Ready, Get Set, Go!


The idea for this blog was planted one wintry morning in Paris.  I was sitting in a typical Parisian cafe, as one does in the City of Light, having my croissant and expresso and generally dreaming about all the sedap dishes that I miss from Singapore when like a bolt of lightening, it struck me that I ought to write a blog.  What type of blog, you ask.  Well, the memories of the delicious dishes that I’ve tasted throughout my journeys and sojourns lent the idea of a Food Blog – yes, I’d blog about food, glorious food.  Next, what to call this blog?  Now, the name – that’s special.  :)  Naming something is empowering.  I thought I would dabble with some Malay words used usually to describe something delicious and yummy. Et voilà, those words – bagus and sedap from the Malay language popped up instantly.  So kawan kawan, this is it!  You’ll be subjected to my musings, my digressions, my general thoughts and most of all, my cooking!  I am honoured that you’ve chosen to take this gastronomic journey with me.

Trusting in the Process


The little girl tugs at her mother’s sleeve.

“You”re not listening to me, mummy,” she says imploringly with a sense of urgency.

The mother looks up from her work and asks again for the little girl to repeat what she had said.

The little girl continues, “If Sophie has 2 more friends come to stay, we will not have enough chairs.”

“Oh, we will, we will, don’t worry,” the mother says absent mindedly, trying to steer the little girl away from the conversation. The little girl is adamant to finish her story.

“But mummy! Listen please!  Sophie and me makes 2, Ayaka and Emma makes 4, so if Sophie has 2 more friends over, that will make 6. But we only have 5 chairs in the kitchen. Where will I sit for dinner?”

It took me a few seconds to register what she had said. (For those of you who know me well, kawan kawan, numbers are really not my forte.)  She’s right, I remember thinking to myself. Hmmm! It took me some more seconds to realise that my little girl was doing mental maths. She’s right…. of course, she’s right, we have only 5 chairs at the dining table in the kitchen, so, indeed, where would she sit if Sophie had 4 friends over for dinner?

By the way, RN is only 6. She is still adding with her fingers and toes. How she understood this difficult concept of addition and subtraction within the context mentioned above is beyond me. But she was right in that if 2 more of Sophie’s friends came, we would have one chair too few. Indeed, where would she be sitting for dinner? Even if this mental gymnastic was based on selfish motives, I had to applaud RN. She was actually worried enough about her stomach to bring up the subject! Hahahahahaha!!! Is she my kid or what?

Why am I recounting this story, you ask. Well, this has something to do with me trusting in the process of my daughter’s education. She may not always get 2+2=4 or that 5+6=11 because she has only 10 fingers but she has understood that 6 people and 5 chairs just don’t add up. She has managed to work out that there will be 6 children by simple mental addition within a specific context. Okay, okay, she may have used her fingers to help….. but….

Mamma is soooooooo proud!

RN has had a good year at school. Apart from an apparition in the form of a  little blond girl who torments her from time to time, RN has grown taller, she has found her voice, learnt to take her friendships with certain individuals in her own stride, learnt to read and write, can add and subtract numbers up to 10 and can communicate her likes and dislikes. She can articulate the PYP Programmes of Inquiry by saying that she prefers Units to Maths Workshop and she can tell you why.

Mamma is soooooooo proud! Mamma is trusting in the process.

Mamma is also trusting in the process with regards to the teenager.  The teenager has blossomed into a more agreeable young lady with lesser tendencies towards severe mood swings. She is now pleasant to converse with and even has lots of interesting things to say.

I trusted in the process and left it to take its natural course. It was a difficult year for the mother and teenage daughter but they overcame it. That dark brooding cloud of lack – lack in self confidence, lack in self believe, lack in self worth – has finally drifted away into the far, far distance…. and may it always hover over there far, far away.

The teenage daughter bagged the first prize in her year group for a writing competition. Her story was about a dying artist fighting a relapse in memory who wants to capture the essence of his first love. His impending amnesia impedes his recollection and all he remembers of her is the colour red and all he manages to do is streak a white canvas scarlet. Entitled Scarlet, the story delves into the head of an old man capturing his frustration and anguish as he leaves this world torn between an impressionable experience and trying to recapture it through a fading memory.

The MYP has really contributed to a great l’anee scolaire for SS.  She is embracing the Learner Profile with each passing year and I can see that her learning is evidently becoming more inquiry based.

 Mamma is sooooooo proud once more. Mamma is trusting in the process.

 

When I first arrived in Paris and tasted my first morsel of Chinese food, I felt a sense of depression slowly seeping into my bones between mouthfuls of riz cantonnais.  How would I survive on such low quality Asian food?

You see, kawan kawan, I grew up in Singapore with the best quality street food in the world, in my opinion. Then I moved to London where Cantonese Roast Duck is even better than what you’ll get in Hong Kong. Oodles of noodles served with a whole lobster chopped up to make shelling easier and soaked in a ginger and spring onion sauce is so mouth wateringly delicious and affordable that I developed a craving for it during my second pregnancy and eating lobster noodles at the Mandarin Kitchen at Bayswater became a religious fortnightly ritual.

Yet I trusted in the process in Paris, kept an open mind and three years into my sojourn here, I will report that I’ve managed to find Thai food so authentic it’s like dining in Bangkok. Korean food tops any that I’ve tasted outside of Seoul and Japanese Ramen eateries galore serve up the best soup noodles in a broth so tasty that I look forward to my next bowl for the coming winter. Chinese food still has some catching up to do. However, if you are fan of rustic Chinese cuisine, there are plenty of eateries here in Paris to be found.

Kawan kawan, I’m no longer depressed when it comes to eating Asian in Paris. I trusted in the process and the process has given me eating buddies in the newly formed Lunching Ladies by mny. Through this group of gourmandes, I’ve discovered hidden gems where gastronomic treasures are prepared to outstanding quality.

I would like to end this academic year on a sweet note, kawan kawan. Today, I discovered Toraya, the japanese dessert chain store. Lunching there with the beautiful Jayde, blooming with pregnancy hormones and looking chic in her robe en noir and Chanel bag, I bit into my petite bouche size sesame filled mochi and was immediately transported to heaven. Teamed with sencha so pure and clean, I relaxed into my leather bound bench and sighed with immense pleasure. Sometimes, the best things in life are just so simple, just trust in the process.

