Hike up Gunung Belumut, Johor, Malaysia

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We met at central Singapore at 5.30 am to set off to Gunung Belumut for a day’s hike. The Causeway had a light jam and we made it to the car park of Belumut at 8.30 am.

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The ascent begins fairly gradually for the first 2 km, then it gets steeper with some points being 50%  in gradient. The remaining section is steep with gradients of 20 – 40% particularly between check point 3 and 4. I would not have made it without the help of the guide pulling me up along much of the steeper sections.

It takes about 3 -4 hours to descend. Hence in order to reach back to the car park before night fall, we agree that wherever we are, we should turn around at 1 pm to head back down.

Crawling up and down again on all fours felt humbling.

Our water had run out and by afternoon we were mildly dehydrated. It reflected in our tiredness and slowness. We heard a stream of water gushing and the guide filled my water bottle with fresh water. Being re-hydrated again, I immediately felt energised.

When we finally reached the end/ beginning point, the stream looked so inviting so I jumped in to join my fellow hiker. The chilled water provided a cold compression to sore muscles and thoroughly refreshed my entire being. Ahhhh! it was a wonderful reward for the hard work!

It is as tough as Gunung Lambak, also in Kluang Johor.

Singapore Southern Islands

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The morning boat departs 10.00 am. Aim to arrive before 9.30 am. Take the red MRT line all the way down to Marina South Pier.

Exit to ground level. Go  purchase the ticket at $18 per adult.

Enter the turnstile gates to the jetty and board the ferry. The journey takes 30 minutes to St John’s Island. Enjoy the view of Singapore’s city skyline.

Upon arrival at St John’s there are location maps to orientate yourself. Turn left towards Lazarus Island.

If you find yourself lost, use Google maps & GPS to locate your position.

We saw a halo around the sun.

The toilets are to the right of the jetty while Lazarus a island is to the left of the jetty.

Do not bother to visit the Aqua Marine Education Center. The exhibits are so few.

The lagoon at Lazarus is beautiful.

Be sure to head back to the jetty before 2.30 pm as the ferry leaves punctually at 2.45 pm sharp otherwise you will have to stay over night to take the ferry the next day.

The ferry then goes to Kusu Island , a 15 minute ride away.  A short walk around the island with beautiful beaches take about 30  to 40 minutes. The ferry departs at 4.00 pm sharp for mainland.

There are no toilet facilities on Kusu Island so be sure to visit the restroom at St John’s.

The ferry arrives Marina South Pier at 4.30 pm

It is an enjoyable day trip, much like a local holiday for only $18. Do pack your own lunch and drinks as there are no shops on the islands.

Walking by

I lay on staircase floor

I lay on public bench

I hear many footsteps

Walking by. Walked by

I lay on grass patches

I lat on sidewalks

I hear many footsteps 

walking by. Walked by.

Does it offend you 

that I lay on the floor

It doesn’t offend me

 that you lay on your bed

Walking by. Walked by.

Nepal Himalaya Photos

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The Himalayan range has many of the Earth’s highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest. The name of the range derives from the Sanskrit Himā-laya (हिमालय, “Abode of Snow”), from himá (हिम, “cold, winter, frost”) and ā-laya (आलय, “receptacle, dwelling”) – Wikipedia

The place where winter snow resides / abides.

Reminds me of the branch abiding in the Vine as in John 15. Being the temple of the Spirit, where the Holy Spirit resides.

 

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Everest 8,848 m

IMG_0848.JPG Taken while flying past Mount Everest

 

Vegan High Domed Muffin Recipe

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Soft and moist interior, crips outer shell, bakery-style high domed muffins. Blueberry or Coffee with Chocolate Chips. If you would like to read the adventure of how this recipe was developed, click here

Yields 24 regular-sized muffins , because a dozen just isn’t ever enough. 

