Tag Archives: life

A new January

We can’t control the sea but we can learn to ride the waves.
~ Said a few wise people

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Happy new year, everyone (or no one?) :-) I have no idea who still reads or subscribes to this blog, but I was told recently that treehousekitchen showed up as a hit in a Google search for Tessa Kiros’s ceviche (first page!). Somehow, that piece of news winked at me ;-) Thanks, Kath, what a fun email to receive.

I spent a bit of time clicking around on the internet yesterday. Peeking at blogs I used to enjoy reading. Some still brought a sense of delight; others were dull with marketing; many seemed to have hit Pause or Stop sometime around 2013.

The internet, along with the rest of the world, is going through such revolutionary times. I mean, life has never ever stood still, but is it just me, or is change just happening faster and faster, more and more (in real life, and 1000x more ridiculously on the internet)? Looking through some older blogs and noticing the amount of change we have been through in a short length of time – just with the average style and quality of photographs on websites over the last seven years for instance – is amazing. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when you might have been the only one in a circle of friends who kept a ‘blog’ and ‘blogged’ on Saturday nights while everyone else was out getting pizza … now heaps of people have operated some kind of blog before and have, in fact, moved on to more significant endeavours.

Sitting down intentionally now to write (or even blog) feels slow and unnecessary; like attempting to knit myself a scarf when I could just buy one from a store. Or like doing something ‘unimportant’ when I could be reading emails or 200 social media updates instead.

I keep glancing up at the time, seeing the minutes tick by as I pause between thoughts and words. I hear a whisper of panic in my heart as I wonder if I always took so long to compose posts in the past, or whether this is taking longer because I am out of practice? And as the fear grows, other questions sprout. Can I do this? Should I do this? Is it going to at least change the world or something, for it to be worthwhile?

And as I write this, I smile with the sincere silliness of these questions.

Can’t we just cook*, blog, publish just for the simple desire of doing so? I ask myself.

And I shall leave it here today.

* Or, in this case, assemble – bagel halves, a full spread of cream cheese, slices of avocado and a fine vine-ripened tomato, smoked salmon, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper – served alongside a generous pinch of micro-greens. 

A morning like every morning

Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.
~ Walt Whitman

Last night, I watched a spectacular sunset – one which said clearly, “Stop. Pay attention to me.”

That reminded me to be present in each moment… to know that the Good Life is not the Perfect Someday, or the Hive of Meaningless Activity. It is right here, right now. Walking on wet grass, releasing the scent of rain with each step. Feeling the wind graze every inch of my skin. Drinking in the glow of the setting sun. Gazing at the mist. Pausing on purpose. Dreaming, yes, but not losing sight of the waking moments or the really important things. Being thankful.

So this morning I met Herman for breakfast and there it was again – something which said, “Stop. Pay attention. Take a photo if you like…” Of what? The bright sun, the table askew, the berries stacked in his glass and the avocado spread on my toast. Or, in the case of the photo below, the End of Breakfast and the Start of Mid-morning Tuesday…

Conversation. Friendship. My work schedule for the day. The buzz of business people walking past clutching meeting agendas and other such things. Morning.

The mornings like every other morning – those are the gems.

Moustache

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
~ Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

What do you remember of your childhood?

I recall abstract details… my first hula hoop; the pain of piping hot cheese toast scorching the roof of my mouth; the excitement of hiding backstage waiting for the curtain to go up. If I concentrate with my eyes shut, I can just about remember what it was like to be 6, 7, 9, 12…

These days, I find myself learning how to be a child all over again.

In recent years, life has (necessarily) involved plenty of ‘growing up’ (whatever that really means!) – a big shift from School to a world that is largely about Money Job Romance House Marriage Kids Plans Politics Catastrophes Choices Vacations Service ItDoesn’tEnd Etc Etc.

It’s exciting and necessary.

But in many ways, it’s really not everything.

All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy; it kills him.

Perhaps the more ‘growing up’ we do, the more we need to remember what it is like to be small, to wonder, to love without complications. To enjoy whizzing down a slide without thinking about how to announce your slide ride on Facebook. To be able to tell someone “I don’t want to play with you today” or “let’s be friends!” – just like that. To eat when hungry without worrying about getting fat.

Perhaps we could place equal importance on Big Decisions and Small Things.

Perhaps we could, every so often, leave our suits and aprons at home in favour of donning milk moustaches and eating delicious cookies.

