Goodbye world! Also, Gwen and Dimitri made us zuccanoes…

Blogging, Cooking with Friends, Life

Dear friends,

This is going to be last blog post for maybe a little while, maybe a lot while, or maybe forever.

I have loved writing this blog and I have loved sharing my life and loves with my readers but it’s now time for me to retreat back into my shell.

I recently realized I was increasingly feeling like this blog was a burden rather than a boon and that planning, photographing and writing these posts felt like it was taking me out of my life, rather than enhancing it. I also felt like I didn’t want to share so much of myself anymore. Weird coming from me, the most extroverted person I know – minus one very boisterous friend I shall not name. And finally if I’m going to do something I want to do it right and I’m not doing this blog right. Snatching moments to write posts, coming up with ideas on the fly – that’s just not giving it my all and I know it.

SO it is time to say farewell!

Dimitri and Gwen <3

Dimitri and Gwen ❤

But before I go here are some pictures and a recipe of the food served at a dinner party I held at home with the most charming couple in the world – Gwen and Dimitri. This was supposed to be posted under my cooking with friends series and the party was so much fun that I realized I didn’t want to be taking pictures of the dinner. I just wanted to spend time with the people there.

Gwen is my colleague and friend and Dimitri is her lovely husband. For your reference Gwen is American and Dimitri is French (so you can imagine the accents, in your head). A little bit about this charming couple’s charming story – don’t worry I won’t give it all away – they met in a random Southeast Asian country where they were both on holiday.  There was some picture-taking, some well-timed rain, some huddling under the umbrella which obviously led to true love.

Listening to the story is one thing but getting to know them has been another. Let’s just say I have a people crush on them and how kind, sharp and charming that these two are – apart and together.

When I put out the call for people to cook with Gwen (a) volunteered to cook, (b) came up with the dish she was going to cook and (c) brought her nice camera along to take pictures of the food for my blog. FYI, this is how to be a good friend.

Gwen and Dimitri decided to make zuccanoes, which is this stuffed zucchini crazy-delicious-ness that is one of her favorite recipes from a while ago.

Artistic mise en place - with a frenchman at the helm - would you expect any less?

Artistic mise en place – with a frenchman at the helm – would you expect any less?

ALL THE COLORS!

ALL THE COLORS!

You start with hollowed out zucchinis... (by the way hollowing them out is SUPER hard - this is when I discovered that Gwen has super-human strength)

You start with hollowed out zucchinis… (by the way hollowing them out is SUPER hard – this is when I discovered that Gwen has super-human strength)

A recipe that puts you to work - mid way through the million steps needed to make this happen.

A recipe that puts you to work – mid way through the million steps needed to make this happen.

More work

More work

Work SO MUCH WORK

Work SO MUCH WORK

My lovely dinner mates

My lovely dinner mates

Bartender for the night

Bartender for the night

I decided to make dark chocolate mousse with a gingersnap base for dessert because DAYAMN. Wouldn’t you too?

#ourstomachsbroke

#ourstomachsbroke

Recipes for the food above can be found here:
Zuccanoes – Mollie Katzen
Dark chocolate pudding with gingersnap crumbs – The Sugar Hit
Espresso Martini – The Telegraph

Happy me with my pudding. ALL MY PUDDING.

Happy, blurry me with my pudding. ALL MY PUDDING.

***

It’s been a blast my friends – I’m going to miss all the positive feedback and love!

See you in the real world!

Cooking with… PZ – Saatenbrot

Baking, Cooking with Friends, Life

I have been sitting on these brunch with PZ pictures for what… months now? And I don’t know why, I think part of it might have to do with what can you say when you have a friend who comes to your house with a freshly baked loaf of super seedy bread and then helps you prepare brunch except #blessed?

But more seriously, I take my brunch very seriously.

Just this past weekend as I was stumbling out the door on Saturday morning for a waffles and ice-cream brunch, Mel, my apartment mate was all:

Mel: Do you brunch every weekend?
Me: *pause* Yes?
Mel: That’s cool.
Me: *in my head* That’s expensive.

