On an obstacle course to a great dinner

On an obstacle course to a great dinner
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Weekend dinners can be exciting especially when you don’t know where you’re going and the anticipation is driving you crazy. Seems like we’ve been speeding along for miles before entering a dungeon of a parking lot in a not-so-happening part of the swanky part of town. Up and down elevators, escalators and flights of stairs. Traversing a mall indoors and out. What a way to work up an appetite!

Finally, we arrive at an unfamiliar but highly popular restaurant, by the looks of it. Don’t ask me where we are, I honestly haven’t the foggiest. But who cares? So long as there’s good food to be had at the end of the obstacle course. Because truly good food is so very hard to find these days.

Apparently the specialty here is their siu yoke (barbecued pork with crispy skin on) so we’ve come to judge for ourselves. We’re there so early, around 6pm, and already their siu yoke is sold out for the day. Bummer.

So we have to make do with their char siu (barbecued pork) and roast duck which come with the two customary sauces – plum and chili. What I like about their char siu is that it isn’t overly caramelized and every piece is entirely edible. The roast duck too is meaty without being tough. So far so good!

On an obstacle course to a great dinner

We also order what is Szechuan chicken to me (but they call it by a different name) which is chicken meat stir-fried with dried chilies, cashew nuts and onions. Oh man, the nostalgia! This is one of the first Chinese dishes I ever taught myself to cook back in college and I haven’t cooked or eaten this in ages.

On an obstacle course to a great dinner

We order the sweet and spicy Thai-style tofu because passion fruit sauce sounds too exotic to be ignored. And we’re spot on, this is indeed delicious.

On an obstacle course to a great dinner

And to round things up with a perennial favorite of ours, a simple kailan (Chinese kale) stir-fry topped with garlic oil.

On an obstacle course to a great dinner

So there you go, a delicious dinner for 5 with 4 bowls of rice to share and there’s always that last bit of rice left that gets passed round and round until one of us eventually settles so as not to waste food.

The most endearing thing about this restaurant is that each dish comes with a serving spoon. Which means if you’re eating with outsiders, you’re not inadvertently signing yourself up for one of those dreaded saliva swapping deals.

Hip to be #Shopping: Lace tops for high tea

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Some days, you just feel girly and want to look pretty. And lace is both pretty and girly, don’t you think? So go ahead, go lace-y!

Set: Plain Camisole Top + Lace 3/4-Sleeve Top
Set: Plain Camisole Top + Lace 3/4-Sleeve Top

This beautiful bluish grey all-lace blouse features a plain camisole and three-quarter trumpet sleeves. Perfect for all occasions.

Set: Short-Sleeve Top + Spaghetti Strap Lace Top
Set: Short-Sleeve Top + Spaghetti Strap Lace Top

This cutesy combo of a short sleeved top and a contrasting strappy lace top is perfect for an afternoon out to high tea with your high school friends you haven’t seen in years.

Set: Plain Camisole Top + Lace Tank Top
Set: Plain Camisole Top + Lace Tank Top

This lace tank top is perfect for the changing of the seasons. It comes with a plain nude camisole to be worn inside. There are 2 earthy colors to choose from, take your pick.

Set: Hooded Light Jacket + Ruffled Camisole Top
Set: Hooded Light Jacket + Ruffled Camisole Top

Okay, this isn’t lace but it’s so cute I just had to throw it in. You can wear the ruffled camisole top on its own and throw on the light hooded jacket when it gets windy or chilly. This sweet dual function set is perfect for going from day to night.

Last Call! Back-To-School Offer! Save an extra $5 off your orders of over $49 simply by using the code – 2018BTS5 – on checkout. Hurry, offer ends Sep. 16, 2018.

P.S. If you liked the above product descriptions, hire me to write them for you.

Meeting Briyani for the second time

Meeting Briyani for the second time
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Twas a Sunday morning after a quick errand that we went in search of an early lunch. At 9:30 in the morning! What are you talking about? you ask, shouldn’t that be breakfast? Well, we’re known to do crazy stuff like this *shrugs*. Our 7.00am breakfast had long been digested by then and since we were out early, why not have lunch?

