Monday, February 24, 2014

Owl Patch

My friendship was put to a test last weekend, over these adorable patch craft that I sew. It started when my colleague wanted to buy some coaster from Daiso and I casually told her not to waste her money when I could sew her some. And since another ex-colleague have given me some adorable owl fabric which my colleague has requested me to make something out of it for her, I thought it was a great time to finally make use of the fabric. So last Thursday night, I set out to make two coaster for her. Here are the picture of it.
I decided to use hand stitch instead of machine sew cause somehow, it end product seems more personal and perfect in a wabi-sabi kind of way.  Initially I wanted to add blue laces over it, but looked kinda too much, and owl just doesn't go well with laces. Maybe it's an eastern thing? But the color and tone of it to me was rather Japanese. When I finished it, I was having a personal conflict of whether to give it away. It looked so adorable! The label that said "Made only for you, Priceless" sits perfectly under an owl at the back of the coaster. I got those as a bobbin of ribbons that cost me only SGD1 or SGD2, and it comes with a row of labels you can cut and stitch on your craft to make it look personal. Love them! Anyway, I did eventually gave them away, reasoning that I have more fabric left and could always make more for myself :) The two coaster took me around 2 hours to make both, but 30 minutes of that was spend matching fabric and planning.
I was meeting another friend on Saturday, and she has offered to gave me some of her old French Language books. So I though it would be nice to give her something as a thank you gesture. Above is a book mark I made for her. She likes lavender color, so I tried to gear it towards a more purple look as oppose to the coaster that was more blue green in theme. For the bookmark I used purple thread and purple ribbons. The three fat owls in front of it are so adorable! I just love them! And at the back, again, another label that says "Thank You" for her gift. When I'm free I need to make some of these stuff for myself! Interestingly, she gave me two more fabric from Japan, and I'm excited about and wonder what to make next. I have a few project in mind, but finding the time to make them is the challenge.
Lastly, here's a last picture of those fat owls! Thank you Ms Loo for the beautiful fabric from Taiwan! Hopefully I have time to make you something soon!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Penang Nyonya Nasi Lemak

I was back in Penang for the Chinese New Year 2014, and as usual, I ask my mum to buy me a tub of Sambal Belacan for me to bring back to Singapore with me.Well last week I cooked Kiam Chye Boey to eat it with the sambal, and I was hooked and planned out the next few week's meal plan to go with the sambal. So this week, I made Nasi Lemak Penang Nyonya style. It's amazing what a little sambal can inspire you to cook! Basically you could say that this meal was powered by Sambal Belacan :)
I headed to the market at 8:45am to get my materials. It was a lazy Sunday morning, so I didn't bother to hurry myself, making it back only by 930am. Above are the key ingredient required for the dish. I prepared and cook everything from 9:30am till 1215pm. So it's kinda labor intensive I guess. But I didn't care, cause cooking it's kinda therapeutic for me. And in the kitchen, I play classical music to accompany me. So this morning Andrea Bocelli sang while I cook away :)

Cooking Instructions:
Nasi Lemak: 2 cup rice, a few pandan leave tie into a knot and slightly shredded. Throw everything into the rice cooker, add santan (coconut milk) and water up to the level you would normally cook rice with. On the rice cooker. 10 minutes before it finish cooking, stir the rice up to ensure all the coconut milk is mixed in well with the rice. Cook time around 20 to 30 minutes. It actually smell much better when we heat it up again for dinner.

Assam Prawns: Half kg of prawns (SGD8), cleaned and marinate for an hour with assam paste (tamarind paste). Stir fry with a little oil. When the prawn is about done, add some sprinkle of sugar so that it will turn black as the sugar caramelized. The tricky part to this is to get the prawn and the assam to fuse and burn together until it's thick and black. Cook time 20 minutes.

