About orionstar

Easily amused, easily interested, easily bored. Always looking out for new experiences..The world is so vast...

Why did the chickens cross the road?

Or “pavement” to be specific…

As we made our way back to our car after lunch somewhere along New Bridge Road, an accidental turn into this pavement behind Keong Saik Road led to a pleasant sighting of something that is pretty uncommon these days.

Seriously, how often do you spot a congregation of roosters hanging around freely and…

… a watchful mother hen vigilantly looking after her brood of chicks while taking a walk? Speaking of which, I was so caught up trying to get a good shot of this little family when I didn’t notice the mother hen cocking her head and looking straight at us. After a few seconds, she must have realised we meant no harm and she turned away, focusing on her kids instead. Wow, for that split second, she does look she’s ready to fly at my face if I tried to be funny…

Think these chickens belong to somebody? While chickens roaming around had been a common sight during the kampong days some decades ago but in the metropolis that is Singapore today, this is very rare indeed.

Apart from these chickens, these 2 kitties caught my attention as well. The black one startled me with its glowing golden eyes in the dark of the shrubs which it had emerged from. I had actually exclaimed, “Hey, a panther!”. More like a mini one… Haha… it’s a joke obviously but the cautious gait and cold stare does remind me of a predator in the wild. The other kitty on the chair was unfortunately roused from its nap, as evident by its grouchy expression, no thanks to my excitement in snapping a shot of it looking so blissfully asleep. That was a second before it heard me. Sorry kitty…

Before we got into our car and leave, I stopped and took a look around. We had parked along Keong Saik Road, once (in)famously known for being a red light district in the 60s and probably 70s.

Similar to the rare sighting of chickens in our urban landscape today, these shophouses are also an uncommon aspect of today’s architecture, save for those designated for conservation and a couple more in various parts of the city and in Joo Chiat.

In the past, the lower level of these shophouses would typically be shops while those on the upper levels would be residences. Today, the ground floor are still occupied for commercial activities- Mainly a mix of traditional kopitiams, chic and quaint cafes, restaurants, small businesses like those in the creative line and some others… Not sure if there are any residences upstairs or they could be used as additional office or storage spaces for the businesses downstairs?

The vibrant colours of these shophouses suggest a recent make-over, perhaps in the past year or two. When seeing me snapping pictures of these shophouses, Gary said they looked like they would be around for a while so I shouldn’t be worried that they would be demolished anytime soon. That is true but we won’t be sure the type of changes that would take place in the near future. Take Orchard Road for example, I never thought the grass field next to Wisma Atria would be occupied by a gigantic mall like ION Orchard or that the Specialist Shopping Centre is now demolished for another mall/ office building, Orchard Gateway.

Guess I didn’t want to regret not taking enough pictures of these places with cultural and historical significance. Just like how I should have done that for my granny’s home in Siglap (where the Coffee Club now stands) and its vicinity or various parts of Singapore before certain changes had taken place which changes the facade or even identity of the place. It is something that I still regret till today. Sigh..

Had recalled fondly on 2 group projects on Chinatown during my university years. For one of the projects, we had created a video which we thought would effectively capture the essence of the place. That was during the mid-90s so a video presentation was a rather innovative change from the usual powerpoint or via the OHP, which thank goodness, no groups had used that then. Apart from the fun in making this video, it was through these projects that I had read up and learnt more about the rich and interesting history of Chinatown. Through these experiences, Chinatown has a special place in my heart, amongst the other heritage sites in Singapore.

Easter Cupcakes

Speaking of cupcakes, the ones from the Magnolia Bakery in NYC are the best I had tried so far. However, I’d still regard cupcakes as nothing more than over-priced plain little cakes beautified with super sweet frosting and pretty toppings. That is why I rarely buy cupcakes. Anyway, on the Magnolia Bakery ones, it’s not because one of my fave TV shows “Sex and the City” had featured this bakery but I do feel their cupcakes are really full-flavoured to my liking.

Or maybe it’s the whole NYC vibe plus we were on vacation and the Village is such a laid back chill place and we had just checked out the “Friends ” building, that I may have made too big a deal on those cupcakes? Heh, whatever it is, those cupcakes are still good and that inspired me to try making them myself.

My history in attempting to make the “perfect” (by that, I mean something that is palatable enough for me) cupcake dated back to some 4 years ago. Oh, there were numerous trial and error. First, on the cupcakes. I can never get the texture and the flavour that I like. There was a recipe that calls for vegetable oil (instead of butter) for plain o’ vanilla cupcakes and they tasted horrible. And don’t get me started on the frosting. That’s more tricky, I feel. So for many years, I can never pipe beautiful swirls of frosting on each cupcake. That is provided the cupcake turns out ok in the first place.

