Friday, 31 December 2010

Breakfast at Coco's

You've got to love a place where cake is an acceptable form of breakfast. We went for breakfast (it was almost lunchtime) at Coco's in Norwalk. D's breakfast combo cane with this coffee cake, which contrary to my expectations, didn't contain any coffee. It was a spiced pumpkin cake so I have to assume that the word coffee cake makes reference to the fact that you have this with coffee. Is that right? It was moist and rich, and came with whipped butter on the side. Seriously, American breakfast places put butter on everything! French toast, pancakes, crepes... I'm sure my eggs were cooked in butter.

I have my coffee black but was interested to know what these little cups of creamer taste like. I don't know what half and half or French vanilla is so I opened one of each to try. Half n half is sooooo creamy. I can't believe it goes into coffee. I expect a layer of fat to be floating on top of your cup of Joe if one of these go in. The French vanilla. Hmmm...where do I start. First of all I didn't expect this to be sweet but boy was it SWEET. it was pure corn syrup with artificial vanilla flavoring. Like the half n half, it was also very creamy. I think I'll pass on these but I'm glad I know what they taste like now.

If the helmet was white

I could be a Stig lookalike. I persuaded D to let me ride on his Kawasaki Ninja as opposed to taking the car. We kept bumping helmets at starts and breaks. Is that normal? What can a pillion rider do to avoid this?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A visit to IHOP

I think it stands for International House of Pancakes. Two eggs, sausage, bacon, ham and hash brown potatoes with a side of pancakes and 5 types of syrup. This is why I'm fat! A quick note about the bacon in America: it's always cooked to a crisp, compared to the more chewy, meaty bacon in the UK. I can't decide which one I like better. All I can say is I'm glad to be going home soon to my treadmill.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010


Wide open spaces, snow capped mountains in the horizon, sunny skies and four lane roads. I will miss you. California you are wonderfully made by our Creator.

A Salvadorean Christmas dinner

Not a turkey or brussel sprout in sight! The cylindrical thing is a chicken tamale which is really hard work to make but so delicious! D's mom wrapped masa around flavourful chicken shreds and cassava. This is done in a leaf and foil to form the cylindrical shape, stacked one on top of the other in a giant pot and boiled. D's Tia (aunt) made the rice and potato salad, both bursting with flavour and his mom also made the beef stew. I've never had any of these before but they were so good sprinkled with lots of cilantro and hot sauce.

Santa trap

Little M walked up to me with an enlightened, excited grin on his face today. 'Hey do you know how to get Santa to come to our house?'. I said no I didn't know. 'You put cookies and milk out!' he replied. Apparently, someone in elementary school told him. So his mum bought some colourful Christmas cookies and let him pour out some soy milk (silk) because the Santa that visits his home is lactose intolerant. Personally, I found the green and purple colours quite off-putting. But sugar cookies are sugar cookies and they are yummy once you get over the unnatural hues.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Wienerschnitzel review

Just a quick stop by a nearby Wienerschnitzel, a fast food hut which will douse chilli and cheese over anything on their menu - fries, burgers and hot dogs. We got two chilli cheese fries and three chilli cheese dogs and settled ourselves on the open air seating. The fries were beautifully crisp and made to order, and the hot dog was grilled (not boiled - hooray!). A sloppy meal but I loved mopping up the chilli with the soft bun. This was the perfect salty, flavourful meal washed down with my favourite soda, root beer. I just wish diet root beer existed; I'll be its biggest fan. This was my first WS experience and I'll definitely be back.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Good news, bad news

Good news: I found the perfect puffer Coat - matte, machine washable, faux fur detachable hood, down-filled, tie belt - it ticked all my boxes. The Gap ones are super shiny.

Bad news: It's from Hollister and retails at $140

Good news: It's 30% off

Bad news: it's still $98, and there's a Calvin Klein equivalent (online only) reduced to $78 albeit without belt. And since the CK one is online only I can't try it. So am I paying $20 for the belt, the right to try it on, and the HCO logo which I actually don't want to be associated with as I'm not a teenage Betty surfer girl but instead a lawyer working in a chic and tailored English city?

