Sunday, May 26, 2019

Cafe review: Choupinette at Bukit Timah, Singapore

So, this is how a typical Whatsapp conversation with my friend Hwee Teng goes,

Me: (Getting straight to the point while skipping the social niceties and other polite shit) 
Hey HT, I want to check out XX Cafe. I've heard the XX they serve is good. 
Her: Okay!
Me: When you free?
Her: Anytime
Her: Cool! Let's catch up Sunday morning. Can? 
She: 👍👍

That's how simple it is and possibly the main reason why despite working together for barely 2 years back in 2011, we have remained good friends ever since. Apart from living in the same neighborhood, being former colleagues and sharing a common love for food, coffee, quaint desserts, food photography, travel and hazelnuts, now that she is married, we have more to jabber about! 

I have a tendency to seek no-filter friendships quite similar to the relationship I share with my sister. The kind that creates a safe space for me to be my real and true self, even the waspish, self-absorbed, petty version of me that won't win any popularity contests. I believe that the friends who have stuck by me the longest, overlook my failings in favour of my better personality traits such loyalty, integrity, reliability and accept/love (I hope!) me for who I am.

Friendship is like any other relationship - it takes time and effort. If the feelings are mutual, the effort will be equal. I can honestly say that for the two of us, this has always felt organic. We have always been able to make time for each other despite work and family commitments and I can only hope that it stays the same. She is my first choice for an accomplice when I get an invitation to review a particular restaurant or when I voluntarily want to check out any food establishment. Over the years, I’ve probably influenced her a little bit which is noticeable when her response to food evaluation is a much more thoughtful and articulate description rather than a customary nonchalant shrug accompanied by a “not bad” 😂 She is a self-confessed glutton (much like me) and so when I'm with her, I never feel judged on the amount of food I can tuck away! 

She was the one who suggested Choupinette after I wanted to catch up and hear all the details of her recent marriage registration. I'm not going to bore you with how much I love brunch (I've already highlighted that many many times on the blog!). All I'll say is that I will never ever say no to a place serving all-day breakfast. 

Choupinette has been around since 2002. It is a charming french heaven for breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea time, all-day dining.

The cafe is quite small (a hole-in-the-wall kinda thing) with a rustic homely decor yet popular and predictably crowded on weekends. Note that they don't accept reservations on weekends so you will get a seat if it is your lucky day!

As we made our way to the cafe at 10am on a bright and cheery Sunday, I noticed that the place was filled with a mix of both locals and expats, families mostly. We were fortunate that there were two tables left.

What struck me was even though the cafe was crowded, it wasn't noisy and we were able to relax and chatter the morning away!

I had heard that the eggs benny was good and so I had already decided what I was going to order. The menu at Choupinette is limited but they do have some well-loved breakfast items as well as the baked goods on display that I mentioned earlier. Aside from a la carte dishes, the cafe offers breakfast sets. All sets are served with fruit juice and any coffee or hot tea or hot chocolate.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Baker's Corner: Pumpkin Spiced Chocolate Chip Bread

You know whenever I open Instagram during the fall/autumn season, I see a deluge of pumpkin and squash recipes. An orange-kissed feast for the eyes! Every year I have this tendency to bookmark half a dozen recipes but somehow never get around to making them. 

Living in Singapore, we don't have fall. We don't have distinct seasons at all really. We have hot and humid summer all year round (and that may sound like a good thing but we do sometimes wish otherwise!). We do get rain pretty every month but it usually isn't a depressing gloomy spell of weather that seems to last forever. The rain patterns are quite random, short-lived and provide much-needed respite from the relentless heat. 

Residents of Singapore don't really have to wait for seasons to enjoy seasonal produce. Most of Singapore's fruits and vegetables are imported from the rest of the world. So, we really can enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables that are considered seasonal, all year round such as pumpkin, butternut squash, yam, beets, sweet potatoes, avocado, asparagus, melons, fresh berries, pineapple, lychee, longon, dragonfruit and stone fruits. Hitting the right vegetable and fruit seasons will obviously enhance the flavour of the produce and make the produce slightly more affordable but I don't really find it significant. Only fruits like durian and mango show up in markets during specific months and enjoy royal status! 

I use butternut squash and pumpkin in my cooking only occasionally. Mostly in soups, salads, pasta and risotto. I used to use it much more frequently when my twins were toddlers, making homemade puree and freezing individual containers to be mixed in with their food whenever suitable. I suffer from a lack of creativity when it comes to the squash family and I've been looking to change that. 

I recently wanted to bake something that would serve as an evening snack for my kids. Anything homemade surpasses the processed snacks available in supermarkets so I do occasionally make the effort. I didn't want it to be something too sweet and indulgent though. So I searched online for some pumpkin bread recipes. There are a lot of recipe out there but I sat down and formulated my own with mixed nuts and semi-sweet chocolate chips. What started off as a recipe testing actually ended up on my blog because everyone  at home loved it and I definitely would want to make this again! To me it is always a good sign if my kids ask for second (and third) helpings and hours later also remember to ask for it! I used a generous amount of homemade pumpkin puree, aromatic spices, mixed nuts and chocolate chips so the bread turned out naturally yellow hued, intoxicatingly fragrant, sweet, nutty and moist with delightful bursts of chocolate. This recipe below states 3/4 cup sugar but you can slash it to 1/2 cup if you are keen on reducing the sugar content because the inherent sweetness of the pumpkin and the chunks of chocolate make up for it. 

