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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eating Home Grown Sprouts

Sunflower Sprouts in the Tray

Sunflower Sprouts Salad. They taste good - a bit nutty. It's a veggie that tastes like sunflower seed. How's that for yummy!? They lift the taste of the tomatoes and are very crisp and crunchy.


Salsa with sunflower sprouts


Moth Bean Sprouts. These are called matki sprouts too and are often eaten in the Indian state of Maharashtra. They're usually steamed and tossed with rice and Indian spices. I am going to wait till the leaves appear and toss them with slices of peach.

The Easigarden trays are easy to use. Fill the bottom tray with water. Line the top tray with seeds. Fit them all together like the photo below.  The cover is an optional buy. You don't really need it because when the seeds have sprouted they need ventilation and the cover must be removed. The cover is only useful when the seeds are sprouting because it simulates the damp and still conditions of a seed buried in earth.


I think I'm going to continue sprouting. These are the cheapest high quality vegetables ( guaranteed sans pesticide) that I have ever eaten. One bag of moth beans is about $1.50 It gives you trays and trays and trays of sprouts... all fresh and crunchy. Plus... they're really idiot proof to grow, and can be harvested within 5 days. They don't even need sunlight. The ambient light indoors is enough to ensure they turn green. Grown in pitch darkness, the leaves will sprout yellow.

There is no skill required because there is no need to read soil conditions, adjust sunlight, concoct fertilizer. One needs to change water once a day and voilà! Crisp and crunchy vegetables ready for the plate!

My domestic helper, despite coming from an agricultural family, has no luck with my plants. My plants take one look at her and flop over dead. Even she can manage to care for the sprouts.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Why Do Children Dilly Dally Over Their Work?

I hear this so often from parents that I thought I would write about it.

In the busyness of everyday living, parents see a series of tasks that their children must complete in order to get reasonable grades in school. It really is quite normal because maintaining a task list is one of the more effective ways that adults have to organise their lives.

The only difference is this.

If we are adult enough to devise a task list, we are adult enough decide when and where the task list ends. Once we have completed the final task, we can go and do the things we like. We know what this last task is, and we know that after that task is done, we can do something we like.

The view is very different from the child's perspective. The child sees a task list assigned by an adult. There is no certainty that once she has reached the end of the task list, she can go and do the things she likes. In the experience of most children, once the tasks are completed, more tasks are added... because really, work is never done.

Yes I know. Even for adults, work is never done. However, we do have more control over when we stop to play. We CAN more or less decide that once we're done with such and such a task, we will go and watch a movie. Of course, some people work in jobs where the boss controls what we do tightly. People usually resign after a while because they feel overly controlled.

Children cannot resign from their families.

If the adult keeps on adding tasks to the child's task list, the child has nothing to look forwards to except work and more work. In such a scenario, the child has every incentive to work slowly. The slower she works, the less work she has to do.

Little Boy's workload was a result of open and respectful negotiations between the both of us. We devised his work schedule jointly. We had a 2 monthly plan. We then confirmed the weekly schedule at the start of the week. He had visibility into his work goals... he understood and bought into the whys and wherefores of whatever his works goals were to be... if he didn't agree or didn't understand, we would talk it out.

The work schedule was a promise we made to each other.

(1) I promised that I wouldn't add tasks even if he completed those tasks so fast that he had extra time to play. The extra time was his reward for focusing well and working fast.

(2) He promised that he would complete all those tasks with care and exactitude. Else, he would have to redo them until they were of a quality acceptable to me. If tasks were poorly executed and he had to sacrifice his playtime to perfect them, then the lost time was his punishment.

The work schedule was our contract. To keep my part of the bargain, I added no work tasks. In fact, I made sure to examine the homework he brought back from school everyday. If the homework added no value to his learning, I would write him excuses. If the homework did add value (and he could not be reasonably expected to complete school homework and also the work I assigned him), then I would delete my work from his work schedule.

In this way, Little Boy was CERTAIN about the end of his task list. He also knew that the task list would be a reasonable one that would not cheat him of playtime. This gave him confidence that if he focused and did a good job, he would be rewarded with more play. It was then up to him to work as fast as he could, to do the best job he could... to maximise his play time.