Simple Pleasures

Kawan kawan, thank you for your support and for following my blog posts in the past year. I hope that I’ve managed to entertain where entertainment was necessary.  I hope that for many kawan kawan far away, it was a way for all of you to catch a glimpse into my Parisian life.

I will be back in full force at La Rentrée, energised by the sun in S.E. Asia and raring to discover more places to chow away in the City of Light.

Dwelling on Delft


I took myself on a mini break in Mach with a couple of girlfriends to Delft in Holland.  It was a super easy and painless train ride, coupled with a short métro ride to Delft from Rotterdam. This was all possible due to the superb organisation of my friend, M Van Opstal, who in her spare time as alumni mum to the ISP organises tours around central Paris and sometimes even beyond.  Her Paristours has gone from strength to strength, an activity she started when her daughters were at the ISP as a way for her to visit Paris and get to know other parents at the school.  She has became synonymous to Paris Walks, the company that supplies her the animated English speaking art and fashion tour guides who talk about their passions with in-depth references and knowledge.

For her efforts, Mona collects only a 3€ buffer fee to cover some costs and an average of 12€ for each tour.  She doesn’t make on any of the tours organised, the 12€ fee goes to Paris Walks.

The trip to Delft was organised for girlfriends,that means sans enfants et maris. So the gang only consisted of me, CB and Mona.  We had a fun filled weekend, staying the Leeuwenbrug Hotel.  This is a charming little hotel housed in a 15th Century mansion house typical of Delft.

Delft is famous for amongst other things, Vermeer and the Delft Blue Pottery.

Vermeer who was born there, painted the daily scenes in Delft that made him so famous. His most famous painting to date is “Girl with the Pearl Earrings”. This sits in the art museum, Mauritshuis, at the Hague.  “Girl with the Pearl Earring” made literary history when Tracy Chevalier wrote a book entitled the same, a romanticised story of the subject in Vermeer’s portrait based on the life and times of Vermeer.  This novel has since become a motion picture star Scarlett Johannson.

It was interesting to read the copy of the book that I had purchased at the Vermeer museum and finding the references that Chevalier wrote about in her novel.  For example, the star in the main square that she referred to and the New Church built in 1381 and 1496 where some members of the Dutch Royal family are buried.

Delft is also famous for Dutch pancakes!  Well, Delft is as famous for Dutch pancakes as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, being in Holland.  Lunch on the day of arrival was at a Dutch eatery that serves traditional Dutch pancakes and other Dutch delicatessen. The difference in the Dutch pancake from the French, bretagne one is in the consistency and the thickness; the Dutch version is more dense and the ingredients  are mixed into the batter. Secondly, the Dutch love to combine their savouries with fruits, usually cooked fruits. This is the pancake that CB ordered which is filled with ham, onions and cheese topped with pineapple.

Going Dutch on Pancakes

Mixing flavours is actually a rather Asian thing. In Szechuanese cuisine, mixing sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours is very common. The magic is in the mix of the right amounts of everything. In Thailand, main dishes are served with a variety of condiments that include sugar, chillies, fish sauce and lime juice. I love making a dipping sauce of naam plaa (fish sauce), sliced chillies, sugar and minced garlic. It’s totally divine served with pan fried fish or doused over fried hor fun noodles, if you were me! :-)

I had a wonderful time in Delft. It was a short trip which worked out well because the Italian only had to feed the children for 2 nights. I returned home tired but elated to a happy husband and satisfied children. They missed me but not that much!

** We went in March just before the Pâques vacances. It was an agreeable time to go, the weather was a little chillier than anticipated but I had my warm coat and a scarf with me, so it was a rather toasty trip. So if you are considering travelling at this time of the year, dress warm, even if the weather forecast promises bright skies and sunshine. CB will vouch that this is the best advice.

Dumplings For Dummies


It’s been a while since the start of the Chinese new year.  The Chinese are into their Water Dragon year and they are hoping the economy will start looking up this year. Who isn’t?  With the state of affairs in the Eurozone and America, whether you’re Chinese or not, we all want the economy to be looking up.

At the girls’s school, I was invited to celebrate the CNY along with the children.  Why me?  Well, I am a bona fide Chinese after all, born to Chinese/Singaporean parents who hail from immigrant peasant stock.  My maternal grandparents come from Swatowa province in China.  My father’s folks, though, are a little different because they are well established in the Malayan peninsular for over 3 generations and they belong to a nomadic tribe of people called Hakka.  Daddy’s great grandfather came from China to work in the rubber plantations in Malaysia. On my father’s side, we are Peranakans and since the Chinese are patrilineal, I am a Peranakan by descent.  The Peranakans also celebrate CNY in a big way, having kept most of the Chinese traditions and festive celebrations.  So that means, I’ve been celebrating the CNY since the day I was born.  So obviously, I have lots of experience in this important Chinese celebration….. you’d think, anyway.

I’m always a little nervous when I have to represent “The Chinese”.  It’s a sad state of affairs, I know, when a person has difficulty representing who they are! It’s a major case of identity crisis!  My excuse is this: I’m Singaporean, albeit Chinese/Singaporean, besides I’m a Peranakan.  I am just not in the position to represent 1.3 billion people who speak 56 different languages depending on what part of China they hail from, with Mandarin Chinese being the nations’s only unifying language.

Anyway, my problem, not theirs.

During the school’s CNY celebrations, I learnt that in China, on New Year’s eve, families gather together for a reunion dinner in anticipation of the New Year and eat lots and lots of festive dishes pregnant with flavours and symbolisms.  One of them being – the Chinese Dumpling or jioazi.  The Chinese teacher doing the presentation taught me this.  I already know of the Reunion dinners, having missed out on them for over 20 years since leaving Singapore.  I have very fond memories of the delicious dishes that my grandmother used to cook for these dinners, only we didn’t have dumplings.  My late grandmother was Cantonese so the symbolic dishes she cooked up were very different. We had every else except dumplings; there were noodles, braised duck, steamed fish and a vegetarian dish steeped in symbolisms except no one bothered to tell me what they were about. This said dish consisted of very fine seaweed, a type of sea moss, that resembles black hair, stewed in a gravy made with air dried oysters.  Pork belly adds oomph to this dish and I remember talk about the entire thing being stewed for hours on end.  This dish has a pun to its name which in Cantonese means “fortunate happenings and good luck”.   Speak about identity crisis.  I couldn’t have done this presentation even if  I wanted to.  The children of the International School of Paris, although used to living international lives and being taught to be internationally minded, would be so confused.  I couldn’t be responsible for this.  Luckily I found someone whom I could delegate the job to. She’s the park teacher at school, born in Shanghai but brought up in New Zealand by authentic Chinese parents – more Chinese than I’ll ever be. Rule number one in management: When you can’t handle the job, delegate!

