Sunday, November 29, 2009

Catering for Cameo

We were asked to do the catering for the opening of a friend's gallery opening yesterday. The title of his exhibit is cameo and here's what we made:

Black and white cupcakes with white and dark ganache frosting, strawberry flavored meringues- some pink and some dipped in white ganache and then topped with pink ganache, cameo chocolate wafer cookies which Alexander created, my favorites. More pictures soon.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I like the shape of this

We are currently figuring out our plans for next February/March. We decided to spend February in Taiwan again, visiting some friends, doing a bit of work and celebrating Chinese New Year there. It will be a first for Alexander. While working out the cheapest and most convenient route between South African and Taiwan Alexander discovered the following:

If we fly from Johannesburg to Bangkok and on to Taiwan, then to Kota Kinabalu on Borneo, followed by Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and then Bangkok again and back to Joburg, it would cost less than flying direct to Taiwan and back. I know, I married a flight-plan genius. So after a year of non-travel we'll be making up for lost time very early in the New Year. We haven't made up our minds 100% yet, but we're basically doing this. Like the arrow shape this plan follows too.

Cities, jungles, beaches here I come!

Another week on the web

1) A clutch won't do in Hanoi- Medusa se Blog
2) Beautiful images from a trip to Charleston- Hibernian Homme
3) Delicious Tangerine Vanilla Bean Marmalade- Prudent Baby
4) How to make fantastic nut butters- A Life (Time) of Cooking
5) Musings on Thanksgiving- Primitive Culture
6) I agree, could not care for Adam Lambert before but beginning to like him- OMG
7) Art gift ideas- Bloesem
8) Pret a Voyager's Color as Communication class project using one of my favorite films, Amelie- Pret a Voyager
9) White chocolate cake with mango and pomegranate syrup- Winos and Foodies
10) A contest for something beautiful- Mon Petit Fantome

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I've been busy this week preparing for our first Thanksgiving as a married couple and the first time we actually have a Thanksgiving dinner. We are hosting it at a friend's home, with us bringing the turkey, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin pie. I've never made turkey before, ever, so this is a huge deal. I was terribly nervous making the stuffing, stuffing the turkey and now getting ready to make gravy. But once the stuffing was done and the bird ready to go into the oven I decided I have reason to be proud of my first effort and I'm certain it's going to taste great.

We've decided to go South African for the stuffing, with boerewors (South African style sausage) meat and dried peaches soaked in brandy with lots and lots of rosemary. For the gravy I'm making brandied giblets, another thing I've never worked with before!

Alexander made some beautiful pumpkin pies with a mixture of local squash. Yum!

Will post more after the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You desire: BloggerAid Cookbook

Here’s something we should all desire, The BloggerAid Cookbook. It’s the fruit of a lot of work on the part of a couple of kindly bloggers who decided to publish a cookbook to help alleviate hunger in the world.

Food bloggers from around the world were asked to submit recipes to the project. These were compiled into one impressive cookbook to be sold online, with the proceeds benefiting the UN’s World Food School Meal's Program.

Here’s more:

“Food does not simply nourish the body; food also celebrates what makes the world diverse, as well as, what unites us. The BloggerAid Cook Book is a collection of international recipes illustrating that we can work together and unite for a greater cause. The authors of this cookbook are food bloggers from around the world who have endeavored to make a difference by raising funds for the World Food Programme and encompassing their passion for "all things foodie" at the same time. Through these recipes they share their traditions and insatiable curiosity about new flavours. They pay tribute to the home cooking of our grandmothers, while celebrating the exoticism and richness of a world brought closer together by their hopes to make a difference. With recipes such as Tomato-Cheese Ravioli with Eggplant Sauce, Spicy Serundeng Tuna and Peanuts, Serrano Ham Paella with Oyster Mushrooms, Raspberry Mascarpone Bites and Triple Layer Orange-Passion Fruit Tart we are doing our part to say that bloggers can change the face of famine.

