Thursday, 15 December 2011

Favourite Christmas Songs - The Kitch Collection

Our Christmas CD collection used to be almost exclusively classical as both Rob and I have spent years singing in Church Choirs in the UK.  However, we then moved to Canada, and in close proximity to Walmart we soon found our Christmas repertoire expanding rapidly...  the Elvis Christmas Album, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers 'Once Upon a Christmas', the Beach Boys sing Christmas, you name it, we bought it!

We're now both total converts to 'Kitchmas' in all its glory and really enjoy listening to such a mixture of religious and secular music at the time of year.

So here, again in no particular order, are my favourite Kitch Christmas songs:

Hard Candy Christmas - Dolly Parton

"It costs a lot of money to look this cheap".  It looks worryingly like she's not wearing a top in this video...

Marshmallow World - Bing Crosby

I couldn't find a nice video to this one, but this is the version of the song that I love.

Forget You Santa - Cee Lo Green and Michael Jackson

We don't have this on CD, I just stumbled across it on youtube - and loved it!  I think it's so clever when songs are 'fused' together and these are two absolute classics.

Blue Christmas - Elvis

The King sings Christmas in his own inimitable style.  Neither Rob nor I can resist singing along to this one, complete with melodramatic swoops up to all the notes!

Last Christmas - Wham!

One from my childhood, and I still love it now.  Here's George and Andrew in all their bouffant-haired glory in the original 1984 video:

Stay a Little Longer Santa - Shemekia Copeland

One of my favourite tracks from a fabulous album that we picked up in Las Vegas, a charity CD sold by 'Bath and Body Works'.  It has all kinds of obscure festive tracks, either little-known songs, or well-known songs such by different people (e.g. Rascal Flatts singing 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!).  I love it.

So whether your Christmas is a classic one or a kitch one - I hope it's very merry for you all!  We'll be celebrating in our camper-car somewhere on South Island, New Zealand, but I'll be back on the blog in the New Year.

Favourite Christmas Songs - The Classical Collection

December is here (NB it was 'just here' when I started writing this - it's half over now!), so we are allowed to listen to Christmas music!  I say 'allowed', but this is a self-imposed rule in our household.  We both adore Christmas music and have a large selection of seasonal CDs, but if we start listening too soon (and when we start we have them on every day) we get tired of them before Christmas itself even arrives.  So December the 1st it is.

We have had several 'Desert Island Discs' discussions about our favourite Christmas music, and although the list seems to change every time I think about it, I thought it would be fun to post some of my top picks here.

Our CDs are pretty evenly split between the classical and the kitch, and it's pretty hard to compare the two, hence the separate posts.

Here, in no particular order, are my favourite 'classic' Christmas carols.  And huge thanks to whoever is responsible for posting King's College, Cambridge, contributions onto youtube - this post would not have been possible without you!

In the Bleak Midwinter - Harold Darke

A beautiful, simple version of this classic carol.  I've sung the first verse of this as a solo before now, and I like it because it's nicely in the range of my voice.

Bethlehem Down - Peter Warlock

A little-known modern carol - well, little-known to non-singers I suspect.  Hauntingly gorgeous, makes shivers run down my spine every time I hear it.

Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day - John Gardner

A beautifully lively and catchy version of this classic carol.  I first sang this many years ago with a choir called 'Iscavoces', a group of singing friends from Exeter University.  It's been a favourite of mine ever since, even though I haven't sung it for over 10 years now.

Nativity Carol - John Rutter

Many people might say that this carol, indeed anything by John Rutter, should properly belong in the 'kitch' post that will follow this one, but I think Rutter has become a Christmas classic!  I can't imagine a Christmas without some Rutter carols.  I wanted some other Rutter carols (Shepherd's Pipe Carol, Angel Carol), but many are not available for 'embedding' from you tube, so I've gone with this lovely one instead.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear - EH Sears

I must confess to getting a bit tired of singing some of the traditional congregational carols (Once in Royal...  yawn!) but this is one I never tire of.  The words are just so poetic.  They can be found here if you want to remind yourself of them.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Food Bloggers Unplugged

I've been tagged by Snowy of Cookbooks Galore to join in with 'Food Bloggers Unplugged'.  I'm always happy to indulge in some musings about my blogging, so here goes...

