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Friday, June 20, 2014

King Henry VIII's Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace

King Henry VIII's dysfunctional family life has gripped audiences from age to age. Prince Charles and Princess Diana's peccadillos can in no way compare. Court and country gossips back in the day of Henry VIII must have gone into paroxysms of pleasure as they bore witness to the King's insatiable appetite for wives and his predilection for beheading them. This was family violence done with the complicity of the nation's court of law.

It is shudder worthy.

It does seem that King Henry VIII was a very self-indulgent monarch in every way, from food to vanity to wives. He was the leader of a major European country and held absolute power. No one could gainsay him. Only he could set moral limits on himself. Alas! King though he might have been, he held within him precious little kingly fibre. He lived a life dedicated to sensual pleasures and unnecessary showing off. He spent his treasury on long banquets staged for the benefit of foreign powers. Of course, one can argue that it is necessary to maintain England's reputation. On a smaller scale, it is like saying that one must invest in branded bags and huge cars to look good. It is like saying that one must climb to top world rankings to be esteemed internationally. It is like saying that we need to build an iconic Marina Bay Sands or a Singapore flyer because one has to look good on the world stage.

Better it is to have healthy and happy family members than all the respect of those outside of the family. If you cannot accept that I wear $3 shorts and $5 slacks, it is really your problem. Why should I buy a Burberry's just to please you? If you cannot accept that my son failed Chinese or is attending Yishun New Town Secondary, then that's also your problem. The important thing is that my son knows that I love him. Within the family, relationships must be healthy, loving, trusting and respectful. On the basis of this strong family core, the family will prosper. If you have the substance, you don't need form.

I do admit that my disdain for "form" and impatience with social appearances can be carried too far, and there ARE definite downsides. Often, people don't like you for it.

However, if people in the family were unhappy, whatever we put on for show will eventually crumble away to reveal the worms beneath. Shakespeare said it best, "All that glitters is not gold... Gilded tombs do worms enfold."

King Henry VIII left a legacy of violence and strife. He focused too much on looking good, sweeping things under the carpet. His treasury was empty by the time he died. After his death, his nation plunged into bloody violence. Catholics killed Protestants and vice versa. One daughter (Queen Mary) locked up another daughter (Queen Elizabeth I) in the Tower of London, trying her for treason. It is a terrible legacy for a leader to leave behind...a country where people fight and hate.

In contrast, his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, spent her whole life building peace and strengthening her people. She managed international relationships by keeping as low a profile as she could. Indeed, she never even used her trump card in international diplomacy - her own hand in marriage. By focusing on first principles and commonsensical policies, Queen Elizabeth I has gone down in history as Good Queen Bess. She left a legacy of peace and wealth. It was SHE who positioned England as a European superpower, in the same way LKY's government positioned Singapore as a feisty little red dot without needing to show off the PISA rankings, the YOG, Marina Bay Sands and those awful fake trees.

We should stop showing off and start getting real. We should learn from Henry VIII's negative example. This said, The Husband, with sparkling eyes and gleeful smile, professes full of admiration for Henry VIII, chiefly because the man had 6 wives. Hmmmm...

King Henry VIII loved to eat. His palace kitchens served the best and most exotic foods. Here is the section of his kitchen that processes meat delivery.

Pastry section. It appears that they do not eat pie crusts. They only eat the meat inside. Pie crusts function like plates.

The vat for boiling meat.

Food preparation table.

Processing fish.

Cooked pastries assembly point.

Stoves for soups and gravies.


3 or 4 huge chimneys each one holding 10 spits. On each spit would be 10 roasts. That is for ONE meal.

Giant pewter plates.

Administration office.

Preparation of exotic foods such as peacock and beavers. Beavers were considered fish because they lived in water. Ducks were also considered fish. This was important because for religious reasons, some days were dedicated fish days.

All the food ended up here in the Great Hall.

Where the King and Queen sit. Visitors are allowed to sit there you know. So, The Husband and I sat there and got one of the museum wardens to take a picture of us. I should have taken a picture of the warden. He was an imposing figure in a red costume and a huge belly. Very handsome!

Dresses made of paper. Very innovative! A light projection provides the colors of the fabrics.

The chocolate kitchen is actually empty. A dynamic light projection fills it up with utensils and people. It was a beautiful display.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Difference Between Singapore and USA

Someone called George Tabet wrote the following...

"In Singapore, everything revolves around excelling at examinations. School children come to believe that the rest of their life is hanging in the balance based on the results of these exams. And for the most part, it is. At such a young age, this creates an excessive and unhealthy burden on students to succeed and compete against each other. And while Singapore students are inside studying for their exams, American students are outside at football practice or rehearsing their arguments with their debate team, getting first hand experience in problem solving and working as part of a group."

For the rest of the piece, click HERE.

In essence, our excellent PISA Scores are steroid driven. The body (or education) is not really strong. It only looks so. It is not a true education. The kids learn for exams. In compo writing for example, once we get to middle of Primary 5, the joy of writing must become the drudgery of drilling to the PSLE marking schemes. Even parents like me (and some of my Mommies) who value a holistic education CANNOT DISREGARD the PSLE t-score because it determines the quality of the child's secondary school.

