vendredi, décembre 19, 2014

A New Hobby

My 3rd Hu Yongkai Painting (and my 14th painting)

A couple of fellow bloggers disappeared and returned months or years later with a cookbook, a new baby, why not a younger spouse, designer kitchen and/or house, new body, re-designed face, eventually a more exciting job! 

Unfortunately, none of the above have I accomplished. I'm still fat, still stuck in Shanghai (though I've travelled quite a bit in the past year), still live in the same house (though we moved out for a couple of weeks in November because of a termite infestation) and still have the same hub (though he's now a few kgs lighter after he returned from a month at INSEAD and started embracing a healthier lifestyle that includes jogging 12km every other day)...

I searched far and wide in the neuron network in the past few months and finally woke up this morning with the perfect alibi: I've taken up oil painting a little more than a year ago! With age the circuit is a little retarded, sometimes clogged and bulbs just do not light up as often and as quickly as they used to. But, I did start to paint and have been religiously doing so every Tuesday morning since autumn in 2013.

My younger sister is the artistic one in the family, and I couldn't usually draw an egg to save my life. However, I was told by a number of people that with minimum guidance even an idiot could paint with oil and when offered the opportunity to try, I felt I had nothing to lose and jumped at it.

I think my teacher Yao ZW is originally from Ningbo, but must have spent most of his life in Shanghai. He rents a ground floor flat near Century Park in Pudong and sets up 6 easels so that he could have 6 students in the morning and another 6 in the afternoon. In the week most of his students would be Chinese housewives (usually pretty wealthy), and during the weekend and public holidays he would have lots of children (often children of the same rich tai tais).

My very 1st painting, took me 9 hours to finish

2nd painting, kind of scary having that
mountain range and body of water to paint

Impressionist 3rd painting
Teacher Yao is pretty cool and teaches so that he could feed his only passion which is to paint. His plan is to make a final exhibition of his paintings before he retires so that he could sell them and retire comfortably. At the moment he has bought a house with some land in the countryside about an hour and a half from Shanghai and starting next year will live there during the weekend and remain in Shanghai during the week just to continue teaching. He is actually a pretty well-known painter from some old school, but because his only child is a girl, he had no need in the past to buy a flat in anticipation of her future marriage and as such missed out riding on the property wave that made most Shanghainese rich, see very rich, in the past two decades.

All new students would start out with a series of 6 paintings chosen by Teacher Yao. Once we have completed these paintings and decide to continue with him, we can begin to more or less paint whatever catches our fancy as long as it's within our ability to do so. After the first few paintings, one would somehow start to have "the feeling" and would more or less know what to do, only occasionally asking Teacher Yao to come rescue us.  

4th painting: one of my favourites and now with Anna
 I really look forward to joining this class every  Tuesday morning, I think I've almost never missed a session since I started. I find it calming to spend 3 hours concentrating on trying to get as much painted as I could (and I'm very slow at it) and often spend days leading up to the class planning what I would do when I get my fingers on the brushes.

 We were the same group of 6 ladies painting together, except for my dear friend and neighbour F who gave birth last June and then moved back to the USA a few days ago. My classmates are all wealthy Chinese ladies with only one child each. The children attend the best Shanghai schools, have expensive tutors, go on exclusive school trips to Europe, and these mothers spend quite a bit of their time during class exchanging notes about their progeny. I usually have nothing much to say about mine because when your kids spend most of their time playing, have no exam pressure and no particular talent to display, you have nothing to share with the others.

And I am very slow, Teacher Yao complains about it from time to time (though he should be happy as it means each one of my paintings costs me more than usual), and the others would turn up in front of my easel once in a while to tell me that I pay too much attention to detail blah blah...

5th painting, I can't really do grass

They are all more advanced than me (at least by a year if not more) and are really amazing with their trees, mountains, sea etc. They are also really fast when they paint, often skipping the pencil sketching part, making me look even slower than I already am. So to set myself apart, I try nowadays to paint stuff that require a lot of patience e.g. buildings, figures, furniture...and they would mumble all the time I spend too much time on the details.  

