Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Night Market, Old Quarter, Hanoi...

One afternoon we headed to the Old Quarter of Hanoi to roam the market. 

The sun was setting over the Cho Dong Xuan market building, which had closed for the day, but the famous night market was just getting going. 

Of course my lens was drawn to the food and flowers. 

Lillies and Lotus Blossoms, Old Quarter, Hanoi

Grills made of paint cans, heating up to cook some tasty street food.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the road to Halong bay, Viet Nam.....

I must admit, I wasn't really looking forward to the 3-4 hour drive from Hanoi to Halong bay, where we were going to board our Chinese junk to explore the rock formations that local legends say were created by "decending dragons"; but the drive through the Red River Delta ended up being a highlight of the trip because it was a chance to learn a great deal about the history and culture of this fascinating land through conversations with our guide and by just looking out the window. 

While most of the route was a flow of lush, rural farm lands, small towns along the way featured many of the lovely old French colonial buildings.

Many of them showing signs of age and modern day conveniences.


This area is the second biggest rice producing area in Vietnam. The miles of rice paddies we watched fly by were dotted with the occasional farmer, braving the midday heat.

Ducks took refuge from the sun beneath the giant lotus leaves.

Lotus blossoms make a stunning display, and the tuber of the plant is edible, but the lotus plants are considered to be an invasive weed to the rice farmers. They must work hard to keep them at bay to protect their rice crop. 

If you wanted to learn more about rice cultivation you could take a 1/2 day Wet Rice Tour,

which will give you a chance to don the classic conical hat and traditional farmers frocks to work the paddies and understand the process of how this important staple makes it to the table; you may even get to drive the water buffalo plow through the paddies.

It sounds like a rich opportunity to learn about rice and life in rural Viet Nam. The tour includes tea in the field with the farmers and a traditional home cooked Vietnamese meal with the family.

As with many trips, my brief visit to Viet Nam just made me realize how much more there was to see and experience, I hope to have a chance to go back and roam about this amazing land.

If these photos haven't convinced you to take this drive yet, you're in luck because Buffalo Tours, the group we used, is now transporting guests to Halong Bay via Sea Planes, just a 30 minute flight. 

Though you'd miss some of the views, it would be a smart way to enjoy more of the country in less time. 

And we all only have so much time in this world, after all.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Moss matters....

I'm a little overwhelmed right now working on a new undertaking that I cannot wait to share with you. 

In the meantime, I'm up to my ears figuring out all of the details to make this challenging yet fun new adventure work.  

Of course, I still want to have a few fresh flowers around the house. But right now I need them to last for a loooong time, and I don't have time to fuss with them. That's why I threw together a few "living arrangements" that I know will last for weeks if I just drop a few ice cubes on top of the stems every other day.

These Peridot slipper orchids are what inspired me to create this little orchid forest.

Higher reaching orchids rounded out the canopy.

White pansies added freshness to the forest floor.

But here is how they looked as they left Trader Joe's. Clearly, all of the clamps, dyed sticks and tags needed to scoot.

The sticks were replaced with pussy willow twigs, the clamps with a pale green cotton twine; and those plastic pots were concealed beneath a bed of fresh moss, to look like this within minutes.

Now moss, is one of the fringe benefits of living in the PNW, I can easily harvest it right out my backdoor. Dry moss is available in garden stores and can be revived by soaking it in water for an hour or so.


Here's another moss transformation, a great way to bring Springtime indoors early. 
These white hyacinths in blue washed tins were also at Trader Joe's, I bought several and they looked fine as they were.

But they looked much more finished with a mossy topper. 

Their scintillating scent and freshness brought life to all of the vignettes around the abode.

East coast readers... it sounds as if Spring is coming to you soon. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Consider the pineapple...

I love everything about pineapples, especially during the winter.

Maybe I crave them this time of year because a cup of pineapple chunks provides 131% of the Vitamin C our body needs daily, in addition to other vitamins and minerals. In my pocket of the PNW there are so many families currently struck with severe colds and flu's, so I know we can all use a delicious extra boost of Vitamin C.

One of my favorite brunch or lunch or warm weather dinner salads features pineapple, and it couldn't be easier to make. Just mix pineapple chunks with chopped fresh mint leaves. The flavor of these two ingredients marry beautifully to create a more complex tropical fruit flavor with a rich herbaceous finish from the mint leaves. Once mixed and allowed to sit for 10 minutes or so, it is actually difficult to distinguish the flavor of the individual ingredients because they complement each other so nicely. I like to chiffonade the mint, but any style of chopping the leaves will do.

Pineapples have been the ultimate symbol of welcome, friendship and hospitality since the American colonial period. Over the past couple of years, I've been thrilled to find these petite Pineapple plants at Trader Joe's, they make for a very easy welcoming display tucked into old silver trophies and wine buckets, with a small mass of moss, near the front door. 

I first saw these little pineapples when we were driving from Durbin to the Falaza Game Park and Spa, located on the Elephant Coast, Kwazulu-Natal, in South Africa years ago. The fields filled with these beautiful gray~green spiky plants seemed to be endless. We chose Falaza because we wanted a classic tented Safari experience, and their camp only had the "BIG 3", Elephants, Rhinos and Cape Buffalo's, but no cats (the BIG 5 includes lions and leopards). We still had to be careful and follow the rules of the park, but this situation allowed us to have that experience with our young children. One of my greatest memories is the horseback safari we took as a family at Falaza. We walked and trotted through the red sand forests, with herds of giraffes coming near to play with our horses, it was such an extraordinary experience.

Since then, I've ordered these Small South African Pineapples from the produce department in my local grocery to weave into evergreen garlands for Christmas decorations. 

I love this excerpt I found in a very conclusive article on The Social History of the Pineapple by Hoag Levins.

fancy dish number 2
"In larger, well-to-do homes, the dining room doors were kept closed to heighten visitors' suspense about the table being readied on the other side. At the appointed moment, and with the maximum amount of pomp and drama, the doors were flung open to reveal the evening's main event. Visitors confronted with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests' dining pleasure
In this manner, the fruit which was the visual keystone of the feast naturally came to symbolize the high spirits of the social events themselves; the image of the pineapple coming to express the sense of welcome, good cheer, human warmth and family affection inherent to such gracious home gatherings."
If you haven't already, do hop over to read the Brief and Colorful story of a Truly American Plant by Mr. Levins to see how this coveted fruit captured the imagination of early Americans and influenced our style of entertaining, architecture and decor.