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Preview: East meets West

East meets West

A Singapore girl now living in Shanghai after more than a decade in Western Europe. This blog records some of my recipes (mainly fusion), thoughts and life.

Updated: 2018-03-05T23:09:49.175+01:00


Gluten-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cake


Gluten-free Chocolate Hazelnut CakeBaby Girl had a very slim lady teacher who was gluten intolerant and I guess I wondered then if that was why she was so slim and elegant. That was the second time I was actually brought to think about this problem, the first being that one Christmas party I attended at Tetra Pak in Modena many years ago where they had a separate buffet spread for employees with coeliac disease. The third occasion was last year when I organised a lunch for my BISS Year 12 class and discovered that one of the very slim and glamorous mums who attended was gluten-intolerant.From the look of all the round and boisterous members of my family, none of us seems to be suffering from this misfortune and could eat as much pasta, bread and cakes as we want, which we did, making us look like what we ate basically.Then I noticed that gluten-free products whether primary (e.g. flours) or finished tend to be much more expensive than normal ones and that made me curious to find out more about the disease. I even bought a gluten-free cookbook written by some celebrity chef, but must admit that most of the supposedly delicious recipes hadn't inspired me thus far.Finally, a Germany bakery here was having a promotion a few weeks back and never one to be able to resist a sale, I bought a packet of premium hazelnut meal and have since been wondering what I could do with it.A few days ago, I decided to make a simple Gluten-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cake for 3 reasons: 1. to use up the hazelnut meal; 2. to give the kids a taste of a gluten-free cake; 3. because I suspected that Hub would enjoy it very much.The cake turned out very well and I served it with home-made whipped cream. The kids thought it tasted nice, but preferred the "normal" chocolate cakes that I've baked them. Hub, as predicted, loved the taste and texture of the hazelnut meal in the cake and basically ate most of it up on his own!The next time there should be a need for a gluten-free offering, I would know what to bring.Gluten-free Chocolate Hazelnut Cake:175g chocolate (minimum 35% cocoa butter)125g butter6 egg whites½ tsp salt25g castor sugar6 egg yolks75g granulated sugar1 tsp pure vanilla extract1 tbsp grand marnier (optional)130g hazelnut mealPreheat oven to 350°F.Line an 18-cm cake tin (mine's more than 7 cm tall) and grease its sides.Using a clean and dry electric beater beat the egg whites till stiff, adding the salt and then the sugar along the way. Set aside.In a separate bowl melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave. Mix well and set aside to cool.In a large mixing bowl cream the eggs and sugar together. Add the vanilla and alcohol.Stir in the butter-chocolate mixture.Stir in the hazelnut meal.With a spatula mix in the egg whites in 2-3 portions.Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 to 55 minutes. The wooden skewer you poke into the cake should come out clean.Leave the cake in the tin to cool for a few minutes before turning it out.Eat it as it is, with some icing sugar over it, or with home-made whipped cream like we did. The cake was not as compact as it would have been otherwise because of the use of egg whites. It even managed to turn out quite tall even though there was no baking powder in it.[...]

Pandan Chiffon Cake


Pandan Chiffon CakeBaby Boy is very fond of eating Pandan Chiffon Cake. I cannot recall where and when he picked up his first slice of the cake, but it's interesting that he should like it since he grew up in Europe and chiffon cake is not popular there.A few months ago we attended a celebration organised by the Singapore Consulate in Shanghai and a vendor sold pandan chiffon cakes in the bazaar there. I was made to buy a small cake that was really expensive, and I asked myself then why I've been making orange and other chiffon cakes in the past but never a pandan one?A few afternoons ago, I decided to whip up one quickly to match a charity theme. A few friends of mine here are organisers of the More Than Aware Fun Run yesterday (for breast cancer awareness) and green and pink were the colours for the charity. I made a Beef in Red Wine sauce for the pink and decided on a pandan chiffon for the green. Hub was away as usual (this time abandoning us to be with his best friend in Thailand) so we decided not to join the event, but I've wanted to be with them in spirit.The chiffon turned out pretty well as I adapted the recipe for my other chiffon cakes for it, but I made the mistake of not being able to bear the loss of a tiny bit of pandan paste just after I've poured the batter into the mould, dipping the spoon into the batter...unfortunately this bit of paste sank into the bottom of the batter without mixing properly with it and the result could be seen after the cake has been baked. We learn from our mistakes, I'm sure.Pandan(us) Chiffon Cake:6 egg whites½ tsp salt½ tsp cream of tartar70g caster sugar6 egg yolks60g caster sugar60g canola oil150ml coconut milk1 tsp pandanus paste150g all purpose flour2 tsp baking powderPreheat the oven to 340°F or 175°C.In a mixing bowl whisk the egg whites till half stiff. I prefer to prepare the egg whites first when the electric beater is clean so as to minimise failure.Add the salt to the whites and continue whisking.Add the cream of tartar and continue whisking.Finally add the sugar and whisk till stiff but do not over do it.In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar till creamy.Add the oil and continue beating.Sift the flour with the baking powder and mix into the batter.Stir the pandan paste into the coconut milk and pour into the batter. Mix well.Mix the egg white batter into the egg yolk batter in 3 times.Pour into an ungreased and unfloured 21-cm chiffon cake tin and bake in the hot oven for 55-60 minutes.Turn the cake tin upside down after you've removed it from the oven and let it cool for a while.Use a knife with a serrated edge to separate the sides of the cake from the tin and unmould the cake onto a serving plate.The cake can be kept (covered to prevent drying) at room temperature for 2-3 days, but probably not more than that as it contains coconut milk. Keep part of it in the fridge if need be.  [...]

Oats in Curry


Oats in CurryYou read a lot nowadays about how processed food and pollution are killing us, awakening the cancers in our bodies and clogging up all our arteries. It is ironic that as Science prolongs the human life, we end up killing ourselves through the way we chose to live.I am, unfortunately, one of those unhealthy people guilty of not eating enough fibre, preferring a largely protein and carbohydrate diet, and also not doing much physical exercise as a general rule.My mum is currently an avid reader of the Mind Your Body column in the Straits Times and she really watches what she eats for a couple of years now. That's the same mum who was feeding us snacks all day long when we were kids, fried frozen food from the supermarket (especially during the boom import years when Singapore started becoming very quickly industrialised) and yummy restaurant fare on weekends and during outings.You look at my siblings and myself and you know that genes apart, we have picked up our fat body shape and generally bad eating habits from those years and it's not possible to turn back the clock. As a mother, I have passed on some of these bad habits to my own children and they are even worse eaters than I've ever been. I started out really well when they were babies and I had to prepare their baby food daily and fresh, but once they started being able to eat food from outside, all my good resolutions flew out of the window and I basically fed them as I would myself.At the same time, I really think that we should enjoy our food and I wake up every morning looking forward to what I would savour in the day. My grand aunt died when she was 100 years old (the one who used to teach Mrs LKY Geography in MGS, and who was the wife of my illustrous grand uncle Dr. Lim Tay Boh) and as far as I could remember, she spent decades basically eating only boiled vegetables and very little meat (also boiled). I don't think I can live like that, I'd be happy to die of a heart attack later on in life if I'd had my fill of good steaks and other sinful delights.But you can see that I've nonetheless given some thought to the subject, so I made a resolution to at least eat more healthy stuff like oats whenever I can. The other day I made a chicken curry (actually I make a curry or 2 every week) and we finished most of the meat leaving the equivalent of a small bowl of the gravy behind.For breakfast the next day, I reheated the gravy with a few tablespoons of rolled oats without overcooking them. Oats in Curry tasted surprisingly pleasant, almost like a dal.I endeavour to repeat this dish as often as I can in times to come, in fact, I also had oats in Bak Kut Teh a few days later.[...]

