Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Food from the balcony

I like growing herbs. It is rewarding to use my own herbs when I cook.. not to mention convenient and cost-effective.

However, I find it even more satisfying whenever I bring in food from the balcony to the table. And I don't mean just herbs that are used to flavour dishes, but "real" edibles like fruits or vegetables.

I don't have a lot of edibles right now, just a baby batavia salad that isn't growing particularly well, a tomato that refuses to fruit and a malabar spinach.

I like the Malabar Spinach. It is so easy to grow.. and I've used it a few times in my salads now. Each time I use it, I'm inspired me to want to grow even more edibles.

One day, hopefully, my balcony will be like a "roof-top greenhouse"..

One day..

Yesterday, I made a salad with promegrenate with some of the leaves from my own balcony.

Salad leaves
From my balcony:
- A few leaves and flowers of the malabar spinach
- A few fresh mint leaves
- A few "gotu kola" leaves
Half a promegranate
A handful of toasted pinenuts
Some Greek feta cheese

I made an Asian vinaigrette dressing to go with this salad - which is simply some balsamic vinegar with extra virgin olive oil and sesame sauce.

It's a very colourful salad and the only thing lacking is a handful of cherry tomatoes from my tomato plant to go with it..

Salad with Pomegranate

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The much-awaited Lemon Myrtle

I've heard about the lemon myrtle plant from a few people.

Also called Backhousia Citriodora, it is a flowering plant native to Australia. It has evergreen leaves and creamy-white flowers. It can be grown into a big tree.

It is sometimes called the "Queen of Lemon Herbs" and the leaves have a strong lemony scent. Some people use it as a replacement for lemons but I think the taste it a little more like lemon with herbs. I tasted it once as a drink and knew I had to get this plant.

Actually, I always wanted a lemon tree in my own backyard. I saw a TV program where this lady owned a small house with a lemon tree and the idea of wanting a lemon tree stuck with me everysince. (You can do so many things with lemons.. eat it, drink it, wash with it, freshen your house etc etc.)

But since I have no backyard and I don't think lemon trees can grow in Singapore, I gave up on that idea long ago.

Lemon myrtle, though, should be able to survive in our climate. And so, I wanted to try to grow it.

But it was not available in nurseries that I visited.

So, I sent a message to a friend N, who moved to Australia since college and asked if he could help get me a small plant. He said yes and mentioned he would be stopping by in Singapore for a short transit last week.

Alas, I wasn't in Singapore then but he mentioned that he'd be meeting up with The Brother-in-law. So, The Sister babysitted this plant for a week and this morning, it is in my balcony.

Wow. I feel so blessed to have such nice friends and family.

Surely, it was inconvenient to carry a small plant in your hands, attracting stares from fellow travellers all the way from Down Under to Singapore.

Now, I hope I can keep this plant well and alive and fufill my promise to make a lemon myrtle roasted chicken for N when he next comes home to visit his family.

Thank you so much, N!

The lemon myrtle plant

Formula One's Night Race

After being a semi-Formula One fan for many years, I finally managed to watch a Formula One race live on Sunday.

We went into the racing area at about 3pm, wondering what on earth we should do from 3pm to 8pm, which is when the race starts.

It turned out there were other races earlier in the day - Aston Martin Asia Cup Race, Formula BMW Second Race and Porsche Carrera Cup Asia Race. The races were all pretty fun to watch, and we went around the different viewing areas to check out which were the best spots to catch a good view of the race.

But when Formula One started, I finally realised and understand why there are people who will invest so much money in this sport. The adrenalin rush that you get from even watching the race! The sound and speed of the cars were quite amazing, if you can even call those things cars..

Anyway, it was a fun experience and perhaps, I'd do it again next year...

Just perhaps..

F1 tickets - Sunday's race

View of the track and surrounding area

An F1 car zooming by..

Monday, September 28, 2009

What makes a good hotpot

I think that I am easy to satisfy when it comes to good hotpot. But unfortunately, it is not always to either find a good hotpot restaurant, or else find enough friends who also want to have hotpot together.

Fortunately, most people like to have hotpot during autumn or winter in Beijing.

One of my favourite hotpot places in Beijing is this restaurant called 海底捞, or Haidilao in Hanyu Pingyin.

