Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas Special: Homemade Apple Pie

It is high time that this dessert featured on my blog and let me tell you why!

I was all of fifteen (or maybe sixteen....can't remember) when I developed a love for cooking. It wasn't as if anyone in particular influenced me. My mum never insisted that I help her in the kitchen nor did I volunteer πŸ˜› Back then, I wasn't even what I would describe a foodie. I was a scrawny teen who swore by the philosophy "eat to live" (can't say the same now! 😝). I used to be an exasperatingly fussy eater, enjoying only the limited spectrum food that appealed to my taste buds and not being adventurous at all when it came to trying new dishes. I didn't (still don't) have much of a sweet tooth. My only weaknesses included soda (cola), cheese and fried food and those, I'll admit, still continue to be to this day!

During those years, I started watching various cookery shows which ignited the fire in me to explore the culinary world. My mum had plenty of cookbooks in her pantry so I began flipping through them. I was curious to know if I could make some of my favourite dishes on my own. As good a cook my mum is, baking is something she never did and so that was one area that piqued my interest in particular.

I remember quite clearly, almost like it was yesterday, some of the dishes I used to make all those years ago. Vegetable fried rice, potato rΓΆsti, potato kebabs, fried cheese balls, Chinese noodles, mug cake, fruit trifle and apple pie are some that come to mind off the top of my head.

Among all my mum's cookbooks was a Party Cookbook by noted Indian food writer Tarla Dalal. In that book was a simple recipe for homemade apple pie. It was one of the first desserts I ever attempted. Back then, I had no clue about pastry tips and techniques. I had no idea how the variety of apple would influence the final taste and texture of the pie. In my small sleepy hometown of Mysore, only one or maybe two varieties of apples were available in the local market and I'd just go pick up whatever I could get my hands on. We had an medieval gas oven at home that had to be manually ignited (I was too afraid to do it so I'd ask my mum to!). The temperature of our oven wasn't precise so I couldn't trust the settings and I didn't know about the existence of an oven thermometer so I'd just end up taking a gamble on the baking temperature and time. In my naΓ―ve mind, as long as the pastry was cooked and the complimentary flavours of apple and cinnamon married together, I had a winning dessert! Looking back, I realize that the apple filling I'd make used to turn out mushy every time and although the pastry was cooked through, it wasn't flaky like how it is supposed to be. But trust me when I say that as a whole, it tasted delicious and elicited requests from family and friends to make often. It went on to become my signature dish and is the only dessert I so distinctly remember from my childhood. Every time I bite into an apple pie, no matter where I am in the world, it takes me on a trip down memory lane and that is the reason, this dessert holds a special place in my heart. 

An old-fashioned apple pie with a flaky buttery pastry crust and juicy apple filling perfumed with cinnamon is the perfect dessert. When apple pie is served warm topped with good quality vanilla bean ice-cream, it is the ultimate indulgence. I know that apple pie is popular during the fall and frequently graces the tables at Christmas but it really is an all-year dessert. Making an apple pie from scratch does take some time but trust me, it is a fun endeavour and time well spent! I would like to make apple pie "my thing" again hoping that it will be something my kids and future grandkids will remember me by 😊

Okay, so let's get down to business. When it comes to apples, to each their own. You will see hundreds of recipes floating around recommending a particular variety or varieties of apple for "the best apple pie" and it can all get very confusing. You may think that choosing the right apple for a pie is all about flavor, but there's another equally important element: pectin. Pectin is the biological glue that holds together plant cells, giving fruits and vegetables their shape and structure. When apples are cooked, this pectin breaks down, and the apples turn mushy. Pectin breakdown is inhibited by low pH levels (that is, it breaks down less when the environment is acidic). Thus, the tarter the apple, the more likely it is to hold its shape upon baking. That is why a lot of apple pie recipes you see out there would mention Granny Smiths or Royal Gala apples. But then again, tart apples hold up well during cooking but don't offer the best "apple-y" flavor. In contrast, sweet apples provide wonderful flavor but often turn to mush. Based on the availability, I'd suggest using a mixture of apples to strike the right balance between flavour, texture and fragrance. Varieties such as McIntosh, Cortland, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Honey Crisp generally seem to be good choices for apple pie.

I stuck to a classic apple pie recipe but modernised it with a lattice crust. I didn't add in a lot of spices because I wanted the apple flavor to shine through. Using a combination of sweet and tart apples made the filling perfectly balanced with the structure of the apples intact as opposed to a gooey mush. The husband likes the apple filling to have a hint of savoury flavour so I've included a little salt in it. This is purely a personal preference. I followed most of the pastry techniques so ended up with a nice and flaky pastry. All in all, it was a delicious dessert and it brought back so many fond memories!

