Monday, December 31, 2012

Gatherings


When Christmas rolls around, I feel like Mrs. Patmore of Downton Abbey.  I prepare these gourmet meals that I often worry that I might collapse, not from exhaustion, but from the pats of butter solidifying in my arteries.  But what is Christmas without the joy of celebrating Christ's birth and partaking of lovely meals in His honor, surrounded by the nicest of friends.
Yet again, we wait tonight - New Year's Eve - for our friends to arrive at 10pm to ring in 2013.  The table is laid out with trays and silverware for the following:

- Caviar and Blini
- Truffle Pate, Prosciutto and an assortment of cheese
- Pigs in Blanket
- Gravlax and Mustard Dill sauce
- Cotechino and Lentils
plus Champagne












Tomorrow, we have another meal to celebrate our first dinner of 2013:
- Starter of Crab Cakes with Mesclun Salad and Champagne Vinaigrette
- Herbed Prime Rib Roast


- Potato Gateau (Fancy Nancy's way of describing hash browns)
- Brussels Sprouts with Shallots and Pecan
- English Trifle
- Three Kings Frangipane Cake (from Le Pain Quotidien)

And these were preceded by Saturday's cozy dinner with another family when we dined on:
- Mushroom and Fennel Soup
- Salad of Spinach, Bosc Pear, Walnuts, Craisins and Blue Cheese
- Roasted Rack of Pork Chops
- Roasted Sweet Potato drizzled with organic Maple Syrup
- Blanched Asparagus seasoned with olive oil
- Profiteroles (home-made!)

On Christmas Day, we entertained a vegetarian friend and her family.  We served
- Crab Cakes garnished with Avocado
- Crown of Lamb


- Mushroom Tart with Gruyere Cheese
- Potato Gateau
- Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts
- Payard's Louvre Log Cake



And the full house of twenty church friends who came over after service on Christmas Eve.....
- Poached Salmon with Scandinavian Dill Sauce (as easy as boiling an egg!)


- Baked Ham and home-made Applesauce
- Beef Tenderloin wrapped in Bacon, with Mushroom Sauce and Horseradish

- Wild Rice with Walnuts and Cranberries
- Green Beans sprinkled with crushed Pecans
- German Potato Salad
- Carrots cooked in Orange Juice, spiced with shaved Ginger
- Salad with Fennel and Onions
- Cheesecake with Whipped Cream
- Mince pies
- English Trifle and
- Chocolate Log Cake (from Financier)
- And Christmas Pudding from Harrod's, served with Brandy Custard Sauce

I cringe that I might be so guilty of boastful blogging this time.
But I must admit that I enjoy throwing parties the way my mother did and my sisters do.  On Saturday night, our guest told us that our daughter is known in school for being quite the thoughtful hostess in the lunch room.  On the other hand, my son loves to help me in the kitchen....mashing potatoes, stirring the sauce, spinning the salad, cracking eggs.   I like to think they will enjoy throwing parties when they grow up.

Happy New Year!












Sunday, December 23, 2012

Of Christmas past


I'm attempting to make mince pies for the very first time.  I never liked them growing up but was lured by the bottles of Robertson's mincemeat filling on sale at Whole Foods.  My sister Molly once said that our mother's mince pies were really good. My mother began to make them for the family Christmas gatherings after I left Singapore in 1996.

In her dying days that mid November of 2001, she kept asking her doctors if she would make it home for Christmas.  I often dwell on those conversations, especially during this time of the year.  It seemed to me that my mother enjoyed Christmas a lot, perhaps more so than Chinese New Year which I had come to associate her with.  Alas, I have not been back to Singapore to spend Christmas with my family for more than a decade.  The family Christmas parties have since evolved into an even more wonderful evening when the nieces and nephews, now all grown up, are called to participate in Aunty Mol's bingo games, complete with prizes galore which she takes much pride to assemble.  Each sister would contribute something - Beng would still roast the turkey, Maggie would order the beef from the club and Nancy would make the salad.  According to one niece, they all know when I will call - in the midst of the buffet - much to their consternation because they want to get on with the celebrations and move on to the games.

My husband's job requires him to spend the week between Christmas and New Year at work, so over time I have created all our nuclear family's little traditions from visiting the Rockefeller tree on Christmas morning, followed by the opening of presents.  We invite church friends on the eve and then, cook another meal or more for many other friends throughout the week.

Inevitably, I think of the snippets of memory.  As a 12 year old, rushing to Siglap Market to buy cheap earrings - same style, different fake stones - for my five sisters, then wrapping them in white typing paper.  Each parcel was so small, it got lost amidst the white pebbles around the Christmas tree.  I also remember longing for the Kodak instamatic camera because every kid I knew had one.  And surprise!  Molly gave it to me that Christmas.  These days, I send home presents for my five sisters.  Same item, different colors, be they wallets or Longchamp bags. And this year, I added 8 pounds of beef tenderloin and 10 pounds of ham to boot, bullying my niece's boyfriend to carry them home and impress the family with his helpfulness.

My parents used to take me to their friends' home for Christmas lunch.  Aunty and Uncle Brown laid out a fabulous Eurasian spread with poached salmon, ham, fruit cake and curry devil.  My sister Beng somewhat 'institutionalized' Christmas within our family after her return from London in 1979.  She of 'butter under the armpits, bacon across the breast' turkey roasting fame.  She brought back all the traditions I continue with these days, Christmas pudding (from Harrods preferably), ham, Brussels sprouts and eggnog.  Tomorrow, I will be serving poached salmon, honey baked ham and pudding because they remind me of my childhood.

The fact that my nieces make it a point to fly home for Christmas, whether from Oxford or New York, illustrates to me that Christmas at home is the high point of their family reunion.  I may miss it this year, but the celebration reassures me that my mother's legacy lives on to the next generation.  Merry Christmas.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cookbooks 2012

A week before Christmas and much of the shopping might have been done.  But here's a list of books that stood out for me this year:

Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel E. Presilla
Maybe it is because I've become good friends with a few Mexicans and my kids grew up on rice and beans cooked by their Honduran nanny.  But I've come to appreciate Latin American cuisine beyond guacamole and sangria.  Our family's favorite weekend hangouts are Dos Caminos and Zarela (before it closed).  Gran Cocina Latina took almost thirty years to research and is an epic encyclopedia to master the art of Latin American cooking.   It will ultimately be the foremost authority on the cuisine that spans places such as Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and other Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
I first acquired this book in 1999, then sold it off because I'm such a hearty carnivore.  But everyone is trying to be healthier these days and I kept thinking about the eggplant lasagna with garlic bechamel (page 466) throughout these ten years.  I bought another copy recently - after it has won many accolades including the James Beard Foundation Book Award.  It does for vegetarian cooking what Gran Cocina does for Latin food.  And each weighs a ton, again underscoring its seal of authority.

