Monthly Archives: November 2013

REFLECTIONS – The dear departed

My husband is contemplating sitting with a friend who waits alone in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, keeping vigil by his wife’s bedside. She has slipped into unconsciousness and he knows this is all the earthly time he has left with her. She appeared to have beaten the cervical cancer which troubled her a few years ago, but fell ill recently. Her deterioration was so rapid that the medical staff prepared him for the worst.

As the year rolls to a close, my thoughts turn to the many dear ones I miss. Besides my mother and favourite aunt, there was the friend who passed on just two months ago. Fortunately, we managed to visit and spend an afternoon with him when he was still able to entertain visitors, albeit with his oxygen tank (he had emphysema).

One of my regrets will always be not making it to Belfast where Sister Finbarr retired. She was the Irish Principal of the convent school (Katong Convent) I attended and I was too callow to realise how fond I was of her until long after she had left Singapore. I remember being summoned to her little office because she found my reading report (we were encouraged to maintain reading lists) unbelievably long.

Quaking, I would give her a synopsis of any book she picked from my list. After a couple of visits, we became quite pally as it dawned on her I was devouring my way through the children’s section of the National Library. Very astute, she must have noticed that I was too timid to make things up, so she would pat me on the head and send me on my way. Henceforth, for a painfully shy child, I felt quite chuffed to have her call me by name every time I was in her line of vision. But, more importantly, close proximity allowed a glimpse of the kindness and concern behind the steely blue eyes and stern demeanour.

Someone else I regret not making time for was my best friend in my first two years of school. Her name was Mary Ng and she was too good for this world, and probably too good for me. We drifted apart as we grew up and while I can’t remember why, I’m sure we would have stayed firm friends if I had made an effort. When we were 16, Mary died from something related to her asthma problem. Again, it took years for me to feel the loss.

However, not to end on a sad note, death while wrenching for the ones left behind, reminds us to be mindful of life. As the fellow with the scythe can haul any of us off at his convenience, I am going to try to keep contact with the people I’m fond of – a colossal task for someone about as sociable as a tarsier. Let me ponder whether I even want to join Facebook. Nope! But there’s always the phone and old-fashioned email.

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FOOD – Nuts Over Chestnuts

In Singapore where we sweat while singing, “Chestnuts roasting over an open fire” it’s hard to imagine Jack Frost nipping at our nose, but over in temperate zones, Autumn is making way for Winter and Hwee Hwee Laurence has her chestnut supply all ready for both Asian and Western delights through the year.

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When I was small, once in a while, my father would come home with a small paper bag of hot freshly-roasted chestnuts bought from the street vendor in our housing estate.  It was a treat we always looked forward to.  At that time, I never imagined that my life would one day take such a turn that I would have the chance to see an actual chestnut tree, to pick and roast chestnuts myself.

Autumn is chestnut-picking time in France.  While we have a walnut tree in our garden, we never bothered to plant chestnut because we are practically surrounded by chestnut forests.  Every year, when chestnuts start to fall, we take a hike in the forests to collect them before the animals, especially wild boar, eat them all.  In the 1800-1900’s in France, chestnut-pickers wore a type of boots with fierce-looking spikes on the soles.  These chestnut crushing clogs were used to crush the very prickly fruit and to extract the nuts.  Today we are more discreet.  We use gloves – nevertheless, thick garden gloves.

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We usually pick a few baskets of chestnuts, air-dry and deep-freeze them for use throughout the year.  They keep very well and thawed chestnuts, when roasted, taste as good as the fresh ones.  In winter, our house is heated with wood-burning stoves and in the evenings, roasting chestnuts in a heavy cast iron frying pan on top of the stove creates a cozy and fragrant ambience.

In France, chestnuts are divided into two types.  If there are a few seeds in the pod, they are called châtaignes; if there is only one (big) seed, they are called marrons.  At Christmas time, marrons glacés or candied chestnuts are a traditional offering.

