Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This last day of 2013

If anything I'd say this has been a mixed year. I've had a lot more on the mind than is healthy I think and the continued silence on this blog from commenters has meant that I haven't used it as much of an outlet. As much as this full year in Singapore has been lovely what with the hot weather and all it's been a difficult year for me. V and Kid have had an easier time of it I think - or they are better at hiding or processing how they feel - and maybe that is a gender thing. Either way I'm the only one that is feeling this angst so very loudly. 

I have spent a lot of the year feeling misplaced (and no not from London but from Life) and caught up in self pity and what-if cycles. I suspect a lot of it comes from finding my feet in a new place, inching my way steadily towards 40 and a completely different way of life that I wasn't quite expecting. I find myself often having a mini pity party - I guess the luxury of not having to work or think about basics means that I have the mind space to wallow and think about a variety of non essential things like feelings/ responsibilities etc. and that is a problem. 2014 promises to be busier and take care of some of this Time. 

I find it hard to talk about what's on my mind. This inspite of a plethora of close and wonderful family and friends. What can I say, it's not them, it's me. I can't see that that will change in 2014 but it's lovely knowing that there is a world of people who have my back. 

I wish I could say I've resolved a lot of this but the truth is that I have dealt with some and the rest is with me probably simmering in my mind just waiting to jump out one evening. In truth I have more to be thankful for than I ever give credit for. And beside my eternal resolution of de-cluttering I want to note here that my resolution for 2014 is to be more thankful and count my blessings instead of merely counting my grouses. 

I hope you have a wonderful New Year whatever you choose to do. More than anything I hope that the celebration of this night carries on into your lives and mine. 

P.S: The birds are from the end of the buffet bar at the Taj Samudra Colombo coffee shop from the holiday we are just back from. Simple and so elegant. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A 2.18am Christmas wish

May my wish to beat (creeping up in old age) insomnia come true. And of course spreading good cheer and joy to the world. 

The NORAD tracker is keeping me company as I lie here in darkness waiting for sleep to return and Santa to drop off our presents. 

Merry Christmas one and all.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Journey unending

Ok, some disclaimers before my one reader pounces with their refuting statements. This is our experience. Lots of people do far longer journeys (across continents, to the Poles etc), even more walk barefoot across lands in search for clean water and food, people choose to not take small children anywhere because it's more pain than gain, it can be argued that there is nothing cultural to be imbibed with small wailing children who refuse to eat any of the unknown things on the menu on offer. Phew. Still, this is our journey, one where we travel when we can with our small child in tow. From his first trip to be 'shown off' in India at age 3.5 months till as recently as this week we have taken the view that even if we see or do nothing cultural travel is important to us and that we want to try and make our child see / experience what is within our possibilities. It has also meant that at the end of particularly arduous journeys where he has wailed while his suitcase went into the black hole that is the hold of an airplane I have said 'never again' only to eat my words as I've seen him interact with family and friends and amazing places he would not see if we just stayed home. 

From a few awful journeys (Rome to Venice by train, Kolkata airport at midnight and Bangkok to London flight stand out) to a seasoned traveler my nearly four and a half year old has processed the sequence of affairs that travel involve and now it's nearly a doddle. He is adventurous in his food tastes and willing to try new things even if his default setting in pizza and WHITE rice. And more than anything he loves hanging with various family members. This trip to India was a bit complex with so many changes and modes of transport but here we are enjoying Bentota in Sri Lanka with V's parents, his brother and wife and their son (whom he sees in Singapore all the time and is his absolute hero).

The journey was long but the only person complaining was me. Here it is in all it's gory detail.
1. Thursday 3am: wake up and get ready while checking if flight will take off in Delhis fog. The last three days have seen this very flight be delayed such that we wouldn't have made our connection.
2. 3.50am: wake up Kid who has been so eagerly awaiting this day of seeing his cousin (whom he saw just a week ago mind you) that he leaps out of bed and is ready in a record 15 minutes.
3. 4.15am: Meru Cab is efficiently waiting although giant suitcase has to be tied to the top as the boot has the cyclinder that powers the engine. 
4. 6.50am: Smooth check in, security and wander around shops later our flight leaves 5 minutes early. V says he turned the dial down on the fog hahaha! Only mishap was Pepsi machine where our crisps got stuck after paying Rs.50 and after which we spent another Rs.20 on a bottle on water hoping it would knock the crisps sideways. It didn't happen so some lucky attendant got both! 
5. 9.35am: Arrive Chennai where we are seeing my Aunt and uncle. By the time they arrive and we are on our way to Breakfast it is 10.35am. Chatting all the way and at Brekka we go into Saravana Bhavan in T-nagar and stuff our faces with hot crisp dosas, uttapams, idlis, ke sari and filter coffee. Then we head back to the airport.
6. 12pm: We bid them Goodbye and race into the airport where my son and his cousin (brother, twin and best friend) hug and whoop like they have been separate since birth and are from a Hindi movie.
7. 2.40pm: We check-in and our flight is half an hour late to take off. The gate information is haphazard and they keep calling us to stand in line to board and then sending is back to sit down. I entertained the boys with a jumping game. Then we boarded and V entertained the boys while I dozed and caught up with my sis-in-law. 
8. 4pm: Arrived at Colombo airport but the long immigration lines and faintly chaotic airport means that we pile into our van for 6 adults and 2 kids only by 5.25pm. 
9. Varying reports of distance and roads to take to Bentota from Colombo lead to great discussion. Our driver tells us at least 3 hours while we had all been expecting a 2 hour run. He just laughs at our questions as he meanders through the heavy traffic with great skill.
10. Thursday 9pm: Arrive at our hotel, we've managed to avoid the major car sickness by convincing the kids to sleep. We are too tired to contemplate going straight to our rooms. We settle in at the coffee shop, chatting and eating a hot meal before heading to shower and lovely hotel beds. The anticipation of a lovely holiday will give us sweet dreams.

