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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

Open Kitchen Concept's blog has revolutionised the way my family eats bread. Ever since she blogged about her easy focaccia recipe, I've been making bread after bread after bread. Today, we had grape and rosemary focaccia with Al Ameen's mutton curry and some leftover beef stew. You can find the grape and rosemary focaccia recipe here. Remember to crunch the crispy rosemary leaves with each bite of bread.

The children ate heartily and The Husband ate silently. Milo squealed and whined and howled from the upstairs patio because he could smell our lunch and he wanted in. In between bites, we tried to persuade The Husband to allow Milo back downstairs but instances are rare when The Husband takes a very strong stand... and this is one of them. I just know from long experience that one should not argue.

It did take away some of our enjoyment in the meal though...

I Will Run Away

We must have had a spat of sorts, The Daughter and I. I cannot remember exactly what had gone on before. But I vividly remember her sparkling black eyes clouded with anger and a squeaky voice declaring "I don't like you and I am going to go away from here!"

"You wanna run away from home?" I asked.

"Yes. I don't like you," she said.

To tell the truth, that set my heart thumping wildly. What if she upped and went after a scolding, when my back was turned? I would turn around and find her not there... my little doll with the flawless pink cheeks, longan eyes and cheeky smile. What if a pervert picked her up and did unmentionable things? What if she got herself run down by a car?

I decided that if she were ever to run away from home, it ought to be under adult supervision. So I said "Ok... if you really want to do that, I will help you?"

I gave her a small back pack and advised her to pack the things she needed. She put in her favorite toys. I gave her her school water bottle and helped her with her shoes. And then I opened the door and said "Goodbye and good luck!"

She waddled on her very short legs down the long long corridor, with determined steps. She did not look back even once. When she turned the corner to the lift lobby, I flew on tippy toes down the corridor and hid behind a wall to observe. She stood in the lift lobby and waited. She had forgotten to press the lift button... or maybe she was unsure what to do and where to go from there.

She looked very small, and a little worried.

I came out of hiding and said "You forgot to pack your toothbrush and your pyjamas. How are you going to get ready for bed without your toothbrush and your pyjamas? Let's go home and find your toothbrush and your pyjamas and you can run away later."

I took her by the hand and brought her back down the long long corridor towards home. I helped pack her pyjamas and toothbrush in her bag. Then I put her on my knee and gave her advice about dogs that bite, policemen who might put her in jail, sleeping in the rain and all that. Then I asked her if she preferred to run away immediately or wait and do so another day.

She decided to run away another day. And that was that. She never ran away again... and even now, whilst she shares stories of her teenager friends running away from home or refusing to spend nights at home because they can't stand their families, I am comforted to know that she understands how warm and comfortable home is for her. I am glad she knows that here at home, we will always welcome her and want her and be there for her. And that there is nothing she can do that will turn us away.

We will even help her to run away if that is what she really wants.

Friday, August 27, 2010

When It Thunders and Howls

The Husband was livid yesterday when he came home to see a chunk of our staircase somewhat sculpted by Milo's teeth. And so he thundered to the children and I that Milo was under no circumstances to come into the house.

"Petunia, it's a dog!"

The news spread through The Family like wildfire causing widespread consternation. Even gentle Joy remonstrated very gently... "Ma'am... he cannot come downstairs even when it rains, Ma'am?" and then her eyes spoke volumes of disapproval and disappointment. I knew better than to quarrel with The Husband over this but I did try some reverse psychology.

"Ummm... would you prefer that we get rid of Milo then?" I said somewhat sulkily. I had hoped that The Husband would realise that he loved Milo after all (for I know that he does love Milo), and would reconsider his decision. But The Husband was not to be moved.

"You know very well that that is not an option. We are not getting rid of him because he's our dog. We'll have him stay outside until the new house is ready and he can run in the garden. Petunia, dogs are not supposed to come into the house. When I lived in my kampong, the dogs stayed outside in rain or shine."

