Friday, February 29, 2008

@ Sunrice – Turning Up The Heat At Cookery School

Finally I have attended a cooking class in Singapore. With a more flexible schedule now that Carl is in school, I’ve been looking at some local cooking schools to learn more about the fantastic food here. I admit it – I love food, I love cooking, and the best food in the world must surely come from Asia. Loads of fresh seafood, a huge variety of vegetables, and a seemingly endless array of spices make cooking and eating a gastronomic journey of discovery.

‘At Sunrice’ is a professional culinary school which trains chefs at a stunning stone colonial building located at the top of the hill in Fort Canning Park, smack bang in the centre of the city. Established in 1859 as an arms store, barracks and hospital, Fort Canning contains precious memorials of Singapore's early history dating back to the 14th century and Sir Stamford Raffles' personal bungalow. The Spice Garden is a replica of the original 19-hectare tract Raffles established in 1822 as the first experimental and botanical garden in Singapore.
An important site within the park is a grave for a Malay Sultan dating back to the 1400s. We were recently at Fort Canning for the Burns night, and right next door to that function room is the At Sunrice academy. Fortunately the cooking academy also offers casual cooking classes for the ‘leisure cook’ as they so charmingly call us. My day there started at 8.30am with a guided walk through the spice gardens with the charming and knowledgeable Rampeetha, also known as ‘Chef A’. Describing himself as a “kampong boy from Thailand”, Chef A is in fact a highly respected chef who was lured away from one of the top hotels in Bangkok to head the culinary academy. After walking through the gardens identifying and smelling everything from lemon grass to pepper, pandan and ginger and learning about their uses, we headed up to the school and enjoyed a break before settling down to learn how to make five typical Singaporean dishes.
The academy offers morning classes for Thai, Indian, Malay, Singaporean, and New Asian food. This time I’d chosen Singaporean but I’d love to go back to do more. Chef first demonstrated how to make spicy satay with peanut sauce, then we got down to work ourselves to make Ondeh Ondeh, a Nonya desert of steamed mashed sweet potato rolled into balls, stuffed with a chunk of solid palm sugar, then boiled until the sugar melts inside and served rolled in freshly grated coconut. We also made Kway Teow, which is two types of noodles stir fried together with seafood and lots of soy sauce, and black pepper prawns. It was a great experience with just five of us in the class and I’m looking forward to going back again, maybe with a group of friends this time. Needless to say hubby is dead keen as he wants to eat the results!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Singapore Air Show

Now I’m not really one for enjoying machines: cars don't interest me, I make too many long-haul flights every year to find planes anything other than a means from getting from one place to another, and frankly boats are hubby’s passion, not mine. However I was keen to go to the widely advertised Singapore Air Show on Sunday 24th February, if only to see the Black Knights - the Singapore Air Force’s aerobatic flight team who do amazing aerial displays in their specially painted fighter jets.

On a perfect blue sky day we stood on the tarmac at the huge, spanking brand new custom-built site near Changi and watched the jets thunder over head executing incredible stunts. This was a real Top Gun experience and girls, I can tell you the sun wasn’t the only thing heating up the crowd on the tarmac! The adrenalin rush of flying one of those things must be amazing. The absolute topper was when two jets passed low in front of us, one flying upside down and positioned only 3 metres above the head of his fellow pilot!!! God knows how they didn’t hit each other, I’ve never seen anything like it. I have to admit I was pretty happy that all the flying was not done directly above the crowds – I kept thinking about those t.v. programmes showing planes crashing into the crowds at air shows.

To get an idea of what it was like, click on the following link to see some film posted on You Tube for Aviation Week magainze:

The Black Knights were followed by about 90 minutes of incredible flight displays by a range of combat and commercial planes. Fortunately hubby had thought to bring ear plugs.
It's a good tip to anyone planning to visit such a show as the jet engines can be incredibly loud at close range.

