Thursday, September 19, 2019

Recipe of the month: Vegetarian Pad Thai

Victory is finally mine! After months of experimenting with this recipe, cooking far too much of it  in the process while making major and subsequently minor tweaks, I'm pleased to present (what I think) is pretty authentic Pad Thai albeit a vegetarian version 😁 And yes, you can argue with me that Pad Thai isn't traditionally vegetarian but this is a good recipe okay? Trust me on this because over the past decade, I've eaten Pad Thai innumerable times both in Thailand and outside, some good and some bad so I know a thing or two about it. 

Pad Thai is my most favourite Thai dish and I don't see that changing any time soon. This is the dish that I evaluate all Thai restaurants by. I prefer it over a Thai green or red curry any day! I know I've said this before (read my previous post on Thai Green Curry) but I am very predictable when it comes to Thai food. I love the usual crowd pleasers - tom yum soup, spring rolls, raw mango salad, papaya salad, pad thai, khao pad, and mango sticky rice pudding. I do like the Thai-style curries but unlike my husband, they don't figure in my most favourite dishes from the cuisine. I prefer eating a small portion of rice and curry only occasionally. 

I've been failing miserably to make Pad Thai since my first visit to Thailand back in 2006 😂 I have made more blunders making this dish than I would like to recollect 😝 I've used fettuccini instead of the typical rice stick noodles (*hangs head in shame*), on the occasions I've used rice noodles, I've overcooked them and turned them into mush (oops!), I've been heavy-handed with peanut butter (ugh!), I've shied away from using tofu (big mistake), been woefully ignorant about how important tamarind is (*rolls eyes*), I've used tomato ketchup in the sauce (*shudders*) and either used too much or too less of soy sauce resulting in either an overpowering or bland finished product (*sighs*). Getting that perfect balance of flavours and textures seemed like an unattainable dream. Blunders aside, I convinced myself that not using fish sauce or shrimp was never going to make my Pad Thai taste authentic anyway but I soon realized I was mistaken. 

Let me tell you what I learned during this recipe testing endeavor, 
  • You need to use the right kind of noodles folks. It has to be flat rice noodles. Not rice vermicelli or any wheat-based noodle. My two cents - if you don't have the right kind of noodles then its not worth making this dish. If you do, please don't call it Pad Thai coz that's just insulting 😆 It is critical that the noodles have to be cooked until pliable but al dente. They have to be drained, rinsed with cold water, drained again and tossed with a little oil until use
  • Aromatics like fresh ginger and garlic provide great flavour so don't skimp. The Thai bird’s eye chilli is not mandatory (you can use dried red chilli flakes) but it does give that tantalizing fiery kick which is commonly associated with Thai food.
  • I have found that tamarind is the  magic ingredient in this recipe. It gives the required sourness and also helps to impart some color. I have the concentrated bottled extract which I dissolve in hot water but if you can also use it in its dried fruit form and soak it in hot water until you get the extract
  • I like to use the Lee Kum Kee brand of premium light soy sauce because it is really good. I’m not sure if dark soy sauce will work as well. Regarding the other sauces, fish sauce and oyster sauce are commonly added but you can either skip them or buy the vegetarian substitutes 
  • You just have to add eggs! I believe that eggs in Pad Thai are an important ingredient.They add a kind of creaminess to the dish which makes it so delicious. In case you are vegan, use soft tofu
  • Bean sprouts and roasted peanuts are an absolute MUST! Incorporate them into the noodles and even add some more on the side while serving. The crunchy texture makes for a delightful addition.
  • Brown sugar adds that much needed mellow sweetness to round out the flavour. White sugar is not a good substitute so if you don’t have brown sugar, go to the supermarket and get it 😛
  • The addition of tofu is important too. Use an extra-firm tofu and shallow fry till brown on both sides.
  • Greens like spring onion (or chives) and cilantro not only add color but also add freshness and flavour
  • I find that I don't really need the lime but my husband disagrees so by all means, squeeze away!

