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INTO THE ROOT OF BEAUTY

From any angle it looks like “strange fruit”. It’s actually a vegetable. Still, it looks weird and certainly won’t win any vegetable beauty contest. Frankly, it looks like something the Star Wars props team tried to fashion into an alien character’s head but gave up midway. Recently I heard a random comment from someone that their Christmas wouldn’t be complete without Celery Root Salad, and with Christmas just round the corner I thought it a good time to write about this unfortunate-looking vegetable.   The fortunate thing celery root has going for it is that it tastes a lot better than it looks: it has a mild, celery-like flavour with a starchy-potato-ish texture. So, it manages to retain a kind of crispness of celery taste but without the strong “greenness”, combined with a substantial yet mild creaminess – a bit of a surprise for the taste buds, but a winner for many people who’ve eaten it.   In terms of nutritional content, celery root is an excellent vegetable to eat. It’s particularly high in vitamins K, C and B6, and it also contains pantothenic acid (B5), niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2) and thiamine (B1). In mineral content, phosphorus leads the count, followed by manganese, sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc. By weight, it’s nearly 10% carbohydrates and 2% dietary fibre, with water, some protein, sugar and a bit of fat content.   When preparing celery root to be used, it has to be thoroughly cleaned and peeled. Take off all the skin – this means using a peeler aggressively, and further using a knife to cut off any hairy,...

OPPORTUNITIES, NOT OPPORTUNISM

When I think of cruising, what comes to mind is the opportunity to witness glorious sunsets, so huge they span the horizon and steal my breath away; the dipping sun flaring a vivid orange, the warmth of the day’s last rays magically traversing the divide to gently apply a farewell caress before bidding all a good evening – you know, those kinds of sunsets that can only be experienced out there in the open seas and never from any land-bound vantage point.   I am filled with anticipation of the opportunity to savour great food prepared by the ship’s expert chefs using the finest, freshest ingredients. For this is certainly one aspect of cruising that passengers look forward to: the wonderful meals served onboard cruise ships, from buffets to fine-dining cuisine restaurants.   I am excited by the opportunity to visit all the ports of call, to go to all these new places and see all the different things that these destinations hold in store. I am thrilled by the opportunity to meet fellow passengers, people from all walks of life and all over the world, and to share and listen to each unique story first hand, so that more than just a single journey on a particular cruise, I can be transported by new friends’ stories to their countries and delve into diverse experiences of lives’ times. Afterall, on a cruise, everyone has the time.   I am eager for the opportunity to just relax, be pampered by the fantastic service onboard, enjoy the shows, activities and all the entertainment that somebody else has worked hard to plan...

MORE TOMATOES, MORE LOVE

What does one make of a tomato? Not a big deal, I guess would be most people’s reaction. They won’t usually make you sit up and pay attention, unlike say, durians might. Tomatoes are just there, or not. I mean, if there are slices of tomato in my sandwich I’d eat them, but if there aren’t I normally wouldn’t miss them either. I do have to admit that I started paying more attention to tomatoes after I watched the movie Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). The movie is based on the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flag. The movie tells parallel stories of friendship and loyalty between women from different eras – the years between World Wars I and II and the 1980s. The big kicker in the movie was how one of the women’s abusive husband was murdered and then served as a delicious barbeque meal, which the Whistle Stop Café was popular for, to regular patrons and the investigating officer. In the end with no evidence against them, the women literally got away with murder. Fried green tomatoes as a dish only made a cameo appearance in the movie, if I remember correctly. But it intrigued me enough that there was even such a thing. And more so, that such an itsy-bitsy part or prop in the movie could be used as the movie’s title. I don’t know why it is, but I find these small things fascinating. In any case, the result is that I started paying more attention to tomatoes (oh boy, what’s going to happen when Star Wars: The...

