me in Melbourne

wrapped in a blanket of sunshine <3

Well friends, I made it to a new continent and a new country I’ve been wanting to visit for most of my life – Australia! I’m all settled in my apartment in Melbourne, and trying hard not to think about having to leave in four short months.

So I knew the coffee culture was big here, but no one informed me of the FOOD! I want to eat everything I see on the street, in the markets and at every cute café… and I probably would were it not so expensive. One of the best features of my apartment is that it is right next to the Queen Victoria Market, a huge (takes up 2 city blocks!) farmers & artisans market where I can score some great deals on the typically pricey produce. The indoor portion of the market is filled with artisan made yogurts, cheeses, breads, pestos, dips, cereals, pastries, chocolates… you name it. They seem very into quality and fresh foods here and I love it.

Some other things my food-obsessed self has noticed since being here… Continue reading

Cooking in the land of smiles (and MSG)

preparing papaya salad :)

First of all, many apologies for abandoning the blog and you wonderful readers these past few months! I have no excuse except that I was having lots of fun exploring the southeast of Asia. And as much as I would have liked to write some posts, blogging from a phone without all my photos was just never that appealing…

So now here I am, back in my home with a much-too-quickly fading tan and an inspired spirit that always lingers after being in another culture for a while. And more wanderlust, which seems to grow exponentially with each trip I take. Luckily, this was only part 1 of my grand adventures of 2014, with moving to Australia coming up in merely a month!

But let’s talk about Southeast Asia. Without doing much research beforehand, I had few expectations for this 2-month backpack adventure except to be able to travel cheaply and eat some good food. I was not disappointed :)

(And, having few expectations helps me appreciate every place I go so much more — a key to happy travels I’ve learned throughout the past).

Chiang Mai Flower Festival

Flower Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our first stop was Thailand, where I was eager to take a cooking class and learn what authentic Thai food is all about. I found our first tastes of Thai fare in Bangkok to be quite heavy and rich, and much smaller portions than we’re used to – which was a good thing! Along with the sweltering humidity, cramped city feel, and bad traffic made horrendous due to ongoing political protests, I was ready to get my massage on the street and get outta there.

A (long) train ride later Forrest and I breathed a sigh of relief and fresh air as we stepped into Chiang Mai. Our songthaew (pick-up taxi) ride from the train station drove us to the moated old city where flower-coated parade floats lined the streets and a colorful, neon-lighted concert was blasting its music to the whole city. We arrived in this super cultural northern city smack in the middle of the annual flower festival – lucky us!

The laid-back, down-to-earth city of Chiang Mai has all the Thai culture your senses could care to soak up. And more. It was such a relief to be there after overwhelming Bangkok, especially at a time of such celebration and blooming flowers galore! Forrest and I had fun trying to navigate through the narrow alleys fringed with tropical plants and quaint cafes to find majestic temple after temple, each with their own style and color and peaceful aura. We’d pick up a street food snack and a Thai iced coffee (the best) and continue our day of exploring or people-watching in the park until it was time to experience the craziness that is the night market.

Then the day came to indulge our tastebuds, stuff our stomachs and learn what it is that makes Thai fare so rich and flavorful. We were recommended a school called Smart Cook Thai Cookery School, and the full day involved browsing the morning market to learn about essential Thai ingredients and then heading to the open-air kitchen to learn how to prepare six different dishes. (Yes, that’s a lot of eating!) Continue reading

my 23rd cake

beachcolors

This is my happy place. Carova Beach, Outer Banks, NC. Once a year I get to be here with the best company for two weeks of laughter, play, sun, salt, relaxation, sandy doggies and lots of good cooking. Oh, and it also involves my birthday, so cake and fancy drinks are always part of the shenanigans.

margaritas + birthday cake!

My 23rd birthday cake to celebrate this new year of life: a blueberry cornmeal cake with lemon curd – neufchâtel frosting. I thought up the flavor combination when blueberry season was just beginning and had been craving it ever since. So when the day came, I handed the special job over to my boyfriend and supervised carefully to make sure he made it exactly how I imagined :) He did great, topping it off with a decorative blueberry swirl. Thanks Forrest!

*Note: my birthday was in July; I am just now realizing I never got to posting this cake recipe which needs to be preserved forever and ever. And I’m reminiscing of those wonderful two weeks at the beach. Summer, don’t go so fast! Continue reading

Back home to comfort (food)

egg<3

It’s always something I look forward to after travelling: returning to my kitchen and to my comfort food. Comfort food – often synonymous with indulgence food – for me is actually the healthy, nutritious, veggie-full meals we eat in our house*. It’s comforting because it satisfies both mind and body, and I crave it when I’m away from it for too long. Traveling in a country like Colombia, where green vegetables are not (at all) the forefront of the cuisine and I’ve eaten one-too-many deep fried empanadas ….makes me long for the salads, stews, curries, fritattas, stir frys, and all other veggie-centered dishes that are a regular at home.

