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.


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!




T-shirt recycling / oven mittens rescue project


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What to do when your favorite oven mittens are wearing out?

What to do with old worn out t-shirts?

Use the cloth from the t-shirt to create a washable sleeve for the oven mittens! In this way only the outer sleeves of the mittens are washed, while proserving the well used mittens. Brilliant!

Another simple life hack that is so satisfying 😆

Home made pizza


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Using Tim Lahey’s no-knead method for the bread dough. However instead of a pizza stone and peel, I used a baking sheet to transfer the dough onto my oven’s baking tray.

Grated cheese topping of mozzarella and cheddar.

“Mozzarella is a southern Italian cheese traditionally made from Italian buffalo milk .

Cheddar cheese is a relatively hard, off-white, sometimes “sharp”-tasting, natural cheese. Originating in the British village of Cheddar in Somerset.’

Now with Brexit lining, the two countries can only co-exsist together aa pizza toppings.. Joking.

Chicken-mushroom-pineapple w teriyaki sauce.

Beef- peppers w tomato based herb sauce.

DIY Paint over bathroom ceramic tiles


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My bathroom tiles look very 1960’s. I wanted a fresh look. Being a mere cosmetic change, the thought of hacking out the entire old tiles and laying on new tiles was too  costly ( about $4000 each toilet) as well as too much noise, too much dust and just too much hassle. Overlay of new tiles over existing is a little less at about $3,000.

I was looking for a resurfacing and came across applicators of epoxy coating. They quoted $2000 per bathroom. This seemed a much better option than than hacking and relaying tiles but spending $2000 for a small toilet cosmetic change seemed expensive. Nippon Malaysia has this epoxy product but it is not available in Singapore – see Nippon youtube. There are many youtube videos on painting over ceramic tiles. Here is a useful tutorial. Here is the wikihow to prepare and apply the epoxy paint. 

Epoxy paint is used in industrial corrosive weather conditions like the under hull of ships. It has very strong bonding capabilities and will not be easy to peel off once it is properly cured. 

I went to the paint supply stores and made inquiries. The lady boss told me to use Jotun Penguard epoxy paint. The primer comes in 2 components to be mixed just before use. After 4 hours of application, then the top coat is applied. The top coat also comes in 2 components to be mixed just before application.

Here is the technical data sheet of the Penguard Primer and for the Penguard Top Coat. The sheet states the theoretical spreading rate is 8 to 12 sq meters per litre. In our ambient room temperature of 26 degrees C, the surface dry to touch is about 2 hours. Dry to over coat is 4 hours. Completely cured and ready for service takes 4 days.



Primer components marked 1. Top coat components marked 2. Bottle of thinner. Sandpaper. Stirrer. Roller brushes. Masking tape. All this cost under S$150. Enough to cover 2 to 3 bathrooms.

This 5-liter pack would be enough for 2 to 3 toilets. I will attempt with 1 toilet first and see how the results are. So the paint store said to pour half the contents of each into a metal container, not plastic, to mix and apply. Once mixed the contents cannot be kept but must be thrown away if unused.

From google, this is what epoxy means: Epoxy coatings are used because of their outstanding chemical resistance, durability, low porosity and strong bond strength. Epoxies consist of a ‘base’ and a ‘curing’ agent. The two components are mixed in a certain ratio. A chemical reaction occurs between the two parts generating heat (exotherm) and hardening the mixture into an inert, hard ‘plastic’.

  • Epoxy primer and epoxy top coat
  • Course sand paper
  • Thinner
  • Roller brush. Be sure it is for epoxy use as regular brush bristles will fray
  • Masking tape 2″ width
  • Stirrer
  • Metal pot
  • Small ladder or high chair
  • Protection: Ground sheet, old newspapers, shower cap, goggles, arm sleeves, socks.

For surface preparation: use a mild acid wash of diluted vinegar/ bleach to etch the surface. Use a course sandpaper to scrub the surface. Use a rag to remove fine dust and clean the surface thoroughly. Use masking tape to protect taps and other fittings.


Protect areas that should not be painted with masking tape and old newspaper.

Protect bathroom fittings and edges with masking tape.


