Domestic Life in the time of Coronavirus: Sprouting Seeds, Mason Jars & Food Prep, and Not Exactly Bullet Journalling & Productivity

This blog has been a little quiet since the circuit breaker in Singapore began I’m a person with too many jobs at the moment. I’ve been (full-time) teaching all my classes (say hello to 3-4 hour practicals via Zoom!?!) and taking a part-time Specialist Diploma (just because it is circuit breaker hasn’t meant the essay deadlines were delayed!), whilst also full-time taking care of the baby human Bean (childcare centres all closed and grandparents advised not to travel over for childcare!!), which has left me with nearly no time to do any of the normal debbiethings I would usually get up to.

Maybe to build a little momentum and to get the ball rolling on this dusty old blog again, here’s a little documentation about some of domestic/productivity-related debbiethings I DID do during circuit breaker in the stolen moments….

1. Sprouting Seeds: Growing Mung Bean Sprouts at home

It seems everyone’s newest urban growing craze during Singapore’s lockdown circuit breaker is Mung Bean Sprouts and yes… even I too have been growing them. I’ve grown some sub-par sprouts or weird looking sprouts in the past – we forget how used we are to seeing the commercial “taugeh” sprouts being all pasty white and yellow, and somehow by allowing the sprouts to turn green by giving them some sunlight also changes how they grow and how they taste. Growing some fast sprouts for consumption is different from growing bean plants, and websites online all anedoctally point to a few things you can do to improve the quality of your sprouts:

  1. Grow them in total darkness (Under a truly opaque cloth. A hankerchief will not suffice to keep the light out. I used an dark coloured pillowcase folded over twice and draped it over the beans.)
  2. Change their water at least twice a day.
  3. Avoid disturbing the beans too much (Somehow they grow better when they get to really establish their roots)

Now its not absolutely necessary, but I also got this microgreen tray which has these micropores which is supposed to enable a more even distribution of the microgreen seeds (although the mung bean itself is bigger), and which has two half trays which makes it easier to remove and change the water, and allows for planting two different seeds at the same time with different sowing time. (I’m just waiting to get some more microgreen seeds from local farms to see if there’s a microgreen that we will enjoy eating, so later in the year I’ll report back on the microgreens…)

Presoak the beans overnight in a bowl, covered by a cloth. Here I measured out 1/4 cup of mung beans. On hindsight… I probably needed half of that. These aren’t any fancy mung beans, just the cheap Redmart brand for everyday cooking.

After soaking overnight and skimming off the obvious split beans, the remaining beans were scattered over the tray and water poured in until it touched the mat. 1/4 cup of soaked mung beans fit almost exactly into the two trays.


The beans then were rinsed twice a day and left to grow under cover of darkness until they looked about ready to harvest on Day 5.

Here the human Bean inspects the Beans.

The roots are clean so we ate them roots and all. I only rinsed it several times in order to remove the green bean husks which are a little less palatable, texturally, but not entirely inedible.

Finally the cleaned sprouts are ready to go in any dish you want. This made enough for about 3-4 meals of sprouts, so next time I’ll grow fewer beans at one go as its nicer to eat the sprouts fresh.

The sprouts were blanched in boiling water for 1 min and then thrown into a big metal bowl of ice water to stop them from overcooking. Then they can be used in any recipe. I loosely used Maangchi’s Sukjunamul Muchim recipe to make a sprout dish to go with a big pot of Doenjang jjigae, which was also loosely thrown together with bits and bobs around the house.


2. Mason Jars: How I make Overnight oats and prep common ingredients ahead of time

I became slightly obsessed with mason jars after trying to find a replacement lid for a regular jam jar that I had around the house and so I wondered about what constituted a standard jam jar lid size. I measured the exterior dimensions of the jar I had and it was 70mm – turns out that this is the size of a “regular” mason jar. And there’s another common size that I find myself drawn to even more – the wide mouth. Looks like a drinking glass, but is microwaveable and oven safe? SIGN ME UP! Making overnight oats was the solution to my morning routine; I find that I can no longer skip breakfast without becoming faint and HANGRY, but often I don’t have enough time to prepare food for myself when I have to run a 8am or 9am class AND also feed the Bean AND change her nappies AND check work email. So… Jars! JARS! JARS! George seems to think I’ve reached new instagrammable heights of food-prep-hipsterdom with my functional food prep so here are some pictures that he ended up making me take.

