About orionstar

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

A relaxing chillin’ afternoon at the Botanic Gardens

After lunch with a colleague, I was contemplating how to fill up the spare time in the afternoon before meeting some friends for dinner. Hmm, I have my laptop/tablet with me so I can find a cafe or the library, surf some net and perhaps plan out the itineraries for upcoming travels.

Or… I can take a stroll in a park! Catch some fresh air and be amongst nature.

Of all the parks in Singapore, the newly-declared UNESCO World Heritage site- Singapore Botanic Gardens– came to mind.

Though I don’t visit the garden that often in recent years but it holds many fond memories for me. Off the top of my head: Picnics, feeding bread to the swans at the “swan lake”, a somewhat-like-a-treasure-hunt activity during JC…

It was very hot at noon time but by the time I’d reached the gardens (around 4pm), there’s an overcast and a slight drizzle. I was half thinking about turning back but when I thought about having travelled all the way here from the East, I’m not going to give up like that. Just cross my fingers that there won’t be a downpour, at least not for the next 2 hours please…

Thankfully, the drizzle had stopped after a few mins, though it came back again but stopped shortly thereafter. What erratic weather this is!

It’s a good thing I had brought along selfie stick. Had used to find them amusing but it is really handy. Like in this case when I am by myself and I can easily take my own pictures as and when I want.

From the start point (Bukit Timah Gate, which is next to the “Botanic Gardens” MRT Station), I strolled through the bougainvilleas & bamboo collection and herbs & spices section towards the “Symphony Lake”.

Since it’s on a weekday, it was relatively quiet at some parts of the garden. There were pockets of tourists but for a number of areas, it’s just me and a few other individuals. Bet it’s more crowded over the weekends so this is really an ideal time to visit the garden for some quiet time.

Ah.. the old Tembusu tree. Think this tree is more than 200 years old! I’d missed seeing the tree that had appeared on our $5 note. That calls for another visit? :p

It’s tempting to just roll out a picnic mat and lie on the vast field next to the symphony stage. That reminded me. Had brought Zac here for a walk. Poor boy had a diarrhoea. Aiyo…

Those lotus leaves remind me of empty tart shells… Oh man, I am also thinking of lotus leaf glutinous rice (河叶饭). Stop it!

As I was walking along the symphony lake, I saw a little girl pointing excitedly towards the centre of the lake and kept asking her dad, “Is that a monitor lizard??”

Oh my, yes it is. Something long and dark gliding across the lake. That distinctive lizard head. *shudder* Since it was swimming at quite a distance and I believe this fella ain’t gonna suddenly change course and charge towards me at turbo speed, I felt “safe” standing where I am, just observing him make his way towards the shrubs behind the stage. A loud “plop” as it climbed (or leaped, I dunno) onto the kerb, before entering through the shrubs, had made me jump a little. Silly me. Hope no one saw that. Hehe…

Now to check out some orchids at the “National Orchid Garden”. It’s free entrance for Singaporeans and PRs. In here, there are so many types of orchid species and hybrids, and of different designs and colours.

I didn’t realise until I read the papers today that the British PM, David Cameron, was here on the same day as well. Think he was here much earlier and left. No wonder there were these security officers lingering around.

There are also some orchids named after famous people, like Margaret Thatcher (ex British PM), Prince William and Catherine (“William Catherine”), one in memoria of the late Princess Diana.

My favourite part is the “Cool House” cos it’s air-conditioned!! So nice and cooling from the hot weather.

YES!! I had finally found the area where there are these garden swings. Seems like more than 10 of them situated within the same area.

This was my last stop. Time check, another 30mins to go before I need to leave for my next appointment. After walking non-stop for 2 hours, I can feel a slight ache in my feet. Plopped myself in one of these swings and just…. zone-out… Unfortunately, these swings had emitted loud grating squeaks each time it swings. Some oiling needs to be done.

There are some parts of the garden which I have not explored. There are some areas which I would really like to just sit at a bench or on the grass, just to soak in the serenity of the surroundings. That warrants another visit soon!


“Saliva Chicken” (口水鸡)

Sounds quite gross but it’s not meant in the literal sense where the chicken is made from saliva. LOL!! Anyway, this is probably the only Sichuan dish that I like. Most of the other dishes are too tongue-numbing spicy for me.

