Monthly Archives: March 2014

Baby-Friendly Restaurants with Attached Playrooms

Jasmine: We visited three restaurants with attached playrooms over the past two weekends and thought we would do a comparison.

Andrew: We’ve written quite a lot about restaurants in previous posts, which I think is good – because it still shows that we’ve retained our foodie selves even while having a kid – just that we now have a new criteria for restaurants!

Bank Bar & Bistro

Jasmine. This looks like a modern incarnation of an English pub, right? Mahogany panelling, brass fixtures, overall old-time colonial feel.

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Jasmine: Actually, this was where we met Ruth and her daughter Lucia for lunch-cum-playdate at The Bank Bar & Bistro, and I would say it was the most baby-friendly restaurant I have been to in Singapore.

We are always on the lookout for baby-friendly eateries, so much so that my geeky husband has even drawn up a BFI (baby-friendliness index) to grade all the restaurants we have visited recently.

When we first arrived, the two babies were given plastic cutlery and paper placemats they could colour on during the meal and coloring pencils were provided on request. We parents also came prepared- Ruth had 3 books and we brought Dylan’s favourite wheel along.

Dylan and Lucia did a toy swop- here’s Lucia playing with Dylan’s wheel while Dylan ponders the existential dilemma that is the hole in Lucia’s Peter Rabbit book:

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Jasmine: We were too busy (read: picking toys off the floor and feeding babies) to take photographs of the food, but the offerings are adult and baby-friendly.

High scores here for menu and value for money. Ruth and Andrew had weekend brunch sets, which are $26.80 for a striploin or 1/2 spring chicken AND a chocolate cake. I ordered an Eggs Pacifico (smoked salmon version of Eggs Benedict) from the All Day Breakfast section, which turned out to be a great deal as a kiddy meal comes free with every All Day Breakfast order! We actually ordered pancakes for the babies to share but they had run out so we went with carbonara instead. Which Dylan got about 3 strands of and Andrew and I finished the rest. So as not to waste food, you see.

Andrew: Yup, the striploin was worth it – with a decent portion of meat and yorkshire pudding with boiled vegetables. The boiled vegetables can also be given to the little ones to gnaw on. The chocolate cake that came with the set was alright – I much preferred the brownie that Jasmine is going to feature below, which is frankly speaking one of the best I’ve tasted ever.

Jasmine: Still feeling peckish, I also ordered a dessert –no no, not for myself but for my unborn baby girl who wanted womb service (Andrew: Yea right!) — a warm chocolate brownie with ice cream, strawberry and a very gooey, umami peanut butter sauce!

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Jasmine: After lunch, the babies made a mandatory trip to the attached playroom. Seriously, how did I not discover attached playrooms before?? Dylan gets restless from sitting in a high chair too long, but at other restaurants, he doesn’t have anywhere where he can play. This attached playroom was clean, new and came in so useful.

I also read somewhere that the toys are rented so they change monthly!

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Jasmine: Lucia and Dylan made a beeline for the ball pool and slide. (Ruth said that Dylan was holding the letter "A" for "Andrew".)

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Lucia has the sweetest smile!

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Andrew: Both little babies enjoyed the ball pool lots. I mean, who wouldn’t! My only gripe was that it’s too small. I recall when I was a kid, my parents used to bring me to this ball pool at a Burger King (?) at Parkway parade. We used to go crazy there and could spend hours there. It was deep enough such that the 5 year old me could be ‘buried’ under the balls and we would use to ‘hide’ ourselves under the pool and ‘jump up’ to shock each other. wpid-20140322_152612.jpg

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Jasmine: Dylan spent ages in that playroom, going from the building block table to a train set and a tunnel. In fact, when I finally pulled him out, he wasn’t too pleased about it.

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Jasmine: One happy camper at the end of the lunch date (and check out the supercute berms I bought from Mothercare’s summer sale. It’s actually swimwear but I thought the crab was so cute so I went ahead and bought it.)

Andrew: This restaurant is in Shenton Way, which is super quiet during the weekend and thus has a very relaxed, chill vibe. I really enjoyed myself there. While the kids (and wives) were enjoying themselves in the playroom, I sat back and enjoyed a nice cup of latte. Ahh.. I look forward to the day when my kids are old enough to entertain themselves safely and I can just plonk them in any playroom while I take some time off. 🙂

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Jasmine: Dilly was so tired out from the two plus hours of excitement and ball pools that he fell asleep without any fuss in the car, surrounded by all his books.

Verdict: We’ll be back again!

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La Barca Ristorante

Jasmine: In terms of value for money, The Bank Bar with its weekend brunch specials and free kids’ meals wins hands down. Sadly, the food at La Barca was disappointingly just ok. I had higher expectations seeing that the chef used to helm a one Michelin star restaurant previously (emphasis on "used to", I guess), but almost every offering on the menu, from the mozarella omelette to the mushroom risotto to the lamb ribs was… so-so.

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Only the desserts — the dark chocolate tart, the tiramisu and orange creme brulee, with us ranking the creme brulee as the best out of the three) were worth the calories.

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Jasmine: I would rather go back to Cafe Melba, which is just as kid-friendly (bouncy castle and large field for older kids to run around), serves more delish food and is also located at Goodman Arts Centre.

Andrew: Agreed that the food was a disappointment and not cheap as well, for the type of food and portion size. My lamb ribs were rather unsatisfying. Based on my blog-surfing though, I realise that this restaurant is actually more famous for dinner, but I probably won’t be coming back any time soon.

Jasmine: The attached playroom, which looked so bright and cheery in photos online, was also quite tired-looking in real life and had a smell of musty shoes 😦 However, that did not stop Dylan from using the Vtech walker and exploring the activity table and the slide. When he got fidgety, we could also just pop him in there while waiting for more food to arrive.

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Jasmine: Sidenote. Can I also just say how much I love this little outfit on Dyl? The super-cute rainbow checked shorts come with matching yellow canvas belt and were bought by my sister, while the shirt was also from Mothercare’s summer sale.

It was just a day before Dylan’s actual 1st birthday, so my mum baked a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for him- one that he could actually eat, as I still am quite doubtful about giving him sugar or chocolate, heh. Complete with a train and train tracks made from spaghetti! I doubt Dylan understood the significance, but he was so good and serious, posing earnestly for all the cake photos as if he knew these photos would mean more to us than to him. Heh.

