vendredi, avril 28, 2006

Singapore Hainanese Chicken Rice

Hainanese chicken

This is one of our National dishes. Something one has to learn how to make if one does not want to be deprived of the dish when living far far away. And like almost everything, once you get into the subject, you realise that it is not that difficult to deal with after all.

To start with, we'll need a fresh whole chicken (approx. 1.6kg, preferably free range) or 4 chicken thighs (upper and lower). Wash the chicken and rub salt all over it. If using a whole chicken, stuff it with :

2-3 garlic cloves (bashed)
1 thick slice fresh ginger
2 pandan leaves (tied into a knot)
2 stalks spring onions (tied into a knot)

Heat up a little bit of oil in a pot and lightly brown :

6 garlic cloves (bashed)
2 thumb-sized pieces ginger
1 lemon grass (optional)
1 stalk celery
2 stalks spring onions
1 shallot (roughly-sliced)

Fill the pot with enough water to cover the chicken, add 1 Tsp of salt and bring it to boil over high heat. When the water is boiling, put the chicken in (breast down), cover the pot when the water starts to boil again and cook for 5 minutes, after which we lower the heat (small flame) and let the chicken cook for another 15-20 minutes. Then turn off the heat (without removing the cover) and let it sit for another 20 minutes. At the end of this, take the chicken out of the pot and plunge it into a pot of cold water for 10 minutes. This is the way to produce a tasty chicken with an elastic skin, firm flesh (not over-boiled and over-cooked and only good for being shredded) that's still a little pink on the inside.

Alternatively, when the water starts to boil, put the chicken in breast-down, lower the flame to the smallest, cover the pot and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Make sure that the water doesn't boil again during this time.

The stock that is produced is now to be used for soup and for cooking the special rice that is to be served with the chicken. Wash and drain 2 cups of Thai Jasmine rice. Heat up 6-8 Tbsps of oil or chicken fat in a deep pan and brown a paste made of 4-6 slices of ginger and 5-6 cloves of garlic. Fry the rice in the fragrant oil for 2 minutes, then add in 400ml of the chicken stock, 1 Tbsp of light soy sauce and 1 Tsp of salt. Stir to mix well, put in 3-4 screw pine (pandan) leaves knotted together and then cover the pan. Add a stalk of bashed lemongrass if you wish. Cook over high heat for 5 minutes, then cook over the lowest heat for another 15 minutes. The rice should cook in its own steam and absorb all of the stock. It is fragrant and oily. Rake with a fork and serve hot.

Back to the chicken. Out of the cold water, remove the stuffing and cut the chicken up into pieces (thighs, wings, breasts...). Immediately brush them with some oil (a mix of 1 Tsp vegetable oil with 1 Tbsp of light Soya sauce and 1 Tbsp of sesame oil). Garnish with fresh coriander leaves, cucumber slices and serve with dipping sauces like dark soya sauce, chilli sauce (made of fresh red chillies, salt, water and lime juice blended together) and ginger sauce (chicken stock, chicken fat, salt, sugar, fresh ginger blended together). And of course the oily rice.

The stock can be served as soup with some carrots and cabbage, or in my case, I've ''improved'' it by cooking it (when the chicken has been removed and part of the stock used to make the rice) with 2 star anises, 1 cinnamon stick and 1-2 Tbsp of dark soya sauce, garnishing with fresh coriander leaves.

lundi, avril 24, 2006

5th Wedding Anniversary in Paris : Taillevent, Champs Elysées, The Vagina Monologues, Sinorama

The Year 2006 was the first time we celebrated our wedding anniversary. He usually either couldn't remember the date or was not around on the day itself. But last week, we happened to be in Paris on the big day and so decided to celebrate the occasion.

We had lunch at Taillevent, a Michelin-rated 3 star restaurant near the Champs Elysées in Paris. As we were approaching the restaurant, Hubby remarked that the doorman was better dressed than him. Well, when we entered the restaurant, they removed our coats and proposed to lend Hubby a jacket :-).

The decor was warm, wood-based, intimate but not ''promiscuous'' (i.e. we were not in each other's laps). We were served a few warm mini-Gougères (choux pastries made with cheese) as we looked through the menu and sipped our sweet white wines (a Baume de Venise for Hubby and a Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive for me). The waiter taking our orders was good in his job and I say so as he very brilliantly guessed that I must not be fond of smelly Roquefort cheese and kindly proposed to change it to a Comté (which I adore). We both decided to take the lunch menu @ 70 Euros pax and even chose the same dishes.

We started out with a Crème brûlée de foie gras de canard aux fèves de Tonka. The duck liver was light and creamy but not a mousse, and the caramalised sugar covering it was a smart way of introducing sweetness to the dish (the usual way is to serve the liver with a chutney). The fresh apple slices added acidity and a sharp, fresh taste, a change also from the usual apple jelly.

It was followed by a Saumon d’Ecosse poêlé, échalote grise et salsifis. The salmon was well-grilled on the outside and nicely pink on the inside, cooked to perfection in other words. You can't see the shallots but can definitely taste them in the sauce. I'm not excited about the salsifis, which tasted like a cross between asparagus and turnips. But on the whole the dish was delicious.

Hubby had the Roquefort Carles, pruneau d’Agen au banyuls in the menu for cheese while I had some Comté. For dessert, we decided to try a different pastry each and exchange half-way through. So I started out with the Damier au chocolat et au café and finished with the Tarte aux fraises des bois. I have been places so I can confidently say that nobody can beat the French when it comes to desserts. The pastry shell for the tart was light, rich, smooth and melt-in-the mouth all at the same time. And the wild strawberries were small, sweet and crunchy, and just as good eaten on their own. Chapeau bas.

We had a glass of wine to go with each course. And they cost almost as much as the food. The bill came up to nearly 300 Euros, which when you think about it, is almost the monthly minimum salary in Portugal... Not something we can afford every other day.

