Monday, March 31, 2014

Broken Hearted Bear

We went to visit our friends the other day and our hostess looked a bit shaken. We learned that one of her co-workers had passed away at the age of 36, leaving behind 4 young kids. Then on Friday in Bangkok my good friend’s husband died unexpectedly of heart attack. They have just one kid. The girl is half way through her study in the UK and flying home for her father’s funeral. This friend of mine was with me all day at my father’s cremation last month. I rang her and we talked for a long while.

It is sad naturally when we learn of mortality of people we know – and in many cases people we don’t know personally in some circumstances as in the case above or some catastrophic disasters like the Tsunami that hit Thailand, Indonesia and surrounding countries 10 years ago or the one in Japan in 2011. These include earthquakes and plane crashes. One minute they were there and in the next hours they were gone.

This picture above, somehow, makes my eyes teary. I don’t know the child or the parents. The teddy bear looks fairly new, the Christmas bauble must have been hung just last Christmas. I don’t even know if it’s a baby, a toddler or a stillborn but in any case it was a young life taken too early, too soon and too sad.

As an old saying in Buddhism " life is uncertain but death is certain", we do not know what is around the corner – be kind to your loved ones, cherish them, spend time with them and be grateful for everyday that they are still with us.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Game of Phones

I have bought a couple of smartphones off TradeMe (similar to eBay but localised to New Zealand) recently and have learnt a few things along the way. If you can collect the phone when the auction is closed, that will be best as you can check the cosmetic appearance and button functions. Whether the phone will work with your SIM or not – that’s another story. If the phones were originally bought in New Zealand – they should work with any NZ network. You might have seen the description on some listings that the phones did not work with the sellers’ SIMs – in this case they might not work with your SIM either.

The first one that I bought turned out to be a dud – albeit being a very nice and tidy phone without a single scratch from a respectable seller with 100% positive feedbacks. I took it to Vodafone shop to change my SIM and the guy there was kind enough to set up everything for me but there seemed to be some problems. He disappeared to the back office and 15 minutes later, re-emerge with store manager who sat me down and explained to me that the phone did not work (with any SIM) because it was blacklisted. The phone might have been reported stolen or lost and claimed against the insurance – that was the most likely case. And New Zealand has a brilliant system to prevent the recycling of stolen and insurance claimed phones.

I contacted the sellers and reported this problem – the phone returned and the money was paid back into my account with tons of apologies. The phone was sold on behalf and the sellers did not know the origin of the phone either. No one in their right mind would want the police knocking on the door to question about stolen properties. I don’t think my case was the first – it must have happened quite often and the professional legally challenges would have known this system too. So I can tell you that the market of second hand smartphones on TradeMe is quite safe. However, you might be better off buying from the sellers whose main business is selling phones – as they often give a limited warranty. Problem with wi-fi connectability can happen quite often in some models.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cat Cave

 Our new-ish permanent resident has found his cat cave in our garden. When the weather is nice and warm he likes to recline on this bed of dried leaves under the vireya rhododendron canopy with a mound of mondo grass as his cushion (when it’s too hot or too cold, he will be inside on his chaise.)

And from time to time his human majordomo will tend to his needs whether it’s milk or treats. What a life!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Water Features

I love these Nikau Palm water features at Auckland Botanic Garden which is not very far from us. They look refreshing and cool especially on a hot summer day. I dare not crop the photo as the photographer will come screaming at me. Composition is almost everything

Friday, March 21, 2014

Reluctant Model

The jewellery might be impressive but the model is definitely not impressed!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Killing (Forbrydelsen)

This Danish TV series is recommended – we just finished watching the finale episode of Season 3 a few days ago. Apparently, The Killing  has been popular in the UK (BBC4) and you can get the series here on DVDs. Almost everything (99.95%) is in Danish but there is English sub-titles and you’ll get more flavour with the original language. The show features the main character Detective Inspector Sarah Lund and the way they solve murder at Copenhagen Police Department.

Each season focuses on one main case that might be expanded left and right or to the past cases. The first ten episodes of Season 1 is good – the second ten is quite weak and riddled with too many red herrings as they tried to drag the story on to make 20 episodes. They made it ten episodes each for Season 2 and Season 3 which is much better – the plot is tighter with faster pace. Season 2 is much, much better than Season 1 and Season 3 is simply the best of all. Unfortunately, Season 3 is also the finale season.

