Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lemon poppy seed bundt cake

Made this for tea today....I love any cake that has lemon in it! And I'd take every opportunity to add poppy seeds into my cakes. Absolutely addicted to that crunchiness.

I made a mistake with one of the measurements - instead of 3/4 TEASPOON of salt, I had added 3/4 tablespoon of salt. Oopsie daisy!

Luckily, I'd usually add less salt than stated in recipes so the cake didn't turn out all bad. The citrusness and sweetness of the cake did take the salty edge off a little. Thank gawd...otherwise, I'd have to feed the entire cake to the birds and squirrel (I'm sure they'd be estatic!)

NOTE TO SELF: Do not watch TV while baking!

I'm a closet reader of Xiaxue's blog.....

I first heard of Xiaxue's blog in 2005 (yeah, I know, I was a little late into the blogging scene) and decided to check it out one day when I was absolutely bored out of my mind.

The very first blog post that I read was the one in which she was ranting on and on about KL/KL-ians and I was totally appalled! At that time, I couldn't understand how anyone could possibly want to read her bigoted nonsenses...and I was obviously very wrong as she somehow went on to become one of the most prolific bloggers in Asia.

While I personally prefer to read blog contents of a much more intectually-stimulating nature and much less of the bigotry bitching and blog full of soft-porn and bling-bling photos...I have to admit that I do pop by her blog every now and then to catch up on the latest piece of bitchy news (& to keep myself updated lest I have absolutely no idea what my friends are all talking about at social gatherings!)

So what are the things that I enjoy of her blog?

(1) She has the mouth of a sailor and she's not afraid to use it. It's hilarious sometimes to read the @#&$%*@! that come out of this 25-yr old gal's mouth! Sure I swear quite abit myself...but she is the MASTER of cursing. Swear words just seem to flow so naturally and effortlessly from her posts.

(2) She stands up and speaks out for her beliefs (whether or not you share her beliefs is besides the point). No topic is too controversial. And that "so sue me or f**k-off!" attitude is so recklessly priceless.

(3) She engages you with her writings...and her postings have the ability to elicit all sorts of emotions from you. You can either hate or love what she wrote...but you are unlikely to be bored (with reference to my own blog!).

(4) She doesn't aim to be politically correct. This gal has guts and she doesn't fear public outcry (I can be so politically correct at times that I think I sound like such a hypocrite).

(5) She feels. And most of her posts are written with such fiery passion - of anger, love, joy, jealousy, sadness etc. With everyday work and family life bogging us down...we often lose that spark that we used to have when we were much younger. Reading some of her posts does remind me of my younger days of wanton heckcare-ness!

So yeah, love her...hate her...but there's no doubt that her blog stands out as one of the more readable and entertaining ones in the blogsphere.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The moon appears brighter here...

There's a chinese saying...that "the moon in foreign lands is especially round".

While it doesn't appear much "rounder" to me...I must say that it does appear much brighter!

Back home where everywhere is so brightly-lit with street lamps, I never felt the full effect of the reflected light from the moon.

But here...when night falls, the entire place is pitch black 'cos there aren't any street lamps outside. I wouldn't be able to see my fingers if I were to extend my hand when standing outside in the dark.

With the full moon shining bright in the sky's throwing a soft glow on everything. I can see very clearly now when it used to be pitch black.

It is indeed true that the same thing could have different effects for different persons at a different time & place. Life is never that straightforward.

SPRs, you are NOT one of us...never has, never will...

This is the resounding message that I get....from the recent spate of compliants by SGers...about SPRs stealing jobs, pushing up HDB resale flat prices..oh ya, and also stealing eligible marriage-material SGmen/SGwomen from SGers!

As a SGer, I'm deeply embarrassed by this. When we needed SPRs to help build our nation and economy...we had sweet-talked and welcomed them with open arms. But when the going gets tough...tempers start to flare and accusing fingers inevitably all point towards the "outsiders (aka SPRs)".