Celebrate by Pippa Middleton 
Despite bitchy brickbats for this pert bottom's first foray into the cookbook kingdom, I mightily enjoyed the food porn.  This book is an attempt to make Pippa Middleton the English version of Martha Stewart.  While flipping through this book, you imagine that perhaps, the new Windsor baby's birthday parties will look like those in the book and that the clan will be having outdoor summer lunches and barbecues in their Kensington Palace backyard, complete with Pippa's posse of toffs.

Dining with the Washingtons, edited by Stephen A. McLeod 
This is such a keepsake of historical importance.  I enjoyed this book much much more than the movie 'Lincoln' (which for me, is as good as a foreign movie which I must have subtitles or closed caption to understand the accent and dialogue).  The cookbook gives a good idea of what the Revolutionaries farmed and ate, such an enjoyable insight for anyone interested in history and might I say, anthropology.

Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan 
This book has been quite a success in the bookstores.  I walked past the display for weeks and could not understand why a simple, homely looking cookbook would be so popular.  Then when I peeked in, I was impressed by its organization: Soup/ Street Food/ Steaming/ Braising/ Stir-Frying/ Grilling/ Frying.  Essentially, this book touches on the fundamentals of Asian cooking, of which Vietnamese shares and parallels what we love about the others including Thai, Chinese and Filipino cuisine.  

Jamie's Great Britain by Jamie Oliver
I am an unabashed Anglophile, no kid.  It becomes apparent by the time friends present you with desktop calendars with the Queen's images, and lend you children's books about a fictional royal corgi who is the Queen's favorite.  But I would never quite know what the Brits eat exactly, and I'm always in a quest to find out.  To underscore the truth, I pronounced pasties wrongly (paste-teas as opposed to pest-teas) much to my embarrassment.  So I'm assuming Jamie will give me an overview, curries and all.

Aquavit by Marcus Samuelsson
Marcus Samuelsson became real to me when I stood beside him during the downpour at the Swedish MidSummer gathering this past June. We have really wonderful Swedish friends, a relationship forged by our little boys at the same preschool.  Last year, they introduced us to an authentic Scandinavian meal of herring, meatballs, glogg and of course, aquavit.  Eversince, I've acquired several books about Scandinavian food which seems so clean, pristine and minimalist.  Gleaning the pages of these cookbooks, one can sense the northern cold climate and freshness coming in from the sea.
Faviken is the new It book about a highly regarded Swedish restaurant.  But Faviken to me, seems to convey a still-hungry hunter's meal, unlike the many other Scandinavian books out there like Aquavit.

The Complete Bocuse Cookbook
Yes, it joins the pantheon of authoritative cookbooks that record French cuisine as we remember it - grand, sumptuous, intricate, painstakingly cooked with flair and precision.

The whole set of Heritage Cookbooks, published by Marshall Cavendish 
Where would my cookbook be if not for Marshall Cavendish.  And what a wonderful project they undertook to record the dishes we associate with each of the major racial groups in Singapore: Chinese, Malay, Indian as well as the communities - Peranakan and Eurasian.
My only regret is that the Chinese volume did not delve deeper into the signature dishes of each particular dialect group.  For example, the dishes associated with the Hokkien community and served in their popular restaurants, were excluded.  For that, we have these others to rely on......
Savour Chinatown by Annette Tan
Uncle Lau's Teochew Recipes  


Merry Christmas everyone.  Stay safe and hug your kids.




     

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving




Tomorrow, Americans take a break to get together with family and friends over a sumptuous turkey dinner.   Especially, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to pause and gaze at the beauty of the earth during the fall season, as well as praise God for the bounty so graciously given to us.

Those outside America might wonder how Thanksgiving came about.  According to my children's illustrated book,  in 1620, Pilgrims sailed over from England on the Mayflower ship to escape a hard life there.  Half of the Pilgrims were Separatists who wanted to establish a new church - these were the Puritans.

Their first winter in 1620 was dismal and it was only the following fall that their fields were full of ripe corn and other vegetables which included carrots, turnips and onions.  It was the food introduced to them by the native Americans that provided them the most of their food - corn, beans, squash and pumpkins.



The Pilgrims therefore wanted to celebrate with a harvest festival as a gesture of thanksgiving to God.  They also invited the native Americans who lived alongside during this time of peace.  Turkey was apparently served during that first Thanksgiving as the Pilgrims had been familiar with the meat even before they had left England.  Ironically, it was the Mexican Indians who first knew how to tame wild turkey.  The Spanish explorers liked the meat enough to take wild turkey with them back to Spain, from where the bird became popular throughout Europe.



Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday and also picked Thursday as the day to celebrate it.

Happy Thanksgiving






Sunday, November 18, 2012

Chicken Rice


As Americans get ready to spend Thursday with Tom Turkey, I yearned for its little cousin a few nights ago.  Craving for that old Singapore favorite, I invited my niece to join us at dinner for home-cooked chicken rice.  In fact, her father had been the one who had imparted his cooking instructions many years ago.  His philosophy, as a student in London in the 70s, is that if you are homesick for a dish, you survive by learning how to cook it.

We Singaporeans bond over chicken rice and it is simple to prepare.  And when we return home, we make it a point to have it at least once at one of several traditional outlets:
- Boon Tong Kee
- Loy Kee 
- Wee Nam Kee
- Swee Kee
- Five Star

My brother-in-law's recipe is amazingly simple, so much so that I nickname it 'combat chicken' because it saves me from tedious food preparation and we can survive any form of homesickness for the real thing back home.

