Monday, August 30

Will YOU Pay for Quality?

Did you read the article on Toledo Museum of Art's Glass Pavilion in the Wall Street Journal today? It's on the front page. I took great interest in reading it as I was just there this past summer (see post on Modigliani and roast pork). It is a well written article of the eye-opening kind. It explains that though the museum is the legacy of a local glass maker in honor of the city's glass-making past, the curved pavilion glass was imported from...China. The Shenzhen based manufacturer was willing to invest in the $500,000 equipment for making the intricate glass for the exterior of the building and is quoted as saying "US companies are too cautious, preferring standardized processes and easy money." What? Have the tables turned? When did the Chinese mount the high horse of quality?

My first thought was that American food production has indeed become all about standardized processes and easy money. Taste and quality have been forgotten along the path of production expansion and cost cutting. Small, local farmers are going bust as large scale farms use pesticides and chemical fertilizers with the single goal of widening profit margins.

It also made me think of the organic vegetable delivery I had just cancelled. My friend, Brown Sugar Cookie, had passed on details of an organic vegetable service to me and I had tried them out for a couple of weeks. Yes, the fruit was perfectly ripe and delicious and the vegetables was exceptionally tasty. Though they were smaller in size, even the colors were more vibrant. For those two weeks, I felt good that I was exposing my children to fewer chemicals and also felt empowered that I was supporting local farmers in NC. The delivery service even goes the extra mile of emailing you recipes for the delivered produce. How perfect for a foodie. Unfortunately, I felt that the quantity delivered was small for $30 and I kept thinking I could buy more at the farmers' market for the same cost. Not much difference between me and the American glass manufacturer who is not willing to pay for quality.

So, what should I do? More importantly, what would you do?


Saturday, August 21

Give a Granola Bar for Breakfast

Pats Place
School started early in Singapore - 7:30 AM and I always found it difficult to eat breakfast at 6:30 before leaving for school. My five-year old has the same problem, and I find myself struggling to get her to drink her half-cup of milk and granola bar before her school bus rumbles up at 7:05. As a Singaporean, as a foodie, and as a mother, I constantly worry about my children's nutrition. I want to give them the best possible start in life and nourishment is one of the building blocks I focus on.

A year ago, I approached a friend of mine in my neighborhood - a full time lawyer with a little family just like mine. She played the same juggling game of rearing children and keeping a balanced household with her husband while building a full-time career. She, however, managed to find the time to give back to society by volunteering at charities. She asked me what I was interested in and I said simply that I wanted to help empower women and children. This friend led me to Pat's Place, a child advocacy center for sexually abused children ( It's a one-stop center where a child and his/her family can go for forensic interviews, medical exams, lawyer meetings and support from social workers - a little more intense than what I was looking for, but if this what the Higher Powers wanted me to dedicate my time to, so be it.

I was there last week talking to the director for development and she was informing me about the issues of fund raising and that an important part of development included getting non-financial donations of granola bars and juice boxes. I held my breath. She carried on to explain that in many cases, families ended up at the center very upset, rushed, and panicked and would have invariably forgotten to give their child breakfast. "A granola bar and a juice box helps fill the little tummy and makes the interview process a lot easier." Yes, I have shed a tear or two at this place.

So, friends in North Carolina, if you are reading this and want to do something for these young victims and help Pat's Place empower these little souls, here are some ideas:

  1. Drop off a box of granola bars and juice boxes at Pat's Place. Or drop them off at my place and I will take them there.
  2. Join me at their "Blue Jeans and Barbeque" fund raiser on the 11th of September - $50 a ticket.
  3. Tell your corporate charitable committee about Pat's Place and put them in touch with the Director of Development. Let me know if you want a name and number.
  4. Tell people about Pat's Place and spread the word. Schools, clubs, churches, friends whom you think might want to help. Networks are powerful.
We have 70 readers. If each and everyone of the 70 decides to do one thing for Pat's Place, what will the total impact be? At the very least, it will be 70 breakfasts for abused children in North Carolina.