Recent trials had been better. I have been following the recipes from “The Hummingbird Bakery” recipe book on cupcakes and muffins, which some friends got for me as a gift. Let me present to you…. the Easter cupcakes!!  Had made these for dessert for after dinner at “H”. She would cook dinner and I think it is only nice that I contribute something too. The ones with the mint green frosting are chocolate cupcakes with crunchy ovaltine paste whereas the ones with the rose-pink are vanilla cupcakes.

Had searched online for simple Easter decor. The usual, i.e. Easter eggs and bunny, had come up. The Easter eggs are chocolate eggs from Cadbury. Luv them since young though I find them a tad too sweet these days. The dark chocolate “wood-shavings” are bought from Phoon Huat while the little brown ones on the pink frosting are manually shaved by a potato peeler from a block of Cadbury milk chocolate. But I gave up after a few shaves when the chocolate started to melt and left my palm sticky.  The cupcake recipes are from the “Hummingbird Bakery” (HB) recipe book while the frosting is supposedly the one used at the Magnolia Bakery. Well, it taste pretty similar. Anyway, the recipe for frosting is quite standard. The tricky part is the beating part. Although there are several frosting recipes in the “HB” recipe book but it turned out runny. When I compare the recipe with the supposedly Magnolia Bakery one, I realised the quantity of butter in the “HB” recipe is a lesser in proportion to the icing sugar and there seems to be 1 tbsp more of milk. Hence, resulting in a rather runny frosting. I might have overbeat it as well.

Adding the colouring is also pretty tricky. I would dip a toothpick in the bottle of colouring paste/gel and then slowly dip into the frosting, followed by a quick mix for consistency. If it is too light, then dip a little more until I get the preferred colour. I can do more practise in the piping of the frosting onto the cupcake. Think I am getting the hang of it.

Here are the recipes for the cupcakes (from the “HB” recipe book) and the frosting (got it from Martha Stewart’s website or you can just google “Magnolia Bakery cupcake recipe, which I would try for the cupcakes the next time)

Vanilla cupcakes (Makes12)

  • 120g (1 cup) plain/ all-purpose flour
  • 140g/ scant 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • a pinck of salt
  • 40g/ 3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 120ml/ 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170 Deg C Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a freestanding electric mixer and beat on slow speed till you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.

Gradually pour in half the milk and beat till the milk is just incorporated. Whisk the egg, vanilla extract and remaining milk together in a separate bowl. Pour into the flour mixture and continue beating for a couple more minutes until the mixture is smooth. Do not overmix.

Spoon the mixture int the paper case till 2/3 full and bake for 20-25 mins or until light golden. Leave the cupcake to cool first before frosting.

** The chocolate cupcake follows the same recipe and method, except the quantity of flour is reduced to 100g and with the addition of 2 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder.

The recipe did not include this but I had decided to make it a little more special by scooping up a little of the surface such that there is a hole in the centre of the cupcake.

This hole was filled up by a dollop of Ovaltine paste for a slight twist in the chocolately flavour with some added crunch. Other alternatives include Nutella, peanut butter and jam.

Frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp milk

Cream butter till fluffy. Add vanilla followed by sugar, 1 cup at a time and milk. Stop beating once the frosting is thick.

Happy Easter!

Yay! It’s a long Easter weekend and since I am taking Mon off, it’s a slightly longer weekend for me! :)

Walked past this ensemble of colourful eggs. Seeing these Easter eggs reminds me of chocolates…A smiley toothy rabbit is settled in one of them. Another egg has a bunny ear poking through…

Eh…Wait a sec…

Since when are rabbits hatched from eggs??!

This is weird, no? :p

Paying our Last Respects to LKY

On 23 Mar 2015 at 3.18am, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed away at 91 years old. 91 years is a pretty long time. Of which, Mr Lee had spent his entire life building this nation from a backwater town to a country with one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. An enormous feat and achievement for a relatively small and young nation. It is beyond any doubts that he placed Singapore’s interests before his. As LKY had said in 2011, “I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life,”

The lying in state at the Parliament House was opened to the public from Wed to Sat. The response from the public was overwhelming. That could be an understatement. Since Wed, huge crowds of people would queue up for hours to pay their last respects to this great man. There is even a queue status update on TV. Sometimes, it states 4 hours, sometimes 8 hours and I think yesterday, it was 10 hours at some point?

But that did not deter my colleagues and I from joining the queue. We planned to pay our respects on Thurs evening but had decided that the queue situation might be slightly better if we go during the wee hours. Of course, many others might have shared the same thought so even at 5am, the amount of people was still massive.

This is indeed a moment in history. I don’t think anyone, not even the oldest, had witnessed such a scene. There were several who said that LKY had spent his entire life in developing Singapore, what’s a few hours of queueing to pay their respects. True to that.

I think we had started at the wrong end of the queue, So we ended, with many others, looping around the war memorial, followed by the underpass leading to the Esplanade, pausing for a while near the Esplanade and finally, rejoining the right queue to proceed to the holding areas at the Padang.

We had witnessed 2 ugly behaviours of queue-cutting.

The first was a 40-something year old guy and his wife had shamelessly cut their way to the front. And when some people shouted at him to stop cutting queue. He would shout back in defiance and continued to make his way to the front. If this was a queue for the Hello Kitty toys, I am sure a fight would start. But for LKY and the significance of this moment, many people must have close an eye to all these queue-cutting and all, which these idiots had leveraged fully, knowing that they would get away.

The other one were these 2 young guys who had dashed through this huge space at the underpass (leading to the Esplanade) into our group. They did not expect being “sandwiched” in between our group. After some snide remarks from us directed at them plus a spray of my breath freshener around them (cos they reeked of body odour), they must have felt uncomfortable and fled to the front, cutting into another portion of the queue. These are able-bodied young people. Why can’t they queue like anyone else? Bastards.

It was around 2 hours by the time we had reached the Padang. To manage and control the huge crowd, there were several holding areas at the Padang. Most people had patiently sat in these holding areas until it’s their turn to proceed. We were here for around 1 hour plus.

I had to hand it to the army guys and helpers manning the holding areas and any part of the queue especially under the hot sun. They had exercised huge patience in the crowd control, handling out water and biscuits, and answering the same old questions (“How long more we have to wait? How many hours more? When can we move? etc etc) without flaring up. Kudos to them.

After an hour plus, we were instructed to move along. We were told the walk to the Parliament House is about 3km. Before entering, we had to go through the security checks, of course. The sky is now bright and sunny. It was dark when we had started queuing.

Almost half the division is here. My colleague had even whatsapp this photo to our boss to show who’s here. Though he had given us time to pay our respects but just in case, he gets a shock stepping in the office and realised it’s half-empty.

After 4 hours plus, we were finally ushered in to pay our last respects. The mood was sombre as we walked past his coffin. I took a second to bow and left. You can’t linger on too long anyway.

I am glad that we had managed to pay our respects. Queuing with a group of familiar faces helped ease the monotone as well.

No words can express my gratitude and respect for LKY. He will be greatly missed by all. RIP Mr Lee.

TGIF Junk: Oven and Fried Chicken

After a long and stressful week at work, sometimes we just want to sink our teeth into calorie-laden, artery-clogging junk food. A favourite would be deep-fried chicken, among other sinful junk like truffle-fries, spam fries and rich desserts. I dunno how stuffing our faces with such junk food can help de-stress. Guess the thought of letting ourselves go with such indulgences, provided the food in question has to be tasty as well, has a certain liberating effect. Ah nom nom nom nom nom munch munch munch…

So a couple of fridays ago, my friend BB suggested having our junk food fix with Korean fried chicken at “Oven & Fried Chicken” (182 Telok Ayer Street). Quite a strange name. It’s not “oven-fried”, with a dash in between, but “oven & fried”.. Don’t quite make sense leh… Anyways, I didn’t check online for the origin of the name so I supposed there are reasons for it.

Since a few years ago, there has been a lot of hype with Korean fried chicken. Had recalled it started with “BBQ Chicken” which uses olive oil to deep-fry their chicken and then there’s “Bonchon”, “Kko Kko Na Ra” and so on. I don’t quite get the hype. It’s just fried chicken right? Probably because the eatery/brand originates from Korea, same place as where those popular celebrities are from, so it must be good? Oh dear, if you really think that way. Hmm..

Probably that is also why these chicken tend to sell at higher prices, since there is a demand for them from the likes of people obsessed with anything Korean. Anyway, Korean or not, fried chicken to me is, as I had said, chicken dunked in hot oil till it turned crispy. If it is good, that’s all it matters.

At “Oven & Fried Chicken”, there are other non-chicken dishes on the menu. But since it is only 2 of us, we had decided to stick to the chicken. Since we are ready to gorge ourselves with junk food, let’s go all the way and order 2 servings of chicken wings in different flavours.

The “Fried Rice Chicken” was served first. Half a portion, which is around 5 whole chicken wings separated at the joints, is priced at $19. Woah…

These chicken wings are coated in rice flour and other spices, and deep-fried. Teeth sinking into the crunchy and crispy batter, releasing bits of oil… The initial bites were indeed satisfying. By the time, I got to my 3rd wing or drumlet, I was feeling a little queasy from too much flour and oil. As much as I had enjoyed the fried chicken, there is only so much I can take.

We had also ordered the “Sauced Rice Chicken (original)” at $20 for half portion. Double woah.

