mardi, septembre 30, 2008

I used to be a Child too

I was the youngest kid in this group of kids being looked after by the same Malay Nanny

I was getting pretty tired lately dealing with all the things I had to deal with as an adult and on a whim asked dad to scan me a few pictures of myself when I was a kid.

When I got it, I had a lot of difficulty recognising myself when I was two. Goodness, was I so ugly? Did I use to be so small?

But it must be great to be a little child with nothing to worry about, no chores to handle etc. If I could remember it I'm sure I'll be missing those days of my childhood.

Back to reality otherwise. I want to cry...

dimanche, septembre 28, 2008

Terramara di Montale, Italy

Terrama di Montale (tickets)

The Hub very probably had this scenario in mind when he woke up this Sunday morning :

10:30am - Play Golf
1pm - Come back home for lunch
2pm - Retire to the sofa with something sweet and watch The Singapore Grand Prix

He forgot that his wife could be quite perverse and what really happened was :

10:30am - Play Golf
1pm - "What are we having for lunch?"
"I have absolutely no idea."
"How about brunch with bacon, eggs etc?"
"One normally brunches at 11am...In any case, you can do whatever you want as long as you clean and tidy up after."

Remember the kids' school sending us this paper on how to discipline the kids? I thought it'd probably work better on the Hub, so I try to practise whenever I can. Men shouldn't behave like Pashas when they are not born one. And if you want to watch the Grand Prix at 2pm, you'd better come home and have lunch before Noon. Basic time management. And even maids get Sundays off nowadays.

And to hammer in the message, after I've picked up Baby Girl from a birthday party at Opla, I called home to announce that I would be dining out with her. I mean the guy decided to go jogging and take a bath just when it was time to go pick up the girl. Hello?

And in between, being the good mother that I am, I brought Baby Boy to visit Terramara di Montale. As he wasn't invited to Opla and was feeling really miserable about it, I had to comfort him with something else. Sunday was European Heritage Day and the Terramara opened its doors for free visits. (Just in case you wondered, Eldest Son had to stay at home and do his homework. Yes, on a Sunday.)

The Cheftain's (right) and Artisan's (left) Houses

The Terramara were villages in the Emilia region of the Po river plains in about 2BC. They were usually built on raised platforms in the marshy areas (you know why we're mosquito-infested here in Modena). They farmed, grew animals, produced ceramics, textiles and sophisticated bronze weapons and tools.

Inside the Cheftain's House

Tools from the Artisan's House

Weapon-making exhibition

The Terramara di Montale is an excavation site and open air museum displaying some of its finds. But the few reconstructed houses, furniture, tools etc are usually all reproductions based on drawings, sculptures or actual findings. Each time they open they would usually have a theme and conduct workshops and/or exhibitions based on it. During our visit, the theme was "Archery" so visitors got to see how bows and arrows were made and also get a chance to use them. Baby Boy is crazy about archery so you can be sure he queued up for a try.

The park is open on Sundays and also on public holidays during the warmer months. At other times, it is available for school or private group visits (minimum 20) at 5 Euros per head. Normal entry prices would otherwise be 6 Euros. Everything is in Italian though.

After the visit, we stopped by at the cemetary next door and paid our respects to Luciano Pavarotti. Time really flies, he has been dead a year now. Pavarotti grew up in Montale and was buried there.

Terramara di Montale
Via Vandelli
41050 Montale Rangone (MO)
Tel : 059 203 3101

Udon Soup with Grilled Duck Breast

Udon Soup with Grilled Duck Breast

We all love Udon Soup in this family. And it goes beautifully with Grilled Duck Breast (Magret de Canard).

The Osso Bucco

My last soup stock was made with a Beef Osso Bucco, fennel bulb, onions and whole spices (e.g. cinnamon, star anise, cloves...), not to forget some light soy sauce, sesame oil, white wine/sake and salt. I use different stocks for my udon and spices go well with duck so that's why I made the stock I made.

