Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Review: Cakes in Jars by Grin Affair

Read about this cake shop in the quiet Everton Park estate called Grin Affair in the papers a couple of weeks ago. The shop sells cakes in glass jars which immediately caught my attention. Finally decided to try it today since it is near my office. Asked my food buddy, CC, if she wanted some and she asked me to help her get five jars. Besides cakes, the shop also sells dried fruits in jars.
The cakes come in twelve flavours namely:
1) Banoffee
2) Dark chocolate
3) Durian
4) Hazelnut
5) Kiwi cheesecake
6) Mango
                                         7)  Maron (chestnut)
                                         8)  Matcha and azuki bean
                                         9)  Strawberry custard
                                         10)  Lychee passionfruit with sea salt pistachio
                                         11)  Cookies and cream
                                         12)  Honey lavender and blueberry
and expanding due to the coming Christmas season. CC asked for one banoffee, one strawberry custard, one honey lavender and blueberry and two lychee passionfruit with sea salt pistachio which happens to be the latest addition.
Bought the honey lavender and blueberry for myself to try and the lady took the jars out from the fridge, removed the covers of the jars, then covered the openings with cupcake paper cases and tied with strings. It was interesting because she tied it in a way that one can actually carry the jars by the string.
I was told that the cakes can stay outside of the fridge for 1-2 hours so after buying, I quickly took a bus back to office since it was a very hot afternoon. Took some photos of the cakes before eating mine. When I removed the paper cover, I was greeted with a big, fresh blueberry.
Took a bite of the cake and was a bit disappointed because I couldn't really taste the lavender. Fortunately I could taste the honey and the cake itself was very smooth, moist with rich vanilla taste. And hidden in the mousse were big, fresh blueberries. Perhaps next time I should try the more popular flavours like banoffee, dark chocolate, durian and kiwi cheesecake.
Overall, it was an interesting concept to have cakes in glass jars.
Name: Grin Affair
Address: 3 Everton Park #01-77
Tel: 8282 7375
Product: Cakes in Glass Jars
Price: (1) to (9) at $5.50/jar; (10) at $6/jar; (11) and (12) at $4.80/jar

UPDATE: Shop moved to 2 Everton park #01-59A Singapore 081002 (Tel: 8222 2678)

Monday, October 29, 2012

29 Oct 12 - Day 5 (Myeongdong, Incheon International Airport)

Since the check-out time was 11am, I slept in in the morning till 8+am. Washed up, ate breakfast and did some last minute packing then watched some TV. Finally left with my luggage to the main office at 10:30am and again I missed a turn and couldn’t locate the office building. Fortunately, an uncle saw me and knew that I was lost so asked where I was going. Told him the name of the hostel and he directed me there. Got to the office, handed the key over and the staff told me that I could have just given them a call and they would help me with the luggage. Oh well…
Parked my luggage in the office and went out to Myeongdong Fashion Street to kill some time. Bought the coffee chocolate from Angel-in-us for Min and then went into SPAO and a couple of other shops. About 11+am, went into a random noodle house for lunch and turned out that it was Myeongdong Gyoja, another food shop in my list. After eating, went back to collect my luggage and lugged it over to the bus stop at Sejong Hotel. The bus came at 12:40pm and I reached Incheon International Airport by 1:50pm. Collected my air ticket and went to do my tax refund. Cleared the immigration and then walked around the airport. Went to the Korea Traditional Cultural Experience Center thinking that I could do one of the hands on but that day the crafts were either hanji painting or hand mirror. So stood for a while and watched the other people do before going into Lotte Duty Free shop to see what else I can buy but end up getting nothing.
There was a parade of the Royal Family and tourists were taking photos. I took some and managed to get a photo taken with the Royal Family. Went to the boarding gate and sat to wait for time to board at 3:50pm. The plane took off at 4:40pm and I watched The Amazing Spiderman and The Dark Knight Rises. This new Spiderman was nice, closer to the comic / cartoon version and Andrew Garfield is very cute with his messy hairstyle. Touched down at 9:40pm and BIL came to pick me up to go back to his place for the night.

Thought: This whole 5D4N trip to Seoul is the first solo trip for me. The experience was good. My character is one that plans and plans down to the details if possible. I even printed maps and information such as what to check out in which area. But in the end, I didn’t use much of the maps or follow the itinerary to a T. I just go with the flow and rearrange the itinerary as I deem fit. I didn’t even follow the list of food places that I have compiled and just randomly pop into anyone that looks decent or ask the locals. It so happened that the ones I went into happened to be quite popular such as HwangSaengGa Kalguksu, Saram & Namu, Beautiful Tea Museum and Myeongdong Gyoja.
I was feeling very stressful and tired during the first couple of days of my trip because I was trying to pack a lot of activities per day. Then I realized that I shouldn’t have to do that, it was supposed to be a relax trip, doing things at my own pace. Go where I like, see what I like, eat what I like, when I like. However, one thing I learnt is that never work full day even if the flight is a night flight. Have at least half a day rest before hand because one will not be able to have a good rest on the plane and the next day is going to be one day of activities.
Seoul is not difficult to walk on own, even though language is a problem, the locals are very helpful even if they don’t speak English or speak minimal English. They are very happy if you can speak one or two simple Korean words or phrases. I remember a few occasions when I was buying food I said “Gamsahamnida” at the end and the sellers who were wearing straight faces broke into smiles.
I read from TripAdvisor that one needs to register with Olleh in order to use their network and charges apply. I didn’t register since I didn’t think that I will need to connect so often. However, Wi-Fi connections are plenty in a lot of areas and I was able to Whatsapp little big sis every now and then. I could even connect to Olleh network without registering with them.
Will I go back Seoul again? I think so but it will probably be in the Spring/Summer period where I can at least get some Summer clothing. Perhaps not so much shopping but more on sightseeing such as visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace again to cover the areas I missed, visit Changdeokgung Palace again to tour the Secret Garden; see Cheonggyecheon Stream by day; go to Bukchon Hanok Village in the morning as well as to cover other parts of Seoul such as the Gangnam area and Hongik area. So will I go back to Seoul again? Yes!