This is Deanna, whiz and powerhouse behind Moustache. I had already heard many good things about Moustache through media and friends – this morning, I got a chance to experience the goodness in person. Yay! As I tucked into a glorious cinnamon cookie and cold fresh milk, I enjoyed getting to know the face and story behind this Cookie Wonderland.

Like so many good things, Moustache is built on passion, genius, the pursuit of excellence and a lot of hard work. I admired the staff’s friendly and calm countenances and the yummy cookies more and more as I learned the realities of building this dream and running this business.

What you see now, a concept that seems simple enough (milk, cookies, the child in all of us and a glimpse of Deanna’s childhood) – is the result of months of brainstorming and resourceful thinking done in pockets of available time. Strings of early mornings and late nights. Careful budgeting. Setbacks and victories.

Blood, sweat, tears and laughs.

Every cookie is baked fresh, on site, with good ingredients like cage-free eggs and generous bites of Whittaker’s chocolate. On that note, I discovered why the peanut butter cookies Kath and I bought yesterday at 4pm were positively glowing with everything melting in just the right places… the cookies tasted like they had just emerged from the oven because, in fact, they had. The Moustache team sends fresh trays of cookie dough into the oven every half an hour to ensure customers get a constant supply of fresh cookies!

Things I love about Moustache: the way it is so bright and user-friendly – walk in and your eyes and nose automatically know what to do. Its warmth and fragrance. The option of buying gift boxes along with your cookies. The menu. The smiling staff. And, of course, the cookies – preferably enjoyed warm with cold fresh milk.

Pop in on weekdays for morning coffee or an afternoon pick-me-up, Saturdays for a treat, or before a show at The Civic (conveniently located a stone’s throw away).

If you miss your childhood, Moustache is an excellent place for reminiscence – if you never had a childhood, make up for it here.

Thank you, Deanna, for a lovely morning!

Moustache – 12 Wellesley Street West, Auckland

What to do in Beijing

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
~ Bill Bryson

I left Beijing late on Monday night, sad to leave Jane and happy to be heading towards a city with cleaner air. Grateful for the marvellous trip – Beijing is really home to many wonders besides the Great Wall!

There is so much to write about – wandering down curious mazes of narrow streets/hutongs. Bus adventures involving rapid-fire Mandarin and being forced to elbow people to stay alive (the buses there, they do strange things to humans). The spitting (which I now understand, because I was tempted to cough up and dispose of the balls of dust which kept taking up residence in my throat). The beautiful, soft foliage. The ‘exercise machines’ on streets for public use – hilarious, and rather cool! The marvellous mangoes. The way the city looks tranquil and mysterious in the evening. The thoughts I thought in the public toilets, which I shall spare you from. The curious ways of guan xi.

And thoughts on travel! – how wonderful, worthwhile, informative and exhausting it is… and how much it makes me appreciate my life (both the big and little things that make it awesome). How much I love, too, the moments of mini coincidences, kindness from strangers, inspiration and total shock. :-)

My favourite method of getting around Beijing was, without doubt, via tin can car! It’s like a loud mini motorised carriage or a Chinese version of the tuk tuk… way too cute! I wish we could’ve travelled everywhere in them, but for the following reasons: distance (the drivers mostly do short rides), variety and cost, we also travelled via taxi, subway and on foot. If you can cycle, Beijing’s pretty bicycle-friendly too.

We attended a dim sum cooking class at The Hutong Kitchen, at Beixinqiao (map here). With the Little Gold Book, we got a two-for-one deal. :-)

Our instructor showed us how to make nuo mi ji (steamed parcels of chicken/glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves), shao mai and xia jiao (shrimp dumplings) (all pictured below).

It was certainly a class designed for foreigners and dim sum beginners (and the dim sum was not quite identical to what is served in most restaurants), and I doubt I’d reproduce any of these in my own kitchen (too cumbersome!) – but I gleaned valuable cooking tips and enjoyed it very much.

Right after the cooking class, we adjourned to Sanyuanli Market (Shunyuan Jie, opposite Jingkelong Supermarket, west of Sanyuan Dongqiao, Chaoyang District). A long corridor with stalls selling just about everything you need to cook anything at all. I’d say it caters well for both locals and foreigners. Good cuts of meat, wide selection of seafood and fresh herbs/vegetables – and all sorts of dried/packet goods too! All at good prices.

