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A Fresh Start

So 2013 has gone by in a flash, and we are already hurtling towards the end of the second week of 2014. That’s two weeks down from the fifty-two we have in a year, and we all know that time isn’t quite a patient fellow, for it waits for no man. Before we know it, #52 would outstrip us by a mile and we would be so busy catching our breaths that we wouldn’t know what hit us in 2014. Ahh, pause, play, and repeat, I’m not sure about you but that is the story of my every year.

Perhaps, there is something about crossing over to the wrong right side of 30s. Perhaps, it’s got to do with me being a mother. Perhaps, I’m just a little wiser than before. But this year, I’d like to do something different.

I’d like to make the every day count.

I don’t mean that I’d keep myself busy with the grandest plans every second of the day. And I don’t mean that I’d go climbing Mt Everest or sky-diving every chance I get to do so. Hell no, that would be completely exhausting, and unrealistic for a penguin like me. But I mean to say that I hope to work and rest meaningfully.

I’d like to keep my new hobbies sustainable – baking, plating/styling, writing, mastering western calligraphy. And whilst I would love to be recognised on a more professional level for these skills at some point, I would like to, even more so, soak up the lessons that come with these interests. I don’t mean making perfect cakes, creating the most beautiful dessert tables, penning the most illustrative thoughts, and nailing the perfect swells and hairlines (well yes, maybe I do want to strive towards achieving those things because that is the basis of self-improvement), but I want to learn patience and perseverance, to see beauty in imperfection, and I most certainly want to learn the art of letting go.

If you know me well enough in person, you’d realise how much of a pain in the ass I am. I see flaws in everything I work on. When something goes wrong, I am the first to blame…myself. No praise can make me feel like I have done a good job, because there isn’t such a thing as a good job, there is only the perfect masterpiece. And the biggest quirk is, I see perfection in what others have achieved, but not when I look at what I have done. A very strange double-edged sword, if you will, but yeap, that’s me you’re talking about.

It all stems from not being able to let go. Whilst this kink in my personality drives me to give my very best in anything I embark on and helped me to excel in most things that I have undertaken, it has blindsided me more than I care to admit. I get so caught up in the details, that I forget to step back and admire the big picture. I missed the opportunities to smile and laugh at the right moments, right being the ones that I should be sharing with the most important people in my life, and I realise now that this drive for perfection is also my greatest downfall.

I’d like to wear this down a little, and just be a little careless, care-less, if you know what I mean, so that I can enjoy the every day more and worry less about how things will turn out. And when I rest, I’d like to rest without guilt. I am trying to subscribe to the idea that it is alright to be idle for the sake of being idle, because we all need a little balance in our lives. Not to sound morbid, but it’s not like we’re going to be taking beautiful bakes, perfect penmanship and a fabulously-packed schedule to the grave; I sure hope to take memories with me instead, and yes, those imperfect moments often make the best of life’s snapshots. You know, like the smash cake I made that Faith DIDN’T smash on her first birthday, and the moment when hubby and I forgot to sign on the ROM register after exchanging our vows AND the first kiss as a married couple, even though I had everything planned to the nano-scale (and oh goodness, we had to do the ‘You may kiss the bride again’ again, awkward much!), and the browned butter cupcakes that I made that weren’t what I imagined them to be but were appreciated by my friends, Mag and Evonne, anyway. Little things like that that make me slightly uncomfortable, but oh-so-glad to be throwing my head back in laughter over.

The art of letting go. It’s not easy but I think acknowledging this makes for a fresh start. Now, onto the third week.

Let’s go.

(Case-in-point below: There are so many flaws that I can point out on the cake AND the photo, but I’m not gonna, because I know I enjoyed making this for my family for our epic Christmas dinner party!)

201401 Devil's food cake with salted caramel cream cheese buttercream and dark chocolate glaze

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It’s All Good, Mama

I am not a great mother. I am too selfish to be one. I often complain about the things I have to do. I lose my temper at times and run out of patience all too often. Goodness gracious me, I even entertain thoughts of running away from all this when things get too much to bear. All this coming from a woman who longed for a child, who has chosen to be a mother. I am not proud.

When we were planning for a baby, I wanted to be the mother to my child, like my Mama was to me. She took care of us all by herself, had no help and gave everything up for us. In spite of the challenges, she loved us unconditionally and never once vented her frustrations (even if she felt any) on us. My father had to work hard as the sole breadwinner, and my mother managed somehow. I didn’t know how she did it, but she was and still is a strong, selfless, deeply loving woman, and I wanted to be just that. I thought I could be.