After lunch, we went to the Champs Elysées to do a bit of shopping. Hubby bought CDs and DVDs from FNAC and I bought clothes for the kids from GAP. Then we went to the cinema (UGC Normandie) and watched Albert Dupontel's latest film ''Enfermés dehors''. A crazy comedy. Quite impossible scenario. Like a cartoon brought to life.

After the cinema we made our way to the Petit Théâtre de Paris near St Lazare and watched a play titled ''les monologues du vagin'' (The Vagina Monologues) involving actresses Isabelle Aubrey, Sara Giraudeau and Astrid Veillon. Originally American (Eve Ensler), it has been performed 1800 times in Paris to-date, though with different sets of actresses over the years. The script was based on testimonials obtained through interviews with over 200 women about their memories and experiences of sexuality and the play gave voice to women's deepest fantasies, anxieties, sensations and fears.

There were women who had never looked at or touched their vaginas intimately, there are those who were ashamed of their vaginas, there were those who were raped during wars and there were yet those who had their vaginas mutilated in the aim to reduce their sexual appetites... In any case, you usually walk out of the play no longer looking at a woman's body, or thinking of sex, in quite the same way again. Well, I found it interesting, but since I do know where my clitoris is, am pretty well-informed already about the genital mutilations and am aware of the rapes during wars, I would have preferred something a little more active, like Dieudonné's politically-incorrect one-man comedy shows, for example.

Anyway, it was a nice day out just the two of us for once, and we finished it with a simple dinner in our favourite Chinese restaurant Sinorama near Place d'Italie. And overnight in a small hotel in the Butte aux Cailles :-).

lundi, avril 17, 2006

My Udon Soup

When I was last in Singapore, I attended two Japanese cooking classes one of which was on Japanese noodles and the other Sushi-making. The recurring basic ingredients include Kombu (Kelp), Dashi, Bonito flakes, Seaweed, Mirin...

I like the underlying sweet and fishy taste in Japanese cooking, but am just not a fan of Bonito and seaweed. Besides, Japanese ingredients are not cheap and a little difficult to purchase here in Stuttgart.

But I had a craving for Udon Soup today and just had to satisfy it. And I happened to have this packet of Udon noodles (the dry ones, not the vacuum-packed pre-cooked ones) that I brought over from Singapore last year. Great.

So I made my soup :

Spring onions
(sliced lengthwise)
Ginger (sliced)
Garlic (sliced)
Celery (optional)
Sugar and White wine (to replace Mirin)
Light Soya Sauce (Japanese if possible)
Sesame Oil
Ikan Bilis and Chicken Cubes (to replace Dashi stock)
Star Anis and Cinnamon Stick (Optional)
Salt and Pepper
Chilli flakes

Basically just heat up a pot, brown the ginger, garlic, whole spices in a little bit of sesame oil. Add in 2 Tbsp of sugar and when it starts to caramelise, add in the white wine and stir well till the sugar dissolves in it. Add in a few Chinese or Japanese Shitake Mushrooms, 5-6 cups of water and the Ikan Bilis and Chicken cubes. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Next step : Stir in 2-3 Tbsp of Light Soya Sauce and 1 Tbsp of Sesame Oil. Salt and pepper to taste. In a separate pot, heat up lots of water and when it's boiling, add in a packet (250g) of Udon noodles. Cook for 9 minutes. Drain and rinse with lots of cold water. Set aside.

I chose to eat my Udon soup with Black Tiger Prawns, mini Fishballs, Silken Tofu slices, Green Asparagus, German Maultachen rolls (basically spinach, bacon and minced pork rolled up in pasta) and the mushrooms.

Garnish with chilli flakes, spring onions and coriander leaves if desired.

PS : For a darker soup, add in more soy sauce.

samedi, avril 15, 2006

Crab Meat, Tofu & Asparagus Soup and Tandoori Chicken with Creamy Sauce

I try to cook something different everyday. And I am lucky to have grown up in Singapore where I've been exposed to so many different cuisines in my daily life; To have travelled to quite a number of beautiful countries including Indonesia, Australia, Turkey, Greece, the USA, Canada and Morocco, to name but a few; And to have spent the last decade living and travelling in different parts of Western Europe and therefore used to so many different foods and different cooking methods. Finally to be married to a French Gourmet who has brought me to numerous wonderful restaurants all over France and elsewhere to taste and learn from.

Having said that one can't prepare nor be inclined to consume a gourmet meal everyday. And I actually do prefer to eat simple meals especially if the hubby's not around. Better for the diet and more time left for blogging :-).

So a few days ago, I made a Crab Meat, Tofu and Asparagus Soup for lunch and a Tandoori Chicken with Creamy Sauce for dinner. Simple but hearty fare.

For the soup, start with a basic soup base i.e. ginger, spring onions, bashed garlic, 1 Star Anis, 1 stalk celery, water and MSG-free chicken cubes (if you do not have home-made stock). Peel and slice a bunch of green and/or white asparagus and cook them in the stock. When they are cooked (depending on whether you like them crunchy or very cooked), add in 2 Tbsp of Light Soya Sauce, 1 Tbsp of Sherry, 1 Tbsp of corn starch (well diluted in a bit of water), salt and pepper to taste, and stir in 1-2 beaten fresh eggs. Add in a brick of silken Tofu (sliced) and a can of crabmeat and serve hot with fresh coriander leaves.

For the Tandoori Chicken, I usually marinate the chicken breasts and thighs for a few hours in 4-5 Tbsp of Tandoori Masala Mix (can find in Asian grocery shops), 1 Tsp of Mustard seeds, 1 Tsp of ground Cumin, 1 Tsp of ground Curcuma, 1 Tsp of ground Cinnamon, 1 Tsp of ground Paprika, a pinch of ground Cloves, salt, pepper and 1 cup of natural Yoghurt.

