Thursday, 20 March 2014

Home-Cooked: The All Time Fav - Banana Bread

One of my favorite things to bake would be BREAD. :) Granted, it often requires the longest waiting time because it usually involves proofing for an hour or two till it's doubled in size and so on... but the feeling of punching and kneading dough with your bare hands...very cathartic. That said, there are other bread recipes that don't require that sort of time/effort but can still give really yummy stuff such as BANANA BREAD. I like to throw in blueberries into the mix because they taste so good together! One time I was a little more ambitious and added strawberries into the mix but then I realized that unless you are gonna eat all of the bread up on the same day or the next day latest, it gives a really moist (that turns soggy quickly) bread because of all the moisture from the strawberries. Blueberries + walnuts are a safe and delicious bet.

I usually try to get recipes that are on the healthier side with less sugar (once I see more than 1 cup of sugar involved which can't be cut down to a smaller portion I skip on to the next one) and more substitutes like applesauce. You can try THIS RECIPE over here for starters.

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X)) Don't you just love the taste and colour of blueberries? They're probably my favorite berries to use in baking. Raspberries tend to be a little too tart and need the sweetness of say...lemon curd to go along with them. And for strawberries... well when they're sweet and juicy I just love to eat them as they are instead of baking them. It's a dream of mine to go berry picking one day! I would just have a field day picking, eating, snapping photos, maybe baking them into a pie after...So many dreams. <3  

Plus this recipe is a good one to start with because from here you can add in your own variations - Banana Oats Bread... Banana + Oats + Walnuts Bread... Banana + Chocolate + Walnuts Bread... MMM. 

Here are some of the Banana Breads I've tried (over the course of the past few months of course ;p):

1. Banana Walnut Oats Bread 

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2. Banana Chocolate Bread 

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It's highly possible that I might have eaten these last Banana + Chocolate ones too quickly or packed 'em up to give to someone hence there are no other photos ;p. But isn't the combination of banana and chocolate just irresistible? 

All ready to bake some banana bread now? Let me know if you've got some combinations for Banana bread (or any kind of bread for that matter) that you like and would recommend!  

More next time! 


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

matcha love: Matcha-Lemon marble swirl pound cake

Oh Matcha. Matcha matcha matcha. Show me a person who doesn't love matcha and I'd like to bring him or her to a place to enjoy matcha in all its wondrous forms. Ochacha (my favorite matcha cafe) would be a good place to start. Seriously, there are times when I entertain thoughts of perhaps opening a matcha themed cafe next time. Of course, I'd probably try to throw in a few healthy dishes that can be eaten for lunch/dinner but there would also be some really funky matcha latte art involved. Now to first figure out how to make a proper matcha drink. 

That said, I could love Matcha for the calming effects it has on me or for the fact that it's got a gazillion health benefits - it purportedly improves memory and concentration, boosts your immune system, increases energy levels, ups your metabolism rate (and hopefully burns off those calories at the same time), and improves your cholesterol profile. More than enough reasons to start drinking it on a regular basis if you ask me. One thing I love doing is incorporating Matcha into baked goods because it just makes it seem a tad healthier. ;p So far I've tried Matcha Shortbread Cookies , Matcha financiers (post about those to come soon!) and most recently, Matcha and Lemon pound cake. Pound cakes are probably the easiest to bake for me. Cookies, I have some trouble with because I find it tough to get them crispy AND thin at the same time. But with pound cakes, all it needs is a good batter, into the oven it goes and within 20-30 minutes, a thing of beauty/major yum emerges.

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(Matcha and lemon marble pound cake, with hot green tea on the side, of course ;D) 

I remember baking these on a late Sunday afternoon and by the time these came out, it was that golden hour between 5 - 6 pm, with the Sunday dampening down its golden rays and the neighbourhood quietening down as people start getting settling down/ready for dinner. It's probably one of my favorite times of the week. Give this a go with THIS recipe from Joy the Baker, whose recipes, I might add, have always worked out really well. :) I probably cut down the sugar content to half or two-thirds and it still tasted really good. I might add more matcha the next time I make this just to give it a stronger flavour. And thank god for youtube because I'd never marbled a cake before but I learnt how to with this video. Tell me how it works out if you try this too! xoxo