Which is why, when the Singapore Martha Stewart (I need a shortform of this nickname) volunteered to bake bread to anchor Sunday brunch at my place, I + my flatmates + one (one of their boyfriends, that is) were enthusiastic about a) being cheap and b) eating some high quality stuff.

Here is PZ actually arranging the smoked salmon in a pleasing way, so as to enhance the taste.

We, the barbarians that we are, were happy to eat it off the foil it came on. But you know, this was cool too.

PZ aims to not buy bread in the shops anymore and instead wants to shift to only consuming the bread that she makes. I’m not sure why she wants to do this. Could it be because the bread we buy from the shops is full of weird additives that are giving us cancer? Possibly. Could it be because the bread she bakes is ludicrously tasty? More probably.

I prepared a creme fraiche lemon dill dip which you see here and eggs en cocotte. And of course we had lots of coffee and fresh blueberries. These pictures solely exist to torment you.

And remind me of a lazy Sunday that I want to get back to.

Oh! PZ kindly shared the recipe for the bread that she made (adapted from here):

Makes 1 loaf

Soaker
48g whole wheat flour
28g dark rye flour
100g water
1g of salt
64g flaxseed

Starter
7g rye mother starter (100% hydration)
71g dark rye flour
71g water

Final
43g dark rye flour
48g bread flour
62g water
2g instant yeast
4g salt
64g toasted sesame seeds
1 egg white (for the egg wash)
14g of mixed sesame seeds and flaxseeds, for the topping

Prep the soaker and starter a day before you bake the bread.

Day 1
In the morning, stir the soaker ingredients, cover and let it sit at room temperature till evening. Repeat with the starter ingredients in a separate bowl.

In the evening, mix the soaker and starter together with the final dough’s ingredients.

Knead for 1 to 2 minutes. Knead more vigorously for 4 minutes, and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Knead 1 more minute, and the dough should be somewhat sticky.

Place it in an oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and keep it in the fridge overnight.

Day 2
Take out the dough and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

Stretch and fold the dough to shape it, and place the dough seam-side down.

Brush the exterior with egg white and roll the dough in the mixed seeds for topping.

Transfer the dough into the loaf pan and spray some olive oil on it. Cover and let it proof for 45 to 60 minutes, till it’s 150% in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 240C.

Place a ramekin of water on the bottom of the oven and position the rack in the middle.

When the dough is ready after proofing, bake at 240C for 10 minutes, then 220C for another 10 minutes, and 180C for the last 10 minutes. Let the bread cool completely before slicing.

*Not pictured: An impromptu blueberry crisp we made out of leftover blueberries which we served with vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice-cream. The pictures were too ugly to share and I didn’t really want to mess with the beauty above.

Weekend Hangover

Life, Thoughts

DRANK!

DRANK!

As I sit here typing this – it’s lunch time and I’m halfway through the day. So far I’ve been doing the daily tasks that I need to complete, I am facing an unexpected finance department complication and I have been adding about one new thing to my to-do list per hour.

I have also decided that this is the best time to question my wardrobe choices, the general direction of my life and of course, where I went wrong in everything I have ever done.

Now this is what you call a weekend hangover.*

When your weekend is SO much fun that the mundanity and actual normalcy of real life makes you feel like there’s something wrong.

Calm down. Drink some very delicious coffee and just slowly get your work done and wrap your head around not being overly excited. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing.

Also remind yourself, the next weekend is only in five days.

* DISCLAIMER: I am not suffering from real hangover, only a weekend hangover brought upon by fun hiking, running, fooding and friending.

Weighed, measured, and found AWESOME

Life, Thoughts, Wisdom, Work

This post is the first time I have gotten a request to write about something specific.

In this case a friend asked me “So when’s your next blog post?”

“I dunno – tomorrow?” (This was yesterday)

“Cool.”

“What do you want it to be about?”

“Overcoming crippling feelings of inadequacy?”

