McDonald’s wrap

I used to be a McD kid, maybe back in my school days, starting from upper primary when my friends and I started visiting McDonald’s near the school for their ice-cream cones or sundaes. I think in those days, fast food restaurants were a treat and luxury for us, and when some kid would hold his/her birthday party at McDonald’s, he/she will be the envy of the rest. It’s different these days due to growing affluence and therefore bigger pocket money allowances, making such things easily available and affordable by kids.

McDonald’s in Singapore is pretty ubiquitous, you can find the golden arches just about anywhere, and when I went on to secondary school, we also had several McD outlets near the school. But then, my more frequented fast food outlet was A&W’s because of the waffle ice-cream and curly fries, not to mention that root beer was the preferred beverage over coca-cola. In my JC days, I think we ventured a little bit more, and widened our reportoire of fast food outlet visits to include Burger King as well. But again, McD was the most easily available so again my body ingested disporportionate amounts of unhealthy fast-food. I would think that many of us grew up with fast food being a big part of our lives. These days, there are more choices and with even more coffee joints sprouting up, and also the general trend of healthy living permeating the society, I suppose it is possible to have a growing-up period without so much fast food in it.

Anyway, I decided to head into McDonald’s when I was in Germany in August, because there weren’t much options available on a Sunday and I knew that McD usually has customised items based on their locations. 20131003-100313.jpg

So I did a takeaway back to the hotel. This literally translates into “Give a waste removal”, which actually doesn’t make any sense but I figure it means to ask people to throw waste into their proper places? I didn’t get my usual french fries, which I still think beats many other fast food chains where yumminess of fries is concerned, but instead chose something that I thought might be healthier, i.e. a wrap. Was contemplating a salad but they didn’t look all that appetising, and on a fairly cool/cold evening, I wanted something that could warm my tummy a little.20131003-100331.jpg

I ordered this Italian Chicken Mozzarella wrap, and if I recalled, there were 2 other choices. I don’t know why I picked this too but maybe because it’s chicken and there was cheese. But the product was not fantastic. I remembered that I was really looking forward to eating it which explained why there wasn’t any picture of the wrap, but when I opened it up, the whole wrap was pretty soggy despite that it was prepared only when I ordered, as I had to wait a while for it to be done. There was too much sauce being used and I ended up taking apart the wrap to eat the chicken slices and mozzarella balls on their own, salvaging whatever I could of the lettuce and tortilla skin that weren’t too soggy from the sauce, and threw the rest away.

The result was pretty disappointing and perhaps if I had ordered french fries I might have been better off, though I don’t know if the oil would then be too stale since it wasn’t a busy day which would mean that probably the oil used to fry the fries would have been left standing.

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raindrops keep falling

It has been raining a lot lately, not that I am complaining too much about the unusually cool weather that is atypical of this time of the year. Well, we are still plagued by consistently humid weather mostly, but somehow this year we seem to be having a great bout of rain that has invariably lent itself to colder days that leads me to already start thinking about year-end and of course, Christmas! It’s already September, meaning that very soon the year-end festive spirit will be upon us, and that favourite time of the year for me. Yet each year, Christmas comes and goes so quickly that I barely seem to have really soaked myself in it, or I am just unwilling to part with it.

When I was in Germany, I had to take a train for both ways from and to the airport. Yes I was complaining a lot about the transfers because I really hate the inconvenience of going to places that are not within a reasonable taxi ride from the airport. But to be very honest, there was a part of the train ride that I enjoyed. It sucks that I have to lug around a 20kg-suitcase (but thank God for 4-wheelers), a laptop that probably weighs more than 2kg, and a carry-on handbag of sorts that perhaps also weighed between 1-2 kg at least, and hop from train to train. In some cases, it wasn’t as simple as heaving them all onto a train, then off at the transfer stop and switching to another train. Most of the times, it means changing from one platform to the other, that involves in some bad situations, staircases. Then, there is still the need to grapple with being at the right part of the platform where the cabin will stop. I found myself dragging my suitcase and running along the platform to the correct cabin number when the train pulls in, because usually it just stops there for a few minutes.

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This is the train station for regional and international trains at Frankfurt airport. I liked how the arch of the ceiling was made out of these glass panels (I assume) that gave it an air of magnificience. At least that was the feeling it gave me, although there have been various other train stations in Europe that look similar.

What I enjoyed about the train rides were how we get to see the passing scenery, of the countryside and its lush green meadows, sometimes with grazing cattle spotting the fields, and the occasional big cities that the trains cut through. On my return journey, the train stopped momentarily at Cologne (or Koln) and I was just marvelling at the buildings that I could see from the vantage point of the train window. I kind of made a mental note that if I were to return for a holiday someday, I will try to include this as a stop. Buying food and drinks onto the train for the journey is also part of what makes a train  ride fun (for me). I always found it interesting to think about what I can bring onto the train to eat and drink, or what I can buy at the dining cabin of the train or from the trolley service that plies mid-journey. I know it’s actually just like taking a plane, but the scenery is different. There was once when I was onboard a really long train ride, and my friend and I went to the dining car, got a beer each and stood there chatting, staring out the window. Right now, I cannot remember if it was dark or light when we were there but it just feels different from a flight.

That got me to consider planning a Europe trip or some trip that will include train rides, not those with back-breaking durations, and maybe not even those where I’ll need to have an overnighter in, but just a couple of hours and I think it’s fine and fun.