It seems everybody from the Americans to the Germans wanted to show off their hardware. A huge Airbus A380 lumbered overhead, and we were able to take a close look at another which was parked among the static aircraft displays. What an enormous passenger plane, it certainly looks like the biggest in the world and like a fat bumble bee you can’t help but wonder how the thing ever gets off the ground. The one parked on the tarmac proved to be very useful for providing shade and hundreds of people were able to take shelter from the burning sun under its massive outstretched wings - it looked for all the world like a goose guarding its over-sized brood!

Apart from the spectacular fly-overs there was a lot to see on the ground. The Air Show is first and foremost a trade show, with the public only being allowed to visit in the final two days. The world’s collective war mongers and defence despots had already done their deals and left by the time we were allowed to take a look. The kids were fascinated by the tanks, artillery etc on display, and particularly by a really cool tank-like vehicle which carries a fold-out bridge on its roof for constructing instant bridges (photo left). Very handy I would think following floods or earthquakes. Niels and his Dad walked through a huge twin rotor helicopter which they thought was pretty cool, and both boys were jumping up and down in excitement at being able to sit in a real plane cockpit which was on display in one of the exhibition halls.

As always we had arrived fairly early in the day, and it turned out to be so hot outside that we left by 1 o’clock. Another good reason to leave was the thickening crowds – I have never seen so many people pouring into a venue as I did when we left. I don’t know how many people attended but hubby reckoned it must have been close to 100,000. Crowds that dense just make us feel uncomfortable so we headed off home to jump in the pool and cool down.

It was a fantastic day and if you ever get the chance to attend one of these air shows, do go because you won’t regret it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Happy 4th Birthday Carl!

Wow, what a busy couple of weeks we’ve had! This blog has been totally neglected – ironically the more things I want to tell people about, the less time I have to sit down and do it, so I’m waaaaaaaaaaayyy behind. First of all, it was hubby’s birthday on the 17th. As he is over 13 he didn’t get to have a birthday cake in the shape of his favourite toy, but we did have a bar b q around the pool which was lots of fun.

Next on the list was Carl, who has finally turned four years old. I say ‘finally’ because he already started school back in January, something that would normally happen once he was four in Holland. However over here at the Hollandse School they move the little kids from the pre-school up to the primary school four times a year, so whoever has their birthday in the first quarter started after the Christmas break. He considers himself to be a BIG BOY now and has developed a BIG MOUTH to go with it.

On Wednesday, his actual birthday, he opened his presents before school in a flurry of shredded paper and squeals of delight. List toppers were a cool inflatable racing car for the pool, an alphabet learning game which plays a fantastically irritating tune he absolutely loves, handfuls of pirate figures (also coveted by his older brother) and Doc Tox, the latest instalment for his collection of Planet Protectors from the Early Learning Centre.*

Carl’s favourite thing in the world at the moment is robots, so guess who was up until 10.30 pm making robot shaped cookies for him to take to school last week? On the left you can see him sitting on the knee of his beloved teacher, Juf Jannie, during his birthday celebration at school. He was telling me all about how much fun he had at school the other day when he stopped, sighed, looked up with a dreamy smile on his face and said "I really like ladies, Mummy!"
Then on Saturday he had a few of his friends come over for robot cake before being whisked away to SAFRA at Toa Payoh where there is a huge indoor kids playground. Later on hubby and I admitted it may well have been the perfect birthday party venue: you just let the kids loose and they run around yelling and screaming and having a great time, safely enclosed inside a fenced area while the parents chill out on the other side. After 90 minutes we packed them back into the car, headed home, and rehydrated them all in time for their parents to pick them up again. Easy!