(I find the name of this restaurant rather special, actually. I always get the impression that it comes from the Chinese phrase 海底捞月, which translates literally to "fishing for the moon at the bottom of the sea". It actually means "striving for the impossible", since you can never fish the moon out of the sea, the only thing you end up doing is disturbing the reflection of the moon. I don't think the restaurant name means that though. It is probably called that because having hotpot is kind of like "fishing" food out of a pot of soup...)

To me, there are 3 things neccessary in every good hotpot.

Number 1: An excellent soup base
A good soup is very important to any decent hotpot. Usually, I like a light soup like mushroom soup. Some restaurants offer a hotpot with 2 or 3 types of soup, to give more variety. At Haidilao, I like the light herbal soup and tomato based soup. The tomato soup is nice and just a teeny weeny bit sourish and the herbal soup is light and doesn't have too overpowering herbal taste.

The spicy Sichuan chilli soup base is very good too.. but only if you have friends who can take lots of spicy hot food. I usually give up on the spicy one after a while.

Number 2:  A good dipping sauce
Haidilao has a dipping sauce counter where you can select and mix your own dipping sauce.

I usually choose sesame sauce and add lots of grounded peanuts, sesame seeds, celery and spring onions. A little bit of garlic and vinegar will help make the dipping sauce a whole lot yummier.

Number 3: Fresh ingredients
You can't really blame anyone or any restaurant for overcooking or undercooking your food when it cames to hotpot since you decide on the doneness of your food. Fresh ingredients is therefore key to make any simple hotpot great.

I find that Haidilao usually serves really fresh food. It is probably due to the huge crowd queuing at its doors all year round at meal-times.

Herbal Mushrooms and Tomato Soup

DIY sesame dipping sauce

Fresh hotpot ingredients - I always liked frozen tofu,
beef and lots of vegetables in my hotpot

Apart from the above, Haidilao also has one of the best service for a medium-range priced restaurant in Beijing. They have quite a few outlets scattered across Beijing, but I've only been to the one near the financial district.

海底捞火锅 (西单店)
Address: 西城区西单北大街109号婚庆大楼7楼
Telephone: 66174063

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tips for a good swiss roll

Today, we attended the third class of the baking course, "The Art of Swiss Rolls".

Actually, I think I've made a swiss roll before...

It was many years ago in Secondary School, during a Home Economics class.

I think I made a vanilla-flavoured swiss roll with strawberry jam then. I also remembered going home after the class that week, and trying to make another one by myself. It didn't roll up properly and as nicely as it did in school.

Today, I learnt that there are certain things that needs to be done to ensure you get a good swiss roll - one that rolls up properly!

Here are the few tips that I thought were especially useful:

1. Use the right tray size
Using too small a tray results in a thicker cake that is more suspectible to cracking when you roll it. Use one too big and you end up with a thin and skinny swiss roll that yes, may not roll properly as well.

2. Beat the cake mixture until "ribbon stage"
That's when the batter is really foamy and when you lift some up with a whisk, it drops and forms a lump on top of the cake mixture.

3. Send the mixture to the oven quickly
When the batter is foamy, fold in flour, oil and other stuff gently but quickly. Then quickly send it into the oven to keep the cake soft and fluffy.

4. Bake the cake until it is just right
Overbaking and underbaking will result in cracks when you roll the cake.

5. Roll the cake gently
You only really need to exert a bit of strength at the beginning of the roll, and when tucking the roll in. When rolling the cake, it should be done gently, without exerting any vertical force on the cake throughout the process.

I went to today's class feeling tired and a little grumpy from the flight last night. But making 2 beautiful swiss rolls (at least to me, they are pretty beautiful..) really lifted my spirits up.

(As a side-note: I forgot my camera today so we had to use The i-Phone to take pictures. And to my pleasant surprise the quality of the pictures were really quite good.. Another reason why I ought to change my phone..?)

Rainbow swiss-roll with a zoom-in on the mice.. done by the teacher

How the whole cake looked like with 3 little mice..

The 4 cakes The Husband and I made

Assorted views of the cakes we made

High Security in Beijing

For friends following my blog, I have a very good reason for not blogging for the last week.

The reason is due to the number 60.

For the Chinese, the number 60 is a special number. It signifies one full cycle.

