Food

Harvesting Wild Blackberries

One of the better things about returning to the countryside, as the Ninja Turtle has found, is that time slows down enough for one to think differently. Sure, the city life in Lyon offered the duo plenty of exciting activities year-round, and one is constantly engaged, amused, stimulated… but perhaps that was the problem. It was very hard to disconnect, pull back and simply have some time for oneself.

In the quiet and calm of the campagne, far away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds and the commerce, the Ninja Turtle becomes much more pensive. And in her reflections, she begins to feel an immense sense of gratitude, despite her malady. There is, after all, a lot to be grateful for, despite everything.

Grateful for each moment she is alive.
Grateful for each person who’s come into her life.
Grateful for each experience that brings joy, or a lesson.
Grateful for each emotion and every new sensation.
Grateful for the hurt, the sorrow and the pain
Grateful that despite that, she still has much to gain.
Grateful for the kindness from strangers she receives
Grateful for the love friends and family give.
Grateful for existing in this messy world
Where life can sometimes be incomprehensible
Grateful for just being here today
Grateful for tomorrow, come what may.

There is so much richness in life, when one chooses to receive. The Ninja Turtle, in her leisurely strolls along the country road, recently chanced across wild blackberries growing in abundance, free for the picking and ripening at a deliciously alarming pace.

When GodzillaPin returned from his cycling trip a couple of days ago, the Ninja Turtle could not wait to bring him blackberry harvesting. OK, fine, she’ll admit it. After spending 2 hours harvesting blackberries alone the first time, and having the unfortunate experience of falling into the blackberry bramble (an experience which she will never wish upon anyone) when trying to reach for the higher branches, she knew she needed a helping hand from someone less vertically-challenged than herself.

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Enter GodzillaPin, 6’1.

Of course when the Ninja Turtle first proposed blackberry harvesting, GodzillaPin thought it was going to be a breeze. Little did he realise that battling the blackberry bush thorns and the stinging nettles that grow alongside, this was less of a leisurely pastime, and more of an extreme sport.

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After about an hour, the duo decided that they’d had enough (enough of being pricked, and enough blackberries to last a few days), so they hurried home excitedly to taste the fruits of their labour.

The Ninja Turtle had recently made a rich chocolate and beer streusel cake, and the acidity of the blackberries married well with the sweet dessert. They also tried the blackberries in a soy yogurt and fruit salad parfait.

They say that on the road to recovery from eating disorders, there are good days and bad days. That was a good day for the Ninja Turtle, and for that, she is grateful.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

A Visit to the annual Salon du Chocolat

Last weekend, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin spent a day suffering from sugar overload. It’s that time of the year again, when the Salon du Chocolat comes to the Metz Exposition, and the duo went armed with 2 credit cards and plenty of shopping bags.

There were 60+ exhibitors at the Salon du Chocolat this year. Of course, as the name suggests, it’s a world of chocolate.

Each year, there is also a chocolate sculpture competition, as well as a fashion parade, where the models wear creations made with/of chocolate. The theme this year was Asia.

 

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Of course, it wasn’t ALL just chocolate. There were other types of confectionery on offer too.

One of the reasons for visiting a chocolate exposition, aside from tasting and buying chocolate of course, was that they got to speak with the experts. Two years ago, the duo had a nice chat with Mikael Azouz, who has won multiple international awards. This time, the duo chose to chin-wag with another chocolate master – Fabrice Dumay, the best chocolatier in Moselle.

M. Dumay was incredibly friendly, and knowledgeable. He explained to them how lecithin was used as an emulsifier, and consequently confectioners also cost-cut with this ingredient (by increasing lecithin by 1%, you can reduce cocoa butter by 10% in your recipe). He went into great detail explaining the various single origins, from Madagascar, to Sao Tome, to Venezuela, and the latest up-and-coming chocolate region in the world: Vietnam! Cocoa was first planted there 10 years ago, and harvest from the first 5 years were terrible, but they are slowly seeing improvements. The production, situated not far from the Mekong Delta, is currently very small-scale, and apparently 100% fair trade. M. Dumay also quickly briefed them on the crop to bean to bar process, and shared his favourite wine to pair with chocolate (if you must know, it’s the Modérato Nectar d’Automne Muscat from Casablanca).

