Category Archives: Baking

Life’s A Beach When You Are Three!

So. After the crippling everything-also-DIY party we held for F’s second birthday, I was put off by the idea of having another party for years to come, not until she was old enough anyway (the word ‘enough’ being very loosely defined, as it really depends on how her old folks are feeling – likely to be sleep-deprived – a week prior to her birthday). The only thing I wanted to do was to make her a birthday cake, as I would like to keep to our family tradition of having homemade birthday cakes for as long as the kids and husband would want them.

Then, I made the mistake of asking F what she would like for her birthday cake.

(Of course I did. How else did I end up with a party?! ASKING FOR IT, I WAS.)

“Mama, I want (an) Olaf cake!”

Somehow, that got me looking for cake designs on the web, and somehow, I had my eyes set on one that I thought would thrill F to bits. Somehow, I thought, “Hmm, that cake wouldn’t look nice if it was made to serve only a few people, and somehow, that got me thinking about how F hardly gets to be with her friends outside of school, and how this would be the perfect opportunity for her to have some fun with them….YOU GET THE GIST.

We ended up having a party the size of three playdates.

I wasn’t particularly keen on doing up a full-blown Frozen-themed party. F loves Olaf but not to the extent of wanting everything Elsa-Anna on her bedspread, schoolbag and water bottle (thank gaaawwd). Instead, I had the theme worked out from the cake design, and came up with something simple to execute, neutral, yet fun and colourful for a three-year-old.

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Now, when times are good, we all know that LIFE’S A BEACH (as opposed to the other B word)! Birthdays are happy occasions so ocean blues and buttery yellows, spell a summer, poolside party, yes? F loves to spend time in the pool, and so do most of her friends, Life’s A Beach was just begging to be themed this year!

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The cake was naturally the most challenging bit of the party preps. F had asked for an Olaf cake, and I knew I had to get it right. I am no cake artist and was really quite nervous about pulling this one off, so I made sure to start working on the cake two days before the party. Red velvet has always been my go-to flavour for a cake that boasts a moist and tender crumb even after a few days, and the cream cheese frosting recipe that I am so partial to holds up well in the heat without being cloying. I am completely unfamiliar with how fondant works and was worried that it might melt in the heat, so I fashioned an Olaf cake topper out of jumping clay a few weeks before the party, you know, just in case Mama fails and winds up getting one shipped from who-knows-where. It’s a win-win, really, because F gets to keep and play with the figurine, and it is non-toxic. Of course, it wouldn’t be a party on the beach for Olaf without a nautical deck chair, coconuts to sip on, seashells, flip flops, a beach ball, float and a cute umbrella, and I was delighted to hunt down some miniature toys on Amazon for the cake. A simple bunting made out of construction paper, twine and gold-striped straws and some blue and yellow skinny candles later, the cake was complete and really quite fun to look at! I would say this is the toughest cake design I’ve had to execute to-date (it took a while to nail the look of the waves crashing on the shore) (Disclaimer: I take absolutely zero credit in the idea because I simply looked up the designs online and did whatever I could to make the cake look as decent as possible).

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Now that my hands are full with two kids, I didn’t have much time to do up a full dessert table. I cheated by making some dark chocolate tofu mousse topped with choc feuilletine, salted caramel sauce and strawberries. I did go overboard with the 64% Manjari and the chocolate tofu mousse ended up tasting a little too acidic and…weird (sorry, my party guests). I should have stuck to the yuzu-flavoured version I tested out a couple of days before the party…oh well.

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The dessert table wouldn’t be complete without THE easel that we lugged back from Perth when F was 3 months old. We have put it to very good use for all of her birthday parties thus far and we plan to get even more mileage out of it! In fact, I get so nostalgic about the themes I scribble on that I don’t erase them until the next party comes around..there are two sides to the easel…so yeap, I literally *just* erased F’s first birthday party theme on one side to make space for her 3rd birthday!

