Sunday, 16 October 2011

'The Passenger' @ ENO

I'm not an opera person - I mean I would usually choose theatre over opera, but an opera once in a while is good. It's great to have the chance to see The Passenger at the ENO when S's friend was visiting!

The Passenger is about how the encounter of a former SS officer and a former Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz twenty years after the war plunge them back to the past. The subject matter is dark, as are other ENO operas we've seen, such as Faust and Two Boys, but I quite enjoyed it. How we sometimes try our very best to find excuses for our wrongdoings, even though we know we're evil deep down!

I found the episodes depicting the life of people in concentration camps a bit tedious, but in fact they're crucial in showing the 'authenticity' of these people's lives - these people are not just numbers, and it's not just a story, those were real lives of people who had every single right to live just like us. They had their doubts in God, just like we do sometimes - but one thing that impresses me a lot (which is conveyed through the characters) is that despite the horrible circumstances they found themselves in, the Jews tried to live dignified lives. I admire their courage and determination to live as human beings who have dignity - in today's world, with the abundance of material life and the freedom to choose, many people actually forget that human beings are supposed to have dignity. The Jews are indeed a chosen people - a blessed one at that. Despite the hardship they had to go through throughout history, many of their people turn out to be prominent figures who have left a mark in history. I wish - how I wish - 'my people' would be just like them, instead of going the opposite direction.

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen again. I can't say I'm a fan but I do try to see his films when they're released. Midnight in Paris definitely isn't one of his best, and though 'the message' is simple and a bit cliched, it's still an enjoyable film - if you're not expecting too much.

That cliched message - that we always reminisce about the past and think it's the best, when people in every era before us have the same kind of thinking - is actually kind of what I've been going through these days. I find myself looking at my home town a lot these days, sighing all the time - it's really changed beyond recognition, I always say. From a distance, things are especially vivid and you're shocked at how things have gone downhill. How I wish it would stay the way it was, in the 80s when I was a child. Those were the days, and those were the days that are gone forever. As much as I love my home town, sometimes I don't feel I belong there anymore; or perhaps I don't want to belong there anymore, for it has changed so much and there are so many things and people I hate about the place now, I don't even want to identify myself as a member of that community. But the problem is, of course, if you don't belong there, where do you belong? There's nowhere else. No matter how many years you've spent abroad, I still stubbornly believe that those years don't make your adopted country your 'home'. A home is where your roots are, and your roots often go deeper than you think or want to admit.

And back to the message of the film - am I just being too pessimistic then? I don't know, but my understanding of the 80s at home is that people were energetic, hopeful and happy. Things were fair and a lot less chaotic. People didn't complain so much not because they were ignorant, but because there wasn't much to complain about. Life was decent, unlike now.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Braised pork ribs with coke

To me, cooking with coke is just as natural as cooking with soy sauce. I'm not sure if this is a Chinese thing, because I've read gammon recipes using coke. Whatever the origin of this cooking method, coke is a versatile 'condiment' for all kinds of meat! Usually people use coke to cook chicken (mid wings, most of the time), but I love pork a lot more than chicken... (this may be contested another time when I profess my love for chicken...)

Serving: 2 people, as one of two dishes. Served with rice.

Short pork ribs 500g
Carrots, cut into small chunks or thick slices 4-6
Ginger 1 thick piece
Garlic, chopped finely 1 tbsp
Spring onion, finger-long length 10
Cola half cup
Water half cup
Cooking wine 2 tbsp
Light soy sauce 2 tbsp
Dark soy sauce 2 tbsp

1. Rinse pork ribs with cold boiled water, take care to remove small bones. Drain and pat dry with kitchen towel.
2. Heat some oil in a pot, add ginger, garlic and spring onion. After 2 minutes, add the ribs. Brown all sides of the ribs.

3. Add light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and cooking wine. Stir-fry for a few minutes.

4. Add coke, water and carrots. Simmer for 45 minutes with lid on. Add salt to taste.

The ribs are really succulent after being cooked in coke! It doesn't matter much which brand of coke you use, but it's better to use the originals, i.e. no diet, zero...


Monday, 10 October 2011

The Help - the film

I was intrigued by the theme of the book when it first came out, but for some reason I never got around to read it. There are probably a million such books that fall into this category though... 

Anyway, so I was really interested in the film after watching the trailer, and I was soooo happy I got tickets to a preview screening on Sunday! Oh well, I did have to get up early (I normally get up around noon so getting up at 9 is a massive thing for me), but it's well worth it I think. The film's quite similar to what I was expecting after watching the trailer(s), and I quite like it in general though there are a few bits I didn't understand. *spoiler alert* For example, why do the black people on the bus have to get off when it's stuck in road because a black guy's been killed? I also don't understand why, if these black helpers know so well their children's destiny will be the same as theirs, they still continue having so many babies. They know it's a life destined for them - their grandmothers and mothers are all house slaves or maids - and they don't like it. Why continue giving birth to children who will follow the footsteps you so hate yourself? And when it comes to the white employers, I don't understand why they still hire these black helpers if they fear 'their diseases' so much so that they have to build a separate toilet outside for them. Remember, these helpers not only prepare their food but also look after their children on a day-to-day basis. It's just hard to understand why the white people still allow these black helpers to be in contact with every bit of their life if they worry about their hygiene so much. 

