Thursday, 10 April 2014

In which I actually cook something

I seem to have lost all impetus to write.  I blame the heat.  It is SO HOT here.  Which is hardly unexpected, given that we’re 80 miles from the equator, but the heat seems to build up, until it is utterly unbearable and our muscles refuse to move.  We waft about, panting and sweating involuntarily.  (Watching children sweating is quite amusing – particularly the Baby.  She’s suffering the most, I suppose, given that she’s permanently wearing a fat suit.)

So anyway, it got so hot, and we’d been languishing at home every afternoon, that I decided Right!  We’re going to Do Something.  (Something other than the Pool, that is, which is our usual post-school activity go-to.  Alas, it has recently become a mosquito Go-To, and after 97 mosquito bites in one afternoon (I exaggerate – but only slightly) we’d all had enough.)  So once the Boy got off his school bus, I scooped us all up and we headed to the Botanic Gardens.

Singapore’s Botanic Gardens are legendary.  A huge big  tropical oasis right in the heart of the city.  Free! Which is unheard of in Singapore (don’t get me started on the price of classes here.  In London I’d pay £1 for two hours Mummy & Toddler time, including snack.  Here I’m looking at $50, and am expected to bring my own fucking snack.  Bastards. ) So anyway, everyone spends at least some portion of their week at the Botanic Gardens.  There are restaurants and mazes and concerts and ponds and hilarious outdoor Tai Chi classes, where you can watch in amazement as people who in Europe would be parked to slowly die in an old folks home tie themselves up in knots.  

In fact it was precisely because of the Botanic Gardens that we chose our apartment  - which is a stroll away, through some back streets (if you live in a country where you can stroll without expiring from heat exhaustion).   Needless to say, since we’ve been in the apartment – seven weeks?  eight?  - we have not strolled, or even driven, cycled or made our way there by any other means of transport.    Which is bonkers, because in addition to all the wonders mentioned above, there is also an incredible children’s area – in fact a whole section of the Gardens dedicated to children, adults allowed only if they are invited in by children (or some such nonsense, which must NEVER reach my children’s ears) – with water fountains and giant lily pads and a huge treehouse and a rope bridge, and basically endless fun. 

It was clearly time to right this wrong.  The Boy gets home from school at 4pm (no lollygagging for 5 year olds here, thank you very much) and so I figured we’d be there by 415, have an hour or so of frolics, then home for Friday night pizza and movie.  Off we went at 358pm, to collect the Boy.  I slammed the door, simultaneously asking our helper if she had keys.  “No Ma’am” (God I love being called Ma’am.  Just sayin’.)    Not to worry, we’d just have to spend a bit more time at the park and order The Man home early for the weekend.   Off we set, and once we’d gotten through the usual bitching and moaning and complaining from the Boy, who does NOT like any alterations to his routine, we were there.  7 minutes’ drive! Parking right outside!  (And 50p an hour parking at that. God bless this country.)  We got out of the car and walked to the entrance.  I felt a rain drop on my head.  I ignored it.  In the three months we’ve been here (holy crap!), it has rained three times.  It was NOT going to start now.

Except it was.  And it did.  Considerately, it waited until we were all in the heart of the children’s gardens, just as far from the car as we could be,  before it started to truly pelt down.  We dashed to a leaky lean-to,  and danced about avoiding fat raindrops for about 10 minutes before we gave up and just let ourselves get wet, one drop at a time. We also got devoured by mosquitos, and all started to flag with more heat exhaustion, because the rain here is HOT RAIN, and does nothing for your temper, or your crappy old-lady hair.  Eventually, as the lean-to started to sag under the weight of the rain, we dashed again to another shelter, this time a more permanent one, and stood watching sheets of water obscure the view of the vegetation, which was growing in front of our eyes half a metre away.  The Baby found a nest of red ants, which is always nice, the Girl ran away with a towel on her head, no knickers , and a see-through dress, and the Boy stripped down to his pants and disappeared off into the undergrowth.  They all eventually came back, and we stopped the ants from getting into the Baby’s mouth, both of which are parenting pluses as far as I’m concerned, but the fucking rain fell on us for AN HOUR AND A HALF.  It was like being inside a waterfall.  If the waterfall is halfway up a mountain and you’ve climbed up and now can’t get down again. At 535pm I gave up, and marched our sodden selves, bitching and moaning about it being THE WORST DAY EVER, back to the car.  Nine million mosquitoes rose to greet me, and my flip flop broke.  We went home, and just as I’d got everyone out and all our belongings into the lift I remembered we couldn’t go home, and we so turned around  and went and collected the Man – only getting lost twice - by which stage the car smelt like wet dog, I had dislocated my shoulder from trying to slap the fighting children behind me, and the Baby had passed out from hunger.

