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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Open Door Policy: Gluten Free and Dairy Free

Open Door Policy has re-invented itself. When we were there in 2012, we were not impressed. Since then, it has re-invented itself as a gluten free and dairy free joint. We went back to try it today and were blown away. The food was not only healthy but extremely good. It actually feels weird to walk into a Western food joint and feel free as a bird to eat anything I want. I so rarely do Western food nowadays. It is easier to find things I can eat in Asian food joints. Even then, I am told that there is plenty of hidden flour.

The only place to eat entirely without stress or a slight feeling of fear, is at home. My home kitchen is completely gluten free. Everywhere else I go, I close one eye and hope that I will not get sick. Usually, if I exercise some judgment, I don't get sick. Every now and then, I do - diarrhoea, extreme fatigue and tummy bloatedness. I go down for 3 to 4 days before I slowly climb the hill back to good health again.

This place is highly recommended.

Warm chorizo and octopus salad.

Osso bucco on risotto.

Eggs benedict.

Mango sago with coconut milk and black sesame ice cream.

Almond milk pudding with raspberry sorbet.

Garden lemonade cocktail

Passionfruit mocktail

The restaurant walls are lined with micro-green mini-farms that are lighted up at night with solar lamps. In the day, they switch on ambient lights instead. I thought that was so clever! They own their micro-greens supply and the mini-farms are very attractive live displays.

A few streets away, I found Tiann's ( a gluten free bakery) and I went to town with those cakes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

First Harvest: Cherry Tomatoes

I was so excited when the tomato plants started to flower. I counted 56 tomatoes on one plant. It turns out that they are all cherry tomatoes so I am not getting as much tomato as I thought I would. I am painstakingly saving them for family dinner on Saturday night!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Kind of Ripple?

The visit to the Thian Hock Keng Temple to look at the different Chinese deities (from Door Gods to Mazu - see HERE) got me thinking about the ripples human beings leave behind in the hearts of the world, after they die. It amazes me that people who lived in the 10th century are remembered, enshrined, worshipped  and loved as deities today.

Their real human deeds and whom they really were, are lost to time. The stories left behind are exaggerated and unreal, but they keep the memory of these people alive.

When Lee Kuan Yew passed away, he objected strenuously to having a statue erected in his honour. He cited Ozymandias, the self-aggrandising pharaoh with a penchant for erecting monuments to himself. Lee Kuan Yew did not want to be that sort of person. I wonder though, that if this had been 10th century China, whether Lee Kuan Yew would be deified by Singaporeans and prayed to as a deity.  For the next thousand years and more, effigies of LKY would be erected wherever Singaporeans set new roots. Mazu and Bao Sheng Temples have been built in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. These are wide-ranging posthumous globe-trotters and everywhere they travel, they are venerated celebrities... though long dead.

The most interesting thing though, is that these deities were not important people in their life times. There is no temple in Singapore dedicated to any of the past emperors of China. Those were venerated in life and they had to themselves build monuments to themselves... get historians to document their deeds... in order for us to remember them today. People like the Goddess Mazu were nobodies at birth. People like the Goddess Mazu left behind a never-ending fragrance of love in the hearts of all Chinese people... and it is a love that is not depleted even today because the Hock Thian Keng Temple is a working temple with many devotees.

I don't believe that she is a Goddess anymore than I believe Cleopatra is divine. Yet, I cannot help but marvel at that never broken thread of veneration that honours the essence of her memory.

Which is better? To live on as a name etched onto a monument or to be carried in the hearts of your people and their descendants and their descendants' descendants as ripple upon ripple upon ripple through time. That must be the ultimate achievement, no?

What must one do to become a ripple that never dies out?

I now see old people from the pioneer generation and hear some of their stories. There are people who lived full and productive lives like Ong Teng Cheong, Lee Kuan Yew and Kwa Geok Choo.  Old they might have become. Quite useless they might have been in the years leading up to their deaths. Yet, we felt that we owed them the very best of care and the greatest respect. There are others who have been good wives/husbands and mothers/fathers, making the most of their abilities and resources to love and provide for their families. There are stories of single mothers with 9 children who eked out a living to raise all nine. Today, they sit in a place of honour, on a wheelchair, amidst a crowd of descendants. Poorest of the poor these mothers may have been in their  youth but their ripples caress 3 to 4 generations of their descendants.

I also see old people who have lived their entire lives in self-indulged luxury. Men who abandoned their families to gamble and cavort only to return when old to claim money and demand the best of medical care from the resources their family can afford. Women who abused their children and left a lifetime legacy of hurt and pain in their hearts... and continue to do so with emotional blackmail. There are old people who leave behind nothing but pain.

