February 29, 2016

Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Source: Vine

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal.
A murder…A tragic accident…Or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny, biting, and passionate; she remembers everything and forgives no one. Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare but she is paying a price for the illusion of perfection. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for a nanny. She comes with a mysterious past and a sadness beyond her years. These three women are at different crossroads, but they will all wind up in the same shocking place.

As with every Moriarty novel, Big Little Lies starts off with outwardly ordinary situations that somehow suck you right in and have you laughing and nodding your head instantly. Moriarty's skills in turning familiar domestic scenes into something fresh and inviting are impressive. Here it's the political minefield of kindergarten parents (think there aren't any? Think again!) It's like sitting down with a bunch of girlfriends for a cup of coffee. But Moriarty turns these familiar scenes on their heads. Not only does she let us inhabit characters that we would feel closest to, such as the harried mom fretting about turning 40, but also the outsiders and the goddesses, people in real life we would be in awe of or we would think we had nothing in common with.

Moriarty deftly mingles the silly, the hilarious, the mundane, and the very serious/intense scenes. You get the whole range of emotions in her novels. Nothing is ever trite or cliche – but true and heartwarming at the same time. She doesn't shy away from dealing with hard topics, which elevates her novels to the best of women's fiction. Just like her other novels, Big Little Lies is perfect as a book club choice.

As for the mystery aspect of 
Big Little Lies  Moriarty excels in form. You don't know who is going to die, only that there is a death, until the actual scene. I guessed early on who it was going to be, as it was the one person that was pretty much painted as a villainous figure (Moriarty didn't really flesh this person out too much) and whose demise would be very convenient.

February 26, 2016

Top 10 Temples in Angkor Wat

When I was planning my trip to Cambodia, primarily to see the temples of Angkor Wat, I only had two temples on my list: Angkor Wat itself and Ta Prohm, the two most famous ones. Angkor Wat Archeological Park is vast, with hundreds of temples, so it was at first overwhelming trying to narrow down which of those I would see in the four days I was in Siem Reap. Knowing that the weather was going to be in the mid-to-high 90s, I knew I should not attempt to see everything or even squeeze in as much as possible. I decided early on that I would go to the maximum of 3 temples a day, in the morning, when it was coolest, and take the afternoon off to do other fun and relaxing things, like exploring the town of Siem Reap, swimming in the hotel pool, or shopping for souvenirs, to avoid "temple burnout."
One of the first things I did to prepare for my trip was not only buy the Lonely Planet guide to Cambodia (which appeared to be the only guide book I saw in other tourists' hands) but also a book dedicated just to the Angkor Wat temples, Focusing on the Angkor Temples by Michel Petrotchenko. This guide book, which focuses on more than 80 temples, explains in detail the history of the temples, with full color photos and best of all, tips on when to see each temple and what not to miss. Further, the author had helpful maps which showed which temples were close together.  This helped me immensely in choosing which ones to pick and in what order.

 After a bit of research, I identified what characteristics attracted me the most. I wanted to include other temples that had the romantic, overgrown jungle features reminiscent of Ta Prohm and also preferred ones that were not as popular and more on the off-the-beaten path.  
Having decided which temples I wanted to visit, I then booked drivers via e-mail and told them my itinerary. For the days when I wanted to visit temples close together, I hired a tuk-tuk, which is a covered and open-air carriage attached to a motorcycle.  For temples which were further out, I hired a car, which is more expensive than a tuk-tuk but would get me to my destinations faster and in more comfort.

Whichever temples you decide to see, the best advice you can possibly heed, if nothing else, is to see them early in the morning. This strategy avoids two things: crowds and unbearable mid-day heat. Surprisingly, this wasn't a problem for me as I never fully adjusted to the time zone and was up in ungodly hours. By the time 5:30 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. rolled around for my driver to show up, I had already been awake for hours and was raring to go explore.  

