Saturday, September 4, 2010

East Coast girl through and through - Katong, that is













We're wrapping up and flying back to the Home of the Yankees pretty soon. I anticipate that I might end up a blog slug for a while as I settle back in and resuscitate all our activities after a long summer. My daughter will have less than 24 hours after touchdown before she starts school. When I get back, I'll probably want to bite into a nice big burger or even better, the kind of juicy flavorful steak that one can only find in the USA. Yup....this is the environment I'll be returning to which makes it not much fodder for the kind of articles I could churn out about Singapore. But I will endeavor to update on The Project. We tried to fly back earlier but hoards of students bound for the East Coast are filling up SQ flights to JFK. I'm one of those East Coast folks too...and I've realized for quite some time that I've been an East Coast girl through and through. There in the US and here, right home in Katong. I would not trade both for anywhere else.

I came home at 2pm today to a home of a starving sister, kids and Dad. I was tasked with buying lunch and I stealthily sneaked out to Joo Chiat. My sister suspected that I was up to some no-good. True enough, I was happily snapping away photos of Koon Seng Road houses and forgot the time. Katong Joo Chiat, as opposed to Katong Siglap or Katong Tanjong Katong is to distinguish it from the former (further east and where we live) and the latter (large home like those in Branksome Road). Well, that's how my mother used to differentiate the various parts of what is amorphously Katong.

Joo Chiat, most recently associated with karaoke bars and other nocturnal activities, is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Its next reincarnation is supposedly Peranakan Town - a joint preservation effort by the Joo Chiat Community Club and the Peranakan Association. For me, I associate Joo Chiat with my mother's regular furniture supplier (Teong Theng), the bicycle shop from where all our bikes came from, Tay Buan Guan supermarket for Easter eggs and chicken pie, bek-chia (trishaw) rides in the sweltering heat. 318 Joo Chiat Road was also the last residence of my mother's father whom my sisters called 'Ah Kong Katong'. And Joo Chiat, yum yum, was the REAL place to get opau - fried bean curd stuffed with all sorts, i.e. cut up fishballs and boiled egg, minced pork and other delicious stuff I never really cared to identify but gobbled down anyway. It still costs S$1 per opau, quite a bargain I must say. The REAL opau man, by the way, is in the southeast corner of Joo Chiat junction.

I bought my food from Glory today. Located between the Joo Chiat junction and Tembeling Road, Glory is now situated at what used to be S.M. Majeed, a fabric store. My mother bought swaths of blue cloth to make my KC uniforms. She tailored them 'haute couture' for me so much so that I could tell which pinafore was mine just by its slip hemming. Next to the store, in the alley, was a man who sold this red drink with gelatinous seeds which resembled toads' eggs. (It's in The Cookbook.) Sometimes, we would grab some buns from the Red House Bakery or go through an alleyway shortcut to Tay Buan Guan.

Today, I took lots of photos of the houses along Koon Seng Road. I had done a similar photo session of houses along Emerald Hill and noticed a difference. The houses along Koon Seng Road were more colorful in their vibrant pastel shades. It probably denotes the liveliness and gaiety of the community. Imagine all those bibiks in their baju panjang, chewing sireh and passing by in their bek-chias....that's what I witnessed many years ago.

Enough of waxing lyrical about all things nostalgic for now, here are photos to savor.
And here's hola to New York with updates of different sorts.



















Friday, September 3, 2010

Charming Changi, Rustic Ubin





My kids' loving godma Angele (NOT a typo) is my go-to person for ideas to 'edutain' my restless monsters. Last Wednesday was a school holiday in Singapore, being Teacher's Day.
Both of us, with four kids in tow, hopped on the public bus No.2 through old Changi. With sprawling grounds that once housed the colonial British military, Changi still retains the essence of an era that no longer exists. A quick travel through it brings to mind what life must have been like when the soldiers lived there and Singapore was still a colony. It's a slice of important history and of all the places I love in Singapore, I truly sincerely hope that the government will preserve the area for generations to experience.
The area is significant for my family for several reasons:
- In the 60s, my older sisters would drive there to buy fresh coconut drinks, fish or just picnic.
- In the 50s and 60s, my family spent weekends and Christmases at a bungalow in Loyang. The beach was reclaimed and the structure and its surroundings were later steamrolled to make way for the airport runways.
- My family would constantly preface every nostalgic moment about Changi with "Poor Sharon, she wasn't born yet and she missed those good old days".

