lundi, mars 31, 2008

Police Visit

Came back home after driving R's boy to his tennis class and was greeted with news that the Police was here during my absence. Shucks, I'm not living in Germany with nosy neighbours, how did they know that I've left the kids home alone?

Eldest Son apparently had a chicken and duck conversation with them and what he figured out was that they wanted to know if Baby Girl would be going to Elementary School in September. You see, she's definitely of the age to attend Primary One! It (still) breaks my heart to know that she would still be in Pre-School come September...

Anyway, since the boy didn't listen to me and change out of his school uniform, he was able to point to his school shirt and tell them that they are all attending the ISM in Montale. I wonder if they would be satisfied with the answer.

And I also wonder if I shouldn't have done something about the letter inviting me to register Baby Girl for Primary One. I still have it somewhere but it must be covered with drawings of butterflies and flowers since I last saw it with Baby Girl aka Budding Artist.

(PS : The cartoon policeman looked quite like my ski instructor hee hee)

Il Gallo d'Oro

Roast Lamb with Potatoes and Green Beans

The Hub came back with a Michelin 2008 Guide for Italy! Somebody knows that we like to eat :-). And we didn't waste too much time in putting it to use, found a restaurant with 1 fork in the guide on our way to Risoul and promptly had lunch there.

Near Asti is the town of Alessandria and it looks like a pretty place with nice little streets. According to the Hub, one eats very well in the Piemonte - because we are nearer to France (haha).

The restaurant Il Gallo d'Oro is small and cosy and is run by 2 friendly guys who seemed to know most of their clients by name. For lunch on Saturday we had a fixed menu with a few choices for 25 Euros pax.

Beef Raviolis in its Sauce

To start we (or rather Hub and the kids) had a Carpaccio of Smoked Beef. It was followed by Raviolis filled with Braised Beef and served in its sauce. Apparently that was a speciality of the region. You cook your meat with vegetables and spices and then you stuff your raviolis with the meat, mix the cooking juice and put it through a sieve (passer au chinois) and retrieve the sauce for the raviolis.

For the main course, I had Roast Lamb with Potatoes and Green Beans. The sides came with the main course here unlike most other places in Italy - something we appreciate. The kids had this other speciality of the region - Grilled Beef Sausage. And the Hub and I also had a few glasses of Moscato d'Asti, I absolutely appreciate this sweet sparkling white wine.

Everything was very good though the Chocolate Cake I had for dessert was a little flat and tasteless. Nonetheless this was a good address and we hope to have another occasion to pass by Alessandria and enjoy a meal here again.

Il Gallo d'Oro
Via Chenna 44
15100 Alessandria
Tel : 013 143160

dimanche, mars 30, 2008

Le Vachetin

Foie Gras du Chef

Lunch on Saturday was provided by our Village Club in Risoul but we decided to have it in a restaurant mentioned in the Michelin Guide instead. No stars, just 2 forks, a small and simple restaurant called Le Vach 'Tin found in the little village of La Vachette near Briançon. We just couldn't leave France without having a proper French meal.

The Guide said that it would be ugly on the outside but comfortable on the inside. We were the only clients that afternoon. The children all had rare Steak Hachée-Frites while the Hub and I went for the Chef's Duck Liver followed by Scallops in Shellfish Sauce accompanied by home-made Purée and Fried Flat Beans. We had a glass of Sauternes each to go with the Foie Gras and the Hub had a glass of dry white wine to accompany his scallops. They were both good wines, fragrant in the bouquet and consistent in the palette.

St Jacques Sauce Crustacée

The Foie Gras was delicate. The scallops nicely grilled on the top and cooked just right on the inside. The sauce however didn't taste too much of shellfish.

With that we left France and made our way back to Italy. Back to a magically mowed lawn, toys in the garden and Easter offerings (chocolate, sweets, cake, Parmesan cheeses, fresh Tortellini...) from someone who likes us. And a letter box stuffed with books and DVDs that I've ordered on the Net (Brother C thanks for the recommendation!). It's good to be home. And for dinner, Tortellini in Brodo, what else.

Restaurant Le Vach 'Tin
La Vachette
05100 Val Des Pres
Tel : +33 4 92 46 93 13

Risoul 1850 - Sun, Snow and Ski

Risoul 1850 at the end of the day

The ski holiday I was looking forward to and yet dreaded at the same time turned out to be the best thus far - thank the Good Lord. Almost one whole week of clear blue sunny skies, lots of snow (it snowed most nights when we were in bed), few skiers around (non French school holiday period) and therefore kilometres of snowy slopes almost all to ourselves. And I escaped with just a slightly painful chest, a few bruises and a yin-yang face - not too bad for once.

We were first at Risoul 1850 4 years ago when Baby Girl was just a year old and I was pregnant with Baby Boy. We stayed at the Village Club Touristra-Leo Lagrange situated just a few metres away from the first ski lifts where we had a simple family room, 3 hot meals a day, childcare provided by the hotel (plus they bring the kids to and from their ski classes), activities organised day and night for our pleasure and amusement and discounts via the hotel for the ski rentals, ski lifts and ski classes. We enjoyed our stay then and have been back 3 times in 5 years since.

Risoul's Village where you have shops, restaurants etc

Risoul 1850 is a little station located in the Southern French Alps. About 5 hours from where we live in Modena. It is however an excellent ski resort as it is linked to the Vars station making La Forêt Blanche (1650-2750m) one of the largest skiable domains in France : 180km of slopes and 51 ski lifts. And what I really like about the station is the fact that the sun shines there almost every day, it snows quite a bit since it's so high up, you have really long slopes to ski on no matter what your skiing level is and there are valleys that take your breath away not just in terms of the view but also the skiable surface.