Long story short, we drove to 2 different eateries (an Indian and a Chinese eatery) but couldn’t find a parking spot at either of them. Well, such is life in the city where parking has become a headache even on a hazy, lazy Sunday morning! Bah humbug!

Finally, we went to a third one – another of our favorite Indian eateries. Soon as I turned the corner, we all held our collective breaths. Nyet, it didn’t look like there was any parking spot left but! wait a minute, what have we here?!! Some guy was just driving off! YES!

After our needless 1.5-hour tour of 3 suburbs, we couldn’t wait to chow down. The place was jam-packed and we feared there was no way we’d find a table but! wait a minute, what have we here?!! Every table was occupied save one last empty table waiting for us! YES!

By now, I was all gungho and adventurous and ready to eat a horse. Everyone else ordered the standard stuff. Me? I had to be different and went for something I’ve only eaten once before in my life, something I have very misty memories of. Hello again, Briyani!

Meeting Briyani for the second time

Tick tock tick tock. Briyani was the first to arrive along with Curry and Pickles and a long glass of iced coffee. Well, let me just say this, if anyone of us had been wearing socks (err, *looks at feet* sockless in sports shoes, oh well), that aroma would’ve knocked ’em socks right off!

Meeting Briyani for the second time

It’s a little deceiving because it looks like only rice and a few cashews and green chilies. But I’ll tell you now, don’t ever judge Briyani by her looks alone. Her beauty is skin deep ’cause hiding underneath that innocent saffron-colored basmati rice was a meaty chicken leg and a whole hard-boiled egg.

Meeting Briyani for the second time

The rice was very spicy even before the curry was added and the chicken was tasty on its own. That’s why I love Indian food. Those incredible spices and the intensity of those flavors just take over all your senses and leave your head spinning.

Being the generous person that I am, I let everyone have a taste (no way I could’ve finished that serving). Big mistake! Once they were done gobbling their boring standard stuff, they all started diving into my claypot for seconds. What the heck!! Shoo! Get off my briyani before I drill holes in your hands with my fork!! I’m serious. Go away!

Hip to be #Shopping: Long sleeves with character

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With cooler weather (fall or spring, depending on which hemisphere you’re at) just around the corner, you’re probably thinking you should be adding some sleeves to your tops. And you’d be right. But instead of those same old long sleeves, how about long sleeves with character? Like these?

Choker Neck Bell Sleeve Heather Knit Top
Choker Neck Bell Sleeve Heather Knit Top

This elegant grey knit-top features beautiful bell sleeves that fall all the way down to your fingers. The stretchy fabric of this casual top lends itself so well to these overly-lengthy sleeves. Great for work or a day out with the hubs or your girl friends.

Trumpet Sleeve Pearl Embellished Keyhole Top
Trumpet Sleeve Pearl Embellished Keyhole Top

Striped and beaded, this red and white blouse is both cute and practical. Gotta love those three-quarter length trumpet sleeves – long enough to shield from the chill and short enough that they don’t get in the way of handling kids, groceries or work.

Keyhole Back Tiered Ruffle Sleeve Top
Keyhole Back Tiered Ruffle Sleeve Top

Here’s my favorite – an otherwise simple burgundy top made instantly chic by tiers of ruffles running down the three-quarter sleeves. This all-occasion top is best worn tucked into your pants or jeans to accentuate those gorgeous tiered ruffle sleeves.

Go online shopping this long weekend. For a limited time only, save on Long Sleeves at Romwe. Dig around, there’s lots to choose from.

P.S. If you liked the above product descriptions, hire me to write them for you.

‘Em lil hotties

'Em lil hotties
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Ever noticed the random, sometimes partially hidden plates of hotties peeking out at you from my food photos?

