samedi, mai 31, 2008

Tauhu Goreng (Fried Tofu with Peanut Sauce)

Tauhu Goreng

On my last trip to Reggio (where I also found Zara and DPAM stores), I came back with 2 precious pieces of firm tofu and so decided this morning to make myself some Tauhu Goreng for lunch. For those not from our part of the world, this dish is basically made up of deep fried firm tofu (soy bean cake), cucumber, blanched bean sprouts and peanut sauce. Strictly vegetarian, if you wish.

My peanut sauce was done the way I like it, with :

crunchy peanut butter
palm sugar
red chillis
dark soy sauce
rice vinegar

Mixed Tempura

For the rest of the family, as they haven't acquired a taste for tofu, I felt obliged to make them something else. Since I had the fryer working, so Tempura with its dipping sauce it was to be. Made the usual mix of fresh prawns, button mushrooms, zucchini, aubergine, carrots, with the additional pleasure of zucchini flowers that we have not had for a few months now.

PS : If you want to have your Tempura Prawns long and straight like in the restaurants, you'll have to work a little harder and make cuts in the prawns to straighten them out.

dimanche, mai 18, 2008

The Right Not To Suffer Pain

I gave birth to 3 kids without any epidural. But it was a choice, me having quite a thing for pain and all. OK, the truth is that I was more afraid of having the big needle in my back than the pain from birthing and giving birth as I had suspected was all the faster when one could feel the pain.

Nevertheless, I am all for being given a choice : epidural or no epidural. Nobody should have to suffer pain if they do not want to. We all have the right not to suffer pain. Or so I thought.

I found out the other day that over here in Modena, an Italian friend would be giving birth this Summer without epidural through no choice of her own. Her clinic told her that it would be too expensive to hire an anaesthetist just for her. She could have chosen a clinic that could offer her this choice but those clinics who do often do not have a neonatology or neonatological reanimation service. In addition to that, until about 2 years ago, up to 6 women could be sharing the same ward after childbirth. Now, it would be 2 to a room. To think that I gave birth to all 3 in public hospitals in Paris and had always had a room all to myself - without having to pay a single extra cent for it. Spent our life complaining about the French medical system but finally it's really not so bad after all.

In 2004 I lost my paternal aunt and my father-in-law to cancer. This year, from the look of things, I would be losing my maternal aunt and a cousin of my dad's to more cancer. And cancer is synonymous with pain. Would their right not to suffer pain be respected? I sincerely hope so. Please do not let them suffer pain.

Party at the Ks

The Spread

The Ks do a great party at the beginning of every Summer and we were lucky to be part of the guests. They live up in the mountains where many Italians own second homes (to escape the hot Summers) so you get to enjoy the food and company in a picturesque setting. Only slight blight to an otherwise perfect party was the fact that it drizzled almost all the time and apparently it's going to rain the whole of the coming week. Sigh...

The Pig

We had a feast composed of Indian delicacies and a whole Roast Pig. R likes to tell us of how you would wake up to pig calls, grunts and snorts at 6 am in the whole of Yugoslavia and where most inns serving food would display a pig or some part of it on its roof or door to attract patrons. So it was a good pork and we would help ourselves to a piece of it now and then - no offense meant to vegans and vegetarians.

The Samossas

I stuffed my face with the samossas and had a few helpings of the okras. Brought along a Chicken Stir-fry as R's a fan of Chinese food. Almost never saw the kids as they played with their friends and never saw the Hub either as he stayed with the other men indulging in music, alcohol and cigars.

Lentils and Vegetable Pakoras

I had a great time gossiping with some of my favourite gals and meeting a few new faces M being a man of some influence in these parts. It was a party that lasted hours, we arrived at noon and left before midnight.

vendredi, mai 16, 2008

Electric Circuits (Cucumber, Avocado & Surimi, Cucumber & Omelette Makis)

The Makis

If you saw me on Tuesday afternoon, you would have seen an angry frightened person. Because your son had a project to finish and hand in the next day. You watched his other classmates walking past you at the school's entrance with boxes filled with electric circuits (Unit of Enquiry : Energy) and when you asked the boy to show you his, he only had an empty box.

