Sunday, 26 June 2011

Day 253-254 & 261- A Spice Platter

There was a time, for a handful of peppercorns, you could have someone killed. Throw in a nutmeg or two, you could probably watch. There was a time when grown men sat around and thought of nothing but black pepper. How to get it. How to get more. How to control the entire trade in pepper from point of origin to purchase.--Schuyler Ingle

Here is an exploration of the centuries-old desire for spice in food, in medicine, in magic, in religion, and in sex--and of the allure of forbidden fruit lingering in the scents of cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and clove. We follow spices back through time, through history, myth, archaeology, and literature. We see spices in all their diversity, lauded as love potions and aphrodisiacs, as panaceas and defenses against the plague. We journey from religious rituals in which spices were employed to dispel demons and summon gods to prodigies of gluttony both fantastical and real. We see spices as a luxury for a medieval king's ostentation, as a mummy's deodorant, as the last word in haute cuisine.We discover how spice became one of the first and most enduring links between Asia and Europe. We see in the pepper we use so casually the relic of a tradition linking us to the appetites of Rome, Elizabethan England, and the pharaohs. And we capture the pleasure of spice not only at the table but in every part of life- Tom Standage

I know not of any cuisine  more evocative of the word -spice- than the Indian one. Spices are so important in an Indian kitchen that there's not a home without at least one masala dabba or spice box. So I decided I needed one for the Rolla kitchen as well. Except I didn't make a box, but a platter of spices. 

It took me three tries of shaving various shades of incense cones into tiny little steel bowls before I could get decent pictures of my spice platter. As you can see from the picture above, I had also used dried leaves and seeds. Those were the easy ones. 

Look at my first attempt and you can see what I mean by sloppy shaving. My spice platter looked more like it belonged to a nursery than a kitchen. 

Here is attempt No. 3 on a rattan mat, finally earning its place, at least for now, in the Rolla kitchen. The wooden ladles were made by me using tooth picks, dried pods (same as the ones I used for the lotus leaves) and strings.

This is my favourite picture of a spice platter. It was taken by momofuku ando when he was in Shimla, India 2006. Perhaps my next kitchen will have one just like this.

Up next, ingredients for curry fish head.... 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Day 253-A Real Mud House In My Mud House

Look! Look what I found bright and early Saturday morning? I was just heading out to meet Cindy and Asuka at The Doll Affair when I found what looked like a mud house just under the roof in the bedroom of The Rolla House.  

That was a wasp nest by the way and what looked like mud was actually chewed wood that gave the nest  what many thought was their distinctive papery walls. As far as I am concerned, a wasp nest feels like it is made with hardened mud mixed with dung. I should  know as I destroy wasp nests at least once every few months.  Apparently, a queen wasp will start to build a nest in the spring but then as workers hatch they take over the nest building. The wasp gathers wood fibers locally from weathered wood and then softens the wood fiber by chewing and mixing with saliva. The pulp is then used to make combs with cells for brood rearing.

A typical wasp nest will be 30cm across although they can be much larger. Sometimes big enough to hold thousands of wasps.  Common sites for a wasp nest include under the roof eaves, in lofts or in sheds and out-buildings. Interesting that this particular wasp has decided to build his nest under the roof of dollhouse. I guess big or small, a roof is a roof and they are all the same to a wasp.Of course I have destroyed the nest. Have you ever been bitten by a wasp? Painful enough to make you cry, I have been bitten twice and it hurt for over a week. 

One good thing this wasp nest did for me was to spur me to start work on the kitchen. I am almost done now...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Day 252-The Making of My Mud and Mirror Mantle

I finally started on what I thought was the trickiest part of the kitchen. I made these mud and mirror furniture including a stove with a storage compartment two Fridays ago on 3/6/2011.

These are  the items I had. The brown box behind was given to me by Asuka during one of our mini meets last year and the other 2 were bought from Daiso, our S$2 store. The more complicated piece to make was of course the low long cabinet 

The brown box was to be made into a low long cabinet with 2 doors for the kitchen. I first cut out the 2 doors. I also slit the bottom of this box to make legs. The balsa wood cuts like butter. I saved all the pieces that were cut out to make the doors.

These are some of the materials required for the door. The jewllery finding was used for the brass fittings to decorate the door. 

The next step was to spray paint the findings. I have learnt the technique of slow and sparse spray so as to create an instant rusty look. Yes, as the name suggest, just spray slowly and sparsely using a brown spray paint.