As a result, Little Boy did not dilly nor dally over his work.

Post Script: 
In case there are those who wonder why I didn't approach the Teacher to give feedback on "homework that didn't add value", there are a few reasons. 

(1) Firstly, the homework assigned could add value to some other student in his class with a different strengths and weaknesses profile. Teachers have 3 and sometimes 4 classes of 40 to teach. There is no way they can afford the kind of personal and individual attention to construct customised homework for each child. 

(2) Secondly, Teachers feel bad when they receive negative feedback and since different parents have different views, the poor Teacher should not be in a position to pander to all the different views. 

(3) Thirdly, it bleeds Teachers of time and energy if every parent goes over to them clamouring this and that. Teachers already have too little time to properly mark compositions (since classes are so large).

(4) Fourthly, the thinking skills requirements at the PSLE have risen so high (and the exam has become so high stakes) that if low value added HW is done, Little Boy would either have no time to play or his potential would be capped by HW that didn't help him learn beyond what he already knew. 

Something has to give.

In short, the MOE should not expect its individual Teachers to be founts of infinite resources. They have to write curriculum (because textbooks are so insufficient)... mark 4 classes of work... manage parents... set exams... plus others. If MOE had more realistic expectations of what individual Teachers can do to bring the children up to the high skills standards of the PSLE (give Teachers smaller classes and better textbooks) then perhaps parents need not have recourse to external tuition... and parents like me need not teach the syllabus actively.

I'm still waiting to see what MOE will be doing to improve mainstream textbooks (apart from further Conversation) so that children taught in classes of 40 by overworked Teachers, can have ways to independently learn.




Thursday, April 25, 2013

Brioche

Marie-Antoinette was supposed to have said "Let them eat brioche!" when her courtiers explained that the French people had no bread to eat.

Brioche is a bread to the extent that is made with yeast, not egg white nor baking powder. But it is a bread that is made with egg and butter - ingredients that we normally associate with cake. It is a light and fragrant bread chockful of eggs and butter. Traditionally, it can be eaten with jam or foie gras. In times past, there was the poor man's brioche (less butter - 100g of butter for 500g of flour) and the rich man's brioche ( a lot of butter - 350g of butter for 500g of flour).

On a continuum of luxury foods, you would have cake first, then rich brioche, then poor brioche and then the plain baguette. The brioche is not sweet because in the olden days, well to do French people ate it with food (like the Chinese eat rice). 

I suppose that something must have gotten lost in the translation when people tried to translate brioche. Is it a cake or a bread? I guess people were unkind to Marie-Antoinette... and to make her look really bad, they translated "brioche" as "cake" instead of top class luxury bread.

I love brioche...  since forever I have loved brioche. Bakeries here don't really do brioche. It is a difficult and tedious bread to make because it requires extensive kneading. I've never dared to make it. However, a heavy duty kitchen mixer is a wonderful invention. 

Brioche

The proof of a good brioche is in the gluten strands.


Thanks to The Bosch Mum 86 and this recipe HERE.




Sprouting Daikon Seeds

Japanese daikon seeds have a special spicy taste that dresses up salads and pizzas in a way similar to and yet different from rocket salad. You can't really buy them so to eat them, one has to grow them.



Daikon sprouts ready to harvest. I'll use them as a pizza topping over parma ham and mozzarella.

A roll of cotton wool and sets of drip trays.

Line the top tray with cotton wool.

Fill the bottom tray with some water... enough to soak the cotton wool thoroughly.

Place the top tray on the bottom tray. The cotton wool gets soaked with some water to spare.

Scatter seeds on the cotton wool. Soak these for a day.

After the first day of soaking, empty the bottom tray of water. The cotton wool needs to be damp thenceforth. Every morning, I will fill the bottom tray with a little water and rinse the cotton wool gently by immersing the top tray into the water inside the bottom tray below. Next, I drain away all the water and leave the cotton wool to drip into the bottom tray. The bottom tray stays empty of water for the rest of the day. It is there to catch the drip from the morning cotton rinse.

