Savour 2016

It was one of those weekends where I really should have been tucked away in a soft quiet spot getting ready for the  busy week ahead. Yet, that afternoon, I found myself braving the crowd at Marina Bay, making my way to Savour 2016. But of course, what else, apart from a food festival, could actually get me to leave the comforts of a people free space?

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

Thankfully, the day was blessed with great weather and I trudged along happily deciding what was worthy of my consumption. Turns out, my stomach wanted a bite of everything.

Team Restaurant Ember

Foie Gras with Chinese 5 Spice Caramel and Market Fruits 

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

This has only cemented my desire to have a meal at Restaurant Ember. The foie gras was really deeply truly the best I have had; even better then the one at Au Petit Sud Ouest (and mind you, they are known for their foie gras) in Paris. You’ve got to take my word for it.

Sakura Ebi Pasta with Konbu, Chilli and Crustacean Oil

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

To be very honest, this did not blow me away the way it should have. But, I am choosing to attribute this to how we were probably one of their last few customers, hence the quality of the food. Although, to be very frank, I would have expected alot more from Ember, regardless of the timing. We could still taste what this dish could have been had it been served the way it should have been. The crustacean oil was exceedingly flavouful and the pasta was cooked to perfection.

I have contemplated taking on the daunting task of recreating this at home, but the thought of having to peel all those prawn heads is making this an almost impossible task.

Team Mitzo

Truffle Noodles with Prawn Ball and Lobster Claw

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

This was another dish that was rather disappointing. Granted that the meat of the prawn and lobster class was fresh, I found the noodles to be a tad overdone and for the entire dish to be very ordinary. Not too sure if my general distaste for foods soaked in gravy caused this lack of interest/satisfaction but I did not enjoy it. 

The Study

Iberico Pork Scotch Egg with Pickled Beetroot, Red Cabbage Gel topped with Truffle Air

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

This though! I truly enjoyed. It being the first time I have ever had a scotch egg I had zero expectations but I was undoubtedly glad for my first experience to be with The Study. Meat was tender and very tasty and I was glad that although the scotch egg was fried there was no horrid oil aftertaste.

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

Oh, and the best part of it all? The Study is on the Entertainer’s so guess who’s going to have this delightful scotch egg once more!!

Three Buns

Truffle Hound with 100g Prime Beef Frankfurter, Roasted Portobello Mushroom, Garlic & Miso Butter, Ketchup, Truffle Aioli, Melted Truffle Cheese, in a Demi Brioche Bun

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

Was contemplating between having this and the Baby Huey (which had a Aged Beef Patty) but doing a quick dipstick test resulted in us ordering the Truffle Hound. Definitely not something I regret because this was amazing. It is definitely no run off the mill hotdog bun.

Bird Bird

Brioche Donuts stuffed with Chicken Sausage, Maple Icing and Chicken Skin Furikake

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

I had initially assumed that the donut was going to be sweet but Bird Bird’s take on it took me by surprise. I was mildly confused when I bit into the donut for it had a mix of salty, sweet notes to the dish. Extremely delicious might I say.

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

Splendid finale to my night at Savour 2016

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Figs and Me

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

Figs, Kiwis, Strawberries and Peaches, Fresh Peaches might I add; none of that sweet canned nonsense. 

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

Some of my favourite fruits all piled atop a bed of creamy greek yogurt. Look at the redness of that fig!!

I have taken a particularly strong liking towards figs. The most convenient of them all being the dried figs that I can get in a bag of Camel Nuts. Those are yummy; sweet enough and chewy. It has just enough bite to keep your mouth satisfied when you simply want to munch.

Then there are these purplish figs shaped almost like a slimmer version of an onion. Light, a little squishy, but not in that gross, horrid way you would associate being squishy with. Sliced open, you see a wonderful cross section of red flesh speckled with tiny white seed like things which are completely edible and are no hassle to consume.

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

May my love for fruits and yogurt never die

Perspective

 

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

It has been an exciting past couple of weeks. The end of last week marked my first month and exactly one week in the corporate world. For the  most part, I have been fortunate to be in an environment like the one I am in; good bosses, great working environment with some of the best people in the industry who are willing to teach.

During the course of the past month I have learnt so much about finance, and perhaps more specifically asset management. Law has also been an industry I have been mildly exposed to. It was interesting learning the various bands of law firms and the strengths of each. Although I am hardly an expert, I definitely did learn something. Possibly because a majority of the projects I have been tasked to handle is asset-management based, I think my interest in finance has piqued and in recent times I have seen myself gravitating towards taking a CFA, although, really Vanessa, I would hardly have seen that coming.

