28 November 2011

depot, being a fan and the dentist (!)

Tomorrow I have an appointment with the dentist and I'm determined to get this post in tonight, since I'm going to be out of action for a good while after that.  Why such a big deal you ask?  Well, I'll explain a little later towards the end of this post.  Before I delve into what I'm sure is going to be a horror of a day at the dentist, let me first tell you about our meal at Al Brown's new restaurant Depot, and about bumping into the man in person today.  Much more exciting!

Just over a couple of weeks ago, New Zealand held it's first food bloggers conference in Auckland.  'S' and I decided to make it a long weekend up there and on the list of things to do was a visit to Depot, Al Brown's new restaurant.

As with most current eateries, Depot did not take reservations.  It was first come first served.  Being the keen beans that we are, 'S' and I got there early and got our table.  Well, not so much a table since we sat at the bar. But hey, not complaining here.  It was as far as we were concerned, a primo spot!

Here's what we ordered, devoured and then ordered seconds for...

Meat platter for 2 - Wild pork salami, beef bresaola, wild rabbit rillettes, air cured paprika beef.  These were accompanied with large jars of mustard and baby gherkins.  (yes, yes I know baby gherkins are called cornichons, but calling them cornichons here doesn't seem fitting).

Falafel with goats curd and harissa.  There was a really nice spicy hit with the harissa.  I liked this dish, though I wished there was more than just the one vegetarian dish to choose from!

Crisp pork hock with apple & horseradish salsa verde.  This was my 2nd favourite dish from the repertoire we ordered.  The pork was melt-in-the-mouth and I absolutely loved the apple salsa.  Every forkful of meaty pork was accompanied with bursts of fresh, sharpish, sweetish salsa.  Personally, I think the salsa is what makes this dish.  Without it, the meat would just become well-cooked pork that I would have still liked but would probably not have more than a couple of mouthfuls.  I was though a bit confused about the pork skin.  Was it meant to have been crispy crackling?  C'os ours weren't.  They were these pieces of super hard as rock skin, which I was a tad bit disappointed in.  Who doesn't love pork crackling right?  Although we weren't really sure, we decided not to ask and just pushed them aside.  I was happy enough with my pork and salsa!

Asparagus with black olive butter.  Couldn't pass up on the asparagus for 2 reasons.  One because I can never pass up on these lovely green spears and two, because we'd only ordered one vegetarian dish which strictly speaking wasn't a vegetable but made of chickpeas (and I do like my 5-a-day).  'S' really liked the black olive butter and I've promised to try and replicate it at home soon.

I've saved the best for last: Turbot sliders with preserved lemon and watercress.  The bite-sized turbot was cooked just so (I hate overcooked fish) - simply grilled on these large hotplates (this was done only a few feet from where we sat) and sandwiched between these wee sweet buns.  The preserved lemon was chopped fine and mixed into a kind of dressing which was perfect against the lightly salted fish and sweetish buns.  I couldn't get enough of these little gems!  Being able to finish each little 'burger' in only two bites, these were gone in a flash, so I ordered a 2nd plate.  'S' didn't even get a sniff of that 2nd order.  I had polished it off in minutes.  As I'm typing this post, I can almost taste it...definitely going back for more when I'm up in Auckland next.

And this is the man behind Depot - Al Brown.

I'd met up with some fellow food bloggers this morning (Jemma, Sasa and Viviane) at Floriditas - Sasa was down from Auckland.  Low and behold, who should walk in?  And what do I do when I spy the man himself sitting in a corner hunched over his laptop with a cuppa, having some quiet 'me' time?  I bug him (of course!) for a photo and rambled on in quite an unintelligible way about Depot and turbot sliders.  Sheeesh...

I then proceeded to lord it over 'S', pxt-ing the photo to both his cellphones.  'S' thinks Al is the bees knees you see.  Mwuahahaha...


Now.  Back to that dental appointment which is going to take me out of blogging for a few days.

So, what's the big deal?  What is it that's causing me small heart palpitations alternating with light headedness?  I think people call this a mild anxiety attack.

