Friday, November 24, 2017

Travel troubles?

I’ve come to the conclusion (sad) that I don’t know how to pack light. Even if I’m going away for a day or two, my toiletry bag alone weighs a ton. And not because I’m bringing regular sized shampoos and cleansers. I've always admired those people who can just survive on what they've packed into a carry-on bag, even when they travel halfway around the world and through five time zones. It’s just that I have so much stuff that I need (or I think I need!) Now that I’m going away for a month, I’ve had to be really focused on what I need to do and bring, and what to ditch.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Hearty Beef Stew

When I found out that my neighbour will be between maids and need to feed her kids lunch as she’s a working mum, I volunteered my services since I’m home most days and need to make lunch for myself anyway. But while my lunches are relatively simple, I had to crack my head thinking up meals that would be nutritious and more importantly, appealing to teenagers.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fishing for inspiration

I have to admit I’m not a great fan of fish, although you can tempt me out of any diet with other kind of seafood, from crabs to shrimp and shellfish. I find fish rather bland, with a mushy texture that reminds me too much of soft infant or invalid food. If I have to eat fish (and I know it’s good for me) I’d rather have it fried or grilled instead of steamed or poached, and slathered with a spicy sauce or accompanied by a piquant dip.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

All that jazz

When my friend, K, invited me for a night out at a local jazz bar, I was delighted to go and listen to some live jazz by local musicians as it’s been awhile. It was great listening to their tribute to Sergio Mendes, humming along to some old familiar tunes. What was even better was that, because it’s a really tiny space where you sit up close to the musicians, I could see the expressions of pure joy on the faces on some of the musicians. One in particular, the percussionist, captured my attention throughout the entire evening, because he was so obviously not only in his groove but thoroughly enjoying himself. He had all kinds of bits and bobs he was playing on, from conga and snake drums to triangles and even what looked like a pottery vase!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Gripping chest pain - heart attack or just stress?

It’s been a stress-filled period for me, some of it caused by external factors and probably most of it self-inflicted. I admit I’m pretty anal. I worry about practically everything, from having enough gas in the car to fretting about being late for a meeting. Looking back now on the few episodes when I experienced excruciating chest pain, they were all stress-related. I try to tell myself to take it easy, practise deep breathing and think calming thoughts, but in reality I’m bracing myself for the next episode. The thing is, I still don’t know whether it’ll be another stress attack or an actual heart attack.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Staying in my happy place

I just read an FB posting by my friend, K, who shared that her comfort zone is in the recording booth where she works as a voiceover artist. I can understand how she feels, having been in recording sessions with her. All alone in a soundproof booth where you can communicate with the sound engineer or the outside world through headphones, it’s a nice, safe place for talent like K who do good work in pretty much isolation. Me? I’m also happiest when I’m alone, although, ironically,  I work in the communication business.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A saucy tale

When I read through recipes for western food, and see that the seasonings used are usually salt and pepper, with maybe some herbs thrown in, my lips kind of curl and I think, "So boring!" Sure, a good steak only needs salt and pepper to bring out the beefy flavor. But I figure that food can be so much more flavorful with the addition of a sauce or two. Yes,  you can have a tomato sauce, or douse your food with ketchup or mustard, but really, nothing beats Asian sauces for packing in a whole lot more oomph into your cooking. And for me, there's really no substitute for my sauce of choice - fish sauce.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Success - grit or luck?

For the past five years, I’ve been tutoring three girls in a children’s home once a week. In English only, of course, because I’m not much good at teaching any other subject. I’ve seen them mature from gawky 13 year olds into young ladies. Two of them did well enough in their high school examinations to gain full scholarships into college, while the third has started work as a clerk. I am inordinately proud of them, that they have managed to surmount their abusive backgrounds and disadvantages to start a new phase in their lives with bright futures ahead of them. They worked hard, of course, but  they were also given a break.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Post-op care: Are there any taboos left?

