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Aquarama 2007 @ Suntec City
One of those things about attending ornamental fishes and aquarium exhibitions like these is that you get very inspired about setting up your own aquarium if you haven’t already got one – and in our case, feeling very dejected at how awful ours look in comparison to the demonstration setups we saw.:)
The exhibition was held at Suntec City over a period of four days, with the last two days opened to the public. There were many families there, and at least a few carted back 1 to 1.5 small tanks when they left the place. Hopefully the kids who’re likely going to get acquired to their new hobby will at least get some guidance on the many aspects of keeping fish alive and healthy. Keeping these little critters isn’t simply a matter of just getting a bucket of water and tossing them in.
There were several competitions running in the conference; for freshwater planted tanks, marine tanks, and the different families of fishes, including Arowanas, Cichlids, Plecos, Goldfishes, Discuses, Bettas, and Guppies. Some of the goldfishes look pretty grotesque even, what with their super-bloated bellies. Ugh. I was pretty disappointed to see that my favourite critters – Corydoras – were not well-represented though. It was a really wonderful way to spend the later part of Sunday morning, and we walked off with several new plants for our sitting room tank and a whole bag of “night reading” materials and brochures.:)
We had a nasty outbreak of algae in our tank last week, and this is despite the fact that we’ve got five Ottocinclus critters living in the tank. These five Ottos are quite a temperamental bunch: of the five, two of them are so fat from chewing up algae they look like they’re about to burst. They’ve effectively stopped eating. Two others seem to enjoy grazing on the gravel instead of the leaves. The fifth one seems to be doing his job at least and valiantly trying his best to eat up all the green mess.
I suspect the algae outbreak has been because of the new replacement florescent tubes we’ve installed in the aquarium lighting system. In any case, we decided to go for a two prong approach: we went by Nature Aquarium at Balestier on Saturday to pick up three more Ottos. and also a whole bunch of plants from there and also Sea View at Seletar (the following day we topped them all up with more plants from Aquarama). Right now, the tank looks, visually, a mess – but it’s heavily saturated with plants, hopefully sufficient enough to eat up all the nutrients I’ve got in the gravel and leave nothing to the algae.
The picture here is as it was on Saturday evening, without the new plants we picked up at Aquarama the following morning on Sunday. The tank setups we saw at the exhibition at Suntec City were amazing. Our next home we’ll have to invest in a four footer tank.:)
Fish & Chips @ Courts Tampines
Many Singaporeans who’re staying in the North-East and East parts of the island would have, by now, gone by the cluster of megastores at the Tampines North Drive spot. It’s hard to miss it, especially if one drives by Tampines Expressway on the way to the airport – what with the huge Ikea sign that one can see from a mile away.
We’ve visited the three megastores at the location there now; there’s Ikea, Giant, and Courts. Of the three stores, Giant by far is the most well-patronized one, since the store deals with daily necessities and groceries. Ikea isn’t too far behind, due in no small part to the fabulous meatballs sold at its cafeteria.
Courts on the other hand has looked pretty deserted the several times we’ve gone by, which really is a pity. There’re loads of demonstration products on level 3 for techno-geeks. Then again, its furniture items aren’t the cheapest around for bargain hunters, and techno-geeks always prefer to buy their toys at Sim Lim Square. Ling suspects that it won’t be long before this Courts megastore has to close down from poor business.
Still, perhaps to chip in and do our little part to keep Courts alive, we’ve been dining on a few occasions at the level 2 cafeteria there. The concept takes a big cue from Ikea; sell great food at foodcourt prices. For $4.50, I got a fish & chips set, and boy was it a big serving. The fish had been pre-cooked, which I had to minus a point for, but was still reasonably thick and retained its fishy-taste. The chips were huge; nothing like the wafer thin long stripes common in foodcourt stalls offering such fare. Ling had the usual curry chicken, and we shared an interesting mega-satay stick that I must review here next time.
- Food: 6 / 10
- Value: 4.5 / 5
- Overall: 3.5 / 5. OK tasting fish (if you don’t mind it not being freshly cooked) with great fries at a fantastic price. Try it, if only because it’s so cheap.