She explained to the children (and I was paying lots of attention) that the dumpling is a very important dish to partake of during the reunion dinner.  The dumpling itself being the quintessential symbol of unity and re-union.  It is in how the dumpling is made that this symbol of unity comes from.

As you may already know, the Chinese dumpling is a wheat based, meat filled parcel.  All the ingredients for the dumpling are mixed together before being used to fill a skin made from flour and then folded in a particular way so that the ingredients are kept intact in the cooking process which usually requires boiling.

There you go, the symbol of unity – tight familial bonds.  Family members all wrapped up together, united and strong.

I’m an expert at eating dumplings along with my family and tons of other people out there.  I’ve never made dumplings in any way that made me appreciate the labour and love that go into producing them.

After listening to Dani, the Chinese teacher explain why dumplings are so important and symbolic, I decided to hire myself a dumpling teacher to show me just how these little morsels of deliciousness are prepared.

My kawan, Cindy Z-P, a Korean who has lived all over the world, has a lady who comes and cooks for the family twice a week.  She can cook both Korean and Chinese.  Wow! Two birds with one stone, I thought.  Great news!  So I hired Mme Chian as well.

Mme Chian or elder sister Chian as I refer to her came with all the ingredients necessary for dumpling making:

1 kg of mince pork

3 bunches of Chinese chives, chopped into 0.5 cms length

1 bunch of Spring onions or green onions, chopped into the same length as chives

1 sliver of ginger, chopped finely

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 carrot, grated

2 cups of bean sprouts, chopped finely

1 piece of tofu (the firm type), chopped into small cubes

1 kg of organic Flour (farine de blé)

I watched her squeeze all excess water from the vegetables before adding them to the meat that she had flavoured with soya sauce, sesame oil, a sprinkling of salt and pepper. She leaves the ingredients to take in the flavours of the marinade and proceeded to make the skins.

Adding water to the flour and an egg to bind, she mixes and kneads until a fine dough is produced.  To keep the dough moist, she puts it into a zip lock bag and leaves it aside for later.

Then she proceeds to prepare the storage equipment to place the wrapped dumplings.  This comprises of my chopping board that she wraps in foil. She explained that she needs an area for dumping the dumplings after they’ve been cooked so they can cool down for packing.  (In most cases, dumplings are prepared and consumed instantly, so they are piping hot and fresh.) I was kindly asked to clean (disinfect, rather) the draining area by my sink for this operation.  While I’m washing the cooling station, she is preparing the vat of water that is needed to boil the little gems.  To the water, she adds a pinch of salt and a drop of oil.  Then she wraps in tin foil a baking tray which she has retrieved from my oven to be used as a storage dish for the cooled dumplings.  My kitchen is segmented into various work stations.  I am impressed by all the improvisation that goes on. In a Chinese kitchen, there are no special contraptions for anything, everything is improvised.  I think about how complicated a French kitchen is with its myriad of contraptions and cooking tools and utensils and laugh at my purchase of a special asparagus holder.  I only bought is because being in Paris suddenly made me feel very lacking in terms of cooking utensils, naked and insecure in my kitchen, cooking asparagus without this special container.

It’s wrapping time.  She takes half a spoonful of meat and plops it into the middle of the skin which is round in shape, folds the two halves together and the corners to make a shape like a semi circled pillow.

She makes 20 in under 10 minutes, wrapping, folding, wrapping, folding.  I offer to help.  She shows me how and I make one in 10 minutes because I can’t get the folding right. I persist, wrap, fold, wrap, fold and I finally get it.  She is so proud of me and laughs.  We chat about all sorts of things, she, in her very heavily accented Mandarin and me, in my pidgin form.  We manage to understand each other – amazing.  I lack vocabulary and she makes up for it by signing or pointing. She laughs again when I finally get her.

She tells me about Liaoning, where she is from. Being so close to the North Korean border, she also speaks Korean.  Her grandfather is Korean, she tells me, where he escaped into China, running away from poverty stricken North Korea.

She tells me about her daughter who has recently graduated from the “Big School” or University and is now in Beijing working.  Her husband is in South Korea, also working and she has been in Paris for the past 7 years.  In this way, both spouses hope to earn enough to retire back to China by leveraging on the interests earned from their incomes in both the Won and Euro against the Renmenbi.

We wrap, fold, chat.  She tells me that in Liaoning, they eat dogs.  I raised my eyebrows at her, signalling to her “let’s no go there, lady”.  But facial cues are different in different social scenarios and she doesn’t understand me and continues.  They’re wild dogs, she tells me, not the lap dogs that I’m thinking of.  These wild dogs are big and “very wild” (her words) and they have to be cooked in a special way with special herbs, to eliminate the strong odour of their flesh.  Someone, expert in slaughtering these dogs, comes to the special restaurants where wild dog stew or soup is served to take care of the dogs and by that she means, kill them.  While I’m listening to her, I’m thinking that this is really not a very good case for the people of China in convincing some other people in the Western world that eating dog is a good thing, just like eating deer or wild boar.  Elder sister Chian actually says that wild dog meat is like any other type of meat. Nobody bats an eyelid about eating dogs in Northern China. To me, it’s like saying that it’s good to eat that huskie, wild and savage as it is.  I’m not convinced but I don’t say anything, it’s too political.  I wrap and fold, wrap and fold and just listen, wrapped up in my own thoughts and culture shock.

I cast my mind back to the day that my girlfriend and I were walking her dog, a little yorkshire terrier, in Kensington Park, London when an old and very eccentric English lady pointed to my friend’s dog and told everyone concerned to be careful in case I, pointing an accusatory finger at me, end up cooking the mutt.

