banana leaf mural

Dear Laura and Richard,

You know, when most people offer to paint a mural in your newly renovated home, rarely do people take on the offer. But I’m so glad you’re both so trusting and adventurous (I believe Howard called it “brave”) because now we can brush aside the naysayers.

Banana Leaves Mural

Thanks for laying down the tape and prepping the wall for me to doodle on. And thank you for finding me a relatively easy design and colour scheme of one.

Banana Leaves Mural

Equipment

Painter’s Tape
Pencil
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic Paint Markers in 4 mm, Mister Green
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic Paint Markers in 15 mm, Mister Green
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic 30ml Refill in Mister Green
⅛ inch or ¼ inch paintbrush
Paint holder
Ladder

  1. Apply painter’s tape on the ceiling, adjacent walls, and over the floor or floor trims. Also around any shelves, sink, toilet paper holders, light fixtures, mirrors, or windows.
  2. Draw a light outline in pencil of the banana leaves.
  3. Trace the outline with the 15 mm paint marker. Go over it a few times to make it as thick as you like.
  4. Then, use the 4 mm paint marker to draw in the leaf details. These are simply straight-ish horizontal lines.
  5. Pour out the refill paint into the paint holder and touch up the lines with the paintbrush.

Banana Leaves Mural

How weird is it that I summed up 7 hours of work in 5 steps? Except, I’m sorry that the paint still got past the painter’s tape and it required you to repaint some places white.

Banana Leaves Mural

Thanks for pitching in and giving me snack breaks. I love that this was a group project and we all got to exercise the creative part of our brains. I also won’t forget the delicious shakshuka, homemade bread, crispy potatoes, smoothie, Bún bò Huế, and Daim cake.

Banana Leaves Mural

Stay tuned for my next post where I try to recreate the shakshuka!

Banana Leaves Mural

I hope you like the finished wall, I can’t wait to come back and tag it!

Sincerely,
Syl

matcha dusted fudge brownies

Dear Sam,

Huzzah! It feels like Easter was many moons ago as I am very late in writing this post. I was like, who could I write this to? and you popped into my mind because you finally gave in and had chocolate just because I made these. To that, I am humbled and I also commend you on going 39 days without chocolate. That’s not an easy task. Even just today, I was poking around my kitchen looking for something chocolate to nibble on. I eventually gave in and opened my second box of Daim cake. And just to be clear, I would have made them again after Easter so you could have some!

These brownies are so addictive, but it was seeing a photo of the glossy and crinkly top that drew me into the recipe in the first place. Stella Parks is a dessert genius. If she’s reading this, I would love to know how to swirl the matcha onto the top (and just the top) of the brownie. Would it still achieve that glossy film?

Glossy Fudge Brownies
Recipe adapted from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts
Makes enough to fill a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan

1 cup all-purpose flour
1⅓ cup cocoa powder
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (the original recipe calls for dark chocolate bars, chopped)
2¼ cup white suguar
¼ cup brown sugar
1¾ teaspoons salt
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extra
(The original recipe also calls for instant espresso powder here, but it’s optional, and I didn’t have any.)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan with foil so that the bottom and sides are covered.
  2. In a pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. I dabbed a little of the melted butter with a brush to grease the foil in the pan. Increase the heat to medium and let the butter simmer until the butter is golden yellow and silent (there’s a lot of hissing and popping during the process).
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together.
  5. Using a stand mixer, whisk the white sugar, brown sugar, salt, eggs, and vanilla extract. Run it on medium-high until the mixture is thick and fluffy (about 8 minutes).
  6. Reduce the stand mixer speed to low and pour in the warm chocolate-butter mixture. Once it’s combined and you don’t see anymore streaks, add in the sifted flour and cocoa powder. Mix on low until the batter comes together. Be careful not to over mix here. Use a spatula to help fold if you think the stand mixer might be too heavy handed.
  7. Pour the batter in the pan and bake for about 25 minutes. The brownies should have a glossy film and still be soft to the touch.
  8. Here’s the hard part, wait. Let it sit and cool. It’ll be too gooey to slice if you don’t wait.
  9. Gently tug and lift the foil out of the pan. Cut the brownie into squares (or triangles). Store in an airtight container with wax paper between each layer. It’ll last for a week in room temperature. I also froze some to be mixed in with ice cream sundaes in the future.

Chocolate Brownies

Stirring the melted butter and chocolate together.

