Chocolate cupcakes with crispy magic frosting

This morning, Yumi and I got together to prepare cupcakes for Annie’s bridal shower. It’s such a joyous occasion and the ‘hard work’ of baking cupcakes must be shared. Nah. It’s actually easy to bake cupcakes. All you need is to spend time on mise en place, read the recipe carefully (yes, I do follow) and execute well. Most of all, have fun!

The recipe is taken from Flour’s Baking Book which I absolutely adore.

Note: You need to prepare the batter at least an hour in advance.

Being a first-timer in baking, I absolutely think Yumi did well in her attempt today! More to come? =p


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Is that your lunch?

So, in the school I’m attached to, the teachers have about 20 – 30 minutes for their lunch before they have to go for their next lesson. In the staff lounge, during lunch time, one of the conversational topics is on the food that you bring to the table.

I brought my 2 muffin-sized brioche and Jo asked, “Is that your lunch?”

“Yup!” And I saw guilt on his face as he consumed another mouthful of pasta.

“Is that enough?”

“Yup! Don’t look down on them. They are rich with eggs and butter!”

Obviously, those two buns would not be enough. I just had no time to make a proper meal but they were enough to sustain me for a few more hours in school. We went on to talk about how difficult it is to prepare the lunchbox when you first get up in the morning and one of the ways to solve the problem is definitely to cook more the previous evening so that you can have the extra for lunch.

Perhaps I should be consistent in my effort to prepare a good lunchbox. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. No excuses. I’ll make an effort from next week onwards.

These poor teachers. They work round the clock from 8am to 3pm with a 30-minutes recess. And if they have extra duties, the hours could go on to about 5pm.

Same as us… sama sama. Just that we still stay on or continue to work at home to grade the papers and prepare for the next day’s lessons.

That day will come soon.

Oops… erase those thoughts. Mantra: work-life balance! Work-life balance!

WA @ PSS: On Literacy Centres

I like observing Literacy Centres and seeing how young kids go to their stations automatically. They know what to do by looking at the chart. Of course, the teacher has to spend at least a week of teaching them about her expectations and what they are required to do at the various stations. This is my short video on my observation.

More pictures and write-up on Literacy centres –> Literacy Centres in Photographs.

There are obviously theories surrounding the use of literacy centres and the key benefits include:

  • Students learn the value of independent and collaborative study while engaging in active, task-based learning and self-discovery
  • Students learn to take responsibility in and choose their own learning activities
  • Teachers have more time to focus on the individual needs of students at various literacy levels and structure class time more efficiently
  • The inherit flexibility of literacy centers motivate kids to learn at their own level and to have some choice in their activities. This lets advanced students move forward without having to spend so much time on activities below their reading and writing level without leaving behind those students who still need to focus on basics such as ABC centers, word study, etc.
  • For teachers, literacy centers promote an effective classroom structure and allow time to focus on small group instruction and assess individual students while the entire class remains engaged in meaningful, purposeful, self-directed literacy activities.
  • Students can consolidate their learnings by applying their knowledge in the given tasks and the activities provide informal assessment for the teacher.
More info here

There’s nothing in my bag today.

If your child comes home with no homework, remember this poem. 

Today I did Math and Science,
I toasted bread.
I halved and quartered.
I counted, measured, used my eyes, and ears and head.
I added and subtracted on the way,
I used a magnet, blocks, and memory tray.
I learned about a rainbow and how to weigh.
So please don’t say, anything in your bag today?

You see I’m sharing as I play.
I learned to listen and speak clearly when I talk,
To wait my turn, and when inside to walk.
To put my thoughts into a phrase,
To guide a crayon through a maze.
To find my name and write it down,
To do it with a smile and not a frown
To put my painting brush away
So please don’t say, What, Nothing in your bag today?

I’ve learned about a snail and a worm,
Remembering how to take my turn.
I helped a friend when he was stuck
Learned that water rolls off a duck
I looked at words from left to right,
Agreed to differ not to fight.
So please don’t say…
Did you only play today?

Author unknown

Sugar + Spice Brioche Buns

I forgot to mention that during yesterday’s class, Chef deep-fried some brioche dough (that was shaped) and then dipped them into cinnamon sugar. The result was soft, tasty donut-like goodies. All of us were hungry and some went without dinner to attend the baking class and it was much appreciated that we had them after a grueling four-hour rolling of dough.