We are here. The morning of swimming, tender coconut sipping, big meals and the evening of skipping along the lovely soft sandy beaches outside our rooms has made this all worth it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Many many hours

Bhopal was brilliant. I love how green it is - social forestry is at work I am assured. I will let the pictures tell you about our day out on Monday. 

Then on Tuesday we spent the morning with my grandmother, ate hot mattar kachoris (delicious!) and drove through Van (pronounced 'vun' not vaaan) Vihar on our way to the airport. Van Vihar is a semi open zoo by the giant 300sq km lake - a forested area with a smith driving road through it. Neat, clean and polythene bag free, policed by a large contingent and with a range of big and small animals, it's one of the loveliest Indian zoos I have seen. Saw a giant beautiful tiger - the best fed beast I have ever seen - and bison, deer, crocodiles, leopard, monkeys, lion. 

Home that night. The next day (Wednesday) was one of lazing, an Indian Chinese lunch (yum) followed by the obligatory trip to the rail museum in the cold afternoon to ride the toy train and wander around in despair at its disrepair. 

An evening with my college room mate and family sitting around my parents living room and reminiscing about the many nights we slept in a pull out sofa bed when we were trainees for a summer and a winter. 

And the next morning (Thursday) we woke at 3am to leave for this leg of the holiday. My son has been a real trooper, taking in his stride the many many flights, car trips and embracing the love on offer from relatives and friends he does not know intimately. 

We have just finished fabulous Day 1 of this next leg of the holiday. Fabulous especially after the epic journey yesterday. Tomorrow I will tell you all about it - when I've had enough Margarita's to help recover fully from it. Meanwhile, Good Night. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rukavat ke liye khed hai

Or translated: sorry for the interruption/ stoppage. I have a lot of Sunday lunches I owe this blog. In a while, crocodile! 

We are in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh for 2 days to visit my Nani (mum's mum), Mama ( mum's brother), Maiji (mum's sis-in-law) and cousin on this epic holiday. I say epic because we (V, Kid and I) are packed for two different vacations in two different countries and seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time in airports. 

We had a lovely Saturday with my folks in Delhi, eating a massive and long drawn out lunch while ALL talking and laughing at the same time. Post lunch I hung out with my brother and his lively wife (who is the queen of knowing where what is!) and did a spot of shopping at our local big brand mall. I've already begun to fill up the empty spots in my suitcase. That evening I had dinner with my besties - girls who knew me as an awkward teen and love me as an awkward adult. These are girls whom I love dearly, whom I talk to often and who get where I'm coming from. Who don't judge me in any way and who love me just as I am (a rare thing as mostly I can see people's judgement in the smooth words they use). It was super super super. 

Now Bhopal. And my once travel hating child is handling this all like a pro. Multiple flights, immigration lines, security checks, seatbelts, bagging disappearing and reappearing on conveyor belts, people he has no memory of - all of whom want to hug and hold him, new houses and hotel rooms. I'm guessing it's not our constant discussion but probably just him growing up but my lord, the airports and flights we have endured in the past! Moving on.....we had a brilliant evening with my aunt and uncle and of course seeing my beautiful grandmother was lovely. We ate mounds of home cooked delicious food all made lovingly by my aunt. My mum is here with us and so we've taken some pictures of the 4 generations together. 

It was a long day and evening and now we are all waking up comfortably at the Courtyard Marriott, which is surprisingly lovely considering it is built over a mall. This morning after breakfast we head to Sanchi to see the famed Buddhist Stupa (and no doubt run into the groups of Japanese tourists who were on our flight). My cousin will have arrived home for the holidays overnight and I can't wait to see him! We have around 36 hours before we head back to Delhi for a day and then on to the next bit of the holiday. 

I know, it doesn't sound like much of a vacation with all this rushing around, but surprisingly I am loving it, these days packed with love and talk and food and the simple moments of our existence. I feel like I am surrounded at the moment by people who love me and whom I love and that is a feeling I would like to fold up in my warm shawl and keep for a lonely day when we are once again just isolated beads on this very large planet. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sunday Lunch 6: L'entrecote - a birthday steak

So you remember my birthday? The one in July that 99% of you forgot/ could not be bothered to wish me for. (I'm having a snarky day - live with it). (Thank you to the 5 people who did wish me)

I had wanted a quiet day of some contemplation about various things going on in life at that point. The honeymoon period in Singapore was over. I hadn't quite found my footing as surely as I expected. And various things were bugging me immensely. I was not in a good place and rather than have a massive celebration I wanted to be allowed to sit and stew in my own steam. 

Of course none of that happened. I turned 38 and spent the morning running errands. Then I got invited to lunch with my sis-in-law, parents in law, nephew. Then we rushed off to collect Kid and proceeded to have a noisy old afternoon at their house. Helped set up my own afternoon celebratory tea and get kids involved in it. It was lovely and thoughtful but I was shattered. By the Kids bedtime I was ready to go to bed myself. And so came to pass a day where the focus was on such busy-ness that I had no time to sit and stew. 

V kept promising me a birthday lunch and of course even though we proceeded to eat many a lunch since none of them really qualified as my birthday lunch. 

Life in Singapore settled down and all the angst and trepidation that followed the lovely 6 month honeymoon soon dissipated. I find over the last few months that my footing is more sure and I'm once again enjoying the many many comforts and interesting things this city has to offer. The 3 awful months in between deserve their own post. I promise.

This Sunday we booked a last minute table at L'Entrecote. And because Steak is one of my top favourite meals V declared that this was my birthday lunch. It's pretty amazing that in over 14 months here I have not had a steak. My last great steak was in London - and just where we lived we were spoilt for choice with 3 steak places. So I've missed a good steak, to say the very least.

