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Gone Fishin'


Saturday, September 27, 2008


We are leaving for home tomorrow! *happy dance*

Hello clean air, goodbye melamine! For the next ten days, at least.

I hope I don't forget myself and start speaking in Mandarin instead of Dutch at the supermarket!

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I Bought On Ebay...




I love online shopping (just ask Hubs!) but for the most part, shun ebay. These days, the only things I purchase from ebay are craft books and only because they are not available elsewhere online. That's because i) I hate paypal who's always messing up and freezing my account and ii) I hate having to bid for anything. I don't have the time or patience to monitor the product I want in question so more often than not, I just click on the buy now option and have it over and done with. It's all about instant gratification.

Here's a little something for ebay addicts everywhere - you know who you are!


I almost fell off my seat from laughter, thank goodness I wasn't eating or drinking at the time either. Credit to Pam for putting it up on her blog from where I got the video from. Completely unrelated but I met Pam for the first time at a gathering earlier this year in Singapore. She has a wonderful doll-like complexion which reminds me of silken tofu. And yes, Pam, we also love Discovery's Boom-Di-YaDa song the first time it was aired on the channel. Sonny-boy can sing every word of it while Hubs and I have it for our mobile ring-tones. I know!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

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The Kind Emperor


Friday, September 26, 2008


So Sonny-boy plants himself in front of me, arms akimbo, not unlike Yul Brynner in The King And I. Facial expression too, not unlike Yul Brynner in said movie. In a word - imperious.

As a stay at home mum, I'm impervious to my offspring's perceived imperiousness. If anything, I squash it like a fly. But this time, I thought I'd humour him. Besides, I was busy counting my stitches and didn't want to lose my place on the pattern.

Me: Yes?
Sonny-boy: I'm the Emperor!

At which point I drop my knitting and give him my full attention.

Me: Is that so?
Sonny-boy: I'm the kind Emperor. I say 'Please'!
Me: And...?
Sonny-boy: So I command you to please give me an ice-cream!
Me: ???!!!

*****

I wonder if it's got anything to do with the purchase from the city of Yichang some two months ago when we went on our Yangtze cruise. We had a few hours to spare before boarding the flight back to Beijing. Our local guide suggested a silk embroidery gallery to while away the time. We said, sure, why not?

You must understand that Hubs and I are not impulse buyers. Well, not really. So when I tell you we had to have that particular piece of work the minute we laid eyes on it, it must be something special.

May I present Exhibit A:


It is already beautiful on its own, made even more magnificent because the whole picture is hand embroidered with hair-like strands of silk. I find it particularly poignant and sad. The little Emperor looks lonely to me. He has all the power and responsibility of a huge country resting on those wee shoulders of his when really, all he wants to do is be a kid and just play.


The real reason why we fell in love with it was due to the striking resemblance to Sonny-boy. He has the same facial expression when concentrating on his PSP or whatever he happens to be busy playing with. It was too much! It's as if the stitcher went and sewn his face into the picture.

And here lies Exhibit B as proof:


The toy and clothing may be different, but some things never change - boys will be boys.

Although we were keen, we balked at the asking price. Sensing our willingness to buy, the gallery manager offered us a discounted price of €660. To sweeten the deal, he would also have it shipped to us at no extra cost. It now hangs in our living room:


Sonny-boy has since taken it as an affirmation of his imperial status, after all, it's his face in the picture, is it not? Well, as long as he remembers it's the Empress Dowager who runs things around here.

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Raspberry Sunrise Bag


Tuesday, September 23, 2008



I made a mistake at a yarn store the other week. What had seemed like a lovely vibrant mix of variegated magenta, red, orange and yellow turned out to be a hideous combination to wear. And I had bought 300g of the blinding stuff! Argh!

However, redemption came in the form of a tote bag. It was fast work - taking only all of three days to complete.

Redemption


For some reason, while crocheting this, the words 'raspberry sunrise' stuck in my head and refused to budge so I gave in and named it so. It's sturdy and roomy enough for a girl's essentials and finishes off any casual outfit on a cheery note.