Darwin, Litchfield, Pine Creek and Kakadu in August 2014


View of the Nadab floodplain from Ubirr lookoutIt was on a whim that I decided to fly the family to Darwin, Australia when we were in Singapore last August. The flight would take less than 5 hours and August was the dry season which would mean good accessibility to most of the sights in the National Parks, not to forget less risk of encountering crocodiles.For a number of years now we like to combine nature, food and culture in our holidays and I've always wanted to visit UNESCO-listed Kakadu National Park where the Aboriginal people are said to inhabit for more than 40000 years. We also prefer to self-drive and visiting Darwin during the dry season is essential for that. We started our stay in Darwin with a bit of drama as Hub had left his credit cards behind in Singapore (being used to traveling empty-handed when he's with me) and Budget refused to rent us the car we had reserved because of that. We spent a frightening 30 minutes trying to find an alternative and must commend the lady at Thrifty for her kindness when she discovered the shit we were in. She agreed to rent us a car using my credit card (though Hub would do the driving) and even found us the car we wanted for a slightly higher price than Budget. Whew!George Brown Darwin Botanic GardensWe were dead tired actually having arrived before 6am in Darwin. Drove out to the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens for a walk after breakfast as it was too early to check into our hotel. The grounds were not too big, but the gardens were lovely and it was interesting seeing houses built over void decks. I imagine it was to survive the flooding and crocodiles swimming around during wet season.MAGNTWith the car rental fiasco we missed watching the sun rise at Mindil Beach, but left the kids to play on the sand while we checked out the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery (MAGNT). It was a small gallery, but we learnt some interesting facts about Cyclone Tracy that devastated much of Darwin and also learnt about Aboriginal art, the NT being the traditional homeland for many of the Aborigines in Australia. Mindil Beach and Stokes Hill Wharf neighbourhoodDarwin is a very small and expensive city and I was initially quite shocked to discover the cost of accommodation as I was planning the trip. However, as we only had a full day and night to spend in the city, I booked us 2 rooms at the Palms City Resort just in front of the esplanade. It was within walking distance to most places including Stokes Hill Wharf where there were wave pools, restaurants and a food court selling different types of food including seafood, Thai and Indian. For dinner, we bought wonderful meat and wine from a nearby supermarket and had a BBQ by the hotel's pool.Magnetic Termite Mounds, Litchfield Park.The next morning we set out for Litchfield Park which while not as famous as Kakadu is really well worth a visit. You reach the Magnetic Termite mounds first and these cathedral mounds were fascinating as many were taller than us and you learn about the ecosystems, the respect the traditional people have for nature, for their land. Apparently blind worker ants used their inbuilt magnetic compass to orientate their mounds in a North-South direction to keep out the heat, hence the term magnetic termite mounds. Ironically I would discover a huge termite problem in my current rental home just after and I can assure you I didn't take to them kindly and was hell bent on their extermination, no way I wanted any mounds in my house or garden.Florence Falls, Litchfield Park.We drove further inland and reached Florence Falls where we walked some distance to enjoy a picnic lunch followed by a beautiful swim in the pools beneath the falls. I was just a little bit insulted when some Australians stopped by where we were eating to remind us to carry our rubbish with us. Much as I appreciated their concern, I felt that there was no need for us to be patronised, especially when we were not throwing anything around us.During the dry s[...]

First Time Skiing in Japan (Niseko, Hokkaido, March-April 2015)


View of Mount Yotei (Ezo Fuji)With the exception of The Young Adult who started at age 4, my kids started learning how to ski when they were barely 3. No matter where we were in the world (e.g. USA, Germany, Italy...), we would return to France to ski in the French Alps.We did that 3 years running even when we were living in China. It was a total hassle, very tiring, not to forget expensive. One year we had a connecting flight (Paris to Lyon) cancelled, had our baggage (containing the ski suits) delayed, and missed our bus connecting Lyon airport to the ski station. Total nightmare.Call it ski chauvinism, but Hub and the kids were convinced (still are) that there is nowhere better or more suitable for alpine skiing than the French Alps. Until the year before, the Babies were also taking ski lessons with the Ecole Française du Ski (ESF) and only decided to stop when they all had their Bronze Star. Baby Boy now talks of eventually trying for the Gold Star, probably because he realises that he could still improve his technique and enjoy skiing even more as a result.I decided to put a stop to this skiing business for this year, for no way was I going to go through all that hassle yet again for a week of freezing cold and sore legs. Needless to say I'm hopeless at the sport, having picked it up too old and being afraid of my own shadow. I'm totally out of shape, so skiing can only be a torture for me. Yet I've reached the stage where I get really bored doing the easy runs and am too slow for the more challenging ones.Looking at their disappointed faces, I relented and proposed a compromise: why don't we go to Korea (because air tickets are cheaper)? Hub was absolutely not motivated as he had never heard of Korea being a great place for skiing. I reminded him of the Winter Olympics, but he just had to be stubborn about it.Then I remembered Japan. I have a friend who has been skiing there for nearly 2 decades and loved it. Hub has heard good things about Niseko too, about the powder snow, important snowfall and the efficient logistics. By the time we decided to go, the only holidays we had left was Spring/Easter Break, so we bought tickets to New Chitose for end March, booked a log cabin at Hirafu and prayed for snow.On the way to NisekoWe arrived in Hokkaido on a sunny day and the plane (China Eastern), miraculously, was on time. We even had the time to grab a delicious pasta lunch before we settled onto our comfortable Hokkaido Resort Liner bus to Hirafu. The transfer lasted 2,5 hours and we were picked up at the Hirafu Welcome Centre by our hosts Tohsan and Kahsan of Fullnote Pension.During peak season, it will probably not be possible for us to sleep in the log cabin which can house up to 10 people. But we were more or less the only guests there that week, it being almost the end of the Season. In fact, most restaurants were closed or closing, many shuttle buses stopped running and even the airport transfers would stop a week after our departure (or already had).Fullnote log cabinBut we had our log cabin. It had a living area with a tiny kitchen in a corner (even a piano), a loft with tatami sleeping area and a basement with a WC, bath and 2 bedrooms. The smell of fuel was a little too strong in the basement and I worried a little about the kids suffocating in their sleep, but apparently they survived. Breakfast was included and freshly prepared each morning in the main house where there are rooms and shared toilets and showers, as well as a live jazz bar.Shaba shabu at the pensionWe rented our skis from Tohsan (the pension owner) and he also took charge of our ski lift passes. You could also order dinner from him (usually weekends) and we asked for shabu shabu on Friday evening which was done just the way we liked it. Very gentle and kind hosts who would drive us to and from the main ski lifts, while a free shuttle service from Hanazono stops just opposite Woody Note which is run by Tohsan's younger brother.S[...]

A day on Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa (August 2014)


Pulau Ubin, SingaporeOne positive thing about being an Overseas Singaporean is the pleasure I discover playing tourist in my own country each time I return home. When I was a teenager, I thought that it would be really cool to travel around the world and stay on my own. I still think it great, but I also look forward to seeing my parents in our old flat and getting back into "the routine" once I'm back on the island. Just thinking about this makes me homesick and with age the feeling intensifies.Singapore is both a concrete jungle and a garden city. It is both a modern city and a place steeped in traditions practised by those who occupy its heartlands. I have learnt over the years to look beyond the facades of modernity into the true Singapore where new and old, east and west merge or co-exist in various degrees. We really do have the best of many worlds.Last August, I finally brought my family of 5 to Pulau Ubin. The last time I visited was probably back in the 1990s when I was an Elderly Befriender volunteer with the Ang Mo Kio Social Service Centre. Us volunteers occasionally received training from the social workers and we also had bonding trips to help us remain more coherent as a group (consisting of people from very diverse backgrounds and ages as it was).From Changi Point to Pulau Ubin jettyToday, Pulau Ubin (Granite Island) probably has one of the last kampongs left in Singapore. Heard that only 38 people lived on the 10km2 island in 2012, from the few thousand back in the 1960s. We took a bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal one morning after it had 12 passengers onboard.Hub loved the island - the laid-back, old Singapore feel, the greenery, mud tracks, wooden houses...It was almost like stepping back into time, into another world. And it's so cool because it's so near to modern Singapore.The VillageMake a quick visit to the public toilets near the jetty before you set out to explore the island unless you fancy doing it out in the nature with possible visits from gigantic monitor lizards while you are at it. We came across one as we were cycling and it was impressive how it hit a van (with its powerful tail) which was parked next to it (the driver stopped to take a picture of said lizard). It was scary and fascinating at the same time. There was also a family of wild pigs near Chek Jawa that residents seemed to be familiar with.Some of the wild residentsBefore we rented our bikes (easy to do so from any of the several shops lining the main street of the main village), we visited a vegetable garden (with deadly mosquitoes, so do come equipped with long sleeves and pants or powerful creams) and walked through the village. The bikes had seen better days, but what the heck, it's all part of the rustic nature of the island, besides they were not expensive to rent. A couple of cyclists have lost on their lives on "cemetery road" while going downhill or engaging abrupt ends so do consider hiring a helmet too.Quarry lakes and wooden housesWe discovered that Ubin has a world-class Ketam mountain biking trail, and saw a couple of guys with special bikes going on it. It poured at some point when we were on the island and we took shelter in one of the various shelters along the tracks. Fortunately, rain doesn't usually last long in Singapore, you get a shower and then life continues.The island is very green and the quarry lakes are beautiful. We didn't go on any guided tour because the timing wasn't right, but do check out the NParks website for guided walks or visits on the island.Chek JawaWe did visit Chek Jawa though. There is a boardwalk (through mangroves and the coastline) that is open daily from 8:30am to 6pm and you leave your bikes in a parking area near its entrance. We also climbed up the Jejawi Tower for a view of the canopy and surrounding islands. I loved the viewing jetty in the sea, felt just so calm and peaceful.View of the canopyBefore leaving the island, those who l[...]

