It's Halloween, everyone's entitled to one good scare!

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A Treat for the Eyes

Hello invisible peeps!

I have a special treat in store for you this weekend. My enormously talented friend Thomas Hammer, who dropped by the other day and
tasted my Pa-Te-So, gave me permission to post this painting of his. He has so generously gifted this painting to me and N. as a wedding present.

I thought long and hard about posting the painting along with my own interpretation of it. However, I don't want to influence your interpretation. After all, it's abstract, and we may each experience something different from his work.

That, and I am a firm believer that a painting needs not always come with words. Language and paintings are very different forms of expression, so that one can never truly describe the other.  A painting is a whole and complete experience in and of itself, and should be enjoyed as such. So have fun!

Oil on canvas - 22 inches (56 cm) x 28 inches (71 cm)
Courtesy of Thomas Hammer
A. W.
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On the sill of my window

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The W word

*Dedicated to someone who recently has become dearest to me. 

When I first met him, what struck me was his unassuming intelligence and his superhuman ability of 'doing it all', and 'doing it all WELL'. That subsides to a mutual friendship and my appreciation for his genuine kindness. 

Not too long ago he surprised me by doing an extremely nice gesture. Not to say it was out of character, but no one would have bothered doing it if were him - busy as he always is with, I'm certain, many more important matters occupied his mind. 

Truth be told, I have been having a hard time lately trying to find my 'perfect' job. Countless of times I got so close to it, but for one reason or another the deals fell apart. I'd been frustrated of course, but soon enough frustration was replaced by numbness. I'd search for the outrage, a flair of pain and anger I'd expect to feel, but to my own surprise had found it absent. I could only summon up indifference. I thought I had lost my passion for my career. 

But he didn't, doesn't, and won't let me. He would listen to me, give me advices and enormous help. Our conversations always leave me inspired with a feeling of being taken under one's wings, that everything would work out in the end, and that I would achieve what I had long ago set out to. He restores my faith in life, my chosen path, and in people. Because of him, I know that for now I have choices. Choices mean future. Future here, future anywhere else, it's all forward motion. And motion is life. 

I know kindness is universal. It's everywhere, be it my daily talks to my mum, April's blog posts, or what I see in T.'s eyes. And the sort of kindness this post portraits can be easily be from any friends or family. But I sincerely hope that one day I'll be able to tell him how much I appreciate him being there for me all this time. No matter what darkness and hardship life has in store for me, I'll power through with a smile on my face. 

The readers, those of you who really know me, could have guessed by now who I'm writing about. So I'll use the W word - 'worship' - instead of any others, for fear of being unprofessional and inappropriate. This is an inside joke between me and T., him referring to me all twinkle eyes with enthusiasm when I speak of this person. 

OK, 'worship' will have to do. For now. 

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Coming Home

I hesitated for a long time before writing this last part of our Italy trip report. Quite honestly, I didn’t know how to tell you that I did not like Venice. There, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong – Venice was breathtakingly beautiful. After a 4.5-hour-drive from Tuscany, we laid eyes on a city built entirely on water. “Holy Shit” was all I managed to say as we drove over the last bridge into Piazzale Roma. Venice’s water had a distinct turquoise color that perfectly complimented its blue sky. Looking from a far, Venice defiantly extended into the sea – a testament to the power of human resourcefulness and engineering skills. Taking the water-bus into town, we encountered some of the most unique and magnificent architecture in all of Italy, influenced both by necessity and by its key location connecting East and West. Venice was jaw-dropping-ly gorgeous, and I felt in love literally at first sight.

