Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My Ticket's Booked

I was not planning on going home for the duration of my 18 months here. But there have been some circumstances that have made a trip back necessary. So after a little research (not much), I've basically kinda impulsively booked my airticket since SQ is offering a good fare. All I did was ring my mum to tell her, and checked that the dates didn't clash with anything she had planned and then went back online and booked my ticket. So the deed is done. I'm flying out on 29 Jan 2007, spending almost 2 weeks back home and then flying back here on 11 Feb 2007. I'm trawling through local foodblogs, trying to prioritise all the goodies I want, no - need to eat when I get home. I don't think I've got enough meal slots to fit them all in... but I shall ENDEAVOUR.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Food Cravings

I had some food cravings which I was happy to satisfy recently. In chronological (but definitely not meritorious) order:-

1. After purchasing the jar of famous Tetsuya black truffle salsa, I decided to simply stir it through, as recommended, with olive oil and grated cheese, into a bowl of hot rigatoni (which is the only type of pasta I buy, apart from spaghetti which is used for my laksa).
Verdict: I didn't experience the "I've-died-and-gone-to-Heaven" feeling which I was expecting. It was... ok.

2. Being a non-chocoholic, it's quite surprising that I've developed some chocolate cravings since the cold winter months which have not dissipated with the onset of warmer weather recently. So I bought this box of Korean choc-coated almond biscuit sticks which were relatively tasteless, the crunchy bits were nice but otherwise pretty mediocre.
Verdict: I still think the Japanese Pocky beats the Korean Lotte hands down any day. Ganbatei!

3. Something deepfried. Something meaty. Preferably with chives. Pot sticklers. Nothing like the ones mum makes but nevertheless, a tasty dinner which requires minimal assembling effort.
Verdict: Could do with more meat juice, perhaps the missing egg is not a nice-to-have after all. And some minced prawns to add a different layer of sweetness to the pork. Oh, and some finely-chopped fresh waterchestnut would be perfect, to give a difference in textures. But still overall, in my extremely unbiased opinion, above average. (well, if I were biased, I would have said good, wouldn't I?)

Monday, November 27, 2006


On the way to work this morning, I spied this designer chair sitting on the kerbside, together with a pile of junk. I stopped and took in the sight. It was a chrome-framed chair with black leather seat and back. I forget who designed it- Corbusier? The seat was stained with paint but the chrome frame looked impeccable from my quick review. I carried on walking to work, wondering if I should have lugged it back, after all the other 70s dining chair which I've gleaned earlier, was starting to be somewhat wobby. However, I figured that if I stripped the chair of its stained leather seat, I would not be able to put in a canvas seat strong enough to take a person's weight without a sewing machine or industrial stapler to hold the cloth together. So I banished the notion and within 15 minutes, completely forgot about it.

However on the way back, the chair was still sitting there. I took a second look and started thinking perhaps I wouldn't need to strip the seat out. I could clean it up really well and then sew a piece of cover over it. That would solve the aesthetic problem and still ensured that no one would fall through sitting on a poorly-held together seat (made by me).

And so, I walked on by, deciding to make the trip back after dinner. So after a hot dinner of beef stew and soy and linseed bread, I made some more advancement in my fledgling career as a "gleaner" (so far, 2 chairs, 1 succulent bonsai, 4 cacti in pretty teacups and 2 milk crates, I am a little bit more hesitant about picking up bruised fruit and vegetables although I have been sorely tempted by a mango rolling by my foot the other day at the market). I rescued the chair from the heap, it was really in a good condition, frame-wise. When I got home, I rubbed a damp cloth on the leather and discovered what I had originally thought were paint stains were actually plaster marks, so that came off quickly. There were a few paint stains and the leather was worn in several places where the frame had rubbed against it. But generally it felt more stable than my old dining chair. A quick google search informed me that the designer was Mart Stam (1899-1986) or at least "in the style of" Mart Stam.