Before adding the stock

The duck breast was just grilled on both sides on a heavy grill, sliced thinly (pink on the inside) and then served on top of the udon with the hot stock poured over it. With your choice of the greens and chilli too if you so desire.

samedi, septembre 27, 2008

Egg Drop Rice Noodles with Prawns

Egg Drop Rice Noodles with Prawns

Am supposed to eat less carbo but I guess the brain is perverse and is increasing my craving for it instead. Made a good portion of my favourite Egg Drop Rice Noodles with Prawns (Wak Tan Har Kau Chau Hor Fun) last evening for dinner. The white version.

The Prawns :
Raw Prawns (deshelled and deveined)
Garlic (minced)
Salt and Pepper

The Noodles :
Thick Rice Noodles
Garlic (minced)
Stock (use the prawn heads and a chicken stock cube)
Light Soy Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Sesame Oil
Salt and Pepper
Hua Tiao Wine
Corn starch (dissolved in a little water)
Greens (e.g. Choy sum, spinach...)
Bean Sprouts

Blanch the rice noodles, rinse under cold water, drain and set aside. Mix in some vegetable oil, sesame oil and light soy sauce.

Salt the prawns for a few minutes to make them firmer when cooked. Rinse and set aside. Heat up some oil in the wok and fry the garlic till fragrant. Add in the prawns and fry till they are almost cooked. Remove from wok and set aside.

Heat up a little more oil in the wok and fry more garlic till fragrant. Add in the greens followed by the bean sprouts. Add in the stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the cornstarch to thicken the gravy. Return the prawns to the wok. Turn off the heat and break in 2 eggs, stirring it to make the egg gravy. Pour over the rice noodles and serve hot.

PS : If making the dark version, before preparing the sauce, fry some garlic till fragrant, add in the rice noodles, some light and dark soy sauce and fry till the noodles turn brown then remove and set aside.

Chicken Kebab - Home Version

Chicken Kebab at home

I had my 1st Kebab outside Turkey and Greece in Paris. And it was twice as big as the ones I've had in those countries and probably not as fine. But it was food that I could afford occasionally when I was a student in Paris and therefore found itself a little place in my heart. My favourite kebab shop is in Place St Michel in Paris and no matter how many times it changed owners, its kebab remained one of the best I've ever had in Europe. Probably due to the subtle use of herbs.

You would imagine that kebab in Stuttgart would be good thanks to its strong Turkish population, but it wasn't so at all. Most kebab shops there resort to industrially-processed meat that tend to be tasteless, tough and too salty. I was told that many girls today actually reach puberty at the age of 8 or 10 no thanks to the strong inclusion of hormones in our meat and milk, so I'm not too hot about cheap meat or milk anymore and am seriously thinking of consuming more Bio/organic meat and milk from now on.

In Modena, I've tried a Kebab in the Egyptian shop near my place but it was very salty and didn't leave me a favourable impression. I will not be able to stack meat and roast it vertically on a spit at home, shave it and serve etc, but I figured that I could still marinate my own choice of meat for a few hours, grill it and serve in pita bread Kebab-style.

Chicken Kebab :

Chicken filet (in strips)
Olive Oil
Garlic (minced)
Ground Cumin
Ground Cinnamon
Ground Coriander seeds
Mustard Seeds
Ground Paprika
Ground Chilli
Ground Ginger
Dried Origano
Herbes de Provence
Salt and Pepper
Cider or Red Wine Vinegar or Lemon Juice

Garnishing :

Red Onions
Fresh Salad and Carrots (shredded)
Cucumber (sliced)
Greek Yoghurt
Pita Bread

The family loved it and I was accused of being stingy with the portions because everybody wanted more than one. Only managed to snap one pic and that of a sparsely-filled 2nd portion.


Nintendo Wii

You know what they say, people have I also want. The first time I saw the Nintendo Wii was during a playdate Eldest Son had with his friend J. I thought the console looked pretty cool and playing games on a big plasma made the whole thing look even more cool.

Then on my last trip back to Singapore, one of my oldest friends L told us how he had bought the Wii a few months ago and has been spending almost all of his free moments on it. L is one of those worldly, easily-bored kind of guy so if he tells you that he has been addicted to the Wii for a few months, you sit up and take notice.

