Thursday, September 30, 2010

View from the balcony - Part 1

The view from the balcony is one of the main reasons why we bought our place.

This is not the first place we lived in after we got married (In fact, it is the third).. but it is the first house that really belonged to us.

Our apartment had and still has a lot of faults when we bought it.

When we bought it, the walls were painted with the oddest colours of turquoise green, bright pink and orange. We changed everything to off-white.

The old lights were beautiful and rustic looking. But they were HUGE and they made the small apartment looked even smaller. We removed those and installed simple lights with warm colours.

The architect who built the apartment must be a most impractical person.. Either that or he (or she) does not think that space is precious. There is quite a bit of space wasted in the apartment, like a places we can't access and ledges built below the window that should have been built with storage space below but instead is more wasted space.

And we have 3 balconies.. for a apartment, 3 balconies.. is a lot of balconies! And in the opinions of many.. such a waste!

But.... I love the view from all three balconies. The balcony I least liked when we moved in is one of my favourite of the three, because although it is the smallest, it is also the coziest...

I really enjoy watching the sunset from the balcony. See how nice the sky looks like this evening when I got home!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hello Sunshine!

I love it on days when the sun is blazing hot and there is a little breeze blowing.

On days like that, some of the flowers in my balcony will be smiling at the sun and swaying in the breeze. It's quite amazing to watch actually... they look like they are dancing in the breeze.

This colour is really pretty right? I don't remember the names for this
but they are easy to grow.. like portulacas

I like the way the petals flutter in the breeze..

Sky - I manage to get my hands on these from World Farm!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Lemons are amazing.. but I find that baking soda and white distilled vinegar are also very useful things to stock up in your kitchen.

Baking soda absorbs smell, so a small box of it will absorb weird smells in your refrigerator. You can also sprinkle some at the bottom of your dustbin to absorb away bad smells.

Baking soda is also good for cleaning silverware and silver jewellery. Rubbing your silverware with 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water will make them clean and sparkly.

It can be added to your laundry to remove odors and stains. It can also be added to bleach. Apparently, it improves the effectiveness of bleach and can make your white clothes sparkly white.

Vinegar is acidic and can be used very much in the same way as lemons. It is effective for killing most mold, bacteria, and germs, due to its level of acidity. A mixture of vinegar and water can be used to wipe clean most surfaces and remove ordors. I find it very helpful in cleaning out glass surfaces and mirrors.

Baking soda and vinegar is a powerful combination. You can clean and deodorize a drain or sink by pouring in 1 cup baking soda, then one cup hot white distilled vinegar. After 5 minutes, pour in hot water and you get a very nice, clean and odorless sink.

I like using baking soda, vinegar and lemons because they are all very green.

What else from the kitchen...?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Max the dog

We had 3 different dogs in our house when I was younger, at different points in time. All of them were called Max. I used to think that even if we had 10 dogs, they'd all have been called Max. My mum seemed to have little imagination when it comes to naming her dogs.

In any case, I went to A's house for another cooking class yesterday and managed to get her dog Max in a sleepy mood... so I managed to take very nice pictures of him.

"Sleeping on my favourite mat"

"What do you want...? I'm sleepy"

"What is that black thing she is carrying? And what's that sound it makes?"

"OK, don't disturb me now.."

"I'm going to nap in this corner.. 
You can have that mat.. just don't wake me up again.."

Problems in my balcony

I am very bothered by a couple of problems I'm having in the balcony.

A few of my potted plants seemed infested with these very tiny white insects that dart in and out of the soil. They are really fast and seem to even hop around a bit. This is bad news because I am hopeless when it comes to dealing with insects. They often end up winning the battle and killing my plants.

Another problem I'm having is Ms Flamenco. She seems stressed up because some of the leaves are turning yellow.. and many of her buds drop off. I've heard that it is common for hibiscus be all stressed out when relocated.. Hopefully, she'd get better though.

Can anyone offer any tips for my woes pls?

My portulacas aren't doing very well.. their leaves are turning yellow

The previously botak frangipani is doing very well though. 
Look, another bunch of flowers on the way...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meet Ms Flamenco

Meet Ms Flamenco.

Remember how I wanted a frilly hibiscus plant but got a normal red one (with a beautiful deep red centre) instead?

Well, a visit to World Farm last Saturday settled that "problem".

We brought home Ms Flamenco. She is a HUGE frilly hibiscus plant standing at about 1.2m tall. So big that with my macro lens, I couldn't really take a good picture of her at full size standing in my small balcony.

I named her as Flamenco, after the traditional Spanish dress, which typically comes in a strong colour like bright fire engine red and has those distinctive and rather flamboyant ruffles.

