When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

My first cake order August 27, 2010

Filed under: Birthday cakes — crummb @ 10:43 am
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In my former life as a journalist, I had this internal switch that I turned on each time I stepped into an interview to profile a personality. In an instant, I’d become chatty, full of questions, thoroughly interested, and dripping with charm and good manners. It was all necessary if you are to probe the inner psyche of a complete stranger.

But 15 years of practice couldn’t obscure this fact: I was, and always will be, an introvert. I’m incurably shy when it comes to meeting new people, and I will always need a legitimate licence — such as a journalist’s badge — before I dare poke a toe into someone’s private life.

But, as I happily found out last week when I delivered my first cake, my second career can also usher me into strangers’ lives — this time, no charm offensive needed.

The venue was a gleaming, immaculately renovated studio apartment in the heart of CBD, and the occasion was a surprise birthday party for a girl named C. As I assembled the cake on the swanky kitchen countertop, I could hear the whirl of excitement all around. Friends chatted, new people were introduced, music played, drinks circulated.

“It’s like we can gatecrash parties all the time now,” I whispered excitedly to husband Z, who was my co-deliveryman. But instead of having to do the dreaded small talk, I was left alone to do my work. I was invisible, but privy to all that was going on. A bit like a taxi-driver, I thought.

I was curious about the birthday girl, whom we didn’t meet because we had to leave before she arrived. Clearly, she was very well-loved. She is a hobbyist painter and had drawn many paintings for her friends over the years. So as a surprise for her birthday, her friends gathered all the paintings she had given away and displayed them at the party as like an art exhibition. There were canapes, uniformed waitresses and, of course, a three-tier cake made by me.

The cake was designed to hopefully appeal to the bubbly, artsy girl. The three square tiers were stacked off-centre, and each layer was decorated with different sugarpaste motifs in bright, happy colours.

But the evening ended on a sour note for me. Halfway through my set-up, Z poked me in the ribs and pointed at the countertop. After turning the cakestand round and round so I could coax the chocolate fondant into shape, I had left ugly streaks on the spotless stainless steel surface. I placed a rag under the cakestand and tried rubbing away the scratches, but it was too late. They were permanent.

No words could describe how gutted I felt. If someone had done that to my kitchen countertop, I’d be pissed. But the homeowner was totally gracious about it. And to remedy the situation, I have sent my contractor over to polish down the damage.

The repair job will cost me the price of the cake and then some. So this is one hard, expensive lesson learnt. You can bet that every time I go on a new job from now on, I will not need that internal switch. I will bloody need a rag.


Re-introducing… Crummb! August 17, 2010

Filed under: Inane stuff — crummb @ 12:36 am

SINGAPORE (August 17): In a formidable show of people power, Crummb is elected as the official name of TPL’s bakery.

Crummb, the name of the former journalist’s baking blog of three years, steamrolled its arch-rival Crumb with a huge margin by grabbing 35 votes. The latter name, leaner but not meaner, managed to capture a paltry 2 nods.

In a motherhood statement released to the press, Crummb said it is honoured to be the name of this finest of new cake establisments.

“I would like to thank all 35 people who made their mandate clear by voting for me.  I will work my best, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for TPL,” it said.

To cement its appointment, TPL has created a business page on Facebook under “Crummb”. All readers of her blog are cordially invited to the page and click Like to bloat her already obese ego.

“But it is also for me to know the names and faces of my readers, what,” she defends, downplaying her pathological need for praise and affirmation. She adds that whoever Likes her page will henceforth be christened “Crummbot” for his/her unwavering support and obedience.

As for the also-ran Crumb, it was recently spotted endorsing some two-bit musician on Facebook, as well as countless other unimaginative bakeries whose names are so similar you don’t know which is which.

“See? It pays to be different,” said Crummb, adding that TPL’s readers are as wise as they have good taste.

“So quick go to the Facebook page now and make yourselves known. Crummbots of the world unite!”


Saying goodbye to my junkyard August 5, 2010

Filed under: Inane stuff — crummb @ 12:00 am

My last day at the newspaper is two weeks away, so I’ve been slowly clearing out my desk. And boy, do I have a lot of junk.

I have Time and Newsweek magazines dating back to 2002. There are candy, teabags, and wine bottles that are so old they are probably radioactive. Stacks and stacks of press releases, interview notes and business cards stand neglected at various corners.

