Monday, October 23, 2017

The Harbinger of Death

Had to pick up Catherine Webb a.k.a Kate Griffin a.k.a Claire North's 'The End of the Day' (2017). After reading her earlier books which either talked about one soul or one mind living different lives across the centuries, or jumping across bodies and consciousness, I went slow with this one. Catherine Webb fills her stories with so many details that it's impossible to rush through them.

In 'The End of the Day', the very ordinary protagonist Charlie has an extraordinary job. Charlie is a human, and is a Harbinger of Death, i.e. his boss is Death. Charlie's job is to visit people whose names are on Death's list, but it doesn't necessary mean they will die. Charlie's visit will either be a warning, or to honor their impending death. He's well, a harbinger who brings gifts as instructed, and depending on the individual's reaction and action to the gifts, Death will either pass them by, or take them. (Reviews hereherehere and here.)

Charlie's job isn't exactly a secret. He pays taxes, and he can introduce himself as such, and describe his job to strangers. He also has a girlfriend Emmi, who's a teacher and seems to be into him for real. We follow him on his job which involves trips to visit the people, to war-torn countries, to Iceland, suburban England, etc. We listen to his stories and experiences. People differ in their treatment of Charlie- he cannot be bought or paid to go away. The job has his path cross with the other apoca­lyptic horsemen (or women)- Famine, Pestilence, and War. They're all humans, and can depend on a company called Milton Keynes to sort out the mundane details of travel and car hire. Death can be a male or a female, it all depends on what the dying choose to see.

Then he got kidnapped in Manhattan, as expected for someone with his job, and tortured for information about Death and what a Harbinger does. He then has a mind shift about his job. He knew what he was getting into, of course, but he found it hard to keep that neutrality. I felt that I was reading a huge chunk of metaphors throughout the story. The story is set in a fairly bleak climate (current), Brexit, developers buying up council flats in suburban London and all that. Generally, the world is pissy, everyone is pissed off at everyone else. How does one deal with Charlie, and what he stands for? And ultimately, how does one greet the eventuality that is Death? I think this might be a book readers will hate it or love it. I love it.

"And now I look at the world and I was honoured, I was honoured to be your Haringer because I honoured life. I was everything you wanted me to be,  I went and I did honour to the living before the end, and it was a privilege. It was the greatest privilege that can be bestowed. And now I look and all I hear is the beating of the drums and all I see is a world in which to not be one of us is to be something else. The scientist is right, reason is dead; the dream is dead; humanity has changed into something new and it is brutal. It is ugly. Life is ugly. And it is obscene. And I look. And all I see is you."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Grade I Sprained Ankle

The man stumbled while walking on flat ground and twisted his ankle. He got to an ice pack quickly and iced it at regular intervals for the next few hours, put on an ankle brace and alternated it with KT tape. Basically, RICE. The next day, it still hurt and was swollen. Inflammation of the ligaments and tendons. Poor thing. The level of pain indicated that there shouldn't be any hairline fractures around the calcaneus. While it didn't seem too serious, one would never know if the talus bone has been moved out of alignment and if it could move back on its own once the swelling subsides.

The man said he has a weak ankle, and during his youth, sprains aren't uncommon and by now, are likely chronic. So some sort of professional treatment would be necessary even for a Grade I sprain. The man and I differ in opinions when it comes to treating muscle aches, strain, sprains and all that. If I sustain an injury beyond RICE, and the aid of simple analgesics like Biofreeze, I zoom straight to the chiropractor or the physiotherapist. I do not go anywhere near the realm of TCM, not even when it’s simple soups and food. For the man, he is open to TCM treatments (traditional Chinese medicine), including taking the herbs and all. Importantly, he doesn't have eczema or seem to have severe allergic reactions to the herbs. So he went off to seek treatment at a dependable Eu Yan Sang TCM clinic.

We were pleased when the TCM practitioner said tui na (TCM trigger point therapy, 推拿) would be the worst treatment, and he was glad that we stuck to icing the ankle rather than going to tui na. PLEASE. I tried very hard not to roll my eyes. If any TCM practitioner worth his salt suggested tui na as the solution for a swollen ankle without asking to see X-rays, I'd hightail out of the consultation room. Even a Grade I sprain cannot be rubbed away.

