The Weather on the Inside of a Washing Machine

Rain so thick that it's practically a fog

Rain so thick that it’s practically a fog

I did not go to work today.  This is not because I am sick or otherwise incapable, but because the outside of Sydney looks rather like the inside of a washing machine.  Y’know, because of the cyclone.

The rain has been pelting down heavily since this morning and, with winds of up to 130 km/h, sometimes pelts sideways rather than down.  The roads have flooded, some coastal areas have had homes washed away and some boats have been unable to dock at harbour because of the height of the waves.

The NSW Premier has actually told us not to undertake any non-essential travel and made a call for employers to be a flexible with employees today, as the roads are pretty dangerous.  The last time I went out (to work yesterday), I was soaked to the bone and blown about like a leaf after my umbrella turned inside out.

Thankfully, I’m pretty safe here in my city-bound home, though I did receive a warning from my workplace not to come in as trees were falling down on cars.

Still, there’s a lot of work to do here, as the wind has blown all the things on my balcony about, so I’ll have to tie it all down with a tarp.

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Dining in with the Dinner Ladies

Between shopping for fresh ingredients, looking up recipes and then preparing and cooking the food, cooking for one ends up being hours spent for very little gain.  I mean, unless I intend to eat the same food every day for a whole week, it really isn’t worth the effort.  Besides, the food tends to lose its nutritive value if it’s frozen for long periods of time.

While I can cook, I have no time to cook.  Part of being an extremely busy single lady means that I rarely, if never, have any time of day.  My day is divided between work or study, the tiny slivers of time between these two activities are usually saved up for church, a weekly social meeting with friends and the occasional boneless vegetating that occurs when one has no energy left.

The end result of these two factors combined meant that up until recently, I pretty much ate out every night, gaining weight and also losing money.

But then!

I discovered!

The DINNER LADIES (cue fanfare)!

Delicious pre-packaged pork belleh

Delicious pre-packaged pork belleh

The Dinner Ladies is a Sydney-based meal service that delivers semi-cooked dinners directly to your door weekly.  These dinners are made out of fresh, seasonal ingredients purchased from local suppliers and come pre-assembled for easy cooking.

Dinner Ladies food is delivered in simple ice-packed styrofoam boxes.  As I’m very rarely home during the day, I left instructions for the box to be delivered to a sushi restaurant next door, where it was summarily placed in the corner of their very hot kitchen.  Despite the warm surroundings, the food was still refrigerator cool when I received it at 6PM that evening.

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the packaged.  The $100 I spent on food really went a long way and more or less paid for exactly enough food needed for the week, including food to cover the few guests that I have over for lunch and dinner during the weekends.  Here’s what I bought (includes the famed leafs mentioned in a previous post):

Two boxes of leafs, two cottage pies, one medium pork belly (for sharing) and a huge bag of delicious duck ragu

Two boxes of leafs, two cottage pies, one medium pork belly (for sharing) and a huge bag of delicious duck ragu

Instructions for assembly or cooking are printed on the various items and fairly easy to follow.  I love how the Dinner Ladies also clearly label ingredients that go into their food, though I would prefer that allergy information be more clearly delineated, both on the food packages and on the website.

Before and after!

Before and after!

That being said, by following the instructions, one can turn the disgusting white blob in a tin into delicious cottage pie.

The Dinner Ladies delivers food all week, though I have been given to understand that they have specific delivery dates for each part of the city.  They have a menu of both frozen and fresh foods, but I tend to order off the latter menu, as the food keeps pretty well and can sometimes be frozen.

So there you have it, the means by which I feed myself each week.  Enjoy the food with leafs, or with the healthy side dish of your choice!

Yum yum!

Yum yum!

You can visit the Dinner Ladies at their website here and check out what they have fresh each week.  If you subscribe to their newsletter, you can get an idea of what they cook every week!

Of Corsets, Cosplay! (and an exclusive discount code!)

So, this weekend, I went to Gallery Serpentine in Newtown to check out their beautiful corsets.

Gallery Serpentine is located beside Enmore Theatre at Shop 2/112-116 Enmore Road, Enmore, Sydney, NSW 2042.

Also, until the end of March, Owls Well readers can get a 10% discount at the shop by mentioning Owls Well to the shopkeeper, or by using the promo code OWLSWELL on the Gallery Serpentine website at http://www.galleryserpentine.com/.

Noms on Wheels: Jafe Jaffles

The last time I visited the Nighthawk Diner, I mentioned that Lacey and I were full up on Jaffles.

What are Jaffles, you ask?

Well, according to Jafe Jaffles owner, Luke, Jaffles (pronounced Jaffles as in Jam and not Yaffles as in Ja) are the most Australian sandwich ever.