So, we've put up this really ugly groundsheet rather haphazardly over his kennel, and attached it to the iron grilles... and no matter how hard Milo begs, he has to stay dry inside his kennel whilst the groundsheet prevents excess raindrops from splashing into his dry little hole.

But that does not prevent Milo from staring at me in mute silence with eyes drowning in misery whilst I sit in my study to work. Oh I wish that the new house would be ready soon.

It doesn't help that up high in a penthouse, the winds howl like banshees at a party... On one occasion, the winds toppled the trellises AND the 3m frangipani tree!! Poor little Milo presently looks like the Little Match Stick Girl in his kennel under the flimsy groundsheet.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I am NOT Marrying a Pansy

Not feeling too satisfied by our earlier conversation blogged about here, I pressed the point at dinner today.

Me: Why would your wife mind me taking care of your kids?

Little Boy (patiently): You know how you don't like Popo to boss you around and take over the household? Well, I am sure my wife would definitely mind if you took over all of our kids!!

Me: Maybe your wife is a pansy and she'll just do what we tell her.

Little Boy: She won't be a pansy.

Me: Why not?

Little Boy (emphatically): Because I won't marry a pansy.

Me: Marry a pansy... and make life easier for all us.

Little Boy (quite firmly): No.

Sigh! I suppose that's that. I'll have to find another way to get my hands on those cute babies.

I Can't Tell My Wife That!!

We were lounging about over the weekend when I broached the sensitive topic of future grandchildren with Little Boy. "Son" said I, "When you grow up, tell your wife that since she is young and inexperienced, your mommy will look after your three children instead." Already a man of the world, Little Boy said "I can't do that Mom!"

Me: Why not?
Little Boy: I just can't!
Me: Why not? It's true! She will be inexperienced and I will do a much better job at looking after the children. Am I not doing a good job looking after you?

At this point, there was an awkward pause. Little Boy looked helplessly at me and then said, "I can't tell her that she is inexperienced at looking after our children, Mom. That would be like Daddy telling you that you're no good at looking after JieJie and me."

Hmmmm... I must admit that Little Boy had a good point there!! But I insisted "You gotta tell her something!! Or is that you don't trust me to look after your kids?" Okay... I do admit that the last bit was somewhat lowdown eh?

And then Little Boy proposed the following, "I can tell her that you won't mind helping to look after the children so that she can concentrate on her career." Hmmmm... he's a gong-gong, my son... but I think he'll do well with women.

After about 30 minutes, Little Boy came back and said "Ummm... Mom... I don't know if my wife will want to have 3 children." And that was when I dissolved into giggles. Little Boy is so earnest and funny!!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chanel or Le Creuset?

I wanted a pot (Le Creuset) and I wanted a perfume (Chanel No 5). I couldn't bear to spend on both at the same time, so I had to make a choice. Looking at the picture of what I cooked for lunch today (recipe here), it isn't difficult to deduce which one won out as my true heart's desire.

The pot, of course!!

I am poorer by about $300 but am still grinning from ear to ear because I can now make fork tender pot roasts and braised meats. This recipe is delicious but I held off from adding the 5-spice powder.

Hooray for the Le Creuset!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Petunia's Barracks Pizza Imitation

Here is Petunia's version of her favourite Barracks Anchovy & Pesto Skinny Pizza with arugula salad leaves. My crust was thicker because no matter how much I rolled, I couldn't get it paper thin... but I rather enjoyed the C-R-U-N-C-H at every bite rather than the C-R-A-C-K at every bite.

Everything else tasted divinely the same. Yay! I've saved my wallet... no need to go back to Barracks for my fix of Anchovy Pesto Skinny Pizza 'cos now I can make Anchovy Pesto Crunchy Pizza at home!! This is a dish worth imitating because it's gonna save me a lot of future earnings.

By the way, the arugula salad comes from the garden. So too did the basil leaves that went into the pesto sauce. Now, I only need to grow some cherry tomatoes, start an anchovy fish farm and get me a cow to give milk that I'll turn into bocanccini cheese... Everything will be home-grown and home-made.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pear Tart

I love pear tarts. Every time I need to choose between a pear and an apple tart at the pâtisserie, I invariably choose the pear tart with its film of shiny gelatin atop a fat pear bottom, atop a boat of short crust pastry. There aren't any pâtisseries in Singapore. There are cake shops which I don't like. And then there are bread shops which I quite like. And then there are nonya kueh shops which I looooooooove.

