To My Dearest Wowo

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Old Pine
(Dear Wowo)

And we stood,
steady as the stars in the wood.

My childhood was built on marble floors, Bermuda grass, a nipa hut in my grandparents’ yard, wide suburban streets, and games of hide and seek. It smelled of sun, tropical heat, freshly baked brownies, white chocolate lollipops, sunblock, chlorine, homemade calzone. Lunches were preceded with visits to Church, and succeeded with play time on living room floors – toy bears with felt exoskeletons and moveable limbs in my hand and yours.

They said I was the only child you would get on your hands and knees for – sit on the floor and play pretend with. You – Wowo - putting the wo in my wonder. I didn’t know it then, but I was your biggest fan. My mind was filled with your stories. Days were wasted blissfully daydreaming about your carabao rides, and provincial farms; GI’s, and jazz; part time jobs, and escaping away to America. When you weren’t around to fill my head with fairytales, I compensated with books, juxtaposing your life with these fictional characters. You were my Indiana Jones – nothing you did ever sounded boring. From refugee camps to Open Cities, you gave one child a glimpse into another child’s perspective on a far removed war. From babysitting to road-tripping, you gave one teenager a glimpse into another teenager’s perspective on what it is to seek, and what it is to earn. You cushioned lessons normally learnt from harsh realities, with marshmallows and play time, with love letters and classic cars. You accented heavy truths with the optimism of innocence, and the allure of adventure.

I lived vicariously through your travels, your comprehension of many languages, your depth in perception. There were times when you were verbose – generous in providing me with endless Socratic dialogue, and other times your teachings were subtle – hidden in glances, sly smiles, knowing smirks, a green joke, advice sugarcoated in nonchalance. In your presence I was always learning. — In your presence, I always am.

I was born into your home – where you, and Aya, and Mama, and Papa, cradled me and filled my big eyes with wonder and my little heart with wanderlust. At 6, I listened to your fairytales. At 12, I wrote stories inspired by your wanderings. At 18, I told anyone who would listen that you were the man to meet. And now at 24, I find myself writing this. An open letter. An ode to a history – 80 years of inspiring love, kindness, and being beyond expectation; and the many years to come, of course. Funny how the things we know are true never do make it into the history books. Here is my history of you now for posterity: from the child you have told me so many stories of, to the man I call my grandfather who has shown me all at once how to be smart, just, true, chivalrous, kind, patient, and grateful; you are one of the biggest reasons I am able to go forth in this world, unafraid. Your stories were the first stamps in my passport – mythical, mystical places my mind could wander and lust. In your words, I found the spirit of adventure; and in your deeds, I found the inspiration to pursue that.

I love you everyday, more than is expressible in any letter written out of any heart cracked wide open for the world to see. Every moment that you are proud of me, I am proud of myself. Sometimes you seem moved by the way I move, but really it’s because I’ve been moved by you.

I don’t think I’ve told you enough: thank you for everything. Happy Birthday to you, Wowo – one of my favorite people on earth: my roots, my soothsayer, my friend, my beacon.

Love Always,

Alex

(P.S. I hope you’re surprised! ;) I know you subscribe to this blog!)

MaCanCook IS UP!

MaCanCook IS UP!

It’s finally here! To all you people who love to cook and have been looking for a place to share your thoughts (especially my friends and readers in Singapore), look no further: MaCanCook is here. We’re still a baby Community, but trust me when I say: MORE FUN STUFF IS COMING VERY, VERY SOON. Meet me on Google+ and LET’S GET COOKIN’! I mean, COVERSIN’!

Nostalgia For Nepal

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I always had wanderlust. Perhaps it was all the books I read, or the movies I saw, or the stories I wrote in my head, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to see things. New things. Scary things. Different things. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I found myself able to truly test out my wings and land myself in all sorts of situations. Even as I write this, so many things are running through my brain, and I want to share them all – these corners of my soul that I found these last years searching. But even with a language with billions of ways to express one’s self, none are enough for what I want to say; and some of the things I’ve seen and learned and loved are just to delicate to even articulate. But let me try.

When I was 20, after a few particularly difficult years, I came to this realization that life is just a brief, terrible, wonderful moment of beauty in which you move in the world, and the world moves in you. The day that came to me, I wrote it down and I said: And oh how I’ve moved, and how I hope to move – move like wild fire. Move through the world; and I feel I have been burning ever since. 

Travel, discovery and adventure are just one side of this flame. And one trip in particular served as a fantastic example of letting that side of the flame light the whole room.

