Monday, May 28, 2018

Simple Recipes Are Never Simple

Picked up Math Paper Press’s edition of Madeleine Thien’s earlier work titled ‘Simple Recipes’ (2001). It's her first book with seven stories touching on family ties, dysfunction, redemption and acceptance. It tells the story of immigrants to Canada, and how their adult eyes view their childhood, and how they're managing as adults.

Again, this isn't a genre I'm fond of reading. But I have to get out of my comfort zone a few times a year. This book isn't too difficult to read, but it's just filled with family (blood relations) issues that I generally do not like to deal with, and if I have to, I tend to exert a heavy hand.

Title story ‘Simple Recipes’ sees how a daughter views her father, of how he teaches her to cook rice, and he eats every bowl of rice that she cooks, even if the rice turns out too hard or mushy. The father is indulgent towards the daughter, and she is unable to reconcile his violence towards his son, her brother. The father yells and canes the brother with the bamboo pole all the time for mistakes made that she is unable to comprehend. Seeing her father through the eyes of an adult doesn't make it less painful either.

A face changes over time, it becomes clearer. In my father's face, I have seen everything pass. Anger that has stripped it of anything recognizable, so that it is only a face of bones and skin. And then, at other times, so much pain that it is unbearable, his face so full of grief that it might dissolve. How to reconcile all that I know of him and still love him? For a long time, I thought it was not possible. When I was a child, I did not love my father because he was complicated., because he was human, because he needed me to. A child does not know yet how to love a person that way.

The final story in the book is long. 'A Map of the City' follows Miriam, who grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and how she has been affected by the split of her Indonesian-immigrant parents, and has to deal with her father abandoning the family. She marries Will, miscarried, and eventually calls time on the marriage because she couldn't deal with her own emotions, and also finally reconciles with her parents, and her father who returns to Canada, and attempts suicide. To me, it's all very complicated. When you want a relationship with humans, that comes along with a truckload of emotional baggage that you might not want to handle, but you still get it anyway.

To Will, I said that longing was not the point. In any case, my parents were still alive. 
Will said, "Death isn't what I meant exactly. And don't be so sure about the longing." 
"Why not?" 
"Because it's plain. You miss them all the time." 
I let this sit for a moment, then I broke into a smile. Will was unfailingly patient. He let me dance around a topic but never come to rest on it. He forgave all my inabilities, first and foremost my unwillingness to speak with him about my family.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Sheet Masks For Seven Nights

Tried out this pack of moisturizing masks. Not that I know the brand or whatever. But I figured that since it's Japanese, it should be fine. My skin is generally okay with Japanese cosmetics. I literally died when the friends said that they slap on sheet masks every night. WHUT. They're so disciplined! Okay. This pack holds seven sheet masks. Decided to just do it and see how it goes.

Of course I had to pick this stretch of seven days to coincide with a number of scheduled late nights. My goodness. It was soooo tedious to do this every night before bedtime when all I wanted to do after a shower is to crawl into bed and sleep. I still had to put on the sheet mask for at least 15-20 minutes. To some people, it's just part of their beauty routine. Not for me though, since I go with the bare minimal cleansing steps. This added on at least 20 minutes to the before bed-routine. Grrrr.

I've been procrastinating going to the skin doctor to sort out the brown spots on the face. I should go soon. Except the down-time is a little off-putting. Oh well. That's the cost of ignoring sunscreen on my face for the first two decades and merrily spent thousands of hours in the sun. Meanwhile, these masks should help to alleviate the face looking like a dried prune.

These sheet masks most certainly won't diminish the brown spots and pigmentation or even out skin tone that much. Those require specialist attention and medical-grade treatment. What the masks did, was to keep the face moisturized so that the pores appeared smaller. For those seven days, I was a little more conscientious with scrubbing the face and dabbing toner. I usually don't bother with the toner. Even made the effort to put on a deep cleansing clay mask before the moisturizing sheet. While these masks didn't do wonders for my face, they did help to control monthly outbreaks, soothe bumps and pimples. But no, I'm never again doing this for seven consecutive days.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bakalaki Greek Taverna

Took the man's parentals to Bakalaki Greek Taverna for lunch. I love the space, light and breezy vibes of the restaurant. Helmed by general manager George Kokkinis, assistant general manager Christos Parlapani and Executive Chef Spiros Palaiologos, it has been quite consistent with its food so far.

