lundi, octobre 31, 2011

Ham Flower Rolls @ ABC Cooking Studio, Shanghai SWFC

Flower bread Rolls with Ham

I came across the ABC Cooking Studio the last few times I lunched at the SWFC and had always wanted to try it out. However it's not fun doing things like that on one's own so when my 2 neighbours Judy and Fei invited me to join them to try out bread making at said studio I didn't hesitate.

I was not surprised to discover that the cooking studio's a Japanese outfit. Apparently a wildly popular women-only import. It was bright, colourful and functional, with an all-glass shop front that would allow passers-by to watch what's going on inside. You are invited to use the free lockers to the right of the entrance to keep your handbag and shoes in exchange for an apron and a pair of slippers. They do not wash the aprons too often, by the way.

The hands-on classes have to be reserved in advance and class sizes are small. The instructors have been reasonably well-trained and would conduct the lessons only in Mandarin (except for one or 2 who could speak Japanese - mainly for communicating with the Japanese Manager). They are paid very local rates though - 50rmb for 5 hours and 100rmb for 8 hours (according to a recruitment poster in the shop).

You need to be a member before you are allowed to join the classes. They offer 3 trial lessons to choose from i.e. cake making, bread making or cooking and once you become a member you are expected to complete, say, all the classes under basic bread making before you are allowed to proceed to classes under advanced bread making.

Since we are not total beginners, we found the rule a little ridiculous. But the Japanese didn't become successful because they are given to one's whims and fancies so they would tell you that their's a tried and tested industrial learning process, not to be tampered with by a few bored housewives.

Since we just wanted to find something interesting yet educational to do together, the 3 of us decided to sign up for 6 more classes, which would add to our current list of activities which include badminton, lunches and visiting food/plant markets.

Actually Judy is already a good baker so between copying her movements and listening to the instructor I baked my bread and forgot to take notes. We had to do own washing during the lesson which probably helped keep costs reasonable. There were 2 types of ovens in the studio : one set at 45°C and used mainly for proofing bread dough and the Toshiba ones for baking and even steaming.

Ham Flower Rolls :

Bowl A :

75g bread flour (high gluten)
1 tbsp sugar
2/3 tsp dry yeast
1 egg (beaten, about 26g)
70ml water

Bowl B :

75g bread flour
1/3 tsp salt
15g unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)

6 round pieces of cooked ham
egg wash
mayonnaise (optional)

Add flour into bowl A. Followed by the sugar on one side and the yeast next to the sugar. On the other side of the bowl (with the flour in between), add the egg. Pour the water onto the yeast.

Add flour into bowl B. Followed by the salt and butter.

Mix the ingredients in bowl A with a wooden spoon. When you start to see holes in the dough, add the content of bowl B into it. Continue to mix with the wooden spoon till you get a dough.

Turn the dough out on a clean and dry working surface, using a scraper to scrap out any dough/flour in the bowl. Knead the dough till it doesn't stick to the working surface any more, using the scraper if necessary to help pick up the dough stuck to the table.

Form a ball with the dough and place it in a bowl smooth side up. Cover with cling wrap and proof it in a 45°C oven for 25 minutes.

Flour a finger and poke it into the dough. If the hole doesn't close up, the dough is ready for shaping. Gently press out the air and form the dough into a ball again, tucking in the sides at the bottom. Divide into 6 portions. Shape each portion into a ball and place them in a baking tray always smooth side up. Cover with cling wrap and a wet cloth. Proof in the 45°C oven for 10 minutes.

Using your fingers flatten and smooth out each ball till it's big enough to hold a slice of the ham. Roll up from the bottom and pinch the edges close. Fold the roll into half (using a finger in the middle of the roll to help sustain it) and slice it into 2 about 2/3 of the way (at the part that is folded). Open up the dough and you'll get a flower roll with visible layers.

Gently brush with egg wash and drizzle mayonnaise over the roll (if you wish). I didn't use any mayonnaise as I do not like it. Return to the baking tray and cover with the cling wrap and wet towel. Proof in the slightly warm oven for 20 minutes.

Bake in a hot 185°C oven for 13 minutes. Best eaten hot.

I've also made a version with pork floss at home, worked out just as well.

ABC Cooking Studio, SWFC Shanghai
浦东世纪大道100号上海环球金融中心2楼, 近东泰路

samedi, octobre 29, 2011

麻辣咸鸡 Ma La Salted Chicken


This morning we drove to Baoshan which is about an hour from our home so that the men could catch the Lake Malaren Golf Shanghai Masters 2011 at the Lake Malaren Golf Club. The Teenager's school had a few tickets to give away and we grabbed them.