Well, tomorrow (or today if you're reading this on Tues) I get one of my wisdom tooth and another rogue tooth taken out.  My dentist assures me that I will be so fully sedated with valium that I wouldn't remember a thing.  Every fibre of my being is screaming "YEAH RIGHT"!!

This is me we're talking about - the person who needs up to 7 injections in the mouth just for routine hygiene work to be done.  How the hell is valium going to help with a double tooth extraction, one of which is a wisdom tooth that will need cutting out and stitches??!!

I don't like it and I don't want to do it.  But I have to.  *Actual stamping of foot like a 5-year old*

23 November 2011

i'll huff & puff & i'll blow your house down

Some of my regular readers know that occasionally, you'd see a post here that's not food-related.  That's the '...and All Things Nice' part of my blog.

Some of these have been about songs that I'm obsessed with for that particular time, movies I've seen and more often than not, Cyrus the cat.

This time I'd like to share with you - especially to those who live in other parts of the world or just outside of Wellington - a day in windy Wellington.

This was Monday.

Gales are not a daily or even weekly occurrence in Wellington.  But it sure happens helluva more often than other cities and towns here.  In fact, I'd go as far as to say that there are some places in NZ that don't ever get gales!

Wellingtonians are so used to the wind that we'd walk out of the house in slippers and shorts, and say that its a breezy day or balmy evening.  We're tough like that here.  Visitors on the other hand, will be covered from neck to toe.

That's not to say that Wellington is dull and grey.  That's London.  So we have a tad more wind that some, but when the sun's up, there is no city in NZ that can beat a good day in Wellington.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Wellington.

17 November 2011

asian beef balls soup with noodles

Since coming home from a 3-week holiday in Asia, I've been willing the weather to warm up.  To be fair, the weather in Wellington has warmed up from the freezing winter temperatures.  But Wellington, true to form, is taking its time schleping towards more summary days.

We had 104km/h winds yesterday.  And the thermometer did not go up any further than 10 degrees.  You see what I mean.

So as much as I'd like to start planning meals with lots of lovely fresh salad leaves, drizzled with this, that and the other, I find myself heading down the path of tummy warmers more often than not.

However, I have faith that warmer days are around the corner.   And there are things to be done before the sunny warm days of summer hits. Namely:

  1. Lose some weight
  2. Tidy up and paint my toes nails
  3. Break out the summer clothing.

Now this year, I'm carrying more than the usual 'winter weight'.  It's more like winter weight + eat all I want in Asia weight + eat until I'm about to burst at the conference weight!  To help with the mammoth pre-summer weight loss regiment, I've been cooking more vegetarian meals and also soups and casseroles that are lighter than what I had been cooking for winter (thick stews, cream-based sauces, slow-cooked fattier meats, etc).

'S' loves noodles, so I try and cook it at least once a week.  Asian style noodle soups are often easy to make and relatively healthy.  In fact, you could make this dish as healthy as you want it to be - like using lean mince and udon noodles for example.  I've used 'regular' mince here, that is, mince with fat.  It's a personal choice.

This really isn't a recipe that I created.  It's simply something I throw together often using flavours I'm very familiar with.  And if you decide to make this weekly like I do, change it up a bit by using different proteins (beef/pork mince, chicken/duck slices, frozen prawns and squid or tofu), or different types of noodles and just about any type of vegetable will work as well.  No fix rules here.

Give it a go and let me know if you like it, or what you did to change it up a bit!

