the vagaries of simplicity

We all want to have a simple life. But what does a simple life connote? What does it mean to lead a simple life, or live simply? Is it a life of minimalism, is it a life of detachment, is it a life of mindfulness and peace…?

As much as we say we want to live simply, it is an oxymoron because the mechanics of a simple life is just not simple at all.

I love cakes. I kind of developed a sweet tooth somewhere in my adult years, if I remember correctly, it was something that only happened in recent years, oddly. Maybe it was a result of hormonal imbalances that was fundamentally self-inflicted. I don’t recall having such a strong love for sweet things when I was younger. But much as I enjoy cakes, I don’t fancy cream so baked goods like tea cakes, sponge cakes and the likes, the “simple” stuff, are what appeal to me more than those fondant cakes that are all the rage these days, costing up to 3-digit prices for a single cake. They look pretty for sure, but the kinds of cream used on those cakes are just not for me.

A simple life, can be sitting at a cafe enjoying a cup of sugarless black coffee and a fragrant slice of banana bread. But such a life does not come ‘simple’ or ‘cheap’. It is working at job that earns us the dough to be able to indulge in such experiences occasionally. This was the week where I was scheduled to work-from-home in view of the recent virus outbreak. For me, it wasn’t so much of ‘working from home’ per se but just ‘working away from office’. I cannot bear to stay home for a long period. Maybe I am just not a homebody, or maybe my home just is not conducive because it is often replete with noise disturbances from people who are just inconsiderate for others living in the same community. Ironically, this WFH week probably saw my expenses rising because of these ‘working from cafe’ jaunts. There are pros and cons of being away from the office; while I get to work and do my stuff around my own schedule, it is hard to manage expectations when during this week, I give-and-take and work or reply emails well into the night or in the wee hours of the morning. It is not something that I will want to continue doing when I am back to the office but people sometimes may just expect the same behaviour and do not readjust their expectations accordingly.

I had considered that perhaps this could open the door for me to negotiate for a flexible working arrangement when the virus dies down and life starts to go back to normal. However, I think it isn’t just the flexibility in working hours or arrangements that is the deal maker or breaker. Despite that I was away from the office and the colleagues for a whole week and this week really saw me talking minimally (probably retreating further and further back into my cave), the core issue I have with this job is really the people and next, the nature of work. Even though I know that wherever I go, I will be bound to run into such people, the combination of a toxic environment and the overall unstructured nature of this role spells disaster with a capital D. In this week alone, every single day, I would receive sporadic emails or text messages from my boss asking me to think of or plan for this and that, usually arising from some external catalyst that elicited the reactivity in her. It is tiring to have to keep on reacting and responding, and from that point on, gaze into an imaginary crystal ball to try to predict and guess what lies ahead, what is needed, or what people want.

Then, the problem of people taking advantage of my attempt to be helpful and proactive, because in my recent appraisal, it was the apparent factor that cost me a promotion. I was further accused of drawing lines, yet somehow when others push their work to me in view of their heavy workloads or when they draw lines and progressively push the lines in their favour, they don’t suffer the same consequences but on the contrary they were the ones who got promoted!

Is there any more reason to stay? Is there anything else that I need to do to be able to get out of here? It’s said that if a door is not opening, it just means that this isn’t a door that’s meant to be closed yet. But really, in a span of two years I have felt so drained and exhausted and the rest and recovery I thought I had made in the 10-month break I took prior to this seemed to have been completely wiped out and pushed me further and deeper into an abyss that I have not imagined I could land into.

It all seems so dark and bleak. Uncertain. Hopeless.

In trying to cope with all these, I can only turn to things that I can wield a weak grip and grasp over, which have somehow translated into compulsive and unhealthy habits that seem to wreak more harm on me than help me cope.

Sigh. This isn’t what life is supposed to be is it? 

Are you there, God? It’s me. Please don’t forget about me.

Detachment

It’s something I have to constantly challenge and remind myself to practise. Be it from people or from things, I think it’s the only way for me to be able to gain some semblance of peace within, yet innately for the last few decades that I’ve been living, it is almost an ingrained part of me, no doubt I guess due to circumstances I’ve grown up in or experiences I’ve had when I was young that have led to what I am today.

