Archive | April 2013

A stitch in time…

Long, long ago, the girl students in the schools here had to learn how to cook and sew. There was a subject called Home or Domestic Science and there would be a room specially for the teaching of this subject. In one of my previous schools, in the 80′s, it was right next to the staff room and whenever they cooked anything, the teacher would ask us to go over and try and give our comments. Gee!!! Without my realising it, I was already a food critic then! LOL!!! The boys had to do Woodwork…and I was one of them in the early 60′s. How I hated the subject!!! It was such hard work, so very tiring…and I had no interest in it whatsover. I wonder why there had to be such discrimination at the time – why couldn’t boys learn to cook and sew if it was to their liking and interest?

Eventually, they changed it to Kemahiran Hidup (Living Skills) – I think they still have this subject today, if I’m not mistaken. The students are taught a bit of everything – jacks of all trade, masters of none. In the end, they hardly learn anything and the sad thing is that most, if not all of them, are, in fact, good for nothing. But to be fair, I did not learn cooking in school, nor sewing, but still, I would say I can manage quite well on my own. I guess it all boils down to the individual – whether you are interested in it or not, whether you want to learn or not…or do you prefer to just push everything to others and let them do it for you?

Anyway, when we were in Auckland, New Zealand in December, one night, everybody went out while I stayed in the house, having a much-needed rest after a long day of touring and what not. Well, they went shopping, it seemed, and my missus bought me this pair of tracksuit-like pants that turned out to be so very long. It seems that when you buy long pants, trousers or jeans, in a shop, they are usually very very long and you will have to get the people to cut them short. Otherwise, you will have to bring them to a tailor to get the alteration done…for a price, of course. Well, to me that is not a problem as, believe it or not, I can do it myself.

Let’s see how I did it in the case of my aforementioned pants. Firstly, I had to measure how long I would want the pants to be (just use another pair of pants to estimate) and having determined that, I folded in the excess length and used  pins to hold the hem down…

Pinned

Then, I tied one end of the thread to a “joint” like this…

Tied

This would be my starting point and I would start sewing from here.

I poked the needle through on the inside of the hem, say, around half an inch long…

Inside the hem

It did not matter as the thread would be inside and would not be visible at all from the outside.

I pulled the thread through and then I poked the needle through the side of the pants – just a little bit…

Through the side

…and not too much as this would be visible on the outside and it would look quite awful if the thread ended up in full view.

I pulled the thread through and then, I poked the needle through the hem again…

Back to the hem

…and thus, the hem would now be attached to the side of the trousers on the inside.

In the end, I had a row of hardly-visible stitches holding the hem onto the side of the trousers…

Inside

…and this was what it looked like on the outside…

Outside

Ooooops!!! Some are a bit longer and more visible than the others but who cares? Nobody is going to scrutinise so closely and carefully and criticise, I’m sure!

So I did this throughout the whole “circumference of one leg and then I went on and did the other leg. Once it was done, I gave it a try…

Just right

…and eng…eng…eng!!! Just nice, don’t you think? Hehehehehehehe!!!!

People called our bell-bottoms in the 60′s road-sweepers (sau kay lor) which wasn’t exactly true. As a matter of fact, they hardly touched the ground but today, I see these young people and the not-so-young ones as well, ladies included, wearing those jeans that are way too long for them and they just drag them along the ground until they get really dirty and so horribly tattered and torn. On rainy days, they would get so very wet that you would be able to see a darker shade of blue (or whatever colour) as the water soaks up the legs of the jeans…gradually.

I wonder why they did not get the people at the shop where they bought the jeans to do the alterations for them nor did they send them to a tailor…and it is pretty obvious that they are not in the least bothered to do it themselves. Is it some kind of a latest fashion or what – wearing jeans that are so very long? Perhaps somebody would care to enlighten me on this?

