Sunday, December 31, 2006

In Case Of Emergency

I'm sitting here on New Year's eve, willing this chest pain (left side) combined with a prickly pain in my left arm, to please, please, please go away. It's been more than 24 hours since the pain started, it was more acute yesterday, even breathing hurt. I had to force myself to stop crying (from the pain and the morbid possibility of dying alone in the shoebox in a faraway land) as well yesterday, cos every sob caused MORE pain. The pain was alleviated slightly when I used my nasal spray to clear my nasal passages because I realised that I was more than 50% clogged up and had so much difficulty breathing. But it didn't cause the pain to stop completely.

Lying down flat on my back was better. Lying on my side hurts, especially when I lie on my left side with all my weight on it.

I didn't really feel the pain when I woke up this morning and briefly rejoiced that I didn't have to go to the ER after all, but the minute I got to my laptop, the pain returned. I am hoping it's some sort of RSI type of computer-related pain, rather than an angina (the pain in my left arm concerns me). If it persists tomorrow when I wake up, I'm going to the ER...

And if I don't blog another entry in due course, that would mean I didn't make it. Arrgghh, what a morbid thought.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

More Good Finds At Vinnie's

I just could not resist this pair of Bodum glass beakers at the Vinnie's shop at Paddington. Their sleek design just called out to me as I stood there, trying very hard to argue against my instincts. I already have glasses, (well not really apart from the Vitrosax expresso cups which I have now packed away) I have those ceramic cups I made in the studio (yes, but they are going to be given away as gifts to SPECIAL people), I never have that many guests in the shoebox anyway and I do have two nice Noritake tea cups if I ever have guests (yes, but those are tea cups, these are more like coffee cups)... Ok, ok, so I caved in quite willingly and bought them for $2 each. I love them and am already drinking green tea out of one of them.

I also spotted this gorgeous 60s dining chair with a dark brown, hard leather seat. It was in mint condition and the slim, hard wood legs were so sleek. (I think I am partial towards "sleek" designs) I sat on it and tested it out, so comfortable, especially the back. I need that chair and I want it even more. I pulled myself away most reluctantly but I have decided that I am going to go back and get it. Either tomorrow if the shop's open, if not then I shall have to wait till next Thursday which is my next free day and then let Fate decree if the chair should be mine or not. You can never find nice retro furniture at such low prices back in Singapore. I'm just going to ship everything back.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Sky's The Limit

With just 1 forlorn-looking piece of Christmas shortbread left, I quickly whipped up a batch of cheese rock buns this afternoon, even though I still had no eggs. I used up a big chunk of cheddar which I chopped up on the chopping board (no grater, but in any case, chopping seems to be quite fast and effective too). I made 19 cheese rock buns using up the remaining butter left from my last batch of Christmas baking. It was really quick.

The end result: golden, slightly fluffy (cos I added baking powder this time) savoury rock buns. Tasty too.

Perhaps the next variation on the menu would be adding some oregano, sundried tomatoes and other herbs and making "pizza" rock buns. With some imagination and creativity, the sky's the limit!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Something Savoury

As I am down to my last 5 pieces of Christmas cookies (really rich and yummy shortbread made by J following his grandmother's recipe and J's about 60 so you can go figure how old that recipe would be), I had a stroke of brilliance last night that my next bout of baking would be to make cheese rock buns or cheese scones. Something savoury for a change.

I was going to do it tonight but I ended up working longer hours than I had planned and didn't get a chance to go get eggs from the supermarket as I had to scurry home to take a call from India. So have to push it to tomorrow, a day which I wasn't planning to go into work, but as things turned out, I have to go in yet again. This well-thought plan of cutting down my work hours and setting off the huge number of excess work hours I've chalked up, during the couple of quiet holiday weeks, is looking headed for failure.