Last year, from late September to early October, I went on a solo trip to Nepal. Earlier in the year, I had done other outdoorsy trips and got into a lot of strength-building habits (camping on the beach and trekking through valleys to see indigenous people in Palawan; exploring the temples in Siem Reap; swimming with whale sharks in Donsol; hitting the weights a little harder at the gym; and rock climbing in the city). I had officially fallen madly, madly in love with the outdoors. I remember at one point, standing on the sidewalk in Singapore, looking directly above me into a canopy of trees, closing my eyes and imagining rushing waves, the sound of cicadas, the backdrop of Palawan with no one else but my friend and myself, a tent, and our backpacks. I opened my eyes and brought them back to street level and felt my heart sink. There were no rushing waves – just rushing cars, no cicadas – just cross walk lights bleeping, no backdrop of Palawan with its beaches and tropical rain forests – just the urban jungle in all its concrete boxed glory. I knew then that I had to plan something “epic.” Nepal had been on my bucket list for years, and so I thought - well…there’s no better time than the present. So I booked my flights, made a few itinerary plans, and thought, well you know…let’s leave the rest to the moment. With that, I packed my bags and headed for my yogi homestay in Kathmandu. I had no expectations, and no clue what I was about to get myself into. All I knew was Nepal was this exotic place of physical challenge and spiritual Nirvana, and I needed to have a piece of it. I just kept thinking, maybe my final answers will be there. 

Upon arrival in Nepal, I was greeted with an hour and a half long immigration line. At the end of it were three men sharing a booth…stamping and reading documents and passing them back and forth to each other. Certainly the height of efficiency. …I kid. They were kind, though. And insistent that I was local. “You not Nepalese?!” they kept asking me incredulously – like the answer would change, and like my passport would lie.

I was picked up at the airport by Visnu – one-part veteran Tour/Trekking Guide, and one-part my homestay mama’s life partner. I sat bitch on his motorbike with my hiking pack strapped to me, and got my first taste of the city.

Dusty. Vibrant. Wild. Crowded. Alive.

When I got to the home-stay, I was shown my sleeping pad, and my corner, and my home-stay mama, Sofi, and Visnu, both sat me down with a map of Kathmandu City as we mapped out what the rest of my day would be like, and what my coming trek would turn out to be. I had 4 hours to explore before having to be back in time for dinner (and before full on nightfall).

The bus system in Kathmandu is…interesting, to say the least. Mostly made up of makeshift white Pregio vans with their doors falling off, signs written exclusively in Nepalese tell you where buses are going, and bus stops are not always properly marked so you kind of just have to…flail your arms or whistle as one drives by with the money collector hanging half out, bills wrapped round his fingers like a fan as he waves and calls out names of destinations like an auctioneer. As a tourist, I had no clue what I was doing really, but I remembered the name of our stop, and I knew the name of where I was headed. So I knew I’d at least be able to get back and forth. Somehow.

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Remnants of a real bus stop in Nepal.

My first Nepalese landmark was Big Buddha – a small temple/area of worship with three big buddha statues.

A little walk aways from that is the Monkey Tample (Swayambhunath Stupa). When I first entered, I came through the back where there was barely anyone. I bumped into a few worshipping monks, and a couple of the monkeys tried to get their hands on my hand sanitizer (which was hanging from my camera bag), but it was generally a very peaceful experience.

I got a full view of Kathmandu Valley from there – or at least, one area of it. And it was beautiful.

Once you walk down to the front, though, the temple gets crowded with tourists, vendors, monks, and worshippers. Prayer wheels spin constantly and monkeys power trip around the smaller stupas.

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I must have spent two hours there in total. I realized a little late that that might be an issue in terms of daylight and made haste to go back home where we celebrated another girl’s birthday (and departure for India) over homemade paneer, and chicken. The paneer was wonderful and gave me just enough strength for what was coming next.

My trek.

Initially Visnu, who besides guiding treks owns a company that organizes full-on tours and has a staff of ready guides, had told me he would assign a guide to me. However, on the day, he came to pick me up and let me know he would do it himself. This was good news to me, because I’d like to think these days I’m a pretty good judge of character, and if I was going to be on a trek all alone with a guide, Visnu would be a good choice. He at least was clearly experienced, with legitimate testimonials to back him.

We started the day early, got on a bus that took us to our starting point, and began our journey. We were going to do a 3 day trek. The first day would involve walking through the valley and mountains from Kathmandu City to Chisapani, at which point we would stop to rest overnight at a tea house*, and catch the sunrise over the Himalayas before continuing our journey to Nagarkot.

That first day was amazing. Admittedly, on a spiritual level, I couldn’t feel much. I was undergoing culture shock, and sensory overload, and I was drinking it all in like I had been thirsty all my life, but now in hindsight I see it all through such clear lenses, and I know that while I was experiencing it, it felt wild and dangerous and utterly beautiful.

Day 1 involved a lot of moving through tiny towns.

