Happy Friday!

I really wish to rediscover my love for and interest in writing. I feel sad when I visit the blog sometimes and after logging in, just proceed to log out because I just don’t feel the inclination to write and I am just not inspired to write anything. Writing used to feel so easy and effortless and nowadays it seems to be one of the furthest things from my mind. Focus is hard to grasp with apparent brain fog most of the times, and I just feel that whatever is typed out is somehow just meaningless banter.

But still, it is a Friday after all! Best day of the week because there is no work tomorrow. Isn’t it sad when on a day-to-day basis, the only thing worth looking forward to is the lunch break and end-of-workday, and then to Friday? When Friday comes around, there is already that impending dread that the weekend, though here, is too short and Monday already seems to loom around the corner. Well, I know this is all negative talk that I should refrain from and instead learn to ‘live in the moment’, enjoy each day for what it is rather than look ahead to something that we can’t control, or that only seem to make us feel bad. There really isn’t a point to be at this moment now, harbouring regrets about yesterday and worrying about tomorrow. And ok, I know that most people would say that everyone is exactly the same, in looking ahead to the meal breaks and then the going home part. We are all alike in that aspect but we all react and respond differently because of how differently we are wired internally. It’s just like how eating a humongous sandwich can make me experience heavenly bliss but to another it is just… food.

So anyway… with 8 months of 2016 gone and the last third of the year to go, I was thinking if I should, scratch that, I was thinking of where else I should visit. The last few years have seen me taking quite a number of vacations in the span of a year, at least 4 or more. This year, I have been on just 2 holidays.

In May, I visited my favourite city, Tokyo, once again. I already lost count of the number of times I have been there but yet there is always that desire to visit. There never really is an itinerary or reason for visiting each time but somehow I just look forward to going there. This time, I revisited Gotemba Premium Outlets. It’s the second time I’m going there and it’s so different from the first. Weather-wise it definitely felt different and also in terms of the crowd. It was so empty when I first went in 2009 and freezing cold. This time, it still wasn’t too hot because the seasons were changing, but the crowd size was visibly larger. Also, the people I went with on this trip, to Gotemba at least, were avid shopaholics.

tokyo_may2016

This was the situation at Gotemba, where we were crossing from one part to the other, after having a very un-Thai version of basil chicken rice at the food court. Personally, as I don’t shop as much these days, I only bought some casual clothing from GAP (the typical go-to shop for most people at these outlets I think). My Gotemba companions scored big though, with one of the most value-for-money buys from Loewe for most of them.

Just recently at the end of July, I took a short trip to nearby Hong Kong, another of my favourite cities, but which is starting to lose its shine somewhat. I still enjoy it for its familiarity and proximity to Singapore that is such a boon in terms of the relatively short flight time, but circumstances seem to have began to cast shadows on these. Nevertheless, I tried something new this time! Craved for char siew and my friend brought me to this Michelin-starred eatery. We actually queued (albeit a short while) to enter even though it was past lunch hour. Verdict? I think it’s ok, not bad but not fantastic that I would want to queue for again. It’s the same as Tin Ho Wan, not bad but not worth the kinds of queue that we see.
hongkong_aug2016

Other than this, the only other local thing I had on this trip was a small cup of Hong Kong milk tea from Tsui Wah that I ordered at the airport while waiting for my flight that was delayed for a couple of hours due to the the typhoon that set off the island on a Signal 8 Typhoon alert the night before I was due to depart. I also chanced upon a Gerard Dubois patisserie in Causeway Bay and tried the lemon curd tart that was pretty nice and zesty!

passion_lemon_tart_aug2016

There were so many things there that I would have liked to order to try but I could only choose one because I think that’s the maximum sugar load I could take at any one time. Or so I would like to trick myself into believing.

So if I take Hong Kong and Tokyo out of the equation, what are the other plausible choices? Should I venture a revisit of either?

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Coffee Bean’s Lemon Meringue Tart

One of the other festive treats that I wanted to try from Coffee Bean was their Lemon Meringue Tart. I have a soft spot for lemon (curd) tarts, because of the expected tangy/zesty taste from the citrus fruit. However, there have been several disappointments because in some places, the curd turned out to be more sweet than tangy/sour. The only one I can remember of recent tries that I liked was from ABC.

