November 4, 2011

Exploding Dog

Back in the day when I first started blogging (way back in 2003!), this was something I had shared. explodingdog is a collection of drawings by Sam Brown, a really talented artist who draws these stick cartoon figures based on titles he receives. Anyone can submit a title and if it inspires him, he'll draw it. Now that there's twitter, facebook and whatever other social media, guess it makes it a lot more interactive!

I had almost forgotten about it until yesterday. It got me browsing through the website again and admiring all the new pictures (there's obviously a lot like 8 years' worth!). I thought I'd start sharing my favourite ones here. Today's drawing is a classic from 2003, when his style was a little simpler and cleaner (which I prefer actually) entitled "I have no idea what I'm doing". Enjoy!

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September 22, 2011

Book Review: Perfection In Imperfection by Janice Wong

If you are a dessert aficionado and/or lover of beautiful cookbooks, you have to get Chef Janice Wong's first book, Pefection in Imperfection. This hand-stitched, hand-made book (every cover is hand-torn and stuck on) is the product of many hours of loving labour.

It contains recipes that form Janice's signature dishes featured at her 2am Dessert Bar, all beautifully shot and artistically directed. The recipes are not meant to be direct replications of her dishes, but more to teach techniques that can be applied to your own interpretations and inspire you to create your own versions. Even if you don't get around to the recipes, the book is a visual treat for the eyes!


The book was launched a couple of weeks back in Singapore in a warehouse space filled with edible installations created by Janice such as marshmallow icicles, sugar crystal corals and rocks, edible moss, and fruit puree paintings. You can watch her interviews and see the launch here on Razor TV:

Part 1
 
 Part 2

 
 Part 3

 

I'm glad to have such a talented friend and she never ceases to amaze me with her energy and creativity. Follow her crazy adventures on her blog, and go get the book now on her Perfection in Imperfection website!

September 16, 2011

A Feature in Heart Home Magazine

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I mentioned in one of my last posts that I was asked to contribute an article to a soon-to-be launched interiors magazine Heart Home Mag. Well, it's just been launched! And it looks amazing, there's so much great content by the creative community gathered by the founders Arianna, Carole and Daniel. I'm so honoured to be part of this inaugural issue!

The feature I contributed is of course one on food. I made, styled and shot the summer berry tarts and also various flavours of fromage blanc ice cream. The shoot was inspired by an artist's atelier. I wanted to highlight the vibrant colours of the berries and to make the food look like edible paintings.
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I've posted my favourite shots that I styled and took here, as not all pictures could be included in the post. The recipes on how to make the tarts and a fromage blanc ice cream is over on Heart Home. Do go over to  Heart Home Mag and have a read!
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September 10, 2011

Guest Post on 6 Bittersweets - Pink Wedding Macarons

Flowers at J's wedding collage

Some of you may know I was back in Singapore recently for a wedding of my close friend J. Other than bridesmaid duties, I had also offered to make some of her bridal flowers (reception tables, bridal bouquet and bridesmaids' bouquets) and put together a dessert table for her lunch reception. It was all very fun albeit a little hectic, flying in from London with all my recently collected vintage china, sourcing flowers and ingredients in Singapore and having to make a large batch of macarons, rice krispies treats and meringues. Oh and arranging the flowers, did I already mention that? :)

Macarons At J's wedding collage

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Xiaolu from 6 Bittersweets and she kindly took some (amazing) photos and also lent a hand at making the desserts. This was the first time I demonstrated macarons to an audience of more than 1 and I must say it's quite fun! I've guest posted this fun experience, with a photo tutorial, over on 6 Bittersweets.

Xiaolu has very generously decided to give away her copy of i <3 macarons by Hisato Ogita to one lucky reader. To enter, comment on the post at 6 Bittersweets, follow 6 Bittersweets or Heaven in a Wild Flower via email, reader, and/or Twitter (@6bittersweets or @heavenwildfleur). Full details and terms over at 6 Bittersweets. So hop on over to read all about it as well as to visit Xiaolu's amazing blog!

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August 12, 2011

The Cult of Iced Gem Biscuits aka Biskut Ais Jem

Source: Khong Guan

Sparked off by the stream of nostalgia brought on by Plusixfive's latest post, and my horrible memory never being able to remember the name of these little biscuits, I set off on a little investigative googling mission to find out more about these old school sweets. Let's take a trip down the halls of history shall we?