It was a 30km day or so, all uphill, and by the end of it I didn’t even realize but we had ascended 1.5km in a day. When we stopped to rest before the final stretch (after photos on the summit), Visnu asked if I was feeling strange at all, and I wasn’t. He said this was a good sign that I should do a lot more climbing in the future. Haha.

As we emerged from the trail on the final stretch, entering Chisapani, the sun had just hit golden hour and everything was bathed in this ethereal twilight. In the distance you could see the Himal. The daunting ridges of those gorgeous mountains. I think my heart skipped a beat when I looked.

We stayed in a pretty tea house owned by an old friend of Visnu’s who has been housing his clients for years. At only $4/night, I got my own room with a balcony and an unobstructed view of the sunrise over the Himalayas. What. A. Steal.

That night we feasted on chapati and momos – Nepalese dumplings made with your choice of meat (mutton or chicken was my favorite), served with a Nepalese version of patatas bravas, and a pinkish light sauce and a spicier chili sauce. Delicioso. All this with the standard tea, of course. Milk Masala Tea.

I went back to my room after and tried to sleep, but by then temperatures had dropped significantly and my cold bed was moist from never having electricity to run a drier, and never having a day rain-free enough to ever fully sap all the wetness from any fabric. Thus, I lay for hours in my coat, in and out of sleep and fitful dreaming.

When I woke I had a spider bite on my arm, and felt heavy-headed and sleep-deprived, but outside the first rays of light beckoned. I stepped out onto the balcony with my camera and witnessed that long-awaited, highly hyped up sunrise. And it was worth it.

After breakfast, Visnu and I headed out to start the day early. He warned me that Day 2 would hold more precarious treks. Much would be downhill, but more than half the time we would be walking through jungle on barely-visible paths. There are tigers out there, and if you’re quiet we might actually see one! Yes. He said that. Along the course of the trek, I also came to know that there are also jaguars, some sort of leopard, deadly snakes, wild boar, and bears. As we walked I constantly reminded myself of the odds. The odds were in our favor, really. These animals were mainly nocturnal, and would be smart enough to steer clear of anywhere humans spent much time. Still, when we bumped into three village people who were freaking out, it didn’t take long for me to realize that one can really never be too careful. Or…prepared. And that there was just no room to be cavalier out there.

When the villagers left, Visnu broke a thin branch off a tree (perhaps the circumference of my forearm) and handed it (all 3 feet of it) to me wordlessly. At our next pitstop he explained there had been some sightings. That day.*

We made it out of the jungle into the town before Nagarkot in one piece, though. A relief. Along the way we met an old woman from America named Mickey, who was in what she called her Third Quarter Life Crisis, and was on “sabbatical from adulthood.” She had just spent three months in Pakistan and China and spending another month in Nepal before moving on to India for a week and then Africa for four months. What a crazy Grandma Indy Jones she was. Upon arrival in Nagarkot, Visnu left Mickey and I to trade stories over Masala Chai, while he fixed arrangements for accommodations. Sofi and a few other girls would be joining us there and doing the last leg of the trek with us. It was going to be fun.

That night we stayed at a real lodge. For only $8/night this time, we got a suite that had room for Visnu, Sofi, Sonja and Adele from France, and Jem from Australia. We touched base at the lodge bar, shared stories over local homemade millet wine, and chowed down on dal, paneer, and curries.

After dinner, we were randomly invited into the lodge garden to celebrate over a bonfire with some young Nepalese men sending their friend off to university in Melbourne. Flowing beers, millet wine, and music. I was briefly reminded of home. Tired from the trek though, I was happy to head to our room early with Jem and Adele, where we indulged in some girl talk before going to bed.

Day 3 began early again, but this time I was well rested. Sonja woke us and we all groggily found ourselves on the common veranda of the lodge, watching a cloud-shrouded sunrise over the Himalayas. Though the day before had been much more spectacular for me, standing there on the deck with these three other women and my sweater, just being in the moment, was nice too.

We took our time that day, enjoying Nagarkot before we made our way back down to Kathmandu first via trek, then via the top of a bus*, and then via trek again.

When it was all over, we went straight to dinner in the City, just in time to see the princess at Durbar Square. Once a year, they reveal her there – at Durbar Square, in Patan. It’s a massive festival where locals gather and celebrate, and call out and dance. It was truly an experience.

The next morning was my last day on this short trip – oh too brief a treat, it was. That day I prioritized the Hindu temple Pashupatinath, where I bore witness to an amazing religious ceremony (a cremation), and was able to see first hand just how Nepalese Hindus worship.

It was all so beautiful.

And then it was over.