Click here for full set of photos

Sunday, October 28, 2012

28 Oct 12 - Day 4 (Changdeokgung Palace, Insadong, Cheonggyecheon Stream)

Thank god today is a clear and sunny day. The stretching helped with my lower back and legs. I only got up about 8.30am since I was going to the Changdeokgung Palace. After three days in Seoul, I am used to the subway system. In fact, during the last three days, I was walking without maps most of the time, only except when I was in the Namsangol Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Samcheongdong and Bukchon Hanok Village. Either I blend in very well so much so that twice I had locals talking to me / asking me questions in Korean or they just grabbed anyone and asked questions.
Got to the palace slightly after 9am, bought the ticket and snapped a few photos of the surroundings before entering the palace. Walked around the area after Donhwamun and took more photos. The trees in the area are turning into pretty shades of yellow and red. Asked a lady to help me take a photo of me standing under a big, yellow tree. Well… Her photo taking skill was not great, instead of taking the photo landscape wise to incorporate the whole tree; she took it portrait wise and got the both sides of the crown chopped off. Oh well… At least I got my photo taken.
Initially I planned to join the English guided tour at 10:30am but I had half an hour to kill so decided to just tour the palace on my own using the guide book provided. Half way through the walk, the English guided tour group caught up and I joined the group on and off. One of the things I learnt during the guided tour was that Seonjeongjeon is the only building in Changdeokgung with a blue-tiled roof and back then, blue tiles were very expensive. There were some iron doors in some of the buildings and the tour guide explained that they were actually heating system in the olden days. Charcoals were burnt behind those iron doors to heat the floor during cold days and charcoals were used instead of wood because they produced less soot. The smoke from the burning of the charcoals was then released from a chimney behind the building. Some of the buildings were connected by corridors so the people in the old days did not need to wear thick clothing just to get to the next building.
The guided tour ended at 11:30am and I stayed for a little while more before moving off to Insadong. Had a bit of a problem finding my way there so popped into Anguk station to look at the neighborhood map. While crossing a road to get to Insadong, I saw a couple of rice cake shops selling very nice rice cakes. Again I was very tempted to buy but didn’t. Got to Insadong and I was in the middle of the main street so walked half of it and took a side road thinking that I would be able to make a turn to get back to the main road. However, it was not the case and I wandered off a little too much. Followed a group of foreigners and was back to Insadong again and I covered the other half of the main road before looking for a place to eat lunch.
Most of the eating places are found in the alleys and side roads while the shops along the main street are those selling souvenirs, pottery and knick knacks. Popped into one of the many alleys and checked out the restaurants there. The first one was quite crowded and had an open area concept while the one next door was a close concept that I couldn’t see the interior of it. From the menu, the first one had bibimbap with octopus and a few others while the second one offered medicinal chicken soup and some other food. In the end, I decided to go to the first one since there were many people in there. I assumed the many people means the food should be good.
Sat down and the staff who handed me the menu told me that the first four items are for single person so I ordered the bibimbap with small octopus. The portion was very big with lots of ingredients and the food came with a few small side dishes. Took some photos of my lunch and started eating. I couldn’t finish the rice because there was too much hot sauce. After eating, continued walking along the main street of Insadong, checking out the shops to see what souvenirs I could get. Saw an information counter and went to get a map. Passed by a shoe shop which was having promotion and went in to try on a pair of boots that cost W55,000 from the usual W69,000. Was tempted to get but didn’t and just then, there were some commotions outside the shop. Went out to see and there was a traditional drum parade going on and I quickly took a short video clip of it.
Saw Ssamziegil and went in to check it out. There were many people inside and the shops were selling crafts, accessories and so on, things that can be found back home. Went to the rooftop and saw a small section that was like the love locks section at the N Seoul Tower but instead of locks, they were rubber tags. Walked down by the staircase to B1 where I read in TripAdvisor that people can dabble in craftworks. Saw four to five small sections where people can pay to make things such as silver accessories or colored glass crafts. Went back up and then found the tourist guides in red to ask for direction to the National Souvenir Centre. I thought I should be able to settle all the souvenir stuff in that one place but I was wrong. The things in there were too touristy and impractical and I had to go back out to hunt again. Stopped by a small souvenir shop and bought 10 coasters and two card holders for W23,000. Asked the aunty if I can have discount and instead of giving me discount, she gave me a pencil case worth W2,000.
Happened to see the sign pointing to the direction to Beautiful Tea Museum and recalled that it was one of the food shops on my list. Hence, followed the direction and went in for tea break. Checked out the prices for the tea leaves and gosh… they were expensive. So in the end, I just sat down to have some Korean Hwang Cha and a piece of pumpkin rice cake. The staff prepared the tea right in front of me and I sipped my tea and ate the rice cake slowly, enjoying every moment of it. After I was done eating and resting, paid up and continued shopping.
Saw a stall selling hand-made wooden massage spike balls and bought a pair because they looked interesting enough. Wanted to get some small celadon pottery items as gifts but couldn’t find nice ones and wanted to get some decent celadon pottery for myself but the rational side of me took over saying that I already have two celadon pottery cups at home from BIL. Passed by a stall selling freshly made honey snacks but didn’t get because they were in big packets so ended up buying some small ones from another shop.
I walked up and down the main street for many times, trying to decide if I should buy the pair of boots I saw earlier or I should head down to Dongdaemun market to check out the shoes and clothing again. While walking up and down, I saw TKD concert on one end of the street and at the other end, I saw some teenagers dancing to a Korean song and subsequently dancing to Gangnam Style. After that, I finally made up my mind to just get the boots since I think that I probably wouldn’t be able to get anything from Dongdaemun market. Happy with my purchase, I thought I will just call it a day and forget about going to Cheonggyecheon Stream because I didn’t see the stream on my map. But then I thought since I was already in Seoul, in the area, it was my last day and I don’t know when I will be back again, hence I pressed on and went to the information counter to ask for directions.
Fortunately the stream wasn’t too difficult to find and it was behind a temple and I was in the middle section of the stream. Walked on one side of the stream in the opposite direction of Cheonggye Plaza and took some photos. It was getting dark and my camera night shots are not good so most of the photos appeared blurred. Got to the end of the stream, crossed the stream via the stones and walked towards Cheonggye Plaza. There were many couples sitting along the stream. Got to the plaza, saw the grand fountain and there was a concert with some food tents at the side. Bought a stick of grilled chicken for W2,000 and sat down near the fountain to eat. A man beside me spoke to me in Korean and I didn’t understand him.
Finished up the food, took some photos of the concert and thought I will walk to Dongdaemun market since it should be fairly near. Saw a sign pointing to Gwanghwa gate and remembered that Dongdaemun should be in the opposite direction. Passed by a pushcart selling BBQ squid and bought a pack to eat on the way. The uncle told me one for W5,000 so I gave him W10,000 expecting a change but he gave me the food and stopped. I was confused that stood there and the other uncle said something like two and I answered “Two?” The other uncle who prepared the food then gave me the W5,000 change. In the end, I still didn’t know whether he gave me two squid or one. Walked pass some office buildings and the street was quite deserted given that it was a Sunday night so decided to pop into the nearest subway station and took a train back to Myeongdong instead. I thought I will have to top up the T-money since it was a couple of stops more than the usual but fortunately, the fare was still W1,050 and I still have W600 left in the card.
Walked the last round in Myeongdong, bought more seaweed before heading back. Along the way, I bought my usual banana milk and apple juice and thought I can have one last round of tteokbokki but the shop was closed. So headed over to Tous Les Jours to get bread, and since I was along that stretch of road, I walked further up to Sejong Hotel to check the timing of the airport bus. Got back to the hostel and before I headed up to my room, I called the reception to ask about the check-out time which turned out to be 11am. Glad I checked.
Back to the room, washed up, ate dinner, messaged sis and did mission impossible (packing) while watching Mission Impossible 3 on TV. Managed to stuff most of the things into the luggage case but my boots cannot go in so have to put it in my backpack instead. Finally finished packing by 12 midnight and went to sleep.
Thoughts: Changdeokgung Palace is very nice; personally I find it nicer than Gyeongbokgung Palace. A pity I didn’t do the Secret Garden tour, perhaps next time. Insadong is interesting to walk but didn’t need to cater so much time there since most of the shops are repeated. Ssamziegil is very popular with youngsters apparently and if one has time to spare can go to the basement to try the craftworks. I saw Cheonggyecheon Stream by night and it was pretty sight but unfortunately the light installations were not lighted up. I suppose Cheonggyecheon Stream by day will look very different.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