So fine…

This is a simple Chinese dish which, I suppose, everyone would have cooked sometime or other…

Long bean omelette 1

When I was growing up, I used to help my mother in the kitchen and I was asked to do all the cutting, peeling, slicing, chopping, pounding – you name it, I had to do it…but I never ever got to cook. My mother would do that herself and to the most, she would ask me to keep an eye on what she was cooking to make sure it did not overflow…and perhaps to stir it occasionally. But whatever that I had to do for her, I would have to do it properly – the way she would like it and not in any way I liked. If I had to slice or chop anything, it would have to be really fine.

That is why even today, whenever I cut long beans for the above dish…

Long beans

…I will make sure that it is very thinly sliced/cut and not too choe lor (coarse or kasar) and so bay kau kui or tak senonoh (doesn’t look great/not presentable).

I remember in one of the schools where I taught before, we were rather free after the Form 3 students had had their public examination and we would use the Domestic Science Room to cook for everybody to enjoy. There were laksa or popiah parties…and of course, I also chipped in and tried to lend a hand in whichever way I could. Once, I was asked to peel and chop the garlic…

Garlic

…and when I was done, a female colleague saw what I did and commented, “We usually do not chop till so fine!” Hmmm…I wonder if that was  a compliment or she would prefer it a bit coarse like this so she could bite into the bits when eating and enjoy the garlic taste.

Anyway, to fry this dish, you will have to heat up a bit of oil in the wok and throw in the garlic. Once, it has turned golden brown, add the long beans. Fry till cooked – it will look a bit greener and will be a bit softer, not hard like when it is uncooked. A pinch of salt and msg (or any other kind of seasoning that you may prefer) may be added to enhance the taste…and lastly, spread out the beans evenly and pour in the eggs, beaten…

Eggs

…so that you may get something like an omelette.

Once the egg is cooked to a nice golden colour, dish it out and serve…

Long bean omelette 2

Unfortunately, it did not turn out too well that day – the egg did not come out in one nice big piece but it was no big matter, really. The most important thing was that it tasted really great!

So? Is that how you usually cook this as well? Come, tell me all about it!

Brand new guy…

Somebody told me about a brand new stall at Bandong here selling very nice nasi lemak and mee jawa in the morning so I just had to go and check it out. Unfortunately, when I was there that day before 8.30, the mee jawa was already sold out…and so were the chicken curry and beef rendang for the nasi lemak. The guy commented that it was pay day so everything was gone in a  jiffy but give it  a week or so, things would slow down a bit.

The guy said that he used to run his business in Sarikei and also at Tanjong Manis but owing to family commitments, he had to move to Sibu and as he had not made up his mind on a permanent place yet, he decided to just operate from his stall by the roadside at Bandong for the time being.

I don’t know whether anyone would consider his nasi lemak cheap or otherwise…

nasi lemak prices

…but this much I can say – the rice is really very very good. When he lifted the lid to get the rice…

Nasi lemak 1

…I could smell the awesome fragrance! Gosh! It was that good!

I bought two packets…

Nasi lemak 2

…one with the sotong (squid) and the other with the  kerang (cockles) sambal

Nasi lemak - sotong & kerang

…and I would say it was great – possibly the best in town and definitely the best that I have eaten around here. I would not go for the kerang again though as he used those canned ones, not fresh cockles…so that was a bit disappointing.

Well, you can bet that I would be back there again soon as I’ve yet to try the mee jawa…and also the other condiments for the nasi lemak…and I really wonder what’s in the five-ringgit special. Stay tuned!!! I’ll find out soon enough…

Cornershop…

My cousin, who was home from Brisbane, Australia recently, told me that when she and her husband used to live in Miri, they would drive to Sibu regularly and they would stop at Selangau for breakfast.

She said that they would always drop by the shop directly opposite the SHELL station…

petrol station

…at the corner of the block…

coffee shop

…and that the char chu mee (fry-cook noodles) was very nice and they would always order that.

My missus wanted that (RM3.00)…

Char chu mee

…and she agreed that it was indeed very nice.

I asked for the Foochow-style fried noodles (RM3.00)…

Char mee - tam 1

- the wet version, the one with a little bit of gravy or sauce, that is.