On the plane ride back to Singapore (via Bangkok), I remember feeling overwhelmed, and numb. I had been waiting for an epiphany, but hadn’t gotten one. I had gone in not really knowing what I wanted, expecting the answers to questions I wasn’t even asking to surface. I was expecting enlightenment, instead I got bruises, and spider bites, and memories of power outages, and mildew. I had loved it – the strain, the new relationships, the alone time, the meditative feeling of walking…and walking…and walking, of pushing your body because if you didn’t…you wouldn’t make it.

But Nepal stayed with me. The place of many firsts – first solo trek, first completely solo backpacking trip, first visit to Nepal, first glimpse of the Himal, first sunrise over a mountain ridge, first raw milk experience, first taste of those flavors*, first bus-top ride, the list goes on.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t ’til I was sitting on the plane again in December headed home for Christmas that it hit me like a wall, and a wave of nostalgia for this gorgeous place, and these one-of-a-kind experiences surfaced and has been difficult to quell since. I am dying to go back, or to try Tibet or a longer trek one day soon. When I think back now, I don’t feel unfulfilled at all. Now that I’m asking the right questions, I realize Nepal really did help me find those answers. I found them (and continue to find themin myself. And it’s been grand.

Notes:

*which is what they call inns in Nepal
*later on, upon returning to the City, there was news of Tiger-related deaths. Though this is not something I take to heart, it is something I try to bear in mind for future reference and as a reminder that life is precious and any moment could be your last so you have to live it well.
*well, Sofi and Visnu rode in the bus…but the rest of us rode on top of it and clung for dear life.
*Nepalese food is a lot like Indian, just a little more muted, with random, interesting traces of almost-but-not-quite Chinese (Tibetan?) influence. And. Nepalese TEA…well that stuff is special. I brought home at least a kg of different kinds (both for keeping and as gifts).

One month of silence, and thennn….

I know. I know, I’m horrible. But it’s been a pretty crazy month, so I’m not sorry. Since I started my new job, my life has never revolved more around food, drink, and the gym than before. Unfortunately, curating this blog has suffered the company of the back burner as a result. So I’m back. I’ll try to post more than once a week, but I can’t really promise anything*.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of a treat, and a means to ease my way back in to posting. In the first few months of this year I have been lucky enough to indulge in some truly amazing dishes, and would like to walk you through what I will call Quarter 1 Highlights (Top 5 best dishes in the first 3 months of 2013 and where to find them!).  Here they are: in no particular order:

 

1. Pizza from Acqua (Italian Restaurant, Shangri-La Mactan; Cebu, Philippines)

salmon and caper pizza

 

Though I chose to include this particular picture of Acqua’s Salmon and Caper pizza, I’m actually just a fan in general of all their pizzas. Over our 4-day stint there, we ate at Acqua 3 different times and each time could not resist ordering pizza. We also sampled their Quattro Stragiono (olives, artichokes, mushrooms, and cheese), Pepperoni, and Hawaiian pizzas. None disappointed.

—–

2. Proscuitto Panini with Truffle Mayo and Mozzarella from Club Street Social (Club St., Singapore, Singapore)

proscuitto panini

Not to be put off by the $$ pricing, this panini is great value for money. It comes on delicious ciabatta with a hefty serving of proscuitto, dripping in mozzarella and aromatic truffle mayo. They don’t scrimp on any of the ingredients, and you definitely leave feeling more than satisfied. At about $17, this sandwich is worth every penny. I’m sure I’ll be back for more!

 —–

3. Different Banh Mi choices from NamNam (Wheelock Place, Orchard Rd., Singapore, Singapore)*

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I went back to NamNam multiple times in a week to have this Banh Mi when I first discovered it because I loved it so much. It is delicious and at Subway-6″-sub prices is much better value for money than the aforementioned. The one in the picture is a Chicken and Pate Banh Mi*, but I’ve also had their Cold Cuts Banh Mi. Each one comes with a hefty spread of pate on one side of the bread, and a lot of cilantro, lemongrass, chilis, and fresh mint or basil. The meats and cuts all taste fresh too, and everything comes together in the most deliciously refreshing (and filling) sandwich you can get at this price point.

On one visit, I took my discriminating best friend with me, and the place has his seal of approval as well. ;)

—–

4. Lamb Meatballs (Cafe Le Caire, Arab St, Singapore, Singapore)*

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These lamb meatballs were perfectly cooked – with none of that lamb-y aftertaste a lot of picky eaters complain about, and with plenty of spice and flavor. At only $8 a plate you get a lot of bang for your buck with this baby, and if eaten with some Pita on the side, you’re pretty much set for the afternoon.

Cafe Le Caire is one of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants in Singapore, and never fails to satisfy, in my opinion. I’ve also had their shwarma rice and on this day I went with a friend who ordered chicken shwarma rice and raved about it on her own blog.

