Funny card for Happy New Year 2019Happy Lunar New Year! 新年快乐! 恭喜发财! May fortune always be on your side so you’ll never fail to bring home the bacon (or bak kwa)…oink oink!

2019 began rather slowly for us here, with January being most uneventful, but pleased to say things are now starting to sizzle…sorry, couldn’t resist!

My first post of the year (not counting New Year’s Eve since that was before the countdown) also highlights the first of many things – new growth from the leaf of a succulent that left us for heavenly pastures last year, hopefully a good sign of what’s to come…

49986748_986573561548927_6487902634015052596_n…hubby’s first smart phone (finally getting rid of his Sony-Ericsson fossil because 2G and 3G will soon be turned off), tasting an energy drink for the first time (more on that later), and my very first stop-motion video (with a bit of help)!

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Super happy to have matched with another #Triyit box! 😍🙏🏻 Thanks @triyituk! Can't wait to try out all these #HealthySnacks and sharing with everyone how I got on with them…will update with link to #ProductReview on my blog soon! #ProductDiscovery #ComplimentaryGoodies #MysteryBox #unboxing #SnapShareWin 📸 #NewYearNewMe #ProductTester #SocialMediaCampaign #FoodLover 😋❤️ #HealthyEating #LowCal #LessFat #HealthyDrinks #EnergyDrinks 💪🏻⚡️ #AllNatural #NaturalIngredients #Vegan #StopMotionUnboxing #GlutenFree #UnboxingVideo #PoweredByCoconuts 🌴 @VitaCocoEu #GrazeSnacks @GrazeDotCom #ForEveryEverest 🏔 #TENZING @TENZING #WellAndTruly @_wellandtruly #CayenneHappy @nixandkix Also, very grateful to @davidbgregory my husband and #StopMotion expert for helping me with this! 😊

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Admittedly, this is not my first Triyit box, since I have matched with a previous campaign, but in the spirit of new discoveries, I thought I’d have a bit of fun and try something different.

In the next day or so, I will update this post with a full review of every product I received, but in the meantime, here’s a little close-up of what’s to come. 🙂

2019-01-27 22.19.52

blueskiesI was certainly counting my blessings a few months back when Sol came out from behind the clouds to celebrate my 41st orbit around him by shining down on Earth…but alas, the lovely weather did not stay for long, as it never does here on our “green and pleasant land”. Summer very quickly made way for winter, and a new year is now imminent.

The ephemeral nature of our climate, and recent tragic events, got me thinking about how we ought to live for the moment, and be thankful for whatever happiness comes our way, however fleeting it may be. Fellow blogger JM Kayne posted something similar awhile back, and it’s inspired me to share my very own top 10 list.

There are, of course, other things that make my world go round, but I’m only going to mention the most significant…excluding the most obvious, such as family and friends (not forgetting animal companions!), since I’m sure we can all agree that for the vast majority of us, it goes without saying that our loved ones make our lives complete.

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When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Fortunately for everyone (and unlike My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music), I am limiting myself to ten…otherwise we’d be here forever. So without making too much of a song and dance about it, here we go in no specific order:



1. Favourable Weather

I thought I’d start with this since I’ve just been indulging in that popular British pastime – obsessing about all things meteorological (never trust the forecast!). You might wonder why I’m being a little vague here. Why not “sunshine” instead of “favourable weather”? I do normally prefer hot sunny days, but there are times when the occasion calls for less desirable conditions. Blustery storms are great for cosy nights in…perfect for snuggling under a duvet with a mug of hot chocolate. Strange as it may be, I’m sure I am not the only one who finds the sound of rain and thunder soporific. Plus, I love the smell of petrichor. Someone ought to bottle that scent; I’m positive it’ll make them a fortune! Frosty winters are brilliant too, especially during the festive season when a bit of snow adds to the vibe at Christmas markets and celebrations. Furthermore, cold dry nights are often dark and clear, making them ideal for stargazing.

2. Nom Nom Nom
When growing up, I had a teacher who (worried about obesity) advised her students never to become the type of person who “lives to eat” and attempted to educate us on the benefits of dietary restraint. I am afraid that with me, she completely failed in that regard. What can I say? Food is life, and if you can’t enjoy what you eat, then you haven’t lived. I operate very much by the “stuff face, worry later” philosophy. It’s doubtful there is a single cuisine I don’t like, and (with very few exceptions) will try anything that won’t kill me or put my health in (too much) jeopardy….and guess what? Nowhere on the chonk scale yet, and more importantly…still alive!

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3. Listening to Music
If you had to give up either your hearing or your sight, which would you choose? No one likes to entertain the idea of losing one of their five senses, but I used to have a colleague with a proclivity for games of This or That, and so one day (must have been a quiet time at work!) I found myself facing this hypothetical (and may it stay that way!) conundrum. As a designer, I could not do my job without my eyes. Yet, I would also not get very far in my profession without my sanity, and that I would not have if deprived of the “sounds, and sweet airs” that give my soul flight.

