Totoro cake

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This is one celebration cake which I’m pleased with because it is simple to make but pleasant to look at. A friend had asked me to bake a banana cake and decorate it with characters with Totoro and friends. Since she has two toy figurines already, I would only need to make the other two using fondant.

I love decorating a whole cake because it saves the trouble of slicing the cake into layers and filling them with buttercream. Covering them with buttercream and then fondant can sometimes result in a messy appearance. Or perhaps my skill is not there yet.

To bake the banana cake, I used Joanne Chang’s recipe and reduced the amount of sugar since I feel that the sweetness in the bananas is sufficient. The original recipe named it a bread but I think it makes a good cake. The key thing is to use very ripe bananas and sometimes I prefer to use pecan nuts over walnuts but both are good. This recipe fits a 7″ by 3″ round pan very well.

Ingredients (source)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose f lour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3 1/2 very ripe, medium bananas, peeled and mashed (1 1/3 cups mashed)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped

Directions:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (If you use a handheld mixer, this same step will take about 8 minutes.)

3. On low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Don’t pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn’t deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding it should take about 1 minute. Add the bananas, crème fraiche, and vanilla and continue to mix on low speed just until combined.

4. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and the nuts just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible, and the nuts should be evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

5. Bake for 1 to 1 1⁄4 hours, or until golden brown on top and the center springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, and then pop it out of the pan to finish cooling.

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6. The banana bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or, it can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks; thaw overnight at room temperature for serving.

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Lovely, isn’t it? And from past experience, I find the cake to be more delicious when you wait it out for the next day to consume.

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To cover the sides of the cake, I cut out stripes of yellow and frilled them before adding them unto the cake.

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Another type of cake design is to just use cupcakes and create a garden with flowers and bees. I must say the characters are really cute!

CO-OP ’15 #1

Our weekly playdate resumed in 2015 with the first session just over. I promised to dutifully record every session so that I could track the children’s progress.

For the first few sessions, the moms have agreed to go with the Chinese New Year theme since the festival is just round the corner. It would be fun having them learn the words of the greetings and related items together as a group.

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Mummy Ade led us to sing a new ‘Welcome’ song and started introducing the CNY items such as couplets, red packets, dragon and lanterns. She even prepared a worksheet for the little ones to match the pictures to the words. Hah, she’s very much a teacher at heart!

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The beauty of our sessions is that the children are accompanied by their mums and the latter could guide the young ones into working on the tasks and at the same time, reinforce some of the learning.

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Following that, I read the book ‘Lanterns and Firecracks – A Chinese New Year Story’. It’s really a treat to see the children automatically sat before me as I started to read the book aloud. The kids knew what to expect!

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After the story, Mommy E got us to work on making a craft. Obviously, the children won’t be able to work on it themselves but I must say they did a good job in pasting the straws on.

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Proud of their work!

imageThis time round, we managed to take a decent photo off the kids. Say cheese!

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Next up, Mommy Tri gave the kids Chinese lessons by sharing with them the names of the items commonly associated with CNY. The children were all ears. Awesome job! We should have more Chinese lessons!

imageThe children learnt to ask for red packets respectfully. But I think Faith only knows how to utter ‘Gong Xi! Gong Xi!’ properly.

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Practical life segment includes matching of cards, picking up of pom pom balls with tongs, working with shapes, rolling balls with playdoh and cutting.

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We also celebrated our first birthday for the year. Belle turned 2YO! Yay!

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A simple totoro-themed cupcakes for the children but I have them packed into boxes because it’s too near to dinner time and I didn’t want to spoil the appetite of the kids! So, this is our first session. The kids definitely needed time to warm up since they have not met up for a month. That’s a long time for young people! Hopefully they would enjoy themselves more with subsequent co-ops.

15 things to do differently in 2015

I love making lists and resolutions. Each year, I take the last few days of December, reflect and note down what I want to achieve the following year. I find that life gets so busy that you just go with the flow and without you realizing, the year’s over.

When I hit the big 3, I bothered to list down 30 stuff that I want to do within that year but I stopped making lists or resolutions after Faith turned one year old because I simply couldn’t find the time to do so anymore. My last post for the 30 list is here. So, when Rachel of Catch 40 Winks suggested this blog train earlier in the year, I gladly accepted doing the blog post.

So, here’s my 15 things that I will do differently in 2015 in no order of preference.

:: Record Faith’s developmental progress faithfully

I’ve been real slack in this area. Once Faith turns one year old, this mommy slowed down and got lazy and forgot to record her milestones. So, this year, I hope to do so every 2 months.