—–

5. King Fish and Prawn Ceviche with Tomato Compote and Balsamic Drizzle (The Marquee, Shangri-La Mactan; Cebu, Philippines)

king fish and prawn ceviche with tomato compote

It’s sort of cruel for me to include this here because it’s highly unlikely people will actually be able to taste it themselves, but I couldn’t help myself. Though there were plenty of delicious highlights to that trip in Cebu for my cousin’s wedding, this had to be one of the best. Everything about this dish was balanced – the flavors complemented each other perfectly, and as an appetizer preceding some heavy steak cuts and rich desserts, this was definitely the perfect “grand entrance” to any massive, multi-course meal.

Alright, that’s all I can offer you guys for now. I’ll be back soon. Probably to talk about how I’ve managed to keep my figure despite all these delicious dishes. ;)

 

Notes:

*Not to be misconstrued as deep-seated commitment issues or anything.

*Forgive the photo, it was taken on my phone.

*For those unaware, Banh Mi are sandwiches from Vietnam – fusion style on freshly baked French baguettes with mixed meats (grilled chicken, cold cuts, etc) and Vietnamese spices and herbs reminiscent of what makes Pho so good.

*Yes. Another phone photo. SORRY, OKAY, I DON’T LUG MY HEAVY D7000 EVERYWHERE!

Who moved my cheese(cake)?

Inspired by the fact that I moved into a new apartment (WITH AN OVEN*), I have been on the prowl for simple recipes I can try to “healthify”*. The past week or so (since getting back from a trip to my cousin’s beach wedding), I’ve been hitting the gym, and basically living there. Thus, this week, I decided to change it up and keep the gym to a minimum hour or so, and spend some time working on some presentations for next week, as well as some self-betterment in the form of cooking or baking.*

I found this recipe for Cinnamon Roll Cheese Cake, and thought to myself: well. That’s not simple at all…………………let’s make that PROJECT #1! So without further ado, I give to you:

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The *namon Roll Cheese Cake you never have to tell your priest about*

Mine is obviously nowhere near as pretty as the original, and it is much smaller, and I used a rectangular aluminum holder, not a 9″ springform pan…however, it was t-t-t-t-tasty-tasty (Fergie 2006)!

Here is how I modified it (I’ve copy-pasted the original recipe here and you can note my mods in bold):

Cinnamon Roll Batter:
2/3 cup white sugar – 2 packets powdered STEVIA*
¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
½  cup whole milk – 1/4 cup hazelnut milk
1 TBSP vanilla extract
2 cups flour – 1 cup almond flour (please note that this is because I was making a smaller serving to begin with; she used a 9″ springform pan and I used like a 7 or 8″ rectangular aluminum tin thingy*)
2 tsp baking powder — 1 tsp baking powder again because of the size difference and I didn’t want this to puff up like mad
1/2 tsp salt – I just sprinkled salt in…because of the whole “smaller recipe” thing

MOST IMPORTANTLY THOUGH: I added 1 tsp of CINNAMON to this mixture.
Cheesecake filling:

2 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, at room temperature – 1/2 package fat free cream cheese; 1/2 package 80% fat free cream cheese
1 cup sugar – 3 packets powdered STEVIA
1 TBSP vanilla extract
2 TBSP flour – 1 tbsp almond flour
3 eggs – 2 eggs

Cinnamon Filling:

1/3 cup butter, melted – 1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar – 1.5 tsp raw honey, leted
3 TBSP cinnamon – 2 tbsp cinnamon

Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature – 3 oz because I knew I wouldn’t have the volume and fluff from powdered sugar to make this anywhere near real frosting
3 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature – I just…didn’t put any of this at all anymore
1 TBSP lemon juice – 1/2 tbsp
2 tsp vanilla – 1 tsp
1 cup powdered sugar – 1 sachet of stevia
milk (if needed to thin frosting) – hazelnut milk – just a drizzle

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. – also known as about 175 celsius for those unawares

Grease a 9-inch Springform pan. – OR 8″-or-so ALUMINUM THINGY! Okay, so when she said “grease” I was like, well I don’t have any spray sooooo…I just rubbed a little butter all over the place. 

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NOW ON TO THE METHODOLOGY

Cinnamon Roll Batter:

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Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or hand mixer) (Standing mixer…HA HA, I don’t even know what an aluminum thingy is called, you think I have a standing mixer?!) With a whisk (or any appendage you have that you find handy) cream together the butter and sugar for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Add egg, milk,  and vanilla. Beat for another minute. Scrape down bowl.

Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Combine the sifted and creamed ingredients together. Mix until throughly combined.

Spread half of the batter onto the bottom of the aluminum thingy. It will be sticky and thick so spray your hands with baking spray and press down. It will be a thin layer, but trust me it will rise up during baking.

