mercredi, janvier 31, 2007

Ravioles de Foie Gras, Consommé au Vin Rouge et Ice Wine

This week I have been pretty inspired with my cooking and it had probably to do with the fact that Hubby would be away the whole of next week, and that we would be back to snacking and eating rice porridge then.

This evening I took out the lobe of raw duck liver that we bought in Strasbourg 2 weeks ago and which Hubby had been saving for another foie gras terrine (but was too busy to make it), and decided to make Ravioles de Foie Gras served in a Red Wine and Ice Wine Consommé.

The Ice Wine was procured a few weeks ago when I had a craving for sweet white wine and had been waiting nice and cold in the fridge to be uncorked. It wasn't Canadian for once, but actually German. And not too bad at all. I used it to marinate the liver, cook the soup and accompany my meal.

The recipe is simple and the result really very delicious. I am very pleased with my soup and will be making another batch of ravioles tomorrow (to finish up the liver and the wonton skins)and freezing them for future use.

Fresh raw Duck Liver (de-nerved and sliced into small pieces)
Ice Wine (2004 Rheinhessen, usually I would use a Sauternes, Muscat de Rivesaltes or Monbazillac)
Salt and Pepper

Wonton or Gyoza skins
Black Truffles (optional)

Red Wine (I used a 2003 Mouton Cadet)
Ice Wine
Leek (julienned)
Chicken or Fish/Seafood Stock
and Pepper
A pinch of ground red chilli

Carrot (julienned)
Zucchini (julienned)
Red Pepper (julienned)
Turnip (julienned)

Marinate the foie gras with the Ice Wine, add salt and pepper to taste. Wrap a piece of foie gras with or without a thin slice of black truffle in a wonton skin (or between 2 wonton skins like an Italian raviole). Seal with a constarch and hot water paste and make sure that there are not too many air pockets or the ravioles will burst open during the cooking.

In a casserole, heat up a little bit of olive oil and brown the finely sliced onion. Reduce the red and ice wines. Add in the julienned leeks. And the stock.

Only about 5 minutes before you are ready to serve the soup should you then add in the zucchini, carrots etc. The idea is to keep them a little crunchy.

And be careful with the ravioles as you poach them, they take really very little time to cook and are best eaten slightly rare. I would leave them in just the time it would take for the wonton skins to turn transparent and then fish them out quickly. In fact, use a separate pot, let the water boil, put in the ravioles, do not cover the pot and make sure the water doesn't boil again.

This dish is really yummy and is a delicate way to eat duck liver, everyone I've made it for loved it.

Lamb Tagine with Dried Apricots

In Paris, it is difficult not to rub shoulders with the huge Chinese, Indo-chinese, North African, Black African etc communities living in the city (making it one of the most wonderful in the world). We have as such also been exposed to these different cuisines and occasionally would have the craving for...a Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Dried Apricots, for example.

I didn't have a Tagine, but a normal casserole that doesn't lose moisture easily would do just as well and even better would be a porcelain cookware with cover like my Emile Henry cocotte that is meant for cooking in the oven. Just do not use a pressure cooker. I used a casserole the last time.

The dish is really simple to make and is best served with couscous grains/semolina.

1 Kg of Lamb (leg or shoulder cut into big cubes)
1 Tsp ground Paprika
2 Tsp ground Ginger
1 Tsp ground Coriander Seeds
2Tsp ground Cumin
2 Tsp ground Cinnamon
A pinch of ground Cloves
A pinch of ground Nutmeg
1 Tsp Mustard Seeds
A few Saffran strands

2 Onions (chopped)
A few cloves of Garlic (lightly bashed, but to be left in their shirts)
Coriander Leaves (finely chopped)

Fennel Bulb
Red or yellow Bell Peppers
(I used cherry tomatoes sliced into halves)
Sweet Peas

Meat Stock

Brown Sugar
Bay leaf
Salt and Pepper
Ground Almonds

Green Tea with Rose
250g of Dried Apricots

Couscous grains
Salted Butter
Olive Oil
Sliced Almonds

Prepare a green tea (rose petals or essence add a nice touch) and put in the dried apricots to be infused for at least an hour. Marinate the lamb with the spices.

In a large casserole heat up a generous amount of olive oil and brown the marinated lamb cubes. Add in the onions and garlic. Now add in the brown sugar, honey, bay leaf and coriander leaves. Stir for a few minutes and then add in the roughly sliced vegetables. Pour in the meat stock. Arrange the dried apricots on top of the meat and vegetables, drain the tea onto it and cover the casserole. Cook over medium-low heat for at least an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste during the cooking and to thicken the sauce, one can stir in some ground almonds. I always adjust my spices etc during the cooking, so in the end I have no real idea how much of everything I've actually used. The meat should be tender, there should be plenty of sauce (sweet and spicy) and it should be neither watery nor too thick.

Prepare the couscous by pouring hot water onto the grains (just enough to cover them). Fork through with a fork to loosen the grains. Add in some salted butter. Put the bowl into the microwave and microwave for 2 minutes. Add in a generous amount of olive oil, salt and pepper and continue to fork through the grains. If you wish, add in some raisins and mix well. Serve with some sliced almonds (roasted or otherwise).

It wasn't too good for our diet as we were supposed to avoid eating carbo in the evening, but nobody complained about it when it was known that we would be having it for dinner...In fact, I left the lamb cooking on the stove and left for my Pilates class and almost had no dinner to eat upon my return!