I asked the staff before ordering, if this item was more sweet or sour and they told me it was sour. I took a leap of faith to believe their words and ordered it, even though I didn’t particularly fancy meringue, which thankfully was just a small strip adorning the top of the tart. I wouldn’t exactly say that this is a winner, for the simple reason that this, like many others, are mass-produced and the tart base has already been exposed for too long to make it a little ‘stale’? It doesn’t have the nice fragrance that we expect buttery tart bases to be, and because this is served up cold (I don’t think anyone would warm it up for me), there really wasn’t any ‘bursts’ of excitement from it. The curd filling, on its own, was actually sweet, as I felt. Because the tart isn’t fresh anymore, when you cut through it, it just falls apart into its individual parts, i.e. the tart base would separate from the curd nicely. And you could even just remove the strip of meringue on top. The strawberry, or whatever there was of it, was just dry and nothing more. Ok, what did I expect, right?

Anyway, when I tasted the curd, I immediately felt let down, because I had believed the staff and ordered it! But to be honest, when I paired it with the tart base, it actually did somehow take on a more tangy taste, which is quite weird because the base should be more sweet and the sour should be coming from the curd right? Or maybe it was just a figment of my own imagination.
Anyway, it isn’t a total let down, but nothing spectacular either, at S$5.80 per pop, which doesn’t fill up much of my stomach but makes for a decent sized tea/coffee-break item. It does look pretty though. Next up, if I am game enough to try more festive items, I think I would just go with the log-cakes, those should be hard to go wrong, unless of course if they skew more towards the high end of the sweet barometer.

More Merry Bites from Starbucks!

Moving right along to lighter and happier posts, I continue my eating ‘trek’ of festive treats from the cafes. I am that limited when it comes to cafe-food, because I am too lazy to venture to new cafes, which explains why most of my food posts are from repeat places. Hmm. Something to chew on, perhaps?

Met up with a friend sometime back because I had a sweets craving. It is not atypical for such a craving to occur, just that usually I follow my meals immediately with something sweet, but in this case I combined both the meal and dessert, so there you have it – a sweet treat and a savoury for the meal.Presenting more of Starbucks’ Merry Bites – the Sticky Ginger Date Pudding, and the Triple Turkey Pie.

Starbucks describes the pie as a “hearty pie that’s filled with a trio of turkey – ham, bacon and smoked; a cherished Christmas staple”. I guess turkey has always been associated with Christmas, at least to me, and the same goes for cranberries, though the latter I have no idea why. Maybe it is because of its colour and how when it’s used in food/drinks it adds to the festive cheer? The pie in its full, glazed, glory.
And the cross-sectional view of its inside. I don’t think I would have known that it’s a turkey pie, not that I know what to expect of the taste of turkey ham, smoked turkey or bacon, because it doesn’t have a very distinctive taste. However, it does remind me of a typical chicken pie complete with vegetables and potatoes; the filling feels a little like a curry puff’s filling without the spiciness. But overall, it’s not bad because I was told on a separate occasion by a Starbucks partner that the Salmon pie/quiche may be a bit salty so I decided not to pick that. The crust was fairly light and flaky, and it’s good to eat it quickly while still warm so that it still retains some crisp.

As for the pudding, its description was that of a “sweet union of candied ginger and dates, complete with caramel and white chocolate drizzle. Christmas on a plate.” as per Starbucks.
I found this a little sweet though, whether it’s the gingery paste atop the cake, or the molten insides. However, the fact that there is a hint of ginger taste kind of balances out the sweetness of this dessert. It might have been too much to finish on my own so it’s definitely good for sharing! Like I have always qualified that I have a ‘calibrated sweet tooth’, even though I admit to the sweet tooth, the threshold isn’t that high or it really depends on the particular item in question. These two choices were generally OK, neither hits or misses; last year’s Christmas menu had more interesting items to pick from, like the spicy puff pie that really felt like a giant spicy curry puff!