For the Cheesecake Filling:

Beat cream cheese and STEVIA for 2 minutes on medium-high speed.

Add the egg, scraping down the bowl after.

Add the vanilla and flour and beat for another minute.

Pour all of t

he cheesecake batter on top of the cinnamon roll batter that is in the prepared pan.

Cinnamon Filling:

In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, cinnamon, honey, and STEVIA. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Drop spoonfuls of the cinnamon filling over the entire top of the cheesecake.

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These are the dregs of the cinnamon filling because I forgot to take a photo of it. It was nice and dollopy…dunno how else to explain. It was thick and delicious.

Bake for about 50-55 minutes 25-30 minutes (mine was small, remember?), cake will be puffy and lightly browned. Let chill for 20 minutes at room temperature and then cover and move to fridge for 4 hours. Remove cake and let it warm up to room temperature just a bit. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting.

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Those dark things on the top are the cinnamon filling dollops exposed!

Cream Cheese Frosting:

Beat the cream cheese and all the other ingredients together for 2 minutes.

AND THERE YOU HAVE IT. 


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Notes:

*I used to live in an HDB (Housing Development Board) estate, and those places never have ovens (Asians don’t bake, okay. They don’t even bake their cakes, they steam them).

*Or just y’know...try at all.

*You know, so instead of “go make me a sandwich,” I can at least have a menu to choose from and it’ll be more like, “go make me some devil’s food cake” or “chicken pot pie” or “steak frites.”

*CAUSE IT’S S/CINLESS GET IT? Har-har-har.

*Unless it’s to bring him a slice. Obviously.

*Fergalicious

*Let it be noted that STEVIA themselves suggest on their website that 1 cup of white sugar = 1 sachet of STEVIA. I think this is wrong. These mods I am discussing up there refer to a refined version of the recipe already. I baked this TWICE today because the first I made, following the Stevia conversion chart, came out much more like bready crust with hints of cinnamon and totally normal tasting cream cheese in the middle. I suggest you do all this to-taste.

*I am such a noob I don’t even know what that thing is called…

Promises, Promises

I don’t actually have time for a real update as I am on my way out (making a bee-line for the gym), but I know I promised to post my statistics and goals, so here’s a quick sketch* of where I’m at, and a quick list of things I’m aiming for.

 

 

Some other statistics not cited in the photoVital Stats - The Better Fit:

  • My BMR* has gone up from when I last checked it (from around 1200kcal on ave) to about 1400kcal on ave. 
  • My body fat percentage is currently at 25%, which is high. I would like to be a nice 18%
  • I weigh anywhere between 118 and 126-lbs depending on the day, water intake, what I eat, what I do at the gym, etc. Currently I am on the heavier end, at 124.

I have no actual issues with my vital statistics. I like most things about my body, in fact (starting with my butt), but I’m aware that trimming and leaning up is necessary in a general sense (all over). I guess my real main problem area would be the arms (and the back/wings – where your triceps meet your back fat/back muscles/shoulders). I’m pretty broad-shouldered for being relatively petite, so it does me no favors to have all this excess pudge slapped on the back of my arms. As such here are my goals for the first quarter of the year:

  1. Minimize back fat by building more muscle to burn the fat off
  2. Further tone inner thighs (lose about 0.5 – 1″ off my thighs)
  3. Strengthen core, shed belly fat, tone abs (perhaps one more inch off wouldn’t hurt so a nice 26″ waist would be good)
  4. Strengthen posterior chain
  5. Continue to boost BMR
  6. Trim 0.5-1″ off of each of my arms
  7. Bring body fat percentage to 20% and below
  8. Maintain better posture
  9. Find exactly the right clothes to compliment my physique

 

And here is a very, very rough rundown for how I’m going to do that:

  1. Lateral raises and lat pulldowns followed by sprints (uphill and heavy on the arm movement)
  2. Pilates work outs (butterfly and scissor kicks), and the inner thigh weight machine, and sumo squat jumps
  3. TRX, Bosu ball workouts, myotatic crunches, side plank crunches, planks, mountainclimbers, knee to elbow planks, and burpees; as well as removing refined and simple carbs again (whites, like in the 4 Hour Body diet)
  4. Kettlebell swings (70 straight at a time, using 20lbs of weight on the lowest)
  5. All of these workouts put together + high fiber, low sugar fruit + cold water with lemon first thing upon waking
  6. Tricep dips, rows, one-legged bicep curls, modified tricep push-ups, assisted pull-ups, TRX suspension training, and see #1 for more
  7. All of the above
  8. Trial and error (and careful budgeting haha)

 

That’s all folks. In the meantime I leave you with the following inspirational videos that always send me flying to the gym:

 

 

 

Notes:

*Thanks to my Samsung Galaxy Note II!
*Basal Metabolic Rate
*The videos are: Christmas Abott being crazy, Briohny doing her yoga thang (I’ve already posted that before), and (welcome to the motherload) Michelle Jenneke’s awesome warm-up dance and hurdling skillz.