I personally do not like marrons glacés – I find them too sweet and starchy.  But I like using châtaignes in cooking, eg in Chinese black stewed belly pork or roast duck with chestnuts.  I also like to use chestnut purée in baking.  Since we do not celebrate Christmas in a big way in France (because we get invited to friends’ homes), we tend to cook a normal meal for Christmas Eve but have at least a special seasonal dessert.  Here is one that is a great favourite with the kids.  It is adapted from Delicious Magazine, UK, whose recipes are supposed to be tried and tested (www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk).  I make my own chestnut purée, but in Singapore they should be available in specialty shops.

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CHESTNUT ROULADE

Ingredients

175g plain chocolate, broken up

6 large eggs, separated

175g caster sugar

Icing sugar to dust

For the filling:

200ml double cream

4 tablespoons sweetened chestnut purée

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line the base and sides of a Swiss roll tin (about 22 x 32cm) with baking paper.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl in a microwave on medium power for 2-3 minutes.

Put the egg yolks and sugar into a large bowl. Using an electric hand whisk, whisk for about 3-4 minutes, until pale, thick and creamy. Whisk in the melted chocolate.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Stir a little into the chocolate mixture to loosen, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites using a large metal spoon, until just combined.

Pour into the lined tin and smooth out to the edges to fill. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until spongy to the touch. Leave to cool for 10 min.

Place a sheet of baking paper on the work surface.  Turn the roulade out onto the paper. Peel off the baking paper backing from the roulade, then cover with a clean sheet of baking paper and a damp tea towel.  Leave to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Whip the cream until it just holds its shape.  Fold in the chestnut purée and whisk again until thick.

Cut the edges off the roulade, spread with the chestnut cream, then roll up the sponge tightly, using the paper to help you.  Do not worry if the crust sticks to the paper a little or if there are cracks – the icing sugar will cover this.

Transfer to a flat serving plate.  Dust thickly with sieved icing sugar and decorate with Christmas cake ornaments.

TRAVEL – Morocco on my mind

In 1969, Crosby, Stills & Nash tickled our imagination with lyrical exotic images of Morocco – of cobras in the square and striped djellebas we can wear – in their song Marrakesh Express. Forty years later, my friend travel writer, Tan Chung Lee adds to the pictures in our head. Photos also by Chung Lee.

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Berber man beside his house in Alt Benhaddou

The image of a colourful and lively Djemaa el-Fna (pronounced Jamaa’ Elfnaa) sprang to mind the moment I heard the animated drums and singing. It couldn’t be anywhere else.

I had just arrived by train in Marrakesh from Casablanca and had been dropped off by a ‘petit taxi’ at a road curb close to the square to make my way to my riad (traditional Moroccan house converted into a hotel) in the medina. What a welcome after a five-hour flight from Istanbul followed by a three-hour train ride.

Soon after checking in, I hurried out again, to what must be the liveliest square in all of Morocco. There was a heady carnival atmosphere at Djemaa-el-Fna where it seemed as if an entire circus had come to town.

There was a cacophony of music everywhere – from flutes, pipes, tambour, drums and even the bells of water sellers, clad in red costumes and broad-rimmed hats, hawking brass cups of water poured out of a goat-skin bag to passers-by.

The loudest and most stirring music of all came from the Gnaoua spiritual music troops, beating on drums and clicking the kirkbat, which are oversized metal castanets.

Spectators were huddled in groups, entranced by non-stop entertainment provided by snake charmers in one spot, story-tellers in another, dancing ‘lady-boys’ clad in women’s costumes shaking their bon-bons in a far corner and the antics of Barbary apes perched on the shoulders of their roaming owners. Berber women sitting on stools offering henna tattoos dotted the square.

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While the entertainers were strutting their stuff, in another part of the square, amid billowing clouds of smoke, was the waft of barbecued food coming from a jumble of stalls, selling an amazing variety of dishes – from snails and soup to deep-fried fish and kebabs.

