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“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are” – Brillat-Savarin

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

6 Years Old!

My boy turns six very soon, and we held a celebration on Saturday with some of his friends. Last year's celebration - just a month before my girl's birth - was supposed to be the final one for a couple of years, as I wasn't sure how capable I would be to do one while caring for an infant. But mother's guilt got to me. Especially after my son - who has been counting down the days to his birthday for the past two months - said that he was looking forward to playing with his friends on the bouncy castle and the ride-on cars. I did tell him that I might not be able to do it this year, as we will be hopping on the plane the day after his birthday, and he accepted this with astounding maturity. I decided to put myself to the test anyway, and organised a somewhat last minute birthday party for my son (invites were sent out only two weeks prior). As with previous years, I hired a bouncy castle and a couple of ride-on cars (but I have a feeling that this will be my last time doing a party in this format as my boy will outgrow the rental toys by next birthday). The weather was perfect (the weather forecast for early showers did not eventuate), there was plenty of food for everyone (phew!), and the kids had loads of fun.

Hired out our residence's barbecue court, and some rental bouncy castle and ride-on cars:

As for the boy's cake, it was a no-brainer decision to do a Star Wars themed cake as that is his current obsession (thanks to hubby). In the week before the party, I found out that one of his little friends has allergies to eggs, dairy and gluten, and along with my boy's nut allergy, I had the gargantuan task of making a cake that would suit them. Hubby said from the beginning that I should to stick to my plan to bake the usual cake and make some gluten-free cupcakes for the little friend, but I hate excluding anyone with special requirements (having dealt with it myself for almost six years), at least not without giving it a go first. So I tried making a gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free and nut-free cake, but unfortunately the cake mix I used wasn't suitable for a large cake - it was fudgy and moist in the centre even after two hours of baking (hence the standard toothpick test indicated the cake was not cooked) but the edges had baked rock hard. With so little time, I ditched the idea of making a gluten-free Darth Vader cake, and made gluten-free cupcakes instead. Instead of building the cake from scratch, I ordered a Darth Vader cake pan from the US to help make my life a bit easier. The decorating instructions that came with the cake pan proved too fiddly, so I decorated it the way I felt comfortable with. For the cake, I used the tried-and-true Chocolate Butter Cake recipe from joyofbaking that I've successfully used for previous birthday cakes, and it baked beautifully in the cake pan (much to my relief, as the party was on the next day!). For the frosting, I started off with a chocolate buttercream (using 1 cup butter, 3 cups icing sugar, 3/4 cup cocoa powder and 4-5 tablespoons milk) and tinted it with about eight drops of black Americolor food colouring. This gave a dark enough colour without affecting the flavour nor give people coloured teeth. Then I frosted the cake with a frosting spatula and piped the details on with a piping bag and tips. For a rushed job, it didn't turn out too badly. The boy was pleased with the cake, and there wasn't much leftover - success!

Darth Vader cake, decorated my way:

The gluten-free cupcakes were a hit with the little boy who is allergic to gluten, eggs and dairy! His mum said she had never seen him polish off anything so quickly before:

Friday, 3 October 2014

Beach picnic @ Pulau Manukan, Sabah (Malaysia)

One of the things we were told to do in Kota Kinabalu was to visit one (or more) of the islands off the coast of KK. This group of five islands make up Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Malaysia's first marine park. Given that we were travelling with a 5-year-old and an infant, visiting more than one island was not feasible, so we selected Pulau Manukan solely on the fact that it featured the most developed tourist facilities out of the five islands. I would have loved to explore the more remote and undeveloped islands, but travelling with kids often doesn't allow me the luxury to choose the more adventurous options (travelling with kids is still better than not travelling!). We arrived at the ferry terminal in downtown KK, and after enquiring at a few counters for ferry times and ticket costs, we settled on one company whose schedule and pricing suited us. Then we donned our lifejackets and off we went on a speedboat for a 15-20 minute ride that was speedy, bumpy and splashy at times. It was a good thing I had my 6-month old baby safely strapped onto me via a carrier, and we were amazed that she napped through the ride!