Every 60 years, your birthday will fall on exactly the same day on both the Chinese lunar and Western solar calendar as the day when you were born.

To the Chinese, the 60th birthday is a very special one.

It's no wonder, therefore, that Beijing is painted red for the country's 60th birthday. Lots of flowers, colourful banners and decorations adorn the streets. Tiananmen is decked with huge red beams and red banners.

But as with every big events in China, the capital is on high security alert. The streets of Beijing, and especially Chang An Avenue is filled with volunteer security teams, policemen, military police and anti-terror police.

The security measures extend to hotels, restaurants, offices and yes, even the internet. Access to more "sensitive" websites are closed in China. And is one of them, although I'm not quite so sure what's so sensitive about

Which is why I haven't been able to moderate comments, post blogs and view blogs for the last 6 days.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What I didn't know about chiffon cakes

Yesterday, The Husband and I attended the second class of the baking course we signed up for.

This class was called "The Art of Chiffon Cakes".

As I've not baked any cake that is not a butter cake, I was rather looking forward to this class.

Yesterday, I learnt a few things I never knew about chiffon cakes...

Number 1 - Chiffon cakes are only called chiffon cakes when you bake them in a chiffon pan (those tube pans where there is a funnel that rises up in the centre.

Number 2 - Cream of tartar, which is usually added to a chiffon cake, is actually an acid. I've always thought it is some type of cream, belonging to the family of whipped cream, fresh cream, heavy cream etc.

Number 3 - Chiffon cakes were invented only in 1927, by this guy called Harry Baker. I had thought the it was invented in Japan, because chiffon cakes seemed so loved there.

Number 4 - Chiffon cakes actually do contain egg yolks! I always thought it was a cake made of egg whites and flour...

We made 3 cakes yesterday - Golden Citrus Chiffon Cake (with orange and lemon), Banana Chiffon Cake and Pandan Chiffon.

I felt quite nervous about beating up the egg whites.. I mean, beating til soft peak, firm peak.. etc.. and then folding in the mixture and not stirring it in. All that seems very intangible, very mistress-of-the-kitchen to me..

In the end, all 3 cakes tasted pretty good, especially the second and third one that we made.

I think I should practise making chiffon cakes more..

Preparations during class

The Golden Citrus Cake

The Pandan Chiffon Cake

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pictures from Ootoya.. finally

I've blogged about Ootoya about 2 months ago. Since then, I've been meaning to take pictures every time I went. And I think I've been there for at least 5 times since.. (?)

And finally, today, I remembered to bring my camera along.. and more importantly, I actually remembered to take pictures of my dinner before wolfing it down.

Tonight, we ordered 2 of my favourites at Ootoya - Grilled Mackeral and Black Vinegar chicken. The fish is grilled quite well - very flavourful and yet still juicy. If you can't finish the whole fish, just give the tail part a miss because that tends to be quite salty.

The Black Vinegar Chicken is really quite tasty. Actually, I like the lotus root and eggplant even more than the chicken.

We also tried the Chargrilled Chicken Salad with Leek for the first time. It turned out really good, as I expected, because I've tried their chargrilled chicken before and I thought they did it quite well.

I really appreciate being served Japanese go-han (rice) and very solid miso soup (with radish, carrot and yam.. Somehow, the miso soup I make at home never taste this good).. I usually would opt for Hikiji (seaweed) with my rice.. It makes the rice even better.

After the meal, even though we were already quite full, we couldm't resist havingthe Matcha Ice-cream Anmitsu. Anmistsu is a Japanese dessert, which usually consists of red bean with a couple of balls made from glutinous rice flour, some jelly, fresh fruits and a dark sugar syrup. The one they serve here comes with a nice matcha jelly and matcha ice-cream.

Chargrilled Chicken Salad with Leeks.
The chargrilled taste is strong, which is good.

Black vinegar chicken with the nicest vegetables

Grilled Mackeral. Doesn't look that great here but it is very juicy.

One of the best thing in the set - The rice. The other thing is the miso soup.

The side dish that is always good and usually different.
This one is pumpkin with fish, I think. I can't quite tell but it was quite good.

Green Tea Anmitsu - a nice ending to the meal.

I often judge a Japanese restaurant by the tea they serve.
They serve good Sencha at Ootoya, both hot and cold.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A dream kitchen in black

I really enjoy going to furniture malls and home furnishings shops.

