Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cane Them There!

We all received an SMS each around 11 pm Friday night 12th April that told us to watch out for a white Kancil car bearing a certain plate number. The people in the car had just nabbed a 22-year-old Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) student from Sarawak (state next to Sabah) as she was walking to attend cell in church with a group of friends at around 7 pm. Her mistake was walking behind the group.

I didn't believe the message, and went to bed. If we did believe the message, we would have joined the search that the girl's friends had launched. Their action in sending out the messages is highly commendable because a lot of people received the messages.

The car was intercepted by police 10 hours later near the interior town of Tambunan, only 2 hours away. For once I must commend the police and the courts for their fast action. Last Saturday, the two men (who do not look at all like any local natives, but have Malaysian IDs) were sentenced to 20 to 25 strokes of the cane, fined RM11,000, and given jail sentences of 28 years (the 20-year-old) and 32 years (the 29-year-old). The girl was brutally beaten, bitten and abused. Her torture must've been beyond anything we can imagine because these men were high on drugs and liquor.

The crime so shocked this city because the act of abducting people off the streets was unheard of here, and it was done early in the evening and she was with a group. Yesterday, in one of our local papers, there were calls to cane these men in public, mainly as a deterrent for 'would-be criminals' because "potential criminals may not want to bring shame to their families..." I am astounded at their naivety. Do shaming people in public deter criminally-prone people and do the criminally-inclined bother about their family honor? I am no criminologist, but I don't believe that flogging criminals in public would deter anyone except those who are already good and straight, who think before they act, meaning the general population. For the criminally-inclined, jail sentences and such do not deter them. Surely these men knew the consequences of their act even before they committed it, but they went ahead. So my call is for a referendum for Sabah to impose a law that allow WHIPPING THE DONGS of the rapists and sex perpetrators. I'm not advocating the laws of the Koran or Torah or Old Testament where the offending part of the body gets cut off. I say in cases of sex perpetrators, whip the offending parts, and whip them good and hard. If those parts then wither and fall off, all the better. This will not only deter future criminals, but it will reduce the offending criminal to a eunuch so that he can't do the same thing to anyone again. If he continues, with his hands or whatever. I am sick of cases where little girls, some just out of toddlerhood, were brutally brutally abused and murdered. Jail terms and caning are too kind for these animals who kill and ruin the lives of their victims and their families.

p.s. If you agree with this WHIP THEIR DONGS call, call Claire Das (088-318 991/213 991) of The Borneo Post. She is in charge of their Public Hotline column. I just called and spoke to her (she's like blur-blur, but talk to her anyway). I also just called Daily Express but was told the proper place to voice this is in their weekly Forum column.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lei Cha

This is something totally foreign to me. I sort of remember Bento mentioning this before. I was told by a friend that I should try this Hakka rice especially now that they have moved from Lintas to shoplot 1 in the Taman Cantek shophouses.

Last Sat, Lily, Hub and I walked into the shop and asked for "lei cha" and this is what was displayed:


My hub immediately walked off to the next stall and ordered Kuching laksa. He looked totally disgusted and upset. I guess it insulted his meat-loving cells. Lily and I settled for a bowl each, which came like this:

Lei cha. RM4.50/US$1.40

We were half-amused and half-apprehensive. Almost half-afraid too. I thought of all the cha shao and chicken rice I could be eating. "This is crazy. It looks awful," was what went through my mind.

It wasn't so bad. In fact, it was pleasant. Imagine the taste of boiled veg, preserved radish (choy bo), dried shrimps, peanuts, fried tofu, boiled french beans with brown rice. Hardly any oil or salt. The peanuts and radish gave a lot of crunch while the saving grace was the flavor given by the dried shrimps and reserved radish. What I didn't like was the 'soup', which was milled or ground herbs ("Lei" means to mill or grind, "Cha" is tea) infused in boiling water. It tasted like a bowl of unsalted mint and basil chlorophyll. If I have to live on that, I'd have Kiera Knightly's chopsticks body too. Now that's an idea. Yi, are you reading this? This may be the mother of all diets. I intend to eat lei cha once a week. I swear it made me feel lighter and cleaner, very detoxified.

I took Ming there for lunch today. What I like about this boy is, he's like me when it comes to food. While we love meat, we also love veg. Ming can eat a whole plate of greens like Little Foot. Apprehensive at first, laughing with embarassment at the bowl placed in front of him, he was still better than his dad. He took a spoonful, then another, and gamely said, "It's quite good actually." We both skipped the soup. I saw this guy at another table pour all the soup into the bowl of rice, and I shuddered. I looked around and nearly everybody was eating lei cha even though there were two other stalls selling Kuching laksa and BBQ meat and noodles. We started a guessing game and we were pretty accurate on predicting which patron would order lei cha, and which one would go for the meat meal. The guys who won't eat lei cha are dark, pudgy sorts while the lei cha guys are fairer and more serene-looking. Could it be because they are Buddhists who come here for a vegan meal? I also noticed that most lei cha patrons are ladies and Ming said it figures because women are so into health and looks. Btw, I recommend that you have it with brown and not white rice. That's what L, who told me about this place, adviced me too and he's right. Given that the weather's been boiling, stuffy hot the past 4 days, lei cha is an excellent choice. I've always wondered why Malaysians eat hot boiling noodles in this heat.

Now the next person I want to bring to the lei cha shop is Wey. If I can make him eat it, it'll be like winning the Lotto.

Truly Evil

This has got to be the most evil father, grandfather, husband ever. Words are beyond me.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Only 20

She was 17 when they met, 19 when they married on 25/4 last year, and 20 when she became a mother on 25/4 last week. She also died that day.

I have been feeling very sad about what happened in the early hours of last Friday, only a few hours after the wine-and-chat session in my house. We only heard on Friday evening about the tragedy that never should have happened, especially in this age and time when mother mortality, according to my friend Linda, is zero for a case like this.

