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Thursday, July 29, 2010

3…2...1…Ready or not!

Hide and Seek


It feels like forever since I’ve blogged a recipe on House of Annie. I think the last recipe post was back in May when we did the Fried Pork with Evaporated Milk dish. Then it was a whole series of eating out in Singapore , from our trip to visit relatives during the Gawai holidays.

But that trip was back in June, and we’ve had almost two whole months of cooking and eating. In that time, we only put up 2 new posts! So why all the hide and seek?

Guess Where I Am?

I’ve talked and hinted in the past about me wanting to move off of Blogspot onto our own domain name. I actually bought it way back in November 2008 (if memory serves). But I didn’t get really serious about moving over until early 2010.

It’s been a lot of starts and stops, frustrations and lost sleep. But this week has seen the culmination of my effort. After asking for (and getting) help from some of our dear readers to beta test the site, I think it’s finally ready to be revealed to the Blogosphere.

House of Annie has moved to…



(well, it was kind of a no-brainer, right?)

No more Chez Annies. We’re not trying to be either Chez Pim or Chez Panisse. We never were.

The new site, , has a similar look and feel to the old one, but I’ve made getting around the site (hopefully) easier. But don’t take my word for it. Try it out yourself!

Poke around and see what you can do on the site. If there’s something broken, missing, or just not working right, I’d love to hear from you through the Contacts page. Most importantly, update your Bookmarks and Blogrolls because in a few days, I’m going to turn on a redirection script on the old site.

And Chez Annies will be no more. (Crossing my fingers.) And then we can get back to doing what we really love – blogging recipes!

Aloha, Nate

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Need your help with the finishing touches…

Rolling Out Sod on Our Old Backyard

IMG_4843 Back when we were moving out of our place in San Jose, we had to re-sod the backyard. It was back-breaking work. First, we had to remove all our raised garden beds, then tear out the old, dead grass. Then I borrowed my neighbor’s tilling machine and turned the hard, compacted clay into beautifully loamy soil with the help of some compost.
We brought in rolls of new sod, and, with the help of our neighbor, proceeded to re-carpet the backyard. I’m so glad that we had his help – we couldn’t have done it without him! His advice and generous donation of time and labor was invaluable.
Well, I’m getting ready to move again, and I need your invaluable help.

House of Annie is (virtually) moving

No, we’re not picking up our stakes again and physically moving from Kuching. (Not yet, anyway.) But the House of Annie is virtually moving to a new address…in Cyberspace!
It’s a process that has taken months, due to all the starts and stops along the way. It’s such a beast to take all our content (almost 500 posts!) off of Blogger, reformat it, and put it back on a new WordPress blog. I’ll probably blog about some of that experience in the future.
But for now, I am happy to say that we’re almost there and I am ready to get some help from some of our readers to beta test the new site before I push the big “switcheroo” button. I need to know where the kinks are, where things are broken, where edges and corners need sprucing up. I need your advice on what doesn’t work, and what could work better.
If you want to help beta test the new site, fill in this form below:

Sign up to beta test the House of Annie's new blog site design
Your Name*
Your Email Address*
Check here*
 I want to help beta test the new blog! 
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I will then contact you with the web address to test out and instructions to follow. Sound good?

Aloha, Nate

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Shopping on Orchard Road, Singapore

Our last full day in Singapore was spent doing – what else – shopping!

Wheelock Place, Orchard Rd

wheelock place orchard rd singapore

Singapore is a Mecca for shopping. But on this past trip to Singapore, most of our time was spent with family and friends. Whether it was eating at Annie’s Aunt’s place, going to Noble House for dim sum, Imperial Treasure for Peking duck, or Rider’s Cafe for Western food, we didn’t really have time to ourselves to just shop.

So for our final full day in S’pore, we left the kids with Grandma and took a cab down to Orchard Road. Here, block after block of the glitziest malls are lined up for your shopping pleasure. We started at the newest and glitziest of them all, Ion Orchard.

Ion Orchard, Singapore

ion orchard rd singapore

Malls aren’t just built above ground. They also go 2, even 3 levels down below ground. You can find fashion stores of every price range and kind, from cheap and cute flip-flops / slippers…

Havaianas, Ion Orchard

havaianas ion orchard rd …to more expensive shoes.