Admittedly, not all of the music I listen to can be described as “sweet”, but my taste is pretty eclectic, covering almost all genres – from Jazz and Classical, to Indie and Trance – and most especially Ambient which helps keep me going when I have work to do. Also, I used to be in the choir during my schoolgirl days. We weren’t great and I don’t remember us winning any awards, but every so often, I still break out dramatically (Disney-style) into song…when the neighbours are out of course. I do not think they will appreciate me stealing their karaoke thunder! 😀

 

4. Books & Reading
Yes, I know that’s two items, but it’s not really cheating since both of them go very much together. As space is at a premium in our little house, we don’t have a lot of books, so most of our reading is done on our Kindles or tablets. All the more reason for me to treasure books…Not only do they take us to far off places and let us live vicariously through the stories of others, but they can be objects of beauty as well, and in this digital age, are coveted increasingly as collectables. Also, the whiff of paper and ink you get when flipping the pages is bliss! I am currently trialling a subscription box for women who like reading, so if like me, you don’t get much opportunity to visit a library or bookstore, this might be a novel workaround.

5. Learning Something New
“Huó dào lǎo, xué dào lǎo” is a proverb my grandmother was fond of repeating to me, and I try to live by that motto. Literal translation: live to an old age, learn to an old age.

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A day is never wasted if I’ve gained some knowledge, no matter how little, or how seemingly trivial. It might be through adventuring on holiday, trying something different for a change, an accidental discovery, or simply lyrics to a song I just heard. Even a bad experience can (in retrospect) be viewed in a positive light if I’ve learnt something new from it.

6. Crafting & Creativity
Again, you can’t have one without the other…I’m never short of ideas, and often they pop up in my head faster than I can make them a reality, either because I’m too tired, too busy, or too self-doubting. If only I could stop time, or at least slow it down so there are more hours in the day! Sadly, that’s not possible. This is why I feel such a sense of achievement whenever I complete a project, whether personal or for a client. A lot of my graphic design skills were self-taught (while on maternity leave), though doing a BA in Journalism did help somewhat as learning basic layout techniques for newspapers/magazines was part of the course.

The crafting side of my abilities took a wee longer to surface, and started off when I got bored with the usual selection of gift bags/baskets in shops. Besides, I was too skint to buy them. I felt I could do better and so began to experiment. The result of my efforts brought smiles to many faces and was so uplifting it soon led to other things (such as decor, cards, bespoke presents etc.), and my Etsy shop Cocoon eventually emerged from the wings. It is currently temporarily closed due to illness and then a family tragedy, but I hope to open it again very shortly and with more products.

17966216_10155064360005856_1068310592475307239_oMost of my work is done in the loft which we converted ourselves (with a bit of help from friends). This space is itself an ongoing project, and the most recent addition is a mobile craft station David made for me as a birthday present! ❤

7. Vintage Clothing
It’s probably quite obvious from my social media feeds and old flickr albums that I love the paraphernalia of bygone eras.

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I like retro (60s to 80s) stuff too, but am more fascinated with the period 1920s to 1950s – the decor, the music, the lifestyle, and most of all, what people from that period used to wear. Many stores now specialise in vintage outfits and accessories, but they’re generally expensive. Nabbing the odd bargain can be immensely satisfying, and eBay searches can yield a wide variety of replicas, but your best bet is still charity shops. Many even have an online portal these days!

8. Stargazing with Hubby
All branches of Science hold my interest, but you might have noticed from some of my photos that Astronomy is a particular favourite. Both David and I are amateurs, though he’s considerably more well-read than I am on that subject, so conversations with him are always intriguing.

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We would drive out to the countryside, armed with our telescope and his camera (or sometimes just a pair of binoculars), to observe the constellations. The conditions are not always right as clouds (or light pollution) usually get in the way, but when we’re alone with the stars, I’m filled with a sense of peace and wonder.

9. Nature Walks
Years back, I used to live in the centre of London. In fact, I was born in North Islington, and later (in my twenties) ended up residing in nearby Dalston. There are a lot of advantages to living in a city, particularly when said city is the capital. There’s cultural diversity and you’ll never lack for something to do, but what I missed most back then was the quiet of rural England, and actually began to dream of living in the middle of nowhere. I still do, although it’ll probably make life pretty inconvenient, dangerous even (for instance if you need medical attention).

These days, I’ll settle for being anywhere close to groves and fields where I can have a ramble…so along as it’s full of greenery, maybe a body of water, and no other sounds apart from what comes from the wildlife and natural surroundings. That, to me, would be heaven.

