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Friday, April 30, 2010

Conservation of Resources Theory

There is a theoretical framework arising from research in sociology that I find very appealing. It's called the Conservation of Resources Theory.

This theory holds that everyone seeks to conserve the quantity and quality of their resources and to limit any circumstance that might endanger the quantity or quality of these resources. Stress is experienced when there is (1) a threat of resource loss, (2) a failure to obtain more resources or (3) actual resource loss.

COR theory also states that people who lack resources are more vulnerable to further resource loss. For example, if you don't save money when you are young and able to work, then when you are old and sick, you will have no money (lacking in money resources) to buy healthcare and thus you might die (lose your life) earlier than you need to. The poor get poorer.

COR theory next states that people must invest resources to gain resources in order to protect themselves against further resource loss. This means that if you have enough resources to invest (e.g., your family earns enough for the wife to invest time in your kids... or you have old folks [a resource] who can be invested in the children... or you have enough money to buy an investment property) then you can gain more resources (e.g., successful and emotionally healthy children... or more money). The rich get richer.

The trick then, to a comfortable and stress free retirement (with enough to live on, and children who love you), is to invest your resources wisely. For this reason, I own no branded goods... wear $2.90 slippers... and spend time with the kids. It makes sense to keep one's resources just in case one needs protection against resource loss.

But all that is beside the point. The only real reason that I find COR Theory appealing is the wisdom it has imparted to me when it comes to moulding behavior. You see, COR Theory also states that people are more sensitive to resource loss than to resource gain. To get my students to format their work properly, I DEDUCT marks for essay organisation, instead of GIVE marks for essay organisation. The 2nd essay invariably comes back nicely organised with headings, sub-headings and numbering. Man... this theory works!

Today, I discovered that this principle works even better than I thought.

Little Boy was scolded by his Form Teacher yesterday. She is a lovely lady - soft-spoken, gentle and always ALWAYS ready to find redeeming qualities in her students. I am not kidding. She is an exceptional Teacher and should always be referred to with a capital T for Teacher.

Little Boy came home yesterday visibly upset. He stayed up late just to complete an assignment that another teacher had said was due on Monday, but that his Form Teacher had made clear was due TODAY. Little Boy said "Ms S praises me so much that when she scolds, it is very much more scary than Mrs Someone Else."

It strikes me that children are more afraid to lose an adult's approval than to experience his/her disapproval. Parents who never praise their children (with sincerity), will not develop strong control over them. Parents who often praise their children only need to frown to have their children pull back in line. Little Boy and The Daughter aren't often scolded. Once in a while they experience Mommy's hissy fit, but that is once in a long while. More often than not, I need only purse my lips and walk away or look upset... and they are sorry.

You see, children fear the loss of a precious emotional resource (parental approval) more than they fear increase in parental disapproval. If that makes sense? So, if you want your kids to listen when you whisper, then give them plenty of approval in normal times. Give them something they fear to lose.

It's a cool theory this COR one.

Toy Mania and Milo's Eloquence

I can't help it. I can't resist buying toys for Milo. The mound of toys is shaping up to be a mountain. Variously, there are tennis balls, 5 cloth balls, a tug ball with rope at both ends, a tug rope, a squeaky newspaper, a teddy bear, a nylon chew toy, a rawhide bone.

Some friends came by last week and saw him. I proudly asked "Don't you think he's such a cute baby?"

"No!" they said, giving me this queer look (like I was somewhat deranged). "He's a big scary dog, that's what he is!" But when I look in his face, I can still see the little puppy that sat on my lap and peered up at me. He has the body of a big dog but the facial expressions of a roly poly puppy. Look! How can this not be cute?!

And he behaves like one too. Last night, I overheard the soliloquy he gave sitting at the door of The Daughter's bedroom. There was a whole range of eloquent barks... from squeaky (pleeeez play with me...) to deep (PLAY with me) to odd howls that started deep and ended squeaky (PLAY with me pleeeeeez?) and other howls that started squeaky and ended deep (pleeeeeeez won't you PLAY WITH ME). But The Daughter was tired and had crashed out on her bed. She missed the entire performance.