Charles and Keith, Ion Orchard

charles and keith shoes ion singapore

We spent a little while trying on shoes at Charles and Keith. (Okay, Annie tried on the shoes. I just sat and watched.) She fell in love with a couple of pairs of heels there – they were quite reasonably priced! But we had a lot more shopping to do, so Annie put the shoes on hold, hoping to return later to purchase them.

charles and keith heels ion singapore

We had arranged to meet our friend at Takashimaya a couple of blocks down, then go for a ramen lunch at Ippudo. Takashimaya is a huge department store. They are arranged like a Macy’s or a Nordstrom’s with jewelry and perfume on the main floor, with clothes and household goods on the upper floors. But the basement holds a grand bazaar of food stalls and counters.

Everything from fancy chocolates, teas, meats, you name it, are found here. We browsed around in awe. One counter was selling mochi ice cream balls of different flavors. We bought a few to try. They were good, but not as good as the mochi ice cream from Bubbie’s in Honolulu.

Mochi Ice Cream at Takashimaya, Orchard Rd

mochi ice cream takashimaya orchard rd singapore

We came upon an artisanal choclatier called Jewels in another part of the Takashimaya food complex. They were featuring these specially flavored macarons. Our favorite was this macaroon with a salted egg and almond cream, topped with black sea salt from Hawaii. It was a deliciously surprising balance between sweet cream and salty egg.

Macarons from Jewels Artisan Chocolate, Takashimaya

jewel macarons takashimaya orchard rd singapore

In yet another corner of the bazaar, we found the 1A Curry Puff stall. They sell these amazing curry puffs that are beautifully patterned. Their curry puffs come in many different flavors, from the normal chicken curry, to Singapore chili crab (yes, it really tastes like chili crab), and the DURIAN cream puff. Of course, we had to try them.

Were they good? Oh, yeah.

Singapore Chili Crab Puffs from 1A Curry Puff, Takashimaya

1A Crispy Puffs Takashimaya Orchard Rd Singapore

There’s a Cold Storage in the basement of Takashimaya. We had arranged to meet our friend in front of the entrance there. We got there a little early, so we decided to browse the aisles. I got stuck drooling at all the cheeses they had on display. It was almost like being back home in a Trader Joe’s.

Cheeses at Cold Storage in Takashimaya

cheeses Cold Storage Takashimaya Orchard Rd Singapore

Well we waited and waited outside Cold Storage for our friend, but somehow didn’t make the connection. After waiting for half an hour, we decided to go on our own to Ippudo. On the way back, we were able to reach him on his handphone. It turns out, he was in the Takashimaya basement just then, still looking for us after having lunch at Tampopo Ramen!

So we hung out for a bit, but it was getting late and we had another appointment to make that afternoon. We had run out of time to shop. We never even got to go back for those shoes.

Annie’s still sore about that.

Oh, well. Maybe next time.

Aloha, Nate

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Ippudo Ramen, Singapore

These aren’t just any old ordinary instant noodles.

ippudo singapore

After the Peking duck dinner at Imperial Treasure, LK recommended to us a ramen restaurant called Ippudo, right across Orchard Road in the Mandarin Gallery hotel. We made plans to meet another friend there the next day. Annie wanted to go shopping down Orchard Rd, since it was our last full day in Singapore, and the Great Singapore Sale was on (more on that in another post).

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hook up with our friend and so we decided to just eat at Ippudo on our own. We got there past lunch time, so the lunch crowd had thinned out. We were greeted with an enthusiastic “Irasshaimase!”, seated right away and handed our menus.

Order Up

The interior decor is quite nice. Modern but not stark. On one wall is a sculpture featuring dozens of different kinds of ramen bowls. On another wall, there’s a set of manga comics on the wall which talks about the style of ramen noodle served at this restaurant, and how to order it.

Manga on the Wall at Ippudo

ippudo singapore artwork

But first, our appetizers: six pieces of pan-fried gyoza. Usually, when we make gyoza at home, they are quite hefty. But Ippudo’s gyoza are about the size of my thumb. They are tasty little morsels, with the emphasis on little.

