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Friday, August 19, 2016

Hến Xào Sả Ớt Nước Cốt Dừa (Clams in Spicy Lemongrass Coconut Sauce)

click the picture for better quality image

Since clams are one of my husband's favorite seafood and they're fast and easy to prepare, I cook clams quite often when we have guests. It's a simple dish, but leaves an impressive complex flavor on your palate. As my guests entered into the kitchen, they are welcomed by a rich, sweet, buttery, herbal, zesty,  but hardy aroma. The lemongrass, fresh chili pepper, and lemon zest gives this dish a kick that's both earthy and aromatic. The sauce itself is absolutely delicious, and it pairs delightfully with some toasted French bread or ciabatta bread.   

It's so convenient that our local Costco carries fresh clams in a bag of about 5 lbs. Last couple weeks, they had cockles instead. Clams, cockles, mussels, halibut are wonderful seafood combination for this dish if you prefer variety and complexity in flavors.
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RECIPE: Clams in Spicy Lemongrass Coconut Sauce
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Ingredients


5-6 lbs clams 
3 shallots
1 head of garlic
2 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed
1-2 red chili peppers
2 cups coconut milk
zest of 1 lemon 
fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce 
cilantro
olive oil
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DIRECTIONS
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Preparing Clams


Rub and wash clams a few times to remove dirt. Discard any clams with broken shell, strong odors, or those that don't try to close when tapped. These are likely dead and are unfit to eat.  If shells are open, tap them, and if they respond by closing their shells, they are alive and good to cook. Leave clams clean in a sink full of water.
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Preparing Ingredients


Shallots, garlic, lemongrass - finely mince
Lemon  - juice, make 1 tablespoon
Cilantro - chop, make about 1 cup
Lemon - zest
Red chili pepper - remove seeds and finely mince


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Cooking Clams


In a large pot set over medium heat, add oil, shallots, garlic, and lemongrass.  Cook until soft and fragrance is released.


Add coconut milk, fish sauce and clams.  Mix well.  Cover and cook for about 8 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally, until the clams have opened.  Discard any clams that remain closed.  Turn off the heat.  Toss in lemon zest, lemon juice, chili pepper, and cilantro.  Mix well.  Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice or fish sauce if necessary.

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Presentation


Serve with an extra squeeze of lime if desired. Use some toast to soak up all the delicious sauce. Enjoy!


Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Rau Quả Nướng (Grilled Vegetable Salad)

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It's mid August and my girls just started their fourth day of a new school year in sun dresses, and shorts as there are still sun rays to soak up. Fall hasn't crossed my mind until I noticed the daylight is getting shorter. To make matters worse, some stores are already displaying Halloween decor and winter clothes. In a few short weeks, summer will come to a screeching halt. 

So let us enjoy the fruits and fresh veggies of the season for as long as they last. Let's taste the sweet summertime in a salad bowl filled with grilled vegetables bursting with colors - the red and orange of sweet peppers, the green of asparagus, the yellow of corn, and earthy color of baby Bella mushrooms. These charred sweetness are then tossed with yuzu dressing, chili oil with crunchy garlic, squeezes of lemon, and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro for the perfect summer side dish. This flavorful grilled veggies are loaded with so much healthy summer favorites that you just can't resist.

Tailor the types of fresh vegetables to the bounty that's available around you. You can also substitute yuzu dressing for a homemade version of the dressing by whipping up with soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, lemon or lime juice, or yuzu juice, and sugar.
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RECIPE: Grilled Vegetable Salad
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Ingredients


2 lbs bag asparagus, trimmed
1.5 lbs bag sweet mini peppers
24 oz pack baby bella mushrooms
3 sweet corn
olive oil
black pepper
a bundle of cilantro, chopped
1 lime or lemon, juiced
Yuzu sauce
1 full teaspoon chili oil with crunchy garlic
1 teaspoon Nanami Togarashi (assorted chili powder), optional
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Directions
Preheat grill to medium.
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Preparing Vegetables


Wash and trim off the bottom ends of the asparagus stalks. Find the area where the green color begins to fade. This is where the tough woody end begins and is where the stalk should be trimmed off and discarded.