I recently went to be with my sister, A, after she had surgery on her spine. She lives alone, and even though her daughters were with her during most of her hospital stay, she had to be on her own once she was discharged. Her doctor had assured her that she would be up on her feet within days of her surgery, but she would still be hampered in her movements, and couldn’t drive for a month. She was considering a stay at a convalescent home, but I told her I could stay for about a week just to help her out.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vietnamese Beef Noodles

One of my favorite things to do when I’m in Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, is to seek out a neighborhood stall selling the ubiquitous noodle soup featuring rice noodles in a broth with lots of fresh herbs and vegetables. The meat element can be beef, chicken or duck, but the flavorsome broth. boiled for hours over a charcoal fire and imbued with complex spices, is what makes this such a divine comfort food.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Catching up, staying in touch

Yesterday, I just re-connected with a friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. I found out that she had moved from Colorado to California, and catches up in San Jose with another friend from high school practically every weekend. I also found out that she has a PhD in forest management!  Another friend at the lunch is also from our class, and is in the midst of restoring an old factory at the port into a home and workshop for her woodworking. She and her husband also have seven boats and yachts! It was a real eye opener to find out what my friends have been up to in the intervening years since school. What was even better was that we could instantly connect and bond over silly stories from school!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Rice to the challenge

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I love rice. In all its forms, whether as fluffy grains in a bowl, or heaped up on a banana leaf. There are rice cakes boiled in coconut leaves, and glutinous rice cakes with savory filling in bamboo leaves There are desserts comprising glutinous rice cakes that are steamed in banana leaves, and drizzled with sweet coconut cream.

I can start the day with a breakfast of steamed coconut rice, a simple anchovy sambal and boiled eggs. I love fried rice, whether in spicy Southeast Asian style, or garlicky Japanese style. I also am a fan of rice porridge or congee, whether plain and eaten with a variety of dishes, Teochew style, or in a rich stock with bits of meat or flecks of fish in it. There's also rice cooked in a claypot, or in a gigantic pan like paella. Heck, give me a glass of sweet rice wine, whether as expensive sake, or as moonshine from an earthenware jar, and I'll be your friend.

I can be dining at fancy restaurants in Europe and gorging myself silly on the best Italian, Spanish or French cuisine, but after a few days of that, I'm longing for some rice. I'll go out of my way to look for a Chinese or Japanese restaurant to get my fix, even if the restaurant is serving really bad Asian food that is catering to the European palate.

That's why I feel so much more at home when visiting Asian countries, because you can be sure that a meal will always consist of rice. I guess it's just a matter of what you grow up eating, like the Americans who usually order a burger, even when abroad. Even after a few days at home of going without rice, I'll be hankering for some of it. It's only something that other Asians can understand. Which is why when I came across this video, I had to smile, nod and agree with all the sentiments expressed in it. Watch it and enjoy!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

To market, to market …

Every time I visit a new city, one of the first places I want to scope out is the neighborhood market. Nothing helps me to get to know a place as quickly as checking out where the locals shop for their meat, vegetables and provisions. I learn what they like to eat, shop for and cook. And because it’s a local market, frequented by fussy housewives, it has the best produce. When I’m at home, it’s the  same. Sure, I’ll pop by the nearest supermarket, because I can swing by and pick most things in a jiffy, but when it comes to shopping for fresh fruit or vegetables, or even freshly ground curry paste or deboned chicken thighs, I have to go to what the locals in my hometown call a “wet” market.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Why travel?

I've often been asked why I travel so much. Every chance I get, I'll take off. Either flying to a new locale, experiencing a different environ, culture and way of life. Or heading to a nearby town by road, re-acquainting myself with familiar haunts. These people who ask me the question usually say I'm just wasting my money. "Why bother going to a far off place where you have to adapt to different languages and foods, and sleep in uncomfortable, strange beds? They ask. "You can just as easily watch them on TV."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Being thankful for growing old

I recently caught a couple of talk shows where Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, made an appearance to promote her new book, Plan B. Having lost her husband suddenly a few years back, she shared about how she had to cope with that devastating loss. One comment she made struck me profoundly - that we should never take life for granted or gripe about growing old. “We moan and groan about ageing,” she said, “but I realized that my husband will never see 50.”

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Simple pasta with tomato sauce

Among the staples I have in my pantry are the makings of a simple tomato sauce which forms the base of many a dish that is not only hearty but yummy. Like spaghetti and meatballs. Lasagna. Even pizza and eggplant parmigiana. When cooking for a few people, I might attempt a more ambitious dish but when I’m cooking for just myself, nothing beats a a bowl of pasta smothered in home-made tomato sauce.

Friday, April 21, 2017

So are you Grace or Frankie?