I thought wrong.

Weeks into being a new mother, I couldn’t quite keep up. The fragmented sleep, the sudden lack of freedom, the prioritising of my daughter’s needs before mine, these almost did me in. I hated mothering the very being I love most…oh, the painful irony. That quickly gave way to despair, as I realised that I wasn’t cut out to be the parent I wanted to be.

Almost nine months on, I still doubt myself. I can’t go through what I set out to do. I still lose it when I am frustrated. And I get frustrated, too easily, one too many times. I hate myself for that. I didn’t expect to hit the bump on the road and NOT go over it; after all, my can-do personality has helped me emerge largely unscathed from most of the trying times in my life? Why can’t I stop whinging, suck it up and get on with things? Surely I know that parenting is hard work and that there are no two ways about it?

Yet, Faith grows, so beautifully. She is happy, healthy and brings so much joy to everyone around her. Damn, she makes me look good as a mother but you and I know that I haven’t done much to raise such a delightful, loveable bub. She just is. Yes, I cry in frustration when I feel breathless from keeping up with her needs, but oh, she makes me smile through my tears. I suppose I have done something right along the way, amidst tempers lost and harsh words unleashed…to still be here, to still be a mother to her, to be able to say that she is growing well.

I may never be the mother that my Mama is to me, or the mother that she is to my daughter. I may be selfish and weak. But I guess, I am what I am and what matters is, I try my best to do whatever I can, to be a mother to Faith, to love her as much as humanly possible. What matters is I am still trying.

201305 Mother's Day

A very happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, to those who struggle, to those who want to be, to those who let me revel in their joy and cry with them, to those who inspire me in more ways than one, to those who laughed and cried with me…you know who you are.

Most of all, Happy Mother’s Day to my Mama, who already is, who forever will be.

So…You Know What They Say About Happiness?

Many moons ago, I was the poster girl for (fastidious*) go-getters. I did very well in school. I excelled at work. I never gave anything short of my best in everything I did. I was all about the results. *(why fastidious?)Yes, I was the type of person who didn’t bother to invest any effort in something I didn’t like to do or something that I knew I was going to suck at (PE for example, I couldn’t catch a basketball even if you gave me three more arms and seven more legs), and only spent time on things that I loved to do and on things that I knew I was going to be good at.

It sounds like I was an irritating blood-sucking tick, huh?

Today, I write this as I sneak time away from my sleeping baby girl. Yes, I am a mother. A stay-at-home-mother. It’s 1pm and I haven’t showered. Nope, I haven’t had the time to wash my face or comb my hair. I did brush my teeth but I’m still in my pyjamas. Such is the story of my life and it’s been going on for about five months now.

The old me would have frowned at my life today. Straight distinctions for O and A levels, a PhD, a high-flying job, all that glitz and glamour in London, and now, you give that all up for a baby who wouldn’t remember what you sacrificed for her? What about your career? What about your years of education? You’re Dr Tan, for crying out loud. All this gone to nought?!

Sadly, this is also what some people have said to me. But, I’m glad that I’m no longer one of them.

Yes, I have a PhD. Yes, I should be doing my post-doctoral fellowship now and I should be doing scientific research. I should be moving onto a professorship next. Ahhh, the I-should-be’s. But guess what? It took me 4 years of pursuing an honours degree, 2 years of working in academic research and 3 years of PhD to realise that I no longer want to do scientific research. To put it simply, it took me 9 years to realise that I was unhappy. It took me 9 years to realise that I needed to start being happy. So, I stepped out of science and dived right into a new career path. It was completely crazy, utterly unnerving…and totally liberating.

So you snagged a job that you really liked? Why don’t you head back now that your baby is a little older? Don’t you miss it? Don’t you miss being happy?

Yes, I miss my job. I miss doing something that I love, that didn’t have anything to do with my husband, my baby, or the neighbour’s dog. My job was mine and mine to keep. I miss it, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I am unhappy now. Motherhood is tough, of course; it breaks me down, spins me around, puts me up on the highest pedestal and exposes everything about me to every critic out there. Sounds really brutal on the being, and it probably sounds perverse to you when I say that I am, in spite of all that, happy most of the time.