But!  Earlier, at about 347pm, as I was running through the kitchen, I had thought to prepare some pizza dough, which I knocked up in ten minutes and left to rise.  And,  thanks to the heat and the humidity, rise it did, puffing up like a big poisonous blow fish.  And so dinner was on the table, brown and crisp and even, in fifteen minutes. 

Homemade pizza.  Nothing beats it.  (Apart from air conditioning, insect cream, and a six-pack of ice-cold Corona.)

Home-Made Pizza:
I’ve actually attempted home-made pizza once before, also on the back of a particularly awful outing with the children, and it was fine, but not terribly authentic.  This one is much better.  AND you get to knead the heck out of an innocent piece of dough, which is fantastically therapeutic.  I’m usually put off by any recipe which calls for waiting, or patience, or yeast, but I’d had enough of paying $12 for largely inedible frozen supermarket pizza, which tastes of nothing and has a shelf-life which is so long that it would be more accurate to call it a half-life.  And this dough honestly takes 12 minutes, from start to finish (or less if you can’t be bothered to knead it for 10 minutes).  You just weigh everything out, pour in water, mix, knead, and leave. Preferably to do something other than stand in falling water for hours.

For enough dough for 3 super-market sized pizzas you need:  
  • 500g white flour (the nicest you can be bothered to buy.  The quality of the flour really makes a difference to the taste of the dough.  Ha! This coming from me, who used Hong Kong flour...)
  • A heaped teaspoon of table salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • A large splash of olive oil
  • 325ml warm water

Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl, mix the oil and the water, and stir in.  Mix madly, then roll of your sleeves and squish it all together with your hands.  When it’s all come together  - it’ll be fairly sticky – start kneading it on a lightly-floured surface. (There’s so much crap written about how to properly knead.  It’s all bollox.  Just massage the hell out of the dough for as long as you want, tho more than 10 minutes might be over-doing it.)

Roll the dough into a ball, drizzle some olive oil on it and smooth it all over, then put in a clean bowl, cover, and leave somewhere warm for at least an hour.  (If you live in Singapore, you can leave it anywhere in your airless apartment for about 4 minutes, and get the same result.)

When you return from your fun-filled family excursion, you’ll be greeted by something which is threatening to take over the kitchen.  Punch it down, cut into three, and then roll one piece out as thinly as you can.    Fit it onto the largest baking tray you have. (The other pieces can kept for a day in the fridge, or covered and put in the freezer.  Once defrosted you just roll out and cook.)

Tomato sauce (while the oven was heating, I dumped a jar of pasatta into a pan with a crushed garlic clove, some olive oil, and a couple of basil leaves.  Bring to the boil, then leave to simmer, lid off,  until  you need to use it . You can, of course use a jar of ready-made sauce. [But honestly, if you're going to the bother of making the dough, make the sauce too.])

Whatever you have in your fridge (I had some cooked broccoli, smoked salmon, and cheddar.  Once it was out of the oven I grated some parmesan on top), tho obviously cheese is a must. If you’re using fresh mozarrella, it’s an idea to add it either at the end, or half-way through cooking, so it doesn’t get overcooked and end up like a puddle of any-old-cheese.  Especially here, where fresh mozzarella costs more than gold.

