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!

Starbucks’ new sandwich menu 

Being the Starbucks fan that I am, I was pleasantly surprised when recently (ok not so recent anymore but this happened in 2016!) they launched a new lunch menu that saw 5 new sandwiches being introduced. For some time, they had a really boring food menu and whenever I wanted to have something substantial, SB would be the last on my mind. Even when they had sandwiches back then, they didn’t look at all appetising or filling for my voracious appetite, and besides they are pre-packed in the chilled display cases that somehow also do not whet my appetite the least bit. I would much rather go to, say Coffee Bean, where sandwiches are prepared only when ordered (or at least that’s what I remembered, if they still do that). Granted that the ingredients are a premix (e.g. chicken / tuna mayonnaise), at least the sandwich is put together upon order so the final product isn’t sitting on the rack for goodness knows how long.

The last menu they had wasn’t too bad – I liked the Tuscan Chicken sandwich that I had quite a number of times and it was satisfying enough for a meal. Their breakfast items have fared better so far, with the Egg White, Roasted Pepper, Mushroom & Cheddar wrap being one of my favourites, and now to add on, there’s also the Rosemary Chicken with Emmental Cheese croissant and Turkey Ham, Egg White & Cheddar sandwich.

This is their latest lunch sandwich menu:

Starbucks_sandwich_new2016I made it a point to try all of them and so far I’ve actually already tried 4! I’m not sure if I will get to try the last one, which is Beef Meatball Marinara croissant, since beef meatballs… maybe not.

So the first item off the list was Roasted Portobello, Pumpkin & Devilled Egg sandwich. What does devilled mean anyway? I have no idea, and I don’t know if I even tasted any egg because I didn’t really open up the sandwich since I was having brunch then with someone else and I didn’t want to seem like a messy eater playing with my food. I really liked this, and it contains mushrooms and pumpkin which also explains why it’s the first that I wanted to try. Love the bread used for the sandwich, with its sprinkling of black and white sesame and pumpkin seeds on top. Roasted mushrooms and pumpkins inside also makes everything so much better!

The choice of bread used for the sandwich greatly affects whether I order it or not. Maybe it’s also because it’s the biggest part of the item, so sometimes it may be a greater contributor to my choice rather than the filling itself! The second item I tried used a similar bread/bun except that it didn’t have any pumpkin seeds, just black and white sesame that still gave a nice flavour / taste to the bread. This was the Honey Mustard Chicken & Apple Slaw sandwich, which I assume should be chicken marinated in honey mustard dressing served with a salad of apple slaw.
I also liked this a lot, even though it felt a little more sinful than the first, because of the dressing used with the chicken. But it’s more fulfilling in a way also because of the chicken. The addition of shredded carrot and purple cabbage also made it nicer with the added crunchiness but at the same time also caused a greater deal of mess in eating because the shredded veggies tended to just fall out.Third try – Wholesome Tuna & Cheese sandwich. It was the third because it’s tuna mayonnaise, i.e. fattening (mayonnaise alert!) although the bun was a lure. Also pretty satisfying but perhaps they could go a little easier on the cheese. There was too much of it that at one point, I decided to just scrape out some of the cheese. But overall, I also enjoyed it. 🙂
Closer look.  The fourth and last item I’ve tried is the Buttermilk Chicken & Egg Croissant. Croissants are amazing pastries but also because of the amount of butter that’s used (I don’t know what else) that make such a small and fluffy pastry so calorie-dense. Once in a while, it’s nice to indulge though. Which is why this is the last item I tried, after exhausting all the other options based on the bread choice. Haha.