Gleaning is not a bad word, there are some goodies out there waiting to be rescued and put to good (re)use. All it takes is a sharp eye and some imagination.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Food For Thought

Today was supposed to be a day of recuperation, a somewhat take-it-easy day. However, I ended up walking for ages, first of all to the Malay-Chinese place for prawn noodle soup. It was pretty good, but I thought the first time I had it was better, perhaps it was because they were from different outlets, the first outlet I had gone to had closed down last month. Or maybe one's memory is always superior to reality. I briefly contemplated ordering something different, something without prawns, seeing as I had made some Vietnamese rice paper rolls for dinner last night and the common ingredients of prawns and vermicelli were a little too... similar. However, that was about the only thing in common, the prawn noodles tasted a lot better than my dinner, which turned out to be a little bland.

On my way back from the Museum of Contemporary Art, I had planned to drop in at the DJ's gourmet food section to get a bottle of Tetsuya's Black Truffle Salsa which I have been reading about in various foodblogs. It made my mouth water reading about the simple uses one can put this delicious item to. But I had wandered into a gourmet food store after the museum and found it being sold there, so I bought a jar. Now the first thing is try it simply with pasta. Considering there are only 4 servings in the little jar, each serving is going to cost me A$5.50, that would be enough for a small portion of pasta - I will have to savour it ALONE.

And then, I went to the fresh food market and bought bananas and nectarines, stocking up my fruit intake for the week. Feeling really peckish when I finally made it home 6 hours later (all on foot mind you), I opened the package of oatmeal crisps that a Filipino colleague so kindly delivered to the hotel when I was in Manila. She had taken us out shopping that morning and we had parted after lunch, I had gone to the spa and when I returned that evening, a package was waiting for me with a note to say they were her favourite cookies and so she got me a bottle. I am glad I brought it back with me, was a little worried the stringent customs requirements would not allow me to bring it in, but I declared it and there were no problems. And they were worth it! Super-delicious. Mmm...

Tomorrow then, will be a day of recuperation.

Friday, November 24, 2006

No Second Chance

The lemon macaroon did not succeed in redeeming the reputation of the French patisserie I got the 2 macaroons from yesterday. Again, the almond taste prevailed, but there was nothing lemony about it. Very mediocre. I am striking this patisserie off my list, no second chance! Or rather, it already had its second chance today with the lemon macaroon.

The search for a good macaroon continues...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Lack Of Aesthetics

Ah, today I found the elusive macaroon in a French patisserie. Quite by chance really. I peered anxiously at the display case, the variety was not large, and not many were left. On top of that, they didn't even look consistent, let alone well-made. They were roughly-made, with holes in them, the sizes were uneven as you can see from the photo. The green pistachio macaroon is a giant compared to the yellow lemon one which was closer to the standard size sold. They were not a perfect round either, and did not look like work of a professional baker. Very disappointing. Apart from the aesthetics (or rather lack thereof), the taste also did not measure up to the macaroon I had in HK. The almond taste was more obvious than the HK version, but I really didn't taste any pistachio flavour. I haven't eaten the lemon one yet, I was planning to savour my precious finds, but actually now I am just not that enthusiastic to eat the second one right away. It was just not... beckoning.

But hey, the snack dish I made in Ceramics class, at least looks good.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Back But Not Home

I am back, I debated if it would be accurate to say "I am home" instead, but at this point, I don't think that would be true. Home is after all where the heart is. So, I am back but I am not home.

The 9 days of intensive work and almost constant (or so it felt) travelling from Sydney-HK-Guangzhou-HK-Manila-HK-Sydney was draining. The 7-hour wait in the HK airport because the Manila airport was closed to all air traffic until the cargo plane which was stranded on the runway due to its landing gear being damaged (I refused to believe it was something as simple as a stuck plane, I was convinced it was either a hijack or a terrorist attack. I mean how can the plane NOT be removed if that was all to it? But it turned out to be true, it was one of those huge cargo planes used to transport vehicles), was removed, did not help. It could have been worse really, stuck in the CX lounge in the home country was not a bad position to be for travellers. But since we were travelling since 7 am from Guangzhou, even the CX lounge lost its appeal after 4 hours, with no definite end in sight.

