Jun 29, 2014

Vietnam: Qui Nhon: Part I; City of tragedy, worship & poetry

Qui Nhơn 

1 hour flight to Quy Nhon from
Ho Chi Minh City
Qui Nhon is the costal city in Vietnam of the Binh Dinh province. The economy runs on importing/exporting, fish farming (as I learned recently this is called "pisciculture"), agriculture and forestry. Thanks to tourists like me, they have a growing tourism industry as well.

This area is plush with mountains and forests, hills, fields, salt marshes, plains, lagoons, lakes, rivers, shorelines, peninsulas and islands.

The city boasts a population of approximately 1 million. What I immediately notice is how much less traffic there is compared to Saigon .

Peace in Qui Nhon

When driving to my grandfather's grave, we passed many rice paddies, farms, cows, mountains.

We visited my grandfather's grave site, which my relatives visit once per year. This area of land is dedicated to the family. They come and clean the site, removing weeds and dusting. We placed fresh flowers and placed burning incense sticks nearby. My dad says that when our ancestors smell the incense it beckons them to come to our realm.

Another tradition I wasn't aware of was the burning of money by the grave site. This isn't real money, and is made specifically for this tradition. Burning the money allows our loved ones to spend it on the other side.

Jun 28, 2014

Vietnam: Cà phê - Vietnamese Coffee Explained

Something you definitely must try when you come to Vietnam is Cà phê. Coffee was introduced into Vietnam by French colonists. Since then, the coffee culture in Vietnam has exploded. Dairy is a very rare commodity in Vietnam, so instead they use condensed milk. One cup will set you back about 70 cents.

The Vietnamese coffee is locally grown dark roast and is coarsely ground. 

How to order Vietnamese Coffee (WS)

"Cà phê nóng" - Vietnamese Coffee straight up (hot)
"Cà phê sữa nóng" - Hot Vietnamese Coffee with condensed milk
"Cà phê sữa đá" - Iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk

Cà phê - Vietnamese Coffee

My dad was kind enough to allow me to take pictures to explain.

1. The coffee grounds you see there in that contraption is a French drip filter (cà phê phin) that is placed on top of the cup with condensed milk. You pour hot water through and it can take up to 5 minutes for it to entirely drip through. What drips through is rich in flavour (and caffeine!) onto sweet condensed milk.

Jun 26, 2014

Vietnam: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Ho Chi Minh City

The people from the South (except for city and government officials) still refer to this place as Saigon. Many of my relatives live in this super busy Metropolis. I have been here twice before, and each time I go it becomes increasingly more dense and westernized. 

About Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)

  • Population: 8.19 million (vs. 5.5 million in Toronto, Canada)
  • Location: Ho Chi Minh City is southeastern Vietnam. 
  • Districts: It is compromised of several districts, of which "District 1" is the most urban and central.
District map from Codie Maps

Bến Thành Market

Ben Thanh Market is the largest market in downtown Saigon, located in District 1. Its a popular destination for tourists and you can find textiles, souvenirs, local eateries and a fresh meat/food market. 

Vietnam: Food Diary

A lot of my friends back in Canada seem to have a fascination with Vietnamese food since its not a cuisine they frequent often. What is sad is that I myself, don't know much about it either. So I thought I'd use this trip as an opportunity to learn about those different dishes.

[cheesy confession] What's really sad is that most of these fruit names I had only heard of as "restaurant names" - I didn't realize they were named after actual fruit (to be fair, all of those restaurants were Thai/Vietnamese, so it was somewhat related). [/cheesy confession]

Just an important caveat, I only visited Southern/Southwest Vietnam, and did not venture to the North (we do not have family there, and this is a family trip otherwise I certainly would have gone!).

Măng cụt - Mangosteen, Saigon, VN

Thats the purple fruit on the top left corner. This also happened to be my first meal in Vietnam (instant noodles FTW!)
Instant Noodles

Phở: Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Pho in Saigon, VN - We went to a local restaurant in Saigon and had Pho! A huge difference between Canadian and authentic Vietnamese pho that I noticed is that there's considerably less salt/MSG in Vietnam pho broth. All the ingredients are fresh and local and feels like a much "cleaner" taste! I am still puzzled how a "hot soup" is so popular in a hot country in Vietnam, but its delicious nonetheless!


Jun 25, 2014

YYZ ✈ NRT ✈ SGN: Trip to Vietnam & Japan

So I just touched down in Vietnam about an hour ago spending 18 hours in flight and 20+ hours total in transit. My aunt who I'm staying with has wireless internet here and plug adaptors which I'm ecstatic about! Its 1:36 AM in Vietnam (12:37 PM in Toronto I believe) and I'm wide awake. So I thought I might as well give an update.