1.  What, or who, inspired you to start a blog?

I was living in Canada at the time and feeling rather detached from my life at 'home' in the UK.  This was before I'd even joined Facebook (I can barely remember what my pre-FB life was like..!)  Living in North America I was also surrounded by a wealth of culinary excitements, and as several of my foodie friends already had blogs which I enjoyed reading, I thought I'd give it a try too.

2.  Who is your foodie inspiration?

I think I have several.  I grew up enjoying food so would have to give my parents credit for that!  We always ate well, and I have strong memories of coming home from church to the regular 'Sunday Roast'.  Many of my Mum's puddings also stick in my mind (Norwegian Cream, Pavlova, Floating Islands... mmmmm!).  More recently I'd have to add my husband Rob to my list of inspirations.  When we met we were both living alone, and I was subsisting mainly on pasta.  Rob however didn't let his single-status stop him eating fabulously and would often cook himself an entire roast dinner.  I remember being very impressed by this!  In fact he taught me a lot about cooking, and likes to remind me of this quite regularly...  My final foodie inspiration has to be my best mate Sarah, who in the last few years has moved out to Canada and set up an extremely successful baking business, Roseberry Farm.  She's so dedicated and talented, I'd hate her if she wasn't so nice!

3. Your greasiest, batter-spattered food/drink book is?

How to be a Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson.  I managed to get it signed when I went to the launch of 'Feast' in Toronto several years ago.  Nigella commented on how lovely it was to see a cookbook that was so well-used, and I think she was impressed with the post-it notes all over it!  It's now even more grease-spattered.

4.  Tell us about the best thing you've ever eaten in another country; where was it, what was it?

I'm struggling with this one...  some awesome burgers and steaks in North America spring to mind, but I think I'd come down to the food we ate when on honeymoon in Tuscany.  We were in a self-catering apartment and although we intended to eat out regularly, we actually ended up just cooking very simple pasta and pizza dishes for ourselves every night, just because the fresh produce was so wonderful.  I've never had more 'tomatoey' tomatoes, or such lovely huge bunches of fresh basil.  Oh yes, and some pretty fabulous Chianti Classico too!

5.  Another food-blogger's table you'd like to eat at?

Can I go to several?!  I'd go for drinks with Esther at Recipe Rifle.  She swears and makes me laugh, and her husband Giles Coren is very funny too.  I like the way she even writes about recipes that are crap!  I'd move on to Sarah in Melbourne, over at Sarah Cooks.  She's the legend who cooked every recipe in Nigella's epic How to Eat in a year.  Then for dessert I think it would be over to Maya's at Foodiva's Kitchen.  She's a self-confessed dessert-lover so I know we'd eat very well!  I know Maya already of course, so she's a very safe choice as I know that the conversation is easy and that the laughs come often.  Plus it's not far to drive home afterwards as she lives in Brunei too!

6.  What's the kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?

I'm not sure if this really counts as a 'gadget' but I'd really like a new cooker.  After nearly 6 years of living in military quarters I'm sick of the standard-issue rubbish ovens we get given.  I hate ceramic hobs, and the oven we have here in Brunei is appalling - far too small to cook anything in, and anything placed too near the bottom just burns.  Mind you, our own oven at home in the UK isn't much better.  It was in the house when we bought it (in the newly-refitted kitchen) but I think that replacing it will be a top priority when we finally return.  I'd like a 6-ring gas hob, and a double-oven please Santa.