Tandoori Chicken

The chicken can be roasted in the oven for about an hour at 180-200ºC (last 10 minutes under very hot grill) or grilled in a non-stick pan. Days when I chose the latter, would fry 2 onions and 1 red capsicum all sliced up with the chicken. When the meat is nicely-grilled on both sides, you can squeeze some lemon juice over it and serve it as it is with some fresh cucumber or a Raita (cucumber with yoghurt and mint leaves)...or do it as I did - with a creamy sauce - because we like it this way :-).

For the sauce, it's very simple, just add in 2-3 Tbsp of crème fraîche in the pan and mix it with the chicken and cover for a few minutes. If grilling the meat in the oven, the juices will fill the baking tray during the roasting and I usually just keep removing it into a bowl.

vendredi, avril 14, 2006

Agar-Agar Easter Eggs and Home-made Kaya Jam

Over here in Stuttgart, everybody's in a frenzy of activity painting eggs for Easter. Nobody in their right mind would ever label me ''artistic'' so I did not even bother to try. But what I do have is a long memory and while I was in bed last night visions of Agar-Agar Eggs from my long-gone childhood creeped into my mind and I woke up determined to make some for Easter.

And so I did. And am right pleased with myself. Just need to find a few decent-sized eggs, poke and make a hole (just big enough for the tube of a small funnel) gently on the narrow end of each egg and empty it of its content. Then rinse the inside of the empty egg shells with water and put them back in their egg-box.

In a small pot, dissolve a packet of agar-agar mix in some water and let it boil gently while stirring it all the time. Using a funnel, fill up the egg shells with the agar agar mixture, let them cool and set a little and then put them in the fridge for a few hours.

To make fancier agar agar eggs, you can stir in some beaten egg when the mixture is still boiling in the pot, put some fruit like cherries, mangoes, peaches, lychees etc in the egg before filling it up with the agar agar mixture, add food colouring to the mixture, or pour in some coconut cream in the egg shell before pouring in the mixture...Loads of possibilities.

When the agar agar is sufficiently cold, take them out of the fridge and let the kids choose their eggs and peel them themselves. Voilà delicious and cooling agar agar in the form of eggs!

Meanwhile, it broke my heart to empty the shells of their egg and throw the nutricious stuff away. Not feeling like eating any omelettes, I hit upon the idea of making Kaya (egg and coconut custard) Jam, something I had been meaning to try but never found the opportunity to do so before. And I just love Kaya Jam, and it's not something you can buy off the shelf here in Stuttgart.

And never thought it could be so easy. Ah Yat in Singapore must be making a fortune selling his Kaya toasts. I've been studying the subjet on the Net plus in my old cook book for quite a while and have decided to combine 2 popular methods, namely microwaving and slow cooking in a pot, but well, I'm getting ahead of myself, we have yet to start the cooking.

Basically, the recipe calls for X number of big fresh Eggs + its weight in coarse sugar + its weight in thick Coconut Cream. So I had 6 eggs (about 200g) and I beat it vigourously with 200g of sugar in a big mixing bowl and then added 200g of thick Coconut Cream (not the usual coconut milk in a can) and continued beating.

Next, I microwaved the mixture uncovered for 5 minutes on High (mine's 750 watts), took it out and beat it vigourously, and then put it back to be microwaved uncovered for another 5 minutes on High.

I didn't have Pandan Leaves so I decided to do a Nonya Brown Kaya instead. This meant preparing a caramel using 4 Tbsps of fine sugar and 6-8 Tbsps of water and boiling the mixture in a thick-bottomed pan (mine's a small Le Creuset pot), stirring all the time and wanting it to turn brown but not black (my 1st attempt produced a ''natural black dye'' as I was careless enough to answer an email half-way through).

I then added the egg custard mixture and 1/2 Tsp of vanilla essence into the caramel, lowered the fire to the smallest possible and stirred it. It was a bit crumbly (after the microwaving) so I added a bit of milk and kept on stirring :-).

After that, just cover the pot and leave it to simmer for a few hours, checking and stirring it from time to time. When you like the texture of your Kaya, let it cool for a while before keeping it in the fridge. Best eaten as a jam spread on fresh bread or toasts, and can also be made into Kaya Buns, Kaya Swiss Rolls, Kaya Cakes etc.

PS : My agar agar eggs in the photo contained rose essence, beaten egg and/or coconut milk.

Stir-Fried Pork in Preserved Black Bean Sauce

I stank out the whole kitchen today with my Preserved Black Soya Beans. But it's one of those things that smell bad but are good to eat. Hubby dragged his feet in coming for lunch, but ended up going for seconds once he tasted the dish. Wish I could do the same when it comes to his smelly cheeses (blegh).

To start with, one has to immerse about 2 Tbsps of the Preserved Black Soya Beans in hot water for at least 30 minutes. I took the opportunity to add in a few dried Fragrant Chinese Mushrooms as well.

Then the pork filet has to be cut into strips and marinated in salt, pepper, 1 Tbsp of Sherry, 2 Tbsp of Light Soya Sauce, 2 Tbsp of Oyster Sauce, 1 Tsp of Sesame Oil, 1 Tsp of Hoisin Sauce (optional), 1 Tsp of ground chilli and 1 Tsp of Corn Starch.

Drain the beans (but keep the liquid) and mix them in a blender together with 2 cloves of garlic, 1 thumb-sized ginger and 1 shallot. Heat up some oil in a non-stick pan and put in the mushrooms (sliced). Add in the bean paste and fry till fragrant. Add in the marinated pork slices and grill them on both sides. You can also add in some red capsicum and zucchini cut in cubes at this point.

