jeudi, mai 31, 2007

House Hunting in Italy

As some may know, I'm currently in Italy visiting houses and the new school etc, trying to tie up a few loose ends before we move here at the beginning of July.

The visit to the school was positive on the whole and we feel comforted by the fact that the building is new, the classes small and the teachers look competent.

The house hunting turned out to be better than expected. Prices are still ridiculously steep for the region and for what you get, but once you've accepted the fact, it's just a question of finding something that you can live in and with for a few years.

At the end of the day, we were deciding between 3 houses : (1) a beautiful big house in Modena City, 6 bedrooms, marble, parquet, small garden... (2) a modern Villa with 4 bedrooms, huge nicely-landscaped garden in Montale surrounded by luxurious Villas of which one is the second home of some Italian football star; and (3) a renovated farmhouse standing alone in the middle of a huge field in Colombaro (near Maranello), 6 bedrooms, ceramic floors.

Believe it or not, I've decided to go for option 3. As I have no way of living in a big city like Paris, London or NYC, I've decided to go for the other extreme and live in the middle of nowhere. The farmhouse is divided into 2 parts, the 2nd of which we would be inhabiting. The first part would be left empty and boarded up.

I was reticent at first as I believe in ghosts and spirits and empty houses as one can imagine should contain quite a number of them. But what the heck, this is going to be a new adventure and I like the idea of having no neighbours and living in a very old building in the middle of nowhere - for a few years. And of course the middle of nowhere is just an impression as in reality the main road is just a km away and the school and Hubby's office just 10 minutes by car.

I'll post pictures when I return to Stuttgart in 10 days.

Meanwhile, I am happy to say that I've survived thus far in driving a manual car after nearly 2 years of driving automatic. And I must also say that the Alfa Romeo Q4 Crosswagon that I've been driving in the past week is a pretty neat machine and that one certainly can get used to driving almost lying down after all. Still I think that I shouldn't regret the Lancia Phedra that I've ordered as we'll need boot space when we go on a family holiday.

vendredi, mai 18, 2007

Roast Peking Duck

Roast Peking Duck

As you may know, we'll be moving again soon. As such, I am trying to clear out my freezer, fridge and pantry. And if you've heard my Hubby, he thinks that I tend to stock enough food at home to survive a war. He's not far off the point, so imagine the cooking (and eating) that I'll have to do in the next few weeks. Sigh, serves me right.

On Saturday evening, we had Jane's German friend Isabella over for dinner as well. So I told myself that this would be the occasion to defreeze the whole duck I had in the freezer and at the same time make enough to feed 8.

Roast Peking Duck with Hoisin Sauce, Cucumber, Spring Onions & Tortilla Pancakes

My simple Peking Duck recipe can be found in my December 2006 archives. I said simple as the traditional recipe would require one to blow the skin off the flesh, hang it up to dry etc and that's too much work for just a simple dinner. After pouring boiling water etc over the duck to tighten its skin, I had it marinated for 3 hours and then I roasted it in the oven for 2 hours the French way. It turned out great and it was fortunate that we had a man in the house to carve and serve it :-). With plain and spinach Tortilla Wraps, Hoisin Sauce (mixed with the cooking juice from the duck), sliced cucumber and spring onions.

One Serving

Chow Mein with Vegetables

I made Chow Mein (Fried Noodles) with Vegetables to accompany the duck and we ended the meal with individual servings of my Summer Tiramisu. This time around, I used Coconut Milk powder so that I could have a less liquid whipped cream and it worked.

Summer Tiramisu

J's Here to Visit!

Stuttgart is one of those places where if you happen not to be passing through, you wouldn't usually consider it for a holiday destination. As such, in our nearly 2 years here, we have not seen much of our friends, unlike for Italy where even before we're there, people are already telling us that they'll be visiting soon...:-)

But my dear friend J from Kansas City (and living in Paris) is one of those people who make an effort to visit friends wherever they may be. So last Friday saw her making her way to our humble abode with her son (their 2nd visit in a year) and we were of course all excited about it.

