You don’t bring me flowers…

I was delighted when I saw my mint flowering…

Mint flowers

…the other day. Generally, I do not have flowers in my garden – I would only plant things that I can use in my cooking or are edible so whatever flowers there may be are purely incidental or coincidental.

However, I have decided that I could do with a bit of colours in my life, not all green and I started working on this…

Floral circle

…what I call my floral circle.

These…

Golden showers 1

have yet to flower…

Golden showers 2

…but I think I will have to keep an eye on it. There were some lilies originally and my missus went and planted these at that same spot. They grew fast and furious and the lilies did not stand a chance against them. I have since planted the bulbs elsewhere in my garden and they do not seem to be doing too well – it has been a long time but they have yet to flower.

I have planted a couple of periwinkle seedlings here too and they are starting to flower…

Periwinkle

I don’t know where it came from originally – they just appeared out of the blue.

My missus planted these balsam plants as well a long time ago and the ones I have in the circle look very “fertile”…

Balsam

…but they have yet to flower. They are called cheng kak hua in Hokkien or fingernail flowers and are believed to be a natural remedy for fungal growth in toe nails. I had that problem once and a distant relative by marriage, a doctor in Australia prescribed some medicine for it – he said it was not a big problem just that the toe nails were a ghastly sight. Well, I went and googled and saw a list of the side effects of the medicine so of course, I did not bother to go and buy and take it. Thankfully, for reasons unknown, the problem just disappeared by itself eventually and because of that, I have never tried these flowers so I do not really know whether it works or not.

These were weeds that grew out of the cracks in my driveway and I took some to transplant in a more orderly manner and they have been growing well all this while. The purple flowers…

Purple

…are very nice but sadly, they will bloom in the morning and wither away when it gets a bit too hot. The good thing is they flower in abundance and there will be quite a lot at any one time every day.

I got the cuttings for this giant hibiscus…

Hibiscus

…from my girl’s school in the jungle. The mother plant that I planted in a big pot is doing well and I planted some cuttings from there here and they have started to flower. What caught my attention way back then was their size – bigger than a saucer, around the size of the plate by the side for your dinner roll in a western table setting or a bit bigger!

I do hope I will be able to add more flowering plants to the aforementioned circle so if anybody has some seedlings to give away, I shall be glad to accept and take them off your hands…

Be one…

It was Pentecost Sunday…

Pentecost at St Mary's

…and in an effort to bring the members of the church closer to one another, the parish priest announced the declaration of the 10th of June, the Feast of Our Lady, Mother of The Church, the following day, Monday, as our Parish Day beginning this year and there was a little celebration

Come Holy Spirit

…that day including a pot luck breakfast in the parish hall after the Sunday service that morning.

There was a big cake, a very nice one with the fragrance of coffee and chocolate but they had already started cutting it up before I could take  a photograph of it and because it would be the parish priest’s birthday the following Sunday, they got him another cake, a smaller one…

Birthday

…specially for the occasion.

There were lots of cakes, swiss rolls…

Swiss roll

…fruit cakes…

Fruit cake

…curry and sardine puffs…

Puffs

…egg tarts…

Egg tarts

…and Portuguese egg tarts…

Portuguese egg tarts

…and I enjoyed the beef satay that somebody cooked, eaten with bread.

I brought these Jakar sio bee (meat dumplings)…

Jakar sio bee

…as my contribution to the party – two whole trays like the one in the photograph and they were gone in no time at all. Everybody loved them, it seemed and the good thing is these days, we can get them very easily from this shop round the corner from my house. My missus made cups of fruit jelly (dadih) and they were a hot favorite as well.

We certainly had a great time at the gathering, enjoying what everyone had brought along to share and chit-chatting and getting to know one another better, a step forward from the usual hello and goodbye each time we meet when we go for the weekly Sunday service in the church.

