Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

Watching our kids grow up is insanely, an amazing and stupendous experience. It started with the many hours of interrupted nights of breast-feeding or formula-feeding, diaper-changing and what-have-you. They say time flies, but having 2 sons of almost 5-year gap between them, I felt the years went by so slowly. I was practically there for them from infant to toddler to pre-schooler until they were 12. It was a BIG break for me when the older one turned 13 and started cycling to school on his own, but I had to wait for another 5 years before the younger one cycled to school on his own. Duh!

I work full-time and I could remember vividly when I had to rush from work to the crèche every single evening to fetch my boys. As a result, I had to forgo jobs that require travelling, meaning very limited job promotion (?) Was I unhappy? I didn’t think so, but I was completely stressed out from the hectic rushes in the evening to avoid the peak hours, and only to find out that I was the champion at arriving last at the crèche. To add salt to injury, I had to pay fines for picking up my boys after the closure hour. This routine went on until my boys graduated from grade school (or Primay school). Both the crèche and my boys’ Primary school had probably earned the most additional fees from poor me. There were not many me time then and hubby’s work place is even farther from the boys’ crèche and school, so what choice did I have? Sacrifice! Yup, a mother’s barmy sacrifice … 😦

By the way, this loony phase has passed me by now, and a BIG sigh of relief for that! Although my boys are still in their teens, they are no longer dependent on their mama, or are they ….?

I couldn’t remember when exactly, but it was early this year, when my older son came to me holding a scruffy looking piece of paper.

Me: What’s that in your hand?

Son: Er….nothing

Me: Then why are you coming to me when there’s nothing?

Son: Ah…. actually there’s something I want to tell you…

Me: Yes, go on…. I’m listening

Son: Me and my besties are going for a holiday this summer… to the Balkans, at least 5 or 6 countries..?

Me: What?!! That’s still 7 months down the road and your final exam’s in June. Shouldn’t we be discussing that first?

Son: Well, we’re in a planning stage ….

Me: That’s a good plan, son, and who’s going to pay for your holidays?

Son: Erm…..that’s what I’m here for ….

Me: OH-KAY! Then I know what’s best for you. If you don’t get through your exams, there will be no hols for you. If you get through your papers, papa or mama will not pay your hols, but you have to earn it yourself. Get a summer job! Okay?

Son: Ok, mama *big smiles*

Now let’s see which condition did my son fulfill?

Well, he got through all his papers in June, and that meant….? Yup, getting a summer job!

And by the way, he got his summer student job at the company I work with. That’s brilliant, but wait until you hear this…. He has to work from 7pm to 3am! The timing of the shift is way too challenging. The 7pm is fine as he can get to work via public transportation. It’s just the end shift at 3am I was worried about. It’s just not doable, meaning there’s no public transportation at that wee hour at all.

And guess who came to the rescue?!!!

Well, his mama had to adapt her day-hour job to her son’s graveyard shift for the entire month of July! OMG!

Day 2 Night – A Vigil

I have never worked night shift before. I had to request for approval and informed the right people in my company about this temporary day to night shift hours before I actually went ahead with it. HR had to file my work insurance to include night work hours, in case of accidents et al. A few of my colleagues didn’t think I was serious. My boss was concerned about my health and well-being, while some others praised me for my dauntless and manic decision. I hadn’t the clue what I was getting into until I actually went through it for the first time on Monday, 4th July!

The first day was completely rotten. I could not concentrate at work. With all the deadlines to accomplish that week, I had to keep my mind focussed. My head was throbbing with pain and my back was aching. Fortunately, with my workload and deadlines, I did not keep tab of the time. In no time at all, it was 3 am. Time to go. It felt strange leaving the office at that hour. My son left at 15 minutes after 3. It was his first day and he had to go through all the security turnstiles, checks and screens.

To be honest, it was probably the best thing to drive at three something in the morning. There were hardly any vehicles on the roads. We were home by 3.45am. I went straight to the kitchen and made myself a mug of warm milk with honey and some grated nutmeg. Before hitting the sack, I washed my face and brushed my teeth. And then when my head hit the pillow, I started to hear birds chirping!! What?!! I looked at the clock, it was ten past four and it was the crack of dawn….. already! OMG!!! That’s madness! My sleep! I need my sleep!!!

