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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Top in Cohort, Top in Cohort and Top in Class

We have 5 students going for PSLE this year... of which 3 have already received their prelim results. 2 have topped their cohort. One has topped his class. These results are all the more unexpected in that up until the very last, their compos still looked "not good enough". I despaired and prayed.

2 Corinthians 12:9 
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

So, it must be said loud and clear... to the all and sundry that what Dr Pet failed to do, God intervened and made happen. In my weakness, his glory was made all the more apparent. Now, when the girl with with terrible health problems and the boy with a computer addiction come back to me with similar results, I will update this post... and we will know that God is in this.

His glory will shine through the lives of children no one expected would be top in anything.

Post Update:
Please find below the results of the little girl whose body is so weak that she can only work at half the intensity of a normal child. This child is often rushed to the hospital on the eve of exams, blue in the face from lack of oxygen. Those with healthy children who can work till midnight regularly will not understand what an achievement this is, for this child. She simply cannot work as hard as others. At the slightest stress, she falls apart.

This child... no one can believe can achieve this, even with the best teachers. So, it must be God's grace, right? It has to be.

For more student results, go HERE.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Smart Kids With Powerful Brains but Weak Batteries
I had identified 3 children who under perform because they run out of mental energy too quickly. Yes, yes... the world is unfair. Some kids have mental stamina. Some kids don't. These are smart kids but like any smart phone with powerful apps, they become incapable when their battery runs out.

Managing Levels of Happy Hormone and Focus Hormone
Unfortunately for these 3 smart kids, their batteries run out in an hour or so. When they are rested and un-stressed, they think well and fast. After an hour, their brains wind to a stop. I really mean STOP. They stare at their work and look like idiots. From genius to idiot in 1 hour flat. We have been able to get 2 of these 3 children to pull in the grades in composition by simply managing...

(1) their exam anxiety. Anxiety consumes norepinephrine (the focus and concentration hormone), leaving none for exam performance...

(2) their mood states in the 2 days leading up to the exams. Happy moods produce dopamine (the happy hormone) which is necessary for the synthesis of norepinephrine (the focus and concentration hormone)... With enough dopamine stored up in the days leading up to exams, the children had larger stores of norepinephrine (the focus and concentration hormone) to use in exams.

(3) etc... there are a few other strategies which I will not talk about here or the post will be too long.

Regular Dosing With Vallarai
Anyway, these children have poor mental stamina and high anxiety. I decided to put them on a daily dose of vallarai. See HERE for how vallarai affects mental function.

I gave this herb to Little Boy regularly from P4 to P6 to help him focus. I eat this herb regularly to keep away arthritic pain from my fingers. I know it has an effect on the brain because I get very vivid dreams when I am eating this herb. When I stop eating the herb, the dreams also stop... and my morning arthritic pains come back.

Vallarai from the Indian grocer near Tekka Market. Now you know why Indians are so smart. They eat this as a vegetable in dhals and chutneys REGULARLY. Walk into any Indian grocery, ask for vallarai and they will exclaim "Good for memory!" I grow my own vallarai but bought my first bunch from the Indian grocer at Admiralty Market.

The Indian Grocer

Lightly microwaved inside my cup. I chew, swallow and drink up.

One Mommy gives it to her son in a strawberry smoothie. 4 leaves a day for 2 weeks will do. Stop another 2 weeks before resuming daily dosage.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Some Matters of Train-ing

In the midst of the brouhaha caused by ACS(I) chartering 5 trains (instead of 80 buses) to transport its students to the rugby final between St Andrew's and ACS(I), one beautiful thing has gotten buried in the muck of dissension and strife.

Rival teams from ACS(I) and St. Andrew's kneeling in prayer TOGETHER. Picture credit to Red Sports - HERE.

Building Bridges of Love
Clearly, for the boys, the day was not about winners and losers, the haves and the have nots. It was about doing one's best and having a good time. In the end, it was about understanding that it is only a game... and playing games is an opportunity to make friends (not enemies), build alliances (not tear people down with strife).

I am so proud of these boys. From both schools. I think they have a thing or 2 to teach us adults. No? It is heartening to see values education in action. These are not schools where the boys must WIN at all costs. There is no need to be at the top of everything, fighting and competing to the last man standing. These boys (from both schools) are indeed Beacons of Truth and Light.

The funniest thing is that these boys can look past their assuredly extreme rivalries on the pitch to kneel together in corporate prayer, but us adults are whinging about 5 trains used to transport them. 

Put yourselves in their shoes? These boys are between 14 to 18. At that age, they live for the game. It consumes them. Winning is so important! It is what they have wanted for 1 whole year. The competitive pressures must be intense! Emotions must surely run high. Look at the dignity of the St Andrew's team! Look at the graciousness of the ACS(I) boys!

