Digital Piano

I have trouble setting and sticking to a budget for piano purchase. I had initially thought of spending less than SGD 1000 on one, until I played on those in that range. It felt toy like. I had to increase my budget so that the keys won’t feel toy like. Increased my budget to about four times until I read some advice online.

Does the piano you purchased feel like and sound like a piano to you?
Does it make you happy when you play it and hear it?
Will it reproduce the kind of music you like when you play the piano?

I manage to short list a few pianos and was thinking of their features. I really like the feel of the Roland HP series concert keyboard I tried on the LX15. It’s too expensive so I would go two models lower. (HP505 or 506). I could go the used route. A CLP 440 is going for 1700 (reasonable!) but the seller won’t let me try if I have no intention of buying it. I’m unsure. My choices are almost the same as this guy from 1.5 years ago. I’m not sure what he selected eventually. I would go with the HP 505 or HP506. The HP506 is not available in Singapore.

I stumbled onto this guy who bought a Kawai CA65. It prompted a rethink of my budget. Is it too expensive? Will I regret spending that much? Should I decide on a cheaper model?

“It still feels like “too much” piano for me, as I’m not that good a player and don’t play that often, so I wonder if I maybe should have spent less money on a not-quite-as-good model.”






Piano Lessons

For me, creating fuel the consuming of the end product – baking, face cream and music. All piano schools remind me of the musical The Music Man. Every school sells equipment then teach you to play the equipment. What’s the desire behind the urge to play an instrument? Does consumption of music or instruments, or the recreation of the music makes one musical?

My curiosity in piano is revived mainly because I discovered piano transcriptions online. As I mulled over, should I do it, should I not, a poetry reading by Jane Hirshfield reminded me of the gold of a good practice. She’s a zen Buddhist and talks about the practice of meditation. It led me to thinking that I should reset my mind. I managed to finish Grade 7 exams when I was 14. As I worked towards Grade 8, I quit piano. It was a relief. Piano was horrible and boring. I wasn’t even frustrated with progress. I don’t recall enjoying learning any of the pieces. I was a child and I had decided classical music was boring. I disliked finger exercises most. I did well in Bach (which I felt, was purely technique) and the impressionists (I could make it sound like atmosphere sometimes). I think I didn’t like it because I didn’t feel connected to the music. I felt like I was typing very well. I never felt successful in it. There was not a time in which I felt I executed a phrase well. Piano practice was a mental scar. It should not be. The sustained practice, the journey, of something is the real gold. The outcome of the practice could be a good or bad product for that moment. That outcome is momentary and will be re-shaped as long as there is continual good practice. It sounds cheesy and shallow – it’s not. The cheesy and shallow is just my writing skills.

Lessons in humidity

But first, man, I love being the fun parent. I made a cake for my little boy’s birthday. It had four layers of icing and a picture of pocoyo and friends as a topper. On the side there were three butterflies, two keys and three mushrooms made of marzipan. I brought the cake into my mom in law’s and we opened it when the kids were done with dinner. A lot of excited shrieking followed. The kids loved it! I felt as if it was my birthday the amount of excitement the cake generated. The best part was A saying, “Mummy made cake for me.” I am the boring parent. The layer of the law. The one who makes them do horrible  stuff like clean up and finish dinner. Feels gooooooood.

The humidity is rather troublesome in cake making. I didn’t realise this. I iced the cake two days in advance. On my first layer of icing I used an enormous tip. I finished covering the cake in 30mins. It takes a surprising lot of icing to cover an 8″ cake of four thin layers. I discovered by accident that leaving the icing to dry in the fridge makes it a lot easier to add another layer to smooth out the surface. I didn’t need to make it super smooth but it looked a lot more like store bought. The cake topper showing pocoyo and friends tore from the humidity. A hairdryer at close range manage to dry the icing so that it peels off from the plastic backing. As the backing came off, there is a certain glossiness which vanished like disappearing ellipsis in the heat. The icing became much stiffer.

The marzipan figurines flopped about. I could not get them to dry. Perhaps I need to dry them in the fridge before using.

I have been thinking about consuming and creating. I started out believing in the all or nothing of consumption and creation. Because every art, writing, music was produced perfect in its perfections and imperfections when consuming it, I felt like  Sisyphus. I felt no joy in creation not in consumption, oddly. Only a dogged strange desire to produce something instantly beautiful. I remembered being able to write only 500 words in a single day.  I remembered trying to think through plots. It was heinously difficult. I frowned at the laptop all the time. I fell asleep dreaming about what happened next. I woke up stressed and disgusted because I had fallen asleep and did no work. The most difficult work required me to come up with  a string theory like order to explain everything that happened in the novel. I did write novels during nanowrimo, some pretend poetry, and pages and pages of journals. These were drivel to me – I have no wish to associate myself with drivel. The early to mid twenties were tough. I left this stage and swung to consuming theatre, music and art without any creation. I think I spend a good ten years enjoying local theatre and jazz music. It’s interesting that the consumption of books made me want to write as if participating in a dialogue with other writers. Consuming theatre and music does not excite me into creation. It was superb entertainment. I actually saw Emma Yong’s debut in the Room on 42nd Street. (I doubt even the actors remembered that place.) Jonathan Lim won the Life theatre awards that year for his solo piece Emerald Hole. I loved local theatre. All the foreign productions were expensive. Local theatre was cheap and good. Arts festival was cheap and good. So was film festival. Man I could not forget Adam’s Apple, Flammen & Citronen and Tokyo Godfathers. And of course, The Lives of Others. I sat in while Hou Hsiao Hsien talked about his films. I went to jazz festivals put up with poseurs and their dates. The last few I remember going was to a few local Chinese productions,  Ah Jiu, December Rain and Thunderstorm. The absolute last thing was Chestnuts, where I was front of house and Judee Tan stole the show. Of course a large part of me struggling to produce something also had to do with my mom’s rubbishing of anything related to  the creation of art. The funny thing is she was knee deep in choral groups then. She knew my secondary school choir teacher. She knew the good piano teachers, she was invited to the home of Kuo Pao Kun (his wife dances). In my consumption I maintained my blog headspace. In those days,  the community was really small and not so political. Political yes, but not exclusively so. We talk of many things : poetry, film, art, music,books. Nowadays it seems political blogs are the only blogs treated seriously. In those days, I had written than creativity gets people into trouble. 

