Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Review: My Name Is Memory

The book has so much promise, but it was never delivered. How could you not be intrigued by a premise of a boy who had lived and died and lived again so many times, over centuries, and every time he was reborn, he fall in love with same girl, over and over again. The problem is, she did not remember him, and he was the only one who carried every memory of their past lives. In each lifetime, he searched for her and found her, but each time, they were torn apart. I mean, I saw the book's tagline "Sometimes love lasts more than a lifetime" and immediately decided to buy it because that is totally awwwwwwww.

I should have know better that when two (out of three) reviews quoted on the back of the book compared 'My Name Is Memory' to the Twilight series that this is going to be such a boring book. I can't read Twilight. I tried, but at each try I feel like tearing my eyes out. It was just not my taste (heheh, no offense, Twilight fans. I know there are several of you here. Peace, my friends).

This book was slow to start with, but it got better in the middle which I genuinely enjoyed but things just went downhill and the ending was just 'What the f....?".

I don't even know why I spent time writing this review. Hahaha...

Note: Okay, I just found out that the book is actually the first of a trilogy, and that's explains the rather abrupt ending, but still...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Travelogue Bali: Campuhan Ridge Walk in Ubud

Two years ago, when I visited Ubud, I tried to do this Campuhan Ridge trekking, but I could not find the trail head, so I gave up. This year, I bought the much recommended Bali Pathfinder (great for finding that trekking and cycling route, or for the road trip), and determined to conquer the famous trail once and for all.

And I did.

(Okay, conquer is an overstatement. The trail is a total la-la-la, leisure activity. It took me less than two hours for the whole trek, which is about 8-10 km long for the whole loop. There’s a slight elevation, nothing hardcore, but you’ll still sweat a lot)

I woke up early, put on my track suit and running shoe, and armed myself with a bottle of water and some chocolate. I was pretty much alone throughout the hike; my only encounters were a father walking with his two young daughters, a hot-looking runner and an uncle. It was a tranquil walk, and I quietly enjoyed the sounds of insects singing to the world and the beautiful flowers dotting the path.

The trail head was a fifteen minutes west-ward walk along Jalan Raya Ubud from the Ubud market, at the entrance of Ibah Hotel (if you find this hotel, you’ll find the trail). Follow the sign downhill towards the river and cross the bridge.

You’ll find a path paved with these bricks.

Follow it uphill (after a while, the brick path will give way to a dirt path), and you’ll be transported to a world with beautiful tall alang-alang grass swaying to the wind, coconut trees and the gurgling sound of the two rivers that run along, flanking the ridge. Such a romantic place – it would have been a great venue for outdoor photoshoot. The trek is also frequented by mountain bike enthusiast, zooming through the hilly dirt path.

If you are out early enough, you’ll be greeted by the mist, and on a clear day, you’ll get a glimpse of the mighty Gunung Agung.

The ridges are dotted with up-scale hotel, which can cost you USD 300-600 per night. Fancy.

After a while, you’ll hit the village, and from this point on, you’ll get to see a lot more people. Some local artists set up their shops along the route and you can also stop by at a cafĂ© to enjoy a cup of coffee.

You’ll pass through the terraced paddy fields nestled within the village. I’ve never seen a terraced paddy field before, so I find it rather beautiful (sawah padi biasa banyak dah jumpa kat Kedah kan). You’ll get to see friendly villagers working very hard at their field and some elegant birds frolicking around.

At a T-junction near Romi's Art Gallery, you can turn around and retrace your steps to go back to Ubud center. If not, you can turn left at the T-junction towards the main road that will make a huge loop back to Ubud. It was quite a walk, the road is busy with honking cars and bikes, and once you hit the village of Sangingan, there are just too many dogs standing guard in front of their owner’s house and barking at you. But it will give you a good exercise though (especially if you are chased by the dogs, hahaha).

Monday, January 10, 2011

From The Kitchen: Honey-glazed Stuffed Chicken with Spinach and Cheese

Yesterday was the debut episode of Masterchef Junior Australia, which is now my new favorite show to watch, and man, these kids are amazing. They are totally at ease and comfortable around the kitchen. I was utterly godsmacked with the talent of the little chefs. They are only 8 to 12 years of age, but they cooked food that look so professional and delicious, and that just put me to shame... isk isk isk. I could not even pronounced some of the fancy ingredients that they used, nor would successfully created such fancy meal, especially the desserts. They all sounded so passionate about cooking too. So young. I only got sincerely interested in cooking only after I finished college.... hohoh, tercabar deh. The cuteness factor is wayyyyyyy up, so be alert of frequent 'awwwww' moment, hehe. The show is on channel 711 Starworld, every Sunday at 8pm.

So watching the show make me excited to cook something new, so today after work, off to the kitchen!

Honey-glazed Stuffed Chicken with Spinach and Cheese

1. First, make the stuffing. Heat some butter in the pan, and throw in some minced garlic. Once the garlic is nicely browned, put in the spinach. Cook until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt. Set aside to cool. Afterwards, add the cheese into the spinach. For this recipe, I used a specialty cream cheese with cranberry and citrus bits, but any type of cheese would have work - mozarella, parmesan, ricotta etc.

