vendredi, avril 30, 2010

Banana, Oatmeal and Pecan Nut Brownie

Banana Oatmeal and Pecan Nut Brownie
What do you do when you're overweight but are incapable of sticking to a diet? You make yourself a Banana, Oatmeal and Pecan Nut Brownie, slice a few strawberries, dig out the whipped cream and settle down to surf the Net. Recharge to start the diet another day.

I made a batch of said brownies adapting one of Jamie Oliver's brownie recipes. The Teenager is at the Golf Club playing golf, the Babies are having a playdate with JoW's girls. I'm having a bit of me time at last, though this could only mean that the urge to cook or bake something would arise and plans to start learning how to knit or do a wash or bring the ski suits to the laundry shop would be forgotten, postponed (yet again). I would have called my Mum since Mother's Day is round the corner, but nowadays she goes to bed early and it's already nearly midnight in Singapore.

Thought I could go ahead and bake a big portion and share part of it with P. Share the calories :-)

Banana, Oatmeal and Pecan Nut Brownie :

200g good-quality Dark Chocolate
250g Butter
50g Pecan nuts (roughly crushed)
1 large ripe Banana (mashed)
300g Sugar
65g Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
50-80g Cocoa powder
4 large Eggs
3 Tbsp Oats

Break the chocolate into small pieces and slice the butter into small cubes. Put them in a large bowl and microwave on high for a minute or 2. Stir to mix well and set aside to cool. When it's slightly cool, stir in the chopped nuts and mashed banana.

In another bowl, add the sugar and sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Pour this mixture into the butter-chocolate-nuts-banana mixture and mix well.

Stir in 2 Tbsp of the oats.

Beat the eggs till they are smooth in a bowl and then pour the beaten egg into the flour-butter mixture. Stir well till the batter is smooth.

The batter
Line a square or rectangular baking tin with greaseproof paper and sprinkle the remaining oats on top. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for around 25 minutes. Cake should still be moist on the inside, skewer should not come out clean.

Cool and slice into squares and serve with some whipped cream, mascarpone or crème fraîche.

Lamb Roast

Lamb Roast (before the roasting)

The amount of fat covering the lamb roast should have put me off, but it excited me instead. It will keep the meat moist, yummy!

But best not to roast the vegetables with the meat if you do not want them covered in the fat when it melts. Roast them separately. I put them there to make the roast stand out for the photo session.

Cooked lamb roast (of course we didn't serve or eat the fat)

We eat our lamb pink, so the flesh is not totally cooked. When the meat is fresh and good, this is the best way to eat lamb.

The Babies love lamb and ate up most of the meat between them. I know that this is rare for children their age. You see that I've trained them well. :-)

De Beers 18K White Gold Quartz and Diamond Sakura Pendant

Sakura Rose Quartz and Diamond Pendant from De Beers

Hub probably had a troubled night. He knew that I was going to check out the De Beers Private Sale this morning. Which I did.

He asked me if I've bought anything. I told him that I've bought something gorgeous for around 40K just to see how he would react. Even as I said it I knew that I would be caught out quickly since where in the world could we find 4 least of all 40K to buy any jewellery in times like these?

Anyway, most of the pieces on sale today were quite loud and gaudy. Too flashy for me. I have small fingers for a fat person and can only carry off small creations.

But everything was sold out within 10 minutes even at such prices. I was among the first at the sale and chose a simple quartz and diamond pendant : 18ct white gold, rose quartz, 0,18ct diamonds. Reminded me of a lotus though they named it "sakura".

Hub looked relieved and said, "So you've managed to restrain yourself."

I can wait. Next year is our 10th Wedding Anniversary.

mercredi, avril 28, 2010

Combined Grades 1 and 2 Walk and Lunch

Cascate Bucamante, Serramazzoni (MO)

We have to remember to thank Mother Nature for her little wonders from time to time. Like a nice little waterfall in an otherwise nondescript Modena region. Like lovely sunny weather on the day you decided to walk to the waterfall with a group of friends - after a really grey and cloudy day just the day before.

Together with AD, we organised a combined Grades 1 and 2 Walk to the Cascate Bucamante followed by lunch at Ristorante da "Zona". We were 9 ladies and 1 man. Though after the initial shyness (a few weeks back), you can feel that he's starting to enjoy being the ahem only thorn among the roses (I mean how could he be the rose and us the thorns, right?) :-)

We grouped ourselves into 3 cars and set out together from the school. Then we started walking, ground was a little slippery, but it was really so nice listening to the water from the small waterfall flowing along its course, the little insects in the forest, the women chattering away in pairs and in groups. The man had his professional gear and was busy taking pictures.

