Kitchen Exploits - Nutella Brownie Cupcake

We've been having a challenging time at home with Bun and I falling sick this week. I've been doing my best to fend off the bug and ensuring that Roboman and Bubbles don't get ill too. Nevertheless, here's a fun recipe that I tried recently that I thought to share with you.

I came across this 3 ingredients Nutella Brownie recipe and was fascinated enough to try it.

We always have Nutella in our fridge so it was easy to put this together. For an extra crunch and to make the brownies look prettier, I topped them with sliced almonds.

They came out looking gorgeous and tasted not bad. It was chocolately with a brownie-cake type texture. I found it a tad too sweet for my liking, but I've always been partial to bittersweet type of chocolate desserts. The next time I make this, I'll try adding in some dark chocolate chips!

This is a fun recipe to try (with kids especially, this school holidays). Recommend!

Strengthening the fingers with Homemade Play Dough

There are tons of play dough recipes online to experiment with. While there are several reliable recipes including those that use cream of tartar, I usually stick with this really simple no-cook one. It works great and lasts forever when kept in a sealed plastic bag/container in the fridge after each use.

Bubbles and I sometimes make dough together. We used to add more food colouring for fancier-looking dough, but I've since noticed that adding less colouring doesn't make a difference to the fun factor for her.

We have been told by Bubbles' Paed that she has overly flexible joints (there's a medical term for this but I can't remember what it is!). As a result, doing things that require finer motor skills can be more challenging for her. This includes things like grasping a pencil and drawing or writing. Therefore, we need to help her work her little fingers and hands as much as possible, so as to strengthen her muscles and fine-tune her control of them. Playing with dough is one great way to do this.

I need to introduce more activities that require fine motor skills these school holidays!

Play dough accessories made together with her grandma

Sketches from the past

I unearthed these drawings recently. The first three are from my secondary school days. The last two are from a sketchbook I used to have on hand for drawing random things when I was living in the UK. I am no artist, and may have to trash these drawings for lack of space. Decided to photograph them to satisfy my sentimental side.

This, is supposed to be Julia Roberts. I didn't complete the drawing of her hair!
If you look carefully, you can see the faint marks of a teddy bear drawing on the next page.

I wish I remember who this is supposed to be:

Kitchen Exploits - Roast Chicken

I have been sharing more Bakes (sweets) than Eats (savouries) in my Kitchen Exploits series.

The main reason for this is because I like to eat my food piping hot. Most desserts can be eaten cooled or cold, leaving me time to photograph them properly. When it comes to main courses though, especially meats, I want to see steam coming out of the food when I eat!

As a result, I have been taking cursory shots like these:

Nothing fancy. Ugly, almost. This, in particular, wasn't even my best chicken.

Thankfully some of my experiments taste way better than they look. (Especially when I photograph them!)

In a bid to share a recipe that actually results in great tasting rather than just good-looking food - I'm posting my Roast Chicken recipe. I have dabbled with making roast chicken several times, serving up either too dry meat, soggy skin or unbalanced seasonings.

This version is what my family enjoys most. I use the drippings to make gravies, and boil up the bones to make delicious stock. Leftover meat usually gets shredded to be put into sandwiches or tortilla wraps the next day. If I have fridge space, I like to roast 2 chickens at a go, saving time.

I spent quite a bit of time figuring out the timing and temperatures to roast the chickens. It may sound complicated, but really not difficult once you get used to it. I've gotten perfectly tender meats and crispy skin from this method.

If you have fresh herbs, by all means use them. I use dried ones because the flavours are intense, and they are convenient!

Corsage's Roast Chicken
1 chicken (I use Sakura)
1 lemon
1t fine salt or 2t coarse salt
1t black pepper (use more if you prefer it spicier)
2t dried mixed herbs 
2T olive oil
 1 small onion, chopped into 4 pieces
 5 cloves lightly crushed garlic
1 stick lemongrass, roughly cut (optional) 
extra 2t olive oil (if needed, as below)
1. Cut lemon into half. Squeeze the juice of one half into a bowl. 
2. Add salt, black pepper, mixed herbs and olive oil into the bowl of lemon juice. Mix well. 
3. Rub mixture onto whole chicken, including the cavity, loosing the skin as you do so. 
4. Stuff chicken with the other half of the lemon, onion, garlic and lemongrass. 
5. Leave the chicken to marinade for at least 3 hours, turning it now and then when you remember to.