These are 1-pint jars (476ml) and just the right size for a portion of food (they are also the right size to pour a nice cold drink into!). I got 12 jars online for about S$48 and I also got a stack of both regular and wide mouth plastic lids for about S$5. The Ball jars themselves are definitely oven safe and microwave safe as they were meant for preserving jams, so if you buy random jars online check to make sure they are suitable for such reheating use. (If you dig a little deeper online you’ll find a whole lot of alternative mason jar lids which work as fermenters, sprouters, graters, juicers, etc…)

The overnight oats recipe that I made up to my preference and have been using for some time now is this:

Debbie’s Breakfast

1/2 cup oats
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
1 tsp moringa leaf powder
1 tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp dried mulberries
2 dried apricots, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk a squirt of honey

When I am eating it, I throw in about a 1/4 cup more of milk and sometimes I throw in some frozen mango pieces, or frozen berries at the last minute, but I try not to leave the fruit in for too long (ie: i don’t add it in at prep time) because they can get a little weird and funky in there, like how fruit tastes when it has been allowed to sit in a wet plate for too long. Its like a dessert, and I didn’t think I’d be eating this so often since I have a savoury tooth and not a sweet tooth at all (I have eaten savoury breakfasts for most of my life), but I was hoping that oats would aid my milk production (since the Bean is still breastfed) and turns out that overnight oats SAVES TIME!


I also use the jars for advance meal prep at the moment. I like to make a big batch of caramelised onions at the start of the work week (2 jars worth, or a 2kg bag) and then stuff them into the fridge so that during the week whenever I make a quick meal or pasta I can just throw a handful of onions in and it immediately makes it feel even more like a meal.

Debbie’s 15min Lunch



Ingredients
80g of vermicelli pasta
some bacon
4 cloves garlic
handful of baby spinach
smoked paprika
caramelised onions
caramelised red peppers or any other cooked vegetable in the house
and some leftover chilli flakes from when George last bought PIZZA

Steps

  1. Boil of a pot of water with 1 heaped teaspoon of salt
  2. Fry the bacon in some oil at very low heat to render the fat
  3. Slice the garlic thinly and add to the oil. Heat should be so low such that only small bubbles appear on the edge of the sliced garlic.
  4. Add paprika and chilli flakes to the oil.
  5. Cook the pasta according to the timing on packet, in my case it is 6 minutes. Set the timer for 5 min.
  6. Add in the onions and any vegetables to the oil. Wilt the spinach in the pan.
  7. A minute before the pasta is done, transfer the pasta and a big splash of pasta water into the pan.
  8. Allow for everything to cook down until the pasta water and everything is absorbed back into the pasta (usually 1-2 min more)

Lunch in 15 minutes!

 


3. Not Exactly Bullet Journalling: Improving my To Do List format

Longtime readers of this blog (who on earth is my audience? haha. hello friends???) will know that I am not so secretly big on GTD/PRODUCTIVITY. Sometimes George thinks I like doing work because it must be that I ascribe some kind of moral value to hardworking (a la protestant work ethic) but honestly I like working because… I enjoy it! I enjoy keeping busy and fiddling with things and doing stuff. I enjoy toiling away at things. (Oh. Maybe that is where Beano is getting her inexplicable drive to EXERCISE NONSTOP).


During my maternity leave I had a phase in which I read all about bullet journaling. I also became aware that there’s a huge cottage industy of people and instagrammers banging on about their #bujo designs although none of them look particularly productive to me, and if its not productive I don’t really need it. My notebook is like a cup I can empty my brain out into so I don’t have to hold all that stuff inside my brain where it gets all crowded. I don’t really need my notebook to be neat, but I liked being able to physically cross off items on a list and review what I managed to complete at the end of the day (a sort of pat-yourself-on-the-back if you managed to do most of what you planned. Previously, I would write items in a list and then cross them out, which made them quite unreadable. I ain’t got time to document everything in a bullet journal, but I have incorporated the format of the checkbox into my everyday To-do list format. I now draw a square and cross out only within the square when the task is done. I also draw an arrow to indicate if the task is carried over to the next page.
Whether or not you believe in willpower being a finite or infinite resource, I do find that removing obstacles to my morning also helps get things going every morning (especially when I have to rush to feed baby, myself, and start my 8/9am class):

  • Getting hydrated in the morning – Before I go to bed I set out empty mugs with my tea and spoon, so I only need to add hot water the next morning. Often one needs to muster the will to do this small thing for oneself…
  • Pre-measured baby feeds – Before I go to bed, I measure out all of the bits that will go into Bean’s first feed of the next day. I’ve still been using all the travel containers to premeasure the oatmeal and formula for mixing into oatmeal feeds. It saves a bit of time when I’m rushing and multitasking.
  • Drafting emails on Google Keep – this is my scratch pad where I draft out bits of emails. It is quickly available on all my computers and devices so I can paste completed emails in quickly at the start of the workday. I don’t send work emails after work hours because I think its important to observe the working day (and it is well-known that people will mainly check their email in the morning and so if you want a quick reply, you’ll want your email to come in right on top of their inbox for about 10am)…

In the next post, I swear I will finally complete my series on House Renovations in time for the 1 year anniversary of having moved into this flat!