A little sunrise on the arm

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Dad's Birthday And The Olive3


Friday, September 19, 2008


My Dad turned 60 on Wednesday.

Because we couldn't be there for such a significant birthday, I was all the more determined to find That Special Something in addition to our usual cake and bouquet combo ordered from wherever we happened to be that year. Ain't the internet grand?

Anyhow, That Special Something came in the form of The Olive3 and here's what I specifically requested - the Duet Surprise Delivery Service.

We had two guitarists/vocalists pay Dad and Mum a surprise visit. At a pre-arranged time, they appeared on my parents' doorstep and presented Dad with his cake and flowers. Dad thought that was it, as per every other year but no, wait, there's more! The two men then broke into not one but two songs: All Shook Up and This Crazy Little Thing Called Love. For the occasion, I picked something upbeat with Elvis thrown in for good measure. Dad's an Elvis fan(atic), you see.

The best part of the whole thing? For an extra S$20 (€10), the whole event will be recorded so you can watch it online. Perfect for overseas customers like us.

I would like to say a special thank-you to Lily, the person who handled our order. She was very prompt and helpful with my queries and seeing how I can be long-winded when it comes to such matters, it was no mean feat. Thanks again, Lily!

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Flower Motif Top




This is a project I completed almost two months ago but didn't have the time to post.

I rather enjoyed this one, even though it meant joining together piece after piece of small flower motifs. Just to keep me on my toes, I had the grand idea of using four different colours.

Birth of a motif top

As with my previous top, I took the basic motif pattern and flew with it. I honestly didn't know how it'd look until it was done but it came out pretty nice, especially the sweetheart neckline. And for fellow crafters who want to know, this was done in a cotton/silk blend yarn. The yarn itself is loosely woven making the garment light and airy to wear.

Voilá!


Next Week: Raspberry Sunrise Bag

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The One About Campbell's Soup


Thursday, September 18, 2008



Hubs is away on business.

I, on the other hand, have a crocheting project I want to dig my hook in, so the less time I spend in the kitchen the better.

As a result, Sonny-boy and I had the infamous 30 euro a pop bolognese ragù frozen from last week. And to make it that little bit more substantial, I heated up a can of Campbell's Chicken and Mushroom Soup to be eaten with buttered toasts as well.

Some of you may know I adore Campbell's canned soup, my favourite being the Chicken Noodle. The love stems way back into childhood where my mum would put it on a table once in a while as a treat.

You can't find Campbell's in the Netherlands, at least in the area where we live but it is readily available in Beijing. To carry on the tradition, I introduced the stuff to Sonny-boy this year and he took to it like fish to water. His favourite is the Cream of Chicken with extra pasta thrown in.

Some parents pass on title deeds, jewelry and Patek Philippes to their offspring, I go for manufactured soup.

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The Question Of Aid


Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The Kitchen Aid.

After humming and hawing for years (should I? shouldn't I), lusting after it (be still, my heart), watching the price increase with each year of deliberation (you have got to be kidding me, when all's said and done, it's just a freaking piece of metal!), picking out the colour (Empire Red) and where to place it (the bar cum work counter), I've decided once and for all.....



..... NOT to get it.



What an anti-climax, I know, I felt it too.

While I would like one, the truth of the matter is I don't need it. It's great if you bake on a regular basis or if it's what you were put on this earth to do. Not so with me. While I bake competently enough, in my heart, I can't justify the price. I am doing well with my two hand-held mixers and when I choose to go old school, my wrist and arm step up to the occasion while getting toned in the process. And if I do say so myself, my bakes haven't suffered from it. Maybe the odd strained tendon but that's about it.

The other most commonly used function for a Kitchen Aid is to knead dough. Well, I'm very old fashioned when it comes to bread. I like to get my hands down and dirty and it's a tactile process which I find extremely fulfilling. Bearing this in mind, the Kitchen Aid will not be very helpful here either, would it?

Of course the nifty gadget has other uses too if you buy the attachments. But whatever extra functions I do use, I already have or am planning to buy a machine for that particular need.