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Jasmine: Dylan did knock out though, falling asleep in the car and remaining asleep (which happens like once out of every 20-30 times) through two transfers, when I carried him out of the car seat and put him in the crib. So I guess he must have enjoyed himself after all, and that’s what counts 🙂

Treehouse @ Grandstand

Andrew: Grandstand is a wonderful place to go during weekends, especially if you have kids because it’s just bustling with energy and so many places for kids to enjoy themselves. Reviews of this place were mixed and we weren’t expecting much in terms of food – hence no photographs. The Rosemary chicken was decent, but the Mac and Cheese was rather terrible, in my honest opinion.

Jasmine: It looked and tasted like it had just come out of a can. But let’s be very honest here, people come to such restaurants for the playrooms, not the food. So just keep your expectations low and enjoy the sight of little children hard at play! What I enjoyed most was Dyl having so much fun that he fell asleep in the stroller for the first time… for one hour, which gave us plenty of time to wander around Pasarbella and buy back my favourite Russian chocolate cake:) Win-win for baby and parents. Yay!

Andrew: Heh. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to pass up on the opportunity to come to a place with a 2 storey playroom and the most important part was that Dylan had fun!

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Andrew: I find that one of the signs of a good playroom is messiness. The one at La Barca was a little too neat, that you kinda felt a little conscious when you were moving things out of their position. Perhaps there weren’t too many kids there at that age to appreciate their playroom. This playroom in Treehouse was to put it simply – chaotic! There were toys strewn all around, books and cards on the floor and basically free for all, with kids dashing up and down the stairs. Well, it was this rowdy atmosphere that made Dillie extremely comfortable there and he just crawled all around on his own, exploring the various toys available.

Jasmine: Oh that’s a good point. I didn’t think of that. I just define a good playroom as something that knocks the child out after 😀 So all three restaurants in this post pass that bar. Haha.

 

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Pounding on blocks with a hammer

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Andrew: His favourite turned out to be this Thomas the train, which he pushed all around the place like a walker.

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Jasmine: He also had a go making “soup” from nuts and bolts at the play kitchen on the “second floor” of the treehouse

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Andrew: And finally, some peace and quiet and Dylan has the whole upper floor to himself – well, not for long anyway.

Verdict: We wouldn’t specially come all the way to Grandstand for the restaurant, and this playroom wasn’t as cosy as the one at Bank Bar. However, I would definitely come here if I were at Grandstand when Dylan was slightly older – perhaps 2 or 3. Honestly though, they could consider doing something about the food, which is currently below average. I have yet to find a restaurant with a good playroom that also serves great food.

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Jasmine’s Birthday Staycation!

Andrew: Given that it was Jasmine’s first birthday celebration as a mum, I wanted to make it truly special for her, so I planned a weekend of pampering and romance for her.

They say once you become parents, ‘romance’ becomes the last thing on your mind as your focus is now on your child, tending to him, ensuring he/she is well-taken care of and you start seeing each other as mother/father instead of husband/wife. It is true that it has been more challenging to find ‘date’ time, hence special occasions become times where we do something special for each other.

We stayed at Park-Royal on Pickering, supposedly one of the most eco-friendly and modern hotels – we’ll talk more about that at the end of the post. Booked her a pampering massage and little did she know that while she was having her massage, I went in search for roses to create a nice surprise for her in the room. Unfortunately I didn’t know where cheap ones could be found nearby so I ended up going all the way back home to the florist near our place to get these roses! It was my first time doing this and I’m glad it turned out well:

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Jasmine: After a lovely massage where I fell asleep, it was wonderful coming back and being totally blown away. Andrew has done many sweet things for me when we were dating, but never anything this romantic. For the old-fashioned girl in me, it was bliss. Thank you dearie.

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The birthday girl with her birthday surprise:

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Jasmine: I also selected this unusual bouquet in a basket with red calla lilies from good ol’ Far East Flora:

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Andrew: After that, we made our way to Sky on 57 by Michelin Star chef, Justin Quek. Ambience and food were great!

Jasmine: What I like about Sky on 57 is that it combines Singaporean flavours with a European refinement. If you are looking for strong, robust tastes, you won’t find them here; rather, what you can expect are subtle hints of popular flavours, such as the laksa emulsion for the codfish.

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Andrew: We were enjoying the quality time and food, so didn’t really get to take down the names of the dishes, but the best dish was his signature Foie Gras xiao long bao (with consomme of black truffle, braised and minced pork). It was great, just having time to talk and get to know each other again.

Happy Birthday Dearie!

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Andrew: The macarons were also pretty good – gula melaka (if I’m not wrong), and we ordered a few to bring back.

Jasmine: These pandon macarons with gula java filling delivered the intense hit of sugar and taste that complemented the subtle meal perfectly.

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Night View on top of MBS

Andrew: Went around taking some pictures of the hotel to walk off our dinner:

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Andrew: The rose petals were repurposed into a petals-bath for Dearie (Jasmine: clever!)

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And we had in-room dining for lunch (Caesar Salad + Nasi Goreng) the next day :

IMG_5091Andrew: The most important part of this celebration was not the luxury, the food, the hotel or the pampering, but just time to reconnect as a couple and create wonderful memories together. 

Jasmine: Oh yeah, did I mention that because it was my birthday, we got upgraded to a suite? Check it out: 

By day

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By night

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Our sitting room:

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Jasmine: Some detail shots. I liked the hotel’s commitment to eco-friendliness. The fridge was lined with metal to insulate the cold, rather than blow cold air in like conventional fridges. Rather than offer mineral water in plastic bottles, the drinking water in the glass bottles were purified by the hotel. I took quite a fancy to those glass bottles and was rather tempted to bring one home… but honesty prevailed at the end of the day. Heh.

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Jasmine: The toilet with the double sink- another luxury I’d love to have in a future home.

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Jasmine: To reduce the carbon footprint, Parkroyal on Pickering also does vertical gardening. I went on a LJ to URA and found out that URA mandates that all new properties have “green areas” equivalent to the size of the building’s foundation. So I guess the plant-lined terraces that give the hotel its distinctive geometric look are there to fulfil the green quota. Smart, since they’ve turned it into an architectural highlight.

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Not the best picture but gives you an idea of what I was trying to say about the hotel incorporating vertical gardens in the architecture.