See, we had two excellent meals made from products purchased at Sanyuanli Market (Jane cooked! Yum!) – baked salmon, and lamb and prune tagine.

Jane also took me to Niu Jie (Ox Street), the Muslim quarters in Beijing. I loved this area! And not just because the Niujie Mosque (Niu Jie 88, Beijing, China) so beautifully incorporates both Chinese and Islamic culture and elements…

Niu Jie is also home to an amazing array of food like yang rou chuan’r (lamb kebabs), various types of cakes and nian gao and other snacks… (we bought a few green bean snacks before we lunched at a place with delicious Xinjiang cuisine).

One place I’d definitely visit often if I lived in Beijing is Ri Tan Gong Yuan (Temple of the sun)… so calming!

After a leisurely walk and cup of coffee/tea in Ri Tan Gong Yuan on Sunday afternoon, we were well ready for dinner! We walked for 20 minutes to get to Na Jia Xiao Guan (south of the LG Twin Towers, west of 119 Middle School in Chaoyang District) – a fantastic place both in terms of food and ambience.

We queued for nearly half an hour to get in, and were served red date tea whilst we waited – dinner was totally worth the wait. The place was buzzing with positive energy and happy diners. The menu – featuring mostly Manchu cuisine – was colourful and exciting. And the food, including a plate of most perfect crispy goose, was so delicious!

I ate my first donkey burger on Monday. Surprised by how good it tasted! Tender and flavourful… so good, especially with the addition of chopped chives! It tasted nothing like chicken, for the record… :-)

Also ate my first jian bing on Monday – again, loved it. Imagine a warm, savoury cross between an omelette and crepe with sweet crunchy lettuce in the middle…

Lastly. Jingshan Park – it was so foggy when we visited, but the view from the top was still spectacular… I can just imagine how stunning it’d be on a clear day!

(While it is very unfortunate that Emperor Chongzhen hung himself, I think it even more unfortunate that they chose to bear such text on a sign in the park – right at the top, no less!…)

Thanks Beijing (and Jane!) for having me! (And thanks Jane for taking the better photos that feature in this post).

Hot food in hot places

All journeys have secret destinations of which the travel[l]er is unaware.
~ Martin Buber

Sweat in Singapore feels like a second skin, and powerful air conditioners are put to work in most buildings and vehicles to provide welcome relief to drenched humans.

There is something to be said for eating hot food in hot conditions, though – it’s magic. Somehow everything is tastier and more fragrant, and the experience of eating (spicy foods in particular) is heightened as you feel your clothes sticking to your back, sweat hugging your neck and embracing your legs… there’s something true to life about that, you know? It makes me fall in love with the function of eating and with the absolute miracle of being able to taste, smell, hear, touch and see. I enjoy eating ice cream in winter for similar reasons – it makes me feel awake and alive. You may be raising your eyebrows at your screen as you read this, but seriously, try it if you haven’t!

One experience I really love in Singapore is the hawker centre/kopi tiam* (coffee shop – “kopi” meaning coffee and “tiam” meaning shop, in a Chinese dialect) experience. The hawker centre/kopi tiam is no place to wear suits or heels or translucent tops (lest excessive sweat get in the way of keeping yourself modest and your expensive clothes clean) – but it’s a brilliant place to tease your senses and eat delicious food for not very much $$ at all. A meal will likely cost less than SGD$10 in most hawker centres/kopi tiams.

Here is a breakfast tradition that’s been revived in recent years – kaya toast and a cup of hot kopi. Kaya is the jam of my childhood – a sweet concoction infused with the wonderful flavours of pandan and coconut… and I could do a whole post about various ways of having your kopi – the unwritten kopi tiam coffee menu is way more extensive than Starbucks’s! My aunt and I enjoyed this breakfast the other day at a kopi tiam in East Coast:

Though Singapore be a tiny place, there remain many areas which I have never explored – Geylang being one of them! So Paul took me for a lovely bak kut teh lunch at Leong Kee (Klang) Bak Kut Teh near Lorong 11 in Geylang. Bak kut teh is this heady, aromatic soup infused with the flavours of pork, garlic and peppercorn… for me, it spells warmth and comfort. Peppery soup, pork with dark soya sauce, rice… mmmm! This version came with sheets of dried beancurd skin.

