Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sushi Kaishin :: 海神寿司

Suddenly three new sushi restaurants have sprouted in Robertson Quay. Ishi, and the soon-to-open Plum and Toro (under the same management as Ishi). The friends’ birthday lunch was held at the three-year-old Sushi Kaishin (海神のお寿司). I'm sooo glad they picked this new-to-me restaurant.

Sushi Kaishin is a small restaurant that seats 10 at the counter and another six in a private room. Reservations necessary. Owned by the group behind Ginza Kuroson and Ike Ike Maru Singapore, its previous Chef Ichiyama just left two months ago, and the new team has revised the menu a little.

Sushi Kaishin serves mainly sushi and sashimi, omakase. This is the first time I’ve stepped in. There have been mixed reviews, but I had a good experience. Perhaps it’s the current combination of chefs, or suppliers, or that we filled out the whole counter for lunch, but the sashimi, sushi and beef we had were really decent. It was a good luncheon with great company.

The kawahagi is at the tail-end of its season, and came as sushi, expectedly topped with its own liver. My favorite kinmedai didn’t disappoint, but I wasn’t too hot about their treatment of the kohada. Also, too much tuna. This time I didn’t want to be fussy, but the next time, I’ll request for no tuna to appear in my meal. I’m one of those who don’t particularly fancy akami, chutoro or otoro.

The friends brought a bottle of Roku gin. Those crazy people finished an entire bottle over lunch. Gin is totally my killer, and while nice, Roku's florals and botanicals aren't quite to my preferences. I like the flavor profile of a London Dry, which means gin should taste predominantly of juniper berries, and nothing too floral. I stuck to sake. There was a lovely bottle of Oyama (a Tokubetsu Junmai-shu; 大山特別純米酒 ひやおろし加藤嘉八郎酒造) from Kato Kahachiro Shuzo brewery in Oyama, Yamagata. I drank LOTS of that. Hahaha. No guilt because the others were fixated on gin, and there was also a bottle of Tomintoul 10 y.o.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Horse Walks Into A Bar...

The book laid in the Kindle library for months, till I finally dug it out to read because it won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. That would be David Grossman's 'A Horse Walks Into A Bar' (2014). Originally written in Hebrew, it's translated by Jessica Cohen and published in English in 2017. (Reviews here, here, here and here.)

Woah, it's a heavy book. Hefty in the number of pages, and hefty in terms of contents, details and significance. I couldn't finish it in one sitting. In fact, I had to re-read and muse upon many of the 'jokes'. I marveled at the author's prose and skill in weaving in circumstances and 'jokes' and scenarios.

The book revolves around one show in a night put on by fifty-seven-year-old stand-up comedian Dovaleh Greenstein in a small basement club in Netanya, Israel. The book is narrated by retired district court judge Avishai Lazar, who has been invited to this show by Dovaleh, and he reluctantly attends. Another old friend is in the audience too, seemingly without him recognizing her till much later. The comedian picked on her using her phone. Azulai is a manicurist and a part-time village medium. She's really short and has a speech impediment. She also knew him as a kid. She probably touched a raw nerve when she retorted, "Why are you like this? You were a good boy!"

Jewish humor abound in Dovaleh's 'jokes' as he begins the act with fairly mild topics. Then it becomes a drag as he insults and abuses his audience and goes on anti-Arab chants. He brings out his entire life story. It's a train wreck. The audience walks out bit by bit. Then only three people are left. Dovaleh doesn't mince the words about the abuse he has suffered at the hands of his family and in the military. Readers begin to wonder if this is a comedy at all. There’s nothing very funny about Dovaleh’s words. In the end, only the performer is left with his oldest friends whom he hasn't seen for decades, and they have seen his life play out on stage tonight.

He's saying goodbye. I can feel it. He knows this is the last time he's going to tell these jokes. The girl who was about to leave but came back leans her head on one hand and gazes at him vaguely. What's her story? Did she go home with him after a gig one night? Or maybe she's one of his five children, and this is the first time she's hearing his story? And the two bikers in black—were they somehow connected to him as well? 
I remember what he told us before, about how he used to play chess with people walking on the street. They each had a role, even though they didn't know it. Who knows what complicated chess game he's conducting simultaneously here tonight? 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Ayam Buah Keluak

We're very lucky to have friends who cook and make us gifts of food.  That day, the friends told us to come collect a portion of ayam buah keluak they had prepped for us. Woah. Could never say no to anything with buah keluak! 😍

It was a very big tub. The friends are incredibly generous. We split the tub into little containers to be frozen. This dish is always meant to be slowly savored. Totally hoarded it. The tub was portioned out to eat over four happy meals with brown rice and damn good sambal belado. The friends cooked this pot in 'rawon' style. As opposed to the traditional Peranakan version which contains more assam and looks more red-brown. We like nasi rawon, and appreciated the twist in using chicken for this dish with buah keluak in the bumbu paste too.