The Terrace of our Village Club facing the slopes

Baby Boy prepared for his Ourson medal with the ESF (École de Ski Française) this year, Baby Girl her Flocon and Eldest Son his Bronze Star. Everybody succeeded except for Eldest Son which came as a surprise as he's a really good skier and can ski down black slopes with ease and speed. We can only put it down to the lack of mental preparation for the exam which caused him to fail to be ready for one of the 3 tests that made up the exam. Mais c'est la vie, sitting for exams is an art that needs to be honed as I am fond of saying.

But that will teach him to be more careful and next year he'll get it. Anyway he's almost at the end of the ski exams and after the Gold Star he will be able to join his dad in the expert group or move on to the snowboard.

Myself I have no talent for the thing. Started out too old, am too scared and have no intention of breaking any bone as I have nobody to help me with the kids. This year I did Class 1 for the 3rd year running. And it was starting to be boring. Then after 2 days there were too many students in my group and I was sent to join another group. Still Class 1 but an advanced group. Great instructor (name's Doumé) who wanted to really push us and he brought us to the most amazing places to ski, including out of the slopes (hors pistes). At the end of our week, he said that we could all move on to Class 2, so I guess I'll have to hold on to my courage and join Class 2 next year. Hold still, my heart...

This year the Village Club did a good entertainment programme and we really enjoyed their cabaret, humourous sketches and PIRATES show. Better than the ones brought in by the Vars Tourist Office. I guess having a good Director (Fred) helps, the guy has a great sense of humour and it showed in the entertainment that he coordinated. On Wednesday at noon, Hub and I skied to Vars Ste Marie at 2200m and joined a BBQ lunch organised by the Village Club. We ate under the sun and it was wonderful.

BBQ Lunch at Vars Ste Marie 2200m

The food on the whole's so-so but it still beats having to cook when one's on holiday. You get everything starting with a cold buffet followed by a hot soup, pasta, hot meat and fish mains and their sides. Then there'll be fruit, yoghurt, desserts, ice cream etc. Free flow of soft drinks and wine. Needless to say, I managed to put on another few kilos.

The Kids setting out to ski

By the middle of the week Baby Girl could ski down most blue slopes with ease and Baby Boy the green ones. Next year we should be able to ski as a family. The year after the Babies would all be skiing better than me. Poor Lotus.

We were all really happy to be in France. Such a really beautiful country. Along the way we passed through Briançon and saw how pretty it was. On our way back, we stopped at a small supermarket and went crazy with the variety of goods on offer. So many good things to buy, how I have missed shopping for food in France. And then of course we had to lunch at a restaurant in the region. Bon appétit!

vendredi, mars 21, 2008

Bean Sprouts with Salted Fish and Fried Bean Curd

Bean Sprouts with Salted Fish and Fried Bean Curd

I love this dish. Can still remember my childhood spent plucking the roots off the bean sprouts with my maternal grandpa (and the sprouts came wrapped in newspaper). But nowadays I do not have the patience nor the time to do so and I personally do not mind eating the roots especially as I usually buy Bio bean sprouts here in Modena.

The salted fish my dear mother bought and had me bring back from Singapore and the fried bean curd CL kindly sent me home with a packet the last time I visited her. She got them from the Asian shop in Bologna.

I used garlic, sesame oil, ginger, light soy sauce and oyster sauce for the dish. And I like my bean sprouts crunchy. I can eat tonnes of white rice with these sprouts. Yummy.

Off to ski in Risoul. Dreading it as usual and looking forward to it at the same time as usual.

Happy Easter Holidays!

jeudi, mars 20, 2008



I like to tell the Hub sometimes that I am better off without him. Not that I do not live the bit about consensus and compromise, but I am often more efficient when I am on my own.

A week or 2 ago the thought crossed my mind that I should bring the 3 kids to Italy's largest amusement park Gardaland during their next school holidays. The idea itself is suicidal, of course, but Lotus is known to be sadistic and masochism is but the other face of the same coin.

I thought that Thursday sounded good. And the weather predictions seemed to agree with me. And as all things happen in 3s, Gardaland was to open for business in 2008 on the 19th of March and I was all for giving them a day to warm up and get things going.

Of course my GPS had no idea where Gardaland was. But without the Hub around to judge me, I felt adventurous and was all set to find my way there somehow. Then my dear friend E called to warn me about the strong winds round the Garda Lake area, but I didn't have the heart to cancel the kids after I've managed to get them to dress up and brush their teeth in record time dangling the Gardaland carrot. So Gardaland, here we come!

Actually the way there was quite easy. It's like going to the Mantova outlet. Then you continue. A22-A4. Exit at Peschiera della Garda. An hour and a half from Modena if there were no jams.

The parking costs 5 euros. The single entry ticket for children from 1 metre tall to 10 years of age costs 26 euros and that for adults 30 euros. For once it came to be of some use that Baby Boy somehow didn't grow past 1m though he's now 4. I was beginning to love this park.

Today was the perfect day to visit Gardaland. The sun was shining, the wind almost absent, and there were no crowds and no queues. We did almost everything. There were 38 attractions and shows listed on their map and we did 23 of them, mainly the ones accessible to children shorter than 1m. And including the Dolphin show that cost us an extra 4 euros per head.