There were apparently quite a few famous Golf Pros in the competition e.g. Rory McIlroy, Anthony Kim, Noh Seung-yul, Ian Poulter, Hunter Mahan, Geoff Ogilvy, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington...all fighting for the 2 million USD top prize. One of my regrets about Italy certainly would be losing the chance to become a successful golf Pro's mum. When we were living next to the Modena Golf and Country Club the boys used to train and play there and we've been told by their instructors that they had talent. Moving to Shanghai killed whatever talent they had for golf in the bud what with golf being such a very expensive and elite sport here. Irony's that we actually live next to the Tomson Golf and Country Club - but couldn't afford to play/train there.

While the boys were following the Pros in the competition, we girls did a spot of shopping at the Lake Malaren Outlet next door. This Baoshan neighbourhood is literally covered in "European-style" construction. Villas and apartments are sprouting up everywhere each one looking more luxurious and expensive than the last one. The Outlet however is crap - another example of Chinese plans always looking better on paper than in reality. Even on a Saturday it was quite empty and the shops had almost nothing to sell. We managed to buy a few items though - a woollen skirt (supposedly some Parisian brand), a pair of Converse shoes, Betty Boop sports shoes and Nautica swimming trunks.

The highlight of our day was our first time eating in a cheap Lanzhou (Chinese Muslim) eatery. I thought that there weren't other restaurants around (which wasn't true as I would discover later) so I dragged the driver and the Girl to the "only" eating place I could find for a late lunch.

They did a good thing hiding the kitchen from public view while the dining area itself was messy but looked reasonably clean. The prices were really low (for us) : 5 rmb for a plate of egg fried rice, 9 rmb for a small bowl of beef noodle soup, 7 rmb for noodles in spring onion oil. The driver said that the same things used to cost much lesser not that long ago though. And he paid for lunch!

I have never eaten in such a very "local" place since we moved to China because I'd been so afraid of falling sick. But when you thought you had nothing else to eat you discover that you were not that afraid of having a stomach upset after all. And I do so love noodles of any kind.

I also couldn't resist the sight of Chinese Muslim men in white caps. For some reason they fascinate me. The low prices probably helped, I was curious to see how such cheap food would taste like.

Quite good's the verdict. The egg fried rice was oily but tasty, the rice cooked al dente and the egg well-mixed with the vegetables. The noodles in spring onion oil was very oily but quite yummy and even came with small slices of beef and a small bowl of hot soup that tasted of beef and spices. I could get really used to eating so cheaply - if I do not die of a stomach upset after this meal. Actually quite unlikely as I also drank a bottle of Coca Cola during the meal to help clean out the stomach.

This set me thinking that I've yet to post my Ma La Salted Chicken dish. Inspired by our lunch at our hostel in Hangzhou. It was a chicken dish that came in a big bowl filled with a skinny whole chicken chopped into pieces, covered in a very salty clear soup and topped with red chillies, leeks and whole szechuan peppercorns.

I made mine using a combination of methods : first poaching the chicken pieces Hainanese chicken-style, reducing the broth and finally frying the leeks, chillies and peppercorns in hot oil and then pouring them over the chicken in its broth just before serving.

Ma La Salted Chicken :

1 whole chicken (chopped into pieces) or a few chicken thighs (separated)
salt and pepper
a large piece of fresh ginger
5 garlic cloves (bashed)
spring onions
chicken stock

vegetable oil
fresh ginger (sliced)
3-4 garlic cloves (halved)
1-2 thin leeks (cut into 3-4 each)
1-2 dozen(s) whole red chillies
1 tbsp szechuan peppercorns

Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. Rub salt and pepper very generously all over them.

Bring a pot of stock (just enough to cover the chicken pieces) to boil with the ginger, garlic and spring onions. Add the chicken pieces and when the stock starts to boil again, lower the heat to the lowest and cover the pot. Simmer the chicken for about 20-30 minutes.

Remove the chicken pieces and put them in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Remove and drain. Set aside.

Reduce the stock. Ideally it should be quite salty. Put the chicken pieces in a serving bowl and cover with the stock.

When ready to serve, heat up some oil till sizzling in a frying pan and fry the ginger, garlic, leeks, peppercorns and chillies till fragrant. Pour over the chicken pieces and serve hot. They should not be removed as you fish out the chicken pieces since they add flavour to the stock.

Mine will require improvement as the chicken pieces were too juicy and the stock not salty enough. I could also have been more generous with the garnishing.

jeudi, octobre 20, 2011

Cream of Porcini (Crème aux Cèpes)

Cream of Porcini

Lunched with a Chinese friend AD yesterday and she told me about a friend of hers who seemed to be really good at fortune telling. The girl has apparently predicted extra-marital relationships, divorces, pregnancies, illnesses etc with uncanny accuracy.