Better way…

When my girl was first posted to her school in the jungle in March, 2013, the Sibu-Bintulu Trunk Road was not all that good or maybe I had no experience driving long distance then so I drove very fast there and back for fear that I would not get home before dark. In the meantime, there was an on-going upgrading of the road and the construction of some overtaking lanes and after a couple of years, I started to enjoy the leisurely drive every week.

We would leave home early and stop at Stapang or Selangau, roam around the market to see if there was any jungle produce that might tickle our fancy and have a bite to eat at one of the coffee shops at those places before proceeding to our girl’s school before lessons ended for the day.

Then came the construction of the Pan-Borneo Highway or what we would “affectionately” refer to as the Pain-Borneo Highway or Hellway. It has been gong on for a few years now and it sure does not look like it is ever going to end. Usually there are not many people working, just a few here and there and I simply cannot imagine where it is going or where it is coming from.

It would not have been so bad if they did not make a mess of the original road plus there are so many lencongan (diversions), one after another so one would be driving in a zig-zag manner all the way so what once was a 99 km drive is probably now at least 200 km. Talking about the diversions, I can go this week and find some very nice new ones and the following week, they will look like an earthquake has struck! Such poor quality work! I certainly hope that if ever they get the highway done, it will not be like this.

Anyway, sometime ago, I was at my regular petrol station and I was chatting with my friends there, the petrol attendants and I was telling them how horrible the road conditions were. There was a boy there wiping and cleaning the pumps and he suggested that I used Jalan Pasai Siong…

Jalan Pasai Siong

…adding that the road would be a whole lot better, no potholes, no diversions, nothing. However, it was only after my girl’s colleague mentioned that same thing to her that I decided to give it a try.

Not far after Stapang, you would get to a junction – you can see a road sign pointing right to Jalan Teku Pasai Siong and to Sibu/Sarikei straight ahead and a little further up, there is a bigger signboard with one arrow pointing to Sibu and the other, Bintulu/Miri. Instead of going straight like what I usually did, you turn right. You can see from the above photograph that it is a very narrow two-lane road, one coming and one going, not too winding but kind of hilly so one would go up and down smoothly as the slopes are not steep.

Before I embarked on my little adventure, I logged into Google Maps and went on a “drive” along that road. It felt so very long, nothing but jungle on both sides of the road and frankly, it does feel that way when you are driving along this road, like it is never going to end. However, I kept track of the distance and found that it was only 35 km (21.7 miles) and if you are driving along the Sibu-Bintulu Trunk Road, SMK Luar Bandar is 21 miles away – and that was before they had all those lencongan (diversions), still quite a distance away from this Jalan Pasai Siong/Sibu-Bintulu Trunk Road junction. Maybe I was not driving very fast as I was not that familiar with the road yet so I found that we did not really make good time, perhaps by 15-20 minutes only.

Not far from the aforementioned junction, you will pass by this very nice temple…

Temple

…and along the way, other than the oil palm estates, the pepper gardens, the pineapple farms, you may see some country houses…

Country house

…and padi fields and some longhouses…

Longhouses

…too.

If I remember correctly, there are two streams and bridges…

Stream and bridge

…to cross and when you get to these shops…

Shops

…where the 1Malaysia Clinic, Teku is, you will know that you’re almost there.

When you get to this roundabout…

Roundabout

…turn left into Jalan Ling Kai Cheng and go straight ahead to the traffic lights at its junction with Jalan Deshon (Selemo junction), the sole traffic lights the whole way and none of those horrendous lencongan (diversions), none at all to make your driving a horrible nightmare!

Besides, there are hardly any cars so you can just cruise along happily – no F1 Grand Prix driver-wannabes, no road bullies tailgating you at a dangerously close range when they cannot overtake, no excessively-overloaded lorries, long trailers and inter-town buses behaving like it’s their grandfather’s road, overtaking when they please – no signal, no horn, no warning whatsoever, never mind right or left and scaring the living daylights out of you. Here, along this somewhat deserted/quiet road, if you come across one that is slower than you, it is so easy to overtake because there are no other cars, none on-coming and none going.

