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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The other day I noticed this odd sign in the office I sometimes work from. It has detailed instructions on how to wash your hands. I mean, I get it if you want to put up a sign reminding people to do it, but are there really people out there that don’t know how?

I apologize for the blurriness, but have you ever tried to discretely take a photo in a busy office bathroom?

An expat friend of mine and I send each other photos of things we think are unusual in Singapore, so naturally this was immediately sent to her. She replied with one of her own. No tutorial but a less than gentle hand washing reminder from an angry cartoon.

Have you???

Have you???

The next day I’m in the hawker market ordering a juice. I am waiting for the juice lady to finish dealing with the trash. She has her fist happily plunging ahead into a bag full of waste for a full 3-4 minutes of my waiting time, before she comes to serve me. I order my juice and patiently wait for her to a.) wash her hands and b.) prepare my juice.

You would guess it, she never took care of part a. She did not even bother to change or remove her glove. When I asked her if she was going to wash her hands, she pretended to not understand me, alienating me with a funny look on her face. What was the strange foreigner asking of her?? Surely it was too difficult and taxing! Let’s intimidate her by furrowing our brow and pretending not to understand why she might be upset or flailing about across the counter. Another lady, a nice one who communicates well in Singlish, had to tell her what was going on. Her hands. The germs. The glove. The trash. My juice.

She leaves halfway through making the juice and another lady takes over. What to do now? Take the juice half way made by trash glove lady or walk away thirsty?

I did not get a juice that day. I also did not get diphtheria, so you win some you lose some.

The takeaway to this post seems to be two-fold.

1.) The wash your hand signs in the bathroom may not be so silly after all. Perhaps it’s not a ritual everyone is accustomed to.

2.) Do not buy juice from the juice stand at Lau Pa Sat.

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I grew up in small town Texas in the 80s. You can make some basic assumptions about the lifestyle and diet there. It’s now a haven for the world’s most amazing tacos, but before the changing demographics, it was known for fried food and BBQ, and subsequently obesity.

My brothers and I were thin by nature. Tall, lanky types who could eat an entire week’s worth of groceries in one sitting. You didn’t leave food for later, it wouldn’t be there. Even if you hid it in the back of the fridge someone would find your stash. We didn’t try to be this way, we just were. We played like normal kids, alternating between outside and the TV.

And people would comment. We were described thin, bony, tall, slinky.

“Look at that girl. She’s so skinny. Wowee! And blonde too, one day she’ll be a model.”

Skinny, dripping with more envy than smart kind or even wealthy ever held. To be described as skinny held even more status than the bible-belt mandated description of Christian.

Skinny was their issue.

Skinny was my virtue.

Skinny became my identity.

lanky

My brother and I on my first day of eighth grade. Make no mistake, I’m not posing. I’m standing like that because I’m uncomfortable with my height and weight. Also, fringe/bangs are an anxiety ridden bathroom DIY job and shoes are a size to big, purchased on sale at Kmart.

In 1999, I moved away to Austin and attended the University of Texas. As you do, I gained 10 pounds in beer and buffets. It was a mad slap to the face.

I started to workout for the first time in my life. Not because I was interested in being healthy, but because I had lost my value. I may have still been thin and healthy, but I was not skinny. I had fallen from grace.

I’ve spent the last 14 years dealing with some level of body dysmorphia. I am not overweight. I am perfectly suited to my frame. I have amazing long legs and a slightly protruding belly. The belly protrudes partly due to my love of food and partly due to structural hip issues. My pelvis tilts forward due to postural problems and hypermobility. I had hip dysplasia at birth. It’s me. It’s my body.

There have been times when I have tried to cheat the system to find my lost virtue. Crash diets, starvation, diet pills. and then there have been times when I have tried other solutions. Postural realignment, exercise, self acceptance. These days I manage OK.

And then there are the days when hell really is other people. I don’t just mean MTV culture and pressure to be thin. I mean other people’s constant comments on your weight. I went to dinner with a friends family, most of which were obese. The dinner chatter kept circling around to my weight. I wasn’t the one doing it.

“Eat, eat, you’re skinny! You can have more!” I wasn’t starving myself, I was full. “I wish I was that skinny, you skinny Minnie!” It wasn’t my body issues that kept an entire dinner’s conversation circling around my size. It was someone else’s.

