Monday, February 15, 2016

2016 CNY Gathering At Our Place

Valentine's Day this year was celebrated with a Chinese New Year lunch gathering at our place. Well, it's always nice to have a few friends over during the festive season to promote/generate some positive energy in your home.

One of the main concerns I had was keeping 7 children entertained as we don't have an abundant stock of children's toys. I devised a few games to be played, which I know came to a surprise to some people! 

This year's Yu Sheng ot Yee Sang, the 'Chinese salad' to be tossed during Chinese New Year.

This year's 14th of February was also the 7th day of the lunar calendar, and better known as 'Human's Day'. It is commonly referred to as 'everyone's birthday' and rightfully, the day for the Prosperity Toss (of the Chinese salad).

This year's version excluded coloured strips of yam and decorated with segments of mandarin oranges. (Thanks Valerie and Wen Hui for your assistance!)

The kids ended up having lots of fun running around our yard, playing with cut grass and pulling weeds. Had we known weeding would keep them happily occupied, we would have set them loose in the yard sooner!

We decided that since they didn't mind being outside (although I felt it was a tad bit warm), we played Pass The Parcel.

Now my childhood version of Pass The Parcel requires the person who gets the parcel to complete the task s/he uncovers on the paper. But the Australian version involves a prize uncovered at every level!

So you can imagine how gutted they were that they were playing my version. Hehehe.

Examples of some of the tasks at hand, illustrations provided by the hubs because I can't draw for nuts.

At the end of it was a bag of chocolates to share among themselves, which the kids did so without complaints.

One of the tasks of Pass The Parcel involved everyone receiving a cookie, which was the heart shaped cookies I baked and iced 2 days earlier.

The next game was a treasure hunt involving the small owls I had made as a 'door gift' for the kids. However, I had made a mistake with the variety of colours - where 6 girls are involved, it's best to have more pink options available.

Earlier on I had subtly asked what were their favourite colours and only 3 chose the colours I had made for them. One girl burst into tears because she wanted a pink one, so another girl was made to give hers up in order to appease her tears. (I was earlier informed that her favourite colour was red!)

ANYWAY, I've just completed a replacement pink owl for the nice girl. She was a champ for not succumbing to tantrums whatsoever so I might just make her an extra something.

The first game the kids played was Pin Olaf's nose. It was a nice ice-breaker game which got all the kids intrigued at having a go. I'm mentioning this here just so I can keep this picture of the drawing as a memento!

Just for the record, this year's cookie stash is a bit of a disappointment for me. I tried 4 new recipes and only 1 turned out excellent (in terms of taste). I also made my 2 usual ones, peanut cookies and butter cookies which lacked something ... focus? love? Hahaha I have no idea!

Hope everyone else is enjoying the Chinese New Year festivities. We have one more gathering to attend this Sunday which will mark the end of binge eating sessions! :)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Beef Korma Recipe - A Keeper!

Hello and happy new year! I hope everyone is fine and dandy!

I have been wanting to dust the cobwebs off my blog for months but I just couldn't find my blogging mojo. Not sure why, as I have tons of thoughts running through my head on a daily basis that I would love to share with everyone ... and then I stop myself. I mean, surely there's just so much pictures of food and cooking experiments I can share??

I am excited to share with you a recipe I found on All Recipes which I tried today!

I think it's good enough for me to save it here as a bookmark. It's a creamy and non-spicy version which can be easily adjusted if you'd like a hint of heat. 

For the spice paste

Ingredients A:
1/2 TBSP of coriander seeds
1/2 TBSP of cumin seeds (I used powder)
1/2 tsp of cardamom seeds (Open up the pods - I think I used about 8 - 9 pods)
1/2 tsp of paprika (I used sweet paprika as it was either this or smoked paprika)
3 whole cloves

Ingredients B:
2 TBSP of water
1/8 cup of almond meal
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 TBSP of ginger, crushed
1/4 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Main ingredients
1 medium onion, sliced or diced
600gm of beef
2 TBSP cooking oil
1/4 cup of water
150ml of cream
1 TBSP of plain flour
1/4 tsp of garam masala
1 TBSP of chopped fresh coriander (or as much as you like)

It took me quite a while to pound Ingredients A to a powder as I
have a proper mortar. :P

1. Grind Ingredients A into a powder. 
2. Blend Ingredients B and combine with Ingredients A.
3. Heat oil in pan to brown the meat. Remove and set meat aside. 
4. Lightly brown onions in pan for 2-3 minutes, and add spice paste. Stir and cook for 4 minutes.
5. Add meat and water to the pan. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until meat is cooked through and tender.
6. Stir in cream, flour and garam masala together with meat until it bubbles and thickens. Add coriander and simmer for 2 minutes.
7. Add salt to taste.