I was kind of disappointed that theirs was the kind where they would fry the noodles first…

Char mee - tam 2

…and then cook the sauce separately and pour it over the noodles instead of cooking the noodles in it. That was why the sauce looked kind of pale…but it did not really matter as once you’ve tossed the noodles in it, it would turn a darker shade of brown owing to the soy sauce used. But it was very nice though and I liked the fact that they did not use a lot of msg unlike many places here…and other than that, they certainly added a lot of ingredients whereas here, most of the shops would give you, at best, a few miserable bits of meat and furthermore, they are just as stingy with the green vegetables. Tsk! Tsk!

Melissa had their chicken rice (RM4.00)…

Chicken rice

…which was actually rice with roast chicken, plain rice but she said it was good and at the same time, I ordered this plate of roast pork (RM8.00)…

Roast pork 1

…to share. Oooo…it was good! No thick layers of fat, very crispy and it tasted real good! I thought that was cheap too! I’m sure a plate like that in Sibu would cost at least RM10.00…

Roast pork 2

Well, that certainly was a delightful meal…and we would come again sometime, that’s for sure.

A hundred years…

Century egg or a hundred-year egg, called pidan in Chinese, is actually preserved duck egg (though I’ve seen quail ones too). If you look at the ingredients listed, they include duck egg, salt water, tealeave [SIC} and sodium carbonate…

Century eggs

It is made by coating the egg in alkaline clay which hardens around the egg and cures it, preventing it from spoiling and resulting in the creation of a century egg.

I don’t know if there was any truth in what I heard a long time ago but people were saying at the time that they used horse urine to make century eggs and hence, at times, you might find a very strong ammonia smell or to put it bluntly, the smell of pee in the batch of century eggs that you bought.  I guess that must be the alkali used and in the case of these that I bought, they used sodium carbonate for that purpose.

The eggs are wrapped in the clay and coated with rice husks…

Rice husks

…so to eat them, those would have to be removed and the eggs must be washed clean like this…

Washed

Then, you will have to peel the eggs…

Peeled

…removing the shell slowly so that you will not spoil the jelly-like egg white…which of course, is not white but a shade of black instead. They say that the best ones would be a shade of orangy or brownish black and are translucent which means that actually,  these aren’t too bad, don’t you reckon?

Sliced

When I was growing up, my father was the only one in the house eating them. The rest of us would not touch it with a ten-foot pole. If I remember correctly, my father would pour soy sauce over them and eat. Then, when my missus joined the family, she went a step further and added ginger, thinly sliced into fine strips and putting those on top of the eggs before pouring soy sauce over all that…

With ginger & soy sauce

By then, I had already acquired the taste for century eggs and till today, I enjoy eating them especially with porridge…

With porridge

The soy sauce would go well with the gruel as well (instead of Bovril or Marmite).

My daughter loves century eggs and would often opt for porridge with them when eating at the stalls and shops outside. Thus, we would probably include them as one of the condiments, alongside or instead of salted eggs, on occasions when we have porridge at home.

What about you? You love ‘em black eggs?

Wrap u around me…

This came via poslaju the other day…

Poslaju

The sender contacted me on Friday evening to tell me that she had already mailed something to me and the people there told her that it would arrive on Monday. It so happened that I had to go to the office on Monday morning to send something so I asked them if anything had arrived for me. The guy delivering the things in my residential area went to check and he said no…but I told him it was all right as there was no real hurry and I could just wait, no problem at all with that.

I had to send my daughter back to her school in Selangau that afternoon – she did not go back on Sunday as she had to get something done here on Monday morning…and while we were on our way, my telephone rang. It was from the office here and the guy said that my mail had arrived. I told him I was not at home so it was pointless for him to send it to my house as there would not be anyone at home to sign for it…but I would go and collect it from the office the next morning – Tuesday instead…which I did.

