Happy birthday!

So without much fanfare as per the norm these days, my birthday came and went. It was such a typical day, going to work… just that I got the afternoon off and went off to meet my sis(-in-law) for lunch.

What are birthdays without cakes, especially when I have developed a sweet tooth somewhere along the way over these years.

This wasn’t a birthday cake. In fact, I got this for my friend (and also for myself to try) when I visited her at her home while she was recuperating from a surgery. It’s a new cake offered by Starbucks, a Coconut cream sponge cake, that was surprisingly quite nice, to me. Perhaps because it’s meant to be a sponge cake after all, it didn’t feel dense and heavy, and the coconut scent/taste wasn’t too strong or overpowering. I didn’t really take the cream that much so I can’t comment how good or bad it is. But overall, it’s pretty alright and good for sharing, as always!This was a real birthday cake. Ahead of my birthday, and also my bro’s, who has his birthday in this month too, my eldest bro and sis-in-law took us out for lunch one balmy Sunday afternoon, and surprised us after a hearty and comforting local delights lunch with these 2 slices of birthday cakes topped with candles! This was the one and only candle that I blew out this year. The food we had was good, it had a rather authentic ‘wok hei’ to it, and the cakes were also delicious. Maybe it was made even better because of the thoughts behind and enjoying the special moment as the birthday girl. 🙂Not a cake, but there’s still ‘cake’, i.e. Korean seafood pancake. Haha. Met a friend for dinner and she was having a craving for Korean food so off to a Korean eatery we went! The food was yummy, whether it’s the main or the ban-chan. I loved the japchae, even if it was a little oily but perhaps that was what made it so good! The portion was so generous for it being called an ‘appetiser’ or ‘starter’ so thankfully I didn’t order any main. With the ban-chan, the japchae and the pancake, I think I was already stuffed but yet I couldn’t resist not cleaning up whatever I could because the food was just too good (imho) and I hate wasting. As much as I possibly could.So when I met sis for lunch on the actual day, she brought me to U-town and we had lunch at a bistro. Even though we went fairly late for lunch, the place was still packed. But with the luxury of time that afternoon, we could afford to sit around and by the time we were done with our mains, the place already sort of cleared out and we could enjoy our cakes and coffee in peace while having a nice chat.

The carrot cake that we ordered wasn’t as good as we had hoped or expected it to be. But oh well, we can’t really tell if it’s good just based on looks. It had a rather flat taste and the sponge part felt a tad too dry and hard. But the apple crumble tart was good though! Sis commented that the carrot cake carried more cinnamon than the apple tart but I thought the taste came from the spiced apples within the tart. Anyhow, we really enjoyed the tart and it was a great and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.So that summed up my birthday celebration, if you would even consider it as a celebration. I suppose that as time passes and we age, birthdays become less of an event and quieter. We don’t need to be surrounded with people to celebrate our birthdays, or huge and noisy parties. That was never really my thing anyway. Quiet one-on-one or family gatherings are preferred because these are the people who matter anyway. 🙂

Literally eating my way through Hong Kong

The past couple of weeks have been crazy that I almost feel close to a breakdown. Exhaustion can’t even begin to describe how I feel.

So anyway, I can now afford a slight breather and will try to catch up on my posts. Try I certainly will.

x x x

It was just the third day in Hong Kong and I could already feel that the whole trip was really just about eating. Ok, to be honest, we did do some shopping and as it was really meant to be a chillax trip, there wasn’t any need to rush around. It is Hong Kong after all, not too far from home and where we had been a number of times, so again, it meant that we could just chill.

Although vacations in Hong Kong are typically about their local fare, or perhaps in recent years, the various hipster cafes not unlike those that have sprouted up in Singapore, I still like checking out the chain cafes for what they serve, which is often very much different from what we get here due to the different local food supplier they have. And by virtue of it being a holiday for me, I will tend to find what they have more interesting, as compared to what I am used to seeing day-in and out at our Starbucks or the likes.

So this is breakfast at Pacific Coffee. There are just a handful of them left here, but they are pretty much in many places all over Hong Kong. The lemon tart, with a latte and yogurt pot. You can tell how much I am into my yogurts because even while travelling, I still want to have them on a daily basis if I can. The apple crumble tart that I ordered, which was not too bad but nothing spectacular.
After this supposed first breakfast, I proceeded for a brunch of sorts. Met my cousin at Elephant Grounds’ new outlet (at least to me) at Fashion Walk, which boasted proper seating and food menu. We being rather mindful of what we eat sometimes, ordered the healthy options. He ordered a rice bowl topped with greens and chicken, while I opted for a quinoa salad. Or was it cous cous, I couldn’t remember. The food was pretty decent, and portion looked quite generous, however they were quite stingy on the grains. The leaves took up real estate in the large serving bowl, leaving a lot of space without much of the quinoa/cous cous, so I was left feeling half-full even after this. Hmmph. It was more like a sprinkling of grains rather than it being the main feature of the salad… -_-
But coffee is still very good! And weather that day was perfect for al fresco dining; though it was winter in Hong Kong, it didn’t feel like a typical December day. The sun was out and the air was just nice and breezy with a cool feel. Of course to me, that is already considered a little cold, as usual. But to everyone else, I think the temperature is comfortable.

