Friday, 25 February 2011

Burn the kitchen!

Once an avid dancer out to burn the floor, I’m now a stay-at-home wife whose life revolves around trying (not) to burn the kitchen.

Friends compliment me on the many food photos on my Facebook profile, posted for the benefit of my MIL so that she knows we’re eating decently well and not like the poor student and his poor wife that we truly are. But it’s not as yummy or pretty as it looks. They don’t see the burnt sauces at the bottom of our pans and they don’t smell charred sauces or slightly burnt eggs in our wardrobes and cabinets!

It is not uncommon for us to open up the windows to air our apartment even in the dead of winter. Better for me and my fragile nose to hide in a draughtless corner for 30 minutes than for the smell to linger and permeate every fabric in our little one-bedroom.

But smells aren’t the only concern. I just came back from an evacuation – a neighbour set off the fire alarm when she was cooking lunch! It’s a good thing to always check for the blinking light on the fire alarm to make sure it works in case my char siew burns again, no matter how much it strains my old neck to have to look vertically upward *.*

And have I mentioned the scouring of stubborn burnt sauces from stubborn pans? It’s carcinogenic just smelling it!

Despite the perils of the kitchen, it has been a wonderful journey, experimenting different foods to suit Sito’s more..selective palate.

As an undergraduate in the UK, I often alternated between aglio olio pasta from my little kitchen and toasted paninis from Heroes, my favourite sandwich shop. I never craved for local favourites like chicken rice or laksa, and I seldom cooked Chinese food unless it was for a makan session with the Singaporeans or other internationals.

Now, as wife to the husband, it gets a little tricky. Yes, he really will eat anything I cook. (He once finished up a huge portion of my watery sweet and sour pork.) Yes, he doesn’t tire of eating the same thing every day. BUT! I know he prefers Asian to angmoh food. I think he particularly likes fried carrot cake, char kway teow, chicken rice and the must-have mixed rice main dish, sweet and sour pork. I also want to give us some variety – more things for him to look forward to after a day in school and more fun for the rookie chef.

So I spent a couple of hours every Saturday planning meals for the following week. After all these months of researching and concurrent experimenting, I conclude that there are three ways to achieve the oh-so-familiar taste of good ol’ Sg. In increasing order of difficulty:

#1: Use premixes. Why? They’re easy! And best of all, what I have in my big drawer five steps away from where I am now are pretty authentic stuff. Be stocking up on more now that we don’t have to pack our stuff into storage this summer!

Here’s our favourite bento lunch – beef in Lee Kum Kee black pepper sauce, because the sauce keeps the rice moist even after four hours in his backpack.


Second favourite bento lunch – char siew, made with LKK char siew sauce. I always, always burn the sauce and stink up the apartment but hey, it’s char siew and nothing is coming between Sito and char siew! :p


Next week, we are having a Sg potluck dinner, showcasing Prima Taste chicken rice! Akan datang...

#2: Follow Asian cooks based outside of Asia. Why? They improvise for ingredients not easily found outside Asia. Or they know the different names by which these ingredients are called – spring onions, scallions and green onions all refer to the long vegetable usually found floating in soups. My favourite references are justbento.com and its sister site, justhungry.com, and this book called “Japanese women don’t get old or fat” by Naomi Moriyama.

If anyone’s wondering why my references are all Japanese, well, I like Japanese food! :p And I realise that home-cooked Asian food isn’t very different among Asian cultures. Anyway, the websites provide more than Japanese food. And they are all good guides to simple home-cooked fare.

Miso pork is the main dish here – marinade with miso paste and cook, but take care not to burn it (too much):


Beef and potato stew – perfect with rice for a carb-loaded meal!


#3: Bite the bullet and make it from scratch. There’s no avoiding the inevitable when there is just no substitute. I have packets of cai po but where the hell do I find steamed carrot cake to make fried carrot cake?! But I can get the raw ingredients, so... Anyway, for such big experiments, I look at chefs based in our region, such as www.mywoklife.com, wokkingmum.blogspot.com and kitchentigress.blogspot.com.