Jaffles are made in a Jaffle Iron, which is basically a kind of sandwich maker.  In days of yore, Jaffle Irons were long-handled cast-iron medieval bread torturing devices, which were held over a fire.  Modern Jaffle Irons are electric and about as dangerous, though they take slightly less time to cook things.  The resulting sandwich produced by such a device is automatically crimped diagonally and toasted through so that the fillings have partially melted.  Jaffle fillings are varied and insane in a manner that only an Australian sandwich can be.

Luke in front of his truck

Luke in front of his truck

Jafe Jaffles is another of the many food trucks that have been circling Sydney city.  A bright yellow combi, with a cute logo and extremely friendly staff, Jafe Jaffles has a pretty typical menu for a Jaffle shoppe, with such completely insane Australian fare as:

  • Homemade Spaghetti bolognese and cheese
  • Raisin and rice pudding
  • Creamed corn and cheese
  • Caramello Banana and Hazelnut
  • Cabbage and Mayo (staff favourite)

As well as exotic fillings from their own kitchens like:

  • Butter chicken
  • Poached chicken, basil and almond
  • Japanese charsiew pork belly in forbidden sauce
...and promptly gained ALL the pounds.

…and promptly gained ALL the pounds.

Luke informed me that if I hadn’t yet eaten a spaghetti and cheese Jaffle, I hadn’t lived.  However, as I am a firm believer of desserts first in any setting, I purchased the Choc-a-doodle-doo Jaffle, which consisted of nutella and banana filling in a pastry shell and topped with vanilla ice cream and toasted coconut flakes.

The Jaffle was quite nice.  The toasted bananas really complemented nutella filling very well and the ice cream and coconut shavings helped to give the overall dish a semi-tropical flavour.  The pastry shell was crunchy, but slightly squidgy towards the middle, particularly after the hot sandwich started melting and absorbing the ice cream.  The dish was a little bit difficult to eat with the provided plastic forks, but I managed to scarf all of it down anyway.  Overall, though, it was pretty tasty.

The energy from Jafe Jaffles staff and owners is truly contagious, bringing a new meaning to service with a smile.  The sheer level of enthusiasm really made me very interested in the product, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Jafe Jaffles will be at Food Trucks United at Belmore Park tonight (6th December 2013).  I’ll be there as well, so do come along and enjoy feasting on the many delicious things they have on offer.

Noms on Wheels: The Nighthawk Diner

I work in an out of the way place and while I do bring my own lunch box to work everyday, I do occasionally crave food that I’m unable to make at home.  Thus, I’m very appreciative of the recent increase in the quality and quantity of mobile food trucks in the greater Sydney area.

Totally embarrassed to be photographed

Al and Jim chat inside Queen Latifah’s generous kitchen

The Nighthawk Diner mobile dining car is a delicious example of just such a convenience, providing food to hungry office workers and tourists from Queen Latifah, a gorgeously refurbished 1959 International Harvester Scout.

The diner is owned by Al and Jim, a pair of young chefs with experience in French-style fine dining.  Sick of being faced with the same kitchens day in and day out with no contact with customers, Al and Jim decided to get a change of scenery and took to the roads in order to meet new people and serve basically whatever the heck they wanted to.

GIT IN MAH BELLEH!

Philly Cheese Steak Sub with accoutrements

And their food is absolutely delicious.  I chanced upon the Nighthawk Diner on the way home from work one evening and was ate a recommended Philly Cheese Steak sub meal, which came with a bean salad, potato crisps and a large green pickle.  Al and Jim are fairly confident in their culinary skills, so every part of the meal from the pickle to the bun is made from scratch.  I had the pleasure of watching them finely slice, then fry the potato crisps onsite before plating it up for me.  The prices on Nighthawk Diner are a little steep for a regular food truck, but the size of the portions more than make up for the expense.  They were generous enough for Lacey and I to share a single meal, though it must be said that we were both a little full from Jaffle eating at the time (more on this later).

$14 for a meal

The Menu of Awesome Deliciousness

The food is served up at just the right temperature for immediate consumption.  The summer bean salad was an absolute delight, with the subtle flavour of the French green beans infused into the rest of the salad and given just the right amount of zing through the addition of green chillies.  The crisps were not over salty.  And the Philly Cheese Steak was so good that despite being fairly replete after having eaten my share, it still took every little dollop of self-control I had not to push Lacey over and steal her half!

The Nighthawk Diner tends to drive around all over Sydney, but you can find out where they’re stopping each day online.  Alternatively, you can catch Al and Jim monthly at Food Trucks United.  I’ve also been given to understand that they have a slightly more permanent arm at the Nighthawk Underground in Surry Hills.

Me, I’m looking forward to seeing them again and maybe I’ll get one of their Vanilla and Maple milkshakes next time.

Dear Mr Special Snowflake: An Angry Rant

So, a fortnight ago, Droo and I attended the Singapore Day event held in the Domain, which I had booked tickets for a while back.  The event was pretty fun and I had originally planned to film a follow up vlog about the whole thing, until I read about the controversy surrounding the day.