I pulled my blanket over my head and literally slept under my blanket the first “night”. Luckily it was a cool night. I actually slept until 11’ish, so not too bad. That was the first day. Then I got myself a sleep mask or eye masks and a pair of disposable foam earplugs from Day 2 on…


 

The subsequent days were not very consistent. There were days I slept deeply and some days, I woke up like an insomnic zombie, like one morning for instance, I heard our neighbour pruning his garden hedges and mowing his lawn, eventhough I was wearing earplugs! For heaven’s sake, it was only 8.30am! I could not sleep after that. Arrrggghh!!!

I was truly sleep-deprived. 

The Right Food

Seriously, I found eating the right food made all the difference. My eating schedule had to change, too. I sleep from 4’ish to 11’ish (without any intruding noises).”Breakfast” is 12’ish noon and “Lunch” is 4’ish pm while “Dinner” is 10’ish pm. There were 2 evenings at work when free hamburger and fries were given to the employees, regardless of day or night shift. I had a hamburger one evening and THAT was lethal! I could not sleep a wink. I could hear my heartbeat and my breathing all “night”. Even though I was wearing my sleep mask, it was as if my eyes were wide open underneath it. Yup, THAT bad.

To be honest, the best food to eat is still homemade. You may think it’s a cliché, but there’s plenty of truth in this cliché.

Here’re what I have prepared for the past 2 weeks. About 80% of the meals were whipped up in my thermomix. Very easy and simple meals. These foods actually put me to sleep, literally speaking.


 

I was tempted to have the free fries at work, but skipped that completely. Discipline…. discipline… yes, discipline, please!

Two weeks down . Another two weeks to go! Yes, I’m counting the end of my night ‘ordeal’. LOL! Gosh, I admire my 3 Aunts (my Mum’s sisters) who were nurses and had gone through all the graveyard shifts until their retirements. Hats off to all who have gone through the hoot owl shift. As crazy as it may seem, I’m kinda glad I am experiencing it now, but I’m also looking forward to my regular day job. All this, because of a Mother’s insane sacrifice for her son.

By the way, son is doing great, but not a shift that he will want to end up with in the future. He’s working hard for his money *wink*

Oh yes, he also told me that he was very motivated to work because there was free hamburger the first week he was at the job and the second week, free fries with a choice of meat snack. He said, “Mama, are we getting free pizzas next week?” 

I told him, “Dream on!”

 

Blessed Sunday everyone !

 

Cheers

 

 

I’m so glad I finally made this sticky glutinous rice cake! This has been on my to-do list since time immemorial 😀

And what better way to have this auspicious cake posted on Chinese New Year day!

GONG XI FA CAI!

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Being half Chinese, this dessert has criss-crossed my Mum’s house in Kuching zillion times during the Chinese New Years gone by. She either got the cake as a gift from friends and relatives or she had made the cake herself. There was a time, when we received an abundance of the sweet sticky cake, to the point that my Mum would fill her two fridges to the brim, metaphorically speaking 😉

We did not mind a bit that our fridges were stuffed with the sweet sticky cakes. And by the way, the cake has a name, “nian gao“. It is believed to bring good fortune if one consumes nian gao. According to Wikipediia, “nian gao” in Chinese Mandarin, is literally translated as ‘Year High’. Coincidentally, the Chinese word “nián” means ‘sticky’ and is identical in sound to ‘year’. Similarly, “gāo” means ‘cake’, which is identical in sound to ‘high or tall’. Having said that, eating nian gao has a symbolic meaning of raising oneself higher in each coming year, be it a promotion at work or, for a child, growing taller. And OMG… I haven’t had nian gao in years! I reckoned my achievement had stagnated from my last bite of the sticky sweet snack many donkeys’ years ago. Jeez….I hope not. Touch wood 😉

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Legend has it …

Oh by the way, an interesting legend has it that nian gao is made each new year as an offering to the Kitchen God, with the main purpose of keeping his mouth shut. The Kitchen God is said to make a report of each human (Chinese) family to the Jade Emperor if they have been good or bad that year. By offering the nian gao to the Kitchen God will avoid him from badmouthing to the Celestial Court, as his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake. He will not be able to talk a lot or too fast.