Chocolate Brownies

Sifting the flour and cocoa powder!

Chocolate Brownies

Pour that luxurious batter into the baking pan.

05_Brownies.jpg

Finally, it’s cool and ready to be sliced.

Chocolate Brownies

Oh my gosh, look at the center where it’s nice and dark. This is one moist and delicious brownie.

Liza, if you’re reading this, it’s time to look away.

Chocolate Brownies

Dusted some matcha powder on the top of my brownie square.

Chocolate Brownies

Yaasss! So ready to dig in.

Chocolate Brownies

The first bite, get in my belly!

Chocolate Brownies

Time for a second bite.

Sincerely,
Syl

pork dumplings

Dear Tara,

We’re almost at the weekend, just hang in there! Will this be the weekend where you can start planning parts of your trip to Taiwan? If so, I hope this helps as a very rough guide as I cannot claim to be a travel expert.

Let me think back . . . we went in mid-February and I found it shockingly cold. I thought going from Toronto to Taipei meant warmer weather for me. But it’s a cold that seeps into your bone there, a deep kind of cold. So wear plenty of light layers and pack a jacket and accessories. This might reveal my delicate health, but I needed the hat, scarf, and hand warmers when we were outdoors. You can find Japanese hand warmers in convenience stores there where they only heat up when you magically open the packaging and they last for 24 hours. I found these so nice and toasty that I bought some back to Canada with me! However, it’s supposed to be much warmer in March as their spring season officially begins.

If your travels take you south to Kaohsiung City, then you should definitely be prepared with mosquito repellents and insect-bite relief as the mosquitoes come out to feast at night. This is where wearing layers should help, they can’t bite you if they can’t reach you!

Of course, Taiwan is famous for its night markets so that’s a must visit. There are plenty around the major cities and we strolled through many of them after dinner. You could visit a different one every night and not be able to explore them all. Shilin Night Market is probably the largest one and you’ll find tightly packed stalls of street food, games, and merchandise for sale. You snake through in single file and look for the stalls with the longest lines to join. Roam around to take in the sights and smells, but keep your belongings close to you and be aware of your surroundings. Our relatives warned us many times to keep our wallets and phone safely in front of us.

What should you eat? Well, there’s the famous Taiwanese stinky tofu, which I actually didn’t find all that stinky there (it’s more pungent here in Toronto). They make it much better in Taiwan and the savory flavours are worth a try. There’s a ton of fried food at the night market, almost anything you can imagine. I would highly recommend fried chicken as a late night snack. There are stalls with baos and oyster omelettes made fresh to order. Waffles batter poured in the weirdly shaped cast irons. There’s this particular dessert that is quite wonderful – it’s a crêpe filled with peanut butter brittle, ice cream, and cilantro. This might sound weird but it’s surprisingly delightful! You can also get a bowl of sweet potatoes that are covered in a syrupy glaze that warms your soul as the night gets colder.

Outside of the night market, you can’t skip Din Tai Fung. Their soup dumplings alone are worth it. Go in a group so you can order multiple steam baskets of dumplings to try. I found their hot and sour soup to be the best I’ve ever had because it’s incredibly silky from the tofu. Try the braised beef noodle soup!

Let me interject here with my very own dumplings. I made these without my mom’s help for the first time. However, the wrappers were store bought and not homemade.

Pork Dumplings

Dollar Dumplings
Recipe adapted from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes
Makes about 50 dumplings

1 lb ground pork
¼ cup minced scallions
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 lb pre-made round dumpling wrappers

  1. First of all, the original recipe called for a tablespoon of minced ginger which I omitted because Howard thinks I’m too heavy handed when it comes to ginger (it’s true, I probably would have put in two tablespoons). Ok, now that that’s out of way, here are the very easy steps.
  2. Mix the pork, scallions, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, cornstarch, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper together in a bowl. Take the dumpling wrappers out of the fridge and packaging. Set aside a small bowl of water.
  3. Using a spoon, fill a dumpling wrapper with about one tablespoon of filling.
  4. Dip a finger into the water and moisten the edge of the wrapper – half a circle will do, you don’t have to go all around. Fold the dumpling in half and pinch it from the filling out to get rid of any air bubbles. Seal the edges tightly and crimp to secure.
  5. Repeat until all the dumplings are completed. Choose one of the two methods below to cook them.
  6. Boil: Fill a large pot with water and boil on high heat. Place the dumplings in the pot in batches (don’t crowd it). They will start to float around 3 to 4 minutes. That’s when they’re done, remove with a slotted spoon.
  7. Pan-fried: Arrange the dumplings (pleats up) on a cast iron pan until it covers the surface. Pour in neutral oil (I used grapeseed oil) to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium until the oil starts to sizzle. Then pour in ¼ cup of water and cover it with a lid. The steam will cook the dumplings in about 3 to 4 minutes. You’ll end up with a nice golden crust on the bottom of the dumpling.
  8. Dip in a soy sauce and rice vinegar mixture and enjoy!

