Seafood high tea at The Westin Singapore

My mum was the one who suggested this high tea at the lobby lounge of the Westin hotel in Singapore’s financial district. I hadn’t even known that the Westin had a new hotel and that it was located in the CBD! There was quite a bit of construction around the hotel and to be honest walking around the financial district is always confusing for me – the tall buildings all kind of look the same and the GPS doesn’t work accurately because of said tall buildings.

But I finally found it.

The lobby lounge is on the 32nd floor and has a view of the port and part of Sentosa.

This is the first course. Each person gets a plate of assorted seafood bites including mussels, prawns, seared tuna and more. I quite liked the lobster and mushroom torchon, the addition of the chili on the seared tuna, and that poached prawn open-faced sandwich. The mussels, with the fruity dressing, was a bit sweet for me.

The top tier held crab sandwiches on pumpernickel bread – we got two each.

A closer look at the plate.

I loved how the soy sauce was in a pipette

Second course was lobster thermidor and an oyster each. The oysters came with three dressings – champagne, lychee bourbon and lime, shallot vinaigrette. To be honest, I prefer eating my oysters as is, with just a squeeze of lemon, but I tasted each dressing and though that the lychee one was quite fun.

And finally dessert.

There was pistachio and cherry cheesecake (I’m not a fan of cheesecake and this one didn’t change my mind about that).

There was a yummy mango and lime tart

From a different angle. The whipped cream was meant to be eaten with the chocolate chip cookies and I must say that those cookies were divine!

The little cups hold tiramisu which were really delicious and full of coffee flavour.

I’m not usually a fan of chocolate-dipped strawberries (or white chocolate) but I must say that these strawberries dipped in white chocolate and lemon were quite refreshing because of that very zesty lemon dip!

For all three of us, we barely touched the Truffle Cupcake. It was a very strange taste. Every part of the cupcake, from white chocolate shard, to the frosting, to the cupcake batter itself was infused with truffle. I believe this is the first time I’ve had a truffle-flavored dessert. I’ve had truffles on pasta, truffle fries etc, but definitely nothing sweet. And truffle is such an overpowering taste that even the fork I used had a faint truffle-y taste afterwards. Maybe if they had just put truffle in the frosting, it would have been better? I don’t know. I’m not quite sure I would eat a truffle dessert ever again.

Truffle cupcakes aside, this was a lovely high tea at The Westin Singapore. Attentive and pleasant service, a very nice and quiet lobby lounge (sometimes lobby lounges can be very noisy but this whole hotel was quite pleasant and calm), some very delicious savoury moments and nice sweet flavours, this seafood high tea gets the thumbs up from me.

 

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Weekend Cooking: A very light banana cake

I always have bananas in my freezer as I buy bananas from Costco which come in a big bunch of at least 7-8 large bananas, and too often they seem to ripen at about the same time. They seem to go from green to almost yellow-green to yellow with brown spots all too soon. And I am no fan of ripe bananas. So into the freezer they go.

Usually I’m quite happy to make banana bread but somehow during the last round of banana bread I got tired of eating it really quickly. It just felt so heavy and stodgy. I wanted something that was a lot lighter, more of a cake than a bread. And somehow online I came across this cake recipe that read almost like it was heading a little towards a chiffon cake, something that would be light and different, with whipped egg whites and gula melaka (palm sugar). I reckon that if you can’t find palm sugar (usually at Asian supermarkets) you could use brown sugar, maybe with a bit of molasses to add a depth of flavour. I’ve adapted this recipe to include a step I learnt from Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Banana Bread Recipe, adding a sort of banana essence, made from the reduced liquid from thawed bananas. If you are not using frozen bananas, you can microwave your fresh bananas for a few minutes until soft and some liquid is released. It may be an extra step but it really adds such extra banana flavour to your cake!

Light banana cake

150g cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 large bananas – about 250g

(I use frozen bananas. Thaw them, sieve the liquid that inevitably remains, and heat the liquid on the stove, reduce it down to at least half and you get the most banana-y liquid ever. Almost like an essence)

100ml gula melaka syrup

100g vegetable or coconut oil

5 yolks

1/2 salt

5 whites

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

75g caster sugar

Line a 7″ square pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

Mash banana and add oil, egg yolks, salt, gula melaka syrup, mix the ingredients.

Add the baking powder and baking soda to the flour and sift this into the banana mixture and mix until well combined. Do not over-mix. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat the egg white until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar. Continue beating on medium speed while gradually adding the caster sugar. Beat until you get firm peaks.

Gently fold the meringue into the flour mixture in 2 to 3 portions.