Coffee Bean’s Almond Pistachio Danish… 

I’m quite stoked that Christmas is coming soon. Yet at the same time, I’m aware of the fleeting nature of this festive season. It doesn’t stay long enough, or as long as I would have liked it to be. Year after year, it’s the same anticipation, and hoping that it would not end, then the cycle repeats.

Following from my last post on Christmas food items at the cafes, there was also something from Coffee Bean’s festive menu that I had wanted to check out, one of which was the Pistachio Almond Danish. I do find Danish pastries a little on the sweet side usually, but this one looked fairly safe and fluffy, from its cross-section, so I ordered it one of those days when I popped in for breakfast (that I thought would be quite light). Well, it wasn’t that heavy to be very honest, even though it’s supposedly a brioche. And I think it wasn’t laced with too much sugar to make it sweet like I imagined too. However, the thing that made this item a “miss” was another taste that overwhelmed everything else. Maybe that was why I didn’t think it was too sweet or buttery. The Danish had an air of stale oil when I bit into it, especially the inside. It was like as if the item had been standing for too long and whatever oil used that was trapped within had turned a little rancid. I thought it was my imagination and actually ate about half of it, but each bite confirmed the taste. The outer crust did not have that offending taste/smell, probably because of the benefit of being exposed and not having the oil trapped inside, but it was overall a disappointing choice. Typically, where pastries are concerned, I don’t waste much of them, except for overly-generous creams and stuff that are piled on top of cakes, but I just couldn’t make myself finish the Danish somewhat.There are other Christmas items on Coffee Bean’s festive offerings, but I had already tried their fruit cake last year, which wasn’t too bad. There is also a Lemon Meringue tart, which looks rather interesting but I’m now worried that it might be too sweet, knowing as to how it’s a meringue. Probably I won’t go so wrong with the log-cakes or stollen, but then you never know.

Starbucks Christmas 2015 Muffin

The season is here again! Since October I have already been looking forward to Christmas… or rather the whole year I have been looking forward to Christmas. It isn’t just the festive vibes that I anticipate, but the cool weather too. Despite that I am not such a big fan of the rainy season sometimes, especially when I am outside and have to get my feet or shoes wet. Rain in Singapore can be quite a horrible experience because of the thunderstorms and heavy downpours that make being out in the rain a ‘get-drenched’ affair, even with an umbrella. Yes, I think we will need a golf umbrella, a raincoat/poncho (heavy duty type) and Wellingtons, in order to stay dry.

So… I have digressed. This is the season when cafes start coming out with their festive menu, whether food or beverages. Since Starbucks is one of my usual joints, even if they don’t serve exceptionally good coffee (in fact, most people think their coffee is horrid but it works fine for me), their Christmas stuff are usually something that I would  give a try, at least a few items, at least once. The first thing that I picked for food was the Apple Cinnamon Muffin. This photo is taken off the website of Starbucks Singapore; if I have the chance, I’ll post my own photo later. 🙂

Starbucks_xmas_muffin

Is there anything special about this muffin? Well, for one, I think the hint of cinnamon isn’t very strong. That is probably good for people who are not so into it; but then if you aren’t, you probably wouldn’t even order this item right? What tops the muffin, as well as contained within (albeit in a rather small amount) is similar to what you would find in an apple pie, candied/spiced bits of apple. I think it isn’t exceedingly sweet, based on my memory of it until now, and since it is not huge for a muffin, it is just about nice to go with a nice, hot cup of Americano.

Drinks wise, I am quite happy they brought back the Gingerbread Latte. Apparently, that is what they wrote, but I don’t really remember this being on our local festive menu. For the last years when I had it, or even the first time I heard of and tried it, it was always overseas. Nevertheless, I’m glad we have it this year and that was of course the first drink I had! It isn’t as sweet as the Toffee Nut Latte, and because it has some hints of spice from the gingerbread syrup used (I assume), I generally enjoyed it and preferred it over the TNL.