The nonya kueh shop is the closest thing to a French pâtisserie I think. Anyhow, whether cake or bread or nonya kueh shop, none sell pear tarts. So in my epicurean lust, I made my own.

Except that it was more a pear Part than a pear Tart because it looked like a cross between a pear pie (with the over thick pastry below) and a pear tart (with the glistening portions of soft pear halves). It had been unevenly rolled out and so the pear terrain undulated across the pan. I was less than nifty when ladling out the gelatin (actually konnyaku jelly because I dunno where to get proper proper gelatin) and so it eventually set in wrinkles.

But well... it can still be eaten. And the Pear Part tastes better than the Pear Tart because I made it myself.

Gain City vs CoolServe: Review of Service

Their names alone betray their company ethos.

Gain City - Who gained? The company did.

CoolServe - Who got cool service? I did.

No... I have absolutely NO financial interest in CoolServe. I am a happy client, no more. CoolServe came by over 2 days (today and yesterday) to install new pipes and insulation. The 2 gentleman who arrived were professionally polite as we discussed my concerns about managing debris from the drilling and hacking of walls. They went about their work quietly (or as quietly as they could, given that they had to drill holes in walls). They moved briskly and purposefully. When they went out for lunch, they came back on time. Today, they lunched in for 10 minutes and went straight back to work. And when they left, they left behind no mess.

The 2 gentlemen are named Messrs Pang Kien Lun and Teoh Gean Keat. I want to make it a point to name them because they are good and honest gentlemen and if readers wish, they could request them specifically.

Contrast this with my experience with Gain City almost 18 months ago. A very uncouth male (going by the digit I-1223) came by with a meek other male. When they arrived, I was at a Seminar. I had to leave my Seminar before it ended because an irate uncouth male insisted that he needed to discuss something important with me. When I got home, I was told loudly and with much gesticulation that what I had wanted done, was impossible to do.

I was about to suggest that if that were the case, he could pack up and go off. I would ask another company to do it because I myself didn't know how to advise him to do his job. Just then, his supervisor arrived and we spent another 30 minutes speaking loudly to each other. The supervisor then assessed the situation, planned out the steps and instructed I-1223. And so, after many words and much waste of time, work began.

After the supervisor left, I timidly shared my concerns about dust and debris. I have quite a few expensive books that needed protecting. He made some disrespectful noises and waved my concerns away and just simply went ahead to make a mess. I had to lay out protection myself.

But that was not all. 3 days later, the air-conditioning pipes poured a deluge onto my bedroom parquet. I called Gain City and was told that even though the installation came with a warranty, the warranty did not cover deluges caused by pipe condensation. Hence, Gain City would not come back to fix the problem unless I paid $160/= more. Feeling quite wronged, I pleaded and wheedled and scolded. As a "goodwill gesture" I was charged $75/= instead. Already fatigued by the very contentious relationship from Day One, I agreed.

What's more, somewhere in the conversation the fellow actually said that it didn't matter what I thought or said... or if I complained to CASE, Gain City was still the largest in the air-con industry and every other player depended on it. In my desperation, I wondered how that was relevant to a conversation where I was pleading with him to put himself in my shoes. It was obviously a bully boy tactic, telling me "Lady, suck it up because we are the biggest and you have no choice."

He was wrong. One always has choices.

Along the way, I also discovered that the Uncouth Male from Gain City was the younger brother of his Supervisor. I requested the company to send another team instead... one where brothers weren't looking out for each other at my expense. But Gain City ignored me and I kept seeing the same team again and again.