The word "equality" in our national anthem...apparently, only applies to "We, the citizens of Singapore". Isn't equality and fairness a fundamental human decency that extends to all? Or do we talk about "equality" only when it's to our advantage?

Hairline cracks between the relationship of SGers and SPRs are already starting to appear - and all over what? Rising resale HDB prices! Imagine that. How much of that is fact...we don't even know!

When it really comes down to some castastrophic events in Singapore like war, terrorism attacks or natural disasters...SPRs be very afraid...'cos when times are desperate and resources scarce, SPRs would be the first in the line of fire. During such times, it doesn't matter who needs help more, all it matters is whether or not you hold a pink NRIC.

Human nature can be really ugly!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Just straight lines....

I couldn't wait...I just had to try out the new sewing least to see if it works.

Problem was, I didn't have any fabric scraps lying I thought I'd just pop into my walk-in closet to see if I've got an old t-shirt that I could sacrifice.

However, what caught my eyes first was the big roll of leftover drawer liner. I thought that would do too!

I wanted to make something really simple for the dry run - only straight line sewing and no tricky I decided to made a crayon/pencil holder.

Turned out the drawer line being waterproof, spongy and with a good grip is a fantastic material for the crayon/pencil holder. Give this to the kids and you don't have to worry about the holder getting wet or stained (just wipe with moist cloth to clean off stains)...the spongy-ness of the material protects the crayons/pencils and prevent them from breaking easily...and the material provides a good grip such that the crayons/pencils won't slip out of the pockets accidentally.

I cut out a small heart shape from a tiny piece of felt scrap and sew it on the front of the holder as the all white holder was looking too plain! A pokka-dotted pink ribbon completes my project. The holder can be folded in two to open up like a book...or it can be rolled into a bundle and secured with the ribbon.

I'm still not so used to the machine yet....will definitely need more practice sessions.

Sew excited.....

I bought the simplest and most inexpensive sewing machine (USD59 at Ocean State Job Lot) just to start myself off. While I'm not new to machine past works have been more utilitarian in nature - often with exposed seams, unfinished edges that experienced sewers would frown on.

I really want to try to improve my machine sewing skills...and I aim to make useful AND yet beautiful pieces that are more professionally sewn. TP has invited me to join her at this year's craft fairs....and I really hope that I can produce some worthy pieces to sell.

That's my new sewing machine...I've set it up in a bright and cheery spot in one of the bedrooms that we aren't using currently. I just need to pick up some fabric scraps from Joann's and I'm ready to go!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Baked pasta shells with stuffings....

I was at the supermarket last weekend when I chanced upon these jumbo pasta shells. They look so cute! Each pasta shell is slightly bigger than the size of a tablespoon. So I bought a box...not really knowing what to do with it yet.....

I googled online for some recipes using these jumbo shells. Most recipes have recommended stuffing cheeses in the shells. While I don't mind some cheese in my food....stuffing the shells with nothing but cheese sounds too much for my liking!

So I discontinued my search online and decided to just make use of whatever ingredients I have in my refrigerator. I found some leftover roast chicken, frozen spinach and some mozzarella cheese.

I chopped half an onion, shredded the roast chicken (about 1.5 cup) and thawed the frozen spinach (about 1.5 cup). I also brought some water to boil in a pan and added in 6 pieces of the pasta shells to cook till quite soft.

To prepare the stuffing, I heated a pan and added some olive oil to it. First I fried the onions till soft and translucent...then I added in the shredded chicken...followed by the spinach. I also added in some chicken stock to give it some moisture....for seasoning, I added 1/2 tsp of dried oregano, 1/2 tsp of dried basil and some salt/pepper. Finally, I added about 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese to the mixture and stir till well mixed. I then removed the pan from the stove and allow the stuffing to cool for awhile at room temperature.

When the pasta shells were cooked, I drained out the hot water and then ran some cold water through the shells. I took each shell and stuffed it with the chicken/spinach mix. I had two small baking dish and I added 1 heap tablespoon of pasta sauce to coat the bottom of each dish. Then I placed the stuffed shells into the dish...3 in each.

