Thursday, July 16, 2009

Revamp of the balconies - Part 1B

After 3 days of "hard work" (I can only work on the garden in the morning or late evening.. when it is not too hot and there's enough light), I'm done with balcony #1.

Ta-daahhh! Here are some pictures of it...

A collage of pictures of Balcony #1 and the view from it

My edibles collection

Antique metal rack and my African violets..
and oh, my chamomile is also in the picture!
I'm still thinking about where to hang her

The not-flowering-at-the-moment flowering plants corner..

I'm not done with the flowering plants, which is why they are all sitting in a corner for now.. I'm supposed to move them out to get the sun when I'm done with them.

Most of my herbs are recovering from some previous pests attack.. Doing okay but things can definitely be better. I've just thin out my basil collection. Realised I didn't get them enough root space when I went over to Petunia's.

Some of my seedlings (dinnerplate hibiscus, chamomile) are doing well... Others (Cucumber, I must have hurt it when I moved it to a bigger pot) not too good..

And that's the beauty of a garden, isn't it? There's always some work-in-progress, nothing is ever quite complete...

I'm sure my balcony will be much nicer if I went to get a "ready-made garden".. ie, get the landscaper guys to come in and do it up. But there's a lot of satisfaction from working on my little balcony.

Now, I'm contemplating on working on my master bedroom balcony, ie. Balcony #2.. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Revamp of the balconies - Part 1A

The painting of the exterior walls of my apartment is finally almost over.. the side of my apartment with the balconies have been painted. (And now, my balconies' wooden decking has like hundreds of little drips of paint that can come off if you scrap it a little.. but it'd take a long while to do that so I'm leaving them there for now and kind of hoping Nature will get rid of them... Actually, I know she won't. I'd just have to slowly do it.)

Now, it's time to revamp my balconies.

I've decided plan it out this time around. And I've also decided I'd do one balcony at a time.

OK, so here is my "floor plan" for the Level 1 balcony. It is also sometimes called Balcony No. 1. It's the smallest of the 3 balconies, but it is also my favourite because:
- It is the balcony where my herbs are,
- It is the most "accessible" balcony (to the kitchen, that it)
- Of the 3, I spend most time in this balcony.

I've managed to repot most of my plants into bigger pots. And have been diligently giving all my infected plants a bath.

Tomorrow, I'd reorganise my plants according to this layout.

There's just one little problem I have with this layout. Because the section with the edibles don't really get too much direct sunlight. I'd have to move my herbs now and then to get a good dosage of sun.

Oh well, I guess one can't have the best of all worlds..

Monday, July 13, 2009

Healthy Carrot Cake

I have been juicing a lot of fruits and vegetables recently..

And one of my favourite vegetable is carrot. Carrots turns all juices into a nice bright orange, tastes super sweet (use only large carrots to get the sweet taste, not baby ones).

With all the pulp I got from juicing carrots, I decided to bake a carrot cake.

I went online to search for a recipe and finally decided on this one at, partly because of the picture and partly because I have all the ingredients required at home.

I decided to really go out of the way for this cake, so I "grated" my carrots in 3 different ways, to get different textures:
1) I juiced 1 carrots, drank the juice and set aside the pulp for the cake
2) Grated another carrot
3) Shredded the last one for this cake

Remembering my previous experiences with cake recipes online (all too sweet), I also adjusted the recipe a little.

2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 cup (240 ml) vegetable oil (I used a mix of canola and sunflower oil)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup (250 grams) brown sugar (Original recipe calls for 300g of white sugar)

What I did
1. In a medium bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together well
2. Beat egg for 1 minute
3. Add sugar and beat for 3-4 minutes
4. Add oil in a steady stream and beat as I add the oil
5. Add in vanilla extract
6. Fold carrots and flour into egg mixture (Note: fold, not beat)

Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Bake in a 23cm diameter round tin for more than 60 minutes. I think if you divide the mixture into 2 and bake in 2 tins as per the original recipe, it'd take less time - 30 to 40 minutes.

A nice cinnamon aroma starts floating around the house when the cake starts getting cooked..

The cake is definitely moist enough.. I would definitely try it with the frosting next time. (Joy of Baking also gave the recipe for a cream cheese frosting. I realised I didn't have any confectionary sugar at home... so made the healthy version today.. :))

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ootoya (大户屋) is in town

Once upon a time, when I was a poor student in Tokyo, Ootoya was one of my favourite restaurants.