For someone who never thought about owning an apartment or a house for most parts of her life, I don't think I'd be moving to a new place anytime very soon...

Nevertheless, it's nice to have dreams. And in my dreams, one of my house (of course, in a dream, you are allowed as many houses as you like) has a kitchen in black.

This shiny black kitchen with a dash glossy green is really quite handsome. I like so many things about it:
1. The standalone aluminium and wooden kitchen island in the middle of the kitchen
2. The 2 beautiful wooden chopping boards on the kitchen island
3. The aluminium rack for hanging pots and miscelleneous kitchen utensils
4. The tile-like black glass feature wall
5. The glossy black cabinets with all the nifty organisation units and compartments inside. And the doors shut so nicely too.. Not with a bang, but oh-so-gently..
6. The kitchen sink where you can fit a drying rack on top of the small sink bowl

It is such a nice kitchen... I imagine cooking beautiful roasts, salads and all kinds of bakes in it. Yum Yum!

This kitchen has a stand-alone kitchen island in the middle

I like the plate rack that fits into the sink bowl.. and the kitchen cabinets

The wooden kitchen chopping board is so Rachel Rae!
It'd making cutting and chopping fun, I suppose..

My favourite mask

Most of my friends knows I like to buy and try out different facial products.

And I especially like masks. But I don't like many facial masks out there.

The rinse-off type of masks - whether gel or clay masks, I find a bit too troublesome. It's troublesome to bathe, put on a mask and read for say 15 minutes, then disrupt the reading to go rinse off the mask.

Those overnight ones are more bearable. But even my favourite overnight mask, Laneige's Water Sleeping Pack, feels a little sticky at first. And sticky is uncomfortable, so it isn't good.

Those facial sheets ones are the worst. Although many good masks comes in the form of facial sheets (e.g. SKII, For Beloved One), I don't like them because I feel very wet and sticky for that 15 to 20 minutes when they rest on my skin. No matter how good the results may be, I just don't feel comfortable when leaving it on. And so, even if there are good and effective, I don't use them a lot.

Hisamitsu's Lifecella mask is my favourite mask. It is a pre-formed gel mask, meaning it is like the facial sheets type where you peel of the backing and leave it on your face. But it is a gel mask, so it is not wet, sticky or messy to use. And if you put it in the fridge before using it, it is very cooling and comfortable. It does have a little wee-bit of a smell.. but it's a smell I can bear with.

Results wise, I feel that it is pretty moisturising, and is as good as any other facial sheets mask out there.

For some reason, I couldn't find these in Singapore anymore (maybe it is just because I'm ill informed). They used to sell it in Watsons. So, I often stock up on them when I go Hong Kong. But during my trip to Taiwan, I found they come in a few more varieties in Taiwan.

In all, I've seen the following in this Pre-formed Gal Mask series:
- Orange Mask (Picture below)
- Whitening Mask (Comes in red packaging)
- Moisturising Mask (Comes in blue packaging, Taiwan)
- Moisturising Clay Mask (Comes in grey packaging, Taiwan)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A lesson on the highway

I got into an accident yesterday evening.

I was on the way to pick the Husband up from his office and was running late. A thousand things were running through my mind. Things I need to do today, tomorrow, my trip next week..

Then, before I knew it, I knocked the BMW in front of me.

I had a sleepless night last, blaming myself for what happened.

Although I am really upset by this incident, plus the fact I'm having problems with the insurance company, I have things to be thankful about:
1. That I didn't cause any injury to anyone
2. That the other driver was pretty nice, actually. He didn't get upset or nasty and just calmly told me what I need to do.

A wise friend told me that every accident he has been in has made him a better driver.

I guess this is a good lesson for me, to be careful and not let my concentration lapse when I'm on the road.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When a Friend is Unlovable

When I was very young, my sister had a cassette tape (No such thing as a CD or MP3 then).

It was a tape about friendship. One of the friends was going to leave the city with her parents. There were many lovely songs in the CDs, but I only remember 2 things in the tape. One is a song called Friends Forever, the other a poem that one of the friends wrote for this girl.

It went like this:

"A friend should be radical
He should love you when you're unlovable
Hug you when you're unhuggable
And bear you when you're unbearable.