*The original recipe calls for yoghurt as well as cream but I omitted it as I didn't have yoghurt in my fridge.

I didn't have 600gm of meat, so I added 4 pieces of chicken drumstick to whatever amount of beef I had. I think if you don't want to wait too long for your meat to cook, just use chicken!

I found the gravy too creamy, so I stirred in another 1/4 cup of hot water to the dish. One bad thing about creamy dishes is that it makes you want to eat it with LOTS of rice! :)

Hmmm ... there wasn't enough gravy!

Tips for future use:
1. Add 1 - 2 tsp of chilli powder to Ingredients A or B for a little bit of heat. This time, I added them at Step 6.
2. Add 2 chopped tomatoes 15 minutes before Step 6. It will cut through the creaminess.
3. Add another 1/2 cup of water (making it a total of 1 cup) as there wasn't much gravy to go around.
4. Probably will taste better the following day when the spices permeates into the meat. :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Obsessed with Sambal


I have recently been quite into perfecting my sambal ("spicy paste") to have it readily available as a condiment for our meals. 

I had a phase (and still do) of craving for spicy Malaysian food such as the nasi lemak and curry laksa, both of which I have not cooked from scratch before.

OK, I think I attempted the nasi lemak sometime in 2014.

Creamy chicken curry, fruit rojak and steamed rice with condiments
of fresh cucumber, sambal toasted anchovies and peanuts

This time I have managed to get the toasted ikan bilis ("anchovies") and peanuts done nicely. It was a far cry from my first ever attempt in 2014!

And the chicken curry that you see in the picture above was a different one from my usual simple recipe. I quite like it as a wider variety of spices were used which made it more aromatic.

Hard boiled eggs with shrimp cooked in sambal, stir fried choy sum and pickled cucumber and mango with steamed rice.

A few days later, I decided to try another sambal recipe (which looked pretty similar to the first recipe I tried for the earlier meal) and ... it still tasted the same but a tad bit more fragrant as the shrimp paste (belacan) was toasted before it was blended with the garlic and shallots.

I think I'm getting the hang of it!

But it sure is hard work.

As a treat, I decided to bring lunch for my colleagues a few days ago. Yeah, it was my imaginary tuck shop. :)

Steamed rice with chicken curry and condiments!
Made onion sambal to tone down the spiciness.

My colleagues enjoyed it, and so did I. Haha! I don't mean to blow my own trumpet but I was testing out a different way of cooking the chicken curry. I tweaked the recipe and used a few different ingredients.

I must say that the curry tasted way much better 2 days after it was first cook.

Just for the record, both the nasi lemak and chicken curry are traditionally cooked with coconut milk added to it. For all my cooking done above, regular full cream milk was used for the chicken curry and plain steamed white rice was served. None of that rich and fragrant steamed rice with coconut milk ... a shame as my meals would be have been so much more delicious.

Nevertheless, it's a sacrifice for a healthier meal. :D

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Keeping The Family Entertained is Hard Work

My family came over last month two months ago (September 2015) for a short visit. A week is definitely a short visit, especially when there's so much on the itinerary to cover.

Day 1 - We visited the Werribee Open Range Zoo. I remember enjoying my visit back in 2006 and prayed that it would not be any different this time, if not better.

The best bits:
1. going on the ride that brought us around part of the Park. It kills 20 minutes and you get to rest your feet. You'll also be amazed with how much land they have for the animal to roam free!

2. Seeing the gorillas up close. They have 3 gorillas and they looked magnificent. If you were as tall as a 4-year-old, you'd be almost face-to-face with them.

Niece refused to pose with me.
[Bin's pic.]

The not so good bits:
1. Weekends are always packed and it's not easy to find a picnic table and seats for a group of 7 for lunch.

2. It was a warm day and everyone was tired from walking.

Photo credit: Bin

3. Did not cover the entire place because my parents were too tired from walking. My niece was getting bored, she just wanted to go home to do some painting with me.

Day 2 - It was a long drive along the Great Ocean Road and got as far as Wye River to spot the wild koalas. But seeing that the koalas were high up in the trees and were doing nothing, it was the birds which attracted my niece's attention.

She was more interested in the birds. A kind lady offered her some bird seeds to feed the birds but my niece ended up throwing the seeds onto the ground as she was scared of the birds.

Wild koalas in the trees outside of BIG4 Wye River Caravan Park.

