05 | Grass in Concrete

Made in Sg
Typesetting

In the past week, we’ve seen the release of this year’s best 50 restaurants in Asia. Much can be said about that. The Straits Times ran a half-page critique on the dubiety of certain rankings, but as usual, everything should be taken with a pinch of salt… because sodium acetate reduced the bitterness of urea more effectively than sucrose. Molecular gastronomy stuff, which has tickled the minds of chefs and gastronomes alike. But the fad in the food scene has petered out, perhaps giving way to a more mature understanding of modernist cuisine. Yet another, more down-to-earth (literally), theme is on the rise – sourcing for local produce and putting them into dishes served.

I have always felt a sense of pity living in Singapore. On this sunny tropical island, there isn’t much that grows as quickly as condominiums and the population of foreign labour. While I was on a farm-stay in Nagano, Japan for two-weeks, the idea of planting corn, basil and blueberries was just as foreign as it was intriguing. It doesn’t mean that Singaporeans don’t get the idea of ‘you reap what you sow’. Everyone knows when we plant our heads in books, we get stars and scholarships. Not a concept too difficult to grasp.

Yet, it is more than heartening that it isn’t all about stars and scholarships for many young people these days. Last weekend, a handful of craftspeople put up a collaborative exhibit to showcase what exactly can be Made In Singapore. Bespoke leather goods, home-made jams, hand-carved rubber stamps, earthy ceramics, and of course… locally-roasted coffee.

The Gentlemen’s Press was most intriguing, for I’ve always had a thing for letterpress. There wasn’t a full range of type sets or a full-size typesetting frame, but that little red letterpress machine pictured below was in itself a fascinating contraption. Like a typical Singaporean, I joined the queue and had my hands on the press to make myself a “Made in SG” card.

It was all good fun, and coffee. But craftsmanship isn’t just about fun – especially in Singapore. It demands a deal of devotion, a spirit of ‘making’, and an undaunted belief that even the greenest grass can grow anywhere in the barest concrete jungle.

Letterpress Machine
Letterpress Machine

http://www.makersofsingapore.com/market/

04 | The audacity to love.

Monet

There is no better day than 14 February to write about love. It’s the 15th today, but for the people who work in the F&B industry, we can’t be really that calculative about special occasions. For the uninitiated, Roodelia has a vague proclivity for expositions of grandiose themes of human life. Dreams. Altruism. Consciousness. Certainly, some publication on this romantic concept is due.

Surely too, some readers would have an immediate objection that Valentine’s isn’t all about romance. It could be familial or platonic love! The handful of cynics who boycott the celebration on grounds of its dubious association with commerciality have now a bigger bone to pick, now that chocolatiers and florists are extending their scope of marketing activities beyond the romantically involved to the ‘platonically’ involved – everyone, except hermits. Yet there are even more absurd opposition. A school in Connecticut banned the exchange of candy in honor of its healthy eating initiative this year. Three years ago, a ban on this celebration was enforced in a Russian city, Belgorod, on claims that it undermines the moral fabric of society. A day in honour of an indispensable aspect of life has been marked to be too commercial, too unhealthy, and too immoral. One can hardly imagine how deprived the naysayers have been to drive them to such absurdity.

Governments can ban celebrations, but never can they reach into the hearts of the beloved and the lovers to institute a policy against love itself. I may have made an overly optimistic assertion. Consider how Room 101 tore apart the love between Winston and Julia in the Orwellian dystopia. That is a chilling depiction, but it hints at the fragility of what one could consider to be one of the noblest trait of our nature. Love manifests itself as the primary motivation of the greatest acts of sacrifice in history and/or religion, yet when turned sour, it also inspired the most sinister crimes in reality and drama. What, exactly, is love?

In true Roodelian fashion, heading down the winding path of evolutionary theories to answer this Socratic demand for definitions would be expected. Bond-pair theories, societal cohesion, and some psychological exploration. Hang on a second… surely one doesn’t need a definition to know what love is!

What’s the point of all these roundabout-bush-beating?

Cakes, of course! We don’t need any reasons to have cakes! Admittedly, they can be too fragile, too commercial, too unhealthy, or too immoral, but we still enjoy them all the same. Perhaps with some audacity. Last Saturday, after a visit to some traditional bakeries in Singapore, I made my way down to The Audacious Cakery. An apt venture in the heart of Everton Park, the patisserie brings a refreshing option to the food scene. I tried the Monet, as pictured, which combined orange flavours with champagne and Cointreau, well-balanced with tips of acidity from raspberries and redcurrants. The only thing I have against the cake would be the numerous seeds from the berries. Maybe it’s just my sour relationship with seeds; it’s personal. When I was done with that, I decided to have another cake, which was a duet between sesame and matcha. I’ve always liked the idea of using the flavour in pastries, but I’ve not found a proper way to do it. The cake, Faith, incorporated that flavor as a sponge and mousse, but it wasn’t quite agreeable because of the ‘dehydrating’ effect of matcha. Nevertheless, the patisserie makes a great addition to my list of dessert places to try, and it is heartening that more of such places are coming up in Singapore, alongside the wave of cafés specializing in coffee. Speaking of which, the patisserie’s cakes deserve much better coffee to go with. That improvement will surely bring me back again to try the other cakes and tarts, although I’ll have to save up for that!