6th painting and the license
to choose future paintings more or less freely

What did I do with my paintings? The first 2 paintings are currently hiding in my pantry, hanging over my shelves of dried goods and bottles of water; the next 5-6 paintings found their way to my several bathrooms (I have 6). One of the more edible ones went to Anna, and my favourite is at this moment making its way (via Hub) to MIL; yet another is currently hanging in the guest room. 

I also like to paint water villages (8th painting)

My 2nd Hu Yongkai painting
that MIL chose to have for Xmas (12th)


A European water village? (7th)

The 1st painting I dared to frame up (9th)

My favourites are the Hu Yongkai paintings (the ones with the Chinese ladies) and I have decided I may paint one between two to three landscapes (which are good for training our painting skills though they are boring) as I gain a lot of satisfaction from doing them. I've already painted all the 3 paintings that Teacher Yao has on photo though, and will have to source for my own samples if I want to paint more of Painter Hu's work. 

My very 1st Hu Yongkai painting (10th)

I like this one but the rocks were tough to paint
and saw a copy on Taobao selling for 12000 rmb! (13th)

Another Chinese water village (11th)

Well, so you know what I've been up to in the past year. 

vendredi, octobre 04, 2013

Tarte au Citron Meringuée

Tarte au citron meringuée

Baby Boy is the only person in the family besides myself who likes this French lemon tart. Occasionally he has a craving for it and would pester me to make him one. I've offered him a few store-bought ones, but he always insists that he prefers mine. At the same time I do not really think that he's crazy about my version of the tart, he just wants to give me work to do.    

I never seem to have the same tart no matter how many times I make this Tarte au Citron Meringuée. Probably because the oven I've used was different each time. But the result was usually quite tasty and from the rustic look of my labour you could well imagine that I've made it from scratch short of growing my own lemons.

The French do not like to waste if they could help it. Hence if 3 egg yolks were required for the sweet pie pastry, then 3 egg whites would go towards making the meringue to cover it. It serves at the same time to prevent the custard from burning.

Depending on how firm you like your custard to be, you can adjust the baking time in the second part of the baking. I've made anything from flowing lava to firm and they all tasted more or less the same at the end of the day: rich, sweet, acidic, very sinful.

Tarte au Citron Meringuée:
A sinful, calorie-filled slice

For the sweet crust pastry:

200g butter
a pinch of salt
120g icing sugar
3 egg yolks
250g flour

For the lemon custard:

1 large lemon (untreated)
60g butter
1 egg
120g castor sugar

For the meringue:

3 egg whites
80g castor or icing sugar


Cut the butter into small pieces and leave to soften in room temperature. Add the salt and sugar and mix (with a whisk or with your fingers) till you obtain a creamy paste. Add the egg yolks and continue mixing. Sift the flour and mix in a quarter first. Finally add in the rest of the flour and finish mixing only with your fingers without overworking the dough. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in cling wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F. Line the bottom of a round ceramic mould with baking paper and fill it with the dough pressing it well onto the sides. I didn't bother to roll out the dough before I used it so I ended up with a rustic-looking crust. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. As a general rule, I prefer tarts with a thin crust so that one could enjoy the filling, but for this lemon tart, I tend to go heavy with the pie crust because I couldn't normally survive too much of the certes yummy tangy-sweet filling. In any case it's all a question of personal taste.

Lower the heat in the oven to 150°C/305°F. Zest and juice the lemon. Melt the butter and set it aside. Mix the egg with the sugar followed by the zest, juice and butter. Pour into the baked pie crust and bake for 12 minutes. At this point you can decide to increase the baking time by a few minutes if you wish to have a firmer/more cooked custard. Remove the tart from the oven and set aside.

Lower the heat in the oven to 100°C/215°F and do make sure the oven is truly at this temperature before you proceed. Whisk the egg whites till firm and whisk in the sugar bit by bit till you get a shining white meringue batter. Cover the tart with it and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. If for some reason the meringue is not cooked, continue baking till it is reasonably firm.

