The Beauty of Burnt

My seventh crème brûlée attempt, on13 June 2018, with the kind of brûlée, burnt top I had been chasing: sexy, lace-like, sheet-thin, and elegant . (Photo: viv)

NOT all food memories are transporting or transcendent like the kind that the villainous food critic Ego encountered at his first taste of the Thomas Keller-inspired ratatouille by Remy the rat. Some are just so vague and distant you search hard for that first encounter only to find nothing, just the hopelessness of a time passed and a record all but lost at sea. 

Crème brûlée is one such memory. 

For a long time now, this simple, elegant custard dessert has held a special place in my heart. It’s one of several I would name if you were to ask me what my favorite desserts are. 

Did I first have it in Paris, at Le Marais, in the fall of 1994 during my very first trip to France, or was it at this chic French restaurant at the Hyatt called Hugo’s? No, maybe it wasn’t Le Marais, but Le Quartier Latin, I don’t remember. Then, the memory would get a little messy — could it be that it wasn’t  even crème brûlée I had at that bistro, but Tarte Tatin? All I remembered clearly of that soirée was the fromage du chevre, the weird bug-like back note and plastic taste of goat’s cheese from that deadly morsel I had picked from the plate of my dining companion, Richard, a long-ago friend with whom I’ve lost touch. 

Such annoying quandaries of a foggy brain could well have been avoided if I had kept a journal. It’s a habit I still don’t keep, alas, which is not to say that my memory is poor or sluggish . . .

Continue reading the rest of this essay here


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Marriage Made Simple

Love and Marriage in Modern Times (Image: babyrabz)

MARRIAGE, in modern times, tends to eschew the stodgy, pedantic practices of yore. Tradition is tiresome, and modernity is in. Pre-marital cohabitation, for instance, may be scoffed at by traditionalists, but to a young couple, it is necessary and vital—it gives them the opportunity to really get to know their potential life partner. In our society, marriage may be embracing all things modern and convenient, but certain traditions will forever stay.

Convenience and practicality tend to rule in modern marriages. With the exorbitant costs of wedding banquets, expensive enough to set the pockets of a couple back by a good year’s joint salary, no wonder some couples opt to celebrate their union in a quiet, private, low profile way. The traditional, expensive, face-saving affair for Mom and Dad is all too much of a burden for a  young couple, who have bigger, loftier things to take on as they launch into their new lives together. Why do they have to bother with the little family bickerings that very naturally arise from something as massive as a wedding banquet?

Through the eyes of a young couple, some of the rituals and superstition surrounding traditional marriage can be rather absurd. A couple, for instance, on their wedding morning, is supposed to have to wash themselves in pomelo leave water to ward off evil spirits. Then, there’s the hair-combing ritual to signify the couple being transformed from a boy and girl to a man and a woman. Obviously, such a practice would not be applicable for a couple who’s remarrying, if not laughable. For the sake of filial piety, most young couples play along, and go through with these practices with a stoic grin.

For the braver and more maverick couples who cannot stand to deal with the throngs of relatives, they choose the path of the closed group celebration of just immediate family and the nearest and closest of friends. It’ s akin to the strictly private Hollywood celebrity wedding. Some relatives may feel slighted, some friends may fume, but whose wedding is it? You can’t please everyone seems ultimately to be the modus operandi of young couples.

This scaled-down approach is taking on greater popularity because it gives the couple and their families a more intimate celebration and takes away the fretting and fussing of having to host, and focuses on the enjoyment of company, food, and setting. With fewer guests, couples have greater flexibility to splurge a little more on a fancier wedding destination out by the bay somewhere, or a fancy resort nudging the cliff with a spectacular view of the sunset. Compare this with the more conventional, more mainstream banquet-in-a-ballroom, the sunset somehow feels more alluring, more romantic, and ultimately, more unforgettable.

