My Romantic Valentine’s Day

Did you do anything for Valentine’s Day? Go on a hot date with that someone special? Roses, chocolates, the whole deal? I know I did.

The Perfect Valentine’s Day Date
Step one:
Find your best girl friend.
Step two: Take a romantic moonlit walk with her to the mechanic, where her car is waiting to be picked up.
Step three: Head over to the grocery store. Stock up on everything. You really need milk.
Step four: Invite her back to your place to romantically cook dinner, because it’s now after 8 o’clock and the two of you are starving.

My mom got me a great vegetarian cookbook for Christmas, and this was my first time trying out one of the recipes. It was great! My biggest problem with vegetarian cookbooks is that they usually call for all sorts of weird I-don’t-even-know-where-to-buy-that ingredients. This one doesn’t, so poor college student me can actually try some of it out.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Mole Sauce
Originally from The Accidental Vegetarian. Makes about 10 small enchiladas.

Ingredients
vegetable oil for roasting
salt and pepper
~1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes (I bought mine pre-cut)
~12oz refried beans (3/4 can)
fresh chopped cilantro
10 corn tortillas
mole sauce (make your own or buy pre-made)
cheese, sour cream, etc. to serve

Instructions
1. 
Preheat the oven to 400F. Oil a baking sheet.
2. Microwave your squash for about 2min.
3. Put the squash on the baking sheet with salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 min.
4. Mix squash, beans, and cilantro in a bowl to create a paste.
5. Fill tortillas with the bean mixture, and bake for 10-15 min.
6. While the enchiladas are in the oven, follow package instructions to make the mole sauce.
7. To serve, spoon mole over enchiladas and top with cheese.

 

“Healthy Week”

My friend decided that this week is “Healthy Week.” What does that mean exactly? Working out, no junk food. That means no peanut butter, no Nutella, no delicious Fig Newtons hiding away in my cupboard, and NO COFFEE. Coffee isn’t exactly a junk food, sure, but I’ve gotten to drinking it every morning and I really should cut back. Both of us are going coffeeless for the week.

Unfortunately this is proving to be pretty difficult for me. I try to eat healthy, sure, but if you’re going to restrict what I can eat I need some warning. We decided last minute on Sunday night that this would start Monday morning, and of course I’m almost out of spinach, so salads are out. I’m also almost out of hummus, which is another one of my go-to ingredients. Next week we’ll be back on our regular diets, and then the week after that is no junk again, so at least I’ll have time to prepare.

I don’t know if this really counts as healthy, but it’s certainly not unhealthy. I made a big pot of it Sunday night, and I’ve been eating it nonstop since. If you know me, you know that this is my #1 favorite food in the entire world. It is always at the top of my food request list when I get home after being away for a long time, and I talk about it way more often than any food really needs to be talked about. Also, until now, I had no idea how easy it is to make. Sure, I suppose some of the magic is gone, but since I get to eat it more often now, I don’t really mind. So, without further ado…

Tortilla Soup
Recipe courtesy of my mother

Ingredients
I actually made a half batch, but I’m posting the original amounts.
~6 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 corn tortillas, cut into pieces (cut tortilla in half, then cut into 1/2in strips)
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro (coriander leaves for you silly non-Americans)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
3 bay leaves
6 cups vegetable stock
1 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions
1.
 In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add tortillas, garlic, cilantro, and onion; saute 2-3 minutes.
2. Stir in tomatoes and bring to a boil.
3. Add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves, vegetable stock, and return to a boil.
4. Reduce heat. Add salt and cayenne pepper.
5. Let simmer 30 minutes to thicken. (The photo above was taken pre-simmering – this stuff gets thick!)
6. Remove bay leaves. Serve with cheese, avocado, sour cream, fried tortilla strips, etc.

Magic. In a bowl.

66 Degrees Fahrenheit

That’s the lowest temperature ever recorded in Singapore. That is also the #1 reason I am moving to Singapore.

I had such an amazing weekend! We did so much in two and a half days. It was me and one of the girls who went with me to Malaysia, which was really nice. Even though we arrived late Thursday night, we got to an early start on Friday so we could do as much as possible. We planned it out so that we spent most of our time around the downtown area, that way we could enjoy the nice weather and walk from place to place. First stop: Chinatown.

All of the buildings are super adorable in a cheesy Disneyland sort of way, and every shop just has tables full of useless crap – exactly what we all know and love about Chinatown. The best were all of the t-shirts listing all the strange things that are illegal in Singapore, like chewing gum and dancing in public without a permit.