In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with olive oil and black pepper. Set aside. 
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Grilling Vegetables





Grill the vegetables on medium heat, turning occasionally, until charred and tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Cut mushroom into quarters.  Cut sweet peppers into half an inch pieces.  Cut the corn off the cob by holding the top of the corn cob firmly, and use the knife to slice from top to bottom, letting the blade run right along the cob.

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Tossing the Vegetable Salad



In a large bowl, combine all the vegetables. Shake up the bottle of the yuzu dressing, then pour a good amount of it to a small bowl. Mix the chili oil with crunch garlic to the yuzu dressing.


Pour the dressing and lime juice over the vegetables, add the assorted chili pepper, if used, toss it well. Add a handful of chopped cilantro to enhance and add flavors and dimension to the salad. Toss it one more time.

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Presentation


Let's dig in!  Serve this salad warm or cold. Enjoy!
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Eat well. Stay healthy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bắp Nướng Bơ Hành (Savory Grilled Corn on the Cob)

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"Sinking (her) teeth into a perfectly ripened ear of sweet corn was one of the finest pleasures of summer," thought my little girl while we were harvesting the corns from a patch in our backyard a few weeks ago.


After a few months of watching the corn sprout and grow from the initial seeds, we finally harvested several baskets of an absolutely beautiful array of corn colors.






We boiled the first batch.  The kitchen was filled with a lovely natural sweetness wafting through and through. I had an epiphany of what a perfect ear of corn would be: one that's grilling over an open flame with a distinctive subtle, smoky, charred flavor that is then smothered in a savory sauteed shallot and fish sauce. The taste is really out of this world!
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RECIPE: Savory Grilled Corn on the Cob
Ingredients


6-8 sweet corns
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped green onion 
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce 
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 tablespoons butter
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Directions

Grilling Corns


Shuck corn, discard silk and husk.  Place the corn over the hot grill, turning occasionally, until blistered, charred and cooked through. Cut each corn into 4-5 pieces.


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Preparing the Sauce


In a small bowl, combine sugar, fish sauce, garlic powder, and black pepper.  Mix well. 
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Tossing Corns with Sauce


In a skillet, bring olive oil and butter over medium heat, add shallot and cook until soft and full of fragrance.


Pour in the fish sauce mixture, stirring until dissolved. Turn off the heat. Add corns, and green onions, tossing well to coat with sauce.


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Presentation


Go ahead. Sink your teeth into one of these mouth-watering pieces. Warning: these savory buttery corns are positively  addictive. 
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Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dự Án Nguồn Sống (Living Water Project in Vietnam)

A man working the sedge field: captured by anh Ba who's representing The Spices Of Life during his visit to the Village in Vũng Liêm, District of Vĩnh Long Province.

Every last week of the month for the last twelve months, I've been receiving an auto payment from a blog reader U. Le for The Spices Of Life's charity via Paypal. Every single time I see the payment notification in my mailbox, I'm deeply moved by her trust, kindness and generosity.  It inspires me to do more.


In March, when I saw a post on Facebook with pictures of the children from a poor village in Vietnam with Ngân (a friend from church), I immediately messaged her for help with organizing an event to help the poor children. It was her last few days there before returning to the States so she couldn't do much but was able to send me a few pictures of the people she met who were so destitute with serious health issues.

One of them was a woman who suffered great pains due to her cervical cancer. Her family couldn't afford a doctor or admit her to the hospital as they're struggling to make ends meet. She was forced to stay home and writhe in pain for as long as she could hold out. When Ngân visited her, she was in her last stage of the cancer. There wasn't much we could do for her. We donated a $100 U.S dollars to help her family through their difficult time.  Sadly, she passed away two months later on May 26th.



