Friday 13 April 2012

a short story

It is five in the morning. The sun has yet to rise. I start to pack my haversack, loading it with food to last me a meal and enough water to drink for approximately ten hours. I am going to scale the Great wall of China.

I am in the heart of Beijing currently. I will be taking a bus to the suburbs of Beijing, towards the north, at 慕田峪 (Mu Tian Yu) - which is also the part of the great wall of China I am going to scale today. It is winter now, with a temperature of -12 degree Celsius. It is going to be colder and more windy up there, at the great wall.

Alighting from the bus, I took a taxi towards the Great wall. It was magnificent. It stood up tall, heading into the heavens. You could barely see the top at ground level. Occasionally, you could see heads bobbing up and down along the walls, like ants marching around energetically.

I wasted no time and started to ascend the Great wall. Though this part of the wall is rebuilt, the steps were still uneven-some narrow, some steep; some flat, some protruding; some slanted; some perfect.

It was a tiring journey from the stairs. As I ascend, I got more exhausted. It was made worse by the increasing altitude meaning less oxygen for me to take in. However it was not that bad. I finally got up to the higher point of the wall, where I could continue my journey.

To my astoundment, this is only the beginning. According to a map, the walkway runs 2.2 km wide. Though 2.2 km may sound short to you, in this case, it is not. The 2.2 km does not include the length of the steps, as specified on the map. There are two possible routes: one to my left, the other to my right. Since it was near lunch time, I decided to take the route closer to my left as it was shorter.

As I trekked towards the left end, I could see the Chinese characters: '忠于毛主席' in English-loyalty to Chairman Mao...Mao Ze Dong, carved onto the mountain, right next to the end of the great wall.

Then, I saw a long flight of stairs, very, very long. It had to be at least 400 steps long, without any stops to rest! Worse than my ascend previously. Still I had to climb it so that I would never miss this rare opportunity. It was exhausting. I panting hard, my breathing rate increase every time I ascend more. It was like the stair way to heaven.

Well, this was just the easy part. The challenging one is to descend! Mucous was literally coming out like water running from a tap as I descend, my head bobbing up and down. Soon I reach the end of the treacherous stairs.

It was worth while. From the top, I could see the village of Mu Tian Yu. Cars running along the expressways, smog coming out of the little factories.

The sun was high and bright in the sky, it illuminated the watchtowers and I could admire the architect of the Chinese in the past-6th century to be precise. Then, I began to head back to my starting point.

After having a meal, I started part two of the adventure-towards the right. I thought that this part would be more comfortable to trek, but I was wrong.

It was worse than the 400 flight of stairs I had encountered 2 hours ago. Halfway through, I saw another flight of steps. I could not see the top of the steps. It was like 10 times of the 400 flight of steps.

The stairs were more steep and uneven this time. Every step I made was executed with caution and care for fear of tripping. I wondered how I could possibly descend these stairs. Persistent still kept me on. I ascended the stairs. It was fruitful. I could see ancient cannons mounted on the stairs every 50 metres pointing towards the open air in the mountain. Then, I broke a sweat. It was so sweaty that I had to take off my outer jacket. I could not feel the coldness of the environment.

Alas, I have reached the highest point of the wall!

I saw the village again, This time too small to see the exact details. To my right, I saw cable cars. Cable cars? I am so silly! I should have taken the cable car up the wall and not waste my time walking up the wall! How silly of me!

But to be optimistic, I am able to take the cable car down the wall, instead of taking the route of peril again.

When I got down the wall, I flagged a cab and headed home. Just in time for dinner. On the cab, I conversed with the taxi-driver. From him, I learnt that an average China citizen would have taken only 4 hours to scale this whole stretch of wall! I reflected on myself. I am still young and energetic and healthy. The stark contrast of 4 hours and 8 hours. I am really weak. At this moment, pain started to settle in to my thigh and knees...

The above fictitious story was written by my elder son. I happened to open a text file with the filename 'story' when I was using a spare thumb drive which was lying around. I read it with great interest as the story sounds very was like an exact account of what we did when we went up the Great Wall of China (Mutianyu section) last winter. I asked my son where he took the story from, as I thought it was copied from some travel blogs, I would love to read the original post. To my surprise, he told me he wrote it. It was meant to be a March school's holiday assignment, but he didn't submit it as he wrote another one with the storyline 'how I forced my brother to eat soap...'???

Anyway, I took the liberty (that is, without his permission) to post his original work here since I have been wanting to write about our trips (we've been to Mutianyu twice, and Simatai once) to the Great Wall. The photos we took were able to fit in the storyline almost perfectly! (There were better pictures but since we were staring right at the camera lens, I am not allowed to post them.) However, I may remove this post if it upsets him, a lot. Do pardon the grammatical errors, awkward sentence structures as my son is very weak in his languages, be it written or verbal. No editing is done, except for typo errors he made, so as to keep to its originality.

Friday 6 April 2012

one a penny, two a penny...

We heard and sung the hot cross buns nursery rhymes many many time when my kids were toddlers...but this is the first time I have ever made or eaten them!

Thanks to Laureen of Eat and Be Happy for sharing her chocolate chips hot cross buns last easter...I have bookmarked her recipe for over a year, and I finally got down to make them!

The dough was rather soft and sticky, and I had a hard time trying to knead it. After a couple of minutes, I gave up wrestling with the dough and proceed to leave it to proof. (on hindsight, I should have used my bread machine to do the kneading.) I was lucky, all went well and in no time, I was rewarded with a tray of hot cross buns...I don't think I deserve it for the little effort I had put in ;)

These hot cross buns are really awesome, soft and fragrant, they are worth every penny! Deliciously scented with cinnamon, just one bite will make you feel good, and when the chocolate chips melt away in your mouth, you will feel even better.

I guess from now on, I won't be spending easter without a batch of hot cross buns :)

Happy Easter!

Chocolate Chips Hot Cross Buns

(makes 15 ~ 16 buns)

300g plain flour
30g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice (I omitted this)
1/2 teaspoon salt
40g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
5g Instant yeast
30g egg, lightly beaten
125 ml milk
40ml warm water
150g chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate chips)

Flour paste for crosses:
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
1 tablespoon cold water

2 tablespoons of caster sugar
2 tablespoons of water


* Place flour, caster sugar, cinnamon, mixed spice (if using) and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir with a whisk to combine. Rub in the butter. Add instant yeast, stir to combine. Make a well in the centre, add in eggs, water, milk, mix to form a soft dough.

* Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes (or knead with bread machine or stand mixer for about 5 minutes) until the dough is smooth and elastic. Knead in the chocolate chips. Smooth dough into a round ball, place in a greased mixing bowl, cover with a damp cloth or cling wrap and leave to rise for about one hour or until dough has doubled in size.

* Divide the dough into 15 portions and roll each portion into a ball. Place the balls, almost touching, on a greased rectangular pan (if using a square pan, divide into 16 portions). Cover with damp cloth or cling wrap and leave to rise for about 30~45 minutes or until dough has doubled in size. Preheat oven to 200 degC.

* To make flour paste crosses:
Sift flour, cocoa powder into a small bowl, stir in the sugar. Add in water and keep stirring with a spoon to make a smooth thick paste. Place the flour paste into a plastic bag and snip off the corner (Note: snip off a very tiny bit will do so that the hole will not be too big). When the doughs have doubled in size, pipe a continuous line down the centre of each row of buns, length wise and width wise, to form crosses.

* Bake:
Bake buns at 200degC for about 15~16 minutes or until golden brown.

* To make glaze:
While the buns are baking, place sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Transfer the baked buns to a wire rack, brush the tops with glaze. Serve warm.

Note: The dough can be made the day before up to the shaping stage, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate over night. The next day bring to room temperature leave to rise till double in size, pipe on the crosses and bake.

Recipe source: adapted from Eat and be Happy

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Wordless Wednesday

cute little sugar pears...also known as seckel pears

the cake speaks for itself...

and the pear lives up to its name, soft and sweet... 

Pear and Chocolate Cake Pots
original recipe from here.

(makes 4)

4 small pears
75g unsalted butter, soften at room temperature
75g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
25g cocoa powder
75g cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

honey for drizzling
icing sugar for dusting

  1. Preheat oven to 180degC. Grease 4 ramekins with some butter. Cut off base of pears, set aside.
  2. Sift cocoa powder, set aside. Sift together cake flour and baking powder, set aside.
  3. Beat butter and sugar with electric whisk till mixture turns pale, light and fluffy.
  4. Add in eggs gradually, beat well after each addition. Add in vanilla extract. Beat to combine.
  5. Add in cocoa powder, beat till combined.
  6. Fold in flour mixture with a spatula, until just combined. 
  7. Fill ramekin to half full. Place a pear in each ramekin. Bake for 16~20mins. Serve warm with a drizzle of honey and dusting of icing sugar. Great with a scoop of ice cream too.