Sunday, April 25

bad picture, good meatballs

The recipe for these baked chicken meatballs is the first I've tried from Smitten Kitchen and it won't be the last.

Not only were they easy to make, they were also healthily baked and succulent and juicy, thanks to the dollop of tomato paste on top of each. And they tasted cheesy without the addition of cheese, which is pretty amazing in my books.

My inner Martha is well pleased.

Wednesday, April 21

i heart pancakes

I needed an excuse to use my new exceedingly impractical but pretty measuring cups.

So I modified the IHOP recipe and insisted on feeding my family a pancake breakfast.

Topped with my fave fruit -- raspberries.

And my non-fave fruit -- bananas -- and golden syrup. Of course, IHOP's were fluffier but mine were pretty yums too.


The heavy marble-topped table was cold and sticky as I rested my forearms on it, already aching from lugging a camera forged from steel, or so it felt, for an hour.

I tuned out my friends' excited chatter -- about prime lenses and bokeh and bak kut teh and the watered down teh si -- and cast my eyes around for something to shoot to make this shoulder ache worthwhile.

Mosaic tiles caked with decades of grime, fluttering day-by-day calendar with ultra large numerals, kopi tiam auntie pouring hot beverages ungracefully into beer mugs. Click, click, click.

Motioning to my bag, I tasked my friends to look after it while I wandered out into the drizzle to see if I could capture scenes of what Singapore must have looked like in the early 1980s, somewhat unenthusiastic because, clearly, the 1970s was my preferred era.

Just across the two-lane road, I spied another kopi tiam. On the second-storey of the shophouse, the windows were gaping holes that framed the sky. The skeleton of the rafters was still there, but the roof was nearly all gone. The sky was not as vivid a blue as I would have liked, and the pathetic wisp of a cloud was not particularly picturesque, but what to do. I decided to make the best of it.

I crossed the two lanes without even looking right, left, right. There were no cars. As I got closer, I saw that the metal grills on the front of the kopi tiam were pushed apart. Inside was a food stall, with gleaming stainless steel counters, spotless glass shelves displaying wantons, char siew and bundles of thin floury noodles.

Behind the wall of steam rising from the pot was a wan-looking woman of indeterminate age with a pinched but kindly face, dressed in an overly-large pair of bermudas and a T-shirt which spelled out, rather incongruously, "Jurong Bird Park" in faded rainbow colours.

Pasting on my best asking-favours-from-strangers face -- eyes widened, mouth slightly upturned, shoulders shrugged haplessly -- I opened my mouth, but before I could greet her "auntie", she was bustling towards me with her own version of my face. Turned out that she wanted me to help her translate the English instructions on the back of a pack of plant fertilisers. I seemed to remember that they mentioned Lily of the Valley, although there were no plants to be seen in the entire place.

In fact, despite the large interior, there was just her wanton mee stall and one unoccupied large table under the lazily revolving fan. No Jaz beer posters with Gillian Chung, no golden cat with upraised paw, no calendar with ultra large numerals. As I fumbled through the instructions in my faltering Mandarin -- how do you say sprinkle fertiliser around the circumference? -- a guy who looked to be in his 20s walked in. Pleasingly plump and bespectacled, with a messenger bag slung across his body, he struck me as one of those graphic designer types. He seemed taken aback at my presence and examined at me curiously, making me wonder if my denim shorts were too scandalously short.

I quickly took the chance to gesture towards the flight of stairs at the back of the room and asked if I could take a look upstairs, hoisting my camera to my face to indicate click, click, click.

There was a flimsy accordion-type door stretched across the stairway and a single naked lightbulb was switched on, as it was dark that deep inside the hall, even at 9am. The auntie made short work of the four or five hook-and-eye catches securing the door, swooshed the door open
efficiently and stepped aside to let me up. As I brushed past her, she grasped my arm with a surprisingly strong claw-like hand and said, in Mandarin: "Be careful."

The floorboards must be rotting and may not withstand my weight, I thought, reminded of my grandmother's pre-war shophouse which we were never allowed off the ground floor. So imagine to my surprise when I creaked my way to the top, that I saw another stall in the far corner.

A ruddy-faced man was chopping vigorously behind the counter while another, equally ruddy and also clad in a similar uniform of thin white tee, loose black shorts and Tat Sing slippers, flip-flopped around hurriedly with plates of chicken rice. A couple of girls in uniforms and plaits, who looked like sisters, were picking up their haversacks, getting ready for school.

I took in all of this in five seconds flat. My first thought was: How would customers know that there was chicken rice upstairs if the door was latched? It was followed quickly by: But there are no customers here at all, who are they serving?

I looked up, fully expecting to see the sky. The roof was completely intact. I could not see the sky.

My feet moved of their own volition and bounded down the stairs so fast, I didn't even have time to worry about tripping and falling. My pale face must have said everything I could not even put into words, because the auntie, with sorrow in her eyes, patted me once on my shoulder and said: "You saw them."

My entire body was ice cold and stiff. I could only nod.

"You better leave."

As I forced my legs to function and walked out onto the sidewalk, something made me turn back. Through the grills that were now drawn shut, I glimpsed the entire family gathered around the table, getting ready to eat. At that moment, the fear in my heart evaporated, leaving behind an almost unbearable sadness.

Footnote: I later learnt that the kopi tiam had burned down 20 years ago and the only survivor was a toddler, the youngest boy in the family.

Wednesday, April 7

verminator: they'll be back

For the past couple of months, I have been plagued by vermin -- and other foreign objects -- in my food.

First was a long-legged insect in my broccoli. That will teach me to try to eat more veggies.

On a quest for buffalo wings, I made M have dinner with me at Dan Ryan's, only to be rewarded with a long strand of plastic in my clam chowder. The wings weren't that hot either.

Two weeks later, my chicken horfun had a little extra something something in it -- protein from a worm.

On a day trip to Pengerang to partake of seafood, I was merrily digging in when a flying creature insect thingy decided to dive headlong onto my plate. Five minutes later, its counterpart decided to land on my gravy-covered fingers and commit kamikaze. The 11 other people at the table were not affected by vermin at all.

Friday, April 2

obviously, we are not christians part II

Conversation this morning:

Dad: Today is Good Friday. It's the day he rose from the dead.
Me: No, it's the day he died. He rose on Easter.
Dad: No, he died on Christmas day.
Me: No, he was born on Christmas day.
Mum: Who died?
Me: [both an answer and an exclamation] JESUS CHRIST!

Thursday, April 1

obviously, we are not christians

Mum and I had this conversation on Monday morning:

Mum: This Thursday is a public holiday.
Me: No, it's this Friday. It's Good Friday.
Mum: No, Good Friday is on Thursday.
Me: ?!?!?