When eating becomes a choice

Since I am blogging again and since I hardly do anything more exciting these days than play video games featuring tentacled monsters, you will be obliged to read about my cooking escapades, that is, after I’m done talking about my gaming escapades.

I believe I mentioned before that I started experimenting with cooking out of necessity. Missing the food in Singapore was propelling me towards a permanent hunger strike that led me to realising that I had to do something about it or starve to death.

The solution was to cook things that I never would in a million years have thought to cook had I still been in Singapore. Things like bak kwa, curry puffs and chicken rice. It baffles me why anyone in Singapore would make these things themselves when they can buy them really cheap and good, but they do. People just do.

I, on the other hand, have no choice but to make them because I would stop eating altogether, otherwise.

 

Tuna puffs

 

I made spicy tuna puffs once because I was tired of spending hours frying little potato cubes, but potato ones taste infinitely better.

I really miss being able to walk out to buy something good to eat, whether a snack or a full meal, and be back home within 15 minutes with something good. You can’t really get anything like that in England unless you don’t mind having McDonald’s and KFC every day.

Even if there were, it takes five minutes to dress warm enough just to pop out for 10 minutes. And then another five minutes to undress when you’re back home, the thought of which makes staying home and starving the more appealing choice.

 

Nobody knows the bother I've seen

 

The food in England is quite bland compared to Singapore fare, which is actually a good thing if you’re health conscious. People do seem to be quite health conscious here. While doing job placements at nurseries, I noticed that my co-workers always had salad for lunch, and they don’t do Thousand Island dressings or anything calorific like that. It’s usually oil and vinegar or plain. Seriously, I would rather starve, and I mean that very literally.

As a side note, I make a rather good balsamic vinaigrette so I do like salads but not as meals by themselves and never for lunch! I miss my Raffles Place lunching days of curry chicken noodles and nasi lemaks and bak chor mees.

And this, I don’t even remember what this is called anymore:

 

This is called yum.

 

I did enjoy eating in England the first year I was here but the novelty has worn thin and the blandness has quite effectively killed my appetite. Now, I would rather cook than go to a restaurant, even if money were no issue. This is a complete turnaround from when I was in Singapore, when I practically ate out every day and loved doing so.

The wonderful thing about cooking is that you can make your food taste exactly the way you want it. Include more ingredients you love and none of those you hate.

The not so wonderful thing is that sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way you envision it. I enjoy making up my own recipes (based on current cravings plus inspiration from online recipes plus available inventory) so it takes a bit of trial and error to get the proportions just right. And then I never get it perfect because I tend to dole out sauces and seasonings by feel rather than measuring them out scientifically, so I can never remember how much to use the next time to make it perfect.

 

Chicken steak

 

This is my chicken steak with garlic butter mushroom sauce, with courgettes and spaghetti to make it a balanced meal.

Piers likes having balanced meals; otherwise he feels guilty. Yes, the whole country is like that. It makes me feel like a gluttonous evil alien when, like, I have KFC and skip the coleslaw.

On the healthy side, I have recently become addicted to Brussels sprouts after discovering that they make a very tasty side dish.

 

Brussels sprouts are good for you and me.

 

I roast them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a very generous sprinkling of coarse ground black pepper. It has to be really good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I have experimented with many different brands in the last two years and realised that the quality totally changes the taste in food.

Also, baby Brussels sprouts taste a lot better than “adult” ones. The baby ones are hardly bitter and taste more buttery and nutty.

On the not so healthy side, I am as klutzy as usual and always run into mishaps in the kitchen, such as dropping eggs on the floor or dropping the whole salt shaker into my cooking pot.

My most recent catastrophic incident involved me being violently attacked by an open cupboard door on my way out of the kitchen, resulting in a bruised knee and ego.

 

Bruises are not so good.

 

I know it is quite evil of me to bully your senses with such an unpalatable picture after all that food porn, but your choice of being a blog reader obliges you to endure any and all visual hazards rampant on the Internet, therefore it is okay for me to do it.

The good thing about living in England is that I hardly ever have to show my legs since it’s always too cold to, even during the summer, so my bruises are safe from public viewing (except on the Internet but you have been warned, albeit rather too late).

