Monday, 20 May 2019

How do you document real life? Food!

Hello there! We survived the kids' first overseas trip, and we're back into the groove of regular, every day life. Our holiday already seems so long ago, so I guess that means it's time to start planning another one? It honestly went better than I'd imagined. The flights were fine - my kids were quite happy to spend hours at a time with uninterrupted screen time, and quite frankly, I also enjoyed being able to catch up on some movies too. The main downside of flying with kids, for me, was that they are too short to close the bathroom door latch on the plane, which meant that every toilet request required that I squish into the tiny bathroom with them... joys of parenthood. 

There are many things I could talk about, describing our holiday. Like, how the kids were amazed at the number of motorbikes over there, and crossing the roads was a case of taking a deep breath, stepping out and hoping that everyone would swerve around. Or, how the kids had to be coaxed onto a bike at first, and then were naturals, hopping on and off easily while joining 5 other people on that same bike. Or, going to the beach and seeing what looked like pirate flags everywhere and finally realising as we left the water itchy after swimming that they were caution flags warning of jellyfish. Or the way my daughter (who speaks no Vietnamese) made friends with a little girl who spoke no English yet they became firm friends and bonded over clothes and that vile baby shark song (YouTube link for you lucky individuals who don't know it by heart).

We spent a lot of time with family over there, doing what Asian families do best of course - eating! It's how I mentally catalog many of my holidays - what I ate, and I think it's a great pictorial representation of a place. When we travel, I like to eat where the locals do, and in Asia, that tends to be street food, hawker style, where the food is fresh, cheap and some of the tastiest I've ever had. So here we go with some highlights!

Pho. A Vietnamese staple, this was from a tiny little store that was so fresh and tasty. Here's my bowl of vegan pho with tofu, faux meats, hoisin sauce and liberal doses of wonderfully spicy chillies on top.
And Mr Fork's meat version, with slivers of rare beef, and his favourite mix of chilli and hoisin sauces for dipping. He said I couldn't honestly document Vietnam and not include authentic meat pho. 6 giant bowls, tea and drinks, with unlimited soup cost us the equivalent of about $12 AUD.
Not a great photo, but one of my favourite drinks is fresh sugarcane, juiced in front of you, and mixed with fresh lime and sometimes mint. It's about 40c per glass. Surprisingly despite it's delicious sweetness my kids didn't love it, so I got to drink it all myself! My other favourite thing to drink is fresh coconuts, literally chopping a hole in the top and sticking in a straw. They also weren't fans, so I didn't have to share. Haha.
Bahn mi. I so love these things, and posted nearly daily pictures while we were away. There is a vendor just down the road who specialises in vegan bahn mi, making them to order. Stuffed with greens, cucumber, carrot, bamboo, tofu, chilli and sauce, on the freshest baked bread roll. They cost 60c over there, as opposed to an average $6 here, and there is no comparison.
Fresh fruits, with eager toddler hand. So cheap, so good, and so tasty. Here's a selection of some of our favourites - dragonfruit, pineapple, mango, guava and sour apple. In the middle is a dish of chilli salt which is amazing to dip the fruit in for a delicious contrast of tastes.
On the topic of fruit, we took the kids to one of the floating markets, where wares are sold from boats. Vendors will motor up, anchor themselves to your boat and offer samples of the day's offering to try to get you to buy. They have scales on board and you pay by weight. On the below boat are fresh papaya, jackfruit (yum!), durian (yum!), mango and avocado. I took special care to try to eat my body weight in jackfruit and durian over there. I can't get the same quality here, and certainly not the same freshness - I'm looking at you stinky durian! I know it's not to everyone's taste, but I love them, even if Mr Fork avoids me after consumption as he says he can smell the durian for ages *shrug*
Rambutan, sour apple, watermelon and longan.
I ate many variations of this filling salad. Near as I can tell, it's got bamboo, tofu, shredded vegetables, banana flowers, loads of fresh herbs and the dressing has citrus, loads of zingy spices and peanuts. It often came with vegan prawn crackers to use as a sort of salad scoop but often the kids ate those plain and I had the salad minus crackers. I recommend.
Have I said how much I love food? Look at this. It's fresh, colourful and delicious, going down far too easily. This was the vegan portion of a group buffet lunch (aka, all mine!). Clockwise from top right: glutinous rice and sweet potato, ubiquitous chillies, tofu and seasonal vegetable mix, turmeric pancake stuffed with bean sprouts and tofu, spring rolls, iced tea, soup. Not able to fit in the picture: cauliflower vegetable mix and fresh fruit to finish. I can honestly say I walked (rolled!) away from all my meals very happy.
I could go on and on, but maybe just one more. The plumpest, tastiest mushrooms I have had in awhile. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) this was at a seafood restaurant where the rest of the table had crab done in about six different ways. I had this - tasty shiitake mushrooms and ginger with greens, over rice. So simple, so good, and just delicious.
What a long food filled post. It was a wonderful holiday, so much fun, and a delicious way to introduce my children to a new culture. I think 'eat where the locals eat' is definitely the best way to digest a new place (see what I did there?!).

