Life's like that!

April 23, 2010

The Waiting Game

I am now 39 weeks pregnant.

It has been a wonderful blessing from Allah SWT to be pregnant with my second daughter, Allah SWT willing. So far this pregnancy is almost quite similar to the one when I was pregnant with daughter. Morning sickness, tiredness, stuffy nose and usual craving for Singapore dishes came with the territory. Like my mother said, I should be patient and thankful that I have the chance to go through this phase as many women do not have the opportunity.

I guess now we are just waiting for the baby to arrive anytime now. We have been preparing daughter for the pending arrival of a new addition to the family many months ago. Allah SWT willing hope that there will be no complications during delivery.


April 22, 2010

Tomatoes - Better Boy and Better Bush

Yesterday I brought daughter to farmers' market to get some fruits and vegetables. Since they also have tomato seedlings for sale, I decided to get 2 Better Boy and 3 Better Bush. The tomato seedlings that I germinated were just not doing well, so I have to pull them out of the garden bed.

I watered the plants when I got home and transplanted them into the garden bed in the late afternoon.

Better Boy F1 Hybrid - Needs full sun. Plant when weather and soil warm so lowest leaves are 1 inch above soil level. Best caged or staked, 2-3 feet apart.

Better Bush F1 Hybrid - Needs full sun. Vigorous vine produces medium sized, tasty fruits until frost. Plant when weather and soil warm so lowest leaves are 1 inch above soil level. Best caged or staked, 2-3 feet apart.

Bell pepper plants growing in the garden bed.

Last Tuesday I planted three Chinese Long Beans seeds in the blue dish pan. All praise be to Allah SWT today I notice two of them have sprouted.

Top left and bottom right: 2 Chinese Long Bean seedlings sprouting in the blue dish pan.

Allah SWT willing we hope to have a good Chinese Long Bean harvest this summer.


April 21, 2010

Wild Bird Babies

The pair of birds that is taking up residency in the backpack hanging in the backyard are now proud parents of baby birds.

I just checked the nest and saw tiny little babies. I couldn't count the babies because I didn't want to damage the nest. The parents were not happy to be disturbed and flew out of the backpack and I was taking a peek.

Allah SWT willing we will be hearing tweets from the backpack in another week or two.


Unacceptable Ingredients for Food

I'm always curious why most processed food contain so many chemicals. Then I found out that the main reason is that manufacturers want to prolong the shelf life of their products, and the most economical way to do so is to add chemicals to the production process.

Here is a list of unacceptable ingredients for food from Whole Foods Market:
  • acesulfame-K (acesulfame potassium)
  • acetylated esters of mono- and diglycerides
  • ammonium chloride
  • artificial colors
  • artificial flavors
  • aspartame
  • azodicarbonamide
  • benzoates in food
  • benzoyl peroxide
  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
  • BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
  • bleached flour
  • bromated flour
  • brominated vegetable oil (BVO)
  • calcium bromate
  • calcium disodium EDTA
  • calcium peroxide
  • calcium propionate
  • calcium saccharin
  • calcium sorbate
  • calcium stearoyl-2-lactylate
  • caprocaprylobehenin.
  • certified colors
  • cyclamates
  • cysteine (l-cysteine), as an additive for bread products
  • DATEM (Diacetyl tartaric and fatty acid esters of mono and diglycerides)
  • dimethylpolysiloxane
  • dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DSS)
  • disodium calcium EDTA
  • disodium dihydrogen EDTA
  • disodium guanylate
  • disodium inosinate
  • EDTA
  • ethyl vanillin
  • ethylene oxide
  • ethyoxyquin
  • FD & C colors
  • foie gras
  • GMP (disodium guanylate)
  • hexa-, hepta- and octa-esters of sucrose
  • hydrogenated fats
  • IMP (disodium inosinate)
  • irradiated foods
  • lactylated esters of mono- and diglycerides
  • lead soldered cans
  • methyl silicon
  • methylparaben
  • microparticularized whey protein derived fat substitute
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • natamyacin
  • nitrates/nitrites
  • partially hydrogenated oil
  • polydextrose
  • potassium benzoate
  • potassium bisulfite
  • potassium bromate
  • potassium metabisulfite
  • potassium sorbate
  • propionates
  • propyl gallate
  • propylparaben
  • saccharin
  • sodium aluminum phosphate
  • sodium aluminum sulfate
  • sodium benzoate
  • sodium bisulfite
  • sodium diacetate
  • sodium glutamate
  • sodium nitrate/nitrite
  • sodium propionate
  • sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate
  • sodium sulfite
  • solvent extracted oils, as standalone single-ingredient oils (except grapeseed oil).
  • sorbic acid
  • sucralose
  • sucroglycerides
  • sucrose polyester
  • sulfites (sulfur dioxide)
  • TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone)
  • tetrasodium EDTA
  • vanillin
Most of these chemicals cause cancer and tumor in lab rats over prolong period of high level exposure . I am so glad that husband and I choose natural fruits and vegetables instead of processed food in our diet.


No-Knead Bread for Breakfast

Last night I used the no-knead bread recipe to make a batch of dough for this morning's breakfast. I let the dough rise on top of the refrigerator overnight. Then I divided the dough into 8 equal portions and rolled them into balls. To bake the dough I used a small rectangular Pyrex dish. I brushed melted butter on the bottom of the dish and on top of the dough before baking.

After baking in a preheated toaster oven for 30 minutes, here is the final product.

A little bit of jam with the freshly baked bread and I'm in heaven....

All praise be to Allah SWT!


Beware of Bromated Flour

Many people in the US bake bread at home to avoid purchasing expensive commercially baked bread. When I started to bake bread for my family, I was not aware of the difference between bromated and unbromated flour. Then I started to buy King Arthur Flour after reading about health issues concerning consumption of bromated flour.