Your tears are delicious.

Somebody needs a WAAAAAH-mbulance.

Apparently, some “terribly unfortunate” Australian named James Poder didn’t prebook tickets online for the day and was turned away at the gate.  Outraged by his ejection from the grounds, he called 2GB radio to cry racism!  Obviously, he was being turned away for being white!  How truly terrible for him!

Seriously. Singapore Day was pretty well attended.  Obviously, the number of Singaporeans outnumbered the number of non-Singaporeans attending the event.  Droo and I did make a sort of game counting all the clearly non-Singaporean people invited by their friends to attend.  We counted about a dozen each.  So, we know for a fact that at least 24 non-Singaporeans attended the event (not including Droo).

So here’s a letter to Mr Poder and his oversized sense of entitlement.

Dear Mr Special Snowflake,

How dare the Singaporean Government pay the Royal Botanic Gardens oodles of money to use your property for a private event, hire an Australian security firm and event staff, and ship a whole bunch of hawkers and entertainers to Sydney without feeding your sense of entitlement?  How dare we use our own money to organise and plan an event in a public space without allowing the white people, the rightful owners of the land, to just waltz in without a ticket and poke things?  Truly, I weep with shame at our clearly brazen waste of Australian taxpayer money that we didn’t use to begin with.  Boo hoo hoo.  Waaaah.

The organisers were checking people for tickets, IDs or hand stamps all day long.  Did the mean Ms Event Organiser turn you away at the gate because you didn’t bring one of these things?  Did you go and wail to the nearest other Caucasian couple you saw because you didn’t get into an exclusive event?  Awww, did ickle bubbykins get a booboo on his substantial ego?  Poor precious.  We are terribly racist against people who don’t have tickets!

Look look look!  I have an Asian Friend!  He's SO Asian!

Look look look! I have an Asian Friend! He’s SO Asian!

I mean it’s not like YOU’RE racist, right?  Some of your best friends are Singaporean!  You’ve even been to Singapore a few times!  That totally entitles you to some special treatment that allows you to get into exclusive events without a ticket.

Let’s be serious now.

You didn’t get into the event because you didn’t book a ticket in advance.  Oh, you wanted to buy a ticket at the gate?  Tickets were sold out long ago, whiny boy.  I had to get mine two months in advance of the event and even then I couldn’t get enough for all my friends because guess what?  THEY HAD RUN OUT.

Maybe it’s time to put on your big boy pants and ‘fess up to your own stupidity.  You didn’t get a ticket, so you didn’t get in.  Don’t go crying racist when your whiny sense of white person entitlement makes your head bigger than it should be.

While you’re putting on your pants, why not watch this video of my best friend, Droo, enjoying an Old Chang Kee curry puff while totally ignoring your plight.  Droo is not only officially white, but also isn’t a Singaporean citizen.  But he somehow managed to get in.  So did all the other white people who are clearly milling about in the background.  I wonder how he did it. (HINT: He had a ticket.)

Sincerely,

A Becky Lee

PS.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone in receiving a Special Snowflake Trophy.  A Second Place Special Snowflake Trophy has also been given to the very racist Singaporean “gentleman” who wrote about being happy that there weren’t any “PRCs, India Indians, Bangla or Pinoys to annoy us“.  Shame on you, sir!  SHAME!

PPS.  Third place Special Snowflake Trophy goes to the folks at Newscorp for being lazy journalists, not doing their research properly, and giving this guy time of day.

The Vicious Cycle of Homework Failure

I was going to talk about a show I was looking forward to in the future, but I felt that your question about the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) press release on the effects of tuition on mainstream education in Singapore needed more prompt attention, so I’ve pushed back my post in order to address it.

I had a very tough time in school.  Even today, I find it extremely difficult to think or talk about my school years without succumbing to a combination of anger and melancholy.  So, I will try my best to keep this rant relevant, instead of rubbing my PTSD in everyone’s faces.

Despite living in Sydney for the last thirteen years, I’ve kept tabs on educational policy in Singapore.  I know that the MOE policy changes have included an overhaul of the Mother Tongue Language program and lasting changes to the reserve system for Primary School postings.  I have been given to understand that the Prime Minister himself has given a speech addressing his hopes for education reform in Singapore.  I like to think that students in Singaporean schools today are having a better time than I did.

However, while I’m aware that my experiences are somewhat outdated due to the thirteen year lapse, I feel that my experiences with schooling and tuition are still relevant.

The MOE’s claim that the Singaporean education system is run on the basis that tuition is unnecessary is laughable to me, because I do not recall a single Singaporean school year in which I didn’t require some form of tuition.