A friend should be fanatical
He should cheer when the whole world boos
Dance when you get good news
And cry when you cry too.

But most of all, a friend should be mathematical
He should multiply the joy, divide the sorrow
Subtract the past and add to tomorrow
Calculate the need deep in your heart
And always be bigger than the sum of all their parts."

Now, this may not be the best poem in the world. But it came to my mind out of the blue recently.

Of late, I have been disappointed, even frustrated, with a friend of mine. I know that she has been feeling troubled for a few years now. And though I've tried ways and ways to comfort, counsel and distract her, I know that my efforts were all in vain because she thinks I do not understand. But I feel that in our friendship, it is always about her.. and that she is not really interested in me.

Then suddenly, I remember this poem I heard when I was young - a friend should should love you when you're unlovable, hug you when you're unhuggable and bear you when you're unbearable.

That's so true and exactly what I should do to my friends, including this particular friend.

A stream I used to walk pass
- I always like to reflect about life around water..

Monday, September 14, 2009

The day the air-con broke down

Last night, our bedroom's air-conditioner broke down.

Well, it didn't exactly stop working. What happened was that lots of water came gushing out of where cold air usually would come out.

Okay, so I exaggerate. The water didn't really came gushing out. It was more like dripping out. But quite a lot of water came dripping out.

Fearing that our room would be flooded and the air-conditioner would short circuit, we had to turn the air-conditioner off. (Well okay okay, more like the latter.)

I understand now why Lee Kwan Yew said that the air-conditioner is the best invention of the twentieth century. He's absolutely right. From a Singaporean's perspective at least. It is quite a torture to even try to sleep without the air-conditioner on some nights. Last night was such a night. We had to move to the study room to sleep.

I am never a person who can really fix things around the house. You would think that I am, since my parents open a DIY hardware store. But no.. I used to just rely on them to get things around the house fixed. And when I was in Beijing, the apartment's property manager would help fix almost anything at minimal cost.

But I fixed the problem of the air-conditioner this time myself. With a little help from my parents, of course.

What I did was to locate the outlet where water from the air-conditioner would usually come out of and using a heavy-duty all purpose type vacuum cleaner, suck out all the stuff inside the pipes that were clogging up my poor air-conditioner. (I know, usually, this would sound too complicated to me as well.)

And it works! For now, at least. The air-conditioning is cool and so far, no drippings.

I'm a full-fledged "auntie" now.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Super Pocky

I was just organising my photos and came upon these pictures of Pocky, from my trip to Fukuoka last year..

I love Pocky. And I try to eat new flavours that I come across. Hong Kong has lots of tidbit shops that sell the more "exotic" flavours. Of course, whenever I travel to Japan, I go around searching for new flavours as well.

Sadly, Gilico seems to have stopped the production of my favourite Pocky flavour - The Royal Milk Tea flavour. It was my absolute favourite when I was in University. I would have to buy it every so often, and especially during exam periods to brighten up my days..

I also like Pretz, Pocky's savoury sister, when I'm in the mood for a savoury snack (Although, they do have Pretz in sweet flavours as well...). In China, they have many different flavours of Pretz, including Mushroom, Wasabi, Honeydew, Orange, Sichuan Spicy Tofu even (only at Sichuan airport, I think), on top of the regular flavours like Tomato, BBQ and Corn. I also remember seeing Abalone and Sharksfin-flavoured Pretz at Hong Kong's airport.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A few Butter Cakes

We have quite a few butter cakes at home now, even after eating quite a number already.

A few butter cakes...

This is because today, we had our first lesson of the Foundation Cake Making Course at Creative Culinaire.

(We as in The Husband and I. We are attending this course together. By the way, I thought it was so sweet of The Husband to agree to go for this class with me actually. It's really nice to learn something together as a couple.)

Actually, I wasn't so keen on this first lesson initially. This is because the first lesson is called "The Art of Butter Cakes". And actually, the only cakes I can bake are butter cakes. So, I thought this class might be just teaching me things I already know.

But as I attended the class, I'm reminded about why I like the classes at Creative Culinaire again.

The instructor, Judy Koh, teaches a lot on the science behind baking. Like the function that each ingredient plays in the cake, the differences between different types of flours, he chemicals in your baking powder and baking soda, etc. I thought it is good to know these things to understand what is happening in that oven as I bake.

