Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oppss.. sorry!



I read a couple of my old posts today... and was quite horrified by my own English in one of them.

You see, being quite impatient.. I tend to type out what I think or feel in a rather hasty manner. Then, I'd hurriedly load a couple of photos and quickly publish my post WITHOUT even reading it through.

I do sometimes read my own post before publishing.. but I have to admit.. I don't do that a lot...

And so, if you come across posts that are really badly written and have been irked by the English...

Oh dear.. I'm so sorry... I'd be more careful in future.

20 Minutes Pizza

Lunch for one needs to be quick and simple.

For me, at least.

Since I'm eating alone, I see no point in making a big fuss over lunch.. but there are days when I want something a little nicer.

This pizza is really simple.. and easy to make. It only took me about 20mins to make, including all the washing, slicing, assembly of ingredients and baking! (Although I did switch the oven on earlier to preheat it up.)


The 20 minutes pizza

And no.. I didn't use a ready-made pizza dough. (The scrooge in me cannot understand the prices those go for at the supermarket. When I really want a real pizza dough, I'd make one myself. See recipe here.)

I used a thin soft bread from Ikea to make these. This bread is really handy. I find myself getting a packet each time I go Ikea. They come frozen, so you can take your time to use them up. You can use them for sandwiches, as a wrap.. and as a pizza.

I made this pizza today with baby spinach, baby portebello mushrooms (finely sliced), some fresh cherry tomatos, bottled pasta sauce and lots of mozarella.

10 minutes for washing, slicing and arranging. 10 minutes in the oven at 190 - 200 deg C. It'd be good to pop the soft bread into the oven for about 5 mins before arranging all the ingredients on it.. to make the base of this pizza crispier.


Pizza before baking - the base looks very much like a normal pizza base..

Friday, October 30, 2009

One of them is Pink

My hibiscus seedling has finally flowered! I was really pleasantly surprised to see this bloom this morning.



I germinated a couple of pink hibiscus seeds and a couple of white hibiscus seeds some time ago. And I mixed them up during the process. Only 2 of the 4 seeds germinated, so I have been waiting to see what colours they would turn out to be.

So now I know.. one of them is pink. And such a nice bright pink. The other seedling hasn't flowered yet so I'd have to be patient.

I like the names of this species of hibiscus.

It is called "Dinner-plate Hibiscus" due to the size of its blooms. The flowers can measure anything between 6 to 12 inches in width, the size of dinner plates and hence the name.

The one I have measures 6 inches wide.. but it is only a short plant, because I have been not transferred it to a larger pot. Standing at less than 18 inches tall, the flower is one third of the plant's height.

Another name for this hibiscus, I found out today, is Hardy Hibiscus. That must be the reason why it has survived attacks from the red spider mites and all kinds of neglect from its owner.

This seedling is very "productive". It has another bud waiting to flower soon..


Thursday, October 29, 2009

My first tiramisu

Most of the time, I don't really like to make "troublesome cakes".

And by "troublesome", I mean cakes that require either:
1. Complex ingredients
2. Different stages of preparations

Most of the time, I like to bake simple stuff.. with whatever I have in the larder and the fridge.

And so, i have never made a tiramisu before.

Tiramisu falls into the "troublesome" category because it requires ingredients I don't usually stock - mascarpone cheese, kahlua and whipping cream.

But today, I wanted to do something different. Something different from my usual routine.

And besides, I have been wanting to try making my own mascarpone.. and before I try that.. I've got to learn what I can do with it, don't I?

So I made my first tiramisu today..

And here is how it turned out.



Oh... it looks ugly but you know that the saying "don't judge a book by its cover" is so true... Because this is a really yummy tiramisu. Yes, I'm such an insufferable brag.. but it is really quite delish!

All thanks to the Happy Home Baker for her wonderful recipe, which I adapted a little. (See how nice her cake turned out? I've got to try making it like that next time!)

I pretty much used her recipe except that I used 200ml of whipped cream (that's the size a small packet comes in...) and Kahlua instead of Marsala... (and about 2 to 3 times more alcohol than she specified).

This tiramisu is very light and in spite of all that alcohol I didn't think it tasted too strong.. in fact, I think I should be more liberal with the Kahlua next time..

It's wonderful how baking a nice cake can make your day sometimes.

A new pet..?

They say that a dog is Man's best friend. And I've found myself repeatedly tempted recently to get a "best friend" for myself as well.

Temptation #1: One of my neighbours have 2 beautiful big dogs. I enjoy seeing her with her dogs - they are like her companions.

She talks to them like she would to a friend or family member. "Rascal, I'm going off.. Are you coming?.." And sometimes she talks as if she is talking to a child. "Rusty, you are so slow! Hurry up!"

Temptation #2: Another fellow blogger has a new dog she is training to adjust to her home.. just as she is adjusting to having him around.

Her blogs about her dog... were just so heartwarming,,

Temptation #3: Oakley.

The last time I met Oakley, she was just a baby. She was rather small (so far as a Husky can be called small), had dark circles around her eyes.. and was still quite spotted.

Yesterday, the Oakley I saw is a now big girl. She looked quite awesome when she is standing still. But then as she as she moves around, you know that she is still quite puppy-like in nature. She loves to play.. likes to get her treats.. dig up stuff in the garden... chew on the gotu kola by the main gate.. and hang around her mistress.

And her mistress obviously loves her very much - with her facebook jam-full of Oakley pictures.. taking leave to celebrate Oakley's birthday.. baking cookies only for Oakley (when she hardly even cook for herself.. much less to say bake).

There's just something special between these dogs and their mistresses.


Co-orperative Oakley posing for me.. and her "supply of gotu kola"

But I know that I have to resist these temptations..

