Category Archives: Travel

This Year, Our Year

2014 was a little bit of everything. It was a year when we worked hard and played hard. When the three of us grew up in our own ways and as a family. When we became acutely aware, more so than ever (if that’s even possible), that family comes first. When we started praying together as a family, every night before Faith goes to bed. The year zipped past, chock full of laughter and joy, with a little bit of drama and some heartbreaking tears from personal struggles, and it ended off on a quiet note, with Faith going to bed on New Year’s Eve, softly chiming, “Happy New Year, Mama. Happy New Year, Papa”, and with M and I solemnly reflecting on our lives at the stroke of midnight as we crossed into 2015.

The greatest changes were evident in the little powerhouse of ours. Faith started pre-school in March and grew up very quickly after that. She can now speak in full and rather long sentences, string and express her train of thoughts quite coherently, and insists on doing things on her own. “No Mama, Faith wear shoes herself”, she says whenever I forget that she is no longer a baby who needs Mama to tend to her every need. She continues to be a joyful girl who now loves to sing (like a rockstar) and dance (like a member of some indigenous tribe with two left feet) to anything that is remotely rhythmic. She is mostly an easygoing, chatty child with family, generally shy in the presence of others and extremely loving, one who is always quick to express genuine concern when somebody is in tears or yelps in pain. I will not forget how she has somehow learnt to hand me tissues, rub my back and ask, “You okay?” with furrowed brows whenever I cry. Her antics and conversations with us have M and I laughing until our bellies hurt. And she laughs like it truly matters, when we do. We often find ourselves staring at each other incredulously whenever she says or does something extraordinary, which is pretty darn often, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. There were the epic displays of tantrums, of course, but thankfully, they were far and few between; whilst we did feeling like gouging our own eyeballs out on certain occasions, there has been no casualties. 2014 was the year when we watched Faith’s personality come into being and we can’t wait to see how she blossoms next, even as I quietly lament at how she is no longer my squishy baby.

We also enjoyed more time as a family with holidays and a better work-life balance for M; this is in stark contrast to our topsy-turvy lives back in 2012 and 2013 when we barely saw M. We travelled to Bali and stayed in a villa with a large private pool, where Faith fell head over heels in love with what she thinks constitutes swimming (she can’t swim and hates going under the water, so….). We sat through the worst traffic congestions ever in Jakarta and lugged Faith along to the most kid-unfriendly activities such as vintage shopping in the extreme heat. Faith also gamely tucked into the dirtiest street foods with us (bún chả, anyone?) in Hanoi and we all survived. And we enjoyed the most beautiful spring in Sydney, where we spent lots of time running outdoors and soaking up the sun rays in the cool, dry weather. We giggled and cuddled lots during our family vacations, as if to make up for the time lost in the two years before. Most of all, we saw M on a more regular basis, at humane hours too, and we cannot be more thankful for the new working arrangement.

2014 was also a year when I watched M grow into his calling. This is the tenth year that we have been together and I’m not kidding when I say that we have spent the last ten years chasing his dream of being a doctor. From the trying days of medical school in London to the toughest training at work in Singapore, I am immensely proud to witness the huge differences he has made in people’s lives, not just medically but emotionally as well. I may be biased but to me, that’s the true mark of a great physician. It’s absolutely wonderful to see him progress in the right direction. If anything, I feel like I’m realising my own dream too. Hopefully, 2015 will bring him good tidings, and that he will continue to mature personally and professionally.

As for me, well, 2014 was a mixed bag of everything. I baked a little more in the first half of the year, and ran a very tiny venture (which is now closed owing to other commitments I have got going on). In the second half of the year, I started writing professionally and it’s nice to receive remuneration and recognition for my written works. These made me feel like I’m more than just a mother. I started driving at the end of March after overcoming one of the biggest fears in my life (yes, I was such a scaredy-cat, to only start driving 8 years after getting my license!), and am now a lot more confident behind the wheel. I attribute this newfound bravery to #thelengthsthatmummiesgotofortheirchildren. I have also grown to be a lot more vocal and do not hesitate when I need to stand up for myself, and I like that bullies are beginning to realise that I am no longer the pushover I once was. I have also learnt to let go of friendships that are no longer working out (sadly, they started to deteriorate after I became a stay-at-home-mother) and keeping those who really matter, understand and love me for who I am, close to my heart (thank you, to those who have stuck around. I don’t say very much but you mean a lot to me). Braver, and a lot less tolerant for pretence and bullshit, well..I guess Faith wasn’t the only one who grew up loads. Whilst it was generally a happier and much more fulfilling year than before, there were heartbreaks here and there too…but I’m glad that I’m still on track to a better sense of well-being. Fingers crossed for this year then, for me to make the best out of whatever life hands me. I pray that 2015 will be the year in which I grow stronger, live passionately, love freely and trust whole-heartedly.