And I remember I had a half batch of brioche dough in the freeze and since we need something for breakfast, I decided to bake sugar and spice brioche buns, something like yesterday’s donuts, just that they aren’t deep-fried but baked.

The recipe is from Flour and the 1/2 batch brioche recipe can be found here.
For the Sugar & Spice mixture:

1/2 recipe basic brioche dough
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of cloves
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup butter, melted

Remove dough from the refrigerator.

Line 10 cups of a stand 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners or butter and flour them.

On a floured work surface, press or rolle the dough into a rectangle about 10 by 15 inches. It will have the consistency of cold play-doh and should be easy to work with. Using a bench scraper, chef’s knife, or pizza cutter, cut the rectangle into 10 equal strips, each about 1 by 5 inches. Cut each strip into 5 1-inch squares. You should have 50 1-inch squares of dough.

Place 5 squares of dough in each muffin cup. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to proof for about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool the buns in the pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 5 to 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.

Brush the tops of the buns with melted butter and roll each bun the sugar mixture to coat.

The buns are best served warm or within 4 hours of baking. The can be stored in an air-tight container for up to 1 day and then warmed in a 300 degree oven for 5 minutes before serving.

CSCA – BREAKFAST PASTRY (VIENNOISERIE)

Back to pastry class again and this time it’s evening class – 4 hours each – from 6pm to 10pm and yesterday, it overran. The poor hubs was waiting outside for me. Hopefully, he won’t have to wait that long in winter.

Our instructor is Master Pastry Chef Delphin Gomes. Since he’s French, his English is heavily accented. He doesn’t believe in following recipes, preferring that we know the concepts and thus what’s in the notes are just the ingredients for the different pastry products – croissant, brioche, puff pastry, custard, etc.

His class is light and entertaining, yet challenging and fast-paced at the same time. Time is crucial when rolling out the dough. The longer you roll, the worse it gets. And chef went to every one of us to make sure we roll out the dough well before folding them.

It’s all about rolling, rolling, rolling yesterday.

Croissant dough, folding into thirds – one turn.

Chef showing the window pane.I realised I really need to have my brioche dough get kneaded well before adding the butter. Yup, the recipe book doesn’t say that. Like Chef commented in jest, recipe are bound to fail, so that they can come out with more books. =p

The bulging dough. Risen.

Monday thoughts

The father loves each son and gives each the freedom to be what he can, but he cannot give them freedom they will not take nor adequately understand. The father seems to realise, beyond the customs of his society, the need of his sons to be themselves. But he also knows their need for his love and a “home”. How their stories will be completed is up to them. The fact that the parable is not completed makes it certain that the father’s love is not dependent upon an appropriate completion of the story. The father’s love is only dependent on himself and remains part of his character. As Shakespeare says in one of his sonnets: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”

Arthur Freeman

Another busy weekend

It’s the end of a busy weekend and another exciting week is coming. Have been working on preparing food for the fellowship yesterday and today and I reeked of the smoke from the cooking. Frying the Taiwanese fire chicken bits for 2 hours is no joke. Thankfully we are blessed with an excellent Taiwanese + S’porean team and people were just so willing to help clean up too. Blessed.

Massaging the chicken

Tired but most importantly, we had fun!

The chef and his family recipe for the fire chicken bits

After service, had a wonderful dinner with friends, both new and old. It was really a blessing to be with them.

Thank you dear Lord for nudging us to invest our time in people.

The return of the prodigal son…

[via artchive]

The above title is written with reference from the parable and the painting by Rembrandt. Wonderful and deep insights. Quoted from the book by Henri J.M. Nouwen:

“Addiction” might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates society. Our addiction make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in “a distant country.” It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.”

[Pg 42-43]

“What happened to the son in the distant country? Aside from all the material and physical consequences, what were the inner consequences of the son’s leaving home? The sequence of events is quite predictable. The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.

