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Cha ca 9 September 2014

Posted by uggclogs in Cooking, food, Happiness, Vietnam.
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Since living in Hanoi, one of the foods I miss is cha ca – or grilled fish. The best grilled fish is to be had in the old quarter in Hanoi, of course. Nothing beats the scenery and the atmosphere of being at Cha Ca La Vong, the most famous (and possibly the most expensive) restaurant. When we first arrived in Hanoi, they were still cooking the fish on coals at the table, and the spluttering heat from the frying pan would invariably end up being a health and safety hazard. This is as close as I have managed to get with my recipe, I am sure it’s still not 100%. I have used and adapted several online versions to get as near to authentic as possible.

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Cha ca

This recipe is for two people, but I suggest you always make too much, as it is so delicious.

Ingredients:

– 500 g of firm, white fish. Ling fish is the best, but cod has worked for me in the past.
– 3-4 spring onions (echalottes will work, too, but are a bit firmer)
– 1 tsp of curry powder
– 1 tbs of tumeric
– 2 tbs fish sauce
– 1 tbs yogurt
– 1 tsp crushed garlic
– 4 tbs vegetable oil
– 1 large bunch of scallion/spring onions, cut on an angle
– 1 large handful of dill, roughly chopped
– Fresh rice noodles (or rice vermicelli, if noodles are not available)

Garnish:

– 1 cup of peanuts, slightly roasted
– 1 cup of bean sprouts
– lime wedges
– fish sauce
– 2-3 cups of Vietnamese mint, basil, coriander and other fresh herbs

Method:

– Cut the fish into cubes of about 2cm/ 1inch and set aside in a bowl.
– Cut the spring onion into very small pieces, as small as you can.
– Mix the cut onion, spices, half of the oil, fish sauce, and yogurt together, and add to the fish – make sure the fish is completely covered.
– Place a non-stick pan over high heat and add the peanuts. Move the nuts around until they start to brown. Remove the nuts from the pan and set aside.
– Place the pan back on the heat, add the remaining oil, and fry the fish until just cooked.
– While the fish is cooking, add the noodles to boiling water and cook briefly until tender and warm.
– Add the scallion and dill and cook a little longer, then serve.

To serve, use small bowls. Half-fill a bowl with noodles, add a couple of spoonfulls of fish and greenery on top. Add any combination of the ganishes that you wish/like. Eat with chopsticks.

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Christmas tree 16 December 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Happiness.
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Christmas is back.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love Christmas. Sadly no snow for me this year, though, as I am staying in Australia. But look at my Christmas tree – finding the Christmas spirit all the same. Enjoy your Christmas wherever you are!

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Wonderful Canberra 4 September 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Happiness, Travelling.
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It is amazing what three weeks can do in Canberra.

Blistering cold winds, rain, clouds and grey have been replaced with the big blue skies that makes me all sooky for Australia, warm, sunny days, with a light summery breeze. Not quite spring, but on the precipice.

Blossoms everywhere, crocuses popping their head through the grass. And the rose bushes in front of my house, which I only pruned back to nothing in the beginning of June are visibly growing buds every day. Yesterday, they were buds, today they are two centimetre long leaves and stalks.

What an amazing turn around. Soon there will be ducklings galore. Lunches outside. All those wonderful spring activities.

I bought a motorbike. And two weekends ago I rode it to Uriarra Reserve. A perfect ride of about half an hour. Gorgeous scenery. Windy roads. And a picnic with friends at the other end of it all.

And this weekend, I went with my partner to the south coast to celebrate his birthday. We brought our push bikes, and rode them along the beach. Ate fish and chips and had one of the best Thai green curries we’ve ever had. It was only for two nights, but it felt like a holiday.

So bring it on, Canberra. I can’t wait to run and cycle along your paths. Familiarise myself again with you after what felt like a short and rainy winter. Bring it on 🙂

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Marble cake 16 May 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Baking, Cooking, food, Happiness, Life.
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Marble cake

It’s been a while since I have been baking, but last night I brushed off the old skills. I had no idea that I had become so rusty, and was making rookie mistake after rookie mistake! The result was still tasty, but I think I will have to relearn my old tricks by getting back into baking!

