My niece Tini turned 15 yesterday and we celebrated her birthday today. She said, I wish I were from South America so I can celebrate Quinceañera and wear those puffy dresses. She went to one of her friend’s Quinceañera a few months ago and fell in love with the tradition.

As the only child to her parents, Tini has almost everything she wants and needs. But can you imagine that she was in full excitement mode when I gave her a Starbucks gift card? Two years ago I gave her two tickets to her first One Direction concert and she showed the same expression.

IMG_6895.JPGThe cake filling was made with durian. O had to block his nose because it smelled like gas.

IMG_6898.JPGThe boys only wanted the creamy frosting on the outside. They were also smitten with Tini’ friends.

If my memory serves me right, the year I turned 15 coincided with the the Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991. We stilled lived in that dilapidated house on 27th street crossing Cedar Avenue that we rented less than two years prior upon coming to America . That morning my mother and I took two busses to get to the nearest supermarket on Lake Street for some grocery. I did not have proper winter gears and vividly remembered the tingling sensation of my feet walking on slippery and sleety pavement. It was painful. The snow started falling very lightly but unbeknown to us, that was the beginning of a three-day nonstop snow storm. We did have an old TV back then and but had no idea about watching for weather forecast or warnings. Luckily, we got home before the heavy snow started enveloping and swallowing up the city.

I think my mom still have some photos of us that our sponsor, Mr. D, took when he came to check on us after the snow winded down. In that photo, my two younger brothers and I climbed atop and small mountain of snow that accumulated on the side of our house.

What a memory for my 15th birthday. I wish I remember more details of what we did while staying inside for three days. But if I am dating back to those early 90s years, I am certain that my brothers and I were watching Hong Kong dramas, and probably marathoned at least two series, all were copied on VHS, with bad qualities.

And I am sure we also ate a lot of instant noodles, Mama brand and of Thai spices flavor.

super heroes wanna-be’s

We received a gift package from a dear friend* today. Very kind of her to do this every year! I must admit, that my boys were not too enthusiastic about the content of the gifts, but were engrossed in what to do with the green tissue paper that my friend used to wrap the gifts. Fortunately, there were two pieces so the boys did not have to fight over the ownership.

It turned out, PP made it into a cape and ran around as a super hero. I was not sure which hero he wanted to be, but he looked cool with the shades and the cape combination. Peanut, on the other hand, had me rolling on the floor laughing. He kept saying, me super hero too — meaning, PP cannot be the only super hero, and he must have his share of being one running around with the shades. And then when PP dominated the scene, Peanut decided to put on a different scene himself. He started crying and demanding PP to stop, and to give him the shades. What a boss!

Phở expressions?

We eat phở almost every week. I make chicken phở when I had just two hours or so to prepare, and beef phở when I can stay home the whole day. Tonight we had chicken phở that I simmered last night. The boys prefer the beef broth over the chicken’s but they still ate it heartily tonight. I gave them quail eggs on top of the chicken, which they also loved.

Friday night movie and popcorn.

It’s their Friday tradition with O, who also enjoyed the popcorn and a good movie on Netflix. We don’t have a DVD or Blu-ray player, so Netflix is the go-to resource for movies.

* Cám ơn nàng! Đã nhận được gói quà rồi. Hư quá, đã nói đừng gửi mà cứ gửi hoài!

best part of the day

I could not help but to quickly bring the camera to the bathroom for this particular moment, when Peanut asked PP to comb his hair and the elder obliged. He asked Peanut to sit on the little stool, and then splashed some water to we the hair and worked his way around Peanut’s head.

I mean, look at the concentration on PP’s face; he was very serious about helping his younger brother getting ready for the day.

It’s the best part of my day, giving me so much fuel to run around.

Continue reading

comfort and nostalgia

Xôi gà.

While cleaning the pantry yesterday I found a small sack of short grain glutinous/sticky rice, about a cup and a half that was probably left over from last Thanksgiving. I soaked them overnight, and with some left over chicken breast I used for soup, they both ended up becoming a scrumptious lunch for the boys.

They savored every morsel of the rice and chicken.

Then I told them about my childhood memories, that I once savored this treat on rare occasion while growing up in Vietnam. I remember that there was a lady who lived deep in the mountain, and raised chicken of her own. Every afternoon she carried a big bamboo basket of xôi gà, covered by banana leaves, down to the neighborhood where I grew up.

As soon as we heard her sweet and enticing calling, xôi gà đây! (sticky rice and chicken!) children of different height and weight gathered around her awaiting turn with their allowance in hand. The chicken was painted in the color of crimson red (probably from the extracted annatto seeds, there were plenty of them in the mountain) and the gooey sauce wrapping the sticky rice, running down from the top to the base of the plate.

Then the xôi lady sprinkled some fried shallots and dropped in a few spoonful of glossy mỡ hành (green scallion wilted in melted pork fat) just to add the extra factor to heighten the flavors, and my salivation. My favorite pieces of chicken morsel, though, were the offal parts, e.g. gizzards, the young unborn chicken eggs, and the intestines.

I wish I had a camera and a blog back then. But that was in the 80s, camera was a luxury afforded only by the wealthy (and taking photos of food was probably too frivolous!), and a blog was a non-existence.

My childhood in Vietnam was full of great memories, particularly about food. I think one of the reasons food stood out so much and in a very significant way, was because we were so poor, so we treasured every piece of food available to us. Hence, I ingrained in my senses of what we ate, and carried with me across the ocean at the age of 12.

Cutting it short


I am going to skip writing the details of our day tonight because I ran out of fuel. It’s been a long day!

The highlight of the day was PP’s Christmas Concert at his school. He performed in the afternoon and then one in the evening. I only brought the big camera along for the evening session, so the above photo was pretty flat by the iPhone. Better quality photos will be posted tomorrow when i get a chance to convert them to jpeg.

O is coming home tomorrow. I look forward to having a break from the boys.