vendredi, février 27, 2009

Bento 2 & Practical Italian

Empanadas and cucumber

I slaved over the stove again for another bento - this time Eldest Son wanted Empanadas. They were 4 students with 2 teachers and a mother to visit the Modena mercato coperto this morning - a trip to allow the students to practise their Italian in the real world.

The 3 boys (France-India-USA)

I had to send the boy to Café Concerto between 8:30 and 8:45 and decided to hang around a little to see what they were up to. Actually I needed to shop for a few things since I was there so it wasn't as if I was a protective mom and had to supervise them or anything. Otherwise I would just have volunteered upfront to accompany the group.

Mercato coperto di Modena

They were buying (in Italian) all the things I do not like to eat e.g. salami, cured ham, cheeses, dried I wandered off after a while to buy all my own things and that after I've shaken off the man who had been following me around. I always attract the weirdos. Plus the Son was starting to ask me to buy him this and that - so it was best to disappear.

Hard at work

What I couldn't understand was why he needed a bento when they were going to buy all that good food for their lunch. Always on the lookout to give me extra work, this kid.

But I think he enjoyed the practical session in town which was a great idea on the part of his lovely Italian teacher. And for once they took public transportation so that we needn't fork out 10 bucks just for a 20-minute trip into the centro. And this way they get to experience even that practical aspect of Modenese life.

The filling
Anyway, made extra empanadas for dinner. They go well with a salad and a dip e.g. tabasco, BBQ sauce, hot sauce etc. I dedicate them to my dear Colombian friend Cristina who used to make us empanadas when we were living in Stuttgart and who is so good at them she actually sells them to Latino bars and restaurants in the region. We miss you.

jeudi, février 26, 2009


Red Dirndel with Blue Apron

The Dutchess called me from Beijing asking if I could show her pictures of my Dirndels. I forgot to ask her how she knew. Did I mention it before? Or did she see that on Facebook? Anyway, I would draw the line at posting pictures of me in them, but there should be no harm in showing you just the dresses themselves. In return, I get to see all your most exciting shopping finds - deal?

No, it is not true that I wear them with my pink Prada heels for the Hub. As far as I know he doesn't have anything for German barmaids. I was at AB's house the other day and saw a beautiful picture of her in a Dirndel. That reminded me of how I frustrated I had felt 2 years ago when I left Stuttgart without one.

I like buying traditional costumes. I have a Sari, a Punjabi suit, a Baju Kurong (looking for a Kebaya), a few Cheongsums...When I get bored with my jeans and T-shirt, I sometimes put on one of those costumes. So why not a Dirndel?


Sapphire and Diamond Ring

Not-treated medium blue Sri Lankan Sapphire (1,68 Ct, VVS1, oval-facetted), G SI1 Diamonds (0,42Ct), 18K yellow Gold. Antique-style ring.

A new ring for the CNY. I'm very Asian when it comes to this. Supposed to bring me good luck in the Year of the Ox, but already brought more trouble, stress and anger than good. No thanks to DHL Express.

Anyway Italy's already in recession. I thought it'd be more prudent to buy jewellery than invest in shares, for example. They predicted that the country will only get out of the rut end of 2010. Time to start hoarding.

mercredi, février 25, 2009

Tagliatelle with Zucchini Flowers (Fleur de Courgette) and Shrimp

Tagliatelle with Zucchini Flowers and Shrimp

Am always tempted to buy zucchini flowers when I see them and the last batch from the Modena market was very cute. But am quite tired of making tempuras out of them so this time round I made a Tagliatelle with (female) Zucchini Flowers and Shrimp.

Never one to waste food if I can help it, I had stock left over from last night's Poached Skate with Lemon-Butter-Shallot Sauce and not wanting to make Fish Soup, had to do something else with the stock I poached the fish in. Kept some for the pasta sauce and the rest I used to cook the tagliatelle in. Rich.

The sauce I made in 2 steps : 1) Heat olive oil, add in garlic, raw shrimps. Set aside. 2) Heat more olive oil, brown garlic, onions, zucchini flowers, ground chilli, salt and pepper till fragrant, stir in tomato pulp, fish stock, simmer. 2 minutes before serving, add in garlic shrimps, mix well and serve hot on bed of tagliatelle cooked in fish stock.

