30. September 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Toys & Technology · Tags:

blogbirthdayOne of the things I most look forward to every couple of years is the renewal of our mobile phone subscriptions, because they invariably mean opportunities to change mobile phones. Yeah it comes with the necessity of having to renew your mobile plan subscription, but given the ubiquitous use of mobile phones here, it’s not like as though we can both not take up those subscriptions.

I’d originally intended to include a new mobile phone to Ling’s list of birthday presents last week, as her mobile plan is up for renewal. Problem though is that the phone she currently uses is still going on very well, and in terms of color, form factor, cuteness and reliability, her very womanly-pink phone (pictured right) is very hard to beat! Moreover, a new phone of the smartphone class would have required her to change her current voice-only plan to one that enables data, and she figured she doesn’t have much use of mobile data at the moment.

So, the hubby gets to enjoy her phone renewal offer from the telco. Given that we’ve resolved to turn Scrooge for the next several years to pay for our new home, I decided on the cheapest dual-core Android phone that would also be a zero dollar upgrade, and settled on the Motorola Atrix.

There’s actually a large range of dual-core Android phones available right now. There’s the Motorola Atrix, the LG Optimus 2X, several HTC models, and the Samsung Galaxy S2. And that’s not counting the variants capable of 3D. The Samsung Galaxy S2 currently sits, comfortably and with little argument, at the top of its class with its rich-contrast and superb screen, outstanding performance, and fairly good battery life. It also costs a lot of money. If I didn’t have debts to pay, that would had been the phone I’d gone for, having very good experience with the phone’s predecessor (the Galaxy S). Long story short it was the Atrix, which cost basically nothing after the contract was renewed and also with my existing Galaxy S traded-in.

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Dual-core wonder.

And I’m really enjoying the phone so far too. It’s remarkably faster than the old Galaxy S, better build quality, and has a really nifty fingerprint scanner for phone security that’s working very well with my two indexes. The screen has a higher resolution than the S2 but is in itself an obviously lower quality screen in contrast and colors when even compared to the original Galaxy S. So, Hannah looks funny in the wallpaper, compared to the old phone. Moreover, the phone’s out speaker is placed in an awkward position, such that when the phone is placed on a flat surface with screen pointing up, audio is muffled. Audio is also a little weak-sounding compared to the Galaxy S too.

Oh well; can’t have everything, and I’m certainly not complaining since I essentially got the phone for free. The phone also came with a bunch of freebies; one of which – an optical mouse – is pointless, but the other – a compact bluetooth keyboard – is terrific. Works with the iPad. =)

If you haven’t already visited this great cooking blog called Food 4 Tots and are running out of ideas for preparing meals, you should seriously give the recipes from this blog a shot. The mother painstakingly wrote down all kinds of useful tips and included great photos in her recipes to help first-timers cook/bake successfully. And she replies to queries too. She is a very nice lady who shares her cooking/baking experiences freely, warmly and humbly.

The result of trying her Yakitori recipe? Let the pictures here do the talking :)

Do thy grilling the wok-style way :)

I bought a pack of short bamboo paddle skewers from Daiso recently and hence the junior version below :)

Mini Yakitori for Hannah :)

Hannah had another first in eating from a stick. :) I enjoyed watching her trying to nibble and grab the food pieces with her teeth. I was glad that I used these paddle skewers instead of satay sticks as the latter have sharper ends.

Taste-wise we all liked it. I also prepared ABC soup to complement the meal. All in all, it was nice to have something different for dinner now and then. :)

 

Coconut Konnyaku Jelly

Coconut Agar-Agar

That’s right, I’m getting a kick out of making agar-agar and konnyaku jelly lately. :)

Hannah has been down with influenza and her fever has been raging over the past few days. Apart from the usual symptoms of fever, cough and runny nose, we have another challenge. Our girl drinks little water. As hydration is important in the case of overcoming fever, perhaps that explains why she is taking a longer time to recover.

Besides feeding her meals and fruits high in fluids, I also make jellies for her. And Hannah is starting to request for more agar-agar lately. I like to use fresh coconut water to make agar-agar and konnyaku jelly because: 1) Coconut water is cooling,  2) it contains useful mineral salts and other beneficial substances, and 3) it is fragrant and mildly sweet.