We chose the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) to receive the funds generated by the cookbook because of the wonderful work this organization does. The WFP has touched the lives of our members, many of whom are from countries where poverty is often a way of life. More specifically, 100% of BloggerAid's proceeds from the cookbook will benefit the WFP's School Meals Programme, which benefits an average of 22 million hungry children each year. School meals are important on many levels. In countries where school attendance is low, the promise of at least one nutritious meal each day boosts enrollment and promotes regular attendance.
This book is a virtual way for all of us, wherever we may be and however rich or poor we may be, to pull up a chair at the same table and share what we have.” *

So hop on over to createspace.com and order your copy and order a couple more for the rest of the family, and enjoy the fact that you contributed to keeping someone fed and educated.

* Paraphrased from review on createspace.com

Monday, November 23, 2009

Homemade egg noodles

A few weeks ago I tried my hand at homemade pasta in the form of ravioli. I swore high and low that I was never undertaking anything like that ever again. But when it comes to saying ‘never’ I am a big old liar. I once said I’ll never live in Taiwan again, just to go back and live there for 5 more years and loving it, I also said I’ll never teach again and now I am making plans to study Education. So of course I was not going to stay away from pasta making for two long.

After my pasta attempt I decided to try making Chinese egg noodles. Which is basically what pasta is seeing as how you use egg and wheat flour to make both. In Taiwan western style pasta is called Italian noodles or idali mien. I’m sure my spelling of that is all wrong.

Alexander nicked a really old Chinese cookbook from his parent’s home on our last visit and it has been coming in very handy for cooking Chinese and it was from this book, Regional Cooking of China by Margaret Gin and Alfred E. Castle, that I got the recipe for the noodles.

Ingredients:
1.5 cups flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
cornstarch for dusting

Process:
Pour the flour out onto a clean surface and form a well in the center, pour the egg mixture in and gently incorporate the two. Knead for about 10 minutes into a smooth ball. Cover in a bowl with a damp tea towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Knead again and break off pieces to be rolled out, always making sure to cover the balls you are not rolling out with the towel. Roll out the balls as thinly as possible. Dust with cornstarch, set aside and cover with a damp tea towel. Continue until all the dough has been rolled out.

Take a sheet of rolled out dough and begin rolling it up away from you until you get to the center of the sheet, roll from the other side towards you until the two rolls meet. Use a sharp knife and slice into desired widths (about an 1/8th of an inch). With the blunt edge of the knife, lift up the pieces and shake them free, or use your hands. Continue to do so with all the sheets, dust well with cornstarch to prevent them from sticking. Place in a covered container or plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 2 days) or freeze them. If you freeze you can defrost it in the fridge before using.

To cook your noodles, bring a pot of slightly salted water to a boil with a tablespoon of oil and add the noodles. Boil for about 3 minutes until tender, make sure the strands don’t stick.

It’s a bit of work, but it was actually much easier now that I knew what I was getting myself into and I loved the whole process, besides, it’s helping me gain some muscle in these scrawny arms of mine.

We had ours the same evening with a Szechwan beef stew I made from the same book. Yum! I did slice the noodles a bit too wide I think, but it came out great and we had a fun dinner.

* Thanks Alexander for the photos.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I desire- Butt calendar 2010

This is exciting news! Butt magazine is coming out with their first ever calendar for 2010. 54 Weeks of the hot, the cute and the naughty from all over the world on Butt's signature pink gracing a wall in our home(s) sounds like the perfect gift that gives on giving to me!

The images are mostly reader submitted which I love. Real people, not models, will be welcoming you into each week of the year, and they are from all over; from Syria and Argentina to the US and Norway. A new guy to develop a crush on every week! There are also a couple of extra pictures by amazing photographers like Wolfgang Tillmans and Alisdair McLellan.

