Tuesday 31 January 2017

Inside Singapore's Cloud Forest

On a layover from London to New Zealand, my brother and I found that we had 15 hours to spend in Singapore.  You can read about how we spent the morning here, but this week's travel post is all about our afternoon at the Gardens by the Bay, my absolute favourite area of  Singapore.

We rode the MRT to the gardens and emerged from the cool air con into a sweltering, sunny day. The gardens are huge, green and sprawling and unfold for acres and acres in different zones.  We strolled in and out of the shade, drinking as much water as we could and enjoying each different aspect of the park as it enveloped us.  Soon the city seemed a long way behind, and our destination, the Cloud Forest, was ahead of us.

The Cloud Forest is a giant - and I mean giant - biodome, kept at a controlled climate designed to imitate the cloud forest environment found in countries such as Ecuador.  Cloud forests are known for their incredible species diversity, so aiming to mimic this atmosphere is an understandable ambition. Tickets are a little pricey, but I was really keen to visit, and frankly, it did not disappoint.

The Cloud Forest dome was nothing short of phenomenal. It almost defies description. As you enter, you're met with cool spray from a giant waterfall, a lovely contrast from the unremitting heat of the day, and the air was temperate, pleasant, fragrant. It was like stepping into a massive human terrarium. 

To explore, one scales the inside of the dome in a lift before emerging at the very top of the cascade, ready to descend gradually by means of a walkway which juts away from the falls and the mountain, seemingly fragile and suspended in the air. Heading down the ramp reveals different zones featuring different plant life, or geological displays, or conservation information. 

To me however, the real star of the show was the concept itself, rather than the exhibits. The Cloud Forest is the perfect blend of horticulture and architecture. I loved the juxtaposition of the glass frame and the trailing flora; the sharp, pure crystal panes against the lush vibrancy of life. Beautiful, evocative, other-worldly.

Eventually, we reached the ground again, and we left the Cloud Forest behind.
We had one last stop before we had to return to the airport. We had to visit the Supertrees. 

Singapore's supertrees are probably one of its most famous sights, along with the three-pillared and surfboard-topped Marina Bay Sands. The Supertrees are huge, futuristic structures towering into the sky, with scientifically regular branches fanning out all around, lights nestled among them. At night they light up to music, and you can climb a walkway which weaves its way through their canopies.  We stuck to the ground however, and wandered beneath them.

They are pretty fantastic; I had visited them before, and hope to do so again one day.
Feeling a little tired, we headed for the airport. My brother, who was flagging somewhat in the heat, couldn't face dinner. This has never been an issue for me and so I had three dinners at the airport on "Singapore Street"; a sanitised airport version of a hawker market. I ate a dosa, hot and freshly griddled to order with selection of Indian dips. Then I tucked into piping hot Thai spring rolls with sweet chilli sauce. And finally I found Chinese vegetable stir fried noodles. All were delicious and scarfed down by yours truly with impressive gusto. My brother just watched. I love Singapore food. And in my defence, being up for 30 hours in a row makes one rather hungry.
We piled onto the plane, feeling a tad wobbly with tiredness but we only grabbed a couple of hours sleep. It didn't really matter.  We were on our way to New Zealand after all...

Kisses xxx

P.S. One day I hope to return to Singapore and explore more properly: both my visits have been two short.  There's so much still to see!

Thursday 26 January 2017

Dhal for Dinner

It's January, and frankly, it's freezing. One of my aims with the blog this year is to share a "something-I-made" post each week, and so this week, it's a recipe. A giant pot of dhal, full of spices and warmth, topped with a crisp fried egg (because that's how I like them) and served with roast sweet potato.  YUM.
And surprisingly healthy if you're trying to be good!
The recipe is pretty much this one from Jamie Oliver, and you can find it here, with a tweak or two based on my own preferences. 

The first step in any recipe is to lay out all your ingredients as though you were in a cookery show, and make sure they seem Instagram worthy.  It helps if you can use as many unnecessary little bowls as possible because that way you can create the maximum amount of washing up.*

As I said above, I made a few changes to the recipe. Before I go any further, I will state for the record that the changes are not at all based on knowledge and skills, but on practicality and a blind belief that if I just chuck something else in, it will probably by fine.  Totes.  Obvs.

(Sometimes it isn't).
But with this in mind, I didn't add curry leaves as there were none in the cupboard, and I opted to blend all my spices and herbs together.  I put the coriander in with the onion, seeds, spices and herbs and so on, and pulsed the whole lot together in the Nutribullet to tumble them up and chop them quickly into small pieces.
Once it got to cooking the dhal, I chucked in a couple of bell peppers and a load of chestnut mushrooms. I wanted to add some more veg into the mix to make it more substantial and nutritious.  Also I love mushrooms.  They're brilliant.  Chuck them in everything.