The real name is Iced Gems and they were first made in 1850s (the biscuit part) by biscuit manufacturers Huntley and Palmers in Reading, Berkshire. Like many inventions, they were an accidental discovery as these biscuits shrunk and came out smaller than their intended size during a biscuit experimentation (kinda Willy Wonka huh)! The makers started selling them as Gems and subsequently added the icing bit in 1910 and as they say, there was no turning back. After a whole series of mergers/sell-offs, the production of these little guys now come under what is known as Jacob's today. The Huntley and Palmers brand today is a newly established biscuit company who bought the brand over from Danone when they sold it. You can read about the fascinating history chronicling the rise and fall of the biscuit giant here (and visit the museum in Reading!) and the history of Iced Gems on this website.

It is interesting to see how different people from all corners of the world identify with these little biscuits. Many people in Singapore and Malaysia (as did I) probably thought these were indigenous to our part of the world, often referred to as local old school snacks, since many of us grew up eating them. But if you think about it, it is highly unlikely that the fishermen of Malaya ate biscuits back then in the 1700s before the Brits came along and colonised our part of the world. They were probably munching on kuehs :) until the British introduced, along with so many other wonderful things of the western world, their tea, biscuits, cream crackers and of course, these precious gems.



They are locally known in Singapore/Malaysia as Biskut Ais Jem (malay transliteration), some also call them Belly Button biscuits, and probably more often than not, the terribly long name of ''those little biscuits with bits of colourful icing on them''. The local cousin of Iced Gems differ from the British originals in a few aspects - colour, taste and pointy-ness. Those found in Singapore have bright neon coloured icing of green, pink, yellow and white, compared to the muted colours of the Jacob's ones (though I wonder what colour Huntley & Palmers made them originally). The Singaporean ones are also far more pointy than Jacob's from what I see in pictures (see below for comparison). I haven't actually tasted the ones in UK myself, but according to Gourmet Traveller, the Jacob's ones are not as sweet (probably reduced sugar for health reasons here), icing is not as hard and biscuits are more crumbly. I shall do a taste test but I'm quite certain I'll prefer the one I grew up with!

Left to right: Singaporean Khong Guan Iced Gem biscuits compared to Jacob's

Do a quick search online for Iced Gems and you will find that there are many people who have fond childhood memories of eating them and sharing their stories on different forums. Everyone has a different method of eating them. Some eat the biscuits first and save the icing to savour at the end, others would bite off the icing first and throw away most of the biscuits (me!) or I'm sure some of you just chomp the whole thing down, perhaps even several at a time! I still remember how I loved to go to the corner shop stocking giant tins of biscuits where you can pick and choose by weight. But sadly, the local biscuit man in your wet market is probably a vanishing trade in today's chain supermarket world. Khong Guan also makes and sells them in commercial packaging and there's even a Facebook page dedicated to them.

Iced Gems don't just exist in edible form! They have clearly become a part of our social history, triggering off precious childhood memories every time someone comes across these biscuits. Like many icons, they have been turned into art, decorative items, jewellery etc. These are just some I've come across, aren't they cute??

(1) Push pins from Koalabonheur on Dewanda
(2)Fabric replicas from British Cream Tea;
(3) Light switch cover from Candy Queen Design;

And some people have been crazy enough to create a ginormous version of it! Sadly lacking is a proper Iced Gem Biscuits recipe, maybe one day I'll get around to experimenting or if you have one, please do share.



It is just amazing to contemplate that the world (alright, maybe just a few countries) being united by a common love and history of iced gem biscuits. So far I've only managed to track down followings in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines (which isn't even a British colony!) and UK. I'd be interested to find out if these were also common in India and other British colonies. If you know, do leave a comment!

Long live the United Colours of Iced Gems Biscuits!


August 9, 2011

All The Greatest Things!

How has everyone's summer been? I've been up to all sorts of things, but that's not really a good excuse for my absence is it? I put it down to Twitter addiction, busy travel schedule and plain laziness :) There are some pretty exciting projects I've been involved in that I can't wait to share! Some will have to wait but will divulge a couple of things here.

For those who follow the online UK decor scene, you'll know about Heart Home magazine, an exciting online magazine that will be launched in September! It promises to be a collection of inspiring, creative and beautiful interiors and design treasures with a focus on the UK. I'm terribly honoured to be a part of this, and will be contributing a food article to the inaugural issue. Very excited! It took me  a crazy amount of time and effort to bake, style, photograph and write up just one article, it's no wonder I post so infrequently on my blog (tho I should think about posting much shorter photo logs). I can't how much work my lovely friends Arianna, Carole and Daniel over at HHM are up to launch the mag. Good luck guys!