This recipe doesn't have too many ingredients (and none of the ingredients are expensive!) so make sure you have everything before you start. From start to finish you can easily be done in an hour so this can feature in your weekly or weekend menu. 

If you have made up your mind to try out this recipe, I'm excited for you! Let me know how it goes 😊

Monday, September 9, 2019

Plushopedic Memory Fluff Pillow from SleepWiz

Product review

So if you remember, not very long ago, I had done a product review for the ErgoLush Mattress Topper from SleepWiz. I am still using the mattress topper and it works great. I mostly have my good sleep days (6+ hours) and the rare bad sleep days (≤5 hours of sleep) but insomnia hasn't reared its ugly head since the past few months. 

The good folks at SleepWiz asked me if I would review a new product which has just begun garnering retail presence. Considering the pleasant interaction with them in the past, their professionalism and how beneficial their last product has been for me, I obliged without second thoughts.

Let's face it - most pillows suck! I've lost count of the number of pillows we have disposed over the years because they just weren't serving their purpose effectively. They are either too soft, too firm, too big or too flat. Waking up with a crick in your neck or not feeling truly well rested has a lot to do with the kind of pillow you use.

Most classic pillows are either overly bouncy (especially those overfilled synthetic ones) or unsupportive, and they often bend your head in an awkward manner. This is because they rely on fiber "crimp" for their plushness, which act like springs when the fibers are amassed together as in a pillow. The resistance it provides increases very rapidly when depressed, so they end up overly bouncy when overfilled, or just collapse when the filling isn't dense enough. Fibers also lose their "crimp" quickly, which will cause pillows to lose their volume and support. On the other hand, memory foam pillows are great for neck support, but many users may feel that the weird contoured shapes these pillows are molded into simply do not look comfortable, especially since most of them do not need very specialized support.

The Plushopedic Memory Fluff Pillow combines the adaptive support of memory foam and the plush comfort of a classic pillow. Sounds good right?

A little about the science behind it - the Plushopedic pillow is filled with "memory fluff", which is an interlocking cross-cut memory foam. It cradles your head and neck to optimize the supportive pressure just like one-piece molded memory foam pillows, but is luxurious and cuddly just like a classic pillow - basically the best of both worlds! It'll feel plush to lie on when you head first hits the pillow, and feel buoyant and supportive as the memory fluff slowly absorbs your head. It may be likened to lying on the tummy of a giant teddy bear! The memory fluff is blended with a small fraction of conventional responsive foam to increase the plushness of the pillow when you first lie on it. This filling can also be shifted around to achieve your desired pillow loft and shape, just like a down pillow.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Outdoor Fun at Admiralty Park, Singapore

Saturday mornings in my household has been designated as mother-daughters time for a while now. It is a solid 4 to 5 hours of me and the girls spending time with each other. The man of the house, who is a night owl and prefers to sleep at unearthly hours on the weekend does not figure in our plans 😂 

How it usually goes is that after dragging ourselves out of bed and getting freshened up, me and the girls run some errands. We first go to the ATM, then to the vegetable market and lastly, to the grocery store. We get home, have a simple breakfast of cheese omelette, fruits and juice and then head out somewhere close by to make the most of the weekend. It is usually to one of the outdoor parks in our neighbourhood, an indoor play area located a short distance away, to one of the three waterparks housed in nearby malls or else, one of my twins favourites, Admiralty Park. 

I do look forward to these Saturday mornings partly because I'm temporarily relieved of the unceasing working-mom guilt by spending quality time with the girls but also because it is a fun endeavour for all three of us and is an opportunity to forge precious memories. They tell me so many interesting things, share funny stories and express their views on topics ranging from fashion to future careers 😆 These little details are often lost during the weekly routine of rushed mornings, dinnertime conversations and bedtime rituals.  

Admiralty Park

Located in Woodlands, Admiralty Park is the largest park in the north of Singapore. The 27 hectare park is situated on hilly terrain with Sungei Cina river running through it, and houses the largest nature area within an urban park.  

