dimanche, janvier 31, 2010

Sichuan Preserved Vegetable and Tofu Soup

Sichuan Preserved Vegetable and Tofu Soup

School is closed tomorrow. The town has decided that the grounds are too slippery for kids to be in buses and at school. I have received a call from LS that triggered the system where I, with the other class reps, had to call a few other families to pass on the message. The children are very happy, of course. But it means that I'm grounded. And Monday is always bad because the supermarkets are closed in the morning meaning that I usually have nothing fresh in the fridge.

On most Sunday evenings, the Hub usually makes a Leek and Potato Soup for dinner that he will eat with the children. This soup is delicious and is a great way for the children to eat some vegetables. Unfortunately, I do not really like creamy soups, being used to usually clear Asian soups. So I would make something different for myself. This evening, I made a Sichuan Preserved Vegetable and Tofu Soup.

Mum used to make us this soup when we were younger and we would have it with lots of rice. I had mine with mung bean vermicelli since I just had rice for lunch.

Sichuan Preserved Vegetable and Tofu Soup (for 1 or 2 persons) :

1 small packet of sliced Sichuan Preserved Vegetables (the Chinese eat this as a snack)
1 small piece of firm Tofu (cubed)
1 Chilli padi (sliced)
1 small packet of Mung mean vermicelli
500ml vegetable or meat stock

I like to have this soup simple. Just hot and salty. And it is really one of the rare anything that I eat preserved. I normally have a phobia of anything that comes in a can, that is dried or that doesn't look like what it looked like fresh.

And it's therefore not something to be eaten too often as preserved vegetables contain a lot of salt. Once in a while though, it's very satisfying.

Laksa Fried Rice

Laksa Fried Rice

If I could think off-hand what dessert to make with dried shrimps, I would make it. But since I do not have friendly, helpful guinea pigs at home, and not sure how much more I could stuff the neighbour's dog(s) with, I decided to make Laksa Fried Rice instead.

I was saved quite a bit of trouble thanks to Santa's packet of Laksa Fried Rice paste from Prima Taste. Since I have fresh laksa leaves from my laksa plant (that is cohabiting with some tulips - I re-used the soil not knowing that there were bulbs inside) and lots of dried shrimps, the dish was almost begging to be made.

My laksa plant

This is yummy and the dried shrimps added a lovely touch to the dish - if I may say so.

Snow in our yard

It has finally stopped snowing. I daresay that the kids would be out making a snowman and having a snowball fight the minute they come home from the birthday party. I like it when it snows. You actually feel less cold and can have fun with the snow at the same time. Hub is preparing a few carrots, walnuts etc for the snowman. I'm getting out the ski suits.

Lentil, Vegetable and Sausage Curry

Lentil, Vegetable and Sausage Curry

On a cold snowy day like this (and Hub refusing to lunch at a restaurant), I had to dig in my fridge to find sustenance and found it in the form of a few forgotten good-quality Südtirol sausages. At the same time I found some cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, zucchini and tofu - and adding spilt red lentils I came up with a Lentil, Vegetable and Sausage Curry. East meets west.

Hub wasn't being a cheapskate, as we have just dined last evening in a good seafood restaurant in Maranello. In spite of the hard times, he has been awarded a special bonus, which is very rewarding after all the long hours and hard work that he has been putting in - and worth a little celebration. The seafood was fresh and very good at William's and I am surprised that we haven't been back there more often. Probably because they only serve fish and the Babies do not like fish (they had tortellini in brodo last night).

At some point, a couple (lady in huge fur coat) and their child came in and sat next to our table. Impossible not to remember the lady, she must be a living advertisement for her plastic surgeon. Botox, face-lifting, lip-enlargement, breast-enlargement, probably rib-cage reduction...I've seen her a few times at the golf club and it has been difficult looking her in the eye when we talked - I do not have a poker face. Her husband looks quite a bit older and I wonder if he was the one who had encouraged her to have that much plastic surgery done. Suddenly, I now wonder if he's not a/the plastic surgeon. They look very wealthy.

