Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sri Lanka

Last December, we packed our bags and ventured to Sri Lanka for holidays. The kids were excited and the excitement started from the flight - we flew on Emirates and the service was excellent. The kids were kept entertained with the big in-flight entertainment screen and did not catch a wink at all on the midnight flight.

We stayed a night (actually just for a couple of hours) in Colombo before we started our journey to Galle the next day. At Galle, we stayed at the beautiful Amangalla which is located in Galle Fort itself. That was simply an AMAZING experience. Old world charm which comes with the type of attentive butler service which leaves you feeling like a VIP and very well-pampered. The rooms were big and very tastefully decorated. I like the fact that there was no TV in the room at all. No kettle or cups. Need a nice cup of tea? Just ring for the butler!

Lying within the walls of Galle’s 17th century Dutch Fort – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Amangalla offers a wonderful escape in the interesting and historic surroundings. Explore the Fort with its narrow streets, well preserved ramparts, the lighthouse, the Dutch Reform Church, and several houses with the typical manor house style architecture with columns, courtyards, and verandas. Surrounding Galle were Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa and many beautiful beaches. The sunset and the beach were simply unbelievable. You will not fail to marvel at God's creation as you indulge in the beauty of the sunset at the beach.

We also travelled to Tangalle and there, we stayed at the legendary Amanwella - a beautiful beach resort under the Aman Group as well. While staying there, we went one very early morning to the Yala National Park, which is home to the greatest variety of Sri Lanka’s wildlife. The holiday was just too short, after 3 wonderful nights at Amangalla and 3 nights at Amanwella, we have to head back to Colombo again to catch our flight back to Singapore. We stayed another night at the Hilton Residence Colombo before taking the afternoon flight back. The only thing we did in Colombo was shopping. Odel, Barefoot and Noritake (Japanese brand tableware) are the key shopping destination. Altogether, a very memorable first trip to Sri Lanka.


I have never been a good cook. My first experience of cooking was really cooking instant noodles. But even that, I have come to realise, is not simply dumping the noodle into the water. Its all about timing. Overcooking it makes the noodles soggy and on the edge of tasting disgusting. Undercooking it, on the other hand, makes it feel like you are eating plastic or rubberband.

The first time I cooked for friends was a simple dish of fried beehoon (chinese rice noodles). That was in my university days and I was cooking for my hostel mates. Todate they still remember that very well. Not because it was tasty, on the contrary, it was so blend and tasteless that it marked my memory of my culinary capabilities in their very long term memory. Two decades down the road when we talked about cooking, they can still 'fondly' remember my attempt in whipping up a storm for them in the pathetic pantry kitchen in the hostel.

As my mother is a great cook, therefore the kitchen is her teritory and I had never had the opportunity to cook for the family when I was staying with the family. It was not until I was married and we were staying on our own that I had to start cooking. For a long time, before we had kids, there was always the excuse that it was difficult to cook for two. Hence we were eating out for dinner most of the time. Else there was always our parent's homes which we could go back to for a delicious home cooked meals. Eating out often proved to be too detrimental on the waistline. With the expanding waistline, we thought it would be a good idea to at least eat healthily at home at least 2-3 times a week.

I must admit it took a while to mastering the art of cooking small quantity. Estimation did not come easy and I was always cooking too much initially. I was taught from young by mom that it is not good to keep food overnight, coupled with the fact that being Asian, we believed it is bad to throw away food. Hence we often ended up having to stuff our face to finish off what we have cooked. We had most fun with cooking curry - creating our own curry paste which was super hot. It was nice eating that at night in an air-conditioned room. With just plain rice and a big pot of curry, we would eat and 'cry' at the same time, our lips and tongue feeling numb at the end of the meal.

We then started experimenting with western cooking and my husband found his love for baking. I, on the other hand, always had a preference for savoury food and prefer to experiment with western soup, pasta etc. My favourite was the art of assembly - salad was my forte. I learnt that as long as I have some kind of cheese, some kind of crunchy food like nuts or hardy vegetables, a good dressing, the salad can hardly go wrong. From sunflower seeds, walnits, almonds to pumpkin seeds, I tried them all. I also found my love for Japanese dressing. Todate when I travel to Japan, I am always looking for interesting Japanese dressing which I cant find back home.

