dimanche, novembre 30, 2008

I've been Tagged! - Twice

I got tagged twice (thanks to Daphne and Muriel) with the same Meme (i.e. 6 random things about myself) in the same week, which makes me wonder if I should be writing down 12 random things about myself. Haha.

So here goes :
  1. I hate not answering phone calls, emails, letters, any messages. You can imagine that I wouldn't refuse to do a Meme when asked to. Besides the fact that I'm a curious cat, I also think it impolite not to answer anybody (except my own children) when they talk to you. My dad closes doors on salepeople's noses, Hub bangs the phone down on unwanted calls - but even if they were Jehovah's Witnesses I would try to listen them out (and I did) and then bid farewell gently. I believe in one's right to express oneself (except when they're my children). Otherwise, I'd probably feel uneasy for the rest of the day. And I like to have the last word - because I have to reply.

  2. I hate losing. It's not exactly the same as only liking to win - for I am not unhappy when I do not win. But defeat tires me and will set me on a long process of analysing why I lost and how I should do better the next time. Failure as they say is the mother of success. When I do something, I usually give it my best shot. Or I wouldn't even do it in the first place. Though with age, I'm starting to be very forgiving with myself.

  3. I had some sort of Hong Kong Foot when I was a kid. Dry scaly skin on both feet, blisters etc. I had it for years and no matter what I did (e.g. doctor's medicine, cotton socks, creams...), it refused to go away. It gave me a complex, I refused to do sports, I was fat and quite miserable. Then in adolescence, when puppy fat melted away in other girls turning them into swans (with acne?), I kept mine, remained a pork, but the skin problem disappeared. I had baby soft/smooth skin all over and still do.

  4. I love food (yes, we all know that). But just because I love to eat doesn't mean that I'd eat anything. I'm very very fussy about what I eat e.g. I don't eat mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, yoghurt, jams, preserved/pickled food, dried fruit, most fruits and vegetables, most industrially-made sauces, most cheeses, game, rabbit, horsemeat...I'm fat because whatever little I like I eat loads of it. When I was a kid, I only ate plain muah chee, plain Kueh Tutu (still do), plain almost everything. So one reason I cook alot is so that I can control what goes into my food. I will probably eat mayonnaise or jam if I made it myself.

  5. I have low attention span. When I was at school, I was an independent student and had to study alot on my own because I would normally fall asleep/daydream within minutes of the teacher talking. But I catch the gist of things rather quickly and realised early on that one doesn't need to be brilliant to do well. Just have to understand and if possible also enjoy what one has to study. I could read, synthesize, analyse better than most kids my age. I left Primary School with full Distinctions and an average higher than my cousin who went on to gifted stream; from Secondary School 1st in class and 8th in standard; finished Junior College among the top 1000 students in Singapore (out of 16000 who sat for the "A" Levels). But having low attention span is a handicap and an embarassment.

  6. Like my mom, I go for the fait divers (e.g. other news). This freaks out Hub and the in-laws. I need to know who died from what, who raped who, who murdered who, who got bombed, how people suffer etc etc. I love documentaries and usually read the newspaper from cover to cover (obituaries, births, marriages and advertisements included) and may even go online to check out other versions in same or different languages. Hub said he couldn't understand why I do that as I often get so affected by what I've read that I would lose sleep or be miserable and angry for days. I am not fond of children in general, but nothing hurts me more than knowing that millions of children out there are being abused in some way everyday. Someone said that it's my missionary streak. Even as a child I had wanted to change the world. Once I told off 2 kids my age for torturing fish in a pond and their dad came and asked me why I was telling off his children. I turned round and told him that he should be ashamed of himself, that as an adult not only wasn't he setting an example but was condoning his children in barbarious acts. Mom dragged me away telling me that I should avoid trouble and mind my own business - which infuriated me as I thought even then that if everybody minded a little of other people's business when they had to maybe the world would have been a better place.
I started playing the game, je vais jusqu'au bout. I now tag the following 6 people for this Meme :
  1. Last Frontier
  2. One Wheel
  3. Bella Tigre
  5. Rojak Rendezvous
  6. Pris' Life in Germany

Pain d'Epices (French Gingerbread)

Pain d'Epices

I have been a (happy) Karang Guni in the past week. Brother C and CL are moving back to Penang and have been passing me part of their WW3 food stock. The stuff they didn't want to/couldn't bring back. I am still reeling from what their small kitchen contained. Endless trove of food and household wares. A bit like the magic porridge pot.