I took it home and opened it and this was what was inside…

Inside

I opened the packet to see and the contents included a very nice pan holder and an apron…

Pan holder & apron

I remember when I was in Wellington, I saw an apron with pictures of macarons all over it. It was not very nice and the quality did not seem all that good either but I thought it would be a very nice gift for my friend, Quay Po, who makes really great macarons. When I saw the price tag, I could not believe my eyes. It was selling for NZ$49.90!!! That would work out to around RM125.00 and with that amount of money, I could go to one of those made-in-China shops here and buy enough aprons to last a lifetime. Well, they’re all made in that same country anyway. Tsk! Tsk! Then I saw some relatively nicer ones in Auckland…and they were even more expensive – NZ$59.90!!! *faints*

Well, this is a whole lot nicer, I must say. I simply love the varying shades of green and the very nice bamboo patterns on it. The sender was worried that it would not fit me…and the good news is it does…

Fits like a glove

…even though wearing it, I look like a pregnant woman, full term!!! Sobssss!!!!! Now, don’t ask me why the photograph is blur!!! To this day, I just simply cannot understand why my missus can use a fully-automatic digital camera to snap a photograph…and it comes out blur MOST of the time!!! Ah well! At least it serves its purpose – to show that it is not too small for me and I can wrap it around me nicely, fitting me perfectly  like a glove.

Thank you so very much, Merryn! I really love it so very very much, I truly do!!!

And this very lovely postcard…

Postcard 1

…just arrived yesterday afternoon – all the way from Shanghai in China.

Thank you so much, Twilight Man

Postcard 2

It certainly was sweet of you to remember me while you were there having lots and lots of fun!

Sticky…

It seems to me, from some comments that I’ve read, that quite a number of people do not like ladies’ fingers. No, no…I’m not going to tell you the joke about eating papayas, don’t worry!!! LOL!!! But I do wonder why? Is it because it gets all slimy when cooked, all sticky and gooey?

Well, once, they told me to boil them first…and then slice and fry and it would be all right. I’m not too sure if that works but frankly, I’m really not too keen about boiling vegetables first and then frying them. For one thing, they would lose the crunchiness that I love in the first place…and if I were to boil ladies fingers, I would put them into boiling water whole and take them out as soon as the green turns just a slightly darker shade. Then I would cut them into bite-size lengths and eat as ulam – that is, using sambal belacan as a dip…

Sambal belacan

I don’t like them over-cooked and limp like when steamed or boiled for too long.

Now, my missus cooked some just the other day…

Fried ladies' fingers

…and they were just nice, perfectly all right with none of that glue-like kind of thing. I asked her what trick she had up her sleeves and she said that her friend told her to add a dash of soy sauce and it did seem to work.

Well, what about the rest of you? Any grandma-handed-down suggestions to get out of this sticky situation?

Not what I expected…

I was so happy when I saw this at the supermarket near my house…

Kway teow

Some people may beg to differ but I always prefer the thin, smooth and translucent kway teow in the peninsula or what they call hor fun to our local kway teow which is white and thick. I did manage to get a very nice packet of the dried ones in Sungai Petani once way back then but the second time around, the packet that I bought, a different brand, was a real disappointment. The one from Thailand that I bought quite sometime ago was quite nice…but I felt it was rather expensive and the seasonings that came with it was a bit too heavy on the msg.

This one is very easy to prepare. You just soak it in boiling water for around 5 minutes to soften it…

Softened

…and it is ready for use.

I decided to try frying it and these were the ingredients that I prepared…

Ingredients

- finely chopped garlic, thinly-sliced wine-infused lap cheong (Chinese sausages), chopped spring onions, some homemade pounded chili plus garlic…and two eggs.

I tossed the softened kway teow in soy sauce and seasoning first…

Tossed

…so that I would not have to worry about getting it all evenly mixed together when frying.

I browned the garlic in some oil and then I threw in the lap cheong…followed by a spoonful or two of the pounded chili before putting in the kway teow and then, the eggs. Finally, I sprinkled the chopped spring onions all over and after mixing it all together, I dished it out and served…

Fried kway teow 1

It was nice, this much I would say! Unfortunately, it was not what I had expected – the texture of the noodles was in no way like kway teow, be it ours or the ones in the peninsula. I would say it was more like hung ngang or the big type of mihun

Fried kway teow 2

…in which case, I might as well go and buy that instead. I think it only costs around RM2 something whereas this packet of dry kway teow was selling at over RM5.00…and if I’m not mistaken, a kilo of freshly-made kway teow at the wet market or the shops and supermarket is half that price or perhaps even a little less.

