Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jane Goodall

Something awesome happened.

I met Jane Goodall.

Jane Goodall of chimpanzee fame. Jane Goodall, primatologist, conservationist, author, researcher, activist, UN Messenger of Peace. I mean, she's done so many amazing things in her life that I can't even list them all (you can see her Wikipedia entry for more).

I first saw her when she gave a talk to a packed auditorium at my alma mater, The College of Wooster, a few years ago. There were thousands of people there that night, and I never got a chance to speak to her. This time she was in Singapore and I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to a small roundtable discussion of wildlife researchers and professionals. There were only about fifteen people there, and because we ended up discussing something I know and care about (human-macaque conflict in Singapore), I actually had reasonably coherent things to say, although I think I may have gotten overly excited and run my mouth too much. But I couldn't help it. I felt like an eleven-year-old girl who just met Justin Bieber.
Holy smokes! That's me and Jane Goodall!

It was really, really cool.

Did I mention that I'm a finalist in the Singapore Blog Awards? And that you can vote every day? And that I could win a trip to Australia? No? I didn't think so.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Waterfront Feast

Man, being a Blog Awards finalist is bad for my waistline! After our dessert extravaganza at 1-Caramel on Wednesday, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to eat for a week. But on Saturday afternoon, I put on my stretchy pants and Bryan and I headed out for the Waterfront Feast at Riverside Point, part of an event called Let the Feast Begin, sponsored by OMY.

Over the course of several hours, we would have tastings at four restaurants at Riverside Point. Bryan and I arrived early and walked around funky Clarke Quay for awhile before heading to our first restaurant.
Buildings in Clarke Quay look like illustrations from a Dr. Seuss book!
In front of the scenic Riverside Point

Our first stop of the day was Jumbo Seafood, where we met up with other bloggers from OMY. I joked that I'd brought Bryan along as my substitute palate, since I expected that, as a vegetarian, I wouldn't be able to eat anything there (honestly, I was kind of grateful for an excuse to decline food. We were going to be eating at four restaurants in four hours!) At Jumbo, we were served two dishes: salted egg golden prawns and their renowned chili crab. Bryan isn't much of a food critic, but I could tell by the speed with which his prawns disappeared that he must have liked them!
This is the full portion, the tasting portion was about 2/3 this size

I was most impressed by the head chef, who came out to describe our dishes to us. Executive Chef Ng spoke in Mandarin, but others translated for those of us (*ahem*) who are pitifully monolingual. He clearly takes great pride in his work, and it's no wonder. He is one of the select few who knows the recipe for Jumbo Seafood's Chili Crab, which won "Singapore's Best Chili Crab" at the 2006 Singapore Food Festival. That may not sound too exciting to my American readers, but if you ever come to S'pore you'll understand why it's such a big deal. Singaporeans are SERIOUS about their chili crab. One of my Singaporean friends once told me, with a perfectly straight face, that she could never live in the USA because Americans can't make chili crab.
One of Singapore's most well-known dishes
Tasting portion, with hot buns!

I didn't taste the crab, but I did eat the yummy little buns that come on the side. I was surprised to learn that the buns are deep-fried. No wonder they're so good! Bryan hasn't eaten much crab in his lifetime, so I had fun watching him struggle to get all the meat out. And it was funny to see everyone wearing bibs and eating with their hands in such a nice restaurant! Before we left, we were given sauce mixes so we could try to recreate chili crab and black pepper crab at home. I see black pepper tofu in my future!
Bryan thinking "How the heck do I eat this?!"
OMY coverage: "So what did you think of the crab? That bib looks great on you!"

The next stop on our movable feast was Cafe Iguana, where red snapper enchiladas and fancy margaritas were on the menu.
Cafe Iguana's bar- sit here and order one of over 100 tequilas!
Colorful chairs!