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Eco friendly yays and nays for me

For the past couple of years, my work has really been stepping up into the eco friendly spirit when considering employee gifts and activities. For Christmas a few years ago I was given a reusable coffee cup and drink bottle, and a package of mesh produce bags.
My eco conscious little self loved those, and I use them all the time, so they've been a wonderful gift, and quite forward thinking since being eco friendly wasn't as big back then as it is now. Those were a total yay from me.

For the Christmas just gone, I was given a Rocketbook Everlast, which touts itself as the 'endlessly reusable intelligent notebook'. I don't have any pictures of me using it, so here is a link to the website where they explain how it works.  Essentially, you write on the pages, and then set up your phone so the symbols at the bottom of each page link to the Cloud somewhere - maybe Dropbox, OneNote, email, whatever you like. You then scan the page, and it's uploaded into the Cloud. It's even smart enough to be able to convert handwriting to text and name each upload appropriately as designated. You can then wipe the pages off and use them again and again. It's a super nifty bit of technology, and really, quite a perfect combination of eco friendly and tech. Unfortunately, it wasn't for me.
I tried, but I just didn't like how plastic-y the pages felt as I was writing on them. I also didn't like that I was limited to only certain types of pens (and yes, I could have gone out and bought more, but that would mean the stationery I have now was wasted too). I couldn't get used to searching for old notes electronically, instead of flicking through my paper notes, and I didn't like that I couldn't use my organisational stickers to mark days and give me a monthly overview (shout out to my wonderful friend Decade Thirty whose beautiful handwriting features on her organisational stickers I so love). 

So... I've retired the reusable notebook and gone back to my favourite paper ones. I just find it so much easier to flick through them and add brief notes to my day, and I don't have to worry about adding things to a page that has already been uploaded and erased. Sadly, the eco tech notebook was a nay for me.
Finally, I just wanted to share another form of being eco friendly. We had our biannual company conference a week or so back. Often, I find that I walk away from conferences with a bag full of merchandise I don't really need (or want). So, I thought it was great that at our conference, we took a bit of a corporate social responsibility route and partnered up with a company called SolarBuddy (created by a Brisbane man no less!). One of the conference activities was to have all 300+ attendees  put together lights for children in energy poverty who don't have the same opportunities that having a reliable light source can offer. We built the lights and each wrote a personal letter; SolarBuddy will deliver what we built to kids in energy poverty around the world, giving them a light to study at night and a chance at a brighter future. Here's the light I put together:
Where does the eco bit come in given that this light is made of plastic and will be shipped across the globe? Well, this little light is solar powered, designed to be waterproof and have a life of 10 years. Each charge can last up to 10 hours and will allow the recipient to study, and replace their previous non-electric light sources, which may have been burning kerosene or firewood, both of which are definitely not eco friendly, or safe. I thought it was a great idea to have all the attendees do something nice, but even better, instead of putting money toward merchandising, going toward something that encourages children to learn by providing light, decreasing the burning of non-environmentally friendly fuels, and, who knows what the next generation will create given the opportunity to learn? Sure it's a company tax deduction, but I choose to look at the positives here too. On balance, yay from me. Does anyone else dislike the trend of excessive corporate branding and merchandising?

Anyway, I thought a blog post was overdue. It's school holidays now and after a much anticipated night of Tim Minchin this Thursday, we are flying off Friday for a family holiday in Vietnam. It's the kids first time overseas and I hope they love it. I am looking forward to having a break, seeing how everything has changed in the ten years since we last visited and consuming vast amounts of local food! 

Life is good! Any last minute tips for travelling with small children or must see places in Vietnam?

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Recent gardening and baking adventures, February 2019

The recent heat has left my poor garden suffering a bit. While I have always subscribed to the theory that if a plant needs too much care then it is not the plant for me, I feel sad when circumstances such as weather conspire against my kitchen garden. I haven't planted anything new for awhile as the heat would shrivel anything I dared to put in. We haven't had rain in awhile so all my once prolific tomato and eggplants are stunted and fruitless. Having said that, I got out there one weekend and cut everything back and harvested what there was to be picked. I ended up with a bowl of hot chillies, a handful of shallots and some spring onions. They were all used and enjoyed, so I do feel a little joy in eating the fruits of my meagre harvest. 
Some of the cherry tomatoes that did end up surviving the heat were used in one of my focaccia loaves. Even these aren't immune from the heat and I severely overestimated my proofing times. I ended up with a very puffy loaf, which although it looked a bit odd, was still tasty and enjoyed. 
After coming back from holidays over the Christmas break, I got back into the swing of baking with Lorenzo again. He's such a resilient starter, and I missed him while we were away. Shop bought bread just doesn't do it for me anymore, when I know that I can bake my own and make it just the way I like them. I think Lorenzo was happy to see me too. He put on a lovely performance for this bake. These loaves used up the very last of my beloved Trader Joe's Everything But The Bagel seasoning that a kind colleague from America brought over for me. I'm very sad about that as I haven't found another source and while I know Amazon have it, I cannot convince them to send it to Australia for me. There just isn't a comparible alternative seasoning I've found.
Although I usually shop at Coles, I find that Woolworths have really upped their game in vegan offerings of late. Over Christmas, they advertised a vegan loaf, and my philosophy is that if I don't support vegan offerings, they'll think people don't want it. So I ventured to buy one. It took me ages to find it, and I had to ask three assistants for help. Eventually we tracked it down. In the meat section. I see where they are going with that. The helpful assistant who found it also proudly pointed out the vegan patties and sausages too, located right next to the meat equivalents. The only way to tell them apart was the packaging was a slightly different green, and reading the label proclaimed they were plant based. I did try to find a link to the loaf, but it's disappeared from the site, so perhaps it was a seasonal special or others also found it hard to locate. Anyway, I saw them marked down after Christmas and bought another one to keep in the freezer. Here's what it looks like - the red thing on the bottom right of the plate. I think it was lentils, beets and a few other things. To be honest, it wasn't that great, and I probably wouldn't have continued to buy them, but I applaud Woolworths for trying (they constantly have new vegan and gluten free options advertised).

