Simple Pleasures – CNY 2022

// hanging up leeks, my favourite edible CNY decoration-cum-food. Chinese knots and ribbon were previously decorations on a gift hamper, diverted them from the trash bin. Yay!

// placed my money planter from here into an empty tea canister, the red colour is an instant ‘huat’ effect!

// another hamper embellishment diverted from the incinerator 🙂

// never mind that this is actually a mooncake tin, repurposing it for displaying sweets and goodies that don’t require an air-tight container.

// I no longer need new outfits to usher in the new year. This habit has saved me plenty of shopping time and even more money on impulse buys, especially styles that I don’t wear beyond CNY. With proper care, I have many pieces that are still in great condition. Others just need some mending/alteration to become wearable again. Or a thorough washing, never fails to restore stuff to its former glory.

// took home a stack of excess marketing materials to add even more festive cheer to my place, beats sitting in the warehouse and turning irrelevant after the CNY.

// with limited house visits, we are spending a lot of time at home. Borrowed a few Ebooks from NLB, to be devoured over the next three days.

// counting my vegetarian journey into its 15th year, I have not run out of things to eat, still exploring new vegetarian recipes and ingredients. I discovered konjac sashimi last year but they are mostly in grey/brown colour. Found this version mimicking lobster meat that is a perfect addition to my CNY yusheng, as the vegetarian salmon slices are getting more pricey.

Fried Nian Gao With Rice Paper

I love my mum’s deep-fried nian gao with crispy batter but I have never cooked this CNY snack before. My small-batch home cooking style doesn’t justify the amount of oil required. There are pan-fried recipes that use less oil like this and this, but I got interested only after seeing this version wrapped in spring roll skin.

I want to taste more of the nian gao than the skin, the outer covering should just be crispy. I used these clear rice paper as they are thinner than spring roll skins and have a neutral taste.

Soften the rice paper with water and fold a piece of nian gao in it. Pan-fry over low heat until the bottom turns crispy.

Flip and fry the other side as well.

The rice paper is really thin as you can see the nian gao inside through the skin.

The nian gao is ready when both sides are cooked, serve immediately.

I really like the nian gao made this way; no fuss and just one frying pan to wash.

Keeping the rest of the nian gao slices in the fridge, frying more in the next few days!

How I shop meat-free at wet markets

I always think it is a big bonus to be staying near a wet market. The small business owners never fail to shower regular customers with plenty of neighbourly love. Like, they’ll show concern when you don’t turn up for weeks, and then we’ll go on to assure each other that everyone at home is alright; something we no longer take for granted since the onset of the pandemic.

I don’t plan my shopping list in great detail when I shop at the wet markets. I just have an idea how many meals I am buying ingredients for. Then, I’ll let the vegetable stall helpers recommend what to buy and cook. They would usually recommend based on what are in season or in abundance. You’ll need to exercise plenty of self-control as the stallholders tempt you with their suggestions. On this day, there were a lot of huge napa cabbages. And so, that’s how I ended up making kimchi.

I have tweaked my usual quick kimchi recipe (again) because I ran out of rice flour at home. But Maangchi has all purpose flour on this ingredient list here, so I made the switch to avoid another grocery trip. I have provided the recipe at the end of this post, but this post is really about how a vegetarian shops for her homecooked meal plans.

++ Greens ++

Due to my meat-free dietary choice, my family consumes a lot of leafy vegetables along with me. I also buy one or two hardy vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflowers as they stay fresh longer. I also ask for a handful of spring onions, cilantro and pandan leaves; these are simple ingredients that add oomph to homecooked dishes. The best part about buying from the wet markets is that almost everything comes without plastic wraps. The sellers simply wrap everything in newspapers and place them in my reusable shopping bags.

++ Mushrooms and tofu ++

Besides vegetables, mushrooms and tofu are also my must-buy grocery items. I bring my own containers to buy shiitake mushrooms and firm tofu, available in bulk sans plastic. There’s no pressure to buy in huge volume, no buy-1-get-1-free offers here; I simply purchase the amount of food I need and finish up before they turn bad.

