Sunday 31 March 2013

The Hots for Malacca

My last trip to Malacca was 20 years ago and I have little memories of the trip except that we had driven there on a whim and almost couldn't find a room to sleep in that night. Malacca was a popular destination then and I swear even more so now.

When the opportunity came up to visit Malacca over the Easter weekend, I surprised myself by accepting without any hesitation. CH's nieces had booked the room and secured bus tickets; I was just so happy to tag along without having to drive or do any legwork.

We boarded the bus at City Plaza on Saturday morning. Clearance at Tuas checkpoint was such a breeze and the journey along the highway towards Malacca was pleasant. Traffic only started building up when we were entering Malacca city. That is when the heat starts to hit you.

Could this be the same Malacca we visited in the mid-90s? I recalled we had driven along a long and narrow road flanked by lush vegetation on both sides. Malacca was more rustic then... but enough of the old days.

We alighted at Melaka Central bus station and took a cab to our hotel near Jonker Street. Courtyard @ Heeren is a charming boutique hotel with well thought out design and interesting touches. I particularly love the courtyards and open spaces within the building.
The location is also perfect for wandering around the old Peranakan Chinatown area which is part of UNESCO heritage city of Malacca. The buildings are eye candy.

Have I warned you about the heat yet? The blazing sun, narrow streets, concrete buildings and the lack of trees contribute to the intense heat. Even the breeze is warm. You feel sticky after ten minutes of walking yet everyone seemed to be out and about in search of good food and snacks.You just have to find your own way to beat the heat.
Carry a brolly.

Wear a hat.

Wear shades and eat copious amount of chendol (shaved ice dessert).

Order milkshake.
And eat more chendol!

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Dogs and names

The kids and I were reminiscing about our dogs that day. When Rusty first arrived, he was tiny as a kitten and we almost named him Felix (the Cat). Luckily we settled on Rusty because of his rusty patches, also because he's a Jack Russell Terrier.
Strangely, when I bring Rusty out for his walks, many people call him "Milo" (from the film Mask). It's funny because the movie was released some 20 years ago. YK used to watch it over and over again when he was still crawling on all fours. Milo is quite an unforgettable character! He's nothing like the other Milo I know - Petunia's hunky dog who is more of a Scooby-Doo look-alike.

Scooby is a nice name but one of our favourites is Spooky, my brother's mixed bred which died five years ago. There's nothing spooky about Spooky at all. He was very intelligent and such a good looker, one of the best dogs we've ever had.

I admit we're not the most creative when it comes to naming our dogs. After we had Rusty, we named the stray mongrel that came to live with us at the farm Jack. Then another black and white one came and we called him Russell. Just when we thought we had enough, along came one with a beautiful coat of chocolate fur. He was such a sweetie, the name Cookie sprung to my mind. Sadly, all these farm dogs have gone to Dog heaven. Now we've got Harry (cos he's so furry) and Bodhi (my friend named him).
Harry and Bodhi.
We're not the only unimaginative ones it seems. My cousin was lamenting about the names of their dogs. Their late miniature pinscher was named Skinny. If you know what a pinscher looks like, you'll go 'duh!'. Then there's stray who is lucky enough to be adopted by them. Naturally she's named Lucky. When Lucky gave birth to a litter of pups, all were adopted except for the rotund brown one who lives with them now. Yes, Brownie's her name.

Lucky and Brownie.
Rusty is not the only Jack Russell Terrier in our neighbourhood. We have a Milo and Tutu living in our block. There is one called Toffee who lives down the street and a Rocky, who looks so much like Rusty.
Rusty and Rocky.
I like the name Coco but it's fairly common around here. There is Shasha the gentle Husky who loves Rusty a lot and her partner Gen, a gorgeous Goldie. Then there is Waggy, the friendliest labrador in the neighbourhood and the cheery American man with his three Ds - Dumpling the Cocker Spaniel, Daisy the Goldie and Dolphin the Japanese Spitz. (below)

While some breeds are common, there's only one Rocket - the funny frowny sharpei who lives round the corner.
One and only Rocket.

Monday 18 March 2013

Why I need a car

Even though we live on a small island, I drive around more than the average Singaporean. I know the government is trying to curb the population of cars for the good of the nation but my life will come to a standstill if I have to give up my car.