As with other aspects of life, it's not the choice but indecisiveness itself posing the problem. I'm so glad I've finally made up my mind even though it took me all of four years. Funny, then, how I accepted the hubby's marriage proposal in under a minute! I guess what really tipped the scales were finding reasons not to have one as opposed to must have or die.

Kitchen Aid, I mean. Not the husband.

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The Olive3


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


My Dad turned 60 on Wednesday.

Because we couldn't be there for such a significant birthday, I was all the more determined to find That Special Something in addition to our usual cake and bouquet combo ordered from wherever we happened to be that year. Ain't the internet grand?

Anyhow, That Special Something came in the form of The Olive3 and here's what I specifically requested - the Duet Surprise Delivery Service.

We had two guitarists/vocalists pay Dad and Mum a surprise visit. At a pre-arranged time, they appeared on my parents' doorstep and presented Dad with his cake and flowers. Dad thought that was it, as per every other year but no, wait, there's more! The two men then broke into not one but two songs: All Shook Up and This Crazy Little Thing Called Love. For the occasion, I picked something upbeat with Elvis thrown in for good measure. Dad's an Elvis fan(atic), you see.

The best part of the whole thing? For an extra S$20 (€10), the whole event will be recorded so you can watch it online. Perfect for overseas customers like us.

I would like to say a special thank-you to Lily, the person who handled our order. She was very prompt and helpful with my queries and seeing how I can be long-winded when it comes to such matters, it was no mean feat. Thanks again, Lily!

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Birthday Wishes




Happy 60th Birthday, Dad!

I hope it was sing-sational.

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Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes


Monday, September 15, 2008



The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Harvest Festival, is a rather big noise in China. Big enough to garner its very own public holiday. For a country rather stingy on national holidays, this, I reiterate, is a big noise. As such, we are enjoying a long weekend.

Now, a celebration wouldn't be complete without her accompanying foods and the Mid-Autumn Festival is no different. Mooncakes are eaten. And again, because it is a big noise here, the array of mooncakes are mind-boggling. Not just the flavours but the packaging itself. I've never seen mooncakes so fabulously presented. Prices are fabulous too but that's to be expected considering the lovely crafted metal tins and wooden boxes they are placed in. The most expensive box (of ten) I've seen so far goes for 1260RMB (126 euros). I couldn't for the life of me phantom why mooncakes would cost so much here. Were they filled with twenty-four carat gold ingots? My bubble burst when I realised they were bought to be given away as gifts.

Having seen a six year drought where mooncakes were concerned, I was determined not to miss out this time. I bought several loose pieces of lotus paste and salty yolk filled ones - my favourite. As an extra, I also purchased one of those fancy pants box sets.

Fancy pants box set. You can't see it from the photo but the picture is set into one these plastic 3D thingamajiggy. I love the scene which depicts a group of Tang women in their leisurely pursuits.

Contents of fancy pants box set. It comes complete with knife and fork for your convenience.

I'm embarrassed to say I made my choice based solely on how fetching the box looked. If the mooncakes actually tasted good, it would be an extra bonus. You see, I want to recycle the box into a needlework basket.

Elegant gold and red boxes, fit for a dutchess.

This particular box of mooncake contains five flavours: lotus, coconut, black sesame, red bean and assorted nuts and seeds.

Savoury and sweet, this had melon seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds with teeny, tiny bits of lemon rind.

back ground l-r: coconut; black sesame paste
foreground: red bean paste.

I cut one of each flavour earlier this afternoon for the three of us to share. Hubs had his with red wine, Sonny-boy with apple juice and me, with jasmine tea in my new tea mug. Not photographed is the lotus bean paste mooncake. They were gone in flash, courtesy of Sonny-boy.

Mooncake and tea time.

Starbucks China has made a range of commemorative mugs and I just fell in love with this rabbit peering one, the rabbit alluding to the Jade Rabbit which lives on the moon.

When not grinding powder for the elixir of life on the moon, Rabbit reads tea leaves on the side for fun.

For those who observe the occasion, I hope you had as yummy a time as we did in Cookalot.

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Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese And The Co$t Of Food


Friday, September 12, 2008


I made a rich, meaty ragù early this week. Bolognese to be exact, served with tagliatelle like they traditionally do in Bologna.

