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Saturday, June 30, 2007

An oldie goodie

Vanilla ice cream with mixed fruits
Originally uploaded by jyew.
For all the crème brulees in the world, there are just days when all a girl needs to satisfy her sweet tooth is a simple vanilla ice-cream with a generous heapful of mixed fruit from a can. I appreciate fancy desserts as much as the next person, but honestly, when push comes to shove, there is no more comforting a dessert than good ol' ice-cream.

I know this sounds boring, but once in a while, I do enjoy some vanilla flavored ice cream- not French Vanilla, which is a little too cloying; just regular down-to-earth vanilla. Sometimes having too much going on in your ice-cream (fudge pieces with chocolate-coated cashews and caramel swirls with dots of marshmallow and fruit- enough already!) is just... well, too much. Vanilla is wonderfully versatile, goes great with pies, fruits, Nutella, or just on its own. It's also a very elemental thing- when we were kids, vanilla ice-cream was the safest dessert my parents would give us, and so it often reminds me of childhood somehow.

Today, I was just craving it with some mixed fruit. Get the lite version that's usually made with pear juice rather than sugar syrup. That way, you don't detract from the creaminess of the ice-cream too much, and it doesn't get overwhelmingly sweet. It was delicious- simple, sweet and comforting, and thrown together in a jiffy. I suppose you could jazz it up with some shredded mint leaves, but honestly, who are we kidding? I could barely wait to take this picture before slurping it all up!...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

4 years...

It's been beautiful... :)
Love is what makes two people sit in the middle of a bench when there is plenty of room at both ends.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Summer resolution #2

Spend more time at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

We've been here close to 4 years and I don't think we do enough at the Festival. So this year, we've decided to make more of a conscious effort to go to the shows and special events. It's rare enough to get good acts in Michigan, and even more rare that they're right in town and a mere bus-ride away. Last week was great coz we managed to catch a double-bill of Cesaria Evora and Seu Jorge- Latin/Brazilian/Portuguese samba jazz vocals. Awesome!... Cesaria has a truly spellbinding voice and Seu Jorge was really fun to watch too! You may remember him as the Portuguese-speaking David Bowie-singing crewmember in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Needless to say, by the end of the night, the crowd was all up and dancing :) The promo site for their performance has some really good sound clips you can listen to.

Then last night, Jude, Rachael and I met for dinner before walking to Top of the Park to watch Happy Feet. By chance, we managed to catch the last 15 minutes of Strange Fruit, an Australian-based troupe that performs on 4-meter tall stilts. The lighting wasn't very good but Jude managed to snap some pictures of them here. They were delightfully elegant and whimsical. It was part dance, part circus, part Cirque du Soleil, all art.... :) The best thing was how they were performing right amidst the crowd rather than on stage or somewhere removed from the audience. It wasn't participatory or anything, but I think their proximity to everyone lent a certain carnivalesque feel to the whole thing which was really nice.

Happy Feet was a wonderful treat for me :) It's definitely not Finding Nemo, and by no means a kid movie; but it had a real soul to it that I wasn't expecting at all. The soundtrack is amazing, the narrative strong and thoughtful, and some of the underwater sequences are nothing short of breathtaking. Everyone was grooving, tapping their feet and there was clapping all around by the time it was over. Sitting out in the open watching a movie was really fun- kinda like how I'd imagine a drive-in movie would be like. I think we're going to try to catch Dreamgirls next week.

So there- Ann Arbor's just lovely in the summer, and having the Summer Festival right downtown reminds us of that just a tad more :)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Will you...

My sister's engaged! With some help from this swoony scene from Love Actually, Sam's favorite black marker pen and construction paper, and the song from my beloved Elmo & Andrea Bocelli clip :)

Oh happy happy happy!!

Friday, June 22, 2007

A night with Royston Tan - via youTube

I have to admit to spending too much time on youTube tonight - chasing links and checking out everything that has been uploaded related to Royston Tan. A Singaporean filmaker who has gained prominence internationally and who Time magazine described as being an Asian "iconoclast". Check out this essay written by Kenneth Tan, chair of the Asian Film Archive.

