Saturday, November 21, 2015

Homemade Vegetarian Banh Cuon

I had a craving for Vietnamese banh cuon. They are steamed rice crepes with a filling, usually made of minced pork and wood ear fungus.

I made vegetarian banh cuon as I already had the ingredients for the filling. There are plenty of recipes online. Be aware there is skill involved with cooking them right because it can easily result in a flop. I'll elaborate on that part a little later. 

For the batter you need two kinds of flour, rice and tapioca. Tapioca flour gives the crepes a gelatinous chewiness. One part of each flour plus 3 parts water and a tablespoon or two of oil worked best for me. For the filling I fried finely chopped garlic, onion, firm tofu, wood ear fungus, shittake mushrooms and carrots. I mixed in chopped soaked vermicelli noodles and sliced shallots after cooking. The secret to flavouring this meatless dish is fish sauce and oyster sauce-you can substitute soy sauce and vegetarian oyster sauce if you are making a 100% meat free dish. 

My banh cuon turned out a little too thick. I cooked them on a fry pan with a lid on before flipping them onto a plate. Unlike the videos on Youtube, I had to cajole my crepes off with a chopstick. The crepes tore or formed holes if I made them too thin. They were too sticky if I didn't cook them long enough. Also they were not coming off the pan cleanly, leaving behind a rice "paper" residue. Maybe I steamed too long causing a crust to form or the batter needed more water or I simply didn't use enough oil. That's the problem with making banh cuon the first time-there lots of ways to fail! It will get easier with practice though.

Banh cuon can be made a day before and they can be reheated in a microwave covered in cling film. I served these at a lunch with nuoc cham. This is dipping sauce made with lime juice, water, palm sugar, fish sauce, chilli and garlic.

Here are the ones I stuffed up. They had holes in them so they didn't roll nicely. I also kept aside the rice crusts which were actually like delicate noodles when added to a broth soup. Maybe a chef will intentionally make this rice skin to be added to soup one day? (Well you read it here first!)

I skipped the usual dressings with lettuce/beans sprouts/fried spring onions. I just drizzled with nuoc cham and devoured. They were soft, chewy and delicious.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

An Update On My Sydney Life

Firstly, THIS.
My brother has just joined Costco, bringing home huge amounts of food. Mum buys her weekly produce at the Sydney Flemington markets every Friday. When I went with her I was dazzled by the fruit and veggies. I feel like I've been deprived in London for too long. The fruit here is heavenly. Nothing beats that first whiff and taste of a ripe Kensington mango.

Basically I've been eating alot. Homemade guilt free meals are ramen noodle soup with shittake mushrooms, tofu and kale. Actually I'm not a fan of the kale but I bought a huge bunch at the market on impulse. I'm also making vietnamese spring rolls and soon, vegetarian banh cuon. Most other meals on the other hand have been somewhat of a binge.

I've started ballet and I love it even though I look ridiculous. The dance style is foreign to me so I tell myself to that my legs are like an artists' paintbrush and my feet are the bristles. In any case I get to pretend to be a ballerina so I'm happy.

I'm doing Zumba three times a week with Zumba4u. Look them up if you don't want to join a gym. Participants are mainly local mums. It's no Reebok Sports Club but the atmosphere is as upbeat and the music is more latin. I sweat buckets. I don't want the classes to end. This is me with two of the instructors (and her daughter).

I love driving but I avoid it when the sun is out. As I have no air con, I roast on a hot day. It got so hot I had to wait until 7pm to go on a bike ride. It still felt like an inferno because of the heat radiating from the ground and walls. After sunset, omg the many bugs. They caught on my shirt, went down my top and even got in my ear. It's supposed to be 41 degrees tomorrow so I'm staying indoors. Wish we had those window shutters like I've seen in hot places in Europe. We need those now!

Overall things are great but I'm bored when I'm not riding or dancing. I'm looking for things to do that doesn't involve sweating (it's a "thing" I'm calling in this weather!). I pulled out this old fan which was broken so I took it apart and somehow made it work with electrical tape. Glad it's fixed because I remember the day I bought it. It was 18 years ago and my late father drove me to Newcastle from Port Macquarie as I was starting university. It was a rare thing for him to take a whole day off because he was working a restaurant business. After helping me unpack, buying me necessities like this fan, he gave me $500 and told me not to tell my mother. I said I didn't need it but he wanted to make sure I had it just in case. He drove home and I felt really sad to be leaving someone who supported me throughout my life. I never used that money. This fan is a reminder of what he did for me and I'll cherish it even if it's deteriorating.

Friday, November 13, 2015

My First Week Home

I don't know why I wanted to defer coming home so quickly after I finished my job. Life in Sydney is terrific and I'm loving the warmer weather.

Time seems to pass slower here. Maybe that's due to jetlag and I start the day at 6am or earlier. I was'nt functional after dinnertime and I slept hard. I could sleep through anything. Towards the end of the week, I've adjusted and because it's been raining, I stay in bed longer.

My trusty 21 year old car managed to start after a slow turn of the engine. I had to wash it because I couldn't see through the windows. It's been garaged for two years. The front two tyres were almost flat and I drove it ever so slowly to a nearby mechanic. It passed it's blue slip, received a much needed service and now it's registered for the road. Mum keeps telling me to sell it but I love my first and only car to bits. 

I've been making daily visits to my sisters. Sometimes I stay over although I sleep much better at home. Can't beat the comfyness of the bed I slept in since i was a kid and I really do need peace and quiet after playing with the little ones. 

