Blistered Peas and Poppy Seeds

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There’s this food blog that I’ve been following for a while. It’s special, because despite all the alluring and well-taken photos, I have never once followed any recipes posted, simply because I have a hunch they won’t taste good.

But still, I follow her. Not religiously, not bookmarked and sitting on my to-read-list, but occasionally, when handsome food and beautiful writing come to mind, I fill the address bar with its name.

If words could be eaten and food could be read, this blog would make one hell of a restaurant serving it’s writing. There’s just a particularly something about the writing (the easiness?) that makes it so relatable. It turns every dish into a story and every story into a well executed dish.

It marries both of my favourite things in life—food and words—and maintains a romantic, jealousy-inducing relationship. It makes me excited about writing and ready to cook. It makes blistered peas topped with poppy seeds look, feel, taste and read like a dream.


P.S: It is so liberating to write in long, never-ending sentences that don’t have to make sense as long as they sound like they do. Writing full-time does things to your creativity and makes you lose your sense of wonder. I’m not complaining, but I’m glad to have some place where mediocre writing can be left to live it’s mundane, mediocre life. 🙂

Love Like Hot Chocolate

I must be the luckiest intern in the world because the hot chocolate that happens to be a staple in the office pantry tastes like a vacation in Europe (not that I would know since I’ve never been there). It dispenses from a futuristic coffee machine that sits beside the sink, with possibly a hundred different buttons and a million variations of coffee to suit the needs of the fickle. It’s a pretty noisy machine, because when you finally find the right button to press (the one that says “Hot Chocolate”), it makes a horrific rumble and terrifying roar before a deep dark liquid pours out below.

It’s a very intense thing. Drinking hot chocolate. It smells like heaven and it looks like heaven…but it’s burning like hell. You can’t resist it though, because although you know it’ll scald your tongue and make you blister, you cannot resist a taste. Just a small sip. But the moment it touches your tongue, there’s no going back.

What does it taste like? A million different pralines melted and mixed with only the milkiest milk in the world (Milkiest milk…like sweetest sweets and saltiest salt). It’s bloody hot, but at that moment, you don’t even care. All you want is to taste the creamy sweet taste on your tongue and the smooth silk down your throat. There’s nothing like it really. Quality hot chocolate is like a pool of warmth, happiness and joy—it’s divine.

But wait a minute. After the third, or maybe the fourth gulp, you realize that the fifth tastes a little different from the rest. Perhaps the chocolate has cooled too quick in the stale office air. Perhaps it’s been tainted. Oxidised? There’s something a little off about this mouth and you cannot really tell why. You risk another sip, eager to know if it’ll taste the same. There’s a little too much chocolate at the end, you can see it clinging to the cup and marring the taste. You look at the cup in scorn and in disdain. There’s no way you’re drinking this last mouth, so you tip the cup and empty its contents into the pantry sink, the dark brown liquid staining everything in it’s way.

There’s no love like hot chocolate. Love me like hot chocolate?

The Day I Went to a Cafe

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I never liked cafes. It makes me uncomfortable in a way that I can never fully comprehend, almost like being trapped in a glass chamber under heavy observation. I think it has something to do with the rise of indie culture and how people in cafes are always dressed in an artificially laid-back manner that sets my skin on fire. Intentionally comfortable dressing that looks comfortable but actually isn’t. I don’t like the indie culture very much.

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Yet on a rainy afternoon, amongst hectic schedules and intense editorial meetings, I found myself walking into Loysel’s Toy, looking for something I wasn’t sure if I was going to find. But my shoes were wet, and my shoulders heavy. For once, the scent of fresh brew and the clinking of cutlery seemed inviting.

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What was I trying to look for? I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s the budding of first loves or the reconciliation of lost ones? The serenity on the faces of coffee drinkers? Or the fluster and frenzy of the servers hurriedly pulsing black liquid into the bellies of white mugs? What do you look out for when you’re sitting upon wooden chairs and eating upon wooden tables? What captures your attention and gives you a reason to stay? The food wasn’t sublime, it never is and never will be. But yet there’s a strange attraction that cafes have that keeps the seats filled and the coffee cups empty.

I don’t like cafes, but I keep going back, only to be left more confused every time.

I don’t like cafes, but I do?