According to,

'Potassium Bromate is typically added to bread and other flours as maturing agent which promotes gluten development in doughs, making the bread stronger and more elastic. Commercial bakers use bromated flour because it yields dependable results and can stand up to bread hooks and other commercial baking tools. It is also used to render inferior flour with low protein levels more useable since these flours do not develop enough gluten on their own.

Bromate is also considered a category 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), meaning that it may be harmful when consumed. In theory, the substance is supposed to bake out of bread dough as it cooks, but if too much is added, or if the bread is not cooked long enough or not at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount will remain.'

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April 20, 2010

After One Whole Day of Rain...

It rained the whole day on last Sunday, and some areas in the backyard are still wet with rainwater. Today is still a bit cloudy with a high temperature of 74 degrees F. All praise be to Allah SWT, the plants survived the wet condition although they will be much happier when the sun comes out tomorrow. Here is a look at some of the vegetables in containers.

Summer squash

One of the pole beans trailing up the bamboo pole.



Allah SWT willing it will be warmer tomorrow and Thursday. It may rain again on Friday, so I will have to watch the weather closely.


Video: No-Knead Bread Recipe

Yield: one 1 lb loaf

3 cups bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 tablespoon kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt)
1 1/2 cups warm water

Covered pot (five-quart or larger cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic, enamel…something that can go into a 450F oven.)


Video: Roti, Chapati (Flat Indian Bread)

Roti, Chapati - Flat Indian Bread

Roti is also known as chapati or fulka. Roti is Indian flat bread made with whole-wheat flour. Roti is served with a variety of cooked vegetables, lentils, and yogurt.

Makes 8 Rotis.


* 1 cup whole-wheat flour
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup lukewarm water (Use more as needed)

Also needed:

* 2 teaspoons ghee (clear butter)
* 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour for rolling


1. Mix flour, salt and water togather to make a soft dough (add more water as needed).
2. Knead the dough on a lightly greased surface to make the dough smooth and pliable.
3. Set the dough aside and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rest for at least ten minutes or more.
4. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts.
5. Make smooth ball and press flat. Take 1 ball; press it in dry flour from both sides.
6. Roll in to a 6-inch circle. If the dough sticks to the rolling pin or rolling syrface, lightly dust the roti with dry flour. Tip: Use the dry flour just enough you need to roll the roti, too much use of flour will make the roti dry.
7. Heat the skillet on medium high heat. Note: An iron skillet works best. To know if the skillet is hot enough, sprinkle few drops of water on the skillet. If the water sizzles right away, the skillet is ready.
8. Place the roti over skillet.
9. After roti start changing color and start puffing in different places flip the roti over.
10. Flip again after a few seconds. Take a flat spatula and press lightly on the puffed parts of the roti. This will help the roti puff.
11. Flip the roti again. The roti should have light golden-brown spots on both sides.
12. Butter the roti, the side that is facing the skillet.
13. Keep the rotis in a container with a paper towel covering the bottem.
14. Tip: make sure to cover the container after each roti is made. This will keep the steam in and ensure the rotis are soft.
15. Roti can be kept outside for up to 2 days wrapped in aluminum foil or in a closed container. For later use, roti can be refrigerated for 5-6 days.


Video: Raita - Indian Style Vegetable Yogurt

Vegetable Raita

Indian meals are not complete unless the meal includes a yogurt dish such as a raita. This is a colorful raita and can brighten up any meal.

Serving for 4.


  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup finally chopped cucumber (kheera)
  • 1 medium tomato seeded and finally chopped
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper finally chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dill
  • 1 teaspoon salt adjust to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon roasted ground cumin seed
  • Pinch of paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar if needed


  1. Mix the yogurt well. If yogurt is thick like pudding add milk as needed to make the consistency of a yogurt drink.
  2. Add salt, chopped dill, black pepper, roasted cumin seed and paprika. Add sugar if yogurt is sour.
  3. Add chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and yellow bell pepper.


  1. Replace dill with chopped mint or cilantro.
  2. Vegetables can be adjusted to taste.


Dry roast the cumin seeds on medium heat until they are brown and you can smell the cumin aroma. Grind after it cools to room temperature.


The World Atlas of Food

As I love to prepare different types of cuisine from around the world, I often refer to my copy of the book 'The World Atlas of Food' edited by Jane Grigson that I bought from This book focuses primarily on the culinary history of European countries with smaller chapters on the Arab countries, Africa, South Asia, East Asia and North/Central/South Americas.

For each countries that are featured in the book, a map with regional cooking ingredients is provided.

Here is an eggplant recipe from Turkey that was featured in the book.

Stuffed Eggplant in Olive Oil (Imam Bayildi) (page 190)

This is probably the most famous of Turkey's many eggplant dishes, a splendid first course to serve at a summer dinner party.

Serves 4

4 medium-sized eggplants, stalks removed
Olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 green peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons concentrated tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika powder
1/8 teaspoon allspice powder
Finely chopped parsley


Wash and dry the eggplants. Leaving an inch at each end make a deep slit lengthways down each eggplant. Then, using a potato peeler, peel off long thin strips of skin lengthwise, leaving stripes of shiny skin. Rub salt into the incision and into the peeled fleshed and put the eggplants aside for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a frying-pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic and fry until the onion is soft but not colored. Stir in the tomatoes and the tomato puree. Add the paprika, allspice and salt to taste. Simmer gently for 5 minutes longer. Stir in 4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley and remove the pan from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degree F.

Rinse the eggplants thoroughly and pat them dry. IN a large frying-pan, heat plenty of olive oil.

Add the eggplants and fry gently until the flesh begins to soften, turning them once or twice taking great care not to spoil their shape. Arrange the eggplants in an ovenproof dish, slits uppermost.

Pry open the slits and spoon some of the fried vegetable mixture into each one. Mix any remaining mixture with 2 and 1/2 cups of water and pour it into the dish. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the eggplants are very soft.