When the TV series Grace and Frankie premiered, I was already waiting in anticipation to watch it. Now, in its third season, with a fourth already green-lighted, I am an avid fan. Why does it hold so much of my TV viewing attention? Well, that beach house certainly fascinates me. The outfits on those two women, not to mention TV daughter Brianna’s figure hugging power suits, are also yummylicious. But above all, it’s Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in their roles as seventy-something friends who try to navigate their way through their newly single lives and often cantankerous relationship who make the is series so absorbing.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Vietnamese Beef & Rice Vermicelli Salad

I'm always happy to head into a Vietnamese restaurant, whether in Vietnam itself or even further afield in Melbourne or London. Top on my list of favorites is probably beef pho or noodle soup, especially when it's cold and you want a soothing bowl of hot soup. But when the weather gets warmer and I want something lighter and refreshing, nothing beats a huge bowl of Vietnamese beef and rice vermicelli salad, topped with a huge handful of vegetables and herbs and drizzled with a yummy dressing.

Pickled vegetables
I suppose you can substitute the beef with any meat you want, like pork or chicken, but I love the combination of beef with all the salad ingredients. I've eaten it in several Vietnamese restaurants but I thought I'd attempt it myself. After trawling the net for a recipe, I came up with my own version that suits my taste. Like using palm sugar which I had sitting around from a trip to Vietnam. I also decided to lightly dress the carrots, cucumber and daikon radish (after I julienned them) with a bit of salt, sugar and vinegar.

Don't let the long list of ingredients intimidate you. If you prepare everything ahead, it only takes about an hour. Then you just quickly fry up the beef and pile everything in bowls.


For the dipping sauce:
•    2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
•    4 tablespoons lime juice
•    3 tablespoons fish sauce
•    2 garlic cloves, minced
•    1 1-inch length ginger, peeled and minced
•    1 medium chilli, minced
•    1 bird chilli, thinly sliced (optional)

For the stir-fry:
    •    12 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
    •    1 pound beef, sliced in thin 1/4-inch slices
    •    2 tablespoons fish sauce
    •    1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar
    •    3 garlic cloves, minced
    •    3 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass, tender centers only
    •    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    •    4 scallions, slivered
    •    1 medium carrot,  julienned
    •    1 small cucumber, julienned
    •    1 3-inch length of daikon radish, julienned
    •    Mixture of coriander sprigs, mint leaves, thai basil
    •    Small handful of bean sprouts
    •    4 tablespoons of crushed peanuts

1. In a small bowl, combine sugar, garlic, ginger, chillies and 1/4 cup water and stir together. Let this dipping sauce sit for 15 minutes for flavors to meld. (May be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated.)
2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add rice noodles, stir and turn off heat. Let noodles soften (5 to 8 minutes, depending on brand), then drain and rinse with cold water. Leave in colander at room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, combine beef, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and lemon grass in a bowl. Massage seasoning into beef and let sit for 15 minutes.
4. Divide vermicelli into 4 large bowls.
5. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. When wok is nearly smoking, add beef and quickly stir-fry until lightly browned and just cooked, about 2 minutes. Work in batches if necessary so meat browns and doesn’t steam. (If you do not have a wok, you may use a pan and work in batches.)
6. Top noodles with cooked beef, scallions, bean sprouts, carrot, cucumber and daikon radish. Sprinkle with herbs, and crushed peanuts. Drizzle lightly with dipping sauce and pass remaining sauce at table.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What I learned about love from sex therapist Dr. Ruth

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, better known as the sex therapist Dr. Ruth, is a diminutive 88 year old who is still dispensing down-to-earth advice on sex. She says the best way for older people to have sex is in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Labelled the high priestess of hanky panky, she exudes warmth and sweetness as a grandmother would, so it’s kind of hard to equate her with sex therapy. I didn't learn anything about sex from her. Certainly not when I showed up at her house many, many years ago for Passover!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Cheat’s Crab Curry

I love curries, whether Indian, Malay or even Chinese. Not sure about Japanese though. Chinese chicken curry is great, especially when served with laksa noodles. Nothing beats a fish curry when it’s given a slightly tangy twist. I’m fortunate to be living in a city where all of the above is readily available. I just had a lovely Northern Indian meal last night, redolent with spices, yogurt and naan breads. But I don’t cook curries. I’m defeated by the complex mix of fresh and dried spices, especially when my pantry only has the very basic spices. When recipes call for coriander and cumin seeds to be freshly ground, that’s when I give up and head for my favorite Indian restaurant.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Really busy? Or just plain rude?

When I was younger and working in the highly pressurized advertising industry, most of us would be moaning over mountains of work and impossible deadlines. We would clutch our heads in despair because, yet again, we would have to cancel dinner appointments and family trips. We felt the weight of the world (or some silly ad campaign for a detergent) on our shoulders that needed to get done ASAP. True, a lot of the busyness was self-created because I had dilly-dallied with one thing or another and before I knew it, the deadline had ARRIVED. But now, looking back on my so, so busy life, how much of it was really being busy or just poor management of time?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mind full, or mindful?

