Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Birthday ramblings; toast and poached eggs included.

So I turned 24 yesterday and although there wasn't much fanfare, I was happy.

I believe it was more of the serenity and calm whirr of the day's events that gave me comfort, amidst of my happiness.

I was happy not because I received pretty presents and neither was it because those who remembered my birthday sent me text messages and called me to wish me. It wasn't because my bosses bought a lovely birthday cake for me (okay maybe that did play a part. it was after all the only cake I got and it was delightful :)

The happiness I felt wasn't so much that "kick your heels in the air and whoop for joy" kind. It's just the plain knowledge that every day that comes by is a day to celebrate and live for.

I had become a person who finds joy in plain and simple things. You of all people should know that I find something as simple as food to be a huge blessing. A bare toast (and maybe some butter with that) would suffice in making me happy. So would a soft warm scone.

29 July became a day that marked my existence and also a celebratory reminder to treat everyday special. It certainly sounds really corny and cliche but the significance I take in it is fairly strong.

My birthday is special not because it was the day I was born but because of the people around me who have loved me abundantly. I am who I am today as a happy, loud, animated 24-year old female only because of my family and friends who have been there for me at the different stages of my life. Without these people, my existence would be empty and thus lacking in anything celebratory. God gave me plenty to be thankful for and I want to also thank you. It might be your first time reading this, or you might be a friend or family or some faint acquaintance. Nevertheless, I want to thank you for being a part of my life.

Lately, through new friends I've made and bumped into, I realised how well planned God has made everything out to be. People like the lovely design couple Brenda and Hanson, and Lavy, a kindred spirit who's so like me it's scarily cool (she happens to be my junior).

There are of course other beloved people like my best friend Dot, and Alvin & Clara, oh and my beloved Eden team at Amplify. I would love to mention all of my wonderful friends but well you know who you are. There are so many who I miss and wish I had time to meet often and those whom I've lost touch and of course there are some who have slowly drifted away. It's inevitable, definitely. But thank God for you and you and you.

This is the fourth time this blog has celebrated my birthday with me. Yes this blog has been with me for more than four years, it's quite unbelievable. When I started this, I didn't expect it to be read by anyone and to last that long.

My blog might have grown and aged but one thing's for sure, I will keep it going for as long as my love for food never wanes. The key word in that sentence is never. Now bold and CAPS it, yes I believe you get my drift.

Now, before you get bored of my birthday revelations and ramblings, let's talk about brunch. Sunday brunch to be precise. No, make that a pre-birthday Sunday brunch.

Yes, I had brunch.

A great one. It was memorable not only because the food and coffee was good, but also because the company was great. Put three foodies together and you get excitement amidst drools. But put three hyper foodies in Jones the Grocer and you get a bunch of madcaps chattering away in between mouthfuls, threatening to choke any time. Now I think the latter proves more accurate in this case.

One of them share the same birthday as me and the other is a precious friend who is like a little sister to me. They are none other than Alvin and Clara, my two foodie friends who never fail to make me laugh (especially Alvin!).

We wanted to celebrate mine and Alvin's birthday so I suggested Jones the Grocer since Sunday was the only day Clara could make it.

You know it was a desision all three of us did not regret when you see the following photos:

Check those out! The Jones breakfast set includes two poached eggs, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, sausages, and sourdough toast.

Clara and I couldn't resist the scones and English muffins so we ordered that as well. In the end we ordered more toast and that sealed the deal. Oh don't forget to top that off with a good strong Macchiato if you are ever there. It's that good - their espresso's phenomenal.

Note the photo of the perfect poached eggs with runny yolk? I was so excited that I had to ask Alvin to slice it open slowly so I could take a photo for you to see. Oh and in case you didn't know, I adore runny egg yolks. They are divine.

Jones the Grocer is a great place for families and for friends who are looking for a spacious place to chill out. Here's a few interior shots for the uninitiated:

It's certainly very Australian and I love it. It's the second time I've been there and I am honestly hooked on their toast, scones, coffee and ambience.

In the end, I bought an orange passionfruit spread from Jones. I tried it for breakfast yesterday and thought it was refreshingly delicious.