Next, add 1 Tbsp of corn starch to the liquid (from the mushroom and beans) and mix well. When the pork starts to brown, pour in the liquid mixture, stir-fry for a few minutes and cover the pan till the meat is cooked and the sauce has thickened. Serve hot with steamed rice or egg noodles and garnish with some fresh coriander leaves.

jeudi, avril 13, 2006

Prostitution, Sex Trafficking and Respect for Women

I have long been telling whoever would listen that I am against men visiting prostitutes (and not the prostitutes). And I refuse to accept the fatalistic explanation that as the World's Oldest Profession, prostitution is here to stay. Prostitution is a human problem that needs a human solution. It stays as long as there is a demand. Lesser demand = fewer prostitutes.

Sex is a need. And while I am prepared to accept the necessity of men who are handicapped, working alone in foreign cities and those who are in prison, to receive assistance in fulfilling this need, I feel that ''normal'' men should not be pardoned for buying women for sex and helping to perpetuate the systematic subordination of women and girls through sexual exploitation.

Because bought sex is not confined to a few exclusive boudoirs where a few bored peers seek sexual entertainment from a few trained ladies. Where if you read Tracy Quan's interview with Camille Paglia, you get to believe that Prostitution is female power over men (always good to believe in it, I'm all for positive thinking). Unfortunately bought sex is more a BIG business that knows NO borders today. And I strongly believe that it is linked to the way men perceive women and how they (do not) respect them that prostitution is allowed to flourish and endure (though some will tell you that men visit prostitutes because of the need to dis-associate sex with emotions and paying for it helps, but peu importe, whatever Freudian excuses there could be, the result is still the same - meaning it creates demand that fuels means to keep the supply going).

Perception and Respect :

As long as the notion that men need sex and have the right to fulfill it as they wish persists, rapes and sexual exploitation of women will continue. Sex is always a flourishing business near Army bases, armies recruited women en masse during wars to service their men and make them ''better fighters'' (think of the thousands of Comfort Women in Asia used by the Japanese forcefully during WWII), villages were sacked and their women raped by invading armies, in certain parts of the world, when men have a debt of Honour to claim, they rape their enemies' women to do so. This is not normal.

And the other way round, some people believe that the existence of prostitution helps to reduce/limit rapes and other sexual crimes. I beg to differ. We are not animals, we have brains and we know how to control our impulses. I remind all that it is because that women (as usual, our fault) are expected to cover up etc in order NOT to TEMPT men that many Muslim women have to hide behind layers even in 40ºC weather. While men are free to walk around half naked and nobody worries about them being raped. Pathetic excuse. And in any case, prostitution is not free of charge, and rapists, I believe, prefer not to pay a cent for their actions.

Yet others believe that prostitution is an outlet for sexually-frustrated people. Like prostitutes treat their work like an Art. But I believe the more usual way to describe it is ''turning tricks''. Meaning for the usual prostitute and her client, it usually lasts just a few minutes and is basically just sex plain and simple. If you're looking for sexual pleasure and adventure, sex workers are not the people you should go to. Have a mistress or more, go visit a Couple-Exchange Club, organise a few orgies at home with like-minded friends. Another pathetic excuse.

I recently read an excellent article in the IHT written by Jessica Neuwirth, President of Equality Now*, an international women's rights organisation. It was titled : 'The World Cup and the johns.''

The World Cup begins in June in Germany. As prostitution is legal in the country, an estimated 40000 women from all over the world are expected to turn up to offer their sexual services, and construction of temporary brothels in all forms (including ''performance boxes'' and ''drive-ins'') is underway. They say that sex is a sport, but honestly, this is too much.

I am not going into a debate as to whether prostitution should be legalised/decriminalised or not. That's another thing altogether, more concerned with what we do with these women once they are in the trade. What concerns me is the fact that many women are lured as well as forced into prostitution. Like Ms Neuwirth wrote, they submit to or even seek out their traffickers for promises of a life free of poverty or abuse - false promises that pave the way to a life that is anything but free.

And these women, often young girls, quickly find themselves in a life of exploitation and violence they are unable to escape. She provided statistics which revealed that 71% of women surveyed were physically assaulted while engaged in prostitution. One should always question survey statistics and I would say even if the surveys only covered the abused women while the powerful prostitutes who could control their clients melted away into society and the really bad cases were inaccessible to questioning - there is no smoke without fire.

And 89% wanted to get out of prostitution but did not have any other options for survival; most were substance users and over half met criteria for post traumatic stress disorder - as many as combat veterans. And it concurs with research made by the French organisations, and documentaries on the subject often arrived at similar conclusions.

And I agree with her that like any consumer industry, the commercial sex industry is driven by demand, and in economic terms the link between prostitution and sex trafficking is clear. Sex is for sale because there are buyers creating a commercial market for it, and sex trafficking ensures a line of supply.

Hence, it is unfair that ''men who buy women for sex have thus far largely escaped the reach of the law and have been virtually invisible in the ideological battles over prostitution. For it is these countless anonymous ''johns'' who fuel the market forces that make sex trafficking such a lucrative industry, perpetrating systematic exploitation with impunity.''

I remember reading about the African community in France and how it has become such a lucrative business that even housewives are selling their daughters and nieces from their homes, and recruiting the girls from their families in Africa with promises of education and a better life, only to confiscate their passports upon arrival and prostitute them for gain. Virginity being a prized commodity in many primitive circles (among African, Arab and Chinese men, for example), virgins fetch a very good price, so a good reason to get the girls young and while they haven't lost their virginity on their own accord.

It is no longer safe nowadays to meet and fall in love with a foreign man or even some guy from your own race back from abroad for a visit. You never know if you're going into a conventional marriage or if you'll be ''married'' to a life of prostitution. I always think that this is such an unnecessary additional risk to one's life. Why should the actions of a few groups of johns who couldn't keep their penises to themselves or to the women who love them, result in the shattering of the loves and dreams of these girls?

But that's the way it is. And men couldn't understand why their visiting a prostitute could ''harm'' anybody :-). I personally know of a few guys who used to ''visit the windows'' in Holland. In this day where we manage to reorganise zoos making them more humane by not locking up most of the animals in cages during visiting times, it is amazing how it never occurred to these men that having women display themselves behind windows is humiliating and inhumane.

