Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fleet Foxes in Singapore

Bought the tickets to Fleet Foxes six months ago, without thinking if I would be in town. Figured it would be easy to pass the tickets to friends or even sell them. Glad I made it to the show. I really wanted to see the band. I've never been able to catch Fleet Foxes in their hometown Seattle or in any other city. I was seriously put out last May when schedule didn't allow me to catch Fleet Foxes in Seattle at The Showbox, even though I was in WA. I wasn't staying in downtown Seattle on those dates right where the venue is, and I couldn't drive like two hours back to town. Thrilled that they came to Singapore.

The indie folk-rock band has been around since 2006, releasing their first eponymously titled album in 2008. There's a second 'Helplessness Blues' (2011), then the band went on a hiatus. To date, they're only at their third album- 'Crack-Up' (2017)Robin Pecknold's vocals are still velvety, and he hasn't lost that magic in his songwriting. The band made it such a beautiful night.

In 2012, Robin Pecknold took a bold decision to walk away from music for a while. He moved to New York and went to school at Columbia. Now, he's ready to get back to Fleet Foxes, albeit with some changes to the members. (Did you know Josh Tillman a.k.a Father John Misty was their drummer once upon a time?)

Happy to hear old songs. ‘White Winter Hymnal’ is still such a favorite, along with 'Mykonos' and 'Drops in the River'. The band sounded AWESOME. In their latest 'Crack-Up', their new sound seem to lean towards prog rock rather than folk rock. Their new songs are so complex to play live, but they nailed it. No better venue than the Esplanade Theatre to bring out those multi-layered sounds and not blow out my eardrums. That's another one off the music bucket list. What a wonderful show.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

K's Burgers

You know how much I dread a meal combination of burgers, pizza and fries. Regardless of how wonderful they might be, I can't get over the feeling that it's a sad meal. 🍔🍕🍟 Try eating that as a poor young student and having to freeze leftovers to eat for weeks, you'll totally feel me. I don’t want to relive those memories and tastes. Then again, what do I know? I'll choose cup noodles over the healthier (more balanced) option of pizza any day. Hahahaha.

I'm slightly more open to pizza now, although I prefer them vegetarian or vegan, and hopefully if they aren't just a Margherita. I never could do fries without chilli sauce. It's terrible. Ketchup doesn't cut it. Once in a while, burgers are okay. I still default to them as a convenient option on rare occasions. Burgers done well with grilled buns are much appreciated. I do like beef. Patties are not difficult to do well at home. It's about the grilling, and getting decent buns.

We went over to K and Y's for dinner. K makes fantastic burgers. It has been a looong while since he has done so. He was still recovering from the crazy hours and demands of running a small burger joint, and didn’t feel like making patties again so soon after he closed it. (Remember Meat Packing District in 2013/2014 in CBD canteen, then at a coffeeshop at Waterloo Street?)

A burger. That was the main menu item. It’s not difficult to grill burgers at home, but it’s not easy to churn out a good one. K really did a great one for dinner. With melted gouda and strips of bacon, of course. He was not pleased with having to use Swissbake's hamburger buns, but it would have to do when he couldn't get those ideal brioche buns in such small quantity at short notice.

These patties are delicious, and are done at home, with non-professional-kitchen equipment. It isn’t done in a kettle or smoker grill either. Each patty holds 120 grams of prime chuck beef. Dunno what went into the seasoning for his patties. K is bloody pedantic about churning them out perfect. Don't ask me about the percentage of fat or whatever in the patty. I don't care to know because I won't be able to replicate it. Eating it and deciding what type of patty I like, without going into the specifics, is my preferred degree of acquaintance with burgers. Heh. We all know someone who can do good burgers, right?

The hosts also did drumlets and fries in the air-fryer. We contributed linguine aglio e olio, and jalapeño. Cooked up a pan of tomato relish, filled up a jar and brought it over to go with the burgers. That tomato relish was quite complementary indeed! It was a lovely night with whisky and lots of great music on the vinyls.

Monday, January 15, 2018

'Everybody's Welcome'!

I guess my secret love for well-illustrated children's books is not such a secret anymore. N gave me a most thoughtful Christmas gift in the form of Patricia Hegarty's 'No Matter Who You Are... Everybody's Welcome' (2017). I love it! It's gorgeously illustrated by Greg Abbott.