 

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings
Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Taiwan is also a city full of hot pot restaurants. While it’s usually a shared experience here in Toronto, you get your own individual pot there. It’s definitely worth trying your hand at cooking your own food with fresh seafood. Japanese restaurants are also a must stop since the seafood is so abundant – you’ll see lots of conveyor belt sushi there, go for the fun or pick a more traditional restaurant.

Then there’s the famous shaved ice. We went to Smoothie House for their mango shaved ice, topped with a panna cotta and ice cream! Or there’s Ice Monster for a better sit down experience.

Go for a traditional breakfast where you can eat delicious buns, dough fritters, congee, and drink soy milk or wintermelon iced tea.

Taiwan is filled with amazing bakeries and cafes. Seriously, their pastry and bread game is on point. Wu Pao Chun Bakery is my absolute favourite. You should try their pineapple cakes, croissants, buns, and basically anything you can get your hands on when it’s your turn in line (yes, people line up for bread here). All my relatives know to bring me back a box of pineapple cakes from Wu Pao Chun when they visit Taiwan.

What else did we do? We visited Taitung County and Tamsui Old Street for some fresher air and ocean views. We were driven up winding roads to the top of the mountains to pay our respect to ancestors. We watched in envy as people zoomed by on scooters. We made sure to visit a 24-hour bookstore. You can even find a good meal at 7-Eleven, it’s more than a convenience store there, it does everything. People buy concert and train tickets, call taxis, pay bills, and even have the ready-to-eat food you buy prepared for you. I was very fond of this caramel egg pudding that I can’t find here and can’t quite replicate in recipes. Oh speaking of, I forgot to mention that every receipt you get in Taiwan is a lottery ticket. You can keep these or give them to relatives to redeem if the winning number shows up!

I do want to mention that sometimes it’s hard to find a clean washroom when you’re out and about or at a night market. Keep plenty of hand sanitizing wipes, napkins, and toilet paper in your bag. Some of the more rural places may have squat toilets instead of sitting ones. And what I found interesting was that some homes tile the entire bathroom because there are no bath tubs. They have a drain in the floor of the bathroom where the water goes when you shower next to the sink and toilet.

The subway system is very easy to use and clean, which reminds me there’s no food or drinks on the subway! There’s a line that clearly indicates where you’re no longer allowed to eat or drink in the station. Don’t sit on the designated priority seats on the subway either, you’ll get glances. And don’t lose any tokens or tickets, you’ll need it to enter and to leave the gates at the station.

I think that’s it. I don’t know if I’m missing any other observations! Practice your chopstick skills and I hope you’ll have a dumpling book when you come back.

Sincerely,
Syl

saffron, orange, and honey madeleines

Dear Laura,

It was so good to catch up last night! You picked a great day to come over, I’m sorry I stuffed you with pasta and madeleines and we didn’t have room for some waffles and ice cream. We’ll have to take a snow-check for those.

Howard’s parents gave me the little box of saffron – I remember Howard bringing it home and saying “my parents said you would know.” Because that felt like a challenge, I looked at the little clear box of spices and proudly said, “oh, saffron.” Winner!

I’ve never used saffron before and wasn’t even sure if we’ve ever tasted it out at restaurants, so I don’t know what the flavour profile is, it does smell really strong. I liked how you described it as “plastic-y.” I had these madeleine recipes bookmarked for a long time now, ever since I saw that I could finally use the saffron. The day before my parents gave me some oranges and I had bought pistachios from Costco, so there really was no excuse to not make these.

