Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Year, New Blog

After a long hiatus, I've decided to start a new blog, documenting my kitchen adventures. Please come visit Lynn's Kitchen!

Leave a comment if you tried and liked any recipes =o)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tanzania Odyssey Part II – Ngorongoro Crater

We bid goodbye to Oliver’s and Tarangire in the morning as our Asilia driver drove us to the Manyara airstrip to be greeted by our new guide/driver from & Beyond. From the airstrip it was a 45-min drive to the Ngorongoro Nature Reserve.

I first heard about the crater from a good friend who worked for a South African bank. Based in London, he makes frequent business trips to Johannesburg and every time he goes he always plans a mini-safari to tag on to the end of the trip. Many years ago he told us about this crater that was on his next must-see list. That conversation stuck with me so when I researched for this trip I made it a point to include it in our itinerary.

Unlike Tarangire, Ngorongoro is a conservation area, not a National Park, because the indigenous Maasai people still live and herd inside and around the crater. There is no lodging inside the crater, but the lodge we are headed to, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, sits on the rim of the crater, with a sweeping view of the crater floor.  

After a quick lunch at the luxuriously decorated dining room dedicated to our camp of nine lodges, we set off on an afternoon game drive. Our guide explained to us that because of the unique nature of the crater, the animal population inside is a little different from the surrounding areas. There are many zebras, wildebeests, Thomson gazelles and warthogs, but noticeably missing is the giraffe population. The reason for this is there are very few tall trees for the giraffes to feed on.  Another difference I noticed in the animal behavior is the animals in the crater are so used to safari vehicles that they don’t run away when a car approaches them, therefore I was able to take some really close-up shots of zebras and wildebeests.

There is one road into the crater and one way out, and it is a bumpy 40-minute ride before we reached the crater floor.  A flock of Grey Crowned cranes took flight right in front of our car and it was the perfect welcome into the crater.

It is the dry season so the lake inside the crater shrunk considerably in size and although there are flamingos in the crater we were only able to see a smear of pink on the horizon.

On this drive we also saw two male lions and a female lion napping in broad daylight. Because there are no trees save for a small forested area in the crater, lions and hyenas alike sleep in the open, which took a little getting used to. You’d think they’d try to find somewhere less exposed or at least a shaded area, but I guess when you’re at the top of the food chain, you really couldn’t care less.

After the lion sighting it was time to turn around. The gate at the top closes at 6:30pm so everyone has to be out by then. Back at the lodge our butler had run a hot bath for us and a special table strewn with rose petals awaited us at dinner.

The next morning we set off early at 6:30am, after a wakeup call of coffee and biscuits. The sky was still dark and there was a light mist hanging over everything, but early birds get to see the animals so I convinced hubby that we simply MUST have an early start!

We ran into the same lone male elephant on our way into the crater that we saw the day before. Due to the rich minerals in the soil of the crater, elephants in N.C. have much longer tusks. We left the elephant to forage in peace and took a look inside the little forest in the crater, but aside from some sleepy tree hyraxes and some monkeys, nothing much was going on so we quickly came out in hopes of seeing some bigger games. 

Pretty soon we saw a pair of lions guarding their kill of a baby zebra and a brave little jackal attempting to steal some of it. Our guide with the eagle eyes then spotted a black rhino so far away that even in the binocular we could only make out the outline of its horns. Black rhinos were poached to almost extinction and we were considered lucky to even get a glimpse of one through the binocular.  

On the way to the lake where we were to have a picnic breakfast, we saw some hippos frolicking near the water in the distance. It’s fun to see such huge animals behave like little kids. There were also quite a number of hippos in the lake, but they refused to emerge from the water despite my coaxing from the distance. I had to be content with photos of what looked like a bunch of river stones with a lone bird standing on top.

The lake was very green and pretty, so different from the barren look of the rest of the crater. While we were eating, we attracted a Black Kite hawk, who tried a few times to dive and steal food from us. When it was hovering in the air surveying our spread of food, it really did look like a kite.

After breakfast we saw more action. There was a pair of ostriches mating; a herd of baboons eating grass seeds and grooming each other right next to the main road; a hyena sleeping within 1 meter of the road; a female cheetah contemplating whether or not to hunt in front of an audience of least 15 safari vehicles and two lurking hyenas; two little Pumbas who almost walked straight into a pair of sleeping lions; and the biggest herd of lions in the crater hanging around surveying the scenery.

