Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Flavour/ Shape Test: Epic Fail

This was going to be the new flavour testing and other R&D. The applesauce was easily made last night and the cinnamon smells were heavenly. We were off to a good start, or so I thought. Today, I was going to make applesauce steamed cakes. I was also going to try out cupcake moulds instead of my usual loaf pan to research into steaming time, popularity of different shapes and how many of each type a standard batch can yield.

All right then. Test results are out. This didn't take very long at all.

The plus side is they cooked in no time and the cakes popped out clean and easy. No sticking to the moulds, I didn't even need to use parchment paper like I would for loaves.

Now for the down side - what on earth are those misshapen grey lumps? They look like the most unappealling thing to be had with a nice pot of Earl Grey tea. Taste-wise, they were like eating a lump of damp dough, the bamboo steamer did give it its own aroma, I have to admit although the wonderful cinnamon fragrance is now lost. The cake is sitting in my tummy like a stone.

This test is an epic fail.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Post-Work Migraine

Today I experienced my first migraine ever since I stopped work. Migraines were fairly common when I was at work, especially those last 6 months or so. It seemed to come regularly on a weekly basis at 3.30 pm and I would whip out my aromatherapy stress rollerball thingy, or go get a coffee. Or in most situations, pop 2 panadols. But since I finished up with work, no more migraines!

But today, it made a comeback at 3.30 pm no less. I was drinking a cup of coffee at home and ironically, instead of keeping a migraine away, I felt the all too familiar painful throb. And all because of tax. I had come back from the visit to the tax accountant to finalise the tax returns. To my horror, I would have to cough up another close to $2,000 in additional taxes on top of the equivalent of a not-very-junior-person's annual salary that I've already paid. No thanks to the alignment of the stars this tax year:-

1. redundancy took effect on the very last day of the tax year
2. I applied for residency this tax year and got it so that wiped out my exemption of paying for medicare levy
3. medicare levy is based on salary and salary was inflated due to point 1!!!

So as I said, the stars were all aligned to ensure that I was royally screwed this year by the Tax Man. I want to go back to a kinder, fairer tax regime where my tax dollars are not going to some undeserving chain-smoking, dope-taking, teenaged, single mother.

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Monday, September 28, 2009


We are upgrading. Our furniture that is. When we moved into this new apartment together, I had my retro 1970s green tile top coffee table which I really like but G didn't. He had his Danish teak table and the low Ikea one which we used in the living room. Its height (or lack thereof) made it the perfect leg prop. The Danish table was much too high for a coffee table but the lines were clean and we like it for its design.

After we re-arranged our furniture recently, we moved my green table out where it sits in its place of honour as THE coffee table. The Ikea one was moved to the side of our couch as a side table. This re-arrangement works well. Until G decided that he HAD to have a replica Noguchi coffee table after we visited the Matt Blatt showroom. I didn't really want yet another coffee table in the house but was powerless to overthrow the dictator. So he placed his order for a walnut-coloured one online (I at least had a vote as to WHICH one and I voted for walnut too) and it arrived today. The glass was huge and heavy and I had to help the delivery guy huff and puff the package across the balcony (shortest distance into the house), mangled a nail badly, got pricked by some splinters from the crate packaging and the delivery man expressed surprise when I said I wanted the package inside the house, not on the balcony where we heaved it over.

So we have to re-arrange the coffee tables again. I want to keep my green tiled table but if I get a good price for it, I might consider letting it go, so am testing the market with it. But I think this table is going to stay.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Making A Sale

Perhaps deep down inside, everyone gets a satisfaction from back-to-basics commerce that people used to engage in. Pure and simple selling and buying. I have something I want to sell, you want to buy something I have for sale. A deal is struck, both parties are happy.

G had wanted to throw this pair of dining chairs out, they were originally from B&B Italia, sitting in the cafe of the Museum of Contemporary Art. But when the Museum was changing their furniture, they sold their existing pieces and G bought 4 of these designer chairs. They have a bent wood frame and chrome tube legs. But we no longer use them as dining chairs and they were taking up space. Instead of chucking them out, I harboured hopes of having an online trading business and explored eBay earlier to see how I could start trading. I didn't like the fee structures they had and so never put anything on sale there. Instead I ventured onto Gumtree, a free online classified ads site and put the pair for sale at $25. Within a day or 2, I had a response and the buyer came this morning to collect them.

I was chuffed with the transaction, finally success after weeks of putting 4 retro orange chairs online and getting 1 measly counter offer at 25% of my asking price (the cheek!) which I sat on for days before rejecting it (just to toy with the cheeky bastard). In any case, I like these orange chairs and wouldn't mind keeping them around in case our Parker retro dining chairs give way (their creaking doesn't give me much confidence).

So on a high of making a successful sale, I am reviewing things in the house with a critical eye to see what excesses I can part with.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Glass Plate (Footless Cake Stand)

My latest market/opp shop want is a glass cake stand. A one-tier glass plate with cut or pressed patterns on a simple glass pedestal. I looked online (plenty in the US), neighbourhood opp shops and various weekend markets. I only came across one in an opp shop but the pressed glass version was of low quality with an asking price of $25. I turned up my nose at it. Inferior goods with a superior price tag.

Last Saturday, I came across this glass plate. Not quite what I was looking for, but the pattern looked well-cut and the price was very attractive - $2. Was originally asking for $3 but when I walked away not quite decided if that was what I want, the seller quickly knocked it down to $2. Now, I've seen many of these glass plates at various opp shops, there are nice ones and not-so-nice ones but none for $2. This was seemed well-cut and well-priced. So even though it was not a glass cake stand, I caressed this footless glass plate and took it home with a creative thought in my mind that I could transform it into a cake stand by super-glueing a glass candle stick to the back, creating the missing leg. Or it can just stay as a glass plate and I'll keep searching for my glass cake stand.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Origami Boxes

Steamed cake version 4 today. I decided to steam 1 loaf but divide it into 2 smaller, squarish cakes when it's done. Before steaming, I would decorate 1 half with raisins in the form of an "A" and the other half in the form of an "L". We are going to see the Joneses tomorrow so A is for the new baby, Alexander, while L is to assure Leo we have not forgotten him although there is a new star attraction now.