Incidentally, I actually took out the fennel bulbs halfway through the cooking, drained them and then grilled them separately. To be served with a pinch of salt and lemon with the couscous and the lamb (but I forgot to put them on the plate when I had the picture taken).

lundi, janvier 29, 2007

La neige finalement est au rendez-vous! (Hot Chocolate with Cream)

For once in my life (really quite once, trust me), I have been efficient and had actually booked two ski holidays (Oberjoch and Flaine) for the winter season well in advance. So November came, but not the snow. Nada in December either. Oh oh...

Though I was really happy with the gentle winter, I must say that I was starting to panic as no snow = no ski. And what am I going to do with my ski reservations then?

Then on Tuesday morning, at around 10am (I remember that as I was driving to shop in Metzingen), the first flakes started to fall. It was -1ºC. It continued to snow and didn't stop till Wednesday evening. This meant that we woke up on Wednesday morning to more than 30cm of snow all of a sudden. It was -6ºC.

Panic aboard everywhere. It took me ages to drive the kids to school. Eldest Boy arrived in school 35 minutes late, Baby Girl nearly 2 hours. I got my car stuck in snow in a few places and couldn't enter Baby Girl's school's street, for example. On my way from lunch at Neuhausen to pick her up in Stuttgart, I had the shock of my life when I saw two eternal lanes of trucks ahead of me (it made it to the news on TV)...

As Hubby so conveniently found himself away in Italy this fateful week, it fell upon me to remove the snow in my driveway. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to drive my car into my garage. And if somebody should trip and fall in front of my house, apparently I would be liable for it.

It took me 3 hours to get the job done. And a good 20 minutes were en plus as I decided to shovel the snow in front of my elderly neighbours' garage as well. No, it wasn't so much out of goodwill as embarrassment - as I've been laughing at the Germans for being so precise about what is yours and mine, and I didn't want to be the butt of my own joke. They never thanked me for it, by the way.

The kids were ecstatic about the snow, of course. They got out all of their ski suits, gloves etc and went to school in really good spirits. We had 2 terraces and a big garden full of snow and I allowed them to make a snowman with the snow in the small terrace (didn't want water all over the house). Well, at least some people were happy.

On Sunday, Hubby took everyone to a small slope in the forest near our house to snow sled. They had great fun while we were stressed out keeping an eye out for the other sleds, going to the bottom of the slope to help the babies up etc. Then of course they kept fighting for the bigger sled and we had to manage that as well.

On our way back, Hubby said that it would be nice if we could have a hot chocolate and some cake and while it was too late to be baking then, I thought that I could certainly make some hot chocolate for the tribe.

Home-made Hot Chocolate :

250g of Dark Unsweetened Dessert Chocolate (broken up into pieces)
1 Tbsp of Fruit Sugar
3/4 litre of Fresh Milk

Heavy cream for whipping
Fruit Sugar
A touch of Rum
Van Houten's unsweetened chocolate powder
Ground Cinnamon (optional)

In a heavy-bottomed casserole pour in 100ml of water (to prevent burning) and milk. Melt the chocolate pieces in it, but do not let the liquid boil. Add in the sugar and the remaining milk and keep stirring over low-medium heat.

Whip the cream with the sugar and rum till stiff. Pour the chocolate into mugs and scoop some cream on top of it. Sprinkle the chocolate powder, and if you wish, ground cinnamon or even chocolate shavings over it.

It has stopped snowing since. I'm fine with it as I really find it a pain, but it would be nice if just before we leave for our 1st ski trip this season (to Oberjoch in Germany late-February), it should snow enough for us to be able to ski :-).

PS : Photo Snow 1 = My larger terrace and Photo Snow 2 = My driveway in front of the garage. The red Renault Espace stuck out on the pavement was my car. Really stuck.

samedi, janvier 27, 2007


This post is to update friends and family about Hubby's next job move.

So I was saying the last time that Hubby had a few interviews with F*. It took the company less than a week from the day they first met him to decide to hire him, which was really fast for such an important position. We are all excited about it, especially Eldest Son. The boy is already dreaming about being given a special tour around and meeting a few personalities.

They wanted Hubby to start work in February, which would be impossible vis-à-vis his current position and the family. The two companies (they are from the same Group) are currently negotiating with each other for his departure/arrival date and we think that it'll most probably be in early March.

Which would mean separation for a few months, as the rest of the family will remain in Stuttgart till July, so that the children may finish school more or less normally. We'll have to take turns travelling between Germany and Italy in between (on weekends and during the school holidays). Nothing new, we've already done that on our last two expatriations. Though this time around it will be the longest.

The other decision that we've made is that we are going to give up the idea of living in Milan (where there is a French school). Living in Milan would entail living separately during the week. And Hubby told me the other day that he would really prefer to come home to us every day. I must say that I was really relieved to hear that, as I do not quite fancy being on my own so much after all.

So we are going to live in Bologna (the nearest big town). Where they have Europe's oldest University. Where spaghetti bolognesa came from. Next to Modena where we'll be able to buy excellent Balsamic vinegar from. Less than 2 hours from Milan, Venice, Rimini and Florence. Anyway, I digress.

We still have the schooling problem for Eldest Son (who incidentally got 20/20 for German and a super shameful 3.5/20 for Maths, which as you can imagine was so out-of-the-point and so get-my-blood-boiling). Then I came across a private school in the town. Swiss-style blah blah, bilingual education Italian-English, Italian-Spanish, Italian-French...