Monday, August 16

London tapas, anyone?

The last couple of weeks have been completely food- and fun-filled. First, there was Sparkly Date Palm’s wedding in Ireland a couple of weekends ago. Then, there was a friend’s surprise birthday party at one of Covent Garden’s iconic American imports. Later in the week, I was at a wine and food pairing evening in Canary Wharf (where plans were made to go to a pop-up restaurant in the Isle of Wight later this year). This past weekend alone saw a barbecue on a tiny central London balcony, a book launch at an Indian street food joint in Soho, and dinner at the oldest Indian restaurant in the city. The trend is set to continue – we have another wedding this week, but this time in Spain. On the way to the wedding, we’ll be stopping at a famous suckling pig restaurant in Segovia. I managed to squeeze in a few gym sessions over the past few days, but I don’t think it’s going to help – I’m on track for spontaneous explosion!

With all of these food experiences to rival the schedule of an APEC summit, it’s hard to choose which one (or ones) to talk about. Since Cinnamon and Truffle have promised to tell you about a variety of things, including our food findings, I thought I’d share with you a few highlights and discoveries from the past weeks. This is food-blogging, tapas-style!

Wedding in Dublin * This was wonderful for a whole lot of reasons, including the beautiful couple, and their lovely, welcoming family (the Irish are my favourite people on the planet). The food highlight was the wedding cake, with all three layers of sponge, chocolate and fruit having been home-made. I’d never had a home-made cake at a wedding before, and it was simply delicious – nothing like the usual plastic fruit cake which most wedding venues offer. Nice one, Sparkly Date Palm!

Asia de Cuba, Covent Garden * I’m not a huge fan of this place, it being a pretty expensive version of cheap and cheerful. But we had a memorable dish of seared tender scallops, which came with a creamy sweetcorn sauce and caramelized onions. Something I’m definitely going to try to replicate at home. If it works, I’ll share the recipe!

Battery, Canary Wharf * In ten years or so, when the East End becomes the in place to be in London, Battery is going to become the penthouse restaurant everyone wants to go to. It’s located at a bend in the river on the West-side of the Wharf, and so it offers a great view over the heaving Thames and towards the Gherkin end of the City (behind which the sun very aptly sets). A real find here was the Cremant de Bourgogne, Moingeon, Blanc de Blanc, an excellent French sparkling wine from Burgundy (and therefore made from Chardonnay). It would be perfect as a daytime sparkly aperitif, when you’re having friends over and you’re not feeling like an overly uptight, dry, evening-gown-type champagne.

Mooli’s, Soho * Started up by two ex-corporates (one of them an ex-lawyer who also found the road to freedom), Mooli’s is one of the early movers on the Indian street food scene in London. It totally makes sense to me – after an evening out, why go for a kebab and chips when you can have a fresh roti with healthful ingredients? Their goat mini-mooli, with tender cubes of goat meat and potato, with refreshing red onion wrapped in a warm roti was pretty good. I’m going to try wrapping some spiced lamb and potato (avec garnish) in a chapatti at home and - although it won’t be the same as Mooli’s - see if it works as a quick lunch. Watch this space for a recipe.

That’s this week’s round-up! Next week I’ll report back from España (and hopefully tell you about real tapas...)



Monday, August 9

Chill, baby, chill

I don’t know how it is Stateside, but here in England, the days of bright and baking sunshine are dwindling. Some days we see chilly winds take the upper hand, and Londoners scramble for their cardis and jackets. Given this changing unpredictable weather, it’s always the case that a few weeks of heat and humidity followed by a cold snap (relatively speaking) bring on the bugs - cold and cough bugs to be precise.

I once heard that this was because people weren’t drinking enough water during the warm, humid days and the dehydration made them susceptible to colds. Okay, so drinking more water on hot days might be a solution. But there might be a couple of other ways to nuke those germs.