Serve cold, sprinkled with finely chopped parsley.

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White Bobtail Quails Update

I've just checked the white bobtail quails, and they are recovering from their injuries quite well. All praise be to Allah SWT feathers are starting to grow back on the patches of bald spots on their head and back.

Instead of spending $10-$30 for a new food container for the white quails, husband used a big Milo tin and a Rubbermaid food tray to make one. All praise be to Allah SWT it is working as well as a store bought one.

Husband inserted a chicken wire barrier in the middle of the quail house.
Brown quails on the left and white ones on the right.

1 male and 2 female brown quails.

Three white female bobtail quails.

I notice that although the white quails have their own water and food containers, they still stretch their heads through the chicken wire to eat and drink from the brown quails' side. I wonder why they do this.

Allah SWT willing we may get a male white quail to hatch white baby quails.


April 19, 2010

April 22nd - Earth Day Challenge from Oprah

Is your family wasteful? Want to reconnect and get back to basics? Use this letter from Oprah to start your own seven-day Live with Less challenge!

Dear Family,

Thanks for agreeing to live with less for a week. Your challenge starts now!

This week, you will be eating at home every meal. No more eating out, no more takeout. And you have to eat your leftovers. If you throw food in the trash, you've got to 'fess up.

For one week, you're going to give up the bottled water habit. Get a water filter—time to get to know your tap.

No more disposable plates, cups, napkins or paper towels. Try cloth—you might like it!

For entertainment, you'll have to rely on each other. For one week, I'm asking you to give up your iPods and video games, and your computers only get turned on for homework. TV is limited to one hour per night—one TV only.

That thermostat is going way 69 degrees. If you get cold, put on a sweater.

Give your washing machine a break—try to wash only clothes that are TRULY dirty.

When you leave a room, lights out. Ditto for fans. When you're done using an appliance, unplug it. Don't forget your computer and cell phone chargers too.

Showers are going to be shorter—eight minutes max. Use a kitchen timer to help you keep track.

Want to go shopping? Head to your closets. That's your wardrobe for the week. The mall is off-limits.

You final challenge—no buying anything other than food for seven days.

Good luck,


April 18, 2010

Norwegian Mackerel

I like to buy a wide variety of fish to experiment with different cooking techniques. Yesterday was the first time that husband and I bought two Norwegian mackerel at the nearby Asian grocery store for $3.50 per pound. Apparently Japan is the largest importer of this fish from Norway.

All praise be to Allah SWT for dinner I prepared Crispy Mackerel and we had it with sushi. Husband liked the taste and texture of the fish, so Allah SWT willing we will be buying it again.

Here are two recipes from the book 'Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go' by Naomi Kijima.

Crispy Mackerel (Page 6)

1/2 slice mackerel
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp juice from grated ginger
Cornstarch for dredging
2-3 sweet peppers
Oil for deep frying

1. Score the mackerel in several places. Slice into half inches thick (1.5cm) pieces. Marinate for 10 minutes in the soy sauce and ginger juice.

2. Make vertical slits in the sweet pepper and deep fry in oil at 320 degree F (160 degree C).

3. Pat the mackerel dry. Dredge in plenty of cornstarch. Tap off the excess and deep fry in oil at 340 degree F (170 degree C).

Spanish Mackerel Teriyaki (Page 48)

2/3 piece Spanish mackerel
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp mirin and sake (I will omit this since it is not halal for Muslim consumption)
1/2 tsp cornstarch

1. Slice the mackerel at an angle. Marinate in the liquid ingredients for 10 minutes.

2. Drain, reserving marinade. Place on a rack, and grill or broil on both sides.

3. Add 1 tablespoon water to the marinade and bring to boil. Blend the cornstarch with one teaspoon of water and add to the pan. Cook until thickened. brush the sauce on the mackerel and grill or broil a little longer.


Japanese Broiled Mackerel from

4 mackerel fillets
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (Japanese sweet wine) - Omitted since it is not halal for Muslim consumption.
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

  1. Rinse fillets, and pat dry with paper towels. In a medium bowl, mix together the soy sauce, mirin, sugar and fresh ginger. Place fillets into the marinade, and let stand for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat your ovens broiler, or an outdoor grill for high heat. Broil the fillets, basting occasionally, until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 5 to 8 minutes. Serve with a lemon slice or long white radish slice as a garnish.

Here is a classic recipe from Norway to prepare Norwegian mackerel:

Fried Mackerel in a Sour Cream Sauce
(serves 4)

1-2 mackerel fillets per person
flour, salt, pepper
butter or oil for frying
1-2 dl sour cream or heavy cream

Fried mackerel with sour cream is spring mackerel at its very best. Clean and fillet 2-3 mackerel and dry them well. Coat the fillets in flour, salt and pepper and cut 2-3 diagonal slits in the skin of each filet. Fry the mackerel in margarine until golden brown and add 1-2 dl sour cream or heavy cream just before serving.

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Quails - Brown Versus White

This morning husband noticed that all three white female bobtail quails were bleeding. Apparently one of the brown female quails have been aggressively pecking their feathers on the head and back. He also noticed that the white quails were not able to eat from the food container without being pecked by the brown female quail.

To avoid further casualties for the white ones, husband put a partition in the quail house to separate the brown quails from the white ones so that the white quails can heal their wounds in peace. He also put in new food and water containers for the white quails in their area.

I think that jealousy is the main reason for the brown female quail to attack the white females. I noticed that the brown male quail has been courting the white ones for several days, and the his mate might be jealous of the attention that the white ones are getting. Allah SWT willing when we go to the animal farm supplies store to buy chicken food, we may get a white male bobtail quail to mate with our female quails.


Video: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan

When I was working at the Islamic school as a librarian, I came to know two teachers who are from Afghanistan. Before getting to know them better, I did not know much about Afghanistan's people's history. All praise be to Allah SWT, they tried to take time to tell me about their lives in their home country and I am thankful that I have the opportunity to know them.