And WE’RE LIVE!

The Better Fit 2.0

 

Last year was tricky. I had just gotten into health, wellness, and fitness (in a serious way) for the very first time and between fits of Obsessive Compulsive behavior, and PTSD from Information Overload (thanks to long hours researching on the www), this blog was conceived, birthed, nurtured, and abandoned. I realize now that it’s not about gimmicks, or fads; it’s not about that next great diet, or the next Adidas sponsored workout. It’s not even whatever Shaun T tells me it is. No, it’s whatever works for you. So that’s what the new (and improved) better Better Fit is going to be about. From here on in this will be an unbridled account of what sticks: work outs that work, food that feeds the famished and fuels the fit, palate pleasing plated “pornography”*, and restaurant rants-raves-and-reviews. Gone are the days of mind-boggling limitations. I will continue to try to keep things healthy, and I will ensure that this blog is in keeping with all my goals for the year, but at the same time…this won’t be solely dedicated to a wheat free, gluten free lifestyle. I love food, and I will eat what I want to eat when I see that it is the right time or place to do so; otherwise, onward I go with my goals.

2013 has been a big year for me already – in just the first several weeks of the year I have already gotten a new job, traveled, and ticked things off my bucket list. Now, as I look at all the good that lies ahead of me thanks to the choices and blessings that have led me here, I can see this year and years to come growing and becoming a collection of wonderful things and stories right before my eyes. This is a year of bettering (and besting) myself at every turn – reaching targets both professionally, and personally; and I intend to take this blog along with me as I navigate this “new” life I am leading, so stay tuned for more.

 

Notes:

*This self-indulgent little piece of alliteration just refers to food porn/food photography…in case you didn’t catch my drift.

 

Post-Script:

Coming up on The Better Fit:

1. An outline of my personal goals so you guys can follow/keep up.
2. Pure Fitness (Singapore) gym review
3. Simple and Healthy Mediterranean Madness Menu

A Better, Better Fit in 2013

Yes, I know I dropped the ball on this blog in the last few months of 2012. Freelance work, and other things got in the way, and I found it hard to give the blog a nice, cohesive feel. BUT! It’s a new year, and a new chance to do right by this blog, these concepts, and anyone interested in reading whatever the Better Fit has to offer.

As such, for the next week or so, we are under construction!

A Better Better Fit

 

 

SO STAY TUNED!

I can’t tell you much right now, but I can tell you there’ll be MORE HEALTH, MORE TRAVELMORE FOOD, and (this time) MORE CONVERSATION!!!!

Kangaroos don’t fart!

photo (18)

It has been an eventful week yet again, which has effectively hindered any form of consistency I might have been trying to achieve as a blogger. That said, however, I come bearing gifts in the form of a review of delicious (and deliciously healthy!) food!

A Review of Sorts!

ROBERT TIMMS (Wheelock Place, Paterson and Orchard Rd, Singapore) AND KANGAROO MEAT

For all meat lovers out there who ALSO love the world, I have found the Holy Grail of yipster, environmentally-friendly meat. Friends, meet KANGAROO. Last night, for the first time ever, I tried Kangaroo loin steak……..and loved it. I know a lot of people out there have beef (haha pun intended) with eating cute animals, and I assume (for most) kangaroos fall under that category. However, it was to be my last meal at Robert Timms for a while* and I felt it’d be a good time to jump into a good Australian dinner and order something I’d never had before. Between crocodile (which I imagined would be like snake, only tougher, which I’ve already had before), and kangaroo, I decided to go with the latter. Thus, I ordered for myself the 250g Kangaroo Loin steak with red wine sauce, a small jacket potato, steamed broccoli, and sauteed carrots. For a second I attempted to ask for doneness, but was quickly corrected by the server. Apparently, kangaroo meat is always cooked to a specific doneness and you can’t (or shouldn’t?) really ask for more or less than that. Curious as to how this would all turn out (I generally prefer my meat medium rare), I impatiently awaited my meal while doing some preliminary research on the nature of kangaroo meat.

In the time it took for my steak to cook, I had discovered three key traits of kangaroo that immediately hooked me: 1) kangaroos don’t fart. That is to say…raising kangaroos would probably be much better for the environment than raising cattle! Significantly less carbon emissions!; 2) they are incredibly low in fat (probably from all that bouncing around)*; and, 3) they taste a lot like beef.

