When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Welcome to my office September 6, 2010

Filed under: Cupcakes,Inane stuff — crummb @ 3:33 am

This is my new office. I started work a few weeks ago and it’s definitely not what I’m used to. While my previous employer was a monopolistic juggernaut that had thousands of drones chugging away at its engines every day, my new company is a tiny set-up — and its smallness hit me hard on my first day.

Like every no-name outfit out there with limited start-up capital, there is a helluva lot of Ikea furniture around here. There is only one cleaning lady, no IT support, no 24-hour phone assistance, not even air-con. In fact, I can bet you I’m gonna get paid in hand-written cheques.

The company is in the confectionery services sector, and I am one of only two employees. I am, in the grand Singaporean do-it-all tradition of bau geh liao, cover everything from design, production, marketing, promotions to delivery. The other employee goes by the name of Z, one of those irritating, bossy types who thinks he’s the smartest, funniest, best-looking one around — not unlike Ricky Gervais in The Office. But he only comes in in the evenings and on weekends so he’s got nothing on me.

The real bosses here are, of course, the company’s owners — a pair of sisters who are known throughout the industry as hard task-masters. Rumour has it that they have a huge appetite for success and will stop at nothing until they get a giant slice of the pie. They’ve been pretty cordial to me so far, full of smiles and good mornings when I walk pass their rooms every day. But I am not blindsided by such superficial pleasantries. I know that once shit hits the fan, I’m gonna be busy.

Let me tell you about the older one. She’s the sort of boss who gets excited over the slightest idea and needs to be briefed and debriefed all the time. But thankfully, she goes for self-improvement classes every morning, so that gives me time to deal with the real terror of the territory, the younger sister.

This fat, waddly one hasn’t said a word to me since Day 1. From outside her room, I often hear her screaming at the cleaning lady to do things faster, better, now, now, now. Seated on her high pedestal, she bangs her fists and demands up-to-the-minute updates on wet-market movements. Very soon, she’ll probably want me — as if I haven’t got enough to do already — to pick up her laundry. And then what? Wipe her butt?

Then, while everyone is slaving over her targets and deadlines, she slips off and takes long afternoon naps — right there in her room and in full view of everyone!

But I am soldiering on. There are several plus points about this job, such as the short commute and the 24-hour pantry that’s stocked with many things I like. And, if worse comes to worst, I will adopt this mantra that I have observed from working 15 years in a big company — which I believe applies to workplaces both big and small: There’s nothing that a bit of ass-kissing can’t fix.


Personal aside to readers: Of course, my home doesn’t really look like this. The total-unglam bottle sterilizer, milk formula tins, unsightly trash can, aprons and clearance-sale mugs were all shoved behind the counter before the shoot. The baby though, at least to me, is gorgeousness confirmed ūüôā


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.


Introducing… Crumb! July 20, 2010

Filed under: Inane stuff,Wedding cakes — crummb @ 11:12 pm

It’s safe to announce it now:¬†I’ve handed in my letter, hung up my poison pen, polished my KitchenAid, and am finally going into business! YES!

Three years ago, I — and practically half of the baking fraternity around the globe — dreamt of opening a home bakery selling cupcakes, because they’re easy to do and oh-so trendy. But a friend urged me to aim higher. So thanks, Jenny, for putting the idea in my head. I am now a bona fide wedding cake maker!

I don’t just do weddings though. Birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, proposals — any occasion that calls for a special cake with hand-made sugarpaste work. I’ll work from home as a one-woman show (two-women if you include my maid who will help with the washing) so even though I can’t stand the word, this makes me an ‘artisan’. Ahem.

I’m now serving one month’s notice (three weeks left!) before I quit the newspaper for good. If you’ve been wondering why I’ve suddenly gone all silent over the past few months, it’s because I’ve been busy preparing my cake portfolio for my business website. It’s still a work in progress but you can see some of my work here. Oh, the bakery is called Crumb with a single ‘m’ now. The double ‘m’ was cute for a blog, but I reckon proper spelling is essential if I wanna be taken seriously. Would you spend $700 bucks on a birthday cake made by a bakery that couldn’t spell? Ah don’t think so.

It’s been one helluva ride getting here so thank-yous are in order:

Jenny Tan, for planting the seed

Christopher Tan, for being a 24-hour helpline when I was (and still am) navigating the mysterious seas of baking

Lynn Ng, Jessica Tan, Charmayne Yap and Clarissa Oon for having sheer courage in letting this total novice make your wedding cakes

Suzanne Sng, Charmayne Yap (again!), Linda Jim, Tan Hsueh Yun, Weylin Liew for not laughing

My husband Z, for surviving on delivery pizza and showing unquestioning support while I baked, even though you were motivated by the money I’m gonna make so you can quit your job and hang out with skaters full-time.

I love you all! And now it’s time to bake.


bakeware giveaway! April 28, 2010

Filed under: Inane stuff — crummb @ 12:46 am

Back when I first started this blog and my daily readership was in the low 2-digits, my husband Z would jokingly suggest that I hold lucky draws to jack up the hits. Don’t be silly, I’d say. Slowly but surely, hordes of people will read me because they will find it impossible to resist my melodious writing, insightful musings and sparkling wit.

Well, today, I am eating my words. I am offering to give away my bakeware absolutely FREE because times are hard. Maybe it’s because Singapore just opened two casinos and everyone’s gone gambling. But suddenly, nobody’s reading my blog — my readership stats has dropped back to my early BC (Before Cupcake) days. My ego is getting deflated faster than my worst sponge cake.

