Wednesday, August 31, 2016

'Black Sun' by Sardono W. Kusumo


Conceived and choreographed by Indonesian artist Sardono W. Kusumo under the umbrella of The Sardono Retrospective and presented at SIFA, contemporary dance piece 'Black Sun' is inspired by the the people and their way of life in Indonesia's easternmost province Papua.

'Black Sun' was born when Sardono Kusumo saw a solar eclipse in March 2016. The choreographer-director had taken a photo of the solar eclipse and poetically saw a group of people around the black sun in a cloud formation. He linked it to Papua and called this piece a "tribute to life, earth and survival, both primal and sophisticated", full of lament, social and political overtones.

Hitam kulit, keriting rambut. Aku Papua.  
Black skin, curly hair. I am Papua.

The performance adopts the vocal and physical vocabulary from Papua with 11 dancers and two vocalists. Then there was a technical artist who wore a giant koteka and at one juncture, ran around two acrylic guns blazing with colored lights. That was jarring. I didn't have to stretch the imagination very much to get the idea of the destruction of nature and humans by aggressors and their modern equipment. One of the dancers' foot was bleeding. He probably cut it when stamping on the metal rivets and rough edges.

The 11 dancers were never far from their metal half-spheres. Okay, they really looked like giant woks without handles. The dancers lay within, stretched, stomped and moved around with the half-spheres. That was a fairly powerful image. But at the start, I had mistakenly thought them to be clams on the seabed. o.O I felt that the dancers could have done more. Or rather the choreography could have been stronger, and gone deeper with the dance. It was a bit of a letdown. In an interview with SIFA, Sardono Kusumo said that the piece highlights the plight of the "boat people", of displaced humans and refugees floating in the ocean. He said,

They know only that they have to leave their land, not where to go. They have only a little space in their very little boats. Day after day, floating in the ocean, they are burnt by the heat of the sun.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

This Toenail is Finally Healing


Applying Loceryl nail lacquer definitely helps to alleviate onychomycosis. It has been five months of conscientiously treating the problematic right big toenail with it, and the nail has begun sticking to the nailbed. The eeky thickened yellow ends are fading and new parts are growing out flat in a healthy pink hue. Whew.

Nobody is interested in my toenails but me. But this is a record of what's going on in my head, so I'm just gonna post scary photos of ugly toenails and feet. Haven't dared to go to a nail salon for months for fear of new infection or leaving horrible spores all over the place to infect others.

Toe nails are always chopped short and bald for very good reasons. Am clumsy. I don't want any bits of nail to be caught on anything. Eeeeps. Nowadays, I don't even bother with varnish on the toenails just so I could stare at them to catch any form of early infection of whatever, and also eczema. This is the healthiest my toenails have ever been, especially the right big toenail. Five more months of treatment should do it. Till I next stub it again, which happens fairly often. Likely gonna get tineacide spray in a low dosage for preventive purposes.

Monday, August 29, 2016

鹿港尋味


I was quite taken by Xin Dai's (心岱) essay about stewed ducks, her parents and herself in a separate compilation. Went out to buy her recently published book 《鹿港尋味》(loosely translated into 'Searching for Flavors in Lugang', or Lukang, a township in Changhua County, Taiwan).

I like this sort of books about food when it also takes the trouble to introduce the historical development of cuisines. Xin Dai explains how Lugang got its notable dishes and how the town built its bonds with homegrown chefs and foods. She talks more about her father who is a learned businessman, and how she became intimately acquainted with foods and flavors as a young child following her father around in the kitchen and restaurants, and observing his friendship flourish with his friends who were chefs.

我的父親沒有買過玩具給我,我的童年除了墨香與貓咪外,難忘的就是食物的滋味,他從未希望我成就什麼,只是揭露了一個好玩的角落、讓我窺見人間有天堂,想來,父親影響我的就是讓我分享了他的浪漫與祕密。

Her book holds photos of the dishes she talks about, together with recipes. Hahaha. Definitely saved me from a lot of googling for food photos while reading. Often, I have no idea of what the foods are till I see the images online, and the recipes give it an additional boost in case I somehow feel like re-creating any of the dishes. :P

In 《最草根的筵席文化:辦桌》, it's quite an educational read about those 'town banquets' (辦桌) that temples or village heads host. The chefs who provide the food are often cooking in open-air kitchens over charcoal stoves. I guess this is a familiar sight in Singapore about a decade ago? I've seen those Chinese temples' festivities which do banquets that way. Too young to have known kampung feasts which would have been similar. Now because of the convenience of catering and hygiene, it's easy to simply cater from a central kitchen. The last time I ate a meal like that, was in northern Yunnan during a village festival. There's something really charming about it, and those memories last a lifetime.