An oldie but a goodie – marble cake

Ingredients:
200g butter (room temperature) (mistake number 1: the butter I used was too cold. It needs to be soft, but not melted).
250g sugar
3 eggs
vanilla (1 tsp of essence, 2 tsp of vanilla sugar, OR 1 vanilla bean)
250g plain white flour
2 tsp baking powder
100ml butter milk
2 tsp cocoa

Bread tin, 175 degrees, 45-50 minutes

Method:
– Take all the ingredients out of the fridge and measure out the necessary amounts.
– Make sure the butter and all the other ingredients are at room temperature.
– Butter a bread tin and line the bottom with baking paper (mistake number 2: I forgot the lining, meaning the cake is still in the tim now.)
– Turn the oven on so it pre-heats to the correct temperature.
– Whisk the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Make sure it becomes a fluffy texture.
– Add an egg at the time, whisk until just combined between eggs.
– Add the vanilla, combine.
– Sift the flour and the baking powder into the mixture.
– FOLD the flour through the eggs to maintain as much of the air in it as you can.
– Fold the buttermilk through.
– Separate about 1/3 of the mixture into a separate mixing bowl, and sift the cocoa into it. Fold through gently.
– Pour another third of the vanilla mixture into the baking tin, then the cocoa mixture, then the remaining vanilla.
– Use a skewer to gently draw a line through the mixture (ziggzag about 2.5 cm apart one way, then the long way). Don’t overdo this.
– Place in oven, and leave to bake.

Enjoy with coffee!

This cake also freezes well.

Washington D. C. 9 January 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Travelling, Travels.
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After San Francisco, I started my trip towards London. Having a bit of time six weeks before the next engagement there, however, I decided to meander my way via a few places I always really wanted to see. First stop, Washington DC.

I conveniently know a couple of people there, which I sincerely recommend. Travel to places where you know someone. And I don’t say this to make you all into moochers, because I don’t mean for free accommodation. But experience tells me that even in cities like Warsaw, which can be cold and its history sad and oppressing, you can end up with fantastic memories if you have someone to show you the sights, tell you what they like about it, and feed you in their favourite restaurants.

And ask questions – about their lives, what it’s like to live there, where to go. If they know you, they are also able to recommend things specifically for you.

And if you know people somewhere, contact them on advance and tell them you’d like to take them out for a coffee/ beer/ meal (depending on their budget) to pick their brains. I have found this to be a more valuable investment than a Lonely Planet. Although of I travel somewhere where I don’t know someone, I don’t go without one, of course.

So, Washington was… At the risk of sounding corny… Grand.

There’s a real sense of the importance of politics, democracy, and the people behind it all in the capital. The wonderful sense of the processes and indeed the celebrations of freedom.

The massive buildings, the memorials. The institutions (I took a picture of the IRS offices for a friend, as I think she’s spoken to every single person in that building at one point) and museums.

I was lucky with the weather, too. Mild, almost warm. Blue skies. And grey squirrels everywhere.

One of the highlights for me was Alexandria, an old town outside of Washington which was supposed to have been part of District of Columbia, but ended up as part of Virginia. It is quaint, pretty, and somehow quintessentially American. I enjoyed walking the little streets with my friends, soaking up the Christmas atmosphere. I had Mac and cheese for the first time in my life and felt like I was having an all round American experience.

I also loved walking everywhere. I thought the city very manageable, and although the distances are not for the faint hearted (the mall is 3 km from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol) there is plenty to see. I took lots of photos, and simply enjoyed seeing all those sights I have seen in movies; Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Memorial. I couldn’t help but think of the scene in Forrest Gump where Jenny runs through the water in the mall.

The museums are clearly among the best in the world and far too plentiful for me to sample all of them. So, I simply chose things that sounded interesting to me. I went to a miniature train exhibition at the Botanical Gardens which was probably meant for kids more than me. Little train sets were set up in a fairy land with mosses and mushrooms. I’m not sure if I should admit to this, but I loved it.