Pour into the baking tin. Drop the pan on the counter to get rid of big bubbles.

Place in a water bath and bake for 80 minutes at 350. Cover the top with foil if it is browning too fast.

Cool on a wire rack

Adapted from https://jeannietay.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/banana-gula-melaka-sponge-cake/

Weekend Cooking: How to hotpot

Hotpot has become a family favourite. We don’t really do hotpot that much in Singapore where it is far too hot for hotpot but the cool winters of California are great for it.

So it has become our own little tradition to do hotpot for Chinese New Year Eve (known as reunion dinner or tuanyuanfan 团圆饭) and we do hotpot on Thanksgiving too.

Hotpot is an easy meal for a crowd, provided you have enough utensils and hotpots!

And you preferably need to have access to an Asian supermarket. But if there’s none nearby, you can make do with some other ingredients.

Equipment

We use a portable gas stove and this fun dual hotpot. Those ladles with little holes in them are great for picking out just your ingredients. And we set out regular soup ladles too. Extra long chopsticks are for cooking the meat with.

But here are my typical hotpot ingredients.

Broth

I make two broths in our dual hotpot. One is a vegetable stock made with carrots, celery and whatever else I might have like corn if it’s fresh. And the other is an instant one with dashi powder (or you could make a dashi stock with bonito flakes and konbu) and miso.

Vegetables

I usually buy Napa cabbage and chop that up. Bokchoy would be great too. A more traditional leafy vegetable is tongho but it’s slightly bitter. This year I also added baby spinach that I had in my fridge.

We love the little bunashimeiji (beech mushrooms). There’s also shiitake and king trumpet mushrooms, which are all found at my local Asian supermarket.

Meat

While I do most of the hotpot shopping at the Chinese or Vietnamese supermarkets, we prefer the meat from Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa. It’s a bit of a drive but it’s definitely so much more flavourful and tender. Asian supermarkets usually have thinly sliced meat (beef or pork) for hotpot. But you could always buy a nice piece of meat, freeze it for a bit to firm it up, then slice it really thin yourself.

Seafood

Our favourites are fish tofu, fishballs and cuttlefish balls. They’re springy and fun to eat and cook really quickly. My husband and kids like imitation crabsticks which need just like 30 seconds to warm up in the broth.

Other ingredients may include dumplings, tofu puffs, vermicelli or udon, konyaku, quail eggs and more.

Don’t forget your dipping sauces like peanut sauce, chili sauce or sesame sauce. We also like the Taiwanese shacha sauce which is made from garlic, shallots, chilis, dried shrimp.

Get that gas stove going, the broth boiling, then pick your favourite foods and dunk them in! Happy hotpot-ing.

 

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#WeekendCooking Eating Singapore: Whitegrass at Chijmes

This is the beautifully preserved Chijmes in Singapore. It was formerly the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and used as a Catholic convent and convent quarters for 132 years and later a school for girls. Today it holds many restaurants, cafes and bars, and Whitegrass is one of them.

Whitegrass is a modern Australian restaurant that received its first Michelin Star in 2017. It is chef-owner Sam Aisbett’s first venture. Aisbett formerly worked for

We were seated in this lovely round room, most of the other tables were two-tops, and there was a bigger round table that had five diners.

We began with some light snacks. The little crab was crunchy and so good. A pea tart was refreshing. And those little crackers were topped with this amazingly light shavings of cheese.

Interestingly, it was Chef Aisbett who brought out the dish and explained it to us. He would do that for the first few courses of our meal.

The bread was presented with some lardo (melts in your mouth), unsalted butter and some sea salt flakes

A very tomato-y dish! The teapot is filled with some ‘tomato tea’ which you get to pour over.

And we begin with the first course. And it is such a gorgeous one. The flower on top is made of alternating circles of roasted white beetroot (which are soft) and pickled white beetroot (which are a little crunchy), then in the middle, slices of hamachi. There is more hamachi at the bottom. It was beautiful and bursting with flavour and texture.

Another one not on the menu was this “egg fried rice”. It was the most luxurious ‘fried rice’ ever with such beautiful flavours and that fun texture from the egg white “bubbles” on top.

 

 

I could never imagine that octopus would be like this. I’ve had grilled octopus as well as sashimi octopus and the texture of those tend to be a bit chewy. Here the octopus was poached and it was so soft and gentle. The milk-soaked almonds on top added that much needed crunch as did the few suckers (is that what they’re called?) that seem to have been grilled. A delicate and yet crunchy dish that was really surprising.

