Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kitchen Wars

Ok, so I'm not at war with my kitchen, but it seems like it, ever since we've moved into the new house. I feel like I haven't been able to really settle into the kitchen space since we've been doing so many projects and then in early August, we had a huge setback due to a "flood" issue.

Anywho, we are close to completing the kitchen, all we have left is that darn glass backsplash. Micah and I will be installing that ourselves (we're gangsta, yo) and hopefully it'll come out looking ah-mazing!

So this is what the kitchen looked like when we moved in:

{not awful but definitely needed a little pick-me-up}

Large but no upgrades (which might explain why we got the house for a good price!). We knew we wanted to redo the kitchen countertops and we knew we had to tackle those wretched cabinets.

First up, was the countertops. I know a lot of people LOVE granite, but I'm not one of those people. We didn't want to deal with having to reseal and all those news stories about radon in granite scared the bejeezus out of me (not really). Besides, I really like the look and durability of quartz, did you know some quartz is actually more expensive than granite nowadays?

After looking at a lot of samples, we decided to go with Cambria Collection in Edinburough, through a local vendor. We were really debating between the white and black, but decided to go with the black since if fits the house and cabinets a bit better. White is gorgeous in the right kitchen, though.

Since I've been using the countertops for 6 months now, I can say that I really enjoy them. They clean up nicely and I don't have to freak out if I accidentally put a hot pot on the counter, although I still use trivets and mats, just in case.

{who needs granite? look at that shiny quartz! Disregard the non-existent backsplash.}

Next up were the cabinets. We looked around on the interwebz and found some blogs about the following product Cabot Polystain - walnut color. So for the next month, my project was to stain all the kitchen cabinets! I'm just glad I had Pandora to get me through this tedious task. We liked how the cabinets turned out, but one shade darker might have been even better.

{L: original cabinet, R: with one coat of stain}

Tips on using this stain:
  • Use a foam brush
  • Be careful about the corners of the cabinets, they tend to collect the stain and get darker than the rest of the cabinet, so I had to break out a small craft paint brush to get those nook and crannies
  • Let the stain dry completely between coats - allows for better coverage
  • Make sure your cabinets are clean - you know cabinets get all that goop on it, especially the ones near the stove.
  • We did three coats in the walnut color
  • It is a lot of work, so get your time and patience ready before taking on this project
Since we were making this our (my) dream kitchen, I knew I wanted better shelving/storage for the cabinets. We looked at getting Ikea pull out drawers, but Ikea has different specs for their cabinets, so nothing was going to fit in our standard size cabinets.

We trekked to Lowe's and found these Rev-A-Shelf pull outs and they fit our lower cabinets perfectly. We outfitted four cabinets with the different shelving (3 of the two tier shelves and 1 cookware organizer).

They were fairly easy to install and they have made my kitchen life an organizing dream! I can actually pull out one Lock N Lock without jumbling up the rest of my enormous LNL collection (it's out of control, I need therapy). Quick Tip: QVC has a great collection of LNL's. Just sayin'.

{now my LnL's have a home}

My cookware organizer is a great asset as well, since I don't have to stack all my pots and pans on top of each other and I don't have to on a safari hunt to look for the pot's matching lid.

{no more loud clanging when I try to get a pot out}

So those are the biggest things we've done in the kitchen. We also got new appliances, but I'll get into that when I can show you pictures of the new backsplash... once we actually get to installing in. This is the tile we'll be installing!

I do love that I can keep my KitchenAid mixer on the counter at all times now. Who knew extra counter space can make a girl so stinkin' happy?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Eating Vietnam

The sights, the sounds, the smells... yes, the sweet smells of Vietnam. It's a pungent mix of exhaust fumes, earthiness and fish sauce... I love it.

There is a very distinct smell to Vietnam and when I encounter that same smell anywhere else in the world, it brings me back to the busy streets of Saigon.

{overlooking Saigon AKA Ho Chi Minh City - the Mekong Delta}

I've been lucky enough to travel to Vietnam twice: once when I was 16 and last year, 12 years after my first family trip. Most of my relatives still live in southern Vietnam so it's always a big reunion when the '"viet kieus" can make it back to the homeland (even though I was born in the U.S.).

