Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

When you have no time for dinner...

Today, I'm in the midst of drafting minutes for the various meetings I attended last week when the batteries in my digital recorder go flat. Hmm, seemed like a good time as any time to take a walk down to neighbouring Windsor to buy some spices for a new dish I wanted to make for dinner tonight as a treat for A, who's been busy burning the midnight and early morning oil these couple of weeks.

I decide to take the rest of the afternoon off from work to check out a couple of new shops (one is structured much like the Heeren in showcasing up and coming young Melburnian designers), buy some art supplies for my resin jewellery class on Thursday and gather supplies for tonight's dinner and baking sessions for the rest of the week.

I wander down to a now favourite haunt along Chapel Street called Flavours, Herbs and Spices, which stocks a veritable Aladdin's cave of spices, herbs and spice mixes as well as a host of enticing kitchenware, supplies and linen for the perfect hostess. I'm looking for a Moroccan spice mix, ras-el-hanout, as well as ordinary spices such as ground cinnamon, saffron and nutmeg. FHS' owner, Victoria, suggests "Meera's ras-el-hanout", compounded and mixed specially for local Melburnian chef/culinary teacher, Meera Freeman (who's well known for her Moroccan cooking classes), which comprises a ground mix of cinnamon, cardamom, cassia, allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, long, cubeb and black pepper, coriander, mace, grains of paradise (what is this?) rosebuds and ginger. I quickly spot the rest of the spices I came for and leave with a nice bag of goodies before I start poking around Victoria's lovely shop and buy yet another linen towel/apron from the Mozi range.
My buys from Flavours Herbs Spices

Having the afternoon off also means that I'm like a loony woman back home trying to unpack my stuff in the kitchen, defrost the chicken parts and check my BlackBerry to see if I've received any emails from the office. Darn… the first set of minutes have been formatted and I've got comments on my second set of minutes so it's another couple of hours taking care of everything before I surface to see that it's 815pm!

Time to get on with the spiced chicken with the ras-el-hanout mix and tomato and carrot couscous! Tonight sees a couple of firsts - the first time I'm working with cous cous and the first time I'm doing anything vaguely Moroccan. For some reason, I've never tried Moroccan cooking or even making cous cous although most of their dishes seems easy enough with all that stewing going on. Maybe it was the use of apricots in their dishes which grossed me out a little - me and my compartmentalised taste buds where savoury dishes should be savoury, spicy dishes apropos but a savoury dish with fruity twinges does send a little shiver down my spine. Strangely I don't mind this combination when it comes to pate & terrines though!

Anyway, since I've always been avowedly (as is my Italiano-phile and Franco-phile girlfriend, T) pro-Italian cuisine to date, I've sadly neglected trying dishes from the other side of the Mediterranean. By the end of the evening, I'm wondering why I haven't gone out and purchased a tagine before - cous cous and Moroccan food isn't so difficult and it's definitely tasty! (Alright so maybe my spiced chicken isn't really a Moroccan dish but I used a Moroccan spice mix!)

Tonight's dinner is an exercise in simplicity and makes an appearance in time for A's return around 9pm.

Spiced Chicken

I decide I want crispy chicken for tonight instead of making a stew (too much time!). Toss chicken parts in a plastic bag holding 4 tablespoons of plain flour mixed with 2 tablespoons of ras-el-hanout and a couple of pinches of salt. Once the chicken parts are evenly floured, bung them into a preheated oven of 220'C to crisp the skin for 10 minutes and then lower the temperature to 190'C for about 15 more minutes. Squeeze a lemon over and it's ready to go.

Cous cous

Prepare cous cous enough for 2 persons according to the instructions on the package. Fluff the grains with a fork and toss in a cube of butter and reheat over low heat for 1 minute. Add a handful of shredded carrots, diced tomatoes, the juice of 1 lemon, finely chopped parsley and coriander and some ground black pepper and mix well. Uunfortunately, with the amount I had to carry today, I had completely forgotten to get the coriander and parsley.

**You won't believe the appetizing smells emanating from the spiced chicken when its had its blast in the oven! It looks a little like Colonel Sander's Original Recipe but tastes way way waaaaaayyyyy better. Taking no longer than 45 minutes (prep and cooking time), tonight's dinner is perfect for those nights when you don't have a lot of time to whip up something fancy and yet want something healthy, light but filling.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

My New Obsession...

comes in the form of the gooey yumminess I've been scooping out of this bottle.

I came back this weekend from a week's worth of meetings in Singapore and a frenzied round of catching up with girlfriends to find the fridge bare. A was away in Hong Kong for part of the week and hadn't found time to get to the market. So in between all the cleaning, unpacking and catching up on sleep this weekend, we took a quick trip down to Safeway yesterday to stock up on some food.

For some reason, I'm having a sudden and very intense craving for hazelnut spread. Perhaps the Swedish cookies with hazelnut spread that I picked up at the Singapore Ikea earlier last week triggered this mad craving since I only managed to have a couple in the midst of my hectic schedule. Whatever I had had was enough to leave me wanting more which is strange 'cos I've never been a fan of anything hazelnut-based much less Nutella. A though, has very fond memories of Nutella and eagerly seconded my suggestion we get a bottle. So we headed first to the "Jams & Spreads" shelf at Safeway and that's when I spotted Nutino.

Touted as the perfect compliment to any snack or meal, Nutino is made in Italy from freshly roasted hazelnuts, skim milk and chocolate. Yummy... and perfect in my mind for recreating some spectacular desserts I'd had recently involving hazelnut. One yummy dessert called "Pizza con Nutella" comprised a crisp, thin pizza base topped with hazelnut spread and sprinkled with coarsely pounded hazelnuts and icing sugar, which A and I had in the open-air courtyard garden of La Lanterna di Vittorio during our recent New York trip. We had to thank our friend C for the introduction to this Italian cafe-coffee shop (as it's touted) which uses premium hazelnut spread from Italy for the Pizza con Nutella. Perhaps the close association of "Italian coffee shop" and Italian made hazelnut spread did it for me cos I picked up the jar of Nutino withouth a moment's hesitation, cheesy squirrel picture notwithstanding!

