Raffles Hotel – Tigers and Singapore Sling

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Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Early one morning on 13 August 1902, an escaped circus tiger bounded under the Raffles Hotel Billiard Room, which was built on stilts. Charles Phillips, principal of Raffles Institution and a member of Singapore’s rifle team, was urgently called to the hotel. Rushing over in his pyjamas, he saw the eyes of the tiger gleaming in the half-light under the building, took aim, and killed it. A python and a wild boar have also visited the hotel in the days before Singapore became an urban jungle but no stories tell of their demise.

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Apart from the wildlife, Raffles is known for its Singapore Sling, created at the Long Bar between 1910-15 by the Hainanese–Chinese bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon. It has been popular ever since as a good antidote to tiger sightings. Sitting in rattan chairs under twirling fans in the hot, moist atmosphere of Singapore, any drink is welcome. In the early days, guests could sit on the verandah to catch the cooling sea breezes and see five miles of shipping from all over the world bobbing at anchor. The hotel still stands on Beach Road but so much land has been reclaimed that the beach is now out of sight. The following recipe was jotted on a bar chit by a visitor in 1936.

SINGAPORE SLING

2 measures of gin

1 measure of cherry brandy

1 measure of fresh orange, lemon, lime and pineapple juice

Drop of Cointreau

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a cherry

Shake well with ice and serve in a tall glass. Don’t forget the umbrella.

Raffles Hotel was established by the Armenian Sarkies brothers and named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. They leased the 10-room colonial bungalow on Beach Road from an Arab trader, Syed Mohamed Alsagoff, on 1 December 1887. The glorious main building of Raffles Hotel was completed in 1899, designed by architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan and Maclaren. Over the years a verandah, wings, ballroom, and a bar and billiards room were added.

Raffles is known not only for tigers and slings but for its famous guests. Somerset Maugham visited in the 1920-30s and wrote every morning under a frangipani tree in the Palm Court. He noted that Raffles Hotel “stands for all the fables of the exotic East.”

Raffles Hotel has featured in many films, including the BBC’s Tenko, which recreated the experiences of British, Australian an Dutch women captured after the fall of Singapore (February 1942). The film Paradise Road tells the story of the same camp. The women were held in internment camps on Sumatra until 1945, when they were repatriated to Singapore. Raffles Hotel acted as the clearinghouse for news. A woman who had been in the same camp as my father’s first wife recognised him from her description, told him of her death a few months before and handed back her wedding ring, which he wore for the rest of his life.

Hooray for Rice Pudding

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In the United Kingdom, rice pudding is a popular traditional dessert. The earliest rice puddings were called whitepot, as were bread and butter puddings. Gervase Markham has the first known recipe in his worthy book, The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman, published in London in 1615.

 

WHITEPOT 1615

“Take the best and sweetest cream, and boil it with good store of sugar, and cinnamon, and a little rose-water, then take it from the fire and put into it clean picked rice, but not so much as to make it thick, and let it steep therein till it be cold; then put in the yolks of six eggs, and two whites, currants, sugar, cinnamon, and rose-water, and salt, then put it into a pan, or pot, as thin as if it were a custard; and so bake it and serve it in the pot it is baked in, trimming the top with a little sugar or comfits.”

 

COMFITS: whole almonds (blanched), 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp water

Toast almonds in dry frying pan over medium heat. Sprinkle with sugar, stir to coat. When sugar melts, add water to make syrup. Coat almonds in syrup. Put on wax paper to cool. Place on pudding.

To blanch almonds, soak them in boiling water for a few minutes; the skin can be rubbed off.

 

Rice was probably introduced to Spain in the 10th century by trade from India but was not cultivated in Europe until the 15th century. Britain began to import rice from Spain and Italy at this time. Both long and short grain rice were grown but by the 17th century the risotto type of rice, Arborio, predominated in the areas exporting to Britain.

The first rice pudding recipe is a good way to use up leftover cooked rice, either short or long grained. The second recipe is German/Austrian and a show stopper at a dinner party.

