Friday, 4 April 2014

Century Park, Pudong

Even though I have been to Shanghai many times, I had always stayed in Puxi, the historic centre of Shanghai. This time, I picked Pudong as it is closer to the Expo where I was attending.

The difference between these two areas is vast. Pudong is a modern city of skyscrapers and luxurious condominiums. The roads are wider and not very busy.

The air quality seems better too. Compared to Puxi, there isn't much to offer in terms of culture or shopping but I think it is perfect for a short business trip.

While Century Park Crowne Plaza hotel provided me with a very comfortable stay, there are no shops or eateries within walking distance.  The saving grace came in the form of a beautiful park called Century Park which is merely a short walk away. I am glad I had just enough time to visit the park before heading home. The entire park was ablaze with yellow blooms of the canola flower.






Monday, 3 February 2014

Lunar Year of the Horse

As another new year gallops in, I can't help but feel a little nostalgic. The Chinese New Year is a time for family get-togethers and gathering of old friends. New additions to the family, bright eyes and bushy tails, teens towering over adults, familiar faces with more grey hair and wrinkles, merriment and nostalgia all rolled together.

For us, taking photos with my parents on the first day of the Lunar New Year is part of our family tradition. With every new year, the boys grow taller as my parents shrink with age.

We also visited their paternal granny who is clearly very proud of her grandsons.



Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Happy in Singapore

Inspired by the original video by Pharrell William, my friend Kiwi created the 'Happy in Singapore' version. It features Rusty and me inside too! Enjoy and be happy.

http://youtu.be/2_g3F_jPres

Monday, 27 January 2014

Chinese New Year goodies

I don't know what has gotten over me this year. I've been baking non stop for Chinese New Year. I try new recipes every year and the pineapple tarts didn't turn out the way I like. I made two versions and they are both too crumbly, they fall apart before you even bite into them.

The 'almost famous amos choc chips cookies' is light and crispy, everyone says it is good. The kueh bangkit is extra fragrant cos I added gula melaka but the texture is very dry. YK loves the almond cookies which is surprising considering how much he dislikes nuts.

I used the egg whites left over from making pineapple tarts for almond crisps, sliced almond thins, and spicy roasted cashew and almond nuts. I'm still fretting over what to do with the other 7 egg whites from making kueh bangkit. I'm getting quite tired of baking now. Even the smell of cookies makes me feel fat.

While googling for recipes, I came across some interesting snacks that are so easy to make. Slice fresh lotus root thinly using a mandolin or knife. Deep fry the slices in vegetable oil until dry and crispy. These overcook easily, so remove them before they turn dark. They will continue to cook even when they're out of the hot oil. I sprinkled some Japanese sesame seed/seaweed flavouring over the cooked slices.

 Crispy crab is such a cinch to make. Simply tear crab sticks into thin strips and fry in hot oil. The strips cook really quickly and will turn crispy once they are cool. These are super addictive and go really well with cold beer. These deep fried stuff are really unhealthy, so do eat sparingly!
 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Hidden Gem in Ubud

When I first visited Bali in 2011, my friend and I stayed in Pan Pacific Nirwana Resort where we woke up to picture perfect views every day. Built on top of a sheer cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean and Tanah Lot Temple, the resort is a hidden paradise for couples seeking peace and privacy. After experiencing the famous Balinese hospitality first hand, I realised why Bali is the top honeymoon location in South East Asia. It vowed to return with CH one day.
The day finally came in December 2013 when we attended the Soulshine Festival Bali at The Green School. This time, we chose to stay at Bambu Indah in Ubud, the artistic heart of Bali.  

We were greeted with rain when we touched down on Christmas eve. The taxi driver whom I had pre-arranged didn't show up that morning. Luckily the driver from our hotel was at the airport and our transportation woe was quickly resolved. The journey to Ubud took longer than expected. The way I see it, the traffic congestion is going to get worse unless the major roads are widened to accommodate the increasing number of vehicles. 

As you can imagine, by the time we arrived in Ubud city, our tummies were rumbling. Our driver was kind enough to bring us to Ibu Oka, an Ubud institution where everyone comes for babi guling, roast suckling pig.



















As Babi Guling is a local delicacy in Bali, we were very eager to sink our teeth into this very much raved about specialty. When the food arrived, it looked like a messy version of our 'cai fun' (mixed vegetables and rice dish). When it came to the taste test, I found it underwhelming.  The skin was chewy instead of crispy, the meat was tough and the tangy gravy did little to improve its bland taste and texture.

I wasn't the only one who felt this way. Even CH, who is not a fussy eater, thought this dish is over-rated. Our driver seemed to enjoy it though.


We could blame it on the bad weather. It had been raining continuously for 2 weeks. Everywhere we looked, glum tourists togged in raingear were sloshing through murky water in search of something to do or eat. One lady at the restaurant slipped and fell right before our eyes, hitting her head against the concrete steps. Luckily she got up and walked away unscathed.

Things started to brighten up when we arrived at Bambu Indah. We were greeted with the brightest smiles the moment we stepped into the eco-luxe retreat. We have stayed in many resorts before but this has got to be the coolest one we've ever seen.The public areas are constructed using bamboo whereas the villas are traditional teak houses built by native Indonesians 150 years ago.


 
Each teak house served as bridal house to a Javanese nobleman whose duty was to provide a home for his new bride.  These antique homes were handpicked by John Hardy (resort owner) before being relocated to Bambu Indah where they were lovingly restored into guest rooms. Hence, each one is unique with interesting names like Kuning (yellow), Udang (prawn), Padi (rice) etc.





