Time has worked on this puffery and I decide now that creativity is a flow. I find creativity expressed in all that I do, at work and at home. At work, I am proud of all the things I pioneered from very little that I have, using not very difficult or advanced concepts. At home, I write now, private letters to my kids and husband. Creative endeavours are a flow, there is not the all or nothing  model where we are either  wholly consumerist or wholly creative.  Younger I could not appreciate a more flowy concept, that all art is a dialogue, not a competition for a sensation of wow. We talk to the living around us, and the dead before us, and the unborn ahead of us. Well, not cakes. Cakes express a crafting skill but Cakes does not need to talk. It serves a magical moment whether store bought or made. It is a dessert. Sometimes pretty, mostly delicious unless it is bad recipe. But always it is made for a moment to be enjoyed.

All chocolate cake recipe leads to Hershey’s

While not all doctored box mix recipes are great, most I’ve tried worked out delicious (Red Velvet, Lemon and Chocolate). I became a firm believer of boxed cake mixes as a starting point. My best chocolate cake starts with a Duncan Hines German Chocolate box mix. It works consistently and it’s really good stuff. Then the supermarket decided that Duncan Hines was not popular enough. Or perhaps Betty Crocker was paying them a lot more. Betty Crocker has some good mixes. Chocolate is not one of them. By that I also include their brownies.

Now that I don’t have any chocolate cake recipes, I have been hunting around for one. I dislike trying recipes from scratch because all highly rated recipes are sometimes at best mediocre. Most from scratch recipes don’t turn out tasty despite the wonderful reviews.

Cakes are expensive stuff – butter, sugar, eggs. To have it taste bad is a waste of money and your chance of baking another cake. Having a turn out bad because of a recipe means that every one has to eat a mistake. When the mistakes become not one but two, everyone is going to dread eating it. Three mistakes, they would rather buy a cake. There is no more baking after the third bad cake.

Nigella’s old fashion chocolate cake was mistake. I’m not going to link it. It’s that bad. I tried it already tweaked for increased liquid but it was still dry. I have a disk sitting in my freezer. I am hoping it becomes better after freezing.

After more research online, it seems that Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake was based on Hershey’s Black Magic Cake is the best chocolate cake ever.  Robyn Stone also claimed she has a best chocolate cake ever which was based on Hershey’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake. Eva Bakes (Eva) and Playing with Flour (Monica) compares Hershey’s Black Magic Cake with yet another best ever chocolate cake. This time, Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake. Three versions of best ever chocolate cake all from Hershey’s?

Monica talked about the texture of the Black Magic Cake and the Perfectly Chocolate cake it more in her post. She explains that the Black Magic Cake was fluffier and had a depth of flavour. She felt that she enjoyed the Perfectly Chocolate Cake for it being like the kind of dense moist chocolate cake she had when she was a child. I definitely prefer a denser texture to chocolate cakes. I like my cakes naked and had with tea. Iced cakes definitely look prettier for celebrations. Fluffy cakes are better iced for its texture – an iced dense cake is too heavy for dessert. The problem is fluffy cakes are hard to handle if I need to ice them. Jules says to ice the Black Magic Cake when it is still cold.

So for my birthday I am going to try the Perfectly chocolate cake.

Smooth Fudges

These are more suited as party food than gifts – they soften easily at room temperature. My second tray, made with 90ml of armagnac and left over chocolate chips (unmeasured), was more delicious. The taste of brandy was more a hint than a hit. I’ve never had brandy. Armagnac is delicious! It’s going into a chocolate cake for Christmas!

3 cups of Nestle chocolate chips
1 can of condensed milk
1/4 cup butter melted
Assorted nuts or dried fruit.

Combine the melted chips and melted butter with condensed milk. The version done with 1/3 cup of brandy is too soft. Would benefit from not using the entire can of milk.

If only I knew how to make it pretty.

Red Velvet is a very fashionable cake choice at the moment for celebrations. I don’t particularly fancy red velvet but it’s so tasty I make this very often for birthdays. I didn’t realise how tasty it was until I had a red velvet cake at a birthday party. This version is seriously good. It’s so good with ermine cream cheese icing, I’m considering this as a potential business plan.

The difficulty I have is that my cakes look ugly. I don’t mean that the edges are soft, the cakes are not level, they dome – which I expect because it is home made. I mean they look like the icon from michelin tires. I use both aluminum and silicon pans. The silicon is slightly less misshaped but that means I have to slice off about an inch all around. After lopping off the dome, I have about one inch height of usable cake left. The aluminum pan makes cakes that look like the Michelin tire mascot.

The second difficulty is that cakes cannot look nice in the heat. This time-lapse video of various frosting at 32 degrees heat  is rather convincing that ermine frosting holds up for at least 30 mins.

For little boy’s birthday, I am planning to make a red velvet cake with ermine cream cheese frosting. I would need to bake it, freeze, thaw it out, frost and freeze it to get a good firm smoothness for the icing. Tricky business, cake decorating.