Saturday, June 17, 2017

To market, to market …

Every time I visit a new city, one of the first places I want to scope out is the neighborhood market. Nothing helps me to get to know a place as quickly as checking out where the locals shop for their meat, vegetables and provisions. I learn what they like to eat, shop for and cook. And because it’s a local market, frequented by fussy housewives, it has the best produce. When I’m at home, it’s the  same. Sure, I’ll pop by the nearest supermarket, because I can swing by and pick most things in a jiffy, but when it comes to shopping for fresh fruit or vegetables, or even freshly ground curry paste or deboned chicken thighs, I have to go to what the locals in my hometown call a “wet” market.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Why travel?

I've often been asked why I travel so much. Every chance I get, I'll take off. Either flying to a new locale, experiencing a different environ, culture and way of life. Or heading to a nearby town by road, re-acquainting myself with familiar haunts. These people who ask me the question usually say I'm just wasting my money. "Why bother going to a far off place where you have to adapt to different languages and foods, and sleep in uncomfortable, strange beds? They ask. "You can just as easily watch them on TV."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Being thankful for growing old

I recently caught a couple of talk shows where Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, made an appearance to promote her new book, Plan B. Having lost her husband suddenly a few years back, she shared about how she had to cope with that devastating loss. One comment she made struck me profoundly - that we should never take life for granted or gripe about growing old. “We moan and groan about ageing,” she said, “but I realized that my husband will never see 50.”

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Simple pasta with tomato sauce

Among the staples I have in my pantry are the makings of a simple tomato sauce which forms the base of many a dish that is not only hearty but yummy. Like spaghetti and meatballs. Lasagna. Even pizza and eggplant parmigiana. When cooking for a few people, I might attempt a more ambitious dish but when I’m cooking for just myself, nothing beats a a bowl of pasta smothered in home-made tomato sauce.

Friday, April 21, 2017

So are you Grace or Frankie?

When the TV series Grace and Frankie premiered, I was already waiting in anticipation to watch it. Now, in its third season, with a fourth already green-lighted, I am an avid fan. Why does it hold so much of my TV viewing attention? Well, that beach house certainly fascinates me. The outfits on those two women, not to mention TV daughter Brianna’s figure hugging power suits, are also yummylicious. But above all, it’s Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in their roles as seventy-something friends who try to navigate their way through their newly single lives and often cantankerous relationship who make the is series so absorbing.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Vietnamese Beef & Rice Vermicelli Salad

I'm always happy to head into a Vietnamese restaurant, whether in Vietnam itself or even further afield in Melbourne or London. Top on my list of favorites is probably beef pho or noodle soup, especially when it's cold and you want a soothing bowl of hot soup. But when the weather gets warmer and I want something lighter and refreshing, nothing beats a huge bowl of Vietnamese beef and rice vermicelli salad, topped with a huge handful of vegetables and herbs and drizzled with a yummy dressing.

Pickled vegetables
I suppose you can substitute the beef with any meat you want, like pork or chicken, but I love the combination of beef with all the salad ingredients. I've eaten it in several Vietnamese restaurants but I thought I'd attempt it myself. After trawling the net for a recipe, I came up with my own version that suits my taste. Like using palm sugar which I had sitting around from a trip to Vietnam. I also decided to lightly dress the carrots, cucumber and daikon radish (after I julienned them) with a bit of salt, sugar and vinegar.

Don't let the long list of ingredients intimidate you. If you prepare everything ahead, it only takes about an hour. Then you just quickly fry up the beef and pile everything in bowls.


For the dipping sauce:
•    2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
•    4 tablespoons lime juice
•    3 tablespoons fish sauce
•    2 garlic cloves, minced
•    1 1-inch length ginger, peeled and minced
•    1 medium chilli, minced
•    1 bird chilli, thinly sliced (optional)

For the stir-fry:
    •    12 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
    •    1 pound beef, sliced in thin 1/4-inch slices
    •    2 tablespoons fish sauce
    •    1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar
    •    3 garlic cloves, minced
    •    3 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass, tender centers only
    •    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    •    4 scallions, slivered
    •    1 medium carrot,  julienned
    •    1 small cucumber, julienned
    •    1 3-inch length of daikon radish, julienned
    •    Mixture of coriander sprigs, mint leaves, thai basil
    •    Small handful of bean sprouts
    •    4 tablespoons of crushed peanuts

1. In a small bowl, combine sugar, garlic, ginger, chillies and 1/4 cup water and stir together. Let this dipping sauce sit for 15 minutes for flavors to meld. (May be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated.)
2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add rice noodles, stir and turn off heat. Let noodles soften (5 to 8 minutes, depending on brand), then drain and rinse with cold water. Leave in colander at room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, combine beef, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and lemon grass in a bowl. Massage seasoning into beef and let sit for 15 minutes.
4. Divide vermicelli into 4 large bowls.
5. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. When wok is nearly smoking, add beef and quickly stir-fry until lightly browned and just cooked, about 2 minutes. Work in batches if necessary so meat browns and doesn’t steam. (If you do not have a wok, you may use a pan and work in batches.)
6. Top noodles with cooked beef, scallions, bean sprouts, carrot, cucumber and daikon radish. Sprinkle with herbs, and crushed peanuts. Drizzle lightly with dipping sauce and pass remaining sauce at table.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What I learned about love from sex therapist Dr. Ruth

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, better known as the sex therapist Dr. Ruth, is a diminutive 88 year old who is still dispensing down-to-earth advice on sex. She says the best way for older people to have sex is in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Labelled the high priestess of hanky panky, she exudes warmth and sweetness as a grandmother would, so it’s kind of hard to equate her with sex therapy. I didn't learn anything about sex from her. Certainly not when I showed up at her house many, many years ago for Passover!