It is perhaps telling, that the more I try to detach myself the harder it seems to be and the more bitterness I feel, whether it’s with myself or the people I try to detach from, when I can’t get to the state envisioned. I don’t know if it’s what I would call ‘soft-heartenedness’, if I just have a natural soft spot for these people that at the slightest hint of any positive showing of affection/friendliness to me, all earlier thoughts of detaching myself from them go out the window obliterated and I invest and dive fully headlong into it and somehow or another emerge with even deeper wounds when things again start to go awry.

I told my friend that maybe I’m just the ‘all or nothing’ kind of person, but yet the inability to practise and stand by the concept of ‘nothing’ has resulted in bitterness that in all reality has only affected me and left my heart in shreds and my mind in constant turmoil, the other person oblivious to whatever suffering I’d inflicted on myself.

The idea is to detach at an appropriate moment and not grieve, or stay too long in grief, when a relationship goes south or becomes that of an acquaintance sort of connection. The key is to understand that people come and go, and friends are made for a season and a reason. It may be true that some stay longer than others and maybe there may even be some who linger for an almost lifetime, the ‘evergreen’, underlying bedrock of friendships that somehow always remain, visible or not. Yet the truth is that there are and will be many who will come and go, and it is important to recognise and acknowledge that, appreciate it when they come and accept and celebrate it even, when the time comes for them to make an exit.

If I could only accept that graciously, even if the exit happens in circumstances that I least expect, I need to gird and ready myself for such situations and be ever ready to cut loose when it doth occurs.

I want to be happier and more at peace. I don’t want to keep on like this and exhaust myself and people around me – those that are still around.

There are so many things in life that need the mental capacity to deal with that it is needful to conserve the bandwidth for the most fundamental ones so that the candle doesn’t burn out prematurely.

Food enjoyed with another almost always taste better…

Spiced Creme Brûlée latte

I don’t usually drink milk-based coffee unless I’ve felt that I had an overdose of black coffee/Americano or if it’s a little late in the day when I felt that a milky caffeinated beverage would do less to disrupt my sleep.

But sometimes I’m intrigued to try seasonal drinks that cafés put out especially at such festive seasons, although to be honest most of them tend to be gimmicky and too sweet for me. I know it’s weird because I am a self-professed sugar addict with an incurable sweet tooth but somehow it differs from thing to thing.

So! Back to the main point. I saw this Christmas drink at Joe & Dough and I just had to try it, even if it’s just for the ‘gram.

Ta-da! I’ve a soft spot for the gingerbread man character and I just couldn’t resist this. Marshmallows are a bonus though they feature even less than secondary in my consideration.

So what’s the verdict on this? To be honest, I had not given much thought to the taste. There was perhaps a hint of cinnamon (from the spice I presume) and maybe because I had requested for it to be less sweet the barista might have been lighter on the caramel (syrup). On the whole, of course it carried a bit more taste than a regular latte would, but it also sort of muted the caffeine notes. The part of the marshmallows that were immersed in the milky mixture were fast dissolving and melting so they went into my mouth pretty quickly for me to really appreciate their taste, if any, and how they complemented the drink or not.

Also, I was trying to position Gingi (my affectionate name for gingerbread man) in all sorts of ways possible to capture the best shot but failed miserably so after a few tries I gave up and proceeded to start munching on the mini cookie. I was sorely disappointed. While I know that gingerbread man biscuits/cookies have a tendency to be less crunchy and are more of a shortbread kind of texture, this particular cookie I had, even the parts that were not soaked in the coffee, tasted soggy and stale. Stale, not in the ‘it’s probably gone bad’ kind of stale but left out in the open for too long that it has lost any kind of crisp/crunch/bite to it.

So, long story short, this is just good for a one-time try to take a photo for my own keeping and posting, but otherwise I will stick to my usual Americano.

Weekends are made of these – Artisan Boulangerie Co.