Then I topped off the stuffed shells with another 2 tablespoons of pasta sauce and sprinkled some mozarella cheese on top.
My oven had already been preheated at 350F. I covered the dishes with aluminium foil and then popped them into the middle shelf to bake for about 45min. For the last 5min, I had removed the aluminium foil so that the cheese would get slightly browned.

Well, here are my baked stuffed pasta shells. RG gave 2 thumbs up....and that's good enough for me! =)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Familiarity breeds comfort....

When I first put up the bird feeder....I noticed that the birds were not coming. Or I'd see them flying towards the bird feeder but on seeing us in the kitchen...they'd pause, flap their wings in mid-air before flying away. I guess they must have been afraid of us then.

However, more recently, I've seen more birds coming to feed at the feeder. At first, they'd do so only when nobody was in the kitchen....but these days, I'd be cooking/preparing food in the kitchen and they'd still come and feed...oblivious to my presence.

All animals are alike I guess....once they don't feel threatened, they'd be more comfortable around people. And we've probably facilitated their ease by leaving food scraps out on our back porch for the birds and squirrels all the time.

These days, the squirrels would come daily to check if we've left a little something for them as treats. Occasionally, I'd see them coming up to the kitchen windows and peering in....even when I'm standing very near the window. Really cute little things. Such a hoot to watch the little birds and squirrels.

Almost like Mrs Fields Brownies....

My all time favorite brownie has to be the double-chocolate one from Mrs Fields - slightly chewy, very fudgey but yet extremely crusty at the top! Hmmmm...hmmmm...hmmm

So I've been experimenting with different brownie recipes over the years to try to achieve a texture that's similar to that of Mrs Fields.

And I think I might be getting closer.....not quite yet but closer...

3 oz Hershey's unsweetened baking chocolate (chopped)
1/2 cup of unsalted butter (chopped)
1/4 tsp of salt (omit this if you are using salted butter)
2 eggs
1 cup of fine sugar
1 tsp of pure vanila extract
1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300F.
Melt butter and baking chocolate in a saucepan over medium heat. Keep stirring and lift the saucepan off the stove even before all the pieces are melted to avoid burning the mixture. Continue to stir until everything is melted and smooth.
Beat the eggs on medium speed with an electric mixer for a couple of minutes.
Then, add in sugar and continue to blend at medium speed until well mixed.
Add melted butter+chocolate mixture to the egg+sugar mixture. Also add in the vanilla extract and blend on low until well mixed and smooth.
Fold in the flour until thoroughly combined.
Grease a loaf pan and pour the batter into the pan.
Gently spoon the chocolate chips onto the surface on the batter.
Place into the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes.
Do not overbake as the brownie might become too hard/dry.
Test with a toothpick inserted into the centre and it should come out slightly moist or with some crumbs stuck on it.
Cool to room temperature.

NOTE: This brownie would taste much better slightly chilled.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


In the states, throwing away trash is not as convenient as back home in Singapore....where you need only to pull open the rubbish chute located in your kitchen, shove your rubbish right in and it gets collected at a central location for pick-up later. We've been spoilt!

Here, we'd need to bring out the trash cans and put them on the sidewalks for curbside collection by the waste management folks who'd come in their huge truck. Trash collection in my town only takes place once a week (every Monday) if you are a big family of 6, your trash can(s) could fill up so much that it's not going to be an easy task to drag/carry it out onto the sidewalk.....especially in bad weathers.

If your house is located on a small dirt road where the sanitation truck can't'd have to lug your trash cans out onto the main road. Tough luck if you are located right at the end of the dirt road which might be a far distance away. Imagine you'd have to lug your trash cans both ways down the long dirt path.

In some towns, there aren't even curbside collection. Residents would have to bring their trash to the town transfer station on their own for disposal. If that's too much of a hassle, you could always pay for the private disposal companies to come pick up your trash. The cost is usually around USD30+ a month.

Our town also provides curbside collection of recyclables on the first and third Wednesday of the month. I've been diligently sorting out my trash into the recyclables and non-recyclables. I have 2 trash cans in the kitchen - one for each type of trash...and it's much easier than we think it is.