To make the turning back harder, my other old kaki One Wheel was also there allowing himself to be tempted, so I held his hand and made a pact with him : let's buy the Wii together (and try to get a good price insieme, of course).

Like the Hokkiens say, we all want it cheap and fresh at the same time, so we toured Sim Lim Square hoping to get a deal and missing it, decided to have dinner at a hawker centre instead and leave our battle for another day.

Didn't have to wait long for one good thing about One Wheel is that he is not one to leave ducks sitting, especially not when he had a lor-soh (aka long-winded) friend like me buzzing like a persistent fly at his ear.

He was on one of his trips to Beijing a few weeks later and came back with 2 Wii consoles - one for him and one for me. The setback was that the thing is all in Japanese (which reminds me that I should maybe start revising my Hiragana and Katakana), but for 500 Singapura bucks it was apparently a good buy.

The console has been sitting in front of the plasma for a month now until the Hub decided to set it up this evening. It was an amazing scene that greeted me for the rest of the evening - the Hub and kids screaming and laughing while "bowling" on the Wii.

Wii Bowling on our plasma

Unlike most of the other game consoles, the wireless Wii allows the family to play together (when you have at least 2 remote controllers and Nunchucks) and you can move, walk around, jump up and down etc while you're at it. And the graphics are really good.

We currently have 40 games with us though only a few of them are the better known ones. And the machine hangs from time to time, requiring us to pull out the plug in order to switch it off. Ahem.

Thank you once again One Wheel and L for the purchase and don't forget me when you find some new and interesting game(s) next!

jeudi, septembre 25, 2008

Kenwood Patissier

Kenwood Pâtissier

Like every little cook on earth, I crave for the Kitchenaid and its retro look. Red, if possible.

But seeing that cakes and pastries are yet to be my forte, I do not see how I would be able to justify investing a few hundred Euros in one at the moment.

Then I was browsing through a shop this morning and I saw the Kenwood Patissier MX 273 - in retro blue.

It couldn't support additional gadgets like the Kitchenaid or the Kenwood Chef could, but then I do not think that I'd be making pasta or mincing meat myself (or if I do I'll buy separate machines for them) and I do love my Braun handmixer for what it can already do. So a simple machine just made for making cakes and bread like the Patissier should do.

And it really does look so cool - once I can find somewhere in the kitchen to display it.

mercredi, septembre 24, 2008

Konnyaku Jelly II

I promised the kids I would be making Konnyaku Jelly again and so I did. Plus this time around I had the special jelly moulds needed to make life simple - courtesy of SIG of Daily Affairs.

It was a pleasure to be able to meet up (again) for a few hours when I was last in Singapore, it's always good to be able to put a face to a blogger friend. Especially one as kind and interesting as dear SIG.

I have lost the photo but she also shared her first home-made Kaya with me! I am honoured and most touched for the consideration though of course all the yummy and rich eggs, sugar and coconut milk didn't hesitate to make themselves at home in my cellulite.

This jelly is really simple to make and this time round I cut up each lychee into smaller pieces before putting them into the jelly - making it easier to eat them.

Thanks, SIG, once again for the thoughtful gift!

lundi, septembre 22, 2008

Dosai with Egg and Potato Curry

Dosai with Egg and Potato Curry

I had a craving for Dosai the other day and made enough to last me (and the Babies) for 3 days. Baby Girl gobbled her portion down in a few minutes, asked for seconds and had to be turned down for the 3rd one. Served it with a Potato and Egg Curry.

I cooked the Dosai in my crepe pan and it was crispy on one side and smooth on the other (i.e. cooked on one side). It's basically like a French crepe only it's made with rice flour, black gram (urad lentil) flour and wheat flour fermented for a few hours with the help of some yeast. Doesn't contain egg or milk. And is delicious tempered with curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, onions, chillis etc.

But still, I should ask P to teach me how to make a really good Indian one. And maybe buy the right pots, pans etc to go with it and other Indian goodies like Idli and hoppers (hint hint).

dimanche, septembre 21, 2008

Pho Fans - Bistro Vietnamien, Shanghai

One of its Grilled Dishes

OK, I've never been to Shanghai so what am I doing blogging about a restaurant there?

