Monday, June 4, 2012

French Macaron Baking Class

Hello Again!

Yeah, here comes another backdated entry folks! I kinda have to since there's quite a few things to write about but I had to postpone writing them from being too busy with baking projects and office work. So today's entry will be about my very first baking class experience. To those not in the know, yes, I bake. Its a newly discovered hobby of mine. Mostly I do it for the personal satisfaction, and to fatten feed my family for special occasions.. but once in a while, I receive orders from friends and family for their own personal events. I'm just honored that they want my desserts to be apart of their day and glad people like my desserts is all ;)

Anyhoo, it was Mr. Hubster who sent me the link about a French Macaron Baking Class promotion on Groupon. These coupons were sold at RM98 per pax and RM180 for two pax. The classes are held at Excel College in Millennium Square, Section 14, Petaling Jaya for a good 2 months from Monday to Saturdays, but as usual, the weekend spots were the most ideal for most so it was quite hard to get ahold of my Saturday afternoon slot. After much calling, texting, and various failed attempts at booking via the Groupon website, I finally managed to get 2 slots on 19th May 2012 for myself and my sister-in-law with the help of Groupon's customer service team and the ever-friendly Excel College event coordinator, Eunice.

On the appointed day, we arrived just in the nick of time before our class started. We did the necessary registration at the college administration office and hurried to our class. The "classroom" looked like a small home science lab you'd find in schools, just abit more chic and with high-grade kitchen appliances. A huge and long kitchen island dominates the entire shop unit where the lab occupies. A total of 15 participants were in our session, and the lot of us tried to find our comfortable spaces within the limited area the lab permitted.

The French Macaron Baking Class Students: 19th May Batch

Our mentor introduced himself as Chef Ang. He started out as a hawker food chef at hotels, restaurants and such... and moved on to the delicate art of desserts as a pastry chef. At first, he seemed like a very serious, no-nonsense kinda guy, but after a few minutes of introduction and the basic introduction to French Macarons, he seemed to lighten up a smidge, and so did us students. We were divided into 5 groups, with 3 students in each. My sister-in-law and I were teamed up together with a girl called Nora, who apparently have tried making macarons before. We were assigned to make chocolate flavoured macarons, while other groups were assigned to green tea and original flavours.

First, Chef Ang demonstrated the delicate techniques required in making macarons. Since there was only ONE stand mixer in the lab, Chef Ang decided to teach us how to make these delicate desserts purely from scratch and by hand. Yes, that meant all the whipping was done by hand too! Now, I've had my share of hand-whipping experience, and in all abashed honesty, most of them failed miserably. Which got me abit antsy coz I was so scared that I might screw up our batter and thus disappointing my group. But, I figured that this was a class, and we were SUPPOSED to learn from mistakes and asking way too many stupid questions, so I put on a brave front and silently prayed that I dont mess things up huhuhu.

So after Chef Ang's demonstration, he popped his perfectly-piped batch of macarons into the oven and we were told to attack our ingredients and start baking. My group was off to a slow start, coz the quick-as-lightning groups quickly grabbed the limited number of sifters and bowls and got on with their projects. Believe me when I say there was a "Masterchef atmosphere" in the air that day.. haha. When we finally got our hands on the necessary equipment, we started on our batch of macarons. Thank goodness for pre-measured and well-prepared ingredients! So we sifted the dry ingredients, poured the egg whites into the mixing bowl, and grabbed the hand whisk to start whisking the egg whites into the desired glossy firm peaks. We were so engrossed and eager to get the perfectly whisked egg whites, taking turns in beating the eggs (we worked up quite abit of sweat and a helluv-an arm cramp from it too!) that we ALMOST forgot to add in the sugar! Hahaha. Now THAT would've been a disaster... :P

Anyhoo, I am pleased to say our glossy firm peaks of whisked egg whites was a great success. Yay team! We then folded the egg whites into the dry ingredients and mixed them to the required batter consistency, and poured the whole lot into a piping bag. Not before scrambling to get a cup or bowl to hold up the bag though (Yes, there was a limited number of those as well huhu). Once done, we started piping little dollops of batter onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. If at first I thought beating the egg whites was tricky, this task is wayyy trickier! I mean, when Chef Ang did it, it looked oh so easy peasy... but in actual fact, its more difficult than we thought. First, you have to put the nozzle of your piping bag at the right distance from the tray. Then you need to press with the right amount of pressure, and at the right angle. And the fact that the batter is soft and runny (definitely unlike dealing with frosting) makes it all the more trickier to handle. There were smears and droplets of batter everywhere! On the tray, on the table, in the bowl, on our hands...... you get the picture.


Piping dollops of macaron batter... :P

Suffice to say our little dollops of batter were... inconsistent. Some were nice and perfectly set, some were oval-shaped, some were huge, and other were wayyyy too tiny. Oh well, we were all beginners, so considering our green hands, I'd say we did a good job. Since there was only 1 oven and 5 trays to bake, we had to take turns... so obviously, with our late start, we got the last round of baking turn. While the other group's macarons were baking, Chef started on the filling. His batch of coffee-flavoured macarons have just come out of the oven, so while it cooled, he showed us how to make chocolate ganache filling. Using dark cooking chocolate and whipping cream, his ganache came out beautiful and glossy. He popped a piping bag-ful of filling into the fridge to cool, and took out a bar of creamy butter, saying that he's got a treat for coffee lovers among us. Of course, my ears pricked up at this la kan.. hehe


Chef's perfect batch of macarons

He took some macarons from his sheet, cut a thin slice of creamy butter, and placed in between the macarons. We were quite puzzled, coz macarons are not normally eaten with butter... or was it? He urged us to have a taste, and goodness gracious me... it was divine! I mean, who would've thought a dessert known to be super sweet and traditional can be so savoury and totally my cuppa tea?? At that moment, it was quite frankly, the best macarons I have ever tasted. Not overwhelmingly sweet, and paired with the creamy unsalted, unsweetened butter... a bite of heaven.