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10. Tea & Solitude
Some would probably call me a textbook case introvert, and they would be correct. Unfortunately, many also mistakenly associate a reclusive nature with misanthropic tendencies, and that leads to much misunderstanding of people like me. The truth is, only one quality distinguishes an introvert from an extrovert, and that is a difference in energy flow – the former personality type is drained of it by social activity, whereas the latter is enlivened. A tiny group or one-on-one interaction is fine and, depending on the subject of conversation, can even be gratifying. Regardless, an introvert will ultimately need lots of time alone to re-charge. One way I like to do it, is by unwinding on my own with a refreshing and comforting cup/glass of tea (and possibly, some ASMR 😊 ).

Nothing against coffee (or other beverages, many of which I like as well), however, I am most definitely a tea person. Not that I’m looking to stir anything up, but tea simply has more character. As our resident java connoisseur, my husband will surely disagree. I’ll admit my appreciation of roasted blends extends solely to latte, which to me is merely a fancy name for coffee-flavoured milk with froth on top. Given a choice, I’d still prefer the tea equivalent – Teh Tarik. When it comes to 茶 cha, I am far more adventurous than the hubs. Tea-drinking involves more than just the flavour; there are many ceremonies from cultures all around the world devoted to enjoyment of the full experience. Moreover, tea has a many health benefits, and depending on the type, a cuppa can either perk you up or calm you down…meaning it’s less likely to leave you bouncing off the walls. Yeap, leaves (or petals/fruit) over beans any day.



With 2019 looming, I am pondering the traditional “new year, new me” resolution. It’s such a futile endeavour for most of us, but perhaps it’s because we’re not realistic when setting our goals and try to achieve too much at once, so this year I will strive for only one small thing , and that is to count my blessings by appreciating the good that is already in my life.

What about you? Do any of the above make it to your top 10? Hopefully, the next few hours pass with good cheer, and here’s wishing you many happy days to come!

2018-12-27 22.15.10

413863_10151388272250856_1462726217_oNothing to see here. Just me, walking/flying my reindeer…6 years ago. 😅🦌 So much has changed since then. 2018 has not been kind to our family (which is actually putting it mildly!), but rising to meet life’s challenges is something everyone has to do. After suffering a great loss (amongst other things, hence the prolonged sabbatical from my blog/store), it’s unsurprisingly taken me longer than usual to get into the Christmas spirit, but fortunately, we’re nearly at the finish line! 😅

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I did as well as I could under the circumstances and still put in the extra effort to add that personal touch to gifts, but I’m gonna put my hands up and concede…it’s not my best work. 😕

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Anyway, here’re all presents ready to go…

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…with homemade toppers and decorations using the leftover pinecones we picked last spring, together with some chalkboard tags I covered in a previous tutorial

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…and hastily put-together goody bags (thank goodness for washi tape). 😁

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Whew! I’m honestly a little relieved it’s all over. Christmas prep can be a bit stressful sometimes, but being able to share these moments with people I care about more than makes up for it (remember: presence, not presents! 😜 ). Hopefully, this festive season brings peace and joy to you and your loved ones, along with better days to come! 💝🎄

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Now time for a break, and maybe a hot drink…Bring on the turkey!!! 🦃

2018-08-02 20.12.10Last month, I came across a discount code for a new subscription box that seemed a perfect match for a bookworm like me, so I decided to try it out. The appropriately named Reading in Heels is kind of like a book club for women…except you don’t just receive a handpicked work of contemporary fiction (or non-fiction) each month, you will also be sent a few other treats…Though if you’re anything like me, you’re not going to need the extra encouragement to put your feet up and bury your nose between the covers of a book (channel your inner Belle from Beauty and the Beast)!

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The contents of the box generally include a small variety of luxe beauty and lifestyle products, along with a yummy delight or two. Although I got my first box at half price, it usually costs a mere tenner (plus P&P) per month. When you consider the price of new paperbacks these days (nevermind hardbacks), this is definitely a bargain!

While Reading in Heels isn’t a conventional book club with members that regularly meet up for literary discussions, it does have an online community where we can post reviews. It’s not looking terribly interactive at the moment, but I’m hoping it will later expand to include a forum of some sort, similar to Good Reads.

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In truth, I haven’t read a real book in years, having become more accustomed to my Kindle. There are pros and cons either way, so I don’t really want to get into a debate about it. However, I will freely admit that I love the feel and smell of books, and miss being able to turn actual pages. Plus, the covers always look so intriguing. Our house used to be so full of books we had to donate quite a fair few to charity, and reluctantly came to the agreement that for every book we bought, we had to make room for it by giving another away. That was almost a decade ago, and luckily for us, eBooks soon came into existence. Yay!

