Friday, January 21, 2022

Yunnan Garden @ Nanyang Technological University: A Photogenic Heritage Spot

This post is extremely close to my heart because of my association with Nanyang Technological University (or NTU for short). 

Recently, in a desperate attempt to create more space on my phone by clearing the deluge of photos in my possession, I discovered close to a hundred photos of Yunnan Garden that I have accumulated over time. Having been to the garden umpteen number of times, I sincerely believe that it is one of the most underrated outdoor spaces in Singapore. With a personal connection to this garden and my newfound love for exploring and subsequently publishing blog posts on the hidden gems in Singapore, I felt that this one should not be left out. 

If you didn’t know already, let me tell you that NTU, which is situated in the far west of Singapore (read: so ulu), shrouded by lush tropical nature, home to alluringly landscaped gardens and iconic structures such as The Hive, The Wave, The Arc and ADM building, has been widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most beautiful and eco-friendly campuses. 

I couldn’t agree more! 💚

Built in the 1950s, Yunnan Garden was a key attraction of the Nanyang University campus, the land on which NTU now sits. 

Over the years, Yunnan Garden has served as the ideal venue for me to get some fresh air, for post-lunch walks, a quick catch up with colleagues from other departments and sometimes even as a leisure spot for my family when they happen to drop by the University. If you follow me on Instagram, I'll bet you would have seen pictures of Yunnan Garden quite frequently on my feed and stories 😁

Yunnan Garden rejuvenated

This historical garden was already stunning but received a makeover in 2020 that made it even better! 

The Yunnan Garden Rejuvenation project can be likened to a new 'river' that flows through the garden, breathing life into years of heritage. The project presented a unique opportunity to create a series of inter-connected and inter-dependent gardens that showcased the heritage, biodiversity and community unique to NTU. 

The new and improved garden resulted in the creation of new recreational spaces that integrates with functional waterbodies and enhance the aesthetics of the surroundings. 

Soon after I joined the University, ambitious plans were laid out to revitalize Yunnan Garden and make it a more welcoming and attractive park for the NTU community as well as the public. The beautification plans for Yunnan Garden were swiftly announced and proposed new enhancements for better traffic management, creating a continuous link from Yunnan Garden to the Chinese Heritage Centre and Nanyang Lake, and provide greater safety for pedestrians and motorists.

I watched with anticipation as the 20-month-long project that began in 2018, refreshed the 63-year-old garden. 

To preserve the garden’s historical significance, its iconic features and historical monuments, including the Senegal Mahogany trees from the 1960s, all the seven red pavilions, the Nanyang University Memorial and the Nanyang Arch replica were retained. 

The grassy slope in front of the Chinese Heritage Centre still bears the Chinese saying: “To thrive in adversity, to strive and improve oneself constantly” – words that will continue to resonate with future generations of students. 

More than 1,100 new trees from over 80 species were planted, along with a quarter million shrubs, making the garden even more attractive to insects, birds and other native fauna. The tallest trees were protected from lightning strikes. 

It was amazing to witness the manner in which the vegetation and the paths were spruced up and the biodiversity of the garden was enriched. I love how the garden design incorporated both meticulously landscaped areas as well as marshy-looking "wild" areas as well.


Monday, January 10, 2022

Recipe of the month: Besan Laddu

With Sankranti/Pongal coming up soon, I'm starting the new year on a sweet note with a recipe for a traditional Indian dessert. My fervent hope is that despite whatever is/has been going on in the world, our lives will be filled with sweetness this year! *fingers crossed*

If you know anything about me, you will know that I am not fond of Indian sweets (with a very few exceptions). Besan laddus (gram flour balls) do not figure in the limited spectrum of Indian sweets that I like. But I will admit that on the rare occasion that I have come across a well made, aromatic, melt-in-the-mouth besan laddu, I have been able to appreciate it. 

I realize that I have quite a few burfi recipes on my blog but hardly any laddu/laddoo recipes. I think I especially struggle with laddu recipes because I have had my fair share of disasters in the past. I have made besan laddus before but I've taken the microwave shortcut and the results were (unsurprisingly) underwhelming. 

Last year for Diwali I made besan laddus the traditional way on the stove-top and it finally dawned on me that good besan laddus are a labor of love and patience! It takes a lot of elbow grease but the effort is totally worth it. I ended up with a sore arm (and a small burn 😝) but I was mighty impressed with the laddus I had made. In the context of Indian sweets, believe me when I say that happens very rarely! 

These laddus have only 4 ingredients - gram flour (besan), ghee, sugar and cardamom. But when executed correctly, the combination of these 4 simple ingredients results in a divine aroma, texture and flavour. 

The key to making good besan laddus involves 3 aspects - 1. The quality of the ingredients. Using good-quality fresh besan (coarse or fine is up to your personal preference) and preferably homemade or a premium brand of ghee will give you the best results. 2 - Roasting the besan correctly. This step requires time and constant attention. Under roasting and over roasting the besan will result in raw and bitter laddus respectively, thereby compromising the taste so you need to know what you are doing! 3 - Using the correct ratio of flour to ghee is critical for the binding. 