By 11:30 we were already hungry for lunch, since our lavish breakfast at the hostel was just white bread and Nutella. There was a street full of food carts, which we were really excited about, but even by noon none of them were open! Instead we sat down at a little place with tons of different types of fruit juice and some snack food. That’s a huge difference between Hong Kong and Singapore – juice. Real juice is so difficult to find here, but there’s an abundance of “juice drink.” Anything that says “orange juice” is really a lot closer to Sunny D than anything else, and the only way to guarantee it’s actual OJ is to get the ones imported from Florida that are super expensive.

My friend got lime juice, which was more like limeade and really refreshing, and I got a coconut. Literally, a coconut chopped open. You can’t get fresher than that. They also had watermelon, papaya, guava, mango, dragon fruit, and even sugar cane. We weren’t really sure how you get juice from a sugar cane, which in case you’re unfamiliar looks like a big stick, but someone ordered it while we were eating. They have a machine that literally just squishes the sugar cane and you hold a cup underneath to collect all the juice that comes out. Afterward you’re left with a big pulpy thing that used to be the sugar cane, and a big glass of juice! We also got a platter of chicken, beef, pork, and lamb satay with deliiiicious peanut sauce – one of the things I loved eating as a kid. I don’t think I had ever had lamb before, either, but it just tasted like beef to me. That peanut sauce was amazing though, with just the right amount of spice to it. After we finished I started dipping the cucumber garnish into it just to eat more!

Next stop was Marina Bay. From there you can see the beautiful skyline, the Marina Bay Sands hotel (it’s like three buildings with a boat on top, very strange), the big Durian building, and most importantly, the Merlion.

They are obsessed with this Merlion thing. It’s literally a lion mermaid. The one in Marina Bay is the original, but there are several other statues around Singapore, and more souvenirs than you could ever want. Apparently the meaning behind it is that Singapore means “lion city” in Malay, but it started as a fishing village, so the statue combines those two ideas in a kind of cheesy way. Also at Marina Bay is the Singapore Flyer, a huuuuge Ferris wheel, but we wanted to wait until nighttime for that.

We walked to an area called Kampong Glam, which is like a Malay/Muslim version of Chinatown. A woman pointed us down one of the roads, Haji Lane, saying there were “tons of cute little boutiques down there” – that was the beginning of our good luck that day.

Every store on that street became a struggle for me not to spend tons of money. A lot of the stores reminded me of Anthropologie, and they were almost all Singaporean designers. So many buildings were covered in gorgeous graffiti murals, too. Seriously, favorite street ever!

After that, we were hungry for another snack, so we walked by a Moroccan restaurant nearby. There was an older couple sitting outside, and a woman told us the food was really great and suggested we eat there. She was very interested in where we were from, why we were visiting, etc; she said she had moved from Texas to Singapore, so she loved meeting American tourists. Can you believe that?! Moving from Texas, to Singapore? We were so surprised!

We ordered a chickpea dish in a tomato sauce and baba ghanoush. Moroccan food is very interesting – they have the same dishes I’ve eaten a million times but they’re a little different. For example, this baba ghanoush had tons of cilantro in it, which I had never seen before, but was absolutely delicious! The Texan lady was right, the food there was really good. When she finished her food, she said goodbye to us, and a few minutes later the woman running the restaurant told us she had paid for our food. Literally, our mouths were wide open in shock. That’s definitely one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me! That was our second round of good luck for the day.

After that, we decided to head back toward the Flyer, but we had a stop to make first: Kenko Foot Reflexology and Fish Spa. Yes, that’s right. I paid money to put my feet in a fish tank for twenty minutes and let the fish eat off my dead skin.

Honestly, it tickled more than anything. The fish are so small, and when they nibble on you it feels like a little vibration. I couldn’t keep my feet in there for longer than about a minute at a time because it just tickled way too much.

By the time we were done getting eaten, it was raining too hard for the Flyer to fly. It looked like it was letting up a little though, so we walked back to Marina bay to the Helix Bridge. It’s actually a DNA double helix! There are even little lights along the ground that say “a,” “t,” “c,” and “g,” but I couldn’t find if it’s actually the sequence for anything.

Finally, the Flyer was back up and running. You can see all of Marina Bay from the top! I am so glad we waited until nighttime, because all the lights were absolutely beautiful.