This year…this will be a year of change for us. M is settling down into a new work routine, and I, into a more challenging role as a mother and hopefully, a better (and more professional?) writer/baker/whatchamacallit. Both of us hope to be better, not just at what we do, but as people, parents and a couple. Faith has started N1 in a new school recently, and is adjusting well, and we hope to help her blossom into a considerate, loving young lady. We are definitely looking forward to the many kick-ass interactions we will have with our funny little girl. We will also (finally!) be moving into a space of our own and are all set for a new lease of life in our new home. We aren’t certain how things will pan out but we know that we will get into and out of 2015 as a family, with a whole lot of excitement and a healthy dash of fear, and that’s really all that matters to us right now.

We hope to make this year OUR year and wish the same for you too. Say “Aye!” to a better life and a better you!

201412 Happy New Year

The Things Faith Says #2: She Doesn’t Share Food

We were having a much-anticipated steak dinner at Chophouse (which turned out to be a real disappointment) in Sydney about two weeks ago and Faith’s main course of fish and chips had arrived sooner than ours.

M and I were famished and started picking off the mountain of fries on her plate (which we were sure she wouldn’t be able to finish), when Faith frowned at me, pouted her lips and exclaimed, “Hmmph!”

We were a little taken aback as she has always been okay with us eating off her plate, and in fact, is quite generous with sharing even her favourite foods. I dropped the fry immediately out of surprise.

Me: Faith, can Mama have a French fry, please?

Faith (in all seriousness that made M and me snort with laughter): This is Faith’s fries. Mama order your fries, okaaaayyyy?

Me: HOKAAAAY. Sorry, dear. Mama will not eat your fries, okay?

Faith promptly nodded and went back to demolishing the mountain of fries. Mama and Papa continued to battle hunger until our cardboard steaks arrived.

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How Faith feels about food.201410 Sydney Grounds of Alexandria 2

How Faith feels about sharing food.

P/S: We thought that it was a one-off, because she was back in the spirit of sharing food after that meal, but today, she refused to let me have another piece of kaya toast for breakfast and claimed it for herself, saying, “This is Faith’s bread.” Well, at least I no longer have to finish her leftovers!

Bali Eats: Merah Putih. GO. NOW.

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The beauty that is Merah Putih, its excellent food and warm service, left us completely blissed out and floored. Suffice to say that it is THE best meal I have had in a long time, one that sits so well on the palette and the soul, that I dream of it day after day, two months on since we travelled to Bali for our family vacation. The last time I felt this grand about a meal, was after being taken through the most whimsical, molecular gastronomical treat at The Fat Duck. And that IS saying something because we dined at Merah Putih with our toddler in tow; any parent would know that dining with children tends to take away the luxury of eating in peace, and that often means that mastication of food doesn’t take place long enough for us to appreciate the nuances of flavours in even the most delightful mouthfuls. Long story short, we tend to shove food down as quickly as we can before the kid insists that LUNCH IS OVER, MAMA, and the truth is, we would be thankful to simply finish our main course, let alone fully appreciate what we eat because meals are often over in a jiffy. It is with a tiny stroke of luck and stunningly good food that kept our toddler, and us, glued to the table for the entire meal.
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Soto Ayam

Merah Putih is located in a surprisingly quiet stretch along the long and winding Jalan Petitenget, segments of which are home to popular bars, restaurants, luxury hotels and chic boutiques. We took a cab straight to the restaurant after a mid-morning coffee break at Revolver Espresso (more to come on this hidden gem of a café), after realising that unit numbers don’t run in order for addresses in Bali. It was a wise decision because we would have gotten completely lost on foot, and it helps that Bluebird taxis are pretty safe to go with and fares are very, VERY easy on the pocket.
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Chargrilled Squid & Octopus
Banana blossom, chilli, tamarind, peanuts

Walking up the flight of stairs to the entrance of Merah Putih and into the bar, I cursed under my breath as I took in the swanky interiors; I was in a shabby tank top that has seen better days a decade ago, shorts and sandals and we were definitely under-dressed. I had expected some snooty wait staff to throw us glances of disapproval but there was absolutely none of that, and all we received were ooohs and aaaahs generously doled out to Faith, the littlest patron in the restaurant that afternoon. *phew* As we were led through the dark corridor to our table, both M and I let out gasps of delight at the gorgeous interiors. It was as if we had emerged from under layers and layers of foliage into a clearing. With lush greenery, fish ‘ponds’ skirting the perimeter and ample light coming through windows and the glass canopy above, it felt like we were walking into the most beautiful greenhouse (for all you annoying people, like me, who love to keep people from digging in by taking photos of the food, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful, naturally lit, restaurant to photograph your subjects). The only downside was the restaurant doesn’t provide high chairs for children, so we had to fashion a booster seat out of cushions that the staff provided and secured F to the chair with the buckle of our baby carrier.