You can order them online here, just email me for address details. Thanks!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Take me back to your house- NOT

I scanned this from the home decor section of a local magazine I like, but which will remain unnamed here. What the? This reeks of nouveau rich taste which for some reason is very often celebrated in home and decor magazines in this part of the world. God it stinks. And that tacky pillow underneath the word. Ugh!

In better news, I'll be visiting the very adorable home of a friend tomorrow for a very local Take me back to your house!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Another week on the web

1) Style Guide Cape Town is enjoying London style.
2) I think I know the feeling, Asia does this to you.
3) Naan!
4) Kind of preppy equestrian style in this week's Living In.
5) Brett's getting lost in Melbourne and spotting koalas.
6) Shop-shop-shop at Skinny laminx and while you're at it get some for me too. Thanks.
7) Dreaming of seeing the aurora.
8) I want to eat these chocolate cranberry rolls now.
9) Some lady slapped the mayor of Cape Town this week after he suggested there squatter camp was not so bad. I can't find an article online, but I love this kind of stuff. Hope she got an award!
10) I think it's safe to say summer's here and this is what we've been doing every day this week.

Anise seed beskuit

I have this one recipe that I always use when I bake beskuit (rusks in English, don’t like that word either). It is my mom’s and she’s been baking it since forever. I think it is my favorite kind of beskuit, but I decided that it was time I give something new a try, browsing through some old recipes I found one for anise seed beskuit. Really simple and great with coffee or tea with a great anise taste.

For these you need the following ingredients:
1kg self-raising flour
2 teaspoons anise seeds (or more)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
150gr margarine, melted (I suppose you can use butter as well)
2 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten

The process:
Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare a deep oven dish. Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and add to the dry mixture. Mix until you have a stiff dough. With your hands, roll bits of dough into little balls, a bit bigger than golf ball size and pack them tightly into your oven dish. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully turn it out and separate the pieces and place on a rack. Dry out in the oven at 100C until dried out. Make a pot of coffee or tea, dip and eat.

These are also great fresh out of the oven after the first 45 minutes with a bit of butter. Yum! I’m glad I tried a new recipe, although I still like my others best these are really great, especially with the anise.

For those who don’t know, beskuit is a South African take on biscotti. They’re usually higher than biscotti and cut into chunks rather than slices. And it tastes better and less hard than biscotti. Sorry, but it’s the truth!

The oven mitt in this picture was made by my maternal grandmother from the kitchen drapes that hung in my paternal grandmother’s kitchen years and years ago. We have four in total with blue and red birds on them. I totally adore them. Thanks grans! Oh, and the tin was a Milnerton market find. Cool hey?

* Thanks Alexander for the pics.

Entertaining with pizza

Last week we had a couple of friends over for a pizza dinner. I spent the afternoon preparing my trusty pizza dough with the help of the oven, since it was very wintry I needed a different heat source for the dough, and asked each guest to bring some toppings for their own pizza.

At around 8 in the evening our friends arrived and after enjoying some lovely bruschetta with spicy Khmer mushroom topping that Alexander made we started on making dinner.

Leslie brought loads of blue cheese that she crumbled all over hers, Tanya made a veggie version with mushrooms while Ryan prepared one with salami and olives and Alexander made one with green pepper and mushrooms and another also with salami and tomato sauce. Alexander covered a table with crappy baking paper, sliced the pizzas and placed them one the table where they were snapped up and enjoyed with great company and warming red wine while the wind was blowing rain against our window. It was a very cozy dinner.

Thanks for the toppings and the great evening guys!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A good week in the kitchen

I've been rather busy in the kitchen last week. Experimenting with Chinese cuisine, baking again and making use of the unexpected wintry to just play around in the kitchen.

We enjoyed green chili fiesta rolls, baked chicken, fried greenpepper and beef, an evening with pizza, Szechwan beef noodle soup, and anise seed rusks (beskuit). Some recipes will soon follow.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I love Kate!

