Bad Kitty.

Eek! How did I ever let a month (close enough) go by without posting anything?

Bad, bad kitty.

Truth is, I have still been writing constantly, albeit mainly doing lines over and over again, in French.

I’ve always loved languages – writing it, reading it, hearing it – so keeping myself motivated wasn’t hard at all.

As it happens, it is only too easy for me to get over-motivated and started banging away on French everything like a language-learning Nazi really. I have my beloved secondary school to thank for that – Diligence  is one of the school values widely extolled. Where did the fascist attitude come from? Well… we were chased from spot to spot by someone blowing on a police whistle; our hair lengths were scrutinised frequently (nothing below our cold, trembling earlobes). Read: Discipline (and Nazi-ish nitpicking). Can I just say though, I honestly LOVED that school. But that’s another story altogether.

Anyway… Not contented with just taking my tutor’s word when it comes to the prickly subject of ‘en’, ‘à’, ‘de’ and the million other split personalities these annoying lil’ buggers come in, I *had* to go research on what it means when the same word morphs and mutates into partitives, pronouns, prepositions and monsters.

Sometimes I made progress and I feel like the champion of the world. As if my legs had grown two-inches longer.

Other times… many times (Though not most times, thankfully.)… La tête just goes… vide.

Like when I figured out preposition à is for ‘going to’ and preposition de is for ‘coming from’ and then I turn a page and the article de that roughly translates to ‘some’ and ‘any’ swings by to say ‘Hi’ while swiftly being chased down by en, which can be both a preposition and also a pronoun.

Oui.

And I can’t let it go.

I. Can’t. Let. It. Go.

My school motto demands that I get to the bottom of things. And to the bottom of things I got to.

With these…

Yes. I applied a filter to make it look nicer. Hurhurhur.

So what did I discover at the bottom of the pile?

Me. Lying rather lifeless. With a very firm and fit writing arm all sinewy and Michelle Obama-y from all the copying and writing and rewriting I was doing.

Not too bad, I’d have to say. (I’m shallow. You mean you didn’t know?)

Just last night I’ve started dreaming in French… though I can’t be sure if it was actual accurate French, at least I can say that without a doubt, my subconscious recognised it as awesomely fluent French.

So now the conscious me just has to catch up with my subconscious half.

Tonight, we conquer French Gender.

Ninja! Peace out.

 

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Three Month Mark

It’s been three months since I left work and I have…

Gone for a music festival – St Jerome’ Laneway Festival (Does Coachella over Youtube count as a second one? =D)

Gone for a concert – toe, Mosaic (I see me =D)

Attended a Butoh Workshop with Alb and Kai

Watched a play

Ironed all my darn clothes

Studied French

Watched movies – 300, Amélie, Any Given Sunday, Delicatessen, Fight Club, Infernal Affairs, L’Auberge Espagnole, La Combe Lucien, Les Petits Mouchoirs, Lost in Translation, Machuca, Melancholia, The Descendants, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish and English Versions), The Godfather I, II and III, The Iron Lady, The Lady

Read – Olivia (in French), Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Great Frustration, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Worked out (almost) every day

Made crème brúlée (got my own blow torch), made pasta, bread, jam.

Picked up driving

Visited the museum – Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

Organised the wardrobe and accessories …

Supported Soccer games…

Made new friends…

Most importantly…

Reconnected with loved ones I’ve neglected – Momo, Sis-es, Melb, K, Hui, Xiu, Shus, Bestie, SQ, B

Three months have passed.

And that feeling that time is running out sneaks up on me and teases that panic button ever so often. But it is also that sense of the inevitable end; those limits, that force us to get out there and push ourselves further and harder, so I am thankful.

No time to lament or feel sorry. Not today at least.

Loads more I’ve yet to accomplish, and loads more to come – driving examination, Arts Festival performance, N’s wedding and my long-awaited Berlin visit. (Tokyo soon, I hope!)

And oh yes. I’ve started this humble little blog. This is my 80th post.

The French Withdrawal.

Yup. My French term has officially ended and I’m feeling so lost, so grumpy, and so terribly unhappy.

For eight weeks, I looked forward to waking up at 7am every Tuesday and Thursday morning for French Class. Even if that meant an hour-long journey. Even if that meant train rides with too many grumpy (sometimes sweaty) commuters. I fight for room to stand most of the time, and sometimes I fight for air to breathe. But always… I’ll be revising my French.

I met an old friend a month back, who was shocked that I had left work.

“To do what?” he asked. (Demanded, almost.)

“Study French.”

“What the heck for? Who are you going to speak French to? Go back to work!”

I smiled and changed the subject. How can I explain the joy that language… that learning brings? I would fail miserably. Besides, if he couldn’t see the reason behind exploring something new, how would he be able to accept my explanation… or any explanation for that matter.