Good news: I like the Hollister coat and unlike the CK, I dont have to pay shipping. After converting to GBP, it's cheaper than the closest M&S equivalent I could find (which isn't great).

Bad news: it's Hollister. And what if there is a further reduction in the next few days?

Good news: it looks and feels perfect on. I don't have time to track the prices of puffer coats. I spend enough time tracking securities and financial trends.

Bad news: side distraction, Betty size M?? Yes I chose M for some room for thick jumpers but I used to be a Betty S!

Good news: I'm not a teenager any more and I love the present and look forward to my certain future.

Bad news: aiihhh seriously, Hollister?

Good news: I bought the coat!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Manchester-London Heathrow-LAX

I'm now in LA! My previous experiences flying from Manchester to the US with Delta and American Airlines weren't too good. The three major issues were:

1. The airlines had layovers in a city on the East Coast, such as Philadelphia and Chicago. Connection times are often pretty tight and it's mandatory to pick up your luggage at your first US stop and then re-check in for the onward flight. Praise God I have never missed a flight but I've cut it seriously fine sometimes.

2. After 7 hours of flying, it's awful to know that you have another 5 hours to go. The flight from Manchester to London was under an hour long and then it was 11 hours straight to Los Angeles.

3. In flight service on the British Airways flight was SO much better!

Will post photos very soon once D gets off the computer. I'm blogging from his iPad. I love LA so far, and seem to have brought the rain with me from England. It's been raining a lot, which is totally out of character for the sunshine state.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

That H&M Du Juan red Christmas dress

Remember that dress?

Well obviously supermodel Du Juan looks perfectly svelte in it. Woowwweeet! As for me, I needed to get a UK size 12. The size 10 was unforgiving, and any form of unforgiveness is out as far as I'm concerned.

I wore the dress to my office Christmas party and we were accidentally-on-purpose arranged to result in an alternating red and black pattern. You can never go wrong with red in this time of year. No-ho.

Photo borrowed taken shamelessly from L's facebook page. I hope she doesn't mind! I didn't bring a camera that night. I had a lot of fun but sadly fell ill the following few days. The venue (the town hall) was extremely cold. Incidentally, this was the night when my colleagues imparted some pearls of wisdom to me regarding "control underwear". Seriously, how did I not know they exist seeing as I could definitely use some? A google search the next day revealed that control underwear are in fact quite expensive so I didn't look into the subject matter any further. 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Catch up - the past 2 weeks in photos

My birthday outfit

All saints button detail off-shoulder top, uniqlo striped culottes, uniqlo heattech grey stirrup leggings, and Marks and Spencer's round toe faux fur cuff boots.

Heavy snowfall outside my office window. After 5 years here, snow is still such a novelty for me!

Student protests against the proposed tuition fees hike. Funny placard quotes included "First Dobby dies, now THIS??" and "Dumbledore is rolling in his grave!". Um, students, we want to be taken seriously yes?

Celebratory dinner at Giraffe with WP. We were celebrating God's goodness and faithfulness as she received good news that her contract as a travel copywriter is being extended. WP is a very good writer.

Farewell party, a send-off to good friends who are returning to South Korea after a stint in Manchester. In the photo I'm squashed between darlings Ju-He (leaving us! boohoo) and Charis, the brilliant owner and chief designer / buyer behind GRAFEA, a boutique of luxury leather goods. Link to her online store on the side bar --> This woman has Vogue magazines dating to before I was born!

Glistening Beijing roast duck for my birthday dinner. Mmmmm... What a blessing! This was seriously yummy.

A birthday gift basket put together by good friends J and WP :) Supersized mugs and marmite. They know me too well.

Thank you Jesus.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Du Juan and Sun Fei Fei for H&M

Saw this latest H&M winter campaign on Market Street, Manchester today and nearly clapped with delight! Aren't they stunning? I'm partial to the red dress (£9.99); it's perfect for Christmas.

Credits: The image is the property of H&M, sourced from AsianModelsBlog.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Pizza Express, Old Colony House, 6a South King Street, Manchester

So it was the night before my birthday, and the night of the Christmas lights switch-on in Manchester. Here are some fireworks as proof!