If only I could have brunch there every Sunday. Yes, if only. Right now I have to make do with kaya toast and soft boiled eggs, not that I mind!

Jones the Grocer is now my current new fixation. See how powerful a toast can be?

Perhaps before I go, I will leave you with a quote that has been repeating in my mind. You might find it familiar, those of you who've watched Batman Begins (and yes, I love The Dark Knight by the way): "It's not who you are but what you do that defines you".

How very true indeed.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lemon Sherbet

Nothing really says Saturday morning better than lemon sherbet. I can tell you this from personal experience.

Some would baulk at the idea of starting the weekend on an icy sweet note instead of a warm one (think egg and bacon with toast).

Don't be mistaken, I love hot breakfasts but there are days when a citrus-y kick suits me better.

I believe yesterday was one of those days.

And yes, I acted on a craving. Ah, you know what I mean. Cravings are kind of hard to ignore. It happened mid-week when I know I wanted to make or rather taste anything lemony. I was browsing Serious Eats, one of the sites I lap up religiously and chanced upon the "Required Eating" section where Robyn Lee had posted up David Lebovitz's Lemon Sherbet recipe.

You must know also that I hardly give up any chance to try out lemon recipes. I'm a huge fan of lemon cakes, lemon curd and so on. But lemon sherbet, I haven't tried making. So I was naturally curious. I had intended to make cinnamon ice cream but thought that it could wait. Lemon sherbet just seemed more appealing then.

I already had lemons at home, meant for making lemon curd (my stash had depleted and I missed having it) so all I had to do was get some milk. I did that on Friday night and started preparing the easy milk and lemon zest mixture. I left it to chill overnight for best results.

Saturday morning came and I woke up feeling excited at the prospect of having some refreshing lemon sherbet. I was a tad sceptical though because I did not have an automated ice-cream machine. Mine did have a churning attachment but it lacked a self-freezing unit; meaning I had to use salt and ice. I understand sherbets are more tricky because you got to make sure it's cold and uniform. I tried any how.

The result? It was a good lemon sherbet but not a perfect one. I loved the taste but thought the texture could be better. The recipe was great - the problem was of course my retro ice-cream churner. But you know what? I was still happy anyway. I had my lemon sherbet and that was my Saturday pick-me-up.

Yes, I like my mornings sweet.


Lemon Sherbet
by David Lebovitz
- makes about 1 quart (1 liter) -

3 cups (750 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
6 tablespoons (90 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)

1. In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, mix 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk with the sugar. Grate the zest of the lemon directly into the saucepan. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 cups (500 ml) milk, then chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.

2. Stir the lemon juice into the milk mixture. If it curdles a bit, whisk it vigorously to make it smooth again. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

*Note: I used raw sugar and added only about 1/2 cup instead of the required 3/4 cup and it tasted fine

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An unforgettable 'Roti Jala' lesson

I had a very enjoyable Saturday last week and it wasn't because of a scrumptious meal at a promising new restaurant or a cool shopping find. It was a simple but memorable four hours in a kitchen with an extraordinary lady and no, I didn't do the cooking.

That short amount of time was spent listening to the lady as she told us her about her culinary escapades. We could see how passionate she was about cooking and how she takes pride in involving her whole family in the kitchen. To her, cooking is more than just putting food on the table; which is obviously something I can identify with. Both of us share the same cooking philosophy and I couldn't help but be taken in by her enthusiasm. It didn't take long for the energy level in the room to shoot up.

This remarkable lady stood out because of her engaging and warm personality. She is none other than the ever so amiable Irene Jansen, someone whom I think is the equivalent of a local Jamie Oliver. She's a cook with a selfless mission. She is keen to use her cooking skill to highlight the importance of family and family time. Besides, a family that dines together stays together don't they? Entice your children with fast and delicious food she says, then they'll eat home more often and spend time with you and best yet - they'll bring home their friends for dinner and you'll get to meet the people they hang with. Yep you get the whole idea. I must say it really does make sense.