I also went to the Museum of Natural History for the dinosaurs and got completely drawn in by their gems and precious stones exhibit. And the Air and Space Museum! I swear I should have been born a boy, because between the trains, dinosaurs, fossils, rocks and space shuttles, I was in heaven. I could have spent days in these museums alone, so I only scratched the surface of what was on offer.

The nerd in me also had its fancy tickled as I went to the National Archives and saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with its many amendments.

I loved Washington. It was a fun, manageable city. I had delicious winter cocktails with Asian-Mexican fusion food (it strangely worked really well) and good friends to keep me company in the evenings. I went to an improv theatre performance and generally had a wonderful time.

As I left on the train to go to New York, I genuinely wanted to come back to Washington some time. Perhaps even to live!

These holidays were going well indeed.

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San Francisco 6 January 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Travelling, Travels.
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I am on the road again.

2012 was a busy year for me, tourism-wise.

At the end of November I had a family occasion in San Francisco, and another one lined up in the middle of January in London. I could thus either fly from Australia, where I am currently based, to San Francisco, stay for a week, fly back, then fly to London in January and then back, or, travel around the world.

After a slight moment of hesitation (slight in this case being about a split second) I thus chose to take six weeks off and travel. As you do.

First stop San Francisco!

I have always wanted to see San Francisco, but instead of flowers, I spent most of it with rain in my hair. I have a few friends there, although they conveniently were away while I was in town… Apparently, Ghana and Japan are far more interesting than sticking around to show me around.

But, having said that, San Francisco was magnificent. It had everything to tickle my fancy.

I went to the cable car museum for the nerd in me. It is a small, central museum where the engine rooms for the cables that run the famous cable cars are. It stunk like engines and oil the moment we walked in, but the massive cogs and wheels turning and the sheer old school awesomeness of the place made it completely worth it! If you are into steam punk, cogs and old school, this is totally up your ally. If you are not into that, you should still go.

I went to Alcatraz because of the must-see nature of the place. I was a bit worried that I might be disappointed, as everyone was talking it up so much, but the morning that I decided to go, the sun came up and it was a glorious day. And frankly, I would recommend it myself. The prison part is really well done, with an audio guide literally telling you where to go and what you are looking at. It does create a weird non-interaction between the tourists who all walk around intently listening and looking, with only footsteps heard when you take the headphones off. I also experienced that if you, like me, run off to look at something outside of the audio tour, the tour was inflexible and didn’t really allow any fast forwarding or rewinding. Stick to the script and you won’t get lost! The surrounds are also worth having a look at, and the historic occupation of the island by Indian tribes had a special interest for me, as I am currently working on Indigenous issues in Australia. All in all, it was a really nice morning.

I also was lucky enough to be asked along to a bike ride of the bay, which went across the Golden Gate Bridge. Yay for lovely people who take pitty on a lone traveller, and invite them to things. It is one of my absolute top advice if you travel: when travelling alone, be open for experiences when they arise, or if travelling with people, take heed of the lone traveller and befriend them! Again, we had amazing weather that day, and cycling across the bridge was an experience I will not soon forget. It was leisurely, but with amazing views.

Food-wise, San Francisco did not disappoint. I went down memory lane with fantastic Vietnamese banh mi (sandwiches), Argentinian steaks that melt in the mouth and wash down well with Argentinian wine, and a Dutch pancake cafe. I tried Asian fusion and a wonderful 7 course meal with great company and wine.

All in all, I think I drank as much in San Francisco as I probably have for a long time. But holidays must be kicked off in style, right?

So I recommend the hilly city. Walk it as much as you can. Jump on a cable car even though it is horrendously tacky and touristy. Go for a bike ride and eat. Then eat some more.

Next stop – Washington DC.

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Beef risotto 6 January 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Cooking, food, Happiness.
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I have been travelling lately, and have found that there is a real craving for risotto in Norway at the moment. Everyone wants to make it, but not everyone dares to give it a shot.