WP and I decided to go to Pizza Express at the Old Colony House. Pizza Express is a very well known and ubiquitous franchise in the UK, and they are very hit and miss when it comes to food and service standards. For instance, the worst Pizza Express experience I've had is at the Piccadilly Gardens branch. The service was poor and the food wasn't great. The only thing that was nice was the Sicilian lemonade, and that's because it came out of a bottle.

This Pizza Express at South King Street was miles better, and we really enjoyed our dinner there. WP ordered the Diavolo - hot spicy beef, pepperoni, onions and Tabasco sauce. Lots of green chillies!

I ordered the Pollo Pancetta but substituted the red onions for caramelised onions (which was actually a chutney). This was yummy, the pancetta was perfectly crisp around the edges and there was plenty of cheese.

Check out the size of my pizza. I was undeterred!

The get-up was very standard Pizza Express: clean, no-fuss and efficient. We were up for a no-fuss dinner and this ticked all the right boxes.

This was the beginning of a long weekend of feasting and being non-vegan!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Vegan Zucchini / Courgette and Onion Mini Cornbread - Recipe

So it's only day 4 of my 40 day vegan trial and already I'm slightly frustrated at the lack of options available to me in the cafe at work. I love savoury snacks but there is always some form of lactose or egg-derived ingredient on even the most vegetarian option on offer.

So when I got home this evening, I decided to whip together a savoury snack I could pack to work which doesn't taste like grass, hommous or lentils. I found some cornmeal lurking in the kitchen and decided to make a vegan version of the traditional cornbread. Now I am no expert in soul food by any stretch of the imagination so I appreciate this will be a very distant relative to proper southern corn bread. Nevertheless as someone who has been cooking since the age of four, I do have some common sense in the kitchen and promise you the final product is pretty yummy for something with no butter, milk or cheese in it.

Firstly, get your muffin tray. I use these cute re-usable silicone cups from Asda. You don't need to grease these and they work so well. Very cheap too. Oh, and easy to wash after! Grate 3/4 of a courgette/zucchini (depending which side of the pond you live) into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. As you can see from the photo below, the mixture starts becoming mushy as the salt causes the zucchini to seep water.

Next, add softened onions. I'd softened these a couple of days ago and kept it in the fridge. I have a habit of softening a huge batch of onions at once and storing them so that as and when I fancy something quick, I don't need to chop and fry onions from scratch, stinking up the kitchen.

Then add half a cup of soy milk and 4 tablespoons of oil. This soy milk is sweetened because that was all I had but I don't think it makes a difference. Excuse the Old El Paso salsa in the background. My flatmate was making burritos.

Then add a cup and a half of corn meal. There's a story of how this cornmeal ended up in my kitchen but I'll save the story for another day. For now, I'll just say I didn't know this ingredient existed in UK supermarkets before and this is the first bag I bought.

I love the bright yellow colour of cornmeal!

Mix it all in. Now, I know the next step will cause either

A: looks of horror and disgust
B: whoops of delight

as along with a teaspoon of vegetable bouillon and turmeric, I add a generous squirt of Marmite. I love Marmite. I have it almost every day, on crumpets with butter, on toast, in rice porridge, the list goes on. You don't have to add Marmite if you don't like it, but trust me, it's so good and doesn't actually taste that strong in the grand scheme of things.

Mix very well (remember you added bouillon so MIX MIX MIX). Spoon into the muffin moulds.

They call me yellow mellow...

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190 deg celcius until golden brown. These babies took about 20 minutes. Just keep an eye on the baking in the last 10 minutes.

Mmmmm... I love the sight of shredded zucchini peeking out! The cornbread is on the heavy side as I didn't add any baking powder and plain flour so maybe I'll include those next time. However, I really like it this way as the zucchini keeps the cornbread moist and it's not crumbly at all, unlike some cornbread I've tried in restaurants. I like the slight pull you get once it cools down.
Do try this at home! It's totally vegan and no animals were harmed in the production of this recipe.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Vegan Day 2

So as promised, here is my vegan lunch for day 2 - I forgot to take a photo of day 1's lunch and wolfed it down quicker than you can say "lactose-free". Say hello to my lunch box! It's quite boring but it's functional. I fancy some of the really cute bento style boxes but those are expensive so we'll stick with what we've got.