Put your oven at its hottest setting. I have no idea how pizza stones work, so let’s assume that, like me, you don’t have one.  Put a baking tray upside down in the top half of the oven, while it heats.  When the oven is ready, slide the tray with the dough on it on top of this, so the base of the dough-pan gets hot quickly, and cooks the pizza from below.  Clever, no?  

Quickly, and with beer.  And earplugs.  Because if you hear another complaint about the day, you might just throw yourself off the (flooded) balcony. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Grocery Shopping in Singapore in 40 Easy Steps

  1. Check your diary.  Find an entire day free and mark it “Groceries”.  
  2. Wonder how your life came to this.
  3. Get ridiculously excited when you hear about a fabulous new online delivery service.
  4. Spend your Sunday evening setting up an account and browsing the various food available.
  5. Quickly become aware that they don’t stock dairy.
  6. Or fish.
  7. Or fruit, vegetables or bread.  
  8. Delete your account, and go back to your diary.
  9. On the morning of the allocated day, pack:  water, a sun hat, an umbrella, three times as much money as you would ever imagine spending on groceries, and your maid’s ridiculous granny trolley. 
  10. Eat a hearty breakfast and set off - no later than 9am. 
  11. Head towards the distant bus-stop. 
  12. Stop several times to wipe the sweat from your brow. Wish for the thousandth time that you had a car, or access to Ocado. (Ocado, are you reading?  DELIVER TO SINGAPORE ALREADY.)
  13. Arrive at the bus stop. 
  14. Just past the bus stop spy a branch of the supermarket you had planned to head to.   Skip with joy and wander in. 
  15. Ask a staff member if the store does  delivery. In the ensuing silence, realise he has no clue what you are talking about. Ask another one.  Then a third. Walk away, muttering to yourself. 
  16. Weep with gratitude at the check-out lady who goes out of her way to approach you to tell you that the shop doesn’t do delivery, and assure her that you know which branch does.
  17. Head out again.  By now it is 945am, about 37C and 120% humidty.  Fuck the bus lark and head for the subway.
  18. Realise, when it hits your ankles for the 978th time, that you HATE the granny trolley.
  19. Joy!  Bump into your maid (DO NOT LET THE BABY SEE YOU OR THE MORNING WILL BE LOST) and hand the trolley over to her.  Ignore her suggestions that she will go to the Market. Assure her you actually like doing the grocery shopping.  
  20. Head into the glory of the airconditioned subway. 
  21. Alight at the relevant stop, many miles and 35 minutes away, and head into supermarket nirvanha.
  22. JUST IN CASE, nab a staff member and ask if they do delivery.  “Yes yes, customer service.” Assume this is an affirmative. 
  23. Look at your watch. 1030am.  START SHOPPING!
  24. Find yourself in the dairy aisle. Inspect every ingredient in every item.  Vomit in your mouth several times.  Hover by the $16 organic milk, but YOU JUST CAN’T DO IT. 
  25. Head to the long-life organic milk.  Stare at it for a while, before deciding you can’t do that either.  
  26. Head to the cheese.  Wonder what the fuck all these added ingredients are, IT’S JUST CHEESE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.  
  27. Pick up some yoghurt.  Look at the price. Assume it is made with flakes of gold. Look at the ingredients list, which is so long that it runs off the label. Put it down.
  28. Go stare at some eggs for a while.  Marvel in wonder at the differences in culture that makes “Caged Hens!” something to shout about.  Try not to think about the First Born Eggs.  Ask a staff member if they have organic eggs.  Watch her face fill with mirth.  Organic eggs? HAHAHAHAHA.
  29. Look at your watch.  It is now 1120. Look at your empty basket.  Decide to stop looking at either the price tag or the ingredients labels. Go to the fresh produce and chuck some green stuff in.  De-chuck it when you see that it’s all from China (because you have an unreasonable fear of food form CHina).  Start reading labels again, OH GOD WILL IT NEVER END.
  30. Wander over to the pasta etc aisle. Stare at the enormous, bewitching display of instant noodles for what feels like millennia, before wandering back to the dairy aisle.  Hover at the organic milk some more, before remembering you NEED WINE (preferably now).
  31. Decide that if the Haze returns you won’t be able to shop for wine, so you’d better stock up.
  32. Stock up.
  33. Clink your way to the checkouts.
  34. Spend – I SWEAR TO GOD - $540 on basically nothing. (Heavy nothing, mind you.)
  35. Say “Delivery?” to the check-out girl;  follow her pointed finger to the Customer Service desk, and clink your way there.
  36. Say “Delivery?” to the Customer Service lady.  Be confused by the “Electronic?” response.  Try again.  “Delivery?” “Only electronic.  Groceries, no.”  More mirth – Delivering groceries?  HAHAHAHAHA.
  37. Weep.
  38. Drag your sorry ass home. Vow, as you are rubbing ice on your near-severed wrists, NEVER to go to a supermarket again. 
  39. Put the kettle on for a well-deserved cup of tea. 
  40. Realise you didn’t get any milk.  