I jumped. It seemed so God-sent. The child will be able to follow a French school curriculum (via the French distance-learning organisation CNED) in the school thanks to a French teacher who would be specially hired to teach him. He'll also learn Italian, lunch in school and be able to take up activites like Judo, Football, Guitar lessons, swimming etc in the afternoon. Only catch - be prepared to fork out 1350 Euros per month per child. I sat down.

Oh but what the heck, I was thinking of doing the CNED programme with him myself and we all know that patience is not really one of my greater qualities. And my French is pretty good if I may say so, but it's still not my first language and will be tiring after a while. And I really have better things to do with my life. And the company may just pay for it.

Next, we have the housing issue. We hope to rent a big house with a swimming pool. Bologna was a Communist stronghold. So working class is more the thing. Nice houses for rent will be hard to come by. And the first indications show that we should expect to pay up to 5000 Euros per month for one if we should find it. That's double what we are paying now for our house in Stuttgart, and isn't that crazy for a country where the average income is much lower than its German neighbour? Catch no ball...

Anyway, like One Wheel said, must look on the bright side of things. With Hubby's new status, we'll be entitled to up to THREE company cars (one for the guy, one for his wife and one for his mistress ha ha). Though you'll have to pay your own petrol. I don't care much for cars, truth be told, I drive when I have no alternative. So to make sure that it'll be painless, I ask that my car be on automatic gears, have a GPS, 5 doors and enough space for two strollers.

Hubby, believe it or not, must have spent a total of at least 5 hours on the Internet today looking at cars (they have to be from the Group's brands though). Ahhh...hogging the computer all day long! And so you can imagine that I have not managed to invite people (to whom I've said that I'll be inviting them over for lunch etc) to the house...And soon Hubby will be away!

Anyway, he said that if I'm not going to freak out over the amount of money that we'll have to pay for petrol, he'll get me an Alfa Romeo 159 Sport Wagon. Whatever that is. I told him that I want it to be red, my favourite colour. For himself, despite all that time staring over cars, he still couldn't decide between the AR Brera and the AR Spider. The latter is a convertible and has 2 seats. I told him that that's a car for selfish people and that he should go for the one with at least 4 seats, right? What if I need him to help me pick up the kids from school?

Chances are that once I'm there, I'll end up walking or taking the bus. I've no talent for parking cars and I'm a cheapskate when it comes to paying for official parking lots. Besides, thieves are apparently everywhere in Italy, why risk having the car stolen in the streets, right?

Right now, I have other things to worry about, like Eldest Son's pathetic grades, the outbreak of red marks on his face this morning (doctor at the hospital said it was due to an insect bite, but what insect during this cold winter season?), his irritated scalp, the fungus growing in different parts of the house (due to the humidity), the tree that fell down in the terrace due to the wind and the snow, being alone for 4 months when Hubby starts work in Italy...

When Hubby is not around (sigh), I know that I'd be less motivated to cook. I'll just snack, eat junk food. He does bring out the better things in me, come to think of it. So now I have to psyche myself not to slack etc. I have to be so up to the mark as Northern Italy is chic and fashionable, I may be rubbing shoulders with personalities like Michelle Yeoh (but honestly I'm not the idol admiring sort, could never understand how teenagers could use their savings to buy presents for their Stars when by definition a Star is a million times richer than you and I and should be buying us presents instead...), and I'll need to not look like the hundreds of thousands of poor university students about town (have already had my share of looking it years ago). I think that as usual, I'll just lock myself up at home.

Will keep you folks updated if I get more concrete news.

lundi, janvier 22, 2007

Recent Eats

Hubby has been away quite a bit lately. And when he's not around I like to help myself to my simple Asian stuff, no need to put on the European Gourmet Act. Tomorrow he leaves for the week, so we'll be having rice porridge week-long with all kinds of different dishes (e.g. pork with black bean sauce, sambal prawns etc). The last time he was away, we had some of the following :

Char Siu Puffs (made the char siu myself but not the puff pastry)

Lemon Chicken

Pork Rib Udon Soup

with its garnishing

Cod Fish in Thai Green Curry (the filets were lightly battered)

Potato and Dal Curry (served with Dosai)

Hot and Sour Soup/Soupe Pékinoise/Suan La Tang

Baby Boy before he was even two, would tell us that he wanted to eat soupe pékinoise (Hot and Sour Soup). And whenever we ate in a Chinese restaurant, you can be sure that that's exactly what he would order for himself for his entrée.

Without fail, the waiter/waitress would inform us that the soup would be too hot for the child. They must be joking, calling the fadish soup you usually find here in Europe "hot". They do not know the real meaning of the word.

Actually, Big Boy and Baby Girl are fans of the soup too. Thanks to in vitro chilli and curry training. In Paris, we usually eat it chez Da Jia Le (one of these days I'll install a Chinese keyboard - if I manage to figure out One Wheel's Greek instructions...) in the 13e arrondissement. Not too bad. Could be very good or mediocre depending on the Cantonese chef's mood.

Well, the other day, I told myself, why not make it myself? They tend to slurp it up by the bowlfuls, it'll be cheaper this way. Besides I'm on a carbo (reduction) diet, over here in Germany, free-flow of rice comes with the (usually lousy) dishes in the Chinese restaurants and I'm the see-rice-eat-rice kind of person...So if I do not walk into a Chinese restaurant I will not be eating alot of rice!

I basically experimented quite a bit with the vinegar, pepper etc à mon goût, so measurements will not be exact.