  • ———-DRY MIX———–
  • 625g (5 cups) all-purpose flour 
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Zest from 2 lemons
  • Alternative: 3 cups chopped walnuts & 2 large bananas
  • ———-WET MIX————
  • 240 ml (1 cup) vegetable oil
  • 200g (1 cup) sugar ( yields a lite sweetness and is halved of normal)
  • 750 ml (3 cups) cup soy milk + with 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Alternative: 3 cups blueberries or 6 tbs coffee or 2 cups chocolate chips
  • ———EQUIPMENT NEEDED ——-
  • weighing scales / measuring scoops
  • 2 large bowls – one for wet, another for dry
  • spatula

METHOD

  1.  In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients together – flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt.
  2. In another bowl, measure out the soy milk and vinegar. Allow to sit a few minutes to create buttermilk. It will look curdled. 
  3. Warm the wet mixture to allow the sugar to dissolve better. Add oil and sugar, stir to disolve sugar.
  4. Add about 2 cups of the dry mixture to the wet mixture. It combines better. Then pour all the wet into the dry to combine. DO NOT over mix otherwise the muffin will be dense and hard. Gently fold a few time. It’s OK to see some small lumps. The batter should not be heavy, either should it be watery. It scoops like a thick gravy.
  5. Grease / dust with flour 24 muffin pans. Use paper liners if there is mashed bananas.
  6. Use a soup ladle to scope to about 1/3 of each muffin pan. Insert the blueberries / chocolate chips. Then scope another batter over the top until it is about 90% fills the pan. This ensures the berries / choc bits do not sink to the bottom nor burn on the very top. Most other recipes will state to fill to 3/4. That’s fine if you want a flat top. For high dome, fill it up. Top with sprinkles of sugar for sparkle.
  7. For colour pattern effect: Divide the batter in half. To one half add the coco powder and coffee,  and blend until  a homogeneous color. Ensure one colour is thicker than the other. Fill your muffin pan with one scoop plain batter and one scoop chocolate batter filling the tin 3/4 of the way. Pipe out circles or any pattern your creative streak desire with a  toothpick  to swirl the two batters together.
  8.  Heat oven to 220 degrees C. In the meanwhile allow the batter to rest. My oven takes under 5 minutes to reach the desired temperature. Use an internal oven thermometer to get an accurate reading of the internal temperature. Do not rely on the oven gauge. 
  9. Place trays at the hottest layers. For my convection oven this would be on the 2nd and 4th levels for a 2 tray bake.
  10. Set timer to bake at 220 degree for 8 minutes. Baking times will vary depending on the temperament of each oven.
  11. Turn off oven. Test that a toothpick inserted to the middle comes out clean. 
  12. Remove trays. After a couple of minutes and the trays are warm enough to handle, remove muffins. Allow to cool on a cooling rack. Do not cool in the pans as the moisture will be trap and they could turn soggy instead of an outer light crisp.
  13.  Store in air-tight container at ambient temperature. When about to eat, warm it slightly to refresh the aroma and flavours. ENJOY!

For this version seen here, I substituted a quarter portion of plain flour for bread flour to give a crisp crust and a firmer crumb to support the berries. There is also a touch of nutmeg as a secondary flavour.

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Banana walnut nutmeg muffin

Strawberry jam crouched within muffins topped with sunflower seeds

Developing Vegan Muffins

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I baked 13 dozen muffins over 4 weeks and 9 iterations to develop this recipe. Yes, that’s 156 muffins. It really helps to have plenty of friends to give them away.

Previous recipes I used did not yield muffins with a bakery-style high domed top . Those recipes were really the same as cupcakes which rose in the oven but shrunk to flat top upon cooling.  This is good for cupcakes  where a flat top allows for frosting. As the event was to be held outdoors and in our humid weather, any kind of frosting would not work. Since there would be no frosting, the cake had to be visually attractive on its own. A bakery style high dome muffin with chocolate chips would look delicious.

I googled for a high dome muffin recipe, combined it with another recipe for coffee muffin and then modified both into a vegan version.

I did an initial 5 iterations of these muffins over 2 days.  I’m glad to have this opportunity to practice and tweak a recipe that finally works. Since then I’ve done 3 other batches so this final version is pretty decent, maybe even awesome. Definitely artisanal.

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Version 1. Cuppucino chocolate chip cupcake. This was based on a vegan cupcake recipe which produced a moist, soft delicious cake. The batter is watery and will skew with a forced fan oven. It rose to a high dome in the oven but upon cooling it shrunk to a flat top.  Tasted great but didn’t look appealing. 