For one, if I get a new dog.. my new dog will be pitiful.. because I'd want a BIG dog. And he'd be a BIG dog with little room to play.

And besides, I have said before, albeit at a tender age of 14, that I wouldn't get another dog when Max (my old dog) died in a car accident.

So maybe I should only get a dog if I ever move to a bigger place... then I'd have to teach him to watch for cars and cross the road properly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Easy Corn Soup

Yet another easy soup.

One of my friends hates corn so I try not to make this soup when she comes over for dinner.

But this is a really easy soup and I enjoyed making it as much as drinking/ eating it (It's quite thick, drinking doesn't sound right). It is easy to make, little cleaning up required and makes for a good comfort meal.

Ingredients
Serves 4 - 6, as a side
2 cans of sweet corn (or kernels from 2 fresh sweet corn)
Some finely chopped onions
1 can of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
Some olive oil
Some plain flour
Freshly grounded pepper and salt, to taste

What I did
1. Pulse 1 can of corn in a food processor/ blender. (I used canned corn, of course)
2. Leave the other can as it is so that you get nice bites of whole kernels
3. In a heated pot, add some olive oil and choped onions
4. When onions are nice and soft, add all the corn in
5. Add a tablespoon or so of plain flour and mix everything together well until they look like very thick oats - the kind my mum served while we were very little. Was it Nestle? Or Nestum.. can't remember..
6. Pour in the chicken stock
7. Simmer for about 15 mins. Add milk or cream if you like your soup creamy and thick. If you do this, just make sure you add a little less stock.
8. Season with salt and lots of freshly grounded pepper.


A very thick soup that is really too simple to make..

Good Investment Advice

I received a piece of good investment advice yesterday.

It came from a wise young friend.

I have been frustrated and discouraged over finding a location for my shop.

Many people have told me to take my time.

"You are in no hurry."

"It's important to take time..."

"These things are like that."

But still, I felt frustrated and a bit helpless.. and sometimes, I wonder if I'm just wasting my time. And I can't help but think that maybe.. I should go back to work and be busy like everyone else around me.

This friend gave me a new perspective - All that time I have on my hands can be invested into doing other things..

"Invest your time with God. Spend more time reading the Bible and praying.. Investment in God will pay off more than any other thing you invest in."


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Using Curry Leaves

My curry leaf plant is from one of my aunts.

I have many aunts... My mother has 4 sisters and my father has 5. But I'm closer to my mum's sisters than dad's.

This aunt has not even been to my house yet. But she heard from my mum (her sister) that I grow some herbs in my balcony. So she sent a small pot of curry leaf plant through my mum over to me. Aww... So sweet of her, right?

Here's my little curry leaf plant.



I have her for about 3 months now.. and one thing I've found - she is definitely a lot less fussy than my Mediterranean herbs!

Shortly after she came over, she attracted some white flies.. An organic spray soon solved that problem and since then, she has been a good little girl, sitting quietly in one corner of my balcony. No complains about the occasional irregular watering.. no complains about the sorching sun.. she doesn't mind the occasional thunderstorm that sends raindrops pelting in..

Because of my open kitchen, I don't really cook curry at home often.. and so.. for the longest time, I didn't use her leaves... Just pluck pluck pluck and throw her leaves away..

Such a waste, I thought.

So I searched the internet for a suitable recipe and found this - Spicy Lemongrass and Curry Leaf Tiger Prawns. I tried a slightly altered version last week and it turned out quite good.

I am also thinking about another way to use my curry leaves - with baked fries.

We quite like to bake fries at home since our "open kitchen concept" does not allow for deep frying... It's so easy and require little cleaning up.. Just bake frozen fries with a dash of olive oil and lemon juice, then season with freshly ground pepper and salt as required when done.

Recently, we went to Everything with Fries recently and I tried their curry fries, which has curry power and curry leaves in them.. Oh.. they were so fragrant! So I think I'm going to use those 2 on my baked fries instead of lemon juice next time.

I'd post pictures of the Curry Baked Fries once I try making them..

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dolsot Bibimbap

Dolsot = Stone pot.

Bibimbap = Mixed meal.

Therefore, Dolsot Bibimbap = A mixed meal in a stone pot. Usually, it is rice mixed with meat and vegetables in a sizzling hot stonepot.

Though my craving for Korean food is over, I still have lots of kimchi in the fridge.

So I decided to make yet another Korean dinner last night. It was also a good opportunity to use my Korean hotpot for the very first time..

Ingredients
Sliced pieces of beef, seasoned with Korean or Japanese BBQ sauce
Some Kimchi
Cabbage, sliced and blanched
Carrots, finely sliced and blanched
Mushrooms, finely sliced and blanched
Crab stick, sliced
Korean Hot Pepper Paste
Cooked White Rice (I used Japanese rice)
1 large egg
Some green spring onions
Some toasted sesame seeds

What I did
1. Heat up the stone pot
2. Add some sesame oil when pot is hot
3. Put the beef slices in, cook until desired doneness
4. Remove beef
5. Put white rice into stone pot and arrange vegetables and crab stick (basically anything you like) on top
6. Top with beef, crack an egg over it and sprinkle sesame seeds over
7. Put some hot pepper paste at one side
8. Turn off fire
9. Mix everything together before eating

Here's how it turned out:



I've never made Dolsot Bibimbap before. It tasted quite good - it makes a comfort meal when one is in a lousy mood because of the piping hot rice and all that mixing required.

I need to do two things to make it even better next time:
1. Heat the stone pot for a longer time, over a stronger flame so it gets really sizzling hot.
2. Cook the rice a little drier as the juices from all the vegetables will make the dish quite wet already. Using "wetter" rice (as I thought would be good since the pot might dry the rice up) makes the dish a little too sticky after mixing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Food in a good storybook

I always fancy a story book that has good food.