Albergo di Prezzemolo

I really enjoyed the Festival on Ice show with pretty good figure skaters for a park like this. Eldest Son loved the Time Voyagers 3D show though Baby Boy got really scared and started to scream in the middle of it. The Babies loved the Colorado Boat ride and that was one ride we did twice and got really wet twice too. When the children were watching the Dophin Show, I ran off to do 2 roller coaster rides Magic Mountain and Sequoia Adventure. So-so, they gave me a headache with no thrill. I like rides that make you feel as if your heart is jumping out of your body and only those rides that throw you down from a good height can give you that sensation. I probably should try bungee jumping but with the extra weight I do not trust the ankles. There's this enormous roller coaster called Blue Tornado and I hope I'll get to try it another time.

Blue Tornado

We were doing this "safari" in some African swamp Tunga and I was suitably impressed when Baby Boy pointed out to a figure and said, "That's an African!" Wow, they must have learnt that in school and I am glad that they didn't say the usual, "It's a black man!" Baby Girl then pointed out to a few African women cooking with earthen ware and said, "They have that in Kirikoo too." Kirikoo is a famous cartoon in France with only African actors and I am glad that we've bought the DVDs.


Another cool thing about the park is that there is usually nothing to buy. Its mascot Prezzemolo (or Parsley) is relatively unknown and in any case I find it ugly. So for the sake of coming away with a Gardaland souvenir, I got the Babies a Gardaland toothbrush each. In Disneyland or at Parc Asterix, if the Hub hadn't been around, we would have emptied the shops.

Baby Corsario

There are quite a number of fastfood kiosks and restaurants in Gardaland though half of them were not open at this time of the year. I can just imagine the number of visitors they must have normally and I shudder at the thought. Today was really the perfect time to visit. We had a very quick bite of hotdog and fries (good fries for 2 euros a packet) and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were not too abusive with prices like most of the other amusement parks.

La Valle dei Re

Gardaland has a good mix of attractions and rides for children and adults and it's one of the rare parks that actually allowed adults to go on almost every ride meant for little children. The opposite is also often true, quite a number of the rides allowed most litte children to go on them as long as they are accompanied by an adult.

Medieval Knight

In June they would be opening a new park Sea Life and the nearby Gardaland Hotel has a very big pool. Could be interesting staying overnight. Prices are not low unfortunately.

So we had a really good day and I am really happy to have brought the kids there. I must say that every one of them behaved admirably for once and that allowed us to be efficient and to do as much as we did. Happy Birthday again Baby Boy, that, of course, was my Birthday present to the boy, having run out of ideas for presents.

mardi, mars 18, 2008

Happy 4th Birthday, Baby Boy!

Happy 4th Birthday, Baby Boy!

Time certainly flies as the little one is now 4. My baby, my love, my heart and my liver (xingan).

Just as well we celebrated his Birthday at school as our plans for another celebration in the evening were to be literally wrecked. I ordered an ice cream cake from K2 in Montale and this time around I brought along plastic plates from Ikea. OK, not sexy or exciting, but at least there'll be no need for me to whinge about wasting pretty but expensive paper plates like I did the last time. Sure I can afford to waste pretty paper plates, but then I know that I shouldn't.

Then of course I saved on paper plates but I would end up paying for a window. Yes, I am normally very careful with the keys to my main door. You can't open it without a key so I always carry it on me. But in the evening on my way out to pick up Eldest Son from his playdate with A (a very intelligent and talented boy), Baby Girl opened the door, leaving the key in the lock. I rushed out after her and while looking for the switch to turn on the light outside, the door slammed shut - with the key inside.

This was a catastrophe as one cannot open the door when there is already a key in the lock on the other side of the door. I called the Hub (who was driving back from Torino) and he called the Geometra for help and for once we were fortunate in our misfortune because we got him - when we had been trying in the last few months to do so to no avail.

I had to rush to Modena to pick up Eldest Son and I was really disappointed as I was hoping to spend some time chatting to A's mom E who has become a friend. Smart lady who calls a spade a spade, just the kind of gal I like. Also, I had to forget about picking up a cake for Baby Boy on the way, of course. So much for a family celebration in the evening.

The Geometra arrived in the dark with his tools for picking the lock. But he failed and we had to resort to breaking a window or wait till the next day for a locksmith (meaning we'd have to sleep in the car). The former option was taken and so he got a ladder, climbed up to Eldest Son's room, broke the window and got in. Voilà why I have now a window to pay for.

I whinged of course but nonetheless I am thankful for small mishaps here and there as I believe that they allow me to avoid the larger ones (touch wood). And I am comforted in the knowledge that my decision to take this house mainly because it comes with a Geometra (besides the fact that we have no neighbours) is a just one. In a country like Italy, having a man of the situation ready to help you with most possible disasters is very important.

We went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and Baby Boy got to blow candles on an ice-cream dessert and we're happy that he's now 4 and hopefully will enjoy many many more happy birthdays surrounded by people who love him.

A Busy Morning

Early Easter Greetings to Everybody!

Baby Boy turns FOUR today! Though if I'm busy this morning, it was not because of that. I had to tidy up the house a minimum as Irina would be here at 8am to clean. I must say that I've had reservations about her at the beginning with all that I've heard about her, but I'm used to her now, she's a kind person if somewhat clumsy and I like her. It helps too that I've moved all my valuables out of the house (haha).

I had to get the Easter presents for the teachers ready. Yes, I came across a few lovely Art plates (Renoir, Gauguin, Monet, Van Gogh...) yesterday when I was out looking for the usual rabbits and hens and eggs and though tempted to keep them for myself, got the Babies (or rather just Baby Girl as she insisted on doing it for everybody) to help fill them with straw and chocolate eggs and make a few drawings for their teachers. Children should learn to give and not just receive. And this way they will grow into giving adults. Though they should not be like my mom. If you let her she would give half the house away. I've always suspected that she's always buying stuff so that she could give them away. She takes too much joy in giving.