We follow Little Mouse who dreams building a big house in the forest, and one by one, animals arrive to help her and join her, and she makes everybody feels welcomed. A frog whose home has dried up appeared first, followed by rabbits who got chased out of their by an eagle. Then a Brown Bear, and many others who had to leave their homes for various reasons. But the book didn't go into too many reasons of why these animals have become homeless. Humans are only alluded to in the instance where the birds said they had to leave because their tree has been chopped down.

When the Little Mouse met the frog, she comforted him by saying, "Let's build a home together, we'll make it big and strong. And once we get it started you won't be sad for long." They started building a shelter. They became a team, and they began building a home. Together, they overcame all obstacles of rain and wind. "Everybody's welcome, no matter who they are, Wherever they may come from, whether near or far."

As the house took shape, at some point, Little Mouse said, "When our house is ready and everything's complete, We'll all live here together and life will be so sweet." And that was when I closed the final page of the book with a huge sigh. That would be Utopia. We're very very very far from it. Outside of this book, the world is divided, and prejudiced, and not generous. Some people call others’ homes ‘shitholes’. That’s not very nice.

I try to read children's books as they are, and not with an adult's eyes. I love the simplicity of children's picture books, and the ideals they represent or suggest. The first read is always happy because I block out all adult perspectives. Upon the second read, cynical me went, awwwwww. Yes, animals, all's candy floss and stardust, till the nitty-gritty of living together in close quarters literally ruffle one another's feathers. Perhaps this home could be sooo big, the size of a city, or a country, and then it could really accommodate everyone.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Pretty White Slices of Fish

The dinner menu was to be sliced fish bee hoon soup for dinner. It was that kind of night. The recent wonderfully cool weather calls for lots of soup, and we'd do well to appreciate 22°C nights in Singapore. What a welcome change from the usual 33°C all year round. V came over for dinner, so I thought I should add another dish for some texture and a salt hit. She's perfectly fine with a one-dish meal, but surely the table would look nice with another dish. Heh.

Something meat and fun should do it for the extra dish. Decided to stuff bell peppers with minced chicken and beef, and bake them in the oven. Bell peppers are such versatile vegetables. I use them loads, so the fridge always has stock. Didn't think we could eat that many anyway. Cut up two to make eight cute pieces. Marinated the minced meat and scooped them onto the sliced peppers. It only took 20 minutes or so to crisp the tops and leave the contents soft. It shouldn't be too dry since the bell peppers hold enough moisture, along with the olive oil drizzled over before and after. #ImpieCooks2018

That sliced fish soup with bee hoon. Ah yes, this time I refused to marinate the ikan haruan with soy sauce. The fish slices remained pretty and turned out fine tonight. The last time I cooked this, my nice slices of fish became an ugly brown because the man insisted on adding soy sauce. This round, I threw in yellow onions instead. Herbs too. Well, you could marinate it any way you want. Just follow your tastebuds.

V and the man love greens. So I topped the bowls with a combination of baby cabbage (娃娃菜) and tiny stalks of bok choi. Added shiitake mushrooms. They didn't need to add additional salt or pepper. Ermmm....okaaay. You guys can really eat bland food. Hahahaha. Well, while cooking I did add in salt and pepper, but in case people prefer a heavier hit... Anyway I had fried up lots of bawang. There's chilli padi soaked in soy sauce too. Those should give an extra layer of flavor to the soup.

Ran out of light beer in the fridge and was too lazy to top it up. Broke out the light Suntory Reserve limited edition (because of the bear-shaped bottle) to make highballs! There we go, an edible, and uhhh hopefully decent enough homecooked meal that hit all required nutritional value for the day.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Scrambled for Sand

I forgot to ask Chewie's humans about their litter box practices. So I simply went according to mine- scooping daily, and topping up sand, changing out to totally fresh litter every 8-10 days. That included scrubbing down the litter box and the floor. Chewie seems fine with what I’ve been doing.

This is the first time I’m playing nanny to Chewie. So I’m a little nervous about her litter box habits. I do not want to return her with new toilet habits to her humans. Litter box habits will tell me if she’s ill. That day I merrily swopped out fresh litter, and to my horror, there wasn’t a new pack in the storeroom (I forgot to check), and the regular shop was closed on Tuesdays! I had to mix in some of the old. But it didn’t hit the 2.5 inches depth I wanted. It evened out at 1.5 inches. It was sufficient, but Chewie’s a shoveler. Arrrrrgh.

