Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Zumba Classes in Sydney

After 20 classes at Zumba4u and 7 at Dooley's Lidcombe Fitness Club, I'm hanging up my Zumba shoes for the rest of the year. 

I wasn't planning to teach in Sydney but thanks to the support of Maria Christine, she encouraged me to get on stage. That the minute I mentioned I was a qualified Zumba instructor. I told her how much I loved the track Maga Zin and halfway through her class, she told me to teach it. Instead I taught a track I just learnt, Slide. She put the song on and off I went, my first attempt at teaching to a live class in Sydney. It felt amazing!

Thanks to fellow Zumba instructor Suzie Piiper for this photo. 

Also thanks to Diana Ortiz for welcoming me to her classes at Zumba4u. I danced with her throughout one of her classes and I taught two tracks, P├ęgate and Slide. It was super hot that evening and with no air-con or fan, I could have spontaneously combusted! My ears were burning and that's not happened to me before. I felt like I was on fire and not in the good way :P 

The best part is when I was teaching and my toddler niece is at the back following the moves. She looked so happy. I could see her behind all the ladies. My heart nearly exploded when I got home and she was so excited about seeing me dance. My brother in law showed me a video he took of how much she loves "jumba" (as she calls it.)
Getting Christmas on with Lauro Brazil in Lidcombe. This guy has so much energy pepping up the class and flashing the biggest smiles. 

Christmas themed night at Croydon Public School with Diana and Alexis Lara. It's been like family for the past few months and I will miss their classes. So many friendly faces and uplifting Latin songs. Could not have asked for a better Zumba experience in Sydney.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cycling in Olympic Park and Beyond

It was Sunday and after my morning Zumba session I rode to Olympic Park to meet friends for a long bike ride. 

Olympic Park has many wetlands and it's like an oasis off the M4, less than 10 mins ride from my house. There is abundant wildlife and tranquility. I feel comforted once inside the park and the traffic noise disappears.

Cycling in Olympic Park is enjoyable for so many reasons. Firstly there are many bike paths. Most go through pure nature, ie, bushland, wetlands and alongside Parramatta River. The paths are away from traffic but are well linked. From Olympic Park, if you cross the Silverwater bridge you can ride to Putney or Parramatta. Both directions are leisurely riverside rides. From Meadowbank you can cross a bridge and ride back into Olympic Park.

This was my first time going towards Meadowbank and it's a glorious open ride.

The weather gods were watching out for us that day. It was overcast and cool. We started in Newington and ended up in Rhodes for yum cha. We weren't planning on it but it seemed like the right thing to do, yes?

Sky Phoenix in Rhodes is one of the best yum cha or dim sum places in Sydney. I think their food is more delicious than most places. Here we are waiting for a table in our cycling gear. 

The beginning of our pig-out. It was a happy indulgence and a convenient break from our bike ride. Some folks tour cafes on their ride, we have yum cha. 

I had a smashing time with my friends and cleared at least 30km of riding. I felt extremely blessed to be living close to an naturalistic area where there are so many bike paths.  The fun is free and easy here. I can get to many places around Olympic Park and it's all on pedal powder!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Picnic At Barangaroo Reserve

Barangaroo Reserve of Sydney Harbour is part of my new Sydney. The area has been closed off to the public for 100 years and now it's a picturesque park to stroll through. The only thing it has in common with the nearby skyrises is a million dollar view.

My friends and I had a picnic here and the weather was splendid. By my standards that means it was overcast and warm. (In Australia you can still get skin damage even in cloudy weather so if it's a sunny day, I try to stay indoors.)

Its a bit of a hike to get to the reserve on foot from either Wynyard or Circular Quay train stations. The route from Circular Quay is prettier and took about 20 minutes, via The Rocks. I guess the location explains how it wasn't crowded even for a Saturday. There was plenty of parking available within easy walking distance. 

We had our picnic rugs under a tree and watched the boats and ferries sail past. You can't have a city oasis like this without it being jam packed with people in London. This space capitalises on the harbour front location and everyone can benefit without competing for space.

Even in the city you can find live rock oysters and mussels.

They certainly look like the right size for picking. Some oysters shells were empty so people have been foraging. I remember as a kid, people used to shuck oysters on the beaches where I grew up. They would take them oysters home in a bottle. Wish I could do it now!

Friday, December 4, 2015

There's Such Weather As Too Hot

Although some Brits might disagree, anything above 28 degrees is too hot in my experience.