No prizes for guessing who I had to give this one to!

I've been busy also because we had an appointment with JA the School Principal! Yes, over the issue everyone knows about now since I've been ranting about it.

I had been warned about how if I continue to complain about the school it may fall back on my children (like the mafia hehe). Not to the school's credit if people believe that you could get sanctioned for opening your mouth. But these minds do not understand that Lotus was ranting for herself (not for the others), she was complaining because she felt she had reason to do so and also as she had felt at that time that she wasn't being listened to. More importantly though, they do not have Lotus' faith in the Head of the school's good sense and professionalism. Why would you want to take out on the kids you were supposed to educate and mold into better people? Unless you do not believe in what you are doing and get sidetracked easily. For all my ranting, I have more faith in the school than that. And it doesn't look like JA in any case.

I believe in dialogue. And at the same time, I have a blog that is my diary albeit a public one. That's how I keep friends and family informed without having to repeat myself. So you may get to read the progress (or not) of any dialogue I may have with anybody. But don't abuse.

With JA, it had been a positive morning. For once, somebody in the school listened to what we had to say. For once somebody tried to explain things to us and not ask us to just accept without understanding. Our concerns were real and we just needed help to address them within what the school can do for all of its students. And she has promised that she would do her best. And she is someone who keeps her word and who can make things happen. I believe in her.

Then as I've expected, mention was made of my blog. Folks, I'm getting really known in these parts. LOL

She said I should remove pictures of children etc taken in the school. Fair enough. To tell the truth, I knew about it but was just waiting for somebody to come tell me :-). Though mothers out there may understand if I say that I only see my own kids in them. A mother's eyes is not the same. But still, I apologise.

Because in this place more than anywhere else (I had the blog when I was in Germany and mothers there read it too), people read your blog but they do not talk to you either through it or in person. They go to other people and expect the other person(s) to do something about it. In Chinese, we call it killing with a borrowed sword. OK, I exaggerate.

And better still, a few of these people either do not know how to read or didn't read what I had to say thoroughly, or they are somehow incapable of figuring things out themselves in a logical way. Of course, you may want to tell me that my English sucks.

For example, some read of Baby Girl having to do an extra year in Pre-school because of the school's cut-off date. That is our case because we came from the French system. They panicked and started to call the Principal about it thinking that their kids too were affected. Why didn't they (1) check out the school's policy clearly stated on the website for themselves, (2) look at their own child's age and past schooling experience and calculate whether it really affects them too, (3) come check with me so that I may explain for myself - can't speak for the others, right?

Because this policy should only affect people coming from countries like France and Italy where the cut-off date is 31st December and where kids go to Primary One in their 6th year. The English and Americans are usually not affected as the IS system is similar to theirs and the Swedes actually gain a year as they only start P1 at the age of 7. Get it? Whatever it is, it's none of my business, I was only concerned with mine so take it as you wish.

Anyway, for those of you who have been following the saga, I have gotten past the black and white bits of the issue and am coming to accept things as they need to be. It doesn't seem bad to tell the truth. The school has new premises, it has a new curriculum and philosophy (IB), new and good leadership, the teachers are kind and motivated and the children are happy. There are things in the curriculum to iron out as far as I'm concerned (though I know everyone has his ideas and we can't all be accommodated) and the current Principal is always open to ideas and comments so that's a good start. And I really like most of the mothers I am in contact with and I have fun doing things with them.

I am an open book, I am exposed, but at least what you see is what you get. Though do resist the temptation to push blame on me for things I didn't say or do or for what people misunderstand or misinterpret (that's their responsibility, isn't it?) simply because everybody knows I'm vocal, have opinions and have a blog. Because I may end up the last person to know about it but don't we all finish by knowing about everything? And then...(devil's horns)

I want to thank my friends for their private and public words of encouragement and to JA for listening to me in person. Blogging is something still rather foreign to many people and can cause unease, but once you get used to it, it'll be easier to live with. Just wait and see. :-)

lundi, mars 17, 2008

What have we been eating?

Pan-Grilled Moroccan Chicken in Pita Bread

For a while I resisted this vegetable/salad as I didn't like its name for some reason. You find it almost everywhere up here in the North - cooked or raw. Then we were walking through the covered market in Modena MIL and I and she kept telling me that those leaves looked great and that we should get them. I still resisted (poor woman).

Radicchio with German Sausage and Fried Egg

But Lotus' bark is often worse than her bite so it was a matter of time before she gave up and try out the object of curiosity. Radicchio. A leaf chicory also known as Italian chicory. It is grown as a leaf vegetable (e.g. in Veneto) and usually has white-veined red leaves. It has a bitter and spicy taste. You eat it raw in a salad, cooked and mixed in a risotto or even grilled.

With Roast Lamb, Grilled Red Peppers and Asparagus

My first radicchio I bought in Montale in a small shop where they cost twice as much as they would in a supermarket. But I was in a hurry and didn't want to go too far away. The seller was alone and true to her reputation, tried to offer me coffee so that I would hang around and she could tell me some of her stories. Not even my lousy Italian could stop her.

Anyway, the result was that for at least 2 days running, we had radicchio with something.

Garlicked Octopus on Salad Leaves

Then I decided to look into Octopus. Found plain cooked ones in Esselunga and just cooked them with garlic, olive oil and parsley, squeezed some lime juice over it and serve it over a bed of salad leaves seasoned with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

One other thing that caught my fascination the past week was Mushroom. I got a mixed bunch of them (including Funghi Porcini) and made a pasta and then a risotto with them. They are really best eaten simple : cooked for like 10 minutes in garlic, olive oil, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Served on a bed of plain pasta or pasta with tomato sauce, or with risotto.

