Alien overlooking River and Rice Fields

Finding Inspiration In Every Encounter

This morning I woke up feeling positive and wanting to share my feelings. I’m not one to share feelings, so when the moment strikes it is important to grasp it with both hands!

Bagan at Sunset

Bagan at Sunset

I’ve been away from home for a couple of months now, I can’t say I’m missing England but I miss my family and friends incredibly! I’m away for such a short space of time that it feel like I’m only on an extended holiday. But home is where the heart is! Luckily staying connected through social media makes it a lot easier…

Alien overlooking River and Rice Fields

Alien overlooking River and Rice Fields

The alien in the above picture is me. Well, if I was pink and given away with McDonald’s ‘Happy Meals’ then this alien would be an accurate representation of me. My nephew gave it to me just before I left home so I could take it away with me to give to a little girl whose mother I’m good friends with. It’s been travelling around with me on my adventures in South East Asia, so now the said nephew wants it back. But he is only 4 years old so we can forgive him!

So I have been told that this alien is called ‘Oh’ and he is a character in an animated movie, I’ve not seen it but I read this little extract:

‘When Oh, a loveable misfit from another planet, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip who is on a quest of her own. Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human. And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME.’ Written by 20th Century Fox

So during this time in Myanmar, I am Oh…

I’m a mis-fit from another country, finding myself in Myanmar running away from home. However I’ve formed not one, but many, friendships on my adventure and I too have come to the understanding that it’s OK to make mistakes. I think I should watch this movie! 😉

Harmoneat Team Birthday Dinner

My inspiration

The people in the above photo have become my very good friends in Myanmar. In the sort time I have been here we have bonded over our common love of food and desire to work with the community. They each have their individual stories to tell, but they are equally inspiring! From each conversation I have I drawn strength and am grateful for every word of encouragement and all the laughter we have shared. We’ve been through some challenging times together and without these guys I may still be a little lost…

I’m a reserved person who likes to isolate myself from others and I have to talk myself into doing things that scare me. It doesn’t come naturally to me to strike up a conversation with a stranger and conversation with someone I’ve just met can be a strain. However if we talk about food, that’s another story! 😀

I brought a copy fo the Celestine Prophecy with me for a bit of light reading. I took a lot from it when I first read it nearly 15 years ago, but this time it didn’t have the same impact. Though what stuck with me was the need to be open to new experiences and watch out for ‘signs’ or ‘coincidences’ that would help lead you to the path of what you are looking for. In a way that makes sense, because we will believe what we want to and read into things in a positive way if we want certain answers to questions in life.

Rice Farming in Laos May 2015

Rice Farming in Laos May 2015- Reconnecting with my roots

As anyone knows, being the ‘new person’ whether it be at a party or in a city is a daunting experience. However I’ve come to realise that everyone is in the same situation, it’s the way that person deals with it that is different. I can shy away, hoping not to draw attention to myself or I can introduce myself to the next person to open myself up to new experiences. It took me a while to get over the fear of rejection but I still have to talk myself into taking that first step. (Obviously in my head! Who wants to talk to someone who talks to themselves out loud?!)

By being open to these new experiences, I have met some amazing people. Local Myanmar and international travellers and expats. I’ve reconnected with long-lost friends and become more confident to take the next steps in my career and personal life with a different perspective and way of tackling decisions. When travelling around on buses or hanging around in hotel grounds, I’ve struck up many conversations with people who are going through transformational changes in their lives… making the decision to steer themselves in the right direction rather than being carried along a path that doesn’t suit them. From each person I have learned these key lessons (and it doesn’t matter how many times you read these messages or people tell you them, as it has to happen when you are ready to take notice):

  • You’re never too old to change your life
  • It’s OK to make mistakes, nothing is forever
  • Experiences are only bad if you don’t learn anything from them
  • Do something that scares, it you makes you feel alive
  • Not everyone wants to be the shining light in the room, humility is a valuable trait

With this new-found optimism and thirst for life, I will return to England in July knowing that everything will be fine and whatever happens will happen because it is right for me at that moment.