Sadly, that love affair did not last long. Being in Venice was an entirely different story. It was soooooooo crowded. We live in New York City and are no strangers to crowds. But this was way worse than Times Square. Have you ever heard that the best part of Venice is to wander and get lost? I will tell you why – it is impossible NOT to get lost in Venice. The streets intersected by water were very difficult to navigate to begin with, but someone was bound to bump into you and knock your maps off every now and then anyway. It didn’t help that it rained the whole weekend, flooding the entire city, including St. Mark’s square and the inside of St. Mark’s cathedral. Now we had a city “under water” instead of “on the water.” They put out temporary bridges, but by now, the large crowd of tourists was stuck in an even smaller space, growing increasingly short-tempered. In addition, there were many people in tour groups, whose primary objective in all this chaos was to follow their guides' flags. I was standing in front of a store waiting for N. when a group of people literally pushed me all the way to the other end of the street. N. laughed when I reported in a huff, “I’ve got enemies trying to run me over now!!!!! And they’ve got FLAGS!!!!!” Little did I know that my number of enemies would increase exponentially when the evening came and I was chased by a cloud of mosquitos that quickly took over Venice. I have never travelled to a place where I wanted to go home and napped the day away so badly. Besides, it was not as though we could afford to sit down anywhere other than in our own room – everything in Venice was ridiculously expensive. Coming from Tuscany where locals routinely offered us free food, we weren’t so keen on paying big bucks just to sit at a café with a million other tourists.

That being said, we made the most of our trip. Venice had a number of amazing museums that for some reasons did not attract many tourists. N. and I spent an afternoon learning about the history of this unique city. Venice was home to one the most complex and vibrant political and economic systems in the world. If you just stop and think about it – it must take a special group of people to build, protect, and develop a city on the sea. I wonder how many tourists who trample St. Mark’s everyday know the story of a community that came together at a time of tragedy to build that magnificent square. The best part of Venice isn’t the gondola ride (for which we coughed up 100 Euro) - it’s the story of how the gondolas were built, the places they have connected, and the people they have carried. We might have arrived in Venice with only an admiration for its beauty, but we definitely left Venice with the deepest respect for its people.

We flew out of Milan back to New York City. And there you have it – our entire Italy trip. Everywhere we went, we discovered gorgeous landscapes, magnificent architecture, a rich history, a beautiful people, along with delicious food and wine. I hope you have enjoyed the details of this trip report as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you.

Yet the best part of our trip was not about those details. Rather, it was about meeting up with dear friends like Hien and T., sharing stories amidst laughter and tears. It was about making new friends like Lelia, learning how much we had in common despite our very different lives.

Most importantly, it was about travelling with my husband. As I boarded the plane back to New York, I understood for the first time the meanings of honeymoons. Whereas the wedding celebrated a promise, the honeymoon recognized a reality – that of two people on the same journey. Every morning on this trip, I woke up eager to explore a new place, knowing that he would always be besides me no matter how lost we might get. And every night, even though we often returned to a different place, I felt completely at home next to him. The honeymoon, at its core, was a simple realization of the promise I already made to N. on our wedding day – that no matter where we may be,
“From this day forward,
You shall never ever walk alone.
For my heart is your shelter.
And my arms? Your home.” 
A. W.

For previous Italy trip reports, check out:

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An urban life

This is my day in a nutshell (well, maybe not a nutshell but THREE IMAGES :D): 

AM: home-made lemon drizzle cake - yum!

then rushed off to London for some catching-up sessions
PM @The Shoe Galleries, Selfridges
April darling, you should have been there with me,
you would have totally loved it! 
I mean, GIANT glittery shoes, what not to love?!

and received the most amazing news late PM
you deserve it!
good luck and well done - whoop whoop!


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In my first post here, I spoke of a balance between our jobs and our personal lives. If my absence on the blog this week has demonstrated anything, it’s that the term “balance” is at best inaccurate. I cannot tell you the number of work-life-balance seminars I have attended over the years. When your institutions and employers consistently hold meetings on having a life, you begin to realize that your career is not exactly life-friendly. On any given day, as I juggle all parts of my life, the question is never “Will I drop something?” It is always “Which one will I drop today?”