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Jasmine: pavilions by the pools. And yes, that’s the floral bouquet being “worn” as a bag!

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Indoor Activities with Baby

Jasmine: We’ve had some episodes of haze and illness that have prevented us from bringing Dylan out, so we decided to adapt or invent our own games for days in! These activities are suitable for babies between 6-12 months- babies that age are concrete thinkers who need to learn about cause and effect, and are also gaining early mobility (think crawling or cruising along furniture) so whatever gets them to exercise their gross motor skills works, too!

Virtually no money is needed, and unlike those humongous toys that take up precious real estate in our small HDB living rooms, these toys can be returned to the kitchen once baby has tired of it!

We’ve arranged these in order of how easy it is to execute these ideas, starting with the easiest and fastest.

Superduper-easy: Sticky ball

Jasmine: The easiest and cheapest of the lot, the tin foil ball with sticky tape wound all around it also had Dyl returning to it again and again. Not only was he trying to figure out why the ball kept sticking to his hand, it had an audible tacky sound that was very gratifying to hear as he peeled it off himself.

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Of course, the sticky ball tends to wind up in funny places, like a bobtail on his bum (innocent look from the mum):

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Super-easy: Pull-out tissue box

Jasmine: Dylan was a stage where he loved to pull out tissues from our tissue box, so we substituted the tissues with a line of recycled ribbons and a washcloth.
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Andrew: He’s still at that stage now actually – and now that he can put his hand on surfaces and lift himself up, he actually tries to reach for the tissue box on top of the TV console. He gets so much joy just tearing the tissue out of the box.

Super-easy: Books

Jasmine: This probably doesn’t count as DIY, but varying the kinds of books Dylan has keeps him endlessly entertained, day in day out. As mentioned earlier, babies this age are very tactile learners, so this touch-and-feel book which we found at a MPH sale and has a whole spread of penguins with different types of fur, is one of his favourites. I have also seen enterprising mums DIY touch-and-feel books, by sticking scraps of fabric onto cardboard, and including one-word descriptions of the colours, patterns or textures e.g. "green", "swirly", "rough".

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Jasmine: I also have renewed gratefulness for our public libraries, which stock a wonderful range of children’s books in Mandarin. Andrew has been so faithful in borrowing new books every few weeks. This is a gorgeous one, a Chinese adaptation set on the High Line (a railway converted into outdoor sky garden) in New York, which was one of our favourite honeymoon spots. )

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Jasmine: When I went back to work, we also DIY-ed a miniscule photo album for Dylan, of all his favourite people. Don’t ask me why there’s a disproportionate representation of Dylan’s own face though, heh. Research shows that babies, even newborns, are attracted to human faces more than objects and will stare longer at them, and this was true for our Dilly.

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Andrew: I *think* we’ve written about this previously, but Dylan also enjoys this electronic book about nursery rhymes which is a combination of light and sound. That book used to be the miracle cure to stop him from crying and would keep him occupied endlessly. He has moved on now to new books, but we are always very cautious when we let him ‘play’ with paper-books, because the same tendency to rip tissue paper out of the box applies here too. He has taken apart one of our books and the Rhyme Bible which we read to him every night has also been torn. We wanted to teach him the value of books by taping back the torn books, but haven’t gotten down to doing it.

Super-easy: Treasure baskets and peekaboo boxes

Jasmine: This is one Montessori idea that has become a permanent fixture in our home. The philosophy behind the treasure basket is that it is a "collection" of textures and colors for babies to explore. These can be objects with no relation, or objects with a similar theme e.g. different kinds of fabric or music-makers), so that babies can learn to discriminate among them, which is a key way of making sense of their world.

We bought a picnic basket for Dylan from Bali (because the flip top provides added fun for the baby to open up and look into) and filled it with 3-4 objects, so as not to overwhelm baby’s senses. I will rotate one object out every week so there is something new for him to explore.

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Now that Dylan is older and is eager for more stimulation, I have three treasure baskets for him in his play area, one for fabric and dress up (extreme right), one for noise-making objects and "un-toys" e.g. wooden spoon/ egg whisk (middle), and one for his beloved books (left). I was also looking left and right for a missing toy when to my surprise, I discovered that Dylan had also placed the velcro fabric sandwich from his new picnic set from Auntie Ruth and Uncle Roman inside the fabric basket. Discriminating similar textures already, baby boy?IMG_5267

Jasmine: Another adaptation would be to fill a box with some Polaroids for quick peekaboo fun. We initially tried to include Dylan’s sonogram but took it away for fear that he would decimate the original with copious amounts of his saliva. Perhaps we should revisit this idea as a way to introduce his baby sister to him? Heh.

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Easy: Water play

Jasmine: Water play is a firm favourite with our little one. When Dylan had 39.3 degree fever and was crying nonstop, this bucket of bath toys and a scoop (actually just a small Tupperware) kept him amused for 30 whole minutes. We didn’t mind him splashing it all over himself, as that helped to bring the fever down. We did dry and change him after… I think. Haha.
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Jasmine: Another adaptation with less spillage involved filling a ziploc bag (actually for our nuts and fruits mix) with tikam-tikam and tin foil animals. This was like the DIY version of those fancy splash mats but done at no cost. Dylan liked patting it to make the animals "move" but the water play in  a bucket sustained his attention far longer. This would also be just the right size for a high chair tray, to keep him engaged until his food arrives.

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Jasmine: Instead of going to costly baby spas, my cousin Steffy purchased an inflatable pool for baby Agnes and invited us over to use it. The difference between the pool and our normal baby bathtub is that the former is much deeper, and can comfortably seat an adult AND a baby. I didn’t bring any swimwear, so we put Dilly in the neck float (included with Steffy’s pool) and he was very happy floating about… until a spurt of water from the shower hose hit him square in the forehead. Oops.

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Andrew: I personally can’t wait to bring him to actual swimming pools because I love swimming a lot. Hope my little boy will also enjoy swimming just as much as I did. 🙂

Easy-peasy: Sensory bottles and bins

Jasmine: Another really quick-to-assemble idea, which is also useful for allowing baby to safely explore bits and bobs that are too small for him and pose choking hazards otherwise, is to put them in sensory bottles! I was seriously inspired by wonderful sensory bottle collections with glitter, oil and soap, but only had the energy to assemble one with rice and markers. The rice grains move to reveal the markers underneath, to help Dylan learn cause and effect. He also liked rolling it like a rolling pin.