I served that loaf with maple carrots, peas (at the small man's request), some creamy potato bake (I use almond milk and haven't had any complaints). Also, gravy, loads of gravy because... gravy is delicious, but also, that loaf was dry.

Finally, I have been experimenting with some baked vegan donuts lately because I bought a donut pan and I'm not having it in the house if I don't use it! I'm not sure I like them. I find them a bit dense and more like donut shaped cakes than anything else. I think it's obvious here though from the small hand sneaking in to grab one because he just could not wait for me to take my picture, that the kids do like them. So I've been making batches when the oven is on (like for baking sourdough, also visible in the picture!), trying out various ingredients in the hope that I'll hit upon a fabulous mix, and freezing the experiments for school lunches. Miss E is in year one this year, and has quite liked taking a donut to school. By the time lunch rolls around it's defrosted sufficiently to be tasty I'm told. So at least the freezer is filling with school lunch possibilities.
I am linking this into the monthly In My Kitchen round-up, hosted by Sherry of Sherry's Pickings. What's happening in your kitchen this month? Do you have any school lunch tips to share? Does anyone know where I can source more bagel seasoning? 

Monday, 21 January 2019

I spark joy with upcycling

Everyone is talking about Marie Kondo, and the mantra that items should spark joy in order to have a place in the home. If an item doesn't spark joy for owning it, then it should be moved on and the result is a lovely decluttered home that is easy to keep clean and has wonderful energy because everything in it brings joy. I think this is a wonderful idea, once it's been put into practice.

Of course, this has inevitably meant that there has been a rush of people decluttering their house and moving things on - op shops in my area are turning away donations and the buy/swap/sell sites I follow are overflowing with items. I love the idea of only owning things that bring happiness. This is something that I have practiced myself for a long time - considerate buying, and thinking about whether the item I'm purchasing is a need or a want. Often, if I walk away and think about it, I realise that I don't really need it after all, or I have something already that will fit the purpose.

The frugal Asian side of me also delights in a bargain, in fixing things that others might discard, and reusing or repurposing what I already own. I like to hoard things, just in case they might spark joy come in useful in the future. With that in mind, here are two of my most recent projects:

Dining room chairs
Our dining room set was a bargain. A friend was going to send it to the dump because she was redecorating and it didn't suit her new decor. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the set, so I claimed it and we suddenly had a new (to us) set for free. It's a wonderful solid wood table that expands from seating 6 to 10 comfortably. It also had 6 wooden chairs with plain upholstery. These chairs serve us well, but as the kids grow, so too did the wear on the chairs. There were stains I couldn't get out and holes in the fabric that my small man has been picking at so they were no longer discrete holes but great gaping tears.

Mr Fork wanted to get new ones. I convinced him that they had good bones so instead to come to choose new fabric so I could re-cover them. For $5/m (on sale!) and half a day of labour unpicking staples and re-stapling (we already had one, and staple guns are fun!) we have chairs that look just like new again (if perhaps a little crooked on the pattern).  $12.5 worth of fabric, a little bit of work and I saved 6 chairs being sent to waste, and having to buy new ones that would never match the table properly. Also, I love that no one else will have chairs like ours.
New fabric on the left, old stained fabric on the right
I even had some time to use the leftover fabric I'd bought to whip up a quick cover for the ottoman, and added some pockets for tv remote storage to help tidy things away. Win!

Reuseable makeup wipes
I just knew that my love of flannelette pyjamas and keeping my sewing scraps would pay off. As soon as I saw the tutorial on Fiona's blog for making reusable makeup wipes, I knew that was a project I could pull off. An hour later, and I had a tidy little pile of cute wipes. I won't go into the method as I pretty much just followed Fiona's guide. All my little offcuts and threads went into the compost heap so no waste here!
I've been using them for the past couple of days and they're just as good as the bought ones, and heaps better for the environment. I followed Fiona's tip to keep a delicates bag nearby and they go straight into that as I use them ready to be washed. During this process, I also remembered just how much I hate sewing curves though. If I make another batch, I'm doing square ones!

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