It goes somewhere like this: I am not so sure anymore that I have a safe home, and I observe other people who seem to be better off than I. I wonder how I can get to where they are. I try hard to please, to achieve success, to be recognised. When I failed, I feel jealous or resentful of these others. When I succeed, I worry that others will  be jealous or resentful of me. I become suspicious or defensive and increasingly afraid that I won’t get what I so much desire or will lose what I already have. Caught in this tangle of needs and wants, I no longer know my own motivations. I feel victimised by my surroundings and distrustful of what others are doing or saying. Always on my guard, I lose my inner freedom and start dividing the world into those who are for me and those who are against me. I wonder if anyone really cares. I start looking for validations of my distrust. And wherever I go, I see them and I say: “No one can be trusted.” And then I wonder whether anyone ever really loved me. The world around me becomes dark. My heart grows heavy. My body is filled with sorrows. My life loses meaning. I have become a lost soul.”

[ pg 46-47]

=)

We’ve got our departure date confirmed! Yay! 2 3/4 months to go before I head home!

My attachment to PSS has been awesome and I relearn and make new discoveries daily. Theories that I’ve learnt in NIE came alive in the classrooms and the students are all so excited and engaged. This is heavenly!

So I’ve been trying to read up again and this excites me. Now I can comprehend what has been as head knowledge. How enlightening!

Wonderful teaching resources at the library @ Lynch School of Education.

The colours of the leaves have changed. Autumn’s here!

Sticky buns…preparation.

3 hours later.

Yummy!

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Marsala Pork Chops

Note to self: Gravy on noodles is better than on pork chops. The latter is nice to eat on its own.

The improved version for the hubs

Source: Taste of Home, Feb/March 2011
Yields 4 servings

1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
4 bone-in centre-cut pork lion chops
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves
1/2 cup white wine/chicken broth
1 tbsp marsala wine
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
Hot cooked egg noodle

1. Place bread crumbs in a large resealable plastic bag. Add pork chops, one at a time, and shake to coat. In a large skillet, cook chops in 2 tbsp oil over medium heat for 4-6 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer reads 160F. Remove and keep warm.

2. In the same skillet, saute onions in a remaining oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes longer. Add the white wine, marsala, pepper and salt, stirring to loosen browned bits from pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is nearly evaporated. Stir in butter until melted. Serve with pork chops and noodles.

Chinese Barbecued Spareribs

At last, after days of not cooking and baking, I have today to work in the kitchen before spending the next few days in school. I have loads of recipes to try before I go back to Singapore and I have to grab every little opportunity to do that!

These ribs are easy to prepare and the longer it is in the oven, the better they taste!

Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
Serves 4

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbsp ketchup
1/2 cup water
4 pounds spareribs, cut into serving pieces

1. Combine the honey, soy sauce, garlic, ketchup, and water in a pan large enough to hold the ribs. Marinate the spareribs in this mixture in the refrigerator for several hours, turning a few times.

2. Roast the ribs for  1 1/2 hours in an oven set at 350F. I took it out at different times to baste the ribs. I find that the longer the ribs stay in the oven, the softer they become, and of course, the flavour too.

Busy weekend

I’m welcoming Fridays with much enthusiasm. After a few days at the school, the body was so tired and needed a break. It’s the momentum, I guess. Once my body adjusts, things will be better. The hubs didn’t have it easier too since he woke up the same time as me.

So on Friday, it’s the opening screening for ‘I don’t know how she does it’. I had wanted to watch this movie since a few months back. I got hold of the book but didn’t like the writings. Watching it on film with Sarah Jessica Parker as the lead would be better. The hubs and I had brekky at Thinking Cup before proceeding to the theatre. Loving the affordable coffee and the ambience!

The film reminded me of mom. It has a predictable storyline and as you would have known, the lead character, a working mom, chose to spend more time with the family after the realisation that she has neglected them (though she tried her best to be there for them) and that she had broken a few promises made to the children due to work (a terrible thing to do!).

It’s not easy being a working mom. These moms face the guilt of not being there for the children, the unnecessary remarks by some SAHM and the challenge of juggling between work and family which is absolutely a tough balancing act. It is easy to just say that they can choose to be a SAHM but let’s not be too presumptuous and determine that being a SAHM is the way to go for every mother. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding them.