Cooking for her son M has always been a pleasure and motivation as the young man is a connoisseur of good food and has an excellent appetite. So I've decided to start the day with Melon and Parma Ham, followed by a Chili con Carne.

Chili con Carne with Taco Shell

Then as the sun finally returned after a week of rain and wind, we made our way to Stuttgart Mitte to have cake as the children play in the playground.

That evening, we had a Vietnamese Beef Salad with Pork Nems (bought them frozen this time around. They were imported from Paris) on a bed of rice vermicelli. And followed the 8pm French News with interest as the new President unveiled his new Government.

Vietnamese Beef Salad with Pork Nems

J and M left at noon on Sunday. We sent them off with a brunch. BBQ chicken wings, cereal with milk, eggs sunny-side up, bacon, baked beans, leftover chow mein, ham, fresh fruit salad etc.

Part of the Brunch Spread

It was great seeing a good friend from Paris, someone with whom one can chat freely till late in the night...I've missed that, so hopefully they'll visit us in Italy and stay a little longer the next time!

lundi, mai 14, 2007

Hohenloher Freilandmuseum and Schwäbisch Hall

I woke up on Saturday morning with a desire to drive a certain distance away from Stuttgart. So I took out my map of Germany and after a moment of reflection, found the places to go to : Schwäbisch Hall and the Hohenloher Freilandmuseum (Open Air Museum) at Wackershofen.

I usually have impulses like that when Hubby is away and I esteem that he should be around to spend time with me and the kids instead. On another occasion a few years ago, I bought air tickets to Crete for myself and our then 2 children when I discovered that he would be away on business during the children's school break. Though once I was there, I wasn't really in the mood to holiday, what I really wanted was for him to be with us.

So I prepared the children hastily, packed a few snacks and drinks and ushered everybody into the car. The good thing about having a GPS is that one doesn't usually get lost.

The Hohenloher Freilandmuseum is 1h25 mins from Stuttgart. Traffic conditions were good on that day and we were even able to lunch as I hoped, in a Chinese restaurant along the way. Cheap buffet with the usual fried stuff that the Germans threw themselves on, but I didn't feel like eating sausages so it would have to do.

Käsemarkt in the Freilandmuseum

It was a lovely day, sunny yet not too warm. I found the museum easily. The parking was full, but I was able to park my car easily and it was for free too. There was a Cheese Market on the museum grounds that day and so we even obtained discounts on the entrance fees! 1 adult and 3 kids for 5 Euros.
Sow and her Piglets (award-winning pork)

We started out with the pig sty. When you eat those animals in bits and pieces, you fail to realise how big (and smelly) they actually are. Though the piglets were like the roast suckling pigs I've always seen (and eaten, ahem). The kids loved it, of course. And seemed quite oblivious to the smell. I had to snatch Baby Boy once when he went too near to one of the sties, he could easily have lost a hand to one of those beasts' big, sharp teeth. Two to a pen, lots of food and they still had to fight each other as they ate. What a pig.

There were houses and barns scattered here and there on the grounds and each one was different. What I didn't know before though was that they were real houses taken from somewhere else (some relocated intact electrical wiring and all, others were rebuilt according to how there were before the relocation) and transplanted into the museum. They could tell you who built the house, who lived in it, what each possessed at a certain time etc. And it was interesting going through the different rooms, looking at the furniture (mostly not from the same era though), checking out the toilet etc. Really well done.

The photos I took were mainly from the first house we visited and it was a relatively well-endowed one. Some of the others were much smaller and barely furnished and used to house more than 11 children in like 50m2. In one farmhouse, the stalls were just below and one could smell the cow (just one, imagine when they had a few) in the rooms upstairs...

There were otherwise not many other animals to the children's disappointment. Apparently other animals could be exhibited on certain other occasions e.g. 20/05 is going to Horse Day, another day in June Sheep Day and so on. Only the pigs, the one cow and a few rabbits (you can feed them) are permanent exhibits.