Wear protective gear: the epoxy should not come into contact with the skin. So cover the head with a shower cap,  wear an old long- sleeved shirt, old pajamas pants and gloves. Eye shields are especially important. Face mask to cover the nose and mouth is recommended although I took them off after a while as it became uncomfortable. Wear an old sock or old shoe to cover the feet. Keep the room well ventilated by opening all the windows, doors and use a fan to circulate the air.


Pour 800ml primer into a metal pot then add 200ml of the hardening agent.

Pictures showing the primer components A and B before mixing, being weighed and completely stirred together in a metal pot.


My roller was a little too wide for this pot so I later bought a shorter roller. Dip brush half way into the primer, so as not to have too much drips. First roll on a W to spread the primer, then go over vertically and followed by horizontally to ensure good coverage. Aim to cover about 6 tiles for each dip of the brush. 


Use a small finer brush to cover the grout lines, corners and edges of fittings. It took me about 4 hours to apply the primer on 4 walls, each about 2 x 2m in area. The primer starts to thicken and gains viscosity after 3 hours. This is normal. It becomes difficult to apply. So add a little bit of thinner for it to spread easier but not too much thinner otherwise the paint won’t stick to the substrate.


Allow at least 4 hours for the primer to cure. I left it overnight. Next day, mix the epoxy top coat with the hardener in a similar ratio 800ml to 200ml. A new roller brush will need to be used as the epoxy from the previous day would have hardened the bristles. The paint shopkeeper said no one cleans epoxy brushes. They are under a dollar each, depending on the size.


Upper with 2 layers.


Primer coat on the lower portion of the wall. The upper portion has the top coat as the second layer, providing sufficient coverage of the original tiles.

Jotun Primer comes in transparent, grey and white. The top coat comes in many choice of colours. 





Remove all the masking tape and newspaper. Allow the top coat to cure overnight. Enjoy your new bathroom!

I decided to keep a small row of the old tiles as an accent feature. I’m thinking of using acrylic to paint a series of scenery on the entire row on all sides of the walls – but that is another project for another day. Stay tuned! 

Here is the transformation; Before, 1st coat, 2nd coat.


Difference between pie and strudel

In learning to make apple strudel, I came across 2 methods : the classic Austrian recipe and the puff pastry method.

In the classic Austrian/ Viennese  method, the flour” butter ratio is about 3:1 . I have seen some recipes with 10:1 ratio of flour to butter or oil but subsequently more butter is spread on the dough. To this dough is added 1 egg and water where the ratio of flour “water is 2:1.  The resting period in between the rolling and folding helps the dough absorb the oil. The dough is then stretched out very thin on a bedsheet until translucent, about 0.8 m x 1.2 m. I use a silicon sheet as it is non-stick. I suspect what keeps the rolled layers of dough from baking into together 1 thick crust is the butter that is spread over and bread crumbs and sugar that is sprinkled thinly over the dough just before rolling it.  Chef here explains that the butter spread on the thin dough keeps the layers apart. The result is more crusty and crunchy.

In the puff pastry method, the ratio of flour to butter is 2:1 so there is a whole lot more butter. To create the thin layers of flaky pastry, frozen butter is placed between layers of plain dough. The multiple layers of plain dough is alternated with butter. Because there is more butter, the result is more crispy thin flakes.

Nutritionist will tell us that butter is high in calories and is about 80% fat – mostly the unhealthy saturated fats which causes higher levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Danish dough contains eggs and more butter than the croissant dough and that is the reason why sometimes croissant dough is referred to as lean dough. Here is an article that discusses the differences.

This pastry school explains the differences between PUFF pastry, FLAKY pastry, CHOUX pastry, SHORTCRUST dough and PHYLLO dough.


Puff Pastry

Best known for being flaky and light, puff pastry is a kind of unleavened dough. It is formed by many different layers (mostly of fat, such as butter). In French, the culinary term for puff pastry is pâte feuilletée, where the verb feuilleter means “to leaf through.”

While the French croissant is also a flaky pastry, its base is not typical puff pastry dough. Rather, croissant dough is leavened, meaning it contains yeast, which causes it to rise.

Flaky Pastry

Also of note: flaky pastry dough is technically not the same thing as puff pastry dough. In the case of puff pastry dough, the layers are even and thus are more puffed (more air gets between the layers). In flaky pastry dough, there are chunks or lumps of fat (butter, lard) separating bits and pieces of dough, rather than full layers of fat separating layers of pastry dough.