Day 3 was spent shopping in DFO South Wharf, before picking Bin up to head out to Lygon St for dinner. I don't seem to recall the name of the restaurant ... it goes to show how much of an impression the food gave me. :P

After dinner, we headed to Il Dolce Freddo for gelato, which I tell you, is probably the best on Lygon St. They have durian and ferrero rocher flavours! Bin and I tried Casa Del Gelato, supposedly the oldest gelato store in Melbourne before and it was disappointing. 

Day 4 was spent walking around in the city before heading off to Squire's Loft, Albert Park for ribs. Yeah, I confess that Bin and I were quite tired of eating out but our guests were insistent that it was their holiday and might as well eat out and enjoy themselves. The beef ribs were pretty good as we found the pork ribs a bit dry.

Tea at Laurent, 3 hours before dinner.

I didn't even have a chance to bake Bin a birthday cake that day. :P

Day 5 was a long drive to Yarra Valley for lunch in a vineyard. We stopped by the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery before lunch. The niece was happy with the free chocolate tasting.

Playing Lady and the Tramp with a breadstick.

We had to rush off to De Bertoli for our lunch reservation. I think Bin and I had the rabbit and lamb dishes, while everyone else had pasta. My niece had a shock of her life when I told her that her aunt and uncle chase little rabbits and lambs for their meal. She moved away from us to sit with my sisters for about 15 minutes. :P

Yummy rabbit tasted like chicken ... oh gawd, I can't look at it right now!

We made a quick pit stop at Healesville Sanctuary for my dad, sisters and niece to pet the kangaroos. We only had 2 hours to cover the place before it was closed for the day! Saw the dingos, wombats and Tasmanian devils, and platypus!

Photo credit: Bin

Right after that, we drove all the way to Chadstone shopping centre because they wanted to do some late night shopping, seeing that it was a Thursday night after all. Bin and I were exhausted, so were my parents, I could tell, but we had to soldier on.

It was a long drive home and we were all knackered.

Some of our chocolate stash from the Chocolaterie.

Day 6 was their last day in Melbourne and it was time for some last minute shopping. We met up with my uncle (mum's elder brother) for dinner that night at Lazat, Sunshine.

After they left the next day, the house felt pretty empty. It's always sad to see your family go after such a brief holiday, but everyone has their work commitments and probably missed sleeping in their own beds!

I had to adjust not having a little shadow following me around anymore and insisting I sat with her during meal times so we could chat and eat together. OK, it probably involved me feeding her as she takes forever to finish her meal. 

My temporary 'mini me'.

Keeping a toddler entertained is HARD work!

For the past few times we have been on Skype, she tells me that she is coming to visit me again really soon, and asked if I could go home for a visit really soon as well. :)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Oh My, Camping For The First Time!

I've never ever been camping before in my entire life. Most of the people whom I tell it to seem rather surprised. The hubs wasn't impressed with that revelation and called me a 'city girl', which I always strongly disagree. :P

I've explained to him that my first camping experience should be a kind and gentle introduction, and our backyard would be a great place to start with!

And, should we ever want to venture into the outdoors, it would be a better idea for the campsite to have proper loos. As much as I'm used to peeing in the bushes (during hikes), I don't think I'd be able to poop in the wild. :D

About three weeks ago, I nonchalantly suggested to him that perhaps we could go camping over the weekend. Just for a night.

Wonderland, Grampians.

The hubs thought he was dreaming and looked at me with disbelief.

"Are you serious?"
"Er, well, make sure the campsite has facilities!" I replied, almost changing my mind.

We made last minute arrangements to camp in the Grampians National Park over the AFL finals weekend (read: Australian Football League and Friday, 3rd October 2015 was a public holiday in Victoria).

Just for a night!

I think I was quite nice to suggest camping in the first place. Wifey brownie points for me! Two nights might have been a bit too much for a gentle introduction to camping!

Walking Silent Street.

We drove for 3 hours before arriving at the Grampians. First stop was The Pinnacle, where we took almost 3 hours for a return hike. The place was busy with plenty of visitors going up and down, and everyone was looking for the best spot for photos of the view.

We decided to wash our hair with the available supply of rainwater beside the toilets (at the car park) before heading to our campsite. I forgot to read the description of the campsite and wasn't quite sure whether there was water supply. Heh.

Anyway, good thing we did, because the campsite was packed! Almost every camp area was taken up.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Surf Coast Hell Run 2015 - Relay Team Challenge

When: Saturday, 5th September 2015.
Where: Lorne, Victoria
Time: 7.00am
Distance: 21.1km (half marathon)

So, Bin and I kinda retired right now. That's right. 

Then Jon invited Bin and I to be part of his 21km relay team less than 3 weeks ago. 

Best team name ever!!!!!
We spent Friday night at Lorne Foreshore Caravan Park and spent the of race day at Sheoak picnic area.

