The sky - cloudy. I know not of the weather that is to come, it be sweltering or stormy. My surroundings are enshrouded in a foggy mass that reeks of burnt sulphur and smoke. It's rather bleak, I admit. The muggy sky is far from picturesque, a scene fit in a post-apocalyptic movie.
But it definitely does not reflect my mood, despite the sky that's a sight for sore eyes (sorry 'bout the pun). I trudge, though with a light heart, down the familiar concrete path. After all, it's Friday, the day I've been anticipating most eagerly since Monday. But today, I bypass my house, walking past the familiar gate to the new complex, sitting there like a present waiting to be unwrapped.
I have yet to explore, so on an adventure I embark.
I roam the walkways, still new with their dusty surface and other curious venturers who traverse them for the same reasons I do. I walk about, blissfully ignorant of the sweat that makes my collar cling to my nape and the load on my back that makes the strength needed for every step seem to be multiplied tenfold.
My stomach rumbles. Lunch.
I make my way to a café, a diner with a warm ambience and the fragrances of cooked food lingering in the air, mingling with the quiet chatter of diners. I greet the cashier with a smile, order my soup, and make my way back to my seat with a steaming bowl of carrot-orange (color) pumpkin soup with sprinkles of parsley. The green bits of parsley are soon mixed with the black of coarse pepper, and I inhale deeply before digging in.
The bowl is drained quickly, bread used to mop up the stubborn dregs that remain at the base of the bowl. My right hand advances towards the plate of bread, the other holding David Sedaris' Naked. The right discovers that the plate is bare (heartlessly so), and so I pack up, purchase a pastry or two before hearing the bells jingle with my parting footsteps.
It's another twenty minutes that I spend there, for can't help but stroll the supermarket aisles, fascinated by foreign products. I return home with my pastries, bananas, oats, an energy bar, and a jar of Fauchon spread. There goes my budget, oh well.
The rain tumbles down now, in a shower I'm certain will be shortlived. The groceries are unpacked, my bun was eaten, and this post written (as well as somethings that's pretty exciting but I can't say shhh).
And now, bread.
The below two recipes were made with the time-constrained soul in mind (after all, when are we not constrained by time?). Quick and with little fuss to be made, no-knead bread is the answer. Last year, I baked a loaf of this bread that I'm sad to say, was largely unsuccessful. Hence, I've devised a cheat's method for all you poor dears out there who like me, sadly lack a dutch oven.
And so bread it is - loaded with spice and gooey figs, sultanas as well as dates. It's for the sugarfree junkies out there, vegans, bread lovers, and the everyday person alike. Enjoy!
No-Knead Spiced Bread
makes 1 21-cm loaf
3 c bread flour (450g)
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 c water
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp clove (optional)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 c dried figs (4-5)
2/3 c pitted medjool dates (4-5)
1/3 c raisins / sultanas
1. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add the water and stir till a sticky but even mixture is formed.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm, draft-free spot for at least 2 hours.
3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and shape it into a 20-cm disk.
4. Flour the bowl and return the dough to it. Cover and let it rise for another hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 200c with a ovenproof casserole / dutch oven (see below for notes if you don't have a round one) for 10 mins.
6. Tip the dough into the casserole and cover. Bake for half an hour.
7. Remove the lid and continue baking for another 20 mins, until golden.
8. Let it cool for 30 mins before slicing. Enjoy.
If you don't have a round casserole, you can place a cake pan IN the casserole and bake the bread in the pan like I did.
And now, bread always needs a spread.
The two packets of pre-roasted chestnuts sit on the dining table most invitingly (we have a continuous supply on hand). My hand, the left one this time, stretches out and grabs them. The contents go into our ancient food processor along with the seasonings. I blend. Blend and blend. Blend till the processor's overheated, cools down, and blend again. My hand grasp the small piece of equipment while my eyes are fixated on the blender. C'mon, I say, c'mon let the oil flow. But it doesn't.
Then it strikes me.
There is no oil to be released.
So water swooshes in and saves the day.
My end result: a creamy paste, mild in flavour with a not too oily disposition. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Maple Cinnamon Chestnut Butter
makes 1 large jar
300 g pre-roasted chestnuts (2 cups)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sal
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 c water
1. Process chestnuts in a food processor to a floury consistency with salt and cinnamon.
2. Add in maple syrup, then water in tablespoonfuls. Process some more until a creamy / pasty consistency is reached.
3. Transfer to an airtight container and keep in the fridge. Lasts for about 10 days.
hot, hot summer
recipe for banana bread is at the bottom
The weeks are passing by swiftly, far too swiftly for the mind to register, but in time for the camera to capture the best moments.
I type amidst a haze of stifling heat, one that clogs up the mind and your insides. This week is much more different than the last, where storm clouds ruled alongside turbulent weather. But this week, the sky is devoid of the poofy, puffy white masses, bearing only wisps of lost cotton puffs and the lone birds.