Duxton Hill is in the Central Business district. A narrow walking only path, this small leafy lane could easily be mistaken for being located in a suburb and not bustling WorkTown. I suspect it bustles a bit more on weekdays. This Sunday we got there just as rain clouds were gathering overhead. 

L'entrecote is a few doors up the path. Set in an old shop house this is a fairly narrow and dark restaurant. They have a big skylight which really only brings light to one side of the restaurant. The other lighting was not helpful. While they have tried to recreate some of the ambiance I thought they left something to be desired. The numbered bench along one wall was beautifully done but they had stuffed so many tables in front of it that it looked like one table for a group of 50 rather than individually inviting tables. The dresser (on which the second half of the Steak rests) looks worn rather than shabby chic (which is what they usually tend to veer towards). Workable but not a pleasing ambiance.

It began to pour with rain as we squeezed ourselves into our table in the completely empty restaurant. The menu is much the same as London although I think they had more by way of appetizers here. We ordered a pork pate and snails as a starter. Both came quickly and beautifully presented. The pate was delicious and the Polaine bread with it a treat. The snails were hot and bubbling in their little baking dish. They were a bit overpowered by the sauce but tasted fine.

Then arrived the lovely fresh salad and the Steak. It looked exactly as it should - half a steak sliced and covered with the signature sauce and accompanied by a pile of thin fries. We tucked in. The steak was cooked perfectly as we asked (medium rare) and the fries were thin, hot and salted just right. The sauce however, which is what makes the meal, was disappointing. 

How do I explain it? The sauce in all the places we have eaten before has been buttery artery choking goodness. This was not smooth and looked a bit curdled, as if it had been cooked with a bit of yogurt. It looked wrong and tasted average. It made the steak good not great. Nonetheless I ploughed through my first steak in 14 months with speed. No sauce was going to stand in the way of my birthday lunch thank you very much. 

Kid had eaten lunch so chose a scoop of vanilla ice cream to ignore while he played with the trains and wrote numbers all over the paper tablecloth. We finished up and wandered through the (now) drizzle to get a taxi. It was a good meal, a fitting birthday lunch. It was symbolic in many ways of my life in Singapore - pretty perfect with a dash of the odd oddity to keep things interesting. I'm not complaining. Just saying. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A creative bone

I was creative as a child but somehow growing up I shed off a lot of that instinct. Or maybe I blocked it out in the face of needing to be practical. I don't know. Either way I've never thought of myself as very creative. Sure I'll do the odd creative thing but I usually attribute that to a spark or an idea borrowed from a blog/ Pinterest. 

I think though that a lot of my one latent creative gene has found its way back lately. I'm convinced that this is because I have learnt to let go of a lot of things and process things I don't like with speed, both of which are freeing up my mind space to do other things. Also being the mom for a small and inquisitive child helps. It starts with hand impressions and gets more complicated as they grow older. And I don't want to struggle to keep him occupied all afternoon and resort to an electronic babysitter. So I improvise. 

As a mum I'm constantly trying to drum up interest in things other than trains. Things that I can develop a smidge of interest in - lying on the floor and playing hours of pretend trains gets old to say the least. So again I borrow ideas from other blogs and come up with games from very day things like cardboard boxes and toys he already has but steadily ignores. 

This week I pulled out a book he got from a friend in London for his 3rd birthday. It's called 'A Walk in London' and it's geared for an older child I think but the illustrations are lovely and I've read a simplified interpretation of it to Kid. He seems interested even though all his memories of his time there are now slowly but surely disappearing. 

Today I had an hour to kill while waiting for someone to show up (story of my life it would seem. 'There stands 30in2005, waiting.'). And I was suddenly inspired to turn over the top of his train table and recreate a mini map of London with blocks and cars and buses and some felt cutouts. Here it is:

A quick description:
Felt Thames River. Wood boats. Many a tower. Traffic lights. Black masking tape roads (multi purposed for plane runway and train line). London taxis, both black and Olympic-ed up. Double decker red bus. Our local park with a pond and ducks. The tube station with a train sitting in the turntable. A plane for Heathrow. And Monument. 

So far I have had an hour and a bit of pretend play while I have sat here and written and edited the pictures. Maybe he does remember something of our life before this. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunday lunch - 5: Omakase - burgers yum yum

Not this Sunday (because I threw another meal, lunch this time, for 8+6) but the Sunday before was a lunch worth talking about. 

I had arranged a trial swim class at a pool in Turf City in the hope that my son would finally find his inner fish. He's Cancerian and I believe in that sun sign crap. Also he like baths and isn't the pool just a giant tub?! Anyway, after a week of tears and many promised 'incentives' linked to TV watching he agreed to go to this class and try it 'only one time'. So off we went on Sunday at 11.30 to have a look and try. I won't bore you tears except to say it was an unmitigated disaster and by the middle of the class we had to dry off many a tear and a small boy and leave. V and I walked in sullen silence to The Grandstand, a small fight simmering on how these tears and fears were dealt with. 

Anyway, the pool was quickly forgotten by the time we reached The Grandstand. We had planned on eating lunch and getting our groceries there. We chose Omakase burgers, a place we've heard tons about but never ventured to this far. 

It was on a busy strip of the mall surrounded by restaurants and swarming with people. We chose seats on the fake grass outdoor area (picket fence, white tables and chairs, all indoors but outside the main resto). We ordered classic cheeseburgers for V and I and the kids version for Kid. I ordered a Mexican Coca Cola at some exhorbitant price because the sign at the counter extolled the virtues of this cult drink. The boys went for juice. 

The burgers were delicious, better than any I have had in Singapore but the portion sizes very small. Exhibit a and b below are one of our burgers and the kids one - the size difference was minimal. The sweet potato chips were a bit thicker and a few more but the actual burgers were dismally small for the price.

