Sunday, July 19, 2015


When we first moved into this house 8 years ago, we realised that the giant built-in oven didn't work. But it didn't matter. I was no baker. I had 32857857 other things to do in my life, and had no intention  or time to start on a new hobby. So it served as extra storage in my cramped kitchen. However, every now and then I'd look at it and wonder if I really should take the family legacy forward.

My mom used to bake a lot of cakes when we were younger, and she didn't even have a fancy oven. It was literally two metallic hemispheres joined together and connected to an electrical plug point. How she managed to whip out the amazing things from that contraption is beyond me. When my sister got married and moved to the US, she had one of those bigass built-in ovens and she got started on it immediately. Very soon, she was baking cakes and pizza from scratch.

I was the only one totally content with my defunct oven.

On some levels, I felt like I'd be terrible at it. Like I was at titration in school. I aced everything else, but for some weird reason, my titration readings would be completely off. My Chemistry teacher would shake his head and say, "See? Brains are not everything. Titration needs a totally different thing - SKILL AND PRECISION."

I knew that just like titration, baking was also all about skill and precision, a combination I was not exactly known to possess. The only precise measurement I use religiously in my kitchen is 'andaaz se daal do yaar'. That, I knew, was fine for cooking, but was the ultimate recipe for disaster when it came to baking. So I refrained from dreaming impossible dreams.

A few years ago, someone gifted us a toaster oven. It was my first real brush with the oven species. I started to make random things in it, but of course, no cakes. The most successful thing that came out of that oven was this vegetarian lasagna. It needed no skill or precision. Just lots of cheese.

It was yum, but of course the original recipe asked for a real oven, so I did wonder at times how much of the taste had been compromised. 

When we started planning our home renovation, the keeda that had been gently squirming in my head for a while, emerged. Viv, an avid food-lover, was thrilled at the thought of new dishes. We decided to get a proper oven in the 'new' house so I could get started on a hobby totally alien to me. 

The oven was bought and installed. We moved in. However, for some reason there was this great big fear in my heart about getting started. Baking was so new to me and I'd never used a proper oven in my life before. I was terrified to even touch it. So I went slow. Real slow. I didn't do anything about it for about a week. Then, one day I asked Viv where the manual was. He passed it to me. The next day, I found a nice little shelf to keep the manual. For the next few days, I just took turns to stare - first at the manual kept on the shelf and then at the oven. The next day, I threw caution to the wind and actually bought a cake tin. The next day, I dared to take the manual out of its plastic cover and proudly declared my courageous deed to Viv. He smiled politely.

The next day, I did it! I actually opened the manual and read it! Then I asked Viv to read it with me. We figured things out, cleaned the oven and switched it on for the first time. The manual said we needed to keep it switched on for an hour before first use. Xena got all excited to see the lights in the oven and asked me if we were making a cake. "Of course!" I said. So I googled for 'basic cake recipes for beginners', skipped the first link (Martha Stewart) and clicked on the second. Simple sponge cake, it said. And simple it was. No oz nonsense and all that. 

I didn't have a cake mixer or oven mitts or measuring cups (I'm buying a whole bunch of stuff next week), but we got on to it anyway. Xena helped me as much as her tiny hands allowed her. Finally, we crossed our fingers and put the cake tin with the batter in the oven. A friend had told me that the first few attempts at cake-making would result in total disaster, so I was mentally prepared to go through all of that without giving up. 

"Is it rising? Is it rising?" Xena kept asking. Luckily, it was. Phew. 

After it was done, cooled and cut, I ate the first slice. Of course, it felt supremely delicious to me. Soft and spongy and moist, with just the right level of sweetness. So I decided to call on an independent reviewer. A harsh, food-hating, cake-loathing, 4-year-old, 11-kg expert.

The review: Xena had the first piece and then asked for another. That was a shocker. She'd never had even one complete piece of cake ever. Not even birthday cake. The next morning, she asked for the cake again and had -- I kid you not -- 4 pieces. Back to back. I'm still reeling from the shock. 

So yes, it looks like I need to take up this hobby quite seriously. I'll bug my sister, of course, but any tips from newbie/seasoned bakers are very welcome! Any great, tried-and-tested oven recipes to share with this newbie? 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Home away from home

Last week, we met our ex-flatmate for dinner. Though I'd thought he'd be happy to be rid of us and start living his single bachelor life again, it did seem like he had missed us, especially Xena. He used to constantly tease Xena that after we moved back, he'd also move in with us and take over her Elsa room, and she'd freak out and I'd have a hard time convincing her that he was just kidding.

Even though we'd lived there only for two months, it had been great. Xena and I were reminiscing about it the other day and thinking about the things that used to be so different there compared to our place.

Beach and bikes
Our place is about a 15-minute walk away from the beach and I've always thought of it as such a privilege. Okay, this dude's place was literally 60 seconds from the beach! There was a bridge right behind his block and you just had to cross it to reach the beach. Xena and I used to walk over in the evenings and stroll or ride a bike, enjoying the sights and sounds.

The bike rental places actually rented out tiny bikes with trainer wheels so it was great. 

On two occasions, Viv and I also rented bikes (Xena sat on a child seat on Viv's bike) and rode almost 20 km, past beautiful sights from the Singapore Flyer to Marina Bay Sands to Marina Barrage.

The breeeeeeze
Maybe it was the 17th floor that he lived on, maybe it was the proximity to the beach, but his place had the most uh-mazing breeze ever! You had to actually keep the living room windows closed otherwise the pictures would just fly off the walls. But he had this balcony that you could enjoy the breeze from, and Xena and I spent countless hours there, talking and reading books.