The creator, Soren Sviestrup seems to like and excel in intertwining crimes with politics. I could see the upsides and downsides of liberalness and feel frustration at many politically correct points of view (and sometimes the sheer incompetence of bureaucrats including the police but I think that's not unusual in real life). It is nevertheless a breath of fresh air – so different from the usual American detective series. The main actress, Sofie Grabol who played Sarah Lund is to be commended not only for her acting but also as the ambassador for many things Danish – especially the sweaters!

Note: The picture of the cover is from Amazon where DVDs are available.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thai Coconut Rice, Chicken Green Curry and Crispy Beef (ข้าวมันแกงไก่กับเนื้อฝอย )

Coconut rice in Thailand normally goes hand in hand with Papaya Salad (Som Tam) and crispy beef or pork and Chicken Green Curry will also be included. I have yet to see this set of meal in restaurant here in Auckland. When I was living in Sydney more than 10 years ago, I frequented Sailors Thai Restaurant  in The Rocks for this kind of food during the time of the now famous David Thompson – it came in set bar the green curry that you had to order separately.

The coconut rice can be made in rice cooker – just follow Tracey’s recipe here. However, I would add 2-3 tablespoons of white sugar and dissolve in the coconut milk. This bit of sweetness will help you deal with green curry and Som-tam a lot more easily. For green curry – I will advise you to use a shop bought curry paste that comes in jars or sachets – made sure that it’s made in Thailand. Follow the recipe provided with the paste. To get as close as the real thing on ordinary Thais’ tables – please fry the paste with coconut cream first and add a tablespoon or two more at a time as you go and let the oil surface before adding the meat. If you are appalled by the oily appearance – please forget Thai curry and eat something else.

Now I’m going to talk about crispy beef – the traditional way will be quite tedious but my dear Mum came up with this recipe when she stayed with me in Holland. This recipe is easy – might take time but easy and very kind to your teeth.

You will need:
410 gram can of low fat corn beef
A little bit of oil for frying
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons fried shallot (available from Asian groceries and Fruit World)

Empty the content of canned corn beef into a wok or frying pan over medium heat – turn from time to time so it crisps evenly. This will take about 15 – 20 minutes or more. Add a little bit of oil if it starts to stick to the pan. Discard the grisly off-white bits as you go.

The corned beef will eventually changes colour and crisp up. Let it cool down a bit before adding sugar and 1 tablespoon of fried shallot – turn to combine. Sprinkle the rest of fried shallot on top before serving. How easy is that!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Her Water Chalice

We have several water bowls around the house for our critters' convenience but their truly sometimes like it a challenging way. My water plant has to share its water with dogs (visiting Bailey loves this bowl) and cats. Pipi is more graceful with her drinking than Bonnie of course and will not let her paws get wet. Bailey would want to go into the bowl if he could but he is too big for the bowl now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Taste Drive: Sandhu’s Frozen Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice

When I was young good Indian food was not very easy to find in Thailand (unlike nowadays, I must add) – although we had Biryani but it was more Islamic than Indian. I remembered having one of the best Biryani at a Muslim wedding at family friend’s place on the riverside in Bangkok. That one was a real McCoy accompanied by ox tail soup.

When I travelled to the UK as a grown-up – I was introduced to frozen food section at Mark and Spencer’s and I thought I was in heaven. My favourites were Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken. Both came with rice as a heat and heat complete meal.

Now we have many kinds of Indian sauces so life is a lot easier. When you cannot think of what to cook or what to eat you just open the pantry door and there they are- Butter Chicken Sauce and Korma Sauce- looking back at you invitingly. You just have to cook rice and add meat into the simmering sauce.

Recently I have even taken an easier and lazier route – having frozen butter chicken with rice for lunch. I bought a packet of Sandhu’s Frozen Butter Chicken from Countdown on impulse. I didn’t expect much when I first put it in the microwave but 6 or 7 minutes later – the smell and the taste brought me back to those wet cold days in London and those wonderful Mark & Spencer’s Indian meals.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tea for Two

This wonderful setting is at Simunovich Olive Estate in Bombay - south of Auckland, that is. I used to go to this place quite often in the past – sometimes just for coffee and dessert at their Bracu restaurant. Once we had very lovely dinner for Bob’s birthday at their kitchen's table and then retreated to the Wine Library – very nice and memorable. Since then they have gone through many changes. Chef comes and goes over the past 10 years.