:: Blog about each playdate

We started the playdate/co-op in March last year and we are so happy that a group of mummies decided to continue with it. This year, I want to record every session on this platform as a form of resource for others to use. It’s also heartwarming to trace how the children progress as the months go by.

:: Catch up with friends regularly

I have been focusing a lot on family (in-laws included) since Faith was born and sometimes I feel that I have neglected my friends.  On rare occasions, I would meet up with the closer ones and realised I so missed those conversations and laughter that we have had. This year, I hope to connect with them again. Friendship takes time and effort to blossom as with any other relationship and I shouldn’t take them for granted.

:: Read and review 10 books

Oh, reading! I read a lot of cookbooks and children’s books but I don’t want to count them in. What I’m referring to books are those that nourish the soul. Besides the Bible, I hope to read more and pen some thoughts about the books that I have read.

:: Try out new recipes and blog about them

So, I have dishes that I am familiar with and more often than not, I would prepare those for meals. It can get boring obviously and thankfully, the hubs didn’t complain. But I do find it less than exciting when I have to cook the same dishes again and again. This year, I would cook more new dishes and hopefully blog about some of them.

:: Climb stairs

Busy, busy, busy. Where to find the time to exercise? To solve that problem (excuse), I would not take the lift but climb the stairs whenever Faith is not with me.

:: Couple time once a fortnight

I know couple time is so important and we are encouraged to have time together once a week or so. But I regret to share that the hubs and I spent only about 5 times last year together sans Faith. So sad, right? It takes effort, more from me, to want to go out without the little one. I think the hubs is more than happy to spend time with me. So, I need to let go and try to spend more time with the man this year. Once a fortnight…. hopefully, this is achievable!

:: Do my BSF home work dutifully every day and not attempt it at the last hour

This year is my third year with Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) and to be honest, most of the time, I did my homework rather last minute. This year, I resolve to do it daily to allow God’s word to speak to me. It’s helpful now that I have about 2 hours of quiet time when Faith is in school so that I could really meditate on His word.

:: Be consistent with family devotion with Faith

I fail as a Christian mother if I have not brought Faith up with Christian values and knowledge about her saviour, Jesus Christ. Last year, I tried to have devotion with her but it is not consistent and it lacked structure. This year, our family is going to be more deliberate about it and have family devotions using resources from BSF and the like.

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:: Turn in by 10.30pm

I used to turn in around 9pm when I was working but now with a kid, I tend to stay up late because after Faith falls asleep, that is really the time that I could do my own stuff. But I also know that sleeping late is not good for my body so I would turn in by 10.30pm from now on!

:: Run or brisk walk for 30 minutes at least once a week

Exercising is still something I hope to do even if I’m busy because I see the benefits it gives. I hope to run/ brisk walk and to drag the hubs along. I always feel uplifted after a run so that should continue!

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:: Drink at least 2 litres of water daily. Coffee is not counted

Drinking water helps flush the toxins in our body. I know this theory but I don’t always act on it. This year, I resolve to drink at least 2 litres of water daily. Any form of sugared water is not counted.

:: Document ten bento boxes

I started making Bentos this year and I find much joy in doing so even though it takes up time. I like the surprised look on Faith whenever I open the cover of the bento and I will blog about 10 Bento boxes that I’ve made this year.

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:: Learn to make five Peranakan dishes

Okay, I always cannot fulfil this goal because I really find it difficult to understand the spices that are used in Peranakan dishes. I don’t know how they work together to bring out the flavour. I grew up with Cantonese cuisine and I know how each condiment or sauce works and blends with one another but for Peranakan dishes, I would need more help in it. Hopefully, I could master 5 dishes by this year!

:: Go on hikes

I love hiking but that activity came to a complete stop after Faith was born. I want to bring the family close to nature and this year, I want to attempt hiking again… erm locally for a start.
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10962046_10153541976339688_1593194046_nSo, there you go, my 15 in 2015. What will you do differently this year? For more inspiration, click on the badge above to see what other mommy bloggers have planned for themselves. Next on the blog train is Pauline, a mother-of-two, a home cook, a baker and a crafter. She has been a SAHM for almost 7 years now and she’s still enjoying every minute of being one. Days with the children, to her, are never dull and having a hobby or something interesting to be kept busy with makes life so much more easier. Beyond her interest in cooking, baking and sewing, blogging keeps her sane as she shares with many like-minded moms about her struggles, moments of pride and everything in between, so visit her blog tomorrow to find out more! Check out her food and craft blog too!

Lunching with a star

How often do you get to lunch with a celebrity? The probability for normal folks like me would be terribly low but yesterday, I had the privilege to have lunch with a Local TV celebrity and to make it even special, she prepared the lunch all by herself. How awesome is that?

