How to Spend the Weekend

Aug 25, 2014

Something's sizzlin'
It's the usual ice-breaker on any Monday (or Sunday, if you work in this part of the world):

How was your weekend/how did you spend your weekend?

When I used to work in an office (which wasn't so long ago) I hated the question to no end, mainly because (1) I didn't do anything in the weekend that's interesting enough to use as a 15-second pantry soundbite, (2) there are only so many times you can use "nothing much"/"surf the internet"/"plan my wedding" as an answer, (3) I didn't want people to think my lack of exciting activity in the weekend is a possible suggestion of who I am as a person (probably is though).

And when I did do something interesting, which is extremely rare of course, no one would ask me on that Monday which made me a very sad panda indeed.

Eventually I figured out that if I behave like I was heavily down with the Monday blues (which is everyone, just how much one decides to show it on his/her face) people would generally just avoid me like the plague, so hooray, no need for idle chit chat by the water dispenser. No need to admit to having accomplished nothing, not eaten something exotic, not watched the latest blockbuster, during the weekend. I can be social Tuesday to Thursday, until Friday when some bugger decides to ask "what are your plans for the weekend?"


In our 4th month here now, we have firmly gotten used to the fact that weekends here are Friday and Saturday. We have things like "Friday brunch" and "Saturday roast", and for people like us who live in Abu Dhabi, there is a natural gravitation to drive the 100 miles to our sexier sister city of Dubai, and indeed, it is practically THE to-do on an Abu Dhabian? Dhabite? weekend.

Frankly, I have lost count of how many times we've been there (yes, already). And as if the Dubai store sells any differently, we have even been to Dubai's IKEA. We've been there on staycation, sat on the Metro to nowhere, outlet shopping, been to a mall that is so big that you need a buggy to get from one end to the other, uncovered a few gems of restaurants,  and, on a Saturday night drive back to AD, watched with scary fascination as cars on the E11 highway weaved from one lane to another all exceeding the speed limit by at least 20km/h, tailgating each other to either intimidate the other to move or go faster. (We stayed respectfully at the fourth lane where the drivers did not really want to go home THAT quickly.)

I guess it's safe to say we are no longer strangers there.

Sure enough, in the frenzied weeks in June and July when shopping for the house was top priority, every weekend was an opportunity to make the 1.5 hour drive to find the next furniture store that we might have missed (and then some). And with the house becoming less of a empty cavern these days, there is one less reason to make the trip, and.. perhaps the allure has dimmed just a bit?

We stayed firmly in Abu Dhabi soil sand this weekend and the spent the Friday exploring bits of the city that we haven't yet been to and this is after I prevented the husband from attempting to drive 3 hours into the desert with only a 500ml bottle of water in hand (SERIOUS). While I'm not a Korean food person we did go to a Korean restaurant that served up pretty authentic fare to a what I suspect is a band of faithful following. Bonus points for not chasing us out after we got glued to an episode of Korean drama on their TV screen!

Saturday was spent even more mundanely as we did our weekly grocery run. In true old married couple fashion, we found ourselves immeasurably gleeful after we got our faulty rice cooker refunded, no questions asked, which broke down within 2 months of irregular use - we actually laughed to ourselves in the car on the 5 minute drive home.

Weekends usually mean we either eat out at wherever we find ourselves to be or if we are at home, Kyle wants to cook, and on this unremarkable weekend we experienced one of the perks of living away from our parents - the freedom to eat whatever the hell we want and whenever we please, so why not burgers for dinner?! :D

Gourmet shrimp burgers to be precise, with the ingredients - shrimps (or prawns if you like), onions and bell peppers - first pulverized by blender, shaped by hand and lastly grilled.

Summer time is grillin' time. We just need to pretend we are outdoors.

Because an animated gif is probably the only good way to showcase the assembly of the burger...

We didn't want a a whole head of lettuce with nowhere to go after using a couple of leaves for the burger, so lettuce was out of the window. Yay for me since I hate lettuce, seriously why even bother cooking if we can't remove what we don't like...

I prefer to eat the bread and tomato up first so I can eat the patty in all of its original glory - like a poor man's crab cake.

The next logical step? Replicate MOS Burger's Ebi rice burger!

Over the Hill

Aug 19, 2014

One may notice that we have updated the appearance of the blog, thanks to a succession of some very, very sluggish work days. That's the advantage of working from home for you.