Asian Beef Balls Soup with Noodles

Meat balls:
500g mince beef
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp ground white pepper

Rice bran oil (or any other light tasting vegetable oil, like canola or soya)
10 shallots, sliced (you can use onions if you prefer)
25g ginger, sliced (about 2 fingers length and width)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli flakes (use 1/2 TSP if you prefer it less spicy or omit entirely)
1 bunch of fresh coriander (appx 1 cup), roughly chopped and set aside for later
The stems (near the roots) of the coriander, chopped
8 cups water (you can use stock, but I prefer to keep the flavour of the soup base clean)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste

Selection of vegetables chopped/sliced - zucchini, carrots, corn, bok choy, asparagus, or whatever you like
Buckwheat noodles - follow cooking instructions on the pack

  1. Use a light hand and quickly mix the mince beef and all other meat balls ingredients together.  Don't over mix as I find that it makes meat balls dense and tough.
  2. Cover and put aside for the mince to marinade a little whilst you get on to the soup.
  3. In a large pot, heat some rice bran oil over medim heat and gently fry the shallots, ginger, ground coriander, chilli flakes and coriander stems.  Fry until the shallots are soft and lightly browned.
  4. Add the 8 cups of water to the shallots mixture to make the soup.
  5. Bring to boil.
  6. Lower down the heat to medium-low and add the vegetables.  Note - if you're using vegetables that cook quickly like bok choy, asparagus or zucchini, add these vegetables in only once the meat balls are almost cooked, in the last 3 minutes of cooking.
  7. Add the light soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar to the soup.
  8. Whilst the vegetables is cooking in the soup, make the beef balls.
  9. Wet your hands and very quickly and lightly again, roll the marinated mince beef into balls and place them on a plate.  Damp hands will help prevent the mince sticking to your hands and make it easy to roll.  I rolled my beef balls into the size of large Jaffa balls or gobstoppers.
  10. Heat a little rice bran oil up in a fry pan on high and very quickly brown the beef balls.  You want only a light brown and sear - not to cook the beef balls through.  Once lightly browned, scoop into a bowl/plate lined with kitchen paper and set aside.
  11. At this point, boil some water, ready for cooking your choice of noodles.
  12. Back to the soup - Turn the heat up to medium and add the beef balls into the soup and cook until the beef balls are just cooked.  Don't be tempted to cook the beef balls for too long, or else they'll over cook and start to fall apart.  So will your vegetables!
  13. Add some salt at this point, to taste.
  14. Whilst the beef balls are cooking, quickly cook your noodles in a separate pot.  Most noodles will take only between 3-5 minutes cooking time.
  15. Drain your cooked noodles and divide them into large bowls.  Top the noodles with the the cooked beef balls and vegetables - scoop these out without the soup.  Then ladle the hot soup over the noodles, beef balls and vegetables.
  16. Top with plenty of fresh coriander and enjoy!

for the love of food {nz's first food bloggers conference}

From the moment it was announced that New Zealand would be having it's first food bloggers conference, I'd been telling all and sundry about it.  Actually to be exact, telling everyone that moi would be attending NZ's first ever food blogger conference.  I'm sure I repeated myself a little more than a couple of times to some friends and family.

Now I've attended a couple of work-related conferences and managed and work a decent few.  However, none that I've found myself raving on about.  And when the day finally rolled around, it did not disappointment.

As bloggers from around the country started to trickle in, I felt a teensy weensy bit of shyness creeping in - excusable since I've only met a small handful of bloggers in person, that and the knowledge that I was in the company of some amazing bloggers who lived and breathed food more than even I did, who wrote like pros and took exquisite photos.  But it didn't take long for that feeling to dissipate.  NZ food bloggers are some of the nicest and most inclusive people I know.  And before long, we were all chatting and laughing.  There was a lot of 'ahhh...so you are so and so'!  You see most of us have communicated over Twitter, Facebook and on our blogs.  But most use our blog names and not our personal names.  It was lovely to be able to put faces to blogs!

There's not much more to say really about the day that hasn't been already said by some fellow bloggers who have blogged about the conference.  However if I had to summarise it (not that I haven't already gone on and on, on this post), it was to me, a gathering of kindred spirits who wholly understood the love (sometimes obsession) for all things food-related and the need to share that love on our blogs and with people in our lives.  It was a superb day.