Soaking peas on Day 1. 
These will grow into what people call "dou miow" in the wet market.

Soaking sunflower seeds on Day 1. These sprout into veggies that taste like sunflower seeds.

There is another easier way to sprout seeds. A company called Easigarden HERE, sells water kits. Sprouts don't need nutrients so all you have to do is fill their trays with water and scatter the seeds on top. With these kits, you can skip the cotton wool because they are constructed to keep the seeds inside the top tray without cotton. One only needs to change the water every morning.

I think I'll get me a few of their kits because after a few days the cotton starts to smell a little, especially if one grows beans (red beans... green beans etc...) Doing away with cotton is more hygienic I think.

Daikon sprouts instead of rocket salad on pizza. Yum!!


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dengue Precautions: The Mosquito Flush

With a patch of jungle ever so nearby, mosquitoes are an everyday reality for us. On some nights when the hordes are out in force, we can kill BY HAND about 200 mosquitoes. We've even organised this as a sort of family bonding activity where we all sit out in the backyard and hunt mosquitoes. We sort of circle our dog Milo who, for some reason, attracts them in droves. Then it's a matter of clapping our hands together or slapping the floor. We have a breed of giant mosquitoes that fly real slow and their mouth parts are so thick that you feel them the moment they begin to poke into you.

Slap! Mosquito dead!

Lately though, the mosquitoes have become ever so tiny. They're no longer the giant ones. The small ones are more insidious. They bite you and you don't know it till they're done sucking their fill. These tiny mosquitoes fly real fast too... in zig zag formation. They're almost impossible to kill by hand. One tiny mosquito bit my face thrice and my arms twice. It managed to get The Husband a few times too. We sat up in the middle of the night and could not kill it.

With the incidences of dengue fever are on the rise, I worried. So I devised another way to deal with the mosquito problem.

Open Doors and Windows Only When the Sun Is Hot
I find it necessary to air the bedrooms during the day. 

These days, I only open doors and windows when the sun is high enough and hot enough to dehydrate any mosquitoes intrepid enough to fly about outside. At such times, you can be sure the mosquitoes have taken refuge in the shade of the jungle or someone else's house. They will seek out the dark areas under the bed... behind the books and on the curtains. Like us, mosquitoes need to stay hydrated to stay alive. Opening doors and windows only when the sun is high and hot ensures that very few mosquitoes fly into the house.

Flush Out Mosquitoes Before Dusk
From 3.30pm to 5pm, I close up the whole room, leaving only one window open to the outside. I then light mosquito coils and place them in all the dark corners. This flushes out any mosquito that may have come inside despite every precaution. Except for a single open window, the smoke is allowed to build up inside the room. Mosquitoes find this unbearable. They make their getaway through the only source of fresh air in the room - the single open window. 

At 5pm, I extinguish the mosquito coils and open all the windows. Any remaining mosquitoes who were too dumb to find the open window are quite relieved to fly outside now, along with the fumes from the mosquito coils. 

At 6pm, just when most of the fumes have dispersed to the outdoors, I close all windows and doors to the room. The room is now ready for another night of sleeping in. Of course, this means that we switch on the air-conditioners nightly, all night long.

On rainy days, the cool temperatures and wet air, ensure that mosquitoes have all day to fly into the house. On such days, the mosquito coils are lit all day from the moment the doors and windows are opened to shortly before they are closed.

So far so good. We've managed to maintain a zero mosquito bedroom ever since I started doing this. No more bites at night. No more mosquito carcasses collected in one corner of the room like hunting trophies.

Then there is prayer. I pray every night that God will spare us the ordeal of dengue fever.

Large and slow flying mosquitoes that are easily killed by hand.


Burning mosquito coil under the bed - a dark corner.


Burning mosquito coil under the desk - another dark corner.

A single source of fresh air


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Feeling Insecure

I hyperventilated when I read this article HERE written by a journalist named Petronella Wyatt.

Time was when a salary of £120,000 allowed one to live the life of a potentate. I know. My late father, the politician Woodrow Wyatt, never earned more than £130,000, yet he maintained a Grade II-listed house (albeit rented) in the same London street as Sir Paul McCartney, with a cook and a butler.

