27 January 2012

project 52: a display of remarkable incompetence

This week Darcy over at my3boybarians requires a self portrait for p52. Hmmm.

I dutifully set the scene - a nice white wall and a white countertop - intending to pose resting my chin on my hands or something (and feeling deeply uncomfortable about every move - posing for a selfie - what a weird thing to do). I put a stack of plates on the edge of the counter so that I could set the focus and check the lighting, and then I moved the plates out of the way, all ready to get into position...

Except that I must have unwittingly pressed the timer button already because the first shot is of me moving the plates! I took a few more afterwards, but they were all very awkward, self-conscious and badly framed. That first one kind of sums up the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Taking a picture of myself, pfff, what a hopeless nerd. With broken fingernails.

samsung nx10, 30mm pancake lens, ISO400, f/2.5, 1/15

project 52 p52 weekly photo challenge my3boybarians.com

24 January 2012

same old routine, this time in glorious technicolour

Another week, another cap-sleeved sweater (another two balls of Rowan purelife in pink granite!). It's all about pre-packing stash busting with the tried and tested patterns round these parts. But though the project is pretty much a repeat of a previous post, the photo is really exciting... can you tell this is an instagram using an iPhone!?

I KNOW!!! (Doesn't the instagram filter show up the texture beautifully by the way?) I've always been the person resolutely sticking with an ancient Nokia, you know the kind that texts and calls and does nothing else (and occasionally, not even those things). And I've always been more than happy with the bare essentials in my mobile life.

But my husband (feeling guilty about not having had a day off since December I think) surprised me and The Boss with customary hong bao (red packets) on Chinese New Year's morning. Hers had the traditional few dollars destined for the toy shop, and mine contained a new sim card for an iPhone 4S!

(Ok, admission time, I have no idea what the 4 or the S mean, but I assume it's significant so maybe you can help me out?)

So when I'm not scrolling through teeny screens in complete bewilderment (eek!) I'm reading The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht which my friend chose for our book club this month. I'm not very far in yet, but it is totally absorbing. However if I might be allowed to grumble about excessively long chapters again...

I am L-O-V-I-N-G  the colour coordinating buttons from Ginny over at Small things, aren't you! Also, I wanted to mention briefly how totally fantastic the Yarn Along community are - all the sincere encouragement, wonderful tips and sweet offers of help that came from my novice crochet post last week - truly, I was touched beyond belief. Thank you lovely people!

21 January 2012

gong xi fa cai!

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that very few Singaporeans resolve to lose weight on January 1st - the Gregorian New Year. There would be so little point, given that only three or four weeks later, Chinese New Year arrives with all its feasting, fireworks and general merriment.

At my friend's house last week, our pot of tea was accompanied by a dozen pineapple tarts, a whole box of Nyonya love letters (sweet wafer rolls), and soft sweet brown jelly cakes (kueh) coated with grated fresh coconut. Sublime, and entirely homemade by various friends and relatives. She waved her infuriatingly slender, elegant arm in the air and said "don't even think about holding back, it's New Year, resistance is futile!" Well, I didn't need to be told twice.

To give you a bit of the CNY atmosphere, here are some of our recent photos (do not adjust your screen, unbelievably, these red photos are straight out of camera!) Imagine music blaring at full-throttle, acrid smoke from barrels of roasting chestnuts, the taste of your takeaway siew bao as you amble along, surrounded by traders selling every imaginable food; cartloads of melon seeds, durian pastries, fried chicken feet, bak kwa, frog porridge, rambutan tea, salted preserved ducks... and of course, a multitude of the all-important pineapple tarts.

in case you were wondering, it's the year of the dragon!

Christmas decorations are for amateurs, THIS is decoration!

On the evening we were out taking all these photos, we tried a dish called ah balling - rice balls in peanut soup. I believe that it's actually a traditional mid-autumn festival dish but you seem to be able to get it at this time of year too. In fact a quick wiki search reveals that the spherical balls in the round bowl symbolise family togetherness, so perhaps that's why the stall was doing a roaring trade this week (a big element of lunar New Year is family reunion).