2. Make a slit along the chicken breast and flatten it. Scoop the spinach and cheese mix on the chicken breast and fold it. Use toothpicks to hold the chicken together, ensuring that the stuffing is all contained inside the chicken (otherwise, the cheese will melt out of the chicken).

3. Heat up the oven to 200-250 degree C.

4. While the oven is heating up, heat up the pan on the stove with a little bit of oil, and brown the chicken for a while to create that nice, golden crust.

5. Make a 'bowl' or a container using aluminum foil to hold the chicken inside the oven (it will catch the delicious juice of the chicken and glaze which can be reduce and use later as sauce).

6. In a bowl, mix some honey, chili powder and a bit of lemon juice. Baste the chicken periodically with this mix. Cook the chicken for 15-20 minutes.

7. Transfer the juices of the chicken (caught by the aluminum foil) into a pan, and heat it up until it thickens. Pour it over the chicken.

8. Serve the stuffed chicken with your choice of side - I make some buttered sweet corn to go with the main meal.

Future tweak: The chicken can be a bit bland since it was not marinated, and much of the flavor comes from the stuffing, so just make the best stuffing to your liking, and this meal would be awesome. The cream cheese that I use it a bit too sweet, so if I were to make this again, I will just use regular cheese.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Travelogue Bali: Tanah Lot

I was rather disappointed when I first saw Tanah Lot.

You heard so much about it, and how every single travel review swoon over its beautiful temple and breathtaking sunset. Well, the day I arrived it was so cloudy that the sun couldn’t even peek out of it, and there were two millions people converging at the spot. Junk food’s plastic wrapper and mineral bottles were strewn all over the ground; some were lodged in between the nook and cranny of the jagged black rocks. It was rather dirty for a place so hallow.

Getting to Tanah Lot itself was such a hassle, and knowing that I won’t be able to make it out in time to Kuta, I decided to spend the night here. There were only a few accommodations available with uncompetitive price due to the lack of demand, as Tanah Lot is a typical place that warrants only a quick stop for photo ops as there is nothing else to do around the area (though I read about a great beach trekking that starts from Tanah Lot to another beach towards the north, but I did not have the time to check it out). Tourists come in droves on shuttle busses during the day, but the area pretty much died down with the setting sun.

I checked in at Dewi Shanti Hotel, conveniently located a few meters off the main entrance, put down my luggage and went for a quick stroll. The temple area consisted of a rolling grassy area planted with trees and shrubberies, and vertical cliff that drops suddenly into the sea. It had just rained, so everything was still gloomy and misty – with the grass swaying to the wind, I could easily pretend that I was in a scene from “Sense and Sensibility”, when the distraught Marianne, upon discovering that Willoughby was in relationship with another girl, ventured into the field, lost herself in the rain and was then rescued by the heroic Colonel Brandon (alas, there was no colonel rescuing this particular damsel in distress on the island of Bali).

A few promontories jutted towards the ocean, each was erected with a temple, which you can’t enter unless for praying, so the tourists would only roam the outer area. In the ocean below, surfers were tackling the evening surf. I tried to find a quite spot, but there was pretty much none. The place was jam-packed with people. With bodies upon bodies scrambling for the best spot to take pictures, the area was alive with chatters and laughter. Among the Japanese tourists wearing straw hats and flower garlands were locals picnicking with their family – the children running barefooted on the field – and even more locals praying and giving offerings. Amidst the orderly chaos, I quietly observed a family on their knees in front of an altar decorated with a few statues. The mother bowed her head in prayer, her hands clasped in front of her chest, and her two small daughters behind her mimicked her action. The grandmother was sitting besides them, making sure that they had their gesture correct.

Afterwards, I searched for a place where I can sit down and write. I settled at the top of the steps that leads down to the beach, which has an unobstructed view of a small temple perched on top of an arched outcrop. I filled in a few pages of my travel diary and did a few sketches of the temples. An elderly Caucasian couple walked by, observed me deep at work, and snapped a photo of my sketch. “Beautiful, beautiful…”, she muttered. (Oh, tetiba I rasa macam artist pulak, ahaks…)

The next morning, I woke up early – after all, I had too much sleep by going to bed at 8 pm last night!- and went out for a morning walk. Tanah Lot looked so much different, so much serene in it being deserted. The sun was out, there was barely any tourist there. I was pretty much alone absorbing its tranquility; the park staff were collecting the garbage (Tanah Lot is a lot more cleaner that early of the day, thanks to the staff. Tourists anywhere should really be more environmental-friendly and respectful during visitation), and the souvenir peddlers waiting for the first sell of the day.

I went down to the rocky beach and stood as close as possible to the water edge. With no one around, all I heard was the sound of the wave and the wind. Ah, what a bliss. A few crabs were scuttling on the ground. I let the ocean sprayed its mist against my sun-burned face. It was rather hypnotic watching the wave crashing upon the cliff. Thirty minutes could go by without you realizing you’ve been staring emptily towards the ocean. It was such a peaceful time – my mind was empty, nothing worried me. You watched the wave rolled in from a distance and then it smashed onto the rocks, spraying upwards, turning all white and frosty. Then just as quick as it came, it retreated back into the sea.

The first impression does count, but if we immediately dismiss it without giving it a chance to prove its worth, we might be the one on the losing side.