I'm usually very generous with the desserts I make, reserving only a minuscule portion for myself and dividing the rest among my family, domestic helper, friends and sometimes even boss and colleagues. But this time, I kept a lion's share of the pie polishing off the whole thing in a record two days πŸ˜„ If only the adage 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' could be extended to include apple pie as well *sigh*

So that is why I said at the beginning of this post that it is high time to feature this recipe on the blog. And although I was aware of it at a subconscious level, I must thank one of my sister-in-laws for pointing out the lack of pie recipes on my blog and motivating me to change that! So, Ramya, this post is dedicated to you 😊 Hoping for more pie exploits in the new year!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays you guys! XOXO

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book review: Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Since my last novel, I've taken way longer than I had anticipated to finish the next. I had so many things going on the past few weeks that I was unable to find the time to read at a stretch. I did it in short stabs stealing whatever spare time I could.  

After I devoured six books by Greg Iles back-to-back, the next author I set my sights on was Ken Follett. The Welsh author of thrillers and historical novels has sold more than 160 million copies of his works. Many of his books have achieved high ranking on best seller lists. I'll admit that I had never read any of his books before. But that has since changed (obviously) and I now have an entire collection on my Kindle that awaits!

Eye of the Needle was Follett's first successful, best-selling effort as a novelist, and it earned him the 1979 Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America


Contains spoilers

The premise of the novel is a fictionalized account of events preceding the most important military operation of World War II: the Battle of Normandy. As most history buffs are aware, the Western Allies of World War II launched the largest amphibious invasion in history when they assaulted Normandy, located on the northern coast of France, on 6 June 1944. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allied forces conducted a huge near-impossible deception operation, aimed at misleading the Germans with respect to the date and place of the invasion. The objective of 'Operation Fortitude' was to trick the enemy into preparing for an invasion via the Pas de Calais so that on D-Day, the Normandy assault would have the advantage of surprise. 

A big part of this covert operation were the spies that operated on both sides, Germany and Britain at the time. Under the watchful eye of Winston Churchill, The British were able to turn several German spies into double agents who would then feed falsified information to Hitler's camp. From this point in history onward, Eye of the Needle enters the realm of fiction. A single German spy working for the Nazi's known only as Die Nadel or 'The Needle' has the capacity to foil the entire ruse. Being the FΓΌhrer's number one agent, Die Nadel has in his possession, photographic evidence to prove the presence of a massive dummy camp near Calais and he is on the move to deliver the damning information personally. The British intelligence MI5 who have recruited a network of 'spy catchers' consisting of soldiers, historians, scholars, barristers and the likes must come together to decipher cryptic codes, monitor suspicious activity and undertake spy catching missions in the interest of national security. Percival Godliman, a widowed history professor and Frederick Bloggs, a young inspector from Scotland Yard work around the clock in the manhunt for the evasive Die Nadel before it is too late. 

In a dramatic and unexpected twist to the plot, a young English woman's fate becomes entwined in the spy drama and she unwittingly finds herself a major determinant of the outcome of the war. Lucy, is a wife of an ex-trainee RAF pilot and mother of a three year old child, living in desolation on Storm island, off the east coast of Scotland. Her angst stemming from a loveless marriage to her paraplegic husband keeps her in an unceasingly woeful state of mind. One day, her life as she has known it is turned upside down. She has 48 hours to find the courage she has never known to be safeguard not only her child but also her country.

The outcome of the Battle of Normandy is written in history. But what is the fate of Die Nadel? What happens to Lucy and her family?

Read the book to find out!

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Wonderful Family Holiday to Koh Samui, Thailand

I just had to do a travel post since it had been pretty long since the last one. Not to mention, I had lots of pictures that I wanted to put to good use!

We usually plan something around the twins birthday. Last year we did a fun staycation at a water park integrated resort in Singapore, the year before that, a memorable holiday with my parents at Club Med Cherating beach Malaysia and the first year was celebrated with a themed-birthday party in India attended by close friends and family. 

This year, to mark their fourth birthday, we were leaning towards going to Siem Reap in Cambodia with a group of friends but changed our plan to a beach holiday in Thailand keeping in mind the interest of the kids and what they would enjoy more. 

We love Thailand so any opportunity to visit the country is welcomed. Having already been to Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket, we were toying with Krabi or Koh Samui for our holiday destination. Since Koh Samui had the reputation of being the less crowded and more peaceful destination for families, we went with the latter. 

First things first - If you have been to Koh Samui, you would be aware that the airfare from Singapore is pretty expensive considering the short flight. We flew Silk Air and had to fork out quite a bit for the airfare for the four of us. The airport at Koh Samui is privately owned and run by Bangkok Airways so be aware that airport taxes contribute a huge chunk to the final ticket price.

