Monday, March 27, 2017

'Norse Mythology'

It's with a whole lot of excitement that I turned off my phone to sit down to an uninterrupted read of Neil Gaiman's newly published 'Norse Mythology' (2017). This is a birthday present to myself—buying a book knowing that it'll turn out great, and having the luxury of time to finish it in one sitting with a pint of imperial stout too. (Reviews here, here and here.)

What a thoroughly splendid read. I went through the book twice. Remember that these 15 stories are Norse myths re-imagined by the author. Don't take them for exactly what Norse folklore has passed down. The book only scratches the surface of it, and certainly doesn't cover all Norse myths. It's also not all about Thor and Loki. And try to forget what Marvel sold you.

Kinda rolled eyes at 'The Master Builder'. Why do people always like the build walls to keep out undesired and unwanted things? "A wall," said Odin. "High enough to keep out frost giants. Thick enough that not even the strongest troll could batter its way through." In the early days when Asgard was undefended, and a huge wall was desired and a stranger offered to build it in three seasons, with the help of his horse Svadilfari. In return the stranger (who's really a mountain giant) wanted beautiful goddess Freya's hand in marriage, and the sun and the moon. And the gods agreed to these strange demands, no thanks to Loki's meddling.

Many people would admire Odin's horse, but only a brave man would ever mention its parentage in Loki's presence, and nobody ever dared to allude to it twice. Loki would go out of his way to make your life unpleasant if he heard you talking about how he lured Svadlifari away from its master and how he rescued the gods from his own bad idea. Loki nursed his resentments.  
And that is the story of how the gods got their wall.

'The Treasures of the Gods' is a hoot. When the "trouble-maker of gods" Loki is involved, everything is wicked cruel fun. A drunk Loki had pulled off Sif's (Thor's wife) hair while she was sleeping. He pulled it off by the roots, which meant it would never re-grow, and was forced by Thor to somehow get it back. He came up with a plan to get the dwarves to do it and in the process, held a competition between rival dwarf craftsmen to gauge the best treasures for the gods. This story gave us the 'backstory' of how Thor got his hammer, and how the gods got their greatest treasures.

"Loki," he said. "Loki has done this." 
"Why do you say that?" said Sif, touching her bald head frantically, as if the fluttering touch of her fingers would make her hair return. 
"Because," said Thor, "when something goes wrong, the first thing I always think is, it is Loki's fault. It saves a lot of time." 
Thor found Loki's door locked, so he pushed through it, leaving it in pieces. He picked Loki up and said only, "Why?"

Saturday, March 25, 2017

L's Wonderful Chicken Rice

L proudly proclaimed that after numerous tries, her Hainanese grandmother had given the seal of approval on her Hainanese chicken rice. She invited us over for a sampling. The other friends brought roast pork (char siew and siew yoke); the man and I contributed stir-fried greens of dou miao and baby kai lan.

Everyone has their preferred tastebuds and stalls when it comes to Hainanese chicken rice. If we want to simplify it, perhaps it can be summarized that if we're at Maxwell Food Center, we'll take Ah Tai (阿仔海南鸡饭) over Tian Tian (天天海南鸡饭) any day. So we're liking L's version very much.

L used the chicken stock to boil up a huge pot of soup. Fish maw soup with Fuzhou fishballs. Wow! Even the chilli was made from scratch. OMG. I ate that chilli like it was chutney. Every dish on that table was so good.

Yes yes, you know me and chicken. I generally skip the meat. I quite like chicken hearts, the steamed skin (I don't like chicken skin done in any other form) and especially the rice. I loved it enough to ask for seconds. Oof! Don't ask how much chicken fat went into it. Just eat it. So with additional dishes of vegetables, it worked very well as a satisfying meal for me.

