Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Japan 2010 - People

Japan is about its people as much as it is about its sights, sounds and food. I am quite clumsy when it comes to taking portraits and am clearly in need of more practice. Food can be manipulated to look photogenic, but you can't do the same for people. It takes skill (and often times, speed) to capture the essence of the subject. Also, I was a bit shy photographing random strangers, as much as I wanted to. ;) Well, for what they are worth, here is Japan and her people, through my lens.


Whether in Kyoto or Tokyo, there were people people people everywhere. This was on a Monday afternoon, non-peak hour.


The flamboyance that is Harajuku! I Harajuku so much I went back twice. :) This is where you will see kimonos and cosplay co-exist. Yes, you can dress as a cartoon character and no one bats an eyelid.


Bleak, wet, windy and very cold. The weather was inclement and Disney Sea was certainly not the Happiest Place on Earth. Rain and theme parks just don't go together. I'd say it was the worst day of our time in Japan. Still, I'm grateful to these exuberant drumming chefs, for bringing some cheer on a gloomy day.


The ever elegant women of Tokyo. Groomed, coiffed, always well put together. The men were no different. Suited up or in casual togs, they all sported perfect hair, with wispy edges and movement. I salute the beautiful, fashionable people of Tokyo for being magazine-worthy and making it look effortless. Think about it ... it's easy when you have a team of stylists working on you, but to look runway-ready on your own effort, that's really something.


A homeless man makes do with cardboard and garbage wrap for warmth. :( He was not there when we walked past earlier in the evening, and the next morning, he was gone. Yes, there are cracks beneath the beautiful face of Japan. It was an eye-opener for my daughter and a sombre end to our night out. :(


At every convenience store, there would be men like these, all engrossed in their, er, reading? Ahem.


In Kyoto, on a crowded bus. It seemed everyone descended upon this ancient city during that special Autumn week. We were there on a Sunday, the last day of the week-long "Open Days" at the Imperial Palace. I am guessing it was perhaps the best time to view the foliage? Whatever the case, I shall not complain. Crowds are awful, but they are to be expected whenever you travel during a peak. Sure, I could come back in winter and brave a smaller crowd, but what will I see? Naked trees and a sun which sets at three.


In Kyoto, walking up the narrow road, uphill to Kiyomizu-dera. Some chose a more comfortable journey up ...


The rest of us just trudged on.


At Kiyomizu-dera. I jostled with the crowd as we made our way through the temple gates. Quite like magic, a vision appeared before me - a geisha! Instantly, everyone started going into a camera frenzy, not unlike the paparrazzi. Click, click, click .. oohs ... aahs ... looks of admiration. The geisha kept her head bowed, eyes low - mildly embarrassed by the commotion she was causing - and gracefully inched her way out.


Her fellow geisha, on the other hand, was happy to pose for the crowd. I was beside myself. I wanted to stretch my arms heavenward and yell "YATTA!", a la Hiro Nakamura. I so badly wanted to see a geisha, but knew in my heart the chances were close to impossible (we already decided we were not going to Gion due to time constraints). So what were the chances of running into one? Yet here I was ... staring at not one, but two geishas ... posing for me, right in front of the magnificent Kiyomizu-dera, looking resplendent in their traditional finery. It more than made up for that dreadful train and bus ride to Kyoto. YATTA!


Inside the shrine, we saw these two pretty little girls in their lovely kimono, with gorgeous hair to boot. Oh, they caused a commotion too!


Nanba (難波) - eclectic, fun, vibrant! I'm coming back here as soon as I erm, find the moolah. There were buskers dotting the streets but this one stole the show. He was playing "Lambada" and had the crowd tapping their feet to the Latin beat. Awesome!


I personally like this photo very much because it sums up the reason why holidays are special. It's the luxury of time. We can stand outside the senseless rush and watch the world go by. :)

Related post:
Japan 2010 - Autumn Foliage

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Japan 2010 - Autumn Foliage

I counted ... 3672 photos to sort, and I'm still not done with my To-Do List. Clearly, I need to be selective. Don't worry, no sleep-inducing, blow-by-blow account from me! Quality over quantity, I say. :) You can heave your sigh of relief now. ;)

So, I will break them up into themes: People, Places, Food, etc. Every post will be largely pictorial, unless I have something interesting to add.