There is a part somewhere in the middle where the patching and repairing have made it kind of bumpy so the ride would not be all that smooth but that is chicken feed compared to the torture you have to go through when driving through those diversions. Do be careful and watch out for unexpected curves, just a few here and there – you may be speeding uphill and when you reach the top, you may find that suddenly, you have to turn right or left and not go straight over the edge!

The school holidays are here, praise the Lord so I will not have to drive to my girl’s school in the jungle for the next two weeks but when it reopens, no prize for guessing which road I would take!

*Photos taken from Google Map and adapted/edited for use in this post. I did take a few that I shared on Facebook sometime ago but when one is driving, the photographs taken may not be all that nice.*

Love takes time…

The first time I had gooseberries was when my ex-student, Raphael’s mum gave me some. “Just scatter them on the ground,” she said, “They’re very easy to grow!” Well, I did that but nothing appeared.

Around that same time, my dear friend, Mary, got me some from Thailand and yes, I did try planting a few of those too but to no avail.

Sometime ago, my niece, the one working in Singapore, got us a big pack – I think she said they were imported from some country overseas, I can’t remember where now. I did not get the chance to sample any and the next thing I knew, my missus had taken all that was left in the pack and planted them in a pot. I thought they weren’t nice but she said no, it was kind of damp and they did not want to eat them in that condition.

It did not take long for the seedlings to appear, lots of them, so I picked the bigger ones and transplanted them onto a space in the ground and yes, they grew and they grew. After a long time, there were little yellow flowers but no fruit. I was thinking they were male – they say male plants will not bear fruit.

Much to our delight, one fine day, my girl spotted some fruits growing…

Gooseberries

…here and there. I guess it takes time and with a lot of loving tender care, it will bear fruit eventually. They are still green though so we have not harvested any yet to try.

Since we are on the topic of plants, I saw the photo my friend, Elin, in Ipoh, Perak shared on Facebook of her ginger. She planted that and it sure looked like she had a bountiful harvest. Seeing that, I was thinking that I could do the same especially when those things don’t come cheap anymore these days. I spotted a sprout coming out of the ginger we had in the pantry so I took that section of the tuber and planted it. Yes, it is growing…

Ginger

…but it is still very small. Fingers crossed, hopefully, I will get something out of my venture in due course.

Now, if you may recall, a friend of mine gave me this

Started with one

…around August that year. There was only one then and now there are three and a fourth one is going to sprout out soon.

And talking about friends, Annie and her twins are home from KL for the Ching Ming Festival and she dropped by my house to pass me these…

Goodies from Annie

It’s so very sweet of her to bring me all these goodies everytime she comes home. I tried to give her some things in return but no, she simply would not hear of it and would not accept. Sighhhh!!!!

She just sent me a pack of their own-made wine-infused lap chiang (Chinese sausages) through her mum in November and I have not opened it – saving the precious stuff as I did not know when I would be able to get hold of some more. They are very nice and ever since I have been eating these, I would never buy those dry and hard ones from the shops anymore. I guess now that I have quite a lot, I can open one to use in my cooking.

Other than the sausages, she also gave me my favourite M&S all butter biscuits plus two more new ones to try. Gee!!! I am so pampered, truly blessed, am I not?

Thanks so much, Annie, for everything – great to see you and your boys again. Gosh! They’re so thin and so tall now – you must feed them more to fatten them up a bit. LOL!!! And congratulations to your nephew for scoring straight A’s in the SPM Examination and good luck, all the best to him in his studies at tertiary level. My! My! How time flies! They were just little boys, all the three of them, way back in 2010!

Once upon a time…

These are our Rajang hay bee/udang kering (dried prawns)…

Rajang hay bee

As you can see, they are straight, not like all the other udang kering from other parts of the country/world. The people have to painstakingly arrange the prawns in line one by one so the end product will be straight.