 

CREAMY RICE & RAISIN PUDDING

½ cup raisins

1 cup cooked rice

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon butter

2 eggs

1-2 tablespoons sugar (to taste)

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Grated nutmeg (optional)

Put the raisins and cooked rice in a lightly buttered deep 6-cup baking dish. Heat milk and butter to scalding (not boiling). Beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla. Gradually stir in heated milk. Pour over raisins and rice. Grate nutmeg on top and set the dish in a shallow pan of water. Bake in a moderate oven (300ºF) for one hour. Alternatively, put the dish in the microwave for 20 minutes on medium power without the pan of water.

 

REIS à la TRAUTMANNSDORF

1/3 to ½ cup washed short-grained rice

Vanilla pod

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon sugar

125 ml carton whipping cream

Packet of frozen raspberries, thawed

 

In a double saucepan boil rice in milk with sugar and vanilla pod. Cook for one hour but don’t let it get too dry. Cool. Whip cream and fold into cool rice. Chill and serve with raspberries.

 

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New Zealand’s Favourite Cookies

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Where are they?

AFGHAN BISCUITS

These small round cookies have a blob of icing on top with a half walnut on top of that. The whole thing looks like a turban, which is probably what prompted the name.

Makes 20 small cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 1/4 cups flour

2 Tbsp cocoa powder

1 1/3 cups cornflakes

1/2 cup walnut halves, to decorate

Heat oven to 350 (180°C) and line two baking trays with wax paper.

Place butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until pale and creamy.

Sift flour and cocoa powder over creamed mixture; stir to combine.

Stir in cornflakes.

Place tablespoonfuls of mixture on baking trays.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until firm and golden brown.

Cool on wire rack.

Ice the cold biscuits with chocolate icing and a walnut half.

Chocolate Icing

Mix a cup of icing sugar with a tablespoon of cocoa and a dash of water in a saucepan on low heat; stir. Add more ingredients to get the right quantity and firm texture.

ANZAC BISCUITS

No one really knows the history of these biscuits but one story is that when Australian and New Zealand soldiers joined forces in World War I (becoming the ANZACs), someone decided to make a biscuit to celebrate.

Another story says that, as the biscuits are economical to make, nourishing, and store well, families could send these biscuits in food parcels to ANZAC troops overseas. They survive rough handling and go well with the strong hot tea that was a standard ration for the soldiers, so this is possible.

The biscuits are like Scottish oatcakes and no doubt early settlers brought the recipe to New Zealand. In World War I, the biscuits were sold to help fundraise for the Red Cross and the Returned Servicemen’s Association, which seems the probable origin of the name.

½ cup (4 oz) butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

2 tablespoons of boiling water

1 1/2 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda

1 cup of rolled oats

3/4 cup desiccated coconut

1/2 cup (4 oz) plain flour

1 cup (8 oz) of sugar

Combine all dry ingredients except soda.

Add melted butter.

Stir in soda mixed with boiling water.

Place in spoonfuls on greased tray.

Cook in moderate oven about 20 minutes. Cool.

Store in airtight container.

PIKELETS or SCOTTISH PANCAKES

1 egg

¼ cup caster sugar

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

¾ to 1 cup milk

1 Tbsp melted butter

Oil for frying

Jam and whipped cream, to serve

In a bowl, beat egg and sugar together until thick.

Add dry ingredients alternating with milk, adding enough milk to form a smooth, thick batter. Stir in the melted butter.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add a film of oil and cook tablespoons of batter in batches, for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface. Turn pikelets over to brown the other side. Remove to paper towels.

Serve pikelets warm, topped with jam and whipped cream.

  • The batter will thicken upon standing; if necessary, add a little extra milk to thin the mixture before frying.
  • Fry one pikelet to make sure the pan is at the right temperature to turn the pikelets golden brown.

