Friday, February 24, 2012

Soup kitchen

Whenever we go to Ikea for lunch, Andre would inevitably ask for soup and meatballs. He loves the soup at Ikea, especially if it's broccoli. It got to a point where I thought, maybe we could try making it at home.

That started our adventures with soup. The first one was broccoli, based on a recipe I got online from All Recipes.

Few recipes are perfect at the first try but this one was. The whole family loved it and then it struck me, this is the ideal lunch option. Like most kids, Andre's least favourite food group is vegetables and it's hard to get him to eat more than a cursory spoonful of greens at mealtimes. By having broccoli soup, he's actually downing a whole bowl of veggies *muahahaha* and more importantly, willingly!

Now on a roll, we went on to experiment with pumpkin soup, another big hit. We brought it to a New Year's Eve dinner party and a friend polished off two bowls. It's a good seasonal choice for year end festivities.

Next, we tried mushroom soup. It's excellent, similar to the quality you get in restaurants, but since mushroom is not a veg, we don't make this one as often.

Lastly, we tried a tomato soup recipe and wowsers, this is Kenneth's and my favourite. I modified the original recipe quite a bit to include more veg and exclude any fancy equipment like food mills, but it still works. Tangy and flavourful.

What I've learnt from this whole exercise is that soups are not as difficult to make as you might think, and if you serve them as a meal, it's basically a one-pot event. (The washing up is another story though, since it involves the blender.)

We like to serve our soup with Delifrance hard rolls, which you can buy frozen, 6-in-a-pack from Cold Storage. After tasting these soups, we can never go back to the Campbells or Heinz canned soups. Even if you can overlook the sodium and preservative overloads, the flavours pale in comparison to the homemade ones.

I think it's too much to try and post all four recipes here, so I'll just give you a couple. I changed most of the recipes slightly. For example, I don't like buying cream as I never use it up, so any recipe with cream, I changed to milk. I also cut out any complicated steps. The broccoli soup however, is so good I didn't make a single alteration. So here's the link to the recipe. If you don't want to eat your vegetables, drink it!

And here's my recipe for my favourite, the tomato soup. Enjoy!

Tomato Soup


4 cups chopped tomatoes
1 slice onion
4 cloves garlic
2 cups chicken broth (we use Swansons)
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small carrot, diced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp thyme or basil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp white sugar


1. Combine tomatoes, celery, carrots, onion, garlic and chicken broth in a pot.
2. Bring to a boil and gently simmer for about 20 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and puree mixture in a blender (careful - mixture is hot!)
4. In empty pot, melt butter over medium heat.
5. Stir in flour to make a roux and cook until medium brown.
6. Gradually whisk in tomato mixture, keep stirring to ensure no lumps form.
7. Add thyme or basil, sugar and salt.

Friday, February 17, 2012

To the Bolero

For the past couple of weeks, I've been binging on Rachmaninov, Elgar and Dvorak. It's a journey of re-discovery of sorts, I've not given my classical music CDs time of day for years. I'm not sure why but in the past few years, my music repertoire has largely been pop. Perhaps I can blame it on the American Idol syndrome where everything has to be bite-sized and immediately accessible.

But ever since I moved house and acquired a new sound system in my office, I started revisiting my classical music CD collection... and it's been nice. It's stirring without being distracting - important for when I'm working.

The best part though, is that Lesley-Anne now enjoys listening to classical music with me. Being in the band CCA has a large part to play. Where she used to know about orchestral instruments only in theory, she now knows them by experience and this makes a world of difference. The music makes more sense to her and she's able to appreciate the performance.

I like that she's able to enjoy the music simply for what it is, without pretension. Too often, I find that there's a huge preconception about classical music and by association, classical music lovers ("snooty, "irrelevant", "boring" - take your pick). It's like there are people who listen to classical music... and then there's everybody else. So much so that it seems as if the onus is on classical music to justify why it's relevant in today's society.

I personally don't see why classical music needs to be apologetic. It's just there to be enjoyed by anyone who would give it a chance. Some people will never like it, some people won't try, it's ok. It's not the fault of classical music and it shouldn't therefore be dumbed down to the lowest denominator. You wouldn't dilute red wine with Ribena just so more people will find it palatable, would you?

Having said that however, it's always nice to see members of the classical music fraternity make an effort to make it more accessible. It's like sharing your favourite recipe or restaurant with a friend - "Here, try this. I hope you'll enjoy it."

What led me to this point was the fact that I was playing Ravel's Bolero one night and Lesley-Anne told me she remembered hearing it at an SSO concert I brought her to when she was probably about 7 or 8. She said it made an impression cos she was fascinated by the repeated melody.

For those who are not aware, Bolero is a very unusual orchestra work because it consists of only one melody that's repeated over and over until it reaches a climax. Funny how it's so addictive. It became Ravel's most well known work.

Lesley-Anne then alerted me to a flash mob of Bolero that was performed last year by the Copenhagen Philharmonic at Copenhagen Central Station. I searched for it on YouTube and by golly, it's the classiest flash mob I've ever seen. Both her question and mine though, was "how on earth did the timpani guy appear and disappear so quickly?"

Here, try this. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dreams & Reality

Last week, we made a trip down to the National Museum of Singapore to take a look at the Dreams & Reality art exhibition. It featured French and European masterpieces from Musee d'Orsay Paris.

The exhibition is now over, so it's too late to visit it even if you want to, but it was pretty good so I thought it was worth recording the visit in a blog post.

I've always loved Western art, I even did an elective module on Art Appreciation in NUS. While the exhibition wasn't very big and didn't have the top-tier of famous paintings as say, in the Louvre, it was still pretty well represented in terms of the artists covered.

