Sparkly Black Bolero

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Girlfriend made a mint bolero recently and I liked it so much I decided to go ahead and make the same one too. This was last Thursday and here it is, a week later.

My glammed up version:

This is the first time I'm using camel hair yarn. I thought it was going to be pokey but it's surprising soft. Well, not cashmere soft but soft enough and - this is paramount as I've got sensitive skin - it doesn't itch either. I was specifically looking for black yarn with a silver strand running through it but my regular yarn store didn't have them. Well, they did but not what I had in mind. However, yours truly has become a valued customer (the ladies there always brighten up when I arrive and when I leave, their smiles are even wider, with kerching! still echoing in their ears), the sales assistant said it's not a problem, if I could wait fifteen minutes, they would have the yarn of my choice spun up with silver thread. For me. Wow!

The resulting bling factor is tastefully subtle. Under strong light, the bolero twinkles and sparkles, something which try as I might, can't seem to capture on camera. A pity, because that's what makes it pop. Oh well, some things have to be appreciated in person.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 3:23 am

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I Need To Stop Being Silly

Gmail's gone and given its users the option of theme templates. I've switched mine to Teahouse and adjusted my location to Beijing.

Now it's all very mundane, nothing to whoop about except after two days, I began to realise that the background garden is time sensitive. Let me explain. Say I check my gmail at 7am in the morning. The sun's just risen and everything's still abit dusky. Lo and behold, the sun is just dawning in the garden of the Teahouse template. I check again at noon when it's nice and bright outside, it's also sunny in the garden. At night, I open it again, well, you get the picture.

On top of everything else, the main character, a Mr Fox (very reminiscent of Japanese folklore), goes about his daily business as the day progresses. At dawn he's doing Tai Chi (I kid you not!), during the day he's pottering about the garden doing this and that, having a cup of cha and what not. Just before nightfall, he's out in the garden lighting up the lanterns.

How do I know this? It is with great embarrassment I confess to checking my gmail obsessively throughout the day. Just to see what Mr Fox and his buds are up to! I am stalking a graphic image!

I need a life.

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Love Is...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

.... waking up at 4am in the morning to make pizza for your son's class Bake Sale to be held during lunch-time today.

All proceeds will go to an orphanage of their choice which makes waking up at such an ungodly hour worthwhile. However, I am so going to take my fuzzy head for a nap right now before I keel over from lack of sleep which, may also have been from staying up till 12am the night before to finish up a sleeve of my current crochet project. *blush*

Toodles y'all!

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 12:52 am

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Wow Wii! - Cooking Mama Kit

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A friend from a parenting forum recently pointed out a Cooking Mama kit could be yours for US$19.99 from Amazon. I fell in instant lust and had to have it. And what Dutchess wants, Dutchess almost always gets. Eventually. In any case, I'm now the proud owner of said kit having found it in an electronics store here over the weekend. This is going to bring Cooking Mama to a whole new dimension. Heavens, did I really just say that? Please don't ask me to explain why I spend hours risking pulled muscles and aching shoulders to cook imaginary food when I can do it for real. It's just one of those things.

And to think I dismissed the little white console Hubs brought home with Cooking Mama among other games when it was first launched in the Netherlands last year. On hindsight, Hubs knew what he was doing - get the wife hooked on it first so she wouldn't want to know why on God's green earth would a plastic box cost the way it does and she couldn't even walk in them.


The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 2:54 am

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Sunday Lunch At Eudora Station

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eudora Station is a fairly big but cosy restaurant cum pub some twenty minutes by foot where we live. The food is good, prices reasonable and the ambience is relaxed. How can it not be, with plush sofa chairs for seats in the terrace area? During the winter, the terrace is encased in glass panels but come summer, when it is removed, the terrace makes for very pleasant al fresco dining. The mosquitoes have a feast too as the bug magnet in me discovered over the summer months.

On Sunday, we decided to have a long, leisurely lunch there. It was a beautiful sunny winter's day and we thought it would be lovely to park ourselves in the terrace.

Eurdora has a bit of everything on the menu. As such it can be quite difficult to make a choice. Especially when one is hungry and even the potted plants look delectable.