PBS will be screening a documentary about the horrific experience that many Afghanistan youth are living in the war torn country. I hope that through this film more people will be aware of the injustice and suffering of the Afghanistan people.

FRONTLINE: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan

In Afghanistan today, in the midst of war and endemic poverty, an ancient tradition--banned when the Taliban were in power--has re-emerged across the country. It's called Bacha Bazi, translated literally as "boy play." Hundreds of boys, some as young as eleven, street orphans or boys bought from poor families by former warlords and powerful businessmen, are dressed in woman's clothes, taught to sing and dance for the entertainment of male audiences, and then sold to the highest bidder or traded among the men for sex. With remarkable access inside a Bacha Bazi ring operating in Northern Afghanistan, Najibullah Quraishi, an Afghan journalist, investigates this practice, still illegal under Afghan law, talking with the boys, their families, and their masters, exposing the sexual abuse and even murders of the boys, and documenting how Afghan authorities responsible for stopping these crimes are sometimes themselves complicit in the practice.

Watch the video here.


Remedies for Seasonal Allergies

My dear sister just recovered from a week-long headache due to seasonal allergies. I think the fact that she also stopped drinking coffee during this time lead to caffeine withdrawing symptoms.

My friend, Angela, told me that when she stayed in Algeria with her mother-in-law for about 9 months, her MIL helped to cure her allergies by getting her to eat fennel bulb (茴香) with stewed chicken for one month.

Here are some useful information from the internet on treating allergies.


According to this web site,

In simple terms, allergy can be defined as an altered or abnormal tissue reaction after exposure to an antigen (also called an 'allergen'). It occurs if the body tissues are sensitive to the allergen.

Symptoms of Allergy

Following are the major allergy symptoms:

1. Recurring headaches or migraines
2. Dizziness and irritability
3. Nervousness and depression
4. Neuralgia
5. Conjunctivitis
6. Eczema
7. Hay fever
8. Stuffy or runny nose
9. Swelling of the face and eyes
10. Shortness of breath
11. Asthma
12. Diarrhea

Causes of Allergy

Following are the major allergy causes:

1. Faulty living style
2. Excessive consumption of refined and processed foods, loaded with numerous chemical additives
3. Emotional and psychological stress

Herbal Remedies for Allergy

1. Take equal quantities of cumin seeds, fennel seeds and white sesame seeds (25 gram each) and dry-roast each seeds separately. Mix the roasted seeds and 1/2 teaspoon rock salt. Store it in a glass jar. Chew a handful of this mixture after eating any food. It will aid digestion and help to prevent any kind of food allergy.


According to this web site, the severity of asthma and allergies is related to low vitamin D levels. I don't know how true this claim is, but here is a recipe from the web site that might be worth trying.

Lemon-Honey Roasted Chicken with Warm Cucumber, Fennel and Fingerling Potato Salad

For the chicken:
• 1/4 cup lemon juice
• 1/4 cup chicken broth
• 2 T. Honey
• 3.5-4 lb. chicken, cut into pieces
• 1 T. olive oil
• 1 t. salt
• 4 sprigs of thyme

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees
2. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, chicken broth and honey.
3. Rub the chicken pieces with oil and sprinkle with salt.
4. Place the chicken, skin-side down, in a roast pan just large enough to make a single, snug layer of chicken. Pour the seasoned broth over the chicken and tuck the thyme sprigs among the chicken pieces.
5. Roast for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken skin-side up and roast for another 20 minutes or until chicken reaches 160 degrees.

For the Salad:
• 1.5 lbs. fingerling potatoes, halved (larger ones cut in quarters)
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1/2 lb. haricot verts, steamed
• 3 medium stalks celery, trimmed and sliced
• 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced
• 1 medium bulb fennel, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced
• 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
• 1 T. fresh lemon juice

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees and place potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet; toss with 1 T. olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
2. Roast until tender, about 25-30 minutes and let cool slightly.
3. To serve combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat evenly with olive oil and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Serve with roasted chicken.


Video: Food, Inc.

When I was growing up in Singapore, my mother rarely bought any processed food for us. We always had more fresh vegetables and fruits than meat, and local freshly-baked bread rather than corn cereal. We rarely ate at fast food restaurants and mostly chose to eat local dishes at hawker centers.

When I started working full-time in the mid-1990s, the only processed foods that I bought for my family were cheese and ice-cream. By then I also started the habit of reading food labels on packages before purchasing them, and any ingredients that I cannot pronounce or understand would automatically meant that that item would not be in my shopping basket.

An ex-colleague at TTU introduced me to a book about how farm animals were fattened with hormones and corn before being slaughtered. I was so shocked that Americans actually eat this type of food and not worry about the ill effect on their health.
I am glad that more and more people are aware about this serious issue and slowly making healthier food choices for their family and themselves. The film, Food, Inc., really exposed the high price that US consumers pay for choosing to be ignorant about where our food comes from.

Food, Inc.
will be streaming in its entirety from April 22 to April 29, 2010.

Visit Food, Inc. web site.


In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that's been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli — the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation"), Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield Farms' Gary Hirschberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising — and often shocking truths — about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

Film Description

American agriculture has in many respects been the envy of the world. U.S. agri-business consistently produces more food on less land and at cheaper cost than the farmers of any other nation. What could possibly be wrong with that? According to the growing ranks of organic farmers, “slow food” activists and concerned consumers cited in the new documentary Food, Inc., the answer is “plenty.” As recounted in this sweeping, shockingly informative documentary, sick animals, environmental degradation, tainted and unhealthy food and obesity, diabetes and other health issues are only the more obvious problems with a highly mechanized and centralized system that touts efficiency — and the low costs and high profits that result from it — as the supreme value in food production.

