Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What you can expect at the Singapore Zoo and River Safari

The year was 2006. A young, newly married girl found herself on the sunny shores of Singapore.'m not about to toy with your emotions by narrating a story exuding nostalgia. The girl I was referring to is obviously me! Within two days of my arrival, all I wanted to do was start gallivanting around the little island that had become my new home. It didn't matter that I had already been to Singapore a few years ago on a family vacation and seen almost everything that was worth seeing (from a tourist's point of view). I was just being my usual insufferable self! *tee hee*

One of the first tourist destinations in Singapore that I dragged my husband along was the Singapore Zoo. After that, with the steady stream of family and friends visiting us, the number of trips to the Zoo grew exponentially. Over the years I have gathered quite an astounding number of photographs of the Zoo (with the idea that I'll do a blog post someday!). I've picked a select few for this post which I'm so happy to say has finally come about. I will not be doing a separate blog post on the River Safari so I have squeezed it in with this one. Okay? Okay!

Singapore Zoo
Established in 1973, Singapore Zoo is billed the "World's Best Rainforest Zoo". The grounds rest in a heavily forested nature reserve where animals roam freely in open and naturalistic habitats.

The Singapore Zoo is one of the prime sightseeing attractions the country has to offer. It is very popular with tourists as it is with locals and is undisputably a 'must-visit' attraction in Singapore. 

Winner of several awards and accolades, this 26-hectare wildlife park is nestled within the lush Mandai rainforest that stretches into the magnificent Upper Seletar Reservoir. Home to more than 2,800 animals representing over 300 species of mammals, birds and reptiles, this Zoo boasts one of the best wildlife park settings in the world. 

It takes just one visit to understand why approximately 1.7 million visitors flock to Singapore Zoo each year. I have been to the Zoo a dozen times (at least) and it never gets dull for me. The Zoo constantly strives to better its programmes and facilities. I have seen the way it has evolved over the past decade and am not the least bit surprised to witness the success story it has become. 

Unlike most traditional Zoos, the animals are kept in spacious, landscaped enclosures separated from visitors by dry and wet moats. The moats are concealed with vegetation or dropped below the line of sight. And although I cannot speak for the animals, the natural and unrestricted design is primarily why the Singapore Zoo doesn't feel like an animal prison.

Aside from observing the animals from a secure distance outside their exhibits, the zoo has designed many special features such as elevated platforms, underwater galleries and glass observatories for the better viewing of certain animals. Feeding times are when animals are most active and visitors can get a chance to feed the animals (selected exhibits only) and listen to a live commentary from experienced Zoo keepers to gain an in-depth insight into the animal, its characteristics and habitat. Furthermore, the visitor experience involves understanding the animals at a deeper level through well-designed, informative displays. This makes a visit to the Zoo not only an interactive experience but an educational one too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Baker's Corner: Sachertorte

I wasn't privy to the existence of a Sachertorte up until four years ago. If you had asked me about it then, you would have drawn a blank stare.

How I got acquainted with this dessert is that one of my friends had been on a trip to Europe and she (very thoughtfully) brought back beautifully packed individual boxes of what looked to me like chocolate cake. I'll digress here - if you are a regular reader of my blog, you must have noticed by now how most of my friends are hopeless foodies! Birds of a feather, flock together eh? Coming back to the subject, when I quizzed her more about it, she briefed me about Sachertorte and how it has become an iconic dessert attributed to The Sacher Hotel in Vienna. I greedily polished off the lion's share of it and it really was heaven in a bite!

Allow me to wallow in a bit of culinary history - Sachertorte is a specific type of chocolate cake, or torte, that was invented by a sixteen-year old Austrian by the name of Franz Sacher. How inspiring is that?

The Hotel Sacher, arguably one of the world's most luxurious and historic hotels, is the designated purveyor of the torte. They have an elaborate website devoted almost entirely to the Sachertorte! Shipping options are available no matter where you are. Their longtime Viennese competitor, as far as the torte goes, is Demel's. They have their own version as well, which is just slightly different from the Hotel Sacher's. Among the fortunate ones who've tasted both versions, some choose the Hotel's while others opt for Demel's. I hope the day comes when I get to pick a favourite as well!