The Last Meal: Hawker dishes in the future (The Substation, 29-30 March 2019)

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The documentation of this project, “The Last Meal”, comes a bit late – although perhaps a little fittingly because a number of food-related ailments seemingly kept me from being able to work at my maximum potential.

Earlier this year, I was fortuitously brought together with Chef Ming (of JAM at Siri House) – by The Substation – and thus began a collaboration to reinterpret local/hawker fare into a kind of anxiety-provoking menu. A disturbingly uncanny trip up and down and around memory lane! A speculative vision of our human weakness fondness for nostalgia meets hard future utilitarian compromises! An experimental work for the palate! It was truly an pleasure and honour to be able to work with Chef Ming who took it on with so much energy and so many ideas to take it further, especially the start of the project coinciding with a period of severe fatigue for me.

I had recently sought treatment (CBT/Exposure Therapy) for what has been a lifelong affliction of emetophobia (a completely debilitating fear of vomiting) and an unreasonable aversion to acidic or vinegary foods (a difficult thing to explain at times, because it can sound absurd to preemptively tell everyone “NO VINEGAR PLZ” in the off-chance that any unknown dish might have vinegar). And I had also seen an endocrinologist to ask if there was anything to explain my ridiculously tiny appetite and aversion to cold temperatures – and was subsequently diagnosed with hypothyroidism (so said all the tests, despite me being an extremely hyper person). And finally, the biggest factor of all that had triggered this intense self-examination was: pregnancy! SHOCK! HORROR! Yes folks, the Ding and South are unexpectedly multiplying (stay tuned for a documentation of this new long-term project), and this meant that for a period of time during the first trimester I developed an strong aversion to my favourite food of all – eggs! This was very hard to live down indeed, compounding all of my food anxieties despite my attempts to deal with them head-on like an adult by following up with all these medical investigations. So all of this was in the background as we began discussions for this food project….

The starting point for our conversation had been one of my past projects from a Healthcare Workshop with the Kyoto Institute of Design x Royal College of Art, whilst I was doing my MA at Design Interactions (RCA). In a way, that workshop’s premise was already a bit like smashing two worlds together: you had that base of a historically practical and functional Japanese approach to researching and designing for elderly care (I remember our Japanese collaborator bringing to us these booklets of amazing innovative mobility aids and novel healthcare aids designed to assist in every aspect of elderly care) – meeting the provocative, parallel realities of a speculative future (as students from our Design Interactions programme used to call it, ahem, a more “DI” approach).

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Kyoto 2014: Kyoto D-lab held a Healthcare Futures Workshop centering on robotics in collaboration with the Design Interactions Course at the Royal College of Art – led by Professor Anthony Dunne and James Auger and D-lab’s Professor Julia Cassim.


Me, Calum Bowden, and Hiroko Narasaki worked on a project imagining a scenario where a robot was to prepare your “last meal”, having collected a lifetime of data of your food preferences, being able to robotically prepare the food you wanted in a texture that you could consume despite all your age-related changes in chewing and swallowing physiology. We discussed the ways in which factors such as end-of-life, food preferences, and necessary food modifications could be determined, and surveyed Japanese people on a list of foods they liked most. (Obvs this was also borne from our common interests in eating lots of good food in japan and spending a long time in supermarkets and food halls looking at all the beautiful plastic foods and gorgeous food packagings…)

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At the time we also thought that there might also be the issue where a meal is the sum of many parts and that people develop habits for eating certain foods together with others. But when we collect the data about the meal, the essential connections between unusual connections could also be broken – and odd pairings might be made. For example, in this case someone told us they loved foods such as Annin Tofu, Premium Niigata Rice, and Ashirari Decorations (to liven up the plating of her food). But in reality, no Japanese person would logically make a menu of Annin Tofu (Almond Jelly) together with Rice.

This was the starting point of the conversations we had to develop The Last Meal in Singapore, and to engage with a wider set of concerns facing the food industry in the near future (and specific to Singapore). Rather than to capture nostalgia in a perfectly rendered dish, the idea was to invoke the sense of the uncanny through subtle means. A twist of presentation, an unfamiliar texture, a physical constraint. The amount of alienation had to be right, and it was good that Ming kept us all on track by focusing on elements that would be universally recognisable by all Singaporeans.

