Northeast monsoon 2011

The monsoon this December in Singapore has been quite pleasant and nicely marked the year’s passage.  But I am sure some have suffered the relentless downpour on certain days that are described as monsoon surges.

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The info below taken from the weather.gov.sg FAQ site

Singapore has two main seasons, the Northeast Monsoon (December to March) and the Southwest Monsoon season (May to September), separated by two relatively shorter inter-monsoon periods. Although there are no distinct wet or dry periods, the mean monthly rainfall shows drier weather conditions from May to July and wetter conditions in the months from November to January. . February is also a relatively dry month. The beginning and end of the monsoons are usually not very well-defined. Hence, from year to year, there could be slight delay in the beginning or end of a monsoon period. This probably accounts for the monthly rainfall anomaly experienced from year to year.

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Sumatras are line of thunderstorms which usually occur during the Southwest Monsoon season from May to October each year. These squalls develop at night over Sumatra or the Malacca Straits and move east towards Singapore and the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia during the pre-dawn and early morning. They are often characterised by sudden onset of strong gusty surface winds and heavy rain lasting from 1 to 2 hours as they move across the island. Maximum gusts of up to 50 knots have been recorded during the passage of a Sumatra squall.

This below is from the Monsoon update page from the weather.gov.sg

Northeast Monsoon

(Updated on 27 December 2011)

Northeast Monsoon conditions have set in over the region since mid-November 2011.  The Northeast Monsoon season typically starts with a wet phase (December to January) followed by a dry phase (February to early March). During the wet phase, the Northeast Monsoon season is characterized by short duration thundery showers in the afternoon and early evening, and about two to four episodes of monsoon surges. Monsoon surges refer to the steady strengthening of northeasterly winds blowing from the South China Sea. These monsoon surges usually bring periods of prolonged widespread moderate to heavy rain lasting two to five days, occasionally windy conditions and cooler temperatures. During the dry phase, generally drier and windy conditions can be expected.

Based on long-term statistics from our climate station, December is the wettest month of the year (287.4 mm), followed by November (255.9 mm) and January (241.3 mm) respectively. The mean daily minimum temperature is lowest for January (23.3 deg Celsius), followed by December (23.5 deg Celsius) and February (23.6 deg Celsius).

The monsoon surge which has been affecting the region for the past several days has eased.  Windy conditions and passing showers in the afternoon are forecast for the next two days.  Short duration thundery showers in the afternoon can be expected for the rest of the week.

The traditional chicken curry at Christmas

On Christmas day, while the children are still asleep, I am already up and dealing with the chicken, curry paste, coconut milk and eggs that I bought the day before.  I like to buy the ingredients from the wet market and the one nearby has a shop run by an Indian lady who sells the curry powder mix, ground onions, garlic and ginger.

She told me to marinate the chicken by massaging the ginger and garlic paste into the thawed chicken for an hour or so.

Another important thing to do is the cook the curry paste in some oil in a wok to bring out the flavors of the spices.  I also realize that if that is not done, then the rawness of the ginger, garlic and onions can still be picked out.  Of course the caramelization of the onions will not occur as fully as it should.

 

Chicken curry

So here it is – marinated chicken in the pot.  What I had missed here is to fry the paste (portion that wasn’t used in the marinating).  So I did that in a separate pan.

 

Chicken curry

The outcome is this.  Notice I also added in hard boiled eggs – a tradition handed down from my family.  But I wonder where it originated from – lots of people are surprised when they scoop up an egg.  Hey, what do you expect from a pot of chicken?

The recipe

Part I – Ingredients

  • Chicken x1 (chopped to smaller parts)
  • Curry paste (For meats).  Preferably buy from a local wet market (if in Singapore).  The paste I buy has the dry curry spices as well as a separate packet of ginger-garlic paste and separate packet of shallot (onion) paste
  • I small packet of coconut milk
  • Spices – cloves, cinnamon bark, star anise, cardamom
  • Oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander leaves
  • 5 hard boiled eggs
  • 5 Potatoes, peeled.  Starchy or waxy are fine – both kinds add a different texture when attacking the potatoes.  However the starchy ones tend to break down faster but leave a nice thickness to the gravy.