But then again, I am all for challenges. The more intense the better for it satisfies this need in me to never settle and to continuously strive and be the best I can. I think it is hardly a comparison of how I match up to others, but really, whether or not I am fully stretching my limits to be the best version of myself. I think being out of school has made this considerably easier; for the longest time I have struggled with what I can and cannot do academically. But now, as I begin to work, I see myself being able to start from ground zero, to be the author of my own story.

Truth be told, there are certain things (at work) that I am not comfortable with. (From henceforth, I shall name it Situation X) Still am figuring out how I can best handle such conflicting emotions but one way I have learnt to “manage”, albeit temporarily, is to chant, literally chant, mind over matter. There are days where this does not work and on those days I feel defeated. But on the days that it works, I find that it helps me compartmentalise mentally and it strengthens me.

 Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that work is hard. It can be challenging and challenging is good. But of course, somethings are better left unsaid. I have also taken to finding good quotes and sometimes, when I remember, I pray and ask for God to lead me step by step, and give me strength as well as wisdom to best deal with Situation X.

While I was on the treadmill yesterday, I happened to be mulling over Situation X and just as I hit the 30 minute mark, something in me clicked, and I felt a renewed strength in me. It suddenly became starkly obvious to me – PERSPECTIVE.

It is hardly a new concept, but in that moment it seemed as if the dark clouds had cleared and there was that moment of clarity –  Perhaps, what I truly really need is all just a matter of perspective?

But with that, self-doubt kicks in and me being me, having always been so conscious when it comes to making decisions, where right means green and wrong means red, I fear that I may be stepping into somewhat of a grey area. But perhaps in life, it is not always all that simple. Maybe this is something that I have to learn – that in life, not everything is clear cut AND I have to not just accept but learn to be comfortable with it.

The question for me then becomes – so where do I draw the line?

At what point do you start doing something wrong only to pacify yourself and believe that it is all but a matter of perspective. And, I think that is what I fear the most for I take great pride or at least I try my darnest to be the best kind of person I can be, especially in terms of the things I do and say so much so that it consumes me and it can get stifling sometimes.

A Little Life

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It has been a while since I have felt emotionally invested enough in a book to talk, much less write about it. Perhaps the few times I have actually penned down my thoughts on a book on my own accord was when I grew conflicted reading Richard the Third for A’s, and was bemused by a man so evil, conceited and blind but yet so tragically alone, I found it too easy, almost like a favour to him, to simply hate.

There were a couple of books in between that I could identify with. One of which is McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a true American classic. It revolved around one singular man, Mr Singer, who despite being a deaf mute managed to somehow provide comfort, company and solace to the characters in the book. The book is extremely beautifully written and McCuller possesses the ability to bring out people’s intense desire to be heard intensifying this emotion through the portrayal of other characters  choosing to seek company from a deaf mute for it was only him who appeared willing to spend hours “listening” to their stories. I think apart from Mr Singer, my favourite character in that book is Jake Blount, a brutish individual who is constantly drunk and full of rage. What I loved most was how while everyone else’s presence proved to be antagonising, the relationship he established with Mr Singer, ends up being gentle, endearing almost, where they live with each other in a small room, moving silently past each other, establishing some sort of rhythm together.

Some other books I loved – The history of love as well as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan but as usual, I digress.

This post is meant to be dedicated solely to Yanagihara’s work of art and it shall remain so.

Having read about 80% of the book, I fully comprehend why this book has so many accolades to its name; even winning the Man Booker Prize award, which is basically the award to win if your book is to be published in the United Kingdom. And yes, I am writing even before having completed the book.

From start to end (wherever I have read till, my kindle says 83%), A Little Life, has been extremely compelling, drawing me in so deep, I feel like I am  watching the story unfold just from outside the rings. The book kicks off by introducing the various characters, and Yanagihara does a very good job of it. In the first few pages, a broad understanding of the different characters is established – young, fresh out of college, coming from vastly different backgrounds – Jude (orphaned), JB (the one with the parents who adored him) and then there is William (an actor who has not had his big break) and Malcolm (who possess skills but has yet to get noticed by the principal architects), eager to make it in the real world, but apprehensive.

Yanagihara captures these conflicting emotions very well, and she shows that she fully understands the struggles and complexities of growing up as she brings us through the journey of these 4 young men.

The book quickly evolves though, and while the four characters remain very part of the story, it is clear that Jude has somehow risen to the centre. In fact, the achievements that Jude earned as a litigator was always emphasised more than the achievements Malcolm, JB or even William achieved. And perhaps, rightly so because while all the other 3 young men were, to a large extent, normal, Jude was not. While the other characters do grow (and this should not be undermined – death, career breakthroughs, breakups), it is still evident that the story is largely centred around Jude’s growth, his relationships and of course, the “things” he would do to himself.