Some low fat hummous
Carrot sticks
Vegetable curry - I made this at home with some Japanese curry mix, cauliflower, zuchinni, carrot sticks (I'm going to turn orange), sweetcorn, onions and spinach.
An orange
A plain bagel
Some rice crackers

Estimated total cost of all items in this packed lunch: £1.47

Sunday, 7 November 2010

40 days of vegan

Today I embark on a 40 day challenge I set for myself, something which I've been convicted of doing for awhile but never got to it due to lack of organisation and a general fondness towards eggs, cheese and protein. I am particularly fond of a good steak:



I watched a programme awhile back documenting how our food is produced. Whilst I have nothing against eating meat, eggs and dairy, something wasn't right. Over the next few weeks, I felt a stirring in my heart to actively try to trace the origin of my foods. It was harder than I thought it would be! I couldn't be assured by the labelling on my food that the chickens of my eggs were free to roam or that my steak was a cow that was regularly let out to peacefully graze. I'm by no means a PETA champion but do feel that as stewards of God's creation, there is something to be said about making choices that encourage ethical farming. Farming issues are not just about animal rights, but include environmental issues, workers and farmers' rights, economic justice and health and safety.

Every time we buy something, we are casting a vote as to what we want: baby corn flown in from Thailand or potatoes delivered from a field 30 miles away? Affordable barn hens or slightly more expensive free range organic chickens?

The reasons I'm challenging myself to go vegan for 40 days are two-fold:

1. The labels in the supermarkets are, in my opinion still not clear enough and can be misleading. I don't have very much time at all and certainly cannot spend the additional minutes deciphering labels. The problem of Freedom Food vs Free Range vs Organic vs Red Tractor vs Country of Origin etc etc etc is completely eliminated if I just cut out everything that came from an animal.

2. Free range meats are expensive! I can't afford them anyway.

As there are almost zero pure vegan options in my office cafe, I've decided to pack my own lunches to work. To make things a little bit more fun, I'll be documenting my work vegan bentos every now and then to let you have look at what a noob-vegan is learning to make/ pull together! Watch this space :)

Can't believe how tan I was in summer

I miss my tan!
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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Professional Masterchef - Saturday funnies

This made me laugh out loud! W and I caught the real finale on BBC iPlayer and commented on the over-the-top epic music, dragged-out "suspense" scenes verging on ridiculous and over-enthusiastic grandiose editing of what is essentially just another cooking show. The editor of this satire video has a real point. If you're based in the UK (i.e. you have a UK IP address - I know some of you can make as if you do have a UK IP address when you are in fact somewhere else, yes you Hulu-fan pretenders you know who you are - it's ILLEGAL yo!), you can catch the real Masterchef Finale on BBC iPlayer.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Trof - The Deaf Institute, Manchester

J, Z, W and I went to Trof to have a big Sunday lunch together. As most of us hadn't had breakfast, we were ready to eat like kings. The Deaf Institute is Trof's "Cafe, Bar and Music Hall" and there are a whole list of performances and open mic events running most evenings throughout the week. However, on Sundays it's a good old mixtape of mostly British artists played in the background. A friend Ed (a musician himself) once joked that "you need a beard to work in Trof" - referring to a lovely member of staff who works here. I love Trof's large varnished wooden tables and big bottles of sauces passed from table to table as they are needed. It sure beats the Wetherspoon chain of pubs' packet sauces which ends up leaving a huge mess on the table. Not very environmentally friendly either!

