Tuesday, December 31

The Journey

Part I

I tried a few different starts to this post, depending on the various moods and colours it could take on. To be honest, it's hard for me to tap into what it's like to speak as Truffle anymore. In a sense, the person that was Truffle is long gone. Always positive, loving, energetic, enthusiastic. I'm still loving, superbly energetic, and excitedly enthusiastic. But I no longer feel I need to be positive whatever the true state of affairs. For me, Cinnamon and Truffle was a positive energy blog. Spread the positive energy, let it change the world.

Yes, but.

The truth is, I don't feel so positive right now, so it's hard for me to be completely honest here. Because this is supposed to be a positive energy blog, right?


And so it continues. The censorship.

I'll be starting a new blog.

So there's hope, there is a chance, and I will wait to find out. In the meantime, I'll keep writing, I'll keep eating, and I'll keep talking about life, love and the arts. I'm dying to tell you the blog's name, but I can't until it's released. Otherwise you lot are going to google it and see all of our construction efforts, right? Which is what I want to avoid.

So here it goes, I'm taking the plunge.

Guys, you have all been really supportive of this blog. So many thoughts, ideas, recipes, smiles. It was all worth it for that, and for the fantastic joy I got out of writing these posts. I reread a draft I hadn't published yet, a story I started about our cook at home when I was young(er). And it made me smile. It made me laugh, in a way I hadn't for a while. And I missed the writing. Thank you for being there for us, for reading what we wrote, for looking at our photographs, for sharing it with your friends, for smiling at the thought of 'Cinnamon and Truffle'.

I will see you again, this time with (probably) my own name. Which is Radhika.

Lots of love to you all.

Part II

The above was written some days ago, and it's a true expression of how I felt at the time. Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while will know how difficult I find it sometimes to express myself freely, without being afraid of the opinions of others crashing down on me. I've come a long way, thankfully, and this blog has been one of the reasons. It's been one of the stepping stones on my path. The other is Resonance.

Before I leave, I'd like to give you my last post, the one I referred to above. It made me smile when I was reading it, and I hope it does the same for you.

Part III

I miss Solai

Some of you will remember Solai. She joined our family as a cook when I was about 11 years old. I remember the evening she arrived. My mother, Tamarind (my new blog name for my younger sister, Rice Krispie), and I had just returned from an evening out, and Solai was standing by the armchair next to the telephone. A business associate of my dad's, who was visiting, had met her at the airport and brought her home. She looked silent, nervous, and very thin. So very different from the Solai we all know and love now! For me, she was then yet another cook someone had dispatched to us, after a spate of misadventured individuals. One previous holder of the post had argued - in Tamil - with the cleaning lady - who spoke only Malay - about who should do the mopping, resulting in the cleaning lady leaving in a huff, believing herself to have been threatened with said mop. Another had been discovered stealing the beer and emptying numerous cans in her room after parties. (I always did wonder why she looked in a perpetual haze.) This was what Solai arrived at the back end of. I wasn't convinced anyone would be staying very long.

Our home was a pretty active place when we were growing up (I'm not sure that it's changed, really). Many kids, many visitors, lots of guests, unscheduled drop-ins, and house parties. Solai would single-handedly cater most of these events. (For the really major events, an elderly no-nonsense man would pitch up from my parent's office, and he would cook biriyani in a huge metal vat on hot coals in the backyard.) I don't remember what her cooking was like in the early days, but once she hit her stride, she was a seriously good cook. Our friends loved her cooking, and no one refused a dinner invitation at ours. Chicken curry, lamb masala, crab, prawn and aubergine curry, fried fish with onion and fennel seeds, kootturasamsambardosaikesari, amazing home-made yoghurt... I can't even list all the stuff she could make, and very well. When I was a teenager and back home from school in the UK, she'd make sure my favourites would feature at least once on the menu: that is, pan-fried Maggi noodles with vegetables and egg, macaroni and cheese with cauliflower and chili sauce, appan jala with chicken curry, that prawn curry with aubergine for me, and tamarind gravy with fried potato for Tamarind (now you know why I picked that name).

Solai was very vocal. She would yell at various people who came to the house - delivery men, van drivers, electricians, pest control - as well as various people at the market on Sundays. Sadly, she wasn't given the benefit of education, but her natural smarts meant that she picked up the few words of English she needed to get things done: "Eh Aunty! I giw $20. You giw me $5. This [pointing at chicken] $10. Back $5!" plus determined waving of fingers would usually get the overlooked amount of change back in her hands. She also seemed to have the scariest dreams of anyone I've ever known. If Tamarind and I were up late watching TV, she would fall asleep nearby, and once her dreams started, she would yell out repeatedly 'aathaiaathai!' (translated literally from village speak: 'mother! mother!'). She'd wake up, look around, and say: 'It was like someone was holding my throat and strangling me'. And she'd fall back asleep.