A few jars of honey were among the stuff. It is a relief to know that I'm not alone in this world when it comes to stocking up. Besides the (great) fear of running out, I think I often end up stocking up unwittingly, because :
  1. I have forgotten that I already have the item;

  2. I know I have it but when I needed it I couldn't find it;

  3. There was an offer that I couldn't resist.
Unfortunately I do not have my dream kitchen yet. My fridge and freezer are both tiny, I do not have enough cupboard space in what could be considered a spacious kitchen. All my own stuff are packed in stacked-up Ikea boxes. Brother C's offering is now lying around in plastic bags. Which would be normal in almost any Asian home - but a big no-no in an European one. The ang mohs too like their appearances.

So I have to start exercising some imagination as to how I may start to use up the extra foodstuff. Am glad to say that the first attempt has been very easy : Pain d'épices.

I guess it helps that I love pain d'épices and that we're nearing Christmas when it is most often consumed. This French cake/bread is similar to Gingerbread though not as hard or compact. And from what I know, it may even have originated from the Chinese. Come to think of it, at times when my mom prayed and offered food to the Gods, we would have this brown sweet and spicy cake that often comes to my mind when I eat the pain d'épices.

Traditionally the pain d'épices would require days, weeks and even months to ferment (just the flour and honey) but with the discovery of instant yeast one can bake the cake immediately. It wouldn't be as rich as the traditional cake that we find e.g. in Alsace though.

Pain d'épices (a non-traditional quick and easy recipe) :

350g Acacia Honey (preferably)
100g Butter
250g Flour
1 packet of Instant Yeast
50g Ground Almonds
10g Bicarbonate of Soda
1/2 Tsp each of Ground Cinnamon, Ginger, Green Anis, Nutmeg
1/4 Tsp each of Ground Cloves, Cardamom, Cumin
A pinch of Salt
2 Eggs

Sift the flour with the instant yeast into a mixing bowl. Add in the ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda, ground spices and salt. Mix well.

Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture. In a pot melt the butter and stir in the honey. Remove the pot from fire when the mixture starts to boil. Pour it into the flour. Mix well. (If you like the gingerbread really really sweet, dissolve some brown sugar in the honey)

Add the eggs into the flour-honey mixture one at a time.

Pour the smooth cake mixture into an oiled 25x7 cm bread tin. Bake for 10 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 170ºC, then cover the bread tin with aluminum foil and continue baking for another 30 minutes at 150ºC.

The pain d'épices is best eaten after being cooled overnight. But nobody could really wait, I think we finished half of it almost immediately. And I like eating foie gras with it, Baby Girl turns 6 on Tuesday, that may provide a good excuse to open a jar of the good stuff. :-)

vendredi, novembre 28, 2008

Snow and French Toasts (Pain Perdu)

Outside the house at 9am

When I mentioned to the landlord's gardener that I was thinking of buying a Lemon tree, he told me that it wouldn't be a good idea as Modena's not warm enough for that. That set the first warning bells ringing but I didn't want to believe it as I have come to the country for the supposedly warm weather and the contrary wouldn't do at all.

Then I also learnt that balsamic vinegar does really well in these parts partly because of its micro-climate e.g. very hot during summer and very cold during winter...Oooh.

Outside the house at 7am

This morning, we woke up to a snowy field and it's still snowing as we speak. White white white outside. I do not have a snow mobile nor even a shovel come to think of it. I hope we won't get stuck. I managed to get the kids to school, and I hope I'd be able to pick them up later on.


Ran through the house looking for snow boots, gloves etc and then when we left the house, we couldn't drive out of our compound as the main road was jammed. This is Modena for you. When it snows, nothing moves any more. The road was just covered with a few cm of snow then and there was already a jam and accidents everywhere. Someone told me that that's because when it snows, half the Italians drive like they've never seen snow. And the other half do not see it.

French Toasts

I called E up and cancelled our date. Went back home and made myself some French Toasts. I wanted a good dose of sweetened condensed milk to comfort me. Did it the way I've learnt it at the age of 13 during Home Economics at Secondary school (still remember our beautiful teaching kitchens), with egg, condensed milk, salt, pepper, a little milk and some ground cinnamon. Fried the egg-coated pieces of bread in butter.

Yesterday I went to see a diet doctor. She (very beautiful woman but I wonder how much of her is real) wanted to put me on a diet consisting of protein-rich pre-cooked dishes. You can supposedly lose 2 Kgs each week and then never put on weight again because of your changed metabolic rate etc. Someone lost 20Kgs like that so it must work. I took a look at the catalogue of pastas, omelettes, soups, desserts etc and decided that I'd rather be fat than eat all that. I mean life is short, you can't ill-treat your taste buds for beauty. Well, the consultation was costly though. Could buy a few Guitar Hero bundles for that.

It's still snowing. Can't see anything but white outside now. I think I need something really hot to warm me up. How about a can of sardines al piri-piri?