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese


All very mundane and unremarkable, I'm sure you'll agree.

However, the extremely remarkable point to this entry is the ingredients for said ragù cost a whopping 30 euros (S$60). Heavens to Murgatroyd! It's not like I used Kobe beef or flew in fresh herbs that grow only in certain regions in the Alps which only spring up specific times of the year and one has to risk life and limb to get at them. You know, stunts like that.

The reason for it is this: except for the 600g of ground beef, everything else was an import product. For a certain housewife - me - this means having to pay up to three or four more times for the same item found back home. Rest assured I strongly encouraged the two men to finish up every bit of pasta and if they wanted to lick the plates, I wouldn't be stopping them either. Whatever leftover sauce was sent packing to the freezer to be resurrected another day.

On a side note, I find myself gawking at prices regardless of which side of the pond I'm in. Back in Europe, I would lament about the prices at the asian specialty store, but still cough up all the same. A girl's got to have her belachan and pandan leaves, you know. Over here in Beijing, I cringe when the exact same brand of sausages at the Plus cost 2.85 euros (a bottle of 6) can be had for a small price of 7.50 euros.

On the flip side, eating out is cheap (for us) and we now have a legitimate reason to do so and we have - with a vengeance.

So really, it's not too bad if (western) ingredients are crazy expensive here. Unless you're like me, where cooking's a hobby but the prices have somewhat killed the joy a bit. I still cook, albeit more conservatively with my choices nowadays.

In any case, where are we headed off to again this evening?

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What Kind Of Tea Are You?


Thursday, September 11, 2008





You Are Black Tea



You have a bold personality. You're not afraid of simply being yourself.

You have the courage to speak the truth. You are fearless in your actions.

You come off as a bit intimidating and unapproachable. Only confident people are attracted to you.

You don't try to scare off anyone. You're just an intense person!

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The Cheat's Guide - Tea Eggs





I stewed a batch of tea eggs the other week. Not too many, only ten, as the consumer was a grand total of one person - me. These traditional eggs, typically sold by street vendors and eaten as snacks, are one of my comfort foods. And I must have needed lots of comfort for as soon as the eggs were done, I gobbled down three. It's funny how certain foods trigger off memories. In between eggs one and two, I was five again.

While I have a few 'from scratch' tea egg recipes, here I've decided instead to try one of those ready mixed spice bags from the local supermarket.


For the next hour or so, my kitchen was a heady mixture of five spice powder, aniseed, cinnamon, liquorice and a whole bunch of other aromatics, including the all important black tea leaves. Can't have tea eggs without the tea leaves. Where would we all be then.

Tea Eggs

You need:

10-20 eggs
1 bag of ready mixed spices
4-6 cups of water
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
splash of hua tiao wine
salt
sugar


You do:
  1. Cook eggs in boiling water until hard-boiled. Drain and leave to cool for a few minutes.

  2. Tap eggs on work surface or with a spoon to get cracks all over, taking care not to break open the shells itself. This step is to achieve the pretty marbling effect of the eggs.

  3. In a medium sized pot, add in water, bag of spices, light and dark soy sauce and hua tiao wine. Bring to a boil.

  4. Season with salt and sugar and do a taste test. Add more soy sauces if needed.

  5. Gently place the eggs into the mixture and let boil for 10 minutes.

  6. Lower the flame, cover the pot and leave the eggs to simmer slowly for 1 - 1.5hrs.

  7. Turn heat off and let eggs cool slightly before eating.


Tea eggs can be eaten hot or cold. I personally prefer them warm, with a cup of Pu-erh tea. And just between you and me, I get a childish kick when peeling the eggs. I love discovering the patterns on the egg whites underneath their shells. Today, I had a spider web thing going. How purdy!

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Stir Fried Beef With Kimchi


Friday, September 05, 2008



Yes, yes, I know.

Not another kimchi related entry!

Well, I did warn you, dear reader, I am suffering from kimchi-nitis . Thank the kitchen gods I'm not raving about K-dramas - then there will really be something to cry about.