And perhaps this is where the entire story reveals itself. The dark, traumatic past that ties down a man so strong like Jude is almost shocking. The juxtaposition between how he is ruthless almost, in court and how he behaves at 2am, when he is alone, slumped against the toilet walls, cutting himself to relieve the pain from the hyenas of the past howling and haunting him, only served to play up how weak he was despite the strong, nonchalant front he put up in front of others.

Bit by bit, Jude slowly reveals the reasons behind his incessant and obsessive need to inflict pain on himself. And to deem it as horrifying does not even cut it. With every layer revealed, something even more horrific lies beneath and I know, I really know that I should put this book down for it is way too dark for my liking. But yet at the same time, there is a draw that sucks me into the hole, and perhaps over time, I have established a rapport with Jude, a tenderness for this broken soul that sees me wanting to reach out, grab him and reassure him that he will be alright and he does not have to cut himself to feel alive, that drives me deeper into the book.

There is now a need to know what has made my Jude the way he is for how much atrocity does a man have to face to see such a strong desire to cut himself continuously for a good part of his life? How much suffering and torture must he have gone through to find it completely acceptable to offer his body in exchange for favours? What must have been said to him to completely brainwash his young mind, filling it with filthy untruths, so much so that he believed, with his entire soul, that he was so undeserving of love, kindness and real, genuine friendship? What could have happened to him to strip him off all chances to love and to trust, the two most basic things any human should be able to possess?

And yet this strangely does not lure and seal me into extreme doom. Every single time, Yanagihara offers me an olive branch of a possibility that Jude might actually end up being happy, I take it, only to realise that this happiness is temporal, short lived at best. The strangest of all though is that these moments of happiness, while fleeting for me, is crucial to Jude. It strengthens him, and gives him hope to continue journeying through the pages of the story and I see it as he ends up functioning better than he would usually.

And soon, I begin to realise what Yanagihara is doing.

This is indeed life for some, where each glimmer of hope is what they hold on to, to inch forward slowly into another day where each small sliver of light brings with it possibility that tomorrow will be a better day. And while I may find that hard to understand, all I need to recognise is that this is indeed a good enough drug to push some to live for that one more chance at having a better life.

Friendship is also an extremely strong aspect in this book and it is the only thing that remains as constant as the pain Jude inflicts on himself. In her 700 plus pages, Yanagihara succinctly captures the true complexity of friendship – love, jealousy, quarrels, bitterness, admiration, obsession – where it is almost like the real thing, if not the real thing itself.

All I can say is that in an era where trashy books are aplenty, this book transports us to another world where instead of sex, real genuine relationships take centre stage. Real issues are explored and while not all of us go through the process where we have to mutilate ourselves (thank god for that), this book holds something rare and true about the love shared between friends in a world that is most unforgiving.

There is so much more for me to say and this has been an incredibly haphazard post, but this book has kept me up for so many nights and I really needed a space to articulate my thoughts.

Barilla Bay, Tasmania

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

I think I could fall in love by the sea

Huge white hat flopping wildly, head tilted, hand grasping it lightly, semi walking running through the soft sandy beaches with my long, white flowy dress trailing behind picking up bits of sand and intricately broken pieces of seashells

        The sun lightly caressing my skin and the sea water spraying onto my face every time               the waves hit the shore, I could fall in love there

                                                                                                                             Till then.

This set of photos is clearly, one of my favourites. Not just because I was having a rather good hair/outfit day but being photographed along Barilla Bay in Tasmania where the beauty of the place is second to none was truly one of my ‘must-dos’. I may not be a fan of taking photos of every single thing when I am amongst nature, but I knew I needed the camera to monumentalise this splendid moment – That wide expanse of land and sea, the uncertainty of where sea and land meets, or do they actually not ( I still have yet to figure this out)?

So intrigued was I that I expressed to my mother how I had no issues staying  out at the Bay; for I had in mind a quiet afternoon, spent staring out into the wide expanse. I was looking forward to time alone where I could let my  mind dance across the surface of the sea, colliding randomly, hopefully leading to an explosion of new thoughts and ideas that I could seek contentment in.

 

Nice, France

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

I remember the first time I recognised my place in this world; standing just over the boulder, I looked down and across and immediately felt consumed by the magnificence of what was before me.

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

The waves rolling endlessly, almost leisurely across the span of green and blue, only to be released with an almost controlled hit against the gravel.

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Photo © Vanessa Koh

Watching the water constrain itself as it sucked back, tucking into deeper, denser rolls and having this process repeated; it was all too hypnotic.

