Monthly Archives: January 2012

Tom Kha Gai soup on the fly

If you are busy mom like me you probably have little time to whip up a gourmet meal for your family every evening.  You want to eat a nutritious meal but may not enjoy or have patience to chop, dice, and sauté.  On cold winter nights I always crave something hot and delicious; something mild, rich, creamy and fresh.  This aromatic soup normally is the first dish that comes to my mind.

The creamiest coconut milk ever!

It’s a simple chicken coconut soup that can satisfy any palette.  Like spicy foods?  No problem? Not too spicy?  No problem..Want something healthy?  You got it.  Depending on the fat content in the coconut milk and the sodium levels in the chicken stock this soup can be very healthy.  Since full flavour is what I want I use a creamy (high fat) coconut milk.  And at 20g of fat per 100ml I only indulge in this soup when I deserve a treat. I also keep my level of spice to a minimum and prefer a little heat so I substitute the Thai chile for a drop or two of Thai chile sauce instead.  The recipe calls for button mushrooms but I left them out since I don’t like the texture of mushrooms.

This recipe is super easy to make and its easy to improvise if you don’t have all the ingredients.

 This is what you’ll need:

  • 3 Skinless/boneless chicken breasts thinly sliced into small bite sized pieces
  • 2 cups chicken stock (preferably home-made)
  • 400 ml coconut milk
  • 3 TBSP Oyster sauce
  • 1 lime – juiced and shave off a few pieces with a carrot peeler
  • 1 stalk of lemon grass – bashed against the counter to release the flavour then coarsely chopped
  • 7-8  thin slices of peeled fresh ginger
  • Handful of cilantro/coriander chopped (I couldn’t find any so I used freeze-dried cilantro instead)
  • 1 small red Thai chile finely chopped (I used chile sauce)
  • 3/4 cup sliced button mushrooms
  • Kaffir lime leaf (preferably fresh but I could only find dried)

Bring the chicken stock to a boil.  Add the oyster sauce, lemongrass, ginger, chile, kaffir lime leaf, lime juice and lime skin pieces and reduce the heat to a simmer for 5 min.  Add chicken, mushrooms and coconut milk and simmer for 15 min.  Top with fresh cilantro/coriander and serve immediately.

That’s it.  “Easy peasy” as Jamie Oliver always says.



Be careful what you say to a pregnant woman.

While cleaning up my computer the other day I came upon this.  A statement that I wrote in a heat of a “mommy meltdown moment” after my husband gave me the “disapproved” look when I couldn’t tell him off the top of my head when the last car service date was.  I do have to admit that my husband and I are both “organize freaks” and I’m pretty darn good at keeping things in order.  However, it was one of those days (Mom’s you understand) where the 16 tasks I normally simultaneously perform weren’t working.  And that’s when it happened.  KABOOM!  Arms waved, fingers pointed, trucker mouth exploded… it wasn’t pretty.  Needless to say he handled the situation well by silently leaving a box of chocolates that he found in the kitchen cupboard at the door to the office while I finished writing the following.

I am Thomas’s wife…

I have advanced degrees in early childhood education, accounting, public relations, automobile mechanics, landscape design, interior design, culinary arts, photography, psychology, computer maintenance, chemical engineering, Jewish History and Swahili.  I also read minds.

 I am Thomas’s wife.  Of course I am responsible that you have worked for 12 hours, that your meetings ran late and that your coffee got cold. Also that you were under the impression that when you would finally arrive home late at night, that you would be presented with a 3 course meal accompanied by the finest selection of imported beer and wines, have your mail waiting for you in the office, be welcomed with freshly laundered towels, have a fully fed, squeaky clean, little sleepy but happy to see her Daddy 17 month old daughter waiting at the door and a sexy wife ready to report her daily task accomplishments.

 It wouldn’t be a problem for me to create a diverse weekly menu, shop a many grocery stores to get the best deals, dust, vacuum and mop the house, restock toiletries, linens, diapers, baby wipes, and beer, finish all laundry, weed, feed and water the garden & hanging baskets, not to mention water the indoor plants, scrub the bathroom showers and sinks, change bed linens all while entertaining, feeding, nurturing, bathing, and bonding with our high maintenance yet loving daughter during my 9th month of pregnancy.  I do this with joy even when I’m carrying around your soon to be 8lb son who likes to substitute my uterus as a punching bag.