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She is none other than Wong Lilin, a lady whom I have taken a liking to since she took to the screen and one whom I have respect for. In fact, she is the one who inspired me to take up triathlon. Then, as a single, I was thinking that if she, as a mom, could find the time to lead a healthy lifestyle and keep fit and to train for triathlons, then surely I would be able to do it too. Her loopz band had also kept me company during the cold winter in Boston when running outdoors was too great a challenge for me. Brrr….

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The dish that got me lunch!

I’m thankful to Jenn who tagged me to participate in a contest jointly organised by Lilin and De Dietrich Asia. All we needed to do was to whip up a whole foods dish and post it on IG. I submitted mine and was really elated when I was among the fifteen selected.

Wong Lilin greeted us warmly as we entered the De Dietrich kitchen though she was busy preparing lunch for us. My first thought was, “Wow! She’s so unassuming! No airs!” Before this, I was a little tensed since I would be meeting a star but hey, she was so hospitable it felt as if I was just going for a gathering with my mommy friends.

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Meeting Lilin face-to-face and you will realize that she looks even prettier in person. How does she maintain herself so well as a working mom? She shared that she just got to choose what she needs to do (important areas to her) and to do those areas well. She recognizes that she can’t do it all (but how many of us, moms, always set such expectations for ourselves?) and even at times when she fumbles, she will pick herself and try again. That’s no condemnation and I thought that’s loving oneself! Oh, how we need that!

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This is the appetizer which is spinach dip. I love it. So simple to make and yet so nutritious! I must make it one day!

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For the mains, she made polenta (better alternative to mashed potatoes), slow braised beef cheek and sautéed mushrooms.

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Oh, by the way, she shared that she only put on make-up when she turned 40 and she looked incredibly tall with her 3-inch high heel shoes, making me look so short. :p

We talked about motherhood, parenting, healthy diet and exercise, topics that I’m interested in. It’s evident that her kids are most important in her lives as she would mention them every now and then. When asked how her children learn to eat such healthy stuff, she merely said that they would have to see her enjoying the food. It boils down to walking the talk. And how does she keep her body in such good condition, it’s all about striking a balance.

Lilin doesn’t deny herself of any food but she also knows that there are certain types of food that is best avoided or to be consumed little. Acting on this knowledge helps. Many of us know a lot about food consumption and eating in moderation but when it comes to the real act, we just couldn’t do a good job. Is it true in your case?

The affable and humble star shared that her body condition is at its worst and we were all wondering how that is possible?? She looks really good! I think she must be kidding!

One of the reasons for the invitation to lunch with her is to find out what we would like to see on her IG or FB. She has come to realise that social media is a powerful platform to say, spread a message and in her case, living healthily. The mothers among us (including me) love to see her posts about her children, parenting and obviously her healthy diet since we want our kids to grow up with good food too.

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What about you? What would you like to see on her IG? 🙂

Follow her on IG: lilinwong

Friday Flips: Chinese New Year related books

Two more weeks to Chinese New Year (CNY)! Are you busy spring cleaning your homes or spending time baking those delicious pineapple tarts?

For me, I’ve been trying to share as many stories on CNY as possible to Faith, as well as items related to the festival, like hong bao (red packets), lanterns and Chinese greetings.

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The following are some books that I find are relevant to the festival and suitable for toddlers. They are found in our local libraries.

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Location: Junior Lending Picture Book
Call number: English LIN

imageThough this is a book on colours, there is information such as dragon, drum and firecrackers which you can share with your child.

Location : Junior Lending Picture Book
Call number: English THO

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This is a book on numbers but provides a little information on CNY. I thought it is suitable for Faith who is learning about numbers now.

Call number: English THO

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Since this his page talks about the Chinese greetings, I got Faith to work on some craft and to learn this new Chinese word.

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imageThis is a complete story on the Chinese New Year and it could be pretty long for a toddler to sit through. It’s still good to read to them.

Call number: English ZUC

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 Call number: English KAT

imageI don’t recall having fortune cookies as part of the CNY tradition and I only came to know about it when I was overseas for a while. This book makes me want to bake some fortune cookies too. Good to teach the different days of the week towards the end of the story.

Call number: English BIT

I’m pretty sure there is a whole lot more collection of storybooks that touches on the CNY theme. Do you have any to add?

Linking up with

Growing with the Tans

Frozen themed chocolate cupcakes

Frozen is still very much a popular theme for birthday cakes! Just recently, I did some Frozen toppers for the cupcakes at the requests of my friend and I’m still wondering when this craze will be over.

