Thursday 29 December 2011

Our little party

The kids tell me that when they're in school, they often miss Rusty and can't wait to rush home to see him. Yet at home, when the doggie is trailing too closely behind, they wish he would get out of the way.

I said that was exactly how I felt about them when they were little. I missed them terribly during the day and rushed home daily to find them whining and crying so much, I couldn't wait to retreat back to the office.

Even now, my heart often swells with pride and love when I think of the kids, I just want to bring goodies home for them. Sure, there are days when they make me so angry, I want to strangle them. But the anger dissipates so quickly, I think a mother cannot stay angry with her own child for too long.

I left the office in high spirits yesterday and decided to treat the boys to a surprise (belated) Christmas dinner. We haven't had turkey this Christmas, so I bought a large roast chicken from Marketplace.

Knowing how the kids love Japanese food, I also grabbed a few handrolls and a unagi bento.

Then I swung over to Da Paolo and picked up their very boozy black forest cake (which we love) and a loaf of rosemary ciabatta.

Last stop was at Soup Kitchen, where I bought two packs of soups - clam chowder and wild mushroom.

The boys were in their rooms when I got home. I set the table (low coffee table) as quickly and quietly as I could. The chicken smelled really good, I made SK come out to keep an eye on Rusty.

Then I knocked on YK's door and said, "Hurry, we're having a party!" He seemed surprised for a moment. "Who is here?"

"Just us! It's our own little party!"

Soon, we were all seated on the floor, enjoying the wine and food. Our party lasted all of 30 minutes. Still, it was fun!

Sunday 25 December 2011

Rusty loves carrot

I gave Rusty some raw carrot and he loves it!

Boxing day

It's the day after Christmas and the sun is finally shining. I love the sun and realised now why I had been acting like a grouch when it went hiding for weeks. I feel alive again.

I'm enjoying my leftover carrot cake from the party at my friend's house last night. I made a big one, so tall that it almost couldn't fit into the cake box. After too much popiah, nobody had room for my hearty cake.

There was so much leftover I wanted to cry. I mean my carrot cake is always the life of the party and seeing how everyone was declining it made me sad. It was too rich, they said. But how can it be rich when there's more shredded carrot and walnut than flour?

To cut the story short, it was cut up and distributed to reluctant guests. "It'll taste better the next day", I assured. I brought back a quarter and shoved it in the fridge. I'm not going to make any more carrot cake.

When I woke up feeling hungry, I had a slice for breakfast and loved it so much, I refused to share with Rusty.

I'm also enjoying my Christmas gifts. As I lie in my bed, reading the book "Under the Tuscan Sun - At home in Italy" by Frances Mayes, I suddenly feel the urge to set off to Italy in search of the perfect country house. When I read her first book in 2005, I found myself alone in Florence not long after. Frances has the power to inspire me like that. Now I'm thinking I'm not too old to start my life in Tuscany after the kids have finished their studies....

I love how Boxing day is turning out. It's sunny, relaxing and I feel so dreamy. And there's still plenty of delicous cake for tea.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Feels like Christmas

Christmas is only 2 days away and I'm already in a holiday mood. We have a Christmas party to attend tonight and I had offered to bring a carrot cake which should be appropriate for tonight's Detox Popiah Party theme. No turkey or ham tonight because everyone has been over-indulging lately.

I have another Christmas party to attend this Sunday. Strangely, it's another 'popiah party'. Why is everyone detoxing? I haven't been over-eating, I don't need to detox!

So I have gone the whole hog and loaded the carrot cake with lots of jumbo raisins, walnut and grated carrot. The 2-layer cake with cream cheese frosting weighs at least 2kg!

Since I have a small oven which can only bake one layer at a time, I got up really early to get the job done before heading to work.

All the baking was completed by 8am but I had to wait for the cakes to cool down completely before I could slather on the frosting. Since I was in a bit of a rush, the frosting turned out looking very rustic. Maybe too rustic.

In the midst of all the baking, SL and Karen dropped by with their own home-made fruit cake and cookies! I feel so blessed to have friends like them.