*don’t get me wrong, ‘comfort food’ to me also means all things chocolate ;)

I also return home inspired by the many foods I’ve sampled, techniques I’ve observed, new spices and textures and flavors I’ve discovered. So I’m off the plane and anxious to cook, whether it’s Colombian arepas or a comforting veggie-ful lentil curry.

Here’s a little bite of the food in my life since I came home… just a little detox from empanadas, fried plantains, queso, queso, and more queso.

quinoa falafels over greens & carrot-orange-ginger juice

Quinoa falafels with tahini sauce via Sprouted Kitchen, & fresh carrot-mango-orange-ginger juice

kabocha squash lentil curry

I-could-eat-this-every-day Kabocha Squash Lentil Curry via Pinch of Yumover kale with toasted naan

Jamie's sourdough boule

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My sister’s sourdough boules… maybe ate a little too much of this, but who can resist warm, crusty, chewy, fresh baked bread?!

sourdough boule with apricots + almonds

homemade butterfingers

And in lieu of store-bought Easter candy, we made homemade vegan butterfingers, which blew us all away with their spot on texture and peanut buttery goodness. Continue reading

Smitten with Salento

birdwatching & coffee sipping at Sacha Mama, Salento

If there’s a place encompassing my idea of perfection in Latin America, it would be the town of Salento. In this little coffee town of Quindio, Colombia, everything is just right.

the lovely town of Salento

The town itself is quiet, but not sleepy. People there are super friendly, but not in your face or pushy. The colonial-style buildings are colorful but not flashy. The main street in town is lined with local artisans selling beautiful handcrafted goods (woven sweaters and ponchos, copper jewelry, pottery, sculptures, planters, etc) – not plastic keychains and cheap souvenirs. They grow the best coffee in the world, and they’re in love with it. Aside from the pure coffee that is grown, roasted, and brewed by the people who know coffee best, local shops sell coffee-infused everything – cookies, caramel (cafequipe), liquor, chocolate-coated beans, you name it.

I never expected to encounter a landscape so utterly ideal and flawless – but here it is. Any direction you look, lush green mountains roll into the distance, scattered with palms and tropical flowers and trees, dairy cows and horses. Needless to say there is ample space to hike and run and stretch your legs, which will surely be strong and toned with all the steady hills and winding dirt roads. If this were a town in the States, no doubt it would be taken over by young outdoorsy hippies like many Colorado, Oregon, and California towns these days (not to be stereotypical ;) But instead it’s populated with local artisans, coffee farmers, cowboys, and the small population of backpackers who come (often staying longer than planned) and go.

The climate is like none other I’ve encountered. There can be intense sunshine, cool fog, rain, lightning, and silver-lined, pillowy clouds all in one day. The tropical vegetation suggests it is humid and wet, but in fact the air is a perfectly comfortable not-cold, not-hot, not wet nor dry. It’s obviously the coffee plant’s ideal climate as well. The horses and dogs are hearty and well-fed. The cows here look genuinely happy – but really, how could they not be?

happy Salento cows

Valle de Cocora

Valle de Cocora, home to the world’s tallest palms

It doesn’t hurt that the hostel I stayed (and then volunteered) at – set amid a 200-acre picturesque dairy farm – feels more like a big cozy house than a hostel; like a communal living space where everyone cooks together, plays together, and lounges together. It’s safe enough to walk the 15 minutes home down a dirt road by your lonesome after dark (and that’s not just me being risky, it really is safe). I’m usually cautious about carrying valuables with me, but this is the first place in Latin America I’ve felt good about taking my ipod with me on a run (in Colombia of all places, to all you skeptics ;)

And as if I couldn’t enjoy my stay in Salento any more, there is a cafe that will deliver brownies filled with a thick layer of homemade peanut butter, right up to the door of the hostel.

Pedro's coffee, from jungle to cup

Visiting Pedro’s finca, Sacha Mama, where we harvested, processed and brewed our own coffee, from jungle to cup :)

Continue reading

12 days as a chef in Colombia

Casa Loma

Casa Loma: a wooden hilltop hostel in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, overlooking the little town of Minca, the mountains, the coastal city of Santa Marta, and the Caribbean sea all at the same time. Sounds like a paradise, yeah?

view from Casa Loma

view from la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range

So when I found an opportunity to volunteer here in exchange for a tent and meals, I was in. And let me just say it’s a good thing the other volunteers and I knew anything about cooking, because we were in charge of serving breakfast and dinner to 20+ guests each day… not to mention the little town has no supermarket and neither the stove nor the oven in our 4’x5′ kitchen were adjustable.

It was a challenge, but certainly an enjoyable one  :)

Casa Loma eats

Breakfast mostly consisted of lots of local coffee, fresh juice, homemade arepas and eggs — not too hard. We rotated roles as the dinner chef each night, merely given the rules that the ingredients can be bought in town and to include a vegetarian option. Although I love cook and I do it all the time, when put on the spot about what to prepare for 20 guests (using the very limited variety of ingredients available in town)… my mind went blank! Continue reading