There was another reason – hard-boiled eggs. I don’t mind yolks sometimes, but usually only when they come in liquid / molten form such as sunny-side-ups or poached eggs. Hard-boiled eggs are not my kind of thing even if I need that protein for recovery. So while I ate this, I had to deconstruct it (not unusual for me with sandwiches though) and dig out the yolks. :p
Chicken used had a pretty good flavour. It’s supposed to be buttermilk? But I don’t know how that is meant to taste like, or perhaps the flavour is tangy red pesto as described in Starbucks’ website. It has a peppery taste that together with the croissant gave the overall sandwich a rather strong taste and perhaps that is also how it fills you up since croissant in itself doesn’t really make one feel full (at least not for me) or it doesn’t keep you full for too long.  A close-up of the insides, with the generous filling spilling out! This is also what makes the new sandwiches more appealing and value-for-money! Previously, at the kind of prices they charge their sandwiches for, I would be better off paying the same (or sometimes less) for sandwiches from other shops that make them fresh with fresher and more generous ingredients! Now they are at least a more worthy competitor for some other places, though of course we can’t compare SB with shops that specialise in sandwiches!

On the whole, still a great effort and I don’t mind having some of these sandwiches again! With a promotion set meal price of $9.90 during 11.30 am to 3 pm for a sandwich and a hot/iced coffee or tea, it’s quite a good deal (for SB anyway) since the sandwiches already cost about $8.90 on their own.

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!

Remembering to be thankful

Happiness can be as simple as this. A bowl of plain yogurt with a tinge of sourness, topped with granola that adds sweetness to the bowl, and a cup of coffee. Perhaps these are not the best things to go together, yogurt and coffee, the latter which would dissolve away whatever calcium is available in the yogurt? I don’t know but this is a simple enjoyment on a weekend.

During yoga class today, the instructor reminded us to be thankful that we are still alive, that our bodies still intact. She implored on us to not take life so seriously. Those were the words that I recalled, others I don’t really remember, but I suppose she was meaning to tell us that we should live in the moment, enjoy each moment and not sweat the small things. She was mentioning this in reference to the Bangkok bomb blast that took place the evening before, in downtown Bangkok in an area popular with tourists and locals. As of now, the blast had claimed 20 lives, one of whom is a Singaporean. Lives that were suddenly terminated, dreams that remain unfulfilled and words left unsaid.
I frequently lament about the various nitty gritty things of everyday life, from having to wait minutes for a train, to having people knock into me while they are rushing or blocking my way when I am in a rush… there are too many things that I can’t help complaining about, despite that deep down, as I reflect on society, on life, that there is much to be thankful for, but I, like most people, am wont to complain and feeling victimised. I need to constantly remind myself that life has given me much, despite that materially, I wasn’t born into a family with much, there has been more than enough that more than made up for it.

As I meet people whom I feel mirror who I am, I start to realise how annoying such characters can be, how much of an irritant chronic pessimists and complainers can be. I hope that I don’t continue to walk that path, but rather on a daily basis, thank God for all that I have, for all that has been bestowed on me.While I am still trying to change my attitude, which I foresee to be a difficult but not impossible endeavour, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, so what if I don’t like my job and many aspects of it, so what if day by day I feel that I am losing myself, my value, my relevance, so what if I don’t get to enjoy many of the material things in life that my peers possess, that they earn much more than me, and that I have been struggling in many areas of my life all these years, unable to break through and break free. Life still goes on, and I need to give thanks that I am still breathing and still have my loved ones around me. May they always be safe and sound, happy and healthy.

 

it’s all about the convenience of coffee 

It is no secret that I am a big fan of cafes. I wanted to say that I am a coffee fan but then again I think I can’t really lay claim to that because as a friend rightly pointed out one day, to my dismay, that despite me being a self-professed / so-called aficionado of coffee, I did not know the difference between an Americano and a Long Black. I now know the difference, thanks to that episode, so I shall just say that I love hanging out at cafes because they are convenient for the lone ranger who is out to seek some caffeine boost and nosh to keep the energy going.