Recipe:
Bring a large stockpot of water to a rolling boil.  (I tend to add some salt to the water).
Clean the inside cavity of a 4 pound chicken.  Trim the chicken fat and keep aside.  Stuff the chicken with about 4 tablespoons of shredded ginger. As an option, tie the chicken as you would for roasting for even cooking.  Place the chicken in the boiling water and cook for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a saute pan.  Add the reserved chicken fat, a few slices of ginger and 3 cups of white rice grains.  Gently stir fry until the rice grains are coated with oil from the fat and begin to look translucent.  (For the health-conscious, substitute the chicken fat with canola oil.)  Transfer rice to the rice cooker.

When the chicken is done, remove from the stockpot and run the chicken under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Use the chicken stock to cook the rice,  adding enough liquid such that the top level is about one finger digit from the level of the rice.

Chop the chicken into pieces, separating the drumsticks and the wings and then cutting up the breast meat into thinner 1/2 inch slices.   Drizzle sesame oil and light soy sauce.  Garnish with cilantro, spring onions and sliced cucumber and tomato.

Serve with warm chicken rice.

Accompany with dark soy sauce, special chicken rice ginger sauce and chili sauce  (I suggest Singlong, Glory or Kee's brand).






 

 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Diwali

Here are photos of our summer jaunt to India.... a place rich in history, culture, architecture and cuisine.
Below the photos is a list of Indian cookbooks that teach me and fascinate me.










Cookbooks:
Kerala Cookery by K.M. Matthew
A classic compilation of Keralan cuisine which frequently features coconut and seafood.   K.M. Mathew is a legend in this southern region of India and is related to a good friend of mine.

Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking
Possibly the most familiar name associated with authentic Indian cooking, this book was highly recommended to me by my Indian friends in business school.

Cooking Delights of The Maharajas by Digvijaya Singh 
A former co-worker who is descended from one of the royal maharaja families in Rajasthan would proudly cook dishes for us from this "food bible" among Indian aristocrats.

The Raj Cookbook, A Complete Lifestyle Album
A fascinating account of how the British lived during the Raj.  Recipes include mulligatawny soup.  There are menus to illustrate daily meals for the expats.

Gourmet's Gateway by Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur 
Another royal cookbook from the late and most glamorous Maharani of Jaipur.

The Emperor's Table by Salma Husain
Winner of "Best in the World" Gourmand Cookbook Award, this book gives an account of culinary history during the Mughal period.

Royal Cuisine of Rajasthan by Dharmendra Kanwar 
Yet another look at the Northern cuisine from Rajasthan.

The Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi 
A good orientation of the different curries and where they originate from various regions in India.  Written by the Marketing director of the Taj Hotels Group.

Street Food of India by Sephi Bergerson
Pictures paint a thousand words and bring home nostalgia for my Indian friends who now live outside of the subcontinent.

Indian Heritage Cooking by Sanmugam and Kasinathan 
A Singapore cookbook that traces the history and influences of Singapore's Indian cuisine.  I gave a copy to my friends in Delhi and they appreciated the insightful information.

My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King
Cookbooks about tight knit communities speak directly to me, given my Peranakan heritage.  This is one of them - about Parsi home cooking in Bombay.

Indian Cooking by Pushpesh Pant
Proudly declaring a weight of 1.5Kg and 1000 recipes, this brick-like Phaidon publication will be a fun but serious gift for anyone who loves Indian food.
  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

On Sunday afternoon, the air was pregnant with a looming gloom.  The kind of 'calm before a storm' feel that precedes a snowstorm.  We were all at first skeptical, considering that we had stocked up for last year's Hurricane Irene which then proved anti-climatic.  It had taken me months to clear up the cans of food and I still had a large bottle of water in storage.

Looking at the grey, silent sky, I decided that it was probably a good idea to stock up again just in case.  My daughter and I loaded up on Spam luncheon meat, pasta sauce and Heinz baked beans.  We used the opportunity to explore the varieties of Campbell's Soup but then stuck with the old favorites - the Andy Warhol icons of Cream of Tomato, Cream of Mushroom and Chicken Noodle.  By the time we got to the water, there were only Fiji Water and Evian.  I felt guilty about purchasing Fiji. How could I show off with the Fiji bottles that probably took up so much carbon footprint, contributed to global warming which now resulted in this impending flood?  The movie could prove right!   So I stuck with Evian, thinking that if I did not use those bottles, the red labels would fit quite nicely for my Election Party next week.

Monday, we invited friends for a play date.  We began a party and a marathon bake fest in my perverse attempt to use all my large appliances all at once.  How selfish of me, now considering I have friends who have no electricity downtown and have to migrate uptown for accommodation.  So we baked butterscotch oatmeal cookies (recipe from the Nestle Tollbooth packaging), brownies (from 'How to Cook Everything'), tarte tatin using leftover frozen puff pastry and the green apples we picked three weekends ago.  There was quite a sense of productivity as I 'cleaned up' my pantry and threw out bottle after bottle for recycling.  We had dinner with our play date family and they quivered as the chandelier swung in our swaying building.

By Tuesday, I re-assessed our inventory and realized that I might not make it past Thursday.  A few restaurants were open and people, exploring the streets with pent up energy, filled the pubs and restaurants and gyms.  Only two cashiers came in by cab to man the checkout at The Food Emporium.  All the usual Ben and Jerry's ice cream varieties were out.  No one was at the deli counter.  At Whole Foods, the checkout line was as long as the perimeter of my apartment.  I had tried to buy a whole chicken to make chicken rice.  The whole birds were gone.  I guess everyone had the same idea of roasting chicken - a warm homey comfort in the midst of a stormy night.  I got the last three pounds of ground beef and a little old lady stood beside me whispering "Please leave some for me.  It will last me through the night."  No burger buns, no lettuce, tomatoes, white onions, strawberries.  Suddenly, you realize everyone eats the same thing!  It all seemed so apocalyptic.  Then you reflect that this Thanksgiving will be very special, for the bounty we take for granted and the lives largely unscathed despite the floods and power outage.

And yes, I do intend to use up my Spam luncheon meat.  In times like these, the trusty luncheon meat goes a long way - fried rice, ramen, sandwich filling, porridge.....Stay safe.

Luncheon Meat Sandwich Filling
1. Remove luncheon meat from the can and cut into square slices about 1/2 inch thick.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan.  When the oil is glistening, add the slices of luncheon meat.  Pan fry until each side is slightly crispy along the edges.
3. Beat 2 eggs and pour the mixture over the luncheon meat and fry until cooked.
4. Transfer to a plate and serve with white bread.