Elite Road Sweepers and Garbage Collectors
In contrast, LTA is fairly doing a war dance, brandishing spears and banging their shields (and grunting "Hng-a... hng-a...") because SMRT did not seek its permission to charter trains to schools, notwithstanding that the practice has been going on for years. Neighbourhood schools have less money. It is cheaper per head to charter a train than a bus. So, neighbourhood schools near the MRT have chartered trains for NE Day since forever. Every year.

Suddenly, when ACS(I) does it, it becomes an elite thing to do? You know how some women can wear the cheapest clothes and still look stunning? Well... I think that ACS boys of every ilk can sweep the roads and pick garbage, and make that look elitist. They can't help it you see. ACS boys just have that knack. Heck... I think an ACS boy can probably make nose digging look elitist.

Advanced Planning for SMRT Is Good For Commuters
SMRT has been wise in allowing charters only during off-peak hours. The practice makes sense for commuters too. Would you rather have the schools (neighbourhood schools and ACS(I)) involved send their children en masse via the MRT without any prior warning to SMRT? When the schools decide to make their kids all queue up at the MRT station, they are members of the public you know. They have every right to take the train. In this scenario, SMRT cannot plan for the suddenly large influx of passengers. Instead of sending in more trains, to relieve the high volume, SMRT would have to make public commuters wait 5 times longer to board their trains. 

No one has done anything wrong! 

With some advanced planning, SMRT has done its part by adding 5 trains to the service. The schools have alerted SMRT that on such a day at such a time, there will be high volume passenger traffic. Schools save money that can be used to fund other educational endeavours. Schools ensure children's safety at reasonable costs.

Come on! 80 buses on the roads from ACS(I) to the stadium would be a nightmare for cars. Think of the traffic jam! Also, 80 buses collectively consume more petrol no?

Revenue Generating LTA
I think this is just LTA trying its best to cream more money off SMRT. All that money goes to government coffers, no? SMRT has been incorporated. It has to make ends meet to survive. It has no choice. It is structured that way by some politicians. 

LTA has a choice. It is not supposed to generate income for the government, even though it does earn a lot with the car import tax, VEP, the parking coupons, the ERP, the road tax.... whoa! I would really like to look at LTA's revenue statement and compare it with SMRT's!

Don't people realise that whenever LTA fines SMRT, the money has to come from somewhere or SMRT will go bankrupt and close shop, right? Then, no one gets to take MRT anywhere.

Money comes from where? Go figure!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sous-Vide (But Not Really)

Sous-vide cooking is explained HERE. Those who want to see what a sous-vide oven looks like can go HERE.

About Meat Juices
At 60 Deg C, meat cell walls begin to contract (see HERE). As they contract, the liquid inside them (i.e., delicious meat juices) spurt out.

- The higher the temperature the more juice is lost.

- The less the juice held within the meat, the less juicy your meat.

That is why, we make sure we do not cook for too long the tender cuts of meat such as tenderloin (which have little muscle/collagen). This prevents the internal meat temperature from reaching 60 Deg C. You therefore have your rare or medium rare tenderloin steaks.

About Meat Collagen
At 70 Deg C, meat muscle (i.e., collagen) begins to turn into gelatin (see HERE). The tougher the cut of meat, the longer you'll have to cook it at 70 Dec C and above, in order to get it to fork tender. This applies to pork ribs, pork shoulder, beef short ribs and shin beef.

That is why, we braise these cuts at low temperatures for hours to soften the collagen into gelatine.

Sous-Vide Cooking Temperatures
Sous-vide cooking of beef short ribs is done at a constant 85 Dec C for 12 hours. At this temperature, collagen breaks down, but the cell walls do not contract so much that the meat loses all of its juices.

Sous-vide cooking of beef tenderloin is done at a constant 56.5 Deg C for 6 hours. This does not give the meat any chance of losing any meat juice at all.

The meats are kept immersed in water of a constant temperature for hours to ensure that the meat cooks through and all bacteria is dead.

What Petunia Did Not Like About Sous-Vide
(1) It requires vacuum sealed plastic bags to hold the meat. These plastic bags are immersed in water for hours and hours. I don't care what the experts say about "safe plastic bags", I would rather not take the chance.

(2) That Sous-Vide Supreme machine was EXPENSIVE!

Petunia's Work Around Using the Thermal Pot
So, I decided to use my thermal pot to do sous-vide cooking minus the plastic bags. See below my photo recipe for Sous-Vide (But Not Really) Baby Back Ribs.

Brined the baby back ribs overnight. 1 litre of water to 1 teaspoon of salt.

This is the steeping liquid. I keep and freeze. When I need to steep any meat, I defrost and use it again after skimming off the oil. This batch of steeping liquid has been used to steep 3 chickens already. It is flavoured with garlic, salt and ginger.

I used a candy thermometer to test the temperature of the steeping liquid.