The girl was the DIL of one of our Filipino workers. They live in a kongsi (shared workers' houses) nearby. What happened was she went into labor about 3 am, the baby boy came out fine and healthy but the mother was bleeding badly. These workers have no cars. They knocked on their neighbour's door (one of the housing houses) and the occupants, who knew them, came out. They refused to help. I feel like asking these people how it feels to be responsible. I see a Taoist sign on their door. Don't they believe in karma or something? Or does that not apply if the people who ask for help are lowly migrant laborers?
They next went to the project manager's house, also nearby. He had his phone off, and his bedroom was at the back so he didn't hear anything, not even the barking of his dogs. The dogs were the reason why the workers didn't climb over the gate, which is what they told me when I asked them why they did not climb over. They then desperately called a cab. I don't know why they didn't call an ambulance. Queen Elizabeth Hospital is only 4 minutes away. The taxi-driver came, saw the amount of blood, and drove away. I hope he has sleepless nights forever. By then, it was day break and the project manager was woken again. He went and carried the girl to his truck. But the family requested that he put her back into the house when they saw she was nearly dead. The ambulance then came, but it was too late. Linda, a qualified nurse, told me all the girl needed was a jab of a certain drug that will stop the bleeding. Just one jab.

And life goes on. The baby boy's so beautiful. The 21-year old father was smiling; his wife hardly cold in the grave. It is a 'face' thing for them not to cry, I think, because his mom (who's only 38, a grandma!) said he misses his wife even though he smiles. I also think it's because they have this fatalistic outlook on life, since life's so harsh for them. Wiping her tears, the baby's grandma said that the last two nights, the baby would twist his head left and right, eyes wide, instinctively searching for his mother. As I held the baby, I too was overcome by the impotent helplessness and sorrow of the whole tragedy. Why didn't they come to us, only a minute away? They said that in their confusion, they didn't think of that, and I suspect that they probably didn't think of asking us because of their status, which makes it so wrong for us. There is a doctor on my street too, and that makes it even more frustrating for me to accept what happened.
So many times we blame the migrant, legal and illegal, for the crimes in this country. And the statistics do show they are to blame for the majority of the crimes. However, many of them put up with discrimination and exploitation and they really have no one to help them. They move around like no-class humans. Their kids cannot go to school. Even if they did, as in the case of my helper Vero's sons whom my FIL had helped put through primary school, the discrimination and disdain from local students make them feel so low all the time. The government, about 4 years ago, stopped all migrant workers' kids from schooling and Vero's boys stopped school, one having completed primary 6 and the other, only primary 4. Sabah has the most number of illegal and legal workers, and these workers' children are growing up more illiterate than their parents. Can you imagine the scenario when they are older?
There is this Christian lady in KK whom I think is an angel. She started teaching English to the kids of illegal and legal workers from her detached house in an upscale area. If somebody was to do that, I'd say it is very commendable. But with no funding (maybe there are donations, I'm not sure) or support from the government (because it is an issue the govt doesn't want to face) and having the kids over a few times a week, for over 10 years, this woman's compassion reminds me of Mother Teresa. The rest of us Christians go to church, ra-ra-rah away during worship, break into tongues at the slightest cue, attend countless seminars and spiritual self-improvement courses but are we doing what Jesus said are the most important: 1. Love God 2. Love Your Neighbour?

Viet-Thai Chicken

Viet-Thai chicken

I saw a recipe in a Vietnamese cookbook where they marinaded chicken wings with salt and fresh garlic, deep-fried them, then glazed them in a sugar-fish sauce syrup and served them with a lime and black pepper dip. I combined the glaze and the dip instead and I wanted a bit more flavor so I added lemon grass. I found it tasted like honey chicken, and was disappointed that although it tasted fine, it too ordinary. If I were to cook it again, I would make it more interesting and add chili padi and coriander leaves, leaving a few pieces unglazed for my youngest who doesn't like sweet and sour sauce and can't take hot food. Yes that's what I would do, and so that's the recipe I'll give here. It would be more Thai than Viet, but since the original recipe was Viet, I'll still give it credit and call it Viet-Thai. Indochine sounds too political.

Viet-Thai Chicken
1/2 chicken, chopped, or 12 wings
1/2 T garlic powder*
1 T chicken stock powder
1 lemon grass, crushes and sliced finely (optional)

* I prefer to use powder as it will stick to the wings better than fresh garlic
--Just marinade the chicken with the above ingredients overnight, or at least 6 hours. Then deep-fry until done.

The Glaze/Dip
juice from 1 large lime
3 T fish sauce
2 T palm sugar
5 chili padis (small red chillies), chopped finely
1 T finely chopped coriander leaves

--Put sugar and fish sauce into a small pot and heat until sugar is thickened. Add the remaining ingredients and dip the fried chicken in one by one to coat, or if you prefer, serve the dip separately.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

No Smoking On my Turf

What a coincidence that Yi wrote about standing up for herself, because her Ma just did last Thursday night.

Hub had his usual bunch of schoolmates (usually 2 to 3 of them) over for their once-a-month or so wine-and-chat session. I don't usually join them because I think they prefer to b.s. on their stories, you know, boys' talk. But C brought his wife, and Lily was here too, and so I joined them, all 6 of us. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself listening to them talk about what mischiefs and misfortune they endured thus far. Then an hour later, a surprise: one of their MIA classmate joined us. I absolutely have nothing against this guy, and in fact, I told Hub years ago that I admire MIA's guts in sticking out like a sore thumb if he had a differing opinion.

MIA sat next to me and asked me for an ashtray. I think my excuse about what I did next is the standard excuse Malaysians use when they fall for a con job: I was hypnotised. I hypnotically gave him the can that had held the camembert. Now, those who know me will know that I practise zero tolerance when it comes to cigarette smoke. I move away if the people at the next table in a restaurant light up, I loudly complain (and dramatically choke) if there are no tables to move to, and I would rather not eat in a restaurant where smoking is allowed. When Hub and I first met, he was an occasional smoker and I told him to quit cold or I'm scooting off. He quit.

