March 2013 Reading List

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I am trying to get myself back onto a reading routine. I am feeling a bit sheepish about reading so little in 2012, but I just could not get hold of any satisfying reads.

What happened to the days when the first thing I reached out for the minute I woke up was the book on my bedside table? Nowadays, I reach for my iPhone to check for messages and email that came in over the night.

What happened to the days when I could not sleep unless I read a few pages of a book? Nowadays, it is the iPad that I fall alsleep with.  It usually hits my face with a thunk and jolts me awake.

I used to go everywhere with a book in my bag. I disliked the idea of commuting without a book to read. It was easier to pass the time with a book when waiting for the bus or the train. These days, I drive and even when I am whiling away my time waiting for someone or something, I have my iPhone to entertain me.  As my husband says, I have to stop this iPhone addiction. I absolutely agree. But where, oh where is the iPhone detox clinic?

Last week, I checked in on all the book blogs that I follow on Google Reader (damn, what am I going to do when Google Reader is discontinued after 1 Jul…?) and looked around GoodReads to get some book recommendations. Then I went straight to the library’s reservation site and reserved 4 books. I felt really happy collecting these books over the weekend, and I sort of relived those happy childhood days of my weekly visits to the library.

Crossing that these books will turn out to be great reads. I badly need a good book fix!  I know that I will enjoy Farahad Zama’s Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness and Zoe Ferarris’s Kingdom of Strangers.  That’s a 50% hit rate!

Time to go and lie in bed with a book.  Good night!

xoxoxo.

Sri Lanka: Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya. Also known as ‘Little England’.

It took me a while to wrap my mind around the correct pronounciation of the tea country in Sri Lanka. Based on phonetics, I thought that the name of this place was pronounced as ‘noo-wa-ra-eh-li-ya’, but no, it is actually pronounced as ‘noo-reh-lia’. A very pretty name.

The drive to Nuwara Eliya from Negombo was 5-hour long, bumpy and ass-busting. For this trip, we travelled in a Japanese salon car, and my feedback to our travel agent was that a 4-wheel drive would have been more appropriate and probably more comfortable for the passengers given the road condition.

We understand from our guide that the Sri Lankan government has started to build highways between towns to reduce travelling times between the major towns in the country, and the first expressway between Colombo and Galle was completed last year. Until such time, visitors travelling around Sri Lanka have to be prepared for long and tiring car rides on single-lane roads that are not in the best of condition.

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We arrived at Nurawa Eliya in the late afternoon, checked into our room at the Grand Hotel before popping out for a walk around the hotel. The Grand Hotel, though old, is quite charming with its Elizabethan-style architecture and picturesque grounds. It was the former residence of the Governor of Sri Lanka between 1830 and 1850. Seated in the large drawing room with a fireplace and a cup of tea, I imagined myself to be an English lady-of-leisure. I should have brought along my tea dress, satin gloves and a pretty hat. I have been watching too many British period dramas. 🙂

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Gorgeous hydrangea bushes.  I was very tempted to pluck one off the bushes.

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Hello, Handsome Doorman!   And look at the lovely chandeliers hung from the ceiling.

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Cosy drawing room with plush sofas (great for curling up with a book), a fireplace and wi-fi (yay!).

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Well-polished wooden floors make me want to run and slide across the corridor in my sneakers.  A better view of the chandeliers and lights here.

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The charm of Grand Hotel faded somewhat after I trudged up the flight of stairs to the second floor and opened the door to my room. The room was a decent size, clean and neat. However, it was dank, musty…and erm, had no wifi (I know I sound like a spoilt city girl). The mustiness was odd given that the hotel is located high up in the mountains with plenty of cool fresh air, and from what I understand, a frequent turnover of rooms due to its popularity with tour groups.

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I was charmed by the flower-shaped lamp shades.

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Lovely tea-room. I like the black and white floor tiles. TBH and I are coffee-drinkers and do not drink very much tea.  Since we are in the tea country, we wanted to try the local teas.  So we had tea and scones at 5pm, just before we skipped down the hotel driveway to dinner at an Indian restaurant near located 2 minutes away.

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Nice tea cozies!

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This gigantic metallic contraption is actually a hot water boiler…to make tea.

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The hotel lounge which looked quite cool to hang out at after dinner for drinks.  Pity we never got the chance to do so because we drank ourselves silly at dinner (at the same Indian restaurant down the driveway) during our two-night stay in the hotel.

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We also look a walk further away from the hotel and discovered some AMAZING old trees lining the driveway and down the main road towards the town square. I love old trees, especially those with interesting branches growing in all directions. Will post these another day!

Time to lie in bed and enjoy what’s left of my Sunday evening.

Carabiniero In A Broth

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The good thing about having friends who love to cook and are competent at it is that I often get wonderful meals prepared at home, in return for a bottle of wine, a bunch of flowers and some good company (I hope).

It gets even better when your friend loves to cook, is great at it and runs his own restaurant. ‘Cos I get to try interesting, seasonal produce imported from the Western hemisphere that may not be easily available to the home-cook, and without having to travel out of the country.