Mushroom Risotto

Actually that was one very Italian week, wasn't it?

So after that, I decided to return to more exotic stuff and you found me making Peking Duck on Sunday, followed by Pan-grilled Moroccan Chicken in Pita Bread.

Peking Duck

In one of my older blog posts, I had a recipe for simple Peking Duck. Sunday saw me ready to make a slightly more complicated one, paying more attention to dry roasting the spices before mixing them to the soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, honey etc, and especially to the preparation of the duck for roasting (e.g. pouring hot water over the duck, drying it out etc). Still, it was not the full-blown traditional method but it was good enough for a simple Sunday lunch. And I made the crepes myself too.

samedi, mars 15, 2008

Villa Oplontis

2 of the Cold Starters

We came upon this restaurant Villa Oplontis in Spilamberto one evening on our way back from Bologna a few months ago and had always meant to return. And so we did last evening and took up their Seafood Menu for minimum 2 pax. Yes, it's a good place for seafood that was what we remembered as I had Lobster Linguine (15 euros) our 1st time there and the Hub could not help but eye the Mussles and other dishes going past his nose as he ate his simple pizza.

The Seafood Menu (40 euros per person) was inclusive of a bottle of wine (so-so), a generous mix of cold and warm starters, a mix of different pasta with seafood and a mixed seafood platter (both fried and grilled). If you have something particular that you must have e.g. Hub and his scallops and Eldest Son and his sardines, let them know and they'd usually try to make you happy.

They also serve pizzas, all types of pasta and meat. Good value for money.

Villa Oplontis
Via Martiri Artioli 128
San Cesario s.P. (MO)
Tel : 059 785692

Counting My Blessings

I have given myself a new exercise. I have decided to count my blessings today.

I do not usually accept without understanding. Recently I had to face a situation that required me to pull wires in different directions (stepping on toes where necessary, enthusiasing others surprisingly) searching for comprehension and it had been a rather exhausting exercise.

Along the way, the temptation to acquire change did cross my path, but the good thing about getting older is the ability to understand the virtue of waiting and seeing.

Those who knew me in my lost youth would have been surprised. Lotus had been known to possess a missionary need to change the world. Two Governments even thought to help her along, providing her with scholarships to achieve her goals. If she hadn't given in to the temptation to understand the female's age-old programmed role for procreation and domesticity, she probably would have made some headway in doing what she had earlier thought she had been made for.

But no choice in life is ever a wasted one. And lessons learnt and lost sometimes return to haunt.

I have an unfortunate tendancy when in the midst of a discussion or situation to resort to what I had spent years being trained to do : strive for Thesis, Anti-Thesis and Synthesis. I had been trained to defend views that I do not necessarily share just so as to challenge any dominant view at any given point. You have a subject, you tear it apart and drag it to both ends and then you bring them back together and attempt to make it a better and more comprehensible whole.

Very enjoyable exercise, though it doesn't always make me popular in dinner conversations where most people try not to offend anybody or will go with the flow of things just to make a few people happy. Lotus is often a pain in the ass in other words.

But her tortured husband has taken over for her tortured parents and he has reminded her that she needed to be kinder to people around her. Tsk tsk, not that she's a mean person. It's just that she's now in Europe. People look at this plump Asian girl and usually expect a nice, gentle person. And it is often doubly uncomfortable to discover the contrary. But when they get used to it, they usually buy my story that I'm really quite nice and harmless. Nice and harmless. Nice and harmless....

To help me better wait and see in the next few months, I need to be positive. I need to relax and recharge my energies for the many things that I have to deal with in my life. Life has been kind to me thus far, I have to help it to continue being nice to me.

I have been blessed :

  1. To be born in Singapore. Where East meets West. Summer all year round, sheltered from most known natural disasters. Multi-racial, multi-religious, secular, lawful, peaceful, forward-looking society. Many brains, great food.

  2. To be Chinese. To be able to speak Cantonese, Hokkien, understand Teochew, to have studied Mandarin. Such a rich heritage. I wish I had paid more attention to the language when I was at school though. And I wish that I had thought to transmit it to my children - but I have been lazy.

  3. With the most adorable maternal grandfather. I will figure out his signature Sweet Egg Noodle recipe one day.

  4. To have lived with my Malay Nanny. To understand the importance of racial harmony and be able to love these people who have treated me like their own and who have fed me the nicest, hottest food.

  5. To have indulgent and ambitious parents who though they didn't have much in their own lives didn't let that stop them from giving us a better one. But dad, wish you could remember that if one's lucky, just one ticket would do.

  6. With 2 siblings who had to share limited living space with me and who though disliking my bossiness will help me up if I should fall.

  7. With my maiden aunt who always gave without expecting much in return and never got to spend her CPF contributions because she had to die just as she was due for retirement. I am to understand that life is often unfair. Can knock you in/down unexpectedly. So carpe diem.

  8. With a couple of painful relatives who helped me hone my combative spirit and sharp tongue and provided me with a few targets to practise on really early on.

  9. With good schools and good teachers, special mention must be made of Mrs Wong who taught me the importance of discipline, of doing whatever I chose to do well. And for instilling in me joy in taking exams, the need to constantly challenge myself or risk rotting away. And for telling me that her good figure was due to eating more rice vermicelli and less egg and wheat flour noodles. Next, I will never forget Mrs Elspeth Smith, who made English Literature such a joy to behold and my years in Secondary School such enjoyable, educational ones. Even the lousy teachers had been a blessing for they made the good ones stand out even more. And of course I adore Mr Whitby. I am crazy, I am different and I am just great LOL.