And she shares quite a bit of practical tips too. From how to minimise washing by planning the way you use your equipments and bowls, to alternating between adding flour and liquid to the butter mixture to minimise gluten development, to understanding errors made in baking.. I thought I learnt quite a bit that I didn't know previously.

Anyway, we made 3 cakes on our own today, including

The Walnut Cake - Only ours didn't have any walnuts in them. We forgot! It was so funny

The walnut-less Walnut Cake.
Looks a bit ugly after it cooled down. But it's quite moist and light.
I thought this was the most troublesome cake of the 3 we made today.

The Chocolate Cupcake - Which is actually called the Sunflower Cupcake if you decorate it. We didn't want cream on ours so we only decorated two.

I liked how these turned out. And they were quite yummy too.
Just a tad too sweet for my taste.

The first 2 cakes I have EVER decorated. Yikes!!

The Marbled Butter Cake - We baked this in one of those flexible cake moulds, so they had a funny shape.

The Before..

And The After..

A simple Tomato and Beef Stew

I love a bowl of piping hot, hearty stew during winter.

But I'm back in Singapore now and there is no such thing as winter in tropical Singapore, of course. (Although their is winter sales in some stores.. Quite strange, I think.)

But on rainy days, I think a bowl of hot stew really warms the heart.

This tomato and beef stew is a personal favourite of mine. It is filling and good to have on its own, or with some nice crusty bread. And of course, it is simple to make too.

300g - 400g beef, cut into reasonably sized pieces and seasoned with pepper and salt
A few baby potatoes, washed and cut into 4s (I like to use baby red potatos, when I can get them)
1 carrot, cut into big pieces (about the same size as the cut potatos)
2 large onions, cut into big pieces, as above
2 large tomatos, cut into big pieces, as above
1 can tomato puree (I sometimes substitute with canned diced tomatoes, or tomato sauce even. If using tomato sauce, add 2 to 3 tablespoons and add more fresh tomatos)
4 to 5 big bowls of Beef stock
A few dried bay leaves, or fresh bay leaves, if you have them
Freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste

What I did
1. Add some olive oil (or butter if you like) to a pot. When it is well heated, add the beef , onions and bay leaves
2. When the beef turns brown on one side, turn them over.
3. Add a tablespoon or two of plain flour and mix with the juices from the beef
4. Add in potatoes, carrots and tomatoes
5. Add in the beef stock
6. Let simmer for about an hour or more. Leave the pot half-covered and add more stock, to prevent stew from drying up, if required
7. Season with pepper and salt, to taste

I also added in some fresh oregano leaves to add more flavour to the stew this time, as my oregano plant had a few leaves to spare.

Usually, I prefer to cook my stew longer so than all the potato and carrots get really soft and the beef kind of crumples as you bite it, so I'd leave them on the heat for about 1.5 hours at least.

My friend R's second helping...
Second helpings are always good news for the cook

Friday, September 11, 2009

Newcomers to my balcony

I went by Bah Soon Pah Road again recently.

This time, I didn't go to World Farm, but to this place called Oh Chin Huat Hydroponic Farms.

I'm not into hydroponics. Not yet, anyway.

No, I went there because I've heard from Sky that they have a good collection of herbs.

And OH YES they did. They did they did they did.

Whoever who still have doubts that it is not that possible to grow herbs in Singapore should really pop by for a visit.

There were pots of rosemarys that are better described as large bushes. And all the various basils were really well endowed - they had really HUGE leaves. (Why are my basils so pathetically skinny and less endowed in comparison?) And an oregano plant I saw looked like a weed because it was almost like exploding out of the pot. Really.

Anyway, I stood there and gaped at the herb collection for a while. Then I found my tongue and started asking the nice lady there lots of questions - what is this and what is that and oh how do you grow this, what conditions does that require.

After satisfying my curiosities, I decided to bring home 3 plants. I would have brought home a whole lot more if not for the fact that I feel it would be a pity to kill too many plants unnecessarily.

In the end, I brought home...

1. The Lemon Balm - A friend was asking about a type of mint that is hairy. I think she is referring to these. They look somewhat like mint, belonged to the same family anyway and oh yes, they are hairy. I really like the lemony smell they have too. They smell clean!

