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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Charity Mission - Buon Me Thuoc, Vietnam

Back in February, I received a message from a blog reader Audrey who just wanted to say hello and express her appreciation. After a few lines back and forth between us, she mentioned that she’s from Massachusetts and was currently on vacation in Buôn Mê Thuột, Việt Nam. Our charity connection started from here when I asked her if she has come across any villages in dire humanitarian crisis. Coincidentally, her mother-in-law who lives in Việt Nam often do charity work for the poor, especially the minority groups. And in fact, she and her mother-in- law just visited a minority group in a remote village in Buôn Mê Thuột a couple days ago. They gave away sweet treats and used clothes to the children. As you can see in the pictures, the children appear hungry, barefoot, wrapped in soiled clothing.

Buôn Mê Thuột is the capital city of Dak Lak Province, in the Central Highlands of Việt Nam. The city is the largest in Central Highlands region of Việt Nam, and is famous as the regional "capital of coffee". It was originally settled by the Ê Đê ethnic group (Ê Đê translates to ‘Thuột’s father’s village’) but due to the incoming Vietnamese settlement after the Việt Nam War, and the active acculturation policy, less than 15% are still Montagnards. Native ethnic groups with poor education are often treated unfairly and forced to sell their farmlands for dirt cheap. And some are kicked out of their villages to more remote places. Consequently, many no longer have land to cultivate. They have to work for the farmers a couple of months a year during the harvest season and the rest of the year they are unable to find jobs to put food on the table. Forests, which are the means of their existence, have disappeared as the trend of deforestation and more industrial farming takes over. In one of the pictures, you will see they live among the coffee and black pepper land but by no means this is their property. Those farmlands belong to the farmers.

The saddest part is the native ethnic groups are losing their cultural heritages due to poverty, economic and social changes. They have sold their traditional wood houses, musical instruments and other cultural artifacts for a living, while the ethnic youth are not able to afford to make traditional items as their ancestors did. It’s been many years since the Vietnamese government exert strict controls over the province, yet these ethic groups still lag behind in living standards.

This is where they cook, eat, sleep, hang out etc..

After a few months working with Sister Anna Hồ Thị Thu Sương who has dedicated her life to working closely with the numerous ethnic groups here in Buôn Mê Thuột. We learnt that these poor people come to Sister Anna for everything. She said many times they came to her at midnight to ask for ointment because their family members have stomachaches. When someone is dying, or about to give birth, she would come to them, comfort them and stay up all night with them. Her work does not stop here. She also provides education for children from these poor families, especially ethnic minority groups, by going to their homes to teach the children for free. Perhaps there are no words that can fully describe the sacrifice of a selfless nun who come to these remote villages on a regular basis.

After seeing the life of these poor people through video clips, and photos from Audrey, and through the voice of Sister Anna, The Spices Of Life is eager to reach out to help improve the well-being of these poor families with three projects:

1. Provide fertilizers to help them grow coffee and black peppers. We will use the method “buy now pay later”. They will pay us back the money after the harvest season. We then use this money to buy more fertilizers for them.

2. Provide water wells so they can have water to drink, clean and farm.

3. Build classrooms for the children so they will have an opportunity to learn and hopefully change their lives.

This piece of land is where we are planning to build the classrooms for the children

This little house is where the poor come to pray. It’s also a place where the nuns teach the children. Only a few children come here since this place is too far for other children to walk here.

While we are looking into these projects, for now, we would like to provide some basic assistance to keep their hearts warm and hopes alive. There are almost 200 families in three remote villages in Buôn Mê Thuột that are in dire need for food, and water. We asked sister Anna to visit each household so we know the situation of each family. In one of the pictures, sister Anna is standing next to the family who is pounding the cassava leaves into a paste so they can eat. They are so poor that they just eat whatever they can find around them. Good nutrition during the early years are vital to the development of these children. Yet hunger and malnutrition continue to kill millions of children each year. We can temporary change the course of this affliction until they can make a living on their own.

The boy is pounding the cassava leaves into a paste so they can eat.

Below is a list of food items The Spices Of Life is planning to provide for nearly 200 families including the 3 ethic groups Ê Đê, Ba Na, and Xê Đăng.

The cost of the food for each family is $12 x 200 families = $2400. Each family will receive:

10 kilograms of rice
1 kilogram of sugar
1 bottle of soy sauce
1 bottle of fish sauce
1 kilogram of salt
1/2 kilogram of MSG
1 litter cooking oil
1 kilogram dried fish
2 bottle ointment

Let me leave you with this thought from one of our greatest thinkers of all time: The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those look on and do nothing. ~Albert Einstein

The beauty is that we can do something about it and we are.

Thank you for looking beyond yourself, beyond your comfort zone to a remote village across the Pacific over 8500 miles away.

She makes my heart smile.