 

The irresistible Square

I first had a freshly squeezed orange juice, at one of the many orange and grapefruit stalls that occupy the square all day, unlike the food stalls that only roll in at dusk. Then I tried a small bowl of snails, as an appetizer, for 5 dirhams, before wandering around the square to soak in the ambience.

It was quite intoxicating. What amazed me was how, every time I aimed my camera to snap a photo of some performing group, one of its members would instantly appear to ask for money. I gave a couple of dirhams each time. Later, I was told I was lucky to have escaped with such a small amount. Many tourists have, apparently, been aggressively hassled to give more, sometimes as much as 100 dirhams.

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Lady boys entertaining in Djemaa el-Fna

Over the next couple of nights, I would go up to the rooftop terrace of Argana, one of several cafes surrounding the square, for a panoramic ringside view of the action on Djemaa el-Fna and shoot pictures without the subjects of my attention even being aware!

For a true feel of the atmosphere, do eat at least once at one of its food stalls. I tried fish, freshly fried on the spot, choosing to dine at a popular stall with a long queue of people waiting for an empty table or for their takeaway orders. The fish came with a plate of grilled eggplant, mashed to a pulp – a bit like Baba Ganoush – and drizzled with olive oil, and another of mashed tomatoes, both mopped up with bread. The entire tasty meal cost only 24 dirhams (S$4.80).

The action at Djemaa el-Fna does not wind down till well past midnight, when exhausted performers begin to disperse and the food vendors, with steadily diminishing supplies, start to pack up. The quickly emptying square goes into slumber till late afternoon the following day when the clamour returns.

The rest of Marrakesh is just as much of a hubbub; indeed, you will spend hardly a dull moment here. Its old walled city – the medina, with its twisting alleyways – is a delight to explore. This is where you will find colourful souks (markets), selling everything from perfumes and spices to leather bags, shoes and ceramics, and beautiful courtyard homes, many of which have been converted into riads.

Souks and palaces

You might have to dodge donkey carts, bicycles, motorbikes and persistent shopkeepers but a wander through these souks offer a taste of the real Marrakesh, where the sights, sounds and smells of the city come alive.

Tucked amid the souks and houses are some enchanting gems – hammams (old-fashioned Turkish-style baths offering spa and massage treatments; quiet gardens and the organic Earth Café, where you can buy bottles of fabulous olive oil and the prized argan oil processed from the café’s own farms.

Built by the Arabs and dating back to the 9th century, the 16-sq-km medina also contains two palaces, of which the 19th century Bahia Palace is the more spectacular. In contrast, the nearby 16th century El-Badi Palace is bare; only its size alludes to a past grandeur.

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Artisan in Marrakesh souk

Close to the palaces is the former Jewish quarter, the Mellah, where you can wander in the old jewelry souk, now occupied by spice vendors, and admire the tall houses in its winding alleys. Its synagogue with a courtyard marked by the Star of David is still patronized by a small Jewish community.

From YSL chic to the majestic Atlas Mountains

Beyond the medina lies Ville Nouvelle, the modern face of Marrakesh with its stylish shops, restaurants and bars. It was here where I was looking for an epicerie to buy some wines for my trip to the mountains that I stumbled on Majorelle Gardens, a favourite among French tourists, for the magnificent gardens created by French couturier Yves Saint Laurent and his friend, Pierre Berge, who fell in love with the city and are perhaps the first to have kicked off the Marrakesh mania among current travelers.

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Majorelle Gardens

Marrakesh lies in central Morocco and there is plenty to do within this area. The variety is astonishing too – from the high Atlas mountains, just a 90-minute-drive away, and rock-cut gorges and palm oases, accessible in half a day, to the majestic red sand dunes of the Sahara at Erg Chebbi, reached at the end of a long day.

