The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

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This is one of the best books that I have read since Pride & Prejudice and The Moon And Six Pence.  To me, there are good books and there are great books.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is in the latter category. 

Personally, I define a great book as one which I am afraid to reach the last page; and when it does, I feel sadness and regret.  I want the book to go on and on forever.  That would certainly turn a great book into a bad one.

The name of this book sounds quite odd at first and is a mouthful to pronounce. The first thought that came to my head when I came across this book title was – ‘What’s Guernsey and what’s Potato Peel Pie?”  But the reviews of the book intrigued me.  Every single review I read on the Internet is a glowing one.

Guernsey is an island off the coast of Normandy and belongs to Britain.  The book, an epistolary novel, is set in Guernsey immediately after World War II ended. 

The story revolves around the exchange of letters between Juliet Ashton, a 30-something author who made her name writing a newspaper column during the war, and a group of residents in Guernsey.  The letters contain anecdotes – actually, very sad stories told in an amusing way – of the residents about their lives during the German occupation of Guernsey. 

The group of residents are members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club which was set up on the spur of the moment to conceal a roast pig dinner from the German soldiers.  To keep up with the farce, the members continued to meet to discuss the books that they have read.  Eventually, the members found solace in books which nourished their soul and kept their spirits up during the difficult times.  As food was scarce then, the members fed themselves with a pie made out of potatoes and potato peel during their book club meetings.

Told in a dry and matter-of-fact manner, the book gave me an insight into how the people of Guernsey lived under the Germans, how they tried to secretly feed the Polish war slaves who were being worked to death by the Germans, and most of all, staying courageous in the face of adversity, nurturing friendships and the strength to live and survive under oppression.

I love the writing in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  The characters in the book came alive for me and I felt like I knew these people.  The language is so breezy and witty yet the words are tinged with heaviness, sadness and longing for friends and family who had perished during the war.  

Actually, what really piqued my curiosity about this book is the German occupation of Guernsey.  I have always been very interested in novels and films about the Holocaust eversince I first read I Am David at the age of thirteen years old.  I Am David was one of my literature texts  in Secondary One and it is another favorite book of mine.  (My husband pointed out to me that reading history books will give me more accurate insights into the Third Reich but such books bore me to tears. *Snore*

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a keeper.  It is a pity that the author of the book, Mary Ann Shaffer, passed away before the book was actually published. I cannot look forward to reading more of her writing.

Stay Centred Without Losing Your Shorts

 I am nearing the halfway mark of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  This book has been an interesting read so far and the plot is about to get more fun with the entrance of a new character. 

The novel is narrated by two persons in alternating chapters.  The first is Renee,  a 50 year old, short, plump and ugly widowed concierge of a very posh Parisian apartment occupied by the very rich. Renee is an autodidact who tries very hard to disguise her intelligence and knowledge because French society deems it necessary for a person of her class and background to remain ignorant.  

The other character is Paloma, a very intelligent and precocious 12-year old living in the apartment that Renee is looking after and who plans to commit suicide when she turns 13 for she believes that the world is a meaningless place to live in.

I don’t really like Renee.  In fact, I dislike her.  She is an old trout with smug, self-satisfied and condescending ways.  On the other hand, I like Paloma.  Alot.  Her thoughts and observations about things and people are profound, insightful and soulful.  I thought her character was very well written by the author.

I couldn’t resist copying out one of my favourite passages narrated by Paloma in the book about the grace, beauty, harmony and intensity  of people which may possibly give meaning to life.  Remember, she is looking for some form of meaning in life which makes her feel that she should continue living.  Morbid, depressing, yes.

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3.Inch.Sin

A couple of weekends ago, we went to Relish at Cluny Court for dinner.  I like the casual, laid-back ambience of the place, friendly service, decent burgers and the delicious strawberry milkshake.  (And the convenience of doing my grocery shopping in the Cold Storage on the ground floor after dinner.)

After dinner, we adjourned to 3.Inch.Sin, a small, cosy cafe  located on the same floor as Relish which sells molten chocolate cakes.  I heard about the place through a friend and she thought the chocolate cakes were pretty good.  I am not usually a fan of chocolate desserts but the molten chocolate cake with its warm and gooey center, is an exception.

I ordered a standard 3-inch wide hazelnut molten chocolate cake (hence the name) with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream while the husband ordered the mini cake platter in 3 flavours – he chose the original, bitter orange and hazelnut. 

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Our cakes arrived slightly less than 10 minutes after we placed our order, freshly baked and piping hot. I really liked my hazelnut molten cake and thought it was very good.  I am not going to delve into why I thought it was very good.  It just tasted very good.   

