death by paper cut

{September 9, 2013}   Cookie….

Because I had a (Teachers’) day off last Friday, I took the niece and nephew to the nearby Science Centre to have walk about, and maybe learn something new.

A new exhibit we visited was Candy Unwrapped which is free admission if are a Science Centre member but charges a nominal fee otherwise.  It is fairly interactive for young kids. However, the disparate segments of the exhibition space somewhat lacks unity and its presentation rather underwhelming. In any case, there is always something new to be learnt.

For me, the most sobering but not exactly new titbit (pun intended) of knowledge I encountered was the Energy Burn exhibit. By riding on the stationary bicycles, you can actually see and feel how long it takes to chip away at different amounts of sugar.

Here is a helpful chart reminding you that it takes 20:12 minutes of running at 8km per hour to burn 3 pieces of chocolate chip cookies. Yes, just 3 measly pieces.

Candy Unwrapped - How long it takes to burn sugar

Interesting, I also recently came across a youtube video of Tom Hiddleston teaching Cookie Monster about delayed gratification with regards to, no surprises for guessing, eating cookies…

And just when I was coveting Famous Amos.


{January 24, 2012}   genuinely good company

i am not a big fan of how chinese new year typically is. i loath the tacky looping dong-dong-chiang yammering that is now made more grating with the techno remix. i detest even more the acutely materialistic core of the festivities and the preparations leading up to it because beyond the gathering of kith and kin is the quintessential need to “get it right” so that prosperity might follow.

well-wishing is all about getting big-better-best grades, property, cars, holidays, look, stature in quantifiable measures and each annual gathering is the time to measure up and be found wanting. there is an enormous pressure to look good and make looking good look easy.

it does not help that chinese variety shows host the most imbecile and demeaning programmes. a few days ago i chanced upon a taiwanese variety lunar new year show that puts celebrities through challenges for entertainment. that is quite the standard template, however this one challenge required of a female celebrity – without any pants – to hold a pair of red panties and repeatedly pull up the undies to her waist and strip them off again and again till she attained a certain number of “stripping” which was then retardedly cheered and applauded.

is it supposed to be symbolic of getting some in the year of the dragon?

perhaps these lucky panties selling at $1.99 each at Giant Hypermart will usher in some luck down south…

CNY Panties

…which will then hopefully result in conceiving a dragon baby which will – according to popular belief – be the embodiment of all that is good and successful. It doesn’t matter that these babies born to asian societies will ironically face tremendous competition and consequently the attendant scarcity of resources simply due to the sheer spike of peers in their batch.

but many seem to be in denial of such cause-and-effect than not. with such a predictable phenomenon, businesses cash-in on this opportunity, for example: clearblue.

Clearblue Dragon Baby

a large chunk of chinese culture is kitsch and commercial.

i think it is really up to the individual to mine chinese new year for authenticity and meaning if chinese new year is supposed to mean quality time with friends and family and sincere greetings. no doubt, it is easy to find good food, but as we grow older, it is harder to find genuinely good company to share it with. and the truth is, in singapore, good food can be found everywhere everyday.

i define genuinely good company to be people who matter and who can skip the small talk. true, we need to start somewhere, and small talk might be the beginnings of deeper relationships, however, i don’t think chinese new year should be the place and time to scratch at the surface of superficiality. the relationship should be cultivated through the year and chinese new year would then be the time to reaffirm these ties and the opportunity to put aside the time and effort to prepare something extra special. this is in the context of singapore where we do not need to fly inter-state to meet each other.

and there is the unique situation that the chinese people have as the largest ethnic group in the world because we form about a fifth of the entire human population. this situation i think is more interesting as an overseas chinese or with the chinese diaspora because then maintaining tradition and family (read: racial) ties strengthens the identity of the community over food and and well, more food. also, the definition of family changes from blood relations to simply friends from all over the world practicing a similar understanding of customs although hailing from different countries of origin – almost like religion.

in singapore however, where the majority of the population are chinese, i don’t feel the same inclination to partake with the same level of chinese customs as i did living in melbourne.

however, what i did experience during chinese new year this year makes it hard to top because i spent most of it with genuinely good company. reunion dinner has always been a small affair and the smallness in the number (about 10) makes it less necessary to fill awkward pauses with banter. we had both steamboat and the stir-fry electric pot to cook on the spot. cooking on the spot makes eating very active, as in, you need to decide what to cook, when the pieces of food are ready and if the food has disappeared into the bottom of the steamboat or fished out by someone else. you snooze, you lose.

it actually isn’t all that competitive because there is usually a mountain of food left over and we’ll be stuff to the brim.

