you might have already noticed the scanty posts… and wondering if this wee blog still has some life. in theory, it does. in reality, its activities have been undermined by life’s other preoccupations — work, chores, cooking, errands, distractions, etc.

there are, in truth, a few annoyances about blogging which some of you might be familiar with, e.g. the actual cumbersome webspace limitations of most ‘free’ blog accounts and i have yet figured out how best to integrate all of the different media options — flickr, picassa, vimeo, etc. etc. etc. — and the archival aspects are not straightforward either; you ideally want everything to be in one and the same place.

moreover, transferring from one blogging platform to another also messes up the formatting of the existing posts (many of which i have yet rectified — since it needs to be sieved and manually fixed). all in all a pain and not something i have time to deal with at present. and admittedly, i have been getting more out from the spontaneous gratification of ‘real’, interactive social exchanges in FB-land… sad but true. it probably is an indication that the contents of this blog needs to have a different focus…

i don’t intend to give up blogging though… rather, i am still trying to figure out how best to use it for my creativity, or my way of sharing my adventures, thoughts, and a desire to communicate.

meanwhile… happy fossicking through the archives… (and if you spot any silly formatting faux pas and typos please please alert moi!).

lately, i’ve been doing a bit of catching up on friends and family’s lives… suffice to say there’s much to be happy about and to feel grateful for. however, sometimes catching up is one-sided… and it’s really a listener or a sounding board that others need… so i just listen and not really share what’s been bothering me when they finally ask about others; it is unlikely they will have much mental space to empathise when people are in a self-absorbed mode… some people say misery likes company. i am not sure this is always the case… or whether it is because people in general hope that their situation isn’t the worst.

oh well. looks like this rabbit-ty year is going to be a rather challenging one… for many.

i am going to keep reaching for the stars

because they are the brightest objects in the dark sky…

i am going to keep on dreaming

because life without dreams would be like a wingless bird trying to fly…


i don’t know about you, but i find it horrendously difficult to follow a cookbook recipe to the letter. strangely enough, i did alright in high-school Chemistry and Physics practicals where precision was crucial. but all that rigour breaks down quite embarrassingly in the kitchen… as if another more basic instinct takes over. as such, i never really take to recipe books in the way most people do… i use it more for inspiration, both visually and in trying to imagine the flavours evoked by the ingredients called for within a dish. on occasion, i do *try* very hard to follow a recipe to have a feel of where and what it might lead to in the culinary adventure. suffice to say, the simpler the recipe, the more at home i am with it.

thing is, mummy never really prepared our meals following a recipe book… and i found, from the numerous mundane chopping chores i often got roped into helping her, that the cooking part was most fun… although all that said, it wouldn’t be so without having the ingredients to play with. cooking with mum has always been very much an experimental affair and an exploration in taste and texture. nothing ever tastes the same, done twice. they get to approximate the previous attempts pretty closely but you could never say it is identical. and to add to that, amounts and measurements are always approximate. the only rare occasion when mummy deviates drastically from this experimenting cooking is when she is baking her amazing kuey lapis (Indonesian inspired multi-layered) cake for Chinese New Year… but that’s a recipe that has been tried and pretty rigorously tested. all in all, i have not been groomed for all things requiring precision in the kitchen setting.

my first acquaintance with recipe books began before i left home for boarding school in a faraway place… the little collection of recipes i received from one of my secondary school teachers was more of a reminder of the comforts i was leaving behind rather than any real possibility of me actually recreating them, given the lack of appropriate ingredients in the new country or the lack of a real proper kitchen in the student housing. and while i really appreciated the gesture, i dreaded opening it. the simplified version of many of the local dishes i love were found between its covers and it was pure torture even to open it to the contents page. and i never really considered buying a recipe book until i went to college (or as the Brits will say, University) and lived in a shared flat with a proper kitchen, which included a gas stove.

going on a suggestion from a friend, whose mother is a creative gourmand and a kitchen wizard, i picked up a copy of Nigel Slater‘s ‘Real Cooking‘ and subsequently his ‘Real Food‘… and never looked back. i like the simplicity of his recipes and also the anecdotal way he shares his unpretentious enthusiasm for food. the nice thing about all his books is i never ever really felt that i would be doomed if i didn’t follow the steps rigorously. that freedom is essential for an experimental cook i seem to be and for the fact that so very often in my life, i just can’t seem to find all the required ingredients!