Anyway, let's just say that Nutino proved to be more enticing than Nutella and definitely much smoother in taste. I've never been a huge fan of Nutella, finding it a tad bit too sweet and paste-like for my taste. Nutino on the other hand, is smooth and creamy, balancing just the right amount of sweetness with the nutty taste of hazelnuts evident throughout. I've had my fingers stuck in that jar since we came back, spooning Nutino spread over our butter cookies, stirring it into my coffee and cream (which makes for a lovely mocha-like drink) and thinning it out with some hot cream to make a hazelnut sauce to pair with icecream. But perhaps the best way of eating Nutino is simply to make like a kid (as we all used to do with condensed milk and milo!) and sail into that jar with a spoon!

There's probably heaps of ways to eat hazelnut spread but one of my favourites is using it as a dip for bananas, strawberries and kiwifruit. I also like it as a filling to sponge cakes and maybe one day when I get that icecream maker, I'll have hazelnut icecream as good as the gelatos I've had in Italy. If any of you find Nutino in the supermarkets back in Singapore, tell me! Otherwise, I'm shipping back a box!

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Friday, October 20, 2006

New York # 4 - Shopping the New York way

A visit to New York wouldn't be complete without visiting their legendary temples of goods – Barneys and Bloomingdales. Having spent nearly all my money at Woodbury Common on Kate Spade bags, shoes and Le Creuset pots, I decided to steer clear of both these one-stop shops (save for a quick dash to Barneys to buy some insanely expensive skincare by Dr Sebagh, reputed to be THE cosmetic surgeon to go to for his face creams for a friend) and stick to downtown discount marts.

Century 21 is another legend in New York shopping, as are Filene's Basement and Loehrmanns. Having heard so much about it from these US magazines (Glamour, Lucky and the likes) and from friends, we were looking forward to checking it out. For all of you out there used to shopping in pristine, organised shopping centres, visiting any of these 3 outlets would give you immediate cause for a migraine. I'm not one to pass up a bargain but I do draw the line at rooting through musty, dusty and ugly clothes!

The scary escalators at Century 21 which look like they would eat your feet

Our first visit to Century 21 was on a wet Thursday afternoon (it seemed the perfect day to stay indoors) and perhaps the dreary weather contributed to our grumpy mood when we spent 2 hours digging through the racks to emerge only with undies and socks. Sure, we had a good laugh at this green velvet suit in the men's "Designer Suit" department (surely this is a relict from the 70s that got mixed up with the normal stuff). But we were sorely disappointed at the offerings, given the hype about this discount outlet (from editors at fashion magazines to friends who said it was worth checking out). Then we spoke to a New Yorker we met who told us that new stuff comes in every Tuesday, which was when she would religiously go down on her lunch break to check out. So we thought we'd give it another chance, especially when A's colleague, Tim, said he managed to dig out Todds loafers and a Ferragamo tie.

We trooped back the following Wednesday during A's lunch break with some of his colleagues (similarly determined to dig out more bargains). A was quite determined to dig up the Todds loafers he had seen the previous week but I wasn't so optimistic that it'd still be there. Nevertheless, we focused our search on the men's shoe department and lo and behold, we didn't find the Todds shoes (surprise surprise!!) but spied a lovely casual pair of soft leather Via Spiga loafers (much better than Todds in my opinion) and a great pair of Via Spiga black leather dress shoes. We got all excited about both pairs and were about to pay for them when disaster struck – someone had stupidly stuck the sensor tag on the black leather shoes the reverse way around which meant that it would be near to impossible to remove without spoiling the leather. We had to leave that pair behind. By this time, we were slightly put out by the unhelpful staff with their "it's not my business/take it or leave it" attitude.

After lunch, it was my turn in the lady's lingerie section – I spotted a Lejaby bra in a particular design I had been eyeing a year ago from Chalone but had not bought as it was a little pricey at S$159 then. Imagine my delight to find the last one on the shelf in my size and at a bargain price of US$9.90!! I also found Cosabella thongs in rainbow shades of watermelon, red and chartreuse green at heavily discounted prices too. The downside was not being able to try the bras but if you know your size well enough, or like me, had tried that particular design before, you would probably be able to find some bargains. Nothing quite like new lingerie to make a girl smile…..

My other visits to Loehrmann's and Filene's Basement turned out a very nice Ermenegildo Zegna tie and black Kenneth Cole cufflinks for A and a sleek black Kenneth Cole leather wallet for my cousin, M. All at very affordable prices, especially the Zegna tie.

I guess the moral of the story is to find the bargains, be patient and be prepared to dig. Oh and go on Tuesdays for the greatest selections!

Century 21
22 Cortlandt Street
Tel: (212) 227 9092

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

All Good Things Come to an End

School paraphernalia (thanks to Mints for the lovely
"back to school" pencilcase so that I could go back in style!)

I'm a little sad writing this entry as school came to an (unofficial) end for me yesterday. I will have to miss the concluding lecture next week owing to work commitments which will see me back in Singapore for a week.

I've spent the past 3 months happily hitting the books for the literature course I enrolled in at the University of Melbourne as one of the "goals" to accomplish during my sabbatical. Lots of folks asked me why do a literature course and not something more practical – my simple answer was and still is that I've always enjoyed literature and I wanted to do something that would challenge my brain a little. I gave up doing an arts degree to study law so this is my opportunity to get back to my first love and without the pressure of studying for an exam, to enjoy studying for studying's sake.

