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Reflections 2020 – A Year Like No Other

As we sang the Auld Lang Syne, clinked champagne flutes with the sounds and flares of the fireworks in the skies and bade farewell to 31st December, 2019, we had zero notion what would await us all at the turn of the year. Looking back to my 2020, my 365-day page was devoted almost entirely to the big C word that has drifted by with the passing of the 4 seasons (and counting …?)

In retrospect, there is probably one magic word that befits anno 2020: resilience. It is amazing how in the course of a few months we have been tested on our bouncebackability. Our ability of being adaptive and creative have been phenomenal.

Here is a snapshot of my diary of the year 2020 like no other.

Wedding of the Year

2020 could have been the year with a record number of weddings. Without a doubt, it was truly a blessing in disguise when my brother in Canada sent out early wedding invitations in 2019 to meet in Kuching for the wedding of his eldest son. The matrimonial vows were exchanged on 30th January, where families and friends hugged, laughed, shook hands and cried tears of joy. Here’s the write up of the wedding of my nephew and Nanako: Wedding

Wedding of Ivan & Nanako

And then, the invincible invisible enemy crushed all hopes of all planned weddings in 2020. No church weddings, no banquets, no friends or families allowed. It’s gloomy days ahead for a long time.

Traffic Lights

The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March and lockdowns began in countries around the world. I would not have imagined that the colours of the traffic lights would dictate our way of living, but it had .… uptil now!  Teleworking had been the new norm. I have been working from home since mid-March and it has been almost 10 months down the road.  It was good at first as I hated the morning rush hours.  When the days turned to weeks and then months, WFH seemed like an added chore, a drudgery of sorts. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it either. Let’s just say, it’s growing on me.

I did go back to my office 3 times since our first lockdown in mid-March.  Although my office is prepared to have the employees back to the building, however, with the protocol of measures in line with the Fed Government’s, return to office is still not recommended.

Our ‘welcome’ pack
Basement parking for 200+ cars has never been this empty

Creative Minds

For many people, looking back at 2020 is painful and frustrating. Keeping our distance from loved ones, friends and colleagues or not being able to attend a funeral, reunion party, potlucks, film, concert, workshop, meetings all led to isolation, hence a new word is born, “social distancing”. The introverts did not mind that, but definitely not the extroverts!

The corona virus might have taken the centre stage, but 2020 was also a year full of NEW ideas, NEW initiatives, fun and loving moments.

By the way, a surgical mask that cost a few cents became the most sought after item in 2020. When masks were nowhere to be found or sold in pharmacies and supermarkets, people were forced to get creative. YouTube Channels were exploded with tutorials and ideas of “how to make your own mask”.  Millions made DIY masks.  I was intrigued by the idea but the execution never got off the ground. I still have a bagful of cotton towels, mini sewing kit, filters, elastic band spools, untouched.  When I wanted to start making my own mask, we received free masks from our commune, my company and from some friends. Not long after that, surgical masks were once again, allowed to be sold in pharmacies and supermarkets, but no longer at the price we knew pre-Covid. 

We were told during the lockdown to stay healthy, to move around the house every so often despite the movement restriction order outdoors. It ain’t easy for the outdoor types, the extroverts.  While swimming pools and gyms were closed, the free outdoors became the new ‘fitness centres’ of our world.  There’s no stopping walkers, joggers, runners, cyclists working out in the woods and parks daily or weekly.   Mind you, bicycles, sports suits, walking/running shoes and dumbbells were hot items in 2020, and pets, Netflix and Airfryer, too!!

And I just had to jump on the bandwagon!

How creative can a human mind be with a bad hair day during lockdown become a norm? When nonessential shops like a hair salon are closed for months, my hair was growing in all directions. YouTube seemed to have read my mind like an open book. Suddenly a video of an interview with George Clooney by Jimmy Kimmel appeared on my recommended feed.  It was not just an interview but a surprising confession from the actor that he cuts his own hair … with a vacuum cleaner, aka Flowbee! After checking out all the Flowbee videos, I told my boys, “I want a Flowbee!, too!” Unfortunately, it’s an American product and it’s only available in the States, and they’re all sold out! Helaas!