Coffee Macaron with Creamy Butter

Piping chocolate ganache filling

Once we were done with our oohs and aahs.. he took out the chilled ganache and started to teach us how to pipe them onto the bottom of a macaron biscuit, and taking another piece of macaron, he put them together and twisted the biscuits into place. Voila! A french macaron, pure and simple. He made a few more and told us to have a go at it. Once done, he put some nice ones on a plate and switched on the "glam" lights above the kitchen island. The whole class started to whip out their cameras and camera phones and snapped away.

Chef's Coffee Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling
Next, he taught us how to make a special premium filling: Raspberry Cream Cheese filling. I was super excited to learn to make this coz I just LOVE cream cheese. Using standard cream cheese, sugar and raspberry puree (I've GOT to find this!!), the filling came out smooth and creamy... tasting just like a melted raspberry cheesecake. This too went into a piping bag and left to cool in the fridge to make it easier to pipe. The first batch of students' macarons were done, so we helped them pipe the chilled fillings into their macarons. These definitely were my favourite! Not too sweet, super creamy with a slight tangy raspberry taste in a crunchy, chewy macaron. I don't think I've ever liked a macaron quite as much before!

Making raspberry cream cheese filling with my dream stand mixer... *sigh dreamily*

Once our own batch of macarons were finally popped into the oven.. we hovered excitedly to see how it would rise... The joy of watching your handiwork baking in the oven is indiscribable. One one hand, you swell up with pride when your dessert is rising to its supposed size... just like watching your seedling grow into a plant, bit by bit. On the other hand, anxiety and impatience will definitely take hold of you once you've peeked into the oven window long enough.. hehe. If you give in to temptation and open the oven too soon, your baking macaron may just deflate and flatten into a circular chewing gum. Leave it in too long however, will turn them into crunchy biscuits. So its best to check ur macaron appropriately, but not too often methinks... :)

Our tray of macarons baking in the oven

Our baked goods!
Since ours was the last batch, some of the other students who've completed their macarons have already gone home. So with only 80% of the class left, we started to ask all sorts of questions to Chef Ang. I mean, seriously, how often do you get to pick on a chef's brain, aye? We asked everything we could think of, from the oven temperature and type, to the colouring, to pastry question. But best of all, we asked about the decorations on those fancy macarons you see in shops. Chef Ang smiled, glad that we asked. He went to get his special stash of decorative accessories... and took out these lovely and super expensive shimmer powders, not unlike those mineral eyeshadows you get from cosmetic counters, and started to sparingly brush our batch of macarons at certain angles. Now, our chocolate macarons practically gleamed in the "glam" lights, a gorgeous bronze hue! Other groups' white macarons were brushed with gold dust... and they appeared like little golden biscuits of yumminess. Dont you just LOVE pretty little desserts??

Our very own dolled up Chocolate Macarons!
Our fellow classmates' handiwork

We greedily packed the gorgeous macarons into our little tupperwares (I actually bought an extra tupperware from Chef Ang coz the one I brought was too tiny to fit in all the macarons I swiped hahaha), swapping a few with the other group members. Chef Ang even took out some of the previous macarons he made in the previous class for us to try and take home. More grabbing and swiping ensued.. haha. Its amazing how much gusto was going about despite being on our feet for the past 3-odd hours!

All in all, this was a great first baking class experience for me. I learned a new trade, picked a pastry chef's brain, made new wonderful friends with as much passion about desserts as I do, and had way too many macarons in between. The staff at Excel College, particularly Eunice, was exceptionally helpful and friendly, despite being just a month old in business. Chef Ang was a great professional guru whose love for food and desserts were infectous. His willingness to share inside tips and teach us newbies with extreme patience made him a great teacher. If he were to ever hold a parfait-making class (which I had the luxury of tasting -- utterly sublime!), I'd definitely be making a beeline to register myself for his class.

My Macaron Team & Chef Ang

The Last Girls Standing ;)

The only 2 things with room for improvement (I shan't say downside, coz this was my first class, and the college has only been in business for a month) would be the lack of equipment available in the lab (I mean, seriously, the sifter and bowls and cups is essential in a baking class, so having to share them simply wont do), and the slightly cramped space to fit 15 students comfortably. I guess they had an overwhelming response for this class so they tried to fit in as many students as they can. I would recommend them to either hold the class in a bigger lab, or cut the number of students per class and lengthen the redemption period. That aside, I would definitely keep my eye out for their future baking classes... simply because their PR and customer/student care is fantastic.

So that was my first baking class review. I shall be on the lookout for more interesting classes... and will definitely be blogging about them here in the future! Till then... cheerio!

Fab Photo Credit: Special thanks to fellow teammate, Nora Basik ;)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mothers' Day 2012

Heeeeeeyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa....

OK I know the title of this post says Mothers' Day 2012, and I am fully aware that it is already 10 days past said day... But I just wanted to share our (me & my mom's) Mothers Day dinner experience last May 13, 2012.

My sisters & I decided to reserve a table at TGI Friday's at Subang Parade for 8pm that Sunday. We decided on TGIF because they had this Mothers Day promotion that says that Moms will receive a Beauty Pack of Goodies with every purchase of an entree. My eyes immediately lit up when I saw that this Beauty Pack will consist of goodies from The Body Shop, Yves Rocher, Kose & Skinlab. Sounds preddy awesome to me, esp since I'm a mom too... hehe.


Pic courtesy of www.fridays.com.my

So we booked our table about a week ahead via the TGI Friday's website, as per their instruction, and waited for their confirmation. About 4 days went by, and still no response whatsoever. I was getting antsy, so I called them to make sure they have my reservation, to which they confirmed with some lame excuse about not responding to the online booking sooner [Minus Point One]. I even asked if there would be at least 2 Beauty Packs for us at 8m, coz the ad did say While Stocks Lasts. The person I spoke to reassured me that there shouldn't be a problem as our reservation was quite early in the night, and they have already allocated half the packs for the dinner patrons to be fair. He even said he would put aside 2 packs for us just in case.

