Sunday, 11 January 2015

Ninh Binh Vietnam

Ninh Binh Province Is A Vietnamese Local Secret

Boats at Sunrise, Limestone Mountain Scenery, Tam Coc, Ninh Binh, South of Hanoi, North Vietnam
A dream vacation for me includes fantastic photographic opportunities, wonderful culinary and cultural experiences, as well as something to keep the children engaged. That will generally involve some form of water or beach activity. I was watching a cooking show the other night presented by a locally well-known Vietnamese chef and restaurant owner who came to Australia as a baby with his family as a boat person in the 1970's. Luke Nguyen present's Vietnamese cooking in a way which demystifies the techniques and makes it look delicious and simple. He sets up in the street, on boats and high up on rock walls. This particular episode blew me away with the stunning beauty of Ninh Binh Province and lodged it firmly in number one position of places I would love to spend a vacation.

Boats at Sunrise, Limestone Mountain Scenery, Tam Coc, Ninh Binh, South of Hanoi, North Vietnam
Christian Kober
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Ninh Binh - Why Does It Appeal To Me?

A Vacation In Vietnam

Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Vietnam is a holiday destination that has been slowly creeping up on me in terms of appealing to my travel curiosity. I have visited other South East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Bali (Indonesia) and India and what I love most about all of these countries is the colour and simplicity. It is often easy to become overwhelmed by the crowds and the noise, but then be immediately rewarded by open friendliness and helpfulness from someone who leads a very simple life.

My perception of Ninh Binh is of towering rock pinnacles surrounded by lush green rice fields. I can imagine gliding along the Ngo Dong river as I soak up the wonders of Tam Coc (“three caves”) being rowed in a small boat by one of the locals.

Image used under a Creative Commons licence from Wikipedia


Boating through the Tam Coc

A Tranquil and Peaceful Way To Spend An Afternoon

So Where Is Ninh Binh?

Northern Vietnam

Ninh Binh is both the name of a city in Vietnam and the province in which it is located in The Red River Delta of Northern Vietnam. The city itself has approximately 130,000 people. It is barely 100 kilometres from Hanoi and can be easily reached by bus. Apparently, a regular public bus travels between Ninh Binh and Hanoi almost hourly and takes around 2 1/2 hours. There are also tour buses which only cost about $4 USD and get there a little quicker.

Choose A Good Guide Book To Vietnam

Make The Most Of Your Visit To Vietnam

If I am going to undertake this journey I will definitely get a really good guide book. Internet resources are fantastic for travellers now but I still really like a good guide book that I can flip through, highlight, make notes in and bookmark with a real bookmark (or dog-ear!). I have usually leaned towards the Lonely Planet guides personally as I find the voice they are written in is really user-friendly but I have also used DK guides as well and find they are superior for the detailed illustrations of monuments. Other travellers have their own preferences and these are some of the more popular ones available.

Would I Do Anything Else In Vietnam?

If I am to make this trip I think I would like to allow myself a reasonable amount of time to see what else Vietnam has to offer, after all I may not get an opportunity to return. From what I have read so far and the small amount of research I have done I think a trip along the coast from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City would be an excellent trip offering a good mix of culture, history and food experiences combined with ready access to the sea for downtime and leisure activities. I would love to visit Hue and Nha Trang as well as Hoi An.

Vietnam seems to be the kind of destination where you can make up your itinerary as you go along which means if I want to stay longer in one place or move on from another I can do so easily.

For this dream vacation I will allow four weeks. So now it is time to find a flight!

When Should I Go?

Best Time Of Year To Visit Vietnam

Beach at Nha Trang, Vietnam
At first glance it looks like Vietnam is a pretty wet country but it seems that there is a chance of less rain over the winter months from November to April so that seems like the best time to go. Hopefully the further south we go the warmer it will get and there’ll still be a good chance of some swimming weather.

This image of Nha Trang beach is used under a Creative Commons licence from Wikimedia Commons

Organise A Vietnam Tour

Self discovery tours are great but they aren’t for everyone. If you would like to visit Vietnam on an organised tour visit these Vietnam Tours

Would You Like To Join Me On My Dream Vacation?

Do you have any other suggestions for things we could do?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Delicious And Easy Mushroom Recipes

Mushrooms Are Simple To Cook And Full Of Flavour

Delicious And Easy Mushroom Recipes
There's something magical about mushrooms. They pop up in stories of fantasy and images of fairies. They comprise a wide range of colours, shapes and sizes. When the leaves on the trees begin to change colour and the mornings take on a chill this signals the beginning of the mushroom picking season. In many countries there are mushroom inspectors who will sort through your basket of freshly collected wild mushrooms to ensure that all are safe for eating. Since I don't know a safe mushroom from a poisonous one, I am happy to buy mine and nowadays there is an amazing assortment to choose from. These recipes for mushrooms are delicious, quick and easy.