Who doesn’t love it when the weekend approaches? I bet that most people, by the time Thursday comes by, are already anticipating the end of the work week, that’s why there is always that oft-used “TGIF” and somehow, the mood just takes on a more relaxed tone even on Friday mornings.

These are also the times when I have the luxury of spending moments at cafes, enjoying the food and coffee without having to think of needing to return to the office post-lunch. The amount of time spent there could be the same but the feeling is just different.

Artisan Boulangerie Co., or ABC for short, is one such place I like to go to. I have posted a couple of entries on it before, but this is a short summary of the things I like from them that I found from the photo album of my phone, which I have not downloaded into some storage device but are taking up precious memory space.

Just recently, I went to ABC again, which I’m happy to (despite that a meal there is typically a little pricier as compared to the other cafes like Starbucks or Coffee Bean) especially now that I have easier access to one of their outlets than before. So this time, I had wanted to order my favourite item from their breakfast menu but was told that they ran out of it, so I decided to get a sandwich instead, which you can’t go too wrong with. Not with them anyway, and especially if it’s something that I have tried before – the roast chicken baguette. At S$11.30 (pre-GST), it isn’t the cheapest sandwich around but it’s all for good measure – just check out how generous they are with it.The baguette is easier the length of a fork and it’s of pretty decent quality, though extremely hard. I wouldn’t recommend this for people who don’t like the bite and chewiness in their breads, because even cutting into it takes a bit of effort after sometime (when the bread has cooled) that I felt as though I was working my arms just eating this thing!
The chicken filling was literally spilling out of the sandwich, and it has a nice peppery taste for some spiciness. How I usually eat my sandwiches is by deconstruction – meaning, I literally take the entire sandwich apart, eating the bread separate from the filling. I would slice/cut up the bread into bite-size chunks, the same with the filling, and eat them together like mini open-faced sandwiches. I feel that it’s easier this way and less messy when eating, though the plate becomes messy because as I cut through the bread, types like croissant or baguette crumble and flake all over the place.

On a past visit, I had tried some other sandwiches. One that I had always wanted to try and did, was the Goat Cheese & Capsicum on focaccia. I can’t remember if I had posted about this before, but I love goat cheese and this was definitely one of those items I had wanted to try. I thought somehow the cheese reminded me of brie, and again it was so generous that I had to spread the cheese onto the bread so I wouldn’t recommend this for people who feel iffy about the taste of goat dairy, or for that matter, anyone who doesn’t fancy strong-tasting cheese.Yummy… this on the whole was good, but again strong-tasting, because of the goat cheese and the rockets. But goes perfectly with a cup of their Long Black.
Still another time, I decided to order something off the menu that wasn’t in the display case – turkey, avocado and brie. Although this was not bad in itself, the bread felt a little too soft for my liking. It’s toasted to a certain extent but it I don’t know if it’s because it’s white, it is too soft without the crunch and chewiness that I like to have for breads. If I recalled correctly, and from the picture it is turkey ham used in the sandwich instead of turkey meat, so it isn’t preferred. I probably wouldn’t order this again given a choice; would try something else or order something that I’ve tried and tested to be ok!
Tried the Chicken Caesar salad too and on the whole it’s pretty great, portion size was ok though not excessive but they supplement it with a serving of bread that you could indulge in with (semi-salted) butter or jam that’s freely available from their condiments counter. The salad isn’t dressing-rich, which is great and chicken portions are pretty sufficient. Only downside for me is the use of Parmesan cheese which is not my favourite type of cheese. But I think this is a typical ingredient of Caesar salads, so I could either ask for its omission in future or just make do with it. But butter croutons – amazing!
Of course, this brings me to my favourite item from their menu, which is from their brunch items – Homemade / Artisan Almond Granola, which is a mixture of organic rolled oats, toasted almonds, sesame & sunflower seeds, served with plain yogurt and freshly-cut fruits. At $12 each, this is pretty pricey but I feel worth every single dime (ok maybe not) because the fruits used are really fresh and of good quality and I just cannot resist this combination of fruits, granola and yogurt!Their other brunch items are also good, though the only other item I’ve tried is the Avocado Egg Open Face, which aside from bacon that I don’t take, everything else was just darn great!

