Saturday, December 19, 2009

Say it in Singlish

Singlish: This time cannot.

American English: We can't do it this time.

Singlish: Last year we have. This year don't have.

American English: We had it last year, but not this year.

Singlish: I like this also wan.

American English: I like this too.

Singlish: You no like?

American English: You don't like this?

These are very simple snippets, but ones that I hear almost everyday. I've learned that the Singlish sentence structure is like this because they've combined the structure of their native tongue (usually Mandarin) with the English words. That's why it comes out all jumbled to the American ear.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Christmas Kelong

For my office's "Holiday" celebration this year, we went to an authentic Singapore kelong.

A kelong is basically fishing hut that is either floating or on stilts just off the shore. There are not many left in Singapore as the fishing business has become more modernized.

Yet, the few traditional kelong fishermen left in Singapore live and work in these fishing huts. Some also host lunches and dinners at the kelong for those who want to dine on the freshest seafood in Singapore.

That'd be us. We heard it'd be fun. And we brought along our family type people too.

Aaron was horrifi —uh —thrilled!

When we pulled up to the kelong, we saw Kujo here raising a ruckus from a rusty chain.

Aaron goes, "Oh God. That's lunch, isn't it?"

My husband is such an optimist sometimes.

Actually, the kelong housed many nets that held the catch of that day or week. That was lunch.

I only walked around the kelong for a minute to take the needed photos for proof that I was there. Here's why:

I wasn't all that confident that my flip flop wouldn't go right through these planks. They weren't lookin' too sturdy.

The kelong was set up for all twenty of us to eat around two tables. It took up most of the outdoor living area, leaving only the walkways and fishing nets clear.

Here is the owner/chef preparing our vegetables.

In Singapore, they refer to leafy greens as vegetables and often cook them in a sauce. Americans would usually put these in a salad and eat them smothered in Ranch dressing without cooking them. It took some getting used to, but I like them either way now.

I've expanded my veggie horizons. Mostly out of fear of starvation.

P.S. I have no idea how Chef Dude doesn't have a million splinters in his feet since he walks around the place barefoot. Calluses of steel? Sorry. That's gross of me to say.

Here are some of the dishes that were served. Ignore the chicken dish. Sometimes Americans just need a seafood buffer.

It was a perfect December day in Singapore. We lucked out and didn't get a drop of rain while we were cast away.

We were out on the kelong for almost three hours. They allowed us to bring our own beer, wine, soda and water for the luncheon.

After about an hour of gulping down wine and beer, we discovered a problem.

This was the bathroom:

There's nothing like a hole in a bunch of decrepit planks over the ocean.

The beverages flowed a lot slower for the ladies upon this little discovery.

I still don't understand the physics of that whole thing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The job hunt, inspired by song

As we prepare to move back to Kansas in the next year, the job search is, by far, the most daunting task. In this economy, job hunting is about as much fun as going to the dentist everyday.

That's why when I saw this little ray of sunshine, I felt a little less nervous.

There IS a place out there just waiting for me to join the ensemble of awesomeness.

Now if only I could just figure out what company these people work for.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Martha Stewart of Singapore

I spent Saturday with Martha Stewart's twin.

Ok, not really.

They look nothing alike, but their baking abilities mirror each other to a "T". So for that, I've crowned my friend Sandra as the Martha of Singapore.

In her kitchen, she makes everything from scratch. Everything. No joke. Cans and mixes do not live in Sandra's pantry. She also only uses fresh ingredients. It's equal parts impressive and intimidating to the girl whose favorite cookies involve a cake mix and take less than thirty minutes.

So when Sandra invited me to help her make her signature pineapple tarts for Christmas this year, I jumped at the chance. I desperately needed to expand my cooking horizons.

She was even kind enough to make the whole day a learning experience for me and allow room for me to potentially mess up her Christmas tradition.

She's a sweet-tart. (Ha ha, get it? Lame? Ah-hem. Sorry.)

To start, we had to make pastry dough. Now, I'm a "run to the store and buy the pre-made, refrigerated dough" kind of girl. This whole "make dough from scratch" world got me a little anxious.

Sandra called me silly and handed me the ingredients anyway.

So with a bag of flour and two blocks of butter, I dove in. She told me to put everything in a bowl and just mix it with my hands until it was dough. Easy enough.

This is what I came up with:
(Oh and by the way, some of these pictures are blurry because I was taking pictures with dough covered fingers.)

So yeah. You see that mess all over the counter? That's how good I was at that task. I also had a flour and dough covered gut from leaning against the counter. It was a beautiful site.

Then, the expert, meaning "Martha", took over to roll out the dough cuz I was sure I wouldn't do it right.

Next was the pressing stage of the lesson. To make the tart base, we used a plastic press to push the dough into a mini tart-like shape.

Sandra demonstrated it for me first.
Then I tried.

And failed.
The two at the top are hers. The two at the bottom are mine.

I was fired.

So I tried a new job.