Here's my super successful attempt at sweet and sour pork, except that it was chicken, using a friend’s simple recipe of 43221: four measures of tomato sauce, three of soy sauce, two of vinegar and sugar, and one of cornstarch. I skipped the cornstarch for this as the mix was thick enough:


After a while, I learn to improvise and create too.

Pseudo “claypot” tofu – cabbage was replaced with broccoli, fatty roast pork with hotdogs and claypot with a normal pot!


Instead of yummy braised seafood yee fu noodles, we have fried egg noodles with prawns and plenty of vege:


So, there, with some guidance, whipping up familiar food can be as easy as it looks. Just be careful not to burn anything!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

I'm horrijible!

I have done oh-so-horrible things! I must confess..

This afternoon, I had three or four teaspoonfuls of extra crunchy peanut butter straight from the bottle.

Once, I brought a bottle of Nutella to the office and ate at least one big tablespoon each afternoon. Nop, no bread too.

I had even had Milo powder on its own before *ashamed*

What else..

At a chalet, I ate 90% of a square pack of Chips Ahoy. I didn't leave 10% uneaten; others ate them.

In my first year in Oxford, I finished up a long - at least 30 cm - tube of digestive biscuits. Chocolate coated on one side. In one afternoon.

And when 10s of digestive biscuits didn't do harm to me, one litre of orange juice in one afternoon brought me a sore throat.

I used to have a pint of Haagen-Dazs at every movie that year. I don't remember how I kicked the habit. Probably cos I got fat.

And while I was staying in college, there was one day I decided to have four or six slices of toast for breakfast instead of my usual two or four. And I had them with hot food, or worse, loads of butter generously sprinkled with sugar.

There was a year in my MSc year when I felt stressed and restless. I decided to bake but after melting the chocolate found that I did not have enough butter. So I topped it up with vegetable oil. When the cake was done, I cut out a whole quarter, and gave it to my Irish flatmate. I finished the remaining that afternoon.

That same year, I bought a carrot cake from Sainsbury's - the larger one - and finished it in a day.

Back to more recent times, while I was in Sg without Sito, I finished 90% of a pack of cashew nuts in one day. I saved 10% for another day - the next day.

There, my horrible food deeds as far as memory takes me. Confessed!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Our first NBA match - live!

:)


$30 for a ticket, $25 for round-trip transport and a T-shirt. So it was $110 for both of us for a night out! A little on the ouch side but well, it turned out fun!

We were one of the first to get to the carpark because we thought we could get to the stadium earlier if we were on the first bus - we wanted to take a photo with the Michael Jordan statue! But we thought wrong. The driver was lost! We got off the bus opposite the stadium when she couldn't find the drop-off point, and walked across.

We got free brollies..


and contest cards when we went through the gates.


But they made me empty our water bottle =(

We got some chips aka french fries and a drink, and found our seats at one end of the court all the way to the top as you could see from the previous photo.

Before the actual match, Kellogg beat Booth in a short game - yeah! :p

While the two teams warmed up, a bull flew around!


Then they played a video discouraging "disruptive behaviour" - quite funny..


A mascot was walking around in the court, and just before the beginning of the game, I saw him mop a part of the court!! Poor mascot, got to do everything! Btw, he's called Benny the Bull..

The lights dimmed and the national anthem was sung..


And then the game was in full swing!


I'd only caught glimpses of the game on TV. I thought the game looked faster on TV. But it sped up after the first quarter.

During time-outs and in between quarters, we were very entertained.. There were cute bulls:


Cheerleaders called the Luvabulls!


The BullKidz..


And a human flag at half-time!


There were also, um, races.. First, we saw some trucks on the screen, racing. Then we realised it was part of the contest cards! The truck that won wasn't the truck on our contest cards, oh well.. But we won the next race!


We also made noise as each quarter started - 7.8, presumably out of 10, at this point:


And there were various distractions. Some guys went around rousing the crowds, and THROWING BURGERS into the most excited crowds! Think they're called the Incredibulls, and their jerseys had the golden arch on them :p Later there was even a machine shooting burgers while T-shirts parachuted down from above!

