samedi, octobre 31, 2009

Valencia I Love You

Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia, Spain

Arriving in Valencia felt like a homecoming to me. This came probably from nearly 2 years of once living in Spain. Baby Girl after all was made-in-Jaén.

Plaza del Ayuntamiento

I have brought too much warm clothing to Valencia. The city was so hot (average 25-27°C) we nearly died of heat stroke in our down jackets and turtlenecks. Anyway Valencia, Spain has become even better since the last time I visited. This city knows how to maintain its old world charms and move forward at the same time. It is even more beautiful than I remembered it.

In the metro

I booked my favourite hotel in the old town : Husa Reina Victoria****. It is housed in an old 1913 stone building just next to the beautiful Plaza del Ayuntamiento, 5 minutes' walk from the RENFE train station and "Xativa" MetroValencia station, and another few minutes from the shopping streets in Colon. From the airport to the old town it took us only 25 minutes on the metro and 1 euro each. What a change from Modena. And the hotel has quite a decent buffet breakfast spread if a bit on the steep side costwise.

Husa Reina Victoria (View outside and from the room)

As the kids are now older, I decided to march them to most places we wanted to visit. There is no better way to visit a city than to walk through it. And Valencia is candy to the eye as the old town contains so many beautiful buildings most of them quite nicely restored. I took pictures as we went along though we stopped short at visiting museums since there was already so much to do and the Babies had priority. It was after all their vacation.

A few buildings in the old city

The Turia river used to run through the city to meet the Mediterranean sea. But after a catastrophic flood in 1957 it has since been diverted and is now a dry riverbed filled with jogging and cycling tracks, ponds, gardens, playgrounds, cafés, climbing walls, football fields, Music Hall...and of course the famous City of the Arts and Sciences. We visited this modern futuristic city over 2 days which meant that the kids walked a total of 4 hours just to visit its wonders. They complained alot, but just the walk through the Turia Gardens, according to me, was well worth it.

General Post Office inside and out

As I had feared, trying to speak Spanish after Italian was tough - at the beginning. But by the end of the first evening it was starting to come back to me and slowly I started to get a bit of the vocabulary and then the verb conjugations back into circulation. It helped that the hotel provided us with free newspapers in Spanish daily and I tried to read 2 different ones (e.g. La Razon and ABC) everyday.

Shopping shopping shopping

The 2 streets near the hotel

Where we were there were loads of restaurants and boutiques though unfortunately the children were not keen on eating the famous paella valenciana and we ended up eating fastfood or taking away empanadillas and cream puffs from the wonderful local bakeries. But I made a mental note to revisit the paella in my own kitchen soon.

Empanadillas and Mini-Quiches from Pastry Shop near Hotel

I have missed having breakfast in the local Spanish bars. You eat standing at the counter and they usually have good sandwiches, cakes and pastries (though still not French standards). My favourite is toast with fresh tomato puree and olive oil. Almost like bruschetta only they have it for breakfast. Or churros the old way.

The Spanish like their Marzipan

Hub goes to Valencia in 2 weeks for Ferrari's Finali Mondiali. This year it will not be held in Mugello and we do not see any point in having the whole family travel to Valencia again just for it. I think I would prefer to travel to Bologna to catch Jimmy Choo's collection for H&M (*wink*). It would be launched worldwide on Nov 14.

I have a new Niece!

On 26 October 2009 at 18:55 Singapore time, my baby brother welcomed his first child into the world. Klara's her name and she weighed 2.68Kg and measured 48cm. And she's a Scorpio like me. This child will have a bright future ;-).

I was sleeping like a log in Valencia when dad tried to reach me the day after her birth to share the news. The line was bad and we couldn't talk and all that was achieved was me freaking out each time the phone rang, my sleep interrupted and the children awaken. Honestly, there are days like that.

Welcome to our world, little niece!

Cucina del Museo, Modena

Pan-fried Goose Liver with Balsamic Vinegar

I turned a year older yesterday and while it didn't merit me a present from the Hub, he did for once remember the occasion and bring me out to dinner. I have always wanted to try this restaurant Cucina del Museo since I found it on the Net last year as they have a creative cuisine and the couple who own it used to run, more than 20 years ago, the now famous Osteria Francescana.