That was just half of the packet so the next day, I decided to cook the rest and be done with it. This time around, I tossed it in Bovril and added thinly sliced omelette and fresh chili, plus a sprinkling of chopped spring onions…

Bovril kway teow

This was nice too – like when I cooked noodles or mee sua this way…but of course, it was nothing like the real kway teow.

Small town…

Last Friday, Melissa had something on and could not come home till late by which time, everyone else would have gone and she would not be able to hitch a ride with one of her colleagues going her way. Thus, I had to drive all the way there to get her…and while waiting for the time, I managed to spend some time loitering around that small town…

Selangau

I would not say that it is exactly very small – there are quite a number of blocks of shophouses actually and this is the one facing the market but I find it  amazing how the town is only about 1½ hours from Sibu and yet, it is so very different. This is basically Dayak territory, Iban specifically, if I’m not mistaken…so when you walk around the town, you will see and hear a lot of Ibans speaking their own language unlike Sibu which is quintessentially Chinese.

It was around 3-4 in the afternoon and the market was still bustling with activity…

Market

It seems that one can get wild boar meat anytime here…and that day, I saw a stall selling ikan keli (cat fish) – huge ones, as big as my arm at RM10 a kilo. I did not get any, though I was quite tempted to do so, as at that size, the fish may be lo ko (tough and hard) and will not be very nice.

I took a stroll to the river that flows by the town…

The river 1

…and saw some people in a longboat, probably making their way back to their longhouse deep in the jungle upriver.

I shared this photograph on Facebook…

The river 2

…and instantly, there were people commenting as to how muddy and murky the river is. Of course, they have failed to see the beautiful greenery, the clear blue skies…and the serenity all around and the slow and easy life at places such as this. I mentioned that I would not be surprised that they would have to bathe and do their laundry in the river and for drinking and cooking, they would probably need to collect rain water as and when it falls. The irony is these people may be a lot happier and content with their lives compared to many of us living in the big towns and cities who moan and groan about literally anything and everything under the sun despite being blessed with all that we have around us. This brings to mind Catherine Lim’s “The Journey” from her “Little Ironies – Stories of Singapore collection. If I may quote  a review of the anecdote, “…Catherine Lim highlights the theme of appearance versus reality; that the modern comforts of luxury and better sanitary standards does not naturally bring about true happiness and prosperity…”

See this man fishing by the bank under the hot sun

Fishing

Who are we to say that he comes from a miserable lot and is leading a really miserable life? Who knows, he may be happier than anyone of us – you or me.

I remember when I was very very young and we did not have such good roads that we have today, my father took us on a drive to Sarikei…and I had a photograph taken at a bridge like this one…

Selangau bridge 1

That was so very long ago…and that was why when I was sending Melissa to her school the first time, I was amazed that there ARE such bridges still around…and still standing strong – unlike some of those built by our modern-day university-qualified engineers! I remember driving to a school across river in Kanowit and as we approached a bridge along the way, we saw that there was a detour…and we had to use an old, wooden bridge that had seen better days to cross the little stream – but as least, it was still strong and served its purpose…unlike the brand-new bridge which had split into two and collapsed, the broken ends (in the middle) in the water. Perhaps if you drive very fast, you may be able to go down one end and get across to the other end and go up the bank on the other side like how we see people doing such stunts in the movies. That certainly speaks volumes about the highly-qualified people that the universities are churning out today, don’t you think?

Well, here’s a closer look at the bridge…

Selangau bridge 2

…which probably will be standing tall for years and years to come, unappreciated and yet it goes on doing what it does best for the many that use it day in and day out, taking it for granted and never giving it a second thought as to how it could have been had the bridge not been there.