I am not a particularly superstitious person, but I do not rule out supernatural/metaphysical or illogical occurrences in life. Just for fun I passed AD my birth date and this morning she called to inform me of her friend's initial calculations.

We have never met, but the girl knew a few things about me that she normally shouldn't know. She even made a few quick predictions which involved my marriage and a loved one's health. They were a little cryptic, but not without foundation.

I was reading a biography of Sun Yaoting the last eunuch of China recently and there was a passage in the book that described a prediction in an old Taoist almanac about his life : "Enough food and clothing. Without wife or children." Another of his eunuch friends told him that he shared the same prediction. Sad...

Just for fun I went on the Net and worked out the (western) astrological birth charts for my family, even checked out the compatibility predictions for me and Hub and for me and an ex boyfriend. It was amazing what they said about us, I couldn't have put it better into words myself. I did one for my little sister too and one funny bit was the prediction that she would have a big family and of course she's at this moment waiting for her 4th baby to pop out.

All the above had nothing to do with the Cream of Porcini soup that I made this afternoon, but I did spend quite a bit of time contemplating about life and destiny while making it. How much of our life is destined (e.g. decided by the position of the planets at the time/moment of our birth) and how much of it is made by our own will and actions? Should I be happy with the way my life has turned out, or should I work at making it a more interesting and useful one? Am I really destined to finish my days as a boring housewife?

The soup turned out well, a success with Hub and Baby Girl. There is nothing like eating according to the seasons and while the Chinese porcini lacks the intense aroma and taste of its French and Italian relatives, it makes up (a little) for it with is firm texture. I cheated with dried Italian porcini for the soup stock, so let's just close one eye and get on with life.

Cream of Porcini (feeds 2) :

3-4 dried porcini
120ml white wine
25g salted butter
2-3 garlic cloves (peeled and chopped)
1 leek (sliced)
2 large fresh porcini (cleaned and roughly sliced)
fresh thyme
2 tbsp plain flour (for thickening)*
600ml chicken stock
black pepper to taste

In a small saucepan gently heat up the white wine and add the dried porcini. Do not let the wine boil or it'll evaporate. Remove from the fire and allow the porcini to infuse/soften in the hot wine for at least 15 minutes. Remove the porcini from the wine, chop it finely and set aside. Reserve the wine.

Melt the butter in a soup pot and fry the garlic and leek till fragrant. Add the fresh porcini and thyme and cook till soft.

Stir in the flour followed by the porcini-infused wine (like making a béchamel). Then stir in the chicken stock (try to remove the lumps), cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the stalk of thyme and mix the soup till it's smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, drizzle some cream over it and serve with the reserved dried porcini. (Or if you prefer it, cook the dried porcini in the soup and mix everything up together.)

*The flour can be replaced by a small potato to help thicken the soup.

MIL in Shanghai (Pictures)

Lunch on the 91st floor of the SWFC (100 Century Avenue)

I guess it's normal that we should have so many guests in our first year in Shanghai. My own family is now less than 6 hours away by air, many friends and colleagues would have an occasion or 2 to visit Shanghai at least for work (and many have other friends here), others drop by when they are touring other parts of Asia, and MIL would want to spend time with her grandchildren plus visit China at the same time.

Outside Lu Xun's house in Hongkou (that we visited)

I have therefore been too busy to return to the old routine of experimenting in the kitchen, being involved at school, learning music etc. 10 months in Shanghai have gone by in a flash and sometimes I get the feeling that I've not done much since I moved here. I have been meaning to go back to school, pick up a skill, visit other parts of China, visit friends in other parts of the world, work part-time, lose weight - but only managed to put everything off.

Checking out old stuff at the Dongtai Lu market

In addition to that I've started to worry about the Teenager's future (or lack of), wondering if he'll manage to wake up in time to work for and succeed in his IB (looks bleak at the moment), what he'll do at 18 if he fails to get it, how he's going to get on in the next few decades. Should I return to work just so as to be able to help him out financially for the rest of my life?

Exciting moment : 2-yuan bus trip to the Bund from Changle Lu, being surrounded by the locals

If I started working though it would be difficult to find the time to entertain guests who turn up at various moments in the year. It may also be difficult to make time for the various demands that the children's schools make on our person. Yet there are mothers at the schools who have careers, businesses and still time for their children (though maybe not guests).

A French mammie in Hangzhou

Anyway this is a brief view (5 pictures) of MIL's visit (3 weeks) in Shanghai. She had spent many hours reading books in our garden (all these Europeans like to stay outside when the weather is good), we have been to a few museums, old gardens, temples (both Buddhist and Taoist), water towns, longtangs, to Hangzhou, lots of restaurants, took our first public bus in the city together, shopped for souvenirs and tea...Unfortunately with the kids at school we couldn't manage trips to Beijing or Xi'an so hopefully that'll be for another time.