Today, I will start with the stunning autumn foliage which is reason enough to be in Japan right now.

If you are deliberating where to go for your holiday, you might just want to book that ticket and join fellow Singaporeans in The Land of the Rising Sun. Every other person I know is heading for (or already there in) Japan. It's Visit Japan Year 2010, by the way.

And indeed, now is the perfect time. Those breathtakingly beautiful foliage will not be there for long. Probably another week or so, and they will bid us all sayonara. Time and tide - and leaves - wait for no man.

For now, I leave you with Nature's finest. Gape and gawk. Seriously, anyone with a camera can (and will) get beautiful photos just by clicking at random. Trust me on that one.


(1) Nara Deer Park: Illumination. One of my personal favourite photos.


(2) Nara Deer Park: Walking on Gold. Autumn in Japan is truly magical. It was a blessing just to be there.


(3) In the streets of Nara: Holding on. Another one of my favourite photos.


(4) In the streets of Nara.


(5) At Nishi Otani Honbyo (大谷本廟), Kyoto. We did not plan to come here but since it was right across the street, we strolled in ... and struck gold, literally.


(6) At Nishi Otani Honbyo (大谷本廟), Kyoto. My friend saw this photo and said, "Very Memoirs of a Geisha." :)


(7) At Nishi Otani Honbyo (大谷本廟), Kyoto. We had the clearest azure skies that day.


(8) At Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto: Transience. On a stone ledge, a lone fallen leaf sits, and waits for the rest.


(9) At the Imperial Palace, Kyoto: Dusk Beckons.


(10) At the Imperial Palace, Kyoto.

Next up, JAPAN 2010 - People.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Do List

I'm back from Japan and these are the things on my To Do List, all equally pressing.

1. Get my dreadful skin back from scaly to smooth.

2. Get my equally dreadful hair back from straw to silk.

3. Get my body back in shape. Belly begone!

4. Stock (almost) empty fridge with food. Kids need to eat even if I don't.

5. Sort the insane number of photos I took. Where do I even begin?

6. Unpack, unpack, unpack.

7. Pass gifts to family and friends.

8. Pay credit card bills. Oh my god ... this one I'm not looking forward to. Sigh.

9. Find a way to replenish the cash after I pay the bills. Anyone wants to hire me?

10. Recover from the holiday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ramblings And A Short Hiatus



Like the last time wasn't amazing enough, Ming Pao Gourmet (Toronto) put me on the cover for this issue! I'm hyperventilating as I type. OK OK, not ME on the cover, but my Doughnut Pops photos. :) My daughter took one look and exclaimed, "OMG! I have famous hands!" That girl, she says the funniest things. :)


You can get the recipe for these Doughnut Pops here.

This issue was all about teatime snacks, undeniably my favourite meal of the day. :) You know what makes it all the more special? These were the very first photos I took with my (then borrowed) DSLR, back in April this year. It feels like such a long time ago, and really, it's incredible how things have come full circle (like a Doughnut Pop!).

Inside, they featured 2 more recipes:


Atayef (Pancakes) with Blueberry Sauce and Cream Cheese. It is among one of my personal favourite food porn posts. The recipe can be found here.


And some smooth and velvety Pots De Crème Au Chocolat.

Tell me, how can I not be floating on Cloud 9? I am practically on a sustained high. :) Thank you, Ming Pao Gourmet, for this covergirl honour.



All packed! That was a challenge in itself.

And finally, the "short hiatus" part of my post title. Well, I guess the photo above says it all. I obviously won't be blogging while I'm away - heavens no! But I might just sneak a couple of hellos on Twitter. Laters, everyone!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pumpkin Scones


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I had an odd wedge of pumpkin left and just didn't quite fancy it in a soup, although that would have been the easiest way to finish it off. I put that down to seeing too many (too many!) pumpkin soups made by fellow bloggers. :)

I also decided against making a pumpkin cake because, you know ... my poor arteries after that Millionaire's Shortbread.