Though still not a good cook, I must humbly said I have come a long way since the university days. I am more experimental now and love trying out new recipes and cuisines such as Thai, Indian, Spanish, Italian.

However I still have a thing about cooking without a recipe. That explains why I love to watch Chef At Home (Chef Michael Smith) who is always advocating cooking without a recipe and just going with your intuition.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Timely to write about eggs with Easter Sunday just round the corner.

Eggs, a cheap simple bundle of goodness, packed with nutrition, good on its own and at the same time an all time great enhancer for other food, used in so many dishes and almost indispensable in baking, desserts (even ice-cream!).

Eggs has cultural significance too. In some parts of the world, egg decorating is a popular Easter tradition. The painted eggs are often hidden for children to find in an Easter egg hunt.

I have personally gone through an egg evolution. When I was young, Dad used to bring us for breakfast at the local coffee shop and always ordered soft-boiled eggs for us. The soft silky watery eggs are served in a small coffee saucer and drizzled with light soy sauce and sprinked with white pepper. This still remains as one of my favorite breakfast dish till today. A mouth of it brings back flood of childhood memories.

Then there is hard boiled egg and two very distinct dishes came to my mind, again linking back to childhood. As a school girl, Mom used to prepare a vermicelli soup dish with 2 hard boiled eggs for us every year on our lunar birthday - the vermicelli symbolises the number '1" and the 2 eggs "00" which represents scoring "100" in our exams. One of Mom's specialty is Braised Pork Belly with Hard Boiled Eggs - something I grew up eating. There's always dried beancurd in this dish and whole garlic and the dish is braised for hours in dark soy sauce till the pork belly is soft and tender. It goes very well with plain rice porridge which is what I used to have as a staple for lunch everyday. Dad being a Teochew, must have rice porridge (Teochew style, not the Cantonese congee style) for lunch everyday.

Scrambled eggs was my next evolution as my tastebud grew with my age to include more western cooking and not just confined to Mom's great home cooked food. McDonalds breakfast is probably the first time I tried scrambled eggs since this is a very western style of cooking which is not Mom's style. My first home cooked scrambled egg was prepared for me by my husband. The first few versions were probably not quite the right taste - too little milk, too much milk, too omelete looking or too he has perfected the art of scrambled eggs and this is a regular breakfast item for our kids. Now would the children grow up remembering scrambled eggs as their comfort breakfast food? I was also quick to balance that with the introduction of soft boiled eggs when they were old enough and I was not so worried about them eating half boiled eggs and getting a bad tummy from it. I tried cooking the "100" dish for them on their birthday before but that didnt quite go well with them and they refused to eat two eggs. Now that was not good then as I wouldnt want them to get just '10" or even '1"!

When I started travelling overseas for work, I remembered one business trip many years back when I was in Sydney and meeting a local colleague for breakfast. That was probably the first time I tasted Eggs Benedict. This is a dish that consists of two halves of an English muffin, topped with ham or bacon, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. Oh how I love that Hollandaise sauce on top of those poached eggs! I fell in love with Eggs Benedict and todate have tasted Eggs Benedict in various countries and I must say Australia still has the best. There are conflicting accounts of the origin of Eggs Benedict which you can read from

My other love of eggs as I go through my egg evolution is Eggs Florentine which is similar to Eggs Benedict but substitutes spinach for the ham. Spinach is one of the greens which I love and it goes fantastically well with eggs too. Even in our chinese dish there is a 3 eggs dish (salted eggs, century eggs and chicken eggs cooked together and served over tender boiled spinach). One of the best 3 eggs dish (not sure what it is really call) is from the Chinese restaurant "Lei Garden", located in Chijmes, opposite Raffles City.

茶葉蛋, which is Tea Egg, is a fragrant and flavorful traditional Chinese food. The original recipe uses various spices (most commonly Chinese five-spice powder), soy sauce, and black tea leaves. This is commonly found in Pasar Malam (street market) in Singapore and I recalled my first taste of this was again, when I was a child. Having one of these Tea Eggs at the Pasar Malam shopping was a treat for me. Tea eggs are a common sight of street food in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China too.