We used to sort our trash too back home in Singapore and would use the appropriate recycling bins that were provided in our condo....however, we found that some residents/cleaners were not using the recycling bins as they were meant for. So we'd find all kinds of trash in the bin that was meant only for paper. After awhile, we too gave up on recycling as we always ended up being disappointed to see all our efforts in sorting out the trash going to waste as everything - recyclables & non-recyclables...just got dumped together in the same load into the waste management trucks!

But here, recyclables get picked up separate from non-recyclable I'm happy to be recycling again. Actually, most trash can be recycled. And 'cos my sink has a built in waste garbage disposal unit which shreds the food scraps into tiny bits small enough to be flushed through the plumbing and into the sewer....I'd usually end up with very little non-recyclable trash (1 medium size bag of trash per week). ..and I'd usually have 2-3 containers worth of recyclable trash per collection.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Being organised....

I was getting really sloppy and messy....pieces of threads, fabrics, buttons everywhere whenever I'm doing my crafts.

Was at Ocean State Job Lot yesterday and found this sewing/craft organiser for 4 bucks. Not the most aesthetically pleasing piece of thing but I bought it anyway 'cos it meets my needs.

Took me just a couple of minutes to fit everything into the little compartments...and everything looked more organised already =P

And once the 2 flaps are in place....everything is now neatly hidden in the small compact organiser. Good thing too that I can carry all my tools/materials everywhere I go.

In case you are wondering what's that freaky thing that's posing with my's the latest sock toy that I'm working on..and it's supposed to be a monkey...but I have yet to sew on the eyes, nose and mouth. It looks pretty crazy huh!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hae-bee frenzy.....

It's all about hae-bee recently! =P

Today, I blended some hae-bee with garlic, chilli paste & a few tsps of soup stock....and then used it to stir-fry with some green beans.

Just this dish alone with some white rice is already very satisfying.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Of coupons, discount cards....and all the very "aunty" ways to save $$$

Groceries aren't cheap in the states. When we first arrived, we were spending almost USD100 per week on grocery (just for the 2 of us) and it did scare us a little.
But we started to learn the tricks of saving money after awhile.
Discount cards
First, the number 1 must-have item is a store discount card. Most supermarkets offer them for free if you were to just fill up a simple application form. With the discount card, you'd enjoy "member card" prices on grocery items....and usually, discounts for gas too. For example, for every $50 I spend on groceries, I'd get $0.10/gallon off gas.