I also painted the doors and aged it to desired effect. Then I starting trimming everything to size and cut the findings for the bits I wanted to decorate my door.

This was how the doors look like after I glued all the parts down. Notice how only one door has a catch? This was because I wanted to make the other door a closed one whilst the one with the catch was to be opened. The closed door would have its catch done only after it was fitted back into the cupboard.

This picture was taken after I painted the fittings to assimilate slightly rusted brass. I thought the door looked a little too medieval for my liking. Although the motif chosen for the center was Indian enough, it also looked like the Fleur-de-lis. But I had already spent more than 1/2 the day just making these doors and it was getting dark so I moved on to Part 2. 

These are the materials needed for Part 2. Some of you may remember my attempt at making the mud relief artwork on the kitchen wall last May. Incredibly, it's been a year...anyway, I used the same plastic table cloth for the motifs. Cut out the parts that you want to create the desired design on the cupboard. 

Warning: This is a terrible picture and gives you a headache if you look at it for too long. But like I said, it was already dark. 

This part is what I call the mantle making stage, This is where I create the mud and mirror layer for the cupboard. I used Gesso for the 1st layer and spread it all over the cupboard but before it dries, I laid out the pieces cut out earlier to make the pattern.  I then apply more Gesso over the pattern without drowning the designs. By doing it this way, you can see the relief effect of the design.

This is what the cabinet looked like after all the pieces are gesso-ed down and the 1st coat of white paint was applied. I did not use glue at all. A few more coats of paint would be required to make sure the cupboard is dazzling. I think I painted at least 6 coats. 

Then came the easiest step. Fixing the little mirrors on the cabinets. The mandala is quite a common motif used by the tribal women when they decorate their furnishings. This step can also be done right at the end after the next step. 

As you can see working on Part 2 was way easier than Part 1. After I fit both parts together, this was how the cupboard finally looked like.

This is the closed door with the catch done after the door was fitted into the cabinet. The latch fitting on the cabinet was made with paper.

This one is of course the opened version. I have always loved slightly ajar doors.....

....this is why. Last night, I stored the cabinet with straw baskets and wooden cups to entice peeping. That's what ajar doors are for. Peeping into. 

Using the same technique, I did the stove. I will of course have to dirty it later but not yet. The white really appeals to me now.

This is my little side table, display shelf, cutting board and utensils holder. See the hole in the center? That is where all the ladles will go. I like this nifty little side table. 

Tribal women in India believe that spirit is present in all matter and in particular, the spirits within their homes must be respected and honoured. And the most common rituals intended to protect the home involve the decoration of its walls, floors and /or kitchen storage containers with sacred patterns-designs which prohibit the entrance of evil and encourage the proliferation of good. ---Mud Mirror and Thread.

Lippan Kam or mud mirror art is practised by women of the Ribari tribe.It is done with a mixture of clay and camel dung. Cow gum is used to stick mirrors. Originality of lippan kam lies in  adding no colour or only whites. Small round, diamond-shaped or triangle  mirror pieces are essential to lippan kam. Many a times mirror pieces are a little embroidered. It is a simple technique and anyone can do it.-----Design Flute

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Days of Dancing and Dream Catching

I think it was written in the stars that we were meant to do what we did last night. It was a little unreal, you may even think it desperate, how it all came to be. After our first and last show last June, me and my dancer friends ( I call them-my dancer friends-for want of a better term but they have become some of my closest girlfriends) had bonded so well that we decided to continue dancing together once a week. A few months later, we started  joking about how we really should look for another gig so that we could show what we had been practising. No luck, nothing, na-da. Until our 1st practice right after India when we were all joking, again, about our next show. Strangely when someone lamented when, oh, when, I told everyone, it will be in June.  

2 weeks later, a friend of a friend wrote to Yuch asking if she would like to participate in a dance competition organised by some obscure group called Dream Catchers Vision. As you can see from the brochure on top, the competition day was scheduled yesterday ie 11th June 2011. They needed a minimum number of 5 dancers per group. 

There were many factors against us joining. 