I am Thomas’s wife.  I am expected to know dates….. expiry dates on all perishable items in the house, due dates of all bill payments, birthdays, anniversaries, Dr. and Dentist appointments, our last car service date oh and yes to have full detailed knowledge of all car, house and appliance warranties and policies.  Give me a second and I will tell you our car’s VIN numbers, passport issue dates, instructions on recording home video to DVD, dates and times of our daughter’s past medical vaccinations, oh and what the final score was the night Manchester Untied won the European cup in 1999.

 I am Thomas’s wife.  I understand that your responsibility as the Hotel Manager requires you to work all day at the office, catch up on e-mails at home every evening and make numerous phone calls on the weekends leaving less than desired time to spend with your family.  So when I am saying that I do not have time to get everything completed on my own I am lying.   It is not a problem to juggle my careers of cooking, cleaning, parenting, cheerleading, car fixing, gardening, decorating and baby making.  I can set aside all the time that I spend coupon clipping and washing my hair to become more productive.

I am Thomas’s wife, a personal secretary, gofer, chef, housekeeper, gardener, mother, computer technician, postman, painter, life coach, weather expert, human jukebox, TV repairman, and bloody Santa Claus (where’s my milk and cookies).  AND I do know when the builder will be planting the tree in our front yard I’m just not telling you.

2 weeks before my son was born

 I am Thomas’s wife.  I always know where to find the cheapest deals, who to negotiate with, when to visit during slow times and how many rolls of toilet paper we have left in the house.  I take personal blame for lack of talent in Canadian TV sitcoms, traffic jams, grass which needs cutting again and Timmy’s Ice Cap machine breakdowns.

 I am Thomas’s wife.  I am expected to smile, inspire, perform, create, organize, and complete any task that I am given – all while maintaining beautifully manicured nails and toes, up-to-date hair rinse colouring and smoothly shaved legs and waxed bikini  line. 

I do all these things and love it.

It’s been 6 years since I wrote down my frustrations and looking back today I can see that I’ve learned a few things.

1.  What the hell was I thinking?  No wonder my nickname is Marthamel.  No I am not Martha Stewart.

2.  Got my cleaning schedule all wrong.    I changed my approach to what’s called “let him clean too”.  Amazing how effective it is.

3.  Hydration.  Must stay hydrated.  Vodka soda works best for me.

credits:  1


Are you prepared in case of an emergency?

Upon waking up to the horrible news of the Costa Concordia lying capsized in the port of Giglio, Italy, my husband and I were immediately glued to BBC news.

Three people are confirmed dead after a cruise ship carrying more than 4,000 people ran aground off Italy

How could this have happened?  As the experts are saying, a disaster like this shouldn’t happen in the 21st century where cruise ships are built to the highest safety standards.

My husband and I have a particular interest in this story since cruising was a big part of our lives.  You see, I met my husband in 1997 while working on board a luxury cruise ship.  Our combined ship experience totals 19 years so we know full well about emergency procedures on board a cruise ship.  While working on board the Silversea CruisesUS Coast Guard inspections were routinely made and as crew members we participated in “boat drill” every week.

Thomas and Captain Mazzetti

Each crew member had safety responsibilities and had to know all evacuation procedures including what to do in case of the “abandon ship” announcement.

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Seeing these images of terrified passengers and a severely damaged ship on TV left us in disbelief.  It got us thinking.  Now that we are parents and have already taken our children on a couple of cruises what would we have done in this situation?

News reports suggest that there was chaos and panic among the passengers and that crew did their best to direct them to the lifeboats.  Did the three dead drown from being trapped in the belly of the ship below the waterline?  Did they die of hypothermia from jumping overboard?  Were they trampled to death in the corridors?  Could these deaths have been prevented?

I think, that we call can agree that cruising is a very safe form of travel, especially if you compare it to traveling by car, train and plane.  When’s the last cruise disaster that you can remember?  As a former crew member (and now parent) I believe in the importance of being prepared.