The reason it caught my eye is that, back in November, Dom from Belleau Kitchen challenged all his Random Recipe disciples to share a vegetarian soup recipe. I was convinced that someone in that clever bunch would come up with a sweet soup, but alas, it was not to be. Well, ah balling is a genuine and authentic sweet soup and really easy to make. So after eating it at the nightmarket, I did my usual: search for at least half a dozen recipes on line, and then combine all the most sensible elements to make my own version.
 ah balling
makes enough for about 6-8 people

a big packet of peanuts (NOT salted) about 200g but no need for accuracy
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
250ml soy milk
100g caster sugar
frozen tang yuan or mochi (glutinous rice balls, we like the ones filled with peanut best)
  • soak the peanuts in a bowl of water with the bicarb (apparently this helps to soften them) for at least two or three hours
  • wash the peanuts a few times in a sieve, chop very roughly (you still want big bits) and put them in a pan of boiling water - about a litre
  • simmer for a couple more hours with the lid at a tilt, the peanuts need to be soft and the soup will be cloudy
  • stir in the sugar and soy milk and bring back to the boil
  • drop your frozen mochi into the soup, when they rise to the surface after a couple of minutes, they're ready (we find two or three per person to be enough - the five per bowl at the night market beached us!) Sprinkle in some crushed peanuts for a bit of crunch.

It's sweet and hot and peanuty, but honestly, I don't think this will become a regular family staple. You never know though, perhaps next CNY in a frosty city far, far away, I'll feel like hanging up my red decorations and hosting a nostalgic Singaporean supper. This would make an authentic and unique dessert and, if served one rice ball per person in tiny porcelain bowls with Chinese spoons, I think it could actually be quite elegant... providing I don't unwittingly buy fluorescent pink rice balls next time!!!

GONG XI FA CAI lovely readers!

20 January 2012

project 52: i dreamed a dream

I think I share a dream with quite a lot of other people. That's the only plausible explanation for the success of the BBC's Dragons' Den. It's the fantasy of that lightbulb moment, where a normobod like you or me has flash of divine inspiration to create something so fantastic that the human race won't know how they ever managed without it.

It's always the simplest ideas that strike me as real genius. Taking the purest of concepts and combining it with a brainwave to create a product that makes life just that little bit easier, that little bit more accessible, that little bit more affordable. So for Project 52 this week, I looked around my apartment to see if I could find an example of that.

I chose my weights because I think they are genius with a capital G. A set of bog-standard handweights can be quite pricey, and I'm not a dedicated enough gym bunny to justify buying them. So imagine my delight on finding this brilliant product in the $2 shop!

Samsung NX10, ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/10s, against the light of a bright window.
Photoshopping limited to removing some tiny bobbles from the blanket using the healing tool.

A litre of water weighs 1 kg, as all good secondary school students will know. So, you take that gem of knowledge and use it to make 1 litre water bottles in the shape of handweights. G E N I U S!

Okay, okay, so I acknowledge that the inventors of this particular piece of artistry may not exactly change the world, but the clarity of the idea makes me smile every time. I'd just love to think up something as cool as this one day. And they're photogenic too, with a dreamy sort of quality, don't you think?!

project 52 p52 weekly photo challenge my3boybarians.com

18 January 2012

the hooked end of the learning curve

I long for one of these blankets. Isn't it the most beautiful thing you ever saw? Presumably it's okay to long, no, make that lust for something if you plan to make it yourself? Minor hitch though. I can't crochet. So I'm pretty far from obtaining said blanket.

But one quiet evening last week, I dug out the tail end of a ball of wool and decided it was time to crack open one of my Christmas books. Kirstie's Homemade Home contains two pages of diagrams showing you how to do something mysterious called "double crochet", which Kirstie assures the reader is the easiest and most durable type. It seemed like as good a starting place as any.

Four hours later, having cast on for about the billionth time, I managed to make a swatch of fabric that vaguely approximated crochet and that, crucially, wasn't triangular (I couldn't seem to turn rows without decreasing at each end... sometimes more). But I have no idea if this is what double crochet is supposed to actually look like!

Don't worry, I haven't squandered next month's rent on my own bodyweight in grey Madeline Tosh yarn just yet, as I think it's safe to say that a Granny-stripe blanket is still a fairly remote fantasy!

Linking up with the lovely Yarn Alongers.

Doesn't Ginny's new button in the teal shade just match my crochet perfectly?!

13 January 2012

project 52: made with love

If it's not too dramatic for a Friday morning in January, my heart's actually breaking. Seriously. Pretty much chest pain. Almost.

When we moved to this wonderful country, we were delighted that the local preschool employed a creative attitude. But nearly two years later, when I need to start planning/rationalising/streamlining for our next move, we have an entire wardrobe full of "creative attitude". And it doesn't help that, at said preschool, they refer to every piece as an "artwork". Talk about guilt trip.

