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.

O come, all ye faithful…

This and this used to be here…

Catholic Centre

…in what was called the Catholic Centre in the Sacred Heart Cathedral compound and there was a budget inn upstairs but they have all since moved away when the premises was taken back for some massive renovations.

It sure looks like they’ve got it all nicely done now and the other morning, I decided to drop by to check the place out. They have an eatery downstairs where they say all the workers are volunteers from the church. I don’t know what the arrangement is, whether they rent out the stalls and the proceeds will go to the church fund but right now, there is a drinks stall and also one food stall…

Food stall

I tried the kampua mee, kosong (RM2.00)…

Kampua mee

…and I thought it was all right. No, I would not say that it swept me off my feet but it was good enough which is more than what I would say about some of the noodles at some of the stalls elsewhere.

Likewise, the piansip/ meat dumplings (RM2.50)…

Piansip

…were o.k. too but it appeared to me that the fried stuff was more popular – everyone else seemed to be having something fried and looking at what was served and the lovely fragrances that filled the air, I did think everything looked nice and I sure would want to order and try on my next visit. I must say that I liked how they used glass and ceramics instead of plastic, all their plates and bowls.

I’ve heard people saying that the chap fan/mixed rice is cheap…

Prices

…and very good as well and when I was there, they already had a few dishes ready like these…

Chap fan options 1

…and these…

Chap fan options 2

…as well. I wonder if the ginseng soup…

Ginseng soup

…is any good or not – perhaps I can try that as well next time.

That day, after Stephanie and Andrew’s wedding at the cathedral, they had a buffet brunch/lunch here – everyone sang praises of the dishes served. I did not join them as I was already too full after what I had prior to the wedding service. It sure looks like I will have to go back there soon to try for myself first-hand, their chap fan.

For one thing, this place sure looks like a leading contender for the environmental award, the next round, if it is still going strong by then. If you wish to tapao (takeaway) the food, you will have to bring your own containers or tiffin carriers as they will not have any of those plastic ones…

No plastic

…for you to pack your picks.

There are these steamed paos (buns) too…

Steamed buns

…and if you want to buy those to take away, in line with their No Plastic policy, they will use these brown paper bags…

Brown paper bags

Why? You do not even get a plastic drinking straw…

No straw

…with your drink.

Other than all the aforementioned, this is a No Smoking zone so if your nicotine level is running dangerously low, you will have to stroll out to the main road outside.

This place opens from 6.00 a.m. till 2.00 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and it is closed on Sundays in keeping with one of the Ten Commandments that says, “Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath Day.”

I could not find any sign anywhere all around the building but the place has been called Laudato Si, which means “Praise be to You” in Latin…

LAUDATO SI

…after the second encyclical of Pope Francis in which he “critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, laments environmental degradation and global warming and calls all people of the world to take swift and unified global action”…and it sure looks like this place is heading in that right direction and I would say that it sure deserves the support of members of the public.

LAUDATO SI is located in what was previously known as the Catholic Centre located in the compound of the Sacred Heart Cathedral and St Rita’s Primary School.

You are a winner…

Congratulations to Payung Café, Sibu

Payung Cafe Sibu
*Photo from their Facebook page*

…for winning the 8th Chief Minister’s Environmental Award (CMEA) 2017/2018 in its new category for eateries and food outlets…

Trophy
*Andy’s photo taken at the event*

The presentation ceremony of this special state-level award from the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) was held last night in Kuching.

The café has won the Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Award twice, once in 2013/2015 and was the 1st runner-up in 2016/2017

Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Awards

For one thing, I am not sure what exactly the judges for this particular tourism award are looking for. It appeared to me that they were rather fastidious in picking the winners and would look critically at the food, the decor and the ambiance, the cleanliness and all that – in my humble opinion, they seemed to be missing the wood for the trees as personally, I do feel that for an award as such, they should consider as their top priority the appeal to tourists.

As far as I know, many tourists or visitors from abroad and other parts of the country do drop by Payung – its location right behind one of the leading hotels in town is an added advantage and many said they came because of its listing in websites such as Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor…

Trip Advisor

This hawker centre/food court in Kuching is truly deserving of the award, of course – the locals call it the “tourist trap” as many do go there and according to them, dining there isn’t exactly wallet-friendly…but I really wonder if it should be given to a steakhouse in a five-star hotel, for instance. Do tourists come to Sarawak and go for our steaks? I must say they have very much nicer, fresher and juicier…and thicker ones in their own countries like Australia and New Zealand, just to single out two. Instead, one thing they should also look at would be whether they serve any of our own local delights for the tourists to enjoy, dishes uniquely Sarawakian especially, or Malaysian at least, that they will not be able to find in their own country.