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Jangkang
Fried soft shell crab salad, chilli, pickles

Merah Putih offers set lunches for only S$10 per person, but we ditched that and shared a few dishes over the signature Red (merah) & White (putih) Rice instead. Each course was about S$6-10, and the bill came up to about S$45+ for a very sumptuous lunch, including two mocktails (about S$3 each) and three individual servings of desserts (about S$4 each). Now, this may be rather expensive as compared to other meals we have had in Bali, but the quality of the food is unsurpassed, whether in Bali or other parts of the world.

To start off, we were served two complimentary portions of Soto Ayam; the warm, savoury broth was packed full of flavour from the chicken, shallots and herbs, and went perfectly with the fragrant Red & White rice. This was such a hit with Faith that we grudgingly gave up our portions for her. The waitress very thoughtfully gave us another on seeing this and Faith was much too happy to have an extra serving!

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Tahu Isi Jamur
Vegetable filled organic tofu fritters, oyster mushrooms

The Chargrilled Squid & Octopus proved to be one of the best versions I have ever had (the other stunner was an unforgettable octopus stew that our friend’s father whipped up when we visited them in Porto). The morsels were superbly tender, far from the chewy, rubbery nonsense that many others have served up, and boasted big flavours that were perfectly balanced – the dish was tangy, savoury and ever so slightly spicy for that tropical kick. It was absolutely mouthwatering, literally, in the best way possible!

Even though it was our least favourite dish in the repertoire that afternoon, Jangkang, the fried soft shell crab salad, was delightfully crispy and it came in very generous servings. This meant that M and I did not have to fight to the death for the last piece of crunchy goodness!
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Iga Sapi Bakar
Chargrilled beef shortribs, lalapan, sambal hijau

An underdog that made our hearts flutter, Tahu Isi Jamur, which consists of vegetable filled organic tofu fritters served with oyster mushrooms, was recommended to us by the waitress. We thought nothing of it when we first saw it on the menu and were not even close to ordering it as it didn’t sound all that interesting, but boy, were we glad to have trusted the waitress on this one. The perfectly deep-fried slivers of tofu, crispy, and quiveringly tender on the inside, were stuffed with well-seasoned sautéed oyster mushrooms, which tasted almost like chunks of very juicy and flavoursome meat!

My favourite dish has got to be Iga Sapi Bakar, which is a meltingly soft slab of chargrilled beef short rib that has just about lost all of its integrity, in terms of texture and morality because it made me gasp much too audibly. It was shockingly tender, I was most definitely too loud when I exclaimed, ‘OH-EM-GEE, THIS FEELS LIKE TOFU!’ when I cut into it with a fork, with nary a Newton exerted. Thankfully, the restaurant was rather empty and I only drew an embarrassed glance from the husband. Or maybe two glances, because I rolled my eyes and went, ‘OH MY…..’ after I popped a generous chunk of shortrib that was smothered in the rich peanut gravy (not unlike the best satay sauce you would have had) into my mouth. The shortrib came with a green sambal, which delivered the perfect spicy hit to cut the richness, almost unctuousness of the meat. I was annoyed when M took the last bite (‘I KNOW I SAID IT’S OKAY BUT NO, IT’S NOT OKAY’).

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Dessert board with our three picks

We were stuffed at this point but given the merits of the dishes before, we couldn’t leave without having some sweets. After all, we don’t know when we would be back in Bali again (although I have sworn the husband to making this an annual family pilgrimage…we have been to Bali four times and love it more and more each time we visit). M and I often talk about how meals are never quite perfect, with the starters and mains impressing us, and desserts letting us down, or vice versa, so we were very eager to test this theory out with Merah Putih, especially when it is touted to be one of the rising stars in Bali.

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Coklat
Spiced chocolate tart, hibiscus jelly, cashew praline, vanilla ice cream

We were more than happy to have our theory proven wrong. The spiced chocolate tart was rich, lusciously smooth and subtly laced with cinnamon (I believe), and it went swimmingly well with the slightly tart, yet sweet, hibiscus jelly and crunchy, sweet praline. Of course, good quality vanilla ice cream couldn’t hurt!

