Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Simple Enjoyments in Life

One of the biggest things I have understood after nearly 1 year in Bangkok, is that life can be very simple, and a simple life can also be just as enjoyable as a complicated one.

Since I've been here, I've done my very best to live like a local Thai. There are many people here who are struggling to make ends meet, and their salary is just a small fraction of what we are getting in Singapore, but alas, they have no complaints at all. They organise their own field trips, they have their own celebrations, their own feasts, their own holidays. Having grown up in Singapore, naturally I am more realistic and materialistic, therefore it's been very enlightening to see and feel the culture here and be less concerned over the superficial material joys of life.


I have sat by the beach to paint clay figurines, celebrated the King's birthday, went shopping at 2am at the local garment wholesale market, went to a cattle ranch that conducted its tour in Thai, made friends with the stray dogs in my neighbourhood, and this time, I am gonna give you snippets of my visit to the temporary 'funfair' currently held near my office.
I do not know whether Bingo is considered gambling, but if it is, I have completely experienced the devil, because with my 1st ever game (that costs 20baht), I bingo-ed! My staff/friend Rit also bingo-ed a while later, and he said it was the 1st time in his life he won something, so I guess it's not that easy to win. Talk about the evils of gambling.......

This next game I am going to introduce was something I have never seen before. First you pay 20baht, and you pick 9 out of this mess of hidden numbers.


Like what I did here.


Then you go to the back and you open every number to tally with the numbered prizes. When the number tallies, you bring it home!

After a good 15 minutes of hot sweaty searching, I conclude that my luck has run out.

However, by this time, the little boy in me has jumped out to take over my clumsy lanky adult body. I continued my mad indulgence in the carnival by going on a bumper car ride, cheered Rit on as he threw darts at balloons to win a stuffed frog for his wife, and went rifle shooting.
The grand finale came when I bought 5 paper fishing nets to catch fish. I've never seen this game before in Singapore, but maybe there is. You can keep the fish you catch, but the big ones would most definitely break the paper nets with any bit of acceleration.

We ended up with 8 small fish, but we returned them to the owner as we just wanted to have some fun.


Once again, I experienced how the Thais enjoy their simple life, and I realise that happiness is not proportional to our standard of living (I agree with you Wenguang). I believe this kind of simple enjoyment is possible anywhere we are, it is whether we are willing to slow down our pace and look around, and not be so bothered over the unimportant things in life, which we are blindly chasing everyday in a bid to make our lives "better".
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Anyway, congratulations to the grand opening of the Marina Bay Sands, and while we are drooling over the architectural brilliance of the 3 towers which has become a companion on Singapore's coastline along with the Singapore Flyer, let me share with you a conversation I had with my staff over this puny little Ferris Wheel (the picture above, at most 2.5 storeys high) that was the highlight of the funfair.
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Rit : Eddie, have you ever sat on the Ferris Wheel before?
Eddie : Yes, of course I have, there is 1 in Singapore, it is the largest in the world. This is very small compared to the one there.
Rit : (looking bored)Oh...
Eddie : What about you? Have you sat in 1 before?
Rit : No, look (pointing at the top of the mini Ferris Wheel) I think it is so high, I am afraid.
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Is it really important to have the BIGGEST Ferris Wheel in the world?
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Nah, I don't think so.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Salad stripped down to its bare essentials

It's been an eventful week.

I welcomed my first 2 visitors from church, saying hi to them at the airport when they were brimming with healthy smiles on their faces and ended up waving goodbye to them 3 days later both struggling to consume anything after spending the weekend emulating Merlion. I hope they enjoyed their trip though, Sigh.

I also waved goodbye to my dear fiancee, who had been here for nearly 2 months, accompanying me through easily the most politically chaotic time I have ever experienced. Was really difficult to send her off, but oh well, hope she'll be back in no time.

Anyway, I realised that my previous pumpkin salad was a little complicated, simple, but needs many steps. It's not suitable for beginners to make. Now, I shall take away the oven, the lemon-squeezing, the pumpkin-hacking and teach you the EASIEST (yet relatively tasty) salad you will ever make.

The only ingredient, cherry tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes because they are sweet, sour (so you can take away squeezing the lemon), doesn't need cooking, look really pretty and are easy to process. Of course, if you do not like tomatoes in the first place, then you can forget about this post, though I suggest you pay attention if you hate tomatoes but love ketchup, because I'll convert you soon. You need as much as you need to eat, wash them thoroughly and halve them.

To dress the tomatoes, you only need 4 ingredients. 4! Freshly ground black peppercorns (I insist on freshly ground), dry/fresh oregano, salt (oregano + tomato + salt = paradise) and good quality extra virgin olive oil.
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You do not even need to make the dressing separately. Just dump all the tomatoes in a mixing bowl and season with a nice pinch of salt. Let the tomatoes sit for 10 minutes to let the salt draw out their delicious juices. Once this is done, glug in a good amount of extra virgin olive oil (for the shown amt of tomatoes, maybe at least 2-3 big tablespoonfuls of best quality oil) and toss the tomatoes, finishing off with some freshly crushed black pepper and a nice sprinkle of Oregano.
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You're done! Tuck in!