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the real madness begins the next day when a few large families descend upon my home (5 room HDB flat) to pay their chinese new year respects to my grandmother, the oldest living matriarch in the order of hierarchy. the kitchen will work at factory-like pace and efficiency to churn out food for about 40 people who will visit over a span of three hours. i don’t really help out at the kitchen, at most i offer chinese new year snacks and refill the drinks. and because i’m so disinclined at small talk, i don’t.

my niece and nephew however, are good subjects to photograph to keep me looking engaged with the festivities.

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to escape from the claustrophobia, i furtively made my way to the geek’s. after watching a bit of hilarious wipeout, we had a walk in the wide open spaces of bishan park even though the drizzle began to develop into a light rain. it was really refreshing and liberating.

about 2km into the walk, we stopped by the spanking new mccafe in the middle of the park for a hot beverage by the alfresco dining area. the light rain continued, but my mood was anything but dampened.

the geek had hot chocolate and for good measure, the barista’s coffee art handiwork was the chinese character “ji” for auspiciousness. the geek was particularly pleased about this. i think it was cute and i do appreciate its thoughtful aptness.

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that night, we returned to my home for a small dinner with my immediate family. the spread was very different and i think even better than the steamboat the previous night because of the rich savoriness of the variety – beef rendang (simmered over night), buah keluak with pork ribs, mee goreng, left over beef strips stir-fried like bulgogi, and home made cheng tng for dessert sprinkled with an abundance of tender, loving care.

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again, i loved the smallness of the dinner party and fun the geek and i had watching the quon dynasty marathon on cable. i kept pointing out how my mom is a worrywart like amy. geek time and genuinely good company ftw!

{November 25, 2011}   Artisanal Coffee in Outram

ann siang hill and duxton hill have by now established themselves as the go-to places for chic lifestyle shops, independent bookshops and artisanal coffee. of course haji lane and further flung jimmy monkey and loysel’s toy are giving them a run for their money. while ann siang hill has shots. cafe, the plain and group therapy come to mind along duxton road.

i’ve been to shots. cafe a few times and might have featured it in this blog before. but i think it deserves another mention here because it is at shots. cafe that i’ve had the most interesting coffee art served in my coffee. usually, heart and leaf shaped coffee art are the most common sorts. what i didn’t expect however, is a profile of a face staring back at me. i think it is pretty cool.

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located at the higher gradient of ann siang hill, it is highly likely to feel hot and sticky in humid singapore by the time you get there. this is where shots. cafe comes to the rescue with its cool air-conditioning and welcoming seating area to kickback a bit.

there isn’t much on the menu food wise, some cakes, but there is a huge coffee machine proudly displayed along the corridor-like space of the cafe.

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the plain by comparison is smaller than shots. cafe but is more upbeat in its decor and furnishings. there is larger range of food choices at the plain, however i find the portions on the small side and the offerings to be not the most memorable. the poached eggs resemble more half boiled and the bread can be quite dry the last time i had a meal there. in short, the food isn’t quite satisfying.

the service staff are very attentive and perky and there is a nice vibe to the place, however i do not find the plain cozy enough to want to hang out there for an extended period of time.

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The Plain 2 The Plain 15 The Plain 7

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just around the corner from the plain is group therapy. like the name suggests, it can accommodate groups, perhaps for a therapeutic tête-à-tête. group therapy takes the space of the second floor of the converted shop houses and i think as a result is quite successful in incorporating an old world charm into its rustic ambiance. it has a comforting blend of natural sunlight and yellowish indoor lighting.

i visited group therapy for coffee after lunch so i did not, this time, sample the wider range of food in the menu. from what i gather from reviews and four square check-ins, the food is decent and on a more generous side compared to the plain. but the proof is in the pudding. i have to say though, that group therapy’s setting is itself a draw.

an advantage that group therapy has over the plain and shots. cafe is that many tables are situated near walls. this creates a more intimate setting and the cozy feeling of having a corner seat.