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And here’s another one with furry pipe-cleaners. Taking a leaf from Reggio principles, I’ve added an Ikea acrylic mirror under for another perspective. photo

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Jasmine: Dylan also relished getting his hands on flour. He eventually wound up sitting IN the flour. Perhaps we should have done the water play after this and made him into a meat bun 😀

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Jasmine: Involving slightly more work, I brought home some shredded paper from my office and filled a large box with it, and hid some of his penguins and a Manhattan Skwish (that’s the molecule-looking toy) in it. We were initially worried that the paper might cause paper cuts, but Dylan not only emerged unscathed but came away with his penguins.

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Jasmine: When we were packing our bags for Shanghai, Dylan turned our big luggage into his own sensory box. Perhaps he has absorbed some of my Montessori spiels and deduced that there were lots of furry and woollen textures for him to explore…

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Jasmine: I also told my mum about how ball pools are wonderful sensory play for babies, calming them while stimulating them at the same time. The next time we visited granny’s house, granny bought a whole bag of balls and filled her baby bathtub with it. This ball pool still comes out everytime Dylan visits and he loves it.  Can also be used as a boat.

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Easy: Pillow path

Jasmine: This is great for teaching babies about balance. We made a pillow path from cushions and a mattress, for Dylan to climb on.

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The prize for reaching the finish line e.g. the end of the mattress was Walter the inflatable bunny.wpid-IMG-20140322-WA0027.jpg

Yes, Dylan enjoyed bunny boxing just as much as he enjoyed the pillow path.

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Easy: Baby in a band

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Jasmine: now, in case you are wondering why this is only rated "easy", it’s because it’s extremely foolproof to put together but not as easy on the parents’ ears. The picture above is of Dyl banging to his heart’s content on a “drum set” consisting of a plastic bottle, milk tin and lollipop drum. What alot of noise one little fella can make!

Dyl also likes banging on pianos, whether it’s an adult-sized one or a baby-sized one.

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Elaborate: Baby Zoo

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Andrew: Okay, so this is a bit more intensive and was a brainwave that just came to me one evening when I was so bored of all the above toys (Jasmine: ahem, what did you just say??) and wanted to find a way to occupy one hour with Dillie. What I did was that I placed several of his ‘animal’ soft-toys in various locations around the house and then put him on the bike which my mum bought, and wheeled him around to explore his own zoo. I pretend to be the ‘tour guide’ as well, explaining to him the various animals along the way, like the penguin family with mummy penguin and two babies as well as the sleeping sun bear 🙂 It turned out surprisingly well and he even started ‘interacting’ with the exhibits – reaching his hands into the penguin enclosure to grab the penguins.

Jasmine: It’s been lots of fun just writing this entry and having all the good memories come back. Above all, I’m glad our little Dylan is usually such a happy baby and easy to please 🙂

Finding Joy in the Everyday

Andrew: Beyond the fun activities of playgyms, toys and outings, taking care of a kid also involves a lot of routine, everyday activities that take up a significant amount of time, more so than the fun stuff. These include simple things like feeding a baby, bathing a baby and putting them to sleep. At times, this can be a drag, especially if you’ve come back after a long day/week of work and just want to rest during the weekend. Nonetheless, there are ways in which these daily activities can also become a meaningful time of baby-parent bonding.

Meal times

Andrew: For us adults, joy during mealtime is about eating our favourite foods or having quality bonding with the family. For babies, meal time is actually a time where you can observe your child’s skill acquisition and watch him grow day by day. As believers of baby-led weaning, we usually provide time for Dylan to engage in some time of feeding himself – this will be the ‘appetizer’ section of his meal where he eats his finger food on his own. This can range from sweet potato sticks to corn (his utmost favourite!) and potato croquettes with cheese and/or salmon filling. It’s fun to watch him nibble on these food items and take them apart, much like an adult.

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Granny has lots of fun exploring new recipes too to nourish him and help him grow well. 🙂 This time of feeding himself is also when Jas and I can engage in conversation, while he enjoys his food. We firmly believe that babies should be an integral part of meal-time, meaning he should be eating while we eat and not be engaged in other activities. (Jasmine: No iPads or TV dinners!)

Andrew: We also try to cultivate in him the habit of him feeding himself his ‘main course’, i.e. we’ll pass him the spoon and let him put it in his mouth.

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However, he’s been a bit too busy lately during meal time, with one (or sometimes even two) hands holding finger food, hence we’ve also started feeding him the porridge. Besides learning to feed himself, we’ve realised lately that Baby’s pincer grasp has improved – he is able to pick up very small, slippery pieces of carrot or potato and put them in his mouth! This is quite amazing and sometimes he enjoys doing that, even more than being fed. There are cute times when he will take the food and either show it to us or pass it to us!

Jasmine: Yes, sometimes when we are too engrossed in conversation, Dylan will suddenly lay his head on the table and smile, as if to say, “Why are you ignoring me?” Picking up carrot cubes has also become his favourite activity as of late. One time my mum asked Dilly if she could have a carrot, and he reached into the pocket of his bib, picked one up and gave it to her!

Andrew: Of course, not all’s good and dandy and with any baby, there’s always a huge element of unpredictability. There are days too where he just has no appetite or ends up mashing his food or spitting it out. On those days, sometimes we find that the only way is to let him treat his food as another toy, for textural play. When he seems to have eaten his fill, we’ll place the remaining porridge in front of him and he’ll just dip his hands in the porridge, smear them all over (his face, included) and often throw some bits on the floor. It drives the control freak in me crazy, but at least he’s having fun.

Bath Time

Andrew: Dylan has lots of fun bathing – this is probably one of his most enjoyable times of the day. It was initially quite challenging for me to bathe him when he was a newborn and I recall I used to have such great fears of him slipping off my hands and into the water or the soap getting into his eyes. There were moments too when he fell out of my grip and started bawling, but I think I’ve grown more confident when it comes to bathing him.

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He giggles uncontrollably when we sang ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ to him during his bath time or even when we just went ‘Pop’ – he would start laughing. Now that he is more ‘mobile’ – he would sometimes even stand up and reach around him to explore the area. There are times when he would even cry as when taken out of his bath. Every time he is taken out of the bath, he would be in an extremely good mood and have the widest, sweetest smile when he sees us and then starts waving his hands energetically.