Of what use is a life lived like that?

I hope that when I die, my own children will remember me fondly as a beacon of light, a warm embrace, an inspiration and love. I don't think I am of the calibre to ripple through time, but at least I hope to ripple through the lives of my children and theirs.

This is the King of Bhutan on a visit to a remote village 3 days walk from the nearest road. This one's ripples will move through time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Of Door Gods And Mazu

Right smack in the middle of the central business district there is a resplendent Chinese temple dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea - Mazu. Before Singapore went into land reclamation, this temple faced the sea. Voyagers from China would disembark and having survived the perils of the journey, they would give thanks at this temple.

There are many deities in this temple, one of which was Mazu's (the Goddess of the Sea) fiancé - the Heavenly Sage Bao Sheng. Mazu was supposed to marry the Heavenly Sage Bao Sheng but she backed out at the last minute after she saw an ewe give birth. I quite understand her sentiments and I reckon that if I had seen an ewe give birth, I doubt I would have had the courage to marry and have children either. It is fortunate for my progeny that ewes are not commonly found in Singapore. Whatever it is, she made Bao Sheng very angry (which also is understandable) and he proceeded to send rains along to her birthday party to ruin her hair and make-up. Even in those days, women thought much of their hair and make-up. She, in turn, sent strong winds along to his birthday party to blow off his hat. For this reason, it is said that one should expect rain on Mazu's birthday and strong winds on Bao Sheng's birthday.

Mazu was born Lin Mo Niang in the Fujian province (a coastal province in China). She was a real person who had such great societal impact that she was deified upon her death. I just realised that many Chinese deities were REAL people with historical contributions. They were politicians, civil servants, Generals or even cops! 

The story goes that Lin Mo Niang, at age 16, fell into a trance whilst weaving and she saw her father and brother at sea, battling a storm. She tried to save them both but her Mother interrupted her trance and she dropped her brother, who drowned. Her Father came home safely, reporting that his daughter's apparition had saved him from drowning.

In a society where women were chattel, Lin Mo Niang shot straight up the societal totem pole and achieved influence and power surpassing even the men. I can quite understand why. Fujian was a coastal province with fishing as a major industry. Every family had members who went out to sea. A woman with supernatural powers to save men from drowning was to be honoured and revered beyond the ordinary.

I guess that was why she was allowed to break a serious wedding engagement (after all guests had been notified... and perhaps, the banquet paid for) to a man who was powerful in his own right. Bao Sheng is today revered as the God of Medicine.  He was a skilled physician called upon to heal the Emperor Song Renzong's Mother. People today pray to him for healing.

Both Mazu and Bao Sheng lived in the 10th century.

These 2 deities were called Qi Ye (7th Lord) and Ba Ye (8th Lord) in life. They were cops in FuZhou. The story goes that these 2 were good friends and sworn brothers. On an outing one day, the sky turned dark and rain was imminent. Qi Ye suggested that he would go back to get umbrellas. Ba Ye waited below a bridge. Once home, Qi Ye was struck with an excruciating bellyache. As he was relieving himself, the heavens broke apart and rain poured onto the earth. The river rose up around Ba Ye, who refused to leave the meeting place for fear that Qi Ye would miss him. He hung on to the bridge for dear life and when the waters rose, he drowned. This is why he is depicted with a black face. When Qi Ye arrived and saw that his friend had perished, he was overcome with guilt (at having tarried so long in the privy) that he hanged himself. This why he is depicted with his tongue sticking out.

These 2 deities capture criminal ghosts and bring them back to the Hades court for trial.

Then, there are the door deities. The one just above is a scholar door deity. These are painted onto internal doors such that they look kindly upon the backs of people who enter the house and make their way to through the courtyards. These deities invite good luck, scholarship and friendship into a home.

This is a warrior door deity. They are painted in pairs on the outer doors and their job is to keep bad spirits out of the home. Again, these door deities were real people, deified after death. During the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Tang Taizong honoured his 2 favourite Generals by having their likenesses painted on his doors.

The past is truly a different country. People do things differently there.... except for the value women put (Goddess or not) of hair and make-up.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Surreal Conversation With Grandpa

We arrived at the hospital yesterday to a distraught Grandpa who insisted on going home. Here is how the conversation went...

Us: Hi Grandpa!

Grandpa: I wanna go home now. I am unhappy here. They aren't doing anything for me medically.

Meanwhile, an antibiotic drip is delivering antibiotics into his bloodstream.