My main course was described as Japanese sweetfish. There were three pieces of the fish itself. Very tender but with a great char on the skin. And a whole baby fish deep fried on top. Lovely fresh peas and pea shoots and a gorgeous umami-filled broth. Couldn’t get enough of it!

The husband’s steak came with a chocolate and buah keluak puree. Buah keluak is a strange fruit found in Southeast Asia and found mostly in Peranakan-style cooking. The fruit and seeds itself are poisonous unless prepared properly – it has to be boiled and fermented in ash, usually for more than a month!

There was a choice of two desserts, so naturally we got one each. I volunteered to take the jackfruit and coconut one, although I have never liked jackfruit – the other choice was a chocolate one and I’ve learnt that during a fine dining meal like this one, the chocolate choice tends to be the less exciting one. So this chocoholic a little reluctantly gave up the chocolate choice!

I was surprised by my dessert. It was a coconut meringue under those shards of jackfruit and sugar, and under the meringue was a jackfruit ice cream and a ginger cake. The jackfruit didn’t overwhelm the dish as I was expecting it to be. If all jackfruit were presented like this, I would eat far more of the fruit! Ultimately though, I felt that the dessert was a bit too sweet for me, especially with those sugar coated almonds on top.

 

This was the husband’s dessert, topped with a sherry ice-cream. It was a combination of chocolate, cherries, nougat and hazelnuts. Nice flavour but it felt, well, a safe choice.

 

 

And of course we weren’t done yet! There were still some petit fours. The chocolate-covered things were like Tunnock’s teacakes, except that there was a bit of raspberry inside. But I especially liked the soursop balls. I wasn’t quite sure what they were. They were so light and a little like sorbet, yet not icy at all.

 

 

A fun way to the end the meal. I loved that the fortune cookies were spiced.

What I loved most about this meal was both the very Asian influenced flavors as well as the way the chef was very careful about balancing textures throughout the meal. This was definitely one of the highlights of my visit back to Singapore – and I would have to say, perhaps the best meal I have ever eaten in Singapore. The chef and his team definitely deserved the one Michelin star. The service was excellent – friendly, not stuffy at all. The food was brilliant and so refreshing, and I really was very full at the end. A true delight.

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: Chocolate Strawberry Cake

My older boy turned six on Friday and he had asked for a chocolate strawberry cake.


And the number of recipes online I pored over, trying to find the right recipe. There was this one from Two Peas and their Pod that looked good but didn’t sound quite so right. It was more chocolate than strawberry, I thought. Nothing wrong there but I was looking for a cake with more strawberry frosting. Also the cake layers sounded a bit heavy. I was looking for something far lighter, kind of like a Japanese style or Asian bakery style cake, which usually has sponge-like cake layers.

After quite a few days lost in that Internet search blackhole, I had a sudden thought – last year I had made a pretty good Black Forest cake for the husband’s birthday and the cake layers were easy enough and also nice and light.

 

I returned to the original recipe which was from the blog Natasha’s Kitchen.

Chocolate cake

9 large eggs, room temp
1 cup granulated sugar (I used slightly less than a cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used cake flour, weighing out 120g which is what 1 cup of flour is equivalent to)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder)
4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temp
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used 1 tsp)

Preheat oven to 350F /180C

Beat the eggs with the whisk attachment for 1 min on high. With the mixer on, gradually add the sugar and continue beating on high speed for 8 min. It will be thick and fluffy.
Whisk together 1 cup flour and ½ cup cocoa powder and sift into batter, one-third at a time, folding with a spatula between each addition. Once all flour is in, continue to fold just until no streaks of flour remain, scraping the bottom of the bowl to get any pockets of flour; do not over-mix.
Gently fold in the vanilla essence and butter, folding as you add butter in a steady stream and scraping from the bottom. Fold just until incorporated.

Divide batter equally between two prepared 9 inch cake pans and bake in preheated 350F oven 20-25 minutes. It’s important to put it in the oven as soon as possible as the batter may deflate
Let cool in pans for 10 min then run a thin edged spatula around edges to loosen cake. Transfer to a wire rack and remove parchment backing.

When completely cooled, use a serrated knife to slice the cake into layers.

Strawberry frosting (adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)


I loved this frosting – it uses freeze-dried strawberries (Trader Joe’s always has them, sometimes places like Sprouts do too) and so you don’t have to fuss with fresh strawberries. I had read some comments on other frosting that use fresh strawberries that it can be too watery. So this solves that problem by using freeze-dried strawberries. And yes, they still taste like strawberries. However, I found that the frosting was just too sweet (as a lot of things in the US are for me), so I may reduce the sugar more next time. 