I actually have another bruise on the other knee but that one is quite unremarkable and undeserving of narcissism so you won’t see it. Also because I don’t even know how it got there.

Piers denies all responsibility.

And I am making no comment on that.

That kind of reminds me of a new American drama series we are watching called The Following, starring Kevin Bacon. It’s about a serial killer who fucks the mind of an ex-FBI agent by committing kills by proxy while being a death row prisoner.

 

The Following

 

It’s as exciting as 24 but Kevin Bacon is no Keifer Sutherland so it is a bit disappointing in that regard and Piers keeps telling me to stop being mean to Kevin Bacon (even though he did agree with me that KB looks like a weasel) but what can I say except again that he is not Keifer Sutherland.

Still it is worth watching and I have gone off the point, so I had better give it a rest and bid you adieu.

And so I shall.

Adieu, and be wary of sneaky cupboard doors, as always.

Never take a man shopping

I’ve been thinking of getting back into running. My Nikes and Adidas fell apart a couple of years ago and I haven’t run since then.

I have been putting off getting new ones because there are so many other things I need to spend money on in England, such as warm clothing and… even warmer clothing.

But I am finally putting my feet down to have them fitted for a new pair of running shoes.

 

Now, Bournemouth (where I live now) is not a shopping paradise like Singapore is. You can’t just take a short MRT ride to Orchard Road and immediately have access to 500 sporting stores offering pretty much the same stuff but all the brands and models are represented within a 500m radius.

(That means if you don’t like the attitude in one store, you can walk 10 seconds to another store to get exactly the same thing.)

 

Adidas

 

You can even find trained consultants who professionally flirt with you and make you run on gait analysing thingies, then know exactly which pair of shoes you need to instantly improve your speed, stamina and intelligence by 300%.

 

In Bournemouth, on the other hand, you could choose to walk 10 minutes to a small sports supermarket (and I’m using the term “super” very loosely here) offering products that would make all the fashion policemen in the world vaporise from agony.

And there are two staff members in the whole place, one manning the cash register and the other bustling about pretending to be busy with stock or something.

Or you could drive an hour to a slightly bigger sports supermarket offering similary fashion-offensive products, and there are three staff members manning the cash registers or pretending to be busy.

 

I chose to go online.

 

And after a bit of looking around, this caught my eye:

 

Adidas

 

I am partial to Adidas shoes. I had a pair several years ago which were the lightest and most comfortable track shoes you’d ever wear. I almost felt like I was flying in them. Sadly, they didn’t last very long because I wore them almost every day, not just for running but for everyday use.

 

Old Adidas

 

So I’m hoping to find another pair that feels the same.

I was quite excited to find the pink and black Adidas because I love the colours and design and it’s really hard to find running shoes with nice designs. Most branded running shoes seem to me to be designed for aliens. Which makes them only marginally better than the ones in Bournemouth.

I quickly MSN’ed the link to Piers (who was at work).

 

I said, “I’m going to buy this!!!”

It took him just one second to reply, “Those trainers look ugly!”

“What?!” I said, “They don’t!”

“They do to me!”

I said, “You’re just saying that cos it’s £75!”

He said, “I am not!”

 

Then, he was silent for two seconds and came back with this:

“These ones look much nicer!”

 

Cheap running shoes

 

I said, “That’s £8!!!!!!!!!!”

“Oh! Are they?” he said, “Wow, that’s good value!”

“Yeah, right,” I told him. “Too bad, cos I need an Adidas.”

 

Then another three seconds and he sent me this:

“These look nice!”

 

Cheaper running shoes

 

I said, “Those are man shoes!!”

“And old!”

 

“Oh, yeah,” he said.

Not to be deterred, he took a few more seconds and came back with this:

“Nice!”

 

Cheapest running shoes

 

Indeed, it was time to change strategy.

“Thanks,” I said, to lull him into a sense of false security, “I love that.”

 

He doesn’t know that I have gone ahead to order the £75 Adidas. With his credit card! Mwahahaha.

I suppose he will find out when he receives the bill at the end of the month.

Or when he reads this post, which will presumably be sooner.

But that’s okay because I have suddenly and mysteriously turned into a good cook so I will distract him with some nice Chinese cooking.

 

He liked the wat tan mai fan and curry puffs I made in the last week, which is saying a lot because men’s taste buds are as good as their fashion senses are bad.