Whether, it’s true or not, many Chinese families keep the legend going to this day.

The many faces of nian gao

Not long ago I had a brief discussion with some friends about the word nian gao. The nian gao I knew was the sticky brown glutinous rice cake, which I have just discussed, however, one of my friends said the nian gao she knew was the white rice cake, which is usually stir fried with soy sauce, meat and vegetables as a savoury dish. Hmmm… interesting…

Brown + sweet vs white + savoury? Golly gosh! Two opposite poles! There must be an attraction at some point?

The only ‘attraction’ is the fact that China is such a vast country. Different provinces have their own language (dialect) and food! Nian gao being one of them. My friend was not wrong when she referred to nian gao as the white rice cake prepared as a savoury dish, because that’s where the dish is commonly served in Shanghai!

This was what I had for lunch today, the Shanghainese version of stir-fried nian gao. Just so you have an idea 😜

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The nian gao that is most popularly served in Malaysia and Singapore is originated from Fujian (Hokkien-speaking) and Guangdong (Cantonese-speaking) provinces. THE nian gao I am referring to in this post is the Cantonese-style, made the Malaysian way in Belgium 😉

Japan and Korea have similar glutinous rice snacks, known as mochi and tteok respectively,

In Malaysia, this sticky snack is called Kuih Bakul (Cake in a Basket) in Malay, due to the fact that the banana leaf is used to tuck the cake in. The Straits Chinese or Peranakan Chinese or Baba-Nyonya of the Hokkien ancestary called this cake, “Tee Kueh” (Sweet Cake). Tee Kueh was exactly the word I grew up knowing. It was not nian gao. Surprisingly, the Chinese Filipino and Burmese also called the cake, “tikoy“. We definitely see China spreading her wings in the food we eat. Almost the same ingredients used in China years ago are preserved and retained by Chinese families today in Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere in East and South East Asia. As one of my brothers used to say, ” You can take a Malaysian out of Malaysia, but you cannot take Malaysia out of a Malaysian”. The same is true if you replaced Malaysian/Malaysia with Chinese/China.

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Labour of Love

There are only 3 ingredients used to make nian gao. Glutinous rice flour, sugar and water or coconut milk. Sounds simple, right? But it’s the hours and hours of constant stirring if done the traditional way (similar to making dodol) or hours and hours of steaming, as is done in the contemporary kitchen.

I steamed my nian gao for only half the original time. 5 hours instead of 10! I have 2 reasons for halving the time –

1. I started steaming the cake at 5.30pm. I had to be in bed by 11pm as it was a work day the following day , hence, I set the timer to stop at 10.30 pm.

2. I did not make a huge portion

This is a family recipe where I chose to use coconut milk over water.

Ingredients

400 g glutinous rice flour, sieved
200 g brown sugar ( I used cassonade brown sugar)
200 g organic cane sugar
400 ml coconut milk

Banana leaves to line a round dish ( I used ramekins and frozen banana leaves, cleaned and dabbed dry with absorbent papers).

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Heat the coconut milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Sieve the flour and pour in the coconut milk caramel. Mix well with a balloon whisk for at least 10 minutes until a smooth sticky batter consistency. Pour the batter in round ramekins lined with banana leaves.

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If you have all the time in the world, steam the cake for 10 to 12 hours. Unfortunately I did not have a lot of time to spare, hence, I shortened the steaming time to exactly 5 hours. I was not at all disappointed with the outcome. On the contrary. I loved the colour and the smooth finished texture.

Et voilà !

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I made 3 nian gao. One bigger ramekin and 2 small ones.

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You will notice that the colour changes after the refrigeration process.

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The purpose of refrigerating the cake is to harden it, so it will be more manageable when cutting with a knife. But of course you can eat it as is, warm and sticky, but I want to transform the cake into one of my childhood favourite snacks.

This!
*smiling sheepishly*

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I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

I’m also sharing this post to Cook and Celebrate: Chinese New Year 2015 organised by Yen from Eat Your Heart Out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids.