I'd been to Cafe Iguana before, in our endless quest for good Mexican food in Singapore, and I'd found that I really like their fajitas, so I was excited to try something more. The kitchen brought me a poblano chili and mushroom quesadilla, which was, seriously, awesome. I don't think I've had a poblano chili since I left New Mexico, and it was a happy reunion.
One good dang quesadilla and a tasty cocktail

As for the drink, I'm usually not a big fan of margaritas because I don't generally like tequila. I figured I'd politely sip mine until we moved on to the next place. But I took one sip and was pleasantly surprised. It was a really tasty. Not just tolerable, but actually good! It was made with Jose Cuervo Tradicional, which is probably the most expensive tequila I've ever had. Apparently if you spend a little extra on your tequila it doesn't taste like rubbing alcohol! Who knew?! Whereas I've found other margaritas to be  harsh and overly strong, this one was smooth and refreshing. I'd definitely order one again (and maybe I'll have to soon- these are the Margarita of the Month this month, so they're on special.)
The margarita that changed my mind about margaritas

Bryan also liked his red snapper enchiladas quite a bit. He went all Food Network on me and said, "Well, it seems that the snapper isn't a very fishy fish, so you can still taste the other spices and flavors, as they aren't overwhelmed by a fish taste." Perhaps he should have been a food critic!

After Cafe Iguana, our little group waddled off to our next stop, Harry's. In my mind, Harry's is something of a Singapore fixture. There are over 30 locations in Singapore, including one in Fusionopolis, where Bryan works, and another at Changi Airport. Harry's is popular with the expat crowd, and we've been there plenty of times. This time, we were served fish and chips and drinks. I like Harry's french fries, which are always fresh and hot, and Bryan liked their fish, eating a lot of it despite the fact that our stomachs were all pretty full at that point!
Hangin' at Harry's
The perfect bar food

Bryan was excited to find a cider on the menu that we've never had before, something called Bulmer's. Everyone was surprised by its orangeish hue, but it had a nice crisp taste. We had no idea it would come in such a huge bottle though! Bryan didn't even come close to finishing it, and I left my Jungle Juice unfinished too, knowing that we were heading on to Brewerkz and more adult beverages. Have to keep it classy!
Bulmer's and Jungle Juice.

By the time we got to Brewerkz, everyone was stuffed. When I got to the door, I was greeted by the PR person from Cafe Iguana, because Brewerkz is owned by the same company (Menu). She considerately remembered that I'm vegetarian, told me that they were serving Buffalo wings (Brewerkz's most popular appetizer), and asked if I'd like her to order me something from the kitchen. "OH PLEASE NO!" I practically shouted at her, hoping to get out of eating any more food. I love Brewerkz food, but I was so full! I was afraid that if I ate any more, I might roll right into the Singapore River!
Bloggers at Brewerkz

Eating at Brewerkz is always kind of special for Bryan and me, since it has some of the best American food we've found in Singapore. It's become a place we go when we're craving food from home - we even ate there on Thanksgiving one year! I always promise myself I'll try something new, but about half the time I end up ordering their macaroni and cheese and whatever fruit beer they are serving that month. I know it's a girly thing, but I love their Fruitbrewz, especially the dragonfruit one (yes, I know my dragonfruit obsession is a bit excessive).
Cheers to the Waterfront Feast!

Bryan was positively giddy when he found out we were having Buffalo wings, his all-time favorite, and a treat that's a bit hard to find in Singapore. There were three flavors: mild, hot, and suicide. Bryan likes his spicy, so he made a beeline for the suicide wings, and piled so many on his plate that some of the girls next to him giggled. We giggled back when we saw them eating their wings with a fork and knife, a practice unheard of in the US, where's it's a given that you'll dig in with your hands and make an absolute mess. But this wasn't the first time we were surprised by a Singaporean's immaculate table manners- Bryan came home one day and told me that he'd just seen his Singaporean friend eat a cheeseburger with a knife and fork!
After our stint in New Mexico we're used to spicy food, and Bryan said the suicide weren't as hot as he expected.

In addition to the wings, we had a tasting of three beers: K├Âlsch, Steam Beer, and a sneak preview of a beer called Scholar Red that should be available to the public next week. I enjoyed all three beers, but the Steam Beer was my favorite. The Scholar Red is very unusual- it's made with red sticky rice, and it has a flavor unlike any other beer I've ever had. I think it'll be popular once it's available. I enjoyed the beer, but I especially liked the promos for the beer. Brewerkz has an amazing graphic designer! Woah! I definitely think they should make t-shirts out of some of the beer ads, especially the one for Scholar Red!
Dear Brewerkz, We would like Scholar Red t-shirts from Santa this year. Thank you, Crystal and Bryan

Brewerkz was the last stop on our Waterfront Feast tour, so people started to drift away after tasting the beer and wings. Bryan and I stayed and hung out with some of the other bloggers for quite awhile, talking and digesting. There were lots of leftover wings, so our friend Moonberry did the American thing and asked Brewerkz to box them up for us, which they did. Bryan was very grateful, as he ate about three pounds of wings today for dinner!
Blog friends!

