For Harold


Dear Harold,

You were born on the 21st of January, 2013. It was a pretty normal kind of day in most respects. We weren’t expecting you for another 3 weeks, and so the hospital appointment we had scheduled was tucked in around work meetings, lunch, and the regularity of everyday life.

It was a beautiful day, for summer in Perth. Warm and sunny, 29C though it felt hotter. At 10am I drove your mother to her regularly scheduled check-up at King Edward Memorial Hospital as I had every fortnight for the past few months. We were originally supposed to come in a week later, but it was the Australia Day long weekend, and the clinic wouldn’t have been open.

So I left your mother at the hospital and went off to a meeting nearby in West Perth. I met my client and a colleague and we discussed all the mundane details of a computer upgrade. I wasn’t worried when the meeting took a long time because every clinic visit we’d had so far would take at least 3 hours before we got to see anyone, so when I came back around 12pm I thought I would find her still in the waiting room.

Not so this time however. A midwife had come to check her blood pressure before going to see the doctor. “It’s a little high” she said… 130 over 90… But the instruments she’d been using had been playing up, and so she decided to check again. 140 over 90 this time. Higher. “I’ll need to check with the doctor” she said, and a few minutes later she came back. “We’re sending you over to get some blood tests done, but fingers crossed it’ll all be fine…” Your mother was more concerned about someone giving her a list of things she needed to bring to the hospital when she gave birth, so I don’t think either of us were really paying attention.

We collected her records and wandered over to the pathology department to do a blood and urine test. I stood awkwardly in the door of small examination room and got in the nurses way every time she wanted to move, so I eventually ended up perching on top of a table while the nurse slid the needle into your mothers arm and drew off what looked like an awfully large amount of blood.

Then we were told we should head up to the Fetal Monitoring Unit where they would check you over and make sure everything was OK with you. At this point everything to us seemed totally routine. Your mother was looking and feeling fine, not showing any signs of the high blood pressure affecting her, and I was waiting for them to tell us we could go home so I could get on with my day.

By this time it was around 2pm and your mothers work colleagues were wondering if she was going to be coming in, whilst I had people calling me in the waiting room wanting me to fix their computer problems over the phone. I said I’d be out later in the afternoon to take a look.

Then we were called through into the fetal monitoring unit room and a midwife came to take your mothers blood pressure again. “You’re going to be here for a while” she said casually as she wrapped the strap around her arm. “We need to take 4 readings over the next two hours and see how it goes”. “Great” I thought “There goes the rest of this day… We’ll be sitting here for another couple of hours and then when her blood pressure comes back normal we’ll just go home again.”

Here’s where things took a very sudden shift. The midwives changed over and another lady took over. She was short and blond with an Irish accent and a friendly demeanour but a serious look on her face. “I don’t mean to alarm you” she whispered loudly (because whispering is clearly more soothing) “but we’ve got your blood test results back and they’re not good. The doctor is coming to see you shortly, but I just wanted to let you know so you don’t get a shock later”… I’m not sure how the concept of an early shock to allay a later one works, but there we were. Sitting in a small exam room, curtain drawn, listening to the girl in the next cubicle talking about needing more antidepressants and wondering what the hell was going on.

Shortly the doctor arrived, she was young and fashionable and wore high heels, she was brisk and her tone was serious and I didn’t like her. She explained that all the signs were pointing to your mother having pre-eclampsia, which is a condition that affects pregnant women where the body starts to reject the pregnancy. They don’t know exactly why it happens, but it does. In severe cases the mothers organs begin to shut down, her brain can swell, and she dies. The only cure for this condition is to deliver the baby. Your mothers blood pressure was high, she had protein in her urine, and her blood tests were off the charts for liver function, it was beginning to fail, in short she was sick. They said the baby (you) needed to come out, now.

So we sat there silently processing this, looking at each other and then back at the doctor trying to comprehend the situation. To us, it didn’t add up. Your mother *looked* fine. No signs of sickness, no swelling or headaches or nausea or jaundice… nothing wrong with her that we could see or she could feel. Your heart was beating strong and you were moving a lot, so we knew you were ok, and I thought it would all just pass and we’d be on our way. Your mother was still concerned that the house was messy and she hadn’t packed a bag.

We asked for some time to think about what we wanted to do and the doctor asked if we’d like to see the blood test results ourselves. I said yes. We poured over the results, trying to make some sense of the series of tiny numbers in a small font in front of us and speculating as to what they all meant. We scanned down the page and there highlighted was the liver functions which showed a “normal” reading for ALT (an enzyme that indicates problems) was less than 40. Your mother’s reading was 3600. It started to sink in, regardless of how well she looked, things were not right, and there was a real risk of something going very wrong.