I came away with the impression that Gain City's manifest warranty was a dud. I came away with the impression that Gain City considered money ($75/=) more important than client satisfaction. I came away with a phobia of loud voiced and uncouth workmen who bull-dozed themselves over me, deaf to my gentle remonstrations and attempts at civilized dialogue. I concluded that Gain City listens not one jot to its clients. They bung in a system... no matter if it ain't good... It's the client's fault for being too stupid to understand that for cheap price, you get thin insulation... and therefore condensation builds up in the pipes, collects in pools in the concealment troughs and when enough water builds up, splashes onto the floor like a pail up-ended. Madam, it's your own fault, not Gain City's.

In my defence, I had no idea what thin or thick was. The salesman had said that he had upgraded my insulation to a thicker one, and I said ok. One expects the experts to recommend and put in the correct materials such that deluges do not happen. In my defence, the other competing quote at that time came from CoolServe and Gain City was slightly more expensive. It just goes to show that more expensive is not always better.

I was so traumatised by Gain City that I refused to have anything to do with this new air-con work order for CoolServe. The Husband arranged it all. When the CoolServe gentlemen came, I ignored them completely.

But these 2 workers from CoolServe were as gentlemanly as the Gain City ones were thug-like. These 2 workers were as conscientious as the Gain City ones were slothful. These 2 workers were experts in their trade and earned my respect merely by doing a good job. And when they left, they gently told me "We have a 12 month warranty on the piping we have laid. If anything goes wrong, please call us. We will come back".

I felt like kissing the CoolServe man!!

I hope that my review of my service experience with these 2 companies will sensitize people to the presence of a viable alternative when installing air-cons.

Strawberry Flowers

My strawberry plants budded last week. This morning, 2 cheerful flowers smiled up at me from the pot. They look good enough to eat but I think it's wiser to wait for the fruits.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rosemary Lemongrass Longan

One tends to associate rosemary with meat stews and other savoury dishes. I found a use for it in a sweet concoction that can be whipped up in no time at all.

1 can of longans
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 stalk of lemon grass

1) Chop up lemon grass into short-ish lengths.
2) Pour longan syrup from can into blender and blend with lemon grass and sprigs of rosemary.
3) Strain the fibrous mixture through a sieve.
4) Top up the strained syrup with water to taste (I add a lot of water because I don't like things too sweet) and blend with ice cubes.

Voilà! You've a refreshing drink for a hot day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chicken A L'Orange

I was inspired by BH's recipe on the GCS forum, which had reduced apple juice used as a basting liquid over pieces of chicken. I didn't have apples juice on hand so I decided to do something with orange juice. The dish was good, so I will be doing it again.

1) Blend 200ml of olive oil with a handful of tarragon leaves and 1 teaspoon of salt. Freeze.

2) Reduce 500ml of orange juice to 200ml. Freeze 150ml. Chill 50ml.

3) Prepare a tablespoon of orange zest.

4) Slide a blunt-headed butter knife under the chicken's skin to detach skin piece from flesh. Pay careful attention to thighs and wings. When the skin hangs loosely from the chicken, sew up any holes you have made accidentally.

4) Insert orange zest so that there is a bit at every part of the chicken (thighs and wings too)

5) Insert frozen blocks of olive oil + tarragon blend.

6) Insert frozen blocks of orange juice.

7) Roast at 200 Deg C for 1 hour.

For potatoes...

1) Toss potatoes and unpeeled garlic in olive oil.

2) Roast at 200 Deg C for 40 minutes

3) Remove from oven, toss in 50ml of orange juice concentrate.

4) Peel an orange. Cut into slices. Place atop the potatoes.

5) Place under the oven grill and grill at 225 Deg C for 10 minutes.

You can eat the creamy roasted garlic too but must peel first. Most times, the garlic cloves will burst out of their skins.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Thermal Pot

I made ikan bilis soup stock with my thermal pot yesterday, and the results floored my helper, Joy. She raised an eyebrow at me when I told her that we would make soup by bringing the water to a boil and then inserting the pot (on the right) into the insulated sleeve (on the left).