Too much is at stake.

Monkfish in Lemon Sauce

I knew monkfish liver as a foie gras substitute (both sustainable and more humane than goose gavage). What I had never tried was the monkfish itself. See HERE for what it looks like. I bought 2 tails from the fishmonger at Widemouth Bay and tried my hand at cooking it. Cornish people believe that only the tails can be eaten because this fish has head + tail and no body. Of course, Singaporeans will just ask "What about the head? That can be eaten too you know?"


When I handled the tails they felt soft and mushy. I thought that the flesh might contain a lot of water. So, I decided to draw out the water content (by marinating in brown sugar and garlic salt) before grilling it. I left it in the fridge for 6 hours and by then the tails had got somewhat smaller and less mushy to the touch.

Grated lemon peel + thyme + rosemary + lemon juice + brown sugar + garlic salt. Marinate for 6 hours to dehydrate the tails.

Grill under hot grill for 20 minutes.

Cut each tail into half and plate. Pour the cooking juices over, or put the cooking juices in a sauce boat for individuals to pour over their fish.

The taste is surprising. It tastes like lobster! Not bad eh... this fish. In itself, it can be a lobster substitute and a foie gras substitute. Monkfish is itself a commonly found fish so it is relatively sustainable. However, it lives on the ocean floor and fishermen trawl the ocean floor for them. This leads to a lot of other fish being caught. Hence, some supermarkets in U.K., refuse to sell monkfish.

Tintagel: King Arthur's Castle

Tintagel was not what I expected at all. I thought that I would see a medieval castle in ruins. It would be a quick 30 minute tour I thought. In the end, we stayed almost 2 hours and felt reluctant to go home... yes, even The Husband felt the same (and he tolerates these castle visits only because he loves me).

The castle was okay. The rest of it was fantastic.

There was quite a bit of a steep downhill walk. Then there were lots of steps to climb. At the top, we saw the Cornish coastline for miles on either side. Craggy cliffs plummeted hundreds of metres into the sea. At their feet, royal blue ocean waves crested with white foam lapped gently. Look carefully and you can almost see waves of Neptune's foals with white manes of foam, frolic shyly at the foot of the imposing cliffs.

The wind blew in from the sea and it was fresh! Fresh! Fresh! It was a delicious wind (like ice crystals on the tongue on a hot day). It flapped around me with gentle cool fingers teasing my every sense. It whispered with many voices, "Wake up and really live life as God meant humans to live it." It was a wind you wanted to breathe in until you burst. You would think that the sea wind would carry the smell of salt. Not this one. We were too high up away from the water. No sea spray could reach us up there. It was just clean pure air that blew in from the ocean.

I felt like if I stayed there forever breathing the pure ocean air, I would never ever fall sick again. 

In that moment, I forgot the castle.

The steps up to the castle. The wooden bridge was once an isthmus in the Dark Ages of Britain during the 5th century. It formed a natural rocky bridge between the 2 cliff tops. In the hundreds of years that followed, the isthmus has eroded away.

On one side of the bridge is The Haven. It is a sheltered cove that has very little wind and wave movement. Notice how large the stones are and that there is very little sand. In the Dark Ages of the 5th century, ships from the Mediterranean docked here.

On the other side of the bridge, there is a sandy beach where a natural spring flows into the sea. Here, there are huge caves and many pebbles. In this cove, the wind is strong and the waves at high tide have eaten away magnificent caverns into the cliff.

One of the huge caverns is called Merlin's cave.

Inside Merlin's cave.

The Cornish coastline for miles and miles.

The calm waters of The Haven where ships used to dock.

This was very exciting! These are the remains of 5th century stone houses built on a terrace on the cliff face. Tintagel Castle stands on a hill that is only accessible by a narrow isthmus. In the Dark Ages, there was violence everywhere in Great Britain. A community of people staked their claim to this high outcrop of land and built their homes here. I can see why. It is very easily defended. The only access is easily guarded. The thing that springs to mind is... what if their children fell over the cliffs?

More 5th century Dark Ages dwellings.

A well. There was also a natural spring that provided fresh water.

The chapel.

Hmmm... I forgot to take pictures of the castle itself. It really isn't even Arthur's castle. It was built in the 13th century for Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III. If Arthur Pendragon had really lived, he would have been King in the Dark Ages. I was way more interested in the 5th century archaeological remains because if anything, those would really be from the time of King Arthur (IF he had really lived). 

No one knows if King Arthur was a real King. Some vestige of oral history handed down through the ages must have inspired Geoffrey de Monmouth to pen down the tales of Arthur Pendragon... but no archaeological evidence has been found to categorically prove the existence of such a King.

I believe he existed. Sometimes, you cannot trust Science. Look at what happened to MOE when they over trusted the science of psychometric testing? Every science has its limitations. Only God does not have limitations, and God, he speaks to the heart. My heart tells me that Arthur Pendragon was a real King and he was born in Tintagel.