The Audacious Cakery
2 Everton Park #01-61
Singapore 081002
T: 6223 3047
http://theaudaciouscakery.com/

02 | All means necessary.

Necessary ProvisionsIt was just a day like any other. Roads are paved and re-paved. Buildings climb without rest. Yet it also marks a step into a new year, ushering in a new beginning of renewed expectations and rekindled resolutions. Parents studiously pack their children’s schoolbags and iron their uniforms, once more pinning their hopes for the future in the generation they have brought forth to nurture.

It’s the time of the year again, journalists, bloggers, and just about everyone else become strangely obsessed with making lists. I have found it perplexing how we readily accept and find comfort in such lists.

“5 things you’ll learn being a waiter,”

“10 ways to change your life for the better,”

“100 best places to find The One.”

I can’t say I’m the least interested to glance through such articles, but it intrigues me how rarely do we question their provenance, and by association, their credibility. Perhaps it isn’t necessary, especially when we find ourselves in satisfying agreement with some, if not all, of the points expressed. I’m not pointing to particular websites like Thought Catalog; besides, if responsibility was to be sought, readers shouldn’t be taking any less blame than writers, for it’s simply an issue of supply and demand.

This market of encouragement, borderline self-delusion, and eager persuasion is a testament of our taste for injecting meaning into the most mundane things, not excluding ‘special’ days like yesterday. While I can’t bring myself to enjoy such comfort with full conviction, I am no less guilty of following the fad by associating life as a pursuit of dreams.

Dreams, they can be such powerful symbols of our persistence, yet they can feel so hollow at the same time. After all, they are mere figments of thought, perhaps wishful-thinking. Embracing them is an implicit recognition that the future is ‘less’ pre-determined than the past (because our present actions are capable of driving us to our intended destinations), or that there is meaning in any form of pursuit, regardless of the actual destination. The former reason calls for pure faith, believing that what we do now will get us there some day. The latter demands more, because it means for us to accept that hollow as the very nature of dreams and strive endlessly into the future.

Whatever the reason is, we will continue our tireless march towards our ideals; it’s the only way forward. And along this grand arrow of time, there is little harm in finding sanctuary, ascribing meanings to the tiniest details in those brief yet special moments. The turqoise cups atop the Spirit Duette, the aptly imperfect tulip on my latte, and the expressive sour tinges of the blood-orange yoghurt cake. The setting of Necessary Provisions inspires the idea of a transient breathe in a dying gasp peace in the relentless chaos, with its lengthy glass windows overlooking the quiet neighbourhood and a vintage fixie-bike surviving the passing of time. Hospitable service, nutty bread, and untamed mustard made my beef pastrami sandwich ever more delicious. Add a chance encounter with a formal colleague, and you have the recipe to concoct a work-free day without complains. What a great way to start a new year!

Hojicha Karigane Cold Brew
Hojicha Karigane Cold Brew

Necessary Provisions
21 Eng Kong Terrace
Singapore 598993
T: 9231 7920

http://necessaryprovisions.com/

01 | Hummingbirds and Pomegranates.

It’s the last Sunday of the year, and how beautiful it has been. Well, that’s not quite the whole truth. In fact, it started with an upset stomach, but I wouldn’t want to miss an end-of-year lunch with my colleagues. I took a tablet of ultra-carbon, braved the great outdoors, and headed down to Spathe, a diner along Mohamed Sultan Road, just off Clarke Quay. 

Spathe

I’ve heard about Spathe a few months back, and the concept of communal dining seemed novel. Gone are the days looking for decent places for large-group gatherings. They serve “Mammoth Signatures” to share between a big family. Confit pork puffs, one-metre-long hotdogs, and a huge paellera worth of… you guessed it, paella. However, with some slight over-sight, the much-awaited sharing dishes were not available for weekend brunch, and we almost had to make do with the standard fare of brunch items. Eggs Benedict, Croque Madames, and omelettes, of course these are decent food too, but we didn’t went there for that. Fortunately, our disappointment was assuaged when the service staff offered to serve a selection of the gigantic mains. While waiting for everyone to arrive (including myself), we started nibbling on the addictive garlic fries, and I got myself a double-shot of espresso because… it’s Sunday and I was probably still half-asleep. Not long after, with (almost) the whole crew on board, the “immensely large” dishes were rolled out.