Excited by these claims, I dug in the very second my meal arrived. From the first bite alone I could tell it would be a good meal. Yes, kangaroo DOES taste a lot like beef…but it is leaner by far, and though it is more gamy than beef it is significantly less so than venison and boar. The red wine sauce was simple and allowed me to appreciate the meat better, and the vegetables were perfectly complementary to the kangaroo’s flavor. The fact that the meat wasn’t bleeding on my plate didn’t even bother me, because it was still tender, and wasn’t at all dried out. In this case, the chef knew what he was doing.

Further research on kangaroo meat now tells me the following useful bits of information:

  1. Even the Ecological Society of Australia thinks it’ll be better for the environment than raising sheep and cattle!
  2. Kangaroo meat is very high in CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), which is known to reduce obesity, as well as prevent both cancer and diabetes.
  3. There actually exists a movement called Kangatarianism, where vegetarians (who are vegetarian for environmental reasons) make exceptions in their diet for eating Kangaroo meat!*

Suffice to say, I’m sold on kangaroo meat, and I wish it was as accessible as other meat is!

If you’re in Singapore and want to try it out, Robert Timms is a good place to start. Though I don’t think Robert Timms is very good at many things (besides really rich chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream), they definitely got this one right.

Notes:

*Long story, but currently I am in the middle of a big move.

*Instead of grazing all day like those couch potato cows…….really though, there’s a lot of benefit to free range food! Kangaroos are so muscular they only have about 2% fat content in their meat!

*Seems like a funny loophole to me ;) But if it works, and it really is that good for the environment – then more power!

meeting myself for the millionth time

Among the things I’ve been preoccupying myself with these days (as though I’m not preoccupied enough) actually has something to do with trying to turn myself into a more meticulous human being*: First, I’ve been reading a lot of Tim Ferriss and watching a lot of his talks.* Second, I’ve been making more tangible, organized lists these days of tasks I’m meant to accomplish, their specific time frames for “doing”, and (most importantly) in what sequence they are meant to be performed. Lastly, I have been jotting down important observations about my body so I don’t forget them or become easily confused or overwhelmed over the wealth of knowledge I am not yet privy to that surrounds me and fills me all at once.

That said, in the last few days I’ve discovered a few crucial things that I think might be key to unlocking the mysteries of my body and thus maximizing its full potential as I power on forward. Here is one  I think is worth sharing before I pass out:

My body fears hunger. Now, I think most bodies fear hunger – since instinct tells us to turn away from it and eat something every time we feel it. However, I vehemently believe that my body actually fears it, and is constantly trying to plot revenge against itself when it “allows itself” to feel even the slightest pang of hunger. When I got back from my brief visit home a few months ago (in July), that first week back I lost all the vacation weight I put on. What was my secret? The Slow Carb Diet. “But,” you might say, “Weren’t you already on that in Manila?” To which I would say: yes. BUT. In Singapore I was more able to control exactly what I was putting in my mouth and EXACTLY WHEN.

In Manila, I was subject still to festivities, family gatherings, and other people’s schedules. In Singapore, I was able to religiously follow the system of waking up, taking the water and the supplements, and proceeding to eat substantial, healthy, low and slow carb meals every 4 hours. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t hungry, I ate anyway, and the fact that I did that kept me from ever feeling hunger, which in turn kept me from bingeing, which in turn caused me to lose a good amount of weight (and gain some muscle in the process) in a short period of time. Today I was remembering this because I had had breakfast at 9, and then at 2pm still hadn’t had lunch. I was stuck in the middle of a very lengthy (though engaging) conversation with a gallery manager and art collector friend of mine at the time, and by the end of it I was so hungry and my blood sugar was so low that I had begun to get testy, woozy, and desperate. I scoured a nearby food court for something to munch on, but the hunger was so severe I couldn’t make a good decision. Finally I settled on chicken thigh, and Greek salad (without the feta). After eating that, though, I was still hungry so I ended up buying myself cottage cheese and eating that too. Now, even though I’ve been sufficiently fed and stuffed since lunch (still following the slow carb diet rules, mind you), I just can’t shake the hunger; and now that I think about it, this is true for ever single time I allow myself to feel hunger pains for longer than a few minutes: I spend all day wanting to binge. It all makes sense now. There’s Secret #1 (to A’s magical fat loss program in the making): BEAT YOUR HUNGER TO IT!

So there you have it. I’ve revealed Secret #1. More to come as I go along, but for now I really need to sleep! Good night, everybody!

Notes:

*Which relates directly to a conversation I had with a friend the other day. I really do admire people who are able to connect the dots naturally. Unless it’s art or creativity related, I seem to struggle with that. I do think I’m pretty detailed – I enjoy plans and I like to see the best ways in which to lead them through the “unfolding” process as naturally as possible in as obstacle-free an environment as possible.

*Currently reading The Four Hour Chef – reviews to come!