In the speedboat watching the coastline of Kota Kinabalu disappear:

Arriving at the pier in Manukan Island:

We plonked ourselves, bags, snorkel equipment and food down at the first vacant table we saw, which happened to be one of the first ones to the right of the above pier. And here we stayed for the next few hours enjoying the sand, beach and water:

A candid shot taken by my younger sister shortly after hubby came back from snorkelling the reefs further out. This was baby's first time at the beach:

Though Manukan is fairly well-equipped with facilities, I read from other travellers online that food options on the island are quite limited, and this was confirmed by our taxi driver who drove us to the ferry terminal. We asked him to bring us to his recommended eating places to buy some takeaway food for our lunch on the island, and we enjoyed the food shortly after arriving at Manukan while the food was still warm.

Fried 'Tuaran mee' (noodles from a town called Tuaran in Sabah), with pork:

Hubby requested horfun - stir-fried flat rice noodles with egg sauce that was packed separately in a plastic bag:

We bought two types of dumplings, one with seafood, and another with preserved egg and prawns. Both were good, but we liked the preserved egg one better ('we' being my sister and I who love preserved egg):

Tofu stuffed with pork ball. This one was suggested by our taxi driver. Nice homemade tofu with the heartiness of pork:

Chicken bun:

And a sweet pandan bun:

It was a beautiful day trip out to Pulau Manukan. It was a shame to see the effects of the tourism industry on the coral reefs, some of the ones closer to the shore were bleached, but my sister said the ones further out looked healthier. I heard there are some amazing dive sites around this area, and I would love to check them out in future!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Weekend brunch buffet @ Al Molo Ristorante Italiano, Hong Kong

Last Sunday was one of those days where if anything could go wrong, did go wrong. I was out on my own with both kids (what was I thinking?) - one who was too excited taking in her surroundings to go down for her morning nap, and another who was just his usual over-excitable self. I was exhausted and moody by the time hubby met up with us (late!). We binned our original lunch plans at a nice restaurant as we didn't fancy dealing with an overtired infant during the meal, and we had resigned to just doing what we needed to do, then head home. On our way there, baby fell asleep (3 hours after her usual time for nap), my mood lifted after reinforcement arrived (albeit late), and I felt hungry! The first restaurant we came across was Al Molo, an Italian restaurant at Harbour City with a nice waterfront location. Service was pretty good - we were well-looked after by staff, and the manager/owner was on the floor ensuring that everything was well. He even picked up one of our baby's toys off the floor, and had it cleaned before giving back to us. The weekend brunch buffet was on, but we could also order from the a-la-carte menu. The brunch buffet was quite affordably priced at HK$250 for the salad buffet only, and HK$338 for the full brunch which included the salad buffet, a choice of main course, and tea/coffee. The boy was adamant he didn't like anything from the buffet and wanted a pizza, so I shared one with him while hubby went for the full brunch. Hubby was pretty happy with the quality and variety of the salad brunch, and the boy polished off half the pizza.

Clean and spacious interior at Al Molo:

Soup and arancini station:

Smoked salmon, cured meat and various salads:

Cheeses:

Desserts:

Hubby's first plate - I see lasagna, salad, quiche and some breads:

Second plate with some cold cuts, cheese, smoked salmon and more salads:

The boy and I were given some bread at the table to munch on while waiting for the pizza:

Capricciosa Pizza (HK$168), with cooked ham, artichokes, black olives and mushrooms. A winning combination for the boy who loves ham, black olives and mushrooms, but he wasn't that keen on the artichokes - more for me!

I convinced hubby to get the Seafood Risotto for his main course, and it was deliciously umami with a good amount of cuttlefish, prawns, calamari and scallop in it. Baby girl loved it too:

Hubby's modest helping of desserts:

We had a pleasant experience at Al Molo, which was nice after the rough morning I had. A lovely family-friendly venue with good quality food.

[Prices quoted above do not include the 10% service charge.]

Al Molo Ristorante Italiano
Shop G63
Ground floor, Ocean Terminal
Harbour City
7-23 Canton Rd
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Hong Kong
Telephone: +85 2 2730 7900

Friday, 19 September 2014

Roti kahwin, Nonya kueh and Musang King durian @ Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

A few months ago, we spent a few days in Kota Kinabalu on the eastern part of Malaysia, together with my younger sister and her husband. We rented a nice apartment in Alam Damai, and had a pretty laidback schedule as we had an infant in our travelling party. On our first day in KK, we explored the nearby Damai area for food and then took a taxi into the main part of town to check out the various specialty markets at the Filipino Market (aka Handicraft Market).