Make sure the bottom of your candy thermometer does not touch the bottom of the pot. It will explode.

For the first steep, I brought the water up to 90 Deg C. Then I threw in the meat and slammed everything into the thermal pot insulator. 

After 1 hour, I opened the thermal pot and tested the temperature again. It was at 65 Deg C. This was not hot enough to break down collagen. So, I heated the water up to 80 deg C. Then I popped it back into the thermal pot.

After another hour I tested the temperature again. It had dropped to 75 Deg C. I heated it back up to 80 Deg C and steeped for a 3rd hour inside the thermal pot.

Then, I peeled off a bit of meat to test for tenderness. Since it was tender enough without being too mushy, I patted it dry and let it air dry further in the fridge.

After 2 hours of drying, I rubbed it with a little butter and a spice rub.  1 teaspoon cumin + 1 teaspoon coriander + 1 teaspoon of 5 spice powder + 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Popped it into the Turbo Convection Oven for 15 minutes at 225 Deg C.

The Turbo Convection Oven

Crispy ribs with moist and succulent meat inside.

I do the same thing with chicken too. My kampong chickens tend to have little fat and are quite firm. This manner of cooking tenderises the meat. I also favour halving the chicken so that the meat will cook through faster when steeping. You do want the internal temperatures of the meat to reach the same temperature as the steeping liquid as soon as possible.

Halves of a chicken to allow faster steeping.

What do I do with the steeping liquid? Well, when I reckon the liquid is rich enough, I use it as soup stock. Just throw in vegetables and you have a soup to drink with your meal.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Carpet of White Mushrooms

The long row of trees cast their shade along the sidewalk as I huffed and puffed on my bicycle. When I first rode past, I noticed nothing. On the way back, I was struck by the thick layer of compost that hugged the ground around the tree roots. Tree after tree along that sidewalk seemed to be strangled at the roots by a dark cloak of rotted compost.

Then I noticed delicate, paper thin umbrellas twinkling upon the inky cloak of rot. They were so very pretty, like fairies had planted them and tended them in order to bring sparkles to a carpet as dark as death.

It reminded me that life does spring from death. When the world seems dark or storms rage about my head, God reminds me that He has power even over death... any kind of death, from character assassination to actual physical demise.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Tiger Shark Robot Pool Cleaner

The robot pool cleaner has a macho name. It is called the Tiger Shark. It is a cute little thing designed to scrub the sides of the swimming pool and suck up debris from the pool floor. It saves us the trouble of manually scrubbing the pool and vacuuming debris. Best of all, it saves us RM$350 a month in pool maintenance fees. It is not so much that I begrudge an honest pool cleaner his wages. It is more that I don't think the fellow cleaned my pool at all. It turned greener and greener as the weeks passed. I could see algae along the walls too.

Oh well... the pool is crystal clear again!!

The Tiger Shark robot pool cleaner.

The automatic chlorine dispenser.

Little Boy skimming off leaves from the pool surface.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Star Chef Seafood Restaurant, Johor

Pickles with slivers of duck meat.

Young coconut

Dong po pork

Lala with ginger and spring onion

Garlic crab

HUMONGOUS prawns the size of half my hand.

All that great food comes out of this humble kitchen.

This is what the dining hall looks like.

You don't get food like this anymore in Singapore - unpretentiously well made food in a no frills environment. One gets a sense that eating out in Singapore is about the ambience. One pays a lot for ambience. The crab and the prawns were so very fresh that they would have been good merely steamed. The seasoning had robust flavours. The prawns were seasoned with an inveigling mixture of dang gui and butter. That is an amazing combination!

We paid SGD $48 for a meal for 3 people. 

This is too exciting! The food is too good!

Star Chef Restaurant is at...
51, Jalan Gelang Emas 1
Taman Gelang Emas
Johor 81550

Friday, August 8, 2014

Marble Coasters

I don't have a kitchen island. Now, I realise that it was a design error. A kitchen island is ever so practical when one is preparing food. So now, I have to make do with a wooden table. Unfortunately, a bare wooden table is hard to disinfect. To sterilise the kitchen, we either wipe down with bleach or we use hot steam. Both will destroy the table. Finally, I laid a piece of plastic on the table.

That posed another problem. The plastic would melt when we placed hot receptacles on it.

Finally, I went to scavenge 2 marble tiles from a marble cutting factory nearby. Now, I have 2 cream coloured marble coasters to hold my oven trays and pots.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Omakase @ Hakumai

The omakase meal is the ultimate compliment to the Chef. When you request an omakase meal, you tacitly acknowledge that the chef ...

- will pick for you the best and freshest ingredients present in his kitchen that day
- will not over charge you
- has the skill to delight you with every dish he puts together for you

Omakase means "I leave it to you." You pick. I eat. I will pay whatever you ask for at the end of the meal. The basis of such a relationship is Trust. How can you let someone else decide what you eat and then pay anything he asks unless you trust he is both honest and skilled? It is a meal format that is alien to Singaporeans, and I think it can only originate in Japan where chefs build their reputation on quality and relationships.

