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Inside outside…

According to Wikipedia, it is considered  lucky to eat nian gao or (Chinese New) Year cake because the Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning “sticky”, is identical in sound to 年, meaning “year”, and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning “cake” is identical in sound to 高, meaning “high or tall” so eating nian gao has the symbolism of raising oneself taller in each coming year (年年高升 niánnián gāoshēng).

Well, I did not know that. In my growing up years, we called it t’nee koi or sweet cake in Hokkien and I was told that it was offered to the Kitchen God so when he went back to Heaven, he would say all the sweet things to the Almighty One up there and besides, it was so very sticky so the Kitchen God’s lips would get stuck together and he would not be able to report any bad things that one had done in the course of the year. Hmmm…isn’t there some kind of a conflict in that? If the Kitchen God’s lips were sealed, how would he, on the other hand, be able to report all the sweet things then?

As for it being sticky, I couldn’t agree more and that explained why, all through the years, I never liked it. I found it hard to bite and chew and to swallow and I would feel like I would choke to death, the same thing as when eating those tang yuan (湯圓) or glutinous rice balls or even mochi. My mother would cut it into slices using a string/thread – it was so sticky it was virtually impossible to cut it with a  knife, coat with egg and deep fry but that did not help. I still did not like it much and besides, that made it a little bit oily some more. For this reason, we have never bothered to buy any to eat, come Chinese New Year each year, so I guess you can imagine the Kitchen God going back to report all the juicy stories of all the naughty things we have done in the course of the year. LOL!!!

This year, however, was different! Some kind soul in KL was so nice as to send me her own homemade one…

Nian gao 1

…in the hope that this year, the Almighty One would get to hear some sweet things about me for a change.

See how nice and smooth hers was…

Nian gao 2

…and I did not know whether it was taken straight out of the fridge or what but it was kind of hard and so easy to cut into small slices using a knife. No, I did not have to look for a thread to do that.

A friend of mine said that she wrapped hers with popiah (spring roll) skin and deep fried them “till golden brown” and it was very nice. I did not know what she meant when she warned me not to fry for too long or it would “explode”! Surely one would need to fry for quite a while to get it all nicely browned, right? Anyway, I had no intention of deep-frying mine as I imagined it would turn out something like these…

Meat floss rolls

…rolls of meat floss wrapped in popiah skin and deep fried. My friend who sent me the nian gao she made gave me these too and yes, she made this herself as well.

So what I did was I wrapped the nian gao slices with the popiah skin…

Wrapped

…and put them in the oven to bake. When I could smell the fragrance, I went back into the kitchen to check and oh no!!! Somehow, the nian gao had melted and seeped out of the skin. No, the packets did not explode, thankfully, or the nian gao would be all over the walls of the oven.

It was a little sticky, not too sticky – easy to pull off so I could get them out of the pan onto a plate without leaving any trace of it in the former…and all I had to do was to wrap the nian gao all around on the outside and eat. I guess it did not matter one bit whether it was on the inside or outside, right? This one came out looking pretty good…

Nian gao slices

…and yes, it tasted really very nice and went absolutely well with the very crispy popiah skin.

Well, I enjoyed it so much that I made up my mind right away that if my kind and generous friend would send me another one next year, I would do the exact same thing but maybe, I would use two layers of the popiah skin instead to make sure that the nian gao stays inside.

Now, call it sheer coincidence or what but right after I had enjoyed eating the outcome of my experiment, I went back to check on my Facebook page…and lo and behold! I found out that I had been named one of the winners of a 3-day/2-night hotel stay at Asoke, Bangkok or Patong, Phuket! I had joined a contest around Christmas on Tune Insurance’s Facebook page by just liking it and sharing the poster regarding the contest. Now, was that sheer coincidence or because of the good luck derived from eating the nian gao? LOL!!! Hmmm…the trouble is now I would have to fly to Bangkok or Phuket to use the prize… Sigh!!!!!

Scratch…

Last Friday, I had to drive to my girl’s school to bring her and her new friend/colleague/housemate home for the weekend because the one who would give her/them a lift had to attend a course at another school in the district and would not be going back to their school and would drive straight home after that and anyway, that would be very much later in the day.