For the accommodation, you will be spoilt for choices as with most Thai destinations, there are no dearth of options which cater to all kinds of preferences and budgets. We made our choice based on the beach we wanted to stay closest to. I had read that Choeng Mon beach was a good choice for families with young children. We always stay at either resorts or hotels when we travel overseas so this time we thought we would try something different and booked a two bedroom condominium that was walking distance to our beach of choice. We figured a "home away from home" experience while on holiday is a good thing when you have kids in the picture 😊

Image source: Images of Thailand
I'd say November is not the best time to visit Koh Samui but since we had planned to celebrate a specific occasion, we couldn't do anything about it. November is a bit of a gamble as the threat of rain is a very real concern. The upside is that the island is fairly uncrowded during low season. Samui's weather patterns differs from the rest of Thailand. In April through September, when most of the country has its monsoon, Samui stays fairly dry, but from October to December, it is wet in Samui and drier elsewhere. The driest season is from January to March so take note of that if you are planning a visit. 

Travelling with my offsprings is always an anxiety-inducing experience for me as the two can be likened to active volcanoes that can bring up the contents of their stomach without any prior notice. Even the car journey to the airport frequently ends in a vomit-fest so an uneventful journey is something I fervently pray for (but seldom occurs in reality). 

After a 40 min car journey, followed by a 1.5 hour flight (which did indeed include the use of airsickness bags and lots of wet wipes πŸ˜’) we touched down at Koh Samui. 

Samui International Airport is heralded as one of the coolest and best-looking airports in Thailand. The airport does have a delightfully rustic feel. The two terminals are open-sided, feature beautifully landscaped tropical gardens, charming shops and structures made of bamboo-and-thatch which gives it a resort-like appearance and intensifies the holiday vibe. The visa on arrival did take a while but we eventually made our way out and found the driver who was waiting to take us to the condo. 

The property was a short distance away from the airport. We found the apartment to be fully furnished with free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, televisions in the living room and both bedrooms with cable TV (more than 300 channels!) and plenty of large beach towels. It also had a spacious balcony overlooking the pool. 

I was pleased to note that the sparkling clean kitchen had everything I would need to rustle up a decent meal if needed. There was a fridge, microwave, kettle, toaster, in-built over, electric stove, dish drying rack, sink and drawers and cupboards stocked with cutlery, pots and pans.

The communal areas featured a small kids pool, a medium-sized main swimming pool, a laundromat, a gym, convenience store and bar/cafe. 

The kids were thrilled with the accommodation and naively assumed that we had moved to a new place! They were very vocal in their appreciation of their "new room" and "new house" πŸ˜‚

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Letter To My Daughters on Their Fourth Birthday

I realize every year, my birthday letters to my daughters are getting longer and more detailed. Although that may sound like a good thing, I'm worried that it will translate into a snooze-fest! πŸ˜΄πŸ˜…

If you are checking out my blog for the very first time, let me give you a head's up that writing these birthday letters is a self-initiated annual tradition. I wrote letters to my twin daughters on their first birthday, second birthday and third birthday. I promised myself that I would document their early years to the best of my ability at least till they were five years old. I'm glad that I've stuck to my guns because reading the earlier letters gets me misty-eyed and brings back memories that were buried somewhere in the depths of my perpetually foggy brain. The realization that I would have forgotten many of those precious details if I hadn't painstakingly extricated from my memory every year, makes it a worthwhile endeavour.

As I had expected, succumbing to peer pressure, the twins wanted a princess-themed birthday party this year. We decided to organize a party next year marking their fifth birthday and instead go for a family beach holiday to Thailand a few days prior and celebrate their birthday at pre-school followed by a fun activity of their choice. It didn't take any persuasion to get them completely on board with the latter idea! The fact that preschoolers are notoriously fickle comes in handy at times like these πŸ˜›

To be magnanimous, I did consult the girls on what kind of cake they wanted. Unsurprisingly, they both wanted a "pink" cake with cream and flowers so I chose a simple vanilla cake with whipped cream with rosettes and sugar flowers. I had taken the day off to be able to pull of this cake (simple as it was) because let's face it, I am no cake decorating whiz and I need time to be able to do a decent job.

The previous day of the birthday passed by with a fun-filled celebration at school among their classmates in the morning and a visit to the temple in the evening. On the big day, we headed out to one of their favourite indoor playgrounds where they spent the entire morning followed by lunch at a restaurant. Dinner was spent with relatives who chipped in to make the girls feel special. And there were birthday cupcakes to be enjoyed by all. All in all, I'd say it was a memorable birthday!

And now for the letter which captures the essence (or maybe a bit more!) of everything that took place since their last birthday....

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Breathtaking Blooms From Little Flower Hut Singapore

Product + Service Review

Flowers are one of nature's many gifts that elicit positive responses in people. Take me for example - I can be having a perfectly ordinary day but when I catch a glimpse of a cheery assortment of fresh flowers on my table, my spirit instantly lifts and brings about a discernible change in my persona! 