Version 2. High dome. I modified a high domed muffin recipe into vegan by switching butter to olive oil, soy milk for cow’s milk, omitted eggs as there already is buttermilk which is an egg substitute. It was 9 pm, almost bedtime, but I was excited to find out how this would work turn out.  I tested a small batch of this modification to see how it would turn out. There was a lovely high top dome that stayed high even upon cooling – success! The texture was too firm but that’s because I later realised that i had wrongly measured out 1 teaspoon instead of 1 tablespoon of vinegar to add to the milk to make buttermilk. This was a plain flavoured. I think they look lovely without the paper liners. Pulling the muffins off the liners tend to leave remnants stuck to the paper. Because the flour content is doubled that of cupcake , it does not skew in a convection oven but holds its shape well.

Version 3. The next morning I woke up with inspiration of creating 4 pattern variations to the same chocolate chips and coffee dough. I halved the batter to create a plain vanila base and the other half a coffee-flavoured batter. The first doz20170311_164454en had a 3 layers of  vanilla / coffee/ vanilla with choc chips sprinkled on top to give a visual contrast against the vanilla batter. The home was filled with the aroma of coffee and chocolate. A cross sectional slice reveal ed the layers. So beautiful!

Version 4. The dark side.  I used brown sugar and expresso to create the entire batter dark brown.  Almond flakes on top have a visual contrast. Again I was very happy to see the dome sustains upon cooling.  ( marked as 4 in the photo)

Version 5. For remaining 2 dozen,  these were prepared together by doubling the ingredients.  I then halved the batter to mix in the coffee flavour and a tIMG-20170311-WA0013ouch of rum. The vanilla batter was firmer than the coffee and malleable enough to pipe. The shape held up well. I piped circles and spirals from the bottom and raising to the top. Here’s the cross sectional cut out. ( marked as 5)

As another variation to the theme I piped criss- crossed patterns but this turned out marbled instead.

I’m so pleased that all the muffins had developed a lovely high top dome. It’s really satisfying to see the magic of chemistry raising the dough in the oven – literally an uplifting experience – wooohuut!

 

 

Version 6. Cinnamon-cranberry. Placing the trays on the 2nd and 4th level of my oven exposed them to the full blast of the convection fan. It enabled the dome to rise. 5 minutes at 220 degree C followed by 150 deg.C for 7 minutes. 

 

Version 7. Chocolate chunks with lemon zest. I’m really pleased that all the muffins rose to the occasion. This was due to the longer 8 minutes at 220 deg C followed by 2 minutes at 150 deg C.  This means the oven spring at initial high temperature causes the beautiful dome. The random  lemon zest gives a surprising tangy kick.

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Validation from a fellow baker is indeed high compliment!

 

Version 8. Naked Blueberry-Nutmeg. No paper liners to mask the lovely body shape. 7 minutes at 220 deg. C.  Switch off oven and allow to rest in oven for another 2 minutes. I used a 1/4 portion of bread flour to give a little bread bread rather than cake texture.

Version 9.  Banana walnut nutmeg muffins with cake flour. The rise in the oven was good but it sank upon cooling – could be due to the cake flour or the increased in banana. Used 4 large bananas. Should try with 2 large or 3 medium sized bananas and stick to plain flour or some bread flour for better structure.

 

See the next post for the Vegan High Dome Muffin recipe

 

How to teach a child to be generous

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 Cultivating generosity in kids.

My son brings my donuts / cupcakes / brownies to  share with his performing arts team. The featured image of this blog is cranberry-cinnamon muffins with a bakery-style domed top.

My other son brings a LARGE bottle of cashew nuts to share with his platoon mates. This bottle is regularly topped up with freshly roasted cashew nuts almost every month. Army boys are always hungry.

When children participate in generous acts, the seed of kindness gets implanted in them. Our job as parents is to nurture and irrigate that seed into a sapling and allow it to grow into a well developed tree of generosity where the young adult initiates kind acts of his own.  Being generous is to give without any expectation of receiving anything in return. The joy of showering others is reward enough in itself.

It is a very intentional cultivation and curation. Such character qualities are developed after consistent and repeated actions, which develop into a habit. It is a continued work in progress.