I also omitted the spinach as I didn't have any in and it seemed silly to add another £1 or so only the shopping bill for something that will wilt away to nothing.  I like spinach if I get to taste and see it, but I thought it would just get lost here.
Cooking dhal is low maintenance.  Once everything is in the pot, it can just sit there simmering to itself quite happily for basically as long as you like.  I swapped the yoghurt in the recipe for coconut milk because it's much more delicious and will still give you a creamy taste and texture.

I decided to serve the dhal with roast sweet potato.  I sliced them skin-on into discs, tossed them in a mixture of olive oil, finely chopped garlic, dried chilli and paprika, and roasted them in the oven for around 30 minutes.
The final step with 5 minutes to go is to fry a couple of eggs.

To serve, I dished up a hearty bow-worth of dhal, sprinkled over some more fresh coriander leaves, slid the egg on top.  All that's needed is a stack of sweet potato and a spoon to go with, and you're laughing.  The recipe made a huge amount so there was lots leftover for quick micro-wave dinners later in the week, but you still get to feel good about eating vegetables.  Winning!

This is lovely hearty recipe for winter, and trying out different curries is one of my favourite thing to do when cooking.  It's slow and thoughtful instead of manic and flashy, and it's low maintenance as it will happily bubble away while you do other things.  It might seem fiddly to use lots of different spices but I always think the flavour payoff of cooking your own sauce from scratch is SO worth the time. So here's to cooking giant warming pots of curry!
Kisses xxx
P.S. Do you have any toasty, comforting recipes that you crack out for January?

Tuesday 24 January 2017

15 Hours in Singapore

I said last week that I wanted to write a travel post each week for my blog, giving me a chance to record the stories from my travel journal and the pictures I love. Then it's all ready to scrapbook! Well, here is my first one for this week.

When I booked a trip to New Zealand last summer, I was quite excited to find that there was going to be a 15 hour layover in Singapore.  Apparently, Singapore airlines arrange this deliberately to encourage travellers to spend a bit of time (and therefore money) in the country. In this instance I was happy to oblige, having visited for a couple of days in the past and fallen in love with the place! Today I'm sharing extracts from my travel journal following that slightly hectic day...
We landed after a 13 hour flight around 5:30am local time.  Unfortunately for us, that was about 10:00pm UK time, so roughly bed time.  However, I had enough excited energy to haul around myself and my brother, my companion for this particular jaunt. Plus we'd has a positive start to the day with fried rice for breakfast on plane. Excellent! And a pack of BBQ mini cheddars. What could possibly go wrong?
From the airport, I totally nailed the MRT; that's the Mass Rapid Transport, which is Singapore's answer to the tube. Having conquered it I was convinced we could get anywhere, and save ourselves a cab fee in the process.
The MRT is also blissfully air conditioned, which was a relief as we were hit by the stifling Singapore humidity. Like, woah. I had forgotten it was so sticky.

We stopped for another breakfast (plane breakfast being some hours ago by this point) at a Lonely-Planet recommended joint called Sarnies. Power shake of PB and banana and healthy stuff. Also shared a slice of "awesome banana bread" which is apparently so named because it is in no way healthy. Just moist and delicious.
Following second breakfast, we headed to the River Safari; a zoo-type attraction where each different area is devoted to the flora and fauna of different river environments from around the world. 

We saw red pandas. They look like cuddly toys; I'm not fully convinced they are real. We also clocked the normal pandas, who apparently eat 20kg of bamboo a day. I would enjoy eating 20kg of food daily, I think, but would prefer something else. Macaroni cheese for instance.

We saw one of the monochrome pandas having a bit of a munch, before he got up and managed a few lumbering steps before face planting in exhaustion half on and half on his seating platform, one paw hanging over the edge.

Squirrel monkeys are funny. The males put on up to 30% of their body weight for mating season. Being chubby makes them more attractive (and according to science could apparently help them produce more sperm). I wish the same were true for human females. The chubby thing, not the sperm thing.