I must confess I don't know much about black slave history in America and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s that's mentioned in the film. I guess the film's good in the way it opens up a whole lot of questions... for me at least. 

Friday, 7 October 2011

Finally... One Day

Okay, I was warned. The reviews here in general aren't good, perhaps because of Hathaway's dubious Yorkshire accent, I don't know, but I did know it's not very well-loved here. That's why it's taken me such a long time to go see it in the cinema, coz I was actually waiting for the DVD to come out, haha!

Well, I went finally, thinking it would be a tear-jerker; I even had some tissues ready in my hand! And then I was completely dry-eyed throughout the whole film. Mind you, I'm notorious for shedding tears easily, so... that explains my disappointment, kind of. I wasn't touched at all. Okay, I did read the book before seeing the film, so I know perfectly what's gonna happen and all that, but if a film is truly touching, you are still touched even if you've seen it a dozen times, no? Somehow I think all the events are a bit rushed - but then, like I noted in my review of Jane Eyre, I'm perfectly aware that this is the constraint of a film. How about this - I don't see anything touching at all in the film. I've read in quite a few places that some women are particularly touched because they're reminded of how we should treasure the ones we have around us when we can, coz we don't know when we would lose them - and my question is, is this what the book or the film is about? Me as a reader and a viewer certainly don't think so. Of course we all read differently, but neither the book nor the film gives me that impression. I wasn't particularly impressed by the book, but I have to say the film's even more disappointing!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Cantonese dessert: beancurd sheet sweet soup with barley

Yesterday I made this super easy Cantonese sweet soup. Usually people add some ginkgo in it, but I didn't have any, and it's not an important ingredient anyway. Some people also serve it with a boiled egg, but again, I didn't have any egg at home! :P Honestly, I think the sweet soup is nice as it is without any other ingredient - I've never been a big fan of ginkgo anyway!

Soak barley (about 100g here but any amount you like) in warm water for 30 minutes. Drain.

Soak 2 big sheets of dried beancurd sheets in warm water for 5 minutes, drain.
Put both ingredients into a pot, and add at least 2L of hot water. Cook for at least 45 minutes over low-medium heat.
Add about 100g rock sugar when the beancurd sheets have mostly melted. Ready when the sugar has all melted.  

Serve hot or chilled. 

Steamed fish, Cantonese style

Some people don't believe I had never made steamed fish - it's easy and it's the Cantonese dish! Well, to tell the truth, though I'm interested in cooking I'm quite scared of heads of animals. I still remember the horror of buying a whole chicken from a local supermarket in Hong Kong, and finding that the head's intact. It's just... grisly. Similarly, I couldn't bring myself to touch a whole fish with skin and scale on - let alone a whole fish with its eyes staring at you. -___-"

So I had never made steamed fish. Until today. We went to a bigger supermarket in the area, and for some reason I wandered off to the fish counter...and decided to get a fish. At first I wanted to get some sardines for grilling, but the assistant said scaling isn't provided for sardines (now that I think about it, for obvious reasons...). So I opted for the fish sitting next to the sardines - trout. Now, I must confess I know very little about different kinds of fish, but my mum's always said we (my dad, my sister and I) are very picky when it comes to fish - in the rare occasion she bought a slightly cheaper kind of fish, it would still be untouched at the end of the meal. My mum wouldn't buy any dead fish for steaming, and she would only buy the more expensive kind of fish. The reason why I'm mentioning it here is that the fish I bought is probably unimaginably cheap (both in quality and monetary terms) in my mum's standards - I could hear (and picture) her sneer already, 'Yee, this kind of fish is no good! Dead fish can't be steamed!' The thing is, Mum, live fish is so hard to come by, I have only come across them in certain Chinese supermarkets here, and they're not cheap. At all. And I was at this supermarket with no live fish counter, so there's little I could do.

I got this fish home. I didn't even want to touch its packaging. When it was time to cook, I asked S to handle the fish - actually there was very little handling to do. I prepared the spring onion, and the ginger, and he did the rest.

Prepare the spring onion (chop finely or into thin strips), and ginger (thin strips, and thin pieces)

The fish @_@. Clean and dry the skin of the fish with kitchen towel. 

It's staring at, YOU. It doesn't look happy. 

Clean the stomach of the fish (should have been done for you by the fishmonger already, but you still have to make sure it is clean). Put the ginger pieces into the stomach. 

Put the fish on a big plate (an oval one ideally, which I don't have), sprinkle the spring onion and ginger on top. Put the dish in a wok, and steam for 12-14 minutes with lid on. Obviously, the amount of time needed depends on how big the fish is. Mine was about 500g. Adjust accordingly. 

Pour away the liquid on the plate after steaming, and set aside the fish. Heat up some oil, and pour the really hot oil on the fish. Then use the remaining heat in the wok to heat up some light soy sauce and sugar. Pour on the fish. DONE! 
Serve with a vegetable dish and steamed jasmine rice. Enjoy! 

Food I made in September

This month I didn't make a lot of food... ate out a lot, hahaha.

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