7.  Who taught you to cook?

When I was a child, my Mum.  At school, my cookery teacher Mrs Roberts.  In adult life, Rob, although I taught myself to bake (OK, with the help of Nigella!).

8. I'm coming to you for dinner.  What's your signature dish?

Usually a roast chicken with all the trimmings.

9.  What is your guilty food pleasure?

Olives, gherkins, cheese.  Anything tapas-style really; I love to nibble!

10.  Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn.

I'll stick to a foodie theme...  There's not many things that I won't eat, but I can't stand parsley.  YUK!  

I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you have a blog and would like to take part in this, then please consider this your official invitation!  Thanks Snowy.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Stir-Fried Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken

Long long ago we owned a granite pestle and mortar, but it's one of those things that has mysteriously disappeared in one of our regular house-moves.  I sometimes have visions of all the 'lost' items turning up one day, perhaps in a forgotten packing-box in the attic?  Anyway, because I know we already own one, I've never bought another.  Daft really, they're so cheap here, but there you go. 

Well, I've never bought another... until I was seduced by this recipe that has been winking at me from the pages of Bill's Everyday Asian ever since I purchased it.  The thing is, a pestle and mortar is pretty much essential for this recipe, requiring as it does the pounding up of lemongrass stalks.  Fine chopping just won't do it here.  So I succumbed, and a mere $8 later in Soon Lee I have a new stone pestle and mortar.

The following photo was the only one I managed to take during the preparation of this dish, as when I went to take another shot the camera batteries died so that was that until I could recharge them (I think my multiple spare sets of rechargeable batteries are hiding with the old pestle and mortar...) so you'll have to take my word for it, this dish was great.

I was about to type out the recipe for you (the book is open at my side as I write) but a quick google search reveals that the recipe was reproduced in The Telegraph last month (along with an appetising photograph) so HERE it is.

As ever the odd adjustment was made - I was unable to find any non-rotting asparagus so used a packet of sugar-snap peas instead.  They worked fabulously well, but I'm keen to try the asparagus option too so I'll try to use that next time.

Soup to cheer up an Invalid

I have an ill husband - and despite my teasing, it's definitely not man-flu!  He has a 48-hour feverish thing going on; he had it once before, and it will most likely be gone by tomorrow, but I suspect he's in for an uncomfortable night (I am debating whether the ill or the well partner should move to the spare room in situations such as these...).  Anyway, he says he's not hungry and is feeling a bit queasy, but I couldn't very well not feed him at all, so I've just made what I hope is a cheerful soup.

It's cheered me up anyway as I have saved myself from feeling too daft for having accidentally bought another bag of carrots this afternoon, completely forgetting that I already had a bag in the fridge (a hazard, I have discovered, of having a gigantic fridge!). And I've also used up 2 half-empty things that were lurking in the back of the aforementioned gigantic fridge.

The colour's pretty darn cheery too!

Full of vitamins, soothingly smooth and rich, with a slight kick of chilli heat.  Perfect (I hope) for anyone in need of a little restorative sustenance.  I'll be enjoying it too.

'Thai' Carrot Soup

Chop 3 large carrots into rough chunks and simmer until tender in a pan of chicken stock (about 500ml I guess).  Stir in a heaped tablespoon of Tom Yum Paste (or however much you can scrape out of the jar), and about 100ml of coconut cream (made up with half a packet of coconut cream powder).

Blend until smooth, taste and season as desired.  Mine was extra thick (it also had several chunks of chicken meat in it from the homemade stock), so I thinned it with a little extra water.  I'm sure some chopped coriander on top wouldn't go amiss, as well as complementing the vibrant orange colour.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday 2011

Last year I blogged about our trip to Labuan, the Malaysian island off the coast of Brunei, to celebrate Remembrance Sunday.  I included some history to the island in that post.  I'm slightly late in blogging about it, but we attended the ceremony again this year. 

Once again a beautiful and moving occasion.