The other day I caught a short video on how they’re teaching kids in some schools in the U.K. some exercises in mindfulness, which were supposed to help them be calmer and thoughtful. The kids did admit that they liked what they were doing but I had to laugh when a boy was asked what exactly they were doing and he paused for a long while before he answered, “Um, I don’t really know.” I’m glad the experts see it necessary to teach mindfulness from an early age. These days when everyone is glued to their mobile devices, oblivious to what’s going on around them, we’ve probably got too much on our minds than is healthy for our bodies and souls.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

More advice from an old-er lady

I had dinner the other night with my godson and his wife. He had just finished a session at his muay thai gym. They started telling me about this old woman who had won a tournament and I asked how old she was. They answered, "Oh, about 52." And I went, "Excuse me?" and rolled my eyes. We had a good laugh about that but I guess that's how younger people perceive older folk. I'm heading into my sixties and while I'll admit that I'm getting older, I'm not old.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

If you love them, let them go.

On Facebook today, an acquaintance shared that his daughter who is college-bound soon told him that she’s thinking of going to a college near home instead of far away so that she can be close to them. While most of those who commented on the post praised the girl for her filial piety (much valued in Asian families) I feel that parents should really encourage their kids to go away for their further studies. It’s a first step in their journey towards adulthood and it’s a great time to learn how to be a grown up.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Advice from an old lady

In my younger days, I was just like every other selfish, self-absorbed millennial today. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and nobody could offer me any advice that I didn’t already know. I scoffed at my elders, thinking they were fuddy duddies who lived in another era and certainly not keeping with the times. Now that I am an old fuddy duddy myself, I realize that the young people I know are probably thinking I’m out of date myself!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Slow down, you’re moving too fast.

I’ve always done things fast.. Perhaps there are some OCD compulsions going on inside my brain, but basically I think it’s just the way I’m wired. Don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of navel gazing as well. I’m a couch potato and can sit for hours in front of the TV crocheting away, enjoy coffee and a long yarn with a friend or loll in bed reading. I just do whatever needs to get done before my downtime in a rush so I can chill in peace and not have to worry about work or chores. But lately, I’ve found out (or my body is telling me!) that I need to slow down.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Yam rice - an easy one-dish meal

I never really realized that yam was so much a part of my Chinese heritage, featuring in so many of Hakka dishes. Admittedly stodgy and not very flavorful, it does seem to serve as a great foil for other ingredients and dishes. It must have been an ideal filler of hungry stomachs in the old days when money was tight and rice, a Chinese staple, was expensive. Today, yam has become an expensive supermarket item iteself and, for many, a treat whether as a savory or sweet.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Why traditions matter

Like I’ve said many times before, I’m turning into my mother! Not only do I try to make some of the food she used to dish up over holiday celebrations, but I’m also reverting to some of her idiosyncratic behavior, for no rhyme or reason that I can think of. This Chinese New Year, even though I came down with the flu, I was still lucid enough to make sure that I made some of the food that have come to be know as new year dishes in our family.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Life lessons crocheting is teaching me

Having been laid low by the flu and told by my doctor not to place any more stress on my body, I’ve mostly hung out in front of the TV, busy with a few crochet projects including an infinity scarf, market bag and an outfit for my son’s pet cat, Nom Nom. In a very short span of time, flat space in my apartment has been invaded by  balls of yarn. Crocheting is my latest interest, and when not hooking up yarn, I’ve been trawling the internet, looking for new patterns to attempt.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

My OCD is worsening!

A gift of a shawl
I’ve turned down dinner invitations, ignored the phone calls and messages, even stayed up till 2am. I’ve even given up snacking. What condition do I have, you may ask, that has me obsessing so compulsively? I’ve found a name for my disorder, it so happens, and there are others who share my malady. It’s called Obsessive Crocheting Disorder, and despite an aching swollen thumb, I can’t stop.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Help, I’m addicted!

I’m an addict. To my phone. I check it upon waking up. (It’s charging on my bedside table.) It’s the last thing I look at before going to bed, well, the last device before my kindle.  And if I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep immediately, I also reach out for it. I like to say I keep it within reach in case of an emergency, stemming back to the days when I needed to be available to an aged mother and teenaged son, but nowadays I’m just kidding myself that that’s true. I can also say that I use it as an alarm clock, but then again, I could always just buy an alarm clock.