Come D-Day, my sisters brought Mom to TGI Friday's Subang Parade, reaching there on time for our reservation. Me, Mr. Hubster and the kids were running abit late coz we were coming from our niece's birthday party in Banting. When we got there, we saw that TGIF was already full to the brim with patrons. Mom and my sisters have already ordered and were waiting for their entrees. After lotsa hugs and kisses, we settled down to order. When the waitress came to take our order, I asked about the beauty pack, since I was ordering a rather large entree for myself. To my dismay, she said that the packs were all gone [Minus Point Two]. I explained that our table was a reserved table, and the fact that their staff had actually assured us of 2 packs, but she insisted that there were no more packs left, and that she would check with the manager regarding the issue. As she trotted off, my sister told me that they said the same thing when they ordered, too. That was exactly on the time we booked, so by right there shouldn't be any issue about us arriving late (and thus resulting in no goodie bags).

My order came: Championship BBQ Beef Ribs. And whatta championship size it was! The plate was more like a mini-tray, and there were about 4-5 pieces of fist-sized meat on it. It was also served with crispy fries, onion rings and a side of apple coleslaw. Hubby ordered the Almond Crusted Chicken Salad, which was preddy huge too. Deena ordered the (free!) Kid's Spaghetti while we ordered (free!) Mac & Cheese Bites for Delea which WE happily ate since Delea can't have processed cheese yet hehehe :P

Championship BBQ Beef Ribs @ TGI Friday's


My verdict? Well, to be quite honest, it's not the best BBQ ribs I've had, but it's preddy decent in my books. The size was impressive, but the meat was a tad dry for my taste. TGI Friday's ribs were not served with a whole set of sauces like Tony Romas (which is where I had the best ribs so far), where the waiters would even give a sampling demonstration of the various sauces. The Championship BBQ Beef Ribs also came with a championship pricetag, approximately RM10 more than Tony Romas'. But I guess the price is for the size of the meal... coz their ribs are definitely bigger than Roma Ribs. The fries and onion rings were okay, and the apple coleslaw was yummy. Definitely have to try my hand at it someday. What I liked about my dish is the fact that even when the meat had cooled down, it was still crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. I had no problems finishing my plate, despite the size.. hehe. Or maybe I was just famished?? :P

When everybody was done with their meal, we took out the dessert we brought: My homemade Red Velvet Cupcakes, baked with love for my Mama. Why buy when you can make your own, right? I even piped in some letterings especially for the occasion. After much food, desserts and laughter, we took some photos to commemorate the evening. Some of the friendly waiters and waitresses even joined us for our little photoshoot. I guess Mr. Hubster's gargantuan camera has equally massive appeal :P




  
After all the fun, and before Deena starts to jump from table to table, we decided to push off. When we asked for the bill, we hoped the manager would come over to smooth out the Beauty Pack issue. Of course, he didn't. We actually had to call the waiter that we spoke to earlier about it to remind him [Minus Point Three]. Finally, the manager came over to see us. He apologized for the confusion, and explained that the packs were mostly taken up by walk-in patrons who had come in earlier, therefore resulting in the insufficient packs. We voiced our dissatisfaction, of course. We reserved our table ONE WEEK ahead, and yet the packs were given away freely to walk-in patrons?? Where's the justice in that? When the manager said that the walk-ins were also their patrons [Minus Point Four], I got abit miffed. Even if they're your patrons, shouldn't you give priority to those who booked ahead? And its not like we didn't say we were celebrating Mothers' Day... We suggested that they look into their booking system coz frankly, it leaves much to be desired. As much as their crew was great and friendly, and their food service was efficient, they really need to brush up their patron-management skills, especially come special occasions and promotions such as this. As a conciliation effort, the manager gave us a free appetizer voucher. Although the goodwill gesture is appreciated, I really do hope they improve their services. It would be such a waste to have all the good food, friendly crew and fun environment be ruined with a below par booking system.

All in all, it was a fun night, despite not getting the Beauty Pack for Mothers Day. What mattered was that everybody had a good meal, we spent quality time with each other and shared bucketfuls of laughter. The Beauty Pack is not nearly as valuable as the good time we had together. Would I go back to TGI Friday? Hmmm.. Walk-in... MAYBE. But I doubt that I would make a reservation there in the near future...

Everyday I thank Allah for being blessed with my two angels...

Oh and by the way, my eldest, Deena made me a bouquet of flowers for Mothers' Day! Arranged it herself, with the help of her teachers... hehe. The best Mothers' Day gift from her yet! As for MY mom, we bought her a bouquet of fresh flowers too! Had the pretty gerberas delivered to her the next morning as a surprise... So happy she loved it! :)

Till next entry... ciao!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Avengers: From A Non-Comic-Fan's View

Heyya Peeps!

OK, its time for another movie review from moi. Me, Mr. Hubster & Deena managed to go see what's possibly the most hyped over movie this month:

::The Avengers::

Pic credits: www.bgr.com

Now, before I start, let's be clear:

I am NOT a comic geek / fangirl / follower. Whatever knowledge I do know about comic characters are what I learned from childhood cartoons, movies, and the occasional gushes from my comic-freak sister and cousins. I couldn't give a hoot whether the superhero I'm watching is of Marvel lineage or DC. Heck, the only comic I ever followed in my life was Slamdunk, and even that was just a phase. So to you Marvel fanboys and girls, please excuse any misconception and inaccurate assessments in this review. I'm just calling it as I see it -- Another superhero movie.