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Mother Formerly Known as Launderer

We survived the move.  I think.  We’re still unpacking, the walls are bare, there isn’t a shelf in the house, and consequently the living area has large boxes stacked high.  I tried to make a side table out of one, draping it with a tablecloth and putting framed photos of the kids on top, a vase of flowers etc, but it just looks like a weird altar to my children. 

Random objects went missing in the move.  My cool stainless steel mixing bowl.  The mop.  An attachment for my hoover.  Not that I use any of these any more because the move coincided with the arrival – oh blessed, blessed event – of our MAID.  We have been in apartment for three weeks and I have not opened:  the bin;  the dishwasher;  the oven;  THE WASHING MACHINE.  (The valium.)

I did think about renaming the blog – really I did – but just because I’m not doing it any more, does it make it any less relentless?  If a child wets his bed in the night and you don’t have to clean it up, did he really wet the bed?  (YES.)

It’s like living with a house-work fairy.  Everything is magically done.  The house is always clean, the laundry washed, folded, put away, the toys are in their place, the cushions plumped.  The flowers on the alter to my children replaced.

So now I have nothing to do but spend time with my children.

(I clearly didn’t think this maid thing through properly.)

In other news, we went away last weekend.  The kids had a day off school on Monday so we decided to go to Indonesia for a few days – as you do. 
Who knew that toddlers could get so boat sick?  Who knew that toddler vomit gets everywhere, and that it is the exact same temperature as your body, (so that when it lands on your arms and legs and the side of your neck, you’re not immediately aware of it, other  than as a not unpleasant texture engulfing you), and that one’s sense of touch travels quicker than the sense of smell?  In case we didn’t learn enough about this on the way there, she gave us a repeat performance on the way back.  But aha!  I was ready.  I had towels and sarongs at the ready to drape around her, but she got around this by vomiting all over them, then over the replacements, and THEN over the only other thing I had within my reach which was my replacement dress,  and THEN she projectile vomited over ME. 

Anyway, we arrived at the other side, almost in one piece – nothing that a few wipes and no dignity whatsoever couldn’t sort – and – clever us! – had paid a huge amount for our children to vomit in posh class so that we could buy our visas on-board and skip the long queues for the visa desk.  Mind you, we were still the last ones off the boat, what with the vomiting and the wiping and the muttering and gritting of teeth, but at least we weren’t at that queue.  And then the immigration officer pointed out that you need 6 months on each passport to enter Indonesia, and– well, would you look at this!  The Boy’s passport had only 5 months, 3 weeks and 2 days left on his... By the time we had paid a “contribution” to the Benevolent Immigration Officers’ Society, every single person in the terminal had gone, and we were alone, smelling of vomit and $100 poorer, and cursing loudly and clearly and vowing to NEVER leave the house again.

But actually – it was still worth it.  The beach was fabulous and the children swam ALL DAY LONG – the Girl is now part fish (a very very brown fish at that – a trout perhaps?) – and we had this strange, unfamiliar sensation which we decide must be enjoyment. One evening in particular was perfect; we’d had a lovely lunch and a lazy afternoon, and then all three kids spent a couple of hours skipping about the beach and digging holes and laughing and giggling, and didn’t try to blind each other with sand or drown each other, and it was lovely.   But then we ruined it all by leaving the Girl on the beach by mistake IN THE DARK and not realising until we got back to our room – a 7 minute schlep away -  and discovering her crying and walking around in a daze and wondering where everyone was.  Who knew guilt could kill enjoyment so easily?