Chocolate Fudge Cake – forget the other stuff

This brilliant cake recipe was given to me by my sister. I have loved her ever since. It is our standard family birthday cake. That’s not my sister up there, they’re just trading cacao beans ready for someone’s birthday cake.

They say:

“There is no doubt that chocolate beats kissing hands down when it comes to providing a long-lasting body and brain buzz; a buzz that, in many cases, lasted four times as long as the most passionate kiss.” Heartbeats go from 60 to 140 beats per minute, according to a study carried out by Dr. David Lewis of Mind Lab. No wonder the Aztecs thought cacao beans were valuable as currency. A turkey was worth 100 beans and an avocado was a bargain at three beans. Taxes were paid in cacao beans. This is powerful stuff.

Two-thirds of the chocolate people eat today comes from West Africa. The variety of tree is Forastero and originated in the Amazon Basin. In Central America, cacao has been grown and processed for over three millennia but wasn’t available in Europe until the 1500s when it was introduced by the Spanish. The drink was an expensive delicacy for a century until plantations were established in Mesoamerica with an African workforce.

The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657. In 1689, Dr. Hans Sloane invented a milk chocolate drink that was used by apothecaries and later sold to the Cadbury brothers in 1897. The Industrial Revolution stimulated the invention of machines to process chocolate, which made it more accessible. In 1847, Joseph Fry & Son discovered how to make solid chocolate and the chocolate bar was born.

Call it what you like, xocolatl contains alkaloids such as theobromine and phenylethylamine, which affect the body, fight fatigue, raise serotonin levels and even lower blood pressure; dark chocolate may benefit circulation. It may fight cancer, stimulate the brain and reduce coughing. But do we need these reasons to eat it? The most reliable way of absorbing chocolate is by mouth. This cake will increase your heartbeat and give you a buzz you won’t regret.

CHOCOLATE FUDGE CAKE

1/2 cup (4 oz) butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla essence

2/3 cup cocoa

1/2 cup water

2 tsp. vinegar

1 cup milk

1 3/4 cup flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

pinch of salt

In a medium or large bowl, melt butter in microwave. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla and beat. In a small bowl, blend cocoa and water. Add to creamed mixture. In 1-cup glass jug, add vinegar to milk to sour. In large glass jug, add flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture with sour milk. Pour into two greased and floured 8-inch (20-centimetre) round cake tins or 9 x 13” (23 x 33 cm) pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool slightly before turning out onto wire rack. Ice with Chocolate Vienna Icing.

CHOCOLATE VIENNA ICING

1/2 cup butter (4 oz)

3 Tbsp. cocoa

3 Tbsp. water

2 1/2 cups icing sugar

1 tsp. vanilla essence

In a medium bowl, melt 1/2 cup butter until creamy. In a small bowl, blend 3 Tbsp. cocoa with 3 Tbsp. water until smooth. Add 2 1/2 cups icing sugar to butter alternately with cocoa mixture. Optional: vanilla essence.

I need a briq!

Hotel Majestic, Tunis

Where’s my briq?

The Hotel Majestic is a French colonial hotel on the Avenue de Paris in Tunis, past its glory days but a treasure for the nostalgic traveller. It was built in 1914 with Art Nouveau architecture,  a white façade, blue shutters, and gently curved corners. The hotel has a terrace overlooking the Jardin Habib Thameur.

I had come up in the world. On the right side of the tram tracks at last. I had been staying at a beautifully tiled hotel in the Arab quarter at first. I turned the garbage bin over the smelly hole in the bathroom floor. Had to pay in advance in cash. Woken up by the muezzin. In the morning I  went up to the breakfast room controlled by Omar and had a reasonable breakfast with the TV glowering the CNN news at me. Then Omar sidled over to my table and decided to teach me to count in Arabic. He needed my fingers of course and he had to sit close. Then he told me his name meant “Amour.” Despite the golden rays of the sun streaming through the coloured glass, I felt a chill.