The water is ready and she drops the dumplings gently, two by two, into the pot.  Then she returns to the folding station and wraps and folds some more.  The water comes to a boil and she tips a small cup of cold water into the pot.  The bubbling stops and she leaves the pot alone.  I ask how long the dumplings usually take to be cooked.  She explains that I have to tip in cold water twice before they are ready and on the second tipping, I have to retrieve the dumplings immediately.  Don’t let the water boil over because the dumplings will break, she warns.  So I don’t have to watch the clock, I say, just the pot!  This brings to mind that a watched pot never boils but who’s to argue with a wise old Chinese lady who has cooked dumplings like this for time eternal, just like her mother and ancestors before her. I am humbled immediately.

It took us 4 hours to complete the task of making and cooking these dumplings.  She leaves me with over 200 little gems of deliciousness that I served up for dinner that night accompanied by a dish of soya sauce infused with a drop of sesame oil for the children and the same concoction but with an addition of chilli powder for the Italian and me.

Dumpling making for a dummy like me has been a wonderful learning experience.  She will teach me how to roll the skins she says in part 2 of Dumplings for Dummies.  I can’t wait.

In the process, Big Sister Chian and I became friends, bonded by the laborious nature of wrapping and folding and cooking, then cooling the dumplings to be stored in freezer bags for storage, chatting and laughing all the time.  I envisioned many a females on the day of the Reunion wrapping and folding, chatting away, exchanging news of adventures and love in a country kitchen, happy to be reunited with their sisters, aunts, mothers and grandmothers in “laojia”, the old family home before the start of every New Year….. I am reminded that I belong to this tradition and I instantly feel proud of my roots.

*** Kawan kawan, please bear with me. I will be posting photos of my first class in Dumplings 101 in the next blog post.  I am experimenting with a new way of blogging, text first followed by photos in a separate blog, to see if my “fans” like it…. please feel free to comment.

 

For the love of Jamie


Another school week has ended, bringing us to the weekend of Epiphany.  We celebrated the Galette des Rois at CB’s with plenty of food and more presents. There we ate lollipop chicken, hungarian sausages, Italian Panettone and of course, the galette, accompanied by copious flutes of champagne.

Weekends are usually for rest and relaxation.  SS often has plenty of homework to complete and RN just wants to stay home and listen to music.  She said a very funny thing one Saturday morning, a few months back while lying on the floor, still in her PJs, head on a fluffed up cushion and a woollen sofa throw over her legs, “Ahhhhh! I dream of staying home everyday, listening to music in my pyjamas!”  She had her eyes shut, clearly in another world with Andrea Bocelli  playing in the background.  This child of mine!

Today was an exceptionally lazy Saturday.  My plan was for some R&R – reading, listening to music and writing, simply chilling.  Of course when you have a young family and a husband with exactly the same plans, the only R&R I got was cooking the dinner at lunch time! But who can blame the Italian, he had been at work all week and the last thing he needed was for his femme to tell him that she had no plans but to chill which translated into man-talk sounds like this: ‘It’s your turn, honey!’

However disgruntled he was with my R&R plans, he acquiesced and took RN to the movies later, leaving me time to bond with SS. Not exactly the “alone” time that I had planned but that’ll have to wait until the kids fly the nest and the husband takes up golf in his mid 50s. There is hope yet!

I had a plan to start this year on a clean cooking slate.  This plan involved cooking more wholesome, tasty food with the freshest of ingredients, to improve on my repertoire of dishes so that the girls and the Italian would benefit from a wider variety of cuisines.  I also planned to utilise more herbs and spices to add depth to my dishes.

I’ve been a fan of Jamie Oliver for the longest time.  His recipes are so easy to put together and to execute.  From time to time, I would delve into the only cookbook I have of his,”Jamie’s Dinners”, looking for inspiration and pointers.

I thought I would make my own version of Caldereta  since the family enjoyed the last one that manny Ted had made.  Jamie has his version called “Jool’s favourite beef stew’ which I thought I’d copy and adapt to the ingredient in my fridge and dried goods corner.

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 Onion chopped

A generous sprinkle of herbes de Provence

800 g of stewing beef or boeuf bourgignon, cut beef into cubes of 5 cm

sea salt or kosher salt (I used sel de fleur)

flour to dust

4 carrots, peeled and halved or sliced into big, thick chunks

1 red pepper, chopped into chunks

2-3 tblespoons of tomato purée

1 beef stock cube (pot au feu) mixed into 285 ml of water (of course if you have stock that you’ve made yourself, you win the award)

2 glasses of red wine

3 -4 cloves of garlic, depending on how much you like the taste of it

Piment d’Espelette (optional)

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 162 degrees C. Put a generous glug of olive oil in a le crueset or casserole pan. Add your onions and herbes de Provence and fry until fragrant, takes about 3 -4 minutes. Toss your meat into some seasoned flour, then add to the pan and brown.  Add water and tomato purée, 2 spoons if you feel it is enough.  Add your stock cube, wine and bring to boil. Add the piment. Put the lid on the pan and bunk it in the oven and let it cook for 2 hours.  Depending on your oven and your meat, this stew should take no longer than 4 hours. I cooked mine in 3.

In the last hour, add the carrots and red peppers and allow to cook until the meat is tender. This ensures that the carrots still keep their crunch and the peppers are not overcooked. Jamie’s version included parsnips which are quite rare in Paris but there are green grocer’s who sell them, and Jerusalem Artichokes which are plentiful here.  He adds all his root veggies at the beginning of the cooking process but I prefer my vegetables crunchy, so I added my carrots and pepper later. The stew is basically done when the meat is soft and yields to the prodding of a wooden spatula.

Serve this over pasta or rice.  I served mine with big pasta tubes.  Jamie says adding a sprinkle of a mix of chopped rosemary, garlic and lemon zest will pump up the volume on this dish. I can see why because this mixture which is his tweak on gremolata releases a fragrance so beautiful when it hits the hot stew that it leaves you salivating for more. No wonder it’s Jool’s Favourite Stew. Lucky her to have married a celebrity chef!

My Favourite Stew

Two for Pho


In my veritable search for all food Asian in Paris, I came across this unique eatery in the 3rd, just off the rue Turbigo. Actually, it was Christine B who suggested we schlepp there to taste some Vietnamese Pho that mny had recommended on her Facebook page.