In the same rural area of Vĩnh Long where the lady lived, there was a 50 year old man who had a large tumor on the side of his ear for years but had no means to see a doctor.  We gave him $100 to initiate his care.  Unfortunately, he didn't make it and passed away on May 13th of this year.


The last picture Ngân sent me was of baby Nghĩa who was burned badly. On her last day in Vietnam, she came to the hospital to visit the baby and met the mom. The mom has a mental illness, so there volunteers who took turn to stay at the hospital to help the mom take care of her baby. They also raised money to pay for the baby's medical expenses. We pitched in  a $100 US dollars to help out with additional expenses. After almost two months in the hospital and 3 surgeries later, we're happy to learn that bé Nghĩa is now well.




But the above scenarios were only a prelude of what's to come for our work.

Though the Vietnamese economy has achieved impressive growth in the last two decades, the majority of the rural communities dwell in stark poverty in contrast to a wealthier urban population. As we all know poverty increases people's chance of illness and disease due to poor nutrition, lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation. And when you don't have much, you take greater risks to ensure your family's safety and survival. 

For the last month, The Spices Of Life has been undertaking a very important project of providing clean water access to the families who reside in impoverished conditions in these two villages -Tân Hưng, Cà Mau Province and Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long Province). Both are on the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. Our mission is to provide remote villages safe drinking water to alleviate some their hardship and help ensure their survival.

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Trung Thành Đông, Vũng Liêm District, Vĩnh Long Province

Tân Hưng, Cái Nước District, Cà Mau Province

Thank God we have a team who is very trustworthy, dedicated and passionate about helping the less fortunate. But before we can begin, we have to hurdle over the red taping in Vietnam. Everything we want to do for the villagers must be accompanied by prior authorization from the local officials. With the approval of the officers, our team took several trips to the villages to talk to the villagers and observe their day-to-day activities.

our team entering the remote village in Vinh Long province


Sedge (lát) plant in the background

this family still clings onto the rudimentary looms

What we learned from these villages at Tân Hưng, Cà Mau Province and Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long province is that they are so far away from the city so there's no electricity and water is scarce. They rely on rainwater and groundwater to survive. The situation is worsening due to the recent prolonged drought and saltwater intrusion. The villagers now have no choices but take showers in dirty water from the small ponds and lakes which cause severe skin irritation and itching. They drink and cook with water that they saved from the rain.  When they run out of rain water, they have to travel far to bring back clean water from the creek. 

Below are some pictures of a few households in Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long province.

getting every drop of rainwater for drinking, and cooking  


they have no choices but to wash their bodies with this dirty water




After visiting the villagers in the remote village of Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long Province, anh Ba, who represents us, took another day trip to the village in Tân Hưng, Cà Mau Province. The situation here as evident is more dire than in the previous villages.








It's almost impossible for the villagers to afford to drill a well for water or buy a large water container to catch the rain as each family works so hard to earn a living by hand weaving mats. They grow and harvest the sedge about three times a year, then cut, classify, split, dry and dye the sedge to have good sedge threads. Making mat is hard work and they earn only $2 to $3 per day. When anh Ba entered the village, the villagers rushed toward him with feelings of happiness and worries, stress, and excitement. We do understand why they have those mix emotions as they have been promised help in the past that were never delivered.

anh Ba and a villager

anh Ba is giving a promise of hope to the villager's family

We want to expedite this project but the tedious process of researching both online and through direct contact to find the right well drillers and water container companies present an obstacle. Once we have all the info, this is then communicated to the team in Vietnam so that they can work with local contractors and officers to find the best solution to provide the much needed water. Over here, chị Trâm, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, has been doing a lot of good work on her own for the less fortunate in Vietnam. I have teamed up with her to move this project forward. I appreciate her help so much and she's been phenomenal.