Part II – method

  • Marinate the chicken with half the ginger-garlic paste for like 1 hour before.
  • Add some oil and brown the marinated chicken for about 10 mins and remove
  • Meantime, heat up some oil and add some whole spices (cloves, cinnamon bark, star anise, cardamom) and fry till fragrant.
  • Add in the remaining ginger-garlic paste with the onion paste and add the curry powder.  Mix in the wok in a low heat till the fragrant.  I think that would be about 5-10 mins.
  • Add in the chicken and mix well till the curry covers the chicken well.  The chicken at this point would have started to cook and will break apart easily so its time to add in water and the peeled potatoes.
  • Add in water till it has a curry-like consistency of your choice.  I prefer mine like a gravy.
  • Now its time to cover the pot and leave the heat to low.  Slow cooking makes the meat more tender – the faster the protein denatures in the high heat will result in a rubber like consistency with rushed curries.  Open the pot occasionally to stir the curry.  After about an hour of this, the curry is about done.
  • Now stir in the salt to taste and finally add coconut milk.  I usually add about half of the packet but if you like the curry richer, then add the entire packet.  Its all about customizing it to your own taste.  Once all these have been done, you can add in the hard boiled eggs and garnish with a generous bunch of coriander leaves.  I think the ammonia from the eggs do something nice to the taste.
  • Note:  The coconut milk should be added in at the end.  I add salt at the end as the salt can draw out the water from the chicken at the start and leave it less succulent.
  • Coriander leaves top the curry off very well.
  • Now you can eat it.  Best with rice or for me, the french loaf.

For a more complete recipe from scratch, the page at rasamalaysia.com looks quite authentic.  But I think the idea is perhaps to keep this simple and then vary it according to your taste.  I remember meeting Otterman halfway up Gunung Belumut with a pack of curry powder and a packet of chicken so that he could cook chicken curry for his friends when they reached the summit and set up camp.

The curry chicken with hard boiled eggs is something of a memory vessel for me – my parents used to lug a huge pot of curry with hard boiled eggs, armed with several large baguettes (french loaves) and a long day of inspecting rock pools would end with some curry by the sea.

soccer by the beach

 

 

 

Pedals

I cranked up the Mac and fired up Garageband ’11 and as I fiddled with guitar settings I was pleasantly surprised to see the pedal effects on the right.  The new Garageband version 6.0.4 is really a vast improvement and importantly in its sound.  The guitar sounds cleaner and the effects do what they are meant to (meaning they sound like the real thing).   However, I am still a little disappointed with the Wah effects; its hard to replicate the Cry baby wah sound so when you add wah effect it sounds a bit too mild.  While the interface for the pedals are pleasing, its really difficult to rotate the knobs using the mouse – perhaps a straight forward vertical or horizontal sliding level would suffice.

GB

 

Ladies’ Kisses – almond cookies with chocolate in the middle

This almond cookie is easy to make and very very sinful.  After I baked it, the food frenzy that ensued was a blur.  I regret eating it, I think.  One can only eat two of these at a time.  We all had 3 or 4.

The recipe comes from this book called – The Cookie Book by Catherine Atkinson.  This book has nice pictures of each of the recipes written; I don’t understand cooking books without pictures.  The recipe can be found here in the blog: ” A year of cookies“.  (Interestingly the person who blogged this did just that – bake cookies 365 days!).  I can’t imaging doing that without getting sugar overload.  The sugars in some cookies can make up close to a quarter or a third of the calories in the cookie.  See how sugar cubes literally stack up in the calorie charts of different cookies here.

Ladies' Kisses

The dough is easy to make.  It’s just sugar, flour, almond, an egg, vanilla extract and butter.  It needs to rest for 2 hours in the fridge before you take it out and roll them into balls.

Ladies' Kisses

After you pop them into the oven to wait for 20 mins, you can melt the chocolate by double boiling, i.e., in a bowl over a pan of water that is being heated.

Ladies' Kisses

The cracks form on top of the cookies after 20 mins in the oven.  The smell of roasted almonds permeating the kitchen is quite something.

Ladies' Kisses

The fun part is to spread the melted chocolate in-between the cookies to make a sandwich.  This makes the cookie irresistible.

Ladies' Kisses

Freshly baked cookies are so distracting to kids who have to do homework.

Ladies' Kisses

I think I made them a bit bigger than its suppose to be but still I think the size is attractive.

Ladies' Kisses

This is one of the easiest cookies to make but looks like lots of effort been put in because the cookies sandwich the chocolate middle .  Excellent recipe and great tasting cookie too.  The almonds come through nicely and the smell highly delectable as the almonds get roasted.  They are a bit too sweet for me to have more than 2 at a time so I would suggest using a chocolate that is semi or non-sweetened.