Let it cool before serving. I personally prefer it chilled.

mardi, octobre 01, 2013

Walking in Puxi (浦西) Autumn 2012

A Chinese boy in Puxi
Today is Children's Day in Singapore. Or I'm being stubborn because I now live in China and we have just started the famous Golden Week (if you see lots of Chinese tourists where you are you'll understand why) celebrating the PRC's National Day. The security guard just delivered us a bag courtesy of the Shanghai Municipality to mark the occasion and it contained a TCM brochure and a free wooden health comb.

I have therefore decided to do another long due post on Shanghai. We have been living here more than 2.5 years now. Officially the contract finishes in March next year, but with Hub helping the company open up factories in the North plus his having just taken over their Malaysian operations, I suspect that we would be here for a little while longer.

We live reasonably isolated from the humdrum of Chinese life. When we leave our lightly gated community we do find ourselves in the midst of the locals and migrant workers, but Jinqiao in Pudong is still a small (expat) world apart from Puxi - the historic part of Shanghai.

Visiting Puxi was therefore often looked upon as a little expedition for some of us, especially when the traffic jams on the way there seemed to be getting from bad to worse nowadays. Not surprising when you consider the thousand COEs they issue each month to new car buyers and these new cars tend to be those big, expensive imported ones that take up a lot of space on the roads. Foreign car makers used to imagine that cheap, outdated car models would sell like hotcakes in China, only to discover that only the Chinese carmakers could make lousy cheap cars that the Chinese would buy; the majority only want the very best that even many Europeans and Americans could no longer afford. This is an example of the Chinese success story and my Jiangmen cousin's recent purchase of a BMW is a case in point. Rewind to the 1980s when he sent us a photo of his proud purchase : a 3-wheel mini-van/scooter. He has done well like so many of his comrades.

Vegetables, anyone?
Together with my neighbours J and F we finally found a moment last autumn for our walkaround. We asked to be driven to the former French Concession (forgetting the word "former" could get one into trouble with the authorities) and from there explored the surrounding (older) neighbourhoods on foot. They probably had fantastic photos as they brought along their SLRs, but I was too lazy and used my really old Sony. Many things have changed since, e.g. one building we saw being renovated then now houses a French restaurant.

Dancing in Fuxing Park

We walked through Fuxing park (the one where Chinese and dogs were not allowed entry in the old colonial days) and saw the Chinese dancing in it; we walked past street markets and tasted some of the less dangerous-looking wares. We peeped into boutiques, but could find nothing to buy either because we couldn't fit into Chinese sizes or couldn't afford Shanghainese prices. Contrary to popular belief outside China, Shanghai is a very expensive city.

Cloth for pyjamas?









Near Yongkang Lu I walked past a tiny shop selling cloth and the owners giggled when they saw me. When they realised I could speak Chinese they told me I looked like some famous ethnic minority singer in the country. I think I knew who they were referring to; funny enough the singer in question is also married to a European.

Over the summer I've read a few books written by Shanghainese who have fled China in the 1940s and who lived in the Western world after that. It was fascinating learning about the  street names in French in those days (e.g. Huaihai Zhong Lu used to be known as Avenue Joffre), about the prosperity in the city before the Communists took over. As you walked around the city you could imagine (often still see) its former splendour, and sometimes one wonders what things would have been if there hadn't been communism, the cultural revolution etc. Probably fewer ugly towers (like in HK) that have aged badly, to start with.   

However, delayed prosperity is better than no prosperity. I just found out, for instance, that one of my drivers (since August this year we have 2 cars and 2 drivers) is going to become quite rich overnight. His late grandfather owned a broken-down-no-private-toilet old house near People's Square in Puxi that is finally going to be acquired by a developer. The compensation depends on the number of people registered under each address and in Driver J's case, the three (feuding-because-of-incoming-wealth) families "living" under the roof will each receive two new 2-bedroom apartments (choice of 3 locations in Shanghai). At current property prices (e.g. in the Sheshan area where the new flats will be), their old house is worth around 800,000 euros!  
Milk box, letter box, electricity box?



