Monday, December 24, 2007

A Girl Who Celebrates Her Birthday...Monthly

Yesterday, on the 23rd December 2007, Alicia became 4 months old. Since I'm totally immersed in the festive mood lately, I decided to walk (despite the rain) to the neighbourhood mall and see if there's any small cakes on sale at the confectionary.

There were so many logcakes on display and they were all at super affordable prices! I'm not sure if this is the usual "mall" rate or the confectionary was already slashing the prices on pre-christmas eve. Nevertheless, I took my own sweet time to choose a nice cake and after 15 minutes of "umphs" and "erms", I decided on a chocolate logcake - a single cake for dual purposes.

While Alicia was curiously gazing at the lighted candles, the rest of us were simply glad to have it blown out, knife and napkins at the ready.

According to reliable sources, Alicia has been celebrating her birthday on a monthly basis. She's a lucky girl indeed...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Celebrating the beginning of winter solstice

"Today's the Tang Yuan (汤圆) Day!"

When I was a child, it doesn't really matter what the occasion was except for the food content of the occasion. What's the fun in celebrating if there's no good food to accompany the occasion?

So the equivalent of my version of the Tang Yuan (汤圆) Day today is in fact Dong Zhi (冬至). To put it simply, it's very much similar to Thanksgiving. Dong Zhi literally means the arrival of the winter solstice. It's origin began as a festival for the farmers and their families to get-together to celebrate the year-end harvest.

Dong Zhi occurs 6 weeks before Chinese New Year and would normally fall between 21st - 23rd December.

During this festive occasion, Tang Yuan (汤圆) is cooked and eaten to symbolise family unity, harmony and prosperity. It is a sweet soup filled with glutinuous rice flour balls. "Yuan" translates to "round" and signifies "Yuan Man" (圆满) - "completeness". "Tang Yuan" also means "Tuan Yuan" (团圆) - "family reunion". For good luck, some families prefer to have some pink Tang Yuan to mix with the white ones.

In our case, I think it's more for colour coordination. :) Although there's a variety of Tang Yuans available in the supermarkets (with fillings such as peanut paste, black sesame paste, red bean paste, lotus paste et cetera - my favourite being the peanut and black sesame paste ones), my mother always insisted on making the original Tang Yuan without fillings.

Tang Yuan (汤圆)

glutinous rice powder
red food colouring powder
pandan leave
brown sugar

(1) Slowly mix water to the glutinous rice powder until it forms a dough which doesn't stick to your hand

(2) Divide the dough in half

(3) Sprinkle some red food colouring powder on one dough and work the dough well to have an even red colour on the entire dough

(4) Meanwhile, in a pot of boiling water, add the pandan leave and brown sugar

(5) Roll tiny balls from the dough and quickly add it into the pot of boiling water

(6) When the balls rise up to the surface of the boiling water, it is cooked and ready to be served

(+) Really simple to make

(=) Taste of tradition in every bite of the Tang Yuan! :)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

iPod, iPhone, i-relax?

Received this early Christmas gift from a friend today and found it to be rather interesting. It's an USB eye massager called i-relax. It's not from Apple but I guess it's just trying to tap into the recent iPhone hype.

Powered by the USB port, there's two levels of vibration strength to choose from. I did a brief trial by applying it to the lower eye area and found it to be amusing at first but seriously doubt whether it does much to relieve the tired eyes.

If instead of the victory sign, the five fingers are outstretched and with a 360degrees rotatable wrist area, it could be converted to a mini-stirer or even a mini-mixer!

For now, the i-relax would be nice to display on my desk or even as a toy for Alicia. :)

Selamat Hari Raya Haji 2007

It's the time of the year again when there are loads of holidays, the town is heavily soaked with the festivity mood, everyone feels like Santa, nobody wants to work, productivity is at an all-time low....

Anyway, before I drift into the complain mode, my trusty neighbour served up her Hari Raya Haji morning food fare punctually at 9am. What a nice way to have breakfast on a stormy morning!

Compared to the Hari Raya Puasa breakfast 'menu' two months ago, this time round, there's my favourite satay!! The ones made by my neighbour are really makan sutra standard kind of nice. There's no fatty meat in between the chicken meat, only big lean chunks! Coupled with the savoury peanut sauce....Ohhh....

Ah...the power of racial harmony~ :)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Came Early

This year, Christmas came early for me and my family! Many thanks to my dear friends for all the nice Christmas presents!

I was presently surprised when I received this small bottle of white wine filled with gold flakes. Whenever I give the bottle a little shake, the gold flakes fills the entire bottle and it's simply mesmerizing to just watch them settle at the bottom of the bottle.

