Monday, July 28, 2014

Chicken Rice & Salted Vegetables and Duck Soup

I enjoy Math Paper Press' anthology of food in its 'Twenty-Four Flavors'. Picked up Issue 4 'Salted Vegetables and Duck Soup' and Issue 5 'Chicken Rice'. 24 stories of 250 words each, written by 24 writers.

The broadsheets are an easy flip. Thoroughly enjoyable. The stories are mostly humorous, sometimes dark, and very compact. Bought these issues as gifts for visitors in town as well. Can't quite extract quotes from each story without giving away the details. Will quote from their forewords written by Kenny Leck, co-founder and publisher of Math Paper Press.

I usually drink soup without eating any of the contents used in the boil. In Issue 4 'Salted Vegetables and Duck Soup', I know it as 'itek tim'. I've no problems with the soup, but I won't touch the duck or the salted vegetables. Always thought it tasted weird.

Comfort food. Cholesterol food. Homecooked food. Heart attack food. Whatever one calls it, the dish SALTED VEGETABLES AND DUCK SOUP is no longer as commonly available as say Black Chicken Soup. Even the art of cooking a good bowl of soup can no longer be taken for granted. 
This dish is generally not considered a health tonic, but one served in a family setting. The soup sits in the centre of the table, and portions of duck, SALTED VEGETABLES, and soup are re-distributed into smaller bowls and given to each member of the family seated around the table.

Avoiding chicken nowadays, I indulge in the occasional steamed white chicken skin and sometimes, the rice. But mostly, I can do without them. If I've to sit down at a chicken rice stall, I'd like it to be Five Star or Pow Sing, or somewhere that has other types of food on the menu besides chicken. Issue 5 'Chicken Rice' discusses this much revered almost-national dish. It's really one of those national dishes that are inoffensive and hard to find a terrible version of it. Had to buy this for a visitor because he was completely obsessed with chicken rice, and ate it almost daily in the three weeks he was in town.

Chicken Rice can even be a National Bonding dish. It is enjoyed by all four races - and more - in Singapore, and it can be eaten 365 days throughout the year. How delightful it would be if there was an Annual Open House for 'Eat All You Can Chicken Rice' at the Istana during the National Day weekend. At least, President Tony Tan wouldn't be stereotyped as Colonel Sanders that often. 
During the monthly Meet-the-People sessions, complimentary packets of Chicken Rice could be given out too. It would get everybody in a lighter mood, and the common man, together with the politicians, even trade recipes to help improve the standard of Chicken Rice across the country.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chilli Crabs!

Whenever visitors come through Singapore, we can't let them go without many authentic local meals. The friends found a common date and rounded everyone up for a zi char dinner at Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood (萬隆華和海鮮餐館), an apparently established and popular group makan venue that neither the man or I have heard of, much less visited. We were as clueless as our out-of-town-from-the-other-side-of-the-world friends.

We turned up at 9.15pm to a fully-packed eatery. Luckily we had reservations and the first round of diners were leaving and it was a short wait for a clean table. I love seafood, but am always wary on the matter of histamines. No prawns or fish tonight. We were a party of 10 and decided not to overdo it on the dishes. Stuck to clams, oyster omelette, some meats and plenty of vegetables and tofu. The food on our table was as fantastic as what everyone said. Our visitors were pretty used to Asian food and by stereotypical American standards, had rather adventurous tastebuds. When they said they "eat anything and everything", they meant it. Mexican peppers trained them well- they loved our type of spices and lapped up all the sambal kangkong and whatnots.

Of course there must be crabs. We couldn't let visitors go away without at least tasting those huge Sri Lankan crabs. Ordered crabs done in two styles- chilli and pepper. Gigantic crabs with plenty of roe-thingies. You know it's a good meal when all of us got down to using fingers and three of us accidentally flung gravy into our own eyes. Heh. Chalked up S$320 for 12 dishes in two hours. Best.

Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood (萬隆華和海鮮餐館)
122 Casuarina Road Singapore 579510 (no air-conditioning)
T: +65 6452 2824 (Reservations necessary)

Friday, July 25, 2014

An Afternoon with the BFF

Even though the bff has technically moved back to Singapore, she's not in town half the time. She's flying around loads more than I am, a combination of vacations and even crazier work trips. We gotta figure out a date to take a holiday together. Haven't done so this year! Even when we were in the same cities, we keeping missing each other by a day or two. Gaah.

Managed to grab her out for an afternoon for lunch at Open Door Policy. Took it slow and hung out late. Plenty to catch up on. Our mutual friends and all. She also had loads of gyokuro and kabusecha to pass to me. I had asked her for a favor to fulfil a shopping list when she was in Tokyo, and she obliged.