3:30pm Kids playing in the snow

Update (5pm) : Nearly couldn't get out of the house this afternoon. When they cleared the main road of the snow, a mountain of it was deposited right in front of my gate. I had to get out of the car and spend 15 minutes trying to kick away the snow so that my car could pass. Then I had a near accident on my way to pick the children up. The car wouldn't stop at a stop sign, it was skidding straight towards the wall opposite and another car's coming from the right...I managed to turn left before I hit the wall and the other car stopped in time. Thank God...

mercredi, novembre 26, 2008

Miso Seafood Udon Soup

Miso Seafood Udon Soup

Miso Seafood Udon Soup :

Raw Big Prawns with Heads
Chicken Stock
Konbu or Ikan Bilis stock
Light Soy Sauce
Pure Sesame Oil
Shitake Mushrooms
Greens e.g. baby spinach, cabbage...
Bean Sprouts
Silken Tofu
Fried Tofu
Toasted Sesame Seeds

Fry the prawns in the wok with thin slices of fresh ginger till fragrant. Remove the heads from the prawns and return them to the wok. Peel the rest of the prawns and set aside.

Add in mirin. If you do not have it, caramelise some sugar in some Chinese rice wine.

Pour in the stock, stir in 2-3 Tbsps of miso and season with soy sauce and sesame to taste.

Add in the shitake mushrooms, cabbage and fried tofu.

In a separate pot cook the udon, drain the water and then toss the noodles with some sesame oil.

Serve hot. Garnish with the prawns, some spinach, silken tofu, bean sprouts and toasted sesame seeds.

Had the honour of sharing this with Brother C and CL yesterday.

mardi, novembre 25, 2008

Grade 1 Mothers' Lunch - Season 2

The Sushi

Had a good turnout again, really glad to see so many old, one or 2 new and other now familar faces. We gathered for a buffet lunch in a new Japanese restaurant in Maranello. The Chinese owner was the former Teppanyaki Chef from the Fujiyama restaurant in Modena. Warned him that we'll have a Japanese lady coming in for lunch and that he had better do a good job. :-)

The cooked food

Everybody seemed happy with the meal. We had both raw and cooked stuff and for 11 euros pax you get half a bottle of mineral water and coffee as well. A reasonable deal.

Fruit, daikon and fried spring rolls filled with prawn and cheese

Do not know if I'll manage to organise another gathering before the end of the year. Have to get Baby Girl's birthday party ready for next week, there's the PTA Winter Fair coming up (if you're reading this and can give either the International Buffet a hand or help look after my 2 younger children on the day itself - let me know!!!) and I really should think about sending out a few X'mas cards this year. Last but not least, the MIL and SIL would be turning up for the holidays...

samedi, novembre 22, 2008

Making my own Five Stones

5 Stones filled with Red Beans

Baby Boy's current Unit of Enquiry is about Play and the teacher was asking parents if we would like to share a game we knew with the children. Well, of course I hadn't any idea, I mean, I'm such a hardworking and serious person do you think I spent my childhood playing?

But I guess that I did play quite a bit after all. Especially when the games I had as a kid were very portable, didn't cost much and required just a friend or 2 for playing with.

I remember that during recess, we would rush out to the playground and play catching sometimes hopping on one leg for added difficulty. Another group game we enjoyed was Eagle catches Chicks. Then when mom agreed to buy me a whole bag of rubber/elastic bands, I used them to make myself a very long rope and I would play skipping games with it with a few girl friends. It was something I could bring along with me everywhere, any spare moment I had e.g. while waiting for the school bus I would whip it out and start skipping. Other times, we would use a spare exercise book, draw (sometimes in 3-D) furniture, rooms etc and used it as background for our home-made or bought paper dolls.

I was also very nostalgic for my 5 Stones. Mom couldn't sew but she managed to buy us 5 stones of different sizes and fillings to play with. I prefer the bean fillings, those stuffed with rice were too compact and difficult to catch.

As a matter of fact, I even left Singapore more than a decade ago with a set or 2 actually. But I couldn't remember where I've kept them since my last move and if I still have them.

Told Baby Boy's teacher about it and she said she would try to make them if I would come show the class how to play the game. I'm absolutely lousy at sewing, but I am also very impatient, plus I am very rusty now not having played 5 Stones for more than 2 decades. Those kids would laugh at me if I couldn't catch half of my stones...

So I searched and found a blog that taught us how to make the 5 stones. I used Baby Girl's old tights and the material's probably too soft and elastic for the method she showed us, so I improvised and came out with 5-stoney-looking 5 Stones somehow. A bit too big for my delicate hands though. And probably will burst after a few throws. I don't have a sewing machine and had to hand-sew the bean bags.

