Category Archives: About Food

I Made … A Birthday Cake!

BK flew into Houston en route to Boston so that we can celebrate his birthday together.

I decided to bake him a cake.  The last time I baked him a birthday cake was when we were just great buddies (… and we still are) before we decided to commit ourselves to this relationship.  I remembered then I had to buy an oven, basic tools and necessary ingredients to make a rich chocolate cake ~ with a gift hidden inside the cake.  My family never owned a working oven, or rather never utilise the oven in sight, it was just a fixture in the kitchen ~ in my memories, cakes were steamed and not baked in my home (by mum and they were yummy!).  Years later ~ now, I decided to make him a birthday cake again … and I wanted something of local flavour.  I decided on Pandan Kayacake, but I couldn’t find some ingredients in Houston, so I replaced with alternative ingredients and estimated the quantity of ingredients needed.  From BK, there was really no pressure on me – even though I am soon to graduate from a Baking & Pastry Arts course, even if the cake turned out a disaster, he would have eaten it anyway – and be ever encouraging (… and probably spiced with some harmless sarcasm?).

Pandan Leaves, literally mean fragrant leaves, are commonly found in Singapore and other parts of Asia.  In the western world, they are known as screw pine leaves.  The liquid from the leaves gives a natural sweet aroma, a distint taste and colours a natural green.  In Houston, I found them at Hong Kong market ~ they were not as pretty as I have hoped, more than half needed to be discarded.  I believed they were deep frozen and shipped here and the moisture content was greatly reduced.  I was still excited to find the leaves though, I wanted pandan paste as a backup but did not find it on time.

Pandan Chiffon Cake is a common cake found in neighbourhood bakeries in Singapore.  I love the simplicity and airiness of the cake.  Back in Singapore, I have tried in vain to do one successfully – blame it on cake mix with ambiguous instruction, a mixer with low watt, all things else … okme etc.  Mum couldn’t help me with the recipe – in her era, all ingredients were measured by feel and guts – though she told me it was probably the first cake anyone would do since it was a simple recipe??  Today I am confident of folding in a meringue and mixes just about right and not over mixing the mix.  I had 2 recipes – one from a class I had attended in Singapore, and one from a blog … both looked pretty close but not the same.  I adapted the method to what I have learnt in class.

The pandan cake turned out nicely – spongy, moist and fluffy … I wasn’t too confident of the kaya cream (which is a coconut-egg cream), I didn’t quite understand why the recipe contained no egg.  Anyway, I made not one but two cakes on Thursday but wasn’t too confident to give away the 2nd cake.

We did not celebrate with the cake on Friday – we overslept our afternoon nap after my school and nearly missed our dinner as well – but we did on Saturday and had it for breakfast.  BK was amused by the way I decorated the cake with black & white candles, the cake turned out a little strange but delightful – I actually laughed when I looked at the final product with the candles on, while he was sleeping.  He knew I always came up with strange taste and stuff.

The pictures painted the story well, no words needed:

And we celebrated with a Birthday song and a cake the usual way – with exceptions – I used a handheld torch to light several candles at one time, the cake looked like it was going up in flame … blowing out 38 candles took him some effort just as much effort as I had to use to arrange 38 candles in an appealing fashion …  Blew out the last candle, BK stared at the amount of smoke left lingering above the cake…?

We finished more than half the cake for breakfast on Saturday … the kaya cream would be better with more jelly powder or gelatin added.  Knowing what went into making the cream stopped me from enjoying the cake as much and I stopped him from eating more of the cream … oopshee.  By Sunday, I was to slice away all the kaya cream custard from the remaining half, and the 2nd cake, we shared a plate of coconut flavoured pandan cake instead ~ no cream, with milo/coffee drink for our breakfast.