While at the crater, we marveled at how it must be the best life to be a lion in the crater: walking buffets of zebras, wildebeests and gazelles and no natural enemy to speak of, not even humans who will hunt them. What more can a lion ask for? A month or so after we came back, I caught a program on National Geographic which followed the exact herd of lion we saw, 23 in all at the time of filming. As it turned out, life of a lion is tough, even in the crater. For such a large herd, they need to make a substantial kill almost daily to feed everyone, which is tough even with the abundant preys. Another even bigger problem is that due to extensive inbreeding (few outside male lions enter the crater, and due to the large size of the crater males, seldom win a fight to take control of a pride) there were many genetic diseases that were passed down from generation to generation. In the film, the best hunter of the pride, a young lioness and her cubs all succumb to a mysterious disease.  In the end, too weak to defend herself, the lioness was killed by a pack of hyenas. The film was made a few years before our visit to the crater, so it’s good to know that the pride survived, but it’s sad to be reminded just how ruthless Mother Nature can also be.

After the fruitful early morning game drive, we decided to skip the afternoon game drive and take it easy.  We ended up exploring the Crater Lodge on foot. After dark we had to ring for escorts to walk us everywhere, but it’s safe to be unaccompanied during daylight hours. On that day there were three zebras that came into the lodge to graze and investigate. They were so at ease that I thought they were the lodge’s pet zebras, but the staff told us all kinds of animals visit the lodge, sometimes elephants, sometimes lions. Sure enough, that night after dinner, we were told by our butler the zebras had attracted a couple of lions to the lodge. We could see their green eyes flashing in the bushes.

The lodge is divided into three parts: North lodge, South lodge and tree lodge. Each lodge has its own dining room and lounge, which serves about nine individual huts. Each hut has a butler, who is in charge of everything from wakeup calls, room service, serving dinner and anything else you can think of. The “huts” are very spacious inside with clawed foot bathtub, his and hers showers and a little room for the toilet. I cannot tell you how excited I was to have piping hot water and strong water pressure, so I could finally wash and rinse my hair out thoroughly. Everything about these huts made me feel like I had stepped into a fairy tale, and if the doors and windows were round, I would’ve believed I was a hobbit.

Anyway, that’s off topic. I can’t remember whether we were in north or south camp, but we decided to walk to tree camp. On the way there, our path was blocked by one of the zebras. It seemed completely unafraid of us that I was able to get close enough to almost touch it.

The tree lodge was very different from the other two lodges, where there were crystal chandeliers everywhere. The lounge of the tree lodge had a giant tree growing in the middle, so it was truly a tree house, albeit a gigantic one. There’s even a giant swing seat/sofa in the middle of the tree house. It was thoroughly enchanting.

The two nights we spent at the crater lodge were truly magical. I was constantly amazed at every turn, from the huge vase of roses in the bathroom to the sweet fresh raspberries at our picnic breakfast by the lake (we were in the middle of nowhere and there are roses and raspberries?), to the thermos full of ice our guide pulled out of nowhere when hubby wondered out loud it’d be nice to have ice in his drinks. All the staff were very friendly and eager to help, although I did feel that our butler was not the best trained staff there was. His intentions were all good but often times he missed the mark. In a charming place like the crater lodge it was easily forgiven and forgotten, but if the lodge wants to establish itself as a top-notch resort, more staff training is needed.

The next morning we left N.C. in another misty and rainy day, but we were happy to learn that no zebras became lion food that night. Fully rested with freshly washed hair we were ready to rough it out in the Serengeti.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tanzania Odyssey Part I – Tarangire National Park: elephant paradise

It seems that I’ve waited forever to go on a safari trip but the timing was just never right, and I also couldn’t decide which African country to go to.  This year, while planning hubby’s mandatory 2-week leave I stumbled upon a company called Tanzania Odyssey based in London that specializes in safari trips in Tanzania and Kenya.  After corresponding back and forth with Ted from T.O. for a while I decided to use them to plan our trip.  More emails and phone calls later, our itinerary was set, six months before the trip date.  I thought I was being organized, but it turned out most of the people plan for their trips more than a year in advance!