So, based on the posters and trailers, it's pretty clear that this movie has a collection of Marvel superheros, from the ever-popular Iron Man to the obscure Hawkeye (who??). Rounded up by Colonel Fury, The Avengers are made up of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow & Hawkeye. From the get-go I was abit miffed that there was only one female superhero, but I guess it means less over-tight, not-enough-material costumes to objectify women to. :P

[SPOILER ALERT!!! Although I'm preddy sure almost half the Malaysian population has already seen this, those who haven't might not wanna read from this point onwards ;)]

The storyline goes something like this: Colonel Fury (Samuel L. Jackson of Star Wars) and his subordinates in S.H.I.E.L.D were experimenting on a power cube called the Tesseract that apparently Iron Man fished out of the sea with Captain America (I missed this movie) to manipulate the powerful electric-like blue current gamma energy this power cube emanates to create some weapon of mass destruction for the Government (isn't it always??), when the the cube suddenly opens a portal that allowed a human-looking alien called Loki to enter our world. Loki, coming from Asgard, turned out to be Thor's scorned half brother who has revenge and world-domination (basic alien mentality methinks) in mind. After turning Hawkeye, the scientist and several others rogue with the help of his magical staff (that has a similar Tersseract-like stone on it) and killing the rest, Loki took off with the power cube, leaving the S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters to crumble in his wake.

Amazingly, Colonel Fury, his assistant Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders of How I Met Your Mother fame) and Agent Phil Coulson (also present in the previous Iron Man movies) survived. To stop Loki from abusing the power cube's powers, Fury decided to call in the big guns: The Avengers. One by one the heroes come in, albeit reluctantly. Here's why they chose The Avengers:


Pic credit: thewertzone.blogspot.com

The Incredible Hulk: Purely for his brains. Besides, he's practically the poster boy for gamma energy accidents. Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, squirms when the hulk in mentioned.

Iron Man: His superb state-of-the-art armour of course! Definitely NOT his ego or personality, although his sarcasm is his best suit IMHO.

Captain America: Because he's a soldier. Old fashioned idealism. Patriotism. Oh and his shield helps, of course.

Thor: Need we ask?? He's the evil villain's half brother for crying out loud. Know thy enemy and all that. His thunder-creating hammer does come in handy though...

Black Widow: The ultimate super spy. Deception and manipulation is her forte, mostly needed to wheedle out information from enemies and persuading peers to do her bidding. Oh and her killer bod doesn't hurt :P

Hawkeye: Apart from being an unbelievable good shot and a jedi-master with his bow and arrow, I have no idea why he's in the team. I guess that's why the directors had him turn rogue from the beginning... hehe.


Once The Avengers were rounded up, the lot of them took off on this cool fortress-like aircraft. The mission was to get the power cube and send Loki on his way before he destroys earth. They managed to track Loki down, and captured him while he was trying to get a bunch of museum visitors to bow down to his dictatorship. Smell the booby-trap, anyone??

So the whole gang and the villain were all packed in a battleship, mid-air. Wayyy too easy. Predictably, when you put too many supers with their bloated egos in one enclosure, all hell breaks loose, just as Loki was expecting. While the Avengers were busy arguing with each other, Loki's minions attacked the aircraft, crippling it in the process. The Avengers then clamber to keep themselves in the air, but it is no easy feat, especially with The Hulk on the loose. While the crippling aircraft was single-handedly being destroyed by The Avengers themselves, Loki escaped, killing Agent Coulson in the process.

Nothing like the death of good ol' Mr.Nice Guy to reset their perspectives. Now The Avengers were hell-bent on getting even with Loki and set aside their differences. With Hawkeye back in the game (apparently a good knock in the head did the trick), the gang was finally completed, just in time before Loki unleashed pure alien hell into New York by opening a portal that allowed his alien army to charge into earth. Awesome action sequence, mass destruction of the city, fantastical display of gadgetry commences. I was especially impressed by the alien army's carrier creatures that carried the smaller aliens in... they kinda looked like a cross between Sigourney Weaver's Alien & an oversized millipede. Iron Man's genius gadgets, The Hulk's pure brawn, Captain America & Thor's super weapons, Black Widow's exceptional shooting skills and Hawkeye's Legolas-like moves finally saves the day. Ok, ok.. so the then-rogue-now-cured scientist helped too. Happy ending all around, except for Loki that is.

The millipede-like alien vs Iron Man
Photo credit: comicbook.com
What I loved about this movie was the script. Loads of sarcastic jabs and witty comebacks between the supers. Some really laugh-out-loud moments too. There was also an equal balance of action, humour and melancholy. The storyline was no rocket science, but it would help if you actually followed all the past superhero movies ie. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor & The Hulk. The character development was also great, if not consistent with the prior movies.

The actors did an excellent job portraying the superheros. The mild mannered Bruce Banner was played perfectly by Mark Ruffalo. I've followed all the Hulk installments and even though Edward Norton's version was my favourite, I dare say Ruffalo's embodiment of Banner is abit more accurate to the comic/cartoon. I cannot imagine another man to play Tony Stark/Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr's tongue-in-cheek wit and dry humour played a huge part for the side-aching laughter bits. Chris Hemsworth is pretty good, although he can't seem to lose his Australian "brogue". And was it just me, or did Thor look like Tristan Ludlow's (Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall) long lost brother?? Hehe. What can I say about Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow? She has more depth in this movie coz there's more dialogue and character than her previous sidekick-ish character in Iron Man. Oh... and can I have a bod like her, pretty please???


The resemblance is uncanny, no?
Photo credits: chrishemsworthworkoutt.com & allposters.ie

Chris Evans's Captain America is a tad boring though. Maybe its the character, but methinks Chris could've adopted more than just 1-2 facial expressions throughout the movie. And Nick Fury is... well, Nick Fury. Typical Samuel L. Jackson trademark acting. I mean, I think I could've told you it was him if I had watched the movie blindfolded. It was abit strange to watch Cobie Smulders take on a serious role after her kooky Robin character on How I Met Your Mother. Wish she had more screentime though. Same goes with Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts... I just love her to bits!

So all in all, I'd say The Avengers is a must-watch movie for this month. Joss Whedon did a fabulous job indeed. The characters were also well and evenly developed, and the action sequence was enough to leave some gaping mouths throughout the cinema. Even my Deena enjoyed it, and that's quite an accomplishment since she doesn't really like anything other than cartoons and The Walking Dead.. haha. She even has a favourite Avenger... guess which one?? *wink wink*

So till next entry, toodles!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Labour Day Makan-Fest!

