Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Baking for good

Inertia is such a sneaky lil' thing.

It somehow feels SO comfortable doing things we're familiar with, even if it doesn't make too much sense sometimes. Like taking a certain route to work, though it means walking a bit longer. Or drinking our coffee a certain way, with just the amount of milk and temperature we're used to.

Inertia's not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes we forget to grow when our roots get fossilised.

So I'm trying to use my baking as a means of jiggling up inertia, to support causes I care about, in my own small way.

Food scarcity is an area that bugs me (blame it on my greed and my equally greedy friends), as is health. I generally want to think there is a liveable future for all of us.

And kids - they're a particularly vulnerable group jostling for resources among the millions of other causes, and children without anyone to fight for them, is especially hard to see.

That's Megan on the right, sharing giggles with one of the kids at the orphanage. 
Photo by Zann Lim.

When a friend Zann shared about her daughter Megan's efforts to support an orphanage they've been visiting in Selangor, the pieces came together.

It stinks not to have basic life items like adequate food, healthcare, footwear and clothes, and these kids were at the disadvantaged end of the life spectrum, from such an early age.

I wanted to support both Megan and the orphanage through my baking, and am pledging happy day cake pops for folks who wanted to pitch in. Proceeds go directly towards Megan's fund-raising, and my extremely supportive friends have been eagerly snapping the pops up.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Everyone gets a little something, everyone has a reason to smile a little more.

> Read more about Megan's fund-raising initiative

I'm also partnering with the Yoga Loft (29 Mayo Street #02-01), a 3-month pop up that's home to things wellness/yoga. There are all sorts of classes to participate in, and oodles of well-thought-out apparel, food, accessories to facilitate living well.

It's a cute little space with amazing heart.

Drop by to say #helloyogaloft, and look out for Petite Pops' granola and snacks there. Put yourself down for the 2 bonus yoga classes just round the corner - Jun 1 at 7pm, Jun 4 at 3pm - get some good fun in, at completely no cost!

We all have the power for good, and I'd love to push for positive change, in whatever way we can manage.

And of course, always remember to do it with a glad spirit and a belly full of desserts!

Friday, May 20, 2016

It's a Revolution, it's got Food. I'm in!

I like positive stuff.
And who wouldn't, when Oscar Wilde puts it so elegantly:

"With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?"

For sure, I've got freedom in my life - making the choices I want, not getting persecuted for my religious beliefs, deciding whom I want to befriend.

And for sure, I've got books. God of Small Things and Kite Runner are my evergreen favourites, and I'm still making slooooww but steady progress on Clayton Christensen's How Will You Measure Your Life.

Flowers: I'm channelling their vibrance and cheer, creating desserts that bring light and colors to happy people digging into my tarts, slicing into birthday cakes I make or snacking on good ol' balanced-eating granola.

So that leaves the moon.

That's a tough one.

The moon is something lofty and out of reach. An eye-blazing yolk high in the sky that I have to make a stretch to even come close to its shadow, an eternal goal of unattainability.

But I'm gonna try.

This is where positivity comes in.
And never overlook the power of individual actions.

Which is why Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution movement resonates with me. That, and the subject of food, of course.

Small actions by everyone build large traction, and all over the world people are getting off their butts and taking steps to get involved with sensible eating.

It's not just about big radical changes that move mountains, but also about everyday efforts that really can't be dismissed.

I think about it in concentric circles.

Do what we can in our little spheres, and be an influencer to the people around us. I try, whenever I get the chance, to use baking and food as a tool to facilitate and enable. Positivity isn't all fluffy cutesy unicorns, but a lot of real, livable steps each one of us can take to build a network of positive actions and a strong community.

Jamie Oliver's done much of the heavy lifting, building a solid network of usable, actionable resources to better eating and food responsibility. Tons of ways and tips we can get in on it, plenty of easy, manageable steps we can all practice.

The Food Revolution is also here in Singapore, and it's always seeking ambassadors to help share the movement of good eating with the community.

Another inspiring movement is FeedBack's Feeding the 5000: spotlighting the insane amount of perfectly edible food thrown out, just because it doesn't meet cosmetic standards.