Was thinking of cooking a chicken dish for dinner that is different from the usual grilled wings. Steamed chicken seems too… plain. Was deliberating over drunken chicken and then I remembered enjoying the 口水鸡 from Crystal Jade some weeks ago so why not try to replicate something similar at home.

Had followed this recipe. The only ingredients I’d left out were red chilli oil and sliced chilli padi. Don’t think I can stomach too much spice. Instead of sesame paste, I had used peanut butter. Found another recipe that states peanut butter is another alternative and I have a jar at home.

Verdict: I think it is decent. While I find it quite spicy, chilli lovers or true-blue fans of this Sichuan dish would prefer a more spicy version, probably one loaded with a generous heap of sliced chillies and a drizzle of chilli oil.

“Last” Day…

Last Friday, I went to work as usual except this time, I had to return my staff pass and work computer back before I go off for my no-pay leave. One of my colleague passed me a farewell card. It was supposed to be given together with my farewell gift but seems there were some messages to be collected. This is nice…

Of all the nice messages, one sentence impressed me the most- “Life starts outside your comfort zone.” Of course, some people may disagree if they are already very contented in their comfort zone.

I think I have been in my comfort zone for a while. Although I am not bored or unhappy but I would really like to do something different. Taking time off to study is a bold step for me. What lies beyond the study is another thing. But in the course of the study, I believe I will go through different experiences and challenges, and learn new things. Perhaps even discover new things about oneself.

Anyways, I’d meant to leave office right after returning all those items, but had ended up chatting with a few people. Before I officially call it a day, there’s an annual industry reception event, organised by our division, in the evening which I had to be at the venue (Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall) by early afternoon to help in the preparation.

The revamped Victoria Theatre is lovely. The last time I was here was for a school performance, which I am also involved as part of the choir, back in 1985!!

Had recalled numerous exhausting rehearsals, even on weekends, and the trips to Victoria Theatre when nearer the date of the event for the full-dress rehearsals. I never like singing but at least I have no complains about the costume cos the setting is supposed to be in old China so our outfits are literally like PJs.

In between breaks, I had checked out the ground floor. Had seen at least 5 couples here for their wedding shots. The reception dinner would be held in this very white room. Dunno the name of the room but it was listed as the “white zone” in our programme brief.

The wall and the columns are pristine white and the floor is made of marble. This is such an ideal place to be in solitude, to meditate or even practise yoga. In a few more hours, the serenity of the room would be marred by the setting up of the tables and food trays for dinner.

The day was long but the night was young. After the event, a bunch of us proceeded to a nearby bar for some drinks. While half of them were celebrating the end of the industry reception which had sucked up much of their time, I was feeling a little sentimental for a different reason. No lah, I was weepy. Haha. I was just basking in the crazy moment and also reflecting back on my time in the organisation. Some colleagues were drinking a little too much but no one was totally bonkers, which is good.

By 2am, I am home. I am officially on leave!

Technically, not a farewell but…

… it’s still nice to get a lunch treat and a gift just before one goes off for a year for further studies… Although, I should be returning back to the same organisation after a year but several things may change: Some of my colleagues in the current division may have left the organisation or are transferred to a different division, or I may have some plans on my own. I really dunno yet and don’t want to think too much at this juncture. So if any of the above take place, then I guess it’s somewhat a farewell to the folks who would eventually move on.

Today, the division gave one of colleagues (who’s also going for no-pay leave shortly after me) and me a farewell lunch. In addition, the division had also gave me a gift which comprises of baking items- mini muffin tray, piping container with nozzles of different patterns (I love this!), a dough cutter (great for slicing up the dough for mantous) and an apron. What a great bag of treats!

I think this is a thoughtful gift cos most of them would know that I enjoy baking and you can’t go wrong by getting me anything that’s gotta do with baking.

As I will be taking a month’s break before the course starts, someone asked me what am I gonna do during this break. Well, I’ll go overseas for a couple of days so that’s settled. There might be another short trip after that but it depends on whether my friend is available. She’s yet to let me know. Orientation would be the last 2 days of next month.