Us: Grandpa, you cannot go home yet. Your foot infection has not cleared and you need the antibiotic drip.

Grandpa: I don't need an antibiotic drip. It doesn't help. Let me go home and self-medicate.

Us: Grandpa, you can't go home now. You still can't walk.

Grandpa: I could walk before you put me here! Now I can't walk anymore. This place is worsening my condition. They aren't feeding me the right things. I need to eat sweet potato. I slept like a baby before you put me here. Now, I cannot sleep! I wanna go home!

Grandpa has diabetes. He cannot eat sweet potato. He hadn't slept well for an entire week because of the pain.

Us: Grandpa, you cannot go home. If we don't clear the infection out of your foot, it could  turn  gangrenous and then we would have to chop off your foot. Surely you don't want to lose your foot?

Grandpa: Nonsense! It is just a bit of swelling and will go away after a good long walk. If you bring me home, I should be able to walk again. I want to go home means I want to go home.

Us: Grandpa, the doctor says you cannot go home yet.

Grandpa: I don't care what the doctor says. That doctor is so young he could be my grandson. He doesn't know anything. t want to go home. I just want to go home. The doctors and nurses here are very bad. They are not looking after me properly here. I want to go home and look after myself.

Dear me!  This looked a lot like a Terrible Twos tantrum. So, we decided to handle it the same way we handle Terrible Twos tantrums. We walked away and went home. Then Grandpa called Grandma and complained that we had abandoned him at the Nursing Home. Then, he pleaded to come home saying that he had always been a good person and didn't deserve to be abandoned in his old age.

Okaaaaaay... so much for our desire to respect his self-determination.

We had in the past tried to give him dandelion tea to improve liver function. Attempts to give him kefir met with no success. We had to change strategy.  No more self-determination. We are going to trick, cajole, coax and bully him into doing what is good for him. The doctor agreed to give him the very lowest dose of sleeping medicine to help him sleep.

Then, I put 4 tablespoons of water kefir grains in a jam jar and immersed them in a stevia sweetened solution.  Then, we told him that it was Birds' Nest (which is a sought after delicacy in Asian cuisine). Then, we sent The Daughter to charm him into eating the ummm... Birds' Nest.

Tomorrow, I will make a pineapple smoothie to which I will add a teaspoon of milk kefir grains and a tablespoon of milk kefir. He likes pineapple and he will finish that bloody @#$%&@!!! smoothie without knowing that he is imbibing kefir.

He will eat his kefir everyday and I will have my way in this. To hell with that nursing home meals on wheels thing. I will make his meals, buy attractive plates and pretty bowls to display the food AND the grandchildren will coax him to eat what I cook.

He doesn't really like me, you know. Like Grandma, I am bossy and controlling. His grandchildren, however, are nice. He never ceases to praise them. Apparently, it has never occurred to him to praise me for having raised his grandchildren to be nice people. Whatever it is, I dislike having the house in an uproar every time he has to go to the hospital. Gee... I spent SEVEN hours on Thursday last waiting around at the A&E as he went through test after test and one intervention after another.

He will eat what I cook, and that is THAT! I will evolve into the best bloody con woman in the world, employing every subterfuge just so that he won't waste my time again waiting around in an Accident and Emergency Department.  It was no joke either, having to support all 55kgs of him (who could not walk and was only half conscious) onto the wheelchair and into the car.

The Husband was busy!

When he had to go to the toilet to pee and poop, it was NOT pleasant for us. I certainly couldn't see myself fiddling about with my father-in-law's private parts so it was a good thing my son was on holiday and my son is now a strapping young lad with good strength. Even then, the poor boy felt really weird about fiddling with his Grandpa's private parts. My son has exams coming up and he spent 7 hours at the hospital with me (away from his books) and though the dear boy did not complain, I could tell that he was worried about the lost time.

This ain't just about Grandpa's self-determination. It is also about OUR quality of life.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Who is the Boss of Grandpa?

It was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time. Few there are these days who pass on gently into the night without pain. Sometimes, one just has to envy the Vikings who believed that the most honourable way to die and enter into the halls of Valhalla for everlasting companionship with Odin, would be to die in battle.

That means one dies a quick death.

Our elderly folks are octogenarians and their bodies are falling apart. Grandpa has had gout for years. Uric acid crystals have settled into his right foot and cause pain every so often. Unfortunately, this time, his poorly managed diabetes have created conditions that predispose the development of cellulitis. This is a skin infection. His entire right foot is swollen. He is in pain and he is running a fever. I rather suspect that what really bothers him is the loss of independence. With that loss of independence comes a certain loss of dignity.

