Vietspices Search


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ân-Hy's Sixth Birthday!

My little girl Ân-Hy just turned seven. I so wish time would slow down! Yesterday morning, before the girls took off to school, her big sister and daddy got up at 5:30 am to bake a birthday cake and make breakfast for her while I was cuddling her in bed. Her soft baby skin all snuggled up against mine as I studied her innocent face and watched her snoozing comfortably, quietly.

The night before her birthday, I stayed up late to bake 50 cupcakes for her to bring to school and gymnastics to share with her friends. A few minutes before the clock struck midnight, I wrapped a present for her, placed a giant birthday poster card that her sister made on the dining table.  I hung the streamers around the kitchen nook and then waited to see her surprised happy face and beautiful smile in the morning.

Every birthday for my girls, I tried to be creative and look for ideas to make it memorable, joyful. At least once a year I get to tap into this creative process.

For the last five years of her life, I planned her birthday party without much of her in puts. Since she turned six, she has been coming up with her own birthday party themes.  This year, she decided to have a slime birthday party and she only wanted to invite a few good friends.  What on earth is a slime party?  

Last year, she requested a spa birthday party. That was a hard theme for me to pull off as I rarely pamper myself with a manicure, pedicure, or even a spa. It took lots of research, and time but in the end, with the help of some friends, I was able to deliver a fabulous sixth birthday party.  

It started with the invitation. It took a number of photos before I got a decent one.

Then came the sweet treat table.  My girls and I had a wonderful time making these adorable nail polish bottles out of marshmallows, tootsie rolls and melted candies.  My sister-in-law made a lovely cake adorned in girly accessories and spa themed cake pops arranged in a beautiful bouquet.

One of my challenges was how to create a relaxing and soothing spa atmosphere. After many days of brainstorming I finally pulled out a daybed couch that I had forgotten in the den into the piano room and decorated the bed with some cute pillows. Next to the bed was a table filled with a vase of brilliant flowers and homemade facial masks made out of avocado, blueberries, honey, and plain yogurt. The soothing music was playing as the moms pampered the girls. It was such a sweet moment.

A Dollar store is always my first destination when looking for things. Guess where I found these spa head wraps?

Miss Ân-Hy didn't simply asked for a spa party but also a manicure and pedicure. The pedicure bowls underneath the bench were also from A Dollar store. In these bowls were warm water, foot soak bath salts, bath bombs, and fresh camellias flower petals that my girls picked from our backyard. It feels so soothing just trying to describe it. Aah...

My girls and I made these simple tissue pom-poms to a impart a cheerful radiance to the pedicure/manicure room.

That was so much fun for the girls as you can hear it in their giggles, but the party was yet to be over and it was time to put on pretty dresses and have a nice and relaxing lunch on the deck. What I served were varieties of fruit punch in the personalized mason jars that they kept as parting gifts.

Aren't these turkey sandwich adorable? They sure look simple but after I got myself into this, I realized how time consuming it was to cut each piece of the sandwich, sliced turkey and cheese into the flower shapes. Then, a central hole was carved out to insert a cherry tomato. Without my husband's help, I sure couldn't get these sandwiches ready by noon for the party. While putting the sandwiches together, I thought the sandwiches somehow looked incomplete. Perhaps a cute food pick would work. I was lucky enough to find a pack of these gorgeous food picks that a good Japanese friend of mine sent to my girls all the way from Japan a few months prior.

These savory mini corn dog muffins are absolutely delicious when they're fresh and warm. I made this batch at 6:30 am on the day of the party when I wasn't even fully awake. At least I was alert enough to snap a picture of the final product.

What can be better than licking on a chocolate kiwi popsicle after a spa, manicure and pedicure.   I always find myself extremely busy putting the little details into a party.  Without my girls and my husband's help, I wouldn't be able to get everything done on time.   These delicious chocolate kiwi popsicles were prepared a day ahead with their help.