Locally grown Mango and Rambutan Season

Locally grown Mango and Rambutan

So I’ve just over one week left in Myanmar before I head of on a whistle-stop tour of Singapore and Malaysia, and am trying to make the most of my time here. Of course, being a foodie most of my plans are revolving around food. The fruits grown locally are so amazing that I am desperately trying to eat as much of it as I can before I leave. A mango for breakfast every day is the norm as well as snacking on rambutan throughout the day…

So I’ve shared with you my personal journey, from leaving my job in September 2014 to getting back into the head space I need to be to decide on where I choose my life to be next. I still have until September 2015 to make a decision on what that next step is but I’m ahead of the game!  😀

Advertisements
No Bake Pizza

Pizza in a Pan (No Oven Recipe)

No-Bake Pizza

No-Bake Pizza

Living in a ‘developing’ country when you are used to the comforts that the UK has to offer was always going to be a challenge for me. I’m a ‘home-girl’ at heart and like to have my familiar things around me… my family, friends, kitchen gadgets… Oh I miss my electric whisk, my kitchen scales and my food mixer… 😉

So it has been nearly two months since I left England and came to live in Yangon. I only have a couple of weeks left in the city before I head off on one final adventure around Singapore and Malaysia. Then I head back to England. Back to reality and ‘real life’. I’ve been taking a career break since September 2014 and I’m now 9 months down the line. It’s been an adventure, full of learning and re-discovering what I love most in life!

I write this post after a particularly gruelling 24 hours of unexplained 12 hour illness, lack of running water (in the middle of handwashing laundry) and sporadic internet access. Being a quite a pessimist, although I’m working on that, I have struggled to get back into a positive mindset and remember the good things about my Yangon adventure. A decent meal in a new cafe and a huge slice of carrot cake soon got me on the right track!

Home Made Tomato Pizza Sauce

Home Made Tomato Pizza Sauce

So today I share with you a recipe I am particularly proud of- Pizza in a pan!

At Harmoneat we have been working very closely with the Yangon Women’s Christian Association to teach local Myanmar women to cook ethnic foods from all over Myanmar as a way to learn about the cultures of the different ethnic groups that make up the country. As part of this we also introduced an ‘International cooking’ class for women interested in learning how to cook foods that may never have tried before.

Rice Cooker Banana Cake

Rice Cooker Banana Cake

One of the main challenges for people who love cake in Myanmar is that oven’s are not widely owned, so baking is a challenge. For the past few weeks we have been experimenting with ‘baking’ cakes in a rice cooker. I’ve not had much success but my colleague, Mellissa, has definitely cracked it! Using a basic banana cake recipe, she has produced some lovely, fluffy, cakes!

Pre-cooked Red and Yellow Sweet Peppers (Capsicum)

Pre-cooked Red and Yellow Sweet Peppers (Capsicum)

The next challenge posed to us was how to make pizza without an oven. One of our regular attendees had tried it but was confused with the technique so it was obviously do-able! A quick internet search later found a basic recipe that works every time! I did a practice run the day before the class and was surprised by how easy and pizza-like it was. I then left the second half of the dough to proof a little longer and it baked perfectly into a small loaf in the oven. So a good all-round bread recipe!

Pizza in a Pan

Pizza in a Pan

Ingredients: (Makes 4 large frying pan-sized bases)

  • 2.5 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp fast action yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup warm water

Toppings:

  • anything you like on your pizza but they must be pre-cooked- we used roasted peppers, aubergines and extra oregano (can add cooked meats too)
  • tomato pizza sauce
  • some grated cheese (mozzarella or cheddar work well)
Steaming the pizza to melt the cheese

Steaming the pizza to melt the cheese

Method:

