Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eating in Singapore

My original title for this blog was "Dining in Singapore", but "dining" seems too lofty a term for our eating experiences. Yesterday, Joe and Jill took us to a hawker centre, an outdoor complex filled with stalls selling a large variety of Asian foods. We especially loved the refreshing fruit shakes and all the types of seafood that one can get freshly grilled. There was even abalone for those willing to pay the price for it. We got to sample chili squid, satay chicken and beef, Asian fried rice and a big succulent prawn smothered in garlic, shown above. However, the best dish, in my mind, was the wonderfully gooey oyster omelet in the photo below. Strangely, the only other person in our party willing to share it with me was my brother Joe.

We loved the Asian food courts in Singapore. These food courts can be found at most tourist attractions and in practically every mall (and there are many malls here). It is easy to get a complete meal for the equivalent of $3 or $4 Canadian dollars, and one can choose from Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Japanese and Korean cuisines.

At the food courts, you can finish off your meal with a delicious low-fat fruit dessert. I was impressed by the fact that you can buy a variety of fresh fruit by the piece, but what really stunned me was finding out that I can get the following for only $2 (or $1.70 CDN) :

Black grass jelly over crushed ice doused with syrup and topped with longan fruit. Dessert just doesn't get better than this!!

We had other terrific dining experiences, too many to describe fully here, but these included:
  • Chili crab and black-pepper crab at the famous Long Beach Seafood Restaurant.
  • A very good Chinese lunch at a little back-street restaurant that Jill wandered into, after our yarn-shopping expedition in Chinatown.
  • A hearty Indian meal in Little India, eaten on a big banana leaf.
  • Excellent home-cooking by Joe and Jill's live-in nanny, Basil.
  • And finally, the requisite over-priced but tasty Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Very Green Christmas

It looks like Santa Claus did indeed make his way from the North Pole all the way to Singapore after all! Oliver was happy to see that Santa ate the cookie and drank the milk he left out, and he was thrilled with all the toys Santa left for him. Martin was mostly excited about unwrapping all the pretty boxes. It's great to spend Christmas with family, even if we're 15000km from home!

We really did have a green Christmas here, as we'd decided to spend the afternoon at the Singapore Botanic Gardens building up an appetite for the big turkey dinner. Julia had finally recovered from the jet lag enough to want to go for a run, and the rest of us admired the gardens, including the incredible National Orchid Garden, at a somewhat slower pace.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful ...

After two days of good weather, we had a tremendous downpour that started in the wee hours and lasted through the morning. When it rains here, it really pours! That didn't stop the kids from having a good time outside. Actually, it was quite refreshing walking around the patio, with shoes and umbrellas as optional accessories.

It is strange but rather fun to celebrate Christmas in this tropical country, knowing that our family and friends back home are being subjected to yet another snowstorm and enjoying a very white Christmas. So how do Singaporeans celebrate Christmas? I've noticed that they, like us Northern folk, enjoy putting up bright and colourful decorations. The mall entrances feature huge Christmas trees heavily laden with ornaments, and windows of homes are decorated with Christmas lights and snowflake (yes, snowflake) cutouts.

Then, there are the enthusiastic ice-skaters at the mall. I suppose the skates are rented, as I wouldn't expect these to be in every Singaporean's closet. I loved watching the skaters. The kids seemed to be truly having fun, not beating each other with sticks on the ice like they do in Canada.

And then there are the truly bizarre interpretations of the Yuletide celebration:

First Days in Singapore

It's great being here with Joe and Jill, and the girls are happy to have time to spend with their cousins Martin and Oliver. Joe and Jill have the Christmas tree and decorations up and are planning the traditional turkey dinner, even if there's no sign of snow here. We're all excited about Santa Claus's arrival tonight, though we're not sure whether he'll be in his heavy red coat or just T-shirt and shorts.

The weather was terrific the first couple of days. Well, truthfully, it was very hot and extremely humid according to our Canadian standards, but we're told that it was milder and more pleasant than usual. In any case, it did not rain, and it was always possible to escape to an air-conditioned area or cool off in the pool.

Given the good weather, we decided to spend our first day at the Singapore Zoo, where we saw many interesting sights. Those included animals unfamiliar to us, like the proboscis monkey below, and old friends in different circumstances, like the polar bear munching on a watermelon. The following night, we returned to the Singapore Zoo's "Night Safari", where we took an hour-long tram ride and got a close-up look at the nocturnal animals subtly lit up with an eerie glow.

