Going Green… on the Skin

March 15, 2009

CH has became more health and environmentally-conscious since he joined his new company late last year. Well, I can’t say my hubby is now an avid tree-hugger but my darling has become more aware of what he puts into his mouth, works out more and puts in a little more effort to be green. 

I must say this is, in most part, the (fantastic) work of his colleague S. 

CH told me one evening jokingly that S was slowly cutting him off lives’ little pleasure – feasting on wagyu beef, eating dairy… but he is joking, of course, I know. The good man has been eating more vegetables (asparagus is the new addiction) and stopped eating so much red meats (he still can’t say no to duck), and he does not miss all that meat-chomping. I am oh so proud of him!

And I am most thankful for S to take the time to send CH links to health and environmental reports and issues, and even took the time to “burn” a CD of documentaries for us! (“There is no business on a dead planet!” “Aye, aye, Sir!” 😉  )

Ever since I have Rui, I have also started to switch partially to organic foods and products. I have not gone the whole hog, sad to say, though I am grateful that organic food prices have become more reasonable now due to the proliferation and wider acceptance. I will, one day, when free-range chicken does not cost $45 each!

My naughty little one, Rui has been using organic and biodegradeable baby care and bath products since one. It’s expensive, no doubt but I certainly don’t mind paying a little more to keep the skin of my precious one in tip-top condition. While doing research on Rui’s baby care products, I recently discovered a fantastic brand for organic skincare and cosmetics.

I have been a firm supporter of a European and an Australian brand of skincare that are labelled “organic”. Alas, after some intensive research, I was dismay and disappointed to find out that these so-called organic skincare products are not so green and organic afterall – they contained carcinogenic chemicals and non-biodegradeable substances – SLS and parabens. After some trials, I have decided to take the plunge to switch my regular skincare and cosmetics to another Australian brand. The fact that the company is dedicated to the green cause, is a major plus.

I am going the whole hog on this one – skincare, cosmetics (especially mascara, I have an addiction, and handcream) and even oral care. While the initial trial of the products yields fantastic results, I hope use over time will actually improve the health of my skin. After all, I agree with M, the lady who introduced me to the products – our skin is the largest organ on our body, it is worth every effort to make sure it is healthy!

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Banana + Chocolate = Yum

March 11, 2009

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J has requested for this recipe.

The Banana Chocolate Tart.

Honestly, not the most sophisticated-looking dessert but the taste of warm, slightly molten chocolate filling with gooey banana slices more than makes up for it.

The original recipe is from Eric Kayser. I changed the recipe a little and made this tart with Pierre Herme’s Sweet Tart Dough, which is my favourite sweet crust recipe. This is definitely an easy, foolproof and ultra-yummy dessert. So far, no one has rejected offers of a second helping, and everyone I served this too, was happy to pack some home!  🙂

 

Sweet Tart Dough, adopted from Desserts by Pierre Herme

– Makes a 10-inch tart

100g unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1/4 cup ground almonds

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1 small egg

1 1/4 cup flour

 

1) Using a mixer, beat the butter on low until creamy.

2) Add the sugar, ground almonds, salt, vanilla and egg. Blend on low and scrap the sides of the bowl when needed. Mixture may look curdled but that is okay.

3) With the mixer still on low, mix in the flour in 3 to 4 additions until the mixture comes together in a moist, soft dough. Do NOT overwork the dough.

4) Gather it into a ball. Flatten it gently in between two sheets of cling foil and refridgerate for at least 4 hours (I have chilled it for only 30 minutes before – still tasted great).

5) When it is time to assemble the tart, simply remove from the fridge, roll it out with a bit of flour into a baking pan.

 

Banana-Chocolate Filling, adopted from Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savoury Tarts

85g dark chocolate

150g butter

3 eggs

200g sugar

75g flour

3 bananas

 

1) Pre-heat the oven at 160 degrees Celsius. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie.

2) In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar. Sift in the flour and mix through.

3) Incorporate the melted chocolate mixture.

4) Pour the mixture into the waiting pastry shell.

5) Peel bananas and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange the slices on top of the chocolate mixture gently.