We had the sous-vide Spanish Octopus Salad, the meter-long dog, and the paella, along with an array of brunch items and more garlic fries. Everything was decent, except the off-the-mark paella,. I would probably return for the bratwurst and, if I had a bigger wallet, I wouldn’t mind the lovely ambience, the intricate hummingbird painted on the walls, and that casual sense of communal dining. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a great lunch, on a once-more-beautiful Sunday (with my stomach tamed). The food was decent, the company better. We were recounting the most ridiculous buffooneries that happened during service. We had some great laughs, but such stories are better left unpublished hahaha…

Feeling all satiated, and just a little poorer, a number of us took to our plans and decided to visit a pop-up café, in the heart of Little India. The space, “Temporium”, houses the café named Compliments of. It’s a collaboration between Papa Palheta, Wild Rocket, and Weekend Worker, a ceramics collective. For that wholesome lunch, a bit of walking was due, and we paid it in full. Anyway, it has been a while since I’ve visited this bustling part of town, but the elements that remind you that “this is little india” will never change. The sights, scents and sounds brought me back to my trip to Kerala. Oh how I miss travelling like that! Wandering into foreign streets and alleys, never knowing what you might chance upon. And at last, we arrived at the café. First impression, it was entirely out of place, but that just adds to its charm.

Cold Drip

How dainty, and gorgeous! The ceramics serve-ware lent a bespoke aura to the space, along with the concrete pipes and building blocks. For a temporary place, the thought and effort invested were more than sufficient to create a charming experience. Good coffee (yet another espresso for a relatively dairy-free day), and an unforgettable scoop of peanut butter ice-cream (so much being dairy-free…) I like to be prudent in dispensing superlatives, but here’s an excerpt of my exclamation to a pen-pal: “I don’t really like peanut-butter in general because it sticks in the mouth, but that scoop had bursts of the butter’s rich flavour, well-balanced with cream for a smooth finish, and some crunchy nuts in it for the extra texture.”

PB Ice-Cream

Some friends tell me that Singapore is too small, and too boring. Considering all the shopping malls filled with generic chain restaurants and retail brands, I wouldn’t disagree. That said, if there were more of such places (perhaps I haven’t been searching hard enough), there isn’t much to complain about. I would brave the risk of getting caught in a riot to visit Compliments of again, before it closes for good, and to explore the gallery/retail part of Temporium when it’s opened after the new year holidays.

Spathe Public House
8 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-01
Singapore 238958
T: 6735 1035

http://www.spathepublichouse.com/

#9 Persuasion

At last, back again on my sunny island. The chilly weather in Seoul was reminiscent of the cold winter in Paris, but instead of ‘going solo’ this time around, I was with my family. In fact, Seoul isn’t one of my favorite cities for reasons I shall reserve to myself. Personal experiences only serve to perpetuate stereotypes. Nonetheless, I could use some family time after my absence for three months. It was a food trip, at least for me, in addition to catching the scores of cherry blossoms tree that line the streets. I wasn’t particularly impressed by these flowers, blooming in their copious amount, but that’s one thing off the ‘100-things-to-see-before-you-die’ list. My mum and my sister did some shopping, ‘some’ being an understatement to mask my partial discontent having to wait for them among the deluge of cosmetic products. Family time.

Anyway, it’s been some time for a ‘Take 5’, so I’ll come back to it, but in a slightly different format. I am extending the scope beyond art and design, so it’s pretty much just a collation of five things that I have found intriguing. It will be clutter with more words, as you have seen. I’ll cut to the chase.

First, an art installation by Ann Hamilton at Park Avenue Armory. The Event of a Thread. I don’t pretend to I know these artists at all – it’s a start, of nothing serious, just some dabbling. This was way back, stuck in my cache folder. Impressive by itself, made more so with this film by Paul Octavious.

Another interesting post from Inspirational Geek. Van Gogh Tilt Shift Photography.

Having tasted a deal of pastries in Paris, it is easy to disregard what we have back home. Nonya kueh. I can imagine people who have always lived with sophisticated cuisine giving scornful frowns upon plates of such wobbly Peranakan pastries. Food, shouldn’t be judged by how complicated it is, or where it came from. It is, however, difficult to be free of such prejudice. Bias affects taste, to some extent. This article on BBC magazine has done some justice to these delicious kuehs.

Google Street View Hyperlapse from Teehan+Lax Labs on Vimeo.

A recent discovery, Google Street View Hyperlapse.  Teehan+Lax Labs came up with this stitching programme that puts together street view images from Google Maps. You can make your own at the website, but be discerning when choosing the route, because I’ve tried it for an expressway spanning Singapore, and it was underwhelming. Somewhere with more nature works better. That just goes to show how a Garden City (or from a recent development goal – ‘City in a Garden’) pales in comparison with what the world offers out there.

I’ll end with a thought on the advertising industry. We can criticize the industry for all its lack of substance for all we want; it remains part and parcel of life. I can’t be certain what makes an advertising company successful, but if I have to advice a friend paving his/her way in the industry, I’ll recommend something associated with the cosmetic industry, especially so in South Korea, the Land of Cosmetics, as much as it is the Land of Kimchi. How did I come to this conclusion? Well… Advertising is all about persuasion (in my very limited perspective), and these cosmetics companies pulled off with their successes convincing women (and men of course) to put anything on their faces. Some things that some will never dare touch in their original form. For instance, snail cream. Here’s an article: Katie Holmes uses Snail Slime to keep her skin in top condition. That’s just one example. Bee venom, snake venom, 24k gold, truffle oil, clay, some elusive element from the periodic table and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find a kimchi facial mask some day. Perhaps you can eat it before, or even after.