This bouquet of handcrafted dried flower ornament was presented to my family. It now sits nicely on my television console.

It is already nice to be receiving gifts from friends, not to even mention having the gift painstakingly wrapped so nicely! The Christmas card was also made to complement the gift. It took me two days before I finally decided to open the gift. It's the perfect size for me alright! Thank you so much! :)

Roll Your Own Sushi Hands-On Workshop

I signed up for a 3-hours "Roll Your Own Sushi Hands-on Workshop" from the PA website. This course was organised by the California-Asia Sushi Academy.

In the 3-hours workshop, the instructor taught us the proper procedures of cooking japanese rice, the importance of having and maintaining a sharp knife for cutting the sushi, the basic types of sushi, as well as the basic essentials for making sushi at home.

Everybody were kept busy throughout the entire 3-hours session; either with our hands busy rolling the sushi or our mouth busy tasting our own sushi.

We made a total of 4 sushi types:
(1) Kappa maki (Hosomaki) - which translates to cucumber & sesame thin roll.

(2) California Temaki - also known as the California Hand-Roll which has to be consumed immediately when the seaweed is still crispy.

(3) Ura-Maki - reverse sushi roll

(4) Naka-Maki - also known as the tall roll

kappa maki (foreground), ura-maki, naka-maki (background)

At the end of the workshop, everyone was distributed with a 2kg packet of japanese rice which was on promotion by the Japanese Agriculture (JA) Association.

Si Chuan (四川) Holiday - Shopping (Part 7 of 7)

No holiday is complete without shopping!

Winter clothings, scarves, table cloths, fake fur, woven carpets et cetera for sale

So many scarves and table cloths to choose from!

Bead bangles and fake Tian Zhu (天珠) for sale at Jiu Zhai Gou(九寨沟)

Tribal doll keychains

Rows upon rows of stores selling beaded accessories

A nice panda handphone strap I purchased from the Panda Conservation Centre

Jing Ju (京剧) handphone strap

The books sold in China are really cheap. The average price is less than SGD$10! It's jus a pity I have to take into consideration the check-in luggage limitation of 20kg. :[

Si Chuan (四川) Holiday - Snacks (Part 6 of 7)

Snacks are a girl's best friend. No matter how full I get from the main meal, it seems like I have a second stomach just for snacks. :)

Glutinous rice with chicken filling wrapped in lotus leave (糯米鸡)


My snack supply for the long coach journey

Snacks on sale at a convenience store

Fruit/plum sticks coated with sugar syrup

Tofu look-alike snacks with two choices of flavour: sweet (left) and spicy (right)

Swan's Egg (天鹅蛋) - These are fried dough balls coated with sugar syrup and sprinkled with sesame seeds

Similar concept to the Takoyaki balls except that it takes the shape of a long roll instead

Tang Yuan with black sesame filling (芝麻汤圆). Unlike in Singapore where it's served in hot sugared water, the Tang Yuan there are served in hot plain water instead.

Grilled mutton and beef cubes on-a-stick. Absolutely my favourite! When it's done grilling, they'll sprinkle some herbs on it which sort of cause my lips to turn a little numb afterwards.

I termed these the "delicacies for the locals" and definitely not for the faint hearted. From the signboard which read 撒尿牛丸, it directly translates to "pissing cow balls". And honestly, I'm not sure if the ball is in the context of fishball or literally cow balls! Guess what are the red things stuck on the sticks? They are seasoned rabbit heads. can they even think of eating rabbits???

My first time tasting a purple corn and it's not a nice experience. It's like eating candle from a stick. Such corns can only be found in highlands and they are supposed to be very nutritious with a higher antioxidant capacity compared to blueberries.

I really miss these glass bottle packaging for the fizzy drinks. Those were the days...

I'm totally crazy about Pocky and similar Pocky look-alike snacks!

After all the snacking, it's nice to have a cup of hot brewing tea

And for the record, they serve hot orange juice in winter. Yuks!

Si Chuan (四川) Holiday - Interesting Sights (Part 5 of 7)

Interesting Sighting 1: On our first night in China, we stayed at a hotel in Maoxian (茂县). In the morning, we had to walk a short distance to the hotel's restaurant for breakfast and along the way, there is a stretch of booths selling souvenirs. As there were only 30 minutes left before they close the breakfast buffet, we decided to browse at the booths after having our breakfast. Most of the tourists already departed for Jiu Zhai Gou by the time we had our fill. As we strolled out from the restaurant, most of the booths were already closed! This must be a record breaking shortest opening hour ever!