Below is our goal and our current funding:

Our GOAL: $2400

The Spices Of Life: $500
Bác Mười (Sacramento, Ca) $20
Cô Tám (Westminster, Ca) $20
c Trâm (Boston, Ma) $200
c Vân (Elk Grove, Ca) $500
Ngân (Elk Grove, Ca) $200
Lisa P $50
c Mai N $200
MỹTiên N $50
Hiếu N $20
Phương N $50
Thanh Deekrich $40
Krysty Emery $20
Kaitlin N $100
Lien Van $100
Oanh C $20
Karen T $50
Bích & Linh (Australia) $100
David P $50
Tina C $12
Vu Dung $50
Hue Ly $30
Nhu L (San Jose, Ca) $100
Thao La $50
Kim D (San Francisco, Ca) $25
Mary Vo $100
Viet Le $100
Cynthia C (Tampa, FL) $100
Xinhnhi $50
Uyên Le $200
HongYen P $300
Du Doan $100
Joanne Y $20
Ida L $100
Serena Tantivitoon $60
Niki D $50
Teresa Ha $120
Xuan-Hoa $120
Ha T $20
KhanhLinh T $100
Ashley&Minh $100
Alex C $40
Jenny A $50
Thuyet D $100
Stacie F $100
Teresa M $12.71
NguyetAnh V $100
Hannie $50
James Wu $100
My Tran $100
Kristine Van $300
Nathalie N $50
Minh Thu $200
Ana T $50
Jane Cady $100
Awesome OC Moms $200
Linh Wheeler $120
Nghia Thach $50
Thuy N $25
Bao Quyen $25
Tuyet/Mai N $250
Leslie T $30
Pamela Menapace $100
Thuy/Tue $50
AnhThu D $20
Bianca Loana $50
Tonhi $150
Janet Yang $100
Ariel $100
Thu N $50
Kevin&Tina $100
Amy Ly $15
Ronnie Fong $25
Terry Lock $50
Anh Rohrbach $100
Margie Tran $100
Linda Tran $100
Anh-Dao $50
Linda Le $500
My Thai $200
Lauren N $50
My-Linh L $50
Tracy Le $50
Tammy N $50
David Pack $50
Thanh Le $50
Bichsa N $100
c Duyen $100
Hanh N $24
Kathryn Brandt $100
Nina Nguyet $50
Huyen Phan $200
Han Pham $24
Cynthia Chau $200
Trinity Lam $100
Kristy Wu $100
A.L $100

TOTAL Current Funding: $9605.71

Your contributions can be sent via:
Venmo to: VietSpices
Zelle to: :
Google Pay:

If you'd rather send it by check, please let me know. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Stuffed Deboned Chicken Roll - Gà Cuộn Nướng

The rain and wind have been intense in the past few days. My neighbor's beautiful blossoming plum was uprooted, our American flag torn apart, and my lounge chairs tossed into the swimming pool. The only thing soothing coming from outside is the melody flowing from my wind chime swaying in front of the kitchen bay window. It seems to calm the storm inside and out.

But it's also days like these that intensify your senses - especially my olfactory- to the aroma emanating from a stuffed deboned whole chicken roll. Inside my kitchen, I was rolling up a deboned whole chicken with the combination of ground turkey, wild mushrooms, vermicelli noodle, and a special Cambodian ingredient called kroeung which consists of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, turmeric, and galangal root. This amazing stuffing is packed with fragrant aroma and earthy flavor which can be used to stuff deboned whole chicken or deboned chicken wings.
RECIPE: Stuffed Deboned Chicken Roll

1 whole chicken 
1 lb ground chicken, or ground turkey, or ground pork
1 handful dried or fresh mushrooms of your choice
2 buns vermicelli noodle
1/2 while onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon powder
extra oyster sauce, for later used
for Kroeung (Spice Paste)
1 stalk lemongrass, minced
a piece of fresh turmeric, about an inch, peeled, thinly sliced or
about a teaspoon of turmeric powder
a piece of galangal, about an inch, peeled,  thinly sliced
about 3 double kaffir leaves, minced
4 cloves of garlic
1-2 Thai red chili peppers, optional
for Sweet Garlic Sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup fish sauce
1/8 cup water 
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2  teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 Thai red chili pepper, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 teaspoons of water

Deboning Chicken 

The technique to deboning chicken is not difficult at all, but it does require some patience and a sharp knife. Here is the link of a YouTube video show you how to debone it. After the chicken is deboned, keep it in the fridge while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Preparing Spice Paste 

It's faster to pound the ingredients into paste by cutting them into small pieces or thin slices. Using the pestle and mortar, pound and grind lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, garlic, red chili pepper, and fresh turmeric, if used, with a circular motion to release the juices and oils.

I prefer to use the traditional way with a pestle and mortar to draw out the natural oils and flavors of the ingredients, but you can also use a blender or food processor.  Add a teaspoon of water to help the blender process the ingredients into a fine thick paste.

Preparing Stuffing

Ground MeatI used ground turkey in my stuffed chicken roll just because that was what I had in my fridge but you can use either ground pork, or ground chicken.

Vermicelli Noodle- soak in water until soft, cut into an inch pieces.

Dried Mushrooms - I used a dried mix of mushrooms.  If you use dried mushrooms, soak in water until soft, slice thinly. 