Anyway, MIA was puffing harder than Puffing Billy but nobody dared to tell him to stop. At one point, C and his wife and I started complaining among us about how we hate cigarette smoke (I want to commend them on broaching the issue openly, and in a way supporting me). The others heard but they ignored us (sort of like covering up for embarassing MIA), and they continued with their super important discussion on whether beef taste best with red wine in between bites or chewed with the meat. MIA, who had earlier talked about how people should be sensitive to different cultures and beliefs, had the cheek to join our conversation by asking if we knew that it is now against the law in Australia to smoke even in open places.(It didn't occur to me until 30 minutes later how ironic that was, given the predicament I was in.) By MIA's 6th cigarette, C hinted a headache, his wife's eyes and my eyes were red from the smoke and the wine, and I was wondering what the ### I was doing, inhaling second-hand smoke. By his 10th, I told him to stop. He shrugged and walked to the edge of my patio and lighted up again. Then within 1 minute, he was back into the amusing and disgusting conversation about how well the China Chinese can spit (L gave a story of how he saw not one, but two guys spit, not downward but horizontally into the side opening of a bin. He said those were powerful spits, and someone said "Must've flown like a sword" and that sent us all howling. Then they went on about how the Chinese love to jump queues. Poor Lily).

Okay, to cut my story short, it was a really enjoyable evening, everybody left at 1:30 am and Hub and I spent the next 15 minutes arguing about whether, under those circumstances, it was proper or not to tell a guest off. My point was that Hub should've joined me in stopping his friend from smoking in our house, and would he stop MIA from smoking next time he's here? I was totally upset that he did not speak up, knowing my adversion to smoke. To me, why should I save a guest's face if he blatantly disregards my rules in my house, even if it is in an open area? What is this about face if the other person does not respect your feelings? Lily, who was staying over, summarized it this way: Hub is a peace-loving person who knows his friend's character and doesn't want to embarass him whereas I am out-spoken and assertive like a westerner. What the? It sounded like he's the good guy again. (Truth though was, when Hub went upstairs, Lily said, pumping a fisted arm into the air triumphantly, "I want to speak up like you!") I want my husband to stand up for me, and he could've done it nicely without being rude to MIA. What is so difficult or wrong about that? How many of you read Bo Yang's The Ugly Chinaman? Lily tells me that it is a Chinese thing to not embarass a person in front of others, for the sake of not causing strife and so people prefer not to speak up. Tell me what you would have done.

p.s. And if MIA should be reading this, I want to state that I am not against him, but against what he did. There's a difference and it is reflected in the fact that I would welcome him with open arms if he just doesn't light up in my house. Period.

Chinese Last Night: Sour Hot Cabbage

Thai food is too heavy on sugar and fish sauce, Korean on chili and salt, Viet on fish sauce, Malaysian and Indonesian and most other Asian countries on coconut milk (which though a veg oil, is a saturated oil) and sugar. Among all the Asian cuisines, I've found Chinese and Japanese food to be the healthiest. While Jap wins over Chinese because of very little oil being used (although these days 'modern' Jap food is more likely to be deep-fried), Chinese food wins over Jap because more greens and assorted fresh veg are used, and in bigger portions. However, these two cuisines have something in common: use of soy sauce and msg, the Japs cleverly disguising it as dashi. The Chinese have caught on and now use chicken stock powder. That's my one cent on the level of healthiness in Asian food.

Last Saturday, four pretty young (as young as Yi) things from China who are studying here came to my house to learn how to bake a cake. I heard that they liked cheesecake, and so I taught them my macha cheesecake. I totally embarassed myself and ruined my reputation because the cheesecake sank to a wet mess once it was taken out of my week-old oven. While my old oven was always too hot, the new oven appears to be 30 C colder. I'm telling you this so you remember to know your oven, and adjust the baking temperature accordingly.

For dinner, the girls offered to cook typical home-style dishes. I brought them to the Lido Market, me the mother hen proudly leading 4 beautiful chicks who spoke Mandarin beautifully and refinely, unlike my Mandarin (which my MIL sarcastically calls 'Nanyang Mandarin'. The next worst thing to speaking 'Nanyang Mandarin' is having a 'Nanyang Face'. But let me leave that grouse to another time).

What shocked me was when the girls asked how many people they should cook for, and when I told them "7", they said "7 people? Oh, then that'll be 7 dishes and one soup!" I'm like "What?! 7 dishes for home-style dinner?! That sounds like a wedding banquet to me! Would we be eating at 10??" They informed me that in China, it is standard to cook or order one dish per person. Just think, 25 years ago my father not only had to send money to our relatives in China, TVs and even clothes were commonly requested items. Now they not only have bigger, better TVs, they eat much better than us. I think on the average, the Chinese in Malaysia will cook 3 dishes plus a soup for dinner. If there's more people, we'd just increase the portion of each dish. But it is true, and I have noticed on my travels to China that in China, they do cook many dishes but in smaller portion so that there are many varieties of meat and veg. In Shanghainese restaurants , if I include the 10 appetisers, upto 20 dishes will be served in one meal, and I am not kidding you. Another small difference I noticed was whereas we (or at least I) fry up a dish of greens for the veg part of the meal, the middle to northern Chinese people will fry assorted veg and not just plain greens. In last Sat's dinner, the girls fried green bell peppers with potato (which they call 'too dou' (earth/soil product/bean)) and thinly sliced lotus root with black vinegar (remember what I said about my mom frying her 4-wing beans with vinegar? It's a Chinese thing), two dishes which I have never ever eaten before but which they swear is common home dishes from Nanjing City to Jiangxi and Henan provinces, the places these girls are from. Other dishes we had were stewed pork belly, egg fried with tomatoes, mapo tofu, my left-over crabs from a previous dinner which remained untouched and thus became my Thai dish of crabs with tang hoon the next evening, and a soup. That totalled to 6 dishes and a soup, and we were one dish short because we decided against the prawns since we were all ladies except for my two boys as Hub was away at a retreat (nicer word for 'get away').