So we talked more, we cried. Our minds racing with all of the worst possibilities made us say things we didn’t want to, we pledged our love to each other and your mother made me promise I’d look after you if anything happened to her. I told her not say that, everything would be fine. Your grandmother and aunties were calling and every time I had to explain the situation I broke down. I couldn’t handle the thought of anything happening to your mother, and we were both scared at what was going to happen. I told your mother to call her mum in Colombia, but it was 4pm in Perth and 3am in Medellín, and she didn’t want to wake her up and worry her. That soon changed however, as the reality of the situation sunk in and we were taken into a birth suite and prepped to be induced. Your mother was still wearing her work clothes, a long flowing dress that showed off her casual elegance and and her collection of vibrantly coloured jewellery. She was stunning even on the brink of labour. The midwife asked if she’d like to change, but she decided she’d keep them on.

We made a video call to your grandmother in Colombia and through fits of tears your mother explained what was happening. Your grandmother was only barely awake but soon snapped into consciousness as she realised what was happening. Worry and sadness at the other end of the camera made it both better and worse. She was supposed to be here for your birth, but delays with the visa, and a due date still 3 weeks away meant that wouldn’t happen. I did my best in faltering Spanish to reassure her that we were ok, and I would be here with your mother and look after her. I don’t think it helped.

A roughly spoken South African midwife was dealing with us in the birth suite. I didn’t like her, and I’m almost certain she didn’t like me. She knew we were still struggling with the decision to induce and so she drove the point home by saying “Now I know you don’t believe us, but your wife really is sick”… and “You know whatever you choose to do, it’s on you… We give you the option, but if you don’t do anything, it’s your responsibility”. I knew that of course, but I didn’t need her telling it to us like that.

I remember looking out of the window that faced the city, it was 5:30pm, people finishing their working days and going home. A light breeze was blowing through the trees outside the window. “This is the day that everything changes” I thought. Our fate now set, we let the process of inducing begin and waited for you to join us.

Now the midwife told us, “Oh it’ll be a long time, 12 hours, 18 hours…Nothing is going to happen for a while”. So I had made myself comfortable in the birth suite. Your Aunties had arrived and bought me food, my camera, clothes, and toiletries for your mother. Finding basically everything in the house that looked useful, including a laptop with no hard drive in it that they thought was working.

I asked the midwife if I could get a bed, and they rolled out a little fold out bed for me.

Your mothers contractions were starting now. After bungling the IV line three times, the doctor had finally gotten two drips into her hand. One for the Syntocinon to start the contractions, and the other for Magnesium Sulfate to limit any chance of a seizure during the birth. As the fluids slowly dripped into her and did their work the contractions began… Her body would twist a little with each one, and she’d squeeze my hand, not firmly, but with pressure. She’d made soft little cooing noises to run the pain away, much like someone would who had just bumped their elbow. I was pretty certain that nothing was happening, and this labour was going to take a long time because I hadn’t seen anything resembling the stuff on TV yet, not even the real life documentaries version of childbirth.

So we continued on, your Aunties came and went. Your Godmother Gloria arrived and chatted to your mother and Grandmother over Skype. I took photos, held your mothers hand, stroked her hair, and told her how strong she was and how I knew she could do this, and all of this was happening at the right time, regardless of whether we thought so or not.

Then at about 9pm the midwives changed over their shifts. Our surly friend went home for the evening, and a young midwife called Ariana from Donegal, Ireland came into the room. She was friendly and efficient and had keen attention to detail. Your mother had started to shift more in the bed now, trying to find a comfortable position, but with the tubes going into her hands she couldn’t get up or walk around. The previous midwife had said she didn’t want to check how dilated she was too often, because it was going to take a long time, and you’re more prone to getting infections the more often you check… However Ariana took one look at your mother and knew something was happening. She was saying she felt like she needed to go to the toilet, which an experienced midwife will know is a sign that the baby has started to enter the birth canal and is putting pressure on the bowel.

She did a quick examination and very promptly stated… “Well Marcela, you are now fully dilated and this baby is coming now… Don’t you do anything, because i’ve got to get the room ready”.

