Saturday, December 29, 2007

Read in December 2007

Veronica - Mary Gaitskill
Slightly depressing but oh, the writing is good.

The View from Castle Rock - Alice Munro
Alice Munro is always amazing.

The Nasty Bits - Anthony Bourdain
The Las Vegas episode was showing on Discovery Travel a couple of days after I read the chapter and after that, I couldn't get Bourdain's voice out of my head when I read the rest of the chapters. Always entertaining, although some of his earlier articles were (and he does point this out in his end notes) rather pompous.

The Romantics - Pankaj Mishra
His descriptions of India were such vivid and colourful ones, that makes me want to take a trip there. But the main character lacks, er, character.

Forever a Stranger and Other Stories - Hella Haasse
Forever A Stranger sort of made some of the journal/book articles written by anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler come to life. Didn't read the Other Stories.




Bad Vibes - Alberto Fuguet
Kind of like Catcher in the Rye but based in Chile. Entertaining.

Forever a Stranger and Other Stories - Hella Haasse



Friday, December 28, 2007

It was a good year for reading

104 books, (don't ask how) some of them cookbooks, some technically for school. Some thoroughly enjoyable, others requiring patience. Some made my stomach growl and my fingers twitch, others put me off certain foods (only for a little while). I will always have my favourite re-reads, but I will always look forward to that new find.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Leiths' Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies (from the Leiths Baking Bible)

225g butter, softened
170g light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1 egg, beaten
340g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cloves

1. Beat the butter, sugar and molasses in a bowl until fluffy. Gradually add the egg, beating well between each other addition.
2. Sift together all the remaining ingredients, except the icing sugar, into a bowl. Stir into the butter mixture.
3. Press the dough into a flat layer between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper. Chill for about an hour until firm.
4. Heat the oven to 190 deg.
5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 5mm thick for slightly soft cookies, or thinner for very crisp cookies. Cut out cookie shapes and place on a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving 4 cm between each cookie. Chill until firm.
6. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 8-10 min or until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned. Cool for 1 min, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Firsts

When I get back from the library, with a gleeful new stack of books, it takes me a while to figure out which book to begin with.

I like to open each of them and have a read of their first line or two.
So here they are:

"I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother's house the summer I was eight or nine, but I'm not sure if it really did happen."
Anne Enright, The Gathering

"My name is Robinette Broadhead, in spite of which I am male."
Frederik Pohl, Gateway

"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975." Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

"Don't call me a fairy. We don't like to be called fairies anymore."
Keith Donohue, The Stolen Child.

I think I might go with The Stolen Child, which is Keith Donohue's first novel. Scotland on Sunday calls it "sparklingly quirky... wistfully elegiac". Promising.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

gingerbread things

I made gingerbread people - a man a woman and a brat. Oh and some trees, a couple of ugly hearts and a blob.

This year I used the recipe from Leiths Baking Bible (which is going on my 'to buy' list), which was a bit harder to roll out than the recipe I used two Christmases ago. But it is also more buttery and a bit more tasty. The old recipe (which my mum had been using for ages) required golden syrup, which tends to result in a crunchy biscuit - I prefer softer, slightly chewy biscuits so this new recipe does it for me. I'll have to figure out how to roll it out better next time though. I'll try to put up a recipe soon. But my cookie cutters are still the same as before so in the meantime, please revisit the suicide family.

Next up from Leiths - cinnamon biscuits perhaps?

And in other cooking adventures, I churned out a sangria and a Bill Granger Brownie on Saturday morning, hopped out to Au Petit Salut at Dempsey for a set lunch (snails, salty duck confit, chocolate and hazelnut custard), meandered my way through the puddles back home to cook mussels (For 1.5kg of mussels, use 250ml white wine, chopped garlic, chopped tomatoes and fresh basil, and a bit of pepper. Chuck into a pot, steam till the mussels open), and a chickpea/bacon/spinach warm salad, and a cold salad of butterhead lettuce and cherry tomatoes. My mom made her seafood paella, and when the guests arrived, we poured out the rather strong sangria, offered two types of olives, sliced bread and tada, a Spanish-inspired dinner for a Saturday night.

Listening: Tina Dico - One (from In The Red)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Taking stock 2007

It's been a long year.

It's been a good year. I got my Masters, I bid farewell to my room with a view and to falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing (and to waking up at 3am to the sound of bottles breaking or drunken louts yelling), and I came back to find that so much had changed (was I thinking that the whole world would stand still while I went off to do my thing?). I started a new job that enabled me to use some of what I learnt at school and learn some more, with a nice boss whose only kink is 24/7 Blackberry-ing. It took me a while to get used to that gaping hole at Scotts and the new massive developments all around. It took me a while also to get used to the weather but the constant rain has been pretty welcome. When I came back, I went into recluse mode for a while, because I didn't know what I was doing here (I still don't but I've decided to not let that bother me for now) and I turned down various invitations to things and haven't yet met up with some friends. But recently I've been forcing myself to get out more, although I still cherish my daily loner routine of my favourite sport - reading.