Driver J is now going to be very comfortable like a number of Shanghainese with wealth that just dropped on their laps thanks to the crazy development of their city. He whined that the locals who used to/still own land (本地人) in the near countryside are/will be even richer because the compensation tends to be 2-3 times more important than for small old houses in the city. I've heard stories of road sweepers turning up for work driving Mercedes-Benz because they had become rich overnight but had no skills in life besides farming, for instance.


Quite tasty actually




His daughter's generation will be the most fortunate, I think. The girl will have at least 4 flats to inherit later on in life: her maternal grandparents' flat in Qibao, her dad's current Kangqiao flat and the coming 2 flats in Sheshan! In fact, you just need to rub shoulders with young Shanghainese to know that they will be one smirky-very-pleased-with-themselves generation to look out for. They have comfortable lives, good education, good jobs, good future - and cannot imagine why they couldn't always get what they want in life.

The other day I lunched alone at the Food Opera food court at Super Brand Mall. Left an old folded shopping bag on a seat so that I could free my hands to carry my tray of food. Came back to find a young Chinese girl on my seat. When I told her that she was sitting on my seat, she looked at the bag she had removed/set aside and retorted, "I couldn't possibly not sit where I wanted to because of your bag, could I?"

I freaked out when I heard that because I had expected to hear a brief apology and was getting ready to move on. Obviously she didn't think it wrong to touch something that didn't belong to her, nor did it occur to her to apologise for having done that. A whole city filled with complacent, spoilt brats like that, what future does this country have?  



Anyway, while waiting to see this city transform itself into one of unparalleled wealth, of glittering skyscrapers, megastores and ubiquitous Land Rovers, we are going to try to enjoy as much of what still remains that is charming and interesting. 

I must remember to ask Driver J to check with his neighbours before they move if they have any old furniture they would be throwing out that could be of interest to a karang guni like myself.

I love lanzhou lamian
Pomegranate juice



dimanche, septembre 29, 2013

Hoummous

Hoummous







































The first chickpeas I "mashed" probably were the kacang puteh ones back in Kong Chian cinema during those days when I was a kid. A few decades later fancy me being known in close circles for my humble Hoummous and friends have even rejected watered-down versions being sold in popular bazaars by so-called hoummous experts, insisting that I provide them with my recipe so that they would know how to make it even after they (or I) have left whichever city we were friends in.

Many years ago I've blogged about a beetroot version and this should precede it, but for some reason I've never blogged about the classic version. So I'm setting things right today and this could then go into my archives for whoever would be looking for my take on the hoummous.

Hoummous : 

460g canned chickpeas
1-2 tbsp tahini (cold-pressed sesame paste)
1 tbsp dry-roasted cumin seeds
juice of 1 lemon (and adjusted according to taste)
4-6 tbsp olive oil (and extra for garnishing)
3 garlic cloves (grilled)
salt to taste

ground paprika and a few whole chickpeas for garnishing

Drain the water from the can and immerse the chickpeas in a bowl of hot salted water.

Dry roast the cumin seeds in a frying pan with the garlic (roughly chopped) and when fragrant add in some olive oil.

Remove the chickpeas from the hot water and add them plus the cumin and garlic to a blender. Add olive oil, lemon juice and tahini and blend to a roughly fine paste. Add salt to taste and if necessary a little water and/or olive oil if the paste is too dry.

Pour the paste into a pretty recipient and make a well. If not consuming immediately, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate. (Actually the dish is best served chilled.)

Just before serving, pour a little olive oil into the well and add a few chickpeas for decoration. Sprinkle some ground paprika over everything and serve the hoummous with fresh vegetable sticks or corn chips.

Hong Kong with Anna (September 2012)

Anna and I at L'Atelier de Robuchon

Did I tell you I finally turned 40 last October? Just when I'm on the verge of turning 41... 

A long time ago 40 seemed like a long way away, but now even a day seemed like an hour.