A self-determined life is over.

This brings to the fore the notion of how exactly children need to show love for aged parents. My first instincts were to lock the old man up in the house and take away his keys and make every single food decision for him. I cook. You eat. That is that.

We would do that if we wished to ensure his personal safety and physical health. Grandpa fell down on a bus a month ago. He tripped on a stone and fell a few months back. Yet, he insists everyday to travel the distance from Sembawang to Marsiling to feed the wild cats up in the park on the hilltop. Along the way, he passes by eateries and gets tempted by foods that don't help his diabetes at all. It doesn't help that Grandma is constantly after him for what he should do, should not do, should eat or should not eat. Sometimes, I think he does all the wrong things simply because his wife tells him not to. Indeed, the crafty old man pretends to look at his wife uncomprehendingly whenever her tone takes on that high pitched haranguing quality. Yet, he seems to hear the nurses and the doctors and me, just fine. He has hearing aids but insists never to wear them at home.

I think Grandma threatens his sense of self-determination. I can relate to that. I think any adolescent can. It is the notion that this is my life and if I make mistakes or the wrong choices, it is STILL my life and I will pay the price. I have in the past told my mother-in-law that before when she criticised my cooking, my house decorations, my placement of furniture, my way of bringing up the children.

Knowing this and empathising with how Grandpa feels, is the best way to love him to imprison him at home and force him to eat what I think he should eat? In the end, our family decided, "No". He has not many years left to us and it would not do to have him pass them as a virtual prisoner in his own home, even though we do understand that whenever he walks out the door, he may get hurt.

We will deal with what comes if he gets hurt.

This said, we thought up a lovely subterfuge for controlling his diet. We will cater meals from a nursing home for him. These meals are dietitian supervised and delivered to the house. We will also look at getting him monitored by staff of the nursing home so that his meal plans can be adjusted as his health conditions change. He has so many health conditions - diabetes, hypertension, gout and osteoarthritis, and the balance of these shift constantly. His meals will need to shift accordingly. We will tell him that these are doctor-ordered meals.

That way, he can blame none of us for wanting to control his diet. The nameless and faceless doctors will be blamed for this. This would not threaten his sense of self-determination because these people are distant and unknown.

With this, if he insists on eating poorly, then we have resolved that his choices must be respected. The day will come when he is totally incapacitated and then, he will be housebound anyway. For now, he probably believes that he has few years left and he intends to enjoy them to the fullest, without letting anyone else be the boss of him.

I reckon that when I grow old, I want to be treated thus too. It is my life and if I make mistakes, they are my mistakes and not yours.

56 Tomatoes On ONE Plant!

The kick-ass tomato seeds I bought from Oh Chin Huat are amazing! I counted 56 tomatoes on ONE plant alone. It is such a tiny plant too... barely 1.2 metres tall! I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that everyone of these tomatoes will reach mature fruit without dropping. 

I am fertilising twice a week now because the pot is so small that I worry there may not be enough nutrients to feed the fruits. If anyone wanna grow tomatoes, go get Oh Chin Huat's seeds!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler

I haven't bought leafy greens in 2 weeks. The garden produces enough now for the family. I've also accumulated a fair bit of garden and kitchen scraps. Garden clippings, carrot peels, onion skins, wilted roses, leftover almond meal... and all such like. So, I bought a compost tumbler to compost all my scraps. Only plant material can be added. No meat nor dairy nor plastics etc... or there will be nasty rotting smells.

The bin tumbles the material within. We have to turn it 3 times a week to introduce air for aerobic bacteria to break down the plant material.  If there is not enough air and anaerobic bacteria take over, the bin will smell bad too. You can see the ventilation holes in the side of the bin.

Dehydrated kitchen and garden scraps accumulated over the last week. The dry material traps air in between each piece and allows aerobic bacteria to breathe. One should have 2 parts dry material to 1 part wet material. Wet material refers to fresh carrot peels, pineapple peels and other vegetable odds and ends. Just get them straight from the kitchen sink and pop them into the bin. Then turn.

Since this was the first batch, I also needed to add in garden soil bacteria. So, there you go! A generous layer of soil.

Drying the kitchen scraps in the dehydrator. It took some time to order and get in the compost bin and I needed a way to store the scraps without them smelling like garbage. So, I dried them and stored them in garbage bags.

This machine takes care of all our meat and dairy scraps and it doubles up as a cuddle toy. Now, if I can only figure out how to re-purpose poop, we would really be a zero waste household.

