Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pho Bo

So one of the things I really wanted to do in Vietnam, besides eat the food, was to learn how to cook the food (so I can eat it later). We took a cooking class where I learned to make Pho Bo from scratch, and they also gave us a little cookbook with various other classic Vietnamese dishes. I'm going to experiment with these in the coming weeks and will report back my findings. But it was really just getting out there and seeing and tasting the food that has inspired me. I am dying to make Banh Mi, but I face the challenge of not only making the meat but also the bread itself. I have yet to find acceptable bread of any kind in Manila, and I.have.looked!! So, I've come to realize that if I'm ever going to have bread that doesn't make me gag while posted here, I'm just going to have to make it myself. There's that tiny little problem of me sucking ass at baking, but my older sister* swears it's not that hard once you get the hang of it. And I am always drooling over her fb pics...*sigh* Wish me luck! In the meantime, here's the recipe for Pho Bo**:

500g  fresh rice noodles
300g  beef bones
150g  beef butt
150g  daikon or white radish
10g  shallots
10g  ginger
1  star anise (whole)
1  cinnamon stick
1  black cardamon (whole)
5g  whole cloves

Fresh Herbs
Mint leaves
Saw tooth herb (please don't ask me what this is outside of Asia)
Bean sprouts
Spring onion

On the Side
Fish sauce
Bird's eye chili
Black pepper
Chili Sauce (like Sriracha)
Black bean sauce

Roast the ginger and shallots, then place them in a cheesecloth along with the other broth spices and tie well. Boil beef bones in 2 liters of water for about 1 hour, then add the cheesecloth and simmer for another 1/2-1 hour. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar to your taste.*** Set aside the broth.

Place rice noodles and bean sprouts in a mesh encasement and submerge in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Divide into individual bowls. Top the noodles with slices of beef, onion, and whatever amount/mixture of fresh herbs you prefer. Pour soup over top (the heat of the broth will cook the meat). Add in any amount of on the side mix-ins you prefer, and voila Pho!!

Sounds delicious does it not. But, Pu, you say. WTF? I don't live in Asia. Where the fuck am I going to saw tooth herb and whole corianders? So, I feel your pain. Also, seriously wtf yourself 'cause I live in Asia and yet in Manila it is so much easier to order things online than traipse all over town and fight the traffic/parking to find the various ingredients. Sad. Anyways, here's a few interwebs spots I like to hit up to find my various ingredients. Hope you find them useful.

efooddepot = OMG happy, happy, love, love! Sooo happy! Like, if rainbows and unicorns had panda babies happy. And they ship to DPO no probs!

Asian Food Grocer - Big selection, specializing in Japanese items. These guys supply DeCA, so they're very DPO friendly and their shipping rate maxes out at $12.95 for larger shipments, which is pretty competitive.

Thai Supermarket  - despite its name, this site sells all kinds of goodies from all over Asia. Also ships to DPO, but they charge a flat rate fee + extra by ounce, so the shipping can get a bit high if you're not careful.

Yollie's Oriental Market - Willing to ship anywhere (and charge you for it!), this site gets bonus points for its balikbayan boxes! Plus they carry a wide variety of products (not just food stuffs).

The Wok Shop - buy all the cooking gear you want!

*who inherited my mom's baking gene. bitch. 
**sorry for the metric measurements, ya'll. That's what happens when you live overseas! :( 
***In our cooking class they actually added additional beef bouillon granules and some other "seasoning powder" which we suspected was likely MSG. You can add these or not as you prefer. I have made this recipe as is, and I didn't find that I needed those additional ingredients. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Noted This Morning

Husband: *affectionately* I love that little dimple on your butt cheek.
Me: *not so affectionately* Actually, that's cellulite.
J: You have a lot of dimples, Mommy!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A New Addiction

A weekend report a week late? Well that's what happens when work gets in the way. Stupid work. But, last weekend was so awesome that I couldn't not write about it. We did our first open water dive ever, and it was SO FUCKING AWESOME!!!! Did I emphasize that enough? I was a little nervous beforehand because obviously diving in the ocean is way different than practice dives in a pool, but the reality wasn't scary at all. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done.