By now, it’s like nine o’clock. We’ve been going going going all day nonstop for about twelve hours, and we’re hungry. We take the train over to Newton Food Centre, which is described online as a “food orgy,” and that’s exactly what it was. Tons and tons of food. Everywhere. You can’t walk three feet without someone shoving a menu in your face telling you that their chili crab is “the best.” Funny, because almost every place uses the exact same pictures on their menu! We found the one with the cheapest chili crab, $3.50 for 100g, and sat down.

This is where we had good luck numbers 3 and 4. A couple leaving right as we sat down suggested we order the “fried dough,” which was really great for sopping up all the chili sauce from the crab, and the guy who sat down after them gave us pretty good instructions on how to break open the crab. This was the messiest meal I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

The picture on the bottom right is stingray. My friend really wanted to try it, but I was pretty scared. I mean, before this trip, I hadn’t eaten meat in almost nine years, and now you’re asking me to eat a stingray?! I said I would taste it. Just a little bit. Wow, I ate way more than a little bit. It was delicious! We were expecting it to be sort of chewy or something, but it was more just like a really dense fish, and not a really fishy flavor, either. It’s grilled, with a spicy chili sauce on top, plus you squeeze lime juice all over it. I had never eaten a crab before either, so this day was full of new adventures in food! Plus, we got to try sugar cane juice. It wasn’t as sweet as I expected, actually, and had a bit of a vegetable flavor, if that makes any sense.

We had sufficiently worked our way into food comas and were ready for bed. After navigating the bus system back (every bus stop lists every stop for all the buses that go there – so useful!!) we stopped in the bar under our hostel for a Singapore Sling. It’s pretty much the tourist drink of choice there. It looks nice and girly, but it was pretty strong, and I didn’t finish it. Also, I’m not sure how close this bar sticks to the original recipe – I guess everywhere does it a little differently – but here is the original from the Raffles Hotel in case you want to try it for yourself. Wikipedia says that should be a pineapple, not a lemon wedge, and it shouldn’t have any ice, so honestly who knows what I was drinking.

On Saturday we got up early again and made our way to Sentosa. It’s a super touristy resort island – they even have a Universal Studios – but we just went for the beach.

It’s all manmade, but still gorgeous. The sand is so soft and the water was ridiculously warm. One of the beaches, Palawan, has a bridge to a teeny little island that is apparently the southernmost point in continental Asia, which was kind of cool. I fell asleep on the beach and got a nice tan. Just to make all of you in Pittsburgh jealous.

We went to a food court for lunch and I got “fried carrot cake.” I knew it obviously wasn’t carrot cake in the way we think about it; the picture looked like an omelet. This is what I got:

It was DELICIOUS. There was a bunch of egg underneath, so the photo wasn’t a complete lie at least. There was definitely no carrots in here, though. I thought it was just rice noodles or something, but Wikipedia says it’s actually made from radishes, and it has the name “carrot cake” because the word for radish can also refer to carrots. Also, the Wiki picture looks like what I had, so whatever picture they were using at this place is just completely wrong I guess.

Saturday night we went to the Night Safari. It’s a separate section of the zoo that’s only open from 7:30pm to midnight. Some places you can walk around, including a room full of bats that fly right by you oh my god I was screaming, but most of the animals you can only see from the tram ride. Animals like elephants, tigers, and hyenas are in a contained area, but all the different types of deer and cattle are pretty much free roaming. There were even a couple of Malayan tapirs grazing just a couple feet away from where I was sitting on the tram!

Finally on Sunday morning, before we had to go to the airport, we borrowed a couple of bikes from the hostel and rode around East Coast Park. There’s a pier where tons of people camp out to fish, and we even saw a guy catch a couple of stingrays. The bike ride was a really nice, relaxing way to end the weekend.

We stopped at a cute ice cream shop by the bus stop, Ice Cream Chefs. They had such interesting flavors, like milk tea, creme brulee, passion kiwi, durian, and adzuki (red) bean. I got pandan flavor with some cookie crumbs mixed into it. I’m definitely going to keep some of these flavors in mind when I bust out my ice cream maker again next summer – I bet milk tea wouldn’t be too difficult to make.

Overall, I had a really wonderful time in Singapore, but one thing was nagging me the entire time: it’s so not Asian there. Everyone speaks English first, unlike Hong Kong where people always try Cantonese with me, and especially in the downtown area everyone is white. Besides the weather and coconut trees, if you had said to me I was in the US, I would have believed you. I thought Hong Kong was pretty westernized, but it’s nothing compared to Singapore. Maybe it’s different if you’re outside of the really touristy areas, but I honestly felt like I left Asia for the weekend.