Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Garlic, Chive and Asiago Knots

Thankfully, my violent little battle with the common cold has met its end and I can now function like a normal human being. In celebration of that, I decided to bake some bread. Only natural, right?

Aside from using my mother's breadmaker back home as a 12 year-old, I have never baked bread from scratch. When a recipe calls for dry active yeast, I turn away in fear. But as I've recently discovered... it's just yeast! You toss it in, let it do its work, the dough rises-- nothing to it!

The original recipe calls for dried Italian seasoning, but the fresh chives at the grocery store were calling me with their fantastic greenness, so chives it is. I also had some shredded asiago lying around, so I added a pinch after the knots had been baking for a while.

Let me tell you, these darlings will cause your kitchen to smell like a happy little garlic and butter paradise. And when they're fresh out of the oven, they are warm and soft and quite simply... the perfect partner for your dinner.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Popcorn with truffle oil, grated parmesan, chives, sea salt and cracked pepper.

Beef shortrib sandwich with pickled shallots, watercress, horseradish and shoestring potatoes.

Orange-ginger soda.

I was curious about Graham Elliot's new sandwich shop, and it met all my expectations. How I love you, Grahamwich!

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I never thought I'd get here, but here I am... the long nights and boring critiques of the semester behind me. I still have plenty to do for the next year, but I am going to enjoy doing nothing for a few more days.

So, it's Christmas! I was so excited about the holiday season: putting up a tree, listening to an insufferable amount of Jackson 5 Christmas music, and even throwing a small ugly sweater soiree. Unfortunately, I spent Christmas Day itself with a sore throat and a healthy dose of lethargy. Sad, really. I was hoping that maybe, JUST MAYBE, I'd hit December 25th without picking up some awful bug, but nope! Somehow, Paul and I ended up sick.

We had to skip out on his sister's Christmas meal so I decided to make our Christmas feast (ha!)-- congee with shiitake mushrooms and egg. Perfect food for the infirm. This is a good guide to making congee. I used minced garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil and plenty of scallions. Nothing quite to it, so I won't go into great detail... just remember to crack an egg in towards the end.

I hope we feel better soon, because my sister and brother-in-law will be in town for New Year's and the last thing I want is to be this bumbling tired mess of germs. I have a nice plump list of restaurants to dine at-- determined to show them what Chicago's made of! Maybe I'll even cook a bit.

Well, one thing's for sure. I'll be updating a bit more frequently now that I am no longer plagued with finals and critiques, perhaps some of you even missed my updates. :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Xiao Long Bao (Soup dumplings)

I have a fair lot of work to do this week, so this will be brief.

I like soup dumplings, and Tasty House in Chinatown makes them quite well. Reminds me of home, which I miss.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Yellow Light

Two areas of my apartment must always have some form of yellow light: the living room and bedroom. I think a soft amber glow is vastly more relaxing than a stark white glare, which to me, speaks of workworkwork. Dim yellow lighting, candles, music, and I'm yours. And probably asleep.

Things have been busy, but mostly in a good way. I think I may be an art history student soon. Doesn't that sound exceedingly romantic? So very Mona Lisa Smile. I have been considering the BFAAH program for a while. I mean, firstly, the School has an excellent museum and Art History program. I often forget how fortunate I am to read in class about Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and then take a few steps over to our museum where I can absorb the original work in person. Really, there are things I can't stand about my school, but the museum certainly is not on that list.

Secondly, there always seems to be an array of classes in the department calling my name each semester. Since transferring to art school, I do miss (and enjoy) writing papers and sitting myself down with a pile of reading, which is what art history classes often consist of. It just seems like a sensible fit. After a few meetings with my advisor, I think I am finally going to make it official. My degree will still be a BFA, but it will (hopefully) be with a concentration in both Art History and Fashion Design. Maybe Sotheby's will find some use for me.

Some good news: my boyfriend landed a job at Groupon, we are very excited about it. October has been largely satisfactory; I expect that November will only be better!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Staying Afloat

Of course, the most hectic period of the semester has to coincide with the prettiest Chicago weather, right? I mean, really, there are about 33 things I'd much rather do, like sip tea with Nicole Krauss' new novel 'Great House'. Or take long walks around the neighbourhood, admiring all the gorgeous little dogs out for their evening exercise. Or bake muffins only to give half the batch away to a friend.