I found it quite refreshing, this outlook that Irene shared. You'll be even more surprised to know that all this was communicated through a cooking demostration at Tampines Changkat CC conducted by her, under the PA Culinary Journey series organised by the company I work at. I was there to lend a hand and I'm glad I went. The theme was Iconic Singaporean Foods and not only did she teach the class how to make Dried Pesto Laksa, Iced Cheng Tng and Roti Jala with Chicken Curry, she instilled in them a greater purpose. That is, to bring cooking back into the kitchen!

Sounds plain and simple doesn't it? But here's the reality - there are some families here in Singapore who are living on welfare and have insufficient funds and means to eat a healthy and nutritionally balanced meal. So what does Irene do? She approaches not-for-profit organisations and pitches to them a fantastic idea: teaching low-income families how to stretch their dollar and at the same time, nourish themselves with food that don't cost much but are easy to cook and healthy at the same time.

The entire idea on paper itself sounds easy. But the execution bit needs plenty of planning and organising and time. And does this deter Irene? Nope, it only spurs her on. She shared that it was crucial for someone to step up to the plate and do this. There's no point thinking about it, sitting on it and not doing anything. So that's how she started her company "Culinary Adventures".

Irene not only cooks, but gives dining tips on radio (93.8 Live and Gold 90FM). She is also a writer and food consultant.

To me, Irene is a force to be reckoned with. Her down-to-earth approach to cooking makes her accessible to normal amateur cooks like you and I.

This quote from her website only drives home that point - "My recipes use easy cooking methods, time-saving short-cuts and a few tricks - like my orange yoghurt cake made without butter to keep down the calories. But more than anything else, I cook from my heart to bring joy to family and friends. You'll be amazed how rewarding that is," says Irene.

As someone who has never had any culinary training and had to learn how to cook and bake by trial and error, I totally understand where she's coming from. When I started this blog, and began to cook and bake more, I picked out only the easy recipes because they seem less daunting. As with any new thing you learn, it does help to take baby steps before leaping into the deep-end only to find yourself lost in the whole complexity of the kitchen. It's all about the process I guess. Start small, gain confidence and then tackle the bigger recipes.

Speaking of simple recipes, here's something that fits the bill:

You are probably wondering what that is! Looks abstract, no?

It's not paint, that's for sure.

It pretty much involves something like this:

That's how you get that 'web' or 'net' on that non-stick pan.

Known as 'roti jala' (translates to 'net pancake'), it is usually eaten with curry. The ones you see at Malay stalls are really yellow and chewy. That's because they use food colouring and a relatively thick batter.

Irene's recipe calls for more water and no colouring, resulting in a roti jala with a crisp texture:

It looks like rosti yes?

You probably can't see how crispy it is, but try out the recipe and taste it yourself :)

Oh, you would also need to get that yellow udder-like contraption that I placed above. That's how you dispense the batter over the pan. Please ensure you don't lift it too high. Have it closer to the plan and circle the batter around, creating a beautiful net without coating the entire pan. You want roti jala, not crepes. The entire class had alot of fun trying their hand at it. This was quite a hands-on class, which doubled the fun! I also took part in the fun and made some of my own. By the end of the class, I had mastered the art of roti jala and Irene gamely joked that I could be her roti jala girl at her roti jala shop if she ever opens one.

I think roti jala would be perfect as a dessert too! I'm thinking of having it with ice-cream and bananas next time. Hmmm or perhaps some caramelised bananas?

Anyway, the roti jala you see in this post was made using the left-over batter from the class and I would like to thank Irene once again for imparting her invaluable knowledge and sharing her aspirations. Oh and she was so sweet - she gave me the yellow roti-jala contraption so that I could use it to make more roti jala with the batter I brought home. I was really touched.

Yes, it's the simplest gestures that hit home, well at least that's always the case for me :)


Crispy Roti Jala
by Irene Jansen

150g flour
2 eggs
a pinch of salt
2 cups water
1 pandan leaf
2 tbsp cooking oil

1. Mix flour, eggs, salt and water together until mixture becomes smooth.

2. Tie the pandan leaf into a knot, place it in the oil and spread over frying pan.

3. Pour mixture in a tin can with holes at the base (or get the roti jala contraption) and let the mixture flow out by going over the pan in a circular motion until it forms a 'spider web'. (Remember to do this fast and consistently to form a nice pattern)

4. Fry the roti jala until crispy

Repeat steps 2 to 4 for the rest of the mixture.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Soy Joy

You've seen the bus-stop ads, you've watched the commercials on television and you wonder what's the hype? What could be in a bar that's called Soyjoy?

