Not sure whether this is true but I noticed that fresh Huai Shan (or Chinese yam) has made its frequent appearance at our local markets only in recent years. It seems easy enough to use this fresh Chinese herb for soups and after exploring a few food blogs, I decided to give it a shot.

blog-2011-cooking-OLYP6060-chinese-yam-soup

Ingredients

Half chicken – skinned, chopped into bite-size and blanched in hot water for a few minutes

Huai Shan – 1/2 stick, peeled, sliced into 0.5 cm thickness, soak in water to remove stickiness if preferred

Fresh sweet corn – 1 ear, chopped into 5-6 thick slices

Carrot – 2 sticks, peeled and chopped into chunks (I often include carrots in my recipes as Yang LOVES carrots.)

Water – 500 ml

Salt – 1/4 tsp

Method

1) Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat.

2) Add chicken, sweet corn, carrots and fresh Huai Shan.

3) Bring all ingredients to a boil again. Cover the pot and reduce heat to its lowest and simmer for 30 minutes.

4) Add salt to season and turn off the heat. Serve while hot.

 

Flavour-wise something is lacking I felt. Maybe some red dates and wolf berries would improve the taste. :)

30. March 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Recipes

Some time ago our friend Ann featured her stewed ee fu noodles recipe on her blog and that got me interested to try the recipe at home. But alas, I bought the wrong type of noodles and ended up cooking with Hokkien flat noodles instead! Hee hee. Anyway, it was a fun attempt and we quite enjoyed the noodles afterwards.

blog-2011-cooking-OLYP6050-chinese-noodles

So here’s my anyhow humtam stir-fry noodles’ recipe :D

Ingredients

§    Hokkien flat noodles – 300g

§    Dried shiitake mushrooms – 4, soak in hot water for 15 minutes, cut into strips. Reserve the soaking liquid.

§    Fresh button mushrooms – 1 pack, brushed and sliced

§    Enoki (golden mushrooms) – 1 pack, cut away substrate

§    Lettuce – 6 leaves, torn into smaller portions

§    Carrot – 1 stick, peeled and sliced

§    Meat: slice lean pork / minced pork / chicken fillet strips / medium prawns – 80g (marinate the meat, except for prawns, in light soy sauce and pepper)

§    Garlic – 3 cloves, diced

§    Shallots – 6 bulbs, diced

§    Corn starch – 1 tsp

§    Oyster sauce

§    Light soy sauce

§    Pan salt

§    White ground pepper

§    Olive oil – 2 tbsps

Method

1)         Heat up olive oil in a heated wok over medium heat.

2)         Add garlic and shallots to stir-fry until fragrant and lightly brown.

3)         Add carrots and stir-fry briefly.

4)         Add button mushrooms and stir-fry until fragrant and about to soften. Add shiitake, enoki and meat and continue to stir-fry for until meat is cooked.

5)         Add noodles and loosen it up with chopsticks. Dissolve corn starch in the reserved shiitake liquid and pour it over the noodles. Mix quickly. The noodles will absorb the liquid.

6)         Dispense oyster sauce from its bottle by going 2 rounds over the noodles. Add 1 tsp of pan salt and dashes of pepper. Stir well.

7)         Once the noodles are hot enough, add the lettuce and give the noodles a good stir to just soften the lettuce.

8)         Serve immediately with cut chilli padi dipped in premium light soy sauce.

 

Note: I added a bit more water to the noodles during cooking as I like my noodles to have a moist texture. Oh ya, all my recipes serve 2.5 persons – 1.5 for Yang and 1 for me :)

29. March 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Reflections

A year ago I received a fairly large group of JC students who were at my institution as part of their immersion program to better understand video games in society. One of the topics I spoke to them about was on gender in computer games, and there are two widely debated areas of interest in this theme: the representation of females in games (think Leisure Suit Larry, Lara Croft etc.), and the dominance of masculine game themes that also ties in with the kind of physical differences between men and women that in turn lend to certain advantages in games (e.g. spatial orientation). That shouldn’t be a surprise, because conventional wisdom tells you that women don’t play games, and even less want to develop games.

What a lot of people don’t realize though is that in the 2008 industry findings on demography, 40% of gamers are women and 44% of online gamers are women. Ok; so that industry finding likely includes people like my mom at Lentor who plays loads of Solitaire, or any one of my several dozen neighbors in Frontierville. But there are a lot of women gamers – proportionately, nearly as many as men. But for some reason, while there’s a sizable number of women who play games, very few actually want to develop them.

That situation has proven to be quite an interesting challenge for the industry, because it makes immediate marketing sense that if you want games to appeal to a gender segment, you’d need persons who understand the needs of that segment. There’s a few; like here and here, but it’s not enough.