A Russian lady taught me this one. She recommended taking this at night before bed, when you have that feeling like you’re about the come down with something. Find some red peppercorns (like in the picture) and whole black pepper. With a pestle and mortar, crush about three-quarters of a teaspoon of each. Mix the crushed pepper into a bit of vodka (something between half a measure and one measure should do, but it’s up to you). Drink it in one go, and use some vodka (without the pepper!) as rubbing alcohol on your neck and limbs if you like.

The other method is a traditional English or Scottish remedy, Hot Toddy. This involves taking a large mug of hot water, juice of a lemon quarter and some teaspoons of honey and then adding half a measure of whiskey (use the Single Malt only if you must, Cinnamon). Even just the hot water, lemon and honey make a comforting drink that I often use to help stave off a cold or to soothe a sore throat.

I know we have an international readership on this blog, so we’d love to hear from you about traditional cold remedies from all your different parts of the world!

Disclaimer: You don’t need to tell an ex-lawyer that anything featuring alcohol or remedies needs a disclaimer! The above post is not meant for anyone under the legal minimum age in their relevant jurisdiction. Enjoy Single Malts responsibly. Don’t crush the peppercorns with your bare hands and then rub your eyes. Please don’t use any of the above as a substitute for medical attention. Do what your doctor tells you, and don’t rely on what you read on the internet, Einstein.



Sunday, August 1

Cappuccino with Nutmeg

I love coffee. I love French roast, Italian espresso, Portuguese cafe pingado, and most of all a simple cappuccino with a few shakes of nutmeg. The only coffees I don't like are Arabica and Sumatran - too acidic. I initially thought I was going to write about the fact that coffee originated in Brazil and that thanks to Vasco da Gama, many around the world now enjoy that smell of the freshly roasted bean. I was wrong. It actually originated from the hills of Ethiopia and Arabian kings and noblemen were the ones who established it as a social drink. Arab traders then brought it to Italy, and the rest is history.

Coffee formed an integral part of our daily structure in Singapore. At 4pm everyday, our cook, Solai, would come round checking for coffee orders. Coffee was fresh milk, boiled, frothed using the old teh-tarek method of pouring from one cup into another a few times, with a good dose of Bru coffee powder. My readers will be shocked to find that our family in Singapore drank (and still drink...) instant coffee. BUT, Bru coffee was no ordinary instant coffee! It had chicory in it. According to Google, chicory was historically a cheap substitute for coffee in the olden times... Great, not only did we drink instant coffee, we drank cheap instant coffee! Anyway, my school friends didn't seem to notice, and many an evening would find a group of us gathered around our dining table drinking Bru coffee, known as Solai's coffee those days.

I left Singapore for the UK when I was 18. I came back home most holidays and one of my favorite past times was hanging out at Suzuki Coffee House in Centre Point with my best friend, Beans. This was back in the day before Starbucks, before it was cool to drink coffee, and when Takashimaya was only a green plot of land next to the Mandarin. We would lounge around Suzuki Coffee for hours on end, each drinking three cups at least, and analyzing the intricacies of our love lives....or, in my case, the severe lack of it! Beans was always more adventurous but I would order the same thing every time - Cafe Mexicana, which was essentially a cuppuccino with nutmeg.

Beans and I were classmates together at RJC. We were so similar, yet so different. We were both Indian girls who had always been the minority at school, both tall, and both had an affinity for maths. She had mad curly hair, mine was straight, and she was light skinned and I was dark. We were like yin and yang and were always together. Our friendship was filled with fun - secret giggles about the guys we liked and catty eye rolls toward the girls we didn't. Our relationship was never competitive but always supportive. It was through my friendship with Beans that I learned how friendships can be true, loyal and actually enlightening. I have made many wonderful friendships with women since then, and all have been based on the Beans model of true friendship.

Beans, miss you! Looking forward to our next cup of coffee together, whenever or wherever that may be.



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