It will be a good year (for travelling at least). I haven't seen R since June, but having used Northwest's (bleh) early bird special to pick up a cheap-ish flight to SF, I'll be there for 3 weeks in Feb - and hopefully see my sister too. And in January, I'll be in Hong Kong for 9 nights for work - but it's starting to sound like a packed schedule with interviews planned for the very day we land. But if anyone has any good eats (or other travel tips) for SF and HK, let me know (and no, I don't really like krispy kreme, and can't really afford the French Laundry right now, but I do have my eye on Chez Panisse).

I hope you've had a good year and may 2008 be a great one. Happy holidays. Happy eating.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

so near so good

Thanks to this post by Popaghandi , I had a great time on Friday night at the oddly named Smokinn Frogz at Bukit Timah.
The concept is a modern kopitiam, with a nice bar that does great (and cheap!) beer, a western stall and so far a North Indian stall (no pictures, too dark)

It was confusing at first. We had our drinks (2 pints of Stella Artois for just $14!) and were handed two menus but the waitress wouldn't take our orders as we had to go order at the respective food counters. I ordered a salad with tomato and avocado ($5) and a calamari ($7) at the western stall. And at the Indian stall, a cheese naan and a garlic naan, a meat curry with capsicum, and a chicken tikka, which came to the very low total of $14. Unfortunately they don't do pakoras (although it is listed on the menu) as they don't sell well.
Later, another pint of Stella and one of Hoegaarden came to $15. It looks like they have several bottled beers as well.

The food was good. For a $5 salad I was expecting cheap iceberg but it came with a nice variety of leaves like rocket and butterhead. The calamari was nice and lightly fried and came with a tartar sauce. The naans were not too overpowering with the garlic and the chicken, oh the chicken was great... it was described as a chicken tikka but it tasted more like tandoori, and it was so tender and just really delicious (I felt bad that we weren't able to finish it as we had ordered far too much). The guy who took our orders (never got his name but I presume he's the owner) said sometimes customers pay him more than is owed as they feel that his prices are too cheap. And indeed they are.

Here's a tip, go before 730 on Friday as by that time all the tables were taken up and so were the free carpark lots. Oh and test out the chairs before you plonk yourself on them as some of them are secondhand ones from the Salvation Army. One guy's chair came crashing down - in pieces - just as he sat on it.

Cheap beer, good food, free parking. And all just a five minute drive from my place. Who knew?

Smokinn Frogz (or something to that extent)
879 Cherry Avenue

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Recent eats

I just loved the oyster omelet at Satsuma - it was filled with different types of mushrooms and large plump oysters, and had a sweetish soy based sauce. Eps and I devoured the grilled chicken hearts and the cartilage. Yum. And like its sister restaurant Shunjuu (at Robertson Quay), Satsuma provides a platter of vegetables (daikon, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers) and their absolutely amazing dip. But I was a bit disappointed with the mentai (spicy cod roe) spaghetti, as it tasted more like spaghetti cooked with garlic than anything else. The evening however was marred by a rather rambunctious group sitting at the enclosed table in the middle of the circular dining area - the one guy among the group of women had this horrendous hyena laugh and as the night went on, they obviously got drunker and seemed to laugh at nearly everything.

A recent shopping trip at Vivocity (which once again saw me leaving empty-handed) ended with lunch at Corduroy Cafe. I adore breakfast food but this was just too much.
Eggs and Pancakes at Corduroy Cafe Vivocity
This was their version of eggs, pancakes and hash. Teeny tiny pancakes with the honey already poured over (and not provided in a jug to do the pouring yourself), two sunny side up eggs (can't go wrong there) and a hash brown. It made me want to go back to Cedele at Wheelock for their macademia pancakes. Corduroy Cafe however, does a very nice mocha. And I have been in want of a good mocha (thick and rich) since the really bad one at the Coffee Club Xpress at work the other day (watery, thin, too sweet).

Bratwurst Pot at Corduroy Cafe Vivocity
My mum's Bratwurst Pot fared better, but the sauerkraut was too sour, even for her.

And from the lovely Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros, I made her Apple Bread with Sugar and Cinnamon Topping. It's not a pretty sort of cake so it doesn't make for a good picture (lots of brown you see) but it comes out moist and absolutely delicious, and best of all, not too sweet.

150g sugar
150g butter, softened
2 eggs
120g plain flour (Bake King flour!)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder (I just used bicarbonate)
1/2 tsp cardamom (I didn't have this so I left it out)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
400g apples, peeled, cored and coarsely grated (I used 3 smallish green apples, and instead of grating all the apples, I chopped some of them so that the cake would have pieces of apple throughout)
60g walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped (I didn't bother toasting them and they still taste fine)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Topping: 60g walnuts, finely chopped
60g brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 180degC. Line a loaf tin (30x11 cm) with greaseproof paper.
Beat together sugar and butter till fluffy. Add eggs and beat them in. Sift flour, bicarb, cinnamon and cardamom (if using) and add a pinch of salt. Mix well. Add apples, walnuts, vanilla and mix well. Pour into tin.

Mix together the topping ingredients and scatter over the top of the batter. Bake for about 45 minutes.

Let cool and serve slighly warm or at room temperature. Great with a cup of hot Earl Grey tea or with a glass of cold milk.