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Desert town of Merzouga

Keen to do some trekking and inspired by evocative images of Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, I chose to travel to Imlil, using it as a base for forays into the area. Geographically close to Marrakesh, it is a world apart with snow-capped peaks, lush valleys and hilltop villages.

Apart from the breathtaking scenery, Imlil offers a glimpse of typical village farming life in Morocco, where goats are herded across pastures and fields are tended bywomen, almost all of whom are veiled and in long robes, as this is one of the most conservative parts of the country.

Where are the men? I asked my guide, Mohammed, as we passed a couple of women, who had just collected a huge pile of grass each and were struggling to place it on their backs, to carry home to feed the animals. “I think they need help.” He laughed. “They work with tourists, as guides, only women work in the villages.” He gave each of them a hand and put the load on their shoulders.

Summer in Morocco is hot but in the mountains, it is cool and pleasant. At night, the temperature dips even more and it was a delight to dine on the open-air terrace of my guesthouse, surrounded by views of snow-capped peaks, while the plaintive bleat of goats, herded into the third-storey pens of the local houses, after a day in the pastures, punctured the tranquility.

Ancient Kasbahs and gorgeous gorges

Kasbahs have long been part of the Moroccan landscape. Some Kasbahs were the fortified homes of wealthy families while others were citadels, housing entire village populations. Virtually all of them occupy a strategic position, on hilltops, for defence purposes, and enclosed within high walls.

While many of the Kasbahs have fallen into ruin because of age, some are still in quite pristine condition. On the other side of the Atlas Mountains, on the route known as the Valley of 1000 Kasbahs, I travelled in a shared ‘grand taxi’ along the tortuous but spectacular Tizi n ‘Tichka road to one of Morocco’s most picturesque Kasbahs, the iconic mud-brick Ait Benhaddou.

This fortified city from the 11th century sits on a hill along the Ouarzazate River, on the old caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh. Like its high mountains, yawning canyons and red sand dunes, Kasbahs like Ait Benhaddou, which add a splash of colour and charm to an otherwise desolate landscape, conjure up images of romance. Little wonder, it is a favourite among Hollywood producers for use as the backdrop for epic films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth and the most recent, The Gladiator.

Home to an entire village at one time, the Kasbah is now inhabited by less than a dozen families, a few of whom resourcefully allow visitors to tour their three-storey houses and point out props used in various films in return for a small tip.

End your trip in Casablanca (where I started mine). More a city of commerce, Casablanca is less atmospheric than many places in Morocco, but it has a cosmopolitan vibe and many attractive art-deco buildings.

Movie buffs must visit Rick’s Café, opened in 2004, the brainchild of an American diplomat, inspired by the famous Casablanca film. The spirit of the movie is unmistakable in its interior, which faithfully captures the scenes fans will remember, although the movie was shot in Hollywood.

Still, as you nurse a drink while listening to the resident pianist playing As Time Goes By, it is easy to imagine yourself in the Casablanca of the 1940s.

Travel Tips

Getting around

The best way is by sharing a ‘grand taxi’ (usually a Mercedes) with five others. There is no fixed schedule unlike the buses’ you just turn up at the stand for long-distance taxis. You pay for your seat and wait for five other passengers to show up. How long you have to wait depends on the destination and the time of day. Taxis fill up more quickly in the morning and when it is headed to a popular town. To save on waiting time and more comfort, you can pay for more seats or share the cost with other passengers. There were times when I waited only 10 minutes and only once did I have to wait for two hours.

Dining

Morocco’s most famous dish is the tajine, which is actually the name of the inverted funnel-shaped clay vessel used for cooking. There is lamb, chicken, beef, fish and even vegetable tajines to choose from. They are delicious, cooked with a variety of spices and over an open fire for hours. Pair a tajine with a Moroccan wine, which is of good quality.

Speaking of wines, they are only served in licensed restaurants although many unlicensed ones allow you to bring your own wine, without any corkage levied. To buy wines, you should seek out an epicerie (a general grocery store) in Ville Nouvelle.

