Friday, December 31, 2010

Summary of 2010

The Husband has a friend who sends out a summary of his year to all his friends around this time of the year. It is an email The Husband looks forward to every year. I think it is a really cool way to look back at the year AND update your friends about your year at the same time.

And so, I  decided  I will start to do a summary of my year from this year onwards on my blog. As I'm writing this, there is about an hour more of 2010 before 2011 arrives... so I'm in a bit of a hurry to finish off this post.

I started this year knowing that I have hypothyroidism - meaning my body does not have enough thyriod hormones to run the body. The reason is unknownst to me still.. what I need to do is take some thyriod hormones replacement daily.. to up my body's metabolism. Apart from having to take a small tablet every morning (something I still sometimes forget), this condition doesn't really affect my lifestyle at all.

What it does, however, is that it makes me a lot more conscious about exercising. So one of my resolutions for 2010 is to exercise more. The other is to forget about money... or rather.. about making money in 2010.

For the first 3 months of 2010, I was still working on a contract with my ex-company in Beijing. The arrangement started in the beginning of 2009, right after I left the company to return home to Singapore. There were a few projects that required my experience.. so I had a contractual arrangement with the company that meant I had to work a few days each month.. and visit Beijing every 2 - 3 months for a couple of weeks. The arrangement was a win-win for both sides.. but I was very grateful for it because it made leaving Beijing and returning to Singapore that much easier for me.

Beijing airport - an airport I'm very familiar with..

The work was enjoyable and I really liked the occasional visits to Beijing. It meant I could catch up with my friends in Beijing and visit my favourite restaurants - like hotpot and Peking duck.

In my spare time, I went to the gym, cooked, baked and spent my time seriously looking into setting up a small F&B shop. My little dream of owning a little shop of my own didn't materialise, however. In April, I started full-time work again in a bank in Singapore. Work was... confusing at first. It wasn't so much the work but the culture and changes I saw in some old friends. For a while, I thought I wouldn't be able to fit back in. But after a few weeks, I settled in.. and although I have been comprising more and more in terms of working hours, I do feel comfortable where I am right now.

Occasionally, I'd look back and wonder if I'd ever regret not taking that launch to start my own shop. But I know that what I may have missed in terms of a new experience, I gained in having more personal time and a lot less stress..

 One of the pictures an item on the menu for my future shop

Travel wise, I managed a 2 weeks trip to Tohoku and Tokyo in April, before I started work. That trip is my favourite this year. Japan is always a fantastic place to visit.. and April is the best time because it is sakura season. I had a fairly good dose of onsens, ryokans and Japanese cuisine during the trip..

Sakura in April in Tokyo

In October, I visited Haikou with a couple of girlfriends. To be honest, there isn't much in Haikou.. I still can't quite remember what made us decide to go there.. But it was a good break from work and I enjoyed their company a lot.

Then of course, I spent my block leave (a compulsory thing in banking) in Taiwan in December. It was a trip packed with food, food and then more food.. 

The worst thing that happened to me this year was having my things stolen from my home. The culprit never owned up.. and was never caught. It was a horrid experience and I pray I'd never have to go through something like that again.

On a happier note - we had 2 good news in the family this year. The Husband's brother got married in July and we flew to Hong Kong to attend the wedding. Another good news was my little brother's engagement. The wedding would be next year so that would be something to look forward to in Oct 2011.

1 wedding in the family in 2010 and another one next year..

I started out this post thinking 2010 was a relatively quiet year for me.. but actually... it was a rather eventful year.. with lots of changes and a fair bit of travelling.

I've yet to sit down and think about my resolutions for 2011.. but I hope to love more.. laugh more.. and enjoy things that come my way in the year ahead.

A happy new year to you and your family!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Greetings from Taiwan

Merry Christmas to all my dear friends, from the land of bubble tea and night markets.

The temperature has dropped considerably today in Taiwan.. so I'm having a cool Christmas after all.

Hope that you will all have a great time with friends and family over this festive season. I will be updating my blog again after I'm back in Singapore.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dinner and Conference Calls

I had 2 conference calls earlier this evening. One from 6pm to 7pm and the other from 830pm to 930pm.