Here are my recommendations for being ready in case of an emergency whist on a cruise.

  1. On Embarkation Day be sure to attend the Life Boat Drill and familiarize yourself with your muster station location.
  2. If you are traveling with small children ask your Cabin Stewart to give you children sized life jackets and stow them in your cabin.
  3. If you hear an announcement over the PA system calling an “Assessment Party” to proceed to an area on the ship that means that there is a situation that needs further investigating.  This is a team of people, from various departments who are responsible to decide the next step.  It could be a fire, water damage or anything that is triggered by an alarm.  Remain calm but be on alert that there may be more announcements that could involve the rest of the ship.
  4. Personally, at this point I would gather my family together (just image the panic if you couldn’t find a loved one in the event of an emergency), collect the essentials (passports and medication) and dress warmly.  You never know,  you may have to jump in the ocean, in which case wearing warm clothes helps delay the onset of hypothermia.
  5. Remain calm and LISTEN to all announcements.
  6. If the situation is serious enough that the Captain announces “Abandon ship” you will hear 7 short blasts followed by 1 long blast of the ships whistle.  This is the time that you grab your life jackets and head to your muster station.  From there the crew will instruct and guide you onto your lifeboat.
  7. Never jump in the water unless you absolutely have to.  If you have no choice make sure your life jacket is securely fastened and hug your jacket by crossing your arms in front.  One hand should grasp the collar of the life jacket and the other hand should cover your mouth and nose.  This will help prevent the life jacket from hitting your chin on impact.
  8. Once the lifeboat has been lowered and is safely in the water, away from the ship it will only be a matter of time before help will reach you.   If you are in the middle of the ocean crew members should hand out anti-sea sickness medication to prevent you from vomiting = dehydration.  This is why it’s important to grab your medication if you can.  You don’t know how long you’ll be on the lifeboat before being rescued.

I’m very sad to learn of the news on board the Costa Concordia and my heart goes out to the families of those who perished.

I still truly believe the cruising is one of the best holiday choices and this tragedy certainly has not altered my decision whether or not I should cruise again.

So go ahead. Book that cruise and feel confident that you are well prepared for your next holiday.  What better place to be than to unpack once and wake up to a new scene every morning?

Happy Sailing.


The image of Costa Concordia is from the BBC website

This Cinderella is all dressed up and ready for the Ball

There are more than 300 if you include ones not listed in the published calendar. These are not predominantly Viennese Waltz balls, but most have a fair amount of Viennese Waltz. Some are hosted by the city, others by occupations and trades, churches, organizations etc. but are still open to the public. Their balls are nearly all black tie events with ladies dresses required to be ankle length. Ladies wear mostly modern ball gowns, and only debutantes wear white ball gowns. Why is Vienna so special in this regard?  Emperor Joseph II, 1741-1790, had more respect for the common man and less respect for nobility than the average royal. He decided that the ballrooms in the Hofburg palace should not be reserved just for nobility. In 1773 he made the ballrooms available for public balls for the common man. 

Each ball begins with an opening ceremony that includes a dance show. The show starts with the officers of the organization hosting the ball marching in and taking their places on the stage, with maybe a speech or two. The rest of the show is a dance performance that usually does not last more than 30 minutes. The show is usually, but not always, performed by young people, with the young ladies in white ball gowns and the young men in tux or tails.  The debutantes and men dance the first waltz of the evening.  Once completed the ball officially opens and all guests are invited to join them on the dance floor.


Officer’s Ball

My husband and I have attended many balls since arriving here and each one comes with its own unique experience.  I loved the Officer’s Ball as  I got to see various uniforms from around the world.  And you know what they say about men dressed in uniform right?  It’s nice on the eyes.

The Regenbogen Ball (Rainbow Ball) is a colourful experience.  It’s like the Toronto Pride Parade ended at the Hofburg Palace!  So much fun.   The Jägerball is another Austrian favourite where you dress in traditional costume.

My favourite I think is the Fete Imperiale Ball from the Spanish Riding School.  Being a horse nut might have something to do with it.  While the Lipizzaner horses are on summer vacation their stables are transformed into an elegant ballroom.