The conference venue was hosted by The Tasting Shedthanks!  Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the restaurant or even signage.  I was too busy talking to fellow bloggers and taking photos of food!  Here are some photos I did take on the day. :-)

Here are some of our speakers - Jaco Swart - Rainbow Cooking (on social media), Alessandra Zecchini (on writing for different media) and Emma Boyd - Our Kitchen (on Fisher & Paykel's blog, Our Kitchen).  Andrea Wong of So D'lish was also one of our speakers but I didn't get a photo in - bummer.  Andrea spoke on Web Design & Web Optimisation.

Morning tea!  You really had to be there to see it - a gaggle of food bloggers clicking away with their cameras around the table.  In the world of a food blogger, No food (almost) is EVER consumed before photos are taken.  There was a joke floating about that maybe there should be a conference for long-suffering partners of food bloggers.  There could be a presentation on how to cope with living with a food blogger, managing rumbly tummies and cold food, and having the dining table taken over with photography props!  Maybe even a support group...teeheehee...

And yes, I've decided that a group of food bloggers is a 'gaggle'.  Like geese.  If you've ever heard a large group of food bloggers together, you'll understand.

More chit chat at morning tea.

The cool kids at the back of the class.  L to R: Louise - Pacific Harvest, Sue - Couscous & Consciousness, Sasa - Sasasunakku, Mairi - Toast and Kristina - Plum Kitchen.

Lunch time...

Of all the scrummy food that The Tasting Shed put on for us, I have to say that my favourite was the braised and rolled pig's head.  It was melt-in-the-mouth good.  Wished I had the plate all to myself!

Q&A session after lunch with Vanessa Opera of Food OperaSasa - Sasasunakku, Bron - Bron Marshall and Rosa - The Culinary Explorations of Mrs Cake.  Some very lively discussions were had!  Why they started their blog, daily number of visitors their blogs get, to make money or not, where to from here...etc etc...

Louise from Pacific Harvest took us through a tasting session of all the different types of seaweed Pacific Harvest offers.  The tasting did not only involve the different dried seaweeds, but also the different ways they can be used; in pesto, puttanesca sauce and making healthy snacks (3 different kinds of dried seaweed + slivers of nuts + sesame seeds + honey to combine it all).  Who would have thought?!  I immediately thought of another way to enjoy this snack - sprinkle over jook (Chinese rice porridge)!

Have you noticed the smartphones and notebooks (i.e. digital not paper) on the table and in many hands?  Conference attendees were flooding Twitter with highlights and thoughts throughout the day, me included.  Bloggers who weren't able to attend followed our tweets.

Finally it was a workshop on food photography given by Bron Marshall.  Bron gave us tips on lighting and styling, which I found very useful.  I was so inspired that I went on a prop-hunting (read: shopping!) exercise the very next day.  Stumbling on the Retro Fair at Greenland the day after the conference was definitely timely. 

The conference also included a wine tasting session at Coopers Creek.  However I hadn't taken any photos during the tasting.  Was too wrapped up with the tasting to remember.  Ooops!

Once the conference was over, most of us drove back into the city for the night's event - a dinner at Cook the Books.  Once there, we were spoilt with fabulous food and as the conversations flowed and night wore on, more food was presented.  I could barely move after all that food.

Towards the end of the night, people slowly trickled out.  Goodnights, hugs and kisses were exchanged, as were promises to visit each other's city/town and future plans made for get togethers.  Until next year!!

What a buzz.

A massive thank-you to Allison (Pease Pudding and Gourmet Gannet) for organising our very first food bloggers conference.  What an amazing job you did!

Last but not least, a big thank-you to all our sponsors below:

Bell Tea Cuisine Magazine
Cook the Books

10 November 2011

scrumpdelilicious banana and choc chip muffins, springtime and peonies

The peonies are finally in bloom.  It's Spring time here in the southern hemisphere.  Time for peonies, asparagus, new season potatoes and baby ducklings.