Instead, I watched my boys having fun cutting each others’ hair while I snipped mine myself blindly …

Short and Crisp

Speaking of YouTube channels, I noticed so many new accounts created since March: all for the sake of entertaining the lockdowners. Some channels made it big in such a short span of time. I love watching musicals, singers and songwriters and one that stood out is a father-and-daughter vocal duo, Mat and Savanna Shaw. Their debut video cover of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer” published in March, garnered 8 million views (and counting), as I write. They have since published global livestream concerts and made their debut Christmas album in less than 10 months of owning a YouTube Channel. And I’m still watching them uploading perfectly harmonious songs. That makes me absolutely happy during this lockdown.

I’m afraid I am not one who has the patience to watch a lengthy movie in one sitting. Give me a good short story of 30 minutes or less at one sitting and I´d binge watch the videos in one night.  Omeleto is my favourite pitstop and CGI animated short films is another.  JinnyboyTV and Wong Fu Productions published quality videos with great acting and stories that are relatable with Asian values. 

Corona Summer

Summer 2020 was unlike any other summer. Airports were deserted. Commercial Planes were not flying, trains were sporadic. Many opted for a trip close to home, famously coined as “Staycation”. It was a hard decision for us, too, cancelling our trip to London via Eurostar. Infact, for ALL of us in these difficult times. We did, however, make a mini trip in September by car. We were very careful, maintaining our distance and adhering to the corona protocol and measures during our entire stay in South France.

Once a popular destination, all were quiet and almost deserted, but it was a much needed break for us. In hindsight, I’m glad we made it…

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Daudet’s Windmill, Fontvielle
Arles
Les Baux de Provence
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Provence

The Pass that Failed

When the Belgian railway company launched the free pass “Hello Belgium” by promoting travel within the country, valid from 5th Oct 2020 for 6 months, I was thrilled. I had bookmarked a trip to Bruges with my son, but hey-ho, it was not meant to be. Belgium was flagged ‘red’ and entered into a stricter 2nd lockdown on 1st Nov when cases surged. There goes my free pass. It failed!

A Cancelled Concert: Despair vs Hope

Perhaps the most disappointing news was the cancelled live tour of my newfound favourite singers, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Josh Lee Turner, Carson McKee, Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren. Their live concert in Belgium in November where my husband and I were supposed to go, was cancelled.  So we are reliving their music in our home and keeping our ears and eyes opened for new dates of their live concerts.  Fingers crossed!

To keep the live musical theme alive in our home, we are listening to our 2 boys making music, yes, making and singing. Feeling blessed

Counting Bubbles

“Bubble” during this pandemic means social contacts.  How many contacts we could have were decided by the Government in alignment with the number of cases locally and regionally. Currently, Belgium allows only 1 cuddle contact (“knuffelcontact”) who does not belong to our own household.  This “close contact” implies contact that lasts more than 15 minutes without having to maintain the social distance and wearing a face mask.

As far as I could remember, the number of bubbles in Belgium have been fluctuating like a yo-yo between March to December: from 2 to 4 to 15 and down to 10 and then to 4 and currently, to one lone ranger.

Bustling Kitchen

My kitchen has never been used so much the past 10 months. I was on my toes daily, balancing kitchen activities and office work. It was doable in the initial stage. I was like a duracell bunny hopping around the house with my daily chores and prepping daily meals for my menfolk.  It was exhausting, so I thought the right way was to slow down and leave the cooking to either my older son and/or order takeaways.

Here were some snapshots of the memories of my bustling kitchen ideas, savouries and sweets

When I was weary, down and out, I passed the baton on to my older son. Here’s the outcome …

While I am not in the mood to cook, and the older son flashes his white flag, I had to resort to ordering takeaways. Here are the results …

Time will tell

A year in review might suggest that the moments are behind us, but what anno 2020 has shown is the events that will last a lifetime

Both my boys had to follow their University courses online.  With lots of patience and determination, my older son graduated with his MSc degree last year. My younger son, on the other hand, is showing signs of losing hope.  Hang on there, son.  Hope works with Time and Time is capable of understanding how valuable Hope is.  

The UK finally exits the EU and Time will tell how and what the future will be

The world stood still, but Time is catching up with us. We experienced a lockdown, felt vulnerable while the virus made a major impact on our daily lives. We had to get used to the new normal and the universal 1.5m social distancing, a word we had never used pre-Covid days. Shaking hands, attending a party, travelling and grabbing a shopping cart have not been the same and Time will tell if we will (ever) get back to our previous norm.

Following a public vote, “Knuffelcontact” has been named Word of the Year by the Van Dale Dutch language experts. The word literally translates to “cuddle contact” or “hug buddy” and refers to a close contact outside of one’s household in alignment to COVID-19 regulations. 