The most famous ball of all is the Opera Ball.  People from around the world, including celebrities flock to the city to take part.  Austrian millionaire Richard Lugner has a nearly 20-year-old tradition of flying in a date for the Vienna Opera Ball. Each year he chooses a celebrity date to accompany him to the event.

Now after a night of waltzing you’d think that there was some sort of elegant food available to nibble on.  Available.  Yes.  Elegant.  No.  The traditional food to eat at a ball is “Sacher Würstel” or Goulash Soup. Doesn’t look pretty but it’s damn tasty.

Credits:  1   2  3  4  5  6

The Viennese Grocery Experience

Since arriving in Vienna exactly one year ago I have learned that simple every days tasks one does without thought can be entirely different in a foreign country.  Grocery shopping.  We all need groceries right?  Since driving a car is not necessary here I now happily own a shopping cart that I fill up 2-3 times a week (FYI fridges in Europe are teeny tiny… I’ll get to that later).  The wonderful thing about Austria is that the food is so fresh that the shelf life is often just a few days.  The not so wonderful thing is that you need to return to the grocery store many times a week to restock. Grocery shopping here is serious business.  People come with their lists in hand and waste no time.  The art of mastering grocery shopping is to navigate the narrow aisles, price your own fruits & veggies with the sometimes difficult to understand scale machine and know when to yell out “open another cash please” when the check out line is very long.  Once you are ready to check out you better have on your racing gloves & have your cash ready.  The person at the till gets paid by the number of people they check through so these super grocery clerks scan your products at warp speed.  They don’t care that Granny ahead of you is still putting her change in her purse and blocking up the little space you have to load your groceries.  The people behind you “eye” to make sure that you are not wasting their time too.  Total €17.59 and before I reach into my wallet to hand her a €20 note she has already anticipated my “move” by having the exact change ready.  To be unpredictable sometimes I wait until the cashier has her change in hand before I announce I’d like to pay “bankomat” (direct payment/interac).  I can’t help but chuckle at the annoyed look I get as she returns the cash to the till.  This at least buys me more time to put my groceries into my cart.

Oh and the Viennese are notorious to “butt in” line.  They seem to all own the “me first” concept (a 4-way stop sign would NEVER work here in Vienna) and feel that they are always rightfully next to check out.  If you lose focus, even for one second and for example smell the flowers located beside the conveyor belt… whoosh.. next thing you know they are dumping their groceries in-between yours and the person ahead of you.  Seriously.  At times like these I have learned to shed some of my “polite” Canadian traits and have fought back.  Don’t mess with me lady.  Get to the back of the line before I kick you in your schnitzel.

Happy New Year World!

It’s the 2nd day into 2012 and I have so far kept my New Years Resolution of creating a blog.  Tah dah….  I’m still trying to decide what exactly I will blog about.  Tasty Austrian cuisine?  Road trip adventures?  A Canadian trying to sprechen German?  I don’t know so bear with me as I go along and “find myself” so to say.  What I do know is that I love photography and prefer that to writing so expect lots of colourful images to describe my journey.

I shall begin my first blog with some photos of my first New Years experience in Vienna.

What better way to start of a new year that to indulge in a luxurious champagne dinner.  The InterContinental Hotel hosted a special New Years dinner complete with live music playing all the favourite classics.  A table near to us, visiting from Kazakhstan was well into the celebration when one of the guests sang a duet of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”.  He sang rather well and after a few songs (and a few more drinks) he returned and convinced the band leader to play “Knock Knock Knock on Heaven’s Door” and sang his heart out.  It was all in good fun and the rest of the guests enjoyed his enthusiasm.  That was our que to make our move to Stephansplatz to ring in the new year.

The atmosphere in the city centre was buzzing.  Tourists from all over the world (a reported 800,000) joined together in happy spirits with bottles of bubbly in their hands eager for the magical moment.

Others followed the Austrian tradition and waltzed to the beautiful music of Johann Strauss.

When St. Stephan’s legendary clock stroke 12:00 midnight celebratory “yeah hoo’s” followed by smooching loved ones was all around me.  Fireworks light the sky.  What a start to 2012!


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