One thing that was clear was that when we imagined someone eating these foods in a near-future post-apocalyptic bunker, the person in the bunker was very specifically us. A Singaporean, here in the present. It wasn’t a baby from the future who hadn’t had the chance to gain the lived experience of enjoying hawker food in the form that we eat right now. It wasn’t someone from a foreign country being introduced to Singaporean hawker cuisine for the first time. It wasn’t about exoticising or fetishising our nostalgia for hawker cuisine and ‘heritage foods’. It was instead about transporting a Singaporean living in the present into a distant, uncertain food future where perhaps food security was an issue; where automation and efficiency was top priority to the extent of influencing hawker practices, where alternative proteins had become widely accepted in an era of land scarcity; where steady state foods would be commonplace backups; where a rapidly aging population would seek out enzyme softened versions of favourite foods to recapture the tastes of olde…

DONT BE SAD, HAVE YOUR LAST MEAL WITH US! Tickets selling fast. Join us on 29 & 30 March for an interactive art experience with a four-course dystopian take on local hawker fare, designed specially by chef Ming Tan (@maehng), in collaboration with visual artist and technologist Debbie Ding. SAD: The Last Meal addresses Singapore's obsession with nostalgia, by looking at the alleged death of the Singaporean hawker, and the anxiety around losing a facet of heritage that this country holds so dear—our local food culture. Our 7pm slots are nearly sold out, grab your tickets for the 9pm slot at sadthelastmeal.peatix.com. Tickets are $35 per person. #thevanishing #citieschangepeopledie #subafterdark #hawkerculture #sgfood #singapore #nostalgicsg #heritagesg #nolstagicpanic

A post shared by The Substation (@the_substation) on


Somehow this also needed to be rooted in reality, so we planned to shoot a series of audiovisual stimulation aids to excite (or confuse) the senses and stimulate (or deflate) the appetite. With the help of Cain and the sub team, we shot Ming in his kitchen at Siri House cooking up the originals of the dishes that were about to be reinterpreted (or as Ming likes to say, that we were about to try to knock off the pedestal…)

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Although we had recorded sound on site in the kitchen, the original sound was not usable – it held the sound of a living kitchen with food being prepared and a restaurant during service. If I had used that original sound, it would feel like you were a disembodied spectator looking into some other space when you listened to the video like that. But I wanted the cooking to sound like it was actually happening right front in front of you. LIVE SOUNDS in whatever space you were in. So the sound had to be totally manufactured from scratch….

I suppose sound design for a video to be played back in an open space is always like putting on overly-dramatic stage makeup so that the details can also be seen under harsh stage lights and from a distance. So I did make some of the sounds very extreme and almost comedic. For example, for a bouncing fish cake, I decided to use some exaggerated bouncing balloon sounds that surprisingly seemed to work. And I cut up a lot of juicy leaves (actually they were leftover strawberry tops and stems) and swished about a lot of polymorph beads and mic-ed everything up painfully closely to get the most goosebump inducing foley sound.

I was inspired by the foley sound I had heard on the documentary Fruit Hunters and a show about Chaoshan cuisine that has been on Netflix recently, Flavourful Origins. And I guess you could say I made it all in the spirit of ASMR videos.

These were to be screened in front of the audience as they ate the new reinterpretations of dishes… I am a little shy about showing the final mix in isolation online because it truly was a bit over-the-top (I also have to confess that I did some of the final edits in the controlled access machine room with two operational laser cutters and their giant extractor fans whirring noisily in the background so my working conditions were also less than ideal) but I might make a trailer mix when I have more time over the weekend.

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Some pictures behind the scenes…

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Chef Ming peeks through the curtain to see what guests we have for the night

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Chicken Rice in Kueh Form

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Chef Ron doles out the secret sauce (cucumber)

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Retextured Carrot Cake, first lovingly batch-cooked in a wok with two different varieties of chai por, then brutally blended so to allow it to be hygienically and efficiently reheated in retort pouches; all to be squeezed directly (or sucked up) into the mouths of the audiences.

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Laksa in a dried form, vacuum packed for longevity and easy long term storage.

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A special Laksa rempah coating the puffed rice, ready to be rehydrated at a moment’s notice to produce a seriously authentic tasting laksa soup.

Now that I am writing out this post I realised I forgot to take a picture of dessert – the tau huay!


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All of the production of this food was entirely undertaken by the amazing Chef Ming (and his assistant Chef Ron), who are both extremely knowledgeable and superbly skilled and inventive with the food they prepare. The actual realisation of this project completely wouldn’t have been possible without Ming’s professional and gastronomical expertise and his willingness to do something quite so daring with the food. For most chefs would rather make a pleasing menu, rather than one that draws gasps of shock from an audience; a menu that manages to bring the audience to relook their food with a critical eye. I am not qualified to cook the food and serve it to a public audience for I have not the required basic food hygiene training accreditation to do so, nor do I know the intricacies of how to organise or run a service! My role in collaboration felt much smaller; because ALL the props has to go to Ming’s efforts and hard work to make this experience a reality! I only provided the idea and brain fodder for the project, but all of the amazing food (and food innovation work!) was the Chef’s work! It was really my honour to be able to work with Ming.