In between the above-mentioned activities, I guess I will try to:

  • Spring clean and throw out all the unnecessary junk which I had hoard through the years.
  • Exercise a little more by walking lots and cycling a longer distance. (Hopefully, I don’t get roasted much during the day)
  • Visit some historical sites, parks or other interesting places
  • Spend some time in the library
  • Chill at one of those garden swings in town (Maybe the ones near Telok Ayer) with a book or music
  • Catch up with old friends whom I have not been in touch for a while (No more excuse to say that “I am busy”)
  • Have some quiet moments throughout the day and clear my mind of any negative thoughts. Call it a mind detoxification.

It sounds really tempting to sleep into the afternoon and just laze at home. But a month would pass really fast and I may not get such a break until the 2 term breaks in between the course, so I’d better not to waste it by simply zzz-ing the whole day and hopefully, be able to do most of the above.

Having said that, I am really looking forward to my break!

“Onion Oil” Mantous (馒头)

Ever since, we bought a bread maker, I would usually leave the good equipment to bake our bread. Though the bread maker is truly convenient, there are times which I do miss the fun in hand-kneading the dough.

There’s one thing which the bread maker can’t bake: Plain Chinese buns, aka mantous (馒头). Some years ago, I had attempted to make these buns but they ended up quite hard and dry. I didn’t try again until today and I’d decided to add a slight twist (not just physically) to these buns.

I had followed the basic mantou recipe from this video with a slight modification by replacing the water with milk.

To create this “flower” pattern, I had rolled out a piece of dough into a long strip about 20cm long and 6 to 8 cm wide. There’s no hard rule in the length and width so it’s up to you. Once the dough is rolled out in this manner, using a knife and leaving about 2 cm space at the top, make slices from the 2 cm mark downwards till the end. It’s ok if the ends of the dough strip are sliced though.

The initial plan was to make spring onion mantous (葱油馒头) but the hubby was too lazy to go to the supermarket and get some spring onions. He had posted in Facebook that “we are too lazy”. Ha, how can I be lazy when I am slogging in the kitchen kneading and rolling the dough out, and sweating mad. LOL!

It’s ok if there are no spring onions. These 油馒头 without the 葱 can still be fragrant.

Before twisting the dough, mix 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 sugar, 1 tbsp scallion oil and 1 tbsp sesame seeds are together to form an “onion oil” glaze. Next time, I shall add in some spring onions. For now, this mixture will do…

Brush the glaze onto the dough before twisting it into a knot. Again, no particular method to twist the dough. Just twist!

Referring back to the basic mantou recipe, just before steaming, leave the “twisted” mantous in the steamer, with a damp cloth over the surface, to rest for around 20mins.

Finally, steam for around 12mins. Let the mantous cool down a little before munching into them!

I am pleasantly surprised that the mantous are quite soft. They are not perfect but quite edible. At least, nobody’s gonna chip a tooth on these. Hee…

Counting down…

Even though it is only a year of no-pay leave, it feels as if I am currently serving notice at work. Another 1 week to go before my “last” day. I had also cleaned out my work station, save for some essential stuff.

Back home, I’d bought an extra table at a decent discount. A simple light oak-coloured table without any built-in drawers or other frills. And also one of those office chairs that provide lumbar support. The state of my old chair is sad, with the PVC surface flaking mad and much of the seat cushion had sunk in, no thanks to my butt.

Now I have 2 work tables at home. A little excessive for one person, no? Actually, I am not sure how much papers and books that would be piling onto my desk but I do know I can’t work if my desk is always cluttered. Anyway, there’s ample space in our study room to accommodate 1 extra table.

With almost a month towards the start of the course, I can’t help but feel a big bag of mixed emotions.

First and foremost, I am definitely excited and looking forward to the study. Afterall, this is something that I had thought about pursuing for ages and now that it is happening, I should be happy.

But life will always be filled with “What ifs” right? Most of these are always negative. Let’s indulge in my negativity for while. I mean, let me just get this off my chest for a moment. If I will list out all the “What ifs”, it will look like this:

What if I:

  • Can’t cope with the studies (since I haven’t studied for a while) despite doing this full-time
  • Fail one or some modules (oh, the horrors!)
  • Can’t get along with my course mates (well, it’s gonna be quite a diverse mix of locals and foreigners of different ages)
  • Worry too much about money (I had set aside a savings plan but it’s the thought of no income that bothers me)
  • Still don’t know what I wanna do after my studies
  • Can’t find an available position that I like in the organisation after I am back and continue with a few more months or God knows when of no-pay leave

There, I had said most of them out loud. See, all of them are damn negative, even for the things that might not even happen. Uncertainty can really drive one to over-worry and increase doubt. Sometimes, I allow my mind to fall into that trap.

