starting over


Kidney Bean Soup

I made this soup today with some white and red kidney beans I found in the pantry. It’s extremely hearty, so it’ll take a while to finish it I think, but it goes great with the guacamole we have in our freezer!

What you need:

  • 1 lb (2 cups) dried kidney beans or 3 14-oz cans
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced (optional)
  • 1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oreganob
  • 4 cups liquid (water, or stock)
  • Salt and pepper

What to do:
If you’re using dried beans, soak them overnight in water (3 cups of water for each cup of dried beans). Rinse the beans out before use until the water runs pretty clear. Boil the beans for about one and a half hours in a medium-sized pot with enough water to cover the beans by about 1.5″. When they’re tender, you can turn down the fire and drain out the beans again. You don’t need to keep the bean water.
Next, sweat out the onions in a medium soup-pot with some olive oil. try not to caramelize them, just get them nice and soft. Add in the garlic and all the spices to coat the onions, and once it’s evenly mixed, drop in the beans, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Ensure everything is evenly coated, and then add in the liquid (I used beef stock here). Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Bust out the immersion blender, and blend up that delicious mix until smooth.
Serve with some guacamole on top!

Adapted from macheesmo.

Lentil Soup

While clearing out the pantry, I found a bag of lentils and immediately had a craving for lentil soup. Scouring the internet for a decent recipe, I came across this one from BBC Good Food that I adapted to remove a few items which I didn’t have on hand. I’d say the original recipe is really good as well if you wanted to give it a try!

What you need:

  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 140g split red lentils
  • 1L hot vegetable stock (from a cube is fine)

What to do:
In a medium soup pot, add everything except the chilli flakes to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils have softened. Blend up with an immersion blender to get a nice smooth texture. Toss in the chili flakes to your spiciness level and serve! So simple!


  • You can use any bouillon you like, I only had beef on me.
  • I used ground cumin as opposed to seeds, so about 1 tsp

Adapted from BBC Good Food.

Thai Tomato Coconut Soup

I had a huge craving for this today – and I almost went and bought a pre-made version instead just so I could eat it immediately. But common sense took over and I ended up picking up the ingredients I needed to make it. And it turned out just as good in flavour, but not as smooth since I don’t own an awesome blender.

What you need

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp red curry paste
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 can coconut milk

What to do
In a medium-sized soup pot, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. When warm, add in lemongrass, ginger and curry paste and mix for 1 minute until soft. Add in onions and sweat until soft. Add in tomatoes and chicken broth, and simmer until vegetables are extremely soft (about 5 minutes). Depending on how thick you like your soup, you can cook off some of the water, or you can blend it right away. Add in the coconut milk once the soup has been pureed.

adapted from allrecipes.com

Summer Salad! Now with more bacon!

What you need:

  • 8 strips of delicious delicious bacon
  • 1 avocado
  • corn (2 fresh cobs or 1 can)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp lemon juice


  • 1/2c edamame
  • 1/2c quinoa
  • 1/2c red peppers

What to do:

If using fresh corn, cook up that first (either boil it for 8 minutes or cook on a BBQ/in the oven), and then cut the kernels off. Fry up that bacon in a pan until crispy. I like my bacon really crispy, so I leave it in until it’s it’s got a pretty solid crunch. When ready, take out the bacon and crumble into small pieces. Remove all but 1-2 tsp of oil out of the pan, and then drop in the corn. Add in the lemon juice, and some salt & pepper to taste if you want. Once it’s all warm, turn off the heat.

Pit the avocado and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Drop that in with the bacon, and then add in the corn and any other ingredients you’d like. Gently toss (try not to break down the avocado), and serve. Mmmm bacon.

Asia Trip 2011: Day 5 – Halong Bay and the Overnight Train

I didn’t wake up for the sunrise at 5am, but finally dragged myself out of bed at 6:30 for a tai chi session on the deck. It ended up being just the Indonesia couple, Jeff and Kathy, and myself. We had a lot of fun, and we could see in the distance that several other boats were conducting morning stretches as well with their passengers. Breakfast was at 7:30am sharp, and everyone gathered for the usual eggs and toast. But shortly after that, we all had to pack and empty our rooms by 9am. We said our quick good byes to a lot of the passengers as they were going off to the town for an overnight sleep as part of the 3 day – 2 night tour. Jeff and Kathy, as well as two other couples stayed behind and we basically sat around on the deck for almost an hour with nothing to do since the guides left with the other passengers on the small boat to drop them off. It was a bit confusing, since everyone was gone and we were left on the almost-deserted boat with no schedule as to what was going to happen next.