How does it feel to be a year older? Not much different truth be told. But the wrinkles on the forehead are more visible (too much frowning) and I can now confirm that the fat won't burn (lousy metobolic rate). I worry about the Babies growing up so fast that I couldn't catch up with them, it's difficult to explain this but how does one immortalise the joy that one feels when one holds one's young child in one's arms? I fear not being able to remember it later on; I fear what I would feel when I do remember it. Meanwhile I already have one rebellious teenager on my hands, I do not risk forgetting my age.

Cucina del Museo

The dining hall is small with about 6-7 tables and the terracotta ceiling low. The inside looks like the abandoned second part of my house - rustic and cozy. It used to house another restaurant and one with a very long history in Modena. We are very fond of old things so we felt at home dining in this place.


Alberto the owner served us complimentary glasses of bubbly when we arrived. Hub chose a bottle of Amarone to go with our meal that would make up nearly half of the evening's total. But it was a good bottle, we enjoyed it thoroughly. Amarone wines are special in that it's a rich dry red wine made from dessicated grapes (like with ice wine and Sauternes) but is not sweet. From time to time we tested our host's knowledge about this and that, one reason why you would pay alot for your meal would be for the exchange and learning as part of the dining experience.

I chose to start with Raviolis stuffed with crab and fish and served with a cream of prawns. Half of the ravioli wraps were made with squid ink which you may know by now I cannot resist. They were light and quite tasty allowing the natural subtle savours of the seafood to come through.

Seafood Raviolis with Cream of Prawn Sauce

Hub had Tartufo bianco (white truffles) with poached eggs, a classic that brings out the heady (horrible to me) aroma of the truffles.

White Truffles with Poached Eggs

For our main course we both had Scaloppa di fegato grasso d’oca all’aceto balsamico tradizionale su letto di spinaci novelli (aka Pan-fried Goose Liver with Balsamic Vinegar) which was perfectly marinated and cooked. Only thing negative about the dish was the dry brioche that came with the foie gras, the Italians here just are not good with their bread.


For dessert, Hub had Gongonzola with a glass of sweet dessert Sherry, the sweet wine going nicely with the tart cheese. I had a classic chocolate cake with a molten heart served with marmelade. Though on this occasion I wouldn't mind a thick light cake with lots of whipped cream...

Fondant au Chocolat with Marmelade

It was a lovely evening spent en tete-à-tete with the Hub as the Teenager babysitted his siblings for a fee. I had some difficulty finding something to wear seeing my ample waist nowadays and managed at the last minute to squeeze into a Pinko silk-cotton ruffled-collar shirt and a slim Ferragamo linen-cotten skirt that I've forgotten existed. I was in black all the way to my pointed leather heels from Mango. Buon Compleanno to me.

Cucina del Museo
via Sant'Agostino 8, Modena centro
Tel : 059 217429

lundi, octobre 26, 2009

Singaporeans living in Italy meeting in Singapore

That handsome young man is not any of our husbands - unfortunately :-)

Lana just sent me this picture taken in July. We are a group of Singaporeans living in Italy and finding it easier to meet up in Singapore than in Italy. How's that?

See the beautiful Victorian buildings around us? I can't remember, were we at CHIJMES?

Coriander and Citrus Chicken

Coriander and Citrus Chicken

When I was in London, I visited an Asian grocer and was very sad that I couldn't buy much of anything because of lack of luggage space. But I did get a big packet of fresh coriander leaves and found myself having to cook all of it before it wilts. So that brought me to my Coriander and Citrus Chicken dish. The Babies would normally freak out and refuse to eat anything that is green, but this dish they ate every bit of it and asked for more.

I would suggest that skinless chicken upper-thigh meat be used - the flesh for the stir-fry and the bones for the broth that would go into making the sauce for the dish and the rice to be served with it.

Coriander and Citrus Chicken :

6 Skinless Chicken upper-thighs (deboned with bones kept for the broth)
1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
2 Tbsp Light Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine or dry Sherry
1 Tbsp Sugar
4 Garlic cloves (bashed and chopped really fine)
Juice from 1 Lemon or 2 big Limes
1 Tsp Salt (optional)
Pepper to taste
Fistfull of chopped fresh Coriander leaves
2-3 fresh red Chillies and 1 Tsp dried chilli flakes

Olive Oil
2 Garlic cloves (sliced)
Chicken broth
Corn starch
Fresh Coriander leaves and Thai chilli padis for garnishing

Combine the sauces, sugar, wine, salt, garlic, lemon juice, coriander leaves and chillis and marinate the sliced chicken meat in it for 2-3 hours. The meat will be tender and have enough flavour with this. Marinating it overnight may be overdoing things a little.