Preparation-wise is fairly straight forward if you have a cleaver/chopper to hack open a young coconut at its top to get to its water and flesh. Below is my preferred proportions of ingredients for making fresh coconut agar-agar and konnyaku jelly.

A young coconut after hacking the top with a cleaver.

Okay, before you plunge into the recipes, you need to know how to get through the thick husk of the coconut to get to its contents. There are a few ways to open a coconut. It could be daunting and even scary for the first-timer but once you got the hang of it, subsequent attempts should be just routine. BTW, I use young coconuts which come in their fibrous outer layer.

Okay, this is how I open young coconuts. Use the heel of the cleaver knife to hack the top of the coconut (going in a circle) in as many times as necessary so that a circular opening is created. Use the blunt side of the cleaver to pry open and remove the top, pour out the coconut water into a big bowl first to catch any accidental drips before transferring it into a measuring cup, and spoon out the flesh into another bowl.

Fresh Coconut Konnyaku Jelly Recipe

Ingredients (for making 1 tray of 8 jellies)

  • Coconut water from 1 small young coconut (Thai coconuts preferred for its fragrance) – about 250 ml
  • Water – 50 ml (or any amount to add to the coconut water to make up to the total volume of 300 ml)
  • Konnyaku powder – 4 g
  • Sugar – 30 g
  • Coconut flesh – scraped from the coconut with a spoon. Avoid the stiff flesh if any. Cut into thin strips.

Method

1) Divide the coconut flesh equally into the 8 jelly moulds of a tray.

2) Mix konnyaku powder and sugar in a bowl and set aside.

3) Place ingredient 1 and 2 in a pot and bring it to boil.

4) Lower the flame and add konnyaku-sugar mixture. Stir for about 3 minutes to dissolve powder and sugar.

5) Turn off the flame and stir for another 5 minutes to remove tiny bubbles in the mixture.

6) Pour the mixture into the moulds and set aside to cool down to room temperature. Place the tray of moulds into the refrigerator to chill further for 1-2 hours before serving. :)

Fresh Coconut Agar-Agar Recipe

Ingredients (for making 5 cups, 120 ml each)

  • Coconut water from 1 big young coconut (Thailand ones are preferred for its fragrance) – about 500 ml
  • Water – 100 ml (or any amount to add to the coconut water to make up the total volume of 600 ml)
  • Sugar – 55 g (about 4 flat tbsp, or adjust accordingly if you use less or more water)
  • Agar agar powder – 6 g (slightly less than 1 tbsp – I used Swallow Globe brand)
  • Coconut flesh – scraped from the coconut with a spoon. Avoid the stiff flesh if any.

Method

1) Mix the first 4 ingredients in a pot and bring it to boil. Stir every now and then to ensure all ingredients are well incorporated while waiting for boiling to occur.

2) Once the mixture is boiling, add coconut flesh and bring it to boil again. Turn off the flame.

3) If you’re using plastic molds, let the agar agar mixture cool for a few minutes before pouring. If using metal molds, you could pour it out right away.

4) Allow the agar agar to cool down to room temperature before transferring it into the refrigerator to chill it down further (about 1-2 hours) to get a nice cooling dessert. Enjoy :)

It’s Ling’s birthday today, and she got a $1.31 million dollar present. It was this:

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Our journey to find a new home to move to for Hannah’s primary one registration came to a conclusion when we made the booking for an apartment unit @ The Minton. We started searching in January this year, and blogged about our thought process here too (e.g. here), and visited a few projects here and there. Not too many though; because we had our hearts set on the primary school we wanted to send our girl to, and as these things go, once that’s decided, you sort of just zero in on exactly the projects that are within the location requirements of that school.

Because of where and when funds were available, timing of our purchase was real tricky. The project had been in development for a year now, and we’d seen prices steadily going up. The trigger point finally came yesterday when a particular unit we had our eye on saw a 5% increase in price within just 3 months. We decided to just bite the bullet and go for it, culminating with us confirming a booking and paying the first 5% this afternoon. A purchase at this point and also the price of the unit means that in the next 2 years or so before we sell our home here at The Rivervale, our wallets are going to be really tight.

