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. 🙂

Travel times with Starbucks

Christmas, or the end of the year, is my favourite time of the year. The weather has typically been cooler around this period and marked with the dual Christmas and New Year holidays, the festive vibe just reverberates throughout the entire city. It also coincides with the time when most people would be on leave or travel for vacation, so most would be in a relaxed mood, winding down the year and perhaps gearing themselves up for the new year (if we ever can get ourselves to do that).

And as with all enjoyable times, they just pass way too fast and somehow it seems like in the blink of an eye, we are almost at the edge of it. The year will be over in just about 2 days and Christmas has come and gone. Although I had griped to those around me, incessantly (and I really send my heartfelt apologies for the constant whining), about some of my follies and their consequences, I am still thankful for several things that happened this year. We cannot bemoan the quick passage of time because it doesn’t recoup anything, lost time is irrecoverable and that is why we are always told to look forward.

Maybe the year-end also put me in a strong festive mood and in October I took a last minute decision to fly to Bangkok. It was supposed to be a planned trip somewhere else, but plans change when people’s minds change. Then in December, it was again another last minute trip to Hong Kong, which was supposed to something I wanted to do for a friend but ended up otherwise. It was then that I appreciate the spontaneity of one of my friends, someone whom stepped into my life unexpectedly.

So to get on with things proper, this is a Starbucks post after all! I am no ambassador of the coffee chain with the ubiquitous green mermaid logo, heck they don’t need ambassadors when they are almost everywhere, but I do indulge in their Christmas delights all too often, each year without fail. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1027.jpg

Last year we had the Cranberry Orange Loaf in Singapore which I really liked. Unfortunately, it did not make a reappearance this year, yet I was really excited when I saw that something similar was available in Starbucks Hong Kong! So of course I would order it and it was good! I think as compared to what we had locally last year, this felt more ‘bread’ than cake/loaf as it was a little drier and lighter. Only managed to have it once due to the limited stomach space and number of meals. Sigh./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1028.jpg

In Hong Kong, they also had the Gingerbread Latte which is my best-loved Christmas drink after I discovered it last year in Manila and had it pretty often there and even Shanghai. Somehow I don’t know why Singapore doesn’t have this. Had it in a cute short-sized beverage to lessen the guilt, as I ordered a huge cranberry scone that morning. Haha. Was also surprised to see they were selling gingerbread man cookies so I bought one for my friend who was joining me for the trip. 🙂/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1029.jpg

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A couple of weeks after returning from Hong Kong, it was off to Bangkok to celebrate Christmas! It was another impromptu trip but not as last minute as the Hong Kong one. To say that I was celebrating Christmas in Bangkok is a little bit of an exaggeration as we didn’t really do much when we were there; it was more of a trip to chill out and eat, relax and do nothing in particular.

As fans of Starbucks, we won’t fail to check ourselves in once in a while for a cup of coffee and some sweet treats. So at Bangkok’s Starbucks, these were what we found.

There was no Gingerbread Latte here so the focus was more on food. Carrot, walnut and raisin muffin anyone? It’s almost like having a carrot cake sans the cream cheese frosting baked in a muffin cup, nice and moist and at just the right size for a muffin. Aside from that, the muffins here are baked a little different from the ones we typically see in Singapore. There isn’t the ‘muffin top’ that we often see, spilling out of the cup that has somehow caused the term to morph into a derogatory description of people who probably consumed too many muffins and ended up with fats hanging out over the waistbands of their jeans or skirts. And that made us wonder if that was the reason for the names of their muffin; the other one we ordered was a Skinny Banana muffin. Lol. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1032.jpg

And on another day, we had a Chocolate muffin, which surprisingly wasn’t as sweet as I expected. I had always steered away from ordering a similar version in Singapore whether in Starbucks or elsewhere but this perhaps will cause me to give it a try the next time. Notice the lack of that ‘over-hanging’ bit I mentioned before. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1031.jpgAnd the Cranberry Bliss bar, which is another Christmas item that we didn’t have this year. Actually I cannot recall if we had it last year but I remembered having it in Tokyo some time ago. This year I raised this question to my friends or rather mused rhetorically if the widespread use of dried cranberries in food products is a real Christmas tradition or just by virtue of the fact of it bearing the Christmas-y red colour. Most people felt it would be the latter but who knows right maybe there really is some link between Christmas and dried cranberries just like how log cakes, gingerbread cookies and Christmas stollens are always associated with this festive period?

L’Etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Singapore

Been some time since I visited L’Etoile Cafe located at Owen Road. There are several cafes in the vicinity, all of which I have only heard of or passed by but never actually made the effort to pop in. I have friends who make it a point to visit cafes that are newly-opened or raved about but I am just too lazy most of the time.

So anyway, this cafe from the outside looks like a pretty cosy and idyllic place to hang out, especially when the entire neighbourhood seems to exude a generally slower pace as compared to the hustle and bustle of cafes in town that we are so wont to seeing. I think patrons tend to stay fairly long too, so I don’t know if the trick for staying viable is by charging prices that are higher or having rents that are more affordable. Perhaps it is a combination of both, plus maybe having a regular stream of customers despite it being a weekday or weekend might help.IMG_0370.JPGI can’t really recall much about the taste of what I had, which was a long black and as usual, a slice of carrot cake. They do have proper food items on their menu but weekends for me are like days when I just want to snack and have all the breads and pastries as I like, so cakes are almost the order of the day for me. From the looks of the picture below, it somehow seems like the carrot cake would be on the dry side, but I don’t think it was that bad, because I certainly have had carrot cakes that are just not that palatable. This is also good in a way that the cream cheese frosting is not too thick. I know having some cream cheese and fats can’t hurt even if it is unhealthy but I find cream cheese frosting too sweet for my liking even if I do have a special love for carrot cakes, whether in this form or in the hawker form that is also colloquially known as ‘chye tow kway’, black or white.