Less obvious, according to Food, Inc., is the entrenchment of a powerful group of food producers, that sets the conditions under which today’s farmers and food workers operate, in order to maximize profits. The industry also maintains a revolving door of employment for government regulators and legislators to protect its power to set those conditions. Then there is “the veil,” a strange disconnect — propagated in good part by millions of dollars poured into marketing and lobbying by the industry — between the average American and the food he or she eats. As one chicken industry representative puts it, “In a way we’re not producing chickens; we’re producing food.”

Robert Kenner's Food, Inc. has its American broadcast premiere as a special broadcast on Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 9 p.m. on PBS as part of the 23rd season of POV (Point of View), American television's longest-running independent documentary series. POV is the recipient of a Special Emmy for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking.

For all the dazzling technological innovations of American food production, there are many people who would ask, "But is it food?" In addition to graphically detailing animal cruelty, environmental despoliation and economic monopolization, the film Food, Inc. also questions whether the industrial system produces the nutritious, health- and life-sustaining stuff we call food.

To discover the answer, filmmaker Kenner marshals mountains of data, vérité visits to production sites and footage of meat-packing operations secretly shot by workers, plus eye-opening testimony from farmers, workers, consumer advocates and the few industry people willing to speak in their own defense. Food, Inc. also features the on- and off-screen guidance of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and such practitioners of organic, sustainable farming as Joel Salatin of Virginia's Polyface Farms, to warn that the nutritional value of American food products is increasingly in doubt. More alarmingly, many of these products, including processed foods, fresh meat and produce, pose real dangers to public health and safety. "The average consumer does not feel very powerful," says Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farms, the third largest yogurt provider in the country.

The Monsanto, Tyson, Perdue and Smithfield companies — whose business practices are examined in Food, Inc. — all declined to tell their side of the story to the filmmakers. These companies also use their economic clout to discourage farmers and workers from showing their operations or speaking about their experiences with corporate farming. These four companies, as a result of corporate consolidation, constitute a huge share of the "seed-to-fork" American food production market. (In the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled just 25 percent of the market; today, the top four control more than 80 percent. Smithfield's Tar Heel, N.C., plant is now the largest slaughterhouse in the world.)

Once Food, Inc. begins penetrating the industry's marketing — family farm images, hyper-perfect food photos, health claims and bewildering brand arrays (that all lead back to the same few producers and, in the case of processed foods, to the same few ingredients) — its food-gone-bad tales are so numerous that they threaten to overwhelm. But the filmmakers carefully craft a fast-paced narrative that is informative and moving, as well as infuriating. Colorful, easy-to-grasp graphics support on-screen testimony, and despite the often grim toll of animal cruelty, human sickness and economic pressures unflinchingly recounted by Food, Inc., the film is driven by the brighter visions of the activists and alternative businesses that are leading the movement to make American food reliably safe and nutritious.

The film includes interviews not only with Schlosser, Pollan and Salatin, but also with people like Barbara Kowalcyk, whose 2 1/2-year-old son, Kevin, ate a hamburger and died 12 days later from E. coli. She then investigated the facts of a beef industry whose drive for efficiency and profit has increased the incidence of E. coli, and she has since become a food safety advocate, fighting to restore to the USDA its power to shut down plants that repeatedly produce contaminated meats.

Maryland chicken farmer Carole Morison is disgusted enough with the animal-raising practices forced on people like her by corporations like Perdue that she risks potential retaliation from the company to show the filmmakers what no other Perdue farmer would — what antibiotics, high-tech breeding and overcrowding are doing to the nation's chickens. Morison subsequently lost her contract when she refused the company's demand that she completely enclose her chicken houses, leaving her with few economic alternatives. She is left considering the worst-case scenario: selling the family farm.

Kentucky chicken-raiser Vince Edwards, a Tyson contractor, approves of the corporate method. "The chicken industry came in here and it's helped this whole community out," he says, "and it's all a science. They got it figured out… If you could grow a chicken in 49 days, why would you want one you gotta grow in three months? More money in your pocket." But many farmers are forced to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet corporate requirements for efficient facilities while ending up earning as little as $18,000 a year.

Seed cleaner Moe Parr explains how, after 25 years of practicing a trade that goes back to the origins of farming, he found himself one of the few seed cleaners left in Indiana — and squarely in the sights of the giant agribusiness company Monsanto. The company sued Parr for offering a service that might help a farmer save seeds, in possible violation of the contract a farmer must sign when he buys the company's patented seeds and herbicide system. Parr ultimately could not afford to defend himself against Monsanto's deep pockets and was driven out of business.

From a large, working family, struggling to keep their kids fed while plagued by the health costs incurred by the father's diabetes, we learn that a McDonald's double cheeseburger — made from cows fed government-subsidized and E. coli-prone corn diets — costs less than a head of broccoli. Says Troy Roush, vice president of the American Corn Growers Association. "In the United States today, 30 percent of our land base is being planted to corn. That's largely driven by government policy, government policy that, in effect, allows us to produce corn below the cost of production. The truth of the matter is, we're paid to overproduce and it was caused by these large multinational interests… And the only reason we feed [cows] corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly."

Food, Inc. is a powerful, startling indictment of industrial food production, revealing truths about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

"Eric Schlosser and I had been wanting to do a documentary version of his book Fast Food Nation, says director Kenner, "and, for one reason or another, it didn't happen. By the time Food, Inc. started to come together, we realized that most of the food in the supermarket had become industrialized just like fast food. Then we realized there's something going on out there that supersedes foods. Our rights are being denied in ways that I had never imagined. And it was scary and shocking.

"But things can change in this country," he adds. "It changed against the big tobacco companies. We have to influence the government and readjust these scales back into the interests of the consumer. We did it before, and we can do it again."

Food, Inc. is a production of Participant Media and River Road Entertainment, distributed by Magnolia Pictures.