The picnics that Mother made for Jo, Fanny and Bessie (of The Magic Faraway Tree) always sounded delicious - sandwiches, cake and milk in a basket. As were the food in the lands that they visited - pop biscuits (the ones that go pop and you find your mouth full of honey).. soup from a tap (in the Land of Goodies).. mouth-watering Google Buns.. - they all sounded so yummy!

And who can deny that some of the major highlights of Malory Towers (and St Clares) were the midnight feasts they had, term after term - tongue sandwiches with lettuce, hard-boiled eggs to eat with bread-and-butter, great chunks of new-made cream cheese, gingerbread cakes and jam sandwiches.

And I remembered how I used to read the Famous Five books (no Secret Seven for me - there were just too many of them to remember...) wishing I could go on those cycling trips they had. Not for the views of the Cornish sea or country side, but the iced-cold lemonade they seem to find in small village stores and the lashings of ginger beer they used to drink. And I always wished I could visit the places where they stayed at during their holidays. They often seem to have the nicest food! Freshly baked bread with homemade jam, crispy bacon and fried eggs, slices of ham and tomatoes, whole fruit cake, stews with carrots, onions and peas... the food seem to be delicious in every adventure that they had!

Anne of Green Gables, one of my favourite book series growing up, also had its share of nice food - with crab apple preserves, plum puddings, ginger snaps and of course, the infamous "raspberry cordial" that Diana got drunk on.

Even the food in Harry Potter is nice, albeit a little too pumpkin-ish for me at times. I mean.. I can understand pumpkin soup.. but pumpkin juice?

The reason for this nostalgic post is that I learnt about this new book recently - Cherry Cake and Ginger beer, by Jane Brocket. It is a book with recipes of foods from books we read when we were young.

This is how it is described in Amazon:
"A wonderfully nostalgic cookery book, it will take you straight back to your favourite children's books and show you how to cook the feel-good foods that feature so strongly in them. So, you'll find recipes for Swallows and Amazons Squashed-Fly Biscuits, the Famous Five's Gorgeous Ginger Beer, and Gloriously Sticky Marmalade Roll from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe amongst others. Divided into appropriate sections like Proper Elevenses, Picnic Treats and Lessons in the Kitchen each recipe is introduced with an evocative description of the book that inspired it. Guaranteed to take you straight back to your childhood, the book is an escapist treat for grown-ups and will encourage you to re-visit much-loved classics and share them with the next generation. "



This book is on my wishlist now. It is unfortunately, out of stock because a friend of mine has gone and purchased 4 of it (all they had) from Amazon..

I need to go find something delicious to munch on now...

Monday, October 19, 2009

How to stop cravings

I have been craving for Korean food.

Last Friday's trip to Seoul Yummy at Square 2 didn't quite satisfy my cravings. The food wasn't bad, but it was a far cry from the few Korean restaurants I frequent in Beijing.

One of the best ways for me to stop a certain craving is if I cook the food myself. It really works. And not because I make such a good meal that I get all contented. It's just that all that work and effort will make me appreciate the dish that I'm craving for a lot more and in a strange way, stop the craving.

Hm.. I guess another way to look at it is that I usually do such a bad job my cravings stop.

So anyway, I passed by a Korean supermarket today and decided to buy some fresh kimchi and ingredients for a Korean dinner.

And so dinner today was a Korean Seafood Pancake with dipping sauce, Cold Tofu with chilli sauce, Ginseng Chicken and Kimchi, of course.



It did the trick - no more cravings.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Standard drop

Standard Drop leh - That's a very "Singaporean" expression.

For a restaurant, it means that the overall quality of the food or service has declined.

And very sadly, this is exactly what I thought of one of my favourite crab place in town, Mellben Seafood, when we visited it today for dinner.

I used to bring all my friends or relatives visiting Singapore to this place.. and I'd always be raving about how good the food is at this place, especially the Crabs with Bee Hoon and Soup.

We ordered all my favourite dishes today and I am really sorry to say that apart from the Thai-styled Chicken, the other dishes no longer taste as good as they used to taste back when the store was located at Serangoon Central. Oh, they don't taste bad.. just not as good as they used to be. And.. I think the prices have gone up by... at least 30%?

It's really sad. Now, I have to look for a new restaurant to bring friends/ relatives to when they drop by Singapore.


Some of the dishes we had today. Is hard to take good pictures with oily fingers..

Mellben Seafood
Address: Blk 232 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 #01-1222
Tel: +65 6285 6762

New Toys in the Kitchen

I've always baked a little now and then but we are both recently quite into baking due to the baking course we took. (The Husband a lot more than I, since he usually does things with a lot more gusto anyway.)

And so.. we (or rather he..) have been buying lots of baking related stuff - new books.. The Mixer.. more new books.. cake pans and tins.. more new books.. and yesterday, these arrived with some more new books from Amazon.com.



This Silpat thingy - is really quite interesting. Although the price did make me raise my eyebrows a little (At US$16, you can understand why...) It's supposed to be a non-stick baking sheet - that can be reused for almost forever. It needs no oiling and is easy to wash.

This other thing we got is a grater.. and we bought it because it is a good zester. Meaning it takes off the zest of a lemon (or orange or lime or anything citrus and the zest is good for flavouring food) without taking the pith (as in the white, bitter part of the skin). It's really quite a clever little piece of kitchenware.

I'm beginning to feel that our kitchen cabinet is getting more and more "Martha Stewart" or "Nigella Lawson".

All we need to do now is bake more often.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Quick Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup is one of the quicker soups to make.

I used 2 different types of mushrooms this time around in my soup. I would prefer to add a few more different types if I'm making it for more people. 2 boxes of mushrooms is more than enough for 2.