A bushy Lemon Balm
Looks mint-like enough and is hairy.
(Evan, were you referring to these?)

2. Sage - I always wanted to grow this. In fact, I always wanted purple sage too. But somehow each time I go by a particular nursery, they'd run out of the purple sage. But these will be good enough for me, for now.

Sage with greyish-green leaves

3. Italian Parsley - I bought these against my better judgement. I know they will be difficult to grow and I might have to say goodbye to them far too soon. But I couldn't resist. It would be so nice to grow these for my pasta dishes, instead of buying them from the supermarket!

Italian parsley, or flat-leaf parsley

Hopefully, they will like my balcony and will do well here.

If they do, I'd go get more herbs next time..

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why I blog

I woke up a little later than usual this morning. And as usual, I opened up my laptop to check my emails and this blog.

I have 11,949 visitors (since the day I installed this counter. Obviously, it was a date I had long since forgotten).

I blinked.

There has to be a mistake. I had 2700+ visitors yesterday.

So I closed my browser and reopened it again. It says 11,950 visitors.

Hm.. okay. Suddenly, I feel like I'm becoming a celebrity blogger. Haha.

Well, actually, not really. But I'm very surprised about the statistics.

Which brought me to thinking about a question I asked myself yesterday as I met up with a fellow blogger. She, of course has an enormously famous and delectable blog. We were just talking about blogging and suddenly I asked myself aloud. "Yeah, so why do I blog?"

I drove home thinking about that question. Indeed, why?

I know that people blog for different reasons.

Some blog as a form of release for their inner feelings. They write about philosophies of lives and their inner feelings.

Others, I feel, write as to showcase their talents. Talents in sewing, photography, cooking.

There are also academics whose blogs I have visited, who write about their topics of research, pyschoeconomics and so on.

There are also those who blog to bring home the bacon. I have friends and friends' friends who sell handmade jewellery and knick-knacks on their blogs.

Others blog about their lives, to share their experiences with others. I know of a few mothers who do that. And also a few gardeners as well.

A friend sent me a facebook message last night and said she gave up on blogging because her life is so boring, just work and then home.

But still, I have not answered my own question - So, why do I blog?

The thing is, I feel that I have a boring life too... I just blog about small little things I do and I feel. I don't "specialise" in a single topic such as gardening or cooking. Or even restaurant reviews. Oh no. I blog about all kinds of things that are simple things I do or come across.

After some thoughts, I think I blog for two reasons.

The first is to stay in touch with myself - somewhat like a log of what I do. This is sometimes the hardest question I have when I meet friends who ask, "Ok, so you've stopped working. What do you do nowadays?" Sometimes, to my own horror, I find I can't really remember! I meant, I am currently in the midst of starting something... but over the last 9 months since I came back.. what have I done...? Having a blog is kind of like a psuedo diary for myself. And also for friends who are far away, as a way to share what's going on in my life with them.

The other reason is a little more... well, let's just say it is just a more "lofty ambition", or some would call it wishful thinking. I mean, I've always assumed that people who follow my blog are my friends. But I hope that some how, in some way, some day, a stranger might chance upon this blog, and find something a little useful about it. Be it finding some resonance in my musings, or a useful recipe for dinner.. and in my own little way, I've made someone's life a little richer, a little more colourful and a tad bit better.

My blue pea plant.. flowering and flowering.
It really adds colour to my balcony

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Handmade vase

Yesterday, I brought home a new vase.

I'm not one to own vases. I don't really get flowers often (Hint hint..), nor do I buy them very much. When I do buy flowers, I usually cut them really short, and put them in a small square glass container that I have.

But this is a vase I made. I have been attending lessons on and off at Spark Ceramic and made this vase a good few months back.

I've been learning to make things using the hand building method, which is essential rolling out pieces of clay into a coil, then using the coils to build something on a small wheel. This method is a lot slower than the "throwing method", which is what you see in the movie "Ghost", where a slab of soft clay is shaped by hand on an automatic wheel.

In total, I think it took about 2.5 lessons to make this vase, each lesson being 2.5 hours long.

In this technology world that we live in, it is nice to be able to really do something, I feel. Not like do a powerpoint or an excel, or completing a report, but really build something with your hands. Maybe that's why I like baking and gardening as well. Pottery gets a bit messy and requires loads of patience. But when the product is finished and fired, there is a deep sense of satisfaction in bringing back something you made.