Choux Pastry

This type of pastry dough, called pâte à choux in French, is made from eggs, butter, flour, and water. There is no leavening agent on its ingredient list because the cooking technique for this dough puffs the pastry through the use of steam. Choux pastry is the base of such French pâtisseries as éclairs, profiteroles, croquembouches, and beignets. Such desserts are often filled with cream and/or topped or covered in chocolate.

Shortcrust Dough

Shortcrust is the type of dough used to make pies and tarts. It is the simplest pastry dough to make; it’s ingredients are: flour, fat (butter, lard), water, and salt. Note that sugar is not among the base ingredients for shortcrust pastry, meaning that this type of dough is used for both savory and sweet items. When sugar is added to the dough mixture, the result is often called sweetcrust pastry.

Phyllo Dough

Phyllo dough (or Filo dough, Fillo dough) is sometimes mistaken for a variant of puff pastry. Unlike puff pastry dough, however, phyllo dough consists of a layering of extremely thin or paper-thin sheets of dough. These dough sheets are not separated by fat, like in the case of puff pastry dough.” UNQUOTE

Here is a video by BBC Good Food on how to make shortcrust pastry.

Proportions for shortcrust pastry: 200:100:40                                                                                200g plain white flour                                                                                                                             100g butter (at a cool room temperature 15-20 degrees C)                                                                  About 40ml (3 tablespoons) cold water, a bit at a time.

The Science of Pie Dough by Kenji has excellent explanation

The Kitchn – Anatomy of a pie crust :

Fat: You can use butter, vegetable shortening, lard, or even oil in pie crust, each to a different effect. Butter provides the most flavor and a wonderful melting quality in the mouth, but it tends to not make the most tender pastry. Shortening and lard make a very tender pastry, but don’t always have the best flavor for a sweet pie.If your butter (which I prefer over lard or shortening—see tip #3) gets too warm, it’ll end up mixing with the gluten layers, and rather than forming distinct flakes, you’ll end up with a single, greasy, shortbread-like crust. Keep it chilled and then chill it again between foldings.

Also, if the fat is left in large pieces, the crust will be more flaky. If it’s incorporated into the flower more thoroughly, the crust will be tender and crumbly.

Liquid: The liquid in a pie crust creates the steam that lifts the pastry and creates flakes. It also gets absorbed into the flour, helping to create gluten. Too little liquid and the dough won’t hold together, but add too much and you’ll end up with a rock-hard crust!

Court orders full refund on Hitachi multi-functional oven MRO-AV200E


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I was shopping around for an oven in June 2015. We visited Totts, Harvey Norman, commercial kitchen equipment suppliers, Best Denki. We read up online reviews of various ovens. Finally we decided to purchase the Hitachi MRO-AV200E.

It has microwave, steam, convection oven, super-heated steam and programmed combinations of the above functions. It can sense the amount of food and automatically adjust the baking time accordingly. It has one-touch automatic programmed functions as well as the normal manual oven controls. I have been enjoying using this oven until this happened.

After several weeks, the edges of the tray grooves began to shine. This means the outer coating was wearing off. As it was still under warranty, I contacted Hitachi customer service. They looked at the pictures and said this is still a working oven and they will not repair nor replace.

A unique feature of this oven is that the microwave function does not use a turn-table like most microwave ovens. It uses the special internal coating to reflect the microwaves. So having this coating come off so easily is not a good design nor a good manufacture process.

Notice the parts circled in red highlighting the edges of the groove for the trays to insert and rest. The special black coating has rubbed off from normal use after only a few weeks.

This is not a cheap oven. At about S$1,200 ( after discount) there are many ovens from reputable brands. However, Hitachi’s attempt to do away with the microwave turn-table  has  put it in an unsatisfactory state.

If you are thinking of getting an oven, my recommendation is to avoid Hitachi. Avoid having a sad and disappointing Mother’s Day.

Update June 2016

Following 3 unsuccessful attempts in getting Hitachi to repair or replace the oven, I resorted to the Small Claims Tribunal to resolve the issue.

The process is fairly simple: go online to fill up a form, pay S$10. Alternatively go in person to the State Courts located behind People’s Park Center. There will be 2 rounds of consultations for mediation and submission of a summary of events.  During the consultation, Hitachi offered to extend their warranty by 6 months which I rejected as the 3 earlier attempts during the warranty period yielded no positive action from them. If unresolved then a hearing before a referee / judge will be held. Lawyers are not allowed to represent the claimant nor respondent. 