This year we were fortunate enough to meet 3 lovely chaps who were all veterans of the confrontation in Borneo in the 1960s.  They were on a tour of Singapore and North Borneo, revisiting sights from their days on active service.  We sat on a table with them at the dinner on Saturday night and they were fantastic company - plus they put us to shame by staying out partying into the early hours, long after we had retired to bed!

Another interesting addition to this year's service was the sale of the Malaysian poppy-equivalent, the hibiscus.  It seemed fitting to wear both.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Nigella's Korean Keema

I've written before about my nagging feelings of guilt about not making enough use of all the amazing Asian ingredients around me...  I'm doing better now (thanks to Bill!  Awesome Thai-style pumpkin last night, from Bill's Everyday Asian) but I've had a recipe from Nigella's latest book, Kitchen, bookmarked to try for ages: Korean Keema.

Nigella writes how she has discovered a new ingredient, a Korean chilli paste called Gochujang.  I suspect that this means that all UK supermarkets will now be stocking this, such is the merchandising power of Nigella!  Anyway, I managed to lay my hands on a tub in a little Japanese shop here (the shop underneath the Gadong branch of Excapade for any readers in Brunei) and thought I'd give it a try.

This is indeed a quick and easy meal.  It took about 10 minutes from start to finish once the ingredients were assembled:

For the sauce - Chinese rice wine, soy sauce, honey and Gochujang.

Aside from this, all that was needed was minced turkey (although I used chicken), frozen peas, and fresh coriander.  Brunei seems to be all sold out of coriander this week so I didn't bother, but next time I'll make sure to use some.

My blog-friend Anna has very kindly typed out the recipe which can be found here, on her lovely blog.  I completely agree with Anna that I think I'd use a touch more of the Gochujang if I made it again, although what I felt was lacking was any kind of chilli heat.  The paste is described as 'Hot Pepper Paste' but despite its unusual smoky flavour (almost liquorice-like as Nigella describes it), it packs very little punch.  This would make it great for the chilli-haters, but as we certainly don't fall into that category next time I'll be adding plenty of chopped fresh chilli to the dish.

Served with plain Jasmine rice and a side of garlicky kailan, this made a speedy and healthy supper.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ginseng Salad and Stuffed Pumpkin

After our fun afternoon spent picking vegetables at the weekend, we've spent the last couple of days deciding what to do with them all!

Inspired by Maya's Ginseng Leaf Salad I decided to create my own version...  This turned into an exercise in rummaging-around-the-fridge to see what might work in a salad, so the finished dish bore very little resemblance to Maya's salad, apart from the ginseng leaves of course!

It lacks the colour provided by the pomegranate seeds, orange slices and torch ginger in Maya's, but I used fresh pineapple to provide sweetness, cashew nuts for some texture and thinly sliced chives and preserved garlic for some bite.  It was dressed with lime juice and toasted sesame oil, which is one of my favourite Asian flavours.  These leaves are amazing - they don't wilt at all, so I you can leave it for ages before serving.  I enjoyed the unusual flavour and texture of the ginseng leaves - a new experience for me.  A lovely light supper or side dish.

Almost as soon as I had got home from veg picking, Maya had e.mailed me a recipe for pumpkin.  Maya participates in a weekly recipe challenge called French Fridays with Dorie run by chef Dorie Greenspan, where bloggers around the world all cook the same recipe each Friday and post about it on their blogs.  This week the recipe is the temptingly titled 'Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good'.  Maya sent me the link to the recipe (which can be found here, on Epicurious) and wondered if I might be interested in trying it too?

Interested?  How could I not be?!  This recipe looks wonderful, and infinitely adaptable too.  I made it for supper last night.

There's something very satisfying about hollowing out a pumpkin...  took me right back to my Hallowe'ens in Canada.  These pumpkins have lots of flesh, so this one didn't have a huge cavity once I had removed the seeds and stringy stuff (I'm sure that's the technical term for it...).