Sunday, October 28, 2012

Street Food

Tonight is dark and quiet as we wait for the big storm.  Such an evening is ideal to tune in to the telly, like back in the days when I would snuggle in my mother's bed, the lights turned down and the air-con switched on.  My mother and I would watch a black and white P Ramlee movie on Friday nights which aired on the Malaysian TV channel, using her tiny Hitachi TV set.  Often, there would be a movie scene whereby P Ramlee would be sitting by the roadside slurping some mee rebus from a street vendor.  Street food has always been big business. Articles have been written and books have been published about the street food in New York and other countries.



I thought of those P Ramlee scenes this past Friday as I walked past JP Morgan 'central'.  The block on East 47th Street, sandwiched between the two JP Morgan buildings was occupied by a line of food trucks revving up for lunch rush hour.  These trucks included ones for Colombian food, Korean, Japanese, and even Maine lobster rolls.  A big progression from the stationary cart selling the popular chicken and rice combo - of which the most famous vendor is located near MoMa on 6th Avenue.  And definitely a lot more frills than the simple bagel breakfast cart or for that matter, the hotdog stand.









Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Oktoberfest


My mother had friends from different cultures.  She learnt how to cook their food.  They exchanged recipes.  In the many handwritten notebooks my mother left behind, there are entries for 'Inari sushi', 'Bergedil', 'Curry Devil' and such.  In this age of global citizens, it is a precious attribute worth sustaining.  This past Friday, my friends and I of 'Cinco de Mayo' dinner party fame (see entry 'Singapore Noodles' on 5/9/12), met up once again.  We celebrated Oktoberfest with 'fraulein' Anke (she of Black Forest fame too, see entry on 6/28/12).





















Alice, Anke and I met up in the morning in the Upper East Side.  After a quick breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien (Belgian origins), we inched closer to the 'Vaterland' when we dropped in at Glaser's Bakery on 87th and 1st.  I had stumbled upon this bakery- opened in 1902 and located in the heart of German Yorkville - when I walked past it one day with my son on our way to Asphalt Green for soccer.  For those of us in Singapore who miss the Red House Bakery in Katong, this is its New York cousin.  The store has old wood-paneled walls and a zinc-tiled ceiling.  The glass cabinets displayed chocolate cakes, marzipan-frosted sheet cakes, apple strudel, cookies and cherry tarts.  The open kitchen at the back offered a homey whiff of fresh-baked goods.  There was an air of nostalgia as we lingered and longed for the bakeries of our childhood, not the cookie-cutter cupcake shops that dress up like old milk shake bars from the Eisenhower era.  Glaser's is the real thing.

We then walked over to Schaller and Weber, a venerable German delicatessen that carries some of the most authentic bratwursts and hams, pretzel and rye bread, plus an array of European canned food and condiments.  Anke recommended the sweet mustard and Kelcher's horseradish to go with our 'choucroute' for that evening.  The butcher was super-thrilled when Anke spoke to him in German and explained that we were celebrating Oktoberfest. One could feel his enthusiasm, almost as if he would spiritually join us for the festivities.  Anke and the butcher reveled in their common language and he tipped her on where to source her German beer.


So we all sat down for dinner that night.  Smoked pork knuckle, pork ribs and two half slabs of bacon that had been simmered for two hours in Riesling and sauerkraut, washed off with Eiswein and lots of beer.  Anke came to serve us in her dirndl - 'Sexy Bavarian Girl' from the Halloween pop-up store.  She taught me how to sear the bratwursts with much pride and almost teared up from homesickness while peeking at the pot of meat and potatoes.  We succeeded once again with such an insightful excursion during the day and cultural exchange through Anke's instructions in the evening.  The stakes had just got higher for our next dinner gathering.

Reflecting on that evening, I thought about my mother, and my father for that matter,.  They cultivated friendships that have lasted for decades.  My father recently celebrated his 86th birthday this past Sunday.  One of their oldest friends, a lovely Eurasian lady named Aunty Lilian - doing what she has done for the last 50 years - called him in the morning to wish him well.  I can only hope to keep friends in the same way that my parents have.   

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Humble Good Morning Towel

While in Singapore, I bought half a dozen cotton towels to help me with my house chores.  The towels were going to be my trusty accomplices as I wiped, mopped and cleaned away.  They were the ubiquitous Good Morning Towels - beloved by generations of Singaporeans.  Cheap and good, they cost something like S$5 for three towels and can be found in the friendly kitchenware shops in HDB estates as well as supermarkets such as NTUC and Giant.  I observed tradition by purchasing mine from the local 'karang guni' kitchen shop in Marine Parade - the type that sells brooms, pots, pans, electric plugs, plastic containers etc. etc.

Here are a few other times I've seen the Good Morning towels being used:
- for wrapping the heads of ladies in a hair salon during their dye or perm job
- moistened and left on top of popiah skin to prevent the wrappers from drying out
- for cleaning hawker center tables
- slung around the necks of trishaw cyclists in the sweltering heat
- as face towels for National Servicemen


Perhaps blog readers can add more uses......



     

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Bomb Shelter


The UN General Assembly is going on now and my residential area is a glorified war zone for diplomats, despots and presidents to revel in self-importance.  Back in 2001 right after my mother's passing, I had cobbled all her recipes together and hand carried them back to New York. Because I lived a literal stone's throw away from the UN Assembly Hall, I was often nervous that we would yet again be the target of another terrorist attack in the wake of 9/11.  Alas, we did not have a bomb shelter.

Back in Singapore, however, our new apartment has been outfitted with a bomb shelter.  The blueprint drawings for the property had been approved during a time frame when the government had implemented the compulsory construction of 'bomb shelters' in residences as part of their Civil Defence Plan.  Then they changed their mind.....probably recognizing that the shelter was being used more as a suffocating, claustrophobic square foot maid's room with no windows.  Imagine the international uproar   should this be noticed by human rights activists.

I offered up my bomb shelter space as an overflow room for my mother's 'barang barang' - all the kitchen paraphernalia that she acquired over the decades and left behind intact, right down to the packaging that almost all of these blenders came in.