Satsuma
1 Nanson Road
01-10/02-10 The Gallery Hotel
Tel: 6235-3565

Corduroy Cafe
Vivocity
#01-106
Tel: 6376-9895

Thursday, November 22, 2007

tube time

I'm starting to think that Bryan Fuller is a fan of diners that sell tasty treats (of course there's that other fascination, but I suppose that one's kind of obvious).
In his second series Dead Like Me, the reapers gathered at Der Wafflehaus, although I only remember one episode which featured waffles (mini ones). Most of the time it was regular breakfast food like oatmeal. And in the new series Pushing Daisies, Ned owns The Pie Hole (and apparently you can get recipes from The Pie Hole at Bakespace)

Pushing Daisies is like Dead Like Me in technicolour and minus all the swear words. I think I still have a soft spot for the grouchy Georgia, Mason the screw-up and the rest of the reapers. I hate how the series ended (rather abruptly and after just two seasons), but I'm glad Bryan Fuller is back.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"aliens with lasers fighting a bunch of knights with swords"

I love a good fantasy/science fiction novel but my knowledge about the genre is quite limited. But the topic came up with a couple of friends, and I ended up recommending Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series and Gregory Maguire's Wicked (not typically fantasy/SF but it is sometimes placed in those bookshelves). Others I read include Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Mervyn Peake's glorious Gormenghast series and a wee bit of Neil Gaiman. I never know - are they science fiction or fantasy? I always thought Ursula Le Guin's work is categorised as fantasy yet in this Q&A session, The Guardian calls her work science fiction. Curious.

When talking about Le Guin, I realised that while I've read and absolutely love that one series, I've only scratched the surface of her bibliography. So I've decided to try out two books from The Annals of the Western Shore, which I managed to find at the library at work. Le Guin recommends reading China Miéville. I think I'd like to read more from this genre, but I'm not sure what else to include. I've flipped through some other random books shelved under scifi/fantasy and while plots seem interesting, they tend to be let down by rubbish writing. So I'm not sure what else to try. Any suggestions?

Friday, November 09, 2007

start and stop

I've had blog posts on my mind, but that's where they've mostly stayed - in my head or at the most as a draft. I'm not sure why I don't follow through, I suppose it's because I keep thinking of how inconsequential these thoughts are. I hit the delete button a lot and watch as sentences disappear. I pause and stare at the blinking cursor. I'm not sure what to write about anymore. I suppose I'll get over it, but in the meantime, don't watch this space too closely.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

It's over

I'm really officially done with my MA now. Two months or so after handing in the paper, they've released the marks, after ratification by the exam boards. And so that's it. 180 credits, one 20,000 word dissertation and four 5,000 word term papers later, I have my MA. That was one of my absolute favourite years.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Free Rice

Improve your vocabulary, donate rice.

Making you hungry

Ok so that was a rather grumpy Post yesterday. Today, after a couple of cups of really goood strong coffee at the Ellenborough Market Cafe at the Merchant Court Hotel (to wash down the many rashers of crispy heaven called bacon, among other things at breakfast); and trying on several pairs of shoes across Orchard Road on Saturday morning and going home with three of my very own, I admit I feel a little more chirpy.

So before the caffeine high wears off, let me tell you about Saturday night at Holland Village with two of my JC friends.

It started off at good old Aburiya. A mug of refreshingly cold Asahi in hand, and some good company and catch-up chit chat is really all one needs for a good night out. But throw in a hole full of charcoal and lots of meat, you get a sizzling good time (I blame the cheesiness on the caffeine).

Pork cheek grilled till crisp.
Shitake mushrooms and a veg platter with a miso marinade.
Foie gras sizzling in melted butter (in a foil pan that is, not on the grill itself).
Lamb loin marinated in ... well something that tasted very good.
Wagyu steak cubes.
Beef tongue with leeks (perhaps we could've done without this one)
Onigiri (rice balls)
And some short ribs.

I was stuffed, we were all stuffed. But the dessert compartment of the stomach was still available, so we hopped on over to 2am dessert bar. We were still trying to decide on our choices when the waiter comes by asking if we'd ordered a red wine. The same skatterbrained service reared its head again when the waiter brought a chocolate tart (which we had ordered) and a tiramisu (which we hadn't) to our table and started explaining it to us, not realising that the two platters, like the red wine before, was for the couple next to us. And then later he presents us with the bill before we'd even asked for it.

Service aside, it was not too bad. The winner was the chocolate tart which came with a blood orange sorbet and salted caramel. My Twix was a bit too heavy for me. The homemade chocolate ice-cream was lovely and dark but I thought it was a bit too much for the burnt caramel mousse and peanut crumble. As for the blackberry (described as parfait, lychee air, basil, pinenut cake), it was interesting, and made me want to eat a blackcurrent pastille.