Apart from the fact that I may become botak and bedridden, will need to visit the loo (even) more often and am getting closer to losing my dear parents, I have nothing much against me ageing.

The kids are growing up and it's wonderful seeing them do so. Ok, I know I will miss them as babies, but I'm trying to be brave. They have been so very cute and still are, I am blessed. 

I wasn't the only one I know turning 40 last year since I went to school every year with quite a number of kids my age over 2 decades. One of them choped me way back in anticipation of us turning 40 almost around the same time and it was decided that we would meet half way (me from Shanghai and she from Singapore) in Hong Kong to celebrate the occasion.

Anna and I went to Secondary school together. In Sec 1 we used to walk together after school she to the bus stop either to wait for the bus or for her mum to drive by and pick her up; me to my parents' flat not too far from our school. We were in the same class in upper Secondary.

At 17 she left Singapore to study in Canada and Australia and when she came home I left to do my Masters in France. But somehow we've always stayed in touch and she even attended my wedding in France many years ago. So we've come a long way.

Our 1st makan session

We met at HK airport one weekend in September last year and made our way to our very nice hotel in Causeway Bay. Once we've dumped our luggage we set out to eat and to eat where locals eat, of course. I think our first meal was at Ho Hung Kee where we had beef hor fun among other dishes. Over the next 3 days we also ate fish balls, dim sum, rice porridge, fried dough sticks, soy bean curd etc with/like the locals.

Dim sum!
Famous old-style bakery





















The last time I was in HK I was a kid. Went with the parents to visit relatives (who owned a bicycle shop or 2) and eat dim sum every morning and never went back again before last September. I was therefore quite surprised to discover that HK should be so packed, filled with dripping air conditioners overhead and people literally rubbing shoulders with you as you walk.























When you think of the cost of any property within the CBD you are surprised at the state of most buildings around you. They could certainly do with a facelift. A few trees here and there wouldn't hurt either.



Having said that I liked HK. I liked being able to speak Cantonese, being able to eat Hongkongese, being able to say that Singapore is prettier after all :-). The city certainly is bustling, filled with eateries and restaurants and little shops, with a cheap and efficient public transportation system and also the most amazing boutiques.

Very good roast meats in this neighbourhood eatery

Anna and I celebrated in style. We dined at two Michelin-starred restaurants when we were there : L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and The Chairman. I've dined at the former in Paris a few years ago so I knew what to expect, except I'm surprised that the HK branch actually has 3 stars. But Anna with her tiny waist couldn't do justice to even the tiny portions served at l'Atelier and I had to finish up most of her food for her.

The Chairman served fine Chinese cuisine in a residential area and we sat at a corner table wondering at first what possessed Michelin to give it a star. We ordered the tasting menu and were served fine Cantonese dishes that sometimes came with a foreign ingredient like balsamic vinegar; or with my favourite salted fish, yum yum. The waiters were better-natured than most you would find in HK so if you have reasonably deep pockets this would be a place to dine often in.


We took a tram up to The Peak to enjoy a view of HK though the skies were heavy and we risked being caught in a downpour. It was Sunday and the CBD was full of Filipino and Indonesian maids off duty which made you realise how essential these workers must be to help hardworking HK residents enjoy a good life in such an expensive city.

It was quite amazing to see greenery as you move uphill, even more amazing to see building after building as you climb higher up towards The Peak. It must be beautiful but also quite a challenge to live up there, what if you need a loaf of bread or some eggs and the supermarket is down in the plains?

There are a number of restaurants (and Madame Trussards) up there which made for  an interesting day out watching the world below if the skies were not covered.
View from The Peak








We took a taxi one afternoon to shop at Ap Lei Chau known for its branded outlets and unknowingly we found ourselves at the bottom of my neighbour J's block of flats! What a small world...

It was nice having time together like that after all these years. Higher studies, work, family, distance all conspired to make it difficult for old friends to meet so it was a precious weekend to treasure in the years to come. The kids survived the weekend alone with their father, the kitchen was a mess when I came home but it was not destroyed. 