Or the look of glee on my mother’s face when she relayed a story of my brother arguing that I was not average sized, I was thin. I didn’t share the joy. I know it was suppose to be a compliment, but I could not be comfortable with the knowledge that my family was conferencing over which category of body size I fit in.*

It is uncomfortable to have one of my most personal things, my body, under scrutiny. Uncomfortable when done by strangers and acquaintances, but more intrusively by friends and family. Your daily intake and expenditures, your most basic life choices are watched and judged. You see, once you’ve been skinny, you will only ever be skinny or formerly skinny.

My body is my body. It is what it is. Most importantly, it works. If I eat healthy and take care of it and avoid any major accidents, it will hopefully continue to work just fine. Strong and healthy. This is the mantra I tell myself daily.

For the last year I have lived in Asia where I am large by comparison. I tower above the girls and boys just like in junior high, except this time I am not skinny. I am surrounded by very slight Asian girls. This is their body type. They are not this way by virtue, just like I was not skinny by virtue at age 10.

I step onto my patio and say hello to my neighbor’s domestic helper. We are both hanging morning laundry to dry. I am dressed for an office meeting.

“Oh you look so fat!” she compliments me.

My dress choice of the day is slightly more Christina Hendricks than Kate Moss.

“Oh it’s the dress,” I laugh. I understand that her intention is to describe me as voluptuous, not fat. Her culture values curves and womanliness. I am slightly working the va-va-voom.

I go inside and change clothes anyway. It’s not my culture to aspire to voluptuousness. But then, I don’t really want to be skinny either.

I just want to be me. Healthy and capable. Preferably free from other people’s issues, expectations and judgments, but most importantly, free to pursue other things in my life than skinny.

*Editor’s note: Blessings to my mother and all her good intentions, she didn’t know she was going to have a writer for a daughter.

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Ran across this item while browsing at Dean and Deluca in Orchard Central. Ever tried one of these Green Musk Melons? At 100 SGD (that’s 80 USD or 50 GBP) a piece I hope they are absolutely fantastic! That’s one food item you don’t let rot in your refrigerator.

image

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On weekends spent working at home, Husband and I will often have some noodles as a lunch-time around the house snack.

We buy two different types of noodles. I get the ones without monosodium glutamate (MSG) and he gets the ones with MSG. He swears it makes things taste better, and I swear it gives you cancer or some other sort of yet unnamed disease. He asked for proof and so I go down a rabbit hole of the internet.

The only knowledge I start out with is that an ex’s dad was so allergic to the stuff that he had to carry an EpiPen with him when he dined at restaurants just in case the chef slipped some MSG in. He ended up being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance one Thanksgiving when the family decided not to cook and go out instead. That alone is enough to freak me out.

Being a good science reporter (one of my day jobs), I couldn’t leave it alone at that. Besides, my scientist husband doesn’t accept anecdotal evidence.

MSG is isolated glutimate, the chemical that gives foods umami flavor – that taste found in asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat outside the four well-known tastes of salty, sweet, sour and bitter.  Pure MSG does not have a pleasant taste until it is combined with other savory food items.

My local grocery store in Singapore sells it alone by the bag full to cook with. The first time I ran across it, I couldn’t believe how socially acceptable it was as an ingredient and had to take a photo.

A bag full of MSG. Available at your local Cold Storage.

A bag full of MSG. Available at your local Cold Storage.

Glutamate is naturally found in many foods and a research study from 2009 revealed that the tongue has a receptor that is exclusively activated by the chemical.

If it’s naturally found in foods, then why are we so scared of it? Well, there’s quite a bit of research out there linking the isolated form of the chemical to obesity, headaches or other symptoms. And yet there are other studies saying it is just fine.

So how do you know whether to avoid or embrace? I’m no doctor but I say if it gives you headaches, Chinese Restaurant Symptoms or other difficulties, avoid.

When it comes to your food choices, personal anecdotal evidence (aka your experience) is OK.

Personally, I’ll continue to embrace naturally umami laden foods but avoid the stuff in its isolated capacity. There’s just something unappealing and unnatural about heaping the synthetic shiny white crystals out of their plastic bag and onto my plate. But then again I take my coffee and teas without sugar and sweeten my desserts with agave nectar.

Still confused on what to do? Don’t sweat it too hard. Just remember the words of Micheal Pollen.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.

I’m pretty sure that bag of crystals is not a plant and I’m more than hesitant to categorize it as food.

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Can you imagine what an alien would think of Christmas traditions if it landed in the US in December? Fat men wearing beards and red jumpsuits sneaking into people’s houses at night,  a possibly alcoholic drink made with raw eggs, weird shiny stuff hanging on trees that have been cut down and placed indoors. Specially designed songs?

When you put it that way, it does sound strange. That sums up my Chinese New Year experience so far.