As I mulled that over I was all – shit how am I going to write about that? I don’t feel inadequate – like EVER. Remember, I’ve said before that I suffer from hubris?

But then I started thinking – maybe it’s not that I don’t feel inadequate. Maybe it’s that I just don’t think about it enough and I don’t let whatever feelings I have, prevent me from doing anything.

This resilience comes from a having a relatively rough childhood – when you combine doting parents, gullibility and pudginess – you get a combo that bullies cannot resist. For most of my pre-pubescent life I was ridiculed for my weight, was no where close to the cool kids’ table and was generally a try-hard. But in school I did really well. My grades were high, I kissed-ass like no other and the feedback from teachers was nothing short of glowing. I continued in this vein till now, sometimes succeeding in school, sometimes succeeding socially and now I’ve kind of got a place at work and with friends that I really like.

Still sometimes, when I’m faced with a peer who makes more than me or friends in long-standing, stable relationships – I begin to wonder, what’s wrong with me?

I think it might be that very question, that holds me back. If I’m wondering about what’s wrong with me, or as the Internet defines inadequacy – what’s lacking in quality about me or insufficient or wanting, how can I perform or be present and do whatever it is I need to do? If I constantly think I’m not up to the task or not worthy of something – how will I ever achieve it? That’s self-fulfilling prophecies for you – the eternal annoying as hell chicken and egg situation.

So there isn’t any real solution to overcoming feelings of inadequacy. BUT I think it’s important not to let feelings or perceptions of inadequacy cripple you, especially when you need to perform. I have three suggestions for overcoming this:

1. Be confident in yourself and your abilities by doing the work that is needed to be confident. Basically over prepare. This isn’t my advice, this is from Mindy Kaling.

2. I’m not going to go on this you’re totally adequate and you can do anything rant, because if you were able to convince yourself of that you wouldn’t need this. Instead it’s always helpful to me to imagine that most people are like me and also go through bouts of feeling inadequate and are still generally able to make it in their career, love and life. So you don’t have to beat anyone. You just have to join them.

3. Just do whatever it is that you need to do because what’s the worst thing that could happen? If you’re suffering from nerves before a first day or work or need to make a presentation or need courage to text someone, but think you’re not qualified or a shitty public speaker or not hot enough (OH THE STRUGGLE!), let me just ask, “What’s the worse thing that could happen?” In all these scenarios, you could stumble and mess up and be embarrassed as HELL and it really won’t matter – in the grand scheme of things. So get over yourself and get on with it.

29 and counting

Life, Thoughts, Wisdom
Five years old and surrounded by Barbie Dolls #blessed

Five years old and surrounded by Barbie Dolls #blessed

I am turning 29 pretty soon (TOMORROW!).

29 feels older, not old, but definitely older.

I don’t know what it is but I don’t feel as frenetic as before. I know I would like to change certain things about my behavior/personality but I know that it will take time. I know I’ve got to work on my career but again, time, luck and a little/a lot of hard work, should get me there. I know I want to continue to cultivate the relationships I have with friends and family but I also know that time will change the nature of these relationships and that’s okay too.

So this year, I have a few birthday resolutions but it’s with an in-breath and an out-breath that I genuinely know that these are aspirations for the next year and yeah I’ll probably do them all. But I should be kind to myself in the process. Can you tell I’ve been doing yoga?

So let’s look at last year’s birthday resolutions and I’ve gotta say I did it all except the volunteering bit. Which is pretty shit. But you know at least I can sleep now and I’m quite bendy – which takes me into my resolutions for this year.

1. Build on my YOGA practice

One of my resolutions last year was to start doing yoga regularly and I cannot tell you how CRAZY different my body and mind are before and after I started. It’s not like I’ve suddenly turned into a crazy hot yogi (not that I would mind looking like her) but I’m much stronger physically, sitting-at-the-computer-related pain is a thing of the past and I’m much more positive about my body image. I haven’t achieved a state of zen either but I am able to sleep better and I can let stuff go. If you know me – you know that’s crazy. So, maybe yoga didn’t take away my anxiety but it helps me channel it or deal with it better. Whatever it is, yoga has changed my life and I want to keep building on my practice and making it a daily part of my life.