I was furious with the boy. And I didn't understand how his teacher could allow him to hold on to an empty box on the eve of the assessment. Certes, the poor lady had spent alot of time trying to explain the project to him, but she obviously couldn't find the right switch because he obviously hadn't known where to start. Yet he knew his work.

Because after I have screamed at him in public (you see giggling mothers obviously thinking that I've lost it) and everywhere else, I asked him to sit down and start drawing me a few electric circuit diagrams before he did anything else (that was what I remembered of my own lessons on the subject - that you always start with a circuit diagram). He did just that and then in the next hour or so, without any intervention on my part (beyond "circuit diagram" I've given all that I've learnt back to my teachers), he just set up his circuit model (doll house with furniture, light bulbs, wires, batteries etc) like he had done it all his life! How's that? #&?¿*+$@

Then he had to work on the written part of his presentation. I have seen him doing research on the Net a few days prior to this, but the mystery of the month was that he didn't seem to need to print out or write anything down. Did he imagine that he had an excellent memory (ok, at times even photographic) and/or that part of his presentation involved an oral examination of his understanding of this Unit?

So he worked till midnight re-doing his research and typing his work out (because I got fed up with asking him to re-write his stuff all the time, his handwriting moved from manuscript to nondescript since he came to this school) while I came by occasionally to give him another scolding in guise of motivation.

His exhibit

His model with 3 circuits and a home-made switch

How electricity gets to our homes

Yesterday we attended the model exhibition and I was quite relieved to see that he seemed to have done a pretty decent job. Though I started to boil again thinking that if he could do something this decent at the very last hour he could have produced something really good had he started earlier. Ifs...

E told me that I shouldn't have gotten so angry and been so hard on him. She has a brilliant son who did all of his work in advance so she could be zen. But she was right, of course. I'm a horrible mother, terrorising all with my impatience plus unforgiving attitude. And Eldest Son is particularly sensitive and lacks esteem and having a mother like me certainly doesn't help him at all. I wish I could be like R who churned out compliments like water from a fountain to her boy.

And then I found out today that a few other kids did their work at the last minute too (at least another kid had an empty box on Tuesday) though their parents were more cool about it.

Anyway, all's well that ends well and he seemed to have recovered his spirits. Last night I had to make him some Cucumber, Cucumber & Omelette, and Avocado & Surimi (Crab Meat) Makis to bring to his Italian lesson at school today. They had to pretend to be working in a restaurant (at the rate he's going he'll probably end up doing it for real). He must have done pretty well because I had just gotten out of my car at the school's carpark when Luigi (the school's Master of DIY) came by to tell me that the boy had done a great job at the "restaurant". If Luigi makes you a compliment, you should be very proud of yourself. Not the sort who opens his mouth if he has nothing to say.

mercredi, mai 14, 2008

Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale, Spilamberto

Almost every week recently I would do something with E and this week, she invited me to visit a museum on the making of Traditional Modenese Balsamic Vinegar organised by her Italian teacher. It's found in Spilamberto and must be an important one as while we were there we saw 1200 bottles of balsamic vinegar sent in by people in the region for the annual Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Competition on St Giovanni's Day. Cost 4 euros per head and the good thing is that you do not feel obliged to buy anything like you usually would if you had visited a private vinegar maker.

We started out with a short video explaining the types of grapes used, the process (e.g. boiling the grape juice, natural fermentation and steady thickening in barrels made of different types of wood...knowledge usually passed down from mother to daughter) and all throughout there was a really strong smell of balsamic vinegar in the place. It was interesting seeing the different barrels for ourselves and learning that traditional balsamic vinegar is usually sold only after 12 or 25 years of maturity. Nothing like the stuff you usually buy in the supermarket. To illustrate my point, one bottle of balsamic vinegar in the supermarket usually goes for like 2-10 Euros. The traditional stuff goes for like 40-200 Euros for a tiny bottle.

