Friday, April 30, 2010

Strengthening the bond with grandparents

Recently, a friend of mine passed me this large hard cover book called The Bond. No, it's not a tribute to the popular and very hot all-girl string quartet. It's a workbook published by the Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (WINGS) as a fun way to connect grandparents and their grandchildren.

I flipped through the book and was immediately struck by how colourful and vibrant it was. It feels very similar to the commercial baby books that parents use to jot down their thoughts and memories about their precious ones. There are pages to record the family tree and other interesting facts such as the grandparent's childhood and wedding, and family traditions. Even included are three pages of glossy stickers to dress up the pages however you wish.

I asked Lesley-Anne if she would like to do a few pages of the workbook with her paternal grandmother, just for fun. So over the weekend when we went over for a visit, she sat down with her nai nai and worked on the pages that she thought were interesting. This spread is on values. I love the second point she wrote under the Grandparent's principles. I think it gives you a glimpse into my mum-in-law's personality!

Second page of the same spread:


This page, Lesley-Anne requested to do. If you've ever wondered why I only seem to cook Western dishes, it's because my mil is the undisputed Queen of Chinese cooking. My motto is: where there is no way of ruling the territory, keep out of it (and just enjoy the perks!)

Feel free to try the recipe. This is a truly yummilicious dish, I promise you.

I'm not associated with WINGS or working with them, in case you're wondering. I'm writing a post about this workbook because I think it's a great opportunity to get the grandparent and grandchild communicating by working on a specific task. I was quite surprised that just by spending that half hour or so with her grandma, Lesley-Anne said that she felt a sense of being so loved, which I thought was sweet.

I checked out the Bond workbook website and realised that the workbook costs $25. Wow. Ok, so my feeling is that while the workbook looks every bit of $25 (at least), I think the price might be a little off-putting for some. However, there are Bond workshops where the grandparent and grandchild can work on the workbook together in guided sessions and these are free if you buy the workbook. Seen in that light, $25 is a paltry sum to pay for two to attend a workshop and spend some quality time together.

I think this is a worthwhile project although you likely won't end up with every single page filled (it's a whopping 48 pages!) Lesley-Anne wasn't crazy about the family tree bit (as was I) because kids do this a lot in school these days. I felt the ones which required the grandparent and grandchild to do a task together or share secrets were probably the most interesting and meaningful.

So if you're looking for something purposeful for grandparent and grandchild to engage in during the upcoming holidays, this might be just the thing for you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boeuf Bourguignon

What's that, you say? Ok, ok, it's a fancy schmancy name for a beef stew. But it was the name that inspired me to try this dish. You see, I was watching Julie & Julia on dvd and Amy Adams declared "I'm making boeuf bourguignon!" with such dramatic flair that it sounded like the most delicious dish in the world.

I checked out several online recipes and decided to try one with a sizeable number of positive reviews. I adjusted a few of the ingredients and proportions, here's my version of the recipe:

Ingredients

30g plain flour
600g shin beef or beef brisket, cubed
30g butter
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
350ml red wine
50ml water
1 bay leaf
few sprigs chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 can mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper

Boeuf Bourguignon

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt and ground black pepper. Coat the beef cubes with this mixture.

2. Melt half of the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the meat and brown well on all sides. Pour this into a casserole dish.

3. Return the skillet to the heat, melt rest of the butter and saute the onion, carrots and garlic for 5 to 10 minutes, or until onion is tender. Add the wine, water, bay leaf, parsley and thyme. Pour over meat.

4. Bake, covered, at 180 degrees celcius for 2 hours. Add mushrooms and bake for 30 more minutes. Serve with bread rolls or mashed potatoes.

The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender. I've tried different beef stew recipes over the years but this was hands down the most popular one with my kids. Serving this dish with bread rolls is a good idea because you'll want to mop up the very rich and flavourful gravy.

I still can't say "I'm making boeuf bourguignon!" with as much artistry as Amy Adams but the dish did turn out to be pretty satisfying. As Julia Child herself would say, "Bon Appetit!"

Sunday, April 25, 2010

From the mouth of a Chinese tutor

You must be sick and tired of hearing me blather on about this Chinese at PSLE issue but something interesting happened over the weekend that I'd like to share.

