Category Archives: Moments

MOMENTS – A Time for Everything

Here’s something for Hwee Hwee’s long-lost friends who have found her through my blog. It makes me feel not so bad about being such a slob and not posting anything for the last few months.

 

Over on sunny Singapore, all we have to watch for is the super dry season which has thankfully just ended, and the Monsoons, so it’s hard to imagine changing seasons. I have still not figured out how to get basil and mint to survive, and the pests have ravaged my limau perut (kaffir lime) plant yet again. How nice to think of Hwee Hwee gazing at a poplar forest and at majestic eagles flying wild and free.

 

In late winter, I see vineyards dotted with small faraway figures – workers trimming the vines, cutting back the long shoots of the previous year to allow new shoots to grow and bud.  Long ago, when visiting another part of France, I have observed farmers pushing along a wheelbarrow in which they burn the vines as they are cut.  The lonely figures and wisps of smoke arising from the neat row of vines make a melancholic landscape.  I think burning the cut vines might be the way done for vines grown on land where it is too steep for tractors to pass and where grape is harvested by hand.

 

In the vineyard beside our house, it is usually the old farmer Mons Grialou who does the cutting, single-handedly and at his own steady pace.  After the branches are cut, the wife and daughter, and sometimes neighbours and friends, depending on who are available, arrive to pull the cut branches from their supporting wires and leave them between the rows of vine plants.  Then Mons Grialou comes again with a tractor to grind the cut branches into compost for the vineyard.  An easier and greener way of disposing of the cut branches than burning, I think.

 

Since we use woodstoves for heating in winter, we always ask the Grialous to leave us a row or two of cut vines.  Once dried, they make excellent starter-sticks for the next winter’s stoves.  Many people also use them for barbecue fires – they are supposed to impart a special flavour to the grilled food.

 

I have lived in the midst of the vineyards for so long now that I sometimes take them for granted – I hardly make a special effort to go for walks in the vineyards – something I would have found so romantic to do 10 years ago.  But what I love is the job of picking vine sticks.  It is one job that I never grumble about.  On bright, sunny winter afternoons, I would dress myself warmly and trudge down towards the vines armed with a pair of strong pruning shears.  I work slowly down the row, cutting off the crooked awkward parts of the pulled-out vines.  The peacefulness of the vineyard never fails to amaze me.  Sometimes I pause and shade my eyes to look at the poplar forest in the distance; sometimes I admire how the evening light changes the colours of the hills around.  Often I hear cries of eagles and when I look up – there they would be, circling above me.

 

When all the awkward corners are trimmed, it is time to gather the sticks.  In this, my boys like to help.  We gather them and lay them straight then their father comes and ties each bunch up tightly.  He has this habit of saying – put your finger on the knot and don’t move, whatever happens!  After the nineteenth time, the boys roll their eyes and sigh with exasperation.  Depending on how much we have gathered, we either truck the bunches back with wheelbarrows or the father will bring out his old-fashioned sputtering farm trailer.  The latter is always more fun because the boys get to ride in it.  Finally, the vine sticks are cut into good lengths that will fit properly into the woodstoves, and stored in the woodshed for winter.  The sight of cut wood and vine sticks gives me a great sense of fulfilment – like I have made proper provision for something important.

 

You might say – so much work just to get some starter sticks.  Yes, you are right, but all this is the natural progression of things.  Winter is for pruning, turning and preparing the soil of the vegetable patch, repairing things around the house; spring is for sowing, weeding and tending the new plants; summer is for harvesting; autumn for raking fallen leaves and storing the harvest properly to last through winter.  Each season brings its own activity – you cannot push or rush it, and I have to learnt not to grouse or grumble against it.  What you can do is to make full use of each season and most importantly, to enjoy each fully.

 

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven:

 

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,Gathering vine sticks

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

 

TRADITION – The King and I

 I have been remiss, obviously. It is now the night of the 8th, and not only have I not posted anything since last year, my friend Hwee Hwee in France sent me a note meant for 6 Jan, and here I am leisurely putting it up late today.

I blame it all on being newly retired and enjoying (too much) not rushing to catch the bus and train, and especially not working to deadlines. Instead, I have been spring-cleaning although no one can tell because I haven’t been brutal enough.

But enough about me. Here is Hwee Hwee’s royal lesson about being a good sport, or it’s off with your head !

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Around the period of 6 January, to celebrate Epiphany and the visit of the three kings bearing gifts for Baby Jesus, a traditional cake called galette des Rois (Kings’ cake) is usually eaten in France.

In the north of France, the galette des Rois is a puff pastry pie with frangipane (almond paste) filling.  In the south, it is a  brioche bread with fruit confit, usually in the shape of a ring or crown, and flavoured with orange-flower.  My family and I prefer the northern style galette.

The galette comes with a paper crown and a trinket (fève, its original form being a bean) hidden inside.  Nowadays, fèves are usually porcelain figurines in the form of little animals, Mother Mary, Baby Jesus or the Simpsons.  The person who gets the feve is the king and gets to wear the crown.

Isn’t it funny how some things are so important to children and so incomprehensible from an adult’s point of view?  My younger son Yves takes this fève business very seriously indeed.  Each time we buy a galette des Rois, he will spend hours carefully observing it to see where there might be a small bump to show where the fève is hiding.   I do not think he needs to do this – he is an extremely lucky boy.  He often finds money on the streets or in supermarkets; he gets good prizes when drawing lots, and once, during a night trek in the forest of Sabah, he even found 2 Malaysian Ringgit on the forest floor !  That is how lucky he is.  Needless to say, he has often gotten the fève and been the King each time the galette des Rois is served, either at home or in the school canteen.  So much so that he probably thinks it is his right to be the king.

