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Monday, December 26, 2011

Mongrel Puppies Need a Home

Fatty Puppy

Friendly Puppy

Frightened Puppy

Here is a BIG BIG thank you to all those who helped to advertise the puppies' plight. They have all found owners now.

These puppies are now being fostered at a construction site. Fatty Puppy loves to eat. He has a very placid, calm temperament and clearly prefers to be lying down and observing than running around. Friendly Puppy looks the most dominant of all. She is unafraid and readily approaches strangers to check them out. The funny thing though is that she is the runt of the litter - smallest in size of all the 3. This one has spunk and spirit. Or maybe she's just stupid, and has no notion of danger. Friendly Puppy may be more suited to a family with some dog experience. Frightened Puppy is not a dominant female even though she is bigger sized than her brother and sister. She is anxious and easily frightened but is quite affectionate when she knows you will be nice to her.

Do help me spread the word to rehome these puppies. Just email this link to all whom you think will be able to provide a loving good home. Otherwise, they will almost certainly have to be put down. If you want the puppies, please leave me a contact in the comments section. I won't publish your comment so you need not worry about privacy.

Friday, December 23, 2011


The Daughter found a waitressing job at Sque, Clarke Quay. She loves it 'cos the people she works with are nice to her (seriously, I haven't yet met anyone who isn't nice to my gentle daughter) plus, she can get up close and personal to yummy food. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to eat the food. WE got to eat it instead. because we went there to check it out. The food is quite well made, and the service is good, as long as you're sitting in The Daughter's section. The Daughter smiles a lot you see. Of course, I am biased.

Anyway, back to the food.

I was very pleased with the bone marrow. My last experience with bone marrow was at The Disgruntled Chef, and I came away very disgruntled because I was served a huge bone with a small crevice containing about a teaspoon of bone marrow. Shared between 2 people, that was half a teaspoon each. See previous blog post here. As you can see, the bone marrow at Sque came in bones that had wide valleys, and was augmented with bits and pieces of other savoury stuff. It was nice but a bit jelak because it was quite greasy. Clearly, the chef at Sque is not disgruntled and was very generous.

I really really loved the caesar salad. I've had many caesar salads in my life and this was one of the best. Little Boy loved his sausages. There were FIVE on the plate - 3 flavours. One kind was spicy hot. All were good. As far as ambience goes, we were there at lunch. There was a laid back sense to the place and I loved being able to look at the pretty boats and colourful shops on the other side of the Singapore River.

Maybe I am biased. The Daughter works there you see.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A's Little Boy

AL is a Daddy I met on the kiasuparents forum. He made contact with me asking for the audio recordings of the chinese compositions that had helped Little Boy achieve some competence in Chinese. He seemed like a very lost Daddy, and in his own understated way, he was overwrought with worry for his son. One thing lead to another and I found myself face to face with AL's son, who whilst here ostensibly to learn from Little Boy how to do Chinese compositions, had somehow contrived to entice my son to go and play. AL's son reminded me so much of Little Boy back when he was really little. Playful. Dreamy. Careless.

AL himself seemed a little despondent. His son's grades were poor. AL feared for his son. "It is not that I have hang-ups about Normal Stream. I don't want him to end up in a school where he may be subject in his adolescent years to unhealthy teen influences." AL looked through the China compos and said that he would probably not use them. "They're too difficult. My son will never be able to manage. He can't even read his textbook, which is way easier than this" AL said. I could not explain to him why I thought he was wrong. I knew he was wrong because I know motivation. If you possess the right motivation techniques, you can help your child to persevere towards impossible goals. But I could not explain.

So I offered to show AL.

AL came by again with his son. I first worked directly with his son whilst AL observed from an armchair. As he observed, he took notes. Once in a while, I would interrupt myself to point out to AL specific techniques that I was using. Next, I phased myself out and phased in AL to work directly with his own son. It was my turn to observe. I next gave AL feedback on his own behaviors that were either discouraging, or not actively helping his son's motivation levels. Then we did a sum-up. Meanwhile, AL's son was kept busy on his task of memorizing his very first China Compo.

