Craig’s banana bread (photos)

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Living in Vietnam has shown me different impressive sides of my husband. Last month, he mixed an environment-friendly ant and roach killer from syrup and borax, and last week, he baked amazing banana bread. (I’m grateful he can do both because now that we have delicious sweet banana bread on our dining table all the time, the big ants really have to drink their special syrup.)
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Vietnamese Corn Pudding

There’s a video tutorial at the end of this post.

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Finally we decided to get an oven last week. Ovens aren’t typically something found in Vietnamese homes because electricity can be expensive for the average Vietnamese family and the addition of a heat source in the house during hot months is a pretty foreign idea! However things are changing and Vietnamese are falling in love with baking. After baking our first loaf of bread (and eating it all down it soon after that), we wondered why we hadn’t bought it earlier. I’ve tried so many delicious recipes with it and my husband has been baking bread (and cookies!) nonstop. I’m wondering if I should photograph and write a blog post of him baking banana bread. Well, why not. He’s a super cute baker and the bread is super delicious!

The one thing that I haven’t tried with an oven is baking cakes. It’s because, being a Vietnamese I didn’t grow up with cakes and so I haven’t fallen in love with them yet. Usually in Vietnam we just eat fruit for dessert or the traditional dessert chè.
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A simple Vietnamese butternut squash soup

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A typical Vietnamese meal with a soup bowl, a plate of protein and a plate of vegetable. Here I have butternut squash soup with minced pork, sautéed beans and carrots, and crispy caramelized river shrimp.

For some reason I’ve always enjoyed doing repetitive, mundane tasks. They provide a sense of peacefulness and contentment in seeing the results of my efforts. My mind quiets down and I get to enjoy a sense of oneness with my task.

When I was in tenth grade, my summer job was to put bra sliders into bra straps. My mother worked for a garment factory, and every day she would bring home huge bags of bra straps and bra sliders. Like a machine, I spent every single day of that summer putting sliders into straps. I didn’t get bored at all. In fact, I even found great joy in doing that. I didn’t have to think much, and I was content with the accomplishment, which was piles and piles of nice and neat straps in front of my eyes.
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Lychee Panna Cotta

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Lychee_ Panna Cotta_Dessert_Vietnamese Cuisine_Indiechine

It’s lychee season now, and next month it’ll be longans. LONGANS!

My hometown is a small Northern province that has a few specialties, a kind of soy sauce that some really love and my favorites, amazing longan and lychee fruits. There are several other Northern provinces that also grow lychees, and longan trees grow in many places from the North to the South, but the fruits from my hometown are claimed to be the best. They’re fragrant, sweet but not too watery; the meat is thick and the seeds tiny. When I was 10, my mother and I took a Southbound train to visit my grandparents, whom we hadn’t seen for years. Transportation was difficult then. It took us two days and one night, and we both shared one seat, me sitting in my mom’s lap. The space was tiny but my mom still managed to bring some bags of lychee fruits as presents. Fruits were precious to us, and it was no brainer that our hometown’s lychees had to be onboard traveling with us.
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Pineapple Fried Rice

*There’s a video tutorial at the end of this blog post.

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In the winter time our favorite part of going to the hotel gym where we work out is to use a very nice sauna there after swimming. About two weeks ago, as we walked out of the swimming pool, I asked my husband if he was going to the sauna. “I did. All day”, he said. “I was soaking wet just being in our living room.”

The heat and humidity in May here is in fact quite brutal, at least it is for us. Locals don’t seem to mind though. Yesterday I met up with a Hoi-An native friend and when my arm was about to fall off from fanning myself so hard with a paper fan, she told me that she was longing for summer to come. I almost cried.

I hope you’re not yet tired of me talking about the weather here. I’m not complaining – just trying to give some context. It’s the weather and seasonal food that determines what I cook and eat.

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Braised Baby Ribs & a Summer Meal

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Before starting this blog, I had never used cooking measurements. I measured with my eyes and intuition, or as my friend put it, “all ingredients are to taste”. The “everything to taste” rule worked well for me, except for when I had parties or guests over. Cooking for extra people without a recipe rarely came out as well. My guests might not have noticed (thankfully), but I just knew that the food didn’t taste the same as when I cooked just for my family.
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Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickles

*Scroll down to the end of this post for a video tutorial.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I wish I had a chocolate cake or fruit tart or some more romantic sounding recipes for this day than pickles. But well, I made these for Tet, our big lunar new year celebration, and they’re so easy and delicious I can’t help sharing the recipe and video tutorial right here and right now.
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Vietnamese Sesame Rice Donuts

*Scroll down to the end of this blog post for a video tutorial of this recipe. 

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Call me childish, but I’m a little more excited about this Christmas season because I took a calligraphy workshop last month. For the first time in my life, I can make pretty Christmas cards by myself. That really means a lot to me as I always find it so rewarding to hand make something from scratch for my loved ones. For almost two weeks now, I wake up really early, make myself some tea, put a candle under some essential oil, and practice drawing and writing. My dining table is piled up with papers, water colors and ink. It’s messy, but I think it’s a joyful, festive looking mess. (I think my husband thinks so too.)
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Vietnamese “Shaken” Beef

*There’s a video tutorial at the end of this blog post.

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It was a busy birthday weekend. My mother and brother came to visit and so we had a chance to explore town and do fun activities as tourists. We went to the beach and visited temples during the day, and when the night came, we rented a small wooden boat to ride along a river sparkling of lantern lights. We ate our way through the town, from a fancy restaurant where Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones dined to 10-cent street food. It was just fabulous!
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Vegan Vietnamese Eggplant & Tofu Stew

*Scroll down to the end of this post for a video tutorial.

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I grew up eating this stew, often twice in late autumn when eggplant was in season. The stew was one of the few recipes that my cooking-challenged father mastered. Read more