One cannot imagine couples of such ilk returning from a honeymoon and moving into the home of their parents, either his or hers. The whole concept of extended family has died a long time ago. Rare is the household with the full force of grandparents, parents, children, and soon enough, the new offsprings. Even the government recognizes this departure from traditional marriage arrangements and the business of starting families. Look at the kind of housing we have. Most of the new public housing are snug little outfits great for couples who are just starting their lives together, whose careers have only just started at the bottom of the ladder.

However anachronistic some of the traditional marriage practices are within the modern context of practicality and good sense, some traditions would never die. The business of feasting, of revelry, and the raucous cheers to joy, double happiness and fertility—all this would never fade with time. And even if a couple were to choose to flee from it all, elopement wouldn’t be something too modern in flavor. Elopement, after all, has been around for as long as love existed. 

(650 words)


Zeta Chua, Pre-University One
October 2017

This essay was written in response to the question:
Traditional marriage is an outdated concept. To what extent is this true of your society.

For more essays like this, visit:
GP Essays

Croissant, My Darling

Shall I bite you first, or pull, or tear? (Photo: viv | 27-Layer Croissant: Ken the Baker, Crown Bakery)

LOVE, as you would have it,
Comes first with a throbbing in the eye.
Behold that robe,
How intricate, so many-layered, so golden!

Some say it’s twenty-seven layers,
Others say it’s twenty-one.
But do I really care?
Do I really want to count?

This moment, my mood is all languorous and mad—
All I wish to ask you, sweet Madame, is this:
How would you like me to come to you?
Shall I bite you first, or pull, or tear?

I’ve never met any Madame so blasé, so cool:
You don’t even care what I do.
Etiquette can paint the painted faces of prissy girls,
But all you care about is the real mess that love makes.

Today, I choose to pull you apart,
The other day, I disrobed you layer by layer—
Not as fun to eat you this way,
But pleasing to the fingers, perhaps the eyes too.

But my favorite is this:
When I bite you at your nether left,
You shatter into smithereens,
And flaky kisses go helter-skelter about my mouth.

Today, seven stuck their lips upon my upper lip,
The other day, one kissed the chin, and yet another, the cheek.
Ingrate lover Me, why do I sweep them all askance?
As punishment, those self-same kisses land on my lap.

I pick them up this time,
A gentle finger press, one dab at a time,
Till that one lone finger could take no more,
I send them all, your kiss crumbs, to my mouth.

I pick them all clean,
These frisky, frivolous, flaky kisses.
Even the ones on your naked white platter,
Every one awaits that dab-a-dab-dab of my finger.

So full of you now, my darling,
Your kisses, your robes, your body, your netherness,
I grow less mad, but more languorous,
Ready for a nap where all I shall feel in my body is


~ Vivienne Yeo
Croissant, My Darling

October 10, 2017
. . .

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The Ways of the Teen

NO K-drama fan worth her salt would watch just a single episode of “Descendants of the Sun” in one sitting. For the love of their actor or actress idol, they would do anything to binge-sit through four, five, even six or more episodes of this romantic TV drama loved by not just Koreans, but fans all over the world.

We teens are masters of such foolishness, blind to the virtues of sleep, and how it can replenish our cells and generate new hormones. Our organs need sleep. Stay up all night and deprive yourself of sleep, your organs would protest, go cranky, and soon enough, you would just fall sick.

This teenage propensity for neglecting sleep happens as well not just in the name of K-drama. They put sleep on the sidelines just to add hours to their day. Want to load up on more revision? Sleep less. Want to meet the assignment deadline? Sleep even lesser. Want to mug it all for that big exam? Load up on caffeine, don’t sleep.  

More and more, sleep is also losing the battle against social media. Its 24/7 existence means that you can choose to be bombarded by it in the toilet, or past your bedtime. That compulsive thumb swipe that goes up and down the smartphone or tablet has such an addictive hold on teens. What social media takes away from us is also healthy relationships. People don’t talk to each other anymore. One could characterize modern social connection as simply this: so near, yet so far.