We started work at 11am and by 3pm, AL's son had completed half the composition. This took into account a fair amount of interruption and a nice lunch break. What AL had deemed impossible for his son was already half done. And AL took away with him a nice set of motivation techniques for close one-to-one coaching that I had modeled for him.

I feel good about what I did today. I think I made a difference to the lives of one man and the boy he loves so much that he quit his job to see him through Primary 5 and 6.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

He Cares for My Insignificant Wants and Needs

I am part of a bible study group during the school year. It's forms part of the International Bible Study Fellowship. Within the framework of this fellowship, each group generates a list of prayer items and we pray for each other every week. It has always been difficult for me to give my group specific items from my life to pray for. I was shy. See, some of my wants are so trivial... others are so intimate that I just cannot let others know what I am praying for. Also, I don't think I pray enough. I tend to rely on my own strength too much.

So, when my BSF group leader calls me up every week to get my prayer requests, I will proffer some generic item that does not embarrass me, nor reveals the extent of some of the pain or fear I feel inside. Judging from the kind of prayer requests that were generated, I guess I was not the only one to feel that way.

This year, my group is very special. We have broken for the holidays and will integrate new study groups next year. For all intents and purposes, my 2011 bible study fellowship group is no more BUT it still is. 2 ladies in particular have volunteered to collate prayer requests through email, and each week, I still receive prayer items from the group to pray for. This time, though, the prayer requests reach into intimate regions of the others' lives that were not revealed during the year. Somehow, via email, people venture to share more and deeply too.

But I have not made any prayer requests of my own via email.

Now that I read of others real needs and wants, I am even more hesitant to reveal my own. Others pray for dying family members. I am thankful that I only need to pray for Little Boy's flu and The Husband's conjunctivitis. Others pray for being able to rent a small flat at subsidised rates. I am praying for guidance on how to buy a property overseas. Others pray for straying husbands and wayward children. I am praying for The Husband to come home early for dinner more often, and for The Daughter to find a good husband who will love her and protect her.

In the midst of others' agony, I cannot bring myself to share my insignificant woes. I do not know how it would make the others feel. In fact, in the midst of others' very real and deep pain, all my wants melt away into fervent prayers of thanksgiving to God for somehow blessing me with so much.... and please, please, please... don't stop. I fervently pray that I will not forget that He is behind all this.

In truth, I have had more pain in my life than many others, more pain than I want to dwell on. Yet, it is no excuse to taunt others with the blessings he has given me in recent years. And then my prayer needs just completely dried up. Already, I wasn't praying enough... and I began to pray even less.

Then I picked up a book entitled WHEN FAMILIES PRAY, by Cheri Fuller. As I read the book, I felt very encouraged to pray again. I learnt to pray BLESSings into every individual's life. B for Body. L for Labour. E for Emotions. S for Social. S for Spiritual. Then, I learnt that God answers prayer even before one has prayed. A last minute prayer works! Because God has set in motion the answer to our prayer even before we know to pray.

That was what He did for me yesterday. I had stupidly scheduled a mammogram and a PAP smear back to back in the morning, forgetting that I had also scheduled for lights to be installed at Grandma's apartment. I couldn't be in 2 places at the same time. I desperately prayed for help. Somehow, it turned out that He made the guy come late. Phew!!

This morning, I went out to buy soil. Driving home, I looked at the sky and groaned. It looked like rain. Somehow, God prompted me to pray for good weather. I giggled. Seriously, I did. I was happy that He cared for my teeny weeny insignificant need. The weather held out till I had finished gardening. I planted rocket salad, dill, nasturtiums, chamomile, lemon bergamot, nettle. I repotted the rosemary. I treated the brinjals and lady's finger for aphids. God had told me that the weather would hold for as long as I needed. So, I took my time.

He cares for LITTLE needs too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Almond Meal Bread

Here is my 3rd attempt at making low carb bread using a mix of almond meal/flour. I used 100g of almond meal and 300g of white flour so it was still pretty carby. Blurting came by and I gave her half the loaf, which she walloped for lunch thinking it was low carb. She felt sleepy after. Sorry Ting!