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If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody and share your happiness. ~Chinese Proverb~

Happy Lunar New Year to all celebrants!

Cheers!

This is an extraordinary special dish and a special dish does not come by everyday. I made this dish on Sunday although it should have been served today, 9th December.

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Too Good To Be Forgotten 

It was 18 years ago today when this special tot became plus one mortal to earth’s population, however, I can tell you that this homo sapiens was not ready to come out into this world that soon. It was comfortably curling itself in its own world, called the ‘water bag’.

Was it going to be 1st Dec? 3rd Dec? 6th? 10th? 15th? I hadn’t the clue because it was all new to me. No contractions. No pain. Nothing. I could dribble a ball and do a slam dunk. No problem at all. And yet my OB/GYN confirmed full term and scheduled the planned date for delivery on 1st Dec. 

Hubby was anxious, or rather, nervous, because I showed no signs of labour. Then what?

Going back to my OB/GYN, she said, “Check in early on 9th Dec. The baby should be out.” Hubby checked me in at 8 am on 9th Dec… but the baby did NOT want to come out. The ‘gateway’ was too narrow and it was curling and snuggling comfortably really high up. And then a nurse came and I felt a sharp and piercing pain. She did something to open the ‘gateway’. I was in agony. It went on for hours on end. I was the loudest (literally speaking) patient on that floor, because the pain was just unbearable. I felt like I was dying. I was completely exhausted and worn-out. Poor hubby was nervy and on edge seeing me wailing in pain.

After a long and grueling 12 hours and 45 minutes on the ward, baby made the statistics – after an induced labour, ten hours of excruciating pain, one hour of epidural anaesthesia and the last one hour without – the little dude came at exactly 20:45CET! My firstborn 💙

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And that was the day when our lives changed completely. We were no longer two, but three and counting 😉 My second experience was an exact opposite. Baby could not wait to come out. You can read my experience here

A Birdy December 

Have you ever realised that the meat dish that is normally served on Christmas Day is usually a bird? Even the Christmas Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas mentioned 7 different feathered friends. Oh by the way, if you had counted six, count again. It’s SEVEN – really!!

7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

You must be wondering, 5 Golden Rings? Well, the 5 gold rings were not actually gold rings but they refer to the five golden rings of the ring-necked pheasants!

It’s December, so a bird on a plate is the best gift ever for a birthday boy.

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Last year, we had Baked Quails with Bacon Rashers in White Grapes Sauce – A Christmas Eve Special. On the request of the birthday boy, I bought some quails on Sunday. Instead of baking them, I braised the little birds.

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This recipe is adapted from Cooking Channel’s Braised Quails with Wild Mushrooms. I tweaked the recipe and improvised according to taste and available ingredients. Instead of white wine, I used Bourbon Whiskey. I excluded the mushrooms altogether as my sons are not fans of wild mushrooms. My recipe as follows –

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INGREDIENTS 

  • 6 quails, cleaned 
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • Some butter 
  • Olive oil 
  • 250 g bacon, cut into slivers 
  • 2 small onions, chopped 
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour 
  • 2 caps Bourbon Whiskey (Jim Beam)
  • Water or stock broth 
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves 
  • 1 bay leaf 

DIRECTIONS 

1. Season the quails with salt, and pepper. Melt a knob of butter with a drop of olive oil in a casserole dish and brown the quails on all sides. As you can see, my casserole dish is quite small. The 5th and 6th birds were browned in a separate pan (I did not photograph).

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2. Remove the quails from the dish, and set aside. Add the bacon to the pan, brown it, and remove. Finally, fry the chopped onions until fragrant, adding a bit of olive oil, if needed.

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3. Stir the flour into the onions, and cook for one minute. It will get dry and lumpy at this stage. Deglaze the pan with a capful or two of the Bourbon Whiskey, stirring up the good bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Return the onions, bacon and quails to the casserole dish. Pour over the stock and bay leaf, cover, and simmer until the quails are just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Toss in fresh basil leaves.

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4. When the quails are done, remove them from the cooking liquid and keep them warm. Make a gravy from the cooked liquid. Season to taste.

