how about cardi..no.

Cardio.

Perhaps one of the most over rated, over done and over estimated form of physical exercise.

But it is also one of those physical exercises that contributes to the surge of endorphines.. the feel good hormones.

And as gross as this may sound, it feels good to finish a workout off glistening with sweat… it’s like tangible, damp evidence of all efforts.

Buuut on some days, cardio? How about cardiNO. 

As much as cardio is good, it can become tediously boring and can quickly lead to physical plateaus.

 running endlessly to nowhere facing a blank wall again, great.

cycling for hours on end on a stationary bike, woohoo.

Now before you get turned off from cardio exercise, let me stress the importance of cardiovascular training. 

We get so caught up training the muscles we can see, like our guns (biceps brachii), those pecs (pectoralis muscles), and the peach gains (gluteus maximus), 

that we often lose sight of the most important visceral muscle that is out of sight- our heart.

It is a small muscle with a biologically massive workload. Imagine, a small muscle the size of your fist, contracting continuously at 70 beats per minute, with an average stroke volume of 70ml of richly oxygenated blood with every beat.

If we do the math, your heart will pump around 4.9 to 5 litres of blood through your arteries every minute (cardiac output).

And this output can double, triple and even increase by 5 fold during physical exertion… or in our cases, training in the gym, playing a sport, climbing stairs.

Now with this in mind, we apply the basics of muscle strengthening.

To get a stronger muscle we need to adopt:

Training frequency- forcing your to adapt to more workload and increase in strength.

aaand, 

a lower repitition set with higher intensities (or weight)- to facilitate muscle hypertrophy (growth) and power.
If we can religiously hit the gym and train for superficial muscle growth, why not do the same with our heart muscles? 
We certainly don’t need a physically larger heart, but we do need a physically active and agile heart muscle to sustain constant, healthy pressures within our arteries (so we don’t die if you know what I mean).

And this all comes down to training it with no other than cardio exercise, which is defined as any activity that causes an increase in heart rate.

The basic principles of muscle growth- the low rep, high intensity concept can and should also be applied to cardio training.

Unless you were a real beginner (which, if you are I commend you for taking your first step to an active lifestyle, you wont regret I promise), or were convalescent, you wouldn’t hit your biceps with a small, 5 kilo weight and go at it for many many repititions would you? 

It’d be a waste of time, and your muscle fibres won’t be stimulated or physiologically stressed enough for it to grow and strengthen in response! 

So why would you hit the treadmill at a comfortable pace for hours on end, or sit at the stationary bicycle cycling leisurely until the end of your precious hour of exercise?

Its no wonder why cardio machines nowadays come with youtube options or screens to plug your episodes of Brooklyn nine one one in.

This is how cardio becomes boring, and your heart muscles dont get a good workout.

That’s it. Things must change.

Instead of engaging in low intensity, steady state (LISS) cardio all the time, it might be more beneficial to do high intensity interval training (HIIT).

Basically working your ass off with full blast, explosive energies (high intensity) for a short period of time (equivalent to low reps) and then taking a mini rest in between before repeating the cycle again.

You’ll be done in 15 minutes at most, depending on how many cycles or circuits you choose to put in.

What I absolutely love about HIIT is flexibility to custom your circuits with whatever cardio moves you like, so it doesn’t become routine.

And you know our muscles need to be tantalised with variety in training in order for progress to be made.

HIIT also keeps the fat burning mechanisms switched on for ages even after the short cardio session is finished. 

ANYHOO, 

Here’s an example of a 4 move HIIT circuit I’d throw in for 3 times a week (less if you were trying to bulk, more if your goal is to cut)

Cycle 1: 

30 second sprint + 30 second jump squats

Add weight for an extra burn in those quads! 

Cycle 2: 

30 second sprint + 30 second jump lunges

Jump lunges kill me every single time. Ensure your front knee does not go over your toes, and land with ‘soft knees’ and heel first to feel the stretch in those lower gluteus muscles.

Cycle 3: 

30 second sprint + 30 seconds single leg side squats

For example, if you were to squat to the right, you keep your left leg striaght (toe pointing forward still) and just bend at the knee towards your right, keeping that right knee behind the toe.

Feel this one in your side glutes and inner thighs. Add weight for more resistance 

Cycle 4: 30 second sprint + 30 second curtsey back lunges

For e.g a right curtsey lunge consists of your left leg lunging back wards, but instead of lunging directly backwards, you lunge with a 45 degree angle towards your right side.

You should feel this again in your right side glute. 

And there we have it!  A HIIT cardio workout. Make sure you take 20 to 30 seconds of rest between cycles, and repeat the entire 4 cycles for 3 rounds to achieve maximum sweat effects.

And if you do still like to jog, or cycle on the staationary bike (LISS cardio), then go for it! Just remember to switch it up a little with HIIT in between.