But on the bright side; Ling gave a collective sigh of relief when we were back at home later. She had been really stressed out thinking and figuring out plans for Hannah’s first school, and this sort of casts our plans in stone now. I’ll be blogging about other matters with our new home as we go along too, probably starting off with the specific unit we chose in a bit.

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Mommy and Daughter looking happy. Daddy's broke though.

Oh, Ling got a few other presents too. A new handhag that’ll replace a utility one that she carries whenever we’re out with Hannah, another item that’s on the way in mail, and a yummy tiramisu cake. =)

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Hannah's real interested again in the birthday cake.=)

Pudding, cake, or both?

Fresh orange zest really wakes up my senses.

The first time I came across such an interesting combination of cake and pudding was at this blog and then Mark Bittman’s blog (the owner of the original recipe). I have tried both the adapted version (using coconut milk) and the original version (using buttermilk) and prefer the original. I made a few changes to Bittman’s recipe to suit my personal preference. Below is my adapted version courtesy of Bittman’s.

Ingredients

  • Butter – 4 tbsp (or 56g), melted, room temperature
  • Buttermilk – 1 cup
  • Caster sugar – 3/4 cup: divided into ½ cup and ¼ cup (Actually, I used slightly lesser than the suggested amounts)
  • Eggs – 3 large, separated*
  • All-purpose flour – 1/3 cup
  • Salt – a pinch (e.g. 1/8 tsp)
  • Fresh blueberries – 80 g (or as much as you like :P), rinse and pat dry with kitchen towel
  • Orange zest – 1 tbsp (about grating 1 medium orange)
  • Vegetable oil – for greasing baking dish

Method

1) Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease an 8-inch square ceramic or glass baking dish** with vegetable oil. (I like to use a piece of cling wrap to wrap around one hand to do the greasing)

2) Rinse the blueberries and pat dry. Set aside.

3) Prepare the orange zest: Wash a fresh orange with warm water thoroughly (if non-organic), wipe dry and grate the outermost orange skin. Avoid scraping off the inner white part (bitter!) of the skin. In fact, after you have grated one part of the skin, don’t grate the same area a second time.

4) Put the butter, buttermilk, 1/2 cup of sugar, egg yolks, flour and salt in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Pour the batter into a big bowl. Stir in the blueberries and orange zest and set aside.

5) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites (use an electric mixer if you have one as whisking by hand can be very tedious and tiring) until they hold soft peaks, sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup of caster sugar and beat until the whites hold soft peaks*** again; fold them into the batter gently but thoroughly.

Snowy soft peaks after addition of sugar: Ends of the peaks soft enough to turn over

6) Pour the batter into the prepared dish and put the dish in a baking pan large enough to hold it comfortably. Carefully, pour enough warm water into the baking pan (i.e. the water bath) to come to within an inch or so of the top of the dish. Transfer carefully to the oven and bake until the top is golden brown and the center is just set but slightly jiggly, about 40-45 minutes.

7) Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool down a bit before serving. Alternatively, cool the dish completely on a rack, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours, before serving. This will keep well in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days.  Serve with whipped cream if you like.

Delicious and warm-ish pudding cake! :)

Footnotes:

*It is easier to separate egg yolks from the whites when they are still cold. Make sure that the whites are completely devoid of egg yolk during separation as the presence of fat will affect successful whisking of egg whites.

**On one of my attempts, I used six 6-cm ramekins and 2 big ceramic cups (as I ran out of ramekins).

***The original recipe calls for stiff peaks but this makes it quite difficult to combine the egg whites with the batter. Soft peaks makes mixing easier.

Check out the moist pudding at the base :)

The original recipe uses lemon zest. I have come to prefer orange zest because orange is a common fruit we have at home (we hardly use lemon for anything). In addition to yielding that citrus tang, the orange zest also gives a lovely tangerine perfume to baked goods. I enjoyed the rush of warm orange scent the moment the oven door was opened after baking was done. Yep, some aroma therapy at home indeed. :P

18. September 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Aquarium, At Home

We haven’t been blogging about our aquarium for a few years now; the last such post about our tank at home was nearly three years ago now. The three feet tank still graces our living room, and it was put up five years ago when we first moved to our home here.