Your grandparents who had been staying with us had only just gone home to get something to eat, expecting it was going to be late night as well, so I quickly got back on the phone to them and said “you better get back here now…”

The inducing had started at 6pm, and now at 10pm we were ready to bring you into the world. It’s not common for a first pregnancy to progress so quickly, but some of the doctors and midwives had mentioned that when you have pre-eclampsia the body is preparing to bring the baby out quickly so it can get back to normal.

So the pushing started… All I can say Harold, is that your mother is a strong, strong woman. We had come through the contractions without having any pain killers and now the time to push came and she gave every bit of energy she had to push. Your grandmother (my mum) had arrived back in the hospital and so I handed her the phone with your grandmother in Colombia on the other end, a brief Grandmother reunion took place, and then the pushing continued with force.

Two pushes with each contraction is what the midwife wanted, and your mother gave it. At one point tensing her face and pushing so hard she gave herself a blood nose. I did what I could to help, telling her to keep pushing, to be strong, that she could do it. All the standard things that helpless husbands say in the hope that they’ll help cut through the pain. I could see your little head start to peak out, and knew things were close, so I just gave as much encouragement as I could. The midwife assured us everything was going fine, and managed the whole birth process on her own, without doctors or anyone else getting in the way. And so then it came time for one big push and your head appeared outside. Some small gentle pushes more and the rest of your body came out. You were startled and gave a big cry for about 20 seconds and then just stopped. The midwife placed you onto your mum’s chest and you settled, tired but secure and happy.

I can’t really describe the feeling of seeing you there, resting on your mother, eyes blinking open, turning your tiny head to take in all the sounds and shapes around you, but it was amazing. I kissed your mother, I cried, she cried. From such a shocking start to the day, to have you in ours arms that same evening was like some kind of surreal dream.

And that Harold, is the story of how you entered the world and our lives.

NB: I wrote this post just after you were born and now have posted it just after your second birthday. You have blessed our lives in so many ways and continue to do so on a daily basis.

Stonebarn Truffles Pemberton

Stonebarn Lodge and Truffle farm

Oh the lure of the truffle! That delicate little nugget highly prized by gourmands and well to do pigs the world over for it’s musky and intoxicating aroma, and its ability to sex up any dish it’s added to.

I’ve been very lucky over the years to have my winters punctuated with some very special meals where I’ve indulged in my fair share of fungi, and so this year when I was invited to go and stay at a working trufflerie, I gladly accepted.

Now it might seem that truffles are popping up all over the place lately, but I can assure you they are no overnight sensation. A tree that’s been inoculated with the spores to produce black truffles (tuber melanosporum) can take up to 7 years to produce its first truffle. So it’s not exactly a business to enter into lightly.

Stonebarn Lodge and Truffle farm

Fortunately for us Sharon and Dion Rangé were just the hopeless romantics needed to pull such an undertaking off. They originally discovered a piece of pristine bushland 15 minutes out of Pemberton on the banks of the Warren River and only had thoughts of buying it so they could bring their kids up in the country. Of course a property like that tends to have a life of it’s own, and after ideas of planting grapes proved…fruitless, a fortuitous conversation with a former colleague of Australian truffle pioneer Dr Nick Malajczuk put Dion onto the right path and a plan was formed. A guest house and a truffle farm.

Stonebarn now exports it’s truffles to restaurants around Australia, and the world, and have increasingly large harvests each year. The trees are a mixture of Hazelnut and Oak (Dion sourced the acorns from the 100 year old Oak tree in the main street of Donnybrook), and Nick Malajczuk is entrusted with the important job of inoculating them with the truffle spores.

Stonebarn Lodge and Truffle farm

So there we were, a mere 12 years later, with my beautiful wife and son, owners Dion & Sharon, their business partner Graeme, Executive Assistant Adrianne, bride to be Hannah, and pasta guru Danny, eating one of the finest truffle meals of my life. Harold had a great time playing with Peri the truffle dog, and made some more new friends on Sunday when were joined by Aviva Shpilman and her kids. Aviva is the Paris based, Australian architect of the Stonebarn.

Stonebarn Lodge and Truffle farm

We took their generous offer to come and relax for the weekend in the guest house, and stocked up the pantry with some great produce from Newy’s Vege Patch in Kirup, enjoying a Jeruslaem artichoke soup, wood oven roast chicken, and the most decadent Colombian arepas with truffled scrambled eggs. Suffice to say we enjoyed ourselves. The accommodation is wonderfully luxurious and we felt immediately at home. With ducks and guinea fowl living around the house, and Peri the truffle dog entertaining our son, it was a magical weekend.