The Flavour of Home and Asia … All in A Day

Today I am going to be good and stay put in my apartment.  I am exhausted –

This morning BK woke me up at 8am, I had 5 missed calls.  I heard the rings but refused to answer coz I needed my uninterrupted sleep, then I thought I had better answer since it is so continuous in case it was a call from my family.  When I realised it was nothing urgent, I got really grumpy coz I really needed the sleep.  On the other end of the line, I heard some familiar voices, he was with my friends celebrating Claude’s and Miang’s birthdays at Waraku in Singapore, he had nearly forgotten about it himself and forgot to update me they were meeting up.  Claude was my schoolmate since we were 10 till 16, Miang was my classmate since we were 13-16 and also my ex-colleague at Serono … 3 of us were also part of the First Aid, Footdrill and Nursing competition squad of 5 with Katherine and Liane since secondary school … the few of us shared a close friendship for a long time since.  We make it a point since our 20s to meet up for everyone’s birthday and other important occasions.  BK asked me if I wanted a skype webcam call, … my gosh, I just woke up!!! ;( I freshened up a little and returned the call via skypeout, we spoke briefly as the call was a little truncated.

I have a couple of things to do today, stock up on necessities, do my laundry and do my homework.

Lastly, I was out for a whole day of food and more food yesterday, today I am really exhausted.  I would usually last the day better reading and nua-ing (ie. do-ing nothing, Chinese dialect colloquial) than out for a full day.

~  “Hawker Fare” At Bear Creek Park 

I was amazed at the activities at the park, I was also amazed there is such a nice park pretty close to where I live off 290/beltway 8.  Garren gave me a ride, he had earlier emailed a few of us from Singapore about the Hawker Fare 2008 organised by Malaysian Singaporean Association of Houston (MSAH).  I have only met Garren and David before and he would introduce me to other Singaporeans he got to know when he came to Houston since June.  During the drive into the park, there was a stretch of open air zoo – I think this is the first time I have seen a real Bison Bull or American Buffalo, the first image I had was from the children’s ABC music VCD which depicted B for Bison (gosh, I learnt B for boy).  Yesterday’s weather was perfect to bask in the sun, it was cool too.  It was atmospheric – there was a game of soccer on- going, family picnics, cycling, group activities in the pavilions etc.  I read that the park is about 31 sq km.  I did not see, but I read that “The park includes nearly three-dozen soccer fields. There are also scenic hiking and biking trails, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, picnic facilities and several pavilions that can be reserved. A Golf World annex offers three courses.” … also “There is a 2 mile paved jogging trail, lots of shaded picnic tables and grills along with the animals for the kids to see. The other side of the park has shelters and lots of trees…”.  We were to find Paviilion 6, from a distance we saw a huge pavilion with lots of people, that must be it. 

I was introduced to some Singaporeans and we decided to buy a few dishes to share.  We can’t really differentiate between Singaporeans or Malaysians – some are Malaysians who took up Singapore PR when their family came to Singapore to work in earlier years or they had come to Singapore to study, like BK.  Some have taken on citizenship of other countries but have families in Singapore.  Most of the Singaporeans I met in Houston are working in the energy sector.  According to Garren, Spore is the hub for oil and gas in Asia Pacific, #3 behind Houston then Dubai.

 ~  About Hawker Fare from Home

Food in Singapore is tasty, at least to me.  Sometimes the variation in Malaysia tastes better coz of stronger taste.  Singapore food is not particularly healthy but can be depending on the choice of food.  Most of us love fatty food like Char Kway Teow or fried rice noodle, Laksa or some sort of light coconut curry white noodles, Chai Tau Kway or fried savory radish cake – I love the black sauce type … Nasi Lemak which is Malay for coconut rice and some side dishes.  Once Izumi, my Japanese friend, visited me in Singapore and we went for hawker fare, she got sick from the oily food and needed to be put on drip, it was so drama … our diet was too different from the simple, low oil diet she was used to.  Dishes with lard are now replaced with vegetable oil, one can request for more veg etc.   So when I heard there is gonna be a Hawker Fare, I was tempted but was also skeptical since I don’t miss Singapore food that simply don’t taste like it.  I was more interested to meet up with fellow Singaporeans.