What strikes me as odd, however, is our need to pretend that such a balance exists. Too often, the strategy to “have it all” has been to “do it all.” Surely, if we try hard enough, we can all wake up every morning, exercise at the gym, go to work, succeed at work, go above and beyond and advance at work, go to the grocery store, make dinner, do the dishes, keep your house clean, return your phone calls, answer your emails, finish up that little bit more of work, all preferably before we collapse into bed. Notice that I have not even mentioned meeting up with your friends, spending time with your spouse, etc. Nor have I accounted for the unexpected events that will surely come up - doctor’s appointment, sickness, etc. I don't even have children yet. I hold the utmost respect for those who shoulder that responsibility as well. 

But seriously, we need to drop the cover on our perfect lives, along with all this balance bullshit :-). Stop telling each other that we can "do it all.” The more we hear it, the more we believe it, and the more we feel as though we are the only one in the world that fails at it. The truth is, my friends, if you came over this week and my apartment looked clean, know that I had picked up everything and stuffed it in the closet right before I opened the door. And if I shared recipes that involved hours of work, it was probably the only thing I made that weekend. And when I sounded overly confident when teaching a class, a part of me secretly hoped that I had managed to read everything right before I fell asleep with the highlighter in my hair. And if I managed to bring lunch to work, I probably skipped the gym that day.

And strangely, I am OK with that. Perhaps life was never meant to be a balance, with perfect proportions in every aspect. It’s a challenge, for many of us, in our own ways. I hope we can share those real stories with each other, without reservation or fear of judgment. After all, the acceptance of failure as a normal part of life is precisely what enables us to continuously aim higher than our reach.

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Feelings can creep up just like that

(click on the image to view it at original size)
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Guest Post: Thai Chicken Curry*

* by Thu Vu
Thu is a classmate of mine in New York. Come to think of it, some of our favorite memories have revolved around food. A few days after we met, I opened my door one day to find Thu with a big pot of Thai curry, and we exchanged stories over a fragrant bowl of jasmine rice. Fast forward a couple of years, I got married last April. Not wanting me to miss out on all the Vietnamese traditions, Thu bought a couple of  roasted ducks, and asked her dad to make the most delicious fried rice for brunch the day after my wedding. During medical school, on the most stressful days, Thu always has a way to bring my spirits up. "Do you want some Canh Chua?" - she would ask. The answer is always yes. Thu's recipes are simple, wholesome, and delicious - everything that is "home cooking."

A. W.

Hi! I'm one of April's classmates in New York, and she requested that I do a food and cooking post for her. We cook for each other all the time, and she provides me with encouragement and company, and I provide her with editorial feedback on her culinary creations. Things to learn from April: Never substitute more than one thing in a recipe. With that bit of advice, I share with you one of the first recipes I ever put together on my own.

I shamelessly stole the idea for a curry from a friend a few years ago and have been working on perfecting the recipe ever since. It's both spicy and sweet, with the heaviness of the protein balanced with the more aromatic fresh basil and a bit of ginger to round out the spice. I have no idea as to whether it's authentic or not, but taste wins out over authenticity.


  • 1 can lite coconut milk (regular can be used, but will more easily boil over)
  • 1 small can bamboo shoots, rinsed and drained
  • 2 bell peppers, red and green, cut into strips (or ~1.5 cups of frozen tri-color bell pepper strips)
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 lb chicken breasts (less or more, depending on how much protein you want), cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon red curry paste
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce or to taste
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Basil, either dry or a small handful of fresh leaves, chopped
  • 1 inch knob of ginger root, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Jasmine rice

Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan and add about half a cup of water (I add the water to the empty coconut milk can, swish it around, and pour it into the pot). As it starts to boil, stir in the curry paste. When that's dissolved, you can add the sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Add the bamboo shoots and bell peppers, and let it come to a boil again, and then bring it down to a simmer.

In a wok or something equivalent, heat a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil, then sauté the onions until they start to "sweat," that is, turn slightly translucent. Then add the ginger and the chicken, and cook it until it's just done. Take the sauce (which should have been simmering for a bit now) and pour it over the chicken, stir it up, add the basil, and taste to make sure it's sweet/spicy/salty enough. Let it simmer for another 5-10 minutes to let the flavors sink in, then it's ready to serve with rice.
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Baking makes my day

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Great books made my day!