Thought it wasn’t a big deal, and I could head out to buy sand. After calling eight stores, I realized that no one had stock of this particular brand. And if any store has it, it would be tiny ones that have no online presence. Yup, in this day and age, like this regular store for Chewie, it has zero results on Google. Even called two good friends who live nearby and have cats- in an attempt to get two pounds of sand if they use the same brand. No, unfortunately. Chewie’s litter box would have to wait 12 hours then.

Was worried that the cat wouldn’t like the depth of the sand and therefore pee elsewhere. Although my optimistic voice said 'no worries' to that because it was of minimally sufficient depth and the litter consisted of mainly clean new sand. When I returned the next day with fresh packs of sand, to my great relief, all was fine. But yes, more sand was necessary. Chewie needs a depth of 2.5 inches.

Gonna hand over care of the cat back to her humans soon. Byeeee cutie. I can only do this for good friends and familiar pets, and even then, it’s selective. These would obviously have to be friends I see on a fairly regular basis, and faeriefolk whom I love. There’re too many trust issues at stake. Burning the house down is the least of your problems. Imagine being accused of theft or mischief, or making the pet ill. Pets won't know any better. It's all those horror stories of having an enterprising dog slip the leash and run away, or forgetting to close a window in the apartment and the curious cat jumps to a certain death. 😱 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Cat Nanny

The friends went off on a short vacation and I volunteered to play nanny to their cat, Chewie. Much more comfortable for her than having to stay in a pet hotel and get all stressed out. I've known her since she was a wee kitten. At least she knows my smell and is still in familiar surroundings, and won’t be traumatized. While she might not want me to grab her, she does pop out for head bumps and neck scratches, and cheekily walks all over my Macbook.

Chewie is less impressed with the man because she associates him with ‘noise’. She also knows him by his smelly socks. Hahahahaha. She inspects and sniffs our shoes every time we visit. She doesn’t enjoy it very much when her human slaves play the guitars with odd effects and crank up the amps. Which was exactly what the man did because the friends had permitted him to go crazy in the music room. Cat went to sulk. She complained to high heaven about the noise. I had to tell the human to tone it down a few notches. 🐱😒

On my first day over, I couldn’t stop grinning at the notes (for me) stuck all over the doors and walls. The friends are hilarious. But I always appreciate detailed instructions. Pile it on! I’m extra careful with doors and windows. Not my cat mah, so I have to be more vigilant and conscientious. I know Chewie’s medical history, her regular vet, and her quirks. I take a look at her poop too. Oof. The friends might have rolled eyes at the check-in and check-out photos and videos that I’ve been sending daily. Hahahahaha. When the friends trust me with their keys and home, I must be extra cautious.

I do this pet-sitting thing for friends quite often, especially when it’s a better (and cleaner) option for the pets than having them board at a hotel. But I can only do it for pets who are okay with me. Otherwise they're going to be a headache to handle. Somehow, it’s easier to play nanny to cats. Compared to dogs who uhh need a whole lot more attention, cats tend to be a breeze to take care of. Hurhurhur.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Hopped into the Esplanade Annexe Studio for Amateur Takes Control’s second four-track EP release, unimaginatively and hilariously titled 'ATC EP2'. This is one new album since their first 'You, Me And The Things Unsaid' in 2008!

The members have shuffled a little (not that it matters to me); importantly, the band still sounds good, but with a new edge. Their brand of instrumental rock is slightly more noisy this time round. They were LOUD that night. But this venue always manages to make many bands sound good and have their engineers do a balanced mix. Even through the ear plugs, we could hear every guitar, pedal and drum beat.

The band played a mix of old and new songs in the one-hour show. Eleven songs in total, with the new tracks interspersed in the setlist. It's not like I know every song or something. I probably know like...three songs. Heh. It's just nice to head out for a night to watch a band I'm not fully familiar with.  We just don't have a sufficiently vibrant enough scene whereby we could just pop in to a venue wherever to check out an indie band on any given night. Oh, this band also holds no vocals. 😬

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Bye bye $100

When I came out of class at the gym and went back to the changing rooms and my locker, and my heart sank. I had forgotten to lock it?! I thought I did. Arrrgh. The contents had been moved, and my wallet that was at the bottom of my backpack now lay atop.

In the 40 minutes I left the locker room and was in class, someone had managed to go through my bag to get to my wallet, and removed a $100 note, which I put in that morning. The other two notes, a $50 and a $10, were intact. Thankfully my watch wasn’t taken, and I don’t wear jewelry to the gym on most days. Obviously none of the credit cards were stolen, and the thief clearly didn’t have time to remove my EZlink cards or scour through the pockets to my secret compartment to retrieve the $50 note stashed in there. I’m really annoyed at this invasion of privacy.

