Wednesday, August 30, 2006


A couple of Saturdays ago, I did something that I never thought I would do - I dragged myself away from a snoring husband and out of my comfortable king-size bed in the wee hours of the morning so that I could join a couple of my FlickrSG friends to capture some dawn shots of the Merlion and the Esplanade. Whizzing into the city and arriving at 6 a.m. at the foot of the famed Merlion, I find one of my FlickrSG mates, 'eyes1997' and her hubby already set up with tripod on the ready, and I am thinking to myself, "hmmm, these two have got to be in their early years of marriage... no way a husband of more than 10 years (like mine, for example) would leave his comfy bolster and goose-down pillow to follow his wife on a pre-dawn photo-jaunt!" [followed by a cynical hrmph!]

Doing the Merlion
At about 6.30 a.m., this is what I saw of the Merlion lighted up and having just started on its very distinctive 'act'. This reminds me of my last trip up to Jiuzhaigou Valley in Sichuan, PRC (about 3,000 metres above sea-level) during which I suffered a disastrous bout of altitude sickness, and ended up doing a pretty good imitation of the Merlion 'act'!

This is a long exposure shot of The Esplanade Bridge, with the street lights being reflected off the waters. Quite surreal with a little bit of digital post-processing.

And if you now ask me where are those dawn shots with the rising sun in the background, I can only sheepishly answer that I didn't check the weather the day before. With a slight haze descending on the morning, and very little cloud play, the dawn was for me pretty bland and undramatic and my other shots turned out like 'crap'. Okay, this is the classic 'workman blaming his tools' excuse (in this case, blame the weather) as my other FlickrSG buddies did manage to take some pretty awesome shots, like this one, this one, and this one. These guys are good, aren't they?

Looks like I need more practice and more early morning traipsing!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mental Boost

The last 15 minutes before I started on this post has been absolutely infuriating and frustrating. And if you are a Blogger-user (i.e. been hosting your blog with, you will know what I mean. Ever since Blogger started switching a couple of weeks back to a beta Blogger format (heavens know what that means), it's been a bloody hair-tearing and cussing experience everytime I try to log in to post new updates (either they don't recognize my user name OR they tell me my password has gone awry OR I can't even find my blog) - whoever is behind this beta Blogger initiative is a BLOODY TECHNO-IDIOT. Sheesh, my blood pressure has shot up to undesirable levels and I need to c...a...l...m... d...o...w...n - counting o..n..e, t..w..o, t..h..r..e..e, f..o..u.r, f..i..v..e......... hmm, feeling slightly better now.

Anyway, what I originally wanted to share with you guys is the soup I rediscovered last week:
Mental Boost
Does it look familiar to you? This is PIG'S BRAIN AND CHICKEN FEET HERBAL SOUP.

My mum used to feed me this every once in awhile in my younger days in the belief that the former will nourish my brain cells (and hopefully increase my brain quotient) whilst the latter will give me sexy and better-looking calves (okay, I was kidding about the latter... actually, she was probably hoping to strengthen my leg muscles as I had a tendency to trip and fall between my toddler years up to my pre-teen years). This herbal soup is usually double-boiled with medlar seeds (kei chi), dried longan flesh and chinese yam (wai san).

I haven't had this soup in decades until last weekend when I happened to come across a hawker stall operating in the same coffeeshop at the corner of Jalan Besar and Allenby Road which I had posted about earlier this year with regards the prawn noodles soup sold within the premises. To my surprise, I saw this particular soup on their menu and I had to order it for old-times sake, and for hubby's benefit as he claimed he had never tasted this soup or eaten pig's brains before. And for your further information, up to this day he still hasn't tasted pig's brains as he took one look at the brain bits that day and declared it insane that anyone would deign to eat the same - all I can say... "coward"!

This particular soup was slightly peppery in taste (almost like pig's innards soup), with a tinge of sweetness from the kei chi. The pig's brain is soft in texture (almost like tofu) and if cooked correctly (with a slice or two of ginger), would hardly have any undesirable smells. Quite a yummy herbal soup once you get past the sight of clumps of brain in your soup! Unfortunately, pig's brains are high in cholesterol, and thus not advisable to take this on a regular basis.

And my final question to you, if pig's brain is supposed to be so good for us (as some traditional Chinese medicine practitioners would have us believe), why do we unflatteringly call a nincompoop as one who possesses a 'chu nao' (i.e. a pig's brain)???