It was a week that I spent in Germany, which although was for work, was still a pretty good distraction because it wasn’t the usual work that I was doing. I don’t enjoy business trips as much anymore, partly because it can be so tiring travelling alone and having to be aware of and consider so many more things. But the peace and quiet that I get to savour outside of the office are something that I will always appreciate, sitting in the breakfast room and taking my time over breakfast, not having to make conversation for the sake of it, not having to consider the feelings and thoughts of another person. That is something that I can truly only do when I am by myself.  20130905-091356.jpg

BBQ!

Even though it is August, and to me this is considered to be summer season in temperate countries, I think I had a fairly one-dimensional concept in what I imagine summer to be like. Well, I have visited temperate countries during summer time, and from what I could recall, summer is hot! It can be crazy, the kinds of temperatures they have, which makes it very unbearable, much more so than Singapore, because even with our infamous humidity that generally exacerbates the heat, it feels much worse there. I wonder if it’s just purely the temperatures, or the fact that we can easily duck into air-conditioned comforts easily back here at home.

When I commented to my colleagues that I thought it was supposed to be summer, and yet I was experiencing temperatures that could go as long as sub-10 degrees Celsius or as high as perhaps 25 degrees Celsius, being of course more surprised at the low end, they laughed and said matter-of-factly that “This is summer here!” I can’t take well to extreme hot or cold, so somewhere about 20 is just about right for me that gives me plenty of chances to throw on more layers of clothing, though it could be a hassle, and especially when I don’t have that many clothing options when it comes to dressing for such weather, since we just don’t have it here.

But this would be the perfect kind of weather for engaging in activities like steamboats and BBQ! I remembered being really glad to have shabu shabu for dinner in Japan when I visited during the cold months, and even in Singapore when it’s cold and rainy we tend to want to have something hot and soupy and usually steamboat is the best choice! Now BBQ would have been perfect too, but just that when it’s cold and rainy it’s a little hard to carry on a BBQ in Singapore, unless you are doing it in the compound of your home with proper shelter and stuff.

My boss invited us over to his place one evening for BBQ when I was there last week, and this was the humble little cooking they were doing. I think first they grilled the stuff over an open fire (in that small round contraption in the background) before transferring it all onto the rectangular electric grill. Well there were just two of them men doing the cooking while the rest just stood around, watched and talked and waited.

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The food didn’t take too long to cook, and before long we were all seated around a table devouring the delicious food. This is actually the first time I’m participating in a BBQ overseas and it’s really fun and interesting to note the differences between how they do it with the way we do it. Food options vary slightly, as you can see, there are no chicken wings or drumlets, which is almost always present at Singapore BBQs, and they do quite a fair bit of grilled veggies like aubergines and cucumbers, which turn out really nice. And of course, since we are in Germany, sausages can’t be missed out! There was of course also beer and sides like breads, potato salad, some chips and biscuits and sauerkraut! I didn’t take anymore pictures after that because I was so hungry that I only concentrated on eating, and when the last sunlight finally disappeared sometime before 9 (I love long summer days!), it got so cold for me!

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:

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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!

reason for waking up

Sometimes I feel a tad embarrassed to tell my friends the reason for me being an early riser. I used to belong to the usual demographic of teenagers who would sleep till the sun had risen high up in the sky, or maybe even later. My mum used to nag at me about it too but I’m not sure if it’s due to age or simply a shift of perspectives, I am almost completely a changed person where waking up is concerned.

On all days of the week, Saturdays and Sundays not excluded, I am up before 8am. Well, I can even say that I am already up by 7am every day of the week and everyone seems to balk at that thought. They can’t imagine why anyone would want to wake up early when it’s the weekend and opportune time to sleep in, or laze in bed, something which is not possible on the working weekdays. To be honest, waking up on weekdays to get ready for work is not something I look forward to yet I can easily make myself be up because there is something else I look forward to, albeit lasting for a fairly short time. Yes, you will know it already… breakfast. It’s embarrassing to admit that food is my fuel for waking up but it is that easy. I love breakfast and it is what wakes me up each day, anticipating my favourite breakfast food each and every day, even if what I eat each day is exactly the same!

Just last week I was in Germany for work, and I found out after these couple of years of travel and interaction with colleagues that their usual breakfast includes bread, cheese and ham. The Europeans, at least the ones I work with, tend toward this type of breakfast, not the kind we normally get in hotels with all the hot stuff like scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, pancakes, etc. I don’t generally take hot food at breakfast too because my preference lie with the combination of yogurt, grains/nuts, fruits and bread. Many of my friends can’t sustain too long with such kinds of food because they feel it’s boring and bland. I once too had hearty breakfasts that saw the likes of roti prata, fried bee hoon, etc., but somehow these are far beyond my radar of food these days, whether stemming from my obsession with losing weight or health-consciousness, you take your pick.

I had to miss the hotel’s breakfast on my last day of the trip because I had to leave at an unearthly hour to catch the first train out on a long trip to the airport, so along the way at one of the stations, whilst waiting to transit to another train, I bought this for 2.20 Euros.  

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It’s pretty costly if you think of it as a simple cheese sandwich; just a sunflower seed bun with a couple slices of cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. But I enjoyed it a lot and as I was munching on it during the wait, or when I finished the rest of it on the train, I actually felt a weird sense of peace and contentment. Ok, I think the cheese overdid a little on the sodium levels because I thought I had that feeling lingering in my mouth when something is too salty, but overall everything put together offered a good balance of chewiness and satiety. We don’t have as many choices as Europe for sure, when we talk about breads and cheeses, evident from the usual supermarkets that I visit. Even our bakeries are so different, if you look at their bakeries and our likes of Bread Talk and etc., yet I think we are also gradually evolving as more foreign businesses and habits, lifestyles, make their way onto our shores. I can only be happy with the choices. I can survive overseas, where food is concerned, but maybe not on other fronts.