Quite a few of us would at some point in our life wonder about the road not taken – whether academic, professional or personal. For me, I've always wondered whether I made the right choice to enter law school and continue into practice instead of following my initial plans of completing an arts degree and heading into journalism. I was fortunate enough to be able to dabble in radio broadcasting and writing for publications during law school and had contented myself during the first few years of legal practice that "I had been there and done that" and it was time to get on with a 'real' career. Increasingly though, I have been asking myself over the past couple of years whether I was content to stay in practice or to leave and do something entirely different. I guess studying something out of my present comfort zone goes partly to exploring these thoughts of mine.

Choosing a course way back in June was hard work - there were so many choices! The literature course I ended up going with in the end was "The Victorian Supernatural". For the longest time, A thought I was studying Gothic Literature (one of my options) and went around telling everyone so such that all his colleagues would ask me to tell them all about Dracula and Frankenstein! In a nutshell, my course focused on various texts during the Victorian era which evoked "supernatural" (i.e. beyond nature) elements and covered well-known texts such as Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (a text I shuddered at) to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw (I enjoyed this thoroughly).

I've had fun reading all the texts and its accompanying readings every week, preparing for class and being a student again – it made for a nice change from worrying about work deadlines, getting screamed at by clients and lying awake at night worrying about the foregoing. It was great having a sense of purpose and direction these last few months and that I've achieved something concrete during my sabbatical as part of my initial worry about taking a sabbatical was that I would spend my days in front of the telly eating potato chips and getting fat! Alright, I do watch a fair bit of daytime telly from Queer Eye for a Straight Guy (I love this programme - it's fabulous!!) to Ready Steady Cook (excellent stuff on Channel 10) but not as much as I had feared initially. Finally and most importantly, finishing this course has gone some way to satisfying my inner child screaming for more intellectual literary stimulation and quietened that part of me that kept asking "What if….?".


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Spoonful of Fun

With the realisation that our weeks in Melbourne will be drawing to a close all too soon and too many things/places/restaurants/shops still on our list of "to-dos", A and I decided to explore more of our immediate neighbourhood on the weekend just past. Shocking but true, we hadn't ventured further than the edge of South Yarra (into neighbouring Prahran, Malvern and Windsor 'villages') in the months we've been here - I put this down to inertia during winter and the disinclination to put on many layers and brave the gusty winds and dreary skies.

With spring weather and sunshine now, exploring the neighbourhood on foot has become more enticing - there's heaps of shops (especially vintage shops) to poke around in and lovely outdoor cafes to have a cuppa when our legs are screaming blue murder with all that walking.

This past weekend, we took a stroll (well, it was more like a reeeeaaalllly walk) to Prahran East to check out a cafe recommended in The Age Good Food Guide. From the map, it looked like it was a short walk down High Street from Chapel Street and definitely doable on foot. Well, I miscalculated since the map wasn't drawn to scale and it was MUCH further than we anticipated it to be. It didn't help that earlier that morning, we had both completed a 4km circuit of the "Tan" and were nursing slightly sore feet.

Thankfully, Spoonful was worth the long trek there. With inspired vintage decor and whimsical accessories (check out the huge Chinese wedding lanterns over the counter) emulating someone's understated pad, A and I felt right at home.
Other than the "joy" lanterns (in red) I'm not so sure the blue lanterns are
appropriate - I'm not sure but I thought they were used during Chinese funerals

Echoing the communal, laidback feel about the place, one helps oneself to water from huge tin pitchers (I think they could be watering cans in another life actually) on a stand in the corner and dig out your newspaper of choice from the basket near the counter. If you choose to, take a seat around the big dining table instead of the 2 seater-cafe tables scattered around - it helps to have the extra space when you're trying to read a newspaper while having your brekkie! Unfortunately, we got there around 2pm and breakfast was long over so we'll have to try the recommended poached white nectarines and strawberries in rosewater syrup with pistachios another time.

Don't you love the overhead lamps?

What that meant was that we'd be able to explore their lunch offerings for that day and tempting offerings they were! I'm a sucker for homemade pates/terrines/mousses and was delighted to note that the daily menu listed a duck and rosemary terrine with a bitter leaf salad, whole-grain toast and some relish on the side. A was torn between a spiced rare beef on ratatouille and potato salad and orrechiette with salmon and after some deliberation, opted in favour of the former.

A generous thick slab of the duck and rosemary terrine arrives on a ploughman's board (typically used for serving cheese) with toast and the rest. It was a little crowded eating off this but I managed not to drop the toast all over the table or drop the salad leaves into my lap. The terrine was nicely chockful of duck meat, appropriately chunky but not coarsely so and the savoury taste was set off by the sweetness of the relish. Although the terrine is probably better as a shared appetiser, it made for a nice light lunch.

With A hurrying me to take the photo so that he could start on his lunch, the photo turned out blurred - sorry about that! While A enjoyed the spiced rare beef, it was unfortunately not quite as described given that it was cooked to a degree of medium to well-done! The ratatouille was a nice tart contrast to the beef as was the chunks of the Desiree potato salad.

We were rather stuffed by the time we finished lunch and looking at the huge slices of the rhubarb cakes passing us by, decided regretfully to give dessert a pass. Which was just as well seeing that lunch was a tad bit on the pricey side (mains were $18) for a cafe. All in, Spoonful is a great place to enjoy a leisurely weekend lunch or a cosy place for cake and a cuppa.

The shop which A hovered nervously at the door owing to the profusion of girly items therein

Another reason to vist Spoonful would be to rest your weary legs after traipsing up and down High Street. There are plenty of quaint furniture and homeware shops down this stretch, including this lovely French-inspired shop offering vintage, country and shabby chic accessories and furnishings, appropriately called Vintage Living. I poke around the vintage pillbox hats with veils, ornate mirrors, dainty Sheridan teacup sets (in pink!!) and fluffy pillows but sadly decided I couldn't lug back any more breakable items. Definitely a girly shop as the owner tells me that all the guys (just as A was doing) accompanying their partners would hover at the doorway before saying something along the lines of "Honey...I'm err... just going to be out here, looking around/having a smoke/(away from all this PINK)....".