Gyoza at Ippudo

ippudo singapore gyoza

I got the Shiromaru Classic ramen, which is a creamy, tonkotsu (pork bone-based) broth paired with thin, straight noodles. It comes with a couple of slices of chashu (roast pork loin), some green onions, and some pickled ginger. Though the noodles were thin, they were perfectly cooked. They held together well and still had some spring in them. Very nice.

Shiromaru Classic Ramen at Ippudo

ippudo singapore kyushu miso tokotsu ramen

Annie got the Kyushu Miso Tokotsu special. The broth was a blend of the Shiromaru broth and miso, giving it a stronger flavor. Her noodles were thicker and chewier than mine. Besides the green onions and chashu, it also came with some leeks and a boiled egg. Annie loved hers so much, she cleared the entire bowl!

Kyushu Miso Tokotsu Ramen at Ippudo

ippudo singapore akamaru modern ramen

We haven’t had good ramen like this since Yotteko-Ya in Honolulu. Though the noodles here were pretty good, we both agreed that Yotteko-Ya was better.

Still, there’s nothing like eating ramen in Japan. Which is what we’re looking forward to. Because in about a month, we’ll be traveling to Tokyo for a week to see what we can see, and eat what we can eat. And you can be sure we’ll be eating lots of ramen! Stay tuned.

Aloha, Nate

Got any recommendations for good ramen or other good eats in Tokyo? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Maria Elena’s Mexican Restaurant, Alviso

Reading the obituary for Maria Elena Montellano, I am transported back a few years, to the day I visited her namesake restaurant.

maria elenas alviso sign

It was one of those gloriously crisp, clear Fall Saturdays in the Bay Area, with the bright sun shining down its warm rays upon a chilly South Bay. I had just dropped Annie off at a friend’s house in north San Jose, near 1st St and Hwy 237. (Annie was catering a bridal shower.) So there I was, alone with the kids and nothing to do.

I didn’t want to head back home – too boring. I also didn’t want to drive too far away, since I needed to be back in a few hours to fetch Annie. So I decided to keep heading North on 1st St and cross over Hwy 237 to the little town of Alviso. With no plan in mind, what would I find?

Forget Me Not

Alviso is kind of like the town that time forgot. Where the rest of Silicon Valley has turned into busy highways, monolithic industrial buildings and tightly packed developments, Alviso has somehow retained its small town flavor. The two-lane roads are quiet, there is still a lot of wide open space, and the tract houses are characteristic of a bygone era.

I drove slowly down the street (at a very UN-Silicon Valley-like speed), marveling at how still everything seemed, yet how close we were to the hustle and bustle of Bay Area living. I meandered around Alviso’s roads. If I reached a junction, I just turned toward whatever looked promising. If I hit a dead end, I simply turned around and went the other way.

Taking a mental note of the nearly full parking lot in front of Maria Elena’s Mexican Restaurant (full parking lots are usually a good sign), I eventually found myself on Grand Boulevard leading out of town, towards the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. Here, at the Southern-most point of the San Francisco Bay, are protected wetlands which provide habitat for thousands of migratory birds.

Pelicans at Don Edwards NWR

Don Edwards NWR pelicans

As luck would have it, that day happened to be “Shark Day” at the Environmental Education Center there. This event was geared toward teaching kids about the area’s watershed and how keeping it clean would help protect the wildlife living in these waters, including leopard shark pups. They had organized all kinds of crafts and activities to teach about the sharks. They even had a baby shark on hand that we could touch (well, at least I could touch; the kids chickened out).

As the day wore on, though, we began to get hungry. So I got the kids together and we made our exit.

Don Edwards NWR Shark Day Esther

Back at Maria Elena’s we were seated right away and given a menu, a basket of tortilla chips, and a bowl of fresh salsa. This tasty salsa didn’t have much heat, but it did have the distinct flavor of fresh thyme – a nice touch.

maria elenas mexican restaurant alviso

Whenever we go out to eat Mexican food, the kids usually got a quesadilla. I ordered a shrimp quesadilla for them. It turned out to be quite a huge tortilla, with lots of shrimp and cheese. It was more than enough for the two of them.