The heat was sapping throughout the trip. I slept well but it never quite felt like it was enough. Even treating myself to 2 deep tissue massages and an aromafacial over the weekend in Manila didn't rejuvenate me completely. Neither did the little bit of shopping I managed to do on the same weekend. It occurred to me that the apartment I was coming back to in Sydney was smaller than the room at Shangri-la Makati (pictured here) and I had just spent 2 nights in that apartment before I had hit the road. So I had spent more nights in the Shangri-la by the end of the trip than I had in my own apartment- fancy that!

When I got to HK, I bought a couple of fresh and cheap bananas to continue the wart treatment, I am pleased to report that my wart has completely gone. The food in HK and Guangzhou was excellent, I must have put on 2 kgs by the time I was done there. I also found the elusive macaroon in the Sogo food court in HK. I was too full at that time to have more than just 1 so I had the salty caramel marcaroon, it was delicious, a tad overly-sweet, fragrant and had a nice texture. A small one for HK$10, I had all good intentions of coming back the next day to get a couple more and also shoot some photos of the precious and rare commodity but had no time. So I've only tasted that 1 macaroon and now have to make do with the ghost of its memory until I renew the taste in reality. Every meal in Guangzhou was fabulous, I finally tasted the REAL version of the custard bun (liu sha bao) there, it's made with lots of butter and duck egg in the custard and is almost flowing in the consistency, whereas the ones I've had in Sydney is just like a regular custard wrapped in a "bao" skin (hence called "nai huang bao" here). After that version, I'm afraid everything else is just not going to measure up and I'll just have to live with the disappointment. In Manila, I valiantly skipped a couple of meals in a bid to get over the constantly full feeling I had suffered on the earlier leg of the trip after yummy HK and Guangzhou, hoping to atone for my gluttony.

It's back to eating healthy (healthier?) meals and walking everywhere to lose those extra kilos. With the heat that I came back to in Sydney (today was 34C), I think that would not be too hard to achieve (hopefully!!)...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Moving Out, Moving On

The move went really well. I had moved in 2 tranches. On Tuesday, I bought the new futon and moved that and all the heavy stuff. Today, WC and I moved the rest, odds and ends, and the microwave. It was goodbye Surry Hills, home for the last 9 months, hello Paddington. As neither of us were hungry, I unpacked and put things away, while she sat and watched, chatted and drank green tea. I felt that a great deal had been done. Everything that should be put away was put away. Storage space seemed sufficient, although it meant that I had to pile some bags on top of the washing machine. But at least they were hidden away behind closed doors and left the apartment nice and neat.

I've got a few essential items (TV not being 1 of them!) I need to get for the place. I will stock up the fridge and pantry when I get back from my trip. In the meantime, the apartment feels very warm, in more ways than 1, and I guess it's not a bad thing that I had to move. I'm now 5 minutes from college and 7 minutes from the gallery I will be doing internship at. The internet signal seems stronger here than the old place. WC tells me that further down the street which I am on, is a stretch of nice cafes - more exploring due.

Ok time to test out my brand new futon in my new apartment. Good night, sweet dreams.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Milk Crates

Necessity is the mother of invention. That and being cheap (hey, after all, I AM a full-time student and part-time employee only, my post-tax monthly pay is about the same amount as my monthly tax liability instalment last year). Well I guess if one wanted to save money, then it becomes necessary to invent stuff. So back to the wise saying.

Today while walking home, I saw some milk crates and figured that I could get a couple of crates, upturn them and put a nice thick chair pad on each, and voila, 2 stools for my balcony. After all, the low small table is already in the balcony. Milk crates are also stackable and make handy storage units.

I already spied a couple at the side of my old apartment building, hopefully they will still be here tomorrow evening when I move. Alternatively, I could sneak downstairs right now in my pajamas and cart them off into the apartment under the cloak of darkness - I don't really know if those milk crates belong to anyone. I guess not, if they are sitting downstairs. In any case, another wise saying I fervently subscribe to springs to mind - "Finders keepers, losers weepers".

Monday, November 06, 2006

My New Shoe Box

Usually the key to finally open the door, is usually the last in the bunch. I was pretty lucky, the second one in the bunch of about 10 keys fitted. I opened the security door with an armload of mail from my new letterbox and climbed up the 2 flights of steps to my new studio apartment. This time struggling at the front door, not so lucky, I fumbled with about 5 keys before I found the right one and let myself in.