Countless thanks must also go to The Substation: Annabelle and Si Min for facilitating the entire process and helping to take care of all of the small details, as well as all of the Substation staff (and interns Ariel and Celine) for all their help. Without the help of so many people this wouldn’t have been possible!

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Addendum:

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Some highly observant audience members asked me on the night why there wasn’t ice kachang and nasi lemak on the menu. I was puzzled about the specificity of this question until I realised that they were referring to the image they had seen on the promotional material drawn by the designer, which ended up being printed in an unexpectedly huge size and mounted on the wall on the night of the event. Well, the answer is that at an earlier stage the shortlisted dishes originally included ice kachang and chicken rice so that was drawn into the flyer. However, the chicken rice was in a pyramid shape that could have been easily interpreted as the pyramid of a nasi lemak as well. Well spotted y’all.

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In case you were wondering yes to the credit of the designer the portraits did have a rather uncanny likeness…

In the Press…

Plural Mag – The Hunger Games
The Peak Magazine – SAD: The Last Meal art exhibition serves up dystopian versions of beloved hawker dishes
SG Magazine – This is how local chef Ming Tan interprets dystopian hawker cuisine
CNA Lifestyle – Kitchen Stories: Fighting insecurity and emotions to prove himself to older chefs

Foods of the Baltic: Kvass/Gira, Pelmeni, Cepelinai (Zeppelin), Pelēkie zirņi ar speķi (Grey Peas with Speck), and Beaver Stew

A quick compendium of notable foods consumed on a brief working trip to Lithuania and Latvia. Alright, let’s be practical, chances are that the 5 people who still read this blog will probably never ever go to Lithuania or Latvia but yet I will say – IF YOU EVER DO, then these following foods are very much recommended.

1. KVASS / GIRA

Fermented Black Ryebread Cocktail

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Gira/Kvass from Forto Dvaras (Kaunas Old Town, Lithuania)

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Gira/Kvass from Zalias Ratas (Kaunas, Lithuania)


You may be wondering why would you drink this fermented non-alcoholic drink when you could drink a fermented alcoholic drink (BEER?) but the simple answer is that: it is super delicious. Like liquid bread candy. Like summery caramel raisin juice. As strangely and inexplicably addictive as Club Mate.

I had become really excited to try the Kvass after watching Life of Boris aka KVASSMAN demonstrate how to make it and all I can say is that… its indeed probably the best drink you can get in Lithuania and Latvia.

In the case of Latvia, if you are travelling in Riga… IT IS EVEN WORTH GOING TO RIGA AIRPORT 2 HOURS EARLY TO LEISURELY DRINK MORE KVASS AT THE LIDO. (There are Lidos all over Riga but having reached the airport means you can actually sit back in the Lido (the “Wetherspoons” of Latvia) and relax with your Kvass.

2. PELMENI

Tiny Slavic Ravioli

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XL Pelmeni in the morning


“What food is still available at this hour?” I asked a waitress at 11pm in Riga. She said, “well at this house there is only the McDonalds, Kebabs, or…. Pelmeni?” – with the Pelmeni being the only true ‘local’ option. So at almost midnight in Riga, I found myself at XL PELMENI, a curious buffet style fast food dumpling house with tacky plastic cave wall features, easy wipe-clean tables bolted to the floor, and an interesting mix of clientele. From families with young children, to young men wolfing down huge mountains of cheese dumplings, middle aged couples eating dumplings along with a bottle of wine, and old men nursing their beers alone in the corner with a tiny dill covered salad. Its young staff loitered around bored and uneasy, wearing generic hats and aprons.

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I was very confused as nothing was in English, but it appears that you simply pick up a series of tiny bowls on plastic trays and fill up your bowls with what looks like tiny white geometric tchotchkes, filled with rather delicious mystery meats (there were labels, but I couldn’t read them).

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The Pelmeni is basically a very tiny ravoli made with a thin skin of white unleavened dough, very similar to the wonton or jiaozi or gyoza or mandu or pierogi or varenyky depending on where you’re from. Garnish with white creamy substance (sour cream? kefir? yoghurt? mayonez??? help what is going on?) and let the dill rain from heaven. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of the pelmeni but you can see some of them in the top of this menu… that’s what it looks like inside the pot!

3. ZEPPELIN / CEPELINAI

Lithuanian Potato Meat Blimp Sailing straight into your Mouth

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Named after the zeppelin airships, this is actually nothing like its floating namesake, and more like a dense bullet of pure plastinated potato. Sometimes served with a side of magic fat gravy. They mash the potato, then boil it into this ultra dense format with a thick layer of potato covering a delicious meat filling.