This is one of my own images

Great Savings On Wild Mushrooms Cookbook

The Nutritional Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are loaded with nutrients, in particular B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Riboflavin is known to maintain healthy red blood cells while niacin helps to keep skin healthy.

Mushroom Crostini

Possibly my very favourite way to enjoy mushrooms, lightly sauteed mushrooms on buttered toast makes a delicious snack. You can mix up a few different mushrooms and choose your favourite bread to serve them on. Add some garlic and parsley for colour and flavour.

Image used under a creative commons licence from noii

  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes


  • 60 mls olive oil
  • 200g Swiss Brown Mushrooms sliced
  • 100g Button Mushrooms sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp freshly chopped parsley thyme or herb of your choice


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat in a medium frypan. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until tender and lightly browned or to your liking. Stir in the fresh herbs and seasoning. Keep warm.
  2. Preheat a chargrill pan until hot. Drizzle a little olive oil over one side of bread and fry until crisp and golden on one side. Drizzle oil over second side and turn to cook. Rub garlic cloves over one side of bread. Serve topped with mushrooms and sprinkled with a little extra fresh herbs.

Cooking with Mushrooms: 60 delicious recipes for a classic ingredient, shown in 375 photographs

Cooking with Mushrooms

Not just a cookbook, this fabulous publication, loaded with photos is also a guide to the various uses of more than 30 varieties of both wild and cultivated mushrooms and includes drying and storage tips as well.

Buy Now



Pasta With Creamy Mushroom and Bacon Sauce

Click Through for a Step by Step Recipe

See a step by step guide to this delicious and easy mushroom meal

Pasta With Creamy Mushroom and Bacon Sauce

Three Quick Tips For Adding Mushrooms To A Meal

More Delicious Mushroom Ideas

  1. Throw some on a pizza
  2. Toss some in a salad
  3. Stir some through a stir-fry

Mushroom Tarts

Another Delicious and Easy Mushroom Recipe

These tarts are a simple variation on the mushrooms on toast above using puff pastry to create a simple tart case. Cut your case into any shape you wish such as the rectangles shown in the picture. You could also serve your tarts with a mixed lettuce garnish and topped with a poached egg.

Image used under a Creative Commons licence from B*2 

  • Serves: 6
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes


  • 3 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 40g butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves chopped fine or crushed
  • 300g mixed fresh mushrooms of your choice sliced if larger
  • 2 tablespoons marsala or sherry
  • 100ml stock or thick cream
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 100g each gruyere or cheddar and parmesan cheeses


  1. Preheat oven to 220˚ C
  2. Cut two circles from each pastry sheet (use a plate or saucer as a guide)
  3. Place the pastry circles on an oven tray lined with baking paper. You may need two trays depending on size.
  4. Prick the circles with a fork leaving a 2cm edge not pricked.
  5. Beat the egg yolk with a pinch of salt and a little water and brush the pricked area of the pastry circles. Don't brush the edges as you want them to puff up and brown to form the case.
  6. Bake in the centre of a hot oven for about 10-15 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden.
  7. Remove from the oven.
  8. Heat a heavy frying pan then add the butter and oil and saute the garlic, stirring for about 2 minutes.
  9. Add the mushrooms and cook over medium high heat, stirring until they release their juices.
  10. Add stock or cream and cook stirring to reduce until thickened.
  11. Season and stir in most of the parsley.
  12. When ready to serve, spoon the mushrooms into the centre of the pastry cases heaping them up in the middle.
  13. Scatter cheeses over the top and sprinkle with remaining parsley then pop under a hot grill briefly just to melt and lightly brown the cheese.

Ma & Pa Shiitake Mushroom Log Kit with Shiitake Sampler CookbookShiitake Mushroom Log Kit

If you love mushrooms why not grow your own at home. This kit includes everything you need to produce a harvest of shiitake mushrooms as weel as a recipe booklet to get you on your way with different ideas for how to serve them.


Mixed Mushroom Risotto

Creamy, hearty risotto is warming on a cold day and makes an economical meal. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken to keep it vegetarian.