The game concluded with the audience winning free Big Macs cos the Bulls won with more than 100 points - yeah! :)


And my conclusion? Bball is definitely a lot more fun to watch than soccer! It's faster with lots of entertainment. Even though we were so far up, we could see the players pretty clearly. Or at least we could tell them apart by their number. Or we could just look at the screens. I still remember watching soccer twice in the UK and once in Spain - I couldn't see anything!! And bball is indoors! We're happy :)

Oh, and today, we're going to Macs for lunch :p

Friday, 18 February 2011

Valentine's Day

Sito sent flowers to my office every year. Until we got married. Hoho! Last year, I think he handed me the tulips personally on 12 Feb after work - I don't remember much except for the photo taken at what I think is AMK Hub! This year, well, we're a poor student and his poor wife! :p

But it was still fun. On Sunday, I spent the whole afternoon baking some 200 chocolate chip cookies. Sito suggested making a donut cookie so that was what I did with the last bit of cookie dough.. Heart-shaped donut!


We'll look at the result later...

On Monday itself, I went to a friend's surprise birthday party in the afternoon while he had a meeting so we didn't see each other until evening. By then I had distributed about 80%-90% of the cookies - happy :)

By 6 pm, we were out of the house - off to our romantic dinner at.....

*drum rolls*

Five Guys!


:p

Our starters - I haven't had ground nuts for a while! And these are nicely roasted :)


And I realised with a lot of guilt that I forgot to wear my rings! =( But the guilt disappeared when I saw that Sito forgot his too. That made us unmarried for the dinner - call us lovers :p


Sito looks so cute and happy with his food and me in front of him!!


My cheeseburger - two patties! Sito's was similar but with bacon, no less...


We were so full we walked around town for a while before heading home. It wasn't too cold so we managed to hold hands on the streets *shy*

It wasn't until 10 pm that our bellies felt empty enough to have dessert:


That was our "donut" - the dough had spread during the bake and filled the hole *.* But it was fun :) I also made a little M&M icecream sundae.

And we're done. No fancy dinner, no fancy dress. Just the two of us :)

Monday, 14 February 2011

More than a bird's eye view

Did an interview with Aram Pan when I was back in Singapore in December. I still remember it was the day I thought I lost my four leave clover necklace! The article spent a month in the queue and finally came out today in the OSP, reproduced below. I couldn't upload a flash video so click on the clicks to get to the actual page.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

More than a bird’s eye view

Would you attach your camera to a kite and let it take flight hundreds of metres into the air?

That’s what VR photographer Aram Pan did one windy day. The result? A beautiful aerial panoramic view of Marina Barrage.

Click this: Marina barrage from the air
Drag your mouse cursor around to explore the view from above!

VR photography stands for “virtual reality” photography – a continuous 360-degree spherical view of photographs.

Aram delved into VR photography back in 2003. He started out piecing together panoramic photos he’d taken during his travels to show his family and friends. His work eventually became a 360-degree presentation.

As the general internet speed back then hadn’t caught up with photography technology, it wasn’t until 2008 that Aram launched the Singapore VR website, featuring the various sights in Singapore. And suddenly, what started out as a personal hobby became a hit with viewers from all over the world. Today, about 50 per cent of his visitors come from outside of Singapore. In fact, a visitor from the US was so enamoured by what he saw that he moved to Singapore for six months to experience life here!

Aram laughs off the grouse of some people that Singapore is boring, and shares his life philosophy, “My cup is half full, not half empty. There are beautiful and interesting things in Singapore if you know where to look.”

So where does Aram get his inspiration?

He shrugs, “Mostly by chance.” He keeps his camera in his car, which comes in handy when he encounters something interesting. He is one curious cat. For instance, what does Zouk look like when there is no one around? How does it feel like when you swap places with a stall owner in a coffee shop?

Besides photographing all over Singapore, Aram also does fun things with objects like a new pair of running shoes “because it has a white interior whereas my past running shoes all had a grey interior.”