They had just returned from a snorkeling trip in Lombok and are on leave until the end of the year. After the visit, they were headed for East Coast beach with their dogs. The weather's perfect for the beach today. I'm pretty envious actually.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Time for socialising

I love December! The weather is cool and everyone's in a holiday mood. It's the best time for socialising. Well, that's what we've been doing a lot of lately.

Our Christmas celebrations began last Friday at Chris&EY's house. I love eating anything that's prepared by EY because her Korean dishes are as traditional as they can get.

Even the rice is always special. This time she added some wild vegetables in it. Before eating, mix some paste and spicy sauce to make it really flavourful.

Another dish which you can't find in the restaurants here is the assorted seaweed salad. She used several types of seaweed, some rather unusual and pretty ones too. The homemade dressing was also very special.

Besides serving a hot and spicy stew, she also prepared a large variety of side dishes. The most unique was a jelly (extreme left in picture below) made from acorn starch.

Another group of friends gathered on an early Sunday morning at Glory for a delicious Nonya breakfast.

We ordered their popular popiah which is a big and fat vegetable roll. Here you can see our 4 popiahs being assembled.

The popiah is huge!

I think the pie-tee is even more delicious. They were made using the same fillings as the popiah but the crispy shells really made the dish stand out.

Another highly recommended dish is the mee siam.

This morning, I stopped by Petunia's house for a chat. She had recently gone on a low-carb diet and is experimenting with a new bread recipe using almond meal and rosemary.

I haven't eaten bread in more than a month and when I tasted a warm slice, my knees went weak. It was so delicious that I ate it all up without any jam or spreads. I brought back half a loaf and couldn't resist eating it all up for lunch. It was so good, I'm seriously considering buying a bread-making machine so I can bake bread like this everyday!

Friday 16 December 2011

Ugly chocolate cake

If you think ugly cakes don't exist, then look again. I have one right before me. I'm even too embarrassed to bring it to the X'mas party tonight.

You see, I was ogling the most delicious looking cakes at Da Paolo Gastronomia this afternoon but the prices put me off. Instead I went and got myself a pack of Betty Crocker Moist Chocolate Cake mix at a fraction of the cost and spent the afternoon making my own.

The uneven oven temperature (it's not a proper oven) caused the cake to rise into an ugly dome shape. After slicing off the top (and the charred bits) with a fruit knife, the cake looked worse than ever. That was when I decided to slather a layer of cream cheese frosting (yeah, that's the only one I know) on top.

I used a kitchen knife to spread the frosting and the results were terrible. So I came up with this crazy idea to make soft peaks. And here is what you get without the proper baking tools.

Somehow, the cake still looked so miserable. I dusted some icing sugar and cocoa powder all over with the hope of making it look more sophisticated.

I don't think it looks any better now. Let's just hope it's delicious.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Sleepless nights

Christmas is just around the corner and Chinese New Year is only a month away. Eveyone says it's time to rejoice but find me someone who isn't fretting over burgeoning festive expenses like me. Being self employed means I have no bonus to look forward to and having two school going kids makes the outlook somewhat bleak.

YK's friend has just started university in Australia. I almost fell off my chair when I heard his fees and expenses come up to S$5,000 a month. We're not even talking about studying in the UK or USA. That is more than the combined household income of many Singaporeans.

I have always known how expensive it is to study overseas but this is reality kicking in. I always thought I have time but in a couple of years, YK will be going to university. I must admit that I'm rather ill-prepared and for once, I am glad I don't have twins. Or triplets.

If he can't get a place in our local university, it will mean I have to work my butt off and scrimp and save for the next 10 years or so. This is giving me sleepless nights.

Sunday 11 December 2011

This is life

I find it hard to understand why Singaporeans don't like going for picnics. It's always about the weather - too hot or too wet. Rain or shine, I'm always ready.

What is a picnic without food? For yesterday's picnic, I baked some shepard's pie and a loaf of carrot/fruit cake.

Pity the turnout at Botanic Garden's concert in the park was poor because of the wet grounds after a rainy morning. We think the weather was brilliant. It was cool with the occasional light breeze.