Despite that there are tons of great cafes out there with a uniqueness that chains like Starbucks can’t ever emulate, I seldom check them out, whether locally or abroad. Locally, their locations frequently are prohibiting for me because I do not want to caught in a situation of taking a taxi all the way to some Ulu Sembawang place to look for a cafe only to find out that it’s full, with patrons not seemingly likely to leave anytime soon, or worse, that it is no longer in operation. The latter could be a very real predicament, considering that businesses in Singapore do come and go quite easily due to the competitiveness of the scene. Even overseas, there are times when I stick to the tried-and-tested places because I know I can hang around for a fair bit of time without being ‘chased’ out of a small cafe, and they are easy to locate for someone who might have been walking for hours and just need to get some sustenance.

So anyway, these were some of the ‘convenient’ places that I grabbed my daily coffee and bites at when I was in Tokyo recently.

Some of my friends are coffee snobs, and they turn their noses up at Starbucks’ coffee. Since I used to can’t tell an Americano or Long Black apart, it is also safe to assume that I can’t really distinguish between good or bad coffee. Wrong. If it’s very bad, I certainly can taste it, but my body is not accustomed to very good coffee, which I often associate with strong, acidic coffee that leaves a bit of a bitter/sour after taste at the back of my tongue. They also leave me feeling a little light-headed or high thereafter. So a tall or even grande sized brew coffee or Americano from Starbucks does the trick for me on days when I want to have more fluid in the cup rather than the usual smaller cup of coffee that I would otherwise get from these standalone small joints.
A short-sized Americano with some Cranberry Granola Toast. I don’t think the toast is that healthy, but then I love breads in several, scratch that, many forms, so this makes for a nice morning snack.  A short latte with a cup of Granola and Cranberry Yogurt, something I had just before I took the Airport Limousine Bus to the airport on my way home. These days, we are also starting to see Starbucks Singapore offer more of such options, but they already pre-mixed the granola or whatever else fruits or compote they have into the yogurt. I would have preferred if they were separate because otherwise the crunchy/crispy bits would have lost all the crunch and become too soggy.   On one drizzly evening, before I went for Bikram yoga class, I killed time at Excelsior Cafe with a cup of Americano and a slice of Sakura Tea Cake. Somehow, butter/tea cakes that come in plastic packaging like that creates a preconceived notion in me that the cake won’t be that great, as compared against buying tea cakes that are displayed in a sliced loaf, encased in a glass container. I know it’s weird, but I always get that kind of feeling, and have yet to ascertain the veracity, if those cakes are really not as nice. Who knows?  The weather in Tokyo during the week that I was there was on the overall, great. But there were still moments when the city was shrouded with drizzle. There was just one day when the weather was bad because it rained almost the whole day and made us feel lethargic and tired, but otherwise it was generally ok. I am always spoilt for choice whenever I pop into Dean & Deluca in Tokyo, where the array of pastries and breads available all scream at me to buy them. Their muffins are really good but they are huge, and I am quite wary of these sugar bombs even if I still do give in to the craving sometimes. But then again, this slice of Caramelized bread probably isn’t much better, except that the interior didn’t feel/taste as sweet as a muffin would, and I kind of tore off the sticky parts. :p And lastly, on my last morning in Tokyo, I finally found Mister Donut! I didn’t have this when I was in Bangkok last year because the donuts on display then looked kind of sad, so I made sure I went there to have my favourite Pon De Ring. But I was a little disappointed, and started to wonder if this was my usual because the glazed ring didn’t taste as good as I recalled. Perhaps the one I used to have wasn’t this variant.. Hmm. Oh well, at least I tried it and maybe the next time, I can give it a miss already.

Going local at the food halls

The first evening when I arrived in Tokyo was a week night. Being the lazy me and still having a mind focused on keeping to my eating habits as much as I can, even though I am on vacation and should really let loose, I thought of checking out the supermarkets, to grab some fruits and yogurt, which are almost my daily staple these days. It just feels weird when I don’t have either, or have them in insufficient quantities.

