Saturday, April 30, 2016

Hey Spring in Seattle!

Thankful to be out of the crazy Singapore heat and humidity for a bit. The weather forecast two weeks promises to be kind. By that I mean temperatures in the range of 13dC - 24dC with little rain. Whether we get that gorgeous sun totally depends on the fickle weather and Murphy.

Love this direct flight from Taipei into Seattle on EVA Air. Makes us feel less zonked than if I had to garner the energy to deal with the domestic transit at LAX or SFO. With the ESTA on repeat visits within six months, I didn't even have to queue up at immigrations to talk to a human. I simply touchscreen-ed my way through, printed out my own 'immigration check-out' slip and shimmy to baggage claim. At the rate Changi Airport is going with this drop of standards to '>12min baggage retrieval' thing, SeaTac Airport doesn't fare worse at all. After a short shuttle ride from the international terminal to the main exit, we were out of Sea-Tac within 20 minutes of landing.

No issues with locks on suitcases. Because, cable ties. WOOOHOOO. Sorted out the check-in at the hotel, picked-up our data-SIMs, and checked out information about the possibly mad weekend of May Day protests, Sounders and Mariners games and the Alaskan Way viaduct two-week closure, etc. In fact, the crazy friends sent a list of 'things to note in WA'. Hahaha. They damn free lah. I can get the information online, but it's much appreciated because the locals can get more in-depth stuff and the friends will know what sort of information I'm looking for.

Then crashed our friends' kitchen for dinner. Well, I gotta pick up my rain boots too. Told them not to do anything extravagant since we'd have just landed, although not too zonked, we wouldn't be at our finest witty best. Hahaha. Since we weren't that focused on food, and the friends had a full-day of work before dinner, prepping a one-dish meal always works. The friends had earlier brought out the giant pasta machine to roll out radiatori. Fat and squat. So cute. They made a puttanesca of sorts. Convenient and delicious. Mmm. Much love and laughter. Hey spring in Seattle, nice to see you.

Friday, April 29, 2016

National Kitchen by Violet Oon


Violet Oon's Peranakan dishes aren't crap lah. It's more of how her kitchens execute the dishes which can be inconsistent on a day-to-day basis. The issues at the restaurants seem to be more operational. I was okay with the interpretation of food at her restaurant at Bukit Timah. Of course if you visit, expecting flavors of Guan Hoe SoonPeramakan or the old Baba Blues, then you're going to be sorely disappointed.

There're so many mixed reviews about National Kitchen by Violet Oon that I had to try it for myself. It's small, but beautifully done up. But the wood and tiles don't help with controlling noise levels. It's very noisy at both lunch and dinner. Kinda tempted to wear ear plugs and tonight I did. Well, dunno about you, but I've gone by a few times and enjoyed the food at National Kitchen. No pork or lard used. Menu offerings also hold familiar items from Violet Oon's Bukit Timah restaurant.

Took the man to the restaurant for dinner when he had a window between conference calls. I knew he'd appreciate the Guinness on tap here. Heh. Tasted pretty all right. Orderd conservatively. The kuay pie tie were dependably nibblelicious. The man was pleased with both beef rendang and sambal eggplant. Spicy enough without the overkill. Happy to see my favorite buah keluak noodle (spaghetti) on the menu. It was still oily at the bottom though. Ugh. I wish the kitchen would go easy on the oil.

Had to order idly with coconut and tomato chutney. We were curious! While the idly were the tiniest ones around, but they were surprisingly decent. (Can't beat Murugan's lah.) The idly were, how should I put it without going into the technical details of how to make idly/idli and what makes it good... anyway, they were sour enough. Yup. Sour. The surprise was the fish curry that came along because we randomly asked for sambar, but of course they didn't have it. The servers were so lovely to give us a small bowl of nicely tangy fish curry on the house.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Back At Bollywood Veggies


On weekends, it's always a pleasure to go on a walk to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, then to Kranji Marshes and stop at Bollywood Veggies for an early lunch with the friends. The morning was overcast but the skies held. Not even a drop of rain. Made for a very perfect stroll all the way to an early lunch at 11am.