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My favourite things (cont.)

For Part I [number 10 to 6] please click here.

Number 5//  In The Mood For Love – film – Wong Kar Wai

In The Mood For Love is a 2000 Hong Kong film directed by Wong Kar-wai, starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. The film takes place in Hong Kong, 1962. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung), a journalist, rents a room in an apartment of a building on the same day as So Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung), a secretary from a shipping company. They become next-door neighbors. Each has a spouse who works and often leaves them alone on overtime shifts. Despite the presence of a friendly Shanghainese landlady, Mrs. Suen, and bustling, mahjong-playing neighbours, Chow and So often find themselves alone in their rooms. Their lives continue to intersect in everyday situations: a recurring motif in this film is the loneliness of eating alone, and the film documents the leads' chance encounters, each making their individual trek to the street noodle stall.

Chow and So each nurse suspicions about their own spouse's fidelity; each comes to the conclusion that their spouses have been seeing each other. So wonders aloud how their spouse's affair might have began, and together, So and Chow re-enact what they imagine might have happened.
(source: wiki)

...And the soundtrack by Shigeru Umebayashi is absolutely exceptional! 

Number 4//  Norwegian Wood – novel – Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood is a 1987 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The novel is a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. The story's protagonist and narrator is Toru Watanabe, who looks back on his days as a freshman university student living in Tokyo. Through Toru's reminiscences we see him develop relationships with two very different women — the beautiful yet emotionally troubled Naoko, and the outgoing, lively Midori.
(source: wiki)

The movie was directed by the very talented Vietnamese director: Tran Anh Hung :)

Number 3// The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – film – Julian Schnabel 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French: Le scaphandre et le papillon) is a 2007 French/American biopic/drama film based on the memoir of the same name by Jean-Dominique Bauby. The film depicts Bauby's life after suffering a massive stroke, on 8 December 1995, at the age of 42, which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. The condition paralyzed him from the neck down. Although both eyes worked, doctors decided to sew up his right eye as it is not irrigating properly and they were worried that it would become infected. He was left with only his left eye and the only way that he could communicate was by blinking his left eyelid. The film was directed by Julian Schnabel, written by Ronald Harwood, and stars Mathieu Amalric as Bauby. (source: wiki)

Number 2// Comforting Sounds - song - Mew 

This sentence should sum up how much I love this song: It is the most peaceful epic 9 minutes of my life. 

Number 1// South of the Border West of the Sun - novel – Haruki Murakami (for my opinion on ‘South of the Border West of the Sun’, please click here)

AND A BIG FAT NUMBER 0// Thunder Road - song - Bruce Springsteen

When life disappoints me and I fall into pieces, this song picks every single one of those pieces up, dusts them, puts them together (although not necessarily in the right order), pats the new me on my back, and says: 'It's gonna be alright!'. 

Thunder Road reminds me of one of those happiest moments - sitting in the Emirates Stadium with my dearest friend Pui-Ching (who is, by the way, an epic singer/songwriter), listening to Springsteen, singing at the top of our lungs with tens of thousands of other fans, and couldn't care less about the world. Oh how I miss being so carefree..

I still remember the date. It was 30 May 2008. 


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Autumn and I*

Bella Kotak is one of the most genius photographers I know - her pieces are dreamlike, feminine and breathtakingly beautiful. I met Bella a year ago when she joined my course (I was, at the time, pulling my hair and struggling with Year 2). First impression? 'This girl looks too good to be here!' I thought. You should have seen me, eyes bloodshot in my tee and skinny jeans, and Bella would walk in wearing her most fabulous shoes and dresses. Me - very jealous ;) But with time, I learnt not only to be jealous with her fashion sense, but also with her amazing graphic skills, her architectural works, and her photographs. Well, enough of me yapping, read on! Here's Bella's post on how she does a photo shoot: 
-Hien N.
P.S.: Please don't forget to check out her websites! 