But I'm so damn happy to have done it. Made them after our heavy dinner at the Churrasco restaurant (would you believe it - we were 18!!! 7 adults and 11 kids - but we survived) last evening so I went to bed really happy even though the stomach felt too rich. Now I just need to practise a little.

vendredi, novembre 21, 2008

Teaching and Assessment

Yesterday we attended an Assessment Workshop for the MYP organised by the school. I am happy with the philosophy behind it, as I share the belief that we should assess for learning. In one of the insightful books I've read last summer (as part of the Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment Programme that Eldest Son went through), my guru criticised the classic assessment system for assessing only for knowledge and not for the learning/thinking process. The MYP is avant-garde so knowledge will only constitute part of the final grades. The assessor will also take into consideration other factors like
  • thinking/reflection
  • communication/oral
  • investigating/learning patterns
  • peer/self assessment
They also believe that one's performance should reflect the evolution of one's learning process, i.e. one should do better with each assessment - so the final grade will not be a simple average of all the grades, but reflect the improvement obtained towards the end of the assessment year.

I do have a little doubt though about the implied subjectivity of/in this assessment process. Teachers after all are human. And alot of emphasis is placed on teaching to think.

Learning and teaching = both sides of the same coin.

Still, learning is a subjective and slow process. Children have different learning capacities, speeds and motivation. Some thrive under pressure, others wilt. Some have problems like Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADHD etc. Family, social and other environments do affect learning. So if we use a more personalised learning process and a more holistic assessment process on them, we should theorectically give them a better chance to learn better.

At some point we had a Classic Education vs IBO discussion. Most of us are victims products of the classic education system (though it differs largely in different countries). Some still believe in it but have a few doubts nonetheless, I prefer the middle path, others seem to be happy converts though I sensed a certain romantisation of the IBO e.g. someone asked why anybody should dictate what we learn for classical Literature. I wanted to point out that whether it's public school, IBO, Steiner, Montessori or Home schooling, someone will be deciding what you learn for Literature. The major difference probably is how you learn it and how much of what.

I played the devil (as usual) by implying (or I could have said it) that maybe the MYP system's a little light in substance. Most disagreed loudly saying there's more to just pure knowledge/information e.g. "History shouldn't only be about dates", "Do you remember what you have learnt in the past?". I totally agree with them, though I did wonder if they weren't indirectly agreeing with the statement after all.

And I wondered about the person who left school thinking History's only about dates (and therefore linear?), since I never did (not even when I was 14) and in any case wouldn't remember dates even then. But boy have I had fun with the subject, it has given me some of my dreams/motivations when I was a teenager. And History is NOT linear, btw.

Anyway as far as I'm concerned both systems have their merits and demerits. Ceteris paribus both will come out with both successful and nondescript products - all of whom should find their niche in this world.

In any case, people who put children in International Schools move around (though increasingly local populations are attracted to the philosophy) and are relatively successful. So by definition, IS children belong to a world apart and are usually not destined to be Esselunga cashers or your friendly neighbourhood postman. And kids who have access to education in general should count themselves lucky because there are millions out there who don't.

But if the International School child came from a very different system and may have to return to it in the future, that's when the headache comes in. MIL's still very upset that the kids may have to repeat a school year if we return to France (c.ref. the September 1st dateline for which they make exceptions for the Italians but not for the French plus across the school today there are quite a number of other exceptions). Otherwise my kids are happy in the school and that for me is the most important. I have lived with parents' expectations and know how they felt. As such, I will not burden my children with too many any. Just want them to be balanced, educated, cultured individuals (OK - and not lose out too much if possible).

Finally a mother made a really insightful comment about some people who went through the classic education system with great success having a condescending attitude towards those who didn't and yet not being able to flow with the times etc. True, and it doesn't help with both groups not speaking the same language. I have a fascination for intellectuals (used to have crushes on my professors) but I suspect that they live on another planet most of the time. Still it's not given for everyone to survive any education system, if they are pleased with themselves, surely one can understand. Myself, I am hard on others, but I'm usually even harder with myself.

I think I ''failed'' our last exercise in the MYP workshop. Had to draw something without using words. My drawing sucks so I started out without words but took a short-cut and wrote anyway. Will have to remember instructions better the next time!

mercredi, novembre 19, 2008

Chiesa Matrice Carpense di Santa Maria, Carpi

Inside the church

Somebody told us that Carpi (north of Modena) has this piazza that's unique in Italy so though we've already been to the city last year, we made our way there again just in case we've missed out on something the last time.

But honestly, having seen a number of beautiful, even unique plazas/squares before, we didn't see what's so special about Carpi's. Discovered one walkway filled with Chinese-owned shops though. Lousy stuff.

Then we walked around and saw a library situated in a restored old building. Lovely library with an interesting mediathèque. And next to it - a small but beautiful church. I think it's called the Chiesa Matrice Carpense di Santa Maria but I'm not sure.

It has beautiful frescos, is made of stone and brick and doesn't have that cold feel to most churches built with marble. Come to think of it, I probably like it because it's like the church version of my current house.