But that doesn't mean that it isn't an uphill climb to relearn CSS, and more than once I felt tempted to give up and just shell out for a customized one on etsy that would make my life so much easier AND gorgeous to boot, all the while thinking to myself - Come on my time is more valuable than the price of a layout...

It may have been fun to draw mockups using paper and pencil but materializing it is an entire thing altogether.

Right now I am hopelessly stuck with an element of the design (if it could even be called that), and no amount of googling seems to help. It will have to be. Until such day comes that either I purchase one or wake up with insane coding skills.  Looks like the days of playing around with html & co are over, with these 'new technology', I'd better stick to my day job, exploring new dishes, learn to take better photos, and write more...

Weather Report

Aug 17, 2014

It is only inevitable, given that we live at the desert, and here it is:

We have a sandstorm today.

I tried to take a photo from the window to show that the Emirates Palace, just across the street, is now completely shrouded by the dust, however, it's pretty pointless - the picture was basically a swathe of beige.

Dusty: A screenshot from the weather app will have to do

Conquering Carrot Cake

Aug 12, 2014

Whenever my parents make carrot (radish really) cake (chye tow kueh, or CTK for short) (or yam cake/kueh), they tend to do so post-dinner: it would be 9, or 10pm when I will start hearing the flurry in the kitchen - the clanging of pans, the sound of the stove fired alive - and then I would wonder (in exasperation, even) why wouldn't they just kick back, relax, and watch TV?

But the next morning when breakfast served, any doubt from the night before was silenced, as my sisters and I would inevitably ask for seconds and thirds of the fried cake, and is there any more so I can bring to work for lunch, too?

In Singapore, CTK can be easily bought at any hawker centre or food court for less than SGD 4 - so cheap, which naturally deters anyone from making the effort to try their own DIY version. (In fact the same can be said of most Singaporean street food - delicious cuisine that has the seemingly incredulous ability to marry complex elements with low prices.) Thankfully for me then, that I was able to enjoy both the homemade and outside versions during my days back in Singapore.

Taking an eight hours' flight brings you to Abu Dhabi, a place where all the money in the world will not buy you a plate - with the exception of a frozen CTK that took the same flight perhaps. Since learning that CTK is Kyle's favorite Singaporean hawker dish, I had felt tempted to try, which will serve not just to cement my status as the best wife ever (lol) but to try my hand at something my parents make but I for some reason did not feel urged to learn. And of course, to try to use some of the preserved radish in the Asian Ingredients Pack from Mama Lee.

And so over the days after we got back from our holidays, I steadily added radish and rice flour to our pantry, read pretty much every recipe online about the topic (there aren't that many) and mentally rehearsed all the steps. With the ingredients in place, I felt raring to go - but...

Roadblock #1: Every recipe was rather precise about the amounts of ingredients used, down to the last ml or gram, and here we did not have a kitchen scale yet. (We were supposed to get one from my folks)

I debated internally with myself about whether I should go ahead by agaration (Singlish 101: from the root word "agak", to guess in Malay - a process of doing something not by measured procedures but just 'feeling' it) or just give up and make soup with the radish. (the rice flour could wait.) A couple of days went by and with a new found philosophy I recently developed with regards to cooking - there's not much to lose, at the worst I'll just fail, I decided to go ahead (some time around 9pm, no less, @parents are you reading this?)

Who was the one who said no more ambitious recipes, huh?

Having decided that I should just agak my way through, I went for Food Made With Love's recipe that seemed to be more relaxed than the others in terms of precision. After all, I was going to be even more imprecise than imprecision, as I would not be able to measure out x grams of radish nor y grams of flour. From memory of seeing my parents work I had some vague idea about how the texture *should* be, so, viva agaration! I was determined.

Roadblock #2: We have no proper steamer to steam the cake.

Returning to the internet I turned to Lifehacker & co to find a way to "hack" a steamer using our existing tools. Many were not helpful for my purpose as they did not have a "tray" of cake to steam, nor do I blame them, usually people who would make something like this would be sane enough to procure the proper tools before proceeding.

Tinkering with the various combinations of cooking utensils I came up with something, but due to its inherent flaws, heat transfer took the longest time; due to my zero experience I couldn't even judge if the radish was cooked. All the while I was convinced I was mad to even try to do this.

Hacking it: A saucepan stacked on a pot balanced by the Ordning cutlery stand from IKEA.