Main Square, Schwäbisch Hall

St Michael's

Chocolate Tin Town

After the Open Air Museum, I decided to visit the nearby town of Schwäbisch Hall which is reputed to look like the villages you see on German chocolate tins. We were not deceived, it was indeed a very pretty little town.

In fact, I've grown to really appreciate Southern Germany over the last few months. It's green, clean, nicely-planned and often so pretty. The roads are logical and well-signed, there is often parking everywhere for a decent fee...

And as I was flying at an average of 170-180km/h on the Autobahn, I told myself that it was wonderful to be able to do that. Even as we entered into stretches of the highway where we could only drive at 80km/h or 120km/h. The contrast was what allowed one to better appreciate the no-limit parts of the highways. And especially knowing that this freedom is enjoyed within the confines of safety, mutual responsibility and good conduct on the road. Quite like the freedoms we should enjoy in our lives - freedoms to balanced with freedoms from.

We arrived at Stuttgart Airport (to pick up Hubby) before time. I felt quite rewarded when Hubby said - after I told him where we've been to etc - that WE could have gone there together :-).

Steamed Fried Salmon served with Stir-fried Mixed Vegetables

Steamed Fried Salmon Fish

If you want to eat Fish, cannot decide whether to steam or fry it and want to have it done real fast, try this. I got this Steamed Fried Salmon in Soy Sauce and Mixed Vegetable Stir-Fry out in 20 minutes and it was real good.

First get the raw vegetables ready and launch the stir-fry.

Mixed Vegetable Stir-Fry

Then prepare the sauce for the salmon (Light Soy Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce for fish, sugar, White Rice Wine, Sesame Oil, water) and put it aside.

Prepare the fresh salmon (500g filet, reasonably thick). Heat up some oil in a shallow frying pan and when it's pretty hot, slide the fish in. Fry on both sides very quickly (or just one side till it's nicely-grilled), in fact the idea is to have the outside crispy and leave the inside raw.

Place the fish on a microwaveable plate and pour the sauce over it. If you wish, sprinkle some spring onions, fresh coriander and fresh chilli over it. Cover with a microwave-safe plastic film and microwave on high (mine's 750W) for 2 minutes. Serve hot with the Vegetable Stir-Fry.

mercredi, mai 09, 2007

Rose-flavoured Coconut Sago

Rose-flavoured Coconut Sago
Today was quite an eventful day though it rained, rained and rained. I was hoping that we would be able to eat out in the courtyard when Loon, Rai and Pris come for lunch, but of course it was quite hopeless. Thank God I didn't invite like a dozen folks, it wasn't easy sitting more than 5 or 6 adults in the living room. And of course Baby Boy had to spill half of his Mango Lassi on the dining sofa and grill at least one place for the meal.

I went to Ganesha to tahpow lunch as planned. Beef Curry, Ceylon Chicken Curry, Paruppu Curry, Aloo Bengen and Lamb Korma. It was a pleasure to see everyone enjoying the curries, at least I wasn't left with the feeling that I've been mistaken in my recommendations. Loon's German friend Rai was a revelation, he could speak very good English and even Chinese, and best of all, ate the curries with much gusto, in fact, I suspect that you can place anything in front of him and he would have no qualms about trying it. Aiyoh, so super unlike me.

It is always a pleasure meeting Singaporeans (in Loon's case, an assimilated Penang boy who has become very much like "us" :-)) and any folks who are ready to like us. Such a change from all those self-righteous guys who when they hear where you come from (i.e. Singapore), they would start to attack you on your country's politics, chewing gum policy, capital punishment and whatsoever. When I was younger I would get very defensive and worked up over it, but nowadays, when I meet bigots like that, I tell myself that they have the right to free speech and mine tells them to shut their trap and go fly kite.