I have been dreaming of an omakase meal for ever so long. Tatsuya (Goodwood Park Hotel) and Shinji (Raffles Hotel) omakase are priced at about $280 onwards. Very likely, the final bill will come up to about $450 per person. For 2 people, that's $900!!

Anyway, Chef Gary at Hakumai crafted an omakase meal priced at $150 onwards. Notice that in recognition of his skill, I have tagged an honorific to his name - Chef Gary. It would be most disrespectful to call him merely Gary.

Hakumai is tucked away in a corner of International Plaza. The décor is at best, non-descript. When I stepped in, the place was already filled with a lunchtime crowd eating Japanese set meals. Actually, I almost stepped back out. It was hard to imagine that one could get a high quality omakase meal in a place that looked like that.

I am glad I stayed because I can safely say that I ate the best Japanese meal I have ever eaten in my life (both in Japan and in Singapore). Chef Gary's omakase gives Shinji and Tatsuya very stiff competition indeed. It is excellent food and great value for money. At Shinji, I did not dare to request an omakase meal. I contented myself with a set meal.

See that little crab that looks like it is about to take a bite out of the lobster in the spoon? Well, I ate it. It was sweet, savoury and crispy. It was a really surprising mélange of taste sensations. The oyster was creamy with a tinge of spring onion spice. The purple Kyushu sweet potato made The Husband's eyes dilate a bit. The edamame beans had a hint of truffle. The sweet corn tasted of sweet pear. 

Sea urchin on its shell. The last time I ate sea urchin in its shell was in Australia. We picked them out of the rock pool, cut them open and spread them on bread. The taste of this brought back a flood of memories: crisp ocean air, clear rock pools and the roar of the crashing waves. If you close your eyes and focus on the sensations in your mouth, you forget that you're sitting in a nondescript restaurant. 

The sashimi plate: every single piece of sashimi glistened and was melt in your mouth tender. The whole plate was so pretty that it looked like art on a plate. 

The Husband and I shared this grilled fish - hokke shioyaki.

Aburi otoro & aburi mekajiki.

This was a scallop sushi. It tasted like seafood butter... rich and creamy, set off against grains of sweet sushi rice. Seriously, I never knew that scallops could taste like this. I think I experienced taste sensations today that I did not imagine existed.

When Chef Gary set this piece of sushi down in front of me, he said, "When you put this in your mouth, even men will fall in love with me." This is a really rich piece of sushi with foie gras and ebi. Once this filled my mouth, I knew that I would be full till dinner.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Poking Around JB

Weekends lately have been plenty fun because we've been exploring JB.

It is really very crowded in Singapore. Sometimes, the press of bodies in the malls and the constant low grade buzz of city noise can get overwhelming. We have been escaping over the causeway to JB on the weekends. The house in JB is in a quiet enclave that overlooks a small pond. It is restful for both the eyes and the ears. It is kinda hard work going over there because errr... we have to clean the swimming pool, mop the floor, cook and clean. Strangely, none of us seem to mind in the least. There is some pleasure in all the physical manual labour in tranquil surroundings. 

There is no need to hurry through the housework because there is nothing else to do. We don't have internet in that house. Besides, we should get used to cleaning our own house. When The Husband and I retire, we will need to watch our spending, no?

Besides, it is restful to do housework. During the week, we are all engaged in brain work and/or emotional labour. Little Boy needs to study. I need to think through children's attitude/performance issues, mark their compositions and develop units of teaching material. The Husband has to sit through meetings after meetings. When you've been doing that all week, doing housework is quite fun and therapeutic. 

There are tranquil walks to take nearby. It is so quiet you can hear your own ears buzz. Little Boy has plans to get himself a dinghy to row on the pond to fish. 

We've also been exploring the Johor Eats. It is not as cheap as one expects but for the yumminess, it is still cheaper than Singapore. Forget about sexy restaurant ambience or fine dining, this is just hearty food in down to earth surroundings and friendly service. It is also gluten free!

I can't wait to systematically try all the different Johor Eats!!

Of course, one worries about crime but really... our car is pretty beat up (and not washed) plus Little Boy considers jeans "formal wear" so we kinda fit into the rest of the JB decor. Hopefully... just hopefully... people don't notice that it is a Singapore number plate.

Nobody out there.

Nobody out there either.

There are stables nearby.

I've never really seen stables before so this was quite an eye opener.

Many empty stalls.

At Kedai Bak Kut The Hin Hock, you point at the fish.

They cook it. The address is at 74, Jln Toh Ah Boon, 81200 Tampoi Johor.

Little Boy loved the bak kut teh soup.