It was quite a yummy bread. I cut bits of fresh rosemary into it and the whole loaf smelled like Provence. Hmmmmmmmmmm!!

When Ting Ting left, I made another bread. This time, with 200g of flour and 200g of almond meal. It is denser but still very bready. I am so relieved. I haven't had bread in 2 weeks because the earlier 2 attempts didn't look anything like bread and I just couldn't bring myself to eat them. I love bread. I miss bread. I look forwards to having toast tomorrow morning! Phew!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

HappyCall Roast Chicken

Our family loves roast chickens. The problem with roasting chickens is the mess that it makes in one's oven. In the past, making a good roast chicken was an involved affair. I blended spices in olive oil and froze it into blocks. The chicken's skin had to be gently detached from the meat with a blunt knife so as to be able to insert small pieces of frozen olive oil under the skin. This added layer of olive oil bubbled through the skin and one would have marvellously crackly skin with very very juicy meat. The chickens roasted this way were so juicy that when carved whilst hot, juices would spurt out.

But all that oil also meant an ultra dirty oven.

Now that I have a new oven, I am loathe to dirty it. I tried roasting inside a glass roasting pan with cover. Juicy but not crispy. The children did not like it one bit. As a result, we haven't had roast chicken in a while because the thought of a dirty oven is a real put off, even though I did buy a self-cleaning oven.

I managed to roast a chicken in the HappyCall today. There was no need to insert frozen olive oil under the skin. I placed the oil-and-spice blend on the pan and the chicken on top. I turned the fire up high until I could hear the sound of frying and see steam escape from the HappyCall vent. Then I brought the fire down low for 20 minutes. Flip over the pan and turn the fire up again. Then, bring the fire down low for another 20 minutes.

Voila! A roast chicken with some bits of crispy skin. It wasn't as crispy as when oven roasted but it was crispy enough to offset the convenience of not having to wash the oven. And it was very juicy even though I hadn't inserted extra oil under the skin. The combination of steam and fry cooking that takes place inside the HappyCall pan does absolute wonders for retaining the flavours of food.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another Bird

This is the 3rd pigeon to fly into our house. This one allowed itself to be caught and gently held in Little Boy's hand. I wanted to make pigeon soup but decided that this was too small a pigeon to be worth the trouble of offending my son.

I think the high ceilings confuse them into thinking that this might be a cavern with nice roosting spots. This is one half of a young couple. Both are small birds (therefore young?). Possibly newly married in search for a nesting site. Both birds flew in. One flew out and one flew up the stairwell and explored my master bedroom. Do pigeons mate for life?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Almond Milk & Brown Rice

Ever since I read Ting's blogpost on a low carb diet, I've been exploring the benefits of nuts and unrefined grains. It really is a measure of how much influence other bloggers have over my life that I would move to act in new directions, try new things, eat new foods and adapt my lifestyle just because of a single blogpost.

Nuts and unrefined grains contain phytic acid. Over consumption of phytic acid leads to inability to absorb important minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc. Cooking reduces phytic acid somewhat, but soaking is better... and sprouting even better. I have not got around to sprouting anything yet but I have learnt to soak.

Almond milk was the first thing I made. I soaked 500g of almonds overnight, threw away the water and rinsed well. Then I added 1.2 litres of water to 250g of nuts and pulsed it in the blender. Once the nuts were in small pieces, I set the blender full blast. Then, I strained it through a cloth (those thin cotton square cloths for folding into nappies work beautifully). You can add dates before you blend the nuts for that hint of sweetness. We all like almond milk without flavour enhancers though. Little Boy nodded his head and said that it was as good as cow's milk. You can see a video of how to make almond milk here. I collected a whole mound of almond pulp which I mixed with some honey and bananas. Then I laid the paste out onto the food dehydrator sheets to dry. They dried into nice crackers with a hint of sweet and a whiff of banana. I learnt that from this lady here. All that fibre gave my intestines a good sweep, I think. The pulp also dries out nicely into almond flour. I'll try and make bread tomorrow with almond flour.