I love those elegant looking grape skewers.  Thanks to my girls for threading the grapes. They were focus!   You can see how labor intensive this was.

Since I put all the moms to work as estheticians, masseuses, and nail artists as soon as they arrived to the party; they worked really hard to to ensure that the girls enjoyed their party. I prepared a table of hot food and a couple bottle of sweet wines to thank all the moms.  

A party like this couldn't happen without a labor of love! 

Happy 7th birthday my darling!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bánh Nậm (Flat Steamed Rice Dumpling)

While my hands were busy wrapping bánh nậm with the banana leaf, this experience somehow triggered my mind to recall Gifted Hands, a book written by the famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Dr. Carson says, “God has given us more than fourteen billion cells and connections in our brain. Why would God give us such a complex organ system unless he expects us to use it?”  Isn't it amazing how we human beings can skillfully come up with thousands of recipes using the same ingredients? I suppose when it comes to food, all of my culinary neurons are fired up and connected.

Most of the time I take things for granted but in very rare moments of deep meditation, I ponder on our own human ingenuity. Consider the rice grain. It was a wild plant. We domesticated it, cultivated it, harvested it and multiplied its purpose. We transformed the grains into a variety of foods that people eat every day all over the world - bánh nậm being an example.

It takes a few processes to change rice into the small and delicate savory dumplings which was originally created to please the appetites of emperors in the imperial city of Hue in Vietnam. The grains are grinded until fine then mixed with water and cook until thickened to a glue consistency. The batter is then spread on the banana leaf with ground shrimp, or the combination of both shrimp and pork, and scallions; then these are pressed into the batter after it’s wrapped in banana leaves, steamed and served.  
RECIPE: Bánh Nậm 

for Batter
2 cups Rice Flour
1/4 cup Tapioca Flour
2 teaspoons Salt
2 tablespoons Cooking Oil
2 tablespoons Sugar
6 cups Water
for Filling 
 2 pound Shrimps, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 tablespoon Sugar
2 Shallot, thinly sliced
 3 Green Onion, finely chopped
Annatto Oil
Preparing Banana Leaves

Thaw banana leaves under sink water. Cut the leaf into about 6 in x 10 in pieces. Use a kitchen towel to pat dry the leaves. You can prepare the leaves ahead of time then keep them in a bag and store in the fridge until ready to use. 
Preparing Shrimp 

Chop green onion and slice shallots thinly. Set aside.

In a skillet, cook shrimp at medium high heat until shrimps turned pink and cooked.

Transfer shrimps into a food processor and process it until shrimps ground up into small bits.

Mortar and pestle can work in place of a food processor.

In the same skillet, saute annatto oil and shallot until fragrant.

Add shrimps, salt, sugar, and pepper.  I eyeballed the seasonings so the measurements aren't precise. Adjust the seasonings to your taste.  Use the spatula to smash the shrimps further until they are dry.  Turn off the heat.  Add green onion and mix well.

Preparing Batter

In a pot, combine all the ingredients for batter and blend well to scrape up all the flour off the bottom of the pot.

Cook over medium low heat. Constantly stir it until the mixture starts to thicken up into a paste. Keep stirring it for a couple more minutes. Remove from heat. Continue stirring constantly until you get a smooth mixture.


Spread about 2 tablespoons of the batter in the center of the leave.

Spread the filling on top.

Fold both sides and ends up.

I find it easier to fold both ends using a chopstick to guide it.

Use the chopstick to lightly even out the batter by going cross from left to right.


Bring a pot of water in a steamer to a boil. Place bánh nậm that you have already arranged standing up in a steamer tray onto the steamer and steam for about 30 minutes. When the banana leaves change color to a pale yellow evenly, the cakes are done.

Allow bánh nậm to cool before serving. Bánh nậm can be served by itself or enjoyed by drizzling a dash of good fish sauce mixed in fresh chili pepper slices over the dumpling. Here's to those 14 billions of cells.

Ăn Ngon! Bon Appétite!