Monthly Archives: December 2015



My first Christmas celebration in was a modest and quiet gathering in Barnsley, a small town in South Yorkshire – somewhere you would think of when listening to Adele’s Hello.

It was December 2009. I spent the holiday with a cousin of mine and her family. At the time, I was barely used to the cold of a northern winter. In the three months up to that point, I was always in thick layers of clothes wherever I go, including going to bed. Born and bred in tropical Vietnam, English winter was alien to me. The most challenging part though was the darkness. Winter days were so short, and when it got completely dark around 4 pm I always felt the urge to curl up in bed and think of a warmer home where my family and loved ones were. Loneliness caught up with me soon as the light was out.

So I took up my cousin’s invitation without a second thought and traveled down to Barnsley from Newcastle in the Xmas break of my master. On Christmas day, her husband, an English man, roasted a beef joint and lots of vegetables. It was my first ever roast dinner. I have had many of those since, some close to extravagance, but I never forget that first one. It’s just like how people make a big fuss about first love. You might move on, but you never forget.

Barnsley was however not the kind of big towns where shop windows were filled with beautiful decorations and mansions went over the top with lights. Bus service rarely operated over the holiday and taxi fares were simply too dear for us to take a trip to somewhere with more going on. It seemed hard to keep the morale up when the juicy taste of the roasted beef started to fade. The days got shorter, the wind felt colder and the gathering wasn’t as homely as one hoped for.

I remember all the Christmases that came after Barnsley. I was up and down everywhere from a quiet, snow-capped village in the Lake District of England to bustling Bangkok of tropical Thailand. Much has happened in the last six years. I am no longer in contact with my cousin or few other people with whom I have spent the sacred holiday. A hint of sadness came each time I was reminded of that fact. Life moves on, sometimes for the worse, though mostly for the better as one would hope.

I am to England for another Xmas. I still find its winter too cold, regardless of all the talks about how mild it is this year. I still struggle with how quickly it gets dark outside. But I am sure this is gonna be a good one.


Stop Wasting Food: Starting with Ingredients

Do you also hate wasting food? I find letting unused ingredients going off the worst because of the guilt. The sprouting potatoes or a bunch of soggy coriander that I threw away were the hard work of some farmers and could have made a meal for the children who went to bed hungry.

ingredients high risk

So I have researched different ways to stop wasting ingredients. Try them out if you like.

1. Find-recipes-by-ingredients apps

Sometimes ingredients go to waste because you don’t know how to use them. You have two avocados, half an iceberg lettuce and some chicken thighs: which dish can you magic up? When no decent idea comes to mind, you shove them into the far corner of the fridge and eventually forget about them until it’s too late.

Luckily, there are apps you can use. Those apps help to find recipes based on the ingredients that you already have. Some have advanced searches for prioritizing the ingredients, and some have filters for the type of food, such as Asian or European, breakfast or supper.

Most of them are, however, simple to use with both browser and mobile versions. They come in very handy when your stomach is empty and your fridge is full of random bits and pieces.

2. Stocking up

This might sound the opposite to what we are trying to achieve, but let’s not be hasty.

Some ingredients last longer because they are dried, such as herbs, nuts, rice, or spaghetti. Some ingredients can be kept for a long time in the freezer. Actually it is okay to freeze most ingredients but check these tips first. Pickled or canned vegetables can also last quite long.
Keep those ingredients around because they can fill up the missing links in a good recipe that uses your fresh ingredients.

Think about Wednesday evening when you are too tired to do a supermarket run after work, and your aubergine needs using.

dried ingredients

However, dried ingredients don’t last forever. Nuts can keep their taste for some time, but herbs do lose their flavour gradually. Do a cupboard check every month to see if you need to use certain spices sooner or even replace them. Frozen food can last for months, but it is best to keep a labeling system for the regular check.

The thumb rule: dried or frozen food is the backup plan, not the main source of nutrition. Go for fresh ingredients whenever you can.

3. Buy herb pots

I used to throw away herbs more often than not. Recipes often ask for a handful as a garnish while supermarkets sell them in packs of a few handfuls. Besides, herbs are fragile: they go off more quickly than cucumber or tomato, for example.

You can, however, buy herbs in pots. With a sunny windowsill, you can keep the plants alive for at least a week. Freshly picked leaves also taste nicer.

The herb pots that you find in supermarkets are often densely planted to give the most leaves in the smallest areas. Thus, they often don’t last every long. But you can move all plants into a bigger container or thinning out the original pot carefully. Then, you can keep, for example, a pot of basil plants going for a couple of months.

4. Master stir-fry rice

It is possible to make a good stir-fry rice from random ingredients once you master the principle. For me, it is the dish for clearing out the fridge. Some people do stews while others make noodles.

Whichever you choose, learn to master it. Experiment with different types of ingredients.

For example, when I do a stir-fry rice, I want something sweet and hardy (carrots, peas or sweet potatoes), something sour and crunchy (pickled cabbages or gherkins), and something spicy (red chillies or jalapenos). Any combination of the three main factors with an egg on top would do.

5. Make weekly food plans

This is the most pro-active “strategy” which I got from using an ingredient delivery service.

The company send you ingredients enough for three meals for two people every week together with recipes. There are also other options for the number of meals and people.

The interesting thing is that they often choose meals that share a couple of ingredients so they can send, for example, a whole pack of chives instead of 5 sprigs of chives. Thus, no awkward ingredients are left unused.

On a personal level, you and I can do the same thing. Plan the week food in advance so we can buy a big pack of certain ingredients and use them all within the week.