The world stood still, but many have enriched their lives by staying healthy, eating right and being closer to their loved ones who are staying apart.  It’s just a ZOOM away.   

I look forward to the prospect of a new year in which we can see each other in person, give a hug and pass one another in the hallway with a visible smile on our face and a simple “Good Morning” 

The fact that our freedom was limited the past year did not make it easy for all of us. But I know, we’ll come out of the rut year stronger than ever before!

Here’s to a Healthy, Happy, Stronger and Safer 2021 and to all Mothers-to-be and Grannies-to-be, enjoy a new Life in your lives.  2021 is one hell of a baby boom year. The Stork is working overtime in the Year of the Metal Ox.

Cheers!

#Thermomix · Asian · Ayurvedic · Belgium · Bread · Culture · Eat Your Greens · Feel-Good · Friends · Indian · Informative · My Treasured Recipes · Own Recipe · Personal · Recipe of the Week · Short Story · The Spice Trail · Thermomix · TM5 · TM5 Thermomix · Vegan · Vegetarian

My Ayurvedic Vegan Experience (Am I Converted?) #thermomix

Honestly speaking, I had always associated a vegan being Buddhist. Call me ignorant, but you will forgive me after reading the next paragraph *wink*

My first exposure of a full-fledged vegan meal was when I did not know I had a vegan meal at all! How ironic was that? Then again, it was eons ago. I was a little girl sitting at a big round table, surrounded by adults I could vaguely recollect their faces except for my late Dad and an aunt or two and an adopted cousin and her biological family. Everyone was speaking Henghua, and Mandarin and a smattering of Hokkien and Malay. I remembered eating a cold plate as starter and mains consisting of lo han chai, braised mushrooms with broccoli, yam basket with pieces of ‘meat’, slices of ‘meat’ in orange sauce that tasted like duck meat, whole fish with edible bones. All the dishes were intricately and artistically presented. I was not a good eater when I was a young girl growing up, but I remembered those dishes were simply sublime. Although the tastes seemed quite linear throughout, the textures were rather interesting: chewy, meaty, spongy, sweet, savoury, tangy, tasty; and yet there were no real meats, only mock meats! Yup, that was my first intro to a vegan meal, prepared for a group of people who were mostly Buddhist at the time.

>> Fast forward anno 2013, Belgium >>

On 5th June, 2013, the United Nations celebrated World Environment Day (WED). The company where I work, co-celebrated the year’s theme “Think. Eat. Save”.  A colleague who is a vegan was the best ambassador to present that year’s theme at one of the meetings.

And guess what? I was not being introduced, but more so, re-introduced to yet another full-fledged vegan lunch, albeit on a different level! I must say the vegan burger was a surprise discovery. I have written a post about it, here.

In case you are wondering, nope, my colleague is NOT a Buddhist. She became a vegan due to both dietary and ethical reasons.

Vegan is the New Black!

This phrase is inspired by the opening title of Netflix’s hit show Orange is the New Black. While the 2nd part of the phrase, “the new black” is very common in pop culture, the first part of the phrase, “Vegan”, is the suddenly trendy thing that is happening of late. If you don’t already know, being vegan is not at all a new thing. It was founded in 1944 !!

Loving the Loving Hut

Ever since I had my first bite of that vegan burger, I was on the lookout for that restaurant in Leuven. Loving Hut is a vegan restaurant chain with several outlets worldwide. I’m glad Leuven is one of them! I have brought my younger son there with me on several occasions and he likes the food there, so much so, that it becomes a domino effect. In turn he brought his friends to lunch there, too.

Here’re what I had with my son during one of our visits to Loving Hut. All organic and vegan burgers with vegan “bitterballen” and “calamares”

Awesome!



My favourite remains the refreshingly colourful and tasty, neptunus salad.



Oh by the way, it was at Loving Hut that I got to know of Dr RM, a Kerala born doctor in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. Although I have never been to any of her yoga classes, I have enjoyed a good Ayurvedic full body massage from her.

During one of the massage sessions with Dr RM, she mentioned about giving an Ayurvedic Vegan workshop (yes, she called it a workshop) when the weather was warmer. She sounded extremely enthusiastic about it and even sharing her plan with me. Lucky for her, I’m a good listener 🙂

And doubly lucky for her, I told her to count me in when the workshop day arrived, as I was game – for the food, in particular. Lol!