The size thing really bothered me with the juice where they got good sized glasses but not fully filled. They could have just halved the size of the glass and then they would have felt filled. This just made us feel shortchanged. 

It was a good meal alright and after a year of pursuing a good burger this was just what we needed. Not the best but far far away from the other sad samples that pass for burgers. The other big bug bear is that there is no vegetarian or fish version. And while this may not be a large  market surely a chunk of the huge Indian / expat population is looking for choice. I never quite get why more places don't address this. How hard is it to make a good vegetarian patty - all the other fillers / bun would be the same. Anyway. 

The cola was nothing but Thumbs Up masquerading in a lovely glass bottle, calling itself Coca Cola. Yum. So in short a good meal at Omakase and one I would revisit if I'm in the neighbourhood or craving a burger, whichever comes first.

P.S. Yes you read that right. Two home cooked meals for Guests in as many weeks. My Singapore domestic diva is waving shyly from behind the fridge.

P.S. Just to clarify, Kid loves the pool and is happy to get in and never get out (especially on holidays). His fear is the idea of a Class and removing his armbands so he can properly learn. New strategy has been employed. I'll post when I know whether that will work. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013


Hosting a proper dinner party for the first time since we got here. Sure we've had the odd couple or two over but those meals have been thrown together rather than really planned. 

This one is ten people - the exact number that will fit around our door -turned - table. And I've thought through a dinner menu that doesn't require me to slave away in the kitchen all day. With a bit of planning it's taken me 2 hours to create: 
1. Chicken in lime and chilli marinade - took 6 minutes to marinate. I'll pop it into oven at 7 and it'll be ready for the table at 8.10.
2. Garlic ciabattas x 6. Made the butter last night. Slathered it on this morning and wrapped each of the six loaves individually to be popped in a hot oven 20 minutes before we eat.
3. Giant salad - radish, cucumber, cherry tomatos, lettuce and brocoli and alfalfa sprouts. Took about 8 minutes to wash, cut, assemble. Will dress and serve. 
4. Baby new potatoes, scrubbed, tossed in olive oil, sliced garlic and sliced lemon. Roasted them this afternoon and chopped up the dill. I'll toss this in after it's warmed and just before serving.
5. Spinach lasagna - this was the most time consuming. Popped on a pot of tomato sauce before I began on the salad and marinating. Got the ricotta - spinach - nutmeg - herb mix and grated cheese ready. Then used the ready sheets of lasagna to layer up everything. I  didn't use a white sauce, instead using the 'one cup of water around the edges' method - covering with parchment and then sealing with foil and baking for just over an hour. Moist and smelling heavenly, it's sat on my kitchen counter waiting to be lightly grilled for 5 minutes just before we eat. 
6. This final one is for my friend Broom, whom I miss dearly and think of every time I attempt a new vegetarian recipe. I made quinoa cauliflower cakes/ patties adapting a recipe from a blog. I added in a bunch of spices, fresh chillies and corriander and have just fried 30 of these babies in record time. It took about 40 minutes (without the time it needed to rest in the fridge) but so worth it! They smell and taste amazing! She is one of the few people that makes me miss my London life. 

I'm wierdly excited about this dinner, even though the friends are not really mine. It might have to do with a bunch of good things finally coming to fruition after a year and a bit of waiting watching fretting stressing. 

Anyway, tidying to do and a little person to feed and put through his evening routine before our guests arrive. I leave you with the table which has inadvertently turned into a white, green and yellow fest. Bon appetit! 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Happy Diwali

We are in Calcutta for a quick weekend celebration with V's folks. So far it's been an eat-and-meet fest dominated by the most amazing Chitteranjan Rosogulla's. I have a misery making cold and hacking cough combo being alleviated only by the cheer and merriment of little dressed up excited kids and regular Rosogulla fixes.

We discovered Flury's delicious masala bread (reminiscent of a version from my childhood memories of Hot Breads in Chennai) and toasted slabs of this, with lashings of butter, make for decadent breakfasts. This is Diwali day brekka.

Happy Diwali, everyone. May your year be filled with food, friendship, family and fun. Harold and Stephen (Kids Diwali present from us) would send you their festive wishes too I expect, if only they could stop looking at my breakfast. 

Friday, November 01, 2013

So Halloween

In my London longer-than-a-decade I never really engaged with Guy Fawkes Day. And by that I mean I knew when it was, I went (grudgingly, I might add) for One bonfire night with some colleagues and knew the historical significance of the day. But it was just one of those things that flew under the radar in my daily life. The 5th of November came and went like any other day.

Similarly I was never called upon to celebrate Halloween, no one came a knocking for treats. Sure they had the small spooky installation replete with scary masks and pumpkins in my local High Street but it wasn't a full on assault of all things black, orange and spooky. I marvelled at my pals in America and the detail they went to in this celebration. The decorated houses and yards. The elaborate costumes. The carved pumpkins. Nothing like quiet London. 

Singapore is a whole other kettle of fish. Or shall we say basket of pumpkins. The American expat community is big and there are parades and serious trick or treaters. Last year Kid started school two days before Halloween and all his pictures of the day show a very upset little boy trying to hold back his tears and uncurl his lower lip. I could barely convince him to wear a Mickey Mouse tshirt as a costume.

What a difference a year makes! Kid loves school and has been talking about his Halloween party for weeks now. I went for a cobbled together Superman costume - tshirt, red shorts, red cape and green mask (from his cousins birthday), superman croc shoes (my sis in laws find). So all in all the credit for this goes to my sis in law - her birthday party stuff and shoe find made this costume. 

No red tights with blue undies on top for this Superman. Singers is too hot and so we had a very happy shorts-wala Superman who wore red socks instead. 

He came home from school with a loot bag of stuff that he will not eat and a bunch of entirely breakable plastic toys. But oh so happy! 