Remembering Mr Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015)


Thank you, Mr. Lee, you will always be my hero! R.I.P.

I am who I am - because you were

I can lift my head high and walk with my back straight - because of you

I dare to dream and I dare to do - because you did

I have the courage of my convictions - because you had them first.

No one has inspired and motivated me as much as you had, Sir. I thank you for a life of struggle, of tough decisions (and the courage it took to make them), of vision, of leadership by example and of devotion to the Nation. May you join your beloved wife in rest and in peace. 

Thank you, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. 

I promise to always try my best and keep the flame burning, that we do not squander all that you have built for and with us.

Majullah Singapura!

Glutinous Rice Balls (汤圆): the last night of the Chinese Lunar New Year


汤圆for元宵Every year, across countries in Asia where glutinous rice balls are consumed on auspicious occasions,  one often reads about some kid or elderly choking to death on a ball. Yet, the asian love for all things round continues and I couldn't keep out the sound of the salesgirls promoting their glutinous rice balls in Carrefour in the week leading to the end of CNY, nor could I stop receiving (on social media) all sorts of well wishes for 元宵 - also known as the Chinese Valentine's Day.I guess the folklore of lovers reuniting under the full moon is irresistible for the Chinese and the fact that you could play with the characters/symbols and come out with all kinds of wishes for fullness, wealth etc make it a sure hit with the superstitious. However, the occasion is not celebrated the same way everywhere in the Chinese world and the way one would eat a glutinous rice ball would also differ according to local customs or taste.I remember that when I was a kid, mum would roll her own glutinous rice balls and they would be plain, white and red, and served in a sweetened soup. Of course the Gods and ancestors would always get to try them first, but I loved them and didn't mind having the leftovers :-).Then the age of the industrially-produced frozen glutinous rice balls arrived and we would have them stuffed with sesame paste, peanuts or red bean paste. From the look of things the Chinese where I am are now at this stage because almost every person I questioned about the rice balls was not making his own. Quite a pity since we all know now that it is best to avoid consuming industrially produced food products wherever possible, plus glutinous rice balls are probably one of the easiest things to make on one's own.   In Shanghai, the Chinese also eat savoury meat-filled glutinous rice balls which are not something I am used to. And according to my driver Zong, what matters to them is the filling (whether sweet or savoury) and not much attention is usually paid to the soup. In fact, they usually just serve their precious glutinous rice balls in hot water.CNY 2015I will not bother to blog the recipe since I've done so about 5 years ago. For this year's yuanxiao, I made 3 types of glutinous rice balls: rose and pandanus flavoured, as well as plain white balls stuffed with salted duck egg yolk. The soup was a simple brown sugar with ginger and pandanus leaves solution. If using Taikoo's ginger brown sugar, use it sparingly and combine with normal white sugar as the former is very very strong.I made each kid eat just one glutinous rice ball for the occasion as they are not at all into it (I guess it's an acquired taste) while I gobbled down the rest. I thought it made a good occasion for teaching them about some of the Chinese customs while we are still living in China.  [...]

Three Mornings at Willing Hearts : Feeding the Needy in Singapore


Eldest Son cooking rice @Willing HeartsThe Young Adult has/had CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) obligations to fulfil as part of his IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma and as usual was lacking behind. Mum had to come to the rescue and it was fortunate that a charity food kitchen like Willing Hearts exists in Singapore. Anybody is welcome to help out though they prefer volunteers to turn up before sunrise and if possible stay till at least lunch time.Fate was kind to us because my parents' flat happened to be a short taxi ride away from the food kitchen (at Genting Lane, though they have since moved to bigger premises in Jalan Ubi). It was still tough having to wake the boy up very early during his vacation, but he was keen to clock enough charity hours for CAS so he was pretty cooperative.Willing Hearts at 6amWe arrived at the industrial building when it was still dark and quiet and I decided to stay and help out too since I have always wanted to serve in a food kitchen. I guess one is also more motivated when one knows that one would be helping one's own countrymen, especially senior citizens for whom I have a tender spot.There were many stations at which one could choose to help out, from washing and cooking rice, to washing and preparing vegetables and meat, to cooking, packing, delivering the food etc. The YA started out cooking rice and being the dyspraxic child that he is, spent the rest of his 3 mornings there cooking rice. I started out cooking rice too, but quickly decided that I wanted to see something else and ended up helping to pack the food which was more interesting because it was different depending on what they had in the pantry and who it was meant for. Needless to say I also tasted a bit of what I was packing to see what the recipients were in for. There was this fried rice with dried shrimp (from a can) that was actually quite tasty though I thought it didn't look appetising (looks can be deceiving).Cooking rice for thousands of peopleWe were there from Sunday till Tuesday (in July 2014) and got to see the changing demography of the volunteers. In the week, the food kitchen could usually depend on a vibrant, efficient and fierce group of tai tais that included both locals and expats. They would bark out orders and move really quickly because they have been doing this almost every day for a number of years now. On weekends, there will be mainly corporate volunteers, students and working individuals who feel a need to offer occasional help. Then, there are a few people who turn up every day rain or shine, including Tony Tay the retiree who started the kitchen and an electrical engineer (in red T-shirt) who helps out every morning before he goes to work!Volunteers at work; Tony the founder is the guy in dark blue T-shirt looking at his phoneThe thing that bothers me is that people think that there are only needy people in developing countries. There are needy people in all societies and the ones that live in relatively rich countries are often forgotten or ignored because they are not so visible. When we were there, the food kitchen was churning out meals for more than 4000 people each time, mostly for the elderly and the underprivileged, regardless of race or religion (the kitchen doesn't serve pork or lard). I heard that they now offer dental and TCM services as well in their new premises.It was nearly lunch time when we were done!Tony said that the YA should accompany one of their vans when they go around delivering the packed lunches and that he would surely find meaning in what he had been doing. I was certainly tempted to take him up on it if we were not already busy with other more personal obligations. The Willing Hearts would definitely be a stop for us now when we visit Singapore, CAS or no CAS. I am keen to see their new kitchen and hope that my other children will also f[...]