High Street also has other delights like this wedding cake shop, AB FAB, where you're invited to browse to your heart's content and to sample their cakes (by appointment only - so disappointing!) before deciding on a towering delight or a modest 1-tier beauty. Hmm... does Singapore have something like this? After encountering this shop and woo-ing and wow-ing over the pretty cakes, we come across a wedding at the Art-deco styled church further down the street complete with vintage Holden convertibles for the wedding car entourage. A thought it was a bit odd for me to stand there and be paparazzi-like with my camera so I didn't get a shot. Shucks.

There are other delights on High Street to keep one occupied, including the Melbourne store for Sambag (the Sydney store selling bags and shoes), a cute shop, Boy and Girl, stocking cute children's clothes, bags and toys and a lovely boutique, Torsa, which stocks Tocca and other US labels. I end off our ramble down High Street with a shot of this laundromat - at $1.20 a wash, that's definitely a bargain (the laundry near us in South Yarra charges $3 I believe). Until I notice that the laundromat is eerily empty, although the door swings open invitingly. Hmm....


543 High Street

Prahran 3181

Tel: (03) 9521 5212

Their sister store selling produce, homeware and coffee is called Teaspoon and is right next door.

497 High Street
Prahran East
Tel: (03) 9510 5585

Boy and Girl
495 High Street
Prahran East
Tel: (03) 9525 0300

489 High Street
Prahran East
Tel: (03) 9533 2274

Vintage Living
463 High Street
Prahran East
Tel: (03) 9529 3929

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Monday, October 16, 2006

A Bountiful Harvest

What are "tamarillos"?

That was the question in our minds when shopping at our local grocery mart (a new one on Chapel Street, which is cheaper than Prahran Market). We were browsing the aisles, our favourite way to decide what to buy for a week's worth of dinners, and had spotted these little egg-shaped fruit. Neither of us had tasted a tamarillo, although I vaguely recalled reading about it in The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander, so we bought some to try. Actually, my real reason for buying them was 'cos the tamarillos looked so pretty in their golden-yellow skins. Taste-wise, I thought they might be a little like persimmons.

We also bought punnets of pygmy strawberries, which were the cheapest (high in antioxidant) fruits that day in the market. Much as I wanted some peaches to munch on, I walked on by when I saw that it was going at approximately A$11.99/kilo! No doubt due to the freaky weather Victoria and Australia in general is presently experiencing, in particular the severe drought in rural Victoria which had ruined quite a few harvests, which sent prices of stone fruits (such as plums and peaches) soaring. Just like the banana crop from Queensland I suppose (almost all of the banana harvest was destroyed because of a cyclone and bananas had to be imported, explaining the eye-popping A$12.99/kilo prices in the stores!).

Back home, I flip that useful food encyclopaedia that is The Cook's Companion, a veritable tome of "ingredients and recipes for the Australian kitchen". The way the book is structured is particularly useful as each chapter focuses on a particular food item, which means I can go a little berserk in the markets buying what I fancy and come home to flip the book for a way to turn it into a great dish. It's been really helpful so far when I'm stumped with what to do with celery (the bunches they sell here are the width of Mike Tyson's arm so go figure) other than putting them into stew, pasta sauce and salads, witlof and now tamarillos.

From the Cook's Companion, here is a short excerpt on tamarillos:

"Tamarillos are grown in tropical and subtropical climates throughout the world......A tamarillo tree cops very heavily and can yield 20kg of fruit each year. There is a yellow-organge [well as] the crimson. Tamarillos are available from late May to November."

Useful hints on selection, preparation and cooking of tamarillos:

"Ripe tamarillos should be firm but with a slight suppleness. Reject any that are wrinkled. Hard fruit will continue to soften at room temperature, and once they feel right can be refrigerated for a week or two."

"The skin of a tamarillo is never eaten. Peel it away with a vegetable peeler, or treat the fruit like a tomato and make a cross on the pointed end and immerse it in boiling water for 1 minute and then in cold water. The skin will then strip away readily. There is no need to remove the seeds which are edible."

I learn also that tamarillos can be eaten like any other fresh fruit, except perhaps with the addition of some caster sugar on the side or honey drizzled over to soften its tartness. Reading through the recipes, it seems that tamarillo would work well in salsas (one would need to cut down on the vinegar though), in cakes, in chutneys, as a topping in place of passionfruit on the classic Australian dessert pavlova and even baked in a buttered gratin dish.

My favourite recipe though would be perfect for the occasional hot sultry days I am likely to see in the forthcoming weeks in Melbourne. Someone send me an icecream maker and a food processor!! Here is Stephanie Alexander's recipe for Tamarillo Sorbet.

Tamarillo Sorbet (makes 1 litre)


8 tamarillos, halved lengthwise
2 cups Heavy Sugar Syrup**
½ cinnamon stick (optional)
Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon


Using a sharp spoon, carefully spoon out tamarillo flesh, leaving shells intact. Wrap shells in plastic film and freeze.
Put sugar syrup and cinnamon stick, if using, into a non-reactive saucepan and bring to simmering point. Drop in tamarillo flesh and cook gently until tender. Discard cinnamon stick.
Puree fruit and syrup in a blender or food processor, then pass through a coarse strainer over a bowl to extract any hard seeds. Add lime juice to taste.
Refrigerate until cold, then churn in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Scoop sorbet into frozen shells to serve.