And besides, I really need to make room on my baking shelf for my steadily increasing collection of cake decorating tools. You’d be happy to know that the following items are all in tip-top condition. Drop a comment or email me if you’re interested. Can come collect at my place.

(Clockwise from left; daughter not for sale:)

Item #1: Red and pink polka dotted cupcake cases. Original price: $9.90 per tube. I pounced on them the second I saw them at Kitchen Capers because they were the most adorable cases I’ve ever seen. But in my haste, I failed to notice that they were only 1cm high, which would make cupcakes that are thinner than I like. Grab them if you’re into making madeleines or thin cupcakes. The pink one is not even opened.

Item #2: Loaf pan (Original price: Can’t remember… It wasn’t cheap. From Phoon Huat). I have two of these and I bought them BEFORE I realised their dimensions weren’t right for most of my pound cakes.

Item #3: Cookbook stand (Original price: Don’t know, it was a gift from Z). In my naive early days of baking, I thought having a cookbook stand would solve all my problems – no more yucky stains and bits of flour on my precious books! But it has since become obsolete. Most of my cookbooks are thick, hulky tomes that cannot fit into this svelte gadget. Z is aghast that I’m giving his gift away, but my rationale is: sentimental white elephant or neat, sleek baking shelf? Case closed.

Item #4: Dark metal 12-hole muffin pan (Original price: Can’t remember. From Phoon Huat). Nothing wrong with this, I’ve been using it for three years. But lately I am on a cakezilla mission to use only aluminium pans in all my baking. These pans work just fine if you turn down your oven temperature by 10 deg C from what’s stated in the recipe. Therefore I am not giving away a dud.

Item #5: Aluminium 12-hole cupcake pan (Original price: about $7). In my search for aluminium cupcake pans, I got this even though the holes are shallower than normal muffin pans. I thought they’d still be able to hold up the cases, but no, the cupcakes spread out a little too much for me. Good for madeleines though.

Item #6: Three-sided jagged scraper (Original price: about $3). Why am I giving this away? Cos I already had one at home when I bought this. Duh.

Item #7: Bundt pan (Original price: Can’t remember, not cheap). Same reason why I’m giving away the muffin pan.

So there you have it. Call me call me call me. I really need to offload these extras so that my baking shelf can be neat and trim like a showroom centrepiece. Me and my inner Martha thank you.


Abstract sugarflowers April 1, 2010

Filed under: Inane stuff — crummb @ 12:23 am
Tags: ,

The last time I lost sleep over homework, Bill Clinton was still president, Jamiroquai was the It band, and I could fit into UK size 10 jeans — which is to say, it was a very long time ago.

But there I was, last Friday night, sprawled out in bed with my eyes wide open and thinking, “The teacher is gonna HATE it!” I had just put together the final project for my 5-week course in sugarflowers, and to put it delicately, it didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned it. It plain sucked.

We had to decorate a 2-tier cake any way we liked. And, with grand plans to impress, I covered not 2, but 3 tiers of styrofoam cake rounds with avocado-coloured fondant. Then, I stuck on leaves of three different shades of green in a swag formation, held up by white carnations. The bright idea was to create thick flower and leaf cut-outs so they look like felt appliques. But the cake ended up looking like a bloody Lego tower put together by a 6-year-old.

Aghast and unable to sleep, I plucked out the leaves and started scrambling for plan B. Out of sheer desperation, I took out my round cutters the next morning and created these abstract flowers in pink, the only colour that could perk up the vomitous avocado shade. They turned out surprisingly well, but with just hours to go before I was to head off to class, I only had enough flowers to form one row.

At class, the teacher was neither horrified nor impressed. “Not bad for something done out of desperation,” she said. But back home, my husband Z was a lot more blunt. Eyeing the pukey-green and uneven, embattled fondant, he said after taking these pictures: “My photos make your cake look good.” Wow, thanks.

In a moment of abject self-doubt, I asked him, Am I a better writer than a baker? Should I forget about this cake-making business and just stick with journalism?

He must have felt bad, because his turnaround was swift. He raised an arm skyward a la Hamlet. “No,” he pronounced. “The literary world has lost its brightest star, because the baking world has discovered…” and pauses for dramatic effect, “a¬† supernova!”

Right, thanks. Anyway I’ve kept the flowers and am thinking of how to re-use them on another cake. The puke fondant? I trashed them the second these photos were shot. Adios.


Sugar Flowers March 23, 2010

Filed under: Inane stuff — crummb @ 10:20 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

For the past two days, my husband Z and I have been walking around looking like we could conquer the world.

Me, because I’m about to finish a 5-week course in sugar flowers, which has taught me to make – among other things – the pretty posy above. Now, when I look at all the wedding cake cuttings I’ve amassed, I go “I can do that, that, and that.” As for Z, he just bought a new camera lens which has enabled him to take the photo above. “Should’ve bought it a looong time ago,” he said.

I don’t know who is more smug: Me, who is having serious illusions of grandeur about becoming a wedding cake maker, or Z, who cannot wait to take photos for my business website. When everyone clicks on the opening page and is greeted by his photo, he says, they will freeze in awe, collapse in delirium, and exhibit other such worshipful reactions.

We’ll see about that. In the meantime, I wanna show off what else I made.

A carnation…

A daisy…

But I’m proudest of my posy, which I think bears revisiting…

In fact, I believe a close-up is in order…

Alright, enough gloating. Back to the laundry.