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Morning Aromas

Every once in a while, I daydream of the day when I will wake up on a weekend to the distinctive aromas of goodies baking in the kitchen... but alas, until hubby decides to dabble in the kitchen, it looks like I have to create those wafting seductive aromas fully alert in my pyjamas!
Hole in One!
Nothing beats the aromas of muffins baking in the oven interlaced with the fresh smells of good coffee as it drips and collects in the coffee-maker. Recently, I tried Bill Granger's Blueberry and Bran Muffins from his book, Bills Sydney Food.
  • What attracted me to this recipe in the first place was the addition of bran cereal to the muffin mix as I will try anything that will help get a little more fibre into hubby's system.
  • To balance the potential dryness from the bran cereal and flour mixture (consisting 1/2 cup bran cereal, 3 cups plain flour, 2 tsps baking powder and 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon), the recipe provides the addition of an entire grated apple, two mashed bananas and a whole punnet of blueberries, resulting in a muffin with a slightly more dense texture than the usual light muffins.
  • And since we're almost halfway up the path of a healthy muffin, we might as well go all the way - this recipe does not call for butter and the fat content is replaced with the use of 1/2 cup of vegetable oil (I used a light-flavoured olive oil), whisked together with 1/3 cup of milk and 3 eggs.
  • Finally, instead of sugar, a slightly caramelized honey and butter mixture (I used slightly more than half a cup of honey with a heaped tablespoon of butter - caramelize honey with butter in saucepan for 5 minutes or more) is added as the final step to this muffin mix, before spooning batter into muffin cups, topping with a strawberry half for color, and baking in a preheated oven (180C) for 25 minutes or so.
1 for U, 1 for ME, and the last?
A muffin which will hopefully not add too much guilt-laden calories in the morning and yet allow me to fill the home with inviting baking smells as I pull up a chair with my cup of coffee and the weekend papers!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Bottoms Up"


I call this a 'wuliao' shot ("wuliao" is the Mandarin phrase generally used for 'bored', 'senseless', 'silly') and in this case, all three meanings apply.

Last Sunday, hubby and I had dropped in for coffee at the TCC (the coffee connoisseur) outlet located in the NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) building at Bencoolen Street. Hubby disappeared under a pile of Sunday papers, surfacing every once in awhile to take a sip of coffee, and to make some disparaging remarks on ChelseaFC, MUFC, over-paid footballers and football clubs who should be funding the poor and the starving in Ethiopia and other third world countries.... thus leaving the poor wife in a 'wuliao' (bored) mood.

Luckily, she had her trusty Olympus DSLR with her and with nothing else better to do, she started snapping pics of her water glass on the table with its intricate web of condensation.. and some other stuff as well (to be shared in a later post).

Later in the week, she downloaded her shots and played around with some Photoshop techniques instead of doing the weekly housework (in the background, hubby is complaining that his shirts are not ironed and he's running out of clean socks....)!

The result - a totally 'wuliao' (silly) shot created as shown - bet you've never seen more 'sexy' water glasses!
And if you actually read the whole of this totally 'wuliao' (senseless) rambling of a post, cheers to you and BOTTOMS UP!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hanging up My Carbo?

If I should ever decide to skip my carbohydrates, which basically means skipping my bowl of rice at mealtimes, the scene might look like this!
Hanging up My Carbo?
And I can just hear my mum's voice in the background, "stop playing with your food!", which obviously, I was with this particular set-up! Saw a photo once where a cup of tea and a piece of toast was hanging off the wall, and ever since then, I've had this urge to re-create a similar scene with an Asian twist - a bowl of fried rice, a pair of chopsticks and a cup of Chinese tea, coupled with a bit of horizontal play, and some judicious use of lighting - and this shot has become one of my personal favourites.

Having attempted and failed miserably to 'hang up my carbos' at some point in my past when I tried the Atkins diet, I can only surmise that my Chinese upbringing with rice, porridge or noodles at every meal has created a 'fan-tong' out of me (Cantonese for 'rice-bin', a term used to denote a person who can't survive without her daily intake of rice).

How much of a 'fan-tong' am I? Well, let me tell you that there are times when a simple bowl of fluffy white rice with a spoonful of soy sauce drizzled over it looks pretty satisfying to me. Can you then imagine what a bowl of fragrant fried rice will do to me?