On a side note, in some strange ways it is reminiscent of the format of the traditional Hokchew (Foochow Chinese) ball if you replaced fish and flour with POTATO.

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If they give you an option to have a half portion, restrain yourself and order the half portion because they are basically SOLID POTATO BLIMPS and the average human adult can only realstically consume one of these zeppelins at a time. (For your reference a “debbieportion” is actually 1/2 OF AVERAGE LITHUANIAN ZEPPELIN)

4. GREY PEAS WITH SPECK / PELĒKIE ZIRŅI AR SPEĶI

Most Latvian Food according to random young Latvian boy at Lido

“What is your most Latvian food???” I asked the young server at the Lido.
He pointed to a mountain of peas. “Peas are very Latvian.”
So here is an unfeasibly huge plate of Grey Peas that I ate at a Lido in Riga Old Town.

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They’re not very grey actually.


BONUS: “Food from the Nobleman’s Table”

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Menu at Zalias Ratas (Kaunas, Lithuania)


Often in the menus you will see the mention of “food from the peasant’s table” vs “food from the nobleman’s table”
All the potato-based foods I have listed above are typically classed as ‘peasant food’, although today there’s hardly any real distinction between the two. For the most part, eating out (and eating well) in Lithuania seems exceedingly affordable.

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Menu at Restaurant Lokys (Vilnius, Lithuania)


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In Vilnius, I decided to go to one of these “Nobleman’s Restaurant” to try Beaver Stew. Apparently beaver was historically quite commonly eaten by noblemen who went hunting; more than a hundred thousand beavers live in the Lithuanian forest and Lithuania and Latvia are probably the two countries in the world with the biggest numbers of Eurasian Beavers. (FYI: Beavers are actually completely vegetarian and their big teeth are only used to eat twigs and bark)

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Lokys means “bear” so there are huge wooden bears everywhere in Restaurant Lokys. In case one cannot travel all the way to Lithuania to eat Lithuanian Beaver Stew but still wishes to cook a Beaver (assuming one has already caught a beaver???) here is a recipe for Beaver that I found in the Kaunas Town Hall:

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Gero apetito / Labu apetīti!

The Spherification of Edible Liquids for Impatient People

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After a few hits and misses doing spherification experiments over the last few years for fun, here is a collation of some personal observations or lessons learnt about spherification that people don’t generally seem to explain properly in all the other recipes or online posts about spherification.

Basic Spherification
1% Calcium Lactate Bath (1g to 100g mixture)
0.5% Sodium Alginate Mixture (0.5g to 100g mixture)

Reverse Spherification
0.5% Sodium Alginate Bath (1g to 100g mixture)
1% Calcium Lactate Mixture (1g to 100g mixture)
[better for milky/alcoholic mixtures]

Why do some people use Calcium Lactate instead of Calcium Chloride?

I noticed a lot of people online have suggested that people can use Calcium Chloride. The problem is that I don’t like Calcium Chloride because it has a salty/bitter taste, where as Calcium Lactate doesn’t really have a taste. You can “wash” off the salty taste in water, but the fact is that I don’t really like Calcium Chloride, after I learnt that Calcium Chloride reacts strongly to humidity. I brought a bag of it from London to Singapore, and my double-plastic-wrapped bag of Calcium Chloride must have gotten a tiny hole in it, which allowed the humid air in, and next thing I knew I had a mysterious chemical spill on my wooden floor which was near impossible to remove. Turns out that if Calcium Chloride is exposed to humid air, it will absorb a few times of its own weight in water. I have never heard of such a ludicrous thing happening with Calcium Lactate. And since I really don’t want to worry that one day my food chemicals will be reduced into a big puddle of water in my toolbox, I’m steering clear of Calcium Chloride from now onwards just to be safe.

Do I really need to use distilled water?

Yes, this is very important because many cities have very hard tap water, even if you use boiled water or water filters. This means that all your alginate mixtures will become very goopy instantly if you don’t use distilled water. London tap water causes the sodium alginate to start its gelling reaction almost immediately. Even the utensils should also be washed in distilled water before and during use, otherwise gelling will occur on them as well when preparing the bath or mixture.

Do I really have to wait 24 hours for the bubbles to leave the Alginate bath/mixture?

The bubbles can be really huge. If you don’t care about the bubbles like me, then don’t bother leaving it overnight. I find it still works the same, just not as pretty and perhaps disrupting the illusion of it being a perfect sphere of liquid. Also if you used tap water (eg London) then you will already have huge bubbles whilst stirring because the gelling will have started by now and you will have stirred bubbles into the goopy alginate bath.

Do I really need an immersion blender?

It would be ideal and it really makes a difference. But it will work even if you don’t use an immersion blender or hand blender to mix it up. You can also use just a spoon, if you’re all DIY or lazy like me. But remember, that for some reason all of these chemicals HATE to be dissolved into water and you will spend what seems like hours grinding a spoon into a big bowl of water and powder and screaming at the bowl of water.