My son shared a sip of his drink with a classmate. I affirmed him for his action. I further challenged him that in future should someone asks for a sip to then see it as an opportunity to give his entire drink away.

Children learn best through imitation and experiential learning opportunities. Children are watching their parents and do imitate the speech patterns and behaviour of significant adults around them. I love baking to give away to friends, colleagues, any one within and without of my sphere of influence. My home is often filled with the aroma of freshly baked desserts. The presence of joy is palpable and lingers. This is the curated  garden in which my saplings grow. Besides eating the desserts, they are often engaged in the ingredient shopping, baking process or delivery. My mum was an avid home baker and I  grew up in such an environment too.

Train a child in the way he should go, so that when he is older he will not depart from those ways. Prov 22:6

So it is our scope of work as parents to train our children – not merely to feed, clothe and house them. But to make sure they develop qualities of goodness, right ways of living, kindness, brotherly love.

We are then working out from a kingdom  abundance mentality rather than from a scarcity framework. There is more than enough for everyone, although the distribution system is grossly inefficient. That’s exhibiting a little of the kingdom culture and bringing it to come down to earth. Living as a child of the King.

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Sharing cupcakes & a song with foreign workers at a nursing home.

 

 

After the rat race – part 2

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Under 5-million-star accommodation
Feeling one with all creation
Rhythmic lapping of the waves
Gently ushers one into a daze
Composing a giant symphony
Birds’ rising cacophony
Harmonised by leaves rustling
Accented by twigs crackling

Waking to the morning dew
Sunrise sky of orange hue
This idyllic situation
Is not an illusion
This reality to behold
Our choice to be bold
Out of the rat race
Out of the vain chase

After the rat race – part 1

My rat race was the stressful grind of a regional job. It had its benefits and I enjoyed the opportunity to be exposed to many cultures and different ways of doing things.

The rat race also included the downside of over-consuming energy and personal time. I tried to manage this by limiting travel to a week each month and to get home punctually for  family time. However there were late night  and early morning teleconference calls with other parts of the world which again ate into personal and family time. Then there were egos of various guises which I shan’t start describing. 

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?”

It has been a few years now being out of the rat race and this post is a reflection on this period. I have learnt many new things, developed new hobbies, gained new experiences and formed new friendships. It is very much a work in progress, so this post is an interim reflection.

For one thing, I began to learn how to bake. Being a dessert lover, I found most recipes prescribing saturated fats and far too much sugar that went above the daily limit recommended by the health promotion board. So I have been looking for desserts that I love with healthier recipes or else to substitute the regular recipe with healthier ingredients.

For example, butter has a high level of saturated fats while vegetable oils have better levels of unsaturated fats. However, if vegetable oils are treated to solid state by hygrogenation then there is trans-fat which is not good. So reading the ingredient labels carefully is important.

Most desserts have far too much sugar, way above healthy levels. To omit sugar entirely is not possible as it  not only serves to sweeten but is also hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs liquids. This affects the texture of the cake. A sponge cake without sugar becomes a dense fudge – if that is the result wanted.

There is no real substitute for sugar. Agave, stevia, brown sugar etc – are all based on sugar so the calories is as just as much. After experimenting, and several failed cakes later, I have found that reducing the sugar amount in the recipe to 50 – 60% is a happy compromise. Also to only eat 1 piece and give the rest away.

Practice makes perfect so I would practice several times on a particular recipe until it gets right. My friends have been benefactors of these. It reminds me of the speech by Portia in The Merchant of Venice:

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes”

The satisfaction that comes from creating a dessert is doubled when loved ones share in that satisfaction.

Another thing I learnt through baking is to break up a difficult bake into several mini-projects spread over a few days. For example the opera cake has 8 elements. To do them all in one day will really be stressful. A chef recommended to split it over several days to maintain the joy of baking. That’s really beautiful. So i baked the sponge cake on day 1; the biscuit joconde and feuilletine on day 2;  the buttercream, ganache and glaze on day 3; and assemble them all on day 4. Day 5 would be to light the candles on the cake and celebrate. Thus a whole week of creation and enjoyment of the process.

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Isaiah 25:6 here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
    a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.

There’s gourmet desserts in heaven!!

So I would like to think that my baking and giving away desserts is in a way giving others a taste of heaven!