For many years, he owned a Queen Anne manor in Wiltshire, which was similarly staffed, while renting holiday villas in expensive Italian resorts. He dressed in bespoke suits, owned a cellar full of first-growth claret and a collection of pre-Castro Havana cigars. My mother, to whom he gave an allowance, was clothed almost exclusively in Chanel, and had her hair done every week at the high-end hairdressers, Daniel Galvin.

I earn twice as much now as I did in my late 20s [Petronella Wyatt earns about SGD$190,000), but back then I lived in a way that would be impossible now. Back then, on a visit to Paris, for example, I treated myself to two nights at the Ritz.

I have calculated I would need to earn at least £300,000 now — a sum quite beyond most journalists — to enjoy the luxury to which I had once become accustomed. I’m not exaggerating when I confess whenever the doorbell rings at my rented flat in North London, I worry if it is the bailiff. Six months ago, it was. I told him, quite honestly, that I had nothing worth confiscating.

On the one hand, one can say that this silly Petronella person should have saved up for a rainy day. She  spent her money like there was no tomorrow... and now that tomorrow has come, she has no assets, no capital, no savings... and lives in fear of the bailiffs.

On the other hand, if someone as rich as she was can be reduced to such straits of poverty as to fear a visit from the bailiff, then what about me who never could afford Chanel suits and all that. What'll prices be like when Petunia is old and unable to work? With a longer life span from age 60 to perhaps 90, prices could rise 10 to 20 times. Assumptions we make today about what we need to comfortably retire in one place could well be completely off by the time we're too old to create economic value.

Today's 70 year olds probably reckoned they could get by with $300 a month because back then they could buy today's $3000 worth of goods and services with $300. Back then, they probably decided it was ok to step back, retire early and enjoy life. Today, they realise that $300 gets them so little that they wouldn't survive without the free food delivered to their doorstep by volunteers.

Today, I might figure that I need $3000 a month to get by. When I'm 70, $3000 would probably get me the present-day's $150-$300 worth of real goods and services? If prices rise 30 times by the time I'm 70, then I would only be able to buy the equivalent of $100 of goods at today's prices. Certainly, not enough for medical expenses. Hardly enough for nutritious food.

That's a really scary thought. Retire at 45? I don't think so. I would hate to have to depend on others for handouts when I'm old. I would hate to have to borrow money for healthcare. I would hate to feel anything but self-sufficient. At the moment life is good. I can buy all the flour I need to make bread. We gorge on fresh fruits and vegetables aplenty. We eat out sometimes. I buy good cuts of meat.

I've planned actively for retirement since the day I drew my salary. Even in my 20s, I believed in making hay whilst the sun shines. So... I cut my own hair, dressed functionally, eschewed jewelry, perfume, expensive shoes and handbags. When travelling, I did all I could to make our dollar stretch. In countries like the USA, eating out is really expensive... so I devised a portable kitchen and booked us into mini apartments where I could cook nutritious meals without breaking the bank. I've never known the Petronella Wyatt luxury lifestyle and I don't miss it.

Just when I thought I could relax, it occurs to me that one can never really relax and sit back on one's laurels in Singapore. If you're not running as fast, Singapore will leave you behind. And I don't think there is any place in the world where life will stand still and prices stay steady. There is no safe refuge. Some countries may be cheap to stay in today, like Singapore was cheap to stay in, in the 1980s. There is no guarantee that these countries will continue to be cheap 3 decades from now.

One just has to keep on moving... earning... saving... investing. I need something that'll give me an inflation adjusted income till I die.

Think. Think. Think.



Monday, April 15, 2013

Higher Order Thinking Skills (English) For Parents

I was miserably kicking myself for having forgotten to take pictures of the class. Then one very thoughtful mommy emailed me this picture. It was really a lovely surprise!!


Participant Feedback Set 1 (4 people)


Participant Feedback Set 2 (4 people)


Participant Feedback Set 3 (5 people)

Participant Feedback Set 4 (2 people)


My favorite!!