Royston's showreel above highlights his eye for beautiful composed pictures in his films. And that's what films are - stories captured in a sequence of pictures moving at 35fps. I haven't yet watched all of Royston's works, but his upcoming flim "881" looks like something that I really want to watch when we travel back to Singapore. Check out the trailers below:

Some background for non-Singaporeans. The film revolves around the "ge tai", or literally translated the "song stage", which takes place annually during the Seventh Month (or the Hungry Ghost month) of the Chinese calendar. Traditionally, Chinese opera performances would be held on the Seventh Month of each year - the only month in the year when the Gates of Hades are thrown open, and ghosts, spirits and all departed souls make their annual pilgrimage back into the land of the living.

As a way of placating these spirits, temples and clan associations would host performances that take place on temporary stages like the one seen in Royston's clip above. The performances tend to be loud, boisterous, noisy, and sometimes seen as annoyances when performed close to residential areas. But these performances are highly popular amongst the older folks back home, primarily because the night's proceedings would usually take place in Chinese dialect, Hokkien being the most popular.

However, there's been a fair degree of romanticization of ge tai performances, especially amongst arts practitioners. It's a theme that has emerged in a variety of plays, books and films in the recent past. I personally feel that it's a way for Singapore artistes to grasp onto an "authentic" local art form in a country that is made up of immigrants from all over. Additionally, the ge tai is an art form that makes sense to the Chinese in Singapore, but its frequent appearance in popular culture speaks to need to hear about the nostalgia held by the other ethnic groups in the country as well. Anyway, enough with my views... Royston's film looks like it's going to be huge and fun to watch and we are definitely looking forward to catching it on the big screen in Singapore.

** Update:
I found yet another clip. This time of the director and his two lead actors performing in a traditional ge tai style ... and in, of all places, Central Park in NYC!!! This was part of the Singapore Day festivities that was held earlier this year in Manhattan.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Who knew? Steve Buscemi cleans up nice, and there's more to Sienna Miller than a sparkling smile. And the mismatched chemistry is kinda of interesting... Can I say I'm intrigued?

[click for trailer]

Interview is also the first of three movies that make up Triple Theo, a project to remember the life and work of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film-maker who was murdered in 2004 for his political and religious views.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer resolution #1

Eat more salad.

It's that sweltering time of the year again when even boiling water generates too much heat to even bear it... It was hitting 96F today and I think I'm done slaving over the stove and oven for a while. At times like these, it's hard to imagine that this place actually snows 4 months of a year...

It's definitely salad time.

Just in the last 3 days, I've had a salad everyday. One completely raw salad with home-grown spinach and fresh herbs (it was so tasty I had it with no dressing whatsoever), I made one for lunch yesterday (I pan-fried halloumi and dressed the salad with a sweet-spicy mango vinaigrette), and my friend, Tanya made me a simple turkey and mayo salad with dill pickle and tomatoes at lunch today. All different, all yummy! Which got me on a resolution from now on to make more salads.

I think salads have gotten a bad rep for being either bland, dry, boring, or all three. To some people, an exciting salad makes about as much sense as a fashionable sweater. But as those of you who watch What Not to Wear know, a sweater can be fashionable, and so can a salad (exciting I mean, not fashionable...) A good salad shouldn't make you feel like a rabbit who's just chomped down an entire cabbage patch- I think given the right ingredients and some imagination, salads have the potential to be very interesting entrees in and of themselves, especially in this increasingly oppressive heat. So here's my list of some affordable salad ingredients (some everyday ones and some a little more of the indulgent variety) that will hopefully make your next salad attempt just that tad more exciting!