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Jasmine: Don’t get me started on bath toys. He can stay in the bath forever with a toy on hand. Heck, even a face towel or Mustela soap bottle can keep him endlessly entertained.

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We bought this for fun, it’s supposed to keep the water out of babies’ eyes… Plus it looks silly so it’s good for a photo and a laugh.

Sleep Time

Andrew: Putting baby to sleep can be one of the most challenging parts of parenthood and I recall there were nights when he just wouldn’t sleep or kept waking up every few minutes. However, that great sense of joy, or dare I say, victory that I feel every time I successfully put him to sleep still never fails to fade away. There’s this great sense of satisfaction that you’ve been able to coax your own child well enough to bring him to a state of peaceful rest – for both him and yourself.

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One other part of sleep that Dearie and I enjoy very much now is our bedtime routine for him, which we’ve come to realise is extremely essential. We only put it it in place a few months ago when we realised he was having quite bad sleep regression and kept waking up extremely often through the night. We realised then that we needed to put in place a routine that would allow him to realise it’s time to sleep.

Jasmine: Yep, Dyl used to wake up 4-5 times a night but since implementing the bedtime routine, he only wakes up 1-2 times a night, and recently once a night only. They say babies thrive on structure and it’s true!

Andrew: We’ve put in place a 4 step routine now that’s both meaningful and enjoyable for both Dylan and us:

1. Milk Feed: We’ll usually dim the lights and allow him to hold on to his penguin or the bottle cap while drinking his milk.

2. Reading of Bible Story: The Rhyme Bible has really been a godsend here for us. We’ll read him a Bible story after his milk and try our best to ensure that his eyes are focused on the book, or at least that he’s not climbing all around while we read to him. This is our attempt to enforce some kind of discipline in him, for a time of family devotion.

3. Prayer time: After the Bible story, we’ll pray for him, on pointers related to the Bible story, and for his health too. Following that, we’ll get him to lay hands on his unborn sister (heh) and of course mummy and pray for them. The laying hands on his sister hasn’t been too successful honestly and often we just plonk him there or drag his hand to place it on Mummy. He’ll squirm, but at least, his hands are there.

4. Family Hug: This is the sweetest moment of the night, where mummy will hold him and then we’ll smother him with kisses and hugs. He enjoys it too and often squeals in joy or smiles. We want him to know how loved he is.

Andrew: As he grows up, we hope this will develop into a form of bed time family devotion time, where we progress from reading Bible stories to perhaps a short passage from the Bible, so that we end off the night together as a family, spending time with God.

This routine has been in place for quite a while already and we’re enjoying it lots.

IMG_4446 His favourite penguin always accompanies him during sleep

Jasmine: From birth, we have also have been doing other things like turning on white noise and drawing the blinds to help Dylan start differentiating between day (play) and night (sleep), and he can always count on his penguin too. Hopefully these have created enough sleep associations for him to sleep well through the night.

We also considered sleep training when he was waking up incessantly, but we never had the heart to carry it out when he was crying for us in his crib. With all these sleep associations, we don’t need to “retrain” him to sleep after an illness or teething spurt. He just goes back to his normal sleeping schedule when he’s ready and recovered. My baby doesn’t know but I check on him a couple times at night too, stroke his back, cover him with a muslin cloth if it’s cold and whisper that I love him.

Our Family Play Date @ Blue House

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Jasmine: So, we’re always on the lookout for baby-friendly activities, and my cousin Steffy recommended the Infant & Toddler Atelier, saying that I would love it.

As a working mum, it’s quite hard for me to bring Dilly to playgroups and mummy meetups as most take place in the morning or afternoon, but a glance at the Atelier’s Facebook pictures validated Steffy’s opinion so I took her up on her offer when a free-er afternoon rolled around.

Verdict: Dylan and I liked it so much that we brought Daddy back with us the second time round (so he could pay for a drop-in package haha)!

For a comparison of the Reggio Emilia and Montessori philosophies, click here.

Andrew: I was so inspired when I saw photos of Dylan’s first visit there with Agnes that I really wanted to find time to bring him there too. When I went there, they had this set of ‘rules’ for parents there, which were more like tips on how to make the most of this experience. (Jasmine: OH. I didn’t even know that. All I thought of was PHOTO TIME.) The one I remembered was just to let your kids play without interfering, allowing them to explore on their own. Liked that part the most because we didn’t really have to worry about him wandering off into ‘dangerous’ corners – the whole place was so baby-friendly that we could just let him crawl around and play. The problem was that he was a little clingy during our second visit and didn’t venture too far from us.

Jasmine: Dylan’s first stop was the light table. The light tables were brought in from Italy, and are great for exploring colour, translucency and shape. I’ve also seen light tables used elsewhere for painting and sand art, which I’d love to try with Dilly someday when I get/ make my own light table! *hints Andrew for budget*

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Jasmine: This time, I sat Dilly on the table itself so he could reach the other higher tables which had different coloured lights. The Blue House had also switched out some of the manipulatives from the previous time around, so Dilly got to play with new ones.

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Jasmine: A similar area was the one with a visualiser, to give kids a different perspective of their surroundings. When I came the last time, the visualiser was pointed at some blocks so the child could see the movement of the blocks, projected in real time.

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Andrew: I thought this was a genius play area. Dylan is always attracted to screens, so he liked it, plus it isn’t a screen which is harmful to his eyes (like iPad or TV). Frankly, I enjoyed it a lot too -  seeing ourselves in the ‘big screen’.

Jasmine: Next up, the make-believe areas!

This area, simulating a home, was one of Dilly’s favourite places the last time, and it proved to be a hit again. Yes, much clanging was produced, but to my surprise, Dyl did something he couldn’t do the previous time- place the lid squarely atop the pot.

I also like the Reggio Emilia idea of “interrupting” play with an unexpected object. Instead of equipping this “kitchen” with exact replicas of food, cardboard discs and cardboard tubes were put in, to free up the child’s imagination instead of limiting it to “this is a piece of bread” or “this is a hotdog”.

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Jasmine: And a cool mirrored tent next to the kitchen area!tentpic

Jasmine: The same idea of “interrupted play” was present in the traffic area.

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Jasmine: While this Ikea mat is a staple in most playgyms, Blue House paired it with wooden cars, unfinished wooden blocks, a “ramp” for cars made from half a cardboard tube and a tunnel/ bridge that used to be half a tire. Nice combination of textures!