Once upon a time – yes, it does seem so very long ago, they were quite affordable and my mum would make the sambal quite often. Of course, she would make quite a lot at one go and store them in (Nescafe) bottles for us to eat slowly. When I was some place else, not at home, she would make and send to me a bottle or two whenever there was somebody to send it through. I guess she reckoned I could always eat it with rice…and with some cut cucumber, that would be a balanced meal by itself.

These days, these prawns are way over RM100 a kg so I do not make the sambal that often. Besides, they are harder – dunno if this is true but they tell me that now it is factory-made and machine-dried and maybe, they steam them too long so they are no longer as sweet and nice as those during our growing up years.

I did blog about making this sambal hay bee/udang kering a long time ago when I was still using my handphone camera and that was more or less what I did the other day when I felt like making some.

I pounded the ingredients…

Pounded ingredients

…and the dried prawns…

Hay bee, pounded

…after soaking in hot water to soften a little and to rinse them clean. I must say it was no easy task as they are a lot harder these days but using the blender is out of the question. My good friends’ mum, Auntie Mary, the dear ol’ lady, may she rest in peace, once told me she would not pound till too fine as she would prefer some little bits to give it some bite and to chew on when eating and enjoying.

The preparation of the ingredients may be quite tedious but the cooking is very easy. Just fry the pounded ingredients in quite a lot of oil (the pounded dried prawns will soak it all up later so make sure there is enough), throw in the serai (lemon grass)…

Cooking

…and when nicely browned and fragrant, add the pounded dried prawns. Add some curry leaves and if you want, you can add sugar, salt and msg too.  Keep stirring till nice and crusty and golden brown before dishing it all out…

My sambal hay bee

We loved it so much, great with rice and we even had it on bread. Yes, you read it right, bread! As a matter of fact, I had not had it that way for so long that yesterday, I went out and bought a loaf and after applying a layer of butter on a slice, I added the sambal

Sambal hay bee on buttered bread

…and ate. Oh boy! That tasted so so so good! I had not had it this way for so long, maybe not since I was a kid or a teenager that I had forgotten completely how good that tasted, a whole lot nicer than with rice, take my word of it!

This should last for a couple of days and looking at how the prices of everything are going up and up and up, I guess I will be having this again not that soon in the near future. Sighhh!!!

Golden…

This is the kim chio

Kim chio

…and though it sounds a bit like banana in Hokkien, it is literally translated to mean golden pomfret. I do not know why it is not as popular as its white counterpart, the pek chio, considering that gold is auspicious to the Chinese. Personally, I am not really a fan of the pek chio – for one thing, it is extremely expensive and though the flesh is finer and smoother, I find it somewhat mild or bland. I prefer the cheaper black pomfret or the or chio for its stronger taste.

I was never crazy about the kim chio either but one Friday, I went to the shop near my house and it was all they had so I bought one. It turned out really nice so I went back and bought some more to stock up for the coming Chinese New Year. Word has it that as the season draws near, all the sellers will hoard all the “good” fish so as to sell them at exorbitant jacked-up prices especially on the eve of the festival.

The problem with buying fish from that shop is that they do not gut or clean the fish for you so you will have to do it yourself. If you buy fish from the fishmonger these days, you can ask them to do it. I saw a video clip on youtube where they asked some young girls to do that and good grief!!! All of them could not do it and they struggled through the whole process like it was something utterly disgusting. There is one part in this Chinese New Year commercial too where the wife instructed the hubby to do that (0:55) and I found it rather amusing – it sure brought a smile to my face as I watched that.

Well, if you are wondering, yes, I can do it myself. First, you have to scrape the fish holding the knife vertically and even though pomfrets do not seem to have any visible scales, you will be able to see it more clearly…

Scraping

…when you do that.