We took some silly photos (of course there had to be a Titanic shot, how could there not?) and Jeff and Kathy took a short video for their trip, and we lay in the sun until finally we saw our guide boat in the distance. After they got back and settled in, we had a spring roll making session. It was a bit of a cheat, since all the vegetables were cut up for us already (which is the hardest part), and all we had to do was roll them up, but it was still fun. They ended up being in our lunch menu, so I’m glad we put some effort into them! The boat slowly made its way back to the bay and when we docked, we ate our midday meal amongst a gazillion other junk boats in the polluted harbour with exhaust fumes rolling in from the window. The plumbing water was either turned off by then or something, because the communal toilet stopped flushing and the water stopped running. I guess it was alright, since it also ran out of toilet paper. We stood around for another half an hour until we were shuffled to the smaller boat and brought to shore.

After a bit of confusion, we finally made our way to a bus that we shared with another group of tourists coming back from their Halong Bay tour. As we were getting dropped off in the city, we arranged with Jeff & Kathy to meet up at the train station in hopes of bunking together for the overnighter to Hue. A and I ran some quick errands in the city – I went and bought myself several banh mi to last the train ride and ordered one last bun cha while we gathered our info for the next leg of our trip.

Confusion: when you purchase train tickets through your hotel, you are given a postcard-like piece of paper with a picture of Hanoi on it, and a little slip of paper stapled to it saying you need to redeem it at the station for your train ticket. People who don’t pay attention immediately think this is their train ticket, and then get really confused when they try to board. People who do pay attention arrive at the station at the designated time on the paper, only to be equally confused when no one there speaks English and no one knows what this paper is. Imagine our panic when we tried to get someone to look at our receipt, only to be sent in different directions each time. Even more strange, once the train arrived and all the locals started boarding, it became apparent that only the tourists were left standing in the station wondering what to do with this paper.

Half an hour later, a girl rolls in with a stack of tickets and starts reading confirmation numbers out. We traded our receipt in for a ticket, and found out that all the tourists are bunking in the same carriage, which is comforting to know. Jeff and Kathy asked their roommates very sweetly to swap with us so we could hang out together for the night, and they were so kind to agree.

The train car held about 6 cabins, each cabin holding 4 beds. There were also extra small cabins at either end of our car (about a third of the size of ours at the most) that crammed in three local riders. I felt as though the quality of the bedding and the cleanliness of our cabins, though still nowhere close to our comfort levels, were probably at the tops in comparison to every local resident riding the train. We ate our dinners and slowly settled into our beds for the night.

The train ride was fairly uneventful except for two incidents. One, the train pulled into a small town in the middle of the night and came to a stop for a half hour. The braking movement jolted me awake, and in my sleepy state, I decided to try and use the washrooms. Apparently, trains lock their bathrooms automatically when they stop in the station. I suspect it’s to ensure no one sneaks into the bathrooms to ride the train (or more specifically, no one sneaks into the tourist car to use our bathrooms?). So I flagged down a conductor and explained I needed to use the washroom. After making it pretty clear I couldn’t wait much longer, he took me to a different car (rammed to the brim with locals) and let me use the washrooms there. Which were pretty gross in comparison to our tourist one. Preeeetty gross.

The second incident happened somewhere in the middle of the night while we were moving across the countryside. I woke to a frantic but quiet scream as Kathy said she felt something crawling across her arm in the bed. We turned on all the lights but couldn’t find anything. She ended up staying with Jeff in his bed for the rest of the night as I had a restless sleep worrying about unknown critters myself. A slept through it entirely. :P

We arrived in Hue the next morning and sadly said good bye to Jeff & Kathy as they continued on their journey to Da Nang. A and scrambled off the train and trekked our way to the hotel (a lot further than I had thought when I booked it). Hello Hue!!

Currywurst Sauce

I’ve craved this for over a year after returning home from a month-long Germany trip. I tried simply adding curry powder to ketchup (a terrible idea that I don’t recommend), and I paid some painful prices for currywurst at the annual German Christmas Market so I could have a little taste.