We went to to the fish markets and spent a fortune on king prawns and sashimi. So much seafood. It doesn't get fresher than this!

My little bike is still serviceable and when I rode to Olympic Park, I was delighted to see the mulberry tree at the Armory full of ripe berries. 

Keen to keep up with Zumba, I'm now doing it on Mondays, Thursdays and Wednesday nights. Sadly its not enough for me and it's too expensive to join a gym. There is a dance academy near my sister's so I've taken up jazz classes on Tuesday and Wednesdays. I might also pick up ballet as well.

We had a family dinner and my sister had a hankering for ricotta cheesecake from Papa Patissceria. I picked up a huge one, meant for 15 people even though there were only 7 adults and I couldn't resist a few more treats for the road, of course. 

My overall feelings for this week is of relief. That people are nicer here and openly compassionate. I'm excited about my new Zumba and jazz classes. The things I truly love haven't changed since I left and I can finally let myself relax and sleep for as long as I want. Plus I get to eat amazing fresh food again! 

Parramatta To Park River Trail

I think an overcast day is ideal for a long bike ride. When it's not too sunny, at least in Australia. There's no need to fry in the sun! 

I rode to Sydney Olympic Park. The sky cleared up although it was a bit breezy. It was so tranquil out here. I felt like there was no place I'd rather be. 

Then I discovered that you can ride to Parramatta and it was only 7.5 kms away. So I did it. The only unpleasant part was going over the Silverwater Road bridge but everything else was smooth sailing. The cycle path was quiet and I got to Parramatta Park in no time. 

I've not been to Parramatta Park before. It was peaceful and green. Actually there were quite a few jacaranda trees so you could say it was purple too. I locked up my bike and went shopping at Westfield. It seemed like a stress-free and environmentally friendly way to get there from my house. Plus there are no worries about parking or traffic.

On my way back, the sky had turned grey so I hurried home. It was me and my little bike vs the rain!

The grass had just been cut and this galah was plodding along eating whatever seeds it finds along the way.

I made it home before the rain came down. I miss the sound of rain as windows are double glazed in London. It's a nice sound to relax or fall asleep to.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lillee And The Big Yellow Snake

I asked my niece if she she wanted to see a show with real snakes, frogs and spiders. She said no so I replied: "I guess I'll see the show with Paula then." 

Paula is Lillee's best friend at pre-school so Lillee protested for fear of missing out. She then agreed to see the show. Of course it was really me who wanted to go. I put her childseat into my jellybean car and off we went. It was our first aunty-niece day out.

I wasn't completely lying because Paula was at the preschool. It's just wasn't a day when Lillee normally attends. One of their school mates had his birthday and his parents arranged a wildlife show at the preschool so the other kids can enjoy and learn as well. 

We got to see lizards, crocodile, turtles, frogs and spiders (in clear boxes!).
The star of the show was a big yellow snake. As I was the other adult present, aside from the birthday boy's parents, I was asked if I wanted a photo with it. I'm like: "YEAH I DO!" and I plucked Lillee out from the sea of kids. What it looked like was me grabbing her arm and dragging her towards the snake. 

As the pictures reveal, she resisted. When the snake was draped around us, she realised she was trapped. Thankfully there were no tears. She happily pet a lizard before so I don't think I truamatised her too much.

As photos were taken, I asked one of the parents if Lillee was smiling. I got a shocked expression and a flat out: "no." Hardly surprising given how brazen this aunty was to have a photo taken with a snake, oh and her niece.

The show ended and everyone had to wash their hands after touching the animals. It seems the snake was forgotten as Lillee played with her school mates and didn't want to leave. 

We had to buy a few things from the shops before heading home. When Lillee got tired of walking, she asked if I could carry her. I said I would only if we were crossing the street or walking in the sun. So she deliberately stood in the sun, waved her arms and said: "Now can you pick me up Aunty Emma?"

I did but only because she was so damn cute. As we were waiting for the traffic light, she brushes hair away from my face with her little hands.

How lucky are mums with adorable kids!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

There's No Place Like Home

It's been a year since I was home. This was a welcomed sight after a 13 flight from London to Singapore, a 16 hour stop over and another 7.5 hour flight. 

Returning home feels like having a blindfold removed and noticing all the changes since I last left. Like how much development has happened in Sydney and huge apartment blocks are being built on any space developers can get their hands on. Burwood, my old haunt has been re-zoned to allow high rise buildings. The plaza car park is now a concrete monstrosity, unrecognisable to what it once was. Now high rises sick out into the skyline like pointy sore thumbs.

Met my new niece, only a week old. She's a cute little raisin and so gurgley. I love hearing the sounds she makes. It almost makes me weep!

My other cute niece.

I've started taking Zumba classes locally. They are held in school halls and most of the other ladies are mums. After my last class, I waited for my bus to get home and a lady from the class pulled up in her car and asked if I needed a lift. I was gobsmacked by her kindness for that doesn't happen often in London.

Another act of kindness was when our Turkish neighbour gave us a copper water jug and shared a pudding they made as its the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram. She doesn't speak English and neither does my mother so her daughter and I translated between Chinese, English and Turkish. My mother then showed them her congee (rice porridge) and said that she makes a similar food herself.

I later googled the dessert, called ashure and it's given to neighbours, friends, amongst others without regard to the recipient's religion or belief system as an offering of peace and love. I'm thrilled to have witnessed this between two culturally different people.
There's no place like home.