Toronto Pearson International Airport

I took a taxi from my home to the airport and loaded everything up. Check-in was relatively straight forward and as per my dad's instruction, I arrived 3 hours before my light was to take off. I purchased a very expensive, single patty burger (no cheese) for $8.00 as they had nothing else, my French Vanilla Cappucino and a doughnut from Tim Horton's and proceeded to wait.

A photo I took while heading to my gate to board my flight.  
The wireless is not too reliable and I kept disconnecting every 15 minutes. Although they did have these nifty ipads around and plug outlets galore, which I really appreciated. I charged my SLR, iPhone (yes.. I did bring it with me...) and my dad's Windows Laptop. 

Jun 23, 2014

Race #2: Toronto International Dragonboat Festival at Centre Island

We had our big race of the Dragonboat season this past weekend. 200 teams descended upon Centre Island in Toronto to compete. There were tons of races, festivities, booths, food trucks and tons of spectators! We were lucky to have beautiful sunny weather for both days!

What really bummed me out about the first race we had in Pickering a few weeks back was that I didn't bring my SLR camera. So I was sure to bring it along this time and took a lot of team pictures and candid photos. 

Up on stage collecting our medals! I am in the middle holding the award frame/certificate.
We took home two medals, placing third in two divisions: Recreational and Non-profit. Our last race was VERY close the top three teams had the same time but only differed by milliseconds.

Jun 16, 2014

Vanilla Cupcakes

I baked cupcakes for a friend's birthday. She specifically asked for "vanilla cupcakes" so I pulled up a classic Martha Stewart recipe for cupcakes. The recipe is actually not to sweet and the cupcakes plain are quite delicious!

Recipe from Martha Stewart.

Vanilla Cupcakes


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (not self rising)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature) or 1½ sticks of butter
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups milk


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Prepare dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt, whisk together and set aside. 
  3. Prepare wet ingredients: combine butter and sugar with electric mixer until fluffy (4 minutes). Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. 
  4. Alternate dry flour mixture & milk INTO wet ingredients: Start and end with flour. 
  5. Fill cupcake paper liners ⅔ full. 
  6. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. 

Easy Nutella Buttercream

This nutella buttercream is one I used recently to ice a chocolate layered cake and classic vanilla cupcakes. This is a simple recipe and I loved how "stable" this icing was. It kept its form after icing!

Easy Nutella Buttercream


  • ¾ cups butter
  • ½ cup Nutella (or 8 tablespoons of Nutella, which is easier to remove from the container)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 cup icing sugar


  1. Beat butter and Nutella together with electric mixer. Be sure to scrap down sides and beat again to ensure the entire mixture is well combined.
  2. Add vanilla and milk.
  3. Gradually add icing sugar. Beat until frosting is smooth, stable and/or peaks form.

Jun 11, 2014

Jillian Michaels: Body Revolution (its done!)

I did it. I just finished Jillian Michael's 90 day weight loss program Body Revolution.

I didn't use this program solely for weight loss:

  1. A simple exercise program that would increase in intensity over time. I wanted to get back into exercise, gently.
  2. I wanted an exercise program that was 30 minutes or less, so I could fit into my busy schedule.
  3. I wanted something fun and motivational. That inspired me to be better.
  4. I wanted something that would allow me to stay well conditioned and in shape while I did other sports

Jun 7, 2014

Nutella Coconut Cake

This weekend, my cousin Lynne came over to spend some quality girl time together. We baked a Nutella Coconut Cake together.  It turned out delicious!

Our First Dragonboat Race!

We had our first dragon boat race in Pickering, Ontario! We've been training since fall of last year, building up our cardio, core, upper body and lower body strength doing circuit training. We recently started water training at at Sunnyside Paddling Club by the Toronto Harbourfront area. 

These training sessions are grueling 2 hour practices of just continuos padding. On race day, however, the races last about 2.5 minutes, and we have a couple of hours rest between races.  It as actually fun!

Jun 4, 2014

The Rainbow Bridge

The Rainbow Bridge

by SDB, inspired by a Norse legend

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
Where the friends of man and woman do run,
When their time on earth is over and done.

For here, between this world and the next,
Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.
On this golden land, they wait and they play,
Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.

No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,
For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.
Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,
Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.

They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.

For just at that instant, their eyes have met;
Together again, both person and pet.
So they run to each other, these friends from long past,
The time of their parting is over at last.

The sadness they felt while they were apart,
Has turned into joy once more in each heart.
They embrace with a love that will last forever,
And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.

Penny passed away two days ago.

She was going to turn 2 years old this July. We noticed she sustained a hip injury in December. After going to the vet who diagnosed it was hip subluxation, and was prescribed cage rest. Later we noticed her limping, and then a week ago she stopped walking completely. We took her to the vet and received these x-rays The prognosis was not good: she had diffuse debilitating arthritis in all of her joints: hips, knees, spine. The vet warned me she may not do well and to prepare.