"Char Kway Teow" man John Lim & LindaThe food variety was pretty good at the Hawker Fare.  According to John Lim, vice-president for MSAH, who was the guy cooking the Char Kway Teow and wearing a black apron printed “Danger Men Cooking“, other than a store that was operated by Banana Leaf Restaurant, the other stores were home cooks.  Some of them at the association tested the recipes before the actual day, including the Char Kway Teow we had.

Satay.  Meat skewers with peanut sauce.  This may be the Malaysian variation, the peanut sauce I had back home is a fine paste with no chunky peanut.  The dish is usually served with ketuput (rice in pandan leaves), cucumber pieces and onions (apparently to counter the carcinogenic properties of BBQ).  Chicken satays were sold out by half past 12.  Back home, I also like the lamb and beef satay, not so much the pork satay.  No all satays taste the same, I only buy satays from one particular store at Ang Mo Kio.

~  You look familiar?

You look familiar…” …  In my mind, I was thinking, yah, I have a common face 😉 “You were from SJC ?” …   Err, yes.  “You were a prefect?” … Err, yes.  My goodness, someone knows me from the crowd.  SJC = St Joseph’s Convent, the secondary or middle/high school I attended 20 years ago.  She is Lilian, the younger sis of my ex-classmate Vivian, and 2 years my junior in school.  “You lost weight? … you were from canoeing right?” … I clarified I only lost weight when I came to Houston, never really lost my muscle mass from canoeing days though I have shrunk indeed, I am the same height as she last knew me in secondary school ;[  Lilian is now in her 36 weeks of pregnancy and may deliver any time.  “Vivian will be here in 2 week’s time…”  Wow fancy meeting an ex-classmate in Houston, when we didn’t even bump into each other in Singapore.  So Singapore is not that small after all ;p  But it is a small world.


~  Next Stop, Panera Bread

Linda, George, Garren and I decided to go for coffee.  We chose Panera bread over Starbucks.  I don’t fancy Starbucks after the various cafes I have been to in Houston, I have not been to a Panera bread outlet to sample their menu.   Linda and George are now Canadian citizens, they left Singapore in 2000.  Now home for them is in Pearland, with their pet Scottie.  Interesting, Linda is now teaching Maths at Regan High School at Heights area along 14th Str.  Time passed quickly, by the time we knew it , it was already 7 … we decided to adjourn for dinner together.  

~  Next Stop, Dinner at House of Bowls @ Bellaire

~ A Yummilicious Dinner @ House of Bowls with Linda & George, David & Garren, and me.

~ A yummilicious dinner@ House of Bowls with Linda & George, David & Garren, and me.

Dinner at House of Bowls was the best Asian dinner I have had in Houston.  Not that I have tried many.  Eating out at Asian places, or even eating out, wasn’t in my original schedule at all, especially at outlets that served dishes that looked like food from home but I have to make do in taste.  The dishes here must be cooked by a Hong Konger, I think, the taste was stronger and more flavourful.  We ordered the following dishes – 1.  Prawn with spring onions, with rice; 2.  Stir-fried Hor Fun (flat noodles) with sotong (squids); 3.  Rice Cake, Korean style (but tasted more HK style) – I like this dish; 4.  Beef Ramen, Japanese style ( yummy beef slices, but soup base a tad too peppery); 5.  Cantonese Chicken Porridge.

~ Last Stop, Cafe 101 

A Taiwanese dessert place – I like Bubble Milk Tea with pearls or what may be known as tapioca pearls.  We have this drink in Singapore, but usually such outlet doesn’t open late like in Houston, here it opens till past midnight.

Enough activities to last a long while.

~ Oops, My Supper @ My Apartment …

It was past 12.  I wasn’t hungry but I decided to munch on the bagels I bought from Panera Bread.  Finished not one, but two bagels – one chocolate, one cranberry.  Nice.  I sure ate a lot for last 12 hours.

~ Cranberry Bagel and Chocolate Bagel from Panera Bread

~ Cranberry Bagel and Chocolate Bagel from Panera Bread