Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A week of dogmumhood + Corn Veggie Fritters



The day we brought home the pup, it was snowing flurries. This morning it has been dropping big globs of snow. The white stuff is coming down again willy-nilly and the balcony railing has collected 17cm of it. It looks iced and ready to be served like creme cake (snow always reminds me of ice-kacang, a colourful Malaysian shaved-ice dessert).

Umbria, our black Labrador ward, was happy to romp on the sidewalk, plowing the snow with her inquisitive nose. At least, she is not tempted by the discarded cigarette butts and other trash (Swiss residents can be so slack!) on a usually snowless kerb.

When I took the pup out at 7am, a janitor was already shovelling a path up the ramp to our apartment building. Later, another man beat down some snow caught up in a fir tree -- so as not to surprise (shock, likelier!) passers-by with a heavy shower of dislodged snow every so often. A motorised snow plough was driven up and down the main street, pushing the powder to the sides. Well, at least it was easy to pick up Umbria's solid production with a plastic-bagged hand. Voila! No traces. (Potential Seeing-Eye dogs are only allowed to do their business in the gutter between kerb and street and by isolated walls.)

If I sit on the floor, Umbria would climb into my lap. Here is her favourite 'manja' position -- between my knees.


Before coming back into the apartment house, I stomped away the snow covering my shoes and brushed off the snow from my beanie and shoulders. Inside the front door, we do a little dance on the big doormat to get rid of the remaining moisture.

It's good to counter such white weather with something hot and crisp. Let's find a gentle reminder of an equatorial childhood while nursing a cup of hot tea and looking out at the snowy scenes. How about some Corn Veggie Fritters eaten with homemade chilli sauce?


Corn Veggie Fritters


1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup rice flour
2 tbs chives, chopped
3 tbs spring onions, sliced
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fine sugar
3/4 cup corn, drained of brine
2 tsp red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced (optional)
1/2 cup small shrimp, shelled (optional)
2 tbs cooking oil or butter


1. Mix the flours with the salt and sugar.
2. Mix the egg and the veggies (and shrimp, if using) into it.
3. Heat to medium-hot a bit of the oil or butter in a large frying pan.
4. Drop patties of the mixture and fry on both sides till gently browned.
5. Serve cold or warm with tomato ketchup or homemade chilli sauce (blend together 3 chopped/deseeded chillies, a tsp of sugar, 3 tsp lime juice, 2 tbs water and a clove of chopped garlic if you like).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Umbria Day and Orange Chiffon Cake


Dec 10 from now on will be known to us as Umbria Day. That was the day my other half and I brought home Umbria, a black Labrador pup from the Guide Dog School of Switzerland at Allschwil, about 1.3 hours' drive from here. She will stay with us for 12 to 15 months and I will be her 'dogmum' or Puppy Walker.

As she has been only two days in our flat, she doesn't like being alone in the living-room. If she's snoozing (often against my foot) and I tiptoe away into the kitchen to make tea, soon enough she would pad quietly into the kitchen looking up 'smiling' at me with a few wags of her funny tapered tail. Taking her outside is no mean feat - putting on her collar and leash, making her stay seated while I put on my coat and shoes, pressing the lift buttons while carrying her in my arms (that prevents accidental peeing) and opening the heavy front door of the apartment building.

Juggling taking care of the pup's needs and my usual baking and cooking is dicey. Imagine my having to take her out to wee (she's sniffing around for a spot - red alert!) when a chiffon cake is about to be ready in the oven. Dicey doesn't even begin to describe the narrow juggling of time, activity and their coordination.

Baking and cooking will have to take a backseat for at least a couple of weeks.

Nevertheless, as Umbria is the runt of her litter, here's a mini-chiffon cake recipe which I've adjusted to suit my tastes. You can use a Gugglhupf pan or a detachable chiffon pan.