I'm guessing that Halloween is catching on in London too because friends have been posting pictures of mini ghosts and pirates trick or treating in the cold last night. Or maybe it's always been big and I never noticed because I didn't have a participating child. 

I miss the Guy Fawkes I never really celebrated. Or maybe just that very English way of celebrating - quiet and earnest. I haven't heard anyone mention it and I can't see that the 5th of November will be big. A smidge of London missing-ness happening. 

This year was fun. Halloween, something I knew little about, was an excellent little diversion from the everyday. An aspect of the expat Singaporean life I didn't know much about but I'm now fully on board with. At the bus stop we met a few batmans, an Olympic swimmer, a ghost pirate (?), a peanut, a fair few pumpkins. So many ideas for next year. Maybe I will be less lazy. 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Singapore lunches - 4: Myra's - Sunny beach day

On our very few ventures to the beach here in Singapore I have roundly complained about the very narrow strip and uninspiring nature of these beaches. I find I have to check myself because the best beach in the UK I ever went to was cold, windy, pebbly Brighton Beach where we stood shivering in our wind cheaters feeling cheated as the wind blew over our ice cream scoops on to the unforgiving pebbles. Ok, I didn't go to many beaches in the UK - they do have sandy ones - you'll forgive me if I want my beach vacations somewhere hot versus somewhere cloudy with a chance of cold.

I'm also now thoroughly spoilt by the lovely South East Asian beaches we have holidayed at just this year. Kota Kinabalu and Danang stand out this year with their wide, white and very inviting sand beaches. So Singapore beaches for one reason or another have not really been on our agenda.

Today was a lunch plan many many weeks in the making. A couple we know and like but don't meet quite often enough suggested lunch by the beach so their son and our kid and nephew could all have a little play in the waves. 

Promised some stuffed paranthas (a chore at home) we showed up at Myra's, a joint with Mexican and North Indian cuisine (a dubious combination if you ask me) at East Coast Park. It is a beach shack by the thin strip of beach and next to a watersports centre along the East Coast Park. Colourful, casual and very welcoming, it is entirely manned by a crew of cheerful Indians, owner and waiters willing to join tables up for a group of ten without a reservation and provide the salt and sugar syrup separately for the lime soda. 

The boys sampled the cheese quesadillas but really went for the buttery naans and the softest paneer tikkas. We supervised some water play and sandcastle building, chatting while the men relaxed. Then the men showered and changed the kids while we recuperated from the scorching sun. We ate samosas, chicken tikkas (not good at all), followed by the $12.80 parantha buffet (paneer, aloo and gobhi stuffed paranthas quartered and served hot in baskets to our table) with raita and channa. We ordered malai kofta on the side, which was in a delicious cashew gravy. Vegetarian food certainly got a thumbs up.

The food was good and the restaurant full of Indians. It was nice to hear so much Hindi being spoken. It was a leisurely few hours filled with all that sandcastle building followed by quick showers. They had a pool table in the shade of the restaurant and we then proceeded to spend about $20 in $2 coins (well warranted) so the three boys could play and we could chill for a bit. 

The beach was not the greatest but sandy and uncluttered enough and the weather was bright and sunny. It was just right for the short amount of time we spent. I would come back. 

My kid came home happy, to milk and brownies, followed by dinner, vegetating in front of the TV and an early night. A Sunday well spent. It's another week tomorrow. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Singapore Lunches - 3: Dessert anyone?

Family obligations meant an at home Sunday lunch this weekend. The Brothers were meeting school friends after many a year and my sis in law hosted while I lolled around and pretended to look busy/ interested. 

I did however want to talk about some cupcakes. At two separate occasions this weekend we have managed to gorge on cupcakes. 

The first lot, on Friday night, was from a place called Twelve Cupcakes. They have branches all over and I think one has to buy three cupcakes at a minimum. That's red velvet right in front, with the icing and little hearts (sour cream I think - not too sweet), my friend. I think I ate two while everyone else was eating the dum aloo and saag paneer dinner and I pretended to go and collect the salad from the kitchen. Very very good, a dense texture and lovely complex layers of sweet. Of course they went straight to my Michelin  tyre middle, why do you ask?

Then we had a box of beauties from Cupcakes with Love and they were divine. This was Sunday lunchtime. Apparently they don't use emulsifiers so stay better at room temperature. They are certainly light on the tongue and not very sweet so feel a tad 'healthier' than the Twelve Cupcake lot. I'll certainly seek them out again. 

Either way it was a sweet sweet weekend. Next weekend it's a beach lunch. Come back and I'll tell you all about it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The good, the bad, the sad (and often weird) things - 2

Twelve months deserve twelve points.

1. Yesterday was One Year since we got here. For its weather alone it has been worth the journey. Seeing the sun everyday is cheering and although it's too humid to walk and I miss all the London walking (who knew!) I still love it! Good, very good.

2. Pedicures are aplenty. I don't walk as much but my feet take a beating in the dust and heat and pool and with never wearing socks or closed shoes. Pedicures are available in every mall at every price point. In clean salons by women who know what they are doing whether by experience or training. I try and have one a month at least (compared to an annual treat or home remedies in London). I have found a few good ones but am trying to experiment and try new places when I can. Good, very good. 

3. Expat bubble. How do I explain this without sounding like a snob? Keep an open mind, I am generalising. We live in a condo (gated development of high and low rise mix of flats) which is where most expats tend to live. Even those that live in houses (and the old b&w's) live in a very different situation from the way locals live. We have some local families in our building but never the twain shall meet.  But I'm talking about the expat population when I say that people aren't always friendly and I have found many many hands of friendship rebuffed. And the feeling I get is because it's each nationality group tends to socialise with mainly its own country people. Aussies with the Aussies, desis with the desis, etc. Maybe it's just my condo, or maybe it's just me. Either way, it's not good for the mental state. Bad, not good.