Teens have it tough in this modern world. Sedentary is in because no one can live without being glued to their smartphones—made worse by the fact that school is stressful and mugging is mandatory. Factor in a lopsided curriculum where Physical Education is a mere 100 minutes per week—equivalent to three percent of the entire week’s school hours—teens are not leading healthy lives, certainly not helped by school canteens serving up fried foods and a wide array of sweet drinks.

As teens would have it, anything instant or trendy entices them to the dark side. Think cup noodles and their salty, slurpy goodness. Then there’s bubble tea, KFC, bingsu, Korean fried chicken, rainbow cheese toast, rainbow cake, anything rainbow, Hokkaido cheese tart, the list gets scary.

No wonder Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has decided to go big on the health theme at this year’s National Day Rally speech. One of the biggest rally takeaways is brown rice. It may not sound like the yummiest thing on earth, but then again it’s not a bitter pill. If the Health Promotion Board ever needed a poster girl to run a brown rice campaign, they can find a ready volunteer. I’ve got my hand up.

(466 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
August 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #4:
To what extent do you agree with the idea that some teenagers lead an unhealthy lifestyle. Give reasons for your views.

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

Tuning In to Ambition

On the road to becoming a chef (Image: Pixar)

AMBITION is a large word. It encapsulates career, social status, starting a family, building assets, growing wealth, and ultimately growing old gracefully with a bundle of grandchildren, or possibly even great-grandchildren, squealing about in the home over festive seasons.

As a teen, though, my vision of ambition doesn’t take into account that far-out silver-haired future. In fact, it doesn’t even accommodate any space for family. I can’t imagine myself being a wife or a mother. In my present world, the word ambition is not singular, but plural. Here’s where I’m the greedy girl: I want to do many things and be many things—a pilot, an officer in the Air Force, and a chef.

The first is an impossibility. I don’t have perfect vision, and sadly—I am not thrilled to admit this—I’m not a guy. The second is out of the question too. Just because the job sounds incredibly cool doesn’t mean that I can handle it. Besides, I’m not a genius at math, and wires and circuitry aren’t really my thing.

Now that I have struck off two ambitions from my bucket list, I’m glad I’ve overcome one of my greatest challenges—that of focus. Which leaves me now to tackle just one thing: becoming a chef.

Even here, I must bring all my focus to bear because like ambition, chef too is a large word that branches into a million other things. What type of chef, for instance? Culinary or pastry, savory or sweet? Then, there’s the cuisine style? Classical French, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, fusion (so last season!). Then, there’s the question of money. Can I not be a chef, but a chef/owner?

These are big questions, questions that should rightly be addressed before I find my way to a culinary institution. But these questions aren’t going to test me physically the way it would if I were standing hours on end prepping, washing, carting and fetching stuff, receiving supplies, and cleaning, always cleaning.

I am acquainted with that kind of exhaustion, having clocked many hours and days in an international cuisine restaurant in Myanmar whenever I return to my other home over the year-end vacation. The queasy, achy ankles, the sore lower back, the burns from the hot, splattering oil, the boiling water, and the oven singes at the stove. Oh, and the cuts too!

Hardship can be cool.

Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain, all these culinary celebrities have never had it easy. And why should I? If I want to be a chef, I need to be friends with hard work. In the meantime, while I’m slogging away at my present academic pursuits, I spend my weekends playing around in the kitchen.

It’s steak one week, Tom Kha Gai another, pasta the next. I have a schedule going, sometimes I keep repeating a dish to get it right. When I slip into a lazy mood and don’t want to fuss in the kitchen, I’ll go food hunting and café-hopping.

Pizza, sushi, Wagyu beef, Korean fried chicken, kimchi soup, Korean barbecue, fancy cakes, pancakes, soufflés, and sexy tarts. No, I’m not gorging, I’m just training my palate.

(528 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
August 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #3:
What are your ambitions for the future? Explain how you plan to achieve them, including any possible difficulties.

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv