In her latest project, Rowena Michaels has published Singapore’s first cookbook in both English and Tagalog. Susannah Jaffer caught up with the busy author and mum of two in her picturesque black-and-white colonial home to find out more.
As I walk up the driveway through tall black iron gates and step onto Rowena Michaels’ front porch, I’m immediately greeted by two furiously wagging tails. Daffy and Poppy, two adorable and highly energetic border terriers, were both transported here about two years ago from the UK, Rowena’s home country.
She’s lived in Singapore for seven years, though, and with a husband of Singaporean and British heritage and two children has put down firm roots and now feels quite at home. “Having relatives around really makes all the difference,” she says.
It’s been a busy and rather stressful few months preparing for the launch of her new cookbook, A Helping Hand: Delicious Recipes in English & Tagalog, says Rowena – who also goes by her quirky nickname, Frog.
Where did you get inspiration for this wonderful book?
I speak French at a pretty proficient level, and a few years ago I was trying to cook from Cuisine Du Monde while on holiday in France; there was a copy lying around in the house we had rented. It was extremely difficult to follow, and I found myself getting stuck with the cooking terminology.
It came to me in a sudden flash how difficult it must sometimes be for our helpers to decipher cooking phrases such as “beat”, “blind bake”, “bind” and “blanch”, which, let’s face it, are neither helpful nor descriptive – even for native English speakers.
What did you hope to achieve?
A lot of people living here are fortunate enough to be looked after by hardworking helpers who can generally turn their hand to anything, be it childcare, cooking or cleaning.
What I’ve written in the Tagalog introduction (which sits opposite the English one and which is aimed at helpers) is that I hope that this book becomes their friend, saves them time and helps to turn cooking into a creative and enjoyable process – not something tinged with confusion and potential misunderstanding. I believe food cooked with care and confidence tastes so much better, too!
Lastly, I make a donation from each and every sale to HOME, the wonderful charity dedicated to upholding the rights of migrant workers in Singapore.
You have a strong and loyal following on your blog changmoh.com; how did you start out?
I wanted an excuse to explore local finds in and around Singapore, and blogging about it seemed like the perfect way to document my journey and the things I discovered along the way.
Do you have any entrepreneurial tips or advice to share?
If you have an idea that no one else seems to have thought of and you spot that elusive gap in the market – go for it!
A Helping Hand: Delicious Recipes in English & Tagalog is available at $39.90 excluding GST. For a full list of stockists or to order online, visit helpinghandseries.com.
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