Note: please only attempt these if you are in appropriate physical cardiovascular state to do so. Consult your doctor or physician should any heart conditions exist before attempting any sort of workout.

And sorry, laziness does not apply as inappropriate cardiovascular states :)) 
Thank you for staying till the end, 

Wishing you all a safe day ahead and sending happy (and sweaty!) vibes your way.

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Marina Bay

‘Twas the few hours after a strong, hard storm that swept past Singapore, where the moist air was fine and cool.

Light was beginning to dim, the sun packing up and ready to wind down after a whole morning and afternoon of shining, finally submitting to darker clouds.

But not without gracing us with her blush- ombre pink tinged orange streaked across the dimming sky. 
I strolled along Marina Bay, exiting from Promenade train station. It was a saturday night, and couples, families, tourists were all out, enjoying the perfect weather. 

But she was beautiful, her urban skyline tracing the Singapore river beginning to light up as the evening matured.

I stood overlooking the region at the Helix bridge, a light breeze tantalising my face. 

She was serene, her buildings and cold metal structures now reflecting the warm colours of the sunset, glazing my eyes with a different sort of beauty- a man made, concrete beauty.

Her river was gracious, clean and nearly still, politely accomodating the leisurely sail of a long sampan and boat, calmly taking along with it tourists and people.

As night dawned upon us, I made my way to Gardens by the Bay, crossing a board walk. 

I gazed up at the 3 tall towers holding a boat-like infinity pool at its peaks. I couldnt help bit wonder, was it Noah’s ark standing tall against the deep indigo night sky -a mark of the belief of an insightful architect? 

Each tower face carried a different pattern, combinations of dark and lighted windows, as if conveying some sort of code.

In the distance from a vantage point on the board walk, I could see the gardens, the very top tufts of the electric trees and branches, flashing lively with lights, and wildly coloured.

Being under one of those electric trees was unreal. How surprising and how ironic it was, to take nature and de-naturify it, to harmniously meld artificial and garden into one. 

Despite the UFO coloured lighting radiating off each electric tree, it wasnt an eerie feeling, but rather an ethereal one. 

They were surrounded with real plants, assorted greenery snaking up its metal struts, tropical flowers blooming from the soil at its base. 

The ‘leaves’ of these electric trees raced and flickered with lights, in synchrony with music that pulsed in the background. I was in luck tonight, placing myself on the concrete right in the centre of electric canopy; my eyes and ears hypnotically stimulated by both light and sound.

Before long came the lion dance of course.. it was the 8th day of chinese new year. 

As the familiar and loud rhythm took shape from the drums and cymbals, a red and gold lion began to prance up and down tall, thin struts, its young lion dancers underneath skilfully and nimbly manouvreing the bulky head. 

The lion began to take character, mischieviously moving its tail, blinking its eyes and jumping high in the air in time to the drum beats and cymbals, its vigour and vibrance embodying the spirit of Chinese new Year.

It was another world altogether, almost where mother nature herself meets and falls in love with man made, producing a mystical garden that showcases harmony between two exact opposites, boasting the best of both natural and artificial. 

It was of course, also very worth the squeeze with the Saturday night crowd.

大年初一 (the first day)

I was awoken by the sharp ringing of the home phone. The sun was shining in, and I stirred, pillow and blankets still piled atop of my face.

Still blundered in a slight food coma from the reunion dinner last night, and face heavy from staying up late, I peeled myself off from the sheets. 

..before it hit me. 

It was the first day of the lunar new year. And for all my fellow chinese out there, we all know what this means.

Red pockets.

A visit from that one grand uncle and grand aunty that we only see one time each year.

Air conditioning. (absolute necessity in singapore)

Bak kwa (singaporean glazed pork jerky).

More snacking.

Mandarins.

More snacking.

Grandma was still quietly snoozing this morning, her thin, frail engine slowly humming awake.

 The coffee table was arranged with multiple red-lidded plastic containers (the iconic chinese new year symbol) filled with all sorts of traditional new year cookies and snacks. In the middle sat a plate of golden orange mandarins, a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

If you ask me, the snacking and cookies (aside from the reunion of family and relatives), are by far my favourite part of Chinese New Year (i’d even dare say it nearly surpasses the red pockets!).

Almond crunch cookie (second favourite behind peanut candy)
Sunflower seed biscuit

These were some of my favourites this year, however my number one still being the simple peanut candy- made solely of crushed peanuts and malt, it is baked to a delectably crispy, nutty sheet, and then sliced into little bite sized crunchy squares, which makes yo’ girl here smile silly. 

As imagineable, any effort of clean eating and dieting during this festive season…Actually that doesn’t even exist in the Chinese New Year vocabulary.