Chinese dried mushrooms or fresh Shitake mushrooms (julienned)
Brown button mushrooms, black fungus (optional)
Spring Onions (julienned)
Ginger (julienned)
Garlic (diced)
Chicken filets (diced)
Cooked ham (julienned)
Carrots (diced or julienned)
Zucchini (julienned)
Bean curd (the medium-soft type)
Chicken stock
Vinegar (White rice or Dark)
Soy Sauce
Fish sauce
Sesame oil
Chilli Padi
White pepper

I started by browning the chicken, ginger, spring onions and garlic (everything finely diced or julienned). Followed by the mushrooms, carrots and cooked ham. Next, I poured in some sherry, chicken stock and water. Followed by loads of white pepper (the heat of the soup comes from pepper rather than chilli), 1-2 Tbsps of soy sauce, fish sauce and black Chinese vinegar. A touch of sesame oil. 1 chilli padi (diced). The julienned zucchini (I dislike bamboo shoots so I used zucchini instead and it has to be added in quite towards the end so as to remain crunchy), and tofu. Then I stirred in cornflour mixed in water, as much as is needed to thicken the soup. Finally drizzled a beaten egg into the soup.

The soup turned out really great and the fun part is that we get to decide what veggie etc go into it. And no MSG.

Hubby said that I had gone a bit crazy with the chilli, which I found puzzling 'coz I was thinking as I was drinking it that I should have added more...

dimanche, janvier 21, 2007

Mama I Love You!

Baby Girl came up from the Hobby Room in the basement one afternoon to inform me that Baby Boy had just peed on the carpet.

A few minutes later I heard Baby Boy climbing up the stairs. And singing at the same time, very loudly, the song that I've been singing him since he was born, "Armand baby, Mama loves Armand..."

He came into my office. Looking extremely nonchalant. Hard to imagine that this was the boy who just peed (once again) on my carpet and who was walking around with wet and stinking pants and all. I gave him a dirty look.

He started screaming at the top of his lungs, "MAMA I LOVE YOU!!! MAMA I LOOOVE YOU!!!"

mercredi, janvier 17, 2007

Galette des Rois

January 6 (3 Kings' Day or Épiphanie) is not a public holiday in France. But everywhere in the country mothers, fathers and bakers would be busy baking Galette des rois, basically puff pastry filled with an almond paste (frangipane). It commerates the day Baby Jesus was presented to the 3 Kings Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspard.

Children especially like this occasion, as a porcelain figure would normally be hidden in the pastry before it was baked and the person finding it would be King. He/she gets to wear a crown, choose his/her Queen (and normally offer the next Galette to those around him/her).

I made four Galettes this year on three separate days. I was glad that they turned out really well and that I received plenty of compliments from my guests (and especially from Hubby - a frangipane lover).

The recipe :

2 round discs of Puff Pastry (for 6-8 persons)
125g of Butter (I used salted butter)
125g of Sugar (I used fruit sugar)
4 Eggs (one for brushing the galette with)
300g of ground Almonds
25g of Maizena
2 Tbsps of Rum
1 Tbsp of Fleur d'Oranger

Beat the melted butter (in pieces but not warm nor liquid) with the sugar till you get a creamy dough. Add 3 eggs, the ground almonds, Maizena, rum and fleur d'oranger extract. I like to leave the filling in the fridge for a few hours before using it.

Spread the frangipane/almond filling in the middle of one of the puff pastry discs, hide the porcelain figure in it, cover with the other disc. There should be a 2-3 cm border of empty space between the edge and the filling (so that the filling will not flow out of the pastry) and one must seal the edges firmly (but not too hard or we'll not see the different pastry layers) with cold water. Make patterns on the top disc with a knife and brush a beaten egg over it. Bake in a pre-heated 200ºC oven for 20-25 minutes.

The youngest person at the table normally gets to close his eyes and designate who gets a particular piece of the tart. Do not bite into your galette too hard or you may break your teeth if it happens to contain the porcelain figure.

Bistro Steak

It is not easy finding good beef for steak in Stuttgart. Beef usually comes in three basic forms : for steak (often badly cut), chopped or for goulash. They do not know how to cut up the carcass into lovely and distinct parts like the ribs (côte de boeuf), cheeks (joue), faux filet, entrecôte, bavette, rumpsteak, onglet etc etc. And when you found some supermarket selling entrecôte, it turned out to be the type of meat that gave out a lot of water when you started to cook it and that could never be grilled. And a few other French mothers here have told me the same thing, we were getting quite resigned to the whole thing.

Then I saw this big piece of vacuum-packed beef in the REWE supermarket near my house. From Brazil. I bought it, sliced it myself and grilled it and it was really quite delicious. I ignore if it contained any hormones, but it didn't give out water when cooked and was really quite tender and beggars can't be choosers so I'll live with the doubt.

We eat our steak rare. So basically just a few thick slices, and maximum 5 minutes on each side on a really hot grill, some olive oil, salt, pepper, Herbes de Provence.
I've also done a Roast Beef with the meat, most recently feeding 6 adults and 6 children with it. I heated up my porcelaine receptacle in the oven with some olive oil inside catching my meat on it as I put it into the oven. 20 minutes for a nicely rare Roast. It is true that the blood below the slices of beef looked a little gross in the picture, but it was great mixed with the red wine and shallot sauce that Hubby made to go with the roast. I served the meat with sauteed mushrooms, green beans and fried potatoes.

lundi, janvier 15, 2007

Sale Sale Sale!!!