Store brands
Second, all supermarkets would've their own store brand items. And most of the time, the store brand items would be priced much lower than other "branded" products. Of course, not all store brand items are of good you'd need to check around which store brand items are the best quality & value for money.
Shop with eyes wide open
It's usually a case where Supermarket A is good for certain items while Supermarket B is good for others. So we don't just shop blindly at one place all the time but would check out different places and their ongoing promotions on a regular basis to determine which is the best place to shop for that particular week. My neighbour and I would also share information on where's having sale for what. When I see stuffs on sale that she might also need, I'd sometimes help buy on her behalf....or alert her to it so that she can check it our herself.
Stores selling overstocks or budget chains
We found great stuffs at great prices at shops selling overstock products like Ocean State Job Lot and other budget chains like Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, Walmart etc. Shops like Ocean State Job Lot are worth checking out every week as the product turnover is very high and new stocks are being replenished very often. There'd always be something new almost every week and you'd never know what you're gonna find there! I've bought Crocs, Idiot's-books, branded sweaters, sleepwear, shoes, calendars etc all at ridiculously low prices. For cheap branded clothings & shoes....TJMaxx and Marshall are the first few places that I head for.
Cutting Coupons
Another method to save money is cutting coupons. You'd find product/store coupons in store mailers, newspapers, online and via email. It takes great patience and really good planning & organisation skills to maximise the use of these coupons. I've to admit that I'm very bad with the coupons 'cos first of all, I'd always forget to bring them when I'm doing my shopping...then by the time I get to try to use the coupon, they'd have already expired! Although I've a coupon holder....all the coupons would be in such a mess that it'd take me forever to rummage through everything to try to find the right coupon. I'm slowly getting better at it now...and RG would help by reminding me before we leave the house each time to bring the coupons.
Rework processes and buy in bulk
I used to plan my meals first before heading out to the supermarket to buy the ingredients necessary to cook those meals. I realised that a better way to save money is to see what's on sale at the supermarket and to work my meal plans around the discounted items. It might require some creativity at times (especially if the only things on sale are avocados & kale!) but it ain't too hard once you are used to it.
And also, I'd buy in bulk when the items that we use/consume on a regular basis are on sale. For example, the V8 juices were on a fantastic discount (almost 40% off) recently and so we bought like 8 bottles as we drink it on a daily basis. I've also been buying meat in bulk and would divide the entire portion into smaller meal portions in ziploc bags before putting them in the freezer. Sometimes, I'd split some of of the bulk items i.e. rice/vegetables with my neighbour and we'd share the cost. That way, we both spend less but actually end up with more.
Shop online
I buy stuffs like books & printer ink cartridges online regularly. The prices are usually much cheaper than buying from the stores and there's usually no sales tax for online purchases and the items get delivered to my doorstep. There are also special discounts for regular customers like me which make prices all the more attractive....and it's so easy to re-order at just a click of the mouse. And many of these online shops have tie-up promotions with other partnering vendors. I actually got full year subscriptions to 4 magazines of my choice for FREE when I bought some ink cartridges online! How great is that?
These days, my grocery bill is just a fraction of what it used to be for the same amount of food or perhaps even more! It definitely pays to shop smart and it's good to know that the same amount of our money can go much further now. All these sound a tad "aunty" and uncool lor....but well, a penny saved is a penny earned! So go ahead and call me an AUNTY! =P

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hae-bee makes the mee goreng complete....

While I had made mee goreng on numerous occasions since we've arrived in the states....somehow they didn't taste so good.

Today, I made it again but this time, I used my secret ingredient - the hae-bee that KayJay had sent to me....and it was PERFECT!!

I had blended the hae-bee with some sambal chilli and garlic in a electric food processor and added that to the rest of the ingredients.

Finally, a mee goreng dish that's almost truly authentic (ok, apart from the yellow mee which I really can't find anywhere!).

I've packed a small tub of mee goreng for my neighbour - topped with some fried egg & bah-kwa as she was asking me what on earth is bah-kwa.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Homemade Bak-kwa....

When you don't have something and you really want it...what do you do?

You make it yourself....duhh!

So today, I tried my hands at making bak-kwa (asian pork jerky).

I found several homemade bak-kwa recipes online and adapted bits and pieces of the various recipes into one single recipe purely based on intuition and trial-&-error. I also used some of the methods that I recalled from a TV program which I had watched several years ago on how the bak-kwa sellers actually made their bak-kwas.

I bought slightly over a pound of minced pork at the supermarket yesterday.

I added to the minced pork 1-1/4 tbsp of fish sauce, 1 tbsp of ABC sweet soy sauce, 3/4 tbsp of light soy sauce, 3/4 tbsp of chinese cooking wine, 1/2 cup of fine sugar, some chilli powder & 1/2 tsp of cooking oil into the minced meat and stirred with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes till very well mixed.

While preparing the minced pork, I had already preheated my oven to 260F.
While several online recipes had recommended to spread the minced pork onto baking paper.....I remembered watching bak-kwa vendors used the back of baking trays for spreading the minced pork onto. So I greased the back of my baking pan with spray-oil......

....and then i scooped cupfuls of the minced pork and slowly pressed the pork onto the surface of the baking tray...i used my palm to spread the pork out into a thin even layer right to the edge of the pan.

Since there was some minced pork left....I tried the other method of spreading the pork onto a piece of baking paper. Then I popped the 2 trays into the preheated oven.

