Saturday, March 17, 2018

Restaurant review: Weekend Set Lunch at Punjab Grill, Singapore

I was at Marina Bay Sands with my family last weekend. We were there mainly for a lunch reservation having made no plans for my husband's birthday a few days earlier on account of me being sick. Wracked with guilt, my only plan was to make up for it and enjoy a good meal with the troops in tow. We happened to reach the mall much earlier than was required. With no other solid plans, the kids were off running helter skelter all over the mall until we ushered them into a toy store, a move that made them stay put for a good hour 😝 It even helped us work up an appetite for lunch!

Nestled among the stores of the swanky The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Punjab Grill helmed by chef Javed Ahamad is an haute Indian restaurant serving contemporary Northern Indian cuisine. 

Frequently ranked as one among the best Indian restaurants in Singapore, Punjab Grill has raked up an impressive tally of awards since it opened its doors to Singapore diners. 

The sleek interiors give an aura of opulence and elegance. Inspired by the splendour of India’s Maharajas, Punjab Grill has been designed to capture the zeitgeist of that era. The abundant use of glass, metal and plush upholstery ups the glam quotient. My children even remarked how 'sparkly' and 'shiny' everything was! 

There is an outdoor seating area as well but it didn't appear as refined or intimate as its indoor seating counterpart. 

I found the light fixtures in particular very eye-catching!

Beyond the floor-to-roof length glass windows, you can see the chefs in action at the hand-beaten copper Tandoors.

Even though it was a weekend, the restaurant wasn't crowded. The staff attended to us immediately and menus, highchairs and separate kid-friendly cutlery were provided. 

The menu takes the diner through an epicurean journey through Indian’s richly diverse Northwest Frontier Province highlighting food from gourmet metropolises like Lahore, Peshwar, Rawalpindi, Kabul, Amritsar, Multan and Patiala. Also, make sure to check out the curated wine list and get suggestions regarding food-wine pairing from the staff. 

Although the à la carte menu looked appealing, we went for the weekend vegetarian set lunch which consisted of most of the Indian crowd-pleasers given a makeover with a dash of panache and modernity. On the subject of set menus, there are a variety of options to choose from including a five course avant-garde degustation menu so be sure to check them out when you are there.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Review: Travails of a Trailing Spouse by Stephanie Suga Chen

I'm aware that I haven't featured a book review on the blog in quite some time. Well, here I am changing that by bringing to your attention a good read I came across recently.

Travails of a Trailing Spouse is the debut novel written by Stephanie Suga Chen, a Taiwanese-American expatriate living in Singapore. A former partner of a New York City-based investment fund, she grew up in Michigan and moved to Singapore in 2012 with her husband, two children, and ageing cocker spaniel. Travails of a Trailing Spouse opened at #2 on the Straits Times bestsellers list. 

The book is a work of fiction chronicling the lives of four expat families during their stint in Singapore. There is Sarah, the trailing spouse, her neuroscientist husband Jason and their two young children who have left a familiar and stable life in the US behind to find their footing in Singapore, Ashley and Chad, the American-New Zealander seemingly perfect-for-each-other duo who lead an envious lifestyle, Carys and Ian, expats from UK whose perpetually stoic facade could be a cover-up for problems in the relationship or the odd American couple Sara and John whose unconventional marriage offers a steady source of gossip to their friends. The four couples form a close-knit group, filling their evenings with drinks at the pub, dinners at fancy restaurants, poolside barbeques and trivia nights. But everything doesn't stay hunky-dory for long as crumbling marriages, secrets among friends and a brush with the law threatens to break up the group dynamic. 

During the course of their adventure in the Lion City, the characters in the novel go through various highs and lows - dealing with the upheaval that relocation brings and the initial settling-in adjustments, forging new friendships, grappling with career stagnation, figuring out cultural assimilation, sorting through marital problems and ultimately finding oneself in the midst of it all.