When the good folks at Little Flower Hut Singapore  said they would be sending me an arrangement of fresh blooms for review, I gladly accepted.

As a rule, I must always have fresh flowers at home. It has become somewhat of a habit since the past few years and is something I cannot do without. I'm not particularly choosy about the kind of flowers I like to brighten up my house with but I am partial to white roses, orchids, tulips, lilies and carnations. 

Communication with Little Flower Hut was a breeze, the flowers were delivered at the specified date and time and as you can see, the elegant handcrafted arrangement of pristine white roses, white hydrangeas and succulents in a glass vase was an absolute delight! The flowers came with a personalized card that actually ended up summing up my day for real 😊

Set against my natural dark wood furniture, the flowers stood out and made for a gorgeous centrepiece on the table that was admired by everyone in the family.

A bit more on the company - Little Flower Hut is a home-grown Singapore florist shop and online flower delivery service. Started in 2010, the company has grown to rank as one of the preferred florists to individual customers and corporate companies across the island nation.

The team behind Little Flower Hut are passionate about delivering flowers and gifts that brings a smile to their customers. You can celebrate any occasion with fresh flowers from Little Flower Hut. On their user-friendly website, you can find an affordable range of flower arrangements, hand bouquets, gift hampers, plants and more products that are suitable for a bevy of occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, funerals, Mother's day, Valentine's day, housewarming, graduation and such.

The company offers same day flower delivery which helps serve last minute/impromptu orders. Their island-wide 24/7 Singapore flower delivery is quick, easy and convenient. 

For today's post, I've put together some ideas and tips that you could consider when gifting flowers for special occasions. Knowing the symbolism and connotation of flower types and flower colors, can help you choose the perfect arrangement to convey just the right emotion.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Recipe of the month: Sindhi Sai Bhaji

I am unquestionably a big fat foodie (pun intended!). I appreciate all cuisines but have a discernible affinity to my own.

Indian cuisine to me, is one the most exciting and diverse global cuisines in the world. India is a microcosm of different styles of cuisine. Not only does each state of the vast country have its own distinct cuisine but there are even regional variations. Indian dishes are heavily influenced by region, climate, religion, traditions and culture. The cuisine incorporates a whole palette of flavours boosted by a medley of aromatic spices resulting in a titillating food experience.

Indian food is not just "curry" as is commonly perceived the world over. The culinary range that the cuisine offers is mind-boggling. Although the food is broadly categorized as 'North Indian' (more of bread and curry based) or 'South Indian (typically rice, coconut and lentil based), there is so much more to it than that. We can’t forget about West and East India. Western India which includes Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Goa and Eastern India comprising of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Orissa all have their own distinct and rich cuisines, too. There is so much I need to still learn from the cuisine of my motherland. I have so many recipes from other states that I have been meaning to try but haven't gotten around to doing so. One at a time!

Today's recipe is beyond my zone of familiarity in that I hadn't even heard of it until recently! It was only thanks to my chronic lurking on instagram that I became aware that such a dish exists.

Sindhi cuisine refers to the native cuisine of the Sindhi people from Sindh, Pakistan. The daily food in most Sindhi households consists of wheat-based flat-bread (phulka) and rice accompanied by two dishes, one gravy and one dry. Today, Sindhi food is eaten in many countries including India. Despite having a few Sindhi friends in school and college, I was utterly ignorant of the cuisine. Probably because food wasn't such a big part of my life back then the way it is now!

Sai bhaji (Sai = green; bhaji = vegetables) is a potpourri of lentils, vegetables, greens and spices. The reason this dish appealed to me so much is because of my undying love for greens. Fenugreek and dill are my two favourite greens with spinach a close third. And when I saw the generous use of vegetables in the dish, the newly acquired health conscious side of me  urged me to give it a go.

This is a one-pot dish. It incorporates easily available ingredients and comes together in a fairly simple procedure. It does take some time to prepare all the ingredients but the resulting dish is creamy, mildly spiced, delicious and packed with nutrition. Along with steamed rice or chapati, this makes for a wholesome meal.

I've made this dish a few times with minor modifications each time and ultimately I'm satisfied with this version. Like I said earlier, my love for dill knows no bounds so I don't mind this dish with double the quantity of dill than what is mentioned in the recipe below. But I do know that not everyone shares my love for this herb and so it would be prudent to go easy on the quantity if you are cooking for many people.

My family liked this dish (my fussy kids included!) so it is something that is going to feature regularly on our weekday/weekend menu.

