Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Moggysmekongmadness

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vietnam Quilts Advent Calendar.

I attend the SSIS Christmas Bazaar on Saturday and could not resist these beautiful Advent Calendars made by Vietnam Quilts.  These exquisite hand made quilted calendars were $20USD each.
Mekong Quilts is a non-profit, community development, income generating project, which provides sustainable employment for women in Vietnam and Cambodia. Due to the expansion of the project into Cambodia, the organisation is known by two names; Vietnam Quilts in Vietnam and Mekong Quilts in Cambodia.

International shipping is available by both sea and air.

One of their motto's is that it is the gift that gives twice.  Their quilters are women from very poor rural regions, who were desperate for work. Before quilting, these women would travel to far-away fields in search of work, leaving their children at home. In the quilt groups, the women have a regular income and employment benefits. Besides the economic benefit to the women, Mekong Quilts through Mekong Plus provides training on health and hygiene, group management and assistance to the women. 
Currently, Mekong Quilts employs women in communities northeast of Ho Chi Minh City (Duc Linh, Tanh Linh and Ham Thuan Nam in Binh Thuan Province) and Long My in the Mekong Delta. Mekong Quilts also offers employment opportunities to Cambodian women through Mekong Quilts, a similar project located in the village of Rumdoul, near the Vietnam / Cambodia border.

Profits generated from the sale of the quilts are reinvested into the community through Mekong Plus. This includes programmes such as scholarships for children, agricultural training and micro-finance programmes, etc. As a result, not only does your support through the purchase of products help to provide sustainable employment to women but the profits from the sale of the quilts also benefit the poor communities in which they live.

Aside from all of those wonderful reasons to visit....aren't they divine?  I'm having trouble keeping little fingers out of the pockets until December first.  All of this information and more can be found on their web page 
They can be found in HCMC at 64 Ngo Duc Ke, District One and in Hanoi at 13 Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem.  As you can imagine their bed quilts are amazing and they have all sorts of quilted products including christmas decorations!  At Christmas time it is always nice to get into the Christmas spirit by giving a little back to the community.  This is a great way to do that and you get to keep something truly special and treasure it year after year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rooftop Reno

Probably the most under-utilised area in our place is our roof terrace.  Although it has fantastic views it is a bit of a wasteland.  The chairs are highly uncomfortable and it is always very dusty.  It is not the kind of place where you would want to spend much time.  The kids have quickly adjusted to apartment living but they often talk of having a back yard when we move back home.  With the wet season finally drawing to a close we decided that we should do something about making the space a bit more functional.
How comfortable do those chairs look!

The kids would spend five minutes out here and come inside absolutely filthy.  Try as we might that floor did just not want to stay clean.

So...what to do?  We set ourselves a budget and thought about how to make it somewhere where we could not only spend time as a family but also an area for entertaining or just hanging out with friends.  Drumroll please...............

TA DA!!!

Amazing what a difference a new outdoor setting and some fake grass can make!

We also invested in one of those fabulous industrial size fans.  On full power it almost blows you off the roof but on its lowest setting it provides a much needed breeze to cool us down.
The cushions on the couches are totally waterproof and the grass drains off and dries very quickly after some rain.

We are really pleased with our work.  We spend so much more time up here now.  As the sun sets we pop on some mellow tunes and settle down with a cold drink in our little oasis while the honking and humming of Saigon drifts up from below.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hot off the press.....Vietnam Swans Back to Back Indochina Champs!

Big congratulations to the Vietnam Swans on the successful defence of the title of reigning Indochina Champs.  Well done to the guys, supporters and sponsors.  No doubt the celebrations will be soon in full swing in Vientiane, Laos.  I was going to put some champagne on ice for Nicks return tomorrow but after 4 games of footy in one day I think I will hold the champagne and put him on ice instead.  He should be walking again by Christmas.  Go Swannies!

Banner another cracking effort by Ross McRae.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cooking Lessons!

This is a post specifically for those of us lucky enough to live here and especially those of us lucky enough to have some help around the house.  The very enterprising Ms Chau has used her initiative along with her extensive history of working with expat families to create her own cooking course.  She has tailored it to suit mainly Vietnamese housekeepers and cooks who are looking to extend their repertoire. As it is running over Christmas it is perfect for those of you who head back to your own countries for the festive season.  I can personally vouch for her professionalism as Quyen did her course mid this year.  She absolutely loved it and it was a great thing for her to have in her resume.  It is not often we can can help out the people that help us so much.  So if your housekeeper is keen to learn, consider investing in this fabulous idea.  Bon appetit!

