Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 1 ROMA!


We've come to the last city on my Euro tour: Rome, the mother of all European cities. The city that beats all other European cities in ancient buildings and structures, the city that you can never cover in one trip, the city that had a million inhabitants two thousands years ago and was bigger than any other city in Europe at that time. The city that I'll never get bored with.

We met up with our daughter, who'd flown into Rome with her course mate Cheryl the day before, at the main train and metro station, Stazione Termini.  I had never stayed in a hostel before (remember, this was in May, the earlier part of my travels) and expected dirty run-down rooms. It turned out that Camping Roma is a sprawling camp of small semi-D houses/campers, very clean and pleasant, set on a hill overlooking the city. There are lots of facilities, including a restaurant, tourist info desk where you can do all your travel bookings and buy entrance tickets, Internet room and bus services right at the door, including those buses that take you to the Vatican, 10 minutes away, and other places of interest, at discounted prices. The rooms are small but clean and if you're on a budget and staying long in Rome, this place is perfect. Book early because Camping Roma is very popular and well-known. A small family of four can fit into one house but that's rather claustrophobic and if you take two houses like we did, it's comfortable. Only 18 euros per person if you book early. Who says Europe is expensive.

My Documents26
Camping Roma.

The next day, we started out early and went to the Colosseum. It was a blue-sky day and we melted! We got out of the metro station and the Colosseum was right in front of us, giving me the shivers and an unreal feeling like, am I really here? Cheryl and Yi were screaming and squealing, grabbing each other and jumping up and down. The Roman guys straightaway hit on the girls, telling them they were beautiful and asking them out, which happened a few times a day in Rome. The Italians are hot blooded Casanovas alright. When Yi/Cheryl asked a gelati guy what the best flavor was, he said "The kiss."

Much of the hypogeum, the 2-level underground, where the cages for animals and gladiators were kept waiting, is still intact. I kept thinking how cruel and inhuman the ancient Romans were, watching executions and humans being torn up by lions as a sport. Sick people.

The Colosseum is awesome, a huge amphitheatre that could sit 50,000 spectators and still standing after nearly 2000 years. The building is so well planned that spectators could exit it within minutes because there are 80 exits/entrances.



It was a happy happy day.

The Forum, Roman ruins dating from the BCs when Romulus and Remus founded the city, is next to the Colosseum but it was just too open and hot to explore so we decided to walk to the city. On the way, we passed the Roman parliament building.

The parliament building is so huge and grand but it was burning hot, so we decided to skip it and walked on. A testimony to Rome's past glory is the size of the ancient buildings, all bigger and grander than my expectations.

We got to the next big one, the Pantheon, and I was especially taken by this building because I'd read about it in history books and always wanted to see it, more than the Colosseum. The girls of course squealed and jumped again when they saw the Pantheon.

The Pantheon, always under repair. Given the limited tools at the time and the fact that such a large concrete dome of 43m/143 ft not reinforced by any steel members is still standing, the Pantheon is an amazing wonder. The words carved in the front of the building means "M. Agrippa, son of Lucius, in his third consulate, made it". Marcus Agrippa was Emperor Augustus' son-in-law.

"Oh, look, the oculus!" I was glad I had two archi students around because they were more knowledgeable than me. Originally built as a temple for all Gods in 126 AD (the first temple on the site was built in 27 BC but was burnt down), the Pantheon was turned into a church around 600 AD. It is sparse and beautiful inside and the oculus allows enough sunlight to light up the interiors. Amazing. I love the square panels on the interior of the dome. Many kings and emperors are entombed in the Pantheon but the painter and architect Raphael is the most famous resident and his tomb on the left of the rotunda was crowded with tourists.


These two holes are probably the outlet for rain that comes into the Pantheon although I can't imagine how the water can discharge fast enough. The circle is right below the oculus.



My Documents24
La Casa Del Caffe  is a cafe on the front right side of the Pantheon recommended by Rick Steves for the coffee and granita de caffe con panna (coffee ice with cream), 2.50 euros each. Very strong and nice coffee flavor. You can see the Pantheon, in the bottom right photo, from inside the cafe or if you have super sharp eyes, you can see a flash of it in the movie Angels And Demons. After Rome, Angels And Demons was extra fun to watch because all the famous buildings were familiar and we had stood at the exact same spots in the Pantheon and the Vatican as the actors did.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cell Pot Luck Dinner

We hosted two dinners last week, one for a friend and her hubby back from the States and another was a Mid-Autumn fest for my cell group. Both were pot luck dinners, an excellent way to taste a variety of dishes cooked by different people. I was too busy making pizzas the first dinner so I don't have any photos to show but the second dinner, I got much smarter. I made an extra Sicilian cassata cake for the dinner two days before, blueberry cheesecake pies (no photos) a day ahead, ordered a large bowl of koe yuk, and my helper Vero made a leaf salad and boiled a corn-fed hen.