Meanwhile you can go ahead and mention it. MIL doesn't look her age. And she still has almost all her teeth.

mercredi, octobre 19, 2011

Mac and Cheese with Bacon and Porcini Bits

It was crazy how one could suddenly develop a craving for macaroni and cheese. But I suspect that Carrefour selling grated French emmental cheese 2 for the price of 1 contributed some towards said craving. Imported cheese (if there were Chinese ones I prefer to remain in ignorance) costs quite a lot here in Shanghai, so my need to take advantage of the offer could surely be understood.

10 months after leaving Modena finally saw the onset of pasta withdrawal symptoms da noi. The kids have been asking for spaghetti alla carbonara, Hub all'arrabbiata and I for some reason kept seeing macaroni or chifferi as the Italians prefer when it comes to short elbow-shaped pasta. Actually I do not recall seeing macaroni when I was living in Italy. There was Maccheroni, but it was long and best eaten with meat sauces.

Imported pasta isn't cheap in Shanghai, but one should rejoice in the fact that one could find them rather easily. Armed with my packet of chifferi from Barilla, vintage cheddar from Kerrygold (Ireland) and the French emmental from President, I was ready to cook myself some Mac and Cheese with Bacon and Porcini bits.

It's the end of the Chinese porcini season and I managed to buy some of the last fresh mushrooms a few days ago. Mac and Cheese is basically comfort food that is often featured in kids' menus in American-style diners here though precisely because it's so basic I prefer to make it myself. I have seen packets of Kraft Mac n Cheese mixes at the supermarket and the thought of eating them freaked me out for some reason.

What I love about the dish is the gratinated cheese, so I usually make shallow casseroles that have more surface area for melted cheese. And I also like to make Mac and Cheese in individual ramekins because any excuse to use my Emile Henry porcelain bakeware is a good one.

Mac and Cheese with Bacon and Porcini Bits :

The pasta :

Cook enough elbow pasta (to fill up 3/4 of your bakeware) in salted boiling water. Needless to say the pasta has to be al dente. Drain and place in the casserole.

The Béchamel :

Melt some butter in a small pot. Add a pinch of nutmeg, generous turn of ground black pepper and salt.

Stir in a bit of flour and milk to make the béchamel. Keep stirring and make sure that the flour is cooked before using the sauce. Make enough to cover the pasta in its recipient.

Add grated cheddar cheese to the sauce and stir to melt it (over low heat). Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Pour the sauce into the bakeware and coat the cooked pasta with it.

The Filling :

Cut a few slices of bacon and a fresh porcini into small pieces and cook in a frying pan (adding a bit of butter or olive oil if necessary) till the bacon is crisp. Add minced garlic and cook till fragrant.

Stir into the pasta-béchamel mixture.

Final Touch :

Pre-heat oven to 375°C.

Top the pasta casserole generously with grated emmental cheese. Many would add panko or other breadcrumbs to the dish at this stage but I prefer it without.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. In the last 5 minutes turn on the broiler if necessary to bronze the cheese and make sure that it's nicely gratinated.

Eat it hot!

Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum

Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum

I was often told that MIL looked Jewish because of her nose. Even the ticket seller at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum (formerly the Ohel Moshe Synagogue) in Hongkou asked. I was tempted to reply in the affirmative in the hope of securing a free ticket (they cost 50rmb each, not exactly cheap for such a small museum in China), but decided otherwise. As far as I know MIL was born Catholic and though non-practising as an adult had been baptised when she was a child.

Back of the former synagogue

It wasn't easy trying to find something to visit almost every day in Shanghai - for 3 weeks. At some point I came across a quick mention of the Jewish Ghetto in an old guidebook when I was looking up the Lu Xun Museum in Hongkou. I later learnt that some 20 000 Jews found safe harbour in Shanghai during the Second World War.

Main entrance of the museum

We all know that millions of Jews were exterminated during WW2. What I didn't know was that the Shanghai Ghetto, formally known as the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees (無国籍難民限定地区), contained in a tiny (poor and crowded) area in the Hongkou District of Japanese-occupied Shanghai, saved Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Lithuania from certain death.

I didn't expect us to spend so much time in the very small museum, for we didn't know that there was a video filled with testimonies about those times being shown. It was fascinating catching sight of Shanghai in the 1930s and 40s, listening to stories about why and how those Jews arrived in Shanghai, how they survived the difficult years there etc.

Chaim Weizmann (chemist, 1st President of Israel) wrote in 1936, "The world seemed to be divided into two parts—those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter."