As it turned out, the girls were very efficient. Despite being their parents' only child, each of them was quite efficient in cutting and preparing the meat and veg for this one girl who was an excellent cook, but who had never cooked before until she came here to study 3 years ago. I have a long peninsula in my outdoor kitchen and it was a scene from Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs (not that they were short) as they each took care of chopping the garlic, ginger, slicing the meat and washing the veg. Hi ho hi ho hi ho hi ho. Unfortunately, none of my photos turned out good enough to be posted.

Lily, who has finally bound her Master's degree thesis (it looked impressive, and I feel proud of her) has been staying with us the past 4 weeks while looking for a place of her own as she finalises her thesis and waits for her convocation in August. Last night, she took over the kitchen and I got the rest that I badly wanted. This is what she cooked, and we thoroughly enjoyed her cooking:

Pea sprouts soup with pork slices and century egg, steamed pork slices with seasoned rice flour (this signature dish of Jiangxi where Lily is from is called "fen zheng rou" or "mi fen rou"), fresh chinese black mushrooms fried with pork, home-made chicken nuggets (my contribution, just to appease Wey) and sour and hot cabbage ("suan la bao cai"), the most common vinegar-fried veg dish in China, according to Lily.

It was refreshing to taste somebody else's cooking. These Chinese students have made me realise how diverse China and Chinese cuisine is.

Freshly fried sour and hot cabbage.

Sour And Hot Cabbage
1 small cabbage, cut into large pieces
3 dried hot chilies, washed and dried, n cut into 1.5 cm pieces
2 to 3 T black vinegar
1 t sugar (optional)
salt to taste
a few shakes of msg or pinch of chicken stock powder
3 T oil
1. Put oil in heated wok, add the chilies and fry in high heat till crisp but not burnt.
2. Add the cabbage to the chilies and fry at medium heat, adding a tablespoon of water as you fry. Add the salt and msg. When veg is half-done or just wilted, add the vinegar (and sugar if using) in small amounts, adjusting to your liking. Do not overcook the cabbage because the heat will still cook it upon standing and the black vinegar will draw out some liquid, giving some sauce to the dish.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jap Last Night: Gyudon

L to R, back: seaweed miso soup, gyudon and fried mixed veg.
L to R, front: agedashi tofu, shishamo (pregnant smelts)

Speed is the key these days. Who knows if there'll be another power outage. Bento's salmon donburi reminded me how I used to cook gyudon (beef-rice bowl) if I wanted a presto meal. This is the easiest Japanese dish you'll ever make, believe me.

Hong Seng at Damai, round the corner from Coffee Bean, is where you can get your Australian frozen beef sliced for shabu-shabu and sukiyaki. Some of my friends have told me they avoid going there because the people are so snobby and they won't even let you get away with 5 sen. I know what they mean. I once was totally out of change, and the lady boss waited for me to fumble through my bag, then go to my car to get the money. On top of that the shop's policy is to look as sour face as their faces allow. If you do get your beef sliced there, do expect to pay an extra RM5 per kg. Cutting it at no. 04 on their machine gives the best thickness (thinness?). I had my sirloin cut using no. 5 and it was too thick. I don't like the beef cut too thin either, as in the Jap restaurants. When cut too thin, the beef will clump together when thawed and tear when you handle it, and worst, it tastes like paper. If money's no problem, use ribeye. You must have the beef cut by the machine. Cutting by hand will give uneven thickness.

Cook your soup and other dishes first, and the beef last because being thin, the beef cooks fast and needs to be eaten hot before it cools and toughen. You can even cook it while your good sons and daughters set the table.

Gyudon (serves 4)
400 to 500g sirloin, sliced thinly n cut roughtly into 5 x 10 cm pcs
a big bunch of spring onions or scallions, in 3 cm lengths*
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
3 cups hot water
1 t dashi granules
1 t sugar (1T if you like it sweeter)
*spring onions have a dark fuchsia sheath on the bulbs and stems and are more tender than scallions which are bigger and white near the bulbs and stems.

1. When all your other dishes are ready, scoop cooked plain rice into large rice bowls and place bowls near your hob.

2. Put the hot water into a pot, add the dashi, soy sauce, mirin and sugar and when it boils, increase the heat to high and add all the beef, stirring well with a pair of chopsticks to separate them. Add the spring onions, remove from heat and stir to mix. The beef's best when there's still some red because if it goes beyond that, it will toughen. Mine was too done.

3. Put equal amount of beef and sauce on top of each bowl of rice and serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thai Last Night: Unripe Mango Salad

When I passed by my entrance mirror this morning, I saw this auntie from Tenom looking at me. The Auntie from Tenom/Keningau/Ulu Wherever with crazy hair and frazzled face devoid of make-up and smile was wearily and gauntly looking back at me. It's only been 4 days (and 26 more to go) since Vero went back to West Timor and I am coming undone. Like my ma said, "Your're like a person without hands."

This is only the second time in 11 years that Vero has asked to go home. I didn't want a replacement whom I don't trust so I decided to do it all myself. Clothes are now washed every 2 days instead of everyday. When it rained yesterday, none of us thought to bring the dry clothes in. I picked Wey up from school just now and he was wearing a white shirt that says 'Hong Ming' instead of 'Hong Wey'. As expected, none of his teachers noticed it. But he had to choose today of all days when he was wearing his bro's old shirt to wear forbidden Nike socks instead of plain white ones. Of course he got caught. He said for that he'll have to wash the toilet one time this week. (Yuks!!! I still have nightmares of my old school toilet!) The prefect looked at his name on the shirt and, as luck would have it, remembered Ming as his senior so Wey couldn't pass off as Ming. Anyway, Wey was let off when he told the sad story of how his clothes got drenched in the rain. Floors were not swept or moped until today, plants in the covered areas are drooping and dying (we are all so happy it's been raining every afternoon) and my hands are dry and coarse from washing the dishes. And I've found that front-loading machines take 3 hours to wash one load! That's six hours in a day for a load of whites and a load of colored! What kind of mad washing-machine company would make such inefficient washers. But I've just figured out that there's a 30-min wash cycle and I just have to put it through a rinse and spin for another 30 min and that would cut it down to one hour. Not bad (pat myself).