We took out the inner pot and boiled the water again after 2 hours (to replenish the heat) and then insulated the pot for another 3 hours. The 2nd boiling took all of 3 minutes on the induction stove top because of the residual heat still in the soup. The resulting soup was flavourful. The meat and cartilage on the knucklebone fell quite off. The soy beans and ikan bilis were fat and soggy. Sceptical Joy was very impressed. She hadn't believed me when I said that one could boil soup without a constant fire.

For those readers who wish to buy a similar pot, I got mine for $90 (instead of $200 to $300) because it is not a well-known brand. Mine is also not a vacuum design. I was afraid that a vacuum design might be fragile. If you drop it and a crack introduces air into the vacuum, the whole sleeve is useless. And if I remember right, the vacuum design is more expensive generally. My insulation sleeve has a thick layer of insulation material instead.

Perhaps the insulation material is less effective than a vacuum but if you don't mind taking the pot out to boil the water after 2 hours, you'll still get a decent pot of full-bodied soup stock.

I am looking forward to making brown rice and barley porridge for breakfast. Just heat and insulate before bedtime and voilà, warm and fragrant porridge in the morning!! I hope it'll work though because I ain't getting up in the middle of the night to boil the porridge twice!! Anyhow, I'll let you all know when I've tried.

The Tapenade that No One Likes

Here is a spoonful of tapenade. The original picture comes from here. It's a paste made of black olives, anchovies and capers... and it normally is delicious. A wonderful mixture of tart, sweet and salty. It makes a great spread for crusty bread.

I made a whole bunch of tapenade last week. The Daughter pupils widened as she bit into the fragrant "tartine" (toast with spread) and then she politely commented "It's nice but a bit too exotic for me". The Husband said more bluntly "It's horrible". Little Boy made a face and went back to his fragrant plain white rice.

No one liked my tapenade because I had put in half a lemon instead of 2 teaspoons. It tasted like olive flavoured wasabi.

But olives are expensive so I hit upon the idea of using it in the bread dough, (olive bread), in the marinade for roast chicken (olive roast chicken), a few discreet drops in sandwiches.

I tell you, it makes all the difference in the world. I tried a teaspoon of my tapenade in my cream sauce and the family loved its full-bodied fragrance and special tartness. Phew! I am so relieved that I don't have to throw the whole lot of tapenade away!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Coco Chanel

I know next to nothing about "grande couture" - the likes of Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. Like everybody else, I have seen on TV, impossibly thin models striding up and down catwalks in outlandish clothes. There was nothing there which made me want to buy. First off, the clothes would look very different on me because I am not impossibly thin with interminable legs. I am rather dumpy and have short legs. Next, many a times, they looked far too gaudy/strange for me - like the one that showed one breast. Thirdly, I can't bring myself to pay that much to show off one breast for if that is style and elegance, it can be quite easily done for free.

On a plane trip a while back, I watched a movie called Coco Before Chanel, a movie which traced Coco Chanel's humble origins up until her success with La Maison Chanel. The movie ends with Chanel seated at her favourite spot hidden behind the mirrors of the iconic staircase at La Maison Chanel where models walked up and down.

I hadn't known before then that Chanel had been an orphan... that she was first one man's mistress, and then another's... that in the world she was young in, men did not marry for love but for money and for titles and to please the elders in the family. They married for duty and loved their mistresses so well that entire family fortunes were lost to "croqueuses de diamants" (diamond crunchers) with great charm, beautiful faces, no titles and few morals.

I hadn't known that Chanel designed for women's comfort. Her clothes had large pockets and were made for both comfort and beauty. She dared in a time where women wore frills, lace and corsets to have women wear feminised men's clothes of the time. The sleek look of the well-known Chanel suit was a result of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel's lifelong belief that women should dress for comfort.

Amazing! Me who thought that haute couture was an exercise in feminine discomfort that started with a no food diet and ended in 3 inch high heels that damage the spine and deform the feet. You mean Coco Chanel ... THE Coco Chanel designed women's clothes for their comfort? Gee... what are modern day designers doing then? But well... I am not one to comment because I dunno much about what modern day designers do anyway. Maybe they too design for our comfort. Who knows?