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The sorting station

Jasmine: Another big thing Blue House had going on was the infusion of recycled materials. This homemade sorting station included a box with holes punched out for babies to drop balls into, and an egg carton which babies could use to sort different-coloured bottle caps.

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Jasmine: Another clever idea was to cover a tin with textured paper and punch holes of different sizes in the lid for poking straws into. I’m totally borrowing this idea!IMG_5238

Reading nooks

Jasmine: Dyl already loves to “hide” himself in a corner of our dining room and have us “find” him, so these reading nooks were natural extensions of that.

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Andrew: There was also a bag of musical instruments, which Dylan got quite occupied playing with – until he started putting them into his mouth and gnawing on them like a chicken drumstick and we had to relegate the toy to the box of ‘things for washing’. 🙂 Glad to know they keep up a good standard of hygiene here as I’m sure quite a number of kids gnaw on the toys.

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“Exercise areas”

Jasmine: By far, the big winner of today was the Yakult pit. The recycled version of the standard ball pit, Dylan was happy not just playing in there, but moving the bottles up to the mirrored surface for more play, and putting them into and taking them out of a nearby basket on a coil.

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Andrew: Am amazed that it’s so simple to create a fun playing area for him. Am now exploring how we can create a similar area in our own home for him! Too bad Jas no longer drinks Yakult – which I recall used to be her staple when we first married – oh, how our diets have changed. 🙂

Jasmine: Oh, but we did something clever, which was to tell my mum about it, and the doting grandmother immediately responded that she already had 10 Vitagen bottles and would start building up her collection. Haha, granny love!

In addition, mirrors are used strategically in Reggio Emilia to enhance inquiry and construction of self-image. Mirrors are placed under the work surface or in front of it, so the child can see what is under the materials or see himself at work, lending another perspective to the task at hand.

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Jasmine: Also love how odd objects (CDs, keys, twigs) are suspended overhead for another dimension for exploration.

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Other random pics of fun:

IMG_5252 Dilly “climbing steps”IMG_5253IMG_5254Sensory bottle exploration IMG_5255          A wavy foam play area (Dylan also enjoyed the sensory rubber balls, so I’m trying to get my hands on one to “interrupt” his normal ball pool play)

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Jasmine: In conclusion, this was what we liked about Blue House:

  • Creative use of natural and recycled materials, allowing for open-ended imaginative play
  • Strategic use of mirrors to enhance inquiry
  • Combination of hard and soft play surfaces (unlike other playgyms where everything is cushioned and padded)
  • Lots of natural light and space
  • Stylishly color-coordinated, proving that childrens’ spaces can be beautiful and stimulating, while the soothing gender-neutral tones allow children to focus on their explorations (unlike the garish primary colours that dominate playgyms)
  • Diaper change station and toilets within the Atelier itself
  • 5 min walk from Pasarbella (not exactly related but thought foodies might like to know)
  • That amazing light table

Fun but Useful Baby Shower Gifts

Jasmine: So, being abit of a shopaholic, I have branched out into a sub-category of shopping that I never knew existed prior to my becoming a mum- baby products!

We have written a previous post on Dylan’s favourite toys, which focuses on presents for the baby’s entertainment and development. However, this post serves as a curation of my favourite buys to make the parents’ lives easier in those early months, so hopefully this will come in handy if you are looking for unusual but practical gifts for a baby shower or full month (instead of the usual vouchers and diapers- which I still love receiving haha). [Andrew: I still believe that vouchers are THE BEST gifts. :)]

In ascending age order e.g. from 0 months up, we have…

1. Hooded towel apron

wpid-IMG-20140318-WA0007.jpgJasmine: This is not your usual hooded towel but a supersize version which snaps around your neck and back like an apron.

wpid-IMG-20140318-WA0006.jpgWhen Dylan was a newborn, this was useful because I didn’t have to worry about holding on to the towel while trying to keep a slippery newborn above water, as I could just fasten it around my neck. Now that Dylan is older and loves to play in the water, the towel makes an effective splash guard protecting my clothes from getting wet. As the towel is laid out diagonally, it is roomier than other adult-size towels even. I also like that I can just hug him to myself and pop the hood on instead of figuring out how to wrap him up. Comes in several colours, including your usual cream, pink and blue, at Kiddy Palace.

andrewhoodedAndrew: Even daddy gets to use it! This was particularly useful when we were at Bali and we had to walk down a flight of stairs to bring him to to the bathroom.

2. Pacifier clip

wpid-20140222_200108.jpgJasmine: Easily the most convenient and cheapest thing we have bought. Sometimes we are not fast enough to catch the pacifier when Dyl spits it out, which may end up on the floor and in need of a sterilisation. This clip PREVENTS that. Also useful for hooking toys and other things on him.

The paci clip also has a “sister” which is a two-sided clip that you can clip a paper napkin onto and TADAA, instant disposable bib!

Andrew: This clip is also handy for attaching other lighter things to him, like his teething toy. Sometimes Dillie ends up treating this clip as a toy and gnaws non-stop at it – we’ve had to buy a new one because the strap of the first one just became so damp  with his saliva.

3. Comotomo silicone teether

Jasmine: You know how babies love eating their hands? We got this when Dyl was teething. It’s shaped like their chubby little fingers, with a different ridged texture at the tip of each. Dyl loved it when we first got it, and he would gnaw on it for up to half an hour before losing interest.

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Nowadays though, I’ve since discovered how to make a FREE teether: put two ice-cubes in a plastic bag and knot it tightly. The cold helps numb some of the teething pain. Also good for abit of spill-free water play when the ice melts at the end.

4. Comotomo bottle

comotomoJasmine: Okay, milk bottles are a really personal choice, so I wouldn’t recommend getting this unless you know the parents very well. For me, this was the perfect transition bottle allowing Dyl to switch between bottlefeeding when I was at work and breastfeeding when I was at home. Of course, quite a few other bottles which claim to support breastfeeding (here’s looking at you Medela) but the shape of the bottle is nothing like mum’s breast. The Medela one we had had a LONG (like jutting out by 2cm) teat and narrow base.  No offense, but no wonder Dylan had nipple confusion when he tried the Medela teat- which was also too fast for him. I mean, which woman’s nipple looks like that?!

