Sew into it

This past Friday, I persuaded Little Miss Honey to go to a sewing workshop with me. I know. A sewing workshop. This, coming from someone who literally had her mom sew her secondary school home econs project for her.

A few weeks ago, for some reason, I was suddenly obsessed with making stuff. First I made the leather cardholder. Now this.

Anyway so I found Amy of Sew Into It while surfing the internet. It said the softie workshop was a level 1 workshop. I took that to mean absolute zero experience. Which is perfect for me.

So when we got to the training grounds (which is actually Amy’s home), she told us that we were the only ones! Private lessons! Well, I had a feeling that with my skill level, trying to teach me is similar to having 3 students.

After getting us settled, she taught us about the two machines available for us to use. Did you know that sewing machines these days have computers? #mindblown Also, there is a pedal. And Amy said, think of the pedal like the accelerator pedal in a car. You drive right? Sadly, I had to tell her that yes, I drove while in the US. The other issue is that when my foot is on a pedal, it also automatically turns into lead. #iamatroublechild

cut out of the giraffe
cut outs

And then she showed us the cutouts of our softies. Phew. I thought I was going to have to tra

ce and cut it out myself. I was envisioning a very misshapen giraffe.

I had chosen a giraffe because there was no applique involved and because it was small so I thought it would be easier. And also because I like giraffes. Then she dropped the bombshell. She said that because of the sharp corners of the horns, it was actually a little bit harder. Oops. But she did teach me how to crank the wheel to try to get around those sharp corners! #smarttips

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practise sewing

So first she had us practice a bit on scraps of cloth. I was quite bad at it. I kept forgetting to leave the needle in the cloth before lifting the foot. Also, keeping to a chalked line?

Trying to follow the ligns
Trying to follow the lines

I probably should have told Amy I never learnt how to color within the lines when I was in school.

Success!
Success!
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giraffe head with horns!

Still, after an hour or two, I managed it, and kept mostly to the chalked lines! Yay! But then we had to turn it inside out so that we could stuff it with, well, stuffing. My poor giraffe looked like it was on steroids by the time I was done with it. Amy had to take out quite a bit in order to close it without it bursting. I guess I got over enthusiastic. Good thing she did the hard stuff like closing the giraffe. If you thought my seeing machine skills were questionable, my manual skills are worse. Most people take 5 mins to close a laceration. I take 20 mins.

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not yet stuffed

After seeing it up,, we left a small opening by the buttock area so we could stuff Bluebell with stuffing. It took a while because the stuffing has a lot of air built in and you really have to compress the stuffing to ensure the giraffe will have a decent shape. I didn’t want the neck flopping around!

Getting Bluebell into shape!

Anyway, I’m very pleased with the outcome. I hope that the Beau will be as happy with Bluebell as I am. Hopefully one of these days I will be able to sign up for another workshop. Sew into it is also a social enterprise. They aim to teach girls at risk how to sew in order that they will have a working skill. I think that’s great. Who know? Maybe one day I’ll actually get good enough I can help? Lol.

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Introducing…BlueBell!

Island Cafe at Tangs

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CK Tangs is the first Department Store in Singapore. Its flagship store is in Orchard Road and with the little pagoda that stands above the building it occupies, it rules Orchard Road, in as much the same way that Macys rules 7th Avenue in New York and Marshall Fields (even though it has been bought over by Macys) used to rule over Michigan Avenue with its green awnings. Tangs is an institution in Singapore. Some argue that Robinson’s should share the same honor. But Robinson’s was started by a British family and is currently in the hands of other foreign hands. Tangs has always been Singaporean. And its first owner started the store by selling his wares door to door with a metal basket on a bicycle (or something like that). Its a classic rags to riches story and I love it even though I can barely afford any of their stuff most times.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling reckless, I may buy something small, just so that I can carry a Tangs bag out. Sort of the same reason why I bought toothpaste from Bloomingdales. Not because $10 toothpaste cleans my teeth better than a regular $2 toothpaste from RiteAid, but because walking out of there with the Little Brown Bag made me feel just a teensy bit special for well, quite frankly, the whole day. Actually, once I bought a pair of jeans (which I still own) from Bloomingdales. It was a very special treat for myself. I had published a paper and my sabbatical year at the NIH was coming to an end and my heart had been broken for the second time and I wanted, just once, to own an expensive pair of jeans. A buy that doesn’t really make sense since I don’t really wear jeans (Singapore is too hot) but I just wanted to act reckless for once.