My eggs journey was taken to a new height when a couple friend of ours bought a sous vide machine recently and I had my first taste of sous vide eggs at their place. The taste was superbly heavenly and doubly so when drizzled over with truffle oil.

Now that I have discovered there are even more ways to serve eggs with the list below, I shall set out on a bigger journey to continue my egg experience evolution and journey.

Eggs Blackstone substitutes streaky bacon for the ham in Eggs Benedict and adds a tomato slice
Eggs Atlantic or Eggs Hemingway substitutes salmon (or smoked salmon) for the ham. Huevos Benedict substitutes avocado for the ham, and is topped with both salsa and hollandaise sauce.
Eggs Hussarde substitutes Holland rusks for the English muffin and adds Marchand de Vin sauce
Eggs Sardou substitutes artichoke bottoms and crossed anchovy fillets for the English muffin and ham, then tops the hollandaise sauce with chopped ham and a truffle slice.
Artichoke Benedict replaces the English muffin with a hollowed artichoke
Country Benedict, sometimes known as Eggs Beauregard, replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce with a American biscuit, sausage patties, and country gravy. The poached eggs are replaced with eggs fried to choice
Irish Benedict replaces the ham with corned beef or Irish bacon
Portobello Benedict substitutes Portobello mushrooms for the ham, and is a popular alternative for Catholics observing the Friday Fast.
Eggs John Scott replaces the Hollandaise sauce with HP Sauce.
Eggs Provençal replaces the Hollandaise sauce with Béarnaise Sauce.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Have you ever seen a juggler in action? Imagine the level of focus and concentration, the years of practice before he can achieve that art of juggling. What goes on in his mind during his act of juggling? How does he progress from level to level, three bottles, four and even five or more?

The picture of a juggler in action came to my mind this evening as I was struggling to try to cope with managing the kids, thinking about work, yearning for free time to get started on the books I just bought, planning the menu for the week, marking my son's assessment after putting him to bed (and wondering when I can find time to go through with him) - all in one night. Too many things on my already crammed mind. I couldnt quite focus and concentrate and it feels exceedingly quite overwhelming. Perhaps two bottles first, I told myself, don't try to juggle with four or five in one night.

Now, a friend of mine juggles very well with her life as a working mum. Her act of juggling is a truly world class act, perfecto. Very inspiring and I still can't quite figure out how she does it. It makes me wonder at my own incompetence of being a juggling working mom. I ponder over what I need to do better to manage at least three bottles, maybe I can start with plastic bottles so I won't end messing up everything. That is, aim for small achievement, settle for less, expect less and learn to be contented with less. For instance, translating that to practical life, I can stop pushing my son in his schoolwork and instead of daily violin practice, try aiming for once a week. At work, I should perfect the art of delegation better, empower empower empower.

All contrary to what I read in "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mum" book.

Now seriously, talking about that book, the author seems almost like a character in a fictional book. I mean, how did she do it? How can she sustain it? I sometimes get so overwhelmingly tired physically and emotionally pushing the child to do more that I wonder if that is what I want my children to remember me of, rather than lovely memories with mom doing fun stuff. I yearn for simple pure bonding time with the kids, not having to constantly ask my poor son if he has done this or that homework, scolding him for work not done, work done wrongly and work done without effort. Sigh.

While I strive to be a juggler of five glass bottles some day, for now let's just say I have talked myself to learn to be perfectly contented to settle for an act of juggling with just two colorful, unbreakable plastic bottles. And more importantly, to learn to enjoy the juggling act and derive joy at the same time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I will be flying to India tomorrow. My first time in India. Not sure what to expect, a little worried about my weak stomach especially having heard 9 out of 10 times friends and colleagues getting sick while in India. Its going to be a short trip, just 4 days, I am going to be fine.

Without getting too overly worried, its a bit of a mixed emotions for me. Firstly its a work trip and I have some very major presentations to make while I am there. On the other hand, Taj Mahal - a place where I have always wanted to visit for the longest time. Amongst a whole list of places which I would love to go to before I die.