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A few days before the collection day, I made the toppers and it took me about 1.5 hours to do just the Olaf and the snowflakes! I must be taking my own sweet time! How frustrating!

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I baked some some vanilla and chocolate cupcakes for this batch and top each cupcakes with Italian meringue buttercream. Would love to add in a scoop of jam or ganache in the cupcakes but decided against anything too fanciful for the time being.

Chocolate cupcakes ( yields about 18 cupcakes)

80g unsalted butter, at room temperature

250g caster sugar

200g plain flour, sifted

40g Cocoa powder, sifted

1 tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

240ml buttermilk (I add 1tbsp of vinegar to 240ml of milk and let stand for 5 minutes)

2 large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line the cupcake tin with cases

2. In a mixer bowl, place the butter, sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and beat on low speed until all are fully mixed and the texture resembles breadcrumbs.

3. In a bowl, pour the milk and add in the eggs. Then whisk the two together until properly mixed.

4. Pour 3/4 of the milk-egg mixture into the dry ingredients and beat on low speed until combined.

5. Raise the speed to medium and continue to beat until the mixture is smooth and thickens. Scrap down the sides of the mixer bowl regularly to ensure proper mixing.

6. Pour the remaining 1/4 milk-egg mixture into the batter and continue to beat on medium, until all the ingredients are fully mixed and the batter is smooth.

7. Spoon the batter into the cases until 2/3 full and bake for about 20 minutes, until the batter is risen and spring back when touched.

8. Leave the cupcakes to cool a little before removing them from the tin.

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I pipe roses onto the cupcakes using tip 1M.

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For a few of the cupcakes that are to be decorated with the snowflakes, I sprinkled some sugar on it. The sprinklers are just brown sugar + a little royal blue colouring.

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And that’s it! Of the three characters, I think Olaf looks more like himself whereas the other two characters look like erm… ordinary girls?

Goodness & satisfaction in home-cooked food

I grew up with home-cooked food. My mother, a very busy working mom herself, made sure that the members in her household were well-fed with nutritious food. Eating out was rare and a treat in itself but we seldom craved for food sold outside since hers was simply scrumptious. Her Cantonese cuisine was always prepared with much care and love (no doubt) and because of her tireless effort in providing meals that nourished the souls throughout our growing-up years, all of us (my siblings and I) are influenced by her to provide home-cooked food for our family.

I didn’t say it is easy, by the way, to always prepare meals. There is much to do – grocery, food preparation, cooking, washing up – and such work becomes a chore when you have a toddler always vying for attention as you do the above. Preparing fuss-free yet nutritious meals is the way to go and I realized that planning meals for the whole week helps a lot in terms of doing the grocery and resisting the temptation to eat out.

Last year, most of my meals were prepared in an ad-hoc manner and the meals got repeated (read ‘boring’) and this year, I resolve to serve more varieties on the dining table!

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I always have two things prepared and kept in the fridge – chicken broth and teriyaki sauce. Both are often used in the meals that I prepare and they are easy to make. Say, this dish for example, it is couscous that is simmered in chicken broth. I didn’t want to use the spices as the little one may not like the taste of it. Throw in bunashimeiji (brown beech) mushrooms and baby spinach and topped with salmon that is pan-fried with teriyaki sauce and you’ve got a wholesome and quick-fix meal.

Homemade teriyaki sauce: 2 1/2 tbsp sugar + 3 tbsp soy sauce + 90ml sake

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My current craze is Japanese cuisine simply because the dishes are easy to prepare and healthier. Okayo-don, a one-dish meal can be done up in minutes. Just combine chicken broth, water, soy sauce and sugar in a saucepan. Add the chicken and onion and bring to a simmer over high heat until the chicken is just cooked through. Then pour in the beaten egg slowly until it’s just a little runny and ladle the egg and chicken mixture over the Japanese rice and that’s your meal! Easy?

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There are times, of course, that I would take extra effort in preparing my meals. This bento (salmon rice roll, rolled omelette, boiled French beans, prawns and tofu) took 2 hours to prepare but it was all worth it when Faith finished up the whole lot of it, leaving just a few French beans and tofu for me. It’s her way of telling me that the food’s good for her! And that’s good enough for me!

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Once in a while, I would go the extra mile to cook something that da man likes such as baked pork chops with fried rice. Usually, this would not be on my list to cook since this involves frying and that means I have to clean the kitchen really thoroughly. I did really want to give this dish up until I realized that I have already bought the pork loin chops and they were sitting in the fridge, waiting to be pan-fried. Oh well…

These have been my collection of food prepared this week and I’m excited to begin the coming week with new dishes again.

What are you cooking this week? 🙂