Today my neighbor was kind enough to let me 'hire' her maid to sweep and mop the floors and iron the clothes everyday until Vero comes back. I am SO grateful, Irene. And you know what, Irene's maid Eda cooks wonderful aromatic curries and beef soups that torture and torment me when it wafts with the wind, and now maybe I can even learn some Indonesian cooking.

So I've decided to cook simple and use whatever is in my fridge. Monday night I cooked Thai, and just as I was frying the kangkong, the lights went out. The lights went out in most of KK and some small towns for nearly 4 hours. Yep, that's how developed we are. Power outages are the norm here, in spite of the tallest this and biggest that. And despite sending a Malaysian to space, even if he was on a piggy-back ride.

I had to take this photo in total darkness:

Crabs and tanghoon with fish sauce and coriander roots, seafood tom yum soup, fried fish (the fish lost their skins because I didn't want to deep fry them; too oily. Okay, it's also because I don't have the patience to wait until they are crispy. Hub hates my fried fish because they are never crispy), unripe mango salad and fried kangkong. Another 'meatless' dinner that turned Wey off. With this kind of food and the amount of housework I now have to do, maybe I can loose those 3 stubborn kgs.

I really wanted to do a post on fried kangkong, Thai style, but since I couldn't get a good pic of it, let's just make do with the unripe mango salad which I made early in the afternoon. This pickle-salad goes well with fried fish.


Thai Unripe Mango Salad
1 large green unripe mango
1 medium-sized Bombay onion
4 bird's eyes chilies
1/2 large red chilli
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
3 polygonum leaves (optional)
3 sprigs of coriander leaves
juice from 1 small lime
2 to 3 T fish sauce
1 T palm sugar
roasted almond or cashews or peanuts nibs
mint for garnish

1. Peel and slice the mangoes or if you are very well-coordinated, hack it like this:



2. Slice the onion thinly, cut the chilies finely, mince the polygonum leaves and cut the other leaves into 1 cm lengths.

3. Mix the mango, chilies, polygonum and coriander leaves with the palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce to taste. Sprinkle the toasted nuts over.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bingka Sarang Semut/Honeycomb Cake

Bingka sarang semut/honeycomb cake

Bingka sarang semut (Ants' Nest) is an Indonesian-Malaysian cake. 'Honeycomb cake' is a more befitting description of the appearance of this cake. Do not confuse it with the Jewish honey cake, which has honey and doesn't look like honeycomb, while this cake looks like honeycomb but has no honey.

This is the hardest cake to perfect for me. I must have attempted this cake at least 10 times through the years, quitting for long periods each time the cake is a failure. I have about 6 honeycomb cakes recipes from friends, who all warned me, "This is a difficult cake. Good luck." And they were right. I never got any combs. I got many air bubbles instead. In my frustration, I turned to the net and followed a You-Tube video recipe. It totally didn't turn out any honeycomb, and I was upset that people can post recipes that don't work. Still not giving up, I found a Chinese cake called bak tong go on a reputable food blog, and the cake had lots of comb but it wasn't the same thing as the baked honeycomb cake. I asked Nee, who obligingly made a beautiful honeycomb cake and posted it on her blog but her complicated steaming method and equipment discouraged me, plus I still wanted a baked honeycomb cake recipe. I then made Elaine's honeycomb cake, but although it tasted very good, it too didn't have honeycombs. In the last couple of months, many people whom I've asked gave me certain tips such as: you must let the cake sit undisturbed for 1 hour before baking; you must bang the cake tin a couple of times before putting it into the oven, you must cook it with heat from the lower element only, you must cover the cake with foil while baking...

Rather resignedly, I recently tried again using Elaine's first recipe because while it gave no comb, it tasted superb. This time I let the cake sit for an hour before baking. The result was better than all my previous tries, but still not there. Because it was a hit with my family (and me. Gosh, are my thighs happy!), I'm sharing this recipe with you. The texture was chewy but not hard, and the flavor caramelly and buttery. I think I am getting closer to perfecting it, and next time I bake it, I will use some yeast like for the steamed honeycomb cakes which gives more comb, bake it using the lower element, and cover it with foil. In the meantime, I am sharing this recipe because it really is very good. Elaine was given another recipe recently ("Hyatt's own honeycomb cake recipe, true!") and although it uses the exact same ingredients, but in different proportions, the cake (not very comby, like my cake) was harder and didn't taste as good. I've compared the recipes, and taste notwithstanding, I'd still use her 1st recipe because it uses less butter and eggs.

Here's my call to you out there. Do any of you have a honeycomb cake recipe that tastes heavenly and look like honeycomb?? Denise? Mandy? Rei? Hungry Hamster? Bee? Nee? BBO? Anyone?


Honeycomb cake
2 cups plain flour
4 t bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 cups sugar (I've reduced from 2 cups)
2 cups water
8 eggs
100 to 120 g butter
1 tin (380 ml) condensed milk

1. Sift the flour with the bicarb. Switch oven on to 170 C. Line a 22.5 cm/9 inch square pan with baking paper.

2. Put sugar into a small pot and melt the sugar under low fire until golden-honey brown (you can caramelize it further but the cake will have a slight bitter taste) without stirring. Add the water carefully because it will sputter. Let sugar water (very watery, not syrupy) cool.