The façade

Hub and I noticed that there were many Indian people in the city. Quite a number were watching Bollywood movies at the library using free internet access. I wondered if we shouldn't stop one to ask if there was an Indian restaurant around. But Hub said they probably eat at home like most respectable Indian families do. In any case, if there were an Indian restaurant in Carpi we would have heard of it. Come to think of it, the last time I went all the way to Carpi it was to check out this Pakistani fastfood but it turned out to be a Kebab shop. I know I know, what distance wouldn't I cover when it comes to food.

Update 22/11/08 : Good thing about having friends read your blog, Mu & P told me last night over dinner that they knew an Indian restaurant in Carpi!

mardi, novembre 18, 2008

Chinese Seafood Steamboat

Chinese Seafood Steamboat

When the days are cold, it is always a comfort hanging around a steaming pot of stock cooking and eating your food at the same time. Brother C lugged a wonderful induction plate back from the UK sometime back and had the great idea of making a Seafood Steamboat with it. Using one of his super woks (I'm envious that's obvious I'm sure), of course.

I resisted eating anything else before the meal and had quite a bit of room for seafood and stock. For those who love to cook, they must invite me of course, since nowhere I'm sure they'll find someone with an appetite like mine. Though true true, I shouldn't complain that I'm 15Kgs overweight and then continue stuffing myself the way I do. But that's another story.

Fish, King Prawns, Scampi, Tofu, Tau Pok, Fish Cake, Prawn Balls, Cabbage...I'll let the pictures do the telling. The stock was really sweet and tasty by the time we were half-way through and it was yummy just scooping soup onto the rice and enjoying this simple pleasure. Very healthy too.

Mmm...the Stock

When they're gone, I'll have no one else to speak Cantonese with in these parts. And if I had known earlier that Brother C has a rich cooking heritage (thanks to his mom) I would have tried to toushi (steal a skill) earlier heh heh.

lundi, novembre 17, 2008

Grilled Pork in Soy, Balsamic Vinegar and Honey Sauce

Grilled Pork in Soy, Balsamic Vinegar and Honey Sauce

This is another of my fusion dishes : Grilled Pork in Soy Sauce, Balsamic Vinegar and Honey. It's easy to make and is a pleaser. Can be served with salad, rice, pasta, pita...Make it usually when I'm lazy to cook and yet do not want to make steak-frites.

The Marinade :

Pork Filet Mignon or Loin (cut into big cubes)
Light Soy Sauce
Sesame Oil

The Sauce :

Light Soy Sauce
Rock Sugar
Balsamic Vinegar
Dry Sherry/Chinese rice wine

Marinate the pork for a few hours.

Put the ingredients for the sauce together and simmer till the sauce is reduced and has thickened.

Grill the marinated pork cubes till they caramelise. Add them to the sauce and cook for another few minutes till the meat's coated with the sauce.

Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds over the pork. Serve hot.

dimanche, novembre 16, 2008

France-Italia Millefeuille-Mascarpone

Millefeuille-Mascarpone with crushed Almonds, Chocolate & Raspberries

One thing I love about living in different countries, dining in different restaurants is learning each time something new about cooking. I can usually reproduce something that I've eaten or observed rather quickly. I can also come out with something "new". Of course this also means that I eat alot and do spend much of my waking moments reading and thinking about food.

When we invited DC over for dinner, Hub reminded me that I mustn't make anything exotic for dessert as the last time I did so the poor guy suffered. I was hoping to make a Mung Bean dessert (Tau Suan) but I guess that it will have to wait for another day.

He likes classic French and Italian cuisines from what I know so that gave me the idea to make a very simple Millefeuille-Mascarpone dessert.

Vanilla Pod

E very generously offered me a few precious vanilla pods from some exotic island a few months ago. I've saved them for an occasion like this and it was well worth the wait.

The Millefeuille :

Place puff pastry on a baking tray. Put a metal grill on top of it to stop the pastry from rising too much when it is being baked. Bake in a hot oven (180ºC) for 20 minutes. Slice off the edges and cut the pastry into smaller squares or rectangles. Set aside to cool.

The Mascarpone :

Slice open one or 2 vanilla pods and scrape out the seeds. Add them to 120ml of whipping cream. Do not waste the empty pod, put it in a jar with white sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Add sugar to taste to the whipping cream. Followed by half a Tsp of instant expresso coffee.

Whip the cream till it's stiff.

Add 250ml of good mascarpone to the whipped cream, plus some good rum. Whip the whole thing together taking care not to overdo it as the cream could become flat. Cover with food film and leave it for a few hours in the fridge.

The Garnishing :

Roughly crush some whole roasted peeled almonds as well as some dark chocolate.

Rinse some fresh raspberries.