Besides being able to reunite with amazing family members, I am most ecstatic about the delicious goodies that I get to stuff into my belly! Vietnam is a food-loving country. You've seen the TV shows documenting such things, and yes, that's how they live. Food stalls, food alleys, food being prepped on the street... it all adds to the uniqueness that is "eating out" in Vietnam.

I would say 60% of my time in Vietnam was spent figuring out my next meal, I know, life is tough.

While you can most of these dishes in the U.S., there is something about plopping your butt down on a plastic chair, pulling it up to a tiny plastic table and watching the lady make your food right in front of you, there is nothing like it.

Since I took so many food pics during my trip last year, I decided to compile my Top 10 favorite things to eat when I'm in Vietnam (in no particular order).

1. Fresh Fruit: With Vietnam being a tropical country, the fruit that grows there is lush, vibrant, and delicious! You can get a lot of the fruit in the States, but they're usually frozen/canned, which takes away from the flavor. The fruits that I usually indulge in when I'm over there are: lychee, mangosteen, rambutan, longan and the custardy goodness that is DURIAN! A lot of people think durian smells like rotten onions, I on the other hand, think it smells wonderful and musty (in a good way).

{mangosteens at the market - the mangosteen flesh!}

{L: spiky durian! R: various tropical fruit}

2. Banh cuon (stuffed rice rolls): The ladies on the street make the thin rice sheets on a steamer right in front of you. If you wish, you can ask for the rolls to be stuffed with a pork/woodear mushroom filling. The rolls are topped with cha (pork rolls), herbs, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and fried shallots. Pour some fish sauce on top and this is the perfect cool meal for the sweltering Vietnam heat.

{banh cuon}

3. Banh xeo (viet crepe): The sizzling pans filled with batter that is tinted yellow from tumeric is the Vietnamese version of a French crepe. The banh xeos are usually filled with shrimp, pork, and other goodies. We came across some cute mini banh xeos in Nha Trang - that was cooked with shrimp and squid. This dish is what I usually crave when I come home... it's always more fun to eat this dish with a group of people.

{this banh xeo was bigger than my head!}

{baby banh xeos}

4. Banh canh: My mom makes a mean banh canh, but there was a lady down the street from my grandma's house that has been selling banh canh for decades! She sets up her shop in an alleyway and she usually sells out by Noon. I love the unctuousness of the thick noodles and the floating congealed pork blood is always a plus. Throw in a pigs foot and I'm in heaven.

{banh canh: so simple yet so complex at the same time}

5. Fresh seafood: Since Vietnam is hugged by the South China Sea, the seafood is plentiful around these parts. The best things to get are the cua rang muoi [salted fried crab], and the ever present snails. There are streets in Saigon that are known for cooking up snails. You grab a plastic seat/table, order from a full list of flavors (coconut, lemongrass, tamarind, etc.) and then work on sucking out the delicious meat! The periwinkle snails are small, so you don't even need to use a toothpick to get the meat out.

{L: snails in a coconut sauce. R: The snail carnage!}

{L: Fresh seafood for sale on the street in Nha Trang. R: Cua Rang Muoi}

6. Sweets: I like Vietnamese sweets because they're not as heavy as the treats that we're used to. We really love tapioca drinks, and one of my favorites is the Che ba Mau (3 color drink). Che is a generic word for anything that is a sweet/tapioca/starch type of sweet. Che ba Mau has three different components of different colors, hence the name. I love the coconut milk mixed with the black beans and tapioca. YUM. I also had one of the best flans EVER in the beach town of Nha Trang. It had a nice coffee flavor to it and yes, we like to eat our flan with ice. Try it, it's amazing.

{L: Che ba mau. R: flan with a hint of coffee}

7. Banh bot loc/banh beo: These two dishes can be separate, but I always group them together because when I was growing up in San Jose, we would go to a place that makes the best banh bot loc and banh beo and we would always eat the two dishes together. The same fish sauce is served with both, so it only makes sense. These two things are at the top of my list because of the texture, the flavor, and the overall complexity yet ease of the dish. I also love eating this because it's not something I can easily make at home. I've made banh bot loc, since that's fairly easy to make, but banh beo is best eaten in those little saucers and I don't have the patience to steam 30+ saucers to quench my appetite.