We fall down, like in the nursery rhyme where we sniff posies and go round in rings. Man down, we say, for the numbers in class dwindle, the seats left empty. The occasional sniff or cough breaks the unusual silence, and now, the chugging fans in class dominate the atmosphere.
I suppose summer is in one of her moods again, where she bears down on us with her overbearing glare, melting us down, urging us to just surrender, to just let go.
We all have been urged to let go at some point or another, to release ourselves from some sort of safe point. We're pushed to our limits, to the breaking point, and the persistent whispers of let go begin to enter the mind.
But no, we say, no. We do not give up, for we are more resilient than the whispers, more determined to succeed than to let the whispers do so. We fight, with bravery and with courage, and most of all, resolute.
Now, I come with something to fight this summer, she who is most furious. It defends us, it sates our appetite, and it brings some form of pleasure with it.
It is jam. Chia jam.
I adore the texture of this jam. It's soft and speckled with bits of chia seeds, all the while with a rich and summer-y flavour to leave us with a better impression of her. This jam is packed with fibre, omega 3, protein, and delicious-ness. The making is short, but not as short as the amount of time you finish it (okay, I do exaggerate). Enjoy as a topping, as a spread for your pb + j, or on anything else you fancy.
And now, for a worthy accompaniment to jam - bread.
I'm sure I've mentioned it before, as I have with many other things, but banana bread is one of those things that childhood never, ever lets you forget.
I see her, with her platinum blond cropped hair standing up starkly against the greenery which encompasses us. She beckons us with a smile, one that is as wide as the brim of her hat. Come, she urges us, come try some fresh banana bread with tea. And never did I forget that banana bread - the softness, the airiness, the natural sweetness.
After so long, I haven't forgot - and here, I've succeeded in replicating that flavour into my bread. It's moist, it's soft, and best of all, wholesome. The bits of mashed banana appear occasionally here, along with some walnuts added for texture. Stir in some other seeds or what-have-you into the bread, or top with more nuts, seeds etc. I did so with a seed mix and coconut.
This banana bread is anything but unsatisfactory. Warm it up prior to consuming, if you wish, and as always, enjoy.
1. Preheat oven to 170 c. In a bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and cinnamon.
2. Combine mashed bananas with milk and vanilla extract. Pour into flour mixture and stir well.
3. Add walnuts and any other ingredients, then pour into a greased loaf tin (mine was 9 x 22). If adding toppings, sprinkle them on now.
4. Bake for an hour. Ensure that it is cooked through by inserting a toothpick, which should come out clean.
5. Let it cool for 15 mins, serve and enjoy.
-to be continued-
or Red Bean Paste
When one has time on her hands, what does she do?
Make Adzuki Paste.
Also known as 'red beans', adzuki is a, well, red bean. It's pea-sized, and commonly used as the test subject for amateurish experiments by lower-primary students to 'test for plant growth in presence of water'. But that's not the point. Red beans are an essential element of the Asian diet. It's present most commonly in Japan, with adzuki ice creams, adzuki milkshakes, adzuki hamburgers... (I'm pretty sure I made the last one up.)
Of course, it's also present in China, in the form of red bean buns, glutinous rice ball fillings (a.k.a. tang yuen), and mooncakes. In Singapore, it's boiled for a slightly shorter period of time, to make 'red bean soup', or served with chendol (green jelly strips resembling worms).
I regard adzuki-paste making an art, a timeless and sacred tradition. It requires great patience and effort to consistently check the pot (though I just poured water and left to do my own things, checking every half hour or so). Despite my short-cut, the paste yielded was good, thick and most importantly, soft. I can still recall the expressions on my parents' faces when I presented them with a steamed matcha cupcake with red beans studded atop, not realising that it was actually uncooked.
Adzuki paste is used most commonly as a sweet filling, but one can consume it as a spread atop bread, or a topping for ice creams and such. It required little material ingredients, but much mind-power and resilience. Though it may appear to be troublesome, the result, is far more satisfying than simply making peanut butter by processing peanuts. (I'm sorry PB lovers, it's a fact.)
This entire process will take 2 hours or so, along with much needed attention, so ensure that you have sufficient time. The fire on the stove should merely simmer, not boil, so that means 'the occasional bubble breaking the surface'. For me, the fire lit was so small that it was a mere glow. The first boil not only heats the water up, but also removes bitterness, so it's really important. You will smile when you scoop the finished product into a pretty jar.
Feel free to adjust according to needs
2/3 c adzuki beans (or red beans)
2 1/2 - 3 tbsp. sweetener - sugar, honey, stevia etc.
1. Rinse beans and combine with water, at least 1 cup, in a pot. Ensure that beans are completely covered with water.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat to a simmer.
3. Every time the water is nearly gone, pour more. I did 4 times of about 2/3 cup water each time. It took about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
4. Check the beans for softness too. When the water is nearly gone, and beans soft, let the water (almost) boil away and switch off the heat.
5. Mash the beans up with the sweetener, transfer to a sealed jar/container, and leave to cool. I yielded approximately 0.15 l worth of paste.