a little bit of silliness....click on the picture to create a fly for it to eat....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Coming to the end....

So my posting has slowed down, in fact everything has slowed down.  I'm only giving two classes a week at Koto but am managing to get to the Hanoi Cooking Center and Donkey Bakery to share my expertise as often as I can.  Last week was a week of Danish Pastries.  I adapted a recipe to suit the Vietnamese quality flour and was honestly pleasantly surprised when they worked really well.  The staff at HCC and Donkey really seemed to enjoy the sessions too.
Back home I usually like to use peaches or apricots on the danish but they are not available here so we used roasted apples, banana and mango.  Tracey suggested trying to make a frangipane with coconut instead of almond so we gave it a try...the idea is to try to introduce a 'vietnamese' flavour...another idea was to use a mixture of black sesame seeds and peanuts (the ingredients of a dessert made here called Che) which I really like and will try in the future.  After our session of rolling, folding, and chilling Tracey and her crew were kind enough to invite me to their staff Tet Party at a local Lau place.  That's hot pot to you and I...we had to sit on the floor (hard for this old chook) and nibbled on crispy fried frog (yes frog), some yummy crispy corn kernels, tasty seeds and garlicy greens...all this before the hotpot even arrived.  It was lovely to feel a like a valued part of the team, even if just for a night.  We ate, drank and toasted each other's good health.
these are the wonderful green tea noodles we enjoyed...

me n Tracey with a juicy frogs leg

the chicken hotpot...

some of Tracey's lovely staff..
 For whatever reason I seem to have been excluded from much of the social life at Koto.  Most arrangements are communicated  by email and, despite a request early on from David, I was never assigned a Koto email  address...so I've missed pretty much every invitation that's been issued unless I've actually been needed to cook and I've missed every general meeting too.  The upshot of which is that I don't feel an integral part of the Koto team.   On the other hand Luyen and Tracey have been so hospitable and inclusive that I feel privileged to have been able to help contribute to their staff training. 
Koto is a great place that does a wonderful job training the kids so they can have a better life but honestly, I'll be glad to finish next Tuesday.  I've revamped the pastry menu, delivered the advanced classes for the staff and trainees, mentored Doan as much as I could (given the problems with equipment and facilities) and thanks to Gary Miller and Andy Docherty over in New Zealand and their incredible wrangling of a new oven for the new pastry kitchen I really don't have to do anything else...:-)

I'm currently house sitting for Tracey as she and her family have popped over to Bangkok for a break and so I've been able to move into their place to look after their two cute wee cats.

They are funny wee things, they took a couple of days to get used to me but now happily sleep with me on the sofa and bed.  They are free to come and go outside whenever they want but despite this I find it odd that even after being out in the garden for a while they come in to use the litter box...then want to go straight back out...they obviously enjoy the inside toilet!  The house is situated next to a large pond and I was concerned at first by the plethora of mossies that are everywhere but so far I haven't been bitten...is there such a thing as a bite-less mossie?  On the days when I'm not out with either Hung or Luyen I've watched nearly every dvd in house!  It's been a massive week of movie madness...heaven!  Having access to a washing machine has been a bonus too, I took the opportunity to give my hoodie a damn good wash. I never thought that washing clothes would be a problem here but it's been the biggest...go figure!

Tet is a family time over here and tradition and superstition dictate strongly how important it is exactly who visits the home during the holiday because good luck (or otherwise) arrives with the visitor.  So I wasn't expecting much in the way of invites; Thu from Koto did talk about having me visit but ended up not extending an actual invite.  So I was thrilled when Hung extended not one but two invites to visit his family home and that of his in-laws.  In addition to this Luyen asked me to lunch not once but twice over the week's holidays. 