I have a few other recipes up my sleeve but they mainly involve stuffing the flowers (what else) and I am not fond of handling the delicate flowers.

Gnocco Fritto and Tigelle Class @ Il Piccolo Mugnaio

The Cooks and The Maestra (black and orange apron)

P and M organised an Italian cooking lesson for those of us who wished to speak Italian socially. It was held this morning at Il Piccolo Mugnaio in Torre Maina.

It was a lovely day, cool and sunny and we had the dining hall and kitchen all to ourselves. We were 9, started the morning with an expresso, put on our aprons and hair nets and started out to learn how to prepare the region's famous Tigelle and Gnocco Fritto.

Old fashioned Tigelle Moulds

The real name of both specialities is Crescentina. The tigelle being the mould used to cook the dough on. They used to pile the stone moulds one on top of the other (with circles of the dough sandwiched in between) and heat them in the chimney. The gnocco fritto is therefore actually crescentina fritta. Tout simplement.

The recipe is actually very simple as is the cooking method. Only you may need a Tigelle machine. And preferably a pasta maker.

The dough

Crescentina (for 8 persons) :

1 Kg Flour Tipo "0"
1 level Tbsp Salt
1 cube Brewer's Yeast (or 2 packets of dried beer yeast)
500ml full cream Milk

Tipo "0" flour is often used in making bread as it is less fine than Tipo "00" flour best used in making cakes. For Tigelle, one could use just refined white Tipo "0" flour or mix it with wholemeal flour for a darker colour and richer taste. For making Gnocco Fritto, only white refined flour is recommended. As wholemeal flour absorbs more water (and therefore releases more when fried), it is not suitable for frying.

It is advisable not to add too much salt in the dough as the crescentinas are often eaten with cured meats that are often quite salty.

(***To make pizza dough, replace the milk with water, add in half a cup of oil and also more salt. This would give a more elastic dough that contributes towards the making of a good pizza.)

For the crescentina, start out by breaking up the yeast and dissolving it in the milk. It is common knowledge that there is little action when the liquid is below 10°C and that yeast will die at 50°C. So watch out for the temperature of the milk.

Pour the mixture onto the flour and salt and mix well. Knead the dough for about 15 minutes (same amount of time on medium speed if using the Kitchenaid). Cover with a moist towel and leave to rest for an hour. It should rise.

Rolling out the dough

If you have a pasta maker, roll out a smooth and reasonably flat piece of dough to obtain rounds with a round cutter. If not, could either pinch out small rounds and roll out rounds with a rolling pin, or roll out the dough and cut out rounds.

Jan hard at work

Tigelle rounds

Leave to rest for another 30 minutes and then cook in a Tigelle machine (basically hot stones cooking the dough on both sides at the same time).

Crescentina Fritta :

1 Kg white "0" Flour
500ml Milk or Water
1 Tbsp Salt
Strutto (filtered/refined pig fat) for frying

Prepare dough as for the Tigelle, only it requires only 15 minutes of rest time (e.g. wrapped in plastic) as it doesn't contain any raising agent. Roll out very thinly and cut into squares or diamonds.

Crescentina fritta/Gnocco fritto

The tricky part in making Gnocco Fritto is getting the right temperature for the oil. Strutto is used as it can be heated to the right temperature (not too hot or cold) and gives a good taste to the dough. The oil is just right for frying when the dough floats almost immediately when it touches the oil. If it sinks, the oil is not hot enough.

The class was followed by lunch : Tigelle and Gnocco Fritto with Cured Ham and Jam, Parmesan Cheese with Balsamic Vinegar (own production), Lambrusco wine, Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce. We had a lovely time eating together though of course only a few very hardworking ladies tried to sustain conversation in Italian, the rest practised English - as usual.

Buon appetito!

We should be learning how to make pasta in our next class. Those who couldn't/wouldn't join us today may wish to do so the next time.

mardi, février 24, 2009

Omelette Rice

Omelette Rice

Comfort food.

Omelette Rice.

Made with Japanese sushi rice (seasoned as for making sushi e.g. 7vinegar : 4sugar : 1salt : 1/2sake).