Pasar Bella

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This place needs some colour, and I need to hone my photography skills. So in a bid to achieve the perfect balance between both, I’ve decided to bring my camera out more often, and develop an added diligence towards post processing the photos I take.

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Singapore’s a small place, but for an island state that’s got nothing but an eternally shining sun and high humidity, I say we’re not doing too bad in terms of keeping our lovely selves entertained. 2013 alone has seen the opening of the SEA Aquarium (which I am DYING to visit), Adventure Cove, River Safari and Pasar Bella. It’s a good year to pretend you’re a foreigner in your home country and prance around the new tourist spots armed with a pair of shades (to mask the local face) and a camera. At least that’s what I did.

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Despite it’s obscure location, (Pasar Bella is tucked away in the depths of Turf City’s Grandstand, a place only accessible by those fortunate enough to own a car or have the means to take a cab) I dragged Daniel down with me on a punishingly sunny Saturday afternoon — in a cab of course. Holding the hopes of visiting a market like the ones in Australia, a memory I although only vaguely remember, was pleasantly sweet and was one I looked forward to reliving.

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The verdict? I love it. It’s the combination of being able to pick up bite sized food (pound cakes, macarons, sausages, waffles), admire fresh and exotic produce as well as bask in the concept of how happiness can be so simple. It’s like going to the market with your mother, only this one’s air conditioned, filled with things you’ve never seen before and so affordable. Buy a peach for a dollar and chow down on it while you walk pass little booths selling temporary tattoos and little cakes. Relish in the joy of having too many choices when picking a bottle of beer to quench your thirst. Head into the cheese shop that smells strangely like unwashed socks and share a block of cheese you can barely stand to smell.

It’s the experience that really counts here at Pasar Bella. It’s the energy, the food, the concept that appeals and makes me feel like going back there again this weekend even though it costs me $20 to get there. It’s the feeling of being away from your little cosmopolitan city, yet being in it at the same time. The crowd is genuine and polite, the food not exceedingly delicious yet satisfying because of the entire experience it provides.

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Have nothing much to do this weekend? Take a little excursion down to Turf City and discover this little gem of a place. Pretend you’re not stuck on this sunny island and pick up anything you want in the faith that it holds endless possibilities. I made a Shashuka from the peppers, rocket leaves and spices I bought the other day. Who knows what you’ll end up making too. 🙂

Food is Better Than Love

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“Oh, with food like this, who needs anything else…”

“Then you eat alone lor”

Some might seem adamant when this topic floats to the surface of an outrageously satisfying dinner, some may choose to defend (in futile may we add), but nobody can ever deny that food, is sometimes/most of the time/all the time, better than love.

They say love is life’s greatest mystery, the only thing that leaves even the most enlightened crumbling upon their knees. It captivates, enchants and makes you feel euphoric then suddenly devastated in a matter of seconds, like the victim of your own psychological distress. But when love fails you? It’s only a good ol’ tub of extra sinful chocolate ice cream that can soothe your burning soul. Because what’s the worst thing a bad meal can do to you? It might disappoint, fall short of your expectations or in worst cases, leave you lying in bed with an upset stomach. But a relationship gone haywire? Broken, shattered and relegated to being voluntarily crippled. Food won’t make you cry like your heart’s been ripped out of your chest, it won’t make you heave in the sadness of a relationship’s  premature death, nor will it intentionally deliver a paralysing squeeze to your gut.

Who need’s first loves when McDonalds introduces a new burger every festive season? Who needs to hear a lover’s carefully whispered words when you can listen to the sizzling of meat set upon a heated grill? Who needs gifts when you can pay for pralines every time you walk past a chocolate shop? Who needs the hots and colds of a relationship when you can have chilled lobster set between two slices of toasty-warm sourdough bread? We sure don’t.

So this Valentine’s day, give yourself a break and go out with someone that doesn’t care about what you wear, how you behave or what you say during dinner. Give your heart to someone that you know damn well won’t break it. This Valentine’s day, give in to that glorious looking steak that’s sitting so contentedly upon your plate and give food a chance to prove to you that it can be so much better than love.