I only know a few people who have had plastic surgery and do not recall the results being so obvious. I mean, if one takes a look at you and know that you've been under the knife, wouldn't that defeat the purpose?

Back home, I asked Hub if he wouldn't want me to go for some liposuction since he keeps telling me that I'm sooo fat. Not even bothering to look at me, he muttered, "Just eat less." As if I needed anybody to tell me that.

Lentil, Vegetable and Sausage Curry :

1 Onion
2 Tbsp Ginger-Garlic paste
small piece Cinnamon bark
2-3 Cloves
2 Black Cardamom seeds
A few Mustard seeds
1 Tsp Cumin seeds
1 Tsp ground Turmeric
1 Tsp ground Coriander
1 fresh green Chilli
1 Tsp Garam Masala
6-8 Curry leaves
500ml hot water
1-2 cups spilt red lentils
half a head of Cauliflower
2 Carrots
2 Potatoes
1 Zucchini
3-4 Tbsp Crème fraîche
Salt and Pepper to taste
3 good-quality Südtirol Sausages

I didn't put in fried tofu in the list as after I've finished frying a few of them, I ate them up almost immediately. Lovely on its own, too bad for those who have not been initiated to the good protein.

For the curry, proceed as usual meaning fry the onion, garlic paste, brown the spices, fry the potatoes, carrots and cauliflower and then pour in the hot water and lentils. Add in the zucchinis, stir in the garam masala and cream last (after all the lentils and vegetables are cooked). If not using soured cream, squeeze in some lemon juice.

This lentil curry should be a little thick so as to go well with the sausages that you add in to cook about 5-10 minutes before you serve. Basically just to heat them up and impart their lovely smoked flavour to the lentils.

No-Bake Konnyaku Jelly Lychee Cheesecake

No-Bake Konnyaku Jelly Lychee Cheesecake

It is snowing heavily, large snowflakes coming down on us non-stop. The kids are really excited, less so for Hub who had to drive them to a birthday party.

See the snowflakes

I stayed at home and decided to make Konnyaku jelly for the Babies who have been asking for them. And from there, my No-Bake Konnyaku Jelly Lychee Cheesecake was born.

Konnyaku Jelly Lychee Cheesecake (small 16-cm cake) :

The biscuit base :

50g Butter (melted)
100g Digestive biscuits
25g Sugar

The filling :

1 can Lychees (drained and syrup, about 330ml, reserved)
170ml Water***
100g Sugar
3g Konnyaku jelly powder
250g Philadelphia cream cheese
Juice of half a lemon

I no longer make my bisuit base by hand as I'm too lazy to do it properly. I melt, in the microwave, the butter in the plastic container of my small food processor and then pulse it with the broken digestive biscuits till I get fine crumbs. Press them firmly onto the lined and buttered base of a springform mould. Chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Put the syrup from the can of lychees in a saucepan and add the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, dissolving the sugar and slowly stir in the konnyaku jelly powder. Set aside to cool a little. ***But watch out, you only need 120ml of this jelly.

Chop the lychees into small pieces and put them in a big bowl. Add the cream cheese and lemon juice and whip till creamy. Pour in 120ml of the slightly cooled (not too much as konnyaku jelly sets quickly) konnyaku jelly and mix well. You can use the rest of the konnyaku jelly to make individual jellies for the children.

Before being chilled

Pour the lychee-jelly-cream cheese filling into the mould. Chill for at least 4 hours.

I found this cheesecake quite refreshing. Next time maybe I'll experiment with agar-agar or gelatine.

samedi, janvier 30, 2010

Home-made Tagliolini al Ragu

Home-made Tagliolini al Ragu

Hub was resistent to me buying the pasta machine, but once we have it, he couldn't wait to use it. He came back from Munich this morning at 2 (there was alot of snow there and the plane couldn't take off), but the first thing he did when he woke up was to spend 2 hours making a Ragu sauce - to go with home-made fresh tagliolini.