What the man got- a short session of acupuncture to reduce internal bleeding and ease the build-up of fluids, a two-day herbal poultice, and anti-inflammatory herbs to ingest for four days (the standard stuff; I asked about the precise composition) were prescribed. Very nice. As we hobbled out of the clinic, the man grinned wryly at me.,"Happy Anniversary!" 🤣 Riiight. The 18th of October marked another year of living up to the terms in a ketubah. We haven’t bothered to celebrate it, except quietly so, in our hearts. But yeah, in sickness and in health indeed.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Happy Diwali 2017!

I was a little confused about all the lovely invitations to Diwali meals on the Singapore public holiday of 18th October. It's a five-day festival, except the frantic urban pace necessitates adapting the mode and pacing of the celebrations. There was even a work lunch thingy. I was kinda expecting to do all these over the weekend or early next week. 😄

Then I realized that Diwali this year for the friends was actually celebrated on the day after, on the 19th. So the work associates and friends made use of the opportunity to host gatherings a day earlier on a public holiday where many people could attend. It was fun! Food was delicious, of course. Homecooked awesome-ness. Loved those. To love and light.

What I was intrigued by, were the desserts and sweets the hosts chose. This year, many sugared items adopted a contemporary take, especially for the mithai (sweets). I like the burfi (or 'barfi'). It went low on sugar, rosewater, nutmeg and cardamon (not my favorite combination of spices). It went higher on the volume of dark chocolate and nuts, instead of sticking to traditional single nut choices in plain peanut, almond cashew or pistachio. I have no idea what the hosts did to balance out the condensed milk or what would be a decent substitute, but it worked! The squares of burfi were good.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

In the Living Room with Nicholas Chim

It was very generous and brave of B to open up his home to host a mini living room concert. Not ticketed of course. Many responded, and sat down for a mellow and intimate evening with local singer-songwriters Fym Summer (Foo Yumin), Debra Khng and Nicholas Chim.

As how it works with these gigs, I didn't need to schmooze. I didn't know everyone in the room, but ended up chatting with people I sat next to. B's two cats were so curious, but weren't too fussed with the humans. We brought our own drinks and nibbles. B told us to use the fridge at will since people bought stuff to share. Crackers, chips, and cheese. There might even have been a pizza. There were beers, whisky and wine. I brought a little tumbler of iced water that kept cold. It was tasty when I needed to go alcohol-free for an intense cardio session in the morning.

Nicholas Chim has written new songs, and is headed off to Europe on a ‘Terrible Luck’ tour. Debra Khng will join him on this European sojourn. He did his new single ‘Down The Way’, and it sounded really good. Different from his earlier songs. Lots of new influences in the music. What a lovely way to spend an evening. Good luck and have fun, Nick!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

da:ns :: Stuttgart Ballet’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’

You know I have no fondness for Shakespeare and his romantic tragedies, silly star-crossed lovers, the Capulets and Montagues. But I sat through ‘Romeo & Juliet’ performed by the Stuttgart Ballet at Esplanade’s dan:s festival. The ballet was accompanied by Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra in the pit playing Prokofiev’s familiar compositions.

Some of the friends weren't impressed with the leads for the other nights. (The leads changed for each night of the Singapore performances.) The performance I watched had Alicia Amatriain as Juliet and Friedemann Vogel as Romeo. That pas de deux was just a tad underwhelming. I’ve watched many many many Romeos & Juliets. This one belongs to John Cranko’s (1927-1973) choreography. This 50-year-old choreography is conservative and I suppose, somewhat relevant since it's a classic staple in any company's repertoire. The ballet company is technically very strong.

I ignored the story, and resolutely stuck to watching the dance, its movements and the dancers. At least I could rave about that at the post-performance drinks and supper instead of being negative and letting on to acquaintances just how much I bloody hate ‘Romeo & Juliet’ (detest, really, since I had to study it in school), the plot and the play. I'm very fond of Stuttgart Ballet's productions. 'Romeo & Juliet' isn't their strongest showing, but it still made for a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Deanston X PIM PAM

Went for a Deanston whisky tasting + dinner hosted by PIM PAM by FOC and Quaich Bar. They had invited (Deanston Distillery is owned by Distell Group Limited, who also owns Bunnahabhain and Tobermory.) The bar launched its specially bottled Deanston 14 y.o in Spanish oak cask, and I was curious about it. I can be rather fixed in my whisky preferences, so tastings done this way are a great opportunity for the tastebuds to try new flavors. Tonight, the Deanston Virgin Oak, and the 18y.o spoke to me.