On our second day, we took the subway into the downtown area. To our eyes, the subway was much like the other parts of Singapore that we'd seen so far: clean, well laid out, efficient, and existing to support the national obsession with shopping. We spent the morning at the Asian Civilization Museum which has a very good collection of artifacts from the countries surrounding Singapore. We then stopped at a pub at the picturesque Boat Quay for a leisurely lunch, and we finished the afternoon with some last-minute Christmas shopping. It's not difficult to find a mall in this city!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Outrunning Snowmageddon

We are now in warm and sunny Singapore! We left home Thursday evening, just hours before the big snow event was scheduled to start, and made our way to Buffalo, where we stayed overnight at a hotel near the airport. Worried about our one-hour connection time in Toronto, Todd had our Buffalo-Chicago flight moved to an earlier time. Despite having to stumble out of bed at 5am, we were glad we arranged the earlier flight, as we took off just as the storm was getting really bad in Buffalo.

We got to Chicago an hour late but still had plenty of time before our connection, which by some miracle, was still scheduled to leave on time. All around us, other flights were being delayed or cancelled. We had a nice, leisurely walk from one terminal to the other through Chicago O'Hare's awesome walkway, complete with music and light show. That almost made up for the hour sitting on the runway once we got on the plane. Finally, we took off, and 15 very tedious hours later, we staggered off the plane in Hong Kong.

Todd, because of his frequent flying habits, was offered a business-class upgrade for the Hong Kong to Singapore trip. The airline very generously offered upgrades to his family members (i.e. Julia and Kate) but refused to offer one for me as I had a different last name. It really wasn't a big deal to me (I just wanted to sleep through the flight at this point) but Todd, being a persistent kind of guy, eventually persuaded the airline to give all of us upgrades. I was pleased in the end that my kids did not get to experience business class travel for the first time before I did, at age 41! Todd and I had an excellent meal, washed down with lots of wine. The kids, having eaten sufficiently earlier, declined the entree but happily accepted the rich chocolate dessert.

So finally, after 24 hours of travel, we arrived in Singapore at midnight local time and were enthusiastically greeted by my brother Joe. We've been here a couple of days and are having a wonderful time so far with Joe, Jill, Oliver and Martin. I'll be posting lots of photos soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One-Hour Earwarmer Pattern

This earwarmer was inspired by one I saw on the Urban Outfitters Web site. I made a few adjustments to make it less fussy for my kid who generally refuses to wear a hat unless there's a windchill warning. At first, Julia thought the one we saw on-line looked silly but then warmed up to the idea of wearing one. After trying on my first attempt, she declared it was OK but she wasn't crazy about the colour. So I asked her what colour she would like. Her reply: "Maybe a white one ... or pink. Red is nice too. Actually, Mom, can you make me a whole bunch in lots of different colours?" Sure, sweetie, I'll get right on it.

Anyhow, here is the pattern to make your own. I used a chunky yarn for the one in the photo, but I used two strands of Aran-weight yarn for another. It ended up a bit wider, and I worked fewer rows. The pattern is easily adjusted to various yarn weights. I called this a "one-hour" pattern. To be totally truthful, it took me a bit over an hour, but I was watching a good episode of Battlestar Galactica while knitting it.

Width at widest part: 3.75 inches
Circumference: 20 inches; stretches to 22 inches.
Note: circumference can be easily adjusted.

1 85g skein Patons Shetland Chunky or other chunky-weight yarn (approx. 50-60m needed)
6mm knitting needles

16 stitches over 4 inches using stockinette stitch

M1: make 1 by knitting into the previous row between current and next stitch
M1P: make 1 by purling into the previous row between current and next stitch
K2tog: knit 2 together
P2tog: purl 2 together
SSK: decrease one stitch with a slip, slip, knit
Patt: continue in pattern by knitting all knit stitches and purling all purl stitches

Cast on 5 stitches.
Row 1: K all stitches.
Row 2: P all stitches.
Rows 3 and 4: Patt.

Increase to full width:
Row 1: K1, M1P, K3, M1P, K1. (7 stitches)
Row 2: P1, K1, P3, K1, P1.
Row 3: K1, P1, K1, M1P, K1, M1P, K1, P1, K1. (9 stitches)
Row 4: P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1.
Rows 5 and 6: Patt.
Row 7: K1, P1, M1, K1, P1, M1, K1, P1, M1, K1, P1, K1. (12 stitches)
Row 8: P1, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P1.
Rows 9 and 10: Patt.
Row 11: K1, M1, P1, K2, P1, K2, P1, K2, P1, M1, K1. (14 stitches)
Row 12: P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2.
Rows 13 and 14: Patt.
Row 15: K2, P1, K2, M1P, P1, K2, P1, M1P, K2, P1, K2. (16 stitches)
Row 16: P2, K1, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K1, P2.
Rows 17 and 18: Patt.
Row 19: K2, P1, M1P, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, M1P, P1, K2. (18 stitches)
Row 20: P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2.
Rows 21 and 22: Patt.
Row 23: K2, P2, K2, P2, M1, K2, M1, P2, K2, P2, K2. (20 stitches)
Row 24: P2, K2, P2, K2, P4, K2, P2, K2, P2.
Rows 25 and 26: Patt.
Row 27: K2, P2, M1, K2, P2, K4, P2, K2, M1, P2, K2. (22 stitches) Place marker.
Row 28: P2, K2, P3, K2, P4, K2, P3, K2, P2.