Banana Bread (could have been gluten-free but wasn't)


Banana BreadWe went hiking in Hong Kong over the CNY holidays and left whatever food we couldn't clear out before leaving to their own fates. Among the stuff were 2 bananas that turned black on the outside, but remained surprisingly firm and white on the inside. I am no expert in bananas so I can't dissertate about why these bananas were not rotting on the inside, nor could I tell you if the race and cultivation methods had anything to do with that, but ripe bananas certainly do tend to reveal a primitive desire in me to cook or bake them.I have baked a number of banana cakes and brownies in my life, and I am always ready to try something new. In recent times I've been reading quite a bit about the use of alternative grains in cooking and baking, and I've seen with my own eyes how ladies who couldn't eat gluten tend to be really skinny. Unfortunately I love my wheat and know that it would be torture to resist the pasta, fresh loaves and cakes, so I have been toying with the idea of reducing processed wheat flour with small amounts of alternative "healthier" flours. On this day, I found almond meal, organic chickpea (besan) and wheat flours in my pantry, so I used them. I've run out of wholemeal wheat flour, and would have loved to use it too if I had any on hand.With this Year of the Goat, we started our 5th year as expats in Shanghai. This would be our longest expatriation ever in one country, and while we welcome it as the children are attending good international schools, the Hub still has lots to accomplish in his current position and I enjoy being chauffeur-driven, there are moments when I feel tired of living in this expat bubble and wished I could be somewhere where I could plant a few trees, choose my own tiles for the bathroom, build my own kitchen and meet more people who lead "normal" lives. As I do my morning walks, I often spend time renovating my own place in my head, and they come in all sizes, from tiny to moderately big though never too big as I still do not think I'll want to hire full-time domestic help.If you have been an expat for as long as I have been, and in so many different places, you would have met all sorts of people. There are people with whom you could enjoy existentialist, metaphysical and/or XXX discussions and debates, but with most people, you will have to keep relations at the how are you and I love you levels. When I first arrived in Paris to study politics at Sciences Po, I often wondered what's with the French and their love for talk shows where they discussed and debated everything to death; then I spent a few months in Rochester, NY, where I noticed that most people looked at life in black and white, where you had to constantly put yourself in one camp or another. That horrified me, for I couldn't understand why a land of liberty could produce so many people with such limited views, and with such an overpowering sense of good versus evil when the gun is so freely wielded by people both "good" and "bad". Just as I had romantic fantasies about Arab oil sheikhs that dispersed at my first contacts with a few North Africans, I dropped my American Dream and returned to Europe, to the Brits with their sense of humour, the French for their lack of, the Germans for being there to make sure that everybody toes the line, the Italians for being such a mess but for making the best pasta and ceramics...the list goes on for the Continent is as big and diverse as it is old.Here in Shanghai, with such a very big expat population, you amplify the contacts you have with people from all over the world. And you have what I didn't have in the other expat communities I lived in: Charity Galas and loads of charity-related events. China, I guess, has both the world's second largest number of billionaires as well as gigantic pockets of people who need help. Help th[...]

Waffle (a second recipe)



I have a yeast-based waffle recipe in my archives that dates back to 2010. It's pretty classic except that it requires quite a bit of sitting time and there are days when I may be in a bit of a hurry. That's when a baking powder-based waffle recipe comes in handy, especially on this day when, in exchange for a few stingy kisses from my hormone-fired female teenager, I had to prepare a round of waffles for breakfast.

I also used a different iron for these waffles, giving them deeper indents which allow them to collect more sugar, honey or maple syrup.

Waffles (makes 8-10) :

300g all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 eggs beaten
125g butter (unsalted or salted, melted)
400ml milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract or
1 tbsp orange blossom water/grand marnier/rum (optional)

Mix the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the middle and beat in the eggs.

Stir in the milk and mix well to get a smooth batter.

Stir in the melted butter and extra flavouring if you choose to use it.

Let the batter sit for at least 20 minutes.

Heat up your waffle iron and butter it. Pour in the batter and cook. Hub likes his waffles not too cooked while I like mine very cooked, so basically adjust the cooking time according to your taste.

The waffles are light and fluffy, though with this recipe, in terms of quantity, I can't really feed my always-hungry family of 5. I had to double the quantity in order to give everyone at least 3 waffles each.

Serve with maple syrup, icing sugar, honey, jam, ice cream, whipped cream or enjoy them plain!

Larb (Thai/Laotian Minced Meat Salad)


Larb - a portionHub almost never travelled when he was working at Ferrari Spa. in Maranello, but Shanghai is an altogether different story. As the company in China grew under his management, his travels also increased. First it was just to Wuhu (Anhui) where their first plant was located; then he started going to Foshan (Guangdong) when he set up their second plant; then to Wuhan (Hubei) where they have started a joint-venture with the Chinese. Outside China, he flies regularly to Penang having taken over the company's Malaysian operations and a few months ago, he also started to go to Yokohama when he was given the Japan operations. Not to forget occasional trips to Europe to either Stuttgart or Milan for meetings with HQ.Life is busy and I imagine, stressful. Fortunately, after a learning stint at INSEAD in Singapore last March, he came back not only a better business leader, but also a man more determined to keep healthy knowing that his current lifestyle is not the most ideal. He started working out regularly and eating better, insisting that I prepare salads and make sure that we have fruit at home. For many households that would be normal fare, but I'm not fond of fruit and vegetables so my WW3 pantry had lots of food but nothing too green or leafy.I'm now really fat because since Hub is often away, I could continue eating whatever rubbish I fancy. But I do make an effort when he is home for dinner. Since he currently has a thing for cabbage (for its calorie-burning qualities), I made him Larb last evening when he flew back from a 3-day trip to Foshan.Larb is a salad sometimes served in Thai restaurants and I was told that it is popular in the north of the country near Laos. In fact, it is actually more of a Laotian dish, but you will agree that there are more Thai than Laotian restaurants outside the region.Basically it is minced meat (e.g. pork, beef, chicken, duck) served with fresh herbs and dressed in a fish sauce, lime juice dressing. And eaten wrapped in cabbage leaves. Very often I would find raw French beans on the plate as well, but I dislike this vegetable raw so you wouldn't find it in my version of Larb.Larb :The meat filling :2 tbsp light olive oil or vegetable oil400g fresh ground pork, beef or chicken2 tbsp onions chopped3 cloves garlic choppedhalf a stalk of lemongrass bashedred chilli sliced1 tbsp sugar2 tbsp light soy sauce1 tbsp fish saucepepper to tasteThe dressing :2 tbsp sugar3 tbsp hot waterred chilli sliced1 kaffir lime leaf shreddedhalf a stalk of lemongrass bashed2 tbsp fish saucejuice of 1 lemon or 2 large limesThe garnishing :2 shallots or half a small red onion finely sliceda handful of fresh basil, mint and coriander leaves choppedcabbage leavesMethod :Wash your cabbage (you can use iceberg if you prefer your leaves tender and crisp, but the normal cabbage holds the meat and sauce better) and decorate a serving plate with it.Wash, drain and chop the fresh herbs and set aside in a bowl.Slice the shallots or red onions, set aside.Prepare the dressing by dissolving the sugar in hot water and infusing the solution with the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and chilli. Add fish sauce and lime juice and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (more for the taste than for the temperature).In a frying pan, add 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I have an almost odourless light olive oil so I used it) and fry the onions, garlic and lemongrass till fragrant. Add the chilli and sugar and let it cook for a little while before adding the minced meat. I used organic black pig (pork) for this dish. Stir fry to mix well and when the meat is almost cooked through, stir in the fish sauce and soy sauce. Add pepper to taste. When the meat is cooked (beef could be eaten rare but not chicken or pork), t[...]