My thoughts...
First things first - I absolutely loved the title of the book. It couldn't have been any more apt. The title effectively (albeit a tad dramatically) captures the point of view of the main protagonist. As I immersed myself further into the novel, I couldn't help but think that it would be hard for anyone to guess that this is the author's first novel. She does indeed have a flair for writing. Travails of a Trailing Spouse is well written with clean, innocuous and uncomplicated prose. The pace of the novel is brisk and it comprises of characters that are both interesting and relatable. The novel focuses on everyday aspects of life in Singapore, taking a frank and realistic look at friendships, marriage, motherhood and self-discovery. The novel highlights familiar scenes in Singapore expat life such as coping with the unforgiving heat and humidity of the tropics, recruiting and managing live-in helpers (or FDWs as they are known here), fitting in with the locals, amusement/annoyance at the widely considered unimpressive 'Singlish' (the informal, colloquial form of English that is used in Singapore), the exorbitant prices that the tiny island nation is infamous for including the luxury of owning a car, the challenges of owning a pet, the frustrations with frequently travelling spouses, the foreboding of having a brush with Singapore's very strict law, the dreaded annual 'haze', the stereotypical weekend getaways to nearby Bintan among others. The author has left no stone unturned - this is as comprehensive an overview of expat life in Singapore as it can be. Expat life in Singapore is vastly different from the local lifestyle and this novel highlights the former. I arrived in Singapore as an expat and a trailing spouse myself (opting for permanent residence and embarking on a career at the same time roughly two years later) so this book struck many chords with me. I'll admit, it did take me some time to get oriented with all the names of characters, their backgrounds and equation with one other, but once I did, there was no turning back. Although the novel does not boast of a complex storyline or delve into any niche genre, it makes for a light-hearted, mildly funny, insightful and an engaging read. 

I would recommend this book not only to expats living in Singapore but also extend it to anyone who has/is/planning to live abroad. Moreover, for those at a crossroads in life owing to relationships, career or  relocation, this book may resonate with you. Heck, even if you have lived your whole life in one place, it would still offer itself as an easy breezy read!

I would gladly read more of this author's work in the future. 

My rating for this book is

Have you read this book? Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.


Travails of a Trailing Spouse is available in the US from Amazon, and in Singapore from Kinokuniya, POPULAR, and Times. International orders can be made direct from the publisher, ST Press Books.

You can visit the author's Facebook page here

Disclaimer: I was sent an Advanced Reader's Copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I am hosting a book giveaway on my blog's Facebook page but this has no bearing on my review. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Baker's Corner: Quick and Easy Blueberry Muffins

I know I haven't stated this year on a blogging high. My posts for 2018 have been few and far apart so I need to pick up my pace to meet my standard monthly quota of posts. This is mostly because I still haven't escaped the post-holiday blues from my trip to India but also because I have been focussing more on quick, easy and nutrition-packed meals lately. My goal for this year (and hopefully forever!) is to foster healthy and balanced eating habits and limit the occasional indulgence to the weekends. The last recipe post on the blog was testament to my new resolution but not wanting to get pigeonholed with those kind of recipes on the blog, I needed a little more time to get into the skin of my former self in terms of my usual style of cooking and baking. After all, food has to be varied and exciting. My intention is to eat well most of the time in order to be healthy and not obsess over eating healthy all the time. 

So today, I have for you a quick and easy recipe for blueberry muffins. Let me be completely honest and confess that I don't really fancy muffins. Am I literally the only human being on planet earth who feels this way? 😝  No but really, in my lifetime, I can actually count the number of times I have eaten a muffin. I find them pale, dry, dense, crumbly and I really miss the frosting that makes their cupcake cousins taste so fabulous so in other words, to me, they are meh. That is why I have never features a muffin recipe on the blog so far! But I have somewhat gotten over my muffin indifference and I'm making a start here.

I found this recipe from a blog that I have followed recipes before with success. This recipe uses refined flour, white sugar, milk and sour cream so I wouldn't really recommend it as a breakfast muffin. Muffins to me are really just cupcakes without frosting so I don't understand the concept of eating it for breakfast anyway 😛 (but if you want to please go ahead - who am I to judge?). I'd say this muffin could be considered more of a dessert (albeit not a very sweet one), coffee/tea time accompaniment or an occasional indulgent snack. Of course, you could swap the refined flour with wholemeal flour, reduce the amount of sugar, use a sugar substitute, add in more blueberries and replace some of the fat with applesauce or mashed banana but I'm not sure if it would taste as good. So, if you are craving a good blueberry muffin, stick to the original recipe folks. It is fine to indulge in a blueberry muffin once in a while, if you consume them in moderation and watch your portion size. 