Last week, he brought in a small quantity of ‘carabiniero‘, a large scarlet Spanish prawn that is considered a delicacy in Spain, or so I hear. The carabiniero was lightly grilled on the outside while keeping the interior slightly raw, served with a richly-flavoured prawn broth and a very tasty pile of cabbage and onions.  It is a shame that the lighting in the restaurant was too dim for me to take a decent photograph of the dish with my iPhone.

The prawn is very sweet and succulent, with plenty of creamy orange roe oozing out of the head.  The texture of the prawn is not much different from that of ebi sashimi – creamy and slightly ‘sticky’. So if you like ebi sashimi – which I totally adore – you will enjoy this dish.

Lucky for me that the husband does not quite appreciate seafood that is not thoroughly cooked so I got to enjoy most of the ‘carabiniero‘.  Ignoring all the health-warnings flashing in my head, I happily sucked all the orange gunk out of the prawn head and slurped up the broth.  If it wasn’t for the pretty hefty price tag attached to this dish, I would not have thought twice about ordering another portion. I am crossing my fingers that he will bring in this dish again.

When I visit Spain, hopefully soon, I will be watching out for this scarlet creature on restaurant menus.

xoxoxo

Peekture: Flowers For The Weekend

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Another practice session! TBH thinks the whole thing is quite fugly but I like this arrangement. The colours look very pretty and the arrangement doesn’t have my-usual-messy-stick-everything-together look.   I have always liked the ginger flower because of the shape and colours, but could never figure out how to arrange them nicely.

Happy. 🙂 I think I am improving, very slightly but improving. Unlike before, I no longer look at my arrangements with distaste.

xoxoxo

Sri Lanka: Sunset At Negombo

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That is us.  Having ‘Sex On The Beach’ (the cocktail, silly! :-)) at the hotel bar in Negombo admiring the gorgeous sunset  and being quietly grateful for what Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.

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Love the hues of pinks, yellows, oranges and lavender meshed together with the fluffy clouds and silhouette of the coconut trees against the blue sky.

And naturally, I could not stop skipping around with my iPhone, trying to capture as many shots of the fiery crimson sun as possible.

Peekture: Flowers For The Weekend

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TBH and I were just going to have a quick lunch at a Thai eatery near our place and chill out at home, but we ended up driving all the way to Holland Village to buy fresh flowers.  We love having flowers at home ‘cos they add so much cheer and life to our home.

Unfortunately, the selection at the flower stall wasn’t great today.  I was hoping to buy a huge bunch of yellow orchids but these were not available today.  So we picked white eustomas and red berries, a simple color combination that should not go too wrong in my hands.

I am quite happy with this arrangement, though I definitely need more practice.

Peekture: Matcha Shiratama Zenzai

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I have never really enjoyed matcha ice-cream, not even in Japan. So whenever I am at a Japanese restaurant in Singapore, unless it is part of a set meal, I don’t usually consider matcha-related options for dessert. My choices of an ice-cream dessert typically veer towards a yuzu sorbet or a goma ice-cream, because I love the slightly tart but fragrant flavour of yuzu – it is a great palate cleanser at the end of a meal, and I like the creamy and nutty flavour of black sesame.

Maybe it is one of those ‘change-in-taste-buds’ thing that hits one at a certain age.

Or maybe the folks at Tsujiri added some kind of opium in the matcha soft serve ice-cream that they sell at 100AM, because the Tsujiri experience is definitely a life-changing one for me, as far as matcha ice-cream goes.

These days, I crave for matcha ice-cream, especially if it comes with azuki and shiratama. The slight bitter edge in the matcha ice-cream, the sweetened azuki (or ‘zenzai‘) and the chewy-doughy texture of shiratama is so satisfying when the flavours come together.

I am glad that Ichiban Boshi serves quite a tasty Matcha Shiratama Zenzai, ‘cos that means I can just skip there for some comfort dessert whenever the work day gets a little rough.

Sri Lanka: Negombo Beach

It was past midnight when we arrived in Colombo and we spent the night in Jetwing Beach Hotel before setting off for Nureya Eliya.

We woke up bright and early for breakfast and to stroll along the stretch of Negombo beach that is attached to Jetwing.

I have said this many times, and I will say it again. I love walking on very fine and smooth sand, listening to the sound of the sea and watching the waves crash against the shore. It is so peaceful.

Unlike in Singapore, where the view of the horizon is marred by a row of (ugly) tankers queuing up to go into the port, it is hard to tell where the sea merges with the sky.

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Red Velvet Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting

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I attended another baking class with Sarah of Sarah’s Loft today. We made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. It was super fun.

I like her classes because the class size is small with plenty of interaction between the attendees and Sarah. Her instructions are always clearly explained and easy to understand. Because it is a home setting, there is a ‘personalised touch’ to the class, and it makes one feel like you are learning from a friend (as opposed to a more formal studio setting).