My self-adopted minder, he of the sky blue puffy jacket (it was 18 degrees Celsius in January), Mohammed, insisted that I move to the Majestic in the colonial area of Tunis. This is where I had briq for breakfast. In the Arab quarter I had scouted around for food, as one does, not knowing which local “delicacies” to try. I’d spotted a Pizza Hut (which I don’t go to in real life) and thought it would at least be a known quantity and reasonably clean. Got to the door. Found it was monopolized by Arab men who seemed to live there, so I ordered a take out. I wandered off to the market and bought sackfuls of the best mandarins I’ve ever eaten, and lived off pizza and mandarins for several days, praying I wouldn’t get food poisoning.

The Hotel Majestic had a real restaurant. Controlled by Mohammed II. It had tablecloths and nice old-fashioned meals. A few expats. Maitre de Mohammed was the soul of politesse. No Arabic numbers. His name did not mean Amour. But an opportunity was not to be wasted. He insisted if I was alone in a strange city I could visit him after 9 pm when he stopped work. Un vrai gentilhomme! Nevertheless, I walked up the grand staircase to my room. I couldn’t prevent myself from using the shoe-brushing machine in the hall, which cleaned the dust off infidels’ shoes. A wise precaution.

I  had a wonderfully royal blue room above the disco. Miles of space and a big window over the garden and tram tracks. A tiled bathroom, but with boring white tiles. The room was situated above the disco, which wasn’t apparent during the day. I dropped off to sleep, finally, with Arabic trills and innuendos influencing my heartbeat. My consciousness expanded to the rhythm of an ancient universe and I melted into the royal blue bedcover.

 The next morning, compensation for the disco music was a breakfast of briq. They tell me it’s the Tunisian tradition that the bride-to-be’s mother makes a briq for the bridegroom. If the bridegroom eats it without spilling any of the egg yolk, he may marry the bride. The best test I’ve ever heard of.

 Briq or Brik or Brick (pronounced breek) is a Tunisian version of the borek. Non! you say. Impossible! C’est vrai? It consists of thin warka pastry around a filling that is usually deep-fried. Not warka too! Tres magnifique. The best-known version is the egg brik, a whole egg in a triangular pastry pocket with chopped onion, tuna, harissa (hot chilli sauce) and parsley. Of course you knew that.

Brik pastry is made by slapping a sticky lump of dough onto a hot non-stick surface in overlapping circles to produce the desired size, and cooked for a minute or two.

It’s your choice, but regular fillings include tuna, ground meat, chopped boiled egg, chicken, or anchovies garnished with a fried egg and harissa, capers or cheese. Do with it what you will.

 BRIQ

For 4 servings use 4 eggs

4 sheets of malsouka or briq pastry (phyllo). Where did the warka go? That was the best bit.

1 small can of tuna in olive oil

Handful of capers

1 onion

1 Tbsp.  parsley, chopped with intention

Salt and pepper, comme d’habitude

Vegetable oil for frying

1 lemon, sliced

Chop the onion finely, please.

Mash the tuna on a plate with a fork and with gusto!

Cook the onion over medium heat with a little water until tender and translucent.

Turn off the heat and add the parsley in dainty sprinkles.

Place the mixture in a bowl and add the tuna and capers or what you fancy.

Place a circle of the filling in the centre of each sheet of briq.

Fold the 4 edges in to form a square.

Add the whole egg (white and yolk) to the middle of the filling, adding a pinch of salt and pepper, comme d’habitude.

Fold the sheet in half diagonally to form a triangle – could be teaching a geometry class here.

Drop into hot oil, being careful not to pierce the briq or yourself.

Immediately baste the top of the briq with hot oil, using a fork or spoon to stick the two edges of the triangle together.

Carefully remove the pastry from the oil with a spatula and drain on paper towel. Gosh, it’s hot!

Serve hot with lemon wedges. Ta da! Comme ca!

Give me an egg!

I had disdained cooking (though not eating) throughout my youth, skimming past the kitchen just fast enough not to be pulled inside. Surely there were people to do that. I was more interested in reading books – far more worthwhile. Luckily, from a safe distance I had picked up a hint or two. On my own I lived on boiled eggs but when it came to entertaining I could pull out all the stops and create an omelette.