  10. With the Democratic Socialist Club back in NUS. I was International Secretary and member of the CWC. But in reality really just organiser of tours to all over the world and distributor of Delifrance sandwiches :-). The discussions and debates we have had, our aim to create and sustain political awareness and fight apathy among the student population. The life-long friends I've made through the club, the fun we've had. Thank you so much.

  11. My years volunteering with the Ang Mo Kio Social Service Centre. Working with the elderly has taught me so much. Paying alot of taxes to me is not the best solution to helping the less fortunate. Probably more to fatten inefficient politicians and civil servants. It is best if everyone should feel the need to come out with money, time and effort to help the others and gain satisfaction from this participation.

  12. Monsieur Baillon. Je pense donc je suis. Ceci n'est pas une pipe. C'est grâce à vous que je suis venue en France, que ma vie a changé.

  13. Prof Jon Quah. The most hypocritical, sleasy and dishonest academic I've ever met, but as you can see, I'm like a Phoenix who rises from its ashes. And I hope that you can live with the knowledge that you have harmed many in your life, abused your authority.

  14. My friends. The real ones. Mostly in Singapore and in Paris. We may be far from each other, but never in the minds and in the hearts. You know what they say, great minds think alike, and if I may add, smart stomachs eat alike.

  15. The scholarships (and of course those who awarded them to me) that allowed me to learn at some of the best institutions in Singapore and in France, allowing me to make the friends I have today, be the pain in the ass that I am.

  16. Donal. A job when I needed it, a laugh when I needed it, company when I needed it.

  17. Rapsodia for what could have been the start to a beautiful career. Thank you for creating the position that I had, for giving me chances and confidence when I needed it. I have learnt so much from everybody, and working certainly did help to keep the weight down.

  18. My Husband. Upright, responsible, reliable, intelligent, authoritative, successful, good at racket sports, great libido, supportive and loving (list non-exhaustive, of course). We are both tough nuts to crack and we keep each other on our toes (or backs - depends on the time of the day/night). I explode easily, he's almost always calm. The Horoscope says we're badly matched but that's because it didn't know that us - and only us - we're always right.

  19. My children. I only understood why I had to accept the lot in my life when I had them. They are just such beautiful and wonderful kids. Always happy, a little crazy, eat really well and if ever I run out of money, I know I'd be able to sell them for a fortune.

  20. The chance to live in different countries, eat different food, learn new languages. Make new friends.

  21. The pitfalls I've had in my life thus far. I learn from every one of them, I understand more about myself and my surroundings each time, I can only become wiser and stronger and better equipped to deal with the next one.

  22. My Blog. Space to express myself. To whinge. To remember. To count my blessings on. To make friends. To learn.
This is a long post. But come only 22 blessings ah? Is it due to me not having more, not remembering the others, not recognising blessings when I have them? But whatever it is, I am blessed to have them at all and thank you for bearing with me.

vendredi, mars 14, 2008

Grade 5/6 Presentation

Do not say that Lotus only knows how to complain or criticise. When there is praise to be made and it is FOC, she would be rushing forward to give out the honours.

We hurried all the lovely ladies out of the house at 5 minutes to 2 so that we could rush to the school on time. The sun was shining brightly, our stomachs were full and for once we were on time.

We settled down for the performance. Yes, a performance to be given by the children in Grades 5 and 6. Their last Unit of Enquiry was titled "Music, Words and Movement can be combined to express Emotions". So they cheorographed, composed, emotioned and danced their way away for 30 minutes for us. Very good performance. Eldest Son apparently taught the class how to dance the Macarena after learning it from a video on YouTube. And for once he paid attention to whatever he needed to do and didn't drift off to Dreamland.

"I want to break free"

Both the parents and children had a great time. I must say that the teacher did a great job, it being not easy to go out of the usual Curriculum to co-ordinate a Unit like this. Probably easier teaching Shakespeare to Pre-schoolers.

And for the parents, it's stress-free though I did occasionally wonder in the last few weeks why the boy was going round the house wriggling his body and shaking his backside all the time. To think that in the presentations he had to make in his previous schools, I was nervous having to worry about whether he would remember his lines (in different languages) in complicated Poetry Recitals, Tongue Twisters etc. Poetries I think he couldn't remember a line of since. (Neither could I)

This is the PYP Programme. Developing one's confidence, presentation skills, learning through fun etc. The kids learn how to take the lead, work in a group, co-ordinate etc etc. Though slap me, I was still hoping that they'd manage to squeeze in some really tough, useless and boring stuff like History of Music or African Tribal Music Traditions or something. Just for the fun of it. I am so sadistic.

Asian Ladies Pot Luck

Fruit Tart

I had a most wonderful time today. It started out cold and foggy but then the sky cleared and the ladies arrived. It was my own Bollywood beauty R who suggested that we do this Asian Ladies' Gathering and always ready to adopt a good idea, I've taken her on it. Took us a few weeks to organise and we certainly didn't want to cancel it even though we found out only last week that our sons would have their class presentation this afternoon. Will have to rush.

I've met A and P briefly at the Christmas Fair and have always wanted to meet them again. Not easy since they rarely come to the school. But better late than never, with R and CL's help in providing the taxi service, 3 months later I finally have the honour of hosting this lunch and having them at my Ikea dining table.