Anyway, back to the CMEA, the people at Payung do use a lot of natural stuff for their decor, all the natural plants around the place and the simple fresh flowers for their centrepiece…

Centrepiece

…and all over…

Fresh flowers

…and one can’t miss noticing these coconut palm leaves, sprayed blue…

Coconut leaves, blue

…or green…

Coconut leaves, green
*Photo from their Facebook page*

…so they will last like…forever.

Many complained about the thatched roof…

Thatched roof

…in front as it blocked the sign (see 1st pic) and as a result of that, they had to search high and low before they could find the place and some even gave up in the end.

They also use these dried palm leaves…

Palm leaves

…and rattan basket trays…

Basket trays

…and in some of the photographs, you can see the blue and green benches that they made from discarded wood – I must say that whatever wood that is, it is really good hardwood as those benches are real heavy.

I love this little hut, also made from the aforementioned wood…

Little hut

…and just look at the concrete construction blocks that they use to erect the heavy and sturdy shelves…

Shelves

…instead of going out to buy from the shops…and we all know that the ones these days do not last very long and will have to be thrown away pretty soon.

They do not have anything deep-fried on their menu so they do not use a lot of cooking oil…

Payung counter

…except perhaps for grilling their chicken chops and according to them, they will not reuse the oil…nor will they pour it all down the drain like what they do at many places. Instead, they will give it to the workers to take home and use for their own cooking.

Why, those creative people even made their own Christmas tree one year…

Christmas tree

…using some grass that they found by the roadside somewhere instead of buying the plastic or whatever artificial ones from the shops. They have not put up the decorations this year so I do not know what they have got up their sleeves this time around.

For one thing, the place is not air-conditioned so that is one plus point in their favour as far as being environment-friendly is concerned.

All things considered, I do think that they truly deserve this prestigious award, don’t you agree?

PAYUNG CAFÉ (2.284049, 111.833014) is located at No.20F, Lanang Road, Sibu, Malaysia, back to back with the multi-storey car park of the Kingwood Hotel which faces the majestic Rejang River.

Natural…

I read somewhere online that what is natural is best and what is processed may not be all that good – they were talking about butter and margarine.

Well, the kelulut honey, unlike the commercially processed and produced ones sold at the shops and supermarkets, is definitely 100% natural and my dear friend, my ex-colleague, Carole, is rearing those stingless bees for it. She was also at that wedding dinner that night and she asked me to drop by her house to get it from her.

She has all these hives…

Hives 1

…all over her house compound…

Hives 2

…and the bees are in those rectangular boxes on top.

The hubby opened a couple…

Honeycomb 1

…so I could have a glimpse at the bees and the honeycomb inside…

Honeycomb 2

They planted these flowers, what the Malays call bunga air mata pengantin (bride’s tears), the pink…

Pink

…as well as the white…

White

…variety. If I am not wrong, these are called Mexican creepers and also coral vine, Coralita, bee bush or San Miguelito vine but many people are planting them for the bees so much so that they are starting to call it bunga pengantin kelulut. My neighbour has it growing on his fence in front of the house and it sure attracts a lot of bees, the stingless ones as well as the not-s0-harmless varieties.

I’ve noticed that the bees are also attracted to my dill flowers…

Dill flowers

…which I’m sure will contribute towards bringing the taste of the honey to a whole new level as the flowers are as fragrant as the leaves. I was told recently that in New Zealand, they plant the manuka flowers for their bees so the taste of the manuka honey is pretty consistent unlike the kelulut honey which will depend on what flowers or sources of honey they have access to. I understand that during the fruit season when the trees will all be flowering, the honey will be extra nice.

I told Carole about the bees and my dill flowers and yes, she heard about that too and she showed me the ones she planted – they are still very small; I am sure it would be quite  a while before there will be any flowers.

She gave me a bottle of the honey and I got two more bottles from her – of course, I paid for the fruit of her labour, RM25.00 each…and she also gave me this jar of tempoyak (fermented durian) that she made herself recently…

From Carole

How very timely! My missus just used up our stock of the very much coveted stuff a couple of weeks ago.

Thank you so much, Carole – I sure will drop by again as and when I need any more of the honey.