My dog is a star debater.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Big Salad Party

Someone invited me to a BIG Salad Party. All you gotta do is to bring along your garden veggies and tell the nice organisers what you're bringing. Chef Alfred Lee will do up a menu that uses YOUR veggies. He'll make you a salad you didn't know your garden was capable of.

So for those of you who wants Chef Alfred Lee to put YOUR garden on YOUR tongue. Check 'em out here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Air Layering Thyme

Another way to propagate thyme is to do air layering. If you have thyme stems that are long enough, simply remove all the leaves along its middle and bury that part under the soil, leaving as many leaves as possible peeking out the other side.

I am propagating my lemon verbena using air layering here. Notice in the picture below, that it is still a single plant.

Propagating Thyme

Believe it or not, this pot of thyme is only 2 months old. Remember that given the right conditions, thyme is a weed? Well, this is how fast it can grow. When this pot started, there were 6 stem cuttings (5 inches) wholly buried in the soil. I left 4 to 6 leaves at the tips peeking out of the soil.

Here is a pot currently being rooted. It was started 3 weeks ago. The soil mix is 50% TREF and 50% perlite. Note that the pot is shallow and broad. This allows me to lay 5 inches of stems horizontally right across the pot. I usually place 6 stems in a diagonal, each on top of the other. The criss-cross each other at the centre of the pot circle. Then, I pour more soil mix over it, water copiously and keep in bright shade. No direct sunlight at this point, yes? Unlike already established thyme plants, which are drought resistant, these are not. So, you really have to keep the soil wet.

Note that more leaves (than the 4 to 6 I left at the stem tips) have actually grown and I may actually be able to move this out to direct sunlight. However, I am waiting for one more week to be more sure. As a rule, I leave them in bright shade for one month. Once moved out to direct sunlight, the pot will explode into a profusion of leaves.

Here is another pot that I rooted using air layering. For some reason, it has developed variegated maroon green leaves. Very pretty!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Bear & Piao Ji Fish Soup

The Husband woke up this morning looking somewhat more human than he normally does. That is to say that most mornings, he looks somewhat like a bear in a hurry to go somewhere. Well now... I of course understand why he is so bear-like. After all, The Husband feels responsible for bringing home salmon for me and his children... and the thought of salmon is enough to change any husband into a Bear I think.

Anyway, seeing that he was somewhat less grizzly than most days, I ventured to querulously demand that we drive down to Amoy Street Food Centre for Piao Ji Fish Soup. The queue was an hour long. As we waited, I could see fur grow back on The Husband's face, and then his nails turned into black claws and his fangs grew out.

By the time we got our food, The Husband was all Bear. But the fish soup was good. Teehee!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Biblical Plant: Hyssop

Here is a picture of a hyssop plant. It comes from this website.

The Bible writes that the Jews were to mark their doorposts using hyssop on the night of Passover. Its medical properties are also mentioned in the Book of Psalms. In the New Testament, a branch of hyssop was used to hold up a sponge soaked in vinegar and offered to Jesus of Nazareth on the cross, just before he died.

Here are my hyssop seedlings. They're still small, but I do hope that they'll grow and flower. I am very excited at this new addition to my Mediterranean plant collection which comprises rosemary, thyme and sage.

In the kitchen, hyssop may be used to dress up steamed vegetables (carrots, potatoes and cauliflower). It may be blended with olive oil and frozen, and then the frozen chunks may be inserted under the chicken's skin prior to roasting. It can be chopped into minced pork and used as a wanton filling.

Hyssop tea is known to clear phlegm and relieve the pain of rheumatism. Since I am susceptible to both conditions, hyssop will be a useful herb in my garden.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cockroaches in High Rise

I have no cockroaches. None at all. A friend of French nationality shrugged at the mention of cockroaches saying "If you're in Singapore, you learn to accept that they're everywhere."

I challenge that notion. There is no need to live alongside them.

We stayed for 14 years in our HDB flat. After a few years, we would find the odd cockroach in our air-conditioned bedroom. It didn't make sense because we never eat in the bedroom... and since the windows were kept closed and there is a good distance of clean floor between the kitchen (where cockroaches are mostly found) and our bedroom, I wondered how a cockroach could have appeared in our bedroom.