Rolling out the pasta dough

Using the pasta machine was a family event, from kneading the dough to rolling it out to be passed through the machine, to cutting the sheet into tagliolini. Everyone had a turn turning the handle as we have decided not to use the electric component so that it would be more fun.

Freshly cut Tagliolini (and a glass of Eiswein)

Needless to say, Home-made Tagliolini al Ragu is really something else, the Babies finished their portions before we even started eating ours and asked for seconds. We also grated the old parmesan cheese ourselves to complete the meal. Hub said we should make ravioli the next time.

After lunch the Babies went outside to play in the snow. This weekend we are stuck at home as there are 2 birthday parties for the children to attend. There are lots of animal footprints in the snow, proof of their visit to our house in the night. I put out my leftovers each evening, thus reducing the amount of waste we generate for dumping and at the same time I feed the animals who hang around our house.

Heavy visitor traffic

vendredi, janvier 29, 2010

Fresh Mango on Sticky Rice

Fresh Mango on Sweetened Sticky Rice

I don't ever eat mangoes, but Hub loves it. Whenever he visits Singapore he would get the royal treatment from my parents, with chilled cut fresh mangoes waiting for him in the fridge every evening. And his favourite dessert in a Thai restaurant is none other than a good Fresh Mango on Sweetened Sticky Rice.

I have made alot of glutinous rice the other day for my lemper udang, and Hub, not missing the occasion, mentioned that I should pair it with the mangoes I have just bought. It is true that I rarely make glutinous rice because I hate having to steam it, not having the cone-shaped basket for steaming large quantities of the rice.

And since he just called home telling me that he had bought me a giant scraper for the windscreen from OBI in Munich, I had to reward him. In case you wonder why this obsession with the scraper, well, I have lost the one I had from Stuttgart and am very frustrated with the joke of a scraper they sell here in Modena. Tiny plastic scraper (sold for less than 2 euros) that is smaller than the kids' equipment for the beach. Apparently many Italians use a spray to remove frost from their windscreens (very unfriendly to the environment) and therefore you cannot find the big ones anywhere. The scraper Hub bought is made in Canada. You can imagine that it wouldn't be anything to laugh about. In fact, German customs didn't, Hub almost couldn't leave Munich with it.

Fresh Mango on Sticky Rice :

Fresh ripe mango (peeled and sliced)
120ml Coconut milk (for dessert, more of the cream and only a bit of the milk)
2 Tbsp Sugar
1/8 Tsp Salt
Glutinous rice (soaked and steamed)

Basically you cook the sticky rice (with water/coconut milk, salt, sugar and pandan leaves).

Then combine the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a bowl and microwave till the sugar is dissolved in the milk (or do it the traditional way in a saucepan, but not to boiling point). Pour some of it over the cooked sticky rice and let the rice soak it up. Then place the mango slices on top of the rice and pour more of the sweetened coconut sauce over it.

Personally I think it's important to add salt to the sweetened coconut milk as I think this slightly salty taste brings out the sweetness of the dessert even better. It's what makes many coconut milk-based Thai desserts interesting.

Hub's still waiting for the plane to take off. Too much snow in Munich. And the house is shaking all over as I'm typing this. Those stupid kids are wrestling and fighting with each other upstairs. I am going to go scream.

My messy spice station

Fried Gluten (Mock Meat)

Fried Gluten

In the past few years, when I dream of anything taking place in a home, 80% of the time it would take place in the first flat that I've lived in at Block 58, Toa Payoh Lorong 4. Can anyone explain why? It's like I couldn't leave the small flat with its small living room, the tiny kitchen cum eating area, the 2 bedrooms...A few nights ago, I even had Hub with me in that flat. It's weird. Sometimes I do not just see the flat itself, I see the whole building - all lighted up because it's always at night when I see it.

Anyway, I've been thinking that I should maybe eat more vegetarian food if I do not feel like eating too much meat and yet am not fond of the vegetables here. One couldn't find tinned or frozen gluten products here in Modena, so I had to make the fried gluten from scratch.