1 cup (10-12g) freeze-dried strawberries

1 cup (235g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

4 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar (when making this again, I will cut down the sugar further. I had reduced it to 400g but I think I may try another 25g-50g less)

3 Tablespoons (45ml) heavy cream (I used about 4 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

salt, to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp salt but I would add more, about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp)

Using a blender or food processor, process the freeze-dried strawberries into a powdery crumb. You should have around 1/2 cup. Set aside. No blender or food processor? Then do what I did and place the strawberries in a ziplock and give them plenty of good whacks with a rolling pin. 

In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, strawberry powder, cream, and vanilla. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Taste. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. (I would recommend more than a pinch – consider at least 1 tsp of salt)

To decorate

This cake was to have four layers. And essentially it was a cake – frosting – sliced fresh strawberries (repeat) kind of cake. Ending with whole strawberries on the top of the cake!

The birthday boy had the biggest smile on his face when he saw the cake. And that made all the hard work worth it!

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: Making bread with the tangzhong method

 

 

What is tangzhong?

Well it is essentially a sort of roux, made by cooking flour and a liquid (either water or milk) until it reaches 65C or 150F. Most cooking blogs and websites that discuss tangzhong point to this 2007 cookbook 65C Bread (65°C湯種麵包) which I think is written by a Taiwanese and popularized this method in Asia. But the thing is, if you have ever eaten bread from Chinese bakeries, you may have noticed that it’s a lot softer than your typical ‘western’ style bread. In Singapore, the few old-school bakeries that are around make a very soft white bread – I’m guessing that the crusts are cut off or something as it is a seriously WHITE bread. So who knows, maybe all this time they’ve been using a tangzhong method or other.

Why bother?

Bread made with the tangzhong is softer, lighter. According to this blog by pastry chef Jennifer Field, the gel (the tangzhong) helps to hold on to water and also prevent some gluten formation, resulting in a softer bread.

My experience

I first tried the tangzhong method early last year, but I think I had added too much of the tanghzhong, resulting in too soft a dough and it was a lot harder to manipulate. Also I was far too ambitious in starting with a hot dog bun recipe, where the dough had to be rolled around the sausages. You can read more about my attempt at Chinese bakery-style hot dog buns here.

I’m not sure what attracted me back to the tangzhong method this year, there must have been a blog post that popped up somewhere, but I ended up on the blog Christine’s Recipes, which quite a few other food bloggers adapt from. This bacon and cheese tangzhong bread in particular caught my eye. But of course I didn’t have the right cheese (I wasn’t going to waste my good Brie on it!) but noticed at the end of the post she mentioned turning it into raisin bread. And in my house, there are always raisins. So that’s what I went for.

When baking I prefer to use my digital weighing machine as it’s far more accurate than scooping cups of flour

Tangzhong ingredients (enough for two loaves)
50g / 1/3 cup bread flour
1 cup milk (can use water or 50/50 water and milk)

350g / 2½ cups bread flour
55g /3tbsp+2tsp caster sugar – I increased it slightly to 4 tsp for my raisin bread
5g /1tsp salt
56g egg (1 large egg)
7g /1tbsp+1tsp milk powder (to increase fragrance, optional) – I did not have milk powder and it tastes fine without
125ml/ ½ cup milk
120g tangzhong (half of the tangzhong you make from above)
5 to 6g /2 tsp instant yeast
30g /3tbsp butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature) – my bread machine has a ‘rest’ period so I cut my butter into small pieces, straight from the fridge and put it in

I also added:
1 tsp vanilla essence
About 1 cup of raisins (soaked in hot water for about 5-10 minutes)

Making the tangzhong is easy enough. I used flour and milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.

You can use a thermometer to reach 65C/150F or do as Christine suggests and check for ‘lines’ that remain as you stir the thickened roux. In the end I did both, once I saw the lines, I checked the temperature. Just right.

Transfer to a small bowl, place clingfilm directly on the tangzhong to stop it from drying up. Cool to room temperature. This tangzhong amount is good for two loaves of bread, and can be kept wrapped in the fridge for a few days. But if it starts to change colour, toss it.

To make the bread dough:
I used a bread machine on its regular dough setting – it’s a lot more convenient, and also the recipe warns that it can be quite messy (which I guess means sticky?). If you don’t have a bread machine or mixer, please refer back to Christine’s Recipes for more details.

Because I was using a bread machine with a separate yeast container on its lid, I added in all the dry and then wet ingredients, and the yeast in the container, then let it run. The machine goes through a couple of rise cycles as well as the kneading.