But I have to add that I regretted ordering the vanilla bean ice-cream. It didn’t quite complement the chocolate cake.  I used to love vanilla bean ice-cream with molten chocolate cakes but lately, the combination of the ice-cream and chocolate simply overwhelms my tastebuds and makes me feel slightly ill.  Might be something to do with age, or my palate, or the ice-cream.

I also snitched some of the husband’s bitter-orange cake. While the slight bitterness of the orange flavour cuts through the sweetness of the chocolate, providing a well-balanced taste, it wasn’t really my cup of tea.  I liked the original flavour too.

I definitely want to visit the cafe again.

Taking A Crash Course On Sake

My 7 volumes of Oishinbo mangas turned up and I have difficulty putting them down!

Produced in the following order, but need not necessarily be read them in the same order:

1. Japanese Cuisine
2. Sake
3. Ramen and Gyoza
4. Fish, Sushi & Sashimi
5. Vegetables
6. The Joy Of Rice
7. Izakaya Food

The pictures are very well-drawn and the content is written in a serious, comical, informative and easy-to-digest style.  Reading the mangas is such a fun way for us (well, the husband is also hooked) to learn about Japanese cuisine (although the author discourages the use of nihon ryori (meaning ‘Japanese cuisine’) to refer to Japanese food as he finds that the phrase doesn’t quite represent the spirit of Japanese food. He prefers to use the word ‘washoku‘). 

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I am now reading the volume on sake.  The manga makes it so easy to learn about the history of sake, the types of sake and how sake is made traditionally in Japan.  I love to drink sake and am so happy that I can finally understand the different classes, subclasses of sake available out there and the Japanese jargon and system used to classify them. 

Nothing like sipping a junmaishu while reading the manga. Not sure how good this bottle is in the sake world but it tastes yummy to me.

Our East-Meets-West Sunday Lunch

We just didn’t feel like eating the same food for lunch on Sunday.

I made this for him.

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Capellini with prawns. (Love capellini because it tastes like beehoon!)

And this was what he cooked for me.

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Cooking instant noodles is basically his entire repertoire in the kitchen. I am not sure if he can even fry an egg.

But I must say that he makes pretty good instant noodles. LOL.

He adds just enough water for a tasty soup (I always use too much water and the soup ends up being tasteless), noodles are cooked al dente (but I usually let the noodles seep in the soup for a while because I like them soggy) and the egg is nicely scrambled in the soup.  (Is ‘scrambled’ the right way to describe how the egg is being cooked in the pot?)  Mine tends to coagulate at the bottom of the pot and looks a total mess. 

A pot of Nongshim ramyun, a small serving of kimchi and I drank all the soup (yeah, going to lose my hair in no time…). I was a happy woman with a full tummy.

How did his lunch go? Well, the pasta I made was too salty! Poor chap.

Prayer Flags

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These ubiquitous prayer flags, or dorji, can be found everywhere in Bhutan – on ridges, bridges, hillcrests and mountain passes.   I was, and still is, fascinated by them.

There are four different types of prayer flags and the ones shown in the photo are known as lundhar – flags erected on ridges or hillsides.

The flags come in five different colours – blue, green, red, yellow and white and symbolise the five elements of water, wood, fire, earth and iron respectively.  They also represent the five wisdoms, the five directions, the five meditation Buddhas and the five emotions.

Fluttering in the wind and exposed to the weather elements, the flags are usually faded, tattered and torn.  As the flag flutters, each flag invokes the gods and blessings according to one’s needs, be it wisdom, good health or good fortune on the journey ahead.

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I love walking on one of Bhutan’s numerous suspension bridges and watch the flags flutter in the wind. I consider this to be one of the best sights in Bhutan – watching the colourful flags flutter furiously in the wind against the beautiful scenery in the backdrop.

Sticky Gooey Lor Mee

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Last Sunday, we drove to the south-west to eat the famous lor mee located at Blk 109 in Bukit Purmei. 

Or rather, I ate lor mee while the husband ate fishball noodles.  He cannot understand why I love the starchy, gooey dish (especially when it comes with deep-fried fish).  I cannot understand why he doesn’t like delicious starchy, gooey lor mee.  Or thin-crust pizza, or tomatoes, or steamed fish, or Korean food (with the exception of ramyun). 

I have always wanted to try this stall but never got around to doing so even though it is just a stone’s throw away from my in-laws’ place.  There was a pretty long queue at 9am in the morning and I decided to go for the biggest serving costing $3.50 (the smallest serving costs only $2!).