I used the Epicurious recipe as a basis, but freestyled for much of the way, just choosing what felt right - and what was in the fridge/larder!

Here it is, stuffed and ready to cook.  The filling ended up consisting of the following:

a slice of granary bread torn up into chunks
a handful of chives, chopped
a large red chilli, chopped
2 'bockwurst' sausages, chopped
a handful of grated mature cheddar
a large 'squidge' of creme fraiche (it comes in squishy packets here!)
a splash of milk to loosen the mix
garlic pepper to season

As the recipe states, it's hard to give a cooking time as all pumpkins are different, and I suspect different fillings might cause it to cook at different speeds too.  Anyway, mine was done in under 2 hours, and looked and smelled incredible.

The sausages imparted a wonderful smoky flavour, and the cheese and creme fraiche were deliciously melted and gooey.  I cut the pumpkin into large wedges and the filling oozed out into the baking tray as I did so - satisfyingly messy!

There is no question that I'll be making this dish again (and again and again I suspect).  Minus the sausage it would make an excellent vegetarian meal, and it could be adapted in hundreds of different ways to suit different palates.  I'm looking forward to seeing what the French Fridays with Dorie group do with it - I'm sure it will give me lots more ideas.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Vegetable Picking

I feel very blessed to have met Maya...  not only is she great fun, a fabulous cook and excellent company - but her mum is the most amazing gardener, with an incredible plot full of beautiful organic produce!  This weekend Maya invited Rob and me round to her parents' house with a couple of her other friends to pick some of the vegetables that were ripening.  Her parents were actually away, and I was a little worried that they'd come back to find the garden pillaged of all the veg - but when I saw the fabulous (huge!) plot, I could see why they were happy to let people harvest a little...  Maya's mum clearly loves gardening and delights in growing all the produce that the wonderful Brunei climate allows.

Gorgeous orchids.

Rambutan on the trees and vegetable beds everywhere.

Maya introduced us to lots of exciting new plants - in this picture I'm sniffing some garlicky-scented leaves.  Other plants were more familar, and Maya soon had us snipping away with the secateurs:

Lovely fat ears of sweetcorn.

And my favourite - pumpkins (or squash - we couldn't quite decide on which they were!)

Moving round to the OTHER vegetable garden (I said it was huge!) we then found long beans (still teeny!), Australian spinach and ginseng.  There were also aubergines too, but not yet quite ripe for the picking.

 Oh yes, and chillies - LOTS of chillies!  We picked the red ones (birdseye?) and a few of the fiendishly hot orange Scotch Bonnets.

Not edible, but beautiful - Papyrus from Egypt.  I took a stalk to show my class as we've been studying Ancient Egypt!

After a sweaty hour or so in the garden, we all went inside for tea.  In true Maya form it wasn't just a cup of tea of course, but beautiful purple sweet potato pie and delicious dark chocolate and caramelised orange tarts - drool!

Maya has more photos of the day on her blog here, along with a recipe for a ginseng-leaf salad.  I made something similar last night... but that's for the next blog-post!  We're having such fun using our haul of veg.

 We started simply, stir-frying the spinach with garlic and oyster sauce as a side-dish, but have plenty more excitements on the way this week...

Thanks Maya!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Chocolate Potato Chips

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a newly opened shop here in Brunei, Royce' Chocolates.  (No, I have no idea what that apostophe is for either...).  Of course I had to pop and and have a browse and was so amused by the following product that I took a photo on my phone and immediately uploaded it to Facebook:

I pondered whether this was a good idea or not and received many many comments on the photo, veering from 'Try them, they look interesting' to 'Yeuk, they sound horrible' and just 'no no no'!

Well, amongst the Facebook comments was one from Maya who told me that she had several boxes of these from Hari Raya so would bring me one to try!  We were meeting that week for a sushi lunch, and sure enough, Maya very kindly brought along a box of milk chocolate ones for me (they also come in white chocolate and caramel flavours!).

