Friday, November 28, 2008

11 years...

It’s times like these when I wish I was a more creative person.

We’ll be married for 11 years tomorrow! Yeheyyyy! All thanks go to God who continues to mould us. And of course, to my longsuffering wife who chooses to stick with me.

How do you say to your spouse that you love them more and more even after 11 years? That is why I am in awe of artists! They are able to express something like love in a hundred different ways. It could be a play of words or a stroke of hand or a choice of colour or whatever else…that somehow heightens the intensity of the message! Bravo to them!

And since I am neither very “handy” nor very “artistic” the next best thing is to “find” the right gift. And it’s times like these that I also thank God for the internet. Searching for the right gift just became easier. The internet has also exponentially increased my borders.

Flowers and chocolates have been done to death. We’ve also had the special dinners and times away from home.

One thing I know though is that Cherry loves cherries. She loves it more than chocolates. So I ended up ordering her some from interstate.

There are lots of sites offering fresh cherries but Cherries Online stood out among the rest and here’s the reason why:
Red Diamond Cherries - our signature brand - “Fresh diamonds you can eat” - an exclusive variety to the Gaudion Family. This is a new, large, luscious Cherry full of delicious flavour. Crunchy and sweet, each Cherry is deep red in appearance and at least 30-32mm in diameter. The beautifully packaged fruit is hand selected and is the perfect gift for that special someone... Red Diamonds are truly the most exquisite Cherries you will taste in the world today.

I think I’ll make this a tradition from now…

One gift given one day a year does not even come close to expressing how much I appreciate her... There are more to come but they'll just be between her and me.

Happy Anniversary Sweetheart!

I ran/walked to work today…in the rain!

I woke up with no sun in sight. But I’ve already made up my mind the night before that I would be walking to work today.

It’s not so bad walking in the rain. Below are three reasons why I don’t mind it:

1. It’s not too hot.
Australian summer can get really intense. It can get to as high as 40°C (104°F) on some days. It’s good to get a reprieve from the heat from time to time. Walking in the rain is actually a welcome break.

2. The walking tracks are less crowded.
There aren’t a lot of people who think the same way I do.

3. And finally…it’s fun!
How many times in ones adult life do you get to play in the rain? In my case, it’s probably once or twice a month!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Australia – the Food Icons – Meat Pie

To celebrate the release of Baz Luhrmann’s film “AUSTRALIA” I’ll be doing a series of blogs on Australian food icons.

Australia is not really well known for its cuisine but it is home to a range of food items that could not be denied as quintessentially Australian. Because of its close proximity and association with New Zealand there is an ongoing battle between the two as to which nation invented what and when.

We’ll start with Meat Pie.

A 2007 survey of Australians (affectionately titled as the ‘Top Taste Lamington Aussie Poll’) found that meat pies were the most popular Australian food (Lamingtons came second – to be discussed further in a future post).

So, what is an Australian meat pie?

It’s described by Wikipedia (always a good source of 100% accurate facts *wink* *wink*):

“…hand-sized pie containing largely minced meat and gravy sometimes with onion and often consumed as a takeaway food snack. The pie itself is congruent with the United Kingdom's steak pie.

It is considered iconic in Australia and New Zealand. It was described by former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr in 2003 as Australia's "national dish".”

Meat pies now come in all sorts of varieties but I like mine plain (steak) or with mushrooms. I smother it with tomato ketchup (more commonly called “tomato sauce” in Australia) before eating.

I’ve never actually cooked this but I found a recipe for a Basic Meat Pie from

Basic Meat Pie

Preparation Time
30 - 60 minutes

Cooking Time
150 minutes

Ingredients (serves 4)
Plain flour, to dust
375g block frozen puff pastry, thawed (Pampas brand)
Melted butter, to grease
2 (25 x 25cm) sheets ready-rolled frozen shortcrust pastry, thawed (Pampas brand)
1 egg, lightly whisked
Beef filling
700g lean beef blade steak, cut into 3cm cubes
2 tbs plain flour
60ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
1 brown onion, roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, roughly chopped
1 large celery stick, thickly sliced
310ml (1 1/4 cups) good-quality beef stock
2 tbs finely chopped fresh curly parsley
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

1. To make beef filling, place beef in a medium bowl, add flour and toss to coat. Heat 2 tbs of oil in a medium heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook, using a wooden spoon to stir often, for 6 minutes or until light brown. Transfer to a medium heatproof bowl. Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining oil to pan. Add onion, carrots and celery, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Return beef to pan with stock, parsley, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until beef is tender. Increase heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for a further 10-15 minutes or until sauce is a thick gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer beef filling to a medium heatproof bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. Cover and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to partially cool.