I like going outside without having to slather on sunscreen first. And idle sweating is gross. When I see a cloudy morning, I think "there's so many possibilities today."

This week it went over 40 degrees and it was too hot to function. I had a blinding headache for three days and paracetomol couldn't numb the pain. This is the second time I've gotten sick since I got back to Sydney. I hardly ever get sick in London. The bugs here have hit me hard.

While I was staying with my sister I took Lillee to preschool on foot as I didn't have her car seat. Instead of using her pram, I made a deal that I'd give her a piggyback some of the way but she had to walk "really fast" the rest of the way.

But walking took too long. She would stop and point at something like numbers on a letter box, leaves on the footpath or a bird. When I gave her a piggyback, her hands slipped off my shoulders and her arms were too short to monkeygrip without choking me.

I ended up carrying her most of the way. She panicked when I left her. I walked out with her clinging onto my leg like a limpet. The teacher picked her up as she sensed waterworks were coming. I broke away and wiped her tears off my face when I got outside. It's amazing how much you can mean to a child, at least when they're afraid.

I persuaded my sister to buy a stroller that day. I carried that bad boy on my shoulder to pick Lillee up. It looked hot and it was literally, although I did style it out as if I was carrying skis over one arm.

I had a good weekend because it was cloudy. On Saturday I went to Zumba in Abottsford and had a Vietnamese salad roll for lunch. Then I went home. I was figuratively punching traffic in the face by riding my bike to Ikea. I needed a usb led lamp and the weather was perfect for cycling. Cloudy, cool and no rain.

On Sunday I got up early to go to Zumba in Lidcombe. I had not been to this gym before. My Zumba instructor teaches there and I really like his class. It was an easy bike ride too.

The class was crowded and I was in the middle row. It's been a month since I did Zumba in front of a mirror and I wanted to check my timing and form. I was pleased that I got to do it and I smashed the class.

As I left the studio, a person tapped on my shoulder and said lovely things about my dancing. She asked how long I had been doing it. She said she was trying to follow me throughout the class.

Then on my way home I decided to buy a UE Megaboom portable speaker. I rode out to Officeworks and bought it with a ipad keyboard. Spent the rest of the day playing with my new toys but I decided to return the keyboard. It was expensive and I'm happier with the one I have already.

I rode back to Officeworks after dinner and relieved my conscience and bank account. It was nice to go out when it was quiet on the roads. Love that shops are open late, even on Sundays here.

November ends tomorrow...time is flying.

Beyond The Halfway Point - Finally At The Beach

My time in Sydney is running out fast and I still haven't done alot of things. This week I made it to the beach. It was a bit sketchy because my car has been acting up and I don't have air con. 

It was the first day of summer and it was 33 degrees. I went to Bronte and felt so rejuvenated there. I was back into my element. The blue water, crashing waves and fresh air was exactly what I needed after driving in a hot car. I went for a swim in the sea bath and then paddled in the surf to get properly get immersed into the sea.

The flagged area somehow seems to be the choppiest part of the beach and Bronte is prone to dumping waves. I try not to get far out as I was alone (and nervous as I nearly drowned when I was a kid). As I walked in, I got caught in the "dumping zone" and almost lost my swimsuit!

It felt so good to be at the beach. For me it's a kind of paradise or spiritual mecca. The sun and surf was blissful. 

On my way home I stopped at Marrickville for a banh mi. These sandwich rolls really need to be more common in London. At the moment you pay above the odds for one and they are nothing like the ones you get in Sydney. 

Nothing better than coming home after cooking in a hot car, to this. An authentic and generous banh mi and bowl of fresh cut watermelon. Bless Sydney for it's incredible fresh food!

My baby niece has grown exponentially. In a space of three days she no longer looks like a newborn. I feel like I'm missing out on seeing her if I'm away for more than a day. Amazing how quickly babies grow. 

I took Lillee to the playground nearby and she made me an "icecream cone" out of leaves. I managed to tie her hair up  when she normally doesn't allow it. I told her that if the birds saw her knotty hair, they will mistake it for their nest. As she hates having her hair brushed, she agreed to tie it back.

I've been using up my passes at the dance studio before the Christmas break. Ballet has been good but it's not something I'd take up. Frankly I'm awful at it. I bought 10 visits at a local gym and for the next few weeks I'll have a dance class on everyday. This is my idea of a perfect routine.