January and July are two of my favourite months. I am at my most motivated and active in those months. There's nothing like a good Sale/ Soldes/ Saldi/ Rebajas/ Schlussverkauf to keep the adrenaline going, give meaning to life etc.

When I was living in Singapore, I used to consecrate a day or two to 8-hours-at-a-stretch Sale outings during THE Season. I would start at Palais Renaissance and finish at Plaza Singapura. And another day or two for the different neighbourhood malls. By the end of THE Season, I would more or less be able to look at whatever someone was wearing and guess where she had gotten her stuff from. And I wasn't rich. But window shopping needs no purse, just some stamina and lots of spirit. It's a free and healthy sport.

I sometimes wonder if I really needed to buy anything at all. I have to admit that the joy lies more in having fun trying on all sorts of clothes and accessories, and in finding a really good bargain. It's the Hunt. I almost never buy anything that is not on Sale. And pretty often I would discover (yet again) that I have no room in my wardrobe for more and would end up giving stuff away. Like this weekend. Invited 2 friends over and distributed some of the stuff. But the rest (some new and never worn) I usually just put them into the old-clothes box one finds here and there in the neighbourhood. Am trying to convince myself that I'm doing my little bit for charity this way.

Ever since I have a Hubby and a few kids, shopping has become even more wonderful and fun. Now I enlarge my repertoire and get to shop in the Men's and Kids' Departments. I have the excuse to spend more money, decide what they wear. It is like my paper dolls come to life. Of course as Hubby pointed out often enough, the problem is that I buy so much the children often do not really have the opportunity to wear their clothes/shoes more than a few times, if at all. And I tend to hide them so well (as I also tend to buy for like a season or 2 in advance) I often forget that I even have them and then it would be too late and they couldn't even wear them at all.

Then my sister has children. Also 3. And I can pass on some of the nicer clothes to my nieces and nephew :-).

Now my best friend just got pregnant :-) ;-). This is getting really interesting.

Actually outside Sale Season I also shop alot. If you think about it, I'm like Singapore, evergreen and equatorial, I buy all year round. I am a member of several Private Sales (vente privée) websites in France. It has become a career, if you wish. I like to say that both Hubby and myself we are Buyers. He spends his company's money and I spend his.

This Season I started out in Stuttgart City centre, chez Zara, Mango, Esprit, Oasis, H&M, the usual. Not too bad, there were not many shops, but there were not many shoppers either, so there were often still sizes etc up for grabs.

What is really exciting about Stuttgart though is the existence of Metzingen. More precisely, of Designer Factory outlets in Metzingen. A few years ago when Hubby first visited Metzingen, there was more or less only the Hugo Boss Factory Outlet in the town. A few years down the road, other brands have sprouted up like mushrooms around the historical Boss outlet and carloads of tourists turn up at 10 sharp every morning to hunt for bargains in the different shops : Polo Ralph Lauren, Esprit, Burberry, Nike, Hugo Boss, Bally, Puma, Escada, Marc O'Polo, Möve, name but a few.

Metzingen's just 40 minutes by car from where I live. The only problem is that I do not have much time to myself everyday, so last week I actually went to shop there 4 mornings in a row (Wed - Sat), each time having only 2 hours to do so. And I'm still not done yet! I'll return next week when Hubby's in Mexico and I get the use of the car. I've stupidly given away two down jackets before I have bought a new one and we're still in the middle of winter...

Well, I am left with one Summer Sale before we leave for Italy. But Italy is second in Europe for Designer Outlet shopping (after the UK and just before France) and we'll be living 2 hours away from Milan. It looks promising for the continuation of my shopping career. Hooray!

But one thing I miss about shopping here in Europe is the lack of a decent place to lunch in. In Singapore, we would have been spoilt for choice. When I think of the lousy bakery between Esprit and Polo in Metzingen or McDonald's in the MacArthur Glen in Troyes...If only they knew how much more rewarding shopping would be if we could have something delicious to snack on in between digging through the clothes. Which is why I think I'll bring along my own foie gras sandwiches next week.

samedi, janvier 13, 2007

Conversation Between Two Babies

Overheard yesterday (in French) :

4 year old girl : "What is wrong with you baby cat?"

2 1/2 year old boy : "The doctor poked me with a needle..."

G : "Does it hurt, baby cat?"

B : "Of course. Miao..."

G : "OK, let's kill the doctor."

B : "With a pistol?"

mardi, janvier 09, 2007

Me Lucky Star?

I just received a call from Hubby. He was quite excited about the interviews he just went through this afternoon for a new position. With a famous company boys both big and small dream of :-).

It would certainly send his flying career soaring. Though as usual, something has to give and it will be our family life - whatever's left of it, that is.

If he accepts the job, he'll have to live away from the kids and myself during the week. Because the town where the company is situated has no French school. But come to think of it, we see little of him as it is anyway since he travels regularly for business. And as he liked to tell me each time I complained about it, "If you want to see your man every day, you should have married the Postman..." Touché.

When I met him many years ago, he was just a French Engineer who recently switched to doing something other than R&D. Earning a French Engineer's decent salary, not more not less.

I was never a fan of Engineers. I do not share the French's enthusiasm, love and admiration for this race of humans. In France, very often, to succeed in life, even if all you want to do is sell or market, very often you would have to have an Engineering degree to start with. They don't find them "square" or boring, which when you come to think about it, is logical since they really do have a thing for Cartesians.