Never mind. While a few of them were living in London in the 70s, my neighbors Aunty Paddy and Uncle Chou would take me, along with their charges, to their Changi Swimming Club on Friday nights. It was a precursor to what my own sister does with my kids today, bringing them to swim at one of the clubs. Back then, the adults played tombola while the kids swam in the pool, had dinner of fried rice smothered with ketchup, and then watched movies in the open-air hall which jutted out into the sea. With seawaves calling in the background, I saw 'The Pink Panther' and 'The Thief of Baghdad' there. When 'Jaws' came out, the kids either wanted very badly to swim in the dark sea thereafter, or run as far away as possible from the beach. Cowardly me was the latter, of course.

We also passed through the famous Changi prison now quadrupled in size but still retaining the old watchtowers with antique search beams. I speculate that this is probably where my addictive Polar curry puffs and chicken pies are made by prisoners. Angele and I also talked about the spooky old Changi Hospital which has since been left empty and derelict. Back in the 70s, even while driving past the well-lit building with its long-stemmed ceiling fans and open-air wards set on a hilltop, one could feel the isolation and grimness of this outpost. It was the military hospital for the British, and was apparently used as a torture site during the Japanese Occupation. No prizes for guessing what supposedly comes after in the paranormal sphere.

The bus ride eventually led us to our destination - Changi Point Ferry Terminal. A ten minute wait to gather twelve passengers enabled us to take a rickety bumboat across the sea. A short ten minutes later and we landed at Pulau Ubin.

Ubin is a good example of the government's effort to preserve something old after a frenzy of building everything new. Yet, there's nothing contrived about this place. There is still lush rainforest and sprinkles of old kampong houses with authentic residents to boot.
The way to the mangrove swamp was to hike or bike there - or in our case, haggle with a van driver for a round trip, in the process receiving stares from nature lovers for polluting hallowed grounds. We strolled on the boardwalk through the swamp. I'm no fan of snakes (only reason why I've never made it to Africa though I am a big animal lover), and was jumpy that one would greet me. Thankfully, they gave me a pass. But by the time we got to the seaside jetty, the breeze and lull of the sea made for a thankfulness that we had come all this way. And for me, a disbelief that this was a cheap and equally good alternative to The Datai in Langkawi. My mind was racing to think up of an eco-resort one could potentially build on Ubin.

Ubin was a highlight for me when I was 14. As part of the National Cadet Corps, we were required to attend the Outward Bound School. We learnt how to tie the ends of the legs of pants to make an emergency floating device if stranded at sea. I learnt to sail. Most memorable is the exercise where we were shuffled down a manhole, only to get stuck in the middle of the dark tunnel because the OBS instructors had sent down another team to the manhole on the other end. The objective was overcoming panic, the fear of darkness and confined space.

We ended our trip with lunch at the seafood restaurant not too far from the jetty. The restaurant was a throwback to the old Punggol seafood stalls in the 70s, with natural sea breeze and sunlight filtering in, amidst upright plastic tanks of fish and crab.

The excursion was one that my father would have done in a heartbeat ten years ago with his posse of old retirees. A bus ride, a cheap boatride and a leisurely outing to an environment of their youth. Ange and I were very satisfied with our day's activity and so were the kids. They may not have exhibited any form of epiphanous insight but I'm sure they will recall the adventure with fondness sometime later.

The next day, Ange and I met up with an old KC friend for breakfast. We got a kick out of taking a drive to see the old Changi Hospital, up close.








