My one year anniversary in Germany

One year in Germany. What have I accomplished? Let’s see… my German language skills? I can understand basic conversations by catching key vocabulary but I am still not able to answer very well. I usually just say ‘yes/no, thank you’ and smile. Haha.

I travel a lot, about 600km every week, and I’ve now started to understand why frequent travelers hate traveling. Especially so when I have to wake up when it’s still cold and dark outside, plus fingers crossed that I catch all my connections!

I’ve started working in Germany, at the headquarters of the company I was working at in Singapore, and experienced how it is like to be a minority. And it kinda sucks, more than ever when conversations take place in German and I’m the only one who does not understand the language. I feel so left out and I become withdrawn. It’s not my colleagues’ fault since I’m the foreigner here, but I just appreciate the diversity in Singapore.

As what I have said on my Facebook, sometimes time passes so quickly, we say it flies. But sometimes, it feels like it’s crawling. Especially when I’m working and counting down the days to the weekend or the next holiday. Public holidays are few and far in between in this country, quite different from Singapore. They make up for it by having 30 days annual leave, but the Singaporean in me doesn’t want to spend my vacation days staying at home, doing nothing.

Anyway, it’s now autumn (pumpkin season!), and I should really start planning for my December vacation. I will be taking the last 2 weeks of the year off (Christmas break is mandatory since the office is closed).

We have finally decided on Prague, after having too many different options previously. We are planning to go to Greece for summer next year (I want to visit the DOTS island. HAHA), so we cannot afford to have a big trip now. Since we are located up north in Germany, Prague is not exactly very near us, but luckily we have various travel options such as flying there (4-6 hours), taking the coach (12 hours) or taking the train (8 hours). We eventually settled on taking the bus since we do not have to make any transits with the bus (having missed our train connections way too many times, we are wary now).
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Has anyone of you been to Prague? Your tips and recommendations will be very helpful in planning my trip! 

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Recipe: not-so-authentic bibimbap

Bibimbap is probably one of the most well-known Korean dishes globally, besides kimchi. It is a one bowl meal, with the ingredients on top of warm rice. It’s nutritious, easy to eat since it’s all in one bowl, and very versatile because you can put any ingredient you fancy. It’s not easy to make though because you have to prepare all the dishes separately, before assembling them. The tough part is the prep work since all the dishes have to be sliced and julienned thinly. My knife skills ain’t that good but I try to make a presentable meal since my husband likes bibimbap.

To make bibimbap, I prepare the following side dishes:

  • carrots, julienned and sauteed in a small amount of sesame oil
  • spinach, blanched and seasoned with mince garlic, soy sauce, sesame seeds and sesame oil
  • beansprouts, blanched and seasoned with mince garlic, soy sauce, sesame seeds and sesame oil.
  • stir fried mince pork/beef, seasoned with some sesame oil and soy sauce
  • sunny side up egg (with runny yolk)
  • toasted seaweed, crushed into small pieces

I then put a serving of warm cooked rice (short grain to be more authentic), topped with the side dishes and a dollap of gochujang.

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Our shoes need some lovin’ too

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Sometimes I feel that I have a split personality, like how I see myself as an introvert when others see me as an extrovert. I later found out that there is such a thing as Ambivert. I think I’m one of those.

I also have a weird thing when it comes to taking care of myself. I place high emphasis on my skin (because I’m always battling acne. Damn those hormones!), and my hair (I cannot live without my hair conditioner and hair oils/serums), but I often don’t exercise enough thus those dimply thighs and flubber around my waist and hips. Oh, let’s not forget those flabby arms too.

Then we come to my material possessions. I only wash my clothes on the gentle cycle or wool wash if possible. I don’t use the dryer because they shorten the lifespan of my clothes. My bags are placed back into their protective dust bags after use if they originally came in one. My bags are also never placed on the floor (with the exception of my laptop backpack and Longchamp Le Pliage – those two are meant to be abused).

However, I just had a startling revelation that I don’t take care of my shoes at all. Late last week, I noticed that the rubber heels of one of my Maud Frizon flats had worn off, and I was now wearing down the wooden heel structure! I was instantly so upset with myself because I love my Maud Frizons and that is my favorite pair out of the 5 pairs I bought on my honeymoon. I had ZH bring the pair of shoes back to Bremen for repairs (because the cobbler is too far from me in my little town here).