2 types of mushroom - Chinese shitake and Swiss Brown Mushrooms

Ingredients
A bowlful of mixed mushrooms
Vegetable stock or chicken stock
Milk or cream
Some plain flour
A mixture of fresh herbs (dill, oregano, parsley or thyme)
Freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

What I did
1. Finely slice some of the mushrooms
2. Put the rest into a food processor and pulse til coarsely chopped
3. Put some olive oil into a pot and throw all the mushrooms in
4. When the mushrooms start to smell really good, pour in some flour and stir well
5. Pour in stock and milk or cream. If you like the soup to be thicker, add more more milk or even better, cream if you like your soup think. I like my soup a bit more "watery" than "creamy" so I add more stock than milk.
6. Leave over a small fire for about 15 mins
7. Season with herbs, freshly grounded black pepper and salt

We had our mushroom soup with some Chilli Bagel Chips..
Personally, I find it is nice and crispy to go with a soup like this..
but just a tad too spicy..

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Freshly baked bread

Freshly baked bread has an allure that makes it hard to resist.

Now that we have The Mixer, it is much easier to make fresh bread at home.

Here are some The Husband made over the weekend. (They looked good right..? They tasted pretty good too!)



I should.. and will try to bake bread more often...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Homemade Special Pesto Sauce

My basils are growing a bit too tall.. and one of them is starting to sprout flower buds..

Even though I know the flower buds are edible, I don't want my basils to flower because once they do, the leaves will lose a bit of their flavour.

So it's time to prune my basil plants.

And I couldn't think of what better to do with them then make pesto sauce.

I'm calling my pesto sauce a "Homemade Special Pesto Sauce" because:
1. Obviously, it's homemade.. it's even home-grown actually.. supplemented with some store-bought sweet basils.. (My sweet basils are doing very miserably)
2. It's special because I'm using a few types of basil leaves - sweet basils, thai basils and cinnamon basils..

Ingredients Used
A bundle of fresh mixed basils
Very little garlic
A handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
Extra-virgin olive oil
Some lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

What I did
1. Throw the basils into food processor, pulse
2. Throw the garlic and pinenuts in, pulse
3. Pour in the oil, lemon juice and pulse
4. Add in more oil, if needed. Season with pepper and salt
 
I should add in some freshly grated Parmesan cheese actually but because I wanted to freeze my pesto, I didn't.

If you are using it fresh, add in the cheese before you pour in the oil as the oil helps blend everything together.


A bowlful of fresh basil leaves... gives less than 1 jam jar of pesto sauce..

This jar is going into the freezer. I'm going to use it for a pizza next week.

A new tree for Balcony No. 3



I've been thinking about what plants to get for Balcony No. 3.

I want a tree and some bigger plants.. no herbs for this balcony.. just plants with flowers and with a bit of shade..

Balcony No. 3 is one of our 2 "bigger" balconies. It's not really that big.. but definitely bigger than Balcony No. 1.

Right now, we only have a set of outdoor table and chairs and a large deck umbrella in this balcony... and I feel that it is rather bare.. "Bare" as in... it can do with some plants.

I've been meaning to buy some plants for this balcony for the longest time now.. but have been hesitating because I'm not sure what plants to get.. And so.. I haven't done a thing for this balcony "garden-wise".

And so when The Husband said last week we should go get some new, big plants.. I was really excited.

I definitely know what I don't want for this balcony:
1. I don't want something so busy and thick that it blocks my view from this balcony
2. I don't want plants that shed too much leaves too frequently.. (just imagine the amount of sweeping I have to do!)
3. I don't want something too delicate because it will get lots of hot sun and strong winds
4. I don't want something too fussy and hard to take care of because there'd be days I don't want to step out into the hot sun to take care of it.

Now that I know what I don't want... and armed with the suggestions kind folks at the GCS forum have given me.. (Frangipani.. palms.. heliconia... They all sound great!) It's time to go shopping!

I just have to mix and match properly to make it work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New IT word



Boomz.. is the latest "IT" word in town.

At the expense of a 19 year-old girl, who made some mistakes in the past and speak poor English. But because she also happens to be a beauty queen, people find it a lot harder to forgive her faults than any other normal 19 year-old.

Don't misunderstand.. I'm no saint.. I laughed a lot when I saw the you-tube interview of the interview I saw on you-tube, at "zebra prings" and "boomz" and all..

And I do think that the advertisement for Singapore idol, where the judges went "bo-bo-boomz" is really quite comical .

But I'm also laughing because actually, she's just being quite.. Singaporean. I don't mean to ridicule or put-down Singaporeans, since I'm one myself.. but it's true that we don't always speak the best English... and sometimes, we end up being sounding quite hilarious..

But I'm rather proud to be a Singaporean and think that even though our English is not perfect, most of us are quite effectively billingual.. and that really helps at work or when we travel.

An Italian friend showed me this humourous clip about how Italians are so different from the rest of the Europeans.. This clip is so funny.. (and so cute) and the thing is.. he didn't mind it at all..and was quite proud about it even.

Here's the link: http://www.lifeinitaly.com/flash/default.asp

(You HAVE TO click here and go watch it.. and you HAVE TO turn on the volume as you watch because the music is brilliant. And if the above page doesn't load up properly for you, try this you-tube link instead.. )

I think it is good for us to embrace ourselves for what we are and just have a laugh at ourselves sometimes..

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tea at TWG

I went for tea again today.

When I said I was "so going to high-tea more frequently"... I didn't mean quite so frequently. But this appointment was fixed up before Saturday..

But oh.. I didn't regret going at all. In fact, I really enjoyed my tea today - the tea, food and company.

The tea was good - We tried the "Timeless tea" (a fruity red tea) and "Sakura Geisha Blossoms tea" (a peachy green tea). Both were very good.