Mornin' peeps... *yawn*

What a slow Thursday morning it is today... I'm not really sure whether its because the lack of food a.k.a. morning coffee intake this morning (I'm attempting to fast today), the overdose of milky substance last night or the fact that I'm STILL recovering from downing too much good food on Labour Day 2 days ago. Ah... good ol' Labour Day. I must say I haven't had so much fun lazing about the house as last Tuesday...

Well my Labour Day makan-fest started earlier than most. Late Monday night I was busy in the kitchen experimenting on a new cupcake recipe that Mr. Hubster found -- Hostess Cupcakes. Its basically a chocolate cupcake with mascarpone cheese filling topped with chocolate glaze. The thing that got Mr. Hubster interested in the first place (he's not really a desserts fan, being a health-enthusiast and all) is the fact that these cupcakes are actually HEALTHY cupcakes. Yes, boys and girls... I kid you not. These are Gluten-Free cupcakes. Mr. Hubster was so excited for me to try this, he even helped me find the special flour it requires. And as usual, anything healthy or good for you is never cheap.. A box of 500g gluten-free flour costs almost RM20!! But for the sake of healthy-eating... we bought a box anyway. ;)

So I followed the recipe as best as I could, with a few tweaks here and there. I followed the recipe for the cake batter exactly, but for the filling, I substituted the mascarpone cheese with cream cheese simply because mascarpone is ridiculously expensive here. I also halved the measurements coz I'm super stingy with my cream cheese haha. As for the chocolate glaze, I used plain ol' butter instead of corn syrup. I figured it'll be less sweet that way anyway :)

Guilt-Free, Gluten-Free Hostess Cupcakes

So this is the result (well, the better looking ones at least haha). I managed to make about 20-odd cupcakes altogether. Even with the halved recipe for the filling, I had leftovers... so I used it to decorate the cupcakes by making psychedelic swirls on top of the chocolate glaze.

Come Labour Day morning, while I added the finishing touches to the cupcakes, Mr. Hubster was busy with the main course of the day: Grilled Lamb Chops & Chicken Chops and shitake mushroom-infused black pepper sauce. He is the masterchef of BBQ. I blame it on watching too much of Robert Rainford's License To Grill shows.. hehe. While I let the cupcakes chill, I started on the potato salad. But this is not the usual potato salad... its a Warm Baby Potato & Sausage Salad that I know my daughter loves. Only this time I cheated abit and put less sausages and added in an extra ingredient: Celery sticks! Masked in creamy sauce, none would be the wiser... *rubs hands with glee* ;p

The Spread

Come lunchtime, we set the tables. We had a guest over so we brought out the good tableware. We even toasted some garlic butter baguettes to complete the meal. Everybody, my little family, mom, sisters and guest crammed our cosy little dining area and ate to our hearts' content. Even little Delea was enjoying the little gathering. We placed her baby chair right smack in the middle so she can get everybody's attention. Clearly both my kids are attention-hoggers. I wonder who they got that from hahaha.

Inside the cupcake...

Then came the much-awaited cupcakes. For everybody else, desserts has always been the highlight of almost every meal, but for me, I'm just curious what would be the response to these healthy cuppies. And the verdict -- a runaway success! Nobody even noticed the slightly different texture to the cake (it is slightly heavier with a tad wholemeal-ish taste.. to my tastebuds at least). Apart from that, the cakes turned out rich, moist and very chocolatey.The only improvement I need to make if I ever make these again would be to dig out a slightly bigger hole to pipe in more filling... hehe.

Ossum Cranium!

Full to the brim and sated by the yummy heavy meal, we decided to play a board game to avoid from falling asleep on super full stomachs. My sister brought out what could possibly be the most awesome board game ever created thus far: CRANIUM. For those who've never heard of it, this game is a cross of monopoly, charades, pictionary, win-lose-or-draw, trivial pursuit, scrambler and play-doh all in one. Add in funky little game pieces called humanoids and voila! Cranium. Not to toot my own horn, but me and Mr. Hubster happen to rock at this game, making it an instant favourite of ours. Not to mention the bucketfuls of side-aching laughter that ensues throughout the game... fun fun fun!

All in all, it was a really great laidback day for me and the clan. We wiped clean whatever grilled chops and salads at dinner. Altogether, that's 16 pieces of lamb chops, 8 pieces of chicken chops, a big bowl of potato salad, 2 whole baguettes, and almost 15 cupcakes finished in one day, feeding exactly 7 adults and 1 kid. A feast? I definitely think so. I most definitely wanna do this again and I recommend you do the same with your family too! ;)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blast from the Past!

Heyya!

OK.. I guess I'm on a roll. Today, as I was FB-comment-flooding with my teacher sister-in-law about choral speaking, reminiscing what good fun it was 17 years ago, when it suddenly hit me -- today is officially Schooldays-Nostalgia Day. Just this morning, on the way to work, I heard this song playing on the radio:



This was a huge hit back in 1997-98 (i think). So when once in a blue moon, you hear it on the radio... WHAM! You whizzz back to the good ol' days when the only thing you had to worry about was acing your exams and whether the zits would ever cease from popping up. This is one of my fave Natalie Imbruglia songs, simply because there's such attitude to it, despite being such a laid-back-ish song. I wonder what happened to Natalie...

Anyhoo, as my sis-in-law and I was reminiscing about our choral-speaking days of glory, I surprised myself when I remember parts of the script to the Rapunzel performance I took part in some 17 years ago. Fellow choral speaking mates, do you remember this??

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel... Let down your golden hair... for I shall climb the golden stairs!"

"How dare you come into my garden... you little fool.. come here! I'll see that you suffer for this... hahahahahaaha (witch cackle)"

I especially remember the witch's cackle coz I practiced it with my mate who had the role of the evil witch a gazillion times. Heck, I even remember some of the hand gestures! Bizarre, I know. But some things just stick to memory, you know? Especially fond ones such as these.