I've also just spent one week taking a floral design course at the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers and it was a wonderful experience! The course I took was  Summer School I, where basics of flower arrangement are taught, along with other technical skills like wiring, contemporary design and structural construction. We made hand-tied bouquets, corsages, table arrangements and larger structures. My favourite must be mossing up a wreath from scratch. Now what does that mean, you may ask? I didn't know before this week either! We take a simple copper wire ring frame and basically wrap bundles of moss around it until it's fat and thick! The resulting wreath is what you see hung on the ladder in the pictures, isn't it lovely?

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We got to take what we made home, which means my flat was filled with lovely flowers like a garden :) If you have any interest in flowers at all, I would highly recommend Covent Garden Academy of Flowers. They have a variety of classes on different subjects for various skill levels - from casual 1 day courses to 4-month long intensive courses for those wishing to make a career out of floristry. And other than the skills you'll pick up, it was also a really relaxing and fun experience being at the Academy that differentiates them other places. Gillian and her team are the sweetest and nicest people, often pampering us with tea and cakes while we work hard on our arrangements. Gosh, I really miss my time there already!

Floral Course 01

I'm going to get more practice next week when I help put together some bouquets and decorations for my friend's wedding in Singapore. Stay tuned for pictures! Speaking of pictures, this week I'm starting a photography e-course run by the amazing Christina Greve of Divas And Dreams. What I love about her work is not just its ethereal dream-like quality, but the fact that she's very encouraging and teaches a lot about positivity and mindset in addition to technical skills.

So yes, there should be a lot more activity on this blog in the coming weeks, thanks for being patient and reading if you're still checking this blog!

May 18, 2011

Nopi by Ottolenghi

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You might be thinking - Nopi? What in the world is that? Let me decipher that for you. It means NOrth of PIccadilly, which is also the name and location of a wonderful new(ish) restaurant by the people behind Ottolenghi. Situated on Warwick Street (just off Regent Street, and indeed yes north of Piccadilly Circus), this beautifully designed restaurant is like a more polished and sophisticated cousin of the casual and relaxed Ottolenghi. It is by no means stiff and formal but the white and gold room definitely has a posh air about it. Some parts of it were definitely a bit too gold for me but I couldn't take my eyes off the beautiful gold flower lamp that hung over the reception.

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Since last July, the Ottolenghi team has documented the entire project of conceptualising, designing, implementing and finally opening Nopi on their blog here. After 7 months of hard work, Nopi opened its doors to the public in February. It's amazing to read their journey, if you have time, hop over and look through the posts and you'll be rewarded with insights to and appreciate the amount of work that goes into opening a restaurant.

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I've always loved Ottolenghi and I'm so happy that they've decided to open another concept that's based on the same values that made Ottolenghi successful - emphasis on distinctive design, food that showcases the quality of ingredients as well as interesting flavour pairings, and communal dining. And Nopi lived up to my expectations, and in fact surpassed them. It's been a while since I've been surprised and won over by a dish, and I think I had 2 such dishes at Nopi. Don't get me wrong, I've been eating plenty of very good, well-executed food but I guess the danger (?) of being exposed to too much good food is that the bar is set pretty high, and it's getting more and more difficult to wow me. But Nopi managed to do just that.

The menu is a series of small plates for sharing divided into sections - Veg, Meat, Fish, Sweets (at least for lunch which was when I went) with average prices of each dish between £8-12. It is by no means a cheap lunch, since the server recommends to get 5-6 dishes between 2 people, not including dessert. My lunch partner and I proceeded to order 5 savoury dishes - the fish carpaccio (forgot what fish it was!), burrata, seared scallops, swede gratin and the slow cooked lamb belly. The portions were not very big and we were just about full (and we are small eaters) so I guess if you were feeling ravenous or with a bunch of meat-loving guys, this probably isn't the place for you.

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My favourite dish hands down was the Burrata. This was one of the creamiest burratas I've ever tasted and it really got me hooked on burrata over the next few months, (I'm still looking for a place to buy a burrata that is this creamy!) looking for it at every restaurant I go to but none can compare. The Nopi burrata is served with bits of salad, blood orange slices, spiced pita chips and dressed lightly with some olive oil. The genius in this dish is the toasted coriander seeds. Having been toasted, the usual pungent taste of the coriander seeds was toned down and instead, tastes like kernels of popped corn. The combination was just amazing, I still think about it.