Equipment -
- Canon 450d
- Canon 50mm f1.4
- Manfrotto tripod

A step by step guide through today's photo..

photo 001 - The Location

photo 01 - The simple set up. One manfrotto tripod. no remote - it's broken so everything had to be manually focused which isn't easy when you're alone. The way I get around this is to focus on one spot and then move the camera to where i want the frame to be and then try and place myself in the 'area of focus'. Practice is key for this :)

photo 1 - The photo that i've chosen to work on, perfectly focused and works well for my idea.

photo 2 - Using elements from other photos

photo 3 - Merging the two together in photoshop execute the concept

photo 4 - Manipulating the images together

photo 5 - Cropping

photo 6 - Using falling leaves from other shots

photo 7 - Adding leaves

photo 8 - Final photo, edited by changing colour saturation, adding textures and playing with curves.

Self portraits aren't easy. It's hard when you're alone and there's only you to do everything like throw some material, chuck leaves, get the focus right, get the angle right, hope the exposure's on the right setting and so on. But once you get 'the shot' it makes it all completely worth it. I love doing this as it was doing my 365 project - a self portrait a day for a year that made me realise how much I love photography and how much I have yet to learn. Being a model for my shots meant that there was no one else around to see how many times I got it all so wrong and after some time when it came to finally working with other people and models I was confident in myself as a photographer and a retoucher.

For anyone that is interested in photography I'd highly recommend some mini projects to set yourself and especially through flickr. There is so much support from that site that I know without it I wouldn't have come as far as I have. A 365 project- a photo a day, be it a selfie or another subject is a great project. Alternatively a 52 week project - a photo a week is worth doing too.

Should anyone want to get in touch with me with any questions, the best way is through my email - or alternatively you can find me on Facebook - -I check both regularly.

Keep snapping :)
B x

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My favourite things

Not raindrops on roses, nor whiskers on kittens; not bright copper kettles, nor warm woolen mittens, but the following things ;) :

Number 10// The Matrix Trilogy – films – Wachowski Brothers

The films depict a future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality created by sentient machines to pacify and subdue the human population, while their bodies' heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Upon learning this, computer programmer "Neo" is drawn into a rebellion against the machines, involving other people who have been freed from the "dream world" and into reality. The film contains many references to the cyberpunk and hacker subcultures; philosophical and religious ideas such as René Descartes's evil genius, the Allegory of the Cave, the brain in a vat thought experiment; and homages to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Hong Kong action cinema, Spaghetti Westerns, dystopian fiction, and Japanese animation. (source: wiki) 

Number 9// Symmetry – song – Mew

Number 8// One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – film – Milos Forman

The film is about Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape, who is transferred to a mental institution in 1963 for evaluation. This is a ploy by McMurphy to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed environment. He is anti-authoritarian with a history of violence, but he exhibits no signs of mental illness. (source: wiki) 

Number 7// The Remains of the Day – novel – Kazuo Ishiguro

As in Ishiguro's two previous novels, the story is told from a first person point of view. The narrator Stevens, a butler, recalls his life in the form of what appears to be a long letter to an unknown person – possibly another butler – while the action progresses through the present. Much of the novel is concerned with Stevens's professional and, above all, personal relationship with a former colleague, the housekeeper Miss Kenton. (source: wiki)

Number 6// Infernal Affairs – film – Andrew Lau & Alan Mak

Infernal Affairs focuses on a police officer named Chan Wing-Yan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), who goes deep undercover into the Triad society, and Triad member Lau Kin-Ming (Andy Lau Tak-Wah), who infiltrates the police department. Each mole was planted by the rival organization to gain an advantage in intelligence over the other side. The more the moles become involved in their undercover lives, the more issues they have to cope with. (source: wiki) be continued..
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What does a honeymoon in Tuscany look like?