There is absolutely no shame in giving up everything I had. Why (other than the fact that I am nurturing and caring for my flesh and blood, and she is so adorable and loveable that I can’t imagine life without her)? Because through all those years of toiling in the world out there, through all those lessons learnt, I now have answers. I know what makes me happy, and what doesn’t. I know what I want to do next to realise my new dreams. And that, is worth every distinction, every PhD, every high-flying job that I have turned my back on, and every step I’m taking into the future, my future.

201301 Happy Faith

Look Ma, I’m happy!

Read on for my new journey as a mother and for my thoughts on love and marriage.

2012: What A Year!

We welcomed 2012 in our serviced apartment in Boston. How? I, buried in all-day sickness,  M, hoisting my hair up whenever I heaved, us, watching the ball drop in Times Square and the magnificent fireworks display at the London Eye on telly. Our 6-week stay in Boston was nightmarish. I was plagued with nausea and survived on dry crackers and fish fingers. M woke up at 4.30am every day to work at MGH. We barely went anywhere as I was doing poorly. We did watch a live basketball game (Boston Celtics vs Phoenix Suns) and build a snowman when I was feeling better towards the end of our stay. That was nice.

After M’s elective at MGH, we flew back to London, met our friends for a Chinese New Year dinner, switched our bags out and I said a tearful goodbye to the city we have come to call home. We spent the rest of the New Year with our families in Singapore, our very first with them in five years. My obgyn told us we were having a girl and that she is healthy. We shared the good news with everyone who cared.

We celebrated M’s 30th in March. I baked him a strawberry and lychee shortcake after a long break from the kitchen. He was delighted to finally spend his birthday with family and friends in Singapore. A few days later, we hugged each other goodbye as M left to complete his degree in London, and I stayed in Singapore to prepare for the arrival of our baby.

It was a difficult time thereafter. I was missing M terribly, and feeling sad that I was going through pregnancy alone. M was stressed out with his finals and I really wanted to be there for him. We tried to keep up with each other on FaceTime. I often watched him have lunch and even cook his dinner, whilst he squinted at the tiny movements our baby was making across my growing belly. I exercised a lot to pass time and to keep myself fit for the delivery – yoga on Fridays and cardio twice weekly. M graduated in July; I was gutted to miss the ceremony but his graduation also meant that M was finally coming home. He took very good care of me and pampered me with lots of dinner dates and outings. We were determined to make up for lost time, and to enjoy each other’s company as much as we can before our daughter’s arrival and before he started his new job. We spent lots of time reminiscing the good ol’ times we had in London. We spent lots of time getting to know each other all over again. It was wonderful to be with my best friend.

Before we knew it, our baby girl was born. Nothing quite prepared us for parenthood, let alone that in the week when M embarked on his new role as a doctor. There were lots of laughter and lots of tears. There still are.

The next months were and still are trying. Four months into parenthood and we are still trying to find our footing. It has been a steep learning curve and we evolve with our baby girl everyday. We have had to dig real deep to stick to the kind of parenting we feel is best for our daughter in the face of a constant barrage of unsolicited advice. We learnt to sleep less and love more. I didn’t think this is possible, but it is.


This is the year when time sped up and slowed down at the same time.

This is the year when emotions swung like a pendulum on steroids. 

This is the year when I became a mother.

This is the year when I had the most and least sleep.

This is the year when I learnt to love a little more.

This is by far, the best year of my life.

201212 Christmas Family photo

I hope 2012 has been good to you too. Here’s to a better 2013. Happy New Year, guys!

Christmas Past, Present, Future

On Christmas Day last year, we were huddled together in the emergency room of MGH in Boston, heads down in fervent prayer and hands wrung in an odd mix of hope and despair. The ER was eerily quiet. An elderly woman was waiting anxiously for her husband. I just had the nth vial of blood taken from me since we arrived in Boston three days ago. The doctor had trouble looking for a spot on my arms that wasn’t already bruised by all the blood-taking they did. But that didn’t matter as much as what the doctor was going to tell us when the bloodwork was ready.

Two hours later, the resident on-call told us that our pregnancy looked to be progressing much better than it did a few days ago, but that’s only from the bloodwork and we won’t know for sure if our baby was going to be okay until a few weeks later. I was told to return for further tests in two days’ time. We took whatever that was positive, heaved a strangled sigh of relief, and stepped into the first snowflakes that fell that winter. Better was the best gift we could ask for.