Due to too many events taking place in August and September, the crowd at the inaugural Surf Coast Hell Run was a small one. It felt so much more cosier this way, which I rather enjoyed, although I'm sure any race director/organiser would prefer it the other way round.

The 21km runners were flagged off at 9am.

There were 4 categories: 7km, 21km, 42km and 63km. Except for the 7km, the rest of the runners had to run a 21km loop which consisted of a U-turn point at the 11km mark. The 63km runners needed to do 3 loops and the 42km runners would do 2.

The route was described as, 'up, up, up, and then down all the way.' Despite the undulations and 'gentle' slopes, the route was mainly made up of 4WD tracks with no trail technicality involved.

"WHERE'S MY TEAMMATE??" Jon panicked.
"Hello????" I furiously waved my arms in the air to catch his attention.

SCTR Laksa Lovers was the 1st team to sign up, with SCTR Catch Me If You Can signing up at the last moment. There was friendly ribbing between the 2 team captains Gavin and Jon a few days leading up to race day.

Clueless me went into the race thinking our team was just in it for a relaxing weekend run. Haha!

Gavin and Jon were the 1st runners for the teams, with Gavin coming in at 2:11:xx and Jon at 2:18:xx, giving the other team an 8-9 minute head start. I was pretty impressed with these 2 chaps!

"I'll just keep ... running ... until ... that tree ... over there ..." I huffed.

The weather was nice and cool that day, with occasional showers. 

The first 4km of the run was filled with teasing undulation, which made me think, "OK, this isn't too bad!" until 4km. The next 4km involved trudging up (with the help of 2 sticks) and a few seconds of flat after every 1.5km.

It probably doesn't make any sense to you, so don't bother doing the maths!

"Let there be a view!"
 7km in, the slopes were a bit kinder to the legs... kinda.

No view.
I was looking forward to the aid station!

The one and only aid station at the 8km/14km mark.
John Yoon and George Mihalakellis were there to greet me, with George telling me hurry up as Ken was 14 minutes ahead!

I was like, "Whatever..." :P

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hello September, Goodbye August!

Time flies, and it's zooming by really quickly.
Where are the brakes?
I don't want the year to end so soon!!

It's been 2 years since I've moved to Melbourne and there's so much I've yet to experience or see. We probably need to speed things up a little but it's hard when a) they can cost a bomb and b) we just want to stay at home and do some gardening, or go trailrunning, or catch up with friends.

Winter has been tough, in a sense that we don't feel so inclined to go out there and run. We found ourselves doing a bit of workout in the comfort of the gym and I have to say that multi-tasking (watching TV while running on the treadmill) makes me a happier person - I wanted to watch Masterchef Australia!

Now that Spring is coming, we can't wait. More daylight means being able to tend to the garden when we return home from work! We'd feel more energised, too when we arrive home after work. Winter's dark evenings kinda sucked the life out of us that made lazing in front of the TV more tempting than going out for a run.

Last weekend saw us taking an hour drive from our place to Olinda, Dandenong for a 20k trail run. Jon wanted to recce the route for the Dandy Hipster Run (taking place on 26th Sept) and seeing that we needed some training for our race this weekend, we succeeded in dragging our fat wobbly arses out of bed at 5ish am. 

Disappearing into the wilderness.

Photo credit: Jon.

We felt so alive! Wooooo....

We walked up this stretch and joked about setting up a few mobile coffee stands along the way.

I thought it was the end of our run but turns out that we had another 2k to go after this this.

It was great running in the Dandy's again. We love love love being surrounded by the lush green and tall trees and the muddy trails. I rolled my left ankle when I tripped over nothing and it took 10 minutes of rest before I could continue on. With 5k to go, it seemed like a huge feat but somehow, I could walk OK, especially on the inclines. Once my ankle felt much better, I managed to jog the last 3k as the route was flat. I was pretty pleased; thank goodness no major injuries. *mixed feelings*

Yet somehow I managed to twist my RIGHT ankle a few hours later. In my tired state of mind, my foot slipped off the pavement while we were walking towards Freedom. Arghhhhhhhhhhh!

Now that hurt 10x more than the earlier incident!
I sat around on the sofas in Freedom while waiting impatiently for Bin to make his purchase and go.

I hobbled around most of the day and it was only at night (after our dinner guests had left - we invited them over at the last minute so we could continue catching up) I managed to ice and heat both ankles.

Anyway, to cut the long story short about my being a heroic idiot with 2 injured ankles, I haven't been able to walk properly not because of them, but because of my very sore quads! My ankles are good, albeit just a little swollen. :)