Saturday, February 27, 2021

Book review: The Kingsbridge Series - Pillars of the Earth, World Without End and A Column of Fire

I have been wholeheartedly invested in a book series based on historical fiction since the start of 2021. 

Before that, if anyone had asked me if I would read a book about building a cathedral, I would have raised an eyebrow and said a polite 'no, thank you'. But it is a good thing that the book came heavily recommended so I eventually sat down to see what it was about. This was soon followed by a furious googling of the terms 'transepts', 'nave' and 'buttress' along with a dozen other architectural terms. I am so glad I overcame my initial skepticism because what followed was unexpectedly special indeed!

For decades, Welsh novelist Ken Follett was best known for his bestselling thrillers, beginning with Eye of the Needle (1978) which cemented his reputation as a master of the spy-thriller genre. A decade later, he took a sharp detour and indulged his long-standing passion for the architecture of classic European cathedrals when he published Pillars of the Earth (1989), the first instalment of the Kingsbridge series. 

Ken Follett's best-selling Kingsbridge novels namely Pillars of the Earth, World Without End (2007) and A Column of Fire (2017), are much loved across the globe for their historical detail, gripping plots and memorable characters. Both Pillars of the Earth and World Without End have even been made into television mini-series. A fourth novel, The Evening and the Morning published in 2020 is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth. 

After ~2 months, 2.5K pages and 1 million words, I am ready with my review 😀 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Dine, Shop & Escape into the Countryside at Gardenasia, Singapore

I would have really liked to bring you a recipe post for Valentine's Day like I've done the past several years but I've been so insanely busy on the work front that I simply wasn't able to. Even the Chinese New Year long weekend break that just ended wasn't nearly enough for me to recover from the burnout. It's all good though! 😊 The productivity slump that I experienced during the circuit breaker period last year (at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic) seems to be reversing full throttle this year and I do hope the momentum keeps going This would probably mean less time to devote to the blog but I promise to do my best folks! 

Today I have for you a post that has been in the pipeline since the end of last month.

A few weeks ago, we wanted to take the kids out so we were scouting for a place in nearby localities where the kids could enjoy the outdoors and we could also grab a bite to eat. My husband suggested Bistro by Gardenasia located in the tranquil Kranji countryside. 

We were vaguely familiar with the area previously having been to Bollywood Veggies and the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve but we hadn't been to Gardenasia as yet so we didn't really know what to expect. 

Gardenasia is part of the Nyee Phoe group of companies. Located far away from the towering skyscrapers and maddening crowds and lying in the lap of Singapore's green countryside, Gardenasia aims to draw people closer to nature through curated experiences that are nature-inspired. The experience is centered around the various lifestyle pillars – Eat, Work, Play – to create a holistic ‘GA Experience’. These include dining at Bistro Gardenasia, fresh produce and sustainable products by The Local Farm, GAkids programmes, eco-ambassadors Titoy and Morchoo, and farmers’ market events. You can also enjoy a farm stay in the heart of the Kranji countryside with villas modelled after charming black and white colonial houses. 

I had checked out the Bistro Gardenasia menu beforehand and was pleased with the 'farm-to-fork' concept. The menu of the bistro, comprised of fresh salads, soups, nibbles, mains, local delights and a few desserts prominently features produce from local agri farmers whom they staunchly support. 

I think it is a good time to mention that this area of Singapore is remote and hence relatively cut off from public transport. The most straightforward way to get there is by car and if you have your own vehicle, I recommend that you drive around the verdant green countryside because it is quite the sight for sore eyes. 

We reached Gardenasia around mid-morning. The girls spotted the outdoor play area right from the carpark and that immediately got them excited. We managed to convince them to first take a seat at the bistro, look through the menu and decide on what they wanted to eat and then we would let them explore! 

My first impression was how unique the place was. Right from the quiet and secluded location, the bamboo groves, the Balinese and Thai-inspired sculptures and the rustic landscaping gives you a feeling of stepping into a faraway world. 

The airy bistro overlooks a serene pond embraced by lush greenery and the atmosphere is quite lovely. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Restaurant review: Kara Cafe at Bukit Timah, Singapore

I had absolutely no plans of doing this review but I feel like good things ought to be shared so here it is!

Recently, we had to go to Coronation Shopping Plaza in the Bukit Timah area. At the last minute we decided to turn it into a short family outing by going for brunch afterwards. It happened to be a Saturday and we realized that most cafes and restaurants in the area would be filling up soon. Being familiar with the area, Choupinette, Crown Bakery and Atlas Coffeehouse were the first three F&B establishments that sprang to my mind. But once I started checking the availability of several of the cafes and restaurants in the vicinity I felt that we were possibly a bit too late. As I was checking, I came across Kara Cafe located a stone's throw away from Coronation Shopping Plaza and realized that I hadn't check out the place yet. Fortunately, there was a table available for our chosen timeslot and so I made the reservation right away. 