** For the Heavy Sugar Syrup, heat 1 part water to 1 part sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

This sorbet becomes a beautiful deep rose-pink. Store any leftover sorbet in an airtight container and use within a few days.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

New York # 3 - Meeting my Namesake

New York also plays host to several great museums and I was looking forward to visiting the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). I generally prefer museums that aren't typically structured in the traditional style and had been happily anticipating checking out MOMA's collection of works by Roy Lichtenstein and of course, Andy Warhol. As well as MOMA's collection of modern furniture and lighting from the greats like Archille Castiglioni, Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier….

Unfortunately, by the time we got to MOMA, it was our second-to-last day in NYC and I was still recovering from the flu I caught the week before and tired out from the late nights and constant walking. I was also a little "museumed-out", having visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art the day before and the Picasso and Rembrandt exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria just before leaving for NYC. So it all got a little overwhelming by the time we reached MOMA.

What I did like about MOMA (despite the crowds) was the beautiful Sculpture Garden (photo above courtesy of YF), which was unfortunately closed the day we were there, the innovative architectural lines of the building and the beautiful view of the neighbourhood from the floor to ceiling glass windows.

I also liked that the gallery hosting the modern design classics of this century from furniture to gadgets was arranged almost like someone's really cool apartment! Here's a shot that I took to post in my book for inspiration on furnishings when I need it.

Then after practically running through the rest of the galleries after lunch (I was seriously needing a chocolate or caffeine hit but the dessert café on the top floor - Terrace 5 (The Carroll and Milton Petrie Café) is unfortunately packed with the crowds), I decided to take a break from all the art and go check out the MOMA store.

The MOMA store is truly amazing - there are little gadgets, sleek design features, furniture, jewellery, knitwear, funky bags.... my kind of shop. I'd been browsing their website for the last couple of years and have drooled over the many design classics on it. Although our luggage limit was quite generous this time around (64kg for each of us!), I remembered that I still had to lug the 2 Le Creuset cast iron pots I bought at Woodbury Common back as well and wisely refrained from buying a carpet I was eyeing. I chose a couple of postcards of the artworks I liked and seeing that I always run out of staples for my stapler, I bought a stapler which doesn't require staples but attaches your pages together using an innovative "punch-paper-and-back-fold" method. When showing A my buy later, he shakes his head thinking I'm a little addled to spend US$9 for a stapler.

After the brief sojourn in the MOMA store, I head back upstairs and return to the last gallery to look for the Pop-Art collection. Turning a corner, I come face to face with her - Andy Warhol's famous depiction of my namesake. I have poster and stickers of this but seeing it up close is definitely mindblowing. What a nice way to end off my visit!


Friday, October 13, 2006

New York # 2 - The Day the World Changed

It's a bit freaky looking at the photos of Ground Zero for this post and reading the headlines from the papers yesterday. Yet another plane crashed into a high-rise apartment on the Upper East Side, sparking fears of another terrorist incident. Fortunately and unfortunately, it was not a commercial jet but a light plane piloted by a Yankees player and his instructor. And both of us remembering various scenes from the Oliver Stone movie, World Trade Centre, which we had caught just this Tuesday past. It's just a bit too surreal.

Anyway, back to Ground Zero. I don't think there's very much to say about how affecting a visit is, even 5 years after it happened. Suffice to say, September 11 2001 was definitely a day that changed the world; many still say they remember where they were and what they were doing when news broke. I still remember coming in from an outing with friends to say goodnight to my folks and being told that an aeroplane had crashed into the World Trade Centre. Being a little confused (as Singapore also has a building called the World Trade Centre), I came further into the room to take a look at the TV headlines and stood horrified as I watched one of the towers collapse in real time. Then the ensuing panic and sleepless night that followed when I remembered that I had friends working in the big investment banks which had offices in the WTC…

We arrived in NYC on September 12 and missed the remembrance ceremony marking the 5th anniversary of 911. A's colleague, YF, however, had flown in a couple of days before us and made it there. Here are some of his photographs...

The entrance to the PATH station
The void where the World Trade Centre used to be

Relatives are allowed into the site

This is sad....

Tolling the bell for each victim

A and I made it down a week later to see the various memorials and picture exhibitions around Ground Zero and at St. Paul's Chapel directly across (which survived the collapse of the WTC without broken windows even as its graveyard was strewn with debris).

Even though the cleanup and rebuilding is progressing well and everyone around us is going about their business, we both still senses a palpable grief arising from the actual site. Confronted with the enormity of 911 at the memorial, seeing the remembrance wall put up in memory of the brave firemen who perished, seeing footage of the WTC before 911 and most of all, reading the "Missing Persons" posters put up in the aftermath of 911 by frantic relatives – all these brought a lump to our throat that dinner later that night at Balthazar's couldn't quite dispel.

For some strange reason, I can't upload the rest of the photos I want in this post so will post that separately if I do get a chance.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's just too hot...

to do anything today. Including typing up and loading the other 9 entries I'm way overdue on for our New York trip which involves me ploughing through a mountain of flyers, postcards, namecards, photographs and the likes. I did have to attend to some matters for clients in Singapore and that was painful going with the heat and my wireless connection being flippy.

Anyway, back to the topic of hot weather. Melbourne recorded a sizzling high of 33'C (a high of 35'C in the CBD) today and I'm sweltering in our little apartment (have I mentioned that already?). My early morning walk wasn't too bad but my skin was prickling a little by the time I got back around 930am this morning. Then, I stepped out to buy a couple of sushi rolls for lunch and to attend to some banking matters and nearly broiled in the intense sun. You know what one of those throbbing pulsing headaches feels like? That was my head by the time I got back and faced the oven that was our apartment. Isn't it supposed to cool in SPRING?!!