2. Meanwhile, line a tray with non-stick baking paper. Lightly flour a clean surface and use a rolling pin to roll out puff pastry, rotating occasionally, to a 30cm square 3-4mm thick. Invert a shallow 25cm (top measurement) pie plate on pastry and use a sharp knife to cut pastry 2mm from edge of plate. (Do not drag - the pastry layers may stick together and the edge won't puff into separate crisp layers in the oven.) Lift pastry onto lined tray, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until required.

3. Preheat oven to 200°C. Brush a pie plate with melted butter to grease. Place shortcrust pastry sheets on a clean surface and cut 1 sheet in half. Brush 1 edge of whole sheet with water and lay a half sheet along this edge, overlapping by 1cm. Press to join and smooth out join. Repeat process on an adjacent edge of whole sheet, overlapping ends of half-sheets as well. Gently lift pastry onto greased plate and ease into plate to line. Smooth pastry and press around top rim of plate. Hold plate and rotate while using a small sharp knife at a 45° angle to cut away excess pastry.

4. Use a fork to prick pastry base evenly about 25 times. Place in fridge for 15 minutes to rest (to help reduce shrinkage during cooking). Blind-bake the pie base before adding filling to ensure it is well cooked and crisp. To do this, place a 30cm square of non-stick baking paper or foil over the pastry and top evenly with about 1 cup of dried beans or rice to stop the pastry from bubbling. Place pie plate on a baking tray and cook in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Carefully remove paper or foil and beans or rice (see note) and bake for a further 8-10 minutes or until golden. Transfer the pie plate to a wire rack and, if necessary, use a clean tea towel to carefully pat down any pastry that has puffed during cooking. Set aside for 15 minutes to cool. Increase oven temperature to 220°C.

5. Spread cooled filling evenly into base. Remove puff pastry from fridge. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush pie edge with a little cold water. Place puff pastry on top of pie and gently press edges together to seal. (Do not press the outer edge, or it will not puff well during cooking.)
Use a small sharp knife to cut a 4cm cross in pastry centre to allow steam to escape during cooking. Lightly brush top with whisked egg. Place pie on baking tray and bake in oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven to 190°C and cook for a further 20-25 minutes or until well puffed, golden and heated through. If necessary, shield areas of pastry top and edges browning faster than others with pieces of foil. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

At home – Thai Green Curry Fish

Thai curries have become a staple in my household as much as any other Filipino meal not only because of its rich and complex flavours but more so due to its uncomplicatedness in preparation and cooking.

Nothing beats fresh, of course, but when it comes to Thai curries store bought pastes actually do a decent job in creating a pretty authentic meal. What matters more is the freshness of the other ingredients rather than the curry paste.

The recipe below uses fish but you can substitute any meat of your choice. You just have to adjust the cooking time as fish cooks much quicker than meat.

The secret in making this dish is getting the freshest fish you can find. I have been disappointed so many times when buying seafood from the major supermarket chains. I suggest you go to a fishmonger you can trust. Ask them what’s the freshest of the day. Any white fleshed fish would do (snapper, cod, sweet lip, etc.)