Saint Marc Café, Japan

Back then when I first tried this in Tokyo many years ago, probably during my maiden visit in 2006, I knew this as “choco-cro”, which is what is printed on the sleeve that holds the croissant, as pictured below. I guess the original version of this yummy crispy snack is the chocolate croissant, which explains its name. But it actually is a product of St. Marc cafe, which I only knew of when it opened in Singapore a few years ago. Talk about being ignorant! That’s me!  To be very honest, I seldom ever pop into this cafe in Singapore, because somehow I never had any serious craving for it. There are many other nice croissants around, and I am not super big on them anyway. Besides, I have this nagging suspicion that they are overpriced here, like most things that are imported, even if I am paying for overpriced coffee in many other cafes around… but well, you get the drift. I remembered meeting a friend there once for coffee and was feeling hungry so I had wanted to order a sandwich. But then, what they offered as sandwiches were sad-looking square slices of bread, kind of like those commercially-manufactured loaves sold in supermarkets, with equally miserable-looking slices of ham and lettuce of sorts wedged in between. That wasn’t the reason why I decided against ordering those sandwiches, but instead the price tag that read … if I remember correctly, S$7.80, or something in that vicinity. Imagine my shock. So I ordered the croissant eventually.

But these photos are from my trip to Sapporo a couple of months back. We actually went to St. Marc cafe for breakfast twice, since there was a fairly large outlet near our hotel and it wasn’t really crowded on both occasions when we went.

On the first visit, I ordered the chocolate croissant and it still tastes good. I think the ones in Singapore aren’t too bad either, just that somehow it feels nicer having it in Japan. For some reason. Haha. Double standards, I know.
On our second visit, I decided to try something else, which was a ham and egg mayonnaise sandwich, which I really love because the bun used is somewhat like a cross between a brioche and croissant. Or basically croissants are generally buttery anyway so that explains why I feel as though it’s like a brioche.Yummy bliss.
My friend tried the french toast, which looks a little limp, but I think it still tasted ok overall. Most of their pastries are already prepared and displayed on an open shelf that you could just pick up and pay, and they won’t be re-heated again so I guess that explains the general “limp-ness” of how they look, as compared to freshly-baked/prepared items that tend to look more fluffed up. I cannot recall what the other item contained within, but it’s a different version of the croissant, i.e. different filling contained within. So far, I have tried the matcha-flavoured croissant and a strawberry daifuku version before, in addition to the original chocolate. They are all pretty nice, because the filling is typically not so sweet and complements the savoury buttery croissant well, which of course also goes perfectly with a cup of piping hot coffee, especially on cool chilly days.Ah.. how I miss Japan!

Starbucks Red Velvet muffin

Back in the business of eating muffins, I finally got to try the Red Velvet with Mango Passion muffin from Starbucks. This is one of the “new” offerings they had, introduced sometime ago. I can’t remember when, but this was introduced in a new array of muffins they had (then), together with the Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese, the Chocolate with Cookie Crumble, the Chicken Floss and the Blueberry Crumble muffins. I don’t think I have tried the Blueberry Crumble, which I suspect shouldn’t be too different from their original Blueberry muffin, but all the rest I have tried, even the Chicken Floss!

My friend mentioned that this wasn’t anything special, but I decided to give it a go anyway because I have tried the Carrot Cake before and found it to be a tad sweet. So this is the Red Velvet! I am not any fan of Red Velvet, and where cakes are concerned, I have only tried Red Velvet cakes probably less than 5 times in my entire life.Somehow, it never really appealed to me, because I keep thinking it will be very sweet but it shouldn’t be, if it’s vegetable-colouring they are using to dye the flour/batter? I’m not sure but that is the impression that I get. Hehehe.

So, as I poked into the muffin, I actually got a surprise. The top of the muffin, contrary to my usual enjoyment of muffins, isn’t what I like. It has those frosted sugary bits sprinkled on the muffin top that I don’t like. But from within the core, with just a little bit of it inside, was an oozy, Mango Passion filling! Well, it kind of looks like salted egg core of the “liu sha bao” doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t and to be honest, I am not really a big fan of that custard bun which many people love.
I really like the Mango Passion molten core of the muffin because it’s tangy taste provided a great contrast to the sweetness of the muffin, which really wasn’t so sweet beyond my tolerable barometer. So this was still a score for me! Except those sugary bits.