Saffron, Orange, and Honey Madeleines
Recipe from Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi
Makes about 20-22 large madeleines

90 grams unsalted butter, plus more, melted, for brushing
2 teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
¼ vanilla bean
2 large eggs
⅓ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2½ tablespoons shelled pistachio kernels

The recipe instructions are also online at Bon Appétit. So I’ll go over this in visuals:

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Combine the butter, saffron threads, and honey in a saucepan.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Cook on low heat until the butter and honey melt together. Give it a swirl or two. Then set it aside to cool to room temperature.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Using a food processor this time, add in the eggs, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla seeds. Pulse until combined. Then add in the dry ingredients of flour, baking powder, and salt.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Once combined, transfer it to a bowl or piping bag. Let the batter chill in the fridge for an hour.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Melt some butter and brush it on the madeleine pans. Then dust it with flour.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

If you saved the batter in a bowl, you can use a spoon to scoop dollops into the pan’s mold. Or you can snip off the tip of the piping bag and start squeezing the batter into the pan.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

The oven temperature in the cookbook asked for 400°F for 10 minutes. However, when I was on Facebook, it was like the algorithms knew I was using the Sweet cookbook. I found out after that it was an error. It should be 375°F for 10 minutes! That’s why my madeleines were such a dark brown on the bottom!! Although Howard really enjoyed that extra crunch.

When they’re done baking, gently nudge the cakes out of the mold and transfer to a cooling rack. Then brush honey on top for that shiny glaze.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

The honey also helps the crushed pistachios stick to them.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

And there you have it! I might have ground the pistachio a bit too much into a crumble compared to the photo in the cookbook. But it’s still delicious. There’s only four left in my kitchen this morning.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

I hope to see you soon and hear more about your house renovations. You know I love hearing about food, homes, and travel!

Sincerely,
Syl

chocolate rice krispie square totoros

Hey Steph and Lyndsay,

It’s one of my favourite weeks, even more than shark week, it’s finally #totoroweek! The weeks leading up to it, I’m always on the look out for round or circular food types that can be transformed in Totoro. But then I thought square Totoro is cute too! Let’s show him some love.

I recently made homemade marshmallows and since then I started craving Rice Krispie squares. This time, I tried a different marshmallow recipe and went straight to Stella Parks’ BraveTart cookbook. She offers quite a few variations, including an apple pie flavour, brown butter, coconut, malted milk, and peanut butter honey. I went with chocolate since it would provide the best contrast to the white royal icing.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares
Recipe adapted from BraveTart
Makes enough to fill an 8 x 12 x 2 inch baking pan

11 cups Rice Krispie cereal
⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 envelopes unflavoured gelatin powder
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup water
1 cup golden corn syrup
2¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter

  1. In a large bowl, fold the cocoa powder with the cereal until it’s evenly coated.
  2. Add Melt the butter and grease the baking pan. Set aside the extra butter.
  3. Mix the gelatin, ¼ cup water, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. In a medium pot, combine the ½ cup water, corn syrup, sugar, and salt. Set over medium heat and stir until the mixture bubbles (about 8 minutes). I clipped on a candy thermometer, but I couldn’t get the mixture to reach 250°F in after 6 minutes. Might be time for me to get a digital thermometer. Either way, onward!
  5. Pour the hot syrup into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Let it cool for a bit and then add the gelatin from the small bowl. Using a whisk attachment, start on low speed and then increase to medium-high.
  6. The syrup will thicken and turn white and increase in volume. Reduce the speed to low and add in the remaining melted butter. Give it one last good mix on medium-high.
  7. Scrape the gooey marshmallow batter over the cocoa-powdered cereal and fold to coat. Transfer the mixture into the greased pan and gently press down to create an even and smooth surface.
  8. Cover it in foil and let it set in the fridge for at least two hours.

 

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

After the Rice Krispie is set, use a spatula to help pop the treats out of the pan and cut them into squares.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

Use a piping bag with a small round tip and fill it with royal icing. Pipe an arch about half the size of the square and fill it in.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

Pipe two medium circles for the eyes and push milk chocolate crispearls in for Totoro’s pupils. Pipe a small dot for the nose and v-shapes for the whiskers.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

This is the part where your patience gets tested. Using brown jimmies to set over the royal icing belly. I used the tip of a knife to help shift some into place.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

Finally, some lollipop sticks to make these treats easy to hold and eat. I couldn’t bear to bite into Totoro, so I had Howard do the honours while I ate the non-decorated ones. These chocolate Rice Krispie squares taste really good (and are super addictive).

Sincerely,
Syl