None of us like competitions, (not at our age, no, thank you), our choreographer was away in New York and would only be back on 30th April and up till sometime in May, we did not even have 5 dancers. The 2 most active dancers which included me were left to make the decisions on yay or nay and I voted yay. Largely for a self fulfilled prophecy. Everyone else except the choreographer was reluctant. I was left to communicate with Shalimah from the Dream Catchers to confirm. Then the 5th member called me and told me the date clashed with her planned trip home to Malaysia.When I told Shalimah, she said she would put us on the list still and was confident that we could get another 5th member in the end. Somehow I knew in my heart that we would do it and sure enough in the nick of time, the 5th member who backed out earlier confirmed yay too and postpone her trip home to Malaysia by one day. It was a little strange how the day she reconfirmed her yay was the day after Shalimah had asked me for her number hoping to persuade her herself to leave home one day later. I didn't give her the number, of course, not that there was any need to in the end. 

Now that it was a definite go ahead, there came the grill of dancing at least twice a week up till three times just before the competition. Our wonderful choreographer, YucH not only created the dance, she did the costumes and the props as well. YucH is the kind of person who could make someone like me feel completely uncraftworthy.  Would you believe that she made this Indian headgear with a sun visor? She tilted the shade of the sun visor upward so that you would wear it like a huge bunny ear on your head and then adorned the visor with cloth . We were assigned to add feathers. I had a mask so I used it for mine. 

These are the hand masks which we wore on our wrists. They are one half of a half mask with the eye portions covered with felt cloth and sequins. 

The Pièce de résistance was in my opinion, this dream catcher. This was entirely made by YucH and we only helped with the little things like sticking, cutting , stringing.  My greatest contributions to this major prop for our dance were my nieces' hula hoop and 2 of the peacock fans which I  had bought from Jaipur.  YucH made the center portion of the hoop with a belt organiser from Ikea she had( I don't know where she hangs her belt now).  The feather portion was mixed with cloth rugs of the right colour cut into small strips.  

This is us in the costumes completely sewn by YucH. Some of us sewed the sequins. I have to confess Fafa had to help me with mine as I was very ill and have yet to completely recover. 

Truth is it was not our best performance. I forgot my steps 3 times and the effort was a strain for me. My sister who was in the audience said I danced like I was trying to remember my steps. One of my closest girlfriends was shattered saying she ruined the dance by turning too early, another said she could not keep her balance and even YucH  said she turned the wrong way.  But we came in 2nd runner up and as my dad told me, that's pretty darn good, considering. Considering what, you asked. Considering our age, of course!

So why is this post here? Well, unbeknownst to us when we signed on for the competition, the organisers were actually from India working largely with the Indian community in Singapore. All but 2 of the dance groups had Indian element in their performance (mostly Bhangra) and the only media covering this event is the Vasantham Channel, a local tv channel catered to the Indian community. In some ways then, this dance is connected with India, that's why it is here. 

Monday, 6 June 2011

Day 227 & 247-OM

Pic taken in Aug 2009 after a hard day's work..

Remember OM? 

...of building table, daybeds and other furniture for the Fair  

No, not the ashram Omm but OM or Old Man who is ironically, the most hardworking character in the village although he is hardly ever seen in anything but a supine position. 

This was OM when we first met two years ago and I have yet to find another I love more. I was smitten at first sight despite his awful stone blue chaise lounge-village style. And I spared no expense  for love. 

OM and relatives in front of what was to be The Rolla House-12 Aug 2009
Not only did I have to pay for him and his three generations worth of relatives plus family priest and pet (he refused to go home with me without them), I also had to give him carte blanche for the building of  the Rolla's home. 

OM at the Family Store 2009

Two years and an almost completed Rolla House later, I decided it was time to broach the subject of the chaise lounge with OM. I remembered that day clearly. It was a nice bright Saturday morning in February i.e. Day 229 and I found OM under the big tree just outside the house in his usual position, eyes half closed. 

Hello OM, I started, taking yet another break? 

I need it to clean the alcove here...OM grunted

Yes, of course, another challenging project?
But I am sure you will figure something out.

Silence from OM, eyes almost fully closed.

And you have done such a beautiful job on the house too.

Slight snore

Now that the house is almost done
I was thinking we should maybe get you a new chair....

No! No! No!
plus a few unpleasant threats with eyes wide open.

 I stormed off in anger but about 15 minutes later, this is what I saw.

OM has somehow in that 15 minutes, managed to make his chaise look even older and dirtier.

As if that was not enough to drive me nuts, he had also laid a torn and filthy strip of bamboo mat over the seat. 

I stood flabbergasted as OM told me with a wicked twinkle 
Let me introduce you to my new chair, Sans!  