Fried Fish: 8 Ikan Kunign (SGD3), cleaned and marinated with kunyit(tumeric) and salt for an hour. Fry it up with oil. Cook time 20 minutes. Again, getting it charred enhances the taste! But I'm lazy, so I just fry it so so. I read somewhere that double frying it will make it crunchy as well.

Sambal Ikan Bilis: I cheated on this. Interestingly this is the most labor intensive and unhealthy dish of all. First toast the ikan bilis till it's brown and fragrant. That took me almost 30 minutes on low heat. Next, caramelized 2 onions and some garlic (another 20 minutes of so). Add in like 8 packets of chilli sauce to make a paste. Add in the ikan bilis and you have your short cut to sambal ikan bilis that has no sambal :P

Serve rice with some slice cucumber, and half a hard boil egg.

This is the table setting of the meal. The sambal belacan is that tiny dish in the middle of the two plates of rice. Yup, that's how small things inspire a whole table of food! I totally love the taste of the nasi lemak as it's fragrant and heavy with the taste of santa, so to me that's really has the essence of home cook to it. Nostalgic. 
Sambal Belacan
Andrea Bocelli

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia a Vernazza

3-Nov-2013, Vernazza

Here's just a post on the Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia a Vernazza. I have become a pro in wondering into temples and churches and cemetery after getting used to backpacking. Admissions to all these places are usually free, but sometimes you can't really tell until you open the door or just walk in yourself.
Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia a Vernazza was a pleasant church at the edge of the town, just right next to the sea. The photo on your left shows the church location, and where you see a small orange man in the picture is where the entrance to the church is (if my memory did not fail me). The picture on your right is the mosaic floor right outside the church. And the benches you see is where we have our breakfast the next day before leaving this charming town.

Going inside the church, perhaps it was the timing that we visit, that has the afternoon sun shinning into from the window, and with some unknown luck, my DSLR seems to cooperate with me. So here are some inside shots of the church, focusing mainly on the play of light and darkness. Hope you like it. It's a lovely church to visit, so don't miss it when you're there!
And here are some religious item. I hope I managed to capture some of it's essence in the picture.  Armature at work here, please be merciful.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dusk at Vernazza

4-Nov-2013 (Monday) - Vernazza
The best time to take great pictures is during dusk, and dawn. So taking advantage of my mild jet lag, we woke early and left the homestay by 6:30am to shoot the town. The town has yet to awaken, and the streets were empty. We practically have the whole place to ourselves. We took some nice shot of the town area.
The ocean was still rough, and we spend some time just gazing out into the fury. There was a red flag out as a warning not to go near the sea. We climb up some cliff to take a better look. When the wave crash into the rocks, and combine with the strong wind, you can literally taste the sea as it splashes droplets all around you! The above picture shows the before and after a wave hits the bay of Vernazza. Do note this is after it crashing into some barrier of rocks further out in the sea!
Around 7pm, it started to get brighter, so we wondered into town to get some breakfast before eating them sitting by the sea. Here are some random pix around town in the early morning.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hiking from Vernazza to Monterroso

3-Nov-2013 (Sunday) - Vernazza to Monterroso, Cinque Terre

Next on our list of business was to hike backwards towards Monterroso . We had some daylight left, so we thought we'll attempt the journey in the late afternoon. It was going to be just a 1.5 hour walk, or so I thought. It took us a while to figure out where the start point was. I mean, look at the sign there! It's so freaking small! We went up a wrong path before even seeing this sign!
Hiking away from Vernazza was easy. And the view was amazing! You get to see the whole town from an aerial view. Stunning.