Lugang is next to the sea, so seafood is plentiful. Mantis shrimps (蝦蛄) are in season during spring festival but mainly eaten by the poorer folks with porridge because of its natural saltiness, discussed at length in the chapter 《非蝦非蟹:蝦蛄(蝦猴)》. Apparently prawn balls and shrimp cakes (用沙蝦做蝦丸、閩南語稱‘熗蝦’) are popular in Lugang. Those make interesting points to know. But I'm hot about deep fried items. Not even if they're done in an air-fryer. Also less keen on the noodle or pork dishes. Of course the local small oysters are popular too, not eaten raw, but cooked in all forms of soup, omelette, noodles and fried patties (蚵仔煎、蚵仔湯). The stomach of the drum fish (鮸魚) is a delicacy, meticulously recounted in 《乾貨中的鑽石:鮸魚肚》. 

台灣俗語說:「有錢吃鮸,無錢免吃。」古人認為有錢的時候,寧可捨棄鮑魚、龍蝦,也要選擇鮸魚,這意味著鮸魚肉的美味是人間極品,不可錯過。另有美食排行俗語這樣說:「一午、二鮸、三家鱲。」鮸魚雖然排行第二,但「鮸魚肚」卻是乾貨中的鑽石。

There's a number of other dishes that piqued my interest. In this book, Xin Dai talks about stewed duck (燉鴨) again, and gave a detailed recipe on how to cook it. It's the same essay as the one published in Jiao Tong and Hong Huishan's 'Best Taiwanese Food Writing 2015', 焦桐和洪珊慧主編的《飲食文選》. In this book, she wrote  a variation with a ginger-based gravy as well, 薑母鴨. Those look good. Unfortunately I don't get very good quality ducks in Singapore, unless I order them specially from say...Huber's and other similar butchers. The cost of the ingredients is going to be slightly daunting; that means I can't afford to screw up the cooking process. Ugh.

姑婆曾交代我,燉煮薑母鴨不難,這是運用時間來入味的料理,時間等同調味料,不能糟蹋了。 
是不能糟蹋時間,還是不能糟蹋食材?當時,我不明白姑婆的意思,也不敢問,直到磨薑時殘留沁入手指的辛辣味完全消失時(每天洗手百來次,洗了三個多月,幾乎罹患強迫症),我才懂得這道辛酸的料理,正是我的「心經」。


Then there's the chapter 《一年一次的天賜佳餚:烏魚子》which talks about Taiwan's high quality mullets (烏魚). Or rather their roe烏魚子 or what we call 'bottarga'. The fish is in season for the 10 days before and after winter solstice, and Lugang is right along the southwest Taiwan seas where they spawn. The fish is bursting with rich roe by the time they move into the seas off Lugang. The chapter included a paragraph on how to bake/grill your roe. Mmmmm, what I love, karasumi. I make a note to hit Japanese restaurants during this season to eat all I want, and I try to get a few pieces from Taiwan as well to prep it at home for awesome nibbling. The Taiwanese make expensive gifts out of this luxury product. The author also mentioned about rampant corruption in the town in the early days when she was a child, by way of trading in mullet roe.

記得小時候有一陣子,常會在午夜聽到有人敲門,聽說是稅務機關人員來盤查。為何在午夜查稅?其實擺明了就是來索賄,查稅只是讓商家恐懼的藉口罷了,這在1940、1950年代的台灣是常見的事。那時媽媽一邊哭,一邊與父親大吵,大家都難以入睡;讓我更難忘的是,次日媽媽就會去南北乾貨店訂烏魚子,一訂就是兩打-表示有許多人頭需要打點。在那個黑暗時代,小民為了營生,只能忍辱付出昂貴代價買平安。

The book included a map of Lugang. I'm almost tempted to make a trip to visit the area. I'm still not impressed with what I ate in Taipei on all those trips. Perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough because these books about Taiwanese food have told me all about those yummy food that I couldn't easily find in Taipei if routes on work trips don't lead me there. Somehow, I feel that the best Taiwanese dishes (especially non-pork based) are found in the small towns.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Lobster Laksa at Pince & Pints


Until the girlfriend pointed out that Pince & Pints offers lobster laksa as a menu special for the months of August and September, I didn't even know about it. Off we went for dinner. The restaurant takes reservations now, making it less of a pain to get a table at peak dinner hour. In fact, if you walk in at 9pm before they take last orders, you'll probably get a table for two quite easily.