For some reason, the moussaka (with minced beef) has not improved very much since it opened. If I can do a better moussaka, then this restaurant's version isn't too good. And strangely, I still order it. Duhhh. It seems to be a popular dish with our guests though. The one thing we've never ordered, lamb. We never seem to be in the mood to try it. The grilled octopus veers towards the chewy side. I think the kitchen likes it that way. We don't mind it. The hummus, Santorini fava (this dip uses yellow split peas, not to be confused with fava beans), and those giant beans in tomato sauce are fabulous.

Glad that the menu offers an option for the grilled sea bream at 400g and 800g. I normally prefer to order a smaller fish at restaurants. For some reason, many restaurants don't seem to be able to handle the larger sized fish as well. The sea bream, at 400g, has always arrived at our table beautifully done.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Dreaded Teaser

There’s a relatively simple stretch I can’t quite nail because of tight quads, hamstrings and hip flexors, and likely a set of not strong-enough lower abs. Press-ups and planks are great but they can’t give you the abs and control needed for many Pilates moves. I can’t quite do it form-perfect on the Mat or the Chair. It's easier on the Reformer though. My nemesis- The Teaser.

Coming up into a Pilates Level 1 Teaser isn't an issue. I want it to go beyond Level 3. In the same vein, I can’t quite nail the forward fold either. No matter if it’s standing or seated, I can’t comfortably hug my knees. Boo. That itself is quite a stretch for me. Practising these stretches is often forgotten when I focus more on getting in the unbelievably painful quad stretches against the wall.

The recent Reformer classes at the gym keep featuring The Teaser. I inwardly groan, but doing The Teaser on the long box on a Reformer is easier than moving into it and holding it on the floor. I could make the abs work even harder and bring up the legs high. The Reformer’s resistance and straps help loads for me to be able to control the movement rather than cheat by using speed. We’ve all got weak points I suppose, and this is mine.

That night, the estate’s gym was empty at 9pm. I rarely use it. It's small and doesn't have much floor space available. Thought I would do a quick stretch before heading up for a shower and to bed, Finally managed to bring the legs up and solidly hold them for a few seconds. Yayyy. But I can’t quite kiss my knees yet or hug the legs tight without falling over. No, one shouldn't be holding on to the ankles. I was trying out something to bring the legs higher. Gotta work on it more for the next six months, along with the forward fold.

The Pilates Teaser with a slightly rounded back ready for a roll down.
I want a form closer to yoga's navasana that's all the way up, chest to knees. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Khruangbin at The Projector

When I stumbled upon Khruangbin's music, I didn't realize that they are a band from Houston, Texas. They're new to me. There's a really decent 54-minute video on Youtube of their set at London's Boiler Room in October 2016 that convinced me to buy tickets to their show in Singapore.

I listened to 'The Universe Smiles Upon You' (2015) and thought they were a Thai band. Till I googled. The band is made up of Laura Lee on bass, Mark Speer on the guitar and Donald DJ Johnson on drums. The first album is heavily influenced by Thai funk from the 60s and 70s. However, their second and latest album 'Con Todo El Mundo' (2018) doesn't take much influence from Thai funk; it leans towards Middle East and Iranian soul and funk.

Went to hear Khruangbin live at The Projector. Managed to score tickets to their 7.30pm show. The second show was slated for 10pm and that would end wayyy past my bed-time. :P I didn't know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by the rather fun show in spite of them only having one four-track EP and two albums under their belt. I’m obviously partial to songs from their first album.