Thai Green Curry Fish

A bit of oil
2 tablespoons green curry paste (Mae Ploy tastes best – reduce the amount if you want it less spicy)
3-4 Kaffir lime leaves (you can julienne these if you want but I prefer them whole)
1 can coconut milk (use coconut cream if you want a richer sauce)
Red capsicum
1 Zucchini cut in large wedges
2 fillets of white fleshed fish cut into large chunks
Basil leaves (as much as you like)
Fish sauce to taste
Palm sugar to taste

1. Heat a bit of oil in a pan.
2. Stir fry the green curry paste for about a minute or two until it becomes really fragrant.
3. Add the Kaffir lime leaves and stir fry for another minute.
4. Add the coconut milk and cook until it starts to break (meaning oil separating from the coconut milk).
5. Add the fish sauce and the palm sugar.
6. Lower the heat then add the fish pieces. Cover the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes.
7. Add the zucchini and the capsicum and cook until done to your liking.
8. Add the basil and cook for another minute.
9. Serve with steaming hot jasmine rice.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Top 10 Emerging Food Destinations

Philippine cuisine has always been relegated to the “bizarre” shelf of the world food supermarket. That is why it excites me a lot whenever my home country’s dishes are viewed in a more favourable light.

In an article last week in the Courier Mail about “Top 10 Emerging Food Destinations” the Philippines was number 1 on the list! A special mention was made about “sinigang” as a dish not to be missed (I’ll feature this dish in a future post).

The list was inspired by a poll conducted by online travel site Expedia (Australia). In the midst of the “obesity epidemic” in the land down under there is also a “growing sophisticated interest in food” (and not just eating – there’s a big difference).

Filipino food is not all about “balut”-
“Malay, Spanish and Chinese influence is obvious in many dishes and the unique and often surprising combinations of flavours make Filipino food striking and interesting. Fresh seafood is a prominent ingredient, often served uncooked, in vinaigrette. Coconut is also regularly used to create exotic savoury and sweet dishes, ranging from meat and vegetable dishes to luscious rice puddings.”

In my own little way I try to be an ambassador of our much maligned food.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Strawberry Fields…forever!

Now that the soccer season is already finished our Saturdays are less full. We are now able to travel a bit further out and not worry about being late for anything.

What we really set out to do was go fruit/vegetable picking (read: any fruit/vegetable other than strawberries). I madly searched the net for places we could visit. Unfortunately though, Google was only coming up with “fruit picking jobs”. I did not really want to go strawberry picking as that seemed so cliché. I also wanted to show my kids how a variety of fruits and vegetables grow and not focus on just one.

As Queensland is nearing summer there are plenty of fruits and vegetables in season. Grapes, melons, passionfruit, apples, avocados, asparagus, mushrooms, beans, potatoes are just some examples.

As it was nearing lunch time already and we still haven’t got anything planned I succumbed to the call of Strawberry Fields. Yup, that’s the name of the strawberry farm we visited! Catchy don’t you think? They must have spent a lot of moolah in their creative department.

The weather forecast that day had a lot to do with the fact that there was barely anybody there when we drove in. A thunderstorm was predicted to occur late in the afternoon (and it did happen as we were driving back home). More for us then, I thought.

What you do is pop in the reception to grab some plastic containers (baskets would have been better, but anyway). You are then assigned a field to pick strawberries from. You then go back to the reception area to weigh your harvest and pay. It was $8/kg that day.

The kids got really excited (myself including) as we got near the field. Each plant was overflowing with fruit! And not mediocre fruit at that. They were big, plump and very sweet! We bought some cream and chocolate sauce and started devouring them right there and then!

Although I had a lot of reservations in the beginning the day turned out to be really good. The main thing was, the kids had a wonderful time and could not wait to go back.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chilli Crab ala Kidpawan

When I’m feeling generous and want a special treat and have loads of time I would cook Chilli Crab. It is not really complicated to make but it does take a long time to prepare and cook… Ok, Ok, it’s quite involved but the reward at the end is worth all the effort.

Chilli Crab is an original Singapore dish. You’ll find lots of variations to this dish on the net. I based mine on the one I found in the Australian Gourmet magazine in the late 90’s. I can still remember my wife, heavily pregnant with our first child, photocopying the magazine for me. I was studying for my final exams at State Library of WA but she decided to tag along to keep me company. I tweaked the recipe a little bit to suit my taste better. It worked then and still works now more than a decade later.