1. Preheat oven to 220C.
2. Place chicken, breast up, on a roasting rack, and fully cover with foil.
3. Put chicken in oven on middle rack and set timer for 30 minutes.
4. Turn temperature down to 190C without opening oven door. Set timer for another 30 minutes.
5. Take the chicken out and close the oven door. Remove the foil. Use a spoon to scoop drippings (if any) and pour it over chicken. You will get more drippings if you roast 2 chickens at once. If there are not enough drippings, quickly pour 2t olive oil over chicken. Place uncovered chicken back in oven and set timer for 20 minutes.
6. Without opening the oven door, turn on the oven fan. Roast for another 15-20 minutes. 
7. Take chicken out and test that juices run clear by poking a skewer into the fleshiest part of the thigh joint.
8. Over chicken with foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving/serving. 
9. Serve with potatoes and greens.

Mickey Mouse joy

In the process of clearing out my old room, this little gem was found - a child-sized Mickey Mouse ring that I owned and loved as a kid.

My father bought it during one of his long work trips to (I think) the USA. I believe our Donald Duck plushies were bought on that same trip. Actually, I remember he bought two, one each for my sister and I, but one is now missing.

My mother cleaned and placed the ring in a little pink plastic box before presenting it to Bubbles. Needless to say, Bubbles was thrilled. Probably as thrilled as I was when I first received it many years ago, when it was quite a bit shinier. She wore it for the whole afternoon and declared herself "so pretty now".

I guess bringing a smile to a little girl's face is not too difficult a thing to do :)

Bubbles always seems to have some kind of ink/paint/crayon mark on her. The one in this photo is a small one, but as I write this, I just remembered that I forgot to clean off a long green line down her leg! Are other 3-year-olds like that too?

My 2nd, (and last) child

My dearest Bun.

I look into my photo files and lament. There are too few photos of her. Too few.

It is my fault really. I have no choice but to comfort myself - I have lived more alongside her, than behind a camera.

She is approaching a ripe old age of 6 months all too quickly. My heart aches, knowing that she is to be my last baby.

With her, my 2nd child, I have been more confident as a parent. More relaxed. More willing to let her be, and let her go. Perhaps this is the nurture bit of the nature-nurture discourse that she is an open, friendly, easy-going and cheerful baby. As long as she has been fed, and has had her nap, she almost cannot help but smile or chuckle in response to anyone trying to make friends.

She's part energizer bunny.

At 5.5 months, she has started "crawling" - dragging her tummy along to reach for things that interest her. Her doctor calls her 'satay' because of her penchant for flipping over and over. She's wriggly, and needs to satisfy her curiosity first by touch, then taste, of anything that comes her way.

She gives appreciative sounds when you do things her way, and grumbles when you take her home earlier than she expects from her daily walks. When carried, she leans her body towards the direction she wants to go, requesting that you take her there. She has two little teeth.

She's also part sweet dolly.

She has these eyes that are filled with such curious wonder. Her being is full of sweetness, and of contentment. A bundle of delicious-smelling baby chubs. Pass her to a stranger, and she will spend some time studying his/her face, deciding if it was a friendly one. Smiles will be dished out if so.

Her cries, unless because of pain, are very gentle. The kind that make you want to hold her close and comfort her.

 See how she sleeps sitting up on Daddy's arm - charming everyone who saw her.

For both my children, I look forward to seeing them reach their developmental milestones. With Bun however, there is also a sense of loss - a keen awareness that time is slipping by, and soon, too soon, my baby will grow up and be baby no more. I think it is this awareness that has made me more patient with her - through all the night wakings and too-short naps. Looking at Bubbles, I now truly understand just how fast kids can grow, and why grown-ups used to say that of my own growth as a child. 

Enjoy your babyhood my little Bun. Your mama is soaking it up as much as she can, bottling up all your sweet babyness in her emotional memory bank. She knows it will run out quicker than she is willing to let it go.

Kitchen Exploits - Hurray for Tangzhong

Bubbles LOVES bread. Have I ever shared that here? She absolutely loves it, and has been known to forgo proper meals for a slice of bread.

With that in mind, I have been experimenting with homemade bread. There are few things that spell both home and comfort, and the aroma of homemade bread wafting from your kitchen is one of them. Knowing what goes into each loaf gives me comfort on another level too, as I know much of it will go into my baby's tummy.

