Monday, May 25, 2020

Life in Lockdown: Some Perspectives and Musings

As Singapore enters the final week of what has now been seven weeks of “circuit breaker” measures limiting people to the walls of their personal cocooned sanctuaries in order to curb the spread of Covid-19, I have put together some reflections on life during lockdown. 

Of course, I am acutely aware that my musings on the current situation may sound utterly mundane and reek of privilege. One doesn't need to drive a Bentley, be dripping with jewels, have holiday homes tucked away in picturesque corners or go jet-setting to exotic lands at the drop of a hat to recognize that they still have it better than many. This fact inadvertently disconnects people like us from the swarming millions of less fortunate around the world whose reflections will be focused on whether they will eat today or whether they will receive the medical care they need to live to see another day or what the future holds for their children as they have for several weeks now. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have not lost our livelihood or incomes substantially affected, to have escaped the physical and mental burden of being a "health hero", to have remained healthy and to have still retained the same quality of life (sans the excesses), are so far removed from the alternate reality, that we may as well be living in another world.

It is during unprecedented crises like these where we can witness, on one hand, people inconsiderately hoarding provisions, medical supplies and whining about restricted freedom of movement whilst riding out the pandemic in relative comfort versus the other, struggling to keep a roof over their heads, keep their kids in school and put food on the table. The pandemic not only has exposed but also exacerbated the grotesque inequalities of humankind. But having said that, my reality is what it is and for that, I can only be humbly grateful.

With that, here are some thoughts that have stemmed from these past few strange weeks,

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Baker's Corner: Easy Cheesy Garlic Bread

Saturday breakfasts/brunches at my place often features an egg-based main dish like a cheese and mushroom omelette, mixed vegetable frittata, shakshuka, quiche or eggs benedict. I always rustle up some oven-roasted herbed potatoes, grill whatever bread I have on hand and prepare a fruit platter to go along with it. It makes for a colorful, delicious and hearty weekend meal which we all love and look forward to eating.

A few weeks ago, I made some homemade cheesy garlic bread to go with my signature shakshuka. My kids absolutely love the garlic bread from Pizza Hut so I had been thinking about making it at home. To save time, you can buy store-bought bread, dress it up and pop it in the oven or else, if you have some time, you can make from scratch.

Unfortunately at the time, I had only parmesan and cheddar cheese in my refrigerator and no mozzarella. With the coronavirus pandemic, we were experiencing a bit of a slump in the supply of dairy products and speciality flour both at physical supermarkets and while placing online orders so getting my hands on the ingredients I wanted for savoury bakes was proving quite the challenge. Despite the absence of an important ingredient, the cheesy garlic bread turned out really good and my family loved it. I really wanted to make it again with mozzarella cheese, obviously, because it melts so much better and forms that lovely oozy cheesy layer on top. Anyway, I did eventually get mozzarella cheese at the supermarket but by then, I had run out of bread flour and that was out of stock everywhere I checked so I had to wait a few more weeks! Finally, when I had both the cheese and the flour that I needed, I made the cheesy garlic bread again and just as I had expected, it turned out even better and the whole things was polished off in minutes! This homemade cheesy garlic bread is going to feature commonly in our weekend menu henceforth 😊

This is a very easy recipe that comes together fairly quickly (aside from the time needed for the dough to rise). You just need a few ingredients and you can come up with bread that is warm, soft, chewy, garlicky, cheesy, herby.....basically all kinds of yummy! Be sure to scroll down to the notes section for additional tips and substitutions.

Try it and you won't be disappointed. I promise 😊

Monday, May 4, 2020

Restaurant review: Carrotsticks and Cravings, Dempsey Hill, Singapore

One of the last restaurants we visited before the debilitating impact of the coronavirus hit Singapore happened to be Carrotsticks and Cravings, a charming Australian cafe located in Dempsey during early March. The occasion was my husband’s birthday and I was keen to treat the family to a sumptuous meal. Characteristically, I was on the lookout for kid-friendly places and this cafe popped up in my search. I checked out the menu of the cafe and found that it was right up my alley so I convinced my husband that he would like it too 😜 Birthday venue and meal timing finalized, I promptly made a reservation for Saturday brunch.

Carrotsticks and Cravings is the brainchild of Terri-Anne, a Melbourne-born food photographer, food stylist and author of three cookbooks. The cafe aims to bring the Australian-inspired healthy cafe experience to Singapore. It isn't surprising that the cafe is known to have a predominantly white clientele.

Carrotsticks and Cravings boasts a lovely location on Dempsey Hill, sitting quietly in a secluded nook shrouded by century old trees. We almost drove right past it! There is a small car park out at the front from where the cafe remains partially hidden. Once we walked past the gate, we were stuck by the cafe's casual and homely vibe.

First thing we noticed when we entered the premises was a tidy little outdoor play area. There were also some small cars for toddlers to ride in. My five-year olds took off like rockets to the play area and were soon lost in their own world.