Is it really necessary to pre-freeze the mixture into half-spheres for Reverse Spherification?

You will have seen the half-sphere silicone moulds, seemingly sold on every other molecular gastronomy webstore. The reason why people do this is that it does truly takes skill to make the shapes spherical with the Reverse Spherification process. You can’t just “drip” it into the bath, half-heartedly, (as you might do with Basic Spherification, and get away with it). You have to throw or plop it down bravely, but yet not too much otherwise it will hit the bottom of the bowl and become flat, which I find to be quite difficult to do. Basic Spherification seems to be more forgiving in terms of technique, you’ll probably end up with something roundish even if you have poor hand-eye coordination. So in order to give their spheres a better chance of having a better shape when doing Reverse Spherification, people pre-freeze their mixtures into half sphere shapes.

What if I “guess-timated” the amounts and it doesn’t work? How can I fix this confusing gloopy mess?

After several “guess-timation” failures on my part, I’ve learnt that this is a matter of understanding the ratio/texture that the mixes ought to reach – it mainly means that the concentration for either the alginate or the calcium is inaccurate, and usually it means it was too little. So as a possible way of fixing things, for basic spherification, add slightly more alginate to the mixture, and for reverse spherification add slightly more calcium to the mixture. For the alginate, the goal is to reach 0.5%. For the calcium, the goal is to get to 0.18% calcium, which is usually 0.5% Calcium Chloride, 1% Calcium Lactate, and 2% Calcium Lactate Gluconate.

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And finally, yes, if you squeeze your spheres, they can and they will explode.

I’d love to hear from other people who have been playing with their foods like I have. Are there other tips or suggestions for impatient people who want to do some spherification of their edible liquids?

Aubergine and Portobello Lasagne / Pineapple Tarts

There was a big storm up in Britain recently which resulted in my having to take a detour at Seven Sisters because the overland had stopped running for the entire day. This resulted in me walking past the Tescos at Seven Sisters which then led to my discovery of LASAGNE SHEETS! And I thought that since we have been eating lasagne at Grodzinski’s in Stamford Hill, why shouldn’t we also try to make it ourselves?

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Aubergine and Portobello Lasagne

Aubergine Sauce
1 large aubergine or 2 smaller aubergines
half a box of mini portobello mushrooms
some tomatoes
handful of spinach
onions or shallots
3 or more cloves of garlic
extra virgin olive oil

Bechamel style white sauce
50g butter
50g flour
500g milk
4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

You will also need lasagne sheets and a square baking tin.

Aubergine Sauce
Slice the aubergine and steam for about 15-20 min. In the meantime, in a heavy pan with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, fry the garlic and onion until fragrant, then the mushrooms and spinach. when the aubergines have been steamed sufficiently soft, transfer them to the frying pan and pan fry them till they are brown as well. The browning imparts a much desired taste (Maillard reaction) so it is important to brown the ingredients after steaming (which is done to quicken cooking time and improve the tenderness of the aubergine). Finally, add the tomatoes. if you have tinned plum tomatoes use that, otherwise a fistful of fresh tomatoes with a bit of tomato paste and a generous dash of sugar and water will replace that just fine. The sugar helps cut through the inadvertent tartness of fresh tomatoes, a feature which is often not present in tinned tomatoes. Season to taste. And that’ll be the aubergine sauce.

White Sauce
Melt the butter in a pan on low fire and add the flour. It’ll froth and bubble up and you’ll have to keep stirring so that the flour is evenly distributed throughout the roux (a combination of fat and flour, which is traditionally used as the thickening agent for our sauce). Then gradually stir in the milk and cheese. The parmesan cheese is not traditionally added in béchamel sauce and I have omitted a dash of grated nutmeg as I do not have any nutmeg, but I find that the sauce still turns out very agreeable this way.

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Lasagne Assembly
Butter the square tin and put in alternate layers of aubergine sauce, followed by white sauce, followed by sheets of lasagna. You usually don’t have to precook it the noodle. Top with some cheddar and white sauce and bake for about 25-30 min at 200 deg c.

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Lasagne with a salad of mozzarella cheese, basil and tomatoes.


Pineapple Tarts

I also recently made a batch of Pineapple Tarts. This is something that is commonly eaten around Chinese New Year in Singapore. A few years ago I made pineapple tarts from scratch but because I lacked the distinctive tart cutter, the outcome did not look not very professional. I think I’ve gotten to the point of where I would like to make some seriously kickass things but also be quite detailed about it.