But tomorrow, tomorrow I will bake.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Best Christmas In A Long Time

This is the best Christmas I've had in a long time, as far as my memory serves really. I spent it with MLA's (extended) family. With all good intentions, she had pre-warned me about every possible obnoxious/weird/loud/drunk character I was going to meet that day. It turned out to be an anti-climax because no one behaved that way even though I was on the lookout. She concluded that they were on their best behaviour because I was there, and that also making it much worse was better so that when faced with a lower standard of bad behaviour, I would conclude as I did, that they were pretty normal people after all. Managing expectation is what she did. Excellent job.

The day started with loads of food on the table, so fully laden there wasn't an inch of tablecloth to be seen. After I had finished, I was so stuffed I couldn't even waddle, and if I had to walk anything more than 2 steps, I think someone would have to roll me like a barrel. There was lots of nibblies, with great dips, my favourite was the french onion dip. Lunch proper was barbequed lamb chops, chicken wings and drumsticks (so well-marinated) and kebabs, with salads, cheese sandwiched in grilled eggplants, minced meat wrapped in vine leaves with yoghurt, basmati rice with minced meat, fish, prawns and calamari lightly battered and fried. Then came dessert half an hour later (probably hoping to give us some time to digest but not quite succeeding). Pecan pie, mud cake, cheese cake, semolina cake, other traditional Egyptian sweets. I was so full from lunch proper that even with my sweet tooth, all I could manage was a piece of mud cake with ice-cream and a slice of semolina cake. Oh and some fruit.

Then like overaged children all flushed with excitement, we pulled a bunch of crackers with novelties inside. It was great fun, with everyone looking over everybody else's little surprises and trying to make trades for something better. And people were nice to me and tried to give me their surprises as well. I ended up with a tiny little silver photo frame and a heart-shaped locket keychain.

They had a secret Santa thing going, but I wasn't told in advance so I hadn't prepared anything. But MLA, sweet kid that she is, placed an extra pressie for me under the tree so that I wouldn't feel left out. She got me this cool pair of Havaianas, knowing my taste she picked out this really nice brown pair with baby blue polka dots and straps. I LURVE them.

We played some interactive Nintendo tennis and bowling (they are quite addictive and you do get a bit of a workout with racing heartbeats and aching arms after a while). And then later progressed to a real game of badminton in the garden. We kept blaming the low-lying branches for interfering with our game when the shuttlecock kept getting stuck in the branches.

And finally at the end of the evening, MLA's brother-in-law and her brother (apparently when they get together, they bring out the worst in each other and get up to all sorts of tricks) started lighting (illegal) fireworks (yes, you can get them from some dodgy character and we have a crateful of stuff). It start innocently enough with a simple sparkler and then quickly progressed to rockets and Catherine wheels. We were a little worried that someone would lose a finger or an eye or burn down the house, but we still enjoyed the little pyrotechnic show in the garden.

I left with a huge plate of food that will feed me for the next 3 meals, and a warm sense of family and love. And an invitation to come to the "real" Christmas celebration on 7 Jan 07, as MLA's parents are Orthodox Christians and that is when THEY celebrate Christmas. I can't wait...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

100th Post - Hakame Jar For Christmas

This is my 100th post. It seems quite befitting that it falls on Christmas eve, because last Christmas eve was a pathetic and sad evening, 3 girls sat in their respective homes and linked up on the IM and bitched about the horrendous pool of men out there. We subsequently wondered why hadn't we just gone out and met up in real life and bitched over coffee or something instead of being miserable alone at home, and then again, collectively miserable online together. It was weird.

This year, I will once again spend Christmas eve alone. And perhaps, I might meet some friends online tonight, if they are also not out in the real world partying. But this year is slightly different. I am alone, not really out of choice, but because I am far away from my friends and loved ones. Things should have been slightly different if circumstances hadn't gotten in the way, but as they were, I am spending Christmas eve once again, alone and probably engrossed in the virtual world. But I don't feel as lonely as I did last year. I think it's because last year, I was in a place where I could have been with friends and loved ones, but I wasn't. This year, I can't and so it's not so much like I am choosing to make myself lonely and miserable. A little convoluted in the reasoning?