I, instead, took the tart bases (pressed by Sandra) and filled them with pineapple jam.

Sandra makes her own pineapple jam from fresh pineapples that she gets from the wet market. I missed that part of the tart making lesson because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Here's the jam:
It smelled amazing. I really wanted to eat the jam with a spoon. But I didn't. Sandra already thinks I'm weird. I didn't need to give her more reasons to think so. Plus, I'd already been fired from one task, I didn't need to put my other job in jeopardy.

So I just kept to putting the jam in the tarts — instead of my mouth.

Then after I filled over 50 mini tarts, it was time to brush them with Sandra's special egg wash.

I've only ever used egg whites for an egg wash, but Sandra uses the yolks mixed with a bit of butter. She said it gives the tarts a nice color.

Since I don't know anything, I just did what I was told.

She was right. The wash gave them a really pretty golden color and made them look so scrumptious.

They were like a party in my mouth. The pastry part is the perfect blend of crusty and buttery while the fruit is sweet and tart. We both ate way more than I'd admit on the internet.

And then she sent me home with more.

I've since had to ration it out and put some in the freezer to keep my butt in the same size jeans. That won't last long though. Those tarts are still calling to me.

Those suckers are addictive. There needs to be a 12 step program to get off of the tarts.

So I declare my first Singaporean cooking experience a success.

Just don't ask "Martha". I'm sure I messed up a bunch of things.

But she'd never admit it. She's way nicer than the real Martha.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

No Thank Queue

This arrived in my Singapore mailbox today:

It made me laugh out loud, right there at the mailbox.

"Long Queues mean Great Deals". That's the exact opposite of what my American brain thinks.

(Oh and for the Americans just joining us, a queue is the British word for "line", as in waiting in line).

In my own American terms, it means "Wait two hours in line to pay the same price or much more than what you'd pay back home for your Christmas gifts."

It's not their fault though. Singapore is a smooshed country. It's the second most populated country behind Monaco. Lines and queues are inevitable. Even if they put seven outlets of the same store in a mall, there'd still be a line. There's just too many people on the island.

As an American, we're brought up in a world where lines indicate that an establishment or employee isn't doing their job. Customer satisfaction is the first priority and having a customer wait more than five minutes to give you his or her money is just unheard of. Why should you have to be inconvenienced to give a certain store business? You could take your money elsewhere and not wait in line.

At least that's the American line of thinking.

So when I see that a mall is boasting about their long queues, I immediately take note to not go there and order online instead.

I'm sorry, I'm a spoiled American brat who has better things to do than wait in a line.

And I like it that way.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Cori

Ever since I named my favorite Barbie doll "Cori" and learned how to curl and tease my bangs, I've wanted to be just like my big sister.

Back then, I mimicked her every move. I listened to the same music she did. I watched the same TV shows that she did. I even played in her room when she was at school just so I could be around all of her "cool" stuff.

All of this resulted in a five year-old girl who watched 90210 in her hand-me-down New Kids on the Block t-shirt and got repeatedly locked out of her teenage sister's room.

It didn't matter. My big sister was the coolest person on Earth and I wanted to be as pretty and grown-up as she was.

She taught me all of the important things in life: how to curl my hair, mix cookie dough in the living room, eat soup out of a mug, tell the "My name is Chubby" joke and countless other valuable lessons.

I can still remember crying on my bedroom floor the day after she moved away to college. It was the first time I had ever experienced what it felt like to genuinely miss someone. My little heart ached, I missed her so much.

Twenty years later, I am thousands of miles away and again, I miss my sister.

Today is her 35th birthday. She has become an even more amazing woman than the teenage girl I followed around.

She's now a loving wife, a caring nurse and an amazing mother. She cooks the best food, arranges the cutest wedding and baby showers, gives the best speeches, and teaches me everyday how to be a better person.

She's the best example of everything I strive to be as I enter each stage of my life. I look up to her now just like I did then.

(Only now she has better taste in music, hair styles and TV.)

Happy birthday Cori. I'm so glad you're my sister.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holiday Tipping Etiquette

Many of us spend more time than usual at restaurants during the holiday season. Whether it be for a work gathering, a break from shopping or simply avoiding another long day of cooking for out of town relatives, it seems more of us seem to seek refuge in a building under a neon sign with a kitchen full of cooks.

But let's not lose our heads in all the Holiday twinkly lights and glitter.

(This post won't seem extremely relevant to the Singaporean readers out there, but it may provide some insight into the world of American restaurants should you find yourself visiting anytime in the next ten years.)

In Singapore, tipping isn't quite the standard practice that it is in the States. Here, a ten percent gratuity charge is added to every bill. In most cases, that gratuity is then given to the establishment who then divides it evenly among the servers. (This is what was told to us by a local server, if you are a server in a restaurant that doesn't do this, please share!) The point being, tipping isn't the big deal it is in the States. The waiter or waitress is not expecting you to lay down 20% when you leave the table.