3. Cream butter and eggs, blend in the condensed milk and flour. Add the sugar water into the batter and stir well to mix. Cover and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

4. Bake 1 hour 30 minutes. Maybe you can try baking the cake on the lower rack of the oven instead of the usual middle rack--tell me your result. Test with a wooden skewer which should come clean if cake is done. If not, give it another 10 minutes or more. Some ovens are hotter, some cooler so you just have to know your oven.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pan-Fried Fish With Orange-Raisins Sauce

Pan-fried red snapper with orange-raisins sauce.

Went out with my boys and came home late. No time to cook Chinese, because there's all that cutting and frying, plus Chinese meals mean at least 3 dishes and a soup. The fish was thawed, I had some iceberg and butter lettuce and a vinegrette dressing leftover from last night, so western din would be faster. Here's where we Malaysians are spoilt: a maid to boil and mash the pumpkin while I cook the fish. I wanted to coat it with semolina, like Chef Oscar at Tanjung Aru Beach Resort had taught me, but couldn't find the can of semolina so I pan-fried it plain. Then I thought, the family hates sauceless meat. They want a sauce on everything. I spied some oranges, and came up with this sauce which was inspired by the apple-walnut sauce on my salmon at Le Meridien last month. I decided to share this recipe when the response from Hub was good. Sometimes it is a pleasant surprise when you come up with a dish using whatever you have on hand. The whole meal took 15 minutes to prepare and cook! (Wey as usual ran away when I cook seafood. He ate this morning's leftover pizza instead.)

Pan-fried Fish With Orange-raisins Sauce
2 pieces good white fish fillets (I used red snapper)
a pinch of salt (we are on low-salt diet)
a few shakes of white pepper

juice from 1/2 orange
2 T raisins
1/2 T cornflour mixed with 3 T water
pinch of salt, pinch of chicken stock powder

toasted and chopped nuts (I used almonds)

1. Season the fish both sides lightly with salt and pepper.

2. Put 2 T olive oil in a lightly heated pan and fry the fish 3 to 4 minutes, then turn over and fry another 2 to 3 minutes. Check the thickest part to see if it's done. Dish onto serving plate.

3. Pour away any remaining oil, put the pan back on the hob and add the orange juice and the raisins. When it boils, add the cornflour solution, pinch of salt and chicken powder. If sauce is too thick, add a little bit of water. Pour sauce over the fish. Sprinkle nuts on top.

The pumpkin mash was very good, even better than potatoes, because it was wetter and sweet. Just cut skinned pumpkin (the deeper the color, the sweeter and 'grainier'), boil it in a small amount of water until it's soft, drain, then use a potato masher to mash it. Add a small amount of double cream and mix well. I didn't salt it and it was okay.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hyatt Chinese Restaurant

Sucy invited me to her impromptu birthday dinner at Hyatt's Chinese restaurant last Sunday night. It has been a Hyattic week--I had Sat lunch, Sunday dinner and Monday lunch at Hyatt consecutively.

The Chinese restaurant at Hyatt furnished in cream, black and brown is very pleasant compared to the usual gaudy red and gold Chinese restaurants. Once in a while, they would have a promotion of some special dishes and this month's special is Peking Duck and Beggar's Chicken.

The first to enter, pushed on a trolley, was the Peking Duck, all shiny, golden-brown and crispy. As the waiter cut out the pieces of skin (we all agreed with Su that we want some meat attached), I had a quick chat with the head chef. It is such a priviledge to speak to a chef and in the process, draw out some tips on cooking. I've made taro ring twice this month, and am almost there except that the 'skin' of the ring is not light and fluffy-crisp. After some research in an old cookbook from the 60s (the same one I based my soy sauce chicken recipe from), I have narrowed the missing link to adding hot boiling water to the wheat starch (tang mien flour) before adding it into the taro. I was overjoyed when Head Chef confirmed this! I also asked him the other thing I've always wanted to know: how to make crystal prawns. But wait, this post is about Hyatt's Chinese food so let's leave that to some other day.



Peking Duck on crepes with a sweet hoisiny sauce and scallions. My only complain is the crepes were hard and dry like tortillas compared to regular crepes for Peking Duck.

In Beijing, none of us went for a second helping of Peking Duck because the skin was attached to a layer of fat about 1 cm thick. When I swallowed my morsel of duck and crepe, all I could feel was fat and oil gliding down my gullet and my mouth was squishy with oil. Truly scary gastronomic experience. In Shanghai, the fat layer was slightly thinner, but still thick by comparison to the lean ducks we get here. The Chinese love fat, and the ducks used for making Peking Duck are forced-fed until they are obese. I much much prefer Hyatt's Peking Duck even though it wasn't as crispy or aromatic as those in China.

Stir-fried duck meat with spring onions.

The ingenuous thing about Peking duck is that one duck is served in 3 ways: crispy skin on crepes, meat stir-fry and duck bones soup. I like Hyatt's way of stir-frying the meat with spring onions. It was light and refreshing although I wish it was less oily. If I wasn't so full (I had just eaten when Su called) I would be happy to eat this with a bowl of rice. In most restaurants that serve Peking duck here, the meat is minced and stir-fried with chopped up celery, carrots, mushrooms etc and lots of oil and black soy sauce that make the dish very unpalatable. Restaurants here will often give you a choice of either having the second dish as duck mince stir-fry or duck soup so that you only get 2 dishes from 1 duck. This often means you pay mainly for duck skin.

Three types of mushrooms.

I found this a bit bland, but I reminded myself that maybe it's because all hotels 4 stars and above do not use msg.

Deep-fried prawns with mayo dressing.

This was very good. The prawns were fresh, big and springy. However, a drizzle of mayo would've still made the prawns creamy and yummy but totally coating it in mayo was an overkill, and I couldn't eat as many as I had wanted. Have you noticed the big portion? Is it usual or is it because it was The-Lawyer-About-Town's birthday dinner?

Salt-baked beggar's chicken.

Beggar's chicken is usually encased in a layer of dough and baked but Hyatt's salt-wrapped version was very impressive-looking. A mallet was required to crack it.