I first discovered Fried Olive Rice when I read Sylvia Tan's Mad About Food back in 1997. I had never used preserved olive vegetables, and my first encounter with this pungent, salty and absolutely delicious preserved vegetable was a knock-out 'give me another bowl, please' experience. Just a couple of tablespoons of the olive vegetables fried together with minced pork and seasoning, creates a fragrant mixture which, when stirred with cooked white rice, becomes a most satisfying meal for one or two or even an entire horde of relatives.
A Bowl or Two of Sustenance
Bottles of preserved olive vegetables can easily be found in our local supermarkets (I've seen 2 different brands stocked at NTUC Fairprice outlets).
  • saute some chopped garlic in hot oil before adding 300g of minced pork (recipe works just as well with minced chicken or minced beef, depending on your preference) and 3 tablespoons of the preserved olive vegetables (to reduce the oil in the dish, I try to drain away as much of the oil in which the olive vegetables are preserved in - which by the way, when stirred into the white rice, imparts a slightly light olive green hue to the rice)
  • stir-fry the minced meat mixture and add 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and a couple of heavy-handed shakes of white pepper
  • you can serve the minced meat mixture over a bowl of white rice but I usually prefer to add my cooked white rice (about 3 to 4 bowls) into the wok with the minced meat mixture and stir the whole thing vigorously until well-mixed
  • to serve: toss some roasted peanuts on top, garnish with mint leaves and if you prefer, a couple of lemon wedges
Just typing this recipe is making me hungry ... good thing, there are no cold rice left-overs, cos' carbos in the middle of the night will take forever to leave my waist or hips!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Sake Parcel

We have a bottle of sake in our home, a gift from a friend who came back from Japan. It's been there for many many moons, as hubby and I haven't developed a thing for grain alcohol as yet. Afraid that a sincere gift may go to waste, I have now removed the sake from its beautiful peach pastel-flowered gift box, and a tinge of regret bubbled up - a very common feeling I get whenever I have to unwrap any beautiful Japanese product, these guys are truly the masters of retail packaging with their eye for detail and presentation unsurpassed.

I had read somewhere that the slightly sweet-tasting sake is commonly used in marinade and in sauces, and decided that therein laid the opportunity to lay waste to that bottle of sake (and the answer is NO, if you're thinking that I will be kind enough to hand-deliver or courier that bottle over to you).

A Sake Parcel
I found this recipe in one of those cookbooks touting authentic simple Japanese fare. Read through it, and thought to myself, "wait a minute, this sure sounds like the way the French steam-bake their parchment paper parcels of fish marinated in white wine with tomatoes etc...".
  • preheat oven to 375F (or about 190C) - important to do this step first, since the rest of the preparation is a breeze
  • recipe recommended white fish fillets - so I went for grouper fillets, which are particularly good for steaming as the flesh has a wonderful slightly sweet taste and stays firm when cooked (this particular fillet that I used was about 2 and a half inches wide, but I would suggest slicing the fillets into 1 and a half inch wide for better and faster cooking)
  • place parchment paper on top of aluminium foil, brush the parchment paper with a little bit of olive oil, and place fish fillet in the center
  • here, I deviated slightly from the recipe which only called for 1 tablespoon of sake to be drizzled over each fillet - thinking that it might just be too 'sake-concentric' for us, I sprinkled a bit of ground black pepper, drizzled a dash of yuzu ponzu (which is basically Japanese soy sauce flavoured with juice from the yuzu citrus fruit) followed by about 3 tablespoons of sake for my thicker slab of fish fillet
  • place some enoki mushrooms on top of the fish fillet, and fold the edges of the parchment and foil together into a parcel
  • pop into the preheated oven for about 15 minutes (maybe 10 minutes or so, if your fish slice is thinner)
  • if you like, serve garnished with some dried bonito paper-thin strips or flakes.
Opening this sake parcel at the dinner table, the delicious aromas tantalized, and the slightly sweet flavor of the sake did not detract from the freshness of the cooked grouper meat glistening from its sweaty steam. The sake sauce was totally irresistible. Well, whaddayaknow, we do like grain alcohol after all (at least in this form)!

No more than 30 minutes to get this dish onto the dinner table, and that is assuming you take a long time to wash the fish fillets, the enoki mushrooms and cut those pieces of foil and parchment, and of course, not forgetting the time needed to preheat the oven. Sheesh, if I had known how absolutely bloody easy it was to make this healthy dish, I would have opened that bottle of sake many many moons ago!