Salad essentials:
* Romaine lettuce
* Baby arugula (a handful goes a long way so we mix them up with the cheaper lettuce to make it stretch a little- besides, some people find its pepperiness a little overpowering. I personally love it...)
* Fresh tomatoes (vine-ripen better than Roma. We can't afford heirloom tomatoes, but if you can, those are even better)
* Eggs
* Any kind of ham or bacon (a little of the salty cured meat makes any veggie taste just a little better)
* Dill-pickle. I usually don't like pickles, but just chop one spear up and it really perks up any kind of mayo-based salad, and somehow makes it less cloying. Or you could use a little relish too I guess.
* Olive-oil packed tuna (they're better than the ones packed in water. Trader Joe's sells them for a steal)
* Good olive oil
* Aged Parmesan-Reggiano
* Vinegar (balsamic and white wine)
* A tart fruit jam (I know, odd; but trust me, with a little olive oil and wine vinegar, you've got a fancy dressing that's much tastier than the ones in the bottle.)
* Chicken-breast. Buy them when they go on sale and roast them on your own with olive oil and herbs. They keep well and they go with all kinds of salad.
* Potatoes
* Cilantro (fresh herbs brighten up any salad)
* Olives
* Chili flakes (just half to a teaspoon into a fruit vinaigrette helps develop some depth to the flavors)
* Pasta shells of any kind
* Cucumbers. English cukes are good because they have less seeds, but you can also just get regular ones and core them before chopping them up.
* Avocados (I could eat an entire avocado with just some salt and a drizzle of lemon...)
* Halloumi cheese. They taste sooooo good panfried- toasty on the outside, gooey on the inside.
* For texture, something crunchy- croûtons, nuts, pita chips, etc.
* Red, yellow or orange bell peppers. They're scrumptiously sweet and they make your salad look bright and happy :)

Nothing on the list is particularly fancy or expensive (although we can't afford to buy halloumi cheese every week though. Or even avocados for that matter...), but play a little mix-and-match with the veggies/proteins/carbs/dressings and you should have a good enough variety of yummy salads to last you through summer. Serve with some good bread (after we discovered Great Harvest, it's hard to go back to regular store-bought bread- their Guinness with Monterey Jack Cheese Loaf is amazing!!...), and you won't find a better satisfyingly yummy and exciting plate of healthy goodness!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Congrats Sadanori and Kyoko!

The day has finally come when the boy we all thought would never grow up, finally met a woman who would make an honest man out of him. Our dear Horiguchi-san is now officially a married man! Well, actually, he has been for a few weeks now- the wedding ceremony was held in Tokyo but he and Kyoko had their American reception today in Dexter, MI.

They make a really sweet couple- Sadanori always makes Kyoko laugh, and the general consensus is that she's his calming angel... :)

This picture was taken at my birthday last year and it captures what we wish for them for the rest of their life together- closeness, laughter and joy. We blew this photo up a little and framed it as a wedding gift to the couple. We hope they'll like it :)

Pictures of the American reception here, and here are pictures from their Japanese ceremony, courtesy of Jason.

Friday, June 15, 2007

My first publication :)

C.H.E.L.L.O. (Manual)
Originally uploaded by jyew.
What do I find on my table when I walked into my office this morning? My first publication! Affectionately referred to as the CHELLO in our research team, the Child/ Home Early Language and Literacy Observation is an instrument we've developed to examine language and literacy practices in home-based preschools [Dan and Wendy, you know exactly who/what I'm talking about...:)]

Apart from all that work with Sesame Street, this instrument has consumed the bulk of my project work this past 2 years. Just ask Jude- he's about sick of hearing me talk about this amorphous thing called the "CHELLO"... And now it's done! I'm really happy. We put a lot of work into it, and I do believe that it will help caregivers and children in these settings. Unlike the home-based preschools you might typically find in Ann Arbor or more middle-class suburbs, home-based child care (especially in fringe cities like Flint and Grand Rapids) tend to more often than not enroll children from lower income families. These parents tend to work long or irregular hours and so place their kids in home settings because they often have more flexible hours.

The intention behind the instrument is that hopefully, if we can examine these environments really carefully and take thoughtful steps towards improving them, we can then help close the gap in language development between these low-income children, and their middle class peers.