Back to our irregularly scheduled trip report. When we left off, N. and I were wandering aimlessly in the Tuscan country side until the police pulled us over. The rest of our stay in Tuscany was considerably more peaceful (with the minor exception of an incidence where it took us 45 minutes to get gas). We also made a new friend - her name is Lelia. Her love for her home region of Tuscany was infectious. She introduced us to some of the most beautiful scenes we have ever beheld, treated us to the most delicious coffee, brought us wonderful wine, and took some beautiful photographs. If you are ever in Chianti, you must give Lelia a call - she's just as sweet in person. All images below are by Lelia.

Let me tell you about a honeymoon in Tuscany.

We took long walks around vineyards.

We soaked in the golden warmth of the Tuscan sun.

We discovered abandoned houses,

where we could camp out in the backyard.

We drank the most delicious wine.

We learned to ride horses.

We took lots of photographs.

We caught the last of the sunflowers at the end of their season. 

Most importantly, we enjoyed each other. 

And when the picnic was over, 

we walked away hands in hands,

knowing that for the rest of our life, 

if the road ever gets muddy or tough, we would always carry each other through

and be in each other's arms again. 

A. W. 

For previous trip reports, check out:

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The painter and The painted

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I’m just a girl pretending

Made up The Magic Numbers are Romeo + Michelle (pair of siblings number 1) and Sean + Angela (pair of siblings number 2), to whose gig I went to see on Sunday night. It was a perfect end to my weekend.

The band is a word-of-mouth phenomenon ‘whose affable live shows have been compared to happy clappy religious experiences and whose music - an unfashionable blend of soft country pop with Fifties and Sixties inflections - is evidently more important to them than the intercession of style gurus and hairdressers’. Wow isn’t it true - dressed entirely in black with their flowy curly long hair (not to mention all the facial hair), the moment they appeared on stage, everyone was in their happy clappy mood.

They opened their gig with songs like ‘The Mule' and ‘Sound of Something’ – grand, with an echoing beat. I should have mentioned that was my first gig experience with Magic Numbers. I had been excited and strange enough, WORRIED, that they may not meet my high expectations. Well, by the third song, I relaxed and rolled my chin back off the floor – it was a wonderful start!

Main singer/songwriter Romeo Stodart takes lead vocals on most songs, his voice strung with romanticism. But Angela and Michelle were equally great singers throughout – the former with ‘Throwing My Heart Away’ and the latter with the beautiful breathy folksy ‘Why Did You Call?’.

Romeo then rocked and had everybody sing along with their arguably most famous song ‘Forever Lost’. Its tune light-hearted but its lyric is mesmerising with impossible catchy chorus. He mused: ‘ Don't let the sun be the one to change you baby, I wanna learn how to love, if I'm to know, cause I wanna go where the people go, cause I'm forever lost’. You’ve got to love the guy :) because..

..he loved me enough to fit ‘I see you you see me’ in half-way through the setlist!!!!! YESES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Words can’t describe how I felt! I screamed? I screeched? Then I shrieked? I don’t know if I can ever re-produce the noise I made that night, but you must know that very sound not only deafened the guy standing next to me but also deafened myself! You may have guessed by now it’s one of my most favourite songs EVER! No? Well, too bad. Must listen to it though.. It has this sort of dreamy spellbinding melting thing that creeps up on you with amazing stealth and never lets go of you again - the melancholy mood yields moments of quiet beauty. 

my TMN album with all 4 of their autographs ;) 

Although ‘A Start With No Ending’ plods slightly in the album, it was surprisingly one of my favourite songs of the night. Romeo really knows how to work the crowd and got everyone engaged – us divided into ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ singing their first two lines of the chorus: ‘I’m just a boy pretending’, and ‘I’m just a girl pretending’. Boy didn’t we all feel that giddy excitement of a new love!!! And what a great feeling it was!

While up-tempo tracks like ‘Why Did You Call?’ and ‘Sound Of Something’ sweep the listeners up in a warm palm and atypically tickle them into submission, ‘Once I Had’ and ‘Restless River’ with their almost-too-loud bass and almost-too-furious rhythm plunge us back into the planet core of emotions and feed us back up to the surface again. It’s a tight rope that they walked so brilliantly the whole of 2 hours. The gig was full of soft, warm, positive sounds; not to mention the spontaneous dancing/singing of the crew (hats off!), their heart-warming rendition of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ (such a special treat to a Magic Numbers AND Springsteen fan like me!), and Romeo’s Metal Bands Song (a song made up entirely of metal bands’ names). 

