Monday, January 13, 2014

Singapore - a fine country indeed

Over the last few years, Singapore had been popping up into conversations more frequently.  Its location served many times as a layover for those in transit to/from Australia and as a gateway into Asia.

When I left Australia en route to Thailand, I found myself there with less than 24 hours.  Luckily, my time was quickly filled as my Couchsurfing host, Hang Seng, was a local and had some time to show me around.  One of the things I really enjoy about traveling is getting to know the people who live there, especially if they've grown up there.  You learn so much about the country, the culture, and their people.  Here are a few snaps that were captured:

I jump, that's what I do.  That's me jumping in front of the Marina Bay Sands.

Enjoying some street noodles

Mini mangoes!

Sweet tooth cravings: a fruit smoothie prepared by moi and some ice cream
In the last picture, if you're curious as to what flavors I chose, I had to go with the local flavors that I would only find in this area.  The light purple scoop is of pulut hitam, a sweet dessert made of black glutinous rice porridge with coconut milk and palm sugar.  Sitting below that is a scoop of chendol, another sweet dessert consisting of coconut milk, rice flour jelly noodles that are dyed green, and palm sugar.  If it sounds familiar, it's because I had it when I was also in Malaysia, but in its original, non-ice cream form

After that, it was back on the road and catching quick glimpses of sites like the 165 meter-high Singapore Flyer before getting to Changi airport and flying out.  To no surprise, it is a very, very clean country worth stopping over for to gawk at the high-rises, enjoy some street food, buy some electronics, and get you to where you need to go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Moments in Melbourne

A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you out there! I wish everyone well and the best that the year has to offer.

The past few months have zoomed by quickly and served as a much-needed decompression as I settle back into the States.  It's been wonderfully welcoming and as 2013 wrapped up, we found ourselves reflecting on the past year and all that has happened.  There was a lot of traveling going on, which had me skipping along 3 continents with a huge grin on my face and a heart full of gratitude.  A special thank you to those who have been a part of the journey, you guys know who you are!

In the next few posts, I'll share some moments and take you through a visual journey of my trips.  First off is the capital of Victoria, otherwise known as Melbourne, Australia.  With its many alleyways and laneways, Melbourne has cultivated itself to be a city rich of culture, art, and food.  It's incredibly easy to fall in love with this city and that's exactly what I do each time.

Getting my brekkie on - best way to start the day, Manchester Press
Postage stamp souvenirs at a local market
Foodie paradise is checking out the markets to see what's in stock
Walk down the laneways and you'll find surprises like cauldrons of soup
The pop-up Urban Coffee Farm at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 
The place for good, authentic Vietnamese food is in Richmond
Enjoying the outdoors at the People's Market in Collingwood 
Raw carrot cake from the Vegie Bar makes for a happy camper 
Another raw treat (pictured right) is the strawberry basil cake (Vegie Bar)
Grab a seat for your feast - Lentil as Anything (left) and Vegie Bar (right) 
No trip is complete without dinner at Chin Chin 
More goodness from Chin Chin 
Maps and banana street art (because who doesn't)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bircher muesli - my overnight sensation

Let's face it, breakfast is very important! It gives us a boost of energy in the morning and as much as we wish to have personal chefs, most of us are our own personal chef.  With limited time in the mornings, it's tempting to just skip breakfast altogether or pour yourself a bowl of cereal, but there are healthier options that also don't take up a lot of time, just a bit of planning and preparation.  One of my favorite things to eat in the morning, especially during warmer weather, is called bircher muesli because it's very refreshing and wholesome.

The colors of this remind me of the film Moonrise Kingdom

It's been a relatively recent discovery and of course, I had to look up the recipe and give it a try when I was in Australia.  After trying my hand at it a few times, I got the hang of it and now just mix it up and alter it based on my mood and the season.  Needless to say, I would see it pop up on the menus everywhere there but no longer had a need to order it since it was being whipped up at home in just a few minutes and dare I say, it was better! Again, probably because I altered it to my liking.

Upon my return back, I've told a few friends about it, who have all asked, "what's bircher muesli?!"  I thought to myself, it must be an Oceania thing.  After a bit of reading, I discovered it was around 1900 that Swiss doctor Maximillian Bircher-Benner had made this as part of a healing therapy treatment for his patients as it's good for digestion (and also gets you some fiber!).  Apart from Switzerland, it can also be found on the tables of neighboring European countries such as Germany, Austria, England, and Sweden.  Can anyone else chime in on any other countries that eat this? It'd also be interesting to find out how it found its way to Australia and New Zealand (I'm thinking England could be responsible for this).

Basically, to keep it simple, bircher muesli is soaked oaks (now, please go laugh at the title of this post, thanks!).  For a few of my fortunate friends, including fellow healthy foodie Ksenia at Breakfast Criminals, they've been able to try my bircher muesli and because of the positive feedback and minimal exposure, I decided to do a post dedicated to it.  The good thing about cooking (versus baking, which is very scientific and measurements need to be kept) is that it allows room for flexibility so GET CREATIVE and GET COOKING (or in this case, preparing!).

