Sunday, June 24, 2018

Begonia Brilliance at the Flower Dome & Children's Garden at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The past week has been all sorts of things - hectic, exhausting, fun, stressful and exciting! The husband is away on a business trip and I have been trying to hold the fort in the midst of a packed working schedule, finding ways to keep the twins occupied during the holidays, finishing their school project, managing them in the evenings, maintaining my daily exercise schedule, meal planning, grocery shopping, eating healthy and devoting my time to a few important commitments that unexpectedly popped up this week. I do have my domestic helper for support but my bad habit of trying to take on more tasks than I can handle often wears me out. For instance, right now, my kids are fast asleep and common sense dictates that I should be too but instead, I feel like I ought to blog and that is what I am doing (sometimes even I find myself infuriating ๐Ÿ˜›) Anyway, back to the subject, being a single parent while the significant other is away is not easy so I salute all those of you with frequently traveling spouses who do it year round! You are all crusaders! I think it would drive me completely nuts ๐Ÿ˜

On the rare occasions that I find myself in this situation, I find weekends particularly challenging because I need to plan activities for the kids. Now especially with the school holidays ongoing, their usual art classes have been temporarily suspended and they have a break from their swimming lessons too. Add to that, most of their playground friends and classmates have been mostly away on holiday. The net result for the poor critters is boredom. And although I am not opposed to the notion of my kids being bored, this substantial lack of activity and interaction is a tad too much for my comfort (and theirs!). That being said, I always tend to overthink these matters because the kids have been nothing but cheerful and manageable during the past month. They spent a lovely ten days with their grandparents at the start of the month. Subsequently, we devised various indoor activities to keep them engaged during the day and our helper is religiously taking them out to play in the morning and evening so it isn't as awful as it seems ๐Ÿ˜›

But with their beloved Daddy being away, I have been determined to make their weekends extra special because I feel like they deserve it. And doing that, given the facilities Singapore has, is not a difficult task. I love love love how Singapore is such a family-friendly country. There is no dearth of options when it comes to activities for kids - both indoors and outdoors. I've mentioned this before - going to water parks is something my kids enjoy more than anything else. The Far East Organization's Children's Garden at Gardens by the Bay is particularly close to their heart and since I had two corporate passes to the cooled conservatories with me, I decided to buy two more and take my helper and the kids to check out the Begonia Brilliance floral display at the Flower Dome and then treat the kids to a splashing good time at the Children's Garden. 



So, I've done an entire blog post on the Gardens by the Bay. I also did two individual posts on previous floral displays namely the Tulip Mania and Blossom Bliss. I didn't actually plan on doing a blog post for the Begonia Brilliance but it turned out the photos I took were decent-ish and I had absolutely no drafts or other plans for me next blog post so I put it together very last minute and in record time ๐Ÿ˜› I'm glad I did because I realise I hadn't included the Children's Garden in any of my previous posts. 

The kids had been badgering me to take a trip in the MRT. They don't usually ride the MRT so it is somewhat of a treat for them! After a ride that seemed to take eternity (I think we got a year's worth of MRT ๐Ÿ˜) we still reached the Gardens fairly early, around 9:45am. The weather was moody en route with alternating grey and blue skies and sudden unexpected showers. I wasn't sure if we could do the Children's Garden considering how it looked like the skies would open up any minute but I pushed the thought out of my mind. We first occupied a nice bench and gave the hungry kids a hearty breakfast. We then immediately headed to the Flower Dome. 


Begonia Brilliance Floral Display

I was familiar with the name Begonia and could identify the flower from a line-up but I had no idea how many varieties there were or how supersized they could be!  Some varieties of this eye-catching flower are much sought after for their large and stunning flowers. This floral display is the first of its kind at Garden's by the Bay showcasing more than 50 varieties with beautiful blooms in a spectrum of reds, oranges and yellows. Apparently some of the flowers have been grown by Gardens by the Bay’s horticulturists. 



Stepping into the cool Flower Dome, we were instantly taken with the bright pops of colour within the floral display at the entrance. The girls went "WOW!" and after constant (and I mean constant!) reminders to not touch the flowers, I think the message finally sunk in that a pluck-fest was definitely out of the question!