Saturday, August 28, 2010

Arab Street

My sister, niece and I just got back from Kandahar Street. Adjacent to Sultan Mosque (the oldest mosque in Singapore), this street is famous for putting up a street of hawkers during the month of Ramadan. Muslims will come here to buy food in the late afternoon and take it home for the sunset breaking of the fast. We bought chicken biryani, lontong, prawn vadai and ayer bandung. The vadai (or choo choo wareh as I called it long ago) was so good. The vendor sold three for S$2 and they were just fried and piping hot, came with fresh green chili. Yum! I wanted to be sensitive to the Muslims around me who were fasting, so I really had to discipline myself from eating right away.

Coincidentally, I had plans to whip up biryani and lontong from my mother's recipe collection this weekend. But we got derailed by a designer sale at nearby Suntec City that took up three hours of lining up (thankfully, we came out of the sale pretty financially intact, i.e. empty handed). My grocery list got stashed in my bag and by 5pm, I was too exhausted from queueing to be shopping and cooking for the evening.

My dad was nonetheless thrilled that we came home with biryani. It brought back memories of his days as a salesman for Fraser and Neave. For me, it was a nostalgic visit to Arab Street where as a child, I would follow my mother through the fabric shops. She bought yards of fabric and took them home to sew her own clothes. She also had her jeweler there and as I was telling my niece in the cab, I distinctly remembered accompanying her to the shop one morning, only to see the jeweler's photo on the front pages of the papers the next morning. He had been robbed right after we left his shop.

Another note: I recently took a walking tour of Kampong Glam as the area is known as. Considering that I grew up in Singapore, there were facets of the history and culture of the Arabs and the Muslims that fascinated me.

Here's an excerpt I wrote about our Muslim friends:

My father was a sales manager for Fraser and Neave, bottlers of Coca Cola and producers of the local Tiger beer. He had several accounts that ranged from replenishing supplies at company offices to servicing the needs of restaurants. He forged close friendships with several of his restaurant clients, including a famous Indian-Muslim restaurant called Jubilee. In exchange for my father’s tips on upcoming company parties to cater for, the original Jubilee owner offered to teach my mother how to cook his restaurant’s signature dishes such as Nasi Biryani and Chicken Korma. My father would drop my mother off at the Arab Street location so that she could observe what they were doing at the back of the restaurant.

Of course, after half a day of class in the backstreet kitchen, she would walk a block away to the row of jewelers and treat herself to a nice gold bracelet or locket. There, they served her F&N Orange Crush in its glass bottle with a green straw, up the flight of creaky wooden stairs to an air-conditioned room. Later, she would shop for a few yards of fabric for dresses she wanted to make for herself, haggling the Indian-Muslim salesman half to death before he could snip the textile from a ream and fold the piece of cloth several times into a floppy square. Those were her activities during her Arab Street excursion, often with me in tow.

My mother also befriended a network of Arab and Indonesian ladies who were renowned for their cakes and Malay dishes such as Soto Ayam and Lontong. She sought to be mentored by them. The Indonesian ladies were experts at the Lapis Spekkoek and my mother was always open to new tips on how to improve on baking them. Their names are legendary to us – Chek Wan, Khatijah and Rabeah being the ones we recall the most, their names scribbled at the top right hand corner of their recipes. Their baking classes took place in their kitchen on many lazy schoolday afternoons, an intimate homely affair in a tree-lined residential street with children cycling outside or picking pebbles. There was no frenzy of an organized class in a formal cooking school scheduled by computers and paid by credit card.

We used to attend the lavish wedding banquets held by a few of these Arab and Indonesian families. They were actually related by marriage. The patriarch lived in Telok Kurau, not too far from where my parents and grandparents had once lived. These elaborate wedding affairs demonstrated the ladies’ talent and dedication because the meals, pastries, costumes and crafts were all home-made. I recall as a child, attending their wedding celebrations in their extensive garden compound. The lawn was filled with dining tables and endless food was served on three-foot long platters. It just came without ceasing, laden in beautiful platters for the briyani rice and meat, and dainty glass dishes for the pickles.