The food was also good and I especially liked the fact that it came in a traditional 3 tiered afternoon set.


There were so many choices for tea, it was hard to decide.
I liked the scale they use to weigh the tea for you if you buy them.


Tea was good. The scones were fresh and the marmalade
that came with tasted very much like a nice fruit jelly

Even though this tea salon is right smack in the middle of Ion Shopping Mall, it was pretty cozy and quiet.

It's a nice place in town to have tea and catch up with a friend or two.

TWG Tea Salon & Boutique
Address: ION Shopping Mall, 2 Orchard Turn, #02 - 21
Tel: +65 6735 1837

Easy Onion Soup

I like making onion soup when:
1. I have too many onions at home and I want to use them up before they go bad, or
2. I want to make a soup that I don't need to fuss over too much

This onion soup recipe is so simple and easy-to-make that it is hard to go wrong, even for me. And it really taste quite good too! (At least to me it does.)

Ingredients
Some large yellow onions, finely sliced
Some red onions, finely sliced
Butter and olive oil
Plain flour
Chicken stock (or beef stock)
Some fresh herbs (thyme, oregano or sage)
Freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste

What I did
1. Put some butter and olive oil into a pot (do not use a non-stick pot as you want the onions to stick to the bottom and sides and brown..) over a small flame
2. Put all the onions into the pot
3. Wait... until all the onions are soften and the ones at the bottom and sides stick to the pot and browns nicely
4. Pour in some flour and mix well
5. Pour in the stock and stir well, scrapping the sides and bottom of the pot as you stir
6. Season with fresh herbs and freshly ground pepper
7. Leave the soup to simmer over a small flame
8. Season with more pepper and some salt.
9. Serve hot, with some freshly toast bread (preferably something crusty, like sliced french loaf) on top.

It will taste even better if you place some bread and cheese on top of the soup, and then toast them very quickly in a hot oven so that the cheese melts and browns slightly.

I'm usually too lazy to be bothered, since this soup taste quite good even without the melted cheese.



Saturday, October 10, 2009

A bed of roses



Life may not be a bed of roses all the time but there are certainly days when you should live like it is.

And today is such a day for me.

I woke up late... had a nice breakfast at one of my favourite hawker centre.. finished off a nice book... and then had went for a nice and long high-tea with a few girlfriends.

I had wanted to go to the Rose Veranda at Shangri-La Hotel for high tea for the longest time now. I think I wanted to go since August.. but for one reason or the other, we weren't able to go together until today.

The food spread is fine, nothing to write home about.. although I did think that the desserts were quite good, especially the lemongrass and chocolate mousse dessert and the blackforest cake with alcohol.

But the best part of the afternoon tea was.. the tea. They offer a glorious range of 102 tea blends, with beautiful names such as Morning Star, Equilibrium and Magic Rose.

I tried 3 teas today - The Morning Star, Sweet Kiss and Sweet Honeybush. Sweet Kiss was the best - very pink and fruity, with a natural sweet taste. The Sweet Honeybush is not that bad too, although I felt it smelled better than it tasted.

This is an excellent place to go for a girly catch-up because the view outside the windows is nice and green.. there are beautiful bunches of fresh roses all around.. and all the crockery has matching beautiful pink rose buds and roses (that is if they don't serve you with the other hideous looking teapot set)... even the napkin has a sweet pink rose bud on it.



My verdict after today's tea?

I'm so going to have high-tea more frequently from now on. :)

Rose Veranda
Address: 22 Orange Grove Road, Mezzanine Level Shangri-la Hotel
Tel: +65-6213 4486

Friday, October 9, 2009

Super Chocolatey Cake

I like chocolate cake.

Actually, I like all kinds of cake. If you ask me what cake I'd like for my birthday.. I'd have a hard time deciding.. cheesecake, strawberry cake, durian cake, mango cake... most of these I'd love. But you'd never go wrong if you get me a chocolate cake.

A piece of nice, warm chocolate cake can soothe any bad days.

I've tried a few chocolate cake recipes now.. and so far, most of them contain too little chocolate.. although they do taste quite chocolatey enough.

This recipe that I have is from a cell group friend. It contains loads and loads of chocolate.. I've tweaked the original recipe a little to make it less sweet..

Ingredients used
113g cake flour
45g cocoa powder
1/3 tsp bicarbonate soda
little tiny bit of salt
113g chocolate
2.5 eggs
156g caster sugar
113g unsalted butter
156g milk

This recipe contains loads of chocolate.. and is also very simple to make.

My only problem with this cake is that whilst it is REALLY very chocolatey, kind of like biting into a nice piece of chocolate bar, it is also QUITE crumply. And I don't like crumply cakes..

I'd making this cake a little differently next time, creaming the butter and sugar, then pouring in melted chocolate and eggs, instead of melting the chocolate with butter and mixing all the ingredients together. I'd also adjust the proportion of the ingredients a little (applying what I learnt in the cake making course).

Hopefully, that will make the cake less crumply..

I'd post the revised recipe again once I get it right...


A very intense chocolate cake

A nice Korean Restaurant in BJ

I know.. I know my phototaking skills suck... and on certain days, especially when I have a raveneous appetite, my photos turn out worse than usual.

But I still insist on blogging about this Korean Restaurant that I like a lot in Beijing.

It's not the fancy type of Korean restaurants with dim lighting, great red-wine, private rooms and excellent service... where you can host friends visiting from other cities or go on a nice date with someone special. (Not that I don't like those type of Korean restaurants.. but they are not somewhere you'd often go..)

But no, 麻浦烧烤, or Ma-pu as I would usually call it, is a very down-to-earth, bright lights and busy kitchen type of Korean BBQ restaurant where you know they serve good, hearty meals at reasonable prices from the number of Korean customers they have there during dinner time.