This mee rebus and char siew hor fun came from a hawker centre in Yew Tee – much as I detest food in plastic packaging for environmental and health reasons, seeing that familiar plastic-encased food bundle still causes a sense of nostalgia to ripple through me…

Tau sar pau (red bean paste buns) – still something lovely about biting into warm and fluffy pau dough and finding sweet red bean paste in the middle! It’s a sort of delicate, understated sweetness I miss when in New Zealand (where sweetness derived from the likes of fruit, cake and chocolate is more common).

Here (Rochor Original Beancurd – 2 Short Street, Singapore), Paul, Mich and I had bowls of impossibly silky and refreshing tau huay (otherwise known as dou hua, tau fu fa or tofu pudding – silky tofu served with a clear sweet syrup, though there are other variations available). A perfect light finish, especially after a rather heavy dinner! I really wouldn’t recommend the soy milk here, though…

And finally – this is a place with glorious mee pokJalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok (The Art of Mee Pok Pte Ltd) (308 Bedok Road, Bedok Shopping Centre). Mee pok is a tasty Singaporean staple composed of springy noodles, toppings like fish balls or minced pork and a flavoursome sauce with elements like chilli and vinegar. Not a dish you’d pick for high nutritional value, but one I always have at least once whenever I visit this part of the world!

Delicious Hakka yong tau foo (a medley of tofu, vegetables, etc) and greens with fried shallots from an adjacent stall were wonderful side dishes we enjoyed with the excellent mee pok :-)

The question I’ve most frequently had to answer on this trip is “what do you want to eat?” (yeah, such a hard life, huh?)… the question which has then prompted conversations and visits to places all around Singapore in search of the perfect [insert dish name here]. Ahh… I could get used to this holiday ;-)

And on that note, it amuses me that though many hawker centres and kopi tiams may sell similar fare, I have rarely encountered a Singaporean who does not hold strong opinions about which one sells the BEST [insert local dish here], or a Singaporean who will not endure torturous traffic jams/public transport at peak hours just to get to their favourite food places…

Such a culture of food worship!

Warming up

The great city is that which has the greatest man or woman: if it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest city in the whole world.
~ Walt Whitman

Have you ever had a travelling friend tell you about their trip and say “everything was so foreign”? I know I’ve said that about holidays I’ve gone on. Recently though, my friend S pointed out that really – it is the traveller who is the foreigner in a land of everything local. A good change of perspective for me!

Right now, I’m in bustling Asia. Singapore – sunny island of sparkling cars, fashionable folk, instant-everything and a unique old-style charm (though I feel this charm is gradually being eradicated now, with the fast pace at which this country is developing).

Even though I know that Singapore is one of the most rapidly-developing places in the world, I was still surprised to see the huge changes which have taken place since my last visit, e.g. Marina Bay Sands – shiny and sleek and big. Luxurious and top-end and arty.

So I know it may seem strange to say this. But even as I took in the awesome sight of these climbing buildings, polished floors, sparkling chandeliers and expensive shops, even as I fell in love with the world in all its building and creating glory – I had a sudden longing for wide open spaces and simplicity as I stood here, rolling my coins down this inverted dome (picture below). Know what I mean? Some people are true Big City Folk. I am not one of them. I love visiting big cities more than I love living in them.

And of course, one simply can’t talk about Singapore without simultaneously mentioning food. Food is Singapore’s heartbeat; beating hard and fuelling her people all night, all day. And though I rather detest this turn of phrase, the best way to describe what I see is: massive displays of food porn. Food here is bold, rampant and laid bare, designed to seduce and allure… I’m giving my eyes and stomach a much-needed rest today, following a few days of eating up (more posts to follow on those)!


Photo above © my friend John

But I will tell you a little about my first post-plane meal! Right after I arrived in Singapore on Saturday night, my beautiful friends drove us to Long Beach Seafood Restaurant where five of us devoured the following:

  • a 1.8kg chilli crab with man tou (golden, lightly-sweet buns) to mop up the flood of sauce (see above)- only one way to successfully eat crab: messily! With fingers!
  • tender chicken encased in a crisp shell and just enough lovely sweet and sour sauce, with a shower of quail eggs scattered on the side
  • sambal kang kong – one of my favourite ways to eat vegetables in Singapore. I’ve alarmed a Kiwi friend or two with the aroma of sambal/dried shrimps… but since these spices and smells were present in my childhood I like the pungent, fishy, spicy medley – unfortunately my words here don’t do the flavour justice
  • a claypot stew with tofu, fish, mushrooms and snow peas. Was nice to see more than one mushroom species used in this dish, and
  • post-dinner, we celebrated R’s birthday with an Awfully Chocolate cake (the name is as it was) after dinner, and I had some trouble wrenching my bottom from the chair afterwards… :-)

I suppose now would be a good time to say HELLO again, is anyone still here? When I wrote my last post, I was ready to close the door on a few things in my life – and as I write this post now I am aware that I am not continuing this blog as it was. There will be changes – though I will leave you to interpret those :-) I have closed a few big doors and seen other doors open for me, I am thrilled to pick up my pen again and would love to have you journey on with me!