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Kelapa Tart
Young coconut pannacotta, mango, palm sugar crumble

The coconut pannacotta was such a refreshing change from the usual English renditions I’ve had. It had the perfect wobble, and the mildly sweet coconut flavour was the perfect backdrop for the rich, smooth and tangy mango puree. The palm sugar crumble lent good crunch for a well-balanced contrast in textures.

201405 Bali Eats Merah Putih 9Kue Lapis
Calamansi lime brulee, spiced layer cake, nashi pear

M didn’t enjoy the Kue Lapis as much. To be fair, he has never liked the spiced layer cake. But I thought the spices in the cubes of kueh lapis went really well with the calamansi lime brulee. It’s a surprisingly good combination that works! My only complaint was the cream in the brulee has somewhat masked the tangy and citrusy fragrance of calamansi lime a little too much. Nonethless, I’d be happy to pay for this again!

201405 Bali Eats Merah Putih 10Faith absolutely working on the lychee and kemangi mocktail and her signature wave

You can probably tell by now that we had a whole lot of food and spent a fair bit of time at Merah Putih. We were pleasantly surprised by how amazing the food was, and we could eat in peace only because Faith thoroughly enjoyed the food too. Whenever she got impatient, waiting for the food to arrive or for the check to be signed, we took her to the sides to peer at the fishes in the ‘ponds’ and she was thrilled! The staff obviously love children too, so it made the lunch, which was tops to begin with, even better. Both M and I utterly regretted not having dinner at Merah Putih on our last day in Bali – we wound up at this tourist trap known as Warung Taulan, no thanks to touters, and had the worst food we have ever sank our teeth into in Bali. Well, there is only one thing left to do…I shall count down to our next trip to Bali and this time, I’d be sure to head to Merah Putih again. And I think you should too.

Merah Putih is located at:

Jl.Petitenget No.100x, Kerobokan
Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia 80361
Tel: (0361) 8465950

Everything Is More Beautiful

I love to write when I am inspired. The story simply…flows. The process of stringing words together becomes so effortless, and the by-product, a memory that evokes and stirs. I may not be a wordsmith and I may not have a flawless command of the English language, but being able to pen my thoughts delights me to no end.

These days, inspiration plays hide-and-seek with me. Too busy, too tired, I often find myself psyched for that moment, only to be distracted or rudely snapped out of it. But yesterday evening, I was all alone. M was hard at work on a night shift, and little Faith was fast asleep. I didn’t realise how much I miss being by myself, until the quietude consumed me. I didn’t realise how much I miss being able to revel in nothing but my memories. I didn’t realise how much I miss being able to think. It was nice, being alone.

I found myself reaching out for my laptop and leafing through the tens of thousands of photos I have taken over the past three years. You see, I first fell in love with photography back in London and have been quite the shutterbug since, albeit a very amateurish one. Every photo brings me right back to the moment that I captured. There isn’t a single image that I couldn’t put my finger to. In a mere few hours, I took an epic tour of my life and it was, for the lack of a better phrase, pretty freakin’ awesome.

Some moments were better than others, of course. Some were good AND bad, such as the ones during our first family vacation in Perth. The three of us were just grasping the concept of FAMILY, and learning how to live with one another. Faith was barely three months old then and fell rather ill during the trip (think at least eight watery, colourless poopy diapers a day). We were worried sick and comforted her as much as we could, but we were also pissing mad whenever she screamed in the car seat. And she screamed EVERY SINGLE TIME. M and I tried to relax, but there was so much going on that we couldn’t. When the nights fell, we shuddered as we braced ourselves for hourly wakings that a sleep regression had brought upon us. Yet, there were the moments, when we felt so much love from our lovely hosts (the McLeans, who have never met us in person but generously offered to put us up and even welcomed us with our first Australian barbie), tilted our heads back with our eyes closed so the warm and inviting rays hit our faces, and held hands as we silently strolled through the campus of my father’s alma mater with his granddaughter nicely tucked into the carrier.

To others, this may just be another holiday, with a wee bit more drama, pitstops, and a bigass diaper bag, but to me, our first family vacation taught me love, patience, endurance, strength, generosity, friendship and the faith that we can get through anything as long as we are together.

Everything was more beautiful. Even the skies were bluer.

It was lovely, being alone.

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Florence Eats: Best Truffle Pasta at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco

201301 Florence Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco

The world ends today*. I’m looking for the best dishes to tuck into before I croak. What do I go for?