Kara Cafe is cafe and dessert bar under the frozen yogurt chain Sogurt which is tucked within a row of shophouses along Bukit Timah Road. 

Although small, it is a quaint and cosy cafe. The pleasing botanical-inspired wallpaper caught my eye immediately. The light wooden furniture gives the cafe a simple and homely vibe. The mirrors on one side of the wall help to brighten up the cafe and the pastel colors and soft lighting imparts a warm rose gold tint to the space. 

The menu features an array of comfort foods. You have a few main dishes, snacks, grain bowls, grilled toasties, in-house desserts, smoothies, coffee and speciality teas to choose from. 

To be honest, we weren't very hungry to begin with so we ordered a few beverages and dishes to share. 

Kara cafe uses Throwback beans from Papa Palheta with tasting notes of Darcy chocolate and rich hazelnut. I love latte art and I love coffee in general so this cappuccino gets the thumbs up from me.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Eat Well: 20 Lunchbox Ideas for Adults

I wish I would have done this post in the pre-Covid era (is that a regular term now?). With more adults working from home, the need of a packed lunch is probably at an all-time low. This post definitely would have been more useful before the “new normal” set in. 

But then again, there would be a lot of professionals (like me) who are going in to work every day because getting the job done remotely is not an option. I don’t know about you but right from my days as a graduate student, I have always preferred bringing lunch from home to avoid the lunchtime cafeteria crowd. It also seemed the most natural thing in the world because all through my school and college years, my lunchbox has been a constant (courtesy: mom)! And now with all the safe distancing measures and a need to increase hygiene standards, there is all the more reason to do so. I find packed lunch from home is tastier (*ahem*), healthier (in terms of sodium, oil & preservatives), more economic and most importantly, it saves time during lunch break especially on busy days.
Since the past few years, I have been making a conscious decision to eat better. When I say eat better – to me, it means to eat a wide variety of foods, try to maintain portion control (this is the biggest challenge for me even now), increase my intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and to cut down on processed foods and make healthier snack choices. I don’t believe in deprivation at all so I tend to eat all the foods I enjoy but I do try to be sensible about it. Sometimes I succeed and other times I don't. It is all about striking a balance right? I'm still learning and will definitely strive to improve 😊
Even though I have been carrying a packed lunch for as long as I can remember, it is only in the past 1.5 years that I have actually been giving the contents of my lunch box proper thought and documenting it. 

I make sure to get in at least half an hour of exercise in the mornings after the kids leave for school so I don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. What I pack in my lunchbox is usually last night’s dinner leftovers. It is seldom that I cook in the morning before rushing off to work and it is usually when I'm packing salads, stuffed parathas or grilled sandwiches (which I prefer freshly made). The meals we have for dinner in my household are a mix of Indian and non-Indian dishes, usually simple, flavourful and hearty. I have the habit of planning the entire week’s menu and preparing the grocery shopping list in advance so this really helps me stay on top of things. My kids school lunchbox is a whole other story (I will do a blog post on that in the future).
Although I do quite like the concept of an all-in-one bento box, I prefer separate glass or food grade BPA-free plastic boxes of different shapes and sizes to pack the main course, side dishes and snacks. I consume the different components of my lunch box at different time intervals during the day (mid-morning snack, lunch and later afternoon snack). I also prefer to heat up my main course just before eating so the separate boxes do serve their purpose quite well. I have a nice and sturdy lunch bag that holds all the different boxes upright and so far no spills! 
So there you go....that’s a brief introduction to adult lunch boxes from my perspective. I’ve prepared a weekday lunch box guide for four weeks to give you some ideas. Where there are recipes available on my blog and for the others that I recall the source of the recipe, I have provided the links. 

I hope this post is comes in handy for those looking for lunch box inspiration both now and in the (hopefully normal!) future. 
Week 1

  • Farro salad with roasted pumpkin, beans, baby spinach, pistachios, cranberries and feta cheese with a simple apple cider and dijon mustard vinaigrette. 
  • Cherries
  • Nuts and dried fruit

You can find the recipe here 

  • Methi thepla
  • Tikhari
  • Cucumber, purple carrots & cherry tomatoes
  • Mango, longan, blackberries and blueberries

Recipe for Methi Thepla is adapted from here 
Recipe Tikhari is adapted from here

  • Grilled wholemeal vegetable and egg sandwich
  • Cucumber, purple carrots & cherry tomatoes
  • Nuts & dried fruit
  • Peri peri water lily pops
  • Raspberries and pink dragon fruit

  • Idlis 
  • Vegetable sambar
  • Cucumber, purple carrots & cherry tomatoes
  • Apple & red grapes

You can find the recipe here

  • Mint pulao
  • Cucumber raita
  • Cinnamon & caramel water lily pops
  • Fresh apricots & green grapes

You can find the recipe here