That's as far as I got with the post before I stopped. I was trying to remember what incident had made me suddenly think of and miss Solai. Maybe it was a lonely London late afternoon, when the sun had gone, and I thought of someone who would have sat down and told me what it was like in her village - how hot the fields were when she worked in them, or the mischief of her mother-in-law. And for a brief moment we would have exchanged something human - she, far away from her family, and I with a distance between me and mine.

Wednesday, September 4

Namu Gaji in San Francisco

Every time I come back from a long spell away from the blog, I feel I ought to apologise to our readers. Having said that, I'm immediately reminded of Cinnamon's friend from Hong Kong saying to me once: "I'm going to tell you what I told Cinnamon. Stop saying 'thank you' and stop saying 'sorry'!"

Yes, the Cinnamon-Truffle sisters love to apologise. I myself have been working at kicking this habit over the years, because frankly it's irritating. So today I'm going to start this post with a different spin. It's great to be writing again, and I hope you're all well :)

September has rolled around, and while I'm hearing reports of summer being on its way out in the UK, I'm told it's just getting started here in the Bay Area. The fog gets burned away, so they say, bringing relief to those who are tired of hearing Mark Twain being quoted over and over again for a period of two months. It's warm. So warm, that I'm in need of a cross current.

I've been exploring the Bay Area recently, and I can't put the experience into just a few words. It's enthralling and frightening at the same time. Something as simple as driving from one city to another just over an hour away (San Francisco to San Jose) takes you past a sparkling bay to the east, or alongside sweeping views of the Santa Cruz mountains to the west. If you turn north by San Jose, towards Fremont or Oakland, the Diablo mountain range looms over the landscape like a uncoiling python. (London to Oxford on the X90, this is not...) The mountains and valleys are also a reminder that the very earth beneath your feet might uncoil at any moment. The reason they're there is because of the San Andreas fault line, but people go about their daily lives without seemingly fretting about this. One newspaper article stated matter-of-fact that the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge would improve emergency vehicles' access after the Big One.

But now I'm talking geology and not about food. I'd promised Namu Gaji, and I don't want to keep you waiting! Namu Gaji is the work of three brothers - a chef, an engineer and a music producer - and they've come together to create a fantastic, vibeing, thriving restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco, serving NKA, or New Korean American. California always seems to me to be a crucible for incredible ideas that then roll around the rest of the world, and this could be one of them. New Indian British, anyone...?

I'm dying to start with the killer dish (see what I did there?), but I'll go in order of appearance.

First up, a melon amuse bouche to cleanse and activate the palate.

Then a heirloom tomato salad with crisps and hotdog powder. I only ordered this because I loved the sound of hotdog powder, but the tomatoes were the stars of this dish. Colourful, flavourful, individual - like a family medley. Very attractive too.

As you can probably tell, I rushed through the first two to get to this. Take a look at this beauty and tell me what you see. I saw (and tasted) a foie gras ravioli in a morel sauce. But what it really was: shitake mushroom ravioli in a dark soy sauce with nori and scallions. It was outstanding. It was exquisite. I'm still thinking about it.

This was the dish that told me what this kitchen is up to and what they're capable of. Some people might try to pigeon hole this as 'Korean' or 'American' or 'French', but finally the pigeon-holers and labellers of this world have been routed. This plate just is. Eat that.

I also loved this: ramyun. Handmade noodles, a hotdog (from San Francisco's own artisanal butcher, 4505 Meats), an enormous panko-crusted egg, bean sprouts and homemade kimchee. It was hot and very satisfying. Listed under the 'Kind of Korean' section of the menu, it could also easily fit under the 'Comfort' section. I found myself wondering if it had been inspired by the chef's student days. You know, dorm room, instant noodle packet, snip in a hotdog and bean sprouts, spoons of kimchee, an egg, and you're ready to go with that episode of Neighbours.

Dessert was whipped cream heavy for my taste, but the chocolate fondant was yummy.

Even yummier was this. In between a sorbet and a granita, made with in-season strawberries.

Got to run, and thank you for reading. (Well, at least I've stopped saying 'sorry'.)