Closer to home, the Food Bank Singapore has made it so accessible for folks to drop off non-perishable supplies - a much better idea than letting all that edible food sit in a heap in the bin.

Another outfit Food from the Heart bridges the gap between hunger and food waste with bread and food items from bakeries, hotels and restaurants.

As part of the inaugural, eight beautifully architectured films centering on food were screened and Tasteology really stood out for me. Looking at concepts of the food chain segments, chefs, experts and scientists shed light on issues that influenced each stage, and took a long hard look at food wastage and sustainable food sources.

There are so many avenues for us to get involved, to learn and to make positive changes. We just have to seek, and be open to changes making a difference to health and happiness.
> Make Maple-Ginger Cider Switchel, you won't regret it 

In line with Food Revolution Day (today!), I'd like to raise my little fork and knife and share a super simple grilled fish and veggie plate that you can get ready in half an hour. Perfect for those quick dinners after work, or when you're strapped for time.

It's hardly a recipe, really more of an assembly that anyone can do... read on and you'll see!

Easy Grilled Fish with Veggies Plate
Serves 2

- 2 bunches of kale (or however much you want to eat, nothing scientific    
  about this)
- 8 jumbo asparagus or 12 regular asparagus (the jumbos just stand up
  better to the grilling heat)
- 1 ripe avocado
- 2 fillets of your favourite fish - I have here, salmon and halibut
- Seasonings: olive oil, sesame oil, coarse salt, pepper, paprika, dukkah -
  any flavours you like, really

This is an extremely forgiving recipe that can be adapted in numerous ways, depending on the ingredients and quantities you have on hand, so mix it up as you need. The only real rule here is to keep all the ingredients dry so it crisps up and doesn't produce a well of moisture while grilling in the oven.
  1. Preheat oven to about 200 degrees Celsius.
  2. Veg prep: Julienne kale roughly, peel off the tough skin of asparagus spears at their base. Lay out on grilling tray and season with salt, pepper, olive oil and chilli flakes (optional). Pop them into the oven. 
  3. Fish prep: Lay fish on grilling tray, pat dry if needed. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and seasonings you like. My favourite is to add additional dash of sesame oil for fragrance, dust with paprika and top off with dukkah and sesame seeds. Pop fish into oven about 10 min after veggies go in, they should all be done about 15 min or so after, depending on the type of fish and the thickness of your fillets. Go with your eye and trust your nose. If it looks cooked and smells delicious, you're about there. 
  4. Peel and halve avocado. Give it a quick blast in the oven if you like a bit of char, or eat it straight - just as good. Plate everything, give a final sprinkle of salt flakes, grab your fork, dig in.
Make it, eat it, share it, pass it on.
Let's celebrate the joys of food and eating.

> Check out Jamie's Food Revolution recipes - told you he's making it easy for us to have fun and be a part!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Hello from Petite Pops!

Hello from Petite Pops - where good eats rule, and smiles are always cool!

This little post is so belated, but I have good reason.

I've always struggled with the 'About Me' writeup. Who really wants to know what I had for breakfast, and do people care that I love chocolate by the boatloads?

There's such a fine line between active involvement and over-sharing, for a while I was wary of stepping in. And there's another bigger reason - what is my story?

I didn't want an essay out there with no point to make, no story to tell.
I was on a journey of searching for a bit.

To start way back....
I wasn't born with a sweet tooth, and was a rather skinny child. Every meal then was a long-drawn torture for me and whomever was unfortunate enough to be my designated meal-enforcer for the day.

Such a chore.

But I finally outgrew that absurdity when I got to university.
I came to my senses. What took me so long??

The social aspect of adult life kicked in, and I started appreciating the role of food in bringing people together. We made time for family over a meal, catching up with friends was always over some excuse for food - brunch, lunch, tea, dinner, supper.
Eating with family: Lazy-day Bread

Ask anyone to list the first 5 words they've learnt in a foreign language - chances are, they'd be of food. Or swear words. Equally versatile.

The biggest excitement of food though, is usually over dessert.

There IS good reason why birthdays are celebrated with cakes. Desserts bring out the happiest in people, and just like the good Julia Child said," A party without cake is just a meeting."