Anyway, I had arranged to meet my sister with her children at Tangs. I figured she might want an extra pair of hands to help her with her children. And she mentioned that she hadn’t had a hair cut in almost a year. Having an aunt and grandmother to watch the children is probably the only way she was going to be able to have that haircut. I remembered that she enjoys eating at Tangs. I’ve never actually had a meal there before so I suggested we stop by the Island Cafe for lunch before her pampering hair appointment.

First of all, the prices. If you think about the fact that it has a great view, there’s air conditioning, and we are downtown, the entree prices really aren’t unreasonable. But what made me a little uncomfortable was that the menu items were regular Singapore food items like laksa, Hainanese chicken rice, Hokkien prawn mee, etc. $16 for chicken rice??!! The Singaporean in me nearly fainted from shock. But then again, I suppose an Italian probably won’t be particularly pleased to be paying 16 Euros for a plate of pasta (I think).

But when the food arrives and I have my first taste of the laksa, the grumbling in my brain starts to ease a little. First of all, the laksa came with crawfish (mostly shell, not much meat) and the soup was very very good. Not too spicy. Not too oily. It was just nice and the portions were huge. I tried MamaMonkey’s prawn mee. Again, very good. My sister’s chicken rice wasn’t too bad either (but it still won’t beat Boon Tong Kee!). The waiters were very nice and very patient with us even though we took about 20 mins to settle down and read the menu.

The question, of course, then becomes was the laksa worth $20? I suppose that won’t be an amount that I’ll be willing to part with on a regular basis for a bowl of laksa. But sometimes, when you just want a piece of heaven in Orchard Road and you want to treat yourself, just a little, then yes. Maybe.

Important info:

Island Cafe

4/F Tangs Orchard

Tel: 6311 3424

Good dessert does not have to be expensive

As much as I enjoyed the cake we got for PapaMonkey’s birthday from Chocolate Origins, it was pretty expensive. It was worth it because it was for a special occassion, but its not exactly something you can eat on a daily basis. I’ve always been partial to grocery store cakes in the US, because the price is reasonable and they are surprisingly tasty. My favorite cakes come from Trader Joe’s and Ralphs.

But here in Singapore, my favorite grocery store cake (other than the pandan cake from NTUC) is the butterscotch cake from Ikea. Yes! Ikea! You heard me. Ikea isn’t just for furniture shopping. They have great toys for children and great food. Those swedish meatballs…yumm…I once drove 20 miles to get my hands on those meatballs. And their little biscuits from their grocery section. I also think their butterscotch spread is better than Nutella. Tragedy, I know. But there you have it. Their butterscotch spread is to die for.

Anyway, the butterscotch cake is a perfect combination of crunchiness, just right sweetness and the perfect size so that you can enjoy that lovely slice of cake without feeling like you totally pigged out. Sometimes I take a special trip out to Ikea just to have a slice of that cake. And maybe some meatballs. And the fried chicken wings. Its $3.50 for a slice of heaven.

Bologna cooking lesson

As part of my little jaunt to Milan, I included a short detour to Bologna for a cooking lesson. I booked a cooking lesson with Taste of Italy. It was all arranged by a lady named Maribel and my cooking instructor was Joanna. We had arranged to meet in Bologna in the main square around 9am. Unfortunately, I got on the wrong train in spite of having bought the right train ticket. Note to self: There are multiple trains leaving for Bologna. Check for the correct train number! And ended up not making to Bologna till 11am. Oops. Good thing I was the only person scheduled for that lesson and Joanna was really gracious and told me to take my time to make sure I get there safe.