{L: a Hue version of banh beo. R: banh bot loc}

{breakfast of champions: banh beo AND banh bot loc! The cute lady making the dish in Nha Trang}

8. Hu tieu nam vang: Dry noodle dish with the broth on the side - which is perfect since it's hard for me to eat a hot bowl of anything when I'm drenched in sweat.

{my sis obviously loves hu tieu nam vang as well}

9. Drinks: Vietnamese people love their coffee - it's also one of the leading export items in the country - and there is at least one coffee stall/cart on every block. The thick coffee is ladled on top of the sweetened condensed milk and stirred vigorously, topped with ice (hopefully clean), and it's a great pick-me-up in the middle of the day.
I also love the sugar cane [nuoc mia] drinks. The raw sugar cane is pushed through a presser with half a lime and it's a natural sweet drink that is less than 25cents!

{cafe sua da from a coffee shop near my grandma's house}

{sugar cane being pressed and made into a frothy satisfying drink}

10. Family meals: I've said it before, but food always tastes better when you can share it with your family. The best part of Vietnam is being able to reconnect with family members that I rarely get to see. I enjoy the fact that I can watch them cook and even be allowed to cook for them; doing so allows me the Vietnamese food tradition alive... which is what food is all about. I want to be able to recreate dishes that my mom makes, that her mom has made, and generations before her. These dishes are what keeps me true to who I am and makes me who I am. It is my soul food. One of the best meals I had when I was in Vietnam was this simple chicken porridge my dad's family made for us when we visited. The dish is so unbelievably simple, but the 'yard bird' gave the porridge this lovely natural yellow tint and flavor that I can never recreate here. Maybe it was part food, part family time that made that dish so amazing?

{L: mom's family prepping for a birthday dinner. R: finished product!}

{L: the chicken cooking on the 'still-wood-fired-stove'. R: Chicken porridge}

{sharing a delicious country-style meal with my dad's family}

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Alamo City Cerveza Fest '11

Months of preparation, dozens of volunteers, and hundreds of empty beer bottles are all the things left in the wake of the 2011 Alamo City Cerveza Fest.

Even though Micah and I had already moved to Austin, we still wanted to be a part of ACCF; thankfully, we were able to fit in some time to help judge some flights (trust me, there were a lot of flights this year).

Once all the heavy drink judging is out of the way and all the judging sheets get placed into a neat manila folder (my task), the real fun begins! There are various events during ACCF weekend, but the main event is the awards ceremony on Saturday night. Since ACCF is growing every year, the event might outgrow the Blue Star party room next year, considering it was packed this year.

The one thing you can count on at a homebrew festival: AN ABUNDANCE OF FREE BEER!

{beers on tap + some bottled beers}

To avoid being less than an arms length away from beer, Micah and Ben manned the bar the whole night.

{some of the schwag given away at ACCF}

The people that make ACCF such a fun and successful event are all the volunteers! All they get for their hard work is some free beer. HA.

{Sherry manning hot-selling ACCF tee's}

{Oscar emceeing the event}

As much as attendees like winning waffle prizes, they love winning medals even more!

{This Austin Zealot brewer, Mark Schoppe, had the most entries in the ACCF! I think he had like 40+ entries or some obscene number.}

{funkiest of show gets this bad boy!}

The Bexar Brewers (club that hosts ACCF) members made out like bandits with medals of their own.

{Micah won 2nd place in the Wood-Aged category for his Russian Imperial Stout}

{Audrey got 2nd place for a Sour Ale}

{Roger got 3rd place for his Wood-Aged beer}

{the power of the matching outfits worked, the brewer from this group won a medal!}

SA's only microbrewery, Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, had its brewer come out and talk about how he got into brewing and what the brewstillery has coming down the tap line. These guys are doing great things and I'm glad they're a part of the SA Community.

{L: Mark from RC pouring something delicious, I'm sure. R: Rob Landerman talking brew things.}

As usual, we had a great time and can't wait for next year's event! Will Micah be submitting his entries as a BB or an Austin Zealot? DECISIONS.

{All Bexar Brewers except for the person who had the handcuffs, he's an Austin Zealot, go figure. }