Saturday, December 27, 2008

Donna Hay's Apple Pie

Every single time I pick up a Donna Hay magazine or a Donna Hay recipe book, I end up with a very strong urge to bake or cook everything that's featured in it. Most of the time, I actually do end up baking something. There's a certain magic that her books have. Everything from the way the recipes are written, to the clear concise instructions to the plain and simple yet so delectable photos. Everything about her books just make you want to pick up the spatula and start churning out baked goodies.

When it comes to Donna Hay, I have no complaints. I only have praise. Today is another of those days where I say more good things about Donna Hay. I haven't baked much this year so I was clearly suffering from a serious baking deficit disorder. So much so that the moment I started baking two apple tarts for the two Christmas parties that I attended, I must have let my guard down and got bitten. Yes, by the baking bug. It's a very good thing I insist. My friends will agree and I'm sure my family won't protest.

The joys of baking, the immense pleasure derived when your prepared baked good goes into the oven to complete its life cycle. Then there's the nose twitching knee jerk reaction whenever the prized baked good lets out the most irresistable aroma. Till this day, I still literally jump and run to the oven the moment my nose picks up on the toasty, buttery, lip smacking smell that charges through the old rusty Moulinex. I get high on these buttery smells.

Flipping through a Donna Hay recipe book gives me that same high. I can picture myself with the finished baked good and looking very happy. I imagine Donna Hay giving me an approving nod and a thumbs up sign. I am also very optimistic because I think every thing I bake using her recipe will end up looking as beautiful as the ones pictured in her book. I'm an easy sell I think. But it's okay.

Yesterday I couldn't help but flip through my Donna Hay Modern Classics Book 2. This one has to die for cookies, biscuits, slices, small cakes, cakes, desserts, hot puddings, pies and tarts. The first page got me so excited and by the time I reached the end of the book, I was hyped up and on a high. I wanted to bake something. I wanted something that would make me very happy.

And there it was on page 157, and it spoke to me:

An apple pie it was. I must say it was the photo in the book that had me sold. It looked just like the ones Enid Blyton always had by the window sill, in all her story books. Enid Blyton was my literary crack when I was a child and I have not forgotten. I had never made a pie as well. The only thing close was the apple tart. But tarts are different from pies.

So after getting my groceries, I started prepping. I made the sweet shortcrust pastry, refrigerated it for 30 minutes. I cooked the granny smiths and let it cool. When it was time to lay out the pastry, I went round looking for a pie tin. Then I realised I only had a tart tin. Pie tins and tart tins are different things. But time was running out and I had no time to get a pie tin so I made do with my tart tin.

Laying down the pastry case ove the apples was a challenge. I had to be careful not to tear it. This recipe also called for some egg wash and sugar (to sprinkle over the pastry).

Here's the pie out of the oven:

I couldn't help but help myself to the first slice. It was really good. The apples were slightly tart but it was good with the pastry.

Now all that's missing is a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My Christmas in Wonderland

photos courtesy of ashley choo (a.k.a. tweedledum!)

Christmas in Singapore this year was different from the one last year, yes the one spent in the thick of Taiwan's scenic mountains.

My Christmas this year was far from quiet and far from boring. I have my dear friends to thank. My dear fun enthusiastic friends from my Ngee Ann Mass Comm poly days. Dull moments are non-existent when you're in their company. I couldn't attend the one last year because I was in Taiwan but this year, this year I could and I did and it turned out to be the best christmas ever.

The theme for the party was 'Down the Rabbit Hole'. You obviously know what that means. It's Wonderland with all the quirky characters and of course Alice. We had in total one Alice, two white rabbits, two queen of hearts, one king of hearts, one cheshire cat and the twins tweedledee and tweedledum. Can you guess which character I was? You only have to check out the photo to figure out :) To Ashley, Ghimz, Ronald, Valerie, Geetha, Sheryl, Ivy, Adeline -you're the coolest. Thanks for making my Christmas fun and memorable!

The party was at Ivy's place except that she wasn't due to come back home at 11pm. So we went to her place first and laid out all the food and took more photos and finished the rest of our outfits. Later on, we decided to go to Changi Airport to fetch Ivy. Yes, in our Alice in Wonderland gear. That's what we did.

Check out the Queen of Hearts with The White Rabbit. They're waiting for Ivy to come out of the arrival hall. She was surprised to see us, but she was clearly more shocked at our awesome dress sense. I think she called us morons :)

Here's us at the travellator:

When we went back to Wonderland, we ate somemore. The food was delicious. Ashley bought gourmet sausages and salami! Green olives stuffed with Feta too. Ghimz bought shepherd's pie. Adeline bought fries and Ronald brought carrot and celery sticks with dips. Valerie baked cookies!