Picture from here

She is really a very pretty plant - my cell-group friend came over and commented that she looks like an apple tree, with all those big red flowers drooping over because of their weight.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tarragon flowers

Petunia gave me a tarragon plant last Friday.. It was flowering so beautifully I almost couldn't bring myself to eat them.

But I was curious about the taste of the tarragon flowers. So I snipped off some flowers and added them to my salad.

I must say - they taste really good.. very similar to the leaves but a teeny bit more floral! For this salad, I added a mixture of salad leaves, malabar spinach, cherry tomatoes and some sunflower seeds. The dressing is simple - some greek olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly grounded black pepper. The tarragon flowers added a real zest to the salad.

Thank you, Petunia for the plant. Hopefully, I can keep it growing well to produce a lot more flowers for my salads. There is this recipe for tarragon bread I've been curious about. I think I'd try making it with a mixture of the leaves and flowers.

Growing a weed

I was curious about the expression I often see on some gardening forum  - "grows like a weed".

What is a weed? Wikipedia says "A weed in a general sense is a plant that is considered by the user of the term to be a nuisance, and normally applied to unwanted plants in human-made settings.... More specifically, the term is often used to describe native or nonnative plants that grow and reproduce aggressively."

I was curious so I decided I would try to grow a weed. Or at least I think I did grow a weed.

A plant I bought from the nursery had a big mysterious looking plant growing in it. I removed it from the pot and grew it in a separate pot.

The plant did grow very agressively! In about 3 weeks, it doubled in size, produced tiny purple flowers that dried up and became seed-like things. And apart from that, new shoots sprouted out from the sides of the plant. And I didn't really give it anything about from a pot and the occassional watering.

So there you go. Wikipedia is right - a weed is a plant that grows and reproduce aggressively.

P/S: My experiment has ended and I have very cruelly cut down this plant.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chickpea Curry and Random Conversations

The few of us met up at Ting's place on Friday and I was really looking forward to meeting everyone again.. The thought of seeing the famous patio that up to now I've only seen pictures of made me rather excited too.

Unfortunately, I left home with a camera with a flat battery... and so now I'm left with very poor photos for this post that no Photoshop skills can help.

Everyone brought something for brunch - a yummy roast chicken with olive tapenade by Petunia, a wonderful pomelo salad by Leah (which by the way is a recipe I'd be pinching without shame for all potlucks and parties in future) and Ting whipped up her famous chickpea curry, a tomato salsa and homemade lemonade.

The food was delicious, the garden beautiful.. and our conversations went from homemade yogurt to running to business ideas to dogs and so on... The hours just slipped by and all too soon, it was time to leave.

It was a lovely Friday morning. I've been really exhausted from the late nights over the past couple of weeks but Friday morning with the ladies really refreshed me.

I'm looking forward to the next gathering.

The delicious food we had for lunch - too bad about the bad photos..

Rusty though still looks sharp and very handsome, in spite of my camera. 
He is very photogenic, I suppose he takes that from Ting

A nice way to eat oats

I don't like eating oats.

My mother used to try making me eat oats for breakfast when I was younger. "I don't like oats - I'm not a horse." That'd often be my excuse of opting out on the meal.

But oh, I have just recently found out that I have slightly high cholesterol so it is important for me to eat oats. Oatmeal and oat bran are rich in soluble fiber, a type of fiber which lowers the bad LDL cholesterol without lowering the good cholesterol. 5 - 10 grams of soluble fiber a day decreases LDL cholesterol by about 5 percent. One bowl of oatmeal contains about 3 grams of soluble fiber.

Well, since I have to eat oats, I might as well try to make it tasty.

So I've made myself another batch of homemade granola. Granola is one of the nicest ways in which to eat oats, I think.

This time, I added some cinnamon powder, almond slices, chocolate chips, cranberries, raisins and prunes to make it tastier. I didn't bake the dried fruits with the nuts and oats this time so they were not as hard. (For more detailed instructions, see here)

What are other nice ways to eat oats that you know of?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Colourful Days

Since I started work full-time again, The Husband and I have not really travelled much. My garden has benefited tremendously from that. This is because our not travelling ensures they get watered regularly.

And the hot and sunny weather we've been having, along with a new fertilizing routine I've taken on, is also keeping my plants happy and healthy.

Look at all the blooms in my balcony!

I'm really pleased with all the flowers.

Perhaps I will try growing a couple of herbs again... I really do want to try my hand at growing a pot of rosemary.. but having killed so many, I'm feeling a little apprehensive.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Iced Fruity Green Tea

This is one of my all time favourite..

Iced green tea with freshly squeezed lemon juice and pieces of freshly cut fruits such as starfruits, green apple, red apple and cherry tomatoes.