Then went book-shopping. That was the main task of the day. As much as we like e-readers, we still like hard copies and the pleasure of flipping through a couple of pages to decide whether to plough through the whole book. It's like, the Kindle follows us on trips, but we'll have one hard copy in the suitcase. Of course we found some titles to buy.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stalin's Games

Spotted a unread book in the pile. How could I have missed it?! It's the exact kind of book I pounce on. It was Simon Sebag Montefiore's 'One Night In Winter'.

Written in 2013, the book was set in Moscow 1945, during the terrifying times of Stalin's final paranoid decade of power. The story drew upon real-life characters of the Soviet elite, and their presumed 18-year-old children. The author cleverly weaved real historical figures and fictional names into the plot, making it vividly eerie. (Reviews herehere, here and here.)

At the exclusive School 801, among the children of the who's who of the Politburo and the Kremlin leaders, there was a new boy Andrei Kurbsky who was a son of "the enemy of the people". He had been granted permission to return to Moscow. He quoted Alexander Puskin, and seemed to stand for all the lost romance of Russia. There was an initiation and a Game reenacting the duel scene in Eugene Onegin. In any Game, contemporary readers will know that there will be deaths. (Not referencing 'The Hunger Games') Two such deaths occurred in the Game, shot each other with real guns that had replaced the fakes. The deaths brought in the dreaded venue of Lubianka, headquarters of the KGB. Something about unwanted "bourgeois sentimentalism". No parents dared to defend their children. The Kremlin got involved because Stalin didn't stand for any whiff of an anti-Stalin plot and everybody wanted to keep their secrets. Games within games within the Game.

Plenty of power play. There's a list of Characters right at the start of the book before Acknowledgments and Prologue. I kept going back to the list to be sure who's doing what. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read in all its twists and turns. Plenty of love stories going on. It came to pass that the main two characters seemed to be Andrei Kurbsky and Serafima Romashkina, the daughter of a famous actress and a film writer, she harboured a secret which was a boyfriend-then-fiance who was an American diplomat. But politics intervened. Cold War. Happy that the book concluded after the death of Stalin onward to 1970s, and gave us a peek into the characters that survived and how their lives turned out. I was curious enough to google the song that was referenced to in the story more than twice- 'Katyusha' ('Катюша', or Ekaterina or Catherine). It's a 1938 wartime song written by Mikhail Isakovsky and composed by Matvei Blanter.

Later, when she gives her testimony, she wishes she had seen less, knew less. 'These aren't just any dead children,' slurs one of the half-drunk policemen in charge of the scene. When these policemen inspect the IDs of the victims and their friends, their eyes blink as they try to measure the danger - and then they pass on the case as fast as they can. So it's not the police but the Organs, the secret police, who investigate: 'Is it murder, suicide or conspiracy?' they will ask. 
What to tell? What to hide? Get it wrong and you can lose your head. And not just you but your family and friends, anyone linked to you. Like a party of mountaineers, when one falls, all fall. 
Yet Serafima has a stake even higher than life and death: she's eighteen and in love. As she stares at her two friends who had been alive just seconds earlier, she senses this is the least of it and she is right: every event in Serafima's life will now be defined as Before or After the Shootings.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Third Time :: Russian Circles

Third time I see Russian Circles play in Singapore. They're fantastic live and this round was just as great.  Have I already mentioned that next to Dave Grohl, one of my favorite drummers is Dave Turncrantz? Their latest album 'Memorial' was released last December. Love their sounds. Something old, something new and all familiar. I definitely have something for bands whose brand of music doesn't contain vocals.

Giggled slightly as I hung out at Zouk. All about the nightspot closing down end of the year without relocation plans and all. Honestly, I don't particularly care. Yeah, I literally grew up at Zouk, stumbled around, puked all over its grounds and all that. But it's just another venue. There're the memories to hold. Went to like three ZoukOuts and gave up. Beach parties aren't quite my scene. At some point when I turned 32, the Velvet card that has a permanent slot in my purse meant nothing anymore. Meanwhile tonight, I enjoyed the fantastic acoustics that were arranged by KittyWu Records.

Quite a turnout for a Sunday night. Great vibes. Lovely to see many friends out and about. It also meant that the gig started early enough at 8.20pm and concluded by 9.45pm. Best. I was just happy to tumble back into town in time for the gig. Couldn't take my eyes off the C&C drum set. Three musicians filled the entire Zouk with gigantic sound. Woah. To the moon and back. Didn't matter that the next day began with a 7am meeting.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fruits For Meals

On work trips, I miss the convenience of eating fruits, peeled and cut. Vacations are easier- I could hunt down fruits anytime at the markets. Berries are generally easy to pop and chew. It's the slicing of the other fruits that I don't quite fancy. Been completely spoilt as a kid- I don't eat apples unless they're sliced. The hotels that are familiar with my preferences or schedule do take the extra mile to send up fruits already peeled and sliced instead of greeting me with the usual fruit basket.