The next thing I learnt was to soak brown rice. This is done with non-chlorinated water for 22 hours. I used small bottles of mineral water. After 22 hours of soaking, bubbles appear in the water, indicating that some degree of fermentation has taken place. I give 50% of that water to my plants and reserve the other 50% in the fridge as beneficial bacterial culture for soaking the next batch of brown rice. These bacteria eat the phytic acid. Soaking also makes the brown rice much easier to cook. It can be cooked like normal white jasmine rice but with less water.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Typical Asian Parents

I feel so guilty now!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sinfonia's Hen Eggs

Little Boy was very serious about his temporary chore of collecting eggs. He would throw on a coat and go out to the chicken house every morning after brushing his teeth. The eggs are HUGE. The photo above has one large egg surrounded by even larger eggs. Look at how small the teaspoon is next to the egg. The eggs are soooooooo fresh that they were still warm when I cooked 'em. The photo below shows how orange the yolks are. They're the most delicious eggs I've ever tasted. I'm thinking of getting The Husband to build me a chicken house.

The Salmon Ponds

The Trout Ponds

The Fisherman's Shack

Inside the Fisherman's Shack

The River Plenty

Wild Dandelions (a powerful detox herb) by the River Plenty

Australia had no salmon nor trout before the British arrived to colonise it. We made our way to THE place along the Plenty River which incubated the very first salmon and trout eggs that had made it alive across the mighty oceans from England to Australia. It took a few attempts before people figured how to pack the salmon in living moss and ice well enough to survive the trip. We were very amused by the name of the river running next to The Salmon Ponds. It was called River Plenty. Clearly, the early colonists were down to earth people who called a spade a spade. If a river was full of fish, just call it Plenty. It leaves one wondering though... what happened at Break Me Neck Hill? And were there really pirates at Pirates' Bay? Or are there?

Strangely though, The Salmon Ponds is a trout hatchery. The salmon that were released into the Plenty River didn't come back nor did they reproduce in the wild. Salmon breed in fresh water mountain rivers and then migrate to the ocean to live, coming back to the place of their birth to reproduce. But the salmon didn't come back. As such, salmon didn't really take hold in the rivers of Tasmania. However, the smaller batch of trout eggs were raised and when released, they multiplied and colonised Australia's rivers and streams.

We really enjoyed The Salmon Ponds. The sun shone gloriously and the spring flowers were out in force. I had been everywhere looking for dandelion puffs and only found them here, because everywhere else that I had looked, it was too early for puffs. The lawn was carpeted with flowers. There were those with white petals and yellow eyes. There were others with yellow petals and green eyes. Then there were the bright yellow dandelions. It made you wanna lie down and roll on the lawn because everything smelled so sweet. There were a few touch and feel museums situated at various parts of the park, and these were very nicely presented. I really liked the fishing shack in the picture above. They named it "The Sanctuary", which just underlines the whole attitude to fishing - it's a healthful activity where one drinks in the sun and breathes in the wind... in a place where troubles can't get you.

To end a wonderful morning, we went to the crêpes restaurant on the premises. The crêpes were really good, especially the ham-egg-cheese one... and we had a great burger. I normally don't go near burgers... but this one actually tasted good.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tasmanian Devils

It seems that the Tasmanian Devil is vastly misunderstood. This park ranger treats them like teddy bears, and the little creatures talk to him in much the same way that Milo talks to us. It turns out that this park ranger helped to hand raise these Tasmanian Devils and they recognise his scent. However, he has to make sure that he uses exactly the same shampoo and body wash. Else, his little Devils won't recognise him, and may attack. That is a scary thought because the Tasmanian Devil generates the strongest bite per unit body mass of any mammal. This surpasses even a lion's bite. It is this powerful bite that helps it to take down wallabies 3 to 4 times larger than itself.

Still, despite its strong jaws, the Tasmanian Devil prefers to scavenge rather than hunt. They're the vacuum cleaners of the Tasmanian bushland. Whilst they fight each other a lot, they don't kill each other (unlike humans). However, they will eat another Tassie Devil found dead in the bush, because meat is meat, and it is their job to scavenge.