It didn't take long to figure out that they had crawled out of the pipes in the toilet. I tried a few solutions before I settled on a very simple and 100% effective one.

Hot boiling water.

I figured that it made sense to neutralise all the cockroach eggs before they hatched and one kettle of hot boiling water poured into every drainage pipe (from sink to shower trap) keeps the entire apartment cockroach free. Cockroaches it seems leave a trail scent that other cockroaches follow. As generation after generation of cockroaches hatch and walk the same trails, these scent trails become established cockroach highways. I believe that hot water destroys even the most tenuous cockroach pathway... and kills whatever eggs have been laid in your pipes before they hatch.

I am deathly afraid of cockroaches. When I see one, I don't see an insect. I see an equivalent of the alien in The Predator. Most people yell "Mouse!" and leap upon a table. Petunia yells "Cockroach!" and does a Spiderwoman onto the ceiling. Moving into this penthouse, I met one very aggressive cockroach which reared up on its hind legs and snapped its jaws audibly at me. I used up a whole canister of VSafe and spent the next hour and a half boiling water for every floor trap and sink hole.

Since then, every drainage hole gets sterilised once a week. No more cockroaches. Try it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Chop! Chop! Chop!

Some time ago, I visited a garden at Blk467A Level 2 Multi Storey Carpark. It was a community garden with plots and planters shared amongst different residents in that HDB precinct. You registered yourself at the Residents' Council and then you were given claim to a small plot to love and to cherish.

One section of the garden was absolutely stunning. It was a ginger garden more beautiful than the one at the Botanic Gardens. Different varieties of ginger flowers in bright colours danced cheek to cheek in the wind, looking for all the world like European royalty in a masquerade ball. My friend spent $3000 to purchase the different types of gingers and he spent years nursing them till they had grown all up and were taller than the skinny tree planted by a VIP, which after planting, was just left there to languish for lack of love and tender care.

Apparently, someone decided that a nobody's gingers (purchased at great personal cost since nobodies don't earn as much as VIPs) should not be taller than some VIP's emaciated tree. Someone was sent to decapitate the poor ginger blooms and a curt explanation was proffered "Your gingers cannot be taller than the VIP's tree or else... You either trim them or WE, on behalf of VIP, will uproot them for you".

Now, that is a threat loud and clear... and in a society that aims to be gracious and kind, such threats seem out of place.

Now, amongst gardeners, there are plants... and then there are plants. Some plants are trophy plants (think sexy trophy wife). The heliconia sexy orange is such a plant. If you have it in your garden, the world looks upon you with a mixture of respect and envy... and when they train eyes on your heliconia sexy orange, they feel instant lust. Meanwhile, you can saunter around with a jaunty air knowing that you've a heliconia sexy orange waiting back home for you.

My friend's heliconia sexy orange were decapitated too. Now, how would you feel if someone decapitated your sexy trophy wife so that a VIP's ugly and emaciated mistress can grow somewhat larger, even though neglected and unloved? See photo below for what's left of the heliconia sexy orange.

Altogether, this doesn't look good on the hapless VIP (who is a member of parliament). The poor man probably has no idea that the underlings of his underlings of his underlings have committed plant violence in his name. What results however, is that residents looking after the garden at Blk467A Level 2 Multi Storey Carpark feel like they have been taken for a ride... that they have been cheated, swindled, creamed... by someone powerful.

After all, my friend (who doesn't earn very much) spent more than $10,000 of his own money to buy soil, soil enhancements, fertilisers, plants... He even bought a 200m long hose in order to water both those plants that belong to him and those plants that belong to others. Queen Eugenia would have died if not for that 200m long hose!

This manner of proceeding is most ungracious and reminiscent of the times when feudal lords held sway over the serfs on their land. My friend does not own the land he gardens upon, but they are still his plants. He put in $10,000 and countless weekends and evenings.

I think that what pained my friend the most was the way his gingers and heliconias had had their heads lopped off. A skilled gardener knows how to prune such plants and it certainly isn't done with a guillotine. If someone had even asked, my friend would have done the pruning himself. As things stand, the poor man is completely devastated.