Happiness is how we make it and what we make it to be – we just need to appreciate every little thing that we have, count our many blessings and give thanks and praise to God above. “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.” (DESIDERATA)

What is it for…

Now, how do I define sambal? It is not just a dip as there are the various types of sambal that one would use to cook say, Sarawak laksa or masak hitam…and then of course, we have the sambal for frying midin (wild jungle fern) or kangkong and other vegetables…so I guess it would be more accurate to say that sambal comprises all the ingredients pounded or blended together…and there can be so many different combinations when it comes to all the things that go into a sambal.

The other day, for instance, when I cooked Sarawak laksa, I prepared this sambal belacan (dried prawn paste)…

Sambal belacan

This is easy to prepare – just pound chilies, sliced thinly and belacan together. Some people will add a squeeze of calamansi lime to make it less dry and that would also enhance the taste of the dip. How good your sambal belacan is, of course, would depend on the quality of the belacan you use (for us here, the best would be the expensive ones from Bintulu that are worth their weight in gold) and also how spicy hot your chilies are. These days, I get quite fed up with those that I get from the market sometimes – not hot at all, only good for colour and presentation. For the uninitiated, this sambal would go superbly well as a dip for plain boiled pork (just boil, no need to add salt or anything) or stewed/braised pork or pork leg…or roast pork belly. It is so very nice that it will definitely leave you longing for more, I tell you.

Other than the aforementioned, this dip is also good for ulams – you can boil/blanch vegetables like kangkong, long beans, ladies’ fingers, four-angle beans…or steam some cut brinjal…or cut raw cucumber into bite-size chunks to eat with the sambal but if you asked my grandma or my mum and her sisters in the kampung (village) way back when, they would probably tell you that this would be the appropriate sambal for the boiled/blanched/steamed vegetables and they would have something else specially for cucumber…as well as others for other things.

Anyway, the other day, my missus asked me to deep-fry some fish and I thought I could make a special sambal to go with that. I remember I used to eat this fish at the Indonesian nasi padang shops or stalls in Singapore way back in 1973 and they would bury the cooked fish under a blanket of pounded chili or there would be a slit by the side of each fish and they would stuff the sambal in it. I don’t know whether theirs was such plain chili or whether they had their own recipe for it but I had a fairly clear idea how I wanted mine.

I had chilies, lots of those, in mine and also garlic…

Sambal cili 1

…and I pounded them all together. This pounded chili with garlic is also what we would use when we have steamboat in the house or when we make our own popiah (spring rolls) or kuih pai tee (top hats) at home. If it had been for beef, I would have used ginger instead.

Sambal cili 2

Yes, yes, that’s a plastic chair that you can see in the photograph.  I am too fat to get on the floor, you see…and we have a glass-topped kitchen table…and my missus has a whole lot of things lined up on the kitchen counters so if I were to do the pounding there, the vibrations might send them toppling over the edge. So what I usually do would be to sit in one chair and do all the pounding on another chair placed right in front of me. I would say that it works fine for me…except that sometimes, I get little spots and splashes all over the front of my t-shirt. LOL!!!!

I would pound until all the seeds are gone, or most of them, at least…which is something quite impossible if you are using a blender. You can grind as long as you like – the seeds will still be there staring back at you the moment you stop. Once I was happy with the end result, I added some calamansi lime juice to it and some sugar to counter-balance the sour taste and stirred it well…

Sambal cili 3

Now, back to the fish, I am not really sure how they usually go about it but once, long long ago when I was not really into cooking at the time, I tried cutting slits in the fish and stuffing them with the pounded chili. However, in the process of deep-frying, all the chili came out and got burnt in the hot oil so eventually, I ended up with one horrible mess. Tsk! Tsk!

This time around, I tried cutting a slit in one and after deep-frying, I pried it open and put in the sambal

Fish & sambal 2

Hmmmm….it certainly looked good!

Fish & sambal 2

But frankly, I think I would not bother unless it is for some special function as this would probably look better for presentation when served. Otherwise, it would be just as nice to eat the deep-fried fish just like that, adding the sambal generously to it in the process.

So, there you have it – my sambal cili with bawang putih (garlic) – absolutely great as a dip and would certainly whet one’s appetite, that’s for sure.