Starting from the mid-1930s, doors and borders in Europe and even the Americas were starting to close to Jewish immigration and most Jews who had thought to escape could find nowhere to go. 2 heros turned up rather unexpectedly in those times : the Chinese consul-general in Vienna Ho Feng Shan who issued visas for Shanghai between 1938 and 1940 against the orders of his superior, and Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Lithuania who got many Jews to Shanghai via Russia and Japan.

Life in Shanghai was not easy for these now stateless Jews. Those who were French or British could eventually live in the French Concession or International Settlement, but the rest lived mainly in squalid conditions (e.g. overcrowded rooms, disastrous sanitation, rampant disease, near starvation, unemployment) in impoverished Hongkou. What amazed us was the fact that the Chinese living in the area were not better off - yet they had to accept the influx of thousands of refugees.

Local Jewish families like the Sassoons and a few American Jewish charities aided the refugees with shelter, food and clothing. However, in no time the refugees managed to establish a functioning community with their own schools, newspapers, theatres, sports clubs, restaurants, shops and even cabarets - a testimony to their resilience.

Things unfortunately turned for the worse for the community again after Pearl Harbour (late 1941) when the Japanese moved them into a restricted ghetto (in 1943) and imposed a curfew. Passes were needed to enter or leave the ghetto and one could get beaten up for no reason by the Japanese manager of the area. Yet though the Japanese were allies of the Germans, they didn't give in to German demand to round up the Jews in Shanghai and exterminate them.

Interesting enough there were many local Chinese living in what was known as Little Vienna. Hence the Jewish refugees had little freedom but they were not isolated either. And according to the testimonies displayed in other parts of the museum, most were really grateful to Shanghai for having saved their lives. The only yeshiva in Europe to have survived the Holocaust was also the one whose members managed to escape to Shanghai.

Almost all the Jewish refugees left Shanghai after the war. There were a few (mainly doctors) who joined the Communists in their military operations, but the huge majority left when they could especially since the foreign powers gave up their concessions in Shanghai in 1943, followed by the Communist takeover of the city in 1949.

Blumenthal's former house in Shanghai

After the museum we took a walk in the neighbouring streets which used to be part of Little Vienna. Saw the outside of the house in Zhoushan Lu where Michael Blumenthal (former US Treasury Secretary) used to live in.

Little Vienna

Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum
62 Changyang Road

mardi, octobre 18, 2011

Shanghai Hairy Crabs 大閘蟹

Steamed Hairy Crabs on a bed of spinach

I regret that I still do not know how to kill crabs humanely after more than 3 decades devouring them in all the sauces. The last few crabs I've cooked myself were frozen flower crabs and a few of the earlier big stone crabs I'd boiled them alive. Cruel, I know.

We are now in the midst of Shanghai's Hairy Crab 大閘蟹 season. Our driver offered me a pair of live crabs (one male and one female) knowing how much I'm fond of the crustacean. The good thing is that the Chinese mitten crab (known as hairy crab because of the fur on its legs) is often no larger than one's palm and therefore quite manageable. Even though I have seen various cooks kill crab (using different methods and believing in different humane theories), I have mastered no quick method to put them out of their misery, and could only hope to give them less pain by first numbing them in the freezer for 15 minutes and then steaming them in a pot with rapidly boiling water for 20 minutes.

Restaurants in Shanghai would serve hairy crab meat and roe in dozens of ways between september and december though the classic way to eat it normally consists of dipping the steamed crabmeat in some vinegar, minced ginger and soy sauce. As the flesh is supposed to be cooling (yin), the Chinese would often eat it accompanied by some yellow wine (yang) to balance things up.

In the markets they would sell crabs of various grades and prices though I have no idea how to tell them apart and those that are particularly expensive and prized came from Yangcheng lake 阳澄湖 near Suzhou. Every year there would be syndicates pirating the crabs, passing off cheap crabs for Yangcheng lake ones involving laser inscriptions, fake hair etc. Counterfeiting is an art in China and they will do anything in their quest to make profit.

The smaller crab was female, I think

I simply washed my crabs and put them in the freezer for 15 minutes. In the meantime, I heated a pot of water and lined a metal plate with fresh ginger, spinach, Chinese mushrooms, garlic and a red chilli. Placed the crabs in the plate when the water in the pot is boiling and poured a sauce made out of Chinese cooking wine, light soy sauce and sesame oil over them. Op into the steamer to be steamed covered for 20 minutes.

Fresh out of the steamer

Ate one crab hot with a vinegar and soy sauce dip and the other I kept in the fridge for a few hours after it has cooled a little and ate it cold. The hairy crabs were small but the flesh firm and full of flavour. I must admit that I am now tempted to buy a few crabs myself and cook them again before the season's over. Humane crab killing be damned.

Parc Asterix!!!