V brought fried noodles with seafood and although it was restaurant-bought, I ate it because I can't resist noodles.

My motto regarding dinners is : do not do onto others catered food. But it's okay, I know sometimes people are too busy and can't find time to cook. 
Oh this was good and I must get the recipe. S's pork leg with pickled veg and chilies.

A's pasta with bacon and bell pepper was super yum and another recipe that I want.

A brought a large bowl of koe yuk too so mine went back into the fridge. This was very good although I think the one I ordered was better because it had stronger garlic-onion flavor. I'd give you the number of the aunty who makes the best koe yuk in town but because she quoted one price when I made my order and charged a higher price when I took the dish, I'm not going to give her free ad space.

A (bless her generous heart!) brought a kilo of grade 6 wagyu sirloin which I cut into 3 pieces and served London broil-style, something we've been doing a lot recently because London broil is easier to cook than steaks and leftovers can go into sandwiches. Everybody was bowled over by the flavor and tenderness of the wagyu. We washed the wagyu down with 2 bottles of shiraz, not my fav red but still, red wine complements red meat so well.


E brought her usual mixed veggies, a good companion to the meat dishes.

Hit of the night (runner up to the wagyu) was this simple but refreshing cuke and raisins salad with grated parmesan cheese from M.

M also made sure we got our dose of iodine and omega-3 from a Saba mackerel and a 'mong' fish. Simple and yummy with a drizzle of black soy sauce.

This dish of plain boiled chicken called 'white chopped chicken' is the most popular and traditional way to cook a good chicken.

For the Chinese, if your chicken is home-reared and corn-fed, there's no other acceptable way to cook it but  boiled. Only inferior chickens get stewed or baked or fried. I'm constantly seeking the best corn-fed chicken and many times I've been disappointed. The so-called corn-fed chicken at our local markets are at best fed with a part-corn part-chicken feed diet near to their slaughter date. A truly corn-fed chicken tastes totally different and is a joy to eat but be prepared to gnaw through thick skin and fat. You can't plain-boil a skinless chicken because the skin is necessary to keep the flesh moist and tender.

Edward is my new-found corn-fed chicken supplier. Call him at 016 8129997. His chickens are RM20 per kg and are the best corn-fed chicken I've tried so far. 


If I need a lot of mesclun, I go to the wholesaler Lim Lee Seng (tel: 088 711639) near Supertanker. I stretch my salads by adding carrots, red onions, cherry tomatoes and baby spinach leaves. This mesclun was from Australia but I actually prefer the mesclun from Cameron Highlands (arrives every Friday night, available at LLS the next morning) because they have a wider variety in the mix, including pretty radicchio.

A delicious prune cake from Ching and leftover mooncakes (I see mold on one of the mooncakes!).

Sicilian cassata cake. Although I had reduced the sugar, the cake was still too sweet because of the mixed peel. I do like this cake and would make it again but I'd reduced the sugar and the mixed peel and remember to pour away the whey from the ricotta cheese so that the cheese filling will be fluffier.

So much food for 20 people. One of the best cell pot luck dinners we've had.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Smashed Celeriac

A celeriac

The celeriac is not a pretty veg. This root veg is quite unknown and I've never eaten it before or even seen  one until now. I was at the wholesaler Lim Lee Seng the other day and I crept into their giant storage rooms and saw this weird-looking veg which Ive seen in cookbooks, especially British ones, and immediately grabbed one. The price was hefty, RM35 per kg but I had to try it.

The celeriac does smell like celery but mildly so. As big as a coconut without the husk, this  veg is usually made into mash or gratineed. I liked Jamie Oliver's simple recipe where the celeriac is smashed, not mashed. This dish went well with some leftover London broil and sausages.  I stretched the dish by adding a couple of potatoes but they take longer to boil so you need to cut them smaller than the celeriac.


Smashed Celeriac

1 celeriac (about 800 gm)
3 medium-sized potatoes (optional)
3-4 T EV olive oil*
a handful of fresh thyme, leaves only
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3-4 t stock or water

*after Europe, I use EVOO exclusively

1. Peel the celeriac and cut into small 2 cm cubes. Peel and cut the potatoes into 1 cm cubes.

2. Put the olive oil into a casserole dish or a pot and fry the celeriac, potatoes, thyme and garlic over medium heat until slightly golden, about 4-5 minutes. Season lightly. Add the stock and cover, turn heat down and simmer about 20-25 minutes until tender. Once in a while, stir the veg and add a spoonful of stock if needed.

3. Season again if necessary and smash the celeriac with a spoon or masher.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Of Venice










Do you twirl your pasta or eat it like Chinese noodles? When they say to cook pasta 'el dente', they really mean it. That's the big difference I found between the pasta served in Italy and outside of Italy.