The highlight of the visit of course was the tasting. We were each given a spoon containing a balsamic vinegar of at least 15 years of age. It was absolutely delicious.

Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale, Spilamberto
Villa comunale Fabriani
via Roncati, 28
41057 Spilamberto
Tel : 059 781 614

Fried Tofu with Golden Mushrooms and Crab Meat

Fried Tofu with Golden Mushrooms and Crab Meat

I love meat but it doesn't mean that I have to eat it all the time. Back home, I've often looked upon the occasional meal at the Buddhist Vegetarian restaurant near my parents' place as a big treat. But I happen to prefer Tofu and Asian vegetables like Chinese Spinach, Shitake and other Asian Mushrooms, Kang Kong, Shanghai Cabbage, Sweet Potato leaves, Tou Miao etc etc that of course I cannot find here, so I usually just skip the veg. Not very healthy, I know.

Last week I went to Reggio Emilia with E and bought 2 pieces of Tofu (nobody else in the family likes it) for myself. I was so happy when the Hub announced that he wouldn't be home for dinner on Monday as that meant that I could eat my own stuff! Made Fried Tofu with Golden Mushrooms (from last precious can) and Crab Meat - absolutely satisfying. Though as usual photo and presentation sucked.

Fresh Hard Tofu (for deep frying)
Fresh or Canned Golden Mushrooms
Fresh or Canned Crab Meat
Sesame Oil
Light Soy Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Chicken Stock (just enough to make a sauce)
Corn Starch

Deep fry the tofu and set aside. In a sauce pan heat up some sesame oil and brown the finely sliced garlic and ginger till fragrant. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl and pour the mixture into the pan.

Add in the golden mushrooms and simmer till the sauce thickens.

Arrange the fried tofu on a plate. Remove the golden mushrooms from the sauce pan and place them on top of the tofu. Arrange the cooked crab meat on top of the mushrooms. Pour the hot sauce onto the whole thing. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper over the dish.

Cream of White Asparagus

Cream of Asparagus (with freshly ground black pepper)

I am fond of asparagus - be they white, green or wild. The only problem is that I am not fond of peeling them. Peeled enough to last me quite a while especially when we were living in Spain and could find them everywhere when the Season was on.

But they are really good just nicely grilled or boiled and served with a bit of olive oil.

Yesterday I saw white peeled asparagus in jars in a supermarket. I wouldn't eat them on their own but I know that they would do just fine for a soup. A quick and yummy Cream of White Asparagus.

Cream of White Asparagus

Peeled White Asparagus
2 Garlic cloves
1 Onion
1 Potato
45g Butter
45g Flour
Chicken Stock
50ml Crème fraîche
Parmesan Cheese (optional)

In a soup pot brown the garlic and onion in the butter. Add in the cubed potato and then the flour. Stir well to cook the flour.

Now add in the asparagus and enough chicken stock to cover the ingredients. Cook till everything is soft. Mix with a hand mixer till you get a smooth and creamy soup.

Just before serving, stir in the cream and if you wish, garnish with some parmesan cheese shavings, freshly ground black pepper and croutons.

lundi, mai 12, 2008

Sports Day

Eldest Son coming in First

The school had their Sports Day last Friday and us parents had been invited to take part in it. One good thing about a small school is that we get to be involved in almost everything that has to do with our children and every occasion to socialise with one another is a good one.

Baby Boy and Girl were both part of the Green Team while Eldest Son wore Blue. Divided parents like myself it did, especially when I would have preferred my children to all wear Red like I did when I was at school myself. Though of course in my school as in theirs, the Red Team somehow always comes in last. Yellow Yellow Dirty Fellow won...

I missed out on the Babies' participation as I was away doing something else. Like spending 11,50 euros photocopying a music book that would have cost me 13 euros had I bought it. I feel thoroughly stupid about it, of course, but then I should have known that the guy didn't practise his English on me (though surely my Italian wasn't that bad) for nothing, he was happy to be able to fleece me for it. And he even did the photocopying badly - with absolutely no display of common sense.