It was divided into different sections, which I won't go into it in detail since the exhibition is now over.

There were so many gorgeous paintings but Andre's favourite was this dark one, depicting the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. It's called The Enigma by Gustave Dore. What is it with guys and battlefields?

Lesley-Anne likes this one, called Going Fishing by Piet Mondrian. We've not heard of this artist but the painting has such as serene clarity that you can't help but be drawn to it.

Then there were all the big guns of Western Art.

Camille Pissarro's Young Peasant Girl Lighting A Fire. Pissaro is one of the forerunners of Impressionism.

The Female Clown Cha-U-Kao by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. To me, Toulouse-Lautrec is the circus guy.

A couple of Monets - this is Woman with a Parasol Looking to the Right.

This is Branch of the Seine near Giverny. This one is truly gorgeous up close.

Dancers Climbing a Staircase by Edgar Degas. If Toulouse-Lautrec is the circus guy, then Degas is the ballet dude.

Paul Cezanne's The Cardplayers. This is the emblematic painting for the exhibition, it's on the cover of all their collaterals. Like so many paintings, it looks so much richer and better in real life than on screen or print.

I've kept the best for last. This one was hung as a centrepiece of the main exhibition hall and it drew a huge crowd. Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night. I can see why, in real life, this painting is unbelievably breath-taking. The colours are so saturated and vibrant, it packs a punch. The photo really doesn't do it justice.

It was very crowded and as it so happened, the museum was having an open house meaning there was free entry. It was a bonus for us, we weren't aware of this when we went. Luckily we arrived early because as we left, the queue to enter the gallery had snaked all the way up the stairs out the main entrance onto the carpark. Crazy!

Anyway, the exhibition is now over but I fancy that our local museums are bringing in many more high quality shows these days, so do look out for them. Many of them are worth a visit.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The true value of sports

It's time for the inter-school badminton tournament again and this is the last year Andre will be playing for his primary school team.

After 3 years of seeing Andre train and play, here's my conclusion:

Competitive sports is tough.

When parents first send their kids for training for any competitive sport, I'm sure many of them have big dreams. Maybe not as grandiose as grooming a national player but perhaps some image of sporting trophies or medals lining the bedroom shelf.

For some of course, these visions do become reality. But I've come to the realisation that for the majority, these are merely pipedreams. The Singapore sporting scene for kids has now become almost as competitive as the academic one, and many kids who start out playing because of the love for a sport simply don't have the resources or the time to invest in what has become necessary to be among the medal-worthy minority.

When Andre first started playing for the school team, we were cheering for them to win matches. Badminton, however, is not a niche sport for Andre's school so when this didn't take off, we revised our expectations downwards to just winning a couple of games in a match. Even that proved to be difficult.

Three years in a row, Andre's school has drawn to match up against the top primary school badminton team in Singapore. What are the odds? Even the coach was stumped. When Andre signed up for individual competitions, 4 out of 5 times, he's met seeded players or eventual winners of the tournament in the preliminary rounds, eliminating any chance of proceeding to the next stage.

Even though we know that in sports, you win some and you lose some, it's very disheartening to constantly be beaten down, especially by something as random as the luck of the draw. No matter how hard Andre trained or tried, he didn't seem to have very much to show for it, or to keep him encouraged. He grew to dislike competitions and would perform below his usual standards under pressure. When he lost, he would cry or mope and I was at my wit's end as to how to keep him motivated.

I struggled with this last year. I asked God, "why can't this child catch a break? Are you trying to tell us that we made the wrong decision in letting him pursue this sport?" I couldn't figure it out.

And then out of the blue this year, something changed. When Andre stepped up to play his first game against the top school (where he was matched up against the best player, no less), I noticed a spring in his step, a new-found confidence I never saw before. He faced his opponent, who was a whole head taller than him, unintimidated. He ran down every ball and played at a level unprecedented for him. He was demolished in the end, but to my surprise, he strode off the court smiling.

The teacher-in-charge turned to me and said, "You should be very proud of him."

To a bystander, it must have been an odd sight. There he was, having just lost the game and the coach was congratulating him on a job well done. But having coached him for 3 years, she recognised, as I did, that Andre had experienced some sort of breakthrough in his development.

It dawned on me: Andre was finally enjoying playing in a competition.

Sports is a school of hard knocks. It's not like a Hollywood inspirational movie where the underdog will eventually be crowned victorious after 2 hours, against all odds. Real life is not Hollywood - David doesn't always defeat Goliath, there isn't always light at the end of the tunnel. (Neither does love always conquer all nor truth always prevail, but that's another story). Basically, real life can be brutal.

Many kids train for a sport all of their school years and never make it even remotely close to the top. I've heard some parents make their kids take up the school's niche sport or pick more obscure sports to maximise their chances of winning, but I find it a little sad that even choosing a CCA has to be so calculated.

I don't want to rationalise. It's convenient to say God put Andre against all these tough opponents just to make him stronger but I can't say for sure. What I'm sure about though, is that you have to be prepared for the disappointment and the sacrifice. You have to lose so often that you become immune to it, that picking yourself up and trying again is, without thinking, the only option.

But even without planning for it, I cannot deny that badminton HAS made Andre stronger. On the court now, I see his tenacity, his drive, his intelligence, and it's wonderful to see his love of the game shine through. He belongs there. Even if he never wins another game, it's all good. That's the true value of sports.

And in reply to the terrifically supportive teacher-in-charge, I'm indeed proud of my son. Very much so.

"You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take." ~ Wayne Gretzky, professional hockey player.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...