And it is a terrible thing because the initial intent of the community garden was to bring the kampong into the HDB estate. There was supposed to be goodwill and good cheer and close camaderie. It was supposed to make Singaporeans bond and beautify the neighbourhood.

Then someone had to come and brandish a guillotine in the name of a powerful man, under the noses of ordinary people... and sow hate and discord.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Calcium Sulphate for Basil

I've always had problems keeping my basils safe from bug attacks. All sorts of pests love basils: leaf mealies, root mealies, whitefly, Japanese beetles and this odd looking insect with a hard shell. Then there's me: the biggest pest of all.

I eat so much basil that I dared not use insecticides on them so I had come to accept that my basils will inevitably die after a while. I noticed however, that just before pest infestations start, my basil leaves will begin to look wrinkled. I thought, like people, basil leaf wrinkles were a sign of inevitable age.

Then I discovered calcium sulphate. By adding a teaspoon of calcium sulphate into the soil every 2 weeks, new leaves actually look as smooth as a baby's backside. See these leaves just here?

The wrinkled leaf on the left is from the plant before I added calcium sulphate. The smooth leaf on the right is a new leaf that formed on the same plant after addition of calcium sulphate.

The wrinkled leaf on the left is bigger because I had used a high nitrogen fertiliser. The leaf is large and flabby soft to the touch. The leaf on the right is as a basil leaf should be - smooth and well-toned to the touch. It's the difference between my calves and Little Boy's calves. I was happy enough with the results of my calcium sulphate experiment to go back to the Chinese Medical Hall to buy 4 packets of calcium sulphate for the rest of the garden.

The other plants all responded very well. Even the wrinkled chilli leaves smoothened out, and pests have left these pest magnets quite alone.

The nice thing about calcium sulphate is that it contains sulphur too. Sulphur enhances the sweetness of edible plants and increases protein levels in leaves and fruit. Adding calcium sulphate saves me the trouble of having to add sulphur flakes to my garden too.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dry Spoons

I came across these objects of instant lust today. They're special spoons that separate the sauce from the crunchy. In this way, the palate gets to taste the crunch before the sauce turns crunchy into soggy. And then there is the caviar kit below that makes 96 balls of perfect caviar per second. Now beat that... thou beluga sturgeon of the Caspian Sea.

I am so going down to 25 Degrees Celsius to get those spoons. I hope they don't cost too much!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Eggless Tiramisu

I haven't made tiramisu in a long time (7 or 8 years?). The usual recipe calls for raw egg whites and that was a put off. I can't eat anything that I have personally put raw egg into. There's salmonella you see. So, I end up salivating over and elbowing other people away from the tiramisus that my friends make. I know there are raw egg whites in those too but since I didn't do the deed of putting it in... I can eat it. And if I get diarrheoa, it's not my fault. It's my friend's fault.

If you look carefully, the above convoluted logic should make sense... but I agree that you have to look very carefully.

Anyway, since I can make pretend clotted cream, I can make eggless tiramisu too. It's the same cream recipe as pretend clotted cream, and it tastes even better than the eggful one.

Milo's Snack pocket

Here is Milo's snack pocket. It keeps Milo occupied for hours.

Little boys of any species need to be kept occupied so that they stay out of mischief. I used to tear paper into bits and get Little Boy to pick them up to throw away. It kept Little Boy occupied for about 30 minutes until one day, he figured out that a broom and a dust pan could do the job in 5 minutes.

But I had other tricks up my sleeve to keep Little Boy occupied. Dot a large piece of mahjong paper and get him to connect the dots into recognisable shapes... or give him a bowl of mixed green and red beans to sort out into 2 piles. It gave me some time to get on with my life you see.

So, when I found this lovely snack pocket at the pet store, I grinned an evil grin. One opens the flap at the bottom end to introduce a favourite snack. The flap closes up but the pungent odour of the snack steals its way through to entice the nostrils of your pet.

After that, one can go inside the house to paint one's nails in peace and quiet, whilst the pet slobbers all over the snack pocket trying to figure out why that inedible piece of tasteless plastic smells divine. Milo figured that out in 10 minutes but he is so clumsy and not possessing of opposable thumbs, he takes rather long to get the snack out from the pocket. It saves me money on dog treats and spares me his constant whines and squeals for my attention.