And the CHELLO even has its own little web-page! :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Arctic Monkeys - Fluorescent Adolescent

Ok, I know that Videos of the Week are usually Jude's purview, so I'm stealing a little of his thunder here... ;) But seriously, I'm scratching my head over this one more than recommending it though: the song- I lurve. Absolutely brilliant! and rather widely acclaimed as Arctic Monkey's best single from their new album, Favorite Worst Nightmare. The video- I'm not so sure. As if I'm not petrified of clowns enough, here are now marauding hyper-violent, soccer-hooliganesque clowns incomprehensibly beating their old friends into a senseless friggin' pulp? I get the overall narrative at the end, but really...

What do people think?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bonfire Nation

Think of it as Survivor meets Lost meets Woodstock. Bill calls it "Boy Scouts with a budget" :) Yup, and that's Bonfire Nation for you. Bill and Jolie invited us to this event held on 5 acres of land just outside Ann Arbor that is owned by their friend, Eric. It's an amazing set-up if you ask me: there's an area for tents, a makeshift bar, an adult-friendly zip-line, a beer-pong table, a gigantic wooden tepee, and of course, at the center of it all, the bonfire.

What's remarkable though (apart from the awesome "infrastructure" and the initial towering inferno of a bonfire), and the thing that really enthralls Jude and I is how this is the product of a group of people's simple desire to want to just hang out together and have fun. Everything on that piece of land has grown and evolved over seven years- the zip line has broken a couple of times, but they just make a stronger and stronger one each time round; they run our of wood for the bonfire, and so they go into the forest and chop down more dead trees; every time, there's a bonfire, friends bring more friends and other people are embraced into the group: things and people are just added on organically as part of the entire sensibility of fellowship. More than combustion, Bonfire Nation is about communion :)

For pictures and details of the bonfire itself, see here.

Like a car crash in slow motion ...

I must admit that ever since I found out about Consumer Reports' crash test videos, I've been morbidly addicted to scrolling through the videos for different makes and models in order to see how they perform. In particular, I have viewed the video for my own car, a Hyundai Elantra, at least 5 - 6 times. There's something about watching car crashes that's fascinating. This quote by Vaughn, one of the characters in J. G. Ballard's novel, "Crash" and uttered in Cronenberg's movie version might be instructive:
"The car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event."
I am also reminded of a conversation that I had with a former lecturer of mine who teaches Digital Media & Art in Kuala Lumpur. I was asking him how his teaching was going and he started telling me about working with one particular student just before the deadline for a final project. He described the experience as such:
"It's like watching a car crash in slow motion. The dummy in the car knows that it's going to hit the wall. But neither the dummy, nor the viewer, can do anything to avert the impending catastrophe."
With those choice quotes in mind, I hope you enjoy the crash test videos in new light :)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

I am a robot...

The significance of the post title will become clear as you go through the photos of Jude's birthday :) I think we all had a blast!

1. Us (bright), 2. Berry tart, 3. Guess what I bought Jude for his birthday?, 4. Our Pisco sour, 5. Bill and Jolie Robot, 6. Jude and Libby (bright), 7. My first successful steak dinner, 8. Jude with Maria, Matt and Dana, 9. Jude's birthday Evite

Friday, June 08, 2007

Oh Kumo...

Kumo 5
Originally uploaded by jyew.
Rick and Emilee are in Pittsburgh for a wedding and so it was time for our annual dog-sitting session with Kumo. He is just a complete and utter sweetie- so obedient, so affectionate, and so intelligent! Last night, as we were falling asleep, he went over to Jude's side of the bed, starred hard at Jude, came over to my side and starred hard at me, and then went by the window and plopped himself down unceremoniously before sleeping. Unless people tell me otherwise, I'm going to tell myself that he was wishing us good night...

Then this morning, when he realized that Jude had woken up and was in the bathroom getting ready, Kumo deemed it proper to come up to a still sleeping me and nudge me with his fluffy snout to wake me up as well. I guess in the grand labradoodle scheme of things, couples are meant to wake up together... Either that or Rick and Emilee are more disciplined risers than we are :)

Oh Kumo...
There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.
~Bern Williams

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Jude favorite

Bak Kut Teh (Peppery Pork Rib Soup)
Originally uploaded by jyew.
So we'll be home in about a month and half; till then though, my husband continues to be assailed by those pangs of longing for local food. Last night, we made nasi goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice), and while it doesn't come close to what we would have gotten at home, it served its purpose adequately.