We later observed it feeding on a piece of wallaby meat with a large bone in it. The little fur ball ate the bone like it was keropok. The park ranger had some dead yellow chicks in the food bucket. To the Tassie Devil, that must have been soft and creamy ice cream. It is said that when people go missing in the bush without a trace, they could have been cleaned up by the Tassie Devil after they had collapsed and died. The Tassie Devil eats everything... bones and all...

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Spring You See...

The effects of spring on animals is one of nature's greatest mysteries I think. Something in the changing of the seasons turn animals into absolute *** maniacs. Insects joined in pairs landed on my arm. Colourful lorikeets necked each other and frisked about from branch to branch like they were main characters in a Bollyhood movie starring coconut trees. We saw wallabies do it. Kangaroos too and a couple of horses.

It really is no big deal all this animal porn.

I only REALLY objected when we got acquainted with a very friendly 12 month old sheep dog. We had stopped by the road to examine some hay bales. One doesn't get to see hay bales up close and personal in Singapore so we stopped by to ooh and aah. The dog drove up in the back of a truck with an 81 year old sheep farmer at the wheel. The dog was chained to the back of the truck so The Daughter climbed on to play with him. But doggie didn't wanna play. He had other things on his mind. Our well-mannered daughter said nothing when she realized what Doggie wanted but she firmly gripped him at his throat and pushed him away. None of us said anything because we weren't sure if Mr 81 Year Old would be offended. As a result of our silence, clueless Little Boy clambered on the truck when we were all deep in conversation with Mr 81 Year Old. Before he knew it, Doggie had gripped Little Boy from the back and proceeded to hump Little Boy's woolen sweater with great gusto.

Doggie's grip was very very strong indeed. Someone had to go and grip the dog's throat again and save Little Boy, who was still clueless until we all got into the car and started yelling our indignation and shock.

Then someone remarked that the dog might have tried something with the sheep!! To which someone else asked what would result. Why... a sheep dog, of course.

Singularly Favoured

As much as Miss Mao loathed Little Boy, she adored The Daughter. More than once, The Daughter woke in the middle of the night to see Miss Mao settled comfortably on a pillow nearby contemplating her sleeping face. This spooked The Daughter so much that Little Boy was soundly scolded for not closing the door properly.

None of us knew however, the extent of Miss Mao's adoration until the day before we left. Miss Mao had laid a little tribute at the door to The Daughter's room. It was a little bird, the size of half my hand. It lay so still we thought that it was dead. We ran to get Sinfonia, who assured us that the bird might still be alive.

Somehow, Miss Mao had caught the bird gently enough in her jaws that no damage had been inflicted, and then Miss Mao had contrived to bring the living bird as a gift to The Daughter. At the door to The Daughter's room, Miss Mao lay near Little Bird, mesmerizing it with her golden-eyed gaze. Little Bird lay there, unable to move.

The Daughter cupped the little thing in her palms and settled it in a flower pot far out of Miss Mao's reach. It took a while for Little Bird to recover and fly off into the bushes where I managed to get a photo. Even then, Miss Mao bounded into the bushes and stalked the bird for another 15 minutes. We could only watch helplessly as hunter hunted prey. Fat cat Miss Mao hunting was a creature of deadly speed, precision and elegance. We had no idea she could run so fast or leap so high or strike like lightning.

Happily, Little Bird got away.

When it was all over, The Daughter realized that she had forgotten to thank Miss Mao for her little love gift. It is no small gesture when a cat brings a human a still living prey. Even more interesting was that Miss Mao brought The Daughter the WHOLE bird. Sometimes, cats bring a thigh or a head or some innards to share. Miss Mao's gesture that spoke of love, and her willingness to share the best and freshest of what she could offer.

How does The Daughter do it? How does she charm all these animals? The sheep come rushing when they see her. They will jostle each other to be able to get themselves up closest to her. Very often, when she is in the sheep's paddock she is hemmed in on all four sides by woolly bodies. Our Milo clearly loves her most. And now she has gone and charmed the Queen Mother, Miss Mao.