I ordered the Roast Pork (£7.95), a Sunday roast special. I've only ever eaten in Trof on Sundays! I was instantly disappointed when my plate arrived because It Wasn't Crispy :( The only reason I ordered this was my assumption that roast porks will have a top layer of fat blitzed to a lovely crackling. As you can see, the top layer was a gelatinous piece of skin. To be fair to Trof, this still tasted good. The meat was amazingly tender, they were generous with the gravy and  the roast potatoes were perfect, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I love that they served this with deep green vegetables and leaves as I much prefer those to carrots and root vegetables. There was an interesting (slightly watery) sweet potato mash which I neither liked nor disliked. If the top layer of skin was done to a crackling, this would have been my favourite roast pork dinner!*

Z ordered the Crispy Bacon, Brie and Cranberry melt. (£5.95) This was served with a side of fresh hot chips and spinach leaves. I didn't try it but Z said he really enjoyed it.

J and W both ordered the Mozzarella, Chicken and Pesto sandwiches each (£5.95) again served with chips and spinach leaves. They both really liked this as well.

I felt slightly embarrassed that on that table, my plate was significantly larger than the other three! Oh well, I don't like ordering sandwiches when I eat out because I always feel like sandwiches are something I can make at home. When I eat out, I tend to order things I would never bother to make at home, either because they're too time consuming or made of unusual ingredients.

As always, we were too full to order dessert. One of these days, we need to skip the main and go straight for dessert!

*I know as Malaysians we call something a "dinner" when it's eaten after 6pm. Sunday dinners start at 12 noon here!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Autumn Leaves (actual ones, not the song)

This shot was taken on my phone as I was walking down Mosley Street off St Peter's Square. A phone photo really doesn't do this justice and it's Autumn/Winter time when I most long for a DSLR. The colours in my surroundings start to become very muted due to the reduction in light. They look like similar species of trees that just happen to be in different phases. Perhaps they each want to make their own fashion statement! 

Jesus said to us: "...and why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin" (Matthew 6:28)

Jesus didn't ask us not to work. What he means is that as we work, we should enjoy the peace and joy that comes through faith in Him. I actually took this shot on my way to the bus stop from work after spending my Saturday alone in the office, working through my ever increasing to-do list. My hours at work can be crazy but I love that God tells me not to be anxious as He is always in control. 

Incidentally, I'm slightly concerned that the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the trees was Neopolitan Ice Cream! Yum.. Chocolate Strawberry and Vanilla. 

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Goodbye summer

Autumn and winter is now well and truly upon us, so I say farewell to summer. Thank you Jesus for an amazing summer, a time for glossy fruit tarts in an open air picnic...

...and excitable dogs playing fetch in the summer fields

I love these two little rascals we met on a walk in the Yorkshire Dales. They were super friendly and were chasing a squidgy orange toy-on-a-string. I liked their scrunched up scruffy faces which made them look like they'd run head first into a brick wall and got smushed. What do you call this breed?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

My Funny Valentine

I've never heard this old classic played like this before! I've always thought this song was tacky and cheesy but he turns it into a very pretty song.. Enjoy

He makes it look easy, no? I've practised the main "rigid" song but need to learn some running notes skillzzzz

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Ivory tears

My friends may be surprised to know that I started playing the piano at the age of four. Surprised because I don't play very much now, and don't talk about it very much either. My first piano was a black, upright Petrof. My parents had very little money back then but they saved all they could to buy me a proper piano (were there digital keyboards back in 1989? I don't know...). My eyes lit up at the beautiful shiny ivory and black keys, and with legs not quite long enough to reach the sustain pedal, I began taking weekly lessons. I didn't know very much about pianos back then, only that my Petrof piano was painfully heavy for a child's fingers compared to my tutor's Yamaha. Years later, I learnt that Petrofs are Czech, and that it was founded by a man who studied piano making in Vienna in the 1800s.

My piano lessons over the many years were, in short, the bane of my life. What started out as something fun soon became a chore. I begged my parents to let me quit but they felt that I was at an age where I didn't know what was best for me. And so began the ivory tears, the few hours before my piano lessons with a very strict classical piano teacher were moments of panic and dismay. I begrudgingly and soullessly trundled my way through hours of Bach, Cramer and Hadyn. Oh, and 10 minutes of Hanon exercises daily.