Go see them if you ever get the chance, because their sounds surely will win over even the most hard-hearted amongst you.

We’re just a start with no ending..

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Treats for the eyes

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Recipes Share: Banh Pa-Te-So (Pate Chaud)

When I was growing up in Saigon, banh pa-te-so (or Pate Chaud) made a frequent appearance in my breakfasts. Near my house, there was a chain bakery named Banh Duc Phat. Every morning on my way to school, I would stop and and smell that buttery scent of fresh pastry. Naturally, I tried every thing. But my favorite would always be "Banh Pa-Te-So."

A fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisine, Banh Pa-Te-So is a meat-filled puff pastry. To make puff pastry, one would repeatedly fold and roll the dough, with layers of butter in between. I used to make my own puff pastry, but it is quite frankly not worth the trouble . At the super market, you can buy frozen puff pastry sheets that are ready to use.

Here's what you will need:
As pictured: Frozen Puff Pastry sheets, Shiitake Mushrooms, Onion, Garlic, Ground Pork, Ground Beef.
And because I am a forgetful person, I didn't take picture of : 1 Egg, Fish Sauce, Salt, and Pepper
Disclaimer: I am a Pa-te-so purist. I had a particular type of banh pa-te-so growing up and that is the taste I am trying to recreate. I know people add noodles, celery, carrot, and many other things in their pa-te-so as well, but I don't. I guess it's up to you to create your own pa-te-so :-).

Now, start out chopping your onion. Make longitudinal cuts first, then cut horizontally, then run your knife through it again just to make sure it's finely diced. You don't want to bite into your pa-te-so and find a big chunk of onion... I hate chopping onions - they make my eyes water - so I quit, and only added less than 1/2 of a medium onion. Feel free to press on if you can.

With the Shiitake mushroom, remove stems, then again chop it finely. I only ended up using one container, about this much. Don't judge me - It's not a precise science, OK? :-)

Now put everything together: 1/2 lb Ground Pork, 1/2 lb Ground Beef, 1/2 Onion, and 1 cup Shiitake Mushroom. Oh, while you are at it, throw in 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic too, like this:

Now comes the flavoring. Add some salt, add some pepper, and add about 1 table spoon of fish sauce:

Now comes the most important ingredient of the Pa-Te-So: Cognac. This is what gives Pa-Te-So its distinct flavor. I didn't have proper cognac on hand, so I used another kind of VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) brandy that I know to have a similar taste. But believe me when I tell you that it makes a difference. I used to have an incredible bottle of Cognac - I still mourn its absence. Add about 1.5 Table spoon or so. 

Now get your hands in there and just mix it all together. Let all the flavors introduce themselves to each other... Let the mixture sit for a while as you open your frozen puff pastry, and cut them into squares. Then put some fillings in the puff pastry sheets, and shield the edges. If you need help shielding the edges, you can use a little bit of water. I am lazy, and I just press the heck out of them. Of course, you are free to make Pa-Te-So in other shapes if you would like. 

Now, remember the egg I forgot to take a picture off? Just beat it lightly, and brush it on top of the pastry to achieve that golden color. Cut a few nicks for venting.

Bake these babies at around 375-400 degree F  (190-204 degree C) for 25-30 minutes. You will see them puff up and turn golden.... like this:

Oh... they are delicious. My husband can eat dozens of these. My friend Thomas came over yesterday and he agreed that they were delicious - I told him I would quote him :-). 

If you ever wake up on a Sunday morning and want a taste of French-Vietnamese cuisine, you must give these a try. For me, there is nothing quite as magical as a childhood memory. 

For similar Vietnamese recipes, check out these great blogs I follow:

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