This is a great recipe (if I do say so myself 😉). It is very easy, doesn't require creaming/persistent beating and has pretty a simple ingredient list so as long as you can get your hands on orange pumpkin or butternut squash, you are good to go!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Jurong Lake Gardens - Singapore's Newest Gem in the Heartlands

If you have been living under a rock, chances are, you wouldn't have heard about Jurong Lake Gardens. For the uninitiated, Jurong Lake Gardens is one of Singapore’s newest national gardens located in the heartlands. Situated along Yuan Ching Road and next to Lakeside MRT station in Jurong, the sprawling landscaped garden flanked by the serene Jurong lake is an ideal spot for families to come together for some fun and recreation. The Garden revolves around the themes of "nature, play and the community". 

The whopping 90-hectare Gardens comprises Lakeside Garden (formerly Jurong Lake Gardens West), Chinese and Japanese Gardens (formerly Jurong Lake Gardens Central) and Garden Promenade (formerly Jurong Lake Gardens East).

Lakeside Garden opened to the public on 27 April 2019, and Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden and Garden Promenade is touted to be completed from 2021 onwards.

Being rather active on social media and following many Singapore-based parent bloggers, I heard about the buzz surrounding Jurong Lake Gardens almost immediately. What struck me on reading visitors first impressions and looking at the pictures was how much my kids would love it there. Outdoorsy activities are always top of our weekend/public holiday agenda since our energetic offspring get to run amok while getting some fresh air and we can get those languid limbs moving too! And it worked in our favour that the Gardens wasn't very far off from our place so the chances for our kids getting sick in the car were slim to none. Unsurprisingly, the impulsive side of me wanted to check out Singapore's latest offering right away! 

We set off on a labor day holiday. The May heat was displaying its formidable potential. I must tell you that it had been less than a week since the Gardens had opened to visitors. Although common sense told me that the place would be crowded, I imagined that if we reached the Gardens earlier, there may be a good chance of beating the crowds. How terribly mistaken I was! We managed to reach by 9:30 am and already both the North and South car parks were full and there was in fact, a line of cars snaking along the entire length of the road. After circling the area, we were forced to park in the parking lot of a nearby HDB and I thought it was an ominous sign when the (usually empty) visitor car park had barely one or two spots left. Everywhere I looked, I could see families out and about dressed in shorts, flip flops and floppy hats accompanied by a child or two with eager looks on their faces giving off major picnic vibes. There was no doubt in my mind as to where everyone was heading! 

I had asked my cousin's family to join us envisioning that it would be a fun play date for the four kids and a chance for the adults to catch up outside of the customary home visits. In hindsight, dragging them into it as well wasn't my brightest idea. But at that point there was no backing out so we reluctantly joined the sea of people entering the Gardens. I swear I got a few death glares from the husband! 😆 After a while, we caught up with our relatives and began to explore the Gardens.

Before I go any further, let me tell you that this blog post is a compilation of photos and description of experiences from two separate visits to the Jurong Lake Gardens. The first, as you know, was on a public holiday as soon as the Gardens opened and the second was from a weekday afternoon visit, a few weeks later. So, if you happen to wonder how I managed to take pictures of the Gardens sans the crowds I was just bitterly complaining about, those are pictures from the second visit!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Recipe of the month: Mango Chia Pudding

Mango season is here and these plump, luscious, tropical beauties have started to make an appearance in farmer's markets and grocery stores. My family bends the knee to the King of fruits and hence, we are all thrilled to bits! I'm pretty sure that we will be devouring mangoes like it is our part-time job for the next several weeks 😊

Every year (since the past few years), I have been posting a mango-based recipe during mango season.  Check out my previous Easy Mango Sorbet, Fresh Mango Cake with Chocolate Collar, Tropical Mango Cupcakes and Pavlova with Mango and Passionfruit for some mango inspiration. This year, I had a few on my mind and this mango chia pudding happened to be one of them. 

If you know anything about my lifestyle at all, you will be aware that I have developed a keen interest in fitness and healthy eating since the past 2 years. Although I never restrict myself from eating the foods I love, I often design my meals to contain ingredients that are nutritious and preferably lower in carbohydrates. Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants, and fiber. Despite their ancient history as a dietary staple, chia seeds became recognized as a modern-day superfood only recently. When mixed with water or milk the seeds swell in size and becomes gel-like. They are digested slowly, keeping one feeling full for longer and maintaining stable blood sugar levels. I make full use of the benefits of chia seeds and add them regularly to my oatmeal and smoothies. 

Combine chia seeds and mangoes and you end up with something pretty special. Preparation of this mango chia pudding is a breeze with only a handful of ingredients and no cooking necessary (just let your fridge do the work!). The best part is that you don't even have to follow a strict recipe. Get creative and toss in whatever ingredients you feel like. There is no right or wrong folks. 

Simple, creamy, fragrant with just the right amount of sweetness, this mango chia pudding makes for a healthy breakfast, midday snack or a refreshing post-dinner dessert. It is gluten-free and can be made vegan (just use almond, soy or thin coconut milk in the recipe). 

I'm hoping to bring you another mango recipe before the season ends. Fingers crossed!

Try this recipe and you will thank me you did 😊