My kids' Chinese tutor came over for the weekly tuition session and she told me that she'd read the newspaper article on Lesley-Anne in the Straits Times. My first thought was, "uh oh... she's not gonna be happy."

To my utter astonishment, she went on to say that this was a good move by MOE. She says she has seen so many kids struggle with learning Chinese and unable to cope with the standards, which has eroded the love of the subject. To her, Chinese isn't really their 姆语 (mother tongue) as they never grew up with the language or spoke it at home. In fact, it's closer to a 外语 (foreign language)!

I was floored. This is coming from a lady originally from China, whose livelihood depends on teaching kids Chinese (which she has been doing in Singapore for more than 15 years). If even she can see the sense of reducing the weightage of Chinese at PSLE, that makes for a strong case indeed because nobody can accuse her of being biased.

On a particular forum, some of the pro-status quo folks are crying foul, saying that the gahmen is bowing to the wishes of a small minority (rich and influential implied) and parents should just have the foresight to instill a Mandarin-speaking environment at home from young so that their kids grew to be "naturally" adept in Chinese.

First of all, saying English-speaking folks are a minority is laughable. As at 2010, the rate stands at 60% of Singapore households. By no stretch of the imagination can that be considered a minority. Secondly, not everybody can (or want to) transform their households into Chinese-speaking ones for the sole purpose of having their kids perform better in Chinese exams. And what about those who realise this too late? Those who rigidly insist on not giving this group of kids a helping hand are basically saying, "well, your parents didn't do the right thing, so serves you right."

The double standards on this forum thread are blatant but I don't think the posters even noticed. One said the children should just adapt to the system (so why don't they adapt to the revised system?) Many said the gahmen shouldn't cave to parents who complain (umm... sure sounds to me like they want the gahmen to give in to their complaints now).

As the posters continue to feed off each other's frenzy and fan the flames, it has become very ugly the last I checked, degenerating into wild accusations, mailbox spamming and petty name-calling. Isn't that how mass hysteria starts? I'm always appalled by the immaturity of Singapore's online community.

I think some people are losing sight of the fact that MOE is simply announcing a reduction in the weightage of Chinese assessment at PSLE. The way they're foaming at the mouth, you would think that MOE is proposing a complete removal of Chinese from the syllabus. And MOE has already clarified that those who can do well in Chinese will be supported and given opportunities to cultivate their strengths in the subject.

I have lots more to say but I think I've belaboured the topic long enough. I'll climb down from my soapbox now.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Revisiting the assessment of Chinese at PSLE

Lesley-Anne was featured in the Straits Times yesterday (if the print is too small to read, click on the image):

If you've read my original post on this topic in March, you will know how thrilled I am by the news that MOE is looking at reducing the weightage of Chinese at the PSLE. It's like someone took a look at my wishlist and decided to grant it.

As expected, there are contrasting reactions to this announcement, and on such a controversial topic, you can bet there are heated arguments flying in all quarters. Afterall, we talking about something which up to this point, has been a sacred cow in Singapore education - the bilingualism policy.

To me, this move is long overdue. I've already detailed in my previous post why I think it needs to be done. In this post, I want to elaborate on this, specifically in response to arguments made by those in the opposing camp.

1. If we drop the weightage in Chinese, we're sending the message that Chinese is not important.

We're confusing the issues of exams and learning. Unfortunately, in exam-intense Singapore, many parents and kids have become so skewed in our focus on exams that we judge the value of a subject by how much it will count in the exam. This is a mindset problem, not one of policy. If you are one of these tunnel-vision people, then so be it, but national policy shouldn't be dictated by such myopia.

However, I have enough faith in people to believe that there will be parents who will still recognise the importance of Chinese (not difficult, given China's position) and together with schools, help children learn Chinese well, without the burden of acing Chinese exams. Pragmatists who are all for learning Chinese so that they can work in China will be the first to tell you that you don't need exams to indicate what's important.

2. Kids won't bother to study Chinese anymore, hence causing standards to drop and loss of our cultural roots.

Riiiiight... as opposed to our wonderful Chinese standards now? Compared to the mainland Chinese, our Chinese is pathetic. My kids' Chinese tutor from China once said to Lesley-Anne (in Mandarin), "No need to say that your Chinese is not fantastic. Everyone knows that the Chinese of Singaporeans is not fantastic." She wasn't being condescending, she was just stating a fact.

Raising Chinese standards has nothing to do with assessment. The solution is to design the Chinese curriculum so that it builds proficiency in the language, especially spoken Chinese. This, MOE has been striving to do for the past few years, by revamping the syllabus so that it's more interactive, relevant and customised towards different levels of ability.

On the flip side, I'll tell you what's the fastest way to make a child hate Chinese and renounce his roots. Make him swot for hours everyday for six years and then find out that he still does badly in an exam which determines his future school. I guarantee you Chinese will come to represent everything negative to the child, for a long time. Trust me, I've been there.

Yes, granted there will be a group of students who will take the opportunity to drop Chinese like a hot brick but I'm guessing this group has already more or less given up on the subject anyway. If you reduce the exam component, I feel there's a better chance that these kids will not hate Chinese, even *gasp* find it fun, since there's less at stake.

3. Reducing weightage is taking the easy way out, kids should just work harder at Chinese.

I'm pretty certain that people who say this are those who never had difficulty learning Chinese. It's not as simple as "if I can do it, so can you." If you are a size 2 model who can feast on a chocolate buffet and still fit into your skinny jeans, it's so easy to tell a chubby woman who can put on weight simply by looking at a doughnut ad, "Why don't you go on a diet?" (though she'll probably whack you into tomorrow's dining room with her over-sized bag).

In short, it's a predicament you won't understand unless you've experienced it. Unless you have spent days, nights and weeks slogging at Chinese idioms and characters until you want to cry, and still go into an exam not understanding the questions, you simply won't get it. It's always more convenient to glibly dismiss other people as lazy or not putting in enough effort than to admit that perhaps they were disadvantaged to begin with (because that would mean we were advantaged somehow).

I personally know of kids who have put in more time and effort into studying Chinese than all the other subjects combined and still score barely passable grades. These are otherwise bright kids who do very well in school. Both Lesley-Anne and Andre have had Chinese tuition since they were in p1, the only subject they have tuition in. If effort = results, shouldn't they both be doing better in Chinese than their other subjects by now?

I'm not saying effort counts for nothing, of course it does. A lot. But when it comes to learning languages, it's not entirely a question of effort. It's partly how the human brain processes languages - it's different from say, learning maths or science, and some kids, especially boys, are unable to do so optimally, exacerbated by a non-conducive home environment. I have friends who think Chinese can just be learned as easily as other subjects. Incidentally, they're all fluent in Chinese and grew up in Chinese-speaking families. Coincidence? I think not.

4. The move would put Chinese-speaking kids who are weak in English, at a disadvantage.

Actually, I can't argue with this one. But it's difficult to make a case for reducing the importance of English, simply because it's our official language. English is the language of business and instruction in Singapore. There is simply no good enough reason to reduce its weightage in assessment, whereas Chinese is a second language. Why should it be given equal weightage as a first language?

And my gut feel tells me English, being a Romanised language, is more straightforward to learn than Chinese. It's probably one of the reasons why you often hear of Chinese kids struggling with Chinese and Indian kids struggling with Tamil, but seldom Malay kids struggling with Malay. I know a few Malaysian Chinese who picked up Malay easily but couldn't learn Chinese. Notice it's not as if they spoke Malay at home. While I applaud the abilities and tenacity of China kids who come to Singapore with zero English and become adept at it within three years, I can't help wondering if the road would be more arduous if they had to master say, Hindi or Thai. I know it's not politically correct to say this - just verbalising what many people believe to be true.

Anyway, even if I agreed that Chinese-speaking kids might be disadvantaged by this move, it is not a valid point for keeping the status quo - you don't make policy just so that everybody can be equally disadvantaged.