But the movie was intriguing enough that I bought a biography of Chanel written by Axel Madsen. I was mesmerised from Page One. It's the story of an unloved and unwanted little girl who grew up knowing that unless she looked out for herself, no one would. It's the story of a woman who never married because she could not bring herself to trust her life to any man. La Maison Chanel was her only security and if marriage meant giving that up, then she could not choose marriage. The book writes that even though she could have married the richest man in England at the time, she "found something humiliating in the way men expected a woman to be thankful for being offered a life of dependent idleness", and was not able to leave La Maison Chanel to become the Duchess of Westminster.

She was shy too... afraid of people who might reject her. She was so shy that she hid from her clientele and wouldn't come out unless something or someone made her feel emotionally safe. She had strong opinions, a sharp tongue and exacting standards. In hiding herself, she reduced the chances of offending another. Yet, her very reticence gave her a mystery that intrigues us to this day. And she was combative. She picked fights and won them.

Chanel not only gave to French women... and then to women all over the world the sleek lines of the Chanel suit, but also a set of mannerisms and speech patterns that departed from the feminine coyness of the era before Chanel. French women speak their mind with class and elegance. Did that come from Chanel too? She defined class and elegance for the modern woman and unbeknownst to me, my predilection for simple whites, plain browns and no frills may have come from influences, which came from influences, which came from influences, which came from Chanel. Again, who knows?

Strangely though, at the end of her life, Chanel urged the young women of her acquaintance to marry, have children and settle down. She asked them to do the exact same thing that she was psychologically incapable of because one of the first lessons she learnt as a child was that she could depend on no other but herself.

Perhaps this was her singular regret? In her old age, she was immensely lonely. She was so lonely that she relied on paid staff for companionship, and she invited her butler to sit down to dinner with her. Sometimes, I reckon, it is far better to lead an ordinary life... marry, have children and learn to depend on another in as much as another depends on you. The world knows nothing of you but you would be happy in the cocoon of those who were loved by you and love you in return.

Great talents come at a great price... and very often, if you're a genius like Coco Chanel, it's because of a psychological handicap that no one sees but that pushes you unswervingly in one direction and one direction only - survive, make it big, be the best and conquer all. Except that when you find that you have conquered all, you're all alone to enjoy it.

It is strange how this woman fascinates me from beyond the grave. Chanel No 5 is probably the only thing that she designed which we can now buy since the La Maison Chanel now belongs to the Wertheimer family, and its artistic design has devolved to people who never knew Chanel personally. Chanel No 5 was designed by her, for herself... and for women she thought classy and elegant enough to wear it.

I think I'm gonna go get me a bottle of Chanel No 5 just to be able to smell the essence of the classiest woman of all time. Do people allow free whiffs of a classic perfume such as that though?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Home Made Focaccia

Open Kitchen Concept featured her favourite focaccia recipe. I've always thought bread making outta my league but this really is an easy one! I put in bacon bits and fried onions. It really is so good that you can eat it on its own.
And at dinner, the kids just wolfed them down.

Light Lunch on a Hot Day

The Husband dropped in home at lunch to pick up something he had forgotten. It's always nice to see him walk through the door but I then have to make sure he is fed. Nothing was thawed. There was no cooked rice. So, I toasted some frozen bread loaves, positioned bits of left over melon on the plates, grabbed a handful of blueberries, put out 2 slices of gruyere cheese and rolled up some parma ham. Voilà! Lunch is served. The Husband was happy too because it was not oily, was very light, had an interesting combination of flavours (sweet, tart and salty).

There is something to be said about the European tradition of salting meat. It has left to the world a lasting legacy of salted meats spiced and cured every which way. Yum! And then the variety of cheeses available for the lazy cook is just as mind boggling. Just put them all out and tuck in with crusty bread.

No skill required. Nope! None at all.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

ROAST @ One Rochester

I passed in front of ROAST @ One Rochester 2 weeks ago and was quite taken in by the lush foliage and the warm twinkling lights set against the twilight sky. I was also quite encouraged by the latest reviews in HungryGoWhere, and very much enticed by the photos on a few food blogs. I noted that the bloggers had been invited to taste and write about the new concept and the new chef @ One Rochester... and worried a teeny weeny bit that the reviews would not be quite as objective as one might like... but gee, what the heck! The photos bypassed my brain and spoke directly to my stomach. See here and here and here. So we dug out the piggy bank, and went there for dinner this night.

I loved the set-up. The lush foliage and twinkling lights were charming. One felt like some sort of civilized Tarzan and Jane, at one with nature but still master (and mistress) of it.

But I am as Singaporean as they come, so I asked to sit inside. It may not have been the best of decisions because suddenly, the ambience wasn't that great anymore. The ceiling was rather low where we sat and through the frosted glass of the window, I could see a few servers' elbows and shoulders as they stood around their serving stations.

When we got there at 5.45pm, they weren't quite ready. Floors were being swept and when the music finally came on, it blared through the speakers and I had to ask for it to be turned down. The lady who met us as we walked in looked harried and whilst she was polite, I somehow felt that I was in an inconvenient place at an inconvenient time. She did show us to some comfortable lounge chairs. And we waited till they were ready.

The food was generally well made. The bread came in an incandescent white napkin, and was soft and warm on the inside, whilst being crusty on the outside. For me, that is an indication of kitchen quality. The humid air in Singapore is not conducive to crusty bread. Bread crust tends to quickly become tough and chewy. Most restaurants tend to toast the bread slices before serving but that's quite different from toasting the loaf and THEN slicing the bread. When you toast the bread slices, the whole slice becomes crusty and you no longer have the pleasure of biting into something soft and fragrant with a crusty edge. ROAST @ One Rochester paid some mind to how the palate would experience the bread.

The Nibbles platter had simple components: some pâté, some mousse, crispy potato balls, parma ham and a small dish of crudités which were perfectly fresh and very crispy. Again, there was attention to the detail of the food. I absolutely loved the olive paste dip (la tapenade) on this platter.

We also had braised lamb shank and braised Angus ribs. Neither disappointed. Both were meltingly soft and full of robust flavours that lounged languorously right around the tongue in such a way that the stomach couldn't wait to say "hi".

The pavlova that came with the "grande assiette" (i.e., big plate) of dessert was disappointing. It was a meringue with cream inside and I missed being able to bite into firm egg white that fluffed. I don't much like meringues you see. The Husband loved the coffee crême caramel - full of coffee and not too sweet.

I think this new chef is wise to appeal to the way Singaporeans like to eat. ROAST serves western food chinese style. You share all the dishes and you get a small bite of everything. I liked that and it was fun to not have to surreptitiously exchange plates when the servers aren't looking, as The Husband and I have been wont to do all these years with each other. No matter how many years we spent abroad and how much we love French food, we're still Singaporeans. ROAST made it alright to eat like we do.

After the initial brusqueness, the service was really nice. The waiters smiled and were warm... However, there was missing in the service a certain je-ne-sais-quoi... a certain gracefulness of movement, where every gesture is soft, smooth and yet efficient. Really good service is so discreet you don't notice it. A soft discreet gesture behind your elbow removes your glass and tops it up. Really good servers stand behind you and note your needs, and then wordlessly fulfill them. The service at ROAST was attentive but too in-your-face to be really classy. I could feel the servers looking at me, and sometimes up to three were observing us eat. A bit disconcerting that. And for the segment (at $75/pax) of the market that ROAST is pitching at, these little things matter. The finer details of service matter - discreet observation and gentle, smooth (not brusque and jerky) gestures. It would have been nicer if servers knew that the elegance of their dance around us made a difference and when trim (not fat) servers look good and move with poise... it... well it... it just seems right. Is all. Otherwise it's like going to Disneyland and seeing a ragged Snow White.

At the end of the day, One Rochester hasn't quite fixed the problem with service.

We enjoyed our evening out, and the food was good... but unlike Barracks to which I returned 5 times in 3 weeks, ROAST has not inveigled my senses to the point where I wish to return despite myself. It's simple western fare of good quality but... but... but... it's nothing really really fabulous except for the warm twinkling lights and lush foliage between white islands of sparkling glasses.