They serve very good seasoned beef and pork, a reasonably refreshing Korean cold noodles, excellent soups.. and most of all... very good rice in a sizzling hot stone-pot.

The rice is white rice, mixed with purple rice and a little bit of mixed beans. They usually need at least 15 - 25 minutes to serve it.. but it's always worth the wait.

I brought an ex-client-turned-friend who recently moved to Beijing to this restaurant this time around.

The seasoned beef is very good.. The seasoned pork even better
(From someone who doesn't take pork, that's saying a lot)

The many side dishes and purple rice in a hot stone-pot.
They'd pour some tea into the hotpot after the rice is taken out.. you get porridge!
麻浦烧烤
Address: 朝阳区新源里14号
Tel: 010-64620316

Now, I just need to find a similar place in Singapore...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Love of Money



I must admit.. I always think that I am not a Money person.

And by that I mean.. on my list of important things.. I always think money rank quite low.

For one, I never quite knew how much (or how little, depending on how you look at it) I make when I was working. I know the rough range.. but can never quite remember how much. My ex-boss (or ex-ex-boss, to be precise) has this habit of give us our salary letter at the beginning of each financial year personally. After he handed the letter over, he'd ask us to take a look at the letter and inevitably, he'd ask if we are happy with our increment.

(Which by the way, I always wanted to tell him, is quite a stupid thing to do. I mean, you can only possibly get 2 answers. From most people, it'd be "No". Who would exclaim "Yes! Thank you so much!"? or "Yes! I think I'm so adequately paid.. even to a point of being overpaid!" The only other answer you can get would be from those who are too polite to say "No". Their answer would be "It's okay, I guess". Then they'd regret saying that because they really think otherwise. So, anyways.. as much as I really quite like my ex-boss, this habit of his is really not that.. you know.. bright.)


I usually offer a different answer.

"I don't quite know".

The first time I did that, he was really surprised.

"What do you mean 'you don't know'?" He asked

"I don't know what's the increment amount. It doesn't say!"

"Huh!?"

Well, that's me. Since I don't remember my salary, I could never answer that question that he asked.

Also, I'm usually quite contented with my salary and never really get excited by chats between colleagues on how much money they made with such and such an investments.. blah blah blah.

To me, investment means buying something and leaving in there. And if by chance I remember it and take a look at it.. (about once a year or so..).. and I realised it has gone up, I'd sometimes sell it. More often that not, I'd just think "Oh good! Wow. Money from the sky!" and then forget about it for another year or two.

Anyway, to many, I may seem naive, even stupid.. and some may even think it's because I've never been in situations of dire needs (which is true but neither have I been in situations of huge excesses). But I've always contented to be as such.. even "proud" of myself for this.

But recently, I think.. Perhaps... I do (gasp) really love Money after all.

The immense insecurity I have towards not working.. Could that partly be because I'm losing a source of stable cash inflows... in other words... Money?

And surely the great sense of frustration and heartache I'm feeling towards the car accident (where I had to fork out a couple of thousand dollars for the damage done to the other party because of an insurance problem)... is because of Money...?

Ecclesiastes 5:10 says "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.."

Matthew 6:24 also says "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

These are wise words indeed.

In this material world of ours.. surely, Money is something important and neccessary.. but surely there are many other things more important in our short life on earth than just Money.



Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Amazing Lemons

Remember I mentioned some blogs back I always wished I had a lemon tree?

The lemon is such a useful fruit.

I like to always have a couple at home so that I can have some lemon juice in my tea or to go with honey.

And I usually end up using the whole fruit, including the skin of the lemon.

The peel of the lemon contains two top layers; the zest, and the pith. The zest is the oil rich outer skin of a lemon and is yellow and textured. The volatile oils in the zest make it extremely flavorful. The pith is the white part below the zest and taste bitter.

Lemon zest can be used to add a lemony flavor to baked goodies. The natural oils in the zest is released through the baking process, infusing the food with flavor. Lemon zest can also be used as a food seasoning, for example, in a baked chicken or a salad dressing, or it can be added to various mixed drinks and beverages. Lemon zest blended with lemon juice, sugar syrup and plenty of ice makes a super refreshing drink.

But there are lots that you can do with a lemon, besides using it for cooking or in a drink.

After I squeeze out the juice of a lemon, I will usually make use of the lemon to do some cleaning.

Popping the cut and juiced lemon into the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds can help get rid of strange smells in the microwave. I'd then use the lemon to rub my stainless steel pots or kitchen sink to give them a good shine. You can also use them to scrub your bathroom tiles and sink. Sometimes, I'd throw the lemon whilst it is hot into an empty garbage bin to get rid of strange smells in the bin.

Lemon zest and hot water can be used to remove coffee/ tea stains from mugs. Just put the lemon zest in the mugs and fill up with hot water. Wash the mugs, with some salt for stubborn stains, after 2-3 hours.

I know of people who use lemons in the bathroom to whiten their teeth (lemon plus baking soda), clean their elbows (rub and wash off) and also use it as a facial mask (lemon with honey).

I usually prefer using lemons to clean my house though. It's green and makes your house smells great.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tough Mints

My mints are tough.

They have been through multiple attacks from red spider mites now.

But they never seem to die. And whilst my chocolate mint, orange mint and EDT mint have recovered from these attacks, none of them are doing as well as my regular peppermints spearmints.

They have more than recovered.. In fact, they are growing like weeds now..

I like to use them in my salads - they add a tang to any normal green salad, make my tomatoes and feta cheese salad taste great and even go well with a simple fruit salad.

I also like to make a hot milo mint drink with them - just steep the mint in hot water for a while, remove the leaves and make milo just as you would normally. This drink also taste nice as a freeze, just add a lot more milo powder and ice, and then blend well.