I think arguments for issues like these something get confused amidst the rabble because there are too many vested interests at stake. I suspect for many opposing parties, the real reason they don't want the changes is because they're strong in Chinese and they fear that the revised policy will erode their advantage (or it's coming too late for them and they want others to suffer as they have). But wanting others to fail so that you can succeed is just kiasu-ism at its ugliest. Let's not go there.

I will be the first to confess that I'm not completely impartial either because obviously Andre stands to gain from the new revisions (if they're implemented in time). That's why I thought I should look at the opposing arguments and present what I hope are credible responses to them.

I couldn't have said it better than someone who wrote to ST Forum: "Our examination system should recognise a pupil's strengths, not penalise his weakness." There you have it, folks. At the end of the day, this issue is not about who gets to benefit more, or which faction we should support. It's about making the assessment system as fair as possible, so that there are minimal casualties.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

www.ofkids.blogspot.com

For a while now, I've been pondering over the need to change the url address of my blog. You see, www.hedgehogcomms.blogspot.com isn't the easiest to commit to memory, especially as I'm well aware that my blog has actually nothing to do with hedgehogs.

How it happened was that when I first registered this blog, I tried a few urls and they were all taken. In my impatience, I decided to just use the name of my business, which is Hedgehog Communications. I didn't think at that time, that the blog would survive, thrive even, 2 years on. Certainly, having an easy-to-remember url was the last thing on my mind (would anyone even read it, let alone want to come back and refer friends to it?)

But now, with my blog having batted almost 85,000 eyeballs, I'm thinking at least some readers must wish the blog address was something more obvious. I recall trying to access a friend's blog not from my usual pc and for the life of me, couldn't remember the url. That's what happens when you outsource your memory and have everything bookmarked. Do you recall when we used to be adept at remembering a gazillion of our friends' phone numbers? Today, they're all keyed into our mobile phones - it wouldn't surprise me if one day, even your own phone number draws a blank.

So I went into Blogger, tried out a couple of urls and whaddya know, www.ofkids.blogspot.com was available! You can't get any easier than that, can you? (Why I didn't try that the very first time is beyond me).

However, I was slightly apprehensive. If I simply changed the address, I would lose all my previous traffic - and anyone who bookmarked my previous url would now reach a broken link. I then tried registering two urls and redirecting the hedgehogcomms site to the ofkids site but found that all the past comments and followers failed to be transferred.

By then, it was 1am, my lao hua yen eyes were clouding involuntarily and I was having nightmares of my blog posts irrecoverably deleted en masse. So the secretly tech-terrified part of me decided to play it safe and keep the hedgehogcomms url. BUT BUT I also managed to register the ofkids url and redirect it to the hedgehogcomms one. What this means is that you can now type www.ofkids.blogspot.com and you will automatically be directed to my blog. If your pc is still operating on last millennium speed (like mine), you will get a peak at the doppelgänger of my blog layout before you're redirected. Cheap thrill, I know.

So there you have it - my blog address remains unchanged but if you want to access my blog from another location or tell your friends about it (thank you!), you can now remember or recite the alternative address with ease. Way easier than "...H...E...D... no, D! D for Denmark!" As you can tell, that happens to me a lot.

I'm glad I've resolved (somewhat) this issue of a simpler url. Now if only I can get Blogger to write the posts for me...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sec1 physics

At the sec 1 & 2 levels, most schools cover General Science under the Science curriculum. A few schools however, including Lesley-Anne's school, teach Physics, Chemistry and Biology as specialised units right from the start.

Admittedly, I don't know if the two methods are vastly different. I'm assuming that under the General Science route, obviously physics, chemistry and biology would be covered too but whether it's less in-depth or span a smaller breadth of topics, I'm not sure.

In this post, I'm just going to share what Lesley-Anne has been learning in science thus far. Term 1 was Physics. The topics covered include measurements, states of matter and heat transfer. She also learnt how to use the bunsen burner which created much excitement apparently. I remember being fascinated by the bunsen burner too although I always hated lighting it, what with my fear of matches. Nowadays the kids just use lighters which are so much more convenient, although Lesley-Anne claims the lighter doesn't like her as it refuses to spark.