Definitely the taglierini al tartufo (taglierini with fresh truffle) from the kitchens of Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. It was so good, that we replicated this dish at home. Seductively heady and nutty, I couldn’t stop gushing over this rendition, much to the amusement of diners at the next table.

The pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar ragu) comes a close second. I am not really into game, but this was smokey and very flavoursome, without being nauseatingly pungent (a smell that I have come to associate with game). The silky ribbons of pappardelle were the perfect accompaniment to the chunky wild boar sauce.

I’m a pasta aficionado, so I would do away with the roast meats and so-so desserts at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, and hit the streets for some good ol’ gelato!

*No, the world isn’t really going to end today….well, I wouldn’t know, would I?!

Check out our trip to Pisa and other adventures in Florence!

Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco is located at:

Borgo San Jacopo, 62r
50125 Firenze, Italia

Florence Eats: A Very Quick (and Cheap!) Bite

Let me put it this way…there is waaaay too much good food in Florence. We were spoilt for choice and I would have hoovered every pasta dish that I came across on the menus, if not for the fact that there is such a thing as a satiable appetite, even for a glutton like me.

Every meal in our itinerary was accounted for, but S from Breadetbutter urged us to try the sandwiches at Il Fratellini, a hole-in-the-wall kiosk that offers delectable yet affordable sandwiches and a good selection of wine, so  of course we HAD to have tea.

Now, I ain’t a fan of sandwiches, having once lived in London for too long and grazed on good and bad ones for a fair number of years. But this was DA BOMB. Warm crusty, yet fluffy bread with prosciutto arrosto and smothered in crema tartufata (roast pork ham with truffle cream) for only €3! Very good indeed. I mean, just look at the truffle cream oozing out of the sandwich! I regret to inform you that my husband devoured most of it. Tsk tsk.

201301 Florence Il Fratellini sandwich

Check out our trip to Pisa and other adventures in Florence!

Il Fratellini is located at:

Via dei Cimatori 38/r
50122 Firenze

The Tapestry of Firenze

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[Clockwise from top] Duomo, Santa Maria Novella, another facet of Duomo

It’s been more than 1.5 years since we travelled to Florence (yes, I know this post is waaaaay overdue) but time has not stolen the memories I have of the city. In many ways, Florence is not unlike other European cities, woven into a tapestry of the old and new, the classic and the kitsch. But it is somewhat richer, more flavourful and vivid than others.

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[Clockwise from top left] The Cart, Men and Women in the parade for Scoppio del Carro

We were there during Easter of 2011, and as with every poorly planned holiday we’ve had, we were greeted by the deafening surprise that is Scoppio del Carro, otherwise known as the Explosion of the Cart, an Easter Sunday tradition of Florence in which a cart chock full of fireworks is lit outside the Duomo. The Singaporean in me writhed when we heard the explosions and bells ringing as we stepped out of the hotel; I was kiasi (Hokkien for ‘afraid of death’) and kaypoh (meaning ‘nosey’) at the same time, a most clashing combination of traits that eventually leaned towards curiosity and led us to the source of the mayhem. Yes, there was the most elaborate cart I’ve ever seen, shooting flames at the cheering crowd in dangerously close proximity. Men and women dressed in the most colourful robes with plush feathers adorning their heads, arms yielding fake weapons and trumpets, were lined up in the most chaotic and loud parade I’ve ever come across. M and I almost lost each other in the crowd and it got a little scary when a stampede threatened to break but the festival was utterly brilliant!

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Carvings (at Duomo), sculptures (Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with Head of Medusa can be found at Loggia dei Lanzi) and random alley in Florence

The city does offer quieter sights. We admired ornate carvings that so often adorned the magnificent buildings in Florence. The open-air gallery at Loggia dei Lanzi is an inspiring collection of sculptures, punctuated by the clusters of tourists lounging in the sun. We also wandered down many alleys, which in my opinion, were most beautiful when dusk fell.

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Vintage trinkets at Mercato delle Pulci (located at Piazza dei Ciompi)

Florence is home to a number of flea markets as well, my favourite being Mercato delle Pulci, which carried trinkets that made me, a vintage junkie, hyperventilate.

We also ate like kings in the Italian city. Huge slabs of Florentine steak, silky gelato, the simplest yet most flavoursome pastas and fresh produce (more reviews to follow, so watch this space!) were not uncommon on our food itinerary.

There’s only one thing to do after visiting Florence. Visit again!

Check out our trip to Pisa and other adventures to follow in Florence!