I ran the first HOT Skills (English) Seminar for Parents on Saturday 13th April. The class of 15 was expanded to 20 people to cater to people who were keen to attend even after registrations were closed. I know we're supposed to have this sexy Participant Feedback Form with numbers to circle and everything. Typically, these numbers are analyzed and presented in a table form as follows below. I didn't want to inflict a form on people and what I needed were concrete suggestions on how to improve or what to maintain in the course.

So I asked them to write out One Thing They Liked and One Thing They Disliked.

These were collated from evaluations done by the school where I gave a school talk HERE.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

No Knead Bread 2

I used Steve's No Knead Rosemary Bread recipe but I substituted rosemary with a mix of cumin and coriander and 5 spice powder. This is the spice mix I use for pulled pork here. Funnily enough, the bread turned out smelling very different from pulled pork. It smelled like a sort of exotic cinnamon roll.

Spice mix (1 teaspoon of each type of powder)

My dutch oven is big and the dough is soft. It sort of spreads out a bit and ends up looking like a ciabatta with big holes and chewy moist crumb. Only thing though was that it smelt very different and tasted sweet because of the extra tablespoon of sugar I popped into the mix.

The crust was thicker this time because I added steam into the dutch oven during the bake. All in all... this was a very delicious sort of spiced ciabatta. I shall call it Indian ciabatta in honour of my love for Indian food (which I find very hard to make well). Anyone can make a curry but it ain't easy to make a GOOD curry from scratch.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

No Knead Bread

Our second bread machine died in as many years. I was distraught and believed that we needed a really heavy duty machine. I settled on the Bosch Mum 86 which retails at SGD1200/=. As versatile as a Kitchen Aid but with a more powerful motor. When I discussed with The Husband, he asked "Buy it if you really want it badly." 

So I took a few days to examine if I really wanted it BADLY.

I didn't want the machine BADLY... it's just that I hate store bought breads and the kind of artisanal bread I like costs almost SGD$10 a loaf. So I decided to explore bread making a bit more to see if I could make bread every 2 days without having to spend too long in the kitchen. 

That's when I discovered No Knead Bread.

One would have thought that the idea of a bread that didn't require kneading was a contradiction in terms. I thought the idea so impossible that it was intriguing. But well, the idea does exist and Petunia actually managed to bake the best bread she has EVER made without kneading.

Just stir. Proof 8 hours. Shape. Proof 2 hours. Plop into Dutch oven (must be a very HOT preheated Dutch Oven). Bake. 

Total preparation time : 10 minutes. 
Total waiting time: 10 hours. 
Total baking time: 20 minutes

I prepare the dough in the morning. I bake it after work OR I prepare the dough at night and bake the next morning. It works around my work schedule perfectly well and my family eats delicious home made bread. The bread is seriously better than what came out of my 2 dead bread machines. I had never had confidence to make bread without the bread machine because bread making is supposed to be so hard.

With the invention of No Knead Bread, breadmaking has become really very easy and idiot proof.




Risen dough after 3 hours.

My glass Dutch oven. Glass takes less time to heat up than cast iron so I didn't use the Le Creuset. The Dutch oven is important because artisanal breads (which I love) have thick crusts. Professional bakers introduce steam into their ovens when baking, to wet the crust and then bake it. The Dutch oven keeps the steam inside the pot and thus crust is both steamed and baked without the introduction of extra steam in the oven.

The finished loaf with a THICK crusty crust.

Look at the HUGE holes and the thick crust.

My recipe is HERE.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

School Talk : How To Motivate Your Child To WANT To Study



I gave a talk to about 50 odd parents yesterday. Here they are looking very bored and unfriendly. You see... I wanted parents to experience some of the emotions their children experience when they don't motivate their children correctly.

So I set up some emotional traps.

Here they are right in the middle of an unpleasant emotional experience. See all the crossed arms and glum faces? "The experience was an eye opener," they said to me later when they were all smiling and enthused.

Unfortunately, I have no photos to prove that they WERE enthused because I was busy giving class at that point. I had only the luxury to walk around and take pictures when they were being emotionally tortured.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cacio e Pepe (Part 2)

Decent bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip. But hmmm... the Very Expensive Restaurant does better bread.