Chilli Crab ala Kidpawan

4 fresh blue swimmer crabs cleaned and quartered
Some flour
4 large onions
2 cloves garlic
6 slices ginger
Chilli flakes/powder to taste
1 large onion chopped (yes, another one)
1 cup tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup stock
Salt to taste
Oil – lots of it

1. First you need to make the chilli paste. Combine the onions, garlic, ginger and chillies in a food processor and blitz until they turn to paste. You can make this as chunky or as fine as you like.
2. Heat up some oil for deep frying.
3. Coat the crab pieces in flour. Shake off excess flour then fry. Set aside fried crab.
4. Heat up a bit of oil the sauté the chopped onion until golden brown.
5. Add the paste and cook for about 10 minutes.
6. Add the tomato ketchup and the sugar. Cook for another 2 minutes.
7. Add the broth.
8. Add the crab pieces. Make sure all the crab is coated well by the mixture.
9. Lower the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes.
10. Serve hot with jasmine rice

Monday, November 10, 2008

Confectionary Warehouse

“Pasalubong” is a Filipino word I find difficult to translate in English. It’s not exactly a “gift” or a “souvenir” but it could be both. Aside from looking forward to seeing my parents again after a trip somewhere I always get excited about their “pasalubong” (what they’ve brought back for me from their trip). It did not matter how far or how long they’ve been away they always brought something back.

I know how good it made me feel to receive “pasalubong”. I want my kids to experience the same that is why I always try to have “something” for them from every trip. It did not have to be anything extravagant. It did not have to be unique to the place where I’ve just been. It just had to be something.

My recent trip though did not give me much opportunity to shop. I was confined to the office then the hotel and the airport. Unless you’re buying duty free the airport is not a good place to go shopping.

Thankfully, there’s a lolly (candy) outlet near the airport in Brisbane. Instead of driving straight home we took a detour to the Confectionary Warehouse. The kids already knew where we here heading as they are quite familiar with this place. Imagine the noise in the car created by their excitement!

It’s nowhere near the poshness of Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York with its connection to Ralph Lauren but the range is pretty astonishing. It’s a warehouse after all. They claim to have over 12,000 lines of lollies and chocolates. I don’t know how true that is but it is a pretty amazing claim!

You’d think the kids would have had enough? If your answer is yes you obviously do not have any of your own yet.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I wanted to be an American…yesterday!

There are a lot of significant world events that have happened in my lifetime but none more meaningful than what took place in the United States of America…yesterday!

For a moment, as I hear Barack Obama graciously accept the mandate given to him by the American people, I wanted to be an American! I was envious I was not one of the people who put him in office. I was jealous of the fact that I was not there in person to hear him speak! I wanted to be a part of his victory speech.

Although Barack is not my president for some peculiar reason his appointment meant a lot to a coloured person like me living in society similar to that of the US. This, I find difficult to put in words.

When Barack said:
But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to -- it belongs to you.
I wanted to be part of that “you”.

And then he ended with these words:
Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.
And that is also my hope.

Yes you can! And you did! Congratulations to all Americans!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Off to the Hunter...Again!

I’m in the Hunter Valley again for the second time in less than a month.

I don’t mind going to the region. But there are certain realities I have to accept about trips to this part of Australia.

Fact 1: There are very limited flights available

There are 6 (oneworld airlines) flights a day to this region but approximately 70% of those are with the budget airline Jetstar. I choose Jetstar not because they are the best but because they have the most suitable schedules. The other disadvantage though (apart from flying no-frills) is that I miss out on points and status credits.

The flight this time around was made bearable by a colleague who brought some DVDs with her. Instead of just wasting a good hour flying time we got to watch one full episode of Sex and the City.

Fact 2: Our nearest office is more than an hour’s drive

The quickest and most convenient way for me to go to our offices in the Hunter is to fly to the city of Newcastle. Unfortunately though, our nearest office is still a couple of hours drive away.

Fact 3: Limited choice of accommodation

You would think being located in a wine region there’ll be plenty of choice of places to stay. There probably are but our choice has been limited to just two (Quality Inn and Mid City). They’re not bad places…if all you want to do is sleep!