Standing in the doorway, I take in the length and breadth of the studio. It was a shoe box. A nice, modern shoe box. I estimated it to be two-thirds the size of my current place and I did a rough measure of the space. About 20 square metres, yes about right, my current apartment is probably 30-32 square metres. I always had a good eye for judging distances (boasting particular expertise in gauging a man's height, especially the interesting ones, and in being able to punch notes dead in the centre without the need to fold papers in half).

The good thing about the studio is there is plenty of light and ventilation is good. The bad thing is in order to get the good ventilation and light, there is a window that looks right smack into the terrace house behind. If I leave the blinds down, there is no light and no air. If I leave it up, everyone can see right into the studio and right at me sleeping. Dilemma...

Well for another 7 months, I think I can survive. Shoe box minimalist/zen living, here I come.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Home Remedy For Warts

I am typing this with a piece of banana peel taped to one of my palms. Why? Well, a wart has sprouted out on my palm and I read online testiments of the banana peel home remedy (inside whitish part of peel to face the wart) for wart removal and thought, what have I got to lose? I've been through several liquid nitrogen treatments which are so freakin' painful, not only does the nitrogen burn through layers of your skin, the nurse then uses this sharp blade to shave away the top layers of burnt (dead) skin until fresh skin is exposed (sometimes to the extent where blood is seen meaning she's cut so deep into the not-dead skin as well) for the next round of burning by liquid nitrogen. And warts recur (they are caused by a viral infection and some people are just more susceptible to them than others - I guess having sensitive skin makes me one of those unfortunate folks) so it's just a vicious cycle of pain which I can do without really (and that is saying a lot seeing that I've got a superhuman threshold for pain). Then I've also bought salicylic acid solution from the pharmacy and done DIY treatements, this is the baby version of burning warts with the liquid nitrogen. Not always effective, especially for bigger, hardcore warts. So when I read about this painless, cheap AND effective home remedy, I decided to make a trip to the market to buy some bananas. And for the more scientifically-minded ones reading this, the basis of this cure is not some old wives' tale hocus pocus, it's all that potassium in bananas that is supposed to work on the warts.

I have eaten bananas only twice since Cyclone Larry hit Queensland earlier this year and wiped out the entire banana crop. The price of bananas shot up to the banana equivalent of oil prices since the Iraq War started. It didn't worry me very much as I don't like banana as a fruit, I just like bananas in everything else like cakes, muffins, fritters, sundaes. Weird, I know.

Well, in 3 days or so I'll be able to testify to the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of this banana peel home remedy for warts. Watch this space.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Quest For The Elusive Macaroon

I did a 5-hour trek today, my feet were begging for mercy after 3 hours or so, but I had pressed on, trudging along in my wooden clogs that did zilch in terms of cushioning my soles. After sussing out my new neighbourhood, which was all uphill and downhill and this neighbourhood will vastly improve my cardiovascular fitness this summer no doubt, I had persevered down further to the posh village of Woollahra (Aboriginal word meaning "camp", "meeting ground" or "sitting down place"), in my bid to find some macaroons.

It seems that macaroons are very in at the moment, from all the foodblogs that I read. Everyone seems to be raving about the ones at some chi-chi specialty shops in Paris and Tokyo. For the life of me, I cannot remember if I've ever tasted them. I think I'm confused between that and meringues which I am pretty sure I've had before. When I was researching online last night, I had found a florist cum cafe in Woollahra which had a review recommending having a plate of macaroons with tea. So that was enough incentive for me to brave the intermittent drizzle which was supposed to last all weekend, to go and find those elusive macaroons.

The shop was there all right, unfortunately, although the signage was still there, the shop was no longer operating. It was a dismal sight. And my feet were killing me. But since I was already there, I decided to check out the other bakeries in the village. Perhaps, just perhaps, someone was selling macaroons. No, no, no. No macaroons.

But lots and lots of cupcakes in hues of baby pink, powder blue, lime green and lemon yellow. Topped with hundreds and thousands, silver balls, chocolate chips and dollops of cream. Cupcakes - that's the other thing that is in right now. At the last birthday surprise at work, instead of the Lindt chocolate cake which has become somewhat of a departmental tradition, we had a box of cupcakes, iced in all different colours, flavours and designs, for the birthday girl. They certainly looked very pretty. However, they didn't taste half as good as they looked.