Still, not all books have a (legal) digital version, so every now and then, a printed edition will find its way into my hands, borrowed or purchased at a knock-down rate…or in this case, materialise in a mystery box of goodies!

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Most of the books I read are novels, but sometimes, I’ll make an exception and delve into the world of non-fiction if the subject matter interests me enough. Since the last biography that captivated me was about the relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, I am hoping that Ma’am Darling, another saga of royal proportion, will prove equally fascinating.

The first few chapters are quite humorous, but I’ve not encountered anything earth-shaking as yet. So far, the real Princess Margaret is (unsurprisingly) not coming across quite as congenial and engaging as her dramatised counterpart in The Crown, a more sympathetic character by far, and with more redeeming qualities. By all accounts, bona fide Margaret (sorry to say) is a bit of a cow…Fingers crossed that will change as I read on!

Just a brief mention of the other items in the box before getting to the ones I like best…

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The pencil from Night Navy and notebook from Coconut Lane look pretty enough, but it’s difficult to get excited over stationery when I already have loads of similar stuff lying around my work and craft space. I did have a quick nosy round their respective sites, and noticed some products on there which would make great gifts (whether for yourself or someone else), so they’re worth bookmarking for special occasions.

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If you’re teetotal (like me), but love the taste of booze (unlike me), you will probably enjoy the real wine gums from Vinoos. Though I’m not particularly fussed, these do really taste like rosé. They contain 0% alcohol, so you can indulge without worrying about the morning after (or triggering an allergic reaction). My only suggestion would be to keep these gums refrigerated before consumption…unless you prefer your wine at room temperature of course!

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My favourite things from this box – Eye Gels from Patchology. I have hitherto been fortunate enough to escape the onset of wrinkles, but age will get us all in the end. When I look hard enough, there are signs of crepiness beginning to appear under my eyes. However, that’s nothing compared to the dark circles I’ve had to put up with for most of my life. These panda peepers must be genetic, since nothing will get rid of them…even the corners of my eyes look bruised.

Although these gels don’t provide a permanent fix, I am pretty impressed by the results. The area around my eyes did look brighter the next day; the skin softer and smoother. The gels are easy to use and you’ll experience a pleasant cooling sensation, but don’t make the mistake of placing them the wrong way round (with pointy bits down) as I initially did!

38481200_1691435620966014_3122567848417820672_nIf a period of cosy nights in seems a tempting prospect, or if you’re contemplating a netflix/social media detox, book a date with yourself and subscribe to Reading in Heels. It’s all you need for some quality “me time” – something I will certainly be looking forward to now on a monthly basis! The only trouble is…where’s the new bookshelf to go? 😀

38126950_10156332644845856_4643456316717662208_oThree days ago, I had super long hair which I’d been fed up with for ages. So on Saturday, I finally braved the cut and had it chopped off…all 30 inches of it! 😮

Sometimes I think I can still feel phantom strands floating about, but truth be told, I am so glad to be rid of it. This is now going to save me a fortune on hair conditioner, and I never have to worry about sitting on it anymore (ouch!). :/ It’s literally a weight off my shoulders! Plus, my hair’s also gone to a good cause – Little Princess Trust.

I’m usually pretty adventurous when it comes to hairstyles, but what I’ve got now isn’t new to me – a layered bob like from years ago, and years ago before that. All that’s different this time is the colour. As I wanted the hues to have a natural gradient, I was advised against going for an even shorter crop. Furthermore, the colouring will be less prominent as my hair grows out.

As you can imagine, dyeing dark hair like mine is not an easy task. I’ve had highlights before, and even went auburn at one point. However, a lot has changed in the world of trichology since then, and many advances have been made. Not only has the spectrum broadened for brunettes, but ombré (and balayage) has been a thing for some time!

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The lilac has more or less faded since then…I didn’t expect it to last as pastels are challenging colours to achieve on brunettes, but the silver is more or less still holding on, with some help from PRO:VOKE Touch of Silver. My hairdresser has also supplied me with a sample of more intensive toner from System Professional, the type that requires a longer treatment time…and gloves, so I shall be expecting further dramatic results!

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New hair always looks so sleek right after you leave the salon, but days later, it’s another story. In my case, it’s a tale that’s actually made my hair curl! 😀 I’ve always had straight hair…a few kinks here and there, but nothing that really stands out. I noticed it was a little wavy (as can be seen in the video) after my hair cut, but thought it was the result of my hairdresser’s magic touch. And then, one wash later, I could see it was distinctly tousled…It even curled at the ends!

I’ve heard hair follicles can change due to age, but this is one side effect I’m not going to complain about! My normally fine hair has got so much more bounce to it than before, and it’s kind of given me a gamine look too.