Breakfast Criminal's first bircher muesli

Yields ~ 4 servings

Here are some of the things you'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt 
  • 1 cup apple juice (preferably unsweetened and organic)
  • 4 handfuls of mixed berries*
  • 1/2 grated granny smith apple
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 1 spoon of honey or agave nectar
Optional and recommended add-ins:
  • 3 spoons of chia seeds
  • 3 handfuls of slivered or sliced almonds or pumpkin seeds
  • a few dashes of cinnamon

*may be substituted for other fruits such as peaches, nectarines, pears, figs, passionfruit,

Combine all ingredients together, I usually go down the list.  Be sure not to over mix it and go with your gut (hopefully your gut knows too)! Get creative in your experiments, add things, take things out and have some fun! Prep time is literally a few minutes and you'll need to soak for a few hours/overnight.  When serving, top it off with some fresh fruit and granola for that extra crunch factor.

Enjoy! Here's to good health and delicious brekkies!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Trip memories: Peru Part II

A few days in Peru was not enough.  The country has so much to offer and I dream of going back there again soon, spending a few weeks or months to really get to know the place (read: to eat and taste and cook and experiment with ingredients).  Its cuisine is definitely one of the most underrated in my experiences so far but luckily, chefs like Gaston Acurio are out there spreading the word of all the magnificent delights they have to offer.

One year, I'll decide to skip the winter in the Northern Hemisphere (who am I kidding, I live in Southern California so it's really just an excuse to travel) and head for the summer on the opposite side of the world in the Southern Hemisphere.  Or who knows, maybe I'll end up there for their big food festival Mistura in September one year.

I created a list to remind me of what places are like.  Just going through it again has me salivating for a fresh and citrusy ceviche along with a side of chicha morada.

PERU is....
...non-stop Salsa music
...long lines
...asking folks on the street
...onions and potatoes and limes
...ponchos plasticos
...walking sticks

Head that way, to the left and to the right
Near Ollantaytambo
Peruvian ground cherries (aguaymanto) and limes, a staple to Peruvian cuisine
Having lunch with our lovely hosts and friend Ale's parents, Juana y Luis
Dried herbs and spices at the markets
More herbs and spices and figurines
Take the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes and you'll get the best moonroof train ride
I made it to Machu Picchu! 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Trip memories: Peru Part I

There's nothing more exciting than taking off on a plane to somewhere new.  The thrill of going into the unknown and immersing myself into a culture to find out more is quite addictive and a breath of fresh air to revive my free-spirit soul. While it's tempting to revisit the places I've been to before (and I will), there is also an urge to venture into new territory.

One of the main reason why I love traveling is to learn about different cultures.  A big part of culture lies in the food they eat.  It absolutely fascinates me to think about all the little details and how a certain dish has been formed, from the land where the ingredients are grown and where they are sourced from, to how it is prepared, where the recipe develops from, the changes it goes through, the variations of the dishes, and much more.  My mind is simply blown when I start digging deeper.

After being more exposed to the Peruvian culture in Sydney, thanks to the large immigration of South Americans (predominately Peruvians, Colombians, Brazilians, Chileans, Argentinians, and Uruguayans), I found myself drawn with my eyes wide open.  Thanks to a special deal on an airline, I booked a ticket and flew off finding myself exploring both Lima and Cuzco (plus the surrounding areas like).

Below are some recollections (the horizontal collection) of my trip there:
Sweet and savory empanadas prepared in a clay oven near Ollantaytambo
Lomo saltado and ceviche in Lima
Ready for the breakfast crowd
Did you know there are thousands of types of potatoes in Peru?
A display of maiz morado (purple corn) while stopping for lunch
A South American setting
Flowers bloom brightly, colorfully, and vividly
When in Peru, stock up on breakfast!
Picarones, aka Peruvian donuts, made of pumpkin and sweet potato

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wafting smells of a Sydney bakery and a reflection on the past

It’s been almost 2 months since I've left Sydney and it’s amazing how quickly time has flown by and how much has happened, both in the months and collectively over the years.

A reflection on the past
Back in 2010, I decided to leave home.  The decision didn't come easy as the familiarity and steady paycheck from a previous job provided comfort, but there was an inkling that had been kicking me for awhile.  It’s called, the TRAVEL BUG.

So I took action: researching options of where I would go, how I was going to go about it, and I took a leap of faith.  Not everything was planned, in fact, not much was planned like the rest of my life (finish college/university, intern, travel, work for a few years, save, etc.) so the idea of having so much flexibility was novel and quite nice.  I ended up in Sydney, Australia and the next thing you know, 2.5 years passed and today, I sit here writing upon these reflections.

It wasn't always an easy, breezy journey – in fact, they were some of the most trialing times but it’s these experiences that add to your character and who you are in the present day.  With me are memories that I’ll never forget, the times that I've shared with friends and much more.