My instincts about preferring temples half-unearthed from the jungle's embrace and those less visited by the tourist throngs were accurate. But there are some surprises on my top ten list - starting with my favorite one of all:

1. Bayon

If you had asked me prior to my trip which temple would be my favorite, without hesitation, I would have picked #2, Ta Prohm. However, Bayon utterly wowed me from the inside out. It is equally impressive when viewed from far away and up close. I was fascinated by the enigmatic smiling faces carved on its towers and the dancing apsaras on its columns.

2. Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm (featured in Lara Croft, Tomb Raider) comes to a very close second for its eerie giant trees that have pushed up among the stones and arches of this ruin. Every corner I turned, I would gasp in awe and delight. 

3. Preah Kahn

Preah Kahn is very much like Ta Prohm, without the crowds. While it is gaining in popularity, it is possible to wander among its jungle covered grounds in relative peace and quiet. And like Ta Prohm, because it has more trees surrounding it, Preach Kahn is also cooler in temperature.

4. Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei was one of those temples further out - about 1/2 hour by car. I got there right as it opened and was rewarded with very few other tourists. It is a small pinkish gem of a temple with the most intricate and beautiful carvings of all the temples I had seen. If perfectly preserved stunning carvings is your thing - then you must visit Banteay Srei.

5. Pre Rup

Pre Rup is one of my surprises. We were on our way to another temple when I spotted this from the road. My driver stopped on the way back and it was a quick little visit. Although it looks quite imposing and grand, Pre Rup doesn't take much time to explore. The main attraction for me was climbing up those steep steps and feeling like I was on top of the world once I reached the ascent.

6. Ta Som

In the vein of Ta Prohm and Preah Kahn, it should be obvious what drew me to Ta Som - another one of my temples deep in the embrace of the jungle around it. 

7. Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea was the furthest temple on my list, taking about an hour by car to reach - and it was worth it! My driver and I left Siem Reap at 6:30 and got there at 7:30 just when it opened and no other tourists were around. Called the "Indiana Jones Temple" - it was mostly in ruins with piles of stones amidst standing walls entwined with tree roots. A guard motioned for me to follow him, saying, "Lady," and proceeded to lead away from the prescribed route. Nimbly hopping over boulders and through dark passageways, he led me through what I suspect is an unauthorized "field trip." I certainly felt like Indiana Jones as I walked on the edge of a narrow precipice high above a pit, following my self-appointed guide.

8. Ta Nei

At some point during your "templing" itinerary - you will sicken of the crowds of Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm. Ta Nei is the antidote. Not really remote but it feels like it. I was alone for almost a half-hour, exploring its ruins and it felt like heaven.

9. Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was the biggest surprise for me, as I would have thought it would end up higher on my list, at least in the top 5. I'm not sure what made me sour on it. Maybe because I waited for hours for this sunrise - along with hundreds of other people - my stomach growling. Maybe because I was expecting something grander and more impressive once I finally got inside?  Aside from the spectacle of sunrise, my best reaction was one of, "Meh."

10. Banteay Samre and Banteay Kdei
Banteay Samre
Banteay Kdei
Banteay Samre and Banteay Kdei share the lowest spot on my list simply because I had to look at my photos to recall what they looked like - I had completely forgotten, just a mere couple of days after my visit. With confidence, I can say that if you are pressed for time, these two are skippable.

February 24, 2016

Cambodian Street Noodles

For about $1.50 you can get a plate of noodles made to order in one of Cambodia's many street carts or humble sit-down eateries. I had it often during my vacation there recently. Fresh, delicious and cheap - it made for a satisfying meal every time. The noodles were slightly saucy, with a hint of hot spice and topped with a glorious fried egg.  (Anything that involves a fried egg is sure to be a culinary hit with me.)

Of course when I returned home, it was the first dish I tried to recreate, trying to remember the techniques I observed from watching the street chefs expertly wield their sauces and ingredients like wizards with woks. What follows may not be the most accurate recipe but my interpretation of fond memories...