I haven't said my last word after all when it came to amusement parks for 2011. Brought MIL and the kids to Parc Asterix (north of Paris near the airport) when we were last back in France. We prefer it to Disney as we find the queues shorter, the rides more interesting/exciting and the main characters more "intelligent". Asterix is also Franco-Belge humour so it sits better with us.

I have been an Asterix fan for a long time, have read almost every comic book that the Goscinny/Uderzo team had written. "The series follows the exploits of a village of indomitable Gauls as they resist Roman occupation. They do so by means of a magic potion, brewed by their druid, which gives the recipient superhuman strength. The protagonist, the titular character Asterix, along with his friend Obelix have various adventures..."

If you are taking public transportation to join the park, do so from the CDG airport. There is a bus that brings you to the theme park and the RATP sells combined RER-shuttle bus-theme park tickets for a better price than if you had taken them separately. If you were driving parking at Parc Asterix currently costs 8 euros per vehicle.

Entry tickets are not cheap though. It's low season now but each adult ticket still costs 40 euros and child tickets go at 30 euros each. The park only opens on weekends during autumn so check out the calendar before turning up. All performances are in French and one of the dolphins has given birth last summer so they changed their programme and offered only a quiet 20-minute talk about the mammals during showtime.

Demo of what their dolphins can do if they feel like doing so

Stunt show involving "Roman Legion recruits"

Baby Girl with a Roman soldier

It's still a good park to visit if you get the chance. We particularly like the Menhir Express and La Galère (pirate boat) rides and there are also a few big roller coasters. I didn't get to do any this time because the Teenager couldn't stomach them and the Babies are still not tall enough.

jeudi, octobre 13, 2011

Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny Soup

Most people lose weight for the summer. Not only did we (as in Hub, Baby Girl and myself) not shed any kilos, we actually put pile them on merrily. Now that we have moved into the autumn, we realise that we are FAT big time, even pregnant with the kids I've never weighed this much.

Seriously it wasn't my fault : that we are not living in the heart of the city where I could walk to shops (you wouldn't want to take the metro in Shanghai, it actually crashes from time to time - not that I have any public transportation within a 2km radius of my compound); that we had to leave Italy and have so many farewell lunches and dinners; that we had to arrive in Shanghai and eat out every day in the first few months; that we should have guests almost every month and end up eating lunch in restaurants all the time; that I love to eat.

Still, we look horrendously fat. I had to go all the way to London to shop for clothes last week because there is no way I can fit into Chinese sizes. Even H&M carries mainly EU 32/34 here. You could imagine my joy when I was at Coast, FCUK, Monsoon...on the British Isle and found that they carried UK size 16s. Not that I'm happy about wearing UK size 16. But I couldn't possibly keep wearing my XL Club Med bermudas and X-sized T-shirt when there's no way I can keep pretending that I'm on my way to the beach with us being so much into the Fall.

I had to buy 2 LV bags (on behalf of the Chinese girl servicing our villa) at the Champs Elysées the other day and was the only person in Birkenstocks, bermudas and T-shirt in the super expensive boutique. And the nearest beach is like a few hours away by TGV so I wondered what they wondered when they saw me. Luckily I diverted the salesman from my person to concentrate on my past - because I threw names around and the former Sciences Po classmate I mentioned happened to be the guy's former manager (what a bloody small world) and of course he wanted to know more about what she was like when we were at school together...

But it was great spending another person's money chez LV since we are too poor to afford any such branded bags ourselves, though I was a little nervous as I walked through the Gare du Nord with the bags to take my train, having read an article about pickpocketing gypsies in Paris Match not too long ago.

So Hub said we should have soup for dinner. Carrot and coriander Soup, bak kut teh, leek and potato soup, pho, chicken soup, dhal soup, tom yum soup, tomato soup, hot and sour soup, won ton soup...I've done them all. Then he asked for Mulligatawny Soup which much as I adore is a waste of good deboned leg of lamb that I usually buy every week. Then I noticed that Madhur Jaffrey has a recipe that doesn't call for the use of bone (thank you, chicken stock) which would also give me a chance to check out how well-stocked my Indian neighbour (from New Delhi) is seeing that I do not have besan (chickpea) flour.

I managed to borrow a few tablespoons of said flour this morning as we waited for the school bus. Also met her husband as he was eating his breakfast. He works for Pepsi.

No, he didn't offer me free Pepsi. And we have not lost any weight even after eating all those soups.

Mulligatawny Soup (loosely adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's An Invitation to Indian Cooking) :

3 tbsp vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic
2-cm piece fresh ginger
600g boneless leg of lamb (fat removed and cut into small cubes)
1 tsp ajwain seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 fresh green or red chilli (sliced)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1,5l chicken broth
2 tbsp lentils
2 tbsp besan (chickpea) flour
juice of 1 lemon

fresh coriander leaves
fried shallots
cooked basmati rice

Heat the oil in a soup pot and brown the lamb cubes in it. Remove and set aside.