Can't help ordering the same items each time we eat at Bollywood Veggies' Poison Ivy Bistro- the Indian vegetarian platter. The sambar is good. We ask for sambal belachan too. Pretty decent. Since it was a table of four, we made it to the dessert platter of kueh, and could even buy additional loaves of banana bread and jackfruit bread to take home.

To be honest, the food is average. Oddly, we like it enough to return a few times a year. I really enjoy the food, the weirdly wide variety of menu items, the company and conversation. Also, we take comfort in knowing that majority of its ingredients are supplied straight from the farm and cooked fresh with little salt and oil. The relaxed atmosphere of the bistro amongst the green is such a gem. Its air-conditioned indoor area is much appreciated too. Driving up here is always a breeze. It's as close to the 'countryside' as we can get.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sometimes it Snows in April



Too many of my childhood music heroes have died. This year hits especially hard. 2016, you're breaking my heart. The year began with the death of David Bowie, then Maurice White, Glenn Frey, and others. Then Prince. We aren't even at the halfway mark of 2016. :(

There's a feeling of loss, not the deeply personal sort obviously. It's a sentimental loss without regard to whether these musicians are assholes in their private lives. I look at the scene today and mourn of the passing of an era. There's talent aplenty of course, but few musicians have taken the world by storm as David Bowie or Prince did. The flamboyance doesn't quite match up to these legends now gone. Unless we only remember them because of how their music accompanied our teenage years and through all the angst.

With Prince's passing, I feel old. He has got 39 studio albums and so many fantastic songs. Hard to pick just one favorite song. 'Starfish and Coffee', 'Thieves in the Temple', 'Diamonds and Pearls', 'Cream', and even the cheesy 'Kiss'. Had loads of fun tinkering out the tunes on the piano and the guitar. The man has been on the guitar strumming songs non-stop. Well, a welcome change from Guns N' Roses during the Coachella weekends. I've got a very soft spot for 'Purple Rain'. I don't quite take to the movie though. Eioow. The man made me watch it again that night. It's really... 80s horror.

Remember one of Prince's most epic performances? Done in the downpour. The 2007 Super Bowl XLI in Miami. Prior to this year, apparently it has never rained during a Super Bowl. Ha. Miami. Woah. Torrential rain and gale-force winds. Made us swoon when he covered Foo Fighters' 'Best of You'. Hurhurhur. Com'mon, Dave Grohl is way better on vocals and drums then the guitar. When Prince broke into the solo for 'Best of You', it was the most amazing thing.

(link to NFL's video of 'Prince's Full Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show'; 12:33min)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Cafe at National Museum


Not quite a fan of Food for Thought's (FFT) bistros. As meaningful as their causes are, their service is patchy across outlets, and food is middling at best. For years, I thought it quite crap, even at its price points. Especially the outlet at Botanic Gardens; nobody really goes there to eat. Recently, the kitchens seem to have improved. One fine afternoon, we settled into an easy meal at its National Museum outlet.

Menu has been revamped. The service staff that afternoon were quite lovely. Food came correctly, and fast. The grilled tofu mixed mushroom salad wasn't too sad and came with tempeh crisps. The garden city vegetable aglio olio was all right. Good on them for upping vegetarian options and making them more robust than the sad strands offerred by the old menus.

R had no complaints about his crispy curry chicken with creamy wongbok slaw (which was really a big piece of deep fried chicken chop with curry mayo dip at the side), and salt and pepper fries. Hahahaha. It was brainless and very edible, he said. No comments on the basket of spam fries. Ma Ling luncheon meat thick cut fries. Woot. It's my guilty unhealthy indulgence. As long as the fries aren't miserly-cut and fried to a sad thin crisp, it's fine by me. There's now soy beef brisket on mash with sweet potato crisps, and a Foochow-style red rice wine chicken leg with mee sua. Both dishes were pretty tasty. Skipped the bits of chicken because I only wanted the mee sua and hard-boiled eggs. 