W39 Bistro & Bakery, Jalan Mas Puteh

Recently on Facebook, I came across this post that talked about cafes in “ulu” (i.e. description of a place that is far from civilisation) parts of Singapore. These aren’t exactly unpopular cafes, the very fact that they were mentioned and listed in the post obviously means that despite their unpopular locations, they have still garnered quite a following, suggesting that there should be something good about them that warrants a visit perhaps. Or maybe it is just due to the fickle nature of cafe-goers to always check out someplace new, and with posts being shared on social media, especially by those with a wide follower base, it isn’t hard to gain popularity whether or not there is a good product behind it. Marketing is important, more so that the product, when it comes to attracting crowds, but of course when we talk about sustainability, many other factors come into play, so we shall see if the cafes listed on that post are still around in time to come. Who knows? But most of them, I may not even have the chance to visit once, let alone re-visit, simply because they are just too faraway for me to consider, unless someone again volunteers transport!

Over the Good Friday long weekend, my friend suggested checking out W39 Bistro & Bakery that is located in the West Coast area. When I first heard West Coast, I was thinking to myself, “What – where?” because to me, that is just ‘ulu’. Even though it is probably nearer to where I stay now as compared to before, west coast connotes a very faraway locale that I went at most a couple of times in the past. East Coast rings a closer vibe somewhat, because I’d only associate it with Marine Parade, which is just a short distance away from the downtown area of Suntec/Marina (ok it may be further but that is just my own thinking).

Anyway, as my friend’s driving and offered to pick me up from home, I gladly and readily agreed. Hehe, that is how easy it is to get me to go somewhere, just provide the transport! I Googled W39 and read about its ‘iconic blue-and-yellow chairs’, which I thought was funny/interesting because it conjures up a sort of beach image to me – like deck chairs that we would see on the pristine beaches somewhere else? But it was anything but. There was no shoreline, not even a silver of lake, where W39 is located. The road name in itself, Jalan Mas Puteh, makes me think like we were going somewhere outside of Singapore. It’s actually within a private residential estate somewhere in the western part of Singapore, not that far off from Clementi actually, so it isn’t that far west (think Boon Lay or Pioneer). Along the way there, making our way to find a parking spot, it reminded me of the Upper Thomson area where there were some cafes also located within a private landed estate.

I didn’t take any photos of the place, but you can easily find them online and you will see the blue-and-yellow decor that was described of the cafe. We perused the menu, and I was a little torn, whether to order the usual stuff that I would order for brunch, or try something new, which is local offerings of breakfast food. In the end, I chose the Nasi Lemak! I know it isn’t something exceptional, but I haven’t had it in a really long time and considering that I needed more protein to enable my body to recover faster, I thought this would be a good idea because of the chicken thigh that is the main feature of this dish! Ok, there is coconut rice too but I didn’t really take much of it so I can’t really comment – but I think it’s not as fragrant as traditional nasi lemak from the hawkers though.