The only dark cloud in the horizon of course was my diet. CL brought her Hub's famous Chicken Curry, P did us Egg Curry (I love Egg Curry) and Vegetable Rice, A a Mixed Dal Vada and a lovely sweet Semolina. R, believe it or not, left home without her Veg Sambal but more than made up for it with her Fruit Tart. I contributed Fried Vegetable Spring Rolls (frozen from Lidl), my Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Prawn version), an Okra Sambal, Spiced Rice and Chocolate Cake.

I had intended to be a gracious hostess, sipping tea daintily and making gentle conversation. But of course as usual I forgot myself and was blabbing away in no time. Hope I didn't frighten my lovely guests. Pity Sh couldn't make it, she had work to finish for the school (active volunteer) and felt that she had to give our gathering a miss as such.

We hope to make this gathering a regular affair. The next time it'd probably be an Indian cooking lesson with A or P. Isn't it great when one gets to learn, socialise and eat all at the same time?

The trees are starting to blossom...

jeudi, mars 13, 2008

Attention to ALL Visitors

My blog is my open diary. I am sharing with all who visit my life, what I cook and eat, how I feel, some of my thoughts, the good and bad moments, some of my views and perceptions etc.

I believe that I live in a free world. I do not censor others and I do not expect to be censored. Everyone has to be responsible for what they write. I publish some of my thoughts, feelings and/or perceptions and if I didn't invite you to read my blog but you happen to read it, you are still more than welcome to hang around.

Though there is an important rule as far as I'm concerned. If you disagree with what I write, I invite you to :

  1. Clarify with me (so that there would be no misunderstandings)

  2. Tell me that you disagree with me (so that we could discuss, debate etc and if I take your point, I will consider apologising or changing my content)

  3. Share with me your own views, thoughts, feelings and perceptions
But whatever you do, please do not go behind my back spreading word of my blog or what you have read on it, catching hold of people you think were being mentioned or discussed and "attacking" them so that out of embarrassment they have to come and ask me to remove any trace of them (when I already do not mention names in my blog) from my posts.

Modena is a small society and the expat community even more so. What goes about comes around. If I can mention something in my blog, then I am not worried that it should be read. But it is irritating hearing whispers from people talking to me about defamation and repercussions.

For goodness' sake, what kind of world do you think you are living in? Watching too many Big Brother movies? What happened to logic, clarity of thought, standing by what you believe in?

Lately I've been talking about the admissions policy of my kids' school based on age (1st September cut-off date). This is a fact. You can find this policy on their marketing and publicity.

The fact that they make exceptions for Italian children seeking to enter Middle School (31st December dateline and not 1st September like for the others) is on their website.

That when I emailed to discuss the problem and they could only stand by their age policy, I have the emails.

That Baby Girl could count to 10 in 3 languages 2 years ago I have her teachers' report from the previous school.

That Baby Boy couldn't write in a straight line, I had voiced it to the teacher yesterday (not just talk behind her back on my blog) and she had reassured me that she'd be able to show me work proving that the boy is doing much better than I imagined - fair enough. I am relieved.

That Eldest Son hadn't done any Science thus far, the teacher told me yesterday they would have a Science project next term - great!

That another family may homeschool their children (actually they are happy in general with the school but are stressed out with the one-year-behind situation due to the age policy) - I apologise, it is true that the community is small, so even if I do not mention names, a few smart asses can still guess and will not hesitate to confront the family in question and embarrass them. And in any case, I should keep discussions like these between us and not announce it on the Net. I AM SORRY.

Then, if because I open my mouth (and many people out there, if they are not being hypocritical, know that we are not the only family unhappy over a few things, and they certainly have been complaining themselves though not like me on a blog) my children get discriminated against (many are talking about repercussions!), then remember that we are from the enlightened world and if a school, its staff or parents should do that, then their actions will speak for themselves and if they can live with it, then so must I. But whatever it is, I will not be intimidated.

Finally, what is the point of complaining about anything behind anybody's back? If you really want things to be changed, then you have to present your disatisfaction to the person concerned. He may or may not do anything about it, but at least he will be in the know. That is only fair.

samedi, mars 08, 2008

Tuna Maki, Sushi and Sashimi

Tuna Makis

We went to Aldina for lunch again and while waiting for our food to be served, Hub and I took turns to visit the covered market opposite as inspiration struck on an ad-hoc basis as to what we would like to get from this market. I guess it's difficult being near a market and not buying anything from it.

On my trip I got bio bread and wild strawberries. Then while waiting for dessert, Hub asked me if I had what it took to make Tuna Makis and I said yes, except for the tuna, and so off he went to buy some tuna.

I don't eat sushi and other raw stuff like that. But I have attended 2 Japanese cooking classes a few years ago in Singapore and understand the basic principles of making such food. And I had excellent Hokkaido Japanese rice, nori seaweed sheets, wasabi, Japanese distilled stock.

My teacher told us that the sushi rice has to be harder than other rice. The rice has to be washed, drained and then left in a colander to dry for 30 minutes before being cooked. This is to make sure that the moisture will penetrate the grain and the sushi rice will not be soft on the outside and hard on the inside when cooked. And the cooking time normally shouldn't be too long (15 mins?). When cooked, the seasoning (7 parts Vinegar: 4 parts Sugar : 1 part Salt : 1/2 part Sake) has to be mixed with the rice with minimum disturbance so as not break the grains. Sushi rice is normally cooled in a cyprus-wood basin but I made do with my wooden salad bowl. One has to fan the rice to help it cool and may be allowed to use electric fans, but do not leave the rice out in the cold as it would dry up the grains and harden them.

Tuna Sushi and Sashimi

Each time I made my makis, the challenge would be to lose the minimum number of the rice grains to bad technique. I am pleased that this evening, I counted only 4 grains in my bowl of cold water.