And I brought my apple tart:

It was a fun filled night. I will definitely want to spend next Christmas with them.

Here's to us and may the coming year bring more joy, fulfilment and satisfaction!
To all my dear readers, Merry Christmas to you! I hope you had a fantastic Christmas.

*Photos by Ashley Choo

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cycle safe

My Gazelle at the jetty

The post that was to accompany this picture of my bicycle was supposed to be about my recent cycling trip to the beach, of Dad's to-die-for beef stew and how I had it for lunch by the jetty, complete with fluffy bread rolls.

However, because of certain events that happened yesterday, I shall endeavour to put across an all important cautionary message, one that has to do with me, my bicycle and cycling in general. It is not a light-hearted message. Though what happened wasn't that serious, it was rather frightening experience.

Let me start from the beginning, at 10am in the morning. I had a Christmas party to go to in the evening. It was a pot luck and I intended to bake a tart. As usual, I decided to take my bicycle to the supermarket to get the ingredients.

I was cycling at a slow and steady speed on the walkway. Everything was fine until I came across a zebra crossing. After checking out for incoming cars, and waiting till they had stopped, I started to cycle onto the crossing. The crossing was to my right, so I had to swerve a little. There were some road works going on so the pavement was uneven, with plenty of loosened gravel. As I swerved, the bicycle just slid and I was thrown to the ground. Okay here's where I announce that I was stupidly unprotected - no helmet, nothing. So I hit the ground, landed on my knee, my left hand and my forehead.

Since I was in the middle of the road, I knew better than to just lie there. I got up quickly, picked up my bicycle and moved toward the traffic junction. I was relieved and thought that it was just a silly little accident no different from the ones I always get myself into. I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green before crossing. Then it happened - the scary blackouts.

At first, I felt my head spinning, then I became giddy and everything started to darken. I couldn't see, I couldn't hear. It was like I was being sucked into a black hole. I thought nothing of it, thinking that it was just me reeling from shock. I held on to my bike, trying to keep upright. Then I fainted. I've never ever fainted and I wasn't sure what was going on. My bike must have fallen because when I came to (not sure how long it took, but probably just a few seconds or a minute, I'm not sure, I wasn't aware of the time), everything was on the floor. The basket Dad attached to the back of the bicycle with cable ties had broken off.

Thank God there were helpful passers-by. One dude was concerned and asked if I was all right and if I needed to get to the oppostite void deck to sit. I remember nodding and getting ready to cross the road when another blackout happened. This time, I wasn't even sure what happened. If any of you have done video production, you would know this term 'fade in', and 'fade out'. Well that's what I felt was happening. In between consciousness, I was simply fading in and out. Both my mind and my vision and whole being. This happened about two to three times. When I was conscious, I remember asking the dude what was going on. I would be talking to him and in a few seconds, I would fade out and then when I came back again, I kept asking how come I was still here, and weren't we supposed to cross the road. Eventually I managed to get across the road with the help of another kind gentleman who thought I might be diabetic. He insisted I have a sweet and sat me down at a nearby void deck. He also insisted that I see a doctor (I had originally intended to cycle back home!) and asked me to call my family. No one was at home at the moment and everyone was occupied so the first person I called was my aunt. In the end, I went to the nearby polyclinic. The doctor said the blackouts were probably vasovagal reactions. He said it might have been just the body coping with the shock. I had to take an X-ray for my left ring finger though. It hurt when I tried to move it. The clinic did not have X-ray facilities so I was referred to Changi General Hospital's A&E. The doctor there said the same thing about the vasovagal and insisted that I take an X-ray of my head too.

So $75, two X-rays, and four hours later, the verdict was that I was just a complete klutz and I would be fine. I was given Fastum gel for my sprained finger (yes, it was just a sprain. not a hairline fracture that the first doctor was afraid it was, thus the X-ray!)

In my entire 24 years, I have gotten myself into some pretty nasty mishaps so I'm usually not daunted by a simple fall. But what I went through yesterday was by far one of the most scary yet. Yes, I would say that it was scarier than the time I had to stitch up a hole in my shin, one I had gotten from a bad fall over a drain.

This accident has made me understand how important it is for cyclists to wear helmets. I didn't think of getting a helmet because I thought it would be too uncomfortable. I also admit that I can be quite the maverick at times, pretending to be solid as a rock. I never thought that I would get into an accident on a harmless bicycle. How silly I was to think myself impenetrable. Just because I'm strong doesn't mean I shouldn't take precautions. Then I realised that most of us actually think the same, expecting the worse only when the worse happens, and not actually doing what it takes to prevent the worse from happening. I guess there is a reason why people buy insurance. A helmet is a good enough insurance for cyclists who don't wish to crack their skull. I count myself very blessed to not have sustained any serious injuries. I see this accident as a serious and painful reminder to always take precautions even when feeling confident.