4. More expat bubble. Unless you make enough effort it's extremely likely that you live in this bubble. You shop in Malls, go and see private doctor, live in a padded shielded world. This is an expensive city - but expats live in this little world of privilege, rarely venturing out. And of course some expats try, they visit the odd wet market, they attend the festivals, but at the end of the day they live in an insulated bubble. Here all foreigners are 'Expats' whether they've lived here for 17 years or moved on non-expat packages. Ang Mo, white man. I may not be white but I'm still marked out as an Expat. This is a small and quite divided city. One that is very different from the melting pot that is London. Different, and not very good. 

5. Movies: The movie halls here are amazing! One in every mall. Great screens and sound. I go every Sunday evening - the tickets cost half of what they did in London and there is always plenty on. Very very good.  

6. Tropical bugs: Where do I start? Ever since we got here we have encountered all kinds of bugs. We've had courses of antibiotics for everything from mycoplasma to throat infections and h1n3. My Kid has developed asthma and needs an inhaler once a day (hopefully temporary). We constantly beat down bugs and fevers and colds only for them to re-appear within weeks. Bad, very bad.

7. More tropical maladies: Mould and dust, the scourge of the humid tropics. It's like an endless jungle that needs beating back - or rather wiping and disinfecting, ceiling fans and dehumidifiers, ventilation and airing of the flat every day. Keeps one on their toes. And everything lives in the fridge from salt to sugar and flours and pastas. Wierd and bad.

8. Shopping for groceries: There are insanely expensive supermarkets built to serve the expat population. No one good online groceries place. You can go and shop, load up your trolley and have things delivered in flimsy boxes (defeats the purpose I feel). Or buy non perishables online for a premium, to be delivered, and then get perishables elsewhere (an extra layer of work). I have only just found a system that works for me: Non perishables once a month with the online service, then fruit veg and fish in the local wet market every Tuesday and milk/ bread/ other fancy things like crisps and chocolate from the supermarket. This is sad and bad and needlessly complicated and I hope someone builds the refrigerated trucks and begins to provide an online groceries service like London. Sad and bad.

9. Bugs: All kinds that we'd never experienced before. Fascinating and occasionally frightening. The only one I don't like for sure is the household lizard which keeps having babies eeewwww! Bad and wierd.

10. Kitchens: Singaporeans don't really cook and eat at home. They eat in hawker centres (kopitiams) where a plethora of cheap options are available. Breakfast lunch and dinner. And so even condos don't have well designed kitchens. During our flat hunt we struggled to find one with a good sized kitchen with any/ all of the mod cons in it. Dishwashers were hard to come by, cupboard space was badly designed and  generally kitchens not very conducive to their intended purpose. Wierd.

11. Travel: The best airport is Changi. Organised, easy to navigate and an absolute pleasure to travel though. Sitting where it does Singapore is a prime gateway to visit the wonderful sites of the orient. In this year alone we have seen Bali, Kota Kinabalu, Hong Kong and Danang. And of course India - thrice! Good, very good. 

12. Life. It's a different experience living in South East Asia. A different pace of life from bustling London. There's been a lot to get used to but that's the adventure we signed up for. There's plenty of sunshine and thundery showers and this wierd and wonderful weather is my highlight. At the One year mark I can only say I have my days of intense London people missing but I usually wake up happy and excited to learn and enjoy a bit more of this tiny city. Good, very good. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rainy Day

Two strips of masking tape
All the wooden blocks we own
Hot wheels car launcher
Small bucket of cars

Cool marble floor
Bowl of blueberries
Glass of water with fish shaped ice

An hour and half of fun

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Singapore lunch - 2: House

This Sunday it's homemade brocolli soup and garlic bread for lunch. There's only Kid and I (both with stinking colds) and with this being the F1 weekend I'm not tempted to venture far today. 

I did want to share the Sunday lunch V, Kid and I had two Sundays ago (the day I introduced the brunch preamble) in Dempsey Hill. 

We often go to Dempsey Hill, 5 minutes away in a taxi (like everything in this zone 1 city) to a restaurant called Margarita. It's the haunt of vegetarian Indians and guests from India because they do a mean old style veggie nachos. I like it for the crumb fried fish and fajitas but frankly I am so bored of it from overuse that even this short paragraph makes my tummy churn. 

So anyway, two Sundays ago we woke up with no plan. Nephew on the other side of town had some plan so it was going to be just the 3 of us for lunch. So I booked a last minute table for noon at House on the basis of a review I read somewhere. V had some office calls that morning and they dragged on and on so Kid and I left and got there at noon as planned. 

House in Dempsey is not on the main thoroughfare of well sign boarded, fairly posh restaurants and shops and art galleries. It's at the back in a parallel in an incongruous green grey block at odds with the rest of Dempsey's shiny look. Down a set of worn wooden steps and into this huge concrete and wood space. The unexpected wall of glass looking on to the green forested area made the restaurant look bright and inviting. It was also FULL to the brim and the gentle hum of voices made it feel like being IN the forest. It had a shabby chic feel, not like someone had tried but like someone had got it right just by throwing things at it and seeing what would stick. Very welcoming for a lazy Sunday.

We, and by that I mean the Trains, had a look at the menu and ordered fish and chips for Kid and wagyu rolls ( with chilli and maple syrup inside) with Asian slaw for myself. V called to tell us he was on the way and I ordered him a warm mushroom salad. 

The meals arrived just as V got there (typical!) and we tucked in with gusto. The halibut was fresh but the batter too thick for my liking - I peeled off most of it and let Kid eat just the fish. My rolls were excellent, the wagyu tasty and encased in thin spring roll pastry. But the maple syrup totally overpowered the chilli, the balance off kilter to the sweet side. But I didn't mind because that slaw was AHH-MAZING! Thinly shredded red cabbage and raw papaya and mango covered with a peanut soy chilli vinegar dressing. 