Well, I met up with her way later than expected. But she took me on a nice tour to the food street anyway. We saw fresh vegetables, went to the various delis and got the meats needed for making the dishes she was going to teach me how to make. And she explained where everything came from, and how all their produce is season dependent because italian cuisine depends on the season so that everything is safe and respects the environment where it comes from (ie, not importing tomatoes when tomatoes are clearly not in season, etc). Unfortunately, it was a Mon, so all the fish places were closed (we weren’t making any fish dishes, so no big loss).

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After that, she took me back to her lovely home and we got started on getting to work. But before we started, I felt that I should warn her that I hardly ever step into the kitchen. In fact, most of my culinary adventures seem to end up in the Accident and Emergency department. But Joanna, ever the gracious host, reassured me and said that she would teach me everything I needed to know. She was just so calm and lovely, I immediately felt at ease. The first thing she did was to show me all the stuff we were going to be using from fresh eggs used specifically for making fresh pasta (she said the yolks are nice and big and so it allows the pasta to look really yellow) to the tomatoes and figs. I got hungry just by looking at the ingredients!

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And then she got me chopping. And chop I did. With very clear instructions to make sure that my fingers are firmly gripped on what I’m chopping. And the finer the ingredients are, the better.

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After that, she poured some olive oil into the saucepan and we put everything in there and started to stir. There was a lot of stirring. She said to stir until the onions are clear. Then she added the fresh ground meat. Fresh ingredients are important. So we stirred everything together. And after a while, she said to let it simmer. We also added some water. And then some red wine.

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And then she said to ignore it. We are going to make the pasta noodles now! And so we did. We used the eggs and the flour. And there was a lot of mixing of the two to make dough. I wasn’t very good at it because I was afraid of breaking down this wall of flour. And boy, was it hard work (she kept a glass of water ready for me). And there was more stirring and kneading until we actually had some workable dough. And then we used this gigantic pin and started to thin out the dough. I kept thinking it was going to break. We kept doing this until we had flat pasta dough. Then we started cutting up the pasta to make tagliatelle (which are long thin strips) and square pieces so that we could make tortelloni which were later stuffed withricotta and parmigiano cheese).

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Anyways, once pasta was made, we decided to check on the ragu. We added some tomato sauce to “give it its color”.

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The tagliatelle was then cooked in boiling water for a few minutes. She tasted it to make sure it was cooked: she said Italians like their pasta al dente. And then we added the sauce to the cooked pasta. And voila! Lunch! Bolognese Ragu!

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The tortelloni was also cooked in boiling water and then served with cheese. To be honest, making the tortelloni felt like we were making chinese dumplings. Maybe the two are connected?
11128825_10100760807248025_6301412342661425626_nOh yeah! We also made antipesto and dessert.

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Dessert was ricotta mascorpone cheese with a hint of nutmeg. Unfortunately, I ate it up without taking any pictures! But I can reassure you that it was very very easy to make. And very very delicious!

So there you have it! My first Italian cooking lesson. I wish I can write a more comprehensive recipe. But Maribel made it very clear that the recipes were to be distributed to pupils only. Anyways, if you are interested in learning more, dare I suggest planning a trip to Bologna for a cooking lesson? The class sizes are normally limited to about 4 people max. And its quite affordable. It was 135 Euros for me. Maribel has this entire price list. So email her and find out! The combination of the tour and the cooking lesson was well worth it. I hope to be able to recreate these dishes. I know Joanna keeps saying they are simple basics. But I don’t even know where to find mascorpone or ricotta cheese. At some point this weekend, I need to go to one of those European specialty stores to find the ingredients! That Mascorpone dessert was really good. And I liked how light the ragu turned out. The ones I’ve had in the US are normally very heavy. And thick. This was light. And very delicious.