The friends brought out a chocolate cake with the requisite candle for an early celebration of the man's birthday. Waaaah! Even I was clueless! They didn't let on a thing prior. Hahaha. Honestly, just the whole thing of hosting us to a homecooked dinner was already more than a gigantic present for the man. He was super touched by the friends' thoughts.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A New-ish Exercise Regime

People have started asking why have I been on a fitness blitz these two years, and noticeably more this year. "Is this your 2017 resolution?" NO! I don't bother setting new year resolutions anymore. I've kept up with the exercise regime for a long while. It's only more obvious this year because I have reached my desired equilibrium of food intake and exercise.

I'm particular about food of course. I'm so picky about taste and all that. But I'm also not going to be too pedantic about it in terms of counting calories. It helps that I've no interest in fried chicken, tempura and the sorts, and zero interest in sugar and dessert. My diet has long been shaped (or constricted) by my allergies. My stomach takes what my tastebuds want—a hearty salad and a bowl of somen in dashi and mushrooms have the same standing as a plate of nasi padang with a ton of sambal terasi and a bowl of nyonya laksa. I eat them whenever I want to. I live in a city where I have access to different types of foods and cuisines. No excuses there.

I've significantly cleaned up my diet, cut down majorly on meats, and very ostensibly, decrease alcohol intake, limiting it to a pint of beer or two drams of whisky. (The bar has certainly lost a lot of my business through no fault of the lovely staff or its wide range of whisky offered. 😛That's why some other people said "Impie, you've become boring! You're not fun anymore!" Hahaha. That was said in jest of course. They're close friends, and they know precisely my reasons, because they're doing it as well- reining in the excesses.

I'm not too concerned with my weight, as long as it doesn't creep back to the unhealthy 65kg in those years from 2005 to 2008. I haven't seen that number for a decade and I want to keep it that way. Not intending to lose weight. I want muscles. I eschew all supplements including BCAAs. After a heavy workout, I'd rather eat three bananas instead of 20g of BCAAs. If I drop the weight, I'm not going to get them toned muscles and core strength. My current weight tends to fluctuate between 49kg to 53 kg, I think. That's perfectly fine. I haven't weighed myself this year at all. Why bother? It's not necessary to obsess about it when the exercise regime is regular and conscientiously kept to, with two rest days in a week.

The equation is very simple, I'm driven by the cognizance of mortality. It's not a fear of death; it's about not yielding to it easy. I fear being tormented by long debilitating illnesses, and if I could avoid that, I'd like to do so.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lamb Shank Biryani at Al-Tasneem

Most nights, when there're no specific food cravings, the man and I fall back to biryani. I really really dislike pizza, which is a food item the man likes. At least we can agree on biryani, and Gokul, for all those meals of default food.

We have been heading out to Al-Tasneem for its delicious lamb shank biryani. At S$15 for a portion, that giant bone spells happiness for the man. It's quite a large serving, and enough to share. Unless you're really hungry. Am less enthusiastic about the lamb. I've tried bits of it. It's always pretty tender and flavorful. I love the curry and the biryani though.

We usually get there about 8.30pm, and somehow discovered that often, this is a good timing because the kitchen would have trotted out a fresh batch of lamb shanks and rice at about this hour. There're also sides of vegetables, which are done usually crunchy. Surprisingly. Many times, these vegetables are mushy.

We haven't even ordered much of its other foods on the menu because there's nothing else we want to eat at this eatery. They have mutton biryani, but that's very different. Most nights, they offer a bee hoon goreng putih with ikan bilis. It's not the best though. I've had varying degrees of quality, but they aren't as delicious as those say, at the eateries next door. Heheh.

Al-Tasneem Halal Restaurant
709 North Bridge Road (on the corner of Jalan Pinang)
Singapore 198681
T: +65 6291 1781 or +65 6298 2047
Hours: 8am to 11pm daily

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Anti-Gravity Fun

Began anti-gravity classes at the gym. I love them! If not for V who has been raving about how awesome they are, I wouldn't have even tried them out. I'm beginning to discern the differences between the gym's anti-gravity aerial/yoga and anti-gravity pilates. Am still afraid of face-planting though. I'm not fully acquainted with the techniques or how to fully utilize those silk hammocks, so learning how to do that is half the fun.