Eggs, sugar, mirin, milk, salt and pepper.

Only cook one side of the omelette. Spoon cooked sushi rice on top just as the top part of the omelette is going to be cooked. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top and if you wish (not me), seaweed thins.

Bento Me Too

Home-made Tuna and Cucumber/Egg Makis, Carrot, Cucumber, Seedless Grapes and Radishes

Woke up at 5 this morning. So that Eldest Son could be at the train station before 6:30 in time to catch his train to Venice for the day. The Middle Years children are on an Art and Music trip to Venice. They are learning about the impact of advertising on society and how it can be used to influence and persuade people. Today is the last day of the Carnevale so they will get the chance to be part of the tradition and also view the "Sensation 2009" music initiatives and sound installations. All this should help them prepare their own campaign to influence and persuade people to take action in order to save Venice from further destruction caused by flooding. And create their own sound installation.

All of the above to persuade me to wake up at 5, prepare him breakfast and lunch to take with him and drive to the station in the cold. And spend the rest of the day worrying about him falling into the water.

Of course he was really excited about the trip. Actually woke up immediately this morning without me having to scream. Truth be told, I'm excited for him too. Though I'm an old hag now, I can still remember how I felt when I went on an excursion with my classmates. And that was only to Mandai.

Meanwhile I couldn't resist this. SIG has been blogging about at least 30 bentos todate - ever since her Princess started Primary One. Every day it's something different, made with love and imagination. Since I have the occasion to make one today, I thought I should blog about it too. Nothing special, but man, a bento's a bento.

Insulating bag contained the bento, 2 ham sandwiches for breakfast and a few snacks for tea - he freaked out because it looked sissy

At noon I had lunch with a male stranger. Yes, tried telling the Hub about it but he wasn't interested. Someone I've exchanged a few emails with. And introduced to by the cleaning lady. Haha.

lundi, février 23, 2009

Singapore Day 2009

Singapore Day 2009

Singapore Day 2009 will be held on the 25th of April at Hampton Court near London. It's a special event organised by Singaporeans for Singaporeans. This year they will be flying in the Dim Sum Dollies and hawker chefs from home for the event!!! Yum yum...

I am so excited. Who's going? I may be going alone. I've actually signed up the whole family for it last week, but Hub said that it would be too expensive to bring the whole family there for just a weekend. But how could I miss the Dim Sum Dollies when they're coming my way at last? Not to forget the good food from home and meeting other Singaporeans...

samedi, février 21, 2009

Genoa, Italy

Jelly Fish in the Acquario di Genova

Hub doesn't have holidays. Or he has them like everyone else only the company doesn't encourage him to take them. This way, we've lived 2 years in Germany and only saw Munich and the Constance Lakes. Now we have been more than 18 months in Italy and have only seen the northern part of the country plus Perugia. Last week, the kids had a week off and I decided not to sit around but drive us all to Genoa - minus the Hub.

Pzza Ferrari

It was my first time driving so far to an unknown city without mein Mann. It's not the driving that makes me nervous since that's all I ever do over here, but the fact that I would be arriving at a big city known for its lack of parking, crazy traffic added to my lousy parking skills.

The old port and the view of the surrounding hills

Still, if I have an idea in my head, I usually try to carry it out and so I booked 2 nights at the Novotel Genova-Ovest (nice 4* family hotel) and started working out what I would like to visit and eat when I'm there. Besides, the kids just love staying over at a good hotel and having breakfast there in the morning. I can't explain why, they just love it. The other day, Baby Girl mentioned that her papa should work harder so that he could pay us hotel stays more often...Poor guy.

I had 2 extra passengers the day we set out as E and her son A joined the excursion when they learnt about it. It was a lovely day only I was down with a bad cold. Still traffic was smooth and even though there were roadworks, we managed to reach Genoa in under 3 hours. I drove straight into the hotel's carpark when I saw how cars were all parked on the pavements and how even kerbside parking seemed inexistent. We checked into our rooms (not ready yet - hotel was full due to the San Remo Festival) and then set out to discover the city by bus.