Interesting Sighting 2: The family of this little girl operates a nut store along Die Xi Hai Zi (叠溪海子). As it's close to 0°C in the morning, she's heavily dressed in thick clothings. However, what I did not manage to capture on camera is her little exposed bum! It is not uncommon to see little children dressed in open-crotch pants (开荡裤). The purpose is for easy relieving when nature calls. Ingenious...but don't they freeze their butts off in winter?

Interesting Sighting 3: Along the way to Jiu Zhai Gou, our coach had to stop for a farmer who's unloading his goats off his lorry for grazing along the side of the road. The farmer simply lifted the goat up from the lorry and drops them on the ground - which is easily 2 metres high! It's a wonder these goats are not limping after that throw.

Interesting Sighting 4: When we were at Jiu Zhai Gou, we saw strings of colourful cloths hanging on trees or tied around small huts. Our tour guide explained that in the former days, the religious tribes people would chant these sutra daily. However, in the modern industrialized world, they can no longer afford to spend as much time chanting sutra so they came up with the idea of printing them on colourful cloths and hanging them up. Whenever the wind blows and the cloth flutters, it is as if the wind is carrying the sutra in the air and blessing them all.

Interesting Sighting 5: We visited a gem factory which produces pearl, jade, Tibetan Tian Zhu (天珠) and cats eye (猫眼) accessories. What intrigued me the most is this rare stone that resembles mouth-watering brown and white chocolate! It is in fact another type of jade unlike it's green counterpart. I think it looks real cool and could complement nicely in any modern homes.

Interesting Sighting 6: I learnt that there are three types of cows in the Si Chuan region:
- Black cows are known as working cows since they work in the fields

- Black and White cows are the milk cows

- White cows have the best life compared to the other two species since they get their fur combed every morning, dressed up with nice ornaments and simply wait to have their photos taken with the tourists.

Interesting Sighting 7: This 20 year-old lady is known as Tian Xian Mei Mei (天仙妹妹) and she started gaining popularity in China's cyberworld after her first photo was posted on the internet in August 2005.

Interesting Sighting 8: Guess where this noodle store is located? Along the road and next to the public toilet. What's the big deal? Wait till you scroll to the next sighting.

Interesting Sighting 9: This is a typical public toilet in the countryside. The fact that I managed to take a photo of this one is because it is considered relatively clean and airy. So to go about answering nature's call, girls have to squat with our hind hidden behind the low stone wall. So whatever that dribbles out flows to a drain below and at regular intervals, water would gash through the drain, hopefully carrying whatever is in the way with it. God bless...

Interesting Sighting 10: At Chunxi Commercial Street (春熙路) which is akin to Orchard Road in Singapore, the shop rental must be sky rocket high. I found this tiny souvenir shop at the beginning of the shopping street which could have been easily missed due to the sheer small size of the shop - it has almost the same width as the staircase next to it!

Interesting Sighting 11: This is how they sell chickens at the market place. They'll weigh the chicken on the weighing scale (the really manual one you see on chinese period dramas) before negotiating on the selling price. Amazing! I feel like I was transported back to the 60s!!

Interesting Sighting 12: This man has two giant plastic bags filled with something (I honestly don't know what) and blown up with air. He'll stop at a place, stand for a few minutes before pushing his cart to another location. I thought one bag contains nut of some sort but have absolutely no idea what the other tube-like thing in the other bag is??

Interesting Sighting 13: This is a rubbish collection cart at Wen Shu Fang (文殊坊). Given their habit of randomly throwing rubbish on the floor, I wonder if this small cart can transport all the rubbish?

Interesting Sighting 14: Cleaning ladies hard at work scrubbing the stone figurines at Wen Shu Fang (文殊坊). Come to think of it, I have never seen anyone scrub any stone figurines in all the other countries I have visited before!

Interesting Sighting 15: Live modelling at the display window of a fashion retail shop

Interesting Sighting 16: Our very own BreadTalk at Chunxi Commercial Street (春熙路)!

Interesting Sighting 17: I ordered KFC at the airport on our flight home. When I requested for chilli sauce to go with my chicken popcorns, I was given chilli powder instead! No wonder the Si Chuan people are well known for their high tolerance for hot and spicy food.

Interesting Sighting 18: The photo on the left was taken recently while that on the right was taken 3 years ago. Do they look like the same person to you?

The person on the left is our tour guide in China while the other lady on the right is my ex-colleague. :)