For those of you who do not know Chinese vegetarian food, we replace meat with protein-rich fried gluten and you'll be amazed at how much it sometimes tastes like meat. It's the chewy texture and the way it absorbs sauces and savours wherever it finds itself in.

The dough before being rinsed

Fried Gluten (for 1 person) :

250g Flour
1 Tsp Salt

Basically just add enough water to the flour and salt to make a dough that you can knead. Kneading forms the gluten so knead well. The salt will encourage a purer protein to be formed as it will cause certain impurities to go away with the starch when the dough is rinsed in water.

The gluten

You leave the kneaded dough to rest for a few hours with cling wrap over the container. Then pour cold water over it in a container and continue to knead with the water running gently from the tap. The starch in the dough has to dissolve in the water to leave the gluten (which doesn't dissolve in water) behind. Keep kneading and rinsing until the water runs almost clear. The gluten dough would have largely diminished in size becoming a lumpy elastic mass.

Gluten, tofu, carrot and beansprout Stir Fry

Pinch bits of the dough and fry them in hot oil. It's ready when it puffs up into a ball. Drain on kitchen towels and set aside for further use. I like using it to make sweet and sour (mock) pork. Or mock Peking Duck. Also braised with mushrooms. Kirti kindly gave me some fresh tofu and beansprouts today - so I'll make a tofu, beansprout, carrot and gluten stir-fry. Very simple, just with garlic, the 4 ingredients and sugar-soy sauce-sesame oil-rice wine seasoning.

Steamed Rice Rolls with Dried Shrimp and Chinese Sausage

Steamed Rice Rolls with Dried Shrimp and Chinese Sausage

You can probably hear the rusty gears in my brain moving no matter where you are. The dried shrimps have to go. I dug through my WW3 food stock and found a packet of Banh Cuon flour that I've bought donkey years ago (good till June 2010 though) and that was how this Steamed Rice Rolls with Dried Shrimp and Chinese Sausage dish was born.

Banh cuon flour is basically a mix of rice and tapioca flour and the Vietnamese use it to make their various rice roll dishes depending on which part of the country they come from. Like the Chinese, they usually fill the rolls with a savoury filling and eat them with a sauce.

I steamed my rice rolls for 10 minutes in an oiled metal dish over rapidly boiling water. Then filled them with a minced dried shrimp, fresh green chilli and fragrant Chinese sausage filling. You can eat the rolls as they are, or make a nuoc cham or soy sauce-sesame oil dip to go with. The Chinese sausage goes really well with the chilli and dried shrimp, I have a Japanese lunch buffet with my Grade 2 class in 2 hours, but I think I'm done in, I've eaten too many of the rolls...

The rice rolls

Meanwhile Hub is away and while I'm happy to be able to eat my rubbish and sleep with the Babies, I must say that I've missed him. I've been thinking lately what a grouchy, critical, but wonderful man he is. Not really the Prince Charming sort (I asked him to buy me a big scraper for my windscreen when he's in Germany - he said maybe), but dependable, responsible, and not at all corrupt. Never go for an outwardly exciting and suave man - they usually are not. Go for someone who respects and encourages you to be yourself - and gives you a chance to do the same to him. Being quite pleased with Hub and myself, I think I'll make him an Irish stew this weekend and dump lots of Guinness and red wine in it. He'll like that.

jeudi, janvier 28, 2010

Ferrari's F10 Maranello for Formula Uno 2010

Alonso, Montezzemolo and Massa

Hub sent me an sms to tell me that he was at the launch of Ferrari's new racing car the F10 Maranello (they've given up on the F60 for now, I think) for the new F1 season, and that they were on TV (RAI Sport). So I turned on the LCD and watched the televised launch.

Domenicalli was speaking at that time and then he got Massa, Alonso and Fisichella to come on stage to unveil the new car, flanked by the California and 458 Italia.