Try the recipe and leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Review: The Quiet Game by Greg Iles

I am back with another book review! I have been sticking to my resolution of making reading a priority and I am surprised by the negligible effort it has taken. Now I realize how incredibly lame my 15 books a year target was and 50 (that earlier seemed so daunting) would actually be doable. Given my dismal start to the year, it would be nothing short of a miracle if I can catch up but I sure am going to try 😊 And since I've decided to keep up with reading, I will be more prudent in the books I review on the blog, winnowing down to those I deem worthy of discussion.

This book review marks my first tryst with the literary works of Greg Iles. This author has been recommended to me by my husband. And knowing that Stephen King endorsed the work of Greg Iles is good enough reason for me to not waste any more time!

Novelist Greg Iles was born in Germany, where his father ran the US Embassy Medical Clinic during the height of the Cold War. He spent his youth in Natchez, Mississippi, and graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1983. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, a thriller about Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess, was published in 1992 and became a New York Times bestseller.

Mississippi has long been known for its prowess in prose. From Tennessee Williams to Eudora Welty, John Grisham to William Faulkner and now Greg Iles, the Magnolia State is home to a plethora of skilled writers.

The Quiet Game was first published in 1999 by Dutton in the United States. The novel introduces the main protagonist Penn Cage who goes on to feature in several more of Greg Iles books.


Set in the small town of Natchez, Mississippi, the novel begins on a sombre note with grieving widower Penn Cage trying to come to terms with the agonizing loss of his beloved wife Sarah. The prosecutor turned best-selling author returns to his hometown of Natchez for some much-needed solitude and to help lift the spirits of his four year old daughter Annie.

When Penn becomes privy to the fact that his father Dr Tom Cage, a model of rectitude, is being blackmailed over an unsavoury incident that took place in the past, he pulls out all the stops to put an end to it. In tracing the source of his father's disconcerting predicament, he unknowingly stirs up a 30 year old unsolved murder that took place in Natchez under mysterious circumstances. In reviving the controversial case, Penn more than ruffles a few feathers. The murder of black Korean War veteran Delano Payton had been masquerading as a race crime until then but new insights and unsubstantiated claims suggest otherwise with unexpectedly sinister implications. The more Penn tries to resist getting involved, the more he gets sucked in. Putting his own life and that of his family’s in jeopardy, the crusading lawyer campaigns for justice along with unlikely accomplice, hotshot publisher Caitlin Masters.

In the course of the investigation, Penn goes on the offensive and butts heads with Judge Leo Marston, who had been responsible for separating him from his high school sweetheart Olivia Marston and subsequently sought to destroy his father in an unfounded and rancorous malpractice suit. Stuck in the eye of a media storm, with politicians, the FBI and a homicidal former cop hot on his heels, Penn is in a race against time to nail the killers of Del Payton. But in a racially divided town where everyone is playing the “quiet game”, it is proving to be harder than he bargained for. And with witnesses turning up either dead or in grave danger, the evidence is steadily starting to slip away from his grasp. Penn has to confront his old demons and grapple with some unsettling truths before he can uncover his hometown's deepest darkest secret.

My thoughts....

Reading the work of an author for the first time, for me, is somewhat akin to making a new friend. It is novel, intriguing and feels like a wisp of fresh air.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

KidsSTOP at Science Centre Singapore

If you have been following me on Instagram, I think it is fairly obvious that I am incessantly on the hunt for child-friendly activities to engage my kids during the weekend. Having a well-maintained, safe and stimulating environment for my twins to play in without me having to play the unenviable role of referee every 10 min not only keeps the little ones happy but also keeps my sanity in check! Although my kids have a proclivity for water parks, I am less enthusiastic as there is always the risk of them catching a cold and/or cough from these visits. Prioritizing their weekly swimming lesson, I prefer to scout for places that offer a dry solution to overcoming weekend boredom.

I had been to the Science Centre and Snow City a few times before my children were born but never after that. I had heard from a few fellow pre-schooler mommies that there was a designated area for younger kids called KidsSTOP to explore and play (which I had been unaware of) so I had made a mental note to check it out. One Thursday afternoon, I impulsively booked online tickets (which was a breeze by the way) with the intention of taking the kids on a mother-daughters outing to the Science Centre on a Saturday morning. I was surprised to note how reasonable the tickets were despite me choosing a peak duration.

KidsSTOP is Science Centre Singapore’s dedicated Children’s Science Centre. Officially opened in June 2014, children from 18 months to 8 years can learn to inquire, investigate and innovate in a safe and conducive 3,000m² gallery that focuses specifically on science for kids.

With more than 20 exhibits designed to introduce concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, children are provided with ample opportunities to learn through interactive play.

We reached KidsSTOP early to beat the crowds and I was happy to note that the strategy paid off. I knew it was a positive sign when my kids were preoccupied with the red slide at the entrance giving me ample time at the ticketing counter to secure our admission into the main play area.