'Em lil hotties

Red, green, jalapeno, serrano, bird’s eye. Raw, fresh cut, sauced, blended, curried, pickled. You name it, it’s all good! I mean, what’s a meal without some zing, eh?

'Em lil hotties

Growing up, I was trained at the prestigious Academy of Chili Kungfu high up in a hill above the city. Never mind which hill, just know that I lived and trained there for many years under the tutelage of the best fire-breathing chili gurus (aka my family elders). There I learned to eat and enjoy spicy food, growing from strength to strength and gradually becoming a guru myself (to my kids, that is).

So yeah, we’re a family of chili chompers. I eat chilies with everything. Even my kids have graduated to chomping on raw bird’s eye chilies (notorious for their killer heat) without batting an eyelid since their early teens. So then, how do you think I felt when I recently noticed this in my garden?

'Em lil hotties

Don’t look at me. I swear I don’t have the green thumbs for this. But apparently my Garden Elf has decided to surprise me with this prolific gift 😉 . Aren’t these the most beautiful little things you’ve seen? I don’t even mind that they’re green though I’m partial to the red ones simply because of their bright color. I’m shallow like that 😆 .

And now I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. The next time you’re having the sniffles and you’re looking for a way to arrest those a-chhoo’s and stop that drip, drip, drip, forget the flu meds.

Have some bird’s eye chilies instead. They’re packed with Vitamin C to kill those nasty sniffles dead in their tracks. This is from my own experience. I don’t know if it’ll work on everyone but I’d say it’s worth a try. Just be sure you have a fire extinguisher nearby. And don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Apparently you CAN win

Apparently you CAN win
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Just when it seems you simply can’t win, apparently you can. As the story goes, I was hankering after an elusive meal of fried rice which the Food Gods were determined I shouldn’t have and I was left standing there wondering what to eat at the end of yet another boring grocery run.

That fried rice yo, I must have it now!

But even before I could utter the words “fried rice!”, my feet had shifted into gear and were headed in the direction of… yes, that same cafe where I was ignored and subsequently walked out of. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have gone back there but what can I do? I really dig their cave-like coolness and simple food.

So I walked in and parked myself at a table right underneath the air-conditioner going full blast. Tis another cool day of 80+F outside. Aah, bliss! In less than 2 nanoseconds, the server was standing beside me, the same one who’d ignored me the last time.

As I settled into my seat, he patiently waited to take my order, refusing to blink or budge. I’m even more convinced now that he had indeed been the server who’d seen me get up and leave the last time and probably, possibly didn’t want to lose me again. I could be wrong, of course. He could just be plain conscientious about his job lol.

It took a while but aaah, here’s my fried rice at last! This sure looks a lot better than 4 pieces of playdoh. A fried rice hill on a banana leaf island with crashing waves of shrimp fritters. There’s definitely a tropical feel to this. Good job!

Apparently you can win

Its flavor is way different from my homecooked winter version, not that that’s necessarily bad. Of course, no other fried rice can beat mine bwahaha, says the picky eater, but this does the job. I even found hidden treasure on the island aka 3 large shrimps embedded in that hill.

Apparently you can win

It doesn’t look like a big serving but believe me, it is. I ate the entire portion aka I unashamedly rolled out the door like a carb ball lol. Thank you, Food Gods, I finally got what I wanted. Hmm, the satisfaction of a plate of fried rice washed down with a long glass of iced coffee and a good book! Burp!

You just can’t win

You just can't win
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Do you ever get the feeling that some days, you just can’t win with the Food Gods? I swear this is what happened to me on the day I was walking around seeing mirages of fried rice with an omelet on top. This is weird. What’s goin’ on?

Yeah, I know. It’s so out of character for me to eat restaurant fried rice when it’s something I can always cook at home. Maybe it was because the weather had been kinda cool that day (if you can even call 80F cool *slaps forehead*) and I was reminded of the winter version I used to make and eat straight out of a big common bowl.

Now if I could just step into a time machine and go back to those grey days of hugging my bowl at the kitchen table and savoring every spoonful of that piping hot fried rice. And it’s a gorgeous 40 degrees out! Yeah, that must be it. That explains the mirages.