And that was my 1st lesson on : Do not TRY to tell OM what to do if it is not what he wants to do. 

20 doll days later, I learnt my 2nd lesson. It started with me asking OM maybe he should think about getting some  new clothes, even a haircut. He then asked me for some fabric. Something sexy, he said. 

I took out from my stash a colourful piece of ribbon which I thought he could make into a really *hot* and skimpy singlet. I also handed over some fake fur (nice hat?) and a  strip of horse hair ( sassy bow tie?) which I had saved from a pair of broken DKNY shoes.

And this was what he did with my precious ribbon. He put the cloth over his lap and cut out enough of it to cover his knees and feet. He then rubbed the cut piece in mud and soaked it in water, to soften and comforta-fy (a word he invented from its root word comfortable) the fabric, he claimed. 

While the cloth was still wet, he put it over his knees while lying in his new chair, closed his eyes and slept. When he woke, the cloth had dried and miraculously, it had folded and stiffen , without losing its softness mind you, to form around OM's lap and feet like a 2nd skin. 

When I next saw OM, he was as usual relaxing in that chair of his, this time in what appeared to be a new cotton shirt and sarong . He even had a towel thrown over his right shoulder but because he had worn them to clean the alcove (yes, he had already made the ladder) , OM's  new clothes already looked suitably seasoned.  

OMee-heavens, is that hair on OM's head and face ? ? ?

No wonder he could not tell me when  I asked him what happened to my fake fur and horse hair. 

You laugh now, OM told me with a shrug.
One day, all the best and greatest will want the OM Look.
You just wait and see.

You think OM was right?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Day 237- Arrival At The Ashram

Ashram [ˈæʃrəm ˈɑːʃ-]
[Sanskrit rama : toil, penance, austerity ]
[Sanskrit rayah : retreat ]

The 1st sight of my bedroom at the ashram.

This was why we went to  India and we had travelled far and wide to experience its simple yet austere life. I came with little expectations and realised at the end of it all that little expectations was actually a pretty good approach.

Photos of Phool Chatti Ashram, Rishikesh
This photo of Phool Chatti Ashram is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Tucked snuggly in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, along the banks of the sacred Ganga is Phool Chatti, an ashram that has been in existence for more than 120 years. 

View from the rooftop above yoga hall

I was sold the moment I heard the words- Himalayan- and -Ganges and true enough, I felt the full impact of its rugged beauty the moment we stepped off the cab we took from the train station at Haridwar. 

View from the verandah just outside my room
In this tranquil and breathtaking environment, we stayed for a total of 8 days and 7 nights, 6 of which were devoted to the studying and practice of the yogic path.

A board full of do's and don't's

The 14 Simple Rules of Ashram Living

 The 10 Discipline of Yoga and Meditation

The highfalutin sounding yogic path was surprising easy to follow largely because we brought with us the LUX -as in luxurious- that we had stashed away when we were staying at the palace.

There were the 100% organic bath products with fancy names 

and the pair of all natural slippers handmade from hemp 
which the kind staff at Devi Ratn told us we could have. 

I also had fruits (Rishikesh village) arranged  in a flowerpot (ashram garden) 
and herbal tea (Devi Ratn) in the papier mache box (Delhi).

Even utensils could be used as decorative items for an otherwise sparse room . 

And when you did not have much, it was easy to colour co-ordinate everything. 

Now do you remember the long long car trip from Delhi to Jaipur?
That trip is now forever imprinted in my mind 
as the time I got addicted to Kukure Masala Munch.
I bought so many we had leftovers for the ashram. 
Shortly after I left the chips out there in the open, the monkeys came and took a few of them. 

As we had arrived at the ashram one day before the program started, we could go into Rishikesh which was about a half an hour ride away, for supplies. While we were there, I bought us a week's supply of sandalwood incense. This old metal chair was then brought up to my room from the garden so that I had a place for my books, sewing box and the burner. 

Right then, I experienced a twilight zone moment. As I placed the rusty chair into that corner, I suddenly felt like I had shrunk and was staying in a dollhouse that I had built. I so could have rusted this chair myself, I thought. 

It was not long before I knew I could be really comfortable in this room.

And it was a matter of very little time before I grew to love my little haven. 

This Phool Chatti cubbyhole was to be my mostest favouritest room in the whole trip. 

And as I was typing that, I felt a little choked with nostalgia.

I miss you, Room. 

I miss you very much. 
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