Well, some of you may remember this restaurant in Paris that I blogged about some time ago - Les Jardins de Mandchourie. Well, its young and enterprising owner has just opened a restaurant in Shanghai, this time a simple one specialising in Vietnamese Pho and Lemongrass Grilled Meats and Seafood. From what I knew, he spent a few months learning how to make a good Pho from one of the Vietnamese Pho masters in Paris before setting out on his Chinese adventure. Knowing his love for things well-done, I know that his Viet Bistro will be a success - like his Northern Chinese Restaurant in Paris.

So if any of you have a chance to live in or pass through Shanghai, and if you should wish to eat Vietnamese for a change, please do think of giving Pho Fans - Bistrot Vietnamien a try.

And let me know what you think of it.

PS : If you can read Chinese, check out the reviews at Dianping. They are already starting to rave about the service.

Pho Fans - Bistrot Vietnamien
500, East Jinling Road,
Tel : 021-63737797
Metro: line 8, Station: Dashijie

samedi, septembre 20, 2008

Family Day 2008

Family Day 2008

Today is one day that I've been waiting for. As many may know, Ferrari's a fortress. It's not some place that any Tom, Dick or Harry may penetrate. The Hub has been working there for more than a year now and I've never been allowed to enter the company. But this morning, all the employees and their families have been formally invited to visit the legend. It's Family Day 2008 and apparently only held once every 2 years.

The welcome leaflet

Actually I'm not really interested in machines and motors and things like that. I just want to visit the Hub's office and see for myself the place where he spends almost 12 hours daily in the week (and sometimes even weekends).

Areas open for visiting

I understand why Ferrari is said to be the one of the best places in which to work. The buildings have been beautifully designed. Once you enter the main gates, it's a world in itself.

The Hub has his office in this modern glass building behind the Wind Gallery. It's a beauty. On one level there is a Japanese-inspired Zen-concept stone and water garden and when you are in your office or in a meeting room, you will usually be able to look out into this garden and enjoy its beauty. Calm down. Maybe forget that you're actually in a mad house (we're in Italy after all).

The pebbles in the zen pond

I finally understood why the Dutchess' Hub told me that I should be proud of the Hub. His Department takes up half of this beautiful building. We sneaked up to his office and boy, was it gorgeous. Big, simple, stylish, bright and powerful. His kingdom. And very clean and organised. Can't believe that the guy who leaves his socks everywhere in the house leaves nothing on his desk at work.

Even the toilets in the building are beautiful. They even have bidets. Why would you need a bidet in the office?

In the meeting rooms, everything is stylishly designed and of good quality. Like chairs covered in Poltrona Frau leather and embossed with the Ferrari logo. You are constantly reminded of the fact that this is a temple of good taste, style and class. Not like our Ikea home, haha.

The California

We also visited the assembly lines (both the old and the new), the new canteen and best of all, the usually secret place where the new California is being assembled. Now, I'm honestly not a fan of the masculine and sportive lines of the usual Ferrari. But the new California takes my breath away. I personally know the guy who's responsible for its style and if you know the guy you'll understand why the car is so simple and stylish - just like him. This car is a beauty. If I'm rich and famous, I'll want it. Actually I want it though I'm poor and unknown.


Hub explained that Ferrari is unique right from the start because it made/makes motors with 8 or 12 cylinders like no other. I am pretty happy with my Lancia Phedra but it only has 4 cylinders. Can you imagine having 8 or 12? I can't.

We didn't have time to visit the factory in Modena or the rest of Ferrari in Maranello for that matter. Ferrari is really quite big and the problem with its Family Day is that it didn't provide any entertainment and/or food for the children - so after just an hour they were bored and hungry and screaming to leave. Still, I'm quite happy with what we've seen. Thank you, Ferrari, for Family Day 2008. For letting the family share for a few hours the Chief's workplace.