On Julie, Julia and Hunger

Life itself is the proper binge.
~ Julia Child

Tonight, I watched “Julie and Julia” for the second time. I can still feel a laugh simmering in my belly, and my face is still wet with tears.

I feel like I have finally enjoyed their stories on an empty stomach.

You see, in my two previous encounters with “Julie and Julia”, I was distracted. The exact dates on which I chanced upon Julie Powell’s book “Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously” (some time before the movie was released) and on which I attended a late night screening of “Julie and Julia” at a cinema in Singapore are lost amongst the loose leaves of my memory now, but I have not forgotten the state I was in when this story made its way to me. Both times, my heart was a dark shade of grey. Both times, “Julie and Julia” was a nice meal, but it was like trying to eat at a loved one’s funeral – I couldn’t really dig in.

This time though, the film shone/showered on my crimson heart, and I loved every ray/drop of it.

By the way, did you know that “Julie and Julia” (the book) is also one of the things that inspired the birth of this blog (well, that and a night of insomnia)? And while I have no Paul Child or saintly Eric now, I had – and have – a wonderful troop of family and friends who help keep it going.

Happy I am.

And while I’m on the subject of happiness, I’m happy to be on holiday leave, too. You get more time to think and make breakfast and go for long sea-smelling walks when you’re on holiday.

One of the holiday thoughts that surfaced in my mind the other day while at the beach was this: that to be hungry… really hungry… can be a marvellous thing.

In suffering hunger, senses are sharp, everything is real. Alive. To sounds, smells, sights, tastes. Facial expressions. Thoughts. Feelings. These are some of the things that I like about hunger in food, and in life – that keenness, clarity and drive to go after something that will fill and satisfy. The spontaneity to try something new. The vulnerability. The awareness that we need other people. The desperation. The jolting reminder that “I am a human being”.

That day, I found myself hungry in a curious way. Hungry enough to defer eating because no food immediately appealed, I found myself wanting to wait till I knew exactly what I wanted to eat (thus I ate breakfast at 12, no lunch, and dinner past 8pm). I found myself thinking new things about hunger and the function of eating. I was hungry for the smell of the sea, hungry for a sunset, hungry to dream. And I was content to be hungry, and gleeful when I finally ate and felt like I was really eating… satisfying the essence of my hunger, rather than eating just ‘cos it was time to eat (or time to blog). ;-)

I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but I think my thoughts have been coming together slowly… the truth is: I’ve gotten used to the feeling of fullness, of reaching out regularly to grab a cookie even when I’m not hungry (a phenomenon frequently observed in the lives of people with desk jobs), of eating more than my body requires at birthdays/other occasions, of eating when bored or moping, of eating when I’m not hungry just so I can experience a food more fully (and write about it). And when I’m not eating, I’m nibbling on food-related prose/events/stuff the way a kid feasts on candy – very greedily.

Food fascinates me. Probably always will.

But I begin to see that too often, I miss one real and obvious aspect of food/eating – hunger. Perhaps knowing hunger is crucial to knowing food. And perhaps… loving hunger (within reason) is crucial to truly loving food.

I don’t really know hunger well at all, and while I know I’m so fortunate to even be able to say that, I think that I want to fall deeper in love with food by coming to love hunger too.

Now, before you start worrying about me developing anorexia, it’s not gonna happen. The way I plan to go about this whole “knowing hunger” thing is simple. No diets. No starvation.

Just a few simple mental guidelines addressed to myself – 1. Eat when truly hungry. 2. Pay attention to food. 3. Be not afraid of hunger. 4. Laugh and love and cook like Julia Child. 5. Fall deeper in love with life, God and people.

And that, you may be relieved to read, concludes my Sunday ramble. :-) Thanks for listening (in particular – a huge thank you to you darling readers including Celi, Greg and Kristy for always making me smile with your comments)! Adiós for now!