And yes - it's spelt 'scrumpdelilicious' and pronounced scrump-dli-licous. :-)

There are many things I like about Spring - peonies, baby ducklings...did I mention asparagus?  But I have to be honest and admit that Spring is actually not my favourite season.  As a child growing up in Singapore, I used to think how lovely Spring was and if I lived in a country that had four seasons, Spring would be my favourite.  However, 15 odd years in New Zealand has proven otherwise.  True that with Spring, comes a riot of colour; flowers and greenery in every hue imaginable and fruits such as strawberries.  But by this time of the year, I'd be sooo hanging out for Summer's warmth and sun, that the rain and wind that's characteristic of Springtime where I live, with temperatures that hover at a couple of degrees warmer than winter just doesn't do much for me.

However, I am thankful for Spring.  Thankful that for around 6 weeks or so, I get to enjoy my favourite flower of all time, thankful that I get to see wee little ducklings paddling behind their mama (near Chaffers Dock and by Te Papa) thankful that I can once again have my morning porridge studded with fresh strawberries.

And to celebrate my getting-back-to-cooking-baking-and-blogging groove, here are some banana and chocolate chip muffins I made a couple of days ago.

Now these are not just your run of the mill banana and choc chip muffins.  This recipe is, in my opinion, the best banana muffin recipe around.  I'm over bready and heavy muffins.  These ones are moist, moreish and surprisingly light.  They are sweet though - more so than most banana muffins.  Certainly not for the faint hearted or those watching the waistline.  The proportion of brown sugar and golden syrup makes them so. But they make such an oh-so-lovely treat!

For the full effect, I recommend eating them warm, not long after they're out of the oven.  If there are any left for later, heat one in the microwave for 10 seconds (a little longer if heating more than one).  Trust me - they taste oodles better, warm.

I found this recipe online on the Search for NZ's Favourite Recipe website (Rach's Heavenly Banana Muffins) and tweaked it a little and added chocolate chips to it.  And you know what else?  This can be a really cheap and economical sweet treat for the kids or visitors.  Look out for the stack of cheaper very ripe bananas at your supermarket and buy whatever brand of chocolate chips your budget allows.  And if you don't have golden syrup, sub it with honey (warm it so that it's slightly runny and easier to measure out).

It's also a breeze to make - a recipe that ticks all the boxes!

Banana Heavenly Muffins 

Dry mix:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Wet mix:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons Golden Syrup
160g butter, melted together with the Golden Syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar (well packed)
2 teaspoons Vanilla Essence
3/4 cup mashed banana
1 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Prepare muffin tray - I line mine with cupcake/muffin paper cases.
  2. In a large bowl, sift the Dry Mix ingredients together: flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. 
  3. In a smaller bowl, very lightly whisk together the Wet Mix ingredients. 
  4. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and lightly stir in the wet mixture until just mixed. Do not over mix – mixture should look lumpy. 
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared paper cases - only 3/4 way full, as the muffins will rise a bit.
  6. Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes, until cooked. 
  7. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing them onto a cooling rack to cool completely. 
  8. Makes approximately 12 medium sized muffins.

feasting in south east asia

Thought I'd start with a night shot of Singapore.  I arrived at 6.40am and by 11pm that first night, I was in Ku Dé Ta, up on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands, enjoying some Kiwi vino (of course!) with a Kiwi expat.  And getting very very trollied.  I blame my friend and jet lag.  This shot was taken as I was hanging over the glass ledge - remember, 57th floor and drunk!

My first few days in Singapore passed by in a blur.  I was super busy catching up with friends - friends whom I went to primary school with (appx 30 years ago!) and friends I worked with in various places whom I haven't seen in like 15+ years.  So as it turned out, I didn't get too many photos in - was too busy catching up.  And to be honest, was so excited about being able to eat so many foods that I've missed terribly that whenever dishes were put in front of me, I only had one thought in mind - EAT!!!

I did finally snap out of my food stupor and was able to take a few photos...

Nonya kuehs (Nonya cakes and pastries) - there are dozens and dozens of different types of Nonya kuehs and these are my maternal grandmother's heritage.  I bought a selection from a store called Bengawan Solo, a chain store that specialises in Nonya kuehs.  Being a chain store, their kuehs are not the best or most authentic.  But when you've been hanging out for these for 6 years (yep, that's how long its been), these chain store kuehs are manna from heaven!