Pizzaria Al Vechio Canton is where the gondoliers eat, away from the crowded, over-priced and tourists-filled San Marco Square. Super yummy spaghetti vongole (10 euros) and pizza brescola (also 10 euros), 1 large beer (4 euros) and 2 euros each cover charge.

The Rialto Bridge is to Venice as the Colosseum is to Rome but unfortunately we never got to see it as we didn't have the time. Bummer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival (see my 2007 post on MAF, picked up and mentioned in Epicurious) once again, which reminds us that there's only 3 months to go this year! I was driving some  relatives from Shanghai around town last week and the ladies, who are in their late 70s, were wondering why a journey somewhere always seems to take longer than a journey back. It struck me then, that that's just like life. When you are young, you never fear the passing of time.  I wanted to grow up quickly at 16, to get out of my parents' house and be free. I was on the journey to. The day you feel that time is passing by quickly is the day you have gone past young. Only people on the journey back feel that time passes quickly. Are you on the journey to or journey back?

The moon on MAF, the 15th day of the eight lunar month, is at its brightest.  Families get together, usually two generations of them, eat a big dinner and end it with tea and sweet moon cakes, sitting out in the garden 'appreciating' the full moon.Most people know the real story of how a Han Chinese (all Chinese are of the Han stock) leader hid messages inside moon cakes telling the people to rise up against the 'barbaric' Mongolian rulers in the 14th century. The uprising was successful and China returned to Chinese rule. But many of us don't know the full story of the lady on the moon, the wood cutter and the rabbit, which is more significant to MAF.

Thanks to good old Wiki, I recall the story too: According to Chinese folklore, Chang Er was an immortal together with her husband Houyi. They were banished from heaven and sent down to earth after being framed by other immortals jealous of the Emperor of Heaven's favor towards Houyi. The earth-bound immortals had to live as mortals and Houyu became a hunter and a very good archer. At that time, the earth had 10 suns and one day all 10 of the suns appeared at the same time, causing Earth to burn. Houyi was summoned by the king to shoot 9 of the suns, which he did, and as a reward, he was given a pill, the elixir of life. He hid the pill but Chang Er, who didn't know what it was, ate it and flew to the moon instead where she still lives (Armstrong and the others didn't meet her though). A rabbit is still seen pounding herbs (apparently they grow on the moon?) trying to make the pill for Chang Er to fly back to her husband. There are many versions of the Chang Er story. The version I heard when young was that Houyi became the king after shooting the 9 suns and he became a tyrant. Chang Er took the elixir to prevent Houyi from living forever.  Houyi lives on the sun, representing 'Yang', (male force; hot energy) and Chang Er, 'Yin' (female force; cool energy). Once a year, they get to meet on earth, on MAF, the most romantic night of the year. Now you know, the next time someone asks you the story behind the MAF.

In Malaysia, we erroneously call the Mid-Autumn Festival  'Mooncake Festival'. I was first aware of this mistake a long time ago when a Hong Kong friend corrected me, unkindly so too, somewhere along the line of "You Malaysian boys and girls speak crappy Malay-Chinese!" It's true, when a baby's one month old, we say "Full moon" which makes cow sense because the moon's not necessarily full then and what's the moon got to do with it. The right term is "Full month", and the confusion is because the Chinese word for month and moon are the same and if you are ignorant, you show it so by saying "Full Moon".

When I was growing up, my mom celebrated MAF with a moonlight party for the kids in our neighborhood. We'd have agar agar jelly, moon cakes, biscuits and pomeloes, to represent the round moon. We also made our own lanterns, using shaved bamboo sticks and colorful transparent cellophane paper. The lanterns were made according to the Chinese zodiac animals we were born under and I always remember the one time my lantern (won't tell you what animal) burnt and I grabbed Ah Fook's (real name) home-made lantern in the shape of a rabbit (we didn't all make lanterns according to our zodiac year because some animals were harder to make) and he couldn't do anything about that because he came to my party. Mom didn't know of course. I was that mean. Lanterns were already half-extinct when I had my kids but I made sure to get them the commercial ones since I lost the skill of making them from scratch. My daughter carried commercial lanterns with candles and by the time Wey could carry his lantern, they came with battery-lighted bulbs. Now I don't even see any lanterns anywhere.

Custard 'yolk', coconut filling and coffee shell. I know what you think. I asked the lady who sold the cake moulds too: have you ever seen a square moon?