View from a shoe: Aram Pan

While it takes no more than a few seconds to take a photograph, stitching a series of photographs into a VR takes a lot more time. The most challenging ones are those involving movement, e.g. the VR of the fireworks at the National Day Parade last year.

“But that is also my favourite,” he beams proudly. “There was so much energy there (at the parade).”

Click this: NDP 2010 fireworks
360-degree bedazzlement of fireworks on National Day

In Aram’s words, “VR photography makes you feel like you are there.”

Indeed, I can’t think of a better way to get a complete view of Singapore. Apart from actually being at home of course.

More of Aram’s work can be viewed at his website: www.SingaporeVR.com

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sito cooks dinner

So yesterday, after a big lunch at Sun Wah, followed by bubble tea, we remained full for the longest time. It was almost 8 pm when we headed for the gym – I walked while he ran, and he did some weights while I continued to walk*.

* I have resolved to walk regularly since I’m not the running type, to supplement pilates.

And now, I got a little hungry. And he could eat :)

Menu? Instant noodles, instant soup, complete with sesame ball for dessert.

That’s my husband opening a new pack of instant noodles.


Here are the ingredients and equipment:


To make the instant noodles sexier, he pan-fried some hotdogs, and flashed me his super cute, albeit silly, smile :)

* Photo is edited to hide flaws :p

And now, two frozen wantans are in the pot with the water:


Stirring in the won bok.. Notice the ball of plain noodles in the top left corner – it supplemented the small packages of instant noodles :p


Sito checked on the soup as the noodles cooked...


... seconds before he instructed me to pour the seasonings out on the dishes – some powder, dark sauce and OIL! He suggested substituting my oil with some sesame oil instead. This is his:


And now, all there was to do was to stir the noodles with the seasonings! Done!


We watched The Mentalist during our lovely late dinner. And after washing up, we enjoyed our sesame balls with oooh, red bean paste filling!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

萍聚

We were on youtube singing old songs (!) - more on that later..

And oh my, this song brings back lovely memories :)



李翊君 -《萍聚》

別管以後將如何結束 至少我們曾經相聚過
不必費心的彼此約束 更不需要言語的承諾
只要我們曾經擁有過 對你我來講已經足夠
人的一生有許多回憶 只願你的追憶有個我

Apparently, the male voice is 陈升..

Food cravings

I have two questions:

First question: How often do you have the following in Singapore?

Hawker food, e.g. char kway teow, chicken rice
Seafood, e.g. chilli crab, cereal prawns
Snacks, e.g. Hello Panda, Yan Yan, Porky, bak kwa
Drinks, e.g. teh tarik, barley

Second question: How often do you (want to) have those when you’re away from home?

My theory is that when we’re away from home, we tend to (want to) have more of familiar food that we don’t usually take a lot of when we are in Singapore where we have easy access.

I mean, Sito and I usually had $3 mixed rice during weekdays in Singapore. Sometimes, usually weekends, we would go to Crystal Jade or somewhere for Chinese food or zi char. Or we would cook something different at home – once he made nice steak for us. Char kway teow, hokkien mee, chicken rice etc were not common for us. Or we tried not to indulge too often! Last CNY, we bought a pack of bak kwa to peck at at night.

Now, I would make char siew for our bento at least once a week. We started having our weekly bak kwa since we got back from Singapore in late December - we have enough weekly portions all the way to April at least. We even have packets of Prima Taste in our kitchen. And we’ve been trying to get nice Chinese Cantonese food near us.

So last week, we went to Sun Wah at Argyle. Today, we went again but with some friends. I didn’t expect it but it was fun to use purely Singaporean lingo and have everyone understood! We ate a lot*, went to a nice-smelling bakery and bought a lot of food in a supermarket.

* Sito said my sweet and sour chicken was better than their sweet and sour pork! :)

One of the guys bought an entire pack of some 12 servings of Yan Yan, so I asked him if he had that much in Singapore as well. The answer was an expected “no”.