Wise words.

I bake for the happy-ness, for the smiles.

In my recent years, I've learnt to be kinder to my body + soul. Wellness has made its stamp on my personal life and choices, and my bakes have followed suit.
> Make your own Maple Ginger Cider Switchel

Many of us don't need to be vegan or completely gluten-free. What we do need - is to eat well, eat real foods, eat happy.

In my travels, I've crossed paths with so many passionate bakers and chefs, and the mind-sweeping magic that beautiful produce creates. While we don't get as much fresh fruit, creamy milk or beautiful flowers here as many other countries do, we can do our part by eating good foods.

But let's be real, too.

Food has got to taste good to be a sustainable lifestyle, no one likes chewing on cardboard all day even if it's good for you.

So my bakes are really about balance, a little naughty, a little nice. No funny stuff, more natural ingredients, less sugars and fats where possible.

Traveling has also opened my eyes to the artisans of today.

Just as mass production has paved the way for efficiency, there are as many small-scale crafts people putting out marvellous pieces of work, cooking and baking amazing foods and desserts.

It's a tougher path to walk, but I've been so inspired by the dedication of crafts people all over the world, and the belief in creating respect and joy in life. I practice small batch baking, when orders come in, to help keep quality in check. I don't add preservatives to my bakes, and avoid ingredients that are unpronounceable - the #1 giveaway of chemically made/preserved/altered foods.

I still do happy-day cakes, they just complete a birthday or celebration in a way nothing else can. But my first love is in balanced snacks, bakes that are good for a sane, sustainable way of living and eating happy.

Life doesn't have to be about extremes. Love what you eat, laugh a lot, and life generally looks rosier, even on the tougher days.

Now I've figured out my journey a little better, and I think there's a little more sense behind my baking.

I hope you'll join me in having your cake and eating it. Here's to being a healthy badass!

"Today you are you that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You!" 
                                                                                                         - Dr. Seuss


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Meet the Easter Blueberry Galette

It's curious how traditions start.

Easter bunnies and pretty decorated eggs, for instance. 

Pretty sure Christ didn't institute the practice of hiding eggs for kids to find, and even more sure bunnies don't lay eggs. And if you see real bunnies laying brown eggs, back away... those are definitely not chocolate.

How then, in the good name of chocolate easter eggs, did these traditions come about?

As with all historically steeped legends, there are numerous tales about how these originated.

Eostre, the goddess of fertility, was apparently responsible for 'em bunnies. In a time when gods and goddesses were worshipped, she was chosen to represent Easter and her symbol - rabbits - promised new life.

As for the eggs: the church reportedly forbade the eating of eggs during Lent. So the people saved them up, and feasted on eggs on Easter.

The German immigrants were believed to have popularised the practice of nest-building, for the bunnies to lay eggs. And now, kids all over get a kick hunting for eggs and chocolate bunnies on Easter day.

And there we have it, the eggy back story to Easter celebrations.

Whatever the origins, I like to associate Easter with fruit and spring sunshine.
New life, and such a good reason to rejoice.

More ways to shine:
12 ways to glow
Make Maple Ginger Cider Switchel

And in honour of Easter, we have the Blueberry Galette. Perfect for sharing, or one-person hoarding - for multiple breakfasts.

This rustic open-faced tart has blueberries and fruit, wrapped in a hand-folded cashew crust. Eat warm, topped with a scoop of ice-cream.


What do you get with Petite Pops desserts?
• Small batch baking      The only good way to do quality control.
• Good ingredients          Real and delicious, no further preservatives added.
• Fresh                              Made only when orders come in.
• Balanced                       A little naughty and a whole lot nice. Less sugar & fats,                                            while balancing the yum.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

12 ways to glow: Week 2 - Inside Glow

You made it!

Through the 2nd official week back at work, and for those following the Shop Jom #12x12 Challenge - the 12 day workouts are done.

Now it's time to chill, time to rest and be quiet for a bit.

And since we're being still, let's work on that Inner Glow.
Gotta make that inner light shine a little more, to match the awesome Outer Glow we've been building up.