Wuzhen (乌镇) with the Parents


Dad and mum in WuzhenI wonder sometimes if the parents regretted our growing up. Because, on those evenings when I hugged my youngest child as he slept next to me (which he does when Hub is away), I always wished that I could immortalise the moment in time and not let it slip away. But of course, children grow up and we should be thankful that they do so, only I couldn't stop myself feeling sad that soon I will have no more babies to hug and kiss, nor will I have anyone calling me "mummy" in the cutest of voices followed by the tenderest of hugs.This, I guess, is middle age. Your babies are growing up really quickly and your parents are visibly ageing and exhibiting various health hiccups. It is not exactly the most gay period in a person's life, yet at the same time, if you have played your cards right, you should be most comfortable in your 40s in both material and mobility.I love you all, my Babies, and I hope that you will never have cause to doubt or forget this in your lives. Just like I know that my parents love me and I am thankful for that.The parents came for a short visit last October. I last saw them in Singapore in July and August, but we were so often out of the house doing some activity or traveling around the region that I felt frustrated about not seeing them as much as I would have liked to. Therefore I invited them to come stay 11 days with me in Shanghai, so that I may bring them out a little, cook for them, be with them.Wuzhen when you arrive by boat and a map of the townMum's bow legs seemed to be getting from bad to worse. Climbing and walking long distances were definitely out of the question, and it was fortunate we did the bulk of our Shanghai sights 3 years ago when they first came to visit, and this time I have 2 drivers so we always had someone to drive us around. With the kids at school, we had to look for a trip that could be done in the day which would be interesting enough for everyone. Mum had already visited Zhujiajiao, Suzhou and Qibao, while I last brought MIL to Tongli near Suzhou, so we were more or less left with Wuzhen which is near enough to Shanghai.Wuzhen by dayI've always wanted to visit Wuzhen (乌镇) and when mum said that she would like to do so too, I got Driver Ju to drive us there. Ideally, one should spend the night as Wuzhen is divided into 2 sections that are a small distance (about 1km) away from each other, with one section that is smaller but older and the other larger, newer and cleaner - hence there would be quite a bit to visit and discover. But we had to return home to the children and dad was going to go on a short trip to the South the day after to visit his relatives.Many stone bridgesPretty covered wooden bridges and grand stone doorsWe chose to do the bigger and newer part of Wuzhen. It was clean, organised, with only one smelly tofu stall (at least we only saw one). Once you enter the walled village/town, you could choose to get on a boat that will bring you across to the main part of the sights and from there you navigate between lanes and bridges, duck in and out of courtyards, shops, eateries, museums...Nice wood and stone work and very clean tooI found the old water village really pretty. We were lucky to be there when there were few tourists and the weather was nice which made the outing very pleasant. We made our way slowly around (often with dad looking out for mum and holding her elbow etc), buying little snacks to share and taste, and lunch was in a small restaurant specialising in healthy cuisine that was part of the Wuzhen Clubhouse. Thinking about this I get all emotional because I really miss my parents, 19 years make up a long time to be away from home and the family...Streets, library/bookstore, courtyardsWuzhen is pa[...]

Noir: Dining in the Dark, Ho Chi Minh City


Noir - Dining in the DarkMore than 6 months ago, we were asked if we (as in Hub and The Teenager) would like to take part in a friendly golf tournament in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to be held just before the New Year. That was a couple of months after our trip to Hanoi (during CNY), so we were obviously quite destined for Vietnam in 2014. My only problem with visiting Vietnam is the cost of the visas. I do not need one with my Singapore passport, but it's 440 rmb for a single entry for the Hub and the kids. Considering that each trip there lasted between 4 and 8 days, I found paying for 2 rounds of visas in the same year a little painful.  Anyway, we booked 2 rooms at the 5-star Sofitel Saigon Plaza with its famous rooftop pool and once again, it wasn't really my idea as I usually prefer boutique hotels. But the organiser of the above-mentioned golf tournament pre-paid for his rooms and informed us after, that we were expected to do the same so that we could all be together. In other words, I didn't really have a choice.Fortunately, apart from 3 first nights of lights that refused to be switched off (my mother would tell you the room was haunted), the hotel was comfortable and well-situated, so I had no reason to complain about it. Plus, I found out that Vietnam had an interesting rule about prostitution in such hotels: a member of our group (a divorcee) came back one evening with a Vietnamese girl of questionable reputation and was discovered by the hotel manager himself who informed him that he would only be allowed to bring her in if she happened to be a guest of the hotel (which would involve paying for another room on the spot in her name). Guy, I heard, is like a sailor with certain habits at every port of call; needless to say, with all his ECAs he ended up last in the golf tournament.Once again, I digress. I was out to blog about a restaurant we dined in in HCMC (among many others, but that will have to wait) named Noir - Dining in the Dark. We like to go local at different levels when we travel and while I could possibly eat Pho Bo Tai every day, I was also keen to try something new and dining in the dark was something I had yet to try at that time. It's not at all unique to Vietnam, but I had not been to one anywhere before.I had expected the kids to reject the idea when I first suggested it; they were reticent, but were at the same time curious enough to want to give it a try. Our greatest problem probably is the fact that we are very picky eaters and you do not know what you are going to eat when you dine at Noir. Then, out of politeness, I asked our group of friends if they would like to join us and they all said pourquoi pas?We arrived in a renovated old house with pretty floor tiles one evening at 8pm. With those French people's habit of having aperitif before dinner, we had to dine late every evening when we were in HCMC, not to forget eat and drink way too much. I would have preferred to eat at 7pm latest, but once again I wasn't asked my opinion.One of the owners G coming out of the barWe were a group of 10. You were served cocktails (not very tasty) and asked to choose between a western and asian menu (with no idea what's going to be in it exactly). Then you had to blindfold yourself and attempt a simple game where you return to your childhood and have to match wooden objects according to their shapes and place them on a tray (see picture of the group next to us doing just that). During the meal, the food would be served in 5 containers set on a tray, this being a foretaste of what you would need to do once you are in the totally dark dining room.Totally dark. It seemed that a few members of my entourage had only just realised that we were going [...]

Hong Kong with Younger Sister (September 2014)


Hong Kong Island seen from Avenue of the Stars (Kowloon)I mentioned somewhere that I've travelled quite a bit in the past few months. Not as much as Hub for work, nor as much as this Singaporean GF of another friend who apparently travels to Singapore every month just for a hair cut.One memorable trip I made recently was with my younger sister D in September. We are Lotus and Phoenix, with 4 years between us. I think we sometimes fail to realise how time truly flies, and how we tend to procrastinate in so many ways, not just in things we have to do physically. Though I try to return to Singapore every one to two years, D and I have not seen each other much in the last 19 years and before you know it, we are fat Obasans with a number of kids each in tow.The idea was to meet up somewhere for a quick getaway: away from our daily chores, endless duties and routines, away from the grumpy Hubs, the demanding, ungrateful kids and in her case, the cook-the-same-food-everyday FIL.No, we didn't go to HK to shop. When you have as many kids as we do to feed and educate, shopping is no longer a priority. And when you have husbands who are ready to pounce on yet another "unnecessary" purchase, you prefer to indulge in stuff that you can ingest and digest quickly leaving minimum evidence behind for scrutiny. When you are already padded like us, a few extra kilos at the end of a short trip wouldn't make much of a difference either (there, I caught your thought!).    Wanchai on HK IslandAnd of course, the idea really was to spend some precious time together, to catch up and bond. We used to share a room when we were kids and often talked through the night. I guess we didn't imagine then that all that would become just a part of our memories and no longer part of our lives once we leave home.We met at the airport in HK and  stayed at the OZO WESLEY in vibrant Wanchai. The boutique hotel was renovated in 2013, the room was simple and modern. Hotel lobby smelled of detergent most of the time though which I found disturbing as we all know it could be cancerous. Conveniently located  between Admiralty and Wanchai with a tram stop just in front.Our room at Ozo Wesley, WanchaiWe took the Star Ferry from Wanchai Pier and crossed the sea to Tsim Sha Tsui. Took in the usual sights (The Peninsular Hotel etc) and then found our way to the Avenue of the Stars. OK, this stretch of walkway on the sea front is fairly kitsch and was filled with Chinese tourists who took pictures of themselves with anything that was standing and which could be used as a background. And if the floor was filled with hand prints of HK Stars (many whom we knew from our lost TV-watching youth), then they could be found almost on all fours for that important souvenir picture. Seeing that it took me months, why not years, to deal with the few photos I've taken on my trips, I wonder how they cope with the thousands of photos they must have taken on each trip, limited only by the memory of their SD cards.But we were there just before sunset and it was the most beautiful moment of the day for admiring HK Island opposite. I was actually pretty awed by the colours facing me, colours reflected by the buildings as the sun started to go down. And it was always lovely breathing in the sea breeze, knowing that there would be no need to prepare dinner nor supervise the kids' homework nor hurry to make oneself charming for the Hubs.HK like most important cities is easy to explore on foot and it is recommended that one take in the sights and smells by taking one's time to do so. The island has lots of good things to eat that one would probably discover by chance as one is wandering around. &[...]