I've quickly found the key to my sanity in this rigorous design program, and that is to allow myself some time to absorb the things around me and to do things I actually find true pleasure in doing. Going to farmers' markets, picking out enticing recipes to try at the end of the week, cooking with my boyfriend and taking pictures of leaves on a sidewalk. This keeps me sane. So in a way, I owe some gratitude to my blog, because it is inexplicably easy to find myself overwhelmed in a whirlwind of deadlines and late nights filled with hours upon hours of manual work. It's all okay if at the end of the week, I can come back home, heave a sigh of relief, and whip up a fresh pot of stock out of some leftover chicken bones. More Charm Than Good, you keep me grounded.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rosemary, Honey and Sea Salt Shortbread

It is without question that tea's best friend, lover and soulmate is shortbread.

At first glance, it may seem bizarre. Rosemary, honey and sea salt? Oh, but doubt me not! It is ethereal; each little nibble crumbling and melting in your mouth, leaving you with a curious and intriguing aftertaste. Fresh rosemary brings such fragrance to this buttery shortbread, and the sea salt sprinkled before baking elevates this beautifully. You know how there are certain things in life that fill you with plump satisfaction, yet, even after, you find yourself yearning for just a little bit more? This is exactly that.

I discovered three things after starting the recipe:-

a) I don't own any cookie cutters. None, zilch, zero.
b) My neighbourhood grocery store, Potash Brothers, does not have cookie cutters in stock until the holiday season.
c) Champagne flute glasses make marvelous cookie cutters if you're in a bit of a rut, as I was.

Mmm, and need I remind you that it is perfect for the coming tea season? For me, it was partnered with a slightly oversteeped cup of chai, no sugar. Delectable. Look at how darling these are, little butter-white circles playfully speckled with fresh rosemary!

Recipe: from Epicurious. I found it easier to chill the dough for a few minutes before rolling it out and putting my champagne flutes to work. Also, I highly recommend a light dusting of coarse sea salt just before you pop it in the oven.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Say Hello to Autumn

I am waiting in great anticipation for the leaves to change, to see both trees and the ground swathed in a flurry of strong reds and oranges. This is my favourite time of the year! Tights the colour of a ruby port, pumpkin spice, and just enough nip in the air to require a soft cardigan, but not quite a wool coat.

My boyfriend and I decided to usher fall in by going to the Lincoln Square Apple Fest. Fresh locally harvested produce, pastries, cider, and buckets of apples, apples, and apples, of course. We bought some concord grapes and I've been wanting to make something out of them (jam, perhaps?), but they are so incredibly robust and flavourful on their own that I am unsure they will last even a few more days in my fridge!

I was sad that we missed out on the legendary apple pie (word on the street is that people dream about these at night!), but there's always next year.

On our way back home, we stumbled upon Lawrence Fish Market. Try to visualise the most unassuming hole-in-the-wall EVER where they serve up fresh and affordable sushi, and you have LFM. $2.95 maki rolls and $1 generously portioned nigiri? Unheard of in Chicago, but not at this dinky little fish shop. You will see a worn and tattered carseat in the store, and you may think twice... but don't. Just do it.

Enjoy the weather, everyone. Especially if you're in Chicago, because we know the ugly days will soon be upon us. :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Caramelised Figs and Cream

If you feel like your life may need just a smidgen of heaven, make these. Drizzle ripe figs with honey, pop in oven, whip cream, and say hello to the great beyond. I think this may be one of the most seductive and simple desserts ever.

Friday, September 24, 2010


It seems that I hardly write about my schoolwork, which is funny, because as a full-time student... school is my life! Some background information: I attended the University of Virginia with the intent of being an English and Economics major... and then I switched to fashion school. Yes, really. And believe me, it was as crazy a transition as one would expect, maybe even crazier, and a transition I am still getting used to even as a junior in the fashion program.

But I love it! It is costly and the hours are long and arduous, but few things in life are more satisfying than seeing your model walk down the runway wearing something that existed only as a pencilled sketch a few months before. Really, nothing quite like it.

A few pictures of my two-piece look from last spring's runway show, held in The Modern Wing of our Museum. Only the one-shouldered look is mine.

The semester has started getting busy, and pretty soon I know I will be by the trusty industrial machines in the studio, belting out some BSB with my classmates as we work towards getting our garments finished!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Weeknight Dinner

Just a simple dinner that takes less than 40 minutes from stove to dining table. Pork chop a in palm sugar-garlic-soy sauce-sesame-oil glaze, brown rice, and lots and lots of greens. I bought a nice fistful of organic fresh spinach (with roots and bits of soil and everything) and I think it's safe to say that my days of bagged spinach are over.