Part of the complication I think has to do with the kind of inclinations the general public has of computer games – that its just for entertainment, and it doesn’t help that a lot of the commercial games you find on retail feature male-dominated themes (e.g. violence). But thankfully that’s changing pretty fast, with the kind of funding the industry receives towards the development of game-based learning and edutainment. Or that at the national level, there’s a lot of interest in serious games. Put in another way, the educational sector has realized that games aren’t just for fun any more, and there are real instructional opportunities. That’s why industry is looking seriously at attracting the fairer sex to game development through attractive grants and scholarships from industry giants like Sony like this one here.

Which brings a thought. While I got inducted into video games at a pretty early age at 12 years old and one year later at 13, programmed my first video game – a graphical text-based adventure – my position in the industry today lies more along the domain of game studies, or the discipline that looks at video games as social and cultural phenomenon, as opposed to game development. It’s been an interesting transition. I have three degrees; one in computer engineering, one in business, and one that’s only nominally in ‘information systems’ but really entrenched in social studies and behavior. I should blog about this rojak mix sometime soon now that I have the benefit of retrospection years after the fact.:)

Some of our close friends know that we’ve started looking closely at possibly moving to a new place in the next couple of years, on account of trying to do what we can to put Hannah through a reasonably good primary school when the time comes. This exercise is known as the “P1 Registration”, and is as much a rite of passage for young parents as National Service is for male Singaporeans.

One thing I’m at least glad for though is that the both of us are contended to try our best but we’re not going to do crazy stunts like some local parents are more disposed towards doing just to get their kids into so-called ‘Elite’ schools. Ling’s requirement are merely that it should be a school that’s reasonably near our place, it’s a mission school, and an all girls school, hopefully.

This “Hannah to P1” project of ours has got a couple of precursor activities. One of it is that we’ve been scouting around for nearby places that is within our financial means, and the other is a series of alternative plans if we can’t find a suitable place. And that accommodation hunt is in turn also based on our being able to clear our current debt, whoops home loan, to DBS.

What we got on our side is that we got our home at The Rivervale at a really low price, especially seeing how much home prices have gone north since our purchase of our Rivervale place in 2006. We’d been procrastinating on our decision to clear the outstanding home loan for a few years now (blogged here!), but upon discovering recently that we can’t practically service two home loans – our current place and a possible new place – simultaneously under newly instituted property laws here, we finally got round to making a trip down to our old solicitors’ agency to start proceedings for a full discharge of our outstanding loan. So, I’m glad to report that come June, we will no longer be working for DBS, finally.:)

Thankfully, we’d also been somewhat prudent enough in the last several years to have chalked up sufficient savings to clear out the entire outstanding amount now, and still have a good part of our savings left. On the other hand, I’ve also become even more sensitive to expenditure, which means that our June holiday break with Hannah needs to be likely scaled down a little.

More to follow later.:)

27. March 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: All Posts, Baby Blues · Tags:

Funnily, even though we can see Punggol Park from our living room, we don’t go there for walks as much as we’d like. Hannah’s certainly not been there very often. Her first occasion was when she was just two months old, and there hasn’t been many occasions since. Ling’s resolved to bring our girl down for walks more often though, which is what she did this Sunday late morning. Pictures.:)

blog-2011-hannah-OLYP6138-punggol-park-flickrblog-2011-hannah-OLYP6124-punggol-park-flickrblog-2011-hannah-OLYP6126-punggol-park-flickrblog-2011-hannah-OLYP6128-punggol-park-flickr

27. March 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, Baby Recipes

After sharing my recipes for Hannah’s porridges some time back, I have since made some modifications. For the benefit of folks who might use my recipes, below is a quick summary of the changes I’ve made.

1) It is unnecessary to steam vegetables and meat separately before adding them to the porridge. Although more nutrients will leech into the porridge when vegetables and meats are cooked directly in it, the leeched nutrients will be consumed by the baby anyway. I have been adding chopped vegetables at the last 10 minutes of cooking and minced meat at the end of cooking. Taste-wise, still yummy. :)

2) Adding a clove of garlic at the start of cooking improves the taste of the porridge. Apart from taste, garlic has many health benefits such as anti-cancer and cardio-protective functions. To maximise such properties, I’d crush the peeled garlic clove with the back of a small dish and leave it to stand for 5-10 minutes before adding it to the porridge for cooking. (Note: Although there is no hard and fast rule on the quantity of garlic for children, feed in moderation. If in doubt, remove the garlic before serving.)