Aburiya
17E Lorong Liput
Tel : 6464 6536

2am
21A Lorong Liput
Tel: 62919727

I'm here

I've been starting and stopping blog posts. I write them and then either leave it as a draft post or just close the tab. It's not that I haven't been doing things, last Saturday, for instance, saw a rather nice Italian-themed picnic while watching Under The Tuscan Sun at the Botanic Gardens. Work's been ok. Life's been treating me fine. It's nothing to write about really. So that's my update. I'm still here. I'm still alive. I'm still sweltering in the humidity.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Radio Nowhere

After finally getting a computer account at work (so that I could finally stop using other people's accounts and get my very own sad abbreviation of my name as a user ID - which my boss remarked as "most unintuitive"), one of the first things I did was to load it up with mp3s. There's still a lot I'd like to put on the desktop. But I've made sure I'm surrounded by friendlies like Ben Folds, Rilo Kiley, Arcade Fire. And I've downloaded the Flaming Lips screensaver and Firefox. At least it's somewhat more user friendly now.

And since I've been asked, here's what I've been listening to: (I'll just point you to their websites where you can stream it)
White Rabbits - Fort Nightly (listen here, especially to 'Fort Nightly')
PJ Harvey - White Chalk (listen here)
The Go! Team - Proof of Youth (listen here)
Beirut - The Flying Club Cup (listen here)
Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog (listen here)
Radiohead - In Rainbows (download here)
Bruce Springsteen - Magic (listen here)
And I'm still loving Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight (listen here)

Monday, October 15, 2007

I get a little warm in my heart when I think of winter

I miss feeling cold. I don't mean the freezing in office aircon type of cold but that sharp biting cold that smacks you in the face once you step out of your (almost) warm building.

Yesterday I heard a 'cute' version of Tori Amos' Winter when browsing at Kinokuniya. Not that I thought it was cute but that the singer unfortunately had one of those cute-sounding voices (probably local), that is just wrong for the song. And then the album continued into a variety of other pop songs sung in the same way, cutesy. It made me just want to go and listen to the real thing.

Yesterday also saw dinner at the temporary Chinatown market (fishball noodles, carrot cake), followed by black sesame and sweet potato ice-cream at Liang Court, eaten on a wander through the Meidi-Ya supermarket.

The weekend had begun with Friday - with the sassy slumbering gal at Blu Jaz Cafe (the three, sometimes four piece band were good, the audio set-up was not), and Timbre at the Arts House, where a group of Caucasian men cut in front of us as we waited for a table, but we ended up getting a better seat anyway.

Saturday saw a very large dinner at Mortons. Onion bread for a start, a gin martini to wash it down. The ribeye was juicy and for want of a better description, meaty. I felt like I needed to chomp on a cigar. The baked potato was introduced with a clatter - as the waitress swirled her three buckets of goodness, the entire contraption fell clunking down, sour cream, butter and bacon bits. And my dad's complimentary molten chocolate cake arrived with the fourth birthday song heard that night in the restaurant.

At lunch on Sunday, former starlets of an era long gone smiled down on us as we feasted at The Cathay on baskets full of dim sum, some really good crispy chicken, noodles that had been sitting for a litlte too long, and steamed preserved egg custard buns (sounds weird, but trust me, it sinks into you and you only realise it when you reach for another and discover it's all gone).

Steamed preserved egg custard buns would be so good on a cold day.

Monday, October 08, 2007

keeping it simple

Surmised
Opined
Shared
Remarked
Mentioned
Felt
Added
Thought

These are just some of the many ways to avoid using the word 'said'.
But sometimes, the word 'said' is far far better than any of these words. Especially when I've read 'opined' more than five times in five pages. And more than ten 'shared'. And I just spotted my third 'surmised'.

I'm working from home today as I've got no computer access at work yet. It gives me the chance to verbalise my irritation at this report writer's overuse of his thesaurus. It also lets me watch Will and Grace while having a nice salad for lunch (romaine lettuce, pinenuts, sliced button mushrooms, some Japanese yuzu dressing).

Monday, October 01, 2007

Botak Jones

'you ate a burger? I thought you avoid such food'.

Well, no. I like burgers. I just don't like those from Macs or BK.
I dream of one day sinking my teeth into an In-N-Out burger.
So on my first-ever visit to Botak Jones, I had to see what their burger was like.

It was weird being back in the area, feeding the mosquitoes and looking out at that building next door that was once my workplace. Now why didn't Botak Jones pop up a year ago? It would've been a welcome variety to the offerings available. The only thing open at night then at this canteen was a zhi-char stall, which wasn't very good. Now there's Il Piccolo and some stall selling Japanese food. There's also a pool table, and beer! (so the beer wouldn't have been a good idea as I used to work nights).

But onto the burger: it was overdone. Not burnt to a crisp overdone, but overdone enough that it was all I could remember. Was there cheese on the burger? Why yes, if I think hard enough, yes, there was. The fries were of the crinkle cut type, which I never understand: Why are they cut that way? What is wrong with a plain straight fry? And I'm afraid the appeal of coleslaw (even if it's the best in the world) is lost on me. Perhaps I have to eat at the other branches to see if there's a difference.

Here's one thing I liked, the beer. A pitcher of cold beer, and good company. Sitting outside meant the smell of cigarette smoke wafted in our direction a few times, as did that heady scent of sewage (we were next to a longkang) and the mosquitoes occasionally bit.

Damn good food at a damn good price? I agree with the second part of that sentence. And I would rather go to Botak Jones again than step into a Macs. Plus, you know, Macs doesn't serve alcohol.

