Friday, April 22, 2016

Why you should visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a historical tropical garden nestled in the heart of Singapore. This is an attraction I have visited multiple times yet I never get enough of it. Whenever we have family or friends visiting us, we take them to the Botanic Gardens and it never ceases to cast its magical spell. Unsurprisingly, the Gardens has been ranked Asia's top park attraction since 2013, by TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards. A visually stunning, pristine oasis right in the middle of a concrete jungle, it is one of the most popular weekend retreats for residents. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy a stroll at the gardens, take in the fresh air, soak in the greenery, lap up the tranquility, enjoy a picnic or watch musical performances at the Symphony Lake.

Over our numerous trips, I have accumulated a bevy of photographs which lay scattered in different folders. Since the Singapore Botanical Gardens was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site last year, I thought it deserved an exclusive blog post. I finally got around to doing so last week and had to spend considerable time combing through albums dating back to 2006!

The Singapore Botanic Gardens helped to transform the island into a tropical 'Garden City', a moniker for which the nation is widely known. In 1981, the hybrid climbing orchid, Vanda Miss Joaquim, was chosen as the nation's national flower. Singapore's "orchid diplomacy" honors visiting head of states, dignitaries and celebrities, by naming its finest hybrids after them; these are displayed at its popular VIP Orchid Gardens.

Pssst....while on the subject of celebrities, Indians take note - there is an orchid named after Shah Rukh Khan too!

Some  facts and figures for you:
  • The Botanic Gardens spans 74-hectares and includes the National Orchid Garden which has over 1,000 orchid species and 2,000 hybrids on display
  • Singapore's Botanic Gardens is the only one in the world that opens from 5am to 12 midnight every day of the year
  • The Botanic Gardens receives about 4.5 million visitors annually
Pretty cool eh? 

The Gardens is currently based on a three-core concept. The three cores are comprised of Tanglin which is the heritage core retaining the old favourites and charms of the Gardens; Central, the tourist belt of the Gardens; and Bukit Timah, the educational and discovery zone.

The 156-year-old sprawling Singapore attraction joins more than 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites spawning 160 countries. It is the third Botanic Gardens to be listed as a World Heritage Site, and Singapore's first World Heritage Site. A matter of great pride for Singaporeans 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Baker's Corner: Spinach and Mushroom Whole Wheat Rolls

I'm in one of my healthy eating phases right now. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I go through these 'episodes' twice or thrice a year. During this time you see the more 'healthy' recipes showing up on my blog. LOL! I'm too much of a foodie glutton to make it a permanent thing though. Come to think of it, I actually hate the word 'diet' (it has the word 'die' in it, duh!). Methinks, I should remove it completely from my vocabulary.

Like most normal human beings, I get peckish in the late afternoons and feel the need to nibble on some munchies. It generally helps stave off the mid-day energy slump. And having to chase after two super active puffs the whole day makes it an absolute necessity. If given a choice, I wouldn't think twice before reaching out for that bag of chips or some other unhealthy snack that I can get my hands on. But since I've been opting for sensible food choices, I made sure to stock up my fridge with a whole bunch of fruits and decided that I would turn to them when the PM hunger attacks strike. Well, guess what? I didn't last two days! On day three, I gazed scornfully at the guava in front of me and decided I couldn't do it without the risk of mindless binge eating later on. I needed something savoury and something a bit more substantial. And BOOM! These spinach and mushroom whole wheat rolls were born!

I may lack the motivation to adhere to my diet food intake regimen but I seldom lack the motivation to cook  

This recipe was a spur-of-the-moment thing born out of my desire to eat something hot and savoury with the ingredients I had on hand. I had absolutely no idea how they would turn out. I had whole wheat flour, tomatoes, onions, garlic, baby spinach, mushrooms and cheese so I just put everything together and said a little prayer. The fresh-out-of-the-oven rolls were soft, delicious and comforting. I could have rolled the dough a little thinner but that was the only minor failing that I perceived. I wanted a second opinion so I waited till my husband got back from work, pestered him for his verdict and was relieved when he concurred.

These rolls are great as an evening snack along with a hot beverage or even as an on-the-go breakfast. You can tweak this recipe to appease your taste buds. Be sure to scroll down to the notes section for possible variations and substitutions.

Happy healthy eating!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Recipe of the month: Kidney Bean, Chickpea & Avocado Salad with Feta

OMG! The day has finally come when my blog is graced by a salad recipe! *pats self on the back* 

What took so long, you ask? I consider salads to be blah and I don't do blah. It is as simple as that.

Sure, I can have a small serving of salad alongside a substantial main course but give me a bowl of measly 'garden' salad and tell me that it is all I get to eat and I may just suffer a panic attack! You know those skinny girls who go to a restaurant and order just a salad? I'm not one of them (and well, I'm not skinny by any stretch of imagination either but that's not the point!). Come to think of it, I actually envy anyone who can make do with salad as a main meal. I am a perpetually hungry girl and I like to eat (and by eat I mean good hearty food and not rabbit food).