Massa and Alonso then made a speech and you can see that the latter was really pleased to be driving for Ferrari - at last. Rumours had it that he had always wanted to drive for Ferrari and as World Champion (twice) in the past he should be the ideal candidate to do so. But when Todt was around, he had apparently said no. And now with Santander as the big sponsor, he finally got to be part of the Scuderia. Anyway, I'm really hopeful that together with Massa he will bring victory to Ferrari this year. Last year had been a nightmare for all of us.

Domenicalli and the pilots

Domenicalli reminded the audience that Ferrari is the only team in the F1 to make its car from the beginning to the end at Maranello. The car and the engine. And when Montezzemolo came on stage to make his speech, he talked of the car being more Italian than ever - something we've all noticed for sure. There has been quite a staff turnover in the last 2 years and they all tend to be replaced by Italians. I met LP's Italian housekeeper a few months ago and the lady's son works in the company. She claimed that many Italians were wondering if the Scuderia wasn't winning because they have gotten rid of too many foreigners. Hmm. But this year they've gotten a few new foreigners (including a French guy for aerodynamics), so we'll see.

The President also talked of approaching the new season with a healthy dose of humility and with both feet on the ground. Nonetheless, he hoped that the new team with Alonso (Fisichella remains as the 3rd driver) will bring Ferrari to its rightful position in the F1. He confirms that Ferrari's vocation is to keep ahead of technology in its field, to be an avant-garde in the automotive industry. However, they will also work towards creating a more ecological car and believes that their 599 Hybrid (to be unveiled in Geneva) will put them on the path to the future, a future where one will need to marry technology and ecology.

We are also reminded that Ferrari has had 61 seasons in the history of the F1, though emotions in the new season still run high, like those at the beginning so many decades ago - meaning that they have not lost the taste and love for racing and of making the right cars for it.

Sun and snow - beautiful day!

In the hall there were Ferrari employees (including my dear Hub), sponsors, suppliers, the police, military and other partners. Costa and 2 other directors went on stage to talk about the new car, though that didn't interest me so I went to admire my garden from the window. And whatever I've told you is from my limited understanding of the Italian language, so I do not take any responsibility for any resulting misunderstanding.

Viva l'Italia, Viva la Scuderia!

Dried Shrimp Rice Congee

Dried Shrimp Rice Congee

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day. The Teenager made a presentation at school with his classmates so that everyone may respect and remember this period in our history. Last evening, Hub watched a documentary on the Holocaust on French TV. It started with the post-war tribunal judging the top German Nazis responsible and it was really horrifying watching the images, hearing the testimonies of some of the survivors (especially the ones about the gas chambers and children being thrown alive into the crematorium because they ran out of gas...), my stomach started churning and I felt really sick.

It is difficult to imagine that all these happened within living memory. That everyday before, during and after, we are still suffering and killing in so many parts of the world. That there are not many pockets of peace when you start looking at the world map. What are we doing? What kind of a world is our children inheriting?

On a happier note, we received a letter from Baby Boy. It is crazy how a letter written in phonetics (meaning we couldn't really make it out) could make us so happy just because our son wrote it. It was part of his unit of enquiry on communications. We kissed him silly for that. Baby Girl has sent her letter to my parents in Singapore. What is interesting is that both letters took the same amount of time to reach their destinations - one within the same city and the other across the seas to Singapore.

Hub was right to wonder if I hadn't taken out too many dried shrimps to be soaked. I have forgotten that they expand when soaked and now I have loads of dried shrimp that I must use up quickly. And it's not the kind of thing that can be slipped into anything you cook. Have therefore decided to make a Dried Shrimp Rice Congee for breakfast this morning.

It was lovely, the air in the kitchen smelt so shrimpy and sweet. I prepared 2 little dishes to go with my congee : Fried Cabbage with Minced Dried Shrimp (reminiscent of those days when mum used to fry cabbage with dried shrimps) and a simple Indian Chicken Curry.