  • Add sugar and yeast to the warm water and mix thoroughly, allowing it to sit for 10 minutes to get the yeast working (although I have tried it without this resting time and it worked fine)
  • Add the flour and the salt to the yeast water and bring it all together into a ball of dough, some extra water/flour may be needed if too dry/sticky
  • Knead on a floured surface until the dough is no longer sticking to your hands
  • Cut your dough into 4 equal portions and roll them out into round bases. The thickness depends on your liking but it needs to be smaller than the base of the frying pan you are using.
  • The actual cooking of the pizza is very quick, so you need to have all your toppings ready!
  • Dry-fry one side of the pizza base in the frying pan over a medium heat. You will see the dough start to change colour as it starts to cook through, the dough may bubble up but thats fine as the toppings will squash those bubbles back down
  • Take the pan off the heat then flip the pizza base over so it is now cooked side up. Add the tomato sauce base, toppings and cheese as you would with any pizza recipe
  • Put the frying pan back on the heat but with a lid on it this time, turning the heat to a medium-low. This is important as the lid will help to melt the cheese and warm the toppings whilst the heat will cook the underneath of the pizza base. This takes about 3 minutes, but need checking to make sure it’s not burning!
  • Repeat these steps with the next three bases.
Pizza in a pan- no oven

Pizza in a pan- no oven

Not only is this pizza recipe good for when you have no oven, but also when you want a quick meal! Once you get fast at making the pizzas, you can do cook several at the same time, if you have the frying pans available! Make the bases as thick as you like, some people prefer the thicker, doughy texture, whereas I like mine thin and crispy! 😀

No-Bake Pizza

No-Bake Pizza

Unassumed Road

My Myanmar Identity

My Myanmar Identity

outsider
noun
a person who does not belong to a particular organization or profession.
synonyms: stranger, visitor, non-member, odd man out
In a previous post I talked about my move to Yangon and how comfortable it is for me to be in the city where everyone seems be a newcomer or a member of a minority group. At first this made me feel quite welcome but the more time I spend here the more I’m starting to feel like an outsider looking in. I had an interesting conversation with someone in today’s cooking class at Harmoneat (where I’m volunteering) as he seemed to understand/relate to how I may feel. I would describe him as a mixed race African- American. He lives in Bangkok and has travelled and lived all over South East Asia. So I guess he’s had similar experiences to draw from. So it’s got me thinking…

In Yangon there are many ‘international volunteers’ who are living and working as expats whether for a few months or a few years. I somehow don’t see myself falling into this group of people as I see myself as being on a ‘working holiday’. Being ethinically Chinese and having a British accent confuses people wherever I travel. I’ve found that members of the local population would rather see me as ‘Chinese’ than ‘British’. Yet when I travel to China, more specifically Hong Kong, I’m seen as a foreigner there too! 😀

In Myanmar I am often mistaken for a local, by foreigners as well as locals. This can be quite amusing but is becoming a bit tedious. For example on a long distance bus journey we stopped as an immigration checkpoint, and despite me being the only foreigner on the bus, a typically Chinese looking family had their passports checked. I just blended in with the locals, with the guy sitting next to me giggling away and poking me in the ribs exclaiming something in Burmese (which of course I did not understand!) but he knew I was foreign.

On the other hand I have difficulty mixing with fellow travellers. Often tourists assume I’m a local and don’t attempt to talk to me so I always have to make the first move to start a conversation. This takes a lot of effort sometimes as I’m quite an introvert!  On one particular occassion I joined a group of 7 other people on a tour in the back of a tuk tuk and noone spoke to me for about half an hour as they assumed I was a local. It was early in the morning and I couldn’t be bothered to strike up a conversation so stayed quiet. But if I hadn’t spoken up on our first stop off point I’m sure I would have been ignored for the whole trip…

Often when locals speak to me in local language and I respond in English and they look surprised and slightly embarrassed. That makes me feel bad because it’s not their fault I don’t speak the language…

Anyway, just some thoughts that are going through my head today. No doubt I’ll feel differently in a few more weeks! Being in a new city is always difficult at first, finding my way is part of the adventure…

Unassumed Road

Unassumed Road

Burmese Tomato Salad

Burmese Tomato Salad

Burmese Tomato Salad

Burmese Tomato Salad

Burmese Tomato Salad

Three weeks into my stay in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) I’ve settled in and have tried lots of new recipes. I’m attempting to build up a good all-round knowledge of local foods so I can recreate them when I eventually return home.