Now that I've established that I'm not a huge fan of salads let me tell you how I came to change my equation with them. Me and my hubby had been to Vietnam a few years ago on holiday and it was there that I was completely blown away by the kind of salads that most of the restaurants offered. They were fresh, flavourful, balanced and satisfying. I had a taste epiphany while I was there! I don't think I have ever had that many salads at one stretch of time in my entire life. I would actually get excited by the prospect of eating my next salad (and that had NEVER happened to me before). Of the many salads I ate there, I distinctly remember a gorgeous banana flower salad, a deceptively simple salad of julienned radish in a honey garlic vinaigrette topped with toasted sesame seeds and a spectacular beet salad with goat's cheese and hazelnuts. My opinion on salads definitely changed for the better while I was there. 

After coming back to Singapore, I vowed I would make more of an effort to incorporate salads into my diet. I do make salads at home but honestly, it isn't on a regular basis. I sincerely hope that can change. The good thing is, at the moment, I am on a self-devised weight loss regimen so in addition to swimming and brisk walks, my daily menu relies heavily on healthy greens and veggies to keep my ballooning weight in check. Salads are a no-brainer there, right? I consider lettuce to be boring and much prefer the likes of mesclun, arugula, watercress, baby spinach, basil, parsley, mint and microgreens in my salad. And I especially love protein-packed salads - those that have legumes, beans, nuts and/or boiled eggs in them.

This particular salad is something I made recently and fell in love with! Salads earn a bad rep for being plain and uninspiring (and a lot of them are) but this one is anything but. The four main staples of every salad include greens, protein, healthy fats and carbs and this one checks all the boxes. It has kidney beans, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, garlic, red onion, lemon, herbs, avocado and feta cheese. The lemon gives it that freshness and zing, the cherry tomatoes provide bursts of sweetness, the avocado and feta impart creaminess, the kidney beans and chickpeas make it hearty and everything else adds oodles of flavour. Yeah I know it has feta cheese but you know what? A little cheese never hurt anyone! Buy a lighter version or use less if it bothers you.

You can enjoy this salad as a side dish to a main meal or else use it to make delicious wraps or a topping for crostini. It is naturally gluten-free and can be transformed into a vegan version if you replace the feta with tofu. This is a win-win dish in that it looks good, tastes great and doesn't contribute significantly to your weight woes. 

Try it and if you feel the same way about salads as I previously did, you may just change your mind with this one!

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Fresh New Look!

Hello there readers! So judging by the title of this post and the changed appearance of the blog, it is kinda obvious what this post is about right? 

Makeovers are refreshing! No, I didn't get a makeover myself (even though I think I desperately need one!) but I'll put that aside for the moment and talk about my blog makeover. To be honest, since the time my blog came into being, the only things I have invested in it are my time, effort and a lot of TLC. I didn't bother to set up a custom domain, I still have no idea what the heck SEO is and don't let me get started on understanding complex HTML codes (gah!). Whatever you saw on my blog previously - the content, design, layout, configuration, the imagery were the work of yours truly. At the time I thought I did a good job but in hindsight, not so much! I (smugly) never asked anyone for help or assistance, even though at times, I had no freaking idea what I was doing. I didn't deem it necessary to go the extra mile because at first, I didn't think anyone would read my blog. True story! I started blogging for me and only me. Not to gain followers, make money or to connect with like-minded individuals and interact with them but just as a creative outlet to express myself.

But after the first few months, my vanity wore off and I realized that it is fun to blog only if you have a loyal following. Appreciation and feedback from readers help motivate a blogger and push them to strive for improvement. It is a continually learning process and one can only learn when there is steady interest & passion. Blogging is really hard work and a lot of people give up on it prematurely. Perhaps, only the ones who are truly made for blogging, stick it out. I cannot predict my future in blogging with assured certainty but as of now, I'd like to believe that I'm in it for the long haul. Anyway, moving on, I wanted to blog about all my interests and not just restrict it to cooking. But I was in a bit of a dilemma because I didn't have a niche audience. Blogging about everything under the sun would be confusing to my readers so I narrowed my interests down to a few categories such that people visiting my blog would know what kind of posts to expect from me. Picking the name for the blog literally gave me a migraine. I dodged the words 'spice', 'food' 'recipe''kitchen', 'culinary' because they were too restrictive, I dismissed 'Singapore' in the title because of the possibility of relocation, I wasn't too keen on generic terms like 'adventure''world', 'life''space' and to make things more complicated, I did not want my own name featured in the blog title. It had to be something that would encompass all the blogging topics I had in mind and be unique at the same time. I finally settled on the current name - I wasn't crazy about it (still not sure I am) but over the years it has grown on me so it is here to stay.