Phew! What a delicious afternoon!

P.S. In case any of this food looked especially good to you, all of the restaurants that participated in Let the Feast Begin (which includes this event and two others at different locations) are running special promotions until the end of July.

P.P.S. This post is part of a blogging challenge. The winning blogger gets $500 in vouchers to eat at Riverside Point (that's a LOT of mushroom and poblano quesadillas!), and voters can win prizes too. If you like this post, vote for me here!

Hi there! If you enjoy reading about our adventures, we'd love it if you'd vote for us in the Singapore Blog Awards! Voting ends July 3rd and you can vote daily until then! Thanks for your support!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rochester Park and Delicious Dessert

As a finalist in the Singapore Blog Awards (vote here!), I was invited to a food tasting at 1-Caramel in Rochester Park.

If I could use one word to describe Rochester Park, it would be "posh." Rochester Park is an out-of-the way avenue lined with quaint white and black houses that have been converted into upscale restaurants. I'd only been to Rochester Park one other time, when Bryan too me to a restaurant called Graze for my birthday, and I had the most mouth-watering pumpkin ravioli of all time.
If it wasn't for this sign, the place would be kind of hard to find!
I want to live here!

I always have some qualms about accepting invitations to events that I will then be expected to blog about. What if the movie is bad? What if the food tastes awful? I've been lucky so far in that I haven't attended any bad events, but it's always in the back of my mind- if this sucks, I'll have to blog about it. And I'll have to be honest, because I won't lie to my readers just because someone gave me a free piece of cake. I mean, I'll do a lot of things for free cake, but lying isn't one of them.

As soon as I walked into 1-Caramel, my worries started to melt away. The little patisserie is tucked away on the cozy second floor of one of those charming houses. When I climbed the stairs, I was greeted with the aromas of melting chocolate and warm bread. You enter 1-Caramel through the kitchen, and I always like to see places that expose their kitchens, because it seems to say "What? We have nothing to hide. It's always clean and professional in here." And it was. AND THEN. And THEN I saw the cakes. And my worries about possibly having to say something bad about the food melted away. If the food tasted half as good as it looked, I would be in heaven...and possibly in a sugar coma. (See more of 1-Caramel's custom cakes here. I'm partial to the Hello Kitty cake).
I love the lion! Look closely to see me smiling in the mirror.
I want to get married just so I can have a cake like this one.
Fancy cupcakes!

The room we sat in was small. It was kind of a tight squeeze for the group of bloggers, but seemed like it would have been a cozy spot for brunch for two. And they had a super tall chair! I'm pretty sure they had it specially made because they knew Flora was coming!
1-Caramel dining area. Pic of Flora in the Alice in Wonderland chair is from Flora's blog

Once all the bloggers were there and settled in, the food parade began. 1-Caramel specializes in brunch, so first was salmon eggs benedict (for everyone else, just regular eggs benedict for this vegetarian).  I usually don't get too worked up over eggs benedict, but this was awesome. I think the secret ingredient might have been some sort of euphoria-inducing drug. I wolfed mine down, then looked up and laughed to see that Flora and I were finished, while everyone else was still snapping photos! Typical Americans!
Gone, probably in under a minute.

Next was a fancy hors d'oeuvres platter. I couldn't eat some of the meaty stuff, but I didn't care because the little toasties with French brie were super good.
I may or may not have eaten all of the toasties...

Next was a raspberry cake pop. I thought the cake pop was dessert. Silly me. I had no idea that the food process had only just begun. We were bombarded with dessert. It came, and it kept on coming. Holy geeze, I felt like a 7-year-old who had been let loose in a candy store with no supervision.
Dessert paradise. Food? Art? Both?