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The way I’ve set it up from the start is that it mostly runs on auto-mode. Basically, apart from the daily critter feeds and a fortnightly partial change of water, the only other maintenance routines is the about bimonthly cleaning of filter inlets, trimming of plants, and scrubbing of fish-tank waters.

The two major changes since that last post has been removal of a costly CO2 injection system that I added when first setting the tank up (the system was too cumbersome and controlling the flow of the gas for optimal plant growth was too difficult), and adding a second aquarium filter to the tank. One of those dreadfully expensive but highly-regarded made-in-Germay Eheim filters.

The tank has also, remarkably, stabilized very well for the last three years now. We rarely have critter deaths. The last non-natural critter death as I recall it was one tetra that inexplicably took a leap out of the tank two years ago.

We haven’t been replacing the critters though. I had this big idea about replacing the entire substrate layer a year ago (a major and very time-consuming operation for those of us who know about the hobby). The substrate the current tank uses is aquatic soil, and it has a finite life-span; slowly turning into slush. I picked up nearly 30 kilograms of inert replacement gravel, but haven’t quite got round to actually doing it! Oh well; maybe at the end of this year.

Ling was asking about our longest lived critter. It’s this little bugger:

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He’s an Albino corydoras. We’ve had him for 4.5 years now. He grew from a little runt of about 2/3rds of an inch, to a grand size of nearly 1.5 inches now.=)

New series of posts about the sort of colorful things our little girl does on her journey of growing self-awareness and assertion! The bunch of pictures here were taken on Tuesday evening at a The Soup (Chinese) Restaurant. We’ve been to this restaurant a couple of times now, not too often though as prices are a little pricey. That said, they whip up an absolutely fabulous chicken dish called the Samsui Ginger Chicken.

Ling was asking if we’ve brought our friend Matt here too try out this dish before. Not before as I recall, so this is definitely a go-to place the next time he visits. =)

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Your guess is as good as mine what she's doing here!

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We only realized later what she was doing. She said "Mommy, kitchen".=)

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Her attention shifted ot the plate of chicken when it arrived though.

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She's become quite adept at feeding herself now. That's a bowl of ginger fried rice with the Samsui ginger chicken, decked with claypot toufu, a bit of spicy kang-kong. She tucked them all in.=)

Soul Surfer (2011) – on rental. The story of this not-too-mainstream film goes like this. Bethany Hamilton is a 13 year old girl living in Kauai. She has two brothers, loving parents, and is in a Christian family who loves surfing. However, on a morning surf with friends in October 2003 however, she loses her entire arm when she’s attacked by a tiger shark. Undeterred, she remains guided by her faith and with witnessing of others suffering, she goes on a journey of emotional and physical recovery to pursue her dream of competitive surfing and charity work.

Sounds corny and something straight out of a film adapted out of a Nicholas Sparks book? Nope. The story’s real. The incident did happen, and the character is very real. The story is both tragic but also inspirational, with the real 21 year old Bethany Hamilton today competitively surfing and winning trophies despite her disability. I learned of the real story while casually browsing for sports news, and upon finding out that a film was being made about her story, queued up the DVD rental as soon as it was released.

The key role of Bethany is played by AnnaSophia Robb, an actress I’ve named on our blog here before as one of the best young actresses to watch; her parents Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, and the rest of the cast mostly non-recognizables, excepting Craig T. Nelson as the town’s doctor, and American country singer, Carrie Underwood in the odd role of a church worker. The film was made on location in Hawaii, and apart from what looks like a neighboring set dressed up to replace a Thai location depicting the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, looks pretty authentic. The surfing is easy to follow, and as I understand it, done with minimal CG enhancements.

The story is pretty well-documented in news that viewers who have an inclination to find out more only need to do a quick Google search. Nonetheless, it’s not an easy film to watch. Every scene where you see Robb on-screen without her arm (done through CG) and struggling to re-learn everything that she once took for granted, is heart-rendering. Much of this is due to Robb amazing performance. She’s easily likable as a young growing up girl who loves her hobby, and when tragedy strikes, presents real emotions as she struggles to reconcile her loss with her faith. Bit of snippet: the real Bethany Hamilton when asked who she’d like to play her in this film, she named Robb.

