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Hello 2019

My last post on this blog was in August 2016. Two-and-a-half-years years have since gone past. I have continued to pay for this self-hosted website even though I wasn’t sure I would write in this blog again.

I was looking around on the Internet for a free e-commerce website and it pointed me to WooCommerce, a free plug-in if you have a self-hosted WordPress website. So that’s how I ventured back into this website to check out the e-commerce plug-in.

Why did I stop even though I enjoyed writing here? I am not quite sure. I suppose it was easier to keep vignettes of my life and travels on social media such as Instagram than having to write a longer piece here. The other reason being that I used to write on my ancient 2010 MacBook Air which became slower and slower, to the point that I stopped using it.

I am now writing this on the WordPress app on my iPhone. It isn’t too bad because I can upload photos taken with the iPhone directly onto the blog without having to go through PhotoBucket. Just takes some getting used to.

Ok, I will be back!

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Paris: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon At Champs Elysees

I have ticked off another item off on my bucket list, which is to visit Paris.  I made plans to visit Paris last November but because of the terrorist attack on the city, I cancelled my travel plans.  The trip in June was an impromptu trip with two other girlfriends who planned to shop, eat and do the cultural sights (in the same order of priority)!  They were going on a trip to celebrate arriving at a new decade in their lives and invited me to join the party. 🙂  Despite the heavy focus on shopping, we managed to visit a number of sights and eat some pretty good meals during the short 6-day trip.

 photo IMG_1861-160609-v2__zpsglkuyeuv.jpgWe went to several bistros for traditional French food including Josephine Chez Dumonet,  Pierre Gagnaire in Hotel Balzac, Ze Kitchen Galerie near the Notre-Dame Cathedral, L’atelier de Joel Robuchon and Cafe Breizh (for buckwheat galettes).  I enjoyed all my meals but if I was asked to choose my favorite amongst them, it will definitely be L’atelier.  It was one of those meals that was so memorable, you can re-play the experience in your mind again and again long after the meal had ended.  Just to name several places where I have had such wonderful meals: Boulevard in San Francisco, Ristorante 245 in Kyoto, the Chinese restaurant in The Lalu at Sun Moon Lake, Karo-no-udon in Fukuoka.

To accommodate a rather hectic shopping itinerary that day, we decided to have a late lunch at 2pm.  By the time we got to L’atelier, the three of us were the only customers dining in the restaurant.  I had expected lunch service to have ended between 2pm to 2.30pm but was surprised that this was not the case.

We ordered the 3-course lunch set.  Each course was generously sized and delicious.  Service was good too.  The food photos that I had taken are not great because I was too ravenous by that hour to put much care into taking photographs.  The lack of natural light in L’atelier’s trademark red-and-black interior did not help matters.

 photo Latelier 1-160814-v2__zpssih8mckj.jpgThe amuse bouche was a shot of mushroom soup laced with truffle oil (I think).  For starters, I ordered the burrata in a strawberry-tomato sauce and my friends had the lobster salad and grilled white asparagus.  I was torn between the burrata and white asparagus (which I love and were in season then) but decided to go with the former.  The bread basket, amuse bouche and appetizers filled us up quickly.  We were definitely going to struggle with the main courses.

 photo IMG_1879-160609-v2__zps7uexmlrh.jpgRight after we were served our appetizers, a friend reminded me on Whatsapp to order the famous Robuchon mashed potato.  OMG, how could I have forgotten about the mash.  All that frantic shopping must have scrambled my brain.  I placed an additional order for mashed potato and we were each given a small serving of it.

The Robuchon mashed potato was luscious – smooth, thick, and so creamy.  I loved it so much!

 photo Latelier 2-160814-v2__zpsvstjyaxe.jpgFor mains, two of us ordered the duck breast and the other friend had the cod in a consommé.  The duck breast was cooked perfectly and I savored every bite of the tender, juicy meat.  The cod was very tasty but we did not think it was special because it is quite similar to how we prepare Chinese-style steamed cod.

 photo IMG_1883-160609-v2__zpsmia26oe0.jpg

The options for dessert were chocolate mousse, a cake with citrus sorbet and a cheese platter.  We opted for the chocolate and cake.  I love how they plated the cake and sorbet – the plate is gorgeous, isn’t it?  We ended the meal with coffee and very delicious madeleines.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal!

