What feels like a million years ago, the Ninja and I lived in a tiny high rise apartment in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam. We were doing the teacher thing, or at least, he was discovering his talent for it while I mostly ran around with my camera trying to eat as much as possible. I’m a predictable traveller and not a good teacher, but I did find that it was possible in a year to get familiar with a lot of what Vietnamese cuisine is. Continue reading
It is freezing in Hanoi right now, all thing being relative. My coworkers shudder in furry coats, doors keep closing everywhere to keep the draft at bay, and let me tell you – SOUP is on the menu, as if it ever stops being in Southeast Asia but you know. Continue reading
There’s a stretch of highway that lines eastern part of Hanoi, hugging the Red River. It’s cheered slightly by the longest mural in the world (endless streams of turquoise, mustard and honey-pink portrayals of dragons and such), but for the most part, it’s a pretty damn seedy part of town. I take the bus from a major transit stop there every morning. Continue reading
“The origins of dinner tonight, will be attributed to Sapa, in the Lao Cai province of northwestern Vietnam. They like to play with fire a lot up there. It will happen, on the other hand, on the side of the road in Hanoi. Thank you.” Continue reading
There are benefits. More than I’m probably aware of. I can walk the streets gathering concrete paste, smashed fruit and red dust all over my shoes, and still have someone to twine my (showered) legs with in the night. I can live for 3 weeks straight in a new country without working while I finish my ESL training, because I know that there’s someone back at our apartment figuring out the ass-backwards banking system in Vietnam that freezes one’s account while trying to pay rent because the lease hasn’t been signed (because the first month hasn’t been paid with that money that’s locked up — facepalm), and will still have the patience to deal with my occasional freak-outs. I’m not lonely, or at least not fundamentally so, and the language gap between me and the people here isn’t a monolith that keeps me from everyday communication (and is generally crossed by a genuine smile and some awkward but universal gestures). At the end of each day, there’s still something to quote Tarantino, begrudgingly miss hipsters, and pine for a good burger with, unfailing.
It’s a balance, though. For all the support, we have to share in each other’s rocky transition to our new life as well. When it’s been easier for me, I can only guess at something having to do with my high tolerance for noise, crowds, and aloneness. When it’s easier for him, I think it’s when there are whispers of the wild places that creep into the concrete of Hanoi. I don’t know precisely what his inner sanctum looks like, but I bet it resembles the mossy tranquility of the remote maritime forests of Canada, and that’s basically the opposite of anything that surrounds us for miles.
In the night, without meaningful friendships made here yet, it is the other we must lean on. There are times when I wish I could send him happy on his way to meet a best friend, and come home full of sparkling vinegar and private jokes. And since I can’t, I offer him the gift of strength. I reconsider my needless dramas and realize soon after that they weren’t dire at all in the first place. I stay honest about the dramas that DO matter. I ask for help when I need it, and don’t explain too much when I anticipate his needs, exchanging small and great favours, preserving some small magic in a box, under the altar, offered to the warm neon wind that courses like dogs through the flowering trees on our terrace.
The mystery, I encase into sweets, too. When it works well, the transfusion of emotion, I can make buttery vanilla pudding out of just oil, egg, milk and sugar. I can turn fake melon flavoured cookies into ochre-singed tropical cinnamon-toasted wafer crunchies. I needn’t do anything to the bananas, mind; the tiny variety sold from the basket-women are already perfectly sweet with a hint of chartreuse tang. Who’s surprised that banana pudding works best in southeast asia, though? Not I, said the pastry girl… not I.
Cinnamon-Crunch Topped Banana Pudding
from David Guas & Raquel Pelzel’s DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style, via Epicurious
For the pudding:
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons banana liqueur (or 1 teaspoon banana flavoring)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ripe bananas
For the crumble:
- 1 cup vanilla wafers (about 15 cookies)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
To make the pudding:
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and whisk a little at a time into the egg mixture. Once the bottom of the bowl is warm, slowly whisk in the remaining hot milk. Pour the mixture back into a clean medium saucepan (cleaning the saucepan prevents the pudding from scorching), add the banana liqueur, and whisk over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Cook while constantly whisking until the pudding is glossy and quite thick, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer the pudding to a clean bowl.
Add the vanilla and butter and gently whisk until the butter is completely melted and incorporated. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
To make the crumble:
While the pudding sets, heat the oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the wafers in a resealable plastic bag and seal (make sure there is no air in the bag prior to sealing). Using a rolling pin or a flat-bottomed saucepan or pot, crush the vanilla wafers until they’re coarsely ground. Transfer them to a small bowl and stir in the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Use a spoon to evenly stir in the melted butter, transfer to the prepared baking sheet, and toast in the oven until brown and fragrant, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. (The crumbs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days at room temperature or frozen for up to 2 months; re-crisp in a 325°F oven for 6 to 7 minutes if necessary.)
Slice the bananas in half crosswise and then slice in half lengthwise so you have 4 quarters. Slice the banana quarters crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces and divide between 6 custard cups or martini glasses (sprinkle with a squeeze of lemon juice if you like—this helps prevent browning). Whisk the pudding until it is soft and smooth, about 30 seconds, and then divide it between the custard cups. Top with the vanilla wafer mixture and serve. (If not served immediately, the pudding will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, with plastic wrap intact. Sprinkle the crumbs on just before serving.)