I also know men who travelled in Asia and availed themselves of the cheap and charming girls there. And managed to convince themselves at the same time that they were doing these girls a favour, ''treating them nicely'' and helping them get out of poverty.

We know now that humanitarian organisations only provide temporary relief when they arrived at a disaster or impoverished area and provided food, water etc. And oftentimes they create a long-term disaster by making the population dependent on foreign aid, abandoning what little food crops and other means of subsistence they had because it is easier holding out your hand for help instead of asking for help to help yourself.

In the same vein, prostitution is a quick and easy way out of poverty. In Thailand, it has become such a big earner for girls from impoverished villages that for usually traditional Buddhist families, it is no longer that much of a shame accepting money from your daughter selling her body in town and building a few nice houses with it. I've exchanged a few words once on the blog of an American guy living in Bangkok that narrow-minded do-gooders like myself shouldn't deny these girls from earning big money and not suffering like the rest of the poor people in the country, that often they could retire in comfort etc after a few years in the business. What he omited to say was that only a small percentage of these girls would be able to retire in comfort, for usually sexually-transmitted diseases and other vices would have claimed them before long. Yes, there is often a heavy price to pay. And I've often told men who would listen that the worst part of men visiting prostitutes is that they could catch diseases and pass them on to their wives or partners, so bloody unfair for the ladies, suffering doubly for something they have not done.

And many governments are leaving their girls to earn much-needed cash and leaving them at the same time to fend for themselves in case of abuse or diseases. And there is no need to find alternative means of creating employment if just sex alone could generate so much income (3% of the Thai economy) and pull so many out, albeit temporarily (can't do it forever), out of poverty. In Cambodia, for example, humanitarian organisations sur place looking after the interests of these sex workers were often harassed by the Military and the Police because it was not in the country's interest to dismantle their sex industry.

Another problem with the sex industry and sex trafficking is that very often underaged girls are involved. One UN estimate put it that in Asia and the Pacific alone, more than 30 million children have been traded over the last three decades. They are easier to get hold of, easier to control and much more in demand. The border between Germany and the Czeck Republic apparently is full of parents selling their daughters to German pedophiles and other people smuggling young girls to work in the brothels in Germany. Because if you have to pay for sex, why would you want to pay for some middle-aged prostitute with flabby thighs and drooping breasts and a vagina that has serviced many clients?

Ms Neuwirth was also right to point out that opposition to prostitution is sometimes misconstrued as opposition to sexual rights and freedoms, that those who consider prostitution to be an expression of sexual rights fail to recognise the distinction between sex and commercial sexual exploitation, positioning the discourse as if one cannot be for sex and at the same time be against exploitation.

I like to think of myself as being reasonably liberal sexually. I do not have any problems with pre-marital sex (though I would discourage teenagers from having sex simply because there are more important things to do at this stage of one's life than risking pregnancies and emotional relationship problems), I am interested in ongoing sexual trends like Pornography, S&M, Couple Exchanges etc but within limits, I have sex more than regularly with my hubby, and one of my unfulfilled dreams was to have a United Nations of Sexual Partners.

But prostitution is not sexual rights or freedom. Prostitution robs the right of women and girls not to be prostituted and denied them the right to education, employment and real choices that they currently do not have. And the invisibility of the john is matched only by the invisibility of the harm done to the trafficked and prostituted women he buys. So I agree that it is more than time to shift the focus from those who are prostituted to the traffickers, pimps and johns who comprise the chain of exploitation in the commercial sex industry.

It is therefore heartening to discover through Ms Neuwirth's article that Sweden is one of the few countries in this world that has developed legislation, subjecting johns to prosecution for commercial sexual exploitation and therefore acknowledging the link between prostitution and sex trafficking. I hope that more countries would soon follow its lead.

And I hope that every woman would play a part by sensibilising men whenever they could on the subject and teaching our own sons the importance of respecting women and not contribute towards their abuse, traffic and exploitation.

PS : I have quoted liberally from Ms Neuwirth.

*Equality Now focuses on trafficking of women and girls, rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and reproductive rights, denial of equal access to economic opportunity and political participation—issues that first attracted Ms. Neuwirth’s interest while working for Amnesty International.

mercredi, avril 12, 2006

Chili Con Carne

I've never been to Mexico. But I ought to, for I have heard much of this beautiful country. And here in Stuttgart, I've made friends with 2 wonderful Mexican girls.

This evening, I made a Chili Con Carne to go with some left-over steamed rice. I first tried the dish a few months ago and found it too fade then and after a few tries, improved on it. Here is my recipe :

Olive Oil
500g Minced Beef
a few slices of Bacon
2 onions (sliced)
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 Tsp ground Cumin
1 Tsp Chilli powder
1 Tsp ground Coriander seeds
1 can peeled Tomatoes
1 Bay leaf
1 Tbsp Oregano leaves
1 Tsp Thyme leaves
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
1 can Beer or 1 glass White Wine
1 can Red Kidney Beans
Half a Red Bell Pepper (sliced or diced)
2 cups Chicken or Beef Stock
1 Tbsp pre-cooked Corn Flour
Some fresh Coriander leaves
Salt and Pepper
Grated Cheddar or Emmenthal Cheese

First fry the bacon slices in a pan till crispy. Remove and set aside. Add in a generous amount of olive oil and brown the onions, garlic and peppers. Make a few patties with the minced beef and add them to the pan to be grilled on both sides. Add in the ground cumin, chilli and coriander, oregano, thyme and brown sugar.