To be fair, risotto is not hard to make. Only time consuming, as you should not leave the pan or stop stirring. But it’s also easy to eat – traditionally there are no spices and overwhelming herbs used in them.

I normally make mine with chicken, but was cooking for someone allergic to fowl, so had to adapt and try with minced meat. So here is a little adaptation of a beef risotto! If, like my dad, you find it needs a bit more kick, you can add some cayenne pepper or chilli, but I like it this way.

Beef risotto

Ingredients

4 persons

1 tbs butter (or oil, but butter tastes better)
500 g minced beef

1 large onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed

2 beef stock cubes
Water

1 glass of white cooking wine (omit if you so choose)
1 tin chopped tomatoes (400 g)
2 tbs tomato paste

2 cups arborio rice (other rice is possible, but not as nice)
1/2 cup frozen peas

Handful of shredded basil
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (get a block of cheese and grate it yourself for best results)

Sour cream and basil leaves to serve

Method

– brown the butter or heat the oil in a deep heavy based pan, and cook the minced meat. Remove the meat until further notice.
– add some more butter if necessary to the pan, and brown the onion and garlic.
– add the rice. Make sure you turn the heat down, and completely coat the rice with the remaining fat in the pan. Add the wine, and keep stirring. If not using wine, add the tomato here.
– pour water (about 0.5 litres initially) to a small separate pan to make stock. Add the stock cubes and bring to a simmer.
– when the wine is almost absorbed, add the cooked meat, tinned tomato and tomato paste to the pan. Again, wait to simmer and reduce, constantly stirring.
– every time the liquid reduces in the pan, add another bit of stock. Make sure the stock is warm, otherwise the cooking process of the rice will be halted and thus prolonging the time it takes to cook.
– test the rice by biting on a grain before adding more liquid, but watch out, it will be hot.
– keep adding hot liquid until soft. Note that you may need more than the stock, if so, boil some water to add at the end.
– add the peas.
– the risotto is done when the rice is cooked and a dollop of the risotto placed on a flat plate will sink slightly, without being runny.
– remove from the heat, add the basil and most of the cheese.
– serve with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of cheese and a basil leaf. And maybe a glass of wine.

Bon apetit!

Vietnam – at the forefront of gay equality in Asia? 3 August 2012

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, only in Vietnam, Vietnam.
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Source: Interweb

It has been a full year since my return from Vietnam. It has been a good, but difficult year for me, and not a day goes by without me thinking about Vietnam and the amazing time that I had there.

I have become one of those annoying people who has a million anecdotes, ready to share with anyone who will listen. Many people are interested, of course, yet I am sure I bore some. So I loathe to spend another post on this love affair of mine with the long, slender country of Sout East Asia. I know some of you are fed up with my constant talking about it.

But the recent news (and I found this through the Daily Beast) caught my eye, because either things have truly changed in Vietnam since I left (very possible, considering how quickly the country develops) or I underestimated the country significantly. Or perhaps there is yet again a disconnect between news outside of the borders and what is happening on the ground. But all the same, it’s an interesting development!

Vietnam is having its first pride parade this weekend in Hanoi.

I was fully aware of a vibrant gay community in Hanoi, of course. I even knew a few gay (Vietnamese) men. Yet the idea of same-sex couples possibly being considered for legal marriage, has surprised me.

I have had vivid conversations with Vietnamese denying that there are any gay people in Vietnam. One of my best Vietnamese friends excitedly told me that she had seen “Hanoi’s Gay” one day, and when I pressed her on it, she explained that she had in fact seen a cross dresser. The poor man was classified in her mind as the only gay in Hanoi, a city of about 6.5 million people. I tried to explain to her that this was, of course unlikely, as there were probably quite a number of people in Hanoi that were gay. And just the fact that the man was a cross-dresser or a transvestite did also not necessarily mean she was gay at all. My friend just stared at me blankly.