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You can tell that the restaurant knows which are their winners as these are the dishes that stay on the menu, while the rest vary on a daily basis. Another staple is the seared scallops with a pickled radish salad. While not written in the description, the scallops are served with a dollop of spicy prawn paste sauce (better known as sambal belacan to me!). Even though it was more salty than spicy, it was a familiar taste and reminded me of home. Again, it was a superb combination of flavours.

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The other dishes we had were alright but I would return for these two dishes alone (and have!). The dessert is worth a mention as it once again evoked familiar tastes. The pineapple galette with coconut ice cream and pandan syrup was crisp, had the right balance of sweet and sour and who can fault coconut with pandan?

The great thing is they seem to change their dishes on a daily basis, presumably depending on what's in season/available, which is good for repeat visitorship. However, the price point is slightly high, compounded by the need to order at least 3 dishes/person in order to be full, means I can't go as often as I would like to. But perhaps for the sake of tasting that burrata again, it is time to make another visit.

Can't resist one more shot of the beautiful gold lamp!

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Nopi
21-22 Warwick Street
London W1B 5NE
+44 (0)20 7494 9584



March 4, 2011

Petersham Nurseries & Cafe

After 1.5 years of being in London, I finally made my way to Petersham Nurseries. It has been on my to-do list ever since I moved here since it ticked all the boxes for me - beautiful flowers and plants, interior/homewares and a great chef with a great cafe. Basically everything I could ever dream of. But due to various reasons (weather, laziness, hard-to-get reservations without planning), I never got around to going.

Last weekend, as a spontaneous idea to celebrate a friend's birthday, I called up Petersham on the Friday to see if they had space for Saturday lunch and luckily for me, they had a cancellation and could squeeze us in! So on Saturday, we set off for Richmond but little did I know that the journey would take us 1.5 hours (when google maps told me it would be 25 min with traffic, liars!). By the time we arrived, we were one hour late for our reservation. I had called ahead to inform them but I still felt super bad. It was also raining despite the promise of Spring so the ground was muddy and we got sprinkled on as we trudged through the pot-holed driveway to the nurseries.

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The place was bustling, obviously the rain didn't deter the crowd. We walked through the garden and home shop to the back of the greenhouse where the cafe was. Decorated in a Indian ashram meets shabby chic gardenshed style, the cafe was cosy and casual.

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Helmed by chef Skye Gyngell, Petersham Cafe recently was awarded a Michelin star though I've been eager to try her cooking even before this. They had a menu dated for that day, which usually indicates to me that they change the menu daily (or so I'd like to think). We shared a starter of Scallops with Agretti and Chilli Oil, and I followed with a main of Spiced Lamb with Butternut Squash and finished off with a Chocolate Hazelnut Cake.

I really loved the starter, not only were the scallops were perfectly done, but it was the first time having agretti for me and I enjoyed the texture and subtle taste (I think I could eat a whole plate of that stuff!). The spiced lamb turned out to be more of a ragout rather than a whole piece of meat but was nevertheless very tender and flavourful. I wasn't that huge a fan of the indian spices but at least it paired well with the butternut squash and yogurt sauce. The chocolate hazelnut cake was good, dark and not too sweet and served with some thick jersey cream. It was heartening to know that Petersham Cafe still retained its honest, home-style cooking that chef Gyngell is known for despite the Michelin star, or perhaps, received a star in spite of that. I've got her "How I Cook" book and love the recipes she presents inside as well.

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I was also enthralled by the pretty flowers, decorative items and trinkets that were on sale in the store. Everything was presented so beautifully, every corner you turn there was a gorgeous vignette and of course I was snapping away happily. I was so tempted to buy the vases and the blue tin at the bottom of the picture. I love the table set-ups with the spools of thread. In the end, I came home with 3 potted plants which I hope survive the next few weeks, especially since I'm going to be travelling quite a bit!

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If you've not been to Petersham Nurseries and Cafe yet, don't wait for 1.5 years like me before going. Even if you can't get a reservation at the cafe, there's always the quaint teahouse where they serve cakes and light snacks that looked like a great place to spend a lazy weekend afternoon. With spring just round the corner and hopefully warmer weather, I'm sure they'll be getting busy!

Petersham Nurseries
Church Lane
Off Petersham Road
Richmond
Surrey
TW10 7A

For cafe bookings:  020 8605 3627

February 10, 2011

I Heart Flowers!

Warning: super flowery post ahead!

I was sorting through some of my photos and was looking at all the floral arrangements that I've done the past few years and decided to re-post some of my favourites in a round-up post. Looking at them inspires me to make even prettier designs though I really haven't done much floral arrangements recently. I hope they brighten up your day as they did mine!

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