Coming up (I wish I could say “soon” – we know that’s not likely.  At least not until we get our internet sorted):  Singapore Supermarkets. (Try not to get overly excited.)  To whet your appetites - literally - a photo:

Somewhere a poor fisherman is looking at his warehouse full of tuna and wondering why no one will buy the stuff.

Another photo:

Who knew primogeniture applied to eggs? That sort of put me off my omelette.  

One last one (it is Friday after all):  


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Parenting Curses*

(*With apologies for blatant and shameless plagiarism of idea from the always-brilliant – but never more so than in this post – Belgian Waffle.)

May your au pair leave you and your three wild children to fend for yourselves.

May you quickly realise that you have more children than you can manage. 

May your son be so distraught that he tells you that he wished you had left instead.

May you agree with him.

May you organise, at great logistical difficulty, a Daddy and Son day at a waterpark to try to console said distraught son, and may he break his nose after five minutes there.

May your overriding reaction to this event not be worry or anxiety, but rather annoyance at having One More Fucking Thing To Deal With.

May your daughter retaliate against being sent to her room for picking the living room wallpaper, by ripping strips of wallpaper off the bedroom wall.

May your day generally start with a small voice announcing, through the darkness, and mere inches from your face, that its owner needs a poo.

May you organise a babysitter so you can try to get some work done, and may she text you THREE HOURS after she fails to arrive to say that she has just woken up.

May you also have arranged for that babysitter to mind your children on the day you are going to move apartment, and may you find yourself weeping into your cereal-covered hair. 

May you wonder if the real reason she didn’t show up was because your son, upon meeting her, asked her why she was so fat.

May you have what can only be described as a Bastard of a Week and consequently – and unintentionally – find yourself ordering tequila shots at a bar at 1am on a Friday night .

May you have to bring your son to a children’s party at 9 the following morning.

May you be so hungover that you actually vomit in the middle of the children’s party.

Three times.

May you give your son a dollar to leave the party early. May he pocket the dollar and run off.

May the only way you can get your child to leave the party venue after the party has ended be to tell him that you’re so sick that you vomited. May you then be standing (somewhat hunched) at the taxi queue and bump into a nice person you met at the party, to whom you had confided you were “slightly” hungover.  May you child inform her – and everyone else in the queue – that you JUST PUKED.

May you live in a city where it would never cross anyone’s mind to offer help as you struggle down / up steps with a (very) heavily laiden buggy.

May you live in a city of many steps.

May your baby’s reaction to things she doesn’t like you doing be to pull the hair from your head and bite whatever part of your body is closest.  May there be many, many things she doesn’t like you doing.

May you have three small, wild, children, and move apartment.

May you introduce your 3 year old to the lovely sweet old lady who is to be your immediate neighbour for the next 2 years, and may your daughter, by way of greeting, lift up her dress to reveal no knickers.

May you know with horrific certainty that you will one day look back on these days with fondness and nostalgia. 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

(And then I beat her to death with a loofah)

The Baby seems to have realised early that, as the third child, there is little point in making any effort at all;  she will always have her older siblings to do things for her, and in any event, what’s the point in trying if no one notices – let alone acknowledges – your efforts?

At least this is what I assume is behind her reluctance to display anything close to a age-appropriate development.  At the grand old age of 16 months, she is still shuffling along on her bottom, one gimp-leg stuck out to the side , and taking the occasional step – just to tease us – before plonking back down again and trundling off.  And as for her speech – I got excited a few months ago when she asked for “MORE!” something or other, but, well, that was about it.  Since then “MORE!”  (actually “MU-UH!”) comprises almost her entire vocabulary.  It’s a useful word, with many meanings:  GIVE ME FOOD; WHERE ARE YOU, MOTHER?;  I’VE DROPPED MY TEDDY; and, the ever-popular – GIVE ME WHAT THEY HAVE, NOW.