I was confused in the touch-the-creatures pool, after queuing up behind a hoard of young children. I attempted to pet a pleasant looking fish until an attendant freaked out, and said you were only allowed to touch the star fish in the one designated pool, and that you aren't allowed to stroke the Sharks. They need a sign in my opinion. A big one which says "HERE BE SHARKS"

We ended our visit by riding the little log-flume-style boat around the Amazon river section. We saw sleeping jaguars and some pink birds which intimidated us both by looking at us and doing nothing. Fortunately they didn't climb on the boat.
While I considered this to be an enjoyably chilled morning, my brother thought it was a manic and hectic runaround, so we stopped for a bite to lunch back in the city.  Gearing up for an afternoon round of adventures. Until next time!
Kisses xxx

P.S. I want to go back to Singapore and see more of the sights.  And eat a LOT more of the food.  It's such an interesting country and so easy to get around!

Friday 20 January 2017

Goals for the Coming Year: Making, Travelling, Blogging

Well we are a couple of weeks into the new year and it's a good time to make plans.  For me that includes thinking about the things I want to make and achieve and also thinking about how I want to share them here. 
In some respects, I think of my blog as a good way to connect with other people who like to make and craft things, especially scrapbookers and I want to make sure I devote time to this hobby as it's something I genuinely love and find value in.  With this in mind, I'd like to aim to share a creative post on the blog each week, whether that's a scrapbook page, some baking, a bit of sewing or knitting, or even photography.

 Last year, I definitely managed to make more pages than I have in previous years, and doing so has reminded me how much enjoyment I find in scrapbooking.  I'd like to continue this through 2017, so that's one goal! I think the key is to prioritise it and make time for it.
For me, the thing I value most about blogging is that it gives me a record of the things that I've done.  It reminds me to write down my memories and experiences while they're still fresh, thinking them over and savouring them.  This is particularly useful for me as a scrapbooker because it means my stories are written and ready to turn into pages, usually matched up with relevant pictures.

This concept is very relevant to travel too: I love to travel, and getting down my stories is really important to me.  So I would also like to write a weekly travel post as it gives me chance to share elements of a holiday without needing to get it all down in one go. I had some amazing adventures in 2016 and I fully intend to make the most of my school holidays this year.  On the cards are Guiding trips to Switzerland and Croatia, a holiday with friends on a canal boat, and jaunts for me to Finland and, hopefully, Central America. Planning is well underway!

Travel is important to me: I LOVE to go out and see more of the world and learn about the diversity of life that's all around me  But I also need a cosy home to return to, and I want to make sure I prioritise quieter times and evenings in, to balance out explorations, whether that's across the street or across the world.

Photography is also an enthusiasm of mine that I would like to prioritise.  That's particularly true when travelling, and the blog is a great forum to share images.  Photography also has an impact on my scrapbooking, and last year I tried including divided page protectors in my albums as a way to draw in more photos.  It's an effect that I have loved, as I am highlighting more of the photos that matter to me, but there's no redundancy in scrapbooking photos from the same event multiple times.  I can tell my story in full once, and then match up all the accompanying images.
So here's hoping to lots of lovely photo opportunities in 2017.  I intend to make some!
That just about wraps up everything for now.  I really hope 2017 is the year of experiences and adventures, photography and scrapbooking, making and crafting, and lots of time with loved ones.
Kisses xxx
P.S. Have you set yourself any crafty or blog-based goals for the year?

Sunday 1 January 2017

Life Ambitions: A Review and a New Start

Happy New Year everyone!

Roughly 4 years ago I wrote a list of goals I wanted to accomplish, and today I have a progress update to share. I wrote my list as I wanted to have ambitions to work towards, and give myself a bit of direction towards the things I want out of life.  I wanted to make the most of opportunities, and create new ones! I never think of this as a list of things to "tick off"; I don't really believe in doing something for the sake of it.  But having a list of goals to pursue is something that I find motivating.

In the time since I wrote the list, it has more than tripled in length to 111 items, because there are always new things that I want to experience.  And that's no bad thing: if I never achieve everything on here, it won't be because I never chased my dreams, it will be because I keep finding new adventures to go on. I also sometimes remove goals that I no longer find inspiring or motivating. I can: it's my list and I don't feel bad about it.

When I first started to jot down my goals, some were straightforward and simple, and some of them seemed huge, and not instantly attainable.  But having my ambitions listed helped motivate me, reminding me that there are things I want to work towards, and that sometimes that happens in small steps. A bit of patience and forward planning is needed.  That philosophy meant that in 2016, I was able to travel to New Zealand and Africa, to go on safari and fly in a helicopter, and to (finally!) get my international license for Girlguiding. It's been quite a year!

   Some of these goals are still not something I can pick up and do next week but some I can.  What could be better on a dark, damp January weekend than to arrange to meet a friend and make home-made ice cream for the first time! The new year is a good time to review and think about what I hope to achieve. It's a fresh start, and being newly single, I think that's something I need right now.  Time to make some exciting new plans!