Exactly twenty-five hours after taking off from Changi airport, we arrived in ArushaCoffee Lodge, in a coffee plantation, where we would spend the night before driving to Tarangire National Park. As we were led to our suite by the porters I felt stinging sensations on my legs which turned from itchy to painful.  After we entered our room I rolled up my pant leg to find a huge red ant crawling up.  I hadto quickly dash into the bathroom, take off my pants and kill off the dozen or so ants that werecrawling all over me.  Welcome to Africa!
The next morning we woke up to a rain soaked chilly morning. Everything was so green and the coffee plants were drenched in rain drops. I wish we could spend more time here, but there are animals to be seen, so we set off after a yummy breakfast to Tarangire National Park.
The park is famous for its vast elephant populations and sure enough, we had our first elephant sightings within five minutes of entering the park.

October is the end of the dry season in Tanzania and the park is mostly yellow in color, but there are some water holes where the animals congregate during the day.  In the wet season, the park is much greener but animals are dispersed throughout the park, which makes sighting a little more challenging.

I think what struck me the most is seeing how different species of animals all live together: zebras and giraffes and wildebeest leisurely grazing in the same area, with a few warthogs darting in and out. It was a picture of harmony.

On the way to Oliver’s Camp, our home for the next three nights, we found our way across the river blocked by a herd of bathing elephants.  They took their time splashing and drinking, then one by one walked up right next to our car and into the open plain. As our car rounded a corner and the golden plains spread out in front of us I saw hundreds, if not thousands of little black dots in the horizon.  Are they wildebeests? I looked into the binocular and the black dots materialize into elephant shapes. The awe I felt at the moment of seeing so many wild elephants congregated in one area is indescribable.  In certain areas of Africa elephants are heavily poached for their ivory, but here in Tarangire it is truly elephant paradise.

Our guide told us that elephants are very destructive eaters.  They consume more than 100kg of food per day and will strip a tree bare in minutes. Tarangire can support such a large number of elephants because it has an abundance of food supply, among which are Acacia trees which have long spiny thorns all over, that only the elephants can eat.  Elephants don’t digest their food well so other animals such as monkeys will pick through elephant dung and find edible things in it.  There are also large termite populations that break down elephant dung so that the park is not buried knee deep in stinky elephant feces. Isn’t Mother Nature wonderful in how nothing is wasted and every species has its role in maintaining the balance and harmony of an ecosystem?

Over the next two days we saw a variety of wild animals including tree-climbing pythons (another Tanagire specialty); zebras taking mud baths; giraffes walking in their leisure, graceful way; a leopard killing a mongoose; vulchers preying on a waterbuck abandoned by a leopard; and many many more. My favorite area in the park is a swamp/marshland where a lot of animals go to drink during the day. I could sit there for hours just staring into the vast openness and have nothing on my mind except watching the animals frolicking in the mud, and wishing I could do this everyday.

Now a review on Oliver’s Camp. The camp is run by an Australian couple Ken and Michelle who are wildlife photographers who have travelled extensively around Africa for years. Their knowledge of wildlife and Africa in general is amazing and I learned a lot by talking to them at meals and around the camp fire. As a type-B and scatter-brain, despite all the lists I made for this trip, I brought the wrong camera cable and was at risk of not being able to download photos to my iPad in order to re-use memory cards. Just as I was counting how many GB I have and how many photos I was allowed to take each day, dumb luck struck! It turns out Ken and Michelle use Nikon cameras and had extra cables to spare. Not only did Ken let me borrow one, he gave it to me so I wouldn’t have to worry about memory space for the rest of the trip.  How nice!

The “tents” at Oliver’s camp are permanent structures, so even though they are essentially canvas tents, there’s a thatched roof on top, with running water and flush toilet inside. The shower, on the other hand, is completely out in the open, which is a little nerve wrecking to say the least, considering there are wild animals around. On the first night, we were a little weary about the mesh layer that runs the entire front of the tent, which stays open at night. What if a lion finds us tempting and wants to get in? Surely the mesh won’t stand a chance against the iron claws? We were reassured however that the wild animals respect the tents for some reason and as long as we stayed inside we’d be safe. During our three-night stay, we had an elephant eating from a tree less than 10 meters away from our tent, a hyena that came right up to the tent until he saw me through the bathroom window, and woke up to many strange footprints outside in the morning, but somehow, we both had sound dreamless sleeps every night.