P.S. My Gazelle is all right as well. It's a solid piece. :)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Etihad Airways

Plane food has a bad reputation. There isn't a need to explain why. You know it and I know it. We also understand the challenge that comes with presenting edibles that not only look good but taste good while you're in mid-air. That is why when it comes to plane food, expectations dip to an all-time low. So low that it might not be surprising if someone says that he will choose greasy fast-food over a serving of plane food. This unfortunate judgement has its truths most of the time. There are indeed limitations of serving food that's cooked a-la-minute and especially when it is a fact that food tastes different in a high-altitude environment. With so many factors going against the hardworking chefs who create airplane meals fit for consumption, you wonder how they eventually decide what goes into your meal.

Airplane brochures never fail to print glossy photos of delectable airplane meals. In these photos, the juicy-looking meat glistens, the fish looks fresh and everything looks picture perfect. However, the skeptic in us starts to doubt and assume that it only looks good because it's a photo. This is how it has always been. Perhaps that is the case but not anymore. Not for Etihad, to say the very least. Not when they have a food and beverage manager on board - a capable stewart who ensures that these pretty photographs are not just a fantasy or a figment of each passengers imagination but rather, a great-tasting reality:

Since I have yet to fly on Etihad Airways, I cannot confirm that what you see in those photos is what you get when you're thousands of miles up in the air. But I do know that the food beats most airplane food. I learnt about this because Eithad invited me to a press conference and media lunch in celebration of their first year in Singapore. As the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, Etihad is known for its quality service and well-trained staff. They also announced the launch of their new Inspired Service for premium passengers (Diamond First and Pearl Business Class) arriving into and departing from Singapore.

An important part of the Inspired Service involves food. Not only will the food be of top quality, the crockery, linen and glassware will be more tasteful - think normal dining size classic white porcelain. The menu will also boast a wide variety. You will be able to choose from the a la carte or the kitchen menu. The a la carte menu needs no explanation. However, I do think that the kitchen menu is a smart idea. This menu offers an array of invidual snack-sized dishes that can be eaten at any time during the flight. That means if you skip the a la carte meal because you were not hungry during the time set aside for dinner, then you can request for an item on the kitchen menu whenever you feel the rumbles in your stomach. Some items on their present kitchen menu includes Arabic baklava, warm truffle popcorn with porcini salt, warm bella olives, orange, garlic and rosemary, Providore natural ice cream, selection of cheeses etc. Etihad's menu changes every few months so passengers (especially frequent flyers of Etihad Airways) will not be bored.

Before lunch began, we were provided with a demonstration of how the dishes are usually assembled on the flights. It was rather interesting. The food and beverage manager explained how they take pride in good food presentation as well. Here's a snapshot at the long table of airplane food:

After hearing about all that goes into making each passenger feel comfortable not just with palatable food but good service, I was starting to feel that the food on Etihad Airways might just have one of the best plane food around.

For lunch, we could choose our appetisers, main course and dessert. I chose smoked salmon terrine, baby herbs, parsley oil, Spanakopita with ratatouille and baked rhubarb and strawberry pie with double cream.

The food was not bad, considering that it was made just the way it would have been made on the plane - pre-cooked and assembled on board. I think what I do understand that day, was that since it is impossible to cook food on the plane, everything has to be pre-cooked. The food will then have to be warmed up and assembled before serving. What sets Etihad apart is the way their system functions. Preparation for each dish is precise. The flight staff are given a 'manual' of sorts that provides clear instructions on method of heating & placement of each ingredient.

I did not bring my camera with me that day so that's why you don't see shots of each individual dish. However, I managed to get from them a shot of their three-way bread. Three-way because it's actually three types of bread together in one loaf:

One's normal white bread, the other's a slightly spicy one, and if I remember correctly, the last one is the multigrain one. Served with quality french butter, this is Etihad's signature bread. It's pretty impressive I'd say. It is served on all of their flights.

So with this, I suppose I have less reasons to be judgemental about plane food. Sometimes all you need is an ambitious vision to re-align and correct prior judgements of plane food. For Etihad, their answer is a food and beverage manager. As mentioned, this manager is the point of contact with passengers, in charge of talking to them about their food preferences and making recommendations. Now don't you think you have one more reason to give plane food a second chance?


Etihad currently offers flights to 48 destinations in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

To find out more, please visit

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