Although it was early there were already quite a few visitors (although nothing compared to the throngs of people I witnessed at a previous Blossom Bliss). While my helper kept an eye on the girls, I was able to easily take photos of the showy flowers at my own pace. 






The Flower Field was (as usual) the main highlight with Begonias arranged in an undersea realm set-up with octopuses, jelly fish, manta rays and giant clams.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Recipe of the month: Mushroom and Pea Risotto

I finally made my first risotto ๐Ÿ™Œ One more off the culinary bucket list! I really don't know what took me so long. Wait, actually I do know - risotto is the husband's forte so I've been quite content staying in the shadows whilst he dishes out plate after plate of this sublime and luxurious Italian staple. All I have to bring to the table is my appetite so you can understand the lack of initiative ๐Ÿ˜

At home we (and by "we" I mean "he" ๐Ÿ˜) routinely make 4 different kinds of risotto - Butternut Squash and Sage, Mushroom and Pea, Roasted Beetroot and Basil Pesto-Asparagus Risotto. I got him to guest post the Roasted Beetroot Risotto a while ago (you should check it out if you already haven't). This Mushroom and Pea Risotto is another family favourite and features frequently as a weekend special. 

I was wondering what to post next on the blog and noticed a bag of arborio rice in the pantry. We always have white wine and parmesan cheese at home and I also happened to have white button mushrooms and frozen peas so all I did was pick up a couple more varieties of mushrooms from the vegetable market. I got shiitake, enoki and King Oyster mushrooms in addition to the white button mushrooms to star in my risotto. 

I'll admit I underestimated the muscle power it required for the constant stirring of the risotto. The husband did step in to help me out. Make no mistake, you HAVE to stir to bring out the creaminess that comes from the starch generated when grains of rice rub against each other. But I'd say making risotto is not difficult to master. Getting the flavour right is fairly easy but getting the consistency right is another matter. If you add too much stock at a time and don't allow the rice to completely absorb the liquid, then you will have a runny mess. If you don't add enough liquid or you allow the rice to cook longer once the liquid is absorbed, then you will have a blob of clumpy risotto which is ugh

The risotto turned out rich, creamy and utterly delicious so I think I may just hijack the title of risotto-maker from my husband henceforth (no I'm kidding, I won't!). I think I'll let him do all the hard work and I'll just sit back and enjoy ๐Ÿ˜›

Here is the recipe folks. Note that this recipe serves two people while the Roasted Beetroot Risotto on the blog serves three Depending on how many servings you need to make, you can consult either recipe. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Baker's Corner: Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

Calling all herb and cheese lovers! I have something really scrumptious for you today ๐Ÿ˜‹

Spanakopita is a traditional spinach pie containing cheese and herbs, enveloped by crispy, flaky filo pastry. It can be made either in large pan and cut into individual portions (pan-sized spanakopita) or rolled into individual triangular servings (spanakopitakia).

Although it is commonly considered a side-dish, Spanakopita could very well take center stage in a Mediterranean-inspired dinner. If you are going the vegetarian route, you could put together an assortment of dishes like pita bread, hummus, melitzanosalata, tzatziki, kalamata olives, feta cheese, vegetable sticks, salads (fattoush, tabbouleh or Greek couscous salad) and grape leaves stuffed with rice to represent a smorgasbord of the Mediterranean. Sounds fab right? On one occasion in the past, I've done something similar (minus the spanakopita) and now I am inspired to do it again with this savoury pie that is completely up my alley ๐Ÿ˜Š