Fast forward 10 years, I left my home country Malaysia to study in Singapore. By then, I could sight read classical pieces in the three most popular clefs (treble, bass, who-uses-it-anymore-C-clef), tell you the intervals of most musical instruments and identify when a note was a quarter-tone flat/sharp. My music training was militant and I was glad to be rid of it. I never believed I had real talent - what I achieved was just a result of hours of practising and memorising a piece. My piano was too big to travel with me and so it was goodbye piano.

One day, I was in a hotel and the pianist was playing the most beautiful jazz improv, something which I could never dream of doing. As I mentioned before, I don't think I'm a talented musician - just a girl who kept playing set pieces over and over again until she got it right. This man was playing from the soul, his fingers speaking so naturally that I was instantly envious - it was something I've never unlocked. I'm not a "creative" spirit, and whilst I could have a song in my head, I don't know how to create it naturally with my hands on the keys. I am no improv jazz pianist. Instead of your usual Autumn Leaves or Night & Day, Mr Hotel Pianist was playing Cramer's Les suivantes No.2 in his own interpretation. It was beautiful.

I have a love-hate relationship with the piano. After years of scoldings and disappointment (my ABRSM piano exams were my worst fears, next was the loss of my parents and the dentist), my confidence wilts when I'm asked to play. My pulse quickens with nerves even before I set my hands on ivory. I played regularly for worship in Sunday meetings in Malaysia at one point but stopped when I was told off by a lady at church for being fidgety. The only time I can play is when nobody is listening but God and I.

One day, I was in the music room in my halls of residence with D, my now fiance. He knew I played the piano once upon a time and asked casually if I would play something. Immediately, the feeling of panic struck and I adamantly refused and changed the subject. I'd shelved piano playing in my past. For Christmas that year, he bought me a little Yamaha 66-key keyboard. This is a photo of the said keyboard:

I'm pleased to say that I started learning to play the piano again today, and will be practising on my Christmas present. This time it's because I want to do it. My piano playing past has been peppered with doubt, criticism and self-consciousness: all things which are lies and not of God. Instead, I choose to be God-conscious and and apply my hands to an instrument to create songs of worship. I choose to think and live in a way which glorifies Him, not myself. I lift my eyes beyond my little world and my little past and see Him. The best way of getting over yourself is to know that it's all about Jesus.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Swim shorts on Market Street

I was with my parents who were visiting me in Manchester when we caught sight of two middle aged men in swimming shorts. Don't let the sunglasses fool you, sunny and Manchester seldom sit in the same sentence...unless that sentence is 'Why is it never sunny in Manchester?'. They were promoting a travel website and certainly drew a lot of attention. This was pretty clever, funny and it finds it's way into many cameras and phones, which made it pretty effective! I felt slightly sorry for the men who had to stand starkers in pretty dismal weather though.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Who you gonna call?

Colonel Sanders! I had the hankering for some good old original recipe chicken after work yesterday. Somehow the combination of a 3 mile run during lunch hour followed by a manic afternoon in the office sparked the fried chicken craving in me which I couldn't ignore. Maybe I needed protein to rebuild my calf muscles... Yeah that's what it was. Great excuse! So here we end up after a long day, and a divine appointment with a lady at the bus stop where I listened, then spoke love and blessing into her life; after a fruitful day, I picked up a set of 2 piece chicken , fries, gravy and a diet pepsi, went back to my hotel room and ate while watching the news.


This is a little 'pick me up' tiramisu I shared with D when we were at the Trafford Centre in Manchester. Layers of sponge fingers soaked in coffee and mascarpone cheese, dusted with cocoa powder. It was lush and I'm so glad they only gave us a portion because if it was up to me, I would have sat myself down with the entire tray of 6 servings and a fork and nom nom nommmmm. I love tiramisus and this was particularly yummy. The coffee here wasn't good enough for D though. He's got pretty high standards when it comes to coffee. His grandparents were coffee growers and he's not found a good cup of coffee yet in England. Any suggestions for great coffee places are most welcome.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Birthday Dad

My father doesn't like cake. But as it was his birthday, cake and candles were mandatory. We celebrated by having dinner at Red Chilli, Manchester. The food was as good as ever (Red Chilli is wonderfully consistent) and the waiter initiated the birthday song whilst traipsing in with a fully lit cake! We are very blessed.