V's salad was also excellent - loads of lovely warm mushrooms and artichoke and not drowned but just drizzled with enough watercress spinach dressing to make it interesting and enticing. Most other mushroom salads tend to be over garlicked; this wasn't, it was flavourful to the hilt. The brunch menu also had some fresh juices and Kid and I shared a lovely watermelon and carrot lemonade off the daily specials board.

Walked around Dempsey to have a look at the monster giant Fish and buy a tub of ice cream from the Ben and Jerry shop. A kind and gentle afternoon. I thought House was a tad expensive for such a simple meal but I've learnt that good quality food in Singapore tends to be. Especially in expat land Dempsey. V liked it as well and we might revisit this one if only to try another of the dishes on their brunch menu. 

I'm hoping Kid and I feel better by this afternoon and can manage a supermarket trip and an early dinner in the always dependable Din Tai Fung. Nothing like a steaming basket of xiao long bao (soupy filled dumplings for those not yet in the know) to tackle a weekend cold. Have a good one peeps. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

An education

When we moved to Singers nearly a year ago we knew that the Asian sensibilities to education would be quite similar to the Indian one. I assumed there would be a little less pressure than growing up in India. Boy was I wrong!

Our estate agents 4 year old does 6 house of tuition on Saturdays to 'keep up with her peers'. And our neighbour, a lovely little 5 year old Singaporean boy goes for tuition Every. Day. from 3-6pm. His lawyer mother says there is no other way for him to be competitive within his class. Clearly the local system is brutal in its rigour and expectations. 

On the other hand my son goes to a wonderful little Montessori which does a fair amount of work disguised as play. Without realising it my 4 year old is doing sounds and basic reading, counting to 200 and learning multiples. He is learning to work calmly (and if only you knew how his legs NEVER stop) and work for longish periods of time, writing, doing puzzles and playing games. It's not an easy day and he comes back tired but invigorated with all the FUN he is having in school. We are happy with his school and know from talking to other parents that when he goes to one of the big international schools next summer he will absolutely love it because they don't do even half of what he is currently doing. An example (before a knowing Singaporean expat jumps on this) is my nephew, who went to the same Montessori before my son and last year, at age 4, went to one of the biggest and best International private schools. He has every resource at his fingertips. For the whole of that first year he loved school because suddenly there was no writing sheets or maths, just learning through play and adventures. He was ahead in math and reading and eventually they all found their balance but he is redoing concepts he already knew, pretending he doesn't know them. Unlearning what he already knows so the whole class can learn at a similar level. I guess that works so that the whole class finds a somewhat level playing field. He eventually did a bit of reading with a small group that are the same level but in all other matters it's a minimal regression. The beauty of that system though is how much he loves going to school which is full of activities that teach in their doing (even if the teaching is very basic). Maybe this Montessori is too pushy and they all know more that they should at their age. I certainly don't know the answer but both nephew and Kid have been happy. 

School eventually evens out - much like crawling, walking, eating and sleeping - the corner posts of competitive parents everywhere - they all go to school and work at the level that works for them. They thrive or struggle, they find support, make friends, learn to work with obstacles and pursue their own interests. 

However it's the after school activities that are the competitive arena in primary school. I have not yet met a parent in Singapore who has not asked me which and how many post school and weekend classes my child does. Just this morning someone has texted asking if I am keen on piano lessons for kid. The choice is so varied as to be a whole industry of its own. And none of it is cheap. $20 a class with minimum 10 class or 1 term sign ups. Even the few kids who do 'hardly any classes' are doing at least 3. Apparently if you don't know how to swim, paint, play footie, defend yourself with capoeira or taekwando and burst out a mean tune on your piano you shall not be well rounded enough. 

I know a parent whose two kids go to 8 classes each week. A mix of piano, keyboard, swimming, horseback riding, drumming, capoeira, Hindi, football, art and craft. This is over and above a long school day (8-3 including travel time). This means that on the one afternoon they aren't a doing anything (Sunday) we are expected to have play dates. Impossible because Sunday is the one day when we go out for lunch and try and nap! 

You name the activity and there is a class for it - right brain development, drama, golfing, tennis. Don't get me wrong. I'm not against the idea of classes. I just think they aren't really for us. When Kid gets back from school at 3 pm I want him to play with me, examine his many toys, read his many many books, do some painting or a puzzle if he wants to or just sit on the floor and race cars or play trains. And it's not about having the energy to travel elsewhere for classes - we have the opportunity for tennis and swim coaches to come to us and nothing in Singapore is at any great distance anyway - it's about doing the opposite of school. Filling his day with the mundane. Learning to occupy himself without endless direction.

I'm probable stunting his development by not teaching him to pursue a hobby/ class. He did a trial football class when we got here ($70 for football boots that he has now outgrown and used exactly once) and didn't want to go back. He did a 10 class course of acrobatics which was terrible - the teacher had no real plan and the other 9 kids just sat in a line while 1 child at a time did a move with the teacher. He got maybe 10 minutes of actual learning in 60 minutes. A total waste of time energy and money. 

He hasn't asked for any classes and even when they are offered up to him (regularly by his father) he says he wants to just play at home. Or in the park. Or swim a bit. 

As I said I'm probably not helping but I really feel it's too young to pursue such a large range of things. I do hope as he works his way from 4 to 5 he finds something he enjoys enough to pursue as a hobby. Then he can join a class. I do want it to be his decision not a class forced upon him because I think it will help his development.

So while all the expats complain about the great pressure that local kids face in their schools, I hope some of them see that a huge plethora of classes does just the same thing, puts pressure on them to excel at numerous things at once, some of which may not be of their own interest. 