Then came the hard part, vertical climb for a full 40 minutes or so. Breathless! And to think initially I wanted to hike with my backpack on! Missing those train station and ending up in Vernazza first was a blessing in disguise! If not we will be hiking with a full pack (cause the hotel in Milan refuses to let us deposit our bags for two nights even though I've emailed them in advance). Downhill was worst cause I hate going downhill and slipping. Luckily, no incident to report here :) We made it safely to Monterroso, even stopping at a half way hut to drink some wine and lemonade liquor from a drink stall in the middle of nowhere. Lots of hiker stopped to chat with the owner. 
Downhill brings forth the view of the next town - Monterroso. It was almost subset when we reach, so the view and stunning as well. The path towards the town were concrete path along the cliff of the sea. After wondering around for half an hour at the sea side watching the waves, we headed to the Monterroso train station and got on the next train back to Vernazza. 
 On the whole I was pretty happy with the hike, and thank whatever luck I have that I didn't hike with a full backpack! Do be warned that the vertical climb was really really tough, and this is coming from a season hiker! Don't attempt if you are not used to hiking uphill.

Walks of Italy - Hiking trails of Cinque Terre
Italian lemonade liquor

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Arriving at Vernazza

3-Nov-2013 (Sunday) - Vernazza, Cinque Terre

2nd day morning in Italy and we took the train to Cinque Terre. The plan was to stop at Monterosso and walk to Vernazza. Unfortunately for us, we weren't familiar with the train, so instead of stopping at Monterosso, we missed a few station and ended up in La Spezia instead. We got a Cinque Terre Park card for 2 days with free unlimited travel on the train, and hop on to get to Vernazza. 

After checking in, we went to explore the town. There was only one main road, that leads straight to the sea.
There's a church at the town which I'll write about in another post. And there are charming alley all over the place. The food there was surprisingly good as well, but that again, will be in another post.

The ocean that greeted us was amazing! I have never seen a sea so rough with tides so huge before! (Of course that was only my first day there, apparently the tides can get frightening higher during stormy days!). They have a system of warning using flags telling you how rough the sea was going to be. There are also lines drawn on the coast and you can see how far in the tides can reach. It was amazing, and I think I could have just stand there whole day watching the waves without ever getting bored.

Watch out for more post on Vernazza as I continue my exploration of it the next morning, as well as the church and food there.

Cinque Terre Park Card

Monday, February 3, 2014

Milan Duomo

2-Nov-2013 (Saturday) - Milan.

It was our first day in Italy, and I was paranoid as hell over pickpockets as my kind colleagues and helpful guide book has warned me so much about. I avoided crowd, and held my belonging close. I was uptight and on alert at all time. And I can tell you, it is damn tiring, and totally unnecessary. We did not get mugged, scammed or our pockets picked through out our whole trip. When I get paranoid over petty crimes of a country I'm traveling to, I always remind myself that I'm from a country far worst then whatever they have to offer :) And since pick pocket was the main concern in Italy, I did deploy a few tactics like distributing my cash at different location, but mainly, I carried my documents and cash in a A4 size plastic file placed in my fabric bag. It's kinda hard to pick an A4 size file without anyone noticing. I thought that was rather cleaver of me. The file is pretty visible, with only papers at sight, and so big that it couldn't really be taken out of the bag anyway.
Anyway, the one thing you need to see when in Milan is the Duomo (Cathedral). So upon reaching Milan and after checking in to our hotel, we walked to the Duomo. The building itself was magnificent! And I'm a mega fan of Gothic churches! We walked around it, and try our luck to go in, hoping that it was free. It was! And the inside was just as amazing. It was huge! 
One of the thing that shocked me was the mummified priest that were plainly on displayed through out the church. I always associate mummies with Egyptians, and was not expecting to see any dead bodies here. It was a rather fascinating discovery!
Although the sign says no photography, we saw a lot of people just snapping away. So we did the same. Eventually a guard came over to inform us that we can only take photos if we purchased a 2Euro tag that permits the wearer to take photos inside the Duomo. Oh! We apologized and stopped taking photograph. I had the intention to come back on my last day, purchase the tag and go wild, but that never did happen due to strikes that kept us from going anywhere near the Duomo. But we managed a night view shot while we were walking back from the Last Supper.