1. Build yourself a Vision Board
A good friend of mine teaches yoga, but much more than that - she practices mindful living. She does this with the help of an amazingly simple and powerful tool, a Vision Board. At the start of every year, she focuses on a few areas that she wants to work on, improve and bring out in her year ahead. Use whatever way you like to help remind you of these areas as you move along, but I love her way. She cuts snippets from books and magazine, puts them together on a board, and tacks the board up in her living room so she sees it the minute she enters the house. It's so much harder to lose sight when things are right in front of us.

2. You nailed it, don't you forget it
We're conditioned to push to achieve more, earn more, do better. While that's completely understandable - and some say, needed - balance is always key. Don't forget to acknowledge what we've accomplished at the same time. Go big with a promotion at work, or small and powerful, like meeting a weight goal or making a new good friend. Whatever the scale, remember it all took effort, and you nailed it.

3. Volunteer or do something kind
"We rise by lifting others." - Robert Ingersoll

We find a sense of bigger purpose when we do things not for ourselves. Numerous studies have shown that people who have a purpose, deal much better with challenging situations. Life becomes a bit more meaningful, and we become less self-focused and short-goal-sighted. Dedicate time to volunteer or do something kind, and try to make it part of our regular schedule to make it stick.

4. Find your inspirational hero
Everyone needs a mentor to help light the path ahead, to make it a little less mad. If you don't already have one, spend some time identifying someone who inspires you to aspire. Most of us have a work-driven inspirational figure - an entrepreneur, a Steve Jobs, a CEO, a glass ceiling-buster. But let's not neglect our personal life heroes. Nick Vujicic, Gandhi, the cancer surviver, the neighbour who makes time to help - anyone who inspires you to live a better life, and be a better person.

5. Start a food swap
The wins to cooking our meals are many, the most significant being the ability to decide what food goes into our body. But let's get real. Not everyone has schedules that allow daily cooking. So let's rope in other cooks and spread the food, and the love. Rustle up good friends and family, and take turns cooking in big batches. Pack up some portions (employ food portion strategies), and you'll soon find that food not only fills tummies with good things, but satisfies the soul even more when shared and swapped.

6. Fill the house with good smells
Smells of food cooking and desserts baking always remind me of home, it's impossible not to be in a good mood when you smell warm food. Since we're onto swapping food, let's bake up something sharable and portable. I love that this Banana Oat Cake is packed with oats and bananas, and sturdy enough to cut into logs for sharing.

Live well, eat well, be present.
Here's to bringing out the best of our Inner and Outer Glow!

Banana Oat Cake (serves 12)
Adapted from Bon Appetit

You'll need: 
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned/rolled oats (not instant oats)
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 bananas, chopped - you can use frozen bananas if you have them on hand, but let
                                  them come to room temperature first so they can be chopped

To make:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat an 8x8" baking dish/tray with
  butter and line with parchment paper.
- Whisk oat, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.
- Whisk brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla in another large bowl until smooth.
- Slowly stream butter into brown sugar mixture, whisking constantly until well blended.
- Add bananas to dry ingredients, toss to coat. Stir into brown sugar mixture (batter will
  be thick).
- Spread batter into prepared dish/tray. Bake until golden brown and edges start to pull
  away from sides of dish, 35-40 min.
- Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely in dish/tray. Cut up and serve, or store in
  airtight container on counter top for a couple of days.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Asia's flavours this Lunar New Year

There are a few occasions in a year that deserve my stomach's full attention.

Birthdays, Christmas and the Lunar New Year.

These are eating festivals, as far as my family and friends are concerned. People gathering round, sharing meals, swapping stories, indulging in festive snacks.

The stuff of good times.

Food plays such a big part bringing people together, and any excuse to break bread and clink glasses is wildly welcomed.

> But don't throw out your Outside Glow!

And this year, Petite Pops is embracing Asia's flavours in our Chinese New Year goodies.

Matcha and Wolfberry, both native to Asia, are packed with age-old health beliefs, perfect for turning festive feasting into good-for-you snacking. Osmanthus adds a delicate, subtle fragrance for barely-there flavour layers. Just the kind of natural sweetness I like in my snacks.