This is a very kid-friendly cafe indeed. There is a coloring station with art supplies as well. I had read that there is a trampoline but I couldn't see it anywhere. If I hadn't been aware of this information beforehand, it wouldn't have occured to me to check out the back of the cafe! Once my kids were done at the play area, I took them to the trampoline and they spend a good chunk of time jumping up and down and building up an appetite!

The seating area is actually quite limited and the tables are small. Seating is primarily outdoor so keep in mind that it can get quite warm especially during sweltering summer months. We chose a table from which we had a good view of the play area.

The decor can be described as a mix of minimalist chic and rustic country with primary shades of white and lots of natural elements used as decorative accents.

I really liked the menu options because there is something for everybody. The restaurant delivers healthy superfood cuisine made with fresh and quality ingredients. You will find the generous use of fresh veggies, greens, sprouts, fruit, wholegrains, beans, seeds and nuts in most of the dishes.

They have crowd-pleasers like avocado toast, baked eggs, sandwiches, pancakes, burrito, green bowl, parfait, salads, smoothie bowls, baked goodies, fruit juices, coffee, tea and smoothies. The kids menu has a select few dishes that are fun yet nutritious at the same time (not the typical fries, nuggets, mac n cheese that you get everywhere else!). You can expect an impressive range of vegan and vegetarian-friendly dishes, gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free delights. Those with dietary restrictions will find that this cafe caters to every need. I suggest you go to the counter and take a good look at their desserts and breads or check out the boards for daily specials before placing your order.

Table service is not offered so ordering and payment has to be done at the counter inside the cafe. We were sitting at the table for quite some time before we realised this! You would also need to get your own cutlery, napkins, seasonings and sugar (it can be a bit of a bother if you have to keep going to get more).

Here is a round up of our order,

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Summer Special: Mango Panna Cotta

No, I'm not going to talk about the invisible global enemy in this post. I'm fed up of hearing/reading about it. Instead, I'm going to talk about something that sparks joy 😊

In case you haven't noticed (and I wouldn't be surprised if that happened), MANGO season is here! This means something to me probably because of my ethnicity. Like most Indians, I happen to be passionate about truly is a national obsession for us! Indian mangoes are world-famous for their richness, sweetness and unique flavour so it has become a symbol of national pride and identity. Alphonso, malgova, badami, mallika, raspuri, neelam, me, these varieties of mangoes are synonymous with balmy Indian summers. Much like wine, the aroma and flavour of each variety differs from the region it comes from.

Every year, my kids eagerly wait for mango season because the undisputed king of fruits is their absolute favourite too (ties in with raspberries!). During the months of peak mango season, my family and I spend languorous evenings stuffing our faces with this exotic tropical fruit thereby keeping us appeased until next season rolls by. 

I wanted to make mango panna cotta last year but somehow I rarely have extra mangoes lying around to make dessert. No matter how many I think I have, it just gets consumed within the blink of an eye!  Having said that, there are a couple of mango based desserts that I've managed to sneak into my blog You can check out these recipes if your are interested - Easy Mango SorbetTropical Mango Cupcakes, Mango Chia Pudding and Fresh Mango Cake with Whipped Cream and Dark Chocolate Collar. This year, considering we are cooped up indoors with a lot of free time and could do with anything even remotely exciting, I didn't want to pass up on the opportunity to make mango panna cotta and add it to my arsenal of mango-based recipes.

Three weeks ago, I caught sight of a gloriously abundant (and inviting!) display of mangoes in the fruit stall of my local wet market and I have been buying them ever since. Nobody has the luxury of repeated trips to the market these days so during my bi-weekly grocery trips, I have been buying 3-4 large mangoes each time. And fortunately for us, every single one of them has been delightful so far. 

For those who are unaware, panna cotta (Italian for "cooked cream") is an Italian dessert of sweetened cream thickened with a setting agent and molded. Even though it is a very simple dessert, it is versatile and exceedingly popular.

Yesterday, me and the kids made mango panna cotta using agar (also called agar-agar, china grass or kanten) instead of gelatin which is traditionally used. I must admit that I am using agar after ages! Around 14 years ago, I used to frequently make a chilled variety of pineapple souffle that I used to set with gelatin. But once I became more aware of how gelatin is procured, I completely avoided the use of it in my kitchen. But I somehow never fancied the texture of agar set desserts. They lack the lovely wobbly texture that you get from using gelatin and so I abandoned making any kind of dessert that required a setting agent altogether. 

Obviously, I've made an exception now 😁 This mango panna cotta has been set using agar powder. The powder form is easily available in supermarkets here and is the easiest form of agar to use. I used enough of agar to set the dessert firm but it didn't turn rubbery so the texture was reasonably good. The mango I used, although didn't have the deep orange color that I would have preferred but was at least pulpy and sweet so I didn't have to add too much sugar. I didn't add cardamon powder to the mango puree because I wanted to retain the fresh zesty mango flavour but you can add it if you feel like. The white vanilla cream layer didn't turn out cloyingly sweet so it was just right for me. My husband and kids liked the dessert and I have gotten requests to make it again.