6) Bake for 40 – 50 minutes. The centre should be a little wobbly.

 

I serve this tart warm with some fridge-cold berries, never with ice-cream. While the creamy hot-cold contrast ice-cream provides is undoubtedly appealing, I feel the tart by itself is sweet and rich enough.

Homemade Goodness

March 11, 2009

I think I have thoroughly spoilt CH.

I made a tray of focaccia on Sunday evening for a dinner with J and her brood of boys. CH took a bite of the flat bread and announced that while the taste was right, the bread could do longer in the oven, as “it is a little too moist” and the bottom was not dark enough.

Gee, thanks! Now, I am taking culinary advice from someone whose sole duty in the kitchen is opening bottles of wine to go with the meal.

Back to the focaccia.

While I agree that the bread could do with 10 more minutes in the oven (you win, darling!), I must say that warm focaccia is a sure crowd-pleaser anytime and everytime. Homemade focaccia is always greeted with a “wow” and the fact that it is so simple to make, is a huge, huge bonus. What’s more, I feel better feeding my loved ones with bread that is made of just organic flour, water, olive oil and salt, with none of the preservatives and chemicals commercial bread has.

I made my focaccia, using a recipe adopted from Tessa Kiros, which requires only two tablespoons of olive oil, plus a little more to oil the baking tray. The result is light but flavourful.

Adopted from Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam

435ml warm water
1.5 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp honey or sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
650g flour
1.5 tsp salt

1) In a mixer bowl, or a big bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, along with the honey/sugar, 1 tbsp of olive oil and 3 fistfuls of flour. Stir to mix well. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes for the yeast to bloom.

2) Mix the remainder of the flour into the yeast mixture, together with the salt. The dough will be sticky. I use my Kitchen-Aid to knead it for 7 minutes until the surface looks smooth and satiny. If not, do like what Tessa Kiros suggests, slap it around the bowl with oiled hands until the dough looks smooth.

3) Let the dough rest for 1.5 to 2 hours, until it doubles in size.

4) Pre-heat oven at 200 degrees Celsius. Grease a baking tray generously with olive oil. I use a 40cm square tray.

5) Knock down the dough with oiled hands to flatten it.

6) Spread the dough on the tray. Rest it for 30 minutes. In the meantime, mix the following: 100ml hot water, 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp olive oil.

7) Dimple the slightly puffed dough with fingers and drizzle the salt water mixture evenly on top. This will give the bread a nice crust as it bakes.

8) Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is golden brown.

This recipe is so versatile and easy. It is the most requested-for bread from CH. It seems, for now, none of the breads I’ve baked have managed to top this.

I have made versions of it with finely chopped rosemary thrown in at the kneading stage and roughly chopped olives when I am knocking it down. I simply love the rosemary and olives version as the herb gives it an incredible aroma and little bites of olives provide addictive burst of saltiness! I have added chopped sun-dried tomatoes also in another version and it was also yummy!

 

Nostalgia is Sweet

March 7, 2009

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The sure sign of getting old is when you started to feel nostalgic and get all misty-eyed when things from your younger days make an appearance.
When I saw the tray of Hainanese kueh at my neighbourhood sweets shop, I knew I have to confirm my not-young-anymore status.

I stopped in my tracks in front of the tray of kueh individually and neatly wrapped in banana leaves. This is the kueh from my childhood, the ones which my granny would happily churn out during special occasions and when one of her grandchildren (that would be me) begged for a taste.

Well-made Hainanese kueh, aka, the version churned out by Granny, is irresistible – a layer of chewy, gooey, steamed glutinuous rice flour skin, enveloping gula melaka-sweetened coconut filling. The very sight of the kueh filled my heart and mind with warm memories, and my tummy with a mighty strong craving! I bought three and happily went home, planning to savour them after dinner.

Being the glutton I am, I eagerly bit into one of the kueh but was left with an overwhelming disappointment. I was no kueh snob but these were just… bad! While they looked exactly like what my Granny used to make, it is an insult to even compare these to hers. The glutinuous rice skin was tough and chewy in a wrong, wrong way. The coconut filling had just one taste – it was sweet, flatly so, with no nuances. It didn’t even taste like coconut! It tasted like… sweet sawdust. The texture was wrong and the taste was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

It was then, I realised, I should start to learn cooking from Granny – can’t call myself a true-blue Hainanese girl if I can only eat chicken rice and Hainanese kueh-kueh without knowing how to make them. Gamely, my feisty Granny agreed.