 

All up, it was a fantastic excursion, and look at the bounty they lugged home that evening:

Just don't ask how much they spent on this (it's an eye-watering sum).

Just don’t ask how much they spent on this (it’s an eye-watering sum).

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Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

Our Living Heritage

This week, the Ninja Turtle had the excellent fortune of being invited to the private residence of one of Mother Turtle’s oldest friends, Auntie Sylvia, with the express purpose of learning how to make ang ku kueh. What? you say.

A little bit of context: just as the French people don’t simply call themselves français when speaking among themselves, but rather from the geographic region of origin: i.e. “je suis Parisenne/Bretonne/Vogienne/etc“, the Ninja Turtle identifies as Teochew, in reference to the Chaoshan region of Guangdong, where her forebears originated from.

Ang ku kueh, or 红龟粿, translates literally to Red Tortoise Cake. Red because it’s an auspicious colour for the Chinese, and tortoise for its longevity, good fortune and prosperity (or so says Wikipedia). Looking at the key ingredients – sweet potato, mung beans, tapioca starch and glutinous rice flour, the Ninja Turtle was pleasantly surprised to learn that this dessert is in fact, gluten-free! (It’d be a long stretch calling it Paleo-friendly with the food colouring, but hey, 80/20 rule, right?)

Although ang ku kueh is still widely available for purchase in local bakeries, the sad reality is, like the spoken language of Teochew, the art of making traditional desserts is slowly dying in this globalised world. Hence, when the Ninja Turtle received the invitation to learn from Lao Sim, a master of traditional cakes, she jumped at the opportunity.

Meet Lao Sim, a mother, a grandmother, an expert cake-maker, a Teochew woman. She has lived through WWII, she has known Singapore before it was an independent nation. She speaks in Teochew, Mandarin and English. She is a living piece of our history.

Meet Lao Sim, a mother, a grandmother, an expert cake-maker, a Teochew woman. She has lived through WWII, she has known Singapore before it was an independent nation. She speaks in Teochew, Mandarin and English. She is a living piece of our history.

As most expert cuisiniers are wont to do, the way Lao Sim treats the food scale borders almost on the ornamental – that is to say, she can be quite unspecific with quantities. When her students requested to measure and record the quantities, they would be met with the retort “ah ka ah ka jiu hor lah, ming jing zhung!” which translates to “a guestimate will do” but said in the tone that implied food scales were for weaklings.

From many years of experience, she works with her eyes and her hands to determine how much of what ingredients to use. Her judgement will yield either a frown followed by a brisk addition of some flour, shaken straight out of the bag, or a slug of liquid into a mixture, or a satisfied nod and grunt of approval, whereupon the work would proceed to the next step without fanfare.

As such, the Ninja Turtle feels compelled to disclaim that despite her best efforts in recording, some ingredients’ quantities weren’t always made clear, hence she cannot take 100% responsibility for queer results. Nonetheless, if you are feeling adventurous, here is a recipe with photos.

Ang Ku Kueh Recipe
Equipment
Food scale
Blender
Steaming baskets
Moulds for ang ku kueh

Preparations

Skin of the ang ku kueh

The following list of ingredients is to make one batch. If you’re making two batches – one sweet and one semi-salted, the quantities must be doubled. To differentiate the two types, work with each batch separately and leave out the red food colouring in one batch, or substitute it with another colour if you’re feeling wacky.

  • Glutinous rice flour 300g
  • Tapioca starch 300g
  • Course sugar 7 teaspoons
  • Pinch of salt
  • Unspecified quantity of oil
  • Blended sweet potato 650g
  • Sweet potato liquid
  • Red food colouring

Fillings

Half-salted filling

  • 1kg cooked bean powder
  • 300g sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup pandan leaf water
  • 3 tablespoons shallots

Sweet filling

  • 1kg cooked bean powder
  • 500g sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pandan leaf water
  • Unspecified quantity of oil

Heat warm water. Add sugar.
Let sugar dissolve over medium heat – do not caramelise.
Add bean powder and stir to a paste.
Add glutinous rice flour to make paste sticky.
Add oil to make the paste smooth.