++ noodles ++

It’s boring to eat rice all the time. I usually keep some packets of noodles and rice cakes at home as they make very useful pantry items for quick and easy one-pot meals. These are not plastic-free, but I am not pursuing a perfectly zero-waste kitchen either. The impact on overall waste reduction is greater when everyone makes a small, conscious effort to cut down on trash. Even if it means an occasional zero waste fail, it’s still better than no efforts at all.

++ More Mushrooms and root vege ++

More food packed in plastic, mostly fresh mushrooms. Today, I got oyster and shimeji mushrooms; these provide great flavour to stir fries. Eryngii, also known as king trumpet or king oyster mushroom provides an amazing scallop-like texture; I love adding them to all my Buddha bowl recipes.

With most of of food imported, packaging is a practical solution that keeps produce from ending up as waste due to spoilages. Besides opting for non-excessively packaged items and choosing local produce whenever possible, I also decline additional plastic bags and carriers. And then, I’ll always make sure the food purchased ends up in our tummies and not in the landfills, because food waste is still the dumbest environmental problem. That’s why I only buy loose carrots, onions and potatoes, not those in big bags.

++ Eggs and tempeh ++

No meat, no problem. Eggs and tempeh are great protein-rich meat alternatives. Also come with minimal plastic packaging when you buy these from wet markets. The egg seller even allows you to return the carton for reuse!

++ Storing & Organising ++

Potatoes: Depending on my meal plans, I buy just enough potatoes and use them up before they sprout. Here are my storing tips that I have been using to keep potatoes fresh up to 1.5 weeks:
1. Place them in a mesh bag for ventilation
2. Store in dark, cool place; I keep them in the darkest corner on my countertop
3. Do not wash the potatoes until you are ready to use them
4. Do not keep them in the fridge
5. Keep them away from onions and bananas

Onions and Garlic: I keep these in a basket on the countertop

Eggs: They last longer when store in fridge, but I try to use them up in two weeks.

Spring Onions & Cilantro: I store these inside airtight boxes so that they stay fresh; they don’t turn mushy even after one week. Carrots too.

Vegetables and fruit: These go into the crisper drawer, but not before wrapping them in newspapers or beeswax wrap.

After organising my kitchen, I start to make quick vegan kimchi with the following recipe adapted from Maangchi’s recipe here.

Quick VEGA napa cabbage kimchi

1 large napa cabbage

For kimchi porridge 
2 cups water
4 teaspoons all purpose flour
3 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons Korean hot pepper flakes*
3 tablespoons soy sauce
6 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1/2 onion, chopped
4 stalks spring onion, chopped
1 carrot, julienned

Cut napa cabbage length wise into 4 or 6 parts, depending on your preference and the size of your cabbage.

Rub salt between the leaves, add water and let it sit for 2 hours. I place a cast iron pot to press the cabbage down, making sure it stays submerged in the salted water.

Make kimchi porridge while waiting for the cabbage to be ready.

In a saucepan, add water and all purpose flour, stir with a spoon to mix well.

Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously to make sure the mixture cooked into a smooth paste without burning at the base. Once a thick paste is formed, add sugar, continue stirring until all the sugar grains disappear. Turn off heat and let the paste cool down.

When the paste has completely cooled, add garlic, grated ginger and chopped onions.

Blend with an immersion blender.

Add Korean chili pepper flakes, I use 4 tablespoons, add more if you prefer spicy kimchi.

To finish the porridge making, add soy sauce, julienned carrots and chopped spring onions, stir to mix well.

We are now ready to make kimchi!

Rinse the cabbage leaves in clean water to remove all the salt.

Rub kimchi porridge evenly on every leaf, mix well.

This can be served right away as fresh kimchi.

Or, let it ferment overnight at room temperature.

The cabbage will continue to release liquid during fermentation. Next day, I transfer the kimchi into glass bottles and keep them inside the fridge to let it continue to ferment slowly.

One large napa cabbage yields four large-680ml bottles of prebiotic-rich kimchi.

Besides eating the kimchi straight from the jar, I also add them to stews/ stir-fries/ fried rice.