Orange Chiffon Cake


3 eggs, whites separated from yolks
1/3 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup mixture of vegetable oil and half-melted butter (more butter means more flavour while veg oil makes a lighter cake but has less flavour)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp vanilla sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour, preferably sifted
1 tbs cornflour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
small pat of softened butter, for painting cake pan with


grated rind (avoiding white pith) of 2 oranges
3 tbs half-fat yoghurt
80ml orange juice
bits of sugared orange rind (optional; storebought)

1. Heat oven to 175 degrees C. Whisk egg whites with cream of tartar till almost stiff.
2. Whisk oil/butter with sugar for 2 minutes at medium-high speed. Add yolks and vanilla and whisk for 1 minute.
3. Mix flours with baking soda, baking powder and salt.
4. Alternate adding the flour mix, the orange juice and yoghurt. Fold grated orange rind gently in till just combined.
5. Fold whisked egg whites into the mixture carefully. Pour batter into buttered cake form. Strew orange rind bits on top (if using).
6. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Insert a skewer or thin knife in the middle of dough to see if it comes out clean. Invert cake pan on a wire rack so cake retains maximum height. Carefully remove cake from pan only when cool.
(This cake gives 4 servings. Double the recipe if you're making a big cake and increase time in the oven to 40-50 minutes.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas market in Bremgarten and CKT-style stir-fried spaghetti


It was two degrees Celsius on the half hour's drive to Bremgarten in Aargau. At the outskirts of the town, there were already signs to direct us to the 'park n ride'. It was very well organised - we parked for free in the huge lot and paid CHF4 each for a round trip by bus into the historical part of the town. The buses were very frequent indeed. Sitting in a bus holding hands to keep warm is quite romantic, I must admit.

On this outing, the 'official' photographer was the other half. My hands were kept deep in my coat pocket so as to keep warm; I hadn't bothered to bring my little snappy Nikon.


It was like a 'pasar malam' (night market) in Malaysia except that there were fewer varieties of food and a lot of cheese and Gluehwein (spiced sweetened red wine) in the tradition of Christmas here.


There were stalls hawking sweets and cookies (Lebkuchen) and others selling clothing, lamps, candles and costume jewellery. A 30m-high old-fashioned-style ferris wheel, boasting a substantial queue, soared above the crowds.

The market was situated next to a winding river, with a bridge and outdoor Christmas trees to colour the night scene. The buildings in this old part of town are well maintained and lovely indeed.


For this post, I would like to feature a 'char kway teow'-style stir-fried spaghetti for when I'm hankering for a taste of Malaysia on a cold winter's evening.


Malaysian-style Stir-fried Spaghetti

2 servings medium-soft boiled spaghetti, stirred with a bit of oil to prevent sticking
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots or 1 medium-size red onion, sliced thinly
1 tbs corn oil or sunflower seed oil
1/2 cup fennel or spring onions, sliced
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp chicken or veggie stock powder
1 tsp red chillies, chopped (optional or sub with sambal oelek)
1/2 shelled prawns or clams or cockles (precooked or raw)
80g mung bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 egg
salt and ground white pepper to taste


1. Heat 1/2 tbs oil in a big frying pan or wok. Fry the onions and garlic on medium heat for a minute.
2. Add fennel or spring onions. Stir-fry for a minute.
3. Turn up heat and add cooked spaghetti. Stir-fry occasionally for 3 minutes.
4. Turn down heat to medium and add seasonings and chilli (if using).
5. Add bean sprouts and prawns/clams/cockles (add these in Step 4 if raw) and fry for 30 seconds.

6. Make a well in the centre. Add the remaining 1/2 tbs oil. Break egg into it and sprinkle it with pepper and salt. Scramble till almost gelled.
7. Stir noodles into the egg. Add chives. Raise heat and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Turn out of pan and serve immediately. Serves two.

This has been submitted to Presto Pasta Nights ( http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http://www.prestopastanights.com ) and this week's host is Mary of Baking Delights http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http://www.bakingdelights.com%2F

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Heaven's fingers and my fourth Daring Bakers' challenge - caramel cake

Someone's idea of a snowman with an identity crisis? This was taken earlier this week at the lake park in Cham.