(Supposedly written for work, but ended up here instead. Furnished with photos from my home-made Valentine’s Dinner. 🙂 )

Back to Basics

A few months ago, my life spiralled out of control. And as quickly as I rose to what some people may consider the pinnacle of academic success, it took me just as fast to tumble back down. But I am glad to announce that I’m back in school. 🙂

These few months have really been a journey for me. Law School drop out (LSD) turned amateur writer, I had to pick myself up and brush off the dust from my mighty fall, apply for various jobs and finally walk out of the nights I would spend burning mindlessly through readings I did not understand and days in which I would end drowning in my own tears. Its not easy walking out of your comfort zone (when has it ever been?), definitely not easy having to pursue your passion when your skills don’t back you up, and worst of all (applies to me only lah), having to experience a change of environment over and over again.

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Its my second day at school, and although I’m not quite close to being happy again, I think I will be soon. I can feel opportunities bashfully hiding in corners of my lecture halls, and seedlings of comfort eagerly awaiting blossom. I cannot say I feel right here, but I think I will feel that way soon. At least I hope I will—and that’s a great start.

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P.S: I’m the new food writer for Poached Magazine, so show me some love when you spot my reviews!

Hungry For More

I’m starving. Logically I know I am. I can feel my stomach clawing for food, I can hear my head telling me to fucking eat something, but I can’t.

The empty space has become my best friend. Everywhere I go, I know I have company. It fills up the voids between our conversations and it plants itself in the gaps between us on the couch. Sometimes, when I feel like I am truly alone, it creeps along the edges of my feet, tickling the very tip of my toes like a salutation from a friend that never leaves, a compellation from an enemy that never goes.

I cannot feed myself, because I am feeding it too-this emptiness that seems to grow every single day. In good moments, it cowers away in fear, its normal composed disposition undulated by the positivity of my laughter, the warmth of my toothy grin. In others, it consumes me from the inside out, like a fetus trying to break free from the restrains of what used to keep it alive, like a predator discarding its carcass after a full meal. I am its full meal. My good thoughts, my better thoughts, my sanity, they have all fallen prey, willingly. But there is beauty in this distress, not unlike how there is always beauty in death, in burial. There is beauty in this course of putrefaction because there is weightlessness in being empty. Hate rushes past you, jealousy walks through you, anger dissolves within you and sadness evaporates around you. And love, love leaves you. The love we spend our whole life seeking and hating leaves you, because it can no longer manifest within your warm body of soul. You are barren land, and love happens to be the crop. Dearth and famine replace the empty space as your new best friend and you will be hungry. You will always be hungry.

I am starving. Every piece of my soul is breaking from the hunger and I want to eat. I want to feed myself until the throbbing goes away, until the hole in my chest is filled. But this is a hunger you can never quell, this is a hunger that will never wane. Because it only grows stronger with every bite.

Shapeless Existence

The most important things in life sometimes don’t exist. Love, friendship, happiness, courage, faith –they don’t come in solid, tangible forms. You don’t see them take shape, you don’t feel their weight when you pack them into duffel bags prior to your next great adventure, you don’t smell, see or feel their soft furry edges. You feel like they don’t exist, that they’re a figment of your imagination, a puzzle piece from one of your wildest dreams. A formless, cloudy mess that you never know whether really is there.

There’s a guava sitting on my work desk, a gift from my colleague to my mother. Its not just any guava mind you, it’s a Thai guava, lovingly marinated and preserved till a stunning shade of jade green. It may look like any other guava, it may smell like any other guava, it may taste like any other guava, but this is definitely no ordinary guava. There is also a wooden chopstick sticking out of the guava because my colleague wanted to make it look like a Toffee Apple. This is one lucky guava disguised as a Toffee Apple. One lucky guava.

When my mother gets the guava, she’s gonna hold it and say “Wow, this is one heavy guava.” But what she will fail to notice is that the guava is probably a lot heavier than what it weighs. She will put it on the kitchen counter and hear it hit the wooden surface with a significant thud. “Wow, this is one heavy guava.” she’s going to exclaim again, once again failing to notice that it would perhaps made a louder thud, a deeper thud, if only she was willing to listen. She will never know that within the guava bears the weight of someone’s thoughts, of someone’s love. That’s why the guava hit the table with a significant thud instead of a silent mew. That’s why when she held it in her hands, it sunk into the flesh of her palms and stained her with the concern of someone else.