And here were my feet beginning to take me to that nearby cafe where I often go to relax and read a book. I seated myself and waited for someone to take my order. Ten minutes passed, then 15. The place wasn’t that busy, it was still early and I swear that at least one of the servers had seen me. Was I being ignored?

I looked around and all the servers seemed to have disappeared. Okay, if I ain’t gettin’ served, then I’m outta here! So I got up and walked out. No big deal. This is not new. It’s been done before. Walking out, I mean.

But dang it, I got to have that fried rice now! I wandered a few doors down to another restaurant whose miles-long menu I’ve browsed before but found nothing that tempted me. I figured I’d give their menu another look. Flipping page. Scanning page. Aha, fried rice!

I stepped inside and was pleased their air-conditioning was on full blast. Woohoo! Maybe this place ain’t half bad, eh? That was me trying to convince myself that I was making the right choice. They have a long list under Fried Rice too. Super hungry, I picked the one with the pork chop and omelet.

Now what could possibly go wrong with that, right? Wrong! Look at this. This was what they served me.

You just can't win

Ouch, what’s this? This can’t be my order. I don’t see any fried rice!! WHERE’S MY FRIED RICE???? I signaled the server over. “I ordered fried rice. This is not fried rice.” Silence. The standard 2-minute processing time it takes to mentally translate English to Mandarin. She disappeared and came back with the menu. Because sometimes it’s easier to just point than articulate.

Another 2 minutes of silence later, I finally figured out that the item I ordered said ‘rice’, not ‘fried rice’ but it was listed under the title page ‘Fried Rice’. If that even makes any sense at all!?!?! Obviously not to me. Because if I’d been the person creating the menu, this would never have happened. The horror and disappointment!

I stared at my plate for a lo-oong time. I have no idea how I’m going to eat this. First off, there’s this layer of thick sweet black sauce on the pork chop which I absolutely will not eat. So I scraped it all off. Every bit of it.

Second, everything on the plate is dry and disconnected. Something is missing here. Usually there would be an accompanying soup or gravy (even on the veggies) or something to pull everything together and make it presentable. Nothing! This just looks like something a kindergartener might’ve made out of playdough. Ugh!

*Big groan* Dear Food Gods, I hope you guys are having fun playing with me. First, no service. Now this. I just can’t win today, can I? You just won’t let me. Not only am I not getting my fried rice, I got this. Just look at it. How do I eat this? Seriously!

I’m not sure what I was more sore about – the fact that I didn’t get my fried rice or the fact that my order turned out to be these four arid, standalone things on a plate. Looking on the positive side, maybe their fried rice could’ve tasted worse than this, who knows? Now wouldn’t that be hilarious!!

The thorns must be laughing

The thorns must be laughing
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How I ended up at, of all places, a durian restaurant, I don’t know. But yup, even the thorns must be laughing at me. While driving past one the other day, I recall my passenger having mentioned durians twice in the past week. She didn’t exactly say she wanted to eat them but in the Asian culture, many things are never said directly but often inferred from knowing someone well.

Oh yes, about the durian (pronounced dew-ree-ann). In case you’re wondering, it’s a fruit with a thick skin of thorns protecting the luscious seeded fruits inside. It’s a fruit like no other – you either love it or hate it. One whiff of that odor or fragrance (depending on how you view it) of rotten eggs is enough to put some people off forever and transport others to the edge of heaven.

The thorns must be laughing

I kinda think of it as an acquired taste. If you can get past the first 126 and a half possibly nauseatingly pungent mouthfuls, there’s a good chance you may just come to like it? Maybe even crave it? Thing is you won’t know till you try, and by then, it may be too late, your tastebuds may forever be doomed. Or captivated, who knows?

I used to like durians when I was a kid. But after returning from studying in the US, I was totally turned off it aka showed no interest, wouldn’t touch it for years. These days, I’m okay with it but it’s not a big deal to me. If it’s there, I’ll eat it. If it’s not, I’m not going out of my way, as is my attitude with most foods anyways.