So there you go, my Nasi Lemak with Roasted Chicken Thigh, that came with half a grilled tomato and poached egg – talk about fusion, haha. The ikan bilis was nice and crunchy and the sambal chilli was really something that I had missed. It feels like a long time too since I last had such sambal chilli, and although it’s a little too sweet and salty for my palate now, it complements the rice and chicken well. The chicken felt a little dry though, despite that it looks more fried than roasted, so maybe I can comfort myself that it isn’t oily or dripping in oil.My friend’s order is also pretty interesting, a fusion of sorts, but of the sweet and savoury type – Eggs Benedict, which was shredded lamb shank and mushrooms on their Butter Top Loaf (which turned out to be a waffle?). She found it pretty light despite that it’s waffle and lamb, because there wasn’t that much lamb on it, maybe something like pulled pork and the waffle was the light, fluffy type and not the thick spongy kind. I might have ordered this too, if not for the fact that I don’t really like having so much sauce on eggs, i.e. I have never ordered Eggs Ben for brunch, and I don’t really take lamb/mutton. But the veggies looked good though! After this, she still had quite some space left in her stomach so a dessert was ordered, which I actually had quite a bit of too, despite my huge nasi lemak.
The Mister Chocolate cake, a chocolate sponge cake with chocolate chips, covered with melted chocolate, came served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The cake was served warm, I think, because the layer of chocolate outside was in slight molten form when it came, and the fact that it’s actually a sponge cake on the inside made it more enjoyable because it isn’t too dense and heavy for a chocolate cake. I don’t really like brownies so much as a dessert because they are too dense and overwhelming for one person to have. The vanilla ice-cream complemented the cake very well too, although its taste wasn’t particularly distinctively vanilla like some that I have tried. It was a very generous scoop that was given though, so at S$6.80 for this, it’s actually pretty value-for-money.I also had a coffee, which was not too bad (can’t comment as usual) but sometimes I really wished that Long Blacks / Americanos came in larger sizes. I know that good coffee doesn’t need to be in large quantities, but I am perhaps too used to the Tall sizes of Starbucks to find the coffee cups in these cafes too small. Maybe my strategy in future should be to order the coffee only after I have my food, so that it can still be hot / warm to drink, and that I can slowly sip and enjoy the coffee properly after eating.

Lunch at The Plain, Craig Rd

It was just my second visit to the Plain, since my first trip several years ago, before I moved to this area for work. In fact, it is strange that with my office so nearby, I haven’t actually thought of re-visiting, maybe because in my mind, I wanted to try out other cafes in the neighbourhood that I have yet to check out… or there was just a period of time where I considered it extravagant to lunch at cafes on a regular basis. Well, I still subscribe to that school of thought somewhat, but then another school of thought has entered the picture, that life is fairly short and we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, scrimping and saving… to what end, I’d think. Sure, saving is important, whether it is for the proverbial rainy day, or towards building a nest egg for retirement, however much that kind of money will contribute to.

So, recently I have given myself more liberty where lunch options are concerned. It is supposed to be healthier too to step out of the office during lunch, instead of cooping myself up with packed lunches.

On one such lunches, at the Plain, I ordered a serving of plain toast (sourdough) with earl grey and fig jam (this piqued my interest), and a cup of bircher muesli.Instead of a slice, perhaps they had an extra tiny slice that they decided to give it to me anyhow, I got 1.5 slices. I really love the bread! In itself, sourdough is a type of bread that I enjoy and prefer over white (and usually soft and limp) bread, but the fact that this bread is very well-toasted made it all the better! I wonder if I can re-create the same effect using the oven, since I do not have an oven toaster at home which would make it so much easier and convenient to toast something (I blame it on the gross lack of space in the kitchen, no counter-top space to spare at all). But then it would seem like an overkill to switch on the oven just to toast a couple slices of bread, don’t you think? The earl grey and fig preserve didn’t really stand out as having much of the earl grey flavour. I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t focusing, or maybe the sweetness of the fig somehow overwhelmed any inkling of tea flavour?

The bircher muesli was made up of organic oats soaked with apple juice, sliced apples, flaked almonds and topped with honey-infused yogurt. The small serving that I ordered, with the 1.5 slices of toast, was just nice to fill me up at lunch without causing me to feel too bloated, or again as usual the stomach is not communicating to the brain what it’s feeling. Such simple breakfast food makes for an enjoyable lunch, even if it was without coffee.

Interestingly, as I was Googling for the menu online so that I could provide a better description of the stuff I ordered, as well as to confirm the names, I saw that in the menu that was dated 2011, the price of Plain Toasts was S$3.50 for a slice, which as of 2014’s menu, had been revised to S$4.00 for the same. Ok, that is pretty reasonable even though it’s a 15% inflation over 3 years. The same quantum of increase was also noted for the small-sized bircher muesli, from S$5.50 to S$6 (10%). So it would seem that it has been around for a pretty long time, at least 5 years in the running! I hope they would stick around for some time more, and perhaps one of these days I will return again for their simple yet amazing toast!