Potato and leek soup.


Very tender beef tenderloin... as good as the Very Expensive Restaurant.


Pasta of the Day: Ham and olive pasta


Squid ink pasta ... highly recommended.

This time, I went with The Husband, who had taken a very rare one day leave to be with me. He enjoyed the food immensely too. We both agreed that this hidden restaurant tucked at the foot of Bukit Gombak is a keeper.

The Husband is a texture kind of guy so he is sensitive to the tactile feel of blankets and sweaters and such. For him, the perfectly al dente pasta is what makes pasta good. He was very happy with the way the strands of pasta felt to his teeth.

It appears that the squid ink pasta at Cacio e Pepe is a sought after dish (and on some occasions, trusted sources tell me, the dish is reserved and only brought out for long timers and friends of the Lady Boss). So... if you go, make sure you suck up to the Lady Boss real good. That way, you just MIGHT be rewarded with a black mass of pasta interspersed with juicy clams, squid rings and a mussel or 2.

This black pasta sauce is creamy (and black) and redolent of the sea. The only other dish that has ever exploded into a symphony of seafood tastes in my mouth is the bouillabaisse (that our friend Rémi's mother used to make). It was as if every type of seafood had come together to sing one swelling song to my palate. I rather think Rémi's mother's bouillabaisse sang a fuller and deeper song (but the dear old lady has passed on and her bouillabaisse with her)... but this squid ink pasta comes a close second. Very close.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cacio e Pepe

It is clear that Petunia is on a mission to try out every Italian restaurant in town in order to find a sensibly good quality alternative to a very expensive restaurant which serves divine food. My friend D and I tried out Cacio e Pepe today.

It was divine.

I really liked what I ate and I will go back. Maybe tomorrow.

Beef carpaccio...  A hint of lemon... some sharp cheese (Parmesan)... plenty of olives.... very tender beef slices.

Mushroom soup... this was better than the very expensive restaurant. It was so thick with mushroom goodness that it was almost mushroom purée. Very lightly seasoned but SO full of mushroom umami taste.

Panna cotta... this was half the size of the very expensive restaurant but I thought it was even slightly superior in terms of taste and presentation. 

Tiramisu... somewhat too sweet.

I had a mouthful of my friend's Spaghetti of the Day. It was good. It had a tomato based sauce that matches mine below. Where tomato sauce spaghetti is concerned, Little Boy orders it in every restaurant and can only finish a third of the plate because he says "It doesn't taste like yours, Mom." The tomato based spaghetti sauce at Cacio e Pepe doesn't taste like mine but I think Little Boy will LOVE it. It's really packed with taste and complex flavors. I wondered if there was a hint of truffle oil... or I might be dreaming.

Petunia's spaghetti bolognaise 
(rosemary, thyme and sage from my garden together with 40 tomatoes cooked down to a paste)
This spoils the spaghetti bolognaise from everywhere else for both The Daughter and Little Boy no matter where we've gone (Australia... France... USA). BUT I will let them try Cacio e Pepe's and I think they will agree that if I die, they can go there to have good spaghetti in tomato-based sauce.

Their Set Lunch is only $13.90.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

La Braceria

The prices at Valentino's freaked me out. The food was so good that my stomach complained for a long time about being denied good food. I kept logging on to the Valentino's blog post to RE-savour the food by looking at my own photos. Happily enough, a kind blog reader dropped me a comment and then in a series of frenzied WhatsApp messages from me to her... I managed to get some names of restaurants that are less pricey and just as authentic.

My stomach gathered up the whole family and we made for La Braceria (5, Greendale Avenue). The prices here were much more agreeable. For a while, my fascination with Italian food was assuaged. But... Valentino's food was still better. 


Bread was warm and crispy. Nice!

Antipasti was good. The zucchini was a little too hard and dry for my liking.


This was yummicilious - fragrant saffron cream rice and veal on the bone.


Wagyu beef and mushroom tagliatelle.


Ravioli.


Panna cotta.


Tiramisu.