So you could think of me as someone who wouldn’t normally give roadside durian restaurants a second glance. It’s too sunny and blazing hot to get out of the car, and frankly, I’m not particularly drawn to (to put it mildly) eating at places that offer scenic views of pails, garbage bins and yucky floors! Then there’s this thing about the sticky, messy business of eating durians in public which I’d rather not have to deal with.

Okay, so I turn to my passenger and asks if she wants durians for lunch, hoping she’d say no. She’s hesitant, but only because she knows me too well. Her answer isn’t clear so I infer it’s a yes. So I turn “excitedly” into the parking lot, hoping not to find a spot. But there it is, right there and I’m like, oh “lucky” us!!

I’m not sure if we’re there at the right time but it sure don’t look to me like there’re as many durians as I would expect. But that’s not the problem. One look at the laminated menu of the different varieties of the fruit and I’m stumped. A menu?! You gotta be kiddin’ me! I read and re-read the items. Apart from a couple of more famous varieties, I’ve no idea about the rest. Besides, all the fruits look the same so how do you tell?

Well, looks like we’re off to a great start already!

I discreetly try to blend in with the people milling around the glove-handed, knife-wielding sellers, hoping to glean some information to use in my own decision-making. Very quickly, it becomes apparent there’s not much information to be gleaned. Everyone seems to know what they want. So where does that leave me?

The thorns must be laughing

I look around at the sellers trying to pick one who looks the kindest and most likely to be patient with me. Ah yes, I see him! A skinny guy with glasses talking to a young man in front of me. Yes, this is the guy I want! He starts going on about the most expensive and raved about variety. And if you know me, you know I really don’t care about brand names.

I’m like, look bro, my brains are running on weekend mode so please spare me the 101 and just find me a fruit that’s bitter. and one that’s sweet for my passenger. and I don’t care which variety. Turns out to be a great decision on my part. He picks us some mighty fine fruits and soon, I’m flagging him down again for more.

The thorns must be laughing

What’s nice is that there’s a ready expert to select and open up the fruit for me. It’s definitely better than trying to pry them open yourself like we (not me) used to in the old days. Thankfully these days, the thorny work is part of customer service and a price you wouldn’t mind paying if you value your fingers.

Given a choice, I’d much prefer having durians drop from the sky like they always do but I’d say this experience has been somewhat bearable? Except for the ambiance, and the hassle of eating it in public (but at least plastic gloves and tissues are provided). Would I do this again? Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe, if I’m under duress. Unlikely, if there’s a choice. Probably not, if I can help it lol.

To Club Med and back

To Club Med and back
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Hey, I’m back from Club Med. Finally found my way into what once used to be an exclusive club. These days, everyone and their pet emu wants in on a piece of the action, or inaction to those who truly understand what Club Med is all about. From Silicon Valley techies to Hollywood celebrities, everyone’s flocking there like ants to honey.

Indeed the Club Med I’m talking about has nothing to do with the fancy beach resort where you chuck your kids to resident daycare and happily dance off into the deep blue in your bikini. This is the other Club Med. Club Meditation, that is. A clever play on words for a retreat where you pretty much spend all of your waking hours in meditation, one of the central tenets of Buddhism.

While Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder, famously switched off his phone at a 10-day meditation retreat, I chose a non-residential one instead. I figured if I can pull off one whole day of nothing but meditation, I might well be moving one step closer to enlightenment. Maybe. Hopefully.

So! I arrive at the meditation center bright and early. Eighteen minutes early, to be exact, as others are just beginning to trickle in. After checking in, I survey the large hall where thin cushions have been laid out neatly in rows. Okay, okay, I’m feeling all gungho already! Go me!