This is beginning to feel like the quest for the Holy Grail. I've been researching it online for a while, I still haven't set eyes on a macaroon in real life - I am beginning to be convinced that what I have had in the past was meringues and I've never seen, much less tasted a macaroon. Now that I've made this a personal mission, I'm sure when I finally taste one, it's probably not going to taste as good as I've imagined it to be. Bummer.

And since I have no macaroons (photos or divine foodie experience) to share, I am posting some photos of some doors in the neighbourhood that had caught my eye today. It suddenly occurs to me that the different colours are almost reminiscent of the cupcakes. So different but yet so similar.

Friday, November 03, 2006


The flowering of the Jacaranda trees in Sydney is one of the prettiest sights of Spring I reckon. Walking under a canopy of bluish-purple Jacaranda blooms is refreshing and almost magical. It just makes you feel cheerful and positive. Seeing the pavements lined with a carpet of the purplish flowers is another sight that makes me happy. I don't know if it's colour therapy (blue for calm, and purple for kinky?) or just the signs of Spring, that life is constantly regenerating that is so infectious, that you have no choice but to feel completely swept up in the whole cycle of life.

The brilliant red bougainvilla that is creeping up this white wall of the terrace house opposite the college has caught my eye, every time I walk past it. The deep, intense shade is so well-contrasted with the pristine white wall. And the fact that it's climbed up so high on the wall without any sort of support or climber is also interesting to see.

Spring is indeed a very pretty time.

A Happy Accident

My creations based on the concept of the humble brown paper bag have come out of the kiln. I have a slew of paper bag-inspired cups, snack dishes, 2 larger snack trays and a big pouring jug in the range.

It took some tweaking with the airbrush to get the intensity of the brown to what I had envisioned. The first shade was just so insipid, even as far as brown paper bags go. The jug was glazed internally with clear glaze to seal the interior, and sprayed with the same on the exterior to give it a "now you see it, now you don't" sheen. Out from the kiln, the clear glaze turned out into a lovely shade of light green and where it was seen through the brown, it was rather complementary. I was quite pleased with the result.

Like how many things in life just turn out better than what you have planned, almost as though by chance or accident or fate or luck - depending on what you choose to believe in. I just like to refer to them as "happy accidents", the term watercolourists refer to backruns and other unplanned watercolour effects, which just give an extra edge or character to the subject. So this is my "happy accident". Now waiting for the ceramics assessment next Thursday, hopefully I'll get a "happy grade" as well.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Comfort Food

I made a simple dinner with my last piece of beehoon and canned fried dace with black beans. I have never eaten fried dace till I was well into my 20s. I guess it's a poor man's food, but it is comfort food, especially with porridge. It's also the first time I've tried it with something else, but it worked just as well with the beehoon. The blandness of the beehoon was compensated with the saltiness of the black beans, and the oil from the dace added some sort of gravy base to the dish. Simple yet good.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Zen Moment

The more I pack, the more worried I become. The number of bags, boxes and packages keeps going up and looks like it's going to hit 20 (I had 7 bags and a microwave when I moved into this apartment - just as a basis for comparison). I now have my files and papers and the kitchen/pantry odds and ends left to pack. Oh right, and the clothes kept for the next week's use and a couple of bags. And the plants. And my lilac overcoat. And my laptop and modem. Oh and that 1 chair I have. The leftover list also seems to be creeping along.

I think the new things I've accumulated since I got here are basically essentials like kitchen items, pillows and sheets, the microwave and the heater - all surely life's necessities. The only things which may be classified as non-essential accumulations are clothes, and even that, if you wanted to push the argument, I did drop 1 dress size and had to buy some new things that did not fall off my hips. In any case, the (self) justification doesn't solve my problem. I have a lot of stuff. I think the new apartment is smaller than this one, I didn't even see that much storage space, the current place has heaps and everything was neatly hidden away which I loved. I really cannot think of what else I can do without in order to be more minimalistic than I already am.

I think I need a Zen moment, even as I'm surrounded by piles of worldly possessions. Or especially so.