Admittedly, I had lots of favourite restaurants in Tokyo. But Ootoya was a little different. It was a place I would go on my own for a good wholesome and homemade meal by myself. It doesn't have the nicest sashimi.. they don't serve sushi.. no fancy cuts of marbled beef.. No, Ootoya is a simple place that serves very home-styled type of Japanese food. Solid miso soup, good tasting gohan (rice) mixed with seaweed or fish flakes according to your preference and simple dishes that are freshly made.

I especially like the chicken and fish dishes in Ootoya. The fish dishes are usually the basic Japanese types that are served for breakfast at Onsen hotels or guest houses. The chicken dishes are usually more creative, usually cooked with some special sauces. Ootoya's menu can be found here. (Unfortunately, the website is in Japanese only.)

Ootoya is finally in Singapore now. I went on Thursday for lunch and it was such a "natsukashii" feeling...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gardening lesson

Recently, I've attended all kinds of lessons - pottery lessons (both learning and teaching), bread making lessons, dancing lessons.. etc..

Today, I attended a gardening lesson.. and one-on-one lesson, at that. :)

I over went to fellow forummer's place today.. a beautiful, high-ceiling penthouse with lots of beautiful plants.

Amongst the many things I've learnt today are these:
1. Giving your plants a bath helps to keep pests under control
Foam some soap in your hands and gently rub (more like stroke) on all the leaves of your sickly plant, then wash the soap off with water. It's like giving a baby a bath. The bath will help to wash off all the pests and their eggs. Isn't it a beautiful and simple thing to do? Easy, organic and effective.

2. Use fishing strings for your creepers to let them crawl up
Previously, I've always thought you have to get those ugly long rods.. Fishing strings are almost transparent, easy to fix and they do the job!

3. More plants can actually help cool your place
I have a very hot second storey. I've always thought of installing bamboo curtains, but having real bamboo and plants does the trick even better than any man-made curtain.

Besides all the helpful tips and instructions on gardening, I also got to learn how to make a very neat apple pie, learnt about new plants and herbs.. And, I also went home with cuttings, seedlings and lots of seeds. It felt almost like Christmas.

Definitely one of the best "lessons" I've taken this year. I feel encouraged to do more for my garden now.

Thanks much, Petunia!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Closing a chapter

Ever since I stopped working full-time, I sometimes get over-whelmed with a feeling of... emptiness. Today, I feel it acutely, again.

When I was working in Singapore, I always felt like quitting. The hours were crazy.. the work never went away no matter how many hours I put in.. the emails never stopped piling in.. the endless phone calls (Even I went on leave and turned my mobile to slient mode, I always checked it every so often to be sure I wasn't missing an "important" call).. the occasional unhappiness due to some nasty people.. the frustration due to stupid things being done.. Surely, I thought, life is not all about work. I need to do something else.

Then I stopped working full-time and moved to Beijing. It was so boring to be at home! My family and friends were in Singapore.. I didn't like the advertisements on TV (and there were plenty..).. I couldn't always be watching DVDs.. So, I decided to start working again. In Beijing, work is not as stressful, or as busy as in Singapore. But still, there was the frustration of working in a different language, a different culture..

Then, we moved back home. This time, I don't have the excuse of having no family and friends. Most of my family and friends are at home. And it has been nice to be able to catch up with them and spend time with them. But then.. mostly.. they are busy with their own life - be it studies or work. And this time, I don't have the excuse of having no activities to keep myself busy - I could bake, garden, do small handicrafts.. go shopping.. etc..

And so, as much as I hate to admit it.. I have to say.. I think I miss working. It is strange but true.

But since I have decided to stop working, perhaps it is time to really close that chapter of my life.

So, good bye Working Lady. Good bye.

Perhaps I'd see you in the future again. But perhaps not. In any case, it was nice having you around.

Insects in my garden! Again!

Everything has been going fine in my garden for a while now.. My purple chilli, my tomato plant, my newly (and fast growing) cucumber, my basils and mints.. Apart from my trouble with red spider mites previously, most of my plants survived and those pesky red little monsters seem to be held at bay.

So when I drove pass the famous World Farm the other day, I bought a pot of beautiful rosemary and dill.

And for a while, everything was good in my balconies.