FOOD – Milky dessert

I’m not lactose-intolerant – rare among the orientals, thanks to my mum feeding me copious amounts of milk right into adulthood. Sadly, my 23-year-old son has problems digesting lactose but tolerates cheese better than milk. Even now I have milk in the morning and at night, but low-fat of course. And yet, a bone scan indicated osteopenia – sigh.

There’s lots of controversy regarding the healthfulness of dairy but those of us who love our milky beverages, ice cream, clotted cream, Brie, paneer and so on are loath to give it up even if it’s believed to be mucus causing.

When I received a 2-litre pack of F&N Magnolia Lo-Fat Hi-Cal Milk, I glugged down half of it and used some to make puddings. With mango and evaporated milk, you get the consistency and taste of the mango pudding served in Chinese restaurants. But to lower calories, substitute low-fat milk for much of the evaporated milk.

If you use only low-fat milk, maybe you can get something that resembles a very light panna cotta. Panna cotta fans will laugh with derision – we know panna cotta requires heavy cream which accounts for the rich smoothness, but dieters can’t be choosers.

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FRUITY Pudding

10g agar powder

100g sugar

600ml water

1 punnet strawberries or 3 ripe mangoes, puree half, chop half

250ml evaporated milk

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan, mix the agar and sugar with 500ml water. Bring to a gentle boil over low heat, stirring constantly.
  2. Gradually add evaporated milk, stirring until well blended. When the mixture starts to boil, turn off heat and add fruit.
  3. Pour into rinsed jelly moulds.

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Lo-Fat FRUITY Pudding

10g agar powder

100g sugar

300ml water

1 punnet strawberries or 3 ripe mangoes, puree half, chop half

100ml evaporated milk

450ml low-fat milk

Same method

FOOD – Mistakes Made Good… and Sweet

From Hwee Hwee Laurence in France:

Have you ever been afraid to try cooking or baking because you think you are not good at it?  That if you make a mistake and the dish or cake turns out a flop, nobody will eat it?  That it will be a waste of time and money?

But do you know that some of the most famous foods arose from mistakes? In the early 1900’s, the Kellogg brothers were working at the Battle Creek (Mich.) Sanitarium.  They cooked some wheat, left it out and forgot about it. The dough went stale, but they rolled it out anyway.  It became flakes, which was toasted and made crispy.  The crispy cereal was a hit amongst the patients of the sanitarium.  The Kellogg brothers then experimented with other cereals and their most famous product – Kellogg’s Corn Flakes – was born.

In France, one of the most well-known sweets is the Carambar.  In 1954, a sweet factory tried out a new recipe, unaware that one of the machines was malfunctioning.  What resulted was the long chewy caramel bar that still exists today.  Carambar is now produced in more than 15 flavours and is as popular as ever amongst children.

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So what do you do if you make a cooking or baking mistake?  Don’t just throw out the dish, unless of course, it is really inedible.  Use some imagination and think of what you can turn it into.

Last week, I baked a chocolate cake that turned out to be too dry and the taste too flat.  The kids ate some, then lost interest.  So what did I do?  I broke it into crumbs, added some strong coffee and a dash of rum and mashed it into a doughy consistency.  Pinched off pieces, rolled them into balls, then coated them with sugar.  And voila!  I hereby present to you – Rum balls. 

They were all snapped up for dessert at the next meal.

RECIPE – Never a dhal moment

A photographer I once worked with asked “Is it boring?” when we kept referring to a dish as a dhal (dull) curry. On the contrary, dhal or lentils make such yummy dishes that even my carnivore husband takes second helpings when dhal is served.

Cynthia Wee-Hoefer, one-time colleague and now organic farmer (the Hoefers grow vegetables in Nepal) wrote in her Organic Himalaya November email Update: “Today’s lunch was reheated Nepali lentil soup that we had frozen from the last batch made for Farmers’ Market. We embellished it with chopped mushrooms, diced carrot and diced turnip and filled bowls of hearty goodness and sublime flavours with a hint of fennel seeds, coriander, turmeric and onions.” For more info, visit http://www.bodywithsoul.com/organic_himalaya.php

Doesn’t that sound deliciously warm and comforting?