Fingers of God or rays from heaven -- call them what you will, there's no denying that shafts of sunlight breaking through clouds and slipping between trees are one of Nature's quiet wonders.

Here are two pictures were taken by my other half on Zugerberg (Mount Zug), several kilometers from where we live, a couple of weeks ago. By now, there's some week-old snow on the ground in the lowlands but the mountains seen from afar seem to be freshly dusted with white every few days or so.



OK, who took a bite out of my cupcake?!



As for my fourth Daring Bakers' challenge, it was an exercise in reducing amounts of sugar. My other half does not like his cakes very sweet and frosting doesn't rock his boat. Me? I will tell you innocently I don't like very sweet things either, but then I happily finished the leftover browned butter frosting on crackers and such over the following couple of days.

Making the caramel itself was a scary thing. The sugar and water were heated till they turned amber (very hot!), and then cold water was added to stop the caramelization process. (That's when it spits and sputters.) So, following someone's tip, I placed a piece of foil with a hole in the centre over the caramel pot and poured in the cold water. That prevented me from jumping back.


CREDITS: This month’s challenge was courtesy of the author Shuna Fish Lydon’s recipe (http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/2006 … he-recipe/)

Hosts this month are Dolores (http://culinarycuriosity.blogspot.com/), Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo: http://blondieandbrownie.blogspot.com/) and Jenny of Foray into Food (http://forayintofood.blogspot.com/). Thank you!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cool days and hot saucy curry

Foggy afternoon on Mount Zug makes a mysterious picture.


Going for walks between meadows and by the lake is a balm for the soul. As the seasons change, you note the greening or yellowing of leaves. Now, between autumn and winter, the trees are like bears - they're tired and want to go to sleep for a few months. The flowering plants have packed up their petals, seeds and buds like they've brought in their dried laundry and folded them away. At the lake, different birds come and go, and you watch the cheeping cygnets getting as big as their mute elders but they're still innocent enough to let you gently touch their downy heads as you feed them morsels of bread.




When the days are turning chilly, one thinks of something warm and spicy to tuck into in the evenings. I've recently experimented with salmon in a curry. The smooth, oily texture of salmon and its rich flavour are tastily balanced by the pungency of onions, chilli and ginger and the aromas of turmeric and cumin.



Salmon Curry

80g shallots or purple onion, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped roughly
2 dried chillis, presoaked for 10 minutes in freshly boiled hot water and deseeded (sub with another fresh red chilli)
1.5cm ginger root, skinned and chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced cross-section

300g fresh salmon
2 tbs sunflower seed cooking oil (or other neutral-tasting vegetable oil)

1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp powdered cumin
1/2 tsp powdered coriander (sub cumin and coriander with 2 tsp seafood curry powder, or add it if you like it very spicy)
3 star anise
4 cloves, or 1/4 tsp powdered clove
10 slices vegetable of your choice (fennel, okra or brinjal)
1 medium tomato, cut into chunks
100ml water
2 slices dried tamarind or sour fruit, soaked in hot water (sub with lime juice)
100ml coconut milk
Sea salt to taste




Pulse the shallots/onion, chillies, ginger and lemongrass in a blender or with a Stabmixer, adding a bit of the coconut milk to help the blades to move.
Panfry the fish in 1 tbs of the oil on a frying pan on medium-high heat for two minutes each side. Set aside.
In a medium pot, heat 1 tbs of oil and cook the spices on medium heat for a minute, taking care not to burn them.
Add the shallot mixture and stir for 6 minutes on medium-low heat.
Add tamarind and vegetables of your choice. Cook for 2 minutes. Add tomato, water and cook till hardest vegetable is almost tender.
Taste to see if tangy note is to your liking. Add some of the tamarind soaking water if necessary.
Add fish, rest of coconut milk and half teaspoon salt. Cook for five minutes.
Adjust taste with salt and thickness of sauce with water if necessary.
Serve hot with rice, roti canai or roti jala. Add a squeeze of lime at the table if you like it tangier. ;-P

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Murukku made by madness


Murukku cocka-doodle-do! That's almost the sound of my alarm clock in the morning (cellphone actually). Just before Deepavali recently, the Hindu festival of lights, I was inspired to make Murukku, a semi-spicy and savoury snack of Indian origin. During the festival period when I was living in Malaysia, Hindu colleagues and friends would ply me with the wonderfully aromatic snack. One can't eat enough of it!