in fact, that is exactly what i like about Nigel Slater’s recipes and his books, as aptly described in the introduction of my US version of his ‘Appetite‘ (acquired at a bargain price):

I want to tell you about the sheer, unbridled joy of cooking without a recipe. I want to reveal the delight to be had from making our own decisions about what we eat rather than slavishly following someone else`s set of rules. And to suggest that our cooking has in fact become too complicated – hence the need to attach ourselves so firmly to recipes – when in truth good eating depends more on fine ingredients simply cooked.

I want to encourage you to take in the spirit of the recipes that follow but then to deviate according to your ingredients and your feelings. To understand that both our ingredients and our hunger are variables that should not, cannot, be subjected to a set of formulas laid down in tablets of stone. I want to get you to break the rules. I want you to follow your appetite.

reading that (again) made me smile… i feel completely at ease in breaking rules particularly in the kitchen… i’ve been doing it since i can remember trying to cook, whether intentionally or not! but it’s nice to be ‘given’ that blessing… especially from the master of the trade.

these days, i don’t really acquire recipe books even though i am thrilled when i receive them as gifts and i thoroughly enjoy browsing them in bookstores. instead, i often derive my inspirations online (particularly from the links on the left featured under “Gourmands I Aspire To Be”) and since BBC now offers replay of certain foodie (or other) programmes (if you live and watch from the UK) using the ibbc service, i sometimes get to watch Mr Slater in action and i am always left hungry and salivating… no doubt, i find myself also much more inspired with foodie ideas to keep me excited about cooking and what i might like to eat, in the next meal or two…

and that is no small joy! i say it from one who cooks that being inspired is important for the activity. this is particularly so given that in many modern societies today, dining out can be a daily option. in fact, while it sometimes feels a bit overwhelming to have to get yourself fed and your sugar levels checked after a long day at work, i don’t think i will find life complete without cooking on a regular basis.

… You can get through life perfectly comfortably without lifting so much as a wooden spoon. Fine. Do that. What I want to say is that if you do decide to go through life without cooking you are missing something very, very special. You are losing out on one of the greatest pleasures you can have with your clothes on. Cooking can be as passionate, creative, life-enhancing, uplifting, satisfying and downright exhilarating as anything else you can do with your life. Feeling, sniffing, chopping, sizzling, grilling, frying, roasting, baking, tasting, licking, sucking, biting, savouring and swallowing food are pleasures that would, to put it mildly, be a crime to miss out on. Add to that buzz, the satisfying tingle that goes down your spine when you watch someone eating something you have made for them, and you have one of the greatest joys known to man.” —  from ‘Appetite’ by Nigel Slater.

and best of all… at least from my wee bit of foodie enjoyment and awareness… is that the whole eating, tasting, and experimenting feeds back into the cooking and sharing!

some days i wish i were more like the rest of you: working a standard 8-6 job, with predictable annual income of what someone with a decent post-graduate degree might earn, plus some annual bonus, company shares, benefits, plus a humane number of days of annual leave, and an appointment that is ‘permanent’ until you are being fired, etc., rather than trying to pursue this apparent path i’ve landed myself in.

because to everyone else it seems completely DAFT… this non-permanence and non-guarantee in the path towards a more stable career position… and the seemingly pointlessness in getting a higher degree.

some days, i truly wish i were more like the rest of you; living with that income stability, investing financially into your foreseeable future…

just so i won’t feel like an outcast for loving what i do.

reading this article from the Salon today reminded me that as a young child, i often wished my mum would be able to be more like my classmate’s, who was always around to pick her up from school or get her ready for after school activities, or be able to take time off work to make sure i wouldn’t get lost on my very first day at school, which saw me ending up in a class the next academic level up and feeling quite confused. yet, while i craved the parental attention, i am very glad my mum was and has always been financially independent, and that in itself proved to be something that benefited the whole family enormously over the years. it helped us through university/college — my brothers and me — and despite being left quite a lot to our own devices, we turned out alright — as human beings.