Next, add in the can of peeled tomatoes and use a fork to cut up the tomatoes and beef patties and even them out in the sauce. Add in the beer or wine, vinegar, stock and beans. Sprinkle in the corn flour, return the bacon (in bits) to the pan, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Add salt and pepper to taste before serving. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and grated Cheddar or Emmenthal cheese.

dimanche, avril 09, 2006

Lamb & Dal (Lentil) Soup

In Stuttgart (et environs), for some reason, they do not eat much seafood or lamb here. And whatever beef you manage to find comes sliced for steaks, cut into cubes for goulash or minced.

I miss cuts like Côte de Boeuf, Entrecôte, Faux-filet, Bavette, Rumpsteak, Tournedo etc etc that I could easily get in France. The uninitiated would say : ''what's with the cut? Beef is beef.'' Well, goes to show that he hasn't chewed much in his life. The texture of the meat changes with the cut and different parts of the carcass are made for different cooking methods. And that's just a summary.

Anyway, I found a shoulder of lamb on Friday and promply roasted it for Sunday lunch. The whole family had a great time. The meat was succulent and even the baby kept asking for more meat (that's my boy!). It was a pity throwing the bones away and I hit upon the idea of making soup with them. And so we had a lovely Lamb and Dal Soup last evening.

It was really very simple. In a pot, heat up some olive oil and brown 1 onion (sliced), 2 cloves of garlic (bashed), 1 thumb-sized ginger (sliced), 1/2 Tsp of ground cumin, 1 Tsp of ground coriander seeds, 1/2 Tsp of Turmeric powder, 1/2 Tsp ground paprika, 10-15 whole cloves and 15-20 black peppercorns. Put in the lamb shoulder bones (or any part of the lamb with bones). When everything is nicely browned, add in 1/2 to 1 cup of lentils (I used whole green lentils from Puy in France), 1 bay leaf and 5 cups of chicken stock. Remove the scum. Simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours.

Check water level and add in more stock if necessary. Add in 1 can of tomato purée, juice from 1 lemon, salt to taste and some fresh coriander leaves. Simmer for another 30 minutes.

Serve hot with homemade croutons (toast some bread, add olive oil and lemon juice on them).

PS : If you want a ''cleaner'' soup, strain the soup, remove everything else and return the lentils to the soup before serving. Another option would be to blend the soup with a handheld mixer to obtain a creamy soup.

Hubby's Prawns with Garlic, White Wine and Tomatoes served with Tagliatelles à l'Encre de Sèche

Hubby cooked dinner this evening. Rarissimo. He has not cooked for a while now, not having much time to do so. And he's a good cook, more's the pity.

We had a very good Prawns with Garlic, White Wine and Tomatoes served with Tagliatelles à l'Encre de Sèche (Squid's Ink).

Basically for the prawns, you just need :
raw Black Tiger Prawns
extra-virgin olive oil
a few cloves of garlic
white wine
fresh tomatoes and some tomato purée
fresh herbes like basilic and parsley
crème fraîche
salt and pepper
freshly-grated parmesan cheese

You peel your prawns but keep the heads on (to add flavour to the oil). Heat up some olive oil in a frying pan and fry the prawns with the garlic. Remove the prawns, set them aside and remove the heads.

Back to the pan, add in the chopped tomatoes, white wine and tomato purée. When the sauce is cooked, add in the prawns, sprinkle some fresh basilic and parsley over them, stir in some crème fraîche, add in salt and pepper to taste. Do not overcook.

Serve hot on a bed of tagliatelles al dente and sprinkle some freshly-grated parmesan cheese over it.

On Friday evening, we had dinner in a pretty good Indian Restaurant named Ganesha (Lembergstrasse 19, Stuttgart). It was better than most of the Indian restaurants we've been to in Paris, which of course is amazing.

We had Tandoori Chicken to start with, succulent pieces of chicken thighs served on a sizzling hotplate. We also had Prawn Curry, Ceylonese Chicken Curry (very hot and spicy with whole spices, curry leaves, coconut milk), Bhindi Gosht (lamb with small crispy okra), Basmati rice and Cheese Naan.

Usually when you eat in an Indian restaurant in Continental Europe, you often could not differentiate between the different curries served and end up with the impression that they were more or less the same. But at Ganesha's, they managed to make pretty different curries (though the curries with cream in them did tend to taste the same no matter what they were called) that were good and reasonably-priced.

I recommend.

PS : As usual, sorry for the lousy photos.

vendredi, avril 07, 2006

Chirac's Speech on the CPE

Last Friday our friend Chirac (did I tell you that we went to the same school, though of course a few decades apart?) made a speech about the CPE (First Employment Contract). I swear I could have written it for him (especially the part about those protesting hindering those who were not from continuing with their lessons, going to work etc), though I would have shortened the tryout period further to maximum 6 months.

Sigh, the young people will not accept it. Haven't started climbing yet and already they fear the fall. Of course they are unhappy that everything is going to fall upon them : paying for their elders' retirement, reimbursing the humongous National Deficit and now having to be the guinea pigs for more flexibility in the labour market.

On the other hand, we have to start somewhere. Can't turn back the clock and definitely cannot continue with things as they are. And though we know that unless the whole labour market becomes more flexible (and hubby was saying that we should also change the pension scheme), nothing much is going to change. But it will be really painful making the older workers risk their jobs since it would be even more difficult for them to find a new one, hence de Villepin's half-hearted attempt to introduce change.

But one of my reasons for supporting the CPE (or at least the idea and not all of its contents) is that if we start with the young, we have a better chance of changing a few mentalities. And what we need is for everyone to stop hiding behind safety nets and to start realising that too much social protection sometimes kills protection and that ultimately somebody has to pay for the deficits, stem the job relocations and encourage job creation etc. One pretty cool slogan on the walls of one of the campuses read for example : ''Vaut mieux le CPE qu'ANPE!'' *

It is a pity that he had been too cowardly and had not tried to discuss the new law, do a bit of marketing, test some waters etc before introducing it in January. He should know that force wouldn't work with the French. Just for that they would go against it. Doomed to failure.

