Kimchi And Tofu

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On days when I work out (I also add in some form of cardio on top of yoga and Pilates), I make sure my lunch is a wee bit more substantial than my usual grazing of fruit, cereal, sandwiches or salads. While I want the meal to cope with my increased need of energy, I don't want any unneccessary calories if I can help it.

Enter this one dish meal which I learnt while dining at a Korean restaurant here: Kimchi and Tofu. All you need to do is cut a package of chilled tofu into thick slices and cover it with heated servings of kimchi. Yes, that's all there is to it. Serve with piping hot steamed rice and voila, a low-fat, high protein meal in under five minutes. For variation, one can stir-fry seasoned wafer thin slices of beef with the kimchi before placing it on the tofu. It is imperative the tofu be chilled as the clash between hot and cold creates quite a sensation in the mouth.

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Here's a little something I stitched up for K's birthday earlier this year. This pretty little fairy is called Fern and is from Nora Corbett's Pixie Couture Collection. It's been on K's to-do list eversince the design was released. Being a busy working mum of two tots, the prospect of her ever putting needle to fabric was pretty slim. So I thought I'd surprise her and surprise her I did. I swear, half the fun of giving presents is the intended party's reaction (hopefully good) and appreciation. Even though I never got to see her open the envelope, just reading her blog entry was like being there.

Fern is stitched on 32 count handpainted linen specially ordered from Enchanted Fabrics. It is aptly named Summer Glade and has lovely swishes of green, pink and yellow to offset the colours of Fern's gown.

It took me about two weeks of nocturnal stitching and whatever free time I could scrounge in the day. You see, I wanted it sent out before we moved so I was working on the piece in the midst of Christmas and relocation prep.

I enjoyed stitching Fern so much - it has all of my favourite elements of cross-stitching; a feminine, whimsical design, beadwork and the use of metallic threads. It was with much reluctance I wrapped and posted her to the other side of the pond but she's in good hands. I should know, I saw her all framed up and displayed on the table when we visited K at her home in Singapore this February.

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Staying In Shape

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Now that Sonny-boy is properly installed at school and out of my hair we have some semblence of a routine, I've been indulging myself with classes of Vinyasa Flow Yoga, Pilates and belly-dancing with the former two in the afternoon and the latter in the evening. All this courtesy of the gym and fitness club membership that came with the apartment. The club, a well-known franchise in Beijing, is conveniently located within the condominium compound and is just a few minutes' walk away from our unit.

With chronic backache due to a previous slipped disc, I was hoping to strengthen my spinal column with yoga. I've been at it twice weekly for almost a month now and I can sense some kind of improvement in my back. My posture is better, my back has been trouble free. When it feels tight, I practice one or two of the stretching moves learnt at class and get some sort of relief. I have to be honest and say I'm not very bendy and am one of the worst two in class. The other lady has an excuse - she's 58. However, what I lack in flexibility, I make up for it in enthusiasm. The instructress has been very encouraging; she says she sees potential and tells me to work at it. The first lesson so hard and many a time I thought I had pulled all the wrong muscles and permanently destroyed my back. Also, being unused to all that blood flowing to my head, I was tripping with oxygen for a couple of hours. The next day, my arms and legs ached pitifully but strangely, my back, even a certain trouble spot, was unscathed. If anything, it felt good. I didn't want to rejoice too soon so I thought I'd go with the program for a while more to see if that was the case. It was, so yoga's definitely on my must-do list now.

The same can be said for Pilates. The abdominal workout is a killer but again, we have a dedicated instructress and that makes all the difference. She is so nice you feel like you want to lift that much higher or hold your position for longer. Although there was one instance when she came over to my mat to motivate me into an extra repetition. "One more time - lift!" she enthused. "Not happening...!" I bleated pathetically.

And because lessons are held in Mandarin, I've been getting extra tuition for the language as well. Sometimes I get confused and I inhale when I should exhale and vice versa or stick out the wrong limb but no matter, we're getting there.

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Embroidered Slip-Ons

Friday, April 25, 2008

At the foot of the Great Wall, specifically around the parking area, there is an explosion of souvenir gift shops stocking all and sundry. There were the usual t-shirts, caps, scarves and ash trays lining side by side to fur hats, fox stoles, communist uniforms and Mao memorabilia. It was downright mind boggling to say the least.