Nothing beats a bowl of steaming hot soup on a cold winter’s day.  And nothing beats a bowl of hot clear broth packed with complex flavours from a stock made with beef, herbs and spices.  This broth, kawan kawan is called Pho. I thank the day that I discovered this tasty soup garnished with beef slices, onions, bean sprouts and coriander (cilantro). Mmmm, coriander! That day was way back in the late 80s in San Francisco. Late 80s? I hear you exclaim.  Well, I’m no spring chicken, kawan kawan. And yes, I waited until the late 80s to discover Pho in America when I’ve been living half my life in SE Asia in a country that is practically a neighbour to the birth place of this delicious soup – Vietnam. When I was younger and living in Singapore, one just didn’t go to Vietnam unless you were a journalist, politician or a local returning home, let alone holiday there……for reasons quite obvious to many people.

My first visit to Ho Chi Min City (former Saigon), Vietnam was in 2007  with my sister from Arizona and her American husband, together with my sister from Singapore and both my parents who didn’t quite understand what the fuss about going to Vietnam was for us younger folk.  I had RN in a stroller, she was a little over a year old and SS was a little over 9 – they were both very excited to be on this adventure.  The trip was significant for its many memories.  For daddy, it brought back bittersweet remembrances of growing up in rural Malaysia and as a young man in Singapore from the late 50s, into and after independence in 1965.  Back then, Singapore was very similar to Ho Chi Min City in 2007.

For my American brother-in-law, it was in the visit to the Ku Chi Tunnels where we were shown propagandistic video tapes of the war from the Vietnamese perspective.  Mitchy M heard Americans being referred to as ‘red devils’ who invaded the land of the Viet Cong. He tasted cakes made from the cassava root, cakes so dry and tasteless, that were consumed by the Viet Cong soldiers, men and women, during their hide out in the jungles.  Mitchy M even crawled through a tunnel so small -”Vietnamese size, not American” as our guide explained – and just about made it back up through the trap door that snugly fitted around him.  Just as well that  Mitchy M is not of the larger build that most Americans are associated with.

For SS, it was the motorcycles that swarmed the streets of the city, beeping their way through them, some with washing machines and various other household goods strapped to the pillion seat. We were told by our very experienced tour guide that we should keep on moving while crossing the road: “No stopping or you’ll cause an accident!” She went on to explain that the motorcyclists will dodge us and there was nothing to worry about. And indeed, true to her words, if we just kept on moving, nothing untoward happened, except for the one time that daddy hesitated and got grazed by a very irate man with his pillion carrying empty industrial size water bottles, one under each arm and one in each hand. Daddy’s hesitance caused the driver to almost lose that very delicate balance that he’s worked out with his pillion and her empty bottles.  I’ll leave you to picture this sight in your head.  Crossing the road in this manner with a 9 year old and a toddler in a stroller was very hairy, kawan kawan but we survived to tell the tale.

For my sisters and me, our memories were of the city’s covered market  where food and goods were sold.  Here we witnessed bottles of alcohol preserved insects, mostly scorpions and the odd snake.  The insects garnished the alcohol, a type of home brewed whisky, meant to induce virility in men.  We bought fruits that we munched on and chewed along the way, discarding their skins and seeds as we went along, like the locals did, leaving behind us a Hansel and Gretel trail of pips and stones. Then we bargained to lower the prices of Vietnamese hats and other souvenirs to take home.  Haggling or bargaining is an Asian past time that a traveller sojourning in Asia has to learn and retain as part of his/her repertoire of life skills. Once equipped with this skill, one can travel in Mexico, Turkey and Africa, armed to purchase any souvenirs at the best price.

The Italian simply took very beautiful photographs.

Then we discovered Pho 101! This was an air-conditioned, sanitised eatery that served the nation’s speciality.

Its Parisian counterpart is a hole in the wall version that sits 24 people intimately.  Christine B and I arrived a little past 12 noon and there were only 2 places left, enough for us.  We sat next to two fresh faced French girls, eagerly waiting for their Vietnamese noodles.  The dry version of Pho is called Bo Bun, served with the same accoutrements and an additional nem, a Vietnamese spring roll.  So, if like these French girls, soup noodles are not your thing, don’t despair!

By the time we had finished, there was a long line of very hungry people, rubbing their hands either to keep warm or in anticipation of their imminent lunch.

When looking for this little eatery, don’t be tricked by two other Asian eateries that come before.  One even has a sign that says Pho.  Persist like we did and walk a couple of doors down to the end of the street and you will find Pho 3, the real McCoy.  You will not regret it.  And come early to avoid the queue.

Pho

Pho 3

5 Rue Volta, 75003

Metro: Arts et Metiers or Temple

Happy New Year – Many reasons to love January


It’s 4 days into the New Year.  The anthracite skies over Paris mark the beginning of the year with its gloomy winter outlook.  A glimmer of sunshine breaking through a grey cloud brings hope of warmer weather to come.  January promises the onset of shorter nights and longer days as we look forward to Spring.

I like to begin the year in reflection of the one that has gone by.  January for me is a month of calm after the flurry of events preceding Christmas and into the close of the year.  As much as I insist that I hate January, deep down inside, I really like the first month of the year.  Firstly, I was born in January, bringing my parents much joy on that 14th day of the month close to half a century ago. (I said close!) Then like all children, I proceeded to bring them much grief during my rebellious teenage years.  Mais, c’est normale!  January is also the month when the sales begin, which, for a shopaholic like me, is always something to look forward to.  This year, I made a particularly original resolution (in my opinion) – I will wait until the January sales to buy the presents that I could have bought for double the price in December and give them to my loved ones at the end of January so that they too would have something to look forward to during this month!  C’est genial! That way, I would have saved a bundle and instead of one present, the kids can have two for the same price I would have paid for one! Hah! What a way to beat the crisis!  C’est genial…… again!  Now, why didn’t I think of that earlier?

Ahhhhh January!  I love you for the hope that you bring – Spring is on its way.  I love you for the presents that you promise – birthday ones and packages purchased in the sale.  I love you for the motivation that you instil – it’s the month to detox from the excesses of Christmas.  January, I love you for letting me start on a clean slate – to discover new adventures, to love more and worry less…..to improve on who I am, what I do and to go forth into the year with zeal and renewed energy.