Crazy enough to stink up the flat with deep-frying, I used a recipe from Kuali.com, pressing the dough out from a cookie pump (another round of eye-gouging cleaning, I tell you) directly into the hot oil. Dangerous work, this. However, I did not have bean flour at hand, so I used only rice flour added with a couple of tablespoons of wheat flour. It was pretty nice and crispy but oily.

A couple of days later (having recovered from an almost sore throat after eating too much deep-fried Murukku), I toyed with the idea of baking Murukku in the oven.

Here's the recipe I ended up with:



Oven-Baked Murukku

200g rice flour (sub with all-purpose flour)
2 tbs wheat flour (sub with cornflour)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp aniseed
1 tsp powdered cumin
1/2 tsp powdered coriander or fennel
3/4 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (optional)
4 tsp dried chopped curry leaf (optional)
1 tsp ground Himalaya or kosher salt
4 tbs gently melted butter
120ml coconut milk or half cream (more might be necessary depending on absorbency of flour)

Celtic Murukku, anyone?

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.
In a medium bowl, mix rice and wheat flours, baking powder, spices, curry leaf and salt. Drizzle melted butter over the flour mixture. Slowly add coconut milk and stir with a fork. Add a bit more coconut if necessary to achieve a consistency that enables you to pipe the dough out of a cookie pump with a small serrated nozzle.
Line an oven tray with a baking sheet. Pipe coils or long strands as your fancy takes you. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the Murukku is lightly browned and crispy when cooled on a wire rack.

Rorscharch test Murukku - what does your Murukku pattern say about you? ;-)


Camouflaged Murukku - hiding from voracious snackers!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My 3rd Daring Bakers' challenge - procrastinating pizza!

I've done it! I've done it! Well, try filming your own pizza-tossing video - I started 'fisting' one piece of the overnight-proofed dough (don't look at me like that; it's in the instructions to 'gently twirl it atop your floured fists', OK?).


Went out to turn on the video-mode on the camera on a Danish cookie tin on the dining table. Went back to the kitchen countertop to continue stretching the dough, which, by the way, was very soft and dangerously getting thinner and thinner. By the time I got in front of the camera, two holes had formed in the middle.

video
Hey! As it was the first piece of pizza dough I've ever made from scratch in my life, I didn't really care. (There are always the next two pieces to improve on.) Some flour got on the floor, I later discovered. Wipe, wipe, wipe!


Halloween pizza, it looks like. Double-yikes!


Then I ran out to buy some basil leaves to make my own pesto sauce, but the supermarket had run out of it, so I bought a small jar of Genovese pesto (cheating! I know). Also snatched up a pack of grated 'pizza cheese' (again it felt like cheating 'coz maybe I should artfully choose a nice chunk o' cheese and grate it myself? Sorry, it'd been snowing last night and today's been cold and lazy) and several white button mushrooms (at least this is fresh and I had to cut it myself).

Arrived home to further stretch the edges of the dangerously thin pizza dough. (The first mistake I had made yesterday was to put the three pieces of dough on semolina instead of on parchment in a pan which was covered in plastic and left overnight in the fridge.) It was dotted with semolina on one side, heh heh.

I strew semolina on an oven tray and placed the poor oval-shaped stretched dough on it. At least it wasn't amoeba shaped, all right? Then I painted some pesto on most of it. Since I didn't have tomato pizza sauce on hand, I squirted a wee bit of Heinz tomato ketchup on one corner (just to see what it'd taste like, ha ha, bad, I know). Arranged the sliced mushroom in such a way that it covered the smaller holes in the dough (more cheating!) and sprinkled some cheese where there were no holes. The centre is somewhat paper thin. I wondered how it'd work out in the hot, hot oven. Mmm...