As I spent many weeks (of what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation) unpacking box loads of kitchen items, I kept thinking about our kitchen in Yarrow Gardens.  In the cookbook, I had written:


The middle kitchen had several wooden plank shelves and drawers to contain her baking trays, 
Nonya cake moulds, tiffin carriers; and other items which needed more protection from outdoor dust.  
She also hung her large rattan trays here, some of which were about three feet in diameter.  
These circular trays were meant to sun-dry foodstuff, among them spices prior to grinding them 
into curry powder. 


A few shelves were set aside for my mother’s appliances.  She bought several in her lifetime, 
always on a quest to find the best blender and mixer.  They were neatly protected in plastic sheets 
and it was often a tedious chore to take the heavy machines out just to use them!
  
The third kitchen was outdoors but cemented and zinc-roofed to protect from the sun and rain. 
Because this open kitchen could be seen from the road, it was a perennial eyesore for my neighbors 
even though my mother tried to camouflage her pots and pans with rattan chick blinds. 
My mother installed another huge rack to store army-sized pots and pans and other large and 
heavy items such as the batu lesong, batu boh and batu giling.  

Apparently, my sister Molly, in a fit of panic at how much she had to relocate from the old place, 
threw out a lot of items.  Rummaging through my mother's belongings felt like an archaeological trip 
as I unearthed tools and tricks for making pineapple tarts; special pots and measuring cups and cookie 
cutters, what not have you.  With a lot of sentiment, I organized them according to recipes and labeled 
the boxes with magic marker and musking tape...uniform plastic boxes I had purchased from Shop N' Save.  

Then I lined all her cookbooks along the heavy duty metal shelves that my sister Beng had specially 
customized. The books included her favorite Tham Yui Kai recipes and circa 1960s Home Economics 
textbooks, plus many first editions of her friends' publications, in particular those of Mrs. Leong and 
Mrs. Lee.  

The tingkats reminded me of all the wonderful parties we had, the leftovers lovingly packed for my sisters
to take home.  

Proud of the completion of my nightly homework, I showed off the shelter to my friends.  One asked me, 
"So where are the requisite radio, bottles of water and torchlight?"  With a shelter like mine, my 
mother's tokens of comfort were all I needed.    



Monday, September 3, 2012

Camp Sharon - Satellite location

All good things have to come to an end.  The summer has been long and throughly productive....which included two solid weeks of exploring New York City, a trip back to Singapore to visit family and a vacation to India. While in Singapore, I failed miserably in conducting my "academic maintenance plan" for my kids.  Distracted by a retinue of movers, contractors and electricians, my kids slipped easily into a regime of swimming, television and car rides with their aunts.  Haunted by guilt, I made a desperate attempt at squeezing in a few events to break the monotony.  What good fun we had.

1. Singapore Night Festival
We finally managed to sneak away from the aunts (my sisters) for the last night of the festival.  We waited for 45 minutes under the mylar tent, enduring the bad imitation music (in my opinion) of The Great Spy Experiment.  Every riff was a U2 sound-a-like.  The patience and sweat (literally) paid off as we witnessed the performance 'Mylar' by Fuerza Bruta, a troupe from Argentina.  4 women slipping and sliding across the thick plastic platform in a shallow pool of water made for 'wet and wild' and underwear galore.  My kids are innocent enough but I am pretty sure the adult audience enjoyed the voyeuristic sensation, watching from below.

Bras Basah came alive and twinkling as projected images lit up the facades of our beloved buildings, the old SJI and the National Museum.  There was celebratory carnival noise in the air as Fuerza Bruta performed along Armenian Street as well - a crane that held up a woman who swung around and swerved in a flowing gown, resembling the lady from the Mooncake tale.  All this happening while a group of chanters and bangers whistled and drummed around the crane. We were mesmerized.

2. Gardens by the Bay
We beat Will and Kate to it!  Unfortunately, when we went one Saturday morning, we missed becoming the One Millionth visitor by a thin margin (the winner emerged that evening) and lost out on a bunch of prizes.  The two air-conditioned domes are well worth visiting.  I liked the Flower Dome for its colorful rendition of seasonal flowers - begonias abound at this time.  The olive trees reminded me of my wonderful time in the Garden of Gethsamane.  As for the other dome,  apart from the spectacularly high waterfall as you enter, the landscape was more concrete and less floral.  We went up to the 6th floor to the 'Lost World'.  The fact that I cannot remember the actual name of the dome off-hand highlights why I was not exactly enthralled with it.  It unveiled my fear of heights.  Considering that I live on the 25th floor of a high-rise, it is a different feel altogether when you are walking along an intentionally shaky ramp that spirals around a fake mountain.  The ramp is supported by metal rod beams and bumps along with every thump and jump of its pedestrians.  Yikes, I kept thinking I might fall over down to the hard concrete ground!  I froze a few times but was motivated to snap photos of my family before scuttling back down.  That perhaps was the thrill ride that the dome wishes to provide visitors.  

And by the way, it might take another 5 years before the outdoor trees are lush and can therefore provide leafy canopied respite from the heat!

3. Marina Bay Sands Light Show
I used to think that the brilliantly lit Hong Kong skyline was the best in the world.  The Singapore skyline, taking shape quite nicely, will give HK a run for that title.  Sitting with my kids and sister in the open air right outside the MBS mall, I pondered at how much the scenery has changed.  The OCBC building has been eclipsed by taller towers.  The Fullerton Hotel forms a tiara along the 'bund' .
The light show is free entertainment and copies the famous Bellagio fountain show but with a twist.  In typical Singapore fashion, it 'teaches' the audience about the value of water and the importance it is to life.  There is a montage of diverse Singaporean faces visually sprayed onto a water vapour screen (trust my attempt at describing a movie screen made of water).

4. The Arabian Nights (La Salle College of the Arts) until September 18
Performed by iTheatre with original score and lyrics and a creative storyline, my children giggled and listened throughout the 2 hour musical.  They came home repeating lyrics of the opening song. I came home with a refresher about the Arabian Nights and could finally put together the plot involving Princess Sherazade.  The costumes were beautiful, the King looked like he had borrowed the slicked back hair and high collared tunic look from the actual King of Bhutan.
My favorite was the sub plot "Merchant of Sinda' - I thought Faizal Abdullah who played the role of Hamid was most entertaining.

5. The Cat in the Hat (The Little Company)  until September 30
The Little Company's regular repertoire at its cozy resident theater along Robertson Walk is always short and sweet.  This play was 40 minutes and was first performed by the National Theatre of Great Britain.  It was brilliant and captivating - from the costumes and set which popped out of Dr. Seuss' storybook, to the acting (Thing 1 and Thing 2, played by local actresses excelled with their expressive gestures).
We bought a few Dr. Seuss books on sale on our way out.