A New Hobby


My 3rd Hu Yongkai Painting (and my 14th painting)A couple of fellow bloggers disappeared and returned months or years later with a cookbook, a new baby, why not a younger spouse, designer kitchen and/or house, new body, re-designed face, eventually a more exciting job! Unfortunately, none of the above have I accomplished. I'm still fat, still stuck in Shanghai (though I've travelled quite a bit in the past year), still live in the same house (though we moved out for a couple of weeks in November because of a termite infestation) and still have the same hub (though he's now a few kgs lighter after he returned from a month at INSEAD and started embracing a healthier lifestyle that includes jogging 12km every other day)...I searched far and wide in the neuron network in the past few months and finally woke up this morning with the perfect alibi: I've taken up oil painting a little more than a year ago! With age the circuit is a little retarded, sometimes clogged and bulbs just do not light up as often and as quickly as they used to. But, I did start to paint and have been religiously doing so every Tuesday morning since autumn in 2013.My younger sister is the artistic one in the family, and I couldn't usually draw an egg to save my life. However, I was told by a number of people that with minimum guidance even an idiot could paint with oil and when offered the opportunity to try, I felt I had nothing to lose and jumped at it.I think my teacher Yao ZW is originally from Ningbo, but must have spent most of his life in Shanghai. He rents a ground floor flat near Century Park in Pudong and sets up 6 easels so that he could have 6 students in the morning and another 6 in the afternoon. In the week most of his students would be Chinese housewives (usually pretty wealthy), and during the weekend and public holidays he would have lots of children (often children of the same rich tai tais).My very 1st painting, took me 9 hours to finish2nd painting, kind of scary having thatmountain range and body of water to paintImpressionist 3rd paintingTeacher Yao is pretty cool and teaches so that he could feed his only passion which is to paint. His plan is to make a final exhibition of his paintings before he retires so that he could sell them and retire comfortably. At the moment he has bought a house with some land in the countryside about an hour and a half from Shanghai and starting next year will live there during the weekend and remain in Shanghai during the week just to continue teaching. He is actually a pretty well-known painter from some old school, but because his only child is a girl, he had no need in the past to buy a flat in anticipation of her future marriage and as such missed out riding on the property wave that made most Shanghainese rich, see very rich, in the past two decades.All new students would start out with a series of 6 paintings chosen by Teacher Yao. Once we have completed these paintings and decide to continue with him, we can begin to more or less paint whatever catches our fancy as long as it's within our ability to do so. After the first few paintings, one would somehow start to have "the feeling" and would more or less know what to do, only occasionally asking Teacher Yao to come rescue us.   4th painting: one of my favourites and now with Anna I really look forward to joining this class every  Tuesday morning, I think I've almost never missed a session since I started. I find it calming to spend 3 hours concentrating on trying to get as much painted as I could (and I'm very slow at it) and often spend days leading up to the class planning what I would do when I get my fingers on the br[...]

Tarte au Citron Meringuée


Tarte au citron meringuéeBaby Boy is the only person in the family besides myself who likes this French lemon tart. Occasionally he has a craving for it and would pester me to make him one. I've offered him a few store-bought ones, but he always insists that he prefers mine. At the same time I do not really think that he's crazy about my version of the tart, he just wants to give me work to do.    I never seem to have the same tart no matter how many times I make this Tarte au Citron Meringuée. Probably because the oven I've used was different each time. But the result was usually quite tasty and from the rustic look of my labour you could well imagine that I've made it from scratch short of growing my own lemons.The French do not like to waste if they could help it. Hence if 3 egg yolks were required for the sweet pie pastry, then 3 egg whites would go towards making the meringue to cover it. It serves at the same time to prevent the custard from burning.Depending on how firm you like your custard to be, you can adjust the baking time in the second part of the baking. I've made anything from flowing lava to firm and they all tasted more or less the same at the end of the day: rich, sweet, acidic, very sinful.Tarte au Citron Meringuée:A sinful, calorie-filled sliceFor the sweet crust pastry:200g buttera pinch of salt120g icing sugar3 egg yolks250g flourFor the lemon custard:1 large lemon (untreated)60g butter1 egg120g castor sugarFor the meringue:3 egg whites80g castor or icing sugarCut the butter into small pieces and leave to soften in room temperature. Add the salt and sugar and mix (with a whisk or with your fingers) till you obtain a creamy paste. Add the egg yolks and continue mixing. Sift the flour and mix in a quarter first. Finally add in the rest of the flour and finish mixing only with your fingers without overworking the dough. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in cling wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour.Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F. Line the bottom of a round ceramic mould with baking paper and fill it with the dough pressing it well onto the sides. I didn't bother to roll out the dough before I used it so I ended up with a rustic-looking crust. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. As a general rule, I prefer tarts with a thin crust so that one could enjoy the filling, but for this lemon tart, I tend to go heavy with the pie crust because I couldn't normally survive too much of the certes yummy tangy-sweet filling. In any case it's all a question of personal taste.Lower the heat in the oven to 150°C/305°F. Zest and juice the lemon. Melt the butter and set it aside. Mix the egg with the sugar followed by the zest, juice and butter. Pour into the baked pie crust and bake for 12 minutes. At this point you can decide to increase the baking time by a few minutes if you wish to have a firmer/more cooked custard. Remove the tart from the oven and set aside.Lower the heat in the oven to 100°C/215°F and do make sure the oven is truly at this temperature before you proceed. Whisk the egg whites till firm and whisk in the sugar bit by bit till you get a shining white meringue batter. Cover the tart with it and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. If for some reason the meringue is not cooked, continue baking till it is reasonably firm.Let it cool before serving. I personally prefer it chilled.[...]

Walking in Puxi (浦西) Autumn 2012


A Chinese boy in PuxiToday is Children's Day in Singapore. Or I'm being stubborn because I now live in China and we have just started the famous Golden Week (if you see lots of Chinese tourists where you are you'll understand why) celebrating the PRC's National Day. The security guard just delivered us a bag courtesy of the Shanghai Municipality to mark the occasion and it contained a TCM brochure and a free wooden health comb.I have therefore decided to do another long due post on Shanghai. We have been living here more than 2.5 years now. Officially the contract finishes in March next year, but with Hub helping the company open up factories in the North plus his having just taken over their Malaysian operations, I suspect that we would be here for a little while longer.We live reasonably isolated from the humdrum of Chinese life. When we leave our lightly gated community we do find ourselves in the midst of the locals and migrant workers, but Jinqiao in Pudong is still a small (expat) world apart from Puxi - the historic part of Shanghai.Visiting Puxi was therefore often looked upon as a little expedition for some of us, especially when the traffic jams on the way there seemed to be getting from bad to worse nowadays. Not surprising when you consider the thousand COEs they issue each month to new car buyers and these new cars tend to be those big, expensive imported ones that take up a lot of space on the roads. Foreign car makers used to imagine that cheap, outdated car models would sell like hotcakes in China, only to discover that only the Chinese carmakers could make lousy cheap cars that the Chinese would buy; the majority only want the very best that even many Europeans and Americans could no longer afford. This is an example of the Chinese success story and my Jiangmen cousin's recent purchase of a BMW is a case in point. Rewind to the 1980s when he sent us a photo of his proud purchase : a 3-wheel mini-van/scooter. He has done well like so many of his comrades.Vegetables, anyone?Together with my neighbours J and F we finally found a moment last autumn for our walkaround. We asked to be driven to the former French Concession (forgetting the word "former" could get one into trouble with the authorities) and from there explored the surrounding (older) neighbourhoods on foot. They probably had fantastic photos as they brought along their SLRs, but I was too lazy and used my really old Sony. Many things have changed since, e.g. one building we saw being renovated then now houses a French restaurant.Dancing in Fuxing ParkWe walked through Fuxing park (the one where Chinese and dogs were not allowed entry in the old colonial days) and saw the Chinese dancing in it; we walked past street markets and tasted some of the less dangerous-looking wares. We peeped into boutiques, but could find nothing to buy either because we couldn't fit into Chinese sizes or couldn't afford Shanghainese prices. Contrary to popular belief outside China, Shanghai is a very expensive city.Cloth for pyjamas?Near Yongkang Lu I walked past a tiny shop selling cloth and the owners giggled when they saw me. When they realised I could speak Chinese they told me I looked like some famous ethnic minority singer in the country. I think I knew who they were referring to; funny enough the singer in question is also married to a European.Over the summer I've read a few books written by Shanghainese who have fled China in the 1940s and who lived in the Western world after that. It was fascinating learning about the  street names in French in those days (e.g. Huaihai Zhong Lu used to be known as[...]