After baking up a few different types of bread, including this pretty-looking one, I discovered the Tangzhong Method. I will not go into details here, as there are many websites that describe more fully what it is about. Basically, it is a method that requires a simple roux of sorts to be made beforehand, and this special (magical, almost) roux creates breads that are super light and fluffy. Breads made from this method are often described to be like those from 'Asian bakeries' - where you get fluffy buns and loaves. To me, it is similar to brioches, although I have not read enough to know where the similarities end.

So, while we also enjoy heavier, rustic, country-style loaves, I was thrilled to be successful with the Tangzhong Method, using Christine's Recipe as a basis.

I baked loaves of white bread. My tin is too small for the recipe, so the bread turned out denser than it should, but still soft and yummy. I made a loaf for a small pot-luck dinner with another family. It went surprisingly well with Oxtail Stew!

I also baked these delicious Braided Raisin Walnut Loaves. The only change I made in the recipe was to replace rum with prune juice. It turned out really well!

Yes, that is what little hands do to freshly baked bread. Joy. Chomping chunks of homemade bread still warm from the oven.

The Tangzhong method really works in getting soft, fluffy breads. I must say that the end products are so very pretty too!

The only downside to the Tangzhong method is that the dough is extremely wet and sticky. While I do not deny that you can probably hand knead it from the start, I do not have the luxury of time to do so. I used a dough hook of a (hand-me-down) handheld mixer to knead my breads. Sadly, my hooks actually BROKE during the mixing of the Raisin-Walnut loaves you see above. I was too excited to make these breads that I did not consider my old mixer's lack of power.

So. No more pretty Tangzhong breads until I get a proper stand mixer. To save $$, I have been scouring forums for a 2nd-hand one. Do drop me a mail if you have a decent one to sell!

An Indoor Picnic Invitation

School holidays are fast approaching. I look forward to spending long, lazy mornings with Bubbles once again.

Till, then, I work on daily 'invitations' made ready for her when she returns home from school each day. Usually, I set out art materials, a forgotten about puzzle or toy, or some books. I've also done elaborate stuff like laying out a 'scene' from a recent book we've read using things we already have, or really simple ones like re-arranging a few things in her room.
Thinking about the word 'invitation' recently made me do this instead:

A real invitation. To a picnic. From Mickey :)

She squealed, she really did. I then watched her chatter with Mickey and take little bites and sips of the laid out picnic.

When she spied me peeking at them, she excitedly asked me to join them too. It was an invitation I could not refuse!

The Elusive Nursing Wear

Maternity wear has improved quite dramatically over the years. A woman with a pregnant belly can quite easily find stylish clothes as compared to a decade ago. Whether one chooses clothes that are labelled 'maternity', or opts to wear non-maternity clothes that can accommodate a growing belly, there are few excuses for lack of good-looking choices.

Nursing wear on the other hand, has not really caught up in the style department. It is understandable because its design requires more thought and engineering in order to make nursing possible. I have noticed that what works for some women may not work for others because of a variety of reasons - body shape, breasts position, whether milk leakage (from other breast!) happens when nursing takes place, tolerance for exposure, and the nursing preferences of each baby. (I'm amazed how some mothers manage to nurse while walking - with their babies strapped in a carrier!)

With Bun, I hope to fully breastfeed her for at least a year, since her sister's eczema appeared soon after I stopped breastfeeding her at 11 months. As I am her main caregiver and she almost always goes out with me, ONE year is a long time in my (vain) books to be wearing the same few items of clothing! As I do not like traditional nursing wear (ugly plus expensive), I have been on a look out for inexpensive clothes that allow for easy nursing. I choose clothes with front-open access that allow me to nurse decently in public when wearing a nursing bib. This is my preference, as I find poncho-type nursing covers cumbersome.

So far, I've managed to score a few wrapped-front tops and dresses from random neighbourhood stalls and marked-down items at high street shops. This style is my favourite as it is flattering, and provides the easiest one-hand access for nursing. However, some wrapped tops don't provide enough cover, and I get around it (hur hur) by wearing a short tank-type bra that can easily be lifted up. Having pretty lace on it helps.

Another style I look out for is the zip-front. I now know that the length of the zip opening is important. It needs to be long enough - ending at least midway between breasts and waist - for nursing to be comfortable. Thicker zips are easier to manipulate, and preferred.

Finally, clothes with big buttons down the front. This option is a little more fiddly but with practice, I have been able to manage buttons with one hand. Although I haven't found any, I suppose large snap buttons would work well too.

There are other choices for discreet nursing of course. I know of tank-top and cardigan/jacket combinations, or elasticized tube-tops. I have yet to try either because they are not quite my style, but I can imagine how they can work beautifully for others.