AnnaSophia Robb and Bethany Hamilton.

One thing though is that Hollywood routinely has the habit of turning into cheese inspirational stories like this, and Soul Surfer comes dangerously close to the same failings. The package that includes camera angles, dialog and music, feels pretty manipulative to elicit tears from you. Similarly too, the film poses very tough questions like how can God allow for such tragedies to happen, but doesn’t do resolve it well for the most part. There’s a weak attempt to provide some sort of answer from Underwood’s church worker character but sorry, she doesn’t act very well; and it’s only in the film’s closing scene is there an answer of sorts coming out from Bethany herself.

If this film doesn’t make shark fin lovers want to go out and eat a pot of shark’s fin soup, nothing else will (to be fair though, the real Bethany Hamilton has nothing against sharks, and in fact thinks they are great creatures – see DVD supplements). Outside that, the film is on a bit of a fine edge. The film passes or fails based on AnnaSophia Robb’s performance, and thankfully she does not disappoint. Deducted a star for the cheese injected, but on the overall, worth an easy watch.

One of those funny things about being a computer enthusiast and also a computer engineer by training is that for a while, everyone around me concluded I was a 24/7 tech support person! You name it, I did it. Sorting out virus issues. Swapping harddrives. Trying to restore a dying harddrive. Transplanting a system to another desktop case. Swapping motherboards around.

I should add though that I enjoy working with computer hardware, and being able to to assemble my first PC from parts 15 years ago has turned into one of the most therapeutic hobbies I’ve got. It’s my equivalent of not being able to work on larger mechanical things, like cars (I have no clue on cars).

The caveat though is that I’m most at ease fixing my own computers rather than someone else’s. Two reasons. Firstly, it’s always risky working on computers I don’t own or have background info on. E.g. if the computer had already been demonstrating subtle nuances that’s indicative of imminent failure. Secondly, fixing someone else’s computer often means I end up having to provide further tech support for it. =(

In any case; I haven’t tried working on notebooks yet as those things’ innards are a lot more fragile, intricate and complex… until yesterday afternoon. I installed an Intel 320 series Solid State Drive into my desktop PC in May this year, and it worked so well I decided to do the same for my Dell XPS with an OCZ Vertex 2 SSD. Some of us are already aware that heat is a huge factor that determines the reliability and longevity of compact computer systems like notebooks, and the Dell had been getting real hot from stressed use.

Thing though is that my Dell XPS doesn’t have a swappable hard drive bay, unlike other notebook models. Replacing a hard drive means removing removing the very large notebook chassis underplate.

Base of the Dell XPS exposed.

Thankfully, the swap itself was pretty easy and I didn’t need to poke around the insides too much. A short 10 minute operation later, the SSD-equipped Dell now is a lot more responsive, and best of all, runs a lot cooler now. =)

2-course dinner :)

I wanted to call the soup ‘cream of pumpkin’ but I didn’t use any cream….so ya, just pumpkin soup will do.

I was in the mood to prepare new dishes for Hannah during the post National Day holiday. It should be something healthy of course. After browsing my favourite food blogs for ideas, I decided to use my pumpkin soup recipe for adults (blogged about it here) to prepare Hannah’s dinner. The only modification I made to the original recipe was replacing canned chicken broth with home-made one. I bought pumpkin from NTUC (there was only one variety available) and they turned out to be pleasantly sweet. *whew* In fact,  the sweetness of the pumpkin was so good that no salt was required to season the soup further (BTW, the home-made chicken broth doesn’t contain salt). The pumpkin soup also has that umami factor thanks to the flavourful chicken broth.

As the soup was rich in carbohydrates (sugary pumpkin and starchy potato), I didn’t include rice for her dinner. Rather, I decided to add fish (protein) to make it a balanced meal. We had excess threadfin in the freezer and hence I decided to pan-fry a slice and drizzle it with soy sauce flavoured with ginger slivers and spring onions.

Verdict? Hannah ate up the fish quickly but drank only half of the pumpkin soup. :)