We managed to do some truffle hunting of our own, and watched the process as Peri marked locations in the trufflerie and every time a truffle was uncovered in that exact spot. It’s still a hard and very manual process mind you. Following a dog through a few kilometres of farm land and digging small holes is not a way to make quick money. Thus the lure of the truffle continues.

Stonebarn Lodge and Truffle farm

I for one am very grateful that people like Dion and Sharon are around to do the hard work to make sure we can enjoy a little taste of perfection every winter.

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Stonebarn Lodge & Trufflerie
phone +61 8 9773 1002

Singapore Celebrity Concierge

Sambal Stingray from Adam Road Food  Centre

What do you do when you plan your trip to a new city? If you’re anything like me you spend days scouring blogs, twitter, and various travel sites on the internet trying to put together a list of the “must do” (realistically “must eat”) places to visit.

So what if instead of spending all that time, you just relaxed and put yourself in the hands of a trusted advisor. A well informed local who could put together a list of awesome things for you to do/eat? Such was the proposition I received recently as an opportunity to visit Singapore on behalf of the Singapore Tourism Board was put forward.

“Impossible!” I thought, as the email came in from the PR reps. There was no way the itinerary could possibly satisfy someone with my obscure culinary obsessions… Oh how wrong I was. Whilst being led through the dried fish and spice laden halls of the dry goods section above Bugis Food Centre with our celebrity concierge Audra Morrice pointing out where her mum comes to collect ingredients for her homemade sambal and curry. I was in the midst of musty, dehydrated food heaven.

Audra was part of Masterchef in 2012, and clearly made it a lot further along the way than I did, a fact which I tried not to hold against her, because her love of food and all that goes along with it is compelling. Based in Sydney with her young family now, she’s a Singaporean through and through, as evidenced in a small alley way in the covered markets of Chinatown haggling over the price of some freshly cut durian with a crafty operator. In short, she was the perfect person to show me the sights and tastes of Singapore that I’d been missing.

Now of course the rest of this post should be read with the knowledge that I was invited to come to Singapore on behalf of the Singapore Tourism Board. The flights, accommodation, and daily activities were all paid for. In fact, if I didn’t have a massive craving for Bakkwa that needed to be satisfied with frequent nightly trips to Lim Chee Guan, I’d have struggled to pay for anything. I stayed at the very trendy Dorsett Hotel in Chinatown and had a friendly mini bus driver named Steven who let us bring durian puffs on board as long as we double bagged them.

Disclaimers aside, I can’t think of many things on the itinerary that I wouldn’t have done of my own accord. The tour was designed by Audra to give us an idea of what her Singapore was all about, and it was a feast for all the senses. It was facilitated by local tour guide Wee Tee, a lady whose innate Singaporeanness is second to none, and who only got funnier as the days went on. She took great delight in introducing me to the wonders of foot reflexology, which should actually be known as foot murder.

So in no specific order here are the highlights in photo form for you to peruse:

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery

Soft boiled egg at Chin Mee Chin

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An old school bakery of much repute on East Coast Rd. This was the spot Audra chose to take us to experience the joy that can only come from a sweet cup of kopi (strong coffee brewed with or without a sock and loaded with condensed milk) and some kaya toast with soft boiled eggs. Kaya is a sweet coconut jam made with eggs, and the best way to eat it is on some plain white toast with a slab of butter. Our group fortunately arrived early as a line started forming out the door not long after we arrived. I managed to eat about 4 soft boiled eggs with liberal doses of soy sauce and white pepper sprinkled over them. The kaya toast just works, I could eat it anytime of the day. Soft white bread lightly toasted and loaded up with melty butter and thick coconut jam is a superb match.

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery
204 East Coast Rd
+65 6345 0419

Tiong Bahru

Chwee Kueh from Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre

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Tiong Bahru is an old area close to the centre of Singapore. It was Singapore’s first housing estate, built in the 1930s to the west of Chinatown, and has in recent years undergone a “gentrification” of sorts. With all kinds of new coffee shops, bars, and designer stores appearing in what previously was home to kopitiams full of mahjong playing old timers.

We took a little of the old and a little of the new on this visit. First up hitting up the hugely popular Tiong Bahru Bakery for breakfast pastries and specialty coffee supplied by hip new roasters Common Man Coffee (A collaboration between Perth locals Five Senses and Singaporean coffee trail blazers Forty Hands). My Kouign-Amann was crispy on the outside, soft inside, sweet and perfect. The coffee expertly poured by one of the most eager to please baristas I’ve ever met.