Anyway.

I chanced upon this dish during one of our eating jaunts and was smitten, determined to replicate it at home. Again, it is a blindingly simple recipe with only minimum prep time required.



Stir Fried Beef With Kimchi

You Need:

Beef Fillet
Cabbage Kimchi
Red and yellow capsicum, squared
Fresh or dried chilli, sliced
Chinese mushroom, sliced
garlic, finely chopped
cooking oil


You Do:
  1. Thinly slice beef fillet across the grain. Marinate with soy sauce, salt and pepper and a dusting of corn flour. Set aside.

  2. Heat up cooking oil in wok. When sufficiently hot, add in beef, fry for a minute or so, remove and set aside.

  3. Pour in more cooking oil, add garlic and fry to golden brown.

  4. Toss in the capsicum, chilli and chinese mushrooms, stir fry until half cooked. Add in kimchi (including the pickling sauce), cook for a few minutes.

  5. Finally, mix in the beef and give it a good once-over before serving hot with steamed rice.

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Berena's Beijing Roast Duck


Thursday, September 04, 2008


We at Cookalot, love Beijing Roast Duck. We are so crazy about it that on occasions, we'd have roast duck twice in a week. We have two favourite spots. One a neighbourhood Sichuan restaurant down the street serving organically farmed duck and the other, the more flashy and expatish (if there's such a word) Berena's Bistro

The restaurant is situated on the third storey of a walk-up building and is run by a local Chinese lady named Berena. She and her French husband bring new meaning to the term working together for he has a French restaurant right across the narrow hallway to her award winning Sichuan one.

Berena is what one would call a woman's woman and the interior of her restaurant reflects it. There are organza lanterns and butterflies dangling off the ceiling and the furniture and decoration mainly Chinois. My favourite part is the wall where she displays the imperial costumes of the Emperor, The Empress and The Emperor's side-dish, formally known as The Concubine.

Imperial Costumes.
l-r: The Side Dish, The Emperor, The Empress

Beijing Roast Duck requires some prep time so patrons are advised to call in advance should duck be on the table that visit.

When it is ready, the chef will come to your table, duck, chopping board, cleaver et al and proceed to cut the duck into thin slices right before your eyes. I remember reading from somewhere that an expert can yield up to 120 slices from a single duck. Makes one wonder if it's a case of a huge fowl or wafer thin slices.


Well, 120 slices notwithstanding, Berena's ducks are not to be sniffed at. Its skin is crispy while the flesh retains it's succulent juiciness.

Lekker!

*****

How To Eat Roast Duck 101

For my in-laws and friends on the other side of the pond, this is how Beijing Roast Duck is eaten:

First you place a slice of duck or if you're like me, make it two, on a layer of thin wheat pancake. You then add sliced cucumber, spring onion and radish followed by some dipping sauce. In some restaurants, you are given sugar to sprinkle on as well.

Next, tuck in the ends and pray nothing spills out because *blush* you've been greedy and put two pieces of duck when you should have only taken one.

Form a neat little package like so...

... then proceed to pop neat little package into your mouth and enjoy the fowl concoction.

*****

Now man, or woman, for that matter, can't live on roast duck alone, hence the additional dishes on this particular visit.

Sichuan Hot and Sour Soup

I love Berena's version of the soup. It is busy with ingredients like pork, bamboo, mushrooms, silken and of course, egg white, stirred in to give a lacy look. It is also spicy with a capital S which would explain me clutching a tissue while sipping the soup. For the runny nose. Oi.

Deep Fried Potato Sticks

Hubs' must-have dish. It's like French Fries, only crispier and spicier. MUCH spicier. You can't see it from the photo but there are hidden landmines in the shape of dried chilli and Sichuan peppercorns.

Treasure Box

This is deep fried cubes of tofu which have been cleverly hollowed out, stuffed with minced meat and re-covered to form little boxes of 'treasure'. The whole lot is then drowned in, yes, yet again, a spicy bean sauce. A real gem of a dish this is. Forever thinking ahead with my tummy, I normally order an extra portion to take away as lunch the next day.

A girl's got to eat, you know.

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