Saturday, 15 March 2014

this place called home

One of the books I'm currently reading now is "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast". Yeah, I'm that kind of person. I kinda have a weakness for self-help/improvement books because I do think that the mind can influence everything in life. Basically it's about how people utilise and make the most of their time. With weekends for example, while most people would want to just laze around on the couch and while away their time catching up on movies with a 10 hour marathon, there are people who make it a point to plan out their weekends so that they don't waste them away. (According to the book, because I sure don't harbour quotes like these in my mind at any one time) Anatole France once wrote, "Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another". I suppose that has a ring of truth to it. But mainly if the alternate form of labour is something one is passionate and enthusiastic about. Then through indulging in it (even if it might be challenging or tough in itself), one would find a sort of pleasure from having achieved something, if not external, then internal peace of mind at being able to do something for oneself.
For me, it's a constant struggle. Work gets so tiring that most of the time all I want to do is lie in bed during my free time/sleep in on the glorious mornings when I don't have to work. Almost always, I'm still trying to figure out how to make full use of time - to cherish it, relish it and yet not get stressed out by its finiteness. It's a different form of stress, because once you have it, the thought that it could slip away adds to the burden of not wanting to while it away thoughtlessly. Ever felt that way? 

But I digress. One of the things recommended by the author was to create a list of 100 Dreams - things to work into weekends so that each one becomes meaningful and not wasted away by the time spent deciding what to do. One of the things on my list would have to be Photography + Exploration. Ok that makes two. But they would have to be hand in hand. In the past few weeks whenever I go out with Donald, we try to explore areas that we haven't been to before in SG. I tend to bring my darling Minolta along while he snaps away with his iPhone5. It's great that he's into photography a lot more now because recently he's discovered the wonders of Vscocam and has been making full use of it in Instagram. ;p (Do check out his Instagram feed and follow along because he's got some great stuff there. *coughshamelesspluggingcough*) It always feels like there are so many places to explore, so many bits of SG to (re-)discover. And even if it's walking by the usual places like Orchard, sometimes it's so dang fun to put on touristy sunglasses. New perspectives always keep things fresh. 

So here are some snapshots of my SG. :D 

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Random parrot outside a store in Jurong. This one was uncharacteristically...quiet.

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Outside Necessary Provisions, a cafe which is apparently really good but EVERYTIME Donald and I have gone there in an attempt to indulge in coffee/a good meal, we've always been thwarted by 1. overcrowded cafe (and they actually did not let us in because they said it was too crowded!) 2. random closing hours 3. trouble outside about 20m away requiring us to call the police (but that's a story for another day). The long and short of it is that we have no managed to get inside...yet.

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While walking along Tanjong Pagar after lunch one day.

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One of THE coolest, most bad-ass Uncles by far. This guy is just plain awesome. He must be 70 or 80 years of age but by gosh is he FIT. He's always outside Ngee Ann City (at least I've seen him there during the weekends), swinging those humungous hooped beads, sometimes two at a time. He's been featured in the papers a number of times for his fitness regime heh. And when he needs to take a break (probably a toilet break), he just leaves his belongings behind, bucket full of cash/donations included. That's the trusting spirit that's so hard to come by nowadays. One day, I hope to be as daring, healthy, energetic and bold as this dude. I could wax lyrical about him the entire day. X) And he always gives the best poses.

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I just adore him. And my sis actually managed to get a free lesson in bead-hooping from him the other day! Will need to find out her story soon.

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Ohhh the smell of roasted chestnuts. One of my favourites. :) Managed to catch this chestnut selling uncle outside Liat Towers one evening at Orchard.

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House of Tau Sah Piah in Balestier. Really tasty stuff! This was during the CNY period too so those snacks were perfect.

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Coffee bean wholesaler in Balestier. Another smell I adore/which excites me but I'm still a tea guzzler more than coffee.

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In the gorgeous Plain Vanilla cafe. My only qualm would be that the air-conditioning does not extend to the customer-eating space! If it did, it would be quite perfect. Because the cakes/pastries/cupcakes are DELISH.

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Along Haji Lane, there's a vintage clothing store called Dulcetfig which is probably now famous for having 3 resident cats (well at last count, there were 3) in the store. If I ever had a store, I would get my future French Bulldog, Kong, to be the mascot.

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One of the few times that cats make my heart melt. :)

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Steeples Deli! A family favorite from way back in the day. I have many fond memories of this place. My dad used to bring my sis and me for weekend breakfasts/lunches here all the time last time. And without fail, I would get a classic beef burger (well done for the beef, because well, I was a kid) and a chocolate milkshake. And each time, I would polish off the entire thing. I had a humungous appetite (and belly) at the time and for some reason I used to think showing off how much I could eat was something that would score me brownie points in my parents' eyes. ;p That place had the best smoothies ever though. Rich, creamy, thick...cold... I don't eat beef anymore so if anything I would go back for a smoothie. And they have incredible Rueben sandwiches too. SIGH. <3 (It's at Tanglin Shopping Centre)

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Mr Dapper Cat lost in his own thoughts in a store in Tiong Bahru. When I first came across it, I honestly thought it was a statue because it was so still. Until it shifted ever so slightly. Made for a good model.