No dessert. The table went for milkshakes- good old Milo Dinosaur and Horlicks, and declared them absolutely divine. Okaaaay. Many have said that FFT's pancakes are nicely done, and have been good since day one. Lost on me. I don't like waffles or pancakes. Hahaha. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Wolf Totem :: 狼圖騰

Watched Chinese film 'Wolf Totem' directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Well, mainly to watch the wolves and sigh at the splendour of the Mongolian steppes. Was so tickled to read an article about the Mongolian wolf pups who were raised and trained for four years to be in the film, and after that, they had to be relocated to Canada after filming because they only understood commands in English. Hahahaha.

Adapted from Lü Jiamin's (his pseudonym is 'Jiang Rong'critically acclaimed (and government disapproved) 2004 novel 'Wolf Totem', the 2015 Chinese language film was years in the making. It's weird because Jean-Jacques Annaud's 'Seven Years in Tibet' is still banned in China. Even with a Chinese film company backing it, the French director had to grovel a little in order to get all the permits to film 'Wolf Totem'. The wolves were beautiful and savage; the winter, landscape and environment were bleak and majestic. Mongolia and its 草原 are ridiculously gorgeous.



Jean-Jacques Annaud's cinematography and dedication to authenticity and care of animals were faultless. To that end, I didn't think the director (and his team) went really deep into the political subtext and criticisms that form the essence of the book. It's probably intentional. The film chose to safely focus on ecological balances versus the pragmatic concerns of a vast country needing to feed its people and justice within its bureaucratic practices. 

With a load of reluctance, I dug out the book to re-read. Even though I love the idea of wolves, and as good as the narrative and words are, the book is a tough one to plough through. 姜戎,真名為'吕嘉民'的著作《狼圖騰》。Set in the years of the Cultural Revolution (文革时期), we follow Beijing students Yang Ke (楊克) and mainly Chen Zhen's (陳陣) observations when he's sent to live with the nomadic herders of Mongolia for two years. Every chapter describes an incident with the wolf packs roaming Inner Mongolia, their hunt for food and how the animals grew desperate as humans invade their foraging territory, urbanized the Mongolian steppes, polluted arable land and deplete the predators' natural prey. It's inevitable that the wolves begin attacking humans and their horses.

老人看小狼的目光柔和了許多,又說:草原人敬拜騰格里還是跟狼學的呐。蒙古人還沒有來到草原的時候,狼早就天天夜夜抬頭對騰格里長嗥了。活在草原太苦,狼心裏更苦,夜裏,老人們聽著狼嗥,常常會傷心落淚。 
陳陣心頭一震。在他的長期觀察中,茫茫草原上,確實只有狼和人對天長嗥或默禱。草原人和狼活在這片美麗而貧瘠的草原上太艱難了,他(牠)們無以排遣,不得不常常對天傾訴。從科學的角度看,狼對天長嗥,是為了使自己的聲音訊息傳得更遠更廣更均勻。但陳陣從情感上,卻更願意接受畢利格阿爸的解釋。人生若是沒有某些神性的支撐,生活就太無望了。陳陣的眼圈發紅。

Packs of the Tibetan wolf or the woolly grey wolf roam these northern plains from Tibet to Mongolia. They're of course endangered, due to humans hunting them for their pelts and to drive them away from preying on domesticated herds of cattle and goats. The Gobi Bear is likely extinct. The numbers of khulan are low. Illegal hunting is flourishing and even though trading in animal parts and fur is illegal, nothing much is stopping the trends.