Shrimp Quesadilla from Maria Elena’s

maria elenas alviso shrimp quesadilla

I asked the waitress what their most popular dish was, and she highlighted their Chile Verde. For me, chile verde is how I determine whether a Mexican restaurant is good or not. The verdict on Maria Elena’s chile verde?

maria elenas alviso chile verde

Good, very good. The meat was the most tender pork I have ever had in a chile verde. The sauce was unique, with more of that fresh thyme mixed in. I was impressed.

Though I thought the dishes were a little on the expensive side, the large portion sizes makes this restaurant a good value. I intended to return to Maria Elena’s someday, but never actually got to do it before we moved to Malaysia. Still, Maria Elena’s restaurant is an institution in Alviso and quite popular for those working in North San Jose. So while Maria herself may have passed on, I’m hoping that her restaurant will continue to provide good Mexican food at good value for years to come.

Aloha, Nate

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Rider’s Café @ Bukit Timah Saddle Club, Singapore

I found the beef!

riders cafe bacon mushroom cheeseburger

Do you remember that old Wendy’s Hamburger commercial with the old lady yelling “Where’s the beef?!?” when she sees a pathetically tiny burger patty inside a huge bun? That’s what I feel like yelling whenever I see a burger here in Kuching. The hamburger patties aren’t miniscule, but they are not that big either, AND they aren’t 100% beef as well – there’s a lot of soy mixed in.

Suffice to say, I’ve really been craving a good beef burger. Doesn’t have to be grass-fed, local beef from the North Shore of Oahu like the one I had at Town Restaurant in Kaimuki. Even a Double-Double Animal Style from In-n-Out would be better than the “Two semi-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese…” Big Mac I can get at the Kuching Airport McDonald’s.

Saddle Up!

So I was really happy that Annie’s cousin took us for lunch to the Rider’s Café at Bukit Timah Saddle Club hidden in the green heart of Singapore. This equestrian club actually has two Western restaurants on site – the casual Rider’s Café and a more upscale French restaurant called Mimolette. (Actually, I wouldn’t have minded Mimolette either – we haven’t had good French food since our visit to Bistro Moulin in Monterey last year.)

The Sunday lunchtime crowd wasn’t too bad. We were seated right away at a table out on the veranda, overlooking the stables. You can see (and smell) the horses out there. We had a choice of ordering either breakfast or lunch items. We decided to go with lunch.

First dish to come out was this deep fried calamari. I thought the panko crust was nice and crunchy but the batter itself was pretty heavy and thick.

riders cafe deep fried calamari

Annie ordered this chicken paillard salad which is a butterflied chicken breast, grilled and served atop some salad greens and pine nuts. I thought the chicken portion was too much for the small amount of greens that came with it.

riders cafe paillard salad

Esther got a Spaghetti Bolognese which came on this huge platter, but only filled the small bowl in the center. The sauce tasted all right, pretty standard and no worse than I’ve had here in Malaysia.

riders cafe spaghetti bolognese

Annie’s cousin got the grilled halibut, one of her favorite dishes at this restaurant.

riders cafe grilled halibut

Annie herself ordered the grilled steak with mashed potatoes. Not quite sure which cut of beef this was (skirt? flank?) It came drizzled with (thankfully, not drowning in) some brown gravy. A decent hunk of beef, a little overcooked but passable. The mashed potatoes were too gummy for my tastes.

riders cafe steak and mashed potatoes

Actually, I was vacillating between ordering the steak or the burger. So it was a good thing that Annie ordered the steak so that I could get the burger. Mine came with melting cheddar cheese, REAL pork bacon, and sliced mushrooms. And a side of REAL steak fries!

riders cafe bacon mushroom cheeseburger fries

Here’s the post-assembly, mouth-cam shot:

riders cafe bacon mushroom cheeseburger

Look at that thick patty, the melted cheese, the salty bacon. The first bite was pure bliss. The crunch of raw lettuce and onion, the delicious taste of juicy beef fat. Best of all, they cooked the patty to a perfect medium inside. (If there’s one thing I can’t stand in a burger, it’s a patty that has been cooked till it’s hard and grey.)

Of course, I swapped plates with Annie to let her have a few bites of my burger while I sampled her steak. I liked it, but was more than happy when she returned the burger to me. ;-d

Overall, a decently good Western meal in an uncommon setting in Singapore.

Aloha, Nate

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