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If only you were here to see my son finished this plate. He licked his platter clean – literally speaking – and if only bones were edible, too 😜

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With Christmas round the corner, I am bringing this platter to the following Christmas Cooking Challenges –

My Treasured Recipes #4 – Ho Ho Ho It’s Christmas (Dec 2014) hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

Cook and Celebrate: Christmas 2014 hosted by Yen from Eat your heart out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids

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I am also sharing this pre- Christmas story to readers following
Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking

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Nine months of anxiety, ten hours in agony but pride and joy forever. 

Happy birthday, Niels! 🎁🎉🎂 

And happy mid-week all! 

 

Cheers!

Two winters ago, when we moved out from our 3-bedroom apartment and bought a house, we inherited a pretty matured garden – the walnut tree, climbing grape plant, rhubarb, lavender, red berries and the many flowerbeds just to name a few. Little did we realise that our little garden transformed into “Eden” some 4 to 6 months after our move 😀

Spring’s in the air!

Ooops….to be precise, Spring WAS in the air.  This post happened to be two seasons too late 😀

<< Flashback…

The rookie in me went gallivanting around the entire backyard smelling the Spring air and arming with a digital camera.

I could not resist.

The colours were amazing!

1. Flowerbed11. Flowerbed21. Flowerbed3_Tulip1. Flowerbed4_Roses1. Flowerbed51. Flowerbed6_Forget-me-not1. Flowerbed7_Forget-me-not1. Flowerbed8_Forget-me-not1. Flowerbed91. Flowerbed101. Flowerbed111. Flowerbed131. Flowerbed141. Flowerbed151. Flowerbed161. Flowerbed172. Grape tree2. Red berries2. Walnut tree2. Anise Hyssop

A rose is a rose is a rose, until…

Our rose beds did not disappoint us – red, yellow, white – all blossomed immaculately.  Neither my husband nor I have green fingers. We trusted nature and let nature took its course.

3 Red Rose3 Yellow Rose

3 White Rose13 White Rose2

Beautiful, aren’t they?

Picture-perfect, until someone rang our door bell this summer – THRICE! The first one was shorter, and then it became lingeringly longer the second and third time.

*Ding Dong*

*Diiinnng Donnnnnnng*

*Diiiiiinnnnnggggg Donnnnnggggg*

It was Lucas’ Mum.

Lucas is my younger son’s school friend. He was at our place since noon and it was 6pm when it was time for him to go home.

My husband opened the door hurriedly after the 3rd – annoying – ring. Lucas’ Mum did not come in the house immediately; instead, she beckoned my husband to come out of the house.  She was pointing to our white climbing roses.

“The red spots on your white roses are the wicked works of the “valse roos” (which is Dutch for false rose) growing unawares next to your climbing roses”, said Lucas’ Mum. 

4 White Rose_red spots14 White Rose_red spots24 White Rose_red spots34 White Rose_red spots4

Huh?  How did she know all these?

Then we learnt that her Mum had gone through the same thing. She was only sharing with us a similar experience.

“You have to destroy the shoot from the roots.  It’s not the real rose, but pretends to look like one”, retorted Lucas’ Mum.

Oh my…. she sounded dead serious.

“There! There’s the false shoot.  Destroy it before it multiplies!” She continued.

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When Lucas and his Mum left our sight, I started pulling the shoot, but the hardy shoot was deeply rooted to the ground. It did not move an inch.

While hubs was busy with the weeding and pruning in another part of the garden, I focused on the “false rose”. The thought of having all these unwanted clones in our garden scared me to bits.  I tugged the shoot with all my might and it finally came off. 

Whew!

I tried to google to get more information about the “false shoot”, but zilch. Nada. Maybe it is called by another name; however, I only got to know this “alien” in the Dutch language.  This false shoot has nothing to do with the “False rose of Jericho”, by the way.

My tugging ended with a snap of the shoot, which was the less tough end, reminding me of snapping an asparagus at the base to remove the toughest end of the spear, but boy, was that  a giant of an asparagus!