Chilli Crab - look and weep.  Yes, I had Chilli Crab.  My stepmother asked for a list of foods I wanted to eat when I got to Singapore and this was amongst the top in the list.  Just look at it.  The magnificence...*wiping off mental drool here*

See the brown balls to the left of the Chilli Crab? Those are fried sweet buns and is what you mop the chilli gravy up with.  So simple and yet so genius.  Sometimes the buns are steamed, but this time we ordered fried ones.  Why go healthy when you're going to indulge in a dish you haven't had for 6 years or so?  I say go for it!

The other side dishes we ordered were chinese veg and tofu with prawns and broccoli.  These may be simple to look at, but trust me, they were de-li-cious!!  The to fu were sitting in this flavoursome gravy and yet the skin on the to fu was crispy and the insides all soft and silky.  I love this difference in taste and texture.

After madcap days in Singapore, I headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Here's an obligatory shot of a Thai wat (temple) - taken at a night market.

Chiang Mai had been in recent times in the media for all the wrong reasons - tourists poisoning and deaths, etc.  And then there was the flood.  In fact, the floods only receded the day before I arrived.  Finally enough, when I left Thailand via Bangkok, I left the day before the floods hit Bangkok.

When I got to Chiang Mai, a well-meaning family friend who lives there warned me not to eat at hawker stalls or backlane restaurants - the floods meant that some people may be washing and cooking food in less than hygienic water.  That, plus the stories about seafood poisoning amongst tourists in the media, got me a tad worried.  Do I eat and risk getting sick?  Or do I err on the side of caution?

After...oh, what was a mere few minutes of deliberation, I decided to take the risk and eat.  Afterall, I was with my Dad and he frequents Chiang Mai quite a bit due to business.  It would be unlikely that he'd take me to some backlane restaurant and expose me to food poisoning.  I also had my trusted pack of Imodium.  You know, for just in case. :-))

I'm so glad I chose to close a gastronomic eye and plunge in.  'Cos if I hadn't, I wouldn't have these to share with you.  Food in Thailand is ridiculously fresh, often a kaleidoscope of flavours in your mouth and absurdly cheap.  A food heaven for foodie blogger!

I have NO idea what these dishes are called.  The menu was in Thai and we had a Thai friend who ordered for us.  I was told however that this amazing spread was Vietnamese-Thai food.  Almost every dish came with a different dipping sauce.  I'm so in love with all the different types of Thai dipping sauces - such a riot of flavours in my mouth.  My favourite dish was the roll-your-own rolls.  Love interactive food!

My bestfriend Amanda loves Thai food and one of her favourite dish is Tom Kha Gai (Chicken and Coconut Milk Soup).  We've both had this dish in almost every Thai restaurant in Wellington, and we're often disappointed.  The broth is often either so watery and insipid that all you're drinking is a bit of flavoured watery coconut milk, or someone's been too heavy handed with the lime, or chilli, or salt.  So when I saw Tom Kha Gai on the menu on my 2nd day, I knew I had to have it.  Now I'm sure there are some awful Tom Ka Gai served in Thailand, but the Tom Kha Gai Gods must have been smiling at me that night.  The broth was just the right balance of sweet, salty, sour and bitter.  I believe this is what is termed as umami.  Everyone else at the table (and there were only 3 of us) had one bowl each.  I happily polished off the rest.

Why am I showing you a plate full of mushrooms, you ask?  Well that's because that entire plate of mushrooms only costed NZ$4 and was one of the dishes of fresh ingredients we ordered for out Thai-style steam boat.  I've seen Enoki mushrooms (middle of the plate) sold in NZ for almost $10 for only 100g.  So you can see how the mushroom fiend in me was absolutely delighted!  I was in mushroom heaven...

I personally think it's sacrilegious not to eat Tom Yum Gong at least once if you visit Thailand.  Check out the chillis swimming in the one I had!  Again, I was the one at the table that polished off most of it.  It was very good Tom Yum Gong - serious.  Although, I'm more of a Tom Kha Gai fan. But I told you that already, right?