I don't think these black nuts are to be feared. It's probably more of the matter that I've never cooked with them. But I've eaten so much and enough of it to know how I can extract these flavors into a dish I'm happy with. I've been procrastinating. One day, I'll clear some head space and get down to cooking a buah keluak dish of sorts. Then it's time for me to pay it forward with gifts of decent dishes of buah keluak to the friends.

Friday, December 08, 2017

An Egg-Boiler!

There are many mornings when I crash the BFF's welcoming living space and set up the MacBook there to work. One morning, I was completely distracted by her pink egg boiler that was happily bubbling away. I didn't even know she has one! She was all like, "Eh this came back with me from Shanghai. Didn't you notice it?" Clearly I didn't.

I want one too! There's a Cuisinart boiler that's quite cool, and so is the one from Gourmia. But it's those that look like plastic toys which are fun! Apparently there're many cute ones on Taobao (淘宝网的小熊鸡蛋器挺可爱的). I don't need an egg boiler, to be honest. I boil eggs fine in a pot. Or a kettle. Muahahaha. Do excuse my silly enthusiasm. Eggs are my staple food. Bring on the yolks!

Singapore doesn't quite allow 'organic eggs' on sale in the strictest sense. When those labels appear, it probably means that the chickens are on a diet of organic feed or eat a special feed of nutrients, which doesn't translate into 'organic eggs'. Cage-free eggs don't mean anything here either since it's impossible to verify unless you appear at the farm. And I don't own a yard big enough for hens to run about. Neither are we allowed to rear hens and roosters in residential estates.

Meanwhile, the BFF raved about eggs in the boiler. She just bought them from the wet market. She said that the market stall Aunty told her these were 'first-born eggs'. Well, first-born eggs are laid by new hens in the first month. I really can't tell. What I do care about, is newly-laid eggs. There is a marked difference in the taste of newly-laid eggs versus those that have been sitting out for some time. If you could get to the wet market that just received new stocks from their suppliers, then those would taste pretty good. It's quite hard to judge when a supermarket brings in stock. Try to catch those new stocks!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Advent Begins

I've never enjoyed the consumerism that marks modern celebrations of Christmas. That is not the point of Christmas to me. At this time of the year, I seek to be away from humans, to carve out greater chunks of solitude, and tend to be grumpier than usual. Basically, I go into a DGAF mode. My WhatsApp status for December reads, 'Oh do sod off.' Only acquaintances and non-consequential people will be offended. Oof.

Life throws curveballs at us, we take it and get on with the program. Often, these curveballs are kinda expected; it's not like these balls hit us blind. But we have to manage the accompanying emotional fallout. Our (the man and I) circles (think a Venn diagram) of friends and their parents battle injuries, illnesses, deaths, injustice, and senselessness. This year, solemnity and sadness tinge our consciousness even as we celebrate triumphs, little successes and love.

I begin the season with much to ponder about. Many changes afoot in 2018. Challenges aplenty. Nothing that I can't deal with because I have treasured friends standing with me. I've an odd relationship with religion and God. But faith carries me through always. I'm a pessimist and it's a mad struggle trying to balance that with a dose of optimism. Advent is a time for reflection and prayer, and redemption. Everything else for me, is problematic. :P Well, I've never been a very good student at catechism or theology classes.

[31] So you also, when you shall see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is at hand. [32] Amen, I say to you, this generation shall not pass away, till all things be fulfilled. [33] Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. [34] And take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly. [35] For as a snare shall it come upon all that sit upon the face of the whole earth. 
~ Luke Chapter 21, Douay-Rheims

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Moment With A Cup of Coffee

My relationship with coffee is not just about enjoyment; it arises out of a need for caffeine. Hahaha. Dunno if this is an addiction. While I can do without coffee on some days, I turn into an ogre without it on other days. A cup of kopi-o-siu-dai or kopi-o-kosong, or caffe latte or an easy pourover makes me equally happy. The type of coffee drunk depends on the mood of the day. While I like to get out to grab a cup of coffee with friends, I also like sitting down to work (at home or in an office) with it. It's great mental crutch. Hahahaha. I don't seem to have that habit of taking coffee at formal meetings though. I stick to water.