Prawn Sushi looked like 3 Cats :-)

Had a big bowl of rice leftover so I fried some (frozen) breaded prawns, prepared a Tempura sauce and made a Ten Don for myself.

vendredi, mars 07, 2008

Mad Mad Mad

I am mad. Boiling mad. This in spite of the cold, grey and wet weather.

We move alot. On average every 2 to 3 years. We go where the bread is buttered. We want a bright future for our children. We like living in different countries.

But Italy certainly takes 1st prize in disorganisation. Even an International School in the country is not what it should be. Certes, they have their philosophy (i.e. PYP, MYP etc) that on paper sounds really wonderful (e.g. thinking/inquiring kids, no exams no stress, no textbooks no rote learning...), but at the moment my 11-year old has yet to do a Science project, my 5-year old is very happy to be counting to 20 and my 4-year old still couldn't write his name in a straight line.

I could teach them myself, but why would you pay 10000 euros a year for each kid and have to play tuition teacher after school? If the level's too high and you have to help them to cope, fair enough. But if you have to educate them yourself out of fear that they'll have to repeat a school year when they go to another school, then it's ridiculous.

And to top it all, found out on Monday that if your child is in Grade 1 in the International School (ISM) now, in reality he's in the last year of Kindergarten in the Italian system (which is similar to the French). There I flipped. Because this means that Baby Girl would have done FOUR years of Kindergarten before reaching Primary One!!! To think that in Stuttgart, there was a possibility that she would skip a year...

The culprit is the 1st September cut-off date. And the ISM's refusal to take into consideration the kids' previous educational experiences. 2 of my kids were born after this date which in France is no big deal since the cut-off date is 31st December. They started school early as such. Used to be among the youngest in their respective classes but are now the oldest. There are normally 2 school years between Baby Boy and Baby Girl but now there is only one!

I have emailed the School Principal. An admirable professional, very respected and well-liked. Someone who makes things happen, but where our problem is concerned, the only thing she is capable of telling me thus far is that the school has the age policy, and that's it. We are not farmers from the region, we are educated people who have moved, have lived through different school systems, the least they can do is address our concerns and questions and provide us with a few "workable" answers and solutions. The school preaches their philosophy of the teacher no longer being the expert, that she has to work with the students to find answers etc, but the impression we get when we talk to the school the last few times is : "We are the professionals, we know what's best for the students."

If they cannot promote Baby Girl to the class above, at least reassure us by proposing a solution that will allow her not to have to repeat a year (through no fault of hers) the day when we have to move her to another school. For Eldest Son, he is starting to forget some of the things he has learnt in his last school in Germany, they could push him more and make sure he does not regress. Because in an International School, by definition, most of its students would have a past and a future that may differ from their present in the school. Many would only be in transition.

The children are happy in the school. And there are a few very good teachers in the school, namely the lady who is currently teaching Grade 1. All mothers I've talked to reassured me that with her, the children would be covering something similar to what they would have learnt in the Italian or French Grade 1. So all I need is for the school to assure me that she would be there to help my child and eventually push her to make her more than good enough for the next grade.

I am furious and am no longer in any mood to join in the school festivities. Call this pettiness, but when you are troubled and your heart heavy, would you want to celebrate? Together with people I could no longer mention (because my blog is being read by everyone in the school) we briefly evoked the possibility of removing the kids from the school and have them home-schooled. Only problem is that they need a social life that only a school environment can provide. Or we could send them to an Italian school which is not fair to them as we are not Italians and do not speak the language or need to once we leave Italy.

mercredi, mars 05, 2008

Francophone Mothers' Lunch

Getting ready for the Vietnamese Crepes

The English Ladies in Ferrari or at school apparently keep pretty much to themselves when it comes to festive gatherings so the French(-speaking, as there are more francophones than French at the moment) ladies decided to do their own thing en réplique.

Interesting enough, the number of French-speaking families seem to have increased in the past few months and from coffee mornings we have since moved on to lunch. We had 2 new faces : M (French married to an Englishman) and L (French Syrian married to a Catalan). Having waited for a while (in vain) for somebody to host the last meeting, I decided to volunteer myself.

So this morning, starting from 9am, I started to prepare lunch for 8 people (R, F, G, M, a little guest of F's, L, myself and my dear Hub who turned up impromptu to make sure that I was not entertaining my lover after all). The theme was "Coconut Milk".

Started with Vietnamese Crepes, followed by a Singapore Chicken Curry (I recommend the Prima Taste Mix) with Butter Rice. For dessert I made Sago in Coconut Milk and Pandan Leaf which didn't go too well with most of the guests as they were just not used to the taste and texture. Suited me quite well as I gobbled up the whole pot myself later on. I also had Almond Jelly with Longans in the fridge but decided to keep it for the Babies as they love it.

Singapore Chicken Curry

R came late as she was stuck up in the mountains no thanks to the snow. But it was gratifying seeing her struggle a little with the to eat or not to eat dilemma (hanging around Lotus = extra kilos) and finally giving in. Feeding family and friends is part of my reason for existence nowadays, so it would have broken my heart if she didn't at least try something. LOL

It was a pleasant way to spend a few hours, we are all more or less in the same soup so we were happy to find kindred souls who understand our pathetic existence in this ulu (backward) part of the world. It's of course also very different when you are with the French, the English, Swedish, Germans, Indians etc, so I count myself fortunate to be able to experience being with all these different groups of people. It's not easy being Singaporean, we are so neither here nor there and over here you can count us on one hand, so to belong or not to belong is a thin line. You draw it yourself and decide which side you want to be on.

Next Friday - Asian Mothers' Pot Luck.