Revisiting Flock Café, Moh Guan Terrace

I thought I read somewhere, maybe on Facebook, that Flock at Moh Guan Terrace was closing. That was after my first visit, and I had actually wrote an email to the address listed on their website but I didn’t receive any response. Yesterday, since I was on leave and was free in the early evening, I decided to go for a coffee break, even though I felt that I already had consumed sufficient food to last me to dinner. So anyhow, it has been a while since I took a walk around the “neighbourhood”, so despite that it was humid balmy day, I took the risk anyhow. There are always back-up options in the vicinity anyway, if Flock had really closed, but I was quite happy when I rounded the corner of the block where they are located, to see that they are still in business. Woohoo!

If my stomach had allowed, I would have liked to order their scrambled eggs with sourdough, something I had on the first visit that I enjoyed thoroughly. They had other all-day breakfast options too, and various other food options; in fact, I think they have quite an extensive menu considering that typically these cafes don’t offer much in terms of food. But I resisted. And ordered for myself a muffin and coffee. There were some cakes available, both the moist and creamy-looking type as well as the simpler tea-cake kind. But somehow they didn’t really appeal to me yesterday. The only muffin available was something called “Ondeh Ondeh muffin”; oh my, that sounds interesting enough! So here goes (and any diet or wellness-eating plans).

Initially, I didn’t know what to expect of the muffin because I was imagining that it would perhaps have a soft, molten core that contains some gula melaka syrup that would ooze out when I cut into the muffin. But instead, my fork met with some resistance when I attempted to pierce the top of the muffin. It’s pretty firm and hard, even though I think they did warm it up a little (this I couldn’t be sure). The top of the muffin was just how I liked my muffins to be, firm and crunchy and best of all, not too crumbly. It didn’t just fall apart into bits despite that it’s a little tough to cut into.
Taste-wise, it did have quite a distinct flavour of pandan or coconut, whichever I can’t really tell apart because to me, they are pretty similar. There wasn’t anything oozing out, but instead the ondeh ondeh flavour is just infused into the whole muffin itself. Biting into it, you won’t mistakenly think that you are eating an ondeh ondeh because the texture is totally different, but it’s just the similarity of the taste and flavour, except that in this case, it probably isn’t as strong as when you are eating the real thing, covered with shredded coconut shavings and of course, the colour is entirely different.

I spent a nice, quiet hour in the late afternoon there, and it being a weekday, it’s pretty quiet even though there were a few sets of other patrons there, mainly just solo customers or in twos. It contrasted with the Saturday when I was first there, where we had trouble finding seats and customers were mainly in twos or larger groups, with a much more elevated noise level. It’s a nice time to have, just indulging in some sinful goodness and aromatic coffee, with a good read too. Ok, I won’t exactly call it a good read since it’s just the newspapers that I was reading, but yesterday’s free daily contained many articles aside from news stories, it being the anniversary of the passing of our founding father.There have been many opinions about him before, whether they are right or wrong, fair or not. But I think arising from his death last year and the various TV programmes that talked about his life and work, many people have began to see him in a different light and better appreciate what was being done by him, albeit in an authoritarian style and with an iron-clad manner. That worked for the generation then, where the country was mostly directionless and in need of a strong leadership voice. For the current generation that is more well-educated that has also spawned lots of opinions (some informed, others just plainly emotional and irrational), a different kind of leadership style is needed, which I think the current people are striving to achieve through continuous change and improvements.

Enough said about that, politics are never an easy thing to discuss and that’s not the main point of this post. As I read some of the articles, not without distraction though because I just cannot seem to be able to focus on reading with good concentration… this quote kind of spoke out to me:
Recalled an undergrad, “create the life we want to live, and make the most of what we’ve been blessed with”. It is not something I haven’t heard of before, but really, it’s an apt reminder that I should bear in mind – to always be thankful for what we get in life, and for what we have, make the best of it. Comparisons are inevitable because we don’t live in a vacuum, but letting comparisons get the better of us do not serve us any purpose, especially if they only lead to us envying others and lamenting.