Today I went to Zumba and afterwards I got out my Megaboom speaker and practiced teaching Zumba. It was fab having the studio to myself and I got into the zone. I think I'm ready to teach people now! 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Homemade Vegetarian Banh Cuon

I had a craving for Vietnamese banh cuon. They are steamed rice crepes with a filling, usually made of minced pork and wood ear fungus.

I made vegetarian banh cuon as I already had the ingredients for the filling. There are plenty of recipes online. Be aware there is skill involved with cooking them right because it can easily result in a flop. I'll elaborate on that part a little later. 

For the batter you need two kinds of flour, rice and tapioca. Tapioca flour gives the crepes a gelatinous chewiness. One part of each flour plus 3 parts water and a tablespoon or two of oil worked best for me. For the filling I fried finely chopped garlic, onion, firm tofu, wood ear fungus, shittake mushrooms and carrots. I mixed in chopped soaked vermicelli noodles and sliced shallots after cooking. The secret to flavouring this meatless dish is fish sauce and oyster sauce-you can substitute soy sauce and vegetarian oyster sauce if you are making a 100% meat free dish. 

My banh cuon turned out a little too thick. I cooked them on a fry pan with a lid on before flipping them onto a plate. Unlike the videos on Youtube, I had to cajole my crepes off with a chopstick. The crepes tore or formed holes if I made them too thin. They were too sticky if I didn't cook them long enough. Also they were not coming off the pan cleanly, leaving behind a rice "paper" residue. Maybe I steamed too long causing a crust to form or the batter needed more water or I simply didn't use enough oil. That's the problem with making banh cuon the first time-there lots of ways to fail! It will get easier with practice though.

Banh cuon can be made a day before and they can be reheated in a microwave covered in cling film. I served these at a lunch with nuoc cham. This is dipping sauce made with lime juice, water, palm sugar, fish sauce, chilli and garlic.

Here are the ones I stuffed up. They had holes in them so they didn't roll nicely. I also kept aside the rice crusts which were actually like delicate noodles when added to a broth soup. Maybe a chef will intentionally make this rice skin to be added to soup one day? (Well you read it here first!)

I skipped the usual dressings with lettuce/beans sprouts/fried spring onions. I just drizzled with nuoc cham and devoured. They were soft, chewy and delicious.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

An Update On My Sydney Life

Firstly, THIS.
My brother has just joined Costco, bringing home huge amounts of food. Mum buys her weekly produce at the Sydney Flemington markets every Friday. When I went with her I was dazzled by the fruit and veggies. I feel like I've been deprived in London for too long. The fruit here is heavenly. Nothing beats that first whiff and taste of a ripe Kensington mango.

Basically I've been eating alot. Homemade guilt free meals are ramen noodle soup with shittake mushrooms, tofu and kale. Actually I'm not a fan of the kale but I bought a huge bunch at the market on impulse. I'm also making vietnamese spring rolls and soon, vegetarian banh cuon. Most other meals on the other hand have been somewhat of a binge.

I've started ballet and I love it even though I look ridiculous. The dance style is foreign to me so I tell myself to that my legs are like an artists' paintbrush and my feet are the bristles. In any case I get to pretend to be a ballerina so I'm happy.

I'm doing Zumba three times a week with Zumba4u. Look them up if you don't want to join a gym. Participants are mainly local mums. It's no Reebok Sports Club but the atmosphere is as upbeat and the music is more latin. I sweat buckets. I don't want the classes to end. This is me with two of the instructors (and her daughter).

I love driving but I avoid it when the sun is out. As I have no air con, I roast on a hot day. It got so hot I had to wait until 7pm to go on a bike ride. It still felt like an inferno because of the heat radiating from the ground and walls. After sunset, omg the bugs...so many bugs. They caught on my shirt, went down my top and even got in my ear. It's supposed to be 41 degrees tomorrow so I'm staying indoors. Wish we had those window shutters like I've seen in hot places in Europe. We need those now!

Overall things are great but I'm bored when I'm not riding or dancing. I'm looking for things to do that doesn't involve sweating (it's a "thing" I'm calling in this weather!). I pulled out this old fan which was broken so I took it apart and somehow made it work with electrical tape. Glad it's fixed because I remember the day I bought it. It was 18 years ago and my late father drove me to Newcastle from Port Macquarie as I was starting university. It was a rare thing for him to take a whole day off because he was working a restaurant business. After helping me unpack, buying me necessities like this fan, he gave me $500 and told me not to tell my mother. I said I didn't need it but he wanted to make sure I had it just in case. He drove home and I felt really sad to be leaving someone who supported me throughout my life. I never used that money. This fan is a reminder of what he did for me and I'll cherish it even if it's deteriorating.