970A Toa Payoh North
Phone / Fax: 6258-6-225

Thursday, September 27, 2007

weird and wonderful

My 'currently reading' list shows four books (on the right side of the blog) but in actual fact I've got more than that.

I'm currently adoring George Saunders' Pastoralia, a collection of short stories both weird and wonderful. It opens with the one called Pastoralia - and its narrator is a caveman. Not in the Geico ad sense, but it's his job: he works as a caveman, in a theme park. He skins goats and picks insects and makes pictograms. But he's also got a fax machine in his 'Separate Area' where he gets updates from his wife back home. His cave partner is a woman named Janet, who unlike the narrator, doesn't give a damn about the park's rules. She uses English in the display area and talks to visitors. But the narrator tries to be a friend and in his Daily Partner Performance Evaluation:
'Do I not any attitudinal difficulties? I do not. How do I rate my Partner overall? Very good. Are there any situations which require Mediation?
There are not.'
Management however, isn't quite so sure. And it's Staff Remixing time, where they explain in a note to the employees:
'we find ourselves in a too-many-Indians situation and so must first cut out some Indians and then, later, possibly, some chiefs. But not yet, because that is harder, because that is us. Soon, but not yet, we have to decide which of us to remove, and that is so very hard, because we are so very useful.'

Another weird and wonderful book that I'm loving is Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, where she travels around America in search of assassins, political ones that is. I've been following as she traces the path of John Wilkes Booth, the actor who shot Abraham Lincoln. She visits the museum which holds the bullet (and fragments of Lincoln's skull) and tracks down the home of one his co-conspirators. Political murders so fill her world that her friend remarks:
'Assassinations are your Kevin Bacon. No matter what we're talking about, you will always the bring the conversation back to a president getting shot.'
You gotta adore a writer who teaches her nephew the word 'decapitated' at Christmas when playing knights.
'Owen was winning. I was doubled over onto my parents' living room floor and he was pretending to slice my head off with his sword. Trying to be an educational aunt, or as educational as a person can be when a three-year-old is trying to chop her head off, I told him that the act of chopping off a person's head is called "decapitation" and that a head that's been chopped off is called "decapitated".'
I am also plodding my way through Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. It's very long and it's a little silly. And sometimes I wonder why I'm reading it. But it is quite entertaining although I'm only managing a few pages at a go. I suppose I'll finish it, eventually.

Jose Saramago is one of my favourite writers. I started with Blindness, worked my way through the Cave, and The Double, and now it's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, set in Portugal in 1936. I've only just started so can't say much about it right now. But I have this fondness for Saramago's rambling sentences. Although, especially since reading Don Quixote, I do wonder about translated books. How does the translator capture the essence of the sentence, the original poetry of the words? How different would it be to read the original version?

I've also been just picked up Anais Nin's Henry and June. I've never read anything by her before so I figure now's as good a time as any to start. This book is from Nin's journal entries in the year she met Henry Miller and his wife June (1931-2).

And I've also just cracked open Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. Although he has a more recent book, the Flight of the Creative Class, I wanted to begin with this one published in 2002. It's a little background reading for work. Essentially, it traces the growing role of creativity in America's economy: how people's values and tastes, choices of where to live are changing.

To round it all off, I am rereading, for what's probably the sixth time, Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea Quartet. It's one of my all-time favourite reads. And there's always something comforting about rereading a good book. It's like coming home to people you know and love, and hearing stories you've heard over again but just can't wait to hear them one more time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Breakfast at Hediard

I'm not entirely convinced that eating here warrants such prices. There's a lot of fancy crockery with 'H' on them like that cute little butter dish with its dome porcelain cover. But $12 for a glass of OJ? And scrambled eggs for more than $10? (can't remember the exact price) I'm not sure.

But let's start from the beginning.

After a downpour, Sunday was turning out to be quite a sunny one after all. But I still lugged along the large umbrella all the same. My bus ride was a blurry one - obscured by those horrendous stuck-on ads on the outside. I get to Hediard a little early and wander around the red and black store, noting the lofty prices of well, everything. I wonder what would make their white pepper any different from the white pepper at a supermarket, except of course, that fancy 'H'. (Note: I still have not started my new job yet so the purse is feeling extra light).

The rest of the party arrive and we all order the 'H' set ($19) which comes with:
- toast, butter and a variety of jams
- a pastry or 'viennoiserie' (choose from croissant, pain au chocolat, brioche)
- a half-boiled egg
- OJ
- tea or coffee

The next set option 'XL' is at a gasping $45. It adds a scrambled eggs and a smoked salmon or parma ham platter to the basic set. There wasn't a choice in between, say, with just a scrambled eggs add-on, which the others wanted. So they just ordered an additional scrambled. No one commented on the eggs though, so I figure it was decent enough.

It was all very proper and the service was pretty good. I did like the coffee, which according to their website, was of 'Madeleine' blend. The brioche, though tiny, was yummy with the various jams. We got to sit by the large window to watch the world (or at least Tanglin Road) go by but that didn't last long, as all these busy working people I was breakfasting with had things to do and people to see. I, on the other hand, being currently a lady of leisure (I blame it on HR which is apparently still processing my formal offer), had absolutely nothing planned. Unfortunately, being a lady of leisure also meant that I couldn't afford another coffee there.