Lentils are cheap, nutritious and versatile. There’s such a variety and they can be served in stews, soups, with salads or as spreads. The high fibre helps stabilise blood sugar and with 26% of the calories attributed to protein, and the high iron content, it can help us live healthily without hurting animals. 

I like my dhal with a generous dollop of yoghurt – looks messy but tastes heavenly. With the increasing number of diabetics in Singapore (and elsewhere), we would do well to switch to complex carbs and low-fat but satisfying ingredients that don’t leave us famished after a while and craving cookies and crisps. As someone who is mesmerized by chocolate, cake and salty snacks, I know how important it is to feel full enough to resist the tasty offerings passed around the office, or calling my name in food malls.

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Here’s a dhal dish from the Indian Vegetarian Cookbook by Prava Majumder and Sumita Sen-Gupta published in 1989 by Times Books International (now Marshall Cavendish). I have fond memories of working with Mrs Majumder whose recipes were featured in the magazine I then worked at. Make a big pot of this sambar and freeze in batches to savour whenever you want something simply good.

 

Dhall Sambar

Serves 6

Prep: ½ hour, Cook: 1 hour

Kcal per serving: 347

Ingredients

2 teacups arahar dhall (use any small lentils)

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

½ cup sliced white radish

½ cup sliced eggplant

½ cup sliced okra

½ cup sliced drumstick (optional)

½ cup sliced carrot

½ cup sliced cauliflower

4 Fresh green chillies

2 teaspoons chilli powder

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons oil

4 dried red chillies

A few curry leaves

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 teaspoons chopped ginger

2 onions, chopped

1 tablespoon tamarind juice

Method

Wash dhall and then boil with salt and turmeric powder. Cook with saucepan covered.

When dhall is half-cooked, put in all the fresh vegetables except cauliflower, green chillies and tomatoes.

When vegetables are three-quarters cooked, add cauliflower, green chillies, chilli powder, sugar and tomatoes. Remove boiled mixture from fire when cauliflower is half-cooked.

Heat oil in a pan and fry dried red chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds till they pop.

Add ginger and onions; fry till light brown. Add the cooked dhall and tamarind juice; leave to simmer for a few minutes before removing from fire.

Serve Dhall Sambar with plain rice.

FOOD – Give yourself a treat

“When you’re down and troubled and you need some loving care,” instead of calling your friend to commiserate as advised by Carole King, treat yourself and your friend to lunch at the One-Ninety Restaurant of the Four Seasons Singapore.

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In true Four Seasons hospitality, I was showered with such “loving care” by the waiting staff that I felt bad for not polishing off all of my trout, fearing I would hurt the feelings of the chef. But I couldn’t resist the appetizers and you know how a bit of this and a bit of that adds up. Plus, I had to reserve room for dessert which turned out to be irresistible – just look at the photos!

Suffice it to say that the ambience of the One-Ninety Restaurant will make you feel so cossetted, you wish lunch would drag on. But no such luck. By 3pm, the appetizer and dessert buffet (available from Mon-Sat with a choice of main course) is cleared, and one must return to the hard, cruel world. I’m not describing the spread in detail like a food blogger would because 1) I don’t eat meat and missed all the luscious cuts, and 2) I tend to be more enamoured with the look and feel of places.

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In deference to my expanding waistline, I held back at the dessert table, restricting myself (sob) to just a scoop of old-fashioned goodies – bread-and-butter pudding, red velvet cake, and trifle. All were excellent, so thank goodness the appetisers and desserts were whisked away like Cinderella’s coach before I could give in to temptation. Really, an elegant escape for girlfriends, lovers or to impress a business contact.