So far I have completed 84 goals on the list leaving me with 34 still to do. Here's the current list, linked up where I can, highlighted items completed.

#1 Make cake pops
#2 Make a multicoloured layer cake
#3 Go on a canal boat
#4 Play Dungeons and Dragons
#5 Play hooky for a day
#6 Have an all-night film marathon
#7 Go on a sleeper train
#8 Have tea at the Ritz
#9 And Claridges
#10 See 2 London Shows in a day
#11 Make a photo wall display
#12 Build a den.  A really cool one.
#13 Road trip in the USA
#14 New York, New York
#15 Go glamping in a fancy tent with fairy lights
#16 Buy an expensive set of lingerie
#17 Sew something to wear
#18 Get married
#19 Make a set of jam-jar cocktail glasses
#20 Make blueberry gin
#21 Do the take-away double
#22 Redesign this blog
#23 Go skinny dipping
#24 Milk a cow
#25 Learn to make pasta
#26 Get up early to photograph the sunrise 
#27 Ride a motorbike
#28 Have dim sum at Hakkasan
#29 Do an Escape Room
#30 Learn Calligraphy

#31 Have dinner at Dans le Noir
#32 Re-purpose something second-hand
#33 Go to a cult Rocky Horror screening
#34 Go to a burlesque show
#35 Go ape
#36 Go to a Secret Cinema screening
#37 See a play at Cornwall's Minack Theatre
#38 Go on a helicopter
#39 Make my own ice cream#40 Have dinner at Dishoom
#41 Take part in a Murder Mystery Treasure Hunt
#42 Buy a bikini
#43 Have afternoon tea at Cutter and Squidge
#44 Get my eyebrows shaped
#45 Inhale helium
#46 See the Northern Lights
#47 Go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
#48 See New Zealand
#49 Stay in a tree house
#50 Have a bash at karaoke
#51 Go to a roller derby
#52 Travel to South America
#53 Start a family
#54 See a film at a drive-in cinema
#55 Go to a sh*t-faced Shakespeare production
#56 Make a new giant floor cushion
#57 Try making papercuts with a craft knife
#58 Learn to Scuba Dive
#59 Have a go at spinning
#60 Go for Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea
#61 Go to the circus
#62 Learn to knit from a chart
#63 Knit a lace pattern
#64 Start a teacup collection
#65 Go on a Segway
#66 Visit Japan
#67 See a midnight matinee at the Globe
#68 Go on a safari
#69 Visit the Cutty Sark
#70 Go to a Casino
#71 Go stargazing
#72 Eat a deep-fried Mars bar
#73 Have dinner at Veeraswamy
#74 Dance on a table in a bar
#75 Ride a camel
#76 Have cocktails at BYOC
#77 Play Dinosaur Safari Adventure Golf
#78 See a baseball match
#79 Go to Bounce Below
#80 Visit the Rough Trade Photobooth
#81 Swim in an infinity pool
#82 Ride a tandem
#83 Cook a roast
#84 Make something out of leather
#85 Get my International License with Girlguiding
#86 Bake a Christmas cake
#87 Dine in a Michelin star restaurant
#88 Do the Lyke Wake Walk
#89 Design a Lace Shawl
#90 Visit a Guiding World Centre outside the UK
#91 Sit in a box at the theatre
#92 Go to Africa
#93 Spend a day at Lyme Park
#94 Try white water rafting
#95 Make Danish pastries
#96 Fly first class on a plane in lying-down beds
#97 Learn Brush Script
#98 Visit Beachy Head
#99 Have a Christmassy afternoon tea
#100 Visit Las Vegas
#101 Skydive
#102 Make choux pastry
#103 Have afternoon tea at the Landmark
#104 Sleep in a 4-Poster bed
#105 Go to a European Christmas Market
#106 Bake a Kanellengd
#107 Visit Scandinavia
#108 Go to Versailles
#109 Have a fire pit
#110 Visit Pompeii
#111 Go to a trampoline park
#112 Have afternoon tea at the Dorchester
#113 Sleep under the stars
#114 Go Interrailing
#115 Visit the Hampton Court Palace Maze
#116 Do the Lost City Hike
#117 See the Galapagos Islands
#118 Find dragons on Komodo

So happy new year indeed! I hope 2017 treats you well and allows you to achieve a few of your ambitions.

Kisses xxx

P.S. As I mentioned, I love finding new things to add to the list and look forward to doing one day. So let me know if there's anything you think might be fun!