Then, out of the tanglewood of kitsch, this lovely presented itself:

The slip ons are made entirely of fabric, right down to the soles which comprise of several layers of stiffened cloth stitched together. The embroidery, likewise machine stitched, is also bee-yoo-tiful.

I'm currently wearing them at home. They are comfortable and lightweight but because they are cloth soled, these slippers are slippery and our smooth wooden floors don't help much either. And you must understand I wasn't born in the Year of the Ox for nothing.

Lightly as we tread along, Dutchess.

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Nearby The Tree

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Last Saturday, the three of us went for a spot of shopping at the Silk Market. Hubs wanted to see if he could score some PC games and I wanted a coin scarf for my belly-dancing lessons. I can't tell you how many times I've kicked myself for not packing the one I bought from Turkey last year. In terms of the quantity of coins sewn on it (the more the better), it was the Real Deal. Ack!

Anyhow, on this day, Hubs was unlucky in his persuit of PC games. The stores had Playstation, Nintendo, Wii, PSP but no computer games. I, on the other hand, found a nice (enough) scarf in red chiffon and gold coins.

All that walking and haggling - one has to bargain and bargain hard at the Silk Market - left us hungry and we scooted off in a taxi to the Sanlitun area to a cafe cum restaurant called Nearby The Tree. It is so named because it is situated near a very large tree. I don't know if it's the Belgium sense of humour at play here, but because it is owned by a Belgium man, the menu had all sorts of familiar goodies like Duvel beer, cheeses, sausages and waffles.

We plonked our tired bodies on the plush sofas for drinks first before heading onto the dining area for lunch.

Hubs ordered a cheese platter from the appetizer section to start with. We thought it a bit strange as cheese is normally considered a dessert but no matter, it was delish anyway with all that dried fruit and excellent bread accompanying it.

I had a seafood chowder, with bread swiped off Hubs' cheese platter.

For the mains, Sonny-boy had a casserole thingy going with three types of cheeses and penne pasta. It was tummy curdling rich but good, if you like your cheese.

Hubs chose a steak with red wine sauce and some pasta and oven baked tomatoes on the side. He is not such a big fan of tomatoes and those big mommas scared the daylights out of him. I was only too happy to relieve him of them. They were good, by the ways, with the thin crusty top of cheese gratin on them.

And me -
Ricotta and spinach stuffed tortellini tossed in a spicy Arrabiata sauce.


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Thursday, April 17, 2008

I've been dividing my time between cross-stitching and crocheting of late. I stitch in the day when there's loads of natural light and crochet nocturnally, reason being I left my stitching lamp at home and there's no reason to blind oneself for one's hobby.

Here are some projects I completed in the last couple of months, starting with the most recent to before Christmas last year:

A shoulder warmer. The original pattern had long sleeves but I thought it looked better shorter.

Flimsy and delicate, it's perfect for summer. I now need another in black.

Almost twisted my neck for this back view shot. The two men were not very helpful at all.

Yet another shoulder warmer. This is made with bamboo yarn bought from Singapore with K on one of our girlie stash enhancing trips to Spotlight and Golden Dragon (craft stores). It's in Tiffany blue and is super soft and warm. I am currently working on a deep red one.

This shawl was an interesting project. It's a very simple filet design but what made it pop was...

... lace attached at the edges. You can't see it from the photo but the yarn is slightly glittery for that extra glam

This is something I designed myself, combining the techniques of crocheting and knitting. I had to count and recount, not to mention trying out various hooks and needles to get the stitch size right. Again, I'm pleased with how it turned out.

Here is Illsa doing the honours. I miss Illsa. When we return, I must remember to paint her eyes in again.


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Bean Sprout Roll

This is something I've grown rather fond of recently - food rolls. It's a common, everyday dish eaten mainly as lunch (at least from what I've observed) and can be found at local eateries. I first came across them at the Carrefour delicatesseen and out of curiosity, bought one. These food rolls come in a variety of filling ranging from meat to vegetables or a combination of both. My current favourite are the bean sprout stuffed ones. These can be eaten held in hand like a burrito or cut into slices as pictured above.

Bean Sprout Roll

Bean Sprout Stir-Fry

You Need:

400g mung bean sprouts, washed and drained thoroughly
100g carrot (optional), sliced into thin strips
1 tbsp oil
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce

You Do:
  1. Heat a wok over high heat, add the oil and heat until very hot.