To this linguistic inventory, we can add the Boy and the Girl’s “names” – Adda and Yaya, respectively – and the ever amusing “Ooof” :

Ooof: Thought to derive from  “Woof”, refers to any non-human animate (or potentially animate, or perceived to be animate) object, such as a dog,a cat,  a teddy, a random wig in a shop window, or a large furry spider scuttling across a floor. 

So you can imagine my delight when,  on leaving the shower au naturel yesterday, the Baby looked up at me, grinned, and gleefully shouted “Ooof Ooof!”.

And so, to the list of the many joys of parenting, I can now add Humiliation by a 1 year old.  

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Skirt of Slices of Raw Fish (and other foreign tales)

Things are starting – sloooooooooooowly – to fall into place. First up is the kids’ school.  They started!  Mind you, it was the beginning of a three-day week (Happy Chinese New Year, by the way!) and it turned out that my concerns about the school being miles away were entirely justified. I’m assured that nothing is really miles away from anything else in Singapore, but this somehow manages to be.  So my euphoria about them starting school was somewhat premature, and certainly short-lived - frankly it was easier when they were at home under my feet.   Still, tho, I get to sit on the tube for 45 minutes SIX TIMES A DAY, which is good for my reading, but not so much for my social life, vitamin D intake, or patience.

Somewhat excitingly, and after seeing more or less every flat and house in Singapore, we have found somewhere I can possibly envisage myself living.  As long as I start a course of Xanax (or the landlord puts some sort of security grids up to counteract the sheer drops outside of the bedroom windows).   It too is 45 mins away from the kids’ school, but after we visited it I fed the Man margaritas, and he quickly saw the merit in getting a car, and then, after a couple of Old Fashioneds, he started to see the benefit of sticking the kids on the school bus too.  Ah, Singaporean cocktails.  You may cost more than a suite of Italian furniture, but you are SO worth it.

BEST OF ALL - we will soon have A MAID!  (Officially, a “domestic helper”, but I don’t feel comfortable calling her a helper, when what I have in mind for her is not so much “helping” as “doing it all”.) Before she can start working for us I have to fill out an application to the Ministry of Manpower (I swear), which is about four thousand pages long.  I then have to send her off for a health check, to make sure she’s not knocked up (if she is, she’ll be shipped off home – no doubt by the Ministry of Human-Rights-My-Arse).  I then have to get her health etc insurance, vouch for her well-being, and take FULL RESPONSIBILITY for her actions while she’s in my employ.  Frankly, it’s a bit of a far cry from my normal practice of employment of weeping with gratitude that someone – anyone – will mind my children, racing out of the house before they can change their minds, and making a mental note to get their phone numbers, and possibly surnames (if I ‘m feeling really on the ball) at some point in the future.

Before any of this happens, however, we lose our current staff quota (our au pair).  There will follow 2 weeks of hell, when the Man travels extensively for work (travelling for work = duty free, so I am forbidden from complaining), and I – friendless, familyless, MAIDLESS – will parent alone.  This will mostly comprise trekking to and from the effing school, but without any reading material, because I will be dragging the Baby along.  The Baby who screams and scratches and bites if she feels slighted / doesn’t get enough attention / doesn’t get THIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSS, or THAAAAAAAAATTTTTTT , or is made to sit in her pram, or held on a knee, or held, full stop (or as this evening, offered food which has not been chewed in advance by my own fair mouth. WTF?). She is, frankly, intolerable, and if there were foxes in Singapore there is a strong possibility that they would be getting a tasty treat in the bins pretty soon.

But once that fortnight of frights is over, we should get staff, a manor, and... our belongings! They have not yet sunk on the high seas, as far as we know.  Phew.  There is a large container of food packed away in there, which I am hoping will slip through customs unnoticed: proper hot chocolate and Marigold Bouillon, and pine-nuts;  also a grater and my food processor, and - oh joy  - a vegetable peeler.