Lobsters are delicious like that. Done Thermidor or with truffles is quite an overkill. Grilled or steamed is best. The friends ordered theirs done in the simplest ways and had a fun time digging out the flesh. The kitchen cooked both methods beautifully. Good to know that Pince & Pints kept the standards. I like their prices versus quality of food very much.

I went straight for the lobster laksa. It was the only thing on my mind all day. Hahahaha. Dinner was something to look forward to at the end of a looooong day of meetings. Luckily the dish isn't just available at lunch or sold out by the time we ordered. I had a half portion instead of the full crustacean. Mmmm. The sambal wasn't on point, but the stock was properly done, and lobster nicely steamed. Definitely hit a spot. I'm coming back for another bowl of tasty lobster laksa.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Consciously Scooping


As I scooped and lengthened the back to straighten those hamstrings upwards, I laughed. (See photo above.) Realized that unless my arms grew longer, I couldn't exactly straighten those legs no matter how much the back is lifted. Shouldn't over-extend 'em knees either. Not a contortionist. Hahahaha. All right then. Settled for maximum stretch than letting go of the bar.

Well, this isn't new exercise bandwagon I just hopped on. I've been doing it for years. Except that I sometimes slack off here and there. I might talk more about it now because the friends are asking about the benefits of pilates versus say paying your chiropractor or a massage on a weekly basis. They know that I managed to resolve my almost-carpal-tunnel-syndrome in my right hand and that constant frozen muscle and spasms up the right shoulder through a combination of swimming and intensive pilates. A really simple reminder- if you hurt that bad to have to go for weekly massages, then you should be looking at more effective long-term solutions.

It's not about having this super flexible body. Doesn't need to be so. There's nothing to prove. All I'm doing is strengthening muscles to hold up my bones when osteoporosis and old age set in. It's about utilizing every muscle and understanding how they work. I'm fond of the Cadillac. It's like this awesome massage bed. When I let my attention slip and go for ages without stretching consciously, I lose strength and imbalance seeps in. Running doesn't fully help. It builds cardio and all that, but it doesn't resolve the tightness in the quads and hamstrings. That's when the aches begin. It takes weeks to balance out the body dynamics.

It also took time to remember to consciously utilize both shoulders for this move (pictured below). It's meant to articulate the spine and we do slow reps to fully peel up and down. So if you rely on pure arm strength without drawing on the back of shoulders and engaging the core, you might erm...fall after six reps. I usually do 10 slow ones to fully articulate the spine vertebrae by vertebrae.

Keep lean. Stay strong.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chef Carles Gaig's Summer Menu


The lovely vibes of La Ventana and the consistent standards of food have kept me visiting fairly often. I like its paella and the friendly dishes on the menu. This August, Chef Carles Gaig was in town to present a summer menu of seven courses focusing on black truffles, turbot, and Presa Ibérica. Hopped in with the friends for a taste.

Loved the ajoblanco (a white gazpacho with green grapes and green apples as opposed to the red with roasted tomatoes and red peppers)cold soup of garlic and fresh almond with marinated Atlantic cod and the super decadent cannelloni stuffed with summer truffles and cow cheese with truffle cream. Mmmm. These were welcomed calories. The deep fried octopus with sweet potatoes were good too. Tough to go wrong with fried stuff.

Turbot and lobster suquet.
I'm not keen on the seared duck foie-gras and cherries soaked in Cassis or the charcoal-grilled Presa Ibérica with pimentos del Padrón. Or rather I passed the meats to my dining companions but ate the cherries, morels and Padrón peppers. Didn't bother to request for seafood replacements or vegetarian substitutes. Of course I didn't pass on the fish. That's my main protein! It was done in a suquet (Catalan seafood stew) of juicy turbot and lobster. Luckily I saved a piece of bread to go with it. :P It was gorgeous.