In the meantime prepare a broth by boiling some water with a few slices of fresh ginger and whole garlic cloves in it. When the water starts to boil, add in the chicken bones. Simmer for a few hours.

Rinse some jasmine rice grains and make steamed rice using some of the chicken broth.

Heat up some olive oil in the wok and fry the garlic slices till they are fragrant (but not browned). Add in the marinated chicken slices (without the marinade) and stir fry till almost cooked.

Pour in chicken broth. The quantity depends on what kind of texture you would like your sauce to be. If you like it consistent, add in not too much broth and use more corn starch-water mixture to thicken the sauce. I almost covered my chicken slices with chicken broth and left the wok uncovered so that the liquid could slowly evaporate. Then I added in 2 tsp cornstarch-water mixture to thicken the sauce but made sure that the sauce remains plentiful and watery. We like to eat lots of rice with this dish.

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and Thai birdeye chillis and serve with steamed Jasmine rice.

Hub spent Sunday assembling the wardrobe and now complains of a backache and sore hands. I am almost done with packing for Valencia - we leave in a few hours.

dimanche, octobre 25, 2009

Insomnic Fat Talk

I was wondering how I managed to gain as much as 17 Kgs since the Babies were born and not be able to do anything about it before. The thing is that until I look at myself in the mirror or actually try to wear my old clothes, I do not actually feel fat. I often see plump women in paintings or in the flesh and find them beautiful. Maybe if I had anorexic tendencies I wouldn't be here today telling you why I am fat but do not feel fat, and how I wish I have found the motivation to really do something about it instead of lamenting and then eating some more. Am I making any sense?

My son talked about his family in Italian class and apparently when asked to describe his mother in one sentence said that she liked to eat. He could have talked about her sense of humour or her good Singstar skills, but no, he had to mention that she liked to eat. Don't sacrifice your career for your children. They are more often than not ungrateful.

Pax Ardal

Talking about eating we went to Ikea this afternoon to buy a wardrobe and had lunch there. 43 euros for the most horrible meal in recent memory, we felt thoroughly cheated. In Paris, Singapore and Stuttgart, we often lunched at Ikea and the food was cheap and good. Why is it so horrible and expensive here in Italy? Probably because they added the label "Bio" to the food and imagine that you would feel less bad about paying for it even though it tasted absolutely like - nothing. And the 600-euro Pax Ardal wardrobe we lugged home fell apart as we were assembling it and could not be put back together again - like poor Humpty Dumpty. We will have to drive back to Ikea tomorrow and buy another one. You can imagine that I will have a bad night this night. And I have not even gone to bed yet.

Actually my current insomnia stems from indigestion. I ate 2 pizzas this evening (both with Funghi Porcini) when normally I could barely finish one. We dined out with the Koturs. My Bollywood Beauty is back in Modena with her 4 kids and we had a roaring time catching up. Then we had 2 Kgs of gelato at 10 in the evening. You bet I feel like Humpty Dumpty.

vendredi, octobre 23, 2009

Spiced Pork with Balsamic Vinegar and Ginger

Spiced Pork with Balsamic Vinegar and Ginger

Having quite a bit of the ginger dip left-over and not too keen on having Hainanese Chicken again so soon, I decided to make Spiced Pork with Balsamic Vinegar and Ginger. I've never done any confinement after the birth of my 3 children so I have never eaten any Chinese confinement food either, but I like the idea of cooking with vinegar (in this case balsamic) and ginger. Actually I've blogged about a similar dish before though it was a much sweeter version. As pork goes well with spices like cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, paprika and cumin, I've decided to cook this dish with them all. There was a nice smell in the kitchen when the stew was simmering on the stove.

Spiced Pork with Balsamic Vinegar and Ginger :

Lean Pork cut into cubes
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Sugar
Ground Cinnamon
Ground Cloves
Ground Turmeric
Ground Paprika
5 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Ginger paste (minced ginger and sesame oil)
Cumin Seeds
Mustard Seeds
Chilli (fresh or dried)

Marinate the pork with the salt, sugar, ground spices and balsamic vinegar for a few hours.

Marinating the pork

Heat some olive oil in a pot and fry onions, ginger paste, garlic and cumin and mustard seeds till they are fragrant but not burnt. Add in the marinated pork pieces and brown them in the spice mixture. Add in the chilli and diced tomatoes and stir well.

Pour in enough warm or hot water to cover the pork, cover and simmer on low heat for at least an hour or till pork is very tender.