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We aren’t fantastic party planners and are definitely not the creative sort; I was rather worried that the kids might get bored at the party especially if they choose not to splash around in the pool, so I thought it best to get something (ANYTHING) to entertain them. I freaked a little two days to the party, having nary a brilliant idea on what to do for the kids to have some fun, so I settled on…a piñata. I sent M out to hunt for one that doesn’t bear any resemblance to human beings, animals and cartoon characters because I don’t want the kids to be traumatised by the eventual mutilation, and I thought this would be akin to looking for a needle in a haystack but…look what he found! A BEACH SLIPPER, ALMOST in our party colours, no less! M picked up some sweets from our childhood – haw biscuits, White Rabbit milk candies, etc (oops, couldn’t stay away from giving snacks, could we, but we wouldn’t resist the idea of showing the kids the candies of yesteryear) – and balloons, and stuffed the slipper with it. We found a sturdy tree with a resilient-looking branch, hung the piñata and the rest was history. The kids had fun getting the goodies out of the beach slipper with the aid of their papas, and scrambled to pick up their prizes when the beach slipper was done-done.

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Being time-starved and all, I was really glad that we had some help with the rest of the party preps. One of the things i really struggled with in the previous parties was party favours! I mean, I didn’t know what to get for kids of different ages and wound up getting snacks and useless knick knacks. (YES, I AM ‘THAT TERRIBLE PARENT’) This year, I am no longer every parent’s worst nightmare, thanks to Kiddy Packs who gifted us with all of the party favours this year! They have a selection of good-quality favours to choose from for children of all ages, and best of all, they pack them up beautifully in brown paper packages (MY FAVOURITE, no tacky packaging, please!), can customise the wording on the label and the colours of the ribbons to your needs, and they deliver! I will reveal the favours we chose in the next post but no prizes for guessing the colours we picked!
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I also purchased some honeycomb balls in white and the most stunning shades of yellows and blues from Most Wonderfully Made, after a very lengthy consultation with the ever-patient S who owns the store, strung them up on garlands, and hung the latter up around the poolside area. I loved that the garlands added lots of cheer to the party, and the best part was the honeycomb balls are reusable because I fanned them out and held the ends together with paper clips instead of using the double-sided tape adhered on them!

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I put up a simple backdrop for the dessert table too, using pinwheel fans of different designs  that I bought from Most Wonderfully Made and another vendor (silly me, I should have gotten both from Most Wonderfully Made because they do have more than one design for the fans). I was really quite pleased with how the backdrop turned out with different shades of yellows and blues. The varying styles and sizes of the pinwheel fans made the backdrop pop!
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Had to take another family photo when Mr. E woke up from his nap!

It is truly a party to remember because E is finally here to join us for our celebrations (I was pregnant, unbeknownst to our friends, when F had her 2nd birthday party). F is also a lot more conscious about what goes on, now that she is three years old. She loves the cake to bits and often talks about it, and it makes me happy that she is thrilled. She has also come to associate the function room with ‘Mama, we sing Happy Birthday inside the room, okay?’, and that’s pretty hilarious. Our guests were such lovely friends to have over, ever gracious about the lack of fancy entertainment or a particularly acidic chocolate tofu mousse, and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves! Well…I guess we might have a 4th birthday party after all; the husband said no because it can be pretty tiring to put a party together, but…never say never!

Cake, Candles and Balloons!

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F turned two a while ago, and we held an intimate garden party for our amazing family and friends. Truth be told, I’m no hostess with the mostess, and I’m not quite a party animal nor a social butterfly (yes, contrary to the fact that I have a blog, I really am socially awkward in person). I had written off holding a party for F’s 2nd birthday (having gone through the life-shortening madness of planning her 1st), and tried to sell the idea of us three going on a short, stress-free and fab getaway to M instead. M wasn’t keen on that, and I don’t really blame him because we have travelled quite a fair bit in the first half of this year, and his work schedule was rather (still is) punishing.

I sulked a little at not being able to travel And so, I was really quite happy to spend the day quietly with F, at the zoo or something, until M suggested that we could hire the ice-cream man (you know, the one with the old-school pushcart) and invite a couple of friends with kiddos over for a tea-time treat. I protested, of course, because…why would any parent bring their kids over, knowing that they are going to get sugar-high, hyperactive and run into epic meltdowns later in the day?! Geez, M…

He wouldn’t let the idea go, that stubborn man, and I decided we would have to plump the party up a bit and make it a little more reasonable for our guests to haul their kids over for an afternoon of fun. Any logical person with a crazy toddler on the loose would cater, you know, like PAY someone else to cook the food, bake a cake and set everything up. But I, (a) was not happy with the catering menus out there, (b) couldn’t bring myself to break the tradition of baking my family’s birthday cakes, (c) have terribly itchy fingers and (d) love to torture myself, and so I decided to…DO EVERY FREAKING THING BY MYSELF (except the curry puffs and fried chicken wings we got from OCK, because those are definite crowd-pleasers, unlike our food…).