IMG_0371.JPGThe cafe has an upper level that can contain quite a fair bit of customers, and its decor is really like a haphazardly put-together room of sorts with furniture that seemed homely and from yesteryears yet not having a consistent design in them. I suppose this is how many cafes are like these days, standing out with a quirkiness of mixing things around. What do I know about interior design anyway right?

Whisk, Seng Poh Road, Singapore

New cafes seem to be popping up in the Tiong Bahru area, along with other F&B establishments like restaurants and the likes. In the week that Whisk was featured in a short write-up in the Sunday Life section of the papers, my friend and I visited it. We were probably lucky to get there and find a seat along the side by the windows, because shortly after the place started to fill up and the limited seating became occupied. I like the decor of the cafe’s interior, with the generous use of whites and use of lighting to create a cosy and clean feel. However, the bad thing about it is that it traps noise. There were several larger groups who were there at the same time as us, and their competing chatter made it hard for me to hear my friend even across the small table where we sat. That is the drawback with cafes these days, which could also be a strategy to not let patrons feel too comfortable to stay for too long. Anyway, cafes aren’t really meant for customers to park themselves at for long hours due to their need to stay viable and profitable in order to continue operating.

We ordered their carrot cake, which I found cute because of how it was decorated with a small carrot formed by 2 pipings of coloured cream.IMG_0367.JPG

It has been a while since I had it but I don’t really remember the cake to be exceptionally outstanding or nice. Only chose it because I enjoy carrot cakes, but I think I will opt for something else if I revisit the cafe, just to try something different and also to see if I will chance upon something nicer/good! But I seem to remember it being not too dry so in terms of the moisture it still scores some points.IMG_0368.JPG

Coffee is a small cup but relatively strong. To be honest, I can’t tell if a coffee is very good or not. I always let the acidity decide, even if it just means it is a different type of coffee bean or the way it is being roasted. I realise that these cafes, the standalone ones and not the commercialised joints like Starbucks or Coffee Bean, tend to serve coffee (i.e. Americano or regular brew) that is acidic and that which I feel is a little too sour. It has been explained by some of them to be coffee of good quality, so I figured that those that I am used to drinking commercially aren’t as good? Or that they are perhaps not as strong? It is then that I concluded I am not fussy with coffee and its taste so long as I don’t detect that hint of ‘over-roasting’, which would be the ‘chao-ta’ (dialect for burnt) flavour in it.

We ordered a cranberry tea cake as well, or what I think resembles one. I don’t have the exact name but I wanted something else in addition to the carrot cake since there were 2 of us which only makes sense to order 2 items right? Well, I finished most of both anyway so actually it doesn’t. Haha. I liked this cake more, perhaps because it is more buttery and there are days when my palate leans towards the softer and more buttery cakes like tea cakes. It somehow feels lighter (though not healthier, not necessarily anyway). Either ways, they both go well with coffee! There are other variants of the tea cake in other flavours which I really would like to check out next time too! Hopefully by then, Whisk will still be around!IMG_0369.JPG

Coffee Bean, Seoul

It’s probably considered as comfort food, but yet not, especially not in Seoul where cafes abound, leaving me often with the dilemma of which cafe to pop into and what cake or pastry to order. I love pastries, and yes I do suffer from this obsession because pastries are one of those unforgiving indulgences that can wreak havoc on the body. Not just in terms of physically appearance (think muffin tops) but also in terms of health, because of the ingredients that go into commercially-baked stuff (hello trans fat) and what-nots. Anyway, onward with my carrot cake craze. I was thinking of what to have for breakfast when I just decided to step into Coffee Bean because Starbucks didn’t have it. It’s kind of weird to be having cake for breakfast, but who cares when you are on vacation right?

Interestingly, Starbucks in Seoul actually sells carrot cake and I had really wanted to give it a try simply because they don’t have it in Singapore. But that particular outlet I walked into that morning didn’t have it, and subsequently, there were other cafes that were probably more worth checking out. So this is the shot of my breakfast that morning.20140704-074532-27932882.jpg

I wish I had more stomachs for all the cakes that I would like to try and of course more metabolism for burning all of these off! Let’s take a closer look at the cake and its wonderfully smooth and soft cream cheese frosting peppered with a small amount of crushed nuts at the edge.20140704-074532-27932962.jpg

As per most carrot cakes and how I think they should be, there are the usual carrot stips and nuts so yes, checked. I think the frosting was pretty decent, but the cake was just average. It isn’t too dry but yet not as moist as what I would have liked it to be. However, it’s considerably in-between in terms of its density or lightness, definitely better than the one I had at Rocky Master but still not the best that I have had. Come to think of it, I don’t know which is the best carrot cake that I have ever had. In comparison, the carrot cake in Singapore’s Coffee Bean is not too shabby, in fact it’s one of those that I think of fairly highly based on my limited knowledge and tastes of carrot cakes. I read a list of the 10 best carrot cakes in Singapore but have probably only tried at most a couple. One of them is the Carrot Walnut Cake by Cedele, which also ranks as one of my favourites, another that I’ve tried before would be Cake Spade’s Spiced Carrot Cake, which I also found to be really good.20140704-074533-27933006.jpg

Funnily, before I went to Seoul, I was actually not really that keen to head there for whatever reasons. But it wasn’t as bad as what I felt, because I guess holidays are really all enjoyable, and I did get some company in the end at some moments, and the cafes and snacks that I indulged in over those few days made it so much better. Let’s start planning for the next getaway!