We took a short stroll down the road and Audra pointed out some pandan growing in a street front garden that I encouraged her to steal. We settled for a photo in front of it. Then onwards to the Tiong Bahru Food Centre and a little breakfast treat called Chwee Kueh. I discovered this on my last trip to Singapore, and was super happy when we made a bee line for the Jian Bo Chwee Kueh stall with aunty dutifully scooping steamed rice cakes out of their moulds onto a sheet of wax paper and lathering over a healthy dose of preserved radish and sambal. I played it cool for a while but when it was obvious that the rest of the party were lacking in the power eating department I stepped up and finished most of them. I can envision a future in which I eat this for breakfast everyday and am totally happy.

Tiong Bahru Bakery
#01-07, 56 Eng Hoon St
+65 6220 3430

Tiong Bahru Food Market & Hawker Centre
30 Seng Poh road


Chargrilled octopous with chorizo and calamansi

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Now a slight divergence from the hawker stalls and local food as we headed to a little restaurant in Chinatown called Lolla. I was all ready to not like this place with its Spanish this, tapas that, and this is our version of what. Plus the distinctly not-hawker-customer-friendly price tags on the dishes… but damn if the food wasn’t good. Chef Ming is a young guy who is clearly keen to impress. We arrived for a lateish lunch and he was prepping pork skin for dinner service which was slow cooked overnight, then dried, before being deep fried into perfect crackling. The dishes I tried could not be faulted… a sublime seafood custard (think Chawanmushi with squid ink) topped with sea urchin. Then a slow cooked tripe that fellow offal fiend Rebecca and I could not go past, crispy gelatinous honeycomb. Then octopus, clams, smoked cheese. Washed down with a Spanish Albariño I could have quite easily forgotten I was still in the heart of Chinatown with ducks hanging in windows all around me.

22 Ann Siang Road, Chinatown
+65 64231228

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To get us back on the local track, after lunch at Lolla we took a stroll around Chinatown, checking out the Buddhist temple (home to part of Buddha’s tooth), and the wet markets where old and young guys used very large cleavers to take the heads off very large fish. Small cages of frogs who had lost all hope of escape sat complacently awaiting their fate, and all manner of person haggled with vendors for the best prices. Outside the market old men played Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) and we wandered through streets of covered markets til that all too familiar smell of Durian filled our noses and Asian food novice Aleisha was given the baptism of fire into that most special of fruits. It didn’t go well.


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Another day another market and this time it was Bugis. An area previously famous for lady boys during the second world war, we had no Adam’s Apples to be wary of unfortunately, just more great street food from the hawker centre and market stalls. Wee Tee our guide happily procured rojak for a snack and ice kachang and ice cendol for a snack dessert. I’m pretty sure it was mostly for her, but she let us have a taste as well. The hawker centre doesn’t just stop at the food level, head upstairs and you find yourself in the aforementioned dry goods section. Audra pointed out dried persimmon, all manner of dried mushrooms and fungi, giant bags of dried scallops and ikan bilis and a whole stall dedicated to dried sea cucumber, a food that must surely be close to the top of the list of ugly things that are crazy expensive.

Little India

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant

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Little India is an area like no other in Singapore. I have yet to reach India, but I have a pretty good idea of how it would feel from spending a few nights in Little India Singapore. The streets are heady with the smell of incense and dried flowers, and spices. Road rules and the regular orderliness of Singapore goes out the window and in the evenings an otherworldly noise envelopes you as the sound of thousands of voices speaking a hundred sub-continental dialects fills the night air.

On this trip Audra took us to a favourite restaurant of hers, the Madras New Woodlands Restaurant, which I was somewhat shocked to find was totally vegetarian. Of course the health conscious need not get too excited about that as plate after plate of fried breads like poori, dosai, and vadai rolled out onto the table. I mopped all of them up with coconut sambal and chickpea curry and washed it down with mango lassi. Meatless what?