*The Early Learning Centre ( is a British toy shop chain which sells a wide range of ‘educational’ toys. The Planet Protectors are a team of environmental warrior animals who fight the planet polluter, Doc Tox. I only mention this because I’ve bought a few things from the ELC since we’ve lived in Singapore and I have to say that although they are pricey compared to your standard stores like Toys R Us, the toys are very well made, rugged, and last for ages. Even Carl – toy annihilator extraordinaire – hasn’t managed to break any of the Planet Protectors and the big wooden castle I bought for his 3rd birthday is still going strong and looking good. I recommend them to anyone with kids aged under 10.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We Mere Mortals

At the risk of having you all run away to read someone else’s blog which, I’m going to recommend to any parents out there to click the following link to Finslippy. This Mum of a two year old recently asked readers to send in their bad parenting stories – those moments which all parents have where you just completely lose your cool and end up making a complete ass of yourself and feeling guilty for the rest of your life. The result was phenomenal, and if you have kids (or even better: if you’re thinking of having them and don’t know what you’re in for!) you have to read these real-life stories from loving parents who like the rest of us are just, well…human.

I guarantee you will laugh, be horrified, and at the end you will think "well I'm not that bad after all!"

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Canonball Trees and Freaky Figs

One of the great things about living in the tropics is the incredible flora and fauna. I've lost count of the number of times I've been walking through a park or even down the street and say, "wow, look at that !"

This first photo shows one of the coolest and weirdest trees which I've found here. Known as the Canon Ball Tree, it seems pretty ordinary until you notice the enormous brown spheres hanging from the lower branches. Solid to the touch and really heavy, they seem like they could literally be used as canon balls. They are suspended on long, naked, vine like stems which must be pretty tough to support the weight.

As if that weren't enough to set the tree apart, it also has the most amazing huge pink flowers with a white cup-shaped heart topped by yellow stamens. They are just stunning and look exotic enough to be something you'd normally have to pay to see in a botanical garden, yet here they are just growing alongside the road.

You can see a hand on the right-hand edge of the first photo holding one of the 'canon balls'. This is one of the women with whom I did a walking tour of historic Black & White houses recently. Although she is holding her hand there to give a sense of the size of the spherical fruits, we just about caused an accident on the very busy Tanglin Road when we stopped to feel this trees balls!

Another weird and wonderful tree I've come across is the local fig. For some unknown reason, the figs here grow their fruit straight out of the trunck instead of in bunches hanging from stems like any normal tree would do. The effect is kind of creepy actually but I suppose there must be a good reason for it.

I don't know if you can actually eat these figs - maybe one of you can let me know, the fruit may just be ornamental.

It's always worth keeping your eyes open and taking the time to look closely at the plant life here, because you just never know what weird and unusual discoveries you'll make.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Carl Decides He's A Big Guy

About ten days ago Carl suddenly made an announcement: he didn't want to swim with his floater any more. Since he's turning four this month and is very confident in the pool it seemed like a reasonable idea. I took the floater off, he carefully pushed himelf off from the steps...and had endless fun discovering that all those spastic movements he has been perfecting over the past two years were in fact nature's prelude to swimming. Seemingly defying the laws of physics as understood by Carl, his chubby little body actually floats.

I could have told him that it's just the fat in his oh-so-kissable little cheeks that keeps his head buoyant, but hey, let's let him think it's because of his own efforts for a while. Here he is daring to put his face all the way under for the first time, in the kids pool.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lazy Sunny Days

The Netherlands has been enjoying a bit of warmer weather lately, as you can see in this pic of Rocco and Ashley basking in the rays of mid-winter sun.
Ashley figured out long ago that her man makes the perfect pillow, especially when he's got his full winter coat.

Doesn't it just make you want to go aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh?

PS: The following photo is of two rescued rabbits which Liesbeth is currently nursing back to health. The black and white one is affected by a condition known as head tilt, usually caused by a bacterial infection. The brown one was dumped at only 4 weeks of age (when it should have still been with its mother) because it's eyes hadn't yet opened - a sign that something is seriously wrong. Both are on antibiotics and with lots of TLC and with the appropriate veterinary care are expected to make more or less full recoveries to enjoy good quality lives. (The brown one may be blind but that is not necessarily a hindrance to a house rabbit who lives in a stable, trusted environment as a rabbits smell and hearing are so well developed they can take over much of the role of sight). If ever you needed an argument against buying a pet rabbit from a breeder, remember this: both of these rabbits were literally DUMPED in a box on her doorstep by breeders who couldn't be bothered looking after them responsibly because there wasn't going to be a profit in it. If you want to offer a safe and loving home to rabbits, rescue them from your local animal shelter. They all deserve a second chance. Breeders don't.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

OK OK, Here Are The Photos...