Who knew that a vegetable peeler would be so hard to come by here?  The closest I’ve come to is this, a sort of hybrid grater / peeler: 

Which, as well as minute millenary switching off of the radish and the burdock  - anyone?? -  makes short work of cheese and finger tips.  Mainly tho, I’ve been using it to make noodle soup, as the price of cheese threatens to bankrupt me, and noodles are – praise be! – cheap.  (Well, the same price as in Europe, which is what you’d expect in Asia, no?)

It’s piss easy, and takes about 15 minutes start to finish. If you’re feeling fancy – and flush – you can tart it up with prawns or chicken – just chuck em in a few minutes before you add the noodles. 

Again, I have no photo.  Here however is one of a sign I saw in a supermarket’s wine aisle yesterday:

(I can just see the locals standing around thinking – Ahhh!  So that’s what they’re doing when they get so drunk they vomit on the carpets.)

Vegetable Noodle Soup
You need:  For 4 hefty portions
  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 or 4 spring onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped / sliced
  • Largeish lump of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped / sliced
  • Soy sauce
  • Handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 limes
  • Any vegetables you have lurking in your fridge – carrots, celery, sweet potato, broccoli – cooked or raw. 
  • 1 litre stock (any type) (OR, if you live in Singapore,  a carton of MSG. Choose from the several hundred options on offer)
  • 1 nest of dried noodles per person.

Heat a splash of vegetable oil in a large pot, then add the chopped spring onion, garlic and ginger. Stir occasionally, ensuring that the garlic doesn’t turn brown. 
Grate whatever raw vegetables you’re using (and your fingers) directly into the pan, stirring to cover in oil.
Add the stock, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.
Chuck in any ingredients which just need to be heated through (spinach, corn, cooked vegetables), then add the noodles and the coriander.
Leave to simmer for 3-5 minutes, add the lime juice, taste, then mess about with soy sauce and lime juice  until it tastes as you want.

Serve with a portion of grated burdock, grated to minute millenary switching off. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Adventure Begins...

So.  Where to begin?  At the beginning, I suppose.  Which is... The move?  Well, we packed and packed and packed for about 100 years, and then for three days we were like animals being hunted from room to room by the REAL packers. As they closed in on us in whatever room we were furiously packing and gnashing our teeth and sniping at each other we’d start panicking about ALL THE SHIT that we had still to deal with, and flinging everything which wasn’t packed into black sacks, the Man shouting “This?” as he held up some random object, and me shouting “Chuck it!”, dementedly, not even looking at him,  or the object.  Eventually they herded us into the kitchen, where the dirty breakfast dishes still lay, and more eventually still they cornered me by the sink, where I was desperately trying to wash and dry said dirty dishes, and then by the fridge (where I just threw everything straight into the bin.  May the Gods of Waste and Groceries forgive me.)  Meanwhile our taxi was waiting outside, and we could pack and chuck no more, so tumbled into the car, packers still packing,  several dozen refuse sacks piled high in the front garden, random bits of furniture and kiddie stuff with “please take me” notes attached cluttering the pavement.  And then we were gone. 

The Airport. The kids had packed their own carry on bags, so really it should have come as no surprise that we were the subject of a  full-scale security alert.  “Madam,” the stern security lady said, sternly.  “Do you know what’s in your bag?” “Um... crackers?” “Madam. There is A GUN in your bag.”  She spoke like an extra from 24.  She was deadly serious too.  “Do you know these items are PROHIBITED?” (Really?  Guns?  Not allowed on planes?  Who knew?) The Boy is certainly a resourceful chap, but even so, I was a tad doubtful that even he could have gotten his hands on an actual gun. So the whole bag-screening process was ostentatiously shut down while they dismantled the boy’s spiderman bag and retrieved the offending spiderman pistol thingy - in the shape of a SPIDER, which was stuck to the front of his Super Heroes magazine, and which shot – TAKE COVER EVERYBODY – mini plastic spider webs.  Thank God for their vigilance, otherwise Christ knows what sort of atrocities could be committed.  The Boy was not impressed  - not because they were ridiculous morons about it, but because, y’know, a big mean person took away his toy.