These classes feel like comfortable massage sessions; they're way less grueling than my usual pilates sessions at a dedicated studio. Sure, the poses are familiar, some form of flexibility and the same upper body and core strength are required, but not too tough. In fact, it's helping me stretch out those tight hamstrings and hip flexors. There're over 1200 poses in the teacher-training manual anyway, so the instructors always throw in challenging modifications to certain poses for students keen to try. The silk hammocks act as a leverage for most movements, making them easier, requiring way less effort. Imagine doing those inversions on the Cadillac. My gawwd. There're Level II and III classes, or you could ditch this gym and head out to the pole and aerial fitness studios, but what for? These are fun. I want a stretch, not a mad challenge or to become an aerialist.

I honestly think everyone that should go for at least five individual pilates sessions at some point. A good Pilates instructor can help you so much with form, posture and alignment, identify weak spots and teach you how to utilize your muscles. Once you get that, you're good to go for any type of classes without straining anything. However, gym classes are done in groups, and won't have the benefits of an instructor helping you to isolate those muscles and work on them specifically. You're on your own. I use the gym for strength training and some semblance of cardio workouts on days when I just want to move a little more.

📷: V, who cheekily took a shot of my nice big printed butt.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lunch at Elemen元素

J efficiently got us out for lunch at Elemen元素. Opened by the people behind Koufu, the vegetarian fusion menu is very on-trend. Ermm, it's got a super similar concept to SUFOOD, including the set menus, especially in those rosemary breadsticks. The breadsticks even looked the same.

It doesn't really make sense to order a la carte, when a main is already S$16++. So we opted for the S$23.80++ five-course menu which included a drink and a dessert. My apple kale juice totally hit a spot. J's iced lychee green tea was a tad sweet.

There were appetizers, and starters of a spinach salad and a double-boiled maca soup. My main of salted egg pasta was fine! Wasn't salty enough. :PpppP J's main of edamame tofu with black truffle wild rice was delicious. I suppose you kinda need to like Chinese desserts- they were safe enough in the form of coconut-infused jelly with watermelon sorbet, and snow osmanthus with grass jelly. The portions were totally sufficient for me. Bigger stomachs might want to go for the eight-course set.

I liked the food! Whatever I had that day was low on salt and pretty tasty. But I didn't think they went low on sugar too. Ha! Lunch was good, and the company made it all the more delightful. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

These Sardonic Funny Stories

I know nothing about John Jodzio. But I was totally bowled over by his 17 short stories in 'Knockout' (2016). For once, Kindle blurbs didn't oversell this book. It's funny, quirky, dark, sarcastic and very clever. The endings of the grim and almost-bizarre stories are abrupt, and perhaps intentionally done so. (Reviews here, here and here.)

It's tough to pick a favorite. I re-read quite a few simply because they were so delicious. Most of the characters in this book are misfits in society, and yet remain hopeful. Title story 'Knockout' tells of how a recovering drug addict and his best rehab pal Tommy learn the secret of knocking animals and people out by squeezing this spot behind the neck. They tried to steal a tiger, and how in the end his father had to shoot the tiger when it tried to maul them. The whole story says a lot of one's choice of friends, and relationship with a stern father.

'Duplex' plays out like a mini television series. It's just bizarre. The protagonist meets an unfortunate roommate Jayhole who is an erstwhile bounty-hunter and tortures everyone with his practical jokes and refuses to let them move out, to the point of handcuffing them to the bed frame. They have one weird upstairs neighbor Caruso. Strange happenings ensued. The protagonist is only free of Jayhole when his past- his ex-wife and daughter caught up with him to hound him for maintenance and child support, and he fled.