This is the problem created by technology such as remote access and tele-conferencing. It is now so easy to speak to someone in London and New York that we end up doing that. But there is no technology solutions for time differences yet invented and so we end up having to work late hours to talk to colleagues from across the world.

I decided to leave work early so I can take both calls from home and I can have dinner at home.

In the 1.5 hours between the 2 calls, I made a pasta and salad. I cooked some linguine with some very excellent hot smoked salmon with mixed mushrooms. (Hot smoked salmon is cooked salmon with a smokey taste. We got ours from Iceland courtesy of The Sister-in-Law. It's yummy!) I also put together some vegetables with crispy fried onions, balsamic vinegar and olive oil to make a quick salad.

There was enough time to make dinner, eat it up and chill out a little before doing the dishes. But I was slow with the dishes and time ran out. So The Husband had to take over doing the dishes whilst I talked to my colleagues in London and New York.

What a busy evening it has been!

Japanese Curry at Ginza Bairin

Ginza Bairin is an old name from Tokyo for Tonkatsu.

They are famous for their black pork katsu and katsu sandwiches. I had the chicken katsu curry (I don't fancy pork) for lunch today and I thought it was pretty good.

The chicken katsu is very well fried - Great bread crumbs and perfectly crispy. The chicken wasn't the most tender, but it was fairly tender.

The curry was thick, sweet, not spicy and fragrant, with bits of carrots and onions still visible. It wasn't too watery or oily at all.. Perhaps it was a little too thick.. but it coated the fried chicken and rice nicely so I happily ate up almost all of the curry.

The miso soup had a nice touch to it - sliced radishes and bits of bacon. But I left it lacked proper miso taste, so I didn't like it too much.

Overall though, a pretty good Japanese curry. Every once in a while I would have cravings for Japanese curry. Next time, I know where I can go to satisfy those cravings.

Yummy Japanese curry, taken with my iPhone. 
I've stopped carrying my camera around now that I have the iPhone.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Zucchini Bread

"I haven't been baking for quite a while now."

I was thinking about that to myself at the supermarket when I saw this lady putting up some zucchini on the racks.

So I had to get a couple to make a zucchini bread. I've never tried before but I think it is like carrot cake, only easier to grate.

This recipe turned out alright - nice and moist as I had hoped. I shredded the zucchini with the green skin still on so my cake has interesting green bits on it. But I realised I had no cinnamon at home halfway through so the cake was not as fragrant as I hoped. And the recipe called for 2 1/4 cups of sugar which is way too much. I used 2 cups and found the cake still very sweet. Maybe because I also dumped in 1/2 a cup of mini chocolate chips. Nevertheless, I'd try going for 1 1/2 cups of sugar next time.

Recipes adapted from here.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups white sugar (I reckon 1 1/2 cups would be enough)
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts

What I did
1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 165 degrees C
2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl
3. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well.
4. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into pans
5. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Flowers in the house

I like having some cut flowers at home because I think that they liven up our apartment.

It's always nice to have an element of the outdoors in your home - a tree, a sky well, a green plant or some freshly cut flowers. Cut flowers really liven up the house. I like them in my living room and dining table. I'd even put some in the bathroom if we had some space there!

Sometimes, I'd make do with flowers from my balcony. Sometimes, I would buy some home from the market. In a tropical climate like Singapore, the variety of freshly cut flowers we can get without paying a fortune is unfortunately, rather limited.

Gerberas and orchids are usually the best because they last quite a while. Especially orchids. And when the stalk gets a little droopy, I'd pluck off the individual flowers and put them in a small glass... and they will last another few more days this way. Just an idea in case you like orchids too..

Fosters - The English Rose Cafe

The menu is printed out like a newspaper

Holland Village used to be an old haunt of mine in my Junior College days.

Since then, I have been gone to Holland Village only every once in a while but I seem to remember Fosters being at the corner of Holland Village for a long time.

The name English Rose Cafe may conjure a dainty and delicate looking cafe. But dainty and delicate Fosters is not. In fact, it is a little rustic and country looking cafe.

The high-tea set is definitely good value for money ($10.50++). You get a cup of coffee or tea, dainty cucumber sandwiches and cheese sandwiches, a fruit cake and most importantly, 2 giant scones with freshly whipped cream and strawberry jam.