I didn't know what to make of the dessert, which was a pineapple cannelloni stuffed with vanilla mousse with burnt whisky infusion. The whisky used was not very nice. I wanted it to morph into a Malibu pineapple cocktail or rum, or just a glass of single malt with citrus notes, as long as it wasn't in this fashion on the plate. Anyway, I never care about desserts.

This isn't an inventive menu, which is what I like about La Ventana. They do what they know best. These are well-thought-out familiar dishes excellently cooked. That's all that's needed. That's exactly what I look for in a meal of comfort foods.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sardono W. Kusumo's Dance Art


Under the umbrella of The Sardono Retrospective at SIFA 2016, Indonesian artist Sardono W. Kusumo performed this two-hour piece in front of an audience over two days last weekend. It was lovely weather for an outdoor performance in the late afternoon from 5pm to 7pm.

We watched the artist paint onto an elevated large canvas as seven other dancers move around with four huge canvases at the fountain of the Malay Heritage Center. The canvases began blank and were slowly colored by the spray of the fountain and whatever colors the artist chose to splash on it. I'm so impressed that the venue took extra effort to consider the cleaning up after the show, and allowed for such a form of artistic expression and ink to flow out of the fountain instead of the usual clear water. It made for a enjoyable show.


Sardono Kusumo is a dancer who has danced for most of his life, and now, he's a painter. He has taken both art forms and expressed them on big-frame canvases. He said that it's not so much about the visuals and creating a museum-worthy piece. It's more of understanding how the paints and oils could dance for the artist as well as the audience.

The dancers twirled and rolled about in the thin columns of black spray. The friends whispered, "Hope they're using non-toxic paints." Yah man. We could smell the ink, reminiscent of the type used in Chinese painting. The dancers were thoroughly soaked. Shuddered at the thought of the paints going into the eyes or if the dancers have allergies. UGH. But the dancers' costumes didn't absorb the black ink. The costumes looked like stylized wetsuits. Very cool.

I happened to like one of the paintings very much, especially how it formed its character at the at the 1.5-hour mark. That was fairly complete, I thought. Then more colors were added and I didn't like it so much after all. Picked another favorite in black and blue as the performance ended and no more colors were added to the mix. Loud appreciative applause was given to all the performers for this unique audience experience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Kite

Went to Kite for dinner with the friends when we were all zonked after a long day of meetings. None of us have been there. Picked it because our last meetings for the day were in the vicinity and we weren't in a picky mood about food. Hahahaha. The restaurant is more than six months old and ought to have ironed out most kinks. The people behind SPRMRKT founded Kite and put together a team for the bar and the kitchen. Cocktails were good and their choices of beer were fine.

The friends bravely ordered dehydrated chicken skin with bourbon glaze and juniper. Hahahah. The kitchen had thoughtfully rid as much fats as possible and it was delicious. Heh. The somen was fun. I wanted to try its leek and prawns in lupcheong oil, but that was on the old menu. :( What they had that night was somen with scallops, unagi and tobiko. It's difficult to get this wrong. I love these sort of flavors in a bowl. Couldn't resist the sous vide salmon trout at 42°C with seaweed, apples and sesame (which were effectively furikake). Also had the tiny bits of delicious lime sambal stingray with calamansiserundeng and grain foam.


There was a 300-day grain-fed wagyu onglet with bulgogi salsa, burnt corn and shishito peppers. The table didn't mind a wagyu onglet in the same way they don't mind a rump that's wagyu. Erm, I didn't see or taste any shishito peppers in this one. They looked and tasted like random leafy vegetables. A pity. There was a Mangalica pork collar with you tiao velouté and spiced broth. The friends liked it. But I'm not a fan.

The dessert they ordered was damn weird- panna cotta with pink peppercorn, strawberries, coriander and coconut. Totally out of my comfort zone. The friends didn't mind it. t was surprised they didn't order all three desserts on the menu. While the chocolate forest was conservative and likely dependable, the yuzu curd sounded interesting with its milk soil, wolf berries and lime yoghurt.

We didn't have any expectations of the restaurant. Portions are small, but good for sharing between two people. Order double portions for a table of three or four. We were fairly pleased with our meal. It was pretty good in its interpretation of Asian fusion. It's not mind-blowing, but they offer flavors I'd do at home. On nights I don't feel like cooking, dining out at Kite is a great convenient alternative. I hope it survives the cut-throat F&B scene and hang around for a while.