To make the stuffing, mix together the meat, spice paste, noodle, mushrooms, onion, and the remaining spices except the extra oyster sauce, mixing well. You can taste test it by cooking a teaspoon of the stuffing in the microwave. Adjust the ingredients to your liking.

Stuffing the Deboned Chicken

Oyster Sauce - mix two tablespoons of oyster sauce with a table of olive oil. Set aside.

Take the chicken from the fridge. Lay it flat on a large chopping board, skin side down. Place the stuffing onto the chicken.

Bring one side of the chicken up and over the stuffing. Bring the other side up and over the first side and form a roll with your hands. You might need to tuck different parts and pieces in, to make a nice roll.
Cut about 6 pieces of twine about 14 inches long. Slide these under the chicken spaced evenly and tie them around the chicken snug.
Brush the skin of the chicken roll with oyster sauce mixture.

Roasting Chicken Roll

Place chicken roll onto the roasting rack and roast in a preheated at 375 degree F oven for an hour and 20 minutes, brushing occasionally with sauce. After half way of roasting, flip the chicken roll over so it can be browned evenly.

Remove from the oven and let it cool down for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Making Sweet Garlic Sauce

In a small pan, combine all the sauce ingredients except the cornstarch mixture, and bring it to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Add cornstarch mixture. Stir to incorporate. Remove from heat and taste test. It should be sweet, sour, spicy, and salty notes. Pour sauce in a small bowl and serve as a dipping sauce.


Slice chicken roll and serve with dipping sauce on the side.  

Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Fried Brussels Sprouts with Dried Bonito Flakes (Bắp Cải Brucxen Chiên Giòn)

I was in my vegetable garden early this morning - meaning after 10 am when it's nice and toasty - contemplating what to grow this year. The usual lush greens of various plants and veggies gave way to mostly brown with a hint of mustard greens and edible chrysanthemum. I suddenly thought of brussels sprouts and how my girls would be so excited to see their favorite vegetable flourishing right now. My girls won't mind if I feed them brussels sprouts every day, but it has to be cooked in a certain way.

In a previous post, I shared with you one of my girls' favorite brussels sprouts dishes (click here for the recipe). But there's one more - deep fried or roasted in the oven, then topped with dried bonito flakes (pinkish-tan flakes of dried skipjack tuna), or furikake (seasoning made from combining sesame seeds, sugar, dried and ground fish, chopped seaweed, and salt), crispy rice, and drizzled with sriracha aioli or dipped in ponzu sauce. Can you smell it yet?

Surely, deep fry food are unhealthy, but it's so decadently delicious. I do limit the amount of fried food my family eat. But honestly, I like brussels sprouts best when they're deep-fried. It brings out a wonderfully sweet and nutty flavor from the brussels sprouts, making them irresistible. I get that not everyone is a brussels sprouts fan, but that may change after you venture to try this recipe.
RECIPE: Fried Brussels Sprout with Dried Bonito Flakes

1 pound brussels sprouts
1/4 cup cooked steamed rice, optional
bonito flakes
ponzu sauce
yuzu citrus 
cooking oil, for frying

Dehydrating Cooked Rice

My girls love brussels sprouts with crispy rice.  Their faces become animated as they are popping the crispy rice in their mouths.  If you use the crispy rice in this recipe, spread cooked rice out on a tray and dry the rice at 250° for approximately half an hour.
Preparing Brussels Sprouts


I purchased a 2 lb bag of brussels sprouts from Costco. They're already pre-washed. Cut off the brown ends of the brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Keep the loose green leaves separately because they get all crispy and delicious when roasted, and the texture is incredible. Cut each into halves. Make sure they are dry at room temperature. Brussels sprouts that are cold or damp will bring the oil temperature down and the sprouts won't be crispy.
Deep Frying Brussels Sprouts and Rice 

Brussels Sprouts - line a large plate with a double layer of paper towels. In a pot or deep pan, heat oil on medium high. When the oil is hot or reach 400°F, add brussels sprouts. Oil temperature will drop, so adjust heat to maintain this temperature. Be careful, as the oil can splatter.  Fry and stir with a slotted stainless steel spoon until brussels sprouts have a nice golden brown color; usually takes about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.

If you prefer to bake brussels sprouts, preheat oven to 450°F. Mix brussels sprouts with the olive oil on a baking tray.  Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly.

Rice - fry the dried rice. Once the grains of rice are popping and turns golden brown, carefully use a strainer to remove the popped rice from the hot oil. Place the popped rice on a paper towel to allow any excess oil to be absorbed.

Tossing Brussels Sprouts

In a bowl, toss brussels sprouts and crispy rice, if used, to combine. Set aside.

Mix half of ponzu sauce and yuzu in a small bowl.  Set aside.

If you want to try sriracha aioli sauce, stir 1/4 cup of mayonnaise and 1/2 tablespoon of sriracha hot sauce together in a bowl until the color is consistent; add about 1/4 lime or lemon juice and stir.

Transfer brussels sprouts and crispy rice to a serving plate. Pour the sauce on the bottom of the plate so that brussels sprouts will not get soggy and become salty from soaking in the sauce.  Top with dried bonito flakes.  Serve immediately. 
Eat well.  Stay healthy.