Looking back, I have constantly abused my shoes. Earlier this year, I had to send my winter boots for repairs though they were only 3 months old because of the same problem. The heels had worn out. Previously, I always had to send my heels to the cobbler for repairs because I had worn down the heels so much that the rubber soles were gone and I was wearing down the NAILS in the heel stem. You could hear the nails filing down on the concrete pavement. Ugh.

I should make a routine now, to check on the state of my shoes, to clean them regularly after wear, to show them some loving care and repair them at the first sign of damage before it is too late and cause me some heartbreak. Those shoes will then last longer, I hope.

Do you have any tips to share? Or are you a shoe abuser, like me?

My comfort food: porridge

Everyone has their own comfort food, and mine happens to be porridge. Rice porridge  or congee as they call it in the western world. Some of my friends feel that porridge is something that you eat when you’re sick but I don’t think so . I’ve always eaten porridge for breakfast as a kid and I never seem to get sick of it (pun unintended. Haha).

My favorite kind of porridge is mincemeat porridge cooked by granny, and she calls it “mushy porridge” because she prepares it in the slow cooker overnight and it’s a perfect baby porridge consistency in the morning. You can hardly discern the grains anymore. No matter how sleepy I am, or if I didn’t want breakfast, I would always have second helpings when this was for breakfast. It was easy with the slow cooker – just dump all the ingredients in, season with some oyster sauce, light soya sauce, sesame oil (very important ingredient!!) and leave it to cook on low overnight, a minimum of 8 hours.

When I crave for an easy and light meal, I experiment with different ingredient combinations and flavor bases.

One of my favorite combinations was taught to me by my university housemate. She would combine chopped cabbage, fried ikan bilis, sliced carrots and a handful of dried scallops and boil them all with the raw rice. We often cook this for Sunday lunches because that’s when our groceries run out and we would only have these ingredients to cook lunch that day, so we called it “Sunday porridge”. It’s been almost 10 years since I graduated and I’m still cooking it!

When I feel like having something more substantial, I would make meatball porridge with vegetable. The purpose of me having porridge is to have a one pot meal, so having both my vegetables and protein together is essential. I often use carrots as my vegetable base because they add sweetness and they hold up well after hours of cooking (or at least they don’t disappear into the porridge). As I do not have a slow cooker here, I use my thermal pot instead. It takes maybe 20 minutes of prep work plus boiling it and stirring it, then I put it into the thermal holder and leave it to cook overnight.

With porridge, the possibilities are endless. I have even tried mixing barley grains into my porridge! I won’t leave you with recipes of my porridges since I don’t cook according to a recipe (depends on what I have available in my fridge), but I do have a pretty standard porridge base.

For 2 servings of porridge, I use the following

  • handful of dried scallops, rinsed and soaked (reserve soaking water)
  • handful of dried ikan bilis, rinsed to remove dust
  • 1 small carrot
  • about 1/3 cup of rice (I prefer to use short grain rice)

I boil the above ingredients with about 500ml of water for 20 minutes before transferring to my thermal pot to retain heat and continue cooking. I usually add my proteins just before mealtime to prevent overcooking. Top the porridge with some soy sauce, sesame oil and fried shallots, oh yummy yummy!

Europe city hopping: Greifswald

A couple of weeks ago, we rented a car and visited Max in Greifswald. He is now doing his internship there with a firm that builds yachts. Figures, since Greifswald is just next to the Baltic Sea so the yachts can be built and docked at the harbour there.

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I’m glad that Max is living there now so that we had the chance to visit the place and take in its beauty. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come across this beautiful town.

Greifswald is about 3.5 hours drive away from Bremen, and the place is definitely bigger than where I work. Haha, the town I work in is surrounded by fields and greenery, very different from Greifswald.

Max cooked us a lovely German lunch – authentic schnitzel, and we had a BBQ dinner. German style too, with sausages, pork steaks, bell pepper, mushrooms, gyros skewers and German potato salad. 2016-07-02 18.48.342016-07-02 12.35.01

He brought us to the beach, to the harbour and the city centre, plus a large MarktKauf where I managed to find my Alpro “hazelnuss milch”. I immediately bought 6 packs of the plant milk since it’s quite difficult to find it in Bremen and my work town, plus some of my favorite vegan cheese and I tried a new vegan cream cheese.