To Club Med and back

Image credit: depositphotos.com

For starters, we’re told to switch off our cellphones and place our bags on some designated shelves far away. I’m not married to my phone so I was quite happy saying “goodbye, phone, see ya later!” – a welcome chance to spare myself the daily chore of scrolling through and relentlessly deleting dozens of rubbishy messages and videos that I don’t even bother opening.

The day starts with a bit of chanting and brief instructions on meditation. No details are given about the day’s agenda except that we’re to observe silence throughout the retreat. We’re not allowed to speak. Okay, that’s easy enough. I’m probably more talkative on this blog than I am in person anyways.

At 11:30am, there’s a one-sentence announcement to proceed to the dining hall. Each person is allocated a box of simple vegetarian dishes over rice and a half cup of light sweet tea which I enjoy tremendously and wish I could get a refill (but no, no refills). As we eat, bowls of fruit are passed around to each table. I gingerly place 2 pieces of fresh pineapple and a banana on my box lid but pass on another fruit that looks questionable to me.

We’re encouraged to take a half hour to finish our meal, which is wa-ay longer than what we’d normally need to scarf down a meal this size. The point is to eat slowly, paying attention to what we’re eating. Which, of course, runs contrary to how we typically rush through a meal so we can move on to the next thing on our busy, crazy agenda.

As it turns out, it’s not that difficult to do and it feels pretty nice too. Taking my time to chew through each mouthful before refilling my fork and raising it to my mouth, I notice that the burst of flavors is much more distinct and I’m more aware of the taste. Hmm, this is interesting and you know what, I kinda like it!

Meditating for hours on end, however, is a whole new experience for me. I won’t say it’s easy but it’s doable. I went in without any expectations and I’m glad it didn’t feel like too much of a chore and somehow I didn’t even notice the hours going by. I think I did good (don’t you?) and for that, I’m happy. So yeah! or should I say, hooyah!

Carrot at the end of the yawn

Carrot at the end of the yawn
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I’ll be honest. Grocery runs are getting to be a big old yawn. Things seem to be the same old, same old at the grocery store every week. I can think of grocery stores where each season brings new and exciting fruits, vegetables and products and where there’s always a yummy surprise waiting around the corner. Just a mirage, I tell myself, just a mirage, ain’t happenin’ here, just keep movin’, let’s get this over with.

The only bright spark in my grocery runs these days is lunch. Yeah, that’s right, at the very least, if nothing else, there’s that delicious carrot dangling in front of me as I run into the same old grocery dead ends. The thought of lunch inspires me to get my shopping done faster and if there’s self-checkout, you can bet I’ll be rushing over there versus the regular lines.

Once out the door, me and my shopping cart will be racing in the direction of food. Okay, so it’s obvious that a picky eater doesn’t have a whole lot of choices. What to eat, what to eat? Most times, to make life simple, I just go for the same thing. No point taxing my brains too much. I just wanna plant myself at a cool spot and chow down, know what I mean?

After eliminating a whole bunch of the things I don’t or won’t eat, there’s not much left really. But on occasion, I do get lucky and manage to assemble a small feast such as this. Freshly-made spring rolls, ondeh-ondeh (desiccated coconut-coated balls with brown sugar filling) and sushi, that’s a meal right there.

Carrot at the end of the yawn

Don’t worry, I didn’t eat all of this. I couldn’t if I tried nor would I want to try. Years of lunching with the Folks from Finance have taught me to do the math. If it works out cheaper in ‘bulk’, go for the ‘bulk’. This worked out even better because everything came in boxes that I can just chuck the leftovers into my ecobag and be on my way.

Though everything here was passable, I wish the spring rolls were less sweet and the ondeh-ondeh much less diabetic. As for the sushi, I’m not usually a big fan but these ones are okay because of the ratio of rice versus filling.

Carrot at the end of the yawn

These sushis are scarce, almost non-existent on wasabi, hence BYO handy-dandy wasabi! Sure, they do sell little wasabi packets at checkout but the portions are tiny and they somehow look stale and unappetizing to me. And that’s all, folks, as far as lunch is concerned. till it’s time for the next big ya-aawn!

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