Need more reasons to make kimchi at home? Here are more meat-free recipes that make good use of the good stuff!
Kimchi Jjigae
Quick Kimchi Pancakes
Kimchi Fried Rice
Kimchi Bibimbap
Mushroom and Kimchi Dumplings
Tofu and Kimchi Dumplings

Croffle or Croissant Waffle

Homemade Croffles // Mono + Co

I have found another use for my waffle maker!

Homemade Croffles // Mono + Co

I thaw some frozen croissants and place them in the waffle iron.

Homemade Croffles/ Mono + Co

After a few minutes, the pretty croffles are ready!

Homemade Croffles // Mono + Co

Homemade Croffles // Mono + Co

Like croissants and waffles, croffles are best served immediately while they are warm and crispy.

For a detailed recipe, try this from AFN.

Homemade Croffles // Mono + Co

Cinnamon Waffles

Updating my waffles recipes collection with Christmas-themed one.

It’s been more than three years since I bought this waffle maker.  With this appliance, it’s become more convenient to make waffles than pancakes.  I have even started making my own pancake-waffle mix, instant breakfast idea!

I have also stopped trying new waffle recipes, relying on this trusty pancake-waffle version instead.  For the Christmas edition, I simply added cinnamon powder.


1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 tablespoons (28g) raw sugar 
1 egg
 1 cup (240ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoon rice bran oil

In a mixing bowl, add plain flour, cinnamon powder, baking powder, salt, raw sugar.  Combine well with a small hand whisk.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in beaten egg, milk, and vanilla extract, whisk to mix.

Add oil and whisk to mix until the batter becomes smooth and no longer lumpy.  Add more milk if the batter is too thick.

Cook waffles as per waffle maker instructions. I use setting no.4.

To serve, drizzle honey and sprinkle more cinnamon powder on top of waffles.

4 Things I Don’t Recycle Anymore

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Whenever I see the recycling bin being filled up with more trash than recyclables, I feel so sorry for the workers transporting these all the way back to their facility to sort.  I wonder how many items are really recycled, and how much eventually is sent to the incineration plants where they should have been directed to, right at the start.  At this point, you’ll ask yourself: why waste even more resources to create such an unnecessary detour?

Even with recyclable plastic food containers, they are usually unclean. Not many washes and dries their recyclables before depositing them into the bins.  I cannot see through the Tetrapak beverage cartons, but they are likely not rinsed.  The residual milk would probably turn bad by the time they reach the recycling plant, can you imagine the stench as the workers open up the cartons?

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Rarely but unbelievably, I even found pet litter and food waste amongst the plastics and paper once; these only end up contaminating the good recyclables.  So are we putting more junk or recyclables into the recycling bins?  I am not the only one that found food in recycling bins.

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

I am also quite sure foil packaging and balloons cannot be recycled too.  Bed linens, pillows and bolsters?  Confirm trash.  I hope the staff collecting the recyclables will sort these at bin source instead of bringing such obvious trash back to the recycling facility.

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

At times, I suspect the residents are treating the blue bin as a freecycling zone.  How do you explain the appearance of potted plants, old clothing, stuffed toys, and perfectly good stuff like this and this?  The upside of leaving usable stuff in good condition around the high traffic recycling bin area is that there are good chances of these items getting picked up.  However, recycling bins are emptied three times a week, so the window period for the items to find a new home is quite short.

With the end of the year approaching, households will be spring cleaning, decluttering and discarding, overfilling the recycling bins with items that we are too guilty to discard as trash on our own.  So, we devise a plan to be eco-friendly or charitable; treating every trash as “recyclable” or donate stuff we no longer want to the less fortunate.

Someone else can turn them into something useful.

Someone else can give them a second lease of life.

Out of sight, out of mind, where they end up never matter; we have tried recycling them!

Unfortunately, a study suggests that, even if we recycle the right way, only 9% of world plastic gets recycled.  Maybe it’s time to tell ourselves that recycling just isn’t working anymoreForget recycling and just stop generating more waste instead.

The only items I am still recycling are old newspaper and cardboard. But I only recycle through the karang guni uncles, not the blue bins. They tell me the truths about recycling based on economics, not some grand ideas of waste eradication by recycling/upcycling every plastics, glass and paper trash we generate mindlessly.