27 Oct 12 - Day 3 (Myeongdong, Dongdaemun)

I woke up just before 9am to find out that it was raining. It wasn’t heavy downpour nor was it drizzling, it was just normal rain without getting too windy. Lazed for a while then got up, washed up and put on my pink fleece heattech top and the Timberland jacket outer shell, took the umbrella and went out to Lotte departmental store. It was already my third day in Seoul and I could still get lost in Myeongdong station. I walked the Underground Shopping Street before finding the exit to go to Lotte Young Plaza. Found it but the exit connecting to Lotte Young Plaza was closed so I ended up going to Lotte Avenuel, which is a shopping mall selling international brands. Nothing much to see there and so headed over to the Lotte departmental store which is connected to Avenuel.
The departmental store is like any of our departmental store back home and it was selling mostly thick clothing. After browsing the top levels, headed down to the supermarket where I checked out the liquor section before going to the snacks section. There were many types of the same thing, for instance, just soju alone has a few brands. Browsed the rest of the supermarket and saw so many interesting foods such as different types of kimchi, rice cakes, rice cracker snacks, fruits and so on. I was so tempted to get the rice cakes home but I knew I can’t because they will harden by the time I get back. Besides, I doubt my luggage can fit them in. Took a basket and started taking the snacks that I saw on the first night and went to make payment. After that, went back to the liquor section and bought a bottle of apple flavor soju for BIL, a bottle of red ginseng wine for little big sis and a small bottle of raspberry wine for myself.
It was still raining outside and I was glad that I brought the foldable grey bag along. Stuff all my purchases into the bag, took out the umbrella and made my way back to the hostel. It was about 1+pm when I finally got back. Went out again to Dongdaemun Market at 2pm. Checked out the Underground Shopping Street at the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park station and most of the shops were selling sportswear. I took the exit to go to Good Morning City shopping mall before heading over to Hello APM. There were a lot of stalls selling women clothing, hoodies, t-shirts, accessories and so on. There were so many people, so many choices but yet I got nothing. By 4+pm, I was feeling hungry, my lower back and legs were aching badly. Saw a stall outside Migliore selling hotteok, chili dogs and fishcakes with many people crowding around so walked over, ordered a hotteok then stood near the stage to eat.
After I was done, went into Migliore and was hoping I could get something since I managed to get a nice bag there during my last trip. I was trying to hunt for bags, blazers and shoes but the bags were either too small or not unique; the blazers were either too feminine for my taste or too thick for the weather back home; as for shoes, nothing caught my fancy. Subsequently bought a big bag that was supposedly to be leather. The design was simple, not ideal but will do and was quoted W58,000. Found it too expensive and remembered reading somewhere that the norm was to get at least 20% discount from the quoted price. The lady passed me the calculator to quote her a price and I did a quick calculation. I was supposed to quote W46,400 but was afraid that I might cut too much and so quoted W48,000 instead. The lady was quick to accept which made me think that perhaps I should have bargain further. Walked on and eventually bought a red fennel shirt and a cotton dress for myself.
Came out from Migliore, saw another street stall selling tteokbokki and since I needed to sit and rest desperately, I sat down and ordered a plate of tteokbokki. It didn’t taste as good as the one I had the other night because the rice cakes were too soft. Headed back to Hello APM and Good Morning City for last round before finding a bench to sit and rest for a good 15 minutes and then called it a day by 7+pm. On the way back, bought bread, banana milk and apple juice as dinner and reached the hostel just after 8pm. Tried to do some packing while watching TV. So much for rest and relax day. Tomorrow is sightseeing day so got to wake up a bit early and I better do some stretching to relieve my lower back and legs.
Thoughts: Lotte departmental store’s basement is a great place to shop for food. I would have loved to try the various kimchi and rice cakes if I could, even the fresh fruits look fantastic. It’s a pity that it was raining today; otherwise I would have explored other parts of Dongdaemun instead of just going to the three malls. Dongdaemun is a great place to shop if Korean fashion is your thing and you are a small size person. For me, I’m considered a large over there and their style is not my taste hence I wasn’t able to get many things. On top of that, the stalls are selling mostly thick clothing because it is fall/winter season so all the more I can’t get anything. There are also a lot of street foods over there but again like I said, it was raining and hence it was inconvenient to eat street foods.