One thing that stands out about my stay in Yangon is the incredible heat! It’s so hot that if you go outside between the hours of 8am to 5pm, its like asking for a bucket of water to be thrown at you with the amount you end up sweating! Eugh! The infrastrusture of this emerging economy is also in it’s infancy so frequent power cuts happen. Often large businesses will have back up generators but where I am currently volunteering (a social enterprise) such luxuries are not within easy reach. It doesnt happen too often so I shouldn’t complain! 🙂

With it being so hot, I find my appetite has lessened and I often don’t feel hungry. Rice and noodles are the staple diet here but often eating hot meals is the last thing on my mind. So the delicious Burmese salads are always a light meal choice to turn to. Back home I found that having a salad at lunch time did not keep me full for long, so I often added some protein (usually chicken) and avocado or cheese to bulk it out. Here dairy is not used in the traditional diet and good cheese is expensive and hard to find.

I could eat this tomato salad every day, three times a day if I could! The fried onions and garlic and the peanuts add texture and a creaminess to the salad whilst the tomatoes, coriander and lime juice add freshness. It’s a perfect combination and keeps me full for a long time…

Burmese Tomato Salad

Burmese Tomato Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh tomatoes (halved and thinly sliced)
  • small bunch fresh coriander (chopped)
  • small handful of fried onions
  • smal handful of fried garlic
  • quartre of a white cabbage (finely sliced)
  • small handful of roasted peanuts (lightly pounded)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 tsp peanut oil
  • 1 tsp fish sauce (leave out if you want to make it vegetarian)

Method:

  • Mix all the ingredients together just before you want to eat it, simple! 😀

A lot of Myanmar salads seem to have the same base ingredients, try this salad with some slices of deep fried tofu added (tofu salad). It is another amazing light salad to try out.

Easy Banana and Chocolate Chip Cake

Easy Banana and Chocolate Cake (using cups, not scales!)

image

Banana and Dark Chocolate Cake

I’ve been in Yangon for a week now, and feeling settled enough to start baking cakes. (Inspired by the bunch of extremely ripe bananas bought from the market yesterday morning) As I couldn’t carry all my kitchen equipment with me, I decided to make do with measuring cups. I usually use scales to weigh ingredients but all those recipes that use cups must be working, otherwise who would carry on using them?

Before I left the UK, I spent some time researching some basic recipes using few ingredients that I could play around with. I have access to a small electric oven that sits on a counter top. It’s temperature dial has faded away, so its a guess on how hot it is! I figured that most ovens go up to 250 degrees C so somewhere near the top would be fine!

Since arriving in Myanmar, I’ve been experiencing frequest power cuts. Mainly when there is a thunderstorm. The first day I arrived there was no electric from 7-11pm and it was sweltering without aircon in this tropical climate. Today it happened ten minutes after the cake went into the oven! 😱

What a disaster, the poor cake! Sitting there and waiting for the power to come was murder… Luckily it was only out for 15 minutes! The cake survived, if a little flatter than it should have been…

image

Ingredients

Ingredients:
2 mashed bananas
3/4 cup sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1 beaten egg
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 cup melted butter/oil
Handful of chocolate chips

Method:
Mix all wet ingredients together
Mix all dry ingredients together
Mix it all up into a cake batter then bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 200 degrees C
Cool on a rack and eat!

image

Banana and Chocolate Chip Cake

So it didn’t turn out too bad in the end. The next challenge is how to bake a cake in a rice cooker… These are much more common than ovens in Myanmar so I’m hoping to test out some recipes to make baking cakes accessible to more people! If you have any tried and tested recipes for rice cooker cake, please comment with the link! Cheers! 😁

Example of what CCC Yangon could acheive

Clandestine Cake Club Yangon has arrived!

Clandestine-Cake-Club
Clandestine-Cake-Club

The much anticipated CCC Yangon has arrived!  I have just arrived in Yangon, Myanmar and would like to spread my love of cakes from the UK to my new home city. 