I had another thing to look forward to this January.  Since the children will start school on January 2, we planned to return to Paris on the 1st.  We had brought in the year at an altitude of 1224m above sea level in the Italian Alps amidst melting snow and winter rain.  It was warm in the Alps this year.  Planning ahead at the end of 2011, knowing that our re-entry into the City of Light would bring us near dinner time, I had asked manny Ted to cook us a small supper so that I didn’t have to worry about dinner after a car journey of almost 8 hours.  I was looking forward to some Asian grub.  After days of Italian food, albeit delicious, my taste buds were yearning for the flavours that they know well – garlic, soya sauce and ginger.

Many journeys back and forth from the car to the lift lobby to the apartment depositing pieces of luggage, shopping bags filled with Christmas cheer from Italy and presents from Santa later, I opened the fridge to see what was for dinner.

This was what I found:

A Pinoy Feast

Manny Ted had been cooking up a storm of Pinoy dishes, surprising me with not only Asian flavours but flavours that I had n’er tasted before, flavours borrowed from Europe that have embedded themselves in Philippine’s traditional cuisine.

Notice that the photos show dishes that have already been tucked into, so excited that we all were to be feasting on such delights that I had forgotten to take a photo of them first. Mais tant pis! At least I remembered the camera half way through the meal.

The Italian and the girls loved the beef stew.  This stew, I was told by the Italian was the best stew that he’d ever tasted.  It’s hard to swallow such words (pardon the pun) when you know that the nanny, in our case the manny, has beaten you in the stew!  I guess I have been two stews short of providing the Italian with the gastronomic experience and wonder of having tasted my fine stews.  I noted that this year, I will cook more stews – resolution number…..100.  But who’s being competitive here…. I am so lucky to have someone cook up a stew that my husband likes the taste of.  Resolution number 101 – to be less competitive when it comes to stews.

Caldereta - Filipino Beef Stew

The stew has been slow cooked in a base of tomato sauce, made from pureed and strained tomatoes so that there were no tomato chunks to be found.  Carrots that have been added much later in the stewing process still retained their crunch.  In fact, they were crunchy enough for me to persuade RN to have a bite.  You see, she only eats raw carrots.  SS loved the chickpeas and petit pois that added texture to the Caldereta.

Caldereta, like Bolognese has its variations.  Each family has their version of Caldereta that is passed down from one generation to another.  Instead of beef, one can also use goat or oxtail.  I, for one, am keen to try out the variation calling of oxtail.

I loved the pancit palabok.  To be honest, this noodle dish actually grew on me. Oodles of rice noodles smothered in a crayfish or prawn sauce, sprinkled on top are fried garlic, chopped scallions, chicheron (pork crackling), flaked tinapa which is a type of dried smoked fish and cubed pieces of fried tofu, just to name a few ingredients.  This dish, judging from its staple carbohydrate content, hails from a Chinese background.  It is not typically Chinese in anyway except for some of the ingredients used like bee hoon  which are thin rice noodles otherwise also known as vermicelli.  This is my favourite type of rice noodles and I especially love it added to a seafood broth.

Pancit Palabok is best eaten with a squeeze of calamansi lime juice.  These limes are native to the Philippines and the only substitute for it here in France and other parts of Europe would be the citron vert or green limes.

Pancit Palabok

Kawan kawan, this is a really good start to the new year for me – bring 2012 on!  What a treat it is when there is someone to cook for you.  What a bonus it is when you like what is being cooked.

The night I saw stars


My iphone buzzes, signalling the reception of a new text message.  I was in yet another Parent and Teacher Association (PTA) meeting. I read through the message quickly and was charmed by the content.  The Italian is asking me to book the babysitter because he’s proposing a night out.  A night out!  How can I refuse that?  I type a quick text to manny Ted to make sure that I’ve got him booked.

The night out would involve dinner, I was later told and that it will take place at the Hotel Balzac, a typical Parisian hotel just off the Champs Elysée.  Hidden in the Hotel Balzac is Pierre Gagnaire, a 3 star Michelin French restaurant.

Imagine my excitement, kawan kawan – a 3 star Michelin, let me repeat it, in case the significance of the stars haven’t caught on!  This is the highest accolade a restaurant gets!

We start with un coup de champagne, mais bien sûr.  How can you not, being in Paris, France? This flute of the best house champagne recommended by the sommelier was followed by dishes of amuse bouche so delicately and creatively presented that I actually found them difficult to tuck into.

There were the fairy size macarons with confit de framboise, so light and airy that they practically melted on my tongue upon immediate contact.  The slivers of crunchy bread sticks dunked in rosemary infused olive oil and a celery stick that has been slightly cooked smeared with an anchovy jam – all absolutely too good to be true.

Amuse bouche, ma cherie?

We chose the ménu degustation – the tasting menu.  I think that a tasting menu is the best way to taste a variety of dishes in a restaurant – at least the popular dishes anyway.

La spectacle begun with the lobster accompanied by a truffle sauce with a side of spinach enrobing a chestnut.  Most interesting, I thought but not mind blowing yet.  I awaited in anticipation for the next course.  There were 7 courses in all. Too many to dissect and discuss here.  So I will share with you a few of my personal favourites, in terms of presentation, creativity and taste.

The St Jacques cooked three ways I thought was superb.  If you like scallops, you’ll find this a very interesting choice. The course started with a whole scallop served with gnocchi that looked like mini scallops themselves. This was served with a purée of broccoli. Presumably, the scallop is to form the shell of an escargot with the purée as its body and the broccoli tree for its head.  The little snail is following a trail of gnocchi stones found in the enchanted forest of gastronomie.

St Jacque and scallops of Gnocchi

The next dimension to this course was the scallop sashimi served with a chilled cucumber soup, very much like a  gazpacho.Scallop Gazpacho

Now that my palate has been teased with something hot and something cold. What next?  The third dimension came in a version of thinly sliced St Jacque with a cream of cauliflower sauce that looked like this:Scallops - the third dimension

We were presented with a box of truffles sitting regally on a bed of rice. The Truffles

This had nothing to do with the courses that were to come, but merely part of the show that chez Pierre Gagnaire had put on for its guests.  The Italian told me that this restaurant is usually shut on Saturdays but for the festive season, they have opened their doors for Holiday makers.  He also told me that the tartufo is to accompany some dish on the à la carte menu and just for the hell of it, I asked the price because he had the menu with the listings.  It was a whopping 160€ for this truffle infused dish.  The love birds next to us ordered it and I was witness to an elaborate platter of something (I guess some sort of long pasta) and the waiter coming with the said box of truffle and a grater.  He systematically and officiously gave the dish of long-something-that-looked-like-pasta two very prominent and important shavings of truffle and bade the lady of the table “bon appetit” and swiftly retreated.  For that, the male love bird would have to pay the price.  His female had better return some good favours there!