It seems that you are a blood thirsty lot. Having read that I took a photo of poor hubby's head wound apparently nothing less than full disclosure will provide satisfaction. So here you are: the before and after shots.

Here's before:

 scroll down to see after...

WOW! Those nurses at ER really did a great job!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Off To The Hospital...Again

So there we were yesterday afternoon, enjoying an hour by the pool. I had my feet up reading a book while Niels and Carl splashed up and down on one of the gazillion inflatable toys they've been through since we moved here. Hubby had been out but I heard the car come back and it wasn't long before he joined the kids in the pool. Now we all know what boys are like - admittedly it took me a while to adjust having come from a family of all girls but basically if you get two or more males in any given space they just love to start wrestling each other and horsing around. As Niels likes to call it, having a bit of "tickle and rough". I swear he invented that phrase all by himself.

I buried my nose deeper in my book, relieved that Daddy was here this time to keep the kids entertained when suddenly there was the distinctive cry of a child in pain. I looked up and saw Niels floundering to the side of the pool, holding a hand over his mouth, and hubby standing with a look of extreme pain clutching the top of his head. This can't be good, I'm thinking.

I grabbed a towel and jogged over - it turned out that Niels had jumped into the pool, but instead of landing next to Daddy, he'd landed right on top of him. I was expecting blood and bits of teeth and tongue. Shit shit shit shit and he's got two adult teeth now, I bet they're damaged...I slowly prised his fingers open...and nothing! Finally found a tiny cut on the bottom of his chin and maybe two little drops of blood. Phew.

I turned to hubby who was still standing in the pool clutching the top of his head...and saw a thick red trickle of blood oozing through his hair, over his ear and down his arm. "Get out of the pool honey, you're bleeding".

"Aaah, he jumped right on top of me. Is he ok?"

"Get OUT of the pool honey, you're bleeding." By now I'm wondering, shit that blood isn't coming out of his ear, is it?

"Is Niels ok? Did he bite his tongue?" By now there are little red puffs of cloud appearing in the water where the blood is running off his elbow into the pool.

"GET.OUT.OF.THE.POOL. YOU.ARE.BLEEDING" (I mean what is this, brain damage??)

Hubby finally gets out of the pool, so I shoved him into the shower and washed away the blood, tracking back up until I found a pretty good sized split on top of his head. Hmmmm, looks like stitches are needed.

With the towel pressed firmly on his head I ushered everyone into inside. Niels was fine, just feeling bad for hurting his Dad. Once the kids were sorted I grab my camera, took a photo of hubby's wound and showed him. Time for hospital.

Once again the efficient Singaporean medical system had him fixed up (two stitches) and out the door within an hour or so. So now all three of them have been to the ER. Carl when he split his chin over when he fell over next to the pool and needed 4 stitches; Niels when he took up sword swallowing; and now hubby. They say trouble comes in threes so hopefully I'm immune.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Monkey Boy

Recently I blogged about the Chinese Zodiac and the different animal signs our family fall under ( Carl was born in 2004, the year of the monkey, and he fits the profile perfectly. Further evidence: check out this recent photo, taken downstairs. Our very own Monkey Boy!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Our New Favourite Restaurant: Blu