Knit central portion:
Patt until length from cast-on edge is 10 inches or half the desired circumference.
(Final circumference should be about 2 inches less than head measurement from nape to forehead and back to nape.) You are now at the half-way point and will reverse shaping for the remainder of the earwarmer.
Count the number of rows completed from marker, including the row that the marker is on, and continue in the pattern for this many rows.

Decrease to end:
Row 1: K2, P2, SSK, K1, P2, K4, P2, K1, K2tog, P2, K2. (20 stitches)
Row 2: P2, K2, P2, K2, P4, K2, P2, K2, P2.
Rows 3 and 4: Patt.
Row 5: K2, P2, K2, P2, SSK, K2tog, P2, K2, P2, K2. (18 stitches)
Row 6: P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2.
Rows 7 and 8: Patt.
Row 9: K2, P2tog, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2tog, K2. (16 stitches)
Row 10: P2, K1, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K1, P2.
Rows 11 and 12: Patt.
Row 13: K2, P1, K2, P2tog, K2, P2tog, K2, P1, K2 (14 stitches)
Row 14: P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2.
Rows 15 and 16: Patt.
Row 17: K2tog, P1, K2, P1, K2, P1, K2, P1, K2tog. (12 stitches)
Row 18: P1, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P1.
Rows 19 and 20: Patt.
Row 21: K1, P1, K2tog, P1, K2tog, P1, K2tog, P1, K1. (9 stitches)
Row 22: P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1.
Rows 23 and 24: Patt.
Row 25: K1, P1, SSK, K1, K2tog, P1, K1. (7 stitches)
Row 26: P1, K1, P3, K1, P1.
Row 27: SSK, K3, K2tog. (5 stitches)
Row 28: Purl all stitches.

Knit 4 more rows, knitting all knit stitches and purling all purl stitches.
Cast off and sew ends together.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Speedy Cabled Cowl Pattern

I decided to make a cowl to go with the beret and I convinced my reluctant model to pose for a few more shots. This was another fast and easy project that took about an hour in all to make. The pattern is below.

1 skein Sirdar Big Softie
10mm knitting needles

Note about materials: I used almost an entire skein of the Sirdar Big Softie yarn. If your tension is looser than mine, you might want to buy an extra skein for safety, or you can do one fewer row of ribbing on either end, and it won't affect the look of the cowl much. If you are also making the matching beret, then 3 skeins will be more than enough for both projects.

9 stitches and 12 rows over 4-inch square using stockinette stitch.

M1: Make an additional stitch by working into previous row between current and next stitch.
C4: Place next two stitches on a cable needle and hold in front of work. Knit next two stitches on left-hand needle. Then knit two stitches from cable needle.
K2tog: Knit two together.
P2tog: Purl two together
SSK: Decrease with a slip, slip, knit.

With 10mm needles, cast on 41 stitches.

Start ribbing.
Row 1 (RS): *P2, K2*. Repeat from * to * until last stitch. P1.
Row 2 (WS): K1. *P2, K2* Repeat from * to * until end of row.
Row 3: Repeat row 1.
Row 4: Repeat row 2.

Next row (RS): *P2, M1, K2, M1*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (61 stitches).
Next row (WS): K1. *P4, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.

Start cable pattern.
Row 1 (RS): *P2, C4*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1.
Row 2 (WS): K1. *P4, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.
Row 3 (RS): *P2, K4*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1.
Row 4: Repeat row 2.
Row 5: Repeat row 3.
Row 6: Repeat row 2.
Row 7: Repeat row 1.
Row 8: Repeat row 2.

Next row (RS): *P2, SSK, K2tog*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (41 stitches)
Next row (WS): K1. *P2, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.
Next row (RS): *P2, K2*. Repeat from * to * until last stitch. P1.
Next row (WS): K1. *P2, K2* Repeat from * to * until end of row.

Cast off in rib pattern. Sew seam.