At Oliver’s, guests have the option of going on a walking safari in addition to the game drives, which I highly recommend. The experience of being right there with the animals, as opposed to hiding in a steel clad safari vehicle puts a whole new perspective on things.  Unfortunately for us, the afternoon we went on the walking tour was the only day it rained, except for the first morning, on our entire trip, so our walk was cut short and we were completely soaked. We did manage to observe a herd of elephant up close, some zebras, and a pair of jackals before the sky opened up and dumped on us, so it was not a complete loss.

Goodbye elephants! Next stop: Ngorongor Crater.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Of Silk, figs, and Andre

This past Sunday was our 12th wedding anniversary, which is also known as the silk anniversary. I only found out about this via an internet search when a friend asked which anniversary is the 12th. As it happened, one of the presents that I got for hubby is a silk tie, so it’s totally in sync with the theme!

Two days before our anniversary I received a tip from a chef friend that my local supermarket just got a shipment of super sweet Turkish figs. The next morning I rushed over to said supermarket and bought four packets. I love figs, but only if they’re sweet and actually taste of figs. Often times even when they are ripe they have a watered down non-descript taste that won’t excite anyone. These ones were very sweet, with intense fig flavors.

Hidemi Sugino has a fig tartlet that I have never been able to try, because I somehow always go to Tokyo when figs are most definitely not in season, like in the dead of winter. So naturally the first thing that popped into my head was to make the fig tartlets. As far as Hidemi Sugino recipes go, this is one of the easiest ones, all you have to do is to find good figs. For the first time, I’ll share his recipe on my blog with you guys, because it's not too long to translate. You’ll need to either know or look up some of the basic techniques, since I’m too lazy to type it out, but it should be fairly easy to google and find out. So here it goes.

Tartelette aux figues (makes 12x 7cm tartlets)

Pate sucree:
90g unsalted butter at RT
60g icing sugar
30g whole egg
20g almond powder
150g light flower

crème patissiere:

250g milk

55g caster sugar

¼ vanilla bean

50g egg yolk

12g light flour

12g corn starch

Crème d’amandes
40g unsalted butter at RT
40g icing sugar
40g whole egg
40g almond powder

6 large figs


30B syrup (130g sugar +100g water)

crème Chantilly

Apricot jam
Raspberry jam

1. Make pate sucree and chill in fridge

2. Make crème patissiere and chill in fridge (steps 1 & 2 can be done the day before)

3. Roll dough out and fit into tartlet pans, rest in fridge while making crème frangipane

4. Make crème frangipane by whisking together crème d’amandes and crème patissiere

5. Take tartlet shells out of fridge, use another tartlet pan to press dough down, then prick with a fork a few times.

6. Pipe about 25g of crème frangipane into each tartlet pan and let rest in fridge for 30 minutes

7. Meanwhile, slice each fig into 16 slices, removing skin only after you’ve sliced them, one slice at a time. This took me almost an hour, but it results in neater outside edges, so it’s worth it.

8. Arrange slices on a tray and sprinkle granule sugar on it (how much sugar depends on how sweet your figs are), then sprinkle with kirsch. Chill in fridge for 30 min

9. Bake tartlets at 170C for about 15-20 minutes, until crème frangipane is a dark golden brown

10. Remove tartlets from pans and cool.

11. Whip up crème Chantilly to very stiff peak. You’ll need about 20g for each tartlet

12. Mix together 20g of 30B syrup, 10g water and 12g kirsch. Brush onto top of tartlet, let syrup soak in

13. Spread a layer of raspberry jam onto the baked tartlet, then pipe a mound of Chantilly on top.

14. Arrange 8 slices of figs in an overlapping pattern onto each tartlet

15. Heat 50g apricot jam and 10g kirsch in a small saucepan until fluid. Brush onto cut surfaces of figs

16. Top each tartlet with a raspberry and you’re done!

We had some of this for dessert the day before our anniversary and gave some away to friends when hubby went to play tennis with them, but our real celebration was the dinner at chef Andre Chiang’s eponymous restaurant Andre. I liked his cooking when he was helming Jaan at the top of Swissotel, but somehow never got around to trying his own place since he opened it about a year ago.  I made the booking more than a month ago because it is F1 week in Singapore and it never hurts to be prepared.