This beautiful Viennese classic consists of a dense chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam on top, coated in dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. It is traditionally served with unsweetened whipped cream.

Although the recipe is relatively simple, it's important to follow the step-by-step procedure to get a nice, soft inside of the cake. I don't know why but it took me a really long time from start to finish so I don't think this is one of those desserts that I will be making very often! 

But it does have that 'wow' factor and tastes really lovely (when executed correctly) so don't feel intimidated by the steps and do try it out 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Recipe of the month: Black Bean Burgers with Avocado Mayonnaise

Let's be honest....when you hear the word "burger", the mind immediately conjures up an image that is far removed from vegetarianism.

In India, vegetarian burgers are commonly available in most restaurants serving western and fusion food but I'm assuming the same cannot be said outside the country. Growing up, most of the burgers I ate consisted of a patty made with potatoes, paneer (cottage cheese) or chickpeas. Speaking of which, in my hometown, there is a tiny joint that serves burgers and other kinds of western food called 'Downtown'. I swear every once or twice a year that I'm in Mysore, I make it a point to go there and relish their veggie burgers slathered generously with mayonnaise (and I don't even fancy mayo that much!). Seriously good stuff!

In the past, when I'd make burgers at home, I'd resort to making potato or mixed vegetable patties and assemble it within a bun with some lettuce and tomatoes or else channel my inner Gordon Ramsey and grill a portobello mushroom along with some veggies and slap on a slice of swiss cheese. They would taste good especially the latter but that didn't stop me from looking into more options to create a lip-smacking, loaded veggie burger.

Black bean burgers have been on my cooking radar for a long time. Unfortunately, I haven't actually tasted many of them to register a positive food memory. The last one I had was at a popular Mexican fast food chain in Singapore a few years ago, and it was so bad (dry and bland) that I couldn't even finish the burger! Since then, I've always wanted to make it at home so I could fuel my ego with the realization that I could do a better job. Haha!

Black beans are high in fiber and a great source of plant-based protein. Bell peppers are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Avocado is a super food. Arugula is low in calories, nutritious and has a ton of flavour. I squashed all these good guys between a sliced wholemeal bun, wolfed it down and actually felt good (read: not guilty) after eating a burger. How many times does that happen to ya?  Serve this burger with baked sweet potato wedges and a mixed salad on the side and you have a wonderfully balanced meal right there.

Comfort food that is delicious, hearty and nutritious.....what more can one ask for? I've made these burgers multiple times since I first tried it and they have become a huge family favourite. I swear I'm going to do everything it takes to make my kids love this burger when they get a little older *grins*

Here's to eating green! Stay healthy and happy you lovely people 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A date with the birds @ Jurong Bird Park, Singapore

Jurong Bird Park, home to some of the largest free-flying aviaries is one of the most renowned bird sanctuaries in the world. A prime tourist attraction located in the Jurong region of Singapore, this Park has been drawing in flocks of visitors since 1971. Boasting a collection of more than 5,000 birds across 400 species, the exhibits within the Park mirror the natural environments of their feathered residents.

What the Park has to offer:
  • Aside from their colorful inhabitants, the Park features educational and interactive shows where visitors can catch the birds in action. 
  • There are plenty of opportunities to feed the birds and get professional photographs taken with them. 
  • The Park makes sincere efforts towards breeding and conservation and those interested can get in on the behind-the-scenes operations at the Breeding & Research Centre (BRC). 
  • There is also a lot of fun in store for the little people. The Birdz of Play is a bird-themed playground with wet and dry play zones and indoor games room. 
  • There are several cafes and refreshment stalls interspersed throughout the Park which caters to the weary and/or peckish tourist. 
  • Visitors can take a leisurely stroll around the Park or else hop on board the guided trams to explore the attractions. There are lots of sign boards to help you navigate your way.

I have been to the Jurong Bird Park more number of times than I can recount but my last visit had been three years ago. The opportunity to revisit presented itself recently when I had family visiting from India. On a bright sunny, with the kids in tow (and sans the husband), we set off for a half day of bird gawking.

I don't have an insane number of photographs in this post (like I usually do) since I had two hyperactive toddlers to wrangle! I wasn't entirely satisfied with my captures but I did the best I could.

Here is a summary of the attractions in the Park and what you can expect.