For tonight, I baked myself a handful of Enoki mushroom to go with the tomato. Just add a teeny bit of butter, Kikkoman Japanese soya sauce and black pepper onto the mushroom and put them under 200degC for 15 minutes and it's done.
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This has no relation with the salad though, I just like some fusion in my meals, like this oriental tasting Enoki vs the angmo-style salad.


I am not saying chips and beer are replaceable as snacks during football matches now that the World Cup fever is on, but having some delectable home-made salad for dinner or a starter to a meal would give you the nutritional balance you BADLY need during this body-destroying month.
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Forget about the expensive jars of dressing you find on the supermarket shelves or the typical unhealthy mayonnaise and thousand island, you can actually make salads from absolute scratch. This tomato salad has been stripped down to the bare essentials and it is the minimum I would expect from you if I manage to see you next time!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Taking a walk in the vineyards on a sunny summer afternoon

So our trip to the cattle ranch was done and dusted. We had to quickly rush our way to the PB vineyard around 40km away, and we were lucky that we went early, because we had a real difficult time locating it.

It was quite hot, and there are usually no grapes to see during the summer, as all the grapes would have been harvested by the end of February, but we are determined to have a look anyway, and what a view we saw when we arrived. If it was a little cooler and we could have a glass of cold grape juice under one of those umbrellas, it would be one of the simplest yet most satisfying enjoyments of life.

Thailand is not the most well-known country for wine-making, but over the last decade or so, there have been many vineyards popping up in different regions of the country. The weird thing is, the government charges 60% duty if the wine is sold locally, so you could have the same Thai wine cheaper in another country than in Thailand itself. That's really spectacular, but I don't think it is doing any good to the local wine industry.

By the way, back to the winery tour.

One thing that impressed me most is the filters/sieves. The grape juice gets pressed through this entire row of European-made filters to ensure the wine is sparkling clear, clean of any bit of residue. Isn't it unbelievable, the work that they go through, there must be at least 20 layers!

Without going through the details of wine-making, which I probably have forgotten most of by now, I believe the picture above can show you the sheer size of the tanks in which the wine ferment in. This is no joke, it reminds me more of an oil refinery than a winery, ok, now I realise they sound almost the same.


Then the wines get to age in these oak barrels under a controlled low temperature to slowly develop their woody tones and make them yummy. I am no professional wine drinker myself, but I really am starting to develop a taste for them and I hope I can slowly become more sensitive to the subtle differences between different wines.
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From an article on Bangkok Post, it says that Thailand is better known for the quality of its white wine, and true enough, after a round of wine tasting, Li Li and I decided on carrying a bottle of Chenin Blanc home. This was a real surprise to us as well, as we have always been supporters of the red breed.
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Being here in summer gives us the perfect opportunity to have a look at the grapevines in 3 stages. The above, when it has just been harvested and completely trimmed. It looks great with the blue sky and mountain backdrop, grape or no grape.
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Grape vines with a small amount of leaves sprouting out.
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And last but not least, grapevines at their most luscious green.
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The only thing missing now before we call it a good day is the grapes. Fortunately for us, PB Valley is considerate enough to grow some table grapes so that visitors who came from thousands of miles away can see real grapes hanging from the vines all year round, and for a cityboy like me, I was obviously excited to take a picture with Mr Bunch-of-Grapes.

Ok man, mission accomplished.
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Now, I will open my beautiful bottle of clear white Chenin Blanc and savour my walk through the vineyard once again.....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Where Cowboys still thrive and visitors go Ummm...Milk!

During the Vesak day weekend, Li Li and I decided to go to another one-day weekend getaway! As we are in the exotic Thailand, we really want to do things that Thai locals do, and that typical Singaporeans do not have a chance to, therefore we hopped onto our black mafia Fortuner and spent a day at a cow ranch and a winery (ok, maybe 2 wineries)!

Farm Chokchai is the largest cattle ranch in Southeast Asia, and it has always been very popular in Thailand for its milk and delicious original milk ice-cream. The very interesting thing about it is that it has sold its brand "Chokchai Farm" years ago and now brand their dairy products "Umm...Milk!". Don't buy Chokchai Farm milk, it's fake!



This is not Texas, but this is where cowboys are still alive, probably the only place in the region too. The 2.5-hour tour was conducted completely in Thai, but they are starting to warm to foreign guests like us by putting English subtitles on all their videos and giving us a handbook in English which we can refer to along the way when we feel lost.



After the introduction video which shows the ranch's history, the tour started off with demonstrations on how they milk their cows. For some reason, I feel this sight of a whole row of cow's butts very amusing. Maybe I have been a cityboy for too long, and now after almost 29 long years, I finally get to enjoy the things little boys deserve.