I have been in love with Kate moss since foreeeeever. Ms Kate can do no wrong. When everybody was saying she's too skinny I said skinny on. When people pointed fingers and said 'Bad model!" when she was snorting lines I hollered snort on! Kate Moss is totally awesome.

So of course I love this motto of her quoted to WWD recently, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."

Classic. Love it. No I am not into size 0 models, I think that's a lot of BS. Except when it comes ot Kate. She's prefection.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another week on the web

1) Flavorful Asian style meatballs from the Philippines compliments of 80 Breakfasts.
2) All things Danish at the re-purposed I am a Viking.
3) Dreaming of Lapland at Hibernian Homme.
4) Hear what Dorothy Black has to say on prostitution in South Africa.
5) And something about homosexuality in China and Taiwan from Jonathan in China.
6) Someone should stop Ashlee Simpson- see why on Dlisted.
7) More reason to go back to Taiwan- Pho restaurant review at A Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei.
8) Think its possible for me to live inside Dosfamily?
9) Hot guy to the rescue!
10) A salad resulting in pink feta at Voer. I like!

Cambodia 2001- my Preah Khan guide

I also visited Cambodia for the first time in 2001. Back then guidebooks made it sound like a nightmare for travel with terrible roads, a dangerous capital and landmines everywhere. We decided to just fly in and out of Siem Reap and spend a couple of days there, exploring the temples.

Upon arrival in the dusty town it seemed the guidebooks were correct. Siem Reap was a backwater with virtually no properly paved roads, massive moon crater potholes in the town, and only a couple of places where backpackers like us could get some burgers or pizza. There was no sign of the food scene Siem Reap boasts these days and the town was not nearly as attractive as it is nowadays. I did not like it one bit and we spent most of our time either among Khmer ruins or cooped up in our AC-d room.

Back then there was nothing around the ruins, not a soul selling fresh coconut juice or stands where you could get a tasty Cambodian curry. There was the odd souvenir peddler, but other than that nothing. We bought fruit, water and sandwiches in town and took it with us for lunch and snacks. We also did not take any cash with us, it would have been totally useless to us.

One particularly hot day we had Preah Khan on our list of sights, one of the ruins that has seen a lot of destruction by the environment over the centuries. It was used as a monastery and university at one time, later becoming an inter-denominational temple for devotees of Vishnu, Shiva and Buddha. My friend Jodi had enough of the heat and decided to wait for me in the shade of a massive tree while I wander around the site.

As I entered a skinny kid of about 11 or so approached me and offered to be my tour guide. They were everywhere those days, following professional guides around and picking up the English, German, French, Japanese and Korean versions of the various temples’ history. I told him that I was fine on my own and kept on walking, but he was not about to take ‘no’ for an answer.

He kept on following me, pointing out features of the temples and sharing bits of information. I knew he was doing this in return for a tip, something I could not give him because I had absolutely no money on me, only my camera, notebook, guidebook, pen and half a bottle of water. I explained to him that I did not need a guide, that I seriously had nothing to offer him and asked him kindly to just leave me alone. He did not budge, so I decided to hang out in one spot until he gave up. No such luck, he just kept on insisting that he did not want any money and that he’d like to be my guide just for fun.

In the end I relented and we strolled through the ruined corridors and clambered over massive banyan roots. Besides being very informative he was also highly entertaining, trying to scare me from time to time by calling out ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ I enjoyed his company, and as we neared the entrance again I started feeling terrible that I did not have anything to offer him.

Before saying goodbye I asked if I could take his picture and he gladly obliged. For some reason his expression in this picture is much more serious than the rest of the time. I reached into my bag and repeated what I said earlier, that I had no money and that I could not pay him, but I decided to give him my pen. Hopefully he could use it at school, it was a miserable tip, but I thought it would be something. I thought oh so wrong.