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Seoul: Galchi Jorim (Spicy Hairtail Fish Stew) Alley In Namdaemum

 photo IMG_7132-151129-v2__zps3fgxbg3w.jpg I have been wanting to visit some of Seoul’s many food alleys – jokbal alley, gamjatang alley, nyaengmyeon alley, tteokbokki alley, kalguksu alley and many more.  As I was wandering around Namdaemum one cold wintry morning in early December last year, I had a craving for a bowl of spicy stew and decided to look for Namdaemun’s galchi jorim alley. The alley was tucked away in one of the many buildings in the market and it took me a while to locate it.

Unfortunately, I had chosen to visit the alley on a Sunday morning when most of the eateries in the alley were closed.  I entered the only eatery that was opened and ordered galchi jorim.   I had not eaten this stew before and was looking forward to trying it.

Look at the Korean ahjummas working in the kitchen, and chatting loudly with the customers sitting at the tables.

 photo IMG_7134-151129-v2__zpswn5saebf.jpgSo much food for just 8,000 won.  There was no way I could put away all that food and when I tried to tell one of the Korean ahjummas that I do not need rice, she glared at me and refused to take it away.

The galchi jorim was delicious, but you have to eat the fish very very slowly and carefully, ‘cos it has many tiny bones.  It is not for everyone – you really have to love eating braised fish and have the patience to remove the tiny bones to get to the flesh.  I loved the fried fish bones sidedish and steamed egg that came with my lunch.

Next food alley expedition would be to the gamjatang alley!

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Crocheting: Rosette Granny Square Cushion

 photo IMG_1031-160521-v2__zpsatlni0qz.jpgAnother cushion cover!

I have been seeing this beautiful rosette pattern quite a bit on Instagram, but I could not find any written instructions in English online.  After much searching, I found a video tutorial on a blog for this pattern.  Unfortunately, the instructions were in a foreign language – Turkish, I think.

I played the video forwards and backwards countless times to eyeball the stitches and after much hair-pulling, managed to figure it out.  It is quite an easy pattern to make and I have to find some time to write it down before I forget.

I thought it would be an overkill if I made a rosette on all the granny squares so I decided to alternate the rosette granny square with a plain solid granny square, and then made a lattice-style edging before stitching it to the fabric.

 photo IMG_1033-160521-v2__zpsgteoxeh3.jpgAnother milestone in my self-taught sewing lessons.  I made a zipper that is concealed.  It turned out quite well though the machine stitches could have been neater.

I love the print of this fabric which I bought from Sin Mui Heng at People’s Park Centre.  This is a lightweight and silky-smooth cotton fabric from Japan that costs $16 for a yard.  I could have bought something cheaper from Spotlight but I do not like the look and quality of their fabrics which are mostly from China.  I like going to Sin Mui Heng – most of their staff are elderly aunties who are helpful and polite.

 photo IMG_1034-160521-v2__zpsayh48voa.jpgIf someone were to tell me 30 years ago that I would resemble my mother 30 years later in that we both love buying fabrics (for making clothes in her case), I would say the person is crazy.

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Tokyo: From afar 倉庫01Coffee And Tea

 photo IMG_9079-160221-v2__zps2ged6ulb.jpgFrom afar倉庫01 is a beautiful tearoom that I had seen in the Instagram feed of shewhoeats. Her Instagram feed is gorgeous – filled with photographs of cakes, pastries and desserts that she bakes and her travels.

We were heading to Asakusa for dinner at Otafuku Oden and decided to drop by From afar倉庫01 in Kurumae which is along the way to Asakusa.  Kurumae is an old Tokyo neighborbood that is situated along the Sumida River.  We alighted at the Kurumae subway station and walked along the Sumida River to get to the tearoom.  We have never been to that part of Tokyo and it was nice exploring a new neighourbood together.

 photo IMG_9074-160221-v2__zpspebllz3n.jpgWow. From afar倉庫01, part tearoom and part gallery space, is visually stunning.  It is located in a quiet alley off the Sumida River in what looks like a refurbished warehouse.  The calm but dim and edgy-looking interior is filled with beautiful wood furniture and pottery.

 photo IMG_9076-160221-v2__zps6fjvstl1.jpg photo IMG_9077-160221-v2__zpsqxh0llho.jpgIt may sound a little strange to say this, but I felt like I was in Taiwan.  The tearoom has a strong Taiwanese vibe (as opposed to Japanese).  This place feels like it came out of a Jay Chou music video.  If you are a Jay Chou fan, you will know what I mean. 🙂

 photo IMG_9081-160221-v2__zpsjqpj3svg.jpg photo IMG_9068-160221-v2__zps0hjkjpln.jpg photo IMG_9080-160221-v2__zpsyqmucqpr.jpgThis is definitely what I would call an Instagram-worthy tearoom.