Anyway the gallery was pretty quiet today, last minute Christmas shopping is obviously done at the malls and not at art galleries, so we closed up early. J gave me a Maureen Williams-Levy Hakame lidded jar for Christmas. All right, so it was the one he got as a gift from Maureen after her exhibition ended, and which he had declared to us (in Maureen's absence) wasn't something he personally would have chosen. But nevertheless it was a Hakame piece made by Maureen Williams-Levy, an Australian potter whose exhibition at the gallery last month was vastly successful.

Anyway for a piece that I really like and would have chosen myself, I'm leaning towards thinking that I should fork out A$240 for the salt-glaze tenmoku tea bowl by Robert Barron that I really like from his current exhibition. And since it is priced quite expensively relative to the other similar pieces (which are not tea bowls hence are priced lower reason being that tea bowls occupy a sacred position in Japanese culture - think tea ceremony), we doubt that it would be sold, so I have till the end of January to think about THAT...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Irrational Grocery Shopping And A Craving

I had this irrational fear that I would starve over the Christmas period when the shops are closed. When I flung the pantry doors open, I saw 4 types of rice, a brand-new bag of pasta, a can of sausages, tinned apricots, 5 pouches of instant creamy pumpkin risotto, a bag of chips, 2 boxes of biscuits, 1 bar of dark chocolate, 1 box of papadums staring out at me. Ok, so I won't starve during the Christmas period when the shops are closed. However, that didn't stop me from going out today and doing a spot of shopping (or 2).

I bought 4 humungous mangoes which I thought would be nice to bring with the bottle of wine to the Christmas lunch I was invited to. For my own fruit intake for the week, I bought 6 yellow nectarines which were a little bashed up by the time I trudged home (lugging 4 bags and walking uphill for miles is no joke, I had to stop and rest several times when I felt the 2 plastic bags were threatening to cut off blood circulation in my fingers).

Apart from food, I went to one of my favourite Saturday markets and bought 2 set of tea towels, a green celadon teapot with 2 tea cups, a crocheted handbag with wooden handles and a burgundy leather bound journal. All with a view to giving them away as presents to deserving friends who would appreciate each of these lovingly-chosen items, but then again, if I decide not to give them away, I would equally enjoy using them myself.

After resting for a couple of hours, I decided I hadn't bought everything that I absolutely needed. Like toilet rolls since I have 2 more rolls left only and who knows what will happen over the Christmas period? So off again I went to the supermarket. Ended up with necessities such as the toilet rolls , a carton of milk, a bag of raw sugar and some yoghurt to go with my breakfast muesli. I also suddenly felt it was a good idea to buy smoked oysters, don't know why I suddenly had a craving. So I bought a can, and immediately ate the dozen of them up with savoury biscuits when I reached home, I just needed to eat them NOW. They were delicious. Maybe my body is craving magnesium or potassium or whatever oysters are rich in. I think I'll bring some cans home to give away as gifts. Now that would be an unusual pressie...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Baking

Baked treats are gifts made with love, I must have read it in some foodblog (I'm addicted to reading foodblogs now). This Christmas, I decided to give packages of have rock buns (seems to be the winning recipe amongst the folks at work), the mixed fruit version and the chocolate chip version which incidentally turned out nicer, I felt. But there were votes for both camps, so I guess it is a matter of personal taste. So I did round 1 of my Christmas baking really early last weekend and distributed the rock buns packed in pretty boxes which I had picked up in a bookstore in Manila last month. I have this tendency to plan in advance when it comes to gifts and I buy things as I see them and especially so, when something in my mind clicks as to how I am going to use them in the future. So the boxes of rock buns were received very well.

