Thursday, December 22, 2016

Run at a smelly, smelly place. Ticked.

Have you ever had the desire to run at a smelly, smelly place? At least once before you die? Is it on your bucket list? No? Well, me neither.

But the Universe has a cunning way of getting me to do stuff I would normally say "over my dead body" to.

This year I signed up for The Performance Series and it is a series of 5 runs around Singapore. The locations of all the runs weren't released until later. Originally, one of the runs was supposed to be a vertical marathon. Yep, stairs. Thankfully, it was changed. I've done one vertical marathon and frankly once is enough for me. The last run in the Performance Series was called the farm run and in my mind, I thought we were going to run through vegetable farms. Vegetable farms aren't so bad right? As it turned out, we ran on the road, past a lot of smelly fish farms. There was one vegetable farm, I think but it couldn't mask the smell of all the other fish farms. Man, fish farms really really smell. Like I wanted to swear in Hokkien throughout my run. Never heard of Hokkien swear words? None of the languages in the world can compete with Hokkien when it comes to swear words. That's how bad the smell was for me to swear in dialects.

The run was last Sunday and I didn't blog about it right away because it took me this long to get over the trauma of smelling fish shit. An enormous amount of fish shit. And I'm no princess. I grew up in a kampong (village) and I've smelled and stepped on all kinds of shit - duck, dog, cow, turtle, you name it. But the Kranji fish farm smell is truly in a class of its own. Smelling is believing.

The Performance Series guys have proven once before in the event of rain, they simply cannot cope. They have no Plan B. It's December. Of course it's gonna rain. I was actually kinda hoping it would monsoon or something so the run would be cancelled. But when it was time to go, the rain was tapering off. So we took a taxi to somewhere called Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves. Even the taxi driver didn't know where it was. The name itself gave me the heebee-jeebees. The taxi driver abandoned us the minute he saw a long line of cars somewhere close to where we were supposed to alight. So we ended up walking a very long way precariously on the road because I wanted to avoid walking on the grass which was very wet. I ended up stepping into a big puddle anyway and my left foot got soaking wet. And then all I could think of was what kind of bacteria was entering my bloodstream.

The Performance Series guys were idiotic enough to arrange the 10km runners to flag off at 6:30am and the 5km + 2.5km runners at 6:45am. 15 mins difference! Because of the rain, the 10km run was delayed which meant everyone was there at the same time jammed together. To make the situation worse, the blur organizers arranged to station a row of toilets a short distance before the start line. Can you imagine? So many people needed to pee or poo and they were queuing up in front of the toilets. These people were taking up space needed for the constant flow of people pouring into the road. And because the 10km run did not start, there was no space to go further in. What a nightmare. We were stuck somewhere near the start of the toilets. There was zero crowd control. Amazingly, nothing serious happened.

Despite the rain stopping and zero lightning, the organizers took their time to start the run. Eventually the 10km run started and it was a relief. Not having someone's hair in front of your face anymore!

I was in the 5km run and although one part of me just wanted to get it over with, I did try to "enjoy" the scenery because this area has zero tall buildings and there aren't many such places in Singapore. But the smell! The smell! It wasn't smelly throughout the run. There were a few areas which had no fish farms. Good grief. How do people work there?

I wore a new Reebok running tee. I have a liking for running tees with holes at the back. Is it weird?

I think I ran quite slowly for this run. After having experienced 10km, 5km is a breeze. But I'm never going to be a fast runner and I accept it.

I was happy to get my medal.

Now I have my Singapore.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Magic Bread

My eyes love shiny stuff and anything with the word magic magically draws me in. When I was making The Sultanas of Plait in this post, I came across a few blog posts on other books by Alex Goh and one of the books was "Magic Bread".  I had to make it! I looked up the library but I couldn't find any English versions of the book. The elusiveness of the book made me ever more determined to make the magic bread. A number of blogs had published the magic bread recipe and today I gave it a go. I kinda followed this blog's recipe.

gelatinised dough

sponge dough

The magic bread has to be made the night before you make the actual dough. First you need to make a gelatinised dough which is just mixing boiling water with flour. The other thing is a sponge dough which is just a small amount of flour, water and yeast mixed together. Both are kept refrigerated overnight.