This drink makes a very good party drink because it looks as good as it taste. You can make a few jars of this drink and they'd really make the table look prettier.

Ginseng Chicken Soup

I don't remember when I started liking Korean food so much. I went to South Korea for a work trip before and I remembered having really delicious meals whilst I was there. But that trip wasn't what got me liking Korean food so much.

I think it was only when we were living in Beijing, that I started liking Korean food a lot. You see, Korean food is very good in Beijing - authentic, reasonably priced and easily available where we lived in the eastern part of Beijing city. And it is also different from Chinese cuisine - a lot more raw vegetables and not as oily. There was this restaurant that we used to go at least once every week for barbecued beef or kimchi soup.

After we came back to Singapore, I started experimenting with various korean dishes at home - like kimchi Jigae and dolsot bibimbap.

I had the inspiration to cook this soup after having it at Ju Shin Jung.

It is actually very simple to make. Simply stuff the chicken with a mixture of glutinous rice, barley and red dates and place the chicken in a pot of boiling water with some slices of Korean Ginseng. Let simmer until the chicken is so tender that it falls off its bone (about 3 - 4 hours)

When the soup is done, add some toasted pine nuts and sunflower seeds. Season with sea salt.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Perfect Steamed Eggs

The Husband makes the best Steamed Eggs.

It's a secret recipe and I don't quite know how it is done. I only know he puts in eggs plus chicken soup. When it is done, some Japanese soy sauce and sesame oil is drizzled on it.

The steamed eggs are soft and silky and glides into your throat.


Yuzu Tea and a Gourmet Food Store

Bon Bon Bon is a gourmet shop in Hong Kong owned by Wong Shueng Yu, a food connoisseur and author a series of cook books.

A lawyer by training, she quit her job to open the gourmet food store. Her taste for fine food is likely acquired from her mother and grandfather, the renowned philanthropist Tang King-po.

I try to visit her store at Central each time I go Hong Kong. Apart from all the excellent dried foods in her store, she also has sections of selected food imported from all over the world - fragrant soy sauce from Taiwan, excellent olive oil from Greece and what not. It was at Bon Bon Bon that I first discovered Milk Jam.

Last trip, I also bought a bottle of Yuzu Tea from her store. Now there isn't really anything special about Yuzu tea - you can find them at almost any supermarket. But this particular brand from Japan is really quite good. So good that I feel like spreading it on a piece of buttered toast to eat!

有食緣 Bon Bon Bon
香港中環皇后大道中31號 (At Central, not far from H&M)
TEL: +852-2523-6565

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bubble-gum Pink Ixora

Actually, there are 2 things about not sure about this plant.

Firstly, I'm not a 100% sure that this is an ixora plant. The leaves doesn't look any any ixora plant. But the flowers does look like that of an ixora and the nectar at the centre tasted sweet.

Secondly, I'm not sure if this colour can be called pink. It looks a little purple-like to me.. But then I have a bag in a similar shade and a friend once commented she liked the bubble-gum pink bag.

So what do you think? Is this plant an ixora and is it pink?

The Frangipani Update

The frangipani arrived at our home about 3 weeks back, totally bald except for 1 leaf.

I transferred her into a bigger pot and had to cut off a lot of her roots to pull her out of the old one. The next day, the only leaf fell off. I didn't think she had much chance of a survival after that.

But oh look, she has a lot more leaves now and there are 2 clumps of beautiful flowers growing on her.

Miso Tsukemen

Miso Tsukemen

My favourite ramen store is Miharu, located at Gallery Hotel. I discovered this place because The Ex-Boyfriend would usually stay at this particular hotel whenever he came to Singapore. And since his flight usually arrives around noon, it makes sense to have lunch near the hotel right after he checks in.

Miharu used to use only Japanese ingredients - you can tell the difference because even the scallions tasted very sweet and juicy. Over the years however, the restaurant must have given in to the temptation to buy cheaper ingredients because the scallions and some of the other ingredients are no longer as good.

But their noodles are still very much the same - imported from Japan and very good. My favourite noodles at Miharu is the Miso Tsukemen. Tsukemen つけ麺 is similar to ramen but the noodles are served separate from the soup. The noodles are served cold and are to be dipped into the hot soup. At Harumi, the noodles used for tsukemen is different from the noodles for ramen. The tsukemen noodles are a lot more springy and slightly more al dente.

Once in a while, The Husband (or otherwise also known as The Ex-Boyfriend) and I would go back to Miharu to remember old times and eat our favourite ramen. Miharu is, in spite of everything and all that new competition out there, still the best ramen shop in Singapore.