When I get a chance, I will update with a photo of my flicky-uppy tresses. In the meantime, it would be great to hear from others who have had some experience with smoky or silver hair. Any tips (apart from what I’m already doing) on how to keep the brass away?

As I’ve said, the lilac is practically gone, and I don’t mind it as it’s mainly the cool silver tones I want to maintain. Besides, plenty of colours left on the rainbow, and with my hair pre-bleached, I now have soooooo many options. In a world that’s looking increasingly grim, why be anything else when you can be a unicorn? ❤

_DSC38672So…you may recall a previous post (the one with the kaya recipe) in which I mentioned I had an abundance of pandan leaves to use up? Well, here’s me going through the rest of those fragrant fronds in a couple of culinary experiments that (fortunately) turned out according to plan. 😀

As promised, I made us Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: paper-wrapped chicken), a Cantonese dish that I haven’t had since childhood; and Sago Melaka (aka Sago Pudding), a very simple Peranakan dessert which you can see in the above pic. It goes without saying that both recipes include pandan leaves (or shop-bought pandan essence, which is easier to store and has a longer shelf life) in the list of ingredients.



SAGO MELAKA

Pudding – Add sago pearls* to boiling water. A serving of a similar size to what you can see in the photo above would require about three to four tablespoons of pearls. You’ll know they’re done once the grains turn translucent. Don’t worry too much if a few still have a bit of white in them so long as they are soft.

Drain the pearls in a sieve, and give them a rinse under the cold tap to get rid of any starchiness. After that, gently press them into jelly moulds or small bowls before placing in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours. Alternatively, if you’re not fussy about how it looks, set the pudding in a large tray or dish, and scoop out portions when ready to serve.

*Be careful not to confuse sago pearls with the huge dark tapioca globules in bubble tea. They are not the same thing! For this recipe, you’ll need the little tiny white balls, like in the left-hand pic below.

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Syrup – Heat up some gula melaka** in a pot of water with two or three ‘knots’ of pandan leaves. You’ll need roughly one tablespoon of water per 30g of the gula. I used about 100g for this batch of pudding (for four people), and still had quite a bit of syrup left over. Stir until the mixture caramelises, then set aside to cool. It may thicken further if you refrigerate it. Should this happen, stir in a few drops of hot water…just enough to thin it out, but not so much that the syrup re-heats.

**There are a few different types of palm sugar, some sourced from the date palm, others from coconut or nipa. Gula melaka originates from the Straits of Malacca (hence the name), and is produced using the sap of flower buds from coconut palm trees. Like pandan leaves, you can get them from most Asian stores, or major online shopping portals like eBay or Amazon. They come in hard solid blocks which can be difficult to break apart. However, they do grate easily.

Cream – Bring coconut milk*** to boil, and stir in a pinch of salt. The cream isn’t actually supposed to be savoury, so don’t overdo it. The idea is to enhance the milk’s natural flavour while acting as a counterpoint to the syrup. It’s probably best to sprinkle in a few granules and do a taste test before adding more (if required). Leave the cream to cool before serving.

***Any brand coconut milk will do, and most supermarkets sell them. I like my pudding to be literally swimming in cream, so a 400ml tin was about right for us, but smaller 250ml cartons are also available. Leftovers can be refrigerated for later use, though not beyond a week.



JI BAO GAI 纸包鸡

2018-04-21 21.15.51This dish is traditionally deep-fried, but I was overjoyed to discover that the healthier option of oven-baking is entirely doable! Yay, no more greasy kitchen…It’s such a bugger to clean!

Breast fillets are fine if you are calorie-conscious, but I personally prefer chicken on the bone (with skin…it’s the best bit!) as they’re tastier and juicer, so what you see here are chicken thighs (halved).

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Marinade – The essential ingredients are oyster sauce*, rice wine**, and the cornflour solution (so you don’t end up with a watery dribbly mess when unwrapping the chicken). Minced garlic would be ideal, but I was lazy and had recently bought a huge bottle of garlic oil from a discount store.

*I am very picky when it comes to oyster sauce, and would rather go through the trouble of ordering good quality (yet low-cost) ones online than purchase what most UK supermarkets have on offer. Highly recommended brands are Lee Kum Kee Gluten-Free or Ayam – neither of which contain MSG, but I honestly can’t say I’ve noticed that the authentic flavour has been compromised.

**If you haven’t got any rice wine, it’s ok to substitute with white wine…my dad often uses brandy or cognac in place of wine whenever he does the cooking and everything still turns out just as scrummy, sometimes even more so! 😮

Parcels – The chillies are optional, and any mushrooms will do, though shiitake works best here, and it doesn’t matter if they’re fresh or dried. However, the latter will require pre-soaking in hot water.

2018-04-21 19.13.16Wrap chicken pieces in parchment/baking paper, and secure the parcels with staples before baking.