That day for starters, Hubs had the Spanish style sizzling hot shrimps in garlic and olive oil.

Sonny-boy ordered fried calamari which Mum and Dad were only more than happy to help out when he couldn't finish.

I had a salad which comprised of a raspberry vinaigrette drizzled over semi raw shrimps, lettuce leaves, sliced pears and melon.

This was followed by a rack of grilled St Louis Spare Ribs in Barbecue Sauce for Hubs...

...and a Teriyaki Cod Steak on Buttered Rice with Leek and Mushroom Brochette for me.

Sonny-boy, having completed an Unit of Inquiry module on Healthy Foods in school, decided he would have a fruit and cheese sandwich. What? This from a boy who would live on pizza if he could? As the waitress was taking our orders, I made very sure he understood what he was getting himself into. "Yes, mummy, I know." Very well, then. Miracles never cease.

Needless to say, he promptly got hungry again when we arrived home.

And what would a long, leisurely lunch be without dessert?

Sonny-boy had the usual scoops of chocolate ice-cream while I had a cup of tea with a Black Cherry and Rum Raisin Crumble.

Hubs, who doesn't need sugar for sustenance and is therefore, not human, was just happy to have his nth glass of red wine. We talked, we ate, we laughed. Is it any wonder then, that we at Cookalot, love Sunday lunches?


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Making La Mian

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This is how la mian, is made in the province of Lanzhou.

Check out the guy's cheerful demeanor. I couldn't help but smile right back.


The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 2:37 am

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Pulled Noodles With White Clams

I had the good fortune of sampling this soupy dish at a local Japanese noodle house right about the second week we arrived in January. It has all my favourite components: seafood, noodles and tasty broth.

Noodles play a key role in this recipe. La mian, or pulled noodles are a staple in Northern Chinese cuisine. They are sold fresh and can be found in packs over at the cold section of any supermarket, right next to the tofu. And while I may run out of juice or eggs, there will always be a stash of la mian in the lower vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. I love my la mian!

Pulled Noodles With White Clams

You need:

Fresh pulled noodles
1 liter clear fish stock
1 small garlic; thinly sliced
1 stalk spring onion;cut into 2" lengths
white clams, with or without shells on
salt and pepper to taste
dried seaweed
fresh red chilli; thinly sliced

You do:
  1. Cook pulled noodles, blanch and set aside in serving bowl.

  2. Add fish stock, garlic and spring onion in a soup pot, bring to boil.

  3. Add white clams, salt and pepper. Let boil till clams are cooked. Turn flame off.

  4. Ladle out soup and clams onto cooked noodles. Garnish with dried seaweed and fresh red chilli. Serve piping hot.

It's important to blanch the noodles in cold water in order to retain its springy texture. This is one of the hallmarks of la mian.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 1:38 am

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Faux Fur Stole

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This must be the fastest time in which I knitted a stole. I started a few rows on Thursday, left it alone on Friday but put some serious elbow grease in it over the weekend. Something happened yesterday which left me seeing stars and every colour of the rainbow but not in a good way. It was not physically possible for me to stab the person with my sharpest and longest stileto - I believe they call it first degree murder - so I channeled all homicidal thoughts into my project instead. I must have knitted at bullet train speed for I finished the remaining two thirds in no time at all.

This is a self-styled pattern (meaning I made it up) using specialty yarn I bought last week.

It's a good place to start if you've never knitted before because all you need to do is:
  1. Measure off the width you'd like your stole in and cast off the necesary number of stitches.

  2. Using garter stitch, knit away until stole fits snugly around your shoulders.

  3. Bind off stitches.

  4. Here's the clever design bit. Lay stole flat, flip one side to twist it then join the two sides together using either a darning needle or crochet hook.

  5. Try it on and preen away.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 3:58 am

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Chunky Chicken Vegetable Soup

When it comes to soups, I've always been partial to the clear variety. Oh, I'll just as happily eat the creamed ones of course but clear steaming hot broths do it for me.

Everyone has a chicken soup recipe and this is one of mine. It's rather light so it makes a good lunch meal or dinner starter.

On that particular day, I had lots of chicken stock leftover from the infamous Hainanese Chicken Rice episode and decided to use it up for soup.