How has this affected my recycling habits? Greatly. I no longer spend time (& water) rinsing and drying recyclables. Whatever I can refuse, repurpose and reuse, I will. Here are some items that I either give away/ reuse or simply discard as trash.

++  Plastics ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

In theory, PET and PP plastics are highly recyclable materials.  In real life, they are not worth the efforts and resources to recycle.   We are also probably generating too much single-use plastics to be able to keep up with the rate of recycling.

BEFORE: For a long time, I practised the zero-waste habit of refusing to accept single-use plastics.  On occasions when I encountered #ZeroWasteFailures, I would rinse-clean soiled plastics before depositing them in the recycling bin.

AFTER:  Repurpose takeaway containers (PP5) as fresh produce storage boxes, for keeping my cilantro and spring onions crisp and fresh.  Also great for storing enoki mushrooms.  I will discard the plastics in the trash bin once they start to chip or crack.

++ Tetrapak ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Recycling milk and beverage Tetrapak cartons can be quite confusing!  I thought there are no Tetrapak recycling facilities here.  But NEA’s Guide encourages depositing them in the blue bins, while Tetrapak’s website says they have a few collection points.

BEFORE: I would rinse out the cartons, tear open and leave them to dry before sending them to the recycling bin.

AFTER: Why recycle when the cartons can be repurposed?  I discovered my naked bar, a local natural soap maker, who also accepts empty milk carton donations (Note: doesn’t accept cartons with aluminium foil lining) and reuses them as packaging!

++ Metal cans ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Canned Bailing mushrooms, condensed milk, evaporated milk, tuna, these are some canned food items we consume at home. The frustrating part is always seeing dirty cans inside the recycling bins, contaminating the entire bin with food.

BEFORE:  Rinse, dry, and deposit into recycling bins

AFTER: Discard; I don’t consume canned food much, now that I no longer recycle metal cans, I will also try to consume even lesser.

++ Glass jars and bottles ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

I read that in many countries, the local recycling facilities have stopped accepting glass.  It’s a pity because glass is one of the materials can be recycled INDEFINITELY.    I have always tried to reuse them at home instead of recycling.  It happens to be one of my favourite material choices for food storage containers.  The challenge is to stop collecting once the cupboard is filled with enough glass bottles and jars.

BEFORE:  Repurpose them into reusable food storage containershome decor accessories and deposit any excess into the recycling bin.

AFTER:  Still repurposing them into reusable food storage containershome decor accessories but no longer deposit any excess into the recycling bin.  I also discovered Refind, the only glass recycler I know of, but have yet passed them anything.

Sustainability issues should focus less on recycling, spotlight more on refusing, repurposing and incentivise reusing instead. Because no one wants our recyclable trash plus our plastic problem has become too huge to be solved with recycling.

No Churn Banana Ice Cream – Immersion Blender Method

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

One-ingredient banana ice cream is cheap and easy to make at home.  Hence, it makes sense to keep a supply of frozen bananas to save money.  Recently, I learnt that to create a new habit, we simply reduce the activation energy for the positive habits that we want to implement.  This means, the less effort and energy it takes to carry out the activity, the more likely we will stick to the habit.  This is known as the 20-second rule.  I decided to apply the concept to make me eat less commercial sugar-laden ice cream.

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

To make it easier to enjoy the ice cream, I store the bananas in large glass pasta jars by serving portions, e.g. left bottle – for three persons, right bottle – for two.  By the way, that’s Korean hot pepper flakes stored inside the freezer too, just like Maangchi

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

//  when it’s time for dessert, retrieve a jar from the freezer,

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

// add some dairy or coconut milk,

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

//  for a soft-serve consistency, do not add too much liquid or it’ll turn into a banana smoothie instead.

Banana Ice Cream - Immersion Blender Method // Mono + Co

//  here’s the reason why I use these pasta bottles; I use an immersion blender to puree the frozen bananas. Then, I eat the ice cream straight out of the jar!  How convenient!  And that’s how I apply the 20-second rule to eating homemade banana ice-cream and avoiding factory-made ones!