Wet ground? No problem. Just pile on three layers of ground sheet and bring out the food and wine. And flowers.

Amy had brought the flowers to visit a friend at the hospital earlier but couldn't leave them in the ICU ward. With the floral arrangement, we could really picnic in style.

Picnics are perfect for chatting, eating, people-watching, napping or playing. It's really up to you.

LinkFry arrived later with apple cider and more food. I found myself talking endlessly like I had been deprived of chatting for so long.

We hung around long after the band had stopped playing so that we could see the beautiful Christmas lights twinkling in the trees at night.


With much reluctance, we packed up and left the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Living amongst foreigners

While YK was in the MRT train last week, his nose started bleeding. He tried using his cloth bag to stem the flow of blood but a worker from Bangladesh quickly offered him pack of tissues. YK was very impressed and grateful.

Last week, my friend Amy commended a worker from Bangladesh for his gracious service during her visit to a local flower shop. I patronise this nursery regularly and he is always there to greet me with a smile.

At our parent's farm, our workers from India and Bangladesh are polite and respectful. The Indian has been with us for 20 years and is like a part of our family. He squirrels away most of his income for his two daughters' dowry so they could marry off well in India.

Even amongst our friends, Hakim from Bangladesh stands out as one of the more compassionate ones. He always entertains us with funny and interesting stories about life in Bangladesh. As you can see here, even our dogs adore him. Behind his youthful energy is a man with ambition. He wants to be his own boss one day.

I'm lucky to have close contact with many foreigners living here. I'm friends with Coral, the Filipina maid living downstairs. We chat almost daily while she's out walking the 3 dogs. Her kids are about the same age as mine, but she rarely sees them. On days when the going gets tough, she misses them terribly.

My best friend's maid, Nor, showed me her children's photo recently. She's mostly stoic but when she talked about her kids that day, it was the first time I had seen her face soften and light up like that. Only a mother would understand the kind of pride one has for her offsprings.

In my neighbourhood, almost every family employs a maid to tackle the household chores and take care of the kids, elderly and dogs. Just across my kitchen window, I often witness the lady owner screaming at the maid for shoddy work. There is a difference between reprimanding and yelling. Even if her work is not up to mark, she doesn't deserve to be shouted at like that, until everyone in the block could hear. It makes me mad to see that happen.

Sadly, many Singaporeans are afraid of being too nice to their workers for fear of being taken advantage of. Some turn into outright bullies. Come on, given a choice, you think your maid would put up with all that crap? Who doesn't want to be home living a comfortable life with the family?

Or could it be that Singaporeans just don't know how to show compassion and appreciation? When I was cheering and clapping for the runners at the marathon last weekend, most of the runners just ran by like I was invisible. When I take part in races, I try my best to wave back to supporters. I can understand that at the 29km mark, most were exhausted beyond words but this Chinese National was the best.

He reciprocated with the biggest smile and waved his hands high up in the air. I must say he made my day!Link

Monday 5 December 2011

Ageing gracefully (I hope)

I know I am getting old because:

1. I've stopped speeding on the road.
2.I don't wear mini-skirts anymore.
3. I wear light, neutral make-up.
4. I prefer flats to stilettos.
5. I only like shopping for groceries.
6. I don't lose my temper so easily.
7. I am beginning to sound like my mother.
8. I prefer eating simple food.
9. I don't feel so awkward at social events.
10. I no longer do things I dislike, like roller coasters rides.
11. I am in bed by 10pm.
12. I can control my cravings.
13. I am more sympathetic and empathetic.
14. I prefer a quiet, simple life.
15. My sentences often begin with "During those days..."
16. I don't pig out anymore.
17. I've stopped sun-bathing.
18. I've stopped fretting about my grey hair and wrinkles.
19. I often think about retirement.
20. I'm happy and contented.

Sunday 4 December 2011

So, what else is happening?

Nothing much is happening around here. CH is away in NY, having the time of his life. My colleague is in Taiwan. EY is back in Seoul. Petunia has gone to Tasmania. Amy has flown off to Kuching and my brother in on vacation too. It's the holiday season!