The plane.  The less said about this the better really.  We had 4 business class seats between the 5 of us;  meaning that “one of us” (who??) would have to hold the Baby (there is no bassinette in the world large enough for her).  We flew Singapore Airlines, whose business seats are similar to most airlines’ first:  huge, spacious, private, secluded.  Separated from all the other seats by, essentially, a large wall.  Wonderful if you are travelling, you know, on business;  not so brilliant if your troupe comprises two inept adults, 2 demented mountain goats, and a fat angry weasel. Notable low-lights included:  pinning the screaming Baby down in an effort to get her to stopfuckingthrowingyourselfaroundandsleepgoddammit (it worked actually, but then again it was 3am);  glancing across my wall as we were landing- seatbelt signs firmly ON -  to see the Girl dancing a pirouette in the middle of the aisle; one minute later hearing the Boy – across the wall ten feet in front of me – whimper “I’m going to puke”; discovering upon landing that the sick-bag which I had managed to catapult over to him had indeed been filled and had exploded generously leaked upon landing. 

Now let us put the whole sorry thing out of our minds forever.

There followed a week of:  Disorientation.  Jetlag.  Supermarket surprise (at the ingredients and the cost of everything.  Who knew milk needed halal – or indeed any - gelatine? Or that there was such a thing as “milk drink”? Or that a cucumber – a regular, garden-variety (literally) everyday, non-organic, pesticided–to-an-inch-of-its-life cucumber could cost £4.50? As a result we are currently living on a diet of rice and bananas, with the very occasional glass of £8-a-litre hormone-and-gelatine-free milk).

It is good tho.  It is warm and clean(ish – as clean as any over-populated city of skyscrapers and food-markets can be) and organised and efficient. The children already think it’s booooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring but that is because I do not have the energy, or the patience, to take them much further than the swimming pool (outside the front door), or, if I’m feeling brave, the juice stall at the end of the street. They start school on Monday – FORTY-SIX days after finishing in their London school – and I suspect things will become alot better for everybody then.  (At the very least I won’t have to watch them put their disgusting new habit into practice of dragging their hands along behind them on whatever revolting surface they can reach. Fuck it, if they want to die of dysentery they can.)  We are staying – until we get our accommodation sorted – in beautiful (albeit soulless) short-term apartments, with acres of pools and playgrounds and a breakfast buffet, which the children adore.  (I suspect they adore the self-choosing-of-the-food, rather than the food itself (randomly:  fried rice;  boiled cauliflower; tuna sandwiches; coco-pops).  It goes without saying that the other guests no longer adore breakfast, particularly as the Boy today decided to see just how black he could make his toast.  (Black enough to make the smoke alarm – on the lower floor – go off.))

Alas it is somewhat crap for cooking – which is just as well given the cost of groceries – and so the Man and I eat at the Hawker Centre, just down the street, and the children eat pasta and cheese.  It is the easiest dish imaginable, and just the thing to make if you discover that you thought to pop a pack of butter and a lump of cheddar cheese in your husband’s shoe bag and bring them across the world with you, rather than just throw them out. 

One-Pot Pasta-and-Cheese*

You need (for 4;  or 2 children and one BEAST):
  • As much pasta as you want (shells or shapes work best)
  • A large knob of EUROPEAN butter
  • A large lump of EUROPEAN hard cheese – cheddar is best – cut into tiny bits, because the apartment you’re staying in doesn’t have a grater.  (It does however have a rice cooker, which is the BEST THING EVER, more about which anon.)

Cook the pasta until ready.  Drain.  Throw the butter and the cheese into the pasta pan, and then fling the pasta back on top of it.  Stir like crazy.  Serve.  Ignore any whinges about “this again?”.  Feed a glass of Chinese milk to them and watch in amazement as their little beards grow.

*Yes, there are no photos.  Sorry.  Here however are some I've taken in the past week to keep you amused. It’s a collection I call “The Strangeness of Singapore”: 

(The last one says "tuna croissant".  I don't know about you, but I think that certainly gives the cronut a run for its money.)