Such a pity that we only stayed for 24 hours since it’s a long drive home, because I would love to just soak in the warm atmosphere at the beach. It was also nice seeing Max again. Hopefully we will be able to see each other soon again. The lovers (Max and ZH) need to reunite (internal joke).

Recipe: pandan chiffon cake

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I never thought I would be able to make a chiffon cake because meringues scare me. They are so finicky and hard to handle. But my craving for pandan cake overtook my fear, and I’m glad to be able to achieve moderate success on my third try. My first chiffon cake was underbaked, the second was slightly overbaked and had slightly too much pandan essence, so I tweaked the recipe and got one cake which I liked.

Makes a 17cm cake

  • 3 medium eggs, separated
  • 85g sugar (1/2 cup – 1 tbsp)
  • 40ml vegetable oil (3 tbsp)
  • 75g cake flour (2/3 cup) *
  • 3g baking powder (1 tsp)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 60ml coconut milk (4 tbsp)
  • 1/4 tsp pandan essence  Edit 28 Mar 2017: I now make my pandan cakes without the essence as I find the taste too artificial. Just the pandan paste is sufficient.
  • 1/4 tsp pandan paste

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Preheat oven to 170 degree Celsius.

In a bowl, add 1/3 of the sugar to the 3 egg yolks and beat with a whisk, until pale and fluffy. Add the vegetable oil, coconut milk, pandan paste and essence to the yolk mixture and mix until combined. Sift in the flour, salt and baking powder. Mix until no streaks of flour can be seen.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add in the remaining sugar gradually and whisk until stiff peaks. (It takes me about 3 mins on high speed on my 450W mixer)
Edit 28 March 2017: I read this tip online- when stiff peaks have been achieved, switch your electric whisk down to low speed and whisk a few more times to stabilize the air bubbles within the egg whites.

Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture to the yolk batter. Stir to combine and create a lighter batter. Gently fold in remaining egg white in 2 additions, mixing the egg white evenly into the batter.
Edit 28 March 2017: folding in egg whites can be tricky, so I now mix in 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter using the electric whisk on low speed (about 3-5 seconds will do, not any longer than that). Then I add another 1/3 of the egg whites, and repeat (it doesn’t have to be evenly incorporated at this stage). I only change to a spatula and fold in the last 1/3 of the egg whites to mix evenly.

Pour your batter slowly into the chiffon tin. Gently run a skewer or knife through the batter to remove any remaining large air bubbles. Place tin into the hot oven, bottom rack. Bake for 35-40 mins. Once done, remove from oven and let the cake cool in the tin, inverted over a cooling rack. Loosen the cooled cake from the tin using a thin blade knife. Invert the cake onto a serving dish (the top of the cake is now the bottom), and enjoy!

*If you do not have access to cake flour like me, try this simple home substitution: 1 cup all-purpose flour – 2 tbsp all-purpose flour + 2 tbsp cornstarch. Sift together 3 times to ensure even distribution of the cornstarch.

Recipe: cheat-meal nikujaga

Japanese nikujaga

I can’t believe I have not blogged this recipe – I tried it last year and it went onto the fast track to my favorites. Nikujaga is easily one of the quickest and simplest things to make, and it’s super yummy as well. I often add a vegetable dish on the side too because I feel that I don’t add enough vegetables in nikujaga. Now I do recognize that this recipe is not authentic Japanese nikujaga but I’m not claiming it to be either. If you’re pressed for time, or if you have a clueless husband in the kitchen, throw this recipe at them and I’m sure a delicious meal will be on the table in no time.

Serves 2

  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cubed or shredded (I like mine shredded)
  • 1/2 onion, finely sliced
  • 250g mince meat
  • 1 tbsp ginger, thinly sliced or grated
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • pepper (to taste)
  • olive oil/vegetable oil

Heat up a pan with olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and ginger until fragrant. Add in the meat and sauté until the meat is browned. Add the potatoes and sauté for a couple more minutes.

Add the seasonings, plus a cup of water to cover the potatoes. Bring up to a boil, then cover and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through. Adjust the seasoning at the end with a bit more soy sauce if needed.