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By the way, the most interesting point to note is that the false sucker has 7 leaflets as opposed to 5-leaved cultivated roses. A real rose shoot is thorny whilst the shoot of the wild sucker is thorn-less.

Check this out!

7 Seven leaved shoot

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
-William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet –

Come Spring 2014, do check out your rose garden, that’s if you have one 😉 

Brilliant Blog Posts @ HomestMum



Have a great week!

Cheers!

For days we have been getting almost unreadable letters, tabloids and newspapers. For days we have been blaming each other for being rather careless while fetching the papers from the letterbox. It could be me blaming my other half and vice versa or us both blaming our boys

See what I mean? Who wouldn’t be furious, right? Holes, holes and more holes everywhere!!

1a. Snails_hole11b. Snails_hole2

1c. Snails_hole31d. Snails_hole4

Yep, THAT bad!

I thought we looked silly putting the blame on each other; hence, the best solution was to nail the culprit on the spot, should we ever find out whomever…

Whodunit?

Ah! Gotcha!

Caught in the act and about time, too! Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

Gotcha !!!

Gotcha !!!

What's so scrumptious about the newspaper?  I wonder....

What’s so scrumptious about the newspaper? I wonder….

Sweet Revenge

All of a sudden – with the aftermath of wet spells and showers – those slimy creatures were slithering all over our garden.

3a. Snails_crawl13b. Snails_crawl2

3c. Snails_crawl33d. Snails_crawl4

3e. Snails_crawl53f. Snails_crawl6

Then one day, I asked my three guys if they fancied having snails for Sunday lunch. I must say, we could collect like a bucketful of those molluscs – from all slimy walks of life! Ha ha ha! Well, snails – not sure about slugs, though – are a delicacy in French kitchen, so why ever not, eh?

Baked Escargots in Garlic Parsley Butter...anyone????

Baked Escargots in Garlic Parsley Butter…anyone????

Did I cook those? At hindsight, maybe I wish I did! 😉

Snailbuster!

The crux of our problem was the letterbox. We found our slimy visitors slithering the interior walls of our letterbox. Yucks!

5a. Snails_slimy visitor_letterbox15b. Snails_slimy visitor_letterbox2

Sorry for the skewed and badly taken pictures of the interior of our letterbox. I had to take those snapshots at lightning speed to avoid our beady-eyed neighbours. They must have thought I was nuts. ROTL!

SNAILBUSTER!

There’s a book that we often refer to for DIY ideas and tips. The book is called “De Gouden Raad van Tante Kaat” (The Golden Advice from Aunt Kate). My MIL had a few of her books and she swore to the golden tips from Aunt Kate. We could not resist buying one of her books.

After flipping through a few pages, we came to this tip – Orange peel!

Oh by the way, I must say I enjoyed having freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning! I think I must have collected quite enough orange peels to fill a polystyrene bucket

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I must admit the “Orange Peel” trick worked like a charm. No more rugged edged newspapers. No more holes, BUT….

….ALAS…. only for a few days, when composting took its toll and our slimy ‘friends’ returned.

The composted orange peels no longer became repellant agent but were attracting them. YIKES!

Our slimy "visitors" came back !!

Our slimy “visitors” came back !!

Conclusion: The orange peels DID work, albeit temporarily, hence was only a quick fix.

Root Cause and Resolution

We had to stop the start and that was the “entrance” of our letterbox. The slot was too inviting – free entrance and exit. No way, Jose!

Open slot.  Too inviting...

Open slot. Too inviting…

The only way to curb and ward off these slimy creatures from slithering their way into our letterbox was to bar the slot with a flap hinge.

Like so…

9.Snails_covered letterbox

We may not have the most elegant looking letterbox in our neighbourbood – but who cares – it worked like a dream!

It has been more than a month now, even after the cold and wet spells – at least –  we have not been reading ‘second hand’ newspapers.

Checkmate!

10. Snails_endnote

A blessed Sunday everyone!

Cheers!

Okay, so technically, spring has begun, but with the blizzards, heavy snow, low temperatures and cold weather of late has made my brain go haywire.

Where are the snowdrops and daffodils? Where are the birds chirping in the trees? For God’s sake, I’m still wearing my winter clothing….. in spring!