Regarding this week's p52 theme, Made with love, I'm not under the illusion that my daughter made all these artworks out of love for me, for her teacher, or indeed for for anyone. But boy does she have a passion for making them! So (without wanting to sound like too much of a luvvy) I guess they're made with love for the creative process dah-ling (air kiss, air kiss).

Throwing any of them away feels like a betrayal that's almost certain to crop up on the therapist's couch in twenty years time. But I can't keep it all... can I?  

Can I? (remember, chest pain...)

No don't tempt me, I'm resolute: I can't keep it all. Trouble is, I went to art school for a while here too, and I haven't even started on my boxes full of drawing exercises. January is going to be a loooong month.

Samsung nx10, ISO1600, f22, 1/60s. Cropped in Photoshop, contrast adjusted using s-curve, 50% smart sharpen.
I forgot that I'd last used my camera on ISO1600 and not turning that down was a mistake I think.

Just a small sample of the output! I love the patterns it all makes, and if it's not too insulting to her, it kind of reminds me of the amazing textile seascapes by this wonderful artist! Seriously, look what happens with the palette knife filter in Photoshop, it becomes a Hebridean seascape! (I'm thoroughly enjoying my Photoshop course, can you tell?!)

project 52 p52 weekly photo challenge my3boybarians.com


11 January 2012

it's the final countdown

Now that all the New Year shenanigans are out of the way (well, except that we're only just warming up for Chinese New Year, more on that in a week or two!) we're on the countdown to our moving home date. Not that we have an actual date yet, but if there's one thing we've learned from our stay in Singapore, it's how to cope with not knowing whether we're coming or going. Literally.

The move is daunting and invigorating in equal measure. How will I ever inventory all our belongings for the container ship? How will we survive the British weather? How will Pontian wonton mee deprivation feel? Will the tenants have pruned my raspberries? (Or will I get to enjoy my favourite frosty-morning, steaming-cuppa, saturday job of the whole year - eeek! I can't wait!)

In addition, it means that all the little scarves and sweaters I'm making for The Boss will soon be in actual daily use (as opposed to may-be-useful-at-some-ill-defined-time-in-the-future-when-it-may-or-may-not-still-fit, a concise description for everything else I've made over the past two years). I wonder if all my little masterpieces will stand up to the rigours of a Scottish spring?

My project this week is inspired by Yarn Along hostess Ginny in a multitude of ways. I loved her daughters' cap-sleeved sweaters so much that I made three in the run up to Christmas for various little girls. Last week, I admired Ginny's striped sweater for another of her children so I decided to combine the two concepts - a striped cap-sleeved sweater. And the bonus is that it's going to be a great stash-buster, using up three lone balls of cashmerino which, luckily, look really pretty together.

I'm reading next to nothing at the moment as I've run out of books and don't want to buy too many more before the packing begins (especially because books are at least twice the price here). I'm dipping in and out of the Guardian Review Book of Short Stories, which I thought was a slightly niche Christmas gift (and if I may dare to utter the ungrateful words: from the cover design and binding it looks like there's an outside chance it was a freebie...) but is redeemed by being totally charming. And frankly, since we're on the topic of curious gifts, nothing beats the gift-wrapped packet of plastic ring-binder pockets. And guess what? I got both of the aforementioned from the same person! (What do I say in the thank you card?) Oh yes chums, where peculiar presents are concerned I'm the self-appointed winner this year.

So while you picture me basking in the glory of that accolade, we're off to indulge in the noisy, raucous, crimson and gilt over-excitement that is the run-up to the year of the dragon. Anything to escape the reality of imminent migration...

09 January 2012

it's been Wan week...

For the uninitiated, Chef Wan is the TV food king round our neck of the woods. Always cheerful, exuberant and energetic, Malaysian and other South-East Asian dishes are clearly his defining passion. If you're an eagle-eyed Rick Stein fan, you might remember Chef Wan from a hilarious cooking lesson in the Far Eastern Odyssey series, in which I think I remember Rick Stein describing him as "Malaysia's Delia and Jamie combined", or something to that effect.

I got a set of mini Chef Wan cookbooks for Christmas so when Dom, our gracious Random Recipe host, challenged us to cook something randomly from our newest cookbooks I immediately began salivating over all the exotic possibilities: asam chicken, beef rendang, mutton curry... chickity China the Chinese chicken, have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin' (sorry, can NOT get that song out of my head, and now you won't be able to either).