The performances by our local companies get better and better each time we attend one.  Plus, there are several to choose from at any one time, particularly around the school holidays.  This is a privilege for the new generation, a far cry from my childhood where the first play I had been to was 'Winnie the Pooh' at the old Drama Center along Fort Canning.




Sunday, August 26, 2012

Breakfast


I wake up with heart palpitations at the thought of school starting all over again in less than two weeks. School for my kids is as good as being school for me.  It's like going back to real work!

The stress of homework is compounded with the burden of feeding my kids right.  This summer, it has been an enormous struggle to feed my son.  I have resorted to 'ninja juice' which is a cocktail of chocolate milk and chocolate Pediasure - a thought poohed poohed by my pediatrician friend as 'sweetening' his taste preference.  He only drinks it because he associates it with Ninjago, and he gets to consume it at our new 'bar counter' located at what is called the 'dry kitchen' in our Singapore apartment.

I have also made more pancakes in the last two weeks than I ever would back in New York for an entire year.  Part of it was due to the fact that my sister had paid $22 for a bag of oat, honey pancakes and $33 for a canister of maple syrup from the new Dean and Deluca store in Singapore.  I was tasked with Sunday brunch for dad and sis, complete with salty bacon smuggled in from Australia and pork sausages.  But seriously sis, do I need a taste of Dean and Deluca when I pass by it all the time on the Upper East Side?

So I dragged my kids to get a taste of my local breakfast - THE breakfast of champion students on their way to morning school at 6.30am.  My kids almost died.  Two half-boiled eggs, drowned in soy sauce and a dash of white pepper, coupled with kaya toast.  I regaled my tale of slurping the eggs from a saucer if I had to rush to school.  Wide-eyed, they remarked, "You did that?  Eeeew."

Regardless, the eggs were as good as any protein shake forced down a little child and kept me energetic for a good part of the morning.  These days, I can relive my favorite breakfast conveniently, at a Ya Kun or Toastbox shop.  I liked Ya Kun's kaya but found their bread over-toasted, dry and crusty.  I was curious about Toastbox's thick bread slices but found their kaya too bland.  I must say that Chin Mee Chin (or Chimmy as we affectionately call our neighborhood shop) still serves up something more familiar for me. (Check out New York Times article featuring Chin Mee Chin.)

Chin Mee Chin
204 East Coast Road
Singapore









Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Meat Market

My sister Beng was born at a midwifery located above a butcher shop in Joo Chiat.  We sometimes tease her about her humble beginnings.  I guess Nonyas have had a long association with their butchers, as exemplified in 'The Little Nyonya' whereby the protaganist marries one for 'convenience'.

My mother had a few regular butchers.  However, she also had her middleman Ah Seng who delivered her groceries and placed all her important orders on her behalf, particularly around Chinese New Year and when she made her Kueh Chang.

My affinity for Mr. Simchick in New York has been well documented on my blog.  As we recently moved to our new home in Singapore, I fulfilled a wish to host a barbecue as a housewarming and to celebrate my son's birthday.  As I had mentioned in my cookbook, our family barbecues "were spectacular.  We had seasoned chicken wings, pork and beef fillet, squid or calamari, along with sausages, otak otak, satay, shrimp, corn, potato salad and green salad.  It was a barbecue to end all barbecues."   I endeavored to replicate what I remembered of those resplendent feasts, minus the satay and otak otak...perhaps having acquired a more Westernized palate.

The important task was to find good meat in Singapore.  I had to find my "local Mr. Simchick", as I told my kids when they grumbled about why I trudged all about town to find butchers.  Here's what I discovered:

Huber's Butchery (www.hubers.com.sg)
18A & 18B Dempsey Road, S249677
Tel: 6737 1588
Delivers above $75
Excellent market with the largest selection, including my all important US beef.  Several marinated choices of chicken, pork chops, including satay.  Prices comparable with Cold Storage.

The Butcher (www.thebutcher.com.sg)
44 Jalan Merah Saga, #01-50, S278116
or
80 Marine Parade Road, #B1-838, S449269
Tel: 6472 0073
Delivers free above $100, charges $10 under $100
I supported 'local' by purchasing from the Parkway Parade/Marine Parade branch.  The beef was great and the regular sales promotion items were appealing.  These included sirloin steak and veal chops on the days I visited the store.   

Foodie Market Place
225 Outram Road, S169038
Tel: 6224 3290
I was recommended this by a regular customer who told me that the store, located at the now-hip Tiong Bahru area, was frequented by expats who found the prices attractive and the quality high.  I made the trek to research this place but did not find that wide a selection.  Maybe it was too early in the morning.  The prices were attractive and it is a good place to stock up as there is a large frozen section.  

Cold Storage
I would go to Cold Storage for all my meats, saving the heavy duty spending at Huber's on high quality beef for special occasions.  Cold Storage is consistent, somewhat omnipresent so that you could pop into a branch to pick up something on the way home.  Besides, it is the supermarket I've known all my life.  







  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Kon Loh Meen

I have spent the first week in Singapore setting up our new home.  My children feel completely abandoned and tell me that my type of homework means 'shopping' (as opposed to theirs which is academic).  After another exhaustive day of driving around, my sister and I stopped by Katong to buy dinner.  We went to Mei Yuen along East Coast Road at 8pm, just as the noodle seller was winding down his business for the day.

A flood of nostalgia meant that I had to grab my iPhone and start snapping photos.  The noodle man  felt shy and murmured that he was not handsome enough to have photos taken.  "Never mind Uncle!" I assured him that looks had no bearing on his delicious cooking.  An Indian customer of thirty years commented that I was capturing the visuals before they disappeared.  According to him, these more popular stores have been selling their recipes and retiring.

Mei Yuen was a favorite of my brothers-in-law.  Back in the 70s and 80s, when it was called Mui Fang,   my sisters would stop by to 'tapau' several packets of their signature yellow noodle dish we call Kon Loh Meen - Cantonese for 'dry pulled noodles'.  It was blanched noodles, garnished with slices of char siew, wonton dumplings and blanched greens.  The chili sauce was the most essential ingredient and determined the overall standard of the Kon Loh Meen.   Yes, there are noodle shops all over Singapore but one goes to a personal favorite.  This was mine.