That morning was particularly stressful. So I went to the nearest coffee joint to get a shot of caffeine to even out the temper before it exploded. Went to a thankfully quiet Kurasu to get a lovely rich cup of caffe latte and some peace. For once, I didn't fiddle with my phone or even the Kindle. In between staring at the wall and at the building across the road, I simply sipped the coffee, lingered and enjoyed it.

Needed to slow the many swirling thoughts. Of course I get angsty with the business of life and living. I just don't whine about it too much to friends or on the blog. I tend to prefer seeking practical solutions to the emotions felt. And often, I have to be patient and wait for time to pass in order to get things done. As much as I can control stuff happening along the expected lines, it might not fit delivery dates; they don't always happen at the speed I prefer- often, it's out of my hands. There's a time and place for everything. I have to learn to be comfortable with that.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

To Market To Get Fish

I've tweaked my version of Asian fish soups to my liking, using a mixture of fairly generous fish fillets and bones. No pork bones, but on some occasions, I don't mind a scoop or two of chicken stock or a few pieces of chicken bones in it. And no strange Chinese herbs.

Fillets of seabass, snapper and grouper tend to produce dependable non-fishy bowls of good soup. The other ingredients change about depending on what sort of final flavors desired. I don't always use dried squid or mussels or scallops. Unfortunately I don't cook with a fixed recipe, so the pots don't all taste the same each time, but it's about there.

Fish Soup

Boiled up a pot of fish soup for dinner. Mainly because the man doesn't like ordering it at the restaurants and prefers having it at home. So do I. The soup is tweaked to our preferences. Full of fish oils and less on other meat stock. It's also lower in the salt content, and it doesn't hold added sugars or MSG. Told the BFF to come over for a casual dinner too. After a long day at the office, she could do with some proper food.

The BFF has declared that she really likes my fish soup. Coming from her, that's quite a compliment. Mine's certainly not the best, but it seems to work fine. If she hears 'fish soup' and 'come over', she will definitely appear. There will always be sufficient amounts to pack a tub of soup and some carbs for her to take home so that she could have it for lunch or dinner the next day. I love the girl lah. She always has a place at my dining table.

Sliced Fish Bee Hoon Soup

It has been a while since I made sliced fish bee hoon soup. On some days I add in fish balls or beef balls. This time, I wanted it to be all fish and vegetables, but lighter in flavors. The soup base can always be tweaked. But the same rules apply for meat- I tend not to like cooking with pork or chicken. Unless it's a few pieces of tiny chicken bones or a few spoonfuls of stock (from boiling chicken bones and not from a carton).

Felt like having sliced fish bee hoon soup that day. The type that's supposed to be good for people healing from surgery. So my soup base for this generally holds no ikan bilis, no dried scallops, squid or mussels. Went out to the wet market to try my luck with ikan haruan (not ikan toman). I never bother to ask when the fish stalls have it. Some might, some don't. It all depends. Take a stroll through the market to hunt for it. I was in luck that morning even though I went late. Heh.

Stopped by my favorite Aunty's stall to get fish, and was happy to see that she had lovely slices of haruan, and bones. Rounded over to the vegetables stall to get some leaves and stems. Needed carrots, daikon, wongbok cabbage, baby bok choi and thick beehoon for the one-dish meal.

It's not too time-consuming, but it takes a bit of effort to cook this dish. Throw everything into the water for the base stock. After 20 minutes on the boil, I separate the stock into two pots—one thinner version to blanch the bee hoon, and the other pot continues to boil and that is the actual soup which is also used to cook the slices of haruan and vegetables later on. It's necessary to do so to maintain crunch in the ingredients, and ensure that nothing turns mushy from being overcooked. When the ingredients are this fresh, and require so little treatment, my job is to ensure that I do justice to them. #ImpieCooks2017

I don't have a recipe either. I take a quick look at what the internets say, and do my version. Maybe one day I'll write it down, but for now, it's all in my head. This would be the first time the man ate haruan in the form of sliced fish bee hoon soup. He declared he liked this version. Oof. Well, I'm flattered. 🤭😃


Monday, December 04, 2017

'The Sinner'

Downloaded and rushed through Petra Hammesfahr's 'The Sinner' (first published in German in 1999, and translated by John Brown in 2017) before I binge-watched the adaptation on Netflix (only eight episodes lah). Yeah, I checked out its playlist on Spotify too. Big Black Delta's 2014 'Huggin & Kissin' is such a surprise hit as that trigger song.