Roadblock #3: While the cake steamed, I realized the recipes call for salted preserved radish, but what we have is the sweet version.

Horror of all horrors! To think the pack of preserved radish was one of the chief reasons to make CTK! And what we have is actually wrong!

Readers may note that by then I had reached the point of no return so the time to fix the situation will be when I actually fry it, which can be tweaked by adjusting the seasoning. Again agaration. Sums up my culinary journey, and my favorite Singlish word ever.

Moving along...

After steaming the cake, I thought it looked rather dry than it should be and again, I was unsure if it was fully cooked. In the end I was just too tired to watch the fire any longer and so killed the stove.

It was not ready to be eaten yet, as it needs to be chilled overnight for the cake to set.

It obviously did not improve its appearance during its sleepover in the fridge lol.
(I ate the missing edge of the circle for lunch.)

Day 2: Making it Edible is Actually the Easy Part

It was meant to be dinner but I was looking forward to the frying so much that I decided to "experiment" the frying for my own lunch hahaha. I had a sneaking feeling that the cake was going to be bland since I barely salted it, also, some chef-backed recipes suggested cooking the radish in stock which I didn't; so I piled on the flavor generously during the frying to make up for it. It did work somewhat, in the end we enjoyed the cake very much and me twice (heh). 

The next time I try this again, I swear the cake will be bursting with flavor! :D

A sprinkle of scallion would have completed the picture, but I didn't have any (and I don't like it..)

A Word from the Customer Husband
Getting Kyle to write something is like extracting water from the Arabian desert, but I managed to force a commentary out of him at this occasion :p

On a wind gentle sun bright afternoon… I received a whatsapp image of a fried something something from Kate. Could not really make out what it was really, but at first glance, I thought it was some really thick and juicy fried calamari. Turned out that dish was the carrot cake for dinner! She was just testing and trying it out that afternoon, having steamed a chunky looking white paste the night before. So truth be told, the carrot cake is really quite amazing. Part of the amazement was of course the fact that she whipped this out of nowhere, and being the glad guinea pig I was (it was the umpteenth time I’ve been the lab rat, but God blessed me with this wife that can follow/innovate internet recipes really well), the leap of ‘fork’ into the mouth was plain-vanilla heaven. I mean not to compare this with the Zion Rd hawker center carrot cake uncle, but for a homemade carrot cake, without the use of MSG, a wok-less steamer-less environment… loved it.

This desert (me) just had to give some water to the wife. I need my continual dose of random cuisinal experiments :)

Back to Reality

Aug 4, 2014

We are back after fleeing the country for the second half of the holy month of Ramadan - turns out that not being able to eat and drink publicly before sundown was too much for us. Instead we spent a few days indulging with hedonist abandon at the French Riviera (! very unholy too) for Jade + Olivier's epic wedding and then split ways to spend time with our families in Europe and Singapore respectively.

As we are still waiting for our alcohol buying license to be issued to us so we shopped heartily for our home bar during our trips, collecting a nice stash at the numerous duty free stores we passed by, pretty much maxing out our limits.

"Room for more": as a dear but alas alcoholic friend remarks

Back to reality, back to life, I'm back at work today from my 5-month holiday, my office being our guest room which we have yet to buy furniture for. So now I'm in our living room which is a mess consisting of a disheveled rug, loose cables, opened and unopened paper boxes, unfinished DIY projects, and a deeply underutilised bookcase (currently home to a lot of junk) -- or what Kyle calls "looks exactly like a startup". Nonetheless this is not bad at all considering that the view of the Arabian Sea is mine all day long and the nespresso machine is but a short walk away to the kitchen. It also means Kyle still has his housekeeper and probably still expects dinner when he is home from work.. Right now markets are slow, and I'm stuck in the drudgery of struggling to get all my hardware and software up and running, which is why I am blogging...

To mark my retirement from my being a housewife, incidentally my official occupation stated on my UAE residency visa, we had for dinner a miso udon (ramen-style) last night completed with a homemade chashu and marinated egg. I followed the Momofuku roast pork recipe for the chashu and this for the egg. Having yet to master temperatures of this oven the pork turned out to be charred at some parts but otherwise perfect in seasoning and texture. The eggs are a real chemistry project, that need a lot of patience and precision. It will be a long while before I'll embark on another of such ambitious recipes.

A deceptively-simple looking dish can be excruciatingly painfully difficult to make

Photo editing wizardry credits to Kelvin Luffs Photography