I must add that I’m not that in favour of truffle.  I actually don’t see what the fuss is about although from a glutton’s, erm, I mean, gastronome’s  point of view, I do understand the taste factor. Truffles are one of those things that one has to be very careful about.  It can be an overkill if there is too much of it and nothing but tasteless if there is too little.  And there’s the price of it too……. no matter how good it is, I just cannot justify paying that much money for two shavings of fungi! But that’s just me!

The next dish has to be something for the gods. It is a turbot delicately cooked served on a soup of black rice.  This dish brought back childhood memories of eating a coconut milk based dessert made with black glutinous rice or bubur pulut hitam.  In Malay, this dish is simply called black rice porridge.  It is served in many Peranakan homes as well as in homes that are predominantly Hokkien speaking.

Turbot in Soup of Black Rice

I loved the textures of this dish, succulent turbot against a palate of semi-crunchy root vegetables.  The soup was exceptionally creamy without the coconut added. It was truly yums!

The most interesting dish by far for me has to be this:

It's all very interesting so far....

Served in a glass dish, it exudes a sense of sang froid.  The reds in the dish lend it a strange aura of monstrosity.  This dish is an abstract piece of creation in itself, a combination of the sea and land.  It is foie gras served with two oysters hidden by the sliced cabbage salad. It’s hard to ascertain the flavours of this dish, both delicate and strong all at once.  This is a very daring dish to create.  Oysters and foie gras are not typical marriage partners but I think that chez Pierre match-made them rather well.

The piéce de la resistancehas to be the venison and cochon.  A silver pan with two bite sized pieces of suckling belly pork was presented.  Then our personal waiter retreats and returns with this:

Game anyone?

The caramelised cochon sits prettily on the side to be eaten with a tender piece of roasted venison accompanied by a sliver of crunchy lotus root and a chestnut paste you see at the far end of the plate.

After copious versions of seafood, it was refreshing to have some meat. Then when I thought that I couldn’t eat anymore, we were served desserts. And let me tell you, there were  quite a few.

I really liked this trail of wild berries and meringue.

Follow that Trail

There was just way too much to eat.  The experience was unforgettable.  The ambiance was intimate and romantic. My companion was extremely charming.

After dropping hints for at least 2 years the Italian’s way, it finally struck him that I would actually like to eat at a proper Michelin star French resto instead of only reading  about them.  Bless his cotton socks, he actually pulled it off.  I have a good husband……

Well, for the grand finale!  The room spun, the fireworks were set off and I swear I could see the stars of the night sky swirl around me! The bill was a booming star spangled banner in 3-digit figures and if I had to round it up, it would be closer to a 4-digit sum.  For the sick of discretion, let’s just say that it would have bought me a very nice Fendi tote that I’ve had my eye on for a while.  This tote comes in various limited editions of city skylines embossed on the bag’s leather and I wanted the one of Roma. I guess this will be a miss for 2011.  But who cares about Fendi when my personal Italian, all naturally tanned and bronzy is the best arm candy of all!

Foccacia Frenzy


Kawan kawan, I’ve been travelling of late.  This time to Bergamo, Italy.  There we celebrated a special birthday – the FIL turned 80 on Friday, 25th November.  We have an octogenarian in the family. Actually, we have two, for my father is also 80.

The trip took us on a gastronomic adventure high on the hills of the Città Alta, the ancient Venetian walled city of Bergamo.  The Upper City which was built in the 17th Century forms the historic centre of Bergamo.  The Città Alta is accessible by la macchina/car, la funicular/cable car or à piedi/by foot.  On Sundays, in order to prevent congestion and pollution, the upper city is only accessible by cable car and foot.  Many stairways, built around the 17th century take residents and visitors on foot to the Upper City.  These footpaths or scale connect the Lower City to the Upper one and can be found dotted at the base of the Città Alta.

Città Alta and Città Bassa with the hills in the background

The family decided to take a stroll up along one of these stairways.  Afterall, what else is there to do on a beautiful Sunday morning in Italy?  The nearest one to the home of i nonni is aptly named del paradiso. I guess cities are built on higher ground for particular reasons – vantage point, fortification and to be situated advantageously closer to paradise.

Stairway to Heaven

At the top very top of the Città Alta is the Piazza Vecchia, the old piazza which is the upper city’s main square.  There, one can find the oldest church in Bergamo – Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore- which was founded in 1137 on another site that was constructed in the 8th Century that was dedicated to Mary. Inside the basilica, you can also find amongst various artwork, tapestries that were partly executed in Florence and the Flanders, depicting the life of Mary. These tapestries date back to at least 1583.

The Life of Mary as depicted on a piece of Tapestry

While the old folks attended mass, the young folks attended to their stomachs.  We strolled along the cobbled main street of the Upper City and found ourselves gawping open mouthed into the window of a  foccaceria.  Christmas had come early for us that day – inside this palace of bread (and not just simply bread but foccacia bread) we witnessed rows and rows of foccacia with various toppings.  Here’s my personal favourite:

A meal in itself - tuna salad on a piece of foccacia

A meal in itself.  For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I like it when meals can be cooked simply and healthily.  A one-pot stew or a dish of veg and meat stirfry – simple, healthy and delicious. And here in the città alta in Bergamo, I found  a meal on a piece of bread. This is a tweak on the open faced sandwich.

There were so many to choose from.  But we were only a couple of hours from lunch.  What do we do?  The answer was simple kawan kawan, we choose the best piece of foccacia that takes our fancies and gobble them up.  Where can we perch to eat this bread?  On the steps of the biblioteca Angelo Mai, of course.

The family getting some bread and sun

At home in London, with the help of a bread machine, I used to make foccacia.  The Italian adores this bread and we have been known to have purchased a kilo of this bread on one visit to Genoa many moons ago.  This kilo didn’t last very long, of course, as we ate it all up in one weekend!