3) Say ‘bye bye’ to pre-made chicken stock! Throw in a small, skinless, lean chicken thigh or drumstick into the porridge to get the chicken flavour at the start of cooking instead.  Advantages? One, you save time and avoid all the hassle in preparing chicken stock (you know, the cleaning of chicken, hours of simmering, then filtering the stock, packing it into little bags and finally freezing it). Two, freshly made chicken stock taste much more superior to the frozen version. Why didn’t this method occur to me earlier?! Duh. Oh ya, the chicken meat will lose its flavour after one hour of cooking in the porridge. I would discard this piece of chicken meat. According to my chicken porridge recipe, I still add another piece of chicken meat (finely minced, seasoned with a little light soy sauce and pepper for 1 year and above) towards the end of cooking. This piece is to be eaten by the child. Update: This is an amateur me learning as I go along. I discovered that the meat from chicken thigh is still flavourful even after 1 hour of simmering. Hence, I have been shredding the meat from the cooked chicken thigh for the porridge instead of using a separate piece of chicken.

Happy cooking! :)

 

26. March 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Dining

A funny incident of sorts took place over Saturday brunch this morning. We were at the Mcdonald’s outlet opposite Ang Mo Kio Hub. Our usual SOP involves me going to buy the grub, and Ling setting up a table with a baby chair for Hannah.

This time though, I returned with a tray of Hotcakes and beverages to see a visibly pissed Ling. Apparently, she’d just been told off by a Mcdonald clearner ‘auntie’ for choosing a table that seats four!

No, you’re not miscounting. There were three of us. Ling had brought over a baby chair to seat Hannah at one perpendicular side of the table, and the auntie said that the table of four should be seated only by a full party of four persons. And the strangest thing is that the restaurant was only half-filled, and there were plenty of other tables around of similar seating capacity that seated even less patrons.

blog-2011-hannah-2011-03-26 09.44.33-macdonalds

Handphone photo. Ling was sullen!

Ling was real mad though, and I’m assuming it wasn’t just because of the request but also the auntie’s manner. She wanted to state her sentiments so to the restaurant manager, though I said she should write it up and send it to official feedback channels available on Mcdonald’s web site. Feedback sent that way is tracked, logged and if Mcdonald is serious about customer service, each feedback item raised would need to be resolved.

And don’t think for a moment Ling isn’t going to do it. She’s right this minute writing up feedback on the Mcdonald web site.=)

25. March 2011 · 3 comments · Categories: All Posts, Baby Blues · Tags:

Ling has this thing about going to places that are closer to nature. After our friend Ann visited and blogged about a new board walk that stretches along Punggol canal, we popped by earlier in the early evening for a quick visit then dinner at one of the newly established restaurants there.

Pity though was that the area was madly humid. The very unpleasant kind of sticky heat with a distinctive whiff of dry-ness in the air. Hannah is well-dressed with longs and pants though as Ling was paranoid that she’d get bitten by more mosquitoes!

blog-2011-hannah-OLYP6080-punggol-flickrblog-2011-hannah-OLYP6083-punggol-flickr

The boardwalk was newly built with segments of it still under construction. Lots of people starting to mill around close to 7 PM. While the area still looked pretty pristine and clean, I wondered aloud to Ling how long it’d be before the hordes invade the place and mess it all up.

blog-2011-hannah-OLYP6075-punggol-flickrblog-2011-hannah-OLYP6102-punggol-flickr

Oh well – enjoying it while it lasts!

Yang: "I feel neglected"

Ling: "Huh?"

Yang: "No more TLC…people now got high blood pressure…"

Ling: *Oops*

Long story short, I was doing less home-cooked meals since the arrival of Hannah in our family. Caring for a baby proved to be energy-sapping for me for a long while and hence I played down other areas of family life. The cooking department became low priority amongst other things. For most meals, we either eat out or order in. We had quite a bit of fast food since Mcdonalds’ delivery was quick and easy. So ya, not much of healthy eating I must say. And I felt sorry when Yang’s doc broke the bad news of him getting high blood pressure. It’s time the wife do something to improve his diet.

The solution? Back to the kitchen it is! :P

I plan to cook at least 3 times per week for a start. And I shall post about my experiences with new recipes here. The recipes posted here usually serve 2 persons (1 with a large appetite and the other with a normal appetite)

blog-2011-cooking-OLYP6045-olive-fried-rice

OLIVE FRIED RICE

Ingredients

§    Cold, cooked, long-grained white jasmine rice – 1 ¼ cup (I usually keep the cooked rice in the fridge for 1-2 nights before using it)

§    Minced Pork – 300 g

§    Eggs – 2 large, beaten

§    Preserved, salted, black olives – 4, rinsed, pitted & diced semi-fine

§    Garlic – 3 cloves, minced

§    Olive oil – 2 tbsps

§    Japanese cucumber – 1 stick, washed and sliced

§    Lime – 1, cut into segments

Seasoning

Beaten Eggs (before cooking)

§    Light soy sauce – 1/2 tsp

§    Ground white pepper – dash

§    Tap water – 1 tbsp

Minced Pork (during cooking)

§    Oyster sauce – 3 tbsps

Fried Rice (at the end of cooking)

§    Ground white pepper – add as desired

Method

1)         Heat up the wok with medium heat and add 1 tbsp of olive oil.