After each term, the kids have to sit for a science test. The following are a couple of sample questions I've taken from Lesley-Anne's physics test. They're on the topic of heat transfer.

a) Explain what is meant by sensitivity of a liquid-in-glass thermometer. [2]

b) Which thermometer (X, Y or Z) is the least sensitive? [1]

c) State and explain which thermometer (X, Y or Z) is the least responsive. [2]

d) State one advantage of using mercury instead of alcohol as a thermometric liquid. [1]

a) Describe how the molecules of glass conduct heat to the water. [2]

b) Name the main process by which heat moves through the water. [1]

c) On Fig. 16.1, mark using arrows the direction of the movement of the water. [1]

The answers are:

14a) Sensitivity is the change in length of the liquid for every 1 degree celcius change in temperature.

b) Z

c) Y is the least responsive because its thicker bulb wall prevents heat from being conducted to the liquid quickly so the temperature takes a longer time to obtain.

d) Mercury is more responsive than alcohol so one can obtain the temperature of an object more quickly.

16a) The heated glass molecules vibrate vigorously, affecting the neighbouring molecules and causing them to vibrate vigorously too. The transfer continues until heat reaches the water molecules.

b) Convection

c) as in diagram

Lesley-Anne scored 35/40 for the test. This term, she's learning chemistry and while she finds it tougher than physics, overall, she's enjoying her science lessons tremendously, more so than in primary school. The syllabus spans a wide range of topics as well as go into each one in-depth. There is one lab session every week which allows for hands-on activities and experiments to make the subject more interesting and relevant.

Looking at the test paper, I find that at the secondary school level, they test what has been taught. As long as you understand and have studied the concepts thoroughly, you should be able to do reasonably well. This is unlike primary school test papers which in my opinion, often try to trip the kids up with obtuse inferences, convoluted language or rigid insistence on "key words" in answer scripts.

I know we're only just entering Term 2 but it's so great to see Lesley-Anne enjoying her science lessons. And no more drills with past year papers or assessment books - for me, that gets the thumbs up!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

May the force be with you

It started innocently enough. Earlier this year, my cousin gave us the complete digitally remastered Star Wars in a 6-dvd set. What we didn't expect was that it would spark off a Star Wars frenzy in Andre, to the extent that it dethroned even his beloved Lord of the Rings. Almost all of his daily tv quota thus far has been dedicated to reliving Star Wars episodes 1-6 in turn.

Every other day, I'll hear emanating from the screen, the original, ultimate climatic scene, which Andre loves to ham up:

Luke Skywalker: You killed my father.

Darth Vader: No (heavy breathing). I am your father.

Luke Skywalker: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!


I was not a Star Wars fan growing up but I can see why it's every boy's fantasy. Flying, fighting machines, sleek robots, oozy, slimy creatures and of course, the fabulously cool light sabres.

I don't allow the purchase of any toy weapons in our home so Andre decided to fashion his own light sabre, using an empty shuttlecock tube and a part from a kids' basketball game set. Quite ingenious, I thought!

Last week, I found him recreating scenes from the Star Wars movies using Kenneth's stack of flip chart paper and coloured markers.

This is Attack of the Clones:

A New Hope:

Some close ups of key characters:









Alamak, somebody needs to work on his spelling.







Star Wars has its unexpected side benefits. Andre is always lamenting over his diminutive stature but recently, he told me, "Now I feel better about being small."

"Why is that?"

"Yoda is small but he's the wisest and most powerful."

The truth you speak, my young Padawan.

"Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?" - Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back)



Monday, April 12, 2010

Officially a teenager!

Lesley-Anne celebrated her 13th birthday on Saturday. It was a simple celebration with dinner at Sushi Tei on Friday, followed by ice-cream at Swensen's.

On Saturday, my sister and brother-in-law came over for a simple meal and we had a chocolate fudge cake. Just as Lesley-Anne had requested, most of her presents were books. I overheard Andre comment, "Hah? All books? Not a single Lego brick??" (Obviously to him, that was a complete waste of a gifting opportunity.)

video

How did my little girl become a teenager overnight? Lesley-Anne now wears the same shoe size as I do, and she can borrow my blouses (though we obviously have different tastes in styles). In the blink of an eye, she's now 13, though in my mind, I will always see her in her fresh new p1 school uniform and two pigtails, all of 6 years old.