Of course, I recruited my minions, M and my darling sister, J, to help me with the food preparation, and begged my future brother-in-law, J, to babysit F (who probably terrorised him) while we were slogging away in the kitchen. The preps started two days before the party. Many curses, countless regrets, and one massive birthday cake mishap later (the weather was too hot even in the air-conditioned kitchen, and the four-layer cake did a BBC-news-worthy landslide on me whilst I was putting on the crumb coat, so I had to RE-DO the freaking cake), we were done.

I hope everyone enjoyed the food (though the humidity killed some of the crispness of my signature roasted pork belly and that pizza toast) and the cake (I was disappointed with the way it turned out, unlike the previous ones I made), and that the kids had fun playing with one another and chasing after bubbles. F had a most wonderful day, in spite of the glitches, did not have a single bite of the ice-cream (the irony, she wasn’t in the mood for any), and was genuinely sad and puzzled when everyone left (that’s testament to how much she enjoyed your company). Thank you, our family and friends, for your presence, love and gifts (we are allowing her open only one gift every month, and you guys have been so generous, she will be opening presents into her third birthday!).

Alright, Mama should probably stop rambling and let the pictures do the talking. I’m sorry that there are so many of them over here (there are more on my camera but I have to keep them away from the public eye to protect my family members’ and friends’ privacies), I had to take as many shots as possible because there is no way in hell I am going to DIY a party to this extent ever again.

Till the next birthday (which is hopefully a quiet getaway because I need to rest from planning this one)!
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A simple, styled table, laden with food and peachy, minty colours, perfect for a tyke!

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We made everything except the OCK curry puffs and wings, and store-bought nachos. Word to the wise, cater if you don’t want to lose your sanity.

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Putting the chalkboard easel we bought from Perth to good use again this year.201408 Faith turns 2

I’m all for reusing silk floral arrangements. I did this for F’s 1st birthday, and I didn’t have time to get fresh flowers, so this came in handy.

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Homemade spicy guacamole with store-bought nachos.
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My favourite salad to make, inspired by one of Ottolenghi’s recipes – roasted aubergine salad with pomegranate, basil, toasted pine nuts, saffron garlic yogurt dressing and roasted buttermilk chicken.201408 Faith turns 2 3

Always a crowd-pleaser – curry puffs and fried chicken wings from OCK. Thank goodness for our Airfryer, which did a fine job of crisping them up again.201408 Faith turns 2 5

Another of my favourite foods to make – roasted pork belly (also known as siu yuk) with garilc aioli dipping sauce.

201408 Faith turns 2 6My favourite snack to eat since I was a kid – Papa used to make this for us every Sunday morning. Pizza toast with cheese, fresh tomatoes and bacon, grilled to gooey, crisp goodness. Perfect for kids!
201408 Faith turns 2 17Another shot of the table, just because.
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The ice-cream man and his old-school pushcart! 201408 Faith turns 2 11

F, being absolutely delighted to be surrounded by one of her favourite things in the world, BUBBLES!201408 Faith turns 2 12

The kids looked like they were having fun!201408 Faith turns 2 13

Goodies bags we prepared for the young ones. The parents must hate me because I filled them with treats. I did try to soften the blow by putting in some balloons and self-inking rubber stamps.

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The birthday cake, which caused way too much drama during the preps. My cake-making mojo wasn’t there.

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Devil’s food cake with raspberry curd, cream cheese frosting and topped with fresh raspberries.
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I couldn’t help notice how F has grown and matured since her 1st birthday. My poor mother’s heart can’t take her growing so quickly! Happy birthday, my love. You must know that Papa and Mama love you so much that we would die planning a party for you. Just sayin’. By the way, all the practice sessions we had to sing the birthday song, make a wish, blow the candle and cut the cake? Went down the drain because F had stage fright. GAH. She did it at bedtime with her imaginary cake that night, though. I guess that counts, somewhat?






To Learn Something New

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I know, I know. I have gone way off the baking and cooking radar for the longest time, since late 2011, I reckon. You know my excuses. I’ve moved across three countries. I got pregnant. And before I know it, my hands were full with a newborn, then a baby, and now a toddler. These days, I write less about my culinary adventures (or rather, lack thereof) and more about the ups and downs in motherhood. Some of you have left, some of you have stuck around to see what I’m up to, some of you have joined me in this new and permanent part of my journey. But I am still here, and I suspect that I might always be.