Next to such obvious favour, Little Boy feels quite bad because his relationship with Miss Mao is very poor indeed. And I am jealous too because hey... Miss Mao comes to ME in the mornings to get some extra helpings of Friskas. So why didn't I get a gift?! Hmmmmmmph!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Miss Mao Moment

Miss Mao doesn't like Little Boy and she makes her antipathy very clear. They started off on the wrong foot, you see. Miss Mao is friendly but strictly on her own terms. Miss Mao doesn't GET cuddled, SHE comes and cuddles you. If you're lucky, she'll come and settle on your lap whilst you sit at the sofa to read. But if you presume to touch her in a way she dislikes she'll get up, give her ample bottom a good shake and sway off with as much dignified portliness as The Royal Garfield himself. And you are NEVER NEVER NEVER rough with Miss Mao.

Miss Mao expects respect and she gets it.

Anyway, Little Boy is the clumsy affectionate sort. When he saw Miss Mao, he thumped across the wooden floor with heavy boy steps to try and hug her. Miss Mao gave him a cold look and swayed off like the best of them Queen Mothers when faced with rude and uncouth serfs of strange provenance.

Hug me? You presume to hug me? Don't you know who I am?

Oh well... Little Boy shrugged his shoulders and then went off to play with the sheep and steal eggs from the chickens. A few days later, Miss Mao peered through the gap of the door at Little Boy reading in his bed. The Daughter and I observed her from the corridor when all of a sudden, the door slammed shut and poor Miss Mao leapt four paws in the air, her fur standing on end. When she landed, she shook her head to clear it and then recovered the shreds of her dignified self, and went to wash herself on the step leading down to the dining room. Little Boy was of course very sorry. He hadn't realized that Miss Mao would get offended. Our Milo of course wouldn't have got offended. Milo would have sat outside the door and whined until we opened it for him. Don't expect Miss Mao to do that though.

But Miss Mao never forgave him. She never went near Little Boy again and when Little Boy tried to mend bridges, he was rewarded with 2 bites, a scratch and a few hisses. Little Boy was somewhat sad to be likewise ostracised, and he confided in me. I didn't think much of it until this morning.

The Daughter sat on the carpet hoping that Miss Mao would come by to cuddle her. Miss Mao did because The Daughter moves gently and talks softly, and has a talent for figuring out where animals like to be scratched. Little Boy, seeing an opportunity for a detente of sorts, stepped forward and reached out a hand. Miss Mao gave a low meow and gave him The Look... then she sauntered off. The Daughter translated the meow... "You again!?"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Port Arthur: Australia's Convict Past and Present

If there is one thing about Australians that I have noticed, it is that they are independent minded and egalitarian. Once, I talked to an Australian academic who bluntly told me that it didn't matter that Singapore produced top of the top academic results, Australians just didn't wanna be like anybody else but themselves.

Not till yesterday did I realise why this country, settled by the British, is so un-British in the way it embraces life. Skilled trades are respected in this country. Snobbishness is not. And the notion of classes just does not cut it here. Here too, men are respected for their ruggedness and ability to live with nature. And women here are no shrinking violets.

Australians live with the painful memory of convict transportation. Many of the people who settled in Australia were from the classes of Britain hemmed in by extreme poverty. Mothers of children stole in order to feed their little ones. Fathers too stole to keep their families alive. Mothers prostituted themselves. Fathers and Mothers drank away their stress and were arrested for drunkenness. For these transgressins, they were transported to the other side of the world... unwillingly... and made to work for free in timber and quarry industries (sometimes in chains). These were people who knew exactly what it felt like to be the under class. As time passed, the strongest in mind and spirit gained their liberty and in their new continent with fertile soil and large open spaces, many ex-convicts prospered lawfully. Since a man could earn a good living through hard work, there really was no more need to steal. Some ex-convicts produced grandchildren and great grandchildren who rose to sit in courts of law as judges. Other ex-convicts reimbursed those that they stole from to expiate a sin that they had no choice but to commit because the underclass was cut off from every opportunity in life.

It has thus been seared into the Australian cultural psyche that all men are equal. No underclass for Australians thank you very much!!