2)         Once the oil is partially heated up, pour in the beaten eggs and scramble lightly until almost cooked. Use the spatula to cut up the eggs into small pieces. Set the scrambled eggs aside.

3)         Clean up the wok with a damp paper towel and proceed to add 1 tbsp of olive oil.

4)         Once the oil is partially heated up, add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant and lightly brown.

5)         Add the minced pork and stir-fry constantly to break up the meat into tiny bits.

6)         Add oyster sauce and continue to stir-fry until cooked. Set aside the minced pork.

7)         Add rice into the wok and stir-fry until all the grains are separated (I also used a spoon to help break up the cold, hard rice during preparation stage.)

8)         Add diced olives to the rice and stir to mix well.

9)         Return the cooked eggs and minced pork to the wok and continue to stir and mix everything evenly. Add a dash of pepper.

10)       Stir-fry until the rice has soften and is hot.

11)       Scoop the fried rice into a bowl and invert the bowl onto a serving plate with sliced Japanese cucumber and a segment of lime as side garnishes. Repeat for another plate.

12)       Serve while hot.

The last week hasn’t been an easy one for those of us who follow the daily news. There was the triple whammy of nuclear disaster, tsunami and earthquake in Japan. I watched the numerous Youtube videos of the oncoming monster waves sweeping all in its path – houses, boats and vehicles alike – and felt horror (I really hope those houses I saw on those videos had already been evacuated) at the awesome destructive power of nature at its fury. While Japan is more than 5,000 kilometres away from Singapore and that we’re still reasonably safe from any sort of radioactive emissions coming this way, like many others, I felt great sympathy and sorrow for those who have had their lives or livelihoods wiped out by the destructive forces.

As these things go, there’s been an outpouring of like sympathy from everywhere around the world, and that news media has been widely reporting a group known as Fukushima 50 has contextualized a good portion of that to the supposed indomitable Japanese spirit and propensity to self-sacrifice for the common good. There’s also been that thing about looting apparently being non-existent in Japan despite the calamities, though that’s already been debunked because there’s already been crime, albeit very low.

What has also piqued my interest though is that those sentiments have also resulted in comparisons between the Japanese and the rest of Asia. Some people here, especially those in discussion rooms, have started wondering would Singaporeans react with the same discipline. One of our friends certainly wrote one such post about Japanese discipline in contrast to others, a strongly worded piece that Ling disagreed in parts with, or so she told me over Sunday brunch.

And I agree with the wife. Though the memories of Japanese brutality 65 years ago still linger in many Asian minds and the relative lack of public remorse since that fact has only exemplified that for some, it’s unimaginable that people would dance with glee like how news media reported some Middle-Easterners doing so at 9/11, or like some Chinese netizens making contemptuous remarks of Japanese suffering last week as them receiving just-deserves. I sincerely think the Japanese stoicity is admirable. I am, however, uncomfortable when some of us start putting a race facing adversity up on pedestal and simultaneously run down the rest, especially when our admiration and liking for Japanese culture might be blinding us to the difficulties they face in their own society.

Some of what Japanese society faces is social and well-reported, like schoolyard aggression and bullying and truancy, suicide, gender inquality (Aware really has an easier time here), high divorce rates, or moral depravity (e.g. school girl obsession, hentai). Others are still social but not as widely known, like classroom disintegration from discipline. Then you have those problems that occur at the highest levels; like a government that experiences so much infighting between its major constituent parties, or the recently media reported incidents of cover-ups at Tokyo Electric before it finally exploded in their faces last week. Then we have the behavioral ones that elicit different reactions from different persons experiencing it; like how we were easily able to find really crappy food in Japan despite all that stuff about them exercising great care in cuisine, or that I witnessed a lot of sneezing into open goodness by passer-bys in Kyoto and without apology despite the purported hygiene standards, or that I still personally find loud slurping offensive.

To be fair, a couple of incidents like what we encountered in our December trip to Japan don’t make for general rules. And I don’t for a moment think Singaporeans are saints, what with all those letters written to The Straits Times about dangerous driving, ‘choping’ of seats, bad taxi driver behavior, food wastage at buffets, not always giving up MRT seats to pregnant women or the elderly etc.

But my point, and like what Ling was sharing over brunch then, is that fundamentally, there is no perfect or even near-perfect species of human beings. We’re all cut from the same cloth, more or less. Admiration for specific cultural traits is one thing. Adoration and forgetting the other side of the same coin is something else. And a lot of these social traits might only be obvious when you actually have to work and live with the race and not merely visit them as a tourist.

That said, we in Singapore have never faced a disaster the scale of what happened in the Sendai region last week – and may we never have to – but I for one am hopeful that we’ll be able to rise to the occasion like the Japanese have been able to.