We left after 2 hours with a box of 12 cupcakes wrapped in a sweet pink ribbon and two recipes – the red velvet one and a vanilla cupcake one. I have eaten 2 cupcakes so far and I like how it tastes. Light, moist and most importantly, not too sweet.

xoxoxo

Sri Lanka: Horton Plains National Park

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We went hiking in the Horton Plains National Park on the first day of Chinese New Year. It is a plateau located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, about 30km away from Nuwara Eliya, where we were staying.

I was taken aback when our driver told us the day before that we were going on a “9km walk” in the national park, when our itinerary mentioned nothing of that sort. It was a good thing that we thought to pack a pair of walking shoes in our lugguage because the “9km walk” turned out to be a 3-hour hike up and down some fairly rough terrain in Horton Plains – rough, from my perspective as someone who hasn’t been exercising as regularly as she should.

Perhaps the Sri Lankans consider such a hike to be a walk in the park, but for city folks like me, I need to mentally prepare my mind (and my butt) for strenuous exercise.

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We set off for the national park at 6.30am with our guide and a packed breakfast.  The drive from our hotel to the entrance of the park was a rather bumpy ride up the highlands which took us close to 2 hours.  Being in such beautiful surroundings made the bumpy ride bearable and the morning fog gave the whole landscape a surreal quality.

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No skyscrapers. No noisy traffic. No hordes of human beings. Just us and acres and acres of verdant hills. Plenty of fresh air. Greenery everywhere. Trying to spot a Sambar deer hiding amongst the trees far away.

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Bird-watching. We bought a pair of binoculars for bird-watching but unfortunately, we didn’t catch sight of many birds.

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World’s End.

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I thought the whole point of doing the arduous hike was to see Mini’s World End and the World’s End, a very steep cliff offering breathtaking gorgeous views of mountains and valleys. While the view at World’s End was gorgeous, I very much preferred the flat areas, with large open spaces which didn’t require climbing up and down slopes.

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I enjoyed the walk in Horton’s Plains sans the hiking bits. And I made sure I inhaled enough fresh air to last me for 1 month, until I get to Yosemite in March! 🙂

Boy, was I glad to catch sight of the park’s headquarters.

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Kaixo’s Cappucino of Pumpkin, Lentils & Foie Gras

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Unlike many of my friends, I am not a fan of foie gras. (Or caviar and truffles.)

I find the taste of foie gras too overwhelming on my palate. Not sure why, cos I love pig’s liver to death and can eat tons of it, especially if they are not thoroughly cooked and still kinda bloody.

But I luuuurve Issach’s unusual cappuccino of pumpkin, lentils & foie gras, which is a visually-appealing verrine of pumpkin puree and lentil puree topped with milk foam. A small silver of pan-seared foie gras sits somewhere between the luscious layers of pumpkin and lentil. The saltiness of the foie gras cuts through the creaminess of the pumpkin, and creates a lovely contrast in flavours in my mouth.  You either love it, or hate it.

It has been a long and hectic week. I shall reward myself by popping by Kaixo tomorrow for a bit of lunch.

Philly-style Rum & Raisin Ice Cream

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A week ago, I soaked one cup of raisins in some Myers Rum and stuck the bowl in the fridge. I was planning to make rum-and-raisin ice-cream sometime during the week, after I have had time to make the trip to the supermarket to buy heavy cream and a tray of eggs.

Then I felt like making David Lebovitz’s Philadelphia-style vanilla ice-cream. I loved the French vanilla ice-cream made using his recipe a couple of weeks back. Half of that ice cream is still sitting in my freezer.

So I decided to combine the two by adding the rum-soaked raisins to David Lebovitz’s Philly-style vanilla ice-cream recipe and made rum-and-raisin ice cream. The ice-cream turned out quite well and I am quite pleased with the results.

Philly-style ice-cream is lighter in flavour and not as jelak (local slang for ‘rich’), and psychologically, feels healthier so I feel less guilty stuffing my face with it. But I still prefer ice-cream that has a much richer and creamier, so my vote is cast in favour of custard-based ice cream.

Whatever the calory counter indicates, I am having alot of fun making my own ice-cream including the excitement/trepidation of watching the mixture churn in the ice-cream maker and turning into ice-cream.

Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream (I used approximately 1 cup of Bulla’s pure cream and 1 cup of thickened cream)
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
¾ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup raisins soaked in rum (enough rum to cover the raisins)
1 tablespoon of rum (not too much otherwise the ice-cream won’t freeze properly)

Steps:
Place 1 cup of the cream and sugar into a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the saucepan and add the pod to the pot. Warm the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.

Remove the mixture from the heat and add the remaining cream, the milk and vanilla extract.

Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, for at least eight hours or overnight.

Add raisins and approximately 1 tablespoon of rum to the mixture. Chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

When ready to churn, remove the vanilla pod (reserve the bean for another use), and freeze in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It takes approximately 20mins to 30mins for the mixture to freeze in the ice-cream maker.

Note: I understand that some recipes say that the raisins should be added after the mixture has been chilled and churned. Cannot quite remember why.

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