With this addition, this household has become even more environmentally friendly. We now have solar panels, a water recycling system, a steam mop/vacuum (that means we can clean without chemicals) and ovitraps (that means we do not need pesticides for mosquito control). I am quite inspired by the video below, where, near the end, the couple showcases their gray and black water treatment systems.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Thian Hock Keng Temple and Chong Wen Ge Cafe

I did not know that the area around Amoy Street and Telok Ayer Street was so happening during weekday lunches until a friend and I went for lunch at Kitchen by Food Rebel. The area was so vibrant that we decided to walk around. That was when I found the Thian Hock Keng Temple and the Chong Wen Ge Cafe.

Stepping through the temple doors was like going through a time portal. One disappeared from 2016 and appeared in the 1910s. I was ever so charmed. Who was it who said that the past is a foreign country and historians are time tourists?

A devotee standing at the doorway of the temple. Looks like something straight out of the 1960s.

The temple (built in 1839) of course, predates the Chong Wen Ge school (built in 1915) which is in a drastically different style on the right. Chong Wen Ge School is now known as Chong Fu School.

The serene grounds of the temple. There is a feeling of timelessness.

The old Chong Wen Ge School has now become the Chong Wen Ge Cafe. I can't wait to drag the whole family down for a cuppa.

My friend and I picked P.S. Café for dessert. Within a few minutes, we had travelled from 1839 Singapore to 1960s British pub.

It was a lovely afternoon but much too expensive for our tastes. 1 slice of cake and 2 beverages was about $40. Wow! I won't be back in a hurry. It is way above my budget for tea and cakes.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Teacher's Day 2016 (Best Presents in the World)

Before I instituted my No Gifts Policy where I communicated to all parents that all gifts would be immediately returned, I received love gifts EVERY WEEK. My staff were all amazed at the never-ending stream of presents. 1 or 2... every week. That went on for one entire year before I decided that the best way for students to repay me for my efforts was to work hard and bring me results that truly reflected their potential.

I received 2 gifts this week that made me cry.

These gifts are all the more cherished by me because I know the cost to the children. These gifts are worth more than a single afternoon of toil in the kitchen baking cookies, or a trip to the mall to buy some chocolates. Very often, Teacher's Day gifts are arranged by mothers anyway. However, I am not teaching the mothers. I am teaching the children. 

These 2 gifts are the result of week after week of consistent toil and resilience to negative feedback. Ever since the MOE changed its marking criteria for PSLE compositions, it has gotten that much harder to score. Peppering the piece with Power Words is no longer enough. You have to ensure...

- a tight story line
- a coherent storyline
- well developed characters
- precise and well-chosen vocabulary
- etc... (there are many many etc...)

No More Shortcut Cheats
 PSLE markers have also become very skilled at identifying regurgitated chunks, so you also cannot memorise and regurgitate chunks. In addition, the requirement to write to theme AND picture really needs the children to think up their own storyline. Unlike the picture compositions of the past, there is no way to memorise compos related to this or that picture setting and regurgitate during the exams.

The PSLE sets THINKING exams now and PSLE markers are becoming more skilled at looking for the ability to think in the PSLE compos. For 12 months already, you can no longer impress teachers with Power Words.

When I started teaching in 2013, I identified all the quick and dirty regurgitation shortcuts to scoring well in compos. Of course, my students scored. One by one, the MOE removed these shortcuts. I won't hide my dismay when I realised that all my cheats stopped working one by one. Yet, to some extent, I am proud of the MOE. This is the right way to test for true language competence. 

In the past, I never felt strong pride in helping my students score with quick and dirty regurgitation shortcuts. This year, I feel especially proud because (thanks to changes in the way MOE marks compos) these 2 students could take NO shortcuts to their results. These children really can write and think... no regurgitation... no cheats. The cost to the children were as follows...

(1) They pored through every single point of my typewritten compo feedback sheets (sometimes 25 points and 2 typewritten pages long EVERY WEEK.

(2) They addressed every single point of feedback and took care to NOT repeat mistakes.

(3) They conscientiously engaged in the various language therapies I prescribed (some required up to an hour a day from Monday to Friday)

(4) They put up with me rejecting work (compo and compre) for marking because I reckoned that they could squeeze more learning out of that piece if they re-did it with more focus and more effort.

(5) They even put up with having their work thrown into the dustbin because it was work done with little effort.

These 2 gifts come at an exorbitantly high cost to the children in man hours and focused effort. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction because despite the MOE removing all my shortcuts to scoring well, my students have still done well. It feels doubly good also because I know we did not shortcut our way to success.

As a post-script: I also received a gift from the Mother.