As this is a fusion dish, you can serve it with Indian breads, Jasmine rice, mashed potatoes, boiled cauliflower or even pasta. The end result is a tender pork stew that is slightly spicy and acidic. The Babies loved it and had seconds.

I'm busy packing and planning for my next holiday, which would be to Valencia in Spain. I'll be taking the 3 monsters with me this time, but now that it's getting so cold here in Modena, we would welcome the 12-26°C forecast for Valencia next week. I love this city the last few times I was there and even though we wouldn't be able to swim in the sea, it'll be just as nice walking along the long (free) stretch of sandy beach and eating grilled seafood in one of the restaurants lining it. Not to forget their famous paella. It will also be nice to see how their City of the Arts and Sciences has developed over the years. Only problem is that ever since I started learning Italian I've lost my Spanish. Would have to do a bit of revision this weekend.

mercredi, octobre 21, 2009

Beef Osso Buco

Osso Buco

Funny how I would make Osso Buco more often before we started living in Italy. Personally I am not too fond of veal so I have always made it with beef (Charolais or Piemontese). And I do the version with (fresh) tomatoes and alcohol. Now that it's getting really cold and we've turned on the heaters, I'm interested in soups and stews once again. Time also to bring in the cactuses and lemon plant.

Beef Osso Buco :

2 pieces of Beef Osso Buco (aka hole in the bone)
Olive Oil (I try not to use butter anymore)
Flour (for dusting)
Tomatoes (fresh, tinned, paste...)
Lemon juice and peel (best untreated)
Bay Leaves
Red wine/Marsala/Dry Sherry/Brandy (if making veal use white wine)
Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
Meat broth

Remove the membrane surrounding the osso buco before cooking it if you do not want the meat to curl up. I didn't do it properly as I was late for my massage so part of it curled up this time.

Lightly flour, salt and pepper the meat and brown it on both sides in some olive oil. Remove and set aside.

Fry the onions, garlic till fragrant and then add in the chopped vegetables. Return the meat to the pot and season with the herbs. Pour in the alcohol (I did a mix of red wine, marsala and dry sherry) and simmer to let the alcohol evaporate. Then pour in some balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.

Fried potatoes with Porcini Mushrooms

Heat up the meat broth and add it to the meat. Cover, lower the heat and cook for at least 1.5 hours or till the beef is melt-in-the-mouth. Garnish with some julienned lemon peel and chopped parsley and serve with some mashed potatoes or polenta cakes. Osso Buco is very popular in Milan and over there they also like polenta (which I don't). I did some linguine this evening as the Babies wanted it and for Hub and myself we had fried potatoes with Porcini mushrooms.

Lancia Phedra

My new Lancia Phedra finally arrived. And it'll be my last as they are going to stop producing the car soon. It doesn't have a sun roof, xenon lights, leather seats or electric doors/seats like my old Phedra, but as we all know, times are bad and downgrading is the order of the day. This time I chose burgundy. With a brown interior. A bit like my osso buco.

Interior of the car

Actually, after driving the sunfish-looking Fiat Multipla and the stylish Fiat 500 in the last few weeks, I will find driving and especially parking the Phedra a chore - again. But somebody has to drive a 7-seater in the family and it looks like it'll have to be me.

This afternoon I met the Teenager's teachers. To brace myself for it I had a full-body massage before that. With a very inconsistent child, one can't expect much good news. I needed all my nerves soothed and pampered.

Samsui Chicken with Ginger Dip

Samsui Chicken with Ginger Dip and Iceberg Lettuce

Every time we return to Singapore we would eat at the Soup Restaurant. The family's favourite is their Samsui Chicken which is actually cold white chicken served with a ginger dip and wrapped in lettuce. I make Hainanese Chicken Rice at least once a month and somehow never thought of doing the Samsui Chicken version. But there is always such a time.

My carving leaves much to be desired

I always feel a little sad when I think of the Samsui Women. These women came to Singapore in the early 20th century mainly from the Samsui districts in the Canton Province in China. While many other Chinese female immigrants worked as servants and prostitutes, the Samsui women took the better-paying but very laborious jobs on construction sites. They stood out in their big red hats that protected them from the sun. Their entire lives were devoted to pure hardship. They continued to work at construction sites until they were either too old or sick, or till there was no further demand for their labour. Most never married, preferring to keep their independence. One can imagine that most of them would die poor since they would have no retirement fund nor children to support them.