I like jellies of all kinds so I made agar moon cakes yesterday.  I used Debbie Teoh's recipe in Festive Cookbook 100 Festive Snacks. The 'yolks' did not set and I was upset ("Hmmph! I must tell Debbie!" Debbie first wrote to me before I left for Europe in May and I found out that she's a big name in Malaysia, appearing on TV shows and has written several cookbooks too). Turned out that I had mistakenly used gelatine powder instead of agar powder. But you know what, I like the runny 'yolks' because my friends thought they were real yolks. I made a few changes, such as not using pandan leaves because I felt the custard powder and the coffee had their own flavor and I also used coconut milk in place of dairy milk and cream because I had leftover coconut milk. I cut back a lot on the sugar too. The recipe made lovely moon cakes of the right texture when chilled overnight. Not traditional, but they are pretty and fun to eat and definitely lots healthier than traditional moon cakes which are full of lard/oil, color and preservatives.

Happy Zhongqiu Jie! Gaze at the moon tonight!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vivacious Venice

 Look at the details and embellishments, isn't this beautiful and glamorous? A full mask like this costs about 50 euros and up depending on the details but how to bring it back because it's made of paper mache?

When people ask which is my favorite place in Europe, I always say Rome because there's SO MUCH to see and eat and I had the best part of the trip there because my daughter joined us too. But when I look at my photos of Venice, I realize that if a fairy appeared and grant me a travel wish (yes, a travel wish) right now, I'd choose Venice even though it is the MOST touristy place in Europe. And if I do go to Venice, I will choose to go in winter because that's when "the Grand Canal, shrouded in heavy fog one minute, crystal-clear and luminous the next" and rooftops are dusted with snow, making the city look its loveliest. At least that's what I read in my new cook book, the da Fiore Cookbook. I'd zip from Murano to Burano (both of which my daughter said are 'must-visits' but I didn't have the time) in a traghetto and eat at famous restaurants like da Fiore. I might even throw cynicism to the winter wind and take a ride in the gondolas, nestling with my hub on the red heart-shaped pillows while the singer sings all those classic Venetian songs. Oh, Venice in winter even though I hate winters! Then again, maybe two weeks before Easter is a good time to visit when the Carnival Of Venice is on. I can choose the most beguiling mask and dress up as a medieval maiden and walk the Venetian streets like all the other carnival folks arm-in-arm with my Raoul/Phantom.

Have I told you how much I enjoyed Venice, touristy as it was? The whole city of Venice is all about tourists and tourism dollars. The existence of the city depends on tourists; Venice exists now because of tourists, period. Despite that fact, the city is still magical. There's so much to see and explore. Bridges, canals, masks, leather goods, singing gondoliers, glass art, churches and delicious food. Venice is incredible!

You approach the city by ferry, a ride of 15 minutes only. All vehicles are left in a large car park on the mainland. Tourists stay on the mainland since accommodation in the city is too expensive. An entrance fee of 5 euros per person is charged.

The buildings are about 1/2 meter from the sea level! The whole city of Venice sits on piles.



The words say "il cielo dei sospiri" (the heaven of sighs), the name of a movie but the real name of this bridge is The Bridge Of Sighs. In the past, prisoners would pass this bridge on their way to imprisonment/punishment and take a last look at the city of Venice and sigh at the thought of never ever seeing the beautiful city again.

The Bridge Of Sighs is under restoration but part of it can be seen in the picture. It is a covered bridge made of beautifully carved white stone.

Narrow streets of Venice. In the parts of Venice further away from the square, the buildings were empty and quiet. I sensed a loss, of how the city used to be before its inhabitants left for the mainland  leaving the island to invading tourists whose presence necessitated the replacement of the traditional mom-and-pop grocers, butchers and bakers with shops selling cheap souvenirs. Less than 70,000 people live in Venice. The majority of the people live on the mainland.

Gondolas are used mainly to take tourists around the main canal. Traghetti are gondolas without the cheesy chairs and pillows for ferrying people within the city. I was horrified that engine-powered boats were also used, mainly to transport goods. Those boats were noisy and I'm sure they caused the canals some pollution. The canal water isn't clear but certainly not smelly as purported.



He sang really well and made us smile. It really is romantic in Venice, even in the mid-day sun.

Told you. Red heart chairs.

I know the gondola ride is like the Holy Grail to tourists in Venice. But I wasn't into riding the boat with 4 other strangers (6 to a boat unless you hire the whole boat). The Chinese tourists though I noticed never passed up any chance to do the touristy thing and all of them opted for the ferry ride and group lunch by the ferry point. Instead of taking the gondola ride, we used the precious time to explore the city on foot, walking the very narrow streets, checking out the grocers and the quieter streets away from San Marco Square where all the tourists concentrate.

My Documents22

We didn't have the time to go to Murano, one of the 17 islands that make up Venice and famous for its glass so the tour guide took us to the Murano show room in Venice where we watched this gentleman make a glass horse in one minute. I was told to look for glass cherries but the tour guide warned that the majority of the glass objects are from China. Only the famous names such as Murano is genuine and even then you must buy it in the show room or it's likely to be fake.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...