It was a Sunday evening at the end of summer and already dark. I was expecting the family after their weekend away. They rented the house as diplomatic representatives and I was the glorious not very foreign au pair. An au pair was expected to do a little light housework and look after the children but luckily they were out at school most of the time. Actors who were “resting” did the hard jobs like cleaning out the oven. For three hours of vacuuming, dusting and ironing in the mornings I was paid £3 a week, with room and board (1969). Princely. The museums were free.

The house was on Warwick Avenue by Little Venice, a peaceful canal system in London. It was owned by the governor of a Caribbean island and was a towering white three-storey corner house with basement kitchen, designed by John Nash, in a street of elegant houses. This makes being an au pair worthwhile. Unfortunately there was a fire station nearby (fortunately for the insurer) but we had to endure constant sirens screaming by the house. Come to think of it, it wasn’t very peaceful.

When I heard a knock at the door I was surprised. The family used their keys. I opened the big heavy double doors of this beautiful 18th century townhouse and looked outside. On the front step stood a small, tired East Indian man, nicely dressed, with a suitcase. Was he part of my job description?

“Oh hello.”

“Hello. Are the B______ family in?”

“I’m sorry, no. I’m waiting for them to come back.”

“I’m a friend. I’ve come to stay. Would you mind if I came in and waited for them?”

I was a bit dubious. I was alone in the house filled with precious antiques and paintings and was responsible for their welfare. I was 22 and far too polite to ask for further details. He noticed my hesitation and, with exquisite grace, explained that he was the Indian Minister of Defence. He told me he had just flown in from India and was tired and needed to rest. I let him in and he settled gratefully into a large pale blue comfy chair in the living room. My best manners sprang into action.

“Can I get you a drink? Are you hungry?” I asked. He looked relieved when we decided on an omelette. He didn’t realize that was the only item on the menu. This version required that you separate the whites and yolks, beat them, spoon them together and cook gently, folding the omelette over only at the end. The omelette looks like a soufflé, so it’s quite a party piece but it’s simple to make. I whipped off into the basement kitchen and began my wizardry. I decorated it with alternate slices of tomato and cucumber and thought I was very clever.

The family came home eventually and welcomed their distinguished guest with cries of delight, to my relief. The next day we all played tennis together and I no longer had to cook, just fend off tennis balls.

The omelette might well have originated in the Middle East, so the books say. I say first find your chicken and the egg will follow. They are just as likely to come from the Far East as anywhere else but of course it depends where you are standing.

Carry your eggs on a camel and they are beaten ready for dinner. In desperation, mix the curdling eggs with chopped herbs, fry and then slice them into wedges and hand them round before you get any nasty looks. Carried on camels, donkeys and horses, omelettes became the health dish of the day with each country adapting the recipe to produce frittata, tortilla, and the proper French omelette. The competition was on!

Napoleon was particularly pleased, when travelling through southern France with his army, to discover a master omelettier. They had decided to rest for the night near the town of Bessières and the innkeeper made such a divine omelette that Napoleon ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the village and prepare a huge omelette for his army the next day. The villagers must have loved him. But getting their photos in the paper? It was all worth it. You know how the Guinness Book eggs people on.

You too can become noted for your fancy omelette of whatever size!

Melt a walnut of butter in a frying pan at medium heat to avoid burning. A nasty smell.

Separate the yolks and whites into two bowls, carefully.

Whisk the yolks with a fork while humming a tune to maintain the chi of the kitchen.

Beat the whites until fluffy and stiff then, holding your breath, add the yolks to the whites, folding them in like clouds of dandelion seed heads.

Pour into the frying pan and cook very very gently. Humming is still allowed but not aloud.

Fold the concoction over to serve and decorate the plate with whatever you have in the house, preferably edible. Provide a fork.

When foreign ministers come to stay, you will no longer be at a loss.