 photo IMG_9067-160221-v2__zps1mkvhsmu.jpgI was attempting a “stylo-mylo” photograph of that part of the tearoom but since the man would not budge from the comfort of the sofa, he had to try to look the part.

 photo IMG_9066-160221-v2__zpsdfmbgclc.jpg photo IMG_9064-160221-v2__zpspulxnkqm.jpg photo IMG_9071-160221-v2__zps8if5cebc.jpgWe ordered a slice of cheesecake, an iced Thai milk tea and a cappuccino and rested our feet from hours of walking since the morning.  The tearoom is highly recommended for those who want to get away from the crowded and touristy spots in Tokyo.  While it is a little off the main tourist route in Tokyo, it makes a good stop on the way to and from Asakusa or the Tokyo Skytree.

From afar倉庫01

Address: 東京都墨田区東駒形1-1-9 (〒130-0005 Tokyo, Sumida, 東駒形1-1-9)
Directions: Exit A2 of Asakusa subway station, or Exit 6 of Kurumae subway station.  See Google Map below for location of the tearoom.

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Osaka: Dojima Roll Cake By Mon Cher Patissierie

In Tokyo, I satisfy my Japanese cake and pastry cravings at Harbs. Even though Harbs is also present in Osaka, I wanted to find out which are the other patisseries that I should visit.  One name kept popping up in my research – Mon Cher Patissierie’s Dojima roll cake.

I love love love roll cakes so I made plans to drop by their main outlet at Dojima in Osaka (which was a little way out from where we were staying).  Interestingly, the Mon Cher roll cake was created by a Korean lady.

 photo IMG_9261-160224-v2__zpsfszgaama.jpgAs luck would have it, I did not have to make my way to Dojima.  We were walking around in the Hankyu Department store in Umeda and saw a Mon Cher outlet in the mall’s food basement.  I hurried to the counter and stared at the roll cakes for a long time, struggling with the decision of whether to buy one entire roll cake back to the hotel, or be sensible and buy just two slices. We still had some Pablo cheese tarts sitting in the fridge in the hotel room!

In the end, good sense prevailed and I decided to get two slices of the plain roll cake.  By which time, the plain roll cake slices were almost sold out and only one slice was left if I wanted it.  Arggghh – the cost of indecision.  In the end, I bought the remaining slice of plain roll cake and a slice of chocolate roll cake.

 photo IMG_9279-160224-v2__zpscytitkaa.jpgThe roll cake was absolutely delicious.  The cream filling, made from Hokkaido milk, was very fresh, light and silky.  Mon Cher’s sponge cake was denser and had a more chewy texture, unlike the usual feather-light and fluffy Japanese sponge cakes.  I felt that bread flour may have been used in making the sponge, giving the cake its denser texture, which goes very well with the cream filling.

I should have just been greedy and bought the entire roll cake!

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Crocheting: Citrus Vintage Popcorn Stitch Cushion Cover

 photo IMG_0805-160504-v2__zpsazf7aomz.jpgThis is the third installment of my crocheting journey with the vintage popcorn stitch cushion cover.  I made one in a citrus colored cotton yarn this time.  The first two are in vanilla and taupe.

 photo IMG_0806-160504-v2__zpsdgw6ewhd.jpgThe cushion inserts in the previous two cushion covers were sewn into the cover and cannot be removed.  For this piece, I decided to sew a zipper to the fabric so that the cushion insert can be removed.  It was my first time sewing a zipper and as you can see from the photo, it was not sewn straight even with the use of pins!  I definitely need more practice with the sewing machine.

I like the bright and cheery prints on this fabric that I bought in Japan.

 photo IMG_0807-160504-v2__zpsdzc3pnpw.jpgThis time, I had a slightly easier time making a roll-hem on the fabric and sewing it to the crochet piece.  I can now see why some crafters use a plain fabric (as opposed to one with prints) so that you don’t have worry about the prints looking ‘crooked’ or ‘slanted’.

I am going to take a break from this popcorn stitch pattern for a while.  There is another 3-D rosette granny square pattern that I have been dying to try and have only recently found a video tutorial on it.

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Modern Korean At Meta Restaurant In Keong Saik

It has been a while since the husband and I dined out at a nice restaurant on our own. There are so many new restaurants popping up every month, we are spoilt for choice whenever we want to splurge on a meal.

I came across Meta Restaurant when I was browsing around in Chope. The website introduced the restaurant as one that serves modern cuisine with an Asian (Korean) influence. The chef is Korean who was trained in French cooking. I was intrigued by the chef’s profile, especially after visiting Jung Sik Dang in Seoul, as it is not usual to see modern cuisine with a Korean influence. You see quite a number of restaurants serving modern food with Japanese flavors; not so much Korean.