Actually, Lesley-Anne becoming a teenager isn't a very drastic transition. A family member once commented that Lesley-Anne was born a teenager. That's because she has always been very mature for her age, thinking and saying things beyond her years.

Even as she reaches adolescence, I know we will continue to have our mother-daughter fights and there will be many times when we cannot see eye to eye, but her intelligence, level-headedness and uncanny sensitivity to those around her never fail to amaze me. So here's my message to her: May you never sell yourself short, always grow in your spirit of care for others, and know what a blessing you are to your family and friends.


Happy birthday, baby girl!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Let the little children come to me

Both Kenneth and I are first generation Christians in our families, meaning we were not born into Christian families and made the decision to become believers on our own accord. Like many Christian parents, we sometimes worry that our kids may not be as convicted in their faith because they had "inherited" it, so to speak.

For Andre especially, God always seemed more like a fairy tale - someone he hears about on Sundays and in school, but a little detached from his everyday life. Even though we say prayers at bedtime, his tend to sound a little like a wishlist, as is typical of many kids. Something along the lines of "Thank you God for a wonderful day, please help me with my studies and my badminton."

At some point after Easter Sunday, something changed. I'm not sure what or when but it started with me finding Andre reading the children's bible on Tuesday. We've had this bible in our home since Lesley-Anne was a baby but he's never been very interested in it. He then asked me about certain bible verses and where he could find them.

Yesterday, I came home to discover him totally engrossed in the bible during his play time (this last point is significant because play time is usually sacred to Andre - reading is work!) I still didn't know what to think. Then that night when I went into his room, he eagerly brought me the bible. To my wonder, I realised that he'd read it cover to cover in two days. As he flipped the pages, he excitedly recounted each story to me.

These are all stories he has heard before but for the first time, I could tell that they held meaning for him. Over an hour or so, he earnestly shared how God had worked in the lives of Jacob, David, Daniel, Joseph, Jonah, among many others. His childlike enthusiasim was infectious - through him, I experienced once again the fervour and fire of someone who had just discovered the marvel of a personal relationship with God.

He asked me many questions about God and his prayer that night was completely different from those in the past. I almost felt like I was listening in on a private conversation. I won't repeat it here because that would be disrespectful to him but it was touchingly heartfelt and personal.

There is no way to describe how I felt, no words can do it justice. When you see the hand of God touching your child, it's simply magical. I don't know if it was sparked by prayer over many years, the school's influence or something that someone said to Andre. I only know that it was the perfect Easter present, and as always, given in God's perfect time.
"I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." - Matthew 11:25

Monday, April 5, 2010

How to fit a boy into an education system made for girls

Last week, I received a call from Andre's teacher telling me that Andre had been playing with his pens when he was supposed to be doing his math corrections.

Perhaps I should first paint the background. Every year without fail, I would receive calls from Andre's teachers telling me that Andre had been talking in class/not doing his homework/not bringing his books. I begin every school year ever so hopeful, praying that the year would be different but this dream has so far remained a pipedream.

The complaint call I mentioned above was the third this year (and we're barely into April!) It has gotten to a point where I can feel my blood pressure rising just hearing the teacher's voice. I appreciate that she's being conscientious and concerned but honestly, I feel that teachers are getting slightly too gung-ho about calling parents. I don't want to trivialise the matter but if playing with pens in class warrants a call to parents, she might as well put me on speed dial right now because I can guarantee I'll be hearing from her a lot more.

One of my friends previously remarked, "the Singapore education system is designed for girls." Of course it's a generalisation but it pretty much hits the nail on the head. Our system stresses compliance, following of detailed instructions and neat, structured work. Guess which gender tends to thrive better in such an environment.

Before all you mums of angelic boys and wayward girls protest, let me stress again: it's a generalisation. Much as I dislike gender stereotypes, having spoken to many mothers, I've discovered that for the most part, the kids who struggle to cope in our school system tend to be boys. The most apparent difference comes from parents who have both sons and daughters. Most of the time, the girls fit in better than the boys. My own personal experience attests to this - in all of Lesley-Anne's six years in primary school, I never received a single complaint call from any of her teachers.