Workshop Day

28th May arrived. It was a lovely sunny day. I drove to Dr RM’s house where the workshop was. It was my first Vegan workshop, hence, I had not the clue what to expect.

Although I have been to Dr RM’s house on several occasions for the Ayurvedic massage, I have never been into her living room, let alone, her kitchen. It felt like walking into another dimension with our bare feet et al. The living room was unadorned and pure minimalistic, definitely not in a negative sense.

Yoga Before Vegan

We were a small group of 4 participants. Dr RM gave a brief explanation of yoga after which she recited a simple mantra to anchor our attention to our breathing while the calming and Zen meditation music was playing.

A-U-M!

We “woke up” with a pleasant serving of aromatic mug of freshly brewed warm Ayurvedic chai. We were in comfort zone, literally speaking.

Ready? Steady…. Cook!

For the next 2 hours or so, I took down mental notes of the vegan cooking process through the photos I captured from my iPhone.

My challenge? To replicate the Vegan lunch in the comfort of my own kitchen *wink*

Okay, just let your imagination run wild with you, with the following photos…

It was supposed to be an interactive cooking workshop but due to time constraint, it ended up with Dr RM preparing and cooking all the dishes herself!

She whipped up 4 vegan recipes while explaining the choice of ingredients used – Ayurvedic mung bean soup, Ayurvedic Chapatis or Rotis, Ayurvedic chutney and kheer or rice pudding with saffron, cardamom and cashew nuts.

What a Feast!

It was worth the wait. A simple, unadulterated vegan meal that’s fresher than FRESH! Couldn’t get any fresher than that.

What more can I say!

My Challenge…

After seeing Dr RM toiling away with the mixing, stirring, kneading and cooking, I thought, “nah, too time consuming!“, so I opted for the extreme alternative.

Yup, I turned to my Thermie for help 😉

With the mental notes in my head, I converted the drudgery of preparing the Ayurvedic vegan lunch into an expeditious culinary journey in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Vegan Sunday with a Twist


My Ayurvedic Chapatis

  • 1 kg potatoes (I used “Jazzy” creamy potatoes)
  • 750 g organic wheat “atta” flour (I used organic spelt flour plus extra for kneading)
  • 1.5 tsp nigella seeds
  • 40g chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp Himalayan rock salt


I boiled the potatoes (skin on) as per the BCB and peeled the skin when still warm but not hot. Then I set them aside to cool before mashing the potatoes to the texture I wanted. Then I added the flour bit by bit, nigella seeds, 1 Tbsp coconut oil and salt. I mixed the mixture until a dough is formed. I turned the dial to “knead” for 2 minutes, and added 1 Tbsp coconut oil if too dry, or more flour if still wet. The key here is trial and error and stop when you are happy with the consistency you want.

Next, I tipped the dough onto a floured bowl and leave the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes. After half an hour, I kneaded the dough again by hand on floured surface. For the amount of dough mixture, I was able to make 25 equal-sized balls. I flattened each ball with a floured rolling pin and rolled each ball into disc.


I used two green pans to speed the roti making process. Each pan was pre-heated and drizzled with a tiny bit of coconut oil on medium high heat. The Chapatis were cooked when they puffed in the centre. I just flipped the roti over to cook on both sides until little brown specks became visible. As you can see, my rotis were not of uniform sizes and form. I like it that way as it looked more home-style 😀

My Ayurvedic Chutney

  • 180 g raisins secs
  • 180 g raisins blanc
  • 200 g x 2 dates
  • A palmful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan rock salt


I soaked the raisins and dates in water overnight. With the amount of raisins and dates (water removed) and mint I dumped in the TM bowl, I made sure not to go above speed 5 to avoid the TM blades from getting stuck. You can continue by using a wooden spatula to free the area around the blades. Continue blending until you reached the desired texture. I prefer my chutney with a bit of texture.

For smoother puréed-like texture, blend in smaller batches.


Dates and raisins are sweet, so you know the drill. Pep it up with some freshly milled Himalayan rock salt and cayenne or paprika powder. Et voilà!