2. Curb excessive-ness

I wrote a post last week about how I wanted to let go of excessive shopping this coming year and I realized it’s more than that. I want to let go of excessive-ness and it’s not that I want to go minimalist either – coz that sure as hell didn’t work for me. Instead, this next year I want to work on a) curbing the amount of superfluous shopping I do b) curbing the amount of excessive eating I do and c) curbing the amount of over-exercising that I do. Superfluous shopping is hard on my wallet, my sanity and the planet. Excessive eating, especially when it’s fried or unhealthy food is just well, unnecessary. And over-exercising has led me to feel terrible and also look terrible from exhaustion. It’s time I took a breath and was more mindful about what I buy, eat and do.

3. Focus more time AND energy on the blog

I love this blog. I haven’t made money from it but it has enriched my soul and it has been an outlet when I desperately needed one. I love how it has changed the way I view food. I love that it’s brought me closer to people both through the Cooking with column and also just through readership feedback. And I love that it helps me clear my mind. I think it’s time that I devote a little bit more time to the content, look and feel and more than anything else, the pictures that I curate for this blog. Photography isn’t something I’m particularly good at but I know that if I get a decent camera and work on it I can do better. And in this visual day and age, that’s going to count for a lot.

So there you have it – three resolutions for my last year as a twenty-something year old. Wish me luck!

Cooking with… Regina

Cooking with Friends, Life
Final product!

Final product!

I’m a super judgmental person.

I figured this out when I met Regina for the first time. Regina was a new colleague who joined the adjacent department a couple of months ago.

I met her and decided:
1) She was too hot to be nice.
2) Her heels were too high and she laughed too much which meant she was silly.
3) She was too hot to be nice.

And then.

Despite me being a judgmental ahem and a little cold, Regina didn’t care. She didn’t let it affect the way she treated me. She was unflappably friendly, optimistic and so kind – when I needed it most (I was going through my bimonthly existential crisis) and I was forced to admit I was wrong. Oh so wrong.

We got closer and I discovered that in addition to being hot and able to balance (and DANCE TANGO) in crazy high heels, girlfriend can cook. Which is really the only thing that matters.

SO fast forward to many months and many laughs later, I decided to invite her over to be a part of this whole Cooking with DiniBlini series (I need more volunteers – can you cook? Are you photogenic?)

So Regina, in addition to being generally awesome, has generally awesome genes. Basically she can eat anything and still be skinny. Yes, you can resent her secretly. I won’t tell.

She wanted to make a chocolate tart which morphed into a salted caramel chocolate tart which morphed into salted caramel brownies (too lazy to make the crust) and then finally we settled for salted caramel peanut butter brownies.

Sugar and water

Sugar and water

This recipe… had many steps. We had to make the caramel sauce from scratch and I was like “Nooooo Regina I don’t want to do thisssss.”

Brown sugar and water

Brown sugar and water

But she didn’t let my whining phase her nor the steps. Regina comes from the school of eternal optimism, as in, “It’s ok! Just wing it! It will be fine! Don’t use measuring cups! It will be fine!”

Peanut butterrrrrr

Peanut butterrrrrr

And it was fine. We made our own peanut butter salted caramel sauce which turned out to be easy.

Brownie batter!

Brownie batter!

We melted chocolate over a makeshift double broiler.

ME!

ME!

Me – confidently trying not to burn my hands.

Batter

Batter

Chocolate in

Chocolate in

So in

So in

We mixed in the melted chocolate, post flour addition – which was wrong, wrong, WRONG. If I was alone I would have been on the verge of a meltdown BUT Regina calmed me down and told me it would be fine. It was.

Close up

Close up

All ok?