We opened them almost as soon as I got home with them...  and they really are crisps/potato chips (depending on where you come from!) covered in chocolate!

And the verdict?  This was the plate about 30 seconds later:

Despite the bizarreness of the concept, they were actually extremely nice, and fiendishly addictive!  I'm a great fan of the combination of sweet and salty (salted caramel?  Yes please!) and these contained a hint of salty tang which married beautifully with the milk chocolate (which, by the way, was delicious - yes, I know, Asian chocolate that tastes nice?  It does exist!).  I'll be honest, the potato-ness of them is just a little odd, potato isn't usually found in sweet products, but we managed to get over that pretty quickly.

I think I may just have to purchase some of these at some point...  after all, there are 2 other flavours to try!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Bill's Everyday Asian

Bill's Everyday Asian is Australian chef Bill Granger's ninth book, but the first one of his books that I've ever bought.  I'd heard good things about him, that his recipes were light and fresh, that he wrote in a personable and chatty way... and yes, that he was easy on the eye too! Living in South-East Asia as I do, I love to cook and eat Asian food, but sometimes feel that I'm not doing enough of it.  I worry that I'm not taking full advantage of the local ingredients so easily accessible here.  So when a friend recommended this book, I felt it was one that I needed to purchase to provide me with some inspiration that I felt was lacking.

And my verdict?  I'm glad I did!  I've had the book for a couple of weeks now and it's a real pleasure to read.  It's beautifully laid-out with plenty of mouth-watering pictures.  I spent the first week simply browsing through it, filling the pages with post-it notes to indicate my must-try recipes, and in the last week or so I've made no less than 4 meals from it.

The first dish was cooked for pudding on the last night of my parents' visit to Brunei - Banana Batter Cake.  We don't often made desserts any more (it's just not the climate for ribsticking hot puds) but Bill described this as an Asian take on Sticky-Toffee Pudding so I knew I'd have to try it. 

It was one of those self-saucing puddings that seem vaguely sinister when you are preparing it, as the batter is topped with lots of brown sugar and then a cup of water.  It looks as though it will never work, but when it emerges from the oven it has created an amazing caramel sauce.

The pudding is almost clafoutis-like in texture, a dense batter but topped with sliced bananas instead of cherries.  Bill recommends serving it with coconut milk, but we took the easy option and used vanilla ice-cream. 

It was delicious, and I'll definitely be making it again.  Apparently it serves 4, but they must be 4 very greedy people as we got at least 6 portions out of it.

My next meal was made - no cooking involved - as I was feeling the need for a detox.  This may or may not have been related to the Banana Batter Pudding!  The Vietnamese Chicken Salad with Carrot and Mint had immediately struck me as one of the most appealing recipes in the book.  I love Vietnamese food, even more than Thai food I think.  This was almost like a coleslaw, made as it was from sliced chinese leaves, beansprouts and carrot, but pepped up with a zingy Vietnamese dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chili, ginger and garlic.  Extra crunch was added with toasted peanuts, and some protein courtesy of shredded chicken breast.  Another important addition is fresh herbs - mint and basil leaves.

This was a mild faff to prepare as it involved lots of chopping, plus the carrot had to be 'pickled' for 20 minutes, but I will definitely be making this again, it was gorgeous.  It wasn't difficult, just a little time-consuming.  Next time I'd be tempted to make a larger amount as it makes a great lunch-dish the following day.

Another salady dish followed later in the week - Chargrilled Chicken Salad with Pineapple and Basil.  I had bought a whole chicken for the previous dish and just used the breasts, so for this dish I used the legs, thighs and wings.  Bill suggests using thigh fillets, but mine seemed the easier option given what I had.  The meat was marinated in fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, oil and turmeric. Bill said to leave it for 15 minutes, but I left mine for 48 hours!  Instead of grilling it as he did with the thigh fillets, I roasted the meat which gave a great crispiness to the skin, and left a fabulous sticky residue in the pan, rich with the flavours of the marinade.