YK has a week of tests while SK has just started his vacation job at the newly opened Food for Thought branch at Singapore Botanic Gardens. He is there for training today, so do drop by the cafe (near Cluny road entrance) if you're at the Gardens.

I think he'll enjoy it especially since the cafe's surrounded by lush greenery. We have been spending our weekends together at nature trails in Bukit Timah and Sungei Buloh. He's really into nature, just like me.

Boardwalk at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

I have been to Sungei Buloh more than 20 times but this was the first time I spotted baby horseshoe crabs crawling about on the swamp land. They are so cute and small, not larger than a 50ct coin.

After a spell of rain, the sun was up and all the monitor lizards were out sun-bathing.

Here are some photos taken at the hiking trail along Rifle Range Road.

Yam plant.

Durian trees.

Trail flanked by tree ferns.

SK's new hobby.

Shot by SK.

Flatworm, also shot by SK.

Standard Chartered Marathon 2011

I woke up early this morning to support my best friend at the Singapore Marathon. This is her second marathon whereas I've only completed the 10k and 21k in the past. A record 65,000 runners took part in this year's event which explains my reluctance to sign up. I prefer running in smaller events these days.

Anyway, I arrived way too early and decided to park myself next to a trash can at the 29km point and kept a lookout for my friend. Two hours is a long time for one to wait, so I started taking photos of people running by.

One runner handed me a sign which says "You can do it!" and I became part of the cheering squad. Maybe because I was dressed in the official colour, runners came up to me asking about bananas and ointment.

After a long wait, I saw two runners waving happily at me. Finally best friend and her hubby came into view. After giving them fresh towel to clean up, they went on to tackle the final 13km while I headed home.

I took lots of photos at the 29km mark (Fort Road carpark), so if you're a runner, you might want to look for your photo here.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Celebrate togetherness this new year

There are so many things I like about Tiger Beer. It's smooth and refreshing. An ice-cold Tiger after an evening run is one of life's little pleasures. Even though it is a home-grown brand, I can get my fix everywhere around the world.

After attending a media event organised by APBS (the manufacturer of Tiger Beer, ABC Extra Stout and Guinness) to unveil their Lunar New Year plans, I have more reasons to like my beer.

Let's just say, there is a side to APBS that I never knew. For 10 years, they have been supporting the needy elderly living in Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng constituency so they can eat more regular and nutritious meals. Last year, $25,000 was raised through the sale of fortune cookies. This year, APBS hopes to raise $30,000. If only you could see the adorable grinning grannies in the photo below.

When I brought some cookies home, YK was the first to break open a pack to see his fortune. He's going to distribute the rest to his friends in school. Since fortune cookies are not readily available in Singapore, the best way to grab some is to visit APBS' booth at the Chinatown Pavilion at Banda Street from 30 Dec 2011 onwards. Each box, containing 10 cookies, will be sold at a price of $10.

APBS's theme for this coming Chinese New Year is 'togetherness'. Spending quality time with family and friends is what the festival is all about and Tiger Beer wants to bring togetherness to new heights. A host of events and rituals incorporating feng shui elements like the Tiger Beer Five Fortune Pagoda and Tiger Beer Dragon Wall have been planned to usher in the new year.

The entire hall came to life when two Lions, designed by one of the last remaining lion makers in Singapore, Henry Ng, pranced about to the beat of the drums. To keep the tradition and art of lion-making alive, ABC Extra Stout will be organising workshops conducted by Henry.

Now something for the foodies to look forward to. Making a roaring return this Chinese New Year is the popular Guinness-marinated Bak Kwa. If you like, you can even learn how to make this unique delicacy through demonstrations and classes conducted by Chef John See.

As a blogger, I have been invited to attend many of their events but yesterday's press conference at China One was my first.

I was glad to be there because I met some new friends from the media and PR agencies.

The gorgeous Tiger girls were there too!

Chowmahalla Palace

During our week in Hyderabad, some of the places we visited include the Mecca Mosque, the Charminar (the icon of Hyderabad), Sufi Shrine, Bi...