He’s kind eyes turned into rage as he chanted in a raised voice, ‘Dollar! Dollar!” I reminded him how if warned him I had no cash, but he refused to comprehend. In all likelihood he did not even understand the first time. He refused my pen and started screaming at me in Khmer, causing a bit of a scene. Under the shameful glares of elderly tourists I turned away from him and rejoined Jodi and our driver, him still cursing me in the background.

I remember that day so well; I can still hear his voice, guiding me through the ruins. Whenever I look at this picture I feel a terrible sense of guilt for not being able to give him more. Every time I’ve been back to Siem Reap and Angkor since then I always wonder, what happened to him?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I desire- Torilla lime & salt chocolate

Tequila shots like cigarettes is something I sometimes miss, but I think if I ever smelled it again that night will come back in one awful rush and it would be the end of me.

Most of us have been there. Young, out on a Saturday night (or any other night) and uncontrollably doing mad tequila shots. It used to be my favorite pastime whenever I went to a bar, which was regularly during the entire duration of my twenties; lick the salt, shoot the tequila, bite down on the lime. Everything with one hand. Later on I quit the lime and salt and just shot it back in one clean go.

And then it all went wrong one night as it always does and I never touched it again. Except once in margarita form in Mexico.

But this morning I discovered that Blair from Wise Craft and her husband came up with brilliance. They have be working on their own chocolate bar range called Komforte Chockolates, and came up with three very innovative and awesome flavors; French Toast, Ramen Noodles and… Tortilla Lime & Salt!
Now this I can do. So it's like having the parts of the tequila shot without the stuff that's going to give you a headache and lots of other unpleasantries. Milk chocolate mixed with lime infused tortilla chips. Yes, please! I think I can almost taste it and it tastes damn good. Now get me to Seattle ASAP so I can pick up a few of these bars and some of the others too, very curious to try the ramen noodles. Sounds crunchy!

My family is not big on Christmas so there probably won’t be any stockings, but I will sew one special if someone decides to place one (or six) of these and the others in a stocking for moi.

The man who fell in love with the moon

I read The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer for the first time in 2000 I think. I was in love with Shed, the protagonist, after the first paragraph. I continued to fall in love with pretty much the rest of the story’s main cast as Shed introduced them one by one; Ida Richilieu, Alma Hatch, Dellwood Barker.

After reading it the first time I got my own copy and reread it at least once a year over the next couple of years. It was my favorite and most beloved book ever. The last time I read it was in 2004 or 2005. Since then it’s been gathering dust in a box at my parents’ home. When we moved back here I brought it down with us to Cape Town, but never opened it.

I was worried that reading it again I will find the characters dull, the stories empty and be disappointed. I actually considered giving it away the other day. But Alexander suggested I try reading it again before doing so.

I was trying to get into Die Afrikaner (The Afrikaner) at the time and found the writing style decidedly dull, so I figured I might as well take turns between the two books. After the first page of Man I had Die Afrikaner in the stack of books I had to return to Christel. I was falling in love again.

The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon is still my most favorite book. It is hard and it is sad, the characters are prostitutes and gay men in a time and in a place where there was very little tolerance for them. But it is so beautifully written, it draws one in and you cannot put it down, through all the grimness and the wretchedness, and the moments of happiness.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Entertaining with kool frikkadelle

One Friday night a while ago, after a week of entertaining and eating out we stayed in and entertained ourselves with a very South African dish (as far as my knowledge goes) called kool frikkadelle or cabbage meatballs. I think the Afrikaans sounds better regardless of how badly you might pronounce it.

I’ve actually never had it in my life and only found out about its existence while paging through some cookbooks (with pretty pictures of course) earlier this year. What I have had though is my grandmother’s meatballs (okay I hate that word so from now on it’s frikkadelle- work on the pronunciation: frik-ah-delle-eh) and I liked them so much that I asked her to send me the recipe. I was craving them so I decided to make them, but work them into cabbage frikkadelle. It’s a great way to serve something as mundane as frikkadelle.