I made these muffins yesterday for a picnic with my family to the park. I had some fresh blueberries sitting in the fridge and I thought why not use them to make some muffins. Along with caprese ciabatta sandwiches, baked lentil chips, sweet juicy longons and homemade ginger lemonade, these blueberry muffins were the perfect finishing touch to our picnic brunch. My fussy kids enjoyed them too!

So here I am a day later sharing the recipe  😊  Gotta love simple recipes - easy to make, easy to photograph and easy to write about too!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Recipe of the month: Greek Pearl Couscous Salad

If you have been following my culinary exploits on Facebook or Instagram since the start of this year, chances are that you will be aware that I am heavily into salads at the moment. Believe me, no one is more surprised than me! 😛  From a self-confessed salad non-enthusiast to someone who now looks forward to putting together new and interesting salads every week, I've been making considerable strides 😎

See, the deal with me is, on principle, I refuse to eat food that is bland and boring. So if you hand me a nondescript 'garden salad', the only reaction you will get out of me is an eye roll. A bowlful of leaves and raw veggies just doesn't cut it for me. If I eat a salad in place of a main meal, it has to be wholesome, flavourful and most importantly, keep me satiated. If eating a measly salad for lunch gets me feeling hungry again within the next 2 hours and forces me to mindlessly binge on anything I lay my eyes on, then I don't really see the point. For me a salad has to have a good balance of textures and flavours. It ought to consist of some kind of whole grain, a protein, greens, vegetables, pulses, either fresh or dried fruit, nuts, herbs, cheese and an absolute killer salad dressing. Most run-of-the-mill salads I have come across, don't check all the boxes and hence my abiding disdain for them. The only time I remember developing an affinity to salads was on a holiday to Vietnam several years ago. I was completely blown away by the unique variety that was on offer at every restaurant we went to. I was inspired by the experience but not sufficiently enough to get off my backside and do something about it. 

You know, I am all for eating healthy food but I am utterly incapable of doing so all the time. You got to live a little right? 😆  But that being said, as I've been getting older (and wiser!), I realize that I can't get away with eating absolutely everything I want to the way I used to in my 20s. Not to mention, I'm still carrying an unmentionable amount of holiday weight that I need to shed at any cost! No but on a serious note, I obviously understand the importance of eating consciously and setting a good example for my kids.

It is a known fact that salad is firmly in fashion right now. Although I had been aware of the salad culture evolving over the last decade and the emerging trend of summer rolls and buddha bowls, I never pretended to understand it thus far. So for this year's new year resolution, I decided to put an end to my salad bigotry once in for all. 

It has turned out to be much easier than I expected. I've been doing good so far. I really have. Every Thursday I assemble a colorful and nutritious buddha bowl for me and the husband to take to work and every Friday I pack an interesting and wholesome salad. What is more shocking to me than myself eating salad for lunch is my husband doing it as well 😂

I won't lie to you - I put in a lot of effort into some of these healthy eating endeavors but I can honestly say that it is totally worth it. Modesty aside, whatever I've made so far has tasted pretty great and I haven't been snacking like how I thought I would. Along with regular exercise five times a week, the pounds have been slowly and steadily coming off too. I still have a long way to go in that area but I am determined to do it this time!

Okay coming back to this post, this was a salad I made recently. I had never tried pearl couscous so I was eager to try it out. The rest of the salad components are your usual salad favourites - cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, fresh mint, bell peppers, red onion, garlic, chickpeas and feta cheese. The dressing is an emulsion of apple cider vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey and seasonings. I ended up falling in love with the chewy buttery flavour of the pearl couscous and the salad came together so well that I decided I must blog this recipe before I forget how I made it. If not for anyone else's convenience but my own! 😝

But then again, salads carry the amazing advantage of ad-lib cooking. Stock up on grains like quinoa, brown rice, couscous, farro, barley, millets and bulgur wheat. Make canned beans, seeds, dried fruit and nuts your kitchen staples. Get a weekly supply of fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit. Have on hand extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and dijon mustard (all of which will last you a while) and Voila! You can create some really scrumptious salads without the aid of any recipe.

But to make things a little easy, I'm sharing the recipe for this salad with you. Remember to refer the notes for substitutions and tips. Here is to embracing salads you guys! I hope to bring you many more!