I left the pork to bake at 260F for about 20-25min. Then I increased the temperature to 350F for another 20-25min. At this point, the edges of the bak-kwa might start to char so if it starts to char too'd have to either reduce the heat or take the trays out.

After 20-25min at 350F.....I took the trays out from the oven 'cos the edges were starting to brown. I decided to flip the bak-kwa over and pop them back into the oven for another 10-15min just so to ensure that both sides are properly cooked.

When fully cooked, remove the trays from the oven and let the bak-kwa cool for awhile before cutting them into pieces. The bak-kwa that was cooked on the baking pan was more evenly browned whereas the one on the baking paper was unevenly cooked. So I'd definitely use the baking tray method the next time.

Here's my homemade bak-kwa....ready to be eaten!! =P~
I made a batch that's slightly less burnt so that I can freeze them and put them on the grill to cook further when we are ready to eat them.

Not too bad for my first attempt. At least RG is eating it enthusiastically even though he's not a big fan of bak-kwa. He doesn't like his bak-kwa I had made mine slightly more savory.

The next time, I'd consider to substitute the sugar with agave nectar which is a natural sweetener for healthier bak-kwa! =) And I'd make the bak-kwa slightly thicker to give it a better bite. Lastly, i'll probably use more chilli oil or chilli sauce for extra spiciness.

While bak-kwa can be as expensive as SGD56/kg during Chinese New Year only cost me less than USD8/kg to make them. It's quite a lucrative business selling bak-kwa!!!

Spaghetti sauce....

RG was the one who came up with the idea. I just executed his idea using a card, a plastic sheet & the spaghetti sauce label.

It's gonna be his fancy nameplate on his office door. Looks very pop-artsy isn't it? I think it's pretty cool.

Hope it'd bring some laughs when people walk past RG's office.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Choc-ful Cake - A Cheater's Recipe

I hate the "synthetic" taste of cakes that are made from ready cake mixes. And it's so not cool to say that you've used store-bought mixes instead of baking it from scratch....especially if your aim is to impress with your home-baked goods.

But hey, baking is's the measuring of ingredients and the washing afterwards that is difficult. So once in awhile, when you are too lazy to do too much or when your in-laws are visiting with very short notice, I'd say it's ok to cheat with ready mixes as long as the cake doesn't taste like synthetic crap.

1 packet (18.25oz) of chocolate cake mix
1 packet of low-fat instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup of low-fat sour cream
1/2 cup of corn oil
1/3 cup of low-fat milk
4 eggs (beaten)
1/2 cup of coffee (dissolve 1.5 tsp of instant coffee in 1/2 cup of warm water)
1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F
Add cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, oil, milk, beaten eggs and coffee solution into a mixing bowl and blend with electric mixer at medium speed till well mixed.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Grease a bundt pan and pour the batter in and level.
Bake for 50-55min or until an inserted toothpick comes out quite clean.
Leave the cake to cool for at least 1.5hr in room temperature before turning it out.

You can tell whoever that you are trying to impress that sour cream, coffee & choco chips all go into the cake to make it pop. And they'd probably jump to their own conclusion that you've made the entire cake from scratch =P ....and they would never be able to guess that you've used cake mix 'cos it wouldn't taste of it at all.

The cake is good on its own.....but you can dust the cake with icing sugar or drizzle a chocolate glaze on top if you want to wow further.

And to wow super big time, you can slice the cake in the middle after removing it from the bundt pan and sandwich fresh cream & strawberries in between before topping it off with a chocolate glaze!

Super easy.....super impressive results.

Pi the panda....

I'm Pi (pronounced as "pie" and not "pee") the panda and I love pretty flowers!

Friday, January 1, 2010

My blooming Paper Whites....

I bought a set of Paper White flowers planting kit in early December for $5 which came with 4 flower bulbs, 1 plastic container & dirt. I planted the bulbs, watered them regularly and have been patiently watching the shoots grow....
And then the flower buds started to develop.....
The little Paper Whites ready to pop.......
Finally.....the pretty little ones starting to bloom in their full glory.....