Ingredients (feel free to increase the spices, think I’d do so next time):
about 10 whole cabbage leaves
10 whole cloves
1 can whole peeled or crushed tomato
salt and pepper to taste

1 kg minced meat
3 thick slices bread
500ml water
2 eggs
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 large tablespoon chutney
¾ cup grated carrot

The process:

Immerse the cabbage leaves in enough gently boiling water to cover and cook for 10 minutes or until gently softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool in water. Drain.

Soak the bread in the water. Mix the spices, chutney and carrot with the meat, then add the soaked slices of bread (torn into pieces) and eggs. Mix everything well and shape into frikkadelle (how’s the pronunciation going?).

Pour the tomato into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium high heat.

Meanwhile, lay down a cabbage leave and place a frikkadel on it, wrap up, and pin shut with a whole clove. When you’re done, place these parcels into the saucepan with the tomato sauce, cover and allow to cook for about 40 minutes, until the meat is cooked.

I served mine with brown rice and a simple salad, and we enjoyed it with a pleasant bottle of wine. Which we bought minutes before the liquor store closed (can’t wait to move back to Taiwan where you can buy booze at ALL HOURS EVERY DAY!) after I threw a little hissy fit. Sorry Alexander!

* Thanks Alexander for the pictures- xx.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Someone took my summer again

Barely a week ago we were enjoying glorious summer weather here in Cape Town, perfect for sunny breakfasts on cafe patios...

... enjoying clear blue skies...

... and walks in the park.

But all that's been replaced by lots of rain and dark clouds. Resulting in this being my view form the kitchen window while preparing breakfast this morning.

Enough already I say, bring me back my summer!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Caramel shortbread two ways

When visiting a bookstore and browsing through the cookbooks section it’s always the ones with the best images that captures my attention. If I pick up a book, doesn’t matter how brilliant, and it does not contain bright visual stimulation I invariably grow bored within seconds and put it back on the shelf. Yes I know, it makes me sound a bit not-so-smart. Give me a book full of fantastic food pornography however and I am hooked. I would totally buy a book just by looking at the images of food, never once reading through a couple of recipes. That’s why I leave buying cookbooks to Alexander or to friends because I know I am not to be trusted with judging a book.

Blissful Brownies is one of those books I would just pick up without glancing at even one recipe’s ingredients list. The pages are filled with forty-something brownie and other recipes accompanied by I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now full color images of the finished products. I got the book from a friend for my birthday a couple years ago and just love paging through it sometimes for the pictures. When I felt like baking something sweet recently I decided to select one from this book.

Not an easy task, was I going to go with double chocolate brownies, mocha brownies, pecan brownie muffins, mint julep brownie cakes, blonde brownie hearts, chocolate peanut butter bars, or chocolate marshmallow fingers? In the end it was the picture of caramel chocolate shortbread that won me over. One look and my arteries congealed, greedy heart surgeons rejoiced, cholesterol levels skyrocketed and I said yes, please!

Ingredients:

Base-
115g unsalted butter
1 and ¼ cups flour
¼ cup superfine golden sugar

Toppings-
200g butter
½ cup superfine golden sugar
3 tablespoons corn syrup (I used honey instead which added a great flavor)
400ml sweet condensed milk
7 squares bittersweet chocolate

The process:

Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare a cake tin by greasing and lining the bottom with baking paper. I used a bread tin, my square one was too large I discovered. Sift the flour and sugar together and cut in the butter until the mixture starts resembling coarse crumbs. If you have a food processor you can do it all in there. Press mixture into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 20/25 minutes or until golden.

While this is happening you can start on the filling. Place butter, sugar, syrup and sweet milk in a pan and heat slowly until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and simmer for 6-8 minutes, while stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes very thick. Take care not to let it burn. When the shortbread comes out of the oven, pour this rich mixture over and chill in the refrigerator until firm.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Let it cool slightly and pour over the caramel. Chill again until set. Remove from the cake tin, cut and you’re ready to share. I say share because if you ate it on your own the health consequences may be dire. But worth it!