I would have loved for my kids to have checked out each themed zone slowly and systematically but at the time of our visit they were 3+ years old so naturally they were going to bolt like lightning to the first place that visually appealed to them! And with an attention span of barely 10-15 min, it was not enough time for them to grasp the "science" behind each theme. I was trying my best to give them a basic explanation of each exhibit only to have them notice something eye-catching and take off in different directions!

My kids had marked preferences to certain areas of the gallery and so I left them to their own devices and refrained from coercing them to go where I wanted them to go just for the sake of doing a blog post on the subject 😝 Yeah I can still manage to be cool that way! πŸ˜›

The Science Centre website has detailed information about the individual exhibits and most of the information that you see here is taken from there (so please don't credit me with any of the  technical explanation you see below 😁).

Image Source: KidsSTOP Official Website
I don't have photos of all of them but the ones I have are of the exhibits that my 3+ year olds enjoyed the most! And on the subject of photos, pardon the quality for I know it is not up to my usual standard.

Here is a round up of all the exhibits and their features.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Restaurant Review: Rider's Cafe @ Bukit Timah Saddle Club, Singapore

I am a die hard cafe-lover. And I love brunch. And it is no secret among inner circles that I love to talk (a LOT). So, when I get to go for brunch to a cafe with a pal I haven't met in ages, the combination is sheer gold πŸ˜€

That is how I landed at Rider's Cafe one balmy Saturday afternoon. I had heard about this cafe umpteen times as it is a popular brunch destination among locals.

Nestled in the lush greenery of Bukit Timah, Rider's Cafe is a cafe serving contemporary comfort food housed in a rustic white and black building belonging to the Bukit Timah saddle club. 

The cafe isn't accessible by public transport so the best way to reach there would be by car (it really is super ulu lah). As you get closer to the cafe, keep your eyes on the road and you will notice the serene drive flanked by a canopy of trees and sprawling verdant meadows. Accentuated by blue skies, you really feel like you are escaping Singapore into a secluded countryside. 

Since I knew that the cafe could get insanely crowded on weekends, I made an online reservation the day before via Chope. I would heavily recommend doing this - it barely takes 2 minutes and saves you the unnecessary waiting time (note that same day reservations are not allowed).

Me and my friend reached the cafe at 12:30pm and were promptly shown to our table by the amicable staff. The restaurant was almost full with a mixture of both locals and expats enjoying a casual and relaxed brunch. 

Given the open concept of the restaurant, there was greenery visible all around and the high ceiling added to the airy feel (be aware that there is no air conditioning at all). The interiors of the cafe are dominated by white and the style may be described as minimalist rustic with a colonial flair. The cafe exudes a lovely old world charm that adds to the laid-back ambience.

If you get a chance, grab the seats by the balcony. There aren't too many of them so you would have to be lucky! You get to soak up the scenery and will surely get a glimpse of the horses in the stables or in training. 

The menu isn't extensive but there are the usual crowd pleasers in the breakfast and lunch selections with a limited vegetarian selection (including two vegan options). You have choices such as full english breakfast, french toast, bircher muesli, burger & sandwiches, salads, bowls, finger foods, pasta, beer battered fish and chips, steak and hot and cold beverages. Blackboard specials are available daily.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Baker's Corner: Paneer Masala Buns

It is no secret that I love baking. Heck, having a dedicated segment on the blog called "Baker's Corner" makes it more than obvious, no?

I have this obsession of taking homemade baked goods as an edible gift when visiting family/friends/colleagues. I perceive it to be a thoughtful gesture (and it fulfills my ulterior motive of being an enjoyable pursuit!) so I do it all the time 😁 Although I go for sweet bakes more often than savoury bakes when gifting, I have baked stuffed buns, pesto rolls and focaccia many a time.

If you have been following my blog, you may know that I already have the Iyengar bakery-style potato buns and the Italian-inspired pizza buns in my blog archives. With these two buns, I used refined white flour with predictably good results. Subsequently, I posted a recipe for savoury whole wheat buns using, as the name suggests, only whole wheat flour which came together after some experimentation and was an unexpected success. Slightly denser, I would have to admit but with a more robust flavour.

So, you may know that unlike white flour, whole wheat contains germ and bran. These two components have minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber. They also add a nutty array of flavors to a loaf of bread, as well as a fuller texture. The downside is, they also make life harder for bakers. For one thing, bran and germ soak up water, which can dry out a loaf and make it crumbly so largely, for this reason, bakers cannot simply substitute whole grain for white. Rather, recipes must be entirely recomposed. Thus, when working with whole wheat flour, it is necessary to use more water in your dough compared to using only white flour. Germ and bran also add weight to the dough, which can impede its capacity to rise, leading to loaves almost as dense as stone.