In the end, I decided the best plan of attack to survive the next few weeks was to avoid Jayhole as much as possible. To make it harder for Jayhole to keep tabs on me, I started to climb in and out of my room through my window. When I was inside my room, I used a flashlight and moved around slowly, trying not to make my floorboards creak. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the darkness, but soon I became proficient at eating soup from a bowl I couldn't see and pissing into a Snapple bottle using only the faint light of the moon.

'Our Mom-And-Pop Opium Den' ostensibly talks about the competition between opium den versus a big-box opium den. The small shop is struggling to survive, and in need of a huge amount of cash injection to pay off bills and the mortgage. However, the sub-plot also takes a look at the relationship with the protagonist and his ill father, and their regular customers who haven't gone over to the big chain Opium Depot yet. It also reveals how he refused to be cowed or bribed by Opium Depot's big boss Windom to bow out of business. The father seems to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and might or might not have died when he 'attacked' Opium Depot's huge balloon gorilla mascot on the roof.

Our place looks almost exactly the same as when he opened the doors thirty years ago. Red and gold walls. Silk tassels hanging from every goddamn thing. I've worked the register since I was eight and for the last twenty years I've watched hundreds of people kill themselves slowly and convincingly. It makes me sad to think I probably won't get to see our current group of regulars meet their maker too. 
My father pushes dirty sheets into the washing machine, pulls clean ones from the dryer. Outside our doors, all bets are off, but inside here, he's still a huge help to me. Inside here, he can sometimes make me forget he forgets. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Coffee In A Chocolate Cone

It was just before lunch and I was at a random cafe getting a banana and a coffee when J's text came in. Went 'WTF' and stared up really hard at the microwave oven behind the cashier. (See reference to surveilance gadgets.)

How would she know where I was when I didn't update anything on social media or talked to anyone since waking up five hours ago?! I was a little busy to be staring at the phone anyway, till now. The text read, "Are you going to be in the Duxton area at lunch time by any chance?" Ehhhhh, yes, I was headed to Duxton Road in fifteen minutes.

J really really really wanted this coffee in a chocolate cone cup at MavRx Coffee Apothecary. She said it had been months since the tiny coffeeshop brought in these cone-cups. Obviously she wanted it enough to hightail out of the office downtown to get a caffeine injection. LOL. Needless to say, I was very impressed by her dogged determination to get a good cup of caffè latte. Never underestimate a caffeine craving.

I stop by MavRx rather often to get a to-go cup. I was happy to see the woman on a random date, and certainly didn't mind a second cup of coffee. Merrily strolled over to Duxton Road. It was only slightly past noon. Coffee was nutty and all chocolate. At S$10 a chocolate-cone-cup, this was dessert, totally. (Their regular coffee with milk is S$5.) It was good!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fitness Goals

The friends and I have kinda stopped heading out for drinks. I've purposefully cut down on alcohol for the past two years. I think I'm doing pretty well. The friends are beginning to do that too, on the premise that we don't have fatty livers and any sudden medical conditions that have attacked the body as a catalyst for a renewed interest in upkeeping our fitness levels. We seem to want to do this as a pre-emptive measure.

When the friends and I try to match schedules for a meal this year, we keep hearing,

"I've got yoga. Can't do that timing. How about an hour later?" 
"I'm headed to the gym! How about tomorrow?" 
"I'm doing inversions today. Can't eat before. Can we do a late lunch?" 
"I'm tied for pilates. Can we shift lunch later? Or get a coffee earlier?" 
"I'll be all hot and sweaty after spin class. Can we do hawker centers or kopitiams?"

What's up with this year? It seems as though everyone has consciously allocated time for fitness pursuits of their choices. The only problem- we don't always want to do the same activities or head to the same type of gyms and studios. The gyms and studios we've signed up with also hold different cancellation policies, so it also depends on who's more flexible on the matter re-scheduling classes.

But we love one another and do want to meet. We either grudgingly trudge to the other's class just to check it out or take it as cross-training, or we shift schedules to meet for meals after whoever's classes. Long may this continue!