Push, Hen, Push

For two days, our biggest hen did not lay an egg. Usually she would be the first to proclaim her egg-laying achievement, then I started to get worried when I did not 'hear' from her for two days. She was still eating, drinking and scratching as normal, so I thought maybe she is taking a break from laying eggs.

Yesterday evening I checked on the ladies because it has been raining almost the whole day, and I found a damaged egg in the chicken coop. I tilted the damaged egg in the picture below to show the squashed part.

Bottom right: Squashed egg from our biggest hen.

I think the hen was trying to push out the egg for a while, and could have been trying to do so for a day or two. All praise be to Allah SWT I am happy that she is back to her normal self now.


National Garlic Day - April 19

Tomorrow is National Garlic Day in the USA.

My mother always includes garlic in all her cooking. Somehow a dish would not taste good without the aroma of garlic in it. When I was studying for my diploma, Ms. Moh, one of my lecturers advised me to take garlic capsules to prevent flu and colds when she noticed that I got sick often. The effects were quite amazing when I took garlic capsules for a while and I wasn't getting sick that easily.

According to this web site, here are some interesting facts about this 'breath-taking' plant:
  • Garlic is believed to ward off heart disease, cancer, colds, and flu. The consumption of garlic lowers blood cholesterol levels. and reduces the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
  • Garlic is a member of the onion family which also includes leeks and shallots.
  • If your rose garden is being attacked by aphids, an excellent home remedy to get rid of them is to spritz the leaves and blooms with a mixture of crushed garlic and water.
  • When picking out garlic at the grocery store, choose firm, tight, heavy dry bulbs.
Here is a French classic recipe for cooking 40 cloves of garlic with chicken, taken from this web site:

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic (Makes 4 servings)

Poulet aux Quarante Gousses d'Ail

Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 50 min

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic was a recipe that allowed us to be provocative without being downright offensive. It presents the softer side of garlic — the "stinking rose" — mellowed by long, slow cooking.

  • 1 (4-lb) chicken
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 scant cup olive oil
  • 2 fresh parsley sprigs
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 fresh sage sprig
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 celery rib
  • 40 garlic cloves, peeled (from 3 to 4 heads of garlic)
Accompaniment: toasted baguette slices
Special equipment: kitchen stringDirections:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Tie legs together with kitchen string and fold wings under chicken.

Heat oil in a 6- to 8-quart wide heavy ovenproof pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken, turning it carefully, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Tie herbs and celery together with string to make a bouquet garni and add to pot along with garlic cloves. Put chicken, breast side up, on top of cloves and bake, covered tightly, in middle of oven, basting twice, until cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted 2 inches into fleshy part of a thigh (avoid bone) registers 170°F, 30 to 40 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a cutting board, reserving pan juices, and let stand 10 minutes. Cut chicken into serving pieces and spread roasted garlic on toasts. Serve chicken drizzled with some of reserved pan juices.


April 15, 2010

Name That Tree

On the front yard is this plant that looks really beautiful with pink flowers and big leaves.

April 1

April 8

April 15

Today I noticed that the pretty pink flowers have produced long bean-like fruits. I have no idea what is the name of this plant, and I have not seen another like this so far. Maybe I'll look into an online gardening database to figure it out.


Ants Ate My Sunflower Seedlings

This morning I checked my sunflower seedlings in a pot on the front porch and they were being eaten. I stirred the soil to see what is going on and lots of ants started to crawl out from underneath the surface. I think the ants are responsible for the disappearance of my sunflower seedlings. I think maybe there is an ant farm in that pot of soil. Now the challenge is how to get rid of all the ants so that I can reuse the soil.

According to the book 'Backyard Problem Solver', I can either pour hot water into the soil or brew up a batch of strong mint tea and spray it on their pathways.

Here is a remedy from the book:

Ant Control Tonic (Page 333)

1 cup of sugar
3 cups of water
1 tbsp. of boric acid powder

1. Add the sugar to the water, and bring to a boil.
2. Next, add the boric acid.
3. Place the mix in a small jar lids, and set the lids in the middle of ant trails or near anthills.

Store any unused portion in a child-safe container in a cabinet out of reach of children and pets. Unfortunately, this Tonic does not work against fire ants.


Creative Nesting Place

Yesterday husband discovered that a pair of small birds have made a nest in this blue backpack that I hang on my bike outside the house. While tidying the compost area, he noticed daughter was throwing sand into the backpack and went to check it out. It was then when he saw the nest and hang it higer on the lamp post so that daughter will not be able to reach it.

In the backpack is a nest made out of dried grass and leave and lots of seeds from the bird feeder.

There are five brown speckled eggs in the nest and one of the birds was sitting on the eggs when I took the photo. It flew out when the camera flashlight went off, but I'm sure that it will go back to the nest later.

Allah SWT willing it will be so exciting when the eggs are hatched and little tweetings come out from the backpack. We are unofficially adopting this wildlife family and will continue to provide bird seeds and shelter for the parents.


Tomato and Watermelon

Yesterday late afternoon I transplanted seven tomato seedlings in the garden bed. Although the seedlings' growth were stunned when I put them outdoors on two windy days earlier this month, they seem to have recovered alright. Allah SWT willing we will see how they grow during this coming week. In a worst case scenario should they die, I'll get some transplants from the nearby garden center.

Husband helped to sow watermelon (bush sugar baby) seeds in the garden bed too. This is our first attempt at growing watermelons and I am hoping to harvest at least one yummy juicy watermelon from this crop. According to the package:

'Bush-type vines grow only 3-4 feet long. 8-10 inches round melons are dark green with bright scarlet, sweet and juicy flesh. Harvest in about 80 days.'

Allah SWT willing hopefully the seeds will sprout in 7-10 days.


April 14, 2010

Oh Where, Oh Where, Have My Little Hen Gone?