My friend calls me the Golden daughter because mom can always rely on me to bring her to the doctor, collect medication or run errands. My parents live deep in the countryside miles away from the nearest bus stop and far away from my house. Without a car, I doubt we can even make it back often for our weekly family dinners.

Some people only drive their car to the office and back. Mine is a workhorse. Even though my office is near the city, my job requires me to visit work sites in far flung places that taxi drivers love to avoid. I have learned to relish the challenge of driving through potholes large enough to build a garden pond.
I like that the ample boot space is perfect for transporting compost and planters for my other gardening business.It gets a bit dusty from time to time especially when there are accidents and spills but what is that compared to Rusty's drool?

Our doggie enjoys car rides and displays his joy by pressing his face against the window while watching the world go by. He loves it even more when people blow him kisses and reciprocates by leaving wet smooches all over the window pane.
Without a car, our active and adventurous lifestyle would certainly have to take a backseat. Because the weekend is so precious, we zip from one nature reserve to another to enjoy what each has to offer. 

For the past few weeks, we have been driving to the furthest end of Rifle Range Road to trek towards Macritchie Reservoir. The boys usually stop midway to photograph the flora and fauna, I continue hiking along the forest trails until I am exhausted then walk back to reunite with them.
Pitcher plants growing in the wild.
If you are a nature lover, you will never get tired of visiting the same places week after week. Recently we found an area that was teeming with pitcher plants.

Bukit Brown Cemetery is another of our favourite haunts. There is nothing spooky at all about the graveyard especially on a bright and glorious morning. I tend to view it as a huge park that is home to many mature trees with branches that arch beautifully across the pathways and tombstones. I like how the towering trees are laden with wild ferns and orchids, they offer such a a breath-taking sight. 
The rich and dense vegetation naturally attracts a diversity of wildlife. While is is not surprising to see monkeys, butterflies and birds here, nothing is more fascinating that seeing a strikingly beautiful crimson sunbird preening itself before my car mirror. The car has come in handy here!
When you're driving off the beaten path with a growling tummy, chances are you might discover hidden gems such as Riders Cafe. Granted, we have been there once years ago but still, we were pleased as pie when we chanced upon it again. It is not somewhere you can easily find without a vehicle.
 The food is good, serving is generous and service is friendly. Riders Cafe uses mostly brioche for the sandwiches which is a good thing because it is so yummy. It was here that we discovered the yummiest chocolate cake - Death by Chocolate. At $12 per serving, it is large enough to feed 3 people. The slice of warm cake, topped with vanilla ice cream, was drowning in warm chocolate sauce, making it so awfully sinful. There is so much molten chocolate that you can literally drink by the spoonful.
The car has brought us to so many secret locations including this farm that is tucked away in Mandai. It reminds me of my childhood days.

We used to have a deep pond just like this. Farmers will understand how important it is to to have reliable water supply. When we were there in February, the farm was ablaze with red and yellow flowers. These attractive plants are highly sought after during Chinese New Year for the auspicious colours. The sight was mesmerising, just like the lavender or tulip fields we had seen in Europe. I never thought a view like this was possible in Singapore.
When we were there yesterday, the entire farm was barren. I wonder what they're planning to grow next. We would certainly need a car to find out, won't we?

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Salad days

So there I was, getting all excited over having dinner with SK on Tuesday night. For old time's sake, we ate at Thai Express. There is an outlet near his primary school and we used to eat there after school. His favourite dish was curry soft shell crab served with rice. That was so long ago.

That night, he ordered the same thing and ate it all up with gusto. I thought the dish looked somewhat different. He said the curry sauce was served in a separate bowl back then because he couldn't handle spicy food. But of course!

Now I recall the dilemma we used to face at the seafood restaurant. We had to order ketchup crab instead of chilli crab because of him. There were some unhappy faces (mostly YK's) at the table, but really, it's probably the worst way to cook a crab. Thank goodness those ketchup days are over.

Not only has his palate changed, SK has undergone some transformation. The puppy fat is gone. I found it hard to believe that the dashing young man sitting across the table is my son. The way he adheres to a healthy diet and exercise regime is quite admirable, especially for someone who used to love sweet drinks. He has completely stopped drinking soda and now has a toned body and good skin to show for.