Most years, I could barely scrape by with just Mandarin tuition, but there were some years where I would be shuttling back and forth between no less than three separate tuition centres in order to catch up on work for Mathematics, Science and, in one fateful year, Literature in English.

This isn’t to say that I am lazy or stupid. I did manage to get through the Australian Higher School Certificate (HSC) without the need for tuition in subjects that I didn’t have any prior foundation in.  I hesitate to say that my teachers in Singapore were lazy or unmotivated either – they may very well have been overworked, what with the class size in my time being 40-45 students strong and having to deal with Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs) on top of that.  There is a lot of very current talk about how teachers are overworked and how individual school policies may not necessarily line up with the MOE’s.

However, I’d like to talk about one of the many reasons why tuition was necessary for me – The Vicious Cycle of Homework Failure, a topic which I have written about briefly on my anime review blog, Becky’s Moonviewing.

Didn't do your homework?  Go stand outside.  Traditional school punishment as modelled by Sailor Moon's own Usagi Tsukino

Traditional school punishment as modelled by Sailor Moon

Let me explain this concept.  Say you’re a student in school and you did not do your homework or did not bring your homework to school.  In my day, the teacher would (understandably) get quite angry and would punish you, usually by subjecting you to some form of humiliation, which included such acts as:

  • Being forced to stand on a chair in front of the classroom while pulling your ears
  • Told to stand outside for the remainder of the class
  • Being forced stand outside on a chair for the remainder of the class while pulling your ears
  • Having your books thrown into the school pond
The Vicious Cycle of Homework Failure

The Vicious Cycle of Homework Failure

This means that you are either not actually present in the classroom to learn from the teacher or are too angry/ashamed to learn.

If you happen to be good in the subject that you are punished for, you will usually be able to make up for lost time by asking your classmates or your parents to explain the lesson to you.

However, if you are bad at the subject you are punished for, you end up unable to do the homework for the missed class and are punished for it the next day… and the next… and the next until you end up spending more time outside the classroom than inside of it. A good teacher will notice this problem right away and nip it in the bud by spending one on one time with you or getting you into a remedial class that will help you get up to speed.

To be fair, the MOE’s statement does point this out, but in all my time in Singapore, I can only name one teacher who was passionate enough about teaching to try helping me during school hours.  She was a Primary School teacher.  Most of the other teachers that I’ve had were either too overworked or too inexperienced to address my difficulties.  Additionally, the teacher shortage in Singapore meant that many of my Secondary School teachers were inexperienced recent graduates – newbies still learning on the job.

The result?  I ended up having to learn basic concepts outside of school, even for subjects that I was purportedly good at simply because I didn’t have teachers who were capable of accommodating students with learning difficulties.

The thing is, it’s not enough that students are capable of passing classes; any person can pass a class simply by blindly memorising whole essays, notes or equations.  Children need to have comprehension of the vital concepts of the subjects taught.  My tuition teachers taught me to understand concepts whilst my school teachers simply gave us information to regurgitate at the examination level.

Tuition isn’t all good, though.  I spent so much time between school and tuition that I had very high stress levels.  Between school, tuition and CCAs, I didn’t really have a lot of time to play and be a kid.  This has had lasting effects on my adult lifestyle.  Even today, I still find it difficult to relax and I have days when I’m simply just terrified of leaving my house because I don’t know what to do once I’m outside.  Tuition has strong socioeconomic impacts as well, which The Hexacoto writes about in his blog.

On the flip side, the Australian school I went to had smaller class sizes (10-12 students per class) and longer class times (1.5 to 2 hours per class).  Extra Curricular Activities are encouraged, but the bulk of them are run by non-school organisations and, outside of an official school choir or band, are not part of a teacher’s workload.  This give teachers more time to focus on teaching and also allows them the time to focus on students who are struggling to reach their full potential.  I have to admit that individual interest is also a factor in my doing well during the HSC without the need for tuition.

Upon entry to the Australian school, I was encouraged to pick my own subjects so long as I did a minimum of 12 credits worth of studies and that I chose at least one form of English and one form of Mathematics from a level anywhere between “general” and “double credits”.  A student can, therefore, adjust their workload to match their own interests and needs, without having to first “prove” themselves capable in a series of examinations.  It is my belief that a student who is interested in a particular subject will most certainly put in the effort required to excel in that class.  Heck, I picked Advanced Japanese as one of my elective subjects despite barely even understanding the alphabet and still managed to do reasonably well in that class simply because I was interested in it.

On the flipside, however, Juvenile delinquency is pretty big in Australia, but that’s another post for another time.

The MOE says that they will be providing comprehensive levelling-up programs for struggling students and that they will be committed to attracting and developing teachers.  I sincerely hope that they are successful in this endeavour because honestly, I’d like to see a future for children in Singapore where tuition isn’t necessary and children get time to be children.  Unfortunately, given the way our culture and education is built right now, I don’t really see that happening anytime soon.