6 oz Chinese chow mein stir fry noodles
2 - 3 tbsp fish sauce
2 - 3 tbsp Golden Mountain soybean seasoning
1 - 2 tbsp Sriracha sauce
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 cup broccoli florets, blanched
1 cup spinach leaves
1 cup crimini mushrooms sliced thinly
1 large egg

1.  To blanch broccoli florets, place in a bowl of boiling hot water for five minutes then transfer to a bowl of ice cold water. Save the hot water for use later.
2. Place chow mein noodles in a bowl of boiling hot water for 3 minutes (until al dente) then drain and rinse with cold water.
2. Heat 2 tbsp of peanut oil in a wok (or a nonstick saucepan) with medium heat.
3. Saute the sliced mushrooms for 5 minutes.
4. Add the fish sauce, soybean seasoning and sriracha sauce in the wok and mix well together.  Throw in the noodles and cook until it absorbs most of the sauce.  Throw in some of the hot water (a tbsp at a time) if it gets too dry or starts sticking. 
5. Add the broccoli florets and saute for two minutes.
5. Add the spinach leaves and saute until just wilted then transfer everything onto a plate or bowl.
6. Without turning down the heat, crack open the egg and fry on both sides. The yolk is supposed to be cooked through per Cambodian style, not runny, so fry for at least five minutes.  Place the fried egg on top of the noodles and serve immediately!

February 22, 2016

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Source: Vine

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom—all because of a reckless bargain her father struck. And since birth, she has been training to kill him.
Betrayed by her family yet bound to obey, Nyx rails against her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, she abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, disarm him, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.
But Ignifex is not what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. But even if she can bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him?
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the BeastCruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
In Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge incorporates Greek mythology, specifically Persephone and Pandora, with the fairy tales of Beauty and the Beast and Bluebeard, and Celtic folklore, such as Tam Lin and Janet. I’m probably missing more allusions but it doesn’t matter – Hodge is obviously well-versed in the recurring patterns within fairy tales and myths and unites them in one overarching story – that of a girl/woman sacrificed to the some monstrosity to save others.

While there are familiar story strands in Cruel Beauty, there are also many elements which are unique enough to make this retelling very refreshing. Let me just say – thank you for not forcing this novel to end in a cliffhanger, thus stretching it out for a trilogy like so many other YA authors. For that alone, you should be lauded. Furthermore, another YA bane – the dreaded love triangle – gets a smart twist here. For once, it actually made sense to the plot.

The writing is masterful – just the right touch of young adult but Hodge doesn’t dumb it down. The worldbuilding is tremendous and unforgettable. There are layers and meaning to every character, every plot twist, every detail so that rereading will be even more revelatory.

Now for the characters – Nyx is as the title indicates – a dichotomy. She is not the classic Beauty character of goodness, kindness and forgiveness. Raised to be the sacrificial daughter, she is not at all a lamb, but a tigress, full of bitterness and hate. The Gentle Lord is a handsome Beast who appreciates Nyx’s fire and strength of character. Hodge keeps us guessing whether he will reveal his monstrous side or if there is more to his story than meets the eye.

Cruel Beauty is a clever, absorbing, and intelligent debut. I very much look forward to more from Rosamund Hodge.

February 19, 2016


Plaza de Espana
These wet, end-of-winter days have me reminiscing about my recent trip to romantic Seville. The days were sultry and full of gorgeous architecture, pitchers of sangria, and strolling slowly with parasols and fans. With horse drawn carriages and orange trees everywhere, Seville is the quintessential Spanish city of my imagination.
Plaza de Espana
Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana
Plaza de Espana
Plaza de Espana

February 17, 2016

Kir Royale

I first had a kir royale in Le Train Blue in Paris. I don't know if it was the stunning Belle Epoque interiors or the fact that I was in Paris … but ever since then it has become my favorite cocktail of all time. A kir royal is what I drink when I have something wonderful to celebrate, on my birthday, on other people's birthdays…  You can drink a plain kir with white wine, but kir royales are the way to go.  Sweet, bubbly, and as the name indicates, I feel just like royalty whenever I drink it. 

Kir Royale


Framboise (raspberry liquor)
fresh raspberries
champagne flutes

1. Place 3-4 raspberries at the bottom of the champagne flute.
2. Fill 1/3 of the flute with framboise.
3. Fill the rest with Champagne.

À votre santé!