Three months into my self-imposed sabbatical, I realised nothing gave me more pleasure than when I am learning, experimenting and doing something new and challenging. My days were filled with driving and French. (And I had initially intended to take either Swedish or German at the same time. Multi-tasker alert.)

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had people shudder in disgust on the train when I attempted the French ‘R’ sound. Know that awful sound some people make when they are hacking up phlegm? Yea. That’s the one.

I almost cried in frustration at home – twice – because homework was difficult. (Yes. When I told B I wanted to be the top student, I was only half-joking. What to do? NYG Syndrome.)

I am convinced that the lesson Guillaume had with us on Numbers: Seventy to One million etched permanent frown lines on my forehead.  I went home and ‘screamed’ on my Facebook status “I THOUGHT I WAS LEARNING FRENCH, NOT MATH!”

But to have the freedom to do whatever I want and learn whatever I like is such a treat… and luxury. So how can I not be thankful?

Now that the term is over, I still find myself waking up early on Thursday, all ready to go. Only now, there is technically nowhere to go to.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to register for the next term – an important journey in June will interfere with French plans. I’m going to miss Guillaume – who is everything I want my teacher to be: attentive, meticulous, and so generous with his time and knowledge… I’m going to miss my supportive classmates…

In the meantime, I’m learning phrases and sentences on my own, twice a week. I scroll through my friends’ numbers on my phone so I can practise reciting their numéros de téléphone in French. It’s an uphill battle, not knowing if I got the nuances correct; missing out on the much needed interaction.

But when I started on this journey, I had a goal: to be fluent enough to watch French movies without the aid of subtitles. By hook or by crook, I’m going to get there.

 

The Arsonist.

I have been trying for over 10 minutes to start this post with just how much I love Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain.

I can’t.

I love it that much. As I’m sure billions of people do.

But I loveeeee it.

Okay, sure, I’m sure you loveeeee it too. I’m sure you have limited editions of this and that, and posters and coasters and stuff.

But I LOVEEEEEE it.

So let’s just call it a truce and leave it as that.

I’m aching so badly from not allowing myself to go into why I love it and how it has come to mean so many things to me, but any attempt to put something so intense and so personal into words just seem to dilute the whole experience.

In fact, I get all gooey and gushy and OMG-y when I think about the show… (not so much Audrey Tautou per se, but all the character and the story and the intimate details…) Okay. I gotta stop.

Moving on.

[Abrupt and awkward break]

Amélie turned me into an arsonist.

After I’d watch the show, there is nothing else I want more than Mathieu Kassovitz a blowtorch.

Screenshot from movie.

And she is absolutely right. Shattering the brittle crust of crème brûlée with the tip of your spoon is such a simple yet fulfilling experience that you really can’t help but get lost in that brief, magical moment.

But this is one magic trick you can’t perform beautifully (or at least as dramatically) without a blowtorch. So guess what I did?

I went out and got meself a blowtorch.

(Don’t make me angry now.)

That was the easy bit. Conquering my fear of mixing hot liquids into eggs – not so easy. All I have to do is think about the many scrambled carbonara my friends have had to endure, and I’ll convince myself to postpone my arsony assignment.

This holiday though, with everyone being busy/away/sick, I finally needed something to challenge and distract me.

After first trying this recipe from BBC Food, my Guinea Pig and I found it to be great, just a tad too liquidy. I looked through a few other recipes, but the simplicity of the BBC one proved to be the main draw, so I decided to adjust my own version from it.

The Arsonist’s Crème Brûlée

(Serves ? – Depends on the size of your ramekins. I made a good 8 ‘mini’ ones even though the original recipe says this serves 4)

Ingredients

450ml/16fl oz double cream
50ml/2 fl oz whole milk
2 vanilla pods, split, seeds scraped out (or a 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
5 egg yolks
50g caster sugar, plus more, for the caramel crust