Any elaborate cooking or culinary experimentation I reserve for the weekends. I usually am up way earlier than the rest of the family and I get most of my prep work done and out of the way. This usually results in me spending minimal time in the kitchen afterwards, something that my three year olds don't object to. Most of the time, I am quite organised and methodical about my weekend cooking but is so happened that on the Sunday I made this Spanakopita, I overslept and ended up waking up at the exact same time as my kids. I was mortified as I had planned on doing most of the work whilst the household was still in deep slumber and then follow it up with a nice little coffee break. Goes without saying that neither didn't happen! I took twice as longer to make this Spanakopita than what the recipe suggested. It is a little hard when you have two little high-pitched voices interrupting you every 5 minutes with "Amma what are you doing?", "Amma can you wipe my nose?", "Amma, can you look at this abbu (boo boo) on my leg?", "Amma I want water", "Amma I came to give you a hug", "Amma I can't find my pony", "Amma I need to go on the potty", "Amma can you please come out of the kitchen?", "Amma my armpit smells like a lemon, can you smell it?" (I swear one of them actually did say that!). By the time I was done, I was both physically and mentally drained out! I learnt my lesson and the next time I'm making this dish is when I have a good stretch of time free from distractions ๐Ÿ˜

Don't let my little story discourage you though. This is actually an easy recipe with mostly, easy to find ingredients. I made my own ricotta cheese from scratch because I think store-bought ricotta is grossly overpriced and doesn't taste half as good as when you make it on your own. And making it yourself is a cinch anyway. If you have access to filo pastry then you should try this recipe (please don't ask me about making filo from scratch though!). This dish looks great, is delicious and even my kids enjoyed it so it can cater to grown ups and kids alike.



Have at it you guys!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Recipe of the month: Karnataka Speciality - Ragi Rotti (Finger Millet Pancake)

I'm back from my India sojourn! Home visits mean a lot to me - it offers a chance to reconnect with family, make new memories and recharge those drained out batteries ๐Ÿ˜Š

This post is courtesy of my recent trip you guys. Since the past few visits home, I have had the pleasure of savouring these ragi rottis for breakfast. My mom has had some much-needed help in the kitchen since the past three years and hailing from Mysore, these women have re-introduced the rural staple ragi rotti to our Tulu Nadu tastebuds. Having not eaten much of this dish during my childhood, I have to admit, I have taken an immense liking to it now. 

Ragi rotti is a breakfast dish from the state of Karnataka, India. It is most popular in the rural areas of southern Karnataka. It is made of ragi (finger millet) flour. Ragi rotti in the native language Kannada, literally translates to finger millet pancake. While on the subject, don't confuse ragi rotti with ragi roti. The latter is more like a chapati with ragi flour incorporated into the dough. Ragi rotti on the other hand, is prepared in the same way as the more well-known Akki rotti. The ragi flour is mixed with salt and water and kneaded well into a soft dough. While making the dough, chopped onions, grated carrots, chopped coriander, cumin seeds and more can be added to enhance the taste. A few drops of oil is spread over a griddle (tava) and a ball of the dough is thinly patted over it to resemble a thin pancake (rotti). Again, a little oil is drizzled over it and the tava is cooked over medium heat till the rotti turns crisp. Ragi Rotti is served hot and is usually eaten along with coriander or peanut chutney.



So my mum's current cook is a kind, matronly woman from Mysore who makes really yummy ragi rotti. I've eaten them twice before and this visit, I decided that I would jot down the recipe and observe how she makes them. Compared to most ragi rotti recipes that I have come across, she adds an extra step by making a finely ground mixture of roasted chana dal, coconut and green chillies and mixing it with the rest of the ingredients to form a dough. Her reasoning is that it improves the taste and texture of the rottis. I concur! The rottis she makes are soft yet crispy and packed full of flavour. She makes a moreish chutney on the side and slathered with a knob of butter and my mum's fabulous filter coffee, this makes for one dynamite breakfast! 

I've said this before in my previous Instant Ragi Dosa post - ragi has high protein content, is a rich source of minerals, helps control diabetes, keeps weight in check, battles anemia, reduces 'bad' cholesterol and has anti-cancer properties. You don't really need to go looking for any other trendy and overpriced  'superfoods'. This ancient and cheap wonder grain does you a world of good and makes you feel full. This dish in particular is easy to make, nutritious, vegan, gluten-free and tastes wonderful too! That is checking all the boxes for even the most specific dietary needs, don't you think?

So I hope I have convinced you to give this dish a go, especially if you have never tried it before. Let me know what you think ๐Ÿ˜Š