We took these for dessert to friends where a guest suggested mixing in some peppermint crisp candy bars. As I did not use all the caramel the first time round I decided to give this a go. I followed all the steps, adding a bit of crushed mint crisp to the dark chocolate when melting and covering the caramel with this. Deliciousness! It reminded a bit of peppermint crisp fridge tart, since I decided to make the second round in mini tart pans it was a bit of a tart. Again we shared, sometimes I try to think of my own health.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Luang Phabang, Laos- July 2001

I first visited Laos in 2001. I had very little knowledge about the country aside from their recent history, but it sounded like the perfect antidote to a year and half of manic teaching to pay of my student loans. Luang Phabang with its heritage temples sounded particularly appealing. We headed there from the town of Vang Vieng on a nightmarish bus ride that lasted forever, and was made worse by the fact that I had to sit on the engine in front of the bus as it was packed. If it was not for the incredible scenery I don't think I would have made it.

I fell in love with Luang Phabang and wished we could have stayed longer. Such a beautiful and very laid back town. I enjoyed strolling around and trying out my new camera (forget the particulars) I got just before the trip.

I don't know if you can really see it, but the man in the picture above was smiling broadly, as if he had just realized how silly he looked with the wife holding the umbrella over him. This was taken near the old market.

The novice monks were getting there heads shaved ahead of the full moon festival. The kid with the red T-shirt in the background made this picture for me.

We were at Kuang Si waterfalls and these kids were acting out some games for a filming crew. I think it may have been for local television. The traditional clothes were all part of the show. I had to crop out a lot of empty space in this picture, I had (and possibly still don't have) no technique back then, but I liked the expressions I captured here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bread!

A couple of weeks ago I decided to bake bread. Not banana bread, but a proper bread that can be enjoyed for breakfast or lunch. I wanted to make something that can be enjoyed with preserves or scrambled eggs, something simple yet satisfying. I leafed through my Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook and decided on the Pullman bread. It’s your standard loaf of bread that most of us (I think) grew up with and the perfect all-rounder. Nothing too exciting, but it was what I craved.

I get nervous whenever I have to bake with yeast because there is always the risk that the rising might not happen, which is exactly what happened with my first attempt. The result was a solid, dense loaf that really did not make me too happy. My second try was a much bigger success and we enjoyed the fruit of my efforts throughout the following week.

I do not have a Pullman loaf pan (they have a lid that closes, resulting in a flat-top loaf) but this was not a problem as you can bake it sans lid and get a rounded top this way. It takes a while to prepare the dough, about three hours and then you still have to bake it, but enjoying your own homemade bread is certainly worth it. Another change I made was using brown bread flour instead of regular bread flour as we prefer brown bread.

To make this bread you’ll need:
675g brown bread flour
3.5 teaspoons instant yeast
1.5 teaspoons coarse salt
1.5 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 and ¾ cups warm water
Vegetable oil for the mixing bowl and pan

The process:

Combine all the ingredients except the oil and water in the bowl of an electric mixer with the dough hook attached. Add the warm water and beat on lowest speed for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth, elastic and uniform in color. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed by hand until it forms a smooth bowl. Put the dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place or until doubled in bulk, about an hour.

Punch down, pull in the sides and turn it over smooth side up, cover again and let it rise until double in bulk.

Brush a loaf pan with more oil to coat. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a 12-by-8-inch rectangle. One of the long sides should face you. Starting at the top, roll the dough towards you into a tight log. Pat in ends to make it even and gently roll it back and forth to seal the seam. Place it seam side down into the pan, cover, let it rise in a warm place until it almost touches the top, while preheating the oven to 220C.

When it’s done rising, remove the plastic wrap and bake, rotating halfway until the loaf is light golden brown, about 45 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C and bake for another half hour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let it cool completely, before slicing.