Myself, Doctors in white, Lawyers in black and Professors with PhDs were more likely to turn me on. But I didn't count on my Tarot reading... :-)

Actually, before Tarot, mom brought me once to a Chinese fortune teller at Clarke Quay and the guy said that I've "Guì Rén" life. Meaning that I bring meaning and fulfillment to those who come into close contact with me. Well, I certainly have been filling up quite a few stomachs if that's what he meant...

Back to Hubby and his career : ever since he married me, his career literally flew. I left my own budding career (after 2 scholarships and a few Postgrad degrees in Political Science) behind to follow him to Spain after we got married. We never looked back since, it has been one expatriation leading to another, each job more interesting, important and of course better paid than the last one. And 3 kids.

Hubby said that this is normal because I have given up my own ambitions (among them the Diplomatic Corps) and have been pushing him to fulfill his own (and mine as well). It is true that he always consults me when it comes to making major decisions about his career, and I am always on the ready to provide the pros and cons (good training - Political Science), and most of all, encouragement and all kinds of support. I mean, let's be fair. If the guy has to work, he must be motivated about it, right? Heh heh he wasn't far off the mark when he said that I am working him to the bone so that he could afford to buy me diamonds and other goodies. Well, I like having something concrete to look at every day, and retail therapy for tired and frustrated housewives works very well as long as there is always credit in the credit card.

But seriously, I've always said that if he earned less, I would have spent less. I am delicious, not delirious. The Asian in me says that what is important is that the guy be ambitious and smart. Everything else naturally follows. Normally.

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Star is one of the great cards of faith, dreams realised.

So says my Tarot card from yesterday. When I mentioned that to Hubby, he started singing some tune from John Lennon and ended up by saying that I'm his Star. (grin)

I seriously do not think that money should be the most important consideration in any career. Though of course I would be the last to spit on it. I rather treasure the challenge (both external and personal) factor. Thinking (of), knowing (that you can) and wanting to stretch yourself and making it. What was the motto we were brainwashed with in Singapore? Strive for Excellence. Voilà, simple as that.

We are trying to convince ourselves that the "sacrifice" will just be for about 3 years - the amount of time necessary for him to prove himself (once again) and continue the climb. Anyway, the real hard work will be on my part - having to deal with the 3 monsters all on my own (chauffeur, home tutor, cook, cleaner, mother etc all rolled into one), with no one to complain to at the end of the day, no regular sex (shucks, to think that I married him for his libido), and no guinea pig to try my new dishes on.

On the other hand, I'll also have nobody to stop me from snacking, eating my pungent stuff, blogging all night long...and I can sleep with my babies. I do love them so very much. I tell them that they are the most beautiful babies on earth and I really believe it. :-)

The other downside though is that my vague plans to return to the workforce will have to be shelved - yet again. But I will continue learning Spanish and German, pick up Italian, and maybe do another Masters. I am thinking about Development Management. I can keep my ONG dream alive this way.

When I first met Hubby, he kept repeating to me that he expected his wife to work. Not for the money, but to remain interesting. Now of course his worst dreams have come true - I am a housewife, have put on a good 12 Kgs in the past 4 years, and I know the current price of Zucchini better than anybody or anything else.

BUT, what is wrong with living around zucchini? There are women who buy (or not at all) zucchini without knowing the price nor what to do with it. The good thing about formal education is that it gives me THE interest, ability, confidence, approach etc to deal with just about anything, zucchini included. If I want to, I can write an agricultural, cultural, economic, political, religious, sexual and whatever thesis on Zucchini, use it as a dildo, cook it (in at least 10 ways) and eat it too. Voilà. pourquoi. je suis. UNE ÉTOILE*.

*Read it with a fake British accent

lundi, janvier 08, 2007

My Tarot Card

You are The Star

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Star is one of the great cards of faith, dreams realised.

The Star is a card that looks to the future. It does not predict any immediate or powerful change, but it does predict hope and healing. This card suggests clarity of vision, spiritual insight. And, most importantly, that unexpected help will be coming, with water to quench your thirst, with a guiding light to the future. They might say you're a dreamer, but you're not the only one.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Got this from a fellow Singaporean's blog this evening. And quite funny since my mom told me once that my Christian name signified "Hope" (according to the relative that gave me the name) :-). Though I'm quite lost at the last 3 sentences, so am I supposed to be the unexpected help or should I expect unexpected help? Caught no ball...

Quick Fixes

Between Christmas and the New Year, we've had family over so alot of time had been spent cooking and eating. And in between more elaborate meals, we had to admit that it was quite humanly impossible to binge on 3 to 4-course meals twice a day every day, that we would have to go for simpler fare at times, better, some fasting here and there wherever possible.

I had therefore concocted the occasional one-dish meal :

Spaghetti al arrabbiata (basically olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, red peppers, chilli...) with an egg for some protein

Cod Fish and Prawn Curry Ceylon-style (highlight = curry leaves, star anis, lime juice, coconut milk...) with toasts for dipping (would have binged out on prata but didn't feel like sharing my frozen stock)

Vietnamese Meat and Vegetable Nems with a sweet chilli dip (from McDonalds, ha ha)

Bacon, Potato and Cheese Soup with Rotewurst (grilled sausage)

And the usual Sweet and Sour Chicken, Stingray in Lemon-Butter Sauce, Leek and Potato Soup, Tomato Soup etc.

Actually, if you ask me, I'm just quite happy with lots of rice or bread and a bit of curry or sambal chilli sauce. No need to eat fish or meat. But so fat must cut down on carbo...sob sob.

vendredi, janvier 05, 2007

Visit to Munich and the Dachau NAZI Concentration Camp

The NAZI period must be a heavy cross to bear for the Germans. Yet I think that they are doing really fine since unlike the Turks (vis-à-vis the Armenian Genocide) and the Japs (WWII in Asia), for example, they have chosen to face their past and as such earn the permission to move on.