As fate would have it, I received a letter from the school just after informing me that this same guy would be photographing my kids next Monday. Aarrgh.

So, I was saying that I didn't see my cute babies doing sporty things. I did manage to see Eldest Son win his class race though. Apparently he was the best in a few other events too. For once he was the best in something, pity they didn't give him a trophy for the pain.

This was a really nice and enjoyable occasion, quite unlike the competitive sporting events that gave me nightmares when I was a child. Between the qualifying races, the guns that set us off, the dozens of songs and chants we had to memorise to cheer our teams on...You guessed it right if you say that I turned up late for the kids' Sports Day because I was still a little traumatised by my own Sports Days. I was fat and lazy (am still fat and lazy) so I guess that didn't make me Sports Day material.

After Sports Day I joined a few mothers for lunch and was sad to know that one of them has decided to remove her child from the school next year. Never thought I would actually be pleading the case for the ISM, but I do feel that between classic celebrated rote learning in most Italian schools and a more fun approach to learning like in the IB Programme, I wouldn't put my kids through the former if I can help it. I still believe that rote learning has its place and use in education, but definitely not alot of it. Even in Singapore where life is tough for young learners, we are starting to move away from pure rote learning. My sister is forever attending courses sponsored by the Ministry of Education to learn new and fun ways of teaching and there is no doubt that a good mix of the old and new methods is bearing fruit.

Did your schools have Milo sponsoring cold chocolate drinks during Sports Day like it did in my time? That was one thing about Sports Day that I really look forward to. Needless to say I always hung around the Milo stand. Maybe Sports Day wasn't as bad as I remembered it to be.

samedi, mai 10, 2008

Bottega dei Vini, Verona

Bottega dei Vini, Verona

Hub has quite a number of Italians from different parts of Italy working for him and never failed to get them working part-time as Tourist Info when we wanted to do a bit of tourism in the country.

Our reliable source therefore led us to this nice restaurant and wine cellar known as the Bottega dei Vini. Established in 1890, it is said to house Verona's largest wine collection with 80,000 bottles. Well, we drank one of them when we were there and it was very good and expensive. One problem I guess when you are a Director is that your staff probably imagine that you only eat in high-end restaurants.

Our bottle of red wine

The restaurant is a little closely packed but interestingly decorated with empty wine bottles, caps and labels (framed). Service is a little steeper than in most restaurants (5 euros per head) but it was attentive and experienced and the bread better than usual.

They had a good offer of meat and fish dishes but for some reason we all went for meat - probably all the better to down it with a bottle of good red wine. Eldest Son and Baby Girl both had the Beef Capaccio (portions were generous) while Baby Boy and myself went for a yummy Pasta with Duck Ragout. Thus far I've never failed to order pasta in duck ragout whenever I see it and so far I've yet to be disappointed no matter where I've had it. I take it as a mark of a restaurant's sophistication that they could produce duck ragout to go with pasta.

Pasta with Duck Ragout

J had Polenta with Pancetta while the Hub had Polenta with Gongonzola and since I dislike polenta, pancetta and gongonzola I didn't attempt to taste their dish. I couldn't remember what M had though.

The most interesting dish was what followed though for the Hub and myself - Chateaubriand with Rosso Di Montalcino Sauce. The meat was super tender (reminded us of the Boeuf Ficelle at the famous Louchebem Restaurant at Les Halles in Paris) and the red wine sauce delicious. It cost a hefty 58 euros for 2 but was well worth the price. And it fed the kids too as they couldn't stay away from our meat.

The waiter preparing our Chateaubriand

They own a wine shop just next door and the wines in the shop cost 20% less than what the same ones in the restaurant do - not a fabulous reduction. Better to just drink them in the restaurant accompanied by the good food and the historical ambiance.

Bottega dei Vini
Via Scudo di Francia, 3
Tel : 045 800 4535

lundi, mai 05, 2008



We visited Verona with J and M on Labour Day and it was a relief to discover the city quite bustling and busy on a day that labour should be at rest. It lived up to its reputation as one of Italy's most beautiful cities and for those who love Shakespeare, of course that was where he based his tragic love story "Romeo and Juliet".