Unfortunately, the decoration results were a bit of a let-down, the cake rose during the steaming and the raisins spread out. Now the "A" and "L" look like they were letters written in the shaky hand of 2.5 year old Leo.

So to enhance the appearance of the gifts to the boys, I googled up a quick tutorial to make origami boxes to house these cakes. I selected 2 scrapbook papers and quickly folded them quite easily. So with these containers folded, I put the cling-wrapped cakes into the boxes and tied each of them up with a blue ribbon. I think the new presentation of the cakes makes a difference. The Japanese always know how to present everything so beautifully. This is 1 trick I'm going to be filing away for future reference.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Speed Reading

I've always been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. And a big fan of public libraries. I remember my first library cards. In those days, you had 4 pink library cards as a junior library member, and you slot the index card of each book you borrow, which is stored in a little pocket on the first page of the book, into each library card which is actually a cardboard slot card and the librarian filed them away. When you return the books, the librarian would have to retrieve each book, put the index cards back and hand you your library cards for your next loan. I was devouring 4 books every week, going to the neighbourhood library every Saturday with my mum or my friends.

I am not sure if the eagerness to finish reading my 4 books pushed me to read fast or if I read so much so I had lots of reading practice and hence I read fast or if I've just got a short attention span (or possibly impatient) and need to get through the book quickly and hence learnt the skill of skimming very early on in life. Whatever it is, I am a speed reader. Colleagues complain I am scrolling down the computer screen too quickly whenever we read something on the screen together. G accuses me of skipping chunks of articles he tells me to read - until I quote him details from the chunks he thinks I've missed. You can't argue with evidence.

So when the State Library organised a speed reading competition in conjunction with the global launch of Dan Brown's latest novel, "The Lost Symbol" for today, I threw my hat into the ring. I thought it was going to be a cosy affair with people curled up on armchairs reading away. It turned out to be classroom-style rows of tables and chairs, with a bunch of TV cameras and reporters hanging around at the back of the room just behind where I sat (my favourite spot is always the last or near-last row in a room if possible). We were given official T-shirts and a competitor's bib. Yes that's right - a number bib like a marathon runner. What were they going to do? I imagine a commentary like, "Yes and that is number 4, she's turned page 246 and is headed right into page 247 like the wind. Oh wait, number 16 is fast catching up, he's skimming really fast."

We were given the first 2 chapters to "warm up" at 8.15 am. And at 9 am promptly, the competition kicks off and the large digital clock starting the count. Finally at 2 hours 25 minutes, this girl in the first row announced she has finished (yeah it's always the eager beavers who sit in the first row). The reporters rushed forward and try to interview her but the organisers cut them short and whisked her away to do a comprehensive test to ensure she's not only read but retained some important bits so that she can give a coherent book review to the interviewers. She must have passed the test, or perhaps they coached her on what she HAS to tell the reporters because she gave a really long spiel on the book when she came out. We had to re-enact the part where she's finished reading the book for the cameras because they didn't manage to film that bit.

I was two-thirds way through at the point the fastest reader finished and will probably take a total of 4 hours to complete. So I take my free copy of "The Lost Symbol" and leave the library, to savour in the comfort of my couch at home.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Biscuit Craving

I have a craving tonight. For biscuits. In particular, for these stem ginger biscuits. However being in this house which is a biscuit-free household, the craving was a little hard to satisfy. So I've had to resort to:-

1. A banana coated with Nutella;
2. A giant Jaffa;
3. Several dates;
4. A cup of yoghurt with strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar and sugar; and
5. A cup of sugary, milky tea.

I know what's going on my shopping list for tomorrow.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Strange Pairings

Some food pairings just sound strange, just like the way 2 seemingly incompatible people who have gotten together appear to their friends. Strawberries marinating in balsamic vinegar is exactly this. A fruit and a cooking condiment like vinegar just make strange bedfellows. But ... it works. Perhaps like those apparently ill-paired couples, there is just a certain something that is unexplained. A chemistry, a chemical, 2 wrongs make a right? Whatever it is, it's yummy.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Steamed Cake - Childhood Version

I've had a few flashbacks to my childhood when I would remember something yummy my mother used to make and wonder how easily I could replicate that. Thanks to the internet, googling up these recipes is a breeze and one can usually find a really easy recipe which is not too far off the mark.

Today I tried my hand at making a steamed cake Chinese style. Mum used to make these purely because of necessity as we did not live near shops or bakeries so she had to make these simple cakes to satisfy her family's craving for dessert or just something sweet. And the ingredients are so simple, just eggs, plain flour and sugar. I threw in some baking powder just in case my arm power was not enough to beat the batter to death and make the cake rise and split open with little craters on the surface when cooked. Just as well because it was really, really hard to beat that thick batter. I remember mum and another aunt beating their batter really hard, especially that aunt who had hers in a red pail and added some 7-up to it for the carbonation rising effect. And the talk of clockwise and anti-clockwise beating motions.

I couldn't find a suitable round pan and so steamed it in my loaf pan which worked just as well, standing in my big deep frying pan with the lovely steam cooking my golden loaf. After 40 minutes it was done. Delicious.

I had replicated a piece of my childhood in a dish. It was a warm feeling, a taste of simpler times.

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