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant
14 Upper Dickson Rd
+65 6297 1594

Adam Road Food Centre

Sambal pipis

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Back to the hawker centre for dinner, and one I’d never been to before. Adam Road has a wide selection of classic hawker dishes. We started with some excellent sambal stingray, and sambal pipis, dabbled with some hokkien mee, satay, and a little black carrot cake (not actually made from white carrots, but with radish and sweet soy). I may also have downed a few of bottles of frosty cold Tiger beer with the help of Rebecca. Singapore is so far the only place where I will reach for a beer before anything else. The humidity in Singapore can feel like walking around in a warm bath sometimes, and who doesn’t like drinking beer in the bath? Am i right? Anyone…

Adam Road Food Centre
2 Adam Road
Singapore 289876

Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice

Boon Tong Kee chicken rice

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You know what has been conspicuously absent during this post so far? Mentions of chicken rice. You only need to go to Singapore once to realise what a phenomenon chicken rice is, and how hotly debated the “best” version is. Don’t know how to break the ice with that cute girl at the hawker centre? Ask her where the best chicken rice is. It is undeniably Singapore’s national dish and for good reason. The perfect chicken rice is a transcendent experience. Perfectly steamed chicken bursting with succulent juices and umami packed rice that’s been cooked in chicken stock with some fat mixed in for good measure. Paired with the right chilli sauce, and some sweet sticky soy (and a little broth if you’re lucky), this is about as good as food gets for $3-$5 on average per serve.

Audra chose to take us to the River Valley outlet of Boon Tong Kee chicken rice, a chain that features in mostly all the “best chicken rice in Singapore” lists. Despite having been eating constantly for 3 days at this point, I had no issue in partaking in lusciously plump steamed chicken and flavourful rice, the chilli could have gone up a notch for me, which I guess means I’m becoming Singaporean because splitting hairs over amazing/cheap food is pretty much a national pass time.

Boon Tong Kee
425 River Valley Road
Singapore 248324

Singapore skyline from the Super Tree grove

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On the non edible side of the country, we also visited the S.E.A Aquarium (which was amazing, but made Audra hungry for seafood), and the alien landscape that is the Super tree grove in the Gardens by the Bay. The one certain thing about Singapore is that it is constantly reinventing itself. For an island state that turned itself from a collection of sleepy fishing villages to a global financial power player inside of one generation is astounding. That it continues to morph and grow and adapt is certainly no surprise.

That does make it pretty tricky at times to find the real Singapore, which for me is tucked away in the back streets and hawker stalls, on the ground floor of the not so trendy shopping centres, and anywhere the smell of durian and charcoal mix together and linger in the humid night air.

In case it wasn’t obvious at the top of the post, here it is again at the bottom. This trip and tour was made possible by the Singapore Tourism Board and was a part of their Celebrity Concierge program where you can take part of a unique service that pairs you with a celebrity with local knowledge of Singapore to help plan your trip. Go check out the site and see if you too can be a winner.

Thanks again to Audra and her excellent advice, and to the lovely people at Singapore Tourism Board (and the fearless Larissa) for giving this glutton another 50 reasons to love this country. If you haven’t been yet, I’m not sure how much I can stress this… go.

Gnocchi with the Papas

What is wrong me ? Seriously. I have been looking back at photos on my computer this evening and it’s criminal the amount of things I have taken photos of, loved, absorbed as part of my very being, and then promptly forgotten to write about.

One such occasion was a couple of years ago in a small kitchen at my dear friend Alex and Linda’s place in Inglewood. When Linda’s parents announced that they would be making gnocchi. What this meant in reality was a full scale production that would take over the majority of the house and end up preparing enough food to feed a small army.

The menu was simple. Gnocchi, and red sauce. Now I’m not sure Italians are necessary well known for understatement, but “red” was by no means the defining quality of that sauce. Of course the people preparing the mean were no ordinary hosts. Italo and Grazia have a love of food and hospitality engrained into their very fibre. At home in Adelaide Italo makes his own sausages, grows every kind of vegetable under the sun in his backyard, and has a cellar full of wine that he’s made himself.

I was fortunate enough to be adopted into the family that day, as we fed mounds of freshly boiled potatoes through the ricer and Italo methodically worked in just enough eggs and flour for the mixture to bind into a light smooth dough. Then the real work began. As Italo rolled out long thin logs of dough and swiftly flicked off bite sized pieces for Alex, Linda, and I to roll down the back of the gnocchi board.

All the while Grazia stirred a giant pot of “red” sauce that constantly evolved with each thing added to it. First went in chicken drumsticks, then a rolled fillet of pork (maybe beef), then a deceptively simple rolled egg omelet, then a couple of rolls of thick slices of pig skin with a layer of stuffing on top made from breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and egg.

The sauce bubbled away for a couple of hours absorbing all the delicious flavours from the meat and then we gingerly slid the now multiple trays of pillowy gnocchi into another big pot of salty water. As they slowly started to float their way to the surface Grazia would scoop them out and into a large bowl ready to be mixed with spoonfuls of the sauce.