 

 

Bishan Park ride to collect cake

Cycling to collect a cake is a great reason to commute on a bike.  So my mum asked if I wanted half a log cake… why of course.  So Josh and I were off…. swoosh.

Josh with his Polygon

When we reached there, I discovered my sister and Jon were back from their honeymoon in NZ and a what a nice way to catch up over some kway chap.  Noodle boy loves his noodles flat or round.

Breakfast with the honeymooners

She asked me where I would be bringing the kids in the afternoon and I thought Science centre or prawn fishing.  Somehow the cookie crumbled towards fishing.  My sis feeling bored, decided to tag along.  This farm is in Pasir Ris.  It is the least crowded and the atmosphere is pretty laid-back.

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Its pretty fun.  Matt does well sitting there for an hour without whining.

Mindfulness…

It must be the rainy weather – it lulls me into a good meditative mood ever since young.

To be mindful is to be highly aware of the moment and also in the moment – distracted neither by the past nor the future.  It takes a few calm breaths of awareness to achieve this and once it is achieved, a flower can be better appreciated… aisehman.

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“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” 
― Thich Nhat Hanh

Penang food – love

When I heard people extol the deliciousness of Penang food, I didn’t think much of it.  I have been there, but when I was about 5; so food didn’t figure much unless it was cotton candy or hmmmm… I can’t remember what I liked to eat as a kid; perhaps chicken rice.  So anyway, this trip with the family that was meant to be a getaway turned out to be a food epiphany; and so I join in the chorus of Penang food extolment.  And curiously, the atmosphere in Penang is something I have missed very much in Singapore… I must have misplaced that feeling, which somehow, became buoyant in Penang.

Perhaps less words and some pictures.

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Let’s start with the dish that blew our palates away – The Char Koay Teow.  This was for me the epitome of the epiphany.  It didn’t help that I had to chopstick-fight my way to the noodles but luckily my kids are not so wieldy with the chopsticks so I could shovel more kway teow than they.  They food was still hot even as we polished it off.  Must be the one plate of food cooked in one wok at a time OR we finished it so fast it didn’t have time to cool.

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Talk about not waiting for food to cool.  Josh loses patience with thermodynamics and gets his palate owned by the oyster omelette.  Serves him right.

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Oyster omelette

I can’t quite put my finger on it but although we have the same type of food in Singapore, the taste of the counterpart food in Penang just tastes lighter, more flavourful, in the correct portion and gives you that “just can’t get enough of it” feeling.  Am I biased?  Can’t be.  I read in a Penang cook book I borrowed from NLB that each plate of food is cooked individually in the wok so that it gets the right amount of heat.  It must be such subtle practice that adds up.  Read this interview on Asiaone with Chef Loh Hong Chye (of Copthorne King’s Hotel), a Penang-born PR in Singapore.

On the Penang dish that he missed, he said:

“I miss the or luak (oyster omelette) from home. The kind sold here is dry and crispy but the Penang version is softer and more moist. The or luak in Penang also has Thai fish sauce added to it, which lends it a stronger flavor.”

I couldn’t help but detect a Thai influence in Penang cuisine.  Most of the sauces and soups have a sweet-sour flavour; tamarind features strongly in dishes like the Penang Assam Laksa of course (assam is the malay epithet for tamarind).  See this review of the Penang Heritage Book in the Kuali.com.

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Josh is 9 but eats like a pig.  His favorite is anything with noodles.  Here he is vacillating from noodle to noodle.  Left – Hokkien mee and Right – Penang Assam Laksa.

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Chicken Satay – can anything be more balanced in flavour?  I can’t remember how the chicken tasted like but the sauce was wicked.  Having been accustomed to the rich peanut sauce dip in Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised by this sauce – light, sweet and sour.  An explosion of flavours.  With family it is okay to double dip, or quadruple dip.

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One with the satay or Steve Jobs would say groking the satay.

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Okay, so bangers and mash doesn’t really belong to Penang but hey, they even do this well at the Hawker centre.

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We were by the famous Gurney Drive hawker centre one of the days but didn’t get a chance to try out the Pasembur, or Indian rojak.  Well, next time then!

 

Afterthought

Well this youtube video is hilarious, the dancing stall owner selling the Pasembur.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9I1qyjEXKA