samedi, novembre 25, 2006

My Ruby and Diamond Ring

Hubby's one of those men who only remember their own Birthdays. Not even his own mother's (so one can imagine that I buy the presents and give them away in this foyer) and whenever he has to fill up some form involving the family, you can bet that he'll be calling me up at some point to ask me for the kids' birthdates.

I have therefore not seen a present for a few years. Not for my Birthday, nor for Christmas, our wedding anniversary, Mother's Day, the birth of each child or what naught. Though he was not entirely to be blamed, for he works long hours and does not have the time nor the inclination to shop. And I am, according to him, a very difficult client, so he does not feel like buying any present and getting scolded for it because I should happen not to like it. And he did say that I am free to buy whatever I want whenever I want to - but you'll understand that it's not the same, right?

A few weeks ago, as we started to plan for Christmas (this year his mother and sister are coming over from Paris for Christmas AND the New Year), he said to me, "My Chérie, what would you like for Christmas? You have not had a present in years, so you can have a nice one this year.[..] How much are we going to be reimbursed by the Taxman?[..] OK, you get to spend up to 4000 Euros..." (!?! - wire kenna pulled as we would say at home in Singapore)

One can imagine that I wasn't going to wait around for him to change his mind (especially if for some reason the Taxman is not going to reimburse us what we thought he owes us). So I started looking around for my present. Which was difficult in Stuttgart with the limited number and types of shops. And I can't possibly fly back to Paris or to Singapore just to hunt for a piece of jewellery. And the Internet is risky for things like that.

Yes, so that's what I've decided to have. A nice piece of jewellery. Something bright and gaudy, to spend hours looking at during the depressingly long and cold winters here in Europe. I've decided to buy a Ruby or Emerald ring (the pendant, bracelet, earrings etc will have to come later, sigh...)

What I've almost forgotten is the auction house EPPLI here in the centre of Stuttgart. It's a small shop next to the covered market (Markthalle), but contains a good variety of old and new jewellery, furniture, fur coats, branded bags etc. The Schwabs are very stingy people, so recycling is common and second-hand shops do well here.

I normally wouldn't have gotten anywhere near second-hand jewellery, me being an Asian girl brought up on ghost stories where oftentimes the spirit of the former owner of some ring turns up to haunt the new owner...But time away in Europe and the reality of the purse help change minds and I have decided to take the risk and consider the option of buying a second-hand ring.

Antique jewellery is interesting. The modern ones tend to be simple and increasingly popular/common. And when one starts looking for a ruby or emerald, one realises that it is difficult to find nice colours and clarities in the shops that you find in the usual malls or shopping areas (not many people can afford them so most shops just don't carry them) - and walking into Chaumet or Cartier at this moment in time is unfortunately not yet possible for us.

Rubies like diamonds have to be examined in terms of colour, clarity, cut and carat. But unlike diamonds where normally the more colourless the better and standard grades exist to help tell them apart, colour in Rubies is quite personal and one really has to spend quite some time looking at the stones to know what one would like and is looking for. And when one is just starting out, one would have little notion of clarity and cut, heated or unheated stones, and many of the usual shops out there often sell red rubies that are quite opaque and badly-cut. And another thing I've found out as I was looking for my ring is that the origins of a Ruby is also very important, e.g. whether it comes from a mine in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Afghanistan, the USA or Africa...

I guess that not only do I want a Ruby, but I also wanted it to come with diamonds. Somehow diamonds look great on their own and they look even greater when they accompany a coloured stone :-). And I am quite sick of the usual round diamonds, so well, that's another reason why the quest was starting to be quite difficult.

On one of my last trips to Eppli, I saw a few really nice Ruby rings. One of them was going out to auction in early-November and has a Burmese Ruby surrounded by diamonds and set in 14K gold (Germany usually sells 14K and 10K gold). The colour of the Ruby was fantastic and though the diamonds were round, the setting was really pretty. I will of course not be attending any auction (it's an Art and I've no notions about it except for Ebay), so I decided to wait and see if it wouldn't get sold during the auction and would then be sold in the shop.

And so it wasn't auctioned off. And the price tag was 2200 Euros before the shop's 20% commission and any eventual ring sizing. It may seem expensive, but if you see what one has to pay for a similar new ring in a shop (if you find one like it), it's half the price.

But on the day that I brought Hubby to the shop to look at the ring, sitting next to it in the window was this other Ruby ring set in 18K white gold (I prefer), and surrounded by...6 Navette diamonds and 6 round diamonds with a total weight of 0.88 Carats (TW-W, VSI-SI). The Ruby (3.2 carat Siamese Pailin which in this case would actually be Cambodian) is not as fine as the Burmese one and has a visible inclusion (a line cut across), but it is translucent, has lots of fire and is of a rich purplish-red (not pigeon-blood red Burmese, but...). It took my breath away.

Hubby took a look at it and said that it was pretty but don't you think that it's kind of big? If you wear it out people will think that it's a fake...But he could see that I was quite taken by it, and I suspect that he was just relieved that I have found something that I like, that it was cheaper than usual since it was second-hand and was just quite glad to get it over and done with. So we paid for the ring, asked for it to be re-sized (it was 58 versus my 48.5) and as I thanked him for it, he muttered that he hoped that I was happy with it since I wouldn't be getting another present for the next 10 years! Ha ha! If only he knew that I'm already starting to dream of Emeralds...

So I'm wearing my ring as I type this out. We collected it this afternoon. I wish I could put up a close-up picture of it, but I do not have a zoom on my camera and it just wouldn't turn out. So I'll have to wait for an occasion to have its picture taken. Until then...