I guess that's why some of us still wish we could go back for a day to relive the moments. I've even attended a back-to-school themed birthday party early last year, squeezing myself into a school uniform despite sporting a slight baby bump, being about 3 months pregnant with my second princess at the time.. hehe. Only difference was, instead of my parents sending me to school, it was my husband! :P

Playing dress-up in January 2011. I don't think I was ever this chubby back then la kan :P

Reminiscing about the past is fun, and at times, poignant. What a joy it was to be young and carefree! Which is why I don't get why teens nowadays are so busy trying to look and act adult. Childhood and teenage-hood are to be experienced and cherished, as the time you have for it is fleeting. You have the rest of your life to be an adult. So to you kids out there, enjoy the ride while it lasts... coz once you're my age (OK this will make me sound darned ancient, but there it is...) you'll be missing and reminiscing just like I am today.

Now, anybody wanna invent a time machine for me? Till somebody volunteers, I'm off to enjoy Duncan Sheik's Barely Breathing playing on the radio for now. Told ya it was Schoolday-Nostalgia Day!


Happy Monday

Happy Monday Peeps!
Strange, huh... having "Happy" and "Monday" in the same sentence? It's a norm for people to recover from a long week of 9-5 office hours with a relaxing and mostly fun weekend. But for me, its the other way around this week. I'm recovering from a harrowing and emotional weekend this working week, and it started out with a pretty positive outlook. 

Remember the TM Career Fair I blogged about in my previous entry? Well this morning, I received this in my mailbox:

The email that made me smile today :)

I know, it's probably nothing. But the fact that it came from somebody working from one of the departments I sent my CV to means, at the very least, that they have seen and read my CV. Its not just lying around collecting dust somewhere or became somebody's scrap paper. Even sweeter is the fact that this department was the one that had glanced at my CV in disdain. It was pretty humbling, lemme tell ya. 

Don't get me wrong boys and girls, this entry is not meant to brag. It was, after all, just an email. Not a job offer. But the point I'm trying to put across here is that if you put yourself out there, try your level best and be persistent about chasing your goals, then you just might get noticed. And that's the first step of moving forward, I think. If nothing else, it was enough to lift my spirits today. :)

So here's to a good monday, and hopefully a great week ahead!

Friday, April 20, 2012

TM Career Fair 2012

Hello All!

It's been awhile since my last entry, and its all because I was just too swamped to even have a few hours to myself to blog. Piles of work kept finding its way to my desk, family events to attend, cakes to bake and freelance work just added itself to my to-do list this week. I'm not complaining, coz it does mean extra moolah for me... but I do miss just laying back and spending a lazy evening with my kids. From the looks of things, that might have to wait till end of the month...

Anyhoo, to those who aren't in the know, I'm currently looking for a career upgrade. So apart from sending my CV left, right and center, I've even joined my lil sister in attending career fairs and such. I was quite reluctant to go to be honest, coz I had this misconception that these fairs mostly cater to fresh grads and undergrads. But when I heard that Telekom Malaysia was having their first Career Day, I figured why not have a go at it... check things out. If nothing else, it'll give me something to blog about, right?


TM Career & Education Fair 2012

So there I was, clad in my the most formal-like outfit, armed with a stack of CVs and my job-seeker game face, going through the throngs of people headed towards Menara TM in Bangsar at 10am last April 7th. It was a balmy Saturday morning, and looking at the queue of hopefuls waiting to get in gave me a slight anxiety attack. The queue was massive to say the least! There were people queueing towards the expo hall at the TM Convention Centre, people queueing for registration in the main Menara TM lobby, people queueing to attend the talks held at the TM multi-purpose hall. I literally felt like I was queueing for an audition for Akademi Fantasia or something. Thank goodness I went with my sister, at least crowd-watching with her would help pass the time and relieve my nerves... :)

The Venue
pic courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Since we were preddy clueless as to where to start queueing, we went straight to the source, the entrance of the convention centre. The security was tight, but we managed to sneak into the lobby, only to be turned away by the event staff who shooed us to the main office lobby to get registered and obtain the TM Career Fair Passport. So off we went to get registered. Luckily Mr.Hubster told us to register online the day before so we went straight up to the express lane for our passports. Once we got our "papers", we trotted back to the convention centre entrance only to be turned away AGAIN by the security personnel. Apparently we had to attend at least one talk first, obtain a stamp in our passports, THEN only we would be admitted into the expo hall. I guess this was their way of managing the massive crowd. I reckon if they simply let people in the roof might fall in!

So we went back the way we came, speed-walking as fast as we could so we wouldn't end up at the back of the long line (yet again!) that's snaking its way from the multi-purpose hall all the way to the main office lobby. This was officially queue-you-legs-off day. After queueing for the umpteenth time in the heat and crowd, I'm so glad that I didnt wear a blazer and 3-inch heels that day. We finally made it into the hall and waited for the talk by TM's Group CEO, Dato' Zamzamzairani Mohd Isa. I went in thinking it will be just another run-of-the-mill motivational talk about TM's success and growth, but it turned out to be a pretty inspiring and enlightening story about Dato' Zam's humble beginnings and his rise to success. Of course, he also talked about TM's history, current and present plans :)

As soon as the talk was over, people started to rush out of the hall, causing massive congestion at the doors. Clearly all the education in the world could never teach some people how to queue properly without proper guidance... huhu. We got our passports stamped and followed the stream of young hopefuls headed towards the expo hall. Again, a queue. I took the time to take in the "competition". Apart from the occasional experienced-looking hopefuls (some came with their kids & babies!), about 80% of the attendees were fresh grads or undergrads.. and I was feeling extra conspicuous and a tad "aged" at that moment. But I kept thinking positive thoughts and started to plan what to say to the executives manning the department booths in the hall. First impression is everything after all.

The 4th time we had to queue.
(This was how it looked like after about half an hour of waiting...)

When we finally entered the hall, we were greeted by a sea of applicants. Imagine a mini Wall Street stock market scenario with alot less hands in the air if you will. There were so many people that you almost missed the beauty of the Kristal Hall where the whole shindig was held. The booths were lined up against the walls, and each booth was swarmed by hopefuls. Initially, I only targeted 3 booths, but in the end managed to hand out more CVs to other department booths as well. Most of the departments were really just collecting handed out CVs, but some actually did take the time to look through my resume and chatted with me. You see, a piece of paper (the CV) shouldn't be the make or break of an applicant. On paper, all that's apparent is my not-so-flattering CGPA from 9 years ago. But if you took the time to actually TALK to me, then maybe you can see something more than just those numbers. And its those executives who did "chat" with me that handed out an approved stamp on my form and led me to the next step: Assessment.