Lake Como vs Cinque Terra

In truth, both Cinque Terra and Lake Como are two very different places even though they are made up of several towns facing large bodies of water. For one thing, Cinque Terra faces the Mediterranean Sea while Lake Como is made up of several towns around a lake, namely, Lake Como.

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During my visit to Milan, I took a train to Lake Como. The lonely planet guidebook advised me to take the train to Como Sud. Which, is the WRONG station. I should have taken it to the Nord station because that lands you in the middle of the town Como. After I got off the train, I took a bus to Bellagio. Again, while the cheaper option, was probably the dumber of the options. For one thing, I get car sick. And this bus went looping around the mountains. There was very little to see along the way, and I got increasingly nauseous. I seriously thought I was going to get off half way and just walk! By the time we made it to Bellagio, the furthest town from Como, I thought I would faint. However, it was a little early when I got there so I just wandered around. I saw a church, on top of a very very long stairway. In fact, most of Bellagio was built on these slopes so these stairways were rather important. I feel very sorry for any old person who has a mobility issue. Then I saw the boats. And even though I get seasick too, I figured what the hell! Might as well givee it a try. So I took the ferry. The boat ride is A LOT better by the way. Unlike Lake Michigan which can get really choppy, Lake Como was nice and calm. However, it started to rain on the boat. The boat ride back to Como was 2 hours. I didn’t get off at any of the other towns even though I was really tempted becasue of the rain. Once I got off the boat, well, I got a train ticket back to Milan. Because honestly, wandering aroudn in the rain just isn’t fun. At all.

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And then I went to Cinque Terra, which is essentially made up of 5 towns facing the Mediterranean Sea. I had paid for a tour via Viator. To be honest, I feel really really stupid for doing that because I really could have just gone there on my own. I was really expecting a tour. You know, someone explaining what I was seeing, taking me around the towns and stuff. But it turned out that all our tourguide was going to do was take us to La Spezia, bundle us onto a boat. And then shuffle us from place to place. She didn’t really tell us anything. I actually tagged along on another tour to learn about what I was seeing. Seriously, I should have just taken the train to La Spezia myself and then take the boat myself. I won’t have had to be so dependent on the group schedule. I think I might have had a better time. That said, the view from the boat was magnificent even though the ride was super choppy (it was the sea after all). And I got a small can of olive oil, some pesto and a bottle of wine that is apparently unique only to Cinque Terra.

So lesson learnt. Next time I decide to visit Lake Como and Cinque Terra. NO MORE TOUR GUIDES. Also, another lesson learnt is to always take the boat ride. Always.

Inspiration from stuff with a #NSFW video

i was trying to find inspiration from the news and from around me this past week. I’ve always believed that inspiration is around us all the time. It’s just that depending in what we need, and depending on our mood, we find different sorts of inspiration at different times.

Having just returned from the fashion capital that is Milan, I’m finding inspiration from stuff. As well as the places that keep and curate them.


I’ve never really been a couture kind of girl. I mean, I know I can’t afford them, so why make myself miserable hankering after something I can’t have, right? Well, when I was in Milan, my aunt wanted a wallet from Channel. I said, Channel is French. Can’t you pick something Italian? I was actually too lazy to walk to San Bilaba where the couture stores were. So she asked for a Prada wallet instead.

Well, Prada had a historic location in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuale II and since I had to walk past it to get to the Duomo, I decided that could drop by the store for her on my way home. I have to admit, I understand why someone would drop 470 euros for a Prada Wallet. It truly is very well made and is supposed to last. But what I can’t understand why anyone would own multiples of a wallet that costs over 50 euros. Either splurge on one that you can treasure for a decade or so, or get something really cheap which you aren’t going to lose sleep over if your kid pees on it. I’m serious.

My current splurge is a USD 70 Marc by Marc Jacobs wallet. That’s the first time I’ve ever spent more than $5 on a wallet. My heart nearly dropped when it started to get dirty and stained. But its ok. Its still mostly green. And its still functions the way I want it to function (it holds my phone, my cards and a small amount of cash and has a little loop thing that allows me to put it on my wrist as a wristlet). I doubt I will ever drop 400 euros on a wallet. But then again, I did say I’ll never ever spent more than $20 on a wallet. Maybe when I’m old and retired.