Duomo Official Site
Milan Duomo/Cathedral
Gothic Architecture

Saturday, February 1, 2014


Train was the main transportation we relied on to travel around Italy. And although I was quite concern at the efficiency of the train system there, my worries were put to a rest when I discovered the Trenitalia website.You can actually plan all your connection via the website. I would suggest you register before booking your tickets. From the website you can view destination, time, and cost of your tickets, select seats and pay for your tickets. The cost of the train depends on type of train, duration, and class. Me being the budget traveler always pick the cheapest alternative cause I don't have a problem taking long train rides. IN fact, I take it as a luxury to stare out from the train window and waste time away. And so I booked a total of 5 connecting trains for our trip:
  • 20131103_Milan2Monterosso - 38Euro for 2 adults - 3 hours
  • 20131105_Monterosso2Milan - 18Euro for 2 adults - 3 hours
  • 20131105_Milan2Venice - 38Euro for 2 adults - 2.5 hours
  • 20131109_Venice2Rom - 64Euro for 2 adults - overnight 6.5 hours
  • 20131114_Rome2Milan - 18Euro for 2 adults - 7 hours.
Milano Centrale Station was beautiful! Lots of shops and food if you're waiting for your train. It can get crowded during peak traveling hours, but on the whole, it was fine. The Dolce & Gabbana poster all around it make it feel kinda high fashion and classy. I spend many hours looking at very stylish people walking pass when my train to Venice was delayed by almost 2 hours! Milan has got the most well dressed people in Italy!
That was the only delay we encountered during our experience with Trenitalia. They gave us a bag of cookies, bread, juice and water as compensation though, which I thought was a nice touch. And get this, you don't really need to print out your tickets to board the train. All you have to do is have a copy on your mobile phone, and show it to the conductor when they come checking.
What do I do when I'm on a long train ride? I write my journal, listen to music, stare out at the lovely scenarios, day dream and contemplate on life.

Some warning when taking the train in Italy. Always know when  your stop is coming up as you have only a few minutes to get on or off. If you miss that window, you're pretty much screwed. For local train, sometimes the announcement is only in Italian. If you're traveling to Cinque Terre, make sure you're at the middle of the train when you're about to alight. We found out with much frustration that the train doors don't open on the front or back at those stations due to shorter platforms. We missed a total of two stops and panic like hell. Luckily Cinque Terre is a national park, and at the main station, you can alight and get a day pass (which you need to stay in Cinque Terre anyway), and back track back to where you want to.

Worst experience on the train? I have two. One is when we can't get the train doors to open (yes you have to open them yourself in smaller stations) and have to miss two stations. We panicked, but there's nothing much you can do really. Second is on our overnight train ride from Venice to Rome, we shared a small cabin which can sit 6 people with 1 italian and 3 very big size Indian. They snored through out the night, and when the train stopped at the station and the ventilation went off, the smell was pretty unbearable.

Best experience I also have two. One was on our ride back from Rome to Milan. Although you can book your seat, there really isn't a seat plan to show you where the number correspond to which seat. So our seats were apart. But each time a passenger who was sitting next to me show up and saw my husband there, they always let us sit together. A total of 3 passenger did that automatically without us ever asking them to. I thought that was rather understanding of them. Second is at Venice Santa Lucia station where we arrived at 8pm and had to wait 4 hours for our midnight train. This Italian guy took one look at my husband and ask if we were from Singapore. That started a 4 hour conversation via Google Translator for us and him with his dad. Apparently they just came back from a contract work in Singapore during carpentry work on a ship. They couldn't speak English well, and we can't speak Italian that great either. So out comes the mobile phone, and massive typing to converse with each other.

So for me, I would say train in Italy is a thumbs up! It's not as punctual as what you might find in Japan, but rather, it is more easy going and relax.

Dolce & Gabbana
Cinque Terre Card
Google Translator
Milano Centrale Website
Milano Centrale Station