I read in our local newspaper that large parts of Europe and North America are experiencing these extraordinary cold climes due to the dramatic melting of the Arctic sea ice.  While it’s getting “warmer” in the Arctic, we are experiencing “Ice Age”!! That, is the symptom of global warming, with the icy cold air blowing from the Arctic to the south.

Scrat is cute, however, I am not dreaming to be an obsessive acorn collector for the rest of my life. LOL!

Dreaming of warmth

A month or two ago, my brother who lives in Canada went ice fishing with his family.  So cool!  I would love to try my hands being an ice angler, sitting on the stool in a heated cabin and catch my day 😉

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Following are pictures of my sister-in-law and my nephews with their perches and whitefish….

1a. Ice fishing_Gull Lake_the boys1b. Ice fishing_cozy cabin

1c. Ice fishing_Kiaw + boys1d.Ice fishing_Ian and his catch

OMG! You wouldn’t believe how much I miss eating fresh fish! To be precise, I miss eating a good plate of “umai” (raw fish salad – the way it’s done in Mukah, a tiny fishing village in Sarawak!). I hope my sisters in Kuching are hearing me loud and clear. That’s one of my eat list in my next trip, Sis 😉

The fish has got to be fresh, super fresh and cut into thin slices or small pieces. Add some chopped bird’s eye chillies, thinly sliced turmeric leaf (daun kunyit), chopped lemon grass, shallots, fresh ginger juice, calamansi juice or lime juice, and salt to taste. Finally, garnish with roasted sago and fresh coriander.  Mmmmm…YUMMY!

So, we don’t have super fresh fish where I live now, but my craving of fish was immense.  I cheated. I bought a bag of frozen tilapia, thawed the fish and transformed them into fish balls. LOL!

2a. Fish balls_tilapia

I was dreaming of a good glug of warm soup!  That’s right. Steamboat (Chinese fondue or Hot Pot)! Chris, if you’re reading this, the post is late, as usual 🙂  This was meant to be posted on the weekend we got back from Rome, the same weekend you had your steamboat as well!  How telepathic.  Ha ha ha!

The Hub of the All-In-One

A Steamboat meal is one of the easiest to prepare.  It’s a great way to break the ice. Did I just say, “ice”?

The only tedious process is the mise en place or prep work of cutting, chopping and slicing the components that go in the hot pot, i.e., meat, fish and vegetables.

Some of the ingredients are pre-cooked, but most meat, seafood and vegetables are raw.  The Steamboat does the cooking for you.  Just throw in the uncooked or raw ingredients and switch the steamboat on high.  The broth will bubble and cook the uncooked and make the soup a lot tastier with the amalgamation of natural bursting flavors from the meat and seafood.  Sheer delight!

My pre-cooked components were the homemade fish balls, homemade chicken meat balls, quail eggs and rice vermicelli.  My raw items were chicken breast meat, beef, prawns, button mushrooms, broccoli and carrots.  There are no hard and fast rules to the ingredients for a homemade Steamboat. The only rule is your creativity and let your imagination run wild with you, but of course the lavish ones would include abalone, lobster, wonton, crab balls, yong tau foo….  The list goes on and on….

3a. Steamboat_fish + chix balls, vermicelli and veg3b. Steamboat_condiments

3c.Steamboat_quali eggs, mushrooms, spring onions + chilli sauce

Steamboat_table 2013

The Hot Pot or the Steamboat is the hub or the centerpiece on the dinner table, usually on the eve of the Chinese New Year.  I am so pleased with my almost 18-year old Hanabishi Steamboat. This was one of the gifts I got from my eldest sister when I moved to Belgium in the autumn of 1995.  At that time, I did not see the importance of the gift (sorry, Sis), which had been stashed away in a cupboard for some years.  My cooking skill then was at sub-zero level.  That’s correct. A Steamboat meal requires almost no cooking and that’s how bad I was.  Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! 😦

Big Sis, I thank YOU from the bottom of my heart for the gift.  I can tell you that the Steamboat has been sailing on every cold journey in Flanders.  It’s the warmest gift ever. Kam Sia!