  2. Stir fry the chilli and spring onion for 30 seconds then add the bean sprouts and toss until they start to wilt.

  3. Add the soy sauce and fry for another minute. Season to taste.

Mandarin Pancakes

You Need:

450g plain all purpose flour
310ml boiling water
1 tsp oil
roasted sesame oil

You Do:
  1. Sift the flour into a bowl, slowly pour in the boiling water, stirring as you pour. Add the oil and knead into a firm dough. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.

  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide the dough into three equal portions, roll each portion into a long cylinder, then cut each cylinder into 6 pieces.

  3. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and press into a flat disc with the palm of your hand. Brush one disc with a little sesame oil and put another disc on top. Using a rolling pin, flatten each pair of discs into a pancake.

  4. Heat and ungreased frying pan over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and place the pairs of pancakes, one at a time, in the pan.

  5. Turn over when brown spots appear on the underside. When the second side is cooked, lift the pancakes out carefully peel them apart. Set aside under a damp cloth.

To Assemble
  1. Place a pancake with cooked surface facing down on a board.

  2. Spoon some bean sprouts onto the lower end of the pancake, tuck the bottom end in and make one turn. Tuck the left and right edges in and continue rolling until you've reached the end. Make sure you roll everything nice and tight or everything will fall apart when eating and you really don't want that to happen.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eversince our visit to Singapore in February, Hubs has been hankering for some home-made nyonya laksa. I decided to put him out of his misery last night with a packet of laksa spice paste from Asian Home Gourmet. Ideally, I would have liked to make the rempah (spice paste) from scratch but some of the crucial ingredients are not available here or I haven't looked hard enough. Why didn't I bring some belachan back from Singapore when I had the chance? Because you were distracted by the pretty summer dresses and shoes, that's why. Oh yeah, right.

Extras like chicken stock and a handful of dried shrimps made the pre-packed spice paste a respectable enough substitute and it didn't look or taste half bad.

At around 7pm, Hubs called to ask if I've made dinner. Yes, I did. And laksa at that. I got an appreciative whooo followed by a tentative (because I'm pre-menstrual at the moment) hey, I've got a business dinner tonight... I could almost hear the man brace himself for impending doom.

Of course it's alright, I cooed. I'll just stick the pot in the fridge and keep it for tommorrow. I wasn't annoyed at all - in fact you might say I was relieved. You see, the truth of the matter was, I had a belly dance class at 6pm and was more than happy to have the evening's dinner sorted out without me rushing away like a woman possessed.

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Show Me Yours First And I'll Show You Mine

Friday, April 11, 2008

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Anniversary Date - Part Two

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dinner time!

As mentioned earlier, we capped off our anniversary tour with a Japanese teppanyaki meal. For the life of me, I can't remember the name of the restaurant now. What I do remember, was the first time we went there. One of the entrance wall was plastered with awards and accolades from here to the Netherlands (well, we can't say China, can we, seeing as how we're here) and we wondered if we had to pay awarding-winning prices as well. We didn't and they really did merit all those certificates. The food was indeed lekker.

Anyhow, for the evening...

... we started with Egg Custard and Caviar.

And not unlike the Kinder Egg, it held a surprise as well - pan-fried Goose Liver.

Sashimi. The chef was not shy with portions, something raw fish loving Hubs and I appreciated.

Squid Salad served on Sea Shell from the starter/salad buffet table. Yes, you can take as many as you want. I had double. *blush* And there were other delectable nibblies too.

Chef at work. For tonight, we ordered platters of steaks and lamb. Being curious...

...we also ordered the ridiculously over-priced Snow Dragon Steak. Curiosity doesn't just kill a cat, it bleeds the wallet too. But in all fairness, it was superb. The little slivers of meat was so soft and tender, one doesn't need teeth for this.

WHOOOOSH!!! Just not ours though. Our big fire show came when I was busy gnawing at my rib-eye steak. Sonny-boy was most impressed and gave a little ovation. This pleased the chef to no end. Perhaps that was why he received extra lamb meat while mum and dad were stuck with the fatty bits.

House Maki which consists of bananas and 3 kinds of radish. It looks weird and sounds even worse. I almost didn't want to try it but I thought, what the hey, I'll spit it out if it's awful. It was so 'awful' I polished the whole plate off by myself. And just for that, I skipped dessert. I had to. You get to a point in your life when you can't have your cake and eat it too. Not when it threatens to go near further than your hips and thighs.

And that was how we spent our anniversary.