Maybe because we chose to sit inside? And I was too aware of the waiters? Or was my perception unjustly coloured by the initial brusque welcome? But at about $75/pax, I was really looking at a total experience... and not just good quality food.

But well... it isn't very often that stingy Petunia digs out the piggy bank for an evening like this. I like food too much to regularly pay for ambience. I love Al-Ameen. But... gee, no regrets. Now, I will go back to trying to live like the Amish.

Inspiring Blogpost

This blogpost inspired me. I hope it touches you too. The notion of deliberately leading a simple life is a beautiful one.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Amish

If you walk onto certain farms in Pennsylvania, you get transported back in time. The picture above comes from here. As you walk through the wooden gates, the air around you shimmers and you find yourself momentarily in a time warp, only to emerge into a world where there are no cars... no light bulbs... no tractors... no electricity. Wood is burnt in the kitchen stove and children milk cows by hand after school. There are no IPods, no computers (though I did see handphones), no mini-skirts and probably no condoms because almost every family has at least 8 children each spaced a year apart.

Our friends came from Pennsylvania. Though their work took them all over the USA, they would go home every December for X'mas. One December, we went with them. The Amish neighbours were just next door. Next door actually means about 3 km down the road and across a little stream spanned by a little bridge. We asked and obtained permission to visit.

It was a real working Amish farm... not a tourist Amish farm.

We were hosted by a group of 8 children. Two of the older girls each had a little brother or sister on their hip. They showed us around the farm and pointed out which animal was looked after by which sibling... and there really weren't any light bulbs anywhere. There was no electricity on the farm.

This is a God-fearing community that has lived in much the same way ever since their forefathers arrived from Germany to settle in the USA in the 1700s. Dotted all over the farmlands of Pennsylvania are one-room school houses that look like they popped out of Little House on the Prairie. And if you drive around on washing day... the particular day of the week where every Amish household hangs out the laundry, you will see blues, dark blues, light blues, blacks blowing in the wind. See picture below taken from here. This is a people who believes in plain dressing and plain living. And that is why another name for this community is The Plain People.

The strangest thing though is that the Amish community keeps growing in numbers. One would have thought that without all the modern tools of farming, their farms would not be viable. One would have thought that as the world advanced and left the Amish stuck in their time warp, the Amish would become increasingly irrelevant and sink into poverty.

But not at all.

This is a thriving community and their numbers increase with every year. Their children have smudged cheeks from having to chase the hens back into the hen house but they look strong, have rosy cheeks and go to school everyday. Their clothes are plain but the cloth is new and well-woven. Their horse carriages are gleaming black and their horses have shiny coats and rippling muscles. If you know how to look, you can see that the Amish are wealthy indeed.

They are wealthy because materially, they have enough to eat and clothes to wear. Emotionally, they have each other because families are large and close-knit. In fact, the entire community is so close-knit that if one family needs to build a house, every man in the community pitches in. See picture below, taken from here. Spiritually, they have God and strive to live godly lives where good old hard work with their hands and their hearts take center stage.
I find something alluring about the way they live. Truly. I have a sense that God must bless their faithfulness and God must surely be pleased with such a people who sees Him in everything they do... and help each other see Him. It is an ascetic lifestyle and with it comes the joys of simple pleasures and needs that are abundantly met. There is something so very fascinating about their seemingly backward lifestyle.

I am somehow reminded of Clark Kent whose grey suit hides the muscular strength of Superman. If one looks carefully at Clark Kent, one sees Superman. Look carefully past the grey and drab colours of the Amish farms and the Amish people and you will see a people richly blessed with health, wealth, family and friends.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"A Rainy Day" by Little Boy

Little Boy has a new composition!! This composition scored the highest mark in class this time. That's difficult (and it's a first) because so many children in his class write so very well that compared to them, Little Boy's writings are kinda so-so. Kids these days write really well.

See the composition entitled " A Rainy Day", here.