I was up early so I decided to cook something for dinner in case we would be home late or we might be too tired by the time we got back so we could just heat up the food to eat. I deep-fried one of the two tilapias…

Tilapia 1

…that my friend, Nancy, gave me sometime ago. I had cooked one sometime ago and yes, it was very nice, never mind what they say about the farmed fish…and so was this one. It was very lemak (oily, rich in Omega-3) and very tasty, very sweet and no fishy smell at all, plus there were no bones other than the big one down the centre and those at the sides/fins…

Tilapia 2

…I would say it was very much nicer than the somewhat bland and very expensive tangadak we had for our reunion dinner despite the fact that we had kept it frozen in the freezer for so long.

For our vegetable dish, I fried this thinly-sliced long beans with egg…

Long beans with egg

On our way there, my missus and I stopped by one of the coffee shops facing the market in the Selangau Bazaar for an early lunch. Boy!!! Eating in that little place could be so expensive! We had the chap fan (mixed rice) – my missus had the mini-squids with two vegetables while I had the squids as well plus the sweet and sour chicken and the kembong (which was not all that big) and a serving of bayam. I did not take any photograph of what we had but together with our kopi-o-peng (iced black coffee), the total came up to RM20.00!!!

Never mind, I thought! After all, it isn’t all the time that we will get to eat there and I would say that the food was pretty good. I decided to tapao two packets for my girl and her friend for lunch – rice with the chicken and squid and the bayam…and the total was RM17.00. Shocking!!! I think it was RM8.00 each and they charged 50 sen for the flimsy cardbox box for tapao-ing in place of the polystyrene containers that they used to use before.

We got there before noon and I parked my car by the side beside the parking shed of one of the teachers. Then we went to my girl’s quarters and waited for them to come back from work, change and have lunch before we went back to the car to drive our way back to Sibu.

OMG!!! I was so put off by what I saw!!! There was this metre-long scratch and dent…

Scratch and dent

…by the side of the vehicle!!! No, I was not blocking his way. He could have reversed STRAIGHT out quite easily or turned a bit towards the left (instead of right) and he would not have hit my car. All that was needed was a little bit of caution and attention, something that some young drivers these days seem to lack.

Now, I was really pissed off not so much because of the damage – it’s an old car, anyway, and no, I would not ask him for any compensation or anything – but he did not even have the common courtesy to go and look for me/us to let me know what he had done. Perhaps he was in a hurry to go for his Friday prayers, I wouldn’t know. I certainly hope that he did pray for forgiveness for his sin… Tsk! Tsk!

Left behind…

We still had these stalks of leek left behind after Chinese New Year…

Leek

…and they had started to dry up so I decided to take one and cook something with it – I did not want to use all as my missus might have something in mind.

She told me that she would use just the bulb and the stalk close to it but not the leaves. I think that would be such a waste so I would use all except for the parts of the leaves that had withered and turned brown. I sliced them thinly like this…

Ingredients

…and got the other ingredients ready as well – the usual suspects, the peeled and thinly sliced shallot and two cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped, one chili, seeds removed and thinly sliced and some of the leftover bak kua (barbecued meat), cut into thin strips. Lap cheong (Chinese sausage) would be good too but we have run out and do not have any in the house.

I still had half a packet of the bihun or noodles that they use for Penang assam laksa so I decided to use what’s left of it. I fried some of it once but found the texture rather hard and rubbery and did not quite like it. I can’t remember if I blogged about it but when I shared the photograph on Facebook, a cousin of mine said I would need to boil the noodles for quite sometime to get it nice and soft. That time, I only soaked it in hot water so this time around, older and wiser, I boiled it for a while before rinsing it in cold water and draining it well…

Penang laksa noodles

…for use.

I fried the shallot and garlic in a bit of oil till golden brown before throwing in the bak kua and cooking it for a while to get the flavour out. Next, I added the leek and the chili and mixed everything together thoroughly. For the seasoning, I sprinkled some pepper and a pinch of ikan bilis stock and added a tablespoon of kikkoman sauce. Once done, I added two eggs and fried well  before dishing it all out…

Fried Penang laksa noodles 1

…onto a plate.

I sat down and tried…

Fried Penang laksa noodles 2

…and yes, it was really very nice…and was pleasantly colourful too! I certainly would consider cooking this for Chinese New Year next year. I am quite sure it would be a hit – like the noodles this year.