Though come to think of it Martine Aubry's 35-Hour law came into force quite heavy-handedly too a few years ago. And nobody (except the bosses) really complained about it then since people actually were going to get paid the same for working less. Some rationale about it encouraging bosses to hire more help if current staff had to work less. Only they forgot that with the rigid and expensive labour conditions in France, you wouldn't want to risk getting more help that you wouldn't be able to get rid of easily if you needed to.

Many companies actually just made-do with fewer staff (like my Optician, you turned up after 5pm and he was alone holding the fort till the shop closed at 7, the 2 pretty young ladies gone home on their 35 Hours) or make them keep the same hours somehow. My hubby never knew what it was all about. He keeps working more and more for the same pay and with nearly half of his income taxed away, I always tell him that for half of his working day he actually works for free. I've always thought this law stupid and unrealistic. In such bad times, people should be working more to keep their jobs, not less. But well, I'm no Economist.

So I was saying that some mentalities should start changing and that we should try something new. But well, tell that to the French.**

''If we have a cause to protest, however minor, we tear open our shirts, run into the street and shout ‘Shoot me!''' - Plantu.

PS : Caricature done by Gérome Barry.

* ''Better the CPE than the Unemployment Office''

** Most of the young demonstrators were actually the better-off and much more organised and vocal University students in the major cities who were trying to maintain their current social rights, at the expense of the poorer and less educated youths from the suburbs who would probably benefit from more flexible labour laws. May the loudest win.

jeudi, avril 06, 2006

The Smelly Things I Eat

You do not marry a Frenchman and suddenly start to love smelly cheeses. I don't think I ever will, actually.

And if you think he'll learn to appreciate your shrimp paste (belachan) and other pungent delicacies, you can keep on waiting.

So voilà the compromise is to eat my stuff when he's not around, though sometimes the proof remains in the air somehow and he freaks out when he comes home and gets a whiff of it...

Recent delicacies indulged in include Fried Dried Anchovies (ikan bilis) in Sambal Belachan, Okra in Sambal and Mussles and Okra in Spicy and Sour Sauce.

I wouldn't bother to provide the recipes. They are only for the initiated.

mercredi, avril 05, 2006

Sweet & Sour Pork and Chicken & Vegetable Stir-Fry

Almost every Chinese restaurant on Earth serves Sweet and Sour Pork. And Vegetable Stir-Fry or Chop-Suey. They are simple fare and tasty to boot.

My version of the Chop-Suey contains no ''Chinese'' vegetable except Chinese Shitake Mushroom. Though I love Chinese Cabbage and Baby Kai-Lan too. Anyway, it's asparagus season and I have decided to do my stir-fry with them.

Basically you can make a stir-fry with whichever vegetables you fancy. You just have to put them into the frying pan or wok according to the time it'll take for each type of vegetable to be cooked. Not over-cooked.

1 large onion
1 thumb-sized Ginger
2 cloves Garlic
1-2 stalks Celery
Green and White Asparagus
White and Brown Button Mushrooms
Chinese Shitake Mushroom
Red Capsicum
Chicken filet

I would marinate my chicken filets in salt, pepper, 2 Tbsps of Sherry, 1 Tbsp of Oyster Sauce and 1/2 Tsp of Sesame oil for at least 30 minutes. Then pan-grill them in some oil in a non-stick frying pan and put them aside when nicely-grilled.

Wash, peel and slice the vegetables, onions, garlic, ginger etc. In the same pan, heat up more vegetable oil and brown the onions, garlic, ginger and celery. Add in the carrots, mushrooms, capsicum, asparagus and zucchini in this order. Stir-fry.

In a bowl, mix half a cup of chicken stock, 1 Tsp of Sherry, 1 Tsp of Light Soya Sauce, 1 Tbsp of Oyster Sauce, 1 Tsp of Sugar, 1 Tsp of Corn Starch and a few drops of Sesame Oil together. When the vegetables are almost cooked, pour the mixture over them. Stir-fry for another 2 minutes, add in the grilled chicken filets.

Just before serving, beat an egg in a bowl and pour it in the sauce stirring it all the time to thicken the sauce further (optional).

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

My Sweet and Sour Pork is a hit with my children. They prefer it to the Veggie Stir-Fry, of course.

I always use Pork Filet Mignon. Expensive but tender and juicy. I slice the meat (around 500g) into 1cm-thick slices and just use the knife to tenderise it with chopping motions. Then I marinate it with salt, pepper, 1 Tsp of sugar, 1 Tbsp of Sherry, 1 Tbsp of light Soya Sauce, 1 Tbsp of corn starch and a beaten egg.

Heat up some oil in a non-stick frying pan. Coat the pork slices lightly in corn starch and slide them into the oil. Brown on both sides. Remove and drain on absorbant kitchen paper. It is of course better if one could deep-fry the pork to have it really crispy, but it's too oily and I've decided to do it the shallow-fry way. I also do not go for batter-coated pork which tend to be too heavy.

Next, in a bowl, mix 5 Tbsp of brown sugar, 3 Tbsp of Chinese rice vinegar or white wine vinegar, 2 Tbsp of concentrated tomato purée, 1 Tbsp of Worchestershire sauce, 1 Tsp of Light Soya sauce, 1 Tsp of Plum Sauce, 1 Tsp of Oyster Sauce, a few drops of Sesame Oil, 2 Tbsp of Sherry, 100ml of chicken stock or water, salt, chilli powder to taste, 1 Tsp of Corn Starch, a little red food colouring (optional) together. Boil over low heat till the sugar is dissolved.

Back to the frying pan, brown some sliced onions, 1 garlic finely diced, 1 thumb-sized ginger julienned, 1 stalk of celery sliced into 3. Add in half a red capsicum cut into 3-4cm pieces and 1 carrot thinly-sliced. Also some peas and sliced fresh tomatoes. Pour in the Sweet and Sour Sauce when the vegetables are almost cooked, stir in the pineapple slices from 1/4 - 1/3 of a pineapple. Thicken the sauce with 2 Tsp of cornstarch blended with 2 Tbsp of water.