Friday, October 26, 2012

26 Oct 12 - Day 2 (Gyeongbokgung Palace, National Folk Museum, Samcheongdong, Bukchon Hanok Village, Namsan Park)

Got up at 8am after a good 12 hours of sleep, I felt better, even though during the night I could hear people talking and dragging of luggage. Went out by 8:35am to take the subway from Myeongdong station to Chungmuro station to transfer from line #4 to line #3 to get to Gyeongbokgung station. Followed the directional signs and found Gyeongbokgung Palace. Bought the ticket from the counter and went into the palace.
I was taking photos at the front when a middle-age guy asked me to help him take a photo. We struck up a conversation when I asked if he was there alone. Cannot remember his name now only remember him saying that his name means “Nice day”. Since we were both alone, we walked together to tour the palace with the help of the palace guide booklet and helped each other to take photos. He came from Iran, worked in the emergency unit in a hospital in Iran, was in Seoul for a week, gave a presentation couple of days ago and today was his last day in Seoul then he had to fly off to Kuala Lumpur in a couple of hours to connect a flight back to Iran. He mentioned something like Iranians needs to apply for visa to visit Korea. I asked him where else he went while in Seoul and he listed COEX Mall, Itaewon and some of the areas on the South side.
We didn’t cover everything in the Palace; I missed the change of guards and the National Palace Museum which was inside the Palace because we passed by the National Folk Museum and started touring that. After we were done, he wanted to take a rest and so we sat down on a bench where he offered me a tangerine and we chatted. He said he visited Singapore before and went to the Marina Bay Sands Skypark, Sentosa and a couple of other places. He commented that garlic in Singapore is so expensive and it is so cheap back in Iran. Told him that Singapore is small and doesn’t have the land to grow own food so most food are imported and hence the high prices.
He wanted to visit the Blue House while I wanted to go to Samcheongdong. Checked with the information counter and was told that both places were in the same direction. So went out of the side gate and walked together. He asked if I want to visit the Blue House and I told him I want to go to Samcheongdong. He said he will follow me since he has two hours before his flight. He looked at the map, asked the policemen for directions and we walked further. He asked what is there in Samcheongdong and I explained to him that inside there is a Bukchon Hanok Village where we can see some old traditional houses. I think he mistaken that Samcheongdong is a building structure and he commented that we may have missed it. Looked at my map and found the Owl Museum. It requires entrance fee and I asked if he is interested. He said no and finally decided that he wants to visit the Blue House so we said goodbye and split up.
I wandered around and then headed for the park because I read that it was at the base of Samcheongsan Mountain, famous for thick forest and scenic views. Came to the entrance to the park where I saw a map of the park which was in Korean. Couldn’t understand but took a photo nevertheless. Shortly after I entered the park, I saw a sign that say “Prospect Point”. I interpreted it as a high place to view the surroundings and the distance stated was less than 1km so decided to go for it. There were many flights of steps and I started to perspire profusely in my cotton long-sleeve top, especially with the hot sun shining.
Half way through the climb, I was feeling very tired and was tempted to just give up and head back down but a part of me was not willing to just give up without a fight. So pressed on and finally reached the top that rewarded me with nice views. Took some photos and then thought I will descend via another route so followed behind a few female hikers. I was walking along some stone walls and I was guessing that it could be the fortress wall. I was contemplating if I should explore the fortress wall, in the end, the rational side of me decided that it is best to retrace my steps and descend where I came from. The fortress wall was long, the park was big and I was ill-prepared so better not risk getting lost in the big park with no one with me.
I got back to Samcheongdong-gil, popped into the information center to get a map. Felt hungry and happened to pass by a rice cake shop. Went in and everything looked yummy. I stood in front of the display for a while and then a young Korean lady spoke to me in simple English asking if she can recommend me the nice ones to try. I accepted her offer and she recommended me to try the pan-fried sweet potato rice cake and the chestnut sweet potato rice cake. Bought those two, thanked her for the recommendations and then continued walking. I was feeling really, really hungry and needed real food.
Happened to turn around and saw the young lady again, approached her and asked if she could recommend me a good place for lunch. She was very helpful and asked what kind of food I prefer, whether it was rice or noodle. Told her I prefer rice and she led the way. Half way through walking, her friend came from behind and she was speaking to her friend in Korean. I was afraid that I might have held her up and checked with her if she has time to show me. She then asked if I’m ok with eating noodles and I replied yes since I think perhaps the rice place was probably too far for her to bring me to. She brought me to this shop that sells kalguksu and said that it is a traditional shop, very popular and has long queue. The staff spoke to her in Korean and then she translated to me that the staff said the waiting time would be about 15-20 minutes. So I thanked the young lady, said goodbye and joined the queue.
By the time I was seated, it was already 2.20pm. Looked at the menu and the greedy me ordered a bowl of kalguksu and a serving of jumbo dumplings. The aunty who took my order had to ask me if I was one person twice and I answered yes. I think she must be thinking “I’m going to see how this woman is going to finish all the food.” She served the dumplings very quickly together with a small dish of kimchi and a small dish of non-spicy cabbage. There were seven jumbo dumplings in total, took a couple of photos and I ate two right away because I was very hungry and sent the photo to sis via Whatsapp. Then the noodle was served and it was a big bowl. I took photos of it too before eating and sent the photo as well. I ate directly from the bowl and then I saw the man over at the next table taking the noodle out onto the extra plate to eat. A few other patrons nearby also did the same and so I followed suit. No wonder I was given the extra plate. In the end, I only managed to finish half of the noodle and four out of seven of the dumplings after 60 minutes. It was a good meal nevertheless and a well-deserved one after doing the impromptu hiking.
Continued with my adventure in Bukchon and asked the tourist guide in red for directions to the Bukchon Hanok Village. Managed to find the main street where most of the hanoks were congregated and there were lots of tourists there taking photos. So most of the photos I took have people other than me in them and not as nice as those seen in the promotion materials. Would have been nice if I can take a look inside a hanok but because most of them are residential and had their doors closed, I didn’t know which are the ones that are actually free to enter. Still it was a good experience to see so many real hanok and not just know them through drama series.
Ended my adventure in Bukchon at 4+pm and traveled to Chungmuro station. I was told that I can take a yellow shuttle bus from the station to N Seoul Tower. Tried to look for a sign in the station that indicates which exit to get to the bus stop but was unable to find one. Came out of the station, walked around the area and saw a bus directory. Fortunately the directory has English names and I saw N Seoul Tower for bus number 2 and 5. There were some other tourists there waiting for the buses and soon bus number 2 came. I checked with the driver again asking if the bus goes to N Seoul Tower before tapping the T-money to pay for the bus fare.
Alighted at N Seoul Tower bus stop at 5.20pm and had to walk up the slope to get to N Seoul Tower area. The slope was somewhat similar to that of the Bukit Timah Natural Reserve and I was panting like a dog half way through the climb. Just then a man who was walking his two big dogs passed by and I took the chance to stop and take photos and to rest a bit. After that one minute of rest, I continued with the climb and soon I reached the top. The sun was already setting and I checked out the ticket counter, there was a long queue. Weighed my options and decided to forgo going up to the Tower since by the time I reach the top, the sun would have already set. Quickly made my way to the area where lots of locks were and took photos of the sunset. There were many people there but fortunately, I managed to snag a good spot.
After the sun was set, I wandered around the area, taking photos while waiting for the Tower to light up. Then I sat on the steps in front of the pavilion and ate the two rice cakes that I bought in the afternoon. A couple came along and started unpacking their dinner on the steps beside me. I could see many small containers with dishes and after they had laid out all the food, they started eating. Oh man, if only I could have some hot food too. It was getting chilly and I put on my jacket. Soon the Tower was light up in green but the top portion was not totally lighted up. Waited around some more, hoping that it would change color and after some time, it changed to pink color. Feeling satisfied, I went to take the cable car down. The staff tried to pack as many people into the cable car as he can and we ended up like sardines in a can.
It was 7+pm when I got to Myeongdong and a lot of pushcarts were out on the streets selling hoodies, socks, tights, bags, shoes, scarves and so on. There were also many stalls selling street food such as roasted chestnuts where they even shelled the chestnuts for you; tteokbokki, grilled chicken on sticks, fishcakes, etc and people just buy and eat while standing at the stall or eat while walking around. Walked up and down and around Myeongdong many times and chanced upon “Too Cool For School”, a cosmetic shop that I read about in someone’s blog. The packaging of the products was very cute but because I hardly put on makeup, I didn’t buy any cosmetics. Only bought some yogurt masks and then went to hunt for cute socks. Bought four pairs before getting some BBQ squid strips from a food stall, a bottle of my favorite banana milk from the convenient store and tteokbokki from a food shop along the way back to the hostel.
Got back slightly after 9pm, washed up, ate dinner, watched some TV before sleeping at 12 midnight. Tomorrow is going to be rest and relax day so I can sleep in a bit later.
Thoughts: Missed a lot of things in Gyeongbokgung Palace so will have to go back again if I ever go back to Seoul. Traveling solo is good because I can see what I want, when I want but the downside is that I have to ask other people to help me take photos. Samcheongdong-gil and surroundings are a contrast to the Bukchon Hanok Village. Samcheongdong-gil and surroundings have a lot of shops and coffee houses with interesting designs and selling interesting stuff.
Bukchon Hanok Village is a residential area with very nice traditional houses. I think in order to get nice photos, it is better to go in the early morning before the tourists arrive. This is the second time I missed going up N Seoul Tower, perhaps third time’s a charm eh? Myeongdong in the morning and Myeongdong at night are very different and I actually prefer the night Myeongdong because it is much more lively, not to mention lots of street food to eat!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