Each year…

Come Chinese New Year each year, in the evening on the 1st Day, we would ask my in-laws to come over to our house for dinner

CNY dinner with in-laws

…and this year was no exception.

My missus cooked most of everything and this year, we had these garlic prawns with sesame oil…

Prawns 1

…and the ones with sambal and pineapples…

Prawns 2

These were steamed minced meat on scallop shells…

Steamed minced meat

…and there was, of course, the chicken curry…

Chicken curry

…and the kacang ma chicken…

Kacangma chicken

…plus my missus’ very nice oven-baked chicken wings…

Chicken wings

…and the golden ngor hiang or lor bak (meat rolls)…

Ngor hiang

…and mushroom rolls…

Mushroom rolls

…with a lot of cheese.

The photograph of the satay beef came out blur and the one of the mushroom broccoli…

Mushroom broccoli

…wasn’t very clear either nor was the one of the noodles that I fried

Mee goreng

You probably would remember that time when I fried some and it turned out really good so I decided to buy 1 kg of the noodles and cook it again more or less the same way but this time around, I  had some big prawns in it. It was all gone in no time at all so that would be a clear indication as to whether it  was nice or not, right? Hehehehehe!!!!

Everyone enjoyed the dinner and had a great time – they’re very nice people, my in-laws and I would say that it has always been a pleasure to host such dinners for them everytime – though most of the time, I would not be the one doing most of the work. Wink! Wink!

The waiting is over…

It’s here – the Year of the Goat…and to welcome and usher in the new year, in keeping with the tradition and to preserve the heritage, we had our mee sua (longevity noodles)…

CNY mee sua 2015

…first thing in the morning.

After that, we headed to my parents’ place and after that, to my mother-in-law’s, to wish them a very Happy Chinese New Year and to pay our respects. Then we went back home to wait for friends and well-wishers to drop by.

We served them drinks, cakes…

Cakes

…cookies and everything else that we had prepared for this special day. I did mention in an earlier post that my missus did not make any cakes this year – we just went and bought our favourites at my regular Malay kuih stall at Bandong and the nice lady even gave me this kek batek mocha…

Kek batek mocha

- not the usual batek cake but one with a difference, thank you so much. Some liked it a lot but my favourite this year would be the kek belacan.

We also had the very lovely fruit cake…

Fruit cake

…that my cousin in Kota Kinabalu gave to me when he came to town and that was indeed very nice as well.

There was a steady stream of visitors the whole day, starting with my girl’s coursemates and a friend of theirs…

Mel's friends

…who were so sweet and thoughtful as to bring this…

From Mel's friends

…along to give to us, thank you so much…and thank you too, Azlan – my friend from the radio days with Mag & Pat in the afternoon on TraxxFm for this “gift of gold”…

Gift of gold

…and then, there was my godson, Andrew, home from New Zealand, who dropped by with his family…and an ex-student of mine working in Kazakhstan at this point in time but was also home for the festival. As always, Andrew did not come back empty-handed and this time around, he brought me these…

From Andrew

Hmmmm…interesting! I never knew that “sweet as” is Kiwi slang for awesome or good one. A big thank you to you too, Andrew…and I  also would like to thank everyone who took their time off to drop by and extend their Happy Chinese New Year wishes – that was so very nice of you all and I really appreciate it a lot.

The last group on the 1st Day left at around 10 something…and it was past 11.00 p.m. before we turned in for the night. We had a great time entertaining our guests and I would say that it sure was a wonderful start to this brand new year.

P.S.:
My ex-colleague dropped by the 2nd Day of the New Year and she gave me these -

From ex-colleague

- her mum’s own-made peanut cookies and some jelly powder. Nope, please ignore the bag – there was nothing in it that would be of any use to me, not that it would help one bit…but obviously, my ex-colleague is a regular customer. I had not seen her since I retired over 7 years ago and it seems that she got a transfer to Kuching soon after I had left the service and look at her now – so much younger, her skin so fair and so smooth! Ok, my friend! Don’t you think I deserve a special treat for that? Hehehehehe!!!!!

The day before you came…

This was on the the eve – the day before Chinese New Year’s Day came.

My missus was busy the whole day cooking in the kitchen while my girl and I did a bit of last-minute cleaning and put the finishing touches to the decoration inside the house…

CNY 2015 1

We didn’t go out to buy new stuff for the purpose – most were things that we had last year or even before that.

