Saturday, 28 August 2010

Cheeseburger in Paradise

For this week's date night, I requested a great burger and a nice frosty mug of beer - see, I am such a simple girl! Now get out your maps kids - Saigon is situated closely enough to New Zealand that we are getting quite accustomed to great beef and great wine (and also great friends!!). We settled on Mogambo based on a recent article in The Word and also word of mouth.

Mogambo is also the name of a 1953 film set in East Africa with Clark Cable, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner - hence, the decor.

It is a cozy, hole-in-the-wall dive. It was unfussy and uncrowded - exactly the perfect place, in my opinion. The beer was ice cold, the burger was AMAZING and my date was divine. I didn't even mind the "staff" on the wall.

This lovely woman is the owner and also, my new favorite person on the planet. Not only did she ask if I was Erik's daughter, but then she wanted to know if I was a ballerina. Now, she may be totally blind, but who cares with compliments like that?? (In my spirit of full disclosure, I did have flowers in my hair and an after-massage glow, so that may have also contributed to her confusion.)

If you ever find yourself in Saigon and don't stop by here, for a burger or a compliment, you are insane.

And honey - if I ever go missing, you are going to want to check Mogambo's first.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Girl's Night Out

I got to be Alli's date for back-to-school night - feeling very lucky that we have joined such a wonderful community and so very proud to be her mom.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

You are going to want to turn your speakers DOWN

I love that the older Amelia gets, the more interacting the girls are doing - I do NOT love that Amelia imitates Alli's shrieking, but thought it was worth recording for posterity.

The girls were in the middle of shrieking at each other for fun this afternoon when Erik called from work:

E: "What is that noise? Is everything okay?"

Me: "Everything is great - that is just the sound of the next 16 years of your life."

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Second born

One of the nice things about having two girls is that Amelia can inherit things of Alli's - clothing, toys, books. But every once in a while, I make an effort to buy her something brand new, super shiny and all hers. I know that she won't realize at this age what I am doing, but I want her to always know that she is not second fiddle or second place and that she is as special and amazing as our first born. A couple of days ago, I bought her hand-made, hand-embroidered pj's. I think she likes them.

Burgers with a side of math

So, I had two recipes to try out today. That is what I like to call a double-whammy on the day of rest, thankyouverymuch.
First up - Burgers Indochine - I have tons of recipes that I would love to try out, but the one hurdle I am facing is ingredients. Theoretically, I can get (almost) any item here in Saigon, however, I am trying my best to utilize local ingredients in order to use fresher, less expensive products. I saw this recipe in a magazine and knew I could get all of the ingredients easily, so I went for it. This was a big one for me because I am not at all a fan of touching raw meat. At. All.
1. RAW ground pork (*I took a big swig of wine and just went for it!!)

2. Nuoc mam (fish sauce), brown sugar and chili sauce(hiding underneath - food photography is hard!!)

3. Peanut butter

4. Diced garlic and grated ginger (both of which I did by hand, thankyouverymuch)

We don't have a grill, so I just cooked these on the stove top and I did tweak the recipe a bit. The dressing I used was mayo, lime juice and diced scallions. I also left out the star anise because I am not a fan.
Rating: 5 out of 5 lotus flowers - these were delish - thankfully, the recipe made a huge amount, so I have a ton of frozen burgers to make later this week - these were super flavorful and juicy - definitely a repeat for me!

Up next - Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese. Alli loves macaroni and cheese. La la la loves it. When we packed for Saigon, I shipped over boxed (hey at least it was organic) M&C to tide us over until I could get the lay of the land, so to speak. Now mind you, I didn't ship that much over, but we have already run through it all, and guess what you can't buy in Saigon? You got it. No biggie, right? I am a cooking goddess and there are about 1,000,000 recipes for M&C on the web, so I went in search of one to try out. The recipe I settled on seemed easy enough and was posted by a blogger I enjoy reading.

There really aren't any photos worth posting and I did stick exactly to the recipe.

After slaving away in our super hot kitchen, I was super excited to have Alli taste it - this is how it went down:

Me: Soooooooooo, what do you think?

Alli: (Puts one shell in her mouth and immediately Ummm, I don't like it.

Me: What? Are you kidding? I am sure it is delicious!
Alli: I want the good stuff from the box that we always have.
Ratings: 1 out of 5 lotus flowers - Now, in defense of the poor M&C, it wasn't inedible, but it also didn't have much flavor, and it definitely didn't taste cheesy, for lack of a better word. I don't know if that is because we are used to fake/processed M&C or that this recipe wasn't The One.