You see, this blog is not just another website. Not to me, at least. It chronicles my everything, and everything about me (well, almost). It documents challenges I have faced in life, be it  graduate school a few couple of years ago, my new then-life in a foreign land, and yes, food too. I remember the first time I bought my very own set of baking equipment. We had just moved to London in 2007, and I was keen to pick up baking again since the kitchen was all ours. I bagged the cheapest of the basics I could find, including a very noisy handheld mixer from Tesco which cost me only £3.99. It served me well, taking me from basic cupcakes, to layered cakes, chiffon and even macarons.

Each time I learnt something new, I was absolutely delighted, but not without feeling utterly deflated at my failed first attempts. I was amazed at how basic ingredients could yield all sorts of tasty morsels, and how every quantity, step and trick made the world of a difference. It was particularly rewarding, when I stumbled upon random tricks on my own; baking is almost magical to me, save for the fact that its roots actually lie in the heart of science.

201406 Lemon curd tartAfter leaving London, I barely had the opportunity to learn new recipes. My repertoire was old and tired, and it was mostly executed to feed my husband and daughter, or for special occasions. I have very, very loyal fans though. Most people are always happy to have a slice of my signature chiffon cake or that soft cookie or the grand old dame of a red velvet cake, and I am truly thankful that they still appreciate what I do. But that isn’t enough for me. Soon, I got bored of my own creations. Sad, but true.

I have been pushing myself to try out new recipes, to conquer new pastries and master new dishes. It’s not working out too well, as all this takes far too much time, something that I am in desperate need of. But I’ve stolen pockets of it, when F sleeps (thank goodness we insisted on early bedtime), when M is finally free from crazy shifts to help me with her. A month or two ago, I was really happy to have nailed the tart (the pastry, not a person), and filled them with lemon curd (also a first in my culinary adventure, I know…I’m real slow), or dark chocolate ganache and sea salted caramel. They were, IMHO, absolutely spot-on! I was on cloud nine when I learnt that the tarts were well-received…that buzzzzz, that joy I get when I know my bakes have made someone very happy…

I wish I have more opportunities at some point to challenge myself. I could use with feeling a little more accomplished than just doing what I have been doing thus far. I miss dreaming up exciting flavours in my sleep, and jumping out of bed to get cracking in the kitchen. I miss scribbling ideas on random scraps of paper, and hopping into the pantry in the middle of the night to whip something up. Those days were absolutely glorious, utterly inspired and undeniably pleasurable…and those days couldn’t come sooner.

The Way I Say I Love You

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I am not one who tends to be all loving and gregarious and warm in person, mostly because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. Often, I fumble for words and end up not telling someone how I feel because I spend too much time thinking about whether I would overwhelm people, or hurt someone, or generally freak people out with my weirdness. So if you have met me in person, you would know that I hardly initiate conversations and I mostly respond to people only when asked to, well, respond. I prefer to sit back and listen, than to fire away and be the life of the party. Yes, I am usually that quiet, aloof oddball, especially in a group of people. (But I have improved substantially since I got to know M, because his confidence in speaking up has rubbed off a little on me, which explains why I am a little less awkward these days, especially when I meet people one-on-one.)

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I do, however, love to write. Feelings can take the form of handwritten letters, emails, post-its, messages, even blog posts, and I word and offer them more freely and unabashedly, than if I were to communicate them in person. I love that I can write my thoughts down without having people scrutinise my facial expressions or my tightly wrung hands. The time alone with my pen and paper, or even the phone, is void of distraction, and that allows me to be…free.

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There are, however, certain things that can, and should only be said to someone when you look at him or her in the eye. A heartfelt letter, or a simple note by the lunch bag works, but shouldn’t we all try to tell that special people in our lives that we love them, in person? I know that I don’t tell people that I love them as often as I should. I don’t say it to my parents, or my siblings, whom I love with all my life. I sneak it in, when my husband and I are all tucked into bed, after we turn out the lights, because I’m too shy to look at him in the eye. I sneak it in, when I gaze at his profile as he watches the telly, because I know in the split second of words tumbling out of my mouth, he would be too distracted to glance at me before I hastily look away in embarrassment. The only person whom I consistently say it to has got to be Faith, who is far too young to be all weirded out by her Mama’s profuse declaration of love for her.

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But I can say it with cake. And I love to say it with cake. It starts with what I know about the likes and dislikes of that special someone, and branches out into ideas on flavours and textures that he or she would love. It then grows with days of labouring over the stove and the oven, hunching over the cake as I try my best to make it look nice, battling with the humidity and often, my daughter who pleads for my attention every two seconds. And then the moment comes, when the birthday song is sung, the candles are blown out and the cake is cut. My special someone tucks in and exclaims, ‘This is amazing!’ and I pretend to be busy with brushing non-existent crumbs from the table. That moment is perfect because I have said I love you in the biggest and smallest way possible, and no one gets weirded out. I get to retreat to my little oddball corner and feel like I have gone all out to say I love you with a slice of homemade cake.

And this was the case for my husband’s birthday this year. I don’t earn a salary, and I don’t do much other than take care of my family’s needs. I didn’t and couldn’t get him a present (it would really come out of his pocket, rather than my own…), and the only thing that I could do was to really think about what he loves, come up with flavours to surprise him, and get down to making him a cake that I hope he would adore. I don’t know if he was just trying to make me happy by saying that he loved the cake, but I was glad that he appreciated my efforts. I was glad that I made it, a Toasted Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Italian Meringue Buttercream. I was glad that he knows that I love him…and that’s all that matters.

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I love you, darling.


Oh, All That Glitters! On Her First

I didn’t know what to gift Faith with on her first birthday. She is a very blessed child who has plenty to eat, wear and play with, thanks to family and friends who love her so. It didn’t make sense for me to get her more toys, clothes and what-not, and so I decided to create some memories for her instead, starting with the below.

We hosted a lunch to thank family and friends who have been so generous, kind, helpful and loving to us. We couldn’t have survived the first year without them (you know who you are!) and we are deeply thankful to have them in our lives.

Faith wouldn’t remember any of how we went through the first year and we wanted her to grow up, looking at the photos and listening to our first-hand accounts of how our family and friends helped us. That is why M and I splurged on a photographer, J (the talent behind Freeze The Moments); we hoped for someone to capture precious moments and relationships that would otherwise be lost on the unobservant eye. I don’t think I can do J’s work justice with words alone; I reckon I should leave it to you to have a look at the photos and all I can say is, we are absolutely pleased with what he has done for us and we highly recommend him.

I was dying to dive back into some creative work as well, and was delighted to be able to put a dessert table together for Faith. It was wonderful to finally sketch my ideas and breathe life into them. I’d dare say this was a pretty good attempt, seeing as to how it is my second dessert table *annoyinglysmugface*. It was tough though, to DIY and take care of Faith full-time; I took quite a while to design and craft the different elements, often working into the wee hours after Faith had gone to sleep. I don’t know how stylists do this for a living and I have nothing but respect for them! I had help of course, from the vendors who supplied the two-tier lemon buttercake with vanilla buttercream, chocolate pecan cookies, strawberry tarts, cheesecake, cream puffs, iced gems, and rose and mint macarons. I did entertain the crazy idea of making the desserts and pastries on my own like I did with my first dessert table, but I knew I would crumble under all that pressure. I always wanted to make Faith her first cake though, and settled on baking her a 4-inch smash cake (a refined-sugar-free buttercake with cream cheese frosting topped with her favourite blueberries) instead. Faith was also very blessed to have received two tissue pom-poms (one cream and one pastel pink, both attached to the chalkboard easel in some of the photos below) that I have chosen from Most Wonderfully Made, an online store that stocks the prettiest party supplies! The sponsored pom-poms were so well-made, as compared to the ones I DIY-ed (those on the backdrop of dessert table), that I wished I had gotten all of them (which are very affordable, by the way) from the store; I would have spared myself from all the agony of tidying the pleats up! I’m putting in a mental note to stock up on party supplies for the next party I plan!

Alright, I think I have yakked enough about the party. I leave you…with our memories.

P/S: Photos of our guests are not posted here as I would like to protect their privacy.



















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Macarons: Just Because

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I miss making macarons, watching feet form, photographing them, and kicking back with a cup of tea. But only in London…for that’s where my love affair with them first started. Nothing comes quite as close where I am right now. But the memories of the sights, smells, and tastes will do. For now.