Then, these few days, I thought my plants look a little sad.

Probably neglect, I thought. Since I have been busy with other things. But I kept on watering and spraying with my organic pesticide.

Then today, I lifted my purple chilli, and as if it had cancer, a lump of leaves dropped off.

I stared at my plants. Little nasty things were darting in and out of the soil. There were 2 kinds - 1 was slow moving and white - root mealies! The other was fast and darting in and out - fungus gnats? I'm not too sure.


War has began again.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Eating collagen to delay ageing

For a long time, I used to take Fancl's HTC Collagen on and off, with hopes to keep my skin supple and delay the signs of ageing on my skin. This comes in the form of pills, which makes eating it really easy. HTC Collagen is made from gelatin. There is no details of what that is made from but I suspect, it is from pork.

Recently, however, I've found out about alternative sources for collagen supplement.

One is Amino Collagen by Meiji, which is apparently a best seller skin supplement (at Watsons and Guardian, where Fancl is not being sold, so actually, is hard to tell which one is more popular). This one comes in a milk powder lookalike can. You mix it into your juices, soup, tea and whatever you like, it seems. The Meiji website lists some recipes where Amino Collagen is being added into. This collagen is derived from fish.

The other source of collagen supplement is Vitagen Collagen. Of the 3, this is the most convenient, since it is just a drink and there is no need to pop pills or mix it into other food/ drink. The only drawback? It contains 500mg of collagen vs 5000mg daily intake that Meiji suggests we consume.

I tried both and am currently using Amino Collagen, because the idea of collagen from fish sounds better than collagen from pig to me since I don't even like pork very much.

Collagen is a type of protein that connects and supports bodily tissues, such as skin, bone and tendons. It is widely used in cosmetic sugeries, as health supplements and even in cosmetics. Collagen molecules are large and hence most supplements, including the 3 above, sell the concept of collagen peptide (smaller molecules). And apparently, to improve the effectiveness, it should be taken with Vitamin C or other types of amino acids.

With regards to collagen supplements, there are doctors who will tell you not to waste money taking it and doctors who will advise you to take it regularly after some cosmetic procedures such as chemical peeling or laser treatments. So, it is really hard to say for sure if it really works.

For me, I have been taking it on and off for a few years now. I probably will never know whether it really works since I have no basis for comparison.

But for the sake of delaying ageing, I suppose having to mix some powder to drink.. or popping some pills every now and then, is not that difficult to do.

Interesting articles to read
1. What is collagen?
2. Foods containing collagen
3. How to choose collagen supplements

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Almost Perfect Banana Cake

My ex-colleagues will never believe this, but I don't believe that things need to be perfect. Oh, and I can already hear them protesting.. and insisting I am such a perfectionist.

Well, I can only say that at work, I kind of have a higher standard and more lofty expectations.. but apart from work, I am contented and happy with having things being less than perfect.

Yesterday, I set out to make a butter cake again, since I forgot about the photos the last time around. But I had 2 bananas that were going quite brown, so I decided to "change" the recipe a little and make a banana cake instead.

2 large bananas
3 tbsp milk
3 large eggs
1.5 tsp vanilla
120g sugar (I used vanilla sugar. The recipe called for 150g but I used a little less, since I thought that the bananas would already have a bit of sweetness in them)
150g butter (The butter cake recipe called for 184g, I used less again, cos of the bananas)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
140g cake flour

What I did

1. In a medium bowl, combine the milk, eggs and vanilla
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, add butter and banana and half the egg mixture
3. Beat at low speed for about 20s, then medium speed for 1min
4. Add the remaining egg mixture in 2 batches, beating 20s after each addition
5. Bake in preheated oven of 170 deg C with a rectangular loaf pan (8" by 4" by 2.5") for about 55 to 65 mins. I didn't have such a pan, so I used an 8" by 8" square cake pan and baked for about 40-45 mins. My cake turned out to be quite thin because of the size of the pan I used.

Here's a picture of my cake.

I was really pleased with how it turned out, since I've never made a banana cake before and there isn't such a recipe in the Cake Bible. But it really turned out quite ok, since my mum, who is usually really quite fussy told my sister that it was a really nice cake. Fragrant, moist and nicely sticky on top.

"Just a tad too sweet" she said. So the next time, I'd try using only 100g of sugar.