The evil of having too much time in between receiving the admission letter and the start of the course. In total, 8 months!! It’s like how the saying goes, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

Now… To banish these negative thoughts, I should think more positively as follows:

  • This is a good opportunity to further develop myself and worth losing a year of opportunity costs in return for a rejuvenated mind.
  • Who knows what other opportunities that might come along the way. What I don’t see now, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or happen..
  • Instead of thinking about the cultural or age-gap differences etc with my course mates, I may gain new friends, broaden my social circle and develop new networks.
  • Dunno what I am gonna do when I come back? How about I think about that later rather than worry now? Some things may change a year from now, be it the organisation or even me.
  • As for failing any modules or cannot cope with my studies etc, I should have some confidence that I can’t be that bad… right? That said, I should control much of my TV and leisure time. That calls for some self-discipline!

Whatever it is, the course has not started yet and I wouldn’t know how things would turn out. It could be a mix of whatever I had mentioned above. So at this juncture, why worry too much right? Guess I will stop now before I get all gibberish. LOL!

Le Halo: Old-school retro chic eatery

I was just doing some random online searches for interesting cafes and eateries, and “Le Halo” caught my attention. Will elaborate more later. Located at Blk 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee #01-162, “Le Halo” occupies a rather small neat space amongst other old retail shops except for a pretty modern looking cafe just next door. This eatery is also quite near the Tiong Bahru market which, including its vicinity, is our latest favourite food area. All thanks to the local Chinese TV show “118”.

Cool! There’s a garden swing outside the eatery with a bike and a kid-sized table and stools outside. Dunno what’s with me and these swings lately. Had seen a couple of them at Raffles Place and near Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, and I’ll get so excited. During my little break before school starts, I might get on one of these swings (either the one near Dhoby Ghaut MRT station or near Telok Ayer, which I had spotted some there) and just chill with a book or people watch. Hopefully, there will be a day, or at least just for some 2 hours or so, where the weather isn’t that hot.

This is what we see when we stepped into “Le Halo”. Seeing those traditional flasks and mugs with bright flowers on them, bright red clogs and other knick knacks is like a step back in time. For someone who thrives in such nostalgia, seeing anything, and I really mean, anything, that belongs to the 70s to 90s era would get me in an extremely exhilarated mode.

The hubby had perfected the “perturbed” look while he is fake-dialling this antiquated telephone. I assume it would be a disturbing phone call. Wahahaha!

There is a self-service cutlery section which there are also complimentary haw flakes and “white rabbit” sweets for your consumption. As a kid, I used to love these treats but over time, my taste had evolved to other sweet stuff. It’s been a while since I’d last ate these.

These cute toasters are not just for decor purpose. There’s an item (Le Halo toast set) on the menu which you can choose your preferred toaster to toast your bread slice. If you choose the Hello Kitty one, there would be a Hello Kitty print on your toast. How cute.

Gary went for the “Piggy Stew” ($10.50 for the small version). It’s indeed a hearty stew of pork loin served with well-toasted bread chunks with crispy edges. Delicious!

Having a weak spot for runny yolks, I’d naturally ordered the “Eggy Benny” ($13.50). 2 poached eggs served on toasted bread and served with ham and crispy bacon with a small side of salad. The green mush beneath is actually pea puree. Erm, not really my cup of tea. On the other hand, the poached eggs are very well done and it’s almost orgasmic trying to scoop as much of the thick yellow yolk as it burst out of its egg white membrane, and slurping it up. Oooohhh!!

Gary ate majority of the “Rainbow Lapis” ($1.80 per slice). Essentially, it’s kueh lapis in multi-colours. The lady boss (I assumed she is) had explained that these colours are mainly from natural sources of fruits and flowers. Well, I can’t taste any flowery or fruity taste so I supposed it’s just the colours that were extracted, and not the flavour. It tastes just like kueh lapis.

I really like this eatery and might drop by again to try their other items. Pretty intrigued by the “Otak Egg” and “Meatball Pasta”. Guess I am just very taken by the retro-chic interior decor. Thankfully, the food is quite alright at pretty reasonable prices too. :)