I would love to make this bread more often, but as I said, it takes a little time, and there are so many others I want to try! Hopefully I can share some more soon.

I desire- The Sartorialist

Who is not in love with The Sartorialist blog? I thought so. We all love the way he captures what beautiful people are wearing all over the world. And seeing new ways of being beautiful, realizing how little it has to do with physical appearance sometimes and how often it is the result of the way a person carries him or herself.

And now we can have an edited version of his blog with the book The Sartorialist on our coffee tables, by the bedside, in the office, on the dresser or wherever we want. Enjoying the significance of personal style as captured by such a fantastic photographer.

Feel free to order me a copy at amazon.com.

* Alexander happened upon a great Cape Town based blog the other day that also captures some local style beautifully. Go check it out at Style Guide Cape Town.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Entertaining with ravioli

Last week I decided to be exceptionally cruel to my arms and hands and create home-made ravioli, sans the help of a pasta machine. My hands were aching for three days after that episode. But it was a good exercise and I might just attempt it again some day. The ravioli was for a dinner we had with some friends here at ours that evening.

The guests arrived at around eight, dinner was served closer to ten. When I started cooking the ravioli I discovered that my sheets were not nearly thin enough, so after having cooked the ravioli once for a few seconds in rapidly boiling water, I had to cook it again and for longer. I felt like a terrible host.

At least there were several bottles of wine and excellent company, so while I was spazzing away in the kitchen our guests were having a fine, albeit starving, evening. And of course that meant that when I finally did serve dinner everybody was just to hungry to notice that my ravioli was potentially just a bit of a big mess. Phew!

Having guests over is always great fun and I think we don't do it nearly enough. Looking forward to the next evening of entertaining, hopefully without any mishaps.

* Thanks to Alexander for the pictures
** The light in our place is awful, hence the strange color in the images.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Take me back to your house- Alexandra's house with deer and owls

Ever been to Dos Family? It is a fantastic design blog with a regular feature where they visit the homes of different people and photograph it for their blog. Don't you just love the idea? It's like going on a voyeuristic trip to hip and stylish homes without the help of a pair of binoculars or some locksmith tricks.
I was perusing over some older entries the other day when I happened on the house of Alexandra, sister of one of the contributors. What caught my eye, more than the pale color palette and quirky antiques, were the glimpses of owls and deer in her house. Take me back to your house!

While in Bangkok I bought several T-shirts with deer motives on them, it became a theme in my wardrobe and I still love them. My mother is an owl-freak. I grew up in a home filled with owls in all shapes and forms, from fridge magnets and portraits to ceramic owls. I would often go through the house and count every owl I could find, close to a hundred! So of course Alexandra's house hit a chord with me. Go check here for more images of her house.

Hand drawn maps

Ever heard about the Hand Drawn Map Association? They collect and archive hand drawn maps from all over the world and of just about any place and anything, and display it on their website. Some of the maps are just quickly sketched directions on napkins, some are more detailed and precise while others are elaborate fantasy maps.

Many of the maps have a story behind them, included by whoever submitted it, the one above left was drawn by a kid who wanted to remind his/her grandparents of a birthday party and was worried they might forget or get lost.


The map top right was a fantasy map drawn by a kid who kept it and only submitted it now as an adult. How detailed and beautifully drawn! Anyone can submit maps they have found or drawn to the association and if there is a story to tell include it. They are currently also working on publishing a book of maps. I can't wait to see it.
Inspired by these I decided to create my own hand drawn map of Taiwan. It follows the routes I traveled on over the years, some along the coast, some over mountains and some over the sea, like to Lio-chu island. As you can see it is not exactly a map of Taiwan, but only of the routes, that basically shape the island. I was going to add modes of transport that I used by all the routes, but I think I'll have to practice drawing little map symbols first, I was not blessed with great drawing talents!
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