I guess familiar food is the best antidote for homesickness. Even though I don’t usually crave for such familiar food – cos I like angmoh food!! :p – but it’s nice to have them once in a while with friends, and of course, see Sito happily eating :) My food slims him down so some good Chinese food once in a while – well, weekly now! – is good for him! :p

It makes sense, really, that food is the most missed among the three F’s – family, friends and food – when we’re overseas for a long period of time. After all, we can easily “meet” family and friends via Skype but authentic food? Not unless you’re lucky enough to have a good restaurant near you. Or you can really, really cook!

PS: I had a sudden craving for bubble tea this afternoon, and Sito got it for me, happy :) It’s like having our favourite Each-A-Cup on hot afternoons in Singapore, lovely!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A lack of grooming

Attempted to brush my hair. "Attempted" because the brush didn't brush through. After some two months of not using hair conditioner, my hair now feels like grass. Dead grass. Oh, it still looks healthy but alas, looks are deceiving...

For example, my hands lie about my age. I'm 31 but look at my hands and they'll tell you I'm 41. I don't mind looking like 41 in 10 years' time but no, not now.

Another example, if you just look at my calves, you'll think I'm a man... Oops, tmi? :p

It's not that I don't have hair conditioner. I do; I just don't like that soapy feeling. Guess I'll have to use it whether or not I like it! I also have hand creams and all sorts of body mosturisers but they don't seem to stay when I keep cooking and washing, and going to the toilet in between! I've resorted to sleeping with moisturised hands in gloves - we'll see if that helps..

But as the poor wife of a poor student, I refrain from spa visits so no waxing, mani/pedi, facial or massage. But I give myself a little spa treatment here and there. There's my weekly foot scrub who keeps my heels looking just dry and not totally dead; I'm a long way from pretty soles after years of abuse from punishing shoes! And my store of facial scrub, masks and moisturisers are giving me the most supple skin since I left school. I even have surgical needles which I use sparingly and only for the nasty pimples. The rest of the time, my 10-year old extractor will do fine, followed by a detox mask and then a nice layer of moisturiser.

Yet, there's a part of my face that's not yielding to all my treatments. My lips. One sudden smile and I bleed. A gentle scrub with my facial scrub followed by my trusty Estee Lauder lip treatment so effective in Sg doesn't seem to work. This is not a lack of grooming - it's been dry and peeling ever since the bout of mouth ulcers that spread to my lips when I was eight. If not for my teacher who spotted it and referred me to a doctor, I would have suffered a lot longer and worse..

Anyway, it's pretty cool in our apartment tonight. Maybe cos we left our window open for most of the afternoon. I'm having hot Milo and should probably head off to bed pretty soon - gotta wake at 6.30 am tomorrow for a volunteer activity!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Buckets of life

Well, we get thrown buckets of shit sometimes.. I've had my fair share but today, I'm laying out new buckets to organise my life.

I mentioned that I am attending a class on managerial leadership. On the first class, lecturer opined that work-life balance was a misnomer. Instead, he carved life into seven buckets - family, friends, health, fun, spirituality, social responsibility, career - and assigned an ideal proportion to each of them, adding up eventually to 100%.

i carved my life into five buckets after that first class. My buckets are kind of balanced right now except for maybe health :p so I thought I would assign proportions closer to mid 2012 when I would have to return to full-time work.. But, oh well, let me just do it now!


Bucket
Ideal weight*   
Hours per week
Family
35%
40 (mostly in the weekend)
Friends
9%
11 (dinner, games..)
Me time   
9%
11 (read, internet, meditate)
Health
2%
2 (let's be honest!)
Work
45%
55 (some OT + travelling)
* Out of waking hours only, assuming seven hours of sleep

So there, my ideal looks good. I have half my time for non-work! That's some kind of a balanced life! :)

But lecturer also said that the unfortunate reality was that the actual proportions were often not as ideal. The gap between ideal and reality is something that we have to fix.

I have optimistically put work at 45%. I'll cap it at 50%, stealing time from me and friends where necessary. And if push comes to shove, 55%, max max MAX! I know it's a zero sum game. But I can be creative and overlap activities to make time count, e.g. sports with family and friends, inviting friends over for dinner with the family, watching drama while on the treadmill, read while babies nap..