My most vivid images of those receptions are of the thirty feet long tables displaying countless figurine cakes and colorful fruit gateaux. The cakes included a telephone, a doll and there was often a particularly delicious and fragrant orange cake. It is amazing how childhood memories stay with you forever. To this day, I am always trying out an orange cake recipe, complete with orange flavored frosting, to re-create that special cake I first tasted as a child in that long hall, on that particular table.

The womenfolk took days to prepare the feast. Literally hidden behind the glamour of an impressive banquet and a delectable spread of gloriously frosted cakes, were the bedrooms where I peeped in to witness groaning women who were aching tremendously from the strain of having cooked for a week straight. They were crying out in pain while the elder ladies were massaging them with nutmeg oil, all this taking place while the festivities continued outside on the lawn.

These are indeed of days past. The patriarch soon died in the late 1970s and the house was sold off. A new developer came in and carved the lawn into lots, built on each lot its own five storey behemoth overshadowing a tiny concrete garden, with a Mercedes Benz squeezed in between the walled fence and the tiny garden patch. The original family that lived there then broke into their nuclear units and moved into apartments. Without the generous kitchen space afforded them in the old house, they would never re-create the scale of such a banquet ever again.

Similarly, the original owner of the Jubilee died too and left his restaurant to a son-in-law. Over time, the restaurant changed a few hands but with the years and the new management, my father lost touch with them.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Beautiful Bali




While on spring break, our family of four took a mini vacation to Bali. It had been ten years since my husband and I were last there (for our honeymoon). It was a poignant return considering that much has happened since - two terrorist bombings in particular. The mood was a bit sombre and the locals - while their Balinese demeanor is to be pleasant and courteous - looked as if morale had been lowered a notch or two. We realized things had changed when we arrived at the hotel, confronted by iron gates to the compound, a metal detector and a bomb sniffing Labrador that resembled my son's favorite stuffed toy. The hotel logos that once plastered the sides of the SUV were now gone so that guests could be driven around incognito.

We stayed on the hotel grounds for the most part because we truly wanted to swim, sun and sleep. But the busy bee in me simply had to sign up for a cooking class which came with a visit to the nearby Denpasar fresh market. I want to share these pictures of the market with you because the images are of a disappearing world now that everything else is being sanitized and housed in Costco or Carrefour.

One main thing I learnt in cooking class was the different technique in the preparation of the spice rempah. Many cookbooks and cooks will tell you to grind or blend the fresh rempah ingredients (beginning with sinewy galangal, turmeric, ending with soft moist items such as shallots and belachan). The usual tip is to add water to moisten the paste if it is too fibrous and rough. Only after we obtain a fine rempah paste would we then fry it in glistening hot oil. Not too hot so as not to burn the rempah, then fry until fragrant.

In this Bali cooking class, we were asked to dice the ingredients, then fry them in oil first before transferring to the mortar to pound with the pestle. The explanation behind it was that the ingredients would be softened, more moist, hence avoiding the need to dilute the paste with water which in turn would dilute the full effect of the taste and spiciness of the rempah.
I have always loved Bali for its magical gamelan music, lulling sea breezes, gracious smiles, flowers and jasmine scents. Please support this paradise island and visit if you can.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Food Allergies

I admit that I had dropped off the face of blogworld. Apart from the hustle and bustle of errands, I was also out of commission for a few days with a stomach bug and fever. My kids passed it on to me. Lying in bed half dazed was quite a treat but after a while one itches to get back on track. Getting the bug these days happens quite easily and reminds me of Dickens' London in the 19th century. I think of crammed sheds and murky sludge. And that shouldn't be the case in "modern" New York City.

Another phenomenon that is taking place at an alarming rate is the subject of my new blog article. To my readers who might wonder why on earth I would write about food allergies on a blog about Nonya food, that's because growing up....we RARELY had food allergies, what with all that coconut milk, peanuts, eggs etc. swirling about our dishes. It's a topic very close to my heart because of my daughter's food allergy history. I mean, how could a yaukwee gourmande like me nurture a child who could not appreciate so much of the delicacies her parents gorge on for granted?