Last Saturday hubby and I headed out for dinner for a quiet evening out together. It’s so easy in Singapore: with over 3,000 restaurants it’s simply not possible to try them all and the choice of cuisine and location is endless. Having heard good things about the luxurious Shangri La Hotel which is just down the road, I delved into my trusty “Best Restaurants” guide then reserved a table at ‘Blu’ which serves “French inspired” food prepared by chef Robin Zavou from the UK. (He was chatting to people at the table next to us and when I heard him talk – assuming that he would be French – I was surprised that sounded like a genuine Surrey Lad!)
One thing you can say about the Shangri La ( is that they know how to impress. This is where all the notables stay: whenever George Bush or any other leader turns up the whole of Orange Grove Rd, which is where the hotel is located, is cordoned off and to drive through you have to navigate security checks which is a bit of a pain because we drive down that road regularly. Back to the hotel: upon arriving guests are ushered into the huge opulent lobby by doormen dressed in a very fancy costume. I’ve no idea who they are supposed to represent but they look rather grand.
Up on the 24th floor Blu looks out over the city and we spent the first half hour perched on bar stools drinking ruby martinis and trying to identify landmakrs of the glittering city spread out before us. We could see as far as the Keppel shipyard and it’s at times like this you realise just how small Singapore really is.
As we finished the last of our drinks the head waiter magically appeared like a genie to usher us to our table, again with a view through the floor to ceiling glass over the city. The restaurant itself was absolutely beautiful, one of the nicest in terms of ambience and interior design that we've seen. Elegant blue lamps lighting each table, glass sculptures and invisible lights which cast wavering blue patterns like ripples of water over the arched ceiling give the impression of watery coolness. As an added bonus a live jazz band started at 9pm, providing music at a volume that added to the ambience without being so intrusive as to prevent us having a normal conversation. So far, so good.
The menu was a little concise with escargot, veal, and foie gras tending to dominate. These are three foods I try to avoid by the way, and the addition of a few dishes accompanied by oysters – the only seafood I really don’t like narrowed my choices substantially. However fortunately hubby was in the same adventurous frame of mind as me and we both chose the five-course specialty menu which did avoid most of those foods.
The food was, in a word FANTASTIC. From the warm foam of potato and leek topped with shaved black truffels, to the seared Chinese pork belly accompanied by pan fried scallop and a streak of pumpkin puree; from the rare beef medallion accompanied by beef tongue and a pot of ox-tail casserole on a cushion of turnip mousse to the pan fried foie gras; culminating in what must be the most perfect dessert I’ve ever eaten, a trio of raspberry creations. It was exquisite. The small portions were never overwhelming and were presented so beautifully I felt like photographing them. The service was perfect and appropriately enough we washed it all down with a nice sauvignon blanc from the Nappa Valley. It was one of those meals where you think to yourself “that course was so good, the next one is bound to disappoint” but it never happened, the quality was absolutely consistent.
Feeling like we’d just stumbled across Eldorado we walked back out into the warm breeze and relative cool of an evening washed clean by rain earlier on and decided to walk home. After a leisurely 20 minute stroll we were back in our living room and we still hadn’t stopped talking about how good it had been.
So there you go. Our new number one for food, service and location – check out Blu for the ultimate dining experience in Singapore.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ready For the Year of the Rat

Yes the Chinese New Year is fast approaching, a time of colourful and noisy celebrations in Singapore. With around 70% of the population here being of Chinese descent, the culture, language and traditions of that race are very strong and feature prominently on the festive calendar.

Chinese New Year is the most important day on the Chinese calander, and is celebrated from the first day of the first lunar month until the fifteenth, which is called the Lantern Festival.

Chinese New Year is also a lot of fun for non-Chinese as well though. Today I took the kids down to Chinatown to enjoy the streetmarkets which have sprung up on Pagoda, Smith, Sago, Temple and Trengganu Streets, and in the People's Park Complex. We didn't get to see it all - 3 and 6 year olds aren't as fascinated by cultural events as their Mum's apparently - but we did have quite a good look around and came back loaded with all sorts of goodies.

Red and gold are the colours that dominate at the this time of year, symbolising prosperity and luck. Because New Year is also known as the Spring Festival there are lots of things decorated with the peony, a flower associated with spring and good fortune.

The brilliant stalls were a beautiful sea of red and gold and to my relief most of the things on offer were very cheap, usually just $1 - $2 so it was easy to indulge the kids (and myself!) without feeling guilty.

We bought beautiful red and gold fish to hand on the curtan tie-backs, and the kids chose dangly things to hang on their doorknobs.