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Pour the caster sugar into the bowl with the yolks. Whisk together the egg yolks and the caster sugar until well combined and creamy.
  2. Pour the cream and the milk into a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat and bring to a simmer.
  3. If using vanilla pods, split the pods down the middle with a sharp knife. Scrape out the seeds with the knife and add the seeds and the pods (or the vanilla extract) to the cream and milk mixture. Alternatively, pour the vanilla extract into the cream and milk mixture. Stir well to combine.
  4. When the cream and milk mixture is coming up to a simmer (you should see bubbles forming along the side of the pan), pour it (including the vanilla pods, if using) into the bowl with the egg yolk mixture. Stir thoroughly for a minute or two to dissolve the sugar. At this stage, you can chill the mixture in the fridge and make the brulees the following day, or carry on with the recipe.
  5. Strain the brûlée mixture to get rid of any lumps or curds.
  6. Ladle the brûlée mixture into the serving dish (or dishes). Discard the vanilla pods.
  7. Place the crème brûlée dishes into a deep baking tray and pour hot water into the tray until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the dishes (this is called a bain-marie).
  8. Place the bain-marie into the preheated oven and cook the creme brulees for about 30-35 minutes, until set firm but still with a slight wobble.*As I have mentioned, Guinea Pig and I preferred the brûlées a little more set, so I adjusted the cooking times according to the wobble of the brûlées.Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge for about 2 hours.* I expedited this process once by letting the brûlées cool down for a bit before putting them onto a plate of ice in the fridge.
  9. For the topping, sprinkle about a teaspoon of caster sugar on top of the brûlées. Heat the surface with a mini-blowtorch until it forms a thin layer of caramel.
  10. Get cracking (literally) and start feasting!* If you wish to make the brûlées the next day, you can follow the recipe up to Step 5, then cool the mixture down to room temperature, and chill the mixture in the fridge before continuing where you left off the next day.* I’ve also found that after I strain the brûlée mixture in Step 5, I could produce a smoother surface (and hence, prettier custard) if I let the mixture rest for a while before proceeding.

    Was making a ton for Jerm + Fi’s party. Don’t judge. And yes, that’s a bit of white you see. Whateverrr.


    Egg-beating. A lesson in frustration relief.

    Bringing the milk to a simmer.

    My brûlée mixes. I played around with a chocolate version but it turned out too set. 

    Well yea. You try juggling a camera and a blow torch while trying not to burn a brûlée.

    Viola!

    And erm… there are always casualties in war. 

    .

    .

    .

    All the same, bon appétit!

French, Laundry… and Non-Claypot Claypot Rice

I look forward to French Class every week and today was no different. I’m glad I got to talk to two of my classmates, Gen and Sam, a little more today. Everyone seems really nice, but they are really quiet and keep to themselves and their own groups a little. I’m just really curious though – they must have some interesting stories to tell if they can turn up for French twice a week at times most people are usually working or studying, so I hope to have the chance to know them better over the next few weeks.

G brought us through our Qui?, Quand?, Ou? today and had us listen to a few recordings for this exercise we were about to do. I was absolutely lost but I managed to get all the answers through some clever guessing. I know it sounds really wrong out of context, but the kissing sounds helped. ;) There you go.

Over lunch I realised how absolutely much I miss Evie, Shaz and D. When the days are dull… when there are funny things, I can’t just whirl my chair round to have D amuse me with her comforting, acidic sense of humour; no Evie with her eyes wide open in disbelief; no Shazza with her hearty laugh. I comforted myself by buying cotton buds and an exfoliating lotion at Watson’s and stuffing my face with a wonderful Chicken Tikka Wrap. Fortunately, Shazza called and saved me from my gloom and forced me to go home and get my act together. Then C called and all is fine now (Yay!+ Phew.).

Back home, I came face to face with the mess I’d made at French Class. The messiest scrawling in my book everrr. Momma- Remember this notebook? ;)

Then, I had to reckon with the mess in my yard/laundry area. Hello Mountain. Hello person who created the Mountain.

Left with no choice, I started on the laundry while prepping for dinner while mumbling French phrases to myself. One cannot allow family members to come home, starving, to mountains of undone laundry.

I decided to bring back an old favourite to save time and maintain poise and sanity.

In fact, it’s so easy and fast to do, I actually forgot to take pictures once the actual cooking started. =/ My bad.

Non-Claypot Claypot Rice

4 Servings

Ingredients

2 cups of rice, cooked
2 skinless chicken breasts (Substitute with boneless, skinless chicken thighs if you like)
6 dried mushrooms – Soaked them in warm water then remove their stalks and slice thinly
2 tablespoons of ikan bilis
2 Chinese sausages, sliced

Marinate for chicken:

2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon white pepper powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Shaoxing Wine (I used Johnnie Walker Red Label cos that’s all I had at home =D )

Sauce for rice:

1 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons cooking oil

1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and drop them into marinate for an hour in the fridge.

2. Fry the ikan bilis in oil until crisp and set aside.

3. Heat a tablespoon of oil on medium heat in a frying pan and stir fry the Chinese sausage, chicken and mushrooms for a few minutes until the chicken turns white and is almost cooked.

4. Add the cooked rice and the sauces for the rice into the pan and toss to mix well.

5. Transfer back to rice cooker set on ‘Low’ or ‘Keep Warm’ for 20 minutes. Garnish with fried ikan bilis.

*For more flavour, cook the rice with the water used to soak the mushrooms in.

You may also add ginger sliced into thin matchsticks, as well as dried fish. I omitted both as I didn’t have any.