Thankfully, I'm well-slathered in sunblock each time I step out. I started out with the Solar Defense Booster from Dermalogica but that's a tiny bottle for a load of cash (about S$90!). I recently switched to SPF 50 Anthelios XL Fluide Extreme from La Roche Posay after reading about it here and at the recommendation of a dermatologist. Both have helped reduce the prickling sensation I experience on exposed areas of skin when I'm in the full glare of the sun but with the copious amounts I've been using since I got here (even in winter, the sun glare can be intense), the SPF 50 Anthelieos Fluide Extreme has been easier on the pocket (about S$35). Not only is it available in a non-greasy, lighter formula, this sunblock also comes in a fun "shaka-shaka" bottle i.e. you have to shake the bottle a few times to emulsify the sunblock ala Japanese cosmetic bottles. Nice way to start your day.

Previously unavailable in Singapore, I was pleased to note on our recent trip back that a range of products from La Roche Posay is now stocked at Guardian Pharmacies around the island as well as at the National Skin Centre's pharmacy. So don't wait, just run to the nearest Guardian to load up please! We definitely don't need those sun spots (yes even you...all of us in our 20s have started those tiny little brown dots on our cheeks!!)!

Oops.... just as I'm about to upload this post, the weather report comes on the telly and the temperature today was actually closer to 37'C!!! No wonder I feel so awful all day - this reminds me of the seriously hot summer of 2005/2006 in Sydney when temperatures went up to the late 40s! Oh sod it, I'm hot and still headachey - I'm having a slice of the yummy caramel sponge cake we lugged back from the Filipino bakery near A's home in Sydney and heaping lots of thickened cream on it. And might as well go the whole hog with strawberries as well....

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Where are you reading me from?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Wedding and Another

These past couple of months saw us travelling some distance to attend a couple of weddings. A and I are both at the age where weddings and engagement announcements amongst out close friends has become the norm rather than the exception (besides these 2 weddings below, we also received 2 engagement announcements this month!).

I love weddings - what's there NOT to love about dressing up, eating yummy food (and cake!) and spying on blissful doe-eyed couples! Weddings are also very sentimental events for me, particularly when they are for close friends. Alright, so at these parties, we both negotiate the tricky road of managing friends' expectations of us staging a similar occasion in the near future, but we've both been pretty adroit at sidestepping the questions!

Happy couple # 1 - SL & W

Last month, after months of juggling dates and our schedules, we were very pleased to have made it back to Singapore for the wedding of SL, one of my girlfriends, to W. I was particularly happy to be present at this happy occasion, having also witnessed the fateful Saturday morning more than 3 years ago at East Coast Park, when W met SL and their lifetime of adventure began.

Their wedding celebration lunch for friends was a low-key and intimate affair at the Olive Restaurant at Labrador Park, allowing SL & W plenty of time that afternoon to spend with their friends and loved ones. A and I spent a lazy sultry (hot to A though) afternoon catching up with the bridal couple and our friends, D (who flew in from the US in time for the lunch), G and J. Having a small affair also meant that the bridal couple weren't rushed off their feet, guests weren't subject to lengthy waits for food, nor only catching a mini split-second glimpse of the bridal couple before scooting off for the night. That and having a yummy wedding favour to take home (more in a future post) meant that all present had a great time!

Getting into their own bash proved to be a tricky affair!

We had an equally fun time at the wedding celebration we attended in Sydney this weekend (and which we just came back from a couple of hours ago). A's childhood buddy, J (no relation to the first J), had tied the knot with G (ditto), in the UK in May and both were back in Sydney to hold the traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

Happy couple # 2 - J and G

What made this wedding celebration quite special was the immense secrecy surrounding the event - J's mom had emailed us in June to check our availability and had entreated us to keep our attendance a secret. After a couple of bloopers when we thought the secret was out, we arrived in Sydney to the realisation that the secret was still pretty tightly held by those in the know. So of course, J and G were very pleasantly surprised to find that the tea ceremony which they thought would be held amongst relatives, included many of their friends and G's sisters, quite a few of whom had travelled some distance to witness the happy occasion.

I end off this post in a rather sentimental mood - happy occasions like these always bring out the romantic in me. To SL & W, J & G, congratulations and best wishes for a lifetime of happy togetherness!

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Friday, October 06, 2006

New York # 1 - The Sweet Life

The great thing about eating sweeties in New York was that they abound on almost every street corner. Stretch out a hand in any direction and you're likely to see a shopfront with heaps of goodies in the window. It was quite hard to resist temptation, from the Godiva chocolate store just 2 streets away from our hotel, to the dessert menu at every restaurant we visited. Of course, not everything that looks wonderful tastes just like it looks but we were lucky many times over. While the sweeties we will remember best are from some of New York's institutions, which we hadn't set out to look for, but stumbled upon in our walks downtown in the various 'villages', what made the memory of eating these sweets are that they mostly lived up to their (much deserved) reputations.

Cupcake Goodness

Sugar-packed goodness!

These cupcakes need no introduction, having achieved worldwide fame after an episode in Sex and the City. I happened to be wandering down Bleecker Street after checking out Marc Jacobs and other tiny boutiques listed in Lucky Magazine's New York Shopping Guide and had walked past their shop front before doing a double take and scurrying back to peer through their window. I nearly fell over in excitement at the shelves piled high with cupcakes iced in a variety of pastel colours and other assorted cakes. Hurrying in, it was like an Aladdin's cave of choices and when I hesitated, the girl at the counter nodded irritably to the cupcakes in the corner and told me to help myself.

There wasn't a huge selection available after a couple of pink-shirted guys ahead of me had made off with a couple of boxes between them. Thankfully, the staff replenished the cupcakes and I choose some each of the vanilla and chocolate cupcakes.