 Most people speak in 4 syllable chinese idioms today, extending their happy and warm wishes for the new year, all while sipping on fizzy cherry and orange F&N soda, peeling mandarin oranges, and munching on yummy snacks. 

We are all not to sweep or mop the floors today, to make sure good luck and prosperity for the new year will not be ‘swept away’. 

We sit around the couch watching a classic Stephen Chow movie with grandma, awaiting our next visit from relatives.

 It is quiet, but homely and warm.

Glutinous Rice Dumplings (粽子)

I love my grandmother. A short-ish, easy going, humble little old lady of 80 years of age never ceases to place a smile on my face (genetics also didn’t hesitate to place her nose on my face too).

My grandmother usually resides in the tropics of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but for the past two months, she has been visiting us (and slowly getting used to the erratic weather here). It has become tradition that on every visit, she would spend one day in the kitchen wrapping her family famous ‘sticky rice’ (glutinous) dumplings, complete with bamboo leaves and all.

Hooray! This means at least a week’s supply of dinners, a taste of grandmummy’s love and most importantly, some quality time with my grandmother, learning what can basically be considered our traditional ‘family recipe’, before it phases out into a cultural extinction.

My grandmother had begun wrapping the first batch of dumplings bright and early at 8 am this morning. The large pot for cooking these gems in was up and at a rolling boil by 9 am, and the house was filled with its whistles as all of us patiently waited for the dumplings to cook.

Glutinous rice dumplings, also known as ‘sticky rice’ dumplings, or 粽子 (in mandarin, pronounced Zong Zi), are pretty much what they are- a mound of glutinous rice stuffed with hearty fillings such as savoury chestnuts, pork, mushrooms and wrapped in a fragrant bamboo leaf. They are usually eaten around the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节) period, around the month June in the Gregorian calendar (in May for all you Lunar date-ers out there!).

Today, my grandmother chose her classic dumpling combo- dried shrimps with shiitake mushrooms and five layered pork belly braised with chestnuts in oyster sauce (I know it’s not June, but time does not restrict an opportunity to glutinous rice dumplings. That not how it roll.)

I think we  underestimate the amount of work, preparation and time that really goes into wrapping these dumplings, a large portion of it going to re-hydration of many components of the dumpling itself- soaking the bamboo leaves, raw glutinous rice, dried shrimps, and the dried shiitake. Of course, cooking the fillings also take time… all the effort and hard work  that my grandmother put in behind the scenes leading up to today, before we arrive to her station in the kitchen and see everything neatly segregated and placed in separate bowls, ready for wrapping.

My grandmother would always reminisce at the old days- raising a family of 6 children in the 1960s in Malaysia was no walk in the park.

“When a family has no money, one just needs to learn how to do it yourself,” (translated from Cantonese) she would say.

Even though now we have money, and inevitably, machinery that can easily manufacture these dumplings, there is nothing better than having a real-life teacher at your dispense, showing you the genuine method in wrapping these dumplings.

“Everyone’s too busy in this day and age to learn this type of old fashioned thing,” mused by grandmother, as she carefully inspected another bamboo leaves for holes. She was right! Why let our traditional recipe cease here?
Grasping the leaf between her forefinger and thumb, my grandmother looked at me expectantly, and before I knew what I was doing, I found myself with a bamboo leaf in my hand, perched onto a stool next to the master herself.

A large part of the flavour in these dumplings are in the bamboo leaves. Back in the old days, they’d come fresh from the bamboo plant (probably ones that grew in your backyard), but unless you live in China next to a panda farm or something now, I think your local Asian grocery store should sell them in convenient (and very generous) packs for just a little over 5 dollars.

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The dried bamboo leaves were soaked 3 times for 3-4 hours each time, or until the water it soaks in remains clear. On its first soak, the bamboo leaves will leave the water a murky, dirty yellow colour, and one may find sediments or soil. Keep washing and soaking it until it is clean.

Not forgetting the real stars of the show- the dumpling fillers.

Now my grandmother cooks by feel- meaning to say that she follows no recipe, and virtually eyeballs everything, so I do apologise that this cannot be an exact, detailed tutorial on cooking the ingredients. I can only piece together snippets of instructions given to me by grandma in broken, lay-man’s Cantonese (which is what I grew up speaking, being raised by my beloved grandmother).

As my grandmother fiddles with the half completed dumpling in her hand, she tells me about the first filler (and my personal favourite), the stir fried dried shrimp and shiitake.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetThe dried shrimp and shiitake mushrooms are first soaked in plain water overnight, then stir fried with shallots, garlic and sauces.

First start with some canola oil in the pan. Add 4-5 small shallot heads (for a large-ish bowl of shrimp and about 250-300g of mushrooms) and 1 large clove of garlic, frying them in the oil until your kitchen is redolent of the delicious fragrance.