I'm not crazy about the sandwiches and fruit cake.. but having earl grey tea with milk and freshly baked scones with cream and jam is definite my cup of tea for a leisurely Friday afternoon.

The best part of tea was (of course) catching up with my 3 friends - Ting, Petunia and Leah. As usual the afternoon zipped past with stories of home building, lecturing teenage boys, good news from an important exam and holiday experiences.

Food for two - that's a lot!

Fosters Restaurant
277 Holland Ave
Holland Village
Singapore 278994
Tel: +65-6466-8939

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Festive Poinsettia

There are 2 big pots of Poinsettia just outside the lobby of my office.

They bring a smile to my face when I walk past them early every morning. I think there is something about the brilliant red of Poinsettia that shouts year-end holidays and festive season.

Legend has it that a young girl in Mexico was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. See the legend of the poinsettia here.

The star-shaped leaf pattern of the Poinsettia is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.

Whatever it is, I just like the red of the Poinsettia very much.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Early Christmas Party

I had a party at my place on Saturday.

I don't know how others be that cool, calm and collected party host. Whenever I host a party at my place, even if it is for my cell group friends who comes my house about twice a month for cell group, I was rather anxious.

Firstly, there's always The Cleaning That is Required. Our helper comes every Sunday afternoon to clean up the house and do the ironing. Understandably, by Saturday, our place requires a bit of cleaning and tidying to ensure that the floor is clean, the dining table is cleared and there are no odd things lying around.

Then, there's the Preparation of the Drinks and Food. Fortunately, we did a potluck this time so I didn't need to huff and puff in the kitchen with the food preparations.

I did however prepare the drinks. I always think that a party is never good when there is not enough ice. And so my freezer was packed full with ice-cubes and frozen lemon slices for the cocktails and drinks.

When everyone arrives, you go through the stage of the One Thousand and One Questions - "Can I have a cocktail?", "Where are the folks?", "Can I have something to cut the bread?", "Where can I get extra chopsticks".

And after everyone leaves, that's the Cleaning Up that is Required. Fortunately, these were my cell group friends and they helped out with most of the washing up.

But all in all, a party is a tiring affair.

At the end of the day though, hm.. I think I'd really prefer attending a party at my house than anywhere else.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Homemade Salsa Sauce

This homemade salsa sauce is easy and delicious. The Husband and my friends loved it. I thought 2 bowls were a bit too much but they disappeared quickly.

This salsa sauce is really easy to make:

2 large and very ripe tomatoes, cut into cubes
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 a yellow onion, diced
2 stalks of Chinese coriander (or cilantro), chopped
A good squeeze of lemon juice (or lime)
1 teaspoon of good olive oil
A pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

What I did
1. Mix everything together in a bowl
2. Cling wrap the bowl and leave in the fridge for at least an hour

These chips went really well with some blue corn Tortilla chips.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pepperoni Pizzeria - Wood-fire Pizza

If you are looking for something fancy or unique, you probably cannot find it at Pepperoni Pizzeria.

Pepperoni Pizzeria sells simple, good old Italian food. I think it has the best pizza I've had in Singapore. The pizza crust is thin and baked in a wood-fire pizza, so the pizza is nice and crackly. Their family-sized pizza comes in a size for a family of 8. It is really huge and you can choose to have 2 flavours in a pizza.

The huge family size pizza - that's how big it is compared to the iPhone

The funghi (mushroom) pizza was good. A variety of mushrooms are used and the result is a very simple yet flavourful pizza.

I liked the seafood pizza a lot. Actually, it's probably my favourite seafood pizza ever. The pizza came to our table smelling absolutely great. I think the smell and flavour came from the calamari and clams. (Yes calms, as in those in vongole. They were yums!) Fresh prawns were also added and these were cooked to perfection - springy and crunchy, not overcooked and limp like most prawns in pizzas.

The starters were fairly good too. The portobello mushroom was HUGE and well fried. The sauce that came with it was good too.. although I would prefer it without the pieces of chicken.

 The deep-fried portobello mushroom - it looks like a steak, no?

I liked the rocket salad although it was a little plain. But plain and simple is pretty good sometimes.

The tortilla chips, fried wings and meatballs were average - more like pub snacks made from frozen food than starters in a decent restaurant.