I know it’s right around the corner. I know it’s a big deal. I understand that each year symbolizes an animal. I was born in the year of the rooster, this year will be the year of the snake. I just have no idea what it really is or what people are going to do to celebrate.

A month ago I took a work training course and as a completion present I was given decorative envelopes. “What are these for?” I asked the girl next to me.

“They are for the new year,” she said.

“But what do I do with them?” I asked.

“They are only for married people,” she explained.

“Oh I’m married!” I exclaimed.

“You put money in them and give them to people who are not married. It’s a thing you have to do. But only in even increments for good luck.”

I gave her the are-you-insane look. I didn’t benefit from this system when I was single. I don’t think I’ll start participating now.

Plus, as a 30-something year old woman with no family in the country, it would be weird to start handing out money filled envelopes to my late 20 and early 30-something friends.

I see the preparations going on around me. I notice that many businesses are closing down. Closures are not just for a day or two, but for an entire week. I am prepared for an event, but I don’t know how prepared I should be. Questions like “will I be able to get food or should I start hoarding?” start to come to mind.

The hair salons are either charging extra or hosting new year packages. There are plants for sale everywhere. I joined in the fun and bought a lovely orchid.

My lovely orchid.

My lovely orchid.

The grocery store is stocking canned abalone and orange gift baskets. You bring oranges to your host and they give you the same in return.

It reminds me of the time in the 6th grade my birthday twin, Deena Wilkins, and I gave each other a happy birthday 5 dollar bill. “Happy birthday!” we said as we swapped $5 notes.

And then there’s the campaign urging people to not eat shark fin soup this year.  Apparently it’s a real problem only perpetuated by the desire to adhere to tradition.

I have lots of surprises coming. Sure I could do some internet research, but there’s only so much reading about something you can do. At some point you have to experience to understand.

Maybe I can convince someone to invite me around. I promise I’ll bring oranges, but please don’t expect a red envelope!

Editor’s note: If you are hanging around Singapore, Time Out Singapore has a list of recommended restaurants for Chinese New Year and the Honeycombers have some good tips on alternative things to do.

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Dear Whole Earth Singapore,

I love you.

xx Laura

Whole Earth

Whole Earth

I was taking a graphic design short course in Tanjong Pagar when I found this vegetarian place that specializes in Peranakan and Thai cuisine.

A main with brown rice after tax and service charge was $24, so it’s not particularly cheap. It is, however, healthy and delicious with nice interiors. I even experienced good service.

Penang Redang

Penang Rendang

Brown Rice

Brown Rice

If you are a vegetarian but have always wondered what some of the classic Asian dishes taste like (hello shark fin soup), you must go here. My penang rendang was made of pan-fried mushrooms and had an amazingly meaty texture with the perfect blend of spices.

I took a look at the dessert menu and passed in favor of a green tea ($1.50) at the nearby divey but vegan Loving Hut. Excellent tactic as tea to go at the nearby western coffee stands was $4-$6. People, it’s just hot water and a tea bag I’m after.

Loving Hut

Loving Hut

I figured I was on a roll so the next day I gave Loving Hut a chance.  This was a much less exciting experience. The vegan ocean burger was, shall I say.. disgusting. The lemon ice tea was full of sugar. Why do people pre-load sugar? I really wish they would stop. Singapore does indeed have a sweet tooth that I am missing.

In summary, in two days I had good vegan food and not so good vegan food near Tanjong Pagar.

OMG I just found out that you can get Whole Earth delivered.

Whole Earth is located at 76 Peck Seah St (Tg Pagar MRT Exit A) 

For Reservations:  Tel: 65 6323 3308    

Open Daily.  Operating Hours: Lunch: 11:30am to 3pm (last order at 2:30pm) Dinner: 5:30 to 10pm (last order at 9:15pm

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I love a trip to Little India in Singapore. The area is so colorful and different than the rest of Singapore. You often forget that you are on this tiny island all together.

We had our first visitors in September and they wanted to check the area out. With the food and the visually stunning temples, this was not a hard sale for me. Here is a small collection of photos I took that day.

Temples, temples and more temples…

little india 1

temple

little india 3

little india 2

Beautiful shophouses

shophouses

Am I the tourist or is he?

tourist

Locals shopping for groceries

local shopping for bananas

Who can resist a coconut stand?

coconuts

British girl Amy’s first coconut.

chris and amy coconut

I think she liked it.

amy coconut

Note: Sunday in Little India gets very hectic. It can be overwhelming. Plan accordingly.

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