Just before serving, take out the mascarpone. Give it a few quick turns with a big spoon, it may stiffen further. Scoop some mascarpone and place it in a bowl. Sprinkle some roughly-crushed almonds and chocolate over it and add in a few raspberries. Place a millefeuille on the mascarpone and scoop more mascarpone on top of it. Repeat operation with the almonds, chocolate and raspberries.

Magret de Canard Sauce Balsamique-Miel

Duck Magret in a Balsamic Vinegar-Honey Sauce

Nothing special about this dish though if you love duck, the magret was succulent and goes well with a sweet and acidic sauce like the one I've made to go with it. Basically just red wine, fond de veau, balsamic vinegar and honey. I've also marinated the skin of the duck for a few hours with some 5-spice powder.

French Pan-Fried Potatoes with Garlic and Parsley

Served it pink with Pommes de terres à la Sarladaise and French Beans with garlic and olive oil.

French Beans with Garlic and Olive Oil

Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls - Imperial Nems

Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Nems)

I ate my first Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Nems) in Paris more than a decade ago. Made my first Nems with my Chinese hostelmates (including the young man who now runs the Pho Fans - Viet Bistro in Shanghai). Since then I try to make them whenever the fancy strikes.

Dried Rice Paper

The recipe is really simple and the only labour comes from rolling the Nems, but it's well worth it since the whole family loves them.

Before being deep-fried

Vietnamese Nems :

Rice Paper (to be immersed in hot water till soft - and only just before being filled)
Minced Pork
Crab meat
Prawns (deshelled)
Onion (diced)
Carrots (julienned)
Bean Sprouts (optional)
Mung Bean Vermicelli (Tanghoon)
Black Fungus Mushroom
Light Soy Sauce
Dry Sherry
Sesame Oil

Oil for deep-frying

Garnishing :

Salad Leaves (e.g. Iceberg)
Fresh Mint Leaves
Fresh Coriander Leaves
Fresh Laksa Leaves

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce :

Nuoc Nam
Garlic (minced)
Carrots (julienned)
Chilli (julienned)
Lime Juice
White Wine Vinegar (optional)
Plum Sauce (optional)

The Filling

Marinate the meat etc for a few hours. I would put everything together except for the sprouts - only to be used as one fills up the rice paper.

I would also do the dipping sauce in advance, giving the ingredients time to really give flavour to it. It should be fresh, salty, acidic and sweet at the same time.

I would fry the Nems in 2 separate times as the rice paper skins take a while to cook and they do stay crispy for a longer time when they are fried twice. One way to keep the paper from bursting when being fried is to roll the rolls tightly removing air in between, and also to do them in batches in a frying pan - keeping each roll separate from the other. To cut down on the oil, I often fry the rolls for the 2nd time without oil in a non-stick pan just as I serve them.

It's really yummy the contrast between the hot/crispy Nem and the cold crispy salad leaf used for wrapping it. And the fresh herbs add even more flavour to the whole thing when you sandwich them between the Nem and the salad. Dip into the sauce and eat. If eaten as a starter, you'll need 4 to 5 rolls per person.

Saturday Night Dinner

DC and M are two of Hub's favourite colleages and we have over a few meals become friendly. It is an honour to know that the couple, in spite of their busy schedule, enjoy dining with us and we in return thoroughly enjoy their company.

DC is the man behind the Ferrari California and is grace, style and culture personified. I love listening to him talk, he is interesting, intelligent and funny. Like us, the couple come from different cultures - he's Italian but grew up in France; she's Dutch but speaks several European languages fluently. Most people enjoy the comfort that comes from living with someone who is from their own race, culture, religion etc. I belong to those who enjoy the challenge and life-long learning and exchange that living with someone very different (and yet not so finally) brings. The couple is beautiful to look at and I adore M, she's pretty, intelligent and so very sweet - especially with the children. Knowing that Eldest Son is a fan of the F1 pilots, she kindly asked the pilots themselves for a signature on behalf of the boy.

Dinner was to be a fusion affair. We started out with Foie Gras on Toasts liberally accompanied by Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Hennessy Champagnes, continuing with Vietnamese Imperial Nems that were a hit with everyone young and not so. We had Grilled Duck Magret with Balsamic Vinegar and Honey Sauce that I served with French Pan-Fried Potatoes with Garlic and Parsley, as well as French Beans in Garlic and Olive Oil.

For dessert, knowing that DC is no fan of exotic sweets (he nearly choked on the Black Glutinous Rice in Coconut Milk that I served him during our last dinner), I made a dessert that straddled both France and Italy - Millefeuille with Mascarpone. The Hub liked it so much he insisted I had to make it again for lunch the next day.

We were exhausted by the end of the evening (actually early morning) but went to bed feeling really happy and satisfied. The Hub made a movie date with them for the coming week as they are all movie fans, yet another thing besides France, Ferrari and love-for-food that we have in common.

vendredi, novembre 14, 2008

Ladies' Night - Mama Mia!