I don't fully understand the science behind the gelatinised dough. I think it's to aid the retention of moisture. When I mixed the boiling water with the flour, I noticed the flour became swollen with the water. Very interesting theory.

In the morning, I mixed the gelatinised dough, the sponge dough plus all the ingredients in the main dough in my Kenwood machine. For once, I was thankful my Kenwood is quite strong. This recipe requires a lot power. Because the mixture is so sticky, I think doing it by hand would have been so hard.

I tried to follow the recipe instructions as much as possible and I'm fairly sure I did everything right. Except after I put the dough in the oven, I forgot to set my timer. I don't use the oven timer because it's not very accurate. I was killing time watching a Korean drama when I suddenly realised my timer hadn't gone off. I checked my phone and nearly fainted. I forgot to press Start. I had no idea how long my bread had been baking! I decided to use the thermometer to check the temperature and it registered 100 deg C! OMG.

The magic bread felt hard as a rock!

And so so brown all over.

Because it is a magic bread, the inside was so, so soft!

After the bread had cooled down, the crust was less hard but still crusty.

In fact, I think it's a happy accident. I ended up with a crusty outside and nice soft bread on the inside. Hubs will love it.

Indeed a magic bread. You can't go wrong!

I couldn't resist and ate one of the ends. The other one I saved for hubs. The bread tastes good. I think it's going to be hard for me to go back to making straight dough bread after tasting this magic bread.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Kuih Bahulu or is it a flying saucer?

When I was a kid I looked forward to the week before Chinese New Year because that was when my family baked festive goodies. I remember we always baked "love letters" and kuih bahulu which us Hokkiens call "kueh nhng ko". Don't try to pronounce it if you're not at least 60% Hokkien! "Kueh nhng ko" literally means egg cake. Between kuih bahulu and love letters, I prefer the former. Also consuming love letters always made me sick which I later found out to be due to my sensitivity to coconut, a  key ingredient in love letters.

Back then we did not own a oven and we used a cast iron mould cooked over a hot charcoal stove. Making kuih bahulu is hard work if you do it the old way using a brass hand whisk. Can you imagine hand chomping away at the egg and sugar mixture? You need a lot of arm power.

traditional brass hand whisk via
I used to help out during the baking although help is a strong word. The only task my mother could trust me with was using the hand whisk and even then she would criticize how ineffective my efforts were. I was more interested in the glamorous tasks like putting the batter in the mould or removing the baked goods. Sadly I could only watch.

I have never tried baking kuih bahulu before because nowadays you can just walk into a bakery and buy them. But as you know, I have suddenly awakened the baker in me and I have this desire to bake many, many things. Sometimes just to see if I can.

Kuih Bahulu met the brief mostly because my son loves to eat them. He is a very picky eater and doesn't really enjoy eating many things. At the risk of destroying his love for kuih bahulu, I attempted to make a batch for him to enjoy. I watched several youtube videos and read a few blogs and finally followed the recipe on this one. Based on the recipe, assuming the eggs weighed 50g (nett), then it is 1:1 ratio for eggs and sugar. I was interested to see how that might work out.

balloon whisk
my Philips beaters
The most critical part of making Kuih Bahulu is whisking the eggs-sugar mixture. Some recipes call for beating the eggs first before introducing the sugar. I just beat both together. I think the most important detail is to use the right whisk. I used a balloon whisk. On my old mixer, the beaters would have worked too.

after flour was added
I think it took a total of 8 mins on the mixer before the egg/sugar mixture became thick and creamy.  Patience is the key! Once I incorporated the flour, the batter became very thick. Maybe a bit too thick.

Remember the glamorous job of putting the batter in the mould? That was tedious and quite hard as each mould is very small and can't fit much batter. I used 2 aluminum mould which could fit into my oven at the same time.

I wonder why my kuih bahulu did not have a more distinctive impression of the mould.

I feel that I put too much batter that's why I have the flying saucer effect.