My mom is a working mom, prompted more by financial issues rather than by preference. Nope, it’s not because she wanted to earn much much more as she’s not that educated and could only use her skill in sewing clothes. By working in my father’s shop, she could help lessen the burden of having to employ one more seamstress and a dispatch driver, in addition to other stuff she had to do in the garment factory cum shop.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the shophouse and witnessed what went on in their lives. I have to say that mom didn’t have it easy and worked extremely hard. The only time she rested was when her head touched the pillow at night but even so, I doubt she could fall asleep that easily. She couldn’t really teach me since she didn’t know how to so I was pretty much left alone or at times deployed to help her. She was aways in a rush since she had multiple things to do but she would ALWAYS cook because she didn’t want her children to be having junk in their bodies (MSG) and that took up a lot of her time if you know what cooking involves – from doing the grocery to prep work and then washing up.

That’s so much I could go on about her life as a working mom and the guilt that she forever has in her since she also left us with different people at various stages of our initial years of growing up. Only she knows best and I do treasure you, mom!

In the evening, we went for the performance by the Blue Man Group. Ken was initially chosen to be on stage (they had to prep him) but in the end, the performers chose another man two rows down from us! They have made a mistake! I was relieved, Ken felt rejected. But we both had a good time though da man enjoyed it more. =)

Saturday, it’s a packed day for us. We were honoured to be invited by our Taiwanese friends to attend their graduation ceremony.

Back home from the ceremony, we realised we had to be attending another event soon. What an adventure! It was at the Lavers’ home and we were to be on the panel again, sharing to about 20 new students on adjusting to life in a foreign land. We had a great time, getting to know new friends and to hear their wonderful stories. Amazing night!

Sunday. The last of the weekend! Argh! Where has the time gone? After PSIF, we had a gathering at Junjie who cooked Lasagna for us. Here we have a Chinese man having the courage to whip up Italian dish – quite an admirable act. Had a good time of dinner and catching up in his humble backyard in the cold summer/autumn evening. Nice.

It has been a tiring weekend but we both agree that it’s worth it when we could have the opportunity to be involved in someone else’s life.

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Google Age

I feel very much like what Nicholas Carr wrote in an Atlantic article (2008) about how the “Google age” has impacted the way he thinks.

My mind isn’t going – so far as I can tell – but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the exit. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I took hours to read one research paper and the article ain’t long in the first place!

Happy ‘Mooncake’ Festival!

Mooncake festival makes me think of lanterns, paper lanterns, that I used to have when I was a young kid. Our neighbourhood would conduct some activities to celebrate this event and feasting on mooncakes and savoring tea are to do without.

I remember some friends burning the paper lanterns using matchsticks and we stayed transfixed at our first lesson on Fire & Its Destructive Effects. During one of those years, I won the musical chair game and I got to realise, for the first time, that I was secretly competitive.

Growing up, it holds less of a meaning to me. I have outgrown lanterns, even those battery-operated ones. I could never appreciate mooncakes, with its slimy texture. One fine year, mom decided to make mooncakes and I was roped in to help. It was fun but I soon realised the large amount of oil that went into the making of those traditional mooncakes and promised myself that I would stay off it. So much for teaching me how to make mooncakes. =p I’m not so sure about those snowskin types. Perhaps, they are better?

Anyway, the copious varieties of mooncakes found in the market are just overwhelming. It does show the creativity of bakers nonetheless. To shop around for mooncakes is a great and exciting activity in itself!

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival.

[via Saveur]

It’s our 2nd year.

Today marked our 2nd year as a married couple.

And it almost feels like we are just married.

So, as you would have guessed it, we celebrated it by running together. 10km was all we could achieve. It was slow but steady. It felt superb. First 10km in 2011. What happened??!!!

Lunch was inspired by the dish – gong bao ji ding / stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts – and while I was still finishing the last bit of my meal, the phone rang and the caller informed me that I had a package to be collected. Curious, I went outside and thought he was already at the door. No one. Told the hubs and had him go out and take a look.

Moments later, the dear hubs came back with a vase of roses. Surprise!

Nice. =) Thank you for these wonderful two years! It has been … great!

The weekends.

They will get packed as the weeks progress.

Ken was asked (= “arrowed’) to lead a training session for the FOCUS volunteers on Saturday. Though he felt truly inadequate to do that, he went ahead with the session, turning it more into a sharing session rather than a training one since he felt he was not an expert in that area, with his limited experience. His willingness to help was admirable and seeing him so zealous is a great encouragement. A lot to learn, dude, but terrific job nonetheless!