This self-styled recipe doesn't have specific measurements - it's all based on personal taste and preference.

Chunky Chicken Vegetable Soup

You need:

Chicken stock
Chicken breast
Spanish Onions
Flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Thyme (fresh if you get it, if not, the dried ones will do)
Salt and pepper

You do:
  1. Bring chicken stock to boil.

  2. While stock is boiling, prepare the vegetables. Chop carrots and celery into chunks, onions into thick wedges.

  3. When stock is ready, put in the chicken breast. Let it boil for a couple of minutes, then lower flame. Simmer covered for about 30-40 minutes.

  4. Remove chicken breast, blanch in cold water. Shred meat and set aside.

  5. Bring stock to boil again, this time adding vegetables, parsley and thyme. Again, let boil for a few minutes, then lower flame. Simmer covered until vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

  6. Return shredded chicken into the soup and give it a good stir.

  7. Serve piping hot with crusty bread rolls, rice or pasta.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 12:57 am

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Summer Chic

Monday, November 17, 2008

Throughout summer this year, I practically lived in silk - silk tops, silk skirts and silk dresses. It was so hot and humid in Beijing, silk and cotton were just about the only fabrics I could tolerate.

Here's one of my favourite ensemble during the warm months:

Navy polka-dotted silk blouse puffed sleeved blouse from Ralph Lauren, dark grey pleated skirt from H&M, Ferragamo leather belt and suede cut out ballerina pumps from Zara. You can't see it from the photo but there are cute pleated edges running along the edges of the collar and sleeve bands. They are also a nightmare to press. And yes, I do wear an apron when cooking.

Most days, I don't have anywhere to go save for picking Sonny-boy up from the school bus or a quick trip to the supermarket but I still make it a personal point to 'look okay'. I may be the glorified maid and housekeeper but damn if I'm going to look like one. Besides, I have to wear the stuff I buy somewhere.

Then there are these suede cut-out ballerina pumps from Zara. They are real pretty although I would have liked them to offer more arch support but they don't bite nor cause blisters so I guess that's something.

Even though I brought most of my nice (read designer) shoes with me, I hardly ever wear them nowadays because my shoe-mad heart would bleed buckets should they get soiled or chewed up by the some times uneven and most times polluted streets and pavements here.

Oh well. Occasionally taking them out of their boxes and fondling them will have to do for now.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 3:09 am

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Why I Keep A Blog

Friday, November 14, 2008

Beau Lotus wrote a piece about why she blogs and asked everyone else why they kept one too.

That got me thinking.

I've been blogging for a little over two years now and never really thought about why I do it. I just did.

So now I ask myself, why do I blog?

I can't say I'm letting go of steam since I don't gripe and certainly do not bitch on this site, well, not on private issues. I can't say it's my creative outlet either because I have other avenues for that. And I certainly can't say I do it professionally. For one thing, I'm not a writer. Sure I can string a few words together to evoke a chuckle or at least a smile but I'm no Shakespeare.

That would leave the option of fun. And that's why I really blog - for my personal pleasure. In my blog I don't want to change the world, offer deep rhetorical discussions or cure cancer. I just want it to be my own place where I talk about things I love, in this case, food and my hobbies. But mostly food. Can't stitch or craft on an empty stomach. This blog is intended as a chat between good friends. You know, the five to ten minute conversations you have just before you need do the laundry, run an errand or some mundane chore. One of those lighthearted but oh-so-good for the soul chitchats.

I've never blogged with the intention of making money off it either. That's why you don't see any ads on this site. I've been asked fairly regularly to review food related services and products and more often than not, I turn down the offer. I have a strictly no advertising rule on my blog. If I do wax lyrical about something here, you can be sure whatever it is, it's on my to-buy/to-do list if it hasn't already been bought or tried out and not because I'm trying to sell you something.