Blinked at the dinner menu. That was a loong list of food! The selected tapas served weren't decent. But I couldn't stomach that much food and had the friends take my portions. The Spanish anchovies were wonderfully salty, delicious and full of umami. Dessert was churros with chocolate sauce that everyone loved; as usual I gave away mine. Haha. I was really only waiting for the squid ink paella with prawns. Hurhurhur. In fact, I could have had two servings of that and skipped all the previous fun tapas selections. FOC’s paella never disappoints at any of its three locations.

The wonderful thing about this dinner- it was more casual instead of the usual fine dining style adopted for food and whisky pairings. The friends and I weren’t placed at the communal table! Yayyyy! Didn’t need to schmooze or show fake interest in people (who could be nice, but nobody really needs a bump up in the number of facebook friends)! Got a table to ourselves and managed to have more meaningful chats since the surroundings weren't that noisy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

'Finding Comfort in Food'

Glanced at the email that came in and opened it up. Sounded like it deserved a proper read. It was from Life & Thyme, and carried senior editor Stef Ferrari’s introduction and summary of the weekend edition with the subject ‘Carrying On’. She referenced feelings about the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Music Festival shooting, and wrote,

And yes, eating can be a brief interlude from insanity; food has always had an element of escapism. But it's also been critical to communication, to collecting and connecting people in one place, to giving a reason to sit down and strategize. And it is still important for us to take care of ourselves and one another so we can continue to have the conversations that will help us illicit change. 
Real revolutions have been planned at cafés and around dinner tables throughout history. Let us not forget the strength we have in numbers—and one way to accumulate those numbers is to sit down, share a meal, inspire thought and exchange ideas.

It's a sobering introduction and a reminder that we don't live in a bubble where everyone shares the same opinions and feelings, or rationality. The magazine is fairly America-centric, but it tries to diversify its content and works with writers who actually can write, and know their stuff. This isn't about food reviews or fine dining. It's about honest-to-goodness foods we know.

We tend to sit down with people whose company we enjoy. In this format, we tend to be a little more forgiving about the quality of food on the table. We're lucky that Singapore offers many decent dining options, and even takeaway portions turn out well at potluck parties. Often, we treasure homecooked meals because those are prepped with sincerity and much effort.

I enjoy the stories Life & Thyme carries. Loads of good stories about great food from everywhere. I like to read about food when they're written like that. In this edition, there're many good articles, as usual. Deepi Ahluwalia's 'Bone Deep: East Meets West' talks about 'the fine line between appreciation and appropriation'. For someone like me who grew up in a multi-cultural family speaking a myriad of languages, the food I was fed with also came from a mixture of many cultures. I'm never very sure if I know the fine line, or what exactly others might perceive as 'appropriation'. But yes, when I cook, I seek to re-create the true flavors and understand the reason behind certain cooking methods. Once I understand the science, I can make the necessary tweaks to suit whatever my kitchen lacks.

Carolyn Phillips's 'Good Graces' talked about her Chinese mother-in-law who was visiting them at their Long Beach apartment in the autumn of 1978. She had invited her Chinese mother-in-law over just to feed her some homemade Northern Chinese dishes, instead of the Cantonese style dishes Los Angeles offered when her husband's clan gathers. I couldn't stop laughing. Finally, the mother-in-law opened up to her, and even to the husband (her son), about stories from her youth.

Nevertheless, I pester my husband for more clues, and one day he mentions the steamed little thimbles called chestnut wowotouer. When a tattered Chinese memoir tells me that such pastries had also been a favorite of the Dowager Empress Cixi, I can’t help but make a few inappropriate connections in my mind between the famed old lady who had once terrorized the Forbidden Palace and the one who is so nonchalantly intimidating me now. 
As she slows down, I realize from her story that she had never managed to leave China––and especially her hometown––behind. There was too much unsettled business back there in Tianjin that still had to be addressed, processed and perhaps even forgiven. And then by never bothering to learn to drive or speak much English or even make a friend or two here, she had managed to keep America a distant reality safely beyond her family’s walls. That is, at least until I came along. My defensiveness wanes as I no longer see her as my tormentor, but rather as someone who has simply turned her life in on itself.