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Anniversary Date - Part One

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Nine years get you the following itinery on Anniversary Day at Cookalot: Climb walls and defy gravity until you (okay, me) vomit and almost pass out, wake the dead, visit sacrificial temples and tuck into a scrumptious teppanyaki meal at the end of the day.

We hired a private driver and started out at 8am. He was smartly dressed, polite and knowledgable, the car was spacious and plush. We were happy. Halfway to our first destination, I whipped out breakfast I prepared just before leaving. Assorted croissant filled cheese, nutella and marmalade; bananas, cereal bars and juices exchanged hands coupled with warnings gentle reminders to Sonny-boy pertaining crumbs.

So this is how the day went.


Words fail me. It was awe inspiring and grand and made me feel proud to be Chinese, if only ethnically. And they were not kidding about climbing it. You really do climb. Not walk, not stroll but honest to goodness climb. At some parts, the wall was so steep and the steps so high, I had to hang on to the railing or the steps itself for some leverage. I cringed at having to touch the steps (people were spitting left, right and center of me) but I was desperate. Better dirty hands than a sore rear end or worse, from tumbling down.

Dutchess Wutchess climbed the Wall,
Dutchess Wutchess had a great fall,
All the Emperor's horses and all the Emperor's men,
Could not put Dutchess Wutchess' pride back together again.

Anyhow, I digress.

The Wall should come with a health warning. No, really. It should warn people who are medically unfit, elderly, have a fear of heights and motion sickness to think twice before attempting the climb. You get such a work-out on the lungs and legs.

We were almost at the end of our first leg to the second tower, when I suddenly felt dizzy. I put it down to the steep incline. So I stopped to center myself. I looked back. Big Mistake. I am not only the queen of motion sickness, I suffer from heights as well. I had no idea we were so high. I began to feel really sick and clung onto the Wall for dear life. My stomach churned and I began retching. I had my mouth covered and leaned over the Wall just in case breakfast wanted to make a re-appearance. Hubs and Sonny-boy who were way ahead of me, came back down and asked if I was okay. I got sick some more, which kind of answered the question. Then I felt faint and thought I was going to pass out. I took tiny sips of water and breathed deeply. Better. When I finally recovered, Hubs, in loving fashion wanted to know if for once we could visit any historical site without me vomitting all over it. He was alluding to Pompeii but hey, I was three months gone and had morning sickness. If a pregnant woman needs to hurl, she needs to hurl, 2000 years of historical value nothwithstanding.

We climbed up a couple more towers but I surrendered at the last two. It was much too high for the already high-strung me. I told Hubs and Sonny-boy I would meet them at a certain tower halfway down the bottom. Hubs was rather doubtful but I assured him I would be okay, now take my camera and get some pics from up there.

When they were done, we got off the wall and explored the surrounding areas. There were shops and stalls aplenty and we picked up a few items. We are after all tourists.


We made a pit stop for lunch here just before entering the grounds proper. We made it a simple and light affair bearing in mind what was in store for dinner that evening.

The tree of Gondor?

While the place was beautiful and serene, we didn't find it that captivating. The only sights of interest was the museum which housed relics from the enearthed tombs and going into Dingling Tomb, the underground palace of Emperor Wanli and his two Empresses, Xiao Duan and Xiao Jing. That was quite a sight. The ancient emperors knew how to live in style. They also knew how to go in similar fashion.

And we're off!

Me: Sonny-boy! Would you like an elephant ride?
Sonny-boy (all excited): Really?! Where?! Where?!
Me: Here - sit on one of these stools and there's your elephant ride.
Sonny-boy wails: MUMMMMEEEEEE!!!!!


This is a must-see if you're ever in Beijing. It is just a 10 minute drive from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The Temple is where the Emperor would offer up sacrificies to Heaven to ensure a good harvest for the year. This is very important as you don't want millions of your loyal subjects starving. It would be bad for business. I'm just saying.

Travel blogging is not one of my forte so here are more photos to do the talking for me.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It is interesting to note that the wooden pillars support the ceiling without nails or cement. Something to go wow about when the building is 34m high and 30m in diameter.

Amazing colours and architecture.

View from the hall.

Graceful marble stairs and pavements.

The North Heavenly Gate.

The Royal Stove.

Urns used to light fires. There were eight of them in a row.

Well, take away my squeaky toy and super-size me! Everything in there was huge.

Dinner will be served shortly.

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