Image used under a Creative Commons licence from Lori_NY

  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes


  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 25g butter
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 brown onion finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove finely chopped or crushed
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 400g mixed mushrooms of your choice sliced eg shiitake swiss brown button chanterelles
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves


  1. Bring stock and 2 1/2 cups cold water to the boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and keep at a simmer.
  2. Heat butter and 1 tbsp oil in a large, heavy based saucepan over medium heat; add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes or until onion is soft.
  3. Add rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add wine and cook until it evaporates.
  4. Reduce heat to low. Add 1 ladle full of stock and stir continuously until it is absorbed. Continue until all liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente (about 25 minutes).
  5. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently for about 4 minutes or until tender and lightly browned or to your liking.
  6. Add mushroom mixture to risotto with the last ladle of stock. Heat through, stir in the sour cream and most of the parsley.
  7. Season with pepper and sprinkle remaining parsley over top. Serve immediately.

The Pioppino Mushroom Garden Patch - Delicious and Easy Mushroom Recipes
The Pioppino Mushroom Garden Patch

This mushroom kit not only produces beautiful tasting mushrooms but is an intriguing centrepiece for a table as well. Use the mushrooms in recipes or infuse in oil. When finished the wood can be buried near old timber for a possibility of naturalising.





Mushroom and Egg Bakes

Recipe courtesy of
A Quick and Tasty Dish for a Breakfast or Light Meal

This light dish is great as a starter or a weekend breakfast
  • Serves: 4
  • Total Time: 25 minutes


  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 160g button mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 eggs lightly whisked
  • 1 tbsp light cream cheese
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley leaves to garnish
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 200 deg C.
  2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes or until tender.
  4. Spoon mushrooms evenly between four half cup oven-proof ramekins.
  5. Pour egg over mushrooms, place a dollop of cream cheese in the centre of each one and garnish with a few parsley leaves.
  6. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes or until egg is set.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Shop For Your Mushrooms

With This Cute Mushroom Bag

Jamie Oliver Cooks Steak with Wild Mushrooms

What's Your Favourite Way With Mushrooms?

If you have a delicious and easy mushroom recipe why not mention it here

Monday, 5 January 2015

Skiing The Sella Ronda

A Guided Tour of The Sella Ronda Ski Circuit

The Sella Ronda is a circuit of trails in The Dolomites region of South Tyrol which forms part of the border between Austria and Italy. Originally, not much more than muddy tracks which the locals used to travel between four valleys, it is now a well-known circuit of ski trails linked by lifts which ambitious skiers attempt to complete in a single day.

This is the picture postcard village of Colfosco in the Dolomites with the Sella massif as its backdrop. This beautiful image can be purchased as a poster from Allposters

Diary Extract

Day 1

“Sunday February 7, 1988. Venice.

We left reasonably early and hit the road to the Dolomiti. For much of the way it was raining and misty but even so as we got closer to the mountains the scenery became more and more spectacular. We stopped for lunch inside the car due to the rain and then continued on. As we travelled further north the villages became more and more Austrian in appearance with wide rooves and painted house fronts. We found the road that travels alongside the autobahn okay and travelled along it via Bolzen to the turn-off for Ortisei or St Ulrich. In this area not only are all the town names and shop signs in two languages but the street names as well. After the turn-off we had 13 kilometres of steep winding road until St Ulrich and the amount of snow on the ground was increasing but it still didn’t look promising. We arrived in St Ulrich and had just asked our way in a petrol station when a big Merc pulled in and blocked our way. We had found our relatives.”

The Sella Ronda Area

Val Gardena and the Sella Ronda are located in the North of Italy near the Austrian border within the region of The Alps known as The Dolomites. Use the navigation buttons to zoom out and locate the region within Italy, or zoom in to get a closer look at individual villages.

Arriving in Val Gardena

Rifugio Franz Kostner - Südtirol, Italy print
Rifugio Franz Kostner – Südtirol, Italy
by AdventureTravelArt

See more Vintage Skiing Posters

We were fortunate enough to be invited to stay as guests in a pensione in St Ulrich, which is also known as Ortisei, by relatives who were there on a ski holiday from Germany. We were the only guests in a picture postcard setting and were immediately welcomed like a family member by the hostel owners. The guesthouse was warm and bright and situated only a short drive from our skiing. We returned at the end of each day to lovely hot showers, home-cooked meals and snug beds. This is where we first encountered Tiramisu!