I then realised in the middle of the week that my Christmas packages were insufficient and I had to do round 2 of baking, so I did a smaller batch this evening, only of the mixed fruit version. I packaged 1 in 1 of the pretty boxes bought in Manila and the other wrapped in grease-proof paper and with a festive picture cut out of a magazine and pasted on the package, I think it looks very cheery. Popped it into a matching paperbag I got from the $2 shop last weekend - another well-planned purchase.
I think tonight is the night to completely put to bed any doubts that I might not be an analytical person who plans ahead and makes full use of the circumstances, because I baked a lasagne (leftover ingredients from the last time as my loaf tin had a limited capacity and couldn't do all at once) as well, knowing that I would be firing up the oven and I might as well bake it at the same time and not let the heat go to waste. I am quite proud of myself really... in more ways than 1.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cold And Damp

The rain had fallen steadily as I was walking home from work, a wet day matching the downer of a day I just had at work. 5 hours later as I sit here looking out of the balcony, the rain has lightened to a fine mist, but is still falling steadily. At least 2 people from back home have told me that it hasn't stopped raining for 2 days in Singapore. The weather there and here are in sync it seems. I don't mind the rain here, it falls gently, making you a little damp but never quite wet, let alone soaked through.

The night air is cool from the rain, but there is no wind which is good. We are well into December, well into Spring, and it is still cold. My flannel pyjamas have been completely amortised, having been worn since April, a good 8 months, they had cost A$12 each, I slept rotating the 2 sets I had bought. Best investment so far I think.

Thinking about the day I had (it's hard not to even though I've vented already to so many people in person, on the phone and the email), having to deal with the murkiness of office politics and the lack of integrity personally affecting one's livelihood when one is just merely working part-time, seems too much, too disproportionate. I guess one can never run away or buffer from the realities of life. For every irritating, unethical and unprofessional person that I've had to deal with at work, I have at least 3 wonderful, supportive colleagues. That kinda makes it worthwhile and helps keep me going.

Can I start thinking happy, positive thoughts for the Christmas period? Well, at least I can think good thoughts for the good people around me. As for the others, maybe it's time to go dig up the old voodoo doll...

Friday, December 15, 2006

If The Shoe Fits

"So why don't you stay in town tonight?" I asked MLA, as we were trying to arrange a girls' night out when L was in town this week. My social life was suddenly turbo-charged this week, ironically after my lamenting about having my social life being put on hold this year since I've moved to Sydney. I had been out every single night, hadn't eaten a meal at home since last Sunday and have been suffering migraines induced by sleep deprivation.

"Well, I have to go to work tomorrow and I don't have fresh clothes. Oh hang on, I brought a change of clothes for kayaking, so I do have clothes. Wait, I don't have work shoes, I have thongs! What size are your feet? I'm a 9." MLA asked. (NB: Thongs in Oz refers to slippers you wear on your feet, not sexy underwear.)

"8.5 but you can try on these mules." I let her slip her foot in, it fits.

So the deal was struck, she was going to sleep over in L's hotel room (as I had done one night earlier and was constantly kept awake by the sound of L grinding her teeth) instead of trudging home to the suburbs, I was going to bring her a pair of mules later that night. As we sat together in the back of the car, going back to the city, we decided that I would hand her my mules there and then and wear her extra pair of thongs home instead of bringing a pair with me that night when we met up for dinner. So I passed her the shoes telling her cheekily, "My shoes are your shoes.", the shoe-exchange felt funny, but funny-good to me, it might just look plain funny to an onlooker. Here I was, such good friends with a work-mate, who is 16 years younger than I am (old soul trapped in a young body that she is), that I was taking off my shoes and handing them to her without feeling awkward or uncomfortable.

This is what good friends are for, to walk a mile in your shoes (literally). I smiled to myself as I walked home in her thongs, they were really comfortable.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Internment Or Internship?

I have been utterly, completely worn out by the last 2 days of my internship. Fatigued is probably a better word. Yesterday was the opening day of the new exhibition, so many things were still not done and we were frantically trying to catalogue artworks, display them, make labels, price them, match labels to the works, clean up the gallery and various other miscellaneous deeds. The database software went crazy and the numbering went awry, so we had the added complication of trying to match 2 different sets of numbers. Oh plus the artist had his own numbering system and we were trying to match ours to his as well. In the end, the gallery owner almost tore out his hair in despair, and at one stage, he sat with his head in his hands, his assistant patting him on the shoulder trying to comfort him while the artist stood glumly nearby. I just scooted off to the furthest end of the gallery and tried to keep out of the way and ended up going to the little cottage downstairs to tidy up.