I've forgotten what it was like to be packed like sardines on a bus. But the kids thought it was fun. It helped that our hotel was only a few stops from the old port and that we were only there for a few days. E was very good at organising public transportation, by the way, and at asking round for directions. There were loads of immigrants everywhere and unless you've lived in a big city like Paris, you could get pretty intimidated by that. If I didn't have the kids with me, I would have gone off to explore the places where they hang out. Will surely be interesting. As it is, only managed to sneak a quick visit to a Chinese-owned grocery shop for a few things.


What is amazing about Genoa is that you have the old port and the old city right behind it - and then all around the city rises up and you see buildings old and new shining under the sun up in the surrounding hills. It is beautiful and no wonder that the city is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Pirate Boat

There were palm trees lining the promenade leading to the old port and the view and the air were magnificent. E said that she could live there and that some parts looked like Singapore. Come to think of it, it did make me think of Harbourfront - minus the Africans selling fake LV and Fendi bags.

There was Italy's only Indonesian restaurant - only as you would have it, it was closed till March for renovations. I wouldn't have minded an ayam bakar and some ikan pepes. Otherwise we took out pizza one evening and had seafood pasta on another - the seafood is good when you are near the sea.

The highlight of (and reason for) the trip of course were visits to Genoa's Acquario and Città dei Bambini. The former is said to be one of the largest in Europe (though I personally prefer Lisbon's Oceanarium) and the latter is modelled after Paris' Cité des Sciences. We bought a combined ticket (19 euros for adults and 15 euros for children under 12) and visited both on the same day. The children enjoyed both though they could be done in just half a day since they are really not very big. And they are both located within walking distance of one another on the old port.

Città dei Bambini - Babies at work

All in all it was a good trip and we enjoyed it. It may have given me the courage to plan similar trips for the near future.

Serravalle Designer Outlet, Italy

Serravalle Outlet

I've always wanted to go to the Serravalle Outlet (courtesy of my dear Bella Tigre) but it's too far away from Modena for a day trip. Then I realised when I was planning the trip to Genoa that it would just be 30 minutes away by car (on the way back to Modena) so I just had to go there, n'est-ce pas?

Day's Spoil

There are 150 boutiques in this outlet including Ferragamo, D&G, Boss, Cacharel, Bvlgari, Prada, Guess and even Burger King (haha). The Sale was unfortunately at an end so there weren't any exciting buys, or else I couldn't find my size (adios to 2 pairs of shoes I had my eye on at Ferragamo), but I couldn't leave emptyhanded so I got myself a slightly-too-small and way-too-tall pair of fushia pink heels from Prada. Also wanted a pair of golden boots from the same boutique but my fat calves couldn't squeeze into them.

I also thought of getting this long purple leather jacket from Guess, but thought of the Hub and his reaction, "What? Another leather jacket???" and managed to control myself. But as you can see, I'm still thinking about it.

Went into the Bvlgari boutique and took a look at their jewellery. Do not know what the fuss' about, they have all those chunky stuff that's quite awful and the salesman couldn't even answer you when you asked him about the origin of the sapphire, whether it has been treated or not etc. Wearing a smart suit isn't enough they should train their staff better than that.

Was disappointed that they didn't have Polo or Burberry and that the Boss boutique is too small, after Metzingen I guess I couldn't accept any lesser.

Verdict : I like this outlet, but certainly wouldn't drive 2 hours just to shop there. By the way, bumped into 2 Singaporean boys from SMU doing an exchange near Milan. Can't miss the Singaporean accent. And they didn't think the shopping was good at Serravalle. They said they would try out Foxtown (in Mendriso on the Swiss side) the next day. Economy's going downhill but these young people still have so much money for shopping, ah? When I was a student I only shopped at Europa Discount...

Serravalle Designer Outlet
Via della Mode 1
15069 Serravalle Scrivia (AL)

Note : There is a daily bus service from Milan and a weekend bus service from Turin.

lundi, février 16, 2009

Thai Fish Cakes (Tod Man Pla)

Spicy Thai Fish Cakes

Petite Fleur of the beautiful blog Rojak Rendezvous posted about her Thai Fish Cakes which reminded me that I've not made it in ages. I've had fish cake-making frenzy especially after a trip to Bali (see Satay Lilit) or when homesick (see Otah Otah) and I can eat fish balls and fish cakes and fish raviolis everyday. Baby Girl who doesn't usually eat fish loves the spicy fish cakes too.