 The exclusions of the warranty  are for accessories and external cover, it does not cover interior cavity, hence the judge said that my claim for the interior coating is under covered under the warranty. Hitachi said the trays should not slide in nor out along the shelving racks but should be lifted up and gently placed down. The judge found this to be impractical and unreasonable, and is not normal industry practice. In any case, Hitachi only communicated this instruction after I wrote to them with my problem, they did not tell this to me prior to my purchase and before the contract was made. The coating is not merely cosmetic but because this design has no turntable, the microwaves rely on the interior coating to be reflected within the oven. Based on the evidence, the judge said the product was of unmerchantable quality and there was material failure.

Subsequent to the judgement, I told the Hitachi representative that the free vacuum cleaner that came to induce purchase of the oven had been given away. Hitachi insisted that I source for it and return this free gift together with the damaged oven in order to get the refund. You may smile as you read this but they were serious about this and told me by twice by phone and again by email. I told them since the invoice stated this vacuum cleaner as $0 zero dollars, I will write a cheque for $0 in return. ( yes, face palm!)

On the last day of the refund deadline, Hitachi came with the full refund, took back the damaged oven and did not insist any further on the free vacuum cleaner.

In all these communication, whether by phone, email or in person, at no time did Hitachi express any apology for the inconvenience and for their poor design and workmanship. You can conclude from these various instances that Hitachi lacks customer service and has a profuse amount of arrogance.

Now I’m looking for another oven. But this time  I will get single function ovens – one for convection, one for pure microwave and another for pure grill and conventional oven. I already have a dedicated steamer. My experience with multi-functional ovens has not been good. When one thing is faulty, the whole oven is  affected. While baking and roasting, which usually takes 30 minutes to over 1 hour, during which a simple reheat for dinner by microwave cannot be  carried out. A simple microwave will do this job perfectly. In any case, replacing it when it breaks down will not cost much at all.

What has been your experience with multi-functional / single use ovens and which oven(s) do you have?





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Singapore rates as at March 2016.. updated Dec 2016

Rates are from Phoon Huat, Kitchen Capers, Mustafa, others.


  • Flour – plain 1kg  $1.80
  • Flour – cake 1kg   $3.10
  • Flour – HongKong 1kg  $3.00
  • Sugar – castor  1 kg  $2.65
  • Butter – butler selection 200g  $1.55
  • Whipping cream – 1l   $6.10
  • Cocoa powder – 130g  $3.30
  • Flavour – Vanilla 90ml  $3.90
  • Cheese – shredded, cheddar 2kg  $22.0
  • Cheese – shredded, cheddar coloured 2kg  $27
  • Yeast – instant, 5x11g  $1.75
  • Balsamic dressing 80oz $2.30
  • Cake board – 10″  pkt/5  $3.20
  • Cake Decor -heart shaped  250g  $2.80
  • Fruit – Cherry – maraschino 26oz   $7.75
  • Fruit – dried cranberry  250g   $2.80
  • Nut – sunflower kernel 250g   $2.90
  • Nut – almond sliced blanced. NTUC 250g $5.60. Mustafa $17.90/kg
  • Nut – hazelnuts whole. NTUC 200g $7.80.   kitchen capers. TeckSang $30/kg. 500g $18.90
  • Nut – walnut. NTUC 200g $6.80.   1 kg $28
  • Nut – raw cashew. NTUC 100g $3.20   100g $200 Bake King.  Mustafa (was $15.90/kg), increased to $17.50.. Queen st $14/kg for slightly smaller and $15/kg for larger. Hey it’s by kg so smaller means more nuts for every kg. update Oct2016 $16 – $18/kg. Phoon Huat $16.65.
  • Nut – raw pine seeds 100g $9.85  Bake King.  TeckSang $48/kg
  • Nut – Pistachios 100g $5.96. TeckSang $42/kg.  $19.90 mustafa
  • Nut – Macadamia 100g $5.30 Bake King. TeckSang $36/kg

Teck Sang. 11 Hong Kong Street, Singapore 059654 T:6533 1133     nuts

Albert Centre Wholesale Market 3rd fl   270 Queen Street, Bugis

Victoria Wholesale Centre  101 Kallang Avenue