Hediard Café-Boutique
123-125 Tanglin Road
Singapore 247921
Tel: 6333 6683
9am-8pm

'when women stop reading, the novel will be dead'

NPR on why women read more than men.

And Ian McEwan's 2005 article
where he and his son conduct their own informal survey by offering free books to passersby.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

weight gain

fei zai
At a hawker centre in Commonwealth, this was one of the few stalls that were closed on a Saturday afternoon.

weight gaining
On closer inspection.

Time travel

I really had meant to go before writing my dissertation, but now that I've seen it, perhaps it was for the best that I hadn't.

Today, my mum and I took a trip back in time with a visit to the old Ford Factory at 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road, which became a national monument just last February.

ford factory Singapore
It is a lovely old building, restored to its former glory. Apparently built in 1941 (according to the website).

While it looks nice on the outside, I wasn't quite so impressed with what went on inside. It was a 'Memories at Old Ford Factory' exhibition, explaining what happened during the Japanese Occupation.

ford factory, singapore
Yes, this is the exhibition. It looks like it was designed, displayed and laid out by a student. There is so much text that you're not sure where to begin. And a lot of the text is above and below eye level - am I really supposed to bend down to read all that small print?
There are fewer artefacts than I expected - I suppose all that text and quotes and newspaper articles are meant to make up for that. Instead, all it did was put me off reading the displays. It was quite evident that a lot of research and effort had been put into this exhibition. However, sometimes, less is more. And in this case, far far less.

The designers also need to rethink the flow of the exhibition. There are numbers on the panels but as I walked through the hall, the numbers jumped from 14 to 20. I had to backtrack and head to the back, near the exit, to continue to read about life in Endau, which was what number 15 was about. That would've been the perfect place for the final displays - the Japanese surrender. Instead the last exhibit I saw before I exited was an old toilet.

I suppose it's partly because I spent several months researching this topic that I feel really strongly about it. I'd read many of the stories and autobiographies, and even had listened to the oral archives. Yet the exhibition emerged as impersonal and cold. Those who created this exhibition missed out on a good chance to leave an impact. And it makes me wonder what happens to tourists who have little knowledge about the Japanese occupation - like the Japanese couple I saw entering as I was leaving - will they leave, like me, confused and irritated?

The one saving grace was the rather decent documentary that was screened in the AV theatre, which is separate from the main exhibition hall. Why wasn't it screened first as visitors enter the exhibition, to give an initial clearer picture of what happened?

While I commend the effort to restore the building and to educate people about the Japanese occupation, the exhibition does not do it justice.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reading week

I love book lists. I make them up and I borrow others'.
But this, this trumps them all. It's based on Peter Boxall's 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, which I haven't actually looked at (but now don't need to really). In the site is a download of I an excel file with the whole list (all 1001), and you can tally up the percentage you've read, and the number of books you need to read a year to finish the rest. I've got 15.68% down, or 157 books - how about you?

Since I've got time before I start my new job, I've been doing quite a bit of reading, and adding to my to-read list. But I'm interested in reading more non-fiction. I've got two on the shelf right now, Amy Chua's World on Fire, and Marion Nestle's What to Eat. Both are equally fascinating.

What to Eat is admittedly quite difficult to read - not because it's badly written or the content is heavy. It's just that it makes me question my food choices. It makes me wonder about the food I've just eaten. It makes me ask - is that salmon I bought from Cold Storage safe? After all, fish farms are known to dye their salmon pink (farmed salmon don't eat krill, which is what turns wild salmon pink). It makes me realise that food is about politics - it's about lobbyists and campaigns and PR. It's also about assumptions and misleading research. One day, there's some new research, say, that coffee is good for you. The next day, it's not. It's hard to believe what's what anymore.

On another health related note, the New Yorker has a fascinating article by neurologist Oliver Sacks on Clive Wearing, a musician who was struck by a brain infection in 1985, which left him with a memory span of just seconds.
Desperate to hold on to something, to gain some purchase, Clive started to keep a journal, first on scraps of paper, then in a notebook. But his journal entries consisted, essentially, of the statements “I am awake” or “I am conscious,” entered again and again every few minutes. He would write: “2:10 P.M: This time properly awake. . . . 2:14 P.M: this time finally awake. . . . 2:35 P.M: this time completely awake,” along with negations of these statements: “At 9:40 P.M. I awoke for the first time, despite my previous claims.” This in turn was crossed out, followed by “I was fully conscious at 10:35 P.M., and awake for the first time in many, many weeks.” This in turn was cancelled out by the next entry.

Monday, September 17, 2007

mooncakes

Last year the only mooncake I had was a storebought made-in-Malaysia, bought-in-Illinois one. It was alright. Can't complain. But this year, it's back to homemade mooncakes once again.

My mum's been making mooncakes, well, since I was a kid. And in recent years, I've been helping her assemble these mooncakes, my part being the moulding and shaping of the cakes.

These days mooncakes come filled with ice-cream or cheese. But the best mooncakes are those which are plain, with just lotus paste with seeds. And that's what we did in our mini test-run on Monday night.