Always wonderful meeting Pris, and relieved to be able to pass on a laksa branch to her and hopefully save the poor plant from extinction. I've been watering my dead main plant to further death and so far it doesn't look inclined to resuscitate.

Before I forget, I said eventful at the beginning of this piece because I finally went to BETA in Wangen. Parked just opposite at the OBI carpark, but of course had to walk a big round as between BETA and OBI there were U-Bahn tracks. The kind that you cannot cross on foot unless you are in a hurry to go to Hell.

My, it's big for an Asienladen in Stuttgart. And pretty well-stocked too. Prices are also generally lower than in the other shops. I was delighted to see frozen Har Kows, Char Siu Buns and Made-in-Paris Vietnamese Nems. In my current too-lazy-to-cook mood, these are just perfect. And why the hell do I have to discover it just when I am leaving Stuttgart?
Rose Kueh

Though I should mention that if you wish to support small businesses, there is this German guy operating an Asienladen out of his garage in Nürtingen (Thai-Shop, Wilhemstrasse 2, 72622 Nürtingen) and his range and prices are also very good (many items are cheaper than even BETA). I usually go there to buy Indomie Mee Goreng instant noodles by the box and also his home-made Rose Kueh (probably has an Asian wife).

I've said the other day that I would make a dessert for today and so I did. Pris had liked my coconut sago the last time she was here, so I've decided to make another batch, only varying the pleasure a little this time around by adding in Rose Syrup (Bandung inspiration), Jelly Strips and Glutinous Rice Balls. I served it cold and it may be an idea the next time around to cook the rice balls and add them to the cold dessert just before serving. Or they would harden too much.

And once again, adios to the diet.

mardi, mai 08, 2007

Carbo Carbo

Meaty Pork Bone Grilled Beef Viet-Sing Rice Noodle Soup

We are supposed to cut down on our Carbo intake, as just me alone I have 10 stubborn kgs to lose... But I really love rice, vermicelli and noodles and the last weekend found me making Rice Noodle Soup and Fried Vermicelli back to back. Aiiiya...

Fried Bee Hoon with Broad Beans, Bean Sprouts, Cooked Ham, Fried Omelette and Fried Onions

I called my Rice Noodle Soup Viet-Sing as I couldn't decide on whether to make a Vietnamese Pho or a Singapore Bah Kut Teh and ended up combining methods and ingredients. Very rich pork bone stock cooked beforehand and kept overnight so as to be able to de-fat it. Fennel bulb, clove-studded onion, cinnamon, star anise, ginger, loads of garlic, Bah Kut Teh spices, fish sauce, dark soy sauce... Beef grilled steak-form and then sliced and served with the soup. Garnish with mint leaves, coriander leaves, bean sprouts, lemon slice, fried shallots...

Yummy...I still have a bowl of the soup leftover, I'll heat it up and eat it with egg noodles and a new batch of Pig's Blood that I've managed to procure.

The BOSS Leather Dress

For those who asked to see it, voilà.

lundi, mai 07, 2007

Elections Night Party (Summer Tiramisu and Pasta Pesto Rosso)

Summer Tiramisu

May 6, 2007. French Presidential Elections. Nicolas Sarkozy vs Ségolène Royal.

A few of us took the opportunity to have a BBQ party while waiting for the results to be announced at 8pm on TV5 Monde.

So at 5pm we turned up at the Sturmels for drinks, armed with a bottle of champagne, a Pasta Pesto Rosso and a Summer Tiramisu. Our hosts provided the BBQ and 2 bottles of very good wine.

According to him QE2 drinks this too

The Sturmels' house contained many treasures from 3000-Euro sofas to 7500-Euro clocks, paper-thin Chinese porcelain, a bust of Nefertiti that used to be exhibited at the Berlin Museum etc etc. You can probably imagine the stress of a clumsy mother and her even clumsier kids.