There were lots of delicious things: death by chocolate, baked Alaska, lychee gelee, creme brulee, hazelnut sorbet, passionfruit sorbet, two kinds of souffle, Earl Grey tea flavored macaroons, and more. Each time I tasted a new dessert, I solemnly declared it my favorite. But in the end, I think my real favorite was the passionfruit sorbet, which tasted so refreshing and summery (or, as I said to Flora, "EAT THIS. It tastes like summertime. And unicorns. And rainbows." And it did.)
Contemplating stealing the other table's sorbet.
Pic from Flora

Overall, it was a wonderful night. I made new blogger friends, discovered a new restaurant, and ate a dinner that consisted mostly of dessert, which made me feel deliciously sinful, and about an hour later, when I had my kindergarten-style sugar crash, very sleepy. If you want a cupcake or some rainbow-flavored passionfruit sorbet, I recommend 1-Caramel. And I promise- I recommend them for real, not just because they gave me free ice cream!
OMY bloggers!

(The finalists in the OMY Blog Awards are behind some pretty great blogs! See some of them at Moonberry, Ai Makan, Love You Wrong Time, and Jeffrey and Flora. If you like them, don't hesitate to vote for them! And, of course, don't forget to vote for me daily!)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Malaysia Day Trip: Down on the Farm

Last weekend I went on a day trip organized by NUS. The organized tour was intended to be educational, and included visiting farms and food production places. Bryan was camping in Montana (lucky duck) and I was on my own. I was lonely, and I like farms, food, and getting away from the city, so I was in.

The day began with waking up to a storm at 6 AM, hitting snooze three times, and considering staying in bed all day and watching Harry Potter. Eventually I dragged myself out of bed, got a taxi in the rain, and met the bus in a carpark at NUS.

Once everyone was organized, we got on the road, stopped at the immigration checkpoints, and then stopped again for breakfast. Breakfast was yummy roti at a food stall in Gelang Patah. Apparently local authorities are thinking about changing the name of the town. It came to be called Gelang Patah through a mispronunciation by immigrants. The name means broken bangle and is considered unlucky. Can't have that!

After breakfast we got back on the bus and headed out into the country. It was nice to be away from the high-rises and surrounded by greenery, even if a lot of it was palm oil plantations. For awhile I had my nose buried in a particularly good book, but after I spotted some crop-raiding long-tailed macaques, I started keeping a keen eye out for wildlife. I was rewarded with sightings of kingfisher, ducks, and lots of unfamiliar birds, but we were moving too fast for photos. I was, of course, positively jubilant at an abandoned building sighting.
Overgrown and abandoned, just the way I like it

The day's first real stop was a tapioca chip factory in Layang Layang. The place was small and busy. Everyone was very hard at work, and I did not envy what appeared to be some exhausting labor.
Apparently tapioca looks like potatoes!
Giant deep fryer with super hot oil
Tapioca chips

After checking out the small factory, we were given samples in an adjacent shop. I'd never had tapioca chips before and was surprised by how much the tasted like potato chips! And they were so fresh! I bought some salt-and-pepper flavored ones. Yum.

Our next destination was a coffee factory in Kluang. The place produces the locally famous Cap Televisyen brand (so named because the founder of the company wanted to see every home with a TV and a bag of his coffee!). As soon as we walked in my eyes started stinging from the aggressive smoke. The smoke was kind of pleasant because of its coffee aroma, but it was a little acrid too. Once my eyes stopped watering I was able to take in my surroundings. I was surprised that the place was so small, but even so it looked like there was a lot going on.
Their logo is delightfully retro. I wish they sold t-shirts.
Coffee smoke = nicer than cigarette smoke, but apparently still blackens walls

Coffee beans were being roasted in a giant vat. Our guide explained that one of the secrets behind the deliciousness of the brand is that the beans are roasted with butter! I thought of what I call the Paula Deen Principle - Absolutely everything tastes better with butter. Awhile later we sampled the coffee, and I have to say: butter + coffee = pure, unadulterated awesomeness. The flavor was smooth and rich. It was the kind of stuff I'd love to drink on a dreary day.
Roasting the beans and butter
About how much coffee it took to complete my thesis

Smelling like coffee, we all piled back in the bus and roared off to our next stop, which was lunch at Guan Sin Restaurant. It was a Chinese restaurant, and they were expecting us. I sat with the other vegetarians on the tour and we were served a smorgasbord of colorful vegetarian dishes, many with mock meat incorporated. Sometimes I'm not crazy about mock meat, as it can be a little off-putting when it's overly chewy or too deep-fried. But all of the dishes we were served were so good. It's nice to get vegetarian Chinese food because I get to taste test things I can't ordinarily have because they contain meat. Things like tom yam soup, imitation prawn, and sweet-and-sour "chicken". Everything was great.