And his Father probably drugged his Mother with marijuana. His Mother also (as I imagine it) was a single mother who single handedly brought up her son, and made him the man he was to become. Nah! That is what my heart tells me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cornish Lemon Sole

The Cornish lemon sole is quite a cheap fish. I thought I would buy and try. It is not bad at all. The flesh is quite delicate and smooth. It is a fish that would taste good steamed. I did not have a steamer so I baked it en papillote, in the cooking pod. Phew! At least I managed to get a taste of local fish caught in Cornish waters without breaking the bank!

In general, if one aims to buy the cheapest produce one can find in the market, one can be guaranteed to be eating what in Singapore would be "exotic" food. Vegetables such as fennel and artichokes cost a great deal in Singapore. Here, they are cheaper (even though, in general, UK groceries are double the price). Eat local. 

The problem is to figure out how to cook the stuff. That's why we have the internet!

Vegetables + double cream + rosemary + thyme + white wine + lemon sole fish filets, en papillote.

Done! This sole comes with egg sacs too!

Plated with grilled artichokes. Okay... it is not the best cuisine but at least it is not boiled fish... and it costs a lot less than eating seafood out.

The Lobster Hatchery at Padstow

Lobsters are in such short supply now that to ensure a sustainable supply, Cornwall has a lobster hatchery in Padstow. There are rules governing the size of a lobster before it can be landed. Anything smaller has to be thrown back. Female lobsters carrying eggs are brought straight to the hatchery and placed in the maternity ward. Their eggs are harvested and hatched. The hatchlings are cared for until they are large enough to have a good chance of survival in the wild.

The Mommy lobsters (also called berried hens in reference to the berry like eggs that are found on their underside).

The Mommy lobsters. Their claws are taped shut to prevent them from fighting and hurting each other. Once they have laid their eggs, the Mommies are returned to the fishermen who caught them. I guess they are eaten afterwards.

These are the new hatchlings. They don't look at all like lobsters.

These are the larger hatchlings.

The larger hatchlings up close.


Padstow is a tourist draw. It is a bit like Bali, Cornwall style, but with picturesque houses originally built to house fishermen. Fishing is still an important industry in Padstow. So, perhaps, the fishermen still live in those pretty little harbourside houses. There were many shops selling cheap souvenirs and plenty of eateries. Everywhere you turn, there are holiday resorts and holiday cottages for rent.

I had built up some expectations of gastronomic cuisine. Our neighbour in the Cotswolds had very kindly explained that Padstow is seafood heaven. He recommended Rick Stein's restaurant but when I saw the prices on the internet (SGD $300 for 2), I developed indigestion without even eating anything. Still, we went by  Padstow wondering if there were other gastronomic experiences to be had on a small budget. We found a charming little place on the quayside serving mussels (The Basement Café, Padstow).

For a gal weaned on 2 types of steamed fish (Teochew and Cantonese), in love with monkfish liver topped with ponzu shoyu + grated daikon, and who has tasted the shiokness of Sri Lankan chilli crab... expensive seafood à la British style does not quite appeal. A lot of it is either boiled, grilled or battered and fried. So yes, with all due respect to Cornish culture (and I love Cornish clotted cream and marmalade) I feel compelled to be a sort of ummm... seafood snob. No British seafood for me, at least not what one can get on a small budget.

Tomorrow, I will stop by the fishmonger at Widemouth and buy fresh fish caught in the Cornish sea. I will come home to cook lemon sole in white wine herb sauce. Yes, yes... it is white wine herb sauce again. I have to use up that bottle of white wine, the heaps of double cream and the stacks of thyme + rosemary I bought.

Maybe if there were a time machine. One could come to Padstow in the 18th century. It appears that back then, lobsters were so plentiful then that people fed them to prisoners, orphans and servants. In fact, in some employment contracts, it was specified that servants were to be fed lobster no more than twice a week. How silly of them! I don't mind eating lobster every day of every week!

Digression: Back in those days, the New York Harbour generated so much sturgeon that caviar was served free in bars. The salty caviar served to generate thirst and encouraged the sales of beer. Waaah... a time machine with a 2-way ticket to 18th century New York would be a gastronomic delight.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Sunday Carvery

Everywhere we drove, there were inns advertising the Sunday Carvery. I guessed that it was something to eat but what? 

So, we stopped by The Old Wainhouse Inn to try out The Sunday Carvery. It turns out that it is a cross between the Singaporean buffet brunch and the Ikea canteen lines. The chef carves the beef or lamb roast for you and slaps it on your plate. You then take as much as can fill your plate from large trays of roasted potatoes, blanched green kale, roasted carrots, cauliflower in cream sauce and mashed carrots. It costs about 7 pounds sterling per person.

It wasn't fine dining but it was a hearty meal that was very enjoyable.

As packed as Sunday brunch.

Chef carving meat.

Laden plate of hearty food.

Lunch done. People gone.