Travelling is one of my many loves. I love the history, architecture, culture, food which different countries bring, it opens up one's horizons and makes one realise just how big the world is and how so absolutely small we are. It impresses upon one how amazing God's creation is and how incredible human kind has evolved - from the art, the history and the architectural feats from ancient buildings. The awe and the amazement I awlays get is a feeling which I treasure and devour, something which you dont experience on a daily basis in your everyday life.

The world has so much to offer and we have so little time to enjoy what God has created for us to enjoy. For that reason, I guess oftentimes TV is a good subsitute and that is why I enjoy watching channels like Travel & Leisure and reading travel magazines so much. What you cant experience, you read. Its probably not the same, one would argue. But it would have to suffice, especially for someone in a time starved society where there are more important things in life such as earning for one's keeps, to take care of.

Now, some of the best trips I have ever had in my life, so far, must be Cambodia (sSiem Reap), Spain (Toledo, Granada) and Czech Republic (Prague). I have also equally enjoyed the charms of Vietnam (Hanoi and Saigon) and am looking forward to the much heard beauty of central Vietnam - Danang in my upcoming June trip. Thailand is always enjoyable - from Bangkok to the touristy Phuket, Krabi.

Travelling is not just sightseeing for me - its about the local experiences and food and local culture is a huge part of it. How can you leave Thailand without ever experiencing the wonderful massages and the incredible Thai food? How can you not taste Vietnam's history through its plain yet rich offering of the simple Vietnamese cuisine which I personally feel tells alot about what the Vietnamese people have gone through in history and also the influence of the French colonisation with just a bite of the Saigon baguette.

And I will always remmember the cold winter in Czech when we were there and how our stomach have been warmed up by the local Czech cuisine of which I vividly remember an evening in a really old charming restaraunt serving up rabbit meat (my first time!) and beef stew.

But for now, tomorrow, India awaits me. I hope Taj Mahal welcomes me with open arms and I look forward to embracing the culture and history of India, well at least once my stomach settles after the stomach churning big presentation I have to make.

Monday, March 26, 2012


As writing composition becomes a requirement for my son as he enters primary 3 this year, I suddenly find myself regaining my interest in writing again while I try to convince him that writing is really not that diificult as he claims. When was the last time I really write about something random, just rattling my thoughts away in pen or on the keyboard - a really long time ago I must say! I write everyday fo course, emails and emails, presentations and proposals. But that's not really writing. Thats really a consolidation of facts and numbers, business case and information. No feelings, no humor expected. Just pure simple professionalism and rationale.

He could rattle on and on, conversations is not an issue for him at all. but he is stuck when it comes to writing. His flow of thoughts get all jumbled up. He doesnt make any sense and suddenly all his words are mis-spelt. What could be crippling his ability to write? Is it a fear, or maybe a lack of confidence? Is it his lack of imagination or words?

I remember I had the same problem when I was young. I couldnt write. I have no topic to write. And when I was given a topic, I have no contents. When I do have contents, the words do not come. Writer's block they call it. It was a major piece of block for me indeed.

I used to dream of being a writer. When I was in primary school I used to have a good friend who shared the same dream. We will play a game while the teacher is giving her lessons, passing each other this notebook where we will write a sentence each as we try to form a story. It was fun though I cant quite remember if we ever end up with a piece of story good enough to publish or share!

And journal writing was a very big part of my growing up years. You know those troubled adolesent growing up days where you have so much inner thoughts that you need to find an avenue to vent out. I called my diary "evergreen" and would start each day of my diary with Dear Evergreen...and I would use only a green pen in that diary. How silly! I still have that diary with me, somewhere in the storeroom. Goodness me, i discovered it recently while unpacking the storeroom, that Evergreen must be at least 25 years ago!

Now back to the question - how do you teach a nine year old how to write? Other than telling him each composition must have an Intro, a Body and an End? Or that you can use the H and W to help you along - how, why, when, what, where, who. Or sending to British Council to learn about Creative Writing. Which by the way I have done so, having invested several thousands for his class and am patiently waiting for miracles to happen...which thus far I have not seen in his weekly submission of his journal yet. I know I will, afterall writing is not something which you can master overnight and have to be developed over a period of time. At least I hope I am starting him right by making him interested in reading books and awarding him with stars for every book he finished reading. That seems to be paying off as he now really enjoys reading.