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Not going to specify a time or temperature as all ovens are different, and you’ll probably know how to operate yours better than I would. If you’re not confident, my advice would be to leave a parcel unstapled at one end so you can keep checking if the meat’s thoroughly cooked.

As always, any meal that involves pandan leaves (or other Asian ingredients) fills the whole house with a wonderful aroma that stirs up lots of memories from my growing-up years…mainly family celebrations – three generations of us sat around a huge table chatting, laughing, enjoying great food, and even better company. Happy days! 🙂

I suppose olfactory trips of of nostalgia are pretty much universal, but each experience is unique, so it’ll be interesting to hear what stories others have to tell. Comment below if any food smells in particular whisk you off to another time and place…what magic does it work on you? ❤

1I’ve said in the past that of all the colours I like, pink is nowhere near the top of that list. However, there is something about that shade which evokes the hallmarks of my favourite season – bright flowers in bloom, sunsets at the end of a long sunny day, rosy fruit bursting with juice, and lots of ice-cream to cool off in the balmy heat. Well, I blended the latter two with some milk as temperatures began to soar in the last couple of weeks, and greeted summer with this classic concoction in my hand – a glass of homemade strawberry milkshake…Mmmmm!

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Apart from the solstice (Happy Litha!), this June brought us something else to celebrate, a birthday milestone. Not mine, but a friend who turned 50. A group of us at work got her a giftcard and a bottle of rosé with matching begonias, but I wanted to make her something special.

We recently had a conversation about natural products, and how coconut oil is great for haircare. She expressed an interest in trying out Himalayan pink salts, and that gave me a lightbulb moment… 💡

2018-06-26 21.21.59Instead of trawling through the likes of Etsy or Not on the High Street like I normally do, why not put together a bespoke pamper kit?

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I already had a big bag of the pink salt at home and only needed to fill a small jar with some of it, but I managed to find the other bits and bobs at my nearest Holland & Barrett‘s (which was having a sale), and a local shop in Lytham. As you can see, all items were in the various hues of summer, including the gift bag I made.

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To construct this, all you would need (apart from the bag itself) is a paper doily, some thin card, and gift tissue. Unless you’ve a deft hand, I’d advise cutting the eye-shapes etc. with a circle cutter. I designed a ‘badge’ for the body of the owl that says “turning 50 is a real hoot”, but if you haven’t got a printer, a simpler alternative would be to use washi paper, or another material that’s patterned, like gift wrap.

You might be wondering why the owl. I haven’t an answer for that, except…it’s cute. That’s one of the reasons I like these quirky looking birds. I guess it kind of looks like I’m saying with age comes wisdom, but mainly because…it’s cute. 😀

bottles and birdTechnically, most of the freebies featured here today arrived in Spring, so this is a little late. However, summer had only just begun when some items arrived, such as the above miniatures from Cetaphil.

The brand currently has a launch campaign going on in the UK, and it’s one that I’m glad to be a part of as Cetaphil has been amongst my favourite go-to skincare since my dermatologist recommended the Gentle Cleanser to me years ago.

2018-06-11 19.19.01Despite having a great reputation when it comes to sensitive and troubled skin, Cetaphil (pronounced SEET-a-fil) still gets its fair share of criticism. This is due to its use of (mainly) synthetic ingredients, making the brand practically a pariah in the minds of those who believe the all-natural approach is best.

Although I have it made a lifestyle choice to cut out as much processing as possible with regards to what I put on or, more importantly, in my body, I tend to agree with Michelle from Lab Muffin that there is nothing inherently harmful in items just because they are man-made, even when it comes to beauty products.

In fact, the outcome was far from toxic when trying out this mini set, as not only has Cetaphil kept my skin soft and in good condition regardless of climate, I have also not had a single breakout whilst using it…a painful patch of redness which threatened to erupt into a huge spot under my lip even retreated as soon as I started this new beauty routine.

I was a little worried there would be a greasy or tacky residue after applying the moisturisers as they are very rich, especially the Daily Defence cream (which has a thick paste-like consistency). However, both actually left my combination skin looking quite matte. Of the two, the Moisturising Lotion glides on more easily, and absorbs faster. Although the UK version is marketed as a product for the body rather than the face, many people have found the lotion a more effective and lightweight alternative to the cream.

If you’re still worried that your skin will have a nuclear reaction to Cetaphil’s blend of chemicals, my advice would be to trust the science! Not all from nature’s bounty is safe…I mean, you wouldn’t rub Giant Hogsweed all over your face just because it’s freshly plucked, so why not treat everything else with caution as well, no matter the origin?