In the middle of a cattle ranch, a dragonfruit orchard with the blue skies and the mountains as a backdrop.



Stacks of hay that are way bigger than anything we have seen before, the farm does this to preserve some food for the cattle when the going gets tough.



How about this for a cowgirl to bring us around the place.

There were 2 very interesting shows during the course of the tour: A cowboy show and an animal show. Li Li munching her favourite original milk "Umm...Milk" ice-cream while waiting for the cowboys to start strutting their stuff.

The best sideshow was actually when our tram suddenly stopped and there was a herd of funny-looking sheep getting chased onto the back of a lorry by a shepherd dog. It was real good fun and made me appreciate the awe of nature, where there are dogs "created" to love chasing after sheep and sheep "created" to shiver in fright when they see that specific breed of dogs. Incredible.
To make this a complete family experience, we got a taste of feeding various animals like deer, rabbit, sheep, even camel. They rounded the whole tour off with a hilarious animal show. It was in Thai, but we laughed all the same.

Any visitors in Thailand, if you have time you do not mind a 2 hour journey to and from Bangkok (4 hours in total), I think this cattle ranch experience is not to be missed.


Stay tuned for the winery experience.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ovenly goodness


Being trapped in a home-office which is not big enough to house my goods is really a challenge, not only because I am technically working 24 hours (which is fine), but also because I have converted my only possible kitchen space into a small warehouse to keep more stock. For 8 months, I have been forced to eat out 100%, until my new love Zanussi (an oven) invaded my pantry.

No kitchen, no place for proper washing, no stove, no gas, no fire, but nothing's gonna stop me from churning out meal after meal of wholesome goodness and health. I need to give the credit where it's due. I do not know how many of you give a damn about Jamie Oliver, but having followed his programmes since his very first one and buying his books, I am sure he was the one who convinced me that proper cooking can be easy.

Ok, I am going to be a nice boy and share with you guys my recipe for this delicious warm salad that's almost vegetarian. Its name is a long one: Warm baked pumpkin and garlic salad with cherry tomatoes, rocket and Thai crispy pork fat.

Ingredients for salad (serves 3, or 2 hungry people):
  1. Half a small-sized pumpkin (preferably Japanese pumpkin), cut into 1cm-thick slices
  2. 10 garlic cloves, keep them whole in their skins, cut of the end with the root so that it will be easy to squeeze the insides out when it's done
  3. 20 cherry tomatoes, halved

  4. A small bunch of rocket, you can use something else like watercress, but I like rocket's spicy punch and fragrance. Remember, pumpkin is the star of the show, do not overdo the greens for this one

  5. Medium-grade olive oil, expensive extra virgin would be wasted in the oven

  6. Thai crispy pork fat, or you could use the 猪油渣in Singapore, or if you do not like the Asian twist, croutons or bacon bits work just fine, I just prefer the fusion feeling

For the dressing:

  1. The juice of half a lemon
  2. Good quality extra virgin olive oil, 3 times the amount of lemon juice (3:1 proportion)

  3. Freshly ground black peppercorns

  4. Sea-salt

For starters, I would suggest we do the dressing first and make it ready and not wait till the last minute as this is a warm salad.

Preparing the dressing:

  1. Find a nice leak-proof tupperware/honeyjar, squeeze the juice of the lemon, removing seeds

  2. Slowly pour in the extra virgin olive oil, stopping when u have 3 parts oil and 1 part acid

  3. Add a good pinch of salt and some freshly-ground black peppercorns

  4. The last bit is the fun bit, cap the jar/container and give it a good shake, like what you would do with 泡泡茶/cocktail. Once you see a creamy yellow emulsion, you're laughing.

Making the salad:

  1. Put the cherry tomato halves into a big mixing bowl and hit them with a dash of salt, tomatoes taste great when they are slightly salted

  2. Garlic cloves take an hour while the pumpkin slices take half an hour, so pre-heat the oven to 200degC, put the garlic on the baking tray, whack them with some medium grade olive oil and put them in for half an hour

  3. When it reaches half an hour, lay the pumpkin slices onto the same baking tray, put a bit more olive oil to slightly cover the pumpkin, flavour with some salt and put it back in for another half an hour.

  4. By this time, your garlic would be soft and your pumpkin gooey and sweet. When the pumpkin is piping hot, throw them into the mixing bowl with your raw tomatoes. I like the tomatoes to be shocked with some extreme heat to warm them a little and force out the nice juices

  5. Squeeze out the garlic from their skins, crush each one a little (but leaving them still as individual cloves) and put them into the mixing bowl

  6. Put in your washed rocket only right before you dress the salad, we do not want the rocket to be wilted by the heat of the pumpkin!

  7. Lastly, give your dressing a last shake and pour them into the mixing bowl to mix. You are now ready to plate the damn thing, and indulge after topping it off with some crispy pork fat.

Simply ovenly. Hope you guys will give this simple salad a try and let me know what you think!

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