Does anyone else see a face in the left mackerel pizza?




Popped the tray in the 220-degrees-C oven. After three minutes, I took the tray out and turned it around for even heating. Another three minutes and the centre was getting brown but the edges weren't coloured yet, so I added another two minutes but lowered the heat by 10 degrees. As a result the centre was brown, thin and crispy while the rest was almost brown, slightly chewy and quite thin. The ketchup-smeared bit tasted sweet - yikes! Enjoyed eating it very much - almost all gone. Will make the other two tonight for the poor unsuspecting other half. *cue: evil laughter*


How the pizza would have looked had it been a dog.

P.S. Do you think he'll want Heinz ketchup on his? *batting eyelashes innocently* (I mean the man, not the dog.)


In the end, he asked for Quattro Stagione (four seasons) and he got one with mackerel in tomato sauce and one with pesto, fresh button mushrooms, fresh sliced tomato, cheese and - you guessed it! - a small patch of Heinz tomato ketchup. (Oh, what? I don't take orders very well? Mmmff!) Silly me forgot to add some dried Italian herbs to Italianise it. But it must have tasted OK 'coz the man ate more than I thought humanly possible. (Myself, I'm all pizza-ed out for the next two months.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Soul-scrubbing Swiss cleanliness + untraditional Zopf bread baking

The Swiss are remarkable for their diligence. As they are descended from mountain folk who had to plan ahead to keep food on the table during the wintry months, hard work is a cultural trait. An off-shoot of this is their obsession with cleanliness and the cleaning task.

Someone is always cleaning something. Every couple of months, we are told to remove our car from the basement garage for a few hours so that cleaners can, well, clean it out. Never mind that it is still quite spotless.

Once every few weeks we need to clear the stuff away from our front door as cleaners come in to vacuum and wash the stairwell, landings and lift in our low-rise apartment building.


We came across this outdoor toilet in the forest next to a meadow. Notice the toilet brush next to it? No, we didn't lift the cover to see if it's like a regular WC with water in it.

One friend, when looking at a flat for rent, asked if the white-tiled floor was easy to clean. The answer was, "Yes, of course." She hadn't counted on how frequently she had to clean it as every single strand of hair that falls can clearly be seen on it.
If you want to make a coffee appointment with a Swiss woman, she probably can't make it this Thursday as she's cleaning her apartment. Friday? Oh, no, she's doing the laundry. If she likes you well enough, she might pencil you in three weeks from now.



Bovine Rambo? A cow with horn guards or growth guides on Zugerberg (mountain).

I, being totally, irrevocably, cleaning challenged, cannot hope to keep up, let alone compete, with these hyper-hygienic folk. So, to immerse myself more in the quaint and interesting Swiss culture, I opted to make Zopf, the braid bread.





Zopf (Braid Bread)

Ingredients:

500g Zopf or bread flour
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 packet of dried yeast (7g)
300ml milk, lukewarm
50g softened butter
an eggyolk mixed with a tbs of water for brushing








Mix the yeast with the lukewarm milk in a big bowl. Mix flour with sugar and salt. When milk has bubbled up a bit, add the flour mixture and butter. Mix till you get a maleable lump. Knead for 10 minutes. Leave in the oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap for an hour in a warm place or till doubled in volume.
With floured hands, divide dough into two long ropes. Twist them together, then double up and twist again. Leave to rise again for about 30-40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 210 degrees C. Brush top of braid with egg-yolk mix. Bake on parchment for 30-40 minutes. Bottom should sound kind of hollow when knocked with a knuckle.











I forgot to mix the eggyolk with water, so the 'paint' looks a bit thick and unsightly. I also used a loaf pan to contain the braid, so I wouldn't get pointy ends or funny shaped slices. (Swiss grandpas wouldn't be pleased.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Look, Ma, no eggs! Or scones won't break my bones

A tree in Cham lake park provides a hiding place in summer and autumn but will be bare in winter and early spring.