What do you wear to nurse in public?

Kitchen Exploits - Carrot Cake

A couple of weeks after the birth of Bun, I was ready to receive guests at home. Surprisingly, I was quite energetic and was able to bake and pretty things up a little bit. I definitely wasn't able to do this after my 1st pregnancy, so I think the confidence I had second time round made a big difference.

Another thing that got me up and running was that I agreed to speak at a concurrent session of a conference 7 weeks after I gave birth. I almost freaked out the day before, but managed to do it anyway. What all those personal coaching gurus say about setting goals for yourself was true for me in this instance. But more importantly, I give thanks to my Maker for making it happen!

In those few weeks, I made sure I had coffee and tea ready in the house, and some juices. There would also always be fruits and something chocolate available.

Another thing that kept appearing on my table was the Carrot Cake. I learned to bake this pretty well some time ago, but forgot about it. And because I hadn't been baking it, or anything else for that matter, I made a total of FOUR failed cakes before I figured out what went wrong. Can you imagine the amount of time and money wasted?

Thankfully, I was successful in the end, and started baking it over and over again. Because I knew I could, and it was well-received. See, this was before I purchased round cake tins in preparation for Bubbles' 3rd birthday. I think round cakes are so much prettier!

Photo courtesy of the sweet Yuling

This recipe is adapted from one that my mother-in-law shared with me. She knew I didn't own a kitchen mixer, and took pains to find recipes that do not require machine mixing.

This is a fuss-free recipe - perfect for newbie bakers like myself. Taste frosting and add more icing sugar if you prefer.

Carrot Cake
For cake:
4 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
2 cups self-raising flour
1t baking powder
1t cinnamon powder
1 ½ cups cooking oil
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups grated carrot
2 chopped canned pineapple rings (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

For frosting:
1 block cream cheese softened at room temperature
50g softened butter (1/5 a regular block)
6 T icing sugar
4 T orange juice
4 T chopped walnuts
Grated rind of 1 orange
1.      Preheat oven to 180C.
2.      Mix eggs and sugar in bowl A, set aside.
3.      Mix flour, baking powder and cinnamon powder in (bigger) bowl B.
4.      Pour eggs and sugar mixture into bowl B. Mix well.
5.      Add oil, walnuts and carrot. (If using optional ingredients, add them here) Mix well.
6.      Bake in 8-inch cake tin for 45-55 min.

1.      Mix cream cheese and butter with icing sugar.
2.      Add orange juice and mix well.
3.      Whisk till texture is slightly fluffy and spread on cooled cake.
4.      Sprinkle chopped walnuts and grated rind.

Walks - A Family's Good Friend

We have been taking long walks as a family. Bubbles holding my hand, and Bun either in a stroller or strapped in a carrier. I'm surprised at the distances Bubbles' little legs can go these days as our walks can last more than an hour.

As we walk, we chat about what we see, how we feel, make-up stories, or experiment with different ways of moving (hop on one leg, avoid stepping on lines etc). We've spotted a variety of animals and insects, bird feathers, tadpoles, mushrooms, and other interesting flora.

Sometimes it rains, and we would hurriedly seek shelter as we whip out our umbrellas. Bubbles will use 'her' pink umbrella (a complimentary one we received from a supermarket buy), and scurry around with glee.

Look, an umbrella with legs!

I know too little about plants. Besides the common ixoras, mimosas, orchids, morning glorys, bird's nest ferns, rain trees, angsana trees, and pong pong trees, there are few others that I can name. I mark this as another learning journey I want to take.

Still, the walks have been enjoyable. We arrive back home feeling refreshed from the healthy exertion, the pleasures of nature, and accepting companionship of family. This is one activity that we want to keep doing!


Does anyone know what is this? I am pretty sure I learnt about this yonks ago. The seeds are obviously scattered by wind. What tree does this come from? The name eludes me!

Thanks to all who shared with me your thoughts about this fruit! I am using the information you shared with me in this edit.

I do think that the fruit we was is likely from the African Tulip Tree. However, I am now curious if it is the same as the more sinister-sounding Midnight Horror Tree!. The latter's fruits seem to hang down rather than grow upwards like the African Tulip though so I doubt it is the same plant. But the fruits look so similar otherwise! I'll be happy to hear from anyone who knows better!

National Parks Singapore has this write-up you can download:
The 10 most common trees in Singapore.
Go have a look - it is worth a read! This knowledge will definitely make our future walks more interesting.