HoummousThe first chickpeas I "mashed" probably were the kacang puteh ones back in Kong Chian cinema during those days when I was a kid. A few decades later fancy me being known in close circles for my humble Hoummous and friends have even rejected watered-down versions being sold in popular bazaars by so-called hoummous experts, insisting that I provide them with my recipe so that they would know how to make it even after they (or I) have left whichever city we were friends in.Many years ago I've blogged about a beetroot version and this should precede it, but for some reason I've never blogged about the classic version. So I'm setting things right today and this could then go into my archives for whoever would be looking for my take on the hoummous.Hoummous : 460g canned chickpeas1-2 tbsp tahini (cold-pressed sesame paste)1 tbsp dry-roasted cumin seedsjuice of 1 lemon (and adjusted according to taste)4-6 tbsp olive oil (and extra for garnishing)3 garlic cloves (grilled)salt to tasteground paprika and a few whole chickpeas for garnishingDrain the water from the can and immerse the chickpeas in a bowl of hot salted water.Dry roast the cumin seeds in a frying pan with the garlic (roughly chopped) and when fragrant add in some olive oil.Remove the chickpeas from the hot water and add them plus the cumin and garlic to a blender. Add olive oil, lemon juice and tahini and blend to a roughly fine paste. Add salt to taste and if necessary a little water and/or olive oil if the paste is too dry.Pour the paste into a pretty recipient and make a well. If not consuming immediately, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate. (Actually the dish is best served chilled.)Just before serving, pour a little olive oil into the well and add a few chickpeas for decoration. Sprinkle some ground paprika over everything and serve the hoummous with fresh vegetable sticks or corn chips.[...]

Hong Kong with Anna (September 2012)


Anna and I at L'Atelier de RobuchonDid I tell you I finally turned 40 last October? Just when I'm on the verge of turning 41... A long time ago 40 seemed like a long way away, but now even a day seemed like an hour.Apart from the fact that I may become botak and bedridden, will need to visit the loo (even) more often and am getting closer to losing my dear parents, I have nothing much against me ageing.The kids are growing up and it's wonderful seeing them do so. Ok, I know I will miss them as babies, but I'm trying to be brave. They have been so very cute and still are, I am blessed. I wasn't the only one I know turning 40 last year since I went to school every year with quite a number of kids my age over 2 decades. One of them choped me way back in anticipation of us turning 40 almost around the same time and it was decided that we would meet half way (me from Shanghai and she from Singapore) in Hong Kong to celebrate the occasion.Anna and I went to Secondary school together. In Sec 1 we used to walk together after school she to the bus stop either to wait for the bus or for her mum to drive by and pick her up; me to my parents' flat not too far from our school. We were in the same class in upper Secondary.At 17 she left Singapore to study in Canada and Australia and when she came home I left to do my Masters in France. But somehow we've always stayed in touch and she even attended my wedding in France many years ago. So we've come a long way.Our 1st makan sessionWe met at HK airport one weekend in September last year and made our way to our very nice hotel in Causeway Bay. Once we've dumped our luggage we set out to eat and to eat where locals eat, of course. I think our first meal was at Ho Hung Kee where we had beef hor fun among other dishes. Over the next 3 days we also ate fish balls, dim sum, rice porridge, fried dough sticks, soy bean curd etc with/like the locals.Dim sum!Famous old-style bakeryThe last time I was in HK I was a kid. Went with the parents to visit relatives (who owned a bicycle shop or 2) and eat dim sum every morning and never went back again before last September. I was therefore quite surprised to discover that HK should be so packed, filled with dripping air conditioners overhead and people literally rubbing shoulders with you as you walk.When you think of the cost of any property within the CBD you are surprised at the state of most buildings around you. They could certainly do with a facelift. A few trees here and there wouldn't hurt either.Having said that I liked HK. I liked being able to speak Cantonese, being able to eat Hongkongese, being able to say that Singapore is prettier after all :-). The city certainly is bustling, filled with eateries and restaurants and little shops, with a cheap and efficient public transportation system and also the most amazing boutiques.Very good roast meats in this neighbourhood eateryAnna and I celebrated in style. We dined at two Michelin-starred restaurants when we were there : L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and The Chairman. I've dined at the former in Paris a few years ago so I knew what to expect, except I'm surprised that the HK branch actually has 3 stars. But Anna with her tiny waist couldn't do justice to even the tiny portions served at l'Atelier and I had to finish up most of her food for her.The Chairman served fine Chinese cuisine in a residential area and we sat at a corner table wondering at first what possessed Michelin to give it a star. We ordered the tasting menu and were served fine Cantonese dishes that sometimes cam[...]

Butter Cake (Compact Version)


Butter Cake (compact version)A fellow blogger recently justified her absence with the publication of a cookbook while another was MIA because she had a new baby. I, unfortunately, have been absent mainly because I couldn't figure out how to use the new blogger. Plus the VPN hadn't been cooperating much since the Chinese Government figured out how to sabotage it from time to time. Actually I haven't been cooking anything exciting either since we have become a family of fatties (with the exception of the Teenager who has only grown muscle, not fat). While we fantasise about eating we hadn't dared to do too much of it. Our family BMI has not diminished much, unfortunately, and I've been toying with the idea of a fat freeze which wouldn't happen since we have 3 kids to send to university and not enough funds in the bank for that.We have however done a bit of travelling. In fact, the overweight problem probably came from that since one does tend to put on weight when travelling and trying out interesting restaurants during the trip(s).The Chinese Golden Week starts tomorrow and I've made the good resolution to stay put and not travel so that we wouldn't put on more weight; but I made the mistake of paying an Animal Jam membership for each of the Babies which saw them hogging both computers at home all of yesterday.Not knowing what to do (I didn't feel like reading, was sick of trying to finish up my latest mosaic project and couldn't play the piano since Hub was in a video conference), I decided to bake a Butter Cake. But a compact one and not the usual more-like-pound-cake one that I've been making since I was a teenager.I was so lazy I didn't even want to take out my electric mixer. I just baked a cake by stirring with a wooden spoon and the result was a very compact and rich cake that the Hub, who is currently on daily aspirin to thin his blood, consumed almost entirely single handedly. Needless to say he ate and whined alternatively which made me sound like a sabotager of healthy hearts instead of a kind and loving wife.Butter Cake (compact version) :200g butter150g sugar1 tsp pure vanilla extract3 tbsp grand marnier4 eggs100g plain floura pinch of saltPreheat oven to 190°C/375°F.Line a 19/20 cm round mould with baking paper.Melt butter in a large bowl in the microwave oven till very soft.Stir in sugar, vanilla extract and grand marnier with a wooden spoon.Stir in one egg at a time.Stir in sifted flour and add the salt.Pour into lined mould and bake for 25-27 minutes.Remove cake from the oven and cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the mould.Know why Hub couldn't stop eating this cake? It was the grand marnier that did him in. [...]

Mooncake Festival 中秋 2012


 I haven't been able to bake my own mooncakes last year like I'd promised myself I would the year before. Apart from being lazy I'm also trying to lose some weight (since when have I not been trying to lose weight you'd say) so it would be crazy to start baking dozens of the sweet and oily stuff much as it would be nice to have a few nice pictures to show for the effort.Then came the neighbours to the rescue. In anticipation of the Mid-Autumn festival J attended 2 mooncake-making classes and kindly agreed to share her new-found skills with a few of us. She brought over all the necessary ingredients and all I needed to provide was my table top, coup de main and hot oven. Charming company thrown in, of course.You should see the amount of golden syrup, oil and sugar that went into those mooncakes. I had to provide a lot of cling wrap if I didn't want the table top to be over moisturised. Though it was fun making them because you could more or less fill them with whatever you like. But I'm a simple girl, I either like red bean paste or lotus seed paste with double egg yolks.Incidentally I ended up eating quite a number of lotus seed and red bean paste mooncakes last year in spite of my good intentions (not to). The Chinese cousin sent up 2 boxes from the South (containing dried tangerine peel though you couldn't really taste it - thank God) and a local friend offered me a box (that also came from the South).I also ate a number of the local savoury pork mooncakes that were really good when eaten hot off the oven. Though ask me not what they filled those stuff with, one couldn't really make out what was meat and what was fat but eat everything together and I can tell you it was good (though not for the heart).So I start off 2013 with the resolution (once again) to make my own mooncakes this year. I will buy a few of those modern plastic moulds (see picture) that may not be sexy or ecological, but oh so easy to use. Another good reason to spend more time on Taobao.[...]