Though this morning I was talking to a German mom and she told me that she didn't want to visit Dachau as the past is best kept where it is. I said, "Everybody coming here wants to visit Dachau..." and she retorted, "Not if you're German!"

It would be unthinkable not to visit Munich when we live just 2 hours away by car. And it would be unthinkable not to visit Dachau when we were in Munich. But well, we're not German :-).

Last December was a good time to visit Dachau. It was cold and bleak enough for us to visit the camp memorial and try to imagine how horrible winter must be for its former inmates; and the unnaturally warm winter we are having now made it easier for us to bear walking around in the cold.

Entry is free. Though you'll have to rent an audiophone (3 Euros for adults). Guided visits are available, but only on Saturdays and Sundays (if I'm not wrong). We started with the camp grounds (but it seemed a little antiseptic as almost all of it had been torn down), the cremation buildings, the sleeping quarters (picture above - newly reconstructed) and finally the museum.

The cremation buildings were a very bleak, impressive and necessary sight to behold, but I didn't feel brave enough to have pictures taken of the ovens or the gas chamber...The film being shown in the museum (in English at 15h30, for example) was well-done and really gave one a feel of the horrible atrocities being committed by the Nazis during WWII. One must make sure that one has enough time to visit the museum, there is much to read through and the camp closes at 17h.

Man's senseless cruelty is hard to bear. And millions of Jews, German and other soldiers, homosexuals, opposition politicians etc etc had died because of a power-mad regime gone crazy. But I personally still do not believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a really good idea. Or at least not in such a rush. We should learn from History, but not tamper with it. But that's just my opinion.

Come to think about it, millions of people from different parts of the world have been killed and continue to be killed for the most senseless of reasons. Why is it that nobody seems to be doing anything for the bulk of them?

As we left the camp, it was dark and the air felt heavy and much more oppressive. We all wondered aloud though how so many Germans could bear to live so near the camp memorial, there are houses everywhere - probably built above the thousands still buried underneath!

On a happier note, Munich, the City of BMW, is a really lovely city. Stately homes, wide avenues, many shops, restaurants etc. The people dress up really nicely too in general - quite a contrast to Stuttgart. There's a river near the Modern Art Museum and the English Gardens where people could actually surf the waves. Quite a sight in the heart of town.

We always stay at the Mercure Hotel in the Rudolf-Vogel-Bogen street, in the south of the city. It is children-friendly and is quite comfortable (4*). We've also established some sort of food routine when we were there : a meal at a fine Vietnamese restaurant Thang Long ( in town (good Pho and Roast Duck with Kangkong), and some cake (excellent carrot cake) and sandwiches at a bakery near the castle. And we always try to bring some stale bread along as the kids like to feed the ducks, geese, swans and other birds in the lake in front of the castle.

My little Armand had been very brave (sigh), you see him going after the goose even when he had just moments ago had his finger caught in its beak because he stupidly held the bread in his hand for too long a time.

I must say that I wouldn't mind living in Munich.

On our way to Munich we stopped by in Ulm (famous for its cathedral) for lunch. Had typical German food in a warm and friendly taverna - meaning heavy, hearty and rustic, sometimes good and to be eaten only once in a while - Zwiebelroastbraten, Sauerkraut mit Bratwurst, Hirschgulasch...

Sugee Cookies

I haven't made this in years. Maybe more than a decade come to think of it. It was one of my childhood favourites (during Hari Raya, my Malay Mak used to make them, oh how I love the way they melted in the mouth!). And as a teenager doing Home Economics, I would also make them when I was in one of my frenzied "practising" moods.

I had a big can of Ghee (clarified butter). Bought it on a whim on a visit to an Indian grocery store here in Stuttgart.

In December 2006, I found myself in this situation whereby the classes of my 3 kids were all organising a class party where parents were invited and where we had to bring along some cookies, cakes and/or drinks. To kill the different birds with one stone, I had the bright idea of baking a huge batch of Sugee Cookies (and using my Ghee which was about to expire) and turning up in all 3 parties with the rich stuff.

Sugee cookies are not for the faint-hearted. They are so rich I'm sure they go direct to the heart so woe to those with clogged arteries. And you know that those I baked were good because my French MIL (very tough cookie critic) liquidated those remaining at home (a good 2 boxes) when she was here. She called them "sablés" and couldn't stop popping them into her mouth. That plus all the expensive chocolates that I had bought for the fêtes...

450g Ghee
340g Icing Sugar
750g plain Flour

Chopped almonds, chocolate rice, ground cinnamon etc (optional)

Very very simple to make (which was why I made them). Shame to those who made chemical-filled cookies out of ready-mixes when they had to make any.

Cream ghee and sugar for 5 minutes. Add flour and knead into a soft dough. Leave covered for 4 hours.

Pre-heat oven at 120ºC.

Traditionally, the dough will be rolled into rolls where you'll be able to cut them into small pieces to make marble-sized cookies. I wanted to test out some of my newly-acquisitioned cookie cutters (heart-shaped ones), so I made big and small heart-shaped sugee cookies. I also added ground cinnamon, chopped almonds and chocolate rice in some of them for a change.

In any case, bake them for about 20-25 minutes. They should remain creamy in colour : melt-in-the mouth creamy.