Since I have been quite keen on trying out scones - I randomly googled "pumpkin scones" out of sheer curiosity, and was instantly fascinated by a recipe from a certain Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen (who is still alive at 90, by the way). Wow, a double-barrelled name ... certainly lends a regal touch to the scones, doesn't it? :) Apparently, her scones are famous.


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As this was my maiden foray into scone-making, I wasn't sure if I was doing things right. For one, whether I was cutting the dough correctly, and whether they would rise? My dough was also rather dry, when the recipe clearly stated it should be a little sticky.

The problem is due to the varying amounts of moisture in different pumpkin types. I think my pumpkin - having been in the fridge for a while - could have dried out somewhat. Perhaps experience has made me a savvier baker, for I instinctively reached out for some milk and added that in. It proved to be a lucky guess. The scones turned out really fluffy and soft, and heavenly when eaten warm (as is anything fresh out of the oven).

They have a mild sweet-savoury flavour, with a hint of pumpkin. I would imagine they would be wonderful with clotted cream and jam, but since I needed to give my sweet tooth a break, I buttered the scones lightly before dunking in soup. Comfort food. Especially in the rainy weather we have been enjoying lately. Lovely.

PS: Rainy weather = bad lighting. Oh wait, throw in a setting sun. 'Nuff said.


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Recipe
(from Gourmet Traveller)

Serves 12
Cooking Time Prep time 15 mins, cook 40 mins

- 250g peeled jarrahdale or Queensland blue pumpkin, cut into 3cm pieces
- 300g (2 cups) self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 75g (1/3 cup) pure icing sugar, sifted
- 40g butter, softened
- 1 egg yolk
- For brushing: milk
- To serve: butter

1. Preheat oven to 200C. Place pumpkin in a steamer over a saucepan of boiling water, cover and steam until tender (about 15 minutes), then transfer to an oven tray and bake for 10 minutes to dry out. Cool, then pass through a coarse sieve.



2. Sift flour, nutmeg and 1 tsp salt into a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat icing sugar and butter until pale and fluffy, add egg yolk and beat to combine. Using a wooden spoon, stir in pumpkin, then half the flour mixture. Add remaining flour mixture and, using your hands, bring together to make a dough, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until smooth (dough should be a little sticky).

3. Roll out to 2cm thick and, using a 5.5cm-diameter cutter dipped in flour, cut rounds (without twisting cutter) from dough and transfer to a lightly greased oven tray. Re-roll scraps and repeat. Brush tops with milk and bake until golden and sound hollow when tapped (10-15 minutes). Serve hot or at room temperature with butter.

Note: Different types of pumpkins have varying moisture levels. Keep this in mind when bringing the dough together, as you may need to add a little more flour for ease of handling.


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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Millionaire's Shortbread


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I tweeted this recently:
Lugged 10 heavy cookbooks from the library back home. Gonna s-l-o-w-l-y relish every page of food porn! *rubs hands in glee*

Now that the school year is finally coming to a close (in my mind, it already has!), I can happily bury my nose in cookbooks for a good dose of much-needed inspiration.

I looked at my library haul and realised - without much surprise - that out of the 10 books, a whopping 6 were on cakes, 1 on eggs, 1 on tapas & 2 on cooking. Clearly, I was thinking with my sweet tooth. :)

Here's the first recipe I tried - a dessert, what a shocker - Millionaire's Shortbread. It's a lethal combination of sandy shortbread, creamy caramel and smooth chocolate. In other words, a glorified Twix bar. Really.


Rough around the edges. Uncut.

Recipe
(from Small Cakes by Roger Pizey)
Makes 16 bars

For the shortbread base
- 200g (scant 1 cup) unsalted butter
- 100g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp double (heavy) cream
- 225g (2 cups) plain all purpose flour

For the caramel
(I halved the measurements)
- 180g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
- 75g (6 tsp) caster sugar
- 50ml (3 tbsp) golden (light corn) syrup (I omitted since I didn't have any, and the quantity is so little)
- 350ml (scant 1 1/2 cups) condensed milk
Note: I added a splash of heavy cream to dilute the caramel a little.