The trio flew into Singapore after their shows at the Seoul Jazz Festival and Bangkok. The Projector doesn’t have the best acoustics for a band, but Khruangbin and their sound engineers managed to fill up small venue with pretty okay sound. A pity that we were seated in chairs on high steps and couldn't stand up to jive. I could only bob around in my seat. The band played great music to dance to.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Baan Ying Singapore

I really like Baan Ying (ร้านอาหารบ้านหญิง) in Bangkok (both its Signature restaurants and Cafes), so it's with a great deal of skepticism that I went for dinner at Baan Ying at Royal Square Novena. I went to finally say hello to some old old friends whom I've missed loads. They're super busy folks, and am glad to catch up with them when they're in Singapore.

The kitchen churned out really good food for me at the levels of Thai-spicy and not Singapore-spicy. Hurhurhur. I stuck to very safe choices and ordered homestyle dishes. Everything was on point, except for the som tam. :P That one, fail. It isn't as finely sliced, pungent or spicy enough. I like my som tam elegant, spicy and pungent all at once. That wing bean salad was deliciously piquant. There were clear soups of tom yam seafood and mushrooms on the menu, but not for the prawns. The kitchen happily did a clear version of tom yam kung (ต้มยำกุ้งน้ำใส) for me. There were three proper giant Thai river prawns in it. NICE!

However, I wasn't impressed by how they charge S$0.50 for those stupid packets of wet tissue that I never bother with, but luckily they now allow you to return it, and they serve ‘alkaline water’ in a small carton at S$1.80 (not refillable obviously) and warm water at S$1. You know my pet peeve about how many mid-priced restaurants in Singapore justify charging for drinking water. Anyway, I usually carry a bottle of water around. I just hate to be held ransom to having to buy water at a restaurant on a day when I need it and have no water bottle at hand.

Although food and service standards fluctuate greatly even within Baan Ying’s Bangkok outlets, I found a measure of consistency in their branches at Silom complex and surprisingly, Central World. There's a certain style of Thai homestyle food I prefer (even if it’s just a ‘krapow gai’) and it's hard to find that in Singapore, and especially not at those eateries in Golden Mile Complex and such. I had a lovely experience at this first visit, and hope for more to come.

The thing is, the bosses were in town, and were friendly to all tables in the restaurant, checking in with each table to see if everything was in order. I'm not sure if that was the main reason why the food was good that evening. While items were ordered off the tablet, I had a number of customizations made verbally because there were no such options on the virtual menu. If the kitchen can maintain these standards, then I'd return often for a taste of 'home', so to speak.

The jumbo river prawns from the tom yam soup.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Toy Makers At The Emporium

I was kinda hoping that 'The Toy Makers' (2018) by Robert Dinsdale would be less Dickensian and more fantasy. Nope. The book moves along in a dignified manner, including the prose and such. It was sort of boring. I didn't enjoy it very much. I didn't mind the ending though. The story also touched on the treatment of immigrants, and the right to fight in the war one believes in. (Reviews here, here and here.)

Papa Jack's Toy Emporium is the one shiny happy place in Mayfair, London where children's dreams come true. Papa Jack's sons Kaspar and Emil Godman work with him at the Emporium. They're excellent toy-makers. It's the golden era of toys, stories and all that you fantasize could come true in a three-dimensional world crafted by the toy-makers.

The protagonist is unmarried mother 16-year-old Catherine 'Cathy' Wray who left her home and takes on a job at Papa Jack's Toy Emporium in 1907. The Emporium is run by the Godmans, who are exiles from Russia. Papa Jack also welcomed her into his home Wendy House. She birthed her child, Martha right there. The story follows her and the two brothers Kaspar and Emil all the way through to the 1920s. Cathy marries Kaspar and becomes Catherine Godman. Emil marries Nina. Kaspar didn't want to sell toy soldiers anymore when World War I loomed. Christmas and toys take on a different meaning in this world.

The story moves slowly to 1940. Martha grows up. Along with the war, Emporium's business declines, a haunted Kaspar left his marriage, his family and his home. In 1953, Catherine Godman and the Emporium faces foreclosure, and it finally closes. Catherine leaves to begin a new life with her daughter and her grandchildren. The ending is as it should be. Bittersweet.