Not only did I conquer two recipes today, but I did MATH. Lots and lots of math. Vietnam, like 98% of the rest of the world (What's up with that USA?) uses the metric system, so there was a lot of conversion going on today in the kitchen - kilograms to pounds, tablespoons to ounces; pounds to cups. I am not particularly good at math and I was working under a hangover condition, so when I ended up with twice the sauce I needed for the M&C, I was not at all surprised. At. All.

Friday, 20 August 2010

To my sweet daughters -

Allison - This week I was elected "class mom" of your pre-school class, joined the PTO and asked to turn in photos for your life story board. Say what? Do you know you will be 3 in less than a month?

and Amelia - yes, you. This week you went out and grew yourself a tooth. Seriously? Are you trying to give me a panic attack? Wasn't I just taking a pregnancy test?

How did this happen? When did you two have a meeting and decide to grow up so quickly? Well, stop this and stop this right now.

Thank you, that is all.

Sweet dreams tonight - xo, Mommy

Ben Thanh Market

Chơ Bên Thanh is one of downtown Saigon's most famous landmarks and earliest surviving structures. It developed from informal markets created by early 17th century street vendors and was formally established by the French colonial powers in 1859. This original market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and in 1912, the market was moved to its current location. head hurts from the awesomeness of that paragraph - I haven't done that much research in a long time.
It is 118,400 SF of anything and everything you could possibly ever need to purchase.

From clothing to food to toiletries to luggage to souvenirs - it is a shopping labyrinth. And if you like to haggle, this is the place to do it. You can get a great deal on everything from hair bows to purses to men's underwear to fabric to candy. It is an overwhelming experience and truly attacks all of your six senses, all at once. It has taken me several visits to get comfortable just walking around the stalls, although, you truly only head there looking for specific items. There is no strolling because the vendors are quite aggressive. That said, it is an amazing place and a necessary stop if you are visiting our city.

S & B

Dear S & B -

Saw this woman today and she stopped me in my tracks. Needlepoint truly is an international language (hee-hee).

Love you and miss you all!!!


Thursday, 19 August 2010


Phởơ is a Vietnamese classic. It is a delicious soup consisting of broth, meat or seafood, noodles and greens. The Vietnamese tend to eat Phơ for breakfast, and you can get it at roadside stalls, small cafes or fancy restaurants. It won't ever truly taste the same twice, which makes it a good dish for a novice cook.

The first ingredient you buy is this:

which is nothing more than a Phơ bouillion cube. It goes into a nice big pot of water with your chicken to start off your broth and to cook your chicken (if you are using it). I decided to use both chicken and beef.

After the ginger and onion finish roasting on the stove, you (or Ty because she has teflon hands) peel them, flatten them and drop them in the broth for added flavor.

Here are the rest of the ingredients we used:

1. Thinly sliced sirloin that you add to the Phơ right at the end - it cooks in the soup and it was delicious.

2. Spring onions and chives - also added at the end to cook in broth.

3. Bean sprouts and a green herb (seriously, it won't be long before Buon Appetit calls and offers me a job!!). These are not cooked, but placed on the table and people add to the top of their soup.

4. I wasn't sure Alli would eat rice noodles, so I bought teeny, tiny star pasta hoping to turn her soup into a chicken noodle-type deal.

5. Sliced limes and chilis are also placed on the table for diners to add at their choosing.

6. Cooked rice noodles and the cooked chicken that has been shredded.

Alli and I have been reading this book, so I thought now might be the right time for her to try out soup. Her declaration - "This is the best dinner ever!"
In all fairness, she is a tad dramatic, but it was lovely that my second foray into Vietnamese cooking resulted in something the WHOLE family could eat.

Ratings - 4 out of 5 lotus flowers - easy to prepare, family approved, healthy - not sure I had my ingredients to broth ratio right and I think it could have been more flavorful

AND NOW.......

In the spirit of sharing, I am happy to add on this little segment called "Keeping it real" where, when possible, I will share my mess-ups, mistakes, oopsies and catastrophes.

I had planned on just adding the star pasta to Alli's Phơ when it was steaming hot and thought that the pasta would cook (somewhere all Italian grandmothers are shaking their heads in disgust) but it turns out, that doesn't work at all. So they got tossed, but on the flip side, it forced Alli to eat the rice noodles which she loved.

and I may have accidently set fire to one of our kitchen towels by leaving it on an electronic burner.

Thank you!!

Dear Canta -

Thank you so much for the wonderful chopsticks. My mom says that someone named Emily Post (is she a friend of yours?) would freak out if she knew I was emailing you my thank you note, but I insisted because how else were you supposed to see them in action? I got to use them tonight for dinner. I live in Vietnam and everyone here uses chopsticks, so this is a perfect way for me to learn!!
Here I am trying them out.....
See my concentration.....
So close and yet so far....this is really hard work!!
Thankfully, my Dad stepped in and offered some help...he is a pro at chopsticks! Mom doesn't know how to use them, but would I share my new chopsticks? NO WAY! I am keeping your gift all to myself!!
Noodles and your gift make me SUPER happy. Thanks again for thinking of me. Amelia is still way too little to use hers, so I will hold on to them until she is ready to learn the ropes.
Big hugs from Saigon, xo, Allison

Sooner or later....