A picture of my mints, taken by a friend..
I'm so pleased to have such a nice photo of them

How I wish all my other plants are as easy to grow as my peppermints spearmints.

Learning to be carefree

Today, I saw the a couple of neighbours' children, playing near the carpark as I was returning.

They look so happy and carefree... I was feeling kind of envious.

For me, being carefree has always been hard work.

It's kind of ironic, isn't it. Being carefree means "being free of care, having no worries or troubles". Yet to me, that's not an easy thing to be.

I have forgotten when I've lost my sense of being carefree.. Maybe it's ever since I graduated. Maybe it's long before that.

But even though I don't work now and according to some, I lead the kind of life they are envious of, I catch myself feeling worried.. or being bothered by something.. more frequently than I like to.

It's annoying I know... but I can't help myself at times.

1 Peter 5:7 says "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

I find that I have to cast my anxieties daily to get rid of them. Not easy but it is definitely something I'm learning to do.


A photo I took in Tours, France, of a child with his parents,
taking a walk without a care in the world..

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Beauty or The Beast

I've always liked baking - I think I make a very mean brownie, reasonable cheesecakes and pretty okay butter cakes.

But I'm no professional. So, I never really bothered about investing in a good mixer. Instead, I rely on my mother's 30 year-old mixer to do most of the job. Or else on a hand whisk and pure muscle-power.

One day, when I become a better baker, I'd buy a nice mixer and all the mixing and whisking will be much easy. Or so I thought.

But The Husband is not like me. No, he doesn't do things by halves.

After our first baking lesson, he decided he wants to bake and declared that he will buy the professional, giant-of-a-mixer SPAR mixer that they have at the baking school.

And so, here it is now, sitting in our house - The Mixer.

I can't quite decide to call it The Beauty or The Beast.. so for now, it'd be called The Mixer, with a capital M in respect of its size, thank-you-very-much.

The Mixer - I put a coffee mug next to it so that
the size of this thing can be seen from the photo..

The Mixer is a highly efficient machine - easy to use and also easy to wash.

And so here I am now, very pleased with this new addition to the kitchen.

I only wish it came in colours other than white. But oh well, at least that matches the colour of my kitchen.

Simple Oden - Kantou-style

Oden is a Japanese dish that is very popular during winter. It is a one-pot dish that usually contains Japanese radish, boiled eggs, fish cakes, seaweed and other ingredients cooked in a light but flavourful soup.

There are generally two different ways to make this dish. It is divided between Kantou and Kansai style. Kantou style simmers all the ingredients together over low heat for a long period of time, whereas Kansai style prepares all the ingredients separately before simmering them together.

You can find both kinds in the streets of Japan and to me, both taste similar, although the Kantou style is supposedly a bit stronger in flavour. Karashi (or Japanese mustard) is usually used as a condiment for this dish.

Once in a while, especially when the weather is cooler, I like to make oden for dinner. It is a simple, fuss-free and delicious one-dish kind of dinner.

The only 2 requirements for making a delicious oden is seasoning and time.

It is important to cook the broth with the right ingredients. I usually cook the broth with a good konbu and then "cheat" by adding some oden seasoning which can be purchased in most Japanese supermarket.

Then, I'd add in thick slices of daikon (radish), tofu (I prefer seaweed tofu), seaweed, Japanese fish cakes and any other suitable ingredients I can get my hands on. And then I'd just leave the ingredients to simmer in the claypot over a small fire for about 60 to 90 minutes. During that time, I'd just keep adding more stock to prevent the dish from drying out.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Deceitful bugs

Urgh... I hate mealybugs..

I know some are happily feasting on my lemon balm now as I write..

Mealybugs are deceitful creatures. I know deceitful is a strong word... but they are.

They move really slowly.. but reproduce at an amazing rate. One day, you see one or two mealy bugs.. You kill them and think your plant is alright.. but then the next day, you find a few more.. and then more the day after.

And then they hide in the most obscure and difficult-to-find places. As I try not to spray insecticide on leaves I eat, I try to catch and kill these awful mealy bugs by hand. But there always seem to be an odd mealybug or two that I miss.. because I'd see a few more lurking around the next day.


See that awful mealybug feasting on my lemon balm?
This one is dead right after this shot... (Hahahah...*Evil laughter*)

Mealybug females feed on plant sap, robbing the plant with essential nutrients. They attach themselves to the plant and secrete a powdery wax layer used for protection while they suck the plant juices. Mealybugs feed on all parts of the plant, but especially on tender new growth. They cause the plant to be weak - the plant will look dejected and yellowish and then the leaves would start falling off.

The male mealybugs are short-lived as they do not feed at all as adults and only live to impregnate the females.

Apparently, rubbing alcohol with a cotton swab on the plant can treat minor mealybug infestations.

Hm.. I'd start doing that on my lemon balm tomorrow.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fancier Cakes

Today is the fourth and final lesson of our cake baking course.

It was a hectic class because we had to make "fancier cakes" today...

We made 3 cakes from scratch in about 3 plus hours - Blackforest Cake, Checked Pandan Kaya Cake and Sweetcorn Cake.

That's quite a bit of work to do.. so I kind of forgot all about taking photos until the end of the class.

Obviously, we have a lot more to learn about cake assembly and decorations.. but I am beginning to realise that patience is very key for bakers.. You really need to have the patience and perserverance to bake a cake.. cook the filling... whip the cream.. and then put it all together..

It's fun.. but not easy..



My take on this cake-baking course is that.. it's good but I really much prefer the bread making course at this same school.. I feel that I learnt a lot more during that course than at this one.. Not that I didn't learn anything in this one.. but I've never baked a bread in my life before until I attended the bread making course, so I guess everything was fresh and new for me.