Wasabi @ Compass Point
The both of us have been vehicle-less for several days now. Our car got hit from behind last Friday by a van at a junction; apparently the fellow behind us accidentally pressed the accelerator pedal instead of the brake. The damage has been pretty superficial – the repair job will involve some repainting and some hammering to even out the dents in the bumper. But since the insurance companies will be handing out $50-$60 a day to cover our transportation expenses while the car is in repair, we can’t complain.:)
In any case, not having a vehicle has forced us to plan well in advance where to have our meals. Having dined at Hougang Mall on Monday, Ling suggested Compass Point yesterday night. Arriving earlier, she scouted the premises and just before I arrived at close to 6:30 p.m., she called, squealing in delight at her discovery of a Japanese restaurant at level 2 with an offer: buy your second bowl of Ramen at 50% discount.
As it turned out, there was some fine print she’d missed: and unfortunately, we only realized this after we’d sat down and ordered. The discount is only for diners between 11 and 5:30 p.m. Ling looked especially mortified when the waitress cheerily informed us of that; and not so much from that our dinner was going to be more expensive than intended, but rather she realized she was going to get teased about her habit of not reading “fine print” for the rest of the evening!
Still, dinner wasn’t too bad; Ling chose a char siew Ramen, myself a chicken katsu variant, and we added a dried salmon skin side. The salmon side was especially delicious: it had not been too deeply fried, and had been liberally topped with mayonnaise. Each piece was crispy, and that was a nice appetiser before the two main Ramen courses.
The Ramen itself was a mixed bag. Ling’s serving had loads of fat in the char siew, which – as usual – were meticulously removed by her. The soup base used in both our bowls was slightly salty, and while pleasant enough didn’t quite give me the sense that rick stock had been used. The chicken katsu piece was excellent though: it was a sizable and thick piece, and its breaded crumbs had not been burnt.
The bill including taxes came to just about $25, with the two Ramen bowls costing just nearly $10 each.
- Food: 6 / 10
- Value: 2.5 / 5
- Overall: 2.8 / 5. If we’d dined here just an hour earlier, the bill would had been under $20; and I’d rate the value 4 / 5 – easily.
Bread and Kaya
Ya Kun Kaya Toast @ Thomson Plaza
Both of us got our brunch obsessions. For myself, it’s Hotcakes with sausage at MacDonald’s, and we’ve had this so much over the last couple of months that Ling has grown paranoid over it. Every Saturday morning, she’ll dreads getting poked out of bed by me suggesting brightly that we have breakfast at MacDonald’s. She’ll give a mournful look and say “again…? ” Me, I’ll just laugh and push her right out of bed!
We did get a change last Saturday for morning brunch though. Ling had a ton of examination papers to mark, and for a change of our usual brunch places at Hougang Mall and Compass Point, we drove to Thomson Plaza this time, and had breakfast at the now ubiquitous bread and toast eatery: Ya Kun Kaya Toast. Ling loves this place, as did Matt if I recall correctly (right bud?). Me, I’ve never really cared for kaya toast for brunch but I decided to humour her.:) Ling had her usual kaya toast, and myself French toast with kaya. Both sets were around $3.50 each, and for that price we each had a small cup of hot beverage, two half-boiled eggs, and the plate of sandwiches.
Now, I’m sure there’re many fans of Ya Kun Kaya Toast in Singapore, but I’ll say my piece. The bread is ordinary (and in my case, the French toast tasted plain), the portions are small, and I finished the cup of beverage in two gulps. If the set was around $2.50 or so, the breakfast set would be more appealing for me. But the fare is just too ordinary and yet expensive at $3.50 – especially when the neighbourhood coffee shops sell the same thing for much cheaper. So there!
- Food: 6 / 10
- Value: 2 / 5
- Overall: 2.7 / 5. No, no juice here. But I’m pretty sure if Ling will rate the place higher, so I’ll ask her to soon.:)
Hot doggone it
Superdog @ Vivocity
The both of us haven’t been to that huge spanking shopping mall Vivocity very much; most of it having to do with that the place just isn’t terrifically accessible for us. It’s a long drive of at least 30 minutes even during off-peak hours. Matt popped by the place when he was here in Singapore last November. It sure is sad that our American friend’s been to the most happening place in Singapore when neither of us had.:)
Still, we wanted to catch Spider-man 3 after it opened in Singapore last week, and the only available tickets at the time we wanted on Friday was at GV-Vivocity. So, upon collection of tickets for the 9:55 p.m. show near to 7 p.m., we had time to thoroughly prowl the place.