Pistachio, Polenta and Elderflower Cake from a previous CCC club meeting in Manchester, UK
Pistachio, Polenta and Elderflower Cake from a previous CCC club meeting in Manchester, UK

 

The Clandestine Cake Club (CCC) Yangon has now been set up and the first event will be taking place in Yangon, Myanmar on Friday 15th May 2015 7-9pm. Please spread the word among fellow cake lovers and bakers! It is free to be a member of the Clandestine Cake Club. The only costs are that of the ingredients of the cake you bake to bring with them and any refreshments you buy at the host venue. (The venue is kept secret until just before the event!)

Black Sesame and Pear Cake
Black Sesame and Pear Cake from a previous CCC club meet in Manchester, UK

This is Myanmar’s first CCC group! If you love cake, this is the event for you! Let’s bake, eat and talk about cake! For more information about how to join this social gathering,please visit the website or email me (wangsamsin@gmail.com) for more information. You must become a CCC member and email me to confirm you will be coming along before you find out the venue address! (That’s why it’s clandestine!)

Example of what CCC Yangon could acheive
Example of what CCC Yangon could expect

The CCC originated in the UK and is now a world wide craze!  They take place around once a month and are open to all people, local and visitors. 

Date: Friday 15th May 2015

Time: 7:00pm – 9:00pm 

Theme: ‘A World of Cakes’

Take inspiration from Myanmar’s diversity of people! You may be from another country or have travelled further afield, take inspiration from your surroundings and the places you have been. Maybe you can use locally sourced jaggery or fresh fruits grown in Myanmar? Take inspiration the Middle Eastern use of cardamom or recreate a British classic! 

Venue: Mingala Taunyyunt Township, not far from Downtown (specific address to be revealed right before the event)

Additional venue info: Refreshments will be available to purchase at the venue. 

As with all clubs there are rules and CCC is no exception.

  • No Cupcakes, Muffins, Brownies, Pies or Tart. It’s all about Cake! 
  • You get to take cake home

This event is open to all people, bakers can bring one guest who does not have to bake a cake. However spaces are limited so if this event proves very popular, a waiting list will be put in place. 

Please feel free to pass this information onto friends. Remember, only members can attend so please visit the club page on The Clandestine Cake Club website to become a member. Once you have joined CCC, you must email me to book a place otherwise I won’t know you want to attend and the venue address will not be revealed to you…

I look forward to seeing you there! 😀

Sam

xx

Myanmar

A New Direction, Burmese Food and Obama

A New Direction, Burmese Food and Obama

It’s 10:30 am on a sweltering Saturday morning in Yangon, Myanmar. I’ve already been up since 7 am, hand washed some clothes and had a leisurely breakfast. Life could not be more different than 2 months ago when I left a steady job in the UK looking for a new adventure… I think I found it! 😀

This is a pretty long post, sorry for taking the time to self indulge. The food bit comes at the end…

I’m not usually the adventurous type. I didn’t spend my youth backpacking around the world and I have worked hard, really hard, to build a career in the not-for profit sector in the UK. Saying that I did take a bit of a gap year when I was 27 and headed off to Tanzania, East Africa, to do some volunteer development work. Back then I’d been working for a few years after my Masters degree in Development Studies but I don’t think I had a huge amount to offer the world. Now at the age of 32, and with another 5 years of life experience under my belt I feel ready to make another stab at contributing something positive in the developing world.

Coming to this decision has been fairly easy for me. I’ve been feeling unsettled with my life for a long time, maybe two years or more. But like a lot of people I looked for distractions and kept myself busy so I didn’t think too much about how dissatisfied I was with my life. Don’t get me wrong, I was comfortable and surrounded by loving family and friends! It wasn’t that I was in a crappy job or looking to make more money… I just had a general feeling of discontent. Most nights going home in a bad mood, being no fun to be around and looking for a excuses to justify my unhappiness. I began to realise that I’m the only person who could change this!

Follow your heart!

Follow your heart!