Friday, November 13, 2015

My First Week Home

I don't know why I wanted to defer coming home so quickly after I finished my job. Life in Sydney is terrific and I'm loving the warmer weather.

Time seems to pass slower here. Maybe that's due to jetlag and I start the day at 6am or earlier. I was'nt functional after dinnertime and I slept hard. I could sleep through anything. Towards the end of the week, I've adjusted and because it's been raining, I stay in bed longer.

My trusty 21 year old car managed to start after a slow turn of the engine. I had to wash it because I couldn't see through the windows. It's been garaged for two years. The front two tyres were almost flat and I drove it ever so slowly to a nearby mechanic. It passed it's blue slip, received a much needed service and now it's registered for the road. Mum keeps telling me to sell it but I love my first and only car to bits. 

I've been making daily visits to my sisters. Sometimes I stay over although I sleep much better at home. Can't beat the comfyness of the bed I slept in since i was a kid and I really do need peace and quiet after playing with the little ones. 

We went to to the fish markets and spent a fortune on king prawns and sashimi. So much seafood. It doesn't get fresher than this!

My little bike is still serviceable and when I rode to Olympic Park, I was delighted to see the mulberry tree at the Armory full of ripe berries. 

Keen to keep up with Zumba, I'm now doing it on Mondays, Thursdays and Wednesday nights. Sadly its not enough for me and it's too expensive to join a gym. There is a dance academy near my sister's so I've taken up jazz classes on Tuesday and Wednesdays. I might also pick up ballet as well.

We had a family dinner and my sister had a hankering for ricotta cheesecake from Papa Patissceria. I picked up a huge one, meant for 15 people even though there were only 7 adults and I couldn't resist a few more treats for the road, of course. 

My overall feelings for this week is of relief. That people are nicer here and openly compassionate. I'm excited about my new Zumba and jazz classes. The things I truly love haven't changed since I left and I can finally let myself relax and sleep for as long as I want. Plus I get to eat amazing fresh food again! 

Parramatta To Park River Trail

I think an overcast day is ideal for a long bike ride. When it's not too sunny, at least in Australia. There's no need to fry in the sun! 

I rode to Sydney Olympic Park. The sky cleared up although it was a bit breezy. It was so tranquil out here. I felt like there was no place I'd rather be. 

Then I discovered that you can ride to Parramatta and it was only 7.5 kms away. So I did it. The only unpleasant part was going over the Silverwater Road bridge but everything else was smooth sailing. The cycle path was quiet and I got to Parramatta Park in no time. 

I've not been to Parramatta Park before. It was peaceful and green. Actually there were quite a few jacaranda trees so you could say it was purple too. I locked up my bike and went shopping at Westfield. It seemed like a stress-free and environmentally friendly way to get there from my house. Plus there are no worries about parking or traffic.

On my way back, the sky had turned grey so I hurried home. It was me and my little bike vs the rain!

The grass had just been cut and this galah was plodding along eating whatever seeds it finds along the way.

I made it home before the rain came down. I miss the sound of rain as windows are double glazed in London. It's a nice sound to relax or fall asleep to.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lillee And The Big Yellow Snake

I asked my niece if she she wanted to see a show with real snakes, frogs and spiders. She said no so I replied: "I guess I'll see the show with Paula then." 

Paula is Lillee's best friend at pre-school so Lillee protested for fear of missing out. She then agreed to see the show. Of course it was really me who wanted to go. I put her childseat into my jellybean car and off we went. It was our first aunty-niece day out.

I wasn't completely lying because Paula was at the preschool. It's just wasn't a day when Lillee normally attends. One of their school mates had his birthday and his parents arranged a wildlife show at the preschool so the other kids can enjoy and learn as well. 

We got to see lizards, crocodile, turtles, frogs and spiders (in clear boxes!).
The star of the show was a big yellow snake. As I was the other adult present, aside from the birthday boy's parents, I was asked if I wanted a photo with it. I'm like: "YEAH I DO!" and I plucked Lillee out from the sea of kids. What it looked like was me grabbing her arm and dragging her towards the snake. 

As the pictures reveal, she resisted. When the snake was draped around us, she realised she was trapped. Thankfully there were no tears. She happily pet a lizard before so I don't think I truamatised her too much.

