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This is a very interesting analysis for readers who also pack their lunches to work. Hi there! So do I.🙂

The Shy Comedian

Since starting my full time job in an office environment, I have found myself wondering what people think about my lunches. That sentence may sound odd, but I judge the shit out of people based on their lunches. Tell me that you wouldn’t think anything different of a coworker if they were in the break room kitchen taking a peanut butter and tuna salad sandwich out of the microwave and then poured A1 steak sauce on top of it. That’s right, don’t think your better then me.

So anyway, I’ve begun to see my lunch in the way a judgmental person would. It’s honestly become kind of fun.

Frozen Meal:

I hate to say it, but honestly, who doesn’t feel a little sad when they’re microwaving a frozen meal. Well, unless it’s one of those Kid Cuisines with the kickass desserts. You know what I’m talking about:

Honestly, if I found someone…

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I don’t handle loss very easily.

Today, I lost an earring.

My first reaction was to press my nose to the ground and sniff loudly, then chase the scent as far as it would go. Well seriously speaking, I mainly retraced my step, furrowed my brows and stared at the ground. It didn’t help knowing I traversed long distances to get to my office, including transferring at two train interchanges and taking a five-minute walk from the train station.

Chances are, the earring is as good as gone.

But do I falter? No. I intend to retrace my steps from office to home. I suppose this is meant to put my mind at further unease… After all, like I said, that accessory could well be retrieved by another owner (“Oooh, pretty green fish earring, I wonder how it’ll fit into my box of lost and found, mismatched earrings!”), washed away by torrential rain (it has been raining relentlessly for the past two days) or gone without a trace.

Wow, this article is becoming whiny and pointless.

What my point really is, that my lack of letting go of loss is due to my reproaching perfectionism. All of life (Well, most accurately after the point where rationalism sets in. Never mind my infantile years.), I’ve been ruled under the thumb of self-defined expectations and reproaching myself whenever I hit anywhere below the goal. Just take this earring incident as an example:

A lost earring prompts to self: this carelessness could have been avoided. If I left my house earlier, didn’t run out of the house in a huff, I would have wore my earring more carefully. I normally think of several blame tactics to play up the trivality of the matter.

“Seriously?!” My mom would probably exclaim. “You could wear a fisherman on the other ear now that one side is missing…” (This was meant as a joke, since the earring I lost was a green fish.)

I was literally getting upset (reduced to tears, almost) over a material possession.

This scarily speaks volumes of my personality.

Do I chase materiality? Do I care so much about face value? Have I came into terms with the way I look?

I have begun to believe these little outbursts of terror, sweating over the small stuff in life is much of a manifestation of insecurity, an insecurity I am keeping supressed and stubbornly refusing to admit.

Well, now that I’ve gotten this thought out in the open… The question remains.

Do I keep looking for the missing earring?

As the world turns, the carousel of dried fruits spin under the twilight, sparkling like gems underneath the dark, dark night…

My dad needed placating. The best way? To bake him a batch of fruitcake.

It started with subtle hints: Rolling the shopping cart by supermarket displays of fruitcake and looking downcast, looking at a bag of dried fruits in the fridge and wonder wherever the last piece of fruitcake from last summer went… Then came the outright pursuit: Elbows my shoulder and goes, “When are you making fruitcake?” or that Supernatural episode when a neighbour came by offering fruitcake or a Foodography (on Food Network Asia) featured Christmas delights and needless to say which delight made a debut.

Soon before long, I saw myself (out of body, almost) gliding along the shelves of Phoon Huat at Bugis, shopping for almond meal, mixed fruits and cinnamon; some of the many ingredients that contribute to dark, rich and pucker-your-lips sweet festive morsel. I was determined and my mom was quick to add: “You sure about this?”

Roughly two days later, I was cooking the mixed fruits in freshly squeezed orange juice and more fairy dust later (to spare you the antagonizing description of two hours worth of preparation) I spooned the batter into 12-hole mini muffin tins (hence the stunted shape) and baked them till they turned deep treacle.

On a random note,  I wish treacle was a recognize colour-word. Like, look at that boy, he has turned treacle! (Please refrain from imagining how a boy could possibly, or logically so, turn treacle. That might turn you blue, dizzy and the hope for permanent memory loss.)

In matters of taste, the cake has a dense consistency thanks to the use of whole wheat flour. The first pleasant shock you’ll receive is from the orange zest. Second, playfulness is laced by a fiery spice blend of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon while being wildly punctuated with sweet and tarty mixed fruits: consisting of dried cherries, sultanas and cranberries. Finally, the addition of almond meal lends a moist and rich feel.