Fall colours are mellow and warm.














He says scouns and I say skons. But then he's German - he might as well say skonnes. Eek.

Well, anyway, after a work trip to California and meeting a couple of friends in Seattle, he came home with a book about their special little hotel, a boutique hotel - a boutel, you might be tempted to say - which they gave him (the book, not the hotel).

(right) A leafy arbor above Lorzen river in Cham, Switzerland.



(above) The Millhouse near Carew Castle, Wales.

In it is an irresistible recipe by their chef in residence. Our not-so-recent trip to Cardiff to attend a friend's lovely wedding included a few forays into the Welsh countryside and sampling some afternoon milky tea with freshly baked scones. So it was partly nostalgia (and a nod to scones with my friend Xeus at The Teapot Cafe in SS2 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia) that made me bake those beckoning tea treats.




No-Egg Flaky Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tbs sugar
5 tbs unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup currants or dried cranberries
whipping cream for brushing the scones and to serve

Method:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (195-200 degrees C).
Mix with a whisk in a big bowl the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
Cut in butter with a butter knife in each hand until mix looks like coarse crumbs.
Pour in cream and fold in everything until just incorporated. Do NOT overmix.
If mixture seems a little dry, add a little more cream.
Fold currants or cranberries into batter.
Press the dough in 3 or 4 batches on lightly floured board 1 1/4-inch (3cm) thick. Cut into triangles. All in all about 8-16 scones, depending on size (enough for 4 hungry mouths).
Place scones on ungreased cookie parchment. Brush tops with a bit of cream.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool on a rack.
Serve while still warm with whipped cream, clotted cream or homemade marmalade - and you'll feel like you're floating on heaven's best cushion.



Nestled in the boutique hotel book is also a recipe for grapefruit and orange marmalade. Here's the recipe reproduced (in my own words) in honour of FatBoyBakes:


Grapefruit-Orange Marmalade

500-600g of oranges including one pink grapefruit
400-500g of sugar or raw sugar (depending on how sweet your tooth is)

Wash and dry the fruit with a clean towel. Cut the oranges into 8 wedges and cut 1mm slices from those. Cut the grapefruit into wedges and then into 8mm chunks.
The membranes and seeds (don't discard them when you cut the fruit) of the citrus fruit contain pectin, so you don't need anything other than sugar.
Then you boil the living daylights out of the mixture on low heat for about 2 hours or till it looks thick enough for your liking, giving it a stir once every 10 minutes or so. Then carefully ladle into clean dry jars with metal covers leaving 1cm headroom. Cover and leave to cool.
I feel better storing the jars in the fridge after that, but apparently you don't have to. Makes about 650ml of marmie (3 smallish jars).

If you don't like your marmie so bitter, first take off (and reserve) the peel with a potato peeler and then discard HALF of the white covering underneath. I suggest cutting the orange peel finer than the grapefruit peel 'coz the orange peel takes forever to get soft.




(left) Marmie with slices of bread
(above) Lavash done Alexa-style with herb leaves
(above right) Lavash done thick and muscly - for strong jaws. ^_^

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fussy Flo Heatherfuss gets flustered

Flo Heatherfuss could not find her shoes. They were medium-heeled, strappy and red with little silver buckles on the front.

“Mother, have you seen my red shoes?”

“No, dear. Where did you last leave them?”

“In the closet by the front door. A few nights ago. They’re no longer there.”

“Mmm… I don’t know. Do you think Maddie could’ve borrowed them?”

“She wouldn’t dare.” Flo's nostril's flared.

“Well, ask her and see.”

“Okay. Is she here now?”

“No. She’ll be in tomorrow at ten. She’s scheduled to do the windows then.”


Clad in her favourite Italian-fan socks, Flo rummaged in her shoe cupboard and chose a pair of navy loafers to go with her slate-grey coat. Slamming the front door after her – still annoyed at not finding her silver buckled shoes – she left for the Hairy Bean pub three blocks away from her mother’s townhouse. At thirty-four years old, she was tall, lean and brunette with a no-nonsense demeanour. She had a purposeful stride although she had no real purpose going to the pub other than to sip a cool lager.