these days, thanks to modern well-bred domesticated males and females, parenting is a more collaborative hands-on affair shared by both parents in non-single-parent families, and many companies and institutions are more understanding towards the needs of working parents. however, it is still a tough decision for women who are at the same time also trying to establish and/or sustain their career. i find this reality a constant frustration. i see it in fellow female colleagues, who are at a different life stage from me, and who are both trying to be dedicated to their kids and family while struggling to keep on track with their chosen careers… lagging behind their spouses’, in terms of status and income, quite dramatically. at the same time, as illustrated within this German cultural commentary in the Berliner News it is still not uncommon for very well-educated women with a lot of career potential to give up their hard forged career paths just to raise their children because e.g. a) good childcare is so costly, b) society has not kept up with reality. and the scary bit of reality is that once you ‘opt-out’ it is not easy getting back (even though some governmental-sponsored opportunities in certain continental European nations are specifically targeted for such career-breaks, but these are not the norm).

it is a tough choice: to try to be ‘super’ women, or ‘fail’ miserably in trying to be a bad-ass, or to give up on pursuing your ‘chosen’ career and opting for something that allows you to ‘get-by’ such that the childcare can be taken cared of and your spouse or partner may keep the hunting skills sharpened and you become reliant on a dominant family income earner. and then hope that IFF circumstances arise (e.g. separation, illness, etc. luck forbid!) and you would need to get back into the workforce you may avoid global financial crisis and economic depression, and still land yourself on a decent-paying job with adequate benefits that include some form of retirement plan. furthermore, one should be so lucky if your career prospects are not as dim as it often appear for people who opted out.

while some of the female friends and acquaintances i know have expressed that they’d rather be a stay-at-home mum or a lady of leisure (‘Tai-Tai‘) if they didn’t have to help bring home the bacon, i have never really thought i might get to indulge in such wealth-related ‘luxuries’ nor am i completely sold on that option. the idea of spending 7 days a week throughout many years running errands and chasing after kids and making sure the spouse has what s/he needs — on the huge assumption that the ‘wealthy-enough’ you would not dispose your parental (and traditional household) responsibilities off to daycarers/househelpers etc. — does not sound very appealing. perhaps it’s just the way i’ve been brought up or whatever errands-running i’ve subjected myself to do previously… instead, i would rather spouses realize their necessary active participating role in these parenting and household activities as well, that societies be more understanding towards the demands and needs of modern parents, and that women would have less of a career-family choice dilemma in life. and all these ought to just magically ‘be’, because it doesn’t seem fair to have to just ‘get-by’.

apart from having been missing in blogging action… it appears that we have begun another year. how terribly surreal is this turn of time into a new cycle of day and night! a part of me did not really want to cross over to 2011, because while 2010 had a somewhat shaky start and some mind-boggling challenges, it turned out alright, and i am not sure if it could get any better.

in fact, i didn’t want the good times to end. because for a long long time, or as far as my (probably distorted) memory could recall, i actually got to enjoy a lot of laughs, mostly at myself but also with others. i also got to meet up with many old friends, and visit many places i had never thought i would manage to squeeze into the year nor within my modest income. but it worked out, thanks (in part) to the generous obligatory paid European vacation. and for a long time coming, i actually felt i could be efficiently productive, am given real responsibilities and work ownership, and felt genuinely appreciated for the efforts i made. and if i may say so, i am able to enjoy research and proper collaboration, again. what a difference a supportive environment can do for your self-esteem! i am most grateful.

i wish to hoard the good times. and if it is possible, grow and keep them blossoming.