Last Friday was a major triumph in our little family. My daughter passed her food challenge for milk - she drank a quantified volume of milk over a span of two hours without consequently throwing up or breaking out in hives. (It's a foregone conclusion that this angmoh-fied little girl will not grow up having kway chap or beehoon for breakfast.) What is a food challenge, one would ask? Every six months of so, children like my daughter would spend a day at the hospital to consume, under strict precautions, a key ingredient that they have previously been allergic to. The child's weight, height, vitals and food diary for the past week are religiously recorded. In most cases, bloodwork is taken, a skin test performed and the little forearm prepped and bandaged in the event that a quick injection of Benadryl or Epinephrine is required. The test starts with small chunks of chicken (if you're allergic to chicken) or muffin (baked milk test), etc. The amounts gradually increase every few minutes and if a symptom surfaces, the test is stopped immediately. Either way, whether you pass the test or not, you stick around the ward for at least two hours before you're cleared for release. My daughter and I enjoy these one day events - we would bring DVDs, practice her violin, I even looked forward to the hospital cafeteria for lunch. Over time, we also got acquainted with the staff and they took delight in seeing my daughter transform from a baby in the austere iron bar crib to a budding violinist.

Back in 2002, one of my best friends got a fellowship at the prestigious Pediatric Allergy division of Mount Sinai Hospital (Ahem, you know who you are). Little did we realize how important this place would become for us. My daughter, in her first few months, was a chubby baby with delicate and smooth baby skin. By her fourth month, she started getting rashes around her mouth. At first, we thought it was because I was not wiping her mouth properly. The rash spread to her cheeks, neck, then her ankles and knees. She was also no longer the cherubic baby with the porky baby thighs. Her weight stayed constant because she was not really absorbing anything. She had bad diarrhea and would projectile vomit. On her first visit to Singapore, everyone began to speculate. "How can you not let her drink water?", "Put some heat rash powder...you know the one in the square tin?", "Mummy would say it is taik angin".....

Back in NY, I made a career out of visiting dermatologists. In fact, a few were Botox specialists to those movie stars who came in the evening by a side door. We changed detergents, bought new bedsheets, even contemplated having to give the cats away. When things got truly bad, we had to smother her in Aquaphor and wrap her up in a bedsheet, arms tied down with a belt. In our lingo, 'mummify her' from scratching. Eventually, one dermatologist at NYU gathered that it had to be food allergies since my daughter would break out in eczema in covered parts of her body.

We were redirected to Mount Sinai Hospital. The skin and blood tests indicated allergies to peanuts, milk, eggs, meat, wheat and fish. The first order was to make me cut back on these ingredients while I still nursed her. I must admit that the restricted diet actually boosted my energy level. But like I said earlier, I'm quite the gourmande and this was too big a sacrifice. The impact for the baby was rather significant. She had to go on soy formula and unlike most Chinese babies, could not do the "fish is good for the brains" quack diet of fish porridge etc. etc. Nor could I share my beloved kaya toast with her for breakfast. Well-meaning folks kept confusing it with gluten-intolerance/celiac disease or lactose-intolerance. I couldn't even explain after a while. Worst of all was the predictable argument I would have with SIA everytime I flew back. My request for "No peanuts" was met with the utmost inexplicable resistance. The CSR would call me to fax over a medical report and verify whether it was a Type 1 or Type 2 peanut allergy. I would then get all curt and tell off "We don't do a Type 1 or Type 2 over here". Later, it turned out that serving peanuts on board was such a component of their branding and to not do so, almost a scandal. In fact, a few passengers would comment "How come no peanuts hor?". Come on.........you should hope that someone on board will not die from anaphylaxis because of peanut 'fumes'. And all those passengers with peanut-contaminated fingers would try to pat my daughter or shake her hands. Eeew.