This is the story of Cora Tannetti (in the book, she is Cora Bender), a seemingly normal housewife who uses her fruit knife to stab an apparent stranger to death at the beach in full view of everyone else. She doesn't deny it, but doesn't know why she did it. An unreliable narrator, lies upon lies upon truths upon false memories. There we go, a deeper story within. A song seems to set her off into a downward emotional spiral. Google will tell you all there is to know.

I enjoyed both the book and the miniseries, equally. Although I feel that the book contains a lot more details, naturally, and it's a lot darker, including what we know about Cora's mean parents and how they treated Cora and her sickly sister Phoebe. There's youthful explorations of the forbidden, fanatical religious asceticism, and the hint of incest, drugs, a kidnap and abuse. It isn't the type of fiction one would read for fun. It's painful and horrifying. Cora's son isn't named in the book, for a very good reason, he's just 'the boy'. But in the miniseries, he has a name, Laine. Cora's wimpy husband of three years is named Gereon in the book. The Netflix miniseries gave Cora's husband, named Mason Tannetti, and Detective Harry Ambrose (in the book, he's Police Commissioner Rudolf Grovian) a bigger role than the book did.

There was a hole in her life. She knew it concealed some dark, squalid episode, but her memory of it was missing. Until a few years ago she'd fallen into that hole innumerable times, night after night. The last occasion had been four years ago, before she met Gereon, and she had somehow managed to close it. She had never expected to fall into it again since her marriage to him. And then, on Christmas Eve of all nights, it had happened. 

The Netflix adaptation took liberties with the story and characters, of course. I didn't mind it. There's a hint of Season 2, by making the flawed Detective Harry Ambrose taking another case. Dunno if that would work, or even if Netflix will bring Cora back. I really think it's better as a one-off Netflix original miniseries. The actors are excellent. Bill Pullman (as Detective Harry Ambrose) and Dohn Norwood (as Detective Dan Leroy) share convincing chemistry as partners. I've forgotten that Jessica Biel is a pretty decent actress. She brought Nora Bender to life.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

A Steamed Grey Mullet

The whole point of the meal was to devour the grey mullet. Spotted fresh ones at the market in the morning and decided to have that for dinner. Bought two. When I sliced them apart to steam, those fats were gorgeous. Shiny, translucent and wobbly. Hahaha. These fishes were superbly fresh.

The accompanying carbs would just be fishballs, mushrooms and kway teow. Boiled up a proper pot of chicken soup. No I didn't make 'em fishballs or kway teow from ground up. Too lazy. Next time. Bought them decent from the market stalls. #ImpieCooks2017

The man loves a good grey mullet, and merrily ate one whole fish by himself. He was very pleased. He now knows I can produce a somewhat edible meal, specializing in Asian soups, and salads of all sorts. Hahahaha. 😶 While the Teochew porridge stalls serve up fairly nice ones, this one is way better since it's super fresh, and nothing beats a homecooked version.

Well, I'm being nice to the man since he's recovering from sialolithiasis. He was on antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pills. So homecooked meals were ideal. Loads of fish on the menu. The man had earlier thought those hard lumps were tumors under his tongue. A CT scan and his brilliant funny doctor sorted that out promptly within the week.

His salivary glands were cut up to remove three stones (hardened calcium deposits) from the sublingual and submandibular spaces. It was done via day surgery on general anesthesia. There're two more tiny sialoliths stuck in the submandibular that couldn't be retrieved unless the whole gland is removed. Not a good idea at the moment. Stitches have been removed, incisions have healed and he's fine now. To coax the last two stones out over the next few months, he just needs to up his water intake and drastically cut down on dairy products. 🥛🧀❌ And minimize intake of supplements. FWIW, I don’t subscribe to dietary supplements. Am skeptical of their bioavailability or purported benefits.