250g Bake King premix
35g shortening
120ml cold water
1 tsp flavouring
1/4 tsp essence
(although as these snowskin mooncakes were to be white, we just used 1/2 tsp of banana essence instead, erm don't ask why banana. For the green snowskin, use pandan paste)
35g melon seeds, toasted
750g lotus seed paste

Mix the premix, shortening, cold water and essence/colouring. Mix till a soft dough forms. Let it rest for 30 minutes.


mooncake 101 - lotus seed paste balls
Take 30g of lotus paste (90g for the larger mooncakes), add melon seeds and roll into a ball.

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Pinch off the dough into 30g balls (for larger mooncakes, use 90g). Flatten the dough with a rolling pin.

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Wrap the skin over the lotus paste ball.

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Press the dough into the mould and gently pop it out.


snowskin mooncakes

The new plastic mould is much easier (it comes apart instead of having to knock the mooncakes out) but it kinda looks like kueh-tu-tu.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Lake District

It's inspired William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, who both lived in different parts of the district and wrote many of their works there. And I had the good fortune to spend two nights there, although the first day was a wash out, as it rained nearly the whole day until finally ending the drip drip dripping around 5pm. However, we didn't have much time so we got out and drove around all the same.

We drove through Rydal to Grasmere, which was home to Wordsworth.
Dove cottage
He lived in the lovely Dove Cottage.

And although we were obviously in the wrong season for daffodils, Wordsworth is probably most famous for his poem, reportedly inspired by Ullswater:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Some other places we visted include:
Castlerigg
The Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick (pronounced with a silent 'w')

buttermede
We drove around the Buttermede Fell area and through many winding steep roads.

lake district
And what's a blog entry on the Lake District without a picture of a lake. I can'tremember which this is unfortunately!!

And stayed at
newstead  B&B, windermere
Newstead Bed and Breakfast in Windermere - gorgeous!

english breakfast
The English breakfast.
You get your fruits, juice and cereal from the sideboard and then order your cooked breakfast with Joyce. I got the scrambled eggs on toast the second morning. Such fluffy yellow scrambled eggs! Delicious!

And on our last night, a gorgeous dinner at Jerichos, just a 10-minute walk from the B&B. We had attempted to get a table the night before, but being Saturday, they were full. We called to book Sunday just in case. And we rewarded with a lovely spread, and an interesting view of the open kitchen, which had a bookshelf above (didn't get a good photo though).

rosemary bread at jerichos
Started out with some rosemary bread - warm and crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. And shared a refreshing and generously portioned smoked salmon salad.

lamb at jerichos
I went for the lamb - so tender, and perfectly pink. It sat on a bed of vegetables that I later found out included samphire, which has this great crunch and seaweed-like taste.

steak and fries at jerichos
I also have to mention my parents' steak, which came with the crisp-est chips I've ever ever had. Just couldn't stop grabbing them.

A great finish to the Lake District leg of the trip.

paisley pig

Central is a maze of escalators, odd corners and hidden shops. The best way to navigate it from the MRT station, I've realised, is not to use the basement entrance (with the many signs pointing The Way to Central) but, to just ride your way upstairs to fresh air. It's a slightly confusing mall with seemingly different sections. The mix of shops seem to be just that, a mix put together by someone who picked them out of a hat. But it does have Tom Ton and its black pig.

Instead of having to wait in line like the bigger groups, we opted to sit at the counter, just in front of the grill. But good ventilation meant barely any smell, plus counter seating means quicker service, and, as I found out later, an always-refilled cup of green tea.

We went for the 'Top Grade' tonkatsu (about $4+ more), although strangely, for the set, the 'Top Grade' one is an additional $5 added onto the 'Normal' price. The exterior was crisp and not oily at all. The breadcrumb texture was perfectly light. And the meat was oh, tender and juicy. It is a simple dish really, but when it is done well, it is heavenly!

The other dish we shared was the sukiyaki. It came with several slices of pork, leeks, mushrooms, tofu, cabbage and carrots, in a simmering broth on a gas flame. The broth was a bit too sweet and I doubt I could've finished this by myself because of that. But the pork was indeed very tender and the udon had bite, always a good sign.

After a wander around the mall, although by that time, most of the stores had already closed, we grabbed ringside seats at Paisley & Cream to do some people-watching. It was already after 10 and the young ones were heading out to erm, wherever young ones head out to these days. And some of them were so in need of an Ambush Makeover.

But back to the eating, or rather, drinking. I had a boring decaff americano (illy, if you must know), and eps had the ice lemon mint tea, which didn't have enough mint. The display counter was laid out with cupcakes of different colours and sizes, but cupcakes have never really done it for me. I've never been enticed by all that frosting. Worse, the frosting on these were quite lacking in imagination. The cafe is pretty though, down to the design on the tabletops. But the rather stiff-backed chairs could use a rethink, I reckon. I might pop by to see how they fare when it comes to food (by then the kitchen had closed).

And this marked my first real outing back in Singapore. I suppose there were better ways to have kicked it off, but in a way, Central is rather Singaporean. It's hyped up and not much thought went into it. It looks big and glossy on the outside, but on the inside, you think twice (especially when you step into their toilets).