Dates of class
19 Dec, until 3 Jan
Monday thru Friday
12:00 to 4:00pm
Course fee: $200USD. Includes the cost of ingredients.

*** There is now another class open on Saturdays and Sundays. 12:00 to 4:00pm.

Decembers menu includes:
  • Leek + potato soup
  • Fish cake + mango salsa
  • Carrot cake + cheese frosting
  • Pumpkin soup
  • Zucchini bread
  • Chicken avocado salad
  • Chili corn carne
  • Corn bread
  • Minestrone
  • Crustless quiche
  • Broccoli with almonds
  • Curry puff
  • Roast whole chicken- gravy- stuffing
  • Baked vegs
  • Corn fritters
  • Cauliflower cheese
  • Chicken tortilla soup
  • Pumpkin pie
  • How to make flour tortillas
  • Indian curry chicken
  • Stir cauliflower potato-rice
  • Wrap bacon with salmon, vegs
  • Mousaka
  • Vegs stir fry
  • Mexican chicken casserole
  • Spaghetti and meat balls
  • Green salad
  • Peanut butter cookie
  • Tandoori chicken - rice
  • Cucumber mint dressing
  • Chicken nuggets

Fried Bananas - Chiên Chuối

I had been looking everywhere for these mythical fried bananas!  I had read about them somewhere and was determined to find them.  After some consultation with some Vietnamese friends it seems I had my timings all wrong.  They are likely to appear early afternoon on the street and that is usually the time I am finishing up work. They are also a little tricky to spot as unlike a lot of the street food here, they are not on display as they need to be made fresh.
You can imagine my delight as I strolled down Pasteur yesterday and right near Qing Bar was a lady set up with her chiên chuối .
Yes, it is highly unhealthy and yes, I had just had a big lunch...but what can you do?

She skilfully bashes the living daylights out of a banana, dips it in the the batter and pops it in the bubbling oil.  All by the side of the busy road.

The result was pretty good I must say.  The dough was a bit thick for my liking and it could have done with a sprinkling of sugar.  I guess I had built them up in my mind and was slightly disappointed.  Probably a good thing or I would end up the size of a house.  They cost 5,000VND each (about 25c).  I suppose every individual makes them differently so perhaps my quest should be to find the perfect chiên chuối lady.  A girls gotta a have a hobby right?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Some R&R in Nha Trang

After a craptastic month helathwise, my amazing hubby sent me off to Nha Trang for a little recovery R&R.  No kids!  Now don't get me wrong.  I adore my kids for 2 nights is just what the Doctor ordered.  He recently won a nights accommodation at the Sheraton so a friend and I added one night and we were off.  With internal flights at just $100 or so each, it was a relatively cheap way to get away from it all.
The Sheraton was fine.  It is located on the beach road with the rooms fairly standard.  A little further North than what I would call the centre of town but still well within walking distance.  I'm not usually one for the big chain hotels but when it's free....i'll manage.
The view from the balcony was quite spectacular.  Unfortunately the balcony itself was quite tiny with no outdoor furniture.  There are 2 enormous hotels going up pretty much next door and there was a bit of construction noise.
The beach virtually a stones throw  away.

Although the Sheraton has its own chairs on the beach we decided on recommendation from fellow blogger Owee to spend the day at the Louisiane Brewhouse which is right on the beach but also has a pool beachside.

It is 20,000VND (about a dollar) to hire a towel and 35,000VND to hire a beach chair for the day.  This is the view from our chairs.

The food was a fabulous selection of western and Vietnamese food as well as a sushi bar.  Prices were very reasonable.

Coming from Australia we are very spoilt when it comes to beaches.  Nha Trang seems quite clean but be warned, the waves looked pretty powerful.  If I had the kids I probably would recommend the pool unless they were very strong swimmers.

Did I mention it was a brewhouse?

One of the things I really like about Nha Trang is the seafood.  The street, or should I say beach, hawkers trail though the sand offering their wares.  They can be quite persistent but Louisane have security that keep an eye on things.

From memory I believe there is about 7km's of beach in this particular stretch.  Plenty of room for all.
A vietnamese beach would not be complete without some beach football.

Very serious business this football.  Loving the improvisation for the goals.  It's almost Australian!

All too much.  Maybe time to cool off in the ocean.

Vietnams new travel slogan.  "Visit's out of this world!"

OK, now we're talking.

I was actually on the way back to the hotel when I saw this catch so we decided to wait until the next day and get some fresher stuff.

As the sun goes down I can't think of a better place to do your homework.