Everyone voted for Sarkozy except for my dear Hubby. I call him "the guy who feels guilty about being a good earner". He shouldn't, I would help him distribute his income more fairly than any Socialist Government. The Socialists nowadays spend their time talking to their partenaires sociaux (social partners) and hardly get anything done; Me, I just go ahead and spend and I wouldn't be joking if I say that just me alone, I probably helped keep the Post Office in my MIL's village open. Almost all my Internet purchases turn up at her house, that's why.

Anyway, I sincerely believe that we all need Socialism. But it only works when there is wealth to distribute and share around. At the moment, France is in crisis and until more wealth can be created, I see not much point in continuing with the give-outs and talks about working less. Our children's future is at stake.

The Pasta Pesto Rosso for those who do not know it is the red version of the classic Pesto. You still use mainly Basil Leaves, Pine Nuts, Olive Oil, Garlic and Parmesan Cheese to make your pesto, but you also add in Fresh Tomatoes and Tomato Purée. I served it cold with cooked Bacon bits, raw Bell Peppers, more Parmesan Cheese, more Pine Nuts, lightly-fried garlic and fresh Tomatoes dressed in Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil. Goes really well with the BBQ meats.

I was pretty pleased with the Summer Tiramisu. I had a 500ml tub of mascarpone about to expire and was wondering what to do with it. On May Day, Maria showed me her Cyril Lignac cookbook and also a recipe for Tiramisu using fruits. Inspiration hit then and I was really glad to have found an occasion so quickly to exercise it.

Basically my version consisted of a layer of crushed Raspberries (seasoned with sugar and Grand Marnier). Followed by a Mascarpone, Whipped Cream and Coconut Milk layer. I prefer not to use raw eggs in no-bake desserts, but if you insist, whip egg yolks with sugar and then egg whites separately and then mix everything with the Mascarpone etc.

Next, I dipped sponge fingers (and leftover chocolate-coffee cake) in the left-over juice from the crushed raspberries (if you do not have enough, you can use orange or grapefruit juice) and placed them on top of the cream. Cover everything with diced fresh fruits like Pineapple, Mango and Strawberries. Season with sugar and Grand Marnier (or Rum or whatever). Put in the fridge for a few hours before serving it.

Ali Baba
Purple Witch
Sarkozy won. Well, it was expected so that wasn't a big deal. Nobody really liked him that much, but most just felt that between him and Ségolène, he would make a better if not more charismatic President. She has no charisma, just listening to her make a speech, you get really irritated by the way she over pronounces her words. Like French children learning how to read.

Now that I'm in my Fusion dessert making mood, maybe I'll make a dessert for Wednesday when Pris, Loon and company turn up to have lunch at my place. I won't be cooking though. Going to tahpow Ganesha.

vendredi, mai 04, 2007

Cream of Garlic Soup

Tiff came over with Baby Girl's fiancé Nicola yesterday so that they could play together. I tried to make lunch quickly (though with 4 kids screaming around it felt like forever) and came out with a Cream of Garlic Soup followed by Pork Schnitzel with Potato Purée and Spaghetti in Creamy Pepper Sauce. I bought a few slices of Apple Tart and Strawberry Cake from 2 Backeries in Sillenbuch for Tea.

The soup was good. 10 big cloves of garlic cooked quickly in salted butter. Button Mushrooms. Chicken Stock. Thyme. Crème fraîche. Milk. A touch of Olive Oil. Spring Onions.

That's for the more watery version. For a thicker and creamier version, you'll have to make a Bechamel (butter, flour and milk) and stir it into the garlic butter stock. Can even whip up some unsweetened cream and add it on top of the soup just before you serve it (like Viennese chocolate or coffee).

For a better consistency, one can also mix the soup and pass it through a sieve before serving it.

Potato Purée

The Le Clercqs left in the afternoon and I started on a mad round of sending Eldest Son to his Shrink, taking a shower, getting dinner ready, going through said Boy's homework - and driving into town to attend a Parents' Night Out. We had dinner in an Italian restaurant La Piazza near the Stadtbücherei. Food's so-so and as I turned up late, I had the last seat at the end of the long table. With a group of mothers I do not know and who spoke German among themselves. I ended up standing the whole time I was there.