Chilling out after the session. Having Pumpkin Spice Latte, a seasonal edition which I cannot appreciate.

And to satisfy my craving for laksa, we hunt down the place to have a near-authentic one (Singapore’s version) at No 1 Noodle House @ 51, Langley Road, Newton Centre, MA 02459. It was close to the ones I have had at home, just that the bowl I had did not have cockles and it was not spicy. But the gravy was the coconut version rather than the assam flavour at Penang Restaurant. Yay! I’m happy and it is indeed a good way to spend our 2nd wedding anniversary (eve?)!

The combination Laksa.

Gyoza!

Cracked!

I’m not sure what caused them to crack. I was shocked when the first batch came out and tried to remedy the situation by using an extra baking sheet. In addition to that, I turned down the temperature to 325F instead of 375F.

No luck.

And there was no pied or foot, the pleatlike frills at the bottom of each macaron. No pied, no macarons. I have failed.

Devastated.

The good hubs encouraged me, telling me that the ‘macarons’ still taste the same. Oh well, it’s not the same anymore. It’s just not macarons with the cracks and without pied.

I’ll try again! It must be the weather! Humidity is an enemy to these finicky cookies. Or another possibility is that I’ve overmixed. Argh!

* Possible cause for no pied – drying the mixture too much. The length of drying time for macarons varies from season to season. Try to set your air conditioner at “dry” mode or use an electric fan on a humid day in order to quicken the drying process and create a smooth texture. (Hisako Ogita of i ❤ macarons).

The next time I bake macarons, it will be Autumn.

Aged egg whites

Cracked! And the matcha doesn’t add too much colour to the cookies. Must add colouring!

No feet!

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Happy Mid-week! Buckwheat Cookies

A few months ago, my friend A gave me a 1/2 bagful of organic buckwheat flour. “I’m done with the amount of flour that I need and I don’t know what to do with the reminder. Since you like to bake, maybe you will find some use with it.”

I actually don’t know too. I came across some recipes like buckwheat crepe and failed. It was stored in my freezer (do store specialty flour in this compartment of the refrigerator to ensure longer life span) until this recipe popped up before my eyes. I had my doubts. I mean, will anything with buckwheat taste good?

And they are delicious. Perhaps it’s because of the amount of butter that they taste like butter cookies to me, masking a little of the buckwheat flavour. The author, Amanda Hesser of The Essential New York Times Cookbook, commented that these cookies have an engaging flavour and not too much sugar and are great with tea. I concur. Come to think of it, they actually taste quite like the digestive biscuits I used to adore.

Mid-week. Weekends are marching in!

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School’s starting!

I’m excited! School’s starting and that means time will fly past quickly and before we know it, it’s time to go back to the island!

Tmr is PSS’ parents’ orientation so I won’t be around to prepare lunch for da man. He has agreed to learn to cook one more dish and he learnt how to fry carrot cake! While we didn’t get to buy the pre-made radish cake, it is possible to make one yourself.

First, shred the radish

Steam the radish until it's translucent

Mix the steamed radish with rice flour and steam again

The rest of the ingredients (part of them)

Da man at work

Da man's version. Good job!

Yay! Now da man can cook one more dish, in addition to the fried rice. More to come? =p

4 Sept 2011

Today’s sermon by Senior Minister Gordon Hugenberger is just awesome. Been a while since I last heard such an impactful and refreshing message. Splendid! Worth listening a few more times.

One more week before PSIF starts. We had games today and it warmed the heart when we saw familiar faces again. Lord, these are the people you have chosen for us to cross paths. Please do a work in all of us and that we may leave Boston a changed person, one who knows the truth and yearns for You.

And I like the Vietnamese sandwiches ordered from 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches and Bubble Tea. At $3 each, they taste wonderful and are really filling.

66 Harrison Ave
(between Oxford Pl & Beach St)
Boston, MA 02111

Breaded Pork Cutlets with Parmesan Cheese

Chicken breast is originally intended to be used in this recipe. But the author, Amanda Hesser of The Essential New York Times Cookbook, suggested that pork and veal cutlets will do just fine and they’ll cook more quickly.

I gave it a try without doing the last step. Top it up with thin spaghetti in Alfredo sauce with mushrooms and chopped onions. It satisfied two hungry people all right.

 

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