Who should be sitting at the far end of the bar but Reggie Wanderlust, someone she once dated briefly. Flo tried to pretend she didn’t see him and ordered a beer but Reggie came up to her stool and said, “Hullo, Flo. Didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Uh, hi, Reggie.” Flo kept her eyes on the shelves of bottles behind the bar but Reggie made to sit next to her. She coughed, held out a hand and said, “Hope you don’t mind but today I would like to be by myself.”

“Oh, I see. Very well.” Reggie moved four stools away and sat down with a glum expression. He ordered a slice of quark cake from the bar-owner Harry Bean.


A football match from the national league was showing quietly on the battered television set in a corner of the bar. Flo looked at the screen once in a while as she drank her cold beer. Then the door creaked open and someone shuffled in. Startled, Flo realised it was Heinrich Hundfutter, the man who worked three cubicles away from her desk at her office. He sported a shock of dark hair and his features were well balanced and pleasant. At first, he did not recognize her and then he did a doubletake.

“Oh, hi. You’re Flo, aren’t you, from the office?”

“Yes, I am. Hi, Heinrich. Are you a regular here?”

“Yes… no. Well, I come here once in a while, I guess. Hey, may I sit here?”

Flo avoided looking at Reggie, who was intently studying them while shovelling cake between his crackly lips, when she said, “Yes. Wouldn’t mind if you did.”


Suddenly she felt bashful and knew not what else to say. Luckily for her, Heinrich complimented her on her sky-coloured form-fitting dress with a V-neck. She said thanks and blushed visibly. All this was caught the attention of Reggie, who looked morose despite the deliciously moist cake which was fast disappearing from his plate.

Flo was feeling flushed and nervous; she wasn’t sure why. Heinrich kept the conversation going, talking about the latest news at their workplace. She was hardly following the conversation or holding up her end, merely giving nondescript ums and ahs to punctuate Heinrich’s chatter. After a while, he started giving his watch little sneaking glances which did not escape Flo’s notice.

“Are you waiting for someone?” she asked with a wrinkled brow, hoping the answer would be no, but - alas! - he said yes. Apologetically he added, “I’m supposed to meet a friend here, but she’s late.”


As the evening wore on, the television droned and Reggie, having now ordered a slice of Harry’s popular poppyseed cake, kept up his observation of Flo and Heinrich. Flo, in the meantime, focused her attention on the beautiful sunflower Harry had placed in a tube-like black vase.

The door of the pub swung open every so often and handsome Heinrich kept swiveling his head to see if his date had arrived. Flo started to feel disconcerted. She hoped that his date would never come, but then again he was already distracted, no longer the attentive man he was at the beginning of their chat. She noticed he wore the kind of cotton-knit sweater that she liked, with the collar tips of his shirt tucked under the high U-neck. He also wore a rather pleasant cologne which she could detect above and beyond the stale beer and faint rancid oil smells of the place.

The bar was filling up with half-smart-looking men and women in high heels. Finally, the door creaked open one more time. Both Henry and Flo turned their heads to look. Henry smiled and Flo frowned. The attractive woman breezed in and gave Henry a peck on the cheek. She noticed Flo and said hi coolly.


Flo could hardly say a civil hullo in return for she was looking at the young woman’s feet, the toenails of which were painted a brilliant red – to go with the silver-buckled strappy red sandals that Flo had been searching for earlier in the day. Heinrich’s date was Maddie Suess, the part-time househelp of Flo’s mum. Flustered and speechless, Flo left the pub. She passed a pond and felt like the weeds mired at its edge - the reflection was almost exactly like the real thing.

*

My old living-room

My old living-room
In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

A cherished dream

A cherished dream
To live on a pale beach by a crystal clear sea. (This was taken on the east coast of Johor state, Malaysia.)

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