When my mother slices the guava, she’s gonna cut it and say “Wow, this is one amazing smelling guava.” But what she will fail to notice is that the guava probably smells a lot better than what she perceives. She will put it on a plate and feel herself salivate from its aroma. “Wow, this is one amazing smelling guava.” she’s going to exclaim again as she contemplates finishing the fruit in its entirety, forgetting to save some for me. But what she will fail to notice is how, with every slice, the scent of someone’s love permeates every nook and cranny in the room, filling up the spaces between the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinet, filling the spaces between her lashes and filling the spaces between her teeth. That with every breath she takes, she inhales the love of someone else, letting it seep into the veins beneath her skin, seeping into her.

The most important things in life sometimes don’t exist. You feel them filling up the cemented floors and whitewashed floors, you feel them seeping through the cuticles of your skin, you feel them escaping from the pores on your palms and you feel them bursting from every beat of your heart. But you never know for sure if they exist, unless you happen to receive a very green guava on your daughter’s last day of work. Maybe then you can try to feel the weight of someone’s love and the scent of their concern.

Bread Song

Breads sing. When you take hot bread out from the oven and leave them in the baking pan, and if you listen close enough, you might hear their song. It is a delicate, magical melody that sometimes sounds like the world quietly sighing under the weight of your feet. The breads sing because their crusts contract upon cooling, so they make this crackling sound that transposes into a melodious song in a baker’s ear.

Bread’s sing when their crusts crack. They don’t whine, moan or cry. They sing.

Recipe For Perfection

I love to cook. Okay, maybe love is an understatement. I love watching beef brown in a pan, love hearing the sizzle when a shank hits the grill, love the feel of fresh herbs when you pluck them from your garden and the residual smell of Dill on my hands. Cooking is like free falling for me. I think of a dish (or an ingredient) I would like to make, type in a few keywords into the all-knowing Google search bar and its all instinct from there. I wish I could give you a better description, but recipes speak to me. I just know when I’ve found the perfect recipe, even if they include ingredients like Saffron (that, for your information costs about USD$3/gram) and Heirloom tomatoes (impossible to find).

Just yesterday, I was sifting through recipes during work and trying to stealthily prevent my colleagues from discovering pictures of mouthwatering chicken stews waving to them on my computer screen, and I happened to chance upon Cat Cora’s (First ever female iron chef, mother, pretty woman and every feminist chef’s dream come true) chicken stew recipe. At first I was like woah woah woah, this is a must make. Even if it calls for half a bottle of white wine. (You should know that I have had minor accidents in the kitchen while handling alcohol. Some include getting high near an open flame while trying to finish up the left over red from my beef stew and almost lighting my kitchen on fire while attempting to flambé quails in Cognac.) Actually, cooking is easy, if you’re able to follow instructions and pick out the right recipes, you should have no problem whipping up something moderately palatable. But I guess to me, cooking really is about experimenting. Back to the Cat Cora story. So I bookmarked that page and got ready to choose a bottle of cheap white from my cellar and suddenly I felt odd about Cat Cora. No, not the chef herself. To be honest, I am deathly afraid of her actually. The way she yells at people on Iron Chef? No thank you. When the right recipe finds you, you’re supposed to be smiling. Whether or not there are pictures of the final dish on the site, whether or not there are a million reviews raving about how it’s a 5 billion star recipe (true story), whether or not it came from a site like food.com or some dubious place like nytimes.com (the chicken stew recipe that ultimately spoke to me came from here. No joke.). The perfect recipe makes you feel like the dish is going to be a hit, even with your grumpy aunt who seems to hate all cuisine and all meat types. Its supposed to make your tummy rumble even before you’ve gone down to the grocer to get your ingredients. Its supposed to make you want to match it gram for gram, salt grain for salt grain so you don’t mess up.

Key word: Supposed. Because when I cook, I never follow the recipe. I mean I do to a certain extent. I add sage into the minced pork because the recipe said so, just that I add the entire pack instead of the recommended amount of 2 tablespoons. I add laughter, I add love, I add a broken pepper grinder to the recipe, even when not required. Sometimes I add tears, I add heartbreak and a dash of determination to live a little better. There will never be a perfect recipe, only recipes that speak to you and tell you “Hey, you might want to give me a try.” Just like how in life, people may hand you recipes that, tried and proven, is the route to a perfect life. But only you will know how much disappointment, pain and sorrow, how much happiness, joy and laughter you have to put in it to make it YOUR perfect life. You. Cooking is about finding out what you want. There will never be too much salt in a dish, just someone with too low a tolerance.