21 September 2011

keeping it simple: kaya, garter stitch
(and a bit of mandarin)

So, as I think I've mentioned about a bazillion times to anyone who'll listen, Singapore is heaven if you're hungry. REALLY hungry.

It's been a major crossroads for so many cultures for such a long time that the diversity and quality of the food has to be seen to be believed. Not that the British colonial era seems to have left much of a lasting culinary impression mind you, with the possible exception of a fondness for high tea.

When we have foreign visitors we're always troubled by the following quandary: what is the shortest socially acceptable gap between meals, 'cos we've got a LOT of good eating to show you. Our best guests (and yup, since you ask, we pretty much do have a league table based on gluttony and gastric stamina) have prodigious appetites and don't mind putting on a couple of kilos... in one weekend.

I just started a great book by a lady who would, I think, understand our predicament (A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan). She left Singapore for the USA as a young journalist who couldn't cook. But when her grandmother passed away she realised that unless she picked up some skills from her aunties, she might never learn to cook the Singaporean food she loved. This book describes how she set about it.

Trouble is that Singaporean dishes are sophisticated, often using elaborate techniques and mysterious ingredients, so cooking anything local is (for me) quite a daunting prospect. But Cheryl explains her culinary successes and failures with great deal of humour, and suddenly I'm feeling a surge of misplaced confidence.

Kaya was one of her first challenges. A kind of coconutty, eggy curd, kaya is the cornerstone of a traditional local breakfast: a lightly boiled egg or two (the whites barely set) which you can douse with soy sauce, a white toast sandwich of butter and kaya, and some kopi or teh (super strong and liberally sweetened with condensed milk). The way Cheryl tells the story of her grandmother's kaya lesson makes it irresistable to me because she makes this infamous local delicacy sound so simple (famous last words). I can't wait to give it a try (watch this space...) and I'm certain there are going to be many more recipes through the book that I'll be itching to master before we leave Singapore.

a whole tray of deliciousness with virtually no positive nutritional value. yes that is butter, a whole slab of it

Oh, and another great thing? Cheryl has a delicious blog, so you can follow her here.

Another woman who has stunned me with simplicity this week is the pattern designer Veera Valimaki. I've made two of her Different Lines scarves over the past couple of months and I'm completely in love with the pattern, it's amazing. But now I've just started the Stripe Study Shawl and it's mind-boggling. I've been in awe with every row - how did she dream up such a simple pattern that, when completed, looks so striking (take a look at some of the finished pieces on Ravelry).

Both of the designs are simply garter stitch with a few M1s and W&Ts thrown in. Stripe Study is triangular with a chevron pattern, while Different Lines has straight fanned stripes and is sail-shaped.

Different Lines in Viola merino (colours Raven and Radioactive with one fuschia stripe)

So even if the only thing you'd ever knitted was a sweaty polyacrylic Mothers' Day pot holder in Primary school, then you could make these shawls (using YouTube for those few abbreviations). They would be the most amazing patterns for beginners, because the sense of achievement would be off the scale. And guess what, the amazing Miss Veera has a super gorgeous blog as well! So you can follow her here.

Start of a Stripe Study Shawl in Rohrspatz&Wollmeise merino superwash

So I concluded over the weekend that the most inspiring kind of cleverness comes from people who know how to break things down to their component parts. People who keep it simple. People like Cheryl and Veera.

And then, out of the blue, The Boss burst into song; Five green bottles, lustily and in Mandarin (while our taxi driver chuckled at the crazy ang moh kid in the back seat). After I'd picked my jaw up off the floor I had to reconsider. Complex cleverness can be breathtaking too... and more than a little humbling.

Linking in with the lovelies at Yarn Along.


  1. wow! what a fantastic post. i love your writing, your knitting and your book review. i love veera too and have the shawl queued also. yours is gorgeous. love the color on the new one too. very inspiring!

  2. Wonderful post :) That book sounds fascinating, I love reading cookery books as though they are novels, so books that incorporate someone's story along with recipes really appeal to me.

  3. I'm really interested in Singaporian (sp?) food - I've never had it but keep reading articles about your exact dilemma - do you deliver?! :)XOL

  4. My mouth is watering. I'm all for eating weekends in foreign cities! The shawls are beautiful. And I'm off to look at those blogs!

  5. Gorgeous shawl! I was just leafing through the ravelry pages and saw it....I might just have to make it!

  6. Ahhh shawls, now that spells Autumn to me too:-) Thanks for visiting and if you care to share that apple pudding recipe I would love it!

  7. My son is called Kaya - so I was very curious when I saw your title! I knew it was some sort of Asian spread also, I hope it's a nice one!! We didn't name him after it, though :)

  8. Love this post! You're an incredible writer with a fabulous sense of humor. That book sounds scrumptious, as does Singaporean food. I can't wait to see your hand at it. Those Veera scarves are amazing. I'd never come across her before until reading your blog; now I'm off to ravelry to find out more. Thanks!

  9. what a great post! i'm here to stay. great links and your shawl is lovely. i look forward to seeing more of your time in singapore too!

  10. Wow! Just look at all the lovely notes I woke up to this morning. I'm feeling genuinely warmed by all your kind comments, which is fitting because it's the coldest day of the year so far, 23*C! (How am I ever going to cope back in Scotland? 23*C is a lovely warm Summer day there!)

    So, just to let you know, yesterday was devoted to kaya-making... having slept on it, I'm still not entirely sure it was a success. More to follow!

  11. cool screens :):)

    Do you following me? I follow you :)

  12. After reading this post, I really must check out this book. Sounds like an interesting journey. I love the one fuschia strip that you incorporated into your Different Lines. It is so stunning! I am a few inches shy of finishing my Stripe Study, yay! Garter stitch stripes and short rows are such a great combination.

  13. Hi, welcome along!

    Those last few inches on the Stripe study must have murderously long rows - I look forward to seeing the final product!


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