Understandably, the counterstaff at the Magnolia Bakery would be jaded by the crowds snaking around the corner block at the West Village store daily to stock up on the cupcakes. Surprisingly though, the afternoon I was there (Monday at around 4pm) only had a couple of people milling around inside, which was perhaps why I had walked right past it. But even with the bored girl ringing up the sales at the counter, it was quite hard not to fall for these old-fashion cupcakes with sprinkles on sugar/buttercream icing and leave with a small box. That was all I could carry though, despite the other tempting cakes I spied, as I was already lugging bottles of fig vinegar and tomato powder and all my shopping from that morning and still had a fair bit to walk before reaching Chelsea!

I had previously read mixed reviews about Magnolia's cupcakes and was curious as to what they really tasted like. Later that night, A and I divied up the loot. A loved his for the sugar rush it gave him, while I thought the cupcakes although delightfully light and fluffy, were made too sweet from the pile of sugar icing on top. That said, I do see where the attraction in Magnolia's cupcakes lie; a whole load of them, pastel icing contrasting with your simple white platter, definitely makes for a great centrepiece at your next dinner party. Of course, this sort of visual picture mostly appeals to girly girls and some girly guys.... Before consuming one of these sugar-rushes, just remember to scrape aside half of the icing and I'm sure you'll get along fine.

A couple of days later, my friend Cal, told me that he had it from a friend that Magnolia's Banana Pudding was hands down much better than their cupcakes. I didn't think A and I could stomach downing a pudding for 6-10 persons in the few days we had left and sadly had to pass on this tempting treat. That and other cakes such as the Hummingbird Cake (described as "A southern cake with bananas, pineapples, and pecans topped with cream cheese icing and toasted pecans") and the Red Velvet Cake (the menu's blurb informing that it was "a famous beautiful cake made red with cocoa, a little vanilla, and a lot of southern mystery....with its own special whipped vanilla icing") which piqued my interest would have to be left for another trip to New York instead!

Magnolia Bakery
401 Bleecker Street (this is the side of Bleecker St in the West Village; cross street - 11th Street)
Tel: 212 462 2572

Italian Pastry Delights

Yummy bite sized treats

Established since 1894, we stumbled on Veniero's when we went down to the East Village for a ramen lunch one Sunday afternoon at Momofuko's (more in a separate post). While waiting for Momofuko's to open, we took a quick walk around the block and spied this old-style Italian café. Checking my Zagat guide, we noted that Veniero's was well-known for their Italian cannoli's, essentially cream-filled pastry shoehorns (these are in the right hand corner of the picture above), and fruit tarts and made a mental note to drop by for dessert after we were done with lunch.

Feeling sick to the stomach from the excellent Iowa Berkshire pork in the ramen, it was all I could do to toddle, groaning and moaning, around the corner to Veniero's, much less squeeze in more than one of these little pastries as a sweet ending to lunch. Even in my pain, I thought the yellowish custard delightfully light and not at all sweet, and the sweet pastry crisp to the bite. A box of these pastries, with milk coffee, a good book and fabulous weather under a tree, would be a perfect way to while away the afternoon.

We bought a pound of these pastries for dinner with my old friend, Cal, that night, and again to my everlasting regret, Cal had fed us so well (including 2 desserts!!) that we both couldn't fit a couple of these pastries into our tummies. So the memory of the sole strawberry/blackberry tartlets (with custard and fresh cream) we had space for that afternoon will have to carry us until we next scoot up to New York and order a box just for ourselves.

Veniero's Pasticceria & Caffe
342 East 11th Street (East Village)
Tel: 212 674 7070

New York Cheesecake

No pictures for this as in our eagerness to try the cheese cake, I had forgotten that I hadn't gotten any shots! Smooth and creamy without being cloying, and a dry graham cracker crust, the mini-sized cheesecakes (we tried the classic and the blueberry) were the perfect end to our time in New York.

It was on one of our last nights in New York when we met our friend Greg, and A's cousin, Sarah, both of whom had flown in to meet us. We took them on a short walking 'tour' of SOHO on route to Greenwich for dinner at a lovely Italian pizzeria with an outdoor garden (more in another post) and had walked past Eileen's. Since I had missed the cheese cake at Veniero's for which I understand they were quite famous for, I suggested we start with a couple of cheesecakes for dessert before we headed for dinner. Understandably, the guys didn't buy my enthusiastic blurb about how we can't leave New York without eating New York-style cheesecake (I was told later that when I get into such spiels, I made for a very convincing tour guide) and made smacking sounds about how much longer dinner would be so I packed a couple of their pint-sized cheesecakes for later.

Now I'm not ordinarily a fan of cheesecake, having been subject to many friends' interpretation of this classic New York dessert. I've tried many versions from cheesecakes I've classified as gag-inducing "stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth" types to those that tried to infuse flavours like blueberry/peach/strawberries and the like to that truly horrible Japanese sponge-cake concoction at Tio Glutton (and it's predecessor, Momiji - or some equally faffly name like that). I will eat good cheesecake that isn't difficult to swallow and light on the tummy though, although it's definitely not my dessert of choice.

Having tried Eileen's, this is a cheesecake which I would happily eat again (if not all the time). If you like your cheesecake lighter in texture, these would be a good choice. Grab a mini-sized one, which is sized so as not to leave you feeling like a bloated beached whale and skip all the funky fruit-topped ones and stick with the classic. Sometimes, the simplest choices turn out to be the best.

Eileen's Cheese Cake
17 Cleveland Place (corner of Kenmare & Centre Streets)
Tel: 212 966 5585

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New York

The spectacular night scene from the Empire State Building - photo courtesy of A's colleague, YF

We're finally back in Melbourne after a truly fun but exhausting 3 weeks away in Singapore and New York. A and I both had a wonderful time away, particularly with all the great food we had been chowing down non-stop! Amazingly, this is the first time we've gone on a long-haul flight and vacation together; most of our holidays over the past 3 years had been snatched between work in the region or else visiting his family back in Sydney most summers. Perhaps that explains why we both had a fabulous time in New York, and also why we had unabashedly set out to enjoy ourselves without worrying too much about everything else.