Blending whole wheat and white flour creates an easier to work with, lighter textured and tasting loaf that will produce decent volume. Blending is a great way to start out working with whole wheat flour and allows you to progressively increase your whole wheat with each successive loaf until you are baking with 100% whole wheat. While it is entirely possible to get soft and fluffy rolls/bread using whole wheat flour alone, it does take a wee bit of know-how and practice.

Although I have baked buns using only whole wheat in the past, for this particular recipe, I thought I'd combine both whole wheat and plain flour. I am no baking expert so I thought I'll err on the side of caution. Since, I had already done a spiced potato and a pizza filling, I was deliberating between a mushroom or paneer filling for my next bun-making attempt. The recipe for the filling was a very spur-of-the-moment thing where I just kept adding whatever I felt liked (and just hoped for the best!). The buns turned out good enough to make it to the blog. Soft and wholesome with a delicious paneer filling. These buns will make their way to a loved ones home of that  I'm sure! 

Check out the recipe and let me know how it goes. You can try the other bun recipes while you are it at too!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Recipe of the month: Bhatura

I have a culinary confession to make. Actually, it is something I wasn't privy to until a few days ago. For all the cooking I've done in my life - I have never once made bhatura in my kitchen! I find that astounding considering how many times I have savoured this Indian street-food staple. 

Growing up, Channa Bhatura/Chole Bhature is something I would frequently order at restaurants/canteens/food joints. Me and my siblings never got to eat this at home since my mom would make whole wheat pooris instead to go with channa/chole. In addition to the kind of flour used, the bhatura recipe is quite different than the standard poori recipe in that the dough is made with a leavening agents such as baking powder, yoghurt and yeast or cooking soda.

Bhatura is more common to North Indian (particularly Punjabi) households where it is served for breakfast or brunch. But the popularity of this dish has extended across India and overseas as well making it well recognized by Indians and Indian food-lovers alike.

Bhatura evokes a deep sense of nostalgia for me. Catching sight on the balloon-sized piping hot puffy bhatura and inhaling the intoxicating aroma of the chickpea curry is enough to send my taste buds into a frenzy and stimulate the salivary glands. It is the combination of the tender flaky flatbread and the exotic spice-infused chickpea side dish which is hard to resist. This dish is delicious, moreish and will lull you into a deep slumber after you are done with it! If you have never tasted channa bhatura before, you are truly missing out.

Bhatura is made from refined flour and involves deep-frying so obviously, it has to taste fabulous right?! But on the flip side, packed with calories and saturated fats, this Punjabi bad boy has the potential to take your bad cholesterol to an all-time high. It could also cause you acidity, bloating and heartburn. But that doesn't stop people from getting their bhatura-fix. I'd say the reason is usually deep-rooted in one's childhood. See the thing is, when you are a skinny little Indian kid and crave bhatura with all your heart, your mom is unlikely to tell you about its artery clogging potential. Especially if it only a once in a while indulgence. 'You like it? You eat it' used to be the simple mantra back in the day. And c'mon, who doesn't like channa bhatura right? You would have to be mad not to 😝

So, keeping all the above in mind, I have decided to not deprive my kids of the chance to try this lip-smacking universal favourite. Moreover, considering how homemade is infinitely better than eating at questionable street vendors or seedy dhabas, I don't think it is such big a deal. Of course, in keeping with modern times where people are more conscious of what they eat and developing good eating habits from an early age is important, I will be sure to let my kids know when to keep certain guilty pleasures to a minimum and channa bhatura will definitely be one of them. Probably making it for them twice or thrice a year should be acceptable 😁

What I would say to anyone who wants to make this dish at home is - use good and fresh ingredients, fresh oil, don't get the oil to point that it is smoking (but it should still be hot), use paper towels to absorb the excess oil from the bhatura and please for heaven's sake, do not reuse that oil after you are done. Also, it would be a good idea to make bhatura for breakfast or brunch so you have the rest of the day to at least attempt to burn off the unspeakable amount of calories! πŸ˜†

Bhatura and channa/chole are made for each other so that is your best bet for a side dish. With the chole, it is always preferable to use dried chickpeas and soak + cook them yourself compared to using canned chickpeas. Freshly cooked chickpeas are richer, fuller and meatier than their canned cousins with a texture that is infinitely creamier. In addition, they are BPA-free, more cost effective, and contain less sodium. It is worth putting in the effort to cook the chickpeas from scratch for the chole since it is the star of the show (although I admittedly take the short cut and go the canned route many times!). I have a fabulous recipe for Punjabi Chole on the blog which you can find here and if you minimize the amount of oil that you use, it can actually work out to be a delicious and protein-packed side dish.

Serve the bhatura with sliced red onions, lime wedges, pickle and cooling yoghurt for a gastronomic experience that is nothing short of sheer bliss!