Flaxseed Potato Bread

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

Of all the root vegetables that I add to my bread recipes, taro is my favourite;  it produces the most lovely white fluffy crumbs.  However, my recipes call for 100g of mashed taro only, at most 150g for each pullman loaf.  I end up with excess taro which becomes a burden to clear lately, as I don’t cook as many meals as before.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

So I went back to enriching my bread with potatoes.  To make my baking life easier, I don’t even weigh them anymore; I simply use up a small-size potato that I can cup with one hand.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

To pen this recipe, I weighed 100g of mashed potato for this bake.  But I think the recipe is really forgiving, 135g -150g of potatoes should work too!

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

The first 60-minute bulk proof was completed inside the mixing bowl.  I transfer it to a wooden board to be shaped into a boule.  Since I have time, I let it relax for another 15 minutes before its final shaping.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

Covered, free from the draft, of course.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

After final shaping, I transfer it to a Pullman loaf tin that I line with a reusable baking cloth bought from here, no more single-use parchment/baking/greaseproof paper trash!

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

I let the dough take its time to rise to the rim of the loaf tin, then I bake it for 30 minutes at 170C.  Here’s the detailed recipe, below.

Flaxseed Potato Bread 

220g bread flour

100g cooked potatoes, mashed

1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons raw honey
1 egg, beaten
30g water*
20g cold butter, cubed
2 tablespoons flaxseeds

* Do not pour all 30g water into the mixer bowl, add water bit by bit, watch the dough closely, stop once the ingredients form a rough ball.

In a mixer bowl, combine bread flour, mashed potatoes, egg, instant yeast, sea salt, raw honey, and water. Turn on the mixer with a dough hook attachment and knead these ingredients on the lowest speed (KA 1) till they come into a ball.  Continue to knead for 3 minutes, then stop the mixer and let the dough sit for at least 10 minutes.

Turn on the mixer again and knead for 1 minute before adding butter cubes one by one while the mixer is running on its lowest speed.  Keep kneading till there are no traces of butter left and the dough has reached windowpane stage.  At this stage, the dough will be extremely pliable and baby-bottom soft. Add flaxseeds and knead for another 1-2 minutes, or until the seeds are well mixed into the dough.

Leave the dough in the mixer bowl for its first proof of 60 minutes.  The dough will rise to double its volume,  punch down to deflate and transfer it to a clean worktop.

Flatten the dough to push out gas trapped inside the dough, either by hand or a rolling pin.  Shape the dough into a boule, let it sit for 15 minutes.

Next, shape it into a log and place it in a bread tin, seam side facing downwards.  Let this sit in a draft-free place to rise for another 50-60 minutes.

When the bread has risen to the rim of the baking tin, bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 30 minutes.  Remove the bread from the pan immediately after baking, and let it cool on a rack completely before slicing or serving.

Store in an airtight container if not consumed immediately, to keep the loaf soft and the crumbs from drying out.

*Wash the reusable baking cloth with dish detergent (or tea seed powder), air-dry completely before stowing them away for next baking session.

From Trash To Treasure – Upcycle Mooncake Boxes

Mid-Autumn Festival will be over soon.  Fancy mooncake boxes; Love or Loathe them?  Keep or Throw?  Reuse or Upcycle?  Anything but recycling, because fancy packaging can’t be easily recycled.

Furthermore, recycling is NOT working, and definitely NOT the answer to our mounting waste pollution problems.  I buy my mooncake sans packaging.  If I see nice mooncakes boxes, I’ll shamelessly ask for them.  If you have been throwing away your mooncake boxes and wonder what else you can do with them, here are some ways that I reuse the containers.

//  Serving tray, for pretty tea sessions

// Laptop stand, to improve airflow

From Trash To Treasure : Upcycled Mooncake Boxes // Mono + Co

// Baby keepsake box, for the most beautiful memories

// Bookstand, for current reads

// Desk organiser, for hiding away all stationery mess

// Toolbox, for the handywoman in me

// Pantry organiser, for better space management

// New arrival, looks suitable as CNY decor like this