The front of the restaurant was so inconspicuous that I missed it the first time and had to double back and drive down a short stretch the wrong way to get back. Good thing Sunday night traffic is light in this part of the town. The restaurant has the feel of a house. Off to the side on the first floor is a small sitting area, but we were led to the second floor dining room. The space has the clean modern feel of a French house. One side of the wall has black and white wall papers of a little forest, and sheep clad in suede are used as bag stools.

Hubby chose the wine pairing, as it is too tiring to try to pick out wines that will go with most of the eight-course meal, especially since I don’t drink. I notice most other guests opt for this lazy option as well.

Before we start we were treated to a quartet of palate cleansers: “fish and chips”, “popcorn”, some silvery fish slices on a crisp cracker served with porcini chips and Andre’s signature chicken skin chips.

His eight-course menu is based on his “octophilosophy”, the concept of which is highlighted in the link above, so I shall not repeat it here.

The first course is Pure, which was scallop ravioli, chives& dill flower in purple cauliflower consume. Very little seasoning was used and the fragrance of the dill flowers ties everything together nicely.

Next came Salt: French oyster wrapped in Japanese seaweed, served granny smith foam. The dish was decorated with tiny cubes of cucumbers and apples. No salt was added, only the saltiness from the oyster provided seasoning.


The third course was Artisan - Kyoto eggplant topped with caviar, served with a savory crème Anglaise sauce sprinkled with hazelnut shavings and fried burdock roots (gobou). The savory crème Anglaise was a nice twist and the fried gobou brought a nice contrast to an otherwise creamy dish. To top it all off, the dish on which this course was served is designed by chef Andre.

The next course is named South and pays homage to chef Andre’s time spent in the south of France, close to the Mediterranean . It consists of flounder with tomato & white peaches, and tomato sorbet in one dish. Uni risotto and blue crab foam in a second dish. The risotto was probably one of the best I’ve ever tasted, done to perfection with just the right amount of bite to it and is perfectly flavoured with the uni sauce.

Texture came next and is squid "arborio rice" with charcoal rice crackers. The “rice” is actually squid and tasted much better than my chicken substitute. I usually don’t like squid because of the chewy texture, but here the texture is completely changed, and I find myself wishing I had stuck to the original dish.

The sixth course is Unique, and here the unique ingredient is French artichoke. The dish was stuffed baby barracuda, French artichoke and artichoke foam. To be perfectly honest I felt that the artichoke was rather tasteless on its own, however the sauce was so robust and the stuffed baby barracuda so tender that they saved the dish. I just felt that to be THE unique ingredient in the “unique” course, the artichoke should’ve taken a more front row seat.

The next course was “memory” and it was a dish that Andre has always kept on his menu, with different variations. Tonight it’s a baked foie gras jelly with black truffle glaze. The “jelly” contains egg white and has the silky consistency of a well-executed chawanmushi, and the black truffle glaze was so fragrant that even later, when the next table had the dish we could smell it. Although hubby thought it was a great dish and I loved it too at first, ultimately I felt that either the portion was too big, or it needed an accompaniment to cut down on the richness, like a champagne jelly or something similar.

Our final course was “terroir”, although in our case it’s something from the sky: French pigeon with pigeon jus, pea purée & potato gnocchi. I was still recovering from the last dish and found the pigeon a little too gamey for my taste, although to be honest it was a perfectly cooked pigeon, with just a hint of pinkness in the centre, so Hubby was more than happy to finish my portion for me.

Before dessert, we cleansed our palate with mini marshmallow, strawberry granita & yogurt jelly in a cute little pot. Dessert was chocolate sponge, which really looked like a piece of sponge; soft chocolate sphere filled with warm chocolate ganache, and burned butter ice cream. I’ve always found restaurant desserts boring and this was no exception. I think it was my least favourite course of the entire evening, but I guess nobody is perfect.

When my latte came the waitress apologetically said something about “please be careful, the cup is designed by chef Andre and the shape is a little strange” and indeed it was. The cup was more of an irregular rectangle rather than a round, and hubby immediately commented that he could’ve made one just like that. It wasn’t until I picked it up that I realized the bottom was not flat. Good thing I didn’t try to set it down on the table!

We rounded off our meal with some French figs, popcorns that “pop” in your mouth, passion fruit marshmallow and honey hazelnut Madeline. All in all, it was a very memorable meal. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Andre but we felt this was the most exciting meal we’ve had in Singapore in years. I think chef Andre is a creative genius and is really setting new standards for all restaurants in our little dot on the map. So hats off to him!