My bashful noodle man was only too flattered to be photographed.  He gave me plump slices of char siew.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Camp Sharon

Summer camps are very popular here in New York.  Children have 12 to 13 weeks off school during the summer.  Typically, they enroll in a few weeks of camp.  Since many parents work full-time, summer camp is a helpful option to preoccupy children during the day.  It is quite a far cry from my own camp experiences with NCC where my friends and I orienteered in Mandai, fell into wet swamps, stayed in gloomy military camps and slept overnight under the open sky in Pulau Tekong.  Most memorable of all were the days at the Outward Bound School.  Best of all, the time we were made to crawl into a pitch black tunnel only to find ourselves stuck in a human jam, this carried out with the distinct purpose of toughening us up when confronted with a dark and confined space.

Camps can have specific subjects ranging from music, ballet, art, chess or a sport.  Many camps such as Ramapo, Pierce and Gate Hill are located outside the city and provide various activities in an authentic outdoor setting.  I contemplated one of these camps for next year, and then realized how far they are from the city.

I usually send my children to camp for 4 weeks out of the summer.  2 weeks of Chinese camp which they find so much more fun and engaging than the lessons they take throughout the school year, and 2 weeks at another camp.  My daughter has been to a 'camp without a home base' where they met at the sidewalk and spent each day visiting a museum, traveling by subway.  This year, my children thoroughly enjoyed their time at Chelsea Piers where I sent them for my interpretation of the Gulag - continual sports from 8.30am to 3pm.  They lost weight, had a stronger appetite and were completely exhausted each night.  Best of all, the school bus came to pick them up at 7.55am and dropped them off at 5pm.  I felt like I was on holiday from the kids each morning.

Because camps average $500 per child per week, I have found it worthwhile at times to use part of that  budget to travel and conduct my own "Camp Sharon".  This year, I decided that we should be tourists in our city.  So I planned my days starting with "academic maintenance", i.e. finishing those workbooks sent home from school and working on weak areas.  The motivation for my children was that as soon as they completed their homework, they could start off with the day's outing.  Last week, we covered the following:

Monday - Lunch at Chinatown, Flushing...then the New York Hall of Science 3 stops away
Tuesday - The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, followed by milk shake at the nearby Shake Shack
Wednesday - The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) on the Upper West Side where we visited the dinosaurs, watched the Imax movie "Journey to the Stars" and went to the new exhibition about Bioluminescent creatures.

On Thursday, we made a poignant visit to the 9/11 Memorial, had a lovely lunch outdoors at Battery Park overlooking the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty, followed by a trip back to the east side to the Bodies exhibition at South Street Seaport.  Along the way, my children were curious about St. Paul's Chapel so we stepped inside, only to learn that George Washington had attended service there on the day of his Inauguration at Wall Street.  While there, we saw a postcard about the Anne Frank Center.  My daughter was somewhat keen to visit, and we made our way there to its new location at Park Place. We stumbled upon a very interesting exhibition about the life of Anne Frank.  We watched a 25 minute documentary narrated by Jeremy Irons about her, and then listened to the iPad apps.  It provided rich information about a historical person whom my daughter had been reading about.

On Friday, we went to the new exhibition about healthy eating and sleep at the Children's Museum.  There were facts that even I found useful for aging gracefully.

The camp was exhausting but completely enlightening, seen through the eyes of my children.  Other impressive trips included the "Lunchtime" exhibition at the New York Public Library where we were introduced to the automat.  Older visitors would stop beside us to reminisce about the time that they frequented the automat restaurants, the last of which closed in 1991.

We will end with a finale to the Intrepid to view the space shuttle.

Creating my camp has given me a deeper appreciation of the many camp counselors and planners who work hard to make each day fun, engaging and memorable for their attendees.  It was undeniably my proudest achievement this summer.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Confinement

The Taiwanese ladies I referred to in my last entry about Flushing mothered me when I had my second child.  Aware that my own mother had passed away a few years before, they took it upon themselves to ensure that I would be well taken care of after my son was born.

This is a traditional post-natal rite of passage for Chinese mothers.  It is a serious business in Singapore. My best friend reserved her confinement nanny well before her due date.  I would not be surprised if her son's birth date centered on the nanny's availability. The nanny stayed in to cook, massage and care for the mother for an entire month, pretty much like the role of the 'baby nurse' in New York except that the focus is on the mother.   The premise is that a new mother needs to be nursed back to health at a time when she is most vulnerable to fatigue, loss of blood, hormonal imbalance and diet changes.  If the health restoration is not optimal, it sets the risk for long-term repercussions health-wise, ranging from migraine to arthritis.  The fear is compounded by the fact that many of these ailments do not manifest themselves until many years later.

I support this idea of confinement, although I have no proof that my hypothesis is correct.  When I had my first child, it was very important for me to wash my hair soon after, only because I wanted to look presentable before my dashing doctor.  I blamed my migraines on that particular time.  I attributed the backaches to the fact that we often dined out in the wintry cold less than a month after the birth.

Confinement implies that the new mother is not supposed to take a bath for the entire month so as not to dampen flesh and bones which in turn retain the cold.  She is also made to consume specially cooked food, with ingredients that nurture her back to health.  These include ginger for 'beating the wind' out of the body, liver to supplement iron and 'dong guai', a Chinese herb that maintains the female reproductive system and regulates the monthly cycle.  My mother fussed over my sisters when they had their children.  She made soup containing snakehead fish - a kind of fish which was known in Chinese medicine for its healing properties, in this case, healing C-section surgical wounds.

The Taiwanese nanny I knew, Mrs. Yang, found me a 'chef'.  Annie is Taiwanese but having lived in Vienna, spoke German fluently, in addition to Mandarin, the Fukien language and Shanghainese.  She pampered us with her nightly home-cooked fare, so much so that we would invite friends to join us for dinner.  As such, we were having mini dinner parties at the expense of me supposedly recuperating in bed. Annie made fresh dumplings, soups and stir fries and charmed our friends.   A married couple  invited her to cook for them regularly as well.  (They were not Chinese and they definitely had not had a baby just then.)   Once, she went to the medicinal shop to obtain deer's antlers, ground into fine powder to be prepared into a brew for my 'cold ankles'.