My vertical marathons
While I was there, I badly missed my gym, and even though the beach was barely a minute away, I couldn't go for a long walk because it was too hot (the Sun is my Achilles' heel). One day, Viv suggested that I could consider climbing stairs as an alternate activity. I smacked my head for not having thought of it earlier. So I started to climb the 17 floors every morning after packing father and daughter off. At first, it used to take me 4 minutes and 45 seconds, but after a few days, I'd shaved it down to 3 minutes and 1 second. Along the way, I'd meet people about to get into the lifts who'd wave at me and cheer me on, "Go go go! You can do it!" It was hilarious. I'd thank them rather breathlessly and march on.

Fruits fruits fruits
There was a supermarket and several fruit stalls just minutes from his place, so we ended up having a lot of fruits during the two months there. Xena, dear picky Xena, actually opened up to fruits such as cherries and mangoes which she'd never liked before. I used to buy these amazing Thai honey rainbow mangoes, which were super sweet and yummy. Though our flatmate didn't cook much (he worked till late in the weekdays and played cricket during the weekends), his fridge was always stocked with fruits. I started adding on to the collection and between the two of us, we'd literally opened a fruit market in his house. He even convinced Xena to taste a durian!

The nosy concerned elderly
After school, on the way back from the bus stop, we would pass these benches along the way, mostly occupied by elderly folks. They were extremely friendly and would often talk to us, sometimes asking very weird questions. On at least three occasions, I was asked to have a second kid by a random elderly stranger I'd met 20 seconds ago. But they were so cute, it was hard to take offense. I didn't want to freak them out with what I tell regular people who ask me why I don't want a second kid (I stoically say, "I prefer to be an alive mother of one rather than a dead mother of two." I wasn't kidding. My doctor had told me that to my face.) So I would just tell them, "Cannot lah, Aunty/Uncle. One is too much work oredi." I remember this one very old lady who instantly provided me with the solution, "No lah! You wait till this one six, then you have second one then this one help you take care of that one." Oh. All right then. That settles it. Bye bye.

One of the benches where we had these conversations

TV time
So his place had a TV, and because a switched-on TV was so new to Xena, she was fascinated. When Viv was away in the US, on match-free weekends, I'd feel like a busy mother tending to her three hungry children - Xena, Blueberry and our flatmate. He had an on-demand channel for cartoons, so he'd sit with her and explain what was going on, while I'd make breakfast for them. There was a window between the living room and kitchen, and I'd peek now and then to see what was going on. Soon, he came to the kitchen and said with a worried expression, "Xena doesn't like TV? She watches for 2 minutes and then wanders off, you know." I smiled and said, "Yes. And that is a good thing." In a way, I was glad to have that brief exposure to TV because some friends had warned me that because of our very strict no-TV policy, she'd go completely crazy over it when she finally did encounter it. But to my relief, she didn't seem to like it that much. They'd be channel-flipping and she'd say, "Uncle, why are these aunties (the saas-bahu soaps) always crying? I don't like it." After breakfast, he'd continue watching and I'd give Xena the option, "Shall we do some craft or read a book, or you want to watch TV?" She'd never pick TV and I'd breathe a sigh of relief.

The weekend chai
Ah, I've left the most senti one for the last. Though our flatmate didn't cook much, he did like to have chai in the weekends. On most weekends, he was out of the house before I woke up - either for a match, or for biking or something else. But no matter how early he left, he'd make chai for everyone and leave Viv's and mine on the table. (I'd touch the cup and like a murder investigator, deduce from the temperature, "Wow. I think he left at 6:30 today!") I'm not a regular tea-drinker (I only love it when I have company), but it is so heartwarming to wake up and see that your bacha has made chai for you before leaving. Even Viv is not a chai fan, but we'd sit and drink it together and talk about what a nice chap we were staying with.

This is the last chai he'd made for us before we moved out. I had to get a picture of this.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Home run

First of all, sorry for the month-long hiatus and a special round of thanks to the bewdas, especially Idom and Arun, for pulling me back into blogosphere.

What a month June has been! Hectic doesn't even begin to describe it. Renovation work was in full swing, and my deadlines were showing their great love for Murphy, when Viv announced that he had to make another trip to the US -- to attend the WWDC. At first, I panicked because he was the one dealing with the day-to-day renovation matters, while I was in charge of the most important part - picking colours. (I'm totally kidding, by the way. I did quite a lot of the groundwork and research, found the contractor and vendors for the fixtures, and then handed them all on a platter to Viv and said kthxbai.)

I was very apprehensive about his US trip. I didn't want the contractor asking me some urgent and technical question about the fan model or something during Viv's sleeping hours. I was sure the 'Bhaiya, koi aur colour dikhaao' approach would not resolve something like that. But we survived that phase, and all went well.   

Though we have been here in Singapore for 17 years (oh wow, it will be exactly 17 years next week!), our inherent Indian-ness made us reluctant to believe that the contractor would finish the renovation when he'd said he would. We'd even told our temporary flatmate that we might be staying at his place longer if the work didn't get over by the end of June, and he'd readily agreed. But surprise, surprise, the contractor kept his promise and we wrapped up and moved back to our place. 

So here we are, back in a place that feels old and new, familiar and fresh, all at the same time. Here we are, like newlyweds, unpacking and decorating and buying appliances and feeling excited about the upcoming parties and get-togethers. The furniture came in this week, and the curtains should be here by next. I have moved my office into my room, and so Xena now has her very own room. Needless to say, she's super excited. Somehow, even Blueberry seems to know that we are back home.

We are planning how to keep our 'new place' better organised and cleaner than the last one, and establishing rules that extend beyond the house, towards a better lifestyle. I might share that list on the blog at some point, if it's worth sharing. 

So that's what we've been up to. How are you, bewdas? :)