At 6 pm as the first guests came in for the opening event, we were still anxiously matching labels with prices and artworks. I was walking around the gallery, nursing a migraine by then, looking for the right pieces, doing mental sums in my head, subtracting numbers in order to match them (remember the different sets of numbering system?). We did our best which resulted in about 90% of the works being labelled, and almost 100% had prices, even if they were just sticky white stickers instead of nicely typed labels (argghh, too big so I had to go around with a pair of scissors trimming them down to size) sitting in plastic sleeves.

I decided I had enough of the gallery and the heat and tension, by then more people were arriving so I went down to the courtyard just outside the cottage and helped serve drinks. And helped myself to the delicious King Island Cheddar (I must make a mental note to go and look for some at the supermarket) which was a stopgap measure till dinner at 9 pm.

Finally, the crowd thinned out, we started to clean up and I finally trudged home at 9. I haven't been so tired (a lot of physical manual labour involved in setting up an exhibition, lugging heavy artworks and other equipment, standing for hours, squatting, sweeping, climbing stairs) in a long, long time and finally put my tired body to sleep at 10.30 pm, an almost unheard of bedtime for me!

Today was another longish day, I was on my feet a good deal, in heels too. So when I got home, my feet hurt, I was tired and I am sure I'm going to go to bed pretty much at the same time as the night before! I'm just worn out.

Maybe this is the physical exercise that will result in weight loss over the summer - need to look at the bright side. And another bright side to this is that I actually get a lunch allowance. The sweet gallery owner felt bad about me working for free, and about the criminally high rent I am paying for my shoebox, he decided he would give me $25 per week for my 3 lunches. So work experience, with free exercise and free lunch, all in a nice environment with an understanding gallery owner - what more can a girl ask for?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Being a busybody about what's available on the rental market, I was trawling through the online classifieds when I saw the unit opposite my old apartment up for rent. One can never plan these things to the time most suitable to one's agenda. It would have been nice if I had waited out the whole of the 60-day notice period I was given by my landlord, then the apartment opposite would have become available, and I would have been able to just move my belongings 2 steps into the next apartment.

Well, I had spoken to that neighbour when I received my notice of termination and told him about it in case he knows of anyone else in that building who is moving out (he seemed to know everyone in the building). If he had known he was going to move, he would have mentioned it and maybe I could have worked something out. But I guess he didn't have plans to move then. So too bad, I am stuck in this 20 square metres of shoebox space, being painfully close to the neighbours around, hearing people talk in their backyards in their regular voices, people talking on their mobile phones as they walk down the stairs, the radio from the house across the 2-lane road (which is usually being played quite loudly) and conversations from passers-by as they walk along the pavement just below my balcony, I can see their heads, and they can look up and see me sitting in my pyjamas, surfing the internet.

Various suggestions as to how to block out the noise have been made, earplugs being the most common. I HAVE tried earplugs, but they just aren't comfortable and they don't really fit properly enough to block out the noise. Another suggestion - have white noise such as the constant hum of a fridge or fan to block out the other noise. Now, first of all, the bar fridge sits 5 feet away from my head and the hum of it is not even obvious enough to do anything. Secondly, I don't think a constant hum of obvious white noise is going to help, it will probably drive me nuts because it is after all, still noise.

As it is, I have been waking up at 6 am ever since I arrived in Sydney, Summer, Winter and now in the Spring time. The light bothers me and the blinds in both apartments just weren't sufficient to block out the light, I've had to resort to wearing an eye-mask every morning when I get woken up, just so that I can lie in bed and try to see if I fall asleep for another 2 hours, usually an unsuccessful attempt. Now I've to contend with noise as well.