My missus did go and buy fresh pussy willows though…

CNY 2015 2

She said that one would need to get new ones for the auspicious occasion and true enough, she did come into a bit of money soon after she went and bought some – not much, just a bit and enough to pay for her purchases. Hehehehehe!!!!

There were, of course, the Mandarin oranges…

CNY 2015 3

…and we were done – all nicely spruced up…

CNY 2015 4

…and ready to welcome and usher in the Year of the Goat…

CNY 2015 5

That night, we had a simple reunion dinner…and in keeping with the tradition, we had fish…

Fish

- as they say, Nian Nian You Yu (年年有魚) or abundance year after year…and these golden meat rolls – the ngor hiang or lor bak

Ngor hiang

…as they are called in some places.

This was a once-a-year treat for us – the five-spice phak lor (stewed) duck…

Phak lor ark

My girl and I enjoyed it to the max and we would only get to eat this once a year as my missus does not eat duck. Ironically, nobody (outside) does it better – in fact, none would come anywhere near and the next best thing would be the regular roast duck, that’s all.

We also had these mushroom rolls…

Mushrrom rolls

…which tasted very nice but did not look as great – this would need a little bit more practice, I guess…and we did not think the beer-marinated chicken boxing…

Chicken boxing

…was all that nice – we prefer the way my missus would usually marinate chicken wings to bake on normal days, whatever ingredients she would use for those.

The scallop and crab meat and minced meat soup…

Soup

…that my missus cooked was simply out of this world, very very nice. We did not finish most of everything but this one, we literally licked the bowl clean! LOL!!!

It had been a long and tiring day. Believe you me, I went to bed early and slept through the 3rd World War and a 4th one thrown in for good measure – all the deafening fireworks and firecrackers all through the night, especially around midnight…

…but for many, this alone would make it worthwhile for everyone to make the trip home to Sibu for this very auspicious occasion and yes, it would be a good time to come and visit as well – just book your air tickets early as it can be difficult to get seats or it may be mighty expensive as the festival draws near.

Doin’ it again…

I tried cooking noodles this way before and I am pretty sure I blogged about it then but I can’t seem to locate that particular post right now. No, I would not say that it tasted the same that time around…and I do recall adding tomato ketchup and even some Foochow red wine, much to the consternation of many who were appalled by that. I was quite positive that I had seen people doing that at the shops. Ahhhhh!!!! I’ve managed to find it now so if you are curious as to what I did then, you can click this link here and hop over to have a look. This time around, I decided to keep it to the bare minimum.

I still had ½ a kilo of the noodles I bought the other day after cooking half of it earlier so I decided to give it one more try and do it again. I tossed the noodles in dark mushroom soy and added a sprinkling of sugar and mixed it all together well. Putting it aside, I went on to prepare the other ingredients…

Ingredients

- four cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped, a handful of prawns, some thinly-sliced meat and some green vegetables, separating the stalks from the leafy parts.

I fried half the garlic in a little bit of oil and threw in the noodles and the stalks of the vegetables, adding a little bit of water now and then to help cook the noodles and once that was done, I dished everything out onto a plate…

Cooking the noodles

Next, I went on to cook the gravy/sauce. I fried the rest of the garlic in some oil till golden brown and then I threw in the prawns and the meat before adding some water. Once everything was cooked and boiling, I added some mushroom soy before putting in the rest of the vegetables, the leafy part. Lastly, I added some cornflour, diluted in water, to thicken the gravy/sauce…and when all was good and ready, I poured it over the noodles and served…

Foochow-style fried noodles

I would say it was nice but no, it wasn’t quite like what one would get at the shops or stalls outside.

I guess when one cooks it this way, a BIG fire is needed for that very nice wok hei fragrance and of course, I did not use any msg, just a sprinkling of sugar – something that they would have a lot of if you eat this outside. One plus point would be, of course, the fact that I had a lot more ingredients in mine unlike what you would get at most places…

Foochow-style fried noodles outside
*Archive photo*

…unless you fork out a bit extra for the extras added. Usually, the bits of meat are hardly visible and they would even scrimp on the greens.

Well, at least, it tasted pretty good but given a choice, I would much sooner cook the dry version that I dished out earlier – in my opinion, that was a lot more hassle-free and I would say that it tasted nicer too!