25 Oct 12 - Day 1 (Namdaemun Market, Namsangol Hanok Village, Myeongdong)

Touched down at 6:35am, cleared the immigration and collected my luggage by 7:20am. Asked the information counter for the place to buy bus ticket and was directed to the outside of Gate 12. Found the bus stop and thought I will pay when I board the bus so stood there for a while. Then I recalled that a blogger mentioned in her post that one needs to get the bus ticket from a counter and so lugged my luggage to scout around. Found the counter not too far away and purchased my bus ticket for bus number 6015 at W10,000. 
I took a photo of my bus ticket and the bus came at 7:45am. There were two uncles at the bus stop helping to tag and stow the luggage under the bus after handing them the bus tickets. The journey from Incheon International Airport to Sejong Hotel took about 80-90 minutes because of the heavy morning traffic. I was so tired and drained from the flight journey that I dozed off on the bus for most of the bus journey. It was after the bus entered the Seoul City area that I became alert so that I would not miss my stop which was actually the last stop before the bus heads back to the airport.

Got down with a few other passengers, collected my luggage and tried to navigate my way to Zaza Backpackers. Walked according to the map given by Zaza but the surroundings didn’t match the descriptions. So I asked a local for the direction to Myeongdong station because the map indicated that I need to pass by exit #9. She directed me to the station; I found the exit and then checked the map again. It was then I realized that I had misinterpreted the map. The arrows didn’t mean the direction of the traffic but rather where they lead to. So much for my map reading skill. Found Pacific Hotel which was one of the landmarks printed on the map and followed the directions. It was an uphill climb and I had to pull my luggage in one hand, hold the map in the other and trying desperately to find the hostel. I was tired, sleepy and having a bad headache that I almost wanted to give up. Finally found Zaza which was hidden in a side road with a small sign.
A staff happened to come out and helped me with the luggage. Went into the reception area which was actually like a living room area, wrote my particulars in the register book, paid the W200,000 and was brought to my room in another building further up slope. Fortunately, the staff helped me with the luggage because I was dead tired, even the walk to the building proved to be taxing for me. Already I found it tiring to walk to that building and though WL stayed in the main building during one of her Seoul trips, she had the rooftop room which was worse because more stairs to climb. I thought to myself no wonder WL had knee problem after that trip to Seoul and didn’t go back to stay with Zaza after that one time.