Last time I was there must be 2 years ago – the food was nice, the waiting staff was good but the maitre d’ put me off a bit so did not go back for a while.

Bob took this picture there two weeks ago in one late afternoon – it is so simple yet elegant and you can replicate this at home. You will need to find a white table cloth and a pot of flowers to tart up your garden table. White china will also do nicely.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Let Sleeping Critters Lie

Seriously – let them. The dog is my brother’s and her name is Shinee. You may remember my posts about her over the past two years. She’s a fully grown dog and weighs 17 kgs. This girl is full of energy and wants to play all the time. When I was in Bangkok last month she was happy to have another victim to play with and she pestered me quite often.

Pipi is sort of half asleep here. I should let her sleep on – this one will be pestering me for attention as well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Easy Pad Thai

Pad Thai is Thai street style fried thin rice sticks – it is now quite well known internationally and I don’t think it needs any introduction. I cook Pad Thai from time to time at home. My way is easy and the ingredients are not that difficult to find.

For 2, you will need:

100 grams Rice Sticks (the thin ones but not as thin as vermicelli), soaked in warm water until soft
250 grams pork or skinless chicken, cut into thin strips
100 grams prawn meat
½ cup chopped red onion or shallots
½ - 1 teaspoon red hot chilli flakes
25 grams shaved palm sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind juice or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce (substitute with soy sauce if you don’t have fish sauce)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely ground – use toasted pine nuts if you are allergic to nuts
2 cups bean sprouts
2 spring onions (if you can find garlic chives, use garlic chives) cut into 5 cm long, halve the white bits
Oil for frying

2 wedges of lemon or lime, more chilli flakes, more bean sprouts, more ground peanuts, soy sauce and white sugar as garnish on the side

Add oil to a deep pan or a wok and heat over medium high – add onion or shallot and fry until soft. Add chili flakes, fry quickly and take care not to burn, then add palm sugar, tamarind juice or rice vinegar and fry a bit further about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and fish sauce. Spoon half of the sauce into a bowl and set aside. Add chicken or pork, fry until cooked through then add prawns. Remove cooked meat from the wok and set aside.

Add a little bit more oil in the wok – add rice sticks and about half of the reserved sauce. Fry until rice sticks are soft – I myself like my rice sticks well cooked and soft so I always add a bit of water at this point but not too much. Push the rice sticks to one side and add eggs to the wok on the other side – when the eggs are half cooked – stir the rice sticks into the eggs. Add meat and the remaining sauce – turn to combine. Add peanuts, bean sprouts and spring onions. Fry quickly and remove from heat.

Divide onto two plates – it should be ample for second serving. Serve warm with a bit of fresh bean sprouts on top – you can adjust the taste with your garnish on the side ie. lemon, sugar, chilli flakes, etc. just like in Thailand. Enjoy!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Kindle Upgrade

Bob gave me new Kindle Paperwhite as my belated Birthday pressie when I came back home from Bangkok.

This new kindle (in black) is smarter and easier to read than my old one (covered in red leather). It has a touch screen just like iPad. And although I also have Kindle app on my iPad – the battery on iPad does not last as long as on Kindle. It is also much lighter and smaller with thin frame on the sides (without a cover, you might find it a little bit tricky where to hold them in your hands as the screen will move if you touch it especially when you read in bed like I do!)

But he also gave me a smart cover in black leather so it is on and off when you open or close the cover just like iPad and I have something to hold on to while reading it. One downside of Kindles is that they are not compatible with Auckland eBook library platform – only Kindle Fire is. In this case iPads from 2nd generation upwards that run iOS 6 or higher will become very handy.

Saying that, I love this Kindle – small and light enough to put in my handbag and the paperwhite screen with built-in light enables me to read either in bright light or in the dark although I have not yet tried the latter. My old first gen Kindle, as much as I love it, will have to stay in the drawer as a spare.