Tonight, I'm making bak kut teh, pork ribs in a light, peppery broth. It's one of Jude's favorites and I think it'll be good for dinner. The weather's been doing that freaky thing where it's hot and sunny one minute, and really chilly and rainy another, so all we're really craving right now is something warm and comforting. Besides, Jude's coming down with a cold of some sorts and a nourishing soup for dinner will hopefully do his system some good.

I want to say that I made the dish from scratch, but alas... I have neither the time, skill, nor availability of many of the herbs. And so, as with so many of the foods that we miss from home, it's Prima Taste to the rescue. To those of you who scoff at all things pre-packaged, you clearly 1) have a coffeeshop/ hawker center/ food court round the corner from you where you can get a plate of char kway teow for less than US$10; 2) have the time and fortitude to scour for authentic Southeast Asian ingredients in order to make these things from scratch, and/or 3) have not tasted any of the Prima pre-mixes. Their chicken curry and laksa are particularly good. And the best thing is, I just discovered that they have an importer here in the U.S.! No more lugging back packfuls of the stuff to be hoarded and rationed till out next trip home!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"Creature Comforts" comes to America!

Jude had posted here last year about the British series, "Creature Comforts" and its humorous yet incisive take on current social and political affairs. Good news for all Aardman Animation fans- the U.S. has produced its own version and it's starting Monday at 8pm on CBS!

Hailed as a cross between "Wallace and Gromit" and This American Life, "Creature Comforts" uses Nick Park's trademark stop-motion animation to give voice to real-person interviews of everyday Americans all across the country. Topics range from drunk driving to health care to dating. Some of the sneak peaks I've seen have been downright hilarious, but also sweet, charming and always wonderfully insightful. I'll be glued to my couch come Monday night, and I hope you will too :)

Some sneak peeks:

SOME of the best comic acting you'll see all summer will come from the animated clay animals starring in "Creature Comforts." An American version of a British series based in turn on a short film by Nick Park (the creator of Wallace & Gromit), it puts the unrehearsed words of ordinary people into the mouths of Plasticine dogs, cats, horses, pigs, porcupines, monkeys, pandas, crabs, sharks, roaches and whatever other animals seem appropriate or appropriately ironic to the subject or voice.

Topics are as varied as health, lying and sex, and the result is something both witty and complex — a kind of heightened reality television that, beyond letting you laugh at the funny juxtapositions and marvel at the animation, focuses your attention on the voices themselves, and what people have to say, and how they say it. A reminder that we're all at once individuals and types, and animals under our clothes.
-L.A. Times

Friday, June 01, 2007

(Yet another) Video of the week: Modest Mouse - Missed the Boat

What's there not to like about this video? It's one of the better tracks off Modest Mouse's latest album. It has a cardboard box robot, and a "Frankenstein-esque" narrative of appearances aren't what they seem, love found and evil overcome.

Coming back to the cardboard box robot - I wonder if anyone has done an analysis of the cardboard box robot as an iconic aesthetic form? Think about it - the gestalt of a stack of cardboard boxes piled on top of each other evoking images of the ideal scientific fulfillment - a human-like machine. It's a robot that all of us can build without having any scientific know-how whatsoever. I could go on, but I still hold that my favourite robot form to be the cardboard box robot :)

1. Parallax BOE-Bot and a box of wheels and gears, 2. Robot costume, 3. Robot costume - side, 4. Robot costume - Kat having fun, 5. Robot costume - back, 6. Robot costume - grippers

Battle at Ham's Deep

Link from Boing Boing

Check out this rendition of the battle at Helm's Deep, featuring Jim Henson's Muppets!! My favorites are Kermit as Aragon (complete with flowing, war-greased hair!) and Miss Piggy as Eowyn, I'm assuming :)