St Sylvestre Dinner 2006/2007 : French Fusion

We invited an interesting German-Mexican couple and their 2 children to join us (MIL and SIL included) for our New Year Eve's dinner. Our children go to the same French-German school in Stuttgart and as the small French expatriate community would have it, we have a few friends in common and to top it all, hubby used to work in the same company as the male half of the couple so they could really relate to one another.

The Sommerhalters arrived at 6pm for a dip in our indoor pool before dinner. They brought champagne from Moët et Chandon and a really huge variety of cheeses from France : Comté, Roquefort, Camembert, St Marcellin etc etc.

On our side we have started to prepare dinner from 2pm on, as the dinner will have at least 7 courses with a good wine/liquor from our personal wine collection for each course. This is a typical French meal in a good restaurant though of course I have added my Asian touch here and there to make it a little different.

Here it goes (Food in Red and Drink in Blue) :

Amuse bouche en variation de quiches
Champagne Moët et Chandon


Foie gras mi-cuit marbré cacao et son mesclun aux noix
Riesling vendange tardive 2004, Wolfberger


Marmite de fruits de mer et son consommé à la citronnelle
Chablis 1er cru 2002, Mont de Milieu, Thierry Lafay


Trou normand Heumaden
Granité aux deux citrons et Vodka russe


Magret de canard au miel et vinaigre balsamique
pommes de terre Sarladaise et haricots verts du Kenya

Pauillac 2000, Prélude à Grand Puy Ducasse


Plateau de fromage
Ladoix 1er cru 1999, les Joyeuses, Domaine Prin


Croustillant de framboises et sa crème fouettée
Champagne Moët et Chandon


Café Vergnano, Arabica
Et son pousse café : Armagnac 1966, Tequila Don Julio (reposado), et plus si affinité…

I prepared the ingredients for the mini quiches, but only assembled them before serving. We made 2 types of quiches : Tomato-Egg-Cheese-Onion-Bacon and Tomato-Egg-Cheese-Onion-Anchovies. The recipe can be found in one of my earlier postings, though this time around I added some beaten egg with crème fraîche.

Hubby made the foie gras himself a few days ago. I'll post the recipe another day, but basically one has to de-nerve a beautiful 600g lobe of raw duck liver, season it with salt, pepper, a sweet wine (we used a Monbazillac), in our case coffee etc and cook it in a bain-marie in the oven. Then put a weight on top of the terrine and leave it to settle in the fridge for a few days. The foie gras was beautifully half-cooked and tasted really good. Félicitations au Chef!

I've also posted the recipe for the seafood soup a few months back, though this time around I have added a stalk of lemon grass to give it an exotic touch. The consommé was as such nicely perfumed with the seafood (Mussles, Clams, Tiger Prawns, Scallops, Cod Fish...), vegetables and lemon grass.

The trou Heumaden was named as such as we made the lemon-lime sorbet ourselves and served it with vodka between 2 main courses so as to facilitate digestion. I'll put up the recipe another day too if I have the time.

The duck magret main course was cooked by Hubby this time around. It consisted of grilling the breasts on their skin (make light parallel cuts on the skin beforehand) till much of the fat has been melted and the skin nicely roasted. And then to finish the cuisson on the flesh part - but only till it's pink/rosé on the inside, of course. The sauce was made with balsamic vinegar, honey, fond de veau and the juice (containing some blood) from cooking the duck. We served the meat sliced reasonably thick with the sauce, garlicked sauteed potatoes and very fine green beans gently sauteed in salted butter and garlic.

We finished the 2nd main course just in time to run out of the house to watch the fireworks. Alot of them seemed to be sponsored by our neighbours (those living in the flats). I have toyed briefly with the idea of setting off some myself (saw them in PLUS etc), but images of exploded fingers and a burnt house stopped me and we just had to be happy with what we could find in the sky above us.

So we started on the cheeses after midnight. At 1am, I put in the finishing touches to my dessert and served it. It consisted of layers of Greek Filo pastry (that I baked beforehand earlier in the day with salted butter and sugar between the layers), thick cream (that I beat up in the morning, adding in mascapone, almonds, fleur d'oranger, rum, fruit sugar...), fresh Raspberries (that I was lucky enough to find in Strasbourg a few days earlier)...AND dark chocolate discs that I made myself a few hours earlier. For decoration, I sprinkled ground pistachio nuts and icing sugar over the whole thing before serving. It was light, delicious and quite refreshing.

We ended the meal with coffee and liquor for those with a strong stomach (not me). An old Armagnac (hubby's year of birth - haha), excellent Don Julio (Reposado) Tequila he bought in Mexico on one of his frequent trips there and of course some quality Swiss and French chocolates.

It was 4am. MIL was falling asleep at the dinner table, our baby girl was sleeping on one of the sofas, their baby boy on the other sofa, our baby boy at the dinner table, though both our eldest children were busy playing Monopoly on the floor and trying to get richer than the other.

Talking about children, we fed them a different meal as they had to be fed earlier. Hainanese Chicken Rice and free-range Roast Chicken à la française (white wine, herbes de Provence, salt, pepper, paprika...). The amazing thing was that those kids (5 of them) finished the chicken in no time (nothing left) and kept asking for second, third etc servings of the rice. What appetite!

The Sommerhalters decided to call a taxi and come back for their car the next day. I was told that Mister was so happy with his St Sylvestre that he gave the driver a 10 Euro tip!

Happy New Year and Lots of Good Tidings in 2007, Everyone!