Much as I insist that housewiving is a tough job and that we deserve a separate pension scheme, tax break, paid holidays and so on, I must say that I am often uneasy about leaving the Hub alone with the kids and running off to enjoy myself. The guy works long hours and doesn't get to see us much - it seems cruel to have him return home to no hot dinner and a bunch of screaming kids.

But I do need an occasional break from the family after "office hours" (housewiving as we know is a 24/7 operation) and it does do the Hub some good to have the kids to himself from time to time. You know what they say, a man usually becomes a father when he acts like one. If the guy's only good for bringing the dough home (though that's the major part of the job description), we do not need to have him around and I'd rather be living with my mom and let her do the housewiving.

In this spirit, the PTA organises a Ladies' Night once a month and if the Hub's around (and available for earlier dismissal from work), I would try to make it. He would still try his luck and ask if I could get dinner ready before he returns and I will gently remind him that it wouldn't be my night off if I had to cook dinner etc, would it?

Our last Ladies' Night was held at the cinema. We went for the English screening of Mama Mia! at Victoria Cinema - currently the only cinema in Modena screening a weekly movie in English. You don't really get a chance to talk or interact when watching a movie - but I guess the fact that we made an appointment to go watch it together = doing something together.

It would have been better if we could have had a drink either before or after the movie, but it was a Tuesday night in a school week so nobody could afford the time. Anyway, R, Rb and myself (all Scorpions) did try to liven things up a bit by offering those who turned up a piece of our joint Birthday cake - a very good Saint Honoré by the way. Only we didn't have a lighter (at least nobody smokes) and we had to sing, cut and eat in like 5 minutes flat. Still, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!!!

Forever 21

R and myself missed out on the start of the movie (had to clear up) and couldn't even get to our allocated seats. But we thoroughly enjoyed the movie which was based on the famous Broadway musical of the same name. I love Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan (of my old favourite Remington Steele), Greece and of course all the old ABBA songs. N sang through the film, boy, was she one great fan. The next day, I must say, I was so inspired I went on the Net and ordered the new ABBA Singstar game for PS2. Now I'll need to hunt for the mics. So that me too I'll be able to sing. R said maybe we should dress up in the ABBA costumes and do a party ourselves :-). Didn't think those tight shiny stuff would flatter my dumpling figure so maybe not.

Did I mention that almost all the female teachers of the school were also at the cinema that night? This is how much of a small world Modena is. At least if the kids didn't do their homework that evening their teachers would understand why.

jeudi, novembre 13, 2008

Squid Ink Wholemeal Bread

Squid Ink Wholemeal Bread

I've been thinking about the Squid Ink bread I ate recently and since thinking about it is not going to make it appear magically in my kitchen, I set out to make it myself. Not a good time of the year, of course, to try to make bread dough rise since it's so cold, so I've had to work a bit on creating warm places. Especially when I do not have a bread machine.

But voilà my own Squid Ink Wholemeal Bread with Toasted Sesame Seeds. It is black as sin, a little too salty but moist and nice. Something to offer my guests when they come for dinner on Saturday. If it lasts till Saturday, of course.

Arrivederci CL!

Lieu de RdV

I knew even as a teenager that I wanted to spend my life travelling and living in different parts of the world. If I hadn't gotten married, I would have realised this dream as a career Diplomat. With the Hub, I am living it as an expatriate housewife.

One setback about expatriate living though is that wherever you go, you make friends and then have to either leave them behind or watch them leave you.

Cold Tofu with Tempura Sauce

Last Summer we had to bid farewell to Catherine and Elizabeth and this month, we'll have to say goodbye to CL.

Fried Soft Shell Crab

G, E and myself lunched with her this afternoon in the hope that after her departure, we may occasionally be remembered when she er eats Japanese. Not that the meal was that memorable, but I hope my our company was.

The Girlfriends

It rained non-stop. I'm surprised she didn't tell me once again that it rained each time she saw me. Rain = fortune, OK.

Tempura Seafood Udon Soup

I wish CL and her family all the best in the future and a very safe trip home. And hopefully we may meet again soon. Maybe in Penang?

When shall we meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurlyburly's done
When the battle's lost and won.

Macbeth Act 1 Scene 1

lundi, novembre 10, 2008

Finali Mondiali Corsi Clienti 2008

Finali Mondiali Corsi Clienti 2008

We attended our first Finali Mondiali last year. It's the same thing this year though maybe a little less crowded since we've only won the Constructor Title.