Milo did figure out a faster way to get at the snack. Bring it to the mother-in-law and drop it in her lap. Then, put his chin entreatingly on her thigh whilst looking up with melting eyes. The sort of eyes that Puss-in-Boots gives Shrek's enemies.

Sigh! For a dog, he sure isn't dumb.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Countertop Sinks and Ugly Toilet Bowls

We went looking at bathroom fittings today. I saw a sink that I really liked but I was wondering about the practicalities of it. Would anyone know if there are any practical disadvantages to a countertop sink such as the above? Notice that the tap is fitted onto the countertop. Does that make repair and refitting harder? Do countertop sinks crack easier?

I also settled on a brand of toilet bowl that I want. It's called Claytan. I was sold on the idea that replacement parts for this brand can be easily bought at any corner hardware store since it is a brand that HDB uses in all its flats. This will make maintenance a breeze. Does a toilet bowl make a big difference to the look of a bathroom, you think? I have a sleek looking one right now that is all in one piece. I can't take it apart to change the foam risers and the pumps etc... and the parts have to be specially ordered from England. And every plumber tells me that he has to charge me more because its parts are more costly.

Claytan ain't much to look at but I reckon that in the long run, it'll save me a lot of money and headache. So... in general, do people think an ugly toilet bowl makes the whole bathroom ugly too?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Scones... Made 'em!!

I made 'em scones. Yes, yes, I did! I made the clotted cream too!! I must say that they looked just like in my dream. I am terribly pleased with myself. I always thought scones (and clotted cream) were the height of culinary genius and I never ever tried to make them.

Now I have, and there's nothing to it really. One more Petunia mountain conquered before she dies. Unfortunately, this binge means 72 instead of 36 laps in the pool.

Recipe for Scones

450g (3 cups) self-raising flour
1 tbs caster sugar
80g butter (cubed)
200mls whipping cream, at room temperature
1 egg
Self-raising flour, extra

Preheat oven at 200DegC.
Mix flour and caster sugar. Using fingertips, rub butter into the flour and sugar mix. The mixture must resemble bread crumbs.

Use a fork to beat the egg into the whipping cream. Pour the mixture all at one go into the flour mixture. Use a wooden spoon to make cutting motions into the flour so that the cream mixture binds the flour together.

Pick up the dough lump and knead sparingly. Roll out 2 inches thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut rounds.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

Recipe for Clotted Cream

125g mascarpone
300ml thickened cream (for whipping)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoons granulated white sugar
Mix everything together and beat until stiff.

Alright... I confess. This is not real clotted cream. Real clotted cream is a thick yellow cream made by heating unpasteurised cow's milk and then leaving it in shallow pans for several hours. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms clots. So says my reliable source, Wikipedia.

I couldn't find clotted cream at Cold Storage so I thought I would make my own. Then I realised I couldn't find unpasteurised milk so I looked around for a cow. No cow. In the end, I made a pretend clotted cream using mascarpone cheese and thickened cream.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Getting Creamed

I'm a big fan of Goodwood Park Hotel's western high tea. It has a delectable array of open-faced sandwiches. There are foie gras sandwiches, prawn and mango sanwiches, smoked salmon sandwiches with lumpfish caviar, chocolate fondu, chocolate cake and all sorts of other surprising small bites that I cannot name but I like to eat.

And the scones are heavenly. They're light and fluffy and just buttery enough... and I just pile on the clotted cream and the jam. Oh my... Just writing about them makes me hungry. Miam! Miam!

I dream about those scones, you know. And today, I decided to make my dreams come true. Petunia was gonna make them scones and Petunia was gonna make clotted cream too... because scones ain't no good without clotted cream.

I marched over to Cold Storage and was stumped. There was light cream, pure cream, thickened cream, pure cream, first cream (was there a second cream? I can't recall), sour cream, double cream... Gee... where was the heavy cream my recipe called for? Anyway, I was desperate enough to grab the closest synonym to heavy cream - thickened cream.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up bright and early... forego the morning's 36 laps in the pool, and make sinful scones with clotted cream.