The building was like a normal two-storey house with a front gate, a digital lock on the front door. Once inside, I was told to take off shoes and placed in the shoe cupboard. There were a few rooms on the first floor and a pantry beside the staircase. My room was 201, the first room on the second floor with a sofa just outside the room and a telephone that can make international calls just opposite it. There were two computers with free Internet and a couple more rooms. The staff explained to me how to use the air-conditional, the in-house phone to call the reception and also helped me to take two towels and a roll of toilet paper from the pantry.
After he left, I connected to the free Wi-Fi and started messaging sis while doing a bit of unpacking, taking photos and resting. By the time I went out again, it was already 11am. A part of my plan for Day 1 was ruined due to the timing. I headed to Myeongdong station, popped into a convenient store to buy a bottle of water and the T-money which was similar to our Ez-link card. Thinking there was value inside the card so used it to tap at the gantry but it gave me error. Checked with the station control and was told to top up the card. So went to the vending machine to top up the card with W3,000. The machine was touch-screen and very easy to understand even though it was mostly in Korean.
I took the train from Myeongdong to Hoehyeon which was just one stop away to get to Namdaemun Market. My initial plan was to find the Kalguksu Alley to eat breakfast but given the timing, I gave that up and just wandered around the market. Subsequently, I bought a Hotteok to eat because I was hungry and also because the cinnamon smell was very alluring. The market was very big with many stalls, shops, pushcarts and alleys as well as a few big malls selling many things like fresh seafood, women clothing, children clothing, socks, ginseng products, snacks, handicraft materials, textiles, shoes, accessories, street food so on and so forth.

I was overwhelmed with the crowd and the things to see in the market so I went into two of the malls to look around, Mesa and Samick. The malls were something similar to the Hello APM and Migliore where there were many stalls selling clothing and accessories over a few storeys. The only difference was that these two malls saw mainly female vendors while the other malls in Dongdaemun Market had male vendors. Saw a pair of boots that had a cut-out design and rather colorful, was tempted to buy but it cost W78,000. Left for Namsangol Hanok Village via the subway from Hoehyeon to Chungmuro, which was two stops away.
Namsangol Hanok Village was not very far from Chungmuro station and by the time I got there, it was already 12:45pm. There were many young children there on school excursions. Walked around the compound, saw some hands-on activities but they required pre-registrations and also the timing wasn’t right as most were out for lunch breaks. The trees in the village were in shades of green, yellow, orange and red, a very pretty sight.

It was a cloudy day with fog and I was very, very tired so scrape Namsan Park and went back to Myeongdong instead. It was already 2+pm when I reached Myeongdong and I was hungry. Saw a pair of tourist guides dressed in red and approached them for a map and asked for direction to Hadongkwan which was a 73 year old shop selling gomtang, a traditional Korean beef soup boil using various parts of beef and radish and served with sliced meat and rice and eaten with minced green onion and salt or kimchi gravy for seasoning. Found the place, made the order, took photos and ate my lunch. Personally I didn’t find it fantastic, either I didn’t know how to appreciate gomtang or I wasn’t eating it the right way, as in I didn’t add enough minced green onion and salt or kimchi gravy.

Left the shop and went to walk around Myeongdong while messaging little big sis on and off with the available free Wi-Fi in the area. Checked out Holika Holika, a shop recommended by a blogger saying that the packaging for their products were cute. Yes, they were cute but nothing suitable for me so in the end only bought two tins of hand cream for Mag and Kim. Most of the cosmetic shops were having 1-for-1 promotions and the face masks were packed in tens so essentially one is paying for ten pieces of face masks but getting twenty instead. Didn’t like to get so many pieces of the same type hence I got ten pieces of different types from Innisfree. Coincidentally, the ambassador for the shop is Lee Min Ho, who used to endorse Etude House where I bought my face masks from during the first Korea trip.
Sis suggested getting some food for supper and so walked over to Lotte departmental store to get a bottle of 2l water and check out the snacks suggested by another blogger. Found them and took some photos of them before leaving the place. Bought bread from Tous Les Jours since it was along the way and then I almost got lost again while trying to find my way back to the hostel. Got back by 5+pm, settled down, showered, messaged little big sis about my day while channel surfing and eating bread as dinner. Initially I thought the TV only offers Korean shows but eventually I managed to find some that had English shows. My room can see N Seoul Tower and it is lighted up in pretty blue colour. I will go there if I manage to finish up tomorrow’s program early.

Thoughts: When taking night flight, better be on half day leave so that one will have some time to rest the body and the brain before diving into another long day of activities. Though I didn’t get to find Kalguksu Alley and eat kalguksu, at least I got to eat gomtang. Myeongdong is very crowded with tourists and the cosmetic shops practically repeat themselves on every other street. I almost got lost in Myeongdong itself because every street looks almost the same to me. Even the subway station is a maze with so many exits and I had a hard time trying to figure out which exit to take to get back to the hostel.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

14 Oct 12 (Sun) - Pistachio Cupcakes with Two Tone Buttercream Frosting

Last week I bought a packet of dried rose buds, a packet of pistachios and a set of three icing nozzles. I was quite excited about it because I thought I can experiment on making pistachio rosewater cupcakes with two tone buttercream frosting. So looked at my basic cupcake recipe and started modifying. Decided to make rose-infused milk so that I can use it for the cupcakes and use the balance for steam milk custard. Hence, the night before I prepared the milk and left it in the fridge overnight.

Ingredients for Rose-infused Milk (140ml):
160ml milk
                                                           10g dried rose buds, rinsed

1.  Combine milk and dried rose buds in a saucepan
2.  Bring to a gentle boil then off the heat and leave to cool
3.  Pour the milk and rose buds into a container with cover
4.  Leave it in the fridge overnight to infuse
5.  Take out from fridge and strain the milk

I was so looking forward to the experiment today that I woke up extra early this morning. Took out the food processor and blitzed 20g of shelled pistachios using the pulse setting till rough then set aside a small portion for topping. Strained the rose-infused milk and set aside 15ml for the cake batter while leaving the rest for my steam milk custard.

                     The Dried Rose Buds

 The Purple Pistachios

Followed the usual steps but this time I baked the cake for 15 minutes and then left them in the HCP for another 3 minutes. Turned out the bottom of the cakes were not as black as my few previous batches. Was very happy with the results and decided to continue with the two tone frosting. I chanced upon this frosting technique on the website called Instructables while searching for ideas to recycle old CDs. Ok, no connections between the two of them. I got tired of the search so went on to browse the cupcakes section and that was when I saw this frosting technique.