2018-06-13 18.28.31I have, again, acquired a wide variety of complimentary goodies this time round (including men’s stuff so David will get to be my guinea pig!), all of which I can’t wait to try out. Due to the hype and celebrity endorsement, I was equally eager (or possibly, more so) to dip into the pot of Crème de la Mer sent to me. Unfortunately, I can’t say the entire experience made any waves in my corner. The smell and colour (of course) was strangely reminiscent of the highly versatile and effective though (sadly) discontinued Hazeline Snow I used as a teenager. However, that’s where the resemblance ends.

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Is it a good moisturiser? Yes. It did keep my skin well-hydrated enough…But is it £120 good? Well, let’s just say I would rather spend my money on the much more affordable Cetaphil since it does as good a job. Sometimes, more money doesn’t mean better quality.

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I will soon be reviewing more products from Your Good Skin by Boots after winning a couple of online raffles in the reviewer community. I received the above Anti-Blemish Base Lotion last month, and the Comforting Gel Cleanser a few days ago.

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Fingers crossed the end-result is as positive as my last encounter with YGS! I will update this post with a review once I have tried them both out. 🙂


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Not a freebie, but still in keeping with the theme of this month’s goodies…Boxcitement‘s latest collection of loveliness landed on my doorstep a few days ago, and this adorable handmade fish ornament was part of it, along with loads of other gorgeous stuff, including lip balm!

2018-07-01 19.46.31Oh yes, mwah indeed! So very timely, since I was just about to run out, but I’m now all set to get my trout pout ready for more sunkissed days to come. 😀

As usual, I have uploaded all pics of the unboxing to my gallery on Google Photos so why not have a nosy to see what you could receive if you subscribe? ❤

2018-04-22 17.22.10…a rose still wouldn’t taste as sweet as it smells. Though its natural flavour is too distinctive to be mistaken for anything else, it is actually very subtle. Not so when these crimson blooms have been made into syrup, as I recently discovered!

Now that the days are getting warmer, I’ve been putting my blender to good use by making us loads of refreshing smoothies. However, the Rose Green Tea I made the other week reminded me of a fragrant ice-cold beverage I used to enjoy as a child growing up in the tropics. It is commonly known as Bandung in the Malay Archipelago, possibly a variant of the popular Rose Milk brought over by Indian immigrants generations ago.

Summer lovin’ had me a blast
Summer lovin’ happened so fast

Aside from being a fab summer drink, the colour alone is enough to set off my mental playlist so it repeats the Grease soundtrack over and over again, with particular emphasis on the above verse so I now can’t get rid of that earworm. Perhaps they ought to re-name this milkshake The Pink Lady!

2018-05-06 17.50.50There are many variations of Bandung, but it is essentially a mixture of rose syrup, milk, cold water and ice. Be forewarned: unless you have a super sweet tooth, go easy on the syrup as it is incredibly saccharine. Some recipes call for condensed milk, but I would personally not recommend it. Evaporated milk is a better option, or the regular stuff you’d put in your tea. Unsweetened dairy alternatives will also work.

You could try making your own rose syrup, but I’m saving my supply of petals for other projects, so I turned to good old eBay and bought myself a bottle of Natco‘s. All ingredients went into my trusty blender, and pretty soon I had myself a frosty and frothy (frosthy? 😀 ) pink concoction served with edible gold sprinkles and of course…a cocktail umbrella, because no sunny day is complete without that!

2018-05-06 19.22.34My love affair with rose as an ingredient continues, and has extended from culinary endeavours to skincare. I have a few plans in mind and would ideally prefer to use rose essential oil in my beauty products, but it is very very dear, and with good reason. The purest rose otto requires tens of thousands of roses to be distilled just to fill a mere 5ml bottle. It is, however, considered worth the expense because of the benefits to both mind and body. My previous blog post doesn’t even begin to touch on the merits of this botanical wonder.

A cheaper alternative would be to buy a blend, and supplement it with homemade rose-infused oil. The latter is easy enough to achieve. There are a few different methods, but I believe the ‘sunlight version’ yields the quickest result. All you’d need is one part crushed or bruised dried rose petals to one part carrier oil. Grapeseed oil is fine, but sweet almond, jojoba, and even olive oil will also do. If you choose to replace the dried petals with fresh ones, ensure they are from organic roses (so no chemicals have been sprayed on them) but still be wary of mould forming due to moisture content.

Place both ingredients in a clean jar and give it a good swirl to make sure the petals are all submerged. It is absolutely crucial that your chosen vessel did not recently contain anything pungent. Otherwise, you’d be making the mistake I did with my first batch of rose oil. The jar in question had Country French sauce in it a few weeks prior, and it initially seemed like a long soak and a few hot washes did get rid of the smell. Oh, how I was mistaken…The end-result of my rosy enterprise had to be binned because garlic is nobody’s idea of perfume!