The Mongolian funeral customs of a 'sky burial', lesser practiced now as the usual burial beneath the ground or cremation rituals are adopted. Much of Mongolian traditional customs have eroded. Likewise, it's a touchy issue with the Chinese government. Tibet, bits of northern Yunnan, and Mongolia. I was lucky to have hung out in yurts for two weeks. Needless to say, I was also in love with the Mongolian plains, horses and the idea of free-spiritedness. All of which is only romantic to the traveler. I'm not sure what the Mongolians think. Very few lead the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle now.

四年後,一個白毛風肆虐的凌晨,一位老人和一位壯年人騎著馬,駕著一輛牛車向邊防公路跑去,牛車上載著畢利格老人的遺體。大隊的三個天葬場已有兩處棄而不用,一些牧民死後,已改為漢式的土葬,只有畢利格老人堅持要到可能還有狼的地方去。他的遺囑是讓他的兩個遠房兄弟,把他送到邊防公路以北的無人區。 
據老人的弟弟說,那夜,邊防公路的北面,狼嗥聲一夜沒停,一直嗥到天亮。 
陳陣,楊克和張繼原都認為,畢利格阿爸是痛苦的、也是幸運的老人。因為他是額侖草原最後一個由草原天葬而魂歸騰格里的蒙古族老人。此後,草原的狼群再也沒有回到過額侖草原。

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tame Impala


All right, a psychedelic rock band usually doesn't sound too bad live. Last saw Tame Impala in Singapore at Laneway 2013, the first year that it was held at Gardens by the Bay after shifting over from Fort Canning Park. The music's fine, fun to dance to and very Coachella (by now). But to me, they didn't make much of an impression then, and they still don't make me go wheeeee now.

Band is tight, the benefits of being on tour. Having vocals, guitars, drums and instruments make this way better than EDM or a DJ. There was allocated seating at the theatre, but nobody cared and people stood up to dance. People enjoyed the show. It was my first visit to the venue and in spite of it being rather fancy, beer in plastic cups (canned Heineken) purchased at its official barebones fridge were allowed in. It rained confetti at the start and at the end. Apparently the sound in the upper level was not great. Oops. It sounded good from where we were in the stalls.

I don't quite appreciate techicolor whirls as a backdrop. It kinda gives me a headache. There was plenty of that. Perfect as a setting in a club. Watching Tame Impala live isn't something I shriek in joy over only because I'm not a fan of the genre. Forgot to protest loudly when the man said he would get tickets to this show. I knew only a quarter of the band's songs, but it still made for a night out.

Friday, April 22, 2016

iO Italian Osteria

Finally swung by iO Italian Osteria all the way at Hillview Rise. Run by the good people of Etna, this one-year old casual restaurant didn't disappoint. As usual we were greedy and ordered too much food for a table of four. Make those reservations, it's somehow insanely popular. Parking at hillV2's multi-storey carpark can be dicey unless you go early at 6.30pm or after 8pm.

There were meatballs in tomato sauce, and crispy golden seafood in semolina crumb (basically deep fried bits of fish, squid and prawns). We would skip those the next time. Not that these dishes were bad, but they're just well-executed and brainless. Order only for children and conservative eaters.

The friends bravely ordered a medium-sized pizza. The menu didn't list the available toppings, but what came were all classic flavors done in thick squares instead of slices- margheritamarinara, something bacon and zucchini, and sausage and mushrooms. I refused to take the pizza. Pizza more or less taste the same all over the world. Whether they're excellent or horrible, I won't touch them anymore. Enough with the pizzas! Arrrgh. Of course there were leftovers. Hahahaha. No matter, the friends packed home the squares of pizza.

The friends went for the porchetta (baked pork belly) and fennel. It was a huge antipasti, my gawwd! The friends declared it a winner. Tender and flavorful, and all that crisp skin. Eeeps. There was a random board of assorted cheese. Gorgeous slices. Went beautifully with the wine. The blue cheese was pungent! Love it. Nobody else loved it but me. Muahahaha. Also, nobody could take so much of the tagliolini with black truffles. I ate it up. Wheeeee. CARBS. LOVE. Needless to say, the table couldn't eat dessert even though they wanted to.