Aussitôt dit aussitôt fait, I said I would make the Thai Fish Cakes and so I did. The recipe I usually use is quite similar to Petite Fleur's only I also use coconut cream and sometimes fennel seeds. And I like to lightly flour the fish cakes before deep-frying them.

Thai Fish Cakes :

500g White and firm Fish Filet (I used Pangasius - fish native to the Mekong)
2 Tbsp Thai Red Curry paste
Spring Onions
2 cloves Garlic
1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
1 Lime or half lemon juice
Fresh coriander leaves
Kaffir lime leaves
A few French green beans
Chilli Padi
2 Tbsp Coconut cream
Fennel seeds (optional)
2 Tsp Sugar
2 Tsp Flour
Salt and Pepper

Put fish fillet, red curry paste, shallot, garlic, spring onions, fish sauce, lime juice, salt, pepper, kaffir lime and coriander leaves, chilli padi, coconut cream and fennel seeds together and mix them into a paste.

Chop the french beans finely and add them to the fish paste. Mix well.

Wet one hand and pick up some of the fish paste. Lightly flour it on both sides pressing lightly to form a (sort of) round patty. Deep fry for a few minutes.

I served them with radiccio salad leaves and a fish sauce-sugar-garlic-lime juice-chilli dressing. They make a nice entrée or finger food to go with the champagne when you have guests.


The Cat Princess

Under pressure from MIL and the Hub (and myself, of course), I tried a few months back to get Baby Girl to work on her letters and numbers. In another age I would have, like my mother when I was a kid, corrected the fact that she was incapable of doing anything with a few strokes of the cane. Like I did when I was teaching Eldest Son to learn (actually we didn't have a choice as he had to read and write within 3 months of starting Grade 1). But even I am capable of moving with the times.

I was furious when I realised that she couldn't do anything. And I am sure that kids her age are more than capable of learning since I have my own niece (younger by 6 months) as an example. But then I decided (against myself) to let her be. I knew somehow that she will learn better when she's ready. Every child is ready at his or her own pace. And I didn't want to be upset all the time with her.

Interestingly, in France since 1957, teachers are normally advised against giving homework to the younger children. Being a socially-responsible society, they didn't want the gap between kids who have parents capable of helping them with homework and those who don't to widen. In fact, if a teacher has to give a child homework, it must not be something new but be based on something that the child has already learnt in class. In reality, this is rarely respected, of course. In the better schools, homework is a part of life.

A respected child psychologist wrote recently that there is no point giving homework to a child before the age of 9 or 10. For the simple reason that homework affects the relationship between parent and child.

I think she wasn't far off because I remember now that my relationship with Eldest Son had gone really downhill ever since he started school. And if there is one thing stopping me from having a 4th child (besides age, wealth and weight), it's homework. For a few years now, each time I see the boy, I would ask him, "Have you any homework? Have you finished your homework?" And I'm starting to do the same to Baby Girl...

But like many parents especially those who from one generation to another have moved from poverty and illiteracy to a better life and who have tasted the freedom that education could bring, it is difficult to not want to help the children succeed. I personally am thankful to my mom for always hanging around with her cane and assessment books pushing me to do well academically. But I am a different child from my own children.

So it all boils down to doing so intelligently and productively which is really difficult. And I am a failure when it comes to this.

Anyway, all this to say that 2 days ago, out of curiosity, I gave Baby Girl a simple Maths worksheet that freaked her out just a few months ago. I was surprised to see her take to it like fish in water. She finished all of it without my forcing her I guess probably because she could do it now.