Well, we'll know if this works comes mid 2012! *dreading it*

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Frosty the Snowman?

Found, Friday morning on my way to the post office :)



On Saturday, the head was gone (and later found on the ground a little bit away), and Sito put another block of snow on it!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Wow. I feel so loved.

In how many ways can you interpret the title? Two for me.

Episode de la Mum, my MIL

Last week, I said on Facebook that I had gastric problem. She replied shortly that she was worried and asked me to take care of myself. (Oh yes, she's on Facebook!)

Episode de la Mother

Just called Sg to greet the family a happy rabbit year. Ah Yee picked up the phone and we chatted a bit. Yan next as Mother was apparently in the toilet. Then Hui came to the line before she helped to beckon for Mother again.

30 seconds later...

Hui: She said she's busy talking.

Cooking.. Again..

Just watched Julie & Julia and feeling very inspired to whip up a mega storm in our little kitchen!

I mean, isn't it wonderful to be able to create beautiful and yummy dishes out of the bag of groceries from the morning? And I would LOVE to feed Mr Sito something really nice. Much nicer than what I'm currently feeding him. Maybe not every day but certainly not just once a year.

Even our little reunion dinner was very simple. It was a lot of food, yes. But it was very simple. Simple to prepare. Simple tastes.

I'm looking for something more complex. Not technically complex hopefully but the taste! I want something rich, something to crave for, something to feel guilty about but thoroughly, delightfully enjoyable!

Perhaps the closest I've come to that was the sweet and sour chicken last week. Sito paid me the highest food compliment yet - it was like zi char.

I *heart* my husband :)



Well, I don't know. Perhaps I'll try out a few recipes online and see if I feel up to the challenge of cooking gourmet food at least once a week. If it's too much of a hassle or too expensive, then I suppose perhaps we can live with my simple fare.

Oh wait! Sito prefers Chinese food. I'm thinking ang moh food. More specifically Italian, French, Mediterranean! Hmmm, I suppose I can find fit in good Chinese food too...

If it's not within the next 18 months, I'll never do it so there! Time for online recipe prowl :)

Snowy CNY!

Well, I missed having a white Christmas. But look what I have instead:


A snowy CNY!

A snow storm came our way yesterday afternoon, shortly after I grabbed some groceries - phew! The wind was howling madly and the snow was whipping and flying everywhere! Suddenly remember 西门吹雪 aka Simon the Snow Blower!! :p In fact, the weather this morning gave this:


:p

Was glad the dumpling event organised by the Chinese Business Club yesterday was held just downstairs - no need to wrap up! In fact, got myself so warmed up over a game of table tennis - love a little fun exercise :)

So last night we went to bed with the wind in our ears. We couldn't see anything outside but judging from the movement in front of a light on the building across the road, it certainly looked like the skies were dumping snow!

And when I was out this morning to collect WSJ (but of course there was none), I was delighted to see the pile of snow above!

The next two were right outside the front door. The wind sent the snow onto the window sills and aircon units on this side of the building. My aircon was snow free.


There was no snow on these branches cos the wind was too strong.


Yesterday morning, there wasn't much snow on the ground but the branches were full of gentle snow. See the difference!!


I barely returned to our apartment when it started to snow heavily again. At one point, I couldn't see the building across the road! When it stopped some two or three hours later, I found a palm's width of snow on my aircon unit!

Some time in the afternoon, I went out to get milk. And look at what was outside!

* Compare this to this

I stepped into a thick pile of snow up there :p

This is the road outside McManus. After a few steps, I bent slightly to grab some snow and was surprised to find it rather light. It was like styrofoam but cold, very cold in my bare hands.


Then I decided it was easier to walk on the road cos it had less snow. I just had to plough through the snow banks to get there!!


And I love this - never saw such pretty rubbish bins :p


And we had our own reunion dinner just now! Today was declared a snow day so there was no class, but I would have skipped class for CNY anyway :p

Cooked extra rice and chicken – 年年有余! This is the first reunion dinner with just the two of us - a little odd for a reunion dinner but quite sweet too, little home :)


Happy CNY to everyone! :)
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