So where do I start about the whirlwind 2 weeks we spent in New York, eating, shopping and sightseeing our way around the city? It seemed like everyday brought something new to get all excited over! I'd amassed a pile of name cards, menus, city attraction blurbs, cut-outs from the New York Times, leaflets off the streets so as to remember the many wonderful places we visited but looking at them right now, nothing seems to flow in coherent continuity about our time there. Our 2 weeks there seemed to have kinda kaleidescoped into a psychedelic swirl of colours, much like the Times Square billboards outside our hotel, with certain memories standing out in sharp relief. Maybe it's also got to do with the copious amounts of alcohol we (ok A) consumed most nights with dinner!

The bright lights of Times Square - a pyschedelic mishmash of billboards and surging humanity

For me, quite a few of my favourite memories of New York had to do with enjoying everyday things like conquering the labyrinth subway system, digging through the shoe section at Century 21 on a Tuesday (when new stock comes in) and eating my way around SOHO, Greenwich and the West Village. For A, he mentioned that his all-abiding favourite memory was seeing my eyes light up and hearing my squeals of excitement upon alighting the bus to start outlet shopping at Woodbury Common (what nonsense! I'm sure I didn't squeal in excitement...) but I also believe it was him straddling work and play that appealed to him. With his office situated just off Wall Street (more in a separate post), it was just like living and working in New York.

Truth be told, much as we had crammed our 2 weeks there full of activities, New York has too many attractions, whether in the way of shopping, sightseeing, theatre or eating, to ever finish. Therein lies the attraction of this city of lights I guess, that sense of infinite possibilities around the corner, as a native New Yorker friend of ours once said. In our time there, we tried to do like the locals did instead of gawking around the city like so many other mid-west American tourists. It helped that we had friends residing in New York who gave us clues on where to eat/shop/hang out so we could experience the daily life of a New Yorker. Of course we still did the usual tourist traps, after all, what would be a visit to New York without seeing the Statue of Liberty or Ground Zero?

So instead of rehashing all the usual stories about where we went and what we saw (tourist traps included), we thought it might be best to crystallise our top 10 collective memories of our time in New York into little bite-sized pieces. Now it's hard for me not to gush too much as many of these memories had evoked in me a long-dormant childish sense of glee so these will all be in separate posts to spare you the sensory overload.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Random Thoughts on a Thursday

The condiments in my pantry

These are the various condiments I use nearly every day when cooking over here. The latest addition is Poudre de Tomate d'Italie or Italian Tomato Powder from Oliviers & Co, which I discovered in their Bleecker St shop in New York. That's the tiny pot in the photo above. Just a couple of pinches in extra virgin olive oil makes for a nice dip with foccacia, while a teaspoon of the same easily adds some intensity and punch to a Tomato Bean and Bacon Stew.

Tomato Bean and Bacon Stew

What with the orgy of eating we had gotten up to over the last 3 weeks, A and I thought to 'detox' our overtaxed systems with some health(ier) eating this week. Much as we both love fine dining and eating out, our secret cravings are often for home-cooked goodness like stews, soups and dishes with lashings of gravy to ladle over rice. Since we're abstaining from carbos this week, I thought this stomach filling dish, chockful of vegetables would be a perfect way to ease back into normal eating patterns after the surfeit of excess we faced in New York.

Full of tomato goodness and tender vegetables, the Tomato Bean and Bacon stew is wonderful on its own with a good slice of wholemeal bread spread with butter and hits the spot on a cold wintry night. Although it's spring now in Melbourne, this is also great for cool nights (remember this is the city with 4 seasons in one day). It is also one of A's favourite dishes. This recipe is from Nigel Slater's Real Cooking with minor modifications:

Tomato Bean and Bacon Stew (serves 4 as a substantial lunch or supper)


250g/4 large handfuls cannelloni, flageolet or haricot beans (I used half a packet of the Italian style Soup Mix from Mackenzies for a mix of beans and lentils)
Bay leaves
Good olive oil
2 medium sized red onions, chopped (or any sort of onions you have handy)
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
A couple of handfuls of diced fat smoked bacon e.g. pancetta (I use normal streaky or back bacon)
2 sticks of celery, chopped (including the leaves)
2 medium sized carrots, diced (I like carrots in my stews)
2 x medium sized tins (400g) of tomatoes
4 handfuls of spring greens or shredded cabbage
A handful of parsley leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese


1. Put the beans to cook, with a bay leaf or two and a glug of olive oil and simmer till they are tender. After the first few minutes cooking, skim off the fluffy white scum that rises to the surface. The beans should be ready after 50 minutes simmering. (To expedite the cooking time for beans, you would do well to soak them overnight in plenty of cold water.)
2. Warm a little olive oil in a large, deep pan, enough to cover the bottom comfortably. Add the onions and the garlic and cook over a slow heat until they have softened but not browned. Throw in the bacon, celery and carrots and cook for a couple of minutes till the fat turns golden.
3. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the beans and all of their cooking liquid to cover everything. If insufficient liquid, add some water. Stick a couple more bay leaves in and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Add the chopped spring greens or shredded cabbage and the parsley leaves and cook for a further 20 minutes.
5. Add a generous lashing of salt and black pepper. Here I add a couple of teaspoons of my tomato powder and let it simmer for a further 5 minutes for the flavours to intensify. When serving, ladle into deep warmed bowls with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of Parmesan on each.

Nigel Slater cautions to leave enough for tomorrow and like the classic Italian Ribollitta, this stew tastes even better reheated the next day.

Oliviers & Co

249 Bleecker Street New York

Tel: 646 230 8373

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