Italo fished out the meat from the sauce and sliced it all up and onto a platter. This would be the traditional style of eating, with the first plate being the gnocchi, and the second plate being the meat and a light salad.

I’m going to let the photos do the rest of the work because my meager superlatives can’t really do justice to just how wonderful this meal was.

To make this less of a gloat fest, I may as well include a recipe for the gnocchi themselves. Italo’s basic recipe for the gnocchi dough was 250 grams of flour to 1 kilo of potatoes, two eggs, and salt. Boil the potatoes and then feed them through a ricer, before very gently mixing the flour, eggs, and salt in. Try not to overwork the dough as the more you activate the gluten in the flour, the harder the gnocchi will become. When the dough is smooth and firm, roll it into small logs and cut into bite sized pieces.

The gnocchi board isn’t essential, you could just use the back of a fork if you wanted to. The idea is to give the gnocchi some texture that the sauce will grip onto, but I think most sauces do a pretty good job of gripping on their own.

Most importantly, invite some good friends to help you, don’t attempt it on your own or you’ll wonder what the hell you’re going to all this effort for. Food as good as this deserves great company.


The Faces of Eat Drink Blog 2013

Recently I was involved in organising the 4th edition of the national food bloggers conference Eat Drink Blog. The event was from my point of view a massive success in bringing together food bloggers from all over the country and internationally to discuss the issues that make them tick. There was much considered discussion and a bit of fiery debate on topics ranging from improving your writing skills and photography, to legal issues surrounding blogging and how/if to engage with PR.

I couldn’t have been happier with the way the event turned out, it was exactly what we as a committee had planned all the way along, and with help from some amazing sponsors and speakers, we were able to put a great program for our delegates.

I was pretty busy over the course of the day running around checking things, talking to people, MC’ing the odd session, and then serving our empanadas in the evening at a pop up dinner. Although I did manage to find some time to take a few photos of my own, and so here I present some of the faces of the lovely people that made the event so enjoyable, and all the hours put in to organising it totally worthwhile.

Emma from My Darling Lemon ThymeLiz from Perth Breakfast ConfidentialPia from Life of PiaShez from One Bite More and Rachi from Le Bon ViveurBri from Eat Meets West and Adam The Amateur GourmetChristina from  The Hungry AustralianAnna from European FoodsMartine from Chomp Chomp and Whitney from Dine White MeThe crowdAi Ling the Blue Apocalypse on stage with Cyn The Food Pornographer and Phil of Last AppetiteDavid from Food BlargTeresa aka ChisaChris from Bon ViveurMarcelita and HaritoJamie from Gourmet MaleBryton from Bryton TaylorChristine from Cooking CrusadeGillian from My Square Frying PanPhaemie from Raging CravingsDianne from Traveletto and her excellent marinated mushroomsEd Charles from TomatomMichelle from Foodie CravingsAga from A Matter of Taste

I can’t wait to see you all again at the next event :)

Breaking the drought

Hey folks,

It’s been a while… Any by a while I mean probably a year or so. Of course if you’re following me on twitter or Facebook you’ll realise that I haven’t exactly disappeared from the online world, but it seems every time I venture to this website I end up half writing something, deleting spam, editing photos, updating plugins, and then never actually publishing anything.

Now that’s pretty common in the blogging world, but given that I am organising a national food bloggers conference this coming weekend called Eat Drink Blog you’d really think I should be doing better at actually blogging myself.

So this is really just a quick note to say I’m alive and well, and in case you missed it, which is likely because I didn’t put it up here, I am now proud father to a bouncing baby boy Harold, who is 9 months old and going on strong. I’ve got lots of things to catch up on, which lets be honest, probably won’t happen… but Abstract Gourmet is still alive and well and as opinionated as ever, if somewhat sleep deprived occasionally.


How to sum up a country in a single blog post ? It’d be fairly audacious of me to even attempt such a thing, especially after a single visit, but this is a blog, and if you can’t be self important and all knowing on a blog then where can you be ?

So I received an email last year that piqued my interest. It was from a girl called Venetia and she was inviting me to come to Singapore and visit the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Now I’m not sure if my stance on accepting freebies is particularly well known, but I generally decline most of the emails I get sent due to lack of interest or lack of time.

As of now however, I have discovered my breaking point. International travel. If you as a marketing/pr person are willing to fly me to another country and show me all the good things there are to do there, I will more than likely accept, whilst still writing what I genuinely think about the place… slowly, perhaps a year or so later.