Tom Ton Central
06 Eu Tong Sen Street
The Central
#03-88/99
Tel: 63277887

Paisley & Cream Cafe
#01-09/10, Central@Clarke Quay
Tel: 6543-7962

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the village of Lewes

Lewes is about a half hour bus ride on the 28 or 29 from the university, which is itself about 20 minutes from Brighton.
an old bookshop in lewes
The Fifteenth Century Bookshop on High Street. Yes, the building really has been around for centuries and it's been a secondhand bookstore since 1986.

ageing bookshelves in lewes
Check out those bookshelves! I wonder what happens when it rains.

keere street

keere street in lewes
We wandered down Keere Street, which is a steep cobblestoned street lined with cute little houses with tiny doors.

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Southover Grange Gardens in Lewes

Southover Grange Gardens in Lewes
Not far from Keere Street is the Southover Grange Gardens, with some gorgeous colours to brighten up this otherwise washed out day.



all packed

all packed
And then I was all packed and ready for a week driving around England.

back to school for the last time

sussex hall

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And now for a factoid: the university was inspired by the Downs, which the campus is near to. thus the rounded slope-like shapes of the buildings, which were designed by Basil Spence. The Downs are chalk downlands, which are a feature of most of southern England. Apparently many awards were won. Then again it was the 1960s.

It's a small-ish school (student population of about 12,000, compared to say, NTU which has some 25,000), but it's a great school. And it was a good year. It was the first time that I felt challenged in class, and which gave my brain a good workout. I found that I could write a good term paper and argue my points. That I provided a different view from my classmates, who were all European. I became interested in Singapore and the region, and realised how unique and strange this country can be. I loved that the student body actually seemed to have a voice. And that nearly every week you had someone campaigning for something or other, like climate change, education cuts or freeing the Brightoner who has been detained in Guantanamo. I just wish it could've been longer than a year!

a meal of epic proportions

pancakes!

Or something of that sort, can always be had at Bill's in Brighton (no relation to bills in Sydney). It started as a produce store in Lewes and today it's Brighton eatery also stocks a variety of international foods and fresh produce.
I had the signature buttermilk pancakes - it was a rather monstrous platter topped with fruits, ice cream and maple syrup, what a treat for the eyes and the stomach!

bills cakes
Their cake display

bills hot choc
Hot chocolate

bills
Bill's - good food for all ages.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It all started with this

all done

The whirlwind began with the handing in of the papers, then DSD's weekend visit, my parents' arrival and the start of our little roadtrip.
I'll start it off slowly.

Friday, August 31, 2007

farewell!

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final night

After nearly a year in Brighton, it is time to say goodbye to this great town. And to my room with a view. I can't believe that nearly a year has gone by. I remember my first evening here, after a long flight from Chicago, and a nearly 3 hour bus ride from Heathrow. I arrived to this room, welcomed by the RA and the two flatmates who were already here. The room was bare, as it will be tomorrow.

This evening, after having played tour guide around Brighton (photos to come), I've been busy packing up and most of my stuff are now in bags. We'll be heading off early tomorrow morning to Slough to pick up my cousin and then to the Lake District for two nights. Then we head up to Edinburgh and York, before flying back to Singapore. It's all ending too soon!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

playing tour guide

My parents arrived in Brighton after a few days in London, and we did the necessary touristy things.

lunch at Regency
Lunch at the Regency

royal pavilion garden
The Royal Pavilion gardens

Royal Pavilion
The Royal Pavilion - I never get tired of it!

the lanes
A wander through the Lanes.

carousel on the beach
A walk on the beach. Despite the dark clouds looming, the sky held.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

days go by

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I will not miss the seagulls.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

A weekend of walking part 1

It was my last weekend in Brighton, and was it a good one! DSD came down on Friday night and on Saturday morning, along with Yukiko, we took the bus along the coast to Beachy Head. The bus ride was about 1.5 hours and finally we reached the spot. The first thing I saw was this:
just a call away
Beachy Head used to be a popular spot for suicides, and we saw some crosses, flowers and even a teddy bear laid for those who leapt to their very rocky deaths. Beachy Head is also famous for being the location of one of the scenes in The Who's Quadrophenia.
Be
Beachy Head pub
Before conquering the cliffs, we decided to fuel up and sat down at the Beachy Head pub's patio. The sun shone bright and the food was better than expected, considering that it was the only pub around.

Beef and guinness pie at Beachy Head pub
Both of them went for the beef and guinness pie, which looked and tasted pretty good.

bacon cheese burger with fries

I went for the bacon and cheese burger. Not classic English fare, but still pretty yummy with chargrilled streaks.

the view of eastbourne
From Beachy Head, we got a great view of Eastbourne.


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The weather was just perfect for a great day of walking.

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There were lots of ups and downs to get over, and many many photos of the chalk cliffs and the gorgeous lighthouse to take. And finally we walked the three miles to Birling Gap, which was packed with beachgoers and pubbers.

spear diving for sea bass
And it looked like a fine day for speardiving.

beachy head, birling gap

steep
From Birling Gap it was another 5 miles to Seven Sisters, over more rolling hills and some rather steep descents.

seven sisters?
And we kept taking in all these great views behind us. Yes, we'd walked all the way from there, right at the end, past the lighthouse.

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