I am slowly getting better at making Indian sweets so I am enthusiastically kickstarting this year's traditional Indian sweet quota with these delicious besan laddus. You can make these for Sankranti, Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali or just like that as a treat for your family and friends. Please do not be intimidated by the procedure. Follow the recipe to the T and trust me, you will not be disappointed 😊

Monday, January 3, 2022

Goodbye 2021 and Hello 2022!

To all my readers - Wishing you all a Happy New Year 2022!

It's true that the world has had a stressful year, two times in a row. In many parts of the world, the Covid-elated struggles are peaking yet again. It begs the question - when will this nightmare be over? There is still a lot of uncertainty as to what the future holds which makes it hard for us to be positive and hopeful. But you know what? Resilience is in our DNA. When things get tough, please remember that every day is an opportunity for a fresh start. Every sunrise is a new chapter in our lives waiting to be written so it is solely up to us to write a meaningful one, difficulties notwithstanding 😊

The arrival of the new year presents an opportunity to take a moment (or several!) to evaluate our life. We can reflect on the year gone by - of the happy gains as well as missed opportunities. We can introspect on our personal growth, learn from our experiences and strive to become better than we are. Doing this will help us bring balance to our life with positive influences overriding the negative ones. In a nutshell, what the new year brings to us will depend a great deal on what we bring to the new year.

My family has gotten back safely to Singapore after spending almost a month with family and friends in India so I am starting 2022 with a heart full of joy and gratitude. I haven't made any resolutions but I am going to make mindfulness, consistency and gratitude my three mantras for the new year. 

For today's post, I am sharing with you our monthly highlights of 2021 along with some beautiful quotes that I would like to abide by in the new year. I hope these words of wisdom inspires you as well 💫


"Packaged inside of every mistake there lays a great lesson. And while I don’t want to take the mistake into the New Year, I certainly want to take the lesson that’s packaged inside of it."

Craig D. Lounsbrough


"You do not find the happy life. You make it."

Camilla Eyring Kimball


“Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.”

Francesca Reigler


"Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." 

Melody Beattie


"Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place." 

Paulo Coelho

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Recipe of the month: Vegan Chocolate Pots

Two years too late but we are finally HOME for the holidays! 🇮🇳🏡
You know, I had mentally prepared myself that we would be spending the year-end holidays again in Singapore. I had planned lots of fun activities to diminish the gloom of yet another year away from family and friends. But all of a sudden, travel opened up so one thing led to another and soon we had booked our tickets. Plans were made with cautious optimism. But then came the Omicron scare and unexpected changes in rules which put things on shaky ground. But after much deliberation (and a gigantic leap of faith!), we decided to go ahead with our plans because of the ghastly prospect of continued restrictions in 2022 (who knows right? 🤷🏻‍♀️). 

So during the first week of December, after an absolutely frenzied week of wrapping up work, shopping, sorting, cleaning, packing, preparing for the new school year, drowning in documents, forms, PCR tests and what not, we landed in India! 😊

After spending almost two glorious weeks with my family in Mysore, we are now enjoying the remainder of our holiday in Bangalore. The weather is lovely and being at home with family is even better!

With our unexpected travel plans, I haven't been able to maintain a consistent blogging schedule. I had planned a few posts for December but I haven't been able to execute any of them. Oh well!

If you have been following my blog, you would know that almost every year I do a Christmas special recipe post. As per my original plan, this year I wanted to make gingerbread cookies with the kids. I had even bought the cutters and all the required ingredients. But I obviously had to change plans. Being in India, I decided to do something simpler and also make it vegan because my BIL and his wife (who are currently holidaying in India with us) have been vegan for many years and I wanted them to be able to enjoy the dessert as well 😊

These Vegan Chocolate Pots literally need just THREE ingredients and take barely 10 minutes to make. There is no tofu or avocado or coconut cream which are the usual suspects in vegan desserts. I won't go as far as to say that this dessert is "healthy" (healthy-ish maybe?) but if you look at the ingredients individually, they are all good stuff. Of course, you need to wait a few hours for the dessert to chill in the refrigerator but otherwise, this is the most simplest dessert you can put together. In case you don't want to make it vegan, just substitute almond milk with regular dairy milk. 

The incorporation of dates imparts enough sweetness to this dessert so you can go for 100% cocoa chocolate. I have used 70% dairy-free chocolate because that is what was available over here on short notice. I garnished the dessert with strawberries to offset the extra sweetness. We absolutely loved the smooth mousse like texture. It felt like eating luscious nutty chocolate spread out of a cup! 

This is a great make-ahead dessert that looks pretty, tastes good and will appeal to almost everyone with the exception of those weirdos who don't like chocolate (sorry! 😄). 
I hope you try it and love it the same way my family did.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!