Since Takashimaya was conveniently located within minutes away from the hotel, I popped over to the supermarket and food hall in its basement, and was ensnared in the evening peak of Japanese grabbing last minute dinners from the stalls. Most items were going at a discounted price, though not that significant but at least they became a little more affordable. Much as these are just takeaways in small portions, upon conversion back to SGD, even with the strong exchange rate now, it was still pretty mind-boggling. I can’t imagine spending this kind of money on dinner on a daily basis if I were living in Tokyo. Perhaps that explains the myriad of convenience stores and their convenient packed meals, or those “vending-machine” food outlets that dot the streets of Tokyo.

I bought 2 small portions of cooked pumpkin and a medley of broccoli, cucumber and french beans, things I didn’t used to appreciate too much, especially the variety, until the recent years. I have missed out so much but it’s never too late to start!  I also wanted to have some fruits in my system so I picked up this box of cut-fruit salad from the conbini (local abbreviation/slang for convenience store). It contains some pieces of kiwi, pineapples and grapefruit, and costs roughly about S$3.50! O_O But this is still cheaper as compared to the veggies above.Of course, what is a visit to a supermarket in Japan without picking up some strawberries!? These also do not come cheap but so far from experience, strawberries that I have bought in Japan are always sweet, not to mention that they are all of about the same size, with very vibrant colours and not in some odd deformed shape like some US-variants tend to be. These 2 boxes cost about S$7 each, which is actually not too bad, considering that in Singapore the same box could sometimes cost twice that, unless they are not from Japan. And they really do not disappoint. I could really just eat them strawberries everyday!One thing I feel doesn’t quite make the cut would be the yogurt. Even though we all know Hokkaido milk is probably one of the tastiest milk I ever had, their yogurt do not seem to match up to the European/Australian versions that I have had. Perhaps I haven’t tried enough Japanese yogurt to make a valid comment, and Soy Yogurt is a totally different ball game altogether, but the bigger tub pictured below felt a tad too watery, when I prefer my yogurts to be creamier and thicker. I love Greek yogurt too, which isn’t creamy unless it’s the Greek-style type, but then when I have Greek yogurt, my expectation isn’t that it is creamy so somehow I manage with that quite well. Hmm.  And this is the view that I got out of my window. Not a very pretty sight compared to what I have seen from hotel room windows of other places I have stayed at in Tokyo but I don’t need to sit by the window the whole day looking out at the city when I can just go out and be in the city. I love vacationing in Tokyo, and this was a good trip, despite some kinks that occurred before it finally materialised.  

the healthy part of eating

Some pictures of the healthy things that I eat, generally on weekdays. Haha. Weekends are times to indulge but weekdays are the days to make up for them.

Fruits galore. I love them, even if the repertoire of fruits that I used to eat were pathetically small, but since a couple of years ago I have learned to appreciate a wider variety and it was then that I realised how much I had been missing out!

20140624-163329-59609054.jpgGreens, again, were something that I came late to appreciate and enjoy. I like eating vegetables all along, but again the types of greens that went into my system were limited. These days, I eat quite a fair bit of them, things that I never thought I’d eat, such as brinjals and lady’s fingers! Now my favourites are actually broccoli and cauliflower, many types of beans and of course, Japanese sweet potato (the yellow-fleshed type) and pumpkin. The list can go on, but what I once thought of as a waste of money (i.e. salads) now I can have them every single day of the week. If only they weren’t so expensive as compared to other kinds of lunch options, and if only I weren’t so lazy to make my own.

20140624-163328-59608974.jpgThis is some chicken and sausage salad of sorts from Podi located in the basement of Raffles City. It isn’t the typical kind of salad I’d have as this is a little more oily due to the stir-fried chicken but once in a while I think it’s good to have some change.

20140624-163329-59609013.jpgAnd I visited a new salad place near the office, recommended by a colleague. Yay to more salad shop options and hopefully there can be more low-cost variety too!

20140624-163328-59608878.jpg