There is no way to find out who did it. It’s my own doing. But seriously?! It has to be a fellow gym-goer. How could someone, at this age, with a paid gym membership who clearly could still afford to work out at peak lunch hour, do this? For thrills? To ‘punish’ me since it would be my own fault and hence she is ‘entitled’ to help herself to this cash. It’s a friggin crime, woman. Do have bad luck this whole year, asshole, and preferably be up to your neck in credit card debts. Grrrrr. 🤬

When I told two friends (women) who come to this same gym at lunch time, they sheepishly admitted that they had been equally brainless last week and had forgotten to lock their lockers too, at lunch time. Their laptops and phones were intact, but they also lost money. Except that one lost two $10 notes and the other lost a $50 note; they didn’t notice it till two days later. They wondered if they had spent it instead, and they couldn’t recall if they indeed secured their lockers. It was a ‘did I or did I not’ situation. OH. In this first two weeks of January too. What an unfortunate coincidence.

Initially we didn’t want to mention it to the gym (since it’s our fault), but when we realized it didn’t just happen to one person, we told the gym. They should know that such incidents are happening, and please remind the other gym-goers to lock up, and for the women to know that there are active thefts from unsecured lockers. I really hope it’s done by the same person, otherwise it’s frightening to know that many fellow gym-goers aren’t nice people and are pretty much thieves if given the opportunity to pilfer. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Procrastinated before I started on Arundhati Roy’s ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ (2017). Her debut novel ‘The God of Small Things’ (1997) bored me to tears, and I pegged her writing and stories to the genre that I don’t read. However the friends urged me to give this new book a chance. I did. While it rambles on with too many characters, and I don't un-enjoy it, but it’s still the type of genre I generally avoid. (Reviews here, herehere, and here.)

The book traces the story of Anjum, a hijra, a trans-woman who was born with both female and male genitals. She was Aftab, the long-awaited son from birth, till he chose his gender and underwent a not-too-successful operation to become a woman. We now trace her story from Delhi to Kashmir, her depression, and her current choice to live in a graveyard and building a shack of sorts named 'Jannat Guest Home' to leasing out space within, and welcoming people marginalized by society, the untouchables. Anjum's story happened against the historical and political background of the tumultuous events of the persecution of Muslims and Sikhs in the 1980s to early 2000s and the government's reprisal against Muslims.

I think what throws most readers off is when the book shifts over to an entirely new plot line halfway through before it weaves back to link Anjum's story with the rest. This new thread revolves around the 'Free Kashmir' movement, against the greater background of India and Pakistan's war for the Line of Control and the Kargil War. It shifts to a first person narrative. It now introduces Tilo's story, an architect turned activist, and some-time lover, freedom-fighter Musa. There's her ex-husband who's a journalist and informant for the Bureau, Naga and Bureau officer 'Garson Hobart' who really is Biplab Dasgupta. Biplab Dasgupta is also the narrator 'I' here, Tilo's one-time landlord. The plot lines finally coverged when Tilo adopted an abandoned baby girl and sought refuge at Anjum's Jannat Guest Home.

I read the book twice. Had to. There was too much information to digest. I don't particularly feel for the characters in this book. It's not their story they're telling, and yet it's everyone's story. It's almost as though the characters reflect a divided India. We readers, are but passers-by. The story starts and ends with the graveyard, an ironic reflection of where happiness is found for the outcasts and social misfits.

Arundhati Roy is a wonderful brilliant writer. Make no mistake. After the success of her debut novel and having it win the 1997 Man Booker Prize, she spent two decades avoiding the limelight and concentrated on being a political activist, advocating social causes and supporting the separating of Kashmir from India. In an interview with The Guardian's Decca Aitkenhead published on 27 May 2017, the author said,

From all the political and judicial animosity, I’d formed the impression that Roy must be some sort of persona non grata in India, but she says nothing could be further from the truth. In her daily life, she never meets anyone who regards her as unpatriotic. “No! Absolutely not. It’s the opposite.” This claim is difficult to verify or dispute. Thousands of adoring admirers gather to hear her make speeches all over the world, but when I ask where she feels the greatest sense of like-minded support, without hesitation she replies, “Oh, India. Without a doubt. I’m not some lone person. I function within a huge river and stream and a rising, rushing current of solidarity.”