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unfortunately for most working people, these cafes close early on weekdays. weekends however, are still an option, but i do imagine them to be more crowded. all things considered, it takes a very brave, committed and entrepreneurial mind to forge into the food and beverage scene in sinagapore especially with high overheads and start up costs. and so for that, i will make an effort to check them out.

{November 23, 2011}   Salta and Maison Ikkoku

for the geek’s birthday, i sourced for a place with meats – succulent, juicy, tender meets. salta seems just the place. i can’t remember how i first stumbled onto salta but the website does make it look classy and confidence-gaining. online reviews however are in consistent. there are some good ones and there are really critical ones. there is only one way to find out so i took the plunge and hoped to visit salta on their good day.

Salta 1 Salta 6

we were there on a weekday afternoon so there wasn’t much of a crowd. the service was prompt and attentive and setting comfortable. we ordered the mixed meat platter for two persons (parrillada) to have an experience with the range of meats. it smelled really good but the taste was on the salty side. i tend to have a higher tolerance for salty food so it is fine with me but the salt can be toned down for a more wholesome taste.

according to the menu, the platter consists of “short ribs, beef skirt, chicken, black hog pork, mixed sausage, lamb rack, vegetables & potatoes.” of all the meats, i think the beef steak was done the best. the other meats were a tad tough and the pork a little dry.

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the only side we ordered was the sweet potato fries that i came across on online reviews. i think the sweetness of the sweet potato fries helped to balance the saltiness of the meats. the outside texture is like banana fritters but the sweet potato chunks were crunchy and pipping hot when broken.

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salta was not a bad experience and for its price, the quality of the food is pretty decent. however, there are several other places also with good meats i would like to try before coming back here.

after lunch, we made our way to maison ikkoku, a cafe located in the premise of kampong glam at 20 kandahar street. the name of the cafe is taken from a japanese manga and other than the very very softly japanese music played in the background there wasn’t much else that seems japanese about the place. i’m not complaining though. i like it the way it is. perhaps another thing japanese is one of the food items, the mi musubi (japanese rice with spam luncheon meat) that we did not try. maison ikkoku means house of the moment in japanese.

Maison Ikkoku 1

according to, maison ikkoku is operated by two pairs of husband & wife couples – Thomas Ho & Janice Ong, and Franz Chua & Shanie Teoh.

the set up of the cafe is spacious yet cozy and can accommodate groups larger than two or four. the rustic charm is engendered by old cupboards installed in the ceiling and the conversion of old doors as tables. there is also a tinge of steam punk decor that exudes from the industrial light bulbs that are lined against the white washed brick wall.

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the service is very warm and friendly. we were offered to try from the syphon – a single origin with a very long name of Costa Rica Los Angeles Finca La Bisunga. the name begins with the country of origin, its district, and then the name of the plantation. the ice mocha i had came in a honey-jar mug that was thick and refreshing. although milky, it still retained the distinctive kick and taste of coffee.

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maison ikkoku is more accessible than loysel’s toy, larger than kith cafe, and i think has better coffee than forty hands. also, unlike most coffee places, maison ikkoku opens on mondays! definitely coming back here with friends.

{April 22, 2011}   ang moh breakfast in singapore

my previous post of the food series was about local hawker fare. the theme of this post is western or “ang moh” breakfast. since returning from the quality breakfast and coffee scene of melbourne, i’ve raised the bar of my expectations for good breakfast especially eggs and coffee.

studley park boat house and block arcade are my favourite cafe spots in melbourne.