Come north with me now, past the green splendours of Regent's Park, through the elegant porticos of St John's Wood and north, to a little house off the Finchley Road. Take your shoes off at the door, creep past the kitchen where Martha Godman's children are putting the finishing touches to toys of their very own designs while their patchwork dog washes curiously on, and come up the crooked stairs. Here, in a chamber at the very top, sits an ill-hewn toybox, rescued from the Emporium on that last November night. Inside it are worlds too many to be imagined, and two old lovers making new ones every day.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Daisy's Dream Kitchen at Temasek Club

After the big move to Singapore from London, D and J were ready to experiment with the cookbook on Peranakan food, but didn’t quite know where to start. So we took them to a Peranakan restaurant to check it out. I wasn’t about to cook for them since I haven’t gotten the technique of getting the astringent buah keluak paste right or mastered the full flavors of an ayam buah keluak.

We went to the new home of Daisy's Dream Kitchen at Temasek Club. It's open to the public. Rifle Range Road is more convenient for us to get to now than its old home at West Coast Road. The restaurant is located right next to the swimming pool (park at Zone D downstairs).

I’m a little puzzled by their dinner timings though. Last order is at 8.15pm and the restaurant closes an hour later. That’s really early. It works when we do a 7pm, I suppose. Or a no-frills casual 8pm. Luckily we could meet early that evening, and after two beers, we were all ready for dinner at 7.30pm. Heh. So we could take our time with food and left by 9.15pm without rushing through the food.

The kitchen said they were still settling in as we visited within the week of their re-opening. But the flavors tasted fine to me. Ordered the usual stuff for our guests. It's pretty much comfort food, in tasting portions. The sambal belachan was just as spicy-piquant. It would be the first time that the friends ate the ‘smelly beans’. Hahaha. Sambal petai with ikan bilis. They loved it! Now they’re going to replicate it as tapas. Oof. It would go great with alcohol! Obviously I'm going to show up at their door step very soon. Heh.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Iron & Wine in Singapore

I couldn’t pass up the chance to catch Iron & Wine. Bought tickets fairly late to the sold-out performance, and still managed to get all our seats just three rows from the stage. Mainly singer-songwriter Samuel Ervin Beam, his show in Singapore also featured a full band at the ticketed gig in the night. For the lunchtime private showcase at Straits Clan, it was just him on the guitar.

Sam Beam is touring with the ‘Beast Epic’ band- Elizabeth Goodfellow on drums/percussion, Eliza Jones on keys/organ, Teddy Rankin-Parker on cello, and Sebastian Steinberg on bass. They did mainly newer songs from ‘Beast Epic’ (2017), which was a good album.

It’s a warm and serendipitous time to be reuniting with my Seattle friends because I feel there’s a certain kinship between this new collection of songs and my earliest material, which Sub Pop was kind enough to release. In hindsight, both The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002) and Our Endless Numbered Days (2004) epitomize a reflective and confessional songwriting style (although done with my own ferocious commitment to understatement, of course.) I have been and always will be fascinated by the way time asserts itself on our bodies and our hearts. The ferris wheel keeps spinning and we’re constantly approaching, leaving or returning to something totally unexpected or startlingly familiar. The rite of passage is an image I’ve returned to often because I feel we’re all constantly in some stage of transition.  Beast Epic is saturated with this idea but in a different way simply because each time I return to the theme I’ve collected new experiences to draw from. Where the older songs painted a picture of youth moving wide-eyed into adulthood’s violent pleasures and disappointments, this collection speaks to the beauty and pain of growing up after you’ve already grown up. For me, that experience has been more generous in its gifts and darker in its tragedies. 
~ Sam Beam’s thoughts in a release announcement for Sub Pop Records in August 2017

I’ve always loved Sam Beam’s vocals, lyrics and melodies in his brand of folk/indie rock. It was very nice to also hear the old songs too. We went back to 2007 with ‘Flightless Bird, American Mouth’, 2003 with ‘Such Great Heights’, and also ‘Bird Stealing Bread’ from the album ‘The Creek Drank the Cradle’ (2002).