Pound the ginger and garlic into a paste. You can see bits of garlic in my soup as I didn't have the patience to pound it into a fine paste.

Fry the ginger-garlic paste in the oil till fragrant. Add in the fresh chilli, ajwain seeds, pepper, salt and ground spices.

Return the lamb to the pot, add the lentils and cover with chicken broth. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for at least an hour or till the lamb is melt-in-the-mouth tender.

Leave to cool and keep the pot in the fridge for a few hours so as to be able to remove the fat easily.

Heat up the soup. Dilute the besan flour in a bowl of water and stir into the hot soup.

Stir in the lemon juice and serve hot with (2 tbsp of) rice, fresh coriander leaves and fried shallots.

Really nice day to be eating this soup as it has been raining non-stop since this morning.

mercredi, octobre 12, 2011

Paris Je T'aime


Like many students in the Commonwealth, I dreamt of studying in the UK and sometimes still wonder how things would have turned out if I had done so.

This is France. Whether they actually live it or not, most believe in it.

As life would have it, turning down an undergraduate scholarship to study in the UK (and opting to do my first degree in Singapore) actually brought me a few years later to Paris on another scholarship (this time Post-Graduate) and down the path of the Overseas Singaporean who would end up calling a few cities in the USA, Spain, Germany, Italy and now China home.

Police interrogating a few Roms/Gipsies - they have been infesting the city stealing/pickpocketing/begging in gangs

But none of the other cities has ever captured my heart or imagination like Paris had. Paris is grand, old, beautiful, mysterious, chic, romantic, rich, snobbish, bourgeois, cultured, timeless, stubborn, cosmopolitan, Black/Arab, French...and I just love it so very much.

A typical French restaurant along the River Seine

The French just love sitting outside cafés to watch the world go by (and be seen)

My 3 children were all born in the city. Baby Girl almost became Spanish, but she held out till we could move back to Paris (by overnight train) and get us a bed in one of its famous public maternities. When Baby Boy was born, we bought a Haussmannien flat near the Arc de Triomphe and proudly called ourselves Parisians - until the nomadic call came and moved us to other pastures.

A building opposite the Notre Dame de Paris on the left bank

The Babies therefore have few memories of their lives in Paris. They couldn't remember that they first saw the light of day in the city, took their first steps in its cobbled streets, ate beef really rare before they could even talk and tasted wine even as they were nourished on their mother's milk.

The Seine in Paris

When Baby Boy let it go that he thought he was German (one of his first words had been "Nein!"), I told Hub that we had to bring the kids to Paris, introduce them to their roots. So before the Chinese Golden Week started, we (as in the kids and I) escaped flew back to France with MIL and when Hub joined us after his business trip to Italy and Germany, we rented a car and drove the family to Paris.

The bouquinistes along the River Seine near the Latin Quarter

Shakespeare & Co. - one of the oldest English bookshops in Paris

We started at the Latin Quarter. Used to live there when I was a student. Walked to Sciences Po every day from Maubert-Mutualité. Paris at 6 one morning in the autumn of 1995 when the streets were just awakening (market stalls being set up, cafés opening for business, peace at the Seine...) marked the very moment when I fell in love with the city. After all these years and now 6 years living away from Paris my fascination for the capital has not dimmed. Paris je t'aime.

The facade

Seen from further away (see the bateau mouche?)

Visited Notre Dame de Paris during Sunday Mass. I love the stained glass windows in the cathedral and realised when I saw the facade that the restoration has finally been completed! The kids all wanted to light candles - and inflation has reached the church too since each small one now costs 2 euros instead of 50 cents a few years ago.

door of the Notre Dame de Paris

Sunday Mass

Love the stained glass windows

We walked through Place St Michel and had a sandwich grec for lunch. I sometimes crave for the kebabs in the area, they reminded me so much of my student days so long ago.

Eiffel Tower contre jour

Then off we went to the Tour Eiffel. I had the smart idea to reserve our visit (not easy to find slots though) online which saved us quite a lot of queuing up. For 13,5 euros each you get to go all the way up to the summit. Something one should do only once (especially for the price) for the view would be just as good on the 2nd floor. The kids were really excited though and we enjoyed the view of Paris on a beautiful sunny day. Competed with each other to spot the monuments and then we admired the metal work as we walked down the tower taking the stairs.