Quite honestly, this is the first time I’m baking them as mini cakes. I usually shovel the batter into a non-stick loaf tin such that the fruitcake is more like a fruit loaf. To which I later slice and serve. However, in true honour of my household which barely lets the cake crumb pass their lips (my mom and brother aren’t dessert aficionados, much less talk about this retiring dessert queen named me…), past efforts to preserve the culture maintain the festive cheer all year round for my dad reached a stalemate. Literally.  I ever had to gingerly slice off a piece of frosted with mold to save myself the heartache of sending it to the bin.

Horror story aside, I hope it serves as a reminder that fruitcake is best left in the fridge to “mature” (if you’re drenched it in alcohol) but only good for a month or so. If you’d still like to put your fruitcake where your mouth is, I suggest you slam-dunk it in the freezer as soon as you stop stealing bites from it after a month. It should stick in the freezer for a good three months or more (muffins can go up to six months, fyi).

Cookies, or scones? Or Sookies? I’d rather think of them as mounds of cookie dough temptation…

Two hours to spare, a pair of restless hands, two mixing bowls… The perfect afternoon fix: Baking for Christmas!

Honestly, I don’t celebrate Christmas or in that matter, I don’t celebrate any holiday. By celebrate I mean pompous merry-making with confetti and reindeer sweatshirts and festive eggnog. I suppose most families go for simplistic merriment these days (Confetti. Seriously?!) but I hardly take time off to buy a Christmas pine and actually string lights on it.

With that said, lightly spiced cookies spotted with dried, plump cranberries and cheeky white, milky chocolate chips peeking out from the shroud of flour and oats. The flour, the first in my baking record, was all-purpose, mainly a submission to curiosity on how the texture differs if I were to stick to the refined white dust. The result? An unmistakably soft (slightly dense thanks to the rolled oats) cookie which gave the white chocolate chips a pronounced sweetness.

Now the white chocolate addition (to which is also my first in my entire baking record) triumphs a milk chocolate variety. Why? Because I stay away from using butter (instead I use either olive or rice oil), the white chocolate lent such a creamy and buttery flavour, paired with the tangy berries, expect an overall surprise twist to the taste. This is the cookie you want to miss dinner for!

Ok. Maybe I’ve been a little too harsh with dealing with meal replacement. Kids, stick to your three square meals. Surely you wouldn’t want your mom to hit you on the back of a wooden ladle while chasing you to finish your green peas and brussel sprouts.

Also, since I’ve been a far too complacent with my blogging habits and only decidedly finish this post today (four days after Christmas, haha), I guess this cookie is better off joining of the twelve cookie bakes for Christmas in 2012. Till then, cheers to a new year, new resolution and ample resolute to accomplish whatever your heart desires.

Run like the wind Bullseye!

I lost weight, ate healthier and even romanced the low humidity of the sunny state. Boy, I had a fling with San Francisco.

It all started with the battle of sleep and fervour. Could my overwhelming enthusiasm  settle my hurried heart and set my soul to rest in a 15-hour flight from Singapore to Taipei then Taipei to San Francisco? Apparently, I’ve decided to become a raucous beaver and brave the flight by only catching an average of 45 minutes of sleep. I kid you not. Also, I was armed with the determination to finish a 400-page textbook on the geography of California; titled “An Island Called California”.

Approximately fifteen hours and one arduous march to the transfer lounge, I finally breathed in the life of non-frizzy, non-clammy hair: San Francisco, I’m here to stay. The first gust of dry and chill wind threatened to form a crust on my lips. Seriously, the prospect of applying lip balm every 2 hours kind of excited me.

The bus ride out of the airport and into the city then into Atherton where Menlo College was was no more than an hour. Along the way, there was something about art murals and gleaming windows of corporate giants that juxtaposed quite beautifully.  It was as if industrialization never really defined the modern landscape.

Hugs, kisses and greetings: We were at Menlo College! Everyone was welcoming and I immediately felt home. I could also go on forever about the people I’ve met at the college, the timeless nights my 21 tireless friends stood up against, and how boundless and resounding the belief our 2 lovely chaperons had of us. I guess that was truly, if not a trying summary of what took place at the college. Again, words will admittedly fail to describe all emotions and I’m sure our gratitude and mine is better felt throughout and after the trip. Let’s keep it going guys!

On more lighthearted matters,  I spent the remaining days, four to be exact, just absorbing the lights and sounds of the city and its outskirts. The farms, the road trips, Yosemite Park… It reminded me of the school trip I had in Korea, but prolonged and experienced more fruitfully.