With Fried Cabbage and Chicken Curry

Dried Shrimp Rice Congee :

1 cup broken Thai fragrant rice (washed and soaked for a few hours)
2 Tsp Sesame oil
Fresh Ginger (shredded)
2 handfuls of Dried Shrimp (soaked and drained, reserving the liquid)
Chinese sausage (minced, optional)
Liquid from soaked dried shrimps
2-3 cups Water
Salt to taste

In a pot, heat up the sesame oil and fry the ginger in it till fragrant. Add the drained soaked dried shrimps and fry till the air turns pungent. Add the drained broken rice and mix well.

Pour in the liquid from the soaked dried shrimps and then the water.

Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer till the congee thickens. If you like it more watery, add more water.

Garnish with fried shallots and in my case, with roasted minced dried shrimps as well. Serve hot.

mercredi, janvier 27, 2010

Fried Dried Shrimp Rolls

Fried Dried Shrimp Rolls

Now I know why Bengawan Solo charges so much for their tiny fried dried shrimp rolls. The ingredients are cheap and easy to prepare, but rolling those tiny rolls would require agile fingers and lots of patience - which I don't possess. So better let other people roll them for you.

Since there are only so many Lemper Udang that I could consume on my own, I decided to use the leftover filling to make a few fried dried shrimp rolls. I have spring roll wrapper in the freezer, but decided to use the remaining fresh brick pastry that I have. Started rolling a few and got really bored and decided to fry them as I would a brick - much easier. But it's still boring labour so I've decided to spare myself the trouble and will have to find other use for what's left of the filling. Besides, frying is really oily, I now have to drink a pot of Chinese tea to remove the oily feeling from my stomach.

Lemper Udang (Spicy Dried Shrimp Glutinous Rice Rolls)

Lemper Udang

The Chinese Lunar New Year is round the corner. I know that many households in Singapore are in a baking and cooking frenzy now trying to get ready for the occasion. Not mine, obviously, since I've not celebrated the CNY in more than a decade. But it got me thinking of what I would like to eat, and I was ticking off pineapple tarts, BBQ sliced pork, the different kuehs...and funny enough, Lemper Udang.

For those who do not know this Indonesian delicacy, it is a glutinous rice roll filled with spicy dried shrimp - usually wrapped in a banana leaf. An Indonesian sushi. A savoury snack that manages to be sweet at the same time. And deliciously pungent, of course. Hub freaked out when he saw me soaking dried shrimps last evening. "What's that? Oh, no..."

Winter Wonderland

Actually, I was preparing for the 2 days when he would be away. Getting ready to eat all the things that he doesn't like. This morning I had a really nice coffee morning with a few moms, but I must admit that I was really eager to return home to prepare my snack. Besides, we woke up to all-white surroundings this morning as it has snowed all of yesterday. This snack warms you up immediately.

Lemper Udang :

The rice :

2 cups Glutinous rice (washed and soaked the night before)
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Sugar
1 cup Water or Coconut Milk
3 Pandan leaves (knotted)

The filling :

1 cup good-quality dried Shrimps (soaked overnight and drained)
4 large fresh Chillies
1 small Onion
5 Garlic cloves
1 Tbsp ground Coriander seeds
2 Tsp ground Turmeric
1 Tsp ground Cumin seeds
1 Tbsp fresh Lemongrass (finely minced)
1 Tbsp Galangal (minced)
3 Tbsp Sugar
1/2 cup roasted grated Coconut
juice of half a lemon

Drain the soaked glutinous rice, mix it with the water, salt and sugar, put a few knotted pandan leaves on top and steam for about 20-25 minutes over boiling water. I use my pasta pot for that. Set aside to cool.

Before being steamed

In the meantime, in a grinder, grind the dried shrimps, chillies, onion, garlic, dry spices, lemongrass, galangal, sugar and roasted grated coconut into a paste. I wouldn't add salt as the dried shrimps should be quite salty already.

Before being fried

Heat up some oil in a non-stick pan and fry the shrimp paste till golden brown, dry and pungent. Squeeze in the lemon uice and mix well. Set aside to cool.