Share the Lunar New Year love with double goodies in the Twin Baskets, or go solo with the Osmanthus Honey Loaf.
> Details in image above

A wonderfully prosperous and blissful Year of the Monkey to everyone!

What do you get with Petite Pops desserts?
• Small batch baking      The only good way to do quality control.
• Good ingredients          Real and delicious, no further preservatives added.
• Fresh                              Made only when orders come in.
• Balanced                       A little naughty and a whole lot nice. Less sugar & fats,                                            while balancing the yum.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

12 ways to glow: Week 1 - Outside Glow

It's so much fun collaborating, like a left shoe finding its right shoe to make a snazzy pair of happy feet.

To kick off the brand new year, I'm partnering Shop JOM in their 12x12 Challenge, which started Monday. 12 minutes of workout, over 12 days (ready, sweat, glow!). 

Arms, legs, abs - you name it, they've got it covered in their daily workout challenges. 

Photo from Shop Jom

With all that huffing and puffing, there must be a day of rest. The 7th day - kinda like the sabbath. To be good and kind (to your body). 

So I'm sharing my 12 little tips on Glowing, over 2 Sundays - starting today. 

This week's about the OUTSIDE GLOW. Small little steps to help your body glow, all ultra achievable. 

1. Be kind to your body
Tidying guru Marie Kondo says thanks to her socks at the end of each day, because they've worked so hard supporting and carrying her around. She never balls them up, and doesn't crowd them in the closet. Now if she be that kind to her socks, our bodies deserve better. Start with an easy skin regime that we can realistically upkeep, like this Honey Avocado Mask. Yummy. 

2. Eat foods with ingredients you can pronounce
This takes some discipline so let's keep it real - start this with weekends, since we have more control over our food away from the office grind. Look at the ingredient list on what you're planning to eat. Spy something unpronounceable? Or something you can't spell on first try? Put it back, and walk away. Those are usually additives and other funky additions to chemically enhance or preserve foods. 

And don't look back. Real foods usually have simple, real, pronounceable ingredients. 

3. Be smart, engage portioning warfare
There is a universe you can eat your fave foods, heck even indulge a little. But military-style strategising is needed to fool the enemy - over-eating. Take out a small portion of that dish, and put the rest out of sight and reach. Once you're done with your portion, move on. Ain't no seconds in this battlefield. 

4. Time out
Grab a towel, fave playlist, happy-day drink or nibble, an eye mask, some candles and a huge do-not-disturb sign. Hang that sign on the door, close it after you. Now you have your spa-at-home. Set the timer for 30 min (you don't want to add stress having to constantly check on time), and do not emerge before then. You need to chill a little, for your body to repair and glow. 

5. You gotta move it, move it
Always have your workout gear and bag packed. Towels, socks, shoes, mats, tights, cropped tops, weight lifting gloves - make sure fresh ones are packed the minute you reach home after exercising. No excuses, less procrastination and frantic annoyance when you head out for your next workout. 

6. Make switchel
Popular in the 1800s among woodsman pioneers, this apple cider drink has made a comeback. Gaining favour as an alternative electrolyte and energy boost, this scrumptiously crisp drink is perfect for our insanely hot weather, beating manufactured isotonic drinks any day. 

And with a 4-ingredient list of pretty pronounceable items, this is definitely a keeper. 

Maple-Ginger Cider Switchel (4 servings)
Adapted from Bon Appetit

You'll need:
6 oz fresh ginger
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup - honey will work as well
1 tablespoon fresh lime/lemon juice
4 cups water/club soda

To make: 
- Pass ginger through juicer, or grate and squeeze by hand - you'll need about 1/2 cup. 
- Combine ginger juice, vinegar, maple syrup and lime/lemon juice in a pitcher and stir until maple syrup is dissolved. Chill until cold. 
- To serve, dilute with water/club soda and pour into ice-filled glasses.

Next Sunday, we'll work on our INSIDE GLOW .

To a brilliant 2016,  let's get glowing!

More on balanced living and eating:
> Eating with family, lazy day bread
> Whimisical yoga, balanced desserts
> YOLO = granola
> Food Revolution Day
> Treats for the journey, it's 2015!