What made the decision a little easier was that Singapore has been a destination on my radar for a long time. I have an uncle and aunt there who were recently married in Perth, and so it’s almost a shameful secret that I hadn’t been already. The Marina Bay Sands invited me for a culinary tour of the restaurants within the complex, along with a group of other Australian bloggers who were a lot more diligent than I am about writing about it. (Hey Helen, Jen, and Lizzie), as well as groups from Malaysia and Indonesia. The tour started on Monday and so Marcela and I arrived on the Friday beforehand to acquaint ourselves with this most curious of cities, and eat as much dodgy hawker food as possible.

So on the plane we jumped and a quick 5 hour flight red eye from PER -> SIN landed at us at Changi Airport at 6am, where even so early in the morning the humidity welcoming party was waiting for us the second the electronic doors slid open. Like a big hug from a sweaty Aunty you don’t really remember, but are sure you’ll end up liking. Then straight into a taxi and back to my uncles place on the East Coast where my plans for hitting the hawkers for breakfast faded as quickly as my head hit the pillow for a “quick nap”.

Of course it didn’t take us long to get into the swing of things. An MRT ride into Orchard Road and then a visit to Newton Circus for Oyster Omelet and Black Carrot Cake (actually rice cake fried with sweet black soy sauce), and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with lemon. Perfect.


Later that evening we were taken to the East Coast Park outpost of the famous Jumbo Seafood chain for chilli and black pepper crab and plenty of cold Tiger beer to wash it down.
I have never been a big beer drinker, but sitting outside, dripping with sweat, my lips slightly stinging from sucking all the flesh out of perfectly cooked crab drenched in a spicy tomato sauce… beer has never made more sense.


The next day for lunch we did some covert surveillance of the Marina Bay Sands and visited the dumpling empire that is Din Tai Fung for as many dumplings as we could manage. What’s not to like about an army of face mask clad dumpling ninjas rolling and stuffing every dumpling with military precision inside a glass cage ?


We then decided to head out of the touristy zones and explore an area called Tiong Bahru. This is a suburb that has traditionally been very local, but is undergoing something of a gentrification of late, with trendy cafes and bars popping up in formerly nondescript shopping centres. We tried that much loved “King of Fruit” the durian at a small market near the MRT stop. After watching a safety gloved young man deftly hack his way through a large pile of them, he eventually noticed the curious looking tourists and asked if we’d like to try. I’ve had durian before, but first time for Marcela. We’re both in the “interesting, but not for me” camp it would seem. My theory is that you have to have grown up with the stuff to really get a taste for it, but then the signs on the MRT saying “No Durian allowed” would seem to indicate that not everyone is a fan in Singapore either.


From Tiong Bahru MRT station we wandered around in circles for a while before eventually finding a little cafe getting a decent rep of late Fourty Hands. I had heard the specialty coffee scene in Singapore was a little dire up until a few years ago, but that is all changing. Micro roasters, and committed espresso lovers seem to be flocking in droves and setting up interesting and thoughtful places that break the mold of the typical Starbucks style chains.


Forty Hands felt like being in Fremantle, Surry Hills, or Fitzroy… Funky lighting, graffiti, Synesso espresso machine, latte art, and importantly quality coffee flown in by Five Senses from Perth roasted fresh each week… And Australian cider in the fridge. Definitely worth checking out when you need a little taste of home.

The next day we hit up Chinatown. Strolling down the laneways packed with vendors selling every conceivable crappy nick nack and tshirt you could imagine, we found solace and refreshment in the form of whole coconuts cut open for us, and the awesomeness that is Bak Kwa. If you’re uninitiated Bak Kwa is thin slices of pork mixed with a sweet spicy marinated, cooked, cut into squares, then basted with more sauce and fried. It is the stuff of legend and I could die happy with a giant pile of it as my last meal.


Not done eating, we then made the short walk to the Maxwell Hawker Centre for the famous Tian, Tian chicken rice. As popularised by Anthony Bourdain and every other blogger under the sun. Now I’m sure how much better the Tian, Tian chicken rice is than the other 3 or 4 chicken rice places in Maxwells, but it was good. For $3.50 you get a plate of supremely succelent steamed chicken, intensely flavoured rice, and a trio of sauces – chilli, ginger, sweet soy, as well as bowl of the chicken broth and a few veges to make things look respectable. Chicken rice is (one of) Singapore’s national dishes and rightly so, this was fantastic.


More photos of eating around Singapore and the actual Marina Bay Sands hotel to come…