The meat was served  on top of a basil salad garnished with fresh pineapple wedges, and with a chunky cashew nut relish on the side.

Again, this was fresh and zingy, and felt very virtuous!  The pineapple didn't really do it for me I have to say, perhaps because my pineapple wasn't perfectly ripe?  But the chicken was beautiful, tender and very flavoursome.

I'd make it again, but perhaps play with the salad combination a little.  The basil was a great addition.

My final dish was an attempt to use up half a pumpkin that had been languishing in the fridge for several days, so I tried Bill's Butternut Squash with a Sesame Glaze.  This involved boiling the squash/pumpkin in a small amount of water, soy sauce and brown sugar until the squash was tender and the liquid evaporated to a sticky sweet-salty glaze.  It was then sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.  This was super-easy and tasty, but far too sweet for our liking.  I'd do it again, but with about 1/4 of the sugar in the recipe.  It didn't look beautiful (so no photo!), rather a brown sludge actually as the pumpkin doesn't hold its shape well, but it was a simple supper served with plain rice and some stir-fried, soy-sauce-doused pak choi.

I still have plenty more post-it notes throughout this book, so I know I'll be cooking from it a lot more in the future.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Weekend of Meeting Important People!

Over 3 weeks after Ramadan ended, and the celebratory month of Hari Raya Aidilfitri continues - these Bruneians sure know how to party!  Last year we had only just arrived in Brunei when Hari Raya was upon us, so we went to relatively few Open Houses, but this year we know lots more people and have therefore had lots more invites to various Open House parties.  It's such a nice tradition.

This weekend we had 2 particularly important ones... 

On Friday night we went to an Open House at the Officers' Mess on Bolkiah Camp.  This was hosted by the female officers who 'live in' at the mess.  It was spectacularly decorated with thousands of fairy lights, and the food was superb - stalls outside serving lamb, satay, kebabs, murtabak, etc, and a selection of curries and sweets inside.  Of course everyone was excited about the special guest, the Sultan himself, who attended with one of his sons.  Here they are, chatting with the hostesses:

After they had done this, the Sultan was invited to sign the guest-book for the evening...  which just happened to be right next to where I was standing!

After this he stood up and started doing the rounds of the room, shaking hands and chatting with the other guests.  He came straight up to the group that I was standing with...  it's amazing how tongue-tied one can suddenly become when the Sultan of Brunei is shaking your hand!!  Thankfully my friends picked up the conversation so I didn't feel too daft.  Now this all happened rather fast, and Rob had wandered off to chat to someone else, so of course he missed the opportunity to take a photo of me and His Majesty.  I was quite cross as I'm always the one who takes photos of other people with the Sultan and no one ever gets a shot of ME (case in point, here's one of Rob on Friday night:)

So just as the Sultan was finishing greeting people, I thrust my camera at Rob and rejoined the hand-shaking line... 

Rob redeemed himself - Success!!  I'm laughing because the Sultan shook my hand then looked at me and said "You again!" - and then did exactly the same to the girl next to me who had also lined up for a second hand-shake!  We told him he had a good memory, and he laughed.  I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to meet one of the British Royal Family face-to-face, but the Royals are much more accessible here in Brunei.  It's a much much smaller country of course, but they are very 'visible', often seen driving around (complete with hoards of motorcycle outriders), and attending public events.

On Saturday we attended another Open House that I was no less excited about - Maya's!  I first met my fellow Brunei food-blogger Maya a couple of weeks ago when she invited me to an Open House at her parents', but this was at her own house.  I was so pleased that Rob could meet Maya, and of course for us both to meet her lovely family (so welcoming!), and of course we were very excited to see her famous new RED kitchen - fabulous, lah?   (NB, 'lah' is the Bruneian equivalent of the Canadian 'eh'!  I'm such a cultural chameleon...!)