Meta Restaurant has only a fixed price menu that changes every season.  We had their Spring menu. I thought the restaurant was a tad cheeky in how they displayed the price of dinner.  At first glance, the menu showed 9 courses for a price of $118++ per head.  However, if you look again carefully, of these 9 courses, 3 courses are supplementary courses (ranging between $20 – $28) that would increase the cost of dinner incrementally depending on the number of supplementary courses you pick.

In other words, the price of $118++ per head is for only 6 courses displayed on the menu, and if you pick all 3 supplementary courses, you would add an approximate $70++ to your dinner bill.  A whopping $190++ per person (excluding drinks) if you eat every item printed on the Spring menu.

Mega OUCH.

Well, the menu and prices are published on the restaurant’s website, so you cannot say that you have not been forewarned before making a dinner reservation.

We opted for the full menu and a glass of wine each.

 photo Meta 1-160502-v2__zpsigcgwbiq.jpgClockwise: (1) Meat wrapped in a cabbage, pickled cucumber, kimchi puff balls (amuse bouche); (2) Irish oyster in a gingery broth with pomelo (supplementary); (3) Hokkaido scallop in a yuzu-shiso dressing; (4) Bibimbap with sea urchin; (5) Squid and sea snail fennel Korean pancake; (6) Seabass in a clam broth with daikon and fregola (supplementary)

 photo Meta 2-160502-v2__zps4txqh06m.jpgClockwise: (7) Quail with burdock, Jerusalem artichoke and carrot puree; (8) Lamb with doenjang and celeriac; (9) Wagyu striploin with tendon, shitake and potato; (10) Mango ice cream with passionfruit, toffee and coffee (supplementary); (11) Bingsu; (12) Cookie frozen in liquid nitrogen (courtesy of the chef)

 photo IMG_0691-160426-v2__zpsvtbti85d.jpg photo IMG_0683-160426-v2__zpspdj4uqjv.jpgThe food was beautifully executed and very good.  Every course had ingredients that were creatively put together, the presentation was visually interesting, flavors were balanced and very tasty.  You do not even have to like Korean food to enjoy the food because the Korean ingredients used are very subtle, not strong and overwhelming like how we know traditional Korean food to be.

We liked everything that we ate – the panfried seabass and quail were my favourites.  The sea bass was fresh and very sweet, and the quail was delicious without being too gamey.

The chef came over to say hello.  He speaks English fluently having spent some years in Australia, but with a Singaporean accent (you can definitely hear the Singlish tones), has a Singaporean wife and enjoys chicken rice and kway chap.

I would recommend Meta to anyone who is interested in modern cuisine, particularly one with a Asian/Korean twist.  But the price is the only drawback here.  I find it is too expensive for most people I know given the numerous dining options available in this city, and for us to make a repeat visit when they change their menu next season.  Pity, ‘cos the meal was so enjoyable I would like to know what else the chef has to offer in his next menu change.

Meta Restaurant
9 Keong Saik Road

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BAKE Hokkaido Cheese Tarts

 photo IMG_0776-160501-v2__zpsghultuup.jpg I don’t usually queue up for food but I had some time to kill while waiting for a hair appointment, so I joined the queue that had formed outside BAKE about 15 minutes before the shop’s opening hours.

These cheese tarts were quite tasty.  The crust was crispy and the cheese filling was moist, rich and runny.  But at a price of $3.50 each, I find them a little small (you could eat one in two big bites).  I prefer Pablo’s cheese tarts for its larger size, better taste and texture of the cheese (firmer, less runny).

Having tried both Pablo and BAKE, the husband and I like our local old-school egg custard tarts better.  I love the ones with a wobbly egg custard and melt-in-your-mouth pastry crust from Tai Chong Kok Confectionary at Bukit Merah Lane (in one of the shophouses opposite the Alexandra Village Food Centre.

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Crocheting: (More) Vintage Popcorn Stitch Cushion Cover

 photo IMG_0709-160427-v2__zpsp81p47cc.jpg After pondering about it for some time, I finally went out and bought a Brothers sewing machine.  It has been nearly 20 years since I touched a sewing machine in school during Home Economics class.  Although the very helpful sales assistant at Courts gave me a 30-minute crash course in how to operate the sewing machine, but unfortunately, less than 30% of what she said stayed with me.  She also gave me her mobile number, just in case I needed “SOS” when using the machine, but I am glad that I have not had to call her yet.