I'm one of those who can just gobble fruits for a meal. (Yes, that explains the 25 apricots and kernels ingested last week. Uggh. Never again.) I don't do that often though, since the sugars are not fantastic as consecutive meals. Not partial to dessert, fruits are the only kind of sweets I could bear. 

Some airline lounges in certain airports provide a great source of fruit vitamins and fibre. I love the variety available. Bleary eyed early in the morning at Sydney airport, I didn't want like...real food, but needed to eat something before the next meeting. Airplane food works for me, but often, I'd very much rather sleep through a flight. In the new-world hierarchy of needs, sleep and stable wifi rank high above food. Heh. Piled the plate high with colors. Avoided all forms of caffeine. Gobbled milk and juices too. Didn't want to have carbs since I would be stepping off the plane and straight into a boardroom to uhhh tactfully scold people. Carbs make me sluggish. :P  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Late Night Dinner

If you don't mind the loud volume of human voices, then supper at Fordham & Grand is always fun. I still like a salad or pasta if food is need at midnight or thereabouts. Often, I need more than bar snacks to fill the tummy when I'm really hungry.

Hopped into Fordham & Grand with the girlfriend for a late dinner. Drinks were available too. Perfect. I'm avoiding caffeine till the end of July calm the digestive system, but moderate amounts of alcohol seem fine. Heh. As long as I stick to the usual poisons, the stomach shouldn't be too upset.

I rarely go to cocktail bars unless I know they've a decent selection of whisky. I could do gin, but I'm not interested in trying out permutations of flavors. I don't like floral, sweet or cloying or sour. I could do bitter and standard. Few bars could grasp my gin preferences the way The Spiffy Dapper does. Of course I hang out there enough for them to know what I like. Even so, I like a clean gin and tonic. Nothing fancy, thanks.

The bartender offered a concoction with Cocchi Americano and Angostura bitters. I was really suspicious of the moscato thingy. I don't like dessert wine or anything similar. The final version of this G/T wasn't too bad, but already too sweet by my standards. No way I could do a second glass of it. Decided to stick to a regular G/T. Craft gins, good tonic water. Boring is good. Nothing funny to rile the tummy. Fabulous company for the evening. Red nails. All I ever wanted.

Monday, July 14, 2014

'And Tango Makes Three'

I love the library. Any library. The architecture, the smells, that spaciousness and most of all, the books. If I have fond memories of the local library, that's because it opened my world to fantasy, goth and gore. Nobody in my army of strict Catholic caregivers stopped me from checking out witch rituals. They wanted to know what I was reading, without having to hide from them. As a result of my particular interest in these genres which can be deemed as Satanic or the Occult, I stumbled across the concept of controversial books and a list of 'banned publications'. It became that I started buying those books on the lists. After reading them, it didn't take long to understand why they've been banned or how they're controversial. Every book opens doors to different worlds. Whether I choose to adopt a book's opinions or whatever, is dependent on my independent thought processes. A result of nurturing from my non-judgmental non-traditional family and the excellent education system. The harder you try to put me in a box, the further I intend to jump away from it.

I love how everyone is speaking up. National Library Board (NLB) isn't remaining neutral like a library ought to be. The Singapore writers have spoken out and some have withdrawn from engagements involving the NLB. This is their livelihood, and they're willing to make a stand. Twenty years ago, this wouldn't have been possible. So I celebrate that. For the rest of us, we pen short polite firm letters about our views to NLB and its parent Ministry. Whatever views are all making themselves heard. So I'm not certain about what the heck is a "community norm" anymore. (About Penguin-gate herehereherehere and here.)

Your children, your values, your family, your rules. You do the parenting, not anyone else and certainly not the nanny state. You don't ask someone to think for you. And you don't deride the values others hold. Not if Singapore aspires to be the democratic society full of arts and culture like it has envisioned. Let us bring out debates over and over again in various nooks of society like what every progressive city does, and wisely learn to agree to disagree. 

We could argue till the cows come home about the reasons behind the ban. But one thing remains- PULPING BOOKS IS SO LAME. Of those books in our library fracas, I've only read 'And Tango Makes Three'. My copy is out on loan with the friends. When I was in Seattle, the girlfriend specifically asked me to buy this book for her children (who are at ages of nine, eight, three and two). Decided a personal copy is needed too. I like penguins. Appended is a a reading of the book. It's entirely your choice to hit 'play'.