4a. Steamboat_holy grail4b. Steamboat_centrepiece

 

Spice Up

Since my Hot Pot does not have a divider, I made a non-spicy but flavorsome home-brewed soup base. All you need is plenty of water. I used 5 to 6 litres of water. Throw in the roots of fresh coriander, star anise, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, an onion pricked with some cloves, some black peppercorns, a large carrot, ginger and a small to medium sized daikon.  Season the soup base with salt and pepper and chicken stock cube to taste. I brewed the soup base until it was cooked and used this same soup base to boil my homemade fish and chicken meat balls, which made the soup base even tastier.

Because I chose for a non-spicy soup base version, I made some chilli sauce to go with the soup. It was spicily fantastic that fired up the ears and brains of my three guys. LOL!

All you need is the Mae Pranom Shrimp Flavour Crushed Chilli (or bird’s eye chillies), chopped coriander leaves including the stems, kaffir lime leaves, lime or lemon juice, minced lemongrass, Shaohsing rice wine, light soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and salt to taste.  This has been my no-fail chilli sauce.  It really spiced up my bowl of steamboat soup. I was in 7th Heaven 😛

5a. Steamboat_bowl of soup + chilli sauce

It may look like an under-nourished meal, but trust me, after two rounds we were stuffed!

The Day After

There were plenty of leftovers of the uncooked components. It was too much for the four of us.  The next day, I transformed the leftovers to an appetizing plate of quick stir-fry.  Nothing went to waste at all

By the way, here’s our day after meal. Simply Ho Chiak!

6a. Steamboat_leftovers transformation16b. Steamboat_leftovers transformation2

Have a great weekend!

Cheers!

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Happy Belated Birthday Mum and Grandaunt – A Canadian Birthday Bash

It was a Friday and a rush hour.  I was rushing to get home on time to pick up my younger son at the afterschool day care. The school gates are usually closed by 6.30PM; hence, I had to be in school before then. 

When I drove out of the parking area of my office building and headed for the roads, I could not believe my eyes. What the #$@&!  Where did all the cars come from?  There were more cars than usual that evening.

Then something pretty weird happened at the crossroads.

As soon as the traffic lights turned red, a man walked to the middle of the road and distributed “something” to the drivers.  Most of the drivers wound down their car windows and reached out for that “something” from the mystery man. When the man approached my stagnant car, I did the same – wound down my car window. 

I had experienced this kind of stops before with some job students handing out samples or little try-out cans of beverage (e.g. pepsi max, coke zero, minute maid orange juice, etc) sachets of instant soup and cookies for free; however, that evening was different. The man definitely did not look like a job student at all.

I got a piece of green-coloured paper with a printed note – a plea, rather – with a rather faded pictures of children.

Here’s the original message, in the Dutch language.

For the non-Dutch readers, here’s the translation in English.

Madam, Sir
I am a refugee and I have 3 children. 
I am not working.
We have nothing to eat.
I have problems with paying the (house) rent, the electricity and the gas.
We need help with some money.
In return for your help, I grant you God’s grace that He protects you from harm and misfortune.
 

A chain letter? Then this must be one live chain letter!

Did I “delete” it?

Shucks! The light was still red.

Then I heard a knock on my window. 

Should I, or should I not?

I knew what he wanted anyway.

By the way, I wasn’t the only ‘victim’. I reached for my purse, and I heard the man saying “two”. I did not know what he meant by that. Strange, but true, I had only a 2 Euro coin in my purse!  I handed the 2 Euro to the man.  He had really cold hands. Brrrrrr…..

Who was that man?

A soothsayer? An undercover social scientist? A beggar mafia?

Beats me. I have never come across such episode before and what intrigued me most is that the incident happened just a week before the Belgian Provincial and Munipical elections. Erm…. this must be Belgium! 😉

The traffic lights turned green.  Whew!  About time.  I dashed homeward bound. I was glad I reached the school on time to pick up my son.

While driving, I couldn’t help thinking what happened just minutes before.  It’s as if I could (still) feel the man’s cold hand on mine. Chilly and creepy at the same time….

Have a good week ahead!

Cheers!

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