BOOKS – The aunties investigate

Fans of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series will find Princess Play by Barbara Ismail (Monsoon Books) and Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu (William Morrow) much easier to relate to.

Both set in this part of the world (Southeast Asia), the stories involve nosy mature women who are led by instinct and niggling details. Although separated by time – Princess Play happens in 1970s Kelantan, Malaysia while Aunty Lee is right at home in contemporary Singapore – there is something familiar about these hospitable, motherly women.

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In a languid style reminiscent of coastal Malaysia in a time of few distractions, Mak Cik (aunty) Maryam finds herself once again drawn into a police investigation into the unnatural death of a neighbor. The second in the Kain Songket Mysteries series returns us to the kampong environment, sandy beaches, bustling marketplace where Maryam plies the famous brocade of Kelantan, and to quirky Malay idioms.

We become better acquainted with Maryam’s family, and to her own vulnerabilities which has to be resolved by the fascinating ceremony known as Main Puteri (Princess Play), thus described by the U.S National Library of Medicine:

The permainan puteri (usually abbreviated to main puteri) is an indigenous Kelantanese healing ceremony in which the bomoh (traditional medicine-man), the sick individual and other participants become spirit-medium through whom puteri (spirits) are able to enact a permainan (‘play’). It has been successfully used as a psychotherapy for depression. The bomoh assisted by his minduk (master of spirits) and a troupe of musicians, is able to provide a conceptual framework around which the sick individual can organize his vague, mysterious and chaotic symptoms so that they become comprehensible and orderly. At the same time the bomoh is able to draw the sick individual out of his state of morbid self-absorption and heighten his feelings of self-worth. The involvement of his family, relatives and friends tends to enhance group solidarity and reintegrate the sick individual into his immediate social group.

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In Aunty Lee’s Delights, Ovidia Yu gathers all things Singaporean to create a delicious stew of murder, expats, homophobia, class consciousness, foreign domestic workers, maternal love, derangement, and food of course.

Be patient. The first quarter of the book crawls, but it takes off as the widow, Aunty Daisy Lee, owner of a Peranakan eatery prods the police in the right direction while serving snacks and meals to all and sundry. You get hungry reading about fluffy coconut-fragrant rice and curry puffs that can make a policeman swoon.  And then, there are Aunty Lee’s apt (but funny) cooking-and-life analogies.

FUN – Wine, Vernon and Song

The Wine Arcade at the quiet end of Mackenzie Road closed on Saturday, 9 November and will only reopen when the entire block is refurbished. The building is rather ancient and like everything old in Singapore, it will either make way for a condominium, shopping mall or office block, or be relegated a heritage site and preserved. We’re lucky if it’s the latter.

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My photos are pathetic because I couldn’t find the flash on my camera phone last night – probably the result of too much wine. But a good time was had by all with boogying on tables and enthusiastic singing-along to Vernon Cornelius’s rendition of old-time hits that gave away the vintage of the patrons. Besides lovely bossa-nova and jazz numbers with great guitar work by Tony and Ted, Vernon had the house roaring with Teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini and The Young Ones.

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If these make you nostalgic, do watch out for when the Wine Arcade opens its doors again – they have no idea whether it will be in 3 or 5 months but definitely it will be 2014. Hopefully, Vernon and band will still be playing on Saturdays.

in the meantime, Vernon will be appearing with Riem de Wolff (half of The Blue Diamonds, famous for the song Ramona) at the Press Club Ball on 23 Nov 2013.

WELLNESS – Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly

For mouth ulcers, dab 100% pure lavender essential oil. I was bothered by a painful ulcer for 10 days. Bonjela and Difflam Mouth Gel did not help. I was advised to apply salt but no way was I going to subject myself to more suffering. My colleague suggested lavender oil. I happened to have a bottle of Young Living lavender oil but any reputable brand will do. It goes on painlessly but the taste isn’t great. The effects were almost immediate and the ulcer was gone in two days.