The idyllic paysage in the photo above is that of Port Arthur, former penal colony wherein men were whipped with the cat o' nine tails. The cat o' nine tails inflicts far more damage with every stroke than a cane. It was also in this place where psychological torture was used that rendered many convicts insane. Things got so bad that an insane asylum had to be built on the premises. It is a place haunted by great cruelty... a place that has seen complete human degradation... a place where death was a welcome release.

So much historical pain leaves something in the soul of a country, and it is possible that the most admirable aspect of the Australian psyche is the result of this pain. Australians don't follow the crowd. They don't care. The unconscious memory of their own pain conquered gave them the confidence to do what THEY thought right. In a world where the USA was in ascendance, the Australians did what they wanted, never for a moment following the US lead slavishly. Today, Australia is alone amongst all Western countries to be relatively unscathed by the global financial meltdown.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What a Woman!!

When Sinfonia first recounted to me the escapades of her sheep, I smiled correctly and nodded empathetically. For a city dweller, this is all very theoretical you know. Sheep got out of paddock and shepherdess herds sheep back in paddock. Anybody who has read Heidi can understand that... or THINK they do.

Until your children come in to dinner yelling that Hornblower has gotten out.

Well... we tiptoed over to tell Mr Sinfonia, who shrugged his shoulders and mumbled something about ... normal... Hornblower does it all the time... nothing to worry about. After about 20 minutes, we got worried that Hornblower would escape again. so we went over and talked to Mrs Sinfonia, who strode across the hall, out to the garden and surveyed her domain. The next thing I knew, dear Hornblower was again standing outside the fence and Sinfonia was trying to lift this oversized woollen pillow with eyes all by herself. Sinfonia calls Hornblower a lamb. I can tell you that Hornblower looks NOTHING like a lamb. It is very big, and if anybody tells you sheep are white, they are lying. This one had a tail caked with some brown pasty substance... which also stained its legs. In short, there she was, this slender Chinese woman wrestling with a big and dirty sheep-lamb.

The Daughter came and helped to squash the sheep through a hole in the fence.

Then, Sinfonia disappears for a while and comes back carrying an IRON GATE. She strode across the field like some sort of medieval warrior Queen and positioned the gate in front of the offending hole. Then she disappeared again and came back carrying a WOODEN TRELLIS. By that time, my jaw was well and truly on the floor. By the time she, The Husband, The Daughter and Little Boy were hammering fence to ground in the half light of the Tasmanian dusk, I had fled. I was half afraid that she might next stride across the paddock with an entire roof. I could hardly believe that this was the same woman who played classical piano so well the night before that I almost rudely went out to ask her not to stop playing.. and who meekly opens up a packet of cheese for her husband when asked... and who makes fine jewelry... and who cooks like a dream.

Now, if you ask me if we saw many of the most famous sights in Tasmania, such as Swansea, Launceston and Cradle Mountain, I'll say "No"... but if I had a special holiday, I'll say "Yes". Not many people go on holiday to chase sheep you know and listen to the liquid notes of the piano played live deep into the night. I really think Sinfonia is an amazing woman. Singapore lost a precious Daughter when she decided to leave for Tasmania.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Elderflower Cordial

This image was sourced from here.

I've an elderberry plant in my garden that has never flowered. I dunno if it ever will. My job, I guess, is to keep the plant alive in case it does flower. Meanwhile, at the gourmet organic foods store down the road from Sinfonia's place, I found bottles of elderflower cordial made by these people. Hot or cold, it makes for a marvellous drink.

Internet lore documents the elderflower as a remedy for anything from flu to sinusitis and freckles. I simply like the way it tastes and if it has health benefits, then why not? 2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial in a mug of hot water and a squeeze of lemon made the sun come out on the miserably rainy morning at the Hobart market. I passed the cup to The Husband and was peeved when it came back empty. I had to buy another cup, plus 8 bottles of the cordial from the very same people who supplied to the gourmet organic foods store near Sinfonia's place. Then, this morning, Little Boy accidentally made a cold elderflower drink instead. It was just as good, if not better.