I'm counting down the 6 months more I have... or hopefully, it's a matter of being immune to the noise once I've become used to it?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

To Good Food And Good Company

Last night I was invited to dinner by a friend of a friend whom I've just met 2 nights ago. The chef in question said she was going to cook aged beef, apparently a delicacy peculiar to Australia, where they leave the beef for 31 days. So who am I to turn down such a treat of a free, gourmet dinner?

I turned up at the appointed time, carrying my contribution of a date loaf for dessert. Unfortunately, it tasted nothing like the last one I made, which had received rave reviews all round. The missing ingredient was oil/butter which was not in this recipe, I tried to recall if the last cake I made was indeed the date loaf if a core ingredient was not the same? Memory loss...

The first course served was clams in white wine sauce, garlic and English parsley, we mopped up the sauce with bread. I think instead of the English parsley, if coriander was used, the flavour would have been better. But it was still good. And we ate it all up too quickly before I remembered that I had not taken a photo yet.

The second course was pan-fried gemfish on a bed of linguine and mushrooms. The chef was too busy chatting with me and forgot to add salt. However, the gemfish was salty and when you eat it with the linguine, I thought it was just nice. The portion was just right, seeing as we still had the main highlight of the dinner to go!

Finally we arrive at the aged beef. Now, this beef is cooked twice, first in the oven and then panfried in butter to lock in the buttery sauce. The chef served it on a bed of English spinach which was really fresh and sweet. When I cut into the beef (and it wasn't even with a proper steak knife), the knife cut through like butter. I thought to myself, "So this is what it feels like when people say something cuts through like butter!" It was a bit of a gastronomical epiphany. The beef was tender and moist. It was delicious. However there were several bits of fat in the middle of the slab, maybe this was the marbled portion of the meat, but I felt that there was just too much fat for my liking and I dug them all out and left them on my plate. I hope the chef did not perceive this as a barbaric act of non-appreciation of good food...

Dessert was quickly assembled by the chef. The date loaf was cut and placed around a dollop of ice-cream (choice of vanilla, chocolate or cookies and cream), strawberries cut and decorated the edge of the plate and a generous sprinkling of breakfast muesli accompanied the dish (the chef confessed she did not have nuts hence the muesli) and finally a thread of chocolate sauce was drawn through the plate. The ice-cream mitigated the dryness of the date loaf slightly, but the next time I make a date loaf, I'll be sure to add the butter, it just makes such a difference.

In any case, it was a great meal, in the good company of newly-met friends. And I did something different (not in front of my laptop) for a change on a Saturday night in Sydney.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Internship Starts

Day 1 of internship. As a new exhibition will open next Thursday, now is the preparation period for it. The existing exhibition will be packed up over the weekend, the works that have been purchased have already been wrapped and bagged, waiting for their new owners to come pick them up.

Today was to photograph the works for the new exhibition (only half have arrived) and to catalogue them. So I started the day manually carrying the works (c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y) up the flight of steps from the cottage to the gallery. I asked if they had ever broken anything and the answer was yes, but it had belonged to the gallery owner, so far they had never broken anything that belonged to the artists. Arrrggghh, better be really careful. So I didn't attempt to carry too many pieces at a time, and probably ended up making 30 trips or so. (I racked my brains for the papers that we had signed for the internship and tried to remember if the college took out any insurance for us to cover such eventualities but could not recall) By the end of that couple of hours of physical exertion, I was perspiring profusely, it didn't help that it was a 31C day and the gallery air conditioning had broken down. I swear when I looked at the full-length mirror they had in the cottage, I looked positively thin, I must have lost a pound at least in sweat.

After lunch of a salmon cake with a side salad, I returned to the gallery and started photographing the remaining pieces, no time to do much photo editing when we finished. Chatted with the gallery owner regarding the process of making some of the pieces, so that I would be equipped to talk to potential customers (I guess it's like being a docent, I just need enough materials to get me going then I will be fine).

Day 1 finally ended. I was a little tired. And hot. But it was an interesting day, and I look forward to coming back on Sunday for more.