After a long day of commuting, it was nice to take an afternoon nap on the luxurious bed with soft, natural light filtering in from the skylight and cool air streaming in through the window slats.

Perched over the verdant Sayan River gorge, the resort offers panoramic views of mountains, rice paddies and hills which was even more vivid when we woke up to sunny skies the next morning.

The view becomes more enchanting when the skies turn into a palette of orange and red hues as the sun sets.We saw lovestruck couples canoodling under the swaying coconut trees as the sky slowly darkened.


The best thing about staying here is everything slows down to a relaxed pace. I did not even turn on my laptop all week. Instead, afternoons were spent reading on the porch or watching playful guests plunging into the pool. 

Of course, if you are craving for something to do, there are other activites like yoga, nature walks, biking or white water rafting. The resort also organises tours to the Green School or Bamboo factory.





The staff here go to great lengths to make your stay memorable. Afternoon tea and a local dessert is served every day. The best place to enjoy it is out on the deck which looks out to the padi fields in the distance.

On Christmas day, they planned an alfresco BBQ dinner party complete with a gorgeous Christmas tree created using oil lamps.
You really have to take your hats off to the owners for the meticulous planning to make this a truly eco habitat. Permaculture is practised throughout the resort. 
 
The gardeners grow and harvest Balinese rice, organic vegetables, herbs and flowers throughout the property. Only natural fertilizer including compost made from their organic waste is used.
 The produce is allowed to ripen on the vine and harvested for use in the restaurant.
At the centre of the property is a natural swimming pool which uses lava stones and a vegetation regeneration zone to clean and filter the water. Where else can you find a swimming pool that is so natural that you can spot frogs and fishes swimming alongside with you?

As we wandered around the resort, we stumbled upon architectural wonders like a bamboo treehouse and pagoda constructed using glass and bamboo.
 
 Tucked away in one corner is one of their villas which is now rented out to an expat family. The clever use of wood and natural materials is amazing.


There is no opportunity to feel bored in this little piece of paradise. Just walk out of  the gate and you're transported into an artistic village with a sprinkling of luxurious villas, humble homestays and spas. It has everything you need for a getaway, especially one that is a little out of the ordinary.  However, I must add that it is not the place for everyone. If you can't live with bugs, toads and sounds of animals around you, it's best to bring your date somewhere else.



















Sunday, 19 January 2014

Spicy sambal cookies

















I've been rather busy lately, so much so that I haven't done anything for the Chinese New Year. It's arriving a little earlier than usual and there is so much to do. It suddenly dawned on me that if I do not bake any cookies this weekend, we'll have no home-made cookies to offer the guests.

So I spent the entire weekend slaving away in the kitchen. The house was filled with the sweet smells of pineapple tarts, almond cookies and choc chip cookies to the point where I could barely breathe. I wanted to get away from the sickening sweet smell, so I made a batch of savory cookies.

The idea came about when I read about Cedele's savory cookies in the papers. I couldn't find a proper recipe, so I improvised with what I could find in my fridge. Luckily, the cookies turned out well. In fact, they were delicious!

Ingredients
60g butter
50g icing sugar
50g vegetable oil
2 big spoonfuls of spicy nasi lemak paste
200g cake flour
Half a cup of dried shrimps (soaked for 10 minutes and drained)
Some curry leaves, cut into small strips.

Method:
1. Cream butter and icing sugar till smooth.
2. Stir in oil, curry leaves and chilli paste.
3. Mix in cake flour until you get a soft dough.
4. Shape the dough into small balls. Place a piece of dried shrimp on the top.
5. Bake in pre-heated oven at 160 degree celcius for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Dogs have feelings too

I have a special affinity for dogs. Even though I had been bitten by dogs twice in my life, my love for them has never changed. I see sweetness in every dog's face, even more so if they are strays in dire need of help.

If you understand dogs, you will not fear them. If you are gentle and kind towards them, there is no reason for them to atttack you. They do so only when they feel threatened and believe me, the strays have every reason to be defensive because people do not treat them kindly.

When I first met Bodhi, he was just a pup. Can you imagine how adorable he looked as a black and white pup? He must have been bullied because he was so afraid. He hid in the undergrowth all day and ventured out only when the coast was clear. He would never allow anyone to go near him let alone cuddle him.

He had every reason to fear because even though he never caused any trouble, the AVA sent four big men with steel wires and lasso to capture him one day. His life was spared when my parents adopted him.

As you can imagine, getting him to my parents' home was a mammoth task that required many days of strategising. We finally got him settled into his new home. It took months to earn his trust again.

It helped that we had Harry, our other adopted dog, to keep him company. Even though Harry bossed him around and gave him a hard time in the beginning, it was heartwarming to see Bodhi trotting behind little Harry like a gentle giant.

In three years, he grew so close to Harry that whenever Harry went to the vet, he would run around the yard looking for his little friend. He was always overjoyed at Harry's homecoming, showering him with affectionate licks and nudges.

Harry's sudden demise has been hard on Bodhi who at this point is not aware his best friend had gone to doggie heaven. Seeing him looking desperately for his bestie breaks my heart. He came towards me looking for answers. I tried to comfort him only to hear him whimper. Then he ran towards the garden again, searching and whimpering softly hoping that Harry could hear him.