The first visit to Hung's house was to see his Mum make her annual mountain of Bang Chung cakes...apparently she uses about 20kg of rice!  She and her neighbours sat industriously folding and packing the sticky rice, green bean and belly pork.  It was lovely to finally meet Hung's lovely wife Hang and his gorgeous baby boy who completely stole my heart.

green bean balls and the uncooked sticky rice...

almost finished product...

a mould is used to shape the cake...

isn't he just gorgeous?

with his proud dad....

by the end of lunch he has warmed up to me and I got this lovely smile out of him (on his mum's knee)...
After lunch Hung and I head off on his motorbike so he can show me the Hanoi Museum.  This museum was built to celebrate the 1000year birthday of Hanoi.  It's a massive building constructed as an upside down pyramid.  We find the place but unfortunately it's closed on Mondays...damn!  So we do the tourist thing and take photos of each other outside!
standing in front of the huge Hanoi Museum...
The morning of the 2nd I cycled to Luyen's place for lunch.  It's been so cold here lately that we are all well and truly over the weather.  I can't tell you how happy I was to come out to a warm and relatively sunny day...mind you even when it's sunny the sky is still pretty grey...must be the pollution.  Whatever...I was loving not needing to wear 6 or 7 layers of clothes for once.

looks spooky doesn't it?

On the night of Tet Eve (Feb 2nd) there is a large fireworks display that can be seen easily from West Lake, Hung kindly popped round at 11.30pm to escort me to a good vantage point and the pair of us oooohed and aaaahed like a couple of kids. 
one of the floating restaurants in all it's finery cruised up for a good view of the fireworks...

I liked the reflection on the lake...

...and again....

fun at the fireworks...

During Tet everything is closed down for the week; the beginning of the lunar new year is a much larger celebration than either Xmas and New Year.  I've been posting photo's of the progressive increase of decorations around the place because it's been really nice to see the flashes of colour in an otherwise often drab, grey landscape.  

the pagoda at the end of Tracey's road all gussied up for Tet...
 That's about all the news to date, I've only got another two weeks left over here.  I'll be giving two more classes at Koto plus spending two mornings with Doan refining the items on the new pastry menu.  Then it will be goodbye to Koto.  I've arranged to spend a day each with Hanoi Cooking Center and Donkey Bakery showing the staff some useful tea cake recipes.  Sadly I have to spend time at the ruddy dentist too...a huge filling has fallen out of my back tooth and it really needs attention.  Then it's another haircut and some shopping for gifts to say thanks to the people who have supported me in 2010.  I love shopping even if it's not for me....retail therapy rocks!


  1. Ahhh.... Your trip is nearly over :(. Sad. Still, it looks like you enjoyed it!

  2. Yes Leo, it was an amazing experience and I learned as much as I taught. I've made some great friends and will never forget my time in Hanoi...but I am still looking forward to coming home.

  3. hi again ngaire...i'll miss your blog from Hanoi - i'll look for all things pastry inspired when i'm eating at KOTO in July..

    by the way..can you recommend the dentist you're using..i want to have some crowns done whilst i'm there.

    thanks, and all the very best for your trip back home


  4. that's so sweet Mal, I will miss it too. I've just this minute got home from the dentist and he was extraordinary. I'm the biggest coward, really, and always cry...but Mr Phuong was brilliant! I had a filling without an injection and only flinched a couple of times. Mr Phuong said that was a good sign...the tooth was still alive! Yay, and it only cost 250,000vd ($12.50). His wonderful receptionist and I were joking about establishing 'dental tourism' to Hanoi but after getting the bill I don't think it's such a joke! I have to go back on Sunday for him to check it so I will take photos of the wonderful, clean, modern surgery. Watch this space!

  5. I forgot the address...he has two surgeries, the one I went to was 19 Hang Dau St., Hoan Kiem District Hanoi. 04 3927 5678. Give them a ring when you arrive. I'm coming back in two years to get my whole mouth done!

  6. thanks ngaire sounds great

    ..i'm wanting a fair bit of cosmetic stuff done, so i may call them a bit before

  7. Brilliant...I'll tell them on Sunday and they may suggest contacting them by email first...I'll ask.
    We made the 'che' cake at the Hanoi Cooking Center today, it was a base of almond cake but we jiggled it a bit, so in the end it was almond, peanut and black sesame cake topped with roast apple...sooooo nice!

  8. Hi Mal, I spoke to Dr Phuong when I went for my check up and he suggested that you contact them by email to talk about your needs. His email is nghiemchiphuong@gmail.com
    Good luck with everything...