Next on our agenda was the UK Farm. We drove far out into the countryside and I was delighted when we started seeing green pastures and grazing cows. It reminded me of home (home sweet Ohio)!
Malaysia cows look pretty much the same as Ohio cows
Clearly not in Singapore anymore

Before long we arrived at the main building of the UK Farm. I hadn't looked up any information on the farm before going, because I figured that it was a farm, and farms don't have websites...right? In this case, wrong. The UK Farm bills itself as an agro-resort. You can book rooms there for a family getaway, there are activities for the kids, and big tram cars that look like thatched huts on wheels that will take you around and show you the farm. It's all much more sophisticated than I'd expected. As soon as we arrived I was intrigued by a sign that said simply GOOD LUCK GOAT with an arrow. I followed. Of course.
Good luck goat indeed. He looks quite proud of himself.

The giant goat was so awesome that we took a group photo. Did I mention that I was one of two white people on the tour? I was. It was funny. I looked like I was adopted or something.
It's like Where's Waldo! Spot the ang mohs!

Having had our fill of the Good Luck Goat, we ventured off to where they keep the real goats. The goats and sheep are kept together, and you could hear and smell them long before you could see them. SHEEP ARE LOUD! It's like they're YELLING all the time. Crazy.

In his own separate pen was this very unusual breed of goat. I've never seen anything like him.
*Ahem*  Uh..sir? Has anyone ever told you your ear looks a bit...uh...phallic?

And then someone handed me a heart-stoppingly adorable little lamb. SO SWEET. He should be the poster child (poster lamb?) for Cute Overload.
True love
Mom and baby

After communing with the goats and lambs for far longer than reasonable, I moved on. We walked down a dirt lane to a small herb garden full of interesting plants and heady aromas. I was more interested in plants than usual because I was in the middle of a book called Wicked Plants, about poisonous plants. The book had opened up a whole new botanical world to me, and I was looking at all the herbs with new eyes, wondering which ones had mysterious, life-threatening properties.

I liked the hearty roselles, which are a type of hibiscus. They have some medicinal uses and can be used to make a tasty tea as well. Plus they're pretty!
Apparently the bugs like them too!

I also spotted one of my all-time favorite flowers, the funky bloom of the passion fruit plant. All of its limp tendrils are reminiscent of a bad hair day! I see these on the ground at Bukit Timah occasionally.
So many facets!

I also saw this strange little fruit that I've seen a bunch of times in Singapore nature reserves, but have never been able to identify. I learned it's called a mengkudu. Now I just have to remember that...
Looks like a hand grenade

Other highlights included a huge natural beehive (not pictured because it looks like a big pile of dirt) and this lovely lavender-colored flower whose name I didn't catch.
I want a bouquet of these!

The stroll around the herb garden ended with a cup of freshly brewed, very refreshing stevia tea. Then we were off to visit the ostriches. Yup. They have ostriches! There were two adult females, one adult male, and lots of little ones.
What a lovable face!
If there's life on other planets, I think it might look like these guys

Pretty soon it was time to head back to the sheep and goat area to watch the sheep be herded into the  pasture. While we waited for the action to start, I stood off to the side and admired this random statue. Who is this chubby man?! Why was there a statue next to the sheep barn?! What does it all mean?!
He's been eating too much mutton.

Pretty soon the sheep were herded by a very beautiful sheepdog. The dog looked like he was having the time of his life, and it was fascinating to watch him and the sheep moving in sync. The best part was when one of the sheep broke away from the group and sneaked around behind the dog. The dog spotted the sheep and tore off after him, sprinting full out. The sheep's eyes got really big and she picked up the pace, valiantly attempting to get back to the group, all the while registering an "oh shit oh shit oh shit" look on her sheepy face. But no worries, she was reunited with her friends. After the dog had them all rounded up, they frolicked right past where I was standing.
Shear madness

The grand finale of the UK Farm visit was bottle-feeding some of the lambs. I stood back and watched the greedy little lambs nudge each other out of the way to get to the bottles. It was especially cute to see a 5-year-old boy who was so excited that he couldn't stop squirming long enough for the lamb to get a drink!
For real, these kids are driving me crazy.