Brooklyn Chef Hetty McKinnon shares her recipe for spinach and garlic chive dumplings in an essay titled 'Finding Comfort in Food', and tells her story of childhood memories and smells. I love dumplings. Except that I'm not a fan of meat dumplings. I love vegetarian dumplings. At some points, I might try out her recipe. She wrote,

Comfort food is not fancy or complicated. Its roots are humble, stemming from family and home. Across the world today, we see people on social media, and friends in the real world, turning to comfort food to heal pain—political or otherwise. Baking is on the rise, dinner parties have taken on new relevance, and the kitchen has become the small place in this vast world where we feel safest and most powerful. During hard times, food and memory become our sharpest weapon against isolation and affliction. Comfort food trumps all.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pangdemonium's 'Fun Home'

Took a deep breath and sat through Pangdemonium’s musical ‘Fun Home’ written by Lisa Kron, and with music by Jeanine Tesori. This musical is based on Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir 'Fun Home' (2007).

I like Alison Bechdel's humor in her drawings, and I love her honest and frank sharing in her autobiographical memoir about her struggle with gender identities and roles, and the painful relationship with her father, a funeral director in the family business of operating a funeral home. But, well, this is a musical, and would unfortunately involve singing. The ‘fun’ in the title stands for funeral. I’m not sure that the grahic novel translates well onto stage as a musical. It felt a little, thin. Perhaps it was in the way it was presented. But yeah, it’s the dramatization of one person’s family and personal drama, identifiable with many.

The singing on stage was a little grating, never mind how good it might be. I cannot deal with singing when one could simply speak. There was one song I didn’t mind- when the children sang the cute little tune as a ‘commercial’ to their funeral home business while dancing around and atop the coffin. Think it's called 'Come to the Fun Home'. I obediently lasted through the 80-minute musical. It’s a fitting round-up to their 2017 season which has depicted alternative family models instead of the traditional ones we know and what our society is comfortable with.

Bought the theatre company's 2018 season ticket. Looked at its line-up and realized that I'd probably watch one out of its three scheduled shows ('The Father' written by Florian Zeller), because I've watched 'Dragonflies', and the last one is always the dreaded musical (Rick Elice's 'Peter and the Starcatcher') I'm never keen on. Oh well, it's mainly to support Pangdemonium and its work. I could always give the tickets away since redeeming them on SISTIC in e-ticket format makes it a breeze.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gattopardo & Friends: Lino Sauro X Darryl Martin

The friends signed us up for a four-hands cookout with Darryl Martin of Barzaari (Sydney, Australia) and Gattopardo Ristorante's Lino Sauro. A six-course menu (including dessert) was to be served at dinner. I opted out of wine-pairing. Seven wines would be too much, and I'm really not particularly hot about wine and food together. It would be completely wasted on me. And an expected grueling pilates session the next morning meant I should steer clear of alcohol.

The starter was pretty appetizing- cured kingfish with red onions, toasted sesame and black fig gel. The duck leg pastilla with sticky date, BBQ cos and sesame was delicious. Of course I looked forward to the pasta. It certainly didn't disappoint. Loved the homemade egg tagliolini with fresh sea urchin sauce. It was soooo good.

I wasn't too fond of the pan-roasted Kuhlbarra barramundi on Israeli couscous in tahini, crisp buckwheat bread. Well, the fish was excellent, but I'm not hot about Israeli couscous and definitely don't like tahini mixed into it. By the time the beef arrived as the last savory course, the stomach couldn't accommodate it anymore. Too much food. Slow-cooked beef shin with thribi and garlic pita, herbs and pickles. Gave it away to the friends who were more than happy to eat my portion. Dessert was interesting, that was why I took three bites of it. Pistachio cake with bitter orange, blossom, kataifi, and vanilla ice-cream.

Said fabulous egg tagliolini with fresh sea urchin sauce.