Trucks and Tents for Ferraris, VIP Reception

The Finali Mondiali is an annual Ferrari event organised at the end of the F1 Season just for its clients (thus Corsi Clienti). Ferrari makes beautiful and powerful cars - but you have to find the roads to drive them on. So the company gives its faithful, exciting and very rich clients the occasion to race like F1 Pilots on its own lovely track in Mugello. These people get to bring out their pets cars and show the others what they could do with them. And then common folks like myself get a chance to admire many many Ferraris old and new all in a go. You know, live the dream etc.

Pit Lane

We didn't attend all four days of the races, Hub had too much work to do. He was invited to the Gala dinner on Saturday and didn't want to attend it at first. So what if you get to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. Especially when you're not rich or famous.

Example of Race Planning for Sunday

We would however attend the Company President's private lunch on Sunday. Because Hub had work to do. And it's nice having a family outing at the races. As it is, because of the kids, I have not been able to attend any of the races during the F1 Season.

Then Hub decided to work on Saturday as well. Get certain important partners to come from other parts of the world to talk business. Know that except for the VIP tables, it was normally free seating. But the Hub made sure that his table had place names on it. He had a few meetings at Mugello the same afternoon so he booked us room at the country resort. Must say it was sweet of him to offer to bring me to the Gala.

Lounge area of the Gala Dinner

I believe that there were about 400 people at the Gala. The VIP parking was full of Ferraris and other expensive cars. The women were in evening wear and finely decked out in pearls, gold and diamonds. There was free flow of Prosecco, juices, canapés etc to start. You mingle and make small talk - with the top of the hierarchy in Ferrari, with suppliers and other partners who make it possible to make the cars, and of course with the clients.

Dinner was a sit-down affair. There were gigantic flat screens all over the room so that you couldn't miss anything no matter where you were seated. Todt, Schumacher, Kimi and Massa were there. So were other pilots and winners of other races (e.g. 24H du Mans). A's handsome hub even went on stage. He unveiled Ferrari's new car, a limited edition collector's Spider called the 16M to celebrate their 16th F1 victory. Only 499 such cars would be constructed. Only for the most exclusive of clients - so no wider launch's to be made. Hub worked through his dinner too.

We started with a delicious Raviolotti di Pecorino e Pinoli con Verdure di Stagione. It was followed by a melt-in-the-mouth Fondente di Vitello Brasato su Purea di Patate. Since no other courses were in sight, I had to accept second helpings. Maybe very rich people do not eat alot. R did tell me that when she was invited to the Plaza Athenée in Paris recently, they only drank water.

Dessert was offered in a buffet - outside. So that you could enjoy a display of fireworks at the same time. Fireworks that would put what you get on the 14 Juillet to shame. Ferrari's clients deserve the best.

But the Italians still do not know how to do dessert. I tasted a spoonful of some chocolate mousse and left the rest of the glass alone. It was painful seeing a table full of pretty desserts and not eat them because they were not good enough. Moved back into the lounge for coffee. Mmmm...chocolates. And then I saw macarons. Couldn't believe my eyes. Wow. The owner of the catering company saw the Hub and came by to tell us that they came all the way from France. No wonder they were edible.

For the Gala, I may not have worn Chanel or Prada (like the Hub said, we must be the poorest souls around), but I thought I did quite well with a simple beaded cotton Kurta top and a pair of peach/orange trousers in Shantung silk. Plus 10-inch leather boots. Thank God we didn't have to walk alot.

Paddock Nº 11

On Sunday, we were in the Paddock visiting the Ferraris getting ready for the races before making our way to the very top floor of the Mugello tracks for lunch. On our passes, there were coloured stickers and each one in fact represented the VIP events that we were invited to attend e.g. Red for Gala Dinner, Silver for President's Lunch. There was also a yellow sticker but the Hub had no idea what he was invited to and didn't care to ask.

President's Lunch

Hub worked through the lunch talking business. It must be important as even his boss joined in at some point. The Babies behaved themselves quite well and Eldest Son spent most of his time navigating between the different balconies to watch the races, prize ceremonies etc. Schummi drove his Black Nº30 Ferrari FXX round the track and then cruised round in the new California with Todt. I really dig the California. When DC comes for dinner on Saturday I must congratulate him for it. He has outdone himself.

Schummi & Todt in the red California and Montezemolo in the blue one

Like last year, there was a buffet spread. It contained the same delicious braised meat from the night before.

I was happy with dessert though. There was Crème Brûlée. I love Crème Brûlée.

Schummi arriving in his FXX Nº30

I was also happy to be able to wear my Escada skirt at last. And my long strand of Golay pearls. A change from my usual sloppy dressing (which I love). But I gave up on the 10-inch boots. Just had on my normal super flat ones.

We left Mugello after lunch and stopped by the Barberino outlet. Met A in Prada, she has decided to shop instead of lunch (smart girl). All in all a really lovely weekend and mind you, that's only the beginning of celebrations in Ferrari. It's the end of a now old year after all (*wink*).