Sunday, September 12, 2010


Oh, pavlova. Even its name ignites thoughts of a clandestine lover of some sort. Making this dessert was an almost emotional experience, because it was only something I had at picnics and dinner parties with my Australian girl friends back in beautiful Mount Eliza. Pavlova, to me, is synonymous with weekends spent on their farms and homes, playing out in the garden or floating on a tube in a pond and coming back to a meal, and of course, dessert--- all lovingly prepared by their mothers.

It has been 5 years since I have seen any of my dear old friends, and 5 years since my tongue last tasted pavlova. I miss Australia and boarding school all the time, but making this allowed me to have a slice of Australia back.

I remember the first time I had it, a whimsical symphony of crisp meringue with a cloudlike soft centre, topped with an avalanche of fresh cream and finally... seasonal fruit. Raspberries, I think, are divine with this, as the tartness perfectly counterbalances the sweetness of the meringue. You can use whatever you may have on hand.

I made more than my boyfriend and I could possibly eat (out of any regard for our waistlines), so I gave a generous serving to my favourite doorman. He looked amused, and I trust he enjoyed it.

It is one of my favourite desserts, for the reasons mentioned above. You absolutely must make it! Recipe here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fall 2010

It's been a while since my last update. School has been busybusybusy and I have settled back into the swing of things. My apartment is an absolute mess and already I am planning trips to the fabric store and trying to figure out model casting for my first project. I even transformed one of my closets into a makeshift pattern rack... it's sad. But really, it's nice to have so much to occupy myself with.

My friend Derek just moved to Chicago from my past school, University of Virginia, so we had some Arnold Palmers at Bourgeois Pig. I have always loved that cafe! Good place to cozy up with some solid reading or an old friend.

Here are pictures of two things that make me very happy: chirashi, and mango with sticky rice. Yum.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Blueberry Pancakes

I have been sleeping very strange hours due to jetlag. Last night, I nodded off from 8pm - 2am, and then again from 4am - 8am. Being up that early with nothing to do, I decided to make blueberry pancakes for Paul. I'm not a sweet breakfast sort of person (I prefer scrambled eggs with chives and other savoury goodies) so I took only a few bites before surrendering my portion to my boyfriend.

These were good. Fluffy, sweet and satisfying. I substituted milk with vanilla almond milk; I thought it tasted lovely like that! Vanilla almond milk is my absolute favourite.

Anyway, we are going on a mini trip somewhere close today! Tip: it's Southern.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

From Kuala Lumpur to Chicago

Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Changi, Singapore (SIN)
Changi, Singapore(SIN) to Incheon, Korea (ICN)
Incheon, Korea (ICN) to San Francisco (SFO)
San Francisco (SFO) to Chicago O'Hare (ORD)

We had a surplus of miles with United's Mileage Plus program so we decided to use it on an international award ticket, which we've done several times now. The only downside to this is that you do not necessarily get the route that you want because there are only a few award travel seats allocated on each Star Alliance flight. My preferred route is through Tokyo Narita flying straight to Chicago, but those seats were full at the time of booking.

The upside? My Singapore Airlines flight to the other side of the world set us back a grand total of $54.20.

I love miles, and I am looking forward to eating good food at Incheon!

Bring it on, jetlag.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

No Place Quite Like Home

It is nearly time to leave. Why do I feel robbed by time? When I left Chicago in July, August felt so far away, and now it's past mid-August and my string of flights over the Pacific is only four days away.

So I have been absorbing a year's worth of memories and sensory details to last me the next 365 days or more. Probably more.

Like falling asleep to the music of Malaysian rain at night. I say 'Malaysian' rain because it sounds different compared to rain in Chicago. I'm serious! Rain in Chicago often strikes fear in my heart. It's almost vengeful. But the nightly showers here are like beautiful wet xylophone notes to my ears.

Oh, and being woken up by a pair of sand-coloured paws prodding against my arm. It's almost always too early for that, but dogs don't always have the greatest sense of time. Sometimes as I am typing away on the computer, she decides after an hour that she has had enough of this lack of attention. So she plants herself next to the desk and whines until I call out various permutations of her name (Lou-Lou, Alou, Louette, Woo Woo, Booette, Little Lou-Lou, etc.) in her favourite language... Babytalk. Alouette has my heart.

Let's not forget durian, and the wonderful durian stalls with their huge colourful umbrellas littered around the city, ready to serve you the creamy custard fruit of the gods. If you are Southeast Asian and you do not like durian... I cannot trust you.

Kuih tako, I saved you till last because I am most thankful to you. Your soft pandan and coconut milk self amuses my bouche and has saved me from the monotony of a strict post wisdom teeth extraction diet. Mashed up fruit gets old after a while.

Sigh. I am sad to leave home, but very happy to have been here.