When I watched my Granny prepared the coconut filling, I came to understand that satisfying my childhood craving was not an easy task. It took experience, skill and patience. To prepare the filling, my Granny started with melting a mixture of muscovado sugar and gula melaka in the wok, while I pound a two-inch piece of ginger to extract the juice and a one-inch square of the skin of dried mandarin oranges. The ginger juice and powdery dried mandarin orange skin was added to the sugar mixture (mighty yummy-smelling by now!), then the coconut (Granny had expected me to grate the coconut myself, so the filling will not too mealy. I cheated with supermarket-bought grated coconut – not okay by her, but fine by me, the greedy slob).

 

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When the coconut filling was cooling, Granny kneaded glutinuous rice flour with water and canola oil. to make the “skin”. Despite me trying to convince Granny that as an experienced bread-maker, I am good at knreading dough, she insisted on doing it herself. I watched humbly, as I could never argue with her number of years of experience.
Then came the tough part. Granny expertly wrapped the coconut filling with the glutinous rice dough, then wrapped the almost-finished sweet in a strip of banana leave, to prevent the dough from sticking and to impart the fresh, green fragrance of the leaves to the kueh. Sad to say, the two kueh I wrapped came loose while they were steaming.

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I downed two kueh when they came out of the steamer. Oh, yummy! This was exactly what Hainanese kueh should taste like! The skin was delicate and chewy at the same time, the coconut filling is not just sweet with a molassy tone but it was infused with a slight tang from the mandarin orange skin and ginger juice added a certain je ne sais quoi.
Unfortunately, I don’t really have the recipe. Well, while I know the steps, I couldn’t catch up with Granny throwing a handful of sugar here and a dizzle of oil there. What can I say – the experts work from experience and have no need to follow recipes.

Maybe I ought to ask her to show me how to make the kueh again!  🙂

 

You said Tracy, I said Pammy

January 15, 2009

An email exchange…

She: Darling, could you pop by HMV to get the Tracy Anderson Mat Workout DVD for me, pls.

He: Why do you need it?

She: I don’t have time for yoga anymore… I knock off late now… Need some form of exercise.

He: Sure, will get the Pamela Anderson Workout DVD for you.

She: Dear, it’s TRACY Anderson! TRACY!

He: Oh, not Pam Anderson? So, it’s not a tits and butt workout DVD?

She: …I wonder where I found someone like you!…

A Little More Consideration, Please!

October 1, 2008

I’ve recently added a tag for “Beautiful Things” in my blog to record the wonderful and lovely things around me, so when I am sad, they would bring on a smile. A trip to the supermarket today, however, made me wonder if I should add a tag for “Ugly Things” to make me appreciate the good things around me more.

My helper and I were shopping at the vegetable and fruit section at the supermarket when we spied another helper putting a half-drunk, dripping Yakult bottle between two baskets of fruits. I cringed and before I knew it, blurted out, “You should throw this in the bin.”

The helper was slightly embarrassed but NOT her employer. The b**ch (I don’t think she is fit to be called a “lady”. NO!) with tattoed eye-brows immediately turned to me and said in an angry tone, “I asked her to throw it there. Why are you so busybody?”

Goodness! She sounded like I was the one who was in the wrong! Shouldn’t she be the one embarrassed!?

Okay, I thought, I would ignore the silly grammatical error in her statement. While I glanced at her aggresive stance and those ridiculous eye-brows, I thought, well, forget it, no point arguing with such a b**ch. I turned to go and she said again, “If you saw that empty bottle in your trolley, you would throw it there too.”

“No, I would throw it in the bin.” And I turned and went, wanting badly to avoid an argument not because I feared her but more out of embarrassment of being associated with the ridiculously eye-browed b**ch who couldn’t even put a proper sentence together.