Samsui Women

This chicken dish was a special and expensive treat for them usually prepared during the Chinese New Year. These women were a symbol of female independence and courage. When I eat this dish, I will remember them. Though in my family, it also makes us remember our paternal grandfather. Dad tells us that his father used to make this dish for the family.

Ginger Dip

Ginger Dip for Samsui Chicken :

100g Fresh Ginger (preferably a mix of both young and old ginger)
50ml Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Tbsp Chicken or Vegetable Oil
2 Tbsp Chinese Rice Wine
1 Tsp Salt

Blend everything together into a smooth paste. Leave to macerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

The ginger dip is very addictive and is good for removing wind. But it is nonetheless very oily so best to eat it in moderation.

mardi, octobre 20, 2009

Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini

Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini/Cèpes/Steinpilz

This morning I sent the Teenager (formerly known as Eldest Son) to Modena centro for some school project and took the opportunity to visit the covered market. My usual vegetable and fruit stall was selling Porcini mushrooms at 30 euros a Kg but they certainly looked good. After the last shopping weekend I have to lie low, but once the porcini season is over one would have to return to the frozen and dried ones - so carpe diem what the heck.

Fresh Porcini Mushrooms

I have a packet of fresh tagliatelle in the fridge and decided to make a simple pasta dish to bring out the heady taste of the Porcini mushrooms. The family loved it, Hub forgot his no-carb-at-night diet and soaked up the rest of the sauce with bread (organic - also fresh from the market).

I was generous with my olive oil and less so with the cream, so the sauce was a little watery which in any case is the way we prefer it. And while most Italians would use parsley with the mushrooms, I used thyme like the Florentians and it gave an earthy taste to the sauce leading the Hub to think at first that I've cooked the mushrooms without removing the soil. In any case, it is recommended that we not wash the fresh Porcini mushrooms (especially not with warm or hot water) if possible, using only a damp cloth to brush the soil off them.

Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini :

300g Fresh Porcini Mushrooms
Olive Oil
White wine
500ml Vegetable Stock
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh Tagliatelle for 4

Heat up some olive oil in the pan, fry onions and garlic till fragrant. Add in the porcini mushrooms. When they start to soften, sprinkle some thyme over them and pour in some white wine. Let it simmer for a few minutes then add in the vegetable stock. Leave it to simmer and reduce. Finally stir in the cream.

Before the cream

Boil water and cook the fresh pasta. Drain and just before serving, put the cooked pasta in the saucepan taking care to coat it well in the sauce. Serve with the Porcini mushrooms on top.

The Teenager caught some allergy over the weekend and is now in quite a sorry state. He will have to stay at home tomorrow. No peace for my throat.

Shopping at Bicester Village

Bicester Outlet Village

It was a toss between shopping at Bicester Village and sightseeing at Stratford upon Avon (I love Shakespeare and the English countryside) and of course shopping won. I can sightsee when I'm 50, but shopping at that age wouldn't be the same.

Reading papers in the train

Pulling out of a station along the way

Took a train from London Marlebone with Chiltern and arrived an hour later at Bicester North. Then I bought a return ticket on the shuttle for the Outlet Village and arrived just as they opened the boutiques.

Bicester North

This place is paradise. Burberry, Hugo Boss, Celine, Timberland, Ferragamo, Dior, Bvlgari, Samsonite, Monsoon, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin name but a few. I worked the (one and only) credit card quite a bit there and crossed my fingers each time that I hadn't passed the limit. Left the receipts in a pile on the floor near the bed but the Hub didn't seem to have noticed them. You be my witness that I haven't been hiding them.

A few shopping bags

I couldn't find my trench coat not even in this Burberry store (though got a few nice stuff for Baby Girl) and I couldn't find anything I like chez Dior. A pity as most of the bags and wallets were discounted between 30 and 80%. But I found a pair of the softest and most comfortable flat shoes (Audrey as in Audrey Hepburn) at Ferragamo and a few really nice silk dresses at Monsoon. I went crazy at Polo (buying for the kids) and finally had to stop as I didn't have enough hands nor money and had to make my way to the train station or I would miss my train back to London. One thing I love about the UK is that you can almost always find a size 12/14. Read in the papers that most people there either fit into size 6/8 or wear 16/18. I am not difficult with leftovers.

Audrey flats from Ferragamo

Great day spent shopping and it made my cold Roast Duck Rice lunch that I finally ate in the train back all the more enjoyable. I will be back at Bicester, maybe the next time with Hub. The man needs some new clothes and they have Saville Row tailors there..