I ordered a Weinshorle (weiss und süss) and a
spaghetti aglio e olio (yes, I've been eating that alot lately - I'm in my garlic phase) for a grand total of 8,30 Euros - not bad for a dinner al fresco. Didn't want to stay too long as I've left the kids alone at home. The last time I did that, blood flowed etc. Ce sont des enfants terribles.

Baby Girl's Wabbit and Spiders

On Sunday morning, Baby Girl came into our room as usual at an early hour and joined us in bed. After being ignored for a while, she started getting restless and left the room. Then she came back with her Fisherprice Magna Doodle board and started to draw.

At one point, I needed to go to the loo. So I opened my eyes, grabbed my glasses and put them on. On my way out of bed, I took a peep at whatever she was then drawing and stopped in my tracks.

"Hey, that looks like a rabbit!"

"Don't move, I'll go get the camera."

Pee pee all forgotten. My baby is a genius.

jeudi, mai 03, 2007

Happy Mother's Day to Me

I was just thinking the other day that I would love to own a piece of jewellery from Mauboussin. Something from Place Vendôme where I used to attend classes (very early morning, walking walking walking during the month-long transport strike in 1995) in a few of those luxury boutiques as part of an elective at Sciences Po Paris.

Well, the Mountain came to Ali this morning. I got myself this simple ring (was tempted to get the really big and flashy one, but had to anticipate the Breadwinner's reaction). 1 Carat Citrine in 18K yellow gold. From the Alessandrine Collection.

After I've flashed the Visa card, I emailed the Hubby (in Italy, probably still drinking coffee and trying to get ready for work) and thanked him for my Mother's Day present. It was 7:25am. I must say that he took it well. Just said that if I wore it he'll consider it money well-spent :-). And he kindly wished me a Happy Mother's Day. He could be so sweet my Gros Doudou, n'est-ce pas?

mercredi, mai 02, 2007

May Day

Maria's Beautiful Mexican Ceramic Bowl

We woke up on May Day asking ourselves what we would do. We had quite a bit of food left over from Sunday's Birthday Party and didn't feel like eating it alone. Not on such a nice sunny day.

I gave Maria a call and got ourselves invited to their place for lunch. And it was agreed that I would prepare/recycle the leftovers, make them fit for consumption and bring them over.

We still had the Taboulé and it tasted even better than on Sunday, the olive oil, fresh vegetables, lime juice, mint etc having finally seeped into the semolina. There was plenty of plain rice, raw Argentinian beef and a few BBQ pork and turkey skewers left. I decided to recycle the skewered meat (adding red lentils and hard-boiled eggs) into a Sweet and Spicy Coconut Curry. Then I grilled the beef and served it as a Tagliata con Cappellini Aglio e Olio.

Sweet and Spicy Coconut Curry

Tagliata di Manzo con Cappellini Aglio e Olio

We had lunch in their lovely garden, soaking in the sun at the same time. The Sommerhalters really dug the curry, I gave up counting the number of times Maria served herself again. We spent a few moments exchanging stories about the Schwabs. We girls have all at some point in time been screamed at by a few of them for nothing - funny, isn't it? The general consensus is that we all like Stuttgart the city, but maybe not so much some of its inhabitants.

After lunch, we took a walk in the fields behind their house and tried to fly a few kites. On our way back, we passed by a stable where there were quite a number of horses and of course the kids were all excited about it. Me, I think that all of this is so cute, but the horses stank and so I admired the whole thing (the kids caressing the horses - why weren't they worried about putting their hands so near the horses' very big teeth?) at a distance.

Back in Paris, Trade Unions and the Extreme Right took the opportunity to stage demonstrations and march through the streets. Me I prefer to commemorate the no labour part of Labour Day.