Tuesday, May 7

Changing time zones

This is what it looks like to arrive at our parents' home in Singapore. Milky tea with sugar, with lots of bubbles on top. Books with interesting titles on the coffee table. Some time to sit on the sofa and ruminate, allowing all the puzzle pieces in the mind to disconnect from their jammed positions and float away.

Tuesday, March 26

Not only musicians know how to rock

The School of Wok. The name finally got me midway through the presentations at last night's wine and canapés event, held in the Asian cookery school in Covent Garden. I had to smile at the founder's sense of humour.

The amazing Wen of Edible Experiences had invited me and other food bloggers of note (yes, I seem to have graduated from my blogger guppy days) to experience some Calcutta canapés from the Darjeeling Express Supperclub. Each of the canapés had been paired with a wine by A Grape Night In, a new wine company that organises themed wine tasting events.

For last night's theme, the spices in the canapés had inspired A Grape Night In to come up with 'Spice Routes'. Trade, food, and the old world being topics close to my heart, I was looking forward to the journey already.

First off, we had vegetarian samosas with three chutneys. Kiki and Laura, the ladies from A Grape Night In, had already explained that they had wanted to go beyond the standard pairing of Riesling with Indian dishes, so I was waiting to see what the first wine would be. Start as you mean to go on, right?

And they're bold, these two. They opened their foray with ... wait for it ... an English sparkling wine. No better way to immediately blow any preconceptions anyone might have about wine out of the water. The Limney Estate's Blanc de Blanc was so well-matched, that I couldn't wait to have another sip after a bite of the samosa. The New York Times recently asked a NYC sommelier for pairings with Indian food, and he suggested champagne for dosai. Watch this space for high margin opportunities at Indian restaurants, y'all.

The second wine was exciting for me too, because it hailed from Portugal. You might know by now that Portugal is another home for me in Europe. (For those that don't yet, it has to do with our sister Chili and her family living there, and also with Viva Vino, which is one of our parents' lines of business, bringing Fine Wines from the Old World to Singapore.) So I was really glad to see more people appreciating the fantastic wines of this country. 

We had a white from the Douro Valley (which is also where Port comes from), made of a blend of Malvasia and Verdelho. Incidentally, Verdelho and Vinho Verde ('green wine') are two varietals I'd come across with Viva Vino, when my family were first doing tastings and pairings around the dining table in Singapore. We found that the Vinho Verde went beautifully with Singapore's Chinese cuisine, so perhaps Verdelho is one to try with Indian spices. Darjeeling Express' contribution was dahi puchka, a potato-filled mini puri, with a tamarind chutney and yogurt dressing.

So, the food and wine were amazing, clearly. But as every person who writes about food will tell you, good food and good wine are only accompaniments to wonderful company. And this I want to emphasise: wonderful company. The thing about people like Wen and her Edible Experiences venture is that, because of the energy of awesomeness she herself projects and injects into her business, she never fails to attract and surround herself with awesome people. Each of the people involved in last night's event - Laura and Kiki from A Grape Night In, Asma from Darjeeling Express, Adrienne from School of Wok, and the peeps from Nuffnang X - was just radiating rock 'n' roll. They're passionate about what they're doing, they have something new to bring to the table, they're brave in the execution of their ideas, and their presentations as the evening kicked off made me feel like I was witnessing a great performance at one of the gigs I'm at almost every week - they were inspirational. 

Kiki and Laura of A Grape Night In

Over the last few days, I've been looking for inspiration. Writing and performing music on stage feels great, but after the high of a gig, it can feel a bit low once you've stepped off. Also, getting a band going somewhere is just like trying to get any other venture going somewhere. You give a lot, so there are moments when you feel like you need to refuel, and to find the accelerator again. The enthusiasm and energy that these guys put into last night's event is one of the things that's helping me refuel this week, and I'm very grateful to everyone.

It was also wonderful to meet some peeps I'd gotten to know through the blog. One of these wonderful people is Ailbhe, who writes Simply Splendiferous and whose beautiful illustrations adorn her site. I had a really good conversation with Ailbhe, during which she gave me some advice and I realised a few things. One of the realisations is that I've been super shy about talking about my music on this blog. So here it is, people. My band is called Resonance. Resonance is what happens when something moves at its natural frequency, and when I'm making music, I feel like I'm at mine. We just released our debut record recently, and it's called "If The Fires They Burn Too Bright". It's out now on all the major online stores (and also on sale in a record store in Soho!). We gig lots in London - playing a live gig is one of the most uplifting experiences for me, and the energy is amazing. We'd love for you to come along and be a part of it. You can find out more on Resonance's website: www.ResonanceMusicProject.com

Lots of love



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