Now that he's having school break, he makes his own lunch. It's usually something simple like grilled salmon, codfish, mackerel or chicken with a salad on the side. I've taught him how to make a simple salad with vinaigrette dressing like this one below. I tossed in some of my home-grown sunflower sprouts in there too. Sometimes I add radish sprouts to give it an edge.
It is so easy to fix a salad like this. All you really need is your imagination. Some additions like crush nuts (walnuts, pine, almond or peanut), onion, fresh fruit (apple, persimmon or mango), dried fruit (cherry, raisin or cranberry) can really liven up the salad.

For the dressing, the basic ingredients are olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice). I like to whisk in fresh garlic paste and mustard or even lemon zest to give the dressing an extra zing. See, it's that simple!

Monday 11 March 2013


I love my work, I really do. Even if it means treading on gravel and having a discussion under the blazing sun. Until now, I can't understand why people say I'm a rare find in a male dominated industry. Never once have I felt out of place at the work site, even with an over-sized hard hat on my head.

I enjoy cooking but I must admit that I'm not the most meticulous cook. I like to get the dish done chop-chop. In other words, don't give me recipes that require a list of more than 10 ingredients, especially those with names I cannot pronounce. A prep time of under 15 minutes would be high on my list. I prefer measurements that come in cup sizes so that I don't have to dig out the electronic scale that's stashed away somewhere likely with a flat battery. I should have known better than to get something that runs on batteries.

I have no qualms about doing housework. On a good day, it makes me sweat so much that I don't feel so guilty about skipping that morning run. Seeing how blistered my hands were after a session of vigorous mopping, my sister in law kindly recommended Scooba, the floor washing robot. Friends have also suggested using part time cleaners. It's not that I'm tightfisted about such things but I find myself an excellent housekeeper. I am not bragging when I say I can clean the entire house in under 30 minutes. If there is something I am good at, it is getting the job done quickly. I can't hang around the house all day waiting for the cleaner to finish the job.

I love my dog and have never denied him of his twice-daily walks. Rain or shine, Rusty gets his walks whether I feel like it or not. Like a bird released from the cage, he scampers out of the door, down the flight of stairs and away from the apartment with the biggest grin on his face. Only a heartless pet owner would fail to see the joy he exhibits. I try to be a good owner and enjoy the walk which isn't always the case, I'm sad to say. We have to hurry through the morning walk before I leave for work. He likes to linger and enjoy his evening walks, oblivious to my yawns and prodding.

If you put these four enjoyable tasks together, possibly back-to-back on a day-to-day basis, chances are they're no longer very fun. Unfortunately, my daily life is pretty much like that, give and take a little. Now that YK is in camp all week, I take a break from the routine on Tuesdays and meet SK in town for dinner. Then we go home, feed Rusty, walk him and go to bed early with a smile on my face. I like Tuesdays.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Starting over?

It's kinda sad to see my blog dying a slow death due to neglect. Concerned friends have texted me to ask if I am well and that they miss reading my stories. Why would anyone miss reading the stuff that I write, especially now that they are not coming from my soul, so to speak?

For a time-strapped person like me who's juggling business, housework and God knows what, Facebook has become the most convenient tool to stay in touch. It promotes laziness because I don't have to think of composition, grammar and content. The less I write, the less I know how to write. I'm as uninspired as a rock.

I went to bed early last night and woke up after 4 hours of sleep. Though I was tossing and turning in bed, I didn't turn on the lights fearing that I might startle Rusty and my heavy eyelids. I reached out for the iPad by the bedside and started searching for recipes. Recipes at 12.30am? I might have been too hungry to sleep. I heard SK opening the fridge in the kitchen. He must have been hungry too because I discovered this morning that he ate 3 apples in the night.

Anyway, I chanced upon David Lebovitz's blog and fell in love with the way he writes so easily about everything from Paris bakeries to pancakes. He has such a flair for writing and he makes baking sound like a piece of cake, so fuss-free and simple. For a moment before I slowly drifted back to sleep, I felt inspired to revive my blog again. I must be dreaming when I thought that it's quite possible to write effortlessly like him when I find my inspiration again.

I was motivated enough to bake brioche for breakfast this morning.

Maybe there is hope for my blog afterall.

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...