 

wat tan mai fan
Vermicelli in egg gravy

 

Curry puffs
Curry puffs

 

I don’t mean all men, of course. Just the ones who equate expensive with ugly and cheap with sublimely gorgeous.

 

Which is why I will never take a man shopping with me. The best strategy is to go online to buy anything and everything you want while the man is at work. It’s fast and convenient and when the packages arrive, you can feign ignorance. “Goodness me, where did that come from?”

Just remember not to send him any links.

Or if you must, send him eBay links of really cheap stuff to drive him into a permanent state of deep, deep security.

 

In other news, I am micro-blogging on Facebook more than updating this silly blog so I would respectfully suggest that you go to Facebook for quicker updates on my superfluous life.

Thanks!

Piers’ chilli plant

Piers just bought a chilli plant of all things.

We were at Sainsbury’s shopping for our dinner when he saw them for sale and got all excited.

 

Chilli plant

 

Piers likes eating spicy food. His tolerance level is about on par with the average Singaporean, which is quite remarkable for an ang moh.

Anyway, our dinner was homemade burgers and he used his first chilli harvest in the patties.

 

Making burgers

 

When I went into the kitchen to take photos, I saw the amount of meat he was marinating.

“How many burgers are you planning to make, TEN??” I said.

“Don’t be silly,” he said, “This is two burgers.”

Do men overestimate their appetites or what?

He ended up making five patties with his 1kg (2.2 pounds) of meat, which is crazy, but I guess better than two patties weighing 500g each.

 

Burger patties

 

But then, he ate two of them, both totalling 454g (1 pound), so maybe he didn’t overestimate himself all that much, but that doesn’t make him any less crazy.

They were really delicious, though. Juicy and full of flavour.

 

Yummy juicy burger patties

 

I only ate one and I was so full up I couldn’t eat my curly fries after it.

Thick fat burgers always look deceptively manageable, so don’t underestimate them.

 

Yummy juicy burger

 

On a side note, I love Sainbury’s because I got my pink eggs there!

 

Ella Valentine Eggs

 

Okay they’re not really pink. Only the container is pink. But that’s good enough, I suppose.

They’re supposed to be good for baking (I don’t know how) but I’m not using them for baking (yet).

I have been slowly pinkifying Piers’ apartment, putting cutesy decorations here and there, over time.

Recently, I made him buy a pink kitchen linen set consisting of oven gloves, apron and tea towels, saying that I’ve decided to become his personal cook for my new hobby, so I need them.

(It’s a nicer way of appointing him guinea pig for my food experiments but he doesn’t have to know that!)

 

Pink!

 

I saw lovely pink cooking utensils at Waitrose recently. They’ve got like pink knives and spatulas and whatnot.

But I’m going back to Singapore in less than two weeks, so there isn’t much time left for me to indulge in my new hobbies (cooking and pinkifying Piers’ apartment).

Will buy the pink utensils next time I’m back in England! (Don’t tell Piers.)

I wonder if Bob will still be alive when I return in December.

Oh, Bob is the chilli plant. I’ve named him that cos Piers wants to call it Chilli Chill Chill but I think that’s a stupid name. Plants need proper names to feel normal so they don’t develop complexes as they grow up!

Keep your fingers crossed for Bob’s survival!

Do not judge a cake by its icing

I’m taking a short break from Mallorca posts because I’ve been kinda busy shopping for my outfit for Piers’ annual company dinner.

It’s a black-tie event and I haven’t got anything with me in England, so I have to buy everything: Dress, shoes, bag, shawl, jewellery, maybe gloves.

I kind of left it too late. There’s nothing decent in the shops so I had to go online. The problem is, all the dresses I like that suit me are made to measure and will take a month to be delivered. Even the shoes I have my eye on are made to measure.

But the dinner is next week!

It’s very hard for me to find dresses because I don’t look good in bustiers, V-shape necks and halters, which basically describe the style of most evening gowns.

So I had to finally settle for this cheap ready-to-go dress. Ordered it two days ago and it arrived today, but it’s 10 inches too long (even though it’s XS / UK size 6) so I’ll have take it to the tailor.