My Ayurvedic Soup

  • 400 g split mung beans
  • 1,500 g water plus 500 g water
  • 5 g turmeric powder
  • 5 g garlic (sorry, I can’t go without this herb!)
  • 80 g onion (ditto)
  • Ginger
  • Lemon juice from half a lemon
  • Himalayan rock salt, to taste
  • 25 g Coconut oil


Tempering

  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • Roughly chopped Spinach leaves
  • Coconut oil


Garnishing

  • Chopped coriander leaves
  • Crispy fried onions (optional)

Wash the mung beans in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Soak the mung beans for at least 4 hours or overnight


Mince the garlic, onion and ginger upto speed 5 for 3 seconds. Add coconut oil and sauté with turmeric powder for 3mins/ 120 C/ speed 1.

From the overnight-soaked mung beans, weigh 500g of the soaked beans and transfer to the TM bowl. Add 1,500g water. Cook for 20 mins/ 120 C/ R/ Spoon/ Half MC

After 10 minutes, watch out for the foams floating on the surface. Pause and remove the frothy surface. Reduce the temperature to 100C/ Half MC. Cook further until the mung beans are soft and tender. Transfer the soup to a bigger soup pot. Add 500 g water. Boil for another 5 minutes.

And of course, season to taste!

Prepare the tempering by heating some coconut oil and mustard seeds in a frying pan. As soon as the seeds start popping, add the cumin seeds and roughly chopped spinach leaves. Gently pour the tempered ingredients into the soup. Season to taste before serving. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and crispy fried onions (optional)


Our Vegan Lunch was ready to serve!

My Verdict?

I loved Dr RM’s Chapatis. Her rotis puffed up beautifully in the centre. She used plain wheat flour while I used organic Spelt flour. That could be the reason why my rotis did not puff too much and a bit more dense, too. The mixing and kneading in the TM were a breeze but it was the rolling out of the dough into discs and the waiting time to get the rotis cooked went by at annoying snail speed. With my boys popping in and out of the kitchen and incessantly asking “is the food ready yet?” didn’t help one bit at all 😦

I loved my Ayurvedic soup the most. Could it be the un-vegan ingredients of minced garlic, onion and crispy fried shallots that made the world of difference? That’s the Twist, I meant 😉

The guys in my household are not fan of beans and lentils, but surprisingly, they liked the soup.

To be honest, Dr RM’s soup was very bland. It could do with some pinches of extra salt but we were all too ravenous, and gulped all the soup down. Lol!

Our Ayurvedic chutneys were on par. Hers was extremely smooth, more like purée and mine was more relish-y. I prefer my chutney with some texture, hence by not pulsing on high speed for too long was, for me, perfect. If you’re wondering if the chutney was too sweet because of the dates, well, it was on the sweet side but not overly sweet due to the overnight soaking. The slight tartness from the raisins and the cool and refreshing mint, Himalayan salt and cayenne or paprika powder balanced the flavour of the chutney quite flawlessly.

I asked the 3 participants what their favourite dish was. All 3 pointed to the Ayurvedic chutney and the Chapatis 😉

By the way, I did not replicate Dr RM’s dessert as that was my least favourite dish. Her rice pudding did not set in the fridge and it turned out pretty soupy. The flavours were alright.

Will I make these again? Yes! Without a doubt, but on a smaller scale. I will use plain atta flour for the Chapatis. The Ayurvedic soup will be on a future lunch menu. Bookmarked! I will make the Ayurvedic chutney 2 ways – puréed and relished and will add some chilli flakes and a squeeze of lemon juice for extra tartness.

If you have never had an Ayurvedic vegan meal before, you may consider trying this out and judge it for yourself.

I’m not a Vegan but I loved it, however, it’s not something I will eat everyday. Too many restrictions and it’s just not possible for me to abstain from a good bowl of kolo mee or char siu pao 😀

Oh by the way, Dr RM gave away a try-out sample pack of the Ayurvedic chai after the workshop.

I brewed it immediately when I got home.

Mmmmm…. yummy!

Zen….

This masala chai is a keeper 😉

Have a Blessed Sunday!

Cheers!

#Thermomix · Family · Personal · Short Story

A Mother’s Insane Sacrifice 

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

 

 

Asian · Cake · Chinese · Chinese New Year · Cook and Celebrate · Malaysian · My Treasured Recipes · Short Story · South East Asian · Sweet

Nian Gao (Sticky-Sweet Glutinous Rice Cake)

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!

Christmas · Cook and Celebrate · Family · Feel-Good · Main Course · My Treasured Recipes · Nostalgia · Poultry · Savoury · Short Story · Weekend Cooking · Western

Braised Quail with Bourbon Whiskey for a Birthday Boy

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!