be in a better place. However, I recently realized that this only holds true when a pet goes in its old age. Never would I have expected that I would be experiencing the otherwise with Fudge.

Fudge passed away about 2 months ago. He was 8 years and and a half  before he passed away. Everything happened in a blur – from the time I noticed a distention, to bringing him into emergency just because i read about the danger of bloating (which turned out to not be a bloat), a CT scan, the many guesses on what the diagnosis is and finally, the diagnosis. It was a roller coaster journey, for Jon, my family, and I, with moments intertwined with bouts of hope and sadness. We thought that…if we put him on a strict diet and exercise routine, that we will survive the odds. The doctor had told us about 6 months. Little did we know that Fudge would be around for just about a week.

Now that it has been 2 months, everything still seems quite fresh. Nothing much has changed, except an emptiness and unusual quietness in the room at night (Fudge was a loud sleeper!) – it was hard to fall asleep. Despite the numerous encouragements I received (which I am very grateful for) like “at least he didn’t have to suffer too much” or “he has had a wonderful life” or “he will be looking out for you from above”, I guess I am selfish and found it hard to accept things and move on.

But in times like this, I guess I have learnt to find an inner strength. Life is hard and hardly ever fair. At the same time, it is important not to forget that while we may have lost something, there are still so many other things in our lives that we should treasure. Live in the moment, not in the past.

*moving on*

Toffee is so photogenic!

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Taking photographs of animals can be hard, especially if they aren’t too comfortable with the camera like…Fudge. Fudge is really camera shy and sometimes, I feel like he gives his droopy unhappy face on purpose just so that I would give up. Toffee, on the other hand, commonly known as “the crazy dog” in our household, is up for anything.

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Toffee is really quite a crazy dog. He has so much energy he just spends his whole day trying to release it. He runs marathons round the house, is in love with his toys, chases small insects, chases Joy, jumps on Fudge and is just really inquisitive about the world in general. He is very outward in showing what he loves, and also in what he fears. Toffee is scared of almost anything. He’s scared of gym balls, loud sounds, cars, luggage and anything else that is large. He runs away in such fear its almost pitiful.

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Toffee also absolutely loves the human touch. He is very attention seeking and loves it when you have your full attention on him. If you sit there and just stroke his head, he gives off this “ahhhh…. I’m in heaven” face, lol. I’ve recently grown to really like taking pictures of him because he’s so enthusiastic about it. Toffee is so energetic and I strongly believe, loves the attention of being in front of the camera as well. He knows his angles (I choose to believe) and would many a time pose in front of the camera just waiting for me to capture that moment.

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Toffee loves to sit among this patch of plants. It’s actually by the driveway so every morning, he sits there and says his goodbyes. We called it “Toffee’s spot” because he sits there quite many times in a day just playing with his toy and observing what goes on outside the house.

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Toffee is actually a really cartoon and cheeky dog. Just like how I posted about 10 things I never want to forget about Fudge and Joy in the About page, here’s one for Toffee!

10 things I never want to forget about Toffee:

– Toffee LOVES food. Correction. Toffee loves anything he can swallow. He was playing with some small pebbles in his mouth and as he was happily chewing and licking, it suddenly disappeared. He swallowed it O.O We monitored him for a long time and it seems he’s still fine so I guess…he passed it out?

– As a puppy, Toffee did many many naughty things. We tried to find all sorts of ways to train him and looked up the internet for creative ways. One suggestion was to spray bittergourd in his mouth whenever he did something wrong so that he would associate “wrong” actions with a terrible bitter taste. My mom took the effort to buy bittergourd, blended it, and put it into a spray bottle. We even put it in the fridge when we weren’t on a lookout so it stayed fresh. We waited and finally, it was time to put that bittergourd spray to good use! We sprayed it in his mouth and waited for a “OMG it’s so bitter reaction”. Instead, he wagged his tail even harder, gave us a puppy smile and wanted more of it. He actually liked bittergourd!

– More on food… Coming from an Asian family, we use a lot of yellow onion, shallots and garlic and families would usually put this in a tiered basket in the kitchen. These baskets would typically sit on the floor and guess what. As supplies depleted quickly, we soon found out that Toffee has been eating whole onions and garlic.

– Still on the topic of food…I used to buy large blocks of cream cheese (1+ kg blocks) and store them in the fridge. As I was clearing my fridge, I realized that the cream cheese seemed to have dried out and decided to throw it in the bin. The next morning, we found the cream cheese wrapper all over the floor, only to realized that Toffee had swallowed all 1+ kg worth of cream cheese. It’s a miracle why he’s still so skinny!

– Toffee and Joy have an interesting relationship. Joy is actually quite weary of Toffee because he can get so excitable and since he is so much larger than her, she is probably afraid that he would pounce uncontrollably and crush her. Joy, being the smart cat she is, and Toffee, being the dog, and since cats would always be smarter than dogs, Joy would “play” with Toffee all the time. It seems that she knows Toffee always wants to get close to her. Yet, she also understands that there are places she can go but Toffee can’t. Since Toffee is not allowed upstairs, Joy would go from upstairs to downstairs, entice Toffee to chase her and just when he’s about to reach her, she would sprint upstairs. They would play this game of “try to catch me” quite often! Toffee is so goofy!

– Toffee and Joy are partners in crime. Being a cat, Joy is a natural hunter. She once caught this huge grasshopper and since she (or maybe just cats in general)is quite a sadist, she hurt the grasshopper just enough so it couldn’t move. Toffee came along, took the grasshopper in his mouth and finished it off. Imagine him going…crunch, crunch, crunch. ewwwww…

– Toffee doesn’t like seeing ants on the floor. I once saw him repeatedly tapping (maybe more like stabbing) his two front legs on the floor with so much energy and as I walked closer, I noticed it’s because there were ants running all over the floor.

– Toffee likes watching TV! There was once, my mom and I was watching a foreign film on guide dogs and Toffee just sat there and watched for at least half an hour!

– Toffee would definitely not make a good guard dog because…he sometimes uses too much energy and has to sleep. When he does, he sleeps like such a baby you would have to call him repeatedly to wake him up.

– Toffee LOVES his toys. When you say “toy”, he would happily bring his toy to you. He lovessss playing fetch too!

happy 3rd birthday, Joy!

It’s Joy’s third birthday today!

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For her birthday, I decided to get her her favorite can food from Fancy Feast (this is not a Fancy Feast ad!) She really really loves Fancy Feast and would purr so loudly every time she’s eating it or sees me opening the can. I also decided to make her 2 toys – a stuffed toy mouse and a catnip fish. She’s such a lucky cat :P

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The next time you decide to light a candle on food for your pet, remember that your pet might not care too much that there is fire. That’s exactly what happened to Joy as she tried to sniff her food, only to realized that tips of her whiskers were starting to light on fire! Hilarious but so dangerous, tsk.

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If Joy actually knew that today’s her birthday, and that she is supposed to be treated like a special queen, I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought that birthdays are the worst. As I was making her catnip toy, all should could do was look, smell and wait. She waited so patiently for me to fill the fish with catnip she must have almost gone crazy. Then, as soon as I was done with her catnip toy, without letting her take a whiff of it, these humans opened her absolute favorite thing to eat, and had to put a candle, prevent her from eating it, just to take a picture for their own satisfaction. Well Joy, you have to work for food in the real world, yknow!

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As soon as we took the candle off, she dived into her food. She was so pleased that she started eating with her eyes closed and purring ever so loudly. There’s my contented cat!

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Pardon me, but I can’t resist not putting this picture up:

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After Joy ate, she leaped off into the garden and there she was. Happy, full, alert, and a year older.

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