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In contrast, this Comotomo bottle is shaped like a breast and encourages the correct type of sucking action. Because the sides are made of soft, flexible silicone rather than the usual hard plastic, you can even squeeze the sides to mimic a letdown.

Have a good laugh at how it looks- but then get one if your friend is planning to mix bottle and breastfeeds.

5. Full body bib

wpid-IMG-20140223-WA0010.jpgJasmine: Another thing we cannot live without, especially when we are eating out. Forge those pretty but tiny cloth bibs, which are only good for catching drool, this big guy is the real deal. Not only does it have long sleeves and a crumb-catching pocket, it also is made of light nylon material and is open at the back, meaning that baby won’t get overheated by the extra layer. This has saved Dylan’s clothes from everything from bread crumbs to mashed potato to porridge.

Ikea used to sell them (pic below) but they are no longer produced it seems; we got ours from a baby mall in Shanghai and it comes out with us every time. I imagine that it wouldn’t be too difficult to fashion from an old umbrella, heh!

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Andrew: Another good thing about this bib is that it is easily wiped down after a meal, which gives it an edge over cloth bibs that become soaked if your baby drips his soup or porridge over it (which happens like almost all the time). Plastic bibs are easy to wipe down, but not as compact/foldable or easy to pack as this full body bib. Furthermore, this ‘bib’ can’t be easily moved by baby – Dillie often likes to grip on his plastic duck bib and shift it away/around when it gets too uncomfortable.

Jasmine: When all else fails, put baby in a box 🙂

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6. Tinylove Supermat

Jasmine: If you are planning to splurge (by which I mean over $70), this would be it. If your friend is an active outdoorsy type, this is ideal. Large enough for a baby who is just beginning to roll or crawl, and even large enough to accommodate two, we lug this Supermat with us to cell group weekly, as it forms a clean play area for Dylan while the rest of our cell members sit around him on the ground of the void deck. It washes well and the colors still look as bright as the day it first arrived, though I probably don’t wash it as often as I should, heh.

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The Supermat is different from a playgym in that it has no aerial component or arches with toys, and is twice as big, probably ‘coz it was designed for older babies who had outgrown the playgym and were starting to gain mobility. It’s colorful and has plenty of built-in activities on the mat to entertain him, but the most useful thing is that it comes with a sturdy little hoop so I can hook a soft book or toy on it and change it out when he gets bored, without fear that it will fall off or get lost. The patchwork pattern has proven popular with our friends/ cousins’ older kids, even those up to 6 yrs of age! I have seen little boys use the mat as “homebase” while they play catching, and little girls play hopscotch or use it as a picnic mat while they spread their own toys all over it. Quite amazing how much creativity the kids display when playing on the mat!

The best part is that it’s not available in Singapore – so extra points for cool factor and buying a present no-one else thought of- and it retails on Amazon for cheaper than anywhere else on the web. There. That was my community service act for the day 🙂

Andrew: When Dylan was younger, he used to love the mirror and the little ‘leaf’ on the mat, which he would use as a teething toy. Now, he just crawls back and forth on it – it’s harder to get him to stay on the mat lately. We’ve brought this mat with us overseas – to Bali and Shanghai and it’s always served as a useful play area for Dylan. What’s good about this mat is that it also serves as a ‘zone of comfort’ for him, which can be useful to counter his anxiety when at a new place.

Savour 2014

Andrew: Felt a little dissatisfied mentioning Savour in just a short paragraph in the baby-dining post, so I thought we’d dedicate a post to what we did manage to try there. We were there for a much shorter time than in 2012, but nonetheless, it was still a fun experience.

I must say going in the evening is definitely much more pleasant than going for lunch, though the price is significantly higher too. The location this year was much better too, at Marina Bay Promontory – much more breezy and the area was smaller, making it easier to walk round, buy food and come back to your table. As we only had about 1+hrs, we focused mainly on trying the international chefs.

Christopher Paucod (1 Michelin Star Chef for Lugdunum Bouchon Lyonnais in Japan)

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Tatin de Boudin Noir aux pommes
House made blood pork sausage with apples, Tatin’s tart style

Andrew: Bought these 3 dishes as part of a set – as you’d get the third free if you buy two. This blood sausage was the one we were initially very dubious about, but ended up being the best of the three. Rich and robust flavour of the blood sausage was nicely balanced by the sweetness of the apples and the sauce. Loved it so much!

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Eclair d’escargots, fondue de tomate, beurre ail & persil: Snails “Eclair Style” served with tomato, persil & garlic

Andrew: I was actually drawn to the store by this dish, but as it turned out, it wasn’t that great taste-wise. Somehow the eclair pastry muted the flavours of the escargot and I similarly thought the sauce mix was too overpowering.

Jasmine: The eclair texture was just right, but that’s about all I can say. Pleasant but otherwise forgettable.image

Cervelle des canuts et sa baguette de campagne
Whipped fresh cheese with chives, garlic & parsley served with fresh baguette

Andrew: This was nice! And of course we were glad that there was bread for Dylan (which you see him chewing on in the earlier post). The dip went well with the texture of the baguette and chives, garlic & parsley are always a sure-win strategy for me.

Jasmine: This was my favourite of the three, although the blood sausage was surprisingly good. The chilled cheese with fresh herbs was perfect for a summery day.

MICHAEL CAINES (Gidleigh Park, UK, 2 Michelin Stars)

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Braised Beef Cheek: Potato and horseradish potato puree, shallots confit, roasted shallot and red wine sauce

Andrew: Beef was tender and the puree was smooth and tasty. A dish well-prepared, but not outstanding. 

EZIO GRITTI (I’Osteria via Solata, Italy, 1 Michelin Star) and MARK BEST (Marque, Australia)

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White Chocolate Mousse with Watermelon and Ginger Sauce (front) & Sauternes Custard

Andrew: The white choc mousse was amazing – both texture and taste-wise. Such unique flavours and the mousse just melted in your mouth!

Jasmine: Yes, although the service staff told us that their signature was the Sauternes custard, I far preferred the white chocolate mousse. It was perfectly whipped and airy, and the sweetness of the watermelon (almost like a light jam) was counterpointed nicely by the sprinkling of ginger flavour. Couldn’t get enough of it!