Finally, I decided to google it, and lo and behold, the recipe is actually really simple. And it’s so delicious. Thank you internet!

What you’ll need
1 onion, minced
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp paprika
2 cups canned and peeled tomatoes, crushed
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

What to do
Heat a tbsp of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onions and cook until tender (10 minutes). Add in the curry powder and paprika and mix well. add in the tomatoes (with juices), and then the sugar and vinegar. Let simmer for another 20 as it reduces. Serve with some sausages and store up the rest.

Recipe taken from Saveur.

It helps if you can purée the onions before-hand – it helps make the sauce a lot smoother and spreads the powders through more evenly.
I didn’t have red wine vinegar, so I used rice wine vinegar, which worked just as well.

Cream of mushroom soup

What you need:
1 lb of mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1.5 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk (or soy milk)
4 tbsp of butter
2 tbsp of flour
salt and pepper to taste

What to do:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in medium-sized pot and sweat garlic and onions. Add in mushrooms and broth until softened, about 10 minutes. Purée vegetables with hand blender until slightly chunky (or more, if you like creamier). Allow the vegetables to simmer to reduce.

In a separate pot, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter on low heat and whisk in flour to create a roux. Add in milk slowly to create the cream base, ensuring there are no lumps. Add in mushroom purée and reduce until desired thickness is achieved. Add salt and pepper as needed.

adapted from allrecipes.com

Chinese chicken with mushrooms

What you need
1 small handful of wood mushrooms
6 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked
1 chunk of ginger (about the length of a thumb knuckle), sliced thinly
4 chicken thighs, deboned
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
vegetable oil

What to do:
Marinate chicken with corn starch, soya sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar. Let sit for 20 minutes. Halve the shiitake mushrooms. Boil the wood ear mushrooms for approximately 15 minutes to remove any vinegar taste.

Add shiitake and the wood ear mushrooms into the chicken mix with a little bit of oil. Steam the dish for approximately 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.

Add sliced ginger to the marinated chicken and then stirfry in a wok. Add mushrooms a bit of chicken broth, and then cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. Thicken if necessary with corn starch and water. Could also add a dash of shaoxing wine if you have it on hand!

Easy carrot ginger soup

What you need:
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1-2 large soup carrots (or 4-5 regular-sized ones), diced
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 cups chicken stock

What to do:
Melt the butter in a medium-sized heavy-bottom pot. Add in the onions, garlic and carrots to soften them for about 5 minutes on medium heat (don’t let them brown!). Add chicken stock and ginger, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until carrots are soft. Blend up the ingredients into a smooth soup. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Asia Trip 2011: Day 4 – Halong Bay

Having done some exhaustive research the last few days, I decided that I wanted to splurge on my trip to Halong Bay. It would be a once in a lifetime deal, and if they made it to the New 7 Wonders of the World, the prices would surely inflate even more. We settled with the Galaxy Cruise at a price of $111 USD per person. It wasn’t our first choice, but since the boat was brand new (on the water since March 2011), we felt it was a good bargain.

We checked out of our hotel early that morning, and the payment process was relatively painless. We learned then and there that a 3% charge applies to all credit card transactions, but since we didn’t have enough cash to cover our entire bill (the three nights plus tour bookings plus train ticket to Hue), we had to shrug our shoulders on this one. The tour guide came to get us and 8am and seemed to be extremely rushed – I didn’t have time to use the washroom before I left the hotel. I mentioned to him that I would like to go before we set off, and he kept saying “20 minutes”. Finally, after an hour and a half of him saying “20 minutes” (and from the original estimate we should’ve been at the rest station by then), I told him I had to go. He didn’t seem very pleased, but asked the driver to pull over for me to use a WC. We ended up in a gas station. With the most vile toilet I’ve ever seen.

So I’m not complaining about the tour company and all, since I know they can’t control the state of washrooms outside of their specific rest areas, but seriously. This was terrible. If you’re eating, you should probably read this later. Basically, I went to the washroom assuming it’d be some squat hole, but it turned out to be an actual toilet. It smelled terrible, but that’s the norm. The warning bell rang when I looked to my right and saw a pile of crap that someone had just left there, on the ground. Right next to a toilet. Of course, curiousity got the better of me and I decided to look into the toilet, that apparently hadn’t seen running water in a long time, to find it completely infested with maggots. Most. Disgusting. Thing. Ever.