Sure enough the place is pretty big. However, like so many other shopping malls in Singapore, it’s not really holding anything that you haven’t seen already. All the usual shops are there, and though there is an accompanying variety of boutique shops, those sort of places don’t really interest either of us.
Dinner was at Superdog, a hotdog-specialized fast food-styled restaurant that we haven’t seen elsewhere before in Singapore. The restaurant was pretty crowded too, so we figured that the food had to be of some good at least. Ling chose her usual healthy item on the menu: a capsicum chicken dog, and myself, a bacon chili cheese dog set that came with fries and a drink.
First bad came real quick: waiting time was an “oh my – is this is really fastfood” timing of 15 minutes. As for the food itself, the bacon chili cheese dog tasted rather ordinary, even though it was the more expensive item compared to Ling’s capsicum dog. Heck, Ling’s hotdog tasted better than mine, and I ended up eying her dog enviously for most of the meal. Second bad: menu items were real relatively expensive for this sort of pseudo-fast food.
Our bill came to $15 when equivalent meals at other fast food eateries would have come to at least $4-$5 less. Lastly, the place felt pretty cramped. Could be the dark-brownish palette of colors used in the decor, or that the tables and chairs were placed pretty close to each other.
- Food: 7 / 10
- Value: 2 / 5
- Overall: 3 / 5. The food’s passable, but portions are rather small and pricing is high. This isn’t a place we’ll frequent.
Burgering at Swensen’s
Barbequed Chicken Mushroom burger @ Swensens (Plaza Singapura)
One of those things that the both of us have always wondered is this: is Swensen’s a local startup or what? This chain of family restaurants has been in Singapore for as long as I can remember, and while its number of outlets aren’t as many as say Sakae Sushi, the chain has still been generally regarded by locals as having great ambiance, decor, good ice-cream, at so-so prices. It’s also a popular date restaurant; certainly for myself during my dating years.:) Whoops that’s Ling giving me that withering look again.:)
Seriously; the both of us were in the town area on Friday evening just a few nights ago to catch a 10:10 p.m. screen of Letters from Iwo Jima at The Cathay. The screening turned out to be a dud. There were “technical faults” 2 minutes into the movie, and after 30 minutes when the theatre projectionists still couldn’t rectify the problem, theatre management got out, apologized and gave every one in the audience two complimentary tickets for every stub. We eventually caught the movie at the same time the following evening, which I may just provide a commentary on later in the week.
Back to dinner; Ling had the Chicken Baked Rice, and myself a Barbequed Chicken Mushroom burger. The burger and accompanying items certainly look smaller than I remember it, and it didn’t make for a very filling meal. There were few fries, the bowl of coleslaw small enough to finish in two gulps, and the burger size was underwhelming for a hungry man like me. The mushrooms were very thinly sliced and ultimately were too trivial for it to matter as part of the set. The chicken patty was magnificent though: rightly juicy, with great flavor. So, not quite sure what to make of it. OK taste, but not very good value for money.
- Food: 7 / 10
- Value: 2.5 / 5
- Overall: 3.2 / 5. Maybe it’s time for a trip to Botak Jones again soon.
Blueberry muffins at last!
I’m not a fan of muffins but if it is blueberry muffins, I wouldn’t mind. Maybe it’s the colour or the taste or the spongy moistness about blueberry muffins.
Recently, Yang’s cousin and mother got a recipe for muffins and baked some for us to try. It got me interested. I went online to look for blueberry muffin recipes, read up quite a bit and then decided on one which looked the most promising.
I borrowed my mother in-law’s muffin trays and tried out the new recipe this afternoon. It turned out to be a great success. It was fragrant, moist, tasty and moderately light. Here’s the recipe (slightly modified to suit my tastebuds)
Ingredients (makes about 24 small muffins):
- plain flour / self-raising flour (2 cups)
- baking powder (1 tbsp) – if plain flour is used
- baking soda (1 tsp)
- salt (1/2 tsp)
- cinnamon powder (1 tsp)
- butter (3/4 of 250g block) – softened;
- sugar (3/4 cup) – I like it not too sweet. Add 1 cup if you prefer sweeter muffins
- eggs (2 large)
- plain yoghurt (1.5 cup)
- fresh blueberries (1-1.5 cups) – 1 small tub from Cold Storage will do! If frozen blueberries are used, do give them a light coat of plain flour before adding into the batter. This is to prevent them from sinking to the bottom.