Oh and you're welcome  😊

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book review: The Letter by Kathryn Hughes

I was keen on doing a book review because it took me a while to remember the last time I did one! It bothers me that the daily grind of life leaves me with little to no time for reading. At the start of the year, I gave myself a feasible target of 15 literary books to finish by the end of the year. We are more than half way into 2018 and my dismal count stands at 4! Talk about unfulfilled reading goals πŸ˜’ At this rate, I don't think I can justify calling myself a bibliophile anymore. You could always argue that one could make time for something if you really wanted to and I wouldn't disagree with you. Case in point - my husband who easily goes through 40-60 books a year. Reading before going to bed is a habit I would like to cultivate but that time is mostly hijacked by Netflix! Since I have no intention of perfecting the art of procrastination, things need to change starting today 😁

This novel was recommended to my by my husband (of course). It has been written by English author Kathryn Hughes. The Letter, set in her hometown of Manchester was first published in 2013 and since then has become an International best-seller, capturing millions of hearts worldwide. 


Tina Craig's journey begins as a beautiful and self-assured young woman giving her fledgling marriage every chance to succeed. But after enduring unending physical and mental abuse at the hands of her volatile husband Rick, she becomes fearful and longs to escape. She puts in long hours at work and even volunteers at a charity shop on Sundays to seek respite the treadmill existence of misery at home. One day when going through the pockets of a second-hand suit, Tina comes across an old letter, one that was never posted. She opens the letter and reads it – a decision that will alter the course of her life forever.

Billy Stirling's carefree existence from an orphan to son of his doting adoptive mother turns into one of sheer bliss when he meets the love of his life, Christina Skinner. Unaffected by her draconian father's disapproval, their burgeoning relationship blossoms. But as fate would have it, circumstances tear the young lovers apart. Billy is aware of the blunder he committed, but desperately hopes to set things right. On 4th September 1939 he sits down to write the letter he hopes will change his future. It does – in more ways than he can ever imagine.

In his quest to trace his origins, William Lane crosses the Atlantic to track down his biological mother. Time and again he questions the wisdom of his endeavours but flashbacks to his childhood spurs him on. Destiny intervenes and his paths cross with a psychologically battered Tina. As the final pieces of the 34 year-old puzzle fall together, the reality of how one woman's devastation leads to another woman's salvation begins to emerge.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Water Play Area at Rainforest KidzWorld, Singapore Zoo

Before I had kids of my own, I'd been to the Singapore Zoo at least half a dozen times. I'd keenly scanned the map, explored every inch of the zoo and visited all its inhabitants. But oddly enough, not once did I pay any attention to Rainforest KidzWorld 😝

Fast forward to the present day where I am a mother to three+ year old exuberant twin girls and someone who is constantly on the lookout for outlets to expend their inexhaustible energy! Rainforest KidzWorld? YES PLEASE!

A few weeks ago, the husband was overseas on a business trip and I had taken it upon myself to make sure the girls were not affected by his absence too much by keeping them occupied. We had been to Gardens by the Bay, Far East Organization Children's Garden, a few shopping malls, restaurants, two trips to Admiralty park, Palawan beach and finally, the last stop on our mother-daughter outing agenda was the Singapore Zoo.

I happened to take the day off from work on a gloomy Monday and coincidentally, the kids did not have school that very day. Through a corporate pass, I had four complimentary entry tickets to the zoo which was perfect for me, the kids and my domestic helper. Even through rain had been threatening to ruin our day right from sunup, we decided to go through with our plan equiped with raincoats and umbrellas.

We reached the zoo nice and early. I had packed a hearty breakfast for the kids which they finished by a bench beside the otter exhibit. Although they were eager to see the animals, I insisted we put that off for later in the day. I was worried it was going to rain any minute and was anxious to get to Rainforest KidzWorld. My kids had never been to that part of the zoo before and I knew they would love it. They have been water babies ever since I can remember and water parks make them go slightly loopy 😝

At the entrance there are clear signs about what is allowed and what isn't.

Particularly helpful for first-timers like us. 

These are the wet play area guidelines:
  • No food and drinks
  • No footwear
  • No running
  • Appropriate swimwear and swimming diapers are to be worn at all times
  • Shower before and after play
As expected, the minute we got the girls changed into their bathing suits and showered, they bolted towards the vast and enticing play area in a flash and were in their own world for the next one and a half hours. Luckily for us there were hardly anyone there and it was almost as if my girls had the whole place to themselves! And although still cloudy, there was no sign of rain the entire duration. Whoop whoop!  

Like I said, it was the first time I actually noticed the water play area. It is anchored by an animal-themed slide and spray shack flanked by a colourful array of sprayers, climbers, and a variety of zippy water-flushed slides and tubes.

My girls were obsessed with the green slides and must have gone on them at least 25 times. The blue closed one they found intimidating and so they stuck to the obviously safer choice 😁