The desserts that we had - panna cotta, creme brulee and tiramisu were all okay but nothing fantastic.

Our desserts were average. Could it be because we were so full?

I liked the beer though. I had a girly Wittekerke Rose beer and thoroughly enjoyed it. It had a really distinct raspberry flavour to it and wasn't strong at all.

I would be going back again to have more pizzas and beer, 2 ultimate comfort food.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Orchid Leaf Problem

As usual, my intentions were good. The orchid plant had leaves that were a bit dusty and I thought a few splashes of water would cheer my plant up.

This was what I got:

Oh dear.

I wished I've read this website earlier -

The problem I'm facing can be found under the "Leaf Yellowing - Cultural section" - If little puddles of water sit on leaves for long periods of time, then the leaf will usually turn yellow, then brown and finally black. This is because the leaf cells in that area have died. Always ensure that your plants are completely dry before nightfall. Be especially careful of small depressions in leaf surfaces that can trap water.

I had to cut off about 12 leaves from my beautiful orchid plant. It now looks like it had a really awful "haircut"!

My orchid plant in its beautiful days

I love how the flowers last such a long time

Monday, December 6, 2010

Brotzeit - German Food & Beer

I know only a few things about German and food. Here's the list of what I know:
- Blackforest cake is German. It is named after the liquor from the Black Forest region in Germany
- Pretzels are German too
- Ritter Sport is from Germany and my favourite flavour is yogurt
- Pork Knuckles made in the crispy way taste a bit like "siew yok" (Chinese roasted pork)
- German sausages come in 1001 variety and most of them taste pretty good
- Sauerkraut is sour cabbages and usually served with pork knuckles and sausages
- The Germans like their beer

But inspite of my little knowledge of German food, my stomach tells me that Brotzeit serves good German fare.

The sausage platter was good. I really liked the sausages, especially the ones called N├╝rnberger. The pork knuckle looked very good. (I didn't eat much of it because I'm still adverse to pork in its rawest form after not eating it for more than a decade.) It sounded really crispy though, because you could hear even the next table crunching away. The sauerkraut was nice and sour and yet not too sour. And of course, the ice-cold beer washes everything down well.

A nice place to visit, especially if you are very into meat.

Brotzeit German Bier Bar and RestaurantVivoCity, HarbourFront Walk,
Singapore 098585
Tel: (65) 6272 8815

Yellow Frangipani

Petunia and Malar guessed it right - my fangipani flowers are yellow in colour.

I'm a little disappointed I must say...

I was hoping for something like white or better yet, white and pink... because my other frangipani plant has white and yellow flowers.. So I was hoping for something not yellow.

Is a shame really. But I still like it very much. The flowers are a little different from my other plant and the plant is really blooming - 2 big clumps of flowers now!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fragrant Jasmine

I have 2 jasmine plants in my balcony for some time now.. but I've not had any pictures of their flowers. The last few times they flowered were on weekdays, and I would get home from work to a really fragrant smell on my balcony.

These 2 plants are quite hardy too. I don't really water them much because they are exposed to the elements so they have been getting lots of rain water recently.

Using Recipes on the Internet

Homemade pizza with mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, bell pepper 
and rocket leaves.. I like the combination of the toppings.. but not the dough

I'm often wary of using recipes from the internet.. yet I like trying out new dishes and new recipes.. and one has to admit that the internet today is one of the best sources of recipes.

But there are so many recipes online... it's sometimes hard to know which one to try.

My experience tells me that just because there are lots of positive comments doesn't mean the recipe will turn out great. (E.g. this banana cake recipe that I tried) I had my qualms about this particular "Thin Cracker Crust Pizza Recipe", even when I was making it.

The recipe called for:
- 1 pound high gluten flour
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt

But even when I was kneading the dough, I found that 3/4 cup of warm water just isn't enough to bring the flour together. I think I added about 2 times that amount. And the dough was still pretty hard after the long rising time. I had a really tiring time rolling out all that dough.

So my pizza dough, understandably, turned out not as thin as I liked.. It was rather cracker-like though.. but like a really hard and thick cracker. A bit too thick for my liking.

Fortunately, my tried-and-tested beef stew saved the day.. or rather the dinner.

My favourite beef stew with carrots, baby tomatoes, onions and celery