You may just leave the fins by the side if you wish but I will always cut them off…

Side fins

To remove the insides of the fish, pierce through this hole underneath…

Hole

…with a knife or kitchen scissors and cut a slit…

Slit

…so you can pull out everything. Some people will cut a slit close to the side on one side of the fish but I am not all that fond of that. I feel this looks much nicer.

Rinse clean but usually I will save the water to pour over the plants in my garden and I will bury everything underground – that will also help make it more fertile. Even if you get the fishmonger to clean the fish for you, you still have to rinse it well to make sure it is really clean and everything has been removed. For some fish, I would also cut and remove the black stuff (they say it is the blood) along the bones inside.

You can remove the gills…

Gills

…by pulling them out through the flaps by the side of the head.

Finally, you cut slits…

Slits

…on both sides of the fish and it is ready for garnishing.

Chinese cooking is very simple but I guess I would go a step further when I cook. I added finely chopped garlic – they say that will remove the fishy smell – very thinly sliced ginger, chilies and the stalks of my daun sup (Chinese celery) and I will place the leaves on top…

Garnished

…and lastly, you may add a dash of oyster sauce (my missus does that) but I prefer a bit of fish sauce, diluted a bit as it can be rather salty. It is now ready for steaming.

Steam it for around 15-20 minutes and it is done! If you are cooking for guests, the leaves will not look nice after steaming so do remove them and place fresh leaves to make it look a lot more presentable. I think for the Teochew version, they also add thin strips of salted vegetable and tofu.

We didn’t know…

Gosh!!! All my life, I thought we planted kunyit (turmeric) for the tuber for use in our cooking and I had some with very big leaves that I used to wrap fish for cooking what we call pa’is ikan. Eventually, it grew a little bit too crowded so I transplanted some at another place – where my missus planted it a long long time ago and it did not do very well (we were both working then and did not have much time to tend to our plants) – and there, it flourished too.

That day, I decided to trim it a little, more specifically to get rid of the old withered leaves and some of those small ones sprouting out to give the rest more breathing space, so to speak. Imagine my surprise when I spotted, hidden among the leaves, a flower…

Kunyit flower 1

We did not know that the kunyit plant will blossom…and a few days later, I spotted another one…

Kunyit flower 2

…and this looked like another one yet to bloom…

Coming soon

I did share a photograph of it on Facebook and some friends commented that the flowers would be good for ulam, eaten with sambal belacan or used to cook asam prawns. I’ve yet to do anything with them but I did go and google for recipes – it looked like all of them only used it to make kerabu.

I also had to trim my serai (lemon grass)…

Serai

…the other day. I have to do this very often and very regularly as it grows really well. In the past, I would harvest the stalks of serai and send them to my favourite Thai restaurant here but it has since closed down. This time around, I ended up with around 50 big fat stalks (I just threw away the thinner ones) in my freezer.

I used to throw away the leaves but not anymore. These days, I pick the fresher, greener leaves and tie them up nicely to put in my kitchen cabinets. It is believed to keep away lizards and cockroaches and yes, it has been said also that serai scares mosquitoes away.  As for the rest of the leaves, I cut them into short lengths and spread them out under the plant. It will help fertilise the soil and of course, the top cover will prevent unwanted weeds from sprouting out all over.

This is from my current batch of ulam raja – it has started flowering…

Ulam raja flower

They grew out of the seeds from the plants in the previous batch – my missus got a lot of seeds from a friend but they did not grow so well. I think in the end, I only got four or five plants but those produced enough seeds to reproduce so many seedlings. Just like my kunyit, I had to get rid of the smaller and thinner ones to give space to the selected few to grow and flourish…and when I pluck any for our ulam, I would pick the nice young leaves to enjoy and leave the bigger and harder older ones untouched.

Gardening can be so therapeutic – when you see your plants doing so well, you will feel so happy, so satisfied…and all that exercise every morning, all that sweating is good too.