Get a pot of water on the boil whilst filling the jar. Once it’s bubbling, turn the flames off and sit the jar in the hot water. The heat will help to release the rose scent into the oil. When the water’s cooled down, move the jar to a location that gets lots of sunlight and let the infusion process continue for at least another 24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more potent it will be. I left mine to sit on the window sill for a week before straining it.

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Another piece of advice: have some coffee filters ready, or empty teabags. Depending on how well you crushed your rose petals, there may be some tiny bits in your oil that a muslin or cheesecloth may not catch. If so, you’ll be glad to have these little paper sieves at your disposal. Give the petals a proper squeeze during this procedure to extract every last drop.

2018-05-07 18.34.03The final step would be to decant the oil into a dark bottle to preserve it. Your rose infusion is now ready to be used neat, or in another beauty recipe. Concentrated in a receptacle (regardless of jar, bowl or bottle), it might give off an odd earthy aroma, somewhat akin to wine. Like me, you might wonder if something’s gone horribly awry. Though I can’t quite fathom the cause, I’ve found that it isn’t one for concern. When applied to skin, the oil did exactly as expected, which was to leave me smelling of roses. 🙂 ❤

2018-04-15 14.33.40As jam is typically made from fruit, some argue it would be more accurate to call this a spread, or even custard because it contains egg. This is an ongoing debate that stems from confusion over the correct classification of coconuts. In botanical terms, coconuts do fall in the fruit category. Somewhat of a misnomer, ‘coconut’ is technically defined as a fibrous one-seeded drupe, putting it in the same league as plums and apricots.

To us Asians, the name of this breakfast condiment has never been a matter of contention since we just refer to it as kaya (or srikaya). However, there are quite a few variations (including a green one) depending on how it is made, so we may not always agree on which version is best!

I am a complete novice when it comes to making jam…To keep things simple, I opted for a fast and easy recipe that only makes a small amount. Basically, I cheated. 😀

Please note that the end product of this method will only approximate the taste of the genuine article. It’s great for those living in countries where this coconut jam is not readily available, but want a quick fix to satisfy nostalgic cravings.

Making authentic kaya requires a great deal of kungfu (not martial arts…there is more than one definition!), slaving over a double boiler, and involving at least an hour (sometimes more) of stirring. Kaya usually requires eggs, but this particular approach omits the whites and uses only the yolks. True, your jam will not thicken up quite as well, but there will also be less lumps to break up, which reduces the need for all that arm action.

Some day, I will attempt to make kaya the proper way, but for now…this will do.



INGREDIENTS:

200ml Coconut Milk*
4 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 tbsp Gula Melaka** – Grated
4 Pandan Leaves*** – Knotted
4 Egg Yolks

2018-04-15 12.48.09METHOD:

Mixture A – Gently heat the coconut milk, sugar, gula melaka, and pandan leaves in a pot (no need for a double boiler). Turn off cooker once it starts to simmer.

Mixture B – Stir egg yolks, and slowly add in half of Mixture A.

Return pot with the remainder of Mixture A to heat (not too high), and gradually pour in all of Mixture B, stirring all the while.

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Reduce heat to low and stir constantly until the jam begins to coat the sides of your pot.

Add more sugar if preferred. If not, remove pandan leaves and transfer the jam to a jar.

Leave kaya to cool entirely before putting the lid on, and ensure it is airtight. Refrigerate and consume within one week.

*Although it is better to use fresh coconut milk, this is next to impossible to get hold of in most Western countries. However, it is ok to use tinned coconut milk.

**Gula melaka aka coconut (not date) palm sugar can be found in most Asian stores. It is also possible to buy it online. I actually got mine from an eBay seller.

***Another challenging item to acquire, though I did manage to purchase mine from Amazon. The trouble is not only are pandan leaves generally sold in large quantities, they also have a short shelf life and don’t last long in the fridge. I’d advise rolling up individual leaves in some baking paper, putting them in a bag, and freezing the lot.

With enough of these leaves to last me the next six months, I’ve now lined up quite a number of recipes to keep me busy experimenting in my lab kitchen. Pandan flavour is sometimes dubbed the Asian equivalent of vanilla, but I don’t quite agree with that analogy since it is a major ingredient in many savoury dishes from Asian cuisine, such as the Pandan Chicken I made awhile back (served with a prawn and vegetable stir-fry).

20228556_10155381175750856_7038454441550405045_nI was thinking of making it again, but would be happier if I could avoid any deep frying since that activity is almost guaranteed to cover most of our downstairs in a thin film of grease. Then I remembered a childhood favourite of mine – Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: Paper-Wrapped Chicken). It’s a Cantonese variant of Pandan Chicken and best of all, it can be done in the oven! Ji Bao Gai is absolutely scrummy and won’t be difficult to make, so I can’t wait to try it out, but that’s a project for another day. 🙂