Pistachio Cupcakes Before Frosting

Ingredients for Pistachio Cupcakes (Makes 7):
50g self-rising flour
50g butter - soften
50g castor sugar
                                                         20g shelled pistachios - coarsely ground
                                                         15ml rose-infused milk
                                                         1 egg

1.  Line 7 foil muffin tins with cupcake cases
2.  Sift the flour, mix in the ground pistachios* and set aside
3.  Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk till off white color
4.  Add the egg and milk then mix well
5.  Fold in the flour mixture in 3 batches
6.  Arrange the cake batter into the cupcake cases
7.  Arrange the tins into the Happycall Pan**
8.  Cover and lock to bake for 15 minutes over low heat, shifting the pan left and right every 2-3 minutes to ensure even baking
9.  Off the heat and leave the cakes inside the pan for another 3 minutes
10. Open the cover and do the toothpick test
11.  If the toothpick comes out clean, transfer the cakes to a wire rack and allow to cool

* Set aside a small amount enough for topping
** Happycall Pan can only bake 6 cupcakes at a time 

Followed the frosting steps closely and also using blue since I only have blue food coloring but I used my own buttercream recipe and the results were very good. Ok, maybe not as good because of my poor frosting technique that render some parts of the cupcakes not covered and some gaps in between the icing. Still it was a good attempt. Then went on to sprinkled some ground pistachios on the icing before taking photos.

After Frosting

Frosting with Ground Pistachios

Ingredients for Two Tone Buttercream Frosting (For 7 Cupcakes):
30g butter - soften
50g icing sugar - sifted
                                                      1/2 tsp rosewater
                                                      1 drop of blue food coloring

1.  Whisk the butter, sugar and rosewater till smooth and creamy
2.  Divide the buttercream into two portions
3.  Mix one portion with a drop of blue food coloring
4.  Prepare 2 pieces of 15cm x 10cm cling wrap
5.  Spread the first color onto one of the cling wrap in a long stripe
6.  Roll the cling wrap to make a thin sausage of icing
7.  Repeat step 5 and step 6 with the second color
8.  Cut off one end of each sausage
9.  Prepare a piping bag with a star-tip nozzle
10.  Put the icing tubes into it and arrange them so that both icing colors fit into the piping tip
11.  Squeeze the air out of the piping bag and test out the icing by piping a small line
12.  Both colors should be visible and if they are not, rearrange the icing sausages and try again
13.  Pipe a two colored simple swirl onto a cupcake by starting at the outer edge of the cupcake and squeeze out the icing while slowly twisting your wrist clockwise, coming into the centre to finish off
14.  Sprinkled a bit of ground pistachios onto the frosting
~~ Adapted from Instructable

Tasted one of them and could not really taste the rose flavour because it was overpowered by the butter and the buttercream. Fortunately, I could still bite the pistachios in the cake.

Went on to make the steam rose-flavoured milk custard and I could smell the rose flavour. I had expected the milk custard to have a darker tint of red or pink but it turned out to be a very, very faint tint of pink. Since I still have blitzed extra ground pistachios on top of those needed for the cupcakes, I sprinkled some on top of the milk custard and took a couple of photos before putting it into the fridge to chill.

Steam Rose-infused Milk Custard

After dinner, I poured the rest of the ground pistachio onto the milk custard to eat. While eating, it reminded me of how similar it is to the Middle-Eastern milk pudding known as Malabi in Israel or Muhallibieh in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Perhaps the main difference is that I used egg white and they use either rice flour or cornstarch.

---------------- Edited on 15 Oct 2012 ----------------

Brought the rest of the cupcakes to office and as usual, I could count on my food buddy, CC, to give me honest comments. She said that the taste of the buttercream frosting overpowered the original taste of the cupcake. Although could still vaguely taste the pistachios, it lacked the crunch. Would have been good if the pistachios were not ground till so fine.

She then went on to give me idea on my next experiment. She said I can try to modify the buttercream frosting to something like the cream used in the moo moo cake. Then use that cream as the filling for the hokkaido cake. Sounds like a good idea. Time to brainstorm!

Recipe submitted to Munch Ministry

Sunday, October 7, 2012

7 Oct 12 (Sun) - Red Dragon Fruit Jam Cupcakes and Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes

Have many ideas for cupcakes but there's only so much time per Sunday. Today's experimental baking were Red Dragon Fruit Jam Cupcakes and Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes. Next Sunday will try some other flavours. Hehe... Besides baking, I also tried making some rosewater using the dried rose buds I bought on Friday. Hopefully will turn out well so I can get to use it next Sunday.

Red Dragon Fruit Jam

Red Dragon Fruit Jam Cupcake

The inside with some seeds

Red Dragon Fruit Jam Cupcakes (Makes 6)

50g self-rising flour
50g butter - soften
50g castor sugar
30g red dragon fruit jam
                                                     1/3 tsp vanilla extract
                                                     15ml milk
                                                     1 egg

1.  Line 6 foil muffin tins with cupcake cases
2.  Sift the flour and set aside
3.  Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk till off white color
4.  Add the egg and mix well
5.  Add vanilla extract and milk then mix well
6.  Fold in the flour
7.  Stir in the red dragon fruit jam
8.  Arrange the cake batter into the cupcake cases
9.  Arrange the tins into the Happycall Pan
10.  Cover and lock to bake for 18 minutes over low heat, shifting the pan left and right every 2-3 minutes to ensure even baking
11.  Off the heat, open the cover and do the toothpick test
12.  If the toothpick comes out clean, transfer the cakes to a wire rack and allow to cool*

*The cupcakes may sink a little after cooling, it is normal

Apple Cinnamon Cupcake

Eat it plain or...

with apple cinnamon syrup

Caramelized Apple Cubes

1/2 red apple, washed, cored, skinned and diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tbsp white sugar
15g butter

1.  Heat sauce pan over low heat for 1-2 minutes
2.  Melt butter in the pan and swirl it around to spread it and prevent it from burning
3.  Place apple in pan and stir them around till they are completely cover with butter
4.  Add sugar and cinnamon powder then continue to stir and cook for another 5 minutes or till apple begin to soften
5.  Remove apple and syrup separately from pan and set aside

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes (Makes 7)
50g self-rising flour
50g butter - soften
50g castor sugar
caramelized apple cubes
                                                         1/3 tsp vanilla extract
                                                         15ml milk
                                                         1 egg