The farms were an interesting measure. Rows and rows of pastures, cows, goats and horses. Being born in a concrete jungle, I do bear the yearning of living next to neighs and deep-throated calls (do goats sound like that?! Or was I better describing a toad?). Somehow, life at a farm seems simple, quiet and slow. Ok, maybe bug infestations and the threat of slithering snakes might linger… But hey! Who said life was perfect? It can only be as ideal as one defines so. Why, don’t I sound like a 50-year old planning her retreat? Hmmm.

The road trips were sprinkled with pop hits, intermittent sleep and maybe some rustling of  plastic. That, you’ll know someone is clawing into a bag of chips or sharing M&M Peanuts with an army of dewy eyes, fresh from the depths of sleep. Somehow, 3 hours or even 4 hours was never defeating. We soldiered on and lent quiet support that our destination was not too far off.

The best road trip food I had (or only had, haha!) was a 3 ounce box of vegetable chips. I’ll speak about that in detail sometime.

Yosemite Park… Now how can words conjure the majestic beauty of its valleys and waterfalls? There, I hiked with a persistent bunch of seven and made it to the top of Vernal Fall! The trek might have been dangerous, but all our words of caution cushioned every step of the way. It was also a monumental end at the park with our team being caught in the first rainfall since June! It also taught me that warm soups and hot chocolates were invented for a reason.

The final day arrived and none of us, evidently, wanted to leave. Catching a glimpse of the final sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge, some teared while others yearned. Will we ever return?

My friends: Although we spent 2 weeks together, it sure seemed like we knew each other for eternity. I never once was part of a group who looked out of each other unconditionally and laughed at each others antics without being offended. (HAHA Sorority sisters!). Interestingly, we pioneered a couple of ideas and left our own legacies behind. Let’s never forget each other and continue to love others with the same passion.

Love,

President of the Sorority.

I had ground almonds, no sign of a recipe that was light and still involved the ground nut. Not wanting to give in to jarred preservatives, I decidedly set out to make a homemade Nutella, substituting hazelnuts for almonds, at a third of the store-bought equivalent. Chocolate bath and a flat-belly nut? Angels with chef hats are a-singing! Now, pave the shimmering path to the gates of breakfast spread heaven by preparing the following:

Ingredients

1/3 cup (5 tbsp & 1 tsp) ground almonds (Mine was ready ground)

1/2 cup dry, non-fat milk powder

2/3 cup of white, granulated sugar (you can choose to substitute 1/3 with brown to achieve a subtle sweetness)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp + 1tsp potato starch

3/4 cup whole milk

1 tbsp rice oil

1/4 almond extract (use vanilla and avoid substituting with almond essence if you detest the smell of almonds, or worse, in its artificial essence form)

Directions

  1. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine ground almonds, milk powder, sugar, cocoa powder and starch. Whisk to combine. Add in milk and oil and whisk till a smooth consistency is achieved.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and just starts to bubble. Remove from heat and add extract (if need be).
  3. To get a smooth spread, run it through a strainer.
  4. Transfer spread to a glass jar (approximately 9oz in capacity) with an airtight lid. Cool to room temperature with jar open. Send it to the chiller if you are not consuming it immediately.

Notes

  • The so-called smooth consistency can contain minuscule cocoa powder bubbles. No sweat, because it will be smoothed when you’re cooking it.
  • I opted for a heavy-bottomed saucepan because I fear that the mix will burn if I didn’t stir evenly or consistently.
  • Extracts triumph essences because they are not artificially scented. For vanilla extracts, the alcohol would evaporate upon heat, leaving a subtle enhancing vanilla flavour to the recipe. I added almond essence to mine and it pong-ed the entire spread with its cloying fake scent.
  • Ground almonds are fine enough, at least the ones I picked up at the store. No need for further straining unless you ground the almonds yourself and wish to remove nutty chunks. Chunky spreads can get under one’s skin, especially when it gets wedged in gaps of your teeth. Dinner date mayhem alert!
  • Recycle jam jars… You’ll never know when you need them! One of those inexpensive alternatives. (Winks)

So far, my spread is barely a week old, so I can’t tell how long before it dries out in the fridge. After all, airtight lid or not, shelf life of non-preservative laden food triumphs. So far, I’ve stored some in a shot glass and wrapped it in plastic. After 3 days, the spread thickened but still spreadable. Anyhow, all that sugar and low temperature are stable enough preservatives. Anyway, food is best consumed when fresh so… Keeping smearing ’em on those carbs or apply directly onto your tongue. They won’t hurt… Only that it may turn you against the original!

I think I’m turning.