A BITE OF ONION

Many years ago, I watched The Lost Boys (1987). I thought it was a great movie: a not-so-serious American vampire flick with the day’s cool actors, Kiefer Sutherland, etc and the good guys winning with style in the end. It was an era of what some might call “modern classics” of the genre – Fright Night (1985), An American Werewolf In London (1981) and so on. It was also kind of the decade of Star Wars (episodes IV to VI: 1977, 1980, 1983). Anyway, I’m no film historian or critic. I was just young and thought those were cool movies. Actually, I still do.   There was just a very short scene in The Lost Boys where the unexpected big hero, the mysterious and grumpy grandpa, bites into a whole raw onion as if it were an apple. I don’t know why it is, but 28 years on that image remains so vivid in my mind. Whenever I think of that movie it’s invariably the scene I visualise first.   Perhaps the thought of biting into a raw onion traumatised me more at that time than the possibility of vampires biting and feeding on people. Or it could be I was trying too hard to make sense of what eating an onion meant in the context of the movie, because unlike garlic it wouldn’t have anti-vampire properties. That character had presumably made a habit of eating whole raw onions, and not only that, he’d also known all along that the town they lived in was infested with vampires. What did it all mean? And how did onions connect all...

WHAT THE “WHO”?

So last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that eating processed meats – sausages, bacon, ham, etc – causes colon cancer, and eating red meat “probably” does too. In support, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said it’d found “sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer”. Processed meat was given a cancer-causing status equivalent to tobacco, alcohol, radioactive substances like plutonium, and outdoor air pollution. This made many people, particularly those from the meat industry, exclaim “What the who?!” To understand their concerns, let’s look at some numbers.   According to The North American Meat Institute (NAMI), the meat and poultry industry is the largest segment of US agriculture. Average meat consumption values show red meat and poultry accounting for 92% while the remaining 8% goes to fish. It also noted that Americans spend less on food, in particular meat and poultry, compared to people in other developed countries.   There are more than 6,200 meat and poultry slaughtering and processing plants in the US, which equates to about half a million jobs earning US$20 billion a year. If meat producers, suppliers, distributors, retailers and other associated industries were included, the figure balloons to over six million jobs earning US$200 billion annually. That’s a lot of people working and supporting themselves and their families. That’s also a lot of people who could feel threatened by such announcements from the WHO and the IARC.   According to NAMI, these companies and workers pay more than US$80 billion a year in tax revenues to federal, state and local governments. The meat and...

MIRACULOUS ASPARAGUS

Asparagus should be considered a happy vegetable. When it sprouts from the ground, it declares the end to Winter: the last of things shrouded in layers, the retreat of cold, wet and bleak; the passing of days hunkered down and staying inside. It sings the arrival of Spring: fresh new life, the return of spirit and colours green, red and all the other hues; having fun outdoors again. Asparagus is the harbinger of joy, the welcomed release of what’s been pent up.   Like relieving your bladder first thing when you get out of bed. If you’ve had asparagus for dinner the evening before, it’s going to smell somewhat stronger than usual. But that’s ok, because it’s believed to be the result of the asparagus you’ve ingested detoxifying your body of harmful chemicals. So bring it on – the more pungent the odour, the better!   Because of its diuretic properties and delicate flavour, and also perhaps thanks to some mysticism attached – asparagus was apparently pictured as an offering in an Egyptian frieze dating to 3,000 BC – the vegetable has a history of being associated with medicinal use. The ancient Greeks thought it to be beneficial for general health, and in Indian lore, asparagus was believed to counteract fatigue and increase sexual appetite.   Fresh asparagus contains about 90% water which is a lot of hydration. It’s a good source of iron, copper and vitamin B6 (an important nutrient in haemoglobin synthesis and function) which work together to enable better oxygen transport in our blood. Vitamin B6 is also important in aiding amino acid, glucose and lipid...