I am not one to read the operating manual of a gadget from start to end.  The best way to learn something (at least for me) is to jump right into it and start doing it.  I decided to sew the fabric piece to another cushion cover that I had completed crocheting.  The last vintage popcorn stitch cushion cover that I had hand sewn together is here.

I watched a couple of Youtube videos on how to hem the edges of the fabric and make seams using the sewing machine, took a deep breath, and turned on the machine.  I managed to thread the sewing machine and wind the bobbin, hem all four sides of the fabric after re-doing it several times.  I could not really control the pedal well so the stitching came out looking uneven and very messy!  Sewing the crochet piece to the fabric was quite challenging because the thread in the bobbin kept getting caught in the machine which meant repeated un-picking and re-sewing.  After what seemed like ages, I finally joined 3 sides of the cushion cover using the machine.  All I had to do was stuff the cushion insert into the cover and hand-sew the last side (which led to even more messiness).

 photo IMG_0710-160427-v2__zpsucu2194g.jpgQuite decent for a first effort but lots more practice is needed in using the machine.  For my next cushion cover, I will learn how to attach a zip to the back.  This is really fun.  🙂

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Kyoto: One Michelin Star Sushi Gion Matsudaya

 photo L1001718-160228-v2__zps4ifrlvmz.jpgWe wanted to eat sushi in Kyoto and asked Hotel Mume for recommendations.  They recommended Matsudaya, a one Michelin star place that serves Edo-style sushi, and got us a lunch reservation on a Sunday.  I have never tried Kyoto sushi but hear that it is on the sweet side and tastes different from the Edo-style sushi that we are used to eating.

Matsudaya, located in Gion, is about 10 minutes away from Mume by foot.  We took a walk along Shijo-Dori overlooking the Kamo river, and wandered around the side alleys off Shijo-dori to work up an appetite for lunch.  We were mindful that we also had a potentially huge dinner at Restaurant 245 that evening.  Two huge meals in one day were a bit worrisome for my stomach.

 photo IMG_0463-160413-v2__zpsi4cqp61j.jpg photo IMG_0461-160413-v2__zpsneccbnul.jpgThere really was no need to be concerned about being too full after a sushi meal at Matsudaya.  We did not feel overstuffed at after consuming some 16 courses and 3 carafes of sake over lunch.  The Japanese have a knack of feeding you a lot of food in portions that are just right.  I even had a Tsujiri parfait immediately after lunch.

We liked Matsudaya.  It is a tiny place, with about 7 seats at the counter, manned by the chef (who speaks English) and a helper (his wife I think).  The sushi was excellent and unlike some sushi places which tend to be quite formal and stern, Matsudaya is fairly casual and comfortable.  The chef chats with the guests while preparing the sushi and you can talk with your companion without feeling the need to keep quiet and pay absolute attention to the food, and only the food.

Sushi Gion Matsudaya
Address: 570-123 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0074, Japan

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Kyushu: Nabegataki Falls In Kumamoto

My heart goes out to Kumamoto and the people living in Kyushu who are deeply impacted by the earthquakes. We visited Kumamoto late October last year and it is hard to imagine that many areas of the beautiful prefecture are now badly damaged by the earthquakes.

 photo L1001478-151022-v2__zpsxnzxzer5.jpg photo L1001486-151022-v2__zps8dowy7gg.jpgAs part of our 10-day Kyushu driving holiday, we spent half a day in Kumamoto city enroute to Mount Aso where we spent 2 nights in a ryokan.  We visited the Kumamoto Castle and had a lovely lunch at a sushi place in the city.  We then spent the next two days driving around the scenic Mount Aso countryside and mountain plains, and one of our stops was the Nabegataki Falls.
 photo L1001506-151022-v2__zpsavhntdld.jpg photo L1001477-151022-v2__zpshen9nzoi.jpg photo L1001494-151022-v2__zpsmukwe8jr.jpg photo L1001496-151022-v2__zpsli3ueraq.jpgThe Nabegataki Falls is a small waterfall nestled in the Mount Aso countryside.  The place is so pretty – it looks like a watercolor painting, or like a frame out of a Japanese anime.

The attraction is easily accessible by car and thereafter, a short walk down to the waterfall area via a flight of wooden stairs.  No hiking is necessary but best to wear sneakers with anti-slip soles as you have to walk across some slippery boulders and stone slabs to get from one side of the waterfall to the other side.  Although the Nabegataki Falls are nowhere as spectacular as some of the other more well-known waterfalls sprinkled throughout Japan, like the Kegon Falls in Nikko, I feel that it is worth a visit if you are in the Kumamoto/Mount Aso area.

Note: A small entrance fee is required to enter Nabegataki Falls.

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