Paris was not great either. A waitress told me to get real, "Madame, all french fries are cooked in peanut oil. Where do you think you're going to next?". Then a sorbet treat at La Coupole was cross-contaminated with dairy ice cream and by the time we reached the mid level of the Eiffel Tower at 11pm in cold spring weather, I had to strip her after she vomitted. "Alors, look at this mad mother." Of course, I was about to bark back that it was their darn French fries and sorbet that caused the commotion.

At the start of every school year or summer camp, I am required to provide the school with at least three Epipens. One for the schoolbag, one for the nurse's station, and another for a class communal backpack that follows the class, even when they go down to the gym. So imagine the number of little friends who also have food allergies.

There are various theories as to why food allergies have become so prevalent. Here, I pay homage to my friend, the allergist. She can post her knowledge. All I can theorize is that food as we knew it is no longer the same. Something is always engineered to be bigger and better and brighter. Together with the slew of vaccinations that make our kids healthier to combat chicken pox, measles....the little antibodies within are twiddling their thumbs to attack their newest foes...in this case, allergens like peanuts which traditionally, were cheap, abundant and flavorful enough to be thickening agents in sauces (think satay and gado gado), or as American as PB&J. Yet, how do we explain the other food allergens such as sesame, coconut, soy among others? Or the fact that a forty year old friend who drank soymilk while growing up in Malaysia is now allergic to soy?

Hopefully, with a carefully managed regimen, children outgrow their food allergies. Mine can now consume meat, milk, wheat, fish to make for a more varied diet. I know many parents who do their own 'food challenges' at home, though I personally wouldn't push it. Leave it to the medical experts. I hope and pray that future generations will not succumb to a real life situation of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". And I think of those who live dangerously with a severe peanut allergy, and hope that we will find a solution soon enough.

For more information, check out www.foodallergy.org or the Food Allergy Initiative.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Golden Agar Agar and my Nonya grandaunt


My Koh Poh Beng Neo (Koh Poh is the term for grandaunt, Beng Neo her very Nonya name) is one of the old relatives I had interviewed for my project. Sadly, she passed away two years ago. The reason I bring her up is because of the agar agar recipe I tested last week, which I will detail as well.

Whenever Chinese New Year rolled around, Koh Poh was one of the most important relatives whom we had to visit. She was a grande dame within the extended family and particularly for me, the closest I had to a grandparent considering that all of mine were not alive when I was born. There were three things I did whenever we visited:
i) it was absolutely customary to 'soja' (kneel before her) to wish her "Panjang panjang omor" (which literally means 'long life'). She lived into her 90s so all such blessings work indeed.
ii)mill around the dining room to gaze at her wedding photo
iii) partake of her signature golden agar agar

Koh Poh got married at around sixteen years old. I believe that she was matchmade. Yet, while she in many ways embodied the old-fashioned Nonya in her traditional garb, her patois and her manners, she was also modern. She attended a girls' school, played the piano and swing-danced. She spoke and wrote English fairly well. I even tried to get her to dance at my wedding but by then, she had downed more than her fair share of Courvoisier. She once came in her sarong kebaya to swoop away into a taxi the Pekingnese puppy that I had dognapped. To me, she was a most elegant lady and I am glad to have known her.

Here is an excerpt from the manuscript:

This agar jelly often came in the shape of a rabbit or a fish. The classic moulds were white porcelain containers made in England which over time, bore the vintage fine gray crack lines.

Koh Poh’s secret in the early days was to apparently use rainwater collected in large dragon pots. She said that rainwater produced the clearest and hence most exquisite jelly. Sometimes, crushed egg shells would be added while cooking the agar agar to gather up the froth from the surface. The shells would clarify the jelly in the same way that consomm√© is prepared.

To produce the golden color, the jelly syrup was boiled in a brass pot, just like the way pineapple tart filling was cooked in the same type of pot to achieve its golden shade. Nowadays, there is skepticism in using brass pots, so a large non-brass pot would have to make do. To produce the golden sheen these days, you will need to use food coloring.