MORE GAIN THAN PAIN

This week’s post is going to hurt me a little. As I begin to write it, I’m already hit by the sour-bitter-cringing anticipation that’s made my cheek and jaw muscles cramp with a sharp pain. My throat’s involuntarily contracted and my tear ducts are on standby. My saliva glands have kicked into overdrive and I have to swallow continuously in order not to drool a mess onto my keyboard. My shoulders have tensed up and I even feel my heart going a few beats faster.   Grapefruits (swallow, swallow, breathe). Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with them. In fact, as we’ll discuss in a bit, they’re actually very good for you. It’s me – I cramp easily on sour-citrus thoughts.   How did this wondrously jaw-aching fruit come to be? In the 18th century on the island-nation of Barbados in the Carribean, a Jamaican sweet orange was cross-bred with an Indonesian pomelo, thus producing the hybrid grapefruit. The name “grapefruit” derived from the way the fruit grew in clusters similar to how grapes grow.   Grapefruits vary from white to yellow and pink to red. In the past, some people considered the white variety inferior and today, it’s more common to find the yellow, pink and red ones. Taste-wise, grapefruits range from sour-bitter to mildly sweet. I’ve only once tasted a mildly sweet grapefruit. That was in New Zealand a couple of years ago and I was feeling brave that day. That particular grapefruit smelt like an orange. It tasted faintly sweet, at first. Then all I felt was the painful cramp in my cheeks and jaw that followed...

CANTALOUPE OR ROCK MELON, THEY’RE GREAT!

How much is 100 tonnes? What I mean is, 100,000 kilogrammes – just how big would a pile weighing that much be? How much floor space would it take up? How wide or tall? How heavy really is 100 tonnes, not just in the mind’s understanding of what‘s “heavy!”, but if you tried to move 100 tonnes without mechanical help, what would happen? I reckon nothing the eye could see, yet so many things that could go “snap” or “crack” inside you all at once.   An Orca – the whale in the movie Free Willy – which is actually the largest member of the dolphin family rather than a whale, grows to about nine meters long and weighs six to seven tonnes. Which means it’d take 14 to 15 Orcas to just about make 100 tonnes.   Or a Humpback whale, which is a true whale. At about 16 meters long and weighing 36 tonnes, it’d take less than three Humpbacks to make 100 tonnes. Still, if you’ve watched a nature documentary and seen a Humpback breach, you’ll appreciate how much whale that is by the enormous splash they make on re-entry. So, “less than” is misleading here. I’ve had the profound pleasure of seeing Humpbacks breach “live” while on the Inside Passage cruise from Vancouver to Alaska in 2009 – they’re truly amazing, magnificent creatures to observe in nature. And they’re huge!   The largest land animal, a male African elephant, stands at a height of four meters and weighs about seven tonnes. It’s similar to an Orca weight-wise, so we’d also need about 14 of these...

THE GOODNESS OF AVOCADOS

I love chips. I don’t mean the fish-and-chips kind. Well, I love those too, thick cut. But in this case I’m talking about the Sea Salt kind, the Sour Cream, Spring Onion, BBQ-flavoured, Kettle, Black Pepper, Chicken-flavoured kind. The potato, corn, kumera, tapioca, tortilla kind. “Crisps” the English call them. I find “chips” easier to say when I’m trying to rip open a packet with my teeth. Those kinds: I love much!   And I love guacamole. I usually don’t bother dipping, instead I’ll scoop up a good portion with my chip and pop it all in for a big, flavour-filled crunch. What’s fortunate for me is that the main ingredient in guacamole is avocado, a “superfood” that’s popular with health-conscious folks. Whenever I indulge in guacamole-buried-chips, I’m actually doing myself a lot of good on so many levels of association with healthy-eating.   There are in fact many kinds of avocados and their shapes range from pear to round, their colours from green to black. They can weigh between 200 grams to over one kilogram each. The most common variant available is the oval, bumpy-skinned, dark green coloured Hass avocado. This is a moderately good-sized fruit weighing in at 200-300 grams. Because of it’s high-growing yields, year-round harvesting and good shelf life, the Hass avocado is the most commercially popular avocado worldwide.   Avocados are called a “superfood” for good reason – they’re power-packed with vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5, B6, C and K, as well as folate, potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, zinc and phosphorous. They are a low-carb-high-fibre fruit with zero cholesterol...