I ran out of there as soon as I could, and lo and behold the rest station was 20 minutes away. With proper clean toilets, with running water. It was like paradise. I wish I had brought my wallet in with me, because there was a fruit stand in there, and their produce looked delicious. They had baby pineapples (peeled and cut up) for 20,000 dong! I made a mental note to bring my wallet on the way back the next day so I could buy one.

We finally made it to Halong Bay by 12:30pm, and had to do some waiting around while the company shifted people from the previous cruise off the ship. It’s interesting how they keep everything moving, and you don’t understand what’s happening until you’ve gone through the entire process. Basically, they have people on the ship from the previous cruise waiting until the van arrives. Only then do they let those passengers off the cruise via a smaller motorboat and they swap places with the people on the van.

The boat party consisted of an Irish / Thai couple, a married couple from Indonesia, a young and old couple from Germany (who don’t know each other), two backpackers from somewhere in Europe (I didn’t get a chance to chat with them), and an Australian couple. It was small, and it was comfortable. It seemed a bit disorganized at first, with the waiting around, but once we got on the boat and got introduced to everyone, things started to settle down a bit. The food they served was okay. I read a lot of reviews from travellers saying that cruise ships in Halong Bay serve fantastic food, with great portions. But I didn’t really notice that. The food was good, I liked the variety and presentation, but we finished everything they served, and I’m sure A could’ve eaten more. We spent our lunch with the couple from Thai, and had a great time learning about their jobs as teachers there.

A and I had a lovely room on the lower deck. The roof deck had lounge chairs for sunbathing, and the middle deck had an open sitting area by the front. Overall, the boat is in great shape. Our two tour guides were very nice, and chatted with us a lot. After taking a small break to chill, we took the smaller boat out to the Surprising Cave. It’s basically comprised of three caves, with a lot of random rock formations. It’s beautiful inside, though some of it is artificially lit with colourful lights, ruining the atmosphere a bit. The views from the cave opening are splendid though. After exploring the cave, we got the chance to go kayaking around the area. The tour guide told us we had until 4:50 to kayak (it was 4:10 at that time), so we went off exploring as soon as we got into our boat. Apparently, right after we left, they changed their minds and told everyone to be back by by 4:30. Soooo A and I were kayaking around until well after it had gotten dark, making the most of our time on the kayak (that we were terrible with, it constantly veered left, and it was such effort to make it turn right). When we got back to the docks at 4:50, completely pitch dark, we found that everyone was already sitting in the travel boat waiting for us. They all thought we had gotten lost, and they seemed a bit grumpy. Whoops.

There was an option to swim when we got back to our boat, but it was completely dark outside and the water didn’t seem very warm, so no one took the option. I wonder if anyone on any boat would take the option to swim in such dark conditions. I also didn’t feel like the water was very clean… but maybe that’s just me. Instead, when we got back to our boat we took a break and settled down for dinner. This time around, we sat with with the couple from Indonesia, who were both vegetarians. I felt bad for them, since their food options were extremely limited. Most of the time they got tofu in supplement for our amazing display of pork or beef. Even they seemed really unimpressed. We also noticed a new couple that had joined us at the next table over. They had just come back from a two-day kayaking tour and were headed back to land with us. After dinner, we chatted with them and found out they were from Calgary! We ended up hanging out the rest of the time on the boat the next day.

The entertainment post-dinner was either karaoke or squid-fishing. While squid-fishing sounded really appealing, Jeff and Kathy (the Calgary couple) found from the tour guides that it was well past squid season, and the chances of us catching anything are next to nothing. But it seemed like karaoke was a pretty poor alternative, as the room quickly cleared out and the only people who were singing was the tour guide (a VERY bad rendition of Hello by Lionel Ritchie), and the bartender. We tried fishing regardless, but I was feeling pretty tired and congested, so I went to bed early out of fear I had caught a cold.

All rooms had A/C, which is great because every boat in the harbour left their engines on, and the air outside reeked of engine fumes. The beds were extremely comfortable, and the outlets accepted North American plugs, so we could charge all out stuff while we slept.