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


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......


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...