That said, I also believe in cost-per-use. I intend and hope to be able to stick with this wristlet for at least the next 5 years (which is really tough for me since I’m used to holding my stuff in random pockets and using an actual wallet is such a grown up thing to do). If you are buying something because its pretty and you really can’t let it go. Ok. But there’s no need to buy multiples of similar things, is there?

oh wait. i did say that this was going to be an inspirational post about things didn’t I?

Also, this shoe storage idea is gorgeous. And ingenious. I wonder how much it will cost for him to make me one?

Also, my favorite souvenirs from Milan apparently all involve food. I mean, who won’t love crispy biscuits with Nutella inside?

An ingenious idea. And a nice twist from the usual Kinder Bueno we are used to seeing, eh? Best part? Its delicious!

Also, there’s a very clever #NSFW PSA video on examining yiur loved ones breast to detect early signs of breast cancer masquerading as a porn clip. I don’t know about you but whenever someone, a doctor or otherwise tries to touch my auxiliary, I get the giggles. I’m terribly ticklish. Still, it’s a great video. And it will hopefully save lives.

So that’s it for now. Lots of posts about my time in Milan pending. I just need to catch up on work first!

Eataly

i strongly debated filing this away under restaurant reviews, but honestly, Eataly isn’t just a restaurant. It’s also a gourmet food store, and a book store, and also a music venue. Not all the eataly branches are the same. The one near Corso Como at the Piazza XXV Aprile is the one that was set up in what used to be a movie theatre.

Eataly at Piazza XVV Aprille
Eatay at Piazza XVV Aprile-totally makes sense this used to be a movie theatre. This Eataly has a book store (on food) also has space for a band as well!

 There’s another one near San Babila and that one is a ‘concept’ building built around design.

Eataly at the Brian and Barry buildling–as you go up, the food gets more designer!

The Eataly at San Billaba had 9 floors, with each floor getting progressively more expensive. Also, this one had clothes.  The top floor had a restaurant with a rooftop area. I suppose you pay for the view. There was also a high end pizza floor. The bottom floor sold simple pasta…more like cafeteria food…but more expensive and also more delicious.

They also had a display to show what a dinner party table should look like!

i don’t know about you but my dinner parties have never looked so pretty…or smart!

However, the key to Eataly, in my option is that their groceries look beautiful. It’s very hard not to buy food that looks gorgeous and that is displayed beautifully.

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I really hope they decide to open here one day, if only so I can get hands on some of those olive oil with truffles!

Soup Restaurant

I found myself at the airport one day and seeing that it was close to dinner time, decided to have dinner there. MamaMonkey decided to join me and we settled on Soup Kitchen at Changi International Airport T2.
Soup Restaurant is known for their Samsui Ginger Chicken. Although the chicken is not as smooth as Boon Tong Kee chicken rice, it was quite good. But what really makes the dish standout is the ginger. I think we were both so enamored of the chopped ginger condiment, we asked for another plate of it to be used on our rice. It’s a pity that the rice served was ordinary rice and not Hainanese chicken rice.

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Other dishes ordered was the homemade chili tofu and the spinach with eggs. They were alright, but not fantastic. Truly, the only standout dish was the Samsui Ginger Chicken.

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Although the food was good, I’m sad to report that the service was very very slow. So if you intend to dash and fly, this is not the right place for it. It also seems as if the staff wasn’t sure which table had ordered which dish. However, if you have plenty of time to spare, this isn’t a bad choice in the grand scheme of things.

Important Info:
CHANGI AIRPORT
Singapore Changi Airport
Terminal 2 #036-086
Viewing Mall North S(819643)
Tel: 6545 6866

(Everyday: 10.30am – 11pm)
(Last Order: 10pm)

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