Oops, we appear to have adopted our signature 'kawai' pose again!

The food was - need I say it? - fantastic.  Maya's mother-in-law had cooked the savoury dishes which included Soto (a local chicken noodle broth with lots of condiments) and satay.

Rob helping himself to the Soto.

 The desserts were Maya's creations - strawberry-topped chocolate cupcake, mini cheesecakes and tiramisu.  *Yum*

Another sociable and food-filled Brunei weekend!

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Busy Few Weeks

Oops, 19 days since I last wrote on this blog!  I've been chivvied along reminded by Maya that I need to re-enter the 'blog-cave' again, so here I am.

So, what have I been doing in the last 2 and a bit weeks...?

1)  Working.  New class, new Principal, new role (Year Leader), lots of work.  The children are delightful, and just beginning to get into their new classroom routines.  Me too.  But I know that a good start to the year is invaluable so I don't mind spending time on this.

2)  Cleaning.  Because when you're temporarily without an Amah, if you don't clean the kitchen you get ants!  Who knew?!

3) Taking photos of babies.  Our 1-month-old neighbour for a start (and wow, babies are tricky to take photos of - they keep MOVING - hence the sleeping shot!):

But also this baby kingfisher we found in our street last week:

Poor little thing, we think its mother had been killed.  It was looking very lost, and sat here for ages (which at least allowed me to take a photo).

4)  Meeting the local wildlife.  I continue to be delighted and amazed by the wildlife here in Brunei (OK, not the ants.  I could do without wildlife in my kitchen).  This little fellow was lurking outside our door at the weekend:

5)  Pinning.  Have you found Pinterest yet?  It's a website where you can create virtual pinboards of all your favourite things.  Check it out - although be warned, it's totally addictive!

6)  Reading.  I've become mildly obsessed with the Mitford sisters, the eccentric aristocratic family who became notorious in their lifetimes for political reasons, but whose memories live on through their prolific writings - autobiographies, novels and letters.  They're a truly fascinating bunch.  I've been engrossed in this excellent biography, and felt quite miserable when I finally finished it...  so immediately went onto Amazon and ordered a book of letters between Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh - My next Mitford-fix!

7)  Cooking.  This weekend we had a pretty typical Brunei-shopping experience - carefully planning some meals and then discovering that crucial ingredients were nowhere to be found in the shops!  I had decided to make a chilli-con-carne, but there was no mince and no tins of kidney beans.  Correction, there was mince, but it was so fatty as to be almost white (ick!) and there were kidney beans, but they were in syrup (another ick!).  So I ended up making a chilli with diced steak and tins of lima beans instead.  I'm nothing if not adaptable!

I'm looking forward to a bowl of this for supper tonight (with chips and some grated cheddar - naughty but nice!) and then we'll fill the freezer with portions of it.  Over the last couple of weeks we've almost emptied the freezer of the 'ready meals' that we make andkeep for busy weeks, so it's satisfying to restock it.

This isn't actually the recipe I used (I don't usually use a recipe for chilli), but a friend posted it on our forum recently and I have been meaning to give it a try, if only for the name!

Cowboy Chilli

olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 or 2 red chilies, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 lb (1 kg) ground beef
6 strips (300 g) bacon, diced
1 x 14 oz (400 g) can of kidney beans, black beans or pinto beans
1 cup (250 ml) barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (optional if you don’t want it too spicy)
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 x 12 oz (350 ml) beer
grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced scallions, tortilla chips, etc., to serve

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pot over a medium-high heat. Add the onion, chilies and a pinch of salt (to stop the onions from browning) and cook for 10 minutes, or until the onions have softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the ground beef and bacon and cook until it’s nearly cooked through and browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to keep at a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour – the longer you cook it, the more the flavors will develop – adding more beer or water if the chili starts to look too dry. Serve the chili warm with toppings of your choice.