The other thing is, I've never blogged with an audience in mind. I find it more liberating this way. I write what I want and when I want. Hence, you'll never see me begin a post with "I'm sorry I haven't blogged for a long time..." Once in a while I do give a polite "Still-here-alls-well" message but only because both Mum and Mother-In-Law want to know why there haven't been any updates in more than a week. Having said that, I am happy to know people from all over the world are reading my blog. Some of you are friends to begin with, some were strangers but through the course of time, became friends and some of you left lovely comments and emails. So for this, I would like to thank you and all the others who quietly read but don't make their presence known. Thank you taking the time out of your busy day to check in on me. I really appreciate it, especially since I keep a fairly low profile and don't put my blog or myself 'out there'.

And so, the next time someone asks me, Dutchess, why do you keep a blog? I will simply reply,

"For fun."

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 1:44 am

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Murder Most Fowl

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The following episode took place a couple of weeks back. I have since recovered from the trauma.


So Hubs was away for the weekend. Much as I miss him when he's gone, I take the opportunity to cook my favourite dishes usually repulsive in smell or taste to the average European. I had set aside the day for Hae Mee, (Prawn Noodle Soup) but got side-lined by Sonny-Boy's request for Hainanese Chicken Rice instead. Okay, we can do that.

I went to the supermarket and gathered all the ingredients, got home and started cooking.

First up, prepping the chicken. For Chicken Rice, one needs the bird whole. I was very pleased with my particular buy. It was plump and fresh. As I undid the shrink wrap from the plastic tray, I got such a rude shock and began screaming and screaming. Between you and me, I would have passed Alfred Hitchcock's screen test with that one shriek. It was loud, it was shrill, it was filled with horror.

The bird was whole alright, complete with head and claws previously tucked neatly out of sight, which now sprang out as the shrink wrap came loose.

I freaked and dropped the chicken. Thankfully I was standing over the sink so it landed in there. After calming my frazzled nerves with a hot cup of green tea, I went back to the sink to inspect my fowl booty. The head and feet would have to go.

Who's the chicken here - it or me?

With both thumbs and index fingers, I gingerly transferred the chicken to the cutting sheet. I looked around for my big Chinese cleaver only to remember it was back home in the Netherlands. Plan B would have to be the chef's knife from Ikea.

I went for the legs first. I tried to wop one foot off with a clean chop but it refused to budge. After a couple of tries, I had to break the foot off and cut the skin. The cracking sound of bone was sickening, more so when I had to do it three to four times to prise it loose. Ugh!

I had better luck with the other foot. Somehow, I must have found the weak spot or joint for the foot came off with one neat blow. The executioner back in King Henry VIII's day couldn't have done better.

On the left is the nice clean cut, albeit a stray tendon peeking out. On the right, however, is a fine example of what not to do.

By now, my stomach had turned to jelly and I still had the pièce de résistance to handle. I took a deep breath and braced myself. Almost there now, Dutchess, you can do it, just do what you did with the second foot. But no, some higher power was toying with me. The knife just wouldn't penetrate the neck. I ended up using a sawing motion but this caused even more drama. By some horrid, horrid law of physics, each sawing motion made the chicken's neck jerk up whilst the loose skin on the head pulled back to reveal its eyeballs. It looked like it was struggling for dear life and I felt I was murdering the bird all over again.

I was close to tears. Out of desperation, I decided to give another swing at the damn neck. CHOP! Body and neck was one no more.

Thank you, kitchen gods!

Another example of what not to do - notice a bit of bone jutting out where the neck is supposed to be.

The rest of the preparation and cooking process went on without a hitch and Sonny-boy had his Hainanese Chicken Rice that evening. I skipped dinner. Somehow, I wasn't very hungry.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 4:42 am

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His New Toy

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hubs had his birthday over the weekend. Two weeks prior to the day, I agonized over the gift. This year was especially hard. Short of buying him a Ferrari, how do I top last year's present?

Initially I had wanted to buy him 'a little something' from Tiffany's but I remembered he didn't care too much for them. Oh wait, I'm the one who has a warm spot the robin egg blue boxes. Oops.

But this is Beijing, China. One can find just about anything here. And I did. After thinking long and hard, I decided on a Bose Sounddock for his iPhone which incidentally fits the ipod as well. And guess what? He's been wanting to buy one too but got distracted with this instead. The red monster laptop is next to me as I type this and it's something fierce I tell you. And because Hubs took the one with all the frills, I can't help thinking there's a couple of Ferragamos in there too.