PS : No pictures allowed (though it didn't stop the Italians from snapping happily away) on the other side of the gate, so I'll refrain from posting the ones that could be sensitive.

mercredi, septembre 17, 2008

Brick à L'Oeuf

Brick à L'Oeuf

When we eat in a North African restaurant in Paris, we would usually start off with a Brick à l'Oeuf. The brick is pretty similar to our Popiah skin. And in it you usually just have an egg with a few coriander leaves or you could also add a bit of tinned Tuna, onions, lemon juice and parsley. At the Club Med in Tunisia, the bricks we had also contained some mashed potatoes and minced beef so basically you can fill it with whatever you want as long as it can be cooked quickly.

Olive or Vegetable Oil for frying
Approx. 20cm round or square Brick or Spring Roll Skin
Fresh Egg
Mashed Potato (optional)
Minced cooked Chicken, Beef, Tuna or Mutton (optional)
Coriander Leaves or Parsley
Salt and Pepper
Lemon Juice

Heat up some Olive or Vegetable Oil in a frying pan.

Put a sheet of the brick on a flat plate. If using the mashed potatoes, meat etc, place a bit in the middle of the brick. Break an egg on top of it, or if you want it to hold better, make a hole in the mashed potatoes for the egg. Add salt, pepper and the herbs.

Fold over the other half of the sheet. You should have a crescent-shaped parcel if using a round brick.

Slide the brick gently into the hot oil holding on tightly to both sides of the folded brick (and turning up the corners a little to prevent the egg white from slipping out). There is no need to seal the brick as it will automatically seal itself once it's in the hot oil. Using a pair of tongs, turn the brick over to the other side when the egg starts to be cooked. Do not overcook if you do not want a hard yolk. It should still be runny when you start slicing into the brick. Brick is a light golden brown in colour.

Serve hot with some lemon juice squeezed over it.

Fried Rice with Egg and Chinese Sausage (Lap Cheong)

Fried Rice with Egg and Chinese Sausage

This is for Bella Tigre aka E from Turin.

A simple Fried Rice with Egg and Chinese Sausage. I had leftover rice from the day before's curry and was wondering what to do with it, when I spotted my whole dozen of Lim Chee Guan sausages hanging in the kitchen...

2 cups cold cooked Jasmin or Basmati Rice
1-2 top quality Chinese sausages
1-2 Eggs
1 clove Garlic
Half an Onion
Vegetable Oil
A few drops of Sesame Oil (optional)

If you use a non-stick wok like me, just heat up the wok (medium to high) and add in the Chinese sausages (finely sliced), garlic and onion (diced).

A little oil will start coming out of the sausages and the garlic and onion will start to smell fragrant.

When everything's almost cooked, add in the cold cooked rice. Fried rice is not fried rice without some oil so dribble a little over the rice. Push everything aside and heat up a little more oil for the salted and beaten egg(s). When it's almost cooked, break it up and mix it well with the rice etc. Add in salt and pepper to taste.

If you wish add in a few drops of sesame oil before serving. The grains of rice should be intact and al dente, not soggy.

lundi, septembre 15, 2008

Baby Girl starts Grade 1

My (not so) little Baby Girl joins the PYP Programme (Grade 1) at the ISM this school year. She has a new teacher, some old friends and a few new ones. The teacher looks like a teenager but is actually not so young any more :-). And she seems really nice and competent, hopefully she'll be able to help Baby Girl start reading and writing this year as the little one would have if she had remained in the French school system.

I've been told by many that the girl is too fat (like me). So I will have to watch what she eats and try to stop her from growing fatter. She has an excellent appetite and really loves food, which is great when you belong to our family. I wouldn't know what to do if I should have a child who eats like a bird.

Baby Girl is also tall for her age. The blue vichy print school dress she's wearing is a size 7 from Marks and Spencer. And she'll only turn 6 in December!

This year she will improve her swimming at the local pool and has decided that she will take up golf like Eldest Son. Baby Boy however has his mind set on learning tennis. He also wants to do archery but is still too little for it.