Here’s a simple foccacia recipe that I found and tweaked:

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 (.25 ounce) packet of active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 cups all-purpose organic flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of gross salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with flour; stir well to combine. Stir in additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all of the flour is absorbed. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly for about 1 minute.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F (245 degrees C).
  5. Deflate the dough by pressing or rolling it out gently, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly. Pat or roll the dough into a sheet and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Make small indentation with your thumb and brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with salt.
  6. Bake focaccia in preheated oven for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on desired crispness. If you like it moist and fluffy, then you’ll have to wait just about 10 minutes. If you like it crunchier and darker in the outside, you may have to wait 20 minutes.

Once you know how to make the foccacia, the toppings are really whatever you want them to be.  Here look:

Fungi and Cipolla

And look again:

Frutti di Mare in the front and smoked salmon with rocket at the back

Isn’t this fabulous, kawan kawan?  No more boring sandwiches in between dry tasteless pieces of bread.  Now you have the foccacia-wich! Bon appetit, mes amies!

Image

Filipino Fry up


Filipino Fry up

Going Native


Once upon time, there was a woman who came from a far away country in SE Asia to work for a Saudi Arabian family who relocated to Paris during the late 1980s.   Let’s call this woman Maria and her employers, the Abdullah family.  The Abdullahs are wealthy tycoons who never travel without domestic help.  Maria was their help.

Maria came with the hope of a better life for herself and the potential to earn more money for her family back home.  With this in mind, she woke up each morning faced with a long list of chores to fulfil and not enough hours in the day to do them all.  She was exhausted. However, Maria  plodded on with her job because she had no way of leaving. She was financially dependent on the Abdullahs who kept her in their apartment every day, without even a day of rest which all employees are entitled to.

One day, a stroke of courage surged through Maria.  She knew that she had to escape the prison that has now become her workplace and home or face the prospect of ill health and death from exhaustion.  With nothing but the clothes on her back, Maria ran away.  She hid herself in a little subterranean hole by a Parisian sidewalk for days until hunger gripped her, forcing her to grab at the legs of a passerby.  Her saviour was an American journalist on a work assignment in the City of Light.  She gave Maria the equivalent of 20€ and set her on the right path.  The year was 1989.

Industrious and determined, Maria soon found work by asking personally anyone on the streets if they might need domestic help.  She had young mouths to feed back home and they depended on her.

Maria is one of the many domestic helpers from the Philippines.  Many of them are sans papiers because they are afraid of tempting fate by legalising their status in France; there might be a chance that their applications will be rejected and they would be sent home. That is because many have saved, begged, borrowed and paid the equivalent of 10,000€ for a passage to Europe, a passage that consists of one month’s tourist visa, in the hope of finding work.  They will be required to work hard for 2 – 3 years, toiling daily, in order to repay their debt. Some of them hold down a series of at least 5 jobs, working in rotation for several families.  For what is their purpose, you ask kawan kawan.

For the love of their children.

This is only a simplified answer, of course but still the most important. Underlying this is the bigger picture – a backstory of colonization, war, bartering between colonial masters, the Spaniards and the Americans, over a landmass that is home to 85 million indigenous people, and later on during independence, a series of corrupt politicians, leaving behind a nation of people who had to seek labour abroad to ensure that their families had enough food on the table.  This was what brought Maria firstly to Saudi Arabia, then to France.

Maria has been in Paris for 21 years, working and saving hard, sending the majority of the Euros she earns back to the Philippines.  For that, she sees to the education and welfare of her children and grandchildren.  Kawan kawan, Maria hasn’t had a vacation in 21 years, she has not set foot on the soil of her homeland in 21 years.

But all that is going to change.  Maria is going home.  However, unfortunately for her, this respite has come too late.  Maria is going home to die.  She has a tumour that is eating away at her brain.  The French medical team working on her has signed her death warrant and has kindly advised her son, the only family she has here in Paris, to send her to a hospice or back to her homeland.

At her hospital bed, Maria sits smiling.  Maria is always smiling, thankful for small blessings and joyful of life itself.  But today is one of the rare days when she is cognizant and recognises her visitors.   Maria thinks she is going home on vacation and she can’t wait.  She can’t wait to smell the dew that collects on each blade of grass in the morning in humid Philippines.  She longs for the local flavours her homeland brings.

As I watch the longganisapopping in my frying pan, I think of Maria.   I think of how happy she will be to taste this native sausage again, with scrambled eggs and garlic rice.

These sausages are native to the Philippines, made from indigenous spices, adapted from recipes left behind by their Spanish masters.  Longganisa’s ancestor is the chorizo.  In the Philippines,  these chorizo related sausages are usually eaten accompanied by rice, fried with garlic, rice so fragrant and extraordinarily Filipino.  Eggs are quickly scrambled to add to the meal.  I was told that this trio: Longganisa, scrambled eggs and garlic rice makes a perfect Filipino breakfast.  This is Filipino fry-up, kawan kawan! If only all fry-ups could be this delicious.

There are many varieties of longganisas in the Philippines, some more garlicky than others, some sweeter whilst others sour. The meat is almost always stuffed in a casing.

Longganisas can be made at home too, just follow the recipe below. I tweaked this reciped that comes from Filipino chef, Kristine Subido’s kitchen.

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4-1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 tablespoon chili flakes (optional)
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup minced garlic
8-1/4 pounds ground pork
4-1/4 pounds coarsely ground pork back fat (streaky bacon)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce

Mix all the ingredients together, cover and refrigerate overnight. (You can also add a few dashes of worcestershire sauce to the mixture to give it an extra oomph.)

Form into patties or logs. Pan-fry in a nonstick skillet, with a little oil if needed, until browned on both sides. Makes about 12 pounds.

As I bite into my longganisa, I say a prayer for this dear soul, Maria.  I often think that when one has so little in this world and yet have so much to smile about, then one really does appreciate the small blessings in life.  Maria is going home, and she is thankful and happy that after 21 years, she can see the rest of her family again.

* Please refer to the following post for a yummy photo of longganisa with garlic rice and scrambled eggs.
 ** I buy my longganisas at the Philippine supermarket on rue Boissiére, Paris 16.  Ask for the ones with casings.