That evening, we went to Mare, a trendy Spanish restaurant where one must make reservations or risk being turned away. Prices are rather steep but the menu and wine list is excellent so it's not too painful when the moment arrives. They also have an extensive list of tapas and the place is popular with foreigners as well as locals. I love the ambience. It's low key, stylish and romantic. The perfect restaurant if one is celebrating a special occasion or trying to impress a new girlfriend or convince an old one to marry you.


The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 2:57 am

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Deep Violet Top

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Completed this violet top two months back but as usual, my photo taking had to play catch up. I love this three-quarter sleeved crochet top so much - it can be dressed up or down, with a camisole during the summer or a blouse for more warmth.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 2:36 am

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Of Heaters and Ginger Tea

We scooted off to Sunning, an electrical mega chain-store on Saturday and bought three compact but powerful portable heaters. They rotate, have controllable speeds and temperatures, double up as a fan if put into cool mode and even come with a personal remote control. Best of all, they are WARM. *sigh of contentment*

And to keep morale up in this cold Beijing winter, I've taken to drinking ginger tea. It's not in the form of a tea-bag, nor do I boil the root. Rather, this made in Korean version has the consistency of jam. You take about one rounded tablespoon of the sweet, gooey concentrate (complete with slices of ginger), and mix it in boiling water and voilà, hot spicy ginger tea to warm the insides. For added flavour, I also stir in a tablespoon of honey and finish up with a sprinkle of cinnamon.


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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 1:16 am

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Home Leave

Monday, November 10, 2008

If you recall, we went back to the Netherlands during the Golden Week Holiday in China. It was a much needed break for all of us and we now look forward to completing the other half of the posting in Beijing.

One of the things I enjoyed doing back home was visiting my regular supermarket. I tell you, I very almost got on my knees and kissed the front entrance. While traipsing in and out of the various aisles, every so often fondling the various bottles or packets, I felt my old cooking inspiration (quelled by the crazy prices and food scare in China) coming back. I wanted to buy and cook everything. And we haven't even got to the fresh produce, meats and poultry section yet!

I had to bite my knuckles and exercise self-control since we were only going to be home for ten days out of which we've already marked half for trips to our favourite restaurants.

Anyhow, I did rustle up a big fat juicy rib-eye for Hubs and some comfort food for myself. Sonny-boy had his beloved poffertjes (mini puffed pancakes), not pictured here because Mum's camera was no match for a hungry boy's fork.

Rib-eye steak with a bed of pan fried herbed potatoes and french beans.

Comfort food - Fresh spinach tagliatelle tossed in olive oil with black olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

And as luck would have it, I managed to buy some late season figs from the Turkish grocer, too.

Little bowl of heaven

So nice being home.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Temperatures have dipped and we are officially in the winter season. As with all previous winters, I should be toasty warm with a pot of tea going on the coffee table doing my needlework.

It's a bit different this year. I still have my pot of tea going, I still am busy with yarn and thread. What I am not is toasty warm. If anything, I'm freaking, freaking cold. As I was telling The Girlfriend earlier this afternoon, I'm beyond thick sweaters and wraps. Instead, I've gone for my 1.5m by 2m fleece blanket instead. If one were to peek into my apartment window these days, one will no doubt spy a walking fleece blanket in blinding cherry red with a head sticking out at the top. That would invariably be me.

And the reason for all this? Well, the Chinese government does not activate the heaters for all private housing and most commercial buildings in general until 15 November. The apartment is now an ice-box. Thank goodness I had the foresight to take along electric under blankets for the beds when we left. Hubs poohed-poohed the idea but I dug in my heels on the issue. I don't know about you but I hate getting into an ice slab for a bed during winter. Also, the heat relaxes my back muscles making it feel so terribly good after a long day. And in any case, guess who thinks bringing the electric blankets is a great idea now?

We are shopping for portable heaters this weekend. My freezing insides have declared it so.

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The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 11:59 am

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Still Here

I'm still here, Lekker! is very much alive and kicking. It's just that I've been too busy living life, eating and cooking, to properly sit down and write about it.


The Dutchess of Cookalot whipped this up at 11:47 am

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