Voilà a little update on the Babies for the beginning of this school year.

dimanche, septembre 14, 2008

Mooncake Festival

Double Salted Egg Yolk, Lotus Paste and Melon Seed Mooncake

I see my blogger friends churning out mooncakes by the dozen lately and I rejoice for them. Think of the calories coming from the joy of consuming the sweet delicacies. Not to forget the fun in making them.

I could of course join in the fun. But I do not see any purpose in doing so as the only mooncakes I like are the ones with salted egg yolks. And you can't find salted egg yolks here in Modena. Actually I also like the crispy skin yam filling ones and maybe that I'll try making when I'd have lost all the flab (so don't be expecting any mooncakes from me, in other words).

The Mooncake/Lantern/Mid-Autumn Festival is actually quite a lovely event. Mom used to make quite something out of it when we were kids, feeding us pomelos, mooncakes, yams, lingjiao (this nutty thing in the shape of a horn) and giving us lovely lanterns to carry around in the neighbourhood. We would sometimes go to the Chinese Garden to visit the lantern exhibition too. She would also tell us stories about the Moon Maiden and girls crossing bridges or something trying to find their partners under the Full Moon of the 8th Lunar Month of the Chinese Calendar. The mooncakes also have a patriotic story behind them, allowing for the overthrow of the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty and the establishment of the Ming Dynasty.

Still, I asked the parents to get me one with double salted egg yolk for the occasion. Via special courrier service aka Eldest Son. Happy Mooncake Festival, everyone!

samedi, septembre 13, 2008

Tarzan in my Jungle

Baby Boy on top of his Lil' House

What does this Tarzan eat to become so strong?

Steak Tartare

How about a Steak Tartare with raw egg and all all on his own?

And what do you make of his need to tie ropes and strings all over the place?

And even his sister too?

jeudi, septembre 11, 2008

Fresh Herbs and Prawns

Fresh Herbs and Prawns

I do not have a green finger. I actually manage to kill cactuses. But I can be optimistic and hopeful and I sometimes believe in miracles.

As such, I continue to try growing a few things in my garden. Not in the soil as I'm only renting the house plus nothing really grows around here. The land's not fertile. No, I grow them in pots. Some died as expected while others unexpectedly lived and bloomed. Many were on the verge of death and when they revived, they actually continue to grow and do so better than before. What does it tell you about life?

I tried growing tulips and lilies from bulbs. 1 out of 2 survived. I've killed a few pots of roses, until I realised that I should keep them in the shade half the time outside and prune them now and then. I gave the cactuses another shot. And one of them made my year by growing to 7 times its original size! What have I done (right)? I still do not know. My orchids have done well but I need to learn more about how to look after them. One of them is growing a new plant where the flower should be and I have no idea what to do with it. I'm also trying out grapes and an olive tree.

The Super-growth Cactus

Finally, my herbs are doing nicely : basilic, thym, parsley, mint, laksa leaves, red chillies...So I decided this evening to make us some Fresh Herbs and Prawns.

Basilic, Mint and Parsley

My Chilli Plant (new batch of chillies coming out)

Raw prawns peeled and slit at the back
Garlic (minced)
Red chillies (diced)
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Fresh Herbs (e.g. Coriander, Basilic, Curry Leaves, Laksa Leaves, Parsley, Thym, Mint...)
Cherry Tomatoes (if you so wish. Halved)
Lemon juice

Marinate the prawns at least for an hour with the olive oil, garlic and red chillies. I was often told not to add salt to prawns before cooking as it would drain the liquid from them, but in Chinese cooking, this technique helps to make the flesh firmer when you cook it so it's up to you whether you add salt or not to your prawns at this stage.

When you're ready to cook the dish, heat up the wok or frying pan and dry roast the fresh herbs. Just as they're starting to wilt, add in the prawns followed by its marinade and stir fry for a few minutes till the prawns are cooked. If you haven't added salt and pepper, do it now. If you wish to use cherry tomatoes, add them in now. Squeeze some lemon juice over the prawns before serving.

PS : One could eventually cook herbs like curry, laksa, coriander and thym leaves first and then just before serving stir in the basilic, mint and parsley.