 

Evening dress

 

Dress: USD84
Shipping: USD29
Tailoring: GBP30 (estimated)
Total: SGD200

Turned out not so cheap after all, for the quality. The stitching around the beads looks a bit poorly done.

But what is done is done and I have to wear it.

After shopping, there’s still the business of retouching my hair, threading my face and doing my nails.

Yep, very busy.

Actually, I wanted to talk about a cake today but got sidetracked, sorry.

The supermarkets in England carry very pretty cakes that look inedible because they look more like decorative items than food.

Piers assured me time and time again that they taste awful.

But I can’t help being drawn to them, especially this one.

 

Pretty cake
Do not trust a cake that you can stand upright.

 

I made Piers buy it because neither of us had a birthday cake this year so we needed to make up for it.

It’s so pretty it makes you happy, doesn’t it?

 

Pretty cake
It’s so pretty it shouldn’t be edible.

 

Pretty, pretty cake
Cut along the dotted lines.

 

Ooh pretty cake
Please unwrap me. Cos no one else would.

 

We should have just left it alone as a decorative item.

It tastes awful.

The description says:

“A Madeira sponge cake layered with plum and raspberry jam and vanilla flavour frosting covered with soft icing and decorated with a sugar plaque and candy flower.”

This is how I would describe it:

“A dry and hard cake with cough-syrup-flavoured jam filling, wrapped in a fatally thick layer of icing so sweet you could go into anaphylactic shock if you tried to eat it.”

 

Cake!
Do not judge a cake by it’s icing. And ribbons. And harmless-looking teddy bears.

 

Well, I have learnt my lesson now.

Next time, I will get Piers to buy the Hello Kitty one instead of the Forever Friends one.

Let’s boycott Singapore Noodles

I suppose I should feel proud for Singapore that you can find Singapore Noodles in almost every Asian restaurant menu in the UK (and probably in the USA as well).

Okay, except Japanese and Korean ones. They’re pretty specialised.

But go to a Thai or Vietnamese or Chinese or Malay restaurant and you’ll see Singapore Noodles. And Singapore would usually be the only country you see under the noodle category.

 

Chinese restaurant menu

 

Sometimes they call it Singapore Fried Noodles, or other similar variations, but it’s all the same thing.

You know my beef with Singapore Noodles. There is no such thing in Singapore. Nothing in Singapore looks or tastes remotely like it.

Instead of feeling proud, I feel a bit embarrassed because people all over the world must think we like that atrocity and eat it all the time.

 

Google image search

 

It’s a good thing that the guy who did the Wiki page on that dish knows what’s going on. Here, I quote:

The dish appears on the menu of almost all Chinese-style (mainly Cantonese-style) eateries in Hong Kong, the dish is also very popular in English, Australian and American Chinese cuisine. It is important to note that Singapore style noodles is not a cultural product of Singapore and is virtually non-existent in Singapore. Its naming may have been based on the stereotype that Singapore cuisine is generally spicy, and might have originated from an enterprising restaurateur eager to add a dash of exoticism to his menu.

How stupid is that?

I mean the fact that some stupid bloke created this stupid dish and used our country’s name in vain.

I think there should be some law that says you need to get permission to use a country’s name in your product. Otherwise, people all over the world could end up being confused and misled.

 

Singapore Fried Egg

 

And how strange that people actually like Singapore Noodles. People who like it should go to Singapore for a gastronomic education, then you’ll not want to eat it again.

So what is wrong with Singapore Noodles in England?

Firstly, the noodle used is wrong. They call it rice noodle here. I’m not sure what we call it in Singapore because we don’t eat noodles like that in Singapore.

Secondly, curry powder is a key ingredient. We don’t usually use that in our fried noodles in Singapore.

It’s nothing like the delicious Curry Maggi Mee Goreng you can find in Malaysia, maybe also in Singapore but I think Malaysians do it better.

 

Maggi Mee Goreng

 

Okay, to be fair, I’ve only sampled Singapore Noodles once in Australia and once in England, but that’s already two times too many.

I’ve seen many variations, though, either in menu photos or at takeaway counters and they never look the least bit appealing, so I can never bring myself to augment my sampling data.

I recently tried it at a popular Chinese restaurant in the seaside town of Weymouth. It looks really good, actually. The first Singapore Fried Noodles I’ve seen in real life that looks edible.