Click Here to see a great selection of Dolomites Accomodation

Accommodation in The Dolomites

Everything on Offer is Like a Picture Postcard;label=ortisei-tN2fjnwmXcOVV9tRmoKynQS8166502229%3Apl%3Ata%3Ap195%3Ap2%3Aac%3Aap1t1%3Anes;sid=1bd90ca65a31592157eed6393c905542;dcid=4;ucfs=1;srfid=8afa632966705d5a8c362edf737f16f5ba28ce33X1

This is just one of the delightful Dolomites Chalets available
as accommodation in the Dolomites area.

Diary Extract

Day 3

“Tuesday February 9, 1988. St Ulrich.

We awoke to blue sky and sun. The view from the pension is superb. Firstly we went in to town to buy a few things before heading for the snow. In town (and others that we went through later) there are snow sculptures and ice formations. Apparently this is an annual competition held in December and January. After judging the sculptures remain until the weather gets the better of them. We have never seen anything like them before. One was of figures on bicycles! We parked at the base of a gondola at a place called Wolkenstein. If yesterday’s scenery could in any way be improved on it was here today. At one point we traversed an area called Steinstadt (stone city) where the landscape was covered in weird mounds. In some places the tops of huge boulders showed through the snow. The enormous rocky peaks are always above and around as you ski. On some lifts as you ascend it seems impossible that there will be a way down, but on reaching the top all of a sudden there opens before you a beautiful run leading to another lift. For lunch we skiied down to a small hut perched on the edge of a saddle that dropped away into a beautiful valley with more spectacular sun-drenched mountains in the distance. We had “Spiegeleier and Speck mit Bratkartoffel” for lunch. The girls had hot Advokaat and milk to drink while the men downed Schnapps.”

Starting The Sella Ronda

Several Choices for Starting Points

Alta Badia Meadows print
Alta Badia Meadows by AdventureTravelArt
Find more small canvas prints at

You can join the Sella Ronda at one of the four villages in its path: Selva di Val Gardena, Corvara, Canazei, Arabba. You can choose to traverse it clockwise or counter-clockwise. The circuit is approximately 40 kilometres in total including lifts and trails and can be easily completed in a day provided the weather is fair, you are relatively fit and you ensure that you reach the last lift by 3:30pm.

We would be starting at Selva di Val Gardena, the closest village to our accommodation and had decided to take the anti-clockwise route for no particular reason. If time allowed, we could do the opposite run another day!

Essential Skiing Guide Books

Also Make a Great Keepsake Reminder

Along The Trail

Dolomiti mountains, the Alps print
Dolomiti mountains, the Alps by beautifulclicks
See other Dolomiti Posters

We awoke that morning to bright blue skies and warmer temperatures than the last few days. The air was still and crisp and we knew that today was the day we would ski the Sella Ronda.

We reached the first lift, Ciampinoi cable car, early and had only a short wait to get on. We had been told to start before 10:00am to give ourselves plenty of time to complete the circuit. It is estimated that the runs going counter-clockwise usually take around one and a half hours but we allowed ourselves longer. The lifts in total take around two hours.

We were unprepared for the simply breathtaking scenery we encountered while traversing the circuit. At times the feeling is literally of being on top of the world looking across a sea of white, broken by massive chunks of grey stone. As we descended the mountain this was replaced by alternating forest scenes and vistas above picturesque villages.

Useful Sites For More Information

Click Here to see the Val Gardena Ski Tracks map.

Click Here to see the complete Sella Ronda Diagram

Click Here to see more information on the two circuit options.

A Camera Is A Must For The Sella Ronda

The panoramas experienced on the Sella Ronda will take your breath away and the photo opportunities abound. You'll want to capture every detail.

Sustenance and Refreshments

Scattered across the mountain there is an abundance of bars, restaurants and cafes collectively known as “Rifugi” These range from simple rustic inns to top-notch restaurants but they all have one thing in common: good food. They are also a welcome break from the rigourous challenge of the circuit.

Check out the amazing Baite Saslonch Hütte overlooking the Ciampinoi alpine pasture.

Another interesting experience was encountering, out in the middle of the piste, a man selling shots of Williams, a pear schnapps, from a wooden fruit crate.

Protect Your Eyes From Extreme Conditions

From Blinding Glare Reflection to Bitter Cold Winds

It might be fine, clear and sunny down in the valley when you start out but conditions can change rapidly. Having a good pair of ski goggles with you will be the difference between endurance and misery if the weather turns ugly.


Where Is Your Favourite Winter Destination?

What is your most memorable winter vacation?

I would dearly love to return one day. Sadly, as I get older and my body starts to complain more it is looking less and less likely but the memory of this is experience is certainly one I will treasure.

One Month In Italy