There is something so intrinsically charming about the sea. The seeming calmness, but yet, with something as unrestrained, you know it is always more than meets the eye. The voice of the sea stretching to reach out tenderly, speaking to your soul. Its sensuous touch enveloping bodies in its soft, close embrace. It must be a very magical feeling to be in the midst of all that. 

Now more than ever do I realise that I will not (at least in the near future) be contented with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by bigger and greater thoughts of exploration. It may be scary but I think in foreignness lies the beauty of travel. I cannot think of anything else that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a space where everything is recognisable but yet, still so unfamiliar. Suddenly you have only the most primitive sense of how things work and your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses which bring about the most open-ended possibilities.

In recent times I have seen myself reaching out to past travel photos. Perhaps it is to reminiscence how much has changed since just about half a year ago, perhaps there is this need to satiate my desire to leave behind everything I have here, to go forth and explore and see what the world has for me. With nothing to hold me back, perhaps this is finally an opportunity for me to embark on a journey where my personal limits are pushed and tested.

My friends tell me I am too whimsical for my own good, but there is really so much uncaptured beauty out there in the world that I cannot help but long to experience it for myself.


Also, writing has proven to be very therapeutic. While I still find it a struggle to broach certain topics, I feel that with every post I pen down, my heart starts to beat a little more normally and I begin to feel a little more. Maybe all those nights I have spent to see my thoughts and feelings collide is actually doing me more good than I can ever understand. 

Ootoya @ Orchard Central

The eve of new year saw me tucked into bed nursing a swollen face (thank you wisdom teeth). 

At the stroke of midnight there was no explosion of fireworks, just an eruption of pain shooting through my gums. Not a very good start to 2016 you would think, but I was determined to not let my first day of 2016 be dampened with my extractionS.

Armed with painkillers, I marched out on the 1st of January to meet my favourite person in the world for the cuisine I love most – Japanese. 2 favourites in a day, is this day getting better or what?

Given that I could barely open my jaws, I had to order something that I could slurp easily into my mouth. Well, that definitely was not too difficult.

Cold Soba & Mini Oyako (SGD19)

Photo © Vanessa Koh

Photo © Vanessa Koh

Soba here is handmade daily using buckwheat flour imported from Hokkaido, Japan. Texture is visible different. Noodles are springy with a firm bite. A delight to consume. What I loved most about this was that there was no ice hidden underneath the noodles to give the appearance of a heartier than reality portion. In fact popular Japanese chain, Sushi Tei, does it too often and I always end up feeling a little cheated.

Perhaps another thing as important as the noodles are its accompanying dipping sauce. Soba sauces here are not taken from bottles bought off supermarket shelves. In fact, their sauce is made with fresh bonito shavings and contain the rich-aroma of high-grade bonito. The result is a strong and intensely salty sauce that ranks high on its flavour. The taste is distinctively different from those you can find elsewhere.

I love soba dishes and soba noodles are always a must-try wherever I go. In this humble and otherwise ordinary dish, it is surprising how different it tastes compared to its counterparts.

Beef Steak & Pork Belly Shio Kouji (SGD26)

Photo © Vanessa Koh

Photo © Vanessa Koh

Served on a sizzling hot plate, I was extremely excited to discover that the dish belonged to our table. Far before the dish arrived, the peppery fragrance wafted through the air and danced its way into my nose delighting my senses. The sizzling of the meat on the hot plate excited me and in that moment, I wished that the dish belonged to me. Alas, it was not to be; the chunks of meat were too big for my injured jaw.

Luckily for me though, my favourite person, helped cut the meat into smaller pieces just so that I could have my share of meat, albeit in bird-sized portions. Marinated in Kouji, a traditional Japanese seasoning made from rice, malt, salt and water, this dish tasted as good as it smelt. What I found most interesting was that the sauce is not treated in heat, preserving the natural goodness of the ingredients. Meat was juicy and tender, there was no blood taste to the beef although it was not entirely cooked through. Very delicious!

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about dining at Ootoya was also the service. After having completed our meal we stayed and talked for another hour or so. The people there did not make us feel unwelcome, in fact, they were extremely discreet, coming every now and then to refill our drinks, disappearing silently while we chatted.

Time spent today was beautiful. After nearly 4 years, we are beginning to find our way around each other. Somehow this year, something is different. We have taken to making resolutions that we can use to work towards strengthening the relationship. Slowly but surely, working towards building a future that can hold us at its centre.

Such is the beauty of love


Address: Ootoya Japanese Restaurant, #08-12 Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Rd, 238896

Opening Hours: 1200pm-2130pm daily

Phone: 6884 8901