CT at work

My shoes were muddy, my ears were blocked and I was out of breath by the time we reached the waterfall - a testimony to my lack of fitness as the walk was really short and quite easy. Thank God I had water from my camrades to revive me and a lunch reservation not too far from the waterfall.

Waterfall in sight

View with the waterfall behind me

The restaurant is Italian and serves good home-made pastas, risottos, grilled meats of which they are particulatly proud of their Argentinian and Brazilian beef. Half the table ordered this Pappardelle all'anatra (Duck pasta) that was really tasty and I ended up having a go at it though I've already had a large filetto all'aceto balsamico. We were able to eat out in the terrace which made for a lovely experience. Perhaps Spring is really here now. I could finally turn off my gas heaters.

Filetto all'aceto balsamico

Ristorante da "Zona"
Via Valle Olio, 4047
41028 Valle di Serramazzoni (MO)
tel. : 0536 957190

Hand-made Jewellery and Coffee Mornings

Jewellery Party

JW did coffee morning yesterday and it was well-attended as usual, with lots of lovely English ladies and cute toddlers competing for buttered English scones and chocolate cake with the adults. Our gracious hostess offered coffee and tea à volonté and I managed to catch up with a few people I have not seen for a while.

I have mentioned before that it was also some sort of jewellery party. Wendy brought along her beautiful hand-made jewellery and arranged them with lots of love and care for our consideration and admiration. It was difficult deciding what to try on, but of course also very fun doing so.


Most of the pieces are made in sterling silver, gold and other metals. With diamonds, precious and semi-precious stones. Some of them were simple, others quite elaborate. On display were also a few pieces of exquisite work.

Lovely flower brooch

Wendy sells her hand-made jewellery on etsy, dawanda and boticca and she also has a blog. If you're looking for nice, artistic pieces to offer as a gift, it could be an idea to check out what she has. You can even have something made to measure.

A few intricate bangles...

I would have been tempted to buy a few pieces for myself or to offer if I've not already bought this and this recently. Besides I'm quite allergic to anything that is not almost pure gold.

A few of the rings

It wasn't easy for Wendy to show off her jewellery in a room filled with toddlers, but then it would be difficult for many of the ladies to leave home without bringing such young children along. I could feel that she wasn't happy about it and this could be confirmed when you catch her complaining about it on Twitter and Facebook. Still, I thought that she would appreciate that this could be a start and with more exposure and word-of-mouth, she could be better-known in the local expat community and beyond. The school wouldn't be a good place for her to showcase her jewellery though - since by definition it would be filled with children. LOL

Alphabetti Spaghetti Jewellery

Questions Unanswered

Caterpillar (E.C's Hungry Caterpillar drawing)

There are moments when I have questions and can find no immediate answers to them, and then could find no energy nor motivation either to work them out.

I am not talking about the Creation. Or how fast those lilies I have in my garden seem to be growing everyday. There are really many things the naked eye couldn't see/catch in real time.

I am wondering more along the lines of where did the scorpions in my house hide? How did the dozens of crickets that we find every evening (a few months ago) enter the house? And this week, how/why in the world do we wake up to dozens of caterpillars at the bottom of the stairs every morning? Will they become moths or butterflies? Why didn't this happen 3 years ago? Why now?

A handful that I gathered this morning

Should I stay awake at night to see how they end up there every morning?

Then I was driving home after buying that little dress from Armani (yes, I managed to find a moment to buy it) and suddenly a question popped into my head : Was Man born with a conscience or did he have to develop/cultivate one or at least awaken it?

Cute, right?

How do you expect me to answer that question when I was trying to keep an eye out at the same time for farms selling strawberries? But like I said, it just popped up like that.

Finally, I was reading my old Lonely Planet Guidebook on Spain (prices are still in pesetas) as I'm wondering if I should bring the MIL and the children to Malaga, and out of the blue an old question that I've been having since I was a teenager materialised : What is the difference between "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "Do not do unto others as you would not have them to do unto you"? Should one adhere to the former or the latter? What does it say about those who practise one or the other?