It tastes good though and my son had no complaints. Kuih Bahulu is very addictive and one can easily put on a lot of weight eating these! Next time, to address the dryness, I will try a recipe with higher liquid content.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sultanas of Plait

Recently I discovered I own 3 baking books, two of which are dedicated to bread. One of the bread books is The World of Bread by Alex Goh who has authored a few books. He is also a teacher chef and is quite famous. I have of course never heard of him. I probably bought his bread book years ago when I was attempting bread making and the instructions looked kinda easy. As it turned out, I never attempted any of his recipes and I even forgot I bought the book.

from the book

Yesterday I looked through the book and decided to make Mixed Fruit Plait because it looked like something I could make. I did not use mixed fruits. Instead I used Australian sultanas because I have a bag of them.

As it turned out, Alex Goh's instructions are deceivingly easy. I think you need to be someone who already knows the basic of bread making before attempting his recipes because his instructions are pretty sparse like "knead to form a dough". I used my Kenwood mixer to mix and knead the dough and it took like forever and the dough was still super sticky and nowhere near the window pane stage. After 30 mins, I got a bit worried and I finally did it by hand. I did manage to get my window pane eventually although I wondered how the lengthiness of the kneading would affect the outcome.

I squashed all the sultanas onto the dough and hoped they won't burst out later on.

Six balls waited to be braided.

Yep. Them sultanas tried to escape my dough. At the baking school, the chefs get angry if they see fruits sticking out of the dough. But at home I'm queen of my own kitchen and I said it's okay.

After 20 mins of baking at 180 deg C, the plait is baked. I'm a little disappointed it's not prettier.

One half of the bread looks better because I struggled with the second half of the braiding. It's like I have two left brains!

You know those sultanas that burst out of the dough? They tasted real good. Only one got burnt and even that tasted good.

In case you're wondering sultanas, like raisins also come from grapes, except sultanas come from white fleshed ones.

The texture of the bread is soft and nice.

The sultanas are scattered here and there. That's good.

The taste is not bad. And there's no after taste. Don't you hate it when you eat something and there's this lingering taste in your mouth? Surprisingly the serious amount of kneading did no damage to the bread. Will I make it again? Probably not. Unless I find a recipe for a whole grain version.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My first 10km

I don't know if you remember this but on July 25th this year, I wrote a blog post that I wanted to attempt a 10km run at least once before I die. And if you know hubs, he signed me up for Standard Chartered 2016 10km run immediately.

Well, that was before my gallbladder got busted and I had it removed via keyhole surgery in August. Which kinda spoilt my plan of slowly training for it. I had to take it slow for a month and then when I started running again, I felt really unfit. The surgery really knocked a lot of energy out of me. Finally in November I managed to do 10km one time. So I knew I could do it but it was exhausting.

Well, the Standard Chartered run happened on Sunday. Since it came so close after the One North run last Sunday, I never even got around to do any practice run. As usual, the 5:30am wake up, and since the trains run late on Sundays, we had to take a taxi to as close to the starting point as possible.

I wore my purple running tee so it's easier to spot me in photos.

There were a lot of runners in the 10km category. Most runs we joined in the past were moderate in size. We were so far away from the start line that it took a few "waves" before it was our turn.

Hubs and I didn't run together. We started off together but he was such a fast runner that I told him not to wait for me. He even managed to take photos along the way. I could barely think.

He finished half an hour earlier and went back to catch me in action.

As expected, it was exhausting but I managed to finish it. My right leg hurt a bit right from the start probably due to a lack of warming up. My toes hurt like hell from the 6th km.

My goal was to complete the 10km in under 2 hours and I managed it in 1 hour 34 min. Ha ha, maybe next time I should set a higher goal. I came in 7,854th out of 12,234 finishers. Among women, I came in 2,799 out of 5,328 finishers. I am very satisfied with my result! If you're wondering if I'm going for half-marathon next, I can tell you very firmly it's a 'no'. I'm physically and mentally not fit enough for that kind of endurance.

Sadly, a 29 year old runner in the half-marathon died. He collapsed just 1km before the finish line.
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