There is always time for a little retail therapy.  The shopping in Nha Trang is secondary and there is nothing there that is really mind blowing.  A lot of the usual stuff you get in Saigon.  There are however, as expected, an amazing array of swimming costumes.  They also appear to copy your favourite on request.

Just loved this old sewing machine.

Next day back to Louisane...did I mention it is a brewhouse?

Just before midday this group arrive with the catch of the day.  The hawkers are not allowed past a certain point on the beach near the restaurant so they set up shop closer to the water.
The main feature is the ubiquitous weathered lady carrying a yoke with 2 heavy buckets.  One side has a basket with the seafood in it and the other has a tray of hot coals and a pot to cook the seafood in.

After much consideration we decided on the scallops.  This lot cost us about $5

...and there was a lot of consideration.

So the coals were flared up for us and the scallops prepared.  I have no idea of what was in the sauce they produced to coat them in but it was amazing.  There was plenty of garlic though!

If anyone knows how to cook seafood it is this lot.

As your catch is cooking they produce blue tarps and secure them in the corners with sand.  Instant beach picnic.

Yes, it tasted as good as it looked

Well you can't have seafood on the beach without a beer now can you!

Ok, so initially we thought this lady was just plain nuts.  I was standing there and all of a sudden got a big slap on the butt.  Natasha is killing herself laughing.  Then I get another.  I turn around to see this little old lady.
She proceeds to rub our shoulders while asking if we want to buy smokes or pringles from her basket.  When we said no she makes the universal signal for "I'm going to slash your throat!"

Well it just goes to show you, never judge a book by its cover, or in this case, never call an old lady crazy until you get to know her.  Turns our her name is Viet and she is 63 years old.  She has not a tooth in her head (which was the cause of much ribbing by her friends) yet has the most infectious smile I have ever had the joy of receiving.

They say to understand someone you need to walk a mile in their shoes.  I can only imagine the path these feet have trodden over the last 63 years.

Viet was truly a delight.  For a while we kept waiting for the other shoe to fall.  The "OK, you took my photo now give me money" line.  I feel bad even thinking that now.  She was just a super friendly lady who was enjoying the afternoon.  As it turns out, we paid $5 from a passing lady for the worlds biggest fruit salad.  A whole pineapple, dragon fruit, bananas, mangoes, lychees etc. When we realised how much there was we told her we did not want that much.  She told us bad luck, she had cut it now.  We were a bit annoyed but learnt a valuable lesson.  If God gives you lemons, or in this case, fruit...make lemonade or again, in this case, a fruit platter!  We decided to share the fruit with all of our new found Vietnamese beach dwelling friends and the outcome was hilarious.  The young lady boy kept picking on Viet because she had no teeth and she starts piffing pineapple at him.  The bracelet girl soon joins in and before you know it there was a food fight. We are all just killing ourselves laughing while everyone on the beach was looking at us and wondering what the hell was going on.  Either that or wondering what was in the sauce that was in the scallops. 

The young girl who made the bracelets had quite good English.  We shopped for the kids (20,000VND or about $1 per bracelet) while she adjusted them for little 4 year old wrists before our eyes.

All this food flying around made us hungry again so we decided to get some prawns.

Being lazy like we are we asked if she would not mind peeling them for us.  Nothing is too much trouble.


His mum, or at least we think it was his mum, kept telling us he was a lady boy (she got a piece of pineapple to her head for her trouble).  He did not seem to mind but we were concerned that he had hairy legs.  So with a belly full of seafood and beer it was time to say goodbye to our new friends.  Big smiles all round and wishes of good luck.

As I wandered back toward my deck chair I was rugby tackled from behind.  It was Viet who just wanted to give us a big hug.  This beautiful lady really did steal our hearts.  I would have to say that this was one of the most "real" experiences I have had since moving here to live.  No one wanted anything from anyone except a bit of a laugh over some great food.  Sometimes we spend so much time with our defences up (quite often rightly so) but every now and again an opportunity arises and you take it.  It's amazing what, or even who, you find.

So we sadly headed back to the Sheraton where we were due to check out at 1400.  Our flight was not until 2130 so we asked if we could hang around the pool until dinner.

Was a bit overcast by now but it was a gorgeous pool area.

...with an amazing infinity pool.

So we hung out and read and relaxed until it was time to go and have dinner and head to the airport.  We were only away 2 nights but to me it felt like a real holiday.  I really enjoyed this short break to Nha Trang.  It was lovely to do absolutely nothing but come home feeling refreshed and ready to hit the madness that is Saigon.