However, this is an entirely different ballgame in the States.

My husband and I were both servers in college. We've experienced this under appreciated job first hand. I even worked at four different establishments as I moved around the place during my studies.

It is hard work. It is stressful work. It is mind numbingly aggravating work at times too.

And people are rude.

I made a lot of friends with my coworkers over the years and I heard just about every one of them say at some point, "It should be a law that you must have worked as a server before you're allowed to go to a restaurant."

Servers are the lowest paid workers in the United States according to their base pay. Servers make a measly $2.13 an hour (at least this was the case when I was a server). The Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Yeah, big difference.

So when you go into a restaurant with your three friends, order water and an appetizer to share, we hate you. Your bill will usually only be about $12 and you'll leave us about $2. So that hour or 45 minutes that we refilled your waters, delivered your food and cleared your plates only earned us less than five bucks.

Now I'm not saying that you should have to order things you don't want or needlessly overtip, but do keep in mind that the people busting their butt to keep you happy for one measly meal are also trying to buy presents for their nieces, cousins, brothers and so on.

I think there's a lot of things about the restaurant industry that people don't know. That's why when I ran across this article on Reader', I really wanted to post it to the blog. I think a lot of people are clueless as to what really goes on and what goes through the minds of the people at the local Applebee's or Chili's.

So in addition to the list of 30 waiter secrets listed in the above article, Aaron and I have come up with an additional five.

5 Things Restaurant Diners Should Always Remember

5. You are not the only person in the restaurant that your waiter or waitress is tending to. Most servers have between 4 and 5 tables that they are serving at any given time. If all of those tables are full, that's approximately 18-25 people in his or her section. Not only are they fulfulling the request of each of these people including your own, they probably are having to do other remedial tasks such as make salads, drinks and run other people's food. So when you wonder why your cup of ranch dressing doesn't magically appear in 30 seconds, it isn't because he or she is a crappy server. To avoid this, try ordering your dressing with your food if you require extra. That way the server can make a note of it on the computer and someone else can bring it out with your food.

4. The nicer you are to your server, the more time they will focus directly on you. If you make an effort to make small talk, learn his or her name or genuinely act like a nice human being, your server will more than make it up to you. Your food will come out faster, with less errors and have any special requests met to a "T". Just by doing those simple things, you will then stick out in his or her mind, thus making your server want to make you have the best meal of your life. You'd be surprised just how many people are naturally rude. A simple kind word will do wonders in a restaurant.

3. Yeah, the tips can be great. If you're good at your job, you can make a killing in tips. This is what most people think happens to every server. However, most of us only have a great night about one or two days a week (and that's only if we get the good sections). On the other days, servers work long hours with few tables and a lot of crappy sidework. They have to do stuff like rolling silverware, refilling salad dressing containers, dusting table ledges, windexing windows and restocking cups. The majority of this work is done when the server has zero tables. That means they do this work for their measly $2.13. So really, when you figure it all together, the couple hundred they made on the weekend just made up for the $30 they made for working 10 hours the previous Tuesday.

2. We're not your babysitter or your kid's maid. One time when I was working in a pizza restaurant, a huge family came in with 15 children under the age of 10. Once the adults got situated with their beers and conversation, they allowed all of their children to proceed in a restaurant-wide game of hide and seek. While we were trying to serve other customers, these children were running around, hiding under tables and almost knocking people over. Not only were the other customers pissed, but some people almost got hurt. The parents then got irritated with us when we told their children to stop. Seriously, that happened. Also, when you forget your baby's toys to keep him occupied, it is never OK to let your baby play with the sugar caddy and rip open every packet of sugar onto the table for us to clean up later.

1. Fifteen percent is a crappy tip. No joking. Also, 10% is an embarassing tip (unless your server was the worst you've ever had). For good to decent service, 20% is the standard. For excellent service, 25 to 30% is great. Servers work hard to make sure that one meal in your lifetime is perfect. If it's not, they stress about it, freak out on people and yell at cooks. They're the one batting for you and the ones who will beg the manager to comp your meal just to appease you. It's a shameless job. Reward them for it. They'll remember you the next time you come in and automatically work even harder to keep you happy.

*Amendment* We forgot one very important thing.

1a. NEVER go to a restaurant that closes within 30 minutes. The cooks are trying to close down the grill. The servers are tired and trying to clean up the place to get out of there at a decent hour. When you walk in at 15 minutes till close, you anger the entire restaurant. Ever wonder if you've eaten someone's saliva in your food? If you've broken this rule, chances are, you have. Seriously, don't do this. You're better off at McDonald's 24 hr drivethru.

So when you are beyond cranky from the crowds of other cranky shoppers, don't take it out on the person serving you your lunch. Their job isn't as easy as it looks and they've probably had a far worse day than you. They have to deal with jerks everyday, not just during the holidays.

On top of that, you should NEVER mess with the people that touch your food.

Have you seen the movie Waiting? There wouldn't be a movie about it if it wasn't true.