PS : I went back to EPPLI recently and saw 2-3 other Ruby rings (2 Burmese and 1 Ceylonese) and they were all going for less than 500 Euros before commission and resizing! It is amazing how much difference there could be between what I paid for mine and what's being sold just after. But it's all a question I guess of quality (or at least I hope) though to tell the truth I can't see no difference between the cheaper rings and mine (except that mine's bigger).

jeudi, novembre 16, 2006

Us in Strasbourg

I have always liked Strasbourg. Now that I am living in Germany, I love it.

Strasbourg has always been special. Separated by a river between France and Germany, it had at different periods in its History alternated between being German and French. And even when it's French, Napoleon gave it (Alsace) special status (e.g. in its Social Security laws) and like the Germans they eat spätzle and sausages and make Riesling wine.

But trust me, Strasbourg is French and very much so. We often wonder how this city can be so near Germany and yet be so French :-). When you cross over to Strasbourg from Kiel (on the German side), it gets dirtier and messier. But the old city is simply beautiful, with quaint little shops (the window displays, the goods on offer etc are immediately better, more varied and more interesting), wonderful pastry shops and most important of all - great restaurants. And that is what differentiated Strasbourg from Germany and confirm its very Frenchness.

Even the Kebab is tastier in Strasbourg. It is made of real meat piled up one on top of the other. Not like the factory-concocted slab of tasteless meat that we usually find in the Turkish-owned Kebab shops in Germany. So we may occasionally take away a Kebab sandwich as we leave Strasbourg - for the son.

We try to visit the city once every 2 months. It's about 2 hours from Stuttgart by car. We usually arrive in time for lunch, and would either eat in the Chinese restaurant at the entrance of the old city (needless to say, even the usually lousy Chinese food in France is better than the usual Chinese food in Germany - don't ask me why), or at Kammerzell (

Kammerzell is wonderful, a very old Strasbourgeois house just opposite the beautiful Cathedral. It has a good menu with the usual choucroute (sour cabbage - a Chinese invention for those unaware of that), onion tart, steak, foie gras...and includes a very good variety of seafood dishes. One of my most memorable was its Foie Gras poêlé et Lotte (pan-seared duck liver and Burbot), a delicious marriage of meat and fish, turf and surf. And the desserts also make it very French, ranging from fruit tarts (not the heavy jello sort), to home-made sorbets and ice-creams, chocolate parfaits etc etc. I always make sure that I make room in the stomach for dessert when I'm there. A bonus - 2 children under 10 eat lunch for free and they do not serve you nuggets with fries, but real food e.g. grilled salmon with pasta, chicken in cream sauce...The service needless to say is good, the maître d'hôtel takes obvious pride in his work.

After lunch, we would usually do a bit of shopping. Books (e.g. France Loisirs, FNAC...), clothes and shoes (Héraud, Jonak, Minelli...), and especially food (Monoprix, Paul, Atac, Auchan...). We never fail to bring back a few delicious bread and pastries from Paul, a few good cuts of beef (e.g. bavette, onglet, côte de boeuf...), seafood (oysters, scallops, crabs, cooked pink and grey prawns, stingray...), Bonne Maman cookies, Badoit Rouge mineral water etc etc. We've even invested in a cooler that'll be able to keep our purchases cool during the ride home. In the afternoon, we often had tea at Christian's, a tea salon just opposite the Cathedral, with delicious cakes and pastries and home-made whipped cream.

On our last visit, as my mom was with us, we took a boat ride down the river. There we realised that the city was even prettier than we thought. We got to see the European Parliament buildings as well. We'll certainly go on the boat ride again when we next bring other visitors to the city!

One more thing : they make very good foie gras and Gewurzstraminer (I especially love the vendange tardive wines) in the region. We've yet to visit a few of the wine makers as we wanted to, but we'll try to do so before we leave Germany.

Bon voilà a short write-up on Strasbourg.

lundi, novembre 13, 2006

Recent Eats (Chicken Caesar Salad, Vietnamese Cari Ga, Black Pepper Crab Crispy Noodles...)

Too much backlog, so will just post a few pictures without the recipes.

Caesar Salad with Pan-seared Chicken filets (Roman Salad, Rocket Salad, Red Onions, Roasted Garlic, Garlic Croutons, Parmesan Cheese, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Worchestershire Sauce, Egg...)

Vietnamese Cari Ga (Chicken in a Lemongrass-flavoured Coconut Curry Sauce with Sweet Potatoes...)
Black Pepper Crabs on Crispy Egg Noodles

Breakfast this morning with a mother from school :

Fried Rice Vermicelli Singapore Style, Toast à l'andalou (toasts rubbed with fresh garlic and raw tomatoes and dribbled in olive oil), Tarte aux Pommes (Apple Tart with Ground Cinnamon and Sugar), Tarte Salée (Puff Pastry with Red Onions, Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Basilic, Bacon, Cheese...)

Leek and Potato Soup

Your basic soup in a "Western" restaurant in Asia :-); Our basic soup at home, fast and tasty. This Leek and Potato Soup serves 3-4 as a starter.

2 big Leeks (well-washed and sliced into big pieces)

2 Potatoes (peeled and quartered)

3-4 bowls of water

1 stock cube (or a meat bone blanched and rinsed)

Salt and Pepper

Crème fraiche

Grated cheese

Put the leeks and potatoes in a pot and add in the water and stock cube (I get a meat bone free when I buy meat from my butcher so I use it). Cover and let the water boil after which lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes till the potatoes are cooked. Remove from the heat and mix the contents of the pot with a handmixer. Serve hot with a touch of crème fraiche and some grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.