I know this looks like a car crash, but this my friend is the sunshine after the rain. Say it with me now: Cinnamon. Rolls. Pure. Bliss.

This recipe excite me on three levels: 1) yeast and dough, the best pairing since yeast was existent; 2) cinnamon, the spice of life (i.e. sniff it when you’re having a bad hair day, it’s an instant perk-me-up!) and 3) a billowy meringue filling. Okay, it’s mostly the billowy meringue filling. It  just triggered something about clouds and unicorns  and most importantly, meringue in its pre-baked form is always a joy to spread, soothe and level. There was definitely something creative and unexpected about this experiment…

Also, any sweet treats with fillings, custard, paste, sprinkles or thereof always piques my interest. I enjoy savouring the intense flavour of its key ingredient, say custard in a custard-filled bun; sweet treats with a bite.

Without further ado, here’s the comforting recipe as adapted from Home Cooking Adventure:

For Rolls

3 cups flour (I used whole wheat (atta) flour)

7 tablespoons rice oil

7 tablespoons whole milk

3 egg yolks

100 ml whole milk

2 teaspoons of dry active yeast

For Filling

3 egg whites

10 tablespoons white, granulated sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

Directions

  1. Add yeast to 100ml of milk and stir to dissolve. Mix oil, remaining milk and flour in bowl. Use a wooden spatula or your hand to mix. Add yolks and yeast mixture and blend well. Knead well (I used my hands throughout) and turn out onto a clingfilm. Wrap and refrigerate for a full hour to let the yeast develop.
  2. About 50 minutes later, whisk egg whites until foamy and gradually add sugar. This stiffens the egg whites. Continue to add vinegar and vanilla extract, whisking at all times. Finally, add cinnamon powder. Separate this mixture into 3 portions.
  3. Preheat oven to 180C.
  4. Cut chilled dough into 3 portions, rolling each piece out on a lightly floured surface and forming a rectangle of about 30cm x 20cm.
  5. Smear egg white mixture on rolled out dough, leaving a 2cm allowance on all sides. Roll lengthwise to a swiss roll effect, careful not to apply too much pressure as filling would spew out. Continue to slice roll into 2cm thick slices.
  6. Arrange on a lined baking tray, evenly spaced out with spiral pattern face up and rain more cinnamon powder on the slices. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until nicely browned.

Notes:

  • Don’t fret over warming up the milk to activate the yeast. It’ll work its yeasty ways in the most mysterious ways, so simply add it to the cold milk and mix well.
  • I mixed the dough with my hands throughout as it assured me that the dough is well incorporated. You may, however, go clean and use a wooden spatula or stand mixer (WARNING: Make sure stand mixer can withstand dough kneading else motor will burn!)
  • I kneaded my dough till it came away from the bowl, which was my definition of kneading it well.
  • Keep the dough wholly covered in clingfilm to prevent it from drying out in the fridge but take caution in not making a snug package out of it. Dough will rise whilst in fridge, so packing it to the T would cause the plastic wrap to burst at its seams! Package it loosely yet securely.
  • Whip egg white mix till it stiffens till you’ve able to hold the bowl, turned upside down, above your head.
  • Roughly roll the dough out to the dimensions as indicated. The larger the rectangle, the thinner the dough will become. Note that dough thinning will risk tearing during the rolling process.
  • Honestly, filling was way too much for the dough even when I roughly apportioned it equally. Filling will spew out no matter what, so smear any excess onto roll (which explains the rustic, spotty look my rolls are sporting).
  • The next time I’m attempting this recipe, I’m adding more cinnamon to the filling and generously sprinkling it onto my rolls before baking. Adjust amount to preference. Personally, I’m VERY passionate about cinnamon.
  • I lined my baking tray with parchment paper. It’s a god-given gift for all bakers everywhere. Nothing sticks to parchment, so no more frustrating post-bake tray scrapping of stubborn bits.
  • Watch the rolls especially after 10 to 12 minutes. Baking time depends on size of oven and batch. Good rule of thumb: Watch your baked goods like a hawk the moment it enters the cavernous box of metal. I carelessly burnt my last batch of 4. No excuses for me…

Cinnamon roll recipes do not deviate too far from this one, but what was different is the meringue filling. The sweetness of the filling melts on your tongue in the most unabashed way. If you enjoyed meringue anything, you’ll love this recipe. Out of the 15 rolls I’ve made, I fervently wolfed down 10.  Eaten warm or cooled, they have a pleasant crispy and crumbly texture (if you slightly overbaked them like I did). Also, if you adore cinnamon, you’ve already lost half of the battle. Now…

Give. Up. To. Temptation.