We left early Sat morning for Anilao, which is an area known for diving in Batangas about 3 hours south of Manila (we learned from our last fiasco trip to Batangas that nothing on earth could ever compel me to face Manila traffic on a Friday night again). We met up with a bunch of friends who were accompanying us on the trip and caravanned our way down to the dive resort. We took all the kids and our yaya with us for this trip as kind of a test run, and it seemed to work out pretty well. Our yaya is not very good with making decisions on her own, but she seems to work pretty well as a mother's helper. It was a little nerve wracking leaving the kids behind at the resort as we went off on the boat to dive, but it worked out okay.

We did five dives altogether. Two on the first day and three on Sunday. The first two dives were familiarization and skill test dives so we could prove that we could do our safety skills out in the ocean. There were four of us getting certified: Husband and I and our friend I&S. Most of our other friends were already certified and went on a separate dive with a different dive master so they could go out deeper, except for our friend T who was just along to snorkel since she has decided scuba is definitely not for her! It was both good and bad that I and I are at about the same skill level and comfort level in the water, while our spouses are not quite there yet. The four of us have already planned a dive trip for Sep, so it was good that there wasn't just one outlier! I think the concept of scuba is much more difficult for people who are not comfortable in the water in the first place. Overcoming that fear is the biggest block to being able to accomplish the safety skills necessary for basic certification. As someone who has a great fear of heights, I can definitely relate. Water is not an issue for me, but I don't know that I could ever bungee jump or sky dive for any reason. Hell, I can barely fly on an enclosed airplane without having a panic attack. In the end only the two of us ended up getting certified, but I think everyone came away happy and proud of what they had achieved. Our dive master totally rocked (and if anyone coming to the Phils wants a recommendation, I'm more than happy to hand out his info). He took some pictures on our 4th and 5th dives when we were just swimming around for fun. We went to a maximum of 60 feet and our longest dive was about an hour.

As for me, I think I've developed a habit for life. My scuba experience was everything I hoped it would be. It took that little moment of awe I felt when we did the whale shark trip and extended it out for the length of the dive. It is so peaceful and quiet and awe-inspiring. I'm already trying to figure out when I con go out again! What am going to do when we leave the Philippines??

 The Guys

 The Girls

 The Gear

 The Boat

Gorgeous Sunset 

 Action Shot!

 I spotted this one - pretty good for a rookie! ;)


Night Dive! no rookies allowed :(

Newly Certified Diver!!!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

We keep those doggies rollin'.

This last weekend we drove up to Baguio. If we had really thought about it, we probably would have rescheduled this trip because of the timing (3 weeks straight of overseas travel and another trip this upcoming weekend does not a happy camper make). But, we had already made our reservations at the Ambassador's residence, and the kids were really looking forward to hanging out in the woods. And hang out in the woods we did! When I was a little girl my father used to take the family on long walks through the woods near our home in Maryland, and we would pretend to be characters out of a fantasy story he came up with during his college years. He even wrote a book* about it and then quickly buried it away never to see the light of day until we were teenagers! My particular character was Ynnubeno (bunny one, backwards). My little sister was Ynnubowt (natch).** My older sister was a shapeshifter, my father, the Purple Wizard, and my mother was the Snuggly Buggly. And, of course, there was the imaginary evil villain, Lox Norbagel. And, well, if you've been reading this blog for a while, none of this is going to be surprising to you. ;)