But there are other junk that aren’t so easy to throw away. Like this empty bottle of San Pellegrino that Lionel brought back for me from a movie junket in London. Its content was imbibed by one Brad Pitt, and Lionel, knowing how I had lusted after the actor for years, sneaked it into his bag at the end of the interview when no one was looking. My shrieks of joy upon receiving it almost rocked the building. But now, I may just junk the thing. I still haven’t forgiven Brad for what he did to Jen.

My pinboard has many other things I will definitely keep. They are cards and notes from colleagues and newsmakers over the years, two of which remind me that I had grazed the culinary big-time — thank-you letters from French celebrity chefs Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard. But my pride and joy is a note scrawled in rather childish handwriting: “Believe In Dreams & Work Hard!” It was written to me by Taufik Batisah, who is, in my opinion, the only Singapore Idol and whom I voted for 30 times at the final. When he visited the office soon after his win, he caused a mini stampede among the women on our floor — me included. His signature has two dots over the ‘u’ and a heart at the end. Awww.

Then, there are the two booklets I brought back from a lunch tasting that Lisa and I attended at the Ritz-Carlton. It was one of those chi-chi affairs where the flower arrangements reached the ceiling, a different wine was served with each course, and you wore your best shoes and minded your posture. But Lisa and I were there for some fun. We were all given wine booklets to jot down things about the vintages. But while everyone was dutifully recording their scholastic observations (so they could take home and archive in their million-dollar walk-in wine cellars), we wrote down numbers — on the scale of 1 to 10 — for how drunk we were with each successive wine. By dessert, we were pouncing on each other’s booklets and scribbling lopsided, barely decipherable declarations. My favourite line from Lisa was that I was Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein’s love-child, because “You are da BOMB!!!!!”

Needless to say, we went back to work very late that day because we had to sit in our cars for a very long time to wear out the booze.

But the oldest thing on my desk is my Collins’ thesaurus, which I bought in the early 1990s while still in university. On my first day of work in 1995, I stood it next to my desk phone as the first of many tools in a journalist’s arsenal that I was to amass (the others, as I was soon to find out, were things like namecard holder, coffee, Panadol, and a thick skin).

The thesaurus took me through the more than 1,800 stories I was to write over 15 years. It was always on hand to offer a clever word or a witty turn of phrase. Fifteen years and 1,800 stories is a long time and a lot of words. So which stories were the most memorable? Interviews with celebrities come to mind. Chow Yun-Fat was the ultimate charmer; Shu Qi had the prettiest nose; Gong Li was ice-cold and impenetrable, until you ask about her dogs; and Pierce Brosnan — whom I wanted to marry at 13 and met face-to-face at 29 — was most disappointingly an incorrigible vainpot.

What about the piece I’m proudest of writing? I’m tempted to say the profile I did of the very bizarre Jacintha Abisheganadan, or a travel series on emerging China that had me traipse across five cities in two weeks. But actually, it is this little weekly column I wrote for several years which I utterly hated. It is called Cheap & Good, and it recommends hawker stalls for their good food at dirt-cheap prices.

I hated it because I always had to ask my relatives, contacts, old school friends — pretty much anyone who crossed my path — for leads to a good, undiscovered hawker. They weren’t easy to come by. And when I did get one and managed to hunt it down in some farflung corner in Woodlands or Bedok, either his food was not very good, he was closed for the day, or he refused to be interviewed because his business was already so good he couldn’t handle any more customers. And so off I went to scramble for another lead.

But for all this trouble, there were rewards. It is no exaggeration when I say the articles changed some hawkers’ lives. The sudden burst of business gave them the recognition they so longed for and deserved. Many of them went on to be featured in TV shows, websites and blogs. I like to think that the hawkers’ lives, and those of their children, improved at least by a little bit.

Now, I look at my thesaurus, the one that has accompanied me through all these stories and characters, and ask:  Shall I or shan’t I throw you away? I rarely use it now, not when is just a click away. With its tea-coloured pages and withered spine, it stands on my desk as a ‘brown’ elephant.

But if I take it home, it will — along with all the other knick knacks salvaged from my desk — be kept in a shoe-box and shoved high up in my closet. The next time I take it down for a look will probably be when I move house, whenever that will be.

My thesaurus, I realise, belongs next to my phone right here on my desk. Even all the other junk that I will soon throw away — they hold meaning here, randomly placed and woefully neglected, as fragments of the past that are all at one place and within arm’s reach.

I will be one sad woman on my last day when my desk is empty and shorn of every last memory. So with two weeks more to go, I am leaving everything the way it is. Let me enjoy this for just a while longer.