Fook Yuen shopfront:

After our second breakfast in Damai Plaza, we walked the short distance over to Kedai Kopi Fook Yuen (translates to "Fook Yuen Coffee Shop") for some roti kahwin ("marriage bread"), as we had been told by some KK residents that Fook Yuen makes the best roti kahwin in town. So just what is roti kahwin? Two slices of bread sandwiching the combination of butter and kaya (a delicious coconut spread that I grew up eating). Basically kaya toast with butter. Honestly, I think roti kahwin is lost on me. For one, I don't like butter, and much prefer eating kaya by itself on bread. Secondly, unlike most Asians, I love crusty breads (think European-style breads), and Fook Yuen's bread was pillowy soft. I do like the kaya made in-house, and I bought one small bottle to enjoy back in Hong Kong. Service at Fook Yuen is a bit spotty at best. The staff at the counter seem to speak and understand English, yet on both occasions that I visited, my order got jumbled up. Fook Yuen also sells hot and cold drinks, a range of cakes and breads, and warm pre-prepared food from the bain marie near the front of the shop. It's open from 6:30am to 2am, so I can see why Fook Yuen is a popular choice with the locals. If I had to choose, I would say I prefer the kaya toast in Singapore (because we could order soft-boiled eggs with them!)

Two untoasted roti kahwin and one toasted. I actually requested one to be made with toasted wholemeal bread, and one white to be toasted, but received all three white bread and only one toasted:

A pandan kueh (cake) from Fook Yuen, which appeared to be made from glutinous rice flour:

Kedai Kopi Fook Yuen
Block A, Damai Plaza Phase 4
Jalan Damai, Luyang
88300 Kota Kinabalu
Sabah, Malaysia
Tel. +60 88 232 794

Opposite Fook Yuen was a shop with tables set up filled with a variety of Nonya kueh. My sister and I were drawn there like bees to honey, and we bought a few kuehs to try later. They were all good, and I wished we went back again for more!

Tables filled with kueh goodies:

Pretty colours:

A fried pandan kueh I'd never before encountered. It was a little greasy, and not to my taste:

This kueh was like Kueh Talam, except it was green and yellow, not the usual green and white. Perhaps the yellow was from yellow split peas? Whatever it was, delicious!

Kueh Talam, upside down. Actually, I'm not sure if this is Kueh Salat (aka Kueh Seri Muka) or Kueh Talam, and it was too long ago for me to remember if the white part was glutinous rice or just a coconut pudding that took on the crumpled pattern of the plastic it was in. Also delicious:

Pandan kueh - second one of this type encountered on this trip to KK. I don't think I've seen it before. I guess it's like an unbaked kueh bakar pandan. Another delicious one:

We took the short taxi ride into town, to check out Pasar Kraftangan (Handicraft Market), or better known as the Filipino Market (so-named because many of the stalls are run by Filipino immigrants). There are other specialised markets along the same street, one part being the Pasar Besar Kota Kinabalu (Central Market), and there are also hawker stalls at the Pasar Malam (night market) and Pasar Ikan Masin (salted fish market).

The hawkers were just beginning to set up their stalls when we arrived. By nightfall, the place would be heaving with buyers and vendors alike:

Inside the Handicraft Market, literally stuffed full of merchandise and souvenirs. Rows and rows of jewellery, scarves and various knick-knacks. It was pretty impossible to navigate with a baby stroller, and I got a little claustrophobic after a while:

We indulged in some expensive Musang King Durian (I think it was RM50 for this amount). It was good, but the one we bought from a street vendor in Penang (that converted hubby) was still so much better:

We also drank some delicious young coconut water. This one was called pandan coconut, which was more expensive than the normal coconut, but half the size. I asked the vendor why it was more expensive, and he said it was sweeter:

So we got the normal coconut water for research purposes. Sure enough, the pandan coconut was sweeter!

This was a productive foodie day in KK. We then headed back to our rental apartment, and enjoyed more food from the Damai Plaza for dinner.