When finished, remove the dough from the machine, place onto a clean floured surface or nonstick mat, cut into four pieces, shape each piece roughly into a ball, cover loosely with cling wrap and let rest for 15 minutes (see below for step-by-step photos)

Using a rolling pin, roll each ball out into a rough oval shape. Scatter the raisins evenly on the oval. Starting from one end, roll the dough into a kind of Swiss roll. Then use the rolling pin to roll it out into a rough oval shape again. And then starting from one end, roll the dough up into a kind of Swiss roll.

Place each roll side by side into the loaf tin. Mine is a silicon loaf tin but you should grease yours if it isn’t.

Let the dough proof again for about 40 minutes.

If you would like it to have that shiny surface, brush some egg wash or milk over the the surface. I only did this for my first loaf and forgot about it for the others. No problem there.

Bake in a pre-heated 180C/350F oven for 35 to 40 minutes. If you’ve never baked bread before, sometimes it’s easier to check the doneness of bread with a thermometer. Breads are done at about 190F/87C. Try to angle your thermometer towards the centre of the loaf – you can do it near one of the folds or from the bottom.

Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

(adapted from Christine’s Recipes)

 

I also attempted to make a chocolate bread – adding about 1.5 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the flour mixture. Instead of using raisins, I used chocolate rice, sprinkling it before rolling. My 5yo adored the chocolate bread and ate it for breakfast every day. The 3yo didn’t like it as it probably didn’t have enough chocolate for him. I would try this again with more sugar and more chocolate rice or substitute it with chocolate chips.

Step-by-step photos

Dividing into four portions, rolling it into a ball, letting it rest

Rolling it out into a rough oval shape

Scatter the chocolate rice all over

Rolling the dough

Rolling it out again into an oval

Then rolling it up again

Doesn’t matter if its smaller than the loaf tin – it will rise during the proof

 

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: Oxtail Stew

I have such fond memories of oxtail stew. When I was a kid, my mum owned an orange-colored slow cooker, I remember it having some kind of pattern on the side. Perhaps looking like this image I found online.

rival-slow-cooker

I’m sure she made other dishes in her slow cooker, but the only one I recall clearly is oxtail stew. It wasn’t a usual part of her repertoire, so I may be remembering it because it was something special that we had once in a while when I was little.

Oxtail got a lot more expensive when I was older, and she stopped cooking oxtail stew.

When I moved to California, I never thought about it until at lunch at an Indonesian restaurant in the South Bay. One of our friends wanted to order the oxtail soup, known as Sop Buntut, apparently a popular dish in Indonesia. Here’s a recipe if you’d like to try it. And while I adored the dish, it made me crave oxtail stew again.


Luckily oxtail is quite easy to find here. Many of the Asian supermarkets carry oxtail. But perhaps more importantly, so does Costco. I like buying meat from Costco as the price is good and so is the quality. The oxtail comes in a big pack but luckily it’s a two-pack. Each pack has about 4 big pieces and 4-5 small pieces. Plenty for a family of four (and visiting grandparents). I only make oxtail stew when we have company, because sadly, the Husband DOES NOT EAT OXTAIL. So I have to add in a few pieces of regular cubes of beef for stewing for him. In my opinion, he is the poorer for it. Oxtail tastes pretty much the same as beef, but it is richer and the meat tends to be more tender. Oxtail has all this gelatin and fat, and not to mention the marrow within the bone. All this adds so much flavour to the stew itself (ok so the Husband benefits from that part) and the meat just falls off the bone when it’s braised properly.

 

  • 3 lbs oxtails
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 3-4 celery stalks
  • 3-4 small potatoes
  • 1 onion or large shallot
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 half-inch thick slices of fresh ginger
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons of five-spice powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of beef stock (I use Better than Bouillon)
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 

Clean the oxtails and pat them dry. Season with salt and pepper, dredge in flour. Heat oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat and brown on all sides.

Add the oxtail to the slow cooker.

Add the onion/shallot, garlic, cinnamon, star anise to the skillet to brown. Then pour in the beef stock and scrape up all the stuff stuck on the skillet, and pour that all into the slow cooker.

Add some tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, some dried herbs, five-spice powder, a few cloves of garlic, soy sauce, some sugar to taste. I put the slow cooker on low and cook for about 6 hours. About 2/3 of the way through, add in some cut-up carrots, celery, potatoes.

Serve with basmati raisin rice.

Here are some other recipes:

Chinese Braised Oxtails (The Woks of Life)

Eurasian-style oxtail stew (Eat My Words)