So, for those who have never baked a cake before.. this is quite a useful course to go for. It's quite fun to be able to bring home so many cakes after every class..

Now, if only I know someone whose birthday is tomorrow..

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dinner with friends

Last night, a few good friends came over for dinner.. so I decided to make roasted chicken and salad with herbs and vegetables from my garden.

I made a Roasted Chicken with Lemon Myrtle and Rosemary and Salad with Promegranate.

Roasted Chicken with Lemon Myrtle and Rosemary
Ingredients
1 large bird
1 whole lemon, halved and poked with sharp knife
1 large yellow onion, halved
1 large carrot (or a few baby carrots and celery, if you have them)
1 clove of garlic (with skin on)
A few baby potatoes (boiled and banged around to puncture the skin)
A bunch of rosemary
A few dried lemon myrtle leaves, crushed
Some Butter and olive oil
A handful of freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste

What I did
1. Smear the chicken with salt and freshly ground pepper pepper
2. Insert pieces of butter and herbs under the skin of the chicken. Rub any leftover on the underside of the chicken
3. Fill baking pan with the onions, garlic, carrots
4. Put the chicken and potatoes on top of the vegetables, lightly squeeze the lemon over the chicken and place on tray (Or you can place the lemon halves under the chicken)
5. Drizzle lots of olive oil over the chicken, potatoes and vegetables
6. Bake in preheated oven at 200 deg C for 1 hour 15 mins, turn up the heat to 240 deg C after that for 5 minutes to further brown the skin.

The chicken and potatoes turned out great, but I wish I had a bigger baking dish so that the chicken will brown better on the sides, or remove the potatoes during the last 5 minutes of baking so that the sides can brown.


Something's strange about the Lady's Fingers

I only discovered that Lady's Fingers are also called Okra recently. (Yes... I was always wondering what the Okra plant mentioned on the GCS forum was.)

But I have a few seeds of the lady's fingers given to me by a fellow forummer and so I decided to try germinate one. For some reason, it "looked" like an easy seed to germinate so I germinated it in a large pot vs the small germinating pots I usually use.

The seed started off well and grew into a strong seedling in no time.

But then, something strange started happening.

There were lots of clear little balls on the underside of the leaves. Almost every leaf had those clear little balls.. which looked like very small clear beads actually.

They are a bit hard and pop if you squash them.

I was quite freaked out. Could they be eggs of some strange insect lurking in my balcony? I searched high and low and found no new or unknown insects in my balcony. I waited a few days to see if they'd "hatch"..

They didn't.. there were just more of them popping up all over the leaves.

I sprayed insecticide on them.. They seemed quite immune.

Maybe they are some sort of fungal growth, I thought..

Though that seemed unlikely, I sprayed fungicide on them. Again, nothing happened, just more and more balls.

Finally, I took some soapy water and washed all the leaves of my Okra plant and was finally satisfied when there were no more little balls..

But the next day, they reappeared.

Oh these pesky little things!

Frustrated, I took a picture of them and posted a question on GCS forum.

Turns out that these clear little balls are normal for an Okra plant (or a Lady's fingers plant if you, like me, prefer the more feminine name).

In fact, they are a sign of a healthy plant. According to a learned fellow forummer, these are sap produced by the plant to attract beneficial bacteria to the leaves for better disease resistance and plant nutrition.

What a reflief to know that these strange and rather creepy looking balls are actually Nature's creative and wonderful way of taking care of herself.



Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fiery Cuisine

I think Sichuan food can only be described as fiery.

The Chinese would describe Sichuan food as 麻辣 (mala), which means spicy hot in a numbing manner. You will understand why "numbing" if you try Sichuan food. They often contain an ingredient called 麻椒 (majiao), which is sometimes also called Sichuan pepper. It is not spicy hot actually.. but gives a numbing feeling to the tongue. In English, I find no good word that explains 麻辣 in a more appropriate way than "fiery"

2 Sichuan dishes that I like have interesting names.

The first is 水煮鱼 (shuizhuyu), which literally translates to "Water-boiled Fish". You won't see any water when the dish is served though. It is actually fish boiled in water and drowned in a LOT of chilli oil. The chillis are usually removed at your table by the staff. If you like it even spicier, you can request for the chillis to be removed later... (Not advised)

The fish is very tender because of the way it is cooked and even though it may seem very oily, because you kind of have to "fish" it out of the chilli oil, it's actually okay. Just avoid the odd Sichuan pepper still in the dish.

The second dish is 口水鸡 (koushuiji), which literally means "Saliva Chicken". Doesn't sound good but it is really just steamed chicken with a really spicy mix of chillis, peanuts and assorted spices. Very simple but good. It is usually served as a cold dish.. although there is nothing "cold" about it.

Sichuan food is gaining popularity all across China now.. and even though I didn't really appreciate it as much in the beginning, but over time, I'm really getting quite hooked on it and would request to go to a Sichuan restaurant whenever I visit Beijing.

This last trip, we went to a popular restaurant to satisfy my cravings.

渝信川菜(长安店)
Address: 东城区建国门内大街7号长安大戏院1楼
Telephone: +86-10-65171012

"Water-boiled fish" - No water in sight.. 

Delicious cold dishes.
Any dish you see with chilli will be spicy hot and numbing.
The "Saliva Chicken" is the one at the bottom right.

Prawns in chilli oil - can't see the prawns, right?
They are under the chillis. Surprisingly, this dish is not as spicy as it looks.

Super spicy frogs. I tried one and stopped at that.
Not just because it's frogs.. but it's so so spicy!

One of the few non-spicy dishes at the table. Home-made tofu.
Goes really well with spicy food. It kind of "relieves" your tongue a bit from all that spiciness

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