Happiness is...

Happiness is when a squeaky voice calls you at 10pm, as you come out of a night class saying "Mom... when will you be home? I am waiting for you to go snail-hunting".

It's happiness because there is someone waiting at home for you to share one of the most fun activities a little boy can devise. It's happiness because he could've done it all by himself but loved you enough to want to share it with you. It's happiness because you know that when you reach home, your son would wag his tail if he had one. It's happiness because you know that if you die, someone would be sad (even if it's only because he has no one to snail-hunt with). It's happiness because the squeaky voice holds a tinge of longing that says "I haven't seen you for 3 hours and I already miss you."

It's happiness even though when you snail hunt with him, he gets to do the hero's job of picking out snails. I only hold the torch. Boring, but still happy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Snail Mish Mash

I didn't much like being a kid.

One couldn't do lotsa things being a kid. One couldn't blow bubbles through the straw into the Orange Fanta. One couldn't take spoons of gravy from each dish served, mix it together and add Coke... hoping to see an explosion. And one certainly couldn't use drinking straws to blow streams of 7-Up at one's brother.

But well... all that is behind me now. Petunia can get up to all sorts of disgusting mish-mash now that she's a bona fide adult, and a mother to boot. (And in case you're wondering, I don't allow my kids to do any of the above. I never said they were acceptable behaviours. I just said I enjoyed doing them.)

And I still do. Garden snails come from nowhere to eat up my seedlings. These slimy creatures are the nemesis of every underaged plant. Instead of tearing out my hair in frustration, I decided to make Snail Mish Mash Fertiliser. I'm not sure but I would imagine that Snail Mish Mash Fertiliser would be very good for my plants. After all, if the snail eats plants, then the nutrients from snails would have come from plants... and therefore in returning the snails to the soil, the nutrients would go back into the plants? No? Yes?

Anyhow, Torchbearing Petunia braved the darkness of the past few wet nights and collected these voracious critters from every pot just as they had stretched their muscles and were going to have their first meal of the night. Their breakfast, so to speak. I got 'em at their breakfast!

At present, they are being pickled in a dish of rice vinegar. I shall wait 2 weeks before I mash them up, and throw them back into the soil so that the calcium from their shells will feed my plants.

They actually look quite yummy to me, and I am thinking "escargots au beurre vert" that my foster mother used to make in spring. The problem is that my snails aren't quite big enough... and I don't have quite as many to make a decent meal of them.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ant Nest in the Bamboo Chicks

I have some bamboo chicks that can be let down to block out sun... no, no... they're not little hens. They're bamboo screens that can be rolled up and down at my whim and fancy.

The thing though, is that they're really heavy... and with the row of living bamboo so effectively screening out heat and glare, the bamboo chicks aren't ever brought down at all.

Every 6 months a thriving ant colony will nest in the rolls of bamboo sending out thousands of industrious ant scouts throughout my garden. It's a veritable Mayan or Aztec civilisation at its height!! The ants fan out and cultivate aphids, soil mealies and mealybugs on my plants. They harvest sweet aphid dew and prosper. Oh... do they prosper.

Every 6 months, I roll down those bamboo chicks and spray jets of hot steam at the moving masses of insect bodies rushing to shield the ant babies from harm. It's amazing, the ants will go straight for the babies to try and carry them to safety. Ruthless and with my face implacable, I set my mouth in a tight thin line and handle my steam cleaner nozzle like Petunia Rambo with her bazooka.

It's a messy business. I decided to do it with more finesse this time though... A quiet and discreet assassination using dried dog food soaked in a borax solution. I found a tiny vial of borax in Little Boy's chemistry set and thought to experiment a bit.

It gave me a bit of a scare though because Milo ate the first soaked block. Luckily, it was a very small piece with very little borax and my dog is still alive. Phew! I kept the next wet block far from him. I crushed the soaked (very smelly) dog food into bits and placed it along the ant trail. The ants are now swarming all over the bits.

I will wait a few days and then I will roll down the bamboo chicks to see if the home-made ant poison has worked. Mwahahahahahaha!