Posted in Dharma Initiative, Food and Drink

well, we all have to eat

So, for the last month, I've been living in one of those places where I find myself stepping into the grocery store on a daily basis. While I'll admit that I was compelled to do this in Bangkok due the fear of a twenty-four hour power outage and a fridge of spoiled food, in Saigon and here, I'm mainly doing it to keep on top of the restocking. For example, today I discovered that there was a shipment of chocolate chips in flavours other than semi-sweet: peanut butter, cinnamon, dark, toffee chunk, and dark. None of this was on the shelf yesterday. I happily bought two packages of the dark chocolate chips, even if they were about eight dollar each. Might as well eat the healthier version, you know? 

This discovery was unexpected. I was on a mission to find something bacon-like – because I live in a place where there is exactly no actual bacon allowed – for a potato hash I'm planning for tonight's dinner. But alas, there was no cured beef, or even that turkey bacon stuff at the grocery store. I'm actually contemplating stealing some of the corn nuts that Chris brought home last night to be the salty component of the dish. It's not the first time that I've had to be creative with ingredient substitutions, and probably not the last time that I'm going to end of regretting my choices :) 

(Btw, this is what I use as a guideline for making potato hash – some cool info there!)

Posted in Food and Drink, sadie the sequel

let them eat cake (and plastic and artificial dye and excessive sugar and …)

Despite the fact that I am regularly reminded that I haven't baked a loaf of banana bread in forever*, I really do like baking. That's well-documented in my blogging, too.

I look forward to birthday baking in particular, but I think that for Sadie's sixth birthday, the right thing to do is leave my cake pans in the cupboard. You see, she loves accompanying me on grocery-shopping trips to the Co-op. Her singular purpose is to run to the bakery section and gaze longingly at all of the decorated cakes in their display window. There are princess cakes, of course. There's a cake with cars. A cake with Dora the Explorer.

I remember the attraction of bakery display cases. I loved it when I was staying with my grandparents when I was little and we'd walk over to the B&A Bakery in Edmonton. The bakery smelled like sugar and yeast, and they'd always have a gigantic sheet cake with piped icing in the case to celebration one occasion or other, and multi-tiered wedding cake or two, usually with a fabulous (and now, heteronormative) topper. If you had asked six-year-old-me, I am sure that I would have said those cakes were more special than anything homemade. 

So Sadie's been picking out prospective birthday cakes for the last nine months, and I guess that her birthday is the day to make one of her wishes to come true.

I will admit that I have thought of baking and frosting a cake from scratch and popping a bunch of little figurines on top, it's not the right thing to do Firstly, the little sets of Frozen figurines are going for $40 in these parts, and secondly, I spent many a birthday celebrating with my mom's favourite kind of cake (World Class Chocolate ice cream cake from Baskin Robins) instead of my favourite kind of cake (I think that it was flan when I was a dairy-sensitive adolescent), and I still think that wasn't very cool.  Having the birthday person pick their cake is the way to go in the twenty-first century, yes?

* My husband ought to be thanking me for that five pounds of banana bread-weight that he isn't sporting, right?

Posted in #yyc, Food and Drink

table for four

A few weeks ago, the kids and I picked Chris up at his office and headed out to for his early-birthday dinner. Our destination was a restaurant called Il Sogno, which he'd started to frequent back in the spring when he'd travel back here from Saigon for meetings and such. Madeline ordered a pasta with edamame and duck, and I think that Sadie ate some sort of noodles with parmesan cheese, and it occured to me that there are a lot of places to eat in Calgary with kids that don't feature take-out windows. 

Since we lived here last, the local southern barbeque spot closed up shop, but we've stumbled upon Holy Smoke BBQ (and it really was a stumble – it's in one of the industrial areas that Chris often meanders through at random when it's his turn to drive) which has charmed the kids with seasonal pumpkin corn bread, and relatively small-sized pulled pork and smoked chicken sandwiches. They also sell Happy Pop in nearly glowing shades and Madeline is fond of the pineapple flavour. This is a very casual eating establishment – the tables have tableclothes, but they're vinyl 🙂

Before being displaced by Il Sogno, Madeline's favourite place to eat since moving here was another little Italian place on 17th Ave SW called Borgo. It serves many dishes family-style, which works out nicely for dining with kids who are better suited to smaller portions. Pasta with cheese isn't officially on the menu, but the waiters we've had cheerfully volunteered it as an option and gave the kids crayons and Da Vinci-inspired colouring sheets. I'm not sure what the crowd at Borgo is like after eight at night, but at five pm the atmosphere in the joint was fine for young diners. We've also been there for their Sunday brunch, and the hot chocolate was kind of cool: you're served a tea cup with chunks of chocolate and a tumbler of hot milk to pour over it. So much better than Tim Hortons!

The third place that is working out well for us is the Calgary Co-op nearest to our apartment – they have a curry bar! And it's inexpensive. Sadie is a huge fan of basmati rice and butter chicken. Aren't we all, though?

Posted in ex-pat confidential, Food and Drink

the life counterfeit: now with doughnuts

It's probably not surprising to anyone that there are a lot of fake things in Asia. The fake Apple stores in China got a lot of headline attention in the summer of 2011, so that's a good example (and there was also a fake Ikea, which I would have been more interested in). I've never seen a fake Apple store in either Bangkok or here in Saigon, but that's not to say that my life has been devoid of fake items. We've watched our share of fake DVDs during our nearly five-and-a-half years in Asia, bought Sadie fake Adidas when she needed new sneakers, and I'm currently very enamoured with the fake Cartier tank watch that my husband brought me back from his trip to Beijing. 