This morning when I was watering the plants on the front porch, a lady who lives in a house a street away from us walked past. Her name is Laura and she asked if I've seen her hen. Apparently she also keeps a chicken in her backyard and she is looking for her pet. She said she heard crackling in our backyard and thought it was her hen. I told her that we keep four chickens and I'm pretty sure that her hen was not in our backyard. I let her know that I will keep a lookout for her hen.

I think I've heard chickens crackling in our neighborhood a few times since we moved here. It's nice to know that people here share our passion for fresh eggs.


Health Care and Politics in USA

Last night husband and I watched the PBS Frontline's report on health care reform and politics in the USA.

The Frontline report revealed that insurance and pharmaceutical companies in the USA have so much influence in the Congress that there is no way the Obama administration can get health care reform passed in the Congress without making closed-door deals with these companies. I do believe that Obama wants to fulfill his campaign promise to not play along with the dirty politics but he is only one man against so many crooked and corrupted congressmen who receive bribes and campaign contributions from insurance and pharmaceutical companies. It is no wonder husband says that it is not possible to find a righteous and honorable politician in this country at this time because of the high level of corruption in politics.

Before coming to the USA, I assumed that everyone have access to cheap health care because that was what I had in Singapore. But after just a few months in the USA reading about the high cost of health care for individuals and families, in addition to listening to husband's experience with paying for health care since he arrived in the USA in the 1980s, I realized that life in here is not a bed of roses.

All praise be to Allah SWT, we have been blessed with access to affordable health care since we got married. So many middle and low income families cannot afford to pay for expensive health insurance premiums and have to go to the emergency department as a last resort.

The sad reality is that people are not turning to alternative medicines e.g. traditional home remedies and Chinese medicine etc. and changing their high-fat and high-sugar diets, but choose to rely on expensive medicines to cure them.


April 11, 2010

Bye, Bye, Elmo Fish

Yesterday our 'Elmo Fish' died.

After waking up from an afternoon nap, I noticed that the dish turned belly up at the bottom of the fish tank. When I told husband about it, he said that while I was asleep, daughter had pour too much fish food in the tank and he didn't realize it until at a much later time. So I guess the fish died from overeating. Although we had the fish for about one year, daughter learned about how fish live in the water. She also learned that the fish cannot survive without water and it could not play with her toys the way like the rabbit does.

I asked husband to give the fish a proper burial. It's final resting place is in the Meyer's Improved Lemon tree's container pot.

With 4 hens, six quails and a rabbit to take care now, I guess we won't be getting another fish soon.


April 08, 2010

Growing Veggies Update

More updates of plants that we are growing in containers.

Petunia flowers blooming beautifully!

Cucumbers growing at different stages in containers.

Apart from growing mint, rosemary and lavender, I also have a pot of oregano and sage in a pot that I grew since last year. Somehow the oregano has overtaken most of the space in the pot while and the sage seems to be struggling to survive.

Sprigs of oregano growing all over the place.

Closeup of the oregano.

Closeup of the sage.

I may have to take out the sage and give it it's own pot to grow. But that will have to wait till this weekend, Allah SWT willing.


Growing Veggies Update

Yesterday morning's temperature was 61 degrees F while this morning's was 42 degrees F!

All praise be to Allah SWT it did not rain this morning, or else some of the younger seedlings may suffer some damages. Here are some updates on the veggies that we are growing in containers.

Onions are growing pretty well.

Curry plant seems to be thriving.

Snow peas are sprouting now. Hopefully all four seeds will sprout in this galvanized container.

Pole beans are putting out big leaves with the help of warmer afternoon temperature.

Garlic is doing well after I added more soil to the pot. It will be interesting to see how tall it will grow.


"There Are No Shortcuts."

A few years ago, I watched a documentary on PBS about a Los Angeles teacher, Mr. Rafe Esquith, who instills hard work and perseverance in his students to excel in their studies despite their poverty background.

I am really inspired by his example and hope to use some of his techniques to inspire daughter to achieve academic success when she is older. Here is an article on NPR about Mr. Rafe Esquith.

Inner-City Teacher Takes No Shortcuts to Success

He's won the American Teacher Award, been awarded the National Medal of Arts, and made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire.

And yet for 24 years, Rafe Esquith has continued to teach at Hobart Elementary, an inner-city school in Los Angeles, inspiring his fifth graders to excel far beyond the low expectations often placed on poor, immigrant children.

Every morning, Esquith's students arrive at school at 6:30 a.m., nearly two hours before the rest of the students, to work on mental math exercises. It's part of what he calls the "culture of excellence" in his classroom. Esquith expects a lot from his 10-year-olds, and he gets it. They volunteer to come in early, work through recess and stay late until 5 p.m. And they come to class during vacations and holidays.

Their hard work shows up in test scores: They consistently score in the top 5 percent to 10 percent of the country.

The second-largest elementary school in the nation, Hobart has more than 2,000 students; 90 percent live below the poverty level. All are from immigrant families, primarily Hispanic and Asian. Though none speaks English as a first language, Esquith's students read literature far above their fifth-grade level -- Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird.'

Read more here.


April 07, 2010

Overturned Pot - Who Dunnit?

This morning when I water the plants on the front porch, one of the okra pots was overturned. I have no idea who or what did it, but immediately replanted the okra seedling that fell out.

I transplanted one of the okra seedlings from the pot below to the green pot above so that the two okra seedlings have more space to grow.

I am really happy to see the okra seedlings growing well. Before my grandmother passed away in 2000, I always love to eat her stir-fry okra with thinly sliced hot chili pepper whenever she stayed with us. Allah SWT willing really looking forward to harvest young okras and stir-fry them just like my grandmother used to do.


April 06, 2010

Edamame and Summer Squash

This morning I moved two rectangular pots from the front yard to the porch. Since Moss Rose and Delphinium seeds are not sprouting, I figured that I might as well use the pots to grow vegetables. Moving the pots closer to the front entrance also helps to remind me to water the plants daily.