- sliced almonds (1/2 cup or as desired)
- Cinnamon sugar (optional)
- Line muffin trays with paper muffin liners.
- Oven: prepare middle lower rack and preheat to 190 degree celsius.
- Sift dry mixture A together into a bowl. Set aside.
- In another large mixing bowl, use an electric hand-held mixer to beat butter and sugar together until fluffy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each one is incorporated.
- Add half of mixture A + 1/3 yoghurt and fold in (with a spoon) until just incorporated. Do not over mix it. (It’s ok to see some flour)
- Add a quarter of mixture A + 1/3 yoghurt and fold in until just incorporated. Do not over mix it. (It’s ok to see some flour)
- Add the remaining mixture A and remaining yoghurt and fold in until just incorporated. Avoid tendency to mix until batter is smooth! Some traces of of flour is fine.
- Gently fold in the blueberries and sliced almonds. Batter should be quite thick now.
- Scoop the batter to fill 3/4 of each muffin liner. (It is easier to use another spoon to help unload the sticky batter into the muffin cups)
- Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top of each muffin. (optional)
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the tops are golden brown. Test by poking with a toothpick to see if any batter sticks to it after taking it out. Once the toothpick is clean, the muffin is done.
- Set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from tray and serve warm (with Hershey’s chocolate syrup as desired). Yums!
The Battle of Britain Blunder
A short story on the Battle of Britain that was originally posted here on the 18 Feb 2001.
The Battle of Britain is frequently also regarded as the first major turning point of the war, when the allied forces finally had a turn of the tide against the onslaught of German invasion forces in Europe. Hitler had more or less gobbled up a huge chunk of Europe- including Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland and France- and was finally facing Great Britain on the shores of France, his old adversary. Great Britain is separated from the main continent of Europe by a channel, and Hitler knew that in order for the island to be invaded, the Royal Air Force would have to be defeated by the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe.
And so it went; for the next 3 months, the very brave British fighter pilots flew against the very skilled bomber and fighter pilots from the Luftwaffe in a violent battle for the skies; dozens and on occasion hundreds of planes from both sides were lost daily, many of their pilots killed as well.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Royal Air Force in reality came very close to losing this air war. In simple terms, it was a war of attrition, but the Luftwaffe had more planes and pilots. The Brits were losing more pilots than could be replaced, and at the last juncture in August 1940, Britain had more planes coming out from the production than pilots to fly them. Britain needed a breather and for its pilots and airfields to recuperate- and this came right in the form of a tremendous blunder made by a couple of German pilots from a otherwise normally very professional Luftwaffe. On a routine bombing mission, German bombers sent to hit military targets in Rochester got quite lost, and by mistake dropped their bombs on civilian targets in London instead.
Now, up till this time, both sides had an implicit understanding that civilian cities would not be targeted. But when the bombs hit London- and in reality did very little damage- Sir Winston Churchill (the Prime Minister of Great Britain) immediately sent his bombers to hit Berlin in return. He had been waiting for exactly such an excuse.
Again, the raid on Berlin in reality did very little damage, but Hitler was furious at this British effrontery! He had, after all, boasted to the German people that no Germany city would ever be bombed. And in a critical decision (and a major strategic blunder), he let his vengeful instincts got the better of him. Just at the point when the Royal Air Force was to be broken, he demanded that the Luftwaffe immediately switch targets from air fields to civilian cities instead- and unwittingly relieving the Royal Air Force from the immense pressure it had been under. Thousands of civilian lives were subsequently lost in the bombing of London, but the RAF could recuperate, and it slower grew back to strength- finally defeating the Luftwaffe.
Had Great Britain lost this crucial battle for the skies, our history would had been very different. Germany would most likely had been able to successfully invade the island, and the United States may never had been able to stage the Normandy landings, necessary to free Europe from the Germany occupation armies.