So I was led up to the 2nd floor of the convention centre for the Assessment test. At this point, it was already almost 3pm, and I was exhausted from all the queueing, and famished from missing lunch. We had to wait to be called for the test, but at least it was in a well-conditioned, seated hall. Each department has a different set of assessment tests, unique to each job vacancy. After finally being called for the test and completing it, I was asked to come for an interview the next day. A part of me was relieved, as I get to take a break from all the waiting and can go fill up my growling tummy. But in the back of my mind I knew that that night would be a nerve-racking ordeal of anticipation and anxiety. Who doesn't have pre-interview jitters, right? And this would be my first interview in 4 long years. How would I handle it?

The next day, I returned to Menara TM for the interview. I was taken to the waiting room to wait with a group of applicants. I was number 46. 46!! And there were more filing in. An executive appeared and called about 15 of us to follow him. Off we marched to the corridor of interview rooms to await our turn to face the firing squad  (or should I say hiring squad?) Haha. The whole corridor was thick with nervous anticipation. Some, like me, managed it with some light-hearted banter. Some was busy reading and re-reading their CVs, hands white-knuckled and shaking. When my turn came, I was quite surprised that they called me by name and not by number. Hoping against hope that that was a good sign, I walked in with as much confidence as I could muster. The interview went well, I think. I just hope I made a good enough impression to stand out from the rest.

So that was my first career fair experience. All things considered, I must say that the TM Career Fair was a runaway success. The concept (passport and step-by-step filtering) was simple, effective and systematic. TM might have underestimated the amount of people who would be coming and applying for jobs, though. The event staff looked just as harrassed as the applicants haha. I just hope the next time TM decides to hold another event of this magnitude, they'd be more prepared for huge crowds and have more "crowd-wranglers" to help smooth things along. As for me... I just hope I get a callback. Do wish me luck my lovelies... :)
 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

World-Class Parenting Room Review

Hello Dearies!

As you all know, I'm a mom of 2 little princesses, and being girly girls, we do love shopping, even though its just to window shop and try out clothes and never buy them haha (much to the chagrin of Mr. Hubster :P). One of the joys of having girls is you get to doll them up, your very own live little dolls you get to play dress up with. I'm preddy sure I wont feel the same way when they're older and have their own tastes on what's cool and what's not, but for now... its preddy much dress-me-Barbie all over again!

But today's blog isn't about dressing up my DeeDees... No, today, I wanna talk about something all you moms out there must have experienced at least once while shopping with your family. Have you ever gotten a big headache when you're in a mall and suddenly you need to change your child's diaper, nurse your baby or your pre-schooler needs to go to the loo, but there is no baby room or parenting room in sight? I know I have! One too many times to be exact huhu.

That's why I make a point to find out what facilities are available in the malls I intend to go to, and to those who have excellent amenities for moms like me are the malls I frequent for our little family excursions. So here I am, on a quest to reveal the very few gems of a mall that is Baby/Kid-friendly.  Today, I will review:

Parents' Room @ Citta Mall, Petaling Jaya

To those who aren't familiar with Citta Mall, its this neighbourhood open-air strip mall located within the Ara Damansara locale, right along the Subang Airport Highway in PJ. The mall mostly consists of F&B outlets, ranging from the popular Chillis to the quaint Kay's Riches and several coffee joints in between (my Achilles heel apparently :P). The rest of the mall are occupied by a supermarket as well as various retail and specialty shops that cater to the neighbourhood needs.

From the first time I set foot in Citta mall, I could tell its a family oriented mall. Wide unobstructed walkways peppered with benches to rest on and dustbins aplenty. The information counter is located literally on the front steps of the main entrance, and they offer guest services that include directories, baby strollers for hire and wheelchairs for the elderly. Even the washroom were nice and spacious, not like the usual cramped toilets in alot of the major malls nowadays.

The first few times I've been there, I've handled Delea's little nature calls in the disabled washroom cum changing room, where there's a changing table you could use. I never realized that there was a proper parenting room just one floor up! So one fine day, after browsing Harvey Norman's latest gadgets for sale, we came across what must be the coolest parenting room we have EVER encountered. Here's why:

Reason #1: Wide & Open Spaces

The Entrance

No more going through a maze of narrow passages towards the loo to find the baby room. Citta Mall's Parents' Room is right smack off the main walkway of the first floor, not too far from the elevators. There's a bench outside the room for some dads who shy away from diaper duty. And the door is a clear automatic sliding door that both allows easy access as well as visibility in case your adventurous one decide to venture outside while you're changing the youngest's soiled diaper.


Reason #2: Playtime, Happy Times!

The Ossum Play Area

None of the miniscule table with a lego collection the size of your kid's kiddy plate in this parenting room. No broken and disfigured hand-me-down toys. Just oodles of colourful, climbing-sliding-crawling-roleplay fun! Suffice to say Deena refused to budge when we said we were leaving for home... :P


Reason #3: Itty Bitty Kiddy Loos! 

Teenie Weenie Toilets

Wash Area

One of my favourite features in this parenting room. Don't you just HATE it when your pre-schooler needs to go to the toilet (which they normally fail to tell us till the very last minute and they're thisss close to wetting their pants), and when you get to the washroom, there's this absurdly long queue waiting ahead of you? Oh the stress! Well, this lil' kiddy loo is a gem, lemme tell ya! The answer to all that public toilet queue dilemma. First off, there's this big sign that says the Kiddy Loo is restricted to kids aged 6 and below ONLY (see pic)The little water closets come in 2 sizes (small & tiny), complete with bidet and toilet paper (which is more than I can say about MOST adult toilets out there huhu). And the stalls are spacious enough for mommies and daddys to accompany their tots while they do their business.

