Monday, October 31, 2005

Judging for DMBLGIT

As some of you know, I won the “Edibility” category of the ninth “Does My Blog Look Good In This” photography contest last month. Through my win I found a friend in Chubby Hubby, a blogger from Singapore, and a fellow flickrist. I was an instant fan of his aesthetically pleasing and creative food photographs. So when he told me that he was hosting the tenth DMBLGIT contest and asked me to be a judge, I gladly accepted.

There are a total of 45 entries and picking out five top winners for each of the three categories (aesthetics, edibility, and originality) proved to be a difficult task. One photo did stand out in particular and I hope the other four judges will agree with me and give it high marks.

Well, keep an eye on the Chubby Hubby blog for winner announcement and let the best photo win!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Keep It Simple

A couple of months ago when we went to London, our friends whom we stayed with served us a typical French breakfast on their roof top terrace over looking the Tower Bridge. The first item on the menu was buttered toast dipped in soft-boiled eggs. Maybe it was the fabulous view, or maybe it was the crisp morning air, gooey egg yolks never tasted so good.

Last weekend, we found ourselves stuck at home because of a typhoon that was sweeping through Japan. Jason was surfing the net while flipping through a GQ magazine, and I was reading a book that had to be returned to the library soon. Suddenly he turned to me pointing at a page in the GQ in his hand, “Can we have this for lunch?” And it was the same soft-boiled egg and toast. Having just had a rather filling breakfast, this light fare seems the perfect solution. Plus the sauerkraut bread that I made during the week is turning hard and would be perfect for toast.

Ten minutes later we had ourselves a simple but sumptuous lunch of egg and toast. Who said one has to labor for hours in the kitchen to have a decent meal? Sometimes all you need is ten minutes (of course I’m not counting the hours spent making the sauerkraut bread).

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Scent of Autumn

Does anyone know the English name for this flower? It’s called “gui hua” (桂花) in Chinese and “kin no mokusei” (金の木犀) in Japanese, but what’s it in English?

I was pleasantly surprised my first autumn in Japan when I woke up one morning to a distantly familiar sweet fragrance that I hadn’t smelled since I was a kid in China. It wasn’t until then that I realized that all the trees in the yard were “gui hua” trees! Later when we moved out of that house, one of the things I didn’t want to let go of was those trees, them and my humongous kitchen that took up half the first floor. But that’s a subject for another time.

You know the saying about closing windows and opening doors (or is it the other way around)? I was thrilled to find out one of the trees in my current yard is a “gui hua” tree came autumn in our new apartment.

So what is the big deal about those trees besides the fact that they smell nice? First of all, you don’t know how lovely the fragrance is unless you’ve experienced first hand. It’s not as strong as rose or as sweet as gardenia. If I have to come up with a comparison, I would say it’s like the honeysuckle in that elusive almost-not-there quality, yet it sneaks up on you when you are not paying attention and shocks you with a freshness unknown to any other flowers. Secondly, it’s not just good for its smell. You can eat it. Here is how.

When the flowers are starting to bloom (they only lasts for about a week) pick the ones that had just opened (fully opened ones are not as flavorful). Do not wash, as that the fragrance will be washed off, and place in a small saucepan. Put in sugar and water in a 2:1 ratio and bring to a boil. Boil until syrup thickens and flower turns a dark golden color. Pour into a clean glass jar. This is your “gui hua” syrup. You can add it to any Chinese dessert such as almond tofu, glutinous rice balls or sweet eight-treasure porridge “八宝粥”. Or if you are ambitious, you can make gui hua flavored steamed lotus roots stuffed with glutinous rice, “桂花糖藕”, which I plan to try in the near future.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

My Blog is One Year Old

I had some free time today so I thought I'd organize my blog entries into categories, and what do you know? I found out that I wrote my very first blog entry exactly one year ago to the day!

Two hours of hard labor later, I now have manually categorized every single blog entry I wrote in the past year. Now if you would turn your attention to the side bar, you'll find something called "Let There Be Order" - my low tech solution to blogger's lack of automatic sorting function.

First Week at Le Cordon Bleu

Three people cut their fingers; one person never showed up; one girl lost her wedding ring (later found); another thought she’d lost her mind when she couldn’t find her things in the locker after class (she used the wrong locker and the rightful owner of the locker turned her things in to the administrator); many people locked themselves out of their own lockers (myself included, twice. LCB has a really stupid locker system). Yup, that about sums up my first practical session at Le Cordon Bleu. Eventful, huh!

So what did we make? Fruit salad (to practice cutting fruits the correct way) and Flan au Caramel (aka pudding).

The first lesson wasn’t too bad because the subjects were relatively simple. Besides the salad and pudding, the teacher also demonstrated how to make crème brulee. The fruit salad was really nice due in large part to the quarter of a vanilla bean that was thrown into the mixture. The pudding was the creamiest and most flavorful I’ve ever had. Granted, I don’t usually order the humble flan au caramel in restaurants so I only have the convenient store variety as a yardstick, but I’m still pretty sure it was good. I have mixed feelings about the crème brulee, however. On the one hand, the full-on vanilla flavor was heavenly (can you see the vanilla seeds swimming on top?); but on the other hand, I felt that the texture was not as creamy as the one I made the more scientific way. (LCB does not believe in giving baking time so everything is done by eye-balling, without even a timer! I find this very hard to get used to.)

I hate to sound like a wimp but I was EXHAUSTED after a full day of class (3 hours practical plus 3 hours lecture). Interestingly it wasn’t the practical session that tired me out, it was all that Japanese thrown at me during lecture that gave me a huge headache. It felt exactly like the first week at work: brain overload. The problem is that I have to listen to the lecture in Japanese and take notes in English at the same time. Maybe I will go for the test for simultaneous interpretation after I’m done with LCB, but for now it’s taking every bit of energy and concentration I have in me. It’s still fun though, and I can’t wait till my next practical, where we make classic apple tart. It’s a beauty to behold. I hope mine turns out pretty.