Much of the park is mangrove swamp. Three boardwalks cut through the mangrove, providing places for observing and appreciating the flora and fauna with minimal disturbance of the habitat. The park works closely with neighbouring Republic Polytechnic, which is also the adopter of the park under the adopt-a-park scheme. 

I first heard of this park from my friend who works in Republic Polytechnic. The park is a 15-minute walk from Woodlands MRT Station. My kids love taking the MRT and since they rarely get an opportunity to travel by train, I make it a point to take them on it and that could be another reason why they love going to Admiralty Park! 

On our first visit, I was impressed with the pleasing location, multi-tiered design and variety of play structures of the park. The girls were completely blown away too! Soon it became one of our go-to spots for outdoor fun. 

The park apparently features 26 slides – the most number of slides in any park in Singapore! The widest slide and the longest slide in a public park can be found here. The playground capitalises on the undulating terrain to site the three main play areas – Junior Play, Adventure Play and the Family Terracing Play – catering to children of all ages and featuring diverse play equipment that encourage group and multi-generation interactions.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Restaurant review: La Braceria Pizza & Grill, Singapore

So a few weeks ago, I met up with three of my batch mates from dental school. Whenever any of us from the batch meet (it doesn’t matter how big or small the gathering), the event never fails to evoke pure nostalgia and is guaranteed to bring on roars of laughter! It has been 14 years since we graduated but in a lot of ways, it seems like time has stood still. Today, most of us are married, many have children, a significant percentage has relocated to other countries and more or less everyone has carved a successful career for themselves. But despite our busy and conflicting schedules, we do try our best to meet and it always is a hoot. Everyone has precious memories to share and funny stories to tell. We share snippets of our lives and get updates on those we are not frequently in touch with. We fondly remember our professors, our seniors, our juniors and even the attenders of those days! 

I honestly have so many happy memories from that time in my life – going to college everyday with my two besties on our motorcycles, donning helmets (apparently we were called “Charlie’s Angels”), aggravating the anatomy professor to tears, staging mass bunks, mimicking professors, hanging out by the college café drinking coffee and eating maggi pakoda, visiting the girls hostel, my batch mates visits to my home, going on a (disastrously epic may I add) college trip, climbing Chamundi hills on foot (while fearfully looking out for the legendary leopard), editorial team discussions for our publication Mid-Day Masala, going on rural postings, attempting to cook food on a self-made campfire, the never-ending department parties and the numerous food outings within our beloved Mysore that we would go at every given opportunity! These are a few that come to mind off the top of my head and never fails to light up my face with a smile. Ah! Those were the good old days indeed!

So to revive some of those memories for the mini reunion, I chose La Braceria, a hidden gem in Bukit Timah serving up authentic hearty and rustic Italian food. I usually go to either Capri Trattoria  in Binjai Park or Caruso Italian along Bukit Timah road when I'm looking to chill with friends or enjoy a nice dinner with my husband but this time I wanted to pick another restaurant. I wanted a place that was cosy and quiet which had vegetarian options and much like the other two, this restaurant fit the bill.

Tucked away in a residential corner on Greendale avenue, the restaurant actually looks less restaurant and more house. There is absolutely nothing commercial about it. You wouldn’t even guess that there is a restaurant in the area. Big points from me for that! 👍

With a predominantly white color scheme, the interiors are minimalistic and chic. Neutral toned comfortable seats, warming floor lamps, rusting light fixtures and simple wall mounted mirrors add to the relaxed and intimate appeal. You have both indoor seating and al fresco dining options. In sultry Singapore, I rarely feel like going for al fresco dining so we headed indoors for the comfort of air conditioning.

I was surprised to see the restaurant quite full even on a weekday and was glad I had made a reservation the previous day. We were attended to immediately and even though the focus of the evening was more on company and less on food, we ordered a few dishes to share along with Barossa Valley red wine.