— some happy memories of 2010 —

  • heading back to SG for Lunar New Year with flights sponsored by painstakingly accumulated Lufthansa’s Miles and flying Singapore Airline’s mega jumbo-jet.
  • driving north-east through some spectacular Scottish landscapes with Lucy in Zippy#2 to the Isle of Skye.
  • showing my brother Wee and Lolli some of my favourite spots in Edinburgh and a wee bitty of the country even though their stay was super brief and they were completely not kitted out for any real adventures, culinary or outdoor-sy.
  • made it to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in north MN with goofy goof companion, Alex, who did all the portaging between lakes! we cooked up a storm at the B&B but also enjoyed an amazing Swedish pancake breakfast prepared by the hosts.
  • making it to Antje and Matt’s German wedding (after missing their hippie-Seattle celebration last year) and getting a personal-tour of Hamburg city from dear friend Frauke.
  • flying more than halfway across the globe to be at Stella and her Pete’s wedding in Maui. travelling solo on the island, witnessing a spectacular sunrise, saw many breathtaking sights and waterfalls, enjoyed some incredible local cuisine, and discovered Hawaiian coffee — it is amazing!
  • got to hillwalk again, properly! saw some very beautiful bits of Scotland: Loch Lomond & the Trossachs area, bits of the Arroachar Alps, bits of the Isle of Mull.
  • Stelladoro came to visit me and we had a wonderful time catching up and a lot of fun on our walk through muddy bogs in Rannoch Moor with the hillwalking club which ended with a spectacularly manic  hitch-hike on a deer-stalking jeep-mobile to make the last train back to Glasgow that evening.
  • made it to the west coast of USA, finally! i didn’t get to see everything i wanted but it was a good start, and i got to catch up with Ulli-baboooleee and meet her Antoine. we even saw some wine country and caught up with some old classmates from Tübingen and Wales!!!!! perhaps i’ll make it back someday… for i’d like to get lost in Muirwoods and camp at Point Reyes, be mesmerized by some giant glowing jelly fish at Monterey Bay Aquarium… and indeed, i’d like to enjoy another bottle of GundlachBunschu’s excellent 2007 Vintage Cabernet Franc.
  • got to enjoy some traditional German cuisine again at Petra’s X’mas dinner and learnt how to make divine vanilla sauce — one of the heavenly treats on earth!
  • made it to the Cairngorms and met some very gentle and adorable Reindeer!

2010 was a good year despite some trying times, e.g. the challenges of being-together-apart in long distance relationships, but there was a lot of happiness and delight to be found in everyday’s little simplicities and the many amazing adventures.

i hope 2011 will be a positively enriching and rewarding one, too, for everyone.

(i endeavour to put up some pics related to these happy memories in the next few days…)

- nearly five years ago a love story found its beginnings in the charming city of Edinburgh. the story’s two protagonists grew up in two different continents, speak different first languages, and their journey towards sharing their life adventures is an inspiration for those who wonder if long-distance relationships might ever work…

- visiting Hamburg for the first time thanks to the wedding invite from my once-upon-a-time-in-Edinburgh flatmate!

- Hamburg also happens to be the home city-state of my once-upon-a-time-in-Tübingen downstairs neighbour so i got to catch up with her, stay with her and her mum, and toured some of her favourite places in her home town.

- got to be one of the official witnesses to another cross-cultural couple’s wedding solemnisation in Scotland… and found it both awkward and interesting. awkward in the sense that even civil weddings have their idiosyncratic ‘rituals’ and interesting that while others take years to feel that they are in the ‘right’ situation for matrimony, some seem to feel that they have found their soul mate in just a few months. the amusing thing was the other witness (who is a fellow colleague) remarked a few days after that the thought of such a long-term commitment was ‘traumatic‘ enough to require the weekend’s recovery! i thought that was hilarious even if not unexpected from a German — it is practically normal not to wed in Germany and live as partners and many people do that particularly if they do not have children. furthermore, the idea of marriage and its notion of ‘happily-ever-after’ are no longer something that well-educated people (e.g. Germans) take for granted or simply accept just because it is a thing that people do traditionally.

- interesting to note that even the Scottish Registrar for the civil wedding of my colleagues highlighted that Asian females tend not to take their newly wedded partner’s surname. whether this is for practical reasons or an easier ‘out’ (!) is not clear… but it is certainly something i had previously observed in my married female Asian friends’ names as well… at least if their spouses are also Asian. i wonder if it is some Asian feminism at work!