So, perhaps it's not very unexpected this week found me schilling these fakes things for the Canadian booth at the international food fair at Madeline's school. 

They're Timbits, but not real ones because they're homemade instead of being purchased at a Tim Horton's.  I've never made doughnuts before, and tested out two different recipes for these. The first was a cake doughnut recipe that I think I found over at Dinner with Julie, but I had trouble getting the size of the doughnut holes under control and the final product was a little too crumbly to be eaten in a school gymnasium. I ended up going with a yeast doughnut, and found this tutorial at Crepes of Wrath really helpful. The actual recipe is Alton Brown's.

The fun part of this exercise was that my Canadian neighbour's mother's neighbour actually owns a bunch of Tim Horton's franchises back in Canada, and donated a bunch of Timbit boxes and other swag to decorate our booth (there's no denying that it's still "bake-sale" chic, though). 



Posted in ex-pat confidential, Food and Drink, oh, hcmc!

canadian fusion

Anyone who knew me in Canada probably knows that my favourite way to enjoy the Calgary Stampede is from a distance. This distance – between Calgary and Saigon – is pretty effective. The Stampede might seem harmless on the surface: carnival rides, free concerts, and a rodeo. Indeed, the pancake breakfasts are pretty awesome.  I just never understood why the entire city seemed to need to abandon all sense of reason for the ten-odd days of the Stampede and become a quasi-frat-house of drunk fake cowboys/girls. Specifically, at noon in the middle of the work-week.

So, imagine my delight when my husband announces how much he's looking forward to this year's Canada Day celebration, organized by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce:

Um, yee-haw?

So, Canada Day in HCMC is interesting. There's obviously a time-zone difference, but did you know that Canada Day actually happens on June 23 here, instead of July 1? We totally live in the future! 

Kids were invited to play that most Canadian of athletic pursuits, Miniature Golf:


I'm aware that ice hockey and curling were probably impractical, given it's like 35 degrees celcius outdoors, but I was sort of wondering if lacross was ever considered. Or even basketball

But some of elements of this patriotic bash were successful. Many, many litres of Clamato juice were flown in for the caesar bar (though I prefered to mix beer into my Clamato juice). The music playing at a polite volume over the speakers in the beer tent was a good mix of Bachman Turner Overdrive, KD Lang, and Blue Rodeo. The steaks were imported from Alberta (and they actually did taste like I remembered). 

The organizers obviously knew what the best airline is to fly back to Canada:

(Everyone gets the irony there, right?)

And they had the right attractions to groom the country bar-stars of the future, even if they are currently too little to do more than pose for a photo on a mechanical bull:


Posted in Food and Drink, sadie the sequel, saigon, baby

well, we Canadians do like multiculturalism

This morning, after sweating through a yoga class that I was 95% certain was going to be air-conditioned (it wasn't – gah!), making an unplanned trip to the grocery store to buy a carton of eggs, and then having to shower again (see: sweaty yoga), I found myself standing before my second-hand waffle iron. I was madly trying to churn out waffles for a preschool class of twelve. 

You see, this week my three year-old's preschool decided that it would be fun to celebrate "Internationalism". Apparently, the wee little kids talked about how their families are all from different countries, they looked at maps, and scribbled on flags. I'm not entirely sure what Sadie had to say about Canada. She's only been there for about nine weeks in total! In fact, I'm not sure that she really even understands what Canada is. But I digress … 

Back to the waffles. Sadie's teacher asked if I could come for lunch on Friday and bring a Canadian food item to share with the class. My first thought was to make Kraft Dinner, but then I realized that every single one of my Kraft Dinner cartons in my pantry were mis-labeled as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I absolutely could not bring American-pedigreed mac 'n artificial-cheese to Sadie's international luncheon! My second thought was to bring in a pan of Rice Krispie squares because they're easy, delicious, and I doubted that any of her classmates or their parents would even suspect that Rice Krispie squares aren't particularly a Canadian thing, being from other parts of the world themselves. This plan was too sneaky for my dear husband's comfort level, though, and it was he who first suggested maple syrup. (Maple syrup is apparently the gold standard for culinary proof of Canadian-ness at interational schools, by the way. There isn't one my kids have attended where this Lexus of condiments hasn't been brought out by the Canadians). It wouldn't have been proper just to serve a class of preschoolers cups of maple syrup, though. I needed something for it go on, hence the waffles. 

As I ascended the steps of Sadie's little school this morning at a quarter past eleven, a plate of waffles in my hands and a heroic bottle of maple syrup (with "product of Canada" emblazoned on it's label) ensconced in a bag on my shoulder, I suddenly realized that the waffles might have been a big mistake, or at the very least, misleading. 

Aren't they the national food of Belgium?



Posted in elementary, dear madeline, Food and Drink

and the big day is over

DSC04131 I'd be remiss if I didn't post a photo of Madeline's finished birthday cake pops! I was happy with them, for the most part. Substituting popsicle sticks for the lollipop sticks (which was the best I could find in Saigon) was not a problem at all. Using melted chocolate, thinned with a bit of shortening, worked fine as well, so I was not wishing that I could have bought Wilton's Candy Melts (like I could have – ha!) instead. One thing that I wish had gone better was that the pops were a bit more spherical. Once I'd dipped them, it was rather apparent that some of them looked kind of lumpy!

The biggest challenge I had was finding some way to hold them upright – I have no clue where I'd find a big block of styrofoam, so I ended up sticking the cake pops into a huge ball of playdough! Madeline's party guests were very amused!


UPDATE, July 8 – I was out shopping at Phuong Ha in D1 today, and cannot adequately express how shocked I was to see a few packages of Wilton's Candy Melts in their freezer, near the chocolate chips. I guess I spoke too soon the other day!