No, it doesn't mean that I'm going to give her more work now. I never thought I'd ever say it, but I'm happy to see her play. Childhood does fly by so quickly. Besides she'll learn better when she's happy. And if you see her draw, you'll know that she has a talent for it. Maybe she'll be an artist like her paternal grandmother.

dimanche, février 15, 2009

Non-Traditional Paneer Palak

Whole Spinach Paneer Palak (could look better)

This evening we decided to go vegetarian so I made an Aloo Gobi and a Paneer Palak. Both being "dry" curries I also made a rich butter rice to eat them with, but I should have ignored the Hub and made a wet curry as well. I didn't make the Paneer Palak the usual way (e.g. boiling and then chopping/mixing the spinach) which would give a rather smooth dish - as I prefer to eat my spinach not too cooked and with the leaves intact. Not having paneer, I substitued with Ricotta. Don't ask me how it tasted, I don't like most cheeses (except Cheddar, Beaufort, Cantal...) so I only picked out the spinach, but Hub said it was good.

My Paneer Palak :

Spinach washed and drained
Ricotta Cheese
Cumin Seeds
Mustard Seeds
Ground Coriander
Ground Turmeric
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Coriander Leaves

I put the spinach in a big bowl with some salt and microwaved it on high for 4 minutes. Mix well and set aside. If you want to, you can chop up/mix the spinach till you get a smooth paste. If you're boiling the spinach, you'll need to squeeze out the excess liquid.

In a pan, melt some butter and fry the cheese (cut into cubes) till all sides are golden. Set aside.

Heat up a wok with some oil and brown the onions, garlic and ginger. Add in the other spices and cook till fragrant.

Chop up the tomato and add into the spice paste. Add in the cooked spinach (do not add more salt). Mix well, add in the cheese, more butter and the fresh coriander. Toss well and serve hot with rice, naan or chapati.

samedi, février 14, 2009

Carnevale and MYP Lunch

The Cutest Cowboys

Every year I would feel like a cheapskate mom when the Carnevale arrives as I see all the lovely costumes selling in the shops and indulgent parents spending 40-60 euros apiece on them for their kids. I have bought a few expensive pieces (e.g. Teddy Bear costume, Power Ranger, Tigger, Batman, Superman, Red Indian, Princess Jasmine, Cowboy...) over the years only problem is that those kids often want to wear what they don't already have when it's time to dress up.

Luckily the cleaning lady treats me like a rubbish dump and likes to bring me used costumes for children that I have no idea where she got them from but with a bit of a patch here and there those kids have a few other choices (e.g. clown, Princess dunno-what, witch...) and with a bit of marketing I usually manage to con them into being happy with what they have. I mean if I have to pay 50 bucks for a piece of rubbish I might as well spend it on Polo Ralph Lauren or Armani.

Still I hate to be a spoilsport and they do have so much fun dressing up. And they actually do dress up almost every other day so nothing's really wasted. Only they couldn't help outgrowing the costumes.

Baby Girl with her Japanese friend (a really sweet girl and can't miss the V-sign)

This year Baby Girl put on her new Princess Jasmine costume and Baby Boy his old cowboy one simply because his good friend Fede would be dressed up as one too. I asked him if it wouldn't be better if he tried to look different but no, he was very sure that it would be more fun being able to play cowboys with Fede (and he was right as usual). However, his teacher had told the kids that they wouldn't be able to bring any guns to school. Sigh, how could a cowboy not carry a gun...

So I gave him a bad mother idea. Told him he could secretly carry one to school but if the teacher sees it then he should just accept defeat and keep it in his bag. The dear lady undressed the boy herself when he arrived so you could be sure she saw it immediately. Ahem.

Another Gung-Fu Carnevale

On the same day Eldest Son's Middle Years decided to build their sense of community by holding a lunch. I can imagine that just by collectively deciding not to eat canteen food (pasta and more pasta) for the day they would already succeed in their objective. I had no need to exercise my culinary imagination as the boy insisted that I must make curry puffs for his friends and teachers. Yeap plain ole baked curry puffs. Easy peasy. But would be great if I had 2 ovens...I turned up late as it wasn't easy baking 3 dozen puffs with just one oven. And I wanted them to eat the puffs hot.

Baked Curry Puffs

To go with his new home entertainment system, Hub decided to buy us new furniture so we've been visiting a few shops. And you can't miss the kitchens each time, the Italians are really the kings of the designer home kitchen. It's crazy what they have, I felt doubly frustrated during those visits not having renovated my own kitchens and not having any possibility for it in the immediate future. A few of them have double ovens and boy that's really useful if you entertain alot.