Alas, it was not to be. We randomly picked Spiced Pumpkin Muffins, and one Wan week into the New Year, me and The Boss whiled away a rainy Singapore afternoon making them. And I must say, they're very delicious and a lot like carrot cake, as you might imagine (but not in the least like a Singaporean carrot cake which is a very different kettle of ill-chosen metaphors altogether). You roast and mash the pumpkin before making something very similar to a basic (Western) carrot cake batter and throw in the pumpkin and half a cup of chopped walnuts at the end. Simples. But perhaps not as simple as an actual carrot cake.

Now I'm off to drool over the photos of curries and fried food on the other pages to decide what to make next.

this was taken on a plain white countertop, but it looks all cool and superimposed!
i'm starting to love the flash on my camera, after giving it a really hard time for ages

05 January 2012

project 52: resolution

We've got these mugs. We've had them since we first moved in together, you must know the ones, that Penguin book cover range. This week we had a friend staying. He's a writer and he started to talk about the book title on his mug of tea. Gradually it dawned on me that owning these mugs is totally phoney, because I've never read any of the books that they illustrate. We agreed that to source and read them is as good a New Year's resolution as any.

They are: Persuasion by Jane Austin, Country Life by H.E. Bates, Together by Norman Douglas, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Traveller from Tokyo by John Morris, and Civilisation by Clive Bell. The real challenge is going to be finding copies of some of them.

So I photographed them for Darcy's Project 52 photo challenge (click the button below), which is this week inpired by the word "resolution". I'm still figuring out my way around my camera, and have only just enrolled in a Photoshop course, so I know this could be better, but perhaps taking part in Project 52 will help me to progress in 2012.

I'd like to try and make notes about the photos I post too, so that if any of Darcy's followers can tell me the crashing errors I'm making with my camera or in Photoshop, they might let me know. This was taken on my Samsung NX10 with 50-200mm zoom lens. ISO 1600,  f/7.1,  1/8. Using flash, indoors, in direct overhead halogen lighting (nice huh?). I tweaked the image by adjusting the curves graph a wee smidge, having sampled the background colour. If that last bit makes no sense, it's because I'm only on week one of the Photoshop course... can you tell?!

Despite the horrible lighting, I like the way the image appears quite serene and floaty. And for some reason, my little girl loves this photo and keeps asking if we can make the cup flower again!

project 52 p52 weekly photo challenge my3boybarians.com

02 January 2012

gently resolute

Much of the past couple of weeks has been spent in the air. A significant portion of that time was spent at 35000 feet with a four year old expelling a winter virus caught the previous week from her adoring grandfather... but the less said about that the better. On the 27th of December, somewhere high above the North of England, looking down onto the sunny side of fluffy clouds that disguised the dreich grey of their underbellies, I thought of a word that is to become my resolution for the new year: gentle.

I was thinking about some of the nicest people I know, the ones I really admire, and realised that they could all be described as gentle. Whereas I, at best, could be described as quite argumentative and prone to dramatics.

So, instead of dietary restrictions, unrealistic budgets, or vows to stop snapping at my mother-in-law this year, I resolve to be gentle. I aim to be gentler on my digestive system, gentler on my wallet, gentler on my carbon footprint, and gentler in my manner. Despite being unquantifiable, it's quite an effective one-word mantra, and thinking of it has forced me to make some different choices already.

In addition I resolve to reflect more often on one of my favourite quotes. If you've spent much time in Scotland you might think this is overused, printed as it is on virtually every piece of "mock"intosh memorabilia. But Charles Rennie Mackintosh has always been a big inspiration in my family of architects and artists. My Dad's beautiful set of Mackintosh flower prints quietly line my stairway at home where, rather fittingly, no guests ever notice them. At the turn of the last century he was quoted as saying:
"There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfection of the mere stylist."
I think he was referring to geometry, but I've always thought of his quote in terms of consumerism. Instead of coveting brand name goodies, preened Chelsea show gardens, or the interiors of glossy magazine spreads, I want to make more honest errors in 2012, in my oven, in my garden and in my home.

In this spirit, I received two books at Christmas that inspire me to give more stuff a go, Kirstie Allsopp's Homemade Home and the Liberty Book of Home Sewing. I'd really like to get cracking on some of the projects within but I know my resolve will falter in the hustle bustle of every day life. So I'm on the search for a linky/blog-a-long/sew-a-long group using either of these books, in the hope that it will prompt me into action. I haven't found anything so far, but if you know of one, please please do let me know.

Happy New Year, here's to a gentle one.

an unfinished (unresolved?) Christmas scarf in progress, and the beautiful Liberty Book of Home Sewing

Linking up here in the hope that lovely Ginny's Wednesday Yarn Along continues in 2012... where would blogland be without it?
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