The b**ch walked away, all the while muttering to her husband (another one of those Chinese men with ridiculous bleached blond hair. They are quite a match though!) and staring in my direction.

My lovely day was marred!

Ironically, the incident happened at the NTUC Finest branch at Thomson Plaza. I wonder why people who are presumably well-travelled and well-read enough to appreciate kurobuta pork, air-flown Japanese aubergine and other finer things in life, are not able to behave in a civil manner. Whatever happened to good manners and basic hygiene practice? Whatever happened to being civil and considerate?

What’s even more shocking to me was that the b**ch behaved in such manner in front of her two young kids. What sort of values would she be passing down to the young? Would she bother passing down any values at all? What sort of a society nurture people like that?

I guess I would never take kind, considerate and helpful people for granted again.

Something New…

September 22, 2008

I am feeling contented with my life now.

Life is simple and rewarding, with the little one surprising us with new things learnt everyday.

I am happy. Maybe even a little complacent.

I was, however, thrown off my feet a little by a talk with my manager. She is someone whom I trust a lot at work. We are friends, not just colleagues.

She gave me a proposition to consider. A new role, sort of, at a subsidiary. More responsibilities. More accountability. More challenges.

It’s like a little jolt, waking me up from my contented being. Not in a bad way… it certainly got me thinking.

What next? What if I do accept the challenge? What if I do not?

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I am not one who loves new things.

How shall I put this accurately?

I mean, I love new shoes, clothes, jewellery (darling, are you there? Are you listening? 😉 )… new things. But when I find something that works, I stick to it forever!

Like my favourite carrot cake recipe. I have been using one by Martha Stewart for ages! It’s a winner and everyone loves it.

It took me quite a while to try another carrot cake recipe. This one is by Pierre Herme, the demi-god of pastry, no less. Boy, am I glad to venture out to new territory!

This one has no leavening agents, with its structure supported by beaten egg whites. Ground hazelnut and almond add an irresistable nutty edge to the natural sweetness of carrots. The best part about it? It is most delicately sweeten, beautifully moist and ethereally light, like a genoise without the dryness.

A real winner! Sorry Martha, you have been edged out by Pierre!  😉

 

This is the carrot cake, lovely on its own, but I served it with some leftover vanilla bean dotted buttercream and orange-favoured cream cheese frosting for CH, who is anatomically-designed and metabolically-gifted to take all that extra calories.

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Maybe it is not so bad to try new things afterall…

Happiness is…

September 22, 2008

 

… running free in a lovely green field…

… looking for creepy-crawlies…

… and splashing in the pool with Auntie Crystal!

Flowers… they do make the day brighter

September 21, 2008

Beautiful things – some planted, some bought by CH…

A Special Passionfruit Moment

September 7, 2008

I want to pen this down before I forget about this incident. It happened on 22 August, a Friday afternoon when I was preparing dinner and my beloved Granny was sitting in a corner of the kitchen, talking to me.

We had an early lunch that day, so I thought granny would be hungry by that time. I turned and saw a stash of passionfruits which I kept to eat with yogurt. I casually took one wrinkled and perfectly ripe purple-skinned fruit, and sliced it into half. Together with a small metal spoon from the drawer, I gently put the two halves of passionfruit into Granny’s wrinkled and heavily veined hands. 

She looked at the purple fruit and said in wonder, “What are these? I have never seen these before!” I told her it was a passionfruit and urged her to spoon the orangy sweet-tart flesh and seeds, and taste it. She did and immediately, her gentle eyes widened and sparkled. She exclaimed, “This is delicious! I have never tasted anything like this before!”

I smiled, waited and watched her spoon another spoonful into her mouth. She chewed and swallowed with a swoon. She took another spoonful and then another. The pulpy flesh and seeds disappeared quickly and she sighed with satisfaction.

“It’s sweet and tart and is absolutely delicious!” The feisty lady repeated.

I smiled with an inner warmth as I watched this lady, who had changed my diapers when I was a baby and rubbed ointment on my bumps and bruises when I fell, revelled in her moment of discovery.

I am filled with gratitude, even till today, that we were able to share this special moment of discovery, of tasting something for the first time, together.