I found the lor mee  (not the fried fish type) quite bland, and added heaps of vinegar, hoping that the condiment would enhance the flavour of the sauce, but it didn’t work.  In the end, I ate only the ingredients and gave up on the noodles.

Spent the rest of the morning at the Botanic Gardens orchid market followed by coffee at Dempsey, Daiso at Plaza Singapura and a stroll around Bussorah Street.

And trying to forget that Monday was less than 24 hours away.

Cabbage-Carrot Porridge On A Rainy Day

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Eversince YH taught me how to cook this porridge years ago, I have not stopped making it.

We love eating this cabbage-carrot porridge, especially on a cool, rainy day.   Like today.

The stock is made using a handful of local anchovies and two to three pieces of Korean anchovies, dried scallops, several slices of ginger and one white radish.  Then I add one cup of broken rice grains, one large cabbage, two carrots and a chicken thigh or breast to the stock and simmer over low fire for 30 minutes. 

I like to top the porridge with pan-fried tau kwa, shredded chicken, scallions, parsley and freshly fried shallots.  The smell of shallots frying in the wok is heavenly and they add such a fragrant sweetness to the porridge.

Great comfort food for me.

Bhutan: Men In Skirts Shooting Arrows

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It is a sexy look!

Archery (known as dha) is the national sport of Bhutan and practically every male Bhutanese learns the sport from young.

We had a chance to watch  a weekend archery competition in Thimphu and I was amazed how they can aim and shoot at a target some 140 metres away (the Olympics standard is less than 100 metres I think).  I could not see the target board when I stood near the archers, let alone be able to see the bull-eye’s on the target board.

When a shooter hits the target, his team mates perform a little celebratory dance-and-song while facing the target board.  Like the American cheerleaders. The men look quite funny doing the slow-mo dance.

Raisin Scone With Clotted Cream & Jam

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Due to the iffy weather, we abandoned plans to go for an early morning walk at Hortpark and headed to Oriole Cafe and Bar at the Pan Pacific Serviced Suites for brunch.  

The cloudy weather today was perfect for an alfresco brunch.

I love Oriole’s piccolo latte (which is expresso with milk).  I usually avoid lattes because there is just not enough coffee in it for me.   But the piccolo latte manages to be strong and milky, without losing the bitter taste of coffee.  Two sips of it killed my late-night migraine.

Today, I had their raisin scone with blueberry jam and clotted cream (the REAL thing and not whipped cream).  I slattered the scone with loads of cream and jam and eating it made me so HAPPY!

It is almost impossible to find a place in Singapore that serves scones with clotted cream.   I thought Oriole’s scone was not too bad but I prefer the scones served at Royal Copenhagen (which unfortunately, does not come with clotted cream). 

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^ My other course of creamy scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on a thick slice of toast. 

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^ TBH’s Welsh Rarebit.

*BURPS*

Bhutan: The Bumdrag Trek

When our local travel agent included an overnight trek in our itinerary, I didn’t think very hard about it. 

At that time, I thought trekking would be a great way of experiencing the mountains and enjoying what nature had to offer us.  The fact that the trek involved climbing from a height of 7,000 ft to 13,000 ft in 4 hours, failed to register in my mind.  I was a little concerned about the thin air and bought medication to prevent high-altitude sickness.  But that was about it. 

The husband angsted about the trek for months but he angsts about plenty of stuff so I didn’t pay any heed to his constant nagging about how he foresees having to push my butt up the mountains. 

Did we train for the trek back home?  Absolutely not.

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^ The advance party which brought food and camping supplies comprised 2 cooks, a horseman, 2 mules and a horse.  Accompanying us on the trek were our guide and another guy responsible for carrying our lunch and drinks.

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Oishinbo

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The minute I read about this manga Oishinbo on the book blog, In Spring It Is The Dawn, I knew I would love it.  Oishinbo is a long-running series in Japan – it has been around since 1983 and there are currently 100 volumes in the series.  If I had taken my Japanese classes more seriously, I should be able to read the manga by now!

Oishinbo, about Japanese food, is a combination of two words: “oishii” which means “delicious”and “kuishinbo” which means “a person who loves food”.  

In 2009, a manga publishing company known as VizMedia decided to repackage parts of this manga and there are now 7 volumes  available in English.  Each volume integrates a specific type of Japanese food into the story.

IzakayaSakeSashimi.  Vegetables.  Ramen and gyoza.

A Japanese food-themed manga.  In English. 

So I went onto Book Depository and ordered all 7 volumes (safer for me to buy books online than to go to Kinokuniya – no temptation to go shopping).  I can’t wait for the books to arrive! 

YAY!

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