It seems like sauce-coated fried chicken is a distinctive cooking style of Korean fried chicken. The sauce is sweet and savoury, and super spicy! OMG! I can feel my lips burning, face flushed and stomach getting hotter by the second. I can’t make it past 2 wings. I need to dunk my tongue in a bucket of ice!! Hot hot hot!!

My friend can’t stomach too much of those spicy wings too and I end up packing them back for Gary. He sure has a higher tolerance for spice. I saw him wipe out those wings with gusto. LOL…

My verdict on these Korean fried chicken: They are good but so not worth the price. Take the Old Chang Kee fried chicken wings for example. They are one of my favourite and cost only less than half the price.  So I say, can try Korean fried chicken once in a while but they are really over-hyped lah. :)

Give Blood part 2

Last Dec, I had donated blood for the first time. Like many others, the thought of a thick needle jamming into my vein is very unnerving. But knowing that my blood might help save a life, I’d decided to put away my fears and go for it. Of course, going with a few colleagues had helped boost my courage a little. Afterall, there is strength in numbers right?

I don’t know about others but I didn’t find the process painful at all. There might be a very slight but bearable discomfort when the anesthetic was injected but once the elbow area of your arm is numb, there is really not much feeling when they injected the larger needle to draw your blood.

Last Fri was the next run of the blood donation drive and I was the first one there! Ok, I admit there’s a selfish reason to it. I’ll be joining some colleagues for drinks at night. When it comes to drinking alcohol after donating blood, a couple of websites had stated slightly differing views. Some state it’s best to give a 24 hour buffer, while another state 6 hour and so on. I asked the nurse attending to me at the blood donation centre and she confirmed it’s perfectly alright.

For me, the main reason for donating blood stems from altruistic reasons. I think it is a good cause and it doesn’t harm me in any way. Had tried to convince my colleagues in the division but quite a number claimed needles leave them squirmish despite my assurance that it really doesn’t hurt much. For some, it’s not so much the pain but the thought of a needle in them. It’s all in the mind. And that is the hardest to change. But it’s ok. That’s their choice. There are other pain-less and less “scary” ways to do good to the society.

There are also other benefits of donating blood. Google these key words and you get a gozillion websites highlighting the benefits.

Common ones include better flow of the blood hence regular blood donors run a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, regulating iron levels in the blood as too much iron is bad for your blood vessels etc…

And my favourite (for now)- Donating a pint of blood burns around 650 kcal as your body works to replenish the blood that was lost. Of course, this shouldn’t be the main way to manage your weight since you should leave around a 3-month window before your next blood donation. It’s just nice to know that there is this additional calories being burnt off just like that. Hee…

The thought of saving lives is a very meaningful motivation to donate blood. The other benefits are really “bonuses” that come with this act.

Steamed Radish Cake

I love a good chunk of delicious steamed radish cake with chock full of ingredients and best served warm with a side of savoury sambal chilli or XO sauce. 2 weekends ago, my good friend, H, made a big tin of radish cake and that had inspired me to try a hand at it too.

In fact, some years ago, I had attempted to make this dish but had failed miserably. On hindsight, I must have added too much liquid and the texture was more congee-like than cake. Yikes.

This time round, I had searched for a few more recipes. Found one from H last year. This year, it seems she had tried a different method but I had observed the steps leading to the finished product when I’m at her kitchen 2 weekends ago. Eventually, I had settled for this recipe by “Momma Kitchen”, which I had followed quite closely, but with some amount of guesstimation. Sometimes, that’s the fun of cooking.

While stir-frying the radish together with the other ingredients, I had also added in around 3/4 cup of chicken stock, to prevent the ingredients from drying out. Do add the stock gradually as needed.

Processing the radish is akin to a good arm work-out. The grating part (doesn’t help that I am using a small grater) and the stir-frying/mixing of the flour (mixed with radish water) into the mass of grated radish and other ingredients had worked me (and my right arm, of course) into a sweat!

I am not sure if the heat should be turned on while mixing the flour mixture with the radish and all. Some recipes mentioned to turn the fire off. As an in between, I left the heat on but on low. Towards the last bit of the stirring, I’d turned it off. The final product should be a thick gooey glue-paste like texture.

After 40mins of steaming and about an hour of letting the cake set, it’s sampling time! With bated breath, I had sliced through the cake. Oh please don’t disintegrate or turned into a watery mess! The surface looks solid but who knows what’s inside…

Oh, I had added the fried shallots (store-bought ones) towards the last 10 mins of the steaming process. Love the aroma from these shallots!

Thankfully, the texture is fine and the taste is decent too. Next time, I would diced the mushrooms and Chinese sausages (lup cheong) a little finer.

I find that the cake texture is better set when left in the fridge overnight. To consume, can just microwave or pan-fry with egg. Well, this is the first trial after my failed attempt some years ago so I think it’s not too bad ya. Will try again the next time but will have to get a larger grater!