Viewed from below

View of Paris (can you see the Arc de Triomphe?) from the Tour Eiffel

I've been a number of times to the tower, of course. Have even watched the fireworks from the Champ de Mars a few times during 14 Juillet when the Teenager was a baby. Hub brought me once to the Jules Verne up there for lunch which only made this last visit all the more lovely for the memories. We were disappointed though that we couldn't find an ancestor's name engraved on the Tower as the family myth goes. He supposedly worked on the tower with Eiffel.

The Green Wall of the museum

We then walked through the gardens of the Musée du Quai Branly (designed by Jean Nouvel) which housed indigenous art, cultures and civilizations from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas (we've seen a good part of the exhibits in the past when they were in the other now-closed museum). There was a photo exhibition (including works by a few Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian photographers) in the open that continued all the way to the banks of the River Seine opposite and I certainly miss living in Paris for this constant exposure to culture and events.

Self portraits by the photographer

Albino kids in Black Africa

North African female motorists

Finished the day at the Champs Elysées as the kids wanted to visit our flat near the Arc de Triomphe. Though reasonably big for Paris, it is now too small for us after a few years of living in big houses elsewhere. I've missed it though as it was really conveniently situated, but I guess we'll be happy to come back to it the day we retire.

Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées

The next day was devoted to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica and its surrounding Pigalle (think sex shops and Moulin Rouge) and Montmartre (cafés and artists) neighbourhoods. When I was living at Porte de Clignancourt (next to the Marché aux Puces) I used to walk there because I just love the Hell and Heaven contrast. ND de Paris is more than 800 years old while the S-C is only about 100, if I'm not wrong and they were built in really very different styles. The S-C also had very political origins reflecting the bloody divisions in French society (e.g. Catholics and Royalists vs Socialists, Democrats and Secularists) after the French Revolution and is a symbol of reconciliation in its aftermath. It also provides a very nice view of Paris since it has been built on its highest point.

Sacred Heart Basilica

Lunch was at Bouillon Chartier near the Grands Magasins - a historical institution in Paris. It used to serve cheap workers stews and soups, specialising today in (not-so-cheap) classic French fare. I've heard rumours that some of its waiters bought their places and would never leave till they retire. In any case they are definitely good in mental Maths because the bill is always tallied on the paper table cloth and I've never seen them go wrong. Food was so-so, I usually go there for its ambiance, not its cuisine.

Main dining hall in Bouillon Chartier

The afternoon was spent walking through the Marais, Place des Vosges, Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. In my earlier years in Paris I have walked through many neighbourhoods in the city for there is no better way to discover Paris than on foot. Pining for a honied doughnut in one of the Jewish bakeries at Couronnes/Belleville, slurping down a bowl of thick rice noodles with pig's intestines at a Wenzhou eatery in rue au Maire, grocery shopping Chez Frères Tang in avenue de Choisy, choosing fish at rue Daguerre/rue Poncelet, digging through boxes of discounted designer wear in Vincennes or rue du Bac near the Bon Marché...

Musée du Louvre

Jardin des Tuileries

We are fond of the Marais and love its cobbled streets, beautiful grand Hôtel particuliers, cafés, museums (e.g. Picasso, Beaubourg, Carnavalet), the fact that Jews, Chinese (some of the earliest migrants), gays, aristocrats, DSK (our notorious Champagne Socialist) all live there...

Place des Vosges - DSK & Anne Sinclair live in one of the buildings

The Swedish Institute in the Marais - we had tea there once a few years ago

Our last day in Paris was spent at the Parc de la Villette where the Cité des Sciences (one of the largest science museums in Europe) and La Géode were situated. I've reserved a 3D movie at the Omnimax theatre and a hands-on Science session at the Cité des Enfants for the kids.

Cité des Sciences and La Géode

We walked through the park to the Cité de la Musique (we've spent a few summer nights there watching open-air movies in the past) and the Grande Halle which used to house the Parisian abattoirs and national wholesale meat market. There was a children's playground where we used to bring the Teenager (when he was little, of course) to play in but unfortunately it was closed for maintenance when we were there.

Lunch was at this really good Au Boeuf Couronné (same group as Bouillon Chartier) that served a good-value lunch menu (33 euros) featuring foie gras, good quality beef, cheese and crème brulée among other dishes. Said to be the "last trace of the Villette’s formerly booming meat industry. And while you won’t find any more butchers in full length aprons, quality cuts of good meat are still king here..." We totally recommend!

I left the family that afternoon and made my way to London alone on the Eurostar. Felt the need to be on my own for a few days much as I love my kids and love looking after them myself. And any excuse to shop in London is always a good one, of course.

The Teenager in the Paris metro - probably not used to it any more after so many years being chauffeured around in a car

Our stay in Paris was short but sweet and hopefully helped the kids to reconnect in a small way with the city of their birth. We do not know if they would choose one day to live in France again, but they know that they can always go back to Paris whenever they feel like it.