The glamorous Regina - in the flesh

The glamorous Regina – in the flesh

And then we had a conveyor belt system where Regina very efficiently scooped batter into these waxed cupcake liners and I clumsily tried to put a dollop of peanut butter salted caramel sauce in the middle of it… and… she didn’t say anything.

She decided my knives were too blunt (they still are)

She decided my knives were too blunt (they still are)

While we waited for the brownies to bake. Regina sharpened my knives and told me stories about all the things she’s done. Ok I can’t remember what we actually talked about, but Regina tells lots of stories because she’s been there and done that. And it used to irritate me when I first met her but then I realized that she shares, because she cares. It’s about spreading knowledge and information and experiences so that I, or anyone else she meets, can learn from it.

If you make desert for me I will force feed you salad

If you make desert for me I will force feed you salad

And that’s important because learning is important. I might be a risk averse cook but I can learn to be more laid back in the kitchen. Regina might be averse to eating green things but she can “learn” to eat a salad. Especially when I gave her no other choice.

Taste test

Taste test

Ultimately the brownies were a hit (remember to underbake and if you’re baking them in individual cups like we did, cut the baking time anywhere from 12-15 minutes).

We added marshmallows because Regina wanted them. She also wanted to add alcohol. And peanut butter chips. So we had three versions.

We taste tested them all and they were delicious. So, clearly, in cooking/baking and life you can wing it and in the end, it will all be fine.

Beef Eggplant Stir-Fry and Wholesome Weekends

Cooking, Life, Thoughts

sooooo good

sooooo good

There are weekends that you spend PARTAY-INGGGGGGGGG.

And then there are weekends where you clean your house and workout and sleep on-time and hangout with friends and play boardgames and DON’T get crunk and you’re just generally a good kid.

That’s what I did this past weekend. I was a good kid. And it was awesome. And I feel really good now.

Sometimes it’s good to be good.

Also make this beef eggplant stir-fry, because it’s actually very good and it calls for mint which, incidentally, is a very surprising and refreshing substitute for basil. And it’s spicy and that eggplant soaks up all that zesty, fishy, gingery sauce and it’s SO good.

I’m #justsayin but you should #justcookit.

Cooking with… PZ

Cooking with Friends, Life
Aerial shot

Aerial shot

I met PZ at work, under what I would describe as not very fortuitous circumstances. She doesn’t know this but we became friends because I thought it would be a good idea to charm her since we had to work together and people generally work better with people they like so…*

Little did I know that once I embarked on this friend-making journey that I was going to end up liking her.

And how couldn’t I? Pei Zhen or PZ, as she gently told me to call her (Pei Zhen is too long, lah!) is a highly capable Comms professional at work and a scarily skilled chef/baker at home.

Some of the earliest text conversations are her telling me how she was making some blueberry cheesecake and Horlicks flavored ice-cream for Chinese New Year “because her mother-in-law liked it.” Hardcore and a good daughter-in-law, what more could you ask for?

As our whatsapping progressed she divulged that she has her own version of french onion soup, packs a gourmet lunch for herself and her husband almost every day and that she’s a walking encyclopedia of cooking information. If I needed a recipe or a way to do something, there were PZ recommended variations or solutions. She’s a 21st century Martha, no airs and graces and ready to draw on her resources for a good meal. This includes real-life cook books, the Internet and her vast experience (which includes on-going friendly culinary competitions with her Mom who also cooks scarily well).

Knowing her made me realize that I wasn’t the shit in the kitchen. But not in a bad way. She just made me realize, some people were made for cooking and some people were made for communicating. So I decided to communicate how she cooks.

This is what I’m hoping will be a new series featuring people in Singapore who cook and who are generally inspirational.

When I mentioned this idea to PZ, she was all for it. She also decided to take it as an opportunity to “school” me and get me to like kale. Kale, the one health superfood I can’t get into. It’s like grass. But tougher. And possibly grosser.

SO. PZ says she will make (while I help and observe) a chorizo-kale-stew thing.

Right.