As photos were taken, I asked one of the parents if Lillee was smiling. I got a shocked expression and a flat out: "no." Hardly surprising given how brazen this aunty was to have a photo taken with a snake, oh and her niece.

The show ended and everyone had to wash their hands after touching the animals. It seems the snake was forgotten as Lillee played with her school mates and didn't want to leave. 

We had to buy a few things from the shops before heading home. When Lillee got tired of walking, she asked if I could carry her. I said I would only if we were crossing the street or walking in the sun. So she deliberately stood in the sun, waved her arms and said: "Now can you pick me up Aunty Emma?"

I did but only because she was so damn cute. As we were waiting for the traffic light, she brushes hair away from my face with her little hands.

How lucky are mums with adorable kids!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

There's No Place Like Home

It's been a year since I was home. This was a welcomed sight after a 13 flight from London to Singapore, a 16 hour stop over and another 7.5 hour flight. 

Returning home feels like having a blindfold removed and noticing all the changes since I last left. Like how much development has happened in Sydney and huge apartment blocks are being built on any space developers can get their hands on. Burwood, my old haunt has been re-zoned to allow high rise buildings. The plaza car park is now a concrete monstrosity, unrecognisable to what it once was. Now high rises sick out into the skyline like pointy sore thumbs.

Met my new niece, only a week old. She's a cute little raisin and so gurgley. I love hearing the sounds she makes. It almost makes me weep!

My other cute niece.

I've started taking Zumba classes locally. They are held in school halls and most of the other ladies are mums. After my last class, I waited for my bus to get home and a lady from the class pulled up in her car and asked if I needed a lift. I was gobsmacked by her kindness for that doesn't happen often in London.

Another act of kindness was when our Turkish neighbour gave us a copper water jug and shared a pudding they made as its the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram. She doesn't speak English and neither does my mother so her daughter and I translated between Chinese, English and Turkish. My mother then showed them her congee (rice porridge) and said that she makes a similar food herself.

I later googled the dessert, called ashure and it's given to neighbours, friends, amongst others without regard to the recipient's religion or belief system as an offering of peace and love. I'm thrilled to have witnessed this between two culturally different people.
There's no place like home.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Water Kefir Grains And Jaggery

When I switched from sugar to jaggery, my grains went from crumbly to chunky within a week. You can buy jaggery cheaply from Indian grocery stores. The cheapest are in heavy mounds which you'll need to grate first. I just use the powdered form for convenience. 

Below is a strong jaggery solution and powder.

Jaggery is evaporated cane sugar so it's unrefined. In fact, you will usually find sediment that looks like sand and ash. To remove, I mix jaggery powder with hot water and let it sit for a few minutes. Then I slowly pour it into a glass container through a fine sieve. 

This soup skimmer is what I use and you can see it has a very fine mesh. (It's also great for straining coffee grains, making it an impromptu coffee filter). I bought this from a cheap homeware store. 

I top up with cold water and add the water kefir grains. This is the finished product. The grains double easily within a few days when they are well fed and warm. From time to time I switch to refined sugar to steady their growth.

Check out the activity from using jaggery!

UPDATE: The jaggery I was using was terrible, it had too much sediment and produced a bitter drink. I ditched it and now I'm using palm sugar and white sugar. I will go back to jaggery but will try another brand.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Columbia Road Flower Market

I went to the Columbia Road Flower Market with my friend Tess visiting from Oz. I've been a few years ago and didn't really enjoy it then because it was so crowded.

It's still crowded but this time with the sun out and I really got into the massive array of flowers. And they are cheap. Like large orchids in ceramic pots for only £5, even before the market closing sell-off. The prices were cheaper than anywhere I've seen. 

Tess and I were drifting through the crowd and we stopped at a stall selling bunches of 20 long stemmed roses in lots of colours for only £5 a bunch. We couldn't say no to that!

The sellers are full of character, animated in true east London fashion. We couldn't help but smile and take a selfie while we were stuck in the crowd.

Afterwards we had lunch alfresco at a hipster place called Clutch. The menu was based on chicken. Although I generally avoid hipster joints, the food and the sunshine was pretty dang good!

On my way home I passed a lady talking on her mobile who turned around and exclaimed mid-conversation : "They are bewddddiful!!" at my roses. I carried them like they were a trophy. And I guess they were a bewddddiful trophy.

I gave away some roses to a friend and the rest went into a pasta sauce jar. Two weeks later they are still blooming marvellous!