Just before serving, add in the pork, toss with the sauce and garnish with spring onions. Or you could actually just pour the sauce over the pork in a serving dish and mix the dish at the table.

PS : And the good thing about cooking at home is that you could be sure that no MSG has been added into your food. I apologise for all the photos in my Blog, I'm afraid that I'm no good at taking pictures.

PS 2 : This is the Prawn version of the dish.

lundi, avril 03, 2006

A Bit of Me in Stuttgart (Brunch, House...)

French people usually do not like buying second hand (not applicable to antiques or spouses, of course). But here in Stuttgart where they're stingy and love recycling, garage sales are popular and you have at least one in the neighbourhood every Saturday afternoon.

So I found myself manning a table half-filled (I usually give my stuff away) with some books, CDs, DVDs, shoes and clothes last Saturday, just for the sake of being a little like everybody else. And I had to bake a (Spiced Chocolate Banana and Coconut) Cake as part-payment for the table.

I had a horrible time. I've always said that Hubby and myself, we're both Buyers. He spends his company's money and I spend his. Trying to earn some was tough and my heart wasn't in it at all.

To start with, before I've sold anything I had already bought two. A board for DUPLO bricks and a carrier for BABY BORN dolls. And boy was the afternoon long, just standing there among 4 walls watching the world dig through your stuff. At the end of the day, I didn't even sell enough to cover the cost of renting the table, but well, I was especially bad at selling (''How much does this cost?'' ''Er...I dunno..''). The cake I baked was a hugh success though. Pity I had no share in the proceeds. I should have sold cakes instead.

Sunday we had a nice brunch at Pier 51 in Degerloch. Just 15,80 Euros per head, that's really reasonable for Western Europe. When the weather gets better, we'll do a few garden parties at home, but right now, it's better to brunch out.

Pier 51 is an International Bar and Restaurant. The usual pizzas, pastas, salads, a few soups, grilled meats and lobster. For brunch, there is usually a decent buffet spread with salads, cold cuts, smoked fish, cooked salmon, rolls, bacon, scrambled eggs, hot dishes like roast pork, veal, pasta, rice, mixed vegetables and a few desserts like Tiramisu, Crème Brûlée, Panna Cotta... But it is of course not half as good as the buffets we have in Singapore.

Life in Stuttgart is not very exciting but it is not bad either. Comfortable and quite predictable. The winters are cold and looong, but the sky is often blue. The transport is clean and punctual and they rarely go on strike (not like in Paris) and best of all, they usually have at least an escalator if not a lift. When you move around with a stroller like I do, it helps.

We are renting a house in the suburbs, and the forest starts where our garden ends. At all times of the day you can actually hear birds singing. It isn't a pretty house, but comfortable, modern and functional. We have 3 bedrooms, a kitchen (looks like some Austrian chalet), a big living room and 2 terraces on the ground floor, and in the basement, 2 badly-lit bedrooms, a hobby room, a small indoor swimming pool and a garden where hubby had installed a swing and a slide (complaining for weeks about the hard work, see picture with snow).

One of the bad things about the house is its stupid white carpet. An absolute nightmare when you have 3 young children. And there are always spiders, their webs and other insects somewhere. I'm really not a very nature kind of girl.

We've learnt something new since we came here and that was how to recycle. There is a bin each for plastics/aluminium, organic refuse (if you over-fill the bin they will refuse to empty it for you, so you're forced to re-cycle), compost and paper. And bottles have to be divided into brown, green and white glass. And you'd better remember to bring a bag of some sort with you when you go to the supermarket or you'll have to pay for one when you're there. When we buy a bottle of soft drink or beer, we're charged a deposit for it and will have to bring back the bottle when it's empty to get a refund. This is all very good, except that hubby and the kids often forget about keeping the empty bottles for the refund and this would freak me out.

Shopping is not as exciting as in Paris or even Singapore, but most of the shops are in the City centre (Schlossplatz, very pretty with a few parks and squares, museums and Palaces...) and therefore easily accessible. German fashion is pretty conservative and lacks colours, so I usually return to France to shop. But I like buying toys in Stuttgart, they usually have promotions and discounts all the time. And toys are the same everywhere you go.

There is however a town named Metzingen about an hour away from Stuttgart and it has factory outlets of brands like Hugo Boss, Puma, Esprit, Polo, Joop, Bally of Switzerland etc. Not a bad place to shop in and there's even a nice Italian restaurant there to have a risotto in.

On certain Saturdays, we'll drive to Strasbourg in France for lunch (Kammzler opposite the Cathedral is a must-try), do a bit of shopping (very pretty boutiques), buy food (meat, seafood, foie gras, quality wine vinegar etc) and have a few cakes and pastries chez Christian. It is interesting how Strasbourg is so near Germany and yet remains unquestionably French. There is dogshit everywhere and food and fashion are much better than in Germany in general.

I attend German lessons on Monday and Thursday mornings and the class is slow-moving, but I can't really complain since they are subsidized by the State and baby-sitting for Armand is provided at no extra charge. There are 2 Albanish women, 3 Turkish women, 1 American/Peruvian woman and my Colombian girlfriend and so there are basically 3 cliques of women in the class. Except for my clique, the rest of them have been in Germany for years and still do not read or write the language, which is why the German Government has decided to subsize German language lessons and get more of their immigrants to take them up. And there are only women in the class because usually if there were men in the group (even one), the Turkish women would refuse to attend the class. Don't ask me why.

Voilà a short presentation of my life in Stuttgart. Not much for the moment since I've only been here for 7 months and the bulk of it I was hibernating since it was winter. Hopefully when the weather improves I'll be able to do more things and move around more and will have something more interesting to talk about.