To top it all off, there's a big wash basin with chic lighted mirrors, a soap dispenser and tissue paper, complete with a wooden step stool to help the little tots to wash up by themselves. Its all about independence in this place. I think I made my eldest go to the toilet just so she can test the facilities out. My sister thinks I'm obsessed with the loo. I think she might be a wee bit right! hahaha


Reason #4: The Nursing "Suite"

The Nursing Suites

For Nursing Comfort

I'm sure all breastfeeding moms out there agree with me: The nursing rooms in most malls out there leave much to be desired! Super cramped rooms (if you can even call them that... some are more like closets or shower stalls IMHO), tattered chairs, rubbish everywhere, and the occasional soiled diaper left to rot in the room. Comparatively, the nursing rooms at Citta Mall are like suites! Each spacious, clean room offers 3 comfy armchairs, a coffee table, tissues and electric sockets for moms who want to express milk for storage. And there's 3 rooms to be used! Outside each room there's a sign you can use to indicate that the room is occupied. Very cool!


Reason #5: Turning Tables on Diaper Changing

Changing Tables

Not 1.. not 2.. but 4 changing tables! And these are no run-of-the-mill trolley-like tables padded with the thinnest possible changing mat ever created, moms and dads... these tables are fitted with PVC mattresses not unlike those examination beds you find in clinics. Soft and comfy, easy to clean, bright-green changing tables to ease the most dreaded chore of parenthood. Oh and if you forgot to pack your young'uns lotions and talcum powder, fret not! This parenting room even provides you with that, and then some. Paper tissues are neatly supplied in little green trays, and there's 2 big sinks for you to clean up with.


Reason #6: Safe & Sound

Security Notice

This state-of-the-art parenting room is finally completed with safety measures -- CCTV and the occasional patrol by the mall's security personnel. With all the missing kids cases, one cannot be too careful, so this extra measure surely helps put us parents' minds at ease...


So that's one of the best parenting room for ya, reviewed,dissected and raved about. Quite simply a haven for both parent and child. If I had to complain about anything at all, it would be the lack of a hot water dispenser for parents to make formula with, but then again, that's just me being nitpicky. To parents who're headed to Citta Mall, go and chk out this facility. To other mall management, I think its high time you upgraded your most forgotten facility into something that is a joy to use, and not a health-hazard.

As for me, I'm looking forward to find another parenting room that could be in the same league as this one. Till then, happy parenting!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Visiting Mars with John Carter

Wa-Hey Peeps!

Guess what? I'm on a movie-roll here hehe. Managed to get tickets to watch John Carter last Sunday, so the whole clan minus lil' Delea (she's too young for now) went to Tropicana City Mall's GSC to watch Disney's latest offering.

Now, I dunno about you guys, but judging from the movie trailer and posters, I expected it to be a gladiator-ish movie with a half-naked, muscle-flexing hero slaying strange, ugly CGI-created creatures.. not unlike Clash of the Titans. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was an interesting storyline that stands out from the typical monster-slaying hero.

Pic courtesy of movieposter.com
[SPOILER ALERT!!! Those who do not want to find out how the story goes can skip this part]

First off, I never knew that the story was based on a novel (or chronicles to be exact) by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Trivia: He also created "Tarzan"), so I went in thinking this was just another epic movie. After abit of googling after watching the movie, the interesting storyline that seemed more in depth than the usual run-of-the-mill movies finally made sense to me. And, as you all know, I'm a sucker for novel-based movies haha. 

The story started not in some foreign, barren wasteland I initially thought the scene took place, but in 19th century America circa The Civil War. The barren wasteland that we see in the movie trailers is actually Mars, so that explains all the dusty brick-red rocks and dirt. So as the story goes, John Carter (hunky Taylor Kitsch of Friday Night Lights fame) unwittingly and accidentally teleported himself to Mars, better known as Barsoom to the Martians. Now, if you expect to see little green martians, you'd be really disappointed, coz in this movie, the only green martians you'll see are these barbarian-ish lanky creatures standing a good 5 feet above normal human height called the Tharks. The rest of the Mars population preddy much look like us humans, with apache-ish tattoos and armour similar to Lord of The Rings' wardrobe. Oh and lets not forget the strange looking monsters and beasts that they treat as pets.


John Carter in a Gladiator ring with 2 White Apes
Pic courtesy of digitaltrends.com

So while John Carter was busy getting acquainted with the Tharks and their pets, the human-like Martians were at war for power. Princess Dejah of Helium (Lynn Collins) was forced to marry Prince Sab Than of Zodanga (Dominic West) to forge peace, but of course, the evil Sab Than, aided by an ethereal being with teleporting powers (Mark Strong) had ulterior motives. The Princess, an intelligent free-spirit, refused to go down without a fight and fled amidst a battle between the 2 clans, and as expected, rescued by John Carter. What ensues is pretty predictable -- John Carter helps the Princess save her people, and she helps him find a way home to earth. They fall in love in the process, which led John Carter to decide to stay at Mars with his Princess. A twist in their happy ending sent John Carter back to earth, right back where he had started. And so, he tries to get back to Barsoom, taking years to do so, but in the end... he does.. :) I'm guessing from the ending and depending on how well this movie does this year, there might just be a sequel... *wink wink*

[End of Spoiler: Its safe to read now hehehe]

All in all, the movie is fast-paced, action packed and well developed. Sci-fi geeks and epic movie fans will find this their cuppa tea, although they will most definitely start to compare some bits to other sci-fi and epic movies. The script was no brain surgery, littered with some humour and gags. Nevertheless, it was a fun movie to watch, a good form of escapism for me. So if you crave for some alien-slaying action, this is a must watch for ya!

P/S: My Deena didn't quite like this movie though, coz as soon as the credits started to roll, she yelled (loudly i might add) "Ummi!! This story is BORINGGGG!!". Apparently any movie that doesn't have any cartoon character innit is boring to a 4-yr old.. :P

That's all for now... till next rambling entry then... ciao!