Ready for being wrapped

Normally, one would wrap the rice-shrimp paste rolls in banana leaves and grill them on a BBQ or hot pan before serving. I started to do so with aluminium foil (since I can't find banana leaves here) and then told myself that that was pointless as there would be no aroma to impart to the rolls as would be the case with banana leaves. So I just put the rice and shrimp filling together in a bowl and eat it like that.

lundi, janvier 25, 2010

Banana Pecan Nut Cake - the Picture

Banana Pecan Nut Cake

Some of you may remember my kitchen disaster not too long ago where I dropped my whole Banana Pecan Nut Cake on the floor before I could even eat it. After seeing 2 lovely chocolate banana cakes fresh out from Precious Moments' oven, I felt that I had to get out of my lethargy and bake my cake again - if only to get a picture of it and use up my remaining 2 ripe bananas.

This time I added little chunks of dark chocolate to the dough before baking the cake - a really nice touch. And took great care to do what my mom has always told me to do - use both hands to remove the cake from the oven.

In the oven

Hub, who is ever critical of my (in)ability to bake, conceded, "OK, this cake you know how to make" and promptly polished off half of it after dinner all on his own.

Thought of the Day

I am not technologically savvy. At home, I write on the backs of pieces of paper (e.g. receipts, bank statements, school newsletters, publicity), bypassing the lovely agendas and other notepads that my illustrous Hub brings home occasionally, that I offer to my beautiful children to draw on.

Since my memory is bad, I do need to note down my appointments and I do so in a beautiful Ferrari leather-bound agenda kindly offered to me by Montezzemolo himself. While almost everyone I know has since moved on to an iPhone. I am at least 5 years away from this toy.

And appointments I have, for myself as for my children. Life is regulated, quite busy and almost very predictable - and don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. No longer, anyway.

I am starting to realise that it is a luxury, a gift not given to everyone, to have a life like mine. I am still reading Saviano's Gomorrah (hub reads the Italian version and me the English translation) and it's a riveting book. Not an easy book to read if you are used to smooth story-telling, but I feel that he is a powerful storyteller in the sense that he makes you think, analyse and feel as you read along. It's a different kind of involvement. And he doesn't just write about the mafia, but carried insights about lives, perspectives, going-ons in both the legal and criminal worlds, the overlaps...There is no black or white, no right or wrong, everything is intertwined, related, relative.

He has been very brave, putting his own life in danger by writing a book like this, though his life only really came into danger the day his book became such a success. For the more people reading it, the more numerous we are to be alerted to the problems that the mafia creates in our world. It is no longer a disease limited to the south of Italy. It has infested the north of the country, Germany, Spain, Holland, Portugal, France, the UK, the USA etc etc. And unlike Italy, most of the other countries are not adapted to dealing with the problem and will need to start changing their laws to be able to do so. The sooner the better.

Up till now, I have been pretty complacent. I don't do drugs, I do not visit prostitutes, I do not gamble (except for national lottery), I do not contribute to the mafia's 500 000 euros per day income from drugs alone. But now I know that the clothes and shoes I buy, certain processed foods I consume, my general apathy, could be feeding both the Chinese and Italian mafia and suddenly things are no longer as simple as they have always seemed to be. I wonder if we couldn't take an active conscious role and stand against certain things that we could maybe change collectively. That it's no longer enough to just not do something.

Anyway, life is interesting because there is hope that things would progress, become better. And it need not be economic or material in nature. I was thinking of my favourite Canto Pop stars who killed themselves in spite of their wealth and success and I know that life must have lost meaning for them because they haven't been able to find any purpose left in it. I told my children this morning in the car that they have only one life to live (it) well. They have been born lucky and must not take it for granted. Chances do not come by for everybody even when you're ready to seize them. Many a time you may have to create them yourself or just learn to be happy with your lot.

After Gommorah I would like to move on to Malitalia, a book written by 2 journalists giving the story from the side of the forces of law and order who combat the mafia on a daily basis, those Italians who live with it everyday. And after that I would love to find a book written if possible by those who actually belong to the clans. Often I wonder why they would want to earn all that money to not be able to live long enough to enjoy it anyway, to know that their children would not be born to a peaceful existence. They must have very different motivations from you and I.