After cracking the salt layer, cutting the baking-paper, then the lotus leaf, here's...

the beggar's chicken. I just noticed that the bishop's nose was not removed...

You'd think that with the chicken so insulated by three layers of wrapping, and it cooking in its own juice, the chicken will knock your tastebuds out. But it didn't because it was rather bland again. Or was it because I was too full?

Seafood claypot.

Did not touch this at all. I had called it a day as far as eating was concerned.

Salt and chili deep-fried squid.

I ate one piece only and it didn't particularly impressed me. Maybe I should've eaten more but I was full. There was another dish, a spinach with wolfberries which was good. I made a mental note to try cooking that next time I buy spinach. Dessert was a so-so almond jelly tang sui.

What a luxurious meal! Su is a great cook with very refined tastebuds and we were joking that she should be writing a food blog too. Thanks, Su, and happy birthday! As I write this, I am craving for the Peking Duck. And the prawns. I wonder if Su believes in celebrating both her Roman-calendar and lunar-calendar birth days.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stuffed Crab Claws

I love stuffed crab claws.

Not stuffed but wrapped with prawn paste,these claws should be re-named crab drumsticks because that's what they look like. You make a springy prawn paste, stick a crab claw you've salvaged from your last crab meal and deep-fry the lump of paste into a crispy tasty drumstick which you eat with English mustard sauce or Worchestershire sauce. Super yummy. Wey went, "Ummm, mom, this is the best!" and emphasized it with his eyes closed, smiling. From a person who doesn't eat seafood, it is a compliment to die for. Love the boy. He always hit the nail on my head when my cooking falls short, no feelings spared. But when the food's good, he'll tell me with a flourish too. Ming came down, took a bite and said, "Wow, mom, this is really really good. Seriously good." By this time I was all puffed up. Hub came home, took a bite and I had to coax him to say it was the best he'd ever eaten. Ego slightly deflated, I consoled myself that Hub was not as encouraging because by the time he came home (I had to fry the claws before the sun went down to take my photos) the drumsticks had softened in our humid weather.

Crab claws was a banquet item for weddings and birthdays when I was, let's just say, much younger. These days, only Diamond restaurant in Foh Sang and Winner Hotel serve this dish and their crab claws do not taste as good. This could be because prawns are now considerably pricier and lower-grade white prawns are used, alongwith lots of pork fat. I find that hard-skin or sand prawns are a good substitute for the expensive yellow prawns although for this recipe I used white prawns just because that was what I had in my fridge, although as a rule I don't buy white prawns anymore because I found out recently that white prawns are farmed which means they are full of antibiotics and processed feed.

If the fire's too hot, your crab drumstick not only will be too brown (look at the one in the center of the first picture) but it will also puff up way too much so that when it cools it will shrivel. The only problem with this recipe is I can't get the crab claws to stay crisp. Re-frying them will get them crisp again and that's probably what the restaurants do. Any idea how to overcome that?


Stuffed Crab Claws

1 full cup raw shelled prawns
1 T pork fat
1/8 t or less salt (amended)
a few shakes of white pepper
1/2 an egg white
1/2 T cornflour
1/2 t fine sugar
2 shakes of msg (optional)

1 t bicarb of soda
cornflour to coat
oil for frying
crab legs and pinchers

1. Using your hands, knead the bicarb of soda into the prawns. Leave 1 hour. Rinse and dry the prawns on paper towels, then mince them in a food processor until fine. Put prawn paste into a large bowl. Cut the pork fat (get the thick firm fat) into very tiny bits, size of a green bean or smaller but don't chop into a paste. Mix fat into the prawn paste together with all the seasoning ingredients and, using either your hands or a large metal spoon, churn the paste round and round in the bowl. After a while the paste will turn whiter and stiff. Keep churning because the stiffer the paste the more springy the bite when the paste is cooked. Leave paste in fridge to firm up, about 1/2 hour at least.

2. Put 1 cup cornflour on a plate. Using a dinner spoon, roughly divide the paste out into about 8 portions to make sure you get drumsticks of uniform size. Scoop a heaped dinnerspoon of the prawn paste and dump it on the cornflour, using another spoon to scrape it off the dinner spoon. Put a crab pincher on the paste and with floured fingers, gently mould the paste around the pincher, patting it into a nice drumstick shape, with lots of flour coating it. Place it on the plate of cornflour. Repeat until all paste is used up. Put drumsticks into fridge for another 1/2 hour so it is easy to handle.

3. Heat up oil (enough to cover) in a wok or pot and deep-fry the crab drumsticks in 2 or 3 batches. Make sure heat is medium hot. It will take only 2 minutes or so to cook. Time one and see how long it takes because cooking time depends on the size of your drumstick.

Serve with Worchestershire sauce or English mustard. Good as a snack or make them smaller as appetizers or hors d'oeuvres.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Garden Seafood Restaurant

The Cari Makan In PJ boy aka Ekeng came to KK to visit his family and he arranged to meet Denise Chicky Egg and I at Garden Seafood Restaurant last Saturday. Now the three of us have never met before except online in each other's blog. It turned out that Denise lives very near my house (3 minutes if I drive fast) so I picked her up. It was like meeting somebody I know yet not know. Denise's a pretty fresh-faced girl who looks like she just finished high school (but she's not), and like Ekeng was saying, she can cook some mean meals, at least from what we see on her blog.

Denise had hinted for me to bring the family sniffer along, and I had to butter him up a few days before before he agreed. He said he was nervous. But you know, like meeting Shan and Louis and Ivy of Precious Pea, it didn't feel awkward at all for me and I really enjoyed the dinner with them all. Ekeng's parents, brother and his (Ekeng's) friend Oliver joined us too as the family seemed to have some control in the restaurant.

Ekeng is very friendly and likeable and the fact that he was so loving to his parents and vice versa so impressed me that I must nominate him for the title of Most Eligible Blogger that is if he's still eligible. And on top of that, he was so generous too. Look what he feed us:

Fish maw soup

Steamed 7-star grouper. Ekeng's asking whose skin is smoother. Actually I asked him to show how big the fish is.