But then I put it in my mouth and my appetite tendered its resignation.

 

Singapore Fried Noodles

 

Very strong curry power taste. Eew.

Noodle is soft and gross, a bit like overcooked cup noodles.

If only they’d use real vermicelli and give the curry powder a miss. It could actually taste decent.

Well, actually, I don’t know what real vermicelli is. Okay, they should just use what we use in Singapore, which is the white, thin and firm variety of vermicelli. Then it’ll be more like the sin chew bee hoon that Singapore Noodles supposedly took its inspiration from.

(And here’s another stupidity: Sin chew bee hoon does not originate from Singapore, either. It’s from Hong Kong or China, I’m not sure.)

 

Rice vermicelli

 

Anyway, I can’t say for sure that all Singapore Noodles are disgusting, but I can’t be too optimistic about it, either.

I enjoyed the other stuff we ordered at the Chinese restaurant where I tried the Singapore noodles.

It’s called Ming Wah Restaurant and enjoys a thriving business.

It’s over an hour’s drive from where we live and Piers used to drive there just to buy one specific dish that he loves, the Crispy Shredded Beef.

 

Crispy Shredded Beef

 

It tastes exactly like sweet and sour pork does in Singapore, even though it’s beef. You can’t really taste the meat type anyway because the sauce is so strong. Ming Wah does it really well. The sauce is just the right blend of sweet and sour and the batter remains crispy to the end.

It was Piers’ first time eating in the restaurant. He always used to do takeaways, so he’s used to eating the beef a bit soggy. And he would buy four boxes each time to store in the fridge and eat cold over the next few days.

So used is he to the dish being cold and soggy that he was actually disappointed by the crispy, hot version.

Crazy ang moh!

Okay, side track a bit first. Here are the other things we ate at Wing Wah:

 

Fried finger foods
Fried wan ton, king prawns in batter, salt and pepper squid

 

I loved the fried wan ton. It’s fried in the thin popiah skin which is my favourite kind. The prawn filling was generous, but the prawn had a bit of a too-strong taste, like either not too fresh or didn’t get cleaned properly. But you get that sometimes in dim sum, and I’m not too bothered by it.

The king prawns in batter could be crispier, but otherwise quite tasty. The prawns were nice and fresh.

The salt and pepper squid was a bit tasteless, although the fried garlic it came covered in was fragrant and sweet.

 

Hot and sour soup
Hot and sour soup

 

There was way too much vinegar in the soup (perhaps too much sugar as well), but it could have been the perfect hot and sour soup. The ingredients were generous and the consistency of the soup was nicely thick.

 

Egg fried rice
Egg fried rice

 

This rice went very well with the Crispy Shredded beef. The taste was almost plain but it had a light eggy fragrance which made it a great complement to strong-tasting dishes.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a food review, but some people seem to feel disappointed when I post food pictures and don’t describe them a bit, so there you go.

Now, about Singapore noodles. We didn’t finish our noodles that night because we were too full from the other dishes, so we decided to take it home.

I didn’t like it, but it was still edible if you locked up your taste buds when doing the deed, and not as gross as I had described it. (I was just trying to emphasize that it’s really no good at all as a noodle dish.)

I had it for lunch. Refried it with an egg and a dab of hoisin sauce. Then, ate it with Thai sweet chilli sauce. The curry taste was almost lost so that was good. Noodles were still sickeningly soft, but that can’t be helped.

 

Singapore Fried Noodles

 

I showed Piers my noodles through webcam (he was at work) and told him what I did to it.

And he said, “Cool, you’re eating real Singapore noodles now!”

“Huh?” I said.

“Well, you cooked it and you’re a Singaporean, so that makes it Singapore noodles!”

A bit “duh”, since I didn’t cook it but merely reheated it and threw in a few things, but you see where I got the inspiration for my above cartoon from.

I’m sure, somewhere in the world, we can find genuinely tasty Singapore Noodles (just not in Singapore because, remember, Singapore Noodles do not exist in Singapore) but I’m also sure it’ll be tough going and I don’t think I’m up for the challenge of finding it.

I really can’t be bothered, anyhow, because there are a lot better and nicer things to eat than stupid curry-flavoured noodles.

Trust me.