Then I remembered that Open Kitchen Concept had blogged about elderflower syrup here... and I am so very pleased that I'll be able to get it at Ikea in Singapore. It's a drink I don't ever intend to do without.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Grandvewe Sheep Farm

Just down the road there is a sheep's farm. It sells lambs and sheep's cheese. The sheep are milked at about 3.30pm so if you make it there at that time, you'll get to see how the sheep line up. The "milkmaids" put a portion of sheep pellets inside each of the stalls. The sheep enter to get at the food and wave their butts at the milkmaids. Pop and pop... the milk pumps go on and out the milk comes flowing.

The milk is later pasteurised and cheese cultures are added. They curdle nicely inside the cheese moulds and then are cured for a time. Then, people like us taste the cheese, fall in love and buy 'em.

On the Way to Antarctica

From Sinfonia's kitchen window, one can see Bruny Island in the distance, separated from the main island by a stretch of blue water. When we got to Bruny Island, The Husband, with one of his rare flashes of pithiness, said "Australia is a continent at one corner of the world. Tasmania is an island at one corner of Australia. Bruny Island is an island at the corner of Tasmania." It seemed to me that we were at the edge of the world... and if you look carefully, you can actually find a place on the Tasmanian map marked "Edge of the World".

The waters around Bruny Island are cold and pristine. Oysters grow there in great abundance. All ya gotta do is pick 'em off the rocks, shuck em and eat 'em... that is, if you own one of the beachfront properties on Bruny Island, with a jetty. Since we don't own such a property, we stopped by an oyster shack and carted home 12 oysters for AUD12.

From Bruny Island, we took a boat out to try and catch sight of whales, dolphins and seals. There were plenty of wild seals to see. They looked lovely in the water, frisking about... flipping into the air and turning somersaults, dancing in elegant pairs of Mikhail Baryshnikovs. We saw a baby humpback whale too. There were flocks of sea birds - cormorants, gulls, albatrosses and eagles soaring above the clear blue water riding on the crisp cold air currents that blow from the South Pole. It is an invigorating air, clean, pure... and 2000 km away is the Antarctica. The ocean is large and whilst Bruny Island is the same size as Singapore, it only has 550 people living there. So, everyone seems to know everyone else. We would spy a lone boat in the distance and it would invariably be a friend of the boat captain, Robert. I gather that it is the social custom here to drive up and say hello.

We met an oyster diver, a couple of fishing boats and one bright red boat on its way to the Antarctica. I'm sorry for the misleading title of this post. WE didn''t actually make it to the Antarctica, though for a fee, such trips can be organised.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sinfonia's Villa/Farm/Cottage

I am not sure what to call Sinfonia's place. So, let's just say it is a cross between a farm ('cos it has hens and ducks that lay HUGE eggs, sheep that give wool, garlic sprouts with garlic bulbs, apple trees...), a villa 'cos it has these stunning views of hills and ocean (which calm the spirit and settle the mind), and a cottage ('cos on the inside it has every convenience we've come to remember fondly from all our cottage stays in almost every Western country we have travelled in).

It's always special to finally visit a place that one has only read about. You wander around the property with the same sense of wonder that you feel when you visit Chenonceau after reading about Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medicis... or when you visit Milan having read about Ludovico Sforza. For 2 years I've been following Sinfonia's warm tales of animals and life as it should be lived... where people exist in community, not competition... where the quest for economic growth is secondary to the preservation of nature and lifestyles... where people live close to Mother Earth and in harmony with it.

Where shoppers have nothing to buy because Mother Earth provides everything.

The eggs produced by Sinfonia's hens are HUGE. I've never seen larger eggs nor yolks that are so firm it actually takes effort to beat them into an omelette. Down the road, is a cheese farm, one of the 4 sheep's milk cheese farm in Australia. Ever tried sheep''s milk ice cream?

Sinfonia and her husband are so very warm and hospitable. This is the first time in any family holiday that I have not had to cook in our little cottage kitchen. Sinfonia cooks in half the time I need and her food is so good that my kids wolf everything down in silence. This night, we had barbeque... cooked by Mr Sinfonia, and much appreciated by Little Boy, our little carnivore. Check out Sindonia's home stay here -