Yummy saucy tiger prawns. These were huge and after tucking in one, I was full especially since I had had a buffet lunch just 5 hours before that. What a waste, because more food was to come and I couldn't do justice to them.

Kam heong crabs, one of the best ways to cook crabs. These were good.

Prawn paste boneless chicken, Wey's fav--he doesn't like seafood.

Stewed venison brisket and veg. I hardly tasted this, stuffed to the hairline was I.

Thai-style mango grouper. The sweet and sour sauce was very good but I didn't eat the fish .
All that food for the 5 of us! Ekeng's family came in and out and hardly ate. I didn't eat as much as I would like to as I was too full. I found the seafood better than the meat dishes and was told that their prices are reasonable compared to Port View and Ocean Seafood restaurants.

These were delicious coffee hazelnut macarons from Big Boys Oven Sunny and Sid and they were very good, full of coffee flavor, crisp outside chewy inside. Denise and Wey ate more than one each I think. I however found it a bit too sweet. Now isn't Ekeng the nicest person ever, to bring back these special treats for us? He actually ordered some jelly cakes too but I shall not reveal what happened because I don't want to get Ekeng into trouble with BBO.

We had a great time sharing our common interest, blogging and photography, and Ekeng also shared about the KL bloggers when they meet (very nice, friendly people who let their food get cold because they are so serious about their photos). Thanks Ekeng for the scrumptious meal and thanks also for your wonderful company Denise, Oliver, Ekeng and family!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Buffet Lunch At Hyatt

Hub took his staff to Hyatt for buffet lunch on Saturday and we tagged along too. I don't like buffets, especially Hyatt's or Promenade's because the main dishes are mostly local Malay curries (how many curries can you eat in one meal??) and the cakes are just regrettable. However, since halal food is religiously correct for one of the staff, Hyatt buffet it was.

Saturday buffet lunch at Hyatt is RM45++/US$14 plus 15% and that entitles you to the spread in their Japanese restaurant Nagisa and the western restaurant on the lobby floor. As usual, we didn't bother with the western/local buffet and sat ourselves in the Jap restaurant. I'll just spare you all a long report and go straight to whatever I ate:

Thumbs up. Teppanyaki beef was tender (especially if slightly under done) and flavorful. The only thing worth eating so I ate a plateful.

Thumbs down. Some kind of grilled fish. I'm guessing it was tuna because it tasted dry. Won on presentation though. Simple. Sparingly elegant. Absolutely unimpressive in taste.

Maguro sushi was soggy and bland (that's nothing new about Hyatt's sushi and sashimi) while the maki sushi were okay. No sake (salmon) on Saturdays because the locals swoop down on salmon like polar bears (but the Jap prefer maguro to salmon) but it is available in their Sunday buffet which is priced higher.

A nice mitzutaki with teeny weeny bits of cod (mostly bones).

Besides the above, there were soba, fried udon and veg, some stewed dishes, veg tempura (cheapskate), cawan mushi and other teppanyaki items.

Kids are into Jap anime and cosplay but in my time these dolls were the in thing. I still have the Jap doll my cousins bought for me when I visited them in Singapore when I was 12.

The western and local buffet was quite a big spread but nothing caught my stomach because it's all quantity and no quality. Ming said these lamb ribs were super sweet.

I actually liked this. It was tasty and smelly.

None of these cakes tasted good, not even their honeycomb cake which used to be very good. The macaron was an imposter. It was colored meringue, so sweet I thought I was going into a diabetic shock. The black rice with coconut milk was okay.

Halfway through this rubbish, I suddenly remembered that I had a dinner date with Ekeng and Denise and I wanted to whack myself. Wey said Hyatt buffet "sucks". I couldn't agree more.

P.S. Okay, maybe I was too harsh, but I expected an international hotel like Hyatt to serve more quality food. I had buffet at Hyatt HK and it was pretty good, especially the dessert spread.

Of all the restaurants in Hyatt KK, Mosaic as recommended by Shan is the best. They are having a wagyu promotion which ends end of this month so you better hurry. Despite my review, I'm going to Nagisa for lunch in 10 minutes because Hub has arranged to meet a friend there. See you there?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Indian Boy

I was searching for some photos on my computer yesterday and these old photos caught my eye. I think Yi was the photographer, Ming the writer, director and editor. Wey was the willing actor, always ready to be Ming's slave. Ming is the clown of the family (actually we have three clowns including me and Yi). He exasperates me like no other, and my hair's turning white because of him. When he was 12, I dragged him to KL to test for ADD because he just wouldn't write a test paper completely even if he knew the answers. He not only wasn't ADD or dyslexic, the results showed his IQ was only 2 points short of superior! This is the guy we all turn to when the computer is down, when we get new gadgets and we are too lazy to read and analyze the instruction manuals (I truly hate doing that; it's a world wonder that I can blog) and when I need to reach up for objects because he is so tall. Anyway, here's his 'cartoon' strip done 2 1/2 years ago. We had just returned from a superb northern Indian dinner at Naan in Shangri-la's Rasa Ria Resort at Tuaran (an hour's drive away) and Yi was to return to Melbourne the next day to start her sophomore year. The restaurant gave every diner a stick-on mole (I don't know what it's called in Indian) and we had fun wearing our moles all evening. This strip was inspired by a fun Indian-themed evening.

indian boy
Originally titled The Unknown Evil Indian Boy Show by Ming, I decided to give it a more politically correct title.






Look at Wey holding his stomach like it's for real.


The moles on some of our faces seem to tell the past and the future very accurately (cryptic statement).

My three monkeys.

I have a pic of him where he honestly looked like his face was going to burst, and he was so blown up he hardly had any features. He didn't stop at 4 plates. That' s why we haven't been back to Naan. Excellent Indian food though.

This is sure to make her call me because she hasn't lately.
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