Butter Cake (Compact Version)

Butter Cake (compact version)

A fellow blogger recently justified her absence with the publication of a cookbook while another was MIA because she had a new baby. I, unfortunately, have been absent mainly because I couldn't figure out how to use the new blogger. Plus the VPN hadn't been cooperating much since the Chinese Government figured out how to sabotage it from time to time. 

Actually I haven't been cooking anything exciting either since we have become a family of fatties (with the exception of the Teenager who has only grown muscle, not fat). While we fantasise about eating we hadn't dared to do too much of it. Our family BMI has not diminished much, unfortunately, and I've been toying with the idea of a fat freeze which wouldn't happen since we have 3 kids to send to university and not enough funds in the bank for that.

We have however done a bit of travelling. In fact, the overweight problem probably came from that since one does tend to put on weight when travelling and trying out interesting restaurants during the trip(s).

The Chinese Golden Week starts tomorrow and I've made the good resolution to stay put and not travel so that we wouldn't put on more weight; but I made the mistake of paying an Animal Jam membership for each of the Babies which saw them hogging both computers at home all of yesterday.

Not knowing what to do (I didn't feel like reading, was sick of trying to finish up my latest mosaic project and couldn't play the piano since Hub was in a video conference), I decided to bake a Butter Cake. But a compact one and not the usual more-like-pound-cake one that I've been making since I was a teenager.

I was so lazy I didn't even want to take out my electric mixer. I just baked a cake by stirring with a wooden spoon and the result was a very compact and rich cake that the Hub, who is currently on daily aspirin to thin his blood, consumed almost entirely single handedly. Needless to say he ate and whined alternatively which made me sound like a sabotager of healthy hearts instead of a kind and loving wife.

Butter Cake (compact version) :

200g butter
150g sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 tbsp grand marnier
4 eggs
100g plain flour
a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F.

Line a 19/20 cm round mould with baking paper.

Melt butter in a large bowl in the microwave oven till very soft.

Stir in sugar, vanilla extract and grand marnier with a wooden spoon.

Stir in one egg at a time.

Stir in sifted flour and add the salt.

Pour into lined mould and bake for 25-27 minutes.

Remove cake from the oven and cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the mould.



Know why Hub couldn't stop eating this cake? It was the grand marnier that did him in. 

jeudi, janvier 24, 2013

Mooncake Festival 中秋 2012

 

I haven't been able to bake my own mooncakes last year like I'd promised myself I would the year before. Apart from being lazy I'm also trying to lose some weight (since when have I not been trying to lose weight you'd say) so it would be crazy to start baking dozens of the sweet and oily stuff much as it would be nice to have a few nice pictures to show for the effort.

Then came the neighbours to the rescue. In anticipation of the Mid-Autumn festival J attended 2 mooncake-making classes and kindly agreed to share her new-found skills with a few of us. She brought over all the necessary ingredients and all I needed to provide was my table top, coup de main and hot oven. Charming company thrown in, of course.



You should see the amount of golden syrup, oil and sugar that went into those mooncakes. I had to provide a lot of cling wrap if I didn't want the table top to be over moisturised. Though it was fun making them because you could more or less fill them with whatever you like. But I'm a simple girl, I either like red bean paste or lotus seed paste with double egg yolks.


Incidentally I ended up eating quite a number of lotus seed and red bean paste mooncakes last year in spite of my good intentions (not to). The Chinese cousin sent up 2 boxes from the South (containing dried tangerine peel though you couldn't really taste it - thank God) and a local friend offered me a box (that also came from the South).

I also ate a number of the local savoury pork mooncakes that were really good when eaten hot off the oven. Though ask me not what they filled those stuff with, one couldn't really make out what was meat and what was fat but eat everything together and I can tell you it was good (though not for the heart).

So I start off 2013 with the resolution (once again) to make my own mooncakes this year. I will buy a few of those modern plastic moulds (see picture) that may not be sexy or ecological, but oh so easy to use. Another good reason to spend more time on Taobao.