Andrew: Couldn’t appreciate the Sauternes custard though – perhaps it’s just my lack of appreciation for alcoholic desserts, but it tasted to me like cough medicine – and Dearie concurred after I told her that.  Apparently in the original restaurant in Marquee, the Sauternes custard is served in an egg shell (not sure how that would affect the taste) and it’s supposed to be a sophisticated ‘series of tastes’ – from bitter flavour initially, to alcoholic taste and then the intense sweetness. Didn’t quite work for me!

All in all, it was still a fantastic experience and a genius idea. I would definitely come back again next year if we can and make sure we do some research before and spend more time queuing up for the various dishes.

Baby-Friendly Dining

Andrew: Before we got married and had Dylan, this blog used to be almost 70% about the restaurants we visited while dating. Well, obviously restaurant-hopping was greatly limited when Dylan was breast-feeding, but now that he’s started eating more solids, we’ve started exploring again!

Jasmine: Dylan had his first taste of solids (steamed carrot) when he was six months old, and since then it’s been a lot of fun offering him a variety of table foods and cooking for him too! It has also made bringing him out easier- previously he would have to be held while he vainly snatched at food that we had to push out of his reach. Now, he can be part of mealtimes and feed himself while we eat and maybe have a civilised conversation too. This baby has tried quite a few cuisines, from Japanese to Western to Italian!

Andrew and Jasmine: Some of our guidelines for baby-friendliness include:

  1. Availability of High Chairs: High chairs are a given. The Ikea ones are the best at this stage as that is what we use at home. The wooden ones are meant for bigger kids and Dyl wriggles, stands and even turns around backwards in them. Helps when the restaurant is more spacious too, cos it means that people won’t keep bumping into him.
  2. Menu: menu is baby-friendly, healthy, nutritious and allows Dyl to feed himself (so that we can eat too!)
  3. Facilities: Proximity to washroom, and baby room. Most disastrous case was when we went to this Lebanese restaurant at Greenwood which had a miniscule toilet and I had no choice but to change him WHILE CARRYING HIM. Nonetheless he was still uncomfy and kept squirming and bawling – that was a workout on its own.
  4. Staff: This is where Bali really stood out and we haven’t found such standards here. In one restaurant there, they didn’t have high chairs and the waitresses set up a comfortable area for him by putting 2 chairs and many cushions together. They even took turns to carry him while we were having dinner.
  5. Play Facilities: attached playroom or garden scores MAJOR BONUS POINTS

Here are some places we’ve brought Dillie too lately (meaning the past few months) and our thoughts on their baby-friendliness:

Spruce

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Andrew: Service was really good here and the waiter offered to prepare some complimentary toast specially for him when they usually charge for the bread basket. Dylan enjoyed the little mini-burgers for him too. 🙂 It was quite special bringing him here, because we still had memories of celebrating one of our Valentines’ Day here.

Basilico

Andrew: We really enjoyed ourselves here. However, the high chair was too big for Dillie and he kept wanting to climb out of it.

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Jasmine: I was super excited about this restaurant as many bloggers had raved about it being the best Italian buffet in town, and it was! Aromatic truffle risotto, best selection of parma ams and cheeses at ANY buffet I’ve been to. However, we had not factored in the too-big high chair, which meant that Dyl always had to be closely supervised instead of left to eat on his own. However, he seemed to like the spread we prepared for him (plucked from the buffet), which included carrots, oven-roasted potatoes and cheddar and parmesan.

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La Nonna

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Jasmine: This is one of our favourite hole-in-the-wall type restaurants, with some excellent Italian pasta here. I have been here several times over the last few years and have yet to be disappointed. Dilly enjoyed it too, and spent forever gnawing on a baguette with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), while turning around backwards to smile at the girl at the next table. Pfft.

Cafe Melba

Andrew: Dillie was at a phase where he kept wanting to stand, so this was quite tough as he kept wanting to break free from the chair.

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Our dear boy standing tall and proud

Nonetheless, the bread kept him really occupied and there was fantastic mashed potato which he loved and so did Mummy and Daddy. It’s always great when we can all share food as a family. Downside was the restaurant was a little squeezy and also tables were quite full of stuff, so we had to keep stopping him from reaching out for stuff.

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Jasmine: Yes, Dilly also got to try my dark rye bread with cheddar. He eats a lot of bread at restaurants coz it’s easily available, he loves the taste and range of textures especially when topped with cheese or EVOO and can spend forever masticating just one slice = more eating time for me. Outside of restaurants, we rarely give him bread as it’s processed, but inside restaurants, it’s a lifesaver. Everything in moderation 🙂

DB Bistro Moderne

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Andrew: We saw quite a lot of kids and babies in this restaurant. Menu was kid-friendly – burgers and fries, but not exactly baby-friendly. Nonetheless, anywhere with bread is a winner for our dear Dillie. High chair was good too! Big minus points though as the baby room was almost 10 minutes walk away and the worst part was I brought him there only to realise he hadn’t pooped!

Jasmine: Actually, there was a bathroom inside the restaurant, dear. Here’s a pic of their signature burger with foie gras in the centre!

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Japanese Restaurants

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Jasmine: I love bringing Dyl to Japanese restaurants as there is a fairly healthy range of textures and tastes. We have been to Sun with Moon, Tampopo Grand, Sushi Tei and MOF. Dyl loves cucumber sushi (yes, he eats the seaweed too), chawanmushi and green tea soba.

Savour 2014

20140309_173754Jasmine: We didn’t get to go to Savour 2013 as I was in confinement then, so when we had a couple free hours that weekend between family commitments this year, we decided to go on a whim! Savour is essentially an outdoor dining carnival consisting of a gourmet village “inhabited” by different celebrity and Michelin-starred chefs from around the world, selling their signature items at fast food prices.

Andrew: Obviously this would score low on baby-friendliness index – no high chair, menu completely not for babies, and very crowded!

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For this case, it’s more of us adapting to ensure he doesn’t fuss too much by bringing a banana to entertain him (while we eat food from 1-Michelin star restaurants!) and bringing his bike instead of a stroller, because of space constraints.

Jasmine: Well, we enjoyed the gourmet experience and Dilly enjoyed the breezy stroll by Marina Bay.

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I wanted to let Dyl try some of the dishes (ok, just the duck breast and pork belly) but Andrew, being the more cautious parent, vetoed it, so Dyl had to settle for banana. Heh.

Andrew: Well, in conclusion, while there are certain factors that make some restaurants more baby-friendly, it’s also how you adapt to the circumstances and ensure that your child is sufficiently entertained throughout.