My little vase

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Chocolate Fudge Cake

I felt like making a cake very much this morning.

So I did.

I found a recipe from the Cake Bible on Chocolate Fudge Cake and since I have all the ingredients needed at home, I made it.

It is very similar to the Chocolatey Butter Cake I made in June, except for the liquid and brown sugar.

56g Unsweeten Cocoa
236g Boiling Water
2 large eggs
151g Unsalted Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
200g Cake Flour, sifted
289g Brown Sugar
1.5tsp Baking Powder
0.5tsp Baking Soda, also called Sodium Bicarbonate
0.5tsp Salt

What I did
1. Mix cocoa and boiling water together and leave to cool until room temperature
2. Mix Eggs, vanilla and 1/4 of the cooled cocoa mixture together
3. Mix all dry ingredients together
4. Beat dry ingredients at low speed and add in butter and all of the remaining cocoa mixture
5. Beat mixture well for about 1.5 minutes at medium or high speed
6. Pour egg mixture in in 3 separate batches, beating 20 seconds each time.
7. Pour mixture into a lined and greased (and also lightly floured) 9 inch pan
8. Bake in pre-heated oven at 170 deg C for 40 - 60 minutes til toothpick comes out clean when poked into centre of cake.

The cake would start pulling from the sides of the pan once it is out of the oven. Leave it to cool in the pan and then remove and eat.

Like the Chocolatey Butter Cake, a slice of it was enough to satsify my chocolate craving. It is very chocolatey and has a very fine texture. 

Taste like a chocolate brownie, only much lighter.

I can never take good pictures of chocolate cake. But here is a picture of a slice anyway..

Cinnamon Basil Tea

I have a pot of cinnamon basils that are growing pretty well in my balcony.

I find them much easier to grow than sweet basils. They are not as fussy about watering - If I miss a day in watering, they don't complain with droopy leaves.

Once in a while, I pick a whole bunch of leaves from the plant so that they can grow more leaves. I find that the more often I do this, the more leaves the plant seems to grow.

I usually just pick the leaves off the plant, from all parts of the plant to use. But I've read that pinching off the top leaves encourage more growth. As with sweet basils, once the plant goes into flowering stage, much of the flavours are lost, so flower stalks should be cut off unless one is trying to flower the basil for seeds.

There are many things you can do with cinnamon basil leaves.

They can be used to add to pasta - you'd get the taste of basil with a light hint of cinnamon. You can also put them in olive oil to get a flavoured olive oil, or cook them with sugar syrup to get flavoured syrup. Some can be added when cooking apples for apple pies (be sure to remove the leaves before putting the apples into the pie), or added to meat dishes when cooking.

You can also make potpourri with them, to put in the bathroom or wardrobe. A mixture of dried flowers, cinnamon bark, and cinnamon basil makes a nice potpourri.

Personally, I like to make cinnamon basil tea with the leaves. It is really not a tea actually, since tea means a drink with leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant. It is more like an infusion. What I do is to pick a good bunch of the cinnamon basil leaves, wash them and put them in a cup. Pour some hot water in, add honey to taste and I get a nice soothing cup of Cinammon Basil tea.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Retreat at Johore

Having not gone for any retreat for the longest time.. It's nice to attend a really short one just a stone's throw away from Singapore.

It's my first time at a GB retreat. Although short, there are many lessons I managed to learnt.

Lessons on trust - On how to trust God, how to earn trust, how not to break trust..

Lessons on being winners instead of victims in life - Victims lay blame, justify and complain. And it is so easy to do these 3. But by simply not doing them, we gain a whole lot more positive attitude about life.

What I enjoyed most about this retreat though, was the people I went with. Some of them were old friends I know well.. some were old friends I don't know that well.. and some were new friends.

The group of us at the retreat

The retreat is nice on the whole. Except I caught a chill from the strong air-conditioning.. and hence simply can't continue blogging any further as my nose has turned into a running tap.

Time to rest.

Post Script, updated 8 Sep:
Happy updated this picture after we came back from the retreat. We were all coloured red because we were all wearing red for the retreat, since we were in the red team.. Is a nice picture, ya?