My Paternal Great Grandfather


Great grandpa in a suitI know that I have been away for a long time.I've missed writing, but I've not missed the blog. I never thought I'd say that, but I just did and it proved that I have a life other than my blog. I still feel the need to document, more for myself than for anybody else, but I no longer feel the urgency to do so in real time.For my 40th birthday last October Hub had the first year of my blog published. He obviously thought the blog meant a lot to me (which it does) and he must be proud of it in some way (I'm honoured, of course). I felt embarrassed about it actually, since I never thought it was decent enough to be put to print and I still don't. I would have liked to be able to revise/edit it myself, but it had been left to the Teenager to do it and while it was sweet of the boy, it was as with most of his work sloppily done.Much and yet nothing much has happened since I last blogged. We are still in China and would have at least another year left of our stay here. I am busy and keep myself busy, we have travelled and are going away again very soon and I still cook every day though I have not been experimenting lately.A few days ago I asked my Chinese cousin in Jiangmen to send me a photo of our great grandfather. He first showed it to me 2 years ago when I brought the parents down to visit our ancestral village and I've always wanted to see it again.I couldn't remember why great grandpa was wearing a suit and why he had his picture taken in it, but I will ask cousin again the next time I see him. I also couldn't remember what the guy did in his life, except for some reference to opera costumes. The cousin had provided much information, but I'm getting on in years and couldn't seem to remember much of anything nowadays. Another reason why I should document more in my blog and certainly not wait too long to do so, I guess.2 years in China and I must say that I'm happy here. But I don't feel any more Chinese for that, on the contrary I reaffirm my foreignness every day. I get Chinese people coming up to me from time to time asking me if I were Chinese, and often in the same breath they would tell me that I do not really look like one. A few would tell me I'm 很洋气 meaning they think I have western airs (whatever that meant).Great grandpa was tall and thin. I wonder why that kind of genes didn't pass on to me or to any of my kids. Mum's short and fat ones were probably more dominant. Fancy me being really tall with skinny legs - my life could have been very different, don't you think so?[...]

Classic Tiramisu (with Egg version)


I am one of those Asian mothers who tend to be more negative then positive, I guess. Scraped your knee or have a tummy ache? Do I look like a doctor to you?Pick up whatever you have thrown around! For every piece of rubbish I find you'll get a stroke of the cane! (I know that this has registered because they repeat it to each other every time they make a mess)Get yourself lost when we are out shopping? We'll give your toys to the remaining sibling. And you know what they do to you after that? Remember Slumdog Millionaire.I've sometimes fantasised about being one of those positive mums who instils confidence in her kids by always being kind and positive. Who only talks/discusses/praises/encourages and never screams/threatens/condemns/ridicules...But life is never the fairy tale you dreamt of living and I've somehow been programmed to be the shrewish sort (yup, blame it on the DNA). I worry a lot about how the mother I am could be affecting my kids, but I'm not as strong as I would have liked to be, unfortunately. I could only shower them with a lot of love and attention when I am not angry or screaming away.The other day we were out shopping. Baby Boy has become pretty proficient rolling about in his Heelys. And out of the corner of my eye I saw him heeling away ahead of us, not watching where we were actually going. It wasn't a big mall so I wasn't too nervous about it, and being the mean mum I was, I wanted to see 1) if he would realise that he was lost; 2) whether his siblings would realise that he was lost; 3) if he would still dare to heel away without waiting for the rest of us.5 minutes later Baby Girl suddenly noticed that Baby Boy wasn't with us. I shrugged my shoulders and continued shopping. The Teenager was his usual selfish self and didn't react. But Baby Girl surprisingly told me not to move so that I wouldn't lose her and dashed out to look for her younger brother. She returned a few minutes later holding her weeping brother's hand.When I realised that he was lost, I didn't think of taking his toys, mum. I was worried that there would be nobody to play with me anymore.This is the girl who is always jealous of her younger brother. But I guess she must care for him after all.I had to clear out the fridge since we would be leaving Shanghai tomorrow for 3 weeks. I had mascarpone, whipped cream and organic eggs. I thought I could make my Babies happy by making them a Classic Tiramisu. The version with eggs - even though we are in the middle of a hot Shanghainese summer.This Tiramisu is lighter than the eggless ones I usually make. And it has a pretty yellow hue thanks to the egg yolks. I should make this more often and cross my fingers we do not get salmonella poisoning. So do try to use fresh organic eggs when making this dessert.Classic Tiramisu :26-28 sponge fingers3-4 expresso cups of strong coffee2 tbsp grand marnier2 tsp sugar400g mascarpone (preferably italian-made)200ml whipping cream3 large organic eggs (yolks and whites separated)2 tsp natural vanilla extract3 tbsp soft sugar1-2 tbsp grand marniercocoa powder (sifted)Prepare the strong coffee (I only use expresso nowadays), add in the sugar and Grand Marnier. Pour into a soup plate.Whip the egg whites till stiff. Set aside.In a large bowl beat the egg yolks till creamy. Add the mascarpone and continue whipping. Pour in the whipping cream and the vanilla and whip till you get a thick and creamy mixture. Add the soft sugar, pour in the a[...]

Qibao Old Town, Shanghai


Qibao's water town snapAs you know the family came for a visit a few weeks ago. I more or less have the tourist machine oiled and running except that the younger sis had to complicate things by making a 4th child a few months before she was to visit.The entrance to the ancient part of QibaoVisiting tourist spots with a 7 month old is a challenge for anybody. Fortunately Hub kindly made sure that we had the car and the driver at our disposal during the duration of their visit, but you still wouldn't tempt fate by driving a baby in a car for hours just to smell stinky tofu in an ancient water town.Mum with 2nd niece and 3rd nephewWhile I did send them with a reduced number of children to Suzhou one Saturday, I felt that 2 weeks in Shanghai warranted a visit to a nearby water town where they would be able to take in local snacks at a glance. BIL is quite adventurous when it comes to eating street food so I had to give him an opportunity to do just that.Mum in QibaoQibao Water Town and Old Street (七宝老街)seemed like the place for a short visit since it's actually situated in the Minhang district of Shanghai itself (less than an hour from my place) and is even accessible by metro. It is supposedly more than a thousand years old (Northern Song Dynasty, 960-1126) and was named in ancient times after its famous temple said to harbour 7 treasures. Only a bronze bell dating from the Ming Dynasty and a Gold Script Lotus Sutra written by an imperial concubine of the 10th century have survived to this day, though if you were to ask most people about the place they probably would only think of its snacks. Check out this article about them.Old food street aheadThe old part of the town is really small. Something you can do with 4 kids including a baby. I am not the kind to tempt fate eating unknown delicacies found in a smelly (no thanks to stinky tofu) street, but felt that I had to mark the occasion by risking gutter oil and bought us a few pieces of fried tofu skin (non-stinky) to nibble on. Also had a pretty good ice Belgian chocolate drink from a modern bubble tea stall while BIL bought baked quail eggs to try.Quail eggsA new pan-fried soup dumpling (生煎) shop was running a one-for-one promotion and we found ourselves queuing up for a long time to try out its dumplings. They weren't too bad and were best eaten fresh out of the pan, though minus the promotion I probably wouldn't bother to queue up this long in the heat for them.Town is known for boiled mutton and red-cooked porkThe town is apparently also famous for cricket fighting since ancient times. Its climate allows for the existence of a few aggressive/fierce breeds of crickets that draw so much interest they even have a special museum for both cricket displays and live cricket fighting shows.Fried and roasted delicaciesSweet wine cakes?Qibao is worth the while if you like (and dare to try) local snacks and do not mind the ubiquitous stinky tofu smells. Otherwise I've seen prettier ancient water towns in my 18 months here.If I remembered correctly this was a tea house[...]