Add in the rehydrated ingredients and toss to cook. Add in 1-2 tablespoons of oyster sauce, a little bit of brown sugar (white works fine too), and a little splash of black (dark) soya sauce for that rustic, dark colour.

The second dumpling filler is no other than braised 5 layer pork belly with chestnuts.

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Again, the meat and chestnuts are braised in dark soya sauce and oyster sauce (green onion and/or ginger may be added according to liking). Place the meat in a pot with the chestnuts and sauces and braise on low heat for a little over an hour (I think there was close to 1 kilogram of pork belly here), or until the protein is tender and chestnuts are able to be split in half with a poke, but still holds its shape.
Grandma’s tip: If braising this as a dish to go with rice (instead of as a dumpling filler), leave the pot boiling for about 1.5-2 hours, so the chestnuts cook fully through.

And of course,  not forgetting the binder of the entire delicacy- the glutinous rice.
The raw rice is soaked in water for a couple of hours, before being tossed with what my gran calls the ‘shallot oil’, which is literally her frying some spare shallots in cooking oil and then pouring the concoction into the rice. This allows the dumpling to slide smoothly off its outer covering after its cooked (saves me from scraping remnants of rice off the leaf  with my teeth like an animal really).
Grandma’s tip #2: If you are lazy to fry up some shallot oil, or run out of fresh shallots to do so, one can always use the packaged pre-fried shallots that can be bought at your local Asian grocery. Just toss some in the soaked rice and you should be good to go.

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As I watch my grandmother wrap the dumplings, I notice her hands, I mean properly notice her hands for the first time. My grandmother’s hands appear weathered, freckled from raising a family of 6, from cooking and cleaning over the years. Her hands appear seasoned from changing the diapers of her 5 grandchildren, from spanking us when we were being mischievous, and from taking tender, loving care of us.

Despite all this however, her hands do not lack vigour. They are still as strong, agile and move with dexterity as she swiftly works her magic, producing a perfectly firm, triangular glutinous rice dumpling, tightly secured with a thin little ruffian string.

Her firm grip holds my clumsy, stiff fingers into a curved position as she teaches me her technique to dumpling wrapping- “you cannot hold the dumpling too tight, or it won’t hold its shape, the leaf will crack.”
Now that was ironic, yet my grandmother had a point, very much literally and metaphorically.

“if you keep gripping the dumpling too tight and being afraid that it’ll fall over and injure itself, then it’ll split, and cannot hold together when it’s being cooked in the pot,” my grandmother elaborated. (translated quite literally from Cantonese)

Very true hey, sometimes, we just need to trust that everything will hold together and let go. For me, it translates into letting go of many worries and stresses and just trusting God to fight my battles for me. Holding on too tightly injures no one but yourself- like my grandmother explained, it’ll cause brittle cracks and holes in your leaf, and therefore cause a leaky, insecure disaster.

Letting go is the only way to move forward, to learn from past mistakes, to be forgiven and to have the space to repent, so that one may survive and thrive in further tribulations (like those dumplings surviving 3 hours boiling in a 100 degree pot of water without coming loose and spewing its contents everywhere).

 

Holding the cusp of the dumpling in place, it is then filled in layers; first with a little bit of rice, then filling #1, filling #2, and then more rice to cover, before reaching the most technical part- sealing the dumpling.

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Fill, fill, fill
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Opt to have a salted (century) egg in the middle of the dumpling if you like!

I must admit, I thought I was doing fine, until I got to the last step of the wrapping process, which is sealing the dumplings and then tying everything together with the ruffian string.

Easier than it looks really, but it involves holding everything together, understanding the contours and shape of your dumpling, before folding the chock-filled cusp of the dumpling over and onto the rest of the leaf.

Make sure that the corners are folded, and the part of the leaf that makes the corners of the dumpling are pinched outwards. This ensures that the innards of the dumpling remain as innards during the long cooking process.

Somehow or rather, she manages to wrap a killer dumpling, and it is all tied and held solely together by a flimsy piece of ruffian string. The kitchen is filled with chit chat, as my grandmother happily speaks to us all, and instructs her friend next to her. Her hands move as if they had a mind of their own- never missing a step, never stumbling.

As my grandmother completes roughly 8 dumplings, stringed together in a cluster, my aunt comes around with a plastic bowl, transferring the bunch from my grandmother’s station to the stove, submerging it into a deep pot of boiling hot salted water, where it’ll cook for the next 3 hours.
Grandma’s tip #3: Add a little bit of chicken powder and salt to the water for boiling the dumplings in- chicken powder just brings out that little extra flavour.

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I love my grandmother. She is a short-ish, easy going, humble lady, standing strong at 80 years young. She is always happy, and sees the glass half full, even when there’s water spilled all over the kitchen top. Her patience, love and sacrifice in being the pillar- the mother of the family inspires me, and I thank God for her.

 

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