Pineapple Jam
2 Pineapples (about 1.2kg after removing the skin)
200g golden caster sugar

Pastry Base
200g butter
pinch of salt
260g all purpose flour
2 tbsp cornflour
30g icing sugar
2 egg yolks

You will also need baking parchment, a food processor, and a pineapple tart cutter.

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The pineapple tart cutter is really key to the look of this pineapple tart. This time around I’ve been collecting cookie cutters and moulds and I got a pineapple tart cutter when I was in Malaysia earlier in the year.


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We start with fresh pineapples. Some people also think its hard to make the pineapple jam from scratch (it can be bought pre-made in Singapore, so I guess people are wont to say “why make your own if its already available?”). I personally find that its quite easy and foolproof to make, just takes a bit more time but at least you know what’s in every tart!

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Slice the pineapple in this manner to get MAXIMUM PINEAPPLE. It is quite manual work but this seems to be the best way to cut a pineapple – other methods can be a bit wasteful – so you should cut it out in the round like this. The way a pineapple grows is quite standard – each prickly segment is from a single carpal of the flower and if you count the spirals there will actually be 5 spirals if viewed from a vertical angle, and if you look at it from a slightly more horizontal angle, it will have 8 spirals in one direction and 13 from another direction (Fibonacci Numbers!). The main point is to cut along one of these spiral directions to remove the prickly parts of the pineapple. Either will do, whichever direction is easier for you to cut.

After you do that, blitz all the pineapple in a food processor to make it into a paste. Boil this pineapple paste with the sugar. The jam takes a long while to come together, so let it reduce until it is very viscous and behaves like a kind of thixotropic paste.

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Pastry Base
While the jam cooks, make the dough by rubbing ALL the pastry ingredients together until it forms a dough that is quite soft yet malleable. The purpose of adding in the cornflour is actually to give it a sharper crunch. If you search around for recipes, many don’t mention this cornflour but from my experience of following various Scottish Shortbread recipes, I’ve realized that the addition of cornflour or rice flour to the mix really makes a difference in how the final bake turns out, making it taste significantly lighter.

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Roll out the dough and cut out the dough shapes with the cutter.

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Top with the jam and you’re ready to bake. I didn’t glaze my tarts with a beaten egg but if you are feeling fancy you can do that to give it a more glazed appearance. Bake at about 165 deg c for about 20-30 min. I think my oven has a tendency to be too hot so you should adjust accordingly – when the dough is golden it is done – a visual check is the best determining factor, as you really don’t have to let it go too brown.

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Use a wide-mouthed jar to store the baked tarts when completely cool. Cut out a stack of baking paper circles which are the size of the jar lid and use these paper circles to divide the tarts up into layers. If not, without the baking paper, these open-topped tarts might stick to each other.

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Pineapple Tarts!


I must admit that I’ve been enjoying learning the reason for certain cooking methods in terms of how the ingredients react chemically to temperature or the other ingredients. And knowing the precise way in how an ingredient reacts also means I can make more logical variations on recipes….

Yuzu Spherification

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The other day I had a little time to try out a spherification experiment. Aided with food grade sodium alginate and calcium chloride, and a packet of Yuzu juice, I tried to spherify some Yuzu juice…

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Here is a large packet of Food grade Sodium Alginate. I bought this in the UK because I was a bit nervous about getting Sodium Alginate from China which was likely to happen if I tried to buy it in Singapore. Alginate is a naturally occurring substance that comes from brown algae and it is the substance that apparently forms the (slightly crunchy) skeletal component of their cell walls.

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Yuzu juice with green food colouring added for visibility, in measuring spoon about to be introduced to Food grade Calcium Chloride Bath. I made the yuzu mixture according to a book I had which suggested about 6 tablespoons fluid + 1/4 teaspoon sodium alginate. I don’t know what equates to in percentage but I think I erred on the side of putting more sodium alginate which I later realised was truly unnecessary as it jellifies very easily.

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It touched the bottom and promptly flattened itself. On hindsight, using a deep bowl with round edges might have helped avoid this as well as taking care to drop it more gently and not from a height.

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Slightly self-flattened yolk of yuzu juice.

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Smaller spheres (caviar style)

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Perfect sphere
The last sphere I made (with clear yuzu mix) had been left too long in calcium salt bath though, so it got harder and hard and bouncier, and I could pick it up and bounce it off the other table. Another thing to note is that jellification continues even after rinsing in cold water so no more liquid remains after a while. But throughout all this – it just tastes like Yuzu juice. Although all the liquid within the sphere will become jellified, sodium alginate actually doesn’t add any appreciable change in flavor besides being a kind of thickener. Also, it doesn’t really get harder than this sort of jelly unless you increase the concentrations, so I don’t think there need to be too much concern when washing up, as a highly diluted form of the chemicals wouldn’t hold up against a stream of water.


See another food experiment: Agarification – Bell Pepper Spaghetto