This is simply crispy fried whole fish - scales and all.  Strangely enough, once fried to a crisp like this, the scales are rather yummy!  It's like crunching on fish crisps.  Just about every restaurant will serve this dish.  Some with a dipping sauce on the side and some with sauce drizzled over (never drenched).

Now these are what I call PRAWNS.  Enough said.

This is something I never let pass whenever I go back to South East Asia.  Growing up, this was my favourite fruit.  Some of you might recognise it, some of you not.  And although you might have not eaten it before, you are likely to have read or heard about this fruit before.

Yes, yes- it's the 'gloriously smelly' (as described by Mika of milliemirepoix) Durian.  The following words have been known to be associated with this King of fruits - stinky, strong odour, disgusting, rotten onions, gym socks, stale vomit, etc etc.

However, for the fearless and adventurous - there's no going back once you've had a taste of the flesh that surrounds a Durian seed.  It's like the heavens opening.  A revelation.  Seriously - I kid you not.  How do I describe the taste and texture?  Well to me, it's the custard-liest, creamiest, sumptuously silkiest fruit pulp, flavoured with hints of almond, rich but not cloyingly sweet (actually some types have a slight bitterness that balances the sweet).  If I was allowed only fruit on my death bed, I would have Durian.

Just thought I'd share this with all of you - I visited an elephant sanctuary and by chance, captured this quiet and tender moment between a mahout and his charge.

Oh - and by the way - if you're ever holidaying in Thailand, please try not to go on those tourist elephant rides or pay any attention to the touts with baby elephants on the streets begging.  Nor visit elephant parks that feature elephants painting.  Why?  Well, the internet is full of information on why not. Google some of it.  And if you're not convinced, check out some documentaries already posted up on Youtube.  Basically - it's not natural for elephants to paint.  Nor is it natural for a baby elephant to be WITHOUT it's mother, nor is it natural for it to be walking on the streets begging.  Just simply think about the kind of 'training' the elephants get put through, so that they can entertain tourists by painting and allowing themselves to be ridden daily.  And think about what methods would have been used to separate mother and baby.

So, please, please. Read up on whether it really is a sanctuary or not, before visiting any animal parks!

And if you're wondring...the sanctuary I visited was the Elephant Nature Park.  And here's an article on Huffington Post you might be interested in. :-)

Oh.  Those are my feet, relaxing in the hotel spa after my indulgent Javanese massage.  Just thought you'd like to know.  After leaving Thailand, my next stop was Bintan Island, Indonesia.  Which is where I got my Javanese massage.

And that's the hotel and stretch of beach that Brenda (my other bestfriend) and I had our girlie weekend away...err...from my holiday.  Angsana Bintan Resort, Bintan, Indonesia.  The photo doesn't truly represent the gloriously sunny days we had there - it was taken towards the end of the day, as the sun was setting.

I digress.

Now back to more important things...

Soup Buntut (or more accurately: Sup Buntut) - Indonesian Oxtail Soup.  Lip-smacking, drool worthy, can I have more than one serving, kinda dish.  Brenda introduced me to this dish.  See, that's why I love her and we've been friends for 25 years.

Example of a VERY badly taken photo. But had to share - a selection of different satays wrapped around .... sticks, served with a plate of katupat (rice packed in palm leaves casing and boiled), shallots, the nuttiest and spiciest satay sauce (not a hint of peanut butter in sight - yusss!) and fried lobster rolls.  Just a simple entree.

Friends from waaaay back.  When I got back from Bintan to Singapore, there was another raft of catch ups with old friends.  I've known a few of these girls for almost 18 years and have not seen most for just as long.  A few of them have children ranging from 2 to 4 children each.  And none of them look a day older than when I first knew them all those years ago!  (That's me on the far left).

And if you must know - we had a continuous flow of lychee martini that night.  T'was a good night.

And this is the main reason why I was back in Singapore.  Brenda married Paul.  Have I said that I've known Brenda since I was 15 and Paul since we were 13?  Fabulous things do happen to fabulous people... :-) X.