With the current reserved funding, we are able to start out with 15 water wells. Each well costs at least $200 U.S depending on how deep the well is and the type of motor required for each well. If it's shallow, typically you do not need a motor to pump the water as you can do it by hand, but in this region you need to dig at least 120 meters (400 feet) deep to reach the water table, and therefore the pump is necessary.  Our mission is to provide 31 wells to the 31 poor families in Tân Hưng, Cà Mau Province. It would be less costly if a few families can share a well but unfortunately it's not practical as the villagers live so far away from each other that going from one home to the next requires a canoe or boat.

At the same time, we will also reach out to the 220 villagers in Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long Province to provide each family a rain barrel urn instead of a water well because where these villagers reside there's no clean water well access. The rain barrel urn we are planning to build has the dimensions of about 6 feet high and over 3 feet wide, and can hold at least 1500 liters of water.  Each urn will have two hose spigots attached.  The costs is about $50 U.S each. This rain barrel urn capacity will be a significant benefit.

You may remember this quote from an earlier post that "no one person can solve all the world's problems, but what you can do is make that little corner of the world where you live just a little better." Well, this summer Cà Mau and Vĩnh Long Provinces will be that corner of our world. We will  live vicariously through the lives of these villagers. Let's help make it a little better, but we can't do it without your financial support and prayers.  

Below is a list of  our goal and current funding:

Our Goal: $17200
31 water wells = 31 x $200 = $6200 (donated by T Ngo from Real Estate Pacific Group, Portland, Oregon)

220 rain barrel urns = 220 x $50 = $11,000

Our Current Funding:
The Spices Of Life reserved fund: $1500
T Ngo, Portland, OR: $6200 (for 31 water wells)
A Abraham, Elk Grove, CA: $400 
T Dang, Boston, MA: $250 
T Dang's son, Boston, MA: $250
Anonymous, Folsom, CA : $100
Mom and her friends: $380
Thuy's mom, Elk Grove, CA:  $40
V  Vu, Elk Grove, CA: $200
T Pham, Sacramento, CA: $500
G Ton, Eden Prairie, MN: $50
ML Dang, St Louis, MO: $150
D Tang, Elk Grove, CA: $100
L Nguyen, Germantown, MD: $100
J Phan, Federal Way, WA: $600
Anonymous, San Jose, CA: $100
H and N, Orange County, CA: $50
Group of  Moms, Orange County, CA: $100
KL Tran, Riverview, FL: $50
D Nguyen, Braintree, MA: $100
N Dang, Elk Grove, CA: $100
T Do, Fremont, CA: $100
C Dinh, Houston, TX: $100
C Duong, Yorba Linda, CA: $300
P Nguyen, Frisco, TX: $100
L Hoang, Stockton, CA: $200
Q Vo, Springfield, VA: $100
V Vo, Springfield, VA: $100
H Vo, Stockton, CA: $100
NTTD                       : $100
ML Luu, Quincy, MA: $100
A Do, Springfield, VA: $100
L Dang, Tracy, CA: $50
T Nguyen, Santa Ana, CA: $50
B Tran, Penfield, NY: $100
K. Nguyen, Tracy, CA: $1000
T Truong, Garden Grove, CA: $100
A Hung, Elk Grove, CA: $100
T & U Le: $100

TOTAL Current Funding: $14220
We just need $2980 to meet our goal.

Once the well project is completed, each well and rain barrel urn will have a dedication plate as a token of gratitude to recognize the supporters of this project. Our water wells and rain barrel urns will look similar to these.

water well for village in Ghana

 
anh Ba is standing next to a 10+ year old rain barrel urn

I'm grateful for each and everyone of our readers, their families, and friends who have partake in this work and whose donations will provide a source of living water and thereby hope and life. Thank you.

If you prefer to contribute by check, please make it out to: The Spices of Life and send it to the following address:
The Spices Of Life
PO Box 580255
Elk Grove, Ca 95758

You can also send your contribution via Paypal. If you use a smartphone, it will take you to a mobile version, scroll down and click on "view web version".  You will see the DONATION button on the next screen at the far right column.