Originally uploaded by meredith w page

all kids draw on something in permanent marker, right?

Sunday, 15 August 2010


I wish I was a more patient mother. Patience is a wonderful trait that I don't possess in spades. And my 2 (almost 3 year old) was put on Earth to test my patience. Some days I fail, some days I don't. And within each day, I have winning moments and moments when I fail miserably. I am realizing that motherhood is like a roller coaster in that way. You have super highs and super lows - some that are only separated by mere seconds. I am guessing in retrospect that you hope to reach the middle ground. That the good outweighs the bad. That the hugs, laughter, kisses, dancing, ice creams, cuddles, book -reading, tear-wiping, secret jokes, special adventures make a stronger imprint on your daughter's being than that nasty, impatient person you become when she stabs her baby sister with a fork or simply can't help herself when it comes to drawing in crayon all over the television. I am glad she is smart and clever and independent and strong-willed. I wouldn't trade her, even on our toughest day, for anyone else in the world. But there are days, like today, when Daddy has gone away on business and I am running a zone defense that I wish more for myself and more for her. But then, our last words to each other tonight, every night, are "I love you" and "I love you too" and I realize that this ride has only just left the station and we have, god willing, a long ride ahead of us. and as long as we are in the same cart, headed in the same direction, holding hands, I know we will be okay.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sous Chef

and no, you can't have her - she is mine, all mine.

Kitchinspiration - Cha Cá Chiên

I am thrilled to tell you that now that Alli is in school and I am afforded a little more time, I am diving headfirst into my new cooking projects - First up, Cha Cá Chiên. I am using the Vietnamese name for this meal because the English translation isn't at all appetizing - see how yummy they look....

and don't they sound exotic and delish when I call them Cha Cá Chỉ̉ên? Now, how would you feel if I told you they are fish balls? See??? I told you so. Now, to be clear, these are more like fish cakes than anything else.

The ingredients - fish, chopped scallions, salt, pepper and "the magic pellets". I don't know what to tell you about magic pellets - they look like this...
My gal Friday/Moneypenny/Ty doesn't really think they have an American equivalent and she told me to just put them in when cooking, so I did what I was told. They came to my house from our former cook in an old Woolworth's peanut butter jar. Also, when I asked Ty what kind of fish it was, she told me, "the good kind" and when I asked where the fish came from, she said flatly, "the market". Sometimes I can't tell if Ty is incredibly sarcastic or just unable to understand what I am saying in my broken Vietnamese/English mix. But she is a wonderful teacher in the kitchen and laughs hysterically at my attempts at cooking. Also, we are learning to "speak" each other's kitchen language as she, like most good home cooks, doesn't measure ingredients or time the process.

After said ingredients are mixed together, they are fried. Bring on the judgment! And so maybe not the healthiest meal, but with a toddller in the house, I am trying to slowly expand her culinary world and also learn to cook traditional Vietnamese foods and while the Vietnamese do eat very healthy foods, they also can fry the heck out of anything!

I served them with Ch̉a Giò ̣̣(Vietnamese spring rolls), which will warrant a ViêtNosh post of their own. Cha Giò are a staple of Vietnamese cuisine and vary in ingredients and flavor. Mine were not home-made but frozen and also...wait for it.....fried.

I planned on taking pictures of ingredients, steps, etc. but it turns out I can't cook and shoot at the same time...perhaps a tripod would solve my problems? Lets be honest though, you certainly aren't tuning in for technique or pointers, am I right?

So there you have it. I am super proud of myself and thrilled over what is basically very fancy, made-from-scratch, fish sticks. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Ratings - out of 5 lotus flowers - easy to prepare, super easy to cook and two thumbs up from a picky toddler - way too chewy for my own taste.

Where the magic happens....

Not that kind of magic, you saucy minx.

Welcome to one of the world's smallest kitchens. Although that doesn't sound very nice, so from now on, I will refer to my kitchen as charming, cozy, and efficient. That's better.

Phillips Saylor

My brother is a rock star.


Check him out -

An Ode to Hidden Valley.

Oh, Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing - how I miss you.

I think so fondly on our time together.

And I dream about a time when we may be reunited.

Your cousin, dry power packet of dressing mix, is no substitute.

Do you miss me as well?

I should have brought you along on our journey.

I underestimated your power over me.

Perhaps you will one day travel to Asia.

Until then, I will be waiting with baited breath.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010