- visiting Germany again brought back many fond memories of my stint in the country as a foreign student. there are many things i like about the country and the attitude of the Germans in many aspects of they way they do things. they are long-term planners; they invest in quality and in the future; they are obsessed with details; they have a decent healthcare insurance system; they value their free time and indeed their holidays! they also work hard but efficiently. in fact, i was happily reminded of the idiomatic term “Feierabend“. traditionally, it is used for “closing time” on the night before a festival holiday but it is commonly expressed as “calling it a day“. literally, the two agglutinating words (‘Feier’ and ‘Abend’) when on their own side by side, reads more like “celebration night“! indeed, there’s much to celebrate if you work hard and smart each day! =)

- am glad i have more vacation and public holidays to be able to celebrate such happy occasions with my friends… and indeed that travelling within Europe does not take as long as within the US continent and you can see and do much even on weekends! but best of all, it is ‘expected’ that you have some ‘summer’ vacay here! =) i think we need to transport some of the modern-day European work ‘ethos’ to the other side of the pond… and QUICKLY! =P

there are a few spiffy inventions that i probably appreciate more than anything else invented in this world… the dishwasher (oh how i adore dishwashers!), paper (i love paper packaging and i heart snail-mail), sewage systems (you have to be thankful for cisterns and toilets etc.), aeroplanes (although if i could have it my way, i would rather teleport myself to places…), probably the telephone, and without doubt, the camera.

as far as i can recall, we’ve always had one in the family… i think the old yellowy photographs surviving the years in our old family picture albums attest to our penchant for recording life’s moments in print. there is even a snapshot of my big brother with the now vintage twin-lens reflex camera that looks something like this on the left. he had it strapped over his shoulders in that photograph, taken when he was still the only child — before what must seem like the horrific appearance of two other younger siblings! with time, cameras get more sophisticated and gradually more portable. these days, digital is all the rage, with film and its tried-and-tested chemical processing — despite offering better resolution than pixeled images — finding its demand dwindling and becoming increasingly less affordable. still, the passion for capturing experiences lives on.

just like an expressionist artist, you could on a ‘decisive moment‘ (as per Henri Cartier-Bresson; a favourite of one of his photographs is added to this post on the right) render a moment in time a lasting image, and use it later as a trigger to rekindle memory’s stashed away experiences. a well captured picture paints more than a thousand words. it conveys not just the scene, person, or object that is captured, but also indirectly informs us about who the photographer might be. not so much (or not just) a reflection of his or her skill, but perhaps the intentions, or the perspectives s/he takes in life.

i have a fond attachment to the camera and the photographic memories that it helps to create. yet, the whole process of developing film into pictures is another bit of excitement for me. waiting for a sheet of photograph paper to gradually become stained through the chemical interaction of light exposure and the silver halide coating is like witnessing a magic show… or perhaps reading a newspaper in Harry Potter’s world. it comes alive. and the fact that it’s all done in darkness makes it feel as if this small pleasure is a little illicit.

but perhaps what i really enjoy most out of this multiple marriage of light, chemicals, the mechanics of shutter speed, optics, the sensitivity of the photographer, and the moments being captured, is that the resulting static images, when shared, become part of a dynamic experience. these snapshots of life… they tell a story. and often times, these stories live on.

chronicling the days with his father was something Phillip Toledano did through photography. the work (aptly released before Father’s day this year) is both touching and inspiring. it is one fossicked gem i dedicate to all fathers out there, including my own dad, who sparked the many photographic adventures i have enjoyed since being introduced to the spiffy picture-making invention, and my big brother, father to my precocious niece, who probably regrets having passed down the excellent Canon AE1 to me years ago…

first, try juggling time, physical/personal space, finances… then, factor in life, unexpected chaos, and then some distractions.

some people just do it remarkably well and leave you in awe of how they manage it. there is a rumour/urban-myth that having kids forces you to manage your time and resources better… i am not sure how convinced i am on this. examples in life, i.e. those from friends and family, yield large variances in their relative successes.

however, if i may draw some tentative conclusions from my ongoing observations in life and those around me, it seems that the more adept jugglers are also more ‘focussed’ or ‘disciplined’ in their coordinating act… better at saying ‘NO’, better at ‘Prioritizing’, and then when they make time for others, it is often ‘Quality’ time they offer…

but, what is fundamentally driving all that?? a bouncy life philosophy that propels one forward with the daily zeal? i wonder.

little keeps…

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all nonsense (words, poems, prose, pictures, photography, typos!) spewed within this little blog are unfortunately mine, unless otherwise attributed and referenced. © overacuppa.com since 2003.

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