When I started to tell people my plans to leave work and go abroad to ‘do something’, the most common reaction was “Wow, you’re brave!”. And my response was always “Or stupid!”… I made this decision quite early on in the year and as the time drew nearer to leaving my job I began to worry and about the consequences of my actions. But today I know for sure that I have made the right choice…

Right after I finished work, I went on a two week holiday to Sri Lanka. It was planned long ago and helped to cushion the blow of being jobless and without direction for the first time in a long time! It kind of felt like I was just taking a long vacation. Sri Lanka was amazing! We traveled right across the country and back, tasting delicious foods and picking up some new cooking techniques. On returning to the UK, I moved house and started doing some voluntary work. I found that not having a full time job gave me the space to explore working in other areas which I combine my passion for food and my skills in the community development field.

So that’s how come I’ve ended up in Yangon, Myanmar. You may know it by the old colonial name of Rangoon, Burma. I’m visiting a social enterprise called Harmoneat who are ‘Building Communities, Through Food’. Sounds perfect for me right?! 🙂

Harmoneat are currently looking for volunteers to help grow their business, a Burmese cooking school in Yangon, so they can start to raise funds for their community development work. Check out their website, if you have an interest in food you may find their work as exciting as I do!

I’m 7 days into my two week visit to Yangon. I’m here to see how the city is and get to know Harmoneat a little better. I wasn’t sure what to expect since Myanmar has been quite closed off from the rest of the world over the last 60 years. The military dictatorship in Myanmar officially ended in 2011, with the next general elections scheduled to take place around the end of October 2015. Arriving in Yangon, everything felt kind of familiar. My family are originally from Hong Kong and Yangon reminds me very much of Hong Kong, but maybe the way Hong Kong was 20 years ago… The city is vibrant and full of life, people live simply but technology and western influences have begun to take hold! Everywhere you see young people stuck to their smart phones and multistory apartment blocks are being built all over the city.

Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi- Nov 2014

Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi- Nov 2014 (www.abc.net.au)

President Obama has been in town this week too. I wasn’t aware of this until someone was complaining about the traffic jams, blaming Obama’s security for the massive delays it is causing to every day people going about their day to day lives. This is Obama’s second visit to Myanmar in two years and his visit has obviously caused a stir in the media. I’m sure that the Burmese people have mixed opinions about his visit and his speeches, but I can see that it is an exciting era in Myanmar! I look forward to being seeing the future of Myanmar and positive change for the good of the people.

Myanmar

Myanmar

So back to the food! Myanmar’s food is massively diverse due to the numerous ethnic groups that make up the population. Myanmar borders the countries of Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, all having an influence on Myanmar food and culture! Can you Imagine the melting pot of ingredients and exciting flavours to be discovered?

In the mere 7 days I have been here, I have only just dipped my toes into the array of foods available to try. It is so unfortunate that there is such a limited amount of food that the body can consume when you are faced with having to make difficult choices every meal time… what to eat next?! My life is so hard these days, right?! 😉

I also had to fortune to attend a Harmoneat cooking class and market tour earlier in the week, learning 5 new recipes one one 3 hour cooking class. The tastes were amazingly varied and everything was made from fresh ingredients bought from the market that morning. I’ll be posting the recipes shortly! 🙂

Myanmar-Tea shop

Myanmar-Tea shop
(http://asiastreetfood.com/)

I’ve eaten out quite a lot here and food is amazingly cheap to buy! There is a variety of food outlets, from a basic road side tea shop to upmarket western restaurants selling nouvelle cuisine. Of course the prices vary dramatically depending on if you are eating local or imported produce, but considering you can get a bowl of noodles with dumplings for less than £1 in a decent restaurant frequented by locals and tourists alike I’d say that food is comparatively cheap…

Shan Chicken Noodles with Dumplings

Shan Chicken Noodles with Dumplings

 I have plenty of food pictures to share as I have been eating my way around Yangon, but I’ve also recipes to share too! Thanks for your patience in getting to the end of this long post, I promise the next posts will be going back to recipes… 🙂