Education in Singapore is a multi- faceted game of choices and money and competition and on many fronts I think we are behind the game. Happy, but behind the game. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Singapore Lunch - 1: Original Sin

This is a country of non vegetarians and vegetarians would be hard pressed to find much weight in the mains of any menu. After a bit of a google hunt I found this Sunday's lunch venue, Original Sin, a vegetarian restaurant that has reviews in the extreme - as in, I've been going for 12 years and its our family favourite to OMG so depressing. 

I'll never be a vegetarian or a vegan and I'm not watching or reading things that will convince me of these paths but I'm always keen to find good vegetarian food when it's been an overdose of fish/ meat week. So to Original Sin we went, booking and all. 

We needn't have bothered with the booking as the restaurant was only half full. But that might have had to do with the gathering clouds and showers that began as we sat down. I imagine on a sunny day that pavement would be quite inviting.

Located in expat land, Holland Village, the restaurant is on a lovely green leafy lane called Jalan Merah Saga. The outside seating is covered by dark awning which did nothing to help the interior, casting it darker than its decor could reflect. The interior was a mix of an orange/ khaki upholstery against white table cloths and the usual crockery and cutlery. A bit worn but workable. 

The food: a lovely long and comprehensive menu, soups, salads, pastas, pizzas and mains. V and I shared this halloumi salad while Kid ate a margerita pizza.

Of course, Spencer (the train, keep up will you?!) approved. It looked inviting and was beautifully flavoured. The halloumi just salty enough that the lentils and veggies in the grilled pepper tasted great. Beautifully plated and dressed.

The other three arrived off the MRT, sopping wet in the minute walk to the restaurant. And we ordered mains. A mushroom risotto, a falafel salad, spanakopita and a moussaka. All four good, flavourful but not great. I think they overdid the salad leaves - which were on every plate - and lentils which seemed to be part of every dish - even the falafel salad! I'm not sure I would go back for any of those dishes although they were all good, well spiced and cooked. Worth one lunch but I'm looking forward to the next Sunday lunch. 

We walked back along the street and waited for this place to open:

Weirdly on a Sunday, when the world is at rest and looking for ice cream they open at 2. That does not make any sense. We had to wait about 10 minutes - seemed like an hour with two antsy kids  - and finally we were in, buying cones of chocolate and mango and honey vanilla. Creamy, tasty, satisfying goodness. Sat by the statement wall and finished up, waiting for the rain to abate. 

I'm on my way to a double movie afternoon (The Bling Ring, followed by The English Teacher) while everyone else goes off to play. I'm in charge in the evening while V heads off to his movie fix with his brother. 

And tomorrow it's another week. 

Friday, September 13, 2013


V is 40 today. Considering I met him when he was 17 I'd say he's aged well. Or maybe it's only I that can still see the schoolboy in him. 

What do you give someone who has everything they need? Homemade gifts zindaabad! 

First up, door hanger which says '40' on one side and 'winks' on the other. Its a wooden car shaped hanger which we covered in blue acrylic paint and once dry used masking tape to make tape resist numbers and letters in green. As in at your age, Old man, you need 40 winks. Cheeky, I know!

Then the obligatory T-shirt. One that cannot be returned because we drew on it with fabric pen. I drew his and Kid's hand prints on paper a few weeks ago and then cut those out to trace on the T-shirt. I wanted to embroider or get embroidered these outlines but I was too lazy and it was too cumbersome a task to organise so this is what he got. 

We've breakfasted at Paul (such a disappointment after London's Paul), shopped for groceries and are now chilling at home before Kid and I bake a cake this afternoon. V's brother and family will come round in the evening and we'll have smoked salmon on baguettes, guacamole and veggies, home made pizza and a chocolate cake. 

All a far cry from birthday picnic/ holiday on a beach that I had planned for his 40th. V is working on his day off (typical), Kid and I have colds and fever that's making one of us very grumpy (also typical). 

This is turning 40. Quiet, too quiet. 

Monday, September 09, 2013

A shoe update

I finally bought a set of fabric pens - what's a bit more clutter in a mountain anyway - and filled in and finessed what I had started.

And today they are having their first spin in the outside dust covered Singapore world. We shall just have to see how they fare.

This was my idea and i found the turtles and waves and improvised as I went along. Kid now wants a say and already I have one more request for hand painted shoes in a design of his choice. In a few years he won't want anything handmade by me so I'm taking the request seriously.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Singapore's 52 lunches - the preamble

So. It seems I need to get a life. It's all so slow paced at the moment that I feel like an old world black and white silent movie actor jerkily wandering along the screen in ever small circles.

This poor blog seems to be in a cotton wool ball of fuzziness. I need to sharpen my keyboard skills and wake up. So between talking about life and books and many other things, I'm going to write about my complicated feelings about Singapore food. Be afraid. Very afraid. Not.

Um no. I'm just going to write / photograph the various Sunday brunch/ lunch places we are eating our way through. Remember I told you about one of the most important reasons for our move was to be closer to our family? Well, that's working well. V and his bro are super close anyway and I see how much our only child loves their only child. Brothers, twins and best friends - that's what the 5 and 4 year old say when asked who they are to each other. It's very endearing. We try and spend huge chunks of the weekend together. And Sunday lunch is usually one of those. For most of the last year we have been following a small circuit of tried and tested eateries - a dumpling place (that does Veggie dumplings), a Mexican place and a Japanese place (that both have loads of Veggie options) - V's sis in law is vegetarian and loves all three places. 

I have to say that they have become our go to places especially because we know  the kids will eat a variety of things and we know the menu blindfolded. But to be honest I'm bored. Life seems sedate in my world. I'm tossing ideas of what I want to do now that we've been here 11 months. All this blah (outside) and whirring (inside) made me decide a few weeks ago that I was done with the 3 standard places for Sunday lunch. So I've embarked on a programme of Sunday lunches. I've made a list (that's how bored I am) and there are 52 places I'd like to try over the next year. 

So preamble over. It's chow time.