I have also been thinking a little of Singapore's death penalty and especially our mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking. About a decade ago, I was one of its staunchest advocates. That was my Singaporean education and socialisation speaking - world in black and white, very good versus evil, missionary and Miss Hero. I was also paternalistic before I was even a parent myself and I couldn't understand even as I became one why Hub is always criticising me for overprotecting the children, for wanting to do everything for them.

As time goes by, I started feeling more and more uneasy about the death penalty. I wonder whether there could be justice in killing - even when you feel justified in doing so. To err, as we know, is human. And legal systems are more man-made than the waterfall in Jurong Bird Park. Death, on the other hand, is irreversible. Unless you know something that I don't.

And mandatory death for drug trafficking. I have zero tolerance for drugs. Not even marijuana for medical use. I'd rather play safe than be sorry. If you ask me, I am all for securing the frontiers : no drugs, no immigrants, no bugs, no viruses, no Chinese prostitutes, no fake bags, no haze from Indonesia...But no second chances, no room for doubt?

The thing is that everywhere, the real people trafficking are the small fries. Not the ones who really earn the money. And who sets the limits (e.g. 17g and above for heroin) for getting the death penalty, what's the rationale behind it? Prevention is better than cure, deterrence saves lives and society from ruin etc - but resisting drug use has to come from each and every one of us. Life is not like Social Security, life has to be lived. Do not keep your fine china in your cupboard because like me, you do not want to risk breaking it.

And I do not know about you. Besides worrying about terrorists planting bombs in my bags, I also get very nervous each time I travel though Singapore : fear of having my bags stuffed with drugs and getting sentenced to death for nothing. Am I the only paranoid around?

dimanche, janvier 24, 2010

Imperia Pasta Maker

Imperia Pasta Maker

I gave up trying to resist and finally bought myself an Imperia Pasta Maker. Maria my pasta teacher said that if one must have a pasta maker, one must buy an Imperia. So when I saw it on offer at Media Markt (thanks, Jan, for the tip-off) this afternoon, I smiled at the Hub (arms full of DVDs) and told him that I was going to buy myself one.

He would have complained ("it's going to be another white elephant"), but that stack of DVDs cost as much as my machine...Besides, we went there thinking of buying a 50-inch plasma (we have decided that we do not like LCDs), and ended up changing our minds, saving more than a thousand bucks, so what's a pasta machine, right?

We noticed that all our electrical appliances seem not to hold out in our current house. It must have something to do with the Italian electricity and tension, all that sudden blackouts here and there, the lack of power etc. New or old, most of my appliances have gone mad since we're here, and some gone for good. We were talking of buying an American fridge and a new plasma, but decided not to do so while we're still living in Italy and having problems with the current.

I nearly had a Kitchen Aid. Hub's current boss used to work for Whirlpool and has discounts for many things ranging from fridges to...Kitchen Aid. It got me all excited, but Hub said no. I've never seen you use your Kenwood...Since we need to save for furniture from Poltrona Frau (that'll be our next big purchase), I've decided that I can live without a KA. It's true that I have my Kenwood and I love it.

Family pasta-making session

We had a family pasta-making session this morning. Hub wanted to learn how to make fresh pasta and the kids wanted to play with dough. We didn't use the pasta maker though as I hadn't had the time to read through the instructions. Besides, it's something to do together so just by hand was good enough.

Fresh pasta

Mmm...fresh pasta is really the best. It is good to know that no matter where we go to next in the world, we'll be able to make our own pasta. We had 3 sauces to go with them : Ragu, Arrabbiata and Artichoke.

For our second course, we had Bricks. I bought the brick pastry when we were in France, something you cannot find here in Modena. Most North African restaurants in France would serve you these fried parcels filled with egg, tuna or minced meat. It's very easy to make and quite delicious once in a while. I didn't get to take any pictures as it was a fast operation, you cook it fast and eat it fast.