This Christmas…the tree is up, the fairy lights are twinkling and the presents are waiting to be opened. Baby Faith joins us for her first Christmas. We are delighted and beyond thankful to be her parents, to love her the way our folks love us. We take nothing for granted and we are happy. She is our gift, as with faith, which inspired her name.

201212 Happy Christmas

I don’t know what the future holds for our little family. But I know this…that I will treasure every single moment I have with my loved ones, and that I will thank the high heavens for every tomorrow.


Happy Christmas, everyone.





An Open Letter to My Mother

Dearest Ma,

The clock struck at midnight and the first thing you did was to come into my room to wish me a Happy Birthday. You have done so unfailingly for many years, even when I was in London, even when there was a time difference. I could always count on you to make my birthday special.

Ma, little do you know that this year, I feel somewhat different on my day. I am now a mother, and you, a grandmother to my daughter. For years, I have wondered about childbirth and what it would be like to raise a child. For years, I watched you care for each one of us, not knowing how tough it is for you. For years, I have taken you for granted. I have only been a mother for three months and boy, has it been a challenge! I finally have the faintest idea as to what you went through in the early months of our lives. I say faintest, because Ma, I am only just coping because I have help. You, on the other hand, toiled and slaved through motherhood without any. I don’t know where and how you find the strength to do so, but I am glad you did, because without you, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

On my birthday, Ma, I want to thank you for giving me life. For feeding and making sure I am healthy. For putting up with the sleepless nights. For singing nursery rhymes and hymns to me when you shampooed my hair. For keeping the suds out of my eyes when you did so. I want to thank you for all the breakfasts, lunches and dinners that you made. For taking me to school and taking me home afterwards. For bringing me to the playground and the EPB bookshop to pick up classics like The Little Women, and The Prince and The Pauper even though we were cash-strapped. For teaching me right from wrong, and for putting up with me when I talked back. For teaching me how to love, to always look within myself and do some soul-searching instead of blaming others when things go awry. For kissing my forehead and taking me in your arms when my world came crashing down, and for sharing my joy when I achieved something in school, at work, and in love. I want to thank you for doing all that and more, and I am still amazed that you love me without any resentment.

Ma, 30 years ago, you suffered much pain to bring me into this world. Today, you love my daughter deeply, as much as you love me. I have much to learn from you in the years to come. I aspire to be the selfless and loving mother that you are and I hope that I can give Faith the kind of life that you have given me.

Today is my day, as much as it is yours, and I have never ever thought to thank you till this day. So, Happy Birthday, Ma.

I love you.

Your baby girl.

Read on for my new journey as a mother and for my thoughts on love and marriage.

About The Author
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Read about my food-gasmic adventures in San Sebastian here! Also please come by and check out the prettiest cake I've made over here!
Macarons: Be Inspired
Dark Chocolate & Coconut Cookies
Rose & Lychee Chiffon Cake
Pan-seared scallops, jamon iberico chip, pomme puree, jamon iberico foam and chestnut
Red Velvet Cake
An English-themed Dessert Table
Chocolate & Hazelnut Salted Caramel Cake
Gula Melaka Salted Caramel Buttercream Macarons
The Ispahan Cake
The Ispahan
Sunflower Seed Macarons with Black Truffle Salted White Chocolate Ganache
Lemon Cupcakes with Lime & Ginger Whipped Cream
Portuguese Egg Tarts
Ba Zhang - Glutinous Rice Dumplings with Braised Pork Belly
The Fat Duck
Strawberry and Cream Pancakes
Pandan Souffle Roll with Toasted Coconut Whipped Cream
Red Velvet Cake
Lychee and Emperor's Seven Treasures tea-infused macarons
M's Spanish Paella
M's birthday cake - Japanese Cheesecake with Rose Whipped Cream
Lor Bak Gou - Fried Radish Cake
Pandan Chiffon Cake
Homemade Scones
Marmite & Coffee Pork Chops
Quick and Easy fried rice recipe!
Matcha & Adzuki Bean Macarons
Pumpkin & Chocolate Brownies with Cream Cheese Swirls
Matcha, Milo and Plain Polvorons
Kampar Chicken Biscuits - A popular Malaysian snack
White Chocolate & Cranberry Cookies
Hustling the Xiao Long Bao in my kitchen
Bailey's & Coffee Macarons

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