I sowed edamame seeds in one of the pots and sowed summer squash seeds in the other. All praise be to Allah SWT last year I was successful in growing edamame in a container, so hopefully will get a good harvest this year. This is the first time I am growing summer squash in a container, so will see how it goes.

It is really windy today with wind gust up to 45 miles per hour, so I will have to make sure that all outdoor plants are getting sufficient water.


Krupuk Udang and Krupuk Ikan (Prawn and Fish Crackers)

I have been craving for Indonesian style prawn and fish crackers for a while, so yesterday I fried a batch for daughter and I to eat as a snack. In Singapore this is one of my favorite snack at a picnic or while watching a movie.

Although the local Asian grocery stores sell this type of pre-fried crackers, MSG (Mono-Sodium Glutamate) is usually listed as one of the ingredients. As I do not use MSG in my cooking at all, I don't buy processed food that has this ingredient.

At home I seldom fry crackers because I'll need to use 3-4 cups of oil to fry a small batch. But after tasting the first one yesterday, I was kind of glad that I fried more because I couldn't stop eating it. Even daughter loved to eat this crunchy snack. To counter the heatiness of this fried snack, we had orange juice after that.

Now that summer is approaching, I probably will not be frying another batch of the crackers soon.


Old-Time Gardening Wisdom

I strongly believe in using good old time-tested methods in all aspects of our lives, including growing our own food and cooking from scratch.

The book 'Old-Time Gardening Wisdom: lessons learned from Grandma Putt's kitchen cupboard, medicine cabinet, and garden shed!' by Jerry Baker provides time-tested advice for gardeners. I bought this book from after reading good reviews about it, and I really get lots of useful information from it.

Here is Grandma Putt's formula for her fabulous All-Purpose Organic Fertilizer (page 18):

1 part of dehydrated manure (nitrogen)
1 part bone meal (phosphorus)
3 parts granite dust (potassium)
5 parts seaweed meal (trace elements)

Mix the above in a large, old wheelbarrow. Come chow time, wheel it out into the garden, and put it into action!

Here are some of Grandma Putt's Words of Wisdom from the book:

"Plants, like people, need lots of sunlight to survive."

"Cover up your garden in fall, and it'll be rarin' to grow in spring."

"Plant in the morning, harvest in the evening."

"The soil is like a tableful of food - each plant the sits down and eats leaves less for those who follow."

"Garden enemies are born bullies; they almost always pick on plants that are weaklings."

"Talking to your plants is fine, but listening to them is even more important."

"Herbs need sunlight to produce their essential oils."

"Never plant a five dollar tree in a five cent hole."

"Mulch is a must, so you must mulch!"

"When it comes to watering, you need to be cruel to be kind."

"If a job's worth doing, it's a job worth doing well."

"Shallow watering causes a shallow root system."

"Think big, but plant small (plots of vegetables)."

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April 05, 2010

Video: 5 Life-Changing Foods

5 Life-Changing Foods - by Andrew Zimmerman

Alligator Meat - alternate lean meat (Note: not halal for Muslims)
Sea Laver - high in protein, iron and iodine
Acai - has 10 times the antioxidants of red grapes, improves circulation, reduce inflammation
Yerba Mate - contains 24 vitamins, 15 amino acids and many antioxidants
Cupuacu - similar properties of cocoa beans


House Sitting for a Living

I happen to read this article about a forty plus year old lady who house sit for people for a living and she blogs about her experiences. Actually I kind of share her philosophy on life:

I’ve learned that I value free time more than money.

The main thing I’ve learned is to stop pushing and allow life to happen.

I’m no longer striving for a better job, bigger house, newer car or a bigger bank account. I’m striving to be a better person.

Personally I would love to try house sitting too when I have the opportunity, Allah SWT willing!


Video: Patented Genes

'Should companies be able to own human genes? Morley Safer examines the idea of biotech firms patenting genes for profit, a controversy now being played out in courts of law.'

Last night I watched this report on CBS's 60 Minutes while husband and daughter were in the backyard.

I am just outraged that the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which grants copyright, patents and trademarks to man made inventions, would actually allow a breast cancer gene in the human body to be patented by a biotech company. This means that this company owns exclusive rights to allow anyone to test whether they inherit this gene, and scientists cannot work on finding better breast cancer detection and treatment methods for this gene freely. Instead of paying $300 or less for one to get tested whether they inherited this gene, they have to pay $3,200 without health insurance coverage) to this biotech company for the simple test.

Shame on these people who only seek to fulfill their thirst for personal wealth and power above saving human lives.

Watch the video here.


April 04, 2010

Asparagus, Bell Pepper and Carrots

Yesterday afternoon husband transplanted some of the bell peppers in the garden bed.

I created 12 inches by 12 inches grid by sticking bamboo skewers in the soil. After transplanting 12 bell peppers, husband had to stop as the back-bending task was hurting his back. We still have marigold, tomatoes and bell peppers to be transplanted. Allah SWT willing he will get it done throughout the week.

All praise be to Allah SWT the other three asparagus plants have sprouted new shoots. Husband said that he may transplant them in the garden bed. When he does that, I will transplant the Thai Basil seedlings in the pots, Allah SWT willing.

Update on carrots: The petite carrots seedlings in the blue dish pan have died. I suspect strong wind gusts and warmer temperature during the last two weeks killed them. Allah SWT willing I may try to grow carrots during late summer or use the dish pan to grow okra or Thai Basil.


April 02, 2010

Thai Basil

Last week I transplanted four Thai Basil seedlings into individual pots, and left three in the original sprouting tray. They are not growing as fast as I thought they should be, so maybe I will put them in the backyard later this month once they grow another set of leaves.

This tree in our front yard is sprouting beautiful pink flowers.

I don't know the name of this tree and it can produce such pretty flowers, but it sure is a pleasant surprise!