Friday, August 24, 2012

Presents, Friends, Cake

Although I'm about twenty thousand miles from the nearest maple tree, there are certain times in Singapore when I truly feel at home.  Thanks to so many loving friends, my birthday (last Tuesday) was one of those times.

Justin has been traveling A LOT lately.  Keep in mind, that he normally travels quite a bit - some would say an obscene amount but for several reasons, July and August (and upcoming Sept and Oct) he has been and will be out of the country more than he is in it.  Therefore I didn't really expect, or even want, any big party this year.  I just wanted to spend some quality time with my husband.  Luckily, the weekend before my birthday was a long one and we enjoyed a wonderful Sunday exploring new parts of the city and having a delicious dinner at a new restaurant (more on that later).

However, Justin being more of a party lover than myself, he insisted that I invite a few people over for a few drinks and dinner on my birthday.  August is a really busy month for most of our friends and I thought that most wouldn't be able to make it but I was so happy that most of them could - and they really turned my birthday into something special.

It was great to chat with them, get caught up with all the "stuff" we've been up to, vent about "stuff" that is getting on our nerves and generally have a good evening.  I had made a cake from Ms. Lawson's "Nigella Bites" - a super sweet chocolate fudge number - that turned out quite well considering I had over baked it a bit.  No one sang happy birthday, to my satisfaction (probably the worst song on the planet) and it was an early night, also to my satisfaction since my favourite daily activity is sleeping :)

What I was most surprised at were the lovely gifts that I received - I couldn't believe how well my friends know me and what I would enjoy!  My husband had ordered the new Photoshop Elements 10 - which I am SO excited to start using as well as some of my favourite bath products from Lush - I love that we have a bathtub now!

My friend Yada gave me a gorgeous Coach clutch which I adore. I also got a lovely bottle of French wine from my neighbors Tim and Christina which I am looking forward to enjoying with a nice fat steak and some dark chocolate.  But, what is probably most relevant to this blog are the gifts that I received from "the gang" - Nathan, Brigitte, Todd, Ariel, Simon, Dilpa and Ben.  Can you believe it??

I am SO looking forward to selecting a cooking class from this place!  I'm really interested in an Artisan Bread course they have but there are so many others it's hard to choose!  And if that wasn't enough, they also got me this!

I LOVE Macarons and I can't wait to break this out one Sunday afternoon while Justin is traveling.  Thank you so much to all of my dear friends who sacrificed their Tuesday evening to come and keep me company! Obviously, you all are the reason why I feel so at home in this far-away land.  I will never forget you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Foods of NY Tour

Most of you already know that I rang in the 2012 New Year in NYC.  It was my very first time to the city and though it was fabulous, it was also incredibly crowded.  Times Square, Rockefeller Centre - all of it was starting to grate on my claustrophobia.

A somewhat blurry view from the Top of the Rock in December 2011

Don't get me wrong, it was a great trip.  Statue of Liberty, SoHo, Central Park, Broadway.  All of it was pretty amazing. But, I'm very glad that I got the chance to go back in the summer.  Without all the crowds, the city almost felt like a place I could live.  The people are incredibly friendly, the Natural History Museum was incredible and of course, the food was fantastic.

Thanks to a suggestion from my friend Adele, I signed myself up for a food tour with the company Foods of NY. Although they offer several themed tours of various neighborhoods around the city, I decided to take the "Original Greenwich Village" tour and I was not disappointed.  Centered around Bleeker Street, this particular tour specialized in Italian dishes.  I attempted to take as many photos of the restaurants and food however because of the fairly severe rain during the tour I had to eventually put away the camera and drape myself in a plastic rain poncho (yes, I was one of those tourists).

Divine Meatballs at Scali Caffe

I'm sure you're already assuming the food, being from NY and of an Italian theme, was wonderful - and you're right.  Every place had something to teach me and offered me something new (well, except maybe the pizza place).  Some particularly unique dishes that I tried were:

Lavender honey and truffle oil at O&CO

The Zucchini Fritter (2nd from left) was maybe my favourite bite of the day!

Tastes of Sheep, Goat and Cow's cheese was definitely enjoyable - and this place had fantastic t-shirts!  My favourite was the one that said "For a Gouda time call...." haha.

The tour itself was $50 for 8 well-sized tastings (usually far more than just a bite).  Every tourist gets a free bottle of water at the start and an opportunity to purchase a second beverage at a restaurant about half way through the tour.  There were several opportunities for bathroom breaks and the tour guide was absolutely full of knowledge - who lived in certain homes around the area, real estate, and of course, food.

Arancini from Faicco's - a place I would want to do all my meat and cheese shopping!

I went back to O&Co specifically because I loved their Basil infused Olive Oil and knew it would be a great treat back in Singapore.

If you are ever in NYC please take a food tour!  It was such a great way to spend a few hours getting to see a somewhat un-touristy part of the city!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back in Singapore!

After nearly 7 weeks of travel, I've finally returned back to my cozy, quiet condo in Singapore.  I didn't realize how much I would miss this place - the food, the weather and of course, the people.  It's been great catching up with friends and colleagues and finding out about their summer holidays.  I have one friend who traveled through Eastern Europe, another who went diving in the Galapagos and a couple I know got engaged in Barcelona!!

There was so much I did over these few weeks that it is going to take me a few posts to get it all sorted.  The first experience I want to share is from my trip to Laos.  Most people in North America know very little about this place because it has not been a major tourist destination until quite recently.  Being a communist country, Laos has experienced very little Western influence (more on that later).  One thing that Laos has a lot of experience in, however, is cooking.  And yes folks, I took another cooking class.

Chicken-stuffed Lemongrass

And it was awesome.

Various Asian vegetables at the local market we toured

Like, over the top - fantastic.

Rice, steaming in a hand-made basket over a charcoal stove

These were recipes that not only looked amazing and tasted amazing, they were also incredibly easy to make and I truly look forward to trying some of these recipes in my own home.  Obviously I'm not going to be steaming my rice over a charcoal stove (though I kinda wish I could) but I am going to do my very best to replicate these dishes and chow down.  Maybe I'll share.

For anyone thinking of going to Laos I took this cooking course at the Tamarind Restaurant in Luang Prabang.  Below is the recipe for Jeow Mak Keua (Eggplant Dip) that was one of my favourites of the afternoon.  PLEASE give it a try - and don't thank me for the recipe - thank the Tamarind Restaurant!  All I've done is altered the recipe to include ingredients from a western supermarket

Various Eggplants

Jeow Mak Keua
This smoky eggplant dip is usually eaten with sticky rice, dried meat, or raw greens.

1 medium sized eggplant
1 chilli
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped coriander (cilantro)
dash of fish sauce
green part of 1 spring onion, chopped

Prick eggplant and chilli with a knife or fork to let out excess moisture.  Grill eggplant, chilli and garlic over an open flame (I would suggest a BBQ but oven broiler would also be OK).  You can use a wooden skewer to grill the chilli and garlic.  Rotate vegetables and continue grilling until skin is completely blackened.  Allow eggplant to cool and peel the skin off.  Discard skin.

Pound chilli, salt and garlic in a mortar and pestle (there are many other kitchen tools to use if you don't have a M&P, such as a food processor).  Add eggplant and coriander and pound until you get a soft paste.  Add fish sauce and spring onion to your taste.

Mashing the Jeow
Serve with sticky rice, bread or veggies on the side. Enjoy!!