Arrgh, I should really work on the meditation and learn to empty the mind. Because those questions will nag me for the rest of the day (or 2) and I would feel frustrated because I do not have the time to work them out. I could search the Net for a few essays, but then I'd have to compare and analyse them and that'll take alot of time. And I have to decide by midnight today if I want to go to Malaga.

I'm off for my walk to the Cascate Bucamante with my group of mums (and a dad). The sun is out today, it's a promising start.

lundi, avril 26, 2010

B for Busy

Churros with Cinnamon Sugar

Hub called asking me to buy a little dress for his colleague's baby girl as we were invited to lunch this Saturday at their place. I told him that I'd have to check my agenda. He snorted, saying how busy could I be since I do not work. I retorted that I would be very busy this week actually - with travel planning and socialising.

This afternoon, I had P and her boy over for a little tea; I regret to say that while the pair of mother and son burnt calories biking here and back, I didn't move much but consumed quite a number of churros. What possessed me to make them only God knows, I guess that I was on automatic pilot each time I have children for tea and just had to make something sweet.

Anyway, it was a lovely day and we had a lovely time catching up - though we last saw each other about a week or so ago. We were saying how wonderful it was to stay in a place where we had so much open space. It is true that most places in Asia are just filled with people, noise and smells. I know already that I would miss the peace and quiet here very much the day I leave.

Like I've told Hub, I'm busy this week. Tomorrow JW's having a coffee morning cum hand-made jewellery exhibition (move over Tupperware parties!) and Wednesday I'm doing a combined Grades 1 and 2 outing to the Waterfall followed by lunch. How will I find the time to buy a little girl's dress? At some point this week of course I'll need to do a spot of grocery shopping, but I do not have the habit of buying clothes from the supermarket. Especially if it's going to be a gift.

Thursday I hope to meet up with Margi in Bologna since I've not seen her in a long time. And I still have a few projects with the school, our Summer holidays to finalise...I wish Hub didn't leave this till the last minute like he always does and imagine that I'd drop everything at the drop of a hat like I always do.

You know that I'll go shop for that nice little dress for a nice, cute and long (parents are giants) baby girl - after I've whined a little about it. Why doesn't he think that I'm busy just because I'm not working? Do you agree that only people who are economically productive are busy? Sniff.

dimanche, avril 25, 2010

Hub's Birthday Lunch

Hub's Birthday Cake

The birthday is really tomorrow, but you need a Sunday to celebrate it. Not even a Saturday since they all want to play golf. We had a small affair this year and invited only 2 families making us 6 adults and 7 children - manageable if the weather is good.

Our lovely guests

It was touch and go where the weather was concerned since it had rained the whole of Friday and Saturday. But I was optimistic that the weather would be fine come Sunday noon and my faith had been rewarded. Lovely afternoon today.

I made a simple lunch :

For the adults :


Bacon-red onion-cheese-tomato-basil-egg

Champagne Dom Pérignon

Foie Gras Raviolis in a light Broth


In its broth

Château Pipeau Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2000

Cumin and Coriander Beef Curry

Tandoori Prawns

In its marinade

Freshly baked

Jeera Rice

Amarone della Valpolicella

Cheese Platter

Home-made Bread

Strawberry Cake

Vanilla sugar

Mascarpone, vanilla bean, rum and whipped cream filling

Un peu de masonry (Hub's contribution)

Fraisier léger (I need the right moulds)

Champagne Moët et Chandon

For the children :


Raw Vegetable Platter

Roast Free-range Chicken


Out of the oven

Fusilli with Butter

Chocolate Swissroll (made by GA - forgot to take a picture)

I did the bulk of the cooking today, though I half-cooked the curry, made the sponge for the cake and kneaded the bread yesterday. I haven't bought Hub a present since I buy him stuff all through the year whenever I come across something that he would need or like and at the moment he has everything he needs (except a diet that works and maybe more free time). But he loves spending time eating, chatting (and especially drinking) with friends so I figured that it would be best to throw him a Birthday lunch.

Time flies, he turns 44 tomorrow. Sometimes it feels funny knowing that you've met someone when he was in his early 30s and in the blink of an eye he's now in his mid-40s. Without quite realising it, we've walked quite a bit of the way together. It is not easy living with anyone least of all someone of the opposite sex and we've had (and still have) our ups and downs. But as I've known then, he's a steady, intelligent and good guy with whom I can spend and construct my life and I've not been wrong.