Apparently there's lots to be joyful about. Well I speak for myself at least.

I first tried Soyjoy a month ago when my dear sister bought one home from 7-11. It certainly intrigued me at first. I've never seen such a bar. I thought it was a museli bar or something, until I looked closer.

It is supposedly healthier than other snack bars out there. Well it does seem that way, especially since their main selling point is the fact that they use soy flour, therefore providing more protein and fibre.

Before I took the first bite, there was that natural scepticism but once I tasted and swallowed that bite, I knew I was a fan.

I'll be honest. The bar is not something that you crave for. It's not the best of all bars.

I've heard that some think that it's too dry and mealy. Yes, it's dry, but somehow it's quite appealing to me. Love the dense bite that's neither a biscuit nor a cake. It's really in between.

My favourite flavour as of now is the Cacao Orange one. I've since tried Hawthorne Berry, Apple, Raisin & Almond. Oh you know how chocolate and orange are compatible in their own ways.

These bars make great snacks. I just wish they were cheaper. Perhaps I shall buy them in bulk. I do sound like quite the fanatic eh? I can't help it, when I'm into a certain product, I tend to stick to it for quite a while. And in this case, it's not really a bad thing since Soyjoy is supposed to be healthy.

Ahh yes the key phrase here is "supposed to be".

Oh well, it's just like they say - Soy is good for you, no matter the form.

Okay I made that up.

But I know you are dying to try it now, if you haven't already that is.

Before you try it, check out their website at

Not all the flavours are available here though!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Finally, a new fridge!

In case you haven't noticed, there hasn't been much cooking or baking around here.

Or maybe you did notice and was wondering why.

Friends of mine would know the reason. A reason that I find highly amusing even though it's mostly frustrating.

Our fridge at home sort of died on us in May. All I remember of that fateful day is my dear sister calling me up when I was still at work and passing me instructions from my mum and it went something like this: "Mum asks you not to buy any food home later because the fridge is spoilt.".

Trust me, I was like, "huh? Repeat that?".

I don't know why I found it so incomprehensible. Perhaps I was trying to remember if I had anything in the fridge that would go bad sans refridgeration.

No wait till you hear the next part. We did not get a new fridge immediately. Nope we did not. Dad even told us that we will now buy fresh food and cook it immediately like how everyone did it before humans invented fridge. Part of me wished it was said in jest.

The most amusing thing happened. Our fridge, or should I refer to it as a 'non-fridge' started behaving strangely. After dying on us, it started to work again, but this time, it was very weak. Then after that, it died again only to be revived soon after. When it came to life, only the freezer would work.

BUT the freezer couldn't freeze. It had lost its ability to freeze. It could only chill. So then my freezer became the fridge and can you imagine? We had to put our butter and cheese in the 'freezer' and sometimes I would open it and find the butter all soft and icky. It was horrible.

Maybe my parents couldn't bear to part with our beloved dead fridge. They bought it in 1985. Yes it's that old.

I haven't been able to make ice-cream, or bake or buy anything that needs to be refridgerated in a loooong while. I really wonder how people in those days survived without a fridge. You could say I'm more appreciative of this wonder invention. So anyway, a few days ago, I found out a new fridge was arriving and it was indeed a happy moment.

Yes, finally. A fridge with a freezer that freezes and makes ice-cubes possible. A power machine that enables me to keep my ice-cream cold and my butter chilled. A marvellous invention that preserves and extends the life of alot of edibles that would otherwise be growing green furry mould if left in the open.

May I present to you my new (and quite sparse-looking) Mitsubishi Electric fridge:

Yes it needs more life. It just arrived yesterday so I couldn't do much to liven it up. But it is sure lovely to know that I can finally keep my foods nice and cold.

I wanted to photograph our dead fridge but forgot. Anyhow, 'old fridge', R-I-P, whereever you are. It was good having you around.

Now, back to some proper baking and cooking!

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