For the topping
(I halved the measurements)
- 250g (9oz) 60% cocoa dark (bittersweet) chocolate
Note: Please do use a good quality, bittersweet chocolate. I used Valrhona Equatoriale 55% and it made ALL the difference. Else, you might as well eat that Twix bar.
- 50g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 170 C/340 F/Gas 3. For the base, cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, then add the egg yolk and double cream. Stir in the flour. Using your fingers and thumbs, work the mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Bring together and work a little on a floured surface. Wrap in a clingfilm (plastic wrap) and place in the fridge to rest.

2. To make the caramel, melt the butter in a pan, add the sugar, golden (light corn) syrup and condensed milk, and stir continuously on a low heat until it turns a caramel colour. Remove from the heat and leave the mixture in the pan. (It is worth testing a small amount to see if it will set in the fridge before removing completely from the heat). This mixture can catch very easily, so take care - if you notice small dots, change your pan, as this means the mixture is catching, which will spoil the flavour.

3. Roll the shortbread mixture to 1-cm (1/2-inch) thick and press it down into a 24-cm (9 1/2-inch*) square non-stick tin**. Bake on the middle shelf until light brown. Leave to cool. Pour over the warm caramel, lightly shaking the tin to ensure an even covering. Leave to cool, then put in the fridge to set.
* Smart-aleck me used a 6-inch tin, which resulted in the shortbread being extra high and cooking unevenly - you can see from my pics. Meh. Please use less shortbread dough if you plan on using a smaller pan.
** I would highly recommend lining the tin with overhanging sides, for ease of removal from the tin.

4. For the topping, melt the chocolate and butter in a mixing bowl over a bain-marie (water bath). Pour over the chilled caramel and shortbread. Place in the fridge until set, then slice into bars.


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You have to admit, these Millionaire Bars do make quite a statement. :) Their humble Twix cousins will surely protest! Proof that presentation makes a huge difference, doesn't it?

All I did was dress them up with a few sheets of sultry red foil (recycled from my heart-shaped chocs here) and let them shine. If you really want to gild the lily, you can add some edible gold flakes on top. But I figured less is more when you're dealing with a good-looker. ;)

Now, let the holidays begin! *BEAM*

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Easy Brazilian Cheese Bread

Pão de Queijo, also known as Brazilian Cheese Bread.
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I may have a sweet tooth, but I do love my savoury treats just as much, like Shrimp Samosas or Mushroom Bruschetta. This Brazilian Cheese Bread was a savoury teatime snack I made recently. The recipe - from Elise's blog - came recommended by Evan. I love things twee and petite ... and these little ones made me go "awwww" when I first laid eyes on them.


The batter can be kept refrigerated for up to a week. Which means, you can make fresh batches of Brazilian Cheese Bread whenever you want to eat them.

This "bread" is as easy as it can get. Everything goes into your blender/food processor, and a few pulses later, your batter is ready. No need to knead. Or proof. Or shape. How's about that?

One thing though, this is not your usual soft, fluffy bread. It's also nothing like Popovers and/or Yorkshire Pudding, although they do look similar. Instead, the texture is chewy and gelatinous, much like mochi. Are you intrigued yet? ;) Personally, I prefer Popovers (more eggy and milky) but hey, everything's worth a try. You don't try, you'll never know!


Watch them bloom.


Freshly baked.

Recipe
(from Simply Recipes)

- 1 egg (at room temperature)
- 1/3 cup olive oil*
- 2/3 cup milk
- Scant 1 1/2 cups (170 grams) tapioca flour
- 1/2 cup (packed, about 66 grams) grated cheese of your choice**
- 1 teaspoon of salt (or more to taste)

* If, like me, you do not like the smell and/or taste of olive oil in your bakes (URGH), substitute with a neutral oil, like sunflower or canola. I used canola oil this time but I'm wondering how it would have tasted if I had used melted butter instead? Hmmm ...

** I used a combination of grated mozzarella and parmesan. I believe the parmesan gave the golden tops their speckled bits.


1 Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease a mini-muffin tin. Put all of the ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth. You may need to use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender so that everything gets blended well. At this point you can store the batter in the refrigerator for up to a week.

2 Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until all puffy and just lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes. Eat while warm or save to reheat later (I don't recommend the latter).

The batter is enough for 16 mini muffin sized cheese breads.
* Note: For me, the batter filled up 2 of these 12-muffin trays.

Nom nom nom.
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