Time and time again would I have discussions as a variation of this one. Maybe I attracted people who were curious in general, but for a population that did not think gay people existed, they sure were curious about gays and being gay. Sexuality is not something that is discussed much, and vibrators and dildos are banned from being sold. Many of the public policies portray a country in denial about sex, yet statistics show that there is plenty going on, with marriages and babies happening a lot (especially in this fortuitous year of the dragon) but also with the huge number of brothels and “karaoke” bars available. It’s always interesting the first time you go to a non-family karaoke bar and it clicks…

But I digress. To hear that there is a gay pride parade in Hanoi this weekend makes me wish I were there. I would have liked to go to show my support. Any type of demonstration is usually frowned upon, and gay pride can not be easy in a conservative country like Vietnam. And I suppose the gay community still has a lot to fight for, with their second day‘s tag line being “Different, but not deviant”.

But good on them. I will be thinking about the men and women who will participate, and hoping that it will all remain positive.

Good luck!

Travel hiccups 11 May 2012

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Travelling, Travels.
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When travelling, there’s bound to be a few hiccups. Things don’t go to plan, or simply don’t work out. Sometimes, though, it can feel like things have simply got off the wrong foot, and that nothing could possibly go right.

As I prepared for my sojourn to Argentina, it has become apparent that I may cause some unnecessary trouble for myself. Hopefully, this will not become a sign of what is to come for these holidays…

Firstly, I managed to walk away from my handbag with my wallet, credit cards, money and iPhone in it in a restaurant the night before flying out of Canberra. I did not even notice, until the police contacted the person I was with at the time (having contacted the last few recently called people on my list, including dad). Luckily, and to the credit of the police, they were not only able to reach me, but also able to return all my stuff (without anything missing from the bag) that very same night. Thanks goes out to “Matt” who found the bag and took it to the police station intact.

Then, the next morning, I had to take a train to commute from the domestic to the international terminal in Sydney. Dragging two bags with me is not usually my forte, and getting through a turnstile with one bag in front and the other behind while putting my ticket through the ticket reader caused the turnstile to close with one bag and one leg on either side of it. My reaction was

“well, that went well!”

Which caused a lady nearby who was trying her best not to laugh, to snort loudly. She was embarrassed to find so much mirth in my misfortune, although I was giggling, too.

Hopefully, these events are not an indication of my holidays to come.

Doe eens gewoon 18 January 2012

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Sometimes, being a person speaking more than one language, makes you able to see its quirks from the outside. Once you speak a second language well (read: extremely well), you might even start using plays on words as humour. Sometimes, you’ll be able to make jokes that native speakers will never even have thought of, because they are too close to the language.

For example, in Norway, when you thank someone, and want to express extra gratitude, you say “Tusen takk”, meaning “Thousand thanks” or, in better English – “a thousand thank yous”.

Growing up with this saying, you might never question it, it’s what you and others always say. My dad, however, thought it was a funny quirk, and used to respond with “five hundred is enough”, completely baffling the speaker, who didn’t know what he referred to. This made for many an awkward “ddaaaaaa-aaad!” moment on my part, especially during my teenage years.

Interestingly, I do tend to say similar things myself; using the meaning of words to find humour in life. At least I crack myself up, despite no one else getting the joke, right? I am sure if I ever have kids, there will be lots of “mmuuuuu-uum! Gah!” (And not just due to my horrid sense of ‘humour’, I swear.)

I have made plays on words for as long as I can remember; I am obviously more of a chip off the old dad-block than I have been willing to admit.

Whenever I used to chuck a tantrum as a teenager, my mother would say “doe eens gewoon”, which is a Dutch term meaning “act normal”. In essence, “doe eens gewoon” means “chill out, stop making a mountain out of a mole heap, you are overreacting, you are being abnormal” all in one.

My usual response to this term used to be “dit IS gewoon!” (“this IS normal for me!”) and storm out. Not really a very rational response, but you know… teenagers.

Speaking a number of languages thus not only gives you an excellent opportunity to communicate with a much larger number of people in their native language, but it also makes you see those languages in relation to each other.

Languages fascinate me; how did “being normal” become such a lofty goal in the Netherlands? What does that say about the people there?

Or as my dad still says:

“Doe maar gewoon, dat is al gek genoeg.” (Just act normal, that is already weird enough).