Having completed our visit in the most adorable way possible, we boarded the bus again and headed to the Zenxin Organic Farm. I was super excited to see the organic farm because they supply vegetables to some of the stores I frequent in Singapore (like Cold Storage)! When we got there we all piled off the bus again (this is a feature of guided tours- on the bus, off the bus, on the bus, off the bus). Someone greeted us right away and we started the tour. Our first stop was organic dragonfruit plants! If you've never had a dragonfruit, you should.

Reasons dragonfruit are awesome:
1) They are PINK.
2) They have scales.
3) They're called dragonfruit. Dragons are cool.
4) They taste like summertime...and kiwi.
5) They're the fruit of a member of the cactus family, which is just weird.

Unruly dragonfruit plants
The flowers only bloom at night!
Unripe fruit
Ripe! Mmm...

I was clearly enamored with the dragonfruit plants, and was lagging behind the group as I snapped too many photos. I hurried to catch up with them in the organic herb garden. There were lots of interesting plants, including a bush that was growing far from the walkway. The guide said that the bush used to grow right up next to the walkway, but every time a menstruating woman touched it, it died! Now the gardeners only plant it out of reach of people. There were other neat plants too, and the whole place had an earthy smell that reminded me of Rice's Nursery in Canton. That made me feel right at home, just as the smell of cow dung had filled me with happy memories earlier. Everyone else had been plugging their noses and cringing. I was furtively smiling and thinking of Ohio.
Zigzag stems of the red bird cactus

The thing I liked best about the organic farm was seeing the creative alternatives they used for pest control. Intricate bug traps made out of recycled water bottles hung around the gardens, and screening enclosed a lot of the plants. At least, that was my favorite part until I saw DUCKS AND BUNNIES! YAAAAAAY BUNNNIES!
Duck on the roof!
He's a candidate for Disapproving Rabbits

Naturally, I stood there admiring the rabbits for far too long, mumbling about their cuteness and feeling a little like Lennie from Of Mice and Men. When I finally looked up, the group was turning a corner ahead of me. One of the farm workers grinned at me, nodded, and said, "Beautiful." Being my usual dense self, I replied "I KNOW! Aren't they so cute?!" obviously referring to the bunnies. He laughed and said, "No, I mean you. You're beautiful!" I glanced at my dirt-caked pants, laughed, said thanks, and trotted off to meet the group. As I hurried away, I saw a young Caucasian guy on a bench nearby. "HEY!" he yelled, "Are you with that group?!" When I nodded, he burst out laughing. Through his giggles he said, "You know, you don't really...mesh!" I shrugged and caught up with my group. I figured it would have been hard for me to really lose them. They could have just asked if anyone had seen a confused white girl, alone and muttering about ducks and bunnies. They would have had me back in no time.
Tell me about the rabbits, George...

We ended our time at Zenxin by browsing their extensive organic food store. I got a yummy dragonfruit juice, made from the ones they grew right there on the farm. As I sipped it, I admired their organic durians. I've seen plenty of durian since moving to S'pore, but I've never touched one before. Holy moly, those things are SHARP! Who knew?!
Tasty treat
Organic durian

After Zenxin, we drove down to Johor Bahru for dinner. This turned out to be the most disappointing part of the day. We drove the bus back down a dirt road, got stuck, spent 20 minutes blocking traffic as we tried to turn around, and then ate dinner at a really dirty seafood restaurant where the waitresses were barefoot and food preparation was being done on wooden pallets on a soaking wet floor. I ate some white rice and passed the time chatting with an Indian woman who alternated between lamenting the filth of the restaurant and giving me great Indian cooking advice (I make a lot of Indian food). I was especially glad when dinner was done with, because it meant that we got to head back to Singapore, where I got to meet Bryan at the airport!!! He'd been in the U.S. for two weeks and I was thrilled to have him back! What a fantastic way to end my day!

HEY! By the way! You should vote for me in the Singapore Blog Awards! I could win a trip to Australia! And then I could blog all about it!