So because the mains we had at Elephant Grounds weren’t enough to fill us up, we proceeded for desserts. A brought me to this sweet-soup shop near Times Square, called ‘Cong Sau (聪嫂)’, where I ordered a papaya-based dessert with white fungus, while he took an almond paste item with gingko nuts. Both were really nice, and he told me that their ‘tang yuan’ was good too, that I made a mental note to return the next day since it’s winter solstice, time to eat 汤圆! Close-up of my choice.
After spending a few precious hours catching up with the cousin, I went to meet my friend for dinner. Yes… more eating! It seems like I’m eating non-stop…

We went to Tin Loke Lane (in the Wan Chai / Causeway Bay vicinity) for 烧腊! This was what we ordered, a set meal that included 双拼 (2 types of meat) where my friend chose roast pork and something which I couldn’t quite get/remember what it was, a bowl of watercress soup, a plate of sauteed vegetables and rice. I was quite disappointed with the  veggies, because I was half-expecting something like our 油菜, but apparently it wasn’t so. It feels like lightly stir-fried cabbage or something.On top of that, I ordered an ala carte char siew rice, since I was really craving for some nice char siew. The char siew in Hong Kong is different from what we are used to having in Singapore, which is slightly more dry and tough to a certain extent, probably because they are roasted more thoroughly? The edges are usually a bit burnt which makes it really nice, and the colour is generally darker. The ones in Hong Kong tend to be lighter in colour and is juicier, also generally with more fat. I had to consciously cut/slice away the fats because I really don’t like the feel and taste of fatty meat. No matter how nice everyone tells me they are, I just get myself to eat it. I found out later that this is also the shop that my cousin frequents when he wants to get his char siew fix, and his tip for me, “ask for 瘦叉烧”. Oh I see.

Here’s a close up of all that juicy goodness. I guess that’s why we always see their char siew being called 密汁叉烧 because it feels juicy?
This was what my friend ordered. I had some of the roast pork too, and it is also not as tough/hard as what we have here. Ok, I don’t know if the roast pork in Singapore is hard, because I don’t think I have ever ordered this at any of the hawkers back home, haha! After dinner, it’s time for dessert again! We headed to this 糖水 shop near our hotel, which was also where a friend brought me to once. It serves a wide variety of sweet soups and there are sometimes queues forming outside the tiny shop where patrons wait patiently (or not) for their turn to enjoy their desserts! The most popular items would probably be the 桑记莲子茶, which comes in various versions with or without hard-boiled egg, lotus seeds, etc. I should think that their black sesame paste, or whatever other paste for that matter, should be pretty good because they are made in large pots. I ordered the almond paste that was so smooth and fluid while my friend took the bestseller (or what I think should be their bestselling item). Prices here are generally a bit higher, as compared to where my cousin brought me to earlier that day anyway. At 聪嫂, it’s probably less than or about HKD20 per bowl, but here, each bowl could cost more than HKD30, though to be fair, the portion here is bigger too.

And so that concludes Day 3 of eating. We did some walking too, in our attempt to walk off the bloated feeling of all the good stuff that we had in us, but I seriously think that we were not giving our stomachs and digestive systems sufficient time to rest and recuperate!

the rabbit with an X for a mouth 

One of my favourite characters since some time ago has been Miffy, the rabbit that hails from the Netherlands, created by Nick Bruna, with an “X” for a mouth. At least it has a mouth, not like Hello Kitty, the cat without a mouth. Haha.

I remembered that since young, I have liked characters like Snoopy, the beagle without a mouth and speaks with thought balloons. Then there was Garfield, the fat lazy cat. No trend detected there.

So anyhow, I seem to have a fondness of rabbits, whether it’s Miffy or rabbit-print stuff. The only thing that I’m not that keen on would be probably real rabbits. I am not an animal person, or for that matter, pets person. It isn’t that I dislike animals but I just don’t fancy taking care of them or want to have the commitment of looking after them when I don’t know if I can even take care of myself. It could be a poor excuse for being commitment-phobic but oh well. We all have our preferences.So I got a Miffy toy for my birthday this year! Somehow, it looks a bit sad? Like how I generally feel these days perhaps. Or maybe because it was sitting beside the huge-ass slice of Apple Crumble but yet can’t have it!

Thanks for the thought and the gift. With some people, things just always feel the same despite a long bout of absence. I suppose it isn’t the frequency of meeting up that makes the difference, but the fact that we make the effort when we can.