HAZY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN

Hazy days are here again. Actually, they’ve been here for a few weeks now. According to news reports, we can expect the haze to remain an unwelcome visitor to Singapore till November – Yuck!   Sadly, this has become an annually expected “normal season” in Singapore. Songs and jokes have recently been made about the haze and have aired over local radio and on Facebook. Such are the signs of people in Singapore coming to terms with, or helplessly accepting, the regularity of such conditions even as authorities continue working to mitigate the situation.   What causes it? The slash-and-burn clearing of vast amounts of forests for palm oil in parts of neighbouring Indonesia is largely responsible. While this has gone on for many years, we started noticing it in Singapore about 15 years ago. This was probably due to the increasing scale of slashing-and-burning in proportion with the lucrativeness of the palm oil industry . And it seems to get worse each year. It’s become so bad these last few years that it’s no longer about clouded visibility. When you can smell and taste the haze that shrouds Singapore, feel it coat over your skin, office and home appliances, there’s really nothing normal about this season at all.   A few days ago, I was in our warehouse catching up on the latest on my iPhone: which Very Important Indonesian Person said that insensitive, arrogant, ridiculous and what-not thing, and what concerned and stern replies our own Very Important Singaporean Persons gave. I’ll not go into that discussion in this entry. While it’d be entertaining to get our...

THE MAGICAL MUSHROOM

I once dined at a really nice restaurant on the outskirts of Singapore’s famous shopping strip, Orchard Road. It was one of those places with an incompletely spelt name, but you knew better than to ask what everybody else could obviously read. It was a sophisticated place. Even dressed in comfortable jeans and my favourite hawaii shirt, the moment we walked in I immediately felt sophisticated.   I think it was one of those uber modern restaurants that presented a deconstructed menu. When dishes were served, instead of different ingredients combining to create new flavours, every nibble-sized piece sat apart from each other, hogging its own spot on those huge, beautiful plates. I admit to not being a fine-dining expert. That evening I made a calculated guess that I was indeed indulging in edible deconstructivism. I can’t clearly recall what I ate and to this day I regret that deeply, because I remember it was a most special and enjoyable evening otherwise.   But thankfully not all is lost. Despite my vague impressions of that evening’s culinary parade, I reserve a singular vivid memory: that of the Mushroom Soup!   I remember reading on the menu “Essence of wild forest mushrooms”, and thinking I’ll order that because I know what mushroom soup is, even if I didn’t understand most of the menu.   A short while later, a waiter placed in front of me a porcelain Chinese soup spoon resting on a small saucer. The spoon cradled a red marble that looked like it had translucent rubber skin instead of glass. I was getting excited. I’d been served the...

A CHICKEN AND EGG STORY

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the golden eggs laid by a certain goose, the one that Jack nipped from the Giant in the Beanstalk story. Losing his precious goose greatly upset the poor Giant, but I’m guessing if he were still around today he’d be truly devastated. You see, the wholesale price of eggs quoted to us by our suppliers has gone up about 60% from a month ago, and looks set to continue climbing as high as Jack ascending his beanstalk.   Granted, Jack’s were goose eggs while I’m writing about normal, everyday chicken eggs. But the latter are an any-meal-of-the-day staple for many, and in some countries they’re a price-controlled item during celebrative seasons to ensure everyone can afford them despite heightened seasonal demand.   So for a food item that we usually take for granted to now cost so much more than it did just a month back, that should warrant a relook at these spheres of golden-yolked yummyness. Afterall we’re talking about eggs, not gold ingots. The rate at which egg prices have increased has outpaced that of gold. Deeper checking out was needed.   A fundamental economic principle is that of scarcity. Put simply, it’s the constant tug-of-war between supply and demand, the outcome of which is whether the price of an item goes up or down.   Currently, eggs produced domestically satisfy only 20-25% of consumption demand. Malaysia remains Singapore’s main source for eggs, and around four million eggs are sent across the causeway to us everyday. Last year, a few Malaysian egg farms were suspended from exporting to Singapore due...

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