Going through these photos and all those memories was actually pretty comforting. :) More next time! xoxo

the world may not be enough

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(Evening time, with a full heart) 

I only really started reading Murakami's works last year after my boyfriend, Donald, started heavily recommending them to me. I remember dipping my toes into The Wild Sheep Chase many years back and emerging from it completely flummoxed, with no idea what the hell that book was about. I ended up staying away from Murakami since then since I usually like to draw some sort of conclusion from books rather than walk away from it without being able to grasp its core (silly eh, how sometimes we're brought up to think that an experience is only valuable insofar as what you can gain out of it in concrete terms) but it seems that now, more than ever, it's something I tend to crave for. The complete escapist experience that allows you to go into a small, quiet corner away from everything, deeper into yourself and not want to emerge.

I first discovered it with his book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is really an AMAZING piece of writing. It was the book that I kept by my side wherever I went in Montreal last year and I remember spending mornings at my favorite Olive et Gourmando, choosing the window seat at the end of the room where I could sit quietly, blissfully nibbling on the world's best almond croissant (it's true. i dare you to find a better one), all the while being transported to that inexplicable Murakami world. It has to boil down to the details. One thing I love is how he always has a thing for what the protagonists have for their meals. It's always about the guy whipping up a simple dish of grilled fish... steamed vegetables...miso soup... all of which is so relatable and realistic. I mean you can literally imagine so many youngsters doing that nowadays. Then he throws in the talking cats and mute and live skinning of soldiers (which will leave you scarred . -_- 
That said, so far I've managed to get through some of his other books (South of the Border, West of the Sun/ Kafka on the Shore.) all of which were perfect little spots for me to escape into from work which just happens to be so tedious and...unenjoyable for a large portion. 

Finally, probably sometime last month (I forget when I actually started), I decided to embark on his magnum opus, 1Q84, which turned out to be pretty darn awesome. It's a lot easier to pick up and dip into in spurts whenever I had time in the evening after work, compared to Wind-Up Bird which really demanded a lot more MIND. It was something to look forward to almost every night after dinner when I just needed something to wind myself down before the next work day. I would switch on the night light, settle down beneath my comforter and feel myself easing into the world of Tengo and Aomame, until I found myself dozing off and unable to continue and then it would be time to sleep. Looking back, it's something I'm thankful for, because this particular rotation at work has been physically so much more draining than before, and at least when I look back on it, I can remember this bit that provided solace; a calm amidst the storm outside. 

Certain books end up defining a period of time in your life because it's almost as if you've split yourself into two - one to carry on with the every day functions of life and the other, retreating and immersing into the other world such that when you return, you've almost always left a part of yourself behind. When I look back now, I'll remember that that was the 1Q84 period of my life. And similarly, Montreal was also the Wind-Up Bird little period of my life.

On a side note, 1Q84 turned out to be a great romantic novel. You can sort of guess at how things will turn out right from the beginning but it's only right at the end that things really started getting sweet, and in Japanese fashion, very quietly and subtly so. 

"He knew too, that it would take time for him to acclimate himself to this new world that had come upon him. His entire way of thinking, his way of seeing things, the way he breathed, the way he moved his body - he would need to adjust and rethink every single element of life. And to do that, he needed to gather together all the time that existed in this world. No - maybe the whole world wouldn't be enough". 

SWEET MUCH?? Donald says Murakami's just pandering to the masses but I REALLY like it when he does. I just lap it all up like rainwater in a desert. 

And as with all lengthier novels that you've invested a part of yourself in, sometimes you just don't feel like letting go of that world. After turning the last page and closing the book, I couldn't get started on a new novel for a couple of days. I just wanted a bit of that world to linger on a bit longer. It's a strange feeling of wistfulness. On the one hand, I can't wait to get to the end of the book, to unravel more of the story. But about 3/4 of the way in, I start getting a little forlorn, knowing that soon, it'll come to an end and I won't be able to replicate the experience again. Because there's nothing like reading a novel for the first time. All the anticipation and wonder of what will happen next can only be experienced that one time. And while I'd like to remain in that world a little longer, going back in to re-read some portions don't quite capture that feeling of getting lost. And once the book is over, there's nothing to do but attempt to hang on to those remaining threads that are fast becoming thin and wispy as life comes back at you with full force. 

Wow, what a ramble. But what can I say? I just love to read. ;)

Here's to a beautiful weekend ahead.