Before leaving Sydney, I thought to myself, “What will I miss about the city?  Is it the breathtaking view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House? Is it the beaches with the cliff-side walks?  Is it being able to take public transport: the trains, the buses, the trams and the ferries?”  While I do miss all these, I found myself busy with a “MUST EAT BEFORE LEAVING” list.  One of those places was a local bakery in the Surry Hills neighborhood called BOURKE STREET BAKERY and it was certainly going to be a place I missed.
Ever since trying it for the first time, I knew I was going to be trouble.  And so began my regular trips down Bourke Street….

A friend of mine had gifted the Bourke Street Bakery book to me (more like a bible) and I was in awe, mouth agape and everything.  The pictures were all so beautifully taken, the layout, the stories, the recipes, I couldn't help but give the book a big hug (yes, I give attention to inanimate objects).  Anyhow, before leaving Australia, an idea popped into my head: I was going to get the guys at BSB to sign my book.

I wrote a love letter of appreciation telling them how much I thoroughly enjoyed the fluffy and delightful carrot cake that forever changed my life and the amazing-ness of their pork and fennel sausage rolls (among the other savory pastries) and how it was a joy to experience it flaking off so easily.  Just talking about this makes my mouth just water (yes, I am a nerd).

My e-mail bounced back.

I tried again and it bounced back again so I let it go.  Then, I refused to let it go and tried again (this time, I changed the subject line) and VOILÁ!

Pressed under time, I began to think that I wasn't going to get it in time and would need to get it shipped out, but everyone there was so accommodating and made it work so that I got it before I left.  Can we say WHEW?! FTW (For The Win)!!!

So a HUGE THANKS to Bourke Street Bakery for making it possible that I went back home with a signed copy of the book and for all the delicious treats and memories that will remain intact.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What's your relationship with FOOD? A personal story about my very own relationship with it

This blog post is different from most.

It's not about going to food festivals, traveling around and discovering a country's cuisine, nor is it about shopping around the markets and showing beautiful pictures of the local produce and market vendors.  No, this is a personal story about my relationship with food.

I've been fascinated with food for many years and while I consider myself a "foodie," the term itself makes twitch a bit.  Mainly because the term has been so widespread and used for anyone who likes to eat.  As with most general terms, you can break it down even further and categorize it.  It forced me to think more in-depth of where I belonged, of which sub-sector I fit in best.

Sure, I love to eat and I remember the days of beating out a boy in high school in a pizza-eating contest well over 10 years ago, or how it's just impossible for me to say "no" to an offer for food, but times have change and I have evolved.  My relationship with food is not about quantity, it's about quality.

In this day and age, it's easy to get tempted by all the products that line the shelves.  There's no denying that it makes eating (sometimes) easier, convenient and that some of the foods actually do taste good.  But what scares me is wondering what all those preservatives are doing to our health, in the short-term and more so, in the long-term.  Remember that Breyer's ice-cream commercial back in the day?

Our diet, the way in which we eat (not to be mistaken for weight-loss), is an integral part of our health.  For the most part, I had always opted for the more healthy options.  If I am to put a label on what type of foodie I am, it would be a health-conscious foodie.  Fresh and local ingredients are my preferences and I'll do my best to keep it that way.  But even when you're eating healthy, it doesn't always agree with your health.

My lifestyle has, more or less, done a 180 here in Australia (for those who don't know what a 180 is, it means a complete change) but my eating habits have not shifted as much.  As my time here winds down and I prepare to move back to the States, I took a critical look and realized that my health had suffered, even when I was eating healthy.  My energy levels have been low and while all the stresses and changes that life throws at you can be a part of it, what you intake will also affect it.

By working with a naturopath, a form of alternative medicine, we looked at how much food can affect one's health.  The naturopath highly recommended that I take what's called a "food sensitivity test."  While a food allergy is more extreme and has a much quicker reaction time and more extreme reaction, a food sensitivity on the other hand is slower and a less noticeable reaction.

I fought in my head.  I didn't want to take it because if I had become sensitive to something, I wouldn't know how to deal because I love food so much and omitting something I currently eat would be tough.  Whether being vegan has become trendy or just more apparent, I could never do it.

I fought some more in my head and finally, after much resistance, decided to take the test.  If it's my health in hand, it's better to know earlier than later.  In addition, a food elimination method would take too long and would require attention I don't have at the moment.  I would just have to repeat to myself and remember that it was just to be used as a guide and that it's a sensitivity and not an allergy.

After a bit of anticipation and some days later, results have come in:

I told you there weren't going to be any pretty pictures..
Definitely not what I wanted to see.  Dairy products (including my beloved cheese!), nuts (really?!?), beef (luckily, I don't eat much of it anyhow), wheat (oh my bread!), and chocolate ranked high on the list.  It's heartbreaking really, but what gets me by is that it's temporary.  After about 2 months, I'll be able to slowly reintroduce these foods and see how I react.  

Eating healthy is not only key but also eating the way that your body needs to is also important.  We're all built differently, inside and out, and one size doesn't fit all.  Though we may see a lot of commonalities cross over, we really are unique and our diets need to be reflective of that.  On the bright side of things, it'll give me the opportunity to research and play with different ingredients that I may not have yet tried to create more spectacular meals in my life and find more good eats around this world.