My children also took delight in coming up with characters for themselves (most of which were actually Pokemon characters, but whatevs). Hiking through the woods and letting their imaginations run wild was just so much fun. There are a lot of things that make Manila a challenging place to serve, but I think I miss being close to nature the most. I miss being able to take quiet walks in places where there aren't any people, where I can just feel at one with my surroundings. I really enjoyed that aspect of Baguio. It was unfortunate that we could only spend the weekend there. And no matter how insanely you drive, it is still a good 6hr drive from Manila thanks to the infrastructure (or, rather, the lack there of) here. For other FS who serve in Manila or just come to visit, it is so, so worth it to get the cottage at the Ambassador's residence there. It is completely private, right across from a hiking/biking/horseback riding path that cuts through the forest, and it is nice a cool even now during the hottest summer months. We just enjoyed the crap out of it. We'll definitely be booking another (longer) trip whether we can fit it in before the summer or after.

*semi-child inappropriate
**better break out the map and blacklight next time we're in NM, Dad!
**edited because I am old and forgetful!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Noted This Evening

A: Mama, your job is putting people to bed, and that's a really hard job.
Me: Oh? Why's that?
A: Because sometimes people run away. Now do your job or we will have to fire you...for three weeks!! 

Also, according to Word Bubbles, dickless is not a word...I beg to differ.

Monday, April 08, 2013

WTF Moment

Holy shit, I cannot believe that this:

still hangs on the walls of FSI. I'm not sure whether to be mortified or secretly thrilled that my beauty queen days have been forever immortalized for all of my colleagues to see...I'm pretty sure it's the former.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Happy to be Back or Miss Being on Vacation?

The kids are most definitely the former, while I am decidedly the latter!

Just got back from our family vacation to Vietnam and it.was.freaking.amazing! I fell in love with Saigon from the moment we drove from the airport to our hotel, and my love affair has not abated. Saigon is one of the coolest cities I've been to in a very long time. Being there among the mix of old and new reminded me of why I fell in love with Asia in the first place. The neon lights and the smells of street food cooking in the hot summer night, the public parks (well maintained and brightly lit with lovely bushes trimmed into various animals and other objects) teeming with people enjoying their evening meals, taking a stroll, or doing some tai chi. The streets filled with motorbikes, taxis, and pedestrians, yet actual traffic jams are few because everyone follow the basic rules of the road. And the food. Oh the food! I gained 8 pounds in a week (no joke!) gorging myself on bread (Banh Mi is my new most favorite food ever!) and rice noodles (our guide delighted in taking us to local, off the beaten path places once he discovered our penchant for adventurous eating) like Pho Bo and Bun Bo Hue. And then, of course, there's the coffee. Even the shitty coffee in Vietnam is still pretty fucking good. The French influence in the food is astounding. A delicious mix of East meets West with a little cafe culture thrown in. It was so incredibly exhilarating. It was everything I had hoped Manila would be. I knew from the minute we touched down that this was a place I could live. So, yeah...I fucking loved it. :)

Besides just getting to hang out in Vietnam for 8 days, the other half of our vacation awesomeness was hanging out with my little sister and her husband and my little niece, L, who is about 1 1/2 now. It's always difficult vacationing with others, especially when you're doing it as an entire family, since everyone has their own needs and desires, but I think we managed ok. And I was thrilled to have the chance to hang with them a bit and really get to know my niece since we hardly ever get to see them thanks to our crazy lifestyles (we live in Asia, they live in Europe, and we all have family in the US that we also need to allot time and money to seeing), and I don't think we'll be seeing them again in person until Christmas 2014. So that was really, really great.

We started out our tour in Saigon for a few days, taking in the sights and sounds, and visiting the various war monuments and museums.* We even took the kids to a traditional Vietnamese water-puppet theater, which I was worried they might be bored with, but turned out to be highly entertaining. All of them were entranced! Then we left Saigon for a two day tour of the Mekong River. We cruised up the river stopping at various tourist-y sites (here's where the indigenous people make rice paper, here are some local fisherman making their daily catch, and here's a traditional song performance while we serve you hot tea in the sun with no aircon while it's 37 degrees out, etc. etc.). It was soul-suckingly hot, but everything we saw was interesting and I really felt no pressure to buy things (even though we did) as we left. We bought a crap ton of the coconut candy we saw being made (we got to try the fresh out of the pot stuff - it was soooo yummy!).

