Funny that ever since I developed the ED about 9 years back now, I also developed with it a sense of anxiety towards the unfamiliar. Or perhaps it became more pronounced because I know that since I was little, moving from country to country, hence new school to new school, meant constantly being thrown out of my comfort zone. It meant being the new girl and having to meet new people who would over time become new friends to me. Yet, I still recall that as frazzled as I would be on my first day in school, I would face my nervous apprehension and suck it up. I would enter class and have my entire day pass by in a blur, but as with everything, the unfamiliar would become familiar and I would always come to have a close circle of friends around me over time… Only to be yanked out of the country to start over again after a couple of years.
While I sometimes feel envy over friends who have known each other since Kindergarten and then grew up together, I don’t look back at my childhood with resentment. I honestly feel blessed to have been able to go through the experience of growing up in different environments and meeting friends from all over the world. I also feel that having been in the British-education system allowed me to grow a lot more as an individual which explains a lot of how much I struggled to fit back in and adjust back into the Singapore-system of education when we finally returned for good.
Upon reflection, I think I was a lot more hardy as a child and somehow, the ED gave me impetus to be more timid in tackling obstacles that I feel more uncomfortable with – simple things for most people such as meeting new faces, entering a new workplace, trying new foods… Rather than face them head-on as I used to in the distant past, I try to shy away from them and unbeknownst to me, I often end up feeling out of sorts without realising that the basis of those feelings stem from anxiety.
Yesterday was one of those days. I woke up with the case of the grumps and I couldn’t fathom why. I was texting F and kicking up a tiny fuss over random things and as he tried to reassure me, I found myself wondering why I was feeling that way. I began to realise that a part of me was anxious to meet his sister, who had just arrived from Germany Friday evening, as well as his friends. As a result, it made me reluctant to want to go out. It was like I was being tugged from under my safety blanket while I was all warm and comfy underneath.
But I did go out and I did meet Naima and all that nervous energy flew right out of me the moment I met her. She was amazingly easy to get on with and our conversations flowed smoothly with us sharing quite a few laughs together as well. If ever I could choose myself a sister, it would be her. Naima, F and I spent a couple of hours trawling through Orchard’s shopping malls before we slowly made our way to our dinner venue to meet F’s friends.
Dinner was at one of my favourite brand of restaurants – Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck. Yes, the superlative ‘Super’ is definitely in there for good reason because they serve peking duck cooked with love, rendering the skin to a fine crisp crackling while still keeping the meat moist and juicy. That being said, their beef served with garlic chips was beyond amazing. Everyone at the table was mind-blown at the explosion of flavour and tenderness retained by the thick slabs of beef cooked perfectly pink in the middle. But I digress…
Meeting F’s friends turned out to be good fun too. I felt just as I did before I had the ED. I was able to chat with them, laugh with them, and feel at ease being myself amidst people I had only just met. I didn’t have to worry about talking too much, or saying the wrong things, because I know that F accepts me for who I am and loves me anyway, even if I do talk too much sometimes, or even when I put my foot in my mouth when I speak before thinking. I didn’t feel any pressure to be anything other than who I am and I felt free. I felt happy!
In fact, I even managed to get on the good side of one of the managers there who sweetly obliged to my request for Liu Sha Baos to round up our dinner even though they are really only available at lunch. He kept insisting that I return for dim sum at lunch another time and cheekily whispered that he will make sure I get dessert on the house. And as we left, he quickly came to the entrance of the restaurant to bid us all goodbye, inviting us to visit again soon, and that he would definitely remember me for my hair. Hmm… Not sure how that works! He does get extra bonus points for calling me ‘mei nu’ (pretty girl) several times though – I’m so easy to please.
It’s interesting I find, how many top Chinese restaurants in Singapore often have male managers who appear to be a little effeminate. I think that’s their strength because they’re able to banter with aunties and tai tais without being a threat to their husbands. Their PR skills tend to be top-notch which keep the ladies of leisure coming to dine at the establishment. And while I am not a tai-tai, nor an aunty (give me at least another 30 years please!), I’d seriously go back just for him because his service was on point!
With happy bellies, and F’s friends having to go their own way post-dinner, Naima, F and I decided to unwind at Chijmes since it was a nice, cool night. Also, we thought that Naima would enjoy seeing Chijmes and how pretty it is, having formerly been a convent and now, a site renovated and filled with food establishments. We had a drink each before we decided to call it a day. And I tell you what, I’m glad I pushed ahead and met Naima and F’s friends because I ended up having one of the best evenings I’ve had in the longest time!
Speaking of facing the unfamiliar, when I’m in the kitchen, I enjoy playing around with ingredients and trying to make unusual flavour combinations work together. The methodical nature of baking often serves to calm my nerves and sooth my temper as well – which is exactly how I ended up pottering around the kitchen before preparing to go out yesterday.
Seeing that I had leftover ground hazelnuts and fresh basil at hand, my kitchen experiment ended up featuring Hazelnuts, Basil and Chocolate. The basil within the cake gave it a refreshing herbaceousness that broke through the deep, dark richness of the chocolate and the earthy tones of the hazelnuts. I piped some Hazelnut Mascarpone cream on top and garnished it with Candied Basil Leaves, Caramelised Hazelnuts and cubes of Espresso Brownies for that extra indulgence.
So if you’re feeling a little adventurous and up for a taste of something different, this is my recipe for…
Hazelnut Basil Chocolate Torte (Yields 1 x 8″ Round)
125g dark chocolate
Handful of fresh basil leaves
1 tsp vanilla
100g ground hazelnuts
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
90g icing sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1. Preheat oven to 175 deg C.
2.Melt dark chocolate with cream, vanilla and basil leaves in a bain-marie, or microwave in short bursts of 20 seconds until chocolate is melted. Strain mixture if you prefer a lighter basil flavour – I chose to blend the basil into the ganache mixture for a stronger flavour.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk ground hazelnuts, cornstarch, baking soda, salt and icing sugar together. Then incorporate into chocolate mixture.
4. Fold eggs into the batter until just mixed through.
5. Pour batter into lined 8″ round tin and bake for 35-40min or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
You can sieve icing sugar on top to finish, or glaze it with chocolate ganache and toasted hazelnuts. Have it any way you like, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it either way because I did! I can assure you too that any anxiety you might be facing will drift away with each mouthful of this delightful cake.
Thinking back to yesterday re-emphasized to me the need to break away from my comfort zone and challenge myself from time to time. It also reminded me that within this present person of mine that has been weakened over the years by the ups and downs of ED, there is still a Natalie. A Natalie that is strong-willed, optimistic, people-loving and bubbly. She does appear from time to time, but if she can break through this cast that ED has built around her, she can be free. Totally free. It’s just… fears.