Sweet and half-salted fillings must be worked on separately. Don’t confuse the batches!

Putting it together

Lao Sim, vous êtes formidable...

Lao Sim, vous êtes formidable…

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Food

Choc Chip Cookie Reloaded

OK OK, so the saying goes that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Or something about not reinventing the wheel. You know, those wiseasses and their very clever sayings about not tinkering around and experimenting. Well, to those people, we say pshaw! There is always value in mucking around for the sheer pleasure of it, because who knows what you may get as a result? Sure, there is always the risk of a catastrophic outcome, but en même temps, there is always the promise of a happy surprise.

This chocolate chip cookie did not happen by accident. It happened by compromise. The Ninja Turtle had, for the past several months, started poking her nose where it didn’t really belong (i.e. Paleo websites) and found some mouthwatering recipes that made her wish she was not a Ninja Turtle, but a Cave Turtle. Man, who knew the paleolithic era featured such culinary delights? Did civilization kill off our cooking skills or what?

GodzillaPin, one must remember, is French and therefore, the idea of removing wheat from his diet is sacrilège! In fact, it’s rather interesting to see how well the whole Paleo thing would go down here in good ol’ Gaul, where half the country’s economy is built upon wheat. But we digress…

True to the Caveman spirit, GodzillaPin requested – nay, demanded – the Ninja Turtle to make him some cookies, as his sweet tooth had started raging. As the Ninja Turtle was pottering around the kitchen, the idea of trying out one of those fancy recipes crossed her mind. Out came the linseeds, coconuts and all those weird things that the Paleo community has laid claim to. As soon as GodzillaPin saw those ingredients, suspicion began to grow, and he offered to help chop the chocolate as a pretext to hang around and see just what on earth the female was doing. Imagine the horreur when the suggestion of a wheat-free cookie came up.

Right then. In went the T45 flour, with all the other fancy ingredients.

Right then. In went the T45 flour, with all the other fancy ingredients.

Before we continue, we wish to make one thing absolutely clear, as some people tend to be readily offended by the slightest hint of a joke. This post is not intended to mock the Paleo community. If anything, we’re increasing publicity of the whole movement. No, we humbly acknowledge that in our weakness, we are unable to give up lovely, lovely wheat for the moment, despite being enticed by the principles of the Paleo lifestyle. We thought we will try and ease our way into it by incorporating parts of it, and if we don’t break out in a rash/withdrawal symptoms, we will progressively relent and repent, we promise. For now…

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Fancy Stuff

190g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
115g butter
130g sugar (any type, we used brown)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
50g of dessicated coconut
30g whole linseed
60g chopped dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. Line your trays with baking paper.
Mix the first three ingredients in a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the egg and vanilla essence.
Fold in the dry ingredients and mix until you get a consistent mixture. Mix in the coconut, linseed and dark chocolate.
Scoop mixture by the tablespoon and place them on the baking paper about 2 inches apart. They don’t spread, so you can put them a bit closer if you wish, but ours liked some breathing space.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until they turn a reasonable shade of brown.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until they turn a reasonable shade of brown.

When they are done, let them sit for about 5 minutes before transferring onto a cooling rack.

When they are done, let them sit for about 5 minutes before transferring onto a cooling rack.

Well, as it was mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are some instances when one regrets mucking around with a tried and true recipe. This was NOT one of those instances. Of course, it must be stated that one must enjoy coconut to like this, but the addition of coconut and linseed created a rich and complex texture to the cookie that we never would have imagined.

So, it was with the deepest regret that we retired the two packets of cookies we bought earlier that day, because who wants to eat that stuff when there is the homemade variety, right?

Which do you prefer? Only one of them hasn't got added preservatives, although all three of them do contain obscene amounts of flour.

Which do you prefer? Only one of them hasn’t got added preservatives, although all three of them do contain obscene amounts of flour.

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