Monday, December 31, 2012


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.


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...