Benslips Cafe, Germany

The place I visited last week is the typical European town where life basically comes to a standstill on Sundays. Well, there were still people around of course, but almost all businesses and shops were closed. I got there sometime around noon, surviving a 12.5-hour flight and another 4.5-hr journey on several trains, and despite that I was mentally and physically tired I wanted to head out because as I have heard, that is the best way to overcome jetlag. I’m not sure if it works or not, getting out and having some sun (whatever is available, at least it’s daylight) and try to get into the normal hours of the foreign locale rather than sticking to what your body is accustomed to at home.

After walking around for a short while exploring the small town, I settled into this cafe that was open! It was fairly empty when I dropped in, not that the town was crowded anyway. For those few days, I kind of appreciated the change from the bustling city life of Singapore where at each and every turn at almost every waking hour of the day, I am constantl inundated with crowds, on the subway, at the malls, everywhere!

The thing I really love about Germany, at least from what I have seen so far, which is really little, is that bakeries abound and their breads are major love. It feeds the bread-lover in me and my eyes just sparkle with excitement each time I pass by a bakery (known as Bäckeri in German), visually devouring all the golden brown goods on display. I had a hard time trying to choose something, because despite that there were lots of bread choices, there were things that I wasn’t sure what they were, i.e. the pastries, and my knowledge of German is extremely finite and limited. This was what I picked:

20130829-102737.jpg

An apple strudel, with a cappucino. Or should it be called an apple pie or apple crumble? What’s the difference anyway? I should have just ordered a normal coffee, because somehow the beverage didn’t sit well with me. Or at least that was what I thought, maybe it was the milk because there was some odd smell to it that made me not really want to drink it, or perhaps I have gotten too used to drinking coffee without milk. Yes, the latte-drinker in me seemed to have converted into something else.

I actually didn’t know that the apple strudel was going to be such a big portion because I thought it was just half of this but when it was dished onto the plate I kind of regretted and wished I had ordered something else instead, such as a slice of cake or some breads. 20130829-102745.jpg

To be very honest, I didn’t enjoy the apple strudel that much either. I liked the top, for its crispiness and crunchiness, and of course the sweetness that helped to bring my blood sugar a little higher to combat the fatigue for that short while. I picked out the top and the apple slices in between, and left most of the crust intact. I was a little concerned initially, because when I was in the shop, I could see that in the display, there were lots of insects flying around and my first thought was “yucks”, but I think those were bees rather than flies, because of all the sweetness contained in these pastries. During the course of the week, I discovered the same thing in every bakery I walked into and on some occasions I actually walked off without getting anything because I was grossed out. But to be fair, I didn’t fall sick after that. Back to the strudel, the crust wasn’t fantastic because I prefer those crusts that are not so soft.

However, in general, I still love the smells wafting out of these bakeries whenever I passed and wished I could just pack everything back. I won’t be able to finish most of it and will be wasting money for sure, but that’s where my irrational love of bread and pastries emerge.

Oh, and this wasn’t so expensive. For the large slice of strudel and the cappucino, I paid only 3.30 Euro, which is less than S$6. For Europe, that is considered cheap, and even in Singapore, we already have to pay about S$6 for a latte or cappucino at the cafes!

more Toast!

I might have talked about this too many times before, but I really enjoy visiting Toast even if seating capacity is extremely limited and these days I only try my luck on days when I am quite sure I will be able to get a seat, e.g. during odd hours when everyone is supposed to be at work and I happen to be off from work, or early in the day on weekends when most should probably not have stepped out of their homes.

Decided to meet a friend there one weekend during the late morning but the place was already almost full when I got there. Fortunately, my friend was earlier and managed to get us a 2-seater table. Like one of the last times when I visited, I ordered their apple crumble and it is just so sinfully good. It slants towards the sweet side if I recall, but not so much in a overly sweet diabetes-inducing kind of sweet. It is also the generous apple slices contained within the moist pastry crust that lures me to this item. 20130206-092230.jpg

So far I have tried one of their sandwiches, of course the apple crumble, their carrot cake and salad, and also the cupcakes. My friend had the pumpkin soup this time because she had wanted to check out the cupcakes, but I forgot to ask her about it, although I would suspect that without negative comments it should mean that it was pretty alright. Prices here aren’t the friendliest, but then I think it probably mirrors a lot of cafes in these days of inflating prices. For the apple crumble and flat white I had, I paid S$10.50, which is slightly more than what I’d fork out at Starbucks for a latte and muffin but that’s only because the muffins cost much less than a slice of cake at our familiar green-logoed cafe. Anyway, it isn’t like I visit Toast every weekend but then again, I spend this money elsewhere otherwise.

It is hard to be frugal or up the austerity efforts when there is a comfortable purchasing power. That was what I found out over these years, because as compared to when I just started work many years ago, I earn more now but in terms of the percentage of savings of the total income, I am surprised I could save a greater portion back then. Needless to say, that’s without the additional financial burdens that got added along the way of these years. Still, with purchasing power comes more liberal spending and we tend not to scrutinise the dollars and cents that much, or maybe it is only applicable to me.