Many a lesser man would have entered a few years ago into mid-life crisis, but Hub's optimistic outlook and progressive nature see him taking many things in his stride, enjoying what each stage in life has to offer. I hope that things would continue as such, as I already have a teenager in crisis and am not sure that I'll be able to handle a grown man in crisis too.

Hub blowing his candles with Baby Boy

I wish him the best of health, much happiness, a successful and fulfilling career, good luck in his coming golf exams and lots of love from all those who love him anyway.

Happy 44th, my beloved Hub!

vendredi, avril 23, 2010

Steamed Silken Tofu Egg and Prawns

Steamed Silken Tofu Egg and Prawns (with crispy ginger and garlic)
I've spent my day preparing our Italian taxes so that a cabinet in Milan can help us file them. I really dread this boring part of the year, but Hub doesn't have the time to do it, so I have to devote myself to the subject. Luckily the cabinet we're using this year provides reasonably good explanations in French. Last year's was in English, was mediocre and quite useless. I hate filing taxes and not understanding how things work in the country in question. I'm sure we're not getting a cent back because of that.

I also file our French taxes (myself), but that I'm quite used to after so many years doing it and since we do not have much in France now, it's just a formality. I believe in paying taxes, wealth redistribution, funding public services etc, but as you'll hear me say it whenever the subject crops up, I just dislike being taxed on the same plate again and again. Why should you pay income tax, VAT and then when you decide not to spend it all, be taxed on your savings, investments, donations (to family members) etc?

I've heard of unemployed people with 4-6 kids "earning" as much as a person working full-time who couldn't afford to have more than one child and who still has to pay taxes on his income. What justice is there in this?

One thing that irritates me the most in the Italian tax system is that they do not allow you to claim tax relief for supporting your parents financially. But automatically deducts a percentage to give to the State or the Church(es). Why couldn't they separate religion and politics like the more enlightened countries? The State already sucks our blood dry (and mismanages most of it) and the Church/Synagogue etc should only have people who believe in them to contribute. Why should I pay for their wafers and candles and elaborate robes?

Didn't have the time to cook this afternoon and in any case I'll be doing alot of it starting tomorrow for Hub's Birthday party. Like most years, I throw him a party for his birthday, having run out of ideas of what to buy him for a present. I'll let other people worry about that.

Before being steamed
Made a quick Steamed Silken Tofu with Egg and Prawns. Beat half the block of silken tofu with the egg (added seasoning) and lined a steaming plate with it. Then sliced the other half of the tofu thinly and placed them on top of the egg mixture. Followed by the prawns and chilli.

Using a small frying pan, I then fried some minced garlic and julienned ginger till they turned crispy and added half of them to the dish when it was halfway though steaming. The other half I added when the dish was fully cooked. Topped with a bit of ketchup manis later as a finishing touch. One-pot dish for the busy.

mercredi, avril 21, 2010

Cooking with CT - 1st Cookery Club Lesson

CT's melt-in-the-mouth Pork Ribs

We had a good start to our Cookery Club with a first lesson presented by CT, our Brazilian professional photographer who can cook. It's a project we had under the sleeve for a few months now that only came to fruition this morning. Ordered by his wife, he shared his secret Pork Ribs recipe with us. Since it's a secret recipe now exclusive to our cookery club, I'm not going to divulge it to the general public. I hope that I'll not end up losing the paper with the scribbled notes (he didn't prepare the recipe for us as he should have).

After 1.5 hours in the oven

OK, like I've said before, it'll be a hard act to follow after CT. He has better knife skills than most home cooks, he doesn't just tell you what to put into the dish, he explains why you have to do it this way and not that. It was a little difficult at times because of the language barrier, but we're a group of good-humoured ladies and after a few minutes of charades and cross translations (and a few glasses of red wine), I think we managed more or less to get the picture.

Chef at work

The rest of us should be a little discouraged after such a professional performance, but surprisingly, this seems to inspire, maybe even motivate, some of our members. JW has enthusiastically offered to be the next member to do a lesson. In 3 weeks, we'll learn more about English cooking. How about something with a spot of er...gravy?

More than 10 minutes under the grill

Getting out of the door, who did we meet outside the house opposite CT's? The paternal grandfather of CW, a Chinese boy in my girl's class. This world is so small it's scary. I took the opportunity to invite myself for a tour of his house, as they have been renovating it and his mum has mentioned once about placing restored old Chinese furniture all over (they import and sell Chinese furniture). Very nice. Old man's very talkative, interesting stories :-).