 The noodles of the tsukemen is very springy.. 
and cooked til perfectly al dente

 Miharu used to sell nothing apart from ramen and gyozas, now, they 
also have other small dishes, like this stir-fried cabbage with sesame oil

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nurseries with plant labels

I wish all plant nurseries would label their plants.

Firstly, I come home mostly with unknown plants.

And then, I thought I bought a frilly looking red hibiscus... It was a beautiful plant. But the pot was too huge and heavy and so I asked if they had another one.

The lady at the nursery pointed at the plant next to it. The leaves did look very similar.. and the flower bud looked red.. But when I went home and the flower bloomed... alas.. it is a regular red hibiscus.. with a beautiful deep red centre. But.. it is not a frilly red hibiscus...

I wish nurseries would label their plants the way supermarkets label their products..

In the meantime though, don't you think my red hibiscus is beautiful?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Skinny Prawns and Avocado Pizza

I like pizzas with a thin, crispy crust. Pizzas are one of the things I really like to make at home. I wish The Husband like pizzas a lot more so I can keep making lots of it at home.

Thin crust pizza usually requires preparation in advance. Supposedly, the dough will be really good if you let it raise slowly in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Too bad, I only read about this a few hours before dinner time.

This pizza recipe doesn't call for slow rising of the dough so it is perfect for a last minute pizza. I like this recipe because it is pretty simple and the addition of corn meal gives it a nice texture. If I have to do this again though, I have a feeling that baking it for about 5 mins before heaping up with all the ingredients would result in a more crackly pizza.

2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup water
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tsp yellow cornmeal or wholemeal flour

What I did
1. Mix all the ingredients together except for the dry yeast and water
2. Make a little well in the centre of the flour mixture
3. Add in the yeast and water
4. Knead until smooth
5. Let rise until dough doubles in size (about 1 hour)
6. Spread whatever ingredients you like on top of the dough. I added some red pesto sauce for the base, mini portebello mushrooms, prawns, avocado and some mixed mozzarella and cheddar cheese

For another easy to make pizza dough - see here.

Simple walnut raisin bread

This is another simple bread recipe I really like. You can actually add what you like to it. But a handful of walnuts and raisins work really well.

I like to add like slightly less yeast to my bread but I've got to learn to proof my bread properly. I have been lazy and have leaving them in my kitchen which is air-conditioned... so even after 2 hours of proofing, they don't seem to be getting anywhere. I'd have to move them to somewhere more humid to get those lovely air pockets and a softer texture..

Here is the recipe:

225g flour (I used a mixture of wholemeal - 100g and bread flour - 125g)
4g to 6g instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
125ml water
50g chopped walnuts (optional)
50g raisins or dried cranberries or sun-dried tomatoes (optional)

What I did
1. Mix everything together except the walnuts and raisins
2. Knead into a smooth dough
3. Add the walnuts and raisins and knead into dough
4. Cover and proof for 45 mins to 2 hours (depending on your room conditions and amount of yeast)
5. Shape into a long oval shape and place on silpat, or lightly oiled baking tray
6. Proof until double in size - 45 mins to 2 hours
7. Bake at 200 deg C for 25 mins
8. Take out, let cool on a rack

This bread makes a very good open sandwich. It also goes well with a thick soup, like corn soup or mushroom soup.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The forgotten herb - Kencur

The kencur plant growing at A's place - look at the flower!

I had lots of problems remembering the name of this herb. A gave one of these to me during our first cooking class - the otah making class. I was tasked to grow it well and propagate it so that I can distribute some to my fellow classmates.

Kencur, also called Kaempferia galanga or sand ginger is a member of the ginger family. It is sometimes also called the Lesser galanga, although that is supposedly not correct. Some sources state that lesser galanga should refer to Alpinia officinarum, a cousin of kencur.

Kencur is widely used in Indonesian cooking, especially in Balinese cuisine. It used to be very much used in Peranakan cooking but nowadays, it is not so commonly available in the markets and hence used.That is why A grows it in her home - she can't find any in the markets!

The root is strongly aromatic and has medicinal property. Both the root and the leaves of kencur can be used in cooking.

During the otah making class, we some added finely sliced some kencur leaves into the otah mixture. Apparently, it can also be used as a flavouring for stir-fried dishes.

My favourite part about this plant, is that it seemed to be able to grow and propagate itself under my care. So far, I've had no luck with any kind of edibles. They grow, flourish somewhat and then die off.

I'm looking to this plant to break that trend.

Look, it is growing pretty well, isn't it? I am growing it in partial shade and it has been shooting out new leaves regularly.

*fingers crossed*

This plant has grown from a little plantlet to this.. 
I need to find a bigger pot for it soon!