On the appointed day, PZ came over, all business. She wanted to know where the spices were AND she had brought an entire container of homemade ice-cream dotted with chocolate bits for dessert. If she wasn’t already married, I would have been first in line to woo her.

PZ doing her thang

PZ doing her thang

Knife

Knife

Knife skillz 1

Knife skillz 1

Knife skillz 2

Knife skillz 2

Knife skillz 3

Knife skillz 3

Did PZ live up to how good I thought she was? Well, let’s just say she had no hesitation in taking charge of the kitchen. And her knife skills? I mean I know how to chop things but compared to her I’m like a blind man with three fingers. Can you say EVEN.

Produce shot

Produce shot

Beans for days

Beans for days

Another pretty produce shot

Another pretty produce shot

The stew was all sausages, beans, dried spices and chicken stock. It was hearty, warm and very satisfying.

Me! Being useful

Me! Being useful

Chorizo in all its raw glory

Chorizo in all its raw glory

Chorizo and spices

Chorizo and spices

Chorizo and spices

Chorizo and spices

Kale

Kale

So much kale

So much kale

Chorizo and kale

Chorizo and kale

PZ confidently breezed through all the cooking, with minimal help from me, except towards the end of cooking when we tasted the stew and it was just flat.

But what do you do? I would have just let it go, eaten the flat stew and lamented about how I was never cooking that again!

PZ tasted it. Hmmed and haaed. Asked me for my opinion. Declared it needed some oomph – in the form of red wine vinegar.

Repeated Instagram photo

Repeated Instagram photo

It did the trick, gave dimension to the stew which we enjoyed with a loaf of crusty sourdough bread from Marche and a glorious Sauvignon Blanc from who knows where.

It was a fantastic lunch and an even better experience.

PZ had made me realize, that you should never accept a bad outcome. Instead, you should always try and fix it.

It might work or it might not.

But it could mean the difference between being good or being great.

*This may also be the genesis of my friendship with you. But don’t worry, we are both benefiting from the relationship. I promise.

**My flatmate Hoi is the photographer for these beautiful pictures, which is what happens when you decide to stick around and eat the lunch. There’s no such thing as a free one, people.

*** I still don’t like kale.

Cheers to the freaking weekEND

Life, Purpose, Thoughts

See our happy faces?

See our happy faces?

It’s that time of the week again – when you shrug your tight shoulders (courtesy of being hunched over the computer) loose, swap your OL (office lady / lad) polyester garb for club / weekend chic and let down your heavily styled hair. It’s the weekend my friends and it’s what I (and a lot of other people) call real life.

Let me explain, I know that 8:30am to 6:00pm (I know, my work hours are a little too long), Monday to Friday, 52 weeks of the year is a lot of time to not be calling your real life.

But it feels like it isn’t.

When the weekend comes – I go into weekend mode. I don’t think about work, I just think nourishment, friends, sun, laughter – and that’s when I’m in Singapore.

It’s almost as though a black cloud lifts at the end of the week and the weekend becomes this weird alternate universe of frenzied activity, pool parties, long catch ups over brunch and horrifyingly decadent eating.

When Monday rolls around I almost feel as though I’m being slapped in the face by reality.

The funny thing is I actually REALLY like my job.

So why the shift?

Sometimes I think these weekend shenanigans are a result of being in Singapore without my family. Kind of like a symptom of being an expat. How can I make it so, SO fun this weekend that I completely forget about the fact that I’m slightly lonely.

Or maybe that’s unfair.

Maybe it’s a symptom of being young and knowing that in this moment I am free to do all these things with little regard for time and responsibilities.

Or maybe it’s because Singapore is a small place and if you aren’t traveling somewhere, you should be doing something REALLYCOOLRIGHTNOW.

All I know is that it all smells a bit like a YOLO a lot like escapism.

I didn’t write this because I’m preaching or because I think there’s a better way to use or experience a weekend. I wrote it because I’m trying to figure out what I feel about the whole thing.

Now excuse me, because I need to get ready for dinner and drinks. OMGITSGONNABEAWESOMEYALL.