Then we stayed overnight in Can Tho and left very early the next morning to see the floating market where we had one of the best cups of coffee I've ever had ladled to us from the side of the boat by a floating mini-market dude. Crazy. We also crammed in a whole buncha Buddhist pagodas, although my sis and I were both surprised to find that most of these had been built within the last few hundred years. Not a lot of old stuff seems to be left in South Vietnam.

From Can Tho, we returned to Saigon for a day where our awesome guide, Alex, took us to a local joint in a different part of the city for Pho Bo. Hands down one of the best meals I've ever eaten! 

After that we were off to Mui Ne for a few days of beach relaxation, which we managed to turn into another marathon of activity by packing on the tours. First we went to the red sand dunes and fairy stream, which was a 2km hike through some truly gorgeous countryside. This was by far the kids' favorite tour. A got so dirty he practically blended in with the dunes, which made it difficult to pick him out when they went sand sledding! Bizarrely, this is also where the kids had the opportunity to ride an ostrich.** C's favorite part of the whole vacation? Getting to ride and then eat an ostrich all in one day.*** The Pu foodie genes run deep in that one!

Our second tour took us to an 8th century Hindu temple of the Champa people (the indigenous peoples of that region), which satisfied our need to see old stuff. I find the incredible mix of religions and cultures in Vietnam to be fascinating. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity sit side by side, along with a good amount of old Chinese beliefs like ancestor worship. I never realized what a veritable mixing pot it is. We also saw local fisherman, a fish market, and a temple to the whale god with a 500yr old whale skeleton, along with other local markets in the area where we stopped to haggle over some rubies and jade.

To top it all off, the 4 girls all took a cooking class and learned how to make Pho Bo. It's a bit time intensive but actually pretty simple to make. It was really fun for the girls to make their own food and then slurp it down! Best of all? They videotaped the whole thing for a promotional tool for their hotel, so we'll get a copy when it's all done.

Our final day was spent traveling back to Saigon from Mui Ne where we said goodbye to my sis and her family (they were headed on to Hanoi for another week of holiday). We hooked back up with our old tour guide Alex, who took us back out for some intense market shopping (and a stop at a Hello Kitty store!) and a hearty meal of Bun Bo Hue, which I thought was even better than Pho Bo.

It says a lot about the Vietnamese people that Alex not only offered, but happily came along for our last few hours of tour. He did it solely out of the kindness of his heart and his desire to show us more of his city ( and his food - he's from the Hue region!). We tipped him anyway since it meant a lot to us, but this was just one of several things that struck me about the Vietnamese people. Everyone was so kind, and they love children (as in most Asian cultures). There was one restaurant in particular in Mui Ne where we stopped for dinner (fresh fish and scallops on the grill for sis & I!), J was upset about something and crying when we walked in. The elderly owner fussed over her for a while, fixing her hair into a traditional bun, showing her the restaurant's puppy, Lucky, who hung around under our table throughout the meal (much to J's delight), and even painting her nails! It just blew me away.

Anyway, since no one will ever read all the way through this anyway. I guess what it boils down to is, we had an awesome time and had to come home way too soon. I absolutely fell in love with Vietnam, and Saigon in particular. The vibrance, color, and culture of the city just sung to me in a way I haven't felt since the first time I went to China. I would live there in a heartbeat! Too bad Vietnamese is even harder to learn than Chinese!!

*Pu review: very depressing, and totally worth seeing, but naturally a bit one-sided. It's much like seeing WWII historical sites in Japan. 
** A: Nooooo, I don't want to. Get me off, get me off! *ten seconds later* THIS IS AWESOME!!!! Buy me an ostrich, mama!!!
***She also tried alligator among other local delicacies.