I remember last year, Andre recounted to me most indignantly, "the teacher let the girls go for recess first AGAIN!"

"Why was that?"

"She said they were quieter."

"Is it true?"

"Yeeesss... but STILL!!"

My frustration arises from the fact that when teachers call me to complain, I feel helpless because there's a limit to what I can do. I've tried persuading, scolding, counselling, screeching, even pleading. Each time, Andre seems remorseful and repentant, and he accepts his punishment like a man, without whining or complaining. But I know the effects are temporary because it's like trying to tie a squirrel down. For him, having to spend hours at a go, quietly doing focused seat work, is challenging. It's too much to hope that there won't be a lapse every now and then. I can only keep praying that the lapses will be fewer and further in between.

Meanwhile, I'm tempted to tell the teacher, if you're waiting for Andre to turn into a good little girl, don't hold your breath.

I didn't want to turn this post into a whine so on the upside, I'm so thankful Andre discovered badminton. He attends badminton training with his good friend Paul, who's very similar in temperament to Andre. Last week as Paul's mum was observing them, she commented, "they're happiest when they're on the court."

It's true - when they're playing badminton, you can see their joy and utter abandonment. No matter how stressful it gets, our kids have this outlet a few times a week to release the tension from the constant grind of studying and help them recharge. That's truly something to be grateful for.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cor blimey, it's a fish pie!

I was aimlessly browsing the Internet for new Western recipes to expand our very limited repertoire when I stumbled across this BBC Good Food recipe for fish pie. Fish pie is the quintessential British dish, arguably as emblematic as fish and chips or bangers and mash. Just the other day, I was at Marks and Spencers and noticed that they had a new selection of ready freezer foods, including several types of fish pies (and a very yummy looking sticky toffee pudding but I digress).

It was the picture on the website that convinced me to try it. My family loves practically anything with a cream sauce like pasta and gratin. Plus it was a one-dish meal which is always attractive for busy people like us!

So I gave it a go two nights ago, adjusting the recipe to suit our tastes (and ingredients that I had). Usually, I'll need to repeat and alter recipes a couple of times to get them just right but amazingly, this one turned out to be practically perfect the first time. Lesley-Anne and Andre loved it, even Kenneth, the biggest critic, declared it "very credible".

So readers, here you go - my fish pie recipe, complete with pictures. Please note though that the ingredients and method I've listed are only for the pie filling. For the mashed potato topping, check out my shepherd's pie recipe.

Ingredients

400g skinless white fish fillet (I used frozen sutchi fillet)
400g skinless salmon
500ml milk
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 small onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
small bunch parsley, leaves only, chopped
50g butter
40g plain flour
50g cheddar , grated
paprika
black pepper
salt

Fish pie
  1. Poach the fish. Put the fish, celery, onion and bay leaves in a large pot. Add paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the milk over the ingredients and bring to the boil - you will see a few small bubbles. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8 mins.

  2. Lift the fish and celery onto a plate and strain the milk into a jug to cool. Flake the fish into large pieces in the baking dish. Add the celery.

  3. Scatter the chopped parsley over the fish.

  4. Make the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour and cook for 1 min over moderate heat. Take off the heat, pour in a little of the poaching milk, then stir until blended. Continue to add the milk gradually, mixing well until you have a smooth sauce. Return to the heat, bring to the boil and cook for 5 mins, stirring continually, until it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, then pour over the fish.

  5. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius. Pile the mashed potatoes on top of the fish mixture, leaving no gaps. Sprinkle with cheese.

  6. I love the extra zing of paprika so I usually sprinkle some on top.

  7. Bake for 30 mins or until top is golden brown.
The result is a very creamy, succulent and hearty pie. It's also relatively healthier than its meat cousins because it's all fish and I added celery for the veg. Although the original recipe calls for full cream milk, I used low fat milk and it was still tasty.

Fish pies are extremely versatile because you can substitute many of the ingredients. You add use prawns or scallops in place of some of the fish to have a seafood pie, similar to what some cafes here serve in individuals portions. Some recipes I've seen add carrots, peas or corn, basically whatever you like!

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