I was told that mothers could repent for their 'sins'.  If they had not been observant with staying in self-confinement and slurping those bitter soups, they could be more obedient when they had the next kid.  I wince when I meet a mother walking outdoors when she has just had a baby a week before.  I always relate that maybe these age-old myths are true given my own experiences.  Either run back indoors and stay in for the rest of the month, or have another baby and do it right the next time.

The two dishes I associate with confinement are Pig's Trotters stewed with Ginger and Black Vinegar (to improve blood circulation and alleviate the 'wind' in the body), as well as Chicken stir fried with Ginger and Sesame Oil.

Chicken in Sesame Oil


2 pounds chicken (breast or parts)
Drizzle of vegetable oil
2 inches ginger, skinned and julienned
4 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine


Method


Rinse and pat dry the chicken.  Slice the breast into stir fry slices.
Heat a saute pan.  Drizzle the vegetable oil.  When the oil is glistening, add the julienned ginger, followed by the chicken and sesame oil.  Season with sugar and rice wine.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Flushing

Before Din Tai Fung began to spring up everywhere, my Chinese-American friends would subway to Flushing for some of mother's Taiwanese food.  The progeny of Taiwanese immigrants - my husband included - they liked Nan Bei He located on 40th Street.  That was in the late 1990s.  I would sit there and gawk as Gloria enjoyed her bowl of salty soybean curd with deep fried cruller (you tiao).

Flushing, to me, is a Taiwanese-influenced Chinatown as opposed to Manhattan's Chinatown which remains a Cantonese stronghold.  I assume this based on who resides where and what dialect they tend to speak.  The Taiwanese nannies I know live near Flushing whereas the friends I know with links to Canal Street, still break into Cantonese in the midst of their dialogue.





As part of my weeklong "Sharon summer camp" for my kids, we made a pit stop at Flushing today before visiting the New York Hall of Science which is three stops away on the 7 line.  After walking two loops around the block in the withering heat,  I was told that Nan Bei He had moved to the other side of Main Street.  It is now situated in a new complex along Prince Street.  I explained to my kids that this was the cuisine of their paternal grandparents.  The cold soy milk was a welcome relief, swiftly followed by scallion pancake rolled with beef (niu rou bao bing) and beef stew noodle soup.  The beef stew was so tender, my daughter was thrilled that she did not have to tear or chew the pieces apart.  The scallion pancake reminded me of Mrs. Yang, my friend's late nanny, who made this for us from time to time as a thoughtful gesture.

A larger group sat next to our table.  Their lunch order featured so many familiar dishes that had it not been for my kids, I would have plopped down with them to partake of their fare. Chicken Taiwan style (san bei ji), braised beef (hong sao niu rou), vegetable stir fried with sha cha sauce and of course, xiao long bao.  





Later, we walked past a cake shop and peeked in.  Iris Bakery, at the corner of Main and Prince, in the same complex as Nan Bei He, assures me that yes, finally, those hipper Asian food retail shops are coming to America and will provide a much needed facelift to the old-style shops that make Chinatowns here a cultural time warp.  The cakes were innovative, glossy concoctions and were elegantly presented.  We were too full to try any of them but they were pretty enough to suggest that perhaps I should ride out to Flushing to get these cakes for my next dinner party.


A reliable cookbook for such Taiwanese fare is "Blue Eye Dragon: Taiwanese Cooking" by Jade and Muriel Chen.  Enjoy!


Monday, July 2, 2012

Childhood Summers




We were recently invited to spend the weekend at a friend's beach house.  There were seven children.  They spent the day at the beach digging and constructing water tunnels, (cess)pools, moats and castles. Then we all ran into the sea to jump over and ride on the white water waves rushing in.  We collected beautiful black scallop shells, mussels and soft shell crab.  Winding down in the evening, we tucked into grilled steak, hot 'dawgs' and burgers.  The children went on to play hide and seek.
This made for the kind of idyllic moment that children deserve to remember of their childhood.

Looking at the happy, contented faces of the children that evening of June 30, I thought back to the evening of June 1, 1981.

I recall that day so clearly because I was one of several freshly-bathed children seated at a long table, waiting for dinner to be served.  One of the mothers came over and said that we should toast to the half-year mark.  A precocious 7 year old boy then corrected her by saying that she was a month too early, it should be June 30.  (He went on to MIT.)

Singapore does not have a three-month school break.  But it does punctuate the school year with a monthlong siesta in June.  In 1981, my eldest sister took me along on her weekend jaunts with her friends.  She had not had children then, so I became the token child who mingled with the minors in the entourage.  Late Friday, we would hop into one of several cars in a convoy heading northwards towards Kuala Lumpur.  We would stay the night at the KL hotel which one of the friends owned.  The following morning, the cars would then travel the winding road that led up to the top of Fraser's Hill.  I only made it to the Hill twice but the experiences were so carefree that I remember them for life.

We stayed at the Sime Darby chalet, situated at the end of the main road.  It was a double-storey bungalow with several bedrooms, a tennis court and a huge compound.  Best of all, it came with a resident Hainanese chef who whipped up a gourmet meal each time.  He brought out the best of what the Hainanese are renowned for.......marinated pork chops, sweet and sour fish being what I recall best.  We would pretend to toast like the adults seated at the long banquet table parallel to ours.  The adults found us amusing until one of the boys unknowingly poured the white wine into the ice bucket, thinking that it would chill even faster.

The same 'half-year mark' mother, Teresa, was a beautiful lady who donned nylon stockings when she wore her sexy sports shorts.  She was the ultimate den mother who co-ordinated rounders matches and charades.  With her loud, booming voice, she was able to whip us children into obedient teams.

Our travel entourage made other trips that same year - to the Golden Sands Hotel in Penang, a durian plantation in Johor and to a Malaysia Cup match in KL (where we had to be hustled out quickly in case a riot broke out between Singaporeans and Malaysians).

These days, the dozen or so children are spread out.  But we keep abreast of what's going on among ourselves from time to time.  I once flew up to New York with one of them.   We have our own families.  I bet, like me, we will be hard pressed to remember what Chinese characters we had learnt in June 1981, but will recall with fondness, hiking and horse-back riding in the cool climate in Fraser's Hill, and bumping up and down in the back of a car riding the highway past palm and rubber trees.

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...