Last year, when we had our galette, it was my husband who got the fève.  Yves was so frustrated that he started crying and throwing a (small) tantrum.  I was mad.  Taking into all consideration that children are children, I still hate it when what is meant to be a nice treat turns into something otherwise because of comparing and contrasting, little jealousies, and the failure to be contented with what is given.

This year, Yves asked if I we could buy a galette des Rois.  I did, and when I brought it home, I put it in front of the boys and said – If… IF(!) I see somebody crying or being angry again because he does not get to be king, I am going to rip the crown to bits, stomp the galette into a mash, and give three good smacks with my wooden spoon to that somebody.  Is.  That.  Clear ?

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            It was.  And today, the cutting and eating of the galette passed without much drama.  But guess who got to be the king ? Again.

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.

TRAVEL – Bacchanalian break

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Hwee Hwee Laurence reports from south-west France:

October is the time for les vendanges or grape harvest.  The wine of this southwest region of France is classified under the Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) Cahors and is a dark- red, almost black wine.  The vineyards of AOC Cahors are found around the city of Cahors and along the banks of the River Lot. Grape harvest is always an important and festive time and when we hear, in the distance, the familiar whrr-whrr-whrring of the grape-harvest machine, we always pray for good weather for the farmers to complete their harvest.

The vineyard behind our house belongs to the family Grialou of the Domaine du Buis.  This is a totally family-owned and -worked farm which also rears cows.  When the Grialou family is here trimming or inspecting the vines, I always make it a point to bake a cake and invite them for a cup of tea.

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Domaine du Buis harvests its grapes by machine.  Of course, it is not as romantic as harvesting by hand, but nevertheless very impressive.   Usually, the vines are trimmed for one last time before the harvest to get rid of excess leaves and to leave the bunches of grapes hanging clear.  At harvest-time, the machine passes over each row of vines and literally sucks up the grapes.   The grapes (juice and all) are then emptied into a truck and brought back to the domaine to be processed.  After the harvest, our garden and the land around always smells strongly of wine due to the crushed grapes and spilt grape juice.

There are many other domaines within walking distance of our house but the one I like best is Château la Gineste.  The owners, Ghislaine and Gérard Dega, are very friendly people who allow me complete freedom to bring my Singapore or overseas visitors to oohh and aaahh over their beautifully-kept château and vineyards, and of course, to indulge in a session of wine-tasting. Their vineyards are pesticide-free and grapes for their best wine (Grand Secret) are hand-harvested.  The majority of their wines are aged for about sixteen months in oak barrels.  Hand-harvesting is a family affair – sometimes relatives come from far and wide to help.  Workers laugh and chat while harvesting, and look forward to the truck (to collect the grapes) bringing them some sustenance of dried sausage and baguettes.

After the harvest, October continues to be a busy month for the wine-producers, with grapes to be pressed and juice stored for fermentation.  After things have quietened down, the  domaines often host a feast for family and friends, rather like Thanksgiving in America.

As I look out of my window, the now-silent vineyards are slowing turning gold.  Soon the leaves will drop, making a nice rustling sound as they are blown by the wind, and the bare but sturdy vines will remind me that, before long, winter will be upon us.

MOMENTS – Mud Turtles and Other Fabulous Creatures

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Schoolchildren in Singapore get a holiday on the first Friday of October – it’s Children’s Day, and over in France, Hwee Hwee Laurence reminds herself to let her boys be boys because all too soon in just a few years, they will leave idyllic village life for boarding school and the path to adulthood.

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“Looking out of the window while at the kitchen sink, I see Yves, my younger son furtively pouring water onto a mound of clay earth in the backyard.  Furtively, because he knows I am a stickler for cleanliness, and muddied clothes and dirty fingernails will surely get a holler from me.  He looks up at the kitchen window and I duck, and now it is my turn to peep furtively to see what he will do next.  He sets a big flat stone on the ground and starts patting the wet clay onto the stone, obviously making a sculpture of some sort.  Soon, he is too engrossed to remember to watch out for me.  His elder brother, Rémi comes along and of course, anything so deliciously dirty is most attractive.  And soon, both of them are squatting between ferrying and pouring more water and patting wet earth into mud turtles and other fabulous creatures.

Their father walks past and they show him what they have done.  I see the three of them glance towards the kitchen window and I duck again.  I hear their father tell them it is very nice, but be sure to clean their hands real well when they enter the house or they know what mummy will say.

Or do they?

I have made up my mind that I will not say anything about muddy clothes and dirty hands.  I will kiss their mud-spattered faces and say that I am proud of my little artists.  I will look at their mud turtles and remind myself that the time for childhood and its fantastically fabulous creatures is much more transient than most parents realize.  And I will enjoy it with them.”

Cornflakes Marshmallow Crispies

(This is something kids can make easily.  My boys make it whenever their basketball club has a match on home-ground and the home-team has to provide snacks after the game.)

375g cornflakes (or rice crispies)

200g marshmallows (colour or flavour does not matter)

25g butter

 

Lightly grease a (approx. 33 X 25 cm) deep-sided baking dish or glass dish and the bottom of a flat ladle (eg. rice cooker ladle).  Set aside.

 

In a large pot over medium fire, melt the butter, then add marshmallows and stir well until marshmallows have melted.  Do not let marshmallows burn.

 

Lower the heat and add cornflakes.

 

Toss cornflakes in butter and marshmallows until well-coated and starting to stick together.

 

Pour mixture into baking dish. Use the ladle to press the mixture down firmly until it is well-compacted.  Leave to cool.

 

Using a sharp knife, cut the cornflakes crispies into squares.  Store in airtight container if there are leftovers (not likely!).