One couldn't miss Verona's Roman Arena, 3rd largest in existence. Built in 1 AD it is now the city's opera house and can seat around 20,000 people. When we were there they were setting up the stage to look like ancient Egypt so you know that Aida would be on soon. It was really quite impressive and one could visit for 4 euros during the day. You may find a few Roman "soldiers" or "gladiators" at the entrance and they'll ask you for a tip if you wish to have your photo taken with them. Don't be too eager to use the toilets in the arena though. They stink.

Roman Arena

Getting ready for Aida

J and her Roman Soldier

The buildings in its piazza were lovely though the market stalls selling for example Murano glass jewellery from Venice were an eyesore. That didn't stop me from buying a few trinklets though and it was ironic because I didn't buy any when I was in Venice but I had to buy some when I was in Verona.

Baby Girl

All in all a good trip. Hope you and M enjoyed it too, J!

Hub's Birthday Party

Bday Cake from Althea in Spezzano

In my memory I have thrown a party to celebrate the Hub's Bday almost every year for quite a number of years now. Smart way to let the others worry about what to get him for the occasion, me I never do know what to buy him as a gift and have long since given up trying to worry about it.

A case in point : I actually thought for a moment this year that maybe I finally did have a good gift idea. He mentioned the iPhone in loving tones and I started activating my overseas network of friends who may be capable of helping me procure one (since it's not officially available in Italy yet). Luckily I had the good sense to just ask him outright if it would interest him and the reply being "I'll ask the company to get me one" I went back to the giftless Bday party. And he did manage to get the company to get him one, that lucky idiot man.

Kids jumping in the Trampoline

We invited 7 familes and 5 accepted the invitation. All were Ferrari colleagues and most had quite a number of children. I had to feed 12 adults and 11 children and I think I had enough to feed double that number finally.

Our BBQ Station (Gas is great!)

We were blessed with a lovely sunny day. Great for a BBQ. I spent 1.5 days preparing the food and on the menu we had :
  • Mixed Salad with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
  • Taboulé
  • Hoummous (Chickpeas with Tahine)
  • Tomatoes with Mozzarella di Bufala
  • Raw Vegetable Platter
  • Mini-Quiches
  • Tandoori Prawns (BBQ)
  • Honey and Soy Sauce Chicken Wings (BBQ)
  • Beef Onglet with Herbes de Provence (BBQ)
  • Rotewurst (BBQ)
  • Nonya Chicken Curry served with White Rice
  • Tuna Makis
  • Fresh Fruit Salad
  • Birthday Cake (delicious Cream and Strawberry Sponge from Althea)
  • Almond and Pistacchio Cigars (a Middle Eastern sweatmeat made with Filo pastry)
Needless to say we also drank quite a bit on this day and had in fact magnum bottles of almost everything, one of which was the one won by the Hub and his colleague at his 1st Golf Tournament at the Garda Golf Club. Edged on by his adoring public, Hub gave a performance on his old clarinet. He also smoked a cigar and a few cigarettes which would have given me a heart attack on another day but I forced myself to close an eye (or both) on this occasion though finding cigarette butts in my garden the day after made me promise myself to buy another expensive pair of sunglasses soon to help lower my blood pressure.

He received lovely presents from our guests including a tie from R, a book on Style from D, CDs on Cello music (he used to play the instrument) from M...G offered us a cake that looked nondescript at 1st glance but when I tasted it the next day, I actually gobbled the whole cake up myself so good it was. It was known as the Torta Giuditta and is a specialty from Bazzano. Must say that I actually prefer it to the more famous Torta Barozzi from Vignola.

The Hoummous

I think the party was quite a success and allowed us to enjoy each other's company under such good weather conditions. It was also an occasion for me to get to know his colleagues and their families better and I discover that I really like these people. May be interesting to note that of the very nice Italians present, none were from Modena. LOL

So Happy 42nd once again dear Hub and many more good returns blah blah.