Studley Park Boat House (13) Watching the World go by at Caffe Cortile (Frozen in a moment)

fortunately, in the past 5 years or so, the number of independent B&F entrepreneurs have planted themselves in our local soil and sprouted considerably. food for thought is a good place to begin talking about choice “western food.” although i’ve been working in town for about 2 years now, i’ve only began frequenting that the place recently. not always for a full meal but sometimes for a midday recharge or coffee.

i’ve blogged about it previously here but this post will be about food from the breakfast menu.

food for thought has the absolutely best pancakes.

i love love love the banana walnut pancake. the featured ingredients (e.g. banana and walnut) are both mixed into the pancake batter in addition as toppings. what sets the pancakes at food for thought apart, is also the syrup. they do not use the usual maple syrup or honey varieties, but a localised choice of gula mekala syrup. the result is the explosion of flavour and texture. imagine the denser caramalised banana slices in the pancake contrasting with the crunchy walnut pieces and swirled with the rich sweetness of the gula melaka syrup all at once in each bite. can’t ever get enough.

banana walnut pancake
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cherry and chocolate pancake
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eggs breakfast
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lunch at food for thought is often packed. unless you intend to go before or after the lunch crowd, do call in advance to chope a place.

yes, chope with packet of tissue no less.
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round the corner, strictly pancakes that is supposed to specialise in pancakes as the name suggest, cannot hold a feeble candle to food for thought’s pancakes. there are two types of pancakes at the strictly pancake – savory and sweet. unfortunately, the savory pancakes are blend and the sweet pancakes are too sweet. variety lies only in the toppings. there is little fusion of flavor or a reason why i can’t duplicate it myself at home.

to be fair, strictly pancakes a quiet place to chill out with their chilled brew coffee if you are not in search for the best pancakes or would like to be mostly left alone. service is not the quickest here either.

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the plain is located at a stretch of bookshops, lifestyle shops and cafes that is fast becoming my favourite place in singapore . this stretch is concentrated in the duxton area that lies in the vincinity of outram / tanjong pagar / chinatown. the streets of ann siang, keong siak and duxton road are really worth a stroll in the day when the shops and cafes are opened. the only non-shady night owl in the area opened late into the night is the pigeonhole. but the pigeonhole deserved a post in itself. so i’ll save that for later.

the aromatic whiff of coffee can be clearly discerned when walking up craig road. eggs are done better at the plain than at food for thought although the variety is more limited.

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back in town, wild honey at mandarin gallery is gaining fame. they open their doors at 9am on weekdays and 8am on weekends. breakfast is served all day, all week. however, the place fills up pretty fast even on weekdays and needless to say on weekends. so some planning ahead is necessary. wild honey probably has the largest range of breakfast items set in  a woody pennsylvania deco and decked with a variety of furniture and seating sizes. i do like the eggs but i feel that the bread is a little too dense for my liking.

Wild Honey 1

Wild Honey at Mandarin Gallery Wild Honey 2

Wild Honey 6 Wild Honey 9 Scandinavian Breakfast at Wild Honey, Mandarin Gallery

compared to wild honey, rider’s cafe at bukit timah is very hard to get to. in fact a cab is necessary if one does not drive. however because it is situated at the saddle club, and far away from the madding crowd, the setting of rider’s cafe is refreshing and kind of surreal in the dense urbanity of singapore. also, because rider’s cafe is not located in a mall like wild honey, it has the advantage of better ventilation and natural light.

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the ingredients at rider’s cafe are fresh and flavorful and the portions are of a good size.

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the eggs are done really well too. the runny yoke cradled by its springy egg white.

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rider’s cafe offers desserts too. but they should come with a warming that they should be shared. i would have enjoyed the death by chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream better if shared among another 5 people. the extremely rich and chocolaty fudge drenches the moist chocolate cake around and in it.

Rider's Cafe 26after a bite of this, everything else is tasteless in comparison. the banoffee pie is also very sweet. what i would like to have next time is the cafe dessert degustation – refer to the three smallish glasses behind the death by chocolate cake in the right picture below. it seems more manageable.

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my ultimate ang moh breakfast place in singapore will still have to be spruce at tanglin road. although it is not the easiest place to get to, bus routes service the area and it is near both tanglin mall and commonwealth depending on which side you’re coming from. spruce has both indoor and alfresco seating, and a children’s playground for kids to expand their energy.  reservations are a must on weekends to avoid disappointment.

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spruce has a good cafe vibe with enough buzz without feeling too claustrophobic. there is a delightful fluffiness in the eggs and dough of the breakfast menu and interesting choice additions to the usual breakfast fare.

this is the crab cake benedict that i had.

crab cake benedict veiled by rocket.
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crab cake benedict unveiled

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other orders at spruce
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don’t take my word for it. do check out these places and decide which floats your boat.

et cetera