1.  Line 7 foil muffin tins with cupcake cases
2.  Sift the flour and set aside
3.  Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk till off white color
4.  Add the egg and mix well
5.  Add vanilla extract and milk then mix well
6.  Fold in the flour
7.  Stir in the caramelized apple cubes leaving 1/2 tbsp as toppings
8.  Arrange the cake batter into the cupcake cases
9.  Arrange the tins into the Happycall Pan*
10.  Cover and lock to bake for 10 minutes over low heat, shifting the pan left and right every 2-3 minutes to ensure even baking
11.  Open the cover and arrange the rest of the caramelized apple cubes onto the cakes then close and lock the cover again
12.  Bake for another 7-8 minutes, shifting the pan left and right every 2-3 minutes to ensure even baking
13.  Off the heat, open the cover and do the toothpick test
14.  If the toothpick comes out clean, transfer the cakes to a wire rack and allow to cool

*Happycall Pan can only bake 6 cupcakes at a time
Both cakes have distinct flavours. Personally I prefer the apple cinnamon ones because I like cinnamon. I find that the red dragon fruit jam ones have very strong jam taste and a tad too sweet but the seeds gave them an interesting texture.

---------------- Edited on 8 Oct 2012 ----------------

Brought five red dragon fruit jam cupcakes and five apple cinnamon cupcakes to office and most of the colleagues opted for the former because of the unique flavour. E took the red dragon fruit jam cupcake because she is not a fan of cinnamon. Told her that the cupcake might be a bit too sweet for her because of the jam. Surprisingly, the feedback from her was that the taste was just right, not too sweet.

My food buddy, CC, took both and true to her promise, she gave me the honest reviews below.

"testing apple cinnamon
tastes moist except base dry cos charred
flavour nice but stronger apple possible
bad considering dried base but doesn’t taste burnt
for mine

         "testing dragon fruit jam
         quite cute.. the seeds give it a crunch
         first bite felt sweet
         but subsequently, tastes alright
         i like dragon fruit more than the apple
         maybe cos its jam, so also more moist.
         two thumbs up!
Other feedback include

"it's a most interesting cupcake!
I can’t taste much dragon fruit, but the seeds make it interesting to eat
the base is slightly burnt
but *** for creativity!

"it is really good, not too sweet and most importantly, not too oily"

"very moist and nice! i gobbled it up already"

Guess red dragon fruit jam cupcakes win hands down for the day.

Recipe for Red Dragon Fruit Jam Cupcakes submitted to Munch Ministry
Recipe for Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes submitted to Munch Ministry

Saturday, October 6, 2012

6 Oct 12 (Sat) - Pasta in Cream Sauce with Ham and Scrambled Eggs and Creamy Pumpkin Paste with Rice Balls

Have been browsing the Internet a lot lately and saw many recipes by different bloggers. Some were rather interesting and simple to follow while some were really creative. Compiled those recipes that I'm interested in and planned to try them out over the next couple of weekends starting with this weekend and maybe add some of my modifications to those recipes.

Today's main course was Pasta in Cream Sauce with Ham and Scrambled Eggs. Then there was Creamy Pumpkin Paste with Rice Balls as dessert. The idea for the main course came from Anncoo Journal's Linguine in Cream Sauce with Poached Eggs & Bacon while the idea for the dessert came from evan's kitchen ramblings' Purple Sweet Potato Dessert.

Replaced linguine with angel hair since I have that at home, replaced bacon with ham because I didn't want to do any major frying and finally I replaced poached eggs with scrambled eggs since I have tried making poached eggs before and failed miserably.

Since this month is October, the time for Halloween, I thought it would be fun to do something related to pumpkin and that blue rice balls would make a nice contrast against the orange pumpkin paste.

From these...

A closer look

... to this

A close-up

Pasta in Cream Sauce with Ham and Scrambled Eggs (Serves 1)

Some angel hair pasta
65ml cooking cream
65ml milk
salt and pepper
                                                        40g ham
                                                        2 eggs
                                                        2 tbsp milk
                                                        2 tsp butter

1.  Cut the ham into small pieces and set aside
2.  Cook the angel hair pasta in lightly salted water till al dente and arrange on a serving plate
3.  Combine cooking cream, 65ml milk and ham in a sauce pan and cook over low heat
4.  Let the mixture simmer for a while then add salt and pepper to taste
5.  Off the heat and pour sauce over the angel hair pasta
6.  Break two eggs into a bowl, add 2 tbsp milk, salt and pepper to taste
7.  Whisk the egg mixture till foamy
8.  Heat butter in a frying pan on medium heat and swirl it around so that it coats the entire pan
9.  Flick a few drops of tap water into the pan to test the heat
10.  If water sizzles and evaporate, lower the heat and pour in the egg mixture
11.  When egg begin to set, gently pull and egg across the pan to form large soft curds
12.  Continue cooking - pulling, lifting and folding eggs while tilting the pan to let liquid egg flow out - until thickened and no visible liquid egg remains
13.  Off the heat, remove the egg from the pan before losing the moist appearance and arrange on the angel hair pasta

1/4 of a pumpkin

Nice combination

Some blue rice balls

What a contrast

Creamy Pumpkin Paste with Rice Balls (Serves 4)

Ingredients (Creamy Pumpkin Paste):
500g pumpkin, seeds remove
50ml cooking cream
2 tbsp milk
4 tbsp sugar

                                  Ingredients (12 Blue Rice Balls):
                                  25g glutinous rice flour
                                  1 tsp sugar
                                   hot water
                                   a drop of blue food coloring

1.  Cut pumpkin into chunks and steam till soften
2.  Once pumpkin is cooled enough to handle, remove the skin
3.  Combine the soft pumpkin pieces and cooking cream in a blender and blend till smooth
4.  Pour pumpkin mixture, milk and sugar into a sauce pan and cook over low heat*
5.  Stir constantly till sugar dissolved
6.  Off the heat and pour the mixture into serving bowls
7.  Mix glutinous rice flour with sugar
8.  Add a drop of blue food coloring to the hot water to make a light blue solution
9.  Add the hot blue solution little by little to the mixture and knead the dough with hands
10.  Tear out some dough and roll it between the palms to make rice balls
11.  Bring some water to a boil in a pot and add in the rice balls
12.  When the rice balls float, remove them from pot and arrange them on the pumpkin paste

* You can adjust the amount of milk and sugar to the level of consistency and taste that you like