The longer you keep the jelly, the more "crunchy" it gets. In fact, the Nonyas would sun the jelly for a few days. It could then store without refrigeration and still be served several months old.


So what was the outcome of my tested recipe? My mother was right - I can be too impulsive. Without the benefit of a brass pot, I had to make do with food coloring and alas, I added too much red and yellow drops at the same time and produced a beautiful orange "koi carp" jelly as opposed to the golden classic. The lesson I learnt - "Add a few drops of yellow coloring first and then sparingly, add drops of red coloring until you achieve a golden hue. Stir."

See recipe in 17 February 2011 entry.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Salutations (lifted from "Charlotte's Web")

I'm truly not one to blog. My husband and I often discuss the discomfort of publicizing our personal thoughts. I mean.....who would want to read about what we think? It's bad enough that our friends have to hear me out all the time, let alone have to read about my opinions.

But times have changed and somehow, I am "forced" to. In this day and age, cookbook writing is a competitive field. I have been told that while e-books will probably kill off paper novels as we know them, printed cookbooks still thrive because it's food porn (hopefully a lot more wholesome too). Yet, one can no longer shop around a manuscript while remaining a nobody. Even Julia Child took ten years before she had her first cookbook published. I will need to build a resume of sorts - cook for others to try, write articles, demonstrate, blog.....I have no illusions of becoming the next Julie Powell, Orangette or Pioneer Woman but I have indeed seen the end results. And I've studied this industry long enough through talking to professionals, to know that it takes harder work before I can eventually publish this book. Yes, I would love to contribute to Saveur, or the Peranakan Association magazine, but blogging will have to do for now. As my daughter says..."Practice makes progress"....in this case, in journalistic sense.

I hesitated blogging for the longest time. I'm not tech-savvy and I have two kids' schedule to juggle. But time is running out before the phrase "I'm working on a cookbook" gets too old. In fact, I'm so elated about actually blogging right now that I should go out and buy myself a nice handbag....Hermes, no less. (Do get used to my stream of consciousness...)

This personal project began in the summer of 2001. I had just quit my marketing job at Citibank and found a lot more time in my hands. My friend Gloria suggested that I spend the summer with my parents. After all, I had lived away from Singapore for the past nine years and a longer vacation with them would be good. At the same time, I decided to compile all my favorite recipes from my mother. All the good stuff one would miss when away from home. I told her that I would type them up nicely for the family, especially for her granddaughters. I had only started gathering photocopies of circa 1964 recipes, designed a ninth grade cover for the homemade book when my mother became seriously ill. My mother was in hospital for three months and died in November 2001.

I never got to finish the family project with my mother and saddest of all, never got to ask her the questions. The "Why do you do this?", "How did this turn out this way?" types of questions, not forgetting the cooking secrets she kept close to her chest and never wrote down for posterity.

The project took a backburner while we all grieved and I went soul searching about what to do next after getting my MBA in 2003. With a baby due soon after graduating, it made sense to resume the project. I could work on completing the cookbook while also being a stay at home mom (or as my friends back home like to think....be a taitai...so not true.)

I will abruptly end here. I have fifteen minutes before my favorite yoga class.
But here's the long and short of it all. Yes, I have finally completed the manuscript. I will go into the gory details later.
Yet, I've danced all along about how to wrap up the recipe testing phase, edit, etc. And let's not go into the food photography. And behind the scene is a lovely lovely publisher friend who has been patiently waiting for the past five years!

The blog is to discipline me to reach the goal. The old relatives I interviewed are fading off and it would be terribly sad if no one lives to see the fruition of what is a labor of love to my mother and her generation of friends.
The blog will document what has taken place, musings about what goes right or wrong in the kitchen, the digression to cookbooks, restaurants and just musings about life in general....like running off to yoga while I should be in the kitchen watching over the agar agar simmering for three hours.

Indonesia in Amsterdam

For years, my daughter had wanted to visit Amsterdam. We were cautioned by friends that parts of the city - particularly Dam Square - m...