As it's about to be the Year of the Rat - the first in the Chinese Zodiac calendar - the little rodent it depicted in everything from jade to chocolate, although there are plenty of distinctly cutsie-mouse like versions out there. Disney has decided to get its hands on the action this year and Mickey and Minnie Mouse were also evident, looking decidely Western and out of place, I have to say. Still, I guess for most people, a rodent is a rodent.

For those of you who care, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Samuel L Jackson, William Shakespeare and Mozart were all born in the year of the rat.

For the kids the absolute highlight of the street markets at this time of year are the huge stalls selling brightly wrapped candy. It's literally a feast for the eyes and totally irresistable for them. While they filled bags with goodies I indulged in a selection of gold paper wrapped coins, plastic goldfish stuffed with an unusual sweet jelly, and little plastic rats filled with chocolate.

I fell in love with the bright red strings of chillies, made of silk and stuffed with padding. One is now hanging in my kitchen and really cheers up the stark white tiles in there. I'm not sure what the chillies are supposed to represent - maybe they will spice up our love life! - but they look fantastic.

Of course we had to buy the obligatory rodents to put on the door, and these now have pride of place in the lift lobby to welcome us home.

Personally I really like rats - I've had several as pets in the past - so I'm quite happy to say goodbye to the Year of the Pig. And in Eastern cultures the rat is viewed quite differently to Western ones. Following is a quick overview of the horoscope animals

While Westerners tend to consider the rat to be the lowliest of beasts, the Eastern rat is revered for its quick wits and its ability to accrue and hold on to items of value; rats are considered a symbol of good luck and wealth in both China and Japan. *"Clever and quick-witted, the Rat of the Chinese Zodiac is utterly disarming to boot. Possessed of excellent taste, this Sign flaunts its style at every turn. Its natural charm and sharp, funny demeanor make it an appealing friend for almost anyone. The Rat likes to know who is on its side and will treat its most loyal friends with an extra measure of protection and generosity."

Then there's my sign, the Dog.
"People born in the Year of the Dog are said to possess the best traits of human nature (of course!). They have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest, and inspire other people¡¦s confidence because they know how to keep secrets. But Dog People are somewhat selfish, terribly stubborn, and eccentric. They care little for wealth, yet somehow always seem to have money. They can be cold emotionally and sometimes distant at parties. They can find fault with many things and are noted for their sharp tongues. Dog people make good leaders."

Hubby's sign is the Dragon.
"People born in the Year of the Dragon are healthy, energetic, excitable, short-tempered, and stubborn. They are also honest, sensitive, brave, and they inspire confidence and trust. Dragon people are the most eccentric of any in the eastern zodiac. They neither borrow money nor make flowery speeches, but they tend to be soft-hearted which sometimes gives others an advantage over them."

Niels is a Snake which pleases him no end.
"People born in the Year of the Snake are deep. They say little and possess great wisdom. They never have to worry about money; they are financially fortunate. Snake people are often quite vain, selfish, and a bit stingy. Yet they have tremendous sympathy for others and try to help those less fortunate. Snake people tend to overdo, since they have doubts about other people's judgment and prefer to rely on themselves. They are determined in whatever they do and hate to fail. Although calm on the surface, they are intense and passionate."

It will come as absolutley no surprise to learn that Carl is a Monkey.
"People born in the Year of the Monkey are the erratic geniuses of the cycle. Clever, skillful, and flexible, they are remarkably inventive and original and can solve the most difficult problems with